Chapter 1 ; Matching

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"Seriously, T? It's nearly eighty degrees outside and you're wearing a long sleeved shirt?"

            I pulled the cuff down my arm more, giving my best friend a sheepish look. With my voice low enough for only him to hear, I mumbled, "I would rather not get the weird faces today, Brenton. I have places to be and don't want any questions about it."

            It was a normal thing for me, and one quite taboo as well. Being twenty-one and not finding my match was one of the most humiliating things ever. You get people with questioning eyes and those who can't hold in their curiosities, the people wondering what was wrong with you.

            'You haven't found your Match yet? How old are you?'

            'Unmatching is such a shame for a pretty girl like you.'

            'You still haven't met your Match? Are you even trying?'

I stared at my own Marking, the dark lettering that could stand out in a pitch black room to say the least. It read a single, full name: Jonah Alexander Ward. I tugged my sleeve down to cover it, feeling self-conscious as I always did.

This happened to everyone. During puberty, the beginnings of a name will appear on the forearm of every single person and slowly turn to black over the course of a year. That name signifies their soulmate and once they touch for the first time, the Marking turns a dull gray color. Due to this happening around the pre-teen age, every child would attend either an all-girl or boy school until the age of fifteen to prevent the risk of Pre-Matching, a special term for having the mark turn gray during the first year because that person had already met their match. Class and school sizes are kept small to prevent the risk even more for those couples paired with the same sex. Pre-Matching makes for awkward encounters and more often than not, separation at an early age.

At around seventeen every girl and boy takes a year off of school in search for their soulmate. With the technology and other advances we have, it is really common to find them during that period. They then return to their separate schools and finish off their education until they decide on where their future will take them.

Me? I haven't found my pair. At twenty-one years old, I was finally coming to terms with believing that I was Compromised—a faulty match, a soul mate that had a different name on his arm whose wasn't mine, or a person who just didn't exist. It's just so uncommon and frowned upon to not have found mine at my age. I was out of school, had a decent job, but no Match despite doing everything by the book.

I hid my Marking a lot, much to Brenton's annoyance. My wardrobe contained a variety of long-sleeved shirts and jackets, and very few that barely covered my shoulders. Concealing it was easier, but if you looked closely at someone and for a long enough time, you knew what stage they were at in the process: Pre, during, and post. All determine how we looked and acted much to my dismay. I hated not having my match and I hated being the odd one of everyone.

My emotions must've been showing on my face because a familiar hand wrapped around my clenched fist. I looked up at my best friend, Brenton, and I started to calm down. Even though we weren't Matched with each other, we were really close friends. He hadn't found his pair either: Dakota Kendall Carpenter. We met in our apartment complex after both of our friends left and bonded with their own equals. Since then, we've united ourselves and even though I know that we're not meant to be together, I wish his name was the one imprinted onto my arm.

Dating when not Matched was frowned upon in our society, but not overly so. It was like not doing your homework—Disliked, but not illegal. We mostly hid our Marks and no one even noticed if they just skimmed by us. Of course if they looked closely they wouldn't be able to see the glint in the eyes of those Matched, or how their bodies tend to work as one. We were together and friends for fun, not for anything else, and it was a nice distraction from my Match, Jonah.

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