“Oh, Thomas, tell the story! It’s so romantic!” crooned Alexandria. Thomas grinned and pulled his wife closer, careless with his cigar near her bob.

“Well, I met this little lady at a charity ball at the Club. The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the one for me, so I snuck outside during a toast and plucked flowers from the garden! I gave them to her and—”

“And we danced the night away!” laughed Alexandria. Thomas scooped her up and spun her around, narrowly missing the rose hedge. The MacDougalls laughed, the light of the moon glinting on their champagne glasses. Soft music bubbled out of the brightly lit mansion farther up the hill, dripping down the winding path to reach the garden.

“Oh, Thomas! This is our song!” giggled Alexandria, picking up the notes of the music. “Let’s dance!” Alexandria raced off. It happened that the silly girl’s flight led her right into the path of an oncoming car. Thomas started to yell a warning, but the car was too close. In an instant, Alexandria was gone.


The bell on the door of the soda shop tinkled, letting Ally know she had a customer. Brushing her honey-colored waves out of her face, she turned to see who it was. For a moment, she thought she knew him, but the moment was gone before it registered. The stranger obviously recognized her, though. “Alexandria?”

“What? I mean— Yes, that’s me, but. . . how do you know my name?” Ally stuttered.

He pointed to her shirt. “You have a nametag. . .”

“Oh. Right,” Ally laughed. She was unnerved by the handsome stranger, with his leather jacket, shiny teeth, and perfect hair. “What can I get you?”

“Your number,” smirked the stranger, leaning on his elbows on the counter. Ally’s cheeks turned into twin bonfires.

“I have to. . . go. . . sort inventory,” mumbled Ally, ducking into the back. She could hear the laughter behind her.

It seemed that the boy was determined to be a nuisance in her life. In the following week, he joined her grade and began working at the soda shop. Ally was furious. The boy, whom she soon learned was named Tommy, teased her nonstop. For the next two years of high school, she endured relentless pranks and jokes. Eventually, she overcame her initial shyness and devoted time to pranking him back.

A week before her junior year of school ended, she found herself mopping the floor of the coffee shop with just Tommy. For once, it was quiet, with no barbs or quips.

“Being honest, it’s too quiet around here without you being a jerk,” Ally remarked, one eyebrow cocked.

Tommy rolled his eyes and grinned his grin. “Do you want me to be honest? Because I honestly want you to go to the drive-in with me on Friday.”

Ally just stared at him, shocked. Had he really just said that? And why did part of her want to say yes?

“Only if you buy me flowers,” she sniffed, feigning haughtiness. They both laughed. They also laughed on the way home from the movie Friday, at least until Tommy swung her around and kissed her. He swung her around in the same careless fashion to kiss her at their wedding a couple years later. Ally felt like she was living in a fairy tale in their beautiful blue house with a white picket fence.

One day, as Ally and Tommy were swinging on the porch swing, Ally sitting with a hand unconsciously resting on her pregnant stomach, she asked, “How come you never tell me where you lived before we met?”

There was a pause as Tommy’s eyes moved through the newspaper, and Ally almost thought he hadn’t heard and was about to repeat the question when he said, “France. Why do you ask?”

“I want to know about my husband’s life! What were you doing in France? And how did a kid get the funds to move to the United States? You’re an orphan!”

Tommy set the newspaper down. “In France, I was fighting in World War II.”

Ally scoffed. “As a six-year-old? I think not.”

“I wasn’t six then and I’m not twenty now,” Tommy said, voice so grave Ally couldn’t help but think he was serious for once.

“Do go on,” Ally said, only half-mocking now.

“Ally. I’m twenty nine.”

“You can’t be! You were in my grade in school, so that would make you twenty, like me! Tommy, if this is all a story, I swear—”

“I’m not lying. I could never lie to you.” His eyes were so still, Ally could see her own image reflected in them. “Please listen.” Ally could only stare, shocked, at the man she thought she had known.

“Our mothers were best friends. We grew up next door neighbors and playmates.” Tommy swallowed, as if the story was stuck in his throat after being there for so long. “It was the start of a beautiful love story, wouldn’t you think? But on our fifteenth birthday, you lost a battle with yellow fever. And that’s where the love story pauses. Not ends; pauses. I stopped aging without you.” Tommy met his wife’s wide, incredulous eyes. “So I’ve spent my life looking for you. I found you once, thirty years ago, but you died after nine years.” Shakily, through his tears, Tommy said, “All I’ve ever wanted is to grow old with you.” Ally choked on a sob and clutched her husband close to her, their tears mixing on his jacket.

They stayed like that, on the gently swaying porch swing, until the sun was low and the grass was lit orange. They stayed until the sun had dipped below the horizon and the mountains in the distance were blurred in the hazy twilight. They stayed until the moon was high and the stars burst into existence, like night-blooming flowers, until they could feel the world spinning through space and Ally felt dew on her growing abdomen and Tommy could feel the cells in his body divide and die, drunk on the knowledge that he was truly alive again. For a beautiful moment, the world was exploding with life.

Until they stood up from the bench and Ally, blind in the dark, stepped on the loose board on the deck. Tommy made a grasp for her arm and missed. For a moment, she was teetering through the air, but she was soon claimed by gravity and fell, arms swinging wildly, shriek still in her mouth, to the ground, striking her head on the decorative rocks edging the flower bed. In an instant, Alexandria was gone.


Tom laid his phone on his desk and sighed. The fluorescent lights buzzed continuously, making a glare on the dark window that obscured the city outside. He was sick of this place. With a glance at the stack of paperwork he had left to do before going home, he decided it was time for a bathroom break. As he was washing his hands, Tom happened to catch a glimpse of something in the mirror that gave him pause. Turning off the water, he looked at his head. There, behind his right temple, was a gray hair. Tom could only stare for a minute before the ramifications of the hair reached him. He was aging. She was here. Tom leaned against the bathroom wall and thought. He only aged when he had met her in her new life. So it must have happened sometime in the past few years.

Hands shaking, he did the only thing he could think of: he called Charles, his best friend. Charles’s voice came to him through the phone with his usual greeting. Tom sank into the familiar sound like it was an embrace.

“Charles, listen. My life is a mess and I need to be around a person. I don’t want to talk about it. I just need human contact. Please?”

“Sure! I’ll meet you in the park on 3rd Street in a few minutes. I’ll bring snacks.”

Tom paced in front of a park bench. He checked his watch. 7:08. Now that he knew he was aging, he felt every second more acutely. For fifty years, he had put her out of his head. Some force of the universe had decided to play a sick game with his life decades ago, and he had decided not to play. He hadn’t looked for her since the day he’d found her in the soda shop. He just couldn’t go through it again.

Charles’s headlights lit up the street as he turned the corner and parked, then blinked off as he got out of his car. He walked to Tom and sat on the bench.

“On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it?” he asked.

“Five million and twelve,” laughed Tom, harsh and loud.

“Oh, so not too bad,” replied Charles, eyebrow cocked. The corner of Tom’s mouth twitched. They sat together for a while, watching a cloud of moths swirl around a streetlight.

“Charles? What was the worst day of your life?” asked Tom. He wanted to hear about someone else’s miseries instead of listening to the storm of emotions in his head.

Charles’s face turned hard as he looked at the moths, not seeing them. “I’m going to tell you a story, in the hopes that it make whatever is going on less painful. Okay?” Tom nodded. Charles took a breath and began.

“It’s hard to say, so I’ll just say it. I was a bit different in high school than I am now. I was a girl. The worst day of my life was when I told my parents otherwise. They threw me out of the house. I lived with my aunt before I got a full-ride scholarship to college. There, I made my transition to the splendid male specimen you see today,” he said, cocking his eyebrow in his characteristic way, “and graduated the same person, with a different body. The body I was meant to have.”

A realisation dawned on Tom, so clear he couldn’t believe how blind he’d been. He turned to Charles and demanded, “What was your name before?”

Confused, Charles said, “I poured out my heart to you and that’s what you’re concerned about?” But he must have seen the desperation in Tom’s eyes, because he added, “My name was Alexandria.”

Tom could only gape. His soulmate had been in the office across the hall for seven years. He had never even considered this possibility. It was like looking up and seeing the sun in the sky for the first time.

Tom told Charles his story. By the end, Charles had to believe him.

“Charles. I can’t say I was looking for you, but I was a fool not to. Even if I get you for a year, a month, or a day, you are worth every second of heartbreak. I don’t know how we got this way, but I know that I’ll take whatever I can get. Because you’re my soulmate.”

Charles smiled that smile that Tom should’ve recognized the minute he saw him and said, “I’ll love you for the rest of my life, however long that is.”

It was another twenty-three years of amazing adventures together, of picnics and aquariums and travel and houses and porch swings, until Charles died of a heart attack one day. Tom felt the heartbreak all over again, clutching a pillow that smelled like him, until he realized what this meant. He could fall in love with that smile all over again. He wiped away his tears.

In a far-off country, a child came screaming into the world. The planet turned as it made its slow journey through space, and Tom got to his feet again. He left their house behind and got in his car. He drove off, ready for the next year, the next adventure, the next meeting, the next smile. He couldn’t wait.




sarah-richardsSarah Richards is a sixteen-year-old in high school. She enjoys cross country running, painting, and math.

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