Chapter 1:

You're Not Helping

Soul Mates


In all of my summer daydreams about what moving into my first college dorm room would be like, I never anticipated having to remind my mom of how a fitted sheet works.Bookmark here

“Is not working, April! Did we get too small size?” It’s easy to tell when my mom is stressed - her carefully repressed Italian accent comes back in full force and her flawless curly hair devolves into a frazzly puffball to match my own. She never had the chance to attend college back in Calabria, so neither of us have a script for how this whole “moving in” thing is supposed to go. I gently take the crumpled sheet from her and turn it so that the corners line up correctly, and she stares at the bed with barely concealed embarrassment.Bookmark here

Merda… When you give away your only child and stay calm for whole time, then you can make fun of me.”Bookmark here

I adjust my glasses - the same ones I’ve had since middle school - and sigh sympathetically. “I wasn’t planning on making fun of you. And Carte is with me, so I’ll be fine!” My Soul, a small fairy named Carte with firefly wings and a bulbous glowing tail, jumps up from her perch on my shoulder and flits over to my distraught mother.Bookmark here

“I mean, it doesn’t totally count since I’m just part of her consciousness and all, but I’ll gladly do my duty of being her friend even if no one else is!” The foot-high fairy salutes with a smile.Bookmark here

Unsurprisingly, my mom doesn’t find this reassuring and plops down on the bed with a groan. Her Soul, Gio, appears from a hiding spot under the bed and curls up in my mom’s lap, nudging her to pet the dog-like creature’s soft fur.Bookmark here

I turn to Carte with a withering glance. “You’re not helping.” She shrugs.Bookmark here

“I’m trying my best, but if you’re a negative person deep down, it’s gonna come out through me no matter what.”Bookmark here

I sit down next to my mom, ignoring Carte for the time being. Gio is mumbling something in Italian, which I can mostly decipher as words of encouragement and requests to keep scratching her ears.Bookmark here

“Really, I’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m… super confident or anything, but Carte and I are made of strong enough stuff to get through college somehow.”Bookmark here

It’s enough to cheer up my fretting mother, but for some reason, the words turn sour in my mouth.
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~~~Bookmark here

Despite being obnoxious, Carte really has been my most steadfast friend for all 18 years of my life. Not sure what it says about my personality that the very manifestation of my inner consciousness is a fairy with an attitude problem, but we’ve made it work so far.Bookmark here

It’s not like I have a ton of other people to talk to, after all. Usually, it’s just my mom and I at home. My dad does exist, but he works overseas for so much of the year that he feels more like an uncle or a grandparent who I only see when Catholic holiday obligations bring him back for Christmas and Easter. Whenever I smell lemon and rich, dark coffee coming from our kitchen, I know it’s time for awkward conversations with this guy I hardly know over ciamballone cake and his favorite imported roast.Bookmark here

So, for much of my childhood, it was just me and Carte. I would clutch my N64 controller and take another crack at the water temple in Zelda, while Carte would spend half her time looking up hints on the internet (with some difficulty, since the computer was over twice her size) and the other half laughing when I got hit by that same crab enemy over and over again. Those are happy memories, although I wish I would’ve figured out a way to make a tiny controller so I could’ve handed that fairy her own glowy butt in Mario Kart battle mode.Bookmark here

I did get a little more social in high school, since being in marching band basically demanded it. I had a puppy love sort of crush on this trombone player kid named Jackson in my senior year, but that... didn’t end so well. Bookmark here

~~~Bookmark here

“Jackson’s not gonna care. Just tell him already or you’re gonna be whining like this forever!” Carte says, idly playing with my discarded straw wrapper. I’m alone at lunch again, scrunched in a corner at a tiny table for the third day in a row and agonizing over what to do about the situation.

“I’m not whining... just trying to be cautious so I don’t ruin the one friendship I’ve got.”

Carte flattens out the crumpled paper wrapper and begins folding it up like an accordion. She shoots me a fake-offended look. “What about me?”

“You don’t count,” I say back, flicking the wrapper out of reach. Carte scrambles across the table to catch it, her wings making a faint buzzing sound that I’ve always found grating. At the other end of the lunchroom, Jackson is playing Magic with some of his other friends. I could never get the hang of that game. His Soul, Bridge, briefly makes eye contact with me and cocks his feathered head, probably wondering why I’m cooped up with Carte instead of watching the card game from over Jackson’s shoulder like I usually do. I avert my eyes and pretend like my mac-and-cheese is profoundly interesting.

“April.” Carte pushes her tiny face between me and my mass produced meal. I screw my eyes shut, desperate to not deal with life right now. She throws the perfectly folded straw wrapper in my face.

“It’s not like you have to tell him you like him or anything. I doubt it’ll haunt your nightmares forever if you don’t. But you’re graduating soon, and if you really trust him as your friend, he deserves to know.”

...She has a point. She’s always right, whether I feel like admitting it or not. That’s what she’s here for, after all. I pull out my phone to send Jackson a text, but after staring at the new message window for a moment, just sigh and place it facedown on the cheap table.

“Fine, I’ll go over there and ask him if he’s got time to talk after school. Texting him when he’s right there would be kinda lame and suspicious, anyway.”

Carte looks pleased with herself, her bulbous tail giving off a brighter glow than usual. She flies up to buzz beside my head as I walk up to my friend’s lunch table, the other guys and their Souls pausing their game to stare at me expectantly. So many eyes on me at once...

“Hey, April! What’s up?” Jackson says in his characteristically cheery voice. I feel Carte tense up, losing her momentum from just a second ago. She mumbles something along the lines of, “Stop being cute, dammit. You’re not making this easy for us.”

“Yeah... I just wanted to... do you... have anything you need to do right after school is over?”

The other guys lose interest and start chatting about Magic amongst themselves. Bridge glances back at them with a concerned look, like maybe this conversation is holding up the game.

“I have to go to the band room and pick some stuff up so I can take it to my dad’s music shop later, but that can wait a bit if it needs to,” Jackson says, seemingly ignoring his Soul for the moment, “What were you thinking of doing?”

That beaming smile is burning into my face. Carte puts a fist over her mouth like she’s trying to keep quiet, but her wings just buzz even louder and make me more nervous.

I take a deep breath and try to steady myself, but I just can’t summon up enough confidence. Maybe another time...

“It’s nothing really, go ahead and—“

“April likes you!!” my Soul blurts out at the top of her lungs. She claps her hand over her mouth, but the deed has been done.
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~~~Bookmark here

Jackson is still nice to me whenever I see him, but maybe that’s because he can sense the bottomless shame from a mile away and just takes pity on me. But now, I’m here at a new school and I can reinvent myself however I want! Well, hopefully. It remains to be seen whether New April will stride forward into a glamorous adult life or trip on an uneven slab of concrete and break her entire face.Bookmark here

Veekeeki
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A.A. James
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Soul Mates


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