The Forbidden Life
ONE JUNE, Vivienne woke up from a nightmare. It was the same one as before, Allison was back. She wanted to know why Vivienne hadn’t told anyone of the real reason why Allison disappeared into Coral City. Everyone else thought she was having the time of her life as the beautiful arm-candy of a rich royal lord. Her family still received a monthly allowance sent from their beloved daughter. But Vivienne knew the truth; Allison was dead. She had been dead for almost three years.
Vivienne sometimes wondered if it really happened. Before Allison disappeared, she sent Vivienne emails written in their childhood code. In the letters, she was scared. Someone was coming after her. Vivienne never found out who although Allison hinted that it was a woman. It was a dreadful woman that Allison only referred to as ‘The Night Lady.’ A loud, insistent knocking came at her door.
“Vivienne! You have to go to Aunt Sully’s house today. Did you forget already?”
“No, Janun,” Vivienne replied with a roll of her eyes. Her perfect older sister always assumed Vivienne was too incompetent to button her own shirts. Vivienne willed herself up from the bed and threw on the first clean set of clothes she found in her closet. Her Aunt wouldn’t approve no matter what she was wearing. Her Aunt was a seamstress, and she was going to fit Vivienne for a dress for her birthday.
In Ignias a girl’s eighteenth birthday was an important one. It was the age when she was considered of marriageable age. The reasoning behind that was that it was also the age that a girl could no longer be summoned by the Auguard to Coral City. Not that that was ever a fear for Vivienne. Ever since she turned fifteen, she was eligible to be summoned to Coral City, but that little slip of paper never came. Not in the mail, not in the streets, not at school. The Auguard she came across seemed to look right through her.
In the beginning, she was jealous that Allison was picked and she wasn’t. After all, they were both beautiful in their own ways. Allison had flaming red hair and cheeks like apples. Vivienne was a dark beauty. Her hair was black, and her eyes were a sharp transparent blue. Her father always told her that with one look she could stab a boy’s heart.
Unfortunately, no such boy had materialized yet. Vivienne wondered if her father’s reputation for being a crazy old drunk had anything to do with it. Back when Janun was of age, her father desperately tried to sell her to the Auguards so that she might have a chance at the high life in Coral City. Janun was always the prettier one with her warm brown eyes and quick dimpled smile. But the Auguards pestered by her drunk father couldn’t seem to run away fast enough.
“Vivienne?” Janun yelled. “This is your last reminder!”
“I’m going!” Vivienne hissed in reply. “Good grief, Janun, it’s just a dress!”
“It’s going to take all day. You’re going to have to catch the eye of a banker’s son to pay off all of dad’s gambling debts.”
Vivienne sighed. She hoped the loan sharks weren’t threatening to kidnap one of the family pets again. Vivienne threw her backpack over one shoulder and ran out the door before her mother could scold her for missing breakfast. She barely made the bus in time. An Auguard was sitting in the front seat busily flipping through the morning papers. When they weren’t out hunting for young women to take to Coral City, the Auguards were busily at work with the town’s officials, making sure that the laws made inside the city were being carried out.
The headline on the papers said “Ghren orders execution of Lord Morrigan of Ignias for treason.” It wasn’t the headline that caught Vivienne’s eye. It was the picture of a girl in the background of the shot of the unfortunate Lord Morrigan. The girl didn’t look so much as though she was grieving for her benefactor but that she was deadly afraid. She would probably be forced to join him in the grave.
“Vivienne! Over here!” It was Sallen, Vivienne’s friend from school. She patted an empty seat beside her. “Hey, it’s almost your big day isn’t it?”
“Yup, tomorrow. I just want to get it over with.”
“Inviting anyone special? Like a boy, maybe?”
“Sallen!” Vivienne exclaimed. “You know I’m not!”
“Are you inviting Daniel?” Sallen asked with a suppressed giggle. Daniel was a boy from school that was always inviting Vivienne to things. The other girls liked to gossip that he had a crush on her, but Vivienne thought that was ridiculous. Daniel was just a nice guy. He had a reputation for being helpful. Undoubtedly he was pitying her for being the lonely girl who spent all her time at the library.
My mom sent out a whole bunch of invitations,” Vivienne sighed. “I just hope she didn’t invite the principal!” Vivienne rolled her eyes and then her gaze fell on the rustling newspaper the Auguard was reading. “I wish Allison could come. She always loved parties.”
“She’s probably partying in Coral City right now as we speak,” Sallen said. “Maybe one day we’ll visit her in the posh place there. Isn’t she supposed to be dating a diplomat?”
“Don’t you find it weird that we haven’t heard from her since she left?”
Sallen waved Vivienne’s concerns away. “Oh stop it, Vivienne. I’m sure she’s fine. I wish one of the Auguards would pick me to be one of their Orlins. My parents are still hoping.” Sallen stared at the Auguard longingly. “Time is running out. My eighteenth birthday is in two months.”
Vivienne wondered if she was the only one who never dreamed of being an Orlin. She supposed it was a fancy way of finding escorts for the royalty in Coral City. To a girl in Ignias, being an Orlin meant beautiful clothes, fabulous parties, and glory for their family. For a select few it even meant power. Orlins mingled with the most elite members of Coral City. It is said that even King Wynn himself consults an Orlin before every major decision. Vivienne still remembered the day Allison got her invitation. It was just one day after Allison’s fifteenth birthday. She showed up in school one morning and couldn’t stop smiling. It turned out that an Auguard had been waiting for her at the school door. Allison had been picked to be an Orlin. She would never need to go to school again. That day the teachers hugged Allison as though she had won the lottery.
Everyone knew that the really special people were picked right after they became eligible on their fifteenth birthday. There were a couple of stories of people who got picked a couple of months shy of their sixteenth. For those who were about to turn eighteen the odds of being picked were almost nil.
“I wonder why they need Orlins anyway,” Vivienne asked. “What do they mean when they say that they’re looking for those who were born special? If the criteria is so stringent why don’t they tell us exactly what it is that makes someone an Orlin?”
“I think they’re looking for the most beautiful and good-hearted people,” Sallen replied. “Orlins have a lot of power; you would want someone who will do what’s best for the rest of us.”
Vivienne just didn’t like it. She wondered if her skepticism came as a result of having lived in Coral City a long time ago, back before her father became a drunken gambler. She knew that not everything in Coral City was as clear as the many glittering fountains that flowed through it. Everyone spoke of Coral City as though the air there was filled with vaporized gold and the citizens glided about on angel wings.
“I don’t know why they didn’t pick you, Vivienne.” Sallen continued. “Remember that stray cat we found that had been run over? You rescued it from the street held it in your lap until it died. We were all too scared to go near it. There was blood everywhere, and it was just...gross. You were so brave.”
Brave wasn’t quite the word for what happened with the cat. There was something about blood and guts that had the opposite effect on Vivienne than it did on most people. It calmed her, cleared her mind, and in some cases almost excited her. Vivienne never liked cats but the suffering cat on the street, at that precise moment as it lay dying, it almost seemed like something Vivienne could love. Vivienne wondered if that made her twisted or weird. Perhaps, that was why the Auguard always turned their gaze and shuffled away at the sight of her icy pale eyes. They stared into her soul, and they knew - this girl wasn’t what they were looking for.
“This is my stop!” Vivienne said as the bus pulled up to the busy merchant part of town. She waved goodbye to Sallen and fled the bus. On her way out, she accidentally bumped into the rising Auguard. He fell over in a heap onto the floor. He was cursing at her. He apparently had a cane which he was using to steady himself before she knocked it out of his hand. Before Vivienne could offer to help him up, Sallen had bolted from her seat and was at his side. Seeing there was nothing much she could do to help, Vivienne sheepishly backed toward the exit.
“Sorry!” she muttered before escaping the bus.
The dress was a giant puffy pink mess. It looked as though it had been stolen from Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe and then been caught in a monsoon of sequins. Aunt Sully was overjoyed about the prospect of her seeing her creation on her niece. Vivienne reluctantly allowed herself to be stuffed into the sea of tulle and satin. Standing in front of the full-length mirror in her Aunt’s dress shop, she felt like a human cupcake.
“You only turn eighteen once,” her Aunt said. “Now if only I can find a matching ribbon for your hair. You’ll look like a china doll.”
Vivienne had never envisioned herself as a doll. She never even played with dolls as a child except to conceive of various ways for them to be dismembered and to imagine their painted smiles fade as they faced a painful death.
“Oh, the boys are going to go crazy!” Aunt Sully gushed as she produced a monstrous ball of tangled ribbons of every conceivable pastel color. She struggled to yank a canary-colored one out of the top but only succeeded in pulling the knot at the center of the ball of twine tighter. Her old knobby fingers tugged without success at the dead knot. “Let me go get Lorie to help.”
Her Aunt left to find her apprentice shop girl as Vivienne collapsed into a threadbare red velvet couch. Vivienne spent a few minutes with her eyes closed, praying that she would fall asleep and wake up when fitting and the next few days were over. There was no such luck. In fact, her Aunt was gone for an awfully long time, and the gown was uncomfortable to sit in. Vivienne became worried that she was going to wrinkle something and her Aunt was going to have to keep her longer to iron the thing out. So, Vivienne decided it was best to take the dress off. Once she was free of the thing, she wasn’t sure if she could resist the temptation to sneak out the back door. She’ll tell her mom that Aunt Sully had forgotten about the entire thing and maybe her mom will let her wear jeans to the party.
Vivienne squirmed out of the dress and hung it up her in her Aunt’s closet. It went into a slot between a green Mandarin robe and a white fur-lined cape. Now, her escape plan was only hampered by the fact that she could find the clothes she had come in. Where had her Aunt taken her clothes? Vivienne searched the closet and wrinkled her nose at the other merchandise. There was a periwinkle gown with neon ostrich feathers shooting from the shoulders. There was a red scaled dress with a hood that made from a python head. As she stepped away from the closet, on the shelf, there was a slip of lace fabric that caught her eye. She tugged it out under a pile of scarves. It was a long black dress with a lace collar. Vivienne never liked dresses, but if she were to wear a dress, she wouldn’t completely hate wearing this one.
She decided the soft liquid-like fabric was too inviting not to try on for a second. Vivienne pulled it over her head, and it fell perfectly over her modest breasts and small shoulders. She tied the black ribbon in the back, and it flared from her hips. Its hem came down to her knees and moved with her every step.
Her phone started to ring. It was from Janun.
“Vivienne? Vivienne! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m at Aunt Sully’s,” Vivienne replied. A sarcastic thought lingered on her lips as to whether anyone subject to her Aunt’s attention to be ‘okay’, but something about Janun’s tone stopped her from joking around. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh my gosh, someone broke into the house. They threatened mom! They said that if dad doesn’t pay them ten thousand dollars tonight, they’re going to make one of us disappear. Viv, mom, is freaking out.” Janun was rattling off breathlessly then she descended into gasping sobs. Janun wasn’t the crying type. This must be serious.
“I’m coming home right now,” Vivienne said and shoved her feet into her black loafers.
The bus was crowded with rush hour traffic. Vivienne ended up standing in front with her feet straddling an elderly woman’s grocery bag. The black dress fluttered with every jolt like waves of a nighttime ocean. Vivienne stared at the window. It was cloudy and dark outside. It might rain soon. She saw her own reflection in the glass. A very serious girl with pale glaring eyes stared back. The dark dress contrasted sharply with her pale skin.
She wasn’t always such a mournful girl. Her father was a good guy once. Back when she was nine years old, he even scored a very lucrative teaching job, tutoring the elite children of Coral City. They even lived in the River Way for a while among houses so big they could fit an entire circus inside. Vivienne didn’t remember much of the students her father had over the years, only one of them stuck out in her mind. Blake Thorne, he was the one that ended her father’s career. He was also her best friend.
Blake Thorne, the boy who believed in vampires, if only he hadn’t gone and gotten himself killed by one while under her father’s watch, maybe her father would still have a job teaching in Coral City. Vivienne had struggled not to blame Blake for dying. After all, he couldn’t help it.
Vivienne stared at her own reflection. Her hair, which Aunt Sully had clipped back behind her ear, flowed down in curls. She looked older, more girly like she could be someone’s lover. She wondered what that was like. The only boy she had ever spent some time alone with was Blake Thorne of the famous and rich Thorne family. He was twelve at the time, and she was nine. When they were together, they used to dig for artifacts in an old abandoned dirt lot at the edge of River Way. He believed it used to be a stadium-sized arena where people would be forced to fight vampires. Once, he found a vampire fang.
Vivienne tried to imagine Blake at twenty-one. He would still obsessively wear dress shirts and fancy shoes. Maybe he’ll still be wearing that green tie he wore the day he died which was the color of his eyes. She imagined a tall, slender yet compactly muscular boy with a head of curly blond hair and calm emerald eyes. He’ll wear that tie with the golden Thorne family pin in its knot. A curly blonde lock would fall into his eyes. She could almost see his ghostly reflection in the mirror saying to her “Viv, you promised not to be frightened. They’re just dead vampires after all. The dead can’t hurt you.”
Oh, Blake, Vivienne thought. You were so wrong.
“Ahem,” the woman whose bag of celery and french bread that Vivienne was treacherously straddling said. Vivienne was so lost in her daydream that she didn’t notice that she had crushed most of the woman’s groceries.
“I’m so sorry,” Vivienne blurted out. “I was daydreaming.”
“It’s all right,” the elderly woman said, pleasantly. “You are pretty when you smile. You should do it more often.”
Vivienne was more embarrassed than ever that she had been smiling to herself while staring at a dirty bus window. She must look like a lunatic. The elderly woman grinned warmly; she apparently thought Vivienne was absolutely adorable.
“Going somewhere special in that beautiful dress?”
“My eighteenth birthday is tomorrow,” Vivienne replied. “My Aunt made this dress.”
“Ah-ha. Is there a special boy coming to the party?”
“No,” Vivienne chuckled. “None at all.”
“No? Not even in your daydreams?”
Vivienne blushed. The bus stopped at the main street. The elderly woman stood up and gathered her groceries. As she stepped past Vivienne, she leaned in and slipped Vivienne a piece of paper. The woman was smiling wider than ever; it was actually starting to scare Vivienne. The woman looked like a starving cat who had finally caught a glimpse of a mouse in a trap.
“Darling, your fairy tale is about to come true.”
In the blink of an eye, the elderly woman blew Vivienne a kiss and disappeared into the darkness of the street. Vivienne turned the slip of paper over.
You are hereby summoned to the order of the Orlins. Please report to the Light Station at 8′o clock tomorrow morning.