20 days until Match Day
“This thing itches.” Kay scratched her arm where the disc had been administered with chewed finger nails.
“Don’t!” Dom reached over to smack his sister’s hand away from the incision. “You’ll make it worse.”
Kay reeled out of her twin’s reach, tucking her right arm into her side, fingers still grazing the skin, lighter this time. She flicked her long bangs out of her eyes as she continued her strides across the darkened park and through the tree line. Dom’s long legs made it easier for him to keep up with her hurried steps.
Kay almost didn’t hear her brother’s nervous questions as she batted tree branches out of their path, crunching on crisp fallen leaves as she went.
“Are they even here?” Dom’s voice had a slight quiver to it, despite the fact that they meet their friends here on a regular basis.
Her eyes grazed over Dom’s tall, skinny frame. Noting the way his brown eyes darted every which way and the slight tremor that haunted his fingers. Getting their discs in made them officially eligible for Match Day; a concept that had become a starling reality for the pair. Kay had put on a brave face for her brother as the nurse had shoved the needle carrying the deadly device into her arm, but deep down she was terrified of the fact that it could drop her dead in as soon as a month.
“Yeah, they’re here,” Kay said, pointing ahead to the soft glow of the bonfire and noting the figures gathered around it. “It’s just a quiet night.”
Out of their entire group, Kay and Dom were the first ones to get their discs for Match Day. Wanda was the next one up, but she wouldn’t be sixteen for a few more months. Sage and Mason still had a good eight months or so before their turn as well. Corey, being the youngest of all of them, had a full year.
Kay couldn’t help but be jealous of the newly fifteen year old. What she wouldn’t give for just one more day disc free.
It was completely silent as the twins came up to the fire pit. Their friends had looks of worry and fear written across their faces. Even the fire knew not to crackle too loud. Sage and Mason, who were usually throwing anything and everything into the fire while giggling wildly, were sitting on the ground, legs crossed, expressions blank. Kay had never seen the two boys so still in her entire life.
It was unsettling.
Wanda sat on one of their usual logs, her skinny elbow rested on her equally skinny knees, her head was hung low, her blonde curls falling in a cloud around her face. Her shoulders shuttered ever so slightly. After already losing both of her parents to Match day, Wanda had taken the news of the twin’s injections the hardest.
This was the beginning of the end for them, but Kay pushed that out of her head and asked the last thing that was on everyone’s minds.
Kay’s voice seemed to make everyone jump out of whatever trance they had been in. Sage and Mason scurried from their spots and wrapped their arms around Dom’s waste. Wanda zipped past the three boys to engulf Kay in a fierce hug. Kay hugged her back, startled at the group’s sudden reaction.
“Relax guys!” Kay pried Wanda’s arms from her neck, as Dom tried to do the same with the boys. Kay was about to say something smart about the fact that the injections weren’t a death sentence, but one look at Wanda’s face had her stomach tied in knots.
Her curly hair was tangled in a nest-like state, like she had tossed and turned all night. Her eyes were puffy and red; probably from crying. She wore an over sized sweatshirt that probably belonged to Dom at one point. She was drowning in the fabric.
Kay instead put a hand on her friends shoulder; squeezing slightly and giving her a meaningful look. There’s nothing we can do. She tried to say silently.
Wanda nodded back to her, laying Kay’s hand over hers and intertwining their fingers. She cast a sad look to Dom, who refused to meet her eyes.
The moment was somber and heavy, everything Kay wanted to avoid. Just as she was about to choke on black clouds above them, Corey came bursting through the bushes, throwing tree branches and leaves as he did so.
Everyone jumped at his high pitched shriek, at fifteen puberty still hadn’t caught up to him. His short body folded in half, hands resting on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. Long frizzy red hair getting caught in his mouth every time he heaved in. His eyes were screwed shut, face as red as a tomato. Kay was surprised with how out of breath he was. This kid didn’t weigh one hundred pounds soaking wet, so when he ran he was light as a feather. She very rarely saw him huffing and puffing.
“Jesus Corey!” Wanda snapped. Sage and Mason quickly removed themselves from Dom’s waist and raced over to Corey. Sage grabbed him by the shoulders, both boys whispering furiously to him. Corey quickly pushed them away, his breath now regained, he drew himself up to his full height of five foot nothing and took a deep breath.
“I found a way.”
Kay and Dom both gave him a sideways look.
“A way to what?” Dom asked cautiously.
Corey took another deep breath.
“A way out of Match Day.”
Fear and anger rose up in Kay’s throat. Anyone who talked of getting out of Match Day was always found and hauled away. That’s how the twin’s mother went. One day she was cursing the discs at coffee, the next day she was being dragged out of the house by two large policemen kicking and screaming. Kay remembers her mother’s disdain for Match Day very clearly. Population control my ass she would say, It’s another way for them to control us. But Kay knew the truth. It was population control. The country was out of resources, and had been for some time. Match Day was a way to fix that and maybe delay the starvation and hunger that would soon set in. If she had to die so someone’s kid could eat, then that was that. But one thing was for certain, she was not going to be hauled off like her mother was. She wasn’t going to put Dom or any of her friends through that again.
“Say that any louder and they’ll flay you, Corey.” Kay spat at him.
Corey balled up his fists and pursed his lips. This was a conversation they had over and over again, Corey was terrified of getting his disc. He had a million and one conspiracy theories and plans to get out of Match Day, which he got curtesy of the Mulholland siblings and their groupies.
“Callie has a way this time, she-“
“Callie had a way last time too didn’t she? Last I checked it got a guy killed and almost got you hauled off.” Kay stomped her way over to the fire pit, trying to gain some distance between her and the red head. She could hear Sage murmuring to Corey as they all followed.
“Just drop it man. She got her disc today.”
Corey ignored him, continuing after Kay with more anger than ever.
“Don’t you get it?!” He was yelling at her now. “You are going to die, Kay.” He whipped his skinny arm around his body, pointing a finger at her brother. “Dom is going to die. The discs will kill him.”
All color drained from Dom’s face. His eyes went wide with fear. He stretched out a trembling hand, which Wanda took eagerly.
“Don’t drag him into this Corey,” Kay stood up, her five foot six frame towering over the red head. “You’re beef is with me. Keep it that way.” She bumped his shoulder as she past him, making her way back to her brother’s side.
“Don’t listen to him Dominic.” Wanda soothed.
Kay laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah, don’t listen to him.”
First Match Day
No one died on their first Match Day. This was the mantra that Kay had been repeating to Dom and herself for the past month. Match day landed on the day corresponding with the month. It was currently October, which meant that Match Day landed on the 10th. It was a week day, so luckily Dom was distracted with school work, but that didn’t mean that anyone forgot what day it was.
As they walked into school, it was impossible not to notice the silence. Kay scanned the area, looking for kids with tears in their eyes or any sign that the match had already been chosen and it wasn’t Dom or Kay. But there were no tears, no screams of anguish; only silent kids waiting anxiously for a phone call to the office.
“See Dom,” Wanda said as they walked towards their first classes, “the matches almost always happen in the morning.”
Dom did not look comforted by her words. There was only so much school work that could be done in order to avoid thinking about the possibility of your death, so Dom had spent most of the night switching off between tossing in bed and researching for a history project. His hair was tangled beyond belief, usual silky curls frazzled into a mess on his head. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy from a combination of crying and sleep deprivation.
Having spent the better half of the night bringing her brother down from anxiety attacks, Kay was sure she didn’t look much better. Her long hair was frizzy beyond belief when she had looked in the mirror this morning, chucking it up in a bun was probably no help, but she did it anyways. Her skin had paled some throughout the night, maybe from the constant feeling of nausea in the pit of her stomach. She could barely keep her eyes open as Dom talked her ear off about his project, and when he finally fell asleep, she was too occupied with the possibility of him dropping dead the next day to get some sleep herself.
Even in her sleep deprived state, she knew she just needed to keep her brother calm for as long as possible.
“It was probably some old man that dropped at the crack of dawn.” She said, earning a grimace from Wanda.
Dom shrugged his shoulders, looking like he really wasn’t hearing what either one of them were saying to him.
They kept walking down the hall, their old shoes squeaking on the linoleum floors, and into their first class of the day. They took their usual seats; Dom in the third row, Kay right behind, and Wanda one row over.
As students filed in, each one of their looks lingered on the twins. They were of the first to get the discs in the class, so they were all curious. At least that’s what Wanda had said to keep Kay calm, but right now it wasn’t working.
“Nothing to see chumps.” Kay spat at the new wave of classmates that walked in. They quickly averted their gazes to the floor and settled in their seats. No need for them to suffer under the eyes of judgmental teenagers. She reached forward, placing a hand on her brothers’ shoulder, giving him an encouraging squeeze. He turned his head, eyes finding hers beneath his shaggy hair, letting her know that he heard her loud and clear.
Their teacher came in and they started their lesson for the day. She started by telling everyone the proper Match Day procedure if she or any of their teachers, faculty, or classmates were to be “lucky matches”, and then continued to tell everyone to put it out of their minds for now and focus on their work.
Kay kept her head down for the first thirty minutes. Math being one of her favorite subjects, she found it easy to lose herself in the numbers. She constantly caught Wanda turning her head over to Dom out of the corner of her eye, checking him over to make sure he was okay. Kay knew he was fine, but she snuck a few looks his way anyways. She didn’t notice anything but the slight tremor in his hands, but unfortunately, that was normal.
A little later into class and Kay knew there was something wrong. Call it ESP or a freaky twin thing, something was not right. Kay looked up and reached out to tap Dom’s shoulder with her pencil. Even the slightest touch made him jump slightly. He refused to turn her way. Kay noticed a slight tremble in his shoulders, and immediately was concerned.
She hopped out of her seat, kneeling down next to Dom, and saw what she never hoped to see.
He was sweating buckets. Small droplets falling from his nose and onto his schoolwork below. His hair was stuck to his face, obscuring his vision. His skin was paler than she had ever seen it before, making him look ghostly. His entire body was beginning to tremble. Kay placed her hand on his arm, panicking at how hot he felt.
She pivoted around to look at Wanda beside her. She looked exactly how Kay felt. Eyes wide with fear, eyebrows disappearing into her hairline, mouth stuck rounded in a small “o”. Kay stuck her arm out to smack her friend, silently telling her to get it together and help her. She wrapped her arms around her brother, guiding him up and out of his seat. Then she passed him over to Wanda, who had now gained the sense to stand up and help out. Each girl had one of his long arms draped over their shoulders and their own wrapped around his waist, quickly making their way out of the classroom and into the hallway. They carefully placed his long body on the floor, propping him up against the wall.
“He’s matched! He’s matched!” Wanda was frantic. Pulling at her hair and digging her fingernails into her skin.
“No way.” Kay said to her. “There’s no way! It’s our first day! They never match on their first day!” She was shouting now, and painfully aware of the fact that she was letting her brother see her freak out.
“You don’t get it Kay.” Wanda grabbed her shoulders, holding them tight. “This is how it happens. One minute you’re fine, the next you’re on the floor.”
Kay’s eyes went wide.
Her heart dropping into her stomach.
This was actually happening.
She dove to her brother, laying him down, cradling his head in her lap. She smoothed his hair off his face, running her fingers through his curls. She could only stare down at him in shock and wait for it to be over.
The sound of crying caught her ears. Her head snapped up, extremely confused as to who else would be crying. The twins didn’t really have many friends, and there was only one of them present to be upset at Dom getting matched. She peered past Wanda and down the hall. There was a group of people, part of the Mulholland group by the look of them, crowded in the hallway. Kay couldn’t pin point exactly who was there, but she wasn’t really worried about that. Her eyes were glued to the bottoms of two more pairs of shoes. Both laid out just like Dom was.
Wanda let out a cry, tearing Kay away from the scene down the hall and back to her brother in her arms. She was now frantically running her hands through his hair as Wanda clutched his hand in her own. His eye cracked open a fraction of an inch. He gasped for air, coughing up blood as he did so. Kay tried to soothe him as best a she knew how. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop the tears from pooling in her eyes.
“I love you.” She whispered it softly, wiping sweat from his brow with the sleeve of her jacket. Wanda was whimpering next to her. She couldn’t spare a look at her friend.
“I love you too.” His voice was softer than she had ever heard before. Dry and crackled from the lack of air. He squeezed his eyes tight, grimacing in some type of pain that Kay would give and arm and a leg to remove from his body. He opened his mouth and said it again and again until he gave one last shutter and the breath left his body.
Kay went rigid.
Her worst nightmare has come true.
Her best friend
Her entire world
Was now dead in her arms.
Her chest grew tight. She couldn’t breathe as hot tears streaked down her face and into his hair. She was only slightly aware of Wanda crying beside her. She wanted so badly to reach up and close his eyes for good, but she couldn’t bring herself to let go of him for one second. So instead she lowered her head to his until their foreheads were touching; just as she had done the night before to calm him.
She let out a low moan, allowing the sorrow to fill up her lungs and escape past her lips, and tried her best not to acknowledge that it was the last time she would hold him close.
Her best wasn’t good enough.