The Testing Guide Page 2

“He told Mom that she should be more concerned with what’s going to happen if you don’t get chosen. He doesn’t think you’ll be happy living in Five Lakes with us. That’s not true, is it?”

I do the only thing I can. I lie. “I’ll be happy no matter what. I promise.”

“Good.” Cia wraps her arms around my neck and hugs me tight. Which I’m glad for, because it means she can’t see the anger that must show on my face. Our father went to the University. He should be pleased that I have worked hard to be chosen in order to follow in his footsteps. But instead of being proud and hoping for my success, my father is planning for how he will placate me when I fail.

I have worked too hard. There is no one who has worked harder. I can’t fail.

But I do.

I stand on the stage so proud. So confident. I look out at the gathering of our entire colony—just over nine hundred people strong—and smile. I don’t care how long the presentation is or how many announcements the magistrate and other leaders need to make. This yearly event is the only opportunity address the entire colony. Why should I begrudge them their announcements about building a barn or constructing a new fountain in the square in honor of the man who helped purify our water? While my fellow graduates fidget, anxious for the event to be over, I stand with my hands clasped behind my back. Patient. Because the prize I’ve waited so long for is coming.

Only it never arrives. No Tosu Official takes the stage. No announcement about Testing candidates selected. Nothing but the stab of defeat followed by bone-chilling shame.

The minute the sky turns dark, I slip away from the graduation celebration. No more smiling to hide the bitterness of disappointment. No more pretending to be excited to start work with my father.

For the first time, I am grateful for the isolated location of my family’s dwelling. Normally, I get irritated being so far from friends. Today, the long walk by hazy moonlight gives me time to think. My father offered me a job working with him. Everyone expects me to take it. It’s only natural. I want to be part of the country’s revitalization. My father is doing important work.

And yet, I don’t want to stay in Five Lakes, where I know every face and everyone knows mine. I could apply to Tosu City and hope they find a job for me in another colony, but the chances of that happening are rare. If I want to see more of the world than Five Lakes, I have to do it on my own.

When I reach our home, I am glad to know no one will disturb me as decide what choices I still have left for my future. I pass through the living room into the bedroom I share with my brothers and sister and flip on the light Cia built out of spare wire and solar panels. As I cross the threshold, the purple tunic I’d been so pleased to wear hits the floor. I give it a kick under the bottom bunk of my bed and try to decide what to do next.

I should get ready for sleep, but instead I find myself pulling on my work clothes and my most comfortable boots. I take several more shirts out of the wooden trunk at the foot of my bed. Three pairs of socks. Two pairs of pants. I grab my bag, pull the practice test out, and throw it on the floor. Funny how just hours ago those pages seemed so important. Now they are nothing compared to the need to pack. To leave Five Lakes Colony behind me. To run far and fast from my failure. To do it now.

“I had a feeling I’d find you here.”

The sound of my father’s voice makes my heart stop. I’d been so focused on gathering my things, I never heard him come in. Taking a deep breath, I turn and face the man I’ve always been told I look like. The man I’ve always wanted to make proud. “I thought you’d still be at the party.”

“Did you intend to leave without saying goodbye?”

The bag in my hand feels impossibly heavy. “I don’t know.” The truth of the words makes the shame inside me grow.

My father nods. “I know you wanted to be selected for The Testing, but I’m relieved you weren’t. Especially after seeing you now.” He points to my packed bag. “Your passion is one of your greatest assets even as it is your biggest flaw. You always lead with emotion and think through the consequences later. It’s the reason you’d never have survived The Testing.”

Anger flares hot and deep in my stomach. “I know how to take a test. I would have passed.”

“The Testing is about more than the right answers. A great deal more.”

“How would I know what The Testing is about?” I throw the bag to the floor. “You never talk about it. It might have helped me get selected if you had, but never once did you tell me what The Testing was like.”

“That’s because I can’t.” My father runs a hand through his hair. The hurt in his eyes drains away, leaving sadness and something more haunting behind. “The United Commonwealth has procedures in place to ensure that successful candidates can never reveal their Testing experience. But I can tell you this—the Testing doesn’t always reward the smartest or the fastest to finish the test. Unlike you, I was not at the top of my colony’s class. There were candidates smarter than me who walked through The Testing Center’s doors. Whatever happened inside was too much for them. They never walked out.”

My father’s admission that he wasn’t the smartest of his class surprises me. I always assumed he was. Now I am forced to wonder what else about my life is not as it seems.

“Look,” my father continues. “I understand you’re disappointed, but leaving Five Lakes isn’t the answer. At least not today.”

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