A Fresh World (Ch 3)

August 6, 2013
Chase must have come back sometime in the middle of the night because he left Dinky laying in the middle of my back. Today is May 18th. My ceremony day. My seventeenth birthday. I had almost forgotten about it. A great sadness comes over me; this is the first birthday Ryan has missed. I lay there, unthinking. Eventually, my mother comes in to say Happy Birthday. She smiles, but I see a sad knowing in her eyes. I don’t quite understand why. Tears well in her eyes, so much for a “happy” birthday.

“I love you,” She says, kissing the crown of my head. She leaves my room and closes the door behind her. I stare in that direction long after the door has closed, but finally get out of bed to get dressed. I open my closet door and select a black dress. It’s pretty plain. All Ordinary girls have to wear it on the day of their ceremony. There is only one sleeve; the other shoulder is left bare to show my red freckles. I don’t like it but I don’t have much of a choice. I drape my long red hair over that shoulder to hide them. I stare at my face in the mirror and don’t see Hudson Jennifer Grey, but a stranger. The only things I recognize are my eyes. The green eye serves as a sore reminder of my father, but my blue-gray eye portrays my older brother Ryan and reminds me of his strong personality. I smile when I recognize him in my one eye.

I walk into the kitchen and find Mr. Johnson, my father, and my mother already there. I barely notice Chase slide behind me and into his seat.

“Well, lookit you,” Mr. Johnson says, smiling. “All prettied up and ready for your big day.” I smile back, blushing a little bit.

“You look beautiful,” Mother says from the counter with a big plate of pancakes. My father only looks at me and smiles. It’s not really a smile, but a hard line. His green eyes are still cold, and I can’t hold a gaze for long so I look at my hands folded in my lap. Mom makes her way over with several plates of pancakes for all of us. She gives me my plate, which has a stack of three pancakes and a blue candle protruding from the top. I feel like I did when I was five years old and Ryan told me to make a wish. He was fifteen at the time. I smile at the thought of him, make my wish and blow the candle out. My mother, Chase, and Mr. Johnson all clap. My father only sits there, watching the candle with that unreadable expression of his. We all start into our pancakes. I notice that the television has been turned off. I am grateful; the last thing I want to hear is Mr. Johnson making a snide comment on the Keepers, or yet another murder or some attack.

My mother clears the remains of breakfast off the table and walks Mr. Johnson back home across the street. By the time she gets back, we are all ready to go to the Square Building for my ceremony. At some point during the short car ride over, I start thinking of crazy scenarios that might occur. I almost wish them to happen on the car ride over. I don’t understand why I’m so nervous. I know what I’m going to choose.

My family gets out of our small, economic car and starts to make their way to find a seat among the many other families there. I break away from them to go stand with the other juniors from my school behind all of the seats. I get a series of Happy Birthdays from some of the girls. I find Casey talking to some people I don’t know and push through the cluster of bodies to stand by her. She looks at me, and when she does a jolt passes through me. I don’t understand why, it just happens. She steps away from her group and hugs me, ignoring the uneasy stares we receive. I’m a little unsure of why she is doing this, and it makes me uncomfortable, but I don’t pull away.

“Don’t be afraid.” She whispers in my ear, then leaves to go stand with her group again. She leaves me staring at the perfect straight line of her raven black hair, swaying at her shoulder blades each time she laughs.

The lights in the huge auditorium dim to a faint glow after the students arrange themselves in alphabetical order like we’ve been practicing for the past few weeks at school. Ms. Lawler makes her way across the stage, accepting the polite applaud with smiling.

“Will the Ordinaries please stand with me and recite the pledge?” The Rebels at the other side of the auditorium don’t move.

“United in neutrality, we as Ordinary people take no part in war. Instead, we keep the peace among ourselves and let the Keepers and the Rebels act among themselves.”

Everyone chants in unison. Only the Rebels keep silent, they are only here to congratulate the Ordinary transfers. There are never many of them. None of the Rebels actually ever transfer to being Ordinary. Why would they? I have no thoughts. My mind remains blank. As everyone takes a seat again, I try and focus on what my principle is saying. My mind quickly wanders to the objects behind her. A thick strand of barbed wire strung over a glass bowl of water. The students choosing the Ordinary life dip their fingers into the water. The students choosing to join the Rebels scrape their arm across the barbed wire and allow their blood to stain the water red. The mark made by the wire leaves a scar on one’s arm to remind them of the lifestyle they have chosen. Most Rebels bare their scars with pride.

Ms. Lawler begins to wrap up her speech about prosperity, keeping the city alive, and this new generation that chooses to move on with their lives in their own way. She then calls the name of the first student: Casey Agnew.

Casey makes her way up the stage with a solemn look on her face. She shakes Ms. Lawler’s hand and moves to stand before the table. She seems to hesitate. To my surprise, she allows the barbed wire to catch on the inside of her forearm. I gasp, and so does a woman in the crowd. I recognize her as Casey’s mother. She bursts into tears and is ushered into the hall by Casey’s father. I watch them leave, and swallow a lump in my throat. Casey is gone. Casey is a Rebel. Ms. Lawler continues on down the alphabet. I count three more Rebel recruits before she makes it to G.

“Hudson Jennifer Gray,” I hear my name as though my ears have been stuffed with cotton. I hesitate, but soon my feet carry me up the stairs and in front of Ms. Lawler. I shake her hand and make my way to the table of wire and water. The water is clouded with the blood of the four Ordinary transfers before me. Casey’s blood. I stare at the wire, then at the water. I expect my fingertips to be dipping into the bowl, but find the underside of my forearm skating across the spiked surface. The barbs pull the skin from my arm. Hardly a second after, blood is running freely down my arm and into the water. I watch the strange patterns. Small at first, but then growing bigger in the water and soon you can’t make out my blood from that of the students before. My jaw drops. I am a Rebel.

A woman off to the side hands me a towel. I wipe away the blood and carry myself down the stairs. A million things run through my mind at one time, but I don’t know what to think first. I tremble so violently, I am afraid everyone can hear my bones rattling. I feel the blood run down my arm, like a tear. It continues to run, trickling onto the floor and leaving a trail as I make my way back to stand by Casey. The first thought that enters my mind is Ryan, then mother. Chase is next. And last, I think of my father. I can’t look at them and see their dismay and sadness. Instead, I stare at Casey. She looks at me and grins from ear to ear.

I stand behind the Rebel crowd, and soon the ceremony is over. I am almost completely numb, so I don’t pay attention to the other Ordinary transfers that shuffle over. Most of them look triumphant with the choice they have made. Casey looks happy, but I see the sadness because I, too, feel that same sadness of losing my family. My family isn’t allowed to say their goodbyes. I stare at the floor. Maybe it’s a good thing not to see my father’s face, to see Chase cry, to see my mother cry. But I feel like they deserve something to let them know that I will never forget about them. Maybe in a couple of weeks when they are allowed to send mail they will tell me about home life and anything that has changed. Will they? Or do they choose to disown the daughter who has betrayed them?

I catch Mom’s eye from across the room and find, not malice and hatred, but understanding. That reassures my guilt, until I find my father giving me a look filled with the exact opposite than that of my mother. My face hardens when I see him, angry for a reason I can’t explain. I look at Chase who won’t leave my mother’s side and won’t look at me. I think an apology to him, hoping he receives it.

Casey slides her hand into mine and looks at me. She smiles, but the happiness does not spread to her eyes. I squeeze her hand and she looks away, but before she does I catch a tear slipping away from her eye and down her cheek.

The ride over to RF, Rebel Facilities, is long. The new recruits are put onto an old, rusted school bus layered with graffiti. It’s a bumpy ride over, and somehow Casey manages to fall asleep on the way. Finally, we start to see the top of the building appear above the smaller skyscrapers. I have never seen it in person. Ordinaries and Keepers aren’t allowed on the premises. If they were to be found, they would be shot on sight for trespassing. It’s bigger than we expect it to be when we finally get there.
I nudge Casey to let her know we’ve arrived and she awakes with a start. RF isn’t what we thought it was. The main building is only a warehouse. The warehouse is flanked on either side by a four-story building, and a six-story building. An old neon sign that has long since broken reads at the top of the building: MARR OTT SUIT S. The other soldiers call it the Marrott Suits Building, accordingly. Apparently, it used to read Marriott Suites, an old hotel company. The only other occupied building on the block is a training gym, which is where we will learn our combat skills. All of this is explained to us by our two trainers. Maggie Jones is a woman, but you wouldn’t know it by her looks. She has a shaved head, covered in tattoos, and her body is made solely out of muscle. The other trainer, much to my surprise, is none other than Jamie Trent. He is shorter than Maggie, but is still much taller than me.
Maggie hands us off to Julian, one of the soldiers. Julian leads us to the Marrott Suits building and tells us everything we need to know about how the doors automatically lock at night unless you have a special keycard to get out. The bathrooms have running water. We will dorm with one other person. Boys have the fourth floor. Girls have the third floor. Boys aren’t allowed in the girls’ rooms and vise versa. The entire block is guarded across the clock and we aren’t allowed out at night unless accompanied by staff.
Next, we are given a quick tour of the gym and training center. There are a lot of rules and regulations about the weapons, naturally, and it is almost two hours before we are allowed to go back for supper. After supper, we are finally allowed to sleep. It has barely been a couple hours before Casey makes new friends. Kellan and Emily are twins from the Exit and have way too much energy. We sit with them at supper, and they fling peas with their spoons across the table at each other, making everyone laugh. I stare at my tray, pushing my potatoes around. After I eat a couple bites, I start to feel sick. I stand to scrape my tray in the trash and my eyes meet Jamie’s across the cafeteria momentarily. His eyes flick to mine, to his tray, then back to mine again. I turn and sit back down at my table. Maggie gets up and addresses the new recruits as well as the other soldiers.
“To celebrate the arrival of recruits, drinks will be held at eleven tonight. Training starts tomorrow, so don’t get a hangover.” She winks at the last part and finds her seat. Jamie rises to take her spot.
“My name’s Jamie Trent, I’m looking forward to training all of you. Except for the one’s with hangovers, because I know there will be some.” Laughter ripples among the soldiers. Jamie smiles. “But seriously guys. Anyway, after a month of training, your scores will be announced at the awards ceremony. Training starts tomorrow morning at nine in the gym. Please come in your uniforms provided. They will be distributed after supper. Thank you.” He nods, meets my eyes momentarily, and finds his seat with a group of soldiers.
Casey, Emily, and I are handed our uniforms and head to the Marrott Suits building to change in our dorm rooms. Casey and I room together of course, and Emily rooms with a short girl, Rose. We find our uniforms in the dresser that sits across from our beds. I have never been in a hotel before. Our room has it’s own bathroom, two beds, a heater/air conditioner, a nightstand with an alarm clock, and a window. The light from the window is blocked with a set of ugly maroon curtains, patterned with geometric yellow and green circles and triangles. I draw them back and allow the light to flood into the room, tinting everything orange in the sunset glow. I gasp at the view. The beautiful Baltimore skyline unfolds in front of me. In the distance, I make out the old Baltimore World Trade Center, now used for the Keeper government. The triangular top of the Commerce Building sits just off of the harbor of Chesapeake Bay. Next to the World Trade Center, sits the Legg Mason building. I know that place well, my father works there. That’s where they plot murders on innocent people, or where they take kidnapped Rebels to torture for information. Of course the Keepers don’t come out and tell you directly that’s what they do, but I know that’s what they do. I don’t understand what information is worth beating the daylights out of someone they think might know something about whatever they want to know. I turn away and quickly get dressed, erasing the memory of my father from my mind.
Casey and I tromp down the stairs in our heavy, uncomfortable combat boots, scratchy camouflage pants, and gray cotton v-neck. We decide to take a walk around the block before it gets dark. I expect us to walk around the whole block, but instead Casey drags me to an old, decrepit department store called Bergners. I’ve seen the store advertised on old magazines that my mom kept from the early 2000s. Casey looks for clothes that anyone may have abandoned.
I walk up one of the broken escalators to the second floor. It’s a little scary, but I ignore the quiet. I start walking down the aisles and my boots echo loudly on the cracked tile. I flinch every time one of my boots hits the ground, feeling like I’ve disturbed the peace. To my right, I see a wall completely cleared of its shelves. The shelves are thrown to the floor, along with the shoeboxes that used to line them. I walk closer to them. Dried blood flakes off of the white wall and stains the tan carpet in spots with dark brown. But it doesn’t end there; all along the wall are dried puddles of blood. I picture the Rebels lined up facing the wall as the hitmen, hired by the Keepers, mow them down because they wanted to terrify and humiliate us. This must have happened years ago during the beginning of the war, when the Keepers tried to overcome the Rebels the first time. For years, the Keepers have tried to run us out. Us. I am a Rebel now.
I run back through the main aisle and down the escalator. I don’t wait for Casey. I run outside and kneel in the purplish shadows that the lowering sun casts among the many tall buildings. I glance down the crumbling sidewalk just outside the department store and find Jamie walking towards me, he sees me and quickens his pace. I straighten up and watch him approach me.
He smiles a little. One side of his mouth quirks up farther than the other. I’m not in the mood for pleasant conversation. I turn and walk in the direction of Marrott Suits.
“Wait,” I hear him jogging up behind me. “Jen, right?”
“That’s right,” I say, not even looking at him.
“You coming to the party tonight?” He asks. I only shrug. I know he doesn’t mean any harm, but I don’t want to talk to anyone. Not even Casey. He puts a hand on my shoulder. I stop and look at him, pulling away slightly. He takes the hint and drops his hand. He clears his throat.
“Sorry. It looked like something was on your mind. But I can see that you aren’t in the mood to talk. See ya at the party, then.” He says, almost rudely.
“I’m fine.” I snap, and stalk off to my dorm.
Once upstairs, I find two towels and two stacks of clothing. Black t-shirts, black jeans, black shorts, black tennis shoes. No color. I was hoping for a little color, but it’s better than the uncomfortable uniform I am wearing now. I strip my uniform, draping it over a chair. I pull on an oversized black t-shirt and crawl into bed. The sheets are as tight as a layer of skin so I don’t even bother peeling them back. I lay under the scratchy wool blankets, thinking of my family. I cry myself to sleep.

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