“Beatrice,” she whispers. She runs her hand over my hair.
Don’t cry, I tell myself. I hold her until I can blink the moisture from my eyes, and then pull back to look at her again. I smile with closed lips, just like she does. She touches my cheek.
“Well, look at you,” she says. “You’ve filled out.” She puts her arm across my shoulders. “Tell me how you are.”
“You first.” The old habits are back. I should let her speak first. I shouldn’t let the conversation stay focused on me for too long. I should make sure she doesn’t need anything.
“Today is a special occasion,” she says. “I came to see you, so let’s talk mostly about you. It is my gift to you.”
My selfless mother. She should not be giving me gifts, not after I left her and my father. I walk with her toward the railing that overlooks the chasm, glad to be close to her. The last week and a half has been more affectionless than I realized. At home we did not touch each other often, and the most I ever saw my parents do was hold hands at the dinner table, but it was more than this, more than here.
“Just one question.” I feel my pulse in my throat. “Where’s Dad? Is he visiting Caleb?”
“Ah.” She shakes her head. “Your father had to be at work.”
I look down. “You can tell me if he didn’t want to come.”
Her eyes travel over my face. “Your father has been selfish lately. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, I promise.”
I stare at her, stunned. My father—selfish? More startling than the label is the fact that she assigned it to him. I can’t tell by looking at her if she’s angry. I don’t expect to be able to. But she must be; if she calls him selfish, she must be angry.
“What about Caleb?” I say. “Will you visit him later?”
“I wish I could,” she says, “but the Erudite have prohibited Abnegation visitors from entering their compound. If I tried, I would be removed from the premises.”
“What?” I demand. “That’s terrible. Why would they do that?”
“Tensions between our factions are higher than ever,” she says. “I wish it wasn’t that way, but there is little I can do about it.”
I think of Caleb standing among the Erudite initiates, scanning the crowd for our mother, and feel a pang in my stomach. Part of me is still angry with him for keeping so many secrets from me, but I don’t want him to hurt.
“That’s terrible,” I repeat. I look toward the chasm.
Standing alone at the railing is Four. Though he’s not an initiate anymore, most of the Dauntless use this day to come together with their families. Either his family doesn’t like to come together, or he wasn’t originally Dauntless. Which faction could he have come from?
“There’s one of my instructors.” I lean closer to her and say, “He’s kind of intimidating.”
“He’s handsome,” she says.
I find myself nodding without thinking. She laughs and lifts her arm from my shoulders. I want to steer her away from him, but just as I’m about to suggest that we go somewhere else, he looks over his shoulder.
His eyes widen at the sight of my mother. She offers him her hand.
“Hello. My name is Natalie,” she says. “I’m Beatrice’s mother.”
I have never seen my mother shake hands with someone. Four eases his hand into hers, looking stiff, and shakes it twice. The gesture looks unnatural for both of them. No, Four was not originally Dauntless if he doesn’t shake hands easily.
“Four,” he says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Four,” my mother repeats, smiling. “Is that a nickname?”
“Yes.” He doesn’t elaborate. What is his real name? “Your daughter is doing well here. I’ve been overseeing her training.”
Since when does “overseeing” include throwing knives at me and scolding me at every opportunity?
“That’s good to hear,” she says. “I know a few things about Dauntless initiation, and I was worried about her.”
He looks at me, and his eyes move down my face, from nose to mouth to chin. Then he says, “You shouldn’t worry.”
I can’t keep the heat from rushing into my cheeks. I hope it isn’t noticeable.
Is he just reassuring her because she’s my mother, or does he really believe that I am capable? And what did that look mean?
She tilts her head. “You look familiar for some reason, Four.”
“I can’t imagine why,” he replies, his voice suddenly cold. “I don’t make a habit of associating with the Abnegation.”
My mother laughs. She has a light laugh, half air and half sound. “Few people do, these days. I don’t take it personally.”
He seems to relax a little. “Well, I’ll leave you to your reunion.”
My mother and I watch him leave. The roar of the river fills my ears. Maybe Four was one of the Erudite, which explains why he hates Abnegation. Or maybe he believes the articles the Erudite release about us—them, I remind myself. But it was kind of him to tell her that I’m doing well when I know he doesn’t believe it.
“Is he always like that?” she says.
“Have you made friends?” she asks.
“A few,” I say. I look over my shoulder at Will and Christina and their families. When Christina catches my eye, she beckons to me, smiling, so my mother and I cross the Pit floor.
Before we can get to Will and Christina, though, a short, round woman with a black-and-white-striped shirt touches my arm. I twitch, resisting the urge to smack her hand away.
“Excuse me,” she says. “Do you know my son? Albert?”
“Albert?” I repeat. “Oh—you mean Al? Yes, I know him.”
“Do you know where we can find him?” she says, gesturing to a man behind her. He is tall and as thick as a boulder. Al’s father, obviously.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see him this morning. Maybe you should look for him up there?” I point at the glass ceiling above us.
“Oh my,” Al’s mother says, fanning her face with her hand. “I would rather not attempt that climb again. I almost had a panic attack on the way down here. Why aren’t there any railings along those paths? Are you all insane?”
I smile a little. A few weeks ago I might have found that question offensive, but now I spend too much time with Candor transfers to be surprised by tactlessness.
“Insane, no,” I say. “Dauntless, yes. If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”
My mother, I see, wears the same smile I do. She isn’t reacting the way some of the other transfers’ parents are—her neck bent, looking around at the Pit walls, at the Pit ceiling, at the chasm. Of course she isn’t curious—she’s Abnegation. Curiosity is foreign to her.
I introduce my mother to Will and Christina, and Christina introduces me to her mother and her sister. But when Will introduces me to Cara, his older sister, she gives me the kind of look that would wither a plant and does not extend her hand for me to shake. She glares at my mother.
“I can’t believe that you associate with one of them, Will,” she says.
My mother purses her lips, but of course, doesn’t say anything.
“Cara,” says Will, frowning, “there’s no need to be rude.”
“Oh, certainly not. Do you know what she is?” She points at my mother. “She’s a council member’s wife is what she is. She runs the ‘volunteer agency’ that supposedly helps the factionless. You think I don’t know that you’re just hoarding goods to distribute to your own faction while we don’t get fresh food for a month, huh? Food for the factionless, my eye.”
“I’m sorry,” my mother says gently. “I believe you are mistaken.”
“Mistaken. Ha,” Cara snaps. “I’m sure you’re exactly what you seem. A faction of happy-go-lucky do-gooders without a selfish bone in their bodies. Right.”
“Don’t speak to my mother that way,” I say, my face hot. I clench my hands into fists. “Don’t say another word to her or I swear I will break your nose.”
“Back off, Tris,” Will says. “You’re not going to punch my sister.”
“Oh?” I say, raising both eyebrows. “You think so?”
“No, you’re not.” My mother touches my shoulder. “Come on, Beatrice. We wouldn’t want to bother your friend’s sister.”
She sounds gentle, but her hand squeezes my arm so hard I almost cry out from the pain as she drags me away. She walks with me, fast, toward the dining hall. Just before she reaches it, though, she takes a sharp left turn and walks down one of the dark hallways I haven’t explored yet.
“Mom,” I say. “Mom, how do you know where you’re going?”
She stops next to a locked door and stands on her tiptoes, peering at the base of the blue lamp hanging from the ceiling. A few seconds later she nods and turns to me again.
“I said no questions about me. And I meant it. How are you really doing, Beatrice? How have the fights been? How are you ranked?”
“Ranked?” I say. “You know that I’ve been fighting? You know that I’m ranked?”
“It isn’t top-secret information, how the Dauntless initiation process works.”
I don’t know how easy it is to find out what another faction does during initiation, but I suspect it’s not that easy. Slowly, I say, “I’m close to the bottom, Mom.”
“Good.” She nods. “No one looks too closely at the bottom. Now, this is very important, Beatrice: What were your aptitude test results?”
Tori’s warning pulses in my head. Don’t tell anyone. I should tell her that my result was Abnegation, because that’s what Tori recorded in the system.
I look into my mother’s eyes, which are pale green and framed by a dark smudge of eyelashes. She has lines around her mouth, but other than that, she doesn’t look her age. Those lines get deeper when she hums. She used to hum as she washed the dishes.
This is my mother.
I can trust her.
“They were inconclusive,” I say softly.
“I thought as much.” She sighs. “Many children who are raised Abnegation receive that kind of result. We don’t know why. But you have to be very careful during the next stage of initiation, Beatrice. Stay in the middle of the pack, no matter what you do. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Do you understand?”
“Mom, what’s going on?”
“I don’t care what faction you chose,” she says, touching her hands to my cheeks. “I am your mother and I want to keep you safe.”
“Is this because I’m a—” I start to say, but she presses her hand to my mouth.
“Don’t say that word,” she hisses. “Ever.”
So Tori was right. Divergent is a dangerous thing to be. I just don’t know why, or even what it really means, still.
She shakes her head. “I can’t say.”
She looks over her shoulder, where the light from the Pit floor is barely visible. I hear shouts and conversations, laughter and shuffling footsteps. The smell from the dining hall floats over my nose, sweet and yeasty: baking bread. When she turns toward me, her jaw is set.
“There’s something I want you to do,” she says. “I can’t go visit your brother, but you can, when initiation is over. So I want you to go find him and tell him to research the simulation serum. Okay? Can you do that for me?”
“Not unless you explain some of this to me, Mom!” I cross my arms. “You want me to go hang out at the Erudite compound for the day, you had better give me a reason!”
“I can’t. I’m sorry.” She kisses my cheek and brushes a lock of hair that fell from my bun behind my ear. “I should leave. It will make you look better if you and I don’t seem attached to each other.”
“I don’t care how I look to them,” I say.
“You should,” she says. “I suspect they are already monitoring you.”
She walks away, and I am too stunned to follow her. At the end of the hallway she turns and says, “Have a piece of cake for me, all right? The chocolate. It’s delicious.” She smiles a strange, twisted smile, and adds, “I love you, you know.”
And then she’s gone.
I stand alone in the blue light coming from the lamp above me, and I understand:
She has been to the compound before. She remembered this hallway. She knows about the initiation process.
My mother was Dauntless.
THAT AFTERNOON, I go back to the dormitory while everyone else spends time with their families and find Al sitting on his bed, staring at the space on the wall where the chalkboard usually is. Four took it down yesterday so he could calculate our stage one rankings.
“There you are!” I say. “Your parents were looking for you. Did they find you?”
He shakes his head.
I sit down next to him on the bed. My leg is barely half the width of his, even now that it’s more muscular than it was. He wears black shorts. His knee is purple-blue with a bruise and crossed with a scar.
“You didn’t want to see them?” I say.
“Didn’t want them to ask how I was doing,” he says. “I’d have to tell them, and they would know if I was lying.”
“Well…” I struggle to come up with something to say. “What’s wrong with how you’re doing?”
Al laughs harshly. “I’ve lost every fight since the one with Will. I’m not doing well.”
“By choice, though. Couldn’t you tell them that, too?”