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Arranged - pt 1

A short story I'm writing based on a dream I had this spring

By Jenna in the StarsPublished 11 months ago 23 min read
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He came with flowers. Pink and white, daisies and other wildflowers that had been growing on the sloped banks of the highway.

My parents drove me there, to the wooden bar and restaurant off exit 10 somewhere out west, I can’t remember where.

I was a passenger, sitting in the backseat with my sister Rosamund and my friend Helen.

“I wonder if he’ll be handsome.”

“Father says he’s wealthy..a rancher and a restauranteur, a businessman.”

“I just hope he’s handsome, and kind.” I sat there with my hands clasped in my lap, a tight, nervous smile on my lips like a prayer.

Rosamund shot me an encouraging look with her bright blue eyes.

“He will be. He’ll be so rich, it’ll make him the most handsome man in the world.”

“But what if he’s-”

“Hush,” Rosamund cut me off and grabbed my hands, leaning over towards me.

“This is exciting, Ellie,” she nodded encouragingly. Her blue eyes were piercing. She was the only one in our family that had ended up with blue eyes, the recessive gene. I wished I had blue eyes.

“What if he doesn’t like me. Like, how I look…”

“He’ll love you,” Rosamund grinned. She leaned froward from the back row between the bucket seats and kissed my cheek, slung an awkward arm around my shoulder.

Helen nodded too.

My parents were overjoyed. Rosamund never wanted to be married. She said she’d rather stay with mother and father, and help them at the house and with the family business. Customers called in nearly every day, and my father, though he still enjoyed the work, would not be able to do it forever.

And then Rod came along. I’m not sure from where.

Had my parents listed a photograph of me online, like some “lost and found” poster?

The car bumped along past endless fields, drawing closer and closer to Rod’s restaurant Exit 7 rode past the window..

It was the year 2033, a time of shifting information and merging timelines, where you could live a life based in almost any time period depending on where on the planet you resided. Here in North America, we had our options. Some of us chose to live in the early 1900s, like the Amish, preferring their agrarian life and little technology. Others crowded to cities in the millions, living in silver towers or packed into tiny brick and cement apartments buildings, congregating around computers and cell phones and other screens, mesmerized and obsessed with catching the next electronic wave, further and further into an artificially intelligent world where there was less and less work to be done.

In other parts of the world, there were no choices, and people still lived in tribes with illness and disease and poverty, and only had the medicine and technology that was gifted to them by kind or otherwise incentivized wealthy folk from the cities, if they had any medicine or technology at all.

It was a strange, huge world, one that I had read about and watched videos about on the internet. Full of people that looked different and spoke different and thought different, kind benevolent leaders and fascist dictators, simple, peaceful folk and stewing, broiling angry folk, the Forgotten, as they called themselves.

There were colonies of anarchists forming, all over the world. Those who lived in opposition to the status quo of the star their lives orbited - all governed by the same word: “freedom”. For some it meant the right to choose their own peaceful way of expression in the face of oppression, for others it was the right to violent acts in a world that they felt had no place for them or their values. And for others, it was the right to speak - to communicate truths to the masses, that some leaders had no intention of their masses ever learning about.

Here In North America, there were some of each. Where we lived, in the Northeast, it was safe - there were fewer instances of public violence, less mass shootings than in the heat of the South, but the cold and the isolation still got to some. They were The Forgotten.

Our leaders were kind men and women, for the most part, who cared for preserving individual freedoms as long as there were no expenses to safety. We had few guns, less gun access than other parts, and more progressive policies. Individuals could live as they chose and love who they chose, worship and believe what they chose, as long as they didn’t hurt others, or restrict the freedoms of others.

But in the South, the leaders thought people should live in one way and one way only. Love in one way, worship one god in only one way, work in certain ways. They were the Limiters, and many of them were Forgotten themselves and in denial of that very fact, and leaning into the limits to try the heal the wounds of their histories being disappeared from the collective memory. My parents, and many of us in the North East, were part of the Opposition to the Limiters. And we were the Rememberers of the Forgotten.

And then, in the middle and the West, there were the Open Lands. Where everyone and everything co-existed in a lawless place. Limiters lived in the same town lines as Rememberers, and the Forgotten seemed like they themselves Forgot.

So why my parents wanted me to meet this man from deep in the Open Lands, a gamble on values, I did not quite understand. What if this man, Rod, was a Limiter? And wanted to put limits on me? And what If he was a member of The Forgotten, and wanted to use violence to force others to remember, or to forget, or be forgotten, as so many of them did?

Rosamund saw this as a family wish fulfilled. Despite her beauty and how the boys and men had always gawked at her, Rosamund chose her path - one without marriage, and one without partnership. My big sister, I had seen her dip a toe into the waters of what it meant to share a life with another.

But every time, or nearly, she’d leave a shining star and come back in pieces, shattered. I asked what happened, and mother asked what happened, but she said she couldn’t speak of it again.

One night, while she lay curled up in bed, her head in a pool of her own tears on the pillow, her dazzling eyes more like the ocean than the sky, I lay beside her, holding her in my arms.

“What’s wrong, Ro,” I whispered into her hair.

“Nothing you should know about now, sister,” she said with a voice of steel. But I could still hear the wet in the back of her throat.

“I wish you could tell me,” I said, tears welling in my own eyes. “Did someone hurt you?”

She was quiet for a long time. We both lay there, breathing, and eventually our breath and heart beats began to sync, as they do, if you are quiet and wait close and listen with someone you love, or even someone you hate. Bodies do that - they have a desire to be in homeostasis, in harmony, even if the minds don’t.

“Yes,” she finally said. “But it was more me. I let it happen.”

She rolled over. Her eyes were dry now, but they had a wilderness in them. Cold rage.

“Promise me, you won’t see the men in this town. Let us choose someone for you.”

I was confused by her request. I was only nine at the time, and barely understand what she meat or the concept of anything she spoke about or was experiencing. But she was my favorite person, even more so than mother and father. I felt like she was me, but better.

I nodded. “Ok.”

She hugged me tight, burying her face against the fan of my dark hair over my shoulder.

“Good.” I couldn’t see, but she stared hard at the wall, her eyes like daggers, the beginnings of her wings etching out of her shoulder blades.

Days later, blisters formed around the corners of her mouth. She wouldn’t say anything to anyone about them, only to leave her alone, and that they would heal.

————————

By the time my family had selected Rod for me, I was 18. I had gone my whole life without a man. Well, almost. There had been a few moments, unbeknownst to Rosamund, until I couldn’t keep the secret anymore and had to spill to her with glee that I finally knew - the sensation of another’s soft lips on my lips. The feeling of a hand against my breast.

“Tell me that’s all you did….You didn’t let him in….did you?”

I shook my head hard, no. Neither of us could put words to the actions.

But the truth was - I liked it. And I never got broken the way she did. Rosa was the strongest, fiercest, and bravest one I had ever known. But I think, sometimes, she was made of something different than me. Something finer, higher, less dense. Like clouds, that could form a shape so whole and beautiful and together, and then moments later, be disappearing, changing, blown apart by the forces into thin wisps, stroking off into the ether.

If Rosa was cloud, I was dirt. Or water. Earthly, and simple, and without so much thought. But oh, I could feel.

It was hard, but I began keeping secrets from Rosa. That’s where Helen came in. She and I would go off to the barn parties at night, where groups of people from school would gather in the fields and drink stolen sips of our parents liquor.

It was here, in the dark, my back pressed against the bales of hay, that I let someone touch me there for the first time. And oh, how I craved it. It made my whole body sing, and it made me forget everything I had ever known, every thought that had ever been in my head. It felt like I was a cello, and he could play the strings, and together we created this incredible resonance unlike anything I had ever felt alone.

I wasn’t sure if Rosa had ever felt this. But I knew I couldn’t ask her. The first secret I had ever kept from her. Sometimes, even though I never told, I felt that she sensed it, in the way I walked, in the secret obsession of my smile, emanating from the pores of my glowy cheeks, something…

No one in the car, except Helen, knew this part of my story.

My parents thought I was a good girl, and Rosamund thought I was still untouched, pure as virgin snow.

Somehow I could let the memories and the feelings slide out of my head when I was around them, lock them away somewhere and pretend for everyone that none of it had ever happened. It was a skill I don’t think Rosamand had. She was strong, and she had her secrets, but she was never a liar. Maybe not a skill, but an ability.

Exit 9 whizzed past the window by a crop of cotton trees.

My mother turned in her seat. They were playing old music from their days of love and romance, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel. The acoustic music lilted and filled the car with flowery melodies and happy times.

“Almost there,” my mother smiled, her dark sunglasses blocking her eyes and the whole top half of her face, so she was all lips and teeth and smile, her dark hair the same color as mine but shorter falling around her neck.

Helen raised her eyebrows at me in excitement. Almost time.

I had never met him before. This Rod. My parents and Rosamund had spoken to him, and his parents, and had made the determination that this would be a match. It was Rosamund, really, who was so adamant on this method. I could have stayed and chosen someone in our town, someone who already was like us, and part of our community and lives.

But by now many of them had already paired off, and many of the ones left were strange, or older, or marred by addictions, substances, and other less savory lifestyles.

The one boy I had liked had left to explore the wide country, and when he returned, he brought with him a girl who looked more like Rosamund, and less like me. After that, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with another, or that there even was another for me. But the cello feeling still rose up strong in me like a wave more often that I cared to admit to myself, and it became troubling, like a hunger that needed to be fed. I didn’t want to keep giving it away to strangers in bar rooms and barns, in the secret of the dark, and never able to hold their hand or kiss them in public like the real couples could.

They showed me Rod’s picture. Dark eyes, like mine. Dark hair like mine. He looked a bit older than me in in the photograph, and like he had spent lots of time outdoors. He was tan, and had a thick build, but in the photograph his eyes looked kind, maybe a bit forlorn, like he was looking for something he had lost.

“Who is he?”

“A nice man, looking for a partner,” my father said. “He lives in the Open Lands.”

“And he couldn’t find a partner there, in the open lands?”

“He seeks someone of your caliber, dear. Young, interested in loyalty, with a good family to marry into. It seems, he has none of his own.”

I thought about that, and what that meant.

“He has no mother or father? No siblings?”

“Apparently not,” my mother said.

I didn’t understand why all of a sudden this strange man was the one whom my family thought right for me.

“Nothing is set,” my father pat my back, noticing the expression of concern on my face. “He has invited us to meet him, and to see what he’s made of himself so far. More, for you, to meet him and see him. He saw your picture, and seems quite taken with you. Would you like to call him? Or speak with him?”

For a few months before we left, I wrote, and then spoke on the phone, with Rod. And the more we spoke, the more curious I felt about him. I liked the sound of his voice, and the feeling he gave me when he asked me about myself and what I thought about the world.

“He is different from us,” my parents cautioned me. “We know how you and your sister can get, well more so Rosa….maybe keep your bigger thoughts to yourself, for now. Until you know one another better.”

I didn’t understand what they meant, but understood the request.

Exit 9.

“Will you come visit me?” He asked me on the phone.

“Do you want me to come visit?”

”Yeah,” he said. He had a casual way of speaking, as opposed to my family’s more formal dialect. “I want you to. I wanna show you my piece of the world.”

“What’s there?”

“Well, my farm. And the restaurant I run. I’m a bartender there, too. You could watch me at work.”

“Hey, If a guy wanted to make a good impression on you…where would he start?”

I thought about it. “Hmm….flowers. A girl always likes some pretty flowers.”

“Would I have to move there?” I asked my parents.

My father shrugged, making an “only god knows” kind of face.

None of it made sense to me. I wanted to be married, and to find my partner to navigate the roughening seas of the changing times. We all could feel, Rosa especially, that there was something coming. Something bigger than words, bigger than what was said and covered on the News that I watched with my parents nearly every morning, bigger than patterns of mankind and right and wrong.

Dead animals - whales, seals, fish - washed up on the shores of our little coastal town, and the fisherman came back with fewer and fewer fish.

Bird plunged into the sea, and hopped on land more than I saw them flying. Strange new animals were showing up, animals that had always lived far away, but suddenly now were roaming farther, searching for something that they once had, but now was lost.

And the crows. Especially the crows, did strange things, more and more often. I saw them flying in huge whirling cyclones, hundreds of them forming a tornado of black bodies, cawing and crying out for I didn’t know what.

Sometimes I felt I could understand them, all animals, really. If I let my thoughts empty, and let their sounds, or their shape fill my mental vision…sometimes I felt I could hear them, or know what they were thinking. Especially our family dog, and the beautiful horse that lived down the street.

All I had ever wanted was my own horse. And here suddenly was a man, who lived far away, but who owned twenty horses in a stable somewhere out West, and he wanted to meet me.

“Ok. We can go see him.”

———

Exit 10. The sign came, and the road branched off and bent away into the exit lane.

My heart began to pound. We had been driving for hours, and now, suddenly, the end was so near.

It was the middle of nowhere - just trees and fields. And then, off the exit lane, up ahead, we saw a turn off , and a log-cabin looking building. It had a big wrap around porch, and a parking lot half full of cars, mostly trucks and SUVs, most of them more beaten down than my family’s shiny lease.

There was some kind of strange hybrid animal outside, something like a mixture between a donkey and a motorbike. Maybe it was just the saddle…but something about it seemed strange, and not completely natural to me.

In the wrap around porch part of the building there was an open air bar area, where there were some open bar stools, and two server-bar tenders working. As I stepped out of the car, the skin on my arms trembling, I spotted him immediately. The dark hair, the tan arms, the serious face, although he was speaking to a patron at the bar.

Rosamund came up beside me, her wing gently touching my arm, which only made the hairs stand up more.

“Gooseflesh,” she ran her fingers up my arm. “Nervous?” I looked at her and did a half yes half no shake nod. She squeezed my shoulder, her grin widening. Why was she so excited?


“Let’s get a drink. It’s been a long drive.”

All five of us, my parents, Rosamund, and Helen, walked up the wooden steps, taking in the establishment, and sat down on the red leather seats of the bar stools.

At first he didn’t seem to notice us, tending to other customers further down the bar, closer to the interior of the restaurant where there were dining tables. The other bar tender, a young black man came over to us, bussed the bar top to make it shiny and nice, and then placed plastic laminated menus before us.

We looked at the bar menu which consisted of typical bar fare - French fries, onion rings, soups, burgers, salads.

When I looked up from the menu, he was standing right in front of us. First talking to my parents, and then, side stepping over, to where I sat between Helen and Rosamund. I noticed his eyes skip from Helen, to me, to Rosamund, and then land back on me.

His eyes had looked dark in the photos, but I could see now, they were a dark hazel gray, a strange mixture of blue, brown, and green. And they were beautiful. And strange. When his eyes landed on mine, I felt myself settle, and sink, in a way I had not ever felt myself before, A flame of excitement began to burn in my chest.

“You must be Ella.”

“Eleanore. But you can call me Ella. Or Ellie. Whatever.”

“Eleanore,” he adjusted. He had both his hands up on the counter, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, leaning forward. I noticed they were large, and wide.

I felt immediately that I wanted his hands on me.

“It’s nice to see you, in person. Thanks for making the trip,” he said.

“Of course, yes.” I stuttered. Flabbergasted.

“Is that your…” I turned to look for the strange donkey type animal, which looked more normal than it had before.

“Ha, yes. The most humble of my steeds, but she’s a doll.” He said. “That’s Betty.”

“Is she-“

“A hybrid? Sure is,” he said. “But yeah, this is my place… order anything you want off the menu. On the house,” he turned to my family as he said it, spreading his arms generously.

“Well thank you, Rod, we sure will,” my dad waved.

“Duty calls,” he said, honing back in on me. “I’ll check back with you in a few.” He winked, which was shockingly charming, and headed down the bar. He tapped the other bar tender on the shoulder, “Denver can take care of them when they’re ready? Thanks man,”

Rosa and I smiled at each other.

“Oh my god,” she mouthed.

Rosamund kicked her toes against the bar in excitement. Even though she was my big sister, she seemed like a little kid all of a sudden, so excited for me.

“I like him already,” she whispered.

I stared at him, moving down the bar, collecting empty plates, nodding at customers. He glanced back over his shoulder and directly caught my eyes. I audibly gasped, snapped my mouth shut and looked down. My heart quickened as my cheeks grew hot.

I smiled down into my lap, squinting my eyes. I couldn't help the response.

Helen patted my knee in support and it felt like a dream. I was excited at the idea of him, although the real him did not excite me quite so much as I let on. I wanted to go along with the excitement, give him a chance. There was an undeniable physical chemistry...but I couldn't shake that feeling of unease.

We had our dinner - onion rings and burgers. Rosa got the veggie burger, I got a salad, just because I was scared he might judge me for chowing down on a burger. Even though my mouth was watering. At least the salad came with some tortilla chips and beans, and a little side of chicken. The food was ok. Mediocre at best, but we were so hungry and he was so handsome and this was his place, so it didn’t matter.

—————-

The restaurant had filled up - the parking lot was packed.

It was almost getting dark. My parents wanted to check in to our hotel before it got much later. We were all tired from the travels.

We walked back towards the family van. I turned back and saw Rod, standing on the porch, looking at us with a strange little smile.

My heart was pounding again, and my hands were sweating. Rosa had spread her wings, shielding me with one of them, casting the white feathery shawl over my shoulder. Then she tapped me.

“Look, Ellie!” She said.

I turned back and saw Rod, emerging from an embankment with a handful of flowers…a bouquet of pink and white wildflowers. It seemed like he had just gone to pick them off the side of the road, for they grew wild all over the side of the highway, along the shoulder and embankment, and in the grassy areas surrounding the restaraunt.

He jogged over towards us, holding out the quickly handpicked bouquet of wildflowers. Rosamund Helen and my parents walked ahead, letting me fall behind while I waited of him to meet me.

“Miss Ellie,” he said, when he got to me, panting a little. His face looked lighter, and happier, than I had seen it. “I wanted you to have these. I know they’re not much but, a pretty girl should have some pretty flowers,” I took them into my hands, grateful for the gesture. I knew he wanted to kiss me. He leaned over and brushed my cheek with his lips. I could feel the rough of his stubble, the little dark hairs all over his face.

My insides leapt.

“Wow,” I said coolly, not sure how impressed I really felt at the last minute romance. It was a nice gesture, and he did remember what I said about the flowers.

“Thank you,” I said. Out of obligation, I leaned up on my tip toes to kiss his cheek back.

It felt odd, mechanical. But he looked pleased.

“I’ll see y’all later?” He said. “Maybe I can pick you up and bring you back to the ranch tomorrow?”

I nodded, smiling. “Yeah,” I said. “Yes. That would be nice.” I blinked in slow motion like fool. I was so good at playing the part.

He raised a hand, the flat of his palm, and waved at my parents behind me.

I went on back towards the car, but noticed, out of the corner of my eye, Betty. The mule. She was lying on the ground. On her side. And I could see, now, the hybrid parts of her - the metal and electrical wiring in her belly, just under the surface of her fur. It didn’t look like she was breathing, but then again, I was’t sure that hybrids needed to breathe? I was going to point it out to Rosamund and Helen, but they were a few steps ahead of me, linked arm and arm, gabbing about how well it had all gone, Helen’s mousey brown hair and Rosamund’s light brownish gold all tossed up together in the wind.

I paused to look at Betty again. Her ankles stacked one on top of the other in Ana unnatural way. I could see the gears turning in her belly. Which felt reassuring on some level. But the sight of it felt jarring….Something not quite right. I followed my family into the mini van.

——————--------------------------------

He didn’t want to lay down with me.

As I lay there naked in our sheets, the air kissing my tanned skin, I suddenly felt that I couldn’t remember a thing since the day I’d first met him. It was as if i had arrived into my brain this very moment, these thoughts, someone else's thoughts, like coming up to the surface from the depths of a pool, or sleepily dragging onself out the grips of a dreamed reality.

The analog clock numbers read 7:52. The shades were drawn and the room was dark, was it day or night? How much time had gone by? Th elast thing I could remember was gting into the mini van with my family, watching Betty's inside gears twitch and churn.

The confusion set onto my face like a mask I couldn’t take off.

I looked at my left hand. There was a wedding band, a diamond, a beautiful one too, a modest circle cut. Nothing too fancy and complicated like Rosamund would have wanted me to have. But wait...were Rod and I...married?

I closed my eyes. I could feel the grit of last night's mascara still on my lashes, still taste the flavor of my lip color -the light, sugary aftertaste of temptress red. The sheets were luxurious and soft. I could see a pair of red bottom heels on the floor. Where even…?

I looked around at the unfamiliar room, the paintings on the mellow yellow walls, the sheets - soft, elegant, mature, but not the lavender ones I last remembered sleeping on in my own room, in my parents house. Were we even in the Northeast anymore? I had a feeling that I was somehow very far from home.

end of part 1

FantasyShort StoryMicrofiction
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About the Creator

Jenna in the Stars

fiction writer, journalist, reporter, *astrologer*, wildlife lover, citizen of planet earth, curious human

book a reading with me: ascensionastrologyco.com

email: [email protected]

jennabernsteincopywriting.com

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