Four Months Before
Turning eighteen years old is nothing special. Sure, I can now legally drink alcohol, I can see eighteen rated films, I can buy eighteen rated games, I can go into betting shops… Hell, turning eighteen opens loads of doors in terms of independence, but in reality, the feeling is nothing different. It’s just another year added to my age from yesterday, just another number, just another year towards death, and yet just another three-hundred-and-sixty-five days until my next birthday.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the fuss; my Dad goes all-out every birthday to date, he buys me everything and more of what I could ever want, like this year he bought me a bunch of expensive jewellery, a new iPod and then he topped it off with a new stereo to go with the iPod… but honestly? I hate the thought of a huge celebration to go with it. I’d be quite happy to go home after college, kick back with the alcohol that I can legally drink now, a takeaway and sit with my dad, my boyfriend and two best friends and just chill, but instead, I know he’s got some kind of party planned or something. Bless him, I love my Dad. I remember the speech he gives me every single birthday: ‘your mother would love this. If only she was with us now. It’s now been seventeen years, she’d be so proud, Naomi.’ Well, it’s seventeen years since she died this year. Tonight will bring the annual Dad and daughter time where we get out the photo album of her and dad when she was pregnant with me leading up to the day of the car crash. Dad entitles the album ‘the album of Stacey Burns and Naomi’ because it was made of the nine months she was pregnant with me and the year leading up to Mum’s death.
“Naomi? You awake?”
I jump away from my thoughts and look up to find Robb staring down at me from his towering height even as we’re sitting. I glance at him, his ice-blue eyes narrowed at me in worry.
“Nah, I thought I’d sleep on your shoulder, with my eyes open and while I’m talking to you, you imbecile,” I joke and push his shoulder.
“Oh, hilarious, Nay, absolutely hilarious. In two years, that’s gotta be the best one yet,” Robb scoffs. “But seriously, everything okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, just thinking,” I respond, a soft smile spreading across my face as he places a hand on my shoulder, the comfort touch warming my nerves.
“You seem out of it today,” Robb says. “I know you’re now an adult and all, but still…”
I chuckle, glancing from him to the building in front of us. The worst thing about my birthday this year? I have a full day at college. Usually, I’d beg my dad to let me off school because it’s my birthday, but not this year, or last year, because, and I quote my Dad: ‘It’s an important two years, you need you’re A-Levels, Naomi Burns. My daughter wants university, then she has to work for it. No more skipping school because it’s your birthday, sweetie.’ Bless him; my dad’s a lovely man, and I love him to pieces.
“I’m fine, Robb, honestly, just the new age. Becoming an adult makes you think, you know. You should know, Mr-Nineteen-Years-Old,” I joke and knock his arm gently. He chuckles and pushes me back.
“See, there she is, my Naomi. She’s back with us!” he chuckles and presses a kiss into my hair.
“I gotta get going, sociology starts in a few,” I say, checking my phone for the time. “Which means you will be free for another hour.” I stand from the bench and he follows, pulling me into his bulky arms for a hug. The best part about hugging Robb is that because of our height difference, when we hug, my face ends up buried into his chest and I can inhale his scent of the fresh aftershave that makes him smell like the sea. Well, it’s that Davidoff cool water stuff, of course he’ll smell like the sea, but whatever. It doesn’t matter to me; he smells like Robb and that’s all I care about. It’s some kind of weird smelling stuff in the aftershave, but to me, it smells like the man I love.
“See you later,” I mumble into his chest before letting him go. He plants a kiss on my cheek, smiles at me with the small dimples he has while ruffling his black curly hair. It makes me chuckle the way he gets nervous every single time we have to walk away from each other; it’s like he can’t bear to think we’re not going to be around each other for a while.
“Love you, Nay,” he says, using the nickname he graced me with back when we first met. I chuckle and kiss the palm of his hand before turning to head to my lesson.
I walk in the room and immediately find my place in between my two best friends; Isaac and Mia (Amelia) who both smile at me. I only saw them an hour ago but it already feels like a lifetime ago. I’ve been best friends with Mia since we were both five. We’ve only had a huge row when we were sixteen and I met Robb, who she didn’t think was ‘good enough’ for me or something, but I was having none of it and we broke up. During the six months we weren’t speaking, she met Isaac and the two of them became close, and he found himself joining us when we started speaking again, and now Isaac and Robb are good friends and Mia and he are civil enough.
“Hey,” I sigh and sit down, grabbing my notes out for crime in society. I catch Isaac eyeing me funny, like I have something on my face, so I put a hand on my cheek. “Have I got something on my cheek?”
He snorts and shakes his head. “No, but you always had that freckle, spot thing on your face?” He raises a finger and puts it on the side of my left cheekbone and I replace his finger with mine to feel a small bump there, like a freckle.
“It looks like a freckle?” I ask and he nods. “Hm, weird. I never had that before, or not that I recognise anyway.” I shrug it off. “Must be all the British weather, heat and all that,” I snort sarcastically. It hardly ever gets hot here in damn Southampton. It’s mostly always grey, raining, cloudy or just plain cold.
“It looks more like a… like a star or something,” Isaac says as the lesson starts. “Probably just a spot. You freak.”
I hit him on the arm and smirk. “You can talk, you bigger freak.”
“You wish, freak of the freak world,” he snorts and turns to the lesson. Isaac always has to have the last word on everything. I shake my head and get on with the lesson.
Before I even get my key in the keyhole at home, the front door flies open and my dad greets me with a wide smile and his arms wide open for a hug. I smile back at him and work my way into his arms for a hug. My dad is the total opposite of me; although I have thin hair and short height, we’re opposites in that my eye colour is brown to his green, I’m more upfront in almost everything whereas he’d shy away, I’m quieter than him, and apparently I’m more academic than him. He never went to university, and instead decided to settle down with his childhood sweetheart and he found a nicely paid job doing some sort of office job while Mum did a beauty therapy course and fulfilled her lifelong dream, and then they had me eighteen years ago. He never speaks about Mum but I know that much from the years. I’ve learned to ask one thing, hear the answer and be satisfied with Dad’s answer and not ask for a while, and then the cycle starts again. I wish he’d talk about her more, but I guess after losing the love of your life, you wouldn’t want to talk about it too much and open up the old wounds that have just begun to close.
“Hey sweetheart,” Dad says, kissing the top of my head before letting me go. I smile at him and walk into the house, unpacking my bag. “How was your day?”
“Yeah it was all right; same old, same old. You?” I ask.
“I would say the same, but I wasn’t at work, so it was considerably better than normal,” he chuckles. “I cancelled the party.”
At the sound of that, my head snaps up from my bag to look at my Dad with sceptical eyes. I knew he was planning something like a party, but he didn’t tell me until now. I guess he knew that I would know and didn’t think it would be worth saying anything. But he cancelled it? He loves making a huge celebration out of every birthday I can ever remember, so why is he cancelling my eighteenth? Not that I’m complaining, but this is so not him.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I thought it could just be you and me. Your friends and Robb are coming for dinner at six, and then they can stay if they want, or if you just want it to be you and me… I just thought you would prefer it, especially for your eighteenth, I know you don’t like too much fuss,” Dad says with a smile. “Unless you want the party, then it might be a bit difficult, but I can…”
I cut him off quickly: “No, Dad, no, don’t do anything. It’s fine. You’re right… I hate fuss. It’ll be nice to just keep it quiet. Just the people I care about most.” I can literally see the weight on his shoulders be lifted off; he must have thought he was doing the wrong thing, bless him. “Thank you, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”
I walk up to him and kiss his cheek, “Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, Naomi,” he says quietly, and I can feel the burn of his confusion. I never, ever, tell him I love him, unless it’s jokingly if I want something, or unless there’s something really wrong. I let him go and take my stuff upstairs.
I make my way up the stairs towards bed, after a long day and after eating – and drinking – way too much for a college night, I just want to get into bed and sleep it all off. Dad ended up cooking us all a curry, which beats any takeaway every single time, and then Mia made a chocolate cake and then we sat and drank champagne and chatted. I think of Dad downstairs clearing away and feel a bit guilty, but then I remember I still half an hour to milk it being my birthday.
I open the door of my room and instantly make for my bed, grabbing the stuff off it and placing it on the floor, apart from my presents, which I move onto the desk for safekeeping.
“My, my, how you have grown up, Naomi.”
I spin on my heel, my heart in my mouth and look to see a man standing there.
“Who the hell are you? What’re you doing here?” I demand. “Explain now or I’m calling my Dad.”
“Your Dad will probably be expecting me,” the man says with a cruel smile. What the hell is he talking about? My Dad… is expecting a random man in my room? I think not.
“Who the hell are you?” I demand, backing up towards the door to run out and down to my dad.
I watch as he rolls his eyes, obviously thinking something through and then he looks at me, straight in the eyes. Something is burning in the blue of them, something that flames between us, like a secret he’s trying to make me realise through my eyes or something like that, but I’m not sure what the hell is going on.
“My name is… well, I have many of them. You might refer to me as an Antichrist, Iblis, the Prince of Darkness, Voland, Dark Lord – though that sounds more like something from Lord of the Rings – but you, Naomi, most probably know me by either; Lord of Hell, the Devil, or my real name, which is Lucifer,” he says and I arch an eyebrow. Is he having a bubble? Is he serious? The Devil…
I snort. “The Devil? Right, yeah, because that shit is real.”
“Denial is not going to help you,” he says, mirroring me and raising an eyebrow. “I am Lucifer, the Devil, and I’m here to get what I was promised now that you are eighteen.” He has a Scottish accent, and while I usually adore the Scot’s and their accents, this guy is just… I don’t even know, but he shouldn’t be in my room for a start and he’s creepy as hell.
I open the door of my room before saying: “Now I’m eighteen? Uh, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Get out of my room! I have no idea what you want, but you better leave me alone right now!” I know I shouldn’t even be speaking to this idiot, but at the end of the day, I find myself intrigued and unable to stop myself.
“I mean, Naomi Burns, that you are what I was promised,” he says. “You are now eighteen, which means you and I are… we are officially betrothed.”
What is he saying?
“Betrothed? What the hell is that, some kind of fancy way of telling me you’re here to murder me?” I scoff.
“No, Naomi,” he chuckles…
Wait, the guy, who is claiming to be the damned Devil is chuckling? Oh for fuck’s sake, this is stupid. Some kind of late April fools, right? “Betrothed means engaged. That is what your generation calls it, correct? The time that comes before two people get married to each other? You, Naomi, are engaged to me.”