Don’t forget about my kickstarter campaign!
I’m offering up this chapter, because it sets the mood and tone for the changes that Estelle goes through in the book. I think it goes a long way toward defining her character and describes the world she lives in, perhaps obliquely, but sort of. (For point of reference, this is one chapter of 33, pages 29-37 of 320.) My eldest daughter thinks I should post one of the more exciting chapters. I told her this was exciting. I win, because I’m the author, but if you think you’d like more excitement, stay tuned tomorrow ;o)
the kind of guy
The next morning, in my first class, I asked the teacher about the protesters, and she said, “They need to understand that they complain at the discretion of the Congloms. New City’s patience is wearing thin. The protesters’ time might be better spent buying the water filter system and cleaning their own water than complaining that we haven’t done it for them.” This was verbatim what the Congloms’ spokesperson said last night on the news, and very similar to what Frederick had said. Then my teacher said, “You know, Estelle, I think you should go to the Office,” and she pointed toward the door.
Oh well, I was scheduled to go to the Office of Future Affairs and Behaviors anyway; I might as well be there early, right? I tried to act nonchalant, though tears welled up in my eyes as I gathered up my things.
There were many common scheduled reasons and only one rare reason to visit the Office, and that one rare reason was when you were in trouble. As I just figured out, asking questions of your teachers about protesters and clean water got you in trouble. The other students gaped as I struggled to put everything in my bag and teeter out of the room on my extremely high heels.
My appointments with the Office were usually to adjust my pre-ordained course selections, reading choices, and elective assignments. Besides the Office of Medicinal Management, which I went to every other week, this was the office I visited the most. It adjoined the school to make it convenient for appointments. The Office, people often said, was the control room for our young lives.
Today, though, I was in trouble, so the Office’s job was to fix me. They didn’t get a lot of practice fixing people, because it was very rare for anyone to be in trouble. Unless you were a kid by the name of William Loftin. He was notorious for being ‘insolent’, ‘disrespectful’, and ‘angry’. We were in the same grade, but he was at the School for Managerial Behaviors with Terran, so we’d never met. I had heard of him though, everyone had. He yelled when forced from the room, the only person who I ever heard of who yelled. I also heard that because he yelled, William visited the Office many, many times a year.
The waiting room for the Office had chairs all along the walls facing the receptionist desk. There were always twelve chairs and only ever four kids in the waiting room at once. If I planned to question everything, I should definitely ask them why they have eight extra chairs.
I sat in the farthest corner from the receptionist desk and slumped down with my feet up on another chair. This was my favorite chair and the perfect position for hair twirling and pondering. The screens all over the walls showed celebrity fashion news. I watched the shifting images as they covered the latest in hair and clothes. Come to find out, lilac was the hottest color. I would have to ask Jonathan next time I saw him.
When it was my turn, the receptionist said, “After we clear all of this unpleasantness up, just come back out here to wait for your Betrothal Appointment.” Her voice was cool and slightly irritated. The Inquiry Room, where we began every appointment, was sparsely decorated and always too cold. My guess is they kept it frigid, so we wouldn’t dawdle or fall asleep. There were four big comfortable chairs at desks with screens. Was the chair we chose part of the test? I chose the one farthest from the door.
Once seated, my screen flashed a welcome message, “Hello, Estelle Wells, Welcome Back,” and then up popped a short multiple choice test about the question I had asked in class that morning and my feelings and thoughts about the issue. Most of the questions seemed completely irrelevant.
Once done, I was sent back to the receptionist’s lobby for a brief wait before they called me into my assigned Behavioral Counselor’s room. The test had been checked, and my counselor had what I assume she thought was a compassionate smile on her face. That smile bothered me. Did they teach it in counselor school?
I also found it really unsettling that she knew everything about me, yet I couldn’t even remember her name. It was distracting that I couldn’t remember. Had we been introduced at a first meeting years ago? She didn’t wear a name tag. Was that another test? I was pretty sure her name started with a J, Betty Jones? Mrs. Jefferson? This never bothered me when I was at a planned appointment, but today, when I was here in trouble, I found it very irritating. So irritating that I had trouble keeping my voice steady. I thought I might cry.
I looked over my test results while she watched, the same smile on her face. There were three issues that I needed to work on:
Issue #1: Asking Questions. Seriously, I’ve always had questions, but I literally just started asking them in public this morning. How was that an issue?
Issue #2: My disheveled appearance. That was what they were calling my loose hair that dangled in the front. I liked twirling my hair while I pondered things, and frankly, there was plenty to ponder. I needed my hair loose to think all this through. Great, my finger was in my hair, right at that moment. Way to prove a point, Estelle. I glanced down and realized that I had kicked off my shoes without even noticing. My feet hurt; they couldn’t blame me for that, right?
Issue #3: Crying. Well sure, I cried a little when I was sent from the room today, and yes, I felt a little cry coming on right now. And I had never seen anyone else cry. Okay, point made. There were two footnotes. One, a quote from Sylvia Wells saying that I had cried a lot as a young child, and that my tantrums had been completely out of control. The other was from the doctor that oversaw my care as an infant. He said the nurses wore earplugs around my incubator, because I cried every night.
“Do you agree with this assessment, Estelle?” Then without waiting for an answer, my Behavioral Counselor said, “As you can see, there are a lot of things that you need to address. Here’s a list of recommendations for you to follow, and we’ll send the results to your current doctor, so that he can adjust your medication. He can definitely give you something for the questions and the crying, but it’s up to you to take your appearance seriously. You need to apply yourself, Estelle.” She looked down at my bare feet and smartly knocked all of the papers into a tight pile. Tears welled up in my eyes. I tried to brush them away with the back of my hand, but she clearly saw them. She clucked disapprovingly, her compassionate smile completely gone.
“Let’s not be a repeat offender. You can go back to the waiting room for your scheduled Betrothal Appointment.” I was sent from her office, sniffling along the way. The three other kids who were waiting watched me lurch across the room, red-nosed and swollen-eyed, the town crier.
I kicked off my shoes and rubbed my feet. My next meeting was the Betrothal Appointment, because today was the day that my husband was picked. In every direction I looked, the celebrity designers discussed the latest developments in exercise shoes. I slumped down in my seat and twirled my hair. The buckles seemed excessive. I pondered what was about to transpire. Today was the first of many momentous days. My future husband was about to be chosen for me. Then when I turned twenty, I would marry him. Then I would become a mother of two children. It was all laid out, all planned. This was the first big step.
The receptionist acted like I hadn’t been there most of the morning and smiled at me cheerily as she sent me through to the Inquiry Room again. The screen said, “Hello Estelle, Welcome Back,” which made me think it was being ironic. Then I was given a multiple choice test, the biggest by far, which I guess makes sense. Here are a couple of sample questions:
When looking for a lifelong partner you value most:
When you think about your future, you look forward to:
And on and on and on. There was no way to know what answers they were looking for, so I just went with best guesses.
After the test, I was sent back to my assigned Behavioral Counselor’s room (Sandra Jenkins?) Her smile was back. If she was taught how to smile that way, did she fail the lesson? I wanted to ask her, as part of my question everything plan, but I couldn’t build up the nerve.
She asked, “Would you like the result now or sealed in an envelope to open later at home, with your family?”
“Later is good,” I said. So she took a page, folded it up, sealed it in a white envelope, and handed it to me.
“Your results will be sent to your current doctor, and your next appointment will be with him tomorrow. Have a good evening, Estelle. You’re embarking on your future. It’s an exciting day!” With that she stood up and showed me to the door.
On my way to my next class, I held the envelope up to the light and tried to make out what it said; nothing, nada, zip. Great, now I wished I had said yes to reading it in the office. Still, having the Counselor watch me read the name of my future husband seemed too obtrusive. However, here in the hallway was as good a place as any. I ripped that envelope open.
Dear Estelle Wells,
According to your personality, aptitude, and behavioral exam, we are pleased to tell you that of the 10 types, you are a #6-reflective. As you learned in your Types of Personalities class, the #6-reflective personality matches best with a #4-attentive. Taking into consideration also your aptitude, your behavior, and your future plans (form 84.B), we have paired you with:
Floyd Walters, also of Total Immersion School of Scientific Discovery, Education Section 7
On behalf of the entire Office of Future Affairs and Behaviors and the Ministry of Medicines, we would like to congratulate you on your future relationship. May your wedding be joyous and your marriage be comfortable.
Clarise Jordon, Counselor of Future Affairs, School Section 7
Floyd Walters, I’d never really met him. Well, no time like the present. He was in my last class of the day and would probably have received his envelope by then.
I walked into my last class of the day, Invention of Common Spaces for Selling Brands 201, and saw Floyd Walters at his seat three rows back. I sat in my usual place to his left and stole a glimpse at him. Did he know his fate yet? First thing I saw was a white envelope unopened on his desk. Okay, he must be taking it home to open with his family. That’s the kind of guy he is. I placed my left ear on my desk, squinted my eyes, and started twirling my thinking hair while I took stock:
Hair: light brown, cut tight to head, clipped over the ears, wavy.
Skin: clear, clean
He must have noticed that I was looking at him, because he glanced my way for a moment. I closed my eyes and pretended I was asleep. When I opened them again, he was putting his desk in order. He got out his computer, brushed off the keyboard, and took out a rag and wiped his desk. Finally, he put a pen in the corner of his desk and adjusted it just so. Then he started to work. He did it all exactly as he was expected to do. It seemed a little fussy, but other than that I had nothing to go on.
If I squinted my eyes and stared really hard, he looked a little bit like one of the news celebrities that my father watched nightly. That guy was stuffy and prone to bombastic statements. Could Floyd be like that?
Suddenly I felt a tap on my desk, and my reverie was broken by my teacher’s voice. “Why isn’t your desk ready for class yet?”
As I jerked my head up to answer, I realized that my contemplation had been so deep that I had created a tiny, but noticeable, puddle of drool. I quickly wiped my lips with the back of my hand and said, “Oh, uh, sorry.”
My teacher tapped beside the drool on my desk top, drawing more attention to it, and said, “Do you have a question that pertains to the class, Estelle?”
Why yes, I did. I blurted one right off the top of my head. “Why don’t our common spaces promote meaningful conversations? I’m sitting in a class with students that I’ve never even met before, much less talked to. I don’t know where they vacation…”
That was how far I got before my teacher stopped me and pointed to the door. The tears welled up in my eyes as I grabbed my things off my desk. In my embarrassment, I accidentally wiped my fateful white envelope through my mortifying puddle of drool. I went back to the Office of Future Affairs and Behaviors for the third meeting today. Beat that, William Loftin; this had to be a new record.
That night, I laid in bed wondering what the next day would bring. Would Floyd walk up and introduce himself? Would we begin to sit beside each other, to talk, and get to know each other? Would this be the beginning of a long friendship and a happy marriage? Everyone older than me was in an arranged marriage, and they were all happy, right? Of course they were. Frederick and Sylvia Wells had been married for twenty years and seemed content enough. That’s definitely what I wanted, contentment. Now that my marriage was planned, and the boy chosen, I could settle into that next part of my life. Everything from now on would be comfortable happiness and contentment. It had to be.
The next day in class, Floyd Walters didn’t even look at me. He didn’t look when I stared, even when I glared, and definitely not when I tapped my fingers on my desk and made an ‘Ahem’ sound in my throat. I knew he had read my name in his envelope, but he pretended like I wasn’t even there. Okay, well, at least I have four more years until our wedding. This, like the protests, was probably nothing to worry about.