I slipped my grease stained shirt over my head, buttoned every one but the top button and gathered together my apron. I wrapped the dangling strings around the bulky apron to keep them from trailing on the ground and getting dirtier then they already were.
I had one foot out of the door and a hand on the door knob when I glanced down. Damn, I forgot to cover up my tattoo. I shouldered the door open and sprinted the length of the living room and into the bathroom. With fingers that knew what they were doing I put the white bandage on my leg and taped it down.
I re-hooked my keys on my finger and put my apron back under my arm. I was out of the front door a minute later and twenty seconds after that I was behind the wheel of my car. I had gotten to be an expert at covering up my tattoo. It was a problem for where I worked. Why it was a problem? I had no idea. It was a picture of an open book, with the words Believe written across the pages by a feather quill. How unoffensive could you get?
Tattoos didn’t create the proper image for the restaurant where I worked. Everyone had to look uniform and match. No individuality or personality allowed inside those walls. I hated having to cover it up the five days I worked a week. I got it for a reason. It was my emblem, my way of showing the world who I was and what I did with my life. I wrote with full belief in myself, my words and what I could do with them. If that was offensive to someone, well screw them. I didn’t and would not try to care.
The drive was quick, only fifteen minutes today. No traffic to delay me, which was good for my mood. What wasn’t was the actual shift. The work day did not fly past like the drive. It was long and full of attitude and confused messed up orders. I got my exercise that day running back and forth recooking half of what was served. I got into a fight with one of the cooks when I wouldn’t admit that his job was more difficult then mine. (He didn’t have to talk to these people! I did.)
Finally the end of the day was near. I had one hour left. Sixty minutes was all I had to endure before freedom was mine. I had two days off and I was planning on using them to forget that this place even existed.
I got a new guest at the counter. I handed him a set of silverware but left the menu in the holder. He was a regular (not a particular favored regular) who knew the menu better then half of the waitresses here. He rattled off his meal of choice and I turned to head around the corner to put in his order. He caught sight of my bandaged leg and asked question I had heard at least a dozen times that day.
“What did you do to your leg?” He asked.
I stopped and glanced down at my leg to ensure we were thinking about the same thing. “Nothing. It is actually covering up my tattoo. Against regulations to have it,” I said. Now that should have been it, just like it had been for the rest of the day. But this guy wasn’t one for keeping his mouth shut.
“You have a tattoo? Why would you destroy yourself like that?” He asked, completely shocked and disgusted.
“It was designed by my brother. It’s an open book with a feather quill writing the world Believe,” was how I responded. It was the safest thing for me to say right now. I walked around the corner to the computer, knowing that if I stayed near him any longer some unpleasant words would leave my mouth.
Unfortunately for me staying away from him was not a possible task. The restaurant was the size of a shoe box, it only sat 30 people. So I ended up back in font of him only minutes later.
I was at the front computer checking out a guest, doing everything in my power to ignore him. He kept trying to catch my eye but I refused to even glance at him. As soon as the woman had her back to me, Mister-I-know-everything opened his mouth again.
“So what gang are you in then?” he asked, no laughter. He wasn’t joking, he was being serious.
I had to drop my pen because my fingers started to shake. “What!? I’m not!” I snapped at him. I was usually very much in control of my emotions. I didn’t snap or get angry easily. People joked it was like pulling teeth to get me mad. Unless you attacked someone I cared about. Today though I was already at the end of my rope and he wasn’t cutting the last threads.
‘Well, that is automatically what I think. If you get a tattoo you are in a gang. Simple.”he shrugged at me. His look said “Well, you’re the one who got it so don’t blame me.”
“Well, you are a judgmental piece of shit! You know that!? You wear glasses and a high priced suit, guess you are a smug bastard who thinks because he has money he is better then everyone else. Like being judged? No!? Well, neither do I! Did you bother to ask if it had any meaning? Or why I got it in the first place!? It is a reminder to me to believe in myself always. Even when arrogant piece sod shit like you attack me! SO FUCK YOU!!” Such an awesome speech, I just wished I could actually deliver it. I wished I could have watched his face fall and watch him fumble for his words.
But I needed my job so I bit my tongue until I tasted blood and turned on my heel for the back area. As I scooted past coworkers I let the scene continue to play in my head. A small smile creased my lips. In real life I could never say a word and could never put him in his place. But in my own little world I could tell that bastard off and he could get what he deserved.
Madeline stood staring down at Becca’s arm and felt the breath leave her lungs. She almost let her legs buckle and collapse into the ground under her. She just barely held herself up, knowing now was not the time to give up, not just yet. It was there staring straight at her, there was no denying it.
When Becca had first come home, arm hidden away, Madeline had prayed it was just a misunderstanding. A much less deadly infliction, something easily cured and forgotten about. Even after Becca had uttered those words, Madeline still refused to believe what was transpiring.
Sitting in the living room, kneeling beside the one person who would forever hold her heart she watched as inch by inch the horrific scene was revealed. There staring at her in deadly black was the first of what would be three images. Two women, hands just about to release from one another. Looks of sorrow and resignation on their faces, looks of the end. Madeline looked away, praying she could somehow erase that image from her mind.
“Honey,’ Madeline wrapped her arms around Becca and buried her head into her lap. “I’m so sorry,” she said softly. She wanted to all out sob, to fall apart; but she knew she didn’t have much time left and being a blubbering mess was not the last memory they needed to share with one another.
“Make it stop.” She sounded so sad, so pathetic. It wasn’t an angry or scared request, it was one of pure desperation. “Make it go away,” Becca begged. Tears falling onto Madeline’s face.
Madeline buried her head into her love’s shoulder and just kept whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again. She had nothing else to say, there was nothing she could do.
“Stop saying that. Fix this before I see that moment.” Still pleading, still desperate Madeline couldn’t look into that face and know what she had to let happen.
Madeline sat back on her heels and said gently, “I can’t,” it was true. She couldn’t stop this, she had nothing at her disposal to help. “I’m not allowed.” Again not a cop out.
“Not allowed?” Becca gave her a pissed look. Her sniffling stopped and her voice increased an octave, she wasn’t scared now, just angry. “Who cares what you are allowed to do! Fix this, save me!” her voice broke on the last words.
Every fiber of her being made Madeline want to reach out, gather Becca up and save the day. But she couldn’t, she had nothing. “Honey, you know I can’t. My hands are tied,” she felt like a prisoner, locked behind bars and forced to watch the world burn around her; unable to do a single thing other than give out useless phrases of pretend comfort.
“This is your fault,” Becca bit out at her. Pushing Madeline from her and onto her backside. Madeline caught herself quickly, watching Becca move to the center of the room. “You started this. You are the reason everyone is terrified of every other breathing person. You are the reason people panic at the slightest blight on their arms. You started this, now end it.” That look was so accusing, so spiteful. Madeline wanted to argue, but she knew it was useless. Becca was right, it was all her fault.
“It was an accident, you know that,” it wasn’t a good excuse, but it was all she had. She let herself fall completely onto the ground, defeated. She didn’t know what to do or what to say. For so long she had been running from this moment only to back right into it.
“I don’t care,” Becca spat. Madeline just nodded, she understood. She didn’t blame Becca for her anger and confusion. She was fully entitled to it.
Two years ago she had been so excited and honored when she had gotten a call offering her the job of a life time. Develop a serum to allow operatives to glimpse the future, just enough to gain the upper hand. A challenge customized for her, a project tailor-made for her alone.
For months she had done experiment after experiment until she had finally perfected the serum. Six months later the government was jumping around rejoicing, ordering huge batches of the serum and rewarding her handsomely.
Then two months later the world had flipped on its head. That morning would forever be burned into her mind. The pictures of that man hanging with that giant tattoo still made her feel queasy. A tattoo detailing the absolute worst moments of his life. Moments that any sane person would want to get away from by any means necessary. She had known right then this wasn’t some isolated side effect. No one would listen to her though, not until body after body showed up, in every state, effecting every race, gender and age.
Body after body all with tattoos showing the worst moments anyone would have to endure. Moments shown to them before they happened, moments that couldn’t be escaped. They had sprung to action too late, a pandemic had broken out. She had been forced to research a cure, a task she still struggled with until this day. A year later and they had no answers. They still had no idea how it was passed on or why. People avoided contact with the inflicted. The victims became leapers hidden away from the rest of the country. Hiding away until that last image appeared showing them exactly how to end the whole ordeal.
Madeline had developed possible aids but nothing that could stop the process. Also the side effects were horrific, from losing limbs to becoming nothing but a shell. A shell with a brain still alive but not allowing the victim to interact or live in their world anymore. They weren’t cures but more curses, ones that were much more painful and terrifying. Becca would not suffer like that. Madeline could not watch Becca suffer like that.
“Becca what do you want from me?” Madeline begged, still on her knees, hands clasped together in front of her. Although she knew the answer and it was the one thing she just could not do.
“To not let me die,” Becca sobbed, barely able to catch a breath. “Don’t you have anything? You’ve been working on this for years. There has to be a way to delay this or stall it or something!” Madeline just hung her head.
“We have something but the side effects are horrible,” she would not go into details. Becca knew her, knew she would do anything to keep her happy and alive. If she had even a slight chance at stalling this, she would; but she would not destroy the love of her life. She would not destroy her body, watch her fall apart slowly before her. Though this fate was terrible, any other option was ten times worse. At least this would be quick and definite.
“As horrible as watching the nightmare of the last bit of my life unfold in front of me?” Becca jabbed out her arm. Coming into vivid focus was another image, below the first of the two of them parting ways. Madeline could only look at it for a second, it was Becca huddled in a ball, eyes wide with fear. All alone.
“I-I-I,” Madeline felt her head become woozy and her heart spring up into her throat. She loved Becca with every bit of heart and she would not be witness to this moment. She sprang to her feet and grasped Becca’s hands. “I can’t do this,” she pulled Becca into a deep impassioned kiss. She gave Becca every bit of love and sorrow she possessed.She whispered one last, “I love you,” before releasing her hands and running from the room and out the door.
She ran out onto the porch, barely able to breathe or think clearly. Her head swam, making her feel like she was going to faint. She fell to the cold stone floor and tried to gather herself, to get the world back into focus.
Trembling she laid her head back against the wooden door, tears streaking down her cheeks. She had tried so hard and had failed as miserably as she knew she always would one day. Still shaking, she gathered the handful of pills she kept in her pocket. She threw half of them into her mouth and swallowed with great difficulty. She repeated the process with the second half.
As she felt her body begin to break down, and the world begin to break up and fade, she pulled back her long sleeves, (ones she had worn for two years) and stared at the three images. Three images that had haunted her since that fateful morning when they had found the first victim. Becca showing Madeline her arm, Madeline leaving and Madeline on her back on this very porch.
Fo two years she had worked to erase these images, and only these images. She had worked so hard to evade her own fate, and only her own fate. Now as her vision faded and the world receded, she finally understood. Fate was fate.