I wonder if the human race has ever known peace. Or if somewhere, buried deep inside the consciousness, there is a beast inside of us all.
“Eve.” Mary kneels to my immediate right, her blonde curls pulled back in a high ponytail and her fair cheeks smeared with dirt. She grins over at me. “Guess who’s looking your way.”
“Oh, shut up.” I am jolted from my dark thoughts abruptly, bumping Mary’s shoulder with mine and rolling my eyes as she lets out a high-pierced squeal of delight. I feel my cheeks grow warm and attempt to cover it by wiping the back of my hand across my forehead. My fingers are smeared with dirt from working in the turnip field for the last hour. “He’s your brother. You really shouldn’t be this interested in my love life. It’s…a sibling rule of thumb.”
“Please. Tristan’s been in love with you since we were seven.”
“Tristan’s…” I struggle for the right words and come up empty-handed. Rather than offend Mary, I simply sigh and shrug, keeping my response ambiguous. “I’m too nervous to think of boys. The Choosing Ceremony is in less than a week.”
“It’s not as if it’s a struggle,” Mary says quietly, her smile fading as she places yet another turnip in the hand-woven basket to her right. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. Do you?”
Welcome back to Amity, Evangeline.
I close my eyes against the unwanted memory, pursing my lips. But my aching back forces me to remember every day. Erasing the image of the Redemption Post is not an easy feat, especially when I have visited it more than once.
Mary is staring at me, and so I quickly force a light smile as I continue working on the turnips. “No one really plans for these things, do they?”
My answer is evasive, but it is convincing. Mary returns to her work, a peaceful silence filling the space between us. Of course, all of our silences are peaceful. In a faction such as Amity, there can be nothing but peace. And should that peace be disrupted, there are ways in which it is handled discreetly enough to go unnoticed by the other factions.
My back cramps, and I clench my teeth together at the harsh reminder.
“I just…don’t want to lose you,” Mary says quietly, surprising me. I am breathing heavily against the pain in my back, pain I have been told will disappear with time. But it has been three years since my last Offense, and while the fire has been tempered in my back, it has not been tempered in my heart.
I think it’s why my back will not fully heal. My heart does not want it to.
My heart wants to remember. It wants to hate.
I swallow as the pain slowly subsides, and I feel a small twist of guilt in my chest at the thought of hurting Mary. “I don’t want to lose you, either. But…”
But I should say nothing, I think. I should not start this conflict.
But I could say something, a smaller, wilder piece of me whispers. Mary doesn’t know. How could she? She doesn’t have a rebellious bone in her body.
Mary is the epitome of Amity. She is innocence, with her blonde curls and baby blue eyes and round cheeks. She is short and slight and loving and patient, and I am nothing like her. I am tall and wiry and strong, with sun-browned skin and ebony hair to match my eyes. But more importantly, I am hateful and impatient, and only years of practice have kept the monster inside of me at bay.
I have lived here my entire life, and I have never fit in.
I’m not sure I want to.
“It’ll be fine,” I lie to her, turning to give her a smile. She meets my gaze, her eyes hesitant and unsure. But after a moment she smiles back at me, and though we both hum as we go back to work, I know neither of us is feeling very peaceful.
Mary knows I am lying. But she cannot possibly understand why.
She has never had an Offense. She has never felt hate—or at the very least, she has never let anyone see the hate that she hides.
She has never felt the uncomfortable tug of rope around her wrists. She has never felt the sting of the whip at her back. She has never felt the cruelty of the Redemption Post, a punishment meant for those who have disrupted the peace of Amity.
I have felt all of those things. Mary has only murmured the words that come after.
Welcome back to Amity, Evangeline.
I’m not entirely sure if I can stay in a place where lies run much deeper than blood, a place where beasts lurk in the shadows. Because though the people here may smile and laugh and hold hands, they still hold a whip.
Peace can be beastly.