Taylor Rorie is seventeen, and seventeen is a death wish.
Taylor and her little brother are alone. Their parents, along with the rest of the adults in the world, have died due to a disease that only seems to affect those over the dreaded age of eighteen. Starvation, war, and the looming threat of death all keep children fighting each other, making allies and enemies to ensure their survival. At seventeen, Taylor has maybe a year left to live; and, with her mother's dying wish, she needs to keep her brother alive through the war. With this thought in mind, she teams up with some old friends and a new, dangerous stranger, who has a secret bloodlust hidden behind his dark eyes...
Another memory that stuck out in his mind was his first day of high school. He remembered this day almost as vividly as the first day he had discovered his problem, because high school was going to become a fast problem for him, too. Here the bullying tended to be worse, which meant that he would have to spend almost every in-between class time hiding somewhere so he wouldn’t get into trouble. It didn’t matter that he hid, though, he knew that his problem would always find a way to reach the surface, and he needed to find a way to stop it from doing so.
The first day of high school he sat in a guest chair in the principal’s office, fidgeting with a thread on his jeans that was threatening to become a hole in the middle of his calf. His mother ordered him to pay attention, and he reluctantly looked up to eye the principal with disdain. There was nothing the man could do to help, this he knew with a single, clarifying thought. This man would be, if anything, worse than the dean of his middle school.
His principal seemed to be eying him, as well, and he recognized that look as one of disapproval. It was the look any teacher gave the obviously troublesome student in the class whenever he or she spoke out of turn. The principal was living up to all of his expectations with an ugly flourish.
The principal told him in a stern voice that he would do what he could to explain the situation to the teachers but it wasn’t their duty to keep sole charge of his emotions. He began to fidget again, hating the glare that the principal kept giving him.
When the meeting was over his mother kissed his forehead and told him to have a good day, and just like that she left him standing in a hallway that would soon be filled with bullies and people playfully pushing each other around. He glared down at the soles of his new boots that he had spent the entire summer saving up for. They were odd and didn’t look completely right, but that was what he loved about them. They matched him perfectly, because he didn’t fit in, either. Nobody wanted to hang with a person who wouldn’t be sociable for secretive reasons.
During lunch was the worst part, because everybody seemed to have their friends already and the tables were full. He accepted his fate sadly, holding his paper bag in his fist a little too tightly as he moved to a hallway to eat instead. He sat down dejectedly outside his locker and began to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich slowly, not feeling too hungry at the moment.
When a senior passed him, kicked the remainders of his sandwich out of his hand and pushed him on his side, he did nothing to fight back. When a teacher reprimanded him for both sitting in a restricted area during lunch and smearing peanut butter and jelly all over the floor, he didn’t protest. He didn’t need trouble. He cleaned up the sandwich when the janitor came along and passed him the necessary equipment, and was late to his class after lunch because of it. He offered no explanation to the teacher, and she didn’t even seem to acknowledge his presence. He sat in the back of the classroom, ignoring the other students as best as he could and pretending to pay attention.
To be honest, he felt like a ghost that first day, and all the days after that. Nobody seemed to acknowledge that he was a person beyond another student, another classmate, another person in the general vicinity. Nobody bothered to learn his name other than the teachers who barked out his surname when he was late to class again. He managed to avoid any violent encounters his first day, but it did nothing to stop his loneliness, and when he came home to find a note from his mother saying she had gone out for the evening, he gingerly stole his dad’s guitar and began to play in the living room. When his dad came home and discovered his deed, he was beaten until he promised to stop. In his head, all these motions were the same: as long as somebody took note of his existence he didn’t care how he was treated. At least his dad acknowledged him for who he was.
After laying on the ground, trying not to move for almost an hour, he gingerly sat up, making sure that nothing was too serious. It never was, because his dad had enough heart to stop before things became worse. He looked around the dark living room, making sure nothing was out of sorts when his mom came home later. She didn’t need to know anything.
He went to bed in a confused state, wondering where he fit into the equation of life with the others around him. He didn’t feel completely human anymore, but more like the ghost of one: eyes shifted past his body or even seemed to look right through him, and people never took his presence into account. He was bullied at school, and he was glad for at least that bit of attention from his peers. High school was never meant to be easy for him, and he didn’t regret the way he spent it. There was only one way to live a life when the person living it was him, and so he continued in that way.
Until the day the disease came.