It is an unspoken rule of the internet that you keep your soulmate mark hidden. Perceived availability is part of an influencer's appeal. People need to either want to be you or be with you in order for you to succeed, and Eliza desperately wants to succeed. Successful people are admired and popular and well-liked and not lonely, and Eliza would very much like to be all those things and more, but that desire is constantly undercut by the fear that she will never be enough.
So she looks to strangers and false friends on Twitter and Instagram to fill her heart and staunch its many leaks.
All the while, she is careful to conceal her soulmate's name beneath an elegant wrist cuff that she bought on Etsy, made and designed for that very purpose. At first, she wore it only when posing for a selfie or starting a livestream or attending a public event where there are likely to be photographers. Eventually, however, the bracelet becomes both a habit and a staple of her everyday wardrobe.
She only takes it off when she's completely alone. Sometimes, she glances at the mark in the shower, watching crystal clear water flow over the name etched on the inside of her wrist:
She doesn't think she's met him yet, but it's hard to tell these days. On the internet, hardly anyone uses their real name. Theoretically, the trend grew from the early days of the internet when safety and paranoia were all the rage, but it is Eliza's opinion that people just like being somebody else for a little while, and the internet is a good place to do that. Besides, Henry's a pretty common name. She pretty sure that she's slept with at least seven Henry's over the years, and none of them were soulmate material. They were all fun times, though, aside from one who turned out to be a raging douchebag.
Her nerdy neighbor is saving herself for her own soulmate, but Eliza doesn't understand that particular urge. You're never going to get any you get or hotter or freer than you are right now. No point in wasting your best years waiting on someone who might never show up.
After a night spent in a fluffy coat and an expensive set of lingerie, taking tasteful and artistic selfies to send to her current crop of potential dates -- none of whom are named Henry -- Eliza walks into work with a pair of thick sunglasses, a red miniskirt, and a raging hangover.
When the receptionist at the front desk greets her -- a woman who she always talks to but knows nothing about -- Eliza immediately leans on the counter with a theatrical groan, lifting up her glasses to reveal the designer bags lurking beneath her eyes that no cream has been able to cure.
"You would not be-LIEVE the night I had. I thought I was going to have a quiet night in -- glass of wine, bubble bath, the works -- but then Tom --"
Eliza pauses to clarify before continuing her story.
"You know Tom, the guy from upstairs? Well, he hit me up in my DMs asking for pics and the next thing I know I was trying on my entire closest, and by the time I had a half-decent set put together, he'd fallen asleep. Can you imagine the nerve? Anyway, how I have a pile of mega-hot photos and one less person to send them to. I'm trying to come up with a list of potential candidates to take his spot, but it's much harder than I expected. If you think of anyone, do you mind shooting me a text? You'd be an absolute lifesaver."
Before the receptionist has a chance to get so much as a word in edgewise -- be it positive or negative -- Eliza sets off, weaving through desks and dividers and chairs in order to find her own. Compared to the minimalist, fashionable life that she portrays on her socials, her desk is a mess. Since she's in sales, she doesn't spend a lot of time on the office, and trash has a tendency to pile up after a while. There's more than one half-empty Starbucks cup, a disheveled pile of memos that she told somebody she'd look at later and then didn't, and a collection of haphazardly hung photos that show her bro-ing out with some of her male coworkers. Once, a manager asked her to take them down, citing the photos as "unprofessional" but Eliza had retorted that since all of the photos were taken at company parties and corporate events, they were inherently professional.
She won, and she got to keep the photos.
Eliza's barely had time to settle in her chair and plug her laptop into her monitor before Jeff the intern raps on the corner of her desk.
"Hey, girl, new boss wants to see you ASAP. Sounds important."
Momentary confusion sweeps across Eliza's face. For some reason, she doesn't remember being told that there was a new hire in management. Maybe it's because she's been too plugged into the goings on in the virtual world to keep track of what's going on in the real one.
...Or maybe she's just been overlooked as a valuable employee worth telling things to. Again.
She tosses a quick "Thanks," in Jeff the intern's direction before closing her laptop with decisive snap, grabbing her purse, and stalking towards the bathroom to apply a fresh coat of lipstick and make sure the "girls" are still sitting pretty under her shirt. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Eliza knows where the interests of her of male superiors usually lie.
Not that you'd ever catch her complaining. She likes getting attention, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
And so with red lips and a tight skirt and a mischievous glimmer in her eyes, Eliza strides into the office which, until this morning, had sat unoccupied for several months.
It does not occur to her to stop and check the nameplate on the door. In her mind, all these executives are different shades of the same guy. She completely forgets about the name etched on her skin, the mark which everyone in the real world has long been obsessed with, yet holds no power and mystique to those who live their lives mostly online.
She also doesn't bother to knock.
She walks in with a bounce in her step and a hitch at the corner of her lips and says, "I heard you were looking for me?"
The new Marketing Manager's back is to Eliza when she enters, but when he finally turns around to face her, she cannot help but admire the view. He is a gorgeous man -- self-assured, handsome, and incredibly fit.
It is only when she catches sight of the judgement that falls over his eyes and the slightly down-turned corners of his mouth as he rubs his thumb over the inside of his wrist that Eliza's appreciation of his assets waivers.
"You're Eliza Dooley?" The words are caught somewhere between statement and question. Eliza hates that even his voice is sexy.
"Yeah." Eliza crosses her arms and leans her weight back into one hip -- the movement sudden and defensive.
The man takes a step out from behind his desk and moves towards her. Though Eliza fully expects him to enter her space, he doesn't. Instead, he comes to a stop a respectful distances away from her and undoes a button on his shirt cuff. He rolls up his sleeve, leaving his forearm exposed. And right there, gleaming in the florescent light, is a name.
Eliza's whole hot girl act is suddenly forgotten. Eliza fidgets nervously, running a restless tongue over her lips. There are lots of Elizas in the world. It doesn't mean anything. And besides, his name might not even be on her arm. Their marks might not even match.
Secretly, she hopes that they're not a match. It's a petty and premature judgement, but she is capable of being far worse things than petty. As beautiful as this man is, she doesn't think she appreciates the holier than thou way in which he looked at her a moment ago.
He doesn't look fun, and more than anything, she'd like her soulmate to be fun.
"No?" Eliza says after a long moment. "I don't even know your name, if you hadn't noticed. It's not like you introduced yourself.'
Embarrassment ripples across his face as he tugs the fabric of his sleeve back of his wrist. The way in which his bearing shifts, you'd think he had committed a grave felony.
"I'm terribly sorry," he amends, extending a hand for her to shake. "I'm Henry Higgs, the new Marketing Director."
Beneath the metal cuff of Eliza's bracelet, her soulmark seems to burn, tracing the scripted lines of his name with a single line of searing, wholly imagined pain.
Based on this first interaction, Eliza can't see this going well for either of them, so instead of allowing him to be further disappointed in her or placing herself in a position where she would feel compelled to desperately prove herself, she pretends to be unmoved and shakes his hand.
"Wrong Eliza," she lies. "I'm a ticket to a good time, but I don't think you got in line for this ride, but it's nice to meet you anyway."
Maybe someday she'll tell him the truth. Maybe this first impression was just a fluke and things will begin to go better, but for now, this seems like a much better plan.
Eliza reminds herself that she doesn't need a soulmate. The more often she repeats the mantra, the truer it seems. A hot stick in the mud is still a stick in the mud, whether his name is on his wrist or not.
Besides, keeping it secret will be better for her socials.
However, what she has no way of knowing yet is how contagious Henry's laugh will sound when he begins to loosen up. She has no way of knowing how freeing it can be to find a person who is your perfect complement. She has no way of knowing how in twelve months, she'll take a voluntary social media sabbatical, with the exception of a sickeningly sweet couples page that Henry has learned to tolerate.
Because despite occasionally frosty first meetings, the fates sometimes know what they're doing. Eliza and Henry will figure out that they're not a bad match in the end; they're just a work in progress.
You can't judge a masterpiece until it's finished.