Something disturbing has shaken up Rainbow Acres. One night, Belinda came to find me in the barn, where I was playing my guitar instead of cleaning out the wine-making equipment as Spring had ordered me to do. I sang along as I strummed, lost in the music.
“Tadi!” Her panicked voice cut through my reverie. I gasped, fingers slipping from my guitar, which clattered to the wooden floor. Belinda’s face was pinched with worry. “I think something’s happening with Leslie,” she said. She spoke in a loud whisper, although we were alone in the barn.
I frowned. “She seemed fine at dinner.” A little quiet, maybe, but then, Leslie was always on the quiet side.
Belinda gripped my arm. “I’m telling you, something just isn’t right. Have you noticed how much attention The Teacher has been giving her lately?”
I had. Usually, The Teacher would exchange few words with us girls, pausing only now and then to compliment our cooking or give some brief inspirational speech. But during the past few weeks, he’d been paying special attention to Leslie, taking her for walks, or horseback rides around the countryside. Leslie came back from these outings glowing with happiness as the rest of us clustered around, begging her to tell us the details.
“There’s not much to tell,” she kept saying, her flushing as red as her hair. “We just…talked.”
We found out soon enough. Two days after Belinda had found me in the barn, River and Spring gathered us girls (minus Leslie) together, and announced that there would be a change in our household. “Our Leslie is getting married,” said Spring. “Isn’t that wonderful news?”
We were stunned. Married? “To who?” asked Belinda, who sounded like getting married was anything but wonderful news.
“To whom,” said River. “The Teacher has found a man who agreed to become Leslie’s husband. The ceremony will take place in one week, here on the farm.”
“Is Leslie going to go away?” Megan’s voice trembled.
“Of course,” said River. “She will go and live with her new husband.”
Belinda kept shooting me wide-eyed glances. Later, when we were out of earshot, she said, “We need to get out of here. Before the Teacher makes us marry some strange man, too.”
“Why would he do that?” I asked. “We’re only fifteen!”
“And Leslie just turned sixteen!” Belinda shook her head. “I’m telling you, this all feels wrong. This isn’t the way things are supposed to happen. We have to run away.”
“But what about Megan?” I asked.
Belinda sighed. “You’re right. We can’t just leave her behind.”
We tried. We really tried. But no matter what we said, we could not convince Megan to leave with us. “I don’t care if the Teacher makes me get married,” said Megan. “The Teacher always knows what’s best. Remember what River and Spring taught us?”
Of course we remembered. It was among the things we were required to chant together each day before breakfast. The Teacher is our provider and the savior of our family. The Teacher’s words are true. The Teacher always knows what’s best.
But what if he didn’t?
“Please don’t go,” said Megan, her eyes filled with sadness.
Belinda exchanged glances with me. “Don’t worry. We won’t go,” she said.
But it was a lie. Early the next morning, she and I fled Rainbow Acres for the last time.
Luckily, we were able to track down the boy, Lloyd, who had first introduced us to the world outside the farm’s boundaries. He was shocked when we told him what had happened, and offered to ask his parents to give us shelter.
“No, I think it’s better if we get as far away from here as possible,” said Belinda.
Lloyd said he understood. He gave us food and some camping supplies from his garage, and all the money he had saved. It wasn’t much, he told us. Just enough for a pair of bus tickets out of town, and maybe some clothes from the secondhand store.
A few days later, while camping in some faraway town, Belinda and I read in a newspaper about the Teacher’s arrest. Apparently, he had tried to sell Leslie as a mail-order bride to some man who turned out to be a police officer. River and Spring were also arrested. The newspaper didn’t say what had happened to our sister, Megan. I still remember with great sadness my lonely days as an orphan at the refugee camp. I hope that Megan did not suffer a similar fate. She will always be in my heart, as are you.