Striking Thirteen

“You taught me that there was no such thing as soulmates.” He laughed out loud then and I stared at him, bewildered. “That’s funny,” he whispered. “You taught me that there was.” Based on The Name On Your Wrist by the lovely and amazing Helen Hiorns!

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2. Striking Twelve

Entry 8:

 

Akama just left and I really really feel like I’m suffocating. I don’t really know why.

 

I didn’t want to talk to him about that kind of stuff in school, so I said I would tell him after. I don’t know why I did that, because normally I would just run away from him and not tell him at all. But he still kept looking at me like I was interesting, and no one has ever done that before. So I guess that’s why.

 

He asked me if I wanted to hang around in the park with him, but I have to be home straight after school or my mum is supposed to call the hospital, so I told him to come back to mine. My mum was really happy that I’d brought a friend home. I felt bad for ignoring her and dragging him up to my room.

 

I tried to make small talk, pointing at the posters I had on my wall and apologising for the mess, moving stuff off the bed so that he could sit down.

 

“These bedsheets, I didn’t pick them out. My mum, she thinks floral pillow cases are okay for a teenage boy. I don’t have the heart so say no. Sorry about that, I hope you don’t mind.”

 

“Jonah, are you going to tell me what happened earlier or do we have to talk about pillows because…” he laughed to himself “Well that puts a whole new meaning on pillow talk.”

 

I didn’t know what he meant, but I sat down next to him anyway.

 

“I’m not normal,” I said. “Sometimes I don’t think I’m human. Or that I don’t deserve to be. It’s probably best that you know that now, because I don’t want you to think I’m worth your time when I’m not.”

 

There were tears threatening to fall, and I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t imagine Akama crying, he was so strong and confident and he was always smiling, like he got a joke that no one else did.

 

“Why would you say that?” I thought he might have moved his hand a bit closer to mine, but the tears were blurring my vision.

 

“I don’t think I can love people,” I said quietly. “Even my soulmate. I just can’t imagine feeling that way about a girl, I’ve tried really hard but I can’t. There’s something wrong with me, like I’m broken. That’s why I don’t care who Patricia is. When I meet her things will only get worse.”

 

We sat in silence after I said that. It felt like a really long silence, and Akama looked deep in thought, he was staring at me really intently, like he was trying to figure something out. I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I just watched him. His soft looking red lips were pursed and his eyes were wide open, but I could tell they weren’t seeing anything.

 

“You can’t feel that way about a girl, you say?”

 

I nodded. Had he really not understood me?

 

He opened his mouth, and I thought he was going to ask another question, but he closed it again a few seconds later, shifting away from me.

 

“So what are they streaming you into?” he asked, abruptly changing the subject.

 

“Medicine.”

 

“Oh, cool. They want me to do architecture.” His eyes were focussing on the floor.

 

“Don’t you want to do it?”

 

Akama sighed heavily, looking me straight in the eye and sending a shudder down my spine. “Not really.”

 

He looked really sad then. His shoulders slumped and his usual smile disappeared, the twinkly lights going out of his eyes. I felt like I understood him a bit more in that moment. Like maybe the joke that no one got might be at his expense. I suddenly found that I was desperate to move closer to him. I wished he would do the annoying personal space invasion thing, maybe come even closer than that. I wanted to comfort him, maybe hug him. His hand was lying face up on the bed between us, the ugly name scrawled just under it. Without thinking I reached out my own arm and took it, lacing our fingers together. Akama flinched a little, but he didn’t pull away, he just looked at me with still sad eyes, licking his lips absent-mindedly. He reached out his free hand a ran it through my curly hair. It felt tingly in a way you wouldn’t expect it to. There was sweat forming between our palms, and I started to lean towards him. I don’t know why. Then a scared look crept onto his face and he stood up quickly, pacing over to the desk and grabbing his jacket from the where he’d tossed it down earlier.

 

“I’ll see you at school Jonah.”

 

His voice was shaking in a way that it hadn’t done before, but I didn’t blame him. When I looked down at my hands after he left, they were trembling.

 

Entry 9:

 

I had a really really weird dream about Akama and I don’t want to talk about it. I told my mum I don’t feel well and I’m taking the day off school.

 

Entry 10:

 

Akama came up to me at lunch again today but he didn’t eat any of my food. Instead he apologised. He looked really sorry and he just said “Jonah, please forgive me”. I was so confused because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

 

He asked if we could still be friends and I said yes. I still didn’t understand what he had to feel so bad about. He came over to my house again and it was actually really nice. I told him about the hospital a bit, but not really in detail. I said I was ill and I had to take time off school, and that’s why I always have to come straight home. I might have been imagining it, but I think he read between the lines. I think he knows why I was in the hospital because he looked sad and he nodded like he understood. He also put his hand out and I thought he was going to touch my hair again, but he returned it at the last minute, shaking his head. After that we talked quite a lot about the teachers that we didn’t like, and he told me to read a book called Fahrenheit 451 which he sent me.

 

Entry 11:

 

It’s early morning. I haven’t slept.  I just finished Fahrenheit 451. Akama is trying to tell me something and I wish I was smart enough to figure out what. I don’t want to go to sleep, because I think I’ll dream about burning.

 

Entry 12:

 

I took another day off school because I was really tired.

 

At about 4 o’clock I heard voices downstairs and my mum came into my room,

 

“Jonah,” she said with a massive smile on her face “Your friend wants to know if you’d like to go to the park.”

 

I smiled at her then, because I was really happy that she was happy and also because she had started trusting me again.

 

It was quite cold outside, but I really didn’t care that much. Me and Jonah walked around the small park in circles for quite a while. We passed the gate twice, but neither of us acknowledged it because we didn’t want to leave. I wanted to carry on talking to him. He told me about his parents, who had met when they were only 12 but had fallen for each other straight away. I don’t normally like hearing stories like that, but I enjoyed it because he sounded just as unamused by the whole thing as I was. He was telling it more as a joke than anything else, and he knew I understood that. He said he had a brother who was 20, but he hadn’t found his soulmate yet and it was making him really depressed. I wondered how I would feel when I was 20.  When our legs got tired we sat under a big willow tree, the branches came all the way down to the floor and it was like the world outside didn’t exist. I really loved that tree. I think I will be going back there a lot.

 

Akama looked really happy, and it made me smile. I could see why he liked the park, nature agreed with him. He grabbed a few leaves off the tree and began tearing them up with a fascinated grin on his face, like a child playing with crayons for the first time.

 

“Listen, Jonah, I know that you’ve had a hard time of it, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you.”

 

He didn’t look at me while he was talking.

 

“I don’t like seeing you like this.” He said quietly.

 

I didn’t say ‘like what?’ because I knew what he meant. My mother had said the same thing to me over and over again.

 

“I think you spend too much time thinking about what you’re supposed to be, and not enough time thinking about what you actually want. I think that’s dangerous.”

 

He didn’t take his eyes off the leaf.

 

“You’re actually really great, Jonah.”

 

He didn’t seem to care whether I responded or not, so I just let him talk. After a while he dropped his leaf and looked at me.

 

“You’re not a freak.” He said simply, and stared at me, as if he was waiting for my reaction. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

 

“I told you,” I said, frustrated “The whole point of everything is to find someone you love and I just can’t imagine that with any girl I meet! Why should it be any different when I meet my soulmate?”

 

After I said that, Akama looked at me for a long time. It felt like hours. Then he shifted closer to me and put a hand on my shoulder. His eyes looked full of fear, like a deer caught in headlights. There was silence as he moved his hand up my neck, making me shiver and held my face gently, his thumb resting on my cheekbone. I remember looking at his lips, I don’t remember when they landed on mine. I could feel him everywhere. His lips were soft like I thought they would be and I found myself wanting to taste him more and more. My body starting moving without my mind’s permission, grabbing hold of him, my arms wrapping around him while his fingers moved up into my hair. At one point I felt his hand slip under my sweater, a cold hand on my warm skin that made me shudder and grip him tighter.

 

He pulled back first. I don’t think I would have had the willpower. His eyes were especially blue and his lips were red and he had rosy cheeks. He was breathing really heavily and I thought ‘he’s beautiful’ even though that’s not something boys are meant to be. He really was, though. Beautiful. Not fake beautiful like a model in a magazine but a deeper kind, that demands to be touched, to be protected, to be cared for.

 

I don’t know what’s happening to me.

 

We didn’t really say much for a while, it took some time to get my breath back.

 

“What’s happening?” I hadn’t expected my voice to come out so shaky.

 

My whole body felt weird. I was desperate to start kissing him again, so desperate that it hurt, but I was scared to at the same time. Maybe because if I started I might not be able to stop.

 

I heard him sigh next to me.

 

“You know.”

 

I shook my head, I could feel a kind of anger rising in my chest.

 

“No, Akama. I don’t know. I don’t know what this is. This has never happened before, soulmates are always a girl and guy, aren’t they? Boys don’t feel this way about boys! They don’t go around doing this kind of stuff with them, it’s not right!”

 

“How do you know?” Akama’s voice was cool and calm in contrast to mine.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“How do you know that this has never happened before? How can you know that guys never feel like this about each other? I mean have you ever checked? You just believe everything these people tell you. You let them manipulate you, you let them win. It’s so frustrating. ” He grabbed my wrist and turned it round forcefully, twisting my arm. “Why would you think that she was your soulmate without even knowing her? Why should it be that way? Why can’t it be someone else? Why can’t it be…”

 

He took a deep breath and moved away from me.

 

“Sometimes Jonah, I just wish you would start thinking for yourself.”

 

I didn’t want to, but I started getting angry at him.

 

“Are you saying I’m stupid? You are, right? You treat me like a child. I’m not, I can think for myself just fine!”

 

Before I knew it he’d moved again, practically on top of me with both my shoulders in a firm grip.

 

“Then do it Jonah. Please, start thinking for yourself. Forget everything they’ve told you.”

 

That was when I realised. When I realised  I didn’t really know anything at all, that everything I knew might be a lie. The world started to fall apart, but I couldn’t bring myself to be sad about it. It wasn’t a world I’d ever wanted anyway.

 

He began to move away, but I grabbed his wrist - the one with a girl’s name on it. Maybe there was one thing that I could trust.

 

“Please don’t go.”

 

Entry 13:

 

When I started this diary I thought my biggest problem was that I didn’t think I could feel. Now my biggest problem seems to be that I feel too much. When I think about Akama, It’s like I’m seasick. Sometimes I think I might actually vomit. It’s been weeks, and I can’t stop thinking about what he said to me that day under the tree. “You let them manipulate you, you let them win”.

 

I feel guilty for even questioning what they told us. The word thoughtcrime has popped into my head, and I have tried to ignore it.

 

I always assumed that we were being told the truth because that’s the easiest thing to do. I want to think that everyone else knows what’s best for me. I want to think that they know what career we want, what life we want, who we want to be. I want to think that your soulmate is always the person whose name you have on your wrist. But I can’t think that anymore, because every time I look at Akama I know they are wrong about all of it.

 

He taught me how to send encrypted messages so that no one can read them but me. At first I didn’t believe him, I was convinced someone would be able to find them like they can find everything else, but he promised me they wouldn’t.

 

We’ve been sending them for a while now and no one has shown up at my door to whisk me away, so I’m pretty sure I believe him.

 

Entry 14:

 

There was a new girl at school today. Her name is Patricia. When I started crying in the cafeteria Akama led me out and we sat under the willow tree again. We do that a lot. Most days.  

 

We sat under there for hours, until it got dark, and he told me everything would be okay and I did not believe him. I didn’t say anything though, I didn’t want to upset him. He didn’t like me to talk about soulmates or names on people’s wrists. He took it to mean I cared about him less because I didn’t have his name written on my body, which isn’t true. I actually really wish it was true. After a couple of hours under the tree, I started feeling really bad. I thought I might have to go to the hospital, but I didn’t want to tell Akama that so instead I kissed him. I know it sounds strange, but it actually worked. He held onto me tight and I felt like he was grounding me, holding me down so my mind didn’t fly away and make me do something stupid.

 

“I was in the hospital because they thought I’d do something.” I whispered into his neck.

 

“I know,” he whispered back, tightening his grip on me and kissing my forehead “It’s okay.”

 

“It felt like I was drowning,” I said “All the time. I got really tired of trying to swim to the top.”

 

He stayed silent, and a tear dripped down my cheek and onto his shoulder.

 

“I almost gave up.” I said it so quietly that I thought he might not have heard, but when I looked up I saw he was crying.

 

He put one hand on either side of my head, holding me in place as though he was afraid I would disappear.

 

“Don’t.” He kissed my mouth softly. “Don’t.”

 

Now he messages me every night to check I’m okay. I don’t know whether I should feel guilty about this because I don’t want him to worry, but actually every time I get the messages it makes me feel like I really am okay so I tell him that I am.

 

Entry 15:

 

I have never been that secretive about the name that’s on my wrist due to the fact that I’ve never really cared about it. You’re meant to keep it covered up most of the time, but it seemed pointless to before, especially when I didn’t think I’d be around for long. This, I discovered, was a huge mistake. I was sitting in the cafeteria today with Akama, and he was telling me about Leah, his friend, and the fact that she had a new boyfriend and I was really pleased to see him smiling. I think he feels kind of guilty about Leah, even though he never said so.

 

I heard whispers behind me, and I saw that Patricia and some of her friends were looking over at me, chattering excitedly in hushed tones. I sank back in my seat, as though it would help me hide from them.

 

Patricia approached me outside the Maths classroom where I was waiting to meet Akama so we could go to the park. She was beaming at me, looking completely elated, like she’d taken too many of the pills they gave me in the hospital.

 

“I’m Patricia!” she shouted loudly in my ear. “Patricia.” She looked at me expectantly, though I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to say. Even if I still believed she was my soulmate, I doubt I would have been an ideal way to meet. But then I guess I wouldn’t know about that.

 

I briefly considered lying about my name, but that wouldn’t last long so I just said “Jonah” and watched her cautiously.

 

“Jonah!” She yelled excitedly “Jonah. Jonah do you want to come to my house?”

 

I shuffled nervously and stared at the floor. “Erm.”

 

“Erm what?”

 

God Jonah, I thought. Pull yourself together. “Erm I’m busy today.”

 

The look on her face immediately filled me with guilt. She thought she’d found her actual soulmate. She thought she would see me every day for the rest of her life. And I knew that she couldn’t be more wrong. I guess that’s what made me say “You can come over tomorrow.”

 

That seemed to satisfy her immensely, and she ran off leaving me alone with my heart in my mouth, knowing that I was the one who was going to ruin her life. I was desperate to talk to Akama.

 

I could tell he was angry at me even as he held me under the tree. He was afraid of my gullibility, afraid that I’d choose Patricia over him because I had been told it was right. I didn’t blame him. Before I met him, that’s probably what I would have done. But not anymore.

 

“Akama.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I’m not going to choose her over you.”

 

I felt him relax, his shoulders dropping, his grip on my hand tightening.

 

“It would be easier for you if he did.” He said, turning his head away.

 

“I don’t care.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because I love you.”

 

 

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