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Soulmates R Us

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Andy arrived at Hotel Chelsea just after 8 pm, her near compulsion to be early to everything hadn’t dissipated even a jot since she left Miranda's employ. Stepping out of her cab she looked up at the hotel and walked into the brightly lit back gardens, Soulmates R Us had rented the entire event suite on the first floor which consisted of a decent-sized ballroom and an adjoining eating space. As she walked into the hotel Andy couldn’t help but be wooed by the scene - flowers in bright orange and pink and purple were artfully arranged around the balusters of the stairs, sweeping into the main event area and culminating at the foot of a small stage. All the marketing material for the company was splayed tastefully around the room in coordinating colors. She was impressed, a lot of money and time had obviously gone into this. 

 

It was through events like these that Andy could feel Miranda's presence in her life most of all. She used to feel embarrassed by how much she longed to attend fancy parties and be a part of the elegantly dressed crowd. Her midwestern values still reared their head when she got ready for events like this, but now most of the time all Andy could focus on was the steely eyes of a certain editor. She imagined Miranda appraising her outfit choice, from the very first touch of silk lingerie to the last piece of jewelry she adorned. Even now, with absolutely no chance of ever meaningfully running into the woman, Andy couldn’t help but pretend that Miranda could see how practiced she had become - how easy it was for her to mill about these spaces, with a glass of champagne in hand and a coy smile on her lips. 

 

Walking further into the room, Andy was stopped by a nervous employee with a bright orange shirt emblazoned with the company’s logo. Andy immediately imagined the inevitable pursed lips if Miranda were to ever see that dreaded uniform, and she had to fight hard to suppress her chuckle. 

 

“Welcome to the Launch of Soulmates R Us, please follow me to the intake area”

 

“Intake?”

 

“Yes, all the guests are welcome to a free subscription to Soulmates R Us, all you have to do is fill out our short survey and give a DNA sample. They will be announcing if there are any soulmates later tonight.”

 

Andy laughed outright. He must be kidding. When the employee returned her laugh with a blank and increasingly nervous expression Andy realized he was absolutely serious. She looked around and saw multiple strategically hidden stations with party-goers in full gala regalia sitting in front of large touchscreens, while people in scrubs, presumably nurses, were diligently taking blood samples.

The absurdity of it all took Andy by surprise, and she was shocked by how many people were just easily volunteering their DNA at a party. 

 

As if sensing her apprehension, the employee gave her a full rundown of the process. “I know it looks strange but it's a great deal. The Soulmates R Us intro package normally costs 800 dollars for the testing.” 

 

Andys eyes widened at the price tag, “intro package?”

 

“Yeah,” the employee had the forethought to look a little sheepish, “you can buy premium packages for more features, and supposedly a better match.” Andy took out her notebook and jotted down some notes as the employee lead her over to the intake cubicles in the back right corner. 

 

“So what do you say? Do you want to give it a shot? All your info will be kept private and only your name and phone number will be shared with your match … if they find you one.” The attendant was quick to add. 

 

Andy sighed, an uneasy feeling settled in her chest. This all felt rather dystopian to her, fancy people in fancy dress giving their blood to be matched to their soulmate. It’s archaic and space-age-y at the same time; with a nice helping of eugenics, her conscious added. For a second Andy felt like she had walked into the opening scene of a science-fiction film.

 

Ugh, fuck. Her curiosity had already been piqued, plus it would be a great addition to the column write-up she would have to finish later tonight. And, she reasoned, it’s not like even if she got a match she would be forced to marry someone or whatever, right? She probably wouldn’t even need to talk to them if she didn’t want to…

 

“800 dollar value for free, huh?” She smiled over at the employee and the nurse who was prepping her DNA collection, it seemed everyone around her already knew she would say yes.

 

“Yup” the employee beamed.

 

“I can never say no to that kind of deal.” With more than a little reluctance, Andy pulled up the sleeve of her dress and offered her arm. 

 


 

Walking away from the intake tables with a bandaid on her upper arm, Andy's hesitance hadn’t faded at all. The questions they asked in the survey were just as puzzling as everyone's apparent willingness to have their blood drawn at a party. Andy had expected the typical dating site questionnaire; where you grew up, your political affiliation, if you smoked, how often you drank - basic lifestyle questions. The Soulmates R Us questionnaire was as startling as it was succinct. On the touchpad were just five innocuous open-ended questions Nothing about preferences or a history of past partners. There were no questions that covered what you wanted for your future, what job you had or wanted, or even what your sexual orientation was! 

 

Even more surprising, Andy did not have to type a single letter, once she tapped the question the computer demanded a verbal answer which it automatically recorded. She asked the employee who helped her get situated about it and he informed her that the way she answers the question, both in content and in linguistic style, would be analyzed by the computer software to find her perfect match. It seemed that the tech that has gone into Soulmates R US was far more advanced than Andy had anticipated. When she arrived this evening she had been prepared to write up a nuanced but ultimately predictable piece about how the modern age of dating means inviting all sorts of tech into your bedroom - but this whole setup was more extreme than she could have ever imagined. Any kind of ‘genetic matchmaking’ has alarm bells ringing in her mind already but combined with those wacko questions and the astronomical cost of the membership, she was truly left baffled. 

 

Andy was just putting the last of her initial thoughts to paper when her attention was pulled towards the front entrance. Paparazzi were swarming someone, the camera flashes obscuring Andy from seeing who had everyone's attention until the iconic white coif that Andy never thought she'd see in person again came into view. What could she possibly be doing here?  Andys heart hammered in her chest. Her feet had all but melted into the floor. Oh, God.

 

Miranda glided into the hall, expertly avoiding the paparazzi's questions as she swirled into the main event space, her sunglasses still shielding her from prying eyes. It would be humorous how quickly Andy spotted Miranda, but the shock of white hair in her periphery caused an immediate blush to whip its way up Andys neck, and all she could feel was her own embarrassment. As if her sudden proximity to Miranda would somehow clue the editor, and every other person around her, into just how often Andy had imagined this moment. Running into her at a Starbucks, holding hot coffee in gloved hands; seeing her in the park, her fingers gripping Patricias leash with a twin nestled on either side; spotting her at an event just like this one, enjoying her signature regal decent down the stairs.

 

There was one vital difference, Andy found out, between her fantasies and reality. In her fantasies, she would meet Miranda’s eye, and watch the recognition flit around the editor's face. Andy would wave and say some charming one-liner and be rewarded instantly by one of Miranda's fond little smiles. She would get her foot back in the door; she would find a way to make Miranda understand why she had to leave; she would find a way to make Miranda forgive her. It was like a movie sequence in Andy's head that played over and over.

 

In reality, Miranda stared right past her. Storming into the reception area the editor cast a cool gaze along the room. For a fraction of a second, Andy thought those steely blues would land on her but instead, they landed on a group of men in suits that was congregated a few feet away from her. Miranda strode towards the men and was warmly greeted by the older man in the group with a quick kiss on her cheek. Andys insides twisted into a knot at the contact. The man whispered in Miranda's ear, leaning in far too close to be just a casual acquaintance and Andy bristled at the familiar hold the man has on her. With one hand securely on her lower back, the mystery man lead Miranda toward the partition behind the small stage in front of the reception hall, far away from where Andy stood stock still. 

 

Andy could just about breathe again as Miranda disappeared around the corner but her embarrassment burrowed itself deeper in her chest and she found herself having a hard time taking a breath. Fuck. She should have known another Mr. Priestly would be waiting in the wings, they always were. Nothing would ever change that.

 

This is exactly why you left, to save yourself from moments like this.

 

Andy's hands were hot and sweaty and she dragged them along her dress skirt not caring if they left marks.  All those months away from Miranda allowed Andy to forget how utterly embarrassing it was to yearn for that woman’s affections. To hold out hope for a second-long glance in her direction. She felt stupid. She was nothing to Miranda, she never had been. 14 months of daydreams hadn’t changed a thing. Andy needed to get herself together, she could feel tears threatening to overflow. She needed out. Out of here; out of New York; out of the country, she didn’t care she just couldn’t stand to be overlooked anymore. Spotting a bathroom near the front entrance, Andy quickly secured her notebook in her clutch and made her way back to the front entrance vaguely aware of the other guests she was pushing past. She had just reached the bathroom door as the event lights dimmed and the presentation began. Too overwhelmed to bother turning around now Andy slipped into the bathroom, out of sight.

 


 

Miranda found herself seated on the stage as the supposed ‘brains’ of this operation gave probably the dullest speech about soulmates one could ever imagine. She swore if she heard another thing about genomes she’d walk right out of this event hall, stock portfolio be damned. 

 

She couldn’t even believe she was seated on stage, how mortifying. If this could even be classified as a stage, Miranda noted, much to her amusement, there was barely enough room for all five board members. Of course, Greg had never told her that she was going to be puppeted around the whole evening, if she had known she would have kept her sunglasses on. This whole thing was just like him, Miranda noted bitterly, he always kept everything from her until the very last minute, and then she was forced to go along with whatever silly plan he had for her. This whole situation was dumb, all she did was partially fund the operation why on earth did she need to be paraded around like this? She didn’t even believe in soulmates, one of her (many) ex-husbands was sitting next to her for crying out loud. 

 

After Miranda realized that the dull man was going to continue being dull, she let her mind wander. The paparazzi were just as bad as she anticipated they would be, of course, they couldn’t help but bring up her most recent divorce. She had tried to switch the narrative around a little by showing up to whatever party she could with a new and more attractive man on her arm, but nothing worked. It seemed as if all the world wanted to talk about was how she was incapable of keeping a man, how tiresome. 

 

Miranda had never understood why the paparazzi insisted on yelling all those tedious epithets at her when they asked her to comment on whatever lie was currently being printed on Page Six. Throwing insults and then immediately asking her to smile was an odd strategy and there was nothing a stranger could yell at her to get her to react anymore, she was far too practiced at keeping her mask firmly in place. And thank goodness for that. If Miranda had any less of a penchant for total and utter control over her expressions, then she would have completely lost it when what had to be Andrea’s body double caught her eye briefly near the front entrance. The woman looked so similar to Andrea, with the same long brown locks, the same towering curvaceous figure, and even the doe eyes - wide and endearing - gazed back at her. But it couldn’t have been Andrea, it was improbable. Andrea left. Andrea ran away from her. Gave up her whole future because she couldn’t possibly stand to be near Miranda for a single second longer. What's worse, she ran in front of everyone. The one time that Miranda's mask had slipped in the last 20 years, and that silly girl had to cause a scene in front of the largest show in fashion week. Of course, Page Six had run the photos. They had their fun for the next few weeks. Headlines like ‘Brave Assistant walks out on the Devil’, and ‘The Dragon Lady doesn’t just scare away Husbands’, were on every major gossip site within two hours. Miranda had never wished for someone to leak her impending divorce faster, she’d do anything to get that dreaded photo off of mainstream media. She couldn’t stand to look at it - Andrea’s back to her as she stormed away and Miranda looked, well… she had never seen that panicked expression on her face before and she had no desire to ever think about why a silly little assistant walking out on her could have possibly shaken her up so much

 

Then there were all the rumors, that had been a fun couple of months. Miranda did not have much hope left for mainstream media, but even she couldn’t have anticipated that they’d be able to stretch the truth as far as they did and for as long as they did. Page six alone published gossip columns for weeks claiming Stephen and Andrea were having some sordid affair, somehow unearthing every single photo in existence of Stephen and Andrea in the same room together and quoting one “trusted source” was what qualified as journalism these days. Miranda could only roll her eyes at the whole ordeal, she would probably have been able to laugh at the absurdity of it all if the news coverage hadn’t kept those dreaded Paris pictures in the news circuit for months longer than they would have been otherwise.

 

No, Miranda decided. It was definitely not Andrea. The girl wouldn’t be caught dead in some silly self-celebratory party like this one. The little rag she worked for rarely covered society events, and even so Andrea wrote about politics, social injustices, and whatever else naive bleeding hearts spent their days thinking about - dying puppies and such nonsense, no doubt. 

 

Greg nudged her discreetly with his elbow, snapping her out of her reverie.

 

“You could at least try to look interested,” Greg whispered out of the side of his mouth. She didn’t even bother responding to him, one of the few perks of her persona is that she never had to pretend to be interested in anything. 

 

“Every one of our board members believes in this project.” The dull ramblings about DNA sequencing were apparently over as the salesman of the group was now at the mic. With a sweeping glance towards the board seated primly at the back of the stage, he continued, “in fact, all of our investors here were the very first subscribers to Soulmates R Us - they all put their own DNA on the line, that’s how much they believe in our program.”

 

I’m sorry - what? Miranda vaguely remembered answering those stupid fucking questions when Greg roped her into this ridiculous enterprise. But the DNA? She wouldn’t just forget if someone drew her blood at a board meeting. Thinking back to the only two meetings she ever actually attended in the two years she and Greg had funded Soulmates R Us, she did remember Greg hassling her to sign a bunch of consent documents when she took that sample survey, but she never gave her DNA to them. 

 

“And now comes the most exciting moment of the night, I am told our programmers have found a match in this very room.” 

 

A quiet hush spread over the crowd as the salesman amped up his performance and Miranda just rolled her eyes, tired of the over-dramatics. Looking beside her, Greg seemed to be on the edge of his seat as well and her irritation bloomed. Miranda wondered briefly if he paid off the programmers to match him with the most attractive (and presumably also the youngest) woman in the room - she wouldn’t put it past him, he’d always been terribly predictable. 

 

“This is a very exciting match. Our technicians assure me that these two are synced in all four core categories. We dare say this is the strongest match we’ve found yet. Besides my own match, of course - hello, honey.” Winking at a petite redhead standing close to the stage, the crowd murmured with quiet laughter and the Salesman paused for applause. Miranda’s distaste for him magnified tenfold, she hated being cajoled into applauding for someone when they haven’t even said anything yet. 

 

“So without further ado, let’s meet our newest soulmates. Can one miss Andrea Sachs, please come to the stage?”

 

Well, that got Miranda's attention.

 


 

Andy had just gotten her breathing under control when she exited the bathroom. She heard the presenter say something about how they were going to announce a new match they had found in the room, she was relieved to know that she hadn’t missed that part of the evening since it would make a great closing paragraph for her column piece she needed to write. No doubt, two rich society folks would be paired together and Andy could comment on how the rich and famous kept updating their breeding rituals; out with the debutante balls in with genetic matchmaking ceremonies. 

 

Looking at her watch, Andy noted that she missed about 25 minutes of the presentation and she sighed to herself, great job Sachs. All the genetic mumbo jumbo had probably already been discussed, looks like I’ve got an evening of research ahead of me. Unless maybe I could get someone too…

 

“… Can one miss Andrea Sachs, please come to the stage.”

 

What? No, no, no… What? Andys mind whirled as the gathered crowd erupted in applause. Me? Wait why do they need me to go up to the stage? Andy cursed under her breath as she wished she had paid attention to whatever had been said before her name was called, she couldn’t possibly be the soulmate, that would be ridiculous. I only answered five questions! 

 

“Um, Andrea Sachs? Is there an Andrea Sachs still here?” The announcer looked anxiously over the crowd. Andy’s body wouldn’t even move an inch, she felt frozen in place as the dread of having to make her way over to the stage worked its way up her spine. 

 

“Here she is!” The employee who helped her through the intake process grabbed her arm and waved it in the air. All Andy could stare at was that godawful orange shirt and think about how if anyone ever doubted if the wealthy hated their minimum wage employees they should just take one look at the uniforms these people were forced to wear. The booming applause woke Andy up from her daze and her body started to kick in again as the employee all but dragged her toward the stage. She could barely see anything in front of her but she could feel every single eye in the crowd follow her journey. 

 

“Come on up!” The man at the mic gave her what Andy supposed was a friendly smile but all she could see was the clean rows of teeth with lips that stretched far too wide and she grimaced. The employee pushed her towards the small set of stairs on the left side of the stage and she wobbled as she clutched the banister, she was vaguely aware of someone helping her up the remaining stairs.

 

In front of the applauding crowd now, Andy could see the first two rows of people, and she cowered at their attention. This was never the plan. She was supposed to attend this fancy party, eat as much fancy food as she could get her hands on, then promptly head home and file a boilerplate column on how tech affects the modern world and call it a night. But no, instead she was standing in front of the entirety of the New York elite supposedly meeting her soulmate. Her booming heartbeat slammed against her skull and Andy was so focused on not falling on her face in front of the gathered crowd that she forgot all about the editor seated closely behind her. 

 


 

“It seems this young lady is quite anxious to meet her match.” The salesman tried his best to cover the less-then-thrilled expression that settled over Andreas’ face. Miranda stared at Andrea in shock, she tried to meet her eyes but the girl was resolutely looking straight ahead of her. Miranda doubted she was seeing much of anything right now. 

 

“Isn’t that your old assistant that was all over the tabloids in Paris?” Greg murmured beside her and Miranda could have just about slapped him.

 

“Then let’s not drag this out, shall we?” The salesman continued, “this is quite a special match for us here at Soulmates R Us because one of our very own has found their soulmate tonight. That's right everyone. One of our distinguished investors is Andrea’s match.”

 

A cold dread that Miranda so rarely felt settled in her stomach. Looking at all the other board members seated next to her on stage, the unsettled feeling in her stomach bloomed further. They were all so old and so wealthy and so often demeaning - the thought of her Andrea spending even a minute, let alone a lifetime, with any of the men seated around her burned Miranda from the inside out. 

 

“Our board has done so much for this project. Since its conception, this particular board member has been with us since the very beginning.”

 

The very beginning? But Greg and I were the very first investors. Turning to her side, Miranda looked at the father of her children and felt sick to her stomach. Greg? No, Andrea can’t… no. Rage swept hot and fast along Miranda's body and she clenched her fists painfully at her sides. A few photographers at the back of the room seemed to understand that something of note was happening and started making tier way forward, snapping pictures as they went. The camera flashes forced Miranda to remember that her emotions were on full display as she slid her mask back in place.

 

“Every single match we have made for the last three years is still blissfully happy. We are very proud of our 100% success rate and we have no doubt that this match will be just as perfect. Please welcome Andreas’ soulmate - Miranda Priestly.”

 

Applause roared around her and as she met Andrea’s panicked expression with her own stoic one, the only thing Miranda could think was: “This will definitely get everyone to stop talking about the divorce.”