This Is Not YA

[NOTE FROM THE FAR-OFF YEAR OF 2018: IT’S NOT YA AT ALL. AH WELL, IT WAS A GOOD THOUGHT.]

Know what? I’m no longer writing to please certain people.

What’s coming out of me is not your average YA. I love YA – I read it voraciously – but I think it’s time I admitted what I’m writing doesn’t fit that genre.

This is ‘edgy’ YA. That means there are people who won’t like this book. At the same time, it feels damn good to be going there.

Here’s a disturbing snippet. Read with caution. Enjoy.

His speed turned columns into blurs and merged the mahogany-leather smoking lounge with the pink marble ballroom that followed. Avoiding the guest rooms, he launched into the only part of the island he’d be safe: the little hall marked Residents Only.

The difference was stark – thin carpet instead of plush or polished wood, simple beige walls without mother-of-pearl wallpaper. Beyond caring if the bathhouse was occupied, Alex raced in and slid across the slick tile on one foot, stripping off his clothes before plunging into the water.

It felt so good. Warm, slightly salty, rejuvenating as he sunk to the bottom. Here, at least, he was alone.

Hesitantly, he reached over his shoulder to feel along his back. Smooth skin met his fingers, not yet roughened by pubescent body hair – which would theoretically come in fine and blond like the stuff on his head, and thus not lessen his value – but he didn’t care about that right now. What mattered was there were no holes.

He was still Exalted. For a moment, Alex was bitterly disappointed.

The bruise from the broken leg was gone, as was the one from the tree. What had happened to his wings? They were too large to be back inside him, and yet he could feel them behind his lungs, warm, quivering.

Maybe he’d gone mad.

What does that do for saleable value, he wondered wryly, and then realized with a jolt that someone was standing outside the bath.

The hall master. Alex knew those toe-rings anywhere.

Hall master Terrance was a beautiful man, as all Exalted were beautiful. Dark hair tied back like a romance-novel cover’s hero, his white shirt unbuttoned, he frowned and pointed at the tile beside him.

Alex’s silks lay there in a pile, filthy with evidence.

Damn it, damn it, damn it, Alex thought, but there was nothing to do – he couldn’t hold his breath forever. He surfaced, sputtering water out of his face.

“So.” The hall master crossed his arms, creasing the skin between his pectorals and underarms. People in the kitchens call his eyes stormy gray. Alex called them steel. “What did you think you were doing?”

Alex stood there, dripping and naked. There was no good answer, though I was growing feathers was tempting. “Um.”

The hall master looked him up and down, assessing. “Is there some reason you decided to scare our customers?” He tilted his head so his earring glinted. “Some deep hatred for the people who’ve taken care of you all your life, perhaps?”

“No, of course not – “

“Or maybe you want your mother out of work? Already trying to replace her as star attraction, is that it?”

“No!” Alex clenched his fists. “I don’t want that at all.”

“I know.” The hall master’s gaze traveled again, lingering. “It doesn’t matter. Your initiation’s been moved up.”

The condensation on Alex’s skin suddenly felt cold. “What?”

“Obviously, you’re precocious. It’s time you put that to use. First thing in the morning, you’re going to the inner sanctum.” The hall master turned to leave. “Use the internal wash tonight before bed and at first bell tomorrow morning. The cleaner you are, the more pleasant it’ll be for everyone.”

Alex could barely breathe. “Wait.”

Terrance didn’t. He bent to grab his sandals from the shoe-rack by the door.

“Wait!” Alex took a step. “You’re wrong. That’s not supposed to happen for another eight months. You’re – “

The hall master spun back and grabbed him by the throat.

Everything in the world slowed down. Alex froze, stiffened, and the hall master leaned into his face. “It’s. Been. Moved. Up.”

He grabbed me, Alex thought with mounting panic, his wet feet slipping slightly on the tile as he tried to pull back. No one’s allowed, he can’t do that, he –

The hall master released him with a shove. “Stop acting like we’re going to hurt you. You’ll enjoy it. Not that you deserve to enjoy anything. You’ll probably end up with my job someday. Sanctimonious little shit.” With that, he left, not even bothering to glance behind him.

Alex crouched to the floor, gasping.

Sanctimonious. It could be true. He didn’t like their life here, didn’t like that someday he’d have to offer himself for money. He’d always been vocal about it. Did that make him sanctimonious?

He hitched back a sob. It didn’t matter. He’d had eight months. They were supposed to wait until he turned thirteen to initiate him, to put him out for sale like his mother and other Exalted. Eight months had seemed forever. Tomorrow was right now.

He had to get out of here.

Inside, his wings shifted, aching with eager freedom. He could get out. For the first time in his life, he had the option of escape.

He had no idea how far his wings could carry him. Tonight, he was going to find out.

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