There is only so much you can understand from reading books, and watching informational documentaries. You can only learn about the smells and the sights and colors to a certain point. There’s only so much you can gauge from sitting inside a classroom or in a library.
I sat on a leather seat in the backseat of a shiny black SUV and watched in amazement as the world around me shifted and moved and breathed. There was too much and not enough of everything; smells, and movements, and people, and things.
The trees were a vibrant shades of red and yellow and gold. I knew from reading the books in the library that that meant it was Autumn. The third season of the year.
As we stopped at a traffic light in the middle of the city, I pressed my hands to the window. I wanted to touch – everything. The cars zooming past, the people walking along the roads of little cement paths. I wanted to feel the world under my fingertips.
“We’re almost there.” The driver told me, smiling at me in the little mirror attached to the roof of the automobile.
“This is all so…amazing.” I breathed in wonder as the drive accelerated the vehicle again.
“Have you not ever been downtown, Miss Adalyn?” The driver asked me.
I shook my head. “I haven’t been outside of the Institute in twenty years.”
“How old are you, Miss?” The driver asked, turning us down a different street.
“Twenty. Almost twenty one.” I replied absently as we turned into a residential neighbourhood. The houses along the streets were large, nothing compared to the Institute, but towered next to the trees nonetheless.
“We’re here.” The driver pulled into a driveway, pressed a button and the window zoomed down. He reached out and pressed a series of buttons on a pad, scanned his finger and the giant metal gates in front of us opened smoothly.
The drive way went in a circle, around a magnificent fountain. It held my attention until the house came into view. It was beautiful. Three stories of pale stone and towering windows. The separation between the floors was a brilliant white marble; pillars stood guarding the front door, as well. Flowers of every imaginable color graced the ground around the driveway, and up to the front door.
The driver directed the car so that it was pulled up in front of the house. He shut down the machine and quickly got out to come around and open my door. I almost fell out with my excitement.
“The Rupert’s are nice people.” The driver told me, extending his arm for me to take. I smiled at him, trying to take in everything at once. I craned my neck back to see the house. It was magnificent.
“This is amazing.” I said.
“Yes, Miss.” The driver said with a chuckle.
The door opened as we reached it, and a little old man in a suit gestured for us to enter.
I felt like I was supposed to curtsey, I just barley resisted.
“Right on time.” A female voice announced from the left. A tall, slender woman around the age of thirty, (although maybe she had been through a Harvest or two to stay so young) with fiery red hair and light caramel skin came out of the parlor, her hands extended. “You must be Adalyn.”
I nodded, accepting her hands in my own. “Yes. Are you…Mrs. Rupert?”
She laughed. “Oh, no. I’m the daughter-in-law, Marissa.”
“Oh. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Your manners are impeccable, my dear.” She linked our arms together and led me farther into the house.
I remembered to call a “Thank you!” to the driver before he slipped out of the house with a wave.
Marissa led me through the house, over intricately woven rugs and gleaming hardwood floors. “Everybody is in the family room.” I was told, “We’ll go straight back.”
I swallowed, suddenly very nervous. “Ah, is there a powder room between here and there?”
Marissa laughed, “Of course, darling. Down the hall, first door on the left.” She gestured down the hallway to our immediate right.
“Thank you.” I told her.
“I’ll wait right here.”
I hurried away, not wanting to take longer than necessary.
The bathroom was decorated in a Victorian style, all lacy elegance and pale colors. I stood in front of the pedestal sink, staring at my reflection in the mirror.
“Okay.” I said to myself, “You have a plan. Stick to plan and everything will be okay. You’re going to calmly explain to her that this is your purpose. You’ll convince her that this is what’s supposed to happen. She’ll see your side of things and agree. Things will get back in motion. The Harvest will continue as planned. All will be as it should be.”
I washed my hands, fussed with my hair a moment and then took a deep breath.
I can do this.
I opened the door and promptly walked into a solid wall. A solid, moving wall – a man.
We both grunted at the impact. His hands gripped my upper arms to keep me from falling over, my fingers gripped his shoulder with the same intent.
“I’m so sorry,” I exclaimed, disengaging myself and stepping back as much as I could in the tiny hallway. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
The man towered over me – an easy feat at my height – but this one was very, very tall. His tawny hair was shaggy, a bit longer than mine and curled against his nape. He watched my through a pair of grey eyes as he righted the jacket I’d disrupted.
“Who are you?” He asked, his voice rumbled in the limited space.
“I’m Adalyn.” I replied.
“Ah, the crop.” He smiled wryly.
“Crop?” I frowned at the term.
“Sawyer. You’re not being your usual annoyingly grumpy self, are you?” Marissa appeared at his elbow, nudging him out of the way and linking her arm with mine again. The solidarity of the move gave me confidence to meet the eyes of the big stranger standing over me. “Adalyn is a guest here. She’s here to see your mother.”
Sawyer cocked his head and regarded me intently. “Are you?” He asked.
I nodded, “Yes.”
“Because I think she’s making a mistake.”
A single brow rose, “Do you?”
I nodded again. His full lips tugged up at the corners in something that vaguely resembled a smile. “It looks like we’re in the same boat.”
I frowned at his terminology. We weren’t in a boat. We stood in the overly crowded hallway of his entirely decadent house.
“Shall we?” Sawyer gestured towards the hallway behind himself.
As Marissa pulled me past him, my shoulder brushed against his chest. I ignored the tingling that shot up my arm. It was hard to, though, when I could feel my cheeks burning.
Marissa led our little party down the hallway, up a short set of steps and through several intricately decorated rooms before we emerged in a room with over-stuffed chairs and couches and tables with piles of books and magazines. There were lamps in all corners and a chandelier that glittered like the sun.
There were five people in the room. Two females and three men.
They all stood as we entered the room, one of the men smiled intimately at Marissa and I interpreted this to mean that he was her husband.
He had light brown hair, dusty skin and a pair of dazzling blue eyes. His smile was all-but perfect when he flashed it. I could see the attraction.
The two other males looked identical except one was an older version of the other.
They both had black hair and hazel eyes. Tan skin and a keen look to them that suggested they missed nothing.
The first woman was young, younger than me by a few years perhaps. She had very long red hair and blue eyes the size of dinner plates. Her pixie features reminded me of Amy, and I felt a tug near my heart when I thought of our last parting. I’d have to fix that somehow.
It was the last woman who interested me the most. The one that mattered the most.
She was tall, willowy and had a short cap of brown hair. Her wide mouth curved in a smile when she saw us enter the room. The tan slacks and simple white shirt she wore complimented her figure. When she held long-fingered hands out, I expected Marissa to move forward to embrace the woman – or Sawyer, her son.
But her grey eyes were on me. She wiggled her fingers when I didn’t move.
Clearly annoyed with my hesitance, Sawyer put a hand on my back and gave a small shove. I stumbled forward, shooting a stern glance over my shoulder.
He just watched me through grey eyes the exact color of his mothers.
“Adalyn.” Mrs. Rupert gripped my hands in her own, pulling me close until we stood only a foot away from each other. “Forgive me for the personal-space intrusion, but I just need to look at you.”
I smiled kindly at her, “You don’t need to apologize for anything, Mrs. Rupert.” I raised my chin, made sure my shoulder were back, and awaited for her appraisal.
“You’re very beautiful.” She told me. “And please, call me Anna.”
“Anna.” I murmured. “Thank you, Anna.”
“You have excellent manners.” Anna told me, flicking a glance at the man leaning against the wall behind me. “Maybe some of it will rub off.”
“I don’t have enough time in the world to teach…anyone.” I replied with a small smile.
Anna laughed. A loud, throaty chuckle that made me smile bigger. She was comfortable to be around. Calming in a way that I’d never known. I felt safe. And protected. And wanted.
“Let’s sit.” She held my hand, led me to the couch she’d risen from, pulled me down with her.
The others followed suit, returning to their seats. Marissa joined her husband and Sawyer kept his post against the wall. I could feel his eyes on my face but I refused to look towards him.
“I was so surprised when I was contacted by the Institute.” Anna told me. “Pleased, but surprised.”
“I couldn’t just leave things as they were.” I told her. “It didn’t feel right.”
“You want me to reconsider.” She summarized after a quick look at my face.
“I – how did you – yes. Yes, I do.” I told her. I leaned towards her, “I think you’re making a mistake by refusing the Harvest.”
“My dear, how old do you think I am?” She asked with a small smile.
“Ah, forty?” I asked.
“I’m three hundred and fifteen.” She told me with a sigh. “I have been alive a very long time. I’ve had children, and a successful career. I’ve done all that I have needed to do. I’ve crossed every item off of my bucket list.”
“I don’t know anything about buckets or lists on them, but I know it doesn’t have to end now. There’s still so many things you can do. Things to see and experience and achieve.”
“The same could be said for you Adalyn.” Anna said softly.
“No.” I shook my head. “That’s not how it works. I’m not supposed to do any of that.”
“Why not?” The elder gentleman asked. I presumed he was Mr. Rupert.
“Because I was created for one purpose and that is to be Harvested by Anna.” I turned back to the woman beside me. “You had me created so that you could have my organs. So you could keep living.”
“I was young –”
“That was twenty years ago.” I reminded her.
“A lifetime. My son had just gotten married. I was being greedy, and thought I wanted more time.” Anna shook her head. “I don’t need it. I wish to age alongside my husband, to end up old and wrinkled and then pass on when it’s time.”
I felt my chest tighten. “But you created me.”
Her hand cupped my cheek. “I know that you think all your life is for is to be Harvested. I understand that you feel lost and confused. But you will find a new purpose. You will do, can do, great things.”
“The greatest thing I could do would to prolong your life by giving mine.” I told her passionately.
We turned as one to regard Sawyer. He nodded his head towards me, though his eyes stayed on his mother. “She’s right.”
“Sawyer, I can’t live forever, darling.” Anna told her son.
“Yes. But you can live longer. You made a promise to her when you had her made. The least you can do after having her made if fulfilling your end of the deal.”
I smiled faintly at the man against the wall. “Exactly. You promised me. Not with words, but with actions. You created me for this. This, and only this, will ever be my purpose.”
I did not convince her to continue with the Harvest as planned. She invited me to stay for dinner and so I did. I stayed silent during the meal, only speaking when I was asked a direct question. I was too far inside my head to notice that I was being watched, measured.
I did, however, get the chance to study the family dynamics going on around me. And I learned names. Mr. Rupert’s first name is David. Marissa’s husband is Gordon. The younger version of David is Daniel and the young lady – Marissa’s sister – is Maria.
I sat across from Sawyer, between Anna and Marissa. I ate the delicious meal; cream of cauliflower soup, fresh green salad, steak and roasted vegetables. And for desert something with chocolate and lots of icing. I’d never had icing before, and delighted in licking it all of my fork.
I looked up as I set my fork down, and met Sawyers eyes. They were heated and I frowned, wondering what I could have done to anger him.
“Will you come back?” Anna asked, pulling me away from the stormy grey eyes to the calm ones. “Will you visit often?”
I nodded. “I would love to.”
“Is Monday too soon?” Anna asked with a laugh.
Seeing as today is Friday, Monday seemed so far away.
“That would be perfect.” I told her.
We adjourned to the family room for tea and coffee – I had neither – and then it was time to go.
They all walked me to the door, hugs were given, hands were held and then I was back in the SUV and on my way home.
The next day I received a telegram. It was delivered to my room while I slept, left in the small silver mailbox that was outside my door.
I held the note in my hand, felt a tremor work its way up my arm. My elbow tingled. It was from Sawyer. I didn’t know if I liked that I could tell that.