Rachel Fairchild had a brother, and that was really the only relevant thing about her.
She also had a mother and a father, yes, and some aunts and uncles and all the other typical people that come from a quintessential, well-adjusted family, but the truly relevant one was her brother. His name was Trevor, and he was perfect, and that perfection was the only relevant thing about him.
Trevor was perfect and Rachel was not, and that was the extent of their dynamic. Though of course nobody told them this—because quintessential, well-adjusted families do not speak of such matters in such brash terms—but both of them knew. Trevor bound through life leaving gold stars in his wake and Rachel scurried after, picking up scraps and particles that had fallen and attempted to build them into something quite as marvelous. It's like when one has a bunch of puzzles with leftover pieces and squishes them together, and the only way to get a cohesive puzzle is by placing it on the floor and stamping it until the pieces bend to the greater force, but even then, it’s not a particularly good image, just a malformed jumble of flattened, dyed cardboard.
Rachel was decent at being carboard. Cardboard was bendy and moldable, just like Rachel. When her father said something about Trevor doing perfectly in school or Trevor receiving a scholarship to some important university somewhere or Trevor landing an internship underneath some politician right after or holy smokes, Trevor was inaugurated as a Senator—Rachel had barely remembered his campaign, for she had learned to filter perfection out of her vision a long while ago—on Christmas Day, of course, because things just worked out that way for him, all of the time, Rachel tried her best to keep up.
But Rachel knew she couldn’t actually compete with any of that, and it was a very unhappy holiday season for her.
The next year, Trevor proposed. Rachel could barely remember him dating—his girlfriend must have been pretty perfect herself—but he proposed to her on Christmas, because neither could bear to spoil the long-withstanding trend, and hooray for the universe, Trevor had a fiancée, all was well in the Fairchild household. All was especially well for Rachel, because this was within her skillset. She knew how to bend for people. Getting engaged would be easy.
Trevor and whoever he was getting married to decided that the wedding would be the next year, on Christmas—why not have every important anniversary on the same major date? Rachel gave herself just under one year. She wasn’t evil; she wouldn’t spoil the wedding. But she sure would be proposed to on Christmas Eve, that was the only way she could maybe begin to rank near Trevor.
Rachel picked up her cello and set out for love.
Rachel had never played the cello before, but there was a surprising lack of cellists in the area, and it wasn’t like she was going for the Royal Orchestra of the Philharmonic, or whatever the closest legitimate orchestra was called. No, there were none of those where Rachel lived. She lived in some random, barely-suburban state whose two greatest prides were its one tiny college and, of course, Trevor Fairchild.
Trevor Fairchild was taken but the university students were not, and if there’s one thing a group of university students has, it’s sheer numbers. Rachel signed up to be the accompanying cellist and though the professor noted her obvious lack of practice or innate talent, he let her stay because there was simply no better option. Rachel got her pick of the lot. She realized how iffy the whole situation seemed—she was legally an adult and these were legally students—but justified it by the fact that she herself had graduated from a different random university in a different suburban state just two years ago, so it wasn’t like the age-gap was glaring.
That age-gap was serving her well. People love dating people older than them—at least until 30, then it works in reverse—according to Rachel’s observations, and Rachel was that older person. She decided not to get too ambitious—refined society is generally not fond of people holding too many romantic partners in rotation—and settled for five, whose names she conveniently matched with the days.
Martin, on Mondays, who studied Business and ran around hurriedly making ambitious plans and purchases, and promised Rachel he would take her to an apartment in New York, but that seemed unfeasible considering the massive debts he had amassed from said ambitious purchases.
Tim, on Tuesdays, who studied Mathematics and wore thick glasses and left Rachel scribbled notes in a terrible handwriting that she endearingly could not interpret.
Walter, on Wednesdays, who switched majors every five seconds but was convinced he would find a way to eradicate tumors. Rachel took him tolerating her as a sign that she was not a cancerous person.
Theodore, on Thursdays, who played the clarinet and Rachel initially thought would be her demise. He was around at all of her mandatory cello-practices but seemed too preoccupied tapping out a melody on his kneecap and didn’t see all the times she walked home arm-in-arm with somebody else.
And Filmore, on Friday, whose last name was just as ridiculous, who studied English, and who would rather sit at home brooding in a dampened corner but had parents who were pressuring him to marry really anybody, so Rachel let him consider her.
There was a brief stint with Stephon and Seth, on Saturdays and Sundays, but that got too complicated.
Rachel found that dating was great for meals—she only had to pay for two weeks out of the month. It was also great for presents: Martin got her a pocket-watch, Tim a paper-weight, Walter a bathroom-scale, Theodore new strings for her cello’s bow, and Filmore a real pen with ink that splattered all over Rachel’s dress when she opened it (she promptly threw it out).
It was not, however, good for family gatherings. By the fifth holiday, her parents were whispering about how she was promiscuous, and her cousins urged her to settle down, already. By Independence Day, Rachel knew it was time to get drastic.
It was summer, all light and airy, and Rachel, one-by-one, sat each of her suitors down on rocking chairs on the porch of a beach-house her friend Brenda didn’t exactly own. Rachel had previously bought five jars of fire-flies and released one per evening.
“Look at them go,” she sighed wistfully, unscrewing the lid.
Martin nodded absent-mindedly and asked her for the time. Tim gently corrected her hand placement for “proper disposal of the bugs.” Walter gasped, fascinated by the flashing lights. Theodore hummed a joyous melody. Filmore scrunched his eyebrows, confused, as he often was.
“They’re flying away, into the night.” Rachel tipped her head towards the conveniently-setting sun. “They’re passing into the night. Just like time.”
None, not one out of the five, got the hint.
“I think you should propose to me.”
Though the reactions varied in degrees of subtly—Tim and Fillmore looked like they were about to throw up, Walter and Theodore were a bit calmer, and Martin kept nodding, barely a change in his demeanor—each was clearly shaken by the news, but too polite to decline. As if they had collaborated, on their corresponding days the next week, each asked Rachel for her parents’ phone numbers.
“They’ve already approved my marriage to anybody,” Rachel assured. “They’re very progressive people.”
School started back up shortly afterwards. None had graduated, but many—not Filmore, whose parents were insisting on holding him back a year for goodness knows why—were in their last year of college, and Rachel was thankful for her pre-determined engagement date. She would have half a year to finalize who she would actually be marrying, and then she and her lucky partner would be off.
Rachel wondered if this was love. She figured it was. She was quite enjoying herself. She declined going to Labor Day or Halloween or Thanksgiving that year, blaming an illness. Love sickness. She was so sick with love, she wanted the surprise of her many engagements to be fresh, contrasted starkly by her absence. Rachel decided that she quite liked love.
Winter rolled around with its gusts of chilly vengeance and Rachel pulled on her plaid, woolen coat with all the pockets. Her fingers were normally chapped—the cello took quite a toll on one’s phalanges—but she had bought a special, cinnamon-scented lotion to ensure they were smooth for the five rings she would be wearing. Christmas Eve was on a Saturday, so none of her suitors would see anything out of the obvious when she called them outside of their allotted day—the presence of her brother’s later wedding was heavy, but Rachel was elated with the prospect of beating him out. Rachel was confident, more confident than she had ever been. Her hints to her desired proposals being on Christmas Eve were so strong, somebody would have to be blind in all the senses to ignore them. Rachel knew her suitors were oblivious, but she had a strand of hope in them yet.
Rachel tightened her scarf and stepped out onto her porch, a bought pie with cardboard-colored crust in a bag to transport to her parents that evening.
Martin came first. “I’ve got to get going; I’ve got a meeting soon,” he announced, his eyes never leaving his watch. Rachel nodded and he kneeled down, still not really making eye contact. “But I figured I would say this quickly.” He popped a box out of his back pocket. “Will you marry me?”
“I’ll consider it.” Rachel grabbed the box and slid the ring on her thumb. It was a thin gold band with a diamond in the middle. “You can be on your way.”
Martin nodded a final time and left.
Tim was next. “I…um…” he stuttered.
“It’s fine,” Rachel sighed. “Just give me the box.”
That ring had three gold bands plaited together.
Walter arrived shortly after. “I may not be the most decisive,” he joked, “especially not with my major—speaking of which, do you think I should go for General Biology or Botany specifically, because I already know what I want to identify but not if it’s in a plant…”
Rachel tuned him out and focused just beyond his ear. Was that the beginning of snow? She squinted. No. It was rain. Disappointing.
Walter tapped her knee, and Rachel noticed he was kneeling down. “Please marry me?”
“Potentially.” Rachel slid that ring on her middle finger. It had a ruby set in the middle, like a single drop of blood. Very medical.
Walter looked slightly concerned but left according-to-plan. Theodore showed up as Walter stepped into his car, but ever-the-clueless, Theodore didn’t question it.
Unfortunately, he did not produce a ring box. He held out a portable microphone. “I will serenade you!” he declared.
“Don’t. Really,” Rachel interrupted, covering the microphone with her hand. “Let’s get this over with.” The rain was getting heavier and she still had to drive to her parents’ house for Christmas Eve. At least, that’s what they called it. It was really Trevor’s Rehearsal Dinner, but Rachel was hoping to switch the focus.
Tim sighed and handed over the ring, not even bothering to ask. It had the tiniest piece of jade, surrounded by pearls. Green. The voice in the back of Rachel’s head was repeating that green meant jealousy. Rachel wondered where she had heard that.
Filmore was final, a bit behind schedule but not where it would throw anything off the rails. “I have a proposal for you,” he began.
“Okay.” This was an awkward way to propose.
“So.” He clasped his hands together worryingly. “I’ll write a book and you edit it-“
“No!” Rachel shrieked. “That’s not the type of proposal I meant! I want you to ask me to marry you!”
“But I don’t want to marry you.”
“Then don’t ask me.” How could people be so stupid? Rachel massaged the crown of her head, appreciating how the four other rings bore into her skull. “Just get me a ring.”
“I have this shiny rubber-band,” Filmore offered.
“That’ll do.” Filmore was the definition of Friday: Rachel tolerated his mistakes because she knew the break of weekend would be following.
Rachel climbed into her car, the rings reflecting a kaleidoscope of iridescence on her windshield and car-roof. She smiled. Take that, Trevor. He only got proposed to once. She had five in a day.
As she drove, the heavy rain switched to snow, as if the world were preparing the holiday scenery specially for Trevor. Rachel scoffed. He wasn’t all he was cracked out to be, now that she thought about it. He was a Senator, sure, and about to be married, but he had to pay for all of his meals. And if he wasn’t eating out or having his wife make them, he would have to cook himself. Rachel couldn’t imagine such a dismal fate.
Rachel didn’t bother parking her car correctly—she doubted it would be towed; the snow was too heavy for police to care about a stray car—and bounded to her parents’ weathered, blue door, the snow crunching satisfyingly below her and lacing her eyelashes. Of course the door was unlocked, because the “Fairchilds believed in human fairness,” or whatever her parents said to cover up for their lack of security.
Normally Rachel would have snuck in, avoiding Trevor and seeing how many mini-cupcakes she could steal along the way. Not this Christmas Eve. This Christmas Eve, she was a new woman. She announced her entrance with a triumphant, “Rachel’s home!” tossed her coat on the floor next to the door, and marched through the already-substantial crowd of family members to her father. He was sitting, drinking coffee, under a “Congratulations Trevor and Gail” (so Gail was her name) and when he caught sight of Rachel, he nodded weakly in her direction.
Rachel brandished her hand and waved it around, determined that everybody in the vicinity could see the shimmering rings.
“Look, Father,” she instructed. “I was proposed to five times today.”
He sipped his coffee and nodded straight up-and-down.
“Five times,” Rachel repeated. “Five whole times. Five different people. Five new, shiny rings. Aren’t you pleased?”
Her father shrugged and set his cup onto a saucer. Rachel waited in anticipation. Perhaps old age had mellowed his reactions. That was alright; she only needed a bit of validation to make a fuss.
Rachel practically panted as he lifted his cup back up, licked his lips, then opened them right before taking a sip. “Trevor’s wife is already pregnant.”