Programming day draws nigh, but Cassie doesn't want to change.
|Everything changed in eleventh grade. Cassie had seen it happen to her older sister, Marjory, and now friends that were months older than herself were morphing before her very eyes. As her own sixteenth birthday crept closer, dread filled Cassie's heart. She knew her parents wouldn't understand. They were eager for the change. In fact, they'd been pouring over the catalog, planning all of Cassie's upgrades, for the last two years. Just like they'd done for Marjory, years before. The only one that would understand the fear raging in her heart would be Grammy.
Cassie peeked into the living room where mom and dad were, once again, arguing over how to improve Cassie's life. Biting her lower lip, Cassie tip-toed down the hall, ignoring the raised voices that followed her out the door, and grabbed the handlebars of her bike. With a little hop she was on the banana-seat and pedaling down the street.
Grammy's house smelled of spiced apples. Cassie breathed deep as Grammy winked and pulled a fruit pie from her oven with polka-dotted oven mitts.
"I made your famous mint chocolate chip cookies and took them to school, yesterday," Cassie shared, leaning against the kitchen counter. "They were a big hit. Everyone loved them. It makes me wish —"
Grammy's smile faded as she patted Cassie's hand. "I know, dear."
"It's not fair," Cassie pouted, "Mom and dad won't even consider letting me be a baker when I graduate. Dad wants me to be a lawyer and mom wants me to be a doctor. I've tried to tell them that all the other parents are planning the same thing for their kids but they don't listen."
Grammy's warm hand slipped away from Cassie's as she returned the potholders to a drawer near the stove. While her back was turned, Cassie pinched a piece of crust from the apple pie and plopped it into her mouth.
"They only want what's best for you, dear," Grammy reached for two clear glasses from her cupboard and set them in front of Cassie. While Grammy cut the steaming pie into large pieces, Cassie fetched a jug of milk from the fridge.
"Yeah, well, what about what I think is best?" Cassie stabbed her fork into a soft, apple and shoved it in her mouth. The cinnamon and cloves burst into life on her tongue. She frowned and took a sip of milk. "They act like I'm some kind of robot instead of their flesh-and-blood daughter. "
Grammy sighed, "I admit, I don't care much for this new way of teaching. When I was a girl each person had to be responsible for what they learned. We used pens and paper and grew calluses on our fingers. We had to be diligent and work hard to become something." Grammy shook her head and her short, silver hair slapped against her cheeks. "Kids these days have it too easy, if you ask me."
Cassie dropped her fork to her empty plate and glanced uneasily over her shoulder. Although she knew they were alone, her imagination skittered over the images of the PC Force stomping through Grammy's beautiful pansies and marigolds, busting down her stained-glass door, and dragging her off to the Reprogramming Center. Cassie licked her lips.
"Grammy," she whispered, "You can't say things like that. You'll get in trouble!"
"Oh, pshaw!" Grammy rolled her eyes and waved a wrinkled hand, unconcerned. Picking up the dirty plates and forks, she shuffled to the sink and rinsed them off. "What trouble can an old lady like myself cause the Kingdom States?" Cassie puckered her lips, curious at the sudden twinkle in Grammy's eyes.
"You can't be too careful," Cassie said, repeating a phrase her father often spouted. Jumping from her chair, Cassie snatched a kitchen towel hanging from the fridge handle just as Grammy rinsed a plate in hot water. The two worked in amicable silence, though Cassie's mind was fast at work.
"Grammy, do you think you could talk to mom and dad for me? Maybe they'd listen if you explained how much I love to bake —" Cassie gazed hopefully into Grammy's blue eyes, holding her breath as she waited for an answer. Grammy rinsed the last plate and held it out to Cassie.
"Your parents," Grammy hesitated and the water on the plate dripped to the floor as Cassie stood frozen in place, "Well, dear, nothing I say will be able to change their minds. They already think I'm a bad influence, teaching you how to do chores and how to sew and bake."
"They'll have it all erased from my memory, Grammy!" Cassie squeaked, "All the things I love to do will be gone!"
Grammy took the towel from Cassie's trembling fingers, dried off the water, and gently set it with its mates in the cupboard. "It doesn't have to be this way, you know," Grammy's voice was soft and low.
"Wh-what do you mean?"
Grammy placed a hand on Cassie's arm, cocked her head to the side, and fixed Cassie with an even look. Cassie felt as if Grammy were looking into her very soul, studying her. Checking to see if she could be trusted.
"I mean, there are still places in this world where people can live free, without fear of reprogramming. A place without mandatory upgrades or assigned jobs."
Cassie felt her heart skip a beat. A flood of fear mixed with anticipation flooded like adrenaline through her body.
"You mean I can —"
"Escape," Grammy interrupted. "Yes, it's an option. That is," she arched an eyebrow, "if you want to."
Cassie wrapped her arms around herself, hugging herself as if she were cold. Her mind bounced around, trying to view all the different angles of this revelation.
"If I leave, I'll never see Dad or Mom or Marjory again," Cassie mused. Grammy nodded, confirming the statement. Cassie's bottom lip wobbled, "What about you, Grammy? Will you go with me?"
Grammy shook her head and her blue eyes seemed to darken, "No, dear. I have other duties here."
"But I'd be free," Cassie sniffed, fighting against the lump that rose in her throat. "I'd be able to bake and learn the things I want to learn and be what I want to be when I grow up."
Cassie marveled at how simple that one word was. Yes. Grammy made it look so easy to say and yet, here she was longing for it to pass her lips and she couldn't get it out of her mouth. Grammy seemed to understand.
"It's a lot to take in, dear. I don't want you to make a decision right now. You have ten days until your birthday. That's plenty of time to figure out what you want to do before they program new desires into your mind."
With a nod and a gulp, Cassie leaned toward Grammy and wrapped her arms around the old woman's plump middle. Grammy hugged her back, brushing back Cassie's long, black hair.
"Come back in five days, dear. Just you, nothing else. Everything for your journey will be provided. If you don't come, I'll know you've accepted the programming your parents have planned for you."
Cassie blinked back her tears. A half-smile twitched at her lips.
"Can we bake another pie before I go home, Grammy?"
Grammy patted Cassie's cheek and passed her an apron.
Written for "A Fistful of Merit Badges" — Food/Cooking Badge