According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with
four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power,
Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend
their lives in search of their other halves.
– Plato, Symposium
1. Your Glow Colour is Revealed in
Two Glows shone bright, and the two embraced ten feet away, crying into each other's shoulders; they'd been waiting for this moment their whole lives. But Dylan Matthews rolled his eyes, flipped them off under his desk, and looked back at his horror novel instead of his work.
Polite applause followed a moment after, and Dylan succumbed to an involuntary rush of anxiety in his chest, his green Glow peaking out through the neckline of his shirts. He glanced out the windows twenty feet away from his cubicle and groaned.
The curtain of rain slapped the floor-to-ceiling glass panes. It distorted the view of heavy traffic right under them, yet the neon signs of the restaurants and shops across the street glowed brightly against the dismal scene.
"Matthews," came a voice. His eyes heavy, Dylan turned his head and glanced through his bangs up at the broad-shouldered Jacob Stevenson. "You awake?" he asked. Stevenson didn't wait for a response. Dylan's supervisor dropped the three binders of someone else's work on his desk. "You've been promoted." His tone was flat.
"What?" Dylan said, eyes growing heavy, withholding a yawn.
"You're now on the 'Tully Tiles' campaign."
Dylan picked up a binder and looked it over. "Wait. I thought Atchison was web-designing it."
Stevenson's eyes dropped. "She's on…sick leave," he said. His eyes returned to Dylan. "You've been here about a year, and you're still unable to keep up with deadlines. Don't fuck this up." He began moving off before turning back to Dylan; he pointed his finger and glared. "And I don't want you here past nine anymore. You have a home. Go to it." Stevenson stepped back from the edge of Dylan's cubicle and headed towards his office.
Dylan swallowed, his jaw tensing as he brushed his charcoal-coloured hair back up and over his forehead. He sighed, a burning pain behind his eyes.
And he succumbed to another involuntary rush of anxiety through his chest, this one pounding. His heart hurt, and his lungs froze for a moment. Dylan whimpered for a moment, and when it finally passed, he sat back in his chair, breath heavy.
He cursed his life through his teeth.
By ten o'clock that morning, the team in charge of the 'Tully Tiles' campaign gathered in one of the monotonous windowless conference room to go over their notes.
Somewhere in the alley, a car's horn bled through the cinderblock walls of the building.
Dylan opened the door with his foot and kicked it open, the three binders and his laptop tucked under his arms. Inhaling the stale air, he stepped in and pressed the door closed with his back.
"Dylan?" accountant Chris Walton asked, walking towards the struggling man. They had already been informed of Atchison's departure.
"I can do it," he hissed, but Chris grabbed his laptop and two binders from him. Dylan groaned and sat down across from him.
Amber Lawson, the only woman in the room, smiled and whispered, "Hi, Dylan," before looking back at her work.
"God, your eyes," Chris noticed, leaning forward over his financial analysis papers. "When was the last time you slept?" The only response Dylan gave was a glare. Chris had asked one too many times about the deep-coloured rings that hung under his brown eyes. Chris's hands wandered across the table towards Dylan's outstretched fingers. "Are you okay?" Chris asked.
Dylan opened his mouth to retort, but another wave of anxiety washed through his chest, this one forcing the air from his lungs. "I'm fine."
"Those bags say otherwise," said artistic designer Bryce Houghton, a toothy grin spreading across his face.
Another wave stopped him from immediately responding, this one like someone taking a sledgehammer to his chest; Dylan growled. "I'm sorry, is my insomnia funny to you?" he asked.
Bryce's grin shrank and he recoiled.
"He was only teasing," Chris whispered.
Dylan threw open one of the binders and sat down at the table. "Just tell me where you are so I can catch up." It was only when he began reading the binder's contents, flipping through the entirety of the first binder, when he said, "This is all worthless to me." Pushing it to the middle of the table, Dylan opened his laptop and began typing, his fingers aggressive against the keyboard. The table shook.
The well-deserved break in the centre of the day brought Dylan, Chris, and Amber together in the Break Room on the third floor – a quiet, windowless room with muted colours, a faded carpet, scattered tables with metal and plastic chairs, and three vending machines – one floor down from their cubicles.
"We get to work together again," Amber hummed, taking out her sandwich. "It's been...what, half a year since 'Charlemagne'?"
Dylan cracked a smile. "I can never live that down," he said. He waved the slightly soggy sandwich he made that morning in her face. "Don't remind me."
"You never did like the colour pink before," Chris said, snorting.
"God," Dylan breathed, shuddering. "Don't remind me." He took a bite of his sandwich, his skin shivering in disgust. And then was immediately followed by a wave of anxiety. "Fuck, I hate my Glow."
Amber put down her sandwich and reached across the table. "You're still wearing those?" Dylan leaned out of her reach. She sat back and sighed. "Dylan – "
"I don't want it to matter for me at this point," Dylan said. Glancing down, feeling another tinge of anxiety in his chest, he tugged on his shirt collar, lifting both his button-down and his Glow-Inhibitor undershirt and revealing a soft forest-green Glow emanating from his chest, up his neck, and towards his chin; he sighed exhaustedly and the shirt collars snapping back into place, continued eating. "A Potential Soulmate's nearby."
Chris glanced around the room, eyeing three other people from different departments. "Where?" he asked.
"Does it matter?" Dylan snapped.
But the remainder of Dylan's retort stopped when he heard his three favourite words mentioned in whispers – "defective, False Alarm" – at a table close by. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. 'I should be used to it by now,' Dylan thought, except he never knew when this would actually be true.
Amber sighed. "They know you're right here," she whispered, side-eyeing them as she opened her pop, the carbonation hissing. "That's just rude."
Dylan shook his head. 'It's just the world we live in.' But he stood up and turned, walking over to the table and pressing his hands firmly on the table. "If you shits have anything to say about me, say it to my goddamn face."
One looked away in embarrassment while another watched him warily. "I just – "
"I was wondering what it's like." There was this earnestness in their voice.
'To be broken.'
And Dylan roared into a fury.
"Woah," came a voice, a hand falling on Dylan's shoulder. He turned and caught Bryce Houghton's brown eyes staring at him. "You look ready to snap." Bryce moved forward and stood as a barrier between the infuriated Dylan, whose nostrils flared in frustration, and the two confused and possibly frightened coworkers. "You okay?" he asked, hand still on his shoulder.
Dylan shied away from Bryce's touch and turned, ready to return to his lunch. Another wave of anxiety washed through him, this one threatening to pump his stomach of his meal. But then he smiled and asked, "You know what it feels like?"
"Disingenuous." Dylan pointed to Bryce. "Like dating him and wondering when he's going to commit."
Amber choked on her water.
Chris laughed. Then began coughing to cover up his amusement.
Bryce exhaled, aghast. "What're you saying?"
"What, you want me to spell it out for you?" asked Dylan, crossing his arms.
"Oh no," Chris muttered, his eyes dropping. "He's using that tone."
"Bryce," said Amber, hoping to diffuse the tension. "How was your date last night with Lauren?"
His features softened, and Bryce sat down at the table. "No Glow," he said, a soft gold light beating faintly through his shirt for a moment. "She's nice." He paused. "It isn't serious, though."
"I knew you and Lauren would hit it off," Amber chimed in, beaming at her odd accomplishment. "Wait, what do you mean, 'it isn't serious'?"
Dylan sighed and finally returned to the table. "What do you think?" he muttered.
"Who're you going with tonight?" asked Chris, as he dug his fork into his cold pasta.
Bryce appeared too preoccupied thinking of the date tonight that he didn't see Amber's dumbfounded reaction; Dylan was amused by the woman's face. "I, forget her name. But she works in a bookshop, I know that," Bryce said, opening his sandwich bag. "Oh! Saturday, I'm going to the seaside with Carly."
Amber rolled up her plastic lunch bag and whacked him on the side of the arm, causing the bag to bow in the middle. "You said you were hoping for the Glow with my friend Lauren."
"No, I didn't." Bryce began to explain himself.
Except Dylan took no interest in his explanation; he knew what he needed to know. To a certain degree, Dylan did respect the artistic designer, but it was Bryce's nonchalance to dating that bothered him immensely. In the one and a half years that Dylan had known him, he'd witnessed more dates than most people have limbs, and for this reason, Dylan did not pity him.
"…but, uh, yeah. I'm not against getting the Glow with her, either," came the end of Bryce's explanation.
Chris looked appalled.
Amber's sighed loudly. "No, no," Amber told him like she was scolding a child. "Those are the wrong reasons. I set you and her up together because you'd be good together. Complimentary and shit." Bryce began to elaborate on his reasoning, but Amber shushed him. "Those are the wrong reasons," she repeated.
Bryce, his eyebrows pulled up in concern, eyed his coworkers. "I'm not tying myself down because I don't know she's my Soulmate. When I meet them, I'll settle." Dylan laughed. Loud and openly. "What?"
"That's just rich, coming from you," said Dylan. "'When I meet them, I'll settle.' That's bullshit and you know it."
The artistic designer's skin prickled in agitation. "It's better than being alone forever."
And the weight of the room dropped faster than a falling elevator. Everyone's breath struggled.
"…w…what?" asked Chris.
Bryce's eyes darted at the other people at the table, jaw tensed, and began to speak, "Wait, no. No, no, no, no, no. I, I didn't mean it to – "
"No," Dylan butted in, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the tabletop. "How have we not had this discussion before?" he asked, gritting his teeth together. He swallowed, feeling another anxious wave wash through his chest. "You want to talk Soulmates?"
Bryce sighed, ruffling his brown hair in frustration. "Dylan, I…I-I didn't mean it like that."
"Like what?" Dylan asked, shrugging despite the flames in his eyes. "Finish the thought, Houghton."
"I didn't mean it…like something mean," he insisted.
Dylan pulled on his collars, once again revealing the soft Glow that shone up his neck. It snapped back in place when he let go. "What, did you think my Glow is, just, nonexistent?"
Bryce sighed again. "Dylan, I–I didn't mean that – "
"Because I'm sure that your chest is just glowing all the time with Soulmates."
"Dylan, just listen – "
Instead, Dylan angrily stuffed the rest of his sad excuse for a sandwich into his mouth and threw out what remained of his lunch in the bin. "Piss off," he spat, crumbs flying out of his mouth as he retreated to his cubicle to do work. His middle finger rose as Dylan left the room.
Amber exhaled and put her face in her hands. "We talked about this, Bryce. We literally talked about this yesterday when Stevenson said he'd be replacing Atchison."
Bryce ruffled his hair and sat back down at the table. It was here when he finally asked, "What the hell was that?"
Amber sighed, rolling her eyes. "We told you. Dylan was an early bloomer."
Bryce nodded in understanding before his eyebrows came close together in concentration. "So why is he so…touchy?"
"Wouldn't you feel touchy if you were seen as a defect?" asked Chris, his voice low.
"Dylan's just tired of his Glow. He's a 'False Alarm'er," she said.
Bryce drew in air slowly through his teeth. A "False Alarm" Glow was a genetic abnormality, wherein someone's Glow repeatedly goes off regardless if the person is a Soulmate in any capacity. And Dylan was among the incredibly small percentage that was affected by it – based on the worldwide population, the percentage with "False Alarm" Glows was about 2%.
"That…sucks," Bryce whispered, looking down at his lunch. "I mean, I feel bad for him, sure, but…" He threw up his hands. "…what can you do?" Chris's jaw tensed before he stood up and left, leaving behind his lunch and his appetite. Bryce's eyebrows rose before he added, "Apparently, I'm offending everyone today."
"You should've have said..." Amber never finished the thought, rubbing a crisp between her fingers. She swallowed before standing, packing her lunch away before finishing, albeit under her breath, "That could've gone better."
Bryce watched his project partner depart the room, leaving him alone in the windowless room to finish eating. He took two bites before running his fingers through his hair, his mind playing the words through his head, taunting him with his mistake. Tidying up the table, Bryce resigned to his cubicle for the remainder of the day.
In the comfort of his desk, Dylan ran his fingers over the keyboard of his laptop in lieu of working, believing that he had done enough already for the day.
Dylan's cubicle had been poorly decorated, not showing his personality while also showing it at the same time. It was bare of posters or pictures that were common in the cubicles around him, the only exception being a small, old picture of his family, parents and all. Yet even that was obstructed by his pencil and pen receptacle. He had a fake plant that he sprayed with a lemon cleaner if only to add a little colour and to add a pleasant smell. It was collecting dust.
He felt it was ironic that his least favourite colour – green – was used to make the space feel lived in.
He mostly considered this as a side job while he worked on his collection of horror stories, centred around a skeletal figure that could only be seen in reflections or in an electronic screen's image. Dylan called the figure "The Child of Death", based on his first short story where the character asks its next victim if it would like to play a game.
Plagiarism was not present in his head.
"Are you okay?" came a voice. Dylan looked up and noticed Chris hanging a granola bar over his computer's monitor. "Working on your story?"
"Yeah," he said, taking the granola bar and tossing it to the side of his desk. "I'm just tired."
"How late did you stay up till last night?" he asked.
Dylan inhaled, a tightness in his chest present. "I'm not sure. I got rid of most of my clocks." Dylan typed out two more sentences before adding, "There's a new Potential in my building."
Chris's jaw tensed. "How close are they?"
Dylan reclined in his chair, which creaked the further he leaned back. "Two floors up. But – " Dylan looked up and gave Chris the best sarcastic smile he could muster. " – my Glow doesn't fucking understand proximity." His smile vanished under a scowl and he returned to looking at the computer.
Chris sighed and leaned over the cubicle wall further. "Is there anything I can do?"
Dylan bit the inside of his cheek and exhaled. "Unless you can figure out how to…to deactivate the Glow, there's absolutely nothing you can do."
The other man nodded, and lingered, biting his lower lip.
It was in this moment when someone from another department passed by; they smiled hesitantly, almost obligatorily, at Dylan before looking away. Dylan's chest filled with anxiety while the other's remained blank, empty even. Even Dylan's green Glow slipped from around his collar, lighting up his neck. When they finally passed, he sighed, "God…fuck." Yet Chris lingered, holding the plastic edging of the cubicle walls before Dylan turned to him. "And if you're going to ask, please don't. I'm just – I'm not in the mood right now."
This was what Chris needed. He leaned over the partition and asked, "Please? I've read studies somewhere that going out with friends can help relieve stress. And I promise I won't do anything. Just dinner. Or, or – "
" – the Natural History Museum. Their 'Soulmate's exhibit just got renovated. They've got some good food trucks by the entrance."
"No," was Dylan's answer.
Chris nodded, and, despite a defeated but determined look on his face, departed back to his cubicle.
Dylan reclined back into his chair, remembering the first time he had been asked out by Chris – "Would you want to get a bite with me after work? Or on the weekend?"
The man sighed and ran his fingers up and through his hair, putting his eyes against his palms and regretting being so harsh to Chris. 'Feelings are a tragic thing,' Dylan mused, glancing back at what he had written.
In an instant, the skull tilted, a loud cracking sound slipping
through her computer's speakers."Come now, Sandra. I
would like to play." Still frozen, Sandra felt its bony digits
run along her shoulder. "I'll be sad if you don't want to
play." She couldn't speak but shook violently as she felt
the rough fingers of its hand run up her neck and under her
chin. "Such a healthy girl, too. Won't you reconsider?"
'Utter trash,' he thought, shaking his head and deleting most of it. Minimizing the document, Dylan went back to working on sample coding for the project.
The day droned on, and so did the pounding of the rain. By nine that evening, only a handful of people remained, including Dylan, who was still wrapped up in his work. The overhead lights began flicking off before only a few remained on, making the long room look almost abandoned.
Turning off the lamplight and his computer, Bryce stood up and cracked his back before slinging his bag over his shoulders. He passed three cubicles and whispered his goodbyes to other coworkers before arriving at Dylan's cubicle, watching his project partner still immersed in work.
Dylan was only writing three lines of code over and over, a notebook displaying colours and their corresponding codes opened beside him; picking them was such a frustrating task.
His stomach twisting, Bryce leaned against his desk, waiting for Dylan to see him. When he didn't, Bryce tapped him. "Dylan?"
The man in question turned and caught sight of Bryce; the immediate response was a frown on his face. The rings under Dylan's eyes were prominent. "What?" he asked.
Bryce swallowed his spittle and inhaled slowly. "Stevenson said he doesn't want you here past nine anymore, remember?"
Dylan sighed and closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with his palms. Overwhelmed with work and the burning sensation of crying behind his eyes, his head slipped through his hands and fell onto his keyboard, where he sighed again. He swallowed away that burning feeling and inhaled. "Whatever," he mumbled against the keyboard.
"…Dylan?" Bryce asked.
He sat up and drew in air, lifting his head from his desk and beginning to gather his things. "Yeah. Uh, give me…ten minutes, okay?" Dylan turned away.
Bryce's foot bounced against the floor. "…I'm sorry," he said. But Bryce had said it so quietly that Dylan hadn't heard him. He cleared his throat and asked, a little louder, "Want, want to walk out with me?"
Dylan glared at the other man. "Is this is you trying to make up for your comments? If it is, it's not going to work."
Bryce shook his head and rested his fingertips on the edge of the cubicle wall. "No, I…well, yes, but…I want to walk out with you either way." He sighed and licked his lips. "Dylan, I'm sorry. I…sometimes, I just say things without thinking." Though there was a small part of him that genuinely believed his offensive comments.
Dylan paused in contemplation, not realising he was already nodding. "You don't have to stay around." He looked at Bryce. "I don't want your pity."
His skin prickled again, but not out of agitation. "I…I-I have nothing against your kind." Dylan's nostrils flared. "N-no! I-I meant I don't have anything against you."
Dylan shook his head and looked away. "Wow. Nice save, Houghton." He went back to typing.
"Dylan." He looked back to Bryce. "Stevenson doesn't want you here now."
He licked his lips and groaned. "Fine." He turned to begin packing his things. "Don't wait for me."
A warm smile spreading on his face, Bryce leaned forward against the edge of the wall. "It's fine. I don't mind waiting." Dylan turned to retort, but then looked away. "You're not getting rid of me that easy. I'll wait."
He wasn't watching but heard Bryce's response. "Thanks," Dylan whispered back, downloading his work onto a spare flash drive and gathered up anything he might need for completing his sample coding. Jamming it all into his brown leather messenger bag, he saw Bryce still standing against his cubicle wall. "Get lost."
"I said I would wait."
He began to leave the cubicle before turning around abruptly and shutting off the desk lamp. "You couldn't have waited by the elevators or something?"
Bryce straightened up. "I said I would wait."
Bringing his bag up and around his shoulders, Dylan smiled wearily before putting his desktop computer to sleep. The two moved five feet from Dylan's desk before he asked Bryce, "So…" He licked his lips, the taste of small talk bitter and uncertain. "…what are your plans for tonight?"
One step ahead of the other man, Bryce stopped. Eyes wide, he turned back to Dylan and inhaled in realisation. "Shit. Fuck. I had a date," he murmured, pulling out his phone and, whispering the obscenities over and over, preceded ahead, waiting for his cellular's ringing to end. Entering into the nearby stairwell, Dylan watched, almost in intrigued amazement, while Bryce left him alone.
At that moment, Dylan contemplated moving back to his desk and working in the almost darkness of the office. He glanced back over his shoulder to note the lack of bodies in the room, but Stevenson's office was still lit. Jaw tensing for a second, he proceeded to the stairs to head out to the nearby metropolitan transit station.