Twenty minutes later I began to process what had happened; my hands and legs started shaking, heart pounding, lungs gasping for air.
I shouldn’t have told her. The letters had been to encourage her, at first. She was the leader of the Women’s Co-op and had been for 8 years, since she was TWELVE , for god’s sake; she has wrested control from The Fathers who wanted to keep the girls locked away, and then formed the co-op where all 80 girls that survived The Plague now stayed.
I immediately began sending her anonymous letters of encouragement; books on leadership, planning, theory: Greene’s The 33 Strategies of War, Sun Tzu, Paine’s Common Sense.
Why? Because I loved her.
Yeah, loved her. Yeah, when she was twelve. And I was…. a lot more than twelve. And if I had left it there, encouragement, it would be okay now.
But I didn’t. I started to include affection, desire, longing. I waited, though; six years, until she was 18. But I was too cowardly to confess my involvement.
Until today. Her 20th birthday.
Sixty minutes ago, she looked fine. Well, as fine as possible after a day of heavy negotiations with the McGraw family; they always seem to exhaust her small supply of patience.
When she finally arrived at her own party, I went over to wish her a Happy 20th, teased she was officially a Lady. She snapped back that surely she must be a Contessa by now, and gave me the same irritating near-smile she’s been giving me for the past 10 years, ever since The Plague changed our lives. I remember a lot about how she used to be; the lighthearted tomboy egging me to climb trees, get muddy, go exploring. What I miss most, though, is the blinding joy that used to ooze from every pore in her body; her smile so contagious that you couldn’t help but be happy too.
And as I catch her in the corner of my eye now, I realize that in the entire 18 years I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her look like this. She’s frozen, hand on her mouth, eyes strained and darting about, and as I go to her, I know something is very, very wrong.
I’m late. She’ll kill me if I skip my own birthday party. She’s worked so hard on it, and she’s been my best friend all my life, so I have to go. And, truth be told, I’m hoping he’ll be there.
I know he sees me at these things, events where we let the girls mingle, gain familiarity with the men. He always writes a letter after, complimenting me on how I looked; how nice it was to see me dancing…
I wonder if I’ve ever danced with him.
He sends me gifts, too; all those books, that silk wrap, the emerald bracelet I’m wearing that matches my mother’s special earrings.
And he knows my name. Not the nickname I’ve been called since I was born, but my real one. My teachers didn’t even know it, but somehow he knows.
I’ve tried to figure out who he is; I’ve re-read the letters so many times the ink is wearing off. All I can come up with is that he’s older. And he knows books. And he’s a bit of romantic.
Which pretty much eliminates all the men I know – but he has to be here. There’s nowhere else to be.
I hate Abbey. All of us men do.
Well, not all the men. Just the men who have to negotiate with the Women’s Co-op. Those men call her horrible names when she’s not around; Ball-breaker, Ice Queen, worse…
And yet here we all are, at her birthday party. So what if she’s turning 20? Lots of people turn 20.
Just not any women. Don’t know how, but The Plague killed nearly everyone. But who cares that today’s the anniversary of the worst day ever? We’re having a flippin’ party.
You’d think Rivka would know better than to throw Abbey a birthday party; she knows no one really likes her. Well, she does, I guess.
And the older men are starting to. Like her, I mean. They’ve started acting weird whenever the girls are around – like they’re special or something; it’s not right.
And Jackson Bell’s not talking Energy business with her right now. Smiling like that at her, touching her arm, whispering in her ear; it’s disgusting.
Man, he must’ve said something pretty rude. She’s looking at him like he kicked a puppy.