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Zara opens her eyes, her bedroom already filled with morning sunlight. Closing her eyes, she lays perfectly still taking inventory of her body, her feelings and her overall state of mind. Turning eighteen has not made Zara feel any different, yet today will be the first day of her new life.
Looking up at Audrey Hepburn in her My Fair Lady poster, Zara takes a deep breath and begins to memorize her belongings that she will never see again. Zara shifts her gaze to the two framed pictures on the nightstand. The first is a picture of her and her best friend Sloane from the first time they went horseback riding. Both of them got the giggles so badly that Sloane’s mother threatened to bring them home if they didn’t pay attention to the lesson.
The second picture, taken eight years ago on Zara’s tenth birthday, is of Fredrik giving Zara a bouquet of daisies. Ever since then, he has given her daisies on her birthday and they have become her favorite flower. This neither pleases nor displeases their father; therefore it continues to occur.
Zara begins to take mental pictures of each object surrounding the frames. The mini stuffed PINK dog from Victoria’s Secret was something she and Sloane each had to have. Convincing both mothers of the need for the PINK dogs was no easy task and the effort alone required the prominent display of their victory. This neither pleases nor displeases her father; therefore it continues to occur.
Next she notices a pink and green polka dotted hair tie. There is nothing special about it, but it was the first of many she and Sloane made over the summer. Their mothers had been looking through craft idea cards in a store when they found one for making easy hair ties. They had spent the longest time picking out fabric for their new project. Zara picks up the hair tie and slips it around her wrist like a rubber band.
Funny… the things I’ll miss.
On the back of Zara’s nightstand is a bottle of cucumber melon lotion that she won in a drawing at the mall. Never believing for a second that she would win, Zara filled out the entry form. Sloane had cautioned, “The Community exists on the fringe of society, Zara. The less direct interaction that we have with outsiders, the better.”
Zara giggles recalling their mixed surprise when she won.
Of course I would win.
Picking up the lotion and popping the top open, Zara takes a big whiff. She quickly closes it and places it back in its home on the nightstand. A chill travels the length of her back as the details of the only night she wore the lotion comes into focus. Zara’s father promptly sent her back to shower off the odor he found offensive and she was forced to listen to a lecture on how it is up to her Dom to pick the scents that please him. Until the time comes for Zara to be handed over to her Dom, there would be no scents worn in this house that were disagreeable to her father. Vanilla… for her father, it is vanilla on her mother and because Zara’s father does not like the smell of cucumber melon, it is not used in his home.
Propping herself up against the headboard, two items stand out. A massive bouquet of daisies from Fredrik sits on her dresser and an equally massive wedding dress for the ceremony is hung on her closet door. She smiles at the flowers. He had given them to her a day early so she could enjoy them one last full day. Zara aches at the reality of not seeing Fredrik or getting her birthday daisies after today.
Concentrating on her breathing to keep the tears from falling, Zara looks up at the ceiling and takes a deep breath. When she regains control, she looks once more at her lovely flowers sitting on a dresser in a bedroom in a house with a family that she will say goodbye to forever, for she follows traditions that go back generation upon generation. Very soon Zara will walk out the door and that will be that.
While most brides pack suitcases of new clothes and take old belongings into their new life, there will be no packing for Zara. It is customary for the father to transfer his daughter into her new life with nothing from her old life. Once she is in the care of her Dom, her family steps away and the Dom is responsible for every aspect of his new submissive’s wellbeing. This includes ingratiating her into the Dom’s family at every level.
The wedding dress hanging in the corner demands Zara embrace the fact that today is her wedding day. Glancing back at the daisies, she wipes the single tear that escapes down her cheek. There will be no daisies for Zara at her wedding. The dress is not of her choosing. The ceremony will be the beginning of a life of no voice and no opinion. The dress is exquisite and the ceremony will be perfect. Zara’s father will be pleased.
Zara begins to move through her normal morning routine, knowing there is nothing normal about this particular morning. Her silky long chestnut hair looks healthy and full of body. Pausing to look at herself in the mirror after her shower, the first signs of cracks in her well-trained armor begin to appear. Her green eyes are a tad puffy and have a hint of red. Raising her hand to her bare neck, she realizes it is only a matter of hours before there is a collar. And a Dom attached to it.
Zara, no thinking about it yet. It is what it is!
Zara walks into her bedroom, sits on the corner of her bed and begins to focus. Using a technique her mother taught her to get through stressful moments like this one, she closes her eyes, inhales deeply… holds her breath… and slowly exhales. So as not to give any indication that the focus is on anything but the here and now, she concentrates straight ahead on a spot on the wall. As she has been trained, deep concentration shifts her away from the overwhelming feelings that are trying to take hold of her.
Zara chooses a memory of riding her horse, Gentlemen, crossing the field at a full gallop, with no one else around… just the two of them. She remembers the feeling of control as she sits deeper in the saddle, her legs wrapped tight around him, pushing him just a bit faster. The air whips through her hair as they cross the open field. The sun beats down making the colors of the sky and field more vivid. It is a feeling of complete, unadulterated freedom.
Three swift, hard knocks on the door jar Zara back to the present.
“Come on in, Fredrik.”
“Ready!” Fredrik throws the door open with a loud clap. “I am taking you to a few of your favorite places to say a final farewell. NOT THE MALL, so do not even ask. We have two hours on our own if we hurry. Mother and the other ladies are going to transport the dress and other wedding stuff for you. But, Zara… this is it.”
Standing slowly, Zara walks around the room that she has lived in for the last eighteen years. It is a room that is down the hallway from the brother that she adores. She touches her dresser and runs her hand over the footboard. It is a relatively simple room, but she loves it. Standing in front of her Monet print, she smiles and then glances at the Hepburn poster.
Stepping over to the chair by the window, she picks up her current read, Little Women, and removes the bookmark. Zara rests it on top of the book and puts the book on the chair. While Fredrik patiently waits, Zara moves the curtain and takes in what a lovely sunny day her last birthday in Chattanooga is turning out to be.
“I guess this is it,” Zara whispers as she walks towards the door. Fredrik steps out of the room to allow his sister one final moment alone with her thoughts. Reaching back in, Zara grabs the cucumber melon lotion and squirts one last pea-size amount into the palm of her hand and replaces the bottle. Then she closes the door of her bedroom and her childhood.
Zara walks quickly past Fredrik and out of the house she can no longer claim as “hers” to Fredrik’s car. Once inside, she rubs the lotion into her hands with a small kernel of satisfaction. Leaning back against the seat, all that is left for Zara to do in this moment is breathe, so she does. Deeply.
After a moment, the driver side door opens and Fredrik slides in. He hands her the travel mug she has used since she began drinking coffee.
“Where are we off to?” Fredrik asks in a surprisingly cheerful voice. Without direction from his sister, he starts the car and begins to drive.
Zara takes a sip of her mother’s blended coffee and stares silently out the window. The taste of home is all she can think of as she tries to stomach another sip. The coffee is perfect, but the vast memories of what she is leaving behind swirl around inside the mug. She pops the top closed and puts it in the drink holder between them.
After a short drive, Frederik pulls the car into a familiar wooded area and turns off the engine. They both open their doors at the same time and start walking in silence up a trail that is barely visible. Zara takes off at a slow jog with her brother following behind, yelling at her.
“ZARA FAITH, if you fall and hurt yourself, we will both be dead! You know that. Father will kill me first and make you watch.” His last statement stops Zara in her tracks.
Fredrik runs into the back of his sister. “Zara!”
They walk the last few yards slowly and cautiously in silence. At the clearing, Zara rushes to the creek’s edge to listen to the sounds of the water rushing by. Sitting upon a boulder, she stares into the churning bubbles. Fredrik sits on the ground next to her and offers her a handful of smooth stones to toss in.
With a light toss, the stones hit the water in a series of lyrical plops. Zara brushes her hand off on her jeans. Not accustomed to wearing anything but shorts or shirts in the southern summer heat, she wanted to wear her favorite jeans on her last day in her home and had dug them out days ago in preparation.
“Hello?” Zara hears Fredrik say as if repeating himself. “Did you hear anything I just said?”
Zara shakes her head and shrugs.
“I asked if you remember the stories Mother used to tell us about Aunt Laura. Do you ever think about that?”
Fredrik realizes Zara is not going to answer so he gets up to gather more stones. “I wonder why she stopped telling us about Aunt Laura. Those were great stories.”
Zara pulls her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms around them, making herself as small as possible. She lays her cheek on her knee. Taking a deep breath and speaking very slowly to control her words, Zara explains to her younger brother, “After one of your doctor visits, I made a comment that I wanted to be a doctor.”
Zara turns and looks at Fredrik. “Mother stopped telling us stories about Aunt Laura because she broke from the Community. She left because she wanted a different life. She secretly took college entrance exams and scored high enough for scholarships. Then one night, she snuck out to start a new life for herself. She got her education and now she has a career doing who knows what or where.
“As soon as I was old enough to connect the dots, Mother sat me down to explain that my future was already decided for me. I was not going to become a doctor. I was not going to get an education. And I was definitely not going to sneak out in the middle of the night.”
Zara turns her head back toward the creek when she finishes speaking.
Fredrik is quiet for a moment. He walks closer and kneels next to her. “Zara, do you wish it was different?”
“It is not different, Fredrik. Not for me. I have known for years that this day was coming. It does not make it any easier. Thank you for bringing me here. This was the perfect place to bring me, my temporary escape. The one place on earth where I can forget who I have to be and can just be. Would you do something for me?”
“I will try. You know that.”
“Would you just talk… about anything? I will miss the sound of your voice and I want to lock it in my memory before we have to go.” Zara forces the words out around the large lump in her throat.
“WOW! Am I on the spot or what? Okay! This is my last opportunity to tell you how much I am in awe of you. You are the strongest person I know. The training that you have had to endure to get you ready for today… learning different positions, serving lessons, mental lessons to deal with whatever situation you have to deal with. I know that I only know portions of what your training entailed because Father did his best to see that I stayed as far away from that as possible.
“But mostly I am sorry that you had to grow up thinking that your opinions and thoughts were not valid or even considered,” Fredrik exclaims firmly as he kicks at something on the ground in front of him.
Zara jumps off the rock and throws her arms around her brother. He wraps his arms around her waist and takes two steps back to prevent them from toppling over into the creek together.
“You have always listened to me, Fredrik. You made me feel heard. All the time we spent talking in my room will be memories that I will keep with me forever.”
Releasing her brother, Zara is surprised to see his eyes are filled with tears.
“Sorry, I know we are not the most affectionate family, but…” Fredrik pulls Zara into another bear hug. He whispers into her hair, “I think you would make a great doctor.”
“That was just a child’s comment. I wanted to be a policeman, banker and jockey that same year. Dreaming is dangerous for the daughters of King Council members. I stopped a while ago.”
After a moment, he releases her and the siblings stand at the edge of the creek in silence. It is Fredrik who bends down and picks up a stone to throw in the creek with a loud plop.
“I remember when we were younger, you would take care of me for hours. You are only two years older… just a kid yourself. You never seemed to mind that I followed you everywhere. You have been the best sister. I am going to miss you like crazy.”
Fredrik turns and walks down the path toward the car. Slowly Zara scans the area creating more mental pictures of a place she will never visit again. She notices the shade of the green leaves on the tall skinny tree growing in from the hills, the clarity and level of the water. Closing her eyes, Zara listens to the sounds the water makes, and the sound of each step on the gravel underfoot as she begins to back away from her favorite spot for the last time.
As they walk back to the car, Zara tells Frederik, “Thank you for today… I will never forget it. Promise.”
Fredrik nods somberly and starts the car.
The drive to the Center is short and silent. As they arrive at the front door, Zara’s mother darts out of the building and up to the car. “You are ten minutes late! We have a schedule to keep. Fredrik, please take care of what I have asked you to. Zara, move… move!”
“Yes, Mother,” Fredrik responds respectfully.
Zara follows one step behind her mother into the Center. The pair walks up the steps and head directly to the Peach Suite. The mothers traditionally use this suite to prepare their daughters for the Circle Ceremony. Front and center, the wedding dress, with its huge princess skirt and layers upon layers of tulle, is the first thing Zara sees as she enters the suite.
The top layer, covered in carefully spaced crystals, adds an extra element to capture the light with every step. The corset bodice is made to fit so tightly that Zara takes a deep breath just looking at it. Once the dress is on, deep breaths will be out of the question.
Zara notices a shoebox on the chair next to the dress and slowly walks over. She reaches to pick it up.
“ZARA FAITH!” Zara’s mother shrieks.
Startled, she places the shoebox back on the chair and rushes to her mother’s side.
“We are in a hurry. Please sit!”
Zara sits immediately and several women descend on her in a flurry to make her Circle Ceremony ready.
Zara holds perfectly still in every position she is placed in as she is processed for her pending walk down the aisle. As the last button is secured on her dress, her mother circles around her to get a full visual. Instructed to get into her presentation position, Zara lowers to her knees, careful to not catch any portion of her dress. Sitting back on her heels, she rests her hands in her lap, one crossed over the other. The ladies apply the final layer of hairspray and insert the last of the hairpins before leaving Zara and her mother alone in the suite.
Back on her feet, Zara struggles to regulate her breathing within the confines of the dress. She gazes into a full-length mirror, alone with her thoughts. A few hours ago, she woke up in her own bed and now she has been prepared for a short walk that will change her life forever.
Her mother steps into the reflection behind her. “You look lovely, Zara Faith. I am very proud of you today. You have taken everything I have taught you and made it your own. You are ready for whatever is placed in front of you.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Zara replies in a hushed whisper.
There is a knock at the door as mother and daughter look at each other one last time. Zara’s gaze returns to her own eyes in the mirror. She squares her shoulders and takes as deep a shallow breath as she can. Her mother turns and takes a couple of steps toward the door leading out of the suite.
“Zara Faith, there is one thing I want you to know before your ceremony. You may not understand, but I love and cherish your father with all of my heart. It will be difficult today. The traditions work. Trust in them.”
Harder knocks at the door end the mother-daughter moment. Zara reaches the door first, but knows not to open it. Stepping aside, she waits as her mother opens it and lowers her gaze. Zara’s father stands on the other side waiting to gather his daughter for the ceremony.
“It is time!”