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Defiance (Significance #3)(4)

By:Shelly Laurenston

And he did. He was meaty, dark, tanned with jeans and a plaid shirt. All that was needed to top off the picture was a cowboy hat.
"I am from Tennessee, yes, ma'am," he said in an exaggerated southern drawl. "In fact, I live on a farm with fifty horses."
"Nuhuh," Lynne said and leaned closer in interest. "Really?"
"Cross my heart."
"I love horses!" she said and giggled in joy. Kyle grabbed her arm and started to drag her away laughing."I better get you away from Mister wild horses over here."
"Aw, don't worry. You can just buy me a horse and then we'll be good."
"Done," Kyle said and though he was laughing, I could tell he was absolutely going to buy her a horse. He nuzzled her neck and they laughed.
I glanced over to see Caleb watching me. "What?" I asked.
"Just wondering what you're thinking, since you've got your brain turned off."
"I'm just thinking that I'm glad Kyle has Lynne," I said without hesitation. "I'm glad he's happy."
"Me, too." He wrapped his arms around me from behind. "And not just because he was annoying the hell out of me over you. I'm just glad that we can be friends again."
"Me, too."
"Me, three," Rodney said and laughed as he clapped Caleb on the shoulder. "I've missed you guys out at the ranch. Mom has, too. She hasn't had anyone to bake sugar cookies for."
"Yeah," Caleb said thoughtfully, "we haven't been out there in months."
"You'll have to come soon. Mom's got a new Clydesdale. It's the biggest horse you've ever seen."
"We'll do that. We've just got to get a few things out of the way first," Caleb said and smiled against the back of my neck.
The night wore on. I wasn't really enjoying myself. I felt too much on display so I wasn't in a dancing mood. Or an eating mood, as there was a huge spread of fruit. Everyone was whispering and sneaking peeks at us. And when I caught one of them they smiled and quickly looked away. I didn’t know what to do about it.
But soon, all my thoughts of self pity flew away when the Watson who had been my poltergeist since I met Caleb decided that the evening needed a little more excitement.
"Hello, little human," Marcus said from behind us. We turned and I held Caleb's arm tight to keep him from charging him. "Nice haircut. Is it new?" he prodded with sarcasm.
Then, there was nothing I could do. Caleb launched himself at Marcus, pinning him to the wall behind him. Caleb's hands gripped his throat and he growled in his face, oblivious of the astonished crowd that watched from across the room. "Don't you speak to her, ever."
"Ah, the Jacobson prince," Marcus replied loudly and laughed. "How lucky for Maggie that she had such a big, strong boy to keep her safe from my insults." 
"I said to shut up. We are stuck here with you this week, but that doesn’t mean that you can torture Maggie the whole time. She is your Visionary and you will show some respect for that if nothing else."
"What's going on here?" Donald yelled from behind us. I felt arms around me from behind and turned to find Rachel hugging me, with Peter flanking her. Donald came forward and stood next to Caleb who still hadn't released Marcus. "I said, what's going on? Answer me!"
"Caleb is jealous of anyone who shows any affection to our Visionary, Uncle," Marcus sneered.
"Marcus, I will-" Caleb started, but Donald cut him off.
"Now, Caleb, I know how you must be feeling." Donald clapped him on the back as if in sympathy. "But you can’t be stingy with our Visionary."
"I'm not and have no plans to be. Marcus has tortured Maggie for weeks in echoes and kidnappings and a lot more. I won't let him do that to her this week."
"Neither will I," Donald said sternly. "Of course, anything that happened before was petty and uncalled for, but is over with I'm sure. Considering she is the Visionary." It sounded like a warning to Marcus, but Marcus just laughed and tipped his head.
I almost opened my mind to him, but was scared to. I was afraid of what everyone was thinking and was afraid to overload and appear weak in front of all these people who expected so much from me.
"There, you see? Caleb, let him go, son."
Caleb held for a few seconds longer, in obvious protest and his own warning to Marcus, and then came back to take my hand.
"I think I'll take Maggie to her room now," Caleb said. "It's been a long day."
"Of course," Donald conceded and smiled. "Your quarters, Caleb, are on the second floor. Maggie will remain here on the first floor with the rest of the assembly members. This year we've changed a few things around, I'm sure you can understand why."
"No, sir," Caleb replied and laughed a humorous laugh, "I don't think I do understand, but I'm sure there's an implication in there somewhere."
"Caleb," Peter said quietly and came to stand next to us. "Donald, please just tell us what it is that you want us to know. We’ve all had a long day and would like to retire."
"I'm sure with all the new raging significant hormones that you can see why we'd have to separate the newly imprinted couples. In fact, even Lynne, who isn't a member of the council, will stay in the room next to Maggie's."
"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute," Caleb said, his voice going low and dangerous. "Are you saying that you're separating us for the night?"
"Yes. And not just the night, every night. It isn't proper for-"
"Donald," Peter said incredulously. He turned to the rest of the council, who was littered among the nosy onlookers. "You know they will withdrawal during the night. Is that what you want? For your Visionary?"
"We’ve never let unmarried individuals sleep with each other before. Why would we start now?" another assemblyman answered.
"We’ve never had these circumstances before either," Peter rebutted. "Usually the individuals, as you call them, are married within a couple of weeks and it's never an issue.""Exactly," Donald said and scoffed. "Honestly, Peter, for you to suggest that they sleep together before marriage is just-"
"I'm not suggesting they do anything but sleep, Donald," Peter replied dryly.
"Still. Our ways are best and with good reason. Morals are the highest obligation and responsibility to our people. There are plans for them to marry, yes?"
"Of course."
"Then…" Donald grinned and looked me and Caleb over. "Why not right now? Solve all the problems and be done with it. That would be like five birds with one stone." He laughed at his own joke.
"What?" Caleb said.
"We're all here," Donald explained cheerfully. "You can perform the ceremony, Peter. I'm sure the participants are more than…willing," he said and smiled at me.
"You want us to get married? Like right now?" I blurted out and even I heard the disgust in my voice. From the shocked looks on the others' faces they clearly misunderstood my disgust. It wasn't that I didn't want to get married to Caleb, but Dad and Bish weren't here. It was unthinkable.
"Are you opposed to marrying Caleb?" someone asked from behind me. "Hasn't he asked you yet?"
"No, he's asked me, I just-"
I was cut off by many replies, from all around me. I cringed into Rachel's chest and gripped Caleb's hand tighter.
"Having a wedding at the palace? That's never happened before."
"Why wouldn't she want to marry him?"
"Humans," a woman scoffed. "They never could cut ties."
"Shh! She's the Visionary, she'll hear you!"
"Alright, listen!" Peter yelled to stop them all. "This isn't right and you know it, Donald. You have spouted nothing but talk about tradition and rules put in place for us by our ancestors since the minute we walked through that door. We've never had a wedding here because it's a sacred thing that is done at the Champion's home and only the families involved are included. How dare you offer to marry them here so callously in disrespect of the traditions for it?"
"I'm just trying to solve the problem that you're so upset about. If they got married, then we would have no qualms about them staying in the same room."
"Marriage isn't just about some ceremony or a piece of paper. It's about family and making a forever commitment to each other in front of the ones you love. For you to try to turn it into something so simple and trivial is ridiculous." 
"It's practical."
"You're such a hypocrite!"
I had no idea what to say. I looked at Caleb and realized I still had my mind turned off. Caleb had been awfully quiet throughout the whole thing and now I knew why. He thought I was upset because I didn't want to marry him right now, that maybe after seeing his people that I wanted no part in it.
I pulled from his mother and went the small distance to him. He accepted me into his arms easily and even tried to smile.
"You're such an idiot," I whispered and smiled up at him. How could he honestly believe that I wouldn’t want him?
"What?" he said confused, but sucked in a quick breath when I touched his head to mine, opened my mind up and let him in. I let him feel everything I'd felt since we'd gotten there. I was scared, confused, worried, restless, and had no idea what I was supposed to do for these people. But one thing was for sure. I wanted to marry Caleb…just not because some old guy told me I had to. I wanted exactly what Peter had described; the whole experience and the sentiment and beautifulness of it.