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The Matchmaker

Shlee Nelson is both author and lover of all things science fiction and fantasy. Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest and has been shortlisted for the Aeon Award. She owes her success to her number one beta reader and dear friend Lauren, her mother for always being her cheerleader, and her wonderful father for helping support her so she can actually find time to write while pursuing a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently working on a fantasy novel for young adults.

"Would you have chosen her?" Tephy asks, turning in her seat. "I mean, if it had been up to you."
I keep my eyes on the night sky teeming with traffic, the walls of hovercrafts around us blanketed in pulsing starlight. No words come.
"Altest, are you listening?" she whines.
"I'm listening," I say, glancing briefly at her. "I just... don't understand the question."
She rolls her eyes, a glint of vulnerability reflecting in the windscreen. "Naida Hite. Would you have chosen her?"
I still don't understand the question. I can't think of any reason not to choose her. Naida and I are like-minded, according to our psyche scores. I find her attractive. The kiss we shared upon meeting this morning was pleasant, just the way I imagined it'd be.
Not going to lie, it shocked me, sitting in that testing stall. One minute, I'm voicing my answers to an AI's uncomfortably specific questions, and in a split second, a ray of light beams across my chest, making a fresh imprint of her name over my heart. The person you're going to spend the rest of your life with, decided just like that.
I wasn't unhappy. It's just that I'd never spoken to her before we were matched, but that's what the matchmaker's for. To decide who we all belong with. Unlike the ill-fated people of the past, some remaining true to their vows on their deathbeds, while others wasted away perusing dating sites, settling for less than what they wanted. Back then, there was no guarantee you'd find your soul mate.
"I guess so. I don't know. Why?"
"I don't know," she mumbles.
We descend into the center of Tephy's sequestered compound and land with a rough bump. The hovercraft's transparent doors open sideways, and we both hop out.
"You don't have to come inside," she says.
"Everything okay?"
She just shrugs.
Something's definitely wrong. I always go inside. It's our routine. We catch flicks on Fridays, get late-night coffee, then I take her home and we stay up for hours competing on a blindly chosen virtual reality game. She's always saying how it gets her through the long, hard weeks at work, having that to look forward to.
"You're having doubts about your match," I say. "Aren't you?"
Then I flush. I didn't even process the words before saying them. They came of their own accord, but it's the only thing I can think of, after that bizarre question she asked.
"Yeah," she admits. "You can't tell anyone, okay?"
I nod. Questioning our match is forbidden, but Tephy's a friend. She's important to me. I'd never sell her out.
My chest tightens from thoughts of who it could be, the person who's going to hold her at night even though she won't want it.
"Who was your match, Tephy?"
She's silent, like she doesn't want to tell me.
"Come on," I snap. "I told you." And now I feel like an eleven-year-old boy.
She gives a sigh of resignation and unzips her jacket, just enough to where I can see the name embossed on her skin.
My heart plummets. I stare at it longer than I've ever stared at anything.
Because the name I see is Altest Vasser.
"That..." I blink real hard. "That doesn't make sense, Tephy. Must be a mistake. I got Naida, and she got me."
"It's not a mistake," she says, with tears in her eyes. "I checked."
"But-- no, you've got to be wrong. The matchmaker pairs us with the right person for us. The person that'll make us happiest. I-- I didn't think it was possible to end up alone."
"Neither did I."
She takes an abrupt step forward to slide her lips against mine, and I'm frozen in shock. Flooded with warmth. In seconds, my arms are around her, pressing her closer to my chest. Her body pulls away from mine like the unexpected end of a dream, and I have no idea what just happened. All of a sudden tortuously aware of the distance between our mouths.
"I guess some of us are just meant to be alone," she says softly.
Then she turns to go inside.
My stomach gives a violent lurch, her name stuck inside my throat. I want to call out to her. Feel what I just felt--something I didn't even know I could feel--again, but intuition stops me. How similar this moment is to the flicks about the days when there was no matchmaker. When divorce still existed. When lovers grew tired of one another and had affairs. People made choices out of passion, certain they picked the right one, but wound up abandoned. Alone.
Tephy doesn't want to be alone, I know, and I feel a yearning, watching her walk away. But the name on my heart is Naida, not Tephy. So I force myself to get back in my hovercraft, ghost into the night, and let her go. I won't speak to her again.
I don't want to be alone either.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Author Comments

There was a time I planned for Altest and Tephy to be the main characters of a futuristic novel called The Matchmaker, where they had to rebel against the government to act on their feelings for each other. While I still have interest in exploring the concept of the "matchmaker" in a novel someday, the story of these two characters just never worked for a novel, and I had too many stories that were much more important to me to try and force theirs to work. I was sad to cast them aside. Thought I'd never think of those characters again.

Years later, one night home alone and bored, another version of their story came to mind. A much shorter, sadder version. I hope you are as pleased with the result as I am.

- Shlee Nelson
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