The Registry saved the country from collapse, but stability has come at a price. In this patriotic new America, girls are raised to be brides, sold at auction to the highest bidder. Boys are raised to be soldiers, trained to fight and never question orders.
Nearly eighteen, beautiful Mia Morrissey excitedly awaits the beginning of her auction year. But a warning from her married older sister raises dangerous questions. Now, instead of going up on the block, Mia is going to escape to Mexico—and the promise of freedom.
All Mia wants is to control her own destiny—a brave and daring choice that will transform her into an enemy of the state, pursued by powerful government agents, ruthless bounty hunters, and a cunning man determined to own her—a man who will stop at nothing to get her back.
Pretty. Beautiful. Stunning.
Words she’d heard all her life echoed in Mia’s mind as she stared into the mirror, brushing her long pale hair. Turning her head this way and that, she admired the sheen the overhead light cast and smiled, trying to see herself as a potential husband might.
Since she’d been old enough to understand her duty and her role, Mia had known she would marry a very wealthy man. Because if her parents were correct, upon her eighteenth birthday—the day all American girls had the great honor of entering the Registry—she would be marked at a price that only the richest man could afford. Her father often bragged, to anyone who’d listen, that his Mia would be given the highest value in the entire history of the Registry.
From her mother’s contented smile—for she was a very beautiful woman herself—Mia knew it would be a happy life. She would have her own household and wear the most elegant dresses. She twirled and danced in front of the many mirrors placed throughout her room, imagining rich folds of fabric swirling around her.
Thunder rumbled in the distance just as the front door banged open downstairs. Her parents. She raced to the hall and stood at the top of the stairs, giddy at the prospect of hearing all about their night. She couldn’t wait until she too could attend parties and weddings. Soon.
Mia pulled up short. It wasn’t her father standing at the bottom of the stairs. It was her sister, soaking wet from the rain.
Confusion and delight rushed in. Mia hadn’t seen Corinna in almost a year, not since her wedding.
“Corinna!” Mia rushed toward her sister. “What are you doing here? Where’s William? It’s only two months until I enter the Registry. Father is certain I’ll get picked up in the first month, and then I can be an old married woman like—Corinna?”
Mia’s babbling cut off as she noticed the blood and bruises on her sister’s once-lovely face. Corinna’s hair was greasy and stuck to her head. She looked skinnier than Mia had ever seen her.
“Corinna, are you okay?”
“Where are Mother and Father?”
“They’re out. A wedding. What’s wrong?”
Corinna, always funny and clever, always the first one with something to say, looked like words had deserted her.
“Corinna, what’s going on?”
“I escaped,” she whispered.
“Escaped where? Did William rescue you? Did hooligans get you?” Mia’d heard stories of women being kidnapped and attacked by unmarried men. Corinna knew better than to go anywhere alone, though.
“No.” Corinna lifted her head. “I escaped William.”
The stunned look on Mia’s face must have said enough.
“It’s not like what they tell you. I needed to warn you, to show you something.”
Corinna pushed Mia aside and started up the stairs. Mia caught a glimpse of her eyes; they were glassed over and emotionless. Her sister was broken, a shell of her former self.
“Did you do something? Were you a bad wife?” Mia asked, still confused.
“William did this to me, after my son was born. He said I was a bad investment.”
The muffled sound of her parents walking toward the door stopped Mia from asking any more questions. Husbands didn’t hurt their wives. Husbands protected their wives. The door opened to show a surprised David and Laura Morrissey.
“Mia, go to your room,” her father ordered when he saw Corinna, his eyes darkening.
Mia always listened to him, but she wanted to hear more from Corinna. She thought her parents must be furious at the condition Corinna was in.
She turned and ran upstairs but hid by the top of the steps. She needed to listen, but her sister didn’t make a sound.
“I’ll call William,” Mia’s mother said.
“Please”—Corinna sounded so weak—“I can’t go back there. He hurts me.”
“Well, give him a daughter and then he won’t anymore,” Laura intoned.
Mia could hear her mother walking down the hall.
“You shouldn’t have come here. You have your own family now. You need to be an adult,” David told his daughter. “There are no returns on a marriage.”
“What family? He makes me throw away my child and he beats me.” Mia had never heard her sister speak to their father with such animosity. The creak of the stairs resumed; Corinna was continuing the climb.
“What you need is to be with your husband.”
Mia heard her mother walking back to them. “He thought she’d come this way and was already driving here. Apparently she stole his car this morning. Lucky for her he didn’t involve the authorities. He’ll be here any minute.”
This comment brought a cry of anguish from Corinna.
“I won’t go. I won’t go back with him.”
“It is your duty,” David responded.
Mia couldn’t believe her father was acting so cruelly. She’d always thought he and Corinna were close.
A knock at the door made Mia jump. She leaned around the corner and watched her sister’s husband walk in.
“We are so sorry about this,” her parents said.
“It’s not your fault. It’s what I get for teaching her how to drive. I thought it would be fun. Never knew it would come back to bite me. Come on, darling, let’s go home.”
Corinna turned and tried to run up the stairs. Mia peered out. She wanted to help her sister, but she froze. William ran up after her and grabbed Corinna’s ankle, and she fell. The two sisters were face-to-face, just for a moment. Corinna reached out and grabbed Mia’s hand.
“My closet. Look. I thought it was a joke but it’s all true,” Corinna whispered to Mia.
Mia held on to her sister’s hand for as long as she could, but Corinna didn’t put up a fight as William dragged her, stumbling, down the stairs and out the front door.
The greatest accomplishment a female can achieve is becoming a wife. Through marriage she will serve her country and ensure her own happiness.
—The Registry Guide for Girls
The appraiser never smiled. Mia wanted to ask him why he was so angry, but she knew better than to speak.
Mia lifted her arms to the sides while the appraiser ran his tape measure across her shoulders. She closed her eyes in an empty attempt to hide her disgust. She had been preparing for this day her whole life. Her mother had spent countless hours telling her how to behave and what to expect, but it didn’t make the process any easier.
She tried hard to stare straight ahead and not look down on his shiny bald head as he continued with her measurements. He was in his late fifties, just older than her father.
“Turn around,” he said without looking up.
Mia was quick to comply. Now that he couldn’t see her face, she let herself rest for a moment. The feeling of his tape measure on the back of her legs was humiliating. The skintight black bodysuit didn’t make her feel any more secure. Her mother had told her it was the mandatory outfit, but that didn’t help her relax. It was only a slight step above being naked.
“Keep your chin up. Arms down, heels together, back straight.”
She closed her eyes as she pulled in her extremities. Her body was still shaking. He probably assumed it was from nerves. She should have been nervous and excited. Most girls were. But not Mia, not anymore.
“That’s good for now. Sit.” The appraiser walked over to his black carpetbag and dropped the tape measure inside.
She watched him rifle through his bag. No doubt he was getting ready for the next part of her evaluation.
Mia’s mind wandered to Corinna. Mia was the youngest of the four Morrissey daughters. Each of her elder sisters had gone to finishing school, but Mia’s parents thought she was pretty enough that it would’ve been a waste of money. She remembered the excitement she’d felt when her sisters were home for breaks. Then she remembered the admiration she’d felt for them on their wedding days, the last days she saw any of them, except for Corinna. Her sister’s nighttime visit had started crumbling Mia’s world.
The appraiser produced a digital camera, snapping Mia back to reality.
“Over there.” He pointed toward the closed door. A gray backdrop already covered the wood.
Mia darted toward the door. She briefly considered opening it and running away from this mess but instead turned to face the little man. Her body shuddered as he ran his hands through her hair, slicking back any loose strands that had fallen from her bun. Next, he pulled out a napkin and spat on it. He ran the cloth over her cheek. Mia tried her best to show no emotion, but the spot on her face felt like fire.
He examined the napkin and seemed pleased. “Arms at your sides, chin up, look straight into the lens.”
A bright flash went off. Mia used the excuse to let her eyes water.
“Now turn to the right, then the left.”
The appraiser walked toward her and grabbed her hands. He took pictures of each of them individually, then together. Next it was her feet. More flashes. With each snap the camera stole more of her dignity.
Mia focused on her breathing as he took more photos. She wanted to wipe her cheek but didn’t dare do anything without being told.
“That’s good for now. Sit.” He went back to his bag.
Mia waited for what would come next, wishing this terrible day would end. Still, as awful and mortifying as this was—why had she always thought it would be otherwise?—it paled next to that horrible night a few months ago.
After Corinna’s visit, Mia had convinced herself her sister must have done something to deserve William’s punishment, or if not, that Corinna was just unlucky, and Mia would get a more understanding husband. That rationalization soon faded away. Not even a week later a postcard came in the mail. It was from William, offering his condolences on Corinna’s passing. Her parents thought it was kind of him to let them know she had died. Mia didn’t see either of them cry; she was the only one who mourned her sister. Supposedly Corinna had gotten sick from traveling in the rain. Mia knew, and was the only one who cared, that William had murdered her sister.
After that news Mia stopped taking so much pleasure in staring in the mirror; she saw Corinna’s emaciated face looking back at her. Corinna’s death hadn’t just curbed Mia’s vanity. She had followed up on her sister’s last words and searched Corinna’s old closet; it didn’t take long to find the loose floorboard.
Mia had gone numb after her discovery, but now these images of her past were pushed away by her present.
The appraiser took a seat on the chair across from her. He had a clipboard and pen.
The interview portion. Mia breathed deeply in anticipation of the first question.
“I am sure that your mother trained you in how to act and what to say,” he said. “But trust me when I tell you to forget all that. Honesty will get you a significantly higher listing.”
Mia knew he wouldn’t like her honest responses. She felt a rush of hatred toward the man and his suggestions, and could sense the rage shining in her face before quickly bottling it up again. Fortunately, the appraiser seemed too busy adjusting his tape recorder to pay attention.
“This is the interview of Amelia Morrissey of the Midwest Area,” he said.
The words “Midwest Area” rang through Mia’s mind. She wondered if the other fractions of the country lived the same way she did, if their girls were prepared for their appraisals the same way. After she was married, Corinna had lived in the Northwest Area. Mia’s eyes stung with tears as she imagined her sister’s body buried in a strange place.
“Amelia Morrissey, can you cook?”
“Yes,” Mia quickly responded. “My specialties are—”
“That won’t be necessary.” The appraiser gave Mia a disapproving look. “Only answer what you’ve been asked.”
The momentary thrill she had felt at discussing her culinary skills vanished. Mia reminded herself she would find no relief this afternoon.
“Can you clean?”
“Can you sing?”
“Can you sew?”
“Can you draw?”
“Care for a baby?”
“No. I mean, yes.” Mia wasn’t sure how to answer that one.
The appraiser didn’t seem interested in her struggle. “Can you drive?”
“Can you perform any maintenance on a vehicle?”
“Can you read?”
“Can you write?”
The appraiser stopped the recording and scribbled his last notes. That meant only one step of her evaluation was left. A lump grew in her throat.
“You have one hour to answer as many questions as you can.” He threw a packet in front of Mia. “You may start whenever you wish.”
The appraiser glanced at his watch before walking back over to his bag. He rifled through it again. Mia tried to focus on the test. She ripped open the packet and pulled out the booklet. She flipped to the first question.
1. What is 80% of $20.00?
Math? Mia had never studied math, so she had no clue how to answer this. She thought about how she had teased Corinna for going to finishing school. She had never even asked her what they learned there. She wondered if it was math. She flipped to the last question.
50. What element does the symbol O represent?
She looked up at the appraiser. He was going through the photos and didn’t seem interested in her test at all. Her mother always told her excess knowledge was unnecessary for a female. The test might as well have been in another language.
Not wanting to admit defeat, Mia put her pencil to the paper and tried to work the first problem. The appraiser still paid her no attention. She rubbed her face where his spit had been and fantasized about using the pencil to stab him through his cheek.
When he called time on the test, Mia wasn’t finished with problem ten. But he didn’t seem interested in her progress, dropping the packet in his bag without checking.
Apparently, that was it.
Her appraisal was over. She focused on the man’s small carpetbag. Everything in there would determine her worth as a person. It would bring her one step closer to Corinna’s fate. Mia let her mind wander back to her discovery.
Under her sister’s floorboards had been a piece of glossy paper showing a mix of pictures and words. In small print at the top of the page were the words “Unique Girl—UK Edition Volume 47, Fall Issue.” The photograph was of a man in a tuxedo, with a woman lying at his feet in a big white dress. In big print below it read MODERN-DAY SLAVERY: AMERICAN BRIDES.
Mia felt a sharp prick on her arm. She swatted at it.
“Quick blood sample.” The appraiser grabbed her hand. “We have to make sure you are disease free and compatible with your husband. Now we are finished.”
The appraiser picked up his satchel and walked toward the door, letting himself out of the house. Now that she was alone, she let the tears stream down her cheeks.
“Sweetie?” Mia’s mother stuck her head in the room. “I heard the door close. Is the appraiser gone?”
“Yes,” Mia said.
Mia’s mother walked over and hugged her. She was a beautiful woman, with the same long dirty-blond hair as Mia. “Don’t cry. I am sure you did great. Looks matter the most anyway.”
“That’s not it.” Mia pulled away and wiped her eyes. “I don’t think I want a husband.”
“It’s okay that you’re nervous, but this is a happy day! I was thrilled during my appraisal and your sisters were too, even Corinna. Now it’s over and you just have to wait a little longer.” Her mother seemed sincere. “All marriages have their ups and downs, and it is our duty to please our husbands.”
“Did you even care about her?” Mia asked, persisting.
“Of course I did, but it’s part of life. She needed to be independent of us and start her own family. Just like you will soon. Any struggle or hardship you go through will be worth it once you have a baby girl.”
Mia knew she was lying. She didn’t care about Corinna and in a short time she wouldn’t care about Mia either.
“I don’t want to get married,” Mia repeated.
Without hesitation, her mother raised her hand and slapped her. Mia put her hand to her throbbing cheek. Immediately, her mother pulled her back into a tight hug.
“I am tired of this. Marriage is your most patriotic duty. There will be no more of this conversation.” She rocked back and forth. “And don’t let your father hear talk like that. You are a woman now. Be happy, you’ll be the head of your own household soon.”
Mia nodded, but she did not agree. She knew this was not the life for her and wondered why nobody else saw that. Focusing on her swollen face, Mia made a promise to herself. She would not be a part of this vicious cycle. She knew what Corinna was trying to tell her. She was going to escape.
The Registry © Shannon Stoker 2013