Chapter 1 – Ice

Moonlight dances on the surface of the water, illuminated the sky around it. Our reflections shine back at us, and I can’t help but notice how far apart we stand.

“It’s nice weather that we’re having tonight…”

“Yes,” And that’s the extent of our conversation. I must admit that I am slightly nervous. He does not look particularly comfortable, and I am starting to worry that I have done something wrong. I bite my lip as we slide along the ice to the front door of my igloo. I coral the bears into their stalls and then rejoin him in front of my door. He doesn’t meet my gaze, shifting from foot to foot.

“Soe, get it out already.” He sighs, finally looking up at me.

“Anjo…these past few months have been great…” Oh no. “But I’m just not…” He sighs. “I’m just not feeling it, you know?” He meets my eyes, but what I find there is unsettling. His voice is sad, his tone his sorry, but his eyes laugh at me as if it’s one big joke. As if this entire thing was just one big game.

“Soe…”

“I just can’t do it,” He finds new confidence, and looks down at me, his voice no longer masked. I look down, suddenly ashamed.

“How long?” I ask quietly. He sighs.

“The entire time…honestly…I was with someone the first night we met.” My head jerks up to look to look at him. Fire dances in my eyes. I can hear the water sloshing and churning in the rivers behind me.

“You’ve cheated on me this entire time?” He bites his lip.

“Anjo, I’m sorry, I-”

“Why? Just tell me why, Soe?” He sighs.

“You’re not…they’re just…”

“Prettier?” I finish for him.

“Exactly,” I look down, as if I’m trying not to cry, as if I’m actually hurt by what he says, as if I’m actually surprised.

“Anjo, I never meant to hurt you.” He says. I sigh, moving my head to slowly smile sadly up at him. “Anjo?”

“Just one more kiss goodbye?” I say. He sighs, like he’s doing me some unwelcome favor.

“Sure,” I wait until he leans closer. I wait until he closes his eyes. But it’s not until he puckers his lips that my fist slams into his unexpected face. His eyes open as his head snaps back. He slips, splashing into the icy-cold river running behind him. He lays there, unconscious as the water sloshed up and down around him. The water grabs at him like icy hands, trying to pull him further under. I make sure his bloody face is out of the water before turning and slamming my igloo door. The entire igloo shakes with the force of my temper. I have to remind myself that anger isn’t always an option, but my irritation far outweighs whatever sense of rationality I have. My father stands in the middle of our warm and cozy home, sweeping up a pile of icy dirt.

Despite its icy interior, our igloo is warm, and holds everything you might need. It stands at about 7 feet in height and 28 feet in diameter. It holds three rooms. Our kitchen is the largest and holds a square of fire wood that serves as both our stove and heating unit. We have one large cabinet, made of thick ice that serves as our refrigerator. To spigots sprout from our icy walls, blue for fresh water, red for salt. A pair of wooden buckets sits underneath the two.

The second room is an outhouse that serves as our bathroom and the third, a bedroom. Daddy and I share a room, but by the time he wakes from sleep, I’m already awake, dressed, and have the house cleaned and breakfast made before I head outside to feed the bears and do those chores. We each have our own bed and wooden chest to keep our clothing in, so I already get more privacy than most of the underprivileged girls in our Tribez.

“Anjo, what happened? What was that terrible noise?” Daddy leans the broom against the wall and sits cross-legged on his seating cushion beside the fire. He flips to pieces of fish in an iron skillet sitting on top of the metal grate. The flames lick the bottom of the pan. The smell of seasoned fish makes my stomach growl. I hide my messy knuckles behind my coat as Daddy turns to look at me.

“Nothing, Daddy.” I swallow and sit down beside him, willing myself not to cry. But Daddy, who knows me better than anyone, shakes his head.

“Anjo Kurosaki, what happened? Do I need to break some heads?” Daddy’s tone is so serious, I have no doubt he wouldn’t march right out there and pick Soe up by his face and squeeze his head until it popped. But I can take care of myself. Right now, I just need his love and support.

Trying not to cry, I retell the events of the night. Daddy nods in the right places and gasps in others, but by the time I get to the end of my story, his hands are balled into fists and he’s staring at the fish like he wants to kill it. “I just…I don’t know. Will I ever find a mate?” He sighs.

“Baby, you are beautiful, even if they can’t see it. There’s someone out there for you, I know it.” He says. I sigh.

He always said I was a ‘different’ type of beauty. I didn’t have the tiny eyes or pale, creamy skin like all the other girls did. My hair doesn’t hang to my waist in raven-black planks. Standing at 5’2, I’m short and stocky, with thunder thighs and wider-set shoulders. Lifting and doing all the heavy work around the house has filled my body will muscle. My bust size is much larger than theirs and my lips, much fuller. My skin is caramel colored and my eyes are two different colors, bright, bright green, and dark, dark brown, almost black. He says I’m a ‘foreign beauty’ and that they’re all just jealous, but I know that it’s because I look so different. In turn, nobody wants to court me.

“Thanks,” I don’t mean it, but he’s too preoccupied with dinner to notice my sarcasm.

In our Tribez, you’re expected to marry by 22 and bear at least one child by 24. Most girls are married by 18. I’m 19 years old, and my 16th date sits in our salt-water stream as blood rushes down his face. Men just find me intimidating rather than attractive. They all want water-clothes models without an ounce of fat or muscle on them rather than the realistic woman. That’s just it. I’m realistic. I’m not fat, or overweight, but I refuse to force my body to become something it’s not.

“I used a lemonpepper and basil blending for this recipe. What do you think?” I take a bite, flavor exploding in my mouth. I chew slowly, savoring its deliciousness.

“It’s good. Maybe you should add a splash of lemon juice next time. It’ll bring out the lemon flavoring.” Daddy’s face lights up.

“That’s a great idea!” He grabs a pen and paper, jotting it down before returning to his seat. We continue to eat in silence and much too soon, both of our plates are empty, and our bellies full. I sit my place down, press my palms together, and incline my head towards my father.

“Thank you for the food,” He inclines his head towards me and touches the top of my head.

“You may go in peace.” He ends the blessing with a light kiss planted between my eyebrows. I smile up at him and stand, grabbing my plate and my fork. Daddy uses special heat-resistant gloves to lift the skillet off of the metal grate. I switch the wooden bucket beneath the salt water tap and with a large cookie kettle and fill it about halfway with icy water. I sigh, noticing the pink tint to the water. “Anjo Kurosaki, don’t tell me you left that boy out there in the cold!” Daddy peers in the kettle, giving me his most stern look as he tries to contain his amusement.

“But,”

“No buts, go out there and get him!”

“What?!”

“You heard me, GO!” My eyes widen. I give him an incredulous look, but he only shakes his head and points to the door. Slowly, I walk towards it, planning Soe’s death as gruesome and painful as possible. I bite my lip, throwing the door open and heading out into the cold.

A burst of icy wind sears past my face as I slide along the ice. I can hear Booboo, my father’s favorite bear, barking loudly. A heavy snow-fall has started and it takes all of my concentration just to stay upright. “Soe?” I call through the snow. He moans in answer. I sigh, walking very slowly towards the salt-water stream. He’s lying, curled in a fetal position, half in, half out of the water. I sigh, knowing I’ll have to carry him.

When I lift him, his body is heavy, weighted down by water. He’s ice cold and I see tiny icicles beginning to form on the tips of his spiky black hair. I groan inwardly from the weight as I struggle to keep my footing. Soe starts to shift in my arms.

“Stay still!” I hiss at him. His eyes fly open, and when he sees my face, he recoils in fear. He starts struggling against me.

“Let go!” He yells. I try to hold on tighter and quicken my pace as best as I can.

“Soe, stop!” But he continues to struggle. All at once, my foot slides on the ice, and we go down. Soe flies out of my arms. Panic rises within me. “Soe?” The streams behind me slosh and churn violently. I struggle to get to my feet, but the second I find my footing, I trip again. I curse at myself. “SOE!” I scream. The only sound is my breath, heavy and frantic and the water in the streams. I try to stand again, but fall right to the ground again. I slam my hands into the ice in frustration. The second my hand comes in contact with the ice, a thick jet of water from each stream flied through the air in a spiraling torrent. My eyes widen. The water falls back into place just as I hear the front door open.

“Anjo!” Daddy calls. I can just see his looming shape in the doorway.

“Over here!” I yell. I hear scuffling, and then Daddy slides over to me, dropping to his knees.

“Anjo, are you okay? Where’s Soe?” I shake my head.

“I don’t know, I tripped, and he went flying!” I grab Daddy’s hand and pull myself to my feet. I steady myself on his arm and turn back towards our igloo. The streams are eerily calm and the snow around us has slowed considerably. We split up in our search, me walking around the igloo, calling his name, Daddy, walking the streams.

“Hey, I got something!” He calls. I reach him just in time to see him pull a sopping wet Seo out of our fresh water. A fresh cut on his face trickles blood, but slows down the second his face is exposed to the cold. I hold the door open as he rushes Soe inside.

“Anjo,” Daddy says slowly. I’m still staring out the door, into the cold of the night. “What happened earlier…don’t speak of it again.” I nod.

“Of course Daddy,” I say. “Never again,” The door shuts silently, closing out the dark behind.

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