cases, anger. There had never been a leader so young before, and plenty of people spoke out against the decision, voiced concerns about his youth and his Erudite background. Max made sure to silence those concerns. And so did Eric. Someone would be outspoken one day and silent, frightened the next, almost like he had threatened them. Knowing Eric, he probably did, with soft-spoken words that twisted together into malice, clever and calculated as always.
“Who’s that?” Christina says.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“His name is Eric,” I say. “He’s a Dauntless leader.”
“Seriously? But he’s so young.”
I set my jaw. “Age doesn’t matter here.” Connections to Jeanine Matthews do.
He comes toward us and drops into the seat next to me. I stare at my food.
“Well, aren’t you going to introduce me?” he says lightly. Like we’re friends.
“This is Tris and Christina,” I say.
“Ooh, a Stiff,” says Eric, smirking. I worry, for a moment, that he’s about to tell her where I came from, and I curl a hand around my knee, clenching so I don’t lash out and smack him. But all he says is, “We’ll see how long you last.”
I still want to smack him. Or remind him that the last transfer we had from Abnegation, who is sitting right next to him, managed to knock out one of his teeth, so who knows what this next one will do. But with these new practices in place—fighting until an opponent can’t stand, cuts after just a week of combat training—he’s right, it’s unlikely that she’ll last very long, small as she is. I don’t like it, but there it is.
“What have you been doing lately, Four?” Eric says.
I feel a prickle of fear, worried, for a moment, that he knows that I’m spying on him and Max. I shrug. “Nothing, really.”
“Max tells me he keeps trying to meet with you, and you don’t show up,” Eric says. “He requested that I find out what’s going on with you.”
I find it easy to discard Max’s messages, like they’re bits of garbage blown toward me by the wind. The backlash from Eric’s appointment as Dauntless leader may not bother Eric anymore, but it still bothers Max, who has never liked his protégé as much as he was supposed to. He liked me, though I’m not sure why, since I hole up alone while the other Dauntless pull together.
“Tell him I’m satisfied with the position I currently hold,” I say.
“So he wants to give you a job.”
There’s that suspicious probing again, oozing from his mouth like pus from a new piercing.
“So it would seem.”
“And you aren’t interested.”
“I haven’t been interested for two years.”
“Well. Let’s hope he gets the point, then.”
He hits my shoulder, like he means it to be casual, but the force of it almost pushes me into the table. I glare at him as he walks away—I don’t like to be pushed around, especially not by scrawny Erudite-lovers.
“Are you two … friends?” Tris asks.
“We were in the same initiate class.” I decide to make a preemptive strike, to poison them against Eric before he poisons them against me. “He transferred from Erudite.”
Christina raises her eyebrows, but Tris disregards the word “erudite,” disregards the suspicion that ought to be written into her very skin after a lifetime in Abnegation, and says, “Were you a transfer too?”
“I thought I would only have trouble with the Candor asking too many questions,” I say. “Now I’ve got Stiffs, too?”
As it was with Christina before, my sharpness is intended to slam doors before they open too much. But Tris’s mouth twists like she tastes something sour, and she says, “It must be because you’re so approachable. You know. Like a bed of nails.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
Her face flushes as I stare at her, but she doesn’t look away. Something about her seems familiar to me, though I swear I would remember if I had ever met such a sharp Abnegationgirl, even for just a second.
“Careful, Tris,” I say. Careful what you say to me, is what I mean, careful what you say to anyone, in this faction that values all the wrong things, that doesn’t understand that when you come from Abnegation, standing up for yourself, even in small moments, is the height of bravery.
As I say her name, I realize how I know her. She’s Andrew Prior’s daughter. Beatrice. Tris.
“YOU LOOK GOOD, TRIS.”
I’M NOT SURE I remember what made me laugh, but Zeke said it, and it was hilarious. Around me, the Pit sways like I’m standing on a swing. I hold the railing to steady myself and tip the rest of whatever it is I’m drinking down my throat.
Abnegation attack? What Abnegation attack? I hardly remember.
Well, that’s actually a lie, but it’s never too late to get comfortable with lying to yourself.
I see a blond head bobbing in the crowd and follow it down to Tris’s face. For once, she’s not wearing multiple layers of clothing, and her shirt collar isn’t pressed right up against the bottom of her throat. I can see her shape—Stop it, a voice in my head scolds me, before the thought can go any further.
“Tris!” The word is out of my mouth, no stopping it, don’t even care to try. I walk toward her, ignoring the stares of Will, Al, and Christina. It’s easy to do—her eyes seem brighter, more piercing than before.
“You look … different,” I say. I mean to say “older,” but I don’t want to suggest that she looked young before. She may not bend in all the places that older women do, but no one could look at her face and see a child. No child has that ferocity.
“So do you,” she says. “What are you doing?”
Drinking, I think, but she’s probably noticed that.
“Flirting with death,” I say, laughing. “Drinking near the chasm. Probably not a good idea.”
“No, it isn’t.” She’s not laughing. She looks wary. Wary of what, of me?
“Didn’t know you had a tattoo,” I say, scanning her collarbone. There are three black birds there—simple, but they almost look like they’re flying across her skin. “Right. The crows.”
I want to ask her why she would get one of her worst fears tattooed on her body, why she would want to wear the mark of her fear forever instead of burying it, ashamed. Maybe she’s not ashamed of her fears the way I’m ashamed of mine.
I look back at Zeke and Shauna, who are standing with shoulders touching at the railing.
“I’d ask you to hang out with us,” I say, “but you’re not supposed to see me this way.”
“What way?” she says. “Drunk?”
“Yeah … well, no.” Suddenly it doesn’t seem that funny to me. “Real, I guess.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“I’ll pretend I didn’t.”
“Nice of you.” I lean in, closer than I mean to, and I can smell her hair, feel the cool, smooth, delicate skin of her cheek against mine. I would be embarrassed that I’m acting so foolish, so forward, if she had, even for a second, pulled away. But she doesn’t—if anything, she moves a little closer. “You look good, Tris,” I say, because I’m not sure she knows it, and she should.
This time she laughs.
“Do me a favor and stay away from the chasm, okay?”
She smiles. And I wonder, for the first time, if she likes me. If she can still grin at me when I’m like this … well, she might.
One thing I know: For helping me forget how awful the world is, I prefer her to alcohol.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to:
My husband, family (Roth-Rydz-Rosses, Fitches, Krausses, Paquettes, Johnsons, and everyone in between), and friends (writers and non-writers alike, far and wide), for your constant support, generosity, and forgiveness, without which I would surely perish. No, seriously.
Joanna Volpe, friendgent, for unfailing kindness and wisdom and All the (Good) Things. Katherine Tegen, frienditor, for all kinds of editorial wisdom and hard, hard work. The whole team at HarperCollins, for continued awesomeness for all varieties: Joel Tippie, Amy Ryan, Barb Fitzsimmons, Brenna Franzitta, Josh Weiss, Mark Rifkin, Valerie Shea, Christine Cox, Joan Giurdanella, Lauren Flower, Alison Lisnow, Sandee Roston, Diane Naughton, Colleen O’Connell, Aubry Parks-Fried, Margot Wood, Patty Rosati, Molly Thomas, Onalee Smith, Andrea Pappenheimer, Kerry Moynagh, Kathy Faber, Liz Frew, Heather Doss, Jenny Sheridan, Fran Olson, Deb Murphy, Jessica Abel, Samantha Hagerbaumer, Andrea Rosen, David Wolfson, Jean McGinley, Alpha Wong, Sheala Howley, Ruiko Tokunaga, Caitlin Garing, Beth Ives, Katie Bignell, Karen Dziekonski, Sean McManus, Randy Rosema, Pam Moore, Rosanne Romanello, Melinda Weigel, Gwen Morton, Lillian Sun, Rosanne Lauer, Erica Ferguson, and of course, Kate Jackson, Susan Katz, and Brian Murray. I could not have a better publishing home.
Danielle Barthel, for your patient mind and special encouragement with regard to these stories in particular. Pouya Shahbazian, for showing me how to be steady even in a storm (I’m working on it). Everyone at New Leaf Literary for working so damn hard and making that work so good. Steve Younger, for humor and legal prowess in equal measure.
And last but definitely, definitely not least: all the Divergent readers (Initiates!) across the globe. Your enthusiasm for these characters made me excited to sit down with these stories and propelled me through the hard parts.
I feel like it’s only fitting to end with a
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