Name: Amy Pine
Genre: YA Dystopian
I suck at flirting, which is why right now, as I look into Will Connolly’s beautiful blue eyes, my inner monologue repeats my secret mantra: Be honest, but be nice!
“What’s your sanctioned artistic release activity?” He asks as he sips his black coffee.
“I sketch, portraits mainly.”
“Very cool. How do you decide who is worthy of a Livvy Moore portrait?”
I giggle, in that flirty sort of way that Summer has tried to teach me because, as she says, boys like that kind of thing. But it’s not forced because I’m actually enjoying my conversation with Will. “I don’t know,” I say. “And worthy is a pretty strong word. If I’m angry, I usually draw the person who’s angering me and add some sort of blemish. You should see how many portraits of my brother I’ve drawn with various ill-placed moles or a missing eyebrow.” This time he laughs.
“Maybe next time you’ll let me see one of those. I’d love to see Ben Moore with one eyebrow.”
I smile. Next time. I’m beginning to believe it myself, which is why I’m afraid to reciprocate the question. But it would be rude not to. “What’s yours?”
“I’m a bit of a portrait artist as well. Photography.”
“Very cool yourself. I’d love to see your work some time.”
“Actually,” he says, “I have most of it right here on my tablet.”
He wakes up the screen and slides it across the table, and I instinctively close my eyes, silently repeating the mantra, willing myself to like what I see. Then I open them and find myself looking at a picture of…shrubs? I scan through more of the photos, and they are all of the finely manicured landscaping that decorates all of the yards in our sector. “It’s shrubs,” is all I can muster.
“Yeah. I’m fascinated by landscape design. There’s just such beauty in…”
I cut him off. “Uniformity? All our yards look exactly the same. All our houses are the same. The only way to tell the difference from yard to the other is by the number that’s over the front door. Where’s the beauty in that?” Just like that, the mantra is out the window, and I know there won’t be a next time.
I make it home before my parents and am able to escape the third degree, but before I can change out of my uniform, an incoming communication comes through on my tablet. The polite, robotic female voice notifies me. Communication from Summer Taylor, April 4th, 4:27 p.m. Recording has begun.
“Livvy. Why are you home? It’s only 4:30!”
I think I would prefer the third degree from my parents. “How do you know I’m home?”
“I can see your pillow and bed post behind you! Come on, Liv. How could you mess this one up?”
“He takes pictures of landscaping. That’s his release activity. Shrubs!” I’m exasperated at this point. “You know I’m a terrible liar. I cannot commend him on such a ridiculous activity, on seeing beauty in monotony.”
“Livvy, I don’t get it. You’re beautiful, but when you open your mouth, total disaster. Why do you have to be so judgmental?”
Now I laugh. Beautiful? My skin is so fair, I’m surprised I don’t burst into flames in the sun. Maybe she means my unruly, dark waves that I can barely tame into a pony tail, my standard daily hairstyle. Summer is the gorgeous one, hair—blond, straight. Skin—flawless honey. Her parents ran the risk of making her a cliché, but she owns it—the look, the name, all of it.
“Whatever,” I retort. You know we have to date at least twice a month unless we are in a monogamous relationship. Will was single, so he had to ask someone.” I know she’s right, about the judgmental part. I can’t help it, though. If I think it, I say it, and this does not bode well on the dating front.
“Can we just not talk about this anymore? I’ve got a ton of research to do before tomorrow.”
“Fine,” she relents. “For now. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks. Bye.” Communication terminated. 4:39 p.m. Recording archived.
I pick Summer up at the foot of her lawn the next morning, and she goes easy on me for today.
“So,” she starts. “I think I’m breaking up with Jackson.”
Summer always has a boyfriend. The two date minimum isn’t an issue for her because she’s always in a relationship, whereas I rarely make it past a second date.
“Already? I thought you really like him.”
“Please, Livvy. Jackson’s a biologist. I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the start.”
I roll my eyes as we make our way past yard after identical yard until we reach the clearing that denotes the school grounds (also impeccably manicured…I’m sure Will has some photos of it). As we make our way toward the front steps of the Academy, I notice someone heading our direction from across the street. I don’t recognize him and realize he must be a first year. Our eyes meet, and I stumble backwards, knocking Summer to the ground and landing on my butt right next to her.
“Livvy, what the flux?”
Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance.
“I’m sorry. I must have tripped or something. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, but do you think that next time you get weak in the knees you could give me some warning?”
“Sure,” I say. We both get up, and I look across the street again. Whoever he was, he’s gone.
As soon as we sit down in our first class, I realize I was wrong. He can’t be a first year because he’s standing up at the front of the room with Mr. Pierce. His presence brings immediate silence, all eyes on him. I’m pretty sure I’m starting to sweat, though I know this room is always frigid. The calm he emanates hides something, and he looks like no other guy I know. His hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen, cropped close to his head. The subtle stubble on his jaw indicates he has not shaven in a couple of days (completely against code), and his hazel eyes are fixed in my direction as our instructor, Mr. Pierce, introduces him. That’s when I realize I’m staring.
“Students, I know this is unorthodox, but we have a new addition to the Academy. This is Wes. He’ll be with us through graduation.”
Unorthodox is an understatement. New students don’t enter the Academy. New people don’t enter the sector. Everyone who lives here is born here, so where did this guy come from?
Wes gives us a slight, closed mouth grin, tucking his hands into his front pockets. His forearm peeks out from his cuff, and I see what looks like writing on the underside. He must notice too because he instinctively pulls his sleeve back to his wrist. All eyes in the class follow as Mr. Pierce leads Wes to the empty table in the back. My tablet chimes with an incoming message, from Summer of course. It says one word—tattoo.
I don’t see Summer again until lunch. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”
“Tattoos aren’t allowed in the territory.”
“Livvy, I know the rules, but he’s obviously not from here. And he looks like no guy I’ve ever seen before. I mean, every boy I’ve ever met looks like every boy I’ve ever met.” This is true. It’s not just the uniform. There’s also a certain uniformity to all the guys in our class. As we get closer to starting our lives in the Administration, the males are beginning to look more the part.
“And he’s kind of skinny, too,” she continues. “Not in a bad way. I like a change from the thick manufactured muscle of the male student body.”
“Some of that manufactured muscle is your current boyfriend and every other guy who has auditioned for the role. It’s not like they have a choice. All male students are required to take a military fitness class as part of the curriculum.”
“Whatever,” she replies. “We both know I’m not going to marry anyone from here.”
“Oh, but you’re going to marry the illegally tattooed stranger?”
There has to be a reason why he’s allowed to break code. Before I have a chance to think of it, Summer slaps my sandwich out of my hand before I take another bite.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“Shhh! He just sat down at the table behind you!”
I try to be subtle, but my glimpse turns into a full-on face-to-face stare. Again, that same closed mouth grin. I turn back around.
“What was that?” Summer demands.
“I have no idea.” Thankfully, I’m saved by the bell. I won’t see Summer again until after school. I hope that by then she’ll forget the familiarity in that smile.
She does. I don’t.