Leah’s life grinds to a halt until Friday. Like, every day literally drags so hard. All she can do is look forward to catching a glimpse of Fatin at school each day and remind herself she’s gonna have the chance on Friday to prove to Fatin that they can have something real.
Obviously she doesn’t make Fatin figure out where she lives on her own. She gives Fatin her address, right after she gives Fatin her phone number once they both replace their phones. Leah thinks that counts as progress, even if Fatin is dead set against the idea of being Matched.
“How’d you get her to agree to go out with you?” Ian asks on Monday.
“I didn’t,” Leah says nonchalantly. “She asked me out.”
Ian chokes on his drink, so Leah has to explain everything that went down at Matt’s party, and Ian just says, “You know, we have finals coming up next week, and this is what you’re worried about?”
As if finals are more important than her literal soulmate.
Friday does eventually show up, and while Leah should be worrying about all of her finals, instead she’s worrying about the outfit she’s going to change into after school ends. At least she’s narrowed it down to three choices. Ian promises to come over and help her choose, but Leah’s pretty sure he’s just using her problems as an excuse not to study, too.
“Are you telling your parents?” Ian asks as Leah finishes getting into the third and final dress. He makes a face and says, “Definitely not that one. Go back to the second dress.”
“Am I telling my parents what?”
“That you’re going on a date?”
“Yeah, I told them,” Leah says. “I didn’t tell them it’s with my Match,” she says pointedly.
“They don’t even know you have a Match,” Ian says. “So duh. Do they know you’re going with a girl?”
Leah hesitates. “No. I didn’t think that was important enough to include.”
Ian shrugs. “It’s your life. If you’re lying about being Matched, you might as well lie about dating a girl.”
“We aren’t dating,” Leah grumbles. “We’re going on a date. Unfortunately there’s a difference.”
“Yeah, but she’s your Match. She’s supposed to fall in love with you,” Ian replies, and for once, he says the right thing. He lounges back on her bed as she works on getting back into the second dress.
(It’s kind of too tight and too low cut and too short and too shimmery, but if there was ever a time to dress in a way that makes Leah feel slightly uncomfortable, it’s tonight.)
“I mean, millions of people report falling in love with people they never would’ve chosen for themselves,” Ian goes on. “It’s a thing that happens.”
“But you don’t want it for yourself,” Leah reminds.
“Fuck no. What if they match me with a dude?”
Leah snorts, and then they’re laughing, and Leah manages to say, “I don’t think that kind of thing is usually a huge surprise.”
“You weren’t surprised to be Matched with Fatin?”
“Yeah, but that’s because it was Fatin. I guess I assumed I’d be Matched with a guy, but it wasn’t, like, major news that I’m attracted to women, Ian.”
(Actually, it was kind of major news, but only because Leah hadn’t fully analyzed what she felt towards certain women. Ian doesn’t need to hear about Leah's issues with deciphering who she might be attracted to, though. What if he really is Matched with a dude? Then what’s Leah going to say? That he’s the first person to ever be mismatched?)
“Yeah, okay,” Ian says. “Still, you were freaking out. You emailed the company saying there must be a mistake, but –”
Leah throws her shoe in his direction, and Ian cuts himself off as he manages to snag it out of the air. “Shut up,” Leah says weakly.
“But now you like her,” Ian finishes. He tosses her shoe back to her. “Why are you wearing heels? Aren’t you already taller than Fatin?” he asks.
“Yeah, but if she wears heels, she’ll be taller than me unless I wear them, too,” Leah replies. “And something about Fatin being taller than me is weird.”
“Fuck off. Is this the dress or what?”
“Yeah,” Ian says. “The first one gives funeral vibes and the third one is too childish. No offense. That’s the one for sure.”
“You’re not just saying that because I’m, like, two seconds away from a nip-slip at any second, are you?”
“Are you accusing me of looking at your chest?” Ian questions.
“I wasn’t, but if you are –”
“Jesus, I’m not, and no, that’s not why I said – I thought you wanted my opinion!” Ian exclaims.
Leah grins, and Ian relaxes, and he doesn’t complain when she pushes him out of her house because Fatin’s supposed to be here any minute, and she doesn’t want Ian around for that. He wishes her good luck, though, and she pushes him out the door faster so she doesn’t cry and ruin the makeup that she spent so much time on. Less than a minute after Ian drives off, Fatin’s expensive yellow car pulls into the driveway, and Leah has to rush to get her heels on, to get her purse, to run past her parents and shout that, yes, she will be home by midnight. She gets out of there before her parents can try to squeeze more information out of her and hurries to get into the car, hoping Fatin will drive off before her parents figure out she’s not going out with a guy.
“Well shit,” Fatin says as Leah’s yanking her seatbelt on. “What? You don’t want me to come in and meet your parents and ask them for permission to marry you?”
Leah rolls her eyes. “Actually, no.”
“Why not?” Fatin teases. “Is that too fast even for you?”
Leah gnaws on her lower lip then admits, “They don’t know I’m Matched. They’re, like, against it, I guess. And they sure as hell don’t know I’m with you.”
Fatin laughs in disbelief and shakes her head before turning her attention to driving. “That’s kind of fucked up, Leah.”
Leah doesn’t justify that with a response, just hopes Fatin doesn’t catch her checking her out. Not that she’s checking Fatin out just for the hell of it, even though Fatin looks as stunning as always. She’s trying to figure out where the fuck Fatin’s taking her for this date. Fatin never bothered to say, and Leah figured she’s better off not knowing. Fatin’s dressed up, too, so Leah doesn’t worry too much. It’s going to be, like, a real date and not something like the nearest public high school’s football game.
Sure enough, they pull up to some fancy restaurant, and as soon as they’re both out of the car, Fatin openly looks Leah over. Leah still isn't used to how nonchalant Fatin is about checking her out, even while she's literally staring at Fatin.
“Hmm, you put real effort into this,” Fatin comments, and by some miracle, Leah doesn't blush. “But you had to wear heels, didn’t you? You aren’t tall enough?”
“I don’t like when you’re taller than me,” Leah says, and she smiles at the sour look on Fatin’s face. “After you?”
Leah can’t afford this place, and while she’s looking over the menu and contemplating how she’s going to tell Fatin that she’s broke, Fatin says, “I’m paying, so don’t even think about the prices.”
“Okay, actually I’m going to think about them even more now,” Leah replies.
“Seriously, don’t. I’m charging it to my dad’s card, and he doesn’t even check it, so get what you want,” Fatin says without looking up from her menu.
In that case, Leah already knows what she wants, and she sets her menu aside. And already, none of this is going the way she’d hoped. They’ve barely spoken since they were seated, like, five minutes ago. Fatin has barely even looked at her even though they’re sitting directly across from each other. The table is rather small, so their legs practically have to touch under it, but still. Nothing. And Leah has no idea where to start as far as a real conversation goes. So maybe she’s going to prove Fatin right. Maybe she’s going to prove that Matching is actually just bullshit, and two people who otherwise probably have nothing in common cannot just fall in love because they’re genetically designed to do so or however the fuck that whole thing is supposed to work. And if she proves Fatin right, if she proves that Matching is just bullshit, then obviously the feelings she thinks she has for Fatin are fake, then, and that doesn’t make sense.
(Of course Leah has considered that maybe it’s, like, some placebo effect type of bullshit where a corporation tells you that you’re scientifically, 100% perfect for the person you’re Matched to and you believe it regardless of if it’s true so you just develop feelings for a stranger. She supposes that’s possible, but it feels too real to just be some fake shit. It feels too real for her to doubt herself too much.)
Leah sighs, resists the urge to cover her face with her hand, and glances over her shoulder to see if their waiter’s coming. If this night is going to fail massively, it should at least go by as fast as possible.
“You okay?” Fatin asks, and Leah looks back at her.
“Fine," Leah grunts.
“You don’t seem fine," Fatin observes, and Leah kind of wishes she'd let it go.
“What do you care, Fatin?” Leah asks. “You should be thrilled.”
“About what?” Fatin asks, and Leah almost laughs at Fatin’s seemingly genuine confusion.
As their waiter finally appears, Leah says, “About being right,” then turns to order. At least she’ll get a free, really expensive meal out of this increasingly awkward night. Fatin still looks confused as she orders something that sounds fancy and complex and hands their menus off to the waiter.
“Right about what?” Fatin asks.
Leah rolls her eyes, mutters, “Don’t make this any worse by playing dumb.”
“No, seriously. You lost me.”
“About Matching being bullshit,” Leah says. She reaches for her drink, just to have something to do with her hands while she says, “Everyone’s just fooling themselves into falling in love with strangers. Like, case in point, I guess.”
“Still lost,” Fatin says, and Leah sighs heavily. Can’t even find it in herself to be irritated. It’s just so…depressing. Leah got her hopes up for literally nothing.
“This is going terribly,” Leah says.
Fatin shrugs. “I mean, personally, I'm doing fine. We just have nothing to talk about because we have nothing in common. And physical attraction means nothing without having anything deeper to support it.”
Leah doesn’t say how that sounded an awful lot like Fatin confessing that she finds Leah attractive, though it’s tempting. It takes a few moments, but Leah finally thinks of something real to say. Doesn’t even know how she thinks of it; it just pops into her head, unprompted.
“You play the cello,” Leah says, stirring her straw around in her drink. “Like, you play it so well that you’re headed for Juilliard, right?”
Fatin hums. “You’re not wrong.”
“Okay, well, that’s fascinating.”
Fatin scoffs, rolls her eyes, taps her manicured nails against the table. They’re short, painted a deep shade of blue to match her dress. “It’s really not,” Fatin says. “Don’t even pretend like you care about that.”
“Well, I really don’t.”
Leah inhales sharply then on a whim asks, “If you don’t care about the cello, then what do you care about? Like, if you could choose anything to do with your life, what would you want to do?”
Fatin stares across the table at Leah for a long time. Leah starts to wonder if Fatin didn’t understand the question, but before she can try to rephrase it, Fatin says, “Honestly? I have no idea. My whole life has been about that stupid instrument, so I’ve never bothered to think beyond it.”
“Well, apart from going to parties, what do you like to do?” Leah asks.
“I don’t really have time for the cello, parties, and hobbies, Leah,” Fatin replies. Then hesitates. “I don’t know. Maybe I’d be into, like, fashion, if I was actually given the chance to focus on something else. What about you?”
“What about me?” Leah asks dumbly.
“What would you want to do if you could choose anything?”
“I’m already doing it,” Leah answers.
A smile flickers on Leah’s face. “Writing. Oh my God, you don’t know why I’m at our school, do you?”
“I mean, yeah, I know why you’re at some pretentious art school,” Fatin says defensively. “I didn’t know you actually enjoy what you’re there for. So what are you gonna do? Write the next Great American Novel?” Fatin teases. “Or the next hot YA trilogy with a cliché love triangle? Or just some fake deep bullshit that goes on for twelve pages about the color of the wallpaper in a waiting room?”
Leah laughs against her will then says, “Hey, I actually liked that book, okay?”
“Oh, God, it was the worst thing this school has ever assigned,” Fatin says. “And the author seems like a total creeper.”
“The wallpaper was, like, a metaphor,” Leah says, and Fatin laughs so hard that she doubles over and goes silent, and Leah laughs at Fatin laughing and can’t finish her explanation of what the metaphor was. Not that Fatin even cares.
“All I’m saying is, we’ve been forced to read better books,” Fatin says when she pulls herself together. She dabs at her eyes with her napkin, a smile lingering on her face.
“You actually read the assigned books?” Leah jokes.
“Fuck you,” Fatin chuckles. “Yes! I have to. I’m not allowed to fail classes. Juilliard doesn’t take failures.”
“Like you could be a failure if you tried,” Leah says. “You have more talent in your pinky finger than I have in my entire body.”
“You can’t really compare talents,” Fatin replies, easily. “We’re doing completely different things. Speaking of, you never told me what kind of novel you’re trying to write. So come on. Spill.”
Leah feels her cheeks heat up, and she rolls her eyes even though Fatin almost definitely notices, and she mumbles something about her current project, startles when Fatin presses her for more information about it. Information she really doesn’t want to hand out. Partially because it makes her feel like a braggy asshole. But it's mostly because ever since she was Matched with Fatin, she’s been taking the project in a different direction, and she doesn’t want to admit that she added a gay, unrequited love subplot. She knows Fatin will catch onto why exactly she’s writing about that particular topic. Thankfully, before Fatin can push too hard, their food arrives, diverting their attention.
“You know, I’m a little surprised,” Leah says.
“About what?” Fatin asks, and Leah’s grateful that Fatin gives up on learning more about her current project.
Leah waves her arm around, answers, “You took this seriously.”
Fatin rolls her eyes. “Well, what were you expecting? A fake date?”
“Kind of, yeah. Or just something that takes, like, zero effort.”
Fatin scoffs. “Baby, I don’t do zero effort.”
“Even for the Match you never wanted?” Leah questions.
Fatin smiles wryly, points her fork at Leah. “Well, whether I want you or not, you are my Match. I figured I could at least give you a decent date.”
(Even though nothing further will happen between us goes unspoken, and Leah starts to focus on eating.)
The food’s good. Should be, given the price. They eat, and Fatin doesn’t check her phone even once. The pressure to talk is off. And as badly as Leah wants this date to go well, as desperately as she wants Fatin to like her – as pathetic as that sounds – she kind of can’t wait for it to end. This was stupid. It’s making her look stupid for believing so fully in Matching, for wanting some girl she doesn’t even know.
“Did you get quiet because the food’s really good or because you’re thinking too much?” Fatin asks, and Leah’s eyes flick up to meet Fatin’s gaze from across the table. There’s a gentle, teasing smile on Fatin’s face, but it’s a serious question.
“Do you really care?” Leah retorts. Her question might’ve caught Fatin off guard, because Fatin doesn’t answer at first. “Can we just – eat and get out of here?” Leah mutters.
“Suddenly you’re dying to get away from me?” Fatin questions. “What? Figured out you don’t actually like me after all?”
“No,” Leah snaps. “I decided it’s not worth chasing someone that wants nothing to do with me, so let’s just eat and be done, okay?”
They’re subjected to a long, awkward silence as Fatin pokes at her plate but doesn’t eat and as Leah eats as quickly as possible without risking choking.
“You know,” Fatin eventually says, “there’s a reason I asked you out.”
“Yeah, I know. You wanted to prove to me that I don’t like you. I get it.”
“Well, there’s that, but…it was what you said at the party.”
Leah swallows her mouthful, and her eyebrows pull together. “What did I say?”
“You just wanted a chance,” Fatin says softly. “And I just – it was nice, for once, to know someone was chasing after me because they wanted to get to know me and weren’t just chasing me because they wanted to fuck me. So I offered you a chance, okay?” Fatin pauses, eyes dropping from Leah’s face to somewhere lower before she says, “And you took it seriously and put, like, real effort into this, so I –”
“Don’t bother to feel bad, Fatin,” Leah cuts in. “You’re getting what you want. I’ll leave you alone after this, okay? We can forget it ever happened.”
“Except we can’t,” Fatin says. “We’re Matched. There’s no such thing as just forgetting.”
“Being Matched doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means something to you.”
Leah doesn’t know what to say to that, and she busies herself with sipping at her drink so hopefully her eyes won’t tear up. Fatin’s eyes won’t leave her, though, and once Leah swallows, she quietly says, “We can choose someone else.”
“You chose me.”
It’s hard to deny, so Leah mumbles, “You were right, though. I don’t know you.”
Fatin smiles. “You chose me without knowing me, and not just to get in my pants. At least, I assume –”
“I’m not trying to sleep with you.”
“Yet,” Fatin says. She goes as far as to wink, laughs when Leah blushes. “Look, what I’m trying to say is…just relax. Like, it’s okay. You don’t have to rush to get out of here unless you really want to get away from me.”
Leah’s silent for a long time before she asks, “Is that your way of saying you’re having a good time?”
Fatin laughs, shakes her head, says, “Don’t flatter yourself too much.” She inhales deeply then admits, “It’s not as bad as I expected it to be.”
“What were you expecting?” Leah questions.
“I don’t know, like, total awkward silence. And I didn’t think you’d show up looking hot.”
Leah blushes against her will again and rolls her eyes, can’t think of anything to say about that. Instead, she says, “You gotta be careful with what you say, Fatin. You don’t want to give me the wrong idea.”
Fatin shrugs then flags down their waiter and hands off her card without looking at the bill. “Matching is bullshit,” Fatin says. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get to know each other. I mean, like, worst case scenario, we decide not to be in each other’s lives, but we had fun at that party, right? We proved that we could be friends.” Fatin pauses just to smirk before she says, “And if Matching actually isn’t bullshit, then we’ll go from there.”
The waiter returns with Fatin’s card, and she takes it without letting her eyes leave Leah’s face. Leah waits until they’re walking out the door before she asks, “So what changed with you? You were so against having anything to do with me, and now – oh my God.”
“What?” Fatin says. She unlocks her car, flips her hair over her shoulder, and looks over at Leah.
(Leah made the right choice, going with a dress with a low neckline.)
“You felt something, too,” Leah guesses. She doesn’t get a chance to see how Fatin’s expression may or may not change, since they’re both busy getting in Fatin’s car, but by the time they’re seated, Fatin looks nonchalant. “When was it?” Leah questions. “At the party?”
“Nothing drastic changed, Leah,” Fatin scoffs. “I told you, I just wanted to give you a chance –”
“Because you felt something and wanted to find out if it’s real,” Leah finishes. She smiles in spite of herself, but Fatin is unreadable. “You know, some people just jump right into it with their Match,” Leah says. She fidgets with the watch on her wrist, stares out the windshield as Fatin drives. “They don’t worry about whether they have anything in common.”
“I’m not ready to legally tie myself down forever,” Fatin says. “So slow it down, unless you’re trying to tell me you want to fuck. Then we can talk.”
“That’s not at all what I’m saying.”
“That’s what it sounds like to me,” Fatin says. “Jumping right into it. More like jumping right into bed. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe the sex is so good between Matched people that they all just get married right away and worry about the rest later.”
Leah busts out laughing as Fatin grins, and she kind of hates that she’s not more worked up about Fatin yet again doubting the Matching process.
“So…what? You want to test that theory?” Leah jokes.
Fatin’s grin morphs into a smirk before she asks, “Do you? Because I'm down.”
“Fatin. I was kidding. We’ve been on one date.”
“Oh, sorry, but no one would judge you for fucking your Match on the first date, if that's what's holding you back. Just saying.”
She can only imagine what she’d hear from Ian. Can only imagine what she’d hear at school the next day. As if Fatin wouldn’t talk about fucking her Match, just for the experience. As if that wouldn’t go everywhere.
(Maybe she shouldn’t judge Fatin prematurely.)
“Okay, yeah, didn’t think you’d go for that,” Fatin laughs. “Worth a shot?”
Leah inhales sharply then says, “Go out with me again?”
“Go out with me again,” Leah repeats as they pull up to a red light. They both look over at each other at the same time, and their eyes lock. Fatin’s eyebrows raise. “But not – not something like this,” Leah says. “Something low key.”
“You actually like me enough to give this another shot?” Fatin questions. The light turns green, so at least Fatin can’t stare curiously at Leah anymore.
“I mean, I feel like I know you a little better.”
“And you still want to know more?”
“Then okay,” Fatin agrees. “I’ll go out with you again. But you’re planning it.”
Slowly, Leah smiles. She struggles to contain how giddy she feels, resists the urge to immediately text Ian about how she’s getting a second date. Shit. She needs to figure out something for them to do. She’s still drawing a blank when Fatin pulls into her driveway.
“Thank you,” Leah says. “For driving and for dinner and – yeah. For everything.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Fatin dismisses.
“It kind of is,” Leah says softly. “Thanks for giving me another shot.”
“Don’t get too sappy on me,” Fatin says, but her tone is gentle.
“You sure you aren’t just doing this because you feel bad for me?”
Fatin rolls her eyes, shakes her head, replies, “Go inside, Leah. Quit overthinking it.”
Leah cracks a smile, reluctantly gets out of Fatin’s car, pausing just long enough to duck down and peer back into the car, to meet Fatin’s gaze when she says, “Goodnight, Fatin.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Fatin says. “I’ll see you Friday.”