Free to Choose *restrictions may apply


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    When I was five years old, I knew my family was different from my friends' families. My childhood wasn't all that strange, but growing up seemed to have it's moments. In the 7th grade, just starting Jr. High School, many of my friends had started dating. I asked my parents if I was allowed to date like everyone else and they said yes, although their version was very unique. 
    My family is very connected to all of its members, except those that have chosen the wrong path and have since been exiled. Follow the rules, present yourself in a family approving manner, and you did not bring shame upon our name. We believe in keeping our name as uniform as possible, meaning only the boys of the family receive the most normal upbringing. The men are the only ones that choose their girlfriends, wives, lovers, and of the like. They are the only ones to ever have children. If you were born a girl, you had different choices. You were completely free to live your life how you wanted to without fear of being looked down upon, only encouraged by your fellow kin, except if your choice involved a romantic relationship with one of the opposite sex. 
    After hearing our families' rules so many times growing up, I knew my parents' answer was one that would never change.  I was allowed to date if I chose to a girl as my partner. Instead of a life of solitude, I chose the other. I chose a life of freedom. I reinvented myself; cutting my hair short, dying it whatever color I wanted, and dressing how I wanted for the first time. I felt more myself than I ever had. To my surprise, my friends supported me in everything I did as my family. They told me how much they envied me because my family loved me for who I was and let me do these things to myself. They were even jealous when I got my first girlfriend, telling me it was so cool that my parents still accepted me for my choice. Little did they know, choosing a girl as a mate was not a choice, only what was expected of my family. 
    Her name was Cassandra. I called her Cass. She had wavy, light brown hair that cascaded down her back, wearing shorts and floral prints with tan ankle boots. I was a stark contrast standing next to her with my short dark hair, wearing mainly black and gray clothing, matching her boots with my black combat ones. She was the yin to my yang, the light to my dark. We kept our relationship a secret from everyone besides our friends and my family. She came from a family that hated those different from them. I was only allowed in her life because I helped Cass with her school work and kept her grades up. Her family eventually warmed up to me, but not to the idea of two girls being together. She was my best friend, and I hers, according to her family. So a secret we stayed all through our two years in Jr. High. 
    On the night of our graduation, we snuck out of a party at a lake house, running down to the dock, laughing because of how much fun we were having. We ran all the way to end, panting by the time we stopped. We looked at each other and smiled. This was the last night we would spend as young teenagers hiding who we were. We both were going to a private high school that my parents' had reccomended to Cassandra's. It also helped that other parts of my family held high positions at the school and had arranged for us to be room mates. I smiled at the moon lit water and felt Cass' hand in mine. I glanced at her and she was also smiling. I looked back at the water and heard what would change my life. 
    "I love you."
    I turned to look at quickly, startled. We were only about to be freshman and I didn't know what love really was, but she looked so confident in her proclamation that I only smiled at her in return. "I can't say it back, you know." I turned away. 
    "I know." She smiled confidently. "It doesn't change how I feel." I hugged her and felt her hands on my cheeks. She tilted her head slightly and kissed me ever so lightly.
    A bright flash blinded us through our closed eyes. It was a group from the party. They shouted nasty names at us. I pulled Cass to run, but she stood tall and shouted back. A boy threw a rock, creating a gash on her perfect cheek. She held it and teared up. Hurting the only person who would even go against her own family to be with me, caused me to snap. I rushed the boy. 
    In our two years together, I never told Cass or our friends the real reason why I didn't date boys. It was forbidden until the family member was sure they were the one they would spend the rest of their lives with and we all knew that would never happen. I couldn't put that kind of pressure on her. We were still young. I found a place that makes me happy without disappointing my family and I wasn't going to jeopardize it. What could I do though with the one person who had just told me she loved me bleeding? I lost control. 
    No one saw me coming. How could they? I ran faster than anyone my age. I punched him square in the jaw, knocking him down. He was clearly shook up and disoriented. I went after him again, everyone backing up. I punched him repeatedly before shoving him to his shocked friends' feet. I returned to Cass and hugged her. 
    "I'm sorry." I whispered. Her pupils widened and I knew what she saw. My eyes were hard with anger, there was blood on my hands, and I had just attacked the sheriff's son. I couldn't stay, not with her. She would be in danger of public ridicule, especially with my record that just seemed to keep growing. She deserved a normal life where she didn't have to worry about being caught or be afraid of what came next. I walked away, letting her hand slip out of mine.
    I heard her cry out for me to wait, for me to stay, for me to explain, everything. It didn't matter. She deserved a normal life; something I couldn't give her. She would do well to listen to her family and find a nice boy to spend her life with; not with me. 
    "What about school?" I heard her cry. I knew what her question really meant. What about us? 
    I stopped and shut my eyes in anger at myself for being so stupid and for screwing everything up. I screamed up into the sky and cried. Everyone was still watching what I would do next. Luckily, my older cousins who were police officers had shown up and were breaking up the party. They sensed the seal release. I ran into the dark, hearing Cass' voice call out for me. 
    "Lily!" She cupped her hands around her mouth. "Come back!" Because of my sharp hearing, I heard her choke on the last words I would hear from her that night. "At least take me with you." 
    My chest hurt and my eyes burned. The tears streamed down my face. I couldn't stay; not now. I could never go back to my home town; not until everything that had happened was buried. I was over that small town judging, not just me, but Cass as well. The people could think what the wanted about me for all I cared, as long as she wasn't involved. I burned Cassandra's face into my mind and wiped the tears from my face. Maybe it would be possible to return, but after everything up until that point, it was doubtful.

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