“Happy birthday to Ruby, happy birthday to you!”
Grinning from ear to ear, I lean forward to blow out the candles, only to be beaten to it by my little brother Seth who achieves in extinguishing all eighteen candles. I playfully push him out the way as everyone cheers and reach for the knife I’ll be using to cut the cake.
“If you touch the bottom, you have to kiss the nearest boy,” my mum winks at me and I roll my eyes.
“That would be cheating on her soul-mate,” my friend Angel argues. “She’s a stolen woman now Mrs Wright.”
“Right you are,” I agree with Angel as I cut the cake, not caring that I do in fact touch the bottom.
“Speaking of which,” my mother’s eyes sparkle. “Have you heard anything yet?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” I shrug, trying to remember if anything did.
School was uneventful, minus the big hugs my friends gave me and the loud hoots of the males who were trying to figure out who my mate must be. The only things that really stood out were when I somehow passed a maths pop quiz and nearly tripped over in front of the homeless guy that chills in the park.
“Yeah,” I conclude, shaking away the embarrassing thoughts. “Nothing’s changed.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” she pats me on the shoulder as I hand her a piece of cake. “He’ll come to you, soon enough.”
I nod quickly and take my own piece, turning to Angel.
“Let’s go outside.”
We make ourselves comfy on the hammock, kicking backwards and forwards so we swing softly.
“How’s your mate?” I ask her after a moment of idle silence and yes, I am curious.
“He’s good,” she chews on her cake. “We got into a deep conversation last night about food.”
“That’s certainly deep,” I laugh. “Has he told you his name yet?”
“He tried to, but I couldn’t figure out if that was me naming him or something else rather stupid. I’ve done that before.”
“Wishful thinking?” I elbow her playfully. “What do you think it is?”
“I keep thinking it’s Marty.”
I snort and elbow her harder.
“That’s definitely wishful. You’ve named all your pets that.”
“See my issue here? All I could think of last night was Marvin, Marvin, Marvin. He told me we should probably stop trying to guess names until one of us is unsuspecting.”
“Just yell at him in the middle of the night?” I suggest. “Like, try to make your thoughts yell.”
“If you’ve ever bothered to try that, you’ll see it’s impossible. I’m hoping he’ll just do what I did. Just bring it up in the middle of a conversation.”
“Probably smartest. You really have to let go of the Marvins.”
“It’s a too cute name, okay. You’ll understand one day.”
“I doubt it,” I chuckle. “Besides, I have my own Marvin now.”
“Yes!” Angel hugs me. “I’m so proud of you!”
“For what? Having a chemical reaction in the middle of the night?”
“Of course! You’re finally going to be a romantic.”
“Keep wishing,” I frown. “I’ll meet him when I do.”
“Who do you suppose it is?”
“Ugh I’m not even going to try guessing,” I roll my eyes.
“You’re no fun sometimes,” she pouts, but then she smiles again. “You’ll see.”
“Doubt it,” I mutter under my breath.
I lay down slowly, instructing myself to breath in and out deeply to keep my peace. I keep my eyes closed as my head hits the pillow let my mind open and relax.
My mum gave me a book on developing soul-ties with soul-mates, something all of us seems to receive for our eighteenth birthdays.
It’s different for every person, how you come to recognize your mate’s thoughts compared to your own. But I decide to follow the suggestions provided, just in case they work for me too.
The one I’m going with now involves telling stories which, at first sounds pretty dumb, but then makes sense. After all, when you’re going to sleep, you need to think of something anyway.
“Okay,” I mutter as I pull my blanket up under my chin. “Here goes.”
Feeling stupid, I begin to launch into detail about my day and what happened, listing all the things I did and even the things I didn’t do like brush my dog or vacumme the floor like my mum asked me to three months ago. I tell my mate about the quiz in class, about my fall over in the dirt and of course, my party at home with my family.
By the time I’m finished listing all I can think of, I feel the edges of darkness creeping in and my thoughts start to turn sluggish and mixed up. Rolling over and burying my face in the pillow, I know I’m not far from sleep so, before I let myself doze off, I send out,
“Please answer me.”
I kick the rock in front of my like it’s a ball, watching it skip over itself and roll under a tree. It’s a Friday afternoon, meaning I’m in no particular rush to get home. Seth runs along a head of me, backpack bouncing up and down on his shoulders as he chases a butterfly and making me smirk. Yet another thing to add to his 21st birthday speech.
Scanning the park, I spot the homeless man again ahead of me, leaning against a tree and scribbling away on a worn sketch pad. When he hears me approaching, he looks up.
I learnt his name a few months ago when he first showed up. I had seen him around before but on that day I found myself seated to him on the park bench and it was only polite to introduce himself.
Coby, he told me, was his name. He’s twenty years old with no family left after they abandoned him to look after his younger sister. The money ran out, he told me.
After that I’d say hello almost every time I saw him and he’d say hello back, barely a smile on his face. But who could blame him anyway. I’d murder my mum and dad if they abandoned me for Seth.
“Hey,” I wave and he nods courteously back.
I continue on my way and grab Seth before he jumps into a pond.
“I want to swim with the ducks,” he complains.
“Mum will kill me,” I pat him on the head. “And you. If you want to live, don’t be stupid.”
He growls at me, but I simply grab him by his shirt and pull him along behind me.
Later in the evening, I decide to read on the hammock, with a piece of leftover cake resting on the ground nearby along with a soft drink mum invented out of apple juice and sprite. By this time the sun is lowering in the sky so I know I won’t have all that long before I have to head inside. Knowing this, I quickly settle in and open on my current page, letting my eyes scan the page thoughtfully.
I snap awake instantly, jolted by the foreign feeling in my head, like an invasion of privacy. It’s dark out now, insects chirping in the background. The only light comes from the house where I can hear my mum talking to my dad. I want to ask them to help me, to explain the feeling, but I remember what the book said. I have to stay calm.
My dream was the usual, just walking around and touching things like dogs or trees or something. I had been making my way to the same fish pond Seth tried to swim in when I heard the voice, my voice it seemed, clear as day.
“Where are you?”
Fumbling now to hold onto this thread of uneasiness, I quickly lie back down, clutching the book to my chest and breathing deeply.
“Can you hear me?”
There’s a pause, a long lengthly pause that makes me jittery and then, a thought appears clear as day.
“I’m here. But I’m not sure if I’m talking to myself right now or not.”
I suck in a breath sharply, hoping that I’m not talking to myself right now like Angel originally did and became sure her mate was chilling in Fiji or something.
“I’ve been talking to you for three days now,” I send out. “Where have you been?”
There’s another pause that nearly throws me off with my own crazy thoughts and then my mate responds,
“If you do it at night, I can’t hear you. I fall asleep early and sleep deeply.”
I sit upwards, clutching my head in excitement.
“When do you wake up?”
Laughing out loud, I send a thought back.
“I mean what time, silly. I want to be able to talk to you.”
I realise now that the pauses are like messages sent. There’s a moment before the other receives and then the moment before the other sends. Grabbing my tea, I giggle in excitement and listen hard.
“To early for you. Here’s what, try 7am. Then I know you’re awake and you know I am. I’ll be able to listen to you easily since no one will be out to make noises.”
“Where are you?” I send back immediately. “Can you tell me?”
“You don’t want to know yet. Be patient.”
“I don’t want to be,” I say aloud before realising my mistake and thinking it. “I want to know who you are.”
“Not yet,” his response is quicker than usual. “We have forever.”
I want to argue with him, but at that moment, the backdoor flies open and I turn to see Seth poke his head out the door.
“Mum says tea is ready and you have to stop being antisocial.”
Standing up, I fumble for the plate, book and cup and try to catch onto the same thread I had before with my mate.
But it’s too late.
Sighing, I glance at my watch as I make my way inside, already wishing it was 7am.
Curiosity, it seems, is winning this fight.