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I try to banish the negative thoughts before they can spiral out of control and focus on my reflection in the oval mirror.

I have the same green eyes as Mom, and I’m on the shorter side, built petite, just like her. No amount of growth spurts are going to help with my height. I wish I had her dark hair, though. It’s the one thing I didn’t get from her.

When I was little, I used to sit for hours playing with her hair. The memory makes my mouth curve up in a sad smile. There are times I miss her so much my heart physically hurts.

Taking a deep breath, I get up and check to make sure my clothes didn’t wrinkle. My new shirt and ankle-length skirt fit just right, not too tight.

Earlier this year, I got excited when my other shirts got too small. Our neighbor, Mrs. Noah, said I shouldn’t worry, that I would fill out nicely like the other girls.

Still, my breasts are small and nearing twenty, I’m starting to get worried, though. When you look like a child, people treat you like a child. My body has developed a little, but not nearly enough to be taken seriously as an adult or wanted as a wife.

Eighteen was supposed to be my big passage to adulthood, but it turned out to be just another number. Mom was taken from us two years ago, and my eighteenth birthday came with pitiful glances and awkward smiles.

I tug at the stiff collar shafting my neck. The fabric is still hard from not being worn. I kept the shirt especially for today, the seventh day of the seventh month when the bus comes around to collect seven of us.

It’s time for us to wait outside like the rest of our neighbors, to wait and see who will be given the honor of becoming a crusader.

They call it an honor to be chosen, but I’m not so sure about that.

Dad is safe from being chosen, and so am I. Mom was already selected from our family. The law states only one person per family, and it’s hardly ever a woman because we’re needed for child bearing. Also a man who fills a vital role in the ecocity, like curers, scientists, and enforcers are all save from being chosen.

Taking a last look at my reflection, I leave my bedroom to join Dad outside.

On the way through the living room, my eye catches the photo of Mom sitting on the mantelpiece. It’s the only one we have of her in the house. She’s smiling at me from where she’s seated in a rocking chair, holding me as a baby. On the spur of the moment, I take the photo out of the frame and tuck it in my shirt pocket.

At least this way, she’ll be close to me today.

We never changed the living room after Mom was chosen, except for the glofish Dad brought home from work for my nineteenth birthday.

The genetically modified goldfish swim around aimlessly in their tiny tank. Every night I watch them as darkness sets in, their colors shining brilliantly. When they swim together and their colors blur, I can almost imagine that’s what a rainbow would look like. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to live in their confined world.

Then there are nights it feels like I’m on the other side of the tank, and they are watching me – I’m the one living in the confined world.

“Everything will be okay, Jai,” Dad says from where he’s standing by the front door with his back turned to me.

With the late hours he works, we don’t get to spend much time together. But I know he loves me. Even though emotions are not allowed to be demonstrated, my parents have shown me affection inside the safety of our house.

“Yes, Dad.” I want to say more to make him feel better and less stressed, but I have no words of encouragement to offer. Instead, I break the law of no physical contact and slip my hand into Dad’s. He gives me a squeeze before pulling his hand from mine, then I follow him out onto our porch.

I suck in a deep breath of air, nerves spinning in my stomach. I fist my hands at my sides, trying hard not to give in to the urge to fidget.

Now the waiting starts.

Usually, I’d get breakfast ready for us before heading to the seminary for my lessons.

You’re safe.

Dad’s safe.

In just a few minutes, everything will go back to normal.

Yeah, Jai. There’s nothing to worry about.

Still, I can’t help but feel sad and anxious because seven families will lose a loved one today.

I’ll go back inside and make us some oats. We’ll eat, and I’ll go to my classes, Dad will go to work, and everything will be fine. It will be another typical, dull day for our family.

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