Chapter One.It was a nice day. Typical summer weather, perfectly suited for optimism. The trees had little movement, letting the sun’s radiation engulf the rustic area surrounding my home. Children were playing outside for a change. Normally, I’d have been outside too, picking something up for my dad or taking a walk. But that day was different.
That was the day everything changed.
I sat on my bed, anticipating the arrival of the town car that would soon pick me up as I looked through the foggy window a few feet above my clump of blankets on the floor. For twenty minutes I stared at dirt roads, farms across the street, kids walking home from school, men holding shovels walking to work. Each passing person stopped to take a good look at my house, causing me to duck my head under the flimsy piece of wood keeping my window in place. I didn’t want to see any of the locals from Hawns. They knew just as well as I did what was coming.
“You act as if it’s not even a big deal, Kenly.” Kane had said to me earlier that morning. Because of the big day, I had the day off from school. Kane, after some pleading with his dad, was also granted the day off. Even on such an important day as this, I would have expected him to go. Nothing’s more important to him than his education. I hadn’t bothered to ask my dad about skipping. I had done it before. He wouldn’t notice my absence from school if I stayed home and split a beer with him.
We’d been sitting at an old picnic table down the street from my house. It was the place we always went to immediately after school, spaced evenly between my and Kane’s house, about a quarter mile from each. We could spend hours there, our bare feet embracing the dirt beneath them. It was so misplaced, surrounded by trees, farms, and all the run-down houses of our neighborhood, and was hardly used by anyone but the two of us. Our clashing personalities were what kept us close initially, but I never forgot to give credit to that table.
I sat up straighter, taking notice to my awful posture Kane always nagged me about. I squinted at the sun, and then shook my head. “Well, cause it’s not.” I was half lying, but I didn’t want Kane to over think the situation.
From Kane’s expression, I could tell he wasn’t buying it. “It’s a huge deal and you know it!” Then, after leaning back and crossing his arms, he said more sternly, “Don’t play it off like you don’t.”
He was right. The opportunity I was presented with was incredible. Though I had no other option than to accept the offer, I’d been given the chance to abandon the dull, maddening, one-dimensional life I had built living in Hawns. After receiving the Acknowledgement—a letter sent to your house from the Regime rambling on about how special you are, how your life will change—I’d spent hours at school picturing what it would be like there, meeting the other recruits that the Regime had chosen to train. The idea didn’t appeal to me. In reality, if the option were given, I would have declined the offer. Even though everyone in Hawns was as boorish and lacking in common sense as the person next to them, at least there weren’t too many of them; the entire population fit into small shacks along one dirt road that lasted a little more than a mile. Everyone knew each other. We had no choice. That’s why I felt I could judge them so harshly.
The school that thought I was special, that would change my life, was called RASP. Rulers of the Affairs of State Prep. I didn’t know where it came from, only that the Regime put it together to morph teenagers into the next generation of the government. Unlike Hawns, I’d guessed RASP had a fairly large populace. It was something people rarely brought up, so any expectation I had was purely a speculation.
I tucked a strand of my red hair behind my ear. “Maybe. I guess I just can’t see myself there. Taking it all seriously.”
Kane let out a small breath that resembled a laugh. “To be honest, I can’t either.” He leaned inward, his jet-black hair reflecting the sun. He rested his forearms on the table. “You’ll just have to try.”
I smiled. A sad smile, but a smile. “Why don’t you just go for me? You’re what they need.”
Kane shook his head slowly, biting his lower lip. “I’m not smart enough for that stuff. Not smart like you, anyway. Even if you are mad.”
I could sense a hint of lighthearted mockery in his voice; our bond relied on such jocular ridicule. When we were young enough that we didn’t go school, this sort of behavior on my part had been what kept us friends. We had both had a really easygoing way of looking about things—though our personas differed greatly—that fit each other’s character perfectly.
The thing was, Kane was smart. Unlike myself, he had the knack of valuing whatever was accessible to him and took nothing for granted. Neither of us tried to get into the academy, but if I had to guess who they would’ve picked, I would have bet on Kane.
I smiled bigger, a real one this time. “Mad? Alright, no. I’m not mad. Besides, a quarter of the recruits are picked cause they’re strong.”
Kane smiled back. After taking a glance down at his bulging upper arms, he said, “Whatever.”
Though going to RASP didn’t excite me, the idea of staying in Hawns was even tougher to enjoy. The town of Hawns had pushed me over the edge a long time ago. There were only two things keeping part of me in Hawns. The first was the thought of having to deal with huge buildings filled with students with egos to match. The one thing I hated more than ignorance was arrogance, and that was what I was expecting to find at a school with such hype. The second variable holding me back was Kane, not for my sake but for his. I imagined what it would be like if he were to have been chosen. Picked up in a fancy car and taken away to a life guaranteeing some spot in the Regime. I blinked a few times, clearing the image from my mind.
Then I looked at him. Kane was tall, strong, and impassive. Though romance was something unheard of from a girl of sixteen, I had a hard time getting past the fact that we were nothing but friends. My feelings for Kane were strong, but the way of life in Hawns had made me unable to define them.
I sighed, keeping my gaze directed at Kane. I knew I had little time left with him, but my stubborn conduct led me to deny this to be true. I was left with an emptiness in my stomach. “Just keep this place going, alright?” My voice was unexpectedly monotone.
And that was that.
It was the sound of the car that let me know it was time to go. I peered out my window one last time, confirming that my time was up. I looked at the hazy reflection of myself in the mirror. Long red hair, tan faced, and short. With a groan, I forced myself up, my knees sore from having been sitting down so long.
My dad was waiting by the door, one hand on the knob and the other holding a bottle of whiskey. He gave me a sad smile, much like the one I had given Kane earlier. Though I knew it was wrong of me, a lot of the time I felt like Kane did a better job raising me than my dad. This was probably why I had such an easy time saying goodbye him.
My dad was a man of many words. He laughed at just about everything, and you could always smell alcohol in his breath. Though no one had ever mentioned it to me, it was hard to believe that he and I were related. Much like everyone else in that town, we were opposites. Even our physical attributes varied—his light brown hair contrasted with mine of dark red. Our relationship, however, was stable. Mostly because he was apathetic about everything I did.
He looked down at me, shaking his head slowly. It wasn’t until he reached out to hug me that the realization hit. I looked up at the moldy ceiling above me, still gripping onto my dad as if I would never see him again. For all I knew, I wouldn’t.
“Do good.” He said, patting me on the back a couple of times, harder than preferable. He let go of his grasp, but his hands remained on my shoulders, his arms stretched out.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t even worry about it.”
My dad laughed, and took a big swig of whiskey. “Good.”