Chapter Two

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A heavy gust of air smacks my face when I step out of the elevator and into the lobby. Gleeful exclamations and rowdy laughter meet my ears from every corner. Anne drags me towards the heart of the crowd.

"I'd rather stand against the wall..." I admit.

"Oh, come on! I like standing near people."

"You mean you like being squished?"

She rolls her eyes at me then releases my hand. I quickly make my way to the perimeter of the room and lean against the wall, searching the swarm of people. The lobby is the only place in the school where both genders are permitted to congregate. Other than that, we have separate classes, dormitories, bathrooms, and even lunch periods. I frown as I watch a cluster of boys write curse words on the wall across from me with permanent markers, promptly dissolving into fits of laughter. For the first time, I wonder why we are so stringently separated.

I know that They bring together certain males and females for reproductive purposes, but even that is carefully orchestrated and observed. There must be a larger reason why They separate us. I've always been fascinated by boys, even if I don't really know much about them. I tug my gaze towards the mass of people again, seeking desperately until I finally see him. A weight seems to drop from my chest into my stomach.

"Mark." I call out. The crowd swallows the sound of my smooth voice, so I raise it.

"Mark!"

My brother looks up at me from across the room and reluctantly leaves his friends to approach me. Nowadays, barely anyone has meaningful relationships with their family members because there's so much separation. But Mark always held a special position in my life--even if he doesn't necessarily reciprocate my sentiments. After twelve cold, affectionless years of institutionalization, his shaved, dark brown hair and kind-looking blue eyes pulverize one of the many barriers constructed within me. I find myself blinking back tears.

"Greetings Enna," he says when he's near enough for me to hear. As always his voice is cordial, but not warm. Never warm. I have the urge to hug him, but I know it's probably too risky--yet another camera dangles ominously above us--so I settle for a smile.

"Grandma says she misses you, Mark... And wishes she could see you..." I bite my lip, waiting for his reaction. "I miss you," I add truthfully. Never once in all of his schooling did he make any effort to visit me or our grandmother. Every month I'd seek him out despite school rules, and every month there was a new excuse: "I have studying to do", "The guys want to get together", "It's a long walk and I'm not feeling up to it"...

"Mmm," he says dryly. "Well, are you ready?" I nod distractedly. In my own confusion I'd completely forgotten that Mark was graduating today as well. He's seventeen--a year younger than me--but he took all advanced classes this year in order to graduate sooner. Talk about sibling rivalry.

"It doesn't seem like you are..." He mutters suggestively, pulling his eyebrows together in a disapproving way.

"I am, I just..." Suddenly I feel a pressure on my chest, like the expansion of a balloon beneath my ribs, and I grab his arm, pulling us out of view from a nearby camera.

"Enna! What do you think you're--?"

"Here." In a blur of motion, I pull out the letter and shove it into his hand. As he's reading I glance over his shoulder at the mass of people who start to form a long line that wraps around the circumference of the lobby. None of them notice us. Mark hands me the letter back after reading it and stares at me. I stare back, wide-eyed, and he begins to laugh. I ball my clammy hands into fists. Violent anger slashes through me as he doubles over.

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