It's the morning of my brother's Choosing Day.
Our house is tense, even with the absence of our father. The neighborhood is quiet, and only the drumming of heavy raindrops bouncing against my window breaks the silence. I can hear my brother moving around downstairs, puttering in the kitchen. He's preparing our breakfast, just like he does every other morning; he's always been an earlier riser than me. I slip out from under my grey sheets, and tug them back to order before gathering my grey towel to head off for our grey bathroom. I hate the color grey.
Even with my supply of hot water nearly doubled without my father in the house, my shower is short. I go through the motions to be clean and I shut the water off. The dress I've laid out for myself is Abnegation gray, just like the rest of the clothes in my room, and our house, and our neighbors' houses, and their clothes, and their children's clothes. The one good thing about this dress is, as plain and monotone and repetitive as it is, no one can see the bruises on my arms.
My brother is already sitting at the table, waiting for me, when I step off the bottom stair. Breakfast is laid out, a simple meal of pancakes and toast and milk, though I notice that he's taken the liberty of setting out the jam and butter and not the syrup. He always remembers that I don't like syrup. I take the seat next to him, and he smiles at me, but it's sad and hollow. He has dreaded this day more than I.
"Whatever happens today," he says quietly. "Whatever happens, remember that I love you, Olivia."
"And I love you, Tobias."
I worry what he thinks will happen.
Tobias and I walk to the Choosing Ceremony. We could have taken the bus, but we finish breakfast early enough to want the extra time to ourselves, even if wanting that goes against everything we've ever been taught. We leave our house, identical to those around it, and walk through the early morning downpour without an umbrella. We pass by two or three of our neighbors, who studiously offer protection under their own brollies, but we decline, and continue on passed the bus stop. Our presences will not be missed if the bus is as crowed as it has been on previous Choosing Days.
The neighborhoods we must walk through to reach the center of the city, and ultimately the Hub, from Abnegation territory are factionless. The buildings are abandoned and broken, slowly giving way to the nature they once held off. We pass several factionless, though none of them bother us; I do not know if it is because they have decided to leave us alone, or because they know whose children we are. I would rather them bother us than claim blood or faction with our father.
When we finally arrive at the Hub, the rain has stopped, though we are still soaking wet. I take the pins out of my hair and let it fall down my back in bright red waves. I don't bother to put it back up as we enter the building. The other Abnegation sixteen year olds have beaten us to the Ceremony room, so there is no reason Tobias and I should not take the elevator. As we ascend to the eighteenth floor, the floor where the Choosing Ceremony takes place, Tobias steps behind me, and threads my hair into a long braid. The hallway between the elevator and the Ceremony room are all but empty, and we step quickly to avoid being late.
The room is arranged in concentric circles, and on the edges stand the sixteen year olds of each faction. They won't be called members until each one of them make their commitment to their faction, or another, and passes initiation. Tobias squeezes my hand and slips into his space in line; I look for our father, and find him in the first row of Abnegation's section, and join him. He greets me with a smile and a 'good morning', but I can't think of a single morning in the last five years that has been good.
It is Candor's turn to lead the Choosing Ceremony, and the hall falls quiet when Jack Kang, Candor's representative, takes the podium on the far side of the audience. He says his dues, the same speech that has been spoken at the Choosing Ceremony for as long as anyone can remember, and begins to call out the alphabetical list of each person taking place in the Ceremony. My brother will come after Daisy Dolmer, a bright eyed, apple cheeked Amity.
One by one, everyone in the crowd watches as each sixteen year old approaches the podium and takes a blade form Kang, cuts into the palm of their hand, and spills blood into one of the five bowls that represent each faction. Gray stones for Abnegation, water for Erudite, earth for Amity, glass for Candor, and lit coals for Dauntless.
Finally it is Tobias's turn. He walks calmly to the podium and accepts the knife from Kang. He doesn't stumble, or hesitate, and I hate him for having this choice. He is as calm as he has ever been in the years following our mother's death, and I have the stray thought that he is the bravest person I have ever known.
I feel my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth when he slides the knife over his palm and dashes his blood over the simmering coals.
Everyone in the crowd starts to murmur, a soft accusing sound that is directed at our father. I feel him beside me like thunder in my bones, loud and soundless all at once. I close my eyes and I feel cold, and abandoned, but I am glad, so glad, that at least one of us can escape.
My brother is Dauntless.