Title: "Blessing Way"

Rating: PG-13

Category: pre-series, Elizabeth Weir

Summary: "In the traditional ceremony of the Blessing Way, after renouncing the trappings of childhood, the girl is immersed in water. When she emerges, the community embraces her as a woman..."

Author's Note: This was written in response to a "firsts" challenge I saw... somewhere. I don't actually recall where, but I think medie was involved. And I suppose it could be a Very Belated Entry to nanda's pre-series challenge of yore.


***


Elizabeth Weir is the middle child, sandwiched between two brothers. At eleven, she adopts herself for the summer into the home of her aunt and uncle and three girl cousins.

Elizabeth feels out of place with her dark hair -- red in certain types of sunlight, her father swears with adoration -- among the sunny blonde relations on her mother's side, but pretends to be the youngest sister anyway, traipsing after them and amending her signature to include their last name.

She tries on makeup and brassieres and reads her first romance novel. She buys vile cheap perfume at the corner store to cover the smell of the cigarettes that her cousins' friends smoke and memorizes the way their throats tighten when they inhale.

She stops short of trying to peroxide her own hair, though for the rest of her life she will secretly believe that blonde hair makes her more beautiful. When her parents ask, she says she spends so much time with her cousins because their house, on the other side of town, is down the street from the public pool.

"The problem," says Amber, the oldest at seventeen and the ultimate authority on everything Elizabeth has never even thought to ask about before, "isn't having sex as a teenage girl. The problem is having to have it with teenage boys."

At fifteen, Elizabeth solves this problem by dating an older man.

Her older man is twenty-four, and with her newly salon-dyed blonde hair -- at a cost of a month of doing everyone's chores and paper routes and her younger brother's history homework -- she looks at least eighteen. She sounds even older, either from reading and watching the news, or because she, in her father's words, came out of the womb already forty years old.

He talks like he thinks she's in college, but he never asks directly, perhaps guessing that it isn't true. She tells her best friend every detail about him, about his job and his car and how his kisses are different than the kisses of fifteen year old boys, but she suspects he never tells anyone about her.

She doesn't tell her best friend that part.

She doesn't lie to either of them about anything -- never actually says to Jenny that she met his friends, or directly tells him that she is over the legal age of consent -- but she lets them infer what they want to hear.

One night when she's not really sleeping over at Jenny's, he drives her to the edge of Lake Michigan. It's nearly eleven when they get there, for all the times he pulled over to kiss her.

At night, the lake seems even more endless than it does during the day. He stays by the car as she drifts closer to the edge, remembering the story of Miranda and feeling like she could live on the water forever, surviving on the boundless view and the sound of gentle waves alone.

"Elizabeth," he calls her back to the present.

She knows what he expects, because she spent the better part of the past two weeks planning for it and giggling about it with her friends, but her mind is changing. She isn't sure she can live with this not-quite-lie on her record, notched into the history of her body.

For a moment, stubborn determination rises up within her, fixed on going through with her plan, but she's filling up with reason -- not nerves -- and she finds it surprisingly easy to say.

"Take me home, please."

There's surprise on his part, and arguments, but she stands her ground, and it's not long before he drives her back home at a painfully silent 85 miles an hour. He has never gone anywhere near her house before -- she always meets him at a park near the community college -- but it has started raining, and Elizabeth knows it is far too late to be standing out there alone with no bus to take her the rest of the way. She waits in the old treehouse until morning, since five a.m. is still too early to return home from Jenny's without an explanation.

She never sees her older boyfriend again, and though she's a bit heartbroken, she's grateful for it. She takes a day off from school with a faked illness and spends a long time staring at herself in the mirror. She does look quite a bit like her cousin Amber with her hair dyed blonde -- her face is from her mother's side of the family, even if her coloring isn't -- but she still looks very, very young.

Jenny is horrified when she learns the truth. "But it was so romantic! Elizabeth, you were going to be the first!"

She's oddly undisturbed by her friend's arguments that she may have thrown away the love of her life for nothing more than a little fear.

"I wasn't ready," she says instead, thinking about how the water had seemed far more appealing than the gentleman in the car behind her, and how easy it had been to say no.

It's the first time in her life that Elizabeth feels completely sure of herself.

She thinks, much later, as she's leaving her Michigan town for perhaps the last time and preparing to lead a band of soldiers and scientists into another galaxy, that she wants to run into her first boyfriend again someday. She'd like to thank him.

*end*

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