It had been an emotional week for Gwendolyn Marie Briggs. After four long, eye-opening years, she had graduated from the all-girls school in Ca-Elum that her parents had sent her to. Graduation had been a blur of happy, bittersweet, and proud celebration. Everything felt like it had happened so fast that she didn’t get to sit down and soak it in, yet, when she thought it over, she could remember specific moments clear as day. When the festivities were over, the sadness had set in. It was her time to leave the school just as her best friend Maebh and the rest of their friend group had two years before. As she had packed up her dorm, Gwen felt like her heart was being stomped on. She would miss her friends dearly. Sobbing hugs had been exchanged among the girls, and promises to stay in contact were sworn left and right.
Gwen felt her eyes water a bit as she thought about her friends that were on trains like her, spreading out across Ishgar to their respective homes. Would she see them again? The young woman would certainly uphold her end of keeping in touch, but would they? The thought pulled at her heart. Her bottom lip trembled a bit.
No! I can’t cry again, Gwen scolded herself, pressing her forehead against the cool glass of the window. Outside the train, fields of crops passed in a constant blur of green. Mountains rose in the distance like giants. The autumn sun blazed down on the land, and she felt momentarily comforted by its warmth through the glass.
Gwen’s gut twisted as an orchard of oranges passed by, uncomfortably reminded of what lay ahead of her: her old life. That apple orchard felt like a whole other universe these days, like her memories weren’t even her own. No longer was she the meek, compliant child her mother had raised. The very same rebellious streak that had caused her to be sent away four years ago still burned like a hot ember in her heart. She was determined, full of dreams, and now was educated, the perfect storm of fuel for disobedience.
When she arrived home, Mother and Father would celebrate for just a few moments, then probably insist she get right back where she left off last time she had visited home. Gwen could practically smell the scent of apples and feel the rough wood of that same old damned spoon in her hands. A shiver of dread ran down her spine. Going home felt wrong in the same way that going down a dark alleyway at night did. Awful things lay ahead, but here she was, heading into the heart of it.
A shiver went down her spine as she thought of what her mother had mentioned the last time she visited. It had been early spring and she was home for a week of break from school. Unfortunately, she couldn’t just stay in her dorm for the break, so she was shipped home for a few days. Her mother had organized a dinner with a few of the families from neighboring farms, a meal chock full of the produce from each respective farm. Apples, corn, pumpkin, it was delicious, but the taste reminded Gwen of what life at home held.
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