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What's Wrong With a Little Bit of Paint?

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Virgil learns about his soulmates when he’s six, a year after his dad left.

He wakes up in the middle of the night, feeling weird, his hand tingling. Looking down, he finds a blue heart drawn on the back of his hand.

Tilting his head slightly, he stares at the lopsided heart in confusion. He knows for a fact that he didn’t draw that, his mom took away all of his markers the day before when he had drawn all over his arms and face.

Jumping off the bed and wrapping his dark green blanket around his shoulders, he grabs his flashlight off the bedside table. He takes a deep breath and runs through the dark hallway and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

He quickly turns the bathroom light on and checks behind the shower curtain for monsters, luckily finding none. He turns the sink on and goes to get the bar of soap but he notices something strange and pauses. Right next to the heart is a bright red flower, drawn with eight uneven petals.

That wasn’t there a second ago, he knows it wasn’t. He would’ve seen it.

He stands there for a long time, just staring at the two drawings, confused and wondering where they came from.

Until he literally watches a neat little black star appear on his skin, the word hello following shortly after.

There’s a burst of fear in his chest and he drops the flashlight, it clatters loudly against the ground but Virgil ignores it. He turns and rushes back into the hallway and towards his mom’s room. With a shaky hand, he quickly knocks twice before letting himself in. Hopefully, she won’t be too mad.


An annoyed groan comes from under the piles of blankets and a head pops out. “What is it, Virge?” She says, voice low.

“There’s something wrong with me! My skin is talking to me!” He says and she shoots upwards, reaching for him and roughly grabbing his arm in a death grip.

“Let me see.” She examines the drawings for a minute before her face twists and Virgil realizes he’s done something wrong.

“You know I only want what’s best for you, right baby?” She asks and he quickly nods. “All right so you need to listen to me. These drawings are very very bad. People will try and tell you that they're not but they’re lying. These drawings are being made by a person who will only ever hurt you so it’s incredibly important that you never write back, okay?”

He gives her a shaky nod but it doesn’t seem to appease her and her grip tightens causing him to let out a cry.

“Promise me, baby, promise me you will never ever write on your skin.”

“I promise, mommy.” He says, tears streaming down his cheeks. Her face softens and she gently pulls him up onto the bed and into a hug. “That’s good, you’re such a good boy.” She says, kissing the top of his forehead.

She lets go of him and he slinks off the bed. “Hand me my medicine.” She says and he quickly grabs the old shoe box, giving it to her before he closes his eyes, not wanting to watch the needle. He hates needles, they make him want to throw up.

When he opens his eyes, she’s kicking the box under the bed and taking his hand in hers. She lets him sleep in her bed that night but he doesn’t sleep and he’s not sure if she does either. She just seems to lay there, staring up at the ceiling.

The next day she throws out all his shorts and short-sleeved shirts. She tells him, “From now on, you need to hide as much skin as possible, you can’t let anyone else know about the drawings. And you’re not to look at them. You have to ignore the drawings.” He promises that he will and helps her finish throwing away the rest of his clothes. He watches as she throws a red t-shirt with a blue dinosaur into the garbage. That was his favorite shirt.



There’s a party in class today and he’s not sure what it's for. He wants to ask the teacher about it but he just can’t seem to do that so instead, he hides in a corner, choosing to just watch instead.

He finds out that he didn’t need to ask anyway when Mr. Anderson calls for the students to sit down on the rug where he reads stories to them. Not wanting to get in trouble, Virgil reluctantly makes his way over, careful to stay as far away from the other kids as he can.

“All right everybody, raise your hands if you know what a soulmate is.” Nearly all of the other kids raise their hands and Virgil suddenly feels incredibly stupid. Is he supposed to know? Did he forget? He only remembers learning their weekly spelling words.

“Okay Emmy, would you like to tell us about soulmates?” He asks and the small girl dressed head to toe in pink excitedly jumps to her feet, enthusiastically nodding her head.

“Daddy says soulmates are your true loves, that they’re your other half. He says that I’m gonna marry mine when I grow up!”

“Very good,” Mr. Anderson says and Emmy sits back down. “Now raise your hand if you’ve ever found drawing or words on your skin.” Every student but Virgil raises his hand. Mom said he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. He doesn't want to upset mom.

Virgil doesn’t like the way Mr. Anderson pauses to look at him. “Okay good, that’s your soulmate. You see whatever you draw on your skin will appear on your soulmate’s skin and whatever they draw will appear on you.” Oh, so his soulmate is the bad person mommy warned him about?

Mr. Anderson keeps talking but Virgil isn’t listening, mom said that people would only lie about it and that he couldn’t trust them so he stops paying attention.

When he gets home that day his curiosity gets the better of him and he asks his mom. “Why are soulmates so bad?”

He immediately regrets it as her face shifts to rage and she grabs his shoulders, shaking him as she screams in his face. “Soulmates will only ever bring you pain!” He gets a beating that night, he does any time he brings up soulmates.

He hears about people who don’t have soulmates so when the kids in his class ask him about his soulmate, he lies and tells them he doesn’t have one. Everyone in his class makes fun of him for it, calling him a soulless freak but he doesn’t mind, they already didn’t like him.

Mr. Anderson requests a meeting with his mom to tell her about the bullying. She smiles throughout the entire meeting. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her smile as much as she did when Mr. Anderson tells her Virgil doesn’t have a soulmate. Of course, she knows that Virgil is lying but she seems proud of it.

Which confuses Virgil since she always tells him that lying is wrong but it must be okay if it makes her so happy.

And he gets pizza and ice cream that night so it’s gotta be good.



He has his very first panic attack when he realizes that there’s three of them. It’s once again late at night and he’s watching them have a conversation in the dim light of his nightlight even though he knows he shouldn't. The one using light blue pen is talking about the story his mama read him that night.

Red sparkly marker speedily appears in messy barely readable handwriting. I love that story! And Virgil can feel the excitement through the words.

He’s never heard of anyone having more than one soulmate before. This has got to be bad, really really bad.

He’s squeezing his purple stuffed tiger against his chest, tears forcing their way out and onto his face, seeming to fall everywhere. Onto his tiger and onto the blurred writing of his soulmates which only makes him cry more. He can’t stop. He sits there in pain, sobbing and gasping desperately for air for what feels like hours.

And then its over and he can finally breathe.

His head and stomach hurts, eyes stinging painfully and he’s so thirsty but at least he can breathe.

He doesn’t tell his mom about that night. He doesn’t want her to know that there’s more of them. He’s terrified of her finding out. She already got so mad when he only had one. Now she’ll probably hate him. Maybe she’ll even leave like dad did. He doesn’t want that to happen.

Having one soulmate was bad enough but what does it say about him that he has three? Maybe the kids at school are right and he’s a freak. Maybe there’s something wrong with him. It always seems to be him. He’s why mom is always so sad.

Mom always hurts him when she catches him looking at the marks and it makes her so upset. He hates upsetting her. He wishes that she could just be happy but he’s always ruining it.

So after a while, he stops looking at his soulmate’s messages altogether. He even showers in the dark to avoid them. He always has his arms and legs covered and he carries around a scarf in case the marks appear in anywhere inconvenient.

It gets easier to ignore the tingling feeling, in fact, when he can’t see the drawings or words he can pretend that they’re just not there and neither are his soulmates.



At age ten, he discovers his love for drawing and it makes everything so much easier. He can just focus on the paper and shut out everything else out. It’s surprising but it actually makes him happy, makes everything better.

But then his mom dies.

He’s eleven

He finds her in her bed, puke on the floor next to the bed, staining the beige carpet. He calls for her over and over again but she doesn’t react, she doesn’t move, she doesn’t even scream at him to shut up.

There’s something wrong. He can tell, he can feel it in the air and in his stomach. It makes him want to throw up just like mom did. He should really clean that up but later.

He carefully gets up onto the bed and shakes her as gently as he can.

She feels cold.

He doesn’t think she’s supposed to feel this cold.

There’s a needle still in her arm.

He starts screaming for her to wake up but she doesn’t. He’s crying now but he can’t feel it. He’s not even sure why he’s crying. Yes, he does but he can’t seem to believe it. He thinks he might be dreaming. He grabs the landline she keeps on her bedside table and quickly dials nine one one.

By the time a woman answers the phone, he’s full on sobbing and he can’t stop. She’s trying to calm him down but it’s becoming harder and harder to breathe and he just keeps begging the woman to help.

She stays on the phone with him until he hears the sirens and he drops the phone, leaving his mom all alone even though he knows she hates being alone (Sorry. SoRRY. SORRY.) to go and open the door. Two men rush through the front door and he wordlessly points at his mom’s room.

He watches them go inside but he doesn’t follow.

Things get blurry from then on. He vaguely remembers one of the men talking to him but the next thing he knows he’s sitting in the back of a police car. The officer driving occasionally sending him worried glances through the mirror.

He’s sent to a foster home and everything gets so much worse. His mom loved him and only wanted what was best for him but these people seem to hate him. They’re always screaming and hitting him. He spends most of his time with them hiding under his bed, covering his ears and trying to pretend that none of it’s happening, that he’ll open his eyes and he’ll be home and mom will be right there, maybe she'll read him a bedtime story even though they both know he's getting too old for it.

He stays with them for two months until he’s sent away and shipped off to another foster home.

He spends the rest of his adolescence bouncing from foster home to foster home. Some of them aren’t bad but most of them fucking suck. It seems like he always gets stuck with the foster parents with severe anger issues that they love to work through by beating him.

He rarely talks to anyone unless he has to and even then they only ever get one-word replies. He hides from everyone, refusing to talk to anybody at school, acting almost like he’s the only kid at school. He gets a job at at Wendy’s and he fucking hates it but doesn’t complain since he desperately needs the cash.

He’s fucking miserable and all he has is his art. It saves him and protects him, helps him get out of his head and go somewhere else, somewhere better. Without his art, he knows he’d be long gone by now, probably dead in a ditch somewhere. Whenever he isn’t working or doing schoolwork, he’s drawing and it makes life almost bearable.

And it takes far too fucking long but eventually, he turns eighteen and he gets the hell outta there. He moves to a town called Bell Tier, gets a job at the local library cause he swears that he's never doing fast food ever again, and he enrolls in Sanders University. He rents out a shitty cheap ass apartment where the water is always cold and the stove doesn’t even work but it's his and no one else’s.

And he's free.

He’s finally free, free to live the life he wants where he can just stay the fuck away from everybody, they can all just leave him be.

Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for him, that isn’t how things go.