I watched him from my perch on the fountain, the splashing water behind me muffled the sounds of my pounding heart. It recognized him in an aching way. It seemed it had been too long since my soul had found his and yet it also felt like it had been no time at all. My soul always finds his.
In our last incarnation, it had taken us twenty-five years to find each other. Seeing him as a teenager this time felt like a great relief. I always wanted to steal as many years with him as I possibly could.
We were soul mates. Literally. Cursed soul mates. Our love was intense. A blazing forest fire, a swirling rip tide, a swirling hurricane. Nothing could stop us, but we also destroyed anyone who got in our way. It was all-consuming. We weren’t evil. But passion takes many forms, and not all of them are good.
So we were cursed. We would reincarnate life after life, always destined to find each other. But he never remembers who he was, he never remembers me. But I can never forget.
I remember every lifetime, every word, every whisper, every spine-tingling touch he’s ever shared with me. And every time I return, I have to start over again. I have to watch my lover date around, explore the world, and try to find his place in it. I watch him learn who he is.
But I have lifetimes of knowledge. I always know where I fit. And it is wrapped in his arms or curled up at his side.
This time my name was Betty. I’d never been a Betty. I’d been plenty of Elizabeths, Bethanys, Rebeccas. Never a Betty.
His eyes found mine. His eyes were a warm golden brown, but it lacked the spark of a lover’s gaze. That simply added insult to injury. He did look curious though, that initial attraction that was always there. It was the only amount of recognition his soul would give him to his past, to our never-ending destiny.
He moved gracefully among the crowd, navigating his way with ease until he made his way to my seat on the fountain edge. With the sun behind him, he had a golden halo around him. Brown hair that glowed, a crooked grin that sent a jolt straight to my heart.
“Is this seat taken?” He asked, pointing to the empty spot next to me.
I couldn’t help but grin in return. “Not at all,” I replied. “I’m Betty. And you are?” I raised an eyebrow at him.
“James.” He kept that crooked grin and offered his hand for me to shake. The second our hands touched I felt the excitement in my bones, the comfort unfurling in my heart being at his side. The string tied to our souls were no longer floating around the city, waiting to meet. Our string began to wind around itself, curling and looping in until we were knotted together again.
I spent all of spring discovering him all over again. I knew his soul, his heart, but his quirks changed every lifetime. His personality changing with the times.
We’d been kings and queens, servants, forbidden lovers, celebrities, secretaries, doctors, soldiers, artists, activists. He had so many versions of himself that he would never remember. I loved the quest of mapping out this new version, digging in and finding new pieces of him to add to my collection.
In this life, James loved nature. We would sneak away from class and spend our afternoons lazing on the sundeck on the High Line, dipping our toes in the water feature while he sketched the trees. We slipped out our windows and danced under streetlights, drunk on stolen whiskey and passionate kisses. He would stop at a red light and kiss me for no particular reason. Being alone with him was heady, my heart pounding so hard in his presence that when I was finally alone, I felt like I had run a marathon.
I saw him beginning to connect the dots as he drew lines between the scars on my arm, scattered like a constellation. The picture that was our past began to come into focus that summer. Memories of other laughs, older stolen moments, dreams from another lifetime. It all began flooding in. I saw it in his eyes when he studied me, saw it in his sketches. He drew the meadow from five lifetimes ago where we made love. A rough outline of the castle we’d once lived in. Versions of me from other lifetimes.
And then one achingly hot night, as we lay together on his bed, naked and glistening with sweat, he looked at me with the warmth that I always yearned for.
“Do you remember?” I whispered, scared for the answer but desperate to hear it anyway.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve loved you, is it?”
I chuckled. “Not even close.”
And I spent that night telling him about us. The real us. The first version of our story. One that began so long ago. Then I told him all the variations that followed it. He listened closely, trailing his fingers over the scars on my arm. I told him all of our love stories until he finally drifted off to sleep. His breathing evened, and with each breath I was lulled further into sleep, the burden of all those pasts lifting off me. And true rest finally found me for the first time in this life.
But I awoke to an empty bed in an empty room, save for the piece of paper on the nightstand.
Need some time to think —James
My heart sank as I let the paper flutter to the floor. Sometimes this would happen, especially as we moved further and further into the future, where magic was forgotten. It was hard to process. All I could do was give him the space to let this knowledge settle in, let him unpack what memories I had been able to stir in him. He would always come back to me — if not in this lifetime, then the next. Not every lifetime was a perfect fairy tale. Sometimes it was messy, painful, chaotic. Sometimes we tore ourselves apart, ripping the seam that binds us together. I could only hope this lifetime would not end up that way.
So I did. I went to the High Line by myself, sat at the fountain where we’d met, studied every sketch that connected to our pasts. But hours turned to days and days into weeks. Calls were missed, texts ignored. I knocked at his door. I cried on his fire escape, desperate to catch a glimpse of him.
And then I finally did. And the sight tore me open. He was kissing another girl, holding her close. I knew what he was doing. He was running, trying desperately to escape the weight of our situation. After all in his world, he’s only seventeen and I’m his first love.
I’ve been seventeen too many times to count, and he had been my only real love. Just because love is destined doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. I’d learned that hundreds of times over. Soul mates are a deeper love, but that means the hurt cuts deeper, too.
The tear fell down as he looked up from the girl he was kissing. The regret registered instantly in his eyes. He pushed himself away from the stranger and tried to make his way over to me. The pain and longing in those eyes added to my own.
So I turned and disappeared into the crowd, losing myself in the city and the memories. Eventually my feet led me home, stumbled me into my bed. And I tried not to drown in my tears.
Hours later a knock at my window had me peeling my eyes open. I felt the stain of my tears on my face. I looked out of the window, bleary-eyed. But I knew who it was. James.
I took a deep breath and opened it, climbing out onto the fire escape with him. I simply looked at him. The pain had numbed my senses to the point where I could do little more than simply stare at him.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to fumble out. “I—“ He ran his hand through his hair, stopping to rub the back of his neck. “I’m a shitty person,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
I couldn’t help but agree but didn’t say anything. So he talked. He talked like he could fill the void between us with his words as if his ramblings could build a bridge across the distance between us.
He was scared. It was a lot to adjust to. He asked how I dealt with all these memories in my head, how I could be so calm about this.
“It’s all I know, James. It’s all I’ve ever known. You get to forget. You start fresh every time. I carry around all these memories. Happy memories and sad ones and devastating ones.” I finally looked at him, eyes thick with tears I was trying desperately not to shed. How many times had he broken my heart? How many times had we argued? How much pain had we inflicted on each other across eons? I couldn’t even begin to count.
All those memories kept rushing back. Him as a king in a political marriage while I remained the mistress he truly loved. Me as an aristocrat’s daughter in love with the stable boy I could never marry. Him choosing to go to war instead of staying safe at my side. Flashes of jealous moments, heartbroken cries, and unimaginable grief.
I was drowning in them. I desperately searched for a happy memory to cling to, a life raft in the dark sea. But each time I had my hand on one, I saw him kissing that girl, and the memory would slide right out of my hands.
“Did you think that since we’re soul mates, you can do whatever you want, and I’ll take you back no matter what?” I managed to whisper. I didn’t trust my voice not to crack.
He stumbled over words, trying to apologize. Stammer after stammer until I couldn’t take it anymore. I simply crawled back through my window, back into my bed. Leaving him out in the dark.
I had fitful sleep, fragments of past lives invading my dreams. I wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t. Not truly. Even if he ripped my heart out, no other sadness in the world would do.
Inez made me throw a party that weekend. I wasn’t really interested in doing much partying, but she was insistent, thinking it would make me feel better. I’d thrown plenty of parties through my lives — everything from lavish expensive parties and parties with just three people in attendance. But none of them felt as pathetic as this party. My beer had barely been touched. I kept it in hand simply so Inez wouldn’t keep trying to get me to drink.
I wasn’t listening to the music or anyone’s conversations. I wasn’t even really looking at anything. Not anything here in the present. I was lost in the past. Good memories were the only salve for my soul.
“Betty!” someone shouted over the din of the music. “Someone’s at the door for you!”
I rolled my eyes and dragged myself over to the door. Where James was standing on the front step, eyes locked onto mine with a fierceness I hadn’t seen in quite a few lifetimes. I could feel the party’s eyes on us, so I shut the door behind me. With the music muffled I was suddenly left with the sound of my pounding heart. I nervously pulled the sleeves of my cardigan down over my arms.
James opened his mouth to speak but glanced over my shoulder and stopped. I turned to look behind me to see Inez and a few others staring out the front window, watching us. I took his hand and led him around the side of the building where there was a small garden. The sounds of the party were even more dulled here, my heartbeat was even louder. I nervously glanced up at him.
He looked at me for a moment before pulling me into his arms and kissing the top of my head. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered against my hairline. “I hate myself more and more every day that passes without you. I love you. I don’t want anyone else but you. Do you think you could forgive me? Maybe not now, but one day?”
I gave him a dry chuckle. “I love you. I’ve loved you for so many lifetimes.” I gave him a slow, sweet kiss. “I will forgive you.” He kissed me again, this time deeper and more urgent, like he needed to make up for lost time.
Our many roads were bumpy and had forks in the road everywhere. We didn’t always take the right path, but the strings always brought us together, always tied us together. Despite the pain, I couldn’t imagine a lifetime without him.
It is my greatest curse and my greatest blessing. I couldn’t imagine only having him for one lifetime. I lose him each time in some way or another. But when I come back, I have another lifetime of memories with him. Our love is infinite, destined to happen over and over again no matter the outcome.
Even faithless love from him is better than any love I could find with anyone else.
here lies the house you dreamt up as you were reading folklore
just like the girls growing up here, collecting daisies and trying to catch the sunlight
as they competed for the dirtiest dress and the best kind of princesses
that much preferred history pages and embers over glass slippers or true love’s kisses
they were here first, before the rainstorms and the whirlwinds happened
they were here first, wandering the halls pretending the glitter on their face was pixie dust
and the freckles on their wrists were constellations
they were here first, but they left the fairy lights for you
they left the daisies carved in the front porch railings for you
and the hollow tree behind the swing still cherishes their drawings
just like the rose bushes still hold onto their lost hair ribbons and long forgotten tears
the luscious garden a gorgeous kingdom just large enough for their secrets
and for the stories they wish were in their books
the story goes that the butterflies atop the driveway gate were the girls’ idea
the story goes that the house wasn’t theirs, that they were travelers desperate for a home
the story goes that they were sisters, not by blood but by stars
the story goes that the ivy climbing the walls and windows of the mansion
could no longer be tamed once their epilogue came to an end
people say that once the girls learned there was no Neverland
that the midnight hour was an actual monster, that losing your voice was not just fantasy,
that poison did in fact come in sweet, that beauty could be cruel,
that happily ever after was a fight rather than a given victory,
it was as if a rainstorm broke loose and never stopped
but maybe that wasn’t the girls’ fault
maybe they were just the ghosts that predicted what was to come
come inside the gate, walk the driveway
the neighbors live a million little worlds away, telling their own stories of this place
as they sip tea so sweet it makes you wonder what all the sugar in the world is meant to hide
stories that are a thousand dimensions away from the actual truth, if such a thing even exists
come now, ring the bell of the olive door as you are bewildered by primroses
listen carefully to the sound of cats meowing and wings rustling
that almost overshadows the soft tingling like wind bells that make your heart tingle
come inside, enter the hallway with constellations decorating the mauve wallpapers
rumor has it the female assassin woman who lived here painted them herself
she turned the library into an armory and the parlor into a room filled with gowns and frocks
after buying the house from the notorious roaring twenties socialite for whom it was a palace
but oh well, that’s just the rumors
let those mauve constellations catch your every heartstring
as you stand on your tiptoes on the scarlet carpet studying the paintings of wonderland
that are said to be drawn by the apocalyptionist couple living here after the murderess’ downfall
come, proceed, the tour only lasts an hour
take a look at the stunning vinyl player in rouge and lavender that will make you feel
as if you are in a butterfly kaleidoscope
some say it belonged to the notorious socialite
some say it was stolen by the villainous woman who supposedly ate hearts she cut out of bodies
others say it was the last gift the woman who always wore cardigans got from her boyfriend
that night he admitted to cheating on her all summer long at her graduation party
he stood on the front porch of this very house, naïve enough to still believe in a true love’s kiss
that would patch it all up
but word is she just took the vinyl player and shut the door in his face
come, this house has a magnificent thirteen rooms
in the color palette of a storybook
close your eyes, don’t be shy
inhale the scent of rosé-perfumed memories and freshly baked cinnamon rolls
sweet tea greeted by epiphany sunlight and garden beets cooking
Sunday afternoon candles and Monday evening cocktails
take a close look at all the spice racks and recipe books in the kitchen
you can see the sepia photos and love letters sticking out, half lost, half never meant to be found
listen to the soft indie music playing on the rouge vinyl, take a look around
at the tea leaves drying and the apple sauce stewing
as you catch glimpses of a telescope and a typewriter on the back porch
and remember the front porch with the fairy lights and jars filled with ocean rubble
remember the rocking bench and the painting supplies
the back porch was for the happy memories, but the front porch holds the scars of broken hearts
the promise of a happy ending crumbling as the boy who risked it all left empty-handed
the loneliness after a day full of people, as the notorious socialite was left alone
the darkness of a woman so scorned she ferociously screamed into the void for an apocalypse
the woman standing on the doorstep of her most infamous murder
that same woman curling up on the porch steps clutching a blooded knife,
hands shaking for the first time in her life
oh well, that is just how the stories go, there’s no telling the truth really
moving on, make your way to the drawing room
where two cats sleep in blush armchairs, one tabby named Ella, one grey called Cinder
from here, feel free to enter the breathtaking observatory
where young papillons prepare to take flight as doves and bluebirds sing you a song
and don’t forget the library, which holds every fairytale ever written, both cruel and pretty
these too were left here for you by the two girls who started it all, savoring every single story
run your finger along every history page ever forgotten, every dream ever conquered
and realize that it was the woman called wicked by many collected them with her bare hands
priding herself in bottling the starlight of a life envied by many, spinning twisted tales of her own
remember to visit the attic, where you will find crescent moons and faded canvasses
as the remains of a world ending while the earth kept on travelling around the sun just the same
take a peek into every bedroom: they all have their own lipstick secrets and vintage myths
just like the theatre where, as whispers say, the notorious socialite spent her final hours
desperately trying to get lost in a world of sunken secrets much like her own
do make sure to skip the gallery of ghost stories, though,
for it will haunt you all the way to the manor’s other wing
the tales of names buried, faces covered and blood shed for absolutely no reason at all
will draw tears from your deepest cores
and please, fiercely walk past the museum of open books in the south wing
perhaps it was the cardigan girl, or the notorious socialite, or the vile assassin,
but one of those women, you know, had a strange relationship with endings
for she never could let go of what was long gone
take your time walking the corridors
and imagine, just imagine, the voices, the footsteps echoing, the rustling of dresses
the silhouettes, the brushes of rosé-perfumed memories
imagine the kingdom of ‘’what if’’ and ‘’if only’’ and ‘’could have been’’ inside these walls
imagine the stories of moments, seconds behind the portraits gracing the staircase
imagine that you can hear a rainstorm tearing this house apart
imagine the windows shattering, the door break, imagine the roof collapse
imagine the ivy, the willow trees, the rose branches desperately growing into all the rooms
trying to protect the stories of their kingdom
imagine the thunder in the attic, of all the times the world ended without ending
imagine the lightning striking on the front porch
every time the assassin woman’s knife ignited a fire in her own eyes
imagine the kitchen, the parlor, the library and the observatory flooding
taking away everything like all the women of this house once lost everything
imagine an earthquake running through all the fairytale books and secret garden spots
terrifying the fireflies and chasing away the young butterflies not yet ready to grow up
just like those two girls with whom it all started, who had to grow up before their time
imagine the whirlwind that tore illusions to pieces so many times
imagine the hurricane picking up the pieces that could never make something whole again
imagine the eclipse darkening everything like all the times the sun went down on the daylight
imagine a sky full of stars coming down on the house to take back their constellations
imagine a cyclone ripping the house apart,
like all the words, minds, hearts and souls that were ripped apart here
imagine secrets floating out onto the driveway and out the gate
imagine truths flying out of burst windows into the garden and beyond
imagine the dimension between true and false finding a way into the universe
imagine the flood waves bringing along every brittle bit, every piece of paper
and leaving it on the streets, like ashes ready for erosion
imagine all the whirlwinds, tornadoes, thunders, rainstorms, earthquakes and hurricanes
imagine all the floods, fires, lightnings and apocalypses breaking down this house’s every inch
like the stories of those who lived here were broken down by each and every inch
until every shout, every scream, every whisper, every word was silenced, hushed, muffled
and left to folklore’s mercy
they still haunt this house today
the age of their era is never-ending
so, as you take one last look over your shoulder before stepping out on that front porch again
remember; this is the house you dreamt up
while reading folklore
but it could only ever be a home
to ghosts and their stories
“Someone’s at the door for you.”
The words are echoing in my head as I shut the sliding glass door of the deck, cutting off the chatter of the backyard. My mother gave me that knowing smile when she said it, as if I should already know the person waiting for me. As if it should be a mystery as to who’s standing in the muted glow of the front porch light.
I pause, hand on the doorknob. One more second of stillness. Two. Three. I flip the lock and try to keep my face neutral as the door swings open, but I feel my breath catch in my throat all the same.
His hair’s still dark and curly, maybe a tad bit longer than it was back in July. He has his hands in the pockets of his jeans, but he’s standing straight, his red flannel buttoned almost to the top. He gives me a tiny smile and nods. “Hi, Daisy.”
“Finn. Hey.” I step back out into the cool late-summer evening, shutting the front door. His bike is at the end of the driveway, kickstand up, poised for escape if need be. “I…I wasn’t expecting you to come.”
“Your mom came by last week and reminded me.”
My mom. I let that sink in, her smile suddenly making sense. “You didn’t have to. I mean, it’s not…” I take a deep breath, trying to untangle my thoughts. “It’s mostly just relatives and my mom’s friends and Steve’s coworkers. I would have understood if you -”
“I wanted to come.” He’s looking at me intently. “I was wondering if we could talk.”
A shiver runs down my back, and my hands immediately curl into sweater paws around the cuffs of my cardigan. “There’s really nothing else to say, Finn.”
“Alexis told me you’re going out with Tomlyn now.” It hurts to say, especially given the last time I saw Tomlyn was on less than friendly terms. Her parents have yet to reach out to me about possibly working at their store again, and I’m guessing my resignation is a permanent one at this point. I don’t blame them for believing their own daughter over a part-time employee – not much, at least.
Finn blows air out of his mouth, shaking his head. “I’m not surprised, honestly.” He’s fighting a smile, a real one this time, and my temper is suddenly on a short fuse.
“Is that all you came to say to me?”
“No, it’s just kind of funny that -”
“Nothing about this is funny, Fernando.” I grab his arm. “Get off my porch and go home.” Using my mother and Steve’s one-year anniversary party as an excuse to make fun of me makes me want to punch him in the face.
“Daisy, wait -”
“Get off my porch, Finn. I’m not asking you again.”
“It was one date!” He’s holding up his hands in surrender, my fist still pulling at his sleeve. “I went on one date with her a few weeks ago. That was it.”
I pause, frowning. “Then why would Lex tell me…”
He heaves a sigh. “We went on one date to the mall for dinner and the bookstore.”
The bookstore. I try not to think about when I took him there earlier in the summer, combing through the young adult shelves and holding hands on the way home.
“We ran into Tessa and John on the way out of Chile’s,” Finn continues. “She was being passive aggressive and then John got defensive, and it was weird between us the rest of the night. I told her I didn’t want to go out again, but she’s been bragging to John that we’re together now, and I haven’t been able to get through to her. She doesn’t answer my texts and that ‘NO ONE UNDER 18’ sign is still up in the window at V-Moe’s.”
My grip loosens and I step back, pressing my lips together. “That all sounds pretty convenient,” I tell him. Truthfully, it’s exactly the kind of thing Tomlyn would do, but a tiny part of me is hoping she’s given up on her pursuit of making John feel guilty for becoming popular in high school and leaving her behind. Part of me is hoping she has Finn now, so I won’t have any reason to want him back.
“I can show you my phone, if you want.”
I drop down on the porch steps, heaving a sigh. “Why are you here, Finn?”
“I wanted to see how you’re doing.” He takes a seat beside me, arms resting on his knees. “Charlie’s been keeping me informed. He says you’re doing okay, but he can tell you’re not happy.”
I roll my eyes. “Charlie needs to mind his own business.”
“He’s worried about you.” Finn looks over at me. “I haven’t had anyone to talk with about books.”
“You can find someone, if you tried.”
“Daisy…I want to help. Please.”
He said the same thing weeks ago, and it makes me bristle. “You’re saying that now.”
“I’m saying it because I mean it.”
“And where will we be once school starts? Or when we graduate? Or years down the line?” I’m hugging my knees to my chest, tears burning my eyes. “Will you still want this?”
“Finn, I’m serious,” I say, my voice catching. “What happens when you get tired of the panic attacks and my constant need for reassurance? What happens when you decide this is too much for you?” I blink, tears spilling over and fogging my glasses. “What happens when you figure out that I’m not worth it?”
He doesn’t answer me, and for a minute I think he’s finally taken me seriously and he’s going to leave. Instead he asks quietly, “Do you need anything from me right now?”
I scrub my face with the cuff of my sleeve. “I don’t know.”
“And that’s fine.”
“So you’ll just sit around waiting forever?” I say bitterly.
He takes one of my hands and laces our fingers together. “I want to be here for you, just like Alexis and Charlie.”
“That’s different. Lex has been my friend since grade school and Charlie…he’s family now. He doesn’t have a choice.”
He pauses again. “Daisy, I know you’re worried about the future and you want to keep me from getting hurt. But I don’t want you to be hurting because of it.”
I hate him. I hate that he sees right through me and that he’s so stubborn. I want to tell him again to go home, but I can’t let go of his hand. I don’t want to.
“I’m sorry. This doesn’t just magically go away, you know?” I sniff, looking up at him through my tear-spotted glasses. “It’s not cured by true love. And I didn’t want you to suffer, too.”
Finn pulls me to my feet, leaning his forehead against mine. “Whatever you need from me, just ask. I’m happy just being with you right now.”
“What if…” I trail off, my mind blank. That’s all I ever ask myself: what if? What if this feeling of panic lasts forever? What if Finn and I break up? What if I never deserve to be happy?
Finn pulls me closer. “I’m not going anywhere, Daisy. I promise.” And then he’s kissing me, and I’m overwhelmed by the scent of shea butter and the feeling of his curls under my fingers. I’m drifting away, content to spend the rest of the night in this spot with Finn’s arms around me, when my phone buzzes between us.
“Seriously?” I pull back, seeing a new text from Charlie.
My dad and your mom are about to have their first dance. Or second dance, technically? Stop sucking face with Finn and get back here.
“I’d better go make sure he doesn’t explode from cooties,” I say. “Care to join me?”
“Aren’t I just going to keep distracting you?” Finn raises an eyebrow.
“You’re the best kind of distraction,” I say, pulling him in to kiss him. I lead him to the backyard, his hand in mine for the rest of the night.