Rachel dug her fingernails into her palms and tried to contain the rage building inside as her mother, sisters and various other female relatives continued to fuss over her. Primping and curling her hair, painting her nails and smoothing out the lines of her bonding dress. It was all slowly but surely pushing her over the edge--eating away at the last tattered threads of her control until she wanted to scream.
The need to shout, "Back off! You're suffocating me!" bubbled up in her throat, but she ruthlessly swallowed it down. It wasn't as if it would make a difference anyway. Her kinswomen were on a mission--they weren't going to be put off by a minor thing like Rachel not being able to breathe.
Her stomach twisting in angry, frustrated knots, Rachel turned her head to stare out of the cramped private waiting room's single observation window. But even the sight of the bustling spaceport couldn't distract her today. Normally, on those rare occasions she got to come to town with her family, she was glued to the viewports that overlooked the main dock. She loved watching the dazzling array of space-going vessels coming and going. The strangers in their bright, alien clothes heading out for distant star systems. The dock workers hurrying about preparing the ships for their journeys. She even enjoyed watching the other Thebia 5 farmers going about their business--trying to imagine how visitors to their world might see them. It was fascinating.
But none of it could divert her today. Today--possibly the worst day of her twenty-three-solar-year existence--completely stifled her usual interest. She had too many other things on her mind.
The whole situation was just so infuriating. How could her family think this was a good idea? That it was perfectly all right to bond her off to a pair of brothers from Thebia 3 she'd never even met. Hell, she hadn't even had an opportunity to speak to them yet.
It was traditional in their sparsely populated solar system. A way of matching hard-working farmers with appropriate mates that could tend house and produce off-spring where there were thousands of clicks of solgram fields and not much else. But she felt like an object. A thing. A marionette being manipulated and hoisted into position.
A brightly painted, very false and unwilling marionette--done up to be something she wasn't. She didn't want to be a blushing bond-mate. She didn't want to be the essence of grace and fertility or whatever the hell the thousands of beads and hundreds of loops of goldilum thread on her gown were supposed to represent. She had absolutely no desire to bond and settle down to raising a family and continuing the cycle of Thebian life.
It wasn't who she was. It wasn't who she wanted to be.
A sharp tug at her waist finally snapped her control.
"Please, Mother. Just...stop."
All things considered, she thought she sounded surprisingly reasonable--even if her voice was a little sharp for speaking to the house matriarch.
"Don't be silly, dear. If we don't get these tucks just right it'll spoil the whole effect," Mother Sorrtell replied, still pulling at the errant fabric.
"Do you really think they'll care? Or even notice? They're men, Mother."
"Of course they'll notice. You're going to be their bond-mate, the mother of their young. Besides, they're not the ones we need to impress, my dear. It's your new kinswomen you need to look your best for."
Rachel fought hard against the urge to grind her teeth.
"I hardly think they're going to care much, either, Mother. They're more interested in how many loaves of bread I can produce in an hour or how fast I can mend a seam."
"Time for all that later. We're talking about first impressions here, Rachel. Very important."
"Oh, of course. Silly me."
"Don't be snippy," Mother chided. "That tongue of yours is going to land you in a whole mess of trouble in your new home if you're not careful, my girl. Don't think the matriarch there is going to be as lenient as I am."
Rachel took hold of her mother's hand, stilling the restless fingers and finally getting her attention. With her mother's eyes finally really seeing her, Rachel lifted the long red skirt of her bonding day dress, desperately trying one last time to make her mother understand.
"I don't want this."
Mother's eyes narrowed, a familiar temper entering them that most people in the household knew better than to provoke.
"Would you mind giving us a minute, ladies?" Mother asked carefully.