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When Marcie turned eight she was given a package at the public gathering; marking her debut into real life. Within the manila envelope lay a tight bundle of papers stapled in small groups. Six to be exact each bearing a crisp white cover page, a title typed in the top right hand corner; school, chores, job, marriage, behaviour, and a description of what would be achieved each day until she were to marry at eighteen and would be given a joint package. She had been scared, not wanting to be ruled simply by other people’s ideas, but she knew that each child was expected to follow the neatly typed rules that would govern the rest of their lives and wouldn’t disobey now.
That night Marcie sat on her quilt covered bed and, as all the other children would also be doing, read over each and every rule written in the paper folder. At the time she had been disappointed as she came across her soon to be title: teacher. For as long as she could remember Marcie had dreamed of receiving a job that would finally set her free from the little town. Being confined by tight walls and whining voices hadn’t exactly seemed freeing and to be honest Marcie feared that the job would just be...dull. Dull and boring.
Ten years later, Marcie laughs at the old memory, now just another image framed as a piece in a well made puzzle. How could she ever want anything more? Here she is important. Here she is needed. Here she is herself.
A young man bounds into the school room, bouquet in hand. Talleen, her husband to be. “Hey Mars” he says putting down the flowers and knocking over the papers in the process. He reaches towards her and pulls her in for a loving kiss. Not in the rules. Marcie’s lips dance to his but the action is forced.
“Talleen” she hisses, pushing him away. Although his rules were to be off limits till the wedding on Saturday, Marcie had long suspected that rule breaker was typed in at number one.
His hands loosen around her waist but still stay heavy on her sides. The warmth is comforting.
“Come out for lunch with me?” Talleen whispers into her ear his breath hot against her neck. Of course Marcie’s escape was planned years in advance but still she feels grateful for the excuse.
“Can’t” She says cheerfully pulling away to retrieve the fallen papers. “I have a dress fitting for this weekend” she interlaces excitement in to her cheerfulness knowing that Talleen does not feel the doubt.
“Later then?” He asks heading towards the door, but is gone before she even has time to answer.
Turning back to the table Marcie grabs the bouquet and follows Talleen’s ghost through the open doorway into the crowded street.
An arm wraps around her shoulder, strong and tanned. She knows who it is without even looking. His body dances beside hers, in sync with every movement, the smell of wood swarms off his shirt into the afternoon air. She can sense the ocean blue eyes staring down at her from under a shag of brown hair. Channer.
His hand snakes its way down Marcie’s arm towards the bouquet. “For me! How nice of you!” His voice cuts cleanly through the air as he plucks the flowers from her hand. If Marcie had been looking she would have noticed the cringe in his face at the sight of the tag. But her eyes stay locked in front of her.
They walk arm in arm towards the store. Not in the rules. People watch with dirty glances at their close proximity as they shove past. The fact is well known that Channer is soon marry as well, Jen his soon to be wife had made sure of that. Not a soul in the town had been left off the invitation list. Even Marcie’s own marriage was a well known fact. But they are just friends. They had been since they were put side by side at the public gathering ten years ago. Each and every day after they had practiced together; preparing for the day they would enter the working world. Marcie would sit and tell stories to the little ones while Channer sat in awe carving away to reveal characters from her latest story.
A little bell rings, announcing their arrival, as they swing open the door to the dressmakers. Mary stands behind a counter rushing over as she sees the pair enter. As soon as she reaches them she begins babbling away. Praise and good luck swallowing them whole as they are lead towards a beautifully carved door at the back of the room. Channer’s work.
Channer doesn’t stop before entering the room; just follows, arm still locked around Marcie’s petit frame. “Yes, Yes! Just perfect! Oh I can’t wait” Mary continues barely stopping for a breath as she looks back at Marcie.
Inside the room is all white. White walls, white fabric strewn across the white desk in the back of the room. Small white tables with white vases and white flowers and a white curtain in the corner for changing. One wall is fully covered in mirrors, reflecting the whole cloudy scene all over again.
Mary ties a blindfold lightly around Marcie’s eyes and leads her to the small changing room. The plump lady helps Marcie out of her day clothes. Off go the green shirt, blue jeans, and ratty sneakers. She can hear the rustle of fabric as Mary directs her into the silky sea of fabric. It’s cold against her bare skin, as it’s pulled tight around her slim frame. Her feet are slipped into delicate high heeled shoes. “Ready” Mary announces as she drags a wobbling Marcie out onto the pedestal in the middle of the room. “Oh my. Oh my” she pulls the blindfold of Marcie’s eyes and for the first time she sees the marvellous white dress resting against her body.
The front hits at her knees but flares into a gorgeous sea flowing into waves behind her. The strapless neckline that plunges below her collar bone is adorned with white embroidered flowers. She can see Channer in the mirror too. Marcie stars at her reflection staring at him. She is only half aware of the words of praise flowing from her lips. Channer looks stunned. He smiles at her cautiously before looking away once more. She hears him mutter something under his breath before racing back through the wooden door. She can hear the little bell ring as he exits the store.
“Yes! Just right! Perfect, perfect, perfect! Oh I can just picture you this weekend! I am invited aren’t I? Oh never mind that, look how gorgeous you are.”
Marcie could picture it too, but she didn’t want to think about that now. What’s wrong? What did I do? The dress maker pins and tucks, making the final adjustments before helping her out of the dress once again. But Marcie is only half there. What was his problem? Her mind races trying to come up with an answer but there was none to be found. If she hadn’t lived by the rules her whole life she may have noticed but the thought was far out of her reach. “Oh honey, don’t worry. He will get over it, he has too, the government would never allow. But after this weekend you won’t have to worry anymore, what was meant to be will be! Oh I can’t wait!” Mary says ushering Marcie back out of the store once again.
Channer waits for her outside the store. He begins walking before Marcie even gets out the door and she finds that she has to run to catch up to his fast pace, once again comfortable in her well worn shoes. “Channer!” Marcie says more as a question, completely oblivious to the truth hidden behind the dark gaze. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing” he says quietly.
“Channer” Marcie returns sternly, knowing that it wasn’t ‘nothing’ but unsure of what it was.
“Come” Channer whispered reluctantly and suddenly he was walking into the corner beside the school. He looked down at her a mix of emotions flowed through his eyes; sadness, fear, hope, and one that Marcie couldn’t recognize; love.
“Channer” Marcie whispers frightened. Her whole body aching for an unknown force. This is defiantly not in the rules. Butterflies swarm in her stomach but she has no clue why. If only she could abandon the constant reminder of the rules that lives within her mind.
“Marcie please” Channer begs “just listen to me.” And Marcie listens because she knows nothing else. None of the rules ever written could have prepared her for the words that were soon to flow from Channer’s mouth. “You can’t marry him.” Marcie’s mouth drops in surprise! Did he really just say that?
“Channer. The rules!” She hisses reminding him once again.
“Forget about the rules! Marcie that’s your problem you can’t see past them! No one in this pathetic town can!” Channer’s whole body shakes with anger. “You can’t marry him! It’s not right; I know you’re miserable even though you can’t see it!”
“Channer, I'm not miserable, it’s in the rules!”
“I’ve known you for eight years Mars. Talleen has barely met you and still you’re planning on devoting your whole life to him?”
“I have known him my whole life; I’ve known that he was the one.”
“No you were told that he was the one.” Channer moves closer towards her. Marcie wishes so bad to reach up to him, to wipe away the anger flowing from his veins, but that isn’t in the rules.
“Channer, I am going to marry him.”
“I’m running away.” Channer pauses, scanning Marcie’s face for any sort of reaction. Her expression barely changes apart from the slight sign of shock, but she says nothing. “There are places out there that don’t go by the rules. Places that they don’t tell us about.”
“Channer they would kill us if we left! No one wrote that. You can’t just...don’t you remember what they taught us in history, about the times when people had choice! It wouldn’t...”
“Marcie” Channer all but screams. “Forget about the rules for once and just listen to me. Those stupid rules just scare people into being someone they aren’t.” He pauses once more, griping Marcie’s shoulders tightly and pleading with his eyes. “I'm leaving tonight. I want you to come with me.”
“You wouldn’t have to worry about Talleen anymore it would all be okay. I mean haven’t you ever wondered who you would be if you could just be yourself? Remember Jake? They told us that he drowned in the stream, but he ran away. He told me before he left and I never believed him before, but now I want to take the risk. I don’t want to be married and I know that neither do you. They lie to use Mars, can’t you see that now? You have to leave.”
“Channer I can’t. I can’t leave.” And she knew that she couldn’t. Her whole life she had looked up to those pieces of paper until that was all she was. The rules were who she was and she feared that once out of the tight constraints of the city she would be nothing but a body. Hopeless and lost. “Channer I won’t go. I'm sorry.” Her voice is cut short and she knows that if she dared say more she would start to cry. Big wet tears that would streak down her face and embarrass both of them.
But Channer says no more. It would be impossible to convince her. He moves to walk away but turns suddenly rushing back to her side. His lips press against hers and for just a moment it is all clear. Marcie knows that her whole life is an act, a play put on by the directors of the government. But the act is who she is and nothing more. She cannot leave. Marcie pulls away from Channer’s familiar body. They stare memorizing each other’s features for the very last time. Marcie’s hands rest on Channer’s chest and she can feel his heart beating against her palms, his breath soft on her cheeks. “Goodbye” Channer says, placing a light kiss on Marcie’s forehead, griping her hands till the very last moment as he walks out of the dark alley. Their last touch, last goodbye.
* * *
That weekend Marcie will marry Talleen, seeing no other option. She will be overwhelmed with complements and Mary will beam with satisfaction at the master piece she created. She will hear the rumours of Channer’s death, ignoring them all afraid of the truth that could be interwoven within. She will make home with Talleen in a small white cottage that had been built years in advance. On the kitchen table will be two packages, one small, one large. The large will be addressed with both their names, but the small will have only Marcie’s name scrolled on the front. Inside is a single sheet of paper looking bare with only the one line of text. She will open it cautiously in a corner away from Talleen and read the single rule:
And Marcie will know that they heard.