note: these characters are mine. all mine. so please don't take them from me. like you'd want to, but still.

My Arranged Life

Some people believe that arranged marriages are a thing of the past, gone with corsets and foot-binding. But, I guess, these people have never met my parents. All my life, I've known that I wasn't going to get to choose whom I married, and I guess I never really thought anything of it. My parents' marriage had been arranged, and they had turned out completely happy. Besides, I hadn't found anyone worth defying my parents yet. But when I was given the name of my future husband, and told that he and his brother would soon be moving in with us, things changed.

I guess I should start by explaining my parents. Bob McDowell married Betty Rice decades ago, continuing the tradition of their parents' wealth. Dad's relatives are in oil, Mom's are in steel, and neither have had to work a day in their lives, but they do. Dad's an economics professor at our local college, and mom owns a gift store downtown. They both want my sister, Elise, and me to turn out normal and unpampered. The only thing that lets people know we're rich is our house, an old plantation home with a pool, beautiful and unappreciated gardens, and shrouded by thick woods of rich-smelling trees. Even the house can be a pain, because my parents refuse to hire a live-in maid. Frannie comes Tuesdays and Thursdays, and only cleans the general living areas of the house. Our rooms are our responsibilities.

Both Elise and I stayed home for college, our parents had always preached the attributes of the local college, and we knew that they wanted us home while they could keep us. I graduated last year, majoring in journalism and literature. Elise will be a junior this fall, and she's been floundering between cosmetology and studio art. We're very different, Elise and I. Elise is beautiful, small, but filled out well, with straight blonde hair and rosy cheeks, and I, well, I am too tall and too skinny, with long unruly light brown hair and a complexion too pale to tan and too dark to be a fairy tale. I've always envied Elise's angelic looks.

Our interests are varied too. Neither of us is stupid or boring, we just don't understand the same things. I have a passion for politics and literature, while she understands how things work better, and can create beautiful things with her hands, without even really trying. She looks up to me, because I'm older, but I constantly look up to her, because she has things that I can never have.

Right now, we're both living at home. Elise goes to school and I write reviews for the tiny local newspaper, The Huntsville Digest. I'm not exactly happy with the way things are, but things have always been this way. My family somewhat secludes itself from the rest of the town, and I've only kept in touch with a handful of friends from college. Elise is better about it than I am; she still goes out every few weekends, sees movies. She dates boys, but never seriously, because she knows that she can't choose whom she will marry. And Mom and Dad go to work and come home, watch the news, talk to me about current events and to Elise about art, and we all retain a safe distance from each other.

Everything changes, eventually, and it was our time to change. The Sothersbees died in May, and my parents were gone for weeks, attending the funeral and making arrangements. The Sothersbees had been our parents' best friends, although I hadn't seen them since I was about ten. It had been a tradition for my parents and the Sothersbees to go on a vacation together every summer, but this years' trip would never come. The Sothersbees died in a car accident just outside of their neighborhood in Manhattan. The news of their death was shocking, but more shocking was the news that came with it. The Sothersbees' sons were going to move in with us, in a month.

When my parents got back, they were quiet at dinner.

"Kate, Elise, we've known the Sothersbees for a long time, and they always agreed with us about the marriage situation," Dad said, licking his lips nervously. The marriage situation was what they called our bondage. "As you know, Chet is Kate's age, and Blake is a year older than Elise. Chet has grown to be a very level-headed young man, and we feel that he will make a very good husband for one of you." Elise and I glanced at each other.

"One of us?" I finally asked.

"Well, yes. Kate, we have decided that you will marry Chet," Dad said, and I slowly absorbed the news that I'd been anticipating for years. I couldn't think of anything that would make sense to say, so I remained silent, choked.

"Chester is a very nice boy," Mom added, trying to make things better, I guess. Elise's blue eyes were large.

"Seriously?" she asked, and Dad nodded.

"Yes. We've already talked to Chet, and he's agreed. He and Blake will be moving in next week, and the wedding will be next spring. You'll have plenty of time to get acquainted, and if we see that you don't suit each other, there's always Elise." Dad smiled, as though he was speaking of a rainbow after a storm. I shrugged.

"Well," I began numbly, "I guess I've known this was coming. May I please be excused?" I asked, and with a nod from Mom, I cleared my place and headed upstairs to my room. It wasn't long before there was a soft knock on the door.

"It's me," came a soft, fuzzy-voiced whisper, and Elise pushed the door open slowly and floated into the room. Her eyes were rimmed with tears. Surprisingly, mine weren't. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, I guess. I mean, it's not like this is news. They told us back in junior high that they were going to choose our husbands," I said.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt," she said, tears now rolling down her porcelain cheeks.

"It doesn't hurt," I said honestly. "It feels weird. Like, I graduated high school, and I graduated college, and now I'm graduating my life and going off to live another one." I smiled at her honest empathy. "What would you do if they told you you had to marry Chet?" I wondered aloud, and she smiled.

"I don't know. I guess I'd just have to accept it," she said.

"Exactly," I shrugged again. She held my hand, and it surprised me, because we never really did things like that.

"Just know that we're going through the same thing," she said, and I nodded. I felt her squeeze my hand tightly. "Do you mind if I sleep in here tonight?" she asked, and I shook my head. In a few minutes we had both changed for bed, and climbed into my double bed. Looking at my sister's face, stained with tears, lying innocently on the pillow next to mine, I could only think that I had to be strong about this. Maybe Chet would turn out to be a good guy. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad.

Next week came much too quickly, and my parents did something they rarely did: they threw a party to welcome Chet and Blake. You would think that we would throw a catered, extravagant party, but Mom insisted on making her chicken and wild rice casserole, and Dad tended the bar. They wanted some kids there, to make the boys feel welcome, so some of my friends and Elise's attended, as well as Mom and Dad's work buddies. The party started at six, and the Sothersbees were to arrive at seven.

I found it amazing that, within an hour, things had gotten out of control. My parents are amazingly laid-back, and about half of the guests were hammered by six-fifty. Dad pulled me aside and asked me to look out for things and to make sure that nothing disgusting happened to the rugs. So while they and Elise enjoyed the party, I helped unruly guests to the bathroom and towel dried spots on the rugs. I was in the process of simultaneously downing a martini and sweeping up broken glass when Elise approached me.

"Well?" she asked, ecstatic.

"Well, what?" I snapped back, and she frowned.

"I just wanted to know what you think of them," she said, and I rolled my eyes.

"I haven't had a chance to even see them, Dad's been working me like a fucking Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop child," I said bitterly, and as if on cue, I heard a disgusting retching noise behind me, and turned to see one of Elise's friends puking into an antique vase.

"Well, they've been taking pictures of everyone, for some sort of present they're making for Mom and Dad or something. It sounds pretty cool," she smiled.

"Can't you do something about your degenerate friends?" I exclaimed, grabbing the vase. The boy responded by puking on my shoes.

"Ewww! Brian!" Elise screeched, and she ran towards the kitchen. I grabbed a Rubbermaid bucket and pushed Brian's head into it, wincing at the noises he was making. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"Kate! What's this?" Dad asked, and I shrugged.

"Meet Brian, Elise's friend," I smiled sarcastically, "We're really bonding."

"Well, take that bucket outside and empty it in the woods or something. That's gross," he said distastefully.

"Really? I was enjoying it!" I exclaimed, grabbing the bucket and letting Brian collapse on the ground. Pushing through crowds, I left through the back door, and passed many more partygoers on the deck.

"Kate?" a voice asked, and I didn't turn.

"Too busy!" I exclaimed.

"Oh come on, can't I even get a verb?" the voice asked in a cocky tone, and I felt the anger I'd held inside all night well inside of me. I whipped around to see a vaguely familiar man standing there, holding a beer in one hand and a camera in the other. He held the camera up and took a picture, and this drove me insane, as I did not particularly want there to be any evidence of my night as a vomit wench.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" I shrieked. "I don't know who you are; I don't know half of Elise's friends. You know, I have much more important things to keep track of than who Elise is going to see the new Keanu Reeves movie with on Friday." I was losing coherency.

"Look, I didn't mean anything. Were you named after the character in Taming of the Shrew?" he laughed, and I felt my jaw grind into a position it seldom found. "Here, let me get another picture."

"You know what?" I said, in an eerily calm voice. "I'm tired of guys like you thinking that you can just say anything and do anything and no one will care. I care," I said, and with that, I emptied the bucket on the front of his pants. The smell was worse than I had remembered, and with it came an immediate feeling of remorse. The group on the deck had become quiet, and I saw Mom and Dad heading through the crowd. Dad grabbed my arm, in a manner he hadn't done since I was young. He dragged me into the house, and the boy followed.

"Really, it's no big deal," he was trying to say, but Dad didn't listen. He dragged me upstairs, and the boy followed, with Elise and Mom close behind. I guess we were far enough away for the guests not to hear, because Dad's face looked like it was ready to explode. And then it did.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" he was asking me, and I shook my head. "Dumping vomit on Chet's pants?" And with a wave of nausea, guilt, and amazement, I realized who the boy was. I looked up at him.

"I- I- I didn't know!" I stuttered, and Dad let go of my arm. I dropped to the ground. "Really, I didn't know that was him," I said, and I turned to Chet who's jaw was hanging open. "I'm sorry," I whimpered, and he knelt beside me.

"Don't worry about it," he said, peering into my face with crystal blue eyes.

"Well, that's decided," Dad said. "Chet, I'm sorry to have to change plans, but I feel that Kate cannot marry you. You may have Elise," he said, walking from the room. For the first time, I noticed another boy stepping forward, his face washed with concern. I whipped my head up and ignored the boys, locking eyes with Elise. Her face was pale, and strangely serene. This time my eyes filled with tears. In one overzealous moment, I had disappointed my parents and my sister, and embarrassed myself in front of my new brothers.

"Are you okay?" Chet asked, trying to help me up. I shook him off, overcome with shame.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," I said, dazed, limping towards Elise. "Are you . . .?" She shook her head and I grabbed her and held her tightly. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry . . ." I repeated over and over, rocking her in my arms. She felt limp, and I could tell that her spirit had been crushed.

"I'll talk to him in the morning," Chet said slowly, "see if there's anything I can do." I smiled weakly.

"I really am sorry, I didn't know, and, well, everything's been going wrong, and-"

"Don't worry about it," he repeated. "Hey, I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Chet Sothersbee, and this is my brother Blake." Blake stepped forward, thinner and a bit shorter than Chet, with slightly darker hair and dark brown eyes. Both boys were tall and thin, but strong-looking, and Chet's sandy blonde hair and light blue eyes were surprising together. Both had a glow of innocence in their eyes that I wished I'd noticed before I dumped vomit on Chet's Dockers.

"It's no use," I sighed. "Dad never takes things back. He thinks that that's a sign of weakness." Elise pulled out of my grip. "Do you want to sleep in my room tonight?" I asked.

"No," she said softly, shaking her head. It stung to see her walk, in a trance, to her own room and close the door behind her. I turned to the boys, trying to ignore the feeling of nausea creeping up my spine.

"I'm so sorry this had to happen on your first night here. I wish I could be a good hostess, but . . ." I shook my head, and fell onto the ground. Both boys scrambled to help me. "I'm fine, I'm fine," I said, "I'm just kinda dizzy. I'll be okay." I stood again and dragged myself to my room, where I told them goodnight before closing the door. I ran to my bathroom to throw up.

So that's how things began between the four of us- Chet and I were no longer engaged, and now Elise and Chet were. Blake and I were just bystanders. The week went by embarrassingly slowly, with Elise sullen and irritable, and Chet and Blake obviously uncomfortable with our family situation. I tried to make them feel welcome, but nothing seemed to work, and every night they went to their rooms early, to read. One night, after a particularly boring office party, I came home to find Chet lying on the couch reading an old Shakespeare book I'd bought in high school.

"Hey," he smiled weakly, and I nodded.

"Hey," I responded, taking off my coat and sinking into a chair next to him.

"How was the party?" he asked. I'd asked he and Blake to come with me, but they'd declined. I tried to smile, making myself laugh.

"It was horrible. Mrs. Eady, the advice columnist, gave a speech during which she spit on the entire office. Mr. Flemming, the weatherman, sprained his ankle and complained about health insurance for a good hour. And I walked in on Mr. Gearheart, the conservative columnist, showing his "family values" to his secretary," I rolled my eyes and my hands flew to my forehead. "How were things here? Let me guess, Elise didn't talk much, Mom and Dad shared a bottle of wine, and you and Blake decided to 'read.'" He smiled.

"I'm sorry things were so bad. And yeah, they were the usual here," he said.

"It must suck for you that you got stuck with my mom and dad. Your parents always seemed cool, at least," I said. "My parents drive me insane daily."

"My parents weren't so great," he said shortly, startling me. There was a short silence before I noticed the book again.

"What play are you reading?" I asked.

"Taming of the Shrew," he laughed, and I blushed.

"Oh god, that's not even funny."

"Well, what can I say? You inspired me to catch up on one of my favorite Shakespeare plays," he laughed, and I had to smile.

"You know how sorry I am, right? And your pants- I really didn't mean to do that," I said.

"Yes you did, and I probably deserved it. I'm sorry; I guess I was just excited about being in a new place. And just overall obnoxious." I shook my head.

"Well, I'm sorry about how things worked out. And I feel horrible for Elise," I said, and his eyes widened. "I mean, not 'cause she has to marry you, just because she has to get married at all. She's so young and naive. She's always been the one to believe in love and Robert Downy, Jr. movies and all that fluffy stuff."

"Hey, Robert Downy, Jr. made some good movies!" Chet said mock defensively, and then grew quiet suddenly. "I feel horrible about Elise. Like I'm killing her or something, ending her life prematurely. But this is what my parents have always wanted, and yours too, so I guess we can't really do anything."

"Did your parents always tell you that they were going to arrange your marriage?" I asked curiously.

"Yeah," he answered earnestly, "since me and Blake were in middle school, I guess. I remember it pretty well: Blake was talking about his teacher getting married soon, and Mom and Dad just said 'I guess it's time.' They sat us down and told us all about how their parents had set them up, and how it's been a tradition and it's for the best. I never really had any problem with it. I mean, it would be different if there had been someone that I really wanted to marry, but I never really met anyone like that." I nodded, because he was telling me my own life story.

"Did you ever want to run away, and get married like a regular person?" I whispered, and his eyes locked into mine.

"I didn't until they told me I was getting married. That was the day before they died," he said, and I felt myself shudder.

"I'm sorry." I didn't know what else to say, so I stopped there. He shook his head.

"Don't worry about it," he assured me. "I knew it was coming, just like you did. Things have a way of working out." I sighed, wishing I could believe his optimistic attitude.

Elise seemed to get better over the next week, I caught her smiling one morning and the sight was almost shocking.

"Are you okay?" I asked quickly, and she turned to face me.

"I think I'm on my way," she said.

"Why the sudden change?" I asked nosily, and she shrugged.

"I dunno. I talked to Blake for a while about things, and I guess things could be worse. I could be marrying some creep or something. At least Chet's a good guy," she said, and I smiled.

"I'm glad that you see it like that," I said. "Look, I'm really sorry about how this all happened. I totally didn't mean to make Dad do that- it wasn't my plan or anything." She nodded.

"I know," she said softly. "I mean, at first I kinda thought that maybe you'd done it just so that you wouldn't have to get married. But I thought about it, and I know that you wouldn't have done that to me on purpose." I walked to her and hugged her tightly, and this time she hugged me back. "I'm so scared that things are going to change soon, though. I'm going to have to go away, and I won't be with you anymore," she whispered, and I shuddered.

"I'm scared too. You're leaving me behind," I said simply, and we both held onto each other for a long time before I pulled back. Neither of us was crying, but we were connecting in a way that we hadn't in some time.

That afternoon, after a meeting with my parents, Chet gave Elise a beautiful diamond solitaire ring. My parents beamed, and then left to go make dinner and watch the news.

"It's so nice, Chet, but you really didn't have to. It's not like it's exactly a normal situation," she said, and he shook his head.

"It's the least I could do. And besides, my friend Anna once said that every girl fantasizes about a diamond ring from Tiffany's at some point in their life," he grinned. He was right, and I blushed.

"Well, thanks," Elise smiled. Blake walked to the window.

"There's so much land around the house, is there anything out there?" he asked, and I was surprised that they hadn't been given a tour or something.

"Yeah, there's a few things," I exclaimed, "there's a pool, a lake, a stable with no horses, a cabin . . . Elise, is there anything else?" I asked, and she shook her head.

"We don't go out there too much," she said. "I used to go out there a lot, in middle school and high school, to have parties and stuff. But I haven't been swimming in ages, and God knows how long it's been since someone's been in the cabin."

"Wait," I shook my head, "Dad went out there last year to clean it up some. He said that we should use it more often." Blake smiled.

"Well, maybe we should," he said.

"What do you mean?" Elise asked.

"Well, what if the four of us had a little camping-cabin weekend thing. Chill in the cabin, fish, swim, the whole parent trap deal," he suggested.

"But no twins or annoying accents," I added. We all looked at each other for a moment before smiling.

"Will your parents mind?" Chet asked.

"No, I can't see why they would. We'll still be at home, technically, and we'll be bonding or whatever," I said.

"Well, cool, let's do it then. This weekend," he said. And that's how the idea started. That Friday, once I got back from work and Elise got back from school, we all packed some stuff and drove out to the cabin in Blake's Jeep. I hadn't been there since middle school, so it was kind of nostalgic for me. Everything was smaller than I remembered, but everything still smelled like pine and had a dusty haze over it. The first thing Blake did was plug in his boom box and put in his 311 CD, giving us the perfect soundtrack to the promising weekend. Elise and I put our things in one bedroom, and Chet and Blake took the other. After things were put away, we met in the living room/kitchen area.

"So what now?" I asked, and Chet smiled, pulling a bag from behind his back.

"Margaritas," he answered smugly, approaching Dad's blender. We all laughed, and Blake, Elise, and I sat on the dusty couch.

"Do we have anything planned other than the mass consumption of alcohol?" Elise asked Blake, who smile coyly. Blake and Chet, without jobs or schoolwork, had taken on the responsibility of planning the weekend.

"Well, yeah. The first thing is a king of getting-to-know-you activity. We have a few of those, this is the tamest," Blake replied, standing to help Chet with the drinks.

"Well, what's the deal?" Elise giggled. Chet and Blake returned, bearing glasses filled with green.

"The deal," Chet began slowly, "is that we all sit, relax, maybe put on some Dave Matthews, and ask questions, which each of us answers, unless morally opposed to answering." Elise and I looked at each other.

"Impressive, but potentially dangerous," I observed, and the boys nodded.

"Exactly," Blake smiled. "Shall we begin?"

"First question: What is the biggest lie you've ever told?" Chet said, sipping his drink.

"Who goes first?" Elise asked.

"Whoever's ready," Chet explained.

"Okay, well, the biggest lie I ever told is when I complimented Elise on her outfit this afternoon," Blake laughed, and Elise swatted at him with her free hand.

"Seriously!" she exclaimed.

"Okay, my biggest lie would be when I told my econ. professor that I had cancer so that I could miss class for a week to go to Panama City," he confessed.

"You said you had cancer?" Elise's jaw dropped.

"Yep, I know it's mean and insensitive or whatever, but I did it. And when I needed a day off any time after that, I needed radiation," he said guiltily.

"I think the biggest lie I've ever told would be when I told Dad that someone hit my car in a parking lot when I really knocked the mirror off on the mailbox," Elise smiled, and I laughed.

"I remember that! I can't believe he bought that story! And he kept getting so mad about 'that jerk!'" I remembered. "Hmmmm, the one that's coming to mind was the time when I ruined Mom's oriental rug with bleach and I covered it up for months. That felt awful. Okay, Chet, your turn."

"The biggest lie I ever told was when I was trying to avoid a speeding ticket. I told the cop that my sister was in the hospital, having a baby, and I was hurrying so that I wouldn't miss it. He ended up escorting me to the hospital, where I went inside and waited 'till he'd gone, and then left. I always wondered what would've happened if he's followed me inside and realized that I'd just been wasting his time," he blushed.

"Okay, I have the next question," Blake announced. "What is your favorite band?"

"Oo, easy," Elise smiled, "Third Eye Blind. They're so great!" she exclaimed, her face lit up.

"Band or singer?" I asked. "My favorite singer is Liz Phair, my favorite band is REM."

"Good choices," Chet said. "I'm going to go with Dave Matthews. The old standard."

"And I guess I'll say Beastie Boys," Blake smirked.

"Okay, my turn," I said assertively. "Who's your favorite author- and you can have different ones, like fav novelist, short-story writer, poet, you know. My novelist is Zora Neale Hurston, my short-story author is Joyce Carol Oates, and my poet is e.e. cummings."

"My novelist is Dickens, short-story author is Eudora Welty, and poet is Shakespeare," Chet smiled. I nodded with approval.

"Oh god, this one's hard!" Elise exclaimed. "I really like Jane Austin and Tennyson. But I don't really have a fav short-story writer," she said apologetically.

"Me neither," Blake said thoughtfully. "But my novelist would be Thomas Mann, and my poet would Petrarch." Elise squealed.

"Oh, I forgot about Petrarch! He's probably my favorite, too!" she exclaimed.

"Well, Elise, do you have a question for us?" Chet asked.

"Um, okay, guys, which Spice Girl would you do, Kate, which Spice Girl would you most want to be?" she asked, and we laughed. "What? It's a valid question!"

"Okay. Baby Spice, no contest," Blake said. "She's so cute!"

"Nah, Posh Spice. She seems really fierce," Chet smiled dazedly. I hit the back of his head.

"Well, I'd say that I'd most like to be Posh, but only because Chet would 'do' her," I said. "Just kidding, of course. I'd want to be Posh 'cause she's the best dresser." Elise nodded. "Or maybe Ginger because she was smart enough to leave!"

"Yeah, well, I think I'd want to be Baby, just 'cause she gets to wear pink a lot," she smiled. I laughed.

"Okay . . ." I looked at her quizzically.

"What?" she exclaimed, "I like pink!"

"Chet?" I asked, turning to him. "Question please?" I realized my glass was empty as he swooped it out of my hand and took it to be refilled.

"Okay," he said, refilling the glass, "Alcoholic beverage of choice. Mine is definitely the cosmopolitan."

"Heineken!" Elise exclaimed, handing her empty glass to Chet.

"Tom Collins," Blake sighed happily, taking a sip.

"Shots of Goldshlaggers," I smiled, taking my glass back.

"Whoa, there. So you're a hard liquor girl?" Chet smiled.

"You know what they say . . ." I smiled, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

"Oh, stop with the Willie Wonka quotes," he laughed. "And it's your turn."

"Okay, while we're on the subject, would you rather have sex with an oompa-loompa or a flying monkey from the Wizard of Oz?" They all laughed.

"You're sick!" Blake exclaimed. "But an oompa-loompa."

"Oompa-loompa," Chet said.

"Oompa-loompa," I nodded.

"I don't know . . . the monkeys are kinda cute . . ." Elise said, deep in thought, and we all laughed again.

After three more batches, we were all good and gone, and my mind was a little bit fuzzy.

"Okay," Elise giggled, holding a shot glass of tequila. "I never smoked pot." Blake, Chet, and I looked at each other and all took the shot. "Really?" she asked, and we laughed.

"Okay, I never did acid," Chet said, and Blake drank. "Whoa, boy!" he exclaimed. Blake shrugged.

"Only once!" he exclaimed. "I never got drunk and peed on the steps of the state capital." Chet shot him an evil look and drank. Elise and I raised our eyebrows and laughed.

"I never dated anyone my sibling liked," Chet said, and both Blake and Elise drank, smiling.

"Beth Hardner was hot!" Blake exclaimed, and Elise nodded.

"Same for Joey Long!" she laughed. I squinted at her.

"I know. I believe I pointed that out, didn't I?" I said, and she laughed again. "Okay, I never threw a party while my parents were out of town, and got caught when they found a condom under their bed." She blushed, drinking.

"I've never thrown vomit on anyone's pants!" she exclaimed, and I blushed and drank. Chet patted my back.

"I've never had vomit thrown on my pants," Blake added, and Chet drank.

"Okay, I think this game is getting old," Elise said, and I nodded.

"We're all drunk, now we're just wasting alcohol!" I said. The boys nodded.

"Okay, well what are your suggestions?" Chet asked, slurring his words.

"I'm tired!" Elise exclaimed, "I want to lie down!"

"Okay, why don't we draw straws to see who shares beds?" Blake asked mischievously.

"What? I thought the girls were sleeping together, and the boys were sleeping together," Chet said, and Blake laughed.

"It's part of the bonding thing. Share a bed, this isn't some crazy orgy. It just stimulates those great going to sleep conversations, you know?" he explained.

"Okay, I'm up for it," Elise said, and Blake cut two toothpicks so that there were two short straws and two long ones. Elise pulled one, not looking at it, and Chet and I did the same, leaving Blake with one in his hand. We all opened our hands at the same time, wide-eyed. Then we started laughing. Elise and I had gotten short straws, Chet and Blake the long ones.

"Oh well, maybe tomorrow," Blake said, and we retreated to our rooms.

"That was so fun!" Elise exclaimed, crawling into bed next to me after we'd both changed. "The guys are so much fun, and Blake is so funny!" I laughed at her.

"Can you construct a sentence without the word 'fun?'" I asked her, and she rolled over.

"Oh, stop with the grammar and that stuff, we're supposed to be having fun, remember?" she exclaimed, and I shook my head and laughed, closing my eyes and quickly falling asleep.

The next day we rolled out of bed at about two, grabbed their swimsuits, and headed for the lake.

"It's so great being away from mom and dad for once," Elise smiled, holding Blake's arm as they all walked to the lake.

"I know what you mean," he agreed. "They can be pretty severe at times." I shook my head.

"They've been like that for years. They'll be great and supportive one second, and huge assholes the next. Like when I wanted to be a journalist. At first they were cool with it, and then a week later they begged me to reconsider and get a more 'financially supportive' career," I complained.

"They've always supported my career interests. But they really want me to consider modeling. I mean, 'cause I'm so pretty and all," she said honestly, and we all blushed and smiled. "What? I'm not conceited or anything! I just have self-confidence, which I do not think is a bad thing," she said matter-of-factly.

"You're just very straightforward about it," Chet smiled.

"Yeah, well, when she's right, she's right," Blake said, grinning at her. The two of them took off towards the water, and Chet and I set up on the small private beach. We laid out two beach towels and turned on a portable boom box, playing Beck. We sat down.

"Does Elise ever bother you, saying stuff like that?" Chet asked, and I shook my head.

"She's been like that for a while. Really, she's gotten better. I mean . . . have you ever seen the TV show 'Daria?'" I asked. He nodded.

"She used to be just like Quinn, the annoying, conceited little sister. But she grew a conscience, and we've been really close ever since," I explained. "But she is right. She's always been the pretty one, Mom and Dad's dream come true, and I've been the smart one, I guess. In their eyes." He frowned.

"You don't really buy that stuff, do you? I mean, Elise isn't any prettier than you," he exclaimed. I blushed.

"I don't know about that . . ." I looked out at Blake and Elise, trying to trip each other out in the water. "Come on, let's go," I said sneakily, and we craftily walked to the water and tripped both of them at once.

The festivities continued that night, with more drinks and the game Taboo.

"You know, it's that thing, that thing, with the people!" Elise was screaming, and I shrugged. "All the people, and they sit in a circle and do stuff!"

"Time's up," Blake called.

"Congress!" she exclaimed, and I broke out laughing.

"Oh, God!" I cried. "Congress is 'the thing with the people'? I should have known!"

"Okay, well, we officially won," Chet smiled, holding up the scorecard.

"Time for bed!" Blake said mischievously, holding out the straws from the night before. We all drew, and opened our hands at the same time. Elise and Chet were sleeping together, and Blake and I were. We all laughed nervously and headed upstairs.

"So what do you think about your sister marrying my brother?" Blake asked, once we were both in bed, keeping a safe distance from each other, grinning as though we were having girl talk.

"I don't know . . . I can't believe Elise is getting married! She's so young . . . it seems weird to me," I said.

"Yeah, same for me. I guess it'll just be so different to have him gone. I mean, we're best friends. Especially now that we've moved here," Blake said, his eyes wide.

"I know what you mean. But things will be okay, I mean, they have to be," I shrugged.

"You don't think they're . . . doing anything in there, do you?" he asked, and I jumped.

"Oh god, I hope not!" I exclaimed. "You know, I sometimes forget that they're engaged, and not sister and brother. It's gotten to where it seems like incest to me."

"We are not sisters and brothers," Blake laughed smugly.

The next morning, the thought of Chet and Elise 'doing something' the night before haunted me, and the first chance I had, I asked her. She giggled and rolled her eyes.

"Of course not!" she exclaimed. I raised my eyebrows.

"But you are engaged! Didn't you even kiss or something?" I asked nosily.

"No, not even. It would be too weird," she shrugged. I nodded, happy to hear her answer. Why did I feel like that? I wondered. And when I saw Chet that afternoon, helping to pack and carry everything, I felt a feeling rising in my stomach that wasn't very familiar. I shrugged it off, returning to the house and to our normal lives.

When we went back to the house, it was like we were all best friends. My family had been miraculously extended and now I had three siblings to make evil plots with. So the first thing we thought when mom and dad told us they were leaving town for the weekend was to have a party. We stocked up on liquor, keeping it hidden in me and Elise's bathroom. Sure, we were all legal, but mom and dad would have freaked to know that we had so much, and especially if they found out why. When they went out of town, we cleaned the house and invited all of our friends. Then we headed upstairs to move down the bar. I grabbed a bottle of Goldshlaggers.

"Careful," Elise warned, "the door stuck on me the other day." I shrugged, and turned to leave, but my way was blocked by Chet and Blake.

"Here to help!" Blake exclaimed, and they moved towards the cabinet. Elise followed them in, laughing.

"Blake, I see what you did to my room, that is so cute!" she exclaimed, and ran to hug him. He hugged her back, knocking her into the door, which slammed. All of our eyes widened, and we all froze, afraid to check the door. Elise turned and grabbed the handle, which refused to turn.

"Oh no!" she exclaimed, looking hysterical.

"Well, wait, what did you do the other day when this happened?" I asked.

"Dad had to let me out!"

"Let me look at it," Chet said, kneeling to examine the doorknob. "Do you have a screwdriver?" he asked.

"Sure, doesn't every girl have one in her bathroom?" Elise said sarcastically, and he shook his head.

"Looks like we're stuck here," he said.

"But the guests! They'll be here any second. They can let us out!" Blake exclaimed.

"Maybe if the door was unlocked they could," I pointed out, and we were all silent. The doorbell rang, and we sighed.

"So we're stuck until mom and dad get back tomorrow night?" Elise asked, surprisingly calm. Chet and I nodded simultaneously.

"Well, let's make the best of a bad situation," Blake began. "It could be worse. We have a toilet. We have a shower and jacuzzi if we feel the need to bathe. And . . ." he paused, "We'll never get thirsty!" He opened up a bottle of Schnapps and began to pour it into the party cups we'd hidden.

"You can't be serious!" Chet exclaimed. "You want us to all be raving drunk while locked in a small bathroom?"

"Hey, our bathroom's pretty big," Elise pointed out. "And what else are we going to do?"

"So this is like, drinking as a sport?" Chet asked.

"Come on, bucko, you're not going to get all after-school special on us, are you?" Blake asked.

"Well, we do have a toilet, so puke can go there and not onto my pants . . ." he smiled. I hit him immediately. Blake poured us all cups.

In less than an hour, we'd had enough. We all lay in our huge, empty jacuzzi, Blake and Elise next to each other with their feet in me and Chet's faces. Blake and Elise had had more than we'd had, and were falling asleep, Elise's head on his chest. I smiled, and turned to Chet.

"Those kids are so cute!" I exclaimed giddily, and he laughed.

"So are you!" he added, and I blushed.

"Oh shut up!" I laughed. He looked serious, and sad. "What are you thinking about?" I asked.

"My parents," he said, and I was silenced. He smiled. "You don't have to be like that. We can talk about them. This isn't a game of Taboo or anything."

"I just- I don't know what to say to you," I confessed.

"Sometimes it's good to just listen. You don't have to say anything," he said, and I nodded. "Did you know that I hated my parents?" he asked, and I was shocked. I couldn't find the words to tell him 'no.' "I did. They were never home, they were always off doing some sort of charity ball or on vacation or getting their hair done or something. When I was growing up, I used to pretend that they weren't really my parents. That there'd been some sort of mistake. And people always laughed and said, 'Oh you're so lucky, your parents are loaded,' and all I could think was that I could care less how rich they were, because they were never there." He was silent, and for a second I thought that he might cry, but he didn't. He bit his lip before going on. "But now they're dead. Really gone. And I feel so horrible for feeling what I've felt for so long," he sighed. "It was so much easier when they weren't around because they didn't want to be . . . and now they're just not around." He finished, and I just stared at him.


"You don't have to say anything, remember?" he smiled, and I hugged him as tightly as I could. Looking across at Blake and Elise, I saw Blake gently kiss Elise's head. I closed my eyes before I could comprehend.

"Well this is an interesting arrangement," Bob McDowell remarked, staring down into his jacuzzi at his daughters and the boys. "Wake up!" he exclaimed, and their eyes fluttered open slowly. They all jumped apart from each other. "It stinks in here! How much did you all have to drink?" he asked me, and I shook my head. "Nevermind. I'm not getting mad because it's so damn funny. I had your mom take pictures! You seem to have gotten a little confused!" he laughed boisterously, and we looked at each other, blushing.

The next weekend, Blake and Chet went away on a fishing trip out of town, at Dad's bidding.

"You two need a break from those girls!" he'd exclaimed after witnessing the jacuzzi situation. They'd invited us anyway, but we refused politely. I was never big on fishing anyway. While they were gone, the house was strangely silent. I curled up on the big couch with a copy of Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors," while Elise stared wistfully out of the window.

"I'm so bored without the guys," she said finally. "I'm almost bored enough that I could read."

"Why don't you find a good book in the shelf and sit down?" I asked, and she shook her head.

"I think I'm going to call Tabitha and see if she wants to go shopping. I need to get all sorts of things for the honeymoon!" she exclaimed, shaking her head and pacing.

"Are you okay? You seem weird," I observed, peering at her over my book.

"I'm fine," she said quickly, without looking at me. "Okay, I need to shop," she said, quickly leaving the room and heading for the phone. I sighed and went back to reading.

There was only a week until the wedding. The entire family was silent at dinner, and afterwards, Chet followed me into the library while Blake and Elise went upstairs. I sat down and Chet stared out of the window.

"It's going to be hard," he started, and paused.

"Getting married?" I asked, and he frowned.

"Well, that, and living so far away from you and Blake. You're my only real friends."

"What do you mean, living so far away? Where are you living?" I asked quickly. This was the first time I'd ever heard of them living outside of the house. I'd always assumed they would be around.

"We're going to live in our old house in Manhattan," he said, surprised that I'd not known. I could feel my face get hot and red, and I struggled to keep calm.

"When . . . when was this decided?" I asked.

"It's always been implied," he said simply. "My parents left me and Blake the house, and your parents think it's a good idea for Elise to go to New York and all." My hands formed small fists that shook.

"That's not fair!" I shouted finally. He looked up at me surprised, as I jumped up from my chair. "You two can't just leave me and Blake here, by ourselves! What about us? What are we going to do? Wait until Mom and Dad decide to marry us off?"

"I can't do anything about it," he shook his head.

"Oh, you can't?" I challenged. "You can't talk to Mom and Dad about this?"

"It's what my parents wanted!" he exclaimed.

"Well I don't give a damn!" I shrieked, and we stared at each other for a long time before speaking. "It's just not fair," I stammered, and he turned and left without a word. I sank back into my chair and felt tears slipping down my face. All I could think about was after the wedding- sitting in this room with Blake, awkwardly, just waiting for Mom and Dad to decree our futures. Playing chess to pass the time. Alienated, alone. While Chet and Elise gallivant about Manhattan, attending balls and operas and doing god knows what and, oh god, what would I do when Elise called to tell me that she's pregnant? What would my reaction be? "Good for you"? "Why"? I couldn't explain any of the feelings inside of my head. But it was about time that I quit lying to myself. I was in love with Chet by then. He was perfect, and he was marrying my sister.

When this thought first found it's way into my head, I froze. I couldn't believe what I'd just discovered- somewhere, deep inside of me, I'd been slowly growing attached to Chet. And now it seemed like I could never let go. He stood there, staring at me. Took a step towards me.

"Kate, look, I'm sorry-" he began, but I turned away, sinking into a chair.

"Forget about it," I said. "Forget about it, and forget about me." I hated saying those words; I hated the way they felt as they crept up my throat and into Chet's ears. He looked slightly dazed and turned and left me alone, sitting deep in a leather armchair, wondering what I was going to do now.

There wasn't much for me to do. I did what I was told- going to fittings for my dress, watching Elise and Mom make decisions that seemed so unreal- I was a robot for the whole week. I avoided Chet, and he avoided me. Blake and I barely talked. I cut off communications with everyone, and the night before the wedding, I half expected Elise to knock on my door, asking if she could crawl into bed with me. But the knock didn't come, and I realized with a feeling of horror and disgust that Elise must have noticed what a wonderful guy Chet was, too. She had fallen in love just as I had. As I lay in bed, trying to lull myself to sleep, my thoughts returned to the night the four of us spent in the cabin. I thought of Blake and I sharing a bed and Chet and Elise sleeping side by side. Blake and I had shrugged it off- there was no way they would be doing anything. So much for that, in less than twenty-four hours, they would be alone together in their honeymoon suite, doing god knows what . . .

I got up from bed and threw up.

It took all my strength to stand up there, by the altar, but I did. They'd wanted a simple wedding, few people, no big entrance, so I stood by the altar, holding my silly bouquet and waiting. The wedding was in our rose garden, which was beautiful and in bloom. Mom and Dad sat in the front row, waiting for Elise to appear and breeze down the aisle, a vision in Vera Wang. Our family minister stood behind a pulpit, tapping his fingers lightly on the bible that lay before him. Chet and Blake stood opposite from me, waiting. Everyone was waiting, it seemed.

"So, you ready?" Blake asked Chet quietly, and Chet nodded quickly.

"Aren't I always?" he retorted, his hands firmly clasped behind his back.

"It's just that, I mean, you know this is a big deal," Blake whispered. I don't think I was supposed to hear what they were saying.

"Of course it's a big deal," Chet shrugged. His usually clear blue eyes looked red and dry, and his skin was pale.

"I mean, do you love her?" Blake whispered, and I strained to hear his response.

"What's gotten into you, Blake? What's with the interrogation?" Chet snapped, and Blake took a step backwards.

"Don't take it out on him, Chet," I said unpleasantly, and he turned to me.

"Oh, now you're going to get on my case, too? Great, pile it on. It's only my wedding day. That is, if Elise remembers to show up!" he checked his watch again. She was now fifteen minutes late.

"She'll be here," Blake said softly.

"Maybe she won't!" I exclaimed, "Maybe she decided she doesn't want to run off to New York and live in your dead parents' house! Maybe she wants to stay here with me and our family and maybe she doesn't even want to get married!" I exclaimed, my face flushing red with anger and frustration.

"Maybe!" Chet replied. "Maybe I don't really want to get married to her either!"

"Wait- if you don't want to get married to her, then you really shouldn't, because she deserves-" Blake began.

"Oh shut up, Blake!"

"Let him speak!" I insisted, "She does deserve to be with someone who will treat her how she deserves!" There was a moment of silence, and the minister looked absolutely white with terror.

"I am going to marry Elise, today, as soon as she gets here. The matter's been closed for a while," Chet said coldly. "I don't know why you have to act like this, Kate. You're getting all shrewish on me again." I smiled sarcastically.

"I don't know why you have to act like this, Chet. You act like you . . . like you . . ."

"Like what?" he challenged, and I was puzzled. I couldn't say what I wanted to say, what I was thinking. I stood at him, stupefied. "That's what I thought," he frowned.

"Where is the bride?" the minister finally interrupted their bickering. "She's rather late, and I do have another wedding to get to." He looked down at Mom and Dad. They were frowning.

"I'm sorry, I have no idea where she is. Let me go see if she's still in her room, having some emergency or something," Mom said apologetically, slipping away and hurrying to the house. I followed, shooting Chet a nasty look. We scoured the house together, but Elise was nowhere to be found. Mom went back to the wedding to explain the situation to the minister, and I sat down on our front steps, disregarding my bridesmaid's dress. I scowled as I threw my bouquet. I was surprised when Blake stepped forward and caught it.

"So what's going to happen?" I asked. "Is the minister leaving?"

"Yeah," Blake said, surprisingly happy. "Your parents are pretty mad. I can't really tell how Chet's taking it."

"You don't seem too upset," I observed, and he shook his head.

"Well, if they didn't love each other, it didn't really make any sense, did it?" he said. Then his face sank into a frown. "But, I wish we knew where she was. I mean, that she's safe and all." I nodded. "I guess I'll go inside, in case she calls." He disappeared through the door. Suddenly I stood and began to walk. I picked up my bouquet where Blake had dropped it and continued my walk, picking flowers out as I went along. As it finally sunk in that Chet and Elise were not to be married, my face broke into a wide smile. I quickened my pace and looked up to find myself at our cabin in the woods. I climbed up the stairs quickly and burst inside, laughing to myself. Then I looked up and saw Elise, in her wedding dress, sitting on the staircase. She was staring at me with her worried, tear-stained eyes.

"Is it over? Did they all leave?" she asked, and I climbed the stairs and sat next to her.

"The minister's gone. The guests are leaving." I told her.

"What about Mom and Dad? How are they taking it?"

"They're taking it pretty hard. I didn't hear Dad say a word. Mom's been looking for you frantically," I admitted. She frowned.

"What about Blake?"

"Blake? Aren't you at all worried about Chet?" I asked, surprised.

"Well, yeah, how's he?" she said defensively.

"I actually haven't seen him since I left the ceremony to look for you," I said. "And Blake's fine. He's taking it pretty well." Elise smiled weakly. "So what's going on, Elise? Why are you here hiding out in the cabin when you should be cutting the cake at the reception?" She sniffled and rubbed her eyes.

"I just couldn't do it, Kate," she sighed. "I couldn't get married to Chet. I don't love him." Something inside of me sighed with relief. The truth was out, and I finally felt like I knew everything. "I'm in love with Blake," she continued, and my jaw dropped.

"What? Blake?" I asked, my sense of omnipotence shattering.

"Oh, come on Kate, we weren't that discreet," she said, shaking her head. "Blake and I hit it off from the start. I never really felt the same way with Chet." I stopped to think. It seemed overwhelming.

"And anyway," Elise said softly, "I wouldn't marry someone you were in love with." I jumped.

"Wha-Wha- what-re you talking about . . .?" I said quickly, but then my head sank and I looked away. "Okay, so it's true. But he has no feelings for me."

"Don't be so sure," she said, smiling. "Maybe we should get back. I shouldn't make Mom worry so much." We stood up and hugged.

"Okay, kiddo. Let's go," I said, and we walked back down to the house together.

Elise really got it from Mom and Dad that night, but when she told them whom she wanted to marry, they didn't have any objections. I think that her running out like that really taught them a lesson about forcing us into things. Instead of telling her that she and Blake were to be married, they stepped back and let them actually date first, and I'd never seen Elise happier. And they left Chet and me out of everything. Chet didn't come out of his room much, actually, which worried me, and when he did come out, it was only to eat and briefly let me know that he didn't want to be there. Finally, I decided to knock on his door and see what was going on.

"Hello?" I asked after knocking, and I heard his pause behind the door.

"What do you want?" he called back, and I grimaced at his tone.

"Well, opening the door would be a nice start," I said, and the door cracked. I pushed it open. The room had gotten impeccably neat, the result of hours alone inside. The Clash was playing on his stereo, very low. But more shocking was the open duffel bag lying on his bed.

"What, are you packing?" I asked quietly, and he crooked his head to the side, squinting his eyes slightly as if he couldn't believe that I'd even asked the question. "Where are you going to go?"

"Back home," he said automatically, not angrily, just stating a fact.

"Mom and Dad are letting you go?" I asked, looking away from his angry eyes.

"They're not my Mom and Dad, so they don't really decide," he replied, and I could tell that it hurt him to say that. I walked to him, looking down, touching his arm slightly. He brushed my hand away. "Kate, there's nothing you can say to change things," he told me, and I shook my head.

"Well then, can I ask you a few questions?" I asked, and he smiled slightly.

"You just did," he said, and I sighed.

"Okay, why are you leaving? You didn't love Elise. You should be happy," I said, and he shook his head, running a hand through his hair.

"You really don't get it, do you?" he asked, and I nodded.

"You're right, I don't," I replied.

"What is there for me here, Kate? Blake is so obsessed with my ex-fiancé that I never see him anymore. Elise and I were never really that good friends. And you and I-" he looked away. "We haven't talked in weeks. Since before the whole wedding fiasco. And you weren't there for me when I needed you to be. So what am I supposed to stay for? A sheltered life living with your family?" I waited for him to finish, choosing my words carefully.

"Chet, you know- you know that I never meant to not be there for you. But, look at it from my point of view. My best friend was marrying my sister, and planning on leaving me alone with my parents and Blake," I pointed out.

"Hey, Blake's not bad or anything," he tried to joke, but I didn't let him.

"But do you see where I'm coming from? It was easier to go ahead and push you away then to be close and deal with losing you," I said, close to tears. "God, this sounds like an afterschool special," I sighed, and he laughed. He put his hand on my shoulder.

"It's okay, Kate. You'll always be my favorite shrew," he smiled. We stood like that for a while, as if waiting for something to come.

"But you're going to leave," I said slowly, and he pursed his mouth. His eyes looked as though he was searching for an answer. "I don't want you to go." He closed his eyes and leaned back.

"That's all I needed to hear," he said softly, and his eyes opened, and we smiled at each other for a good while.

Elise and Blake got married two months later, and Chet and I were, of course, best man and maid of honor. We drove to the church together, due to my running late. As we walked up the front of the steps, he smiled at me and stopped.

"What?" I asked, paranoid, running a hand through my hair.

"Nothing, I just think this is slightly humorous. What would we have done if Elise hadn't had the sense to stand me up?" he asked, and I shook my head.

"I don't even want to think about it," I said honestly.

"Well, it was my pleasure to be your date to the wedding," he smiled, opening the door for me. "And if it wouldn't be too weird, I wouldn't mind if this wasn't the last time I was your date to something."

"That was the most round-about way of asking me out you could have chosen," I snickered, and he shoved me, laughing. "But sure, I wouldn't mind it either. But now I have to go find Elise and Mom. And you have to go up front. Look at Blake, he looks petrified!" Chet laughed and kissed my cheek before walking into the sanctuary. I easily found Elise and Mom. Mom was crying while Elise touched up her makeup.

"God, could you be any later?" she exclaimed. "I almost thought you and Chet weren't going to show!"

"Of course we showed," I said, grabbing my bouquet. Everything seemed much prettier than the first wedding. "You look beautiful," I said, giving her a hug. She smiled and pulled her veil over her face.

"Well, we'd better get out there. I don't want to scare Blake- I think some people are expecting me to repeat my last wedding," she shook her head.

"So you're sure about this, then?" I asked.

"Yep," she smiled. "Now let's go."