"Stop it!" My little sister screeched at me.

My tired mother sighed, "Brandy, stop shouting at your sister. Jackie, stop playing with your clock."

I knew it would be no use to try and persuade her that I wasn't actually doing anything wrong, I was just nervous. Eighteen years of experience had proved that point more times than I cared to remember, so I just stuck my tongue out at my little sister, who, in following the family tradition wasn't going to get her clock for another two years, when she was thirteen. I only hoped her clock read a longer time than mine had.

At the moment, mine was reading 1 h : 2 m : 16 s.

I was terrified.

I couldn't even finish my mother's specialty waffles, which were delicious, even this morning. My stomach was already full, of butterflies.

The doorbell rang a bit later.

Mom smiled at me, "Jackie, I think that's for you."

I nodded, gulped down the last of my orange juice, and picked up my backpack. My mother followed me out into the hallway and grabbed my elbow just as I was about to walk out the front door.

"Jackie, wait!" she whispered. She looked over her shoulder for Brandy, we could both hear the clink of her fork on the plate as she was still eating, and then looked back at me, "No matter what happens today, no matter who he or she is...you will always, always, be my baby Jacqueline."

My eyes filled with tears, "I love you, Momma."

She kissed my cheek, and sent me on my way to school, her eyes filled with tears too.

I opened the door to my best friend, Marta's, face, "Ready for school, Miss Countdown?"

"Stop calling me that," I laughed.

She laughed too, "How long?"

"38 minutes."

"School is a shitty place to find out who your soul mate is, huh?"

"Mar, it's me," I quipped.

We both giggled and continued walking to school. She could tell, like most best friends can, that I wasn't really in the chatty mood, so she chattered away next to me, knowing that I'm comfortable with the white noise of it. She just didn't expect me to reply while she talked.

"So because I have to film that video for the multimedia project, I'm going to have to take the late lunch, which is going to be a bitch. I mean, I'm hungry enough when the early lunch comes around, but when I have to wait an extra period to take it, it makes me even more angry. To top it off, in English, Mr. Curtis isn't even going to be there today. Of course he had to choose the day I need his help on something to get the flu. That was an e-mail I didn't need at midnight. Oh, and Becky is going out with Carlos now, which pissed off Willie, so Physics 2 is going to be an interesting place. Too bad you can't be there since you too Physics 2 last year-"

On and on her chatter went until we were walking in the doors of the high school. The warning bell was about to ring, signaling five minutes to class. As I was putting in the combination I knew better by feel than number, I glanced at the clock.

10m : 52 s

I sighed. There was no way to get out of it without getting detention, and I didn't need one of those. Besides, my family and friends knew it was happening today. If I chickened out like all of the other Benders (the people who decided to try and avoid the meeting, prolong it, by "bending" the time stream, which sometimes worked, most of the time didn't), I would never hear the end of it.

Marta and I walked to English, her still chattering next to me. Hell, I think she's as nervous as I am. What if she doesn't like the guy? That would suck for us.

A high school a couple towns over closed down, so the student body just received a balloon of new students to the population. Chances are pretty good that a couple would be in my English class, so as I walked in, I refused, absolutely refused, to look around the room.

The final bell rang just as I was sitting down, and I immediately buried my head in my arms.

I was glad we had a substitute today, because Mr. Curtis liked to give Finals (named after the final hours/minutes/seconds on their clocks) hell, but since teenage Countdowns are rare, he didn't have many chances.

"Marta Guzman?"

"Here!"

"Shelia Jackson?"

"Here!"

"Dante Johnson?"

"Here!"

"Phillip Oswald?...Phillip Oswald?...Not here? Okay. Jacqueline Rodgers?"

I raised my hand, but didn't lift my head, speaking a muffled, "Here!"

"...Oh my God."

There was a clink as something fell onto a desk, followed by a couple gasps and whispers. Wanting to know what was happening, I lifted my head up and saw him.

Mine made a similar clink as it fell onto my desk.

He couldn't be more than twenty-four, a new teacher clearly. He had short light brown hair that had a slight curl to it, and pretty light blue eyes. He was average height and looked like a runner, something I'm definitely not. The board behind him read 'Mr. Drake'.

Feeling the awkward silence like a blanket and needing to say something, I smiled, "Mr. Drake, I presume?"

He cleared his throat a minute, blinked, and smiled back, before leaving the room. I wished he hadn't.

That's when all of the real gossip began.

I put my head in my arms again, trying to escape it. I couldn't distinguish actual words, them all blending together, but the tone was condescending, mean. Definitely not in our favor.

There was a familiar click of the intercom overhead, to which all of the voices dwindled, "Jacqueline Rodgers to the office please. Jacqueline Rodgers to the office."

The intercom clicked back off and I stood, straightening my hoodie, grabbing my books, and walking out of the room, Marta giving me a smile, wink, and thumbs up as I went by, dramatically boosting my mood.

The hallways I had walked already for four years felt different now. Foreign. Like I didn't belong in them anymore. It was unsettling, but with only a month of school left, I hoped the feeling wouldn't be too overpowering.

I opened the large wooden door to the clean office where our secretary, Ms. Torres, was standing, waiting for me, "Just go into the second door on the right, hon."

I did, and Mr. Drake was waiting for me. I closed the door behind me and dropped my books on the conference table in front of me, "Did I do something to offend you?"

"Not at all."

"Then why did you clear out like that without saying anything? You should have heard them!"

He sighed, running a hand through his hair, "Because I didn't want my first conversation with you to be in front of a classroom of teenagers."

"I'm a teenager."

He smiled, "Yes, but you're also my soul mate, Jacqueline. They aren't."

"Jackie. I like to be called Jackie," I corrected, crossing my arms in front of my chest.

"Jackie then."

I sniffed, "Does my soul mate have a name other than 'Mr. Drake', or do you want me to address you as a student for the rest of my life?"

He laughed, "Nicholas, but you can call me Nick, darlin'."

I decided I like 'darlin' more than 'Jackie'.

Nick gestured to a seat, "Please."

I shook my head, "Once I start talking to you, I probably won't want to stop, and I have classes."

There was the clearing of a throat behind me, startling me so much I squeaked.

"Actually, Miss Rodgers, just as we have for the other Finals who countdown while still in high school, we are giving you leave today, and your parents can decide if they're going to give you a day off tomorrow. It's just a small way to show we care, though we've never had to give someone in the teaching position some time off," Principal Collins grinned widely, though it didn't hide the obvious disgust on his features as he closed the door.

I locked the door before I sat down and waited for him to take a seat, not even looking at him, but instead pretending to be deeply interested in the pattern of the woodwork on the table. He chose the seat across from me. Smart.

"Is this going to be our destiny?" I spoke softly, though I'd meant it to be assertive.

"Is what going to-"

"That!" I shouted, pointing at the door. "You can't have been so unobservant as to have not seen the look on his face."

Nick sighed, slumping back in the chair, but then perking back up a second later with a small smile. He took one of my hands in his and began to hold it, absently massaging and turning it, "You know, when I woke up this morning and glanced at my clock, I knew the time was getting smaller. I was terrified. I didn't want my soul mate to be so young. I was hoping it was going to be another teacher, or maybe a student teacher or something, but then when I saw you-"

I cocked my head to the side, "What?"

He blushed, "I knew that, as long as you stayed with me and we had a bit of support from our families, we would be okay. I mean, you can't be less than seventeen, right?"

"Eighteen," I interjected.

Nick grinned, "And there was some girl in the front row who was smiling quite a bit. Is she a friend of yours?"

"Oh, yes," I laughed. "The best of friends."

"Not everyone is going to hate us together, and as we age, that distance will get smaller. When we're gray, it won't even matter anymore, not in the slightest, when our anniversary cake can't even hold all of the candles."

Somewhere in the middle of his speech, he had moved to stand in front of me, on his knees, "Jackie, I would very much like the chance to get to know you. You still have a choice here. You don't have to choose me."

Seeing him there, I could still see how young he was. He looked so unsure, so insecure, that I couldn't help myself.

I kissed him.

I mean, it wasn't even a real kiss. It was barely a peck, but was stupefied for a moment before relaxing with a smile that made his eyes glow and pulling me into a real kiss, the earth-stopping, time-shattering kind of kiss I read about in my favorite books.

"Damn," he whispered, pulling away from me.

"What?" I asked, afraid I did something wrong. I mean, it was my first kiss after all, Tommy Bell in first grade under the craft table not withstanding.

He sat down, pulling me onto his lap, "If I don't stop now...I won't, and I'd rather talk to you a bit first."

Something popped into my head, "Do you have a cellphone?"

His brow furrowed, "Yeah, why? It's back in the classroom, but I have to go and get my things anyway."

"I'd like to borrow it for a moment and call my mother," I smirked. "She'd like to know that she needs to cook for four people instead of just three tonight."

Nick kissed my cheek and stood to get his things.


"But what if-"

I flicked his arm, hard, "Stop it! It's just dinner."

He still looked nervous, but at least he stopped talking about it as he drove us from his apartment, where we had gone after school had let out for the day kicking us out from the conference room, to my childhood home. I hadn't told my mother yet anything about this man who was to probably someday become her son-in-law, but I knew she would approve. Even my father would have approved, God rest his soul.

We walked up to the house and I used my key to unlock the door and let us in.

"Momma? I'm home!"

"I'm in the kitchen, Jackie!"

"Where's Brandy?"

"Up in her room, where she was told to stay until dinner."

I turned to Nick, "Let's go into the living room."

We did and talked for a bit more. After a few minutes of nervous conversation he received a phone call, the name on the phone being from a 'Harvey', who I knew was his older brother. His little sister, Lavinia, lived with Harvey after their mother died and their father was sent to prison, where Nick had harshly wished him to rot in hell for what he had done to the people he'd killed in a drunken rampage.

My heart had ached for him.

He excused himself to answer the call and I took the opportunity to go see my mom, "Need some help?"

She looked startled, "No! Go and sit with your man!"

"He's taking a phone call."

"Oh, well then. How old is he? Another senior, or is he a freshman?"

I froze. My mother looked at me, putting down the pot of delicious smelling potatoes, "Jackie?"

"He's, um...Funny story."

"Uh-oh!" she sighed. "Whenever you say 'funny story', it usually means trouble for me."

"More like trouble for me this time," I groaned. "Momma, I walked into class this morning and there was a substitute. He started taking attendance and when he got to me...our clocks stopped."

"Our? Wait! The sub was your soul mate!" She squealed, shocked.

"No, the sub is her soul mate."

We both turned to face Nick, who was leaning in the doorway to the kitchen, "How long have you been standing there?"

"Not long," he admitted. "Mrs. Rodgers, I have just met your daughter, but I already love her very much, and I would appreciate that much more if you would give us a chance."

She shook her head with a grin, "Of course I'm going to give you a chance! I promised myself I would, no matter who Jackie brought home, but I have to admit, I was expecting someone younger. Much younger, especially with the transfers."

"Jackie always had crushes on old guys. It's gross," Brandy said, taking her spot at the table.

Nick laughed and I gasped, "BRANDY!"

Mom looked at me, "What is she talking about?"

"Nothing Mom!" I covered my burning face with my hands.

"Jackie always told me she 'liked men, not boys'. That's silly!" Brandy giggled.

"BRANDY!" I screamed.

"Jackie, keep your voice down and please take Nick into the living room. Brandy, stop it!" Mom sighed.

I grabbed Nick by the hand and pulled him back into the living room. He pulled me into his arms as soon as we were out of sight and kissed me again, "I think I like your family."

I snorted, "That makes one of us."

"Well, you'll have a chance for another, since my brother called to invite us to dinner tomorrow night."

I grinned, "Sounds good."

"Yeah, it does."

And it was.