Tyler walks in the front door after getting home from work, one hand on his phone that is ringing and the other with an expensive leather briefcase swinging wildly as he tries to close the front door. Handsome as he is, anger does not wear well on him. Within seconds, he’s yelling at his personal assistant for questioning why he needs her to cancel appointments.
Earlier this morning, leaked footage of a Henley Bridget production took the media by storm. For the last three hours there’s been nonstop calls from personal representatives and family members, urging Tyler and I to leave the country temporarily on a ‘family vacation’ to stack evidence against the stories circulating.
“Former Governor paid off Pharmacist to switch birth control for placebo!”
“Retired Governor pays Pharmacist to get teen girl pregnant!”
“Politician sabotages opponent by getting daughter pregnant!”
There are at least five or six other girls who are thought to be victims of the leaked footage. They all know that the story isn’t about them. I didn’t watch the footage at first; refuting any claims that this could have been about me. There’s no way someone would do this to me – an honor roll student, spokesperson for abstinence, a Sunday School youth pastor, and aspiring classical musician. For what reason would anyone want to do this to me?
Of course, I eventually had to watch the video. Tyler called to warn me that he was being escorted out of the building because his father ordered him take a month off. Tyler called immediately and begged her to watch the video and tell him the truth – was it Governor Rhine? Afterwards, there was absolutely no question that this was about me. I threw up for ten minutes out of hysteria. Governor Rhines has a very distinct body type in my opinion. Tall, broad shoulders, but lanky in every other respect. It was always his crooked jawline paired with this frame that stood out.
“Just cancel the goddamn appointments, Carlotta!” He screams into the phone as he slams his briefcase against the wall. The slamming wakes Brianna from her nap, but only for a moment. The baby monitor reveals this as her gurgles and whimpers fade after only a second or two. Tyler finally meets me in the kitchen with a frown etched deeply into his features; “What the fuck is happening?”
The thing about Tyler that is truly admirable is that he’s made an effort to be a good boyfriend-turned-fiancé. He cares about my child, Brianna, as though she was his biological daughter; and he treats me with nothing but respect and love. Our relationship is really far from terrible. However, it’s not exactly normal either.
Nobody would know any differently, but our parents arranged our relationship. In exchange for a guaranteed spot in the House, my father agreed to make decisions in favor of his father’s oil company. To help cover up the possibility of bribery, though, my father asked that their son marry me. Having known Tyler my whole life already made it easier to accept my a fate, but it was not a life I’d have chosen for myself. Although, as it turns out, even my pregnancy was a manufactured decision for me. At least we look happy together. We’re good friends, after all, so it isn’t that difficult to actually be happy either. It’s just not a normal, fulfilling relationship.
“I don’t know. I guess there’s a documentary coming out where a bunch of politicians admit to the terrible things they’ve done to remain in office.” Of course Tyler already knows how we got into this situation. Many times we’d been pictured as friends at social events and rallies. We attended school together. There was always a good bond between us, and it’s one of the reasons my father turned to him when I was ‘in need’ of a husband. Even though he was appalled at the arrangement, he has always cared about me and felt that if anyone could give me a good life – it would be him. This leaked video, though, could throw it all into question. The media will do anything to drive a wedge between them to find out if she was the victim of this confession.
That’s why everyone is suggesting a vacation out of the country. If we take time to focus on being a proper family away from the wild rumors of this breaking news, then we might be able to return happier than ever. Then we might be able to persevere through these nasty truths. Tyler wants nothing more than for this to blow over without causing anyone any more stress. I would very much like the same.
But only after I share what’s going on in my mind. It has to be said at, “I never wanted this life. I wanted to put Brianna up for adoption and pretend it was a terrible nightmare. What our parents arranged with us – it is far worse than what Mr. Rhines did to me. Girls get pregnant. Girls make mistakes when they’re young. Those girls don’t get forced into marriage, though. I had to agree or I would have been blackmailed by my father into agreeing.”
Tyler must have suspected that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about our arrangements as my parents may have suggested. He is frequently asking if I am okay… am I happy… do I want a vacation by myself? He always made an effort to ensure my comfort and happiness. For him, this manufactured relationship isn’t really a punishment. One of the first things he shared with her after moving in was that he was kind of excited to see how they would grow together. All his life he was the son of a rich man with high expectations hanging him from a noose. If there were anything Tyler could have in his life – it would be a chance to live a normal life.
For months he has been nothing shy of honest and this is why I have to tell him my other secret. This one will be far more surprising than the first, I’m sure; “I’ve been asked to lead a campaign for sea life against oil companies.”
Fearful of his reaction, I suppose, I begin crying. I should be scared. His family owns several small oilrigs that are frequently being called into question for their disposal methods. Maybe it’s not just that, but the entire situation too. For over a year I’ve been told what to do, when to do it, how to do it. All my life I was a representative of my father’s values. Now that I can make my own choices, I have to wonder if I am making the right ones or not.
“Okay.” Tyler replies, “That’s okay.”
I hear him but it doesn’t really settle in until I’m crumpling onto the floor in tears. Make-up smeared, the only thing I can do that is redeeming is cover my face as my sobs work up from soft and broken moans to loud and constant howls of sorrow. Tyler squats in front of me at some point, adorning his best designer suit, and places both hands on my bent knees; “You are okay, Catherine. We’re okay.”
Still unsure if I believe his acceptence, I mutter something of a refusal through my snot and drool. Tyler doesn’t understand it so he just repeats himself; “The only thing that matters is making our own happiness out of all this. If you want to do the campaign then I will find another career. Just because I was going to stay in the family business doesn’t mean that I have to do it. We’ll make this work because we’re a fantastic team.”
The more I cry, the more he comforts me, as I remain a mess of a girl trying to be a woman on the kitchen floor. Who knows how much time passes before he has to go get Brianna from her nap, but it’s enough for the temperature to change significantly. It is now cold inside the house from all of the open windows. Tyler comes into the kitchen with Brianna in his arms, rocking her as she chews on her favorite letter block.
As I get onto my feet and wipe my face, I feel that maybe I’ve been looking at my situation all wrong this whole time. All of these decisions made for me weren’t the ones I deserved. They were punishments, and I accepted them as punishments. Instead of putting on an act, I think that maybe it’s time to show the people that put me on this path that I’m not weak. I cannot be controlled into silence and obedience.
All they’ve done is give me the resources to make a real difference in the world. Without even realizing it, they’ve given me the best support system in Tyler to do it; “Where should we go?”
Tyler does a great job of ignoring how pathetic I look while he makes a bowl of oatmeal for Brianna’s lunch. In spite of how lean and awkward his body is – he manages to move easily through the motions. Minutes pass sluggishly as he considers all of the options amidst his focus. It doesn’t matter where he wants to go, because they will both need the opportunity to figure everything out. Too often I forgot that, like me, Tyler was raised to remain in family business doing what they wanted for him. He always did as he was told just as I had done. Right now, Tyler is offering to walk away from the security of his family’s wealth for me. When I’m choosing to follow my heart, he’s choosing to follow me.
Too easily I got lost in my self-pity. I forget that Tyler wasn’t struggling with the same things. His life went from the way it had been his entire life to suddenly being engaged with one of his friends. Tyler was told his options were being taken away from him, while I thought I had no other options to be offered. He was told that he had to be a father to a child with whom he had no obligation; while I thought that my lustful behavior landed me with a child I did not want. Tyler lost far more than I did, at least until today – today when I find out that I probably wouldn’t have a daughter if it weren’t for Mr. Rhines.
So no more self-pity! No more self-loathing!
We both gave in to the expectations around us. The difference between him and I, though, is that he came into this situation with a level of positivity. I owe it to Tyler, and Brianna, to turn this around for the better. Not only that, I but I have to prove to myself that I have the strength to prove everyone around me wrong; “Where should our family begin our new life?”