Flawed (Flawed, #1)(10)

Written By: Cecelia Ahern



“I can smell your brain burning. You okay?” He sticks his knuckle into my frown and screws it around.

I laugh. “Yeah, I was just thinking. I didn’t know they had secret Naming Days. I thought it was always public. That’s so sneaky.”

“Not as sneaky as you and me,” Art says, fingers creeping up my cardigan.

I laugh and stop his hand from traveling, something suddenly on my mind. I look over at Juniper, who is listening to her music so loudly I can hear every word from here.

I lower my voice. “Do you think Jimmy Child’s wife was put on trial?”

“Serena Child?” he asks, surprised.

“Yeah. When you think about it”—because I had been thinking about it, ever since Juniper said it, and on the walk to the bus stop with my new wobbly legs that haven’t been working since I stood up this morning—“every day it wasn’t about him or about what he’d done, but about how she was so annoying and so fake and such a woman, how could he not cheat?”

Art laughs. “I don’t think that’s exactly what Pia said.” He smiles at me fondly. “‘Reporting live,’” he says, imitating Pia. “‘Isn’t Serena Child such a woman? How could he not cheat?’”

I laugh, realizing how stupid it sounds, then turn serious, wanting to be understood. “No, but the way they talked about her looks. The surgery. The clothes. Her past … her cellulite. She’d kissed a girl—so what? Her tan being too orange, her eating disorder when she was fifteen. She went to school with someone who ended up being a bank robber. She never cooked a meal for her husband. He had to keep going to that diner. We learned everything about her. Like she was the one who was Flawed. Not him.”

Art laughs again, enjoying the ridiculousness of what I’m saying, or perhaps the fact that it’s so surprisingly out of character for me to say it at all. “And why would they put her on trial?”

“So he gets away with not being Flawed. People say she wasn’t a good wife, so how could he not have cheated? And the star player is still the star.”

His smile instantly fades, and he looks at me like he doesn’t know me. “Celestine, be careful.”

I shrug like I don’t care, but my heart is pounding by even saying this aloud. “I was just saying.”

Juniper has gotten to me. I had been unsure already, and what she said this morning niggles at me more and has me considering the truth in her words. I think about Colleen on her way to the courthouse to see her mother, her mother about to be branded Flawed for traveling to another country to help carry out the wishes of her mother. Does that really make her Flawed? I’m not ready to park this thought yet. It’s Art, the person I share every thought with. Surely I can share one more. He can help sort out these muddled thoughts.

Art reaches for my hand and I feel safe.

“Do you think it’s bad what Angelina did?” I say quietly.

He looks at me.

“Because I’ve been thinking about it. All night. And I don’t think it’s that bad. Not if it’s what her mom wanted. I mean, I can think of worse.”

“Of course there’s worse.”

“So even though there’s worse, everyone gets branded the same?”

“She will only get one brand. On her hand. Some people get two.”

He’s not thinking about this properly. I know he’s not. I know him. His answers are too quick. He is defensive, though I’m not attacking him. This is how it gets when people have discussions about the Flawed. Everyone has such strong opinions it’s almost like it’s personal. Only it’s even more so for Art because his dad is the senior judge of it all—his grandfather was the founding member of the Guild. I was always in awe of them for that. I still am. Aren’t I?





TEN

ONCE ON THE bus and in our usual seats, I concentrate on the Flawed lady in the seat that only Flawed people are allowed to occupy. There are two seats for the Flawed on the bus, because rules state that three or more Flawed are not allowed to gather together at any one time. It’s to prevent the riots that broke out when the Flawed punishments were introduced. However, I wonder for the first time why they didn’t just put another two Flawed seats at the back of the bus or somewhere else away from them. Alternate Flawed and regular people’s seats. So often there are Flawed standing when the bus is filled with empty seats, which never bothered me before in a moral way, but bothered me when I was getting off the bus and had to squeeze by them. I swear some of them don’t move deliberately, making me squish up against their Flawed bodies to get past. The Flawed seats have bright red fabric and are at the front of the bus facing all the other passengers so that everybody on the bus can see that they are Flawed. I used to find it uncomfortable when I was a little girl, having to face them throughout the journey, but then, as I got used to it, I stopped seeing them.

I watch the Flawed woman sitting alone on the seat, her armband with the bloodred symbol identifying her.




I see the symbol on her temple, too, and wonder what bad judgment she made to land herself in this predicament. The scar on her temple is certainly not new. It doesn’t have the red-hot, crusted look of newly seared flesh as some Flawed have. She has been Flawed for quite some time, and I wonder if this means she’s worse now, if Flawed get more Flawed with age or if the branding, the acknowledgment of it, stops it from spreading and growing. She is texting; and when she rests the phone on her lap, I see the screen photo of her with children. For the first time I wonder what it’s like for the Flawed to live life in the same world as everybody else whom they love, but under different rules. It has never occurred to me before. I think of Angelina and her children. Angelina will have job restrictions, curfews, travel restrictions. How can she mother her children if she is living under different rules? What if there is an emergency in the middle of the night? Can she break her curfew to bring her children to the hospital? What if the Tinders go on a family holiday abroad and Angelina can’t go? What if Colleen decides to work and live abroad? Her mother won’t be able to visit her. Ever. And why have I never thought of these things before?

Cecelia Ahern's Books