The Soul Mate Requirement
by Kelly Sandoval
Listen to the audio version
Paula wakes, shaking, to the press of lips against her shoulder. She's been crying in her
sleep again, chasing memories of Marcus. Dante is holding her. She can hear the patient rhythm
of his breaths; her own gasping sobs slow to match him.
"Forever, forever, forever." He makes it a mantra, kissing the promise into her skin.
She has never really loved him.
"Well?" Dante asks, as he flicks on the garage light. "What do you think?"
There is a moment, as the bulb warms to life, when everything is shadow, and she can
imagine safer surprises. A puppy. A new car. A loaded gun.
But no, there's the crib, just as she expected. As an object, it's beautiful. The wood is
dark, highly polished, and carved with a pattern of oak leaves. He has worked hard on this. She's
smelled it on him, sawdust and hope, for months. Ever since her last promotion, when they could
finally afford the application fees.
She presses her open palm to her flat stomach and tries to imagine what it might feel like
to have life flutter there.
She has always dreamed of a child. A daughter, actually, with impossible hair and dirty
nails. For the past three years, since she and Dante bought the house, she's imagined her daughter
with his crooked smile and her long eyelashes. And even still, Paula dreams her daughter with
Marcus's bright, infectious laugh.
"Paula?" Dante sounds worried and more than a little hurt.
She's forgotten to act happy.
"I'm sorry." Her hands are shaking. She lets them drop to her sides. "It's just, there's still
so much we need to do if we want to go through with this."
"We don't have to." He says it like it's easy. As if he hasn't spent four months making a
crib for their imagined child. "I thought this was what we wanted."
She should never have told him she wanted kids. But the Family Stability Act is new,
only a year since the president signed it. She remembers the speech. So many promises. No more
crime, no more divorce, no more loneliness. Just limit co-parenting licenses to resonance-bonded
couples and everything would be paradise.
She looks at Dante, the wounded hope in his expression. He is so convinced that he loves
her. He's never had to know the difference.
"It's beautiful," she says. "You know me. Good things scare me."
"You just need more good things, that's all."
"You're my good thing," she says. And he smiles his lopsided smile.
Her fondness for him is her fondness for cool, clear water. She likes how she can't see
herself in his eyes.
He leads her over to the crib, and she dutifully makes all the right admiring noises. He has
poured himself into it, this symbol of a dream. She runs her fingers over smooth wood, spots
spiders carved among the leaves, blinks to keep the tears from her eyes.
"There's the application fee, the psych exam, the reference letters." He's counting the to-do list off on his fingers. "Do you think I should ask my brother for a letter?"
"Better not." She's can't help playing along. She's tried to tell him. She's explained that
what they have is light and warmth and not at all like love. He still believes. He'll believe until
he's given his list and she's not on it.
"You're right," he says. "And of course, I'll have to get scanned. Do you have to go
She was scanned at fifteen. Her parents made the appointment as a birthday present. The
technology was still new then, the idea still thrilling. Soul mates. Or resonance cohorts, as the
scientists call them.
There had only been three names on the list they sent her. The scan was prohibitively
expensive back then. Young, and still shy of the idea that she might have girl soul mates, Paula
had only cared about the one boy listed. Marcus.
Dante had never been scanned. He'd never gotten a pony either. So many extravagant,
terrible gifts he'd missed out on.
"No," she says. "Cohorts never change. That's the point."
"Well," he says, finally sounding nervous. "Will you come with me at least?"
She takes his hand, lets him help her up. "Of course," she says. She will take what
minutes she can with him. Perhaps, he'll stay. Living with her should be warning enough against
this idea of soul mates.
He kisses her, and he tastes like wood and summer. "I'll make the appointment today."
Dante starts to fidget the moment they enter the waiting room. His nerves come out in the
restless way he scans his phone, the way he squeezes her hand, the constant bouncing of his left
knee. Paula strokes his fingers, ignoring her own anxieties in an attempt to soothe him. She had
forgotten how much he hated hospitals.
The nurse who leads them back is large and soft spoken. He talks about the process with
the measured cadences of someone who's said the same lines many times before. Paula catches
his gaze darting between them, his slight frown, and wonders if it's that easy to tell what the test
"And now, if you'll just fill these out, the doctor will be right with you."
Dante sits, still jittering, with his pen and his stack of forms. "Why is there a waiver?" he
"Things can happen, I guess. If you don't want to go through with it, I'll understand." She
pats his arm, and reaches for her purse. Hoping.
"We have to," he says. "I can do this." He bends his head and starts scribbling his name.
The walls of the office are covered in posters about compatibility resonance, all done in
bright, friendly colors. Paula can't help but read them as she waits. The illustration of two
resonance fields forming a heart is particularly cloying. She skims the usual facts, a dozen or so
per cohort, average age spread four years, geographic clumping and anomalies. There's even a
poster on the Family Stability Act, which tells her the divorce rate among resonance matches is
only 1.8 percent.
That's the argument that really sold them in Congress. No more children of broken
homes. What a rallying cry.
"You okay?" Dante asks.
Paula forces herself to breathe evenly.
"I don't want you to be disappointed," she says. "It might not come out the way you
He points at the poster with the heart-shaped resonance field. "Let's see, overwhelming
euphoria, matched interests, and a sense of spiritual wholeness." He kisses her cheek. "We've got
all the symptoms."
The doctor knocks, ending the conversation. Like the nurse, she glances between them,
and Paula catches the ghost of a frown before her professional smile settles into place. They sit
quietly while she scans Dante's paperwork.
"Alright then, Mr. Reyes. Looks like you're all in order. We can take you back now."
"How long will it take?" Dante asks. His grip makes Paula's fingertips tingle.
"The scan only takes about twenty minutes." The doctor is brisk and calm. "Painless, I
promise. Results take about two weeks. We'll mail them to you."
"Mail?" Paula asks.
"Government funding. If we don't keep the Post Office busy, who will?"
"Well, let's do this." Dante stands, still holding Paula's hand. "Can she come back with
The doctor shakes her head. "Afraid not. The machine's pretty sensitive. A second
resonance signature within fifty feet can throw off the results."
"I'll be waiting right here." Paula promises as she pulls her fingers free. He leaves her
Hell is a wall covered in pictures of smiling soul mates and none of them aware of what's
coming. Where's the poster with the tombstone? Where are the razors, the bottles of pills, or
three helpful tips on finding a good bridge to jump from? They're promising a love that never
When Dante dies, she won't try to follow him. She'll cry at his favorite songs or when she
smells fresh cut wood. But he'll leave an ache, not the festering sore that is still her memory of
Marcus. It's better that way.
Or it would be, if it weren't for the law and Dante's foolish conviction. Will she lose him
too, when all his pretty dreams crumble? She's braced herself for his death but never considered
mere abandonment. According to the posters, 54 percent of unmatched marriages end in divorce.
Forever, he tells her, just like the posters.
A week after the appointment, Paula's mother drops by for her weekly visit. She's dressed
for war: a white sunhat with a profusion of plastic birds nesting among neon silk flowers. It could
be worse. When she really wants a fight, she wears a cloche.
"Paula, love," she says, kissing Paula on each cheek as she breezes in. "Get your mother
some wine, won't you?"
Paula hands her a glass, already waiting, and they settle in the living room, where her
mother perches uncomfortably on the third-hand sofa.
"What are we drinking?" her mother asks, in a tone of practiced disapproval.
"Same thing as last week, Mother. We like it. It's cheap."
"And what's the point of your new fancy title and all those extra hours if you don't buy
decent wine?" She picks the glass back up, takes another drink, makes the same face. She'll finish
it, and take a second glass. She always does. "Speaking of, what's this I hear about you skipping
Kati's birthday party?"
"It's at noon. I can't take off work to sing happy birthday to a two-year-old. As it is, I'm
going to have to find time in a month or two when Alexa has the next one." Paula considers her
own glass but knows better than to start drinking while her mother's present. They're good
enough at fighting without the help.
"Is that what this is about?" Her mother's voice softens. "Darling, if having a child is that
important to you, then you take Dante and find a nice place in Canada. I'll lend you the money.
But don't take it out on your sister."
The words are well meant. Paula tries to remember that.
"He got scanned last week, actually." Lightly said, through gritted teeth.
Her mother looks down. Glances out the window. Her gaze finds dozens of places that
aren't Paula, and it rests on each one. She doesn't speak.
"It was his idea," Paula says.
"Of course." She sets her glass on the side table, next to a picture of Dante and Paula on
their last trip to Mexico. Dante's grandmother stands between them, beaming.
"He made a crib," Paula says. "As a surprise."
Paula's mother picks up the picture, and her smile is warm. "You know I like Dante," she
tells the picture. "He's been a gift. But you know what the scan's going to say."
"I know." It's not something she can force. She can't remake herself into the person he
belongs with. She will never be his soul mate. It's why she chose him. "He believes it, though. He
thinks he loves me."
Her mother sets the picture down, very carefully. "You know, your father and I have been
married 35 years."
"Yes," Paula answers, puzzled.
"35 years. We've survived war, cancer, even children. He still brings me flowers every
Sunday. He pretends to like my hats. I love your father." She tugs absently at her wedding ring,
then settles it back into place. "But he's not my soul mate."
"Of course he is." Paula's seen the way her father brightens when her mother enters the
room. Has heard the laugh her mother saves for him alone.
"No, darling. Love is something your father and I choose. You and Marcus, your sister
and her wife, that's different. That's love as something you are." She shakes her head, her
expression growing introspective. "I think we were wrong, to get you girls scanned so young. It
was so new at the time, so exciting. True love. I wanted that for you."
"You didn't know how hard it'd be to lose."
"No. And we didn't know how hard it'd be to watch, either. You two, you ate each other
up. There was nothing left for the rest of the world. You made no space in yourselves. Your
sister's just as bad."
She remembers. Marcus had been brighter, more colorful, more real than everyone else.
"That's addiction." Her mother takes her hand and her grip is soft and cool. "I know we
almost lost you, after you lost him. But then you came alive. You made friends. You went out.
You even let your mother come over for terrible wine."
It takes Paula a moment to process her mother's words. She pulls her hand away. "You're
saying you're glad Marcus died?"
"Good lord, Paula! I'm saying you're not fifteen anymore. You don't need a storybook.
Move to Canada. Or Mexico. You and Dante are happy. So be happy about it."
Paula stands. "I'll be at Kati's party," she promises. "But I have some work to get done,
"Darling." It's an objection, but her mother straightens her hat and walks to the door.
"Love is just a word, Paula. It means what you let it."
"Of course," she says. Her mother leaves, and Paula is left with silence.
She still has hours yet before Dante returns. She cleans the wine glasses, straightens the
pillows, puts the picture back on the side table. She picks up her e-reader, and then sets it down
again. All stories are love stories.
The house is too quiet. Paula slips out to the garage, telling herself she'll drive somewhere
louder. Instead, she sits beside the crib. She rests her forehead against the cool wood and
imagines a future where their tiny garage is crowded with bikes and balls, the sporty Miata at the
charging station replaced by a practical minivan. Mexico, said her Mother. Canada.
Maybe. The idea has its own wall of paperwork, tests, recommendation letters. Even if
they succeed, they'll be starting over again. With soul mates, such a move would be possible. But
nothing ties her to Dante but choice. She can see herself frustrated, angry, walking away.
It doesn't matter. He'll get his results soon. There are so many ways the world can break
them. The idea hurts more than it should. He's supposed to be painless.
She thought she'd found stability. Now, in the dark, with the crib looming above her, her
life feels built on sand. What good is any of it, if it can be ruined by a doctor's note?
Only 1.8 percent, the poster said. It took two tons of metal to tear Marcus from her.
Paula's phone has an app that connects her directly to her cohort. Every time she buys a
new phone, she plans not to install it. But she always does. Some of her cohort, her own clique of
soul mates, like to message back and forth. And, when she's feeling reckless, she likes to watch
She logs in, and the app greets her with the familiar list of names. She knows it by heart.
Marcus's name is gray. Hers is blue, for unavailable. Most the names are blue. They've had time
to find each other. Two, though, are still green. Lucia, in Greece. Andrew, in Michigan. The two
of them chat often, idle promises to cross continents and meet.
Paula's dreamed of both of them. She's learned the Greek words for I love you and Can I
visit. She's memorized the names of Andrew's four dogs.
She's written each of them dozens of messages. Almost sent them.
She taps Andrew's name and writes another.
The plane touches down in Detroit during a sobbing downpour, ruining Paula's plan to
meet Andrew somewhere safe and open. She'd imagined a park, where no one would watch them
or notice if she started to cry. Instead, they agree to meet at a café about twenty minutes from the
She still hasn't heard his voice, and the anonymity of text leaves her feeling safe. There's
no surge of emotion at his message, no want. She calls Dante during the cab ride, for the comfort
of it. He is warm and incurious. He hopes her meeting goes well, and mutters a bit about
inconsiderate bosses and their sudden demands. He says he loves her.
"Forever?" she asks.
"Forever and forever," he promises. He doesn't ask for her promise. For the first time, she
wishes he would.
The café is almost empty, a barely lit, lurking sort of place, the tables set at careful
distances. She's early, so she buys a glass of iced tea and settles in the corner. Andrew's picture
showed a lean man with an impassive expression and short black hair. Studying it, Paula thought
he looked like a mob enforcer. She liked his inapproachability.
Five minutes later, the door chimes. Andrew's put on weight since the picture, softening
into pudgy warmth. He looks like the sort of man who makes gourmet meals on the weekends
and slips his dogs kitchen scraps while he cooks. The dizzy rush of want, the sudden click of the
world settling into place, she expects those. What she's not prepared for is the light in his eyes,
the way he swallows then swallows again, in helpless shock. She'd forgotten it would affect him
"Andrew." She steps out from the table, meaning to shake his hand.
The brush of fingertips isn't enough for either of them. When she lifts her head to kiss
him, it isn't a choice. The warmth of his mouth and the nervous minty taste of him are not at all
like Marcus. But still, she's reminded. It is the same want that pours between them, the desire to
disappear in the shadow of a beloved, just to be that much closer.
There will be no long walks or conversation. They will make love all day in a hotel bed
and only after they've exhausted the desperate grasping need to be consumed will they talk. There
will be no trouble at all, being approved. Their daughter will have his gray eyes and her narrow
"What is it?" he asks, holding her at arm's length. She's shaking hard, only her locked
knees keeping her from collapsing. She meets his eyes, sees herself reflected and reflecting him.
After she lost Marcus, she spent hours standing in front of the mirror, trying to find him in her
eyes, where she'd always held him.
"Give me a second." Paula wishes for Dante. For the easy peace of him. The selfishness
of that want settles her.
She steps back. Andrew is reluctant to release her, but he does, his hands dropping to his
"I'm sorry," he says. "I got ahead of myself."
She clasps her hands behind her back to keep herself from touching him. "It happens."
"That's right." He looks away from her for the first time and studies the floor. "You've
been through this before."
She waits until he meets her gaze again. She has to make him understand what he's
risking. "I tried to die, after I lost Marcus."
"I'm sorry. If I'd been there - ."
"You would have loved him too," she says. "And we'd both have been playing with
He starts to shake his head, then stops.
"Do you want to tell me about him?" he asks. He touches her arm, just lightly, and her
whole body shivers with it. She wants to kiss him until their flavors become so mingled she can't
tell the difference.
"Do you like kids?" she asks.
He looks puzzled. "Sure. I always figured I'd have a daughter."
It's what she thought he'd say. What he'd have to say, or how could they be as they are?
"No," she says. She has to force her voice to rise. "No. Go to Greece. She'll love you,
"What?" He doesn't sound hurt yet. He doesn't believe her. "No, no. I've got you. I want
She wants Marcus. She wants a brown-skinned daughter with gray eyes and a wild laugh.
She wants to get drunk on Andrew and still hold the cool clarity of Dante. She wants to disappear
and she wants never again to have to go hunting herself in the memories of a before.
"You don't love me." The familiar, comfortable line.
Now he's shaking. "Please," he says. "Don't."
But she has to. "You don't. Not yet."
She will leave only the narrowest of cracks in him. He would sort through her shards, if
she allowed it, and put her back together in their shared image. But she has grown comfortable.
Dante has sanded down the corners of her broken pieces. Shattered a second time, there would be
nothing left of her but sand. She kisses him on the forehead, the way she would have kissed their
"I'm sorry," she says. "I can't."
And because their hearts are beating in a shared, wounded rhythm, he can't argue with
her. She lifts his fingers to her lips, kisses each of his knuckles.
"Because of last time?" he asks.
"Yes. I thought it might feel new. Safe. But love doesn't change." She nuzzles his palm
and his fingers linger on her cheek.
"Let me give you a ride to the airport."
She shakes her head. "Give yourself a ride. Go to Greece. Or contact one of the couples,
if you're comfortable sharing. It's worth it. You know that now."
"But not you?"
"Not me." She leaves her iced tea half-finished on the table, and he doesn't try to follow
On the plane, she researches Mexico's immigration policy. She emails Dante's
grandmother, mentions that she'd like to visit again.
Andrew has already emailed her. She deletes it, unread.
The results will come. Dante will cry, when he reads them. It is such a fantasy of his, the
idea of loving her. But he'll stay. She lets herself believe that. They'll talk about Mexico. She'll
study Spanish. Their daughter, of course, will speak it beautifully. And they'll be happy, there.
Perhaps, sometimes, he'll look at her and wonder what he's missing. She'll get emails
from Andrew, and sometimes she'll read them. But they'll work through it.
He is the best thing she's never loved.