Most people didn’t have soulmates. That was the difficult part of it, though it was hard to say who it was harder for: those who didn’t, or those who did.
On the one hand, it certainly would suck to know that you didn’t have a soulmate—that that kind of lifelong bond wasn’t for you, and that the universe had, in some sense, said that you didn’t matter to it. Oh, to be sure, there was a whole body of literature out there, from Marcus Aurelius and Confucius to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Singletons, whose focus was on the idea that if you made your personal connections on your own, they were more meaningful, and no one needed the universe to tell them who they got along with. But while most people didn’t have soulmates, there were enough publicly known ones that you couldn’t always escape the idea that you were missing out—and that whatever connections you did build on your own were somehow a pale shadow of that ideal.
(Never mind that, of course, soulmates only had one soulmate bond, so all their other personal connections were built the same way as anyone else’s).
But on the other hand…a society full of non-soulmates who were somewhere between jealous and actively hostile over the generations meant that soulmates didn’t have any easy time finding each other. To be sure, all the world’s religions valorized the soulmate bond, with vanishingly few exceptions, so once you did find and confirm your soulmate’s identity, it was rare that anything societal would get in the way.
But finding them?
Soulmates were easy enough to identify, in theory. The first words your soulmate would say to you appeared on your arm under the light of every full moon, right on your dominant wrist, after you reached puberty. And they were the first words, so all you had to do, in theory, was make sure you paid attention anytime you met someone new—no one you already knew saying them would count, not in the grand scheme of things. The words did have to be addressed to you (not just overheard over a radio or on TV, or said to a class at large in an introduction or something), but even that was a minor obstacle. And while it was always possible that you might actually be fated for someone you’d known before puberty, children said such odd things to each other that you could usually figure it out—or at least figure out that it had been said by a child, and since fortunately soulmates rarely were of massively different ages that meant that you had some idea it might be someone you already knew.
But in practice, this was made rather difficult by strict rules, in Puritan-founded America at least, about wrist coverings and behavior on moonlit nights.
Some said this was where the myth of werewolves came from, though whether one was supposed to pity the poor creatures who transformed into a shaggy beast whose fur blocked out their letters or supposed to fear being mauled by them while staring at one’s arm for one’s own letters varied with the storyteller.
Suffice to say that while some brave souls ventured out with bare wrists by moonlight, many many more were kept indoors wearing long sleeves even on the hottest summer nights by parents concerned about what the neighbors might think if their children went seeking out some pie in the sky romance.
It wasn’t that their parents didn’t want them to find happiness. But somehow the taboo had spread (many blamed Cotton Mather; others John Calvin; still others Paul the Apostle himself) and good families, or those that thought of themselves as good families, didn’t look at anyone’s wrists in moonlight if they could help it, even if it wasn’t a full moon.
And the Beesleys of Scranton, Pennsylvania, were nothing if not a good family.
Pam Beesley had always kind of wished she had a soulmate, if she was honest. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Roy, her fiancé. In fact, she often daydreamed about what it would be like if her wrist said “Can I borrow a pencil?” which she was fairly certain were Roy’s first words to her on their second day of ninth grade, and his said “Can I help you?” which were her first words to him (said in the other order of course, after a very awkward football player Roy had hovered around the desk of the girl in class who was very ostentatiously drawing with a whole set of colored pencils in her notebook before class started). She loved Roy, after all. It was just that she also wished they were soulmates, as well as dating, and now going to be married.
But Roy was old-fashioned, and Pam had never quite gotten up the courage to find out if either of their wrists ever said anything. Of course she didn’t keep her wrist covered at all times; no one really did that anymore unless they were weird like Dwight or literally buttoned-up like Angela. But she did on those full-moon days, like everyone else, and she and Roy had the traditional blackout curtains in their bedroom that meant that no one needed to cover up anything at all when they went to bed.
She’d stopped thinking about it much, or at least when she thought about it was with the minor longing or regret with which one considers such things as the time your lottery ticket was one number away from winning something more than $2, or what might have happened if you’d gone to a different college. She wasn’t like the odd people who kept journals of what everyone they met said to them, in the hopes that someday they’d be brave enough to wander bare-wristed in the moonlight and find out there were words there after all.
And if she did, perhaps, once in a while, wonder if maybe, just maybe, there might be something other than “Can I borrow a pencil?” written there, well, that was between her and her imagination, and didn’t really mean anything at all.
It certainly didn’t matter if she sometimes wondered if her skin might say “I’m here for an interview with Michael Scott?” After all, it was much more likely it was just bare skin, and she wasn’t the sort of person to risk that kind of disappointment anyway.
And then Michael decided to have his stupid Casino Night fundraiser on a full-moon night because the rent on the decorations was cheaper on a night when most people didn’t go out, and then Roy drove off with Darryl and left her there, and then Jim made his stupid confession, because who does that to someone they know is engaged, and then…
And then she got her long gloves dirty wiping her nose, and she took them off to wash them in the sink upstairs in the office, and the window was open and…
And her wrist did have writing on it.
And it didn’t say anything about pencils, but she did see Michael’s name before her eyes blurred with tears.
And then Jim was there, and he was kissing her, and she kissed him back.
And the window was still open, and he showed her his wrist.
She supposed that anyone could have said “Welcome to Dunder Mifflin” to him on that first day, or his first day of real work, but she didn’t really have it in her to doubt.
Some people wondered whether those with soulmates or those without them had a harder time. Pam Beesley had an answer. So did Jim Halpert.
And so did Roy Anderson, who spent an entire weekend in the Poconos that winter with his brother instead of his fiancé, staring at a blank wrist and trying not to cry.