I feel nauseous as I smile at Mary, who walks with her elbow looped through mine and a nervous grin on her face. Her hair is down today, her curls perfect and her red blouse brilliant among the crowd of black, gray, white, and blue. I try to look only at her, because I am not sure I have the courage to look at the other four factions that could represent my freedom.
I don’t plan on going anywhere. Do you?
Mary’s question echoes in my head, and I attempt to keep my hands from shaking as I face the dais at the front of the room, along with at least a hundred other initiates looking to pick what their future will hold. The Hub is a place large enough to hold a thousand people, and the room is very nearly full. Parents sit in the center of the room in a rough circle, including my mother and father. I can feel their eyes on the back of my head, and I want nothing more than to disappear.
They know I have been to the Redemption Post six times. They know how many scars I hold on my back. I remember the first time I received my sentence, after committing the Offense of punching a fellow member of Amity. I was nine years old, and after it was found that I could not stomach the peace-inducing bread served in Amity, I was sent for a much crueler punishment.
My father could only say, Peace is how we will thrive, Evangeline. Do not disappoint me again.
I do not listen to the opening speech, meant to kick off the Choosing Ceremony and excite the crowd. Restless sixteen-year-olds shift their weight from foot to foot, some biting their bottom lips and others smiling pleasantly, as if confident in the choice they are about to make.
We will have trust.
And we will have forgiveness.
But before we can have forgiveness…
We must have acceptance.
I do not want to live a life striving for peace and finding only terror at every turn. I do not want to live in a faction that represents peace—but only for those that can keep it. I have too much hate in my heart to live such a life.
Do not disappoint me again.
The first name is called, but I hear nothing. I can only feel my heart in my stomach, in my throat, in my head. I know I must look wild, my eyes wide and my hands wringing themselves raw. Mary releases her grip on me, sensing my distress. She is frowning in my direction, obviously worried.
A boy with red hair stands on the dais, his hand dripping with blood that sinks purposefully to the bottom of the Erudite bowl. His black clothes tell me he is a transfer from Dauntless.
One choice can transform you.
I know I am not smart enough for Erudite. My blood will not curl through the water.
One choice can destroy you.
I could never be brave enough for Dauntless. I cannot handle pain. And I know if my blood burns on those coals, I will be entering a world of pain. Endless pain.
One choice will define you.
I am not selfless enough for Abnegation. I want nothing more than to run from my family and friends, to find peace for myself—peace I cannot find in Amity.
Forty teenagers have chosen their fate. And then forty-two. Forty-seven. Fifty-one. There are transfers from every faction this year, an oddity that has the crowd mumbling.
And then, finally, a familiar name is called.
Mary grins when her brother’s name is called. He is nine months younger than she is, nine months younger than I am, and so he just barely qualifies to be here. He offers us both a confident grin before striding onto the stage, cutting his palm with the proffered knife and, with no hesitation, holding his hand over the bowl filled with earth: Amity.
When I look toward the back of the room, his parents are beaming.
I smile and clasp Mary’s shoulder. For just a moment, I think I see her lower lip tremble. She is nervous. But of course, even those who know what their life will hold can find themselves anxious to make a vow in blood. Tristan said so himself.
She looks so small on stage, so fragile. Her blonde bangs fall in her eyes, and she repeatedly sweeps them out of the way, a nervous gesture I have not seen from her in years. It takes her a moment to cut her palm, and even longer for her to hold her hand out. I am frowning by now, watching her hesitate. She purses her lips. She sucks in a deep breath.
And then she holds her hands over gray stones.
My eyes widen as I watch her stumble off of the stage, joining the Abnegation initiates. Her hands are shaking as she stuffs them inside the pockets of her yellow jeans, and when our eyes meet from across the room, she smiles a very small, sad smile.
Mary Blue is Amity no longer.
I hear nothing until my name is called, and even then it takes several pushing hands to guide me toward the stage. By the time I manage to climb the steps and find myself standing before the five bowls, I have worked up a nervous sweat at my lower back and across my forehead. I am offered a knife.
I am offered a choice.
Transform. Destroy. Define.
Which road will I take?
I stare at the bowl filled with water, but I quickly look away. I pass my gaze over the red-hot coals and then, very slowly, over the gray stones.
Soft earth. Harsh glass.
I am not at peace in Amity. I am not content. When I am honest, I am punished. But can I find peace in a faction that would rather be at war than lie to one another? Can I possibly tell the world my secrets? Do I dare show my scars?
Can I be brave, like Mary?
My hand hovers between two bowls, between two lifestyles, between two destinies. I envision Mary’s kind face, her understanding eyes, her soft smile. She had a moment of bravery, a moment in which she was dauntless. Maybe she was tired of peace. Or maybe she was tired of pretending.
I take in a deep breath and then, with a sudden jerk, I bring my hand over one of the bowls and watch my blood fall.