ONE

On the eve of Dylan Vargas' 15th birthday, she got up right before midnight, and went quietly and quickly to her older sister's bedroom down the corridor. The house was dark and silent when she opened the bedroom door, and she found inside her sister, Olivia, and their younger brother, Nathan, sitting on Olivia's bed with their legs crossed, the light of the bedside table lamp hitting their faces softly. They looked up at her smiling, and she sat between them in her sister's bed.

'How are you feeling, Lion?', her brother asked, in a whisper. Dylan shrugged.

'I dunno. Normal, I guess. Did you feel any different?', Dylan and Nathan turned to Olivia, and the girl shook her head.

'Not really. Just nervous, but I guess that's normal'. Dylan nodded.

'I feel like throwing up from my nerves. Is that normal?', she asked, half joking, because she didn't think she was actually gonna throw up, but there was a lump on the back of her throat bothering her. Nathan chuckled, but her sister was serious.

'Do you wanna go to the bathroom?', she asked, and Dylan shook her head. 'It'll be fine, Dylan. It doesn't hurt at all, it's just a sting', she said, reassuringly squeezing Dylan's arm. Dylan smiled, and put her head down.

'I know, I know… It's not so much the pain I'm worried about'.

There was a heavy silence in the room, and even though she couldn't see her siblings' faces, she knew they'd be exchanging meaningful looks.

'Dylan…', her sister started, but Dylan cut her.

'I'm fine, really', she said more to herself than to her siblings. 'It's just scary, isn't it? It's so… permanent', she looked up.

'You can take it off, though', Nathan said, and Dylan shook her head.

'I know. But by then it's too late, isn't it? You already saw it, you already know whether or not…', she didn't continue, but her siblings knew what she was talking about.

'That's if it activates', her brother said, and the three of them went quiet.

There was a soft beep in the room, and they looked alarmed at Olivia's wrist, but she turned on the bed and hit a button on her cellphone.

'It's midnight', she said, turning back, smiling at Dylan. Nathan smiled, as well, but all Dylan could muster up was a nod. 'Happy birthday, Lion', Olivia said and hugged her.

'Happy birthday', Nathan repeated, and hugged them as well.

They sat there, hugging in silence for a while, and Dylan wished this moment would never end, because even though she was of age, she didn't think she was ready for what was coming.

Invented in the beginning of the 21st century, the Timer was a small device implanted on the left wrist of any willing person above the age of fifteen. The implantation process was relatively pain free, like the sting of a needle when it first breaks the skin, and the object itself was small enough not to be easily noticed (different shades were available for different skin tones). The Timer, although small and discreet, was connected to a vein that led straight to the person's heart, and had the very important function of counting down to a person's most important day.

As soon as the device was successfully implanted, it would beep into life, and, on its small screen, would start counting down to the day the holder would meet their One True Love. Years, months, days; it didn't matter. The Timer would find your soul mate, as long as they had a Timer themselves.

Couples broke up, others were brought together, most people waited. Waited for their Timer to count down to zero, or to beep into life. Afternoon shows on the TV brought people whose Timer read they'd only meet their Ones well above the age of seventy. Men and women with blank Timers cried, looking at the camera, begging to whoever it was who still didn't have a Timer to please get One, because they were there, waiting, wasting their lives away when they could be together, happy and in love. And then there were those magical days, three hour specials with people whose Timers had reached zero, following them on the street, at work, or the gym, or at a pub, waiting for the second their Timers would beep one last time: when they first exchanged looks with their One True Love.

The whole thing made Dylan feel sick.

Her parents had Timers, though, and so did her sister, and her little brother couldn't wait to turn fifteen and get one of his own. All of her classmates who had already turned fifteen had Timers, all but two of her teachers had them, and, even though Dylan avoided looking at people's Timers (it was considered rude), it seemed to her every single person she saw on the street had a Timer too.

She got up from her sister's bed, and went back to her bedroom, knowing full well she wouldn't be able to fall asleep. She laid in her bed, staring at the sky outside her window, glancing at the clock from time to time, seeing its numbers going up, so unlike the Timer, each second passing getting her closer to the appointment her parents made with the technician who implanted Timers. It was her birthday gift. Just as it was her sister's birthday gift, and just as it would be her brother's birthday gift. She never said out loud she didn't want a Timer. She never even said it to herself. It was something she carried inside, but never properly articulated, never thought about it enough, because everyone had Timers, why wouldn't she want one, as well?

The night went away and the sun rose, meeting Dylan in her bed, eyes wide open. She got up before her alarm went off, and went to the bathroom she shared with Olivia. Dylan looked at her face in the bathroom mirror, trying to picture a Timer in her wrist, trying to picture her life after the Timer.

What if it read days? What if it read 50 years? What if it was blank? Dylan didn't know which was worse. She washed her face, and went to the kitchen, where her mum was already baking her birthday cake.

'Happy birthday, my love!', her mum exclaimed, with a big smile, and hugged her. 'How are you feeling? Fifteen, finally! Are you hungry? I made pancakes', her mum said, walking around the kitchen, picking up a batch of pancakes and putting it front of Dylan in the counter, with a jar of Nutella and bananas and strawberries already sliced.

Dylan didn't feel hungry at all, but she thought it best to just eat instead of arguing with her mum. She was midway through it when her dad hugged her from behind, scaring Dylan and making her drop her knife.

'Birthday girl!', he said, even louder than her mum, eating the piece of pancake in her fork. 'Are you excited? Are you ready?', he kissed her mum and poured coffee into his mug.

'Yeah, dad', she replied, smiling faintly. He sat next to her in the counter.

'Oh, I remember when I got my Timer! I thought I was gonna pass out!', he drank his coffee, and Dylan looked up at him, feeling a bit better hearing her dad say that. 'I couldn't wait! Almost took the implanter from the technician's hand to do it myself', he laughed loudly, and Dylan felt her heart sinking in her chest. 'Don't worry about it, though, monkey. You'll do great!', he smiled wildly, and bit a piece of toast her mum put for him.

'It doesn't hurt at all, love, it's just a little sting, just a pinch, right, Viggo?', her mum said, pinching her lightly in the arm. Dylan nodded. 'And then, hopefully, a beep, and that's it!', she lifted her hands, cheering, and Dylan smiled at her, swallowing a bite of pancakes with a little difficulty. The lump on her throat was in the way.

'Oh, you'll get a beep, don't worry about it! And, even if you don't, it doesn't mean anything. Your One could be a year or two younger, or something, right Gaby? If your Timer is blank, it's not the end of the world', her dad continued, and Dylan started feeling the pancakes coming back.

'And then we'll eat your cake, and you and your siblings can go do whatever it is you do on your birthdays', Dylan nodded, and felt like it was the only movement she could do without having a breakdown.

'Well', her dad said, getting up from the chair. 'I have to go, my loves, but I'll be back before your appointment, ok, monkey?', he kissed her head, and her mum's lips. 'Don't sweat about it', he said, finally, leaving the kitchen with his jacket and his car keys.

Dylan finished her pancakes listening to her mum sing while she baked, picked up her plate and washed it at the sink. She didn't look at Gaby, but she knew her mum's gaze was following her.

'Are you sure you're all right, darling?', her mum asked, with a voice so soft Dylan felt like crying instantly.

'Yeah, mum', she nodded, but didn't look at Gaby in the eye. 'I'm just tired, couldn't sleep properly last night'.

'Oh, my little monkey', her mum came closer, and hugged her. 'It'll be all right. Your Timer is not gonna be blank, it's not gonna be like your sister's'.

Dylan nodded against her mum's neck, not daring to say something, afraid her tears would come with the words. Her mum let go of her, and went back to her cooking. Dylan turned around, whispered a 'going to my room', and left the kitchen, praying she wouldn't run into her siblings on the way.