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] [3rd in the Beauty and the Beast Competition]

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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 an 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 glass 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 Inner 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. Or their synthetic food, for that matter. 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 get 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 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 center 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 aged 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! You know, 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 advertisement, letting my mind wader while I watched it play on a loop. 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 with his hands.

Well, he seemed excited. Then again, the likelihood of him and Lillian McGregor actually matching was 1 in 2000. He had 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—even if he believed the “model Etonian” was me. 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?

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, with my mom coming from the Outer States and all, 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 slipping back into the sewers where they came from. They were carrying bags of stolen food over their shoulders as they looked around frantically to see if anyone was following them before slipping out of sight.

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. Still, it’s not my fault. If I could relate in any way to his blabbering I would probably listen to him more often.

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. Besides, how could you not be into talking about girls? Today is all about us matching with girls. Aren’t you excited?”

I shoved past him, ignoring his questions entirely. “Being late isn’t exactly going to look good, either. Do you want to be outcasted?” I couldn’t help but glance back to that alleyway for a moment—although the wanderers were long gone. Part of me yearned for that life—free of all social constructs, where I could just be myself with no worries. But at what cost? The Inner City had everything we could ever possibly need, and all we had to do to get it was keep our heads down. It seemed like a pretty sweet deal to me, social constructs and all.

Besides, they were all criminals. What could be so good about that?

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 coliseum. The compatibility test was one of the most important tests an Etonian in the Inner City could ever take. It was a symbol of our status, a reminder to those is Middle Town and the Outer States that we made it and they didn’t.

“…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 the Inner City, and probably a few lucky souls from Midtown. 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 day 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.

Just get through the matching ceremony. Get through the matching ceremony and everything will be fine. My breath caught in my throat a little. Yeah, it was scary. Your whole life was pretty much decided in two moments: the compatibility test, and the continuation test. And neither were based in what you wanted. Develop a crush before the ceremony? Too bad. There’s no place to say “I already kind of like this person.” In fact, it was even frowned upon a little to like anyone before the test. 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, no, not the world, because clearly Etona doesn’t cater to that. But it is the way humankind works. No matter how much Pixie Dust and Co tried 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 M’s 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 someone I could actually feasibly fall in love with, then there would be nothing to worry about. The trick was not getting caught. If it looked like anything other than a computer error, I would probably be cast out. I took in a shaky breath.

Ro put his hand on my shoulder, making me pause before going up. “Jay, I know you’re lying. What’s gotten into you? This is a good thing. I thought you were excited? You looked happy a week ago. Besides, you’re such a catch, I bet you’ll match with a super high-profile girl.”

I looked away. “Yeah, yeah. Just nervous. Big day and all.” I brushed his hand off my shoulder. “I’ll see you at the announcement.” I know he wanted to cheer me up, but there was nothing that could really be said.

Besides, he didn’t know how wrong he was.

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