Author's Note: This is a little something I just wrote because I was at a loss for inspiration for my other stories. I'm not a huge romance fan, but this idea came to me, and I thought I'd try it out. The premise is probably super cliche, and I wrote this pretty late at night when I was half-asleep so I'm not even sure how much sense it's going to make. I'd love any thoughts or comments on whether this is worth continuing or not! :) Enjoy!


17.

To the vast majority, it's just a number. Two, simple, innocuous digits. Nothing special.

To me, however, it was the number that had been tattooed onto my wrist since I was born. Somewhere out there, in the midst of this gargantuan, overpopulated planet, was a man with the same number. My soulmate, as all of the hopeless romantics would say.

It's startling how much weight there can be to something so simple. It was a number, and an utterly random one at that, and yet such a large part of my life rested in its balance. Or at least that's what I used to believe.

At the ripe age of eighteen, I vowed to push aside all thoughts of my number, and my ever-elusive soulmate. Instead, I fixated my attention on graduating from the New York Police Academy. Two years later, I achieved my lifelong goal, and scarcely gave a wayward thought to the pesky little number engraved onto my wrist. All I could focus on was the shiny silver star pinned to my chest, and the glistening name-tag above it; Charlotte Campbell, an officer of the law.

Now, less than a year out of the Academy, the job was beginning to pull me down. It was difficult, knowing that every petty crook and criminal you dragged away in handcuffs would be executed. The sentence for every crime was simple: death. There's no room for leniency when the global population is nearing a catastrophic rate. Those were the words I repeated over and over inside my head, every time I slapped a pair of silver bracelets around a young boy or girl's arms. Yet with each click of those cuffs, the words seemed to lose their provocation. It wasn't a thought that I welcomed, but it was there nonetheless, taunting me from the farthest corners of my mind.

"Charlie?" a deep, gruff voice suddenly echoed in my ear. I jumped slightly in the passenger seat of the squad car.
"Sorry, yeah?" I said to my partner, the one and only Anthony Bradford III, or as he was affectionately called, Big Tony.

"You seem a little lost over there," Big Tony replied, giving me a concerned look from underneath his black, bushy eyebrows.

"That's why you're driving," I answered dryly, gazing out the window to my right. Big Tony was a great partner, and a fantastic mentor, but he certainly wasn't the one to discuss the whole 'existential crisis' thing with. Not without risking my job, that is.

"Suit yourself," Tony responded lightly, seeming to sense that I wasn't in a chattering mood. He shifted his large frame uncomfortably, keeping his sharp gaze peeled on his side of the street.

After a few minutes of stilted silence, I let out a gentle sigh.

"How're Rebekah and Joy?" I asked, inquiring politely after his wife and daughter

"Alright, I guess," was Tony's answer, his expression softening. "Beka's awfully lonely, now that Joy's started school. But in the end, I think we're both just grateful to have her." I nodded in understanding.

"It took you years to get the Child Grant," I remarked.

"And they're only getting harder and harder to come by," Tony murmured, ruefully shaking his head of shaggy, salt-and-pepper hair. "I only pray you'll manage to get one," he continued as he steered the squad car onto a smaller side street. "Whenever you find your number, that is." I rolled my eyes.

"You're starting to sound like my mom," I grumbled. "Finding my stupid number is all she ever talks about."

"You'll understand one day," Tony chuckled. "The moment I saw my number on Bekah's wrist… that was the most thrilling day of my life."

"I don't have time for numbers or soulmates," I said irritably, avoiding Tony's bemused glare.

"Hmm," Tony agreed. "I forgot, gingers don't have souls anyway."

I whacked Tony playfully on the shoulder, holding back a smile as he howled with laughter. I indignantly tucked a stray strand of my bright red hair behind my ear. Before I could conjure a snarky response, however, the radio crackled to life.

"This is Dispatch, calling any available team in Lower Manhattan. We have an armed robbery in progress at a convenience store on the corner of 128th Street and Jackson Avenue."

"Well, would ya look at that," Tony whooped, grinning wildly. "I guess we'll get some excitement today after all." Now it was my turn to shake my head in feigned disapproval.

"Dispatch, this is 9274, responding to robbery at 128th and Jackson," I said through the radio.

"Copy that, 9274," the radio responded, then went silent.

With a flick of a switch, I turned on the bright crimson and blue lights above the car. Loud, obnoxious sirens blared from above, and the cars in front of us hastily cleared a path for us. Tony slammed down the gas pedal, and we sped forward. I held on for dear life as Tony guided the squad car towards our destination. His driving skills were somewhat lacking, yet he always insisted on being the one behind the wheel.

In a frighteningly short amount of time, considering the current speed limits, we approached the corner. It was easy to spot, as hordes of people were fleeing the scene. I rolled my window down ever so slightly. A gunshot ricocheted through the air, and screams of terror filled the air. I swallowed hard, grabbing the radio.

"Dispatch, this is 9274 requesting backup at 128th and Jackson," I said, struggling desperately to conceal my panic. "We have shots fired, repeat, shots fired."

"Whoa, ease up there, Charlie," Tony replied as he swerved onto the side of the side of the street and put the car in park. "I think we can handle an idiot with a pistol." I shot my partner a glare, then threw open the door and leapt outside.

I promptly surveyed the scene, my hazel eyes narrowing as I approached the corner at a brisk jog. The convenience store was the definition of miniscule. Bordered by a shady-looking bar to the left, and a dilapidated bookstore to the right, the ramshackle store had most definitely seen better days. I shoved my way through the crowd, and flinched as another gunshot resounded. At last, I breached the edge of the mass of people, and finally got a clear view inside the store.

There was a group of robbers, as it turned out. Two of them were short and stout, the third taller and lean. All three were wearing dark jackets and jeans, and ski masks to complete the outlandish get-up. The tall one, clearly the leader, was brandishing a pistol, pointing it directly towards the shop owner. It was impossible to distinguish any noticeable features, to my chagrin. I gave a soft growl, then pulled my own pistol from its holster.

"I'll go around back," I heard Tony say through our walkie-talkie. "You try to flush them out."

"Copy," I muttered in response, then moved in. Thankfully, the idiot robbers were too occupied with the shop owner to notice my approach. I ducked behind a garbage recepticle just outside the open door, taking a moment to watch the exchange going on inside.

"Just give us the money, man!" one of the shorter men said in a harsh, deep tone.

"We have what we came for," the tall man said, gesturing towards a burlap sack that the third man was carrying. "Let's just get out of here before the -"

"POLICE!" I screeched, lunging from my hiding place with my pistol bared. "Drop the weapon and put your hands in the air!"

"Run!" the tall man yelled. In a move that perplexed me, he made for the doorway while his accomplices bolted for the back. I squeezed the trigger, and a bullet shot from the barrel. It whizzed past the man, tearing through a stand of potato chips with a loud clatter. He darted past, his foot lashing out to trip me. I fell to the floor, and instantly scowled in frustration.

"Tony, you've got two coming in your direction," I exclaimed through the walkie-talkie as I scrambled back to my feet. "I'm going after the third one."

"Be careful," I vaguely heard Tony respond as I raced back out onto the corner. I searched frantically through the crowd, then spotted the man running up the side street to my right. I hastened after him as swiftly as my legs could carry me.

"Stop!" I yelled, my lungs burning as I chased him down the street. The sidewalks on either side of us were emptying as people fled back into their stores and apartments. I gritted my teeth together as the man suddenly turned down a dark, empty alley. I hesitated, wondering whether I should wait for backup. After several seconds of deliberation, I pursed my lips and continued my pursuit.

The alley was dank, and grim. The bricks and mortar of the surrounding buildings were crumbling, and various odds and ends were scattered about on the cracked pavement of the street. I had no time to critique the failing architecture, however. The man was just ahead of me. To my delight, I realized that the street ended in a sturdy brick wall, at least fifteen feet tall.

"Picked the wrong street, genius!" I exclaimed, aiming my pistol for the man's back as he screeched to a halt in front of the wall. "Put down the gun, and we can do this the easy way." I heard the man utter some sort of snorting noise from underneath his mask.

"The easy way?" the man called over his shoulder. "That's rich." I clenched my jaw tightly.

"Just… just put down the gun," I pleaded. To my utter surprise, the man complied, dropping the weapon with a loud clang.

"Didn't have any bullets left anyway," he said nonchalantly, raising his hands into the air. I gulped, then slowly walked towards the man.

"Keep your hands where I can see them," I warned, reaching behind me to grab my handcuffs.

My hands were trembling nervously as I slid my gun back into its holster, then grasped one of the man's hands and yanked it downward. I slid one of the cuffs around his wrist, and then my eyes wandered to the spot just below the bottom of the palm.

I froze.

Then blinked, making sure I was seeing correctly. My heart ceased its beating for a brief moment, and my lungs strained to retrieve sufficient amounts of oxygen. A gasp escaped from my lips.

There it was, etched in solid black ink across his wrist. The number. My number.

17.