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“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Amber immediately apologized, her eyes now wide as she looked to Josiah. He only grinned, his hand reaching to draw her in close by the elbow.
“Amber please, it is alright.” Amber met his eyes then. “Why don’t you go get a towel and some club soda to help with making sure this stain doesn’t settle alright?” Amber’s cheeks turned red, she wanted to bury her freckled face into Josiah’s chest for comfort to help with the embarrassment. “And tell sister Valerie to check on the children.” She nodded before turning to face the guests. She knew Matthew of course, but the women she had not seen before.
“I’m sorry, for the shirt I –”
“Amber.” She closed her mouth then and went to find the other ladies. Though she cast a look over her shoulder, of course she was interested in the newcomers, but she knew better than to go against Josiah.
Amber had found the women together, starting to get the food ready to be served. The youngest women were looking over the children, though as one could imagine at that time that was the last thing one would want to do. Coming into the community you did give up a lot of what Josiah considered to be hosts of greed. There wasn’t really a need for a smart phone or spending hours in front of the television. What was then the use of living in such a beautiful place?
[right [pic https://i.imgur.com/C7rZbfW.jpg]]
“Josiah says to watch the children.” She said as she began to search the table for a few napkins and paper towels.
Faith could see the look of fear in Amber’s eyes. She pressed her hand against her back and rubbed it gently.
“It’s alright, accidents happen and with cake there’s bound to be more. They’ll crash soon though,” Faith said. It was hard the first months of being a wife. One could never prepare for the amount of work that came with not only watching your family but being a mother to the others. They were a community and Josiah believed that as a community it was their duty to one another to eb there for them.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/awUqaS2.jpg]] “I told you to stay here, you know how they get when they have just a bit of juice in them.” Diana clucked. She smoothed back a strand of red hair that had fallen out of place from her bun.
“They’re kids Diana, they need to run off the energy.”
“This is Josiah’s birthday. Everything is supposed to go off without a problem. Amber why are you just standing there?”
“I – spilled a drink on one of the guests.” It was then the women looked up and actually bothered to see just who Matthew had brought along. Diana furrowed her brow. Matthew was Josiah’s closest companion and he’d yet to marry. Usually outsiders were invited after they had talked to Josiah and considering how friendly he seemed with them, he wondered if maybe they were moving in with Matthew.
Diana watched as the girl on the left started to attend to the crying little boy. “Stay here.” She said as she took the cleaning items and began toward the small group.
[center [b [size15 _]]]
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/itqZ8JX.png]] Josiah looked to Lily then and watched as she tended to the young boy. He soon stifled his tears, a toothless smile eventually forming.
“I’m sorry about my wife, she can get a bit ahead of herself.” Matthew had first come to Josiah about inviting Olivia a few days ago. He had mentioned how he was interested in her after the time they had shared speaking with one another. He hasn’t mentioned bringing a friend, but now wasn’t the time or place to bring that p. Besides, Lily seemed nice enough despite her closed off behavior.
“Carter,” Diana called , extending her hand out for the boy. She gave a large grin toward Matthew and his guests. The young boy soon went over to take her hand.
“I’m Diana,” she said. Matthew wasn’t surprised by Diana’s boldness as often she made it clear that she was Josiah’s first wife. She patted the boy on the butt to get him moving back it where the other children were. Of course she knew not to overstep her boundaries and waited for Josiah to speak.
“Diana this is Lily and Olivia, guests of brother Matthew.” She smiled, glad to be welcomed into the conversation. She reached her hand out to hand over the cup of club soda and the napkins.
“Hopefully it still comes out. Are you staying for long? We can maybe get it in the wash?”
“Why don’t we take a seat?” He suggested. “I haven’t had a chance to eat.” Diana smiled apologetically.
“I can fix you guys some plates and have them brought to the table?” She suggested. She had walked off then, her white gown flowing some in the wind as she started for the table with the food.
“Follow me,” he suggested. He let Olivia and Matthew go ahead of him, walking beside Lily. “So, you’re good with children?” he said to stir conversation.
“Are you sure I should go? I’ve never spoken to Matthew before, wouldn’t it be weird to insert myself suddenly into his life?” Lilly tugged nervously at her hair, knotting the ends of it as Olivia put the final touches to her make-up on.
“Lils you can’t stay in the cabin the entire time. Besides Matthew said it would be good to go. This is a small community, a close knit one, and interacting with the locals will help with the month-long stay. You can’t go around for a whole month and not interact with the people who live here, Lils.” Olivia pushed the black framed glasses into a comfortable position onto the bridge of her nose.
“I feel this is all the more reason I should stay here. Matthew is taking you to his friend’s home for a party. Look at me Liv, I’m just a downer waiting to happen.”
Lilly clenched her fists, biting her plump bottom lip as she glared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror behind Olivia. She shouldn’t have come. Randy was furious with her now, she should have listened and stayed home. She ruined everything and she didn’t want to ruin Olivia’s meeting with the possible man of her dreams too.
Olivia could see the battle inside Lilly’s reflective eyes. She knew her friend was tearing herself apart and that it had to stop. Randy was a toxic man who had wormed his way into her friend’s life. The only thing she was thankful for were Lilly’s sense of self-worth when it came to her body.
Lilly’s mother had been a mistress, having her out of wedlock to an ungrateful man whose wife couldn’t have any children of her own. She sold her, taking a check and abandoning her eight year old daughter to a heartless woman. Lilly swore she would never be like that, never give herself over to anyone who didn’t love her enough to marry her and swear to care for her all her life. She was still waiting for Randy to step up, his empty promises haunting her whenever she thought to end it between them. The fear of what if she was never good enough to find someone else threatening to always swallow her up.
“Lils…Not all men are your father. They aren’t all like Randy either. Matthew isn’t like them and I’m sure the people he chooses to spend time with aren’t either. Why don’t you change into something more freeing than those horrible business suit clothes you seem to force yourself into every day. We aren’t at Uni and we aren’t with your parents, Lils. We are in Sweden for a month of spoiling adventure so please buck up.”
Olivia was right, Lilly knew. Here, for this month away, she could be herself. There was no one watching over her shoulder, no one calling her to remind her of the family image. In this place she had freedom if she would only grasp it in the palm of her hand.
“Liv…I don’t have anything to wear…but suits.”
Olivia stared wide-eyed in horror at her friend. “Shoot, Lils…Want to borrow some of mine? Maybe they have a clothing store in town we can go to later.”
Lilly nodded, following Olivia back to the room to get ready.
Olivia pulled out a loose casual grey shirt that hung delicately from the shoulders but covered enough skin to keep Lilly appeased. The sleeves hung loose down to the elbow where they clipped up in a cloth loop adding for effect. The shirt was made to look almost like a dress towards the back where the cloth hung past mid-thigh. Digging further, she paired it with a pair of dark grey almost black jeggings.
“Casual, but still nice,” Olivia said as Lilly finished getting dressed, her eyes and hair popping against the grey of her shirt. “You look beautiful.”
Lilly gave Olivia an unsure smile, however they didn’t have long before a knock sounded on the cabin door.
“Coming,” Olivia called, gathering her purse and sliding into her sandals.
Lilly snagged the worn leather wallet she preferred to carry around – not one for hauling make-up and the world in a handbag. Luckily jeggings came with back pockets, one she stuffed the wallet inside. Afterwards she slid her own wedge sandals on and followed after Olivia to meet Matthew in the flesh.
Lilly didn’t have much time to get to really know Matthew on the drive to his friend’s house though. The gentle looking man barely spoke a word over Olivia’s nonstop ramblings on how beautiful the community was. She was right of course, as Liv always was. The town they had drove through was simply breathtaking in architecture.
Lilly especially loved seeing the park that seemed to take the center of the town leading up to a beautiful chapel – though the design was something she couldn’t place to any religion based off her experience in New York City. It was still lovely to see and the sound of children laughing pulled at her heart strings.
“Almost there, don’t worry. Josiah is really nice. You’ll find our community to be very friendly,” Matthew spoke suddenly, his eyes glancing to Lilly through the review mirror admiring her in awe expression as she gazed out the car window.
The car came to a stop as they all got out, moving to enter what seemed to be a very festive party. Olivia and Lilly both were amazed at the amount of people gathered, wondering if Josiah was someone in the community briefly. Olivia wondered what this man must look like to have such a turn out – there were many more women than men in attendance from what she could see.
Leaning over, Olivia couldn’t help but whisper into Lilly’s ear; “This just might be your chance at true love, Lils. Look at all these women, he must be a looker and single for such a turn out.”
Lilly’s lightly freckle dusted face flushed red a moment before a voice interrupted her thoughts. A man had come up to them and called out Matthew’s name. By the looks of him, Lilly wondered if this was Josiah or a family member of him in how he thanked Matthew for attending.
For some reason Lilly felt the awe from the ride over wash away as sadness pooled into the pit of her stomach. This community was like a giant family, untouched from the outside world. It felt otherworldly to her, the smiles and kind faces. It was something she had never had, a kind of home she never knew could be possible.
Olivia noticed her friend’s face change, her expression from earlier fading into the depressive small forced smile she now sported. The man who had come, Josiah the birthday boy, offered to get them drinks. When Matthew turned him down and offered to get them himself, Olivia couldn’t help but smile a bit.
At least her pen pal was being protective in a sense – at least that was how she saw it. Lilly didn’t have an opinion on the matter as suddenly a mousey young woman bumped into her from the side. She had been running up towards them with a drink and not watching the little ones who were playing.
Lilly teetered as the drink splashed all over Olivia’s blouse trying to avoid it herself as well as the mousey woman who was panicking beside her apologizing over and over to of all people Josiah.
“Liv are you alright-“ Lilly was going to look to her friend when the sound of a child crying pulled her to look behind were a little boy stood holding a rather ruined looking piece of cake.
Lilly had a weakness for children – being a child from a very unhappy home could do that to a person – and seeing the little boy cry brought out something in her Olivia hadn’t seen in a while. In fact she couldn’t even be upset at the situation as she watched Lilly hunker down to the little boy and pat his head, making soothing tones and hushing noises.
“About that drink, Matthew…I think I already got one.” Olivia chuckled despite the sticky feeling of her blouse, her eyes on her friend smiling for a change – a real smile that made her eyes brighter than stars.
Amber brushed back the brown strands of hair from her face, fluffing her bangs until hey sat just how she liked over thick brows. Her light colored eyes looked at her reflection in the mirror. It was still a bit dark considering it was very early morning. She couldn’t wait for the sun to rise, her favorite part of the day was the afternoon when it was extremely bright out and gave everything such a burst of vibrancy in color. Now it seemed a bit drab and grey. She knew better than to open the windows, Josiah was still asleep and it was his birthday Normally he would be up by now, working with the men of the community. She’d spent her first night with him the night before which was supposed to be an honor and in turn had made most of the women act a bit different toward her. She felt special, for once after weeks of tiring studies and hard and back breaking work. He had told her not to worry about that though, it was a transition anytime there was a new wife. Soon they would work as a unit, a perfectly succinct family.
She reached up to touch her lips, still. a bit tender from his kisses the night before, amongst other parts of her that had not been seen nor touched by any man in her twenty-one years of life. She was the youngest of the women; they were just jealous. All that mattered was Josiah. He was so gentle with her, slow and patient as she tried to find the rhythm that pleased them both. He’d even stopped when she asked, just to catch her breath from the tight feeling of him within her. She remembered looking into his eyes, those dark chocolate pools and watching as the corners of his lips pulled up into a smile. She had smiled back and nodded, a silent go ahead for him to continue.
He had chosen her. She shouldn’t have to be shamed for that.
That said, there was no way she was getting out of work and she soon joined the other wives, Diana and Faith. There was work to be done. There was a big party planned for Josiah in which many from the community were invited to. She kept her eyes down as she entered the kitchen. She wondered if she moved differently now, surely she looked uncomfortable.
“Morning,” she said softly. Her voice had always been tiny and squeaky, yet somehow she had caught the attention of Josiah that day she bumped into him at the market outside of the small town. It seemed a bit crazy then, to suddenly leave her whole life behind and to move to Tåkern, but her life hadn’t really been all too great. She was lost and he had found her.
“Good morning,” Faith said. She turned her hazel eyes from the batter she had been stirring toward Diana, the oldest and first wife. Seeing Amber, she took her opportunity to check on Josiah, brushing pass her without a word. “Don’t mind her,” Faith said as she noticed the slight frown on Amber’s face. “Here, you can start with the marinade.” She suggested.
[center [b [size15 _]]]
[right [pic https://i.imgur.com/itqZ8JX.png]] Josiah felt lips gentle against his chest. He opened his eyes to see Diana looking down over him, a smile on her face then.
“Happy birthday,’ she said. Josiah reached up to brush back the red hair from her face.
“Thank you love.” He watched her hands peeling at the covers then. She missed him, missed sleeping with him. Last night she was a ball of angst, tossing and urning and trying to ignore the sounds from the room next door. The walls of the cabin weren’t as thick.
She heard him say Amber’s name.
[I Thud. Thud. Thud.]
God it made her sick, she cried all night before finally escaping the room to go outside for air and to pray. This was God’s will. It was her duty to be the best wife she could and she would be for Josiah until the end of her life.
The day went on like normal; there were preparations to food and decorations hung up turning their backyard of wild flowers into a nice little space for a party once the tables and benches were added. Soon enough it was late afternoon and the people were starting to show up. Music played in the background and Josiah stepped out of the house. Dark long hair had been pulled back into a bun. He adjusted the white linen shirt he wore, pushing up the sleeves to feel more of the warm sun on his skin.
He could see his good friend in the distance then, with two guests it seemed. Josiah didn’t mind of course. There was always room for growth. “Matthew,” he said with a grin. “Thank you for coming.”
“It is my pleasure of course. Happy birthday! I want to introduce you to my friends, Olivia and Lily.” Josiah turned his eyes toward the women then. He was distracted of course, by the undeniable sadness that lingered in Lily’s eyes.
“Can I get you a drink?” He suggested. Matthew looked to Olivia then.
“How about we grab drinks for you? You are the man of the day,’ he said with a chuckle. He could see that Matthew was waiting for Olivia to decide if she wanted to join him. He did understand that there was some fear in being foreigners in a different land. She was safe though, nothing bad happened here.
Stepping out into the midday sun, Lilly couldn’t help but close her eyes and take a breath. The air was fresh – crisp even – compared to back in the smog-filled New York City where she called home. Eyelashes fluttering as she thought about the place she called home, thought about the troubles that had led her to where she was now. It all came down, along with her new high of peace she had found only a moment before.
Vivid light blue orbs, like the noontime blue sky on a cloudless sunny day, opened with a new hint of sorrow and loss. Golden-copper eyelashes dipped as wet globs of fresh tears welled and spilled out already swollen tear ducts. It appeared everything failed if she was added to the equation, even the beautiful tranquility of a foreign wonderland.
With a small sniffle, Lilly raised her small slender fingered hands to her face to wipe away the remnants of her fragile state. There had been enough of this crying before and after she had entered an airport to bring her to this place where nature thrived in harmony with the humans who inhabited it. This couldn’t continue to go on, she had to buck up as they say.
Suddenly a hand landed on her arm and Lilly tensed before realizing it was just Olivia.
“I’m alight Liv, no worries okay?” Lilly’s voice was a bit rougher than it normally was due to all the crying and she could feel a drop of wetness form near the end of her nose. Quickly she wiped it away.
Olivia, on the other hand, didn’t believe for a minute her best friend was anywhere near alright. Too dedicated, too hard working, too focused on the future others had dreamed up for her, Lilly was. No, Olivia knew Lilly needed a change in her life, a mind-altering event that would allow the old Lilly to push to the surface and fill the husk of a young woman she was now.
“It’s alright to cry, Lils, I’m not upset about it. This is why I wanted to bring you here, because of the beauty and relief you can find in this place.” Olivia smiled at her best friend offering encouragement.
Lilly couldn’t help but let out a little chuckle at her friend. “I’m sure it has nothing to do, either, with a certain pen pal you want to meet in person while we are here and too terrified to meet them alone.”
Olivia reached out and poked Lilly on the nose. “Only a smart person would bring an extra when dealing with a stranger.”
Lilly shook her head and turned to go back into their small cabin. “Still betting he’s a no-show tomorrow,” she shouted back towards Olivia.
“Better a no-show than a human trafficker right?” Olivia grinned and pretended to shudder.
Lilly sighed. She knew it was no joke, a no-show could mean the difference between either of them becoming another statistic of foreign girls on foreign soil. “Don’t jinx us just yet, Liv.”
Leaving it at that, both young women went to unpack their suitcases for their vacation getaway. Lilly couldn’t help but smile when she pulled a fluffy plush teddy bear out of her suitcase. It had an emotional value to her, something akin to an allowance of closeness to the person who gave it to her.
“Jesus Lilly, why on earth did you bring it along with you? This is supposed to be a trip of healing wounds and getting you back on your feet. Carrying that old thing around is not going to help you do that.” Olivia closed her eyes a moment before opening them again. “You need to give up on Randy, Lils. He isn’t good to you or for you.”
Speak of the Devil and the Devil shall appear. Suddenly a familiar ringtone blared in their one-room cabin.
Lilly fumbled to get her phone, her hands trembling as she saw the name flash across the screen. As she swiped to accept she gave Olivia an apologetic smile.
“Hey…” She answered softly, her free hand fiddling with her long pale ginger tresses nervously.
“Lilly where the hell are you?” A rough grating voice sounded on the other end so loud Olivia could overhear. The question caused both women to frown.
“I’m with Olivia, I told you-“
“And I told you to stay in New York City! Not fly all the way to fucking Sweden! Damn it Lilly why do you do this, why don’t you ever fucking listen to me?”
Lilly had begun to knot her hair up as her nerves grew worse. “You’re not even in New York City Randy-“
“No, I’m not, but one of my friends flew in and needed a place to stay. I promised he could crash in your loft and that you’d take care of him Lilly. Now he has no place to go because apparently his kind Hostess took off to another fucking country. How do you think that makes me look, Lilly? I’ll tell you how it makes me look! Like a fucking-“
Olivia had had enough. Without caring how Lilly felt about it, she reached out and snatched the phone from her best friend’s hand and hung up on the no good rotten bastard.
“Zip it, Lilly. You don’t need to take that shit. You’re not Randy’s slave, you don’t have to keep playing housemaid to all his friends he sends your way. When was the last time he was even around? He got that cozy job at his dad’s firm but he hasn’t once offered for you to come live with him. Instead it’s like he pimps you out to clients. I’m sick of it Lilly, the last time you let one of them in I had to take a baseball bat to their car to get the message across to back off.”
Lilly felt like she would cry again, her heart constricting in her chest. She knew Olivia was right, knew all too well how toxic Randy had become to her. But Randy hadn’t always been that way. They had been happy years ago, both fresh university students then trying to get by. But then after three years together he was called back home to help his father run his company in California. Things had gone downhill from then on.
“I know you hate hearing it, Lils, trust me I do,” Olivia said softer this time, stepping to wrap her arms around her friend and press a chaste kiss to the shorter woman’s temple. “But I hate seeing this broken shell, hate seeing you cry yourself to sleep at night. I hate seeing how your stepmother keeps pushing for that doctorate, how your father has swept you under the rug unless he needs you for a family affair. You deserve better than that, Lils, you deserve a good home filled with so much love and laughter you could drown in it.”
Olivia took a breath, stroking her friend’s hair and back. “I’m not saying you will find that here at Takem. I’m saying you need to heal and find yourself here so you can find that better life later.” Suddenly Olivia lets out a chuckle. “My pen pal says this place is magical, holy even, and heals all who come to it. That’s one of the reasons I brought you here.”
Lilly sniffed. “What’s the other reason?”
Olivia beamed, looking into Lilly’s sky-blue eyes. “I’m not brave enough to get kidnapped without you.”
Both young women burst into a strange kind of chuckling laughter at that. They knew the dangers of going to a foreign country could mean abduction and that it was no laughing matter, however knowing that seemed to make it all the more hilarious at the time.
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