The Wanderers

Jason Mori always did the right thing. He spoke only when spoken to, recited his allegiance pledge every day, never missed a class, and always did his homework. He was a perfect little sheep in a perfect little herd. Except for one thing: Jason Mori liked boys. With Jason's matching ceremony rapidly approaching, he tries to rig his compatibility test so he can match with a boy.
Unfortunately for Jason, that is against the rules. [Inspired by Peter Pan]

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2. Chapter One: Never Say Never

Chapter One:

Never Say Never

            I watched him bring the cold metal of the soda can to his lips and chug, my face twisting up in disgust. “Geeze, Ro, how can you drink that crap? It tastes like dust.”

            Roman grinned as he pulled the can away and shoved the pink label in my face. The words Pixie Crush were pasted on the front in a white, bubbly text. “Crap? I beg to differ. Pixie Dust is the lifeblood of our society! You know, for such a Etonian, you’re really strange, Jason.” He noted as he pulled his drink back and flung his arm around my shoulders. “I mean, who doesn’t love Pixie Crush? Or Pixie Cola or Pixie Dew or—”

            I pushed his face away. “Yeah, yeah, I get it, I’m a weirdo for not buying into the corporation that runs our entire lives. But seriously, that stuff sucks. It’s just bubbly sugar water in a variety of different flavors. Whoo hoo.” I rolled my eyes and held my binders against my chest as we walked through the city streets. The tall glad buildings all seemed to blur together, swirling with billboards, advertisements, and other large screens playing various commercials and sitcoms. Everything was perfect. Everything was clean. Everything was exactly the way the city wanted it to be.

            Roman grinned. “Ah, but you see, it’s tasty bubbly sugar water in a variety of different flavors. Details are important, Jason. As an honor student, I assumed you would know that.” He teased, nudging my shoulder slightly. Roman never missed a chance to remind me of my honor student status. He was still a little bit bitter about the fact that I had gotten into the accelerated program while he hadn’t—but it wasn’t like that was my fault.

            “Yeah, and the detail that you are forgetting is that stuff totally messes up your health.” I resisted the urge to take the can from him just to get him to stop waving it in my face. Yes, he was right, Etona ran on Pixie Dust and Co., but that didn’t mean I had to actually like their soda. The stuff tasted like sweat socks and three-month-old bacon—and that was on a good day.

            “And when it does, I will hop down to Pixie Health and get them to put me back to healthy again.” Roman took another large swig of the soda before tossing it in a nearby trash-disintegration can.

            I couldn’t do anything more than roll my eyes at him. I knew he wasn’t going to listen to me even if I listed every unhealthy, teeth rotting ingredient, so I decided it was best to simply ignore him. I turned my attention back to the city streets as we continued to walk towards the edge of the city, where Neverland Parks sat waiting.

An ad flickered on the large screens decorating the outside of the tall glass skyscrapers, picturing a middle age man with a striped blue and white shirt and red cap. “Come on down to Neverland Parks on Seventh-day to watch the annual matching ceremony for Jolly Roger High, and get a 50% discount on all Neverland products! Neverland Parks: Where you never have to grow up.”

Roman nudged me, pulling my eyes away from the repeating message and back onto him. “Man, I can’t believe it’s already time for the compatibility test! Can you believe it? Next, we will be getting placed in our continuation schools! I bet I’m going to get matched with Lil. I swear, Jay, we were made for each other!”

It was then that Roman launched into his familiar, unprompted rant where he listed all 1001 reasons he and the most popular girl at Jolly Roger High were clearly meant to be. There was not much more I could do other than pretending to listen to him. I sighed a little, looking back up at the repeated advertisement. Why did that guy look so happy? A bunch of barely-17-year-olds getting their life partners assigned to them? What was there to be happy about? I turned my attention back to Roman, watching him talk in his usual animated way—as if he was trying to draw his words in the sky.

Well, he seemed excited. Then again, the likelihood of him and Lillian McGregor actually matching was 1 in 2000. He has just as high a chance of matching with literally any other girl in the school. It was much easier for guys like him. He belonged in the herd. In many ways, Roman was the very definition of an Etonian. He was smart, athletic, liked girls, came from a well-off family and aspired to get placed in an internship at Pixie Dust and Co. He was everything the city wanted him to be.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

See, in Etona, it’s all about the herd. If you walk like everyone else, talk like everyone else, and dress like everyone else, you’ll be fine. People like me, who already had a strike against them due to heritage, had no room to be different from anyone else—unless the difference was excelling in every aspect of life. If not, well… My eyes drifted over to the back alleyways, where a bunch of kids in ripped and dirty clothing were climbing over the western wall. They were carrying bags of stolen food over their shoulders as they climbed up fire escapes and pushed themselves up to the top.

Wanderers.

Suddenly, there was a hand waving around in front of my face. “Yo! Earth to Jason! Where did you go, dude? Were you thinking about standardized tests again?” Ro crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me with that “how can you ignore me while I’m talking about girls” look that I was all too familiar with.

I rolled my eyes, shoving his hand out of my face so I could walk ahead of him. “Right, like listening to you go on about girls is so interesting. Come on, Ro, if we don’t hurry up, we’re going to be late to the test.”

Ro scoffed, running up ahead of me and turning around so he was walking backward. “Oh, you and your tests. It’s not like this is a first come first serve thing.

I shoved past him. “And being late isn’t exactly going to look good, either. Do you want to me outcasted?” I couldn’t help but glance back to that alleyway for a moment—although the wanderers were long gone. What is so great about that kind of life, anyway? The city has everything we could ever possibly need, and all we have to do to get it is keep our heads down. It seems like a pretty sweet deal to me.

But what else could you expect from criminals?

Finally, that glaring neon sign entered our vision. Neverland Parks: Where you never have to grow up. Kind of ironic when you think about it. The fate of our adult lives rested on a test we were about to take inside the colosseum. The compatibility test was one of the most important tests an Etonian could ever take—which was all of us living in the city. It was simple: if you lived like the rest of us, inside the city walls, you were an Etonian. If you didn’t, you were outcasted. And that made you a wanderer.

            If it weren’t for the whole criminal thing, that life might have actually seemed a little appealing. Getting to exist outside of rules, and regulations… I bet they didn’t have to take the compatibility test. I bet outside of the walls, people like me had nothing to worry about.

“…All I’m sayin’ is, if I don’t end up with someone like Lil, I would rather be outcasted.” Ro noted as he pushed open the doors to the arena. We were instantly greeted by the booming voices of just about every single resident of Etona. Those of us who weren’t gathering around for the test were there to watch—because Etona was really so boring that watching a bunch of high schoolers take a test was the most interesting way to spend their days off.

I rolled my eyes. “You and I both know you would take a 25 match over getting outcasted.”

            Ro pouted at me—which was his version of a comeback when he didn’t have a snippy response. He knew I was right. He was no wanderer. No true Etonian was. A group of people bumped into us, almost separating us on our way down to the check in point. Why weren’t there guards or something? There weren’t supposed to be any onlookers until an hour before the ceremony. So much for order.

            Ro reached out and grabbed my wrist, pulling me through the crowd. I stumbled slightly, bumping into him before recoiling and putting a solid 6 inches between us. That was close. That was too close. Did I pull away fast enough? He didn’t notice that I lingered a little, right? “Thanks,” I mumbled, averting my eyes a little.

            Just get through the matching ceremony. Get through the matching ceremony and everything will be fine. My breath caught in my throat a little. I had gotten over that silly crush of mine years before, but it still threw me off balance whenever I was reminded of it. It was silly to develop a crush before the matching ceremony. In fact, it was even frowned upon a little. Dating was even worse—what was the point if you matched with someone else? Very few couples who dated before the ceremony ever ended up together. There was a system. There was a set of rules in place to make sure everything worked the way they were supposed to.

            Still, people tried.

            As much as you try to push emotions down into the bottom of your soul, they happen. It’s just the way the world works—well, but the world. But it is the way humankind works. No matter how much Pixie Dust and Co tries to change that.

            Ro snapped his fingers in front of my face again. “Yo, Jay, what is up with you today? You’ve been drifting off. And I mean more than usual. Come on, hurry up. They just called the Ms for check in.”

            I blinked a few times, pulling myself back into reality. When had we gotten up to the line? I rubbed my temple a little. “Oh, right… Guess the excitement is getting to me. I’ll catch up with you after the test.” I walked forward, trying to regulate my breath. Just get through the test. Remember the plan.

            Maybe it counted as cheating—but hell if I wanted to end up with some girl I would never love. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us, right? So, it was best to take every necessary precaution. If I could trick the computer into matching me with a guy, then there would be nothing to worry about. Even though in the entire history of Etona, there has never been a match between two people of the same gender.

            None that the people were ever told about, anyway. 

Hey all! Thank you for reading Chapter One of The Wanderers! This is my project for Camp NaNoWriMo this year, so I'm keeping it as a first draft for now, and I might post an edited version later. Anyways, I hope everyone likes it! Leave a comment if you enjoy the story!! 

Thanks again for reading!

~Quinn~

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