He was only four years old, sitting on the floor in front of his grandmother's faded blue chair. His wrinkled and pale grandmother nursed a steaming mug of tea in her small hands, smiling down at him. He had a toy in his tiny hands, a stuffed bear that had seen much wear and tear over the four short years of his life. One eye was dangling from its socket by a thread and stains covered its torso.
His grandmother had been telling her story for a while but had stopped to sip at her tea and smile at him. He waited patiently for her to continue; he knew it took her a lot of effort now, but he didn't mind. He had all the time in the world.
"Alexander, honey," she started, her voice coming out quiet and raspy. "Are you still listening?"
He nodded at her, grinning at her with all the teeth he had in his mouth. One had fallen out the week before and he had gotten two dollars from the tooth fairy. He hadn't spent it yet; his grandma would take him to the shops when she was done with her story. She had promised.
"Good, good," she trailed off again, looking at the wall above his head. "Where was I up to?"
"You and poppy had just met," he replied, excited, lifting his unnamed bear high into the air.
"Yes, that's right," she let out a sigh, taking another sip of her tea. He still waited, it always took her time to remember what she was going to say. He didn't mind, she would still take him to the shops today and he got to listen to a story. "Gosh, I don't think I could ever forget how much I hated him at first sight. Did I tell you we met at the turning of the century?" Alexander nodded. "Right, thank you, dear. Well, he had been quite rude to one of my dear friends. She passed now, the beautiful soul, may she rest in peace.
"I forget now what exactly he said to her, but she stormed off in quite a huff. I went over to give him a piece of my mind and by God, was he embarrassed. Rightly so, I must say. Having a woman yell at you like that, he would have been laughed at for weeks. He deserved it though, I remember that much. I didn't see him for a long time after that, I almost forgot about him."
"What happened after that?" Alexander asked in his young high-pitched voice. He fiddled with the dangling plastic eyeball of his stuffed bear, a small part of him begging his little hands to rip it off.
"Well, he came into the shop my dear old da owned a few weeks later," his grandmother replied, a cheerful smile forming on her face. "I was working there to help him out while he was sick and your grandpoppy just walked on in. He looked very shy when he saw me, guess he was still embarrassed about what I'd said to him.
Gosh, he'd been so shy when he spoke to me that day. He apologised for being so rude to my friend and asked me to go see a circus that had come into town a few days before. I went, of course, who could say no to the circus?"
Alexander giggled, he loved the circus. "Is that when you knew?" he asked, voice almost a whisper, as though what he was asking was some secret thing.
"Knew? Knew what, dear?" his grandmother asked, confusion wiping away her sweet smile. Her eyes lit up a second afterward. "Oh! Oh, no, dear." She shook her head. "We didn't find out until a few years later. It takes a long time to find out, Alexander."
"How long?" he asked, hands squeezing tightly around his bear.
"Years," came the reply, causing Alexander to frown. "It's easy to see you age now, my dear, but as you get older it gets harder and harder to tell. Well, until you hit my age that is. Things change so slowly that you don't even notice."
"Well..." the young boy said. "When did you find out?"
"I would have to skip over so much of the story," his grandmother replied. "Are you sure you don't want to hear the rest of it?" Alexander nodded excitedly, he really wanted to hear how his nanny found out poppy was her soulmate. His parents hadn't told him how they found out yet, so he would have to make do with his grandparent’s tale.
"Alright, honey, if that's what you want," his grandmother said, swallowing the last of her tea and putting the mug down on the small table next to her chair. "It had been a few years, the world was a little bit of a mess, but we were happy. We were out shopping for food and whatnot. I think we'd been living together for about a year at that point. It's all so long ago now.
"He was just chatting away at me like he usually did. He's always been such a talkative man, it always got him in so much trouble. I was just staring at him, listening to him, and you know what I saw, honey?"
Alexander shook his head, grinning in anticipation, "What- What did you see?" he called, hopping onto his knees and moving closer to his grandmother.
"Little wrinkles, crow’s feet, near his eyes," she rubbed at the space next to her eyes. "You only get those when you age, and you only age when you meet your soulmate."
"Did you look different?"
"We weren't sure at first. Neither of us could really tell. We only assumed your pop had aged because of the wrinkles, but there was nothing about me that was telling either of us that I was older."
"What did you do?"
"We waited a few months to see if anything changed with me, then we went ahead with the Ceremony. We weren't completely sure if we were soulmates, but we couldn't think of anyone else we could possibly be with. We loved each other." His grandmother stared wistfully into the distance before glancing back down at him again. "We thought that if we found our soulmates later on in life, that at least we were happy for a while."
"But you are soulmates, right?" Alexander asked with a frown. His bear had been dropped on the ground halfway through his grandmothers’ story, forgotten. He'd moved closer, leaning his arms against her legs and pressing his chin to her knee.
"Yes, sweetie," his grandmother said with a smile. "We figured it out not long after the Ceremony. It wasn't long after that that I fell pregnant with you mother. I started getting wrinkles and grey hair, and soon enough so did your grandfather. And now, we look like this." She gestured at her old wrinkled skin and thin white hair.
"You look very pretty, nan!" Alexander told her, grinning up at the old woman.
"Thank you, dear," she replied. "You're very sweet. Now, what do you say to going shopping?"
Alexander gasped, he had almost forgotten about his money from the tooth fairy. He jumped up, grabbing his bear from the ground and staring expectantly at his grandmother. "Yes, please!" he cried.
"Alright," his grandmother said, pushing herself up and out of her old chair. "Go get your money. We won't be gone long, we'll have to be home in time for your poppy to give us dinner."
Alexander dashed away; he'd put the money in the little bag his mother had given him when he arrived at his grandparents’ house. He didn't know what he'd spend it on, maybe sweets, maybe a new toy, maybe both. The possibilities were endless.
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