I suck at flirting, but Administration policy requires two dates a month, so I endure. At seventeen, I’ve never had a boyfriend. My best friend, Summer, complains, “Such a waste, Livvy. You’re gorgeous, but when you open your mouth—total disaster!” I don’t know about gorgeous. I’m definitely a Moore—my father’s dark, wavy hair and brown eyes, my mother’s pale skin, but I’ve never thought about my looks other than taming my wild mane into a pony tail. The disaster part is true.
Take my last date with Will Connelly. He’s heart-breakingly cute and ridiculously smart. We weren’t even randomly paired. He actually asked me out. Conversation went well until I asked what his sanctioned artistic release activity was. His answer? Dressing up his Pomeranian in a tankini and photographing it. Before I had time to censor myself, I nearly did a spit take and blurted, “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t. I apologized, but the damage was done.
This week I have no date. I can relax and live vicariously through Summer’s love life on the way to school.
“Livvy!” she nearly screams, practically running out her front door as I approach. “Did you hear? You have to have heard. I’m sure your father knows.”
“What doesn’t my father know? You’re going to have to be more specific than that.” Though I refrain from actually doing it, I’m pretty sure she hears my eyes roll.
“Livvy!” This time she does scream, and I’m right in front of her. It’s loud. “There is a new guy entering the Academy today! NEW! As in, we have never met him before!”
Ok. This I do not know, though I can guarantee my father does, which causes my stomach to drop rather than my eyes to roll. Why wouldn’t he mention this?
“I didn’t know,” is all I can offer.
“Well, now you do, so we must discuss. We’ve been with the same, tired group of boys since we were five…”
“Umm, Summer? You do have a boyfriend.” It’s hard to keep track. Who can blame her? She is gorgeous. 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. “Wait. A What is he even doing here? New people don’t just come to this sector of ANT. I mean, they never do. Doesn’t this bother you out at all?”
“Actually, no! I guess the sheer intrigue of it all outweighs my logic. As for Jackson, please. He’s a biologist. I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the first date,” which was only four weeks ago, I want to remind her. “Just FOCUS on what’s really important here, Livvy!”
I cannot because the he she is speaking of stands right there, across the street, as we approach the school—the first stranger I’ve seen since childhood. And then I throw up.
“Livvy, what the flux?”
Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance.
“Ummm... What just happened?” I ask, with marked confusion.
“Ummm…you just hurled into the bushes.”
“No one else saw, did they?”
“I don’t think so. Here, take a mint. I’m sure you need it.”
“Thanks,” I say, but out of the corner of my eye I see him, looking right at me.
How Summer did not notice him across the street is beyond me, but she cannot miss him walking into our independent sciences class. His entrance 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.”
Wes gives us all a slight, closed mouth grin and tucks 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.
“Wes, why don’t you have a seat? Since this is an independent study class, you can work on whatever it is you want to work on. Tomorrow the rest of you introduce your topics of study with an abbreviated speech. Final project in four weeks.”
All eyes in the class follow as Mr. Pierce leads Wes to the empty table in the back. I look over in Summer’s direction and see her mouth one word—tattoo.
I don’t see Summer again until lunch. She practically jumps into the seat across from me. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”
“It has to be something else. 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. “O.k. Not so much skinny but less bulky, you know? Not in a bad way. I like a change from the thick manufactured muscle of the male student body.”
“Just a reminder that some of that manufactured muscle is your current boyfriend and every other guy who has auditioned for the role. And 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?” If any other guy walked into class with a tattoo, he would risk more than a few demerit points. It could cost him his spot in the Administration and possible exile to a border sector. Nothing like this has happened in at least a generation, but we all know it can. Before I have a chance to get out of my head, Summer slaps my sandwich out of my hand before I take a 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 smile awkwardly and turn back around.
“What was that?” Summer demands.
“I have no clue. One thing’s for sure, though. His eyes are definitely hazel, and I am not…
“Subtle?” she fills in. “No kidding. And what was with that smile?”
“I don’t know,” I defend, but what I should say is, “Well, you develop an instant chemistry with someone when they watch you puke. We’re bonded for life now.” I don’t have to because I am 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.