"Temper us in fire, and we grow stronger. When we suffer, we survive." - Cassandra Clare.
My name is Rosemarie Hathaway. Only my mother calls me by my full name, others call me Rose. Well I'd like them to but they don't speak to me at all. This is my writing exercise. I don't see the point in praciticing practicing writing if I will never use it but my mother says it matters. No one knows I can write and read.
I am eighteen years old. My birthday is march March 25th.
It is now June 16th and even before the sun has risen I can feel it will be a very hot day. We are in Arizona, I'm not sure where that is but that it is in America and it is a state. Most of the others will be waking up soon so this will be destroyed. I don't know what the Guardians would do I they found it but I know it would not be good. I would like to see the look on the mistress's face though. Her head may pop like a balloon left out in the sun.
"Rosemarie." My mother's voice is a quiet hiss between our two bedrolls. It's very dim at the back of the barn and I know she finds it harder to read back here than I do. I purse my lips and my stomach bubbles uneasily. I shouldn't have written that part about the mistress but I couldn't help myself. "You shouldn't write things like this. It's a waste."
"I shouldn't be able to write at all." I whisper back and instantly regret it. My mother hated when I was like this, when I couldn't control what I said. "I don't think they'd care much about what I've written but more that I could in the first place. "
I feel the weight of her eyes on me and I pull at a loose piece of straw sticking out of my mattress.
"You know better." She says quietly and I wince. "I've done all I can to make sure you know better, do not be arrogant with your knowledge."
I'm not quite sure what she means but I know she's disappointed.
"Sorry, mom." I mumble and pull the strand of hay free.
Her hand touches my shoulder gently. "Don't call me that." And she pulls away. She folds up the scrap of paper I'd snatched from the trash and tucks it into the front of her trousers. It wasn't a place that kept our secrets completely safe but it made her worry less. I wonder where she'll destroy it tomorrow. Maybe she'd bury it in the orchard or far beneath the berry bushes.
"Why can't I call you mom anymore?" I sound like a child and I hated it. I hated it because I missed being a child when I didn't care about anyone else only my mother. I missed how she sang me to sleep, how she would wrap her arms around me at the end of the night when she told me everything would be alright and the rules were a lot simpler. Now the rules were changing.
"Because it shows your age, you know that."
"Why does that matter?"
"You know why it matters."
"I know what you told me, I don't understand."
"If you have to talk to me at all, in front of anyone you call me 'Janine' because it makes you blend in with the others. Calling me 'mom' shows that you are young, that you look to someone, that you are vulnerable and we don't want to show that."
"Because if they look at me they'll notice I'm changing?" I say quietly. A dark and heavy feeling knots around my stomach.
In the dim light, I see her lined face is grave. "Yes. Now go to sleep."
She turns away from me and lies down on her front. Her arms folded under her head, the position she sleeps in now, instead of being pressed against my back. Looking down at her small body I think she almost looks like a child. Peeking through the gap into the rest of the barn and seeing the small mounds of blankets I guess they all looked like children too.
I could feel the day creeping around the old wood, the heat pressing through. I'd hung back this morning before coming inside because I wanted to see the sunrise. But I only got to see the curve of gold in the distance, turning the sky the colour inside nectarines, before he told me to get inside. The others had settled down into their own spaces, I'd made my way to the back keeping my head down and taking in the shapes made in the gravel. I knew they didn't like that we had some privacy in our own area, a sheet that hung from a low beam at the very back of the barn when they had to change and wash in front of each other. Privacy came at a price, I understood, and it wasn't much of a benefit to us but more to someone else.
I cringe away from the memories that spring up in my head.
I shimmy down the mattress and even though my body is heavy I know sleep won't come. Leaning up on one elbow I take out the small book from under my bedroll and carefully open it up. The paper crinkles as I separate the pages apart from the one I'd last folded down in the corner. I'd memorize at least four words before I tried to sleep.
A single word caught my eye on the opposite page, taking me away from the one I'd been replaying in my mind. It was a word I thought I knew but reading its meaning made my mind trip over it.
Love: A strong feeling of affection: babies fill parents with intense feelings of love.
A strong feeling of affection and sexual attraction for someone: they were both in love with her
A great interest and pleasure in something.
My mother had told me before, a long time ago, that she loved me. I was her child and this said love is what I gave to her. I was her joy.
I loved her too. I traced the second line with my finger that told me love was sexual attraction and felt my face grow hot as my vision blurred. I shut the book louder than I should and wipe at my eyes. I snatch it up and lean over to the dugout hole at the base of the wooden post and drop it inside. I push the small heap of gravel over it until the ground is even and another secret is hidden.
I turn my back on it and stare at the back of my mother's head, trying to breathe slower, trying to stop pictures forming in my head and sounds echoing in my ears. I shut my eyes and try to picture the sunrise.
The kitchen is heavy with the smell of chocolate and pastry and everything sweet. Apples have been sliced and prepared for baking and my mother is drizzling honey over yoghurt topped fruit. Glazed scones and Muffins are like golden treasures in the centre of the table. My mouth waters and my fingers itch. Mary says something to my mother and she laughs, it's an odd sound that pulls my mind away from the food.
"This can't be for us." I say, terrified someone will agree.
"But it is." Mary says, her face practically shining with joy. But Mary never smiled, especially not at me. If he spoke to me at all it was to snap instructions or tell me to get out of the way.
"Not yet Rose." My mother chides, slapping away my hand that I hadn't even realised had been stretching toward a golden topped muffin. Dark chips poked through the honey-coloured skin and I longed to bite into it, I wanted it more than I'd ever wanted anything.
My eyes fill with impatient tears. I should not be crying, I am not a child. "But I want one."
"Not yet. You'll spoil it."
"Soon." Mary soothes and she begins dusting powder from the marble worktop.
I am crying now, tears streaming down my face and tickling my chin. "But we have to eat now before they catch us."
The happiness begins to slip down my mother's face like water rushing down a window. The lights fade out of the kitchen, the countertops shine is chased away and the pastries no longer glow. A shadow passes by the window and Mary drops the large bowl she'd been cleaning. Her face looks more like it usually does, lined and grim. More shadows pass, black phantoms in the grey light.
"They heard you." Mary hisses.
I stumble back as more shadows crowd the room, angry voices coming through the back door. I look desperately for the other that leads to the hallway but it's not there.
"Oh, Rosemarie." My mother says sadly and grasps the counter. She looks like she's about to fall.
I don't want to say but it comes out strangled. "Mommy."
The door explodes inward and they're coming through fast and formidable, all in black with their expressions savage and eyes glinting in the dimness. I start screaming and hands fasten around me and pain lances over my back and sides, I can't see who has the whip, I can't tell who it is hitting me. I'm yanked up by my hair and it's the mistress, her eyes a cruel blue burning into me like ice against my skin. I can't breathe. I can't move.
Her lips curl back revealing her fangs.
I can't see her, I can't see anything past the Mistress and the shadows posed by her but I hear her sigh. "I told you not to call me that. Why can't you just follow the rules?"
The words that are always useless, that I know don't bring mercy, are cut off by my scream as the Mistress lunges toward my neck.
I jolt. My eyes snap open and above me is a golden pillar stretching down to hug the wall in a rectangle of sunlight. Dust is dancing in the ray and the smell of must, sweat, and wood fill my nose. I jerk as a hand touches my shoulder.
My mother is kneeling beside me. Her red hair that's threaded with silver is already pinned back and her pale face makes the lines around her eyes stark, reminding me too much of my dream.
"I said, get up."
I lean up onto my elbow and see through a gap in the sheet the Others are awake. Most of them sat in their spaces hunched over their breakfast, others dressing. I can't help but think all their faces are the same. They all remind me of dank rags, discoloured and shabby after years of use. I remember my dream, all the brightness, and loveliness of the start of sunrise before it descended into a nightmare. Waking up still left me in that dark kitchen, it always would.
"Are you feeling alright?"
I look up into my mother's face. She didn't sound worried but I could see it in her eyes. "I'm fine."
"Come on, time to get ready."
My throat feels like I've swallowed without chewing properly, as it usually does now she has to help me dress, but I stand and follow her to the corner. The sheet means the others can't see in here but if they drifted closer, if they saw through the gap, then part of an old fence that I change behind means I'd still be hidden.
My mother's priority is to hide me in plain sight. Or rather...hide how my body has changed.
As soon I step behind the barrier that reaches my shoulders I raise my arms and she pulls the oversized shirt I sleep in over my head. Even though it's silly, even though she's seen me like this before, I still hold my arms over my chest to hide. I keep my eyes on the floor as a strange chill creeps over my skin, which has nothing to do with the temperature but the fear of being seen. From the corner of my eye, I see her rummaging quietly behind the few things she's managed to hide back here.
When she's found what she's looking for she turns back to me. "Up."
I hesitate and then I raise my arms. Her hand presses the fabric to my ribs as she crosses it over my chest, around my back, and overlaps where it began. She tugs it tight and I close my eyes and she repeats this over and over. I wonder how long this will matter, hiding parts of me away, and if it matters at all.
A lank curl falls over my face. It's heavy and my scalp feels strange where my hair has escaped its knot and fallen. "Can I wash tomorrow?"
"How many days has it been?"
"Yes." I know she would prefer I wouldn't but I felt horrible. The smell that clung to me reminded me of rotting fruit and stale sweat.
A glint catches my eye. The gold chain of her necklace has risen above her collar. I'd only seen the pendant that hangs from it a couple of times, a golden oval with an eye in its centre. She didn't like to talk about it and she didn't like to see me looking at it. When I was younger and hadn't learned when to stop asking questions, she told me it was from another life and that it wasn't important. As she moves the chain disappears beneath her tunic collar. I glance down to see that she's almost done. She tugs the bandages tighter and begins tucking the ends into the folds. It would be a few hours until I was used to the restriction. Before every breath didn't nip at my ribs.
She steps back and looks at me with a slight frown.
I want to shrink away, to disappear. "Is it alright?"
Her lips purse and she nods. I turn away from that look and dressed with the weight of her disappointment settling in my empty stomach and the hatred of my own skin burning in my mind.
She leaves our space and I tug the hairband out with some difficulty, running my fingers through the greasy snares of my hair. My scalp feels like it's lightly bruised and I want to knead it with my fingers but it would have to wait. I twist it back up and snap a band around it. I pull on my faded red shirt and notice how it now clings to my stomach now instead of hanging loosely. I pull it away from my body in an attempt to stretch it but the materials become so thin I worry it will rip. That would be...terrible for more reasons than one.
How was I not aware of this change? Or maybe I'd been trying too hard not to notice my body changing I'd ignored it. My mother hadn't been ignoring it. These new curves and dips had her staring at me as if I'd been rolling in horse manure, the awful smelling muck that was delivered every few months to coat the berry field.
I don't know why my body is betraying me and making the clock that has been ticking down since...since for as long as I'd been alive, sound louder. Every morning she helps me dress, helps me flatten and hide skin even though we both know it wouldn't prevent anything. Only delay it. And the only thing I can try to do in the time she'd bought me was to train my mind to be prepared for it.
But it isn't working.
I can't...can't accept it.
When my mother returns I'm pulling on my shoes and she has breakfast, a slice of thick bread with some blueberries. She tears the bread in half and holds out the bigger piece. I open my mouth to argue but she casts me a look that tells me this reoccurring argument will end the way it always does. I snap my mouth shut and take it. It wasn't that much bigger than hers but bigger is still more. She tilts some berries into my other palm.
We stand chewing in silence. The Others are equally quiet and I hate the part of me that knows they have more. That resents it, that pictures running into their space and snatching it from their fingers. I would never do that but I think it, I think a lot of things I shouldn't.
The heat is now inside the wooden walls, pressing in around us and making my shoulders itch to roll. It's going to be scorching today. I can usually bear the heat pretty well, it didn't bother me, I'm used to it I suppose but there are some days where the sun feels like it's punishing us.
My mother struggles more than I do but she never complains because she's strong, because she can accept things and get on with what needs getting on with. Her skin is paler than mine despite being here for, well as long as I have, and it used to bother me when I was younger, that we weren't the same. My moms' skin burns and blisters where it isn't covered on days like this.
"Keep your bottle filled today." She says, as she always does.
"Their son is coming home tonight." She says flatly and to anyone else, it would look like this didn't bother her. But I knew it made her anxious, everything had to be perfect or what would happen…well I didn't want to think about it. "I'll be in the kitchen most of the day preparing and serving later. You come straight inside when you're finished. Understand?"
Her being inside is good, she wouldn't burn.
"Keep your head down, do your work, and don-"
"Don't draw attention to myself. I know."
The silence is tense. She throws her cupped hand back against her mouth, swallowing her small amount of berries in one gulp. I cradle mine in my own palm, taking my time to select one and pop it into my mouth. She picks up our bottles and hands me mine. Without a word we make our way out of the barn, past the few who were still eating, and out into the blazing sun.
Sweat is running down my back and I roll my shoulders uncomfortable with the wet tickle. I'm looking forward to washing and usually, I resent the thought of the cold water drenching me, that slap of water over my head that is a shock to my entire system but not today. Today is so hot that I'll welcome every frozen drop. Especially because I'm sure that if I went another day without bathing I would start attracting flies.
Through the holes in my shoes, I can feel gravel. It's hot against my feet and oddly I like how it feels rubbing against my soles. It's a privilege to even have shoes, most of the Other's had never owned a pair or had worn them out until they fell apart. Mine are being held together with tape and I was sure they weren't going to survive much longer.
The person in front of me shuffles forward to the tap and refills their bottle. They have no shoes, the skin on top of their feet is shades darker than mine with a pink shine under the surface, the sun's branding from this day. Their heels are dry and cracked and when they move away there are droplets on the dusty ground, darker spots than water will have made.
I glance after them, a man, returning to the field. I didn't know his name but I didn't really know anyone else's name here. I knew his face, I knew everyone's face here because not being able to talk to them meant I had nothing to do but watch.
He used to play with Eddie or tell him jokes, jokes Eddie would tell me and my mom would get annoyed with if she heard them.
I flinch and glance up at the shadow standing by the kitchen door. Another man, a Guardian.
The outside tap is under the kitchen window, where my mother currently is. The smells drifting out of the open door sent my stomach into hungry knots and it was another reason to get away from here as soon as possible. I unscrew my bottle cap quickly and shove it under the tap. The hand that holds it trembles and I glare at it, willing it to stop, willing my body to just cooperate.
The entire time I can feel the Guardians' eyes on me.
"Hot today, isn't it?"
I watch the water level rise, wishing the flow was faster. I hear a crisp crunch and chewing. I don't dare look up but I guess he's eating an apple.
My stomach spasms.
"Did you hear me?" His voice is thick and I presume it's because his mouth is full. Despite this, I can hear the amusement in his voice.
The water is near the top.
"Are you deaf and dumb? If it's only the second then you're being very rude. If it's the first, well, I can say whatever I like then can't I?"
"You'd say it anyway."
He stops chewing. The water overflows onto my hand. I stare at it and there's no willing anymore, the trembling mounts to shaking and I can't connect my mind to it. I can't make it stop or pull away from the flow of water and I need to because it's wasteful and I can feel the spray flicking my ankles.
Oh no, no please no.
"Yes." He says. "I suppose I would. You're wasting water little girl." I jerk the bottle back and water spatters my shirt. My fingers are clumsy on the tap as I shut it off. "Do you think wasting water, in southern Arizona, in the middle of June, is wise?"
His questions, the pauses between, convey how stupid he thinks I am. How far, far, far above me he is.
Everything in me is telling me to run but my mind is going numb. I shake my head and try to twist the bottle cap back on but I drop it. I trip on my feet as I bend to retrieve it from the hot dirt but another hand snatches it up.
I stare at the black boots, the toes covered in dust. "I asked you a question."
I shake my head.
"No smart remark this time?" He asks quietly, still amused.
Something hot sparks in my chest and I shy away from it, my mother's face in my mind. It couldn't have been more than a second's hesitation but I shake my head again.
"Good." He draws the word out like he was slowly carving it into my skin to remind me who was in charge.
He holds the cap out in his tanned hand. The fingers are calloused like the palms. I glare at it.
"Rosemarie." The voice is sharp and my head snaps up to see my mother in the kitchen doorway. Her face is flushed and shiny, which isn't strange to see but this time it didn't look right, it looks feverish. The fire goes out and despite the afternoon sun, I feel cold. She looks from me to the Guardian and I notice how she doesn't cringe away, how she looks at him in the face showing no fear. Alway brave, always strong. "Is there a problem Guardian Alto?"
"No, I think the problem has resolved itself." He says from above my head, his voice coated in delight. My hands clench. The hand in front of my face nudges forward impatiently, the bottle cap in its palm. "At least I think she has."
I take the cap quickly, careful not to touch his palm.
"Guardian Alto, I'm sorry if she offen-"
I look up at her, half ashamed she's apologising for me and half confused as to why her words are slurring. My mother's come out onto the step, one hand raised toward us in a pleading gesture but her eyes are on us but they're not really seeing us. She sways and her hand drops.
"Mom." I breathe.
"Are you-" The Guardian pauses as my mom drops like a doll to the ground.
It's like everything stops. The heat stills in the air, the ground stops burning beneath it, the quiet rustle of the others picking berries fades and I think how the Guardian could have darted forwards and caught her if he wanted to. Instead, there is a hollow ringing in my ears as I watch my mother's face hit the dust.
Sound comes rushing back and I throw myself towards her.
"Mom, mom!" I pull her onto her back. Her eyes are closed and she's shiny with sweat. I shake her but she doesn't open her eyes, her eyelids are twitching as if she's seeing things behind them. My chest is tightening like someone has a spanner attached to it, wrenching tighter and tighter.
I twist to look up to the Guardian. "Please, please help her."
"She's only fainted. Slap her." He takes another bite of his apple. I open and shut my mouth and turn back to her.
"Mom!" I try to make my voice clear, as I pat her face. Her skin's hot under my hands, too hot.
He sighs loudly and then I'm flung backwards. "Move."
I scramble up onto my knees as he kneels beside her and slaps her face.
"Don't hurt her." I'm surprised by my own voice, it sounds like a growl.
"Hey, hey. Can you hear me?" He demands.
"Janine. Her name is Janine."
"Janine, can you open your eyes?" He puts the back of his hand to her forehead. "Guess not. She's got a fever." He stands up and clicks his fingers at two male Others, who had been dropping heavy-looking sacks at the side of the house. I crawl over to my mother and take her head into my lap. Her cheek is red where his hand struck it and it makes my teeth clench together until my jaw barks in pain.
"Move her head up more." A quiet voice says.
I hadn't seen her come out or noticed some Others from the kitchen had gathered at the backdoor but Mary's holding a glass of water to my mother's lips. Someone else comes out of the doorway and gives Mary a wet cloth.
"She's not going…she's not going to die is she?" My voice has collapsed back to childhood.
"No." Mary says firmly. The tightness around my heart eases a little. She dabs my mother's face with the cloth.
"Get that one back to her quarters." The Guardian's voice is hard and unsympathetic, slamming the reality of the situation into me. My jaw goes slack and my hands are useless as they clutch her. I look up at him but the sun blazes past his shoulders concealing his face. "Tell someone to keep an eye on her."
I realize he's talking to the two male Others, who are staring obediently at his shoes, they nod and move towards us. My fingers curl tighter into my mother's shirt as they come toward us. I don't know why but I feel I need to protect her, especially from these men, especially when she can't protect herself when she doesn't know what's going on. She should always know what's going on.
I'm yanked away from her and I yelp. The Guardian has seized the back of my shirt again but this time he keeps a hold. The two Others lift her from the ground, one taking her under the arms and the other taking her legs. They shuffle off, and without thinking I try to go after them but I'm jerked back again, this time my feet are just touching the ground.
"I assume that one was needed in the kitchen?" The Guardian sounds irritated as if this whole thing has been an inconvenience to him. His grip on me doesn't loosen and I'm struck then by how the material of the shirt is straining against my body and I fear everyone's going to notice.
Suddenly I feel naked.
I begin shaking again.
"Yes." Mary answers quietly. "She prepares and serves."
"And with young Mr. Ozera coming home tonight I'm sure there is a lot to be done." He makes it sound like an amusing question, one he already has the answer to.
"Well, the pup will have to replace her mommy then." He shoves me forward and I fall into Mary, both of us stumble but manage to stay upright.
"But she can't, she doesn't know-" Mary splutters and then bite her tongue under the Guardian's glare. We both drop our gazes and I see her hands are shaking too.
"I suggest you get back to work." He says quietly and it was the most dangerous voice I'd ever heard. "Mr. and Mrs. Ozera are very particular and you know better than to disappoint them."
Hey Guys! So if any of you have read my "Road back to us." then you'll know this is an idea I had kicking around and I've finally started it! I have almost everything mapped out so it's just about writing it!
I'm really excited to write this and I hope you guys enjoy it :)
I'll aim to have chapter 2 up by the end of the weekend, time to meet the Ozera's...
Note: Date change. July 26th to June 16th.