I balanced on
my surfboard, right thigh
water stinging my eyes, while the best wave of the
early morning carried me like a goddess on a
pedestal to shore. My older brother Liam
shared a friendly competition, and it gave me a certain, blissful
satisfaction to catch the same
“Beat ya!” I shouted over the noise
of the crashing surf.
Seagulls flocked and
circled over us, squawking loudly,
adding to the cacophony.
The sun glistened off
Liam’s damp blond curls as he shook them out. His eyes sparkled as his
lips tugged up into a grin. “I let you
“Did not!” I smacked him playfully
on the arm.
Liam unzipped his
wetsuit letting the top half fall down past his waist. He was in fine
I understood why all the
girls raved about him. He was responsible for a
long list of broken hearts.
“I gotta get
said, lifting his board.
I fell into stride beside
him, my feet sinking into the
cold, wet sand. “So soon?”
He nodded, the glint leaving his eyes. My lips tightened into a
“You’re taking off with Jackson
Jackson was my boyfriend
but lately he’d been spending more time with my brother than he had with me. It
was starting to tick me off.
Liam stared straight
ahead. “Lab stuff.”
“What are you working
on?” I rushed to keep up with
my brother’s long, strong strides. He flicked his head, tossing the hair out of
his eyes but didn’t answer.
“Come on,” I knocked
into him sideways. “Tell me!”
“It’s just stuff.”
“Just stuff? Like what?
Top CIA stuff? I know you’re smart but I think the government has been doing a
good job without your help.”
I meant it as a joke,
but Liam huffed. “It’s just stuff, okay? So leave it.”
I stopped short shocked
that he’d snapped at me.
He turned around and
exhaled, “Zoe, I’m sorry.”
“Fine. If you can’t tell
me, you can’t tell me.”
We resumed our trek
along the beach, and I pushed back my frustration. Liam used to
always him and me against everyone else. Him and me against Alison and Paul, aka
our mom and dad. Him and me against the surf. We were a team. When did we start keeping secrets
from each other? Rather, when did he start keeping secrets from me?
Jackson to unzip his lips. Especially if I helped him. He could be easily
if I poured on the charm. I hated to go
brother’s back for information, but something about all this--this, whatever it was
that Liam was doing--made me uneasy. I couldn’t pinpoint why,
it just did.
home, a massive glass box with two
floors of windows facing the Pacific Ocean. It was built after the
San Andreas Fault shifted and triggered the Big Quake that, along with the
subsequent tsunami, wiped out ten miles of shoreline.
A nearby white-stucco
storage shed housed all our water toys. We stopped there to hang up our wetsuits
“Thanks for surfing with
me today.” Liam said, smiling at me, back to
his jovial self. “I know it was a
sacrifice for you to get up so early.”
I smiled in return.
“No problem. It was
Surfing with Liam was one of my most favorite things to do.
“You’re back for
dinner?” I asked.
Liam didn’t know it, but
once he left, I’d be spending the rest of the day preparing for his surprise
birthday party. He’d turned twenty-one yesterday and had celebrated at a bar
with his friends. I couldn’t go because I was underage, and it irked me that
Jackson went and that he and Liam had once again shared a significant moment
without me. I took consolation in the fact that Alison and Paul gave me free
reign to plan this party. My heart beat with excitement, and I couldn’t wait to
see his face when he got home and found the house full of his
“Yeah, I’ll be there,”
I bit my cheek to keep
my voice even. “Good.We’ll see you, then.”
Our property tiered
twice before connecting with the sandy beach. Three glass doors slid open
disappearing into the corner and creating a wall-less
view of the stone patio that encased an eternity pool. Its waters
slipped over the far edge into
a waterfall that was collected again on the second tier.
Liam strode into the house, through the living
down the hall to his bedroom at the back, his wet shorts dripping on the glossy
I tightened the towel
around my waist and climbed
open-slat staircase to
As I passed the maid, Saundra something, her
stumbled slightly before grabbing the rail and catching herself.
“Excuse me,” she said softly at
The woman really didn’t look
well, and I
was thankful for my enhanced immunization. I was glad I didn’t have to worry
about diseases brought in from the outside.
“Are you okay?” I
She nodded weakly, and
proceeded to clean the rails. I’d requested extra staff to get the house ready
for Liam’s party.
A trill of anticipation
reclaimed my thoughts. I couldn’t wait for tonight.
The door beside
my bathroom opened into a
second room, a walk-in closet big enough to house another bedroom set. Racks of
clothes and shoes lined the walls, a well-lit mirror station was located near
light and a
cushioned leather bench was placed in the middle for
I stood in my closet and stared at the
rows of sundresses, blouses and
What to wear?
I settled on a lace blouse
and cotton shorts, then went to take a luxurious shower, rinsing the sea water
out of my long, blond hair. I leaned into the
built-in seat that was designed specifically for my body height and shape. Laser
lights mapped my head and twenty-eight silicon fingers reached out to massage my
scalp while shampooing and conditioning
Most days I had to watch or I’d doze off, but today I was excited. I commanded
the water to turn off as soon as the rinse was done.
When I was dressed and
my hair combed out and
tied back, I slipped my platinum Communication
Ring onto my left middle
tapped it which produced a
holographic image of my phone apps on
my palm. I touched the clock
icon and holographic digital
numbers appeared in the air.
Ten already? Where did
the time go? That was the thing with summer holidays; every hour ran languidly
into the next.
I imagined the cook and her crew were busy
preparing for the party in the kitchen. I’d requested fresh sea food and
simulated roast, fresh fruit and vegetables, an assortment of fancy chocolates
and baked items plus a three-tiered, surfer-themed birthday cake.
I skipped down the
check on the progress, but in my hurry to the kitchen,
I slammed into a
“Sorry,” a male voice
I stepped back agitated.
I recognized the
dark-haired boy wearing the
white tunic my mother made the male staff
wear. He was the maid’s son and I guessed he was
part of the extra staff. He held a wet mop in
his hand, and I figured he’d been
cleaning up Liam’s spotty water trail.
He stepped politely out
of the way, but the expression on his face was stoic. Even though he was clearly
from the outside and the
I still expected some
small sign that what he saw when he viewed me was pleasing. A
twinkle in the eye, a slight
upturning of the lips. These were the responses I got from all the boys.
straight ones, anyway.
He wasn't especially
attractive but I didn't see people with
his appearance very often. He had eyes the color of imported coffee beans and
skin like caramel candy. His nose was wide and his jaw-line sharp. I was suddenly intrigued
by him and surprised myself by thinking he
“Excuse me, what was
your name again?” I asked.
Right. I remembered now.
I waited for him to say something, but he stayed quiet.
Footsteps echoed from
the hall above. My parents spoke together, their
muffled voices floating across the high ceilings.
“Do other maids send
their sons to do their work?” Alison's voice had a
brassy tone that carried through the
I felt a flare of red
creep up my neck when I realized Alison was talking about Noah. My eyes darted
to his, but he kept his averted.
“He does a good
responded. “That's the main thing.
Besides you know they need the money.”
“What's wrong with a
little charity? Besides, they're not just anybody.”
“I don't care. I still
don't trust him.”
I was mortified. My feet
felt cemented to the floor and I didn’t know what to say. Anything would come
off as trite since nothing I could say could undo what Noah had
“Did you know the Pikes
have a household robot now?” Alison, again.
“Apparently it’s very
efficient, and at least Mary doesn’t have to worry about things going
Noah’s jaw tightened and
he turned his back to me. He attacked Liam’s dried and dusty water spots
aggressively and soon had disappeared around the corner.
“Zoe?” Alison click-clacked
down the wooden stairs. She wore a pale yellow pant suit and high heels even
though it was Saturday. She was in-between careers now, having spent the last
fifteen years in law. She barely looked thirty years old and with lots of time
ahead of her, she could do anything. Probably several things.
“Mom! You have to keep
your voice down. How many times do I have to tell you your voice travels in this
“Oh.” She looked mildly
shaken. “No matter. Is everything coming together to your
“I’m just checking in on
“Your father and I are
meeting people for lunch. What time is the party again?”
I blew a frustrated
breath. She could at least pretend she cared enough to remember details I’d told
her a dozen times already.
“Right. We’ll see you at
throughout the day as planned and I was pleased with my ability to pull off an
event like this on my own.
The decorators showed up
at 1:00 as promised.
The band arrived to set
up at 3:00.
I got dressed at 4:30,
having bought a thigh-length mini-dress that sparkled with tiny crystals just
for the occasion.
My hair and makeup girl
arrived at 5:00.
I tapped my ring and
called Jackson at 5:30.
“Where are you?” I said
to the three-inch holographic image of him that popped up above my palm. “You
said you’d help.”
“Sorry, Zo. Got tied up
“Are you okay? You don’t
sound so good.”
It was odd. No one in
Sol City ever got really sick, but it wasn’t unheard of to get run down if you
pushed yourself too hard. Jackson had been working a lot lately.
“I didn’t sleep well
last night. Uh, spent most of the day in bed.”
I felt a little panicky.
“You’re still coming, aren’t you?”
“Of course. I’ll be
Alison and Paul arrived
at 6:30 along with all of mine and Liam’s friends.
I hushed everyone at
6:55, giving instructions on when to shout “Surprise!”
It was all a wasted
Exciting, right? Perception
releases September 12. Be sure to keep an eye out!