The Only Boy

theonlyboyDescription From Back Cover: Mary is stuck in Section One, living with three hundred women in a crumbling hospital. She wonders what life was like two centuries ago, before the Cleansing wiped out all the men. But the rules—the Matriarch’s senseless rules—prevent her from exploring the vacant city to find out.

Taylor’s got a dangerous secret: he’s a boy. His compound’s been destroyed, and he’s been relocated to Section One. Living under the Matriarch means giving up possessions, eating canned food and avoiding all physical contact. Baggy clothes hide his flat chest and skinny legs, but if anyone discovers what lies beneath, he’ll be exiled. Maybe even executed.

Mary’s never seen a boy—the Matriarch cut the pictures of men from the textbooks—and she doesn’t suspect Taylor’s secret. If she knew, she might understand the need to stop the girls from teasing him. If she knew, she might realize why she breaks the rules, just to be near him. Then again, she might be frightened to death of him.

Taylor should go. The Matriarch is watching his every move. But running means leaving Mary—and braving the land beyond the compound’s boundaries.

 

CHAPTER

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Rule #3: Every woman will be truly equal,
in terms of possessions, abilities and power.

MARY: As I sit on the hospital roof, I picture the city streets filled with people, as if the Cleansing never happened. I imagine both women and men, girls and boys, even though I’ve never actually seen a boy.

The rumble of Aunt Joanna’s truck rises over the hum of the generator. I suspect she’s coming back from a supply run, but the truck’s bed is empty. There’s someone in the passenger’s seat. The wild blond hair doesn’t look at all familiar.

They pull into our storage building—a concrete structure with a tilted Walmart sign. I race down the stairwell to the back door and peer through the window, just in time to catch Joanna coming out of the building. She’s followed by a teenager—long strides, elbows pointed out, looking a bit like an ostrich.

Amazing. We’ve never had a visitor before.

Joanna opens the door, and I step back. Tall as a watchwoman but thinner than most of the girls, the visitor is wearing an oversized t-shirt and jeans. The Matriarch is going to freak out when she sees that. She insists everyone dress the same.

My arm stiffens as I wave. “Hi, I’m Mary.” I smile, but my face is tight, and it might look more like a grimace.

A whisper of a voice says, “Taylor.”

“Come on.” Joanna heads down the hall. “Let’s get you settled.”

Taylor trails her, feet unsteady on the cracked tile. I wait until they reach the stairwell before I follow. As they climb, I count their footsteps, focusing on Joanna’s loud clanks rather than the soft taps of Taylor’s feet. They get off on the third floor. I creep up the stairs and tiptoe down the hall. As I near the library, Joanna’s voice echoes from inside. “Stay here until I get back, and then we’ll find you a place to sleep.”

I lean against the wall and cross my arms, trying to look indifferent when Joanna comes out of the library.

She frowns as she passes me. “Keep away from her.”

When I can no longer hear her footsteps, I peer inside the room. Taylor pulls a book from the shelf, hands trembling. If someone brought me here, I might be frightened too. Even so, I suspect there’s something more.

 

TAYLOR: I place the biology textbook on a stainless-steel table, flip through the yellowing pages and stop on a cross-section of a woman. Her organs are carefully illustrated—heart, lungs, uterus. The next page is missing. Not ripped out. Cut, as if sliced with a surgeon’s scalpel.

The library at home has the complete book. I’ve seen the missing page—the anatomy of man. An extinct creature, as far as anyone knows.

A voice from behind says, “What are you reading?”

My shoulders tense when I turn to see Mary. None of the girls at home looked like her—dark eyes, perfectly straight nose and full, round lips. Her hair brushes my cheek as she leans over. She shouldn’t be so close. I ease the book shut and try to look calm.

“We studied biology last year,” she says. “Did your teacher go over it?”

In Section Seven, we self-studied, but she doesn’t need to know that. “No.” I carry the book to the shelf.

She follows. “You should read the part on genetics. It’s really interesting.”

I slip the book between a car manual and a medical dictionary. “I’ve read the whole thing.”

“But you said you hadn’t studied it yet.”

To avoid her gaze, I stare out the window at the abandoned skyscrapers and trash-covered barriers. “Don’t you have class or something?”

“We’re on lunch break.”

I growl. “Go eat.” My voice is too husky, too deep.

“I was tryin’ to be nice.” She turns to walk away.

I grab her wrist to stop her. Her skin is warm and smooth.

“What are you doing?” She wrenches her arm free. “You’re gonna end up in the pit.”

I step away, and she hurries toward the door, shoulders back and chin high. The loose-fitting hospital gown can’t hide the curve of her figure.

I want to touch her again.

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