Sitting around a large oval table, six men looked her up and down thoughtfully. There was no empty seat, so she stood before the table of men with a dry mouth and nowhere to put her hands. This was a problem. Amelia was a known fidgeter, and the dress had no pockets. She made a mental note never again to buy a dress without pockets.
Nothing had prepared her for standing here. What happens behind these doors was a closely guarded secret within the community. All of the scenarios she had run through her head were wrong, so very wrong.
She cleared her throat, held her hands in front of her before moving them behind and then in front again. She could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in the grand entryway. She tapped her foot to the beat.
“I, um-” she ventured but was cut off by a crisp, firm voice. “You will speak when spoken to.”
The voice did not look up from his notes.I’m sorry.” She hated to do the wrong thing, but the back of her throat burned with anger. They really should put out a rule book. Two bright spots of color appeared on her cheeks.
The man at the end of the table spoke. She leaned forward slightly on her heels. “Amelia, you have applied to interview for the position of intern.” He looked down at a piece of paper which she assumed was her application. “This is a great honor we bestow upon three young women each year.”
Amelia nodded, wondering if that required an answer.
“You will be asked questions by the board members. You will answer succinctly and honesty without hesitation and censorship. Do you understand? His words were efficient, and when he finished with his instructions, he nodded to a man close to her on the right.
“Yes.” The word squeaked from her dry throat.
He looked up and raised one eyebrow. He practised that. It was so utterly pretentious that it impressed Amelia. “You will address the board members as Master in every instance.”
He nodded in approval.
Amelia looked at the man who was to go first. He had a kindly face and somewhat younger than the others. She tried to appear relaxed, but the tension was building up inside her, forming a tight knot in her belly.
He cleared his throat and leaned closer. “Amelia, how do you define yourself to others?”
Amelia immediately panicked. She found these kinds of questions very difficult. She felt she wasn’t as yet a defined person. Not even close. Wasn’t that why she was applying for the internship? So she could be made, or whatever that meant.
“I…” she stumbled, beginning to fidget. “I define myself as a work in progress. I haven’t yet defined who or what I am. I’m learning more about myself each day.”
He leaned back, his face showing his dissatisfaction. Amelia swallowed against the lump in her throat.
The next man leaned forward, looking her up and down before he spoke. He had a very long beard and piercing eyes. “Amelia, what is your goal?”
Oh my, why couldn’t they ask me what I like for breakfast?
She rocked forward on her shoes. “I would like to become someone with a good reputation for enhancing people’s lives for the better.” It sounded hollow to her ears.
Another gentleman leaned forward, looking into her eyes. “What are your passions?”
“Well,” she twisted her fingers together. “I like to help my friends, and I read a great deal. I garden, and I cook.” Why don’t I have more passions, she wondered, they all sounded very mundane.
He nodded with a small smile and leaned back.
“Amelia, why have you chosen to intern at The Sanctuary?” She paused but remembered the instructions to answer without hesitations. “Master, The Sanctuary is renown for producing the very best slaves. The most accomplished. The charitable programs alone are outstanding.”
The man at the head of the table took his turn to ask a question. “Why aren’t you yet owned?”
“Well… Um, Master. I haven’t met the right man.”
He nodded and sat back.
“Describe the right man to me.” The question comes from the giant to the
left of her. He’s an imposing man with a mischievous look on his face. She looked at the door to her left, ready to make a run for it.
“Master, I think he will be kind and intelligent. Easy to talk to about any subject. He will appreciate the world, wish to make it a better place and he will be funny too.”
He smiled kindly, but it only made his enormous face look like he might have her breakfast.
“Amelia, tell me about you in five years.”
She hated that question. She found it hard to think five minutes into the future. “I, um…I hope to be doing something helpful in the world though I am not sure what. I want to be owned.”
“If you were given this position, what assets would you bring to our house.”
“There is not much information about the internship at The Sanctuary. It is hard to know what assets will suit it best, Master. What I would bring to any position is my passion, my desire to learn and to help others do the same. Iwould bring compassion and kindness.”
He smiled in satisfaction and leaned back.
“Before you on the table is a portfolio of The Sanctuary, our charitable
institutions and some of the things that would be expected of you should you be successful. In its essence, the internship would foster your talents, help in your growth as a young woman and put you in a position to be owned. In return, we would ask for your devotion and commitment to the Sanctuary and its Masters. You would find yourself with six mentors, each designed to aid you in various aspects of your life for the coming year. The man who will own you at the end of that year is not for you to decide. That remains the decision of this committee.”
This was not a question. It was a proclamation, and Amelia swallowed the lump in her throat. You knew this, she reminded herself. Only The Sanctuary, they had all replied. Only the best house.
“The alumni of women who have served in this house have gone on to great things, Amelia. Should we consider you worthy, you too will go on to follow in their footsteps.” That’s an order, he may as well have said.
He rang a bell and the door opened quietly.
“Please take the information. Study it well and we will inform you if you are shortlisted for an interview. John will show you out. Thank you for your time.”
Each of the men nodded and Amelia fumbled for the portfolio on the table before following the butler out again. She almost dropped a small cutesy.
She had no time to look around further and settle her curiosity. She was formally ushered out with the bound prospectus under her arm and the butlers Hands at her other elbow. Another nervous candidate sat on the uncomfortable lone chair in the foyer awaiting her turn. Her knees here primly pressed together and the white gloves on her hands were pristine.
“I should have worn gloves,” she muttered as she walked down the street away from the old building with the massive gate that shut firmly behind her. The tall stone wall ran a full block and behind it was known only to chosen few. How Amelia wanted to be one of those few. Since she was a little girl, she had dreamed of attending The Sanctuary with its closeted grounds and beautiful buildings
Up and down the street, young women were laughing as they came and went from their interviews. They looked happy. They boisterously hugging each other while she walked with a pit in her stomach, and a heavy prospectus in her hand, doubting herself with each step.
I’m not up to their standard. I’m far more suited to The Garden. She peeked in the front door of the establishment as she passed it. Slaves were handing out cups of punch to the applying interns. Where is my punch?
All over town, young men and women were talking about pledge week. It was the most exciting week in the community. They came from all across the country to apply to the various houses. Parties were held, tours were taking place, signs inviting novices to apply were stapled to every available pole and fence.
But not The Sanctuary. They did not advertise. They did not have to. They took three recruits each year, no more. She stopped at the crossing where a man with his slave walked happily hand in hand. I wonder which house you went to, Amelia thought? You look so perfectly. Probably The Garden. You probably had punch.
“Stop it silly,” She said to the blinking walk sign. The slave turned her head and smiled, saying to her owner “it’s application week.” He nodded in understanding, and they walked ahead.
Amelia walked home and made a punch.