Beyond (excerpts) Chapter One, Two, Three, and Four

Beyond

Beyond (Book Two of The Estelle Series) will be free from October 14-October 18. But we’ll go ahead and get started with some beginning parts to get you ready…

This first section was available online already, I’ll add an extra chapter:

1: Interrupting Me

My best, softest, most-loved chair was a concession to Sylvia that there simply must be comfortable places to sit on my farm. Must be. Sylvia of course meant new and beautiful chairs, but she’s grown wise enough to use the word comfortable. So I relented, because she was right.

I had jokingly told her I wanted the chair to be royal blue velvet, because the hot color right now was orange, and the hot fabric was a chiffon, light and airy. I figured it would keep her busy for a while. But in my year and a half on the farm I had forgotten how New City was good at designing, building and delivering things that are new and absolutely lovely. The chairs (because Sylvia, in her exuberance, had ordered two from Jonathon, her favorite designer) were deep blue velvet and overstuffed. The legs and arms had wooden carvings of vines running up them, and the vines turned into intricate beading along the edges. In days gone by it would have meant they were lovingly hand-crafted, but today, in New City, it meant that we had invented ways to make things beautiful. It was almost all we ever did.

So I woke up on the farm one day, and there was a truck delivering two beautiful chairs. William and I faced them toward each other, in the dirt at the edge of the kitchen garden, near our living space, yet sort of in a field, and fell into them. Sylvia said, “They’re meant to go indoors!” She was incredulous and indignant, but we just laughed and promised to take them inside when it rained. We propped our feet into each other’s seat and settled in. William and I loved those chairs.

William was my friend, my best friend, my boyfriend.

He was not the young man who had been chosen for me—instead the Governmental Oversee chose Jack Maranville. Jack was normal and steady and handsome, yet aware of it. Jack was powerful and important and not the kind of guy that should be thrown over by a girl, but I had done that. It was a testament to his obstinacy that he still came around sometimes. To visit. Or to check in. Or probably more likely to check on.

Jack was chosen for me, but William I chose for myself. William was handsome, yet brooding. Prone to dramatic flourishes and cloudy moments. He was a poet and unaware of how hot and powerful he was. He wasn’t what you would call steady, but he fit me and I knew he loved me and he wasn’t ever going anywhere. I knew that, because he had told me. And when he saw me the clouds parted and his mood was as open as the sky. Maybe I chose him because I had that power over him. A power that I didn’t have to wield. He made me feel like I could do anything, which was good because I was trying to save the world.

A few weeks later William and I were in those chairs. The light was dimming because evening was upon us. I was leaned back, comfy. My feet rested on the edge of William’s thigh. I had a book propped on my stomach. A good book. A favorite, about a young woman who thought a man was arrogant and later finds out he’s not, or at least not that much. And not when it comes down to her. Come to find out he loves her in the end, though this reading I was still in the middle, where she doesn’t know it yet. The book is dense, thick, difficult to read. The first time I read it I didn’t notice how funny it was. Now I realized that it really is.

I sneaked a peek at William over the top of the page. He was writing. His brown hair was shoulder-length, a white shirt opened at the chest. He looked like I imagined the man in the book looked…dashing, that’s the word. Even relaxed, slouched. William had an intensity when he was writing that knit his brows and set his jaw. He was handsome all the time, but when he was writing he was really really really handsome. There had to be a better word, the author of my book would have been able to come up with a better word. I smiled to myself—these chairs were such a good idea, the blue set off his eyes.

William moaned. I raised my brows. I didn’t want to interrupt him if he was in the middle of a thought. He moaned again, dramatically. He was stuck.

I asked, “What are you working on?”

“Nothing, I mean, I don’t want to interrupt your reading.”

“You’re not, I was thinking about something else.”

“You know how I’ve wanted to write about the medications? I’m trying to frame it in a way that will inspire New City citizens to question what they’re taking, but I can’t find the right way to say it. Like, I can make the case that they should stop taking Vulon, the love drug, but the opposing opinion would be, “But the Oversee picked my spouse, I need, I want, to feel love for that person.”

I said, “It’s a quality of life issue, maybe you could talk about what love feels like versus manufactured love.”

“Yes, but I would have had to experience both and, as you know, I haven’t. We also didn’t quit taking all our meds, we’re still on the one that keeps you from getting pregnant, so that’s a mixed message. I’m not sure I can persuade anyone to make big changes with a mixed message, especially if they’re content with the love they have.”

“Thoreau said, ‘There is no remedy for love, but to love more.’ I don’t know if it applies—”

“Whoa, are you quoting love stuff? You are so hot.” He pulled the arm of my chair, bringing me closer to his orbit.

“I can see why you’re having trouble, you’re too easily distracted.” I stuck out my tongue. “I decided on my big plan and had already changed the way I saw the world before I gave up Vulon and the other meds that I didn’t need.”

“That’s why I keep putting this essay off. I want to write it. I think it will one of the most important things I write, but I’m not able to. Definitely the citizens of New City aren’t ready to hear it.”

“They need something to happen that changes their mind about it first.” While I was talking his hand dropped to my shin and rested there, relaxed, but sending an electrical charge through my body that sped up my heart’s beat.

He continued, unaware of the zing between his hand and my leg, or maybe able to override it, “It’s easier to write about the barter system on our farms, and the farmer’s market we started, and that everyone should be free. Writing about freedom is the easiest thing in the world. I talk to people, they get it. They like reading it, and they agree, in principle. But while they’re telling me how much they agree, they’re standing in front of me in their brand new New City clothes, with their make-up and their hairdos, and smiling their small blank smiles. It’s unsettling.”

“Have you seen how big the new hairdos are? The pile is two feet above their heads and they’re adding those flouncing poofs of pink netting sticking out of the pile. It looks like fireworks exploded from their hair. I can’t imagine how long it takes them to get ready in the morning. All those hours wasted…” I trailed off, remembering when I used to wear big piles of curly updos and how long my beauty regimen took.

I didn’t have to dress in the garb of the day anymore. I had dropped out, ceased to play along, given up the fancy clothes for a life on a farm. I was right now clothed in a pair of linen pants gathered at the waist and a loose shirt. I had taken a shower and put on something I could sleep in, because the work of the day was over, and I didn’t want to get another outfit dirty before bed.

Laundry here on the farm was a hassle. William and I walked our bags of clothes over to Glom Farm, the Conglom sponsored, government-approved farm that Terran ran, to do it there, and I had to come up with something to wear while I did that. When I lived in New City I never thought about laundry. My clothes had always been impeccable, sent out, and returned clean and perfect, but here was a dichotomy, I sort of missed dressing up in beautiful things. I had been good at looking beautiful. Now I was lazy and wrapped my uncombed blonde hair into a bun on top of my head. With a little bit hanging by the side of my face. To twirl while I was thinking. William told me I was beautiful. He said one of the best things about me was that I wasn’t fussy about beauty, but I missed it sometimes, being fussy, and New City-style beautiful. I missed people thinking, wow. I missed jealous stares as I walked into a room. Though I hated to admit it.

I shook my head, setting my hair loose and my thoughts swinging away, to continue the conversation. “Freedom and farming are easy to write about because it isn’t personal. When you talk about the big issues they don’t feel like you’ve singled them out. They can think like you do, in increments, and then maybe they’ll give up the meds on their own. You’re winning them over, just keep writing about the big picture.”

William nodded and sat for a beat looking at me before he said, “The chair really sets off your eyes. I’m glad Sylvia forced us to have them.”

Heat crept up my face. “Everyone will come to see things your way eventually, listen to you, you have a way with words.”

William smiled and said, “Okay, I’m putting away the meds essay and writing poetry to you instead. What rhymes with adore?”

I batted my eyes and said, “Big bore? Now you are interrupting me. I want to get back to reading about Mr. Darcy.” I stuck out my tongue, and William smiled.

2: Not Very Surprised 

There were a few things I had learned living on my farm, the biggest was feeling fulfilled. Who am I kidding, finally understanding the word fulfilled. It was an archaic sentiment, full-fill—satiated, complete—a word that was rarely, if ever, used in my world. We, the people of New City, were never full-filled. We kept a constant state of longing, incomplete, and desirous of things. We wanted more, better, stronger, newer—almost all of us, except me. I was different now (except for my occasional bouts of longing that were like echoes of the girl I once was) I was full of excitement and satisfaction, filled with wonder and joy. And love. I had my farm and my friends and my family and work and the stars. I had everything I could possibly want. We the people of Old Town on the edge of New City were learning to be happy with what we had, to feel satisfied. It was good, all good.

Another thing I learned was that there is a whole lot about food I knew nothing about. In the eight months since my permit to farm was acquired, I had grown, harvested, prepared, seasoned, mixed, chopped, and created meals. Meals from the bounty of my land. Trouble was, come to find out, I really wasn’t all that interested in real food. It tasted fine, sometimes rather good, but after a long day of harvesting, I wanted food that was easy, convenient, sweet, comfortable. What I had been used to in my life before.

Yet, here I was, this evening, expecting family for dinner and attempting to turn a big basket of root vegetables, green clippings, and herbs and vinegar into something delicious, when really all I could think about was how great some nacho cheese sauce would taste on it. MJ, my farming guru from the land to the west called the Beyonds, would be so disappointed, though probably not very surprised.

I noticed the time; William was probably headed home by now. I tossed the knife and the last clean dishrag on the counter, missing the edge and witnessing its descent to the dirt floor, and raced to the end of the path in the northwest quadrant of the farm. Scanning in the direction of his farm land, I couldn’t see him yet. Perfect. This game was my favorite: I pulled two big rocks off the low perimeter wall, and laid down, putting one rock on my stomach and one on top of my thighs, and waited pretending to be a part of the rock wall. A poorly disguised rock wall. A few minutes later, from the direction of the Old Stadium, I heard his happy whistle. He must have had a good day. I stifled a laugh and tried to get perfectly still.

William passed me by ten paces, before he wailed, “Es-telle! Where are you Estelle?” and then added, “As long as you’re not here I think I’ll just sit on this low rock wall and wait.”

He was a second away from sitting on my head before I announced, “I’m the wall!”

“Oh, wow, I didn’t see you there,” he said, “and I mean that honestly. I’m not just pretending.”

He dropped to his knees right by my head and kissed me on the lips. “How was your day?”

“Wonderful, I got my whole list done, and still had time to chase some chicks around and read your latest pamphlet. I think you might be onto something with your thoughts on local monies. Hey, did you know there’s a baby turtle in the pond?”

William kissed me, and said, “Good.” He kissed me again, and said, “I missed you,” and then he kissed me again and asked, “how long were you waiting for me, pretending to be a rock?”

“About ten minutes, but I planned it in my mind for most of the day.”

“Well, a disguise that masterful should take all day to plan.”

I asked, “Did you get a lot done?”

William rolled off his knees into a sitting position in the dirt, while I rose to a sitting position on the wall. “I did. I checked in on the West Farm. Cameron and Katie are preparing for a big delivery of trees. They’ve been digging all day. You’ll see tomorrow when you come. Then we went to see Terran on Glom Farm. They’re plowing and building. When was the last time you were there?”

“It’s been a few days since I went and helped with the coops.”

“I can’t believe how many chickens they plan to have. Terran said he’ll be here in about an hour. He just has to wait for Angela to get ready.

“I’m glad she’s coming, I keep thinking I need to get to know her, yet she’s so quiet.”

“Speaking of dinner, is this elaborate wall-guise a distraction, so you don’t have to make it?”

I leaned forward and kissed him. “I just thought if we ran out of time we could serve dinner bars on a bed of greens. With sprinkles. Everybody loves sprinkles, right? Not so sure about arugula.”

“So your plan is?”

I laid my plan out, “To pretend to be a wall, until the guests arrive and make their own dinner and eat it, then I walk over and say, ‘oh, is there nothing left? Oh well, I’ll just have a dinner bar, can you please pass the flavorings tray from the way-back of the cupboard?’”

“So you’re okay with Terran making dinner? You’ve tasted his concoctions, right?”

I acted horrified.

He added, “And then Angela will take over.”

His warning got me moving. “Her food is twice as healthy and half as delicious as a salad, and that’s not saying much. We need to work fast.” We headed toward our waiting kitchen.

Appraising what I had already accomplished, William said, “Look at all these greens! We’re going to eat like kings!”

I pretended to be dour. “Hand me a knife. Let’s get chopping.”

The salad, bountiful and delicious, contained spring greens, goat cheese, hard boiled eggs, vinaigrette, onions, and some dried fruits and nuts that were gifts from MJ’s mother. Easy enough to make and plenty for everyone to feel fulfilled. “Anybody home?” called my brother, Terran, from across the fields.

“We’re in the kitchen!” William and I were excited whenever Terran came to Star Farm. He hadn’t lived with us in months, sleeping instead at the farm where he worked for the Congloms. But Star Farm was his home—we built it together, and home wasn’t quite the same without him there.

When Terran and his girlfriend Angela entered our open kitchen area, he threw his arms wide. “I miss this place!” He dragged his fingers along the old beaten up counters. Their surfaces long ago ruined by our chopping. “I miss these counters.” He leaned against the lone wall and said, “I miss this wall. Estelle do you remember when we met this wall?”

“Remember? I was speaking to it just the other night. Reminding it of our first day together, when you and I smashed everything all around, yet left it standing. It’s grateful we spared it.”

William asked, “Not only are you pretending to be walls, but you also talk to them?”

Terran said, “So glad you’re keeping Wall company in my absence.” He quickly changed to another exuberant thought. “I brought home-baked bread from the Glom Farm test kitchen!” He waved it overhead like a prize.

Terran was blonde like me. We were the same height, which made me seem tall and made him seem stocky. His body was built to haul and load and dig and happy to do it as well. He was handsome, in a boy next door kind of way, and had an easy smile that lit up a room. A ready joke always on his lips. He was full of effort, yet effortless to be around, the perfect partner for someone like me, full of ideas and airy thoughts. He kept me grounded and reasonable. I couldn’t live without him, not in any conceivable way. Even I didn’t have the imagination for that.

“Did you really carry bread under your arm while walking through the fields?” I asked.

“Totally, and sang like this, ‘O so low MeeeeOOOOO.’”

Angela said, “He’s not kidding, he did that the whole way here.” She pretended to clean out her ear with her finger. Angela was pretty, with brown hair and deep dark eyes. She was petite, perky, not really built for farm labor, but she loved the fruits of the farm, the herbs and spices and vegetables. She loved cooking and was always inventing things in the kitchen.

Angela was wonderful. Everyone agreed. And I probably should have adored her. I mean she loved Terran, she was practically a sister, a part of the family. But somehow I just couldn’t get past her perfect wonderfulness. It was like I had built my world, and she had moved in and somehow lived within it better than me. I was still covered in dirt and debris, while she baked bread and invented salads and called us her family and—kind of drove me crazy.

Terran hugged William a hearty hello, placed the bread on the counter, and then hugged me and said into my ear, but loud enough for everyone to hear, “Haven’t seen you in a few days! Now that you have such a bountiful harvest are you staying here eating greens all day? Hoarding them, keeping them all to yourself?” While he had me in his clutches, he slipped something into my back pocket. He stepped away and said, “Me and Angela are going to walk the farm and see what’s sprouting.”

“I’ll meet you in a few minutes by the pond. I have something really cool to show you,” I said.

As Terran and Angela walked away I pulled his ‘gift’ from my pocket. It was a luxurious chocolate dessert bar. The best the Nutrolo Conglom had to offer and my favorite. I smiled happily.

“Terran’s got your back, huh?”

“Always.”

After walking through the fields, all of us enjoying the time together and talking over the work to be done and the plans yet to be made, I saw Frederick trudge across the fields from the direction of New City. He had changed out of his Scientist-at-the-Institute clothes, and had instead donned his version of Relaxed-Dad-Visiting-His-Kids-on-a-Farm clothes. He had helped us build this farm, and then like the logical person he is, decided to move back to New City and visit us on weekends. I had hoped that everyone who met my farm would want to live there forever. Dad was proof that people could live in both worlds and integrate.

We all yelled, “Hello, Dad!”

He waved exuberantly, and then ran his fingers through his styled hair so it came undone and stood straight up on end.

I called, “You look like a mad scientist, and where’s Sylvia?”

“She’s coming in just a few minutes. We had to bring two cars because she has your clothes for the benefit concert tomorrow.”

“My clothes!” I clasped my hands over my mouth. William laughed.

Terran said, “Stelley, you aren’t supposed to be quite so excited to shirk off farm clothes.”

“I never ever want to wear anything but my farm clothes, ever, but I also can’t wait to put on my new, fancy, benefit-concert, designer clothes. I’m a dichotomy.”

William, with a cheeky grin, said, “One of the things we have to put up with I suppose.” I slugged him on the shoulder. He added, “It’s your most endearing quality!”

Sylvia struggled across the field with a big, long, bulky bundle over her shoulder. We rushed to relieve her, but she warned, “Don’t let them touch the ground, there’s dirt everywhere. Oh, it’s going to get dirty!” She grumbled and fussed so that we had trouble pulling them off her shoulder. Once we had managed to take over, she followed saying, “Look Estelle, it’s dragging. If you get this dress in the dirt, I’m going to make you wear it in that state,” and then rethinking the punishment, added, “just don’t get it in the dirt, please.”

We put the clothes up on hooks. Sylvia somehow, after carrying the load of clothes and traipsing across the field, looked exactly the way she had that morning when she first dressed for the day. Her skirt was stiff and straight, a pink that seemed electrified, hot. Her jacket was a warmer pink, toned down, dignified, short and heavily tailored. The jacket was formfitting, if Sylvia’s form was actually prism-shaped. Her stiff collar resembled a dinner plate. Sylvia’s makeup was pale, and she had a few, understated filigrees at her temples, but her hair had grown since I saw her last. Up. Tight curls towering twenty inches above her head. If that was Government-Official hair, my hair would have to reach up to at least twenty-four inches to be dramatic enough for a benefit concert tomorrow night. Sylvia asked, “Do you want to see?” She brimmed with excitement.

Terran said, “Not really, we can wait until—”

“We will not wait!”

Frederick rescued us all, “Terran meant they want to see the clothes right now.”

We formed an audience, so Sylvia could unzip the hanging clothes bags with a flourish.

First, Terran’s, a full suit of bright pink with dark magenta accents. The coat had tails. The crisp white shirt collar was high, the front flat and pleated. Sylvia gushed, “I was so worried that you would talk Jonathon into making everything Dingy Brown.”

Terran attempted to look shocked, though at the fitting he had tried to do exactly that. Jonathon hadn’t agreed and outranked him.

“You’ll stand out of course, since the shirts of today are so generous with their frills.” Sylvia smoothed the front, and tilted her head to appraise it from another view. “Jonathon did that purposefully. He knew farmers wouldn’t want flounces. See, I told you he would be adaptable. He’s really very excited about designing for all of you.”

She ran the zipper around William’s bag and exposed his suit, a deep, vibrant sparkling pink. We had seen the colors and the fabric swatches during the fitting the week before, but all together it was kind of dizzying. The coat was long and dramatic, the white shirt had flounces at the neckline.

I smirked at William and asked, “I suppose because you’re a writer, you get to be puffy?”

William glanced at Sylvia before responding, “Oh, I love puffy. I wish there was more puffy!” He liked to agree with Sylvia, having decided long ago that because of her love for government and New City, and her ability to put up with our farms, she was the best kind of person, adaptable. And courageous. And necessary.

Next came my dress. Sylvia opened the bag, which was twice the size of the others, and pulled and pulled from the bottom to reveal my dress. It was velvet, black as night, the top covered in sparkling silver stars. In constellations, not random at all. It took my breath away. “Oh my.”

Sylvia grumbled, “There is not a bit of pink on this dress. You’ll stand out, absolutely and peculiarly, what was he thinking?”

Frederick said, “I think that was exactly what he was thinking. Come here and stand back and take a look.”

Sylvia stepped back, and we looked at the three outfits. I couldn’t wait to get dressed tomorrow. We would look so great, beautiful. Sylvia said, “You’ve got to admit Jonathon knows how to design for farm kids.”

I looked again. The designs were beautiful, sure. I couldn’t wait to play dress-up, to go somewhere and be beautiful, but what made them farm-like? I couldn’t see it. Sylvia saw the look of disbelief on my face, and said, “Back me up William. Doesn’t Jonathon understand how to design for your needs?”

William said, “My mother’s designer wouldn’t even try to design for us, and that’s a fact. And if he did, definitely not as farm-y as this.”

“See, Estelle, Jonathon is forward thinking. Here’s the shoes.” In my hand she laid shoes that had a heel that could only be described as teetering. Under a skirt that trailed, I would have to wear excruciating shoes.

Sylvia beamed.

At the look on her face, I said, “Perfect.”

We all turned toward our table for dinner. William and I had liberated this long dinner table from the Used Products Piles just before it was headed to the big dump in the Beyonds. The man in charge of the Piles had asked repeatedly if we were sure we wanted it, and why, and couldn’t two kids like us afford a table? He was sure we should ask our parents to buy us one. That reusing a used table just wasn’t done. But we had taken it anyway and found four chairs that matched and then two more that didn’t match, but were close enough. Sylvia would never sit in the non-matching ones, even if they were the only ones left. She would make one of us move first. She was that committed to the idea of new.

Dad said, “Sylvia sit here. She’s been tired lately.”

Angela said, “I have a remedy for tiredness, I could get them.” She started to stand. “Of course you’d have to wean off the sleep and wake pills.”

“Well, that is a problem, because I’m not weaning off of anything. I’ve been with my doctor since forever, and I need them.” At the look on Angela’s face, Sylvia added, “Thank you for the offer,” and then changing the subject, “I almost forgot, these are for Terran and William.” She gave them each an envelope, and said, “I saw your mother William, in New City, and she asked how you were. I told her that you were doing really well and urged her to come visit. So maybe…”

“That would be great. I’d love to show her the farm, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Terran ripped into his envelope and read silently and reported, “Apparently, I’ve been assigned to my career, and my current employers have pulled some strings.”

He read:

Dear Terran Wells,

As you have come of age, we here at the office of Behavioral Management have chosen your future career through a series of Aptitude tests.

Your score on the Technological Advancement test was a 92%

Your Score on the Current Trends test was a 63%

Your score on the Achievement of New and Improved Goals was a 72%

Your score on Competitive Social Outcomes test was a 57%

We have taken into account your scores, your interviews, your own stated future goals and met with your current employers and have assigned you to:

Managing Director of Conglom Farm and Market

Your post is contingent on your contract with the Congloms of New City, and will be renegotiated in 16 months from this date.

Sincerely,

Theodore Wilkins

Head of Conglom Career Placement

Angela said, “Nice, Terran, only sixteen months to go!”

“Yep, but then what?”

Frederick said, “Well, we just have to make the farm and market system such a big part of New City life, that when your time is up you can tell the Congloms what you want to do next.”

“So I only have to sell New City inhabitants on the idea that they can’t live without salads?”

Angela said, “Oh that’ll be easy, everyone loves a salad, they just don’t know it yet.”

I chewed a big bite of salad and said, “Yum.”

William tore into his letter and looked it over.

He stood up, cleared his throat, and read:

Dear William,

 

As you have come of age, it is time for the office of Behavioral Management to choose your future career through a series of Aptitude tests. As of the date of this letter you have missed three scheduled meetings with our office, as well as your testing date, and your make-up test date. We have therefore given you grades based on non-assessment.

Your score on the Technological Advancement test was a 0%

Your Score on the Current Trends test was a 0%

Your score on the Achievement of New and Improved Goals was a 0%

Your score on Competitive Social Outcomes test was an 0%

Your scores are nonexistent.

You lack interviews, and your current status is unemployed.

We have marked your career path: unassigned.

Your status is: unlabeled.

Your citizenship level is: revoked.

Your future: undetermined.

I am sure you will understand the grave nature of these labels.

Hearings to discuss reinstatement of your citizenship are held on the fourth Thursday of the month. Appointments must be made two weeks in advance.

Sincerely,

Theodore Wilkins

Head of Conglom Career Placement

“That sounds ominous, huh?” William smiled around at the small gathered circle. “Unassigned, unlabeled, revoked.” He sat back in his chair.

Hearing the labels, a heavy stone descend to the bottom of my stomach. I tried not to vocalize, but—Ugh. Any talk of the Office and our assignments brought all the memories back. The fear and uncertainty of having them control our lives. Prison. There was no way I could return William’s merry smile. “It does sound ominous. Sylvia, what does unassigned mean?”

“It means that William needs to make an appointment to have his citizenship reinstated, immediately.”

Frederick said, “It just means that you don’t have a career path and you’re unemployed. Not necessarily a bad thing if your idea of employment and the Conglom’s idea of employment are so vastly different, but I’m afraid it’s not so simple. Unassigned means no job, no money, no credit, no connection at all to New City.”

William shrugged his shoulders.

Frederick continued, “I know, I know, you don’t mind severing your ties, but you also don’t have any protection. Unassigned means you aren’t a citizen. You don’t have ties, but you also don’t have rights. I don’t know William, you’re very close to New City living here. I think you’ll have to be very careful.”

Angela said, “You could go to the hearing and ask to be assigned to Terran’s farm. Terran did it for all our farmhands. He’ll vouch for you.”

Terran said, “Definitely, I will in a second.”

I studied William’s face. He had chosen not to go to the meetings and the tests. His decision was calculated. I was sure he wasn’t going to change course now.

William said, “Thanks, but I would rather not ask the Congloms and Government to decide my fate. I prefer being the master of my own demise, thank you very much.” He folded the letter and put it back in the envelope, shoving it into his back pocket. “I’ll put it in the Star Farm Scrapbook for posterity.”

Frederick said, “I just want you to know that if you need me and Sylvia to do anything for you, we will. You’re family, just ask.”

“I know that, but thank you for saying it.” Then he looked around, “But why the glum faces? So I skipped a test or three. I’m going to be fine. The Congloms and the Oversee won’t make trouble for any of us, not after Estelle’s captivity. They know better, don’t worry.”

Frederick said, “I hope you’re right. The Oversee and the Congloms are notorious for their short memories.” Sylvia adjusted her napkin, not looking at any of us. It was a lot of pressure being a part of the government during the day and sharing meals at night with teenagers who refused to be governed.

Terran smirked at me. “You’re next. Your tests are in six months. What do you plan to do about them?”

Sylvia looked directly at me, her eyes squinted, waiting for my answer.

“I don’t know.” I held William’s hand in my own. “Probably the same as William. I can’t imagine walking into the office again and asking for their permission to do anything. Anyway, let’s not borrow trouble.” I asked the air above my head, “Don’t we need dessert?”

Terran said, “Angela brought a barely sweetened pudding. It’s very subtle.”

I said, “That sounds, um, great!”

Terran looked incredulous and repeated himself, “Sub-tle, Estelle, it means less sweet than you might be thinking.”

Frederick hid a smile in his napkin. Angela, though, remained oblivious to my failings. I, no matter how I tried, did not appreciate subtleties when they affected my desserts. Desserts were supposed to be savored, to be sweet, dramatic and overdone.

I lied, “I love subtle puddings.”

Angela took that as a cue to retrieve her dessert, and Terran started a new conversation, “What are you working on right now, Dad?”

“A solar panel system. It’s to run the night projections—sorry Estelle, but I think this one will have uses on the farms. I thought you might want to get completely off the electrical grid and have no connections to the utility Congloms. Speaking of that, the Congloms have built a big secretive water treatment system. I’ve been trying to get a look at the plans for months, but can’t get security clearance for it. It’s online and working already, yet they haven’t even announced it. They’ve never done that before.”

Sylvia said, “It’s just a new water system. I glanced at the paperwork as it went by my desk.”

William asked, “A new water system? How long had the other one been in use? I mean, I get that we like things to be new, but didn’t we just overhaul the system a few years ago?”

Frederick said, “I thought so too, that’s why I’m so curious.”

Sylvia folded her napkin into a small tight square, and then when it refused to stay square, put her plate on its edge to hold it firm. “There’s nothing to worry about, it’s just new. That makes it necessary. New City is one of the greatest cities. It demands world class water for its citizens.”

Angela handed Frederick a bowl and said, “Last time I was home, a few months ago, my father, Jordan, was working on a big project. He said it was something to do with the new water system.”

“Why would a doctor have something to do with a water project?” asked William, not really expecting any of us to have an answer. Because there was no good reason, but very many unthinkable reasons.

Sylvia said, “There’s no reason to think there’s a conspiracy or anything.”

I took a bite of pudding and wanting to restore my good name said, “It’s delicious and subtle!” Everyone laughed.

After we said goodnight, I sat for a long time with William at the fire holding hands. He was quiet and still. I crept glances at his face wondering what he was thinking. William was chiseled, his resting face a stoic stone sculpture of a face. Impenetrable, walled off. His barricades made his moments of joy all the more sweeter. His face would light, become animated, dimpled. His smile transformed into an open landscape that I wanted to run though, but he wasn’t smiling tonight, he was deep in thought. I hoped to garner a small bit of what he was thinking, so that I could match his mood—acquiesce, join. So I watched him watching the fire. After a time, I turned to the fire and watched the flame and felt William turn and watch me, as if he too were trying to discern my thoughts.

I tried to start a conversation, “I’m glad that Terran has Angela to go to Glom Farm with him.”

He said simply, “Me too. She’s good company and he deserves it,” and then that was it, no conversation at all.

After some time I said, “I’m going to bed?” like a question, hoping to draw him in.

He nodded. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. I’m thinking something through.”

I decided to get closer. I climbed over and settled onto his lap. His wasn’t a perfect lap. We were matched too closely in size, he tall and lanky, me tall and lanky, but he had a lap and I wanted to sit in it. Even if it required awkward adjusting, I wanted to nestle. He lifted his arm willingly and I shrugged my shoulder in-under, and he encircled around. My head rested in my favorite place, my lips millimeters away from his neck’s steady thrum. I kissed it trying to get closer to William, my William.

He dropped his chin and nested in my hair, and we sat quietly listening to the fire snap and crackle.

The next morning when I woke, William was dressed in his thick canvas work pants, pulling on his boots. He smiled as he tugged the left one and said, “Good morning, Sleepyhead.”

“How did I get here? Last thing I remember I was sitting by the fire.”

He pulled a simple, brown cotton shirt over his head and half tucked it in. “I woke you enough to walk here. I wondered if you might have turned into a zombie. Hands out, moaning, drool running out of your mouth.” I sat up and he kissed me on the cheek. “I’ve got to go meet the trees, they’re being delivered today. Will you come in a bit? We need more diggers. We have to get trees in the ground before we get ready for the concert tonight.”

“Definitely, let me feed all the beasts first.” I moved my foot and momentarily dislodged my cat, Walden, from the end of the bed. He looked nonplussed and circled back down to sleep.

3: Whisk Us Away 

My days on Star Farm were spent checking off chores on a list, a list created by the demands of the lives that were growing there. I could no sooner skip a chore than go without food or water. Things depended on me. The work was good for that very reason. It was important. I mattered, so the work I did mattered.

I suppose some might consider their endless list of chores, stifling, call the work drudgery, but I loved it and had stopped thinking of the work as chores at all. I barely noticed that I was cleaning the coop, because I was chattering with the chicks the whole time. Instead of chores my day was marked by moments. I woke up and spent time with William, petted Walden, chattered with the chickens, let the wind rustle my hair in the fields, counted the clouds, splashed in the water, fondled food, laughed with Terran, conversed around the fire, cuddled with William.

After I had enjoyed a few moments, I walked off to Westy, William’s farm. We had thought to call it the West Woods, because we were stocking it with trees. Very small trees. The term ‘woods’ was definitely wishful thinking. So Westy stuck as the name. Besides the woods, there were a few fields and a few small houses for some of the crew. Westy was communal. We called the crew the Farmhands, and there was usually a convivial mood when I went there to work. While Star Farm was family and home, William’s Westy was about friends and community. When I entered through the east wall, William called, “Hello!” from behind the tree delivery truck.

I pulled on work gloves and grabbed a shovel. I would be digging until early afternoon. I would remember it as sharing moments of conversation and laughter with friends.

An hour or so later Terran arrived to lend a hand.

William asked, “Can they spare you at Glom Farm?”

“I have four farmhands working right now, they’ve got it covered. And, you know me, I don’t want to miss a good dig.” The work of the day was reminiscent of our lives before my arrest, the three of us working together happily towards an end goal.

At two-thirty I leaned on my shovel and said, “I ought to go get ready, Sylvia is bringing the car around at five. I have to get my hair up, and everything, and I haven’t practiced with the tools in so long. And how do they get their hair so tall?” I said this in a complaining mood, but I was actually rejoicing. I was going to shower. I planned to use new luxurious lotions, yummy smelling shampoos, and glamorous makeup that Sylvia had given me because she was outraged that I didn’t have the newest toiletries. I wanted to put filigrees around my hairline just like in my past life, but with silver and black tiny stars to match the dress. My blonde hair would be stacked and curled and hopefully towering.

I imagined the end result with a faraway look, when Terran interrupted, “Well, go on then, you’re not going to get beautiful here in the dirt.” He and William burst into laughter. I dropped the shovel and yelled over my shoulder as I bounded away, “Put my tools away for me!”

I was in a silk underdress working on my updo, when William came home covered in mud and dirt. He teasingly leaned in for a kiss, and I squawked, “Ack! Don’t muss my hair!” I had been working for about an hour and it was almost perfect. Almost.

I regally stared down my nose, “You, Sir, need a bath.”

“That I do, M’Lady. You are the speaker of truths.”

When he had slipped into the shower, I added another coating of varnish to the pile of curls and appraised myself. “I’ve still got it. I can walk into this room and completely own it. Even after digging holes this morning. Kind of makes me amazing.” I hoped repeating positive things would cause me to believe them.

My makeup was done as William entered, already in his pants and dress shirt, running his fingers through his long wavy dark hair. He brushed it back from his face. I said, “You look hot.”

“Well, I steamed it up with that shower,” he answered.

“Not that kind of hot.” I figured I should send some compliments his way too.

I stepped into my dress, pulled it up, and turned, so he could close the million fasteners up the back. When he finished I swept my train around so he could see me from the front.

“Wow,” was all he could say, and I could tell from his eyes that he meant it.

“Thank you,” I said.

Sylvia knocked on the door to our room. “Estelle, are you ready? Frederick and I are here with the car.”

William pulled on his coat. “Here we go.” We swept out of the room and into a sparkling, shiny, extra-long car, to whisk us away to the world of glittering bright.

4: Off Track

It was still early when we pulled up in front of Glom Farm to pick up Terran. He stepped out of his command center in the bright pink and white suit, his look tailored and impeccable. His hair was combed and washed and styled. It was good to see him look like that again. He smiled cordially as he climbed into the back seats.

Frederick said, “I’m sorry Angela couldn’t come.”

“Me too. The deal she has with her father—that she can be a part of the Farm Movement as long as it’s not publicly—is usually easy to deal with, until there’s a fancy shindig like this.” He sat beside Sylvia, facing the back of the car. I sat between William and Frederick facing the front. With all the layers of clothes it was a tight fit, even though it was a long, long car.

Terran said, “William I see you also stuffed your farmer-self into these monkey clothes.” Then he pretended to startle. “Oh, Estelle, I didn’t notice you there without your usual outer-sheen of dirt. You smell better too.”

Sylvia smoothed her long magenta skirt and said, “You look very put together Terran, William. I’m still not entirely sure about the color, Estelle, but when I called Jonathon, he said I wasn’t really the market. That the kids were the market, and that they would get why she was in black. It’s not even really a color at all, but he promised you would be noticed.”

I tuned her out and looked down at the paper I clutched. William squeezed my hand, leaned in, and whispered, “How’re you doing, ready for your speech?”

I whispered back, “I’m never ready to speak, yet for some reason I get called upon to do it all the time.” Sylvia huffed, because we weren’t listening to her anymore.

William said, “That’s because what you have to say is important.” It was said so softly, yet so directly for me, meant only for me, that I wanted to put his words in my pocket and carry them around always.

I closed my eyes. “If only I could get it to sound—”

Terran interrupted, “Stelley, if you need me, just do the signal, and I’ll jump to the stage. I’ve got plenty I want to say.”

William countered, “Yet, you rarely get called upon to speak. That’s New City logic for you.”

Frederick asked, “I’m afraid to ask, but what’s the signal?”

Terran said, “Stelley puts her index finger up her right nostril. Not the left, the left means she’s picking her nose.” We all laughed, especially at Sylvia’s shocked face.

The driver turned onto Main Street and drove past the building I used to live in. It was odd how thrilling it was to see it, like it was historical and important. Looking around felt nostalgic. Like seeing myself when I was young, before I knew all I know now. An innocent me.

I didn’t come to New City enough to be used to my old places. Only for speaking engagements, or meetings, when I had to. The Oversee would request my attendance at an event and send the invitation through Terran. There was no way I could say no. If it were up to me I would never. But it wasn’t.

Some of the events were based on and involved our farms. I cut the ribbon on the Conglom sponsored farmer’s market. I waved and smiled at the opening of the Conglom owned book store.

Then there had been events in New City that the Congloms wanted to associate with the farms, products they wanted to associate with my celebrity: My image was used to sell herb laden shampoos and conditioners. A new green dinner bar marketed as having more vegetables than ever before—I smiled through the unveiling and while chewing, even though the bar tasted awful. A fashion show where I introduced a new line of boots, fashioned after my own, but with lighter materials and brighter colors, created for standing around and looking farmer-y. I did all this, because, as it was explained to me, the Oversee, representing the Congloms, wanted me to, and Terran needed me to. And this now was the biggest event of them all, a benefit for the Old Town Museum, to add a new farm history wing.

I was happy to be a part of it, even though I knew most of the attendees were just there for the party—to show off their clothes, to discover what they lacked, and to see what they should desire. The music was Zenith Drama and the Exceptionals, jazzy songs, improvised words, occasionally rhythmic beats, backed up by a full ten piece band. It was fun to stand around and listen to. There would be lots of that, and pronounced boredom, too. The best of the best from all over New City would be there.

Terran and William and I wouldn’t be the most famous attendees. Everyone knew who I was, but I wasn’t a singer or an actor or a designer, someone who was on the television daily. For the crowd that was aged twenty-four and over, I was someone to tolerate, to watch with interest, the troublemaker who was a bit of a spectacle. With many of the sixteen to twenty-four year olds I was the biggest celebrity in New City, the most sought after, a star. I had created a whole new way of life, and the Congloms were scrambling to find ways to make money off me, and the government wanted to minimize my effect, to control me and my followers.

Tonight was a huge deal. Piles of money would be made. Music, singers, fashion, and me. I would have to say a few things. I had been told, “It’s a benefit. People are there to look fabulous. Talk about the farm or something.”

I had decided on something—to talk about the night sky.

Sylvia asked, “Do you have it all written out, what you plan to say?”

“Not really. I have an idea what I want to say, but they only gave me ten minutes. I’ll make it up as I go along—”

“Make it up?” Sylvia was incensed. “A ten minute speech needs a beginning, middle, and end! It must be simple, concise and completely important.”

I began to stammer. Frederick stepped in, “Sylvia, Estelle has this under control. Right, Estelle? Look at the paper in her hand, she’s ready.”

“I haven’t let anyone down before, right?”

William said, “Remember which nostril, if it comes to that.”

“Or,” Terran said, “she could do like me, I plan to read directly off the prepared list of important words the Conglom’s Public Relations guy gave me.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” I said, though he would totally dare.

William asked, “They really gave you a list?”

“Yes, I’m to use selling words, positive words, words that inspire. I was given suggestions. I plan to read them list-like.

Sylvia sighed. “You have to do everything the difficult way.”

“They can make me play, I just don’t have to play nice.”

I teased, “Yet you are so nice, how do you reconcile that?”

The sun set as we continued along the New City streets. We passed the prison tower, riding along the same street protesters occupied when they demanded my release from jail. We stopped at an intersection in front of the steps where Terran had negotiated for my freedom. I stared out at the empty scene, remembering that day, how out of control and powerless I felt, and what it was like seeing Terran in the front row smiling, and William reminding me how to breathe.

Terran was at ease, arm on the door, head juking to the music playing in the background. He waved at someone driving by.

“Did you know that person?” Sylvia asked, incredulous.

Terran grinned, “No, just seemed friendly, wanted to wave.”

William looked straight ahead. He seemed pensive and deep in thought. His hand rested on his pink thigh, thumb holding on, fingers dropped to the side. His hand was strong, masterful, at ease it looked like it wanted to get busy. As if to punctuate my thought, his thumb joined the beat of the music, thrummed a few, then stopped again. His body stilled, until something caught his eye out the window of the car. “Frederick, what is that?” He twisted in his seat to look.

I turned too. It was a high long wall, stretching for a while, blocking any view on the other side. Frederick leaned across me to look out the window. “I’m not sure, Sylvia?”

Sylvia looked up from her Muni 4Y, the latest in communication devices. She didn’t own the best because she was high up in government, she had the best because Frederick was in development. “Well, that is, the—” She looked up and down the wall and then asked the driver, “What road is this?”

The driver said, “There was traffic, so I’m going a back route to the Lumesca Concert Hall. This is Avenue A-Plus.”

Sylvia said, “I don’t get down this road much. That’s industrial, probably,” as if that was explanation enough.

William pressed his face against a side window, attempting to look up and over the top of the wall. When we reached the end, he turned to watch from the back window. As the wall disappeared to the distance, he said, “Those are tanks, Frederick. Tanks. That’s all new.”

“I see them,” said Frederick. “I see them.” His voice sounded cautious.

I checked Frederick’s face, it was full of questions. I followed William’s gaze again, sure that there must be something ominous, but it was just a long high wall, not allowing for any knowledge of what was inside. William had a guess though, it was all over his face. He turned back in his seat, adjusted his coat, and said, “That my friends, was the new water treatment plant.”

Terran asked, “The one you were telling us about, Dad?”

“You mean not telling you, because I didn’t know anything,” corrected Frederick.

Out of the corner of my eye, William shook his head and took a deep breath, a tactic he had learned to bring himself back to the present. He brought my hand to his lips, kissed my knuckle, and then absentmindedly placed it back in my lap.

The buildings and industrial walls slid by, as we took another back street and then another, before turning onto Big Grand Boulevard and arriving at the lit, beckoning, Concert Hall, sponsored by Lumesca, the Conglom that designated our style colors for each season. Lumesca would be proud: from the adorned revelers, to the blaring lights, pink was the color. How pissed would they be that Estelle Wells was wearing Boring Black?

The front sidewalks were filled with people, glittering, gorgeous, well-dressed people. In all their finery. Attempting to look like they were going inside, yet milling about, waiting to see who else was coming in.

Our driver pulled our car into the Dropping-the-Riders-at-the-Front-Steps queue. Terran adjusted his cuffs and ran his fingers through his hair. Sylvia pulled out a mirror and checked her makeup. She looked stylish and grand, in a long, Magnificent Magenta dress, accented with pink and sparkles around the neckline. They were reminiscent of the starry constellations on my dress, but I didn’t want to be the one to tell her that.

The driver opened the door and handed Sylvia out to the sidewalk. Terran followed. William leaned out the door and asked, “May Estelle and I have a few minutes please?” So Frederick crossed out and joined Sylvia, and they all swept up the sidewalk. Sylvia looked tense and dignified. Frederick looked uncomfortable. Terran looked like he was enjoying the walk, smiling and waving all around.

William dropped back to his seat and sprawled a bit, leaning in and looking up. “I don’t want to face the crowd quite yet.” He laid his head on my shoulder. “Nervous?”

“I hate talking at these things. The low key ones are bad enough but with all this hoopla, yes, I’m nervous.” I took a deep breath and pulled at the middle of my dress to get more air in. An action that was futile.

“You’re getting better and better at speaking in public, but it hardly matters. You could stand and say turkey, turkey, turkey, and the citizens of New City would applaud and say yours was the best speech ever.”

“Aren’t we trying to win them over to our point of view?”

“True.” William sat up straighter and turned his head and stared at me, stared so much that I grew self-conscious and then gulped and giggled. “What? Do I have something in my teeth?”

“You are absolutely beautiful. I know it doesn’t matter to you, you hardly care, but seeing you like this takes my breath away.”

“Oh,” I said, not at all capable of a response. He took my hand in his. “You always looked like this before, when you were just a New City girl, or if not this exactly, put together, dressed, done up. You were pretty, don’t get me wrong, but you looked just like everyone else. Put together in all the same ways. Normal and the same. Now you wear your farm look, and you’re pretty then too, but this—tonight—wow.”

“Stop William, You’re making me blush.” I batted my eyes because I liked to be complimented. I remembered once, what seemed like forever ago, when I departed the farm in a dress and William hadn’t even noticed me or didn’t mention it if he did. This little speech made up for that. Definitely.

William said, “Sure. I know. I think I’m just trying to prolong some alone time with you, but I was thinking…” He paused, his familiar pause, the one where the gears turned, the one just before he said something that would end up in his writing someday. “All those days of sameness makes this night, you even more spectacular. Because it’s different. You’re different. I feel sorry for the residents out there, with their fancy clothes and their big hair. How can they get excited about all this, when they see a version of it every single day? It made me think that one of the biggest problems with New City is really a problem of sameness.

“Ever the philosopher.”

“Okay, I’m off track. I want to kiss you, but I won’t be held responsible for mussing your display.” He motioned about my face. “Suffice it to say, I want to.”

I smiled. “Thank you. I feel better.”

“You ready to go storm the concert hall? Wait—” He peered out the window. “Is that Clarissa Todd?”

“No, really, the actor? I’m going to the same place as Clarissa Todd? But, but, she’s a mega star, the most famous—” The driver pulled our door open, exposing us to the milling crowds on the street.

William smiled and said, “Ready or not, New City awaits.” He stepped out to the sidewalk, dashing in his suit, smiling at the crowds. He leaned in to offer his hand. The lights gave him a glow and cast his face in shadows. A shadow that I hid in. Maybe I could slam the door shut and ask the driver to take me around the block a few more times. Terran would cover for me, in a second, but then again, I did have this dress and my hair and—I grabbed William’s hand and stepped into the blaring night.