Flawed (Flawed, #1)(2)

Written By: Cecelia Ahern


For lying, it’s their tongue.

For stealing from society, it’s their right palm.

For disloyalty to the Guild, it’s their chest, over their heart.

For stepping out of line with society, it’s the sole of their right foot.

They also have to wear an armband on their sleeve with the red letter F at all times so they can always be identified by the public and set an example. They are not imprisoned; they haven’t done anything illegal but have carried out acts that are seen as damaging to society. They still live among us but are ostracized by society, having to live under separate rules.

After our country slid down a slippery slope into great economic turmoil because of what was believed to be the bad decisions of our leaders, the Guild’s main aim at its origin was to remove Flawed people from working in leadership roles. It now manages to oust people before they even get into those roles so damage can’t be done. In the near future, the Guild boasts, we will have a morally, ethically flawless society. Judge Bosco Crevan is seen as a hero to many.

Art gets his good looks from his dad—blond hair, blue eyes—and with messy blond curls that can’t be controlled and big blue eyes that twinkle like a naughty imp’s, he always looks like he’s up to mischief, because he usually is. He sits directly opposite me at the dining table, and I have to stop myself from watching him all the time, while inside I’m jumping up and down that he’s mine. Thankfully, he doesn’t share his dad’s intensity. He knows how to have fun and let loose, always throwing in a funny comment when the conversation gets too serious. He has good timing. Even Bosco laughs. Art is like a light to me, illuminating the darkest corners of everything.

On this April day every year, we celebrate Earth Day with our neighbors the Crevans and the Tinders. Earth Day celebrations are something Juniper and I have always loved, counting down the days on our calendar, planning what we’re going to wear, decorating the house, and setting the table. This year I am more excited than ever because it’s the first year Art and I are officially together. Not that I plan on groping him under the table or anything, but having my boyfriend here makes it more exciting.

Dad is the head of a twenty-four-hour TV station, News 24, and our neighbor and other dinner guest Bob Tinder is the editor of the Daily News newspaper, which are both owned by Crevan Media, so the three of them mix business with pleasure. The Tinders are always late. I don’t know how Bob manages to stick to publication deadlines when he can never make it to dinner on time. It’s the same every year. We’ve had an hour of drinks already in the parlor and hope that moving to the dining room will somehow magically hurry them up. We’re now sitting here with three empty chairs, their daughter, Colleen, who’s in my class, being the third guest.

“We should start,” Bosco says suddenly, looking up from his phone, ending the casual chat and sitting up more formally.

“The dinner is okay,” Mom says, taking her newly filled glass of wine from Dad. “I allowed for a little delay.” She smiles.

“We should start,” Bosco says again.

“Are you in a rush?” Art asks, looking quizzically at Bosco, who suddenly seems fidgety. “The trouble with being punctual is that there’s nobody there to see it,” Art says, and everyone laughs. “As I should know, waiting for this girl all the time.” He gives my foot a light tap under the table.

“No,” I disagree. “Punctual is ‘acting or arriving exactly at the time appointed.’ You’re not punctual; you’re always ridiculously early.”

“The early bird catches the worm,” Art defends himself.

“But the second mouse gets the cheese,” I reply, and Art sticks his tongue out at me.

My little brother, Ewan, giggles. Juniper rolls her eyes.

Bosco, seemingly frustrated by our conversation, interrupts and repeats, “Summer, Cutter, we should start the meal now.”

The way he says it makes us all stop laughing immediately and turn to look at him. It was an order.

“Dad,” Art says in surprise, with an awkward half laugh. “What are you, the food police?”

Bosco doesn’t break his stare with Mom. This has an odd effect on everybody at the table, causes a tense atmosphere, the kind you sense in the air just before the thunder rolls. Heavy, humid, headache-inducing.

“You don’t think we should wait for Bob and Angelina?” Dad asks.

“And Colleen,” I add, and Juniper rolls her eyes again. She hates that I pick on every little detail, but I can’t help it.

“No, I don’t think so,” he says simply, firmly, not adding any more.

“Okay,” Mom says, standing and making her way to the kitchen, all calm and placid as if nothing happened at all, which tells me that, underneath, her legs are paddling wildly.

I look at Art in confusion and know that he feels the tension, too, because I can sense a new joke forming in his mouth, the thing that he does when he feels awkward or scared or uncomfortable. I see how his lip has started to curl at the thought of his punch line, but I never get to hear what he has to say because then we hear the sirens.





THREE

THE SIRENS RING out, long, low, warning. The sound makes me jump in my seat, startled, and it sends my heart beating wildly, every inch of me sensing danger. It is a sound I have known my entire life, a sound you never want directed at you. The Guild calls it the alert signal, three-to five-minute continuous sirens that ring out from the Guild vans, and though I never lived through any war, it gives me a sense of how people must have felt then before being attacked. In the middle of any normal moment, it can invade your happy thoughts. The sirens sound close to home and they feel sinister. We all momentarily freeze at the table, then Juniper, being Juniper, who speaks before thinking and is clumsy in her actions, jumps up first, bumps the table, and sends the glasses wobbling. Red wine splashes onto the white linen like blobs of blood. She doesn’t bother to apologize or clean it, she just runs straight out of the room. Dad is close behind her.

Cecelia Ahern's Books