Yugi inserted quarter after quarter into the parking meter, feeling an odd twinge of anticipation flutter up from his stomach. He counted along with the numbers: 12, 24, 36... He paused, another quarter poised at the slot. 36 minutes would be enough, wouldn't it? He contemplated the odds of the installation taking longer; It was a fairly fast process, so he should have bought plenty of time, but...just in case, he thought, pushing the quarter through the slot. It was always better to be safe than sorry.
"Am I late?"
Yug spun around, a little surprised.
"No! Of course not! Have you ever been?"
"Well..." Ryou shrugged, sheepish. "Once. But who is keeping track, right?" He pulled Yugi into a quick hug.
"Are you ready?" Yugi asked once they parted, nearly bouncing on his heels from excitement.
"Um..." Ryou made an apprehensive glance at the store behind him, taking in the posters of happy couples plastered on the windows. "Actually - about this..."
"Ryou, you like me, right?" Yugi asked quickly.
"Yes." He said it without hesitation. "Definitely."
"I think you're great, too." Yugi placed his hand on the other's shoulder. "But what is the point in continuing if we're not really meant to be together?"
"I agree that it would save us heartbreak if we find out sooner than later, but this is..."
"But this way we have a guarantee, right?"
"Yeah." Ryou finally smiled. "Of course."
"All right." Yugi nodded. "Let's do this, then."
Together they walked into the store, Ryou holding the door in a true, gentlemanly fashion. Inside, red tables and chairs were lined against white walls. Informational posters with more grinning couples hung around them, advertising how brilliant and happy your future could be. In the center of the room, a long wooden counter stood with two computers, and that's where Yugi and Ryou headed.
"Yugi!" The Matchmaker standing beside the counter cried joyfully. "Is this another potential?"
"Yeah." Yugi managed not to sound as embarrassed as he felt over the Matchmaker knowing him by name. "Emma, this is Ryou."
"It's so very nice to meet you, Ryou!" She said, shaking his hand. "Are you ready to take the plunge?"
"Nervous, but yes." Ryou answered. "Absolutely."
"It sounds very cliché, but take deep breaths. It really helps." She assured him as she gathered some paperwork in her arms. She then jerked her head over her shoulder. "You guys can come on back with me. Let's get the party started."
As they walked toward the swinging double doors, Ryou bent over to Yugi's ear.
"So, um, how many times have you been here?"
"Well,this would be...the third time." He admitted, but he shrugged as if it were no big deal. "I've gotten on the wrong horse a few times..." They entered into a long hallway and followed the Matchmaker through the first door on the left.
"Just lay down right here." Emma said, placing her papers on the counter and gesturing to the long exam table by the wall. "Yugi, you can go ahead and pull that chair over next to the table." Ryou settled on top of the table and fidgeted a little as Yugi grabbed the chair.
"I'm going to need to see your identification." Emma said, clicking the mouse to wake the computer next to Ryou's head.
"Sure thing." Ryou dug into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. The Matchmaker took his offered licence, and turned back to the computer to enter in his information. "So, how long have you two been dating?" She asked.
"About three months." Ryou said.
"Oh, you guys picked a good time to come in, then." She replied, tapping at the keyboard. "I've seen a couple come in after only two weeks - and it didn't turn out so well." She paused, looking surprised. "Man! You're 28?" She turned around to look at Ryou. "What a baby face! And how did you make it this long without a Counter?"
"Well, I just never really thought to get one...or that I really needed it." He said, lifting his shoulder.
"Say no more, I hear you." She said, turning back to her computer. "I had my reservations about it at first, too. But...once I saw the numbers, it was like my life suddenly took on a whole new color." She typed a few more things. "Oookay... Looks like we're all set! You guys filled out the personal bio sheet online, so we don't need to do any of that. Saves us a whole bunch of time." She stood up and began rummaging inside a cabinet. "So, we're running a special this week, so it will only cost you $50.65 for the entire process - that's including the installation fee and tax." She handed Ryou a tablet with an attached stylus. "I just need you to sign that you agree with our Terms and Conditions."
"What does the Terms say, exactly?" Ryou wondered.
"In simple terms," Yugi said, "it's just saying you won't ask for a refund if you think your wait for your true love is too long or too short - or if you don't like your soulmate."
"Wait, am I not guaranteed to like my soulmate? Isn't that the point of this thing?"
"Well, no. Not necessarily." The Matchmaker began kindly. "Not at first, anyway." She smiled. "There are all kinds of love out there, Mr. Bakura. Of course there's the ever popular love at first sight - though very boring, in my opinion - but there's also friendship blossoming to love, enemies becoming lovers...so on and so forth. The route your love takes is up to you. The Counter merely guides you to the second lead in the play, your co-captain. It tells you the moment your true love enters your life, and the rest just evolves naturally."
"So you and I got a head start...right?" Yugi asked tentatively. His palms were getting moist from nerves.
"Right." Ryou pressed his fingers against Yugi's arm before taking the stylus and signing his agreement to the Terms and Conditions.
"Now, which hand is your dominant hand?" Emma asked, taking the tablet from him.
"My right." Ryou looked over to her. "Whoa! What is that?" Matchmaker Emma lifted her contraption for him to see it better; It was like a larger version of a ear piercing gun. The Counter was sitting on the top, it's prongs sticking out dangerously. "That looks like it's going to hurt." Ryou's voice took a slightly higher pitch.
"It's like getting a piercing." Yugi said, trying to soothe him.
"You know I don't have any."
"Yes, it will hurt." Yugi explained. "But briefly. It's more like a sting, really." Ryou gave him such a long look of disbelief, Yugi had to hold back a laugh.
"All right, well." The Matchmaker interjected. "After implantation, your Counter will load up and display your numbers. If, however, you two are meant to be together, both of your counters will immediately beep at you - and then it's happy ever after. Good deal?"
"Okay, yes." Ryou closed his eyes, brows pulling together. "Good deal."
"Okay." Matchmaker Emma placed the gun against the inside of his left wrist. "Breathe in deep and we'll count to three. Drum-roll, please..." There was a loud click, and Ryou flew up from the table, yanking his arm away with wild eyes.
"HOLY - OW!" He winced, but refrained from rubbing his now Countered wrist. "What ever happened to a count of three?!"
"When we count, people tend to tense up, which makes installation hurt more." Emma explained, looking completely unabashed. "So we try to get you unaware."
"Oh, yeah. You got me." Ryou muttered, easing himself back down. They all stared at his wrist; there was a minute of quiet, then his new Counter screen blinked as it came to life. They all got closer, and Yugi held his breath. Numbers suddenly appeared, counting down: 0916d 16h 23m 53s
"Huh." Yugi leaned back. He immediatly looked down to his own Counter, which was still blinking at him insultingly: —d —h —m —s
"I'll just give you two a moment." Emma said, looking downcast as she set the installation device down. She left the room and a long silence rang between the two.
"Yugi, I'm sorry—"
"No, no. It's okay." Yugi smiled. "It's not your fault. You can't control it. I'm really happy for you."
"This is why I didn't want to..."
"I know, I know." Yugi shook his head. "It was my idea." He turned away from Ryou, his throat suddenly tight. "It's fine."
Ryou sat up, staring at his Counter in awe.
"Nine hundred and sixteen days...that's—"
"About two and a half years." Yugi said.
"Two and a half years." Ryou repeated, eyes wide. "I'd have my doctorate by then, starting my career..." He trailed off in wonder. "Two years is perfect timing, actually." Yugi tried not to gag as he listened to Ryou. Rolling his eyes to the ceiling, he let out a quiet stream of air through his thin lips. He knew he couldn't be angry. No one could control what the Counter said. "Gosh, it's weird." Ryou commented. "Knowing they're out there somewhere...just living their life..."
"Yeah, and the blank Counter that they've had for years has finally started to count down." Yugi replied begrudgingly, resentful. He clenched his fingers together, his body tightening like a coil. He knew he had no right to be mad, but still...but still—!
Ryou blinked and looked to Yugi.
"Two years is a long time, though. We could still...?"
Yugi winced. "Yeah, I don't think that's a good idea."
"No." Ryou frowned. "I suppose you're right. There's not really a point in continuing something that is...well..."
"Doomed." Yugi nodded.
Ryou gave a small chuckle.
"I was going to say moot point."
"Same thing." Yugi snapped. Ryou flinched a little, and Yugi forced himself to relax. "No - god, I'm sorry. It's fine. Super. Okay." He couldn't stop his leg from jiggling up and down. He needed to leave. "I'm just...I am really happy for you, honestly. Congratulations." He got out of his chair, rubbing his arm. "I've got to get back to work."
Ryou grabbed Yugi's hand.
"You're great. I had a lot of fun with you."
"Yeah, I did to." Yugi pressed Ryou's hand between his own palms. "I hope you and your special one have a really long, happy life together."
"Goodbye, Yugi." Ryou said, releasing him for the last time.
"Goodbye, Ryou." Yugi murmured back. He turned and left the room, pressing his lips together to stop them from trembling.