The rain started about an hour before dawn, soaking the silent forest without mercy. It took less than a few minutes for the ground to lose its solid state and become a disgusting, muddy hell that tried to eat anything it touched. It didn’t help that thanks to the season, leaves were scarce on the trees, not giving any protection for anyone who was stupid enough to be out here at this early hour.
Which was why, one hour before school, Theia was soaked from head to toe, and very, very cold. Her clothes were stuck to her body, and every step was a nightmare in the mud reaching up to her ankles. Every time she lifted one of her feet, the ground gave a horrible squelching noise, and Theia was sure she had lost her shoe after every step.
Surprisingly, she did not. However, she did lose her patience very soon, as she hurried back towards their house, only about a hundred steps away, yet so, so far. She could already hear her mother’s reaction when she saw her. She would be out of her mind with worry and anger, probably.
A few, horrible steps later Theia had reached the house, with more relief than the amount she had felt in the last year altogether. Okay, maybe not, but close. She kicked off her shoes, soaked with mud, and entered the house, letting out a big sigh of relief.
As expected, her mother was already standing in the door, her long white hair up in a bun on top of her head, her turquoise eyes staring at her daughter with disapproval that was impossible to miss.
“It was not my fault!” Theia started immediately. “The rain was very sudden, I absolutely did not expect it.”
Her mother’s anger was not softened. She crossed her arms staring down at her. “And what exactly were you doing out there?” She asked, her voice cutting enough to make Theia cringe. “Before dawn. Again. Were you out all night?”
Theia shrugged. She was. “I needed time to think. I’m turning eighteen in two weeks, you know. It’s disturbing.” And she wasn’t lying. The last thing she wanted was that stupid, stupid birthday. And the stupid wish that came with it.
Unlike all the other girls on the island.
Now her mother’s face did soften, just a bit. She has not forgiven Theia yet, but it was progress. “All right.” She sighed, uncrossing her arms. “Come in, and take off those horrible, wet clothes before you catch a cold.”
Theia obliged, relief flooding her when she stepped into her warm room and peeled off her soaked through clothes and threw them on a chair. One touch to her head told her that her hair was a lost cause. It would not dry before school, so she would have to go with wet hair. Oh bother.
She dried herself with a towel, then started rubbing her hair with it in useless hope that she could dry it at least a little.
Soon, her mother appeared in her door, carrying fresh, dry clothes right from the drier. She put them on the table, grabbing Theia’s wet clothes with nothing but a disapproving look and headed out of the room again while Theia dressed.
“You shouldn’t be afraid, you know. It’s a gift. And she always asks first. You can always just refuse.” She told her when she came back, a cup of tea in her hand.
Yes, Theia knew that. But that didn’t ease her worry one bit.
“I’m not afraid of the ceremony. I’M not afraid of the wish. I’m afraid of being stuck here forever. I want to see the world, I want to travel, I want to have adventures. I don’t want to grow old here.”
Her mother looked at her sadly. “I know sweetie. And I don’t blame you for it.” She sat in a chair near to the place where Theia was drying her hair. “I had dreams when I was your age too. But then the Jinn offered, and I just couldn’t refuse. I still got to travel a bit, after that. You can still see the world.” She got that dreamy look on her face then, as she always did when that year was mentioned. That one year when she could travel. When she had met Theia’s father.
Theia shook her head. “But that’s different. I don’t want to be a dog on a leash. Locked up in here with a year leave every decade. I just don’t like the idea of being a prisoner.” She gave up on the hair, throwing the towel on her bed with little care and sitting down next to her mother, who handed her the cup she had been holding on to in the last few minutes. Theia took a big sip, feeling the warm creeping down her throat, into her tummy, making her feel warm again. It helped her mood a bit.
“Remember, sweetie, you don’t have to take the deal. You wouldn’t be the first one to say no.”
Theia nodded. She had heard the rumors, of the woman who had refused the wish. The jinn did not punish her for it. She didn’t even get a reprimand.
Or at least the rumor said that. Too bad nobody could prove it was true since she had left the island the next day and nobody has heard of her since.
Not that Theia could blame her. Not taking the wish meant she didn’t take the deal, thus she was not chained here by the Jinn. But still. Theia could never leave permanently. She did love this place. This island. Her mother, her friends, all older than her and already eighteen. They had taken the deal, and so, they were already stuck here. Theia could not, would not leave them forever. Not even for the adventures she had wished for since she was small.
“So, any ideas?” Theia’s mother asked, curiously. “IF you had sent the whole night out there thinking, you must have figured out something already. You must have at least one idea. It is your heart, your deepest desire, after all.”
Theia chuckled darkly. Her mother was more curious about this than she was. She had asked every morning in the last month.
“I don’t know.” Theia shrugged. “I want to know my father. Go on adventures. Learn to fly. Be able to lift a mountain. Have the ability to control people just by snapping my fingers. But none of those are my deepest desire. I don’t have a deepest desire. I just have dreams.” She stared into her tea. She had wished for a lot of things. But she wasn’t sure there was anything she had wanted more than having her freedom.
Her mother hummed but didn’t say anything. When the jinn looked into her heart, twenty years ago, she saw a woman who was deeply sad because she simply had not been accepted by anyone. Her voice was too high, her hair too clammy and colorless, her eyes too small. She had no figure whatsoever, and even though she was smart and funny and full of life, people would not look at her and see her.
Theia’s mother always smiled when she quoted the Jinn’s words to her. “Do you truly wish to be as beautiful as your heart, little one?”
Her mom told Theia about the Jinn’s kind smile and understanding gaze. Her caring voice, that made her feel like this, this was someone who had finally understood her, saw her, and could, no, would help her.
“She gave me my long white hair and turquoise eyes. My high cheekbones, flawless skin, womanly figure. But none of those matter as much as the other thing she had given me. Hope. Just with one look of understanding, she gave me all I had ever wanted. Someone to see me for who I really was.” She always told Theia. “And just like I had inherited my mother’s strength, you have inherited my beauty.”
That was not entirely true though. While Theia did inherit part of her mother’s beauty, she wasn’t nearly as beautiful. Her hair was just as white, but one her eyes were black, instead of the turquoise, unlike her mother. She was still considered pretty, though, even if a bit scary.
They had tried to mock her for it once.
“Oh my, look at the time.” Her mother said suddenly, waking Theia up from her thoughts. She looked at the clock near the door, and jumped to her feet. She was going to be late if she didn’t hurry. She grabbed her coat, not as warm as the other one but at least not wet. She ran for the door.
As she had not turned around, just shouted a goodbye without looking back, she had not seen the worry clouding her mother’s face as she clutched the crystal, white as snow, in her neck.
When the door closed behind Theia, the older woman slowly turned toward the window, and muttered: “Please let me be wrong.”