United (The United Trilogy Book 1), page 1
Copyright © 2014 Jaci Wheeler
Published by Jaci Wheeler
I would like to thank my husband Joey Wheeler for believing in me and my book even when I didn’t. For all the time and work he put into getting the book published. Without him the United Series would still be just an idea.
To my amazing best friend Rebekah Turnbaugh for always encouraging and believing in me. Without her keen eye and amazing editing skills this would never have made it to publishing.
My talented brother Samuel Foss and his beautiful wife Avienne for the cover photo.
My parents and Grammy for teaching me that nothing is impossible with hard work and people to support you.
Neal Shropshire for beta reading and for all of your support.
Mr. Powell and Mrs. Quittmeyer. Thank you for giving me the love of literature and art of writing.
And lastly to my amazing children Jude & Guin, my inspirations and drive behind everything I do. You both have taught me that nothing is beyond reach and sometimes you have to think outside of the box, but giving up is never an option.
There are so many friends and readers who have supported this venture. Thank you for buying and reading just a little part of me!
Table of Contents
About Jaci Wheeler
Other books by Jaci Wheeler
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Greed, corruption and selfishness were the downfall of the United States of America. The government had long ago turned its back on its people, so the people decided they had had enough and it was time to take their country back. Citizens organized and took up arms and fought side by side with their fellow countrymen for a new way of life.
Once the government realized the uprising was gaining momentum they began targeting the metropolitan areas in an attempt to rapidly quell the masses, but to no avail. In the end hundreds of millions of lives were lost due to the genocide brought on by the rebellion. Millions more were a part of a mass exodus, fleeing for their lives to neighboring nations. The White House was destroyed, along with the corruption residing within.
When the dust settled, the people rose from the ashes victorious. The nation was demolished and only a million people were left to re-build and start anew. The founders decided to get rid of the states and previous form of government, and bring the country together in unity. The first thing they did was pay off the debt of the USA by selling a huge portion of the country's land, 36 states in fact. Once they had enough money to rebuild they closed the borders and became completely self-sufficient. Anyone could leave the country, but there was no returning. Thus, United America and the Ministry was born. The founders chose a Council of ten to ensure that the rules and code of ethics were upheld. One of the council members filled in as acting president until a president could be appointed after much observation and deliberation of their strength of character.
United America is built on a strong foundation of equality and cooperation. Everyone works a job that is best suited to them and the needs of the country. Currency isn’t needed as everyone works their fair share and receives their fair share. Health care, education, food, clothing and shelter are provided for all. Everything is deliberate and chosen for the good of the country. United America has succeeded now for more than one hundred years.
“Roz, you better hurry up, honey. Wesley is pacing back in forth on the porch and he has already started counting…looks like you are late for school.” I could actually hear the smirk in my mother’s voice.
There is no way I could possibly be late for school since it doesn’t start for another 52 minutes. However, in the world of my best friend we are, in fact, very late! It takes exactly 19 minutes to walk, including the 13 minutes we spend at the creek half way there so he can “ready himself to face the masses.” He also has to arrive exactly 23 minutes early every place he goes. If you haven’t caught on yet, he has a thing for prime numbers.
“Honestly Roz, my nerves! You are going to be the death of me!” He says, as he is literally dragging me at a break neck speed. This is the point that most people roll their eyes at him, but I just look up and him and smile making a quick apology. There are very few people I love as much as I love Wesley Sanders. Sure he is weird and has too many quirks to count, but underneath it all is a fierce loyalty and devotion that I’ve yet to see its match. We have been next door neighbors all of our lives, and best friends from the very first breath. Our moms were roommates in the birthing center where Wes and I were born. We were only 17 hours apart, which of course thrills Wesley since it is a prime number. His mother, unfortunately, didn’t make it. Being a very tiny lady she wasn’t able to naturally deliver the very broad shouldered Wesley, so they had to do an emergency C-section, in which his mother bled out on the operating table. Wes has never said right out, but I know deep down he has never forgiven himself for her death.
After she died my mother offered to be his wet nurse and help take care of him in her absence. His father moved next door and the rest is history. He was always a bit odd, and he loves statistics and research. I remember when we were only six, I was in my room playing dolls and Wes comes bursting through my door completely out of breath and panting. Instantly terrified that something had happened to his dad, or maybe even mine, I froze and stared at him wide-eyed. Once he finally caught his breath he looked at me with accomplishment shining in those huge blue eyes and said, “I finally figured it out!” Now that I knew it wasn’t anything actually wrong and just Wes being Wes, my heart rate was able to even out as I asked him exactly what he figured out.
“What’s wrong with me? Roz, after months and months of searching, I finally figured out that I have hypochondria!”
He said this with such pride as he looked at me like he'd found the cure for cancer. I immediately burst into tears thinking that this meant my best friend was dying. It took four hours, three parents, two bowls of ice cream and WebMD for me to finally calm down. After that I learned very quickly to take everything Wesley said with a grain of salt! His other huge self-discovery came at age ten when he self-diagnosed a mild case of Asperger's syndrome.
Looking at him now, it finally hit me why he was acting a little more off than usual. “On a scale of 1-10 how freaked out are you to be turning sixteen soon?”
“Let’s see, oh I’d say about 2,359,791 or so.”
“You do realize you could have just said 10 right?”
“Roz, this isn’t a joke! I am totally, completely and utterly terrified here!”
All laughing gone from my face and voice, I stopped walking and pulled him to a stop. “I know Wes, I’m sorry I made light of it. I know how terrified of change you are and this is a huge deal. I’m scared too.”
The truth of it was I was sick over it. At age sixteen, students get their apprenticeship. The only say you have is if you want to go to University or Labor. Those who choose University are then given an apprenticeship based on what they are mo
Luckily if you don’t like the job, or feel it isn’t a good fit, you do have the power to appeal to the Career Board. If they decide to change your placement, you won't have the option to change again, so you better really hate where they place you in order to switch. Consequently, it is rare that anyone switches.
The Career Board’s job is to monitor students from birth to age sixteen. They take in your temperament, ability to learn, likes and dislikes and they find the perfect match for each person. Since the only people who are allowed to the coming of age ceremony are sixteen year olds and their immediate family, neither one of us really know what is going to happen. To anyone the unknown is a scary thing, but to Wes, it’s almost unbearable.
We start walking again and are finally at the halfway point where we sit down on our log by the water. “Just think though, Wes, you will finally be able to put that brilliant mind to good use.” He looks down at me and I finally get my first sincere smile of the day. He turns back to the water and I can tell he is trying to work it all out in his mind. With Wes, it doesn’t usually help to talk things out. You have to let him think on it in silence for a while and then distract him.
As he is sitting there pondering I let myself take a good look at him. Somehow it passed me by that my little Wesley is turning into a man. He has gotten so tall, even more so I think than last week. He must be around 6’3” now. All awkward limbs and that thin, gangly frame only a teenage boy can have. Once he fills out into a man though, he is going to be stunning…not that he will ever notice. He has dark blonde hair with natural highlights that makes his mop of untamed curls so endearing when the sun hits them.
The fear slowly crawls up on me. What am I going to do without him? I’ve never been without Wes.
After glancing down at my watch I realize we have about 30 seconds before its time to start walking again so I silently stand up and turn toward him. “Everything will work out just fine, Wes, I’ll be right there with you the whole time; if you allow me, I’ll even hold your hand.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Rosaline; I’ll never be that desperate!” He is, in fact, not joking; he hates to touch unless he has to, but I can see his eyes dancing with mischief as he says this.
“Well you better turn that frown upside down real soon or I’m going to give you a big, sloppy kiss!”
A look of horror flashes across his face, which makes me burst out laughing. “Come on Romeo, time to head to school.”
We get to school at exactly 23 minutes before the first bell rings. As per my usual, I grab chocolate milk and an apple. As per his usual, Wes scoffs at my drink choice while grabbing his cup of coffee and muffin. “You do realize that is the drink choice preferred by 5 year olds right?” he asks me while raising one eyebrow.
“That is because it’s delicious and everyone knows kids are the least pretentious people around and they just do what tastes best,” I say while eying his vile drink. I've tried for years to get the one eyebrow raise down, but fail every time, so I instead fix my most disapproving gaze on him.
“Ha! Me? Pretentious? Come on, Rosaline Scarlett Thatcher! I’m the least pretentious person around and you know it! I happen to be one of the few our age who actually drink it for its effect, rather than to 'look cool' or to add a pound of sugar to hide the taste.” Well, he had me there and from that cocky smirk on his face, he knew it.
Just as I was tossing my apple core in the garbage, the first bell rang. Wanting to wipe that look right off his face, I yank Wes's hand, catching him off guard. Making his face level with mine, I place a big, wet, sloppy kiss on his cheek and run off to my first class before I can witness his inevitable meltdown. While I love throwing Wes off, I do feel a little bad as I slide into my chair. He was already off-kilter this morning and I know that kiss is only going to send him overboard. No doubt, whatever his pay back will be, it is going to make me sorry!
Well, no time to dwell on that now. Mr. Crawford doesn’t believe in putting anything off and the morning journal assignment is already written on the board. The class mindlessly takes out their assigned computer tablet and starts writing.
We have had journal entries every morning since before we could write. Until the age of five we dictated to our tablets what we wanted to say. Nobody really knows the purpose of the daily entries for sure, something about expanding your mind and creativity. You are usually given an odd scenario and asked what you would do or how you would react. Today’s entry is, “You lied to the authorities. Tell us what you most likely did to get in trouble.”
These types of questions always stump me. Looking around the room at some of the devious faces and wide smiles I know that not everyone feels the same way. To me, however, I literally can’t fathom ever lying to the authorities. My parents were always very strict, as is the Ministry, about being honest. It is one of our country's most valued virtues; as a country we tend to be honest to a fault, sometimes bordering on rude.
I take out my tablet, open a new entry window, take a deep breath and begin.
Rosaline Thatcher Entry # 2160
I honestly just can’t picture this actually happening. There were times as a child that I would lie in order to avoid getting in trouble, or make a story sound a little better…but my conscience always got the best of me and I told the truth within seconds. My parents raised me to be completely honest, and I’ve always been very good at knowing when people are lying. They get nervous, or can’t look directly at you, or they have that I-dare-you-to-prove-me-wrong smugness about them. I never wanted to look that way. I never wanted people to question if I was an honest person. But I guess I’m not answering the question, so I will do so now. If I were to lie to the authorities, the only reason I can think of for doing so is because it is for the greater good somehow, such as saving my family or people I love. I can’t possibly think of a scenario in which I would need to lie to them…but if I did lie it must have been for a very good reason. The only reason I can imagine lying to the Ministry is to save someone I love.
Looking around I realize that I have finished before most people, so I put my tablet away and begin to think of ways I can cheer up my best friend. Wes isn't appeased by gifts or special trinkets; there is very little he wants besides enlightenment.
“Good morning, class. As you know, sixteen is just around the corner,” Mr. Crawford needlessly reminds us.
“We asked you on Friday to take the weekend and think about if you want to go to University, or forgo it and become a laborer. Both pathways are necessary to make our society function properly, and we hold both in high esteem. We need people to build houses just as much as we need doctors and scientists.” The class gives a collective eye roll at this, but Mr. Crawford doesn't seem to notice. “I would like everyone to pull out your tablets again, please. Now, open up your career icons.” When we open the icon, an email automatically pops up.
“Once you see your email box, please type one word, either 'University' or 'Labor,' and hit send. As you know, most of your jobs have already been picked for you.” Hearing this, a feeling of dread spreads over me. I know that a lot of time and thought has gone into picking my job, but the idea that it’s already final and I’m not aware of what it is makes me feel sick.
“Even though whoever is in charge of your case probably already has an idea of what you will choose, they want to make sure it is following your wishes. This way, by next month, everyone will be going exactly where they need to.”
He says this as if we actually have a choice. I read in my American History class that there was once a time when people actually choose for the
I quickly write “University” and triple-check that “Labor” didn’t appear instead. As I hit the send button, I realize that my future depends on the system working as it should up until now. The person deciding my fate was once handed their future in the way they are doing for me right now. I hope their case worker knew what they were doing! Leaving class, I find myself walking on unsteady legs, the feeling of dread never quite leaving, and sit down on a nearby bench to try to get my bearings. Why am I so off-kilter over this? Goodness sakes alive, Wes is rubbing off on me!
Just as this thought is going through my head, someone lays their hand on my shoulder and I about jump out of my skin. I look up to see Molly standing there smiling at me sheepishly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Oh, it’s OK, Molly. I guess I’ve been spending too much time with Wes,” I say while making the sign of the cross with my two pointer fingers. This makes Molly break out into the giggles, knowing Wes all too well.
“Yes, I got stuck sitting next to him this morning after your lovely little display of affection. Really Roz, next time you decide to send him into hysterics, please let me know so I can skip my first session. He ranted at me all morning and almost landed us in the headmaster's office.” As much as I try, I can't suppress a smile.
“I’m sorry, Molly. Sometimes I just can’t resist. I do need to make it up to him though. I guess I’ve put off seeing him long enough; time to brave seeing Mr. Sanders.” We stand up and walk toward study hall.