Chapter one

*buzz buzz buzz*

My phone vibrates next to my head signaling me it’s time to wake up. ” Today’s the day” I whisper to myself. Sitting up in bed I stare down at the Numbers counting down on my wrist. Only 8 hours left. My stomach knots as I get out of bed and get ready for my first day of college. We are prepared our whole lives for the day that our numbers stop counting down, but I can’t help to feel scared. No amount of coaching can help me through today. Today is the day I meet my soulmate.

They say the second you meet them you just know and you instantly fall in love, but what if I don’t like him? What if he’s not what I imagined? I’ve been dreaming about him for years. Hes tall, has beautiful blue eyes, and thick black hair. He looks at me smiling and you can see the love he has for me. He would love to live in sweatpants, and loves metal music like me. When he would hug me I would come up to his chest and my ear will be able to rest right over his heart. His arms would be strong but not muscular and they would encircle me and make me feel safe and warm. But that is my dream I don’t know what he looks like. Or even his name. What if he can’t handle me or doesn’t like the way I look? These thoughts fly through my mind as I try to tame my hair. I know I’m supposed to dress up on a day as special as today but I don’t want to. I don’t even want to leave my dorm room. I want to lie around in sweat pants all day but it would be terrible to miss my first day.

After a lot of procrastination I decide I won’t dress up and I slide into my skinny jeans and shrug on a black T-shirt. Why should I try to make a good impression, he should just see how I normally am. Soon I am out my door heading to my first class. I can’t pay attention, I just keep staring at my wrist. Hours pass and my classes go by in a blur. It’s almost time. Just one more hour. I call my mom almost on the verge of tears. She answers in very excited tone,

” Hi mom” I choke out.

” Hi baby how are you holding up? Are you excited?”

” No I’m not excited, I’m barely holding it together. Can I just ignore the numbers and hide in bed?” I wipe at the corner of my eyes, tears are threatening to leak out.

” No sweetie you have to do this. It’s part of growing up, but it will be alright no matter how it goes. I promise.” I sigh. It has to be alright.

” Alright mom. I love you, talk to you later.”

The thing about the numbers is you don’t know anything but a time you don’t know how or where it will happen, you don’t even know what will happen. Like I said before almost everyone falls in love right away, but there has been a few horror stories where people turned out to hate their soul mates. I’m afraid that that will be what happens to me. Getting up I head to the cafeteria. It’s 5 pm, I have 5 minutes left. Trying to ignore the numbers on my wrist I get my meal and sit down alone at a table. I don’t look at them but I can still see the numbers in my head. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…. 0. I look around to see if anyone notices me. Nothing happens no one comes up to me or even glances in my direction, I’m invisible. I stand up and throw my leftovers away and grab my backpack. As I’m looking down I notice my wrist. My numbers have reset. They now read 5 days 6 hours and 42 minutes. What is going on no one’s ever had this happen before. Panicked I run into the bathroom and call my mom.

” Hi baby!” She answered excited to hear about my meeting.

”Mom something’s wrongs.”

“What? What is going on Danielle?” Her voice is thick with worry.

“Mom my Numbers reset. They hit zero and then nothing happened. When I looked down again the Numbers reset to 5 days and 6 hours. What do I do? Should we call on the Society?” I spit it all out in a rush my voice echoing off the cold bathroom walls.

“Danielle, you cannot call on the society. You need to get in your car right now and you need to leave campus. I know it is the first day of College but you aren’t safe anymore.” Her voice is urgent. I can feel her fear through the phone.

“What do you mean I’m in trouble mom? It must just be a fluke I probably just need to get my Number reset and they can run a diagnostic on it. This must have happened before.”

“Dani listen to me now. The Society doesn’t make mistakes. And if they do make a mistake they don’t let it be a mistake for long.They take their mistakes or rule breakers and no one ever sees them again.”

“What do you mean mom I really don’t understand? What rule breakers? Mom I am scared where do I go?”

“Rule breakers are the people that don’t go along with their pairing. They choose someone else. It happens but the society doesn’t let be seen. They have people everywhere for things like that to be corrected. Right now you are something that needs to be corrected in the Society’s eyes. I love you Dani, we will figure it out, but right now you need to go to your room. You need to pack some clothes, long sleeves, and necessities enough for several days. As soon as you get packed you need to get in your car and fill up your tank and get money out of the atm. I will put 2,000 in your account you need to take it all out and then throw your credit card and phone in the trash. You will have to use pay phones or public phones to contact me, but I will try my best to direct you where you should go.” I can hear the tears streaming down her face and the hitch in her voice. My stomach starts to turn, but I can’t be sick I have to stay strong.

“Okay mom. I love you so much. But where do I go?”

“ I want you to head to colorado. When you get into Nebraska I want you to stop in a gas station and call me from their phone I will give you more instructions then.”

“Okay mom.” Tears are now falling down my face and leaving pools on my shirt.

“It will be okay Danielle. I love you too, so much. And Dani?”

“ Yeah mom?”

“Don’t forget tampons.” She laughs knowing that I probably would forget if she didn’t say something. I laugh with her knowing truly I can do this.

“ I won’t mom. I love you. Good bye.”

 

I end the call and shove my phone in my back pocket. Slowly I take a couple deep breaths and wipe away the tears of saying goodbye to my mom. Grabbing my bag I walk out of the bathroom, head high. Nothing is going to make me break, especially not a boy.  Getting to the dorm i start to pack things into my favorite backpack. Several shirts and pants later I’m all packed, ready to start my life on the road. Quickly I also pull on a hoodie to hide my arm.

I take one more look around at the life I am about to leave behind, ready to do whatever it takes to not let the Society erase me. Getting to my car doesn’t take long, and before I know it I’m almost to the interstate heading toward Nebraska. The conversation between me and my mom passes through my mind. Why would the Society not tell us that people would break their pairing? I have never heard of anyone breaking. How does my mom know all of this any way? My car races across the bridge leaving behind school and my life, as all this new information races in my mind.

Where do they take the ones that do this? How do we not know about them or hear about them ever? I pull my sleeve up a bit and look at my Number, time is ticking down but I don’t know to what. My car starts to slide into the next lane and the car next to me lays on their horn. Snapping out of my head I swerve back into my lane swearing “ Shit Danielle, pay attention or the Society won’t have to worry about you.” I pull off the interstate in a small town called Millard to find a gas station. Quickly I find a Kum and Go and I pull into a stall to fill up my tank and pull money out of an ATM.

Walking into the gas station I realize I’m hungry and I don’t know when I might be able to get a real meal again. Stocking up on some snacks goes on my to do list as I head into the bathroom for a pee break. Candy, chips, beef jerky, two bottles of water, and a soda gets set on the counter. Then I walk over to the ATM and slide my card. Just like mom said there is 2,000 dollars in my account. My card goes into the trash after I pull the cash from the machine. After, I pay for the snacks and fill up my tank. Almost forgetting I run back inside and ask if I can use the phone.

My home number gets punched into the phone. After two rings the phone goes silent and the dial tone comes screaming in my ear. That’s funny I think as I dial mom’s cell. This time the phone rings and rings, it doesn’t go to voicemail or anything, it just rings. My stomach starts to do flips, something isn’t right. I hang up and walk back out to my car, and my phone starts to buzz, still tucked in my back pocket. “Fuck I forgot to throw this out with my card.” I pull it out and look to see who it is. The caller ID pops up and says mom. I slide the answer option and put the phone up to my ear.

“Hello mom?! I’m sorry I didn’t throw my phone out yet. I just tried calling you I’m at a gas station in Millard.”

“Danielle, you need to come back to your dorm the Society is waiting for you we know about the mistake.” A deep male voice speaks on the other end.

“What? Who is this? Where is my mom?”

“Your mom is fine Dani, she is here with us, would you like to speak with her?”

“Yes put her on now.”

“Dani, do not come back. I will be fine. I love you keep running.” Her voice is quick and panicked.

“I’m sorry Danielle. Your mom is wrong, if you run we can find you no matter where you go. It would be better for both of you to come back. You have an hour to get back or we will be after you.”

The phone beeps off. Angered I throw my phone at the wall as hard as I can. Leaving my phone on the cement I get in my car and drive off.. Mom told me to keep going, so i’m going to. Back on the interstate I head toward Colorado. I have no clue where I am going, or what I will do when I get there, but I will be okay. I just have to keep going. I can’t worry about my mom. She wouldn’t want me to.

Thank god I peed in Millard or else I would definitely be doing the potty dance by now. It’s been about 4 hours, and I feel like I’m dying. I need to pull off and find some place to sleep. Finally after some driving around I find a cheapo motel. I park my car and walk inside. The front desk is cluttered and the man behind it looks really put out that I walked in.

“Hello, I would like a room.” The man huffs, hands me a key hard, then walks away. “Check out is at noon.” He says just before he’s out of range. Feeling slightly annoyed I turn. Looking down at my key card I see I’m in room 110. My eyes scan the doors trying to find where to go. The hundreds are to the right so I head that way. Finding my room I scan my key card and step into my room for the night. The slight scent of mold fits well in the 1970’s room. The shag carpeting and the velvet flower patterned chair in the corner look like they have been there since the place opened. The bed on the other hand looks newer, and smells a little more fresh. My two bags thud onto the ground as I sit on the bed. The down comforter is soft under my hands and the bed holds firm underneath me. This place is cheap but I think it will get me at least a decent night’s sleep.

I pull my bag on the bed with me and unload its contents. Five shirts, Three pairs of skinny jeans, one pair of fabric shorts, two sets of PJs, six pairs of underwear, and two extra bras. As I reach in to grab my bathroom bag the box of tampons falls out. The memory of my mom’s laugh when she told me to bring these floats through my mind. Tears fall down my cheeks as I allow myself time to think of my mom. I’m so afraid of what might happen to her. If something happens to me mom’s sacrifice would be for nothing. My number glows up at me as I tug at my sleeve.

A little piece of metal just under my skin that’s programmed to count down the days until we meet our pair. Just after a baby is born they are taken for the pairing. There they are tested for genetic illnesses, other things such as aptitude. The Society has special computers, and machines to tell you everything, from the babies race to the genetic predispositions that the baby will have growing up. They take this information and match he or she with another baby born in the same time frame.

After they have paired the babies a Society Member will insert the babies Number. The Society then programs the date and time of the meeting for the pair. Some times they will make it right away when the child is young or they make it later in life. The Society has an algorithm for it all. School explains it all as you grow up; the Society’s history, their plan with the pairing, and how it happens. This is all so we have grow up without sickness, pain or destruction.

We have been taught our whole lives that this is what we need for a better world.  I have always thought that this is exactly the way it should be. No one has ever shown that the pairing doesn’t work. Sure there are the people who don’t like one another at first, or end up hating each other for while, but no one has ever broken a pairing. None that the Society ever let us see that is.

I caress my wrist feeling the plate underneath my arm. Why do I have to be a mistake? Why couldn’t everything go as planned? I could be getting to know my soulmate right now, but I’m running for my life instead. Frustrated I flop back onto the pillows and think of my dream boy. His dark hair, how soft it is. His pink lips how they look when they say my name. Thinking of someone I may never have just upsets me more so I sit up and pull out my pajamas. Quickly I change and put my clothes back in my bag and pull out some beef jerky.

After swallowing the last bite of my “dinner” I crawl underneath the covers. What a day it has been. As I drift off to sleep I think of my mom. I think of her laugh and how she seemed to know things that no one else did. A deep sleep overcomes me as I hold on to the thought that my mom is strong and knows how to handle herself.

 

Hours later I wake to the sound of the phone on the wall screaming at me. I pull myself out of bed and answer the phone half asleep.

“Hello”

“Danielle we know where you are and we are coming.” The phone clicks off. The room spins. They know where I am and they are coming for me.

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