sight might be gloomy, but to me their simplicity is comforting.

The reason for the simplicity isn’t disdain for uniqueness, as the other factions have sometimes interpreted it. Everything — our houses, our clothes, our hairstyles — is meant to help us forget ourselves and to protect us from vanity, greed, and envy, which are just forms of selfishness. If we have little, and want for little, and we are all equal, we envy no one.

I try to love it.

I sit on the front step and wait for Caleb to arrive. It doesn’t take long. After a minute I see gray-robed forms walking down the street. I hear laughter. At school we try not to draw attention to ourselves, but once we’re home, the games and jokes start. My natural tendency toward sarcasm is still not appreciated. Sarcasm is always at someone’s expense. Maybe it’s better that Abnegation wants me to suppress it. Maybe I don’t have to leave my family. Maybe if I fight to make Abnegation work, my act will turn into reality.

“Beatrice!” Caleb says. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” He is with Susan and her brother, Robert, and Susan is giving me a strange look, like I am a different person than the one she knew this morning. I shrug. “When the test was over, I got sick. Must have been that liquid they gave us. I feel better now, though.”

I try to smile convincingly. I seem to have persuaded Susan and Robert, who no longer look concerned for my mental stability, but Caleb narrows his eyes at me, the way he does when he suspects someone of duplicity.

“Did you two take the bus today?” I ask. I don’t care how Susan and Robert got home from school, but I need to change the subject.

“Our father had to work late,” Susan says, “and he told us we should spend some time thinking before the ceremony tomorrow.”

My heart pounds at the mention of the ceremony.

“You’re welcome to come over later, if you’d like,” Caleb says politely.

“Thank you.” Susan smiles at Caleb.

Robert raises an eyebrow at me. He and I have been exchanging looks for the past year as Susan and Caleb flirt in the tentative way known only to the Abnegation. Caleb’s eyes follow Susan down the walk. I have to grab his arm to startle him from his daze. I lead him into the house and close the door behind us.

He turns to me. His dark, straight eyebrows draw together so that a crease appears between them. When he frowns, he looks more like my mother than my father. In an instant I can see him living the same kind of life my father did: staying in Abnegation, learning a trade, marrying Susan, and having a family. It will be wonderful.

I may not see it.

“Are you going to tell me the truth now?” he asks softly.

“The truth is,” I say, “I’m not supposed to discuss it. And you’re not supposed to ask.”

“All those rules you bend, and you can’t bend this one? Not even for something this important?” His eyebrows tug together, and he bites the corner of his lip. Though his words are accusatory, it sounds like he is probing me for information — like he actually wants my answer.

I narrow my eyes. “Will you? What happened in your test, Caleb?”

Our eyes meet. I hear a train horn, so faint it could easily be wind whistling through an alleyway. But I know it when I hear it. It sounds like the Dauntless, calling me to them.

“Just…don’t tell our parents what happened, okay?” I say.

His eyes stay on mine for a few seconds, and then he nods.

I want to go upstairs and lie down. The test, the walk, and my encounter with the factionless man exhausted me. But my brother made breakfast this morning, and my mother prepared our lunches, and my father made dinner last night, so it’s my turn to cook. I breathe deeply and walk into the kitchen to start cooking.

A minute later, Caleb joins me. I grit my teeth. He helps with everything. What irritates me most about him is his natural goodness, his inborn selflessness.

Caleb and I work together without speaking. I cook peas on the stove. He defrosts four pieces of chicken. Most of what we eat is frozen or canned, because farms these days are far away. My mother told me once that, a long time ago, there were people who wouldn’t buy genetically engineered produce because they viewed it as unnatural. Now we have no other option.

By the time my parents get home, dinner is ready and the table is set. My father drops his bag at the door and kisses my head. Other people see him as an opinionated man — too opinionated, maybe — but he’s also loving. I try to see only the good in him; I try.

“How did the test go?” he asks me. I pour the peas into a serving bowl.

“Fine,” I say. I couldn’t be Candor. I lie too easily.

“I heard there was some kind of upset with one of the tests,” my mother says. Like my father, she works for the government, but she manages city improvement projects. She recruited volunteers to administer the aptitude tests. Most of the time, though, she organizes workers to help the factionless with food and shelter and job opportunities.

“Really?” says my father. A problem with the aptitude tests is rare.

“I don’t know much about it, but my friend Erin told me that something went wrong with one of the tests, so the results had to be reported verbally.” My mother places a napkin next to each plate on the table. “Apparently the student got sick and was sent home early.” My mother shrugs. “I hope they’re all right. Did you two hear about that?”

“No,” Caleb says. He smiles at my mother.

My brother couldn’t be Candor either.

We sit at the table. We always pass food to the right, and no one eats until everyone is served. My father extends his hands to my mother and my brother, and they extend their hands to him and me, and my father gives thanks to God for food and work and friends and family. Not every Abnegation family is religious, but my father says we should try not to see those differences because they will only divide us. I am not sure what to make of that.

“So,” my mother says to my father. “Tell me.”

She takes my father’s hand and moves her thumb in a small circle over his knuckles. I stare at their joined hands. My parents love each other, but they rarely show affection like this in front of us. They taught us that physical contact is powerful, so I have been wary of it since I was young.

“Tell me what’s bothering you,” she adds.

I stare at my plate. My mother’s acute senses sometimes surprise me, but now they chide me. Why was I so focused on myself that I didn’t notice his deep frown and his sagging posture?

“I had a difficult day at work,” he says. “Well, really, it was Marcus who had the difficult day. I shouldn’t lay claim to it.”

Marcus is my father’s coworker; they are both political leaders. The city is ruled by a council of fifty people, composed entirely of representatives from Abnegation, because our faction is regarded as incorruptible, due to our commitment to selflessness. Our leaders are selected by their peers for their impeccable character, moral fortitude, and leadership skills. Representatives from each of the other factions can speak in the meetings on behalf of a particular issue, but ultimately, the decision is the council’s. And while the council technically makes decisions together, Marcus is particularly influential.

It has been this way since the beginning of the great peace, when the factions were formed. I think the system persists because we’re afraid of what might happen if it didn’t: war.

“Is this about that report Jeanine Matthews released?” my mother says. Jeanine Matthews is Erudite’s sole representative, selected based on her IQ score. My father complains about her often.

I look up. “A report?”

Caleb gives me a warning look. We aren’t supposed to speak at the dinner table unless our parents ask us a direct question, and they usually don’t. Our listening ears are a gift to them, my father says. They give us their listening ears after dinner, in the family room.

“Yes,” my father says. His eyes narrow. “Those arrogant, self-righteous—” He stops and clears his throat. “Sorry. But she released a report attacking Marcus’s character.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“What did it say?” I ask.

“Beatrice,” Caleb says quietly.

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