Eighteen

Summary: Today’s the day, Trudi’s 18th birthday, and everybody important is there. Her word, maybe phrase, will appear any minute, but her life is much more complicated than that.

A/N: This work is based off the following writing prompt:
On everyone’s 18th birthday at noon, one word appears on their skin, depicting their career or purpose in life. On your birthday, you’re staring at a clock showing 11:59 am, family and friends are gathered around for your reveal…

Sweat covered my palms, which I nervously rubbed on my pant legs as my eyes darted about the room. My eyes fell upon my youngest cousin who sat in the center of our carpet quietly playing with a couple of Thomas trains- too young to understand what he would be witnessing in just a few short minutes. I quickly turned my eyes away, looking, instead, upon my grandmother. Her hands were slowly working their way through some sort of knitted project, but it mustn’t have been at an integral point because she was looking intently upon me instead of her work. I could tell, however, that, although she was looking up at me with support and love in her clouded eyes, she was hardly even seeing me; her vision had been failing her for a while now. Still, it made me feel much better having her here, even more so than having my parents, begrudgingly, in the same room together for once.

I took a deep breath to calm my anxiety before glancing at the clock, finally ticking down the last minute until the 12 o’clock hour. The words would appear then. Traditionally, our family’s word, or sometimes words, appeared on our dominant forearm, but I’d read some online forums about other eighteen-year-olds whose word had appeared in private or embarrassing places. I gulped once more, hoping that my… purpose didn’t appear anywhere strange.

Oh, God, I hope the word isn’t something terrible. I closed my eyes and silently prayed that, despite my use of the word fuck like a comma, it didn’t appear on my arm in the plain black lettering I’d become so used to seeing upon other’s flesh. Just the thought made my heart race and my breathing become fast and shallow.

Before I could panic further, however, I felt a hand squeeze my own left one. “It’s going to be okay, no matter what it says.” My best friend whispered for my ears to hear only. He always knew what to say. I glanced down at his tanned wrist, seeing his word imprinted there and wondering where they would lead him after graduation next month. ‘HUSBAND’ they said. Was it too much to hope that my words read ‘WIFE’? I’d had a secret crush on him for years, hoping that he’d notice, maybe make the move that I was too afraid to make myself. Now, after years of friendship, I doubted that either of us would take the next step…

“Ten seconds.” I heard my father announce to the room, and I swear my heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t pass out now. I was too close. I’d waited for this for years, and, now, I was afraid. Afraid that I would be disappointed. That I wouldn’t find any worth in my future. What if… but it was too late to worry. I could already see the skin on my forearm darkening. This was it. The time was here, but what would it say?

A collective gasp filled the living room, but I couldn’t look away from my forearm as words began forming… more than a phrase. More than a sentence even. Entire paragraphs began to write themselves upon every visible surface, and I could only assume in places that weren’t visible as well. But, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the words that were appearing on the wrist of my right arm… words that I recognized… that I had written myself. “IT IS SAID, IN IMARDIN, THAT THE WIND HAS A SOUL, AND THAT IT WAILS THROUGH THE NARROW CITY STREETS BECAUSE IT IS GRIEVED BY WHAT IT FINDS THERE.”

I turned my arm to find the entirety of it covered in words, sentences, and sometimes paragraphs of stories I had written, stored on a hard drive for safe keeping until I could… what? Publish them? No, I wasn’t good enough for that, but, perhaps, this was telling me otherwise. ‘IN ANCIENT KYRALIAN POETRY, THE MOON IS KNOWN AS THE EYE. WHEN THE EYE IS WIDE OPEN, ITS WRATHFUL PRESENCE DETERS EVIL- OR ENCOURAGES MADNESS IN THOSE WHO DO WRONG UNDER ITS GAZE. CLOSED, WITH ONLY A SLIVER OF WHITE TO MARK ITS SLEEPING PRESENCE, THE EYE ALLOWS HIDDEN DEEDS OF BOTH GOOD OR ILL TO REMAIN UNNOTICED.’

I tried to process what had happened for I don’t know how long, and not a soul spoke a word or broke the silence that ensued. Finally, tears began to fall down my cheeks, and I quickly retreated to the nearest bathroom, locking it and leaning against it to keep it from being opened. Then, I wept, silently at first, and, then, loudly. I cried until my eyes were red and puffy, my throat raw from sobbing, and my sinuses hurt from my nose running during it all. This was not how things were supposed to go. It was supposed to be a word. Maybe two. ‘AUTHOR’ would’ve sufficed. Instead, it seemed that my entire body had been marred by the offending black lettering… not even in my preferred font. Once I’d finally calmed a bit, I blew my nose and stood up to look in the bathroom mirror. My face, once proudly unblemished, was now covered in script.

Before, on my arm, I’d seen words I’d already written. Here, on my face, I saw… new words- ones that I hadn’t written yet. Words that I intended to write, and I scoffed at the feeling of deep hope it gave me. No. How could this make me feel this way? This rite of passage had scarred me. It was certainly not beautiful or symbolic, and I began to wonder how long I could remain in the bathroom uninterrupted. If I was lucky, I could stay here until after dark before sneaking to my bedroom. I didn’t want anybody to see this.

Then again, now, I was curious. I let out a breath that I didn’t know I was holding before moving my fingers to the hem of my shirt, slowly lifting it over my head and cringing when I saw, with each piece of revealed skin, more and more black lettering. Some familiar and others unfamiliar, but the unfamiliar ones were… inspiring in one way or another, eliciting thoughts and feelings that might become something more. I turned in the mirror, allowing my neck and body to turn in such a way that I might be able to read the words there. Of course, they were now backwards, and it was difficult at best to make out what words were there. I could make out snippets, though.

There were parts that made me cringe like the one perched on her shoulder blades that she’d had to take a picture of with her phone to get a good look. ‘THERE WAS NO FAST AND PAINLESS WAY TO PERFORM AND AMPUTATION, TESSIA KNEW.’ These words, although I’d thought to write them, should never have been written… anywhere. They were dark, meant to be hidden, and, what was worse, I found others like it. Mentions of decomposing corpses and other fearful things. Then there were others that were symbolic, like the words I’d found wrapped around her calf and ankle after I’d removed my pants. ‘ACCORDING TO A SACHAKAN TRADITION SO OLD THAT NOBODY REMEMBERED WHERE IT HAD BEGUN, SUMMER HAD A MALE ASPECT AND WINTER A FEMALE ONE.’ This made me even more curious. Perhaps, I would find even more lovely words and language underneath my undergarments, but… perhaps not.

I tried to summon my courage, I was sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore, after all. What if… what if all the ugly words were below my undergarments, and I sure as fuck couldn’t SHOW anybody. Oh. My. God. That would be so embarrassing. Oh, no, and bikini season was coming up. How would I go out to the pool or even the beach? The kind of cover up it would take to make myself presentable in public now would be expensive and require a lot of time to apply. I guess I could wave frequent showers goodbye in order to make it last longer. Already, I couldn’t afford my fate as… whatever this is. A walking advertisement for my sub-par writing?

I guess I could try sending my work to a publisher or two and see what feedback I got. Let’s hope that none of them ever invite me to meet with them. How embarrassing would it be to have my words plastered across my body for life? These stories weren’t meant to be read by others. They were for me. They were wish fulfillment. I couldn’t find the story I wanted to read, so I wrote it. Nobody else needed these stories. The ramblings of a teenager who had hopes and dreams that would never come to fruition. Ugh. “I can’t do this.” I moaned to myself, shutting my eyes firmly. “Go away. Go away. Go away.” I chanted, hoping I would open them and find that the new tattoos would be gone. That, maybe, this was all a dream that I could wake up from.

My eyes were still closed when three sharp raps on the door made me nearly jump out of my skin. “What!?” I half-shouted at whomever was trying to intrude on my existential crisis.

“Um, Trudi, I just… It’s Paul. Can I come in?” She let out a sigh of relief. Of course, he would be the one to talk to her. Her parents were probably off squabbling over whose fault it was that she’d turned out different. Her grandmother would’ve been shuffled off by her busy aunt along with her baby cousin. He was all she had right now- her best friend.

She paused, she had been trying to work up the nerve to remove her bra and see which words rested upon her breasts. Maybe she was better off leaving it for later, but, maybe… I turned the lock on the door, and cracked it open a touch, only enough to speak at a much quieter volume than would be required to talk through a door. “I’m not decent.” I answered, pinning myself behind the door in such a way that only my face could be seen through the crack.

Rather than searching, trying to see more, Paul’s eyes sought only my own. “If you don’t want me in there, then I’ll stay out here, but, if you need me, I want to be here for you.”

I smiled, and repeated a phrase that we used for each other during the worst of times. “Thick and thin.”

“Thick and thin.” He repeated back with his usual cocky smirk. “Can I come in, now?”

Nervously stepping back, I pulled the door open with me, allowing just enough room for Paul to join me in the small hall bathroom before locking the door behind me once again. I remained pressed against the door for the longest moment of my life, fear holding me there, modestly revealing only the back of my body. Paul remained at a distance, curiously squinting in my direction, reading. “Some of this sounds… I recognize this. Names. Places. They don’t exist, but you’ve spoken of them. You’ve written these things.” He fumbled with his words, trying to be a gentleman to her rather than really look the way other boys his age would. I appreciated the effort, but, at the same time, felt disappointed. I so wanted him to look at me with wanton, wandering eyes. Maybe, if I just… But, no, he’ll turn me down.

Neither of us spoke for quite some time. Both afraid. Both unmoving. When I’d finally worked up enough courage to turn, I saw nothing but familial love in his eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by that revelation. After all these years, I was just… a sister or something. Men are idiots.

“I- Maybe I should get dressed.” I whispered, not wanting to make him more uncomfortable than this situation already was.

He shook his head. “No.” He stepped forward, but placed his hands behind his back, clearly indicating that he wouldn’t try to touch me. “I want to see. This is important. This is your life.”

I reached forward, grabbing the snap at the front of my bra and noticing my shaking hands for the first time. There, on my left ring finger stood one word that I had written many times in fiction or otherwise. ‘WIFE’ I read, not realizing I had spoken the word aloud.

“What was that?” Paul asked, and I knew that I was blushing.

“N-nothing.” I stuttered, pulling my hands away from the cloth covering my chest, and quickly uttering an excuse. “I can’t do this.”

He shook his head, a fire entering his eyes that I had seen only a few times before. “No. You said something. Now, either tell me or show me.”

Tears once again made their way to my eyes, threatening to overflow. Dammit. Why do I always cry when I get angry? “Fine, but it’s embarrassing.”

“More embarrassing than peeing your pants in third grade?” Was his response. He said it without a pause, and I knew there was so much that he could hold against me if I refused to answer he’d known me for years, knew all my secrets. I wouldn’t be able to hide this.

“Paul, my ring finger…” Before I could finish my sentence, he snatched my hand, and his lips were clenched tight. He looked up into my eyes, and, without another word, he walked out the door, slamming it shut behind him. With that, I curled in on myself and I wept once more, bawling for the loss of my best friend that I loved.

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