Chapter 1

"It's just wrong Molly!"

I looked down, messing with the pale seam of my shirt. I knew that she was right of course, and I was ashamed. But I never meant for it to happen.

"Why would you do that to yourself? To your mom, your brother, to me? Don't you care about us?" she said, close to tears. "We don't want to see you ruin yourself. You're throwing your whole life away."

I tried to swallow the ball that rose in my throat. I wished I could sink down through the floor and disappear. She was the last person I wanted to disappoint. We sat facing each other, our chairs bolted to the hard laminate floor. "I didn't mean to Sarah," I mumbled. "I've never done something like this before, it just... happened."

She shook her head, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms. The empty, dimly-lit grey room somehow made her look more distraught. I tried to find something else to look at, but there wasn't a single crack or crevice in the entire foundation of the room. I was encased in a smooth, grey box, with nothing but my friend to hold my attention. I was forced to look at the disappointment in her face.

"No Molly. Drawings don't just happen. You of all people should know better. You're so intelligent, what could have possibly driven you to do something so foolish?"

I tensed, the word sparking my desperation. "Nothing Sarah! I don't care about that! I want to study law, that's all I want! Please, I'm begging you to understand. It's not what everybody thinks at all!"

"I saw the picture, idiot! It sure didn't look like nothing," she accused. "It looked like a blatant disregard for everything you've worked for. Everything your parents have worked for. Everything... that we've worked for, together." She leaned forward and took my hands into hers, her eyes boring into mine. "We've been friends since we were five. I know you better than anyone. I know you're better than this. And I know you've got a bright future ahead of you. But you really messed up this time."

My eyes watered and I squeezed her hands. "I know," I choked. "I never meant for this to happen, really I didn't. I'd never betray you, or society, ever."

Sarah sighed and looked down. "I know that. And honestly, the last thing I want is to make you feel worse about it," she mumbled. "But it's going to be really difficult for you to talk your way out of this one."

I knew she was right. I have always been good with words, but this was no common offense. No textbook or scholarly journal could ever prepare me for a situation like this. If the principal decided to involve the battalion, my career would be ruined before it even started. The thought of losing everything I've worked for churned my stomach, and I couldn't hold back the tears. I hung my head in shame as they spilled over.

Sarah stood from her chair and leaned in to hug me, holding me as I let myself cry. "It'll be okay, Mol," she said softly. "This will all be sorted out. You're not a reject, surely they'll see that. We're still going to graduate together. This won't keep you from going to school, or becoming a lawyer." She pulled back and looked at me. "Just please, please don't forget how serious this is. We want you to succeed. We all believe in you."

I wiped my eyes with my sleeves, nodding. "I know," I said, sniffling. "I know what I did was wrong, and it'll never happen again."

"Good," she said, smiling a little and hugging me again. "We love you, no matter what happens."

I hugged her back tightly, a small part of me feeling optimistic. If someone as smart as Sarah thought I'd get through this, then there had to be hope. But the feeling didn't last long. The door opened and the principal's voice echoed in the cold, barren room.

"Thank you Sarah," the man said as she pulled away from me. "I believe Ms. Wallace understands the severity of her actions now. You may go." Sarah smiled and squeezed my shoulder, offering me an encouraging smile before turning and disappearing into the hallway.

I wiped my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to shake off the nerves. "Am I done Dr. Bequette?" I managed.

"I'm afraid not, Ms. Wallace. There's someone else I've brought to see you."

A knot formed in my stomach. I'd already seen my parents, my brother, and my best friend. There was nobody else close to me that he could possibly bring in. My worst fears were confirmed when a well-dressed woman came through the door with a Council badge pinned to her shirt. I felt the color drain from my face, and I looked at the principal. He eyed me like a wild animal, then closed the door behind her. Years of being at the top of my class meant nothing to him now. He thought I was a reject.

I turned my attention to the woman, probably looking like a dog with its tail between its legs. I braced myself for the worst, and I saw life as I knew it flash before my eyes. But strangely, she smiled at me. Something about her encouraging and friendly expression reminded me of Sarah, and I felt a bit more relaxed.

"Hello Molly," she said, smiling softly as she walked over to me. "May I sit down?"

I hesitated, taken aback by her kind tone. "Y-Yes," I managed.

She sat down and crossed one leg over the other, adjusting the papers on her clipboard. I studied her features. She was very pretty, and I guessed she was in her thirties. She was dressed respectively and her dark hair was pulled away from her face. Her name tag read "Daskalov," and she was the personification of the law.

She pulled out a pen and looked at me, the same smile still on her face. "So Molly, why don't we go over what happened in class today?"