Authors: Tracy Rozzlynn
Copyright © 2011 by Tracy
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
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graduation speech droned on, I naively gobbled every word of it up.
Study hard and you’ll be rewarded
. It had been drilled into me my entire life, and I wholeheartedly believed it. Our system was simple and straightforward – a high assessment score guaranteed a great career and a great life. I had no idea that, in just a few days, I would find out exactly how screwed up that thinking was.
I glanced to my right and noticed Byron sitting just a few seats over. He looked impatient to get on with the party portion of the evening. It struck me just how handsome he was in his charcoal gray suit and tie. I watched as he ran a hand through his wavy, light brown hair. To me Byron’s face had always been honest, kind, and loyal, but recently it had become ruggedly handsome. But it wasn’t his looks that had changed. He had always been considered handsome. With his mesmerizing blue eyes, perfectly balanced features, and athletic build, I was used to other girls fawning all over him. I found it amusing. Or, at least, I had – before my feelings for him had changed.
He caught me looking and smiled, before miming hanging himself from boredom. I smiled back and pretended to fan myself, hoping he’d think my sudden redness was a result of the heat.
Byron and his younger sister Camille had been my neighbors and best friends since we were little kids. We had shared everything together from scraped knees to our recent first kiss. Well, the kiss had been just me and Byron. Thankfully, Camille had been nowhere in sight for that. But she didn’t need to be there; the second she caught sight of us, she had known our relationship had been irrevocably changed, and she couldn’t have been happier.
Of course, I suspected that Camille knew what was happening between Byron and I long before the two of us ever had a clue. During the year, Camille had constantly made plans for all of us to get together. Then, at the last moment she would cancel, conveniently leaving the two of us alone. Coincidentally, throughout the entire experience, the venue of each excursion kept getting more romantic, until the night we finally kissed. After that, all of Camille’s planning ceased. She must have figured that we were finally able to come up with secluded and romantic places all on our own.
That wonderful night had been just over two months ago. But still, all it took was Byron’s smile to make me blush and wonder just how the heck I had been so lucky to fall in love with my best friend.
“Miss Alexandria Paige
had finally reached the end of her prattling, and began calling everyone’s name – alphabetically by first name. She never made anything simple. Quickly I hopped up. I made my way across the stage and shook Mrs.
bony, skeleton-like hand. In return, I received what appeared to be a warm, friendly smile – but I knew better. Mrs.
looked down on all the students and couldn’t wait for a position to become available at a silver or gray level school. I returned the smile with an equal amount of insincerity. Then I proceeded to the cafeteria.
I barely recognized the room when I entered. Long ribbons of blue, purple, silver, and gold fabric had been hung from the center of the ceiling and attached to the walls. It created a tent-like canopy. The silk fabrics diluted the usually harsh florescent lighting and gave the room a soft multicolored glow. The long benches and tables we usually sat at had been replaced with round tables draped in a cream and gold cloth with matching chairs. The scene had been described to me by previous graduates, but seeing it firsthand was so much more amazing.
“I didn’t think it was possible, but in this lighting, you look even more beautiful,” Byron purred as he gently kissed my neck and wrapped himself around me. A shiver ran up my spine as his teeth accidentally grazed my earlobe.
I turned and kissed him gingerly on his lips, before our parents could enter and ruin the moment. He eagerly returned my affections. Pressing me closer to him, he kissed me back. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the familiar warmth of his touch and the surge of heat that filled me.
Pre-assessment relationships were frowned upon in general. Until assessments were finalized, there was always a chance that one person could be assigned to a working class, making the relationship impossible. Our parents explained the risks to both of us when our romance was first discovered. Definitely not one of my best days, as far as memories
. Our parents treated our kissing like a criminal act. I could have burnt the house down and still wouldn’t have evoked as strong a response as I got then. After what felt like hours of endless lectures and ranting they finally calmed down enough to listen. We assured them that we understood the risk, and promised that it only made us more determined to succeed on our assessment tests. Eventually, they backed down. Most likely it was because they figured it was a battle they couldn’t win. But, for some unknown reason, over the last two weeks, both of our fathers had become extra critical of our romance.
We claimed an empty table for our families and continued to take advantage of our moment of solitude. Camille was the first to arrive, bounding into the room with her light brown waves bouncing on her shoulders. Camille shared her brother’s coloring: the same sun-kissed skin, pale blue eyes, and hair – but that’s where the resemblance ended. Her delicate but striking features contrasted Byron’s rugged, broad ones. Camille was as sweet and delicate as she looked. And, though she would never dare admit it aloud, it was obvious to everyone that she looked up to and adored her big brother.
,” she greeted us, earning herself a
from her brother. Breaking free of his grasp, she announced, as if it had just occurred to her, “Next year all of this will be for me.”
Camille hated being younger. She hated the fact that she had to wait a whole year to find out her fate, while Byron and I would already be training for our careers and living our lives.
Mr. and Mrs.
entered the cafeteria. Mr.
looked particularly grumpy, wiping a handkerchief across his sweaty, balding head. “Just look at this extravagance,
. The decorations alone could pay for a month’s worth of income for at least a hundred orange levels,” Mr.
ranted to his wife.
responded by making a loud irritated noise at the back of her throat.
I immediately strode over to the two of them. “You look lovely tonight, Mrs.
. That’s a beautiful dress you’re wearing,” I gushed. I wanted to change the topic. Lately, it seemed all Byron’s father could talk about was the horrible conditions the working classes were forced to live and work in.
Byron and I had just finished our assessment test. It had been a grueling weeklong test. We had been asked to complete everything from the simplest to the most complex of tasks and problems. So, right now, all I wanted was to relax and enjoy my celebration with Byron. The last thing I wanted was to listen to his dad make everyone feel guilty about having too much.
Besides, I didn’t really believe the workers’ conditions were half as bad as he claimed. Every year, someone managed to get a bill onto the national ballot that would improve their working, living, and educational conditions. And then it was voted down again, without fail, by an overwhelming majority. The working class comprised fifty-nine percent of the votes: if things were that bad, there would be more votes in favor of a change. Some of the more radical supporters argued that many of the working class votes were manipulated by threats of harm or bribes, but I had a hard time believing that. If I were living in the squalor Mr.
described, nothing would keep me from casting my vote.
Patting her sunflower-yellow dyed hair, Mrs.
did a little twirl and exclaimed, “Oh, why thank you, Alexandria. I got it just for this occasion.”
Taking my cue, I added, “And your hairstyle is just
responded with a beaming smile that made the laugh lines around her eyes crinkle. “Oh, you’re so sweet. I had it done special, just for tonight.”
Over her shoulder, Byron gave me a wink and a nod.
We both though it was hilarious that the smallest of compliments could turn most adults into putty.
His mom was definitely no exception.
“You know…” Mr.
began, but was quickly cut off by Mrs.
elbow discreetly meeting his ribs.
“And you look absolutely stunning yourself tonight. Why, that lilac dress is the perfect color for your alabaster complexion and your lovely ebony hair. I swear it just makes those sapphire eyes of yours just pop right out.” I felt Byron appear by my side, ready to rescue me before his mom drowned me to death in compliments. Whenever she was excited or nervous, she had a tendency to ramble on. “Oh my, the two of you just look so grown up, standing there together. I still remember when the two of you came home from the hospital together. You were born several days apart, but – well,
Byron had such bad jaundice, so he had to stay a bit longer.” Byron blushed and opened his mouth to complain, but I cut him off.
“Oh, come on, Byron, I just bet you had the cutest little yellow baby butt in the hospital.” I reached up, and ruffled his overly neat hair.
An impish glint shone in Byron’s eyes. “Okay fine, let’s talk about my baby butt and later, over dinner, I’ll ask your mom about your first time using your potty seat.” I quickly raised my hands in a sign of surrender. I did not need that story being retold to anyone,
again. Byron smiled ruefully, rubbed his knuckles on his shirt, and then blew on them dramatically.
He would have continued rubbing in his triumph, but before he could say anything more, his mom reached up and gave us both a strangling hug. “I just can’t believe my babies are all grown up and will be eighteen in less than a week,” she sobbed.
“If you keep that up,
, you’ll have the whole table crying soon,” my mom warned as she joined the table.
My mom rescued me from Mrs.
grasp with a hug of her own. Before releasing me, she just held me back at arm’s length and smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back. My mom had one of those smiles that warmed everyone around her.
Although, I am biased, of course.
I’ve always held her in awe. I might resemble her, but I never had her ability to capture attention. The moment she walked into the room, everyone noticed, but it was more than just her grace and beauty that attracted their attention. She always had an unwavering confidence about her.