CHAPTER THIRTY (draft)

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CHAPTER THIRTY

The Assembly is let out after a surprisingly long time. We have been made to listen to so much mind-boggling detail of numbers, scores and standings, and general protocol, that none of it seems to matter. Most important takeaway—a 10 breakdown score is almost never given out, and even the best scores Candidates received only range from 6 to 8. Which means that my Voice score of 10 is an outlier.

Dinner goes by quickly, as I eat in a hurry with Laronda and then go to see Gracie briefly over at her dorm. Turns out, Gracie has received a Standing Score of #4,482, slightly better than my own, thank goodness. And, she tells me with relief that Gordie has received a #1,941, which is the best of all of us Gees.

“I looked his up on the dorm smart-board,” she says, pointing to the wall, as we sit in the Red Dorm Five lounge.

“Wow, it never occurred to me to just look you guys up on my own dorm board,” I say sheepishly. “Okay, I am officially a total dork.”

“Yeah, you are,” Gracie says with a silly grin. Nearby, Charlie Venice is being extra loud with a few other guys, and Gracie looks at him occasionally with a roll of her eyes whenever their noise level goes way up.

We glance around and, even this late in the day, the smart-board is surrounded by a bunch of Candidates who are gawking at it, looking up their own and other people’s Standing Scores and their own AT breakdowns.

“They’re trying to figure out who got the top 200 scores,” Gracie says sullenly. “Cause those people are going to make it. I know at least one guy, he got a #106—”

“Hey!” I put my hand on her arm. “Don’t think that way. These crappy numbers, good or bad, don’t mean a thing when it comes to your determination. You and I and all of us will Qualify,” I tell her, even though I’m unsure I believe any of it myself.

“Yeah, whatever.” And Gracie looks away from me. “I wonder what Mom and Dad are having for dinner tonight. . . .”

I shut that thought out of my head by force. Then I check the time. “Okay, I need to head out. Logan’s waiting for me and then I have to go over to my training appointment.”

“Whatever. Go. Your two dates are waiting.”

Dates? What are you talking about, Gracie?”

But she only shrugs stubbornly and I have no time to argue.

* * *

I meet Logan at seven-forty near our usual spot. The moment I step into the place of shadow between two buildings where the bright lights of the compound and the surveillance cameras are blocked by a small portion of wall, Logan is there, and his hands close around me, tight.

“Gwen. . . .” His words come muffled, as he buries his face in my neck, and I feel the heat of his mouth travel against my skin, as he devours me.

Yeah, I know, we are both crazy to be risking getting caught like this.

Because it would mean instant Disqualification.

And yet, it’s like a compulsion. . . . I know it is for me—the strange head-spinning visceral need to be always touching him, to feel him holding me, to get as close as possible, skin against skin. . . . And it must be the same for him, because he keeps on coming back to this.

Minutes later we come apart, breathless and panting. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and he is shaking. “Gwen,” he says. “I need—I need to tell you something.”

I watch him, as I work to slow down my own breathing. Should I be worried? “What?”

“Okay. . . .” He pauses. “This is not easy. . . . I am going to tell you something very important and I need you to listen and trust me. And, I need you to promise me that you will not speak a word of this to anyone. And I mean anyone—not your brothers or sister, not any of your friends.”

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