Alice closed her eyes and concentrated. She didn’t really feel any different.
When her mom got her power, she said she knew instantly that she could read minds. She had told Alice that the moment the clock struck the hour of her birth, her head exploded in conversation, with bits and pieces of thoughts and emotions. She recognized it for what it was, and learned to control it within a week. She said her power helped her excel as a businesswoman.
The world was quiet tonight. It was now fifteen seconds past ten o’clock on her eighteenth birthday, and Alice could not read minds. All of her friends were present for her coming-of-age party, standing around her in a circle, anxiously waiting to hear what her new power was.
When her dad got his power, he had said it took him until the next day to discover the gift he had received. He had been quite solitary back then, and celebrated his coming-of-age alone. The next day, when her mother had stopped by to visit—before she was her mother—her father had been able to feel the love she had for him with every fiber of his being. He realized that his power was to feel the emotions of others. They were married within the year, and Alice was born just two years later. Her father had said that his power made him a more active member in the community.
“Come on, Alice! What can you do?”
“Can you fly?” asked Jen, her best friend since middle school.
Alice focused on lifting her feet off the floor, and jumped. She came back down as expected.
“Nope, I can’t fly.”
“How about reading minds like your mama?” her friend Rachel inquired.
Alice stared hard at Rachel and listened. Rachel just raised an eyebrow in silence.
Alice sighed. “Nope, can’t do that either.”
“Don’t worry, Alice,” said Jackie, clapping her hand on her back in an effort to comfort her. “I had to wait overnight for my power to show itself.”
“Jackie,” Alice replied, irritated. “It’s not about you right now!”
“I’m just saying!” Jackie raised her hands defensively. “I know how you feel, and you have nothing to worry about. You’ll get your power soon.”
After a few more minutes the excitement of waiting wore off and the girls went back to the kitchen for a snack. They began chatting about where to go after graduation next month, and who was going to date who after school let out.
“I’m thinking Jackie will end up with Kenny. Right, Jackie?” Rachel said casually. “He really likes you.”
Alice laughed. “No he doesn’t!” She laughed again, longer this time. “He told me last year that the only reason he hangs out with Jackie is because she’s so willing to sleep with him.”
The room got quiet. Alice was still chuckling, and Jackie was staring at her in shock. The rest of the girls were staring at Jackie, trying to keep straight faces.
“Okay, well, it’s not like he’s going to be with you!” Jackie snapped.
Alice shrugged. “He asked me out last year but I said no.”
Jackie’s mouth hung open. “What the hell, Alice?”
Alice suddenly realized she hadn’t meant to tell anyone about that. She didn’t want to hurt Jackie’s feelings, and she knew Jackie liked Kenny.
“I—I’m so sorry, Jackie. I don’t know what got into me. I’m just still kinda bummed about not having a power. I wasn’t trying to be mean.”
Trying to change the subject, Jen offered a plate to Alice.
“Here, happy birthday, Alice! Chocolate cake—your favorite!”
Alice shook her head in disgust. “I hate chocolate cake. My favorite is actually angelfood.”
This time it was Jen’s turn to stare in disbelief. “I’ve been making you chocolate cake every year for six years… You told me it was your favorite…”
“Sorry, Jen. You went through all the effort to make it, and I did appreciate the thought.” Alice paused, staring at the floor. “I don’t know what’s got into me tonight.”
Alice was getting tired. She didn’t know why she kept blurting out these things, these secrets that she had been keeping. She wanted her friends to go home and leave her in peace. She wasn’t so sure she had a superpower at all, and if she did have one it was probably lame, like her cousin’s ability to tell you the exact charge remaining in a battery.
Alice glanced up and saw that Rachel was eyeing her with a look Alice couldn’t quite place. She felt very uncomfortable under her gaze, and even more uncomfortable when Rachel spoke.
“Alice…do I look fat in these pants?”
“Not really,” Alice replied. “Though when you bend over the rest of the world can see your crack, but I think you know that already judging from the amount of times you bend over in front of Charles.”
Rachel continued. “Do you like my mom’s crocheted sweaters she gives you every Christmas?”
“Of course not! They’re scratchy and kinda bulky. Besides, I don’t see you wearing yours to school, either.” Alice’s eyes grew wide and she threw her hands up over her mouth, shaking her head. Rachel took a step forward and narrowed her eyes as a smirk crept across her face. Alice backed up until she was against the dining room wall.
“Rachel, stop!” Alice pleaded between her fingers.
“Last one, Alice.” Rachel got right up in Alice’s face and stared into her eyes. “You slept with Ed, didn’t you?”
The other girls gasped almost in unison. Alice shook her head, terrified, and when she moved her hands from her mouth to deny it, all she could do was squeak. She knew exactly what was happening, and she was—ironically—powerless to stop it.
“Yes,” she whispered meekly. Looking at Jen through the tears that were now streaming down her face, Alice tried to explain. “Jen, you were already broken up, I promise! He came over one day to talk…he just needed a friend, and I don’t know, it just…it just happened. But you were broken up!”
Jen didn’t say a word. She set her plate on the counter and walked out of the kitchen. A few seconds later, the front door slammed shut.
Jackie stood by the sink, contemplating the scene that had just unfolded. Rachel sat down at the table, a satisfied look playing across her features. Alice slumped to the floor and started sobbing loudly.
She should have known. That’s all she could think, was that she should have known. Her mother had the power to tell what other people were thinking. Her father had the power to tell what other people were feeling. It made perfect sense that Alice would have the power to tell what she herself was thinking and feeling.
She had the power of honesty.
This short story was inspired by a writing prompt. The prompt was:
It’s tradition that on your 18th birthday, you get powers. You anxiously countdown the seconds, but are shocked when you discover you have the worst power ever.
If this story or prompt inspired you, let me know in the comments!