"I've... I've entered the Draw"
I looked up sharply from my phone to stare at my best friend sat across from me, she was looking down at her hands as she spoke, shame radiating from her in palpable waves. I didn't know what to say, the shock had rendered me speechless and so I just stared at the top of her head, my jaw slack.
"The draw the draw?" I finally asked, incredulous. She only nodded and I sucked in a lungful of air "Emily..." I breathed out softly. "Emily, why?!"
When she looked up at me I could see the tears pooling along her lower lashes, her cheeks were red and her bottom lip trembled "my dad lost his job, again" she whispered.
I nodded slightly to show I had heard, but remained silent, my lips pressed tightly together until they were white. The Draw was the shame of our society, a middle finger in the face of feminism and equality. No woman with any other choice would willingly enter themselves and so I had to remind myself of this, that the girl I had known all my life would never subject herself to that if there were any other way. Any other way she could access higher education, dental care, financial security...
Emily's dad was absent on and off pretty much all of her life, an alcoholic and anti social personality who had first left his pregnant wife before Emily had even entered the world. When her mother, my god mother, had passed away three years ago from cervical cancer, 15 year old Emily had had no choice but to live with him. To be fair to him he had tried, working whatever menial job he could get to put food on the table, but his issues with authority and routine meant he never stayed employed for long and he had obviously just lost his most recent job as a warehouse picker. God only knows what for.
"God, what will you do if you get picked?!" I suddenly asked, the implications of the Draw springing into my mind. Emily shrugged solemnly "then I guess I'll be heading off to the Island, won't I?" She muttered, the tears now spilling silently onto her cheeks unchecked. I felt like crying myself, the thought of some awful, conceited millionaire choosing my beautiful friend and her being whisked off the to island, never to be seen again, made my heart drop into my stomach painfully. We had never been without each other, we were born on the same day in the same hospital, our mothers had met in birthing class and been joined at the hip from then on. We had attended the same schools and up until now had been planning on attending the same university together, but now that would never happen.
"What about the money your mum left you?" I asked desperately, knowingly grabbing at straws. Emily sighed softly "gone" she replied "it was all spent on rent, food, bills, you know. I haven't got a choice Rhi, I wouldn't do this if I did"
I didn't have an answer for that, what could I say? I only nodded sadly in understanding. The Island was what frightened me most of all, no girls ever returned to their home towns if they were picked so nothing we knew was concrete. We knew it was far away and girls who were chosen to marry the wealthy men that the Draw catered to were sent first to the Island to be "prepared", but none of us had any idea what that really meant. Their website was full of fancy PR wording that skirted around giving anyone any actual information.
Later that night I sat in bed, my laptop resting on my thighs as I stared at their 'about' page. There were photos of their happy couples and testimonies from grateful clients, beaming men that exuded wealth, their new wives proudly displayed on their arms. All the girls had the same glazed, Stepford look in their eyes though, that was the most frightening part. What were they going to do to my best friend? In a moment of madness I clicked on the page dedicated to girls who wanted to enter themselves into the Draw. What sort of a friend would I be if I let Emily face this alone? I asked myself. It was free, I noted, all they wanted was one head shot, one full body shot and for applicants to fill out a short form that mostly consisted of name, age, measurements etc. For a moment my mouse hovered over the 'apply' button, and then I slammed the laptop shut angrily. What excuse would I give my parents if I threw my life away like that? They had given me everything, a beautiful home, a great work ethic. I could go far and they would support me the whole way, this I knew, but still, who would support Emily?
Weeks went by with the Draw never far from my thoughts, I stared at their website most nights, never going through with the application. Emily was beautiful, but part of me hoped and prayed that she was not beautiful enough, not pretty enough to catch the eye of one of the leacherous potential suitors the Draw was designed to benefit. Maybe nothing would even come of her signing up anyway. But that was all wishful thinking, proved to me with one text message from Emily declaring she had been contacted with information that a client had short listed her profile. The news strengthened my resolve and I grit my jaw hard, I knew that night would be the one I put my own name in that Draw. I couldn't let Emily face it alone.
Later I poured myself a glass of wine, and then a second, hoping to pluck up some Dutch courage for what I had resigned myself to doing. I stood in my bra and panties against the pale grey wall of my childhood bedroom, the self timer on my phone counting down, and forced a small, coy smile on to my lips. If Emily was going, I needed to make damn sure I was picked too. With the full body shot taken, I snapped a headshot I was happy with and quickly plugged the lead that was attached to my laptop into my phone and moved the photos over. I hadn't told Emily, or anyone, about what I planned to do. Speaking it out loud made it seem too real, whilst it still only lived in my mind I could pretend for a little while longer that it wasn't really going to happen, that I was still heading off to university and that my future was still my own. Of course, even if I was shortlisted I could refuse, but I knew I could never do that, I could never abandon the person that counted on me the most in this world. I had always been the stronger one, the more confident, in truth I had carried Emily in a lot of ways, tucked her under my wing and shielded her with my sharp wit and intelligence. With that thought sat firmly in my mind, I quickly typed the information required into my application and hit submit before my resolve crumbled.