Hi-Five

Category: Paper Heart

Season 1:4 Spark

School offers little respite from the weekend’s events. Felix picks me up to walk over together. Astro barks to announce his arrival. I grab my things and organize them into my backpack.

“So when do you think you’ll hear from him?”

“I don’t know. It could be next week, it could be next year,” I say, “or never.”

“Oh come on, it won’t be never.”

Felix kicks a pebble down the sidewalk. We glance up at a bus moving past. The cool breeze whisks my hair in front of my face. Our tease of warm weather from a few days ago is over.

“Felix, why do you keep pressing me on this?”

Two months before my birthday he started slipping in questions about how I felt. At first it didn’t bother me, and it was probably good for me to start thinking on the subject. But it grew tiresome. Each day meant I had to endure another inquiry.

“Because you’re my friend, and it’s a big deal.”

“But it’s really not that big of a deal.”

“Yes it is, that’s your problem. You want to dismiss this as nothing, like get a turkey sandwich instead of ham for lunch, but it’s more than that. This sort of thing changes lives.”

“I guess. Maybe I’ll understand once I meet Jacob Baxter,” I say.

“Hopefully. I’m just looking out for you, is all,” he says.

Felix had been there for me in times a lot tougher, and weirder, than this. My parents have hit a few bumps in their marriage, nothing serious, but I have a hard time handling those sorts of situations. He always picks up the phone on the first ring, even in the middle of the night, and listens to anything I have to say.

“Thanks,” is all I say in return.

We have ten or so minutes to spare before classes start once we get to school. I can’t prove it, but I can tell everyone is looking at me. They all know I got my letter and a whole part of my life, which remains a mystery for most, has been unlocked. There’s this feeling of a gaze locked on my head.

“How’s it going Livia?” Glen asks. He’d been walking behind us. For how long, I don’t know.

“Fine. Just getting to class,” I say. He introduces himself to Felix.

“So Glen, you’re on the track team?” Felix asks and points to Glen’s shirt.

“Oh, this is my brother’s shirt. I’m on varsity soccer here.”

It’s strange, but I’m impressed. Before just now I didn’t know our school had a soccer team. My eyes dart between his smile and the outline of his chest against the shirt fabric.

“Alright. What position?”

“Striker.”

“Sorry, but I’ve got to get to class,” I say and wave goodbye. It looks like Glen has something else to say, but I turn and hurry down the hall.

The bell rings just after I sit down. Geometry at eight in the morning has never been pleasant. Our teacher is nice enough, but even she seems stuck in a fog at this hour. She drones about Pythagoras’s theorem and other properties of triangles. I hand in my homework at the end of class. We only have four minutes to move between periods.

By sixth period, I’m ready to go home. Felix and I only have two classes together. I don’t have any friends at school aside from him. There’s the girl I called once about social studies homework and the guy who always borrows a pencil for tests in Spanish. Those are the only people I talk to in my classes.

“I thought today would never end,” Felix says. We always meet by the big tree at the edge of the faculty parking lot before walking home.

“How many days until summer?”

“I think twenty two, maybe less,” he says, “but we’ve got all that graduation stuff.” I sigh and roll my eyes. I’m glad to be graduating, but it means sitting through a rehearsal and then the ceremony itself.

We walk home and talk about nonsense. He loves hearing about Astro. I could ask him about Glen, but why would I? He’s just some guy who I ran into the other day and might have heard about me from one of his friends. Probably the guy from Spanish class.

“Whose car is that?” Felix asks. There’s a dark blue sedan parked on the curb outside my house. I’d never seen it before.

“I’m not sure. Maybe someone for my parents,” I say.

“Huh. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says and waves goodbye.

I walk inside and set my bag down next to the door. Astro doesn’t greet me at the door.

“Mom? Dad?” I call out.

“In the living room,” my dad answers.

The two of them are sitting on the couch facing me, and across from them is someone who looks about my age.

“Someone showed up to see you today,” dad says. My heart skips a beat and I can feel my face getting hot.

He gets up from the chair and faces me.

“I’m Jake,” he says.

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Season 1:3 ‘Birthday Wish’

I open the envelope.  Letterhead from the National Bureau of Genetic Profiling peeks out of the rip.  My heart is racing and it feels like I’m not really living this moment; like I’m watching a video of myself.  I draw the paper out of the envelope.

The first few lines are full of congratulatory nonsense.  I’m match number two hundred and forty-six thousand this year.  There’s a sentence about how this match does not “limit me to any specific situation but guarantees the highest level of compatibility”.

“So, what’s his name?” mom asks.

“Jacob Scott Baxter from Chicago, Illinois,” I answer.

Saying his name feels weird.  I might repeat that name for the rest of my life.  Baxter could be my new last name.  I could fall in love with saying his name over and over.  He lives kind of far from here; we’re in a suburb outside Columbus.

“What do I do now?” I ask.

“Go look him up, get in contact with him.  Use the internet,” my mom says.  She sounds excited for me.  I can tell it’s bringing back memories of how she and dad met.

Astro follows me up the steps to my room.  I start out by entering his name in a search engine.  It doesn’t help much.  The letter lists his home address.  I grab a legal pad and my favorite pen to write him a message.

Finding the words to say to your soulmate for the first time is difficult.  I kind of want to tell him everything, to pour my heart out onto a page of yellow lined paper.  But I also don’t want to say too much.  Just because we were seemingly made for each other doesn’t mean we should settle.

My thoughts are driving me crazy.  I’m worrying about things I’ve never thought about before.  Crossing out words, ripping off pages, and tapping my pen against my temple.  What if he doesn’t write back?  What if he thinks I’m writing too much?

After three solid hours of freaking out and scribbling down words, I fold my final paper in half and seal it in an envelope.  It will sit in the mailbox on the corner until Monday.

Now I understand the whirlwind of emotions everyone describes in their stories online.  Being told one specific person is perfect for you though you’ve never met.  The inability to find any information about them.  Sending a letter out into the strange abyss of the rest of the world, hoping it will bring you one in return.

Felix calls me after I drop the letter off in the box.

“Happy birthday,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply.  My mind is only half paying attention to our conversation.

“So, how’s the day going?”

“Fine.”

“Did you open your letter yet?”

“Yeah,” I say.  The weather is nicer than it was yesterday.  Spring is transitioning into summer.  A few birds dip and flutter overhead before disappearing behind the roof.

“And?  Did you find anything about him?  Where does he live?”

“His name’s Jake Baxter, from Chicago,” I pause to look at the sky, “and I didn’t find anything else.”

“Bummer.  I guess you’ll just have to wait then.”

“Right.  How’s your Saturday?”

“Fine.  Just doing some homework then going out for dinner with my parents,” he says.

“Sounds good.”

“Well Liv, I’ve got to finish up here, just calling to see how it went.”

“See you Monday,” I say and hang up.

I walk out past my house towards the athletic fields.  The sun beats down on my neck and I’ll probably get a sunburn.  It just feels like the day isn’t really happening.  Tomorrow I’ll wake up and someone will tell me there’s no such person as Jacob Scott Baxter.

“Hey, you’re Livia, right?”

I hadn’t noticed, but someone had been jogging towards me on the sidewalk.  It’s not uncommon for runners to use our block as a path for exercise.

“Yeah, do I know you from school?”

Our school is pretty big, and I’m not one of the most social people in the neighborhood.

“Well, not exactly.  I mean, we’ve never met.  I’m Glen.”

He must be on one of the sports team at school based on his clothes and fitness.  Still, this is the first time I’ve noticed him.  We stare at each other and he gives a little laugh.

“What?” I ask.

“Nothing.  I guess this is weird for you.”

“A little.”

“I’ll go then,” he says and jogs off.  When he’s a few feet away he turns back and shouts, “Oh, and happy birthday.”

Next Chapter.

Season 1:2 ‘Legal Adult’

My letter arrives at nine that morning.  I’m one of the “lucky” ones to have my eighteenth birthday on a Saturday.  It’s delivered by a special courier in a dark khaki jumpsuit.  I expected something a little more futuristic; maybe a robot or an email.  The government always seems to prefer the old fashioned way, and the National Bureau of Genetic Profiling is no exception.  It sounds Orwellian, but it’s just a bunch of computer nerds and psychologists in an underused federal building.

Astro had woken me up earlier to go for a walk.  He pulled me through the hushed neighborhood down to the school.  I let him run through the football field and pee on one of the goalposts.  A dew laden fog hung in the early morning air.  He sniffed about with fervent ambition before bounding back to where I was sitting on the bleachers.

Mom made tea while we pined away the last anxious hour.  Chamomile helped to calm my nerves.  There was always a fresh pot waiting on the counter each weekend morning.  We chatted about school and the puppy.  Mom and I were close, but not on the level of sharing clothes and talking about boys.  She’s my mother, not a character in a late night sitcom.

Then the doorbell rang.  We stared at each other, neither one having had thought this moment would actually come.  Dad greeted the delivery man and signed for the envelope.  I watched from the kitchen.  He came over, kissed me on the head and wished me a happy birthday, then set the letter down in front of me.

Sitting and staring at the envelop reminds me of the story of Annabelle Augustine.  She had been preparing for this moment since she turned sixteen.  Annabelle registered her genetic profile as soon as she was allowed to, and filled out every questionnaire available.  The matching program works off of genetics, user responses, and census data.  There’s no exact documentation on how everything is weighted.  After rounds of testing and then the first national deployment, the Bureau has accepted a two percent margin of error in the program.

Annabelle spent countless hours dreaming about her match.  She hoped he was cute, like most girls do, but the tagline “Love for Everyone” always got her stomach to flip.  The government was promising, and delivering, a prince charming for every little girl.  Finding your soulmate has a way of smoothing over a lot of a person’s flaws.  Being second generation matches means our genetic profiles are closer to ideal than our parents’.

A week before the big day, Annabelle went out shopping.  A lot of girls buy a new dress or set of makeup.  Annabelle went out looking for the perfect gift for her match.  At first she found it difficult to decide on any one thing.  Then it dawned on her, she just had to buy what she would want if she were a guy.  I’m not sure if the logic in that approach really checks out.  She purchased a leather bracelet with a fishhook shaped clasp and a blank greeting card.  Annabelle published the contents of the card the night before her birthday.

I know we’ve never met, but it feels like you’ve been alongside me every step of my life.  Hopefully you like the gift and we can meet soon.  This is like the first step in the rest of our lives.  I’d like it if you kept walking alongside me, only now I’ll know you.  I’ll be able to reach out and take your hand.  If I stumble, you can help me back up, and I’ll do the same for you.  It sounds like a lot, but we’re meant to be together.

See you soon,

Annabelle

She stayed home from school on her birthday.  Annabelle waited alone in her apartment for a knock on her door.  Her dreams, though they didn’t come easily, were filled with glimpses of her soulmate.  What she pictured he would look like and what he might say.  Nine o’clock came.  She stood by the door and waited to hear the sound of footsteps in the stairwell.  Ten o’clock came.

At eleven o’clock there was a knock on her door.  She felt an immense sense of relief.  Maybe there had been a lot of matches in her area that morning.  A man wearing rounded glasses handed her an envelope before rushing down the steps and out of her building.  She watched him peel off the curb from the window.

Annabelle was the third person who had ever been rejected from the matching program.  The tagline was changed to “Love for Everyone*” after she made her story public.  Reading through it, especially the aftermath, was tough.  A few people called for the termination of the Bureau, but since then there hasn’t been another incident.

I know there’s a match inside my envelope.  Someone will read my name and address in their letter; maybe they already have.

“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” my mother asks.

 

Next Chapter.

Season 1:1 ‘Flutter’

Tomorrow is my eighteenth birthday.  Only one more day until I discover my soulmate.  It feels a little strange, but everyone’s life just seems to get better after that day.  Some people try and guess who theirs might be.  I haven’t given it much thought.

“Excited for tomorrow?” Felix asks.  He’s been one of my closest friends through high school.

“I guess.  Everyone tells me how big of an event this is, but I don’t know,” I say.

We take our time walking back from school.  The sun radiates a comfortable warmth on the first clear day in months.  A bus chugs past us.  Most kids live too far away to walk home, but Felix and I are only a couple of blocks down the road.

“Come on Liv, all the other girls practically explode the day before they find out.  They all call in sick so they can pick out an outfit to wear.”

“See, that never made sense to me.  I’m not meeting the guy tomorrow, just finding out who it is.”

“True.  But still, you’ve got to be a little excited.”  I shrug.

Our parents were the first generation in the matchmaking program.  On the whole it turned out pretty well.  The divorce rate is at five percent across the whole country.  Of course, everyone gets married at a younger age.  A lot younger.

“It just feel weird.  I don’t want to be one of those people who gets married three months from now.  Can we talk about something else?”  I look away from him.

“Fine,” he sighs, “how’s Astro?”

“Good, he’s still teething on our dining room chairs.  My mom has to keep a close eye on him.  But he’s so cute.”

“I wish my dad wasn’t allergic to dogs, and my mom actually liked them.”

We chat for a few minutes more before arriving at my house.

“Well, happy early birthday,” he says and gives me a hug.

“Thanks.”

Mom and dad are still at work.  Astro charges to greet me at the door.  He’s a white german shepherd puppy we got two weeks ago.  We hadn’t had a dog in eight years and my mom finally thought it was time to get another one.  I’m not sure why they decided on a puppy, but he’s too cute to think about it.  I scratch under his chin and he wags his tail.

I’ve heard so many stories about the letters people get.  For the past few months I scoured the internet for accounts of how these people’s lives turn out.  Deep down, I do care about the letter because it’s going to determine the rest of my life.  What most people don’t realize is how much the contents can shock them.  There’s a document on my computer of all the stories I find really interesting.  I get a weird sense of comfort out of reading them.

Colby Knox’s story is a pretty typical one.  I kept it just because it serves as a good baseline, and I liked his name.  He got the letter at nine o’clock on the morning of his eighteenth birthday.  Trudged downstairs from his bedroom in his sweatpants and flip-flops at the calls of his mother.  She was so excited for her son.

He sat at the kitchen table.  The spot normally occupied by his breakfast was filled with a thirteen by seven inch envelope.  Colby picked it up and opened it at his own pace, despite the excitement of his mother.  I’m not sure of the exact wording in a letter since it’s illegal to post one online, but the name and address of the match is in there somewhere.  He was paired with Alexis Belrose of New York.  You’d think a guy from north Georgia would have very little in common with someone from New York city.  They’ve been married for seven years.

Colby tracked Alexis down a few days after she got her letter.  Knowing who his soulmate was had given his life a new meaning.  Before, he was kind of a self-absorbed soccer star, but then he sort of had an epiphany.  Life shouldn’t be lived alone.  Everyone realizes at one point or another that having someone else, just having them, makes a lot of things better.

She got around to nicknaming him “Cheesy” and he told her he loved her every hour of every day.  Piecing together their sporadic blog and social media posts was like crafting the script of stereotypical teenage romance movie.  Everything about them was cute and mushy and perfect.  They even looked perfect together.  At one point I thought about how flawless their children must look.  His smile was adorable and her features were stunning.

They went to the same college and graduated with impressive grades.  Now they have a house in Maryland and two kids.  He heads a nonprofit in Washington and she’s at home for the time to take care of the family.  I suspect they’ll live happily ever after.

Astro and I sit on my bed and think.  My life could turn out “perfect” like Colby and Alexis.  One piece of paper spit out by a souped up algebra problem will determine the rest of my life.  Even if I meet my soulmate and hate him, even if I love him, even if we never meet, my life will be changed.  I recognize my match might be a girl, but it’s less likely.  For now, I wallow in my ignorance and hope for the best.

 

Next Chapter

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