by Meredith Tate
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Your family is the most important part of your life. Your families are the people you love, and love is what separates us from scoundrels and criminals. It maintains order. Your parents, your sibling, and your Partner, are the ones you love. There should never, ever, be anyone else who comes close to that bond. You have only one best friend, and that is the person you’ll be marrying someday. We must learn to differentiate the relationships in our lives: the people we love, and the ones we don’t. It’s inappropriate, it’s foolish, and it’s forbidden to think otherwise.

Trace Bailey’s mouth is her worst enemy – somehow it always gets her in trouble. Luckily, she has a partner in crime – her best friend and neighbor since age seven, Piren Allston. He can’t get enough of her crazy sense of humor, and she loves that he’s always up for another adventure.

They can’t be friends, though, not in their world. Trace and Piren were Assigned to other people at the age of six, and they’re supposed to marry their Partners when they turn twenty-four. Failure to comply leads to Banishment, a fate worse than death.

Worse still is the growing realization that their bond is stronger than just friendship.

In a world without freedom, there are still choices to be made. Following their hearts means losing their family, but following the law means losing each other.


I committed a felony on my thirteenth birthday. 

My parents don’t know. In fact, nobody does. If anyone learns, I’m screwed — a “fate worse than death,” they call it. 

I didn’t murder anyone; what I did was far worse. The crime was quick, it was careless, and it happened entirely inside my head. A wandering mind is a dangerous place. 

I was at the library studying for a history exam when it happened. A girl sat down beside me and pulled out her books, spilling highlighters and pens all over the table. I’ve known the girl a long time; she’s been my best friend since childhood. She flashed her familiar smile, and an unexpected urge shot through me: I wanted to kiss her. 

The forbidden thought flashed through my brain and vanished in seconds, but the intensity lingered behind, as if a magnetic force ripped through my whole body. My eyes grew wide. The pencil slid from my hand and landed on the table. 

“What?” she asked.

I gaped at her.

She poked my arm. “Out with it.” 

My mouth opened, but no words came out. I shook my head, backing my chair away from the table. Heart thudding like a bass drum in my chest, I bolted from the library. 

Lying in bed that night, my mind raced, struggling to recall the exact wording of the Law I just broke. They made us memorize it in fifth grade, but only pieces clung to me: Only desire your Assigned Partner. Only kiss your Assigned Partner. Attraction to the Unassigned is forbidden, punishable by Banishment. 

Tracy Bailey is not my Assigned Partner; she’s not even supposed to be my friend. 

I hardly slept that night, but woke the next day relieved that my secret was safe. That’s the good thing about thoughts; they only get you in trouble if you share them. 

My Partner is a girl named Lara Goodren. I met her at the Assigning Ceremony eight years ago, when I was six. 

“I love you, Lara Goodren,” I said to her, when prompted by the Master of Ceremonies. 

“I love you, Piren Allston,” she replied. 

The audience erupted, clapping and hooting their approval. Mom and Dad snapped a million pictures as I wobbled on the stage, staring at the ground. 

Then back to our seats, and on to the next couple. The whole exchange was awkward as hell, but I did it anyway, as expected and without question. 

That was the first time I said “I love you” when I didn’t mean it. It wouldn’t be the last.

A proud New Hampshire native, Meredith Tate lives in St. Louis with her husband. She loves reading and writing in all genres, but has a soft spot for dark young adult and new adult speculative fiction. Meredith has a master’s degree in social work from the University of New Hampshire. She is a contributor to the St. Louis Writer’s Guild’s “Write Pack Radio Show” every Sunday afternoon. When she’s not writing, Meredith enjoys traveling, playing the piano, befriending wild geese, and spending time with family and friends. Much like her characters, she’s always up for another adventure.