a million years she'd been awake

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It starts with an uncomfortable itch on the wrist. For weeks, it itches and stings until the itching turns into pain. For two days, there is a feeling of mild pain consuming the wrist, spreading to the arm and the hands and fingers. And then, finally, on the morning of the eighteenth birthday, a name appears on the wrist, written in the handwriting of one’s soulmate.

For Maisy Pemberton, the name that appeared on her wrist the morning of her eighteenth birthday was the last name in the world she had ever expected to see.

From a very early age, Maisy had always been enthralled by the idea of soulmates. She had spent a great deal of her childhood curled up into her mother’s side, staring at her father’s name on her her wrist, tracing it with gentle fingers in a trance of pure awe. Maisy watched her parents interact with great adoration, dreaming of the day when it was her turn to find a love as strong as the love her parents shared.

When Maisy was eleven, her elder brother, Gage, turned eighteen. Maisy spent the night perched on the edge of his bed, anxiously awaiting the appearance of the identity of Gage’s soulmate. She ended up fast asleep on top of Gage’s feet. When she awoke, Gage was lightly shaking her awake, whispering for her to wake up with genuine excitement. The name on his wrist, Lara Sinclair, was one that was very familiar to Maisy. Lara was Gage’s closest friend ever since he was a young child. Seeing them together from that point forward, happier than either of them even thought possible, Maisy knew that finding her soulmate would be the defining moment of her life.  

Maisy’s sister, Quinn, turned eighteen when Maisy was fourteen. While this time, Maisy had enough sense to give her some space, she was still the first person to march into Quinn’s room first thing in the morning, demanding to see the name. Both girls were both curious and excited to see a name that neither were familiar with: Eleanor Curtis. It wasn’t until Quinn had graduated and gone to college that she met her soulmate, who just happened to be the best friend of her roommate. Eleanor, or “Nell”, as she prefered to be called, lived in London, oceans away from where the Pembertons resided in a decent-sized town in Massachusetts. The two soulmates began communicating through Facebook, falling in love over the internet. Watching Nell and Quinn meet each other in the flesh for the first time in the lobby of a Boston airport was one of the most thrilling moments of Maisy’s life. It only strengthened her burning desire to meet her very own soulmate.  

The weeks preceding Maisy’s eighteenth birthday were spent imagining all kinds of different scenarios involving the discovery of her soulmate. Maisy imagined it being somebody she knew at school. She would drive to his house, show him the marks on her wrist, and from there on out, they would live happily ever after. She pictured the name being unfamiliar to her, but a quick Google search would lead her to find him as an animal rights activist working with endangered sea turtles on the coast of some tropical island. She imagined meeting him in situations similar to the stories she had been told of when her own parents first met; she would graduate college and move to a shoebox apartment where her soulmate would just happen to be her next door neighbor. He was always part of Maisy’s life: a fantasy prince who was there to comfort and love her when nobody else would. Even before they met, before she even knew who he was, Maisy was in love with her soulmate.

When Maisy woke up on the day she turned eighteen, she almost couldn’t look at her wrist. Her excitement and anticipation consumed her to the point where she couldn’t move. She awoke with a grin already plastered on her face, before she had even read the name. She stared at the ceiling for a good ten minutes before slowly and cautiously bringing her wrist up in front of her face to examine what was written there.

It was written in tiny letters, smaller than she had ever seen on another wrist before. They were dark, and close together, written in a messy scrawl. Maisy had trouble making it out at first, but it seemed to get clearer the more she stared at it. And when the name became clear to Maisy, everything seemed to stop. Theodore Kemp.

Theo Kemp was almost a household name. He was a fairly popular indie pop singer in his early twenties, who’d had several chart-topping singles in the past few years of his career. Maisy had been a casual fan of his music since the beginning. She both of Theo’s two albums, and was known to turn up the volume and sing out loud every so often when one of his songs happened to play on the radio. She wasn’t hopelessly in love with him, as many girls her age were, but Maisy did appreciate his smooth, powerful voice, and yeah, she would have to be blind not to admit that Theo was definitely insanely attractive.

The thing that set Theo apart from the rest of the music scene was the fact that he was extremely vocal about his beliefs, particularly his beliefs concerning  the topic of soulmates. There had always been a portion of the world’s population that was opposed to soulmates, ever since the phenomenon suddenly appeared a few hundred years prior. This group of people, often referred to as Romanticists, believed that people should fall in love in the traditional manner, as they once did years ago, without the interference of the soulmate markings. Theo had been the loudest, most prominent member of this group ever since his popularity had risen, acting as a spokesperson for their cause. He was obviously extremely passionate about his beliefs; around his wrist, Theo wore a thick, leather cuff, covering up his soulmate markings. He had been wearing the cuff since his own eighteenth birthday a few years back, meaning he did not know the identity of his soulmate, even though he did have one.

Yet this man was Maisy’s soulmate, the one person she was destined to love and spend her life with. Theodore Kemp was a celebrity, miles and miles away and completely unreachable and unobtainable. He did not know of Maisy, considering his cuff, and, Maisy thought with a quivering sigh, probably never will.

Maisy didn’t know how to react. She gaped at the name for awhile, glared at it under her desk lamp, willing it to change with her pleading thoughts, but to no avail. She realized that telling her family would not be of any help.  So, in an early morning daze of emotions and exhaustion, Maisy found a thick navy blue ribbon to tie around her wrist, concealing the name completely.

When Maisy eventually exited her room, her parents were waiting in the kitchen to hear from her with baited breath. Maisy went about her daily routine normally, ignoring the expectant, perplexed expressions given to her by her parents when the looked at the dark ribbon. Maisy didn’t say anything, and they didn’t ask. Even at school, Maisy would refuse to speak whenever she was asked questions. She remained a quiet, sullen mystery to all she encountered, which couldn’t have been more unlike her character. Nobody knew just what to make of her.

Later that day, Maisy wordlessly bought a cuff at a local store, and replaced the ribbon without even the slightest emotion.

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