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An excerpt from


The Family

BOOK ONE: FAMILY TREE

CHAPTER 1

 

The ceremony would begin in less than an hour. Neither girl had a watch nor could see a clock, but they both had an innate sense of time, as did all members of the Family. There was only one clock on the compound. Its face sat impassive and oversized on a small tower in the center of the white, clapboard cottages that served as their living quarters. But they had other ways of knowing the time: the way the sun shone hot and bright at the height of morning or how the air became moist and the mosquitoes started to buzz shortly before dinner was called. The church bells from Turrialba, the city that hemmed the compound in at the foot of the mountain, chimed faintly on the hour until darkness took hold each night.

“Almost done.” Twig took a few steps back and looked over her work. She had laced Rose’s strawberry-blond hair with Lluvia de oro, buttercup yellow orchids that looked like candlelight flickering through Rose’s long, thick locks. Lluvia de oro. Rain of gold. The Family was segregated from the rest of society, but some bits of Costa Rican culture had managed to seep in. The twisting yellow orchid would glow in Rose’s hair in the moonlight. Perfect for a wedding night, Twig thought. Then she felt herself blush. What did she really know about what happened on a wedding night?

She knew a little from their lessons about procreation, but not much else. She imagined Thomas would be kind to Rose. Would her husband, whomever they picked for her, be kind?

“What are you thinking about?” Rose suddenly asked. “You seem far away.”

“I’m sorry. I was. I was thinking about marriage.” Twig was embarrassed that she had been thinking about sex and didn’t want to say so out loud.

Adam’s voice droned on through the intercom in the living room. Confess your sins daily to a sister or brother. Do not try to hide the evil that is inherent in every one of us. I will cleanse you of sin, but you must admit the truth of your nature before I can do that…

“Okay, turn toward me.” Twig gently steered Rose’s shoulders toward her. “Perfect,” she said.

Rose smiled weakly.

“You’re nervous,” Twig ventured.

Even though she and Rose had shared a single bedroom with their mothers for as long as she could remember, they had rarely spent time alone together. There was a slight awkwardness between them.

“I’m okay,” Rose replied, letting out a big breath. “Thomas is amazing. I got so lucky. They could have paired me with Doc!” Both of the girls erupted in nervous giggles, relieving some of the tension.

Doc was a psychiatrist in his fifties, but he served as the Family’s medical doctor. As far back as Twig could remember, if she had a fever or a sore throat or a bee sting, Doc had taken care of it. When she was a child, she had suffered from constant headaches. She had vague memories of lying in Doc’s office with ice packs on her head. Those were lonely memories she didn’t care to recall. As she got older, her headaches had faded.

Doc was also Adam’s right-hand man. He was nice enough, but now that Rose mentioned it, Twig had never thought of Doc as someone’s husband. He was older than most members of the Family by quite a bit, and while he was nice enough, he always seemed a bit removed. If Twig had to give him a color, it would be gray. A cold blue-gray. Twig loved to give people colors. There was something visceral about them, something pre-speech. Sometimes a person’s color came to her when Twig first met them. Sometimes she had known a person for years and still couldn’t assign them a color.

She turned her attention back to Rose. “Come on. Let’s get you to the mirror, and then I think we’d better get going.”

Rose paused. “It is okay because it is a special occasion, right?”

“Yes,” Twig reassured her. “You aren’t straying. A bride is allowed to look in the mirror on her wedding day.”

Twig led Rose gently by the hand out of the bedroom and into the living area of their cottage. Adam’s voice became louder as they entered the room. The space was not large, but it was bright, and the big stone tiles that made up the floor helped to keep the cottage cool. The south wall had two bay windows that faced the compound and the rainforest that spread out behind it. A dining room table made of blond Cocobolo wood rested against the far wall next to an open kitchen. The rest of the room was sparsely decorated with two handmade wooden armchairs polished to a shine and a white, slipcovered love seat. The only mirror in the cottage was hung high on a wall next to a large framed photograph of Adam. The glass on the frame and the mirror gleamed. Twig had dusted them herself that morning. You never knew when Adam might send someone to make sure the cottage and his photograph were dust-free. It was best to keep the place spotless at all times. An unclean cottage or a dusty photograph meant a verbal lashing in front of the Family.

Twig dragged a chair from the kitchen and helped Rose stand on it in order to see herself. The young bride wore the same white eyelet dress that every woman in the Family wore, but Twig had gotten permission to alter it into a modest strapless gown for the wedding. She had woven the ribbons usually used for their hair into a wide sash that she now tied around Rose’s small waist. Twig taught knitting and sewing classes to the younger brothers and sisters. When it came to anything clothing- or fabric-related, the Family deferred to Twig.

Rose wobbled in front of the mirror, turning this way and that. Twig was glad she couldn’t see her shoes. There was nothing to be done about the shoes. Everyone in the Family wore the same heavy, dark brown hiking boots. They were comfortable, practical, and ugly.

Twig smiled, watching Rose admire herself in the mirror. Despite her small pangs of envy, she was happy for Rose. She could also see why Adam discouraged vanity—it could get out of control. But it was lovely to see Rose smile like this. Rose’s color was definitely pink. Not a cloying pink, but a soft, creamy pink.

“You’re a genius, Twig.”

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