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I RUN MY hand over the back of my neck to lift the hair that sticks there. My entire body aches, especially my legs, which burn with lactic acid even when I am not moving. And I don’t smell very good. I need to shower.
I wander down the hall and into the bathroom. I am not the only person with bathing in mind—a group of women stand at the sinks, half of them naked, the other half completely unfazed by it. I find a free sink in the corner and stick my head under the faucet, letting cold water spill over my ears.
“Hello,” Susan says. I turn my head to the side. Water courses down my cheek and into my nose. She is carrying two towels: one white, one gray, both frayed at the edges.
“Hi,” I say.
“I have an idea,” she says. She turns her back to me and holds up a towel, blocking my view of the rest of the bathroom. I sigh with relief. Privacy. Or as much of it as possible.
I strip quickly and grab the bar of soap next to the sink.
“How are you?” she says.
“I’m fine. ” I know she’s only asking because faction rules dictate that she does. I wish she would just speak to me freely. “How are you, Susan?”
“Better. Therese told me there is a large group of Abnegation refugees in one of the factionless safe houses,” says Susan as I lather soap into my hair.
“Oh?” I say. I shove my head under the faucet again, this time massaging my scalp with my left hand to get the soap out. “Are you going to go?”
“Yes,” says Susan. “Unless you need my help. ”
“Thanks for the offer, but I think your faction needs you more,” I say, turning off the faucet. I wish I didn’t have to get dressed. It’s too hot for denim pants. But I grab the other towel from the floor and dry myself in a hurry.
I put on the red shirt I was wearing before. I don’t want to put on something that dirty again, but I have no other choice.
“I suspect some of the factionless women have spare clothes,” says Susan.
“You’re probably right. Okay, your turn. ”
I stand with the towel as Susan washes up. My arms start to ache after a while, but she ignored the pain for me, so I’ll do the same for her. Water splashes on my ankles when she washes her hair.
“This is a situation I never thought we would be in together,” I say after a while. “Bathing from the sink of an abandoned building, on the run from the Erudite. ”
“I thought we would live near each other,” says Susan. “Go to social events together. Have our kids walk to the bus stop together. ”
I bite my lip at that. It is my fault, of course, that that was never a possibility, because I chose another faction.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring it up,” she says. “I just regret that I didn’t pay more attention. If I had, maybe I would have known what you were going through. I acted selfishly. ”
I laugh a little. “Susan, there’s nothing wrong with the way you acted. ”
“I’m done,” she says. “Can you hand me that towel?”
I close my eyes and turn so she can grab the towel from my hands. When Therese walks into the bathroom, smoothing her hair into a braid, Susan asks her for spare clothes.
By the time we leave the bathroom, I wear jeans and a black shirt that is so loose up top that it slips off my shoulders, and Susan wears baggy jeans and a white Candor shirt with a collar. She buttons it up to her throat. The Abnegation are modest to the point of discomfort.
When I enter the large room again, some of the factionless are walking out with buckets of paint and paintbrushes. I watch them until the door closes behind them.
“They’re going to write a message to the other safe houses,” says Evelyn from behind me. “On one of the billboards. Codes formed out of personal information—so-and-so’s favorite color, someone else’s childhood pet. ”
I am not sure why she would choose to tell me something about the factionless codes until I turn around. I see a familiar look in her eyes—it is the same as the one Jeanine wore when she told Tobias she had developed a serum that could control him: pride.
“Clever,” I say. “Your idea?”
“It was, actually. ” She shrugs, but I am not fooled. She is anything but nonchalant. “I was Erudite before I was Abnegation. ”
“Oh,” I say. “Guess you couldn’t keep up with a life of academia, then?”
She doesn’t take the bait. “Something like that, yes. ” She pauses. “I imagine your father left for the same reason. ”
I almost turn away to end the conversation, but her words create a kind of pressure inside my mind, like she is squeezing my brain between her hands. I stare.
“You didn’t know?” She frowns. “I’m sorry; I forgot that faction members rarely discuss their old factions. ”
“What?” I say, my voice cracking.
“Your father was born in Erudite,” she says. “His parents were friends with Jeanine Matthews’s parents, before they died. Your father and Jeanine used to play together as children. I used to watch them pass books back and forth at school. ”
I imagine my father, a grown man, sitting next to Jeanine, a grown woman, at a lunch table in my old cafeteria, a book between them. The idea is so ridiculous to me that I half snort, half laugh. It can’t be true.
Except: He never talked about his family or his childhood.
Except: He did not have the quiet demeanor of someone who grew up in Abnegation.
Except: His hatred of Erudite was so vehement it must have been personal.
“I’m sorry, Beatrice,” Evelyn says. “I didn’t mean to reopen closing wounds. ”
I frown. “Yes, you did. ”
“What do you mean—”
“Listen carefully,” I say, lowering my voice. I check over her shoulder for Tobias, to make sure he isn’t listening in. All I see is Caleb and Susan on the ground in the corner, passing a jar of peanut butter back and forth. No Tobias.
“I’m not stupid,” I say. “I can see that you’re trying to use him. And I’ll tell him so, if he hasn’t figured it out already. ”
“My dear girl,” she says. “I am his family. I am permanent. You are only temporary. ”
“Yeah,” I say. “His mom abandoned him, and his dad beat him up. How could his loyalty not be with his blood, with a family like that?”
I walk away, my hands shaking, and sit down next to Caleb on the floor. Susan is now across the room, helping one of the factionless clean up. He passes me the jar of peanut butter. I remember the rows of peanut plants in the Amity greenhouses. They grow peanuts because they are high in protein and fat, which is important for the factionless in particular. I scoop some of the peanut butter out with my fingers and eat it.
Should I tell him what Evelyn just told me? I don’t want to make him think that he has Erudite in his blood. I don’t want to give him any reason to return to them.
I decide to keep it to myself for now.
“I wanted to talk to you about something,” says Caleb.
I nod, still working the peanut butter off the roof of my mouth.
“Susan wants to go see the Abnegation,” he says. “And so do I. I also want to make sure she’s all right. But I don’t want to leave you. ”
“It’s okay,” I say.
“Why don’t you come with us?” he asks. “Abnegation would welcome you back; I’m sure of it. ”
So am I—the Abnegation don’t hold grudges. But I am teetering on the edge of grief’s mouth, and if I returned to my parents’ old faction, it would swallow me.
I shake my head. “I have to go to Candor headquarters and find out what’s going on,” I say. “I’m going crazy, not knowing. ” I force a smile. “But you should go. Susan needs you. She seems better, but she still needs you. ”
“Okay. ” Caleb nods. “Well, I’ll try to join you soon. Be careful, though. ”
“Aren’t I always?”
“No, I think the word for how you usually are is ‘reckless. ’”
Caleb squeezes my good shoulder lightly. I eat another fingertip’s worth of peanut butter.
Tobias emerges from the men’s bathroom a few minutes later, his red Amity shirt replaced by a black T-shirt, and his short hair glistening with water. Our eyes meet across the room, and I know it’s time to leave.
Candor headquarters is large enough to contain an entire world. Or so it seems to me.
It is a wide cement building that overlooks what was once the river. The sign says MERC IS MART—it used to read “Merchandise Mart,” but most people refer to it as the Merciless Mart, because the Candor are merciless, but honest. They seem to have embraced the nickname.
I don’t know what to expect, because I have never been inside. Tobias and I pause outside the doors and look at each other.
“Here we go,” he says.
I can’t see anything beyond my reflection in the glass doors. I look tired and dirty. For the first time, it occurs to me that we don’t have to do anything. We could hole up with the factionless and let the rest of them sort through this mess. We could be nobodies, safe, together.
He still hasn’t told me about the conversation he had with his mother last night, and I don’t think he’s going to. He seemed so determined to get to Candor headquarters that I wonder if he’s planning something without me.
I don’t know why I walk through the doors. Maybe I decide that we’ve come this far, we might as well see what’s going on. But I suspect it’s more that I know what’s true and what’s not. I am Divergent, so I am not nobody, there’s no such thing as “safe,” and I have other things on my mind than playing house with Tobias. And so, apparently, does he.
The lobby is large and well-lit, with black marble floors that stretch back to an elevator bank. A ring of white marble tiles in the center of the room form the symbol of Candor: a set of unbalanced scales, meant to symbolize the weighing of truth against lies. The room is crawling with armed Dauntless.
A Dauntless soldier with an arm in a sling approaches us, gun held ready, barrel fixed on Tobias.
“Identify yourselves,” she says. She is young, but not young enough to know Tobias.
The others gather behind her. Some of them eye us with suspicion, the rest with curiosity, but far stranger than both is the light I see in some of their eyes. Recognition. They might know Tobias, but how could they possibly recognize me?
“Four,” he says. He nods toward me. “And this is Tris. Both Dauntless. ”
The Dauntless soldier’s eyes widen, but she does not lower her gun.
“Some help here?” she asks. Some of the Dauntless step forward, but they do it cautiously, like we’re dangerous.
“Is there a problem?” Tobias says.
“Are you armed?”
“Of course I’m armed. I’m Dauntless, aren’t I?”
“Stand with your hands behind your head. ” She says it wildly, like she expects us to refuse. I glance at Tobias. Why is everyone acting like we’re about to attack them?
“We walked through the front door,” I say slowly. “You think we would have done that if we were here to hurt you?”
Tobias doesn’t look back at me. He just touches his fingertips to the back of his head. After a moment, I do the same. Dauntless soldiers crowd around us. One of them pats down Tobias’s legs while the other takes the gun tucked under his waistband. Another one, a round-faced boy with pink cheeks, looks at me apologetically.
“I have a knife in my back pocket,” I say. “Put your hands on me, and I will make you regret it. ”
He mumbles some kind of apology. His fingers pinch the knife handle, careful not to touch me.
“What’s going on?” asks Tobias.
The first soldier exchanges looks with some of the others.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “But we were instructed to arrest you upon your arrival. ”