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About the author:
K. A. Gandy was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and is married with two kids. She has worked as a restaurant hostess, library book shelver, ranch hand, tour guide, Realtor, tech whiz, landlord, and small business consultant, all in addition to pursuing her passion of writing. As a person of many interests, her life has never been boring. She likes to write late in the evenings and thinks drinking hot tea and baking great cookies fuels hopes and dreams.
What inspired you to write your book?
I was on a walk with my kids, brainstorming ideas for a book. Out of nowhere, the idea hit me. What would the future be like, if everything was exactly the same, but children were extremely rare? Why are they rare, and how does society respond to the dwindling population size?
About a month later, I'd fully sketched out the idea, and started writing.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Two Tickets to Paradise
The sun peeks through my window so bright and cheerful, it seems like any other day. As if today the only thing that will happen is the sun beaming down on flat pastures, the wind blowing through the pine trees, and the horses and cows grazing lazily. If only it was still yesterday. I know they say you can’t live in the past, but yesterday was my last day of freedom. At least for a few years, possibly ever. It’s going to be hard to let go of that day and embrace this one.
With a stretch, I climb out of bed and start to dress for what’s coming. But what do you wear for the day your life is no longer your own? Well, I'm going with jeans. They are my protective armor. Jeans, my favorite boots, and a tank top are a little piece of comfort, and they let me pretend a while longer that all I'll be doing today is going out to saddle up and hit the woods with some of my brothers. Maybe check fences, or move some cows. But then, if that was my today, my wheeled duffle wouldn’t be sitting stuffed by my bedroom door. I pick up my pillow and shove it through the carry handle of my bag. There’s no use pretending when I've known for three years now the fate that awaits me, awaits every woman in the North American Alliance.
I've known since I turned sixteen that a shuttle would be waiting in town today, to take me to the New Life Center of Georada. Somehow it still feels surreal, impossible. Is this really it? I mean, they send you a brochure on your sixteenth birthday, all glossy and freshly pressed, with pictures of happy, smiling women and handsome men with jaws that could cut glass. Little blurbs about how they will match you with your very own prince charming, your perfect genetic other half, and then send you off to a honeymoon paradise for the first two years of your new life together. Two years, or until I’m pregnant; whichever comes first.
My heart nearly broke telling Morgan goodbye yesterday. We went on a long, leisurely trail ride, just me and him. When we got back, I untacked him, and gave him the best brushing down of his life. Somewhere in the middle the tears started to flow, until all I could do was cling to his big, warm neck and cry into his mane. There aren’t words to describe how much I will miss him, even though I know my family will treat him like a king. Mom’s going to do her best to fatten him up by feeding him leftover biscuits; I won’t be here to stop her.
After getting ready in the bathroom, I pull out the handle on my bag with a click and wheel it down the hallway to the kitchen. Being the youngest of seven is no walk in the park, especially if you’re the only girl. But, I love my brothers. I would not trade having a single one for more girl time, or another stolen kiss with a boy in the hay loft. We are close, and the thought of telling them all goodbye today is tearing me in two. Gavin is already in the kitchen nursing a cup of coffee.
“Good morning squirt,” he says with a sad grin. He’d usually be out in the back pastures by now, so I know he’s here to say his goodbyes. “How are you today? Hanging in there? I see you didn’t get all dolled up for the bus of doom.”
I laugh, “If the bus of doom doesn’t like me as I am, I guess it’ll just have to send me back.” That’d just be too dang bad, wouldn’t it? ‘Sorry, ma’am, you don’t have glossy, shiny brochure-lady vibes, so please return to your ranch immediately.’ I am so not that lucky. He reaches back to the counter, and hands me a mug, which I can see marshmallows floating in. He’s pulling out all the stops today, hot chocolate with marshmallows before breakfast. I take a grateful sip, and give him a side hug. We hang like that for a few moments, just soaking up the early morning quiet, until we hear boots on the porch and the screen door bangs open.
“Sadie! Where are you?” Brent hollers. That man is always loud.
“In the kitchen, and quit yelling, it’s way too early for that,” I answer.
“Who’s yelling?” he yells again, as Phil and Cade walk in behind him. Cade walks straight over and wraps me in a bear hug, lifting my feet off the ground in the process. I shove my mug out to the side so it doesn’t spill, and set it back on the counter before hugging him back. Once he puts me down, I see they are all in their work clothes, well-worn jeans with leather gloves hanging out of back pockets. They’ve probably been out mending fences and checking the herds since dawn. It’s getting close to time to start thinning the herds before winter, and they’ll be busy the next few weeks sorting them and bringing in the ones for the sale, and moving the rest of the herd out to the winter pastures. Only, I won’t be here this year.
“How are the cows looking?” I ask, making small talk while they grab their own cups of coffee.
“They’re doing fine, Sadie.” Phil answers, giving me a peck on the cheek and handing back my mug. “How are you holding up?” he asks with concern. Phil, the quiet sincere one. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he’s all heart. That’s how he scooped Tess up so quickly; he and his high school sweetheart live across the way with their two sons. She passed on her blonde hair and blue eyes to both of my adorable nephews.
“I’m okay, just trying not to think about it.” I refuse to start this new phase of my life with a tear-stained face. Just because it feels more like I’m heading to hell than paradise, doesn’t mean I’m not going to face it head on. They can print all the shiny happy photos of the New Life Center they want, that doesn’t change the fact that I have no choice but to participate in the compulsory marriage program.
Marriage, at nineteen. I’m not ready to give up my freedom, but for women nowadays that’s merely a childhood illusion. It’s been years since any woman was actually free to choose her own fate. My parents were one of the last generations where participation was optional. We’re the rarity now. Most families have zero to one child, two if they’re extremely lucky. So, the North American Alliance created the New Lives Program, to help people find a better genetic match. People praised it as an amazing humanitarian effort at first, when it was voluntary. All the reports showed a thirty percent higher birth rate among couples who found their genetic match at a New Life Center.
It wasn’t enough, though. Population rates are still in decline, and one day they dipped below an “acceptable level” to sustain even our new, pared down society. So here I am, nineteen. Three years after my glossy brochure promised me a perfect genetic match, and, you know, maybe someone I could grow to love . . . saying goodbye to my family, to go be a trumped-up broodmare with every other woman of age on the continent.
I look around at my four brothers and try not to break my “no tears” resolve. With Peter off in the NAA Police Force and Teddy in training to join, the five of us are the only ones left at home. After today, our seven will be whittled down to four.
“Mom and Dad should be here any minute with your breakfast for the road,” Brent says, breaking into my distracted state. “I hear Mom’s making you the full works; I think she’s worried you’re going to forget home cooking before they let you come back.” He says with a wry grin. As if anyone could forget my mother’s cooking.
As if on cue, a familiar pattern is rapped on the front door. “I hope everybody’s decent in there!” my dad hollers, as he lets himself and my mom in.
“We’ve been up for nearly two hours, Dad.” Gavin huffs, “Besides, you know Sadie doesn’t tolerate shenanigans in the bunk house.” He reaches over and grabs the basket Mom’s carrying, covered in a blue gingham towel, and then reaches down to pick up my suitcase. He heads toward the front door, to load both things in the truck.
Mom responds, “It’s a good thing—somebody has to keep you knuckleheads in line. What are we going to do without our sweet Sadie?” She’s trying and failing not to choke up. I walk over and give both my parents a hug.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine, Mom. They were fine on their own before, and they’ll be fine while I’m gone.” She brushes my hair out of my face and lays her hand on my cheek. Her gentle touch has been honed by years of rocking babies and kissing skinned knees, and I will miss her with every fiber of my being.
“I know they will sweetheart, we’re just all going to miss you. I hate that instead of a fairy tale, you’re getting an arranged marriage. This is not what we ever wanted for you. But I am praying that you find your perfect match, even if it’s under less-than-ideal circumstances.”
Dad cuts in, “She’ll be okay, darlin’. If there’s one thing our Sadie is, it’s tough; and she’s too smart to fall for anybody who doesn’t deserve her. Isn’t that right, Sadie-bear?” He wraps his arm tightly around Mom’s waist, and my heart squeezes in my chest at the familiar sight.
I smile back weakly, “You’re right, Dad. I’ll pick a good son-in-law for you, don’t worry.” I am worried, though. Once my testing is complete, I’ll be set up with my best genetic matches. And if there’s only one? There’s only one, and I’ll be walking down the aisle with him, whoever he is.
Gavin comes back in, screen door slamming shut behind him. He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to. He just waits, hands in his pockets. This is it, it’s time to head to town, where the bus of doom awaits. I give everyone one last hug, and head out the front door to the truck. Gavin slides into the worn-out driver’s seat of the farm truck and cranks it up, while Cade walks me to the passenger side and opens the door for me, ever the gentleman.
“Stay safe, baby sister,” he says as I climb in.
I give him my strongest smile, “Love you big brother, I’ll be back before you know it.” He smiles back and shuts the door carefully. Head tucked low and hands in his pockets, he walks back towards the others standing on the porch. We’d had a farewell dinner last night, and stayed up until the wee hours packed into my parents’ kitchen, telling stories and laughing. We’d hugged and shared our favorite memories until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. I didn’t want a big public goodbye at the shuttle station, despite my parents’ protests. There’s no way I’d get on the bus, if they were all standing there comforting Mom while she cried.
Gavin pulls out of the drive, and we bump along toward the main road. I look out the window just before the turn, and give them a final, melancholy wave. They all wave in return, except Mom, whose head is already buried in Dad’s shoulder. My heart clenches at the sight.
The truck is quiet with both of us focused on munching on Mom’s homemade biscuit sandwiches, so I reach over and turn on the radio. The NAA One announcer says they’re doing an oldies hour and I have to laugh at what starts playing. Two Tickets to Paradise blasts through the speakers.
Somehow, I don’t think government-arranged marriage is what Eddie Money had in mind when he wrote this song two hundred years ago.