As Luke slips out onto the balcony of their apartment, Julie tears her eyes from the night skies over Studio City. “Yeah.”
“Really? Cause you’re hiding out here instead of letting us celebrate you in there.” Her roommate nods into their living room, where Alex and Reggie are having an animated conversation on the couch.
“I turned 26. What is there to celebrate?”
Chuckling darkly, he leans against the railing next to her. “No longer getting to be on your dad’s health insurance?”
“Charming country we have here.” Julie and her roommate exchange a grimace. “But, no, I’ve had my own health insurance since our first album.”
Julie and the Phantoms has spent the past six years establishing themselves and steadily rising in popularity. After three albums and countless tours and mini-tours, they’re now at the point where their music is well-known but they aren’t recognized too often in public. As Alex puts it, they’re in the fame sweet spot.
Luke suddenly winces. “Sorry,” he wrinkles his nose apologetically, “Didn’t mean to bring up… health stuff.”
She puts a reassuring hand over his and squeezes. “He’s fine. You can say ‘dad’ and ‘health’ in the same sentence.”
Her dad’s accident on set a couple months ago had come as a shock, but he’s on the mend. (Okay, it’s easier to think that when she’s seven miles away, not watching him limp slowly around the kitchen like every step is pain. But he is on the mend. She reminds herself of that every day. This isn’t like her mother. Her dad is fine. He’s fine.) Yet another reason Julie is grateful to be an artist with a certain amount of success under her belt—she could tell the rest of the band that she was taking time off to take care of him, and it was totally fine. She has that flexibility. Most working people don’t.
Part of her, the part that has spent too much time by herself lately, whispers that Luke is actually glad that she took time off. He had been getting itchy over the past year, tired of writing the same kinds of songs. Hitting pause on JatP means that he, Alex, and Reggie are finally getting to spend several months solely devoted to Sunset Curve, which they’ve been sporadically trying to revive for several years with Bobby.
It’s normal for musicians to be in multiple groups, she tries to remind herself. She is in multiple groups—Double Trouble is really starting to take off, and it revitalizes her as an artist to explore a totally different sound. Working on Sunset Curve doesn’t mean that guys don’t care about JatP, just like Flynn’s current solo tour doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about Double Trouble. They just… want to try something different.
Luke’s hand twitches under hers, bringing her mind back to the balcony, and his thumb tentatively strokes the heel of her hand. “C’mon. What’s going on, boss?” he asks, shifting closer to her.
She glances up at him, which is a mistake, because he’s closer than she realized, and the angle of her head makes her natural eyeline his lips instead of his eyes. She only keeps her gaze where it should be by the most herculean of efforts.
“Look,” he jumps in before she can come up with some sort of lie, “If you don’t wanna talk about it, tell me and I’ll butt out. But if you say it’s nothing, I’m gonna know it’s a lie, I’ll worry, and I’ll be like a dog with a bone. You know that.”
“You’re going to be like a dog with a bone no matter what.”
He chuckles, but it’s not the big chuckle he normally does when she calls him out. It’s quiet and private, matching their proximity. “I don’t like when you’re upset, sue me.” He roves his eyes over her face slowly, taking in every inch in a way that makes her warm and nervous and breathless. While she’s trying to gain control of her voice, his dips even quieter. “So what’s up?”
Part of what’s up is that she feels lonely, the kind of lonely that leads to bad decision-making, and she’s already on the verge of making bad decisions all the time when it comes to Luke. It’s not that she has feelings for him, because she doesn’t, but there’s always been a vibe between them. Like something could have happened, like they could have hooked up at some point and gotten the vibe out of their system. It doesn’t help that she’s pretty sure the vibe is and always has been mutual. It’s just never worked out. They first met in college when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore and his hyperfocus on music in the face of her grief made them butt heads. By the time she got over her irritation, she was dating Nick, and by the time she broke up with Nick, Luke had asked her to join the band, and by the time she had accepted that maybe it would be okay to date someone in the band, they were living together, and now their lives are too intwined to risk anything.
He’s her best friend (tied with Flynn), her bandmate, her writing partner, her roommate, and…
A loud, plaintive meow sounds from inside the apartment. A tabby cat sits primly on the other side of the glass door, staring at Luke like he’s a bowl of food. Luke stretches his bare foot to the door and taps a toe against it, mimicking booping Alto’s nose.
“Little Dude, calm down.”
… he’s also her cat co-parent.
(And in the grand tradition of cat owners everywhere, Luke promptly gave both of their cats nicknames that were longer than their real names. (Julie’s not convinced he remembers the actual names that he himself came up with.))
“How could you torture your cat by making him watch you not pay attention to him?” she teases.
“He’s not mine,” Luke tries.
Julie crosses her arms. “So last week when you made the vet update her records because ‘the cats aren’t Molinas, they’re Molina-Pattersons,’ that was because…”
“Double-barrelled name’s more distinguished.”
“And you think the cats care whether they’re distinguished?” She nods to the cat bed near the door, where Treble is licking his butt with a discomforting vigor.
Luke’s face wriggles as he struggles to keep from laughing, but then he nods forcibly, mock serious. “Clean butthole is a distinguished butthole.”
“Please never say that again.”
Luke tosses his gaze back down at the still-whining Alto, and his whole face softens. When Julie had first mentioned that she wanted to adopt a pair of cats, Luke had insisted that he wouldn’t be super involved because he “didn’t understand what to do with animals that didn’t bark.” But less than a week after she brought the cats home from the shelter, she’d discovered him rearranging his bedroom to make “more soft surfaces for them to sleep on.”
Without the cats, she and Luke probably wouldn’t still be roommates. By this point in their careers, they earn enough money to afford their own apartments. Hell, they’re probably not long from being able to afford a mortgage in LA (which seems fake, but okay.) But while Alto attached himself firmly to Luke, Treble decided that Julie was the only human who could bring him joy. As a bonded pair, the cats can’t be separated from each other, and they can’t be separated from their designated humans, and part of Julie constantly worries about what will happen when she or Luke gets in a relationship that’s serious enough to lead to cohabitation.
Alto rests a paw on the window, and Luke immediately slips his hand out from under Julie’s and bends down to press his finger against the glass opposite the paw. “You’re okay, I’ll be back in a sec,” he coos.
Julie doesn’t want children, but in moments like these, when Luke’s being soft and loving with the cats, she can kind of get why some people who do want kids get so gooey when they see people they like interact with babies.
Not that she likes Luke, of course. It’s just a vibe. But hot guys being nice to cats is a very legitimate thing for her to find sweet. The internet agrees.
He catches her staring at him. “What?”
Hoping to deflect attention from whatever her face was doing, she has to say something honest. She’s a terrible liar, and Luke in particular has always been very adept at seeing through her face. Ugh, she’ll have to admit what she came out on the balcony to think about. He tricked her into honesty by being sweet with their cat. Not fair.
“Did you know that the average person who has a soulmate finds out who it is when they’re 26?”
He gets to his feet slowly, eyeing her. They never talk about soulmates. She’s talked about it with Alex and Reggie and Flynn, but never with Luke. That’s always seemed far too dangerous. His face flickers, but he swallows the expression before she can decipher it and shoots her a playful smile. “Did you think it was gonna happen day of? You turn 26 and boom, soulmate?”
Yes. She knew it was ridiculous and illogical, but yes. “No, I just hate the anticipation.”
His voice softens. “You find out when you need to know. That’s kinda the point.”
“I know, I know, I just… I envy Alex sometimes.”
The drummer had been walking down the street four years ago when Willie literally ran into him. The way Alex tells it, he thought he had suffered a major head trauma before he realized that he was getting “the sparks.” (Whatever that means. People who know who their soulmates are always say “sparks” with this meaningful tone of voice, and everyone in the know nods sagely while everyone else is left confused.)
“But that’s Alex,” Luke points out. “He never would have asked Willie out if he didn’t know immediately. He was too freaked out about falling for someone who wasn’t his soulmate.”
Those are the two options: either she hasn’t met her soulmate yet, or she has and the universe doesn’t think she needs to know yet. A faint, hot flicker of hope curls in her heart because… she thinks about that possibility more than she should. Idly, never seriously. But at least once a day. With the way her life and Luke’s are so entwined, she could never risk a romantic relationship based only on a feeling that they would be good together. But if destiny said it was okay?
Luckily, she doesn’t have to reply because Alto starts scratching his front paws against the glass like he’s running on a treadmill, mewling loudly for Luke’s attention. Her roommate’s face melts and he plops down on the floor next to the door, huffing out an “Alright alright, bro, I’m here.”
He gently taps his finger on different points of the glass door, and Alto chases after his finger, bouncing with delight. A goofy grin spreads over Luke’s face and once again that painfully domestic feeling swells in Julie’s chest.
“How many soulmates do you think aren’t mutual?” she asks before she can stop herself.
She expects him to either hedge an answer he doesn’t know or launch into one of his hype-man monologues, but instead he answers instantly: “16.4%.”
Oh. “That seems high.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” He keeps his eyes on Alto, but his smile is a little less bright. Until Alto jumps at the glass too hard and tumbles backward with an indignant meep. A giant grin pops onto Luke’s face, his tongue coming out in his joy. There’s that swoop in her chest again, and she wonders again, but why would destiny be taking so long? Surely eight years of knowing each other is long enough.
“What if the sparks have already happened and I missed them?”
In some ways, that’s her deepest hope, but he misreads her, his voice becoming gentle and reassuring. “You can’t miss them.”
“I know people say that, but—"
He finally looks over, distracted from torturing Alto. “No, really. When it happened to me, I hadn’t slept in 48 hours, and I was drunk. Like, I was so out of it that a wrecking ball could have hit me and I wouldn’t have noticed. But when the sparks hit… woke me up, sobered me up, couldn’t think about anything else.”
She doesn’t fully listen past “when it happened to me.”
That swoop in her chest turns into a vice around her heart, and she does not want to ask follow-up questions. Whatever he’s going to say will squeeze that vice and do damage that may never be repaired. She takes a deep breath, knowing she’s on the precipice of something that’s going to hurt like a motherfucker.
But she can’t not ask.
“You know who your soulmate is?”
His mouth drops open, and his face transforms into that bullshit expression he wears before he tries to lie. Oh shit. It’s not an accident that he’s never mentioned it before. He’s been hiding this, and it only came out now because he was trying to reassure her. Something on her face seems to convince him that there’s no point in lying, because he sighs and admits, “… yeah.”
“Who is it???”
He shrugs, like there’s nothing less important in the world than the identity of his soulmate. “Doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean, it doesn’t matter??”
As if echoing her distress, Alto paws at the door and whines loudly. Luke ignores him.
“The fact that they’re my soulmate doesn’t change much about our relationship.” But he rubs the back of his head, a clear tell that he’s lying.
The vice tightens around her heart, and she forces out her next question through a shallow, pained breath. “Are they in your life?”
At his nod, she flips through her mental rolodex of everyone she knows that he knows. But there are whole parts of his life that she’s not super familiar with—the Sunset Curve parts—and there are gaps in her knowledge. Gaps, apparently, where a soulmate lives.
He can see her brain whirring and he finally catches her gaze full on, voice firm. “Jules, seriously. It’s not a big deal. I learned who my soulmate was, there was no way in hell they were a romantic soulmate, and I figured out that they were a professional soulmate.”
It’s not the right time to laugh, but she can’t help it. “I’m sorry, what?” She’s read long lists of all the different types of soulmates, and professional soulmate has never been on them.
“Like, a musical soulmate.”
“I don’t think that’s a thing.”
“It’s for sure a thing.” But he nods to himself, like he needs convincing. He rises unsteadily to his feet. “Not everyone wants a romantic relationship,” he points out gently.
“But you do.”
He sighs. “Yeah, but my soulmate’s not it.”
A loud laugh from inside draws her attention back to her birthday party. And the way Luke’s eyes dart nervously to Alex and Reggie on the couch…
“Wait, they don’t even know?”
“No one knows.”
This is just too much. She gestures at their bandmates. “Can I—”
He sighs again. “Guess it’s inevitable.”
Throwing open the door with a bit too much vigor, she marches into the living room. Luke trails reluctantly after her, scooping up Alto to stop him from escaping. The cat curls up on her roommate’s shoulder with a contented purr, not reading the room at all.
“Luke has a soulmate!” she announces.
Alex and Reggie immediately fall silent, but they don’t look surprised. The drummer gestures at the balcony. “Just now?”
“No!” Luke cries, like Julie being his soulmate would be his living nightmare and… okay, obviously that ship has sailed, but his instant, desperate dismissal still hurts.
Only now does surprise start to spread over their bandmates’ faces, and their mouths open and close without sound coming out. Reggie finds the words first. “So you found out who your soulmate is before today and you never told us?”
“It’s not a big deal.”
But Alex is staring at Luke the same way he stares at the sheet music for a complicated drum fill that he knows he can play but is exhausted at the thought of actually having to perform. “Is it who we think it is?”
Luke centers all his focus on stroking Alto’s head, clearly aiming for casual, but actually resembling a Bond villain. “I dunno who you’re talking about.”
Alex’s eyebrow arches up like it’s reaching for the ceiling and for patience. “Do you want me to start guessing names?”
“Okay, fine! Yeah.”
Reggie’s eyes bug, and Julie physically steps back from the conversation. There are times when this happens—when she’s acutely aware of how the guys were friends for a decade before they met her, and they spend all this extra time together rehearsing as Sunset Curve and share a whole language that she’ll never speak. But right now, the pain aching in her gut isn’t because she feels left out. There’s a person who is Luke’s soulmate, and apparently is so obviously his soulmate that Alex and Reggie just know. It’s like someone prodded her heart and she didn’t realize the organ was bruised until the contact hurt more than she expected.
Suddenly Alex’s eyebrow deflates in horror. “Wait. How long have you known?”
Luke shrugs, as if he’s unfamiliar with the concept of time and therefore can’t be questioned about it. Sick of his human’s bullshit, Alto meows loudly and wriggles free, shooting out of the living room.
Reggie smacks Alex on the arm. “Duuude, do you remember that weird ass phone call about penguins?”
Alex shakes his head. Like he’s agreeing. Like agreeing is physically destroying the last shreds of his patience. He points a finger at Luke, who shrinks back into himself. “That was way too long ago. Please tell me Reggie is wrong.”
“What phone call?” Luke tries, but his hand is rubbing the back of his head and they all know what that means.
Alex bends forward to bury his face between his knees. “I thought I knew the extent of how terrible your decision-making was, but this?”
Reggie pats Alex gently on the back and tells Luke cheerfully, “This is truly the chef’s kiss of terrible decision-making.”
Trying desperately to regain the high ground, Luke snorts. “Bro, that doesn’t mean anything—’”
Alex sits back up abruptly. “No no, you never get to criticize anyone. Ever again.”
Okay, she’s been cut out for long enough. Julie taps Luke’s arm more firmly than she needs to. “Who is it?”
“I’m not telling anyone.”
“But I didn’t tell them.”
It’s such a petty distinction, but he shoots her those big, soft puppy dog eyes and her heart flutters with pointless hope before it remembers. If he answers, she’ll know who his soulmate is. Is that really what she wants for her birthday? The confirmation that this weirdness between them will only ever be long-suppressed vibes?
No, thank you. Let her have her daydreams a bit longer.
He can clearly clock the shift in her, because his expression slips from pleading to pleased. “C’mon, you gotta open your present.”
He nods her over to the huge wrapped box in the corner of their living room. On the one hand, he’s clearly deflecting. But on the other hand, he’s been bouncing around the apartment since he brought that present in, and she thinks that waiting for her to open it has genuinely been more difficult for him than for her. She glances back at Alex and Reggie, but they’re buried in their phones, frantically texting. Probably each other.
She sits down in front of the box and pulls back a bit of the paper and… freezes. Because the words “Korg Kronos” are visible. aka her dream keyboard workstation. aka her extremely expensive dream keyboard workstation.
“This is way too much. You have to take it back.”
Luke bites back a triumphant smile as he drops on the floor next to her. “Can’t.”
“Cause I don’t wanna.”
She peels back more of the paper to confirm that, yep, he got her the 61-Key, because of course he knows exactly what she wants. Treble steps toward the box and sniffs it suspiciously before rubbing his cheek against it. He may not know what’s in the box, but he knows that it’s good for scratching his face on.
Luke nods at the cat. “Angry Bro says it stays.”
“You can’t distract me with the cats.”
“'Course I can.” She rolls her eyes, but he doesn’t relent. “You’ve been wanting a Kronos for years but you’ll never buy it for yourself cause you think it’s excessive. You’re the best, you deserve the best, so I’m not giving you a choice. You own a Kronos now. Deal with it.” She tries to tear her gaze away from his, because she can’t maintain eye contact when he’s talking about her like that, but he taps her leg with his foot. “It’s totally self-serving. You’re gonna use that to write us some killer songs for whenever you’re back.”
It’s meant to be encouraging, but her gut aches at the thought of writing without him or Flynn. Like he can sense her distress (or maybe he just wants attention), Treble rubs his face against her hand. She scratches his fluffy cheek and he immediately begins to purr, pulling a smile from her. The sound rumbles through her fingertips, soothing her, and only then does she glance up at Luke. He’s watching them with a gaze that's somehow both intense and soft. Her breath catches and she can’t pull her eyes from his.
Until Treble climbs into her lap using copious amounts of claw. As the needy cat makes himself comfortable, Julie nods at the workstation in front of her. “Is this really the income bracket we’re in now? You can just buy me this?”
“I’m a rockstar, babe.” Luke shoots her a wink and she screws up her face—her roommate knows how much she hates people calling her “babe,” so sometimes he drops it into conversation just to irritate her because he is the absolute worst. But when she turns back to the box, she swings her hair across her face to shield her smile because... it’s really the perfect present.
Not fooled at all, he chuckles. “I know you’re smilin’.”
“I’m not,” she insists.
Two fingers appear at the edge of her hair and pull back the curtain, making her face visible. But she keeps her gaze fixed on the box. If she doesn’t look at him while she’s smiling, he doesn’t win. He tucks her hair behind her shoulder, his fingers unbearably gentle as they slide across her skin, and her eyes almost flutter closed. “Just say thanks, boss,” he whispers.
“Thank you, you’re the best,” she whispers back. No, damn it, Julie. Defuse the tension. “I hate you for spending this much money on me.”
He gives her one of the smiles she thinks of as classic Luke, the kind that starts off devilish and turns puppyish the longer he looks at her. Normally it makes her giddy, but that joy quickly sours because… that smile isn’t for her.
Julie needs to talk to someone about Luke’s soulmate, but she’s trying to figure out a way to talk about it without coming across like she has feelings for him.
Which, again, she doesn’t. There’s just a vibe.
After a long day of running errands for her dad, she’s in her kitchen, reluctantly eyeing the pile of dishes that she’s been ignoring. Even though she hasn’t been spending as much time at home, the emptiness and silence in the apartment makes her itch. Luke should be here—sitting on the counter and drying dishes while she washes, or showing her something he wrote that day, or playing with Alto (who is currently sulking on the couch, eyes on the door as he waits for his human to come home.)
But Luke’s at rehearsal. He leaves early in the morning way before Julie wakes up and usually doesn’t get back until she’s asleep. They may be roommates, but she hasn’t actually seen him since the night of her birthday party a couple weeks ago.
The silence might be worse than Flynn calling her out, so Julie checks the time in Melbourne, puts her phone on speaker, and calls her friend through WhatsApp. As she and Flynn chat about Flynn’s tour, Julie starts doing the dishes, hoping that the busyness of her hands will inject casualness into her voice by the time she finally mentions, “Turns out Luke has a soulmate.”
“Really?” Flynn’s voice is flat, leaving no interpretation for Julie to work with.
“Yeah, for a while. He won’t say who though. Apparently it’s a ‘professional soulmate.’”
Flynn snorts. “That’s not a thing.”
“He says it’s a thing.”
“It’s not.” The line goes silent, which is good because Julie needs a moment to mourn the death of her delusion. “Let me guess—you think it’s a romantic soulmate and it’s bothering you.”
Julie scrubs the plate in her hands, as if the vigorous scrubbing will convince Flynn of her apathy. “No! But he never mentioned it, and that’s weird, right? It’s the 21st century—who keeps their soulmate a secret from their friends anymore?”
“I want to say something, but I think your response is going to involve the word ‘vibe’ and if it does, I might lose it.”
Julie scrubs harder, even though the plate is definitely clean by this point. “Okay, maybe sometimes I thought we might be soulmates. But we’re not, so it’s a moot point.”
“Or you could just make out with him.”
Whatever you do, do not think about that. “Flynn!”
“Look, if he’s doesn’t want to date his soulmate, that’s his decision. He’s single, you’re single, and you’re in love—”
The plate slips through Julie’s fingers, crashing loudly in the sink. “I am not!”
Flynn pauses again, and then clarifies, a pointed edge to her voice. “Plural you.”
Julie can’t let her mind rest on that idea, not for a second. “He’s not.”
The sigh that reverberates through the phone has the power to create that earthquake everyone in LA is waiting for, and Julie falls silent. But then Flynn suggests gently, “Did you ever think that that might be more romantic? Like, if you two have different soulmates but you decide that you care more about each other?”
“Us trying to be anything other than what we are is already a bad idea. If you throw in destiny thinking we shouldn’t be together? Textbook disaster. I can’t risk that. Maybe if he was less important to me, but…” Her voice is getting choked up, and she doesn’t understand why. Why does the thought of his soulmate always make her want to cry? Something soft brushes against her leg, accompanied by a loud purr, and she knows Treble has come over to comfort her. She laughs, but tries to ignore how wet the laugh sounds as she jokes, “He’s the father of my children.”
Technically, an eye roll doesn’t make a sound, but Julie can still hear Flynn’s through the phone. “First off, it’s super weird that you talk about your cats that way. Second, you’re saying you have to stay apart for the sake of the children?”
“It’s very modern.” Julie sighs again. “And we’re not staying apart. He doesn’t think about me that way. Not seriously.”
“Jules, if you don’t want to risk a relationship with him, say that. Don’t pretend that boy isn’t in love with you.”
Julie falls silent, and for a moment the only sounds are Flynn breathing through the phone and the dribble of water over the plate. Then Alto sprints across the living room, screaming frantically to himself for no apparent reason. Normally she’d be annoyed. But honestly? Mood.
She shuts off the tap. “It’s late. I should go.”
“I’m fine. I’m just going to bed.”
Before Flynn can say anything else, Julie hangs up and dries her hands on a towel before scooping up Treble on the way to her room. He squirms slightly in protest but when she lies down on her bed, he instantly curls up on her chest, like he’s guarding her heart.
She doesn’t have feelings for Luke. So why does her chest feel like it’s being cracked open?
She doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but Treble traps her in a prone position and her body eventually drifts to sleep without her permission. It’s not until the middle of the night that she wakes up again, still in her clothes with Treble asleep on her, struggling to figure out what has woken her up.
There’s an insistent scratching at her bedroom door—it’s cracked open, but Alto likes to Make an Entrance and Complain about Things. She’s about to beg him to go away when she hears a familiar hushed voice in the hallway. “Let’s let Mom sleep, okay?”
A rush of fondness floods through her at the sound of his voice, and she has to swallow the urge to call out to him. What would she even say? Come in here and say hi? By unspoken agreement, they don’t really go in each other’s bedrooms, and breaking that in the middle of the night just to say "hi" would be super weird. Why does she even want to do that?
There’s a rustling sound that she assumes is Luke picking up Alto, because the cat mewls in protest. “Oh, you miss her? Get in line.” Alto meows again. “Hey, you get to see her in the morning. I don’t wanna hear it, Little Dude.”
The footsteps fade away as Luke heads down the hallway toward his room, and Julie’s heart feels oddly twisted up. She’s not sure whether it’s from joy or pain, but either way, it temporarily steals her breath.
That’s the closest she comes to interacting with Luke in person for several weeks.
On the one hand, she doesn’t really notice, because she spends most of her days with her dad and only comes home in the evening to play with the cats and sleep. She’s barely even had time to practice.
But on the other hand, every time she is alone in the apartment, she’s overwhelmed by how quiet it is without Luke’s presence, how empty the space is without his laughter. Alto just emphasizes the point by sitting next to the door and watching it, waiting impatiently for the guitarist to return. She knew how central he was to her life, but there’s something about aching for him in a silent apartment that drives the point home more painfully.
But on the other hand (yes, Julie knows that that’s too many hands), she’s a bit relieved that she has this time away from Luke. Because that crack in her chest is only becoming wider and wider the more she dwells on Luke’s soulmate. It’s easier for her to accept that they’re never going to be anything when he’s not there. Sometimes when Luke is next to her, shooting her those private little smiles or sitting just a smidge too close, the vibes are so strong that she starts to believe that they’re inevitable. But when he’s just an icon in her phone, sending her texts like gonna be another late night—you mind feeding the boys again? :/ it’s easier to feel the distance between them. To feel tangibly that she’s not his soulmate.
Luke is a big source of her discomfort at the moment, but it’s not only about him. Her days used to be filled with writing and practicing and the guys, and without that structure, she’s adrift. Disconnected from herself. She thinks she’s been doing a good job keeping her struggles from her dad, but one evening at dinner, he fixes his gaze on her as she starts to gather up their used plates and asks firmly, “When is the last time you played music?”
She glances up in surprise. How does he…? His forehead wrinkles with worry and his voice goes soft. “When you don’t play, you look…” He waves his hand over his face, unable to find the words. “I know that face well.” He reaches across the table to squeeze her hand. “I’m fine, mija.”
“I know. I’m just taking a break.”
“From performing professionally. Not from music, no?”
It’s not that she’s done it on purpose—she does play in the mornings when she wakes up early enough and she’s tried writing some songs for Double Trouble, but… she’s always written best in partnerships, and she finds inspiration much harder to capture by herself. Back when her mother was first diagnosed, Julie had tried to write a song by herself to prove that she would be okay, that she could be a songwriter without her mother. Three hours in the studio with nothing to show for it had left her broken down in tears, mourning both her mother and her music career, until Rose found her and wrapped her in a big hug.
“Maybe inspiration’s just hiding today, or maybe you will find that you work best with a writing partner,” her mother had said, after she finally got the truth behind her daughter’s tears. “There’s no shame in that. And if that’s the case, you will find partners after me.”
“But a real songwriter could write on her own.”
Her mother laughed and tucked Julie's hair behind her ear. “No artist creates in a vacuum. A partner just makes that artistic collaboration we all share more official. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist.”
Maybe it doesn’t make her lesser, but it does make her feel unbearably dependent and vulnerable every time she goes home and it’s Julie and the empty page alone together. But if she verbalizes all of that, her dad will probably have sage advice that she intellectually understands is correct but emotionally can’t access right now. So she just shrugs. “I’m just too busy for music right now.”
That’s the wrong thing to say. Her father gets up and forcibly takes the plates from her. “This is meant to be your off time. You shouldn’t be busy.”
“Papa, I’ll wash those—”
“No, you won’t. You will go home and play. I can take care of myself. See?” He struts triumphantly across the kitchen. Or he tries to—his stride is stiff and slow, but it’s a walk and he’s able to move and… okay, maybe, she’s been using her dad as an excuse.
Just a little bit.
Knowing that doesn’t make writing any easier. She gets comfortable in the spare room that they’ve turned into a home studio, sitting behind her workstation with an open notebook in front of her and… zero thoughts in her head. Treble crouches on the nearby bookshelf, watching her through outraged slits to indicate his displeasure at the lack of attention he’s receiving. But she might as well be paying attention to him, because she can’t find any inspiration. Double Trouble has a fun vibe, and she doesn’t feel fun. She feels… obviously not broken-hearted, because she doesn’t having feelings for Luke, but the emotions swirling through her are similar. If she thinks about her heart too long, it feels like it’s full of glass shards and she can’t breathe without making the whole thing hurt more, because Luke has a soulmate Luke has a soulmate Luke has a soulmate…
Okay, so Double Trouble is out. But maybe she can channel this feeling into something for Julie and the Phantoms. But into what? Her mind is empty of melodies and lyrics. All there is is this feeling.
Without really thinking about it, her fingers begin to play a familiar tune. It’s a tactic Luke introduced her to when the only song idea he has is an emotion he wants to capture—they repeatedly play an existing song that gives them a similar feeling, until their bodies are distracted and their minds are just floating in a soup of that feeling, and eventually they drift toward an original idea.
She looks down at her hands, trying to place the song.
“Poison & Wine.”
aka the song that led to her friendship with Luke, when they were paired up in class to perform a cover of a country song. The Civil Wars were as close to country as Luke had been willing to go, and she still remembers every detail on his face the first time he heard her sing it. The unusual stillness and the hushed awe, like he’d unexpectedly wandered into a holy place.
She shoves that image away and starts to sing, letting her eyes flutter closed so that she’s totally focused on the feelings. And when the song ends, she starts again from the beginning. She doesn’t know how long she sits and plays “Poison & Wine” on loop, but she does spend a lot of time trying to keep images out of her head. Like every single time the line “your mouth is wine” comes along, she tries not to think about Luke’s lips. By the tenth time around, she’s more practiced at it, but it’s become a meta thing. She’s not technically thinking about Luke’s lips, but she’s thinking about how she’s not thinking about them, and that feels like a distinction without a difference.
But the real gut punch is the chorus. “I don’t love you but I always will.” The first go round, it’s neutral enough, but the more she sings it, the more the meaning of it sinks in and the more it feels like it’s not just a lyric, but a truth she’s extracting from her heart. The words are harder and harder to sing, and she’s completely lost in the haze of it and she can’t push the images away any longer. Luke sharing the mic with her, Luke scrunching his nose at Alto, Luke grinning at her over a shared notebook, Luke pouting as Treble refuses to pay attention to him, Luke gazing softly at her in the evening when they say goodnight…
The tears come just before the realization hits.
Of course she loves him. How could she not?
he has a soulmate.
It takes a couple more rounds through the song for her to stop the flow of tears and it’s only when she’s singing the chorus again that she hears Alto sprinting down the hallway and mewling to himself as he slides into the studio. She opens her eyes…
… to see Luke hovering in the doorway, watching her with an inscrutable expression.
She has no idea how long he’s been there—god, did he see her crying?—and her voice cuts out for a second, but he waves his hand urgently at her to keep singing.
While she finishes the chorus, he sets down his guitar case and quickly pulls out the instrument. As she takes her line in the second verse, she’s grateful for the distraction of watching him set up, because focusing on the lyric would be dangerous.
I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back
When he starts to strum, she notices that his guitar is slightly out of tune from its time outside, but then he sings his line and it’s been ages since they’ve sung together and her normally sensitive ear can’t care.
The less I give the more I get back
While she sings her next line, he shifts closer and she feels the breath of cool air on his skin. Okay, so he only just came in. That’s a relief.
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
As she gets to the end of the line, he joins his voice to hers, and they meld in a beautifully discordant clash. She’s always been fond of that part, but singing it now after weeks of not singing together? Her nose scrunches with joy and his nose scrunches right back.
As he sings his line, his gaze flickers to hers, briefly but intentionally, and her chest flutters.
I don't have a choice but I'd still choose you
And then they’re at the chorus, singing that damn line over and over. I don’t love you but I always will. Every single time the I always will comes up, her heart skips, especially because they’re not breaking eye contact. He sits next to her on the piano bench, facing backwards away from the keyboard, and she’s at least grateful for their opposite positions. It creates the illusion of distance, which her heart desperately needs right now.
When the song ends, she finally lifts her fingers from the keyboard, only now realizing that her hands are sore from playing for so long. Luke doesn’t break their eye contact as he swings his guitar onto its stand. Suddenly, the illusion of distance shatters. Their shoulders are pressed against each other as they cram onto the small bench, and he’s so close that his breath wafts across her face. Realizing she loves him is like finally seeing an imperfection on a wall that she avoided noticing for years. Now it’s all she can see. With each inch of his face that she looks at, her heart swells more, like she’s falling in love with every detail of him. The only place she doesn’t let herself look is his lips, but his gaze dips and she suspects he’s looking at hers…
Thankfully, Treble chooses then to start purring loudly. Julie flinches and pulls her eyes to the bookshelf. The cat is sitting up, tilting his head and staring at her as if, now that she’s stopped playing, she will of course be petting him.
Luke shoots the cat a lazy grin, then nods down at the workstation. “Sounds good.”
“You’re pleased with yourself.”
“Pleased with you. That old Yamaha didn’t do you justice.”
He’s giving her that awed look, the one he gives her sometimes when she lands a particularly high note or writes something that he didn’t anticipate. “Are you going to call me a star again?”
Laughing, he dips his chin into his chest and peers at her through his eyelashes. “I only bring that out on special occasions.” He nods at her empty notebook. “Whatcha working on?”
“Nothing. I’m creatively tapped out.” She sighs up at the ceiling. “You ever feel like you’re out of ideas? Like you’ve poured out your soul into every song and you’ve got nothing left to give?”
He bites back a bitter smile and nods. “Sometimes. Then I turn to you and you’ve got a thousand ideas and you get me back to work.”
“I might be out of commission.” With a definitive press of the power button, she turns off the workstation.
His face rumpling in concern, he rests his elbows back on the keys, giving himself the distance to study her. “You okay?”
“It’s just…” But what can she even say? It’s not any one thing. It’s everything, just an avalanche of small sad things that leave her empty.
“Bad year?” he guesses.
Treble pounces on the keyboard and purrs expectantly. His fur will get everywhere and gunk up the system, so she should shove him away, but… she’s sad, so she deserves a soft cat. She rubs his cheeks and kisses the top of his head, but he wiggles out of her grip, shooting her a look that is unsettlingly human in its disapproval.
“Jules?” Luke prompts her.
“Maybe I’m done,” she confesses. “Maybe I’ve written and performed every song I needed to.”
He shakes his head. “You’ve got a lifetime of music in you.”
“Or maybe I already peaked.”
He snorts, then realizes she’s serious. “Look, obviously, me, Alex, and Reg are the most talented musicians ever, and you’re lucky to breathe the same air as us.”
She grins. “Obviously.”
“But you blow us out of the water. You’re a star. Sometimes I think…” His mouth twists up. “Maybe it’s silly. But I think you could’ve found a better writing partner, and we just happened to lock you down before you figured out how absurdly powerful you are.”
His posture on the bench is overly relaxed, but his jaw is tense. “Luke—”
He shrugs, trying to project confidence again. “Like I said, silly. Obviously I’m the greatest songwriter ever and you’re lucky to breathe the same air as me.”
Refusing to engage with his nonsense, she rolls her eyes. “You’re my favorite writing partner.”
“I love writing with Flynn, but we’re not always on the same page. You and I might not agree all the time, but…”
His eyes linger on her as he nods and finishes her sentence. “… same page.”
“And you push me in the best kinds of ways. You make me a better writer.”
He smiles, directing the same softness at her that he directs at Alto when the cat is being particularly cute. “I think we make each other better.”
The urge to kiss him is overwhelming, so she gives his shoulder a playful nudge instead. “Don’t tell Flynn, but I like writing with you the best.” Before his grin can get too cocky, she points a firm finger at him. “Not rehearsing though. You’re such a diva.”
He laughs at himself, so delighted that his tongue slips out of his mouth. Not denying it even slightly. Then he nudges her. “I got some time. You wanna write?”
“I didn’t have anything specific in mind. Just… something that feels the way that song makes me feel.” His grin drops, and his eyes trace hers with concern. Ugh, why is her face so transparent? “Stop looking at me like that. I’m fine. I’m just a bit lonely. I’ll download Tinder or something.”
She probably should. Put herself out there, try to meet someone. The more people she meets, the faster she might meet her soulmate, right? But her heart’s still in the process of breaking, and the idea of trying to talk to someone new right now? “It’s not worth it. How’s Sunset Curve?”
As soon as the question leaves her mouth, she realizes that she doesn’t actually want to know. Right now, her heart can’t take Luke being enthusiastic about a band other than theirs, a band she’s not part of. Especially when she can’t even seem to write for their band anymore.
But his voice is surprisingly mild. “It’s good.”
“Where’s the ‘most epic band ever’ energy?”
He shrugs. “Nah, it is good. I dunno, dude. It’s kinda like… going back to a place you used to call home, you know? It’s familiar but it feels like a lifetime ago and I’m trying to remember how I used to live there. Like, what the fuck do I do with a rhythm guitarist?”
(Julie takes a moment to feel grateful that Luke and Bobby had been on the outs when Julie and the Phantoms was formed, because she has no clue what to do with a rhythm guitarist.)
Luke stares at the wall in front of him, like he’s expecting it to give him answers, and then jerks out of his reverie. He snags his notebook from his guitar case and holds it open for her. She reads the notes on the page.
“Yeahhh. Was supposed to be a Sunset Curve song but I had keys stuck in my head today.” His cheeks flush, but she doesn’t get a chance to dwell. “Maybe we can repurpose it.”
“Haven’t you been rehearsing all day?”
“Sleep is for the weak. C’mon, boss. Write with me.” He sticks out his bottom lip in a full pout and she forcibly looks away. She is an actual adult woman; she cannot let herself give in to a pout from a fellow adult. But then Treble rubs his face on the corner of the notebook, and Luke grins. “See, our son agrees.”
Luke reaches for his guitar, but Alto, realizing that there’s love and affection being given out, leaps onto Luke’s lap. The guitarist oofs, but abandons his instrument in favor of petting Alto. “Okay, let’s start with piano, I guess.”
The cats are very in the way—Treble decides that he quite enjoys walking across the keys actually, and Alto frequently tries to sing along. She’s not sure that she and Luke write anything terribly coherent. But surrounded by her weird little family, she gets some words and notes down on paper, something that feels like a tiny speck of light at the end of a tunnel.
For now, that’s enough.
But that night is mostly an aberration. She and Luke do tinker with the song on nights when he comes home early, but she still doesn’t see him much. After a couple weeks, she’s not sure whether that’s good or bad. Her heart hurts from not seeing him. Her heart hurts when he’s around. Her heart hurts from feeling cut out of his life. Her heart hurts from being so entwined in his life that if something goes wrong between them it might shatter her whole world.
She’s a mess. She’s not pretending to not be a mess.
And then she’s at Eats & Beats for Sunset Curve’s first test gig.
This is one of the things she introduced Luke to. When they're developing new material, they sometimes perform at small clubs under fake names to test the crowd’s reaction. Over the past couple years, anonymity has become a bit harder, but the fans who recognize them tend to enjoy being in on the joke, silently and smugly shooting knowing looks at the stage.
As Julie sits in the crowd by herself and watches the guys set up, an ache seizes her throat. Alex, Reggie, Luke, and Bobby are laughing with each other and going through the familiar motions of getting ready and… she should be up there. It’s like running into an ex while they’re being lovey-dovey with a new partner, and it hurts parts of her chest that she didn’t know could carry pain.
And then Sunset Curve starts to perform.
And it turns out that there are even more parts of her that can hurt.
For all that Luke has insisted that Sunset Curve isn’t clicking the way he wants it to, he comes alive the instant the song starts. Alive in a way she hasn’t seen in years. It’s not like Luke is calm in Julie and the Phantoms. But Julie is the frontwoman, and she hadn’t appreciated how much he was taking a step back. Still high energy but leaving the spotlight for her. But right now? He owns the stage, and it’s hard to look at anyone else.
Has she dimmed his spark?
She doesn’t even get to dwell on that thought for long, because Luke nods Bobby over to share his mic and…
Look, it’s not that Luke’s never done that before. She knows the nod isn’t just for her. But over the past few years, it’s mostly been directed at her and it feels like theirs. Their charged mic sharing moments, their musical partnership, their bonding. But… it’s not. It never has been. It’s just Luke’s.
The guitarist looks out into the crowd, finding her instantly, and he winks. Suddenly she’s back in college, one of the screaming fangirls in the mosh pit, hoping in that quiet part of her brain that she pretends doesn’t exist that he’ll pay attention to her.
Okay, she’s spiraling, and some part of her knows that, but a bigger part of her hasn’t performed with her band in months and is watching the guy she’s in love with be better off on stage without her. She’s supposed to be happy for them, and she will be, damn it. Just give her five minutes.
As soon as they finish, she heads toward the green room and lingers outside in the hallway, feeling distinctly… well, like a groupie. She’s meant to be in the green room with them, and listening to their laughter through the thin walls in response to jokes she can’t hear just emphasizes how separate she is.
The door finally bangs open, unleashing a laughing Alex, Reggie, and Bobby into the hall. They smile and wave when they see her but keep their distance. Alex wipes his sweaty hair off his face. “We would hug you, but we’ll spare you the secondhand shower.”
“Much appreciated,” she chuckles. Only to have a pair of sweaty arms wrap around her from behind and spin her in the air. “Patterson, put me down right now!”
Luke chuckles in her ear as he releases her, and she whirls around to whack him on the shoulder.
“You’re disgusting.” But she can’t even pretend to be serious, because he’s glowing. Partly from all the sweat, but mostly with that flush of victory he gets after a really good set. When he knows he’s killed it. When he knows the crowd has loved it.
God, I love you.
Alex, Reggie, and Bobby keep heading toward the back exit to load up Alex’s van with their gear, but Luke stays focused on her. “So? What’d you think?”
“You know you killed it. You don’t need me to tell you that.”
He beams, biting his lip in his joy, but then shakes his head. “I don’t want your flattery, boss. Honest opinion, c’mon.”
She grins. “The lyrics of the second verse are a bit clunky, the bridge is a couple lines too long, and the pre-chorus is—”
He nudges her and his proximity leaves her a bit dizzy. “Haven’t you heard of a shit sandwich? Compliment, then constructive criticism, then compliment.”
“I don’t have any compliments to give,” she teases.
He flicks her nose playfully. As they head to the exit, she tries to come up with joke compliments on the spot, but the only thing that comes to mind is “Sunset Curve’s lead singer is hot” and she is absolutely not going to say that.
She hangs back as the guys load up the van, and she’s overwhelmed by that ache again as Luke relays her feedback and the guys chat about changes to the song. When they talk about tweaks to the second verse, she almost opens her mouth to offer her suggestions, but Reggie is already off and running with completely different suggestions, and she shrinks further back against the wall.
Right. This isn’t her band. When it comes to Sunset Curve, she’s the groupie.
After the van is packed, Alex drives away and she, Luke, Reggie, and Bobby head out of the alleyway toward their cars. But as soon as they round the corner onto the sidewalk, they’re brought to a halt by an unexpectedly large crowd.
Julie immediately tugs her baseball cap further down her face to shield herself from view, but she needn’t have worried. A teenage boy jumps forward, purely focused on the guys. “You said you were Straight Daylight, but aren’t you Sunset Curve?”
Reggie shrugs innocently. “Sunset Curve? Never heard of them.”
Luke grins. “They sound epic though.”
But the enthusiastic fans aren’t convinced, and they pull the guys in, showering them with indecipherable praise, particularly Luke, and she’s struck by that reminder again. This is who the guys were before her. This is who they can be again. They don’t need her. They don’t even seem to miss Julie and the Phantoms. They can only go on one world tour at a time and, when it comes down to it, is Luke really going to choose the band where he plays second fiddle? Especially a band whose co-songwriter can’t write unless he or Flynn are holding her hand?
Her breaths come out in quick pants and her mind whirls with so many worst-case scenarios that she may actually have a panic attack.
And then it happens.
Everything in her field of vision explodes in light blue sparks, like a firework has gone off inside of her. Her eyes instantly squeeze shut, trying to defend against the brightness, but the sparks are under her eyelids as well, and running through her body until every part of her is vibrating with prickling, magical electricity. She stumbles backwards, barely able to remain standing. And then suddenly all the sparks gather in her chest and shoot forward in a bolt of lightning. Even though her eyes are closed, she can feel the bolt strike Luke, connecting their souls with a hot flash, like the bond is being burned into her.
The first thing she sees when she opens her eyes is Luke rushing toward her.
“Julie, are you okay?” he repeats frantically.
She becomes dimly aware of brick scratching her back. Apparently she stumbled back against the wall of the building behind them. She shudders, the sparks still making their way out of her body, and he catches her arms to hold her upright. He ducks his head to meet her gaze, and his eyes are wide with terror. “What’s going on? You sick?”
How the hell does she explain this when he’s holding her? When her soulmate is holding her? She tries to find the words, but apparently words have left her and she can only shake her head.
“But you…” Another violent shiver runs through her and his mouth drops open. “Oh, fuck. Sparks?” His voice is so quiet that she can barely hear it. She nods again. His mouth opens and closes repeatedly—at least she’s not the only one left speechless. Finally, he shakes his head, pulling himself together. “Do you need me to get their name?”
She blinks, confused, before she realizes that there are fans and random strangers on the sidewalk next to Reggie and Bobby. All of them watching her. All of whom could plausibly have caused the sparks.
She shakes her head, but he lowers his voice even further. “You sure? We don’t know how to find these people again.”
“I already know my soulmate,” she croaks.
He flinches, head twisting to Reggie and Bobby. But another shudder runs through her, and his focus snaps back to her. Slipping his arm around her waist, he gently pulls her away from the wall. “Let’s get you home.”
When Luke and Julie get back to their apartment, she immediately curls up on the couch. The sparks have stopped running through her body, replaced with numbness and disbelief. He drapes a blanket around her shoulder and she thinks he goes to get her a glass of water, but she can barely register anything that’s going on around her.
For years, she’d not-so-secretly hoped it would be Luke. But not like this. Not when it put her in the 16.4%.
Luke tries to deposit Treble in her arms, but the cat squawks indignantly and sprints to the other side of the living room. So Luke scoops up Alto instead and places him in her lap. The cat sniffs her suspiciously, but stays in place, allowing her to pet him with an expression that suggests that he is nobly volunteering for charity and expects treats later.
The silky fur under her hands starts to inject calm into her body that counteracts the numbness. This doesn’t have to matter. She can be like Luke—setting the soulmate revelation aside and repurposing it. He can be her musical soulmate.
She’s so focused on her thoughts that it takes her a while to notice what Luke is doing.
“Who are you, Alex? Why are you pacing?” As soon as the question leaves her mouth, her heart sinks. Fuck. She can’t lie to him. Not about this.
He doesn’t look at her. If anything, his steps get faster. “Because this is a huge deal. Who is it, Reggie or Bobby?”
“Did you know someone in the crowd?”
“Jules, I’m not gonna judge. I’m happy for you.” She finally catches sight of his face, but that smile he usually wears around her is missing. Instead, he’s got that same expression he gets after a fight with his mom, like a core part of him has just been dismissed. “Who is it?”
Oh dear lord. Is this boy actually going to make her spell this out? “You know who it is.”
“If the only people you knew were Reggie or Bobby…”
… has he really done that thing people do when they’re meant to count everyone in a room and forget to count themselves? “Not the only people.”
“But who—“ She raises an eyebrow, and maybe that’s what clues him in or maybe that’s just when he finally gets with the program, because he stops short, his whole body swaying from the abrupt halt. “But that can’t…”
Eyes unfocused, he drops down on the couch next to her. Alto, delighted to be reunited with his preferred human, immediately clambers into Luke’s lap, but Luke doesn’t pet him.
“Sorry,” Julie offers.
“Why are you sorry?”
“I promise I won’t make things weird.”
“That’s not…” His eyes search her face, waiting for the punchline. “Me?” His voice is tiny and timid and incredulous, like she just told him that he’s Santa Claus. He opens his mouth, but whatever words he was going to say get derailed by Alto tapping Luke’s hand with his paw, demanding scratches. Luke starts petting the cat on autopilot, and gentle purrs fill the silence between them.
Julie tugs at a loose thread on her jeans, pulling courage from the material. “I-I’m not asking you for anything,” she offers. “I’m not your soulmate, and that’s—“
Luke stares at her, his face glowing through his disbelief as he shakes his head. “You are.”
Who knew that two overwhelming ordinary words could completely change her life?
“What?” she breathes.
He’s still staring at her like he can’t believe that she exists, but a small smile is curling up the corner of his mouth. He waves his free hand like he’s painting his mental picture in their living room. “End of senior year, finals week. We were leaving some party and crossing Ellendale and I started thinking about how you weren’t gonna have time for us anymore after we graduated, and then suddenly…”
“Sparks.” She shifts closer to him, drawn in by his face. She has no idea how to begin to process this. The idea that he’s her soulmate is overwhelming enough on its own. After a few months of stewing in the knowledge that Luke has a soulmate who isn’t her, she has no idea how to suddenly reverse course and adjust to the knowledge that it is her. How to comprehend what them being soulmates means. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks, unable to keep an accusatory edge from her voice.
“You were dating Nick.” But he diverts his gaze to Alto—there’s no way that’s the full story.
The picture he painted reminds her of something. “Wait. When you invited me to the band, it was your senior year, finals week, after a party, on Ellendale.” More specifically, a drunk Luke had dropped to his knees in the middle of the street and literally begged her to join the band. He doesn’t need reminding—his cheeks flush bright red.
“I knew I wasn’t gonna be your soulmate, and I needed you in my life. When the sparks happened, I figured you were my musical soulmate, and this was the universe telling me to ask you to join the band.”
For the hour since she got the sparks, she’s been basically curled up in a ball while her body processes the knowledge and the aftershocks. How on earth had Luke recovered quickly enough to make a decision like that? But there’s a much more important thing that needs to be said at the moment. “You knew you weren’t going to be my soulmate?”
He shrugs helplessly. “You’re Julie Molina.” He says her name like he’s invoking the name of a deity. “Why the fuck would I be your soulmate?”
On her birthday, when he’d said there was no way in hell his soulmate was romantic, she’d assumed he had some secret knowledge that she couldn’t understand because she hadn’t had the sparks yet. Turns out his secret knowledge was a fucking inferiority complex.
Maybe she should kiss him before making this kind of declaration, but screw it. Their whole relationship has been out of order. “Cause I think I’ve been in love with you for six years.”
He blinks rapidly, brain visibly short-circuiting in front of her. “Hold up, what?”
“Give or take. I didn’t, like, set a notification on my iCal.”
He pulls himself across the couch to sit right in front of her, his movement unseating an indignant Alto. Luke’s hand slides up to her cheek, taking in her whole face like he’s never seen it before. The smile that spreads across his mouth is so big and blissful that it almost hurts to look at.
“Seven years for me.”
“Do you want a prize?” she teases, but then he leans his forehead against hers, and his breath mixes with hers and she feels a rhythmic patter in the space between their chests. Like the connection that the sparks forged between them still exists as a living, tangible thing. Her hand drifts up to her heart, half expecting to find a physical manifestation of that connection. It takes her a moment to realize that the pulses she feels are his heartbeats. “How can I feel you?” she whispers.
The beam on his face only grows—this is the final proof he needed to believe that he was her soulmate. “Wait until the next time we sing together. It gets real intense. Honestly, it’s super distracting.” He drags his nose across hers, and her whole face tingles at the gentle, affectionate gesture, before the fluttering in her stomach slides into that connection between them. From the way his grin grows, she doesn’t think she’s alone in feeling it. And suddenly she’s not worried about the next time they perform together. Because if it feels anything like this, with this connection crackling between them as they share a mic, then—
Wait a minute. “‘I got a spark in me, and you’re a part of me?’”
A sheepish grin takes over his face, but he seems unapologetic as he runs a callused fingertip gently down her cheek. “Not my subtlest lyric.”
Only then does she do the math. Seven years ago would have been a full year before he found out she was his soulmate. “Seven years and you never told me?”
He’s got that look again, like he can’t believe she’s real. “I never thought…”
“Luke, there was obviously a vibe.”
“But I didn’t just want you to vibe with me.” He lifts his other hand to her cheek, clutching her face in his grip. His eyes are soft and warm, the way they get before he says something unbearably sweet. But before he can open his mouth, Alto emits a long, petulant meow from the other side of the room.
“Shut up, Little Dude!” she and Luke snap, not breaking their gaze.
It’s a reminder of how entwined their lives are, of how very not casual this relationship has always been. But that’s a huge and complex topic, so the way she chooses to address it is, “What are we going to tell the boys?”
Luke kisses her nose, a simple gesture that already makes her feel like she’s going to combust. And then he makes it worse. “We are gonna tell them,” he kisses her cheek, “that I,” he kisses her jaw, “am so in love with you,” he kisses the corner of her mouth, “that I sometimes forget how to breathe when we sing together.”
Now she’s the one who can’t breathe. His gaze flickers to her lips, and he raises an eyebrow, asking permission to complete his circle of kisses. But the instinct to tease him can’t be denied. “They’re cats—I don’t think they’re going to care.”
He huffs out a frustrated laugh. “You gonna stop mocking me for five seconds so I can kiss you? Kinda been waiting seven years for this.”
She leans forward just that extra bit more, her lips so close that they brush his as she replies, “I would have kissed you seven years ago. You were the one who decided to wait.”
He huffs another breath, this time like he’s basking in the joy and certainty and love between them. And honestly, she gets the impulse to bask. But she’s been waiting years for this, and she’s not waiting another second. She captures his lips with hers.
It’s not a great kiss by any means—she’s smiling too much, and he exhales with relief as soon as their lips meet. But that bond between them is going haywire, crackling with electricity and warming like a snuggle on a winter’s day and dancing like bubbles in a bath and she finally has to pull her lips from his to catch her breath because it’s all a bit much. She belatedly realizes that she’s now lying on her back on the couch, with Luke hovering over her, bracing his arms on either side of her. He looks as dazed as she feels, and a breathy giggle escapes her lips.
He brushes an errant curl off of her face. “We should probably also warn the boys that we’re gonna lock them out of our rooms sometimes.”
She grins. “They’re gonna hate that.”
“Tough shit. Sometimes we deserve privacy.”
As if he can understand what they’re talking about and wants to make his disagreement known, Alto leaps onto Luke’s back, prancing around on the unsteady surface. Luke laughs and buries his face in the crook of her neck.
“Speaking of…” she says pointedly, as she gently prods Alto off of Luke.
He runs a trail of kisses down her neck, each longer and firmer than the previous one. She’s not sure whether it’s just her feelings for him or whether it’s emphasized by the reaction of the bond between them, but she’s giddy and breathless, and she almost misses him rasping out, “You wanna come back to my place?”
“It’s right down the hall, so sure.”
He pops to his feet and holds out his hand, and she grabs it without hesitation.
They don’t get much sleep that night. There’s too much to explore, too much to confess. Seven years of secrets need to be whispered into the night, and Julie is afraid that if she closes her eyes for even a moment, everything that’s happened will turn out to be a dream.
She’s also realizing more fully how lonely only spending time with her dad has made her, because twelve uninterrupted hours with Luke makes her feel full and warm again. Basking in his presence is like tossing a soft blanket over all the fears that have plagued her for the last several months. She suspects that they’re still there, hiding in the dark recesses of her mind for days when she’s feeling low or alone, but it’s harder to believe them right now when she’s wrapped in his arms and he’s looking at her like that.
(It also helps that when she finally admits her loneliness, he catches her chin and says, “You can hang out at the studio literally anytime. I thought you wanted time to yourself, or I woulda said that ages ago.”
“What if I have opinions on Sunset Curve songs? I don’t know if I can keep my mouth shut.”
Luke’s morning alarm comes and goes (and she marvels at how different it sounds when it’s a few feet away from her head instead of in the other room or at the other end of a tour bus.). Still, they don’t move from his bed, cuddled up under the blanket like a tangled knot of yarn that can’t be undone. Alto and Treble are spooning at the end of the bed (their outrage at the closed door was greater than Luke and Julie’s resolve), and their expressions are distinctly smug. As if embarrassed that it took their humans so long to get their act together.
Luke drags his knuckles down her arm, leaving a trail of breathtaking sparks across her skin and in that bond between them. The disbelief in his eyes has quieted to awe as the continuous pull of the bond quells his doubts, and she thinks he’s on the way to just basking in their happiness.
“By Myself” fills the space, coming from Luke’s phone, but he doesn’t even flinch. “Should you answer that?” she asks, not personally convinced.
“Probably just the guys wondering where I am.” He runs his fingers over her face, sliding them over her lips, and she kisses his fingertips.
“Shouldn’t you tell them you’re on your way?”
He barks out a laugh. “I’m not leaving this apartment today.” Then his forehead wriggles in concern. “Unless you gotta check on your dad?”
“He’s good. At least tell them you’re not coming.”
Uttering a loud, performative groan, Luke snags his phone from the nightstand without moving from her. She kisses his shoulder as a reward, and he immediately forgets the phone in his hand as he presses a kiss to her nose, and then leans down toward her mouth.
“Phone!” she insists.
Screwing his face up in a pout, he dumps the phone on the bed and opens the Sunset Curve group chat right as a text comes in.
Reggie: where r u?????
Luke: i’m julie’s soulmate
Julie snorts. “That doesn’t actually answer his question—”
Alex: So is rehearsal cancelled for the whole week or just today?
Luke raises a smug eyebrow at her. Which promptly drops when Reggie texts back before Luke can close his phone.
Reggie: !!! my ship has finally sailed????
also, congrats on the sky being blue!
Alex: Yeah, not to be smug in the face of your true love, but WHAT HAVE WE BEEN FUCKING SAYING FOR EIGHT YEARS
Luke is shaking his head before she can even look at him. “Eight is, uh, an exaggeration.”
Bobby: yeah i barely know julie and i already knew this soooooooo
Alex: I guess I’m surprised it took the universe this long to catch up?
Luke: hanging up now
He closes his phone and tosses it defiantly onto his nightstand. “Are you happy?” he mumbles.
“Ecstatic.” But her voice is genuine and all his petulance vanishes as he leans in to kiss her temple.
He traces his nose down her cheek, then pulls back. “Alex has a point. The timing is weird. Like, if the universe wanted us to be together, it shoulda told you ages ago.”
His voice sounds like it’s trying to start an actual conversation, but her brain is filled to the brim with sleepy love, so she just curls into him and rests her head on his shoulder. “Maybe we weren’t ready before.”
But he’s less focused on the cuddles than he is on the thought train that he’s boarded without her permission. “Think about it. I found out when I needed to invite you to join the band, and you found out last night when you were being ridiculous…” He shoots her an exasperated look, though at least he’s not doing the hysterical laughter that he'd unleashed last night when she first confessed what she was thinking when the sparks hit. “And, seriously, the connection when we’re performing? It’s beyond anything I’ve ever felt. Like… my heart is being struck by lightning. Apparently that’s a thing. The whole soulmate bond feels different depending on what type of soulmates people are.”
She traces her fingers over his chest. “So what are you saying?”
“I think I was right. We are musical soulmates.”
Like the universe itself has decided that they’re writing partners, and made the collaboration official. She kind of loves that.
(She suspects her mom would have loved that too.)
“Then why aren’t we soulmates with Alex and Reggie too?”
He shrugs. “Never needed to be reassured about my relationship with them. Have you?”
“No,” she admits. “So, what? We’re musical soulmates because our feelings for each other would have kept us apart otherwise? Because we’re such disasters?”
He weaves their hands together and pulls them up to his mouth so he can place a kiss on each of her fingers. “Just a theory.”
“You don’t think we’re romantic soulmates?”
Twenty-four hours ago, that thought might have formed into a worry that haunted her, but it’s hard to believe her fears right now when he’s holding her so tightly. “Don’t think it matters. Music and love is all mixed up for us anyways, isn’t it? I dunno how to make music with you without loving you, and I dunno how to love you without making music with you.”
His tender expression is familiar, but the way he lets it live on his face without trying to hide it or chase it away feels new and important, and she allows herself to revel in it.
But the pause must go on too long, because he asks, overly casual, “If we’re not romantic soulmates, you having second thoughts about this?”
“Of course not." Tugging their still joined hands toward her mouth, she presses a kiss to each of his fingers before snuggling her head down onto his chest. "I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you way before I knew you were my soulmate.”