Before (The Sensitives) - By Dawn Rae Miller


The man with the caterpillar eyebrows won’t stop talking. So far, he’s told me about his school days–years and years and years ago!–and his off-campus exploits to places I’ve never been. Places I never hope to go.

My lips ache from smiling and my feet definitely don’t care for the shoes I’ve forced them into–four inch, two-tone, lace up booties. They match my dress, but even their smart fabric won’t save me from needing foot salve after this.

I continue to force a smile and I fight the urge to touch my fingers to my lips, a nervous habit my housemother, Bethina, made me promise not to do.

But I also promised not to lose sight of Beck, and I’ve already broken that one. As soon as he and I stepped into the packed ballroom, I was pulled one way and he was swallowed up by the crowd. Which makes me nervous. Not because I’m worried about him–Beck charms everyone he comes in contact with. But rather, I hate this type of social gathering and rely on him to protect me from the hordes.

“The Channing boy came with you, did he not?” Caterpillar Brows’ voice booms out of his tiny head. “I thought I saw him at the ceremony.”

A nervous titter moves through the group. Based on their green wristlets, most of them are State officials–colleagues of my Mother. All eyes are on me as they wait for my answer.

My hand flutters toward to my lips, but at the last moment settles onto the crinkly fabric of the black bow that sits on my shoulder and drapes down the front of my dress.

“He did.”

A wiry woman, in a gown that is twice as wide as she is tall, wrinkles her nose. “Do you ever grow tired of his company?”

The noise of the room rings in my ears and I struggle to keep smiling. I’ve never been good at this kind of thing–talking to strangers. That’s Beck’s area. He’s the one people gravitate toward. He’s the one who lights up the room. I’ve always been content staying in his shadow.

“Excuse me,” I say, making my way through the crowd. “I need…fresh air.”

The whole night–the sheer, tiered evening gown I wear, the passed trays of food with names I can’t pronounce, and the endless stream of people wanting to speak to me–makes me feel like an imposter. These people expect me to be like my mother–or at least, more like Beck. But I’m not. My idea of a fun evening is studying in my room or spending time with my friends. Not hob-nobbing and kissing up to State officials.

As I walk, the silly boots pinch my toes and I wince. Why did I agree to wear such a ridiculous outfit? Bethina warned me I wouldn’t be comfortable, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I selected the gown I thought was the prettiest.

And it is pretty, if uncomfortable. So at least there’s that.

All around me, visiting dignitaries from the five Societies mingle. I catch snippets of conversation in the high-trilling accent of the Eastern Society intermingled with the lightening fast rhythm of the Center Society. It’s truly the binding of the year and I should feel lucky to be here.

I should. But I don’t. I feel a little trapped.

In the middle of the room, I pause and tap my wristlet. There’s no way I’ll find Beck by wandering around. “Locate Beck.”

“Fifty feet to your left, near the rear exit,” my wristlet replies.

I scurry through the crowd, taking care to hold my dress aside so that it doesn’t become wrinkled or damaged. Last thing I need is a reprimand from Bethina.

As I near the far end of the room, I dodge a particularly boisterous man who seems intent on speaking to me.

“Lark,” he says, “come, join us!”

Just as I’m about to step into their tight circle, I catch a glimpse of Beck.

“I’ll be right back,” I say before hurrying past.

Beck leans against the wall, with his blond head tilted down and his eyes on his blue wristlet.

And oddly, there’s not a soul within feet of him.


When the invitation to my brother’s binding ceremony arrived, I couldn’t stop admiring it. Mother spared no cost. A small, iridescent box with a thick bow of green ribbon hovered before me and when I flicked my hand, the ribbon unraveled, sliding down the sides of the box and pooling at its base.

Excitement bubbled in me as the box opened and dozens of butterflies swirled in the air. Their beating wings shimmered in the