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i said i wouldn't let you in

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She takes the test on her eighteenth birthday. She’s been itching to do it since the service first emerged a couple years ago, even as she watched the divorce rate spike, even as she watched her parents vehemently refuse to get Matched. She knows that her chances of getting Matched immediately are slim unless her Match is a couple years older and already took the test. She knows it’s more likely she’ll be one of the people who wait months and possibly years to be Matched. She knows it’s possible that her Match will never take the test, that she’ll be left wondering until she dies, that she might have to shack up with someone with a Match who is unknown or dead or unwilling to leave their current partner.

 

But still. She’s too curious not to do it. So as soon as she’s officially eighteen, she discreetly mails in her DNA sample and begins her wait. A few days later, she gets an email confirming that her sample has been received, gently reminding her that she might have a bit of a wait before her Match is found due to her young age, due to the probability that her Match is still under eighteen on top of the probability that her Match hasn’t taken the test, may never take the test – if she’s unlucky.

 

She goes to school the day she gets the confirmation email and joins Ian at their usual spot on the lawn. He smiles like always and asks, “So did you actually do it?”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Take the test.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes. “Yeah.”

 

“What’d your parents say?”

 

Leah scoffs. “They don’t know, and they’re never going to. You know they’re, like, super against all this stuff.”

 

Ian hums. “Maybe they have a point, though. Did you hear Mr. Prescott left his pregnant wife to be with his Match?”

 

Leah huffs. “So some people get, like, super unlucky, but if his wife gets Matched –”

 

“Oh, come on,” Ian cuts in. “It’s not like that fixes everything. You’re way too idealistic about this sort of stuff.”

 

“Maybe you’re way too cynical,” Leah retorts.

 

Ian shrugs, scratches at the back of his neck, and asks, “So what are you hoping for?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Like, what kind of guy are you hoping to get Matched with?”

 

“Oh,” Leah says. Her eyebrows pull together. “I don’t know. I don’t actually get to choose, you know.”

 

“Well, duh, but you can have hopes, right?”

 

“I don’t know, like, maybe tall?” Leah says, and Ian busts out laughing. Grudgingly, Leah smiles. “Tall, and like, not balding prematurely. Maybe a guy with a beard would be nice. Pretty eyes? A nice smile? What do you want me to say?”

 

“I know you’re dying for a writer,” Ian says. “Don’t even deny it. I saw how you drooled over Galanis at that stupid presentation last week.”

 

“Shut up! I did not drool over him,” Leah snaps, but her face burns bright red. “You’re terrible,” Leah says as Ian laughs.

 

“Hey, I’m just telling it like it is,” Ian replies. “And you were ready to jump Galanis.” As Leah shoots Ian a death glare and struggles to think of a comeback, a flashy yellow car swerves into the parking lot, and Fatin Jadmani pops out. She fixes her hair before she closes the car door, makes a phone call before she even starts walking toward the school, and both Ian and Leah watch her. “I wonder who her Match could be,” Ian mutters after she walks by, carrying a loud conversation.

 

“Probably, like, some up and coming actor or something,” Leah says. “He’s probably 6’5” with a good credit score.”

 

“Imagine if she was Matched to, like, a janitor. She’s probably so shallow, she’d demand a new test,” Ian snorts.

 

“Is she even old enough to get Matched yet?” Leah asks.

 

“I don’t know,” Ian answers, and the first bell ringing ends their conversation. By the time Leah’s in her English class, she doesn’t even remember the conversation.

 

*

 

She checks her email obsessively the first few days, then slowly but surely gives it up. Her Match is probably still seventeen, still legally unable to be Matched. Or her Match is twenty, and he’s the type who doesn’t want to know who his Match is, and she’ll be left wondering forever. Even if she stops obsessively checking her email, the idea still consumes her thoughts every night while she’s trying to sleep. Who her Match might be. Where he might live. If she’s ever going to be Matched in the first place. She’s getting ahead of herself by imagining a future with her hypothetical Match. And she’ll still have to deal with her disapproving parents. But the idea of living her life with the person she’s biologically made for, the idea of unending happiness in a relationship – how could she pass up the opportunity at that?

 

Maybe she is too idealistic. Maybe her notions of meeting her Match are too unrealistically romantic. Maybe she’ll find out who her Match is and be horrifically disappointed. Though, when she grills herself on what would disappoint her, she has a hard time coming up with solid answers. It’s not like it’ll be the end of the world if he’s 5’8” and she’s doomed to never wear heels. One night, she does have the admittedly terrifying idea that someone she knows could be her Match, though the idea is easier to discount when she remembers that she’s supposed to be, like, irresistibly drawn to her Match. She’s read all about what it supposedly feels like to be with your Match, and she knows for a fact she has never experienced anything like that with anyone.

 

Granted, she’s been on very few dates with very few boys. And she’s also lacking in the friends department, so maybe her Match is actually at her school, and maybe she’s had a class with him but would’ve never known they’re made for each other because she’s chronically quiet and unadventurous. Some people, somehow, find their Match on their own and confirm it by taking the test, but Leah knows that would never happen to her. She doesn’t get out enough.

 

But what if she was Matched with someone famous? Wouldn’t that be something? She shouldn’t think like that. She’s just setting herself up for disappointment –

 

It’s two in the morning, but her phone lights up on her nightstand. In confusion, Leah grabs it, expecting a text from Ian or, like, a notification from Twitter or something. Instead, she finds an email, a whole three weeks after she mailed in her DNA sample.

 

You’ve got a Match!

 

Leah bolts upright in bed at the subject of the email, leans over to switch the lamp on, and clamps her hand over her mouth, just in case some sort of sound tries to escape. She forces herself to breathe and calm down a little bit before she opens the email. This email literally will irreversibly change her life. It’s a big moment. She takes a second to bask in the anticipation, her heart hammering in her chest, then she opens the email. She struggles to read every word, to not skim over it to get to the details of her Match. When she’d signed up, she’d paid the small fee upfront in order to access the full name, description, and potential contact details of her Match. And she’d checked the box that would allow her information to be sent out to her Match if they’d paid for them, too.

 

There’s got to be a mistake. Someone, somewhere, working for a corporation with a perfect track record even after hundreds of millions of Matches have been found, has definitely made a massive fucking mistake. They’ve sent Leah the wrong Match, because there’s no fucking way – there’s no way. In fact, Leah’s so convinced that there’s been a mistake that she writes up an email to the company right away, sends it at 2:07 in the morning, and lies awake the rest of the night as she stews over that You’ve got a Match! email. The words are burned into her brain. How could they not be? It’s either a fucking joke or an unforgiveable mistake.

 

It takes a while before she realizes that, since she’s been alerted of her alleged Match, then her alleged Match has also been alerted of her. That thought alone is enough to get Leah to double check that email, to make sure she read all of it correctly. To make sure she didn’t make the mistake.

 

But of course she didn’t. The email’s the same as it was an hour ago.

 

You’ve got a Match!

 

Dear Miss Rilke,

 

You paid in advance to receive your Match’s contact information, and your Match has selected to provide their contact details in the event of a Match, so please see below for your full description of your Match.

 

Your Match is:

 

Fatin Jadmani, 18, from Berkeley, California. Dark hair, brown eyes, 5’8” and student at East Bay Academy of Art. Email: fatinjadmani@gmail.com. Phone number: 510-632-7319.

 

Our sincerest congratulations on finding your Match! We wish you a lifetime of happiness.

 

It’s a joke. Leah even checks the email address that the message came from, in case Ian’s trying to, like, dupe her. The email address is legit, though. Everything is legit.

 

At 4:00 a.m. exactly, she receives a reply.

 

Dear Miss Rilke,

 

We are sorry to hear of your initial disappointment with the identity of your Match, but we assure you, there has been no mistake. We currently have 103,579,635 Matches and counting, and there has not been one reported and confirmed case of a mismatch. To be safe, we have rerun your results, and the same results were produced. Your Match is Fatin Jadmani. We encourage you to reach out to the many services we provide for additional support, if required. We have attached some flyers for your convenience.

 

Again, we sincerely congratulate you on finding your Match. We wish you a lifetime of happiness.

 

Well, fuck them, then. They’re wrong. They have to be. First, it never crossed Leah’s mind that she could be Matched with a woman. She knows it happens to people, but to her? She’s, like, 87% sure she’s straight. Okay, if she’s honest, maybe it’s not completely out of left field, but it’s still an unexpected result. Second – and even worse – her Match cannot be Fatin Jadmani. Maybe it could be some random woman at another school. Sure, why not? Leah could work with that, probably. But self-professed cello virtuoso, Juilliard-bound musician, hardcore party girl, Fatin Jadmani is not Leah’s Match. There’s no way. They have absolutely nothing in common.

 

Well, they’re both women. Leah supposes there’s that, but that’s practically nothing in common.

 

(And they go to the same school, but fuck that.)

 

Leah chews on her lower lip as she rereads that reply over and over.

 

(There has been no mistake.)

 

No mistake? How could this not be a gigantic mistake? They just don’t want to admit they’re wrong. Huge corporations – but especially this one – never want to admit it. This is totally wrong.

 

She tells the only person she knows she can trust.

 

4:17 a.m. I’ve been Matched but it has to be a mistake

 

She has to wait until Ian wakes up for school to receive an answer.

 

Ian, 6:02 a.m. wym?

 

6:04 a.m. I MEAN meet me in the parking lot at 7 and I’ll show you

 

*

 

He’s there right at seven, sitting on the hood of his old station wagon, and Leah runs over and basically throws her phone into his chest. Ian startles but manages to catch her phone, turns his attention to the screen. She left the email up for him to read, and he reads through it. Four times.

 

“This is definitely a mistake,” he scoffs.

 

“That’s what I thought,” Leah agrees. She sounds breathless, and she hoists herself up onto the hood of the wagon beside him. “So I emailed them, right?” she says. She motions for him to find the response, and he does.

 

“I mean…they’re right,” Ian says slowly. “There haven’t been any verified reports of actual mismatches. Why would you be the first?”

 

Leah’s eyes widen, and she punches him in the arm, ignores his ow. “Because this can’t be right, Ian!”

 

“Yeah, you’re not even gay.”

 

“I’m not even gay!” Leah says, way louder than she needs to. She draws the attention of a group of freshmen who have just arrived, and she winces when they look at her. She rips her phone out of Ian’s hand. “And the worst part is, Fatin almost definitely knows we’ve been Matched, too. I mean, as long as she checks her email.”

 

“Maybe she hasn’t?” Ian says weakly.

 

“She’s, like, glued to her phone at all times,” Leah dismisses. “She’s definitely seen it, and I can guarantee you she’s as upset as I am about this.”

 

“If she even knows who you are,” Ian points out.

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“Hey. It’s possible –”

 

“It’ll tell her we go to school together,” Leah groans, hiding her face in her hands. “Even if she doesn’t know who I am, she can easily look me up. She’s probably already found my Instagram and Facebook.”

 

“But your accounts are all private,” Ian says. “She can’t see anything.”

 

“Maybe she looked me up in the school directory and found my horrible ID photo,” Leah whines.

 

Ian shrugs. “Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think?”

 

“You think I’m going to reach out to her?” Leah questions. “Fuck no.”

 

“Why not?” Ian asks, and to Leah’s disgust, he seems genuinely curious. “If you’re, like, genetically made for each other or whatever, shouldn’t you find out?”

 

“No,” Leah says flatly. “If it was anyone but her, yes.”

 

“Well…shouldn’t you at least test if this actually is a mistake?” Ian questions. “Since you’re so convinced your result is wrong?”

 

Leah’s jaw hangs open for a few moments, because damn it, he’s right. “I’m not reaching out to her first,” Leah stutters.

 

“You know Fatin has no problem with confrontation,” Ian laughs. “Last year she bitched Caleb Cross out in front of the entire cafeteria, remember?”

 

Leah grimaces, because yes, she does remember. Vividly. And Caleb totally deserved it, but it was still terrifying to witness.

 

“She’s probably not even into women, either,” Leah says.

 

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Ian replies, and Leah wishes he’d keep his unhelpful thoughts to himself.

 

“Shit,” Leah hisses as that familiar yellow car speeds into the parking lot. She slides off the hood of Ian’s car, dragging him with her. “Let’s go.”

 

“Wait, but this is the perfect opportunity –”

 

“Not now!”

 

*

 

She dreads the end of every class, dreads being set free into the hallways where anything could happen. “Anything” meaning spotting Fatin Jadmani in the crowd and, like, accidentally making eye contact and –

 

(And experiencing love at first sight or some shit, even though Leah is positive that that will not be happening, now or ever.)

 

Leah rushes to her next class with her head down and realizes she’ll have to deal with lunch right after, and lunch is a wild card. She could choose to eat in the cafeteria or in the lounge or on the lawn, and Fatin could show up anywhere. There’s no guaranteed safe spot unless she leaves campus, and if she does that, she’s giving up her parking spot, and she might have to park, like, a block away.

 

(Jesus, how did this happen to her? If she would’ve believed this was possible, she would’ve never taken that stupid test.)

 

By some miracle, she makes it through lunch without spotting Fatin, and she makes it through the rest of her classes, too. She breathes a sigh of relief as she’s crossing the lawn to reach the parking lot, as her car comes into sight, and she’s got her keys in her hands when someone yells her name. Well, not her first name. Leah flinches hard and refuses to turn around, walks faster, confident she can make it to her car before she gets dragged into an unpleasant conversation.

 

“Rilke! I know you can hear me!”

 

Leah hears heels on pavement, and she knows she’s caught – but she’s also curious about how Fatin can run fast enough to catch up to her all without snapping an ankle. Leah braces herself as countless stories of people just laying eyes on their Match and instantly falling in love race through her mind. She knows she looks like she’s in pain when she turns back, but she’s seen Fatin Jadmani plenty of times before, albeit at a distance. And she’s never fallen in love on the spot.

 

This time is no different.

 

(Stories of it taking multiple meetings before any feelings were sparked between Matches pass through Leah’s mind, too, but she shoves those away.)

 

In fact, she thinks she hates Fatin Jadmani’s smug face more than ever.

 

“It’s got to be a mistake,” Leah blurts before Fatin can get a word out.

 

“Well hello to you, too,” Fatin replies. Her phone’s not in her hand. It’s not even visible, so maybe it’s tucked away in that tiny pink backpack on her shoulder. “That’s quite the way to greet your Match,” Fatin adds.

 

“Fuck you,” Leah says. “You know that’s not –”

 

She trails off as Fatin raises her eyebrows, as Fatin starts nodding. “Hmm, yeah, we’re the first to ever be mismatched, right?” Fatin taunts.

 

“Maybe we are.”

 

Fatin laughs. “Look, baby, I’m not exactly thrilled about this, either, but at least I trust that the results are right.”

 

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Leah snaps.

 

“Yeah, it just means we’re genetically made for each other,” Fatin says. A smirk flickers on her face. “But it doesn’t mean that we’re about to, like, date and fuck and fall in love and have two kids and live in the suburbs until we die. No offense, but I like dick way too much to settle for that.”

 

“And I didn’t need to know that, thanks,” Leah retorts. “Clearly we’re on almost the same page.”

 

“Clearly you’re disappointed that your Match is me,” Fatin says, and her bluntness is enough to make Leah flinch. “But you can’t honestly deny that we’re Matched.”

 

“Okay, whatever,” Leah mumbles.

 

Fatin nods. “It just doesn’t have to mean anything more than that. And it’s not going to. I don’t want anything to do with you. And I’d apologize if you were, like, not so obviously bummed out that you’re my Match.”

 

Leah’s lips part, and she stares into Fatin’s – admittedly unflawed – face for a few moments before she says, “It wasn’t expected.”

 

Fatin hums, perhaps in agreement, then flips her hair over her shoulder. Leah catches sight of her manicured, bright green nails, and – oh God, why did this have to happen to her? It’s not fucking fair. Out of all the people she could’ve been Matched with, she had to get stuck with Fatin?

 

“You’re telling me,” Fatin says. “Look, I only took the test because I was curious. I never wanted to reach out to whoever the fuck I was Matched with. I definitely didn’t think it’d be someone at this school, let alone you.”

 

“Me?” Leah prompts. “Me as in me, or me as in a girl?”

 

Fatin shrugs. “Both. I mean, come on. We have nothing in common. I barely knew you existed before we were Matched.”

 

(Leah doesn’t say how everyone here knows who Fatin is, doesn’t say she knew of her existence before they were Matched. She figures Fatin probably assumed that Leah was aware of her.)

 

“But you were able to spot me while I was walking to my car,” Leah points out.

 

Fatin waves her hand dismissively, says, “I looked you up, obviously. You gave out your contact details.”

 

“So did you,” Leah says. Her back straightens out. She’s two inches taller than Fatin, but not while Fatin’s in heels. Feeling small beside Fatin makes Leah uncomfortable. “So if you didn’t want to contact your Match, why’d you provide your phone number and email to be shared?” Leah asks.

 

Fatin shrugs again. “Because, like, what if my Match was super famous or super hot?”

 

“Thanks,” Leah sneers.

 

Fatin blinks. “I mean, I never said you’re not hot. And technically, I did reach out to you.”

 

“Save it. We aren’t doing this.”

 

“Doing what?” Fatin asks. “We’re just having a conversation about how nothing’s ever going to happen between us, so we can ignore the results of our test and find someone else.”

 

Not for the first time in the last twelve hours or so, Leah swallows down her disappointment. This was supposed to be a life changing moment, and instead, Leah’s going to have to struggle to find someone the old fashioned way. Someone who doesn’t have a Match, unless she wants to risk her partner deciding to take the test and leaving her for their Match.

 

“Look, it’s probably for the best,” Fatin says, as if she can sense the unyielding disappointment rolling off of Leah. “This Matching bullshit is, like, so fucked up anyway. You know how many relationships it’s wrecked?”

 

“But for every relationship it ends, they say two new, unending ones are formed,” Leah mutters.

 

“Yeah, that’s what they say,” Fatin says. “But is it true? We’ll probably never know for sure, but sometimes people do choose to stay with someone other than their Match.”

 

Leah doesn’t have anything to say to that, so silence falls between them. Quickly turns awkward. Leah clears her throat, shifts her weight, and Fatin’s eyes seek out her car, parked out in the far end of the lot. Fatin heaves a sigh, turns her full attention back to Leah, and their eyes lock. For a terrifying moment, Leah thinks she’ll feel what all those other Matched people describe. That spark or whatever. The feeling that she’s destined to spend her life with this person.

 

(It doesn’t come, thankfully. As much as it’s a relief, though, Leah can’t help but to feel a little broken.)

 

“I guess we should be grateful, though, right?” Fatin says softly. “Some people never get the opportunity to meet their Match. They’re, like, already dead or in a coma or they live on the other side of the world with no internet connection and no way to take the test or whatever. At least we know. At least we get to make a choice for ourselves, right?”

 

“I guess.”

 

Fatin smiles. “For what it’s worth, your eyes are really pretty.”

 

Leah’s expression sours. “Shut the fuck up,” she says, and Fatin busts out laughing.

 

(Leah doesn’t think she’s ever heard Fatin laugh before. Or if she has, she’s never registered it, like, consciously. She has a nice laugh. But that’s just a useless observation. Leah’s kind of prone to noticing useless things.)

 

“You don’t seem that bad, Rilke,” Fatin praises. Or, at least, it sounds like praise to Leah. “And you’re tall. Women like that.”

 

“I’m not – I don’t even like women,” Leah splutters.

 

“According to your genes, yes, you do,” Fatin replies. “And you’re especially into me, but I can’t hold that against you. You know, since it’s in your genes. It’s not, like, a big deal though.”

 

“By that logic, you’re also especially into me,” Leah says.

 

Fatin snaps her fingers, nods approvingly. “You’re smart. Women like that, too. I’m sure there’s someone perfect for you out there. Someone with, like, a dead Match –”

 

“Thank you, Fatin,” Leah interrupts loudly. “Can this conversation be over now?”

 

“Sure,” Fatin says. She thrusts her hand out toward Leah. “And since you’re as equally uninterested in being my Match as I am in being yours, it was nice to meet you, Rilke.”

 

Leah hesitates but shakes Fatin’s hand, carefully. Like she’s holding something fragile. Maybe it’s Fatin’s manicured nails, but she doesn’t expect Fatin’s grasp to be as firm as it is. “You can call me Leah, you know,” Leah says as she pulls her hand back and shoves it into the pocket of her jacket.

 

“Yeah, I’d rather not,” Fatin says. She flashes Leah a smile, all perfectly straight, white teeth. “But maybe I’ll see you around. You know, because we both go to school here?”

 

(Fatin’s just saying that as a courtesy. Leah can tell. Fatin has no intentions of ever interacting with her again, if she can help it.)

 

“Yeah, right,” Leah says.

 

“Good luck,” Fatin offers.

 

“Yeah, you too.”

 

Leah turns around, starts walking toward her car again. Just as she gets the door open, Fatin calls, “Hey, Rilke!”

 

Leah looks back, eyebrows raised. “What?” she questions.

 

Fatin pauses, closes some of the distance between them before she asks, “You know how, like, when people describe what it’s like to meet their Match, they always say some bullshit about like…I don’t know, getting this feeling? Like some say it’s sparks, and some say they just know deep down that they’re meant for each other or whatever? You know what I’m talking about?”

 

“Yeah,” Leah says flatly. “Why?”

 

Fatin hesitates, fidgets with one of the large hoops in her ears. “You didn’t, like, feel any of that shit just now, did you?”

 

Leah laughs, hard, before she manages to say, “Fuck no, Fatin. Fuck no. You’re seriously that vain?”

 

Fatin’s muscles relax, and she breathes a sigh of relief. “Hey, I had to check,” she insists. “This shit is, like, legit for a lot of people, you know?”

 

“No sparks,” Leah says. “Same for you, I assume?”

 

Fatin scoffs. “No fucking sparks, Rilke. Don’t flatter yourself.”

 

“If I recall, you were the one flattering me,” Leah says. “Telling me my eyes are pretty.”

 

Fatin shrugs. “They are. But as long as you aren’t, like, irresistibly in love with me, then it’s whatever.”

 

Leah laughs again, harsher this time. “Fuck you,” she says.

 

“Bad idea,” Fatin replies. She grins. “You might actually fall in love with me if you do.”

 

In response, Leah gets in her car and slams the door shut.

Chapter Text

“Wait, wait, Fatin approached you first?” Ian questions. He lets out a whistle, shakes his head. “She’s got balls, that’s for sure.”

 

“I told you, I wasn’t going to reach out first,” Leah says, shoving at his arm. “And Fatin and I are on the same page.”

 

“Which is what?” Ian asks.

 

“We want nothing to do with each other. Obviously.”

 

“Oh, so there were no sparks? You aren’t madly in love with her now?” Ian jokes.

 

“Stop it,” Leah complains. “It’s not funny, Ian. I really wanted – you know how much this sucks for me.”

 

“Right, right. I’m sorry,” Ian says. “Sore subject still. You know, there are all kinds of dating apps for people without Matches now.”

 

“Jesus, Ian, just let it go, okay?”

 

The yellow car pulls into the parking lot, like it does every morning, and Leah’s eyes track it all the way to where it parks. Two cars down from her spot. Ian knows exactly where she’s staring, but he keeps his thoughts to himself for once.

 

“You felt something,” he teases, nudging Leah’s knee with his.

 

“I did not.”

 

“Then why are you staring at her car, Leah?”

 

“It’s…expensive.”

 

Ian rolls his eyes. “Okay, sure. Lie to yourself then. Your genes say she’s made for you, and you’re here staring at her like –”

 

She elbows him in the gut, hard, and that shuts him up real quick. Mostly because he’s too busy wheezing. Good thing, though, because Fatin walks right past their picnic table, and the last thing Leah needs is for her to hear Ian’s stupid comments. They aren’t even true.

 

(Actually, Leah felt an almost depressing amount of nothing during that whole conversation with Fatin. Not that she was hoping to feel anything, but she kind of expected to anyway. Otherwise what’s the point of being Matched, right? So maybe they are the first actual mismatch. Or maybe the company has been covering up other mismatches? Or maybe –)

 

“That was so unfair,” Ian chokes. “My eyes are, like, actually watering, Leah. Not cool.”

 

“I didn’t feel anything for her,” Leah grumbles.

 

“God, okay. I believe you.”

 

“No, like…I didn’t want to feel anything, but I thought I was supposed to anyway,” Leah says. “I thought she was supposed to – whatever. I guess it doesn’t matter.”

 

“Of course it matters,” Ian says. “It’s biology.”

 

“We’re more than just biology, Ian. We can decide that we don’t want each other.”

 

Ian shrugs. “Sure. But tell that to someone who’s happily Matched.”

 

“Fuck them,” Leah mutters.

 

“Hey, they don’t guarantee you that you’ll get happiness with your Match,” Ian reminds. “They don’t even guarantee you a Match.”

 

“No, but they guarantee that you’ll fall in love if you meet your Match.”

 

“If you’re willing to fall in love, probably,” Ian says. “And if your Match isn’t dead or inaccessible to you. At least you know who it is, right? No more wondering. And now you can move on.”

 

“I wanted more.”

 

“You see? That’s exactly why I won’t take the test,” Ian says. “I’d rather not know. You know who yours is, and you’re unhappy, and that seems way worse than not knowing. No offense.”

 

The bell rings, and Leah’s never been happier to get to class early.

 

*

 

It takes a week. One week before she’s in bed, late at night, scrolling through Instagram, when the idea hits her.

 

(She should find Fatin’s page.)

 

The thought comes out of nowhere. And once she thinks it, it’s impossible to let go of it until she does something about it. What’s the harm? A simple search will bring up Fatin’s page, and Leah can mindlessly look through pictures, and maybe she’ll hate what she finds, or maybe she’ll learn more about a woman she’ll never love – doesn’t want to love – or maybe her page will be private, and Leah will see nothing. Doesn’t hurt to try.

 

Fatin’s page comes right up when Leah searches for it, of course. Leah doesn’t follow many people from school – just the ones that followed her first – and a bunch of them follow Fatin’s page, so it’s almost too easy to find. She has over eleven thousand followers, and something about that doesn’t sit right with Leah. Fatin’s bio is surprisingly simplistic. Simplistic and ridiculous.

 

east bay. juilliard ’24. zero fucks.

 

There’s a string of emojis, including a rainbow flag. Not a surprise but also Leah didn’t expect Fatin to be so up front about it. Her page is totally open. It’s both a relief and annoying. Fatin has over a thousand posts for Leah to sift through and a current story. Obviously Leah can’t watch it. Not without alerting Fatin to the fact that she viewed her story, but it’s possible Fatin would never know. She has over eleven thousand followers. Leah’s name could easily get lost in that.

 

No, no, she can’t. She won’t. There’s over a thousand posts. Plenty to keep Leah busy for…longer than necessary. Fatin has quite an active social life, which just reminds Leah that it makes no sense that they’re Matched. She knows too many people, goes out too much, and Leah’s not like that. It seems like they share none of the same interests. Fatin vacations a lot. Plays the cello like a god. Is way too into her nails and hair and makeup and clothes. The first post that really gives Leah pause is a photo of her family. Two young brothers, both wearing wide smiles and Fortnite hoodies. And Fatin’s parents looking like they’re on a red carpet even though they’re just posing for a family photo in front of their house. Fatin’s smile is the widest, and she has an arm around each of her brothers.

 

There’s no caption.

 

Leah moves on. It takes more willpower than it should to scroll beyond bikini pics posted from Australia, from Costa Rica, from Mexico, from the Bahamas, from Hawaii. But, like, there’s a lot of them. Fatin’s not afraid to flaunt her body.

 

(And that’s a quality Leah finds herself to be a little envious of, actually.)

 

Fatin’s got a serious collection of sunglasses, considering how Leah doesn’t find Fatin wearing the same pair twice in any photo she looks at. Leah swallows hard as she thinks about how many people would be absolutely thrilled to be Matched with someone like Fatin. Someone objectively hot and rich with an exciting life. Yet here Leah is, creeping on her Instagram, wishing she’d been paired with some average dude who lives, like, on a farm in Iowa or something. Long distance would be hard, but it’d probably be better than this.

 

(Maybe Ian and her parents are right. It’s better not to know if you’re dating someone you’re meant to be with. She shouldn’t have taken that test.)

 

She could follow Fatin. Fatin might even follow her back.

 

God, she’s overthinking this, and for what?

 

She closes out of Instagram. Fuck that. She needs to get on with her life. Leah puts her phone on the nightstand and rolls over, closes her eyes. Yeah, that doesn’t work. She gets her phone again, goes back to Instagram. She pretends like she isn’t fighting against returning to Fatin’s page, but of course that’s exactly where she ends up.

 

She almost misses it. The little change in Fatin’s bio. She would’ve had to update it within the last twenty minutes or so.

 

east bay. juilliard ’24. zero fucks. matched.

 

(MATCHED)

 

Leah balks, stares at that one word for way too long. Why in the fuck would Fatin put Matched in her bio? They’re not even –

 

The most likely explanation is to deter unwanted attention. Keep people off her back. Maybe brag a little. No one needs to know who she’s Matched with. Still, it’s kind of obnoxious, and that’s the reason why Leah finally sucks it up and hits the follow button. So at least Fatin will know that Leah’s read her bio, that Leah knows what she’s done.

 

When Leah wakes up in the morning, the only notification she notices is the one from Instagram. The one telling her she has a follow request from Fatin Jadmani. Leah suddenly feels wide awake, tries not to feel giddy about the stupid notification. Tells herself it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t mean anything.

 

(She accepts the request. Obviously.)

 

She posts Ian to her story that morning. Hates the thrill she gets during calculus when she sees Fatin’s one of the first few people to watch it.

 

She shouldn’t be thinking about Fatin at all. They had one conversation, and it didn’t even go well. She shouldn’t care.

 

*

 

“Why would she put Matched in her bio if she doesn’t want to be Matched with me?”

 

Ian finishes chewing and swallows before he says, “I’m not sure I can accurately psychoanalyze Fatin while I’m trying to eat lunch, Leah.”

 

Leah throws a French fry at him, scowls when he laughs. “You’re not helpful,” Leah says.

 

“Look, if it’s bothering you so much, why don’t you just ask her?” Ian questions. “She’s right over there.”

 

Leah has to fight the urge to duck, to try to hide, but right over there actually means on the opposite side of the lounge, sprawled out across one of the couches with her laptop sitting in her lap and earbuds in her ears.

 

“She obviously doesn’t want anyone talking to her,” Leah says.

 

“Yeah, but you’re her Match,” Ian teases. “That means you’re special.”

 

“That’s not what it means for us,” Leah grumbles.

 

“You’re probably right, anyway,” Ian says. “It’s likely there just to keep gross boys off her back and out of her DMs.” Ian shakes his head, says, “You know, only you would be disappointed about being Matched with someone like Fatin.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

He studies her for a long moment before asking, “Or are you, like, kinda into her now? You seem like you’re spending an awful lot of time thinking about her –”

 

“Ian, shut up!”

 

*

 

Fatin spends her Friday – and usually Saturday – nights at parties. Drinking. Dancing, typically with guys but occasionally with girls. Fatin documents it all for her close friends story – which Leah inexplicably finds herself on. And she can’t resist the urge to watch them all, even if it kind of leaves a bad taste in her mouth to watch Fatin grinding on some random person. To get her mind away from it, she downloads one of those dating apps for unmatched people, swipes through men and women alike, finds none of them remotely interesting. Even the ones that she shares a lot of similar interests with.

 

But dealing with her conflicting thoughts about Fatin is manageable until sometime a few months after Leah received news of her Match. The first night she has an unbearably vivid dream about Fatin. It’s not even anything special. Not really. It just lingers in the back of Leah’s mind as she shows up for school on Monday, and she waits anxiously for the only yellow car in the lot to appear.

 

“Have you been sleeping?” Ian asks.

 

“Not well.”

 

“Fatin?” he guesses.

 

“Shut up.”

 

He nods. “I get it. It’s shitty.”

 

“You don’t get it,” Leah hisses. “You aren’t Matched to someone who doesn’t want you.”

 

“You don’t want her,” Ian reminds. Leah knows she doesn’t control her expression well enough, and Ian’s eyebrows raise. “Or…? You didn’t want her, but that’s changed?”

 

“I don’t know,” Leah mutters, rubbing at her eyes. “It’s confusing. I haven’t even been near her since that one conversation, like, four months ago. I’ve just seen all of her shit on Instagram, and she practically posts her entire life.”

 

“And you see her every day when she arrives here, and at lunch,” Ian adds.

 

“Thank you for reminding me.”

 

“Why don’t you just talk to her?” Ian asks. “See if the same weird shit is happening to her.”

 

“It’s obviously not,” Leah says. “It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want me, and I don’t want her.”

 

“Sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself.”

 

Leah ignores him but sighs heavily as the yellow car whips into the parking lot. Leah refuses to look in its direction, refuses to watch as Fatin gets out of the car, as she walks her usual path toward the building, the path that takes her right past Leah and Ian’s table.

 

“I don’t like her,” Leah says, keeping her eyes squarely trained on Ian’s face. “I fucking hate her.”

 

“No, you hate that she doesn’t want you.”

 

She shoves at his arm, perhaps with a little too much force, since Ian loses his balance and falls from the picnic table to the grass. As he grumbles about it, Fatin looks at them in mild amusement.

 

“Rilke,” she greets as she’s walking by.

 

“Fatin,” Leah manages to say before Fatin’s out of earshot.

 

“God, look at you,” Ian says once he's seated back beside Leah. “You’re smitten,” he whispers.

 

She exhales heavily. Shoots him an irritated look that she has to muster up.

 

(Maybe he has a point.)

 

*

 

“It’s the biggest party of the year,” Ian tells her. “Matt Lawson’s place. Like, everyone who’s relevant is there. There’s no way Fatin would miss it.”

 

Leah stares at him, waits for him to elaborate, but he doesn’t. “So?” she prompts. “That’s it?”

 

“What’s it?”

 

“Just…Fatin will be there so I should show up?”

 

“Why not?” Ian asks.

 

“That’s not a plan.”

 

“I didn’t say I had a plan. I said I know how you can get closer to Fatin.”

 

“That made it sound like you had a plan!” Leah exclaims.

 

“Well, then, my plan was to tell you to go to Matt Lawson’s party,” Ian says, smiling. “And, I don’t know, find a way to make Fatin fall in love with you. She’s genetically predisposed to do so, you know. How hard can it be?”

 

(Genetically predisposed is not a guarantee. For all the people who leave their spouse after getting Matched, there are still people who choose not to leave. And Fatin has already not chosen her. Fatin has basically flat-out rejected her.)

 

“Will you go with me?” Leah asks.

 

“Oh, no, that’s so not my scene,” Ian says.

 

“It’s not my scene either.”

 

“Sorry. I think you should do this on your own,” Ian says. “I’ll just get in your way.”

 

Leah chews on her lower lip, stares unabashedly across the lounge in Fatin’s direction. She’s on the phone with someone, talking animatedly while working on something on her laptop.

 

“It’s crazy,” Leah says, “how I can’t name anything I like about her, because I barely know anything about her, but I still…it’s like once we spoke, and now that I know who she is – it’s like I’m drawn to her.”

 

Ian shakes his head, gathers up all his stuff, and says, “This Matching shit is weird.”

 

“You’d get it if you’d take the test.”

 

“You know I won’t. And watching you creepily stare at Fatin from across the lounge is a good reminder of why I don’t want to go anywhere near that test.”

 

She stops staring at Fatin and glares at Ian instead. “I am not staring.”

 

“You so are.” Ian grins, knocks his hand into Leah’s knee. “Go to that party.”

 

*

 

She’s more nervous than she thinks she should be. Ian, at least, comes over to help her get ready. And by help, Leah really just forces opinions out of him as she changes her outfit a hundred times.

 

“She’s your Match,” Ian says. “You could show up wearing a garbage bag, and she’d –”

 

“No, you don’t get it,” Leah interrupts. “She already doesn’t want me, and she thinks I don’t want her. I have to look hot, or I won’t stand a chance.”

 

“Yeah, what happened to that?”

 

“To what?”

 

“Not wanting Fatin?”

 

Leah hesitates. She doesn’t really have a good answer. “I don’t know,” she says.

 

“But if you’d never been Matched, you would’ve never wanted her to begin with,” Ian says.

 

“We don’t know that,” Leah retorts. “I never had a reason to speak to her before.”

 

“Your only reason to speak to her now is because you’re Matched,” Ian points out.

 

“So? That’s not enough?” Leah asks. Ian doesn’t have an answer, and after Leah stares at him long enough, he shrugs. “Well, do I at least look hot enough to get Fatin’s attention?” Leah questions.

 

Ian clears his throat, says, “I don’t think I really want to answer that.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes, says, “As my friend, do you think I’m hot enough to get Fatin’s attention?”

 

“As your friend, yes,” Ian says. “Absolutely. Go out there and get your woman.”

 

Leah hesitates, smiles sheepishly. “You sure you don’t want to come with?”

 

“Positive. But I’ll drive you.”

 

*

 

This is so not her thing, but Matt Lawson’s annual before-summer-break bash is probably the best party she could find herself at. It’s easy to blend right in, to go unnoticed, because there are so many damn people everywhere. She vaguely recognizes some people as classmates, assumes others are from nearby colleges. As much as Matt pushes this party as an early celebration of summer, it draws attention from the college students. Probably because Matt’s loaded, and his parents are always guaranteed to be out, and there’s more alcohol than even hundreds of people can drink.

 

Leah has no idea where to find Fatin. Still has no idea what she might say to her. She’s not even sure Fatin’s here yet. Wouldn’t know where to look to find out, anyway. She supposes she could walk around outside, see if she can spot Fatin’s car. Supposes she could just wait out front. Or out back. Or in the kitchen with all the alcohol. Jesus, this was a bad idea. Why did she think she should –?

 

“Hey! Never thought I’d see you at one of these things,” Colby shouts over the music. Leah startles as he pops the top off a bottle, holds it out to Leah, and she takes it because she sees no other choice. “Looking for someone?” he guesses.

 

“Sort of,” Leah admits.

 

“Maybe I can help you.”

 

Leah hesitates. If she tells him she’s looking for Fatin, he’s gonna want to know why. He’s nosy like that. But what does she really have to lose?

 

“Have you seen Fatin Jadmani anywhere?” Leah asks.

 

Colby’s eyebrows raise in surprise, as if he expected her to give him any name that wasn’t Fatin’s, but then he smiles and says, “Actually, I have.”

 

“So she’s here?”

 

“Sure is.” He pauses. “You sure you want to find her?”

 

“I need to talk to her,” Leah says as quietly as she possibly can while still being heard over the music. Leah mentally prepares an answer for a question that never comes. Colby doesn’t ask her what she, a complete nobody at their school, could need to talk to Fatin Jadmani about. He just leads the way, and Leah gulps down some of the hard lemonade Colby had handed her. They weave through rooms, around people, until they reach the room that the music emanates from.

 

“Good luck breaking that up,” Colby tells her. He claps her on the shoulder, and Leah flinches. He easily melts into the crowd of dancing bodies, and she loses sight of him within seconds. She’s on her own, and she still has no idea what to say to Fatin. Not only that, but Colby’s right. She needs to get Fatin away from the guy and girl dancing all up on her first. Leah empties her bottle and sets it on the nearest piece of furniture, but even with the alcohol, this is a bad idea. It’s been a bad idea from the start.

 

Right as she’s about to bail, Fatin catches sight of her. And stops what she’s doing. She extracts herself from between the guy and the girl and pushes through people until she reaches Leah.

 

“Rilke! What are you doing here?” Fatin demands. “You’ve never shown up at one of Matt’s parties before.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes, says, “Like you’d actually know if I’ve ever been to one of his parties. You barely knew I existed before we were Matched.”

 

So Fatin either has to admit she has no way of knowing if Leah attends parties or that she actually knew who Leah was. She does neither, of course.

 

“Why are you here?” Fatin asks. “And who are you here with?”

 

Leah ignores her, instead finds herself asking, “Why’d you put Matched in your Instagram bio?”

 

Fatin’s eyebrows raise, and after she glances around, she grabs Leah by the wrist and drags her toward the stairs. Upstairs, the music is quieter, and there are less people, and Fatin drops Leah’s wrist as soon as she’s sure Leah won’t bolt.

 

“Why does it matter?” Fatin asks.

 

“Because you said you didn’t want to be Matched but added it to your bio, and for what?”

 

Fatin shrugs. “It keeps some dudes out of my DMs, and it’s an easy excuse to reject gross dudes, okay? It’s not that big of a deal. Is that why you showed up here? Just to ask me something you could’ve easily asked me literally any school day?”

 

“Maybe I just want to be here,” Leah replies. She jams her hands into her pockets. “Maybe it has nothing to do with you.”

 

Fatin doesn’t seem like she considered that as a possibility. Leah, showing up at the same party as her, but with no intention to see her? Obviously Leah’s here just to see her, but Fatin doesn’t actually need to know that.

 

“You’re not here for me?” Fatin questions.

 

“How would I know you’d be here?”

 

Fatin shrugs. “You know I updated my Insta bio.”

 

(Fair point.)

 

“I’m not here for you,” Leah lies. Immediately wonders if Fatin can tell she’s lying. Or maybe Fatin just instinctively knows. Or maybe she doesn’t know at all. Fatin’s kind of hard to read.

 

“Don’t tell me you think this is, like, fate or something,” Fatin says.

 

“Think what is fate?” Leah questions.

 

Fatin waves her hand around – her nails are shorter than Leah’s used to seeing, are painted yellow to match her shorter than necessary dress – and says, “Meeting at a random party you supposedly didn’t know I’d be at.”

 

“It’s not fate,” Leah says flatly. “We go to the same school. We both know Matt Lawson throws this party every year. It’s barely even a coincidence.”

 

Fatin cracks a smile. “You know, you’re the reason I’m not getting laid tonight.”

 

“I didn’t make you come talk to me.”

 

Fatin scoffs, “But obviously you wanted me to.”

 

(And Leah can’t really deny that.)

 

“So what’s your point?”

 

“My point is, it’s on you to keep me occupied for the rest of the night now that you've ruined my chances at a threesome.”

 

Leah’s eyebrows raised. “Occupied?”

 

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Fatin laughs. She pushes at Leah’s shoulder, and Leah knows she’s fucked even before Fatin asks, “Are you any good at beer pong?”

Chapter Text

No, she’s not any good at beer pong. Fatin, though, has shockingly good aim, and that’s the only reason they win. One of the guys on the opposing team shoots his shot with Fatin immediately after, and Leah’s half-drunk mind doesn’t remember that she has no right to feel jealous, that she has no claim to Fatin except that her genes are allegedly perfectly Matched with Fatin’s. She forgets that she should hate how satisfying it is when Fatin rejects him with a flick of her wrist. The feeling fades as Fatin turns to shout a challenge at the current reigning beer pong champions. They accept, and Leah figures out easily that their opponents are Matched. It’s hard not to notice.

 

(She wonders if Fatin has noticed, too, and the question almost slips out, but Leah catches herself right before she speaks, and she snaps her jaw shut.)

 

The game draws a small crowd. It’s, like, the Battle of the Matches – or it would be, if someone besides Leah and Fatin was aware that they’re Matched, if Fatin wanted to be Matched. But Leah’s imagination runs wild as she’s missing shot after shot, as Fatin single-handedly keeps them in the tournament. Fatin makes a third shot in a row, throws her fists in the air and cheers victoriously, turns to grin at Leah, and Leah hardly manages a smile.

 

(Her mind’s getting ahead of her, reminding her of what she, in theory, could have but in reality never will.)

 

“We can’t lose now,” Fatin says. “Come on, Rilke. Just make this one shot.”

 

Leah takes her time, but it’s hard to concentrate when she knows Fatin’s staring at her, when Fatin’s lingering in her space. She can’t miss this shot. She’s missed almost every single other shot. The Matched couple they’re playing against gets handsy with each other again, and Leah tries not to be irritated, tries to get her drunk brain to focus enough to not fuck up this one shot. Leah tosses the ping pong ball, watches in disbelief as it lands in the last cup standing, and the people around them cheer, but she only hears Fatin shout. Fatin grabs onto her shoulders and shakes her, then Fatin’s arm slings around Leah’s neck from behind as Fatin drops her chin onto Leah’s shoulder, grinning.

 

“I can’t believe you made that,” Fatin says, right next to Leah’s ear, and Leah can’t breathe.

 

“Me either,” Leah mumbles.

 

“We’re the new champs,” Fatin boasts. She releases Leah, allowing Leah to inhale, but she takes Leah by the elbow, says, “Let’s get another drink to celebrate,” and Leah can’t say no. Doesn’t want to say no. Fatin guides her to the kitchen, fixes herself another drink, and knocks Leah’s hand away from the alcohol, passes her a bottle of water instead. Fatin smirks at the indignant look on Leah’s face but doesn’t explain why she’s cutting Leah off.

 

“You don’t have to police how much I drink,” Leah says, unable to prevent her words from slightly slurring together. “You’re not my mother.”

 

“No, but I am your Match,” Fatin replies.

 

Whatever Leah might’ve said next dies in her throat. She inadvertently makes a choking sound as Fatin smirks at her, as Fatin sips at her drink.

 

“So?” Leah finally says.

 

“So I think I can tell when you’ve had enough to drink, and I think I’m allowed to firmly suggest that you drink some water instead.”

 

“You said it yourself. Just because we’re Matched – it doesn’t mean anything.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes, says, “Well, if it’d make you more comfortable, we can just pretend like I’m a concerned friend asking you to drink water instead. How about that?”

 

“I guess that’d make you the only friend I’ve ever had who refuses to call me by my first name.”

 

Fatin pauses, eyes studying Leah’s face before she asks, “Is there some kind of a problem?”

 

“Apart from you using our Matched status as an excuse to tell me what I should do? No.”

 

“No, I think you do have some kind of a problem with me, Leah,” Fatin replies. “And here I was, thinking we’d had fun back there.”

 

“We did.”

 

“Then do me a favor and spare me the bullshit. Just tell me what your goddamn problem is. And don’t lie and say you don’t have one.”

 

Leah’s eyes narrow, but her mind’s too foggy to come up with a decent excuse.

 

“You’re still upset that you’re Matched with me,” Fatin guesses, except it doesn’t really sound like a guess. It sounds like she knows she’s right, and Leah’s too caught off guard to defend herself. “Or even worse, you just don’t like me, even though you barely know me, but you admitted we were having fun, so nothing's really adding up.”

 

“Why do you care so much?” Leah blurts. “You’re the one that doesn’t want to be Matched with me.”

 

(She should’ve phrased that better.)

 

Fatin’s eyebrows raise. “So…what? You’re suddenly dying to be Matched with me? Is that what you’re saying?”

 

“No!” Leah says, way too quickly, and Fatin’s eyes widen.

 

“Oh my God,” Fatin whispers, and the music’s still obnoxious enough to force Leah to read Fatin’s lips. “You felt something.” When Leah doesn’t answer, while her brain’s still struggling to adapt to the sudden swerve in their conversation, Fatin laughs in disbelief. “Oh, fuck,” Fatin says. “You don’t – you don’t even know me. You’ve never liked me. You had zero interest in me before that stupid test Matched us. It’s – it’s just the knowledge that we’re Matched that’s fucking with your head.”

 

“Nothing’s fucking with my head,” Leah snaps. “Except for you.”

 

“I haven’t done anything!”

 

Leah drinks some water, as if that’ll eradicate the sudden dryness in her throat. “Maybe that’s part of the problem,” Leah mutters.

 

“Okay, then, what would you like me to do, Leah?” Fatin demands. “You want some grand romantic gesture? You want me to sweep you off your feet and – and what? I don’t even know you.”

 

“I just wanted a chance!” Leah shouts. Fatin flinches, glances around them – not that anyone seems particularly interested in whatever conversation they’re having. Leah’s shoulders slump as she decides to admit it to Fatin. “I just wanted what all those other stupid Matched people get, alright? I wanted a real chance to have that, but I’m Matched with you, and you…”

 

“What about me?” Fatin asks.

 

“Forget it,” Leah says. “I’m wasting my time.”

 

She tries to walk off, but Fatin catches her wrist, refuses to let Leah wrench her arm free. “I’m not going to let you blame me for your unhappiness with being Matched with me. For the life of me, I don’t understand what it is about our genes that makes us so apparently perfect for each other when we have, like, nothing in common, but I didn’t choose this for us. You don’t get to play the victim here. I didn’t do this to you. And there’s nothing stopping you from going out there and finding someone who loves you more than anything,” Fatin says.

 

Leah shakes her head, futilely continues to try to tug her wrist free. “It’s not the same,” Leah says. “They all say it’s different with your Match.”

 

“Who cares what anyone says? What do any of those fucks out there know about love, anyway? They’re told by some stupid corporation that they’re meant for this random stranger, and they believe it and trick themselves into being in love with them.”

 

Leah recoils like she’s been slapped, but she can’t go far with her wrist still trapped in Fatin’s grasp. “Do you honestly believe that?” Leah asks. “You honestly believe that just knowing you’re my Match has tricked me into –” Leah inhales sharply, cutting herself off, but it’s far too late.

 

“Into what? Thinking you love me?” Fatin finishes for her. “Actually, yeah, I kind of do believe that.”

 

“Why would I want to have feelings for you after you made it super clear that you’re not interested?” Leah questions.

 

(She fails to pull her wrist free again.)

 

“It’s not about wanting to have feelings. It’s about thinking you have them because of a stupid test result,” Fatin retorts. “Tell me, Leah: how can you love someone you barely know? Hmm? You can probably list everything you know about me on, like, one hand. How could you love me when you know nothing?”

 

“I don’t know!” Leah yells, and a few people do look at them this time. That provides Leah with the opportunity to finally rip her arm free, but she thinks Fatin actually just lets her go this time. “I don’t know, okay?” Leah repeats, dropping her voice. “But it’s not fake. I’m not crazy. It’s real.”

 

They stare at each other for a long time. Like, a really long time. Just, like, straight into each other’s eyes. Fatin can definitely read the desperation off of Leah’s face. Maybe Fatin can see how badly it hurts. Maybe she knows.

 

(Or maybe she has no clue.)

 

“Tell me you don’t feel it,” Leah pleads. She knows if she was sober, none of this would be happening. She would’ve had better control. But she can’t bring herself to care about how pathetic she’s being. She might not get another chance like this. “Come on, try to tell me you feel nothing,” Leah presses. “How could you feel nothing?”

 

Fatin’s face gives nothing away. She shrugs. “I don’t really do feelings, Leah. Never have.”

 

It’s such a bad idea. It’s the kind of bad idea that only ever seems like a good idea when you’ve still got a nice buzz going, when you haven’t moved into the hangover stage of your night quite yet. It’s just – Leah has to know. Leah has to know if this is just her mind fucking with her and telling her there’s something where there’s really nothing.

 

(Leah knows, like, there’s kind of nothing substantial between them, sure, but there is that undeniable feeling of being drawn to someone and – she needs to know.)

 

This is certainly never how she imagined kissing her Match for the first time.

 

(She always pictured, like, being on some kind of romantic date, or maybe when they met, they were just so attracted to each other that it happened right away – and now that Leah’s experienced meeting her Match, she knows how ridiculous that idea really was. But it was nice to dream. It was nice to imagine all of the possibilities, all of the best case scenarios. It didn’t do any good to dwell on worst case scenarios, didn’t do any good to imagine up something like tracking down her Match – a girl she would’ve never cared for if they’d never been Matched – at the biggest party of the year in order to…well, that part of the plan was never very clear to begin with.)

 

Someone behind Leah whistles, but while this may be something new for her, she knows without any doubt that Fatin’s exactly the type to kiss girls at parties, just for fun. Maybe not the girl she’s Matched with, but still.

 

(Leah should’ve thought this through – would have, if she was a tad bit more sober. She should’ve dragged Fatin out of the kitchen to somewhere more private first, at the very least.)

 

The most surprising part, perhaps, isn’t the way that Leah has to lean down to kiss someone for the first time ever, isn’t the way Fatin takes an instinctive step back until she hits the counter behind her. It’s that Fatin kisses her back, like, right away. No hesitation.

 

(Like she was expecting it.)

 

Leah will never admit that she’s read any of those trashy romance novels, but kissing Fatin goes the way some romance writer would describe it, as cringey as Leah knows that sounds. Maybe that thought wouldn’t have crossed Leah’s mind if Fatin wouldn’t have kissed her back, if Fatin would’ve shoved her away and cussed her out and stormed off. Maybe Fatin doesn’t know that Leah holds onto a tiny sliver of hope when Fatin cups her cheek, when Fatin’s other hand lands at her hip.

 

It’s one particularly loud wolf-whistle that snaps Leah out of the moment, that gets Leah to hold onto Fatin’s hips to steady herself when she shifts back, when she tries to force her mind to clear up so she can focus on what’s around her, but that might as well be impossible. How could she focus on anything that isn’t Fatin, right in front of her, when they’re literally made for each other?

 

And Leah knows right away that Fatin is not thinking the same thing. Leah knows right away that – for Fatin – this was just one more public, drunken make out session with a girl she hardly knows, with a girl she’d normally forget by the next morning if only she wasn’t Matched with her, if only she didn’t know that the girl has feelings for her that she doesn’t return.

 

“We should go somewhere else,” Fatin says quietly. She nudges Leah back and gently takes her elbow, pulls her toward the backyard. They walk out to the pool, which has gotten less and less crowded as the night has worn on, and the few people left in it are busy splashing around, so they’re less likely to be overheard by some asshole. Fatin releases Leah’s elbow and crosses her arms over her chest. “What was that?” Fatin asks.

 

(At least she doesn’t sound mad or upset. At least there’s that.)

 

Leah’s teeth sink into her lower lip, and she shrugs. “I needed to know.”

 

“Know what?” Fatin asks. Not mad, not upset, just…irritated, Leah thinks. If she’s getting a proper read on Fatin. Kissing Fatin kind of made it easier to gather her thoughts, somehow.

 

Leah hesitates, shrugs again, mumbles, “What it was like.”

 

Fatin blinks, stares at Leah like she’s lost her marbles. “I’m not sure you’re thinking clearly,” Fatin says.

 

“No, I am,” Leah insists. “Better than I have been.”

 

“No, I think you’re drunk and you’re telling yourself that since our genes have decided for us that we’re destined to be together – you’re telling yourself that you have to feel something for me, so you do. I don’t think you like me very much at all, actually.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

Fatin presses her lips together.

 

(Okay, so maybe that was an immature response.)

 

“You like the idea of me,” Fatin says softly. “Or you like the idea of being Matched that the company pushes so hard on everyone. You know, finding the one and spending your life together, madly in love. And since you’re Matched with me, you’re just projecting that wish onto me – not because you want me, but because you want that. You want what you think they promised you, even though even they admit it doesn’t always work out for everyone.”

 

“But there’s no real reason why it couldn’t work out for us,” Leah blurts.

 

Fatin’s eyebrows raise. “No real reason except that I don’t want that.”

 

“Well, why not?” Leah demands. “Why are you the only thing standing in our way?”

 

Fatin balks. “Don’t talk about this like there is an us, Leah,” she hisses. “There’s you, and then there’s me, and just because some scientists in a lab Matched us doesn’t automatically create an us.”

 

“Then you need to tell me you didn’t feel anything when we kissed,” Leah says. “And I’ll know if you’re lying.”

 

Fatin’s lips part, and Leah’s heart sinks, because she knows Fatin’s going to honestly say she felt nothing. She knows Fatin’s going to tell her that she’s just like all the other girls (and guys) who have taken their shot with Fatin Jadmani and failed to capture her attention for more than one night, at the most. Fatin’s about to brutally crush Leah’s hopes and dreams and feelings when some drunken idiot bumps into Leah with enough force to send her straight into Fatin, and to send both of them falling backward into the pool.

 

Leah surfaces as fast as she can, gasping for air and pushing her hair back from her eyes, and she turns her attention to locating Fatin. They’re in the deep end of the pool, which is like six feet, Leah thinks, because the bottom isn’t too far out of her reach. Fatin pops up beside Leah, spluttering, with makeup streaming down her face. Leah can’t help but to smile, can't help but to struggle against a laugh, at the sight of a flustered and less-than-perfectly-polished Fatin.

 

“Oh, I’m going to kill whoever just –”

 

“Stop,” Leah says, grabbing Fatin’s arm. Leah shakes her head, grinning. “It’s not worth it.”

 

“He just ruined my phone,” Fatin seethes. “And yours, I’m sure.”

 

“So? It’s just a phone,” Leah says. “You’ll get a new one.”

 

(Leah will, too, but she'll have to figure out how to explain to her parents why her phone is wrecked.)

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Leah assures her. She nods toward the edge of the pool, says, “C’mon. Let’s get out of here.” Leah pauses, smiling wider before she adds, “You look ridiculous.”

 

To Leah's surprise, Fatin busts out laughing. Leah yelps as Fatin splashes water at her. “Shut up,” Fatin says. “You aren’t funny.”

 

They grin at each other, and Leah reaches over and swipes her fingertips through the makeup smeared on Fatin’s cheek. She swears she sees something flicker in Fatin’s eyes, sees something shift, but Leah’s headache is just starting, so maybe she’s imagining it. Leah swims to the edge of the pool and hauls herself out, offers Fatin a hand, unable to cover her surprise when Fatin accepts and allows Leah to help her out. Once they’re on their feet, Fatin swipes her hands across her cheeks to remove whatever makeup she can then looks to Leah before Leah realizes she’s been staring.

 

“Stop looking at me like that,” Fatin says.

 

“Like what?” Leah questions.

 

“Like you’re in love with me,” Fatin replies bluntly. As Leah opens her mouth to respond, Fatin quickly says, “And don’t say you’re in love with me, because you definitely can’t be in love with someone you don’t know.”

 

“That’s what being Matched is all about.”

 

“It’s a bunch of bullshit,” Fatin scoffs. “If you knew me at all, I bet you’d see you don’t actually like me.”

 

“You’re just afraid,” Leah retorts.

 

“Afraid of what?”

 

“Finding out that being Matched is real.”

 

Fatin wrings water out of her hair then ties it back, all while staring Leah down. “I’m not afraid,” Fatin says.

 

“I think you are.”

 

“Go out with me,” Fatin says abruptly.

 

Leah raises her eyebrows, lets her jaw hang open a few seconds too long before she manages to say, “What?”

 

“Yeah,” Fatin says dismissively. “Come on. You think you’re in love with me? Then go out with me. I’m sure I’ll prove you wrong after an hour or so. Once you’ve had a chance to get to know me a little better.”

 

“Okay,” Leah says. “I’ll go out with you. But it has to be, like, a real date.”

 

“Obviously,” Fatin says. Her eyes rake down Leah’s body before she says, “Friday night. Wear something nice. I’ll pick you up.”

 

“You know where I live?”

 

“I can find out.”

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“You’re 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.”

 

“I do.”

 

“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.

 

“Doing what?”

 

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?”

 

“Sorry?”

 

“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?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“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.”

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“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.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“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.

 

“And?”

 

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.”

 

“Wait. What?”

 

“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?”

 

“Never.”

 

“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?”

 

“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.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

There’s a slight pause before Fatin says, “Shit, your virginity is gonna be the most important one I’ll ever take.”

 

“Fatin!”

 

“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.

 

“You won’t.”

 

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.

 

Matched.

 

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.”

 

“Ian!”

 

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.”