From conception, we were predestined for greatness. At least, that’s what he tells us. We have spent our entire lives here, growing and developing in this loam soil we call home. Grasping at the sand, silt, and clay, our roots penetrate the perfectly acidic earth we have been given. Absorbing all the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium we can hold, we reach our peak moment of fruition.
That’s when he rips us from our stalk, separates us from our family, and robs us of our home. It’s been said that those that leave the stalk are rebirthed into a glorious afterlife, full of peace and harmony. We can only hope that to be true.
He continues to rip our brethren from their stalks until he’s had his fill. Then, we’re taken away from the comforting scent of manure and grass and thrown into a giant barrel. Side-by-side we wait, wracked with fear and anxiety, for his return. After a while, we can’t be sure how long, for the darkness warps our sense of time, we hear the clomp of his heavy work boots returning. We hear the metallic churning of a machine. We hear the blades and feel its vibrations rattling the ground beneath us.
We feel the barrel containing us lift and pull away as we’re thrown into the top pan of the machine. Those at the top of the barrel are the first to be crushed, pulverized into mush by this beastly machine. We hear the screams of the ones before us, calling for mercy. Their sickly-sweet scent covers the air like a blanket. Those of us who are unfortunate enough to be at the bottom of the barrel must endure their screams more than anyone should have to.
After hearing the machines silence our loved ones, us from the bottom eventually silence as well and accept our fate. This is the end. It felt so short in retrospect, but our lives have been so full of sunshine and fresh air that we felt at peace. That’s when the last of us went through the machine.
We thought that would be the end, but, after emerging from the other side, our bodies join the rest of our brethren in the primordial soup we were said to have originated from. Our bodies are now a collective mass, yet our minds retain their individual consciousness, communicating chemically through aroma and reaction. We are put back into the barrel that we were confined to before The Crushing and left to sit for what felt like months, but some say it was merely a few weeks. Thankfully, the weather was warm, so we could exist in comfort, but soon the heat became unbearable as part of our bodily essence leaked out and turned into liquid that exuded a pungent scent of a stinging nature. Then, once again, we hear the steps of his return.
This time, no fear would taint our consciousness, for we now know nothing can obliterate us. Our bodies may transform, but our souls continue and grow. He goes on to filter out our pulpy bodies, leaving only our essence. Our higher consciousness continues while the rest was left to lie with the pulp. He pours our essence into dark bottles and leaves us until he is ready to pluck us from our shelves, remove the cork containing us, pour us into a glass, and take a sip.
We all hate our bodies. Isn’t that normal? How can we be content with our not-perfectly white teeth, mannish hands, and the fact that one boob is larger than the other? We can’t help but look in the mirror and point out our differences, competing to see who’s ugliest. Perhaps we did this to prove to each other who is actually the prettiest, or perhaps because showing love to ourselves and each other is too foreign of a concept.
One of us will start complaining, “God, I hate my lips. Why are they so big?” Then a chain reaction begins and another one of us says, “At least you don’t have to deal with these giant shoulders, making it impossible to buy shirts that flatter you.”
“Shut up. You know it’s better to have big shoulders than a massive ass. I can never find jeans that fit!”
The conversation goes on this way as we continue to get dressed for gym class. Hiking up our shorts and tucking in our shirts to make our figures more appealing to the boys, hoping to reel in a new, more attractive boyfriend than our last.
We touch up our concealer and foundation to cover the newly-emerging pimples. In this world, a blemish on the skin is worse than a blemish on the soul. We can be a back-stabbing bitch as long as we look good doing it. The boys only ever want to date the beautiful, big-breasted, bubbly bitches, so that’s what we mould ourselves into being. We seek to appease and please the male eye in every step, bend, and breath. Being your true self is not an option. No one cares who you really are. This locker room is a warzone. It’s kill or be killed.
“Hey Aria, are you going to Danielle’s party this weekend?”
“Danielle’s having a party this weekend?”
“Yeah. Her parents are going to a spiritual retreat or whatever, so the house will be free for us to party. Oh wait… she didn’t tell you? Shit, my bad.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me she was having a party?”
“Well, weren’t you talking to her ex? Maybe she’s mad.”
“He texted me! I only responded to tell him to fuck off.”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you came by.”
“Wait, how would she know Matt was texting me? I never told anyone.”
“Well, maybe he told her to make her jealous or whatever.”
“Maybe I should just talk to her…”
“You could, but she’s in like a really shitty mood because she’s on her period.”
“Dang, okay. I’ll just come by Saturday night. Thanks for the heads up, Britt.”
“No problem, girl. I’ve got your back.”
Most of us that knew about the party showed up fashionably late in our cutest outfits. An ultra mini-skirt here, a cropped crop top there, and maybe some thigh-high boots to keep our legs warm. We laugh at all the boys’ jokes, placing our hands on their arms or shoulders. Some of us enjoy the close proximity and genuinely think their jokes are funny, but most of us just go through the motions awkwardly, still unsure of how to stand in these damn heels.
In each corner of the modestly lavish house, small herds of fawns whisper over their White Claws.
“Don’t you think Brett is looking fine tonight?” says Kelly as she shifts her weight from one leg to the other. Her calf has begun cramping and it’s only midnight.
“Oh god, you did not just say that,” says Alana, nauseated.
“His face isn’t that cute, but he looks amazing in Speedos.”
“Kelly, please stop. That’s disgusting. He’s your cousin.”
“Yeah, but I can still look and appreciate a nice package when I see one.”
“I’m literally going to puke.”
“That’s not right, is it?”
Alana looks at Brett across the room, looks back at Kelly who’s still daydreaming about him, and says, “That’s definitely not right.”
Kelly nods sullenly, but her gaze drifts back to Brett as she notices him walking into the kitchen and says “Wait, Brett!” as she staggers after him.
Abandoned and exasperated, Alana looks around for another group to be absorbed into because we can’t be left alone with our own thoughts for too long. It causes us to have independent thought and introspection. Two things that we know boys are definitely not into. That’s when Alana notices Britt and Danielle talking avidly on the patio. Curious, she makes her way through the crowd of tipsy teenagers to see what could get Danielle so worked up. Once she’s in earshot, Alana catches part of their conversation.
“I swear to god. If I see her face again, I’m going to rip that stupid weave right out of her stupid head. It doesn’t even match her hair color. Who the fuck does she think she’s fooling? No one can grow four inches of hair over one summer,” says Danielle.
Britt responds, “I’m just as shocked as you are. Like, it should like be a law that friends don’t date other friends’ boyfriends, especially not behind their backs.”
Just as the conversation starts to get juicy, someone turns up the volume and all that Alana could hear was the pulsating beat of some hip hop song. Wanting to hear more, she edges closer to them and leans on the bannister while sipping her Claw, pretending to be listening to a group of jocks talk about last week’s game. Now she can hear the two of them clearly.
“She knew how heartbroken I was after Matt and I broke up. Aria was always there for me during that time,” says Danielle as she takes a shot of Fireball.
“Didn’t you break up with him?”
“Yeah, but it still hurt. I guess you wouldn’t know, Britt. You’ve never had a boyfriend. Honestly, don’t waste your fuckin time. Men are trash.”
“I wouldn’t say all men are trash. Matt was pretty good to you. He always called you beautiful and stuff.”
“Yeah, but he was, like, so clingy. He always wanted me to hang out and, like, meet his parents. It was so annoying.”
“What about Jake?”
“He’s definitely way less annoying than Matt, but sometimes he doesn’t make any sense. He’ll start talking about weird science stuff and I’m just like, ‘uhhh can we talk about something interesting?’ and he’ll get mad. I don’t get him sometimes, but the sex is good. I almost came one time.”
“Huh, yeah, uh… every relationship has its bumps.”
Danielle takes another shot and says, “It’s whatever though. I’ve already got my eye on someone better.”
“I noticed that guy, Brett, when I was walking past the pool and he looks so sexy in those Speedos. I was thinking of breaking it off with Jake tomorrow and getting with Brett instead.”
That’s when the jocks’ conversation began to turn from playful banter into rough housing and Alana got pushed back off the bannister and into the rose bushes below, ripping her from the most interesting gossip she’s heard all night. Unfortunately, the music was too loud and the jocks didn’t notice what they had done. Alana was left alone once again to tend to her dislocated shoulder, about to miss the most interesting thing to happen all week.
Aria had a hard time sneaking out of the house with her parents watching Seinfeld reruns late into the night, but she finally made it to the party. She could hear the baseline of some hip hop song from the front yard. Excited, but mostly nervous, Aria knocks on the door and some random dude opens it to let her in. The party was already in full swing, so she made a beeline for tequila shots to catch up. She pours herself a shot and chases it with some Sprite.
At this point in the night, all of us are drunk. If we weren’t drunk, we were wasted. The winner of most drunk bitch at the party, hands down, went to Danielle and she claimed that title outright upon seeing Aria in her kitchen, drinking her tequila. Marching with all the drunken purpose in the world, Danielle said, “You bitch,” as she slapped Aria in the face. Stunned and confused, Aria stumbles behind the counter to put some distance and a blockade between her and Danielle.
“What the fuck was that for?!”
“For fucking Matt behind my back!”
“I wouldn’t do that to you!”
“Then, why the fuck did Britt tell me you did?”
That was Britt’s cue to try to slip out of slapping distance as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for her, Danielle was faster. She grabbed Britt by the end of her high ponytail and yanked her back into the ring. Now, a crowd was forming around us, chanting, “Fight, fight, fight!”
Danielle yells, spitting slightly in Britt’s face, “What the fuck is going on?”
Shaking, Britt confesses, “It’s just that you’re so much prettier and more popular than me. I knew I never had a chance with Jake, but if I can’t be with him, then I don’t see why anyone else should. I wanted him to break up with you, but, when I found out you were going to break up with him, I realized all my work was pointless.”
Right before all the drama, Jake had walked into the hallway by the kitchen to take a little break. Upon hearing Britt’s confession, he walked back into the kitchen, astonished, and said, “You’re gonna break up with me? Why?”
Knowing that the truth was too shitty to say, Danielle decided to omit some facts.
“I just thought we didn’t really vibe as well as I thought we would.”
“Well, you’re right about that because I’m definitely not digging your vibe right now. I mean, look at you. Getting into drunk cat fights with your own friends? Making a scene in front of all my friends? How do you think that makes me look? How do you think that makes me feel? You know what, I don’t don’t even want to hear it. I liked you because I thought you were nice and at least somewhat of a good person. Now, I’m not so sure… I’m done. We’re done. By the way, Britt, that was a really shitty thing for you to do to a friend. I’m glad your plan didn’t work. Otherwise, I’d be feeling shitty without knowing the reason. At least, now, I know why.”
Walking past wannabe white girls, sloshed jocks, and puffed up posers, Jake walks out the door without looking back, leaving behind three bambi-legged bitches wondering what had possessed them in the first place.
I had never left Georgia and I never planned to until Indie. When she asked me to accompany her to visit her brother attending the Naval Academy, I was hesitant at first, but it didn’t take much convincing for me to concede. Indie always had a way of comforting my worries and relieving my sorrows. I’ve only known her for a couple years, but it’s felt like I’ve known her all my life. Our friendship grew like two flowers planted in a pot together, roots entangling and stalks intertwining to support each other.
At six o’clock sharp, she picked me up in her father’s Ford Coupe and we set out for Annapolis. We listened to Isham Jones’ It Had to Be You on the radio as maple and oak trees broke up the flat landscape of Plains. We’re given a tender farewell from Georgia and promptly received a warm welcome from South Carolina.
“You know, this is my first time leaving town,” I confessed to Indie. She raised her eyebrows slightly, smiled her dazzling smile, and said, “well, aren’t you lucky to have a friend like me to take you on a road trip?” I laughed and smiled back.
The purr of the engine and swish of the trees entranced my mind and allayed my worries for a few moments. I only felt Indie’s presence and the rhythm of my breath. I reached a calm I had never before experienced. Her hair shined golden in the morning light, framing her radiant face, drawing me into her bright blue eyes. My gaze wandered down to her pink pout and I began to wonder what lip balm she used to get them to be so soft. Sensing my stare, Indie glanced away from the road and at me. Bashful, I blushed and darted my eyes to the road she had neglected. I don’t know why I had been observing her so intently. Indie said jokingly, “Ari, just take a picture. It’ll last longer.”
After a brief bathroom break at a service station on the outskirts of Colombia, we took a short detour to visit Lake Murray. It was early October, so the air was a little too brisk to take a dip, but it was lovely weather for a walk along the shore. The sun was climbing its way up the sky as we quietly strolled beneath the orange- and red-leaved trees lining the lake, snacks in hand.
We walked to a bench beneath a sweetbay tree to set up our picnic. The bench was much smaller than it seemed from a distance so we had to sit close together. So close that our arms gently brushed against each other every time we took a bite. Skin tingling, I listened to the gentle harmony of wrens and bluebirds filling the air with rich vibrancy that made the energy between us nearly tangible. I couldn’t stop watching her from my peripheral, noting how perfectly her blue dress hung from her slim figure.
I listened intently as a pair of birds called out to each other and realized it was a mating call. I looked up through the branches to see two blackbirds in coitus. Surprised and slightly appalled, I averted my eyes, but a few moments later, I found myself looking back to their intimate interaction. Following my gaze, Indie asked, “Jealous much?”
“Jealous? What do you mean? Why would I be jealous of two animals doing that in public?”
“I dunno. You tell me.”
“I was mostly thinking about what it would be like to fly, to be free.”
“You don’t think you’re free?”
“I’m not sure if I even know what freedom is anymore. It’s become more of a daydream to me.”
“I see. You don’t know what you want or who you are.”
“I know who I am.”
“Oh, do you? Tell me, then. Who is Aria DuPree?”
I sat with the question for a few moments, trying to think of a suitable answer. Up until that point, my identity was purely based on the people I took care of: a daughter, sister, and friend. I never really thought about it before.
“See,” Indie said, “you’re not even sure anymore. You’re constantly running away from yourself and your feelings. I can even feel your urge to run away from me right now.”
I fell silent and took another bite, knowing, deep down, she was right.
A few minutes had passed by awkwardly when Indie asked, “Ari, do you find me attractive?”
Surprised and a little stunned at her bluntness, I sputtered, “W-well… you are… a… very attractive woman.” Not quite sure if that was the right answer for this situation and not wanting to ruin our friendship, I slipped back into silence.
Indie sighed. “You don’t have to lie to me. I’m your best friend. I know you pretty well and I know when someone is staring at me,” she said with a smile.
Embarrassed, I squeaked, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” Desperately trying to change the topic, I suggested that we head back to the car so we don’t arrive late for dinner with her brother.
“My brother can wait. This is important to me, so please answer me: are you attracted to me or not?” Indie’s gaze pierced right through my heart, causing my heart rate to surge from a soft tap dance to a symphony of jack hammers. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I couldn’t lie to her.
“You’re more than attractive. You’re stunning, kind, and supportive. Basically, perfect in every way,” I spill, teary-eyed.
“Why are you crying?”
Fiddling with my hemline, I said, “I’m not sure…”
“Well then,” she said cooly, leaning in so close to my ear that I felt the warmth of her breath, soft and tantalizing, “I guess I’ll have to give you a reason to stop crying.” Leaning even closer, she kissed my tear-stained cheek with the softness of a butterfly landing on a flower to suck the sweet nectar from its base.
Pulling away and spinning around, she exclaimed, “Oh my, we’ve been here for quite some time. We should make our way back to the car. Don’t want to be late!” As she skipped toward the car, I did everything I could to slow my heart rate down.
Eight hours and three bathroom breaks later, we finally arrived in Annapolis. Driving through town, I noticed how quaint and clean everything was. Even the harbor was perfectly combed with docks organized neatly. We continued our journey to the diner where Indie’s brother was supposed to meet us. Despite our detour, we arrived before him, so we went in to get a quiet spot.
When questioned about being seated at a booth, the young, bubbly hostess replied, “You’re in luck. A couple is just about to leave that booth in the corner. Just wait a few minutes and we’ll have it cleared for you.” Not long after, she took us to our table and returned a few minutes later with two cups of water and asked if there was anything else she could do for us.
Indie requested that if a sailor comes in looking for her, then she should send him this way. The hostess nodded and said, “Sure thing.” As she walked away, Indie took my hands, looked me in the eye, and said, “I’m sorry about earlier.” She professed that she never meant to make me uncomfortable; she simply wanted to finally know for sure. She had a feeling for a while, but never could work up the courage to ask.
Then, her head snapped up at the sound of her name. I glanced in the direction Indie was looking and saw the back of a tall man with neat blonde hair combed into a quiff. Looking back at Indie, I noticed her eyes sparkle a little as she exclaimed, “Finally! I thought the military would have taught him to show up on time.” As soon as he was in attackable distance, Indie pounced on her brother and squeezed the air out of him with a big bear hug. She jeered that he hadn’t really gotten any stronger and it seemed like his reflexes had only gotten slower. He chuckled and turned to look at me. As soon as his hazel eyes met mine, I fell into them without a second thought. Then this beautiful boy parted his perfectly curved lips and said, “Hi, my name’s Jason, but you can call me Jay.”
“Pleasure to meet you. My name’s Aria, but Indie calls me Ari.”
“Well, which do you prefer? Aria is a beautiful name and I would very much like to call you that.”
“Aria is fine, then.”
I couldn’t help but squirm a little under his gaze. I suddenly felt very self-conscious, as though he was looking at me with x-ray vision and could see my lacy undergarments. Noticing this, Indie came to my rescue by taking his attention away from me and asked, “So what do they teach you up at that academy, anyways?” He told her about training. She told him how their parents were doing. He told her to give them a hug for him. She told him she would. Their conversation continued on until the waitress came to our table. He ordered a medium rare steak with mashed potatoes. She asked if they serve breakfast at this time. The waitress said that they did, so she ordered pancakes and a side of hash browns. He made fun of her for her childish order. She blew a raspberry in his face. Then, the waitress looked at me and asked what I’d like to order.
Up until that point, I had been silent so I cleared my throat and said, “Just a house salad for me, please.”
Indie rolled her eyes and said, “I told you to order whatever you want. Don’t worry about the price.”
“Maybe that is what she wants. Maybe she’s not that hungry,” Jay interjected.
“I know she IS hungry because we haven’t had anything substantial for hours.”
“Well, even if that IS the case. You said she could order whatever she wanted. Why do you have to embarrass her for ordering a salad.”
“I’m not embarrassing her. Am I embarrassing you right now, Ari? No, right?”
Suddenly, both of them were looking at me expectantly. In reality, I ordered a salad because I wanted dessert later, but Indie wouldn’t want to hear that because she keeps telling me to stop worrying about my weight. However, I also couldn’t say that I wasn’t embarrassed because that would be a lie. I know Indie’s intentions were for my benefit, but she put me in a weird position. I didn’t know what to say, so I just looked down and bore my gaze into the table.
“See, she’s embarrassed. Why don’t you just drop it?”
I glance up to see Indie’s face scrunched in thought as she says, “I suppose… What do they have for dessert here?”
I let out a breath of relief and we continued as if nothing had happened. The waitress brings us our food and all that could be heard from our table was the rhythmic chomping and chewing of steak, pancakes, and house salad.
The next day, we decided to go to the local county fair, so Indie got up early to get dolled up for it. I watched her apply powder to her smooth skin and pat pale pink blush on her high cheekbones. She slipped her camisole on, slid into a lacy, lilac dress, and topped it off with a lavender cardigan. I decided to stay in bed and wait until the last minute to get ready. As I walked out the door, I looked down to see that my grey dress had a coffee stain on it. Why am I always such a mess?
When we arrived at the Naval Academy, Jay was standing tall and looking dapper in his button up shirt, slacks, and shiny shoes. He jumped into the back seat and we set off for the land of candy apples and pumpkin pie contests. As we approached, I stared in awe at the large ferris wheel that towered over the festivities. Pulling into the parking lot, I saw women in hoop skirts and lacy bonnets, children running around laughing boisterously, and vendors hauling the last of their goods out of their trucks. Bright yellow leaves, soft brown trees, and the sweet smell of autumn in the air overwhelmed my senses. It was such a beautiful day and I was glad we were spending it outside. We ventured the fair grounds and found a stand selling corn dogs that we each tucked into eagerly. Then, we wandered over to an arcade booth that a group of people were standing in line for. A young man and a little boy focused intently on shooting tiny pellets at little metal ducks. The young man, bless his soul, was doing his best, but the little boy didn’t miss a single target and beat the man by a landslide. Not only did the boy win a prize, but the man gave him the 5 bucks they had bet on.
Intrigued, I asked, “Hey, Indie. Do you think you could win that game?”
“Of course,” she stated without a moment of hesitation.
“Even against Jay?”
“Easily,” she said with a wink.
Overhearing this, Jay responded, “Are you sure? How about we make a bet? If you win, I’ll buy dinner tonight for both of you. If I win, I get to take Aria on a date tonight, instead. How does that sound, Aria? Fair?”
Unsure of what to say, I just sputtered, “B-b-but…”
“You’ve got a deal,” Indie quickly interjected as she shook Jay’s hand.
Reaching the front of the line, they got into position to win the bet. Indie’s stance was strong and steady, as if the rifle was an extension of her body, while Jay held it awkwardly, unfamiliar with its curves and strength. When the targets popped up, Indie hit each one dead center. Jay fumbled a bit in the beginning, but soon got comfortable behind the rear sight. However, he was no match for Indie, and lost miserably.
Indie jested, “You must not have wanted to go on the date that bad!” Indie and I laughed while Jay smiled nervously and scratched his head.
“I just haven’t shot a rifle in a while. How is it that you’re such a sharp shooter, anyway?”
“Dad’s been taking me out shooting every summer since you left. I guess he missed going with you, so he thought he might as well see if I was a good shot. It’s surprising that I got better than you in such a short time.”
Jay shook his head and said, “I’m just rusty. Well, a bet’s a bet. Dinner’s on me. However, there is one thing I’d like to do before we leave today.” He looked to Aria and asked, “Would you like to ride on the ferris wheel with me?”
I nodded my head eagerly and said, “Just one ride. I don’t think Indie would enjoy being left for too long.”
Indie scoffed, “I’m perfectly fine on my own. Thank you very much. Have fun going in circles.” Then, she turned on her heel and said, “You can find me at the arcade booths.”
Jay took me by the hand and led me to the tall rainbow-lit ferris wheel with little carriages just big enough to fit two adults side-by-side. The conductor lifted the restraint bar for us to squeeze into the carriage. Locked in, Jay wriggled slightly next to me. We felt the jolt of the wheel coming to life and began to ascend above the food stands, above the petting zoo, above the farmers packing their hogs back up to take home, and into the sky. I felt Jay’s hand edging closer to mine. I looked to my left to see him smiling. Feeling my gaze, he looked down at me and smiled wider.
His face still beaming, he said, “Thanks for coming. I’m glad Indie brought you with her.”
“I’m glad she brought me too. She’s the only reason I really get to do anything fun.”
“Well, my parents both work two jobs, but it’s still not enough for my four siblings and I. Indie is always willing to help me and pay for outings that I accompany her on. It’s my only chance to get some time away from my family.”
“I see. Well, how about this. When I come home for the holidays, we’ll go have tons of fun, just you and I. How does that sound?”
“That sounds lovely,” I said blushing slightly.
As he wrapped his arm around me, I snuggled into his shoulder and looked out at the land laid before me and everything beamed a bright yellow. When we reached the end of the ride and hopped out of the carriage, we found Indie at an arcade booth with darts. We approached her as she aggressively yet precisely threw darts at the target. After her last throw, a perfect bullseye, I tapped her shoulder gently. She swiveled around and said, “Ah, finally! I was beginning to think you guys left me. Let’s head back. I’m tired.”
Jay replied, “Of course. I do have to ask, though. Would you mind if I took Aria out for a picnic at Quiet Waters Park tomorrow afternoon?”
Indie hesitated, so I answered, “I’d love that.”
She shot me a glance and said, “I suppose I don’t mind. I can go to the Farmers Market and get some snacks for the drive home.”
Indie looked at me as if I had just stabbed her in the back, but I couldn’t stop beaming at the thought of going on a date with him.
Indie was tense the whole drive back to drop Jay off after dinner. After we said goodbye and drove away, Indie sniped, “What the hell was all that?”
“What the hell was what, Indie?” I shot back defensively.
“THAT. Now you’re flirting and going out with my brother?!”
“I would have thought you’d be happy for me to be asked out since I hardly ever do.”
“Not when it’s my brother! And what about what you told me yesterday? Aren’t you attracted to me?”
“I was! I mean, I am, but what’s wrong with me also being attracted to Jay?”
“Well, for starters, he’s my BROTHER. Don’t you see how weird that is?”
“What’s so weird about it? It’s not going to change the way I feel about you. You’ll always be my friend. And it’s just one date.”
“I don’t know… it just feels weird to me.”
“He probably hasn’t had much time to meet many other women and I was just the first to catch his eye in awhile.”
“I mean, you are pretty eye-catching,” she said smiling.
I nudged her shoulder and laughed playfully as we made our way back to the motel for the night.
After dropping Indie off at the farmers market, I picked up Jay and we made our way to Quiet Waters Park. It was slightly overcast when we arrived there, but not too windy. The lake was placid and peaceful. There were a few people wandering the gardens, but it was mostly empty. Jay carried the picnic basket and blanket to a shady spot under an oak tree. I walked with my arms empty and eyes cast down nervously. We set up the picnic as we talked about our family and hobbies amicably. The mood was light and the air was fresh. The sun revealed itself from its hiding spot behind the clouds and shone brightly on our skin. Soaking the sun’s rays, we ate our tea sandwiches with fruit and sparkling water. My fears and nervousness melted away like a popsicle on a summer’s day.
Full from our meal, we laid out on the blue-checkered blanket and enjoyed the gentle breeze caressing our bodies. Jay slid his hand close to mine, his pinky barely an inch away. In a moment of spontaneity, I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
“You missed,” he said, smirking.
Then, he sat up, placed both hands on either side of my face, and kissed my lips with more passion than I’d ever experienced before. Then, I kissed him back with all the energy I’d been holding in. We held that kiss for what felt like hours and seconds at the same time. Releasing each other’s lips, I was left breathless and shocked. He just smiled.
After a few months of mail correspondence, he returned home for the holidays. One day, we decided to go ice skating even though I didn’t know how to. Turns out, I was a natural, and Jay was the one who needed help. He kept slipping and falling, and I couldn’t help but laugh. In the middle of the rink, he fell right on his butt. It sounded like it really hurt, so I went over to help him and pulled him to his knees. He stuck his hand in his pocket and fished out a little blue box and opened it, revealing a beautiful diamond ring. Then, he asked, “Aria DuPree, will you marry me and make me the happiest man in the world?” To which, I said, “Yes.”
I did most of the wedding planning and preparations, but Indie also helped occasionally. I had hoped she would play a bigger role in the preparations since she was to be the maid of honor. A couple weeks before the wedding, she came with me to pick out a cake.
“Wow, these are some impressive cakes,” I said enthusiastically.
“Sure, if you like large and overpriced things.”
“If you’re not going to be helpful or supportive, then why did you come?”
“To know what not to get for my wedding, obviously.”
“You really don’t need to roll your eyes. I get that you don’t like that I’m marrying your brother, but he’s a decent person and I like him. Can’t you just be happy for me?”
“How can I? I know you don’t love him. I don’t know why you even said yes.”
“My family needs this. My parents can’t take care of me anymore. I have to think of my siblings.”
“I get that, but there’s tons of other people you could have married. Why does it have to be Jay?”
I can’t tell her that it’s because I want to stay close to her. I can’t tell her that I just want to be a part of her family because she and I could never be married. Our families probably wouldn’t even acknowledge our marriage as real or just disown us. Indie probably wouldn’t even want to marry me. I don’t even know if she likes me like that anymore. I definitely still feel that way for her, but she’s hard to read sometimes. This was one of those times, so I just said, “Because.”
“Thank you for giving me the vaguest answer in the world,” she retorted.
“You know it’s not easy being me. I don’t have a rich family, so I don’t get to do whatever I want or be whoever I want. I have people relying on me that I need to think about.”
“So you think I’m just some spoiled brat? Is that it?”
“No! I just want you to see things from my perspective. I just want you to know that I make my decisions based on my family’s needs.”
Indie was quiet and only broke the silence to say, “Okay.” We looked at all the cakes and I ended up picking a two-tier cake with marzipan flowers. We stood there quietly while the shop owner got a paper to write my order down. I told her I’d like it to be a vanilla cake with buttermilk frosting. We left the store and I dropped her off. I drove home feeling like I was making the worst decision of my life. Maybe Indie was right…
Butterflies were an inept way to describe the feeling in my stomach that day. It was more like there was an angry goblin hungry for my intestines, clawing at me from within. If today is supposed to be the happiest day of my life, why do I feel so terrible? Scared and confused, I called Indie and asked if she could come over and help me get ready. Half an hour later, she was at my house and I was hyperventilating. She rushed to the kitchen and grabbed a paper bag to help me control my breathing. She asked me what’s wrong and I began to pour my heart out. Holding me close, she rocked me back and forth, in her arms I released all my fear and helplessness. She held me until I calmed down completely and said, “You know, a red, puffy face isn’t the usual go-to look for a wedding, but you pull it off.”
I laughed and squeezed her a little. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Of course. Anything for you.”
She cleaned me up and helped me with my makeup. I put on my dress and did a little twirl for her. Indie smiled and told me I looked beautiful. I blushed and she asked me if I needed help with anything else.
“Yes, just one more thing.” I leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek.
“What’s that for?” she asked.
“Pay back,” I said with a smile. “Thank you for all your help,” I continued, “I think it’s time we head to the chapel anyways. Don’t want to be late.”
When we arrived, everyone was beginning to file into the chapel. My father came up to me asking where I’ve been and why I was so late. I simply apologized and blamed my tardiness on traffic since that was an easier explanation. I looked around and noticed that all the flowers looked as if a grayscale photo filter had been applied to my eyes. The sun dullened too as it snuck behind some clouds. It wasn’t long before the music began. What was to be a joyous tune sounded ominous and dark. I took my father’s arm, shaking, and walked down the aisle in a slow, almost funeral-like procession. I scanned the faces of everyone there. All my bridesmaids were present and Indie was in the prestigious position of the maid of honor. I looked to the right and saw him standing there in his dress whites, tall and dapper, but even he seemed greyer than usual. Then, my chest tightened and it hit me. I knew what I needed to do. I needed color. I needed freedom. I needed to breathe. I needed to run. I broke from my father’s grip, ran down the aisle, shoved the chapel doors open, breathed in the fresh spring air, and let my veil flutter behind me like petals in the wind as I left everything I ever knew for everything I ever wanted.
© 2021 Writings by Z
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