Evalene's Number

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Numbering Day

EVALENE LAY IN BED with the warmth of the sun on her face and the sound of a bird chirping happily outside her window. It looked like a textbook robin, though she'd never seen one before, so she couldn't be sure. The Grid shot down any objects, man-made or animal, that flew above 100 meters.

That made the rare bird an especially good omen for today, her thirteenth birthday. More importantly, her Numbering Day. Finally.

Lola crept into the room quietly with the breakfast tray, expecting Evalene to be sleeping. But how could she, on such a glorious day?

Hopping out of bed, Evalene impulsively gave her nanny a hug. She'd never admit it, but she was going to miss Lola. After today, Evalene officially no longer needed a nanny – hadn't for years really – but the idea of the older woman working in the kitchen from now on put a tiny damper on an otherwise long-awaited moment.

Lola allowed the hug to last a few seconds, though it was against the rules, as if she too might be a bit nostalgic. Then the tiny woman unwrapped Evalene's arms, patting Evalene's soft white hands with her own, a few shades darker, frail, and wrinkled. "Let's get you dressed, Miss Evie," she said. "First, eat your breakfast."

Ignoring Lola and the breakfast tray, Evalene untied her long silk robe and dropped it on the ornamental rug. She was too nervous to eat a single bite. Running over to her grand mirror along the far wall, where her beautiful ceremonial dress hung beside it, Evalene stroked the elaborate beading and lace, admiring her stunning, floor-length dress. Pure white, like the priests wore.

Lola picked up the discarded night robe and dropped it down the laundry chute. The older woman then held out Evalene's undergarments, and once Evalene donned them, Lola carefully lifted the layers of the white dress up high so Evalene could dive under the skirt and into the stunning lace-covered fabric.

While Lola moved to the windows to pull back the floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains, letting sunlight pour into the large room, Evalene turned towards her wall-length mirror once more to admire the expensive dress. She remained standing while Lola brushed, and then curled, Evalene's long brown hair.

The dress was soft, but heavy. She wiggled impatiently. Anticipation made it impossible to stand still, much less sit.

When Lola pronounced her done, Evalene hardly recognized the grown up thirteen-year-old in the mirror. She touched her cheek. She didn't feel any different. Maybe the change would come once she got her Number.

Lola shyly tapped her on the shoulder. Evalene turned to find the tiny woman was holding out a gift, plainly-wrapped in yesterday's newspaper. Evalene ripped it open gleefully. Inside was the most beautiful blue cashmere scarf. The color of the sky on a cloudless day.

"Lola," she gasped, "You shouldn't have!" With the little allowance the woman was given, it had to have cost at least six months' wages.

The wrinkled old woman smiled, showing all the gaps where teeth were missing. Her slanted brown eyes nearly disappeared as they always did when she was happy. "Presents on Numbering Day is good luck, Miss Evie."

Sighing in happiness, Evalene stroked the soft fabric. She smiled and held it against her cheek, feeling its touch like a sign from God.

Lola clasped her hands over her own deep-brown dress. Glowing with an almost maternal pride, she told Evalene, "It covers your tattoo, like a proper lady."

Evalene touched the unbroken skin on the left side of her neck. She grimaced at the thought of a needle there. But it would be worth it. Though children were automatically considered a part of their parents' class, Evalene was dying to lay claim to her own Number.

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