Soulmate Hour

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Fate.

It’s weird to think there was a time when people didn’t believe in it. Wouldn’t believe in it. Nowadays, fate seems to be the only thing keeping us moving forward.

When we’re born, we’re told the date and time that we will meet our soulmate. Right down to the hour. It could be anyone that we meet within that hour. Fate isn’t super specific, afterall.

That would be too easy.

12:00pm

It’s noon, and I’m sitting in my favorite bookshop, poring over dusty paperbacks. I’ve volunteered at this shop since high school, and even at twenty-two, the smell of old books makes me giddy. So many stories, so many possibilities. It’s a shame there’s no way to read them all before we die.

12:05pm

The bell above the door chimes and my heart drops. It’s just me in the store. Me, and now this stranger. Could this be my soulmate? I dust off my hands and make my way to the front of the store.

Standing next to the counter is a girl about my age. She’s reading the back of a book on display, a thriller with a picture of a rusty car on the front cover. I watch her for a moment, wondering if she’s the one.

She seems like she could be my type. She’s short-ish, at least an inch shorter than me, with long brown hair and intense brown eyes. She’s dressed well – jeans and boots and a red peacoat – and she’s got a khaki messenger bag slung over one shoulder. She’s pretty, and I’m a little intimidated by the determined way she’s staring at the book.

I clear my throat and she looks up.

“Oh, hey,” she says, flashing me a smile quickly before looking down again at the book in her hands.

“Can I help you with something?” I ask. I wonder if this is her Hour too. She doesn’t seem like she’s expecting to meet her soulmate right now. She’s too relaxed.

I take a breath.

“Is this one any good?” she asks, flipping the book over to look at the front cover. “My boyfriend loves these crime things, but I can never remember the titles he tells me. I’m not really a book person.”

She can’t be the one. She doesn’t like books. She doesn’t seem to be looking for me. I relax a bit and help her pick something that her boyfriend may like, and she even leaves the store with a couple of New Adult books that I think might suit her interests.

She’s gone, and I go back to stacking classics.

12:17pm

The bell chimes while I’m in the office, and I hear two men laughing heartily near the front of the store. I wipe the dust from my hands onto my jeans and peer around the corner.

The first man I see is tall, at least six foot two, wearing dark jeans, a nice coat, and thick rimmed glasses. He’s chatting animatedly with the man next to him – shorter, with red hair and a matching beard, wearing a fleece sweater and jeans.

I wonder if either of these men could be the one.

“Hello there,” I say, rounding the corner and catching their attention.

“Hey,” the red headed man stares at me for a moment, his gaze lingering as a smile spreads slowly on his face. My heart flutters. “How’s it going?”

“Great,” I say with a smile, instinctively tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “What can I help you with?”

“I was wondering if you had any first editions,” he says, pulling a list from his pocket. “I’ve been collecting books for years, and these are some missing from my list.”

I take the list from him and study his careful handwriting.

“I think we have a couple of these near the back,” I nod my head toward the back of the store. “Why don’t you two follow me?”

“Actually, I was going to check out your sci-fi section,” the other man points his thumb to the left, where we hold our sci-fi books. “I’ll holler if I need you.”

“Cool,” I say with a smile, then look at the red-headed man. “Follow me.”

We walk to the back of the store, my favorite part of the store, and I direct him to the shelves of classics and collectors’ editions.

“So, we may have what you’re looking for here,” I point to the bottom shelf where we keep our oldest editions. “If you need me, let me know.”

“Thank you…” he trails off, clearly wanting my name.

“Mandy,” I said, holding out my hand. He shakes it, and I swear I feel a jolt between our skin.

“Thanks, Mandy,” he says, smiling again. His eyes crinkle at the corners, like he spends way too much time laughing, and it makes me smile. “I’m Gavin.”

“Nice to meet you, Gavin,” I let go of his hand and turn my attention to the shelf behind us while he begins touching the spines of books, looking for titles from his list.

He browses books for about ten minutes, pulling a couple out and setting them aside as he goes along. Those books cost a fortune, and I want to tell him that, but I don’t want him to leave. Every so often he glances back at me, smiling and merely acknowledging my presence. I want to know if he’s looking for me.

I move back over to him.

“Gavin?” I ask quietly, not wanting to startle him while he’s concentrating so hard.

“What’s up?” he asks, leaning back on his heels, his eyes crinkling with his smile.

“This is going to totally sound insane, but…” I start, wringing my hands. I’m nervous, and I take a breath before continuing. “It’s my Hour. And I just feel like there’s some… connection? Is this your Hour too?”

Gavin’s face falls.

“Oh god,” he says quietly. I want to ask him to smile again. The look on his face is breaking my heart. “I’m so sorry, Mandy. But I’ve already had my Hour. In high school. About ten years ago.”

I look down at my feet, a lump growing in my throat. I don’t know why. There’s still a half hour left. But I felt so sure it was him.

“Is he…?” I motion to the front of the store, where the other man is putting books into a small handbasket.

Gavin nods.

“We’ve been married five years this March,” he says, picking up his books and standing in front of me. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t be upset.”

“I’m – I -” I don’t know what to say, so I just nod.

“Hey, think of it this way,” Gavin smiles again, and I feel a tiny bit better. “My Hour was the middle of a school day, in a high school with over eight hundred students.”

“How did you know it was him?” I ask, relaxing a little.

Gavin glances over at the other man, his expression one of nothing but pure love.

“I just knew,” he says, gripping my hand reassuringly for a moment. “And Todd knew too. It was instant. You’ll know.”

Feeling just a little lighter, I follow him to the front of the store and help him with his purchase.

They leave, and I wait.

12:41pm

I’m sitting at the front counter now, anxiously looking at the clock.

What if my soulmate died before I could meet them? What if I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if circumstances keep us from each other when we’re supposed to meet?

What if the fates were wrong about my Hour?

A man, old and weathered pops his head into the door and I shift uncomfortably. He asks if I’ve seen a woman in a red hat. I tell him I haven’t, and he thanks me and leaves.

I pick up the nearest book to distract myself, and I wait.

12:53pm

The phone rings, startling me. I jump up to answer it, my heart racing from the disturbance in the otherwise silent shop.

“Millstone Books, this is Mandy,” I say cheerfully, putting on my best customer service voice. The voice I hardly recognize, even though it’s the voice I use most often.

“Is it your Hour?” a man asks quickly, his voice frantic.

“What?” I ask, trying to process his question.

“Is it your Hour?” he repeats quickly.

“It is,” I say breathlessly.

“Don’t move,” he says, hanging up.

My heart pounds as I stare at the door, and I wait.

12:59pm

My heart pounds as I stare at the door, and I wait.

I want to cry.

Was I not meant to meet the one?

Does my life have a different purpose? Am I not meant for true love?

I watch as the seconds tick by on the clock above the door. There’s no way it’ll happen now.

I put my head in my hands and sigh.

When I look back up, where are only ten seconds left.

Nine.

Eight.

Seven.

Six.

Five.

With each tick, as loud as a thousand cannons in the silence of the shop, my heart squeezes tighter. It’s excruciating.

Four.

Three.

The door swings open, and a man sprints up to the counter in one stride.

Two.

“I’m Leo,” he says, out of breath, cheeks pink.

The clock chimes once above the door and I smile at him, my heart lighter than it’s ever been.

“I’m Mandy,” I manage to say through the pounding in my chest.

“It’s you?” he smiles, and I lose myself in it.

“It’s you,” I correct, placing my hands on his. “How did you know?”

“I don’t know,” he says, looking into my eyes. “I just knew.”

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