Even as you could hear the unmistakeable grind of car engines and wheels carrying them down streets, the sounds of city life, and the water moving at a deceptively swift pace beneath you, you felt distant. Removed. Like a character crafted with good intentions but erased from the final draft. And yet, if this wasn't your story, then what was? How many more times would you ask yourself that question?
Your breath shuddered as you lowered yourself to the ground, leaning your back against the bridge's walls. Maybe it was telling that you would come here when you were especially upset. Hell, you didn't remember what you were upset for. You just were. It happened sometimes; to everyone, you tried to convince yourself sometimes, but it didn't. It happened to people like you, whose minds were ill and constantly against them. You in particular had the habit of letting your feelings build and build and build until you burst at your seams, and when that happened, you felt as though you could cry enough to fix southern California's drought issues. And then, when you could manage it, you would walk to the bridge.
It wasn't a very traveled place, and what travel it did get was mostly foot traffic. You traded a higher risk of a car accident with people walking near you and staring at you. It balanced, you supposed. You would listen and breathe, until eventually the water and the paradoxical distant-but-close sounds of traffic would calm you. This time, however, it wasn't the ambient noise soothing you. Not entirely, anyway. It was the writing that would periodically sprawl out over your inner arm, an itching sensation as it formed but cool once it was there. A distance-defying bond reaching out to you. Your soulmate.
You hadn't heard from Dan in years. This was your own doing; you had stopped answering, and eventually, he gave up. You could still feel him periodically, when he felt something strongly enough. He still felt you too, apparently. Great, then. How many times you must have made him feel shitty, and not just you. Fantastic.
But he had never said anything until tonight, for some reason.
Hey. This was the first word, just a solitary greeting. Cautionary. Wondering if you'd say anything back, unlike the last handful of years. You didn't, though your fingers lingered over your wrist, moving softly across the letters over and over again, marveling almost. It wasn't that you didn't want to - you were only taken aback, and frankly had no idea what to say at all. You were crying, and sniffling, and blowing your nose once every thirty seconds in your blubbering and shoving used kleenexes in the plastic bag beside you (you knew to come prepared, as cringe-inducing as it was).
You watched the single word fade and whimpered, lolling your head against the metal behind you as you pushed through the twinge of - what was that, hope? But bittersweet, like he desperately wanted your own handwriting to show up on his wrist too but knew better than to put all his bets there. The disappointment had always been what hurt the most, after he had talked to you, tried to coax anything back from you, and then went quiet. After this attempt faded, you thought maybe that was it, but the sensation tingled in your skin again and sharply directed your gaze back over to it.
I don't know if this is the right thing to do, but I feel like I have to try. I can still feel you, you know? I know you're still there, and you're so, so sad, so often. Please let me help you.
He had to have felt the pang of guilt that shot through you. How could he not, when he was clearly in tune with you, maybe even focused on you? If you failed to answer him now, you were afraid you'd lose him. And... Well, maybe years ago, that had been what you thought you wanted. Faced with it now, you really weren't sure.
"Oh, fuck," you choked out to yourself. A walking couple across the street glanced over at your comment, and you looked down sheepishly. He remembered your name. Sure, you remembered his, but Dan - he was beautiful. You imagined him as blue, swirls of brilliant cerulean with the particular light blue the sky could take on, the patch in between what remained of night and the encroaching glow of dawn. That was him, to you, when you imagined him. Shades of blue, bursts of proud excitement - and the proud was an important distinction; something about what he was doing in those moments, he was proud of, and even now you felt he deserved it - and light. He had always felt so much lighter than you perceived yourself and what his connection must have felt like, both in brightness and heaviness.
You needed to say something now. Anything. You could say something completely inane like "socks" and it would at least show that you acknowledged him. Your fingers trembled as they hovered over your skin, waiting for your brain to pick something and send the impulse on down.
The tears that welled up anew were from the hope you felt. He hadn't expected you to say anything, not really, but you did it. For the first time in what felt like a century, you reached back.
I'm sorry for making you sad too. You added, of the opinion that it was only the right thing to do. I didn't mean - and this was the furthest you got, when words started appearing faster than you could trace them.
No, no! Don't be. I'm fine. Don't worry about me - are you ok?
I didn't mean to. You finished the thought, grasping for a new one as your fingertips lingered over the writing again. It was only a subtle texture, only slightly raised, but it was something sensory. It was nice. You'd almost forgotten. I'm ok now. Sorry.
Don't worry. I don't mind. I just worry about you.
You sat there without a response longer than you wanted. The idea was difficult to wrap your head around. You had cut him off, refused to write back, did everything you could to force him to move on from the bonded, wrist-written, idealized version of you, yet there he was, and there was his writing, plain as day. You made the conscious decision to hurt him for his own good - yourself too - and he was still worried about you, when the sadness on your part got too strong.
I'm sorry. You probably don't want to talk, and I get that.
That one hurt. That one hurt a lot, and you made sure you said something this time. It was doubtful that he meant for it to sting, but that had been the reality you projected for so long. Of course he came to that conclusion. You traced your thoughts quickly: It's not that, I'm just having trouble finding words. Whether or not this would rekindle communication for more than this sudden turn of events, you had no idea, but for at least right now, you would not hurt him again.
I'll wait. I don't mind. It's not like I'm going anywhere.
He had added a smiling face at the end, and you smiled a little. The expression felt foreign, but it always did after you'd had a crying fit. What stood out about it this time was how real it was, even though it was only a small touch. All this time, and by the way Dan talked, how easily it seemed to come to him, it was like you'd never stopped. At the very least, not as long as you had.
Thank you. You wrote with a face of your own. The surprising conversation had calmed you down, you realized belatedly. Your eyes were a tad sore and your cheeks still slightly damp from the last of your tear tracks, but you felt better. Just a little bit. You grabbed your tissue bag and stood, hastily wiping any earthly debris off your backside as you straightened.
Hey, you're welcome. Thank you for indulging me. Are you feeling better? Do you want to keep talking?
If he wanted to know why he could feel your sadness so frequently, that was a conversation to be held - if ever - another time. Right now, he would have to be content with the calm after the storm. It was, at least, the happiest you'd been after a bridge moment in a long time. What you usually aimed for was to not really feel anything at all, just a calm smoothness. A reset, you liked to think. This time, you couldn't shake that tiny smile clinging to the corners of your lips, and your right hand just didn't want to stop touching your left arm. Dan, beautiful blue sunrise Dan, was still there for you.
You know what... I will try.
It was a step. You had stopped talking for your own reasons. All bad ones, probably most of them unhealthy and irrational, but seemingly valid reasons to you at the time. Some still seemed valid, like how you didn't deserve him. Deserving didn't seem to matter much with bond marks. Once it was there, then it was there and you were connected for life. Some speculated it was longer than that and the bond would reincarnate with its souls.
Although you had started walking after your reply (and threw away your waste into a nearby receptable), you stopped when all at once you were awash in a warm happiness that slowly rose all the way up from your feet to your face. How happy you'd just made him - you almost teared up again. That unflinching smile even showed teeth for a moment as you laughed softly at the very big smiley face that appeared on your arm.
I'm sorry. If I get into it now I'd have your whole arm covered, and I don't want to make myself sad again. And I can't promise I won't still suck at communicating, but I know I hurt you when I shut you out, and you're still here anyway, and I don't deserve it and
Hey, hey! Slow down. Breathe. You don't need to explain yourself right now. I'm not expecting that at all. Or anything. The interruption was a welcome one, and it prompted you into doing just what it said: breathe. You nodded, realizing a moment later how silly that was. He couldn't see you nod, only see what you wrote and sense what you felt.
Ok. You managed this at least, not wanting to ignore him too long while you were now on the move. Responsibly crossing the street involved looking at your surroundings instead of your arm, always a good rule of thumb. The peaceful evening, sky slowly melting further into the dark, deep blue, and street sounds lulled you further into your sense of calm, and you clung to that. It subdued your depression and self-criticisms further than the crying and Dan had, though only building on that success, and they would stay that way for a little time. More time if life was kind and didn't see fit to attack you tomorrow. Tomorrow - would Dan still want to talk to you then? Would you be able to without feeling abominably guilty? Those were ideas you pushed hard out of your mind.
There were other issues that would float to mind as well, if the talking continued. Things that inhibited you before. Things that still did. The awareness of them was always there, subconsciously or are the forefront of your mind. Right now it was subconscious, manifesting in subtly tugging your shorts up a little bit higher from where they'd started to slide down around your rounded stomach, and as long as the stretch of sidewalk you traversed was empty, you could tug down the fabric on your inner thigh riding up with every step.
Although Dan's writing would appear on your left arm, this was not where your mark was. The mark of a your bond was, in a sense, a tattoo without the inking process. It appeared naturally, and the time it took varied greatly. You had friends who had received theirs in their early teens. You didn't receive yours until you were 18, although Dan had apparently had his for some years before yours appeared and sealed the connection - which, now that you remembered, made you feel even shittier about your choice to ignore him. He'd spent years with a mark that didn't resonate with any other soul yet, only for you to abruptly cut off contact a few years into your bonding - but maybe you could still fix that. You held onto that thought, refusing to drag yourself down again so quickly. You'd told him that you were ok, and you were going to stay that way. Now aware that Dan paid attention to what he felt from you, the last thing you wanted was to fall apart again so quickly. You wanted to show him you were at least trying. This was already a bit of an improvement, really, the whole trying thing.
What made you think of your mark at all was the sudden pain, just under your right shoulder where the words "It's you" curved in the handwriting you'd come to know so well. These would be - if you ever allowed the two of you to meet - Dan's first words directly spoken to you, or so the stories of bond marks said. You had asked Dan before what your words would be, and he told you "oh my gosh." Quite a charismatic one, you were. The fact that the discomfort, not unlike a burning sensation, occured around your mark made you anxious. This had never happened before. What was wrong? You reached out, feeling for Dan. It seemed to come so easily to him; maybe you just needed to work at it, since you'd been fighting it for so long. Eventually you were certain enough that he felt the same confusion, and it did little to help you feel any better.
You continued walking, but the pain didn't let up, in fact intensifying the further you went. Was this at all normal in soulmates that had gone ages without proper conversation and usual bonded behavior? Maybe it was; you hoped it was, that maybe this was simply something reawakening inside of you both. Or maybe not. Maybe the best thing you could do was to get home and put some ice on that shoulder, whatever it was up to, and so you walked faster - and the faster you walked, the quicker your heart beat, harder, throwing itself against your chest, the more confused and alert and, bizarrely (to you) vibrant your emotions became, the more your bond mark practically sizzled hot into your skin and somehow at the same time felt like a sharp icicle stabbing through your shoulder. None of this made sense.
Are you getting any of this too? I'm a little scared. You haphazardly scribbled it across your skin. What you wanted was reassurance, though you weren't so sure that knowing if Dan was experiencing the same symptoms would really provide it. My mark HURTS.
For a moment, you wondered if this was revenge against you, but everything you had ever known about Dan overwhelmingly rejected that idea. Dan was not a vengeful person, no matter how much you personally did not believe you deserved a soulmate like him.
You were almost jogging down the sidewalk now, desperately rubbing your shoulder for any semblance of relief whatsoever. So strong was your focus on just getting home (and on your arm for any words, and you would've been a liar to leave that out) that you hardly noticed the man you passed - and he, writing on his arm but briefly looking up to make sure he wasn't about to knock into anyone, hardly noticed you either - both of you rounding a corner in opposite directions.
You didn't even notice the itch across your arm of a new message. With your nerves so compromised, it would just have to wait. Never mind your focus, even: for whatever reason, the pain skyrocketed into its most intense suddenly, and you began to seriously fear for your heart at the rate it was going. You couldn't catch your breath and stopped moving, and you didn't even care that you let out an audible cry of distress.
What you did care about, in an instant, was how you weren't the only one.
Slowly, absolutely frightened by the idea, you turned and looked for the man you had passed. He couldn't be - but he could, and if he was... You really had no idea how to finish the thought. Meeting Dan had been something you had never deemed possible, not until you "felt better about yourself," an excuse you'd been using for anything romantic for most of your grown life and had yet to improve on. You had never agreed when he'd offered online contact information or to send you any pictures, because you refused to send him one of you - refused to reveal the truth to him that his soulmate was, and maybe always would be, a fat girl - and you didn't think it was fair, one-sided. This wasn't terribly far from what you had always imagined, and that only served to throw you off even more.
When you looked at him, the world felt blue.
And you knew.
"Oh my gosh," you breathed out, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape as you stared. That hair - you desperately wanted to touch it and sink your fingers into it, pull on it a little during a kiss. You shook your head slightly, closing your mouth and looking down, composure the goal but not really happening. That scruff, too - holy hell. You noticed him quickly closing the gap between you and you looked up, slightly panicked, ready to step back but not making it there before his hands were over your shoulders, and his eyes were so full and rich and just looking at you, looking like you were the most wondrous thing he'd ever seen. You felt yourself blushing scarlet and looked off to the side.
"It's you," he said, in a voice laced for now with so much gentle sincerity and marveling you could have cried. Again. No one had ever spoken to you, looked at you, in either of these ways. Your mark had stopped hurting from the moment you made eye contact, something you hadn't realized until now. The pain had replaced itself with a pleasant warmth, and while your heart was still about to burst out of your chest, it wasn't from a frantic beat but from how much it had swelled up with joy. Dan's joy.
Life had always been one to trip you up when you least expected it (or even when you did, never one to disappoint), and this certainly topped them all.