But today, I'm glad for that.
We get on the bus and stand in the aisle to let others sit down around us, the perfect picture of Abnegation deference. I watch the others get on, Candor boys and girls with loud mouths, Erudite with studious stares. I watch the other Abnegation rise from their seats to give them away. Everyone is going to the same place today--the Hub, a black pillar in the distance, its two prongs stabbing the sky.
When we get there, my father puts a hand on my shoulder as we walk to the entrance, sending shocks of pain through my body.
I have to get out.
It's a desperate thought, and the pain only spurs it on with each footstep as I walk the stairs to the Choosing Ceremony floor. I struggle for air, but it's not because of my aching legs; it's because of my weak heart, growing stronger with each passing second. Beside me, Marcus wipes beads of sweat from his forehead, and all the other Abnegation close their lips to keep from breathing too loudly, lest they appear to be complaining.
I lift my eyes to the stairs ahead of me, and I am on fire with this thought, this need, this chance to escape.
We reach the right floor, and everyone pauses to catch their breath before entering. The room is dim, the windows blocked off, the seats arranged around the circle of bowls that hold glass and water and stones and coal and earth. I find my place in line, between an Abnegation girl and an Amity boy. Marcus stands in front of me.
"You know what to do," he says, and it's more like he's telling himself than me. "You know what the right choice is. I know you do."
I just stare somewhere south of his eyes.
"I'll see you soon," he says.
He moves toward the Abnegation section and sits in the front row, with some of the other council leaders. Gradually people fill the room, those who are about to choose standing in a square at the edge, those watching sitting in the chairs in the middle. The doors close, and there's a moment of quiet as the council representative from Dauntless moves to the podium. Max is his name. He wraps his fingers around the edge of the podium, and I can see, even from here, that his knuckles are bruised.
Do they learn to fight in Dauntless? They must.
"Welcome to the Choosing Ceremony," Max says, his deep voice filling the room easily. He doesn't need the microphone; his voice is loud enough and strong enough to penetrate my skull and wrap around my brain. "Today you will choose your factions. Until this point you have followed your parents' paths, your parents' rules. Today you will find your own path, make your own rules."
I can almost see my father pressing his lips together with disdain at such a typical Dauntless speech. I know his habits so well, I almost do it myself, though I don't share the feeling. I have no particular opinions about Dauntless.
"A long time ago our ancestors realized that each of us, each individual, was responsible for the evil that exists in the world. But they didn't agree on exactly what that evil was," Max says. "Some said that it was dishonesty. . . ."
I think of the lies I have told, year after year, about this bruise or that cut, the lies of omission I told when I kept Marcus's secrets.
"Some said that it was ignorance, some aggression. . . ."
I think of the peace of the Amity orchards, the freedom I would find there from violence and cruelty.
"Some said selfishness was the cause."
This is for your own good is what Marcus said before the first blow fell. As if hitting me was an act of self-sacrifice. As if it hurt him to do it. Well, I didn't see him limping around the kitchen this morning.
"And the last group said that it was cowardice that was to blame."
A few hoots rise up from the Dauntless section, and the rest of the Dauntless laugh. I think of the fear swallowing me last night until I couldn't feel, until I couldn't breathe. I think of the years that have ground me into dust beneath my father's heel.
"That is how we came by our factions: Candor, Erudite, Amity, Abnegation, and Dauntless." Max smiles. "In them we find administrators and teachers and counselors and leaders and protectors. In them we find our sense of belonging, our sense of community, our very lives." He clears his throat. "Enough of that. Let's get to it. Come forward and get your knife, then make your choice. First up, Zellner, Gregory."
It seems fitting that pain should follow me from my old life into my new one, with the knife digging into my palm. Still, even this morning I didn't know which faction I would choose as a haven. Gregory Zellner holds his bleeding hand over the bowl of dirt, to choose Amity.
Amity seems like the obvious choice for a haven, with its peaceful life, its sweet-smelling orchards, its smiling community. In Amity I would find the kind of acceptance I've craved my entire life, and maybe, over time, it would teach me to feel steady in myself, comfortable with who I am.
But as I look at the people sitting in that section, in their reds and yellows, I see only whole, healed people, capable of cheering one another, capable of supporting one another. They are too perfect, too kind, for someone like me to be driven into their arms by rage and fear.
The ceremony is moving too fast. "Rogers, Helena."
She chooses Candor.
I know what happens in Candor's initiation. I heard whispers about it in school one day. There, I would have to expose every secret, dig it out with my fingernails. I would have to flay myself alive to join Candor. No, I can't do that.
Frederick Lovelace, dressed all in blue, cuts his palm and lets his blood drip into the Erudite water, turning it a deeper shade of pink. I learn easily enough for Erudite, but I know myself well enough to understand that I am too volatile, too emotional, for a place like that. It would strangle me, and what I want is to be free, not to be shuffled into yet another prison.
It takes no time at all for the name of the Abnegation girl beside me to be called. "Erasmus, Anne."
Anne--another one who never found more than a few words to speak to me--stumbles forward and walks the aisle to Max's podium. She accepts her knife with shaking hands and cuts her palm and holds her hand over the Abnegation bowl. It's easy for her. She doesn't have anything to run from, just a welcoming, kind community to rejoin. And besides, no one from Abnegation has transferred in years. It's the most loyal faction, in terms of Choosing Ceremony statistics.
I don't feel nervous as I walk down the aisle to the bowls, though I still haven't chosen my place. Max passes me the knife, and I wrap my fingers around the handle. It's smooth and cool, the blade clean. A new knife for each person, and a new choice.
As I walk to the center of the room, to the center of the bowls, I pass Tori, the woman who administered my aptitude test. You're the one who has to live with your choice, she said. Her hair is pulled back, and I can see a tattoo creeping over her collarbone, toward her throat. Her eyes touch mine with peculiar force, and I stare back, unflinching, as I take my place among the bowls.
What choice can I live with? Not Erudite, or Candor. Not Abnegation, the place I am trying to get away from. Not even Amity, where I am too broken to belong.
The truth is, I want my choice to drive a knife right through my father's heart, to pierce him with as much pain and embarrassment and disappointment as possible.
There is only one choice that can do that.
I look at him, and he nods, and I cut deep into my own palm, so deep the pain brings tears to my eyes. I blink them away and curl my hand into a fist to let the blood collect there. His eyes are like my eyes, such a dark blue that in light like this they always look black, just pits in his skull. My back throbs and pinches, my collared shirt scratching at the raw skin there, the skin he wore into with that belt.
I open my palm over the coals. I feel like they're burning in my stomach, filling me to the brim with fire and smoke.
I am free.
I don't hear the cheers of the Dauntless; all I hear is ringing.
My new faction is like a many-armed creature, stretching toward me. I move toward it, and I don't dare to look back to see my father's face. Hands slap my arms, commending me on my choice, and I move to the rear of the group, blood wrapping around my fingers.
I stand with the other initiates, next to a black-haired Erudite boy who appraises and dismisses me with one glance. I must not look like much, in my Abnegation grays, tall and scrawny after last year's growth spurt. The cut in my hand is gushing, the blood spilling onto the floor and running down my wrist. I dug too deep with the knife.
As the last of my peers choose, I pinch the hem of my loose Abnegation shirt between my fingers and rip. I tear a strip of fabric from the front and wrap it around my hand to stop the bleeding. I won't need these clothes anymore.
The Dauntless sitting in front of us come to their feet as soon as the last person chooses, and they rush toward the doors, carrying me with them. I turn back right before the doors, unable to stop myself, and I see my father sitting in the front row still, a few other Abnegation huddled around him. He looks stunned.
I smirk a little. I did it, I put that expression on his face. I am not the perfect Abnegation child, doomed to be swallowed whole by the system and dissolved into obscurity. Instead, I am the first Abnegation-Dauntless transfer in more than a decade.
I turn and run to catch up with the others, not wanting to be left behind. Before I exit the room, I unbutton my ripped long-sleeved shirt and let it fall on the ground. The gray T-shirt I am wearing beneath it is still oversized, but it's darker, blends in better with the black Dauntless clothes.