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The eyes staring back at me are heavy-lidded and bruised. Stretches of deep purplish chasms encircle irises as flat and brown as bark, their expression the same as ever: accusatory, distrusting, nervous…a clear fuck you and fuck off if ever there was one. I raise one dark eyebrow in silent challenge and am rewarded as she does the same. The corner of her sharp mouth turns down into a sneer and I can’t help but notice that her lips are chapped, marred with tiny indents and tears from gnawing teeth. They stand stark red against the pallor of her skin.
I no sooner think the word then I see it spread slantwise across her brow in inky, determined strokes, written into her skin by an invisible hand. Ugly. The word means the same even when it’s beautifully penned, with curlicues and flourishes, a deep onyx atop porcelain skin. Ugly. Her bitten mouth and hate-filled eyes. Ugly. The endless litany of words tattooed across her flesh, a lifetime’s collection of thoughts and conversations emblazoned forever for the world to see.
I tear my eyes from her in disgust, feeling the contents of my stomach rise, and force myself to continue reading. “For never was there a story of more woe…”
Personally, I can’t help but think Juliet had a simple life all things considered…but it’s no good, I can’t concentrate anymore. The memory of that face haunts me and I sigh, rubbing a hand over my tired eyes in frustration. If I look up, she’ll still be staring at me. Challenging me. Dammit.
This is why I avoid mirrors.
I have the whole of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet memorized. Word for word I know every pause, every phrase inside and out. From the first Two households to the final Romeo I can recount the entire play in five hours and seventeen minutes. Of course the words scrawl themselves across my skin as I go, some flashing and fading almost as soon as they appear, while others stake a claim to my flesh, refusing to fade back into obscurity as the play unfolds. I’ve acquired many words this way over the years: the slender rose that follows the arch of my left brow, the bold Mercutio – my favorite of Shakespeare’s characters – that straddles my jutting hip. Since every thought and spoken word reveals itself, I’ve learned to keep Shakespeare on a constant repeat in my head, like a broken record of beautiful words. If I have to be encased by words then I want them to be the work of a master.
I’d like to think the grandeur of his phrases counterbalance the barrage of stupid ones that have stuck for some reason or another over the years. Unconsciously, I glance down at the tiny shampoo curling down the side of my pinky from nail to palm and roll my eyes. I know they don’t, but I live in hope.
My eyes flicker upwards again before I can stop them, as gluttonous as ever for punishment, but this time it’s not myself I see, it truly is a stranger. Startled, I bury my nose back in my book before I remember I don’t need to hide, the library is my private sanctuary, especially in the middle of summer. He’s the one out of place.
Still, I lean forward, shaking my head slightly until the mass of brown-black hair falls against my cheeks, better covering my face and neck. My exposed fingers itch for the gloves I shed as soon as I arrived but putting them on now would do nothing but draw attention and it’s too hot in here for the damn things anyway.
I’m bristling now. Agitated.
Why is he here? I want to leave but I refuse to be driven out. Instead I fume. Silently cursing the stranger and whatever drove him to interrupt my peace. Well… as close to peace as I ever come. Doesn’t he know who haunts this place? I sneak a glance at him beneath lowered lashes. He doesn’t look familiar… with a jolt I realize the book he’s reading does though. I would recognize that peeling leather binding anywhere, let alone the tea still staining the tops of the pages from a mishap years ago. Hamlet.
At least he appreciates the work of a true artist.
Inexplicably soothed, I return to my own copy of Shakespeare and finish the final line: than this of Juliet and her Romeo. On their own accord, my fingers flip back the pages, turn back the story to the prologue. Certainly Shakespeare’s finale is beautiful, but I always hate when the story ends. It’s not the sadness of the characters’ fate, everyone dies, but the thought that there are finally no more words that ruffles me. In fair Verona where we lay our scene.
He’s definitely a stranger. Early thirties I would guess, a few years older than myself, with dark, chin-length hair, broad, powerful shoulders and long legs that stretch out beneath the table he’s claimed. Casually hunched, his head rests in one palm, eyes downward, his whole being absorbed by what he’s reading. Even his lips move along, forming each new word in silence, completely enraptured. I recognize the sight.
I’m watching him, I know, but I can’t help it. He’s intriguing, and handsome – there’s no use denying it. Without warning, he looks up. His eyes are a bright blue with a hint of sage green, an odd, singular mixture. His expression is dreamy at first, lost in thought until his gaze sharpens and his eyes lock on me, seeing me at last. Heat rises beneath my skin and I look down in time to see desirable scroll along the outer curve of my wrist. Mortified, I snatch my hands to my chest and force myself to keep reading. My only love sprung from my only hate. Too early seen unknown and known too late. I swear, sometimes I just want to shake Juliet and tell her to wake the hell up.
The desirable hasn’t faded.
Seconds tick by, minutes, how long I’m not sure. I keep reading, keep my eyes trained on the words, until the fire leaves my skin and my fingers relax their death-grip on my forearms. I really should leave now, but I can’t get my legs to move. Maybe he’s gone, maybe he’s left already. I should check but I can’t do that either. I’m stuck here, locked inside myself with the words of Shakespeare ringing in my mind, but I’m not listening to them anymore. I want to leave. I want to leave. I want to leave.
I consider it a personal miracle that I don’t fall out of my chair.
His voice is directly in front of me. Too close for him to still be sitting. I glance upward, unwilling to face him completely head on, and find that he’s standing just on the other side of my wooden table, hands clasped behind his back and a smile on his lips. For a moment we just stare at one another until I realize he’s waiting for me to say something. Good luck with that. I nod jerkily and his grin grows wider. My eyes narrow, looking for malice or ridicule, but I find neither.
“Do you mind if I join you?” His words are warm, like an embrace, his voice deep, cultured. He’s definitely not from here. Why? I don’t ask, won’t ask, but I let my gaze travel from him to the empty chair and back. He understands and within seconds we’re eye to eye, staring again. I feel his gaze as he takes in the words marking my face, or what he can see of it. I let him look.
“Do they not all fade? The others, when you were reading, they disappeared, but these are still here.” He touches his brow and I know he’s looking at the rose. His gaze is soft, thoughtful as he brings his eyes back to mine. I shake my head. His friendliness make me nervous. People are never this calm around me.
“I’ve never seen a girl wear Shakespeare so prettily.” My eyes are rolling and I release an exasperated sigh before I can stop myself. But he’s chuckling and I find I’m smiling. It’s a small smile. But still. “I’m Sebastian.”
My name flickers to life on the back of one hand, getting his attention. “Tara,” he reads quietly. “That’s a beautiful name.” I’ve never thought so, but it sounds different when he says it.
“I would ask what you’re reading, but I think I can guess.”
The look I give him needs no translation but he just smiles and his eyes take on that faraway look again.
“Let me be ta’en. Let me be put to death. I am content, so thou wilt have it so. I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye. ‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow. Nor that the lark, whose notes so beat the vaulty heaven so high about our heads. I have more care to stay than will to go. Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.”
My excitement is instantaneous and insuppressible, surprising even me. With a clap of enthusiasm, I nod happily, while a smile, a real one, tips my lips upward. My fingers find the frayed cover of my book and I press it to my heart. Beautiful flashes beneath my right eye, reflected back at me from a glass case close by.
“Beautiful,” he repeats. He’s staring at me again, but I don’t mind. He’s not judging… just looking. I tuck a lock of hair behind my ear and point to the book he brought with him.
“I’m a little rusty on my Hamlet,” he admits with a wince. “I haven’t read it since high school actually, but I have an audition later and I figured a little Shakespeare never hurt anyone.”
“I’m an actor,” he says, answering my unspoken question, then chuckles, shoving a hand through his dark hair, sweeping it out of his eyes. “Or so I keep telling myself.”
I don’t know what to make of this but I’m intrigued and I don’t want him to stop speaking. I’m leaning forward now, nodding slightly. Something passes over his features but it’s gone in an instant and his beautiful smile is back and those bright eyes are fixed on mine.
“What about you?”
My mouth curves downward and I sit back in my seat in dissatisfaction. I don’t want to talk about me. He sees this, sees my withdrawal, but doesn’t change the subject or ask another question. He just waits. Seconds pass by. My heart thumps like an anvil in my chest. What does he want me to say? What I am?
A freak. Ugly. Monster. Word-collector. Shakespeare-reader. Lonely. Angry.
I’m all these things but I don’t want to say these things to this man, though I’m sure they’re etched somewhere on me right now. But he isn’t looking for them. He’s waiting. Giving me time to decide what I want to say, if I want to say anything. If for no other reason, this makes me want to speak.
What am I?
I don’t even think I know. I’ve never been able to choose what to tell someone before, it’s almost as frightening as having no choice at all.
What am I?
It really shouldn’t be this difficult.
It’s not until his fingers settle over mine, like warm butter curving around to encase my hand that I realize how tense I am. A sigh escapes me before I can stop it and I’m sucking in air like someone who’s nearly drowned. His hand is stroking mine; warm, beautiful skin against, pale, inked skin. It’s almost hypnotic. I can’t remember the last time someone has touched me. I try to pull away, embarrassed at myself, the situation, his kindness, but his hand tightens on mine, catching me before I can escape.
There’s another choice here.
I let him keep my hand. His fingers curve against the inside of my wrist, stroking my palm with some strange magic that both calms and excites me. I manage a small smile in thanks but the irony of the situation leaves me almost giddy and lightheaded. Words. Words. Words. My life is nothing but words, I take them in and spit them out, and now they’ve failed me. What would Shakespeare think?
Frailty, thy name is woman.
Ha. Shakespeare’s so damn applicable.
With a reckless, unexplainable grin that feels so strange, and foreign, and wonderful, I meet his eyes again and shrug. I have no idea how to tell him who or what I am. I guess if he really wants to know he’ll just have to wait and find out.
Smile-lines crinkle around those blue eyes and my stomach flips into my throat. “An enigma then. I figured as much.”
Two days later and wouldn’t you know it, the Daily Prompt is Silence . Coincedence? I think not! 😀