For the first time in her life, Elena looked around at the world and actually saw it. She saw the flowers on the side of the freeway, she saw the orange leaves falling into the street, she saw the colors of houses and the craftsmanship of shutters and doors. There was beauty all around to find and appreciate. Money was suddenly meaningless to her, as she spent it just to not have it line her pockets, just to see the happy faces of other people when they received it. She was seeing the world as if she had just gained eyes. Every so often she would blink, and the world would shift into the technicolor vision Lysander had gifted her once. Then, she would blink again and it would be gone.
Iris, her best friend from college, picked her up at the airport, arms waving ecstatically.
"You're so skinny!" was the first thing she said.
Though Elena had missed her friend, her stomach was in knots and she felt too downtrodden to mimic her excitement.
She felt as if she had left her heart behind overseas, and she could feel the void in her chest where it was missing. It was like someone had punched a hole in her ribcage, and pulled it out by violent force.
As Iris rambled on about college life, the teachers, the parties, and various tidbits of her now painfully civilian life, Elena knew that her mind had been changed; her brain had been rewired. Her soul was no longer meant for a human's normal life routines.
Iris seemed to cue herself into this quickly, and let the conversation wander off. She expressed concern but Elena didn't know how or what to tell her. In her heart, she could sense that Iris somehow knew.
"So, did you ever see that mountain man again?" Iris asked, breaking the silence to say.
"I think you were right about him," Elena replied somberly. "He was just a dream."
Iris pulled up to the Yang household to let her out, and Elena lingered in the front seat just staring at the ominous place, know that this was truly when she stepped out into a whole other life. She said goodbye to her friend, and opened the door to get out.
Her mother greeted her as she exited the car with open arms, squealing and going on and on about how much weight she'd lost and how good she looked.
"It's like you're somebody completely else," her mom had said, and this statement stuck. Her mother was unaware of just how right she was.
"I quit smoking too," Elena informed her, and that just sent her mother off into another tizzy. Her father hugged her next, a cold short embrace that was quickly broken off to step aside and reveal a third greeter: her fiancé, Ken.
He was stiff and seemingly uncomfortable. He simply offered a hand to shake, which she took. He had so firm a grip it hurt her knuckles and she was relieved to be released from it.
"It is wonderful to finally see you again," he spoke courteously, sweeping her hand up in his. "I must say, I can't hardly wait to possess you as my own."
He let his eyes wander up and down her form, obviously pleased. She meekly smiled back, but didn't have the heart to lie in saying the same. The way he said 'possess you' sent a chill up her spine that she didn't welcome.
Ken wasn't as old as she had originally imagined. In fact, he looked to be only about a decade older than her, rather than the three-quarter century-old, wrinkly decrepit she had cooked up in her mind. A few crows feet framed the corners of his eyes, and deep lines were in his forehead. Patches of white hair peeked out at his temples. Other than that, he seemed a pleasant, youthful-looking man.
An equally awkward dinner followed their introduction. Venison was served, an old favorite of hers, but all she could do was pick at it on her plate and think of the doe she had seen nosing through the potato chips she had left for Lysander. Such a beautiful animal, peaceful. She doubted she would ever eat one again.
"I'm very excited about this merger as well," her father agreed, wiping his mouth with the white table napkin. "It's great to see everyone coming together."
"Couldn't have said it better myself, Sir," Ken agreed, leaning close to Elena, slipping his hand over to her lap. Elena froze at his forward gesture, and her heart pounded as she watched his hand slip closer inward to her thighs. She frightenedly threw a look to her mother, who suddenly seemed fascinated with the table and twirling the stray hairs at the crook of her neck.
"Honey, you have eaten nothing!" her mother observed, probably trying to misdirect attention. "No wonder you have become so thin!"
Ken and her father laughed at the joke in good nature. Elena scooted her legs a little further away from him on her chair, hoping he would take the hint.
"I admire her healthier choices," her father countered with a smile. Elena had to say, it was the first time her father had really ever said anything positive about her. "Let her stay true to her new diet if she pleases. She will be a trophy wife."
"It's true, she had better watch out," Ken retaliated with a strong insinuation, this time making his hand grip her thigh so she would get the hint instead. "If she isn't careful, people could get the wrong idea and think she doesn't have the brains to match the body."
Ken smiled tenaciously at Elena, with a look of warning behind his smiling eyes. Elena wondered if her heart had stopped beating completely.
"Eat!" her mother commanded, breaking the staring contest. "I won't have you fade away before my eyes!"
"I'm really tired," Elena complained feebly, pushing away her plate. Any excuse to get away from this situation. She didn't even wait to be excused.
She threw her face into her familiar bed, her soft pillow, and let the tears flow. She could only keep questioning if Lysander had even been truly real, or if it was all some psychotic breakdown she had invented in her mind's eye attempt to escape this twisted reality. She grabbed at her purse again, taking the green silky material out once more and put the soft fabric against her cheek, comforting herself with it's tangibility. It had to be real. It had to be. The sweet memories were all she had left of him. That, and this dress…
Elena looked down at the dress, noticing it was still attached to her purse. A closer look told her it was caught in the strap. She gently tried to free it from the metal buckle, taking great care in doing so, but all too quickly she heard the small but piercing sound of the fabric tearing as it broke loose.
Elena thought she could hear her heart ripping with it. She put her fingers to the new hole in the fragile dress, more water flowing from her eyes. She felt it a strange thing, to mourn an article of clothing.
She heard a knock at her door, and hurriedly wiped her eyes, sniffing harshly, trying to get a hold of herself.
"Come in!" she called out. The door opened and her breath caught as she realized it was Ken. He smiled that plastered smile again as he entered, and she grew nervous as he closed the door behind himself.
"We should talk," he offered, sitting down on the bed next to her. She reflexively scooted a bit away from him. "You and I haven't really had a chance to talk since I've made my intentions known to your mother and father."
Elena couldn't bring herself to say anything.
"Come now," he coaxed, leaning in close to try and catch her gaze. "I'm really not so bad. You parent's are just aching to see you and I together and I admit that I am quite exciting at the prospect myself."
Elena looked anywhere but at him. She didn't think she could imagine any greater hell than that very moment she was in. She was inwardly screaming for him to just leave.
"Your mother says that you really got attached to your grandfather, and his cottage overseas…" he went on. "It must have been beautiful… lots of trees, I imagine?"
Elena finally met his gaze, if only to squint at him suspiciously, knowing his company was in the lumber business. He was fishing for something. Was he interested in cutting down Lysander's forest?
Elena felt things begin to make a little more sense. It wasn't her he was after.
"I should have guessed," Elena shook her head in disbelief. "I had always wondered what you saw in an overweight, zit-faced girl with an attitude that was over ten years your junior. Now I know. You were just sitting around waiting for my grandfather to die so you could make your move, weren't you?"
"I don't think I understand what you're talking about," Ken frowned in confusion.
"Playing dumb doesn't suit you," Elena sneered, standing up in an effort to see him to the door. He grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her close. She gasped in surprise at his sudden movements.
"It doesn't suit you either," he countered, moving in slowly now as to intimidate her. "I don't think you quite have a firm grasp on the situation you're in here- don't be foolish like your grandfather. Your family will be bankrupt and on the street in a matter of months. They need me just as much as I need them-"
"You're hurting me," Elena informed like it was news to him. Ken smiled again, but let her go.
"Don't you see?" Ken finished. "I'm not the one who wants that shithole torn down… your father is."
Elena rubbed her wrist, trying to get blood circulating in it again. She frowned in thought, digesting his words. Her father needed Ken's lumber resources in order to make more paper and save the company from going under.
"I don't see what you get out of it," Elena pressed.
Ken did that creepy thing again where he leaned too close to her face, grinning that impossible grin.
"You mean besides half the money?" he asked. "I get a beautiful bride with a young, wet pussy and the knowledge that I get to literally fuck Ol' Man Yang's legacy right in the ass… that fat, stubborn old bastard…. which is worth every penny."
"Like hell!" Elena swung a hand at his face, but he caught her by the wrist again.
"Think carefully, Elena," Ken warned. "If you play your cards right you might still be able to get something out of this. I might be able to find my resources elsewhere if you came willingly, then you can call yourself nature's hero and your father can still save your family business. Hell, maybe you can even vacation there once or twice a year. Either way... I will not be refused."