The cost is astronomical, but what about the cost of not finding you? That’s not something I can risk anymore. I haven’t been a member that long, but long enough to convince me you’re here. It’s how they have so many users. The efficiency. The hope. I’m meeting dates outside of my normal two shitty categories. I’m having fun. Which to be honest, I don’t care about. All I care about is you.
What sold me is the safety angle. I don’t have to worry about getting murdered or worse by some psycho. There’s zero chance of pregnancy. No sexual risks. No social repercussions. All this to say, a lot of people join this place. Most are desperate to find their other halves, though many of us are consoled by limitless sex with strangers. That alone is worth the money.
The facility is pristine, but nightmarish. Like a haunted brothel meets a hospital. I check in and put on the issued contact lenses. These lenses initiate a virtual reality blended with physical experience—you feel everything. You’re not trapped in a booth or strapped into a headset. It’s all structured like a game, probably to help everyone take it lightly since lonely people get sad when they don’t find their half. Whenever a match generates, they’re rendered as an incredibly lifelike 3D printing of their body. You can touch them and interact with the avatars as if it’s the actual person, who is also having the same real-time interaction with your avatar from wherever they are. The technology is highly advanced, it’s almost impossible to tell it’s not real. I don’t understand how it works. I just pay the fee.
Together again, at last. That’s glowing on an e-banner in the lobby. I get in line with the other users. The premise is they’re reconstructing you, making you whole. Finding your missing soulmate torn away by Zeus back when humans were still paired with two heads, four arms, and four legs. It’s not just a marketing thing. These people really believe in this. We all do. There’s a team of doctors studying it. They are always watching, peering down at us from a second-floor lab room behind some creepy two-way mirror.
Another weird thing is that ever since I joined, I’ve been having this dream. You and I are holding hands on a beach. We’re getting stitched together by some cloaked deity. Its skeletal hand is wielding an enormous, curved needle. You’re crying, and I can’t see your face so I don’t know what you look like, but I’m holding you, telling you that it’s all going to be okay. The pain will leave, I say. Everything you went through is over. Everything from before has led us here, to this moment. After all this time, we found each other. And I know it sounds crazy, but that’s how I know am going to meet you soon.
The settings are limited, just sexuality preferences. Zeus scattered halves across the Earth, so you might match with someone at a Together Again facility in another country or they could be someone in a processing room ten feet away from you. Matches are mostly random. Same as in real life, you don’t have control over who you meet. Muting sex is also an option, so if you don’t want it, it won’t give you people who do. I never, ever pick that. That is the opposite of what I want. I can’t imagine going through all of this, not finding my half, and then not even getting consequences-free fucked.
The fact that I got myself ready and walked into this place is miraculous. I could never do dating like this in real life. I can’t even go to the grocery store unless I hide weapons on myself in case a man tries to abduct me, or in case one of my stalkers finds me, or in case it’s another man who wants to hurt me. It’s always a new face but the same man.
I’ve learned that I must constantly expect to have to fight for my life, and whenever a man oversteps a line I oscillate between being a snarling aggressive bitch or a dissociated rock but nothing ever works to keep me safe. It just becomes so much stress that I can’t leave the house, where even there I fear men will find me. No amount of big dogs or guns or therapy can help me, because I know too well that while there are beautiful people in this world, all it takes is one bad man to destroy you. So I guess it’s nice coming here, because here I don’t have to be afraid. Unlike on a real date, none of these men can hurt me.
The fee buys an hour, and you can skip as many modes or matches as you want, but if you haven’t found your half before the time is up, whoever you’re with when the timer strikes 00:00 is who you’re stuck with and you get fused. The process is instantaneous, done by some robotic surgery. If they’re not your half, you go to the cut floor to suffer through a severing then wait out the healing to come back and try again, hoping your true half won’t mind all the wounds.
Their business model is working because I’m here all the time now. I just signed onto an auto-pay plan. I don’t even know if I can afford this. Goodbye, savings. It’ll be worth it, I keep telling myself.
I’m just glad I don’t have to survive a drink with someone new turning into me being held hostage and assaulted. Or an awful night with a man I think I can maybe-almost-hopefully start to trust, only to later learn he’s put tracking devices in my vehicle, stalked me via social media so I have to delete it forever, and he now waits for me in the parking lot at my work with flowers. He’s luring me inside his car, pretending he’s reserved a surprise for our fifth date but really he’s driving me out to the middle of the desert until we run out of gas. I have no idea where we are and he’s distraught and waving a pistol around in my face for six and a half hours, snatching my phone from my trembling hands so I can’t call 911, and he’s telling me I can’t leave him, that I better answer the fucking phone when he calls, that I belong with him, that he loves me.
Then I’m years deep in this and now it’s a different man and a different weapon but my entire life is the exact same day on repeat. He’s always keeping my phone so I can’t call for help, and my keys so I can’t go anywhere. One morning he takes my shoes so I can’t try to run while he’s in a full rage and I still make it through the front door but he catches up to me at the car. I’m forever trapped in this car. It’s in these moments of failure that I’m reminded I’m alone. It’s not like I have anyone to call or anywhere to go. Even if this is some miracle like in the movies where I can just make unmonitored calls to anyone I want, or go places without him, or somehow get out of this vehicle without getting shot, who are they going to believe? Me, with zero evidence, or a veteran with no criminal history who’s got jokes and perfect ass-kissing composure? Even if a domestic disturbance gets documented, even if he’s arrested—which won’t happen—the instant he’s out on bail, guess who’s going to get a fist to the ribs or a bullet in the stomach for being a lying whore who fell down the stairs? And this time if I say anything, he’s going to kill my dog.
For a while he’ll be nice, and I’ll be so relieved and delusional, I’ll think it’s finally over. But it’s never over. Time is sinking into a vacuum. It’s all one bleary stretch of the same identical haze of treading for air in a state of no-sleep adrenaline. When you have no family and all you’ve got is a job and a place to live and nowhere else to go and no money to go anywhere anyway, slipping off your modest cliff is a long way down. Then there’s always the gut-sink reminder that even if you were homeless, he’d find you.
I used to think that maybe this is all there is for me. Maybe I should just be grateful to be alive. That my face isn’t black and blue, that so many people have it worse. Who am I to want a better life? Who am I to want anything? Maybe it’s okay if he kills me. But then I would tell myself I can’t die, I have to protect this dog. The dog and I have to make it. And we do. Because of this dog, I am breathing.
There aren’t risks like that here. I don’t have to fear that anymore. That isn’t my life anymore. That will never be my life again.
All of this is safe. There’s a panic setting if something goes wrong. Predators aren’t an issue because they can’t pass the pre-screenings. It’s strict. People get banned for the tiniest infractions. You never get matched to the same person twice, so it’s impossible to be stalked, and that way there’s a higher chance of finding your half in the sea of people. It’s a good system. Because if you meet your half, you’ll know. It’s not something you need to experience twice to figure out. If you have to even think about it, you haven’t met them yet.
The last time I was in here was two weeks ago, and my final match obviously wasn’t my half. I knew we had to separate even though it was regrettable, because he was super hot. It was GAME OVER and he was fused to me, then we were sliced in half on the cut floor, blood spouting everywhere. You can choose laser cauterization or a gore fest. We both liked the gore, so that’s what we got. Mortal Kombat fans understand. Even in this nightmare, this sick bloodbath, him covered in red, I still wanted him. I wanted to smear the blood all over me and I wanted him to lick it off of my body. I wanted him to lap it up the way I want to suck Billy Loomis’s fingers in the original Scream.
What does that say about me? That I want to fuck Billy senseless, that having this serial killer’s blood-slathered fingers inside me is all I can picture when I see that reveal scene. That this consumes me until my thoughts are only flashes of feral filth where I’m Billy Loomis’s final girl.
I’m seeing red. The red rotation light is flickering along the walls. Finally, there’s the bell. Time for a rotation. Even if you don’t skip a match, the rotations move the line along. The doors are changing, randomly assigning.
My door opens and I get a double. Sometimes they do this, a bonus perk. These two in front of me are definitely himbos. They look like carbon copies of each other, and a little like Michael B. Jordan. Identical twins. Lucky me. Every time I see twins, I have this problem about imagining them being my lovesick Romeos.
So I’m their dream woman, both of them, and they’re competing for me. They are extra well-behaved with perfect manners, showering me in love and affection, stupid-expensive gifts, constant worship, but neither ever wins me over. They can’t quite figure out what I want, but they don’t give up. Between the full-body massages, breakfast in bed, my every wish as their command, they try everything they can think of to spoil me, each hoping they’re the one I’ll finally choose. Only I keep telling them I haven’t made up my mind yet and they keep working harder to please me. And so it goes, this never-ending double-vision of washboard abs and hands that can do no wrong, hands that would never hurt me, hands that…
Now I’m back to Billy Loomis’s bloody hands again, and my clitoris has its own pulse. Gods, if you’re real, please let it be Billy when they open my next door. These twin himbos unfortunately aren’t mine. I just want my half. Or Billy. I press the button to skip.
Oh great, it’s lagging. The himbos are buffering.
There’s another match delay, so they set me up to play FMK. Everyone knows this game: Fuck, Marry, Kill. When this place overflows with users, they throw you into free bonus rounds while they configure matches. They don’t pair you with real users for FMK, which they say would be cruel. I think it would be fun. Instead, they pair you with famous people. You can pick categories: musicians, actors, painters, athletes, whatever. I pick writers.
My matches are Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edgar Allan Poe. A combination I don’t even have to think about.
Immediately, I am excited to kill Ernest. I get to choose between a chainsaw, a Tommy gun, and a meat cleaver. I pick up the cleaver and start hacking. His blood splatters all over me. We’re making an enormous mess. I wish they would add in some Mortal Kombat style fatalities for this mode because I would love to thrust Scorpion’s spear through Ernest’s skull, then reel him in on that chain, and do it again up close.
For the “Fucking” portion, you just get a bed. They do try to recreate how the person would behave. My bed has F. Scott in it. Our night together is tender, and he is a decent lover. He cries after sex, which I should have guessed would happen, but it’s still jarring for me and I have to try not to laugh, not because men crying is funny, it’s not. But because it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and I can just imagine him leaving Zelda in an asylum to die while he steals her writing and claims it as his own, then sobs through sleeping with random women. I realize I find him pathetic. It makes sense that he and Hemingway were close.
Then there’s Edgar, my dream man. I am dolled up and waiting to marry him in a graveyard. I want him to rip my heart from my chest or put me under some floorboards. I am ready to consummate this union. I’ll do anything he says. Anything, Edgar.
His family hasn’t shown up, I think because they’re dead, and his army buddies are obliterated on absinthe. One might even be a ghost because he has a hell of a lot of shrapnel smattered all along his face. Another has trench foot so bad that someone has to wheel him through the aisles. I don’t like the parasol that goes with my bridal corset. This outfit is paralyzing and I can barely move. What I really want is to take all of this shit off and throw my arms around Edgar and gaze into his black eyes. I want to ask him to write me poems. To read me poems. To write about me. To just let me look at him. To just stand there and be perfect.
I’m still lost in a love-struck daze staring at him when our time together vanishes. I don’t even get to kiss him. And here I am, back in the roster queue for the next round. Among the other hopefuls, waiting for you.
A new mode is starting: Seven Minutes in Heaven. Most people use this one for sex, because they just throw you in a dark closet with someone, but you never know. Love is in the air. It will find you where you least expect.
I don’t know what I would do if I met you in Heaven. What are we supposed to tell our grandchildren when they ask? That we really paid for this? That we fell in love while groping each other in a closet? It’s pitch-black in here. What if they ask if it was love at first sight? With someone as special as you, of course it is.
Whoever is in here with me starts kissing me. Then I think about what it will be like when you kiss me. I dream all the time about kissing you, about the coyness in your voice when you’re trying to hide your want, how it’ll feel with my hips to your hips, ribs to ribs, lips touching yours. There’s something so spiritual about our deep, nirvana-kissing, the kind that would just be revolting with anyone else.
But with you? You could lick honey out of my mouth, sensual and slow, until the desire becomes a force, your kiss pushing harder against mine, teeth hitting teeth, lips going numb, you telling me everything you’re thinking without words. Our own little language. It’s how you know exactly what I’m saying without me having to say it, and anyone else would never understand.
This nobody is pulling me onto his lap, but it’s okay, I’m still imagining it’s you. Now the rest of you has risen to life. I can feel the music of your heart. Your hands are gripping my waist, ever the gentleman, not yet straying to more enticing places—pulling me to your erection pressing against me, pleading to be known. In time, love. We will have an eternity of knowing.
There’s the bell. The red light is glittering across my match’s eyes. He looks delirious with lust. I stumble out through the door and find my place back in the rotation pool. I don’t even remember anything about that nobody in there. All I know is he wasn’t you. I should have skipped him immediately, but I get too in my head when I’m thinking of you. I always forget to remind myself how much I hate this mode, that I don’t want to do Heaven anymore.
What I really want to be doing right now is moaning your name. What is your name? Why can’t I at least know that? Where the hell are you? Why haven’t I found you yet?
I switch back to regular dates. My next room opens. Is this some glitch? I’m looking at the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. I chose men for my preferred gender, because I’m ninety-nine percent sure my half is a man, but who can remember their blurry sexuality when she looks like that? One of the gods or the algorithm must be testing me.
She’s wearing blood-red lipstick and her perfect cleavage is threatening to escape her crop top, a focal point demanding attention. Her necklace holds a pendant or something. A cross? A heart? I don’t want to stare, but whatever it is has been swallowed into her tits. I’m too nervous to talk. She greets me and says something but my head is cotton. Hi, I say back, stupidly, and we hug. The sexual tension is suffocating, for me at least. She smells like an angel, like Marc Jacobs Dot, or maybe Daisy. Those perfumes smell the same to me. She’s ethereal. I think I understand what these men feel when they are giving me the deer-in-headlights face. A crippling paralysis is now seizing every inch of me.
I can’t deal with her outfit. Her nipple barbells are showing through her tiny shirt and I’m glad that mine aren’t pierced anymore so we won’t get them caught when I desperately hope this ends with more than a conversation. I’ll die if they fuse us and then cut us in half because there’s no way I’m going to skip her, and this one’s a loss that’s going to hurt.
This stunned idiocy I’m experiencing reminds me of a few weeks ago when I almost had sex with some guy in the last round. I wasn’t really that into him, it’s just that everyone gets impulsive in the final minutes, but it didn’t end up happening because I accidentally overwhelmed him.
I wasn’t even touching him yet and was still working on his belt when I playfully told him that he was not allowed to come. Playful was how I meant it, even though I realize my sexual presence is not exactly playful so maybe this was my fault when it had the opposite effect. He reacted as though I gave him some kind of command, like this was something I was going to be able to actually enforce, and he liked it a little too much. I thought he was going to ejaculate with his pants still on when I started to kiss his throat. Then he definitely did, and I didn’t care about that and tried to reassure him that it was okay but he went into a shame spiral, so I must have embarrassed him more because he put his head in his hands and it was like I suddenly didn’t exist. The same familiar sting as always, when men are finished and that means I am dissipated into the fucking air or something and now their work is done here.
I didn’t have to do anything, which I guess made it easy. Though it’s no fun if your plaything is already tapped out of the game in the same time it takes you to straddle him and whisper in his ear. That’s not my half. My half wants to play cat and mouse for eternity, understands our catharsis is endless. How feeling unbridled is an intoxicating thing. My half can conjure desire with one look and make it last years, following me around like a ghost.
Now she’s making jokes. She’s funny. I’m laughing. I love her lipstick. I want her to leave lip prints all over my thighs. I’m amazed she still hasn’t skipped me. Her skirt is cute. I need one for myself. Her nails are pretty. Should I try to hold her hand? No, that’s stupid. Why is this so terrifying? I’m just not going to move. I’m going to sit here like a brick and wait for breath to enter and exit my lungs.
She looks upset about something now. She’s not talking anymore. She’s just staring at me. Waiting for me to contribute. Shit. She’s over this, over me. I still can’t talk.
And I can’t even hear the silence because there’s this never ceasing noise from my tormented past ringing in my head, fueling my desire to skip straight to some kind of intimacy because who knows when we’re going to die? People die every day. All we have is here and now and we might as well be living like it. Plus this is a beautiful woman, so of course I’m ignoring anything that could go wrong. Only in this instance, I’m what could go wrong. It’s me who’s got all these issues. She can see it, she’s smart.
She’s sizing me up. Not in a sexy way, it’s in an are you okay? way, already knowing she’ll have to be the one to end this so that I won’t obsess and fall in love. She wants someone lighthearted and fun, someone who is the things I can only pretend to be for ten minutes at a time, forever regressing to this haunted, freak of a person who needs too much and gives too much and thinks love is the last chance at surviving the never-ending horrors of existence. I would only be a burden to her, and what is that? Of course, the bell. Blaring and spilling red all over the room. Casting a rose-tinted glow over her pretty face, that cleavage I’ll never see again.
But neither of us gets up, which is in violation of rule number one, ignoring rotation. I’m beside myself when she slides over to me and sticks my hand up her skirt. Now my brain has skipped to the part where the skirt’s already off, and that torture device of a shirt is finally off, and her lipstick tastes like vanilla, and we’re touching each other.
Any minute now I’ll get removed. The moderators are about to pound on the door and ban me for refusing rotation, but in all reality she’s looking at me strangely, because this is a fantasy, and I need to come back to the truth that I’ll never have her. That this isn’t real. Nothing is real.
I can’t do this anymore. I have to get out of here. Why do I keep coming back to this place? Oh, that’s right. For you. I’m looking for you. I’m still, always and forever, looking for you. There are so many distractions. I keep getting lost on the path to you.
The last mode that everyone gets when there’s less than fifteen minutes remaining is the Hall of Doors. I’m running out of time, and I’m so tired of this. I’m freaking out, trying not to think about the inevitable pain of when this is all over soon, having to fuse and then immediately sever with someone I don’t even want, having to live another day without you. So here I am, opening doors left and right, hating myself for trying to fill the cavern-sized hole in my heart by stuffing it with whoever—anyone who wants to fill me up. None of these people are you and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do anymore. The tiny glimmer of hope inside of me is dying, and now there’s only a few minutes left. My fear is becoming a roar. I’m flashing back to everything I’ve lived through, stunned that I am still standing, that I am even still on this planet, and I didn’t expect to make it this far so now I don’t know where to go. I’m in constant terror that horrible things will just keep happening to me. That maybe this is doomed to be my entire life, and I’m at the mercy of my fate and forever trying to outrun it. That maybe I’m too late, that I missed you, and I’m fighting everything in myself to not give up.
Almost the end of the hall.
One door left.
The final door is creaking open, and the heaviness of divinity fills the room. My inner wisdom blares. Somehow, I just know. It’s my half. My intuition is screaming at me. My fingers are pins and needles. My whole body is numb. The noise in my head is silent.
This is it. I finally found you. I’m about to meet the love of my life, the reason I’m so fucked up, the reason I haven’t been whole before. The room is dark. I hear footsteps.
The other half of my soul is walking towards me. My perfect fit, made for only me. You’re a specimen of the gods, stolen from me by that sick rapist Zeus all those lifetimes ago. Everything feels dream-like. I’m so nervous I might throw up.
The lights aren’t coming all the way on for some reason which is annoying, but I can see your form. I feel like I’m floating. I think I’m about to start crying. Or laughing. Or both. Actually, I think I’m going to pass out. What the hell is the matter with me? My hands are shaking and my teeth are almost chattering. I can’t believe this is really happening. I always knew. I just had to have faith, that I had a reason to fight, that halves do find each other, that our destiny is better than I could ever imagine. That real love exists. Even for someone like me.
I can feel the needle piercing into my flesh, and I’m being pulled. A force like invisible strings or angel’s wings or a hand of a god is moving us closer. If I reach out, I could almost touch you.
Then there’s a static sound.
Something’s wrong. My vision is fuzzy, even through my teary-eyed blur. Everything goes black except for the message appearing across the screen of my lenses:
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