What were some ways The Compound tried to control you? We've discussed some of the obvious ways, such as curfew, the tattooing, and set class times, but were there other subtle ways that you may not have known about until now?
I notice things now like little mannerisms and terminology that were used frequently. After being exposed to the same monotonous behaviors and words repeated day after day, it had become second nature. It had become a way of life. The Leader also controlled us by only letting us see what he wanted us to see, and sheltering us from everything else.
"Class, today we will be discussing washing away impurities. Occasionally, residents will face situations that will taint their purity. Don't feel like this means you are a lost cause. You are still one of our loved ones and we are always here to help you become clean and pure again."
"Miss Teacher, that means there is hope for me?"
"Yes, Zinfandel, you are learning from mistakes. It is okay to make them as long as you accept the consequences and promise never to repeat them. We will help you regain your purity. You have already taken the first step by cutting off communication with Barry until you understand how to love him at a platonic level again. I trust you will also never give anyone else a hard time in the Intimacy Room?"
"Yes, Miss Teacher. I understand now that my pain was caused because I wasn't cooperating with Barry."
"That's correct, intimacy is a place where you should work together with your fellow resident so that you both get fun and satisfaction out of the experience. I would suggest that the next step in your healing process be to hang out with Abilene. She has been a long time resident and she is very wise. She can teach you many things."
After class, Zinfandel finds Abilene waiting outside the room for her. As they walk to the Comfort Room, talking the whole way, Zinfandel is finding similarities between her and Abilene that she enjoys, much like the first time she met Barry and found out he liked classes and volunteer work, although Zinfandel thinks Abilene is much more advanced in her purity. Zinfandel looks up to Abilene as a role model.
Zinfandel and Abilene arrive in the Comfort Room and Abilene tells her to pick a movie for the night while she makes some coffee.
"What should we watch, Abilene?"
"Well, any of those movies would work. The Leader approves of all of them. He bought them specifically because he knew there was no offensive content in them. These movies are also safe for us residents to watch so that we can remain pure."
"Yes, Zinfandel. Even though these people who come to us are originally Strangers, they have stayed with us because they want to shed that part of themselves and become pure like us. Offensive content simply means things The Strangers are used to seeing. The less a Stranger is exposed to the things they were used to before they came to live here, the purer they can become, until one day, their impurities will be washed away."
Zinfandel is in awe of Abilene's wisdom. She wants so much to regain purity after her problems with Barry. Abilene seems to have extensive knowledge about the ins and outs of The Compound. Zinfandel is sure that Abilene can teach her many things and purge the impurity from her heart.
Titanium and Absolon are taking regular break times together, like Verona and Camo do. They usually meet in the break room of the bookstore.
"Hey. Did you know that I saw you looking at me on the beach long ago?"
Titanium is a little embarrassed as this new piece of information gets fed to him. He thought the first time Absolon noticed him was the day he saw Absolon at the Weekly Gathering.
"Um, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been staring at you. That's rude."
"Hey, it's okay. I guess I mentioned it because I wanted you to know that I saw you too."
"Yeah. My mom was getting free food from the community party at the beach and she brought me with her so I could eat too. I was done and had no interest in the discussion that the guy grilling hot dogs was holding. That's when I went down to the beach and saw you swimming."
Titanium is fascinated by the new things he is learning about Absolon. He had thought that they were strangers, but it turns out that Absolon had always known who he was.
I walk into the living room and find Mother reading a book. I keep her in my peripheral vision and try to sneak past her unnoticed to make myself a cup of coffee and go sit by the pool, but she looks up and sees me. Damn it.
"Verona, darling, will you come here for a moment?"
Well, at least she doesn't have some dumbass sitting with her this time. I admit defeat and go back to the living room and sit.
"Your father has expressed his discontent with me trying to find you a suitor."
"Find me a suitor? Mother, why do you talk as if you are living in the 1800s?"
She can be so uppity sometimes. It drives me insane. Why the fuck can't she talk like a normal human being?!
"I love you very much, Verona, and that's why I do it."
"You love me, so you control who I date? That doesn't make much sense to me. Dad loves me, and he talks to me, not at me. He tries to get to know and understand what I'm doing. Then, if it's wrong, he tells me why and then lets me decide what I should do. Most of the time I end up doing the right thing."
"I just feel like you make reckless decisions, Verona. You are too impulsive for your own good and you will make mistakes that might ruin your life."
I start to get upset when my mother starts picking apart my character and then just assumes I'm going to screw up. Does she really think that little of me? At least I'm living life and exploring things, which is more than I can say for her.
"So what if I'm impulsive?! I'm also smart and I know well enough what is bad. I'm eighteen, Mother, I'm not a child anymore!"
"You have to prove you are capable of finding a decent man."
I throw my hands up in exasperation. Mine and Mother's definition of decent is not the same. Therefore I see no need to continue this conversation because it is futile.
"Fine, Mother, may I be excused?"
Mother nods her head as I leave the living room. I go out to the backyard where my dad is grilling some hot dogs. It's a beautiful sunny day today. I was enjoying the thought of sitting out in the sunshine until Mother ruined my day. Now I'm just irritated. I make myself a fruit smoothie and aggressively dump the ice into the shaker, catching my father's attention.
"Verona, what's the matter, baby girl?"
"Mom. It's always Mom."
"She didn't bring another guy here did she?"
"No, but she says I need to find someone decent before she will stop trying to do it for me."
Dad shakes his head as he grills the food. I'm glad that he's at least on my side and I wonder what it was about Mother that he fell in love with.
Camo notices Verona seems agitated at work today. She's slamming things down a little harder than necessary and not smiling as much. He's concerned for her because he wants her to be happy.
"Hi Verona, do you want to take a break?"
"Yeah, I think Titanium is done now, he can take over the sales floor."
Titanium walks out of the break room with Absolon and smiles in Camo's direction.
Camo takes Verona into the cafe and makes some coffee for her. He puts a cup in front of her and looks into her ice blue eyes.
"What's wrong? You're mad about something."
Verona nods and stares into her coffee cup. She takes a sip and then replies to Camo's question.
"My mother is a giant pain in the ass. You're lucky your parents weren't around to run your life."
"I do have someone who bosses me around, even though he's technically not my parent."
"What? Shelters have people who do that? I thought shelters were just places to get some food and live till you got back on your feet."
"I can't speak for other shelters, but the one I'm in has a distinct person in charge who dishes out rules and punishments, I guess like a parent would do. What's your mom doing to you?"
"She keeps trying to set me up with guys. It's so annoying because I want to date, but I want to pick who I go out with, you know?"
Camo doesn't really know because he's not technically allowed to pursue romantic love, but he nods in response to Verona's question. However, he's totally unprepared for Verona's next question.
"Camo, will you be my boyfriend?"
Camo thinks for a minute and doesn't really know how to answer because he has no idea what it means to be someone's boyfriend. He really likes Verona, though, and he likes this opportunity she's giving him, so he answers honestly.
"Yeah. What do I have to do?"
Verona looks confused, but answers Camo.
"Just like me for who I am, don't try to control or change me, and support me."
"Ok. I'd never change you. You're perfect."
One day my mother had a black eye. I think I already knew that my dad was the one to blame even though I'd never seen him hit her before. Their first big fight was the day I saw Titanium at the beach, but apparently the fights had been increasing in frequency and intensity. I didn't know what the hell was going on between them, but my mother's suspicious attitude was the main problem.
"You are cheating on me, Enigma."
"What the hell are you talking about? Do you have any proof? I come home, don't I?"
"Not until weird hours of the morning. What do you expect me to think when you sleep elsewhere most of the time?"
"I can't stand you! Every time I come home, you interrogate me with your cold eyes, and then as if that wasn't enough, you always start yelling at me!"
"Fine. Then look into my eyes and tell me that you aren't stepping out on me."
Enigma takes Andromeda's shoulders in his hands and looks her in the eye, just as she asked. For a split second, their eyes connect and they genuinely look at each other.
"I'm not bloody cheating on you."
"Then why are you always coming home late?"
"I just told you, I can't stand you yelling at me. You never talk to me, you just get all defensive and scream."
"Well I wouldn't have to if you would just- just be that nice guy I fell in love with long ago."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Give Absolon a chance. He's not a child anymore. I don't understand why you can't just go talk to him."
"No. I'm not doing that."
Enigma's cheek stings as he feels Andromeda's hand make contact with the sensitive skin on his face.
Enigma punches Andromeda in the face and she falls down. Then he walks out the door.
Absolon and I sit and eat some dinner. He eats so much faster than me.
"Titanium, I like your new hairdo. It makes the blonde in your hair stand out and I can see your sexy blue eyes in their entirety."
"Thanks. The stylist wondered if we should change it up since I always wear it the same way."
I'm still reminiscing about today's segment. I find it funny that he knew who I was all along.
"You know what Titanium? I am really glad you were there at the beach staring at me."
Absolon pulls me close to him and kisses me till my knees go weak.