It is two days before the Choosing Ceremony, and Tristan Blue is asking me to dance.
I stare at his outstretched hand, a smile playing on my face. I know Mary is somewhere behind me, no doubt grinning and urging me to give her brother a chance. A part of me desperately wants to. Another part of me wants to hide. But there is nowhere to run in the orchard, where the trees stretch above us and the grass is warm beneath our bare feet.
Tristan smiles at me; he is beautiful when he smiles. He has sky blue eyes, a shade lighter than his sister’s, and his hair is auburn rather than blonde. He is not particularly attractive, but his features are interesting and when he smiles, nothing else matters.
But he is also one of the many who have watched me suffer beneath a whip.
Welcome back to Amity, Evangeline.
I look at him, uncertain for a moment, before taking his hand. His grin is brilliant as he leads me among the twirling throng of Amity, where laughter runs abundant. Girls are spun in the air and boys are doing their best to impress. It is a ceremony before a ceremony, a dance meant for all Amity initiates that will be leaving for the Choosing Ceremony in forty-eight hours. I should be laughing with them. I should be grinning as Tristan spins me and twirls me, but all I can manage is a light smile.
“I know you’re nervous,” he says gently, the tempo of the music—played by a band of youthful Amity near the greenhouses—slowing to something more soothing and patient. “Not everyone understands.”
I stare at him, surprised. His right hand drifts down to my waist, his left clasping mine. “Um…”
Tristan shrugs. “It’s…nerve-wracking. Everyone gets worked up, even the ones that know where they stand. Like you and me. Like Mary.” He smiles softly down at me, and it is then that I notice how much taller he is than I am. “We’re the ones that have it figured out. But we still have to travel to the Hub. We still have to stand in front of all those people. I get it.”
No, you don’t. I am suddenly very tired. In fact, I am exhausted. You don’t, Tristan Blue. You just don’t.
But I smile and rest my head against his shoulder, and for the next half an hour I dance with him, sometimes gliding over the grass and other times twirling. I try to pretend I am an Amity girl dancing in a red dress and he is an Amity boy grinning in a yellow button-down, but I cannot escape the dread building in the pit of my stomach.
Because I am nothing more than a girl tied to the Redemption Post, and he is nothing more than a boy murmuring words in a sea of red and yellow.
And I can never forget.