I went to sleep early the night before my 18th birthday. Parents were yelling, dogs barking, and again my 44 year old brother was passed out drunk in the backroom. There would be no celebration, like always, so I would spend my birthday working to save up money to go to college. I might celebrate later with Jimmy Jr, but his dad has been worse since Jimmy Jr. got accepted to a community college an hour away. They hadn’t even graduated, yet their lives had changed so much. He, on the other hand, still had about 3 more years of saving before he could go to college.
He’d been saving up since his freshman year in high school so that he could go to culinary school. He was still over $25,000 away from paying for his culinary arts certificate, but he would get there. He had been working random jobs for the past couple of years, but he knew it was all worth it. The only way to get out of his situation was through education, and now he understood that.
Zeke went to sleep that night wishing to own his own business. The dream first started out as him standing in front of a blurred storefront, but somehow he knew the building in front of him was his restaurant. Then, he felt someone grab his hand and interlace their fingers with his. He felt warm all over, and he could feel a smile spread across his face. The presence felt calming, full of love, and oddly familiar. He tried to turn his head to see who it was, but his head would not move. He instead glanced with his peripheral vision and saw long black hair. The hair obstructed his view of the person’s face, but Zeke noted the person was shorter than him. His eyes returned back to the restaurant, and now the storefront looked familiar. It had changed, it wasn’t the storefront he originally saw. The restaurant in front of him now was painted green. It had large windows on the bottom floor that looked into a restaurant with a sign hanging above that read “Bob’s Burgers.”
Zeke could now turn his head, and tried to look at the person beside him, but they were gone. He turned around in a circle to see where the person had gone, but found them nowhere in sight. The street was suddenly dark and only lit by the streetlights. He moved towards the lamplight, but was suddenly blinded by a bright red light. He covered his eyes with his arm until the bright light dimmed away to only a soft glow. He removed his arm and looked down at his left hand to see a red string tied to his ring finger. He turned his hand around to examine the odd red string attached to his finger.
He’d heard people would get dreams or visions of the infamous red string that tied you to your soulmate, but he never heard of people being transported to where their soulmate was in their dreams. Normally you would have to go and find them in your dream and that could take anywhere from a couple of days, to a couple of years. The string would lead you in the right direction, but it was up to you to ultimately find who it was. If your soulmate was not 18 yet, then the string would disappear as it got close to your soulmate. There were many theories as to why the string disappears, but most say it's because your soulmate is not of age yet to have access to the string of fate that ties you together.
He tugged on the string and felt it pull back before snapping out of his hand. His soulmate must be close then. He followed the string around the corner of the building and thought the string would start to slacken, but the string just seemed to shorten and grow tighter as he grew closer. As he walked down the alley the red string lit his way. He didn’t have to walk far before he saw the string snake up the emergency ladder and disappear into the window. The ladder was pulled all the way to the top so he couldn’t reach it, but if he stood back he could see slightly into the room. The light was on and besides the ceiling he couldn’t see much else. He decided to climb on the dumpster and reach for the ladder. Once he was on top, he pulled the ladder down and climbed up. He pulled himself onto the fire escape landing and slowly walked towards the window. He looked down at the red string and saw it disappear just inside the window. He brought his gaze up and saw the face of Tina.
Tina had grown tall in the past couple of years. She had evened out and honestly looked really adult-like. She was still the awkward nerd that everyone both loved and hated, but she had a pure heart and loved her friends very much. She grew to like him more once she got over her crush on Jimmy Jr, but she had never hinted of a crush on him. He, on the other hand, had let his crush on her develop more and more over the years. It started off with some slight handed comments. He remembered he had jokingly said that he would marry her one day, but now he knew he meant those words. Or when he kept pooping all over the school just so Tina could have her moment in the spotlight. He actually admitted to her once that he liked her, but that was during a water balloon competition, so she probably thought he was lying. Though, his crush really grew when she kissed him in the hallway after she thought aliens were about to invade the planet. He was still patiently waiting for another alien invasion.
But, now it seems he doesn’t have to wait until his next alien invasion to be with Tina. Clearly she wasn’t 18 yet, but she would be soon. Then, they could be together or at least try to be. Zeke knew Tina wasn’t super fond of him and wasn’t going to push her into a relationship she didn’t want. Especially if she was possibly still hung up on his best friend. Though, if she did accept him, Zeke would make her the happiest nerd alive. He’d even read her erotic friend fiction.
Tina was trying to find out what books she needed to order for her classes for community college classes. She was going to go and get a general education degree. She didn’t know what she wanted to be yet, but she would figure it out. Since graduation, she hadn’t really seen any of her friends. Most of them like Tammy, Jocelyn, and Jimmy Jr. were either off on vacation somewhere or had already moved to their college dorm room. She wished Jimmy Jr. didn’t already leave, but he was tired of being around his dad and she knew he needed to get out. There was still a little hope that maybe he would be her soulmate, but she also didn’t want him to be her soulmate. He had only grown more indecisive in what he wanted and he had a habit of playing with her feelings when he was going through a hard time. But most of the time he was a great friend and still had a rocking butt.
Suddenly, the bedroom door busted open and Louise popped into her room, “Sup, T. I need to ask you a question.”
Tina stopped scrolling on her laptop and turned towards her sister. Louise had grown significantly since she was little. She was taller than Tina, skinner, and now had long hair. She still wore the bunny ears, though a new pair was desperately needed. Her attitude had gotten fiercer, she was ever more protective of her family, and still had a spot of vengeance. She was confident, spoke her mind, and had both many friends and many enemies.
“Do you know who your soulmate is yet?” She sat down on Tina’s bed with a thump. She wouldn’t look at Tina.
“No, I’ll find out soon though. Why?”
“How do you know someone is your soulmate?” Louise played with her fingers nervously.
“Well, when you turn 18 you’ll see a red string that connects yo-” Tina paused and knew this was not how her sister normally acted. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Louise said defensively as she crossed her arms. She mumbled something that sounded like “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too,” Tina said with a smile.
Louise huffed, “I said that I want your room when you move out. I didn’t say I was going to miss you. Pfff emotions are for the weak.”
“You know what else is for the weak?” Gene said as he walked by Tina’s door without pants on. “Pants!”
Later that night Tina woke up in cold sweat. She’d had her soulmate dream. She didn’t know who it was exactly, but she knew it wasn’t Jimmy Jr. She felt both sad and relieved that she wasn’t meant to be his, but there was someone out there she was supposed to be with. She couldn’t wait until morning to go and find him, she’d been waiting since she was 13, and she wouldn’t waste a moment.
She climbed out of bed and slipped on some shoes before opening her door. She was about to step out when she was confronted by her whole family.
“So, who is it!” Her mom’s voice said excitedly about the rest.
“Happy Birthday Tina!” Her dad said with a smile on his face.
“Who is it! Who is it!” Gene and Louise chanted.
“I don’t know. But I have to go,” Tina looked down at her left hand and saw the red string attached to her hand. She stared at it. The glowing red string mesmerized her and she wanted to get lost in the red glow.
“You’re not going out in your pjs Tina.” Her father said in a voice that left no room for argument. “Get dressed and I’ll drive you around.”
Tina perked up and looked at her father with hope and love, “Thank you!” She hugged her father and then her mother before rushing to open her cabinets to find something to wear. While Tina picked out an outfit, Louise made her way into the room to supervise, Linda went to get her camera to capture the moment, Gene went to grab a midnight snack, and Bob went to get his keys.
“Uhhhhhhhhh! I don’t know what to wear!” Tina groaned as she sat down on a pile of clothing she had thrown out of her drawers.
“Calm down T! Think, what would Tammy choose.” Louise tapped her head signaling Tina needed to use her brain.
“Okay. Okay. I can do this.” Tina thought she would be able to do it, but then she started having a mental breakdown because she was coming up with all these crazy scenarios in her head. Louise ended up choosing her outfit a blue t-shirt and dark blue jeans. Her sister started to panic again and Louise slapped her back into reality.
“T! Don’t think. Just go! Put these clothes on and go find your man!” Louise thrust the clothes towards her sister and gave her a reassuring and confident look.
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhh….” Tina kept groaning anxiously and even though Bob had offered to drive her around she was getting on his nerves. It was too early to be driving around half asleep with a daughter having a mental breakdown in the passenger seat. He wanted to comfort her, but he knew that the process of finding your soulmate was both amazing but anxiety filling.
“Tina. Can you take a breather for a second?” Tina then yelled for him to take a left and he took a sharp left. Tina stopped groaning and looked at him, her palms were clutched her seatbelt and she was sweating profusely. “I know you’re anxious right now. But I assure you that finding your soulmate is one of the best things that will happen to you. You’re a great daughter and I’m glad that you’ll find someone who's worthy of you. I don’t care who it is, as long as you’re happy. That’s all that matters to me and your mom.” Bob took another sharp turn as he finished his speech.
Tina didn’t know what else to say besides thanks. They sat in comfortable silence for most of the trip unless Tina yelled a direction. The trip lasted a solid 20 minutes before she told her dad quietly to stop. She took a shaky breath in and looked over at where the red string led to. It lead to the inside of a car repair shop.
“Dad,” Tina clutched her seat belt tighter to her. “What if I can’t do this?”
“You can. Trust me.” Her dad looked at her with comforting eyes and a smile that said you got this.
“Yeah T! You got this!” Louise popped up from the backseat.
“Louise! What are you doing here?” Tina blinked, she didn’t know her siblings were there.
“Oh God. Guys! What are you doing here! You have school tomorrow!” Bob was turned around and he looked both relieved and angry.
“But we couldn’t wait! We wanted to see who Tina’s soulmate is!” Gene popped up from behind Tina’s seat. “I even put on pants!”
Bob sighed, “I love you, but you’re all terrible.” The kids all awed and laughed, they were used to their dad saying this.
Tina turned back towards the repair shop door and tried to see inside. She could only see someone at the counter who was asleep on a stool. Tina’s shaking hand reached for the door handle and paused. She turned towards her family, “Thank you, guys.” Then, before she lost her confidence, she opened the door and got out. She could hear her family cheering her on from inside the car.
Linda looked inside her kid's bedrooms and noticed they were all empty, “Where the hell are my kids!” Then she looked inside the kitchen and saw Louise had scribbled a note on a napkin saying they were going with Tina. She laughed and then smiled as she pulled the wine out of the fridge and shut it with her hip. She loved her kids.
“Now it's just me and you.” Linda poured herself a glass of wine and reminisced on how she first met Bob.
Tina pushed open the door and heard the bell chime. She looked at her hand and followed the string past the guy who was asleep at the counter. She was relieved it wasn’t him because, in Tina’s opinion, he didn’t look too cute. She followed the string and it led into the repair area. She paused, took a deep breath, and pushed open the door. What Tina didn’t realize was, was that the door was a swinging door and was able to be opened easily. The door slammed against the wall and she cringed.
“Damn Jerry, your girl break up wit you again?” Tina froze, she knew that voice. It was Zeke. She walked forward slowly, her heartbeat pounding in her ear. She walked past shelves of supplies, cans smelling of oil and other substances, and tires. She walked into the car area and saw Zeke bent over the hood of a car. He wore a jumpsuit that was smeared with oil and other substances. He was sweaty, causing his hair to stick to his forehead. He wiped his brow with his sleeve. Something stirred in her stomach as she looked at his hands which were smeared with something black. He lifted up his left hand to grab a tool and the world seemed to slow as she saw the other end of the red string attached to his hand.
Tina closed her eyes and clenched her hands beside her, she was trying not to freak out. I am a smart, strong, sensual young woman. And even though my heart just pooped its pants, I can do this.
Tina went to walk closer to Zeke and was almost there but tripped on a toolbox that was conveniently placed there. She fell forward grabbing out for something or someone to grab onto. She felt hands wrap around her arms and was pulled towards someone's chest. Her arms wrapped around their back and they both fell. They landed with a thud and Tina felt Zeke tense under her.
“Damn Tina, what you doin' here?” Zeke said as he looked up at her.
“Zeke.” Tina’s mind was stuck on his name. Zeke.
Zeke placed his hands on her waist. “Are you alright T-bird?” Tina repeated Zeke's name. “I think you mighta hit ya head. Let me help ya up.” Tina got off of Zeke and Zeke reached to help her up. As Zeke pulled Tina up they both looked at the red string between them that glowed brighter. “Tina I-”
Tina shushed him by pulling him down for a kiss. Zeke didn’t protest and instead met her halfway. Tina wasn’t the sloppy kisser she had been when she was 13, she’d had practice since then and the practice seemed to have paid off. Zeke moaned and pushed them closer together. It felt nothing like her sloppy kisses with Jimmy Jr. this was perfect. It felt right. It felt amazing.
Zeke pushed her against the car softly and wrapped his arms firmly around her waist. Tina slipped her tongue inside his mouth and pulled back a little. He kissed her lips softly, then her cheek, then slowly moved down to her chin and then her neck. She gasped and felt her legs give out a little at the sense of pleasure that rolled through her. Zeke reluctantly pulled away. They both spent the next minute catching their breath with their foreheads pressed together.
“I didn think the next alien invasion would be so soon!” Zeke smiled and looked directly into Tina’s eyes.
Tina laughed and then she felt awkward. “That was…. Wow.”
“So…” Zeke cleared his throat and backed away slightly. “Guess you found out we’re soulmates.”
“Yeah,” Tina already missed his touch.
There was a long moment of silence between them with each getting more nervous by the minute. Zeke looked like he wanted to say something, but something was holding him back. After a couple of seconds, he straightened up.
“T-Bird, I need you ta be honest with me. Are you over J-Ju?”
Tina paused to think before she answered. Her first instinct was to say yes, completely. But was that really the case? But then she stopped herself, Jimmy Jr. never really cared for her. He never really instigated date nights, be broke up with her more often than he brought her on dates, and she wasn’t his soulmate. She was Zeke’s soulmate and, though she never thought of him as anything more than a friend over the years, she now reflected on his past behavior and saw all the signs.
He admitted to her more than once he was interested. He confessed he would have a story to tell on their wedding day and that he would have her one day. He confessed to her during the water balloon fight and even told her that Jimmy Jr. took her for granted. He even described what type of date he would bring her on with details- he must have thought of bringing her on dates before. He would always interject in Tina’s one-sided conversations with Jimmy Jr. and try to get her attention. He even continued to be the Mad Pooper so that she could have her time in the spotlight. He also told her he “couldn’t wait for the next apoco-lips, get it?”
She took a breath in, “I’m getting over him. I’m not completely there yet considering I’ve liked him for so long, but I’m ready to move on. If you don’t mind waiting and taking things slow, that is.”
Zeke smiled softly, “Of course T-Bird. I couldn’t ask for anythin’ more. Maybe another kiss, but not now when I’m all dirty and sweaty.”
Tina and Zeke heard a commotion from the front room and looked at each other warily. “Hey! You guys can’t go back there!”
“Oh yeah, watch me!” Louise yelled and soon the door busted open and in poured Louise, Gene, the guy named Jerry, and her reluctant and tired father.
“Yo T. Where ya at?” Gene yelled.
Tina took hold of Zeke's hand and tugged him toward her family- their family. When they turned the corner Louise laughed maniacally, “You owe my $100 Gene. In your FACE!”
Her dad perked up at seeing Zeke’s face and then softened when he saw their hands linked together. “Hey, Zeke.”
“Hey Mr. B. Funny meetin’ you here.”
After they all had a brief talk and were politely kicked out by the “so-called manager,” Zeke made a promise to Tina to come over to her dad’s restaurant and have a talk about where they were at, future plans, and do an introduction to her family formerly. Even though they all knew Zeke, he felt it was the right thing to do. Tina offered to meet his family, but he insisted against it. “You an’ your family too good to me” he had said with a smile on his face. Family seemed to be a touchy subject, and Tina respected that.
Before she left, Zeke pulled her aside and kissed her cheek, “Until later T-Bird. Love ya girl, and don’t worry. Imma getcha one day, but this time all to myself.”