It’s probably, like, cliché or whatever, but on Friday, Leah drives them to a beach that’s about an hour away. She doesn’t bother to try to be secretive about what they’re doing, even though Fatin teases her about choosing a beach, of all places. A pleased smile lingers on Fatin’s face after Leah rolls her eyes and tells her to shut up, so Leah thinks that she made a decent choice. Being an hour away from their home has an added bonus, though, in that it takes most of the pressure off of them. They can act like themselves without having to worry about anyone recognizing them. No one out here cares who they are. No one out here cares that they’re on a date. No one out here gives two shits about them, and there’s something freeing about that.
Leah parks, and before Fatin even gets out of the car, she’s pulling her shirt over her head. She flings it into Leah’s back seat, and Leah has to remind herself not to openly stare at Fatin’s bright pink bikini top. Fatin drops her sunglasses from the top of her head onto her nose. Then Fatin gets out of the car, taking her drawstring bag with her. Before Leah can ask why she needs her bag, Fatin pulls out a bottle of sunscreen and tosses it to Leah without warning. Leah, by some miracle, manages to catch the bottle before it hits the pavement and explodes, probably.
Leah decides not to ask any questions. She just slathers on the sunscreen and returns the bottle to Fatin. Fatin slings the bag over her shoulder, says, “Don’t forget to lock your car.”
“Right,” Leah mumbles, doing just that. “Wouldn’t want anyone to steal your shirt.”
Fatin flashes Leah a wide smile before she shakes her head. “First of all, it’s Gucci, but more importantly, I don’t want to end up stranded out here.”
“Yeah, how would you ever survive being stuck on a public beach for a few extra hours?” Leah says sarcastically. “Please. No one’s going to steal my car. They’d steal that Ferrari over there first.”
“Okay, fair,” Fatin concedes. As they’re stepping onto the sand, Fatin says, “I’ve got a question for you.”
“Could you have planned anything gayer than walking on the beach together?” And when Leah laughs, Fatin says, “No, that’s a serious question.”
“Maybe?” Leah says.
Fatin hums. “I’m impressed, actually. I thought you were gonna make me sit through whatever performance the theater geeks are putting on this week.”
“God, no,” Leah scoffs. “All the theater kids at school are stuck up. You can tell that they think they’re hot shit whenever they’re on stage.”
Fatin laughs, genuinely, and Leah smirks, unable to hide her satisfaction. And this time, Leah doesn’t stress about how the date’s going. She doesn’t worry about whether the conversation will stall. Even when it does, it’s only temporary as they admire the view or watch one of the other beachgoers do something ridiculous. And it’s not until Fatin’s insisting that they stop and help this little kid construct his sandcastle that Leah consciously realizes that Fatin isn’t anything like Leah had assumed before they were Matched. Well, Fatin draws a dick in the side of the castle with her finger, so maybe Leah wasn’t entirely wrong about her. Fatin waits until Leah sees it, waits until Leah rolls her eyes and struggles not to smile, before Fatin swipes it away so the kid won’t get a look at it.
“I didn’t know you liked kids so much,” Leah says as they continue their walk. She pauses to rinse the damp sand off her hands in the ocean while Fatin simply wipes her hands on her jean shorts then shrugs.
“My brothers are young,” Fatin says. “I guess I’m just used to doing shit like building sandcastles, and you gotta make it fun for yourself somehow.”
“So you draw dicks in the sand?”
“Hey, whatever works.”
Leah stares at Fatin for a few moments, and right as Fatin’s surely about to ask what the fuck Leah’s staring at, Leah says, “You’ve got sand in your hair.”
“Oh, fuck! Come on,” Fatin whines. Her hands still have some sand on them, and she motions to Leah, says, “Get it out for me, will you? You actually washed your hands off.”
Leah shakes her head, but they stop walking long enough for Leah to take care of the sand in Fatin's hair. Long enough for Leah to think about how Fatin’s literally just a person, as flawless as Fatin may seem in the few seconds that Leah sees her in passing at school. But here Fatin is, with sand in her hair, launching into a story about how her brothers pelted her with sand balls, as they called them, while they were vacationing in Australia, and she was forced to spend the rest of the day with sand in her ass crack, and Leah starts to see past Fatin’s carefully constructed façade. Fatin pulls her hair back as soon as Leah gets the sand out of it, and instead of continuing to walk, Fatin plops down in the sand, stretches her legs out, then peers up at Leah through her sunglasses.
“Sit with me?” Fatin invites.
Leah sits, close enough to be friendly but not so close that they’re forced to touch. Fatin’s arm finds a way to rest against Leah’s, anyway. Fatin stares out at the horizon, where the sun’s just beginning to set, where the sky’s just beginning to darken, and she pulls her sunglasses off and hooks them on her bikini top. They could probably sit here and watch the sun set in silence. Maybe that’s what Fatin intends to do, but another question pops into Leah’s mind.
“Have you told anyone?” Leah asks quietly. “Have you told anyone that you’re Matched?”
(The question she’s dying to ask is if Fatin’s told anyone that she’s Matched with Leah, but the words stick in her throat.)
“You mean apart from the random fuckboys in my DMs?” Fatin snorts.
“Yes,” Fatin confirms. “My parents know I took the test. They know I got a result almost right away.” Fatin smiles wryly. “They’re desperate to meet you.”
“They don’t know it’s me, though. Right?” Leah asks. She tries to swallow down her sudden nerves at the idea of Fatin’s parents knowing that she exists.
“No, they do,” Fatin says nonchalantly, and Leah nearly chokes.
Fatin leans her shoulder into Leah’s as she laughs, and though Leah’s muscles tense – because Fatin leans into her, but also because Fatin’s parents know – Fatin stays relaxed, and her expression is unbelievably carefree.
“And they’re desperate to meet you,” Fatin repeats. She keeps leaning into Leah. “So if you want to humor me, you’ll come over for dinner sometime.”
“So…you’re inviting me to dinner to meet your parents? Just so I’ve got that right?”
“Well, yeah. Duh.”
A smile flickers on Leah’s face. “That’s some real soulmate type of shit, Fatin.”
Fatin stops leaning into Leah so she can shrug. “Maybe. So what? We’re literally on a date right now.”
“Yeah, but we’re just…”
Fatin’s eyebrows raise. “Just what? Hanging out? Okay, let me admit something really embarrassing to you, then. This is honestly the best date I’ve been on, possibly ever.”
“Yeah. I know. I’ve probably just been going out with some shitty men, but all they had to do was drive my ass to the beach and let me build sandcastles with random kids and talk to me, and they couldn’t even do that. I mean, don’t get too cocky, though. The bar was on the floor, so I guess you’ll have to keep stepping it up if you let my expectations raise.”
“So I guess the next step is dinner with your family. Then what?”
“Marriage,” Fatin says with a straight face, but she only lasts five seconds before she busts out laughing. “Stop trying to think so far ahead, Leah. Jesus. Just enjoy this. How often do you get to sit on a beach and watch the sun set?”
“Exactly.” There’s a pause, and right when Leah thinks they’re going to watch the sun set in silence, Fatin asks, “So what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Have you told anyone you’re Matched?”
Leah hesitates. “Just Ian. My parents don’t know.”
“Yeah, I remember. You told me. They’re against it.”
“They’re happy in their marriage,” Leah says softly. “They don’t want to risk wrecking it. I don’t know. I guess they think you should find your soulmate the old fashioned way.”
Fatin’s silent long enough that Leah looks over at her, surprised to find Fatin’s jaw clenched. It only lasts a few seconds before Fatin sighs heavily and rubs at her temples. “I guess there’s something I should tell you,” Fatin says, and Leah’s heart drops.
“What’s going on?” Leah asks. She tries not to let her mind run through every worst case scenario, tries not to let herself get overly nervous before Fatin has had the chance to explain herself.
“I haven’t exactly been…completely honest with you,” Fatin admits. Their eyes lock, and right as Fatin’s about to speak again, some kids go running past them, shrieking, and Leah startles. “You mind if we go back to the car first?” Fatin asks.
Leah doesn’t answer, just gets to her feet then offers her hands to Fatin, and Fatin takes them. She allows Leah to pull her up, and Leah smiles gently as Fatin’s hands slide out of hers.
“It’s something bad, isn’t it?” Leah can’t help but ask, snagging her lower lip between her teeth. Fatin inhales deeply – not a good sign, Leah thinks – and doesn’t answer. Leah can feel the panic starting to rise in her chest, but it stops dead in its tracks when Fatin reaches over, intertwines her fingers with Leah’s, and keeps a firm grasp on Leah’s hand until they reach the car, until Leah has to fumble to find her keys.
“Great, so the car didn’t get stolen, but we can’t get back in it because you lost your keys,” Fatin jokes.
“I didn’t lose them, I just – gotcha,” Leah mutters. She gets the car unlocked and gets behind the wheel, reminds herself to stay calm. Fatin wouldn’t have held her hand if something was seriously wrong. Or maybe Fatin's about to reject her, but she wants to let Leah down easily? Maybe –
“Stop overthinking it,” Fatin says, startling Leah out of her thoughts, and Fatin smiles gently. She pulls the sunglasses from where they're hanging off of her bikini top and drops them into the cup holder between them, reaches back to grab her shirt from the back seat.
“Well, what haven’t you been honest about?” Leah asks.
Fatin sighs, yanks her shirt over her head, and finally lets her hair back down. She takes a moment to run her fingers through her hair, and she seems to be stalling. “The whole Matching thing,” Fatin says, waving her hand around. “Believe me, I want it to be bullshit. I mean, I wanted so badly to believe that it’s bullshit, because…”
Leah waits. Her heart hammers uncontrollably in her chest, and her mouth’s gone dry, and she has to resist the urge to pull at her eyebrow as Fatin’s eyes close, as Fatin struggles to maintain her composure.
“My dad went behind my mom’s back and took the test after they both agreed that they weren’t going to,” Fatin explains. “And of course his Match isn’t my mom, and it fucked up my whole family. Even though he hasn’t left us, it’s like – we’re just waiting, you know? Waiting for him to decide to upend our lives so he can go be with his Match. So I didn’t want to believe that it’s real, and I took the test so I could try to prove that you can have a Match and decide not to be with them, even if you meet them.” Fatin pauses then scoffs, “But obviously that’s not what’s happening, is it?”
“What’s happening?” Leah asks, perhaps dumbly, but she needs to hear it, whatever Fatin might say.
Fatin chuckles bitterly, rolls her eyes, then exhales and says quietly, “I’m actually starting to like you. I didn’t think it would happen, especially when I got your name in that email. I didn’t honestly think it could happen, but here I am, and I–” Fatin’s voice breaks, and when Fatin finally turns her head to look at Leah, tears welling in her eyes –
Fatin hides nothing. She’s just…raw.
“It’s not your fault,” Leah says. “What happened between your parents – that isn’t your fault. And neither is this. You didn’t want anything to do with me when we first met, and I still pursued you, and I’m sorry. I made this happen.”
Fatin huffs, wipes at her eyes with the heels of her hands, and says, “Don’t apologize. I asked you out first.”
“Yeah, but that was just because you felt guilty or whatever,” Leah mumbles.
“No,” Fatin says softly. “I felt something.” She rolls her eyes again, and the smile she gives to Leah is pained. “I felt something, and I couldn’t resist it. I needed to know. And I knew you were interested in me, so I took the opportunity that presented itself, and I hoped against all odds that maybe nothing would happen. But here we are, right? We spent half the day on the beach, and even though there were people all around us, even though we helped that kid build his sandcastle, it was like it was just the two of us. And I don't know how you’re sunburned as shit when I watched you apply sunscreen four times –”
"Shut up," Leah laughs weakly, and the smile that appears on Fatin's face is short lived.
"But the fact that I even noticed how many times you put on sunscreen..." Fatin shakes her head. "That beach was packed, but it was really just you and me out there."
Leah wets her lips with the tip of her tongue, slowly nods. “Yeah,” she agrees.
“Yeah,” Fatin whispers. “And now I know what it’s like to have a Match, a real Match, and I don’t know what to do anymore.”
Leah holds her hand out as an offer more than anything; an offer she expects Fatin to reject, at that, but Fatin immediately links her fingers through Leah’s and holds on tight.
“I don’t know, either,” Leah confesses. “I guess we’ll just…figure it out together, and whatever happens is what happens, okay?”
Leah smiles, gently teases, “Like you said earlier: stop trying to think so far ahead, Fatin.”
“Oh, don’t even start with that shit,” Fatin says, but her lips curve into a smile, and she squeezes Leah’s hand. “Throwing my own words back at me. It’s so rude.”
“Yeah, but you were right. There’s no reason for us to rush.”
“I love it when I’m right,” Fatin says.
Leah rolls her eyes, smiles at Fatin when Fatin smiles at her. “Do you have a curfew to make?” Leah asks.
Fatin shrugs, plays with one of her earrings. “Technically, yeah, but because of all the shit that went down between my parents, they haven’t really been enforcing it.”
Leah frees her hand from Fatin’s just to start the engine, reclaims Fatin’s hand before she says, “My parents are out for the night.”
Leah watches Fatin perk up, already knows what’s coming. “Out, as in your house is empty?” Fatin questions.
“Yes, but I know what you’re thinking, and –”
“Relax, Leah. I’m just thinking about crashing at your place,” Fatin says, and she sounds sincere. “I’ll sleep on your couch if it’ll make you feel better.”
Leah starts driving, glad that she needs to keep one hand on the wheel while her other hand is locked in Fatin’s, because that means she can’t tug at her eyebrow. “I don’t want to assume too much, but I think it’s fair for me to guess that sex isn’t really a big deal for you,” Leah says. “But I haven’t – I haven’t slept with anyone before, and even though you’re my Match –”
“It’s a big deal,” Fatin finishes for her. “I get it. I’m not expecting anything to happen. I am more than happy to take the couch.”
“You don’t have to sleep on the couch.”
“Good. I deserve better than that,” Fatin says, and they laugh together, and some of the tension around them dissipates. “Seriously, though. I’m good with waiting however long you want to wait.”
There’s a slight pause before Fatin says, “Shit, your virginity is gonna be the most important one I’ll ever take.”
“Oh, come on! Loosen up. I mean, it’s true, but that was also funny.”
It was funny, but Fatin makes this cute face when Leah acts disgruntled, so Leah can’t resist. And the fact that Fatin’s already anticipating taking Leah’s virginity – well, maybe thinking ahead to what the future might hold isn’t always bad.
Leah braces herself for the judgment she’ll receive when Fatin sees her room, but Fatin just drops her bag to the floor and starts rummaging through Leah’s drawers for something to sleep in.
“Don’t look,” Fatin warns, very seriously, as she prepares to change, but then the act slides and Fatin grins. “Kidding. Obviously. But I’ll know if you look, and if you look, that means you’re dying for some of this –”
“I’m changing in the bathroom,” Leah says flatly, and Fatin laughs hard and catches Leah’s wrist before she walks out, tugs her back. Leah stumbles, but Fatin steadies her. Their eyes lock, and Fatin’s breath hitches in her throat, and Leah hopes Fatin will go for it without needing any kind of a hint.
But instead of kissing her, Fatin breathes, “I’m sorry,” and Leah’s eyebrows pull together.
“Why?” Leah asks. “Today literally couldn’t have gone any better.”
“Actually, it could. There’s still time for me to take your virginity before the day ends,” Fatin jokes, smiling when Leah rolls her eyes and shakes Fatin’s hand off of her wrist, when Leah's sunburned face heats up. Fatin’s smile slips, though, when she says, “But seriously, I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.”
“It’s okay,” Leah says without a hint of hesitation.
“It’s not,” Fatin insists. “I wasn’t going to, like, dump all my shit on you when we met just because we were Matched, but I still shouldn’t have – I should’ve been honest sooner. I shouldn’t have let you think you were going through this alone.”
“You were scared,” Leah says. She raises her hand to stroke the pad of her thumb along the curve of Fatin’s jaw, hears Fatin inhale sharply. “And hurt,” Leah adds. “It’s okay.”
Fatin grabs onto Leah’s wrist, holds Leah’s palm against her cheek. “Don’t let me hurt you,” Fatin says.
Fatin nods, lets her eyes close briefly. “Kiss me,” she says, and Leah happily obliges. Fatin cradles Leah’s face as if she’s worried about breaking Leah, kisses Leah gently until Leah grabs Fatin by the hips and pushes her back toward the bed. But Fatin smiles too widely for Leah to keep kissing her, and a moment later, Fatin accidentally presses her fingers too hard into Leah’s sunburn and causes her to yelp, and Fatin loses her balance and falls back onto the bed, pulling Leah with her, and by the time Leah lands atop Fatin, they’re both laughing too hard to breathe. And as Leah presses her face into Fatin’s neck, as Fatin’s arms lock around Leah’s waist, Leah thinks she could stay like this forever.
“I can feel you trying to watch me sleep. Don’t do that. It’s creepy.”
“I’m literally behind you, Fatin. And how can I be trying to watch you sleep if you’re awake?”
“I don’t know. You’re staring at the back of my head, and I can feel it. It’s keeping me up.”
“You’re keeping me up.”
“I should’ve slept on the couch.”
Leah wakes up in a bed that’s way too warm but somehow isn’t uncomfortable. Her arm is slung across Fatin’s waist, and her nose is pressed to the back of Fatin’s neck. And she knows it’s Fatin, because Leah’s sheets smell like Fatin’s Gucci perfume. Leah resists the urge to stretch, carefully takes her arm back so she doesn't disturb Fatin, and grabs her phone. She doesn’t know why she thinks about it, but she opens Instagram and goes to her page, updates her bio. She only has to add one word to it, anyway.
As she tries to return to her previous spot behind Fatin, Fatin stirs, immediately reaching behind her in search of Leah's arm. Once Fatin gets a grasp on Leah's hand, she tugs Leah's arm back around her waist and exhales. Leah thinks Fatin falls back to sleep but doesn't bother to find out for sure. Leah lets her eyes close.
Leah doesn’t know what to expect on Monday, but Fatin’s yellow car swerves into the parking lot like it always does, and Fatin gets out and crosses the lawn like she always does. Ian’s eyes track Fatin as she walks with her phone in her hand. She’s texting someone, and Ian’s about to crack a joke about how Leah’s already been replaced, but moments after Fatin looks up from her phone, Leah’s phone buzzes in her lap.
you better make space for me at your table
It takes all of Leah’s willpower not to throw her and Ian’s backpacks to the grass as Fatin approaches them with a broad smile on her face. And Fatin looks as flawless as ever, has large gold hoops in her ears to go with the gold chain around her neck. Her jacket’s hot pink, left half-unzipped so it exposes a sparkly gold bra, and she’ll definitely get told off by a teacher as soon as she steps into a classroom, but at least Leah gets a chance to shamelessly check Fatin out.
“Not sure we’ve met yet,” Fatin says once she reaches them, extending her hand toward Ian. Her nails are hot pink, too. “Leah’s Match,” she says as Ian warily takes her hand. “The best thing that ever happened to Leah, obviously, but you can just call me Fatin, I guess.”
Ian smiles lopsidedly, shakes Fatin’s hand and gives her his name before he says, “Looks like I’m swapping having to hear Leah bitch about how you don’t want her for having to hear Leah bitch about how you introduce yourself as the best thing that ever happened to her.”
Fatin shrugs, steps up onto the picnic table’s bench even though she’s wearing obnoxiously high heels, then drops down on the table beside Leah. She lets her hand fall onto Leah’s thigh, leans her shoulder into Leah’s before she tells Ian, “I mean, it’s true, though, isn’t it? Now I’d love to hear more about how Leah would bitch about how I didn’t want her?”
“You guys are gonna kill me,” Leah groans. She grabs onto Fatin’s hand, and Fatin’s fingers close around hers. Fatin squeezes Leah’s hand gently as Fatin and Ian snicker together.
“She’d watch the parking lot until you showed up every day then tried to pretend she wasn’t looking for you,” Ian says, ignoring the glare Leah shoots him.
Fatin gasps. “Ugh, babe, that’s so embarrassing for you. Ian, tell me more.”
“Ian, don’t,” Leah warns.
“She went to Matt Lawson’s party and hoped that you’d notice her.”
Fatin scoffs, “Obviously it worked. Keep it coming.”
“Did you see she updated her Instagram bio?” Ian asks.
“I know. She needed to let everyone know that she can’t get enough of me.”
Fatin presses her lips to Leah’s bright red cheek, and Leah grumbles, “You two aren’t allowed to be friends.”