The alarm on my phone was beeping in its long high – pitched tone. The pattern of the alarm would repeat itself, increasing in volume until I get up and stop the damn thing.
My brain’s imagination has been wild of late, so this morning it turned the alarm sound into that of a crazy woman yelling at me. She started off whispering “Wake up, Celestina... Celestina... Wake up...” and the woman in my dreams soon lost her patience and started screaming at me at the top of her lungs, her eyes were fierce with anger and irritation “WAKE UP, CELESTINA!”
I woke up with a jolt with my eyes blinking a few times and flew open trying to rid the image of the crazy lady that was screaming at me. Sweat trickled down my head and down my neck with a coat of sweat on my temple, I wiped at it roughly with the back of my hand and with my heart still racing, as her voice kept ringing in my head.
I took deep breaths trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes and to get my bearing about me, trying to calm myself and erase the burning need to escape the tightness I was feeling around my chest as fast as I could. Adrenaline was still pumping through my veins and I had this urge to run but instead, I shook my head to clear my thoughts.
The dim lights on the wall flickered to life, casting a soft glow, at the exact moment that the alarm shut itself off. I knew what time it was, without having to look at the clock as it has been the same routine for the past eleven years ‘Seven, time to get up, Celestina, I chided myself!’
I heard Vivian groan as she shifted her body and the rustling of the sheets. While I struggle to push the sound of my alarm out of my head, she had an amazing way of ignoring the alarm and sleep like a tranquilized horse through that damn thing ringing like a siren.
Vivian slept in the bunk beneath mine ever since the day we were assigned to the same dorm room. My friend knew that there were exactly five minutes between the time when the lights came to life and when the bright overhead light would automatically turn on, brightening the entire room.
That meant that her head would be under her pillow, desperately trying to cling to the last precious moments of sleep, until our Protector opened the door to make sure we were getting ready for our daily classes. “Vivian,” I called down to her, “get your lazy butt out of bed”.
“Mmmm… Five minutes,” she mumbled, still half asleep and burying her head under her pillow.
It was the first thing we said to each other every day since the first day. Well, every day since we were put together, in the Teenage Hall.
Instead of letting her slip back into her semi-aware, semi-comatose, semi-asleep state, I leaned over the side of the bed, my long, brown hair hanging down, almost touching her bunk. “Viviaaaann,” I cooed in a quiet singsong voice.
“Tina, I swear! Let me be! Go away!” she waved her hand in a shooing motion.
“Viviaaaaannn” I repeated a little louder, drawing her name out, almost in a hiss.
“For goodness sake, Tina. Alright… alright… I am awake damn it... I am awake!” Vivian pulled the pillow from her face and sat up. “What is with you this morning?” she bit out and rubbed her hands up and down her arms. She has the most perfect, creamy, milk chocolate skin and I am ridiculously jealous of it.
“Is it cold in here?” she mumbled rubbing her arms with her hands.
“Naaaahhhh,” I said with my brows knit together “Just a weird dream. And the temperature is the same as it always is ‘Regulation standard’”.
“Of course, it is,” she yawned and almost falling back on her pillow ‘Damn sleepy head!’.
“No... no... no... you lazy ass... you are not going back to sleep” I whispered yelled tugging on her quilt “It is Coalesce Day”.
Her big brown eyes lit up and they were finally fully open “Oooohh… yeah… I almost forgot about that” 'Liar!'
“You did not!” I laughed at her, poking my finger in her arm “That is all you have been talking about for the past week or so”.
“Shhh” Vivian tried to shush me down, placing her palm over my mouth and pulling on my hair “I do not want to be put on hold like Alice was”.
A few months prior, when Alice turned seventeen, she started bragging to her friends that she was going to kiss the first boy she saw. Her friends / roommates told their Protector, their Protector told the head Protector, the head Protector told the Alpha, and the Alpha informed The Chapter. It was against regulation. Alice was put on hold and was deemed ill-equipped to handle being Coalesced.
Vivian and I had recently turned seventeen, our birthdays are exactly one week apart… on September 19th and 26th. At some point during everyone’s seventeenth year, it is time for Coalesce them. There are only two Coalesce days per year.
One is in the first week of June and the other is in the first week of December. You qualify for the Coalesce that falls directly after your seventeenth birthday unless you were put on hold. The girls and the boys have been kept apart from each other since the age of five, the age when we started to keep memories.
According to one of The Chapter's mandates of the Great Restructuring, males and females are to be educated separately and should not even socialize until they are Coalesced because that is when they are old enough to understand the complexities of a male – female relationship.
‘Whatever that meant! Other than the fathers who came to Grooming Tech on Social Visit days, I have not been near a boy in twelve years. I never understood what the big deal was. We are girls and they are boys. We needed to learn to work together in harmony and find a match that suited us, so we could eventually procreate'.
I read the Coalesce Guide, it all seemed logical to me but not the one above. People like Alice made a big deal out of it, acting like they were going to find instant true love 'I see my parents interact... I have seen almost everyone's parents interact... love did not seem to be a big factor when finding a match, so I do not understand what the big deal was with keeping us away from the boys!'
'Love has always been just a word that people used, an empty emotionless word. I love you did not seem to mean a thing. In fact, I have never heard either of my parents utter it, not once, to each other'.
The bright lights turned on and I jumped down from the top bunk just as soon as our Protector popped her head in the door.
“Good Morning girls” she greeted everyone in her usual chirpy tone 'I can't understand how in the hell manages to have this much energy first thing in the morning' “It is Coalesce Day!” she said in her sing-song tone and was gone, of to the next room to say the exact same thing. She worked her way through the entire hall, every day, within just a few minutes.
I had no idea how she could sound so lively and chirpy, so early in the morning, when all I want to do is roll back into bed and get under my warm cozy quilt.
After our Protector left the room, I sighed to myself with relief. It was a blessing to have a wealthy and prominent father, I would not have to worry about anything, I would not be destined to the life of a Protector, no matter what the tests showed.
I ran out of the door towards the bathroom and Vivian yelled out after me, “Want me to style your hair today?”
“You bet” I yelled back. I will never understand why she never needs the bathroom first thing in the morning as I did. I really wished we had more than just a sink in our room.
As I sprinted to the end of the hall, I looked at the calendar that digitally scrolled across the wall: Today is Friday: Coalesce Day… Today is Friday: Coalesce Day… Then I ducked into the bathroom.
Fridays were regimented as the final day of the week, with five days assigned to schooling and organized activities. Sunday and Saturday had always been our days of rest. When we were Year Six students, Trainer Alpha taught us that in the past, Sunday was the most common day of religious observance.
But with the numerous acts of terrorism and killings, the violence carried out in the name of one god or another, the practicing of religion was finally banned just over half a century ago. All religious texts, symbols, and places of worship were destroyed.
For several years after, the few groups that openly rebelled were exposed and all government benefits to them were withdrawn. Eventually, the diehards were f****d to flee the cities and perished in the wilds without protection, food, or shelter. I guess, Saturday and Sunday were kept as the days of rest, out of habit.
Coalesce Day was traditionally held on a Saturday. My guess was that The Chapter decided that we young creatures needed a day of rest after being around the opposite s*x for the first time in so many years.
I sort of remember playing with boys, back home I think, somewhere where it was green and wild, not like the manicured gardens in Grooming Tech. I remember running through the green tall grass by a stream.
I remember that there was a group of us, consisting of both boys and girls. But the memories are all fuzzy. The memory was from before I turned five, from before my parents drove me to Grooming Tech and dropped me off with the head Protector.
After I exited the stall, I walked to the sink and stared at my reflection for a few minutes before I washed my hands. I look... tired, my eyes were ringed with dark shadows. I had not been sleeping well because of my nerves. I tossed and turned in bed most nights, trying to get back to sleep after jerking awake from one strange dream or another.
The tall trees, the dark shadowed places where things hide, the woman with the dark hair screaming at me, the strange need to run... to flee... to hide... all those things made it hard to fall back asleep. I wished the dreams would stop. I wished I did not look so tired for Coalesce Day. I wished… “Celestina, you are totally zonked,” Lily giggled.
“I am just a little... tired” I shook my head and looked over to where she and Meg were standing, openly laughing at me. “Oh, you are right, Lily,” I admitted, looking back at my reflection in the mirror. “I look completely and totally zonked. I am a mess.”
“You are not a total mess, you look fine.” Meg smiled at me in the mirror as the two passed behind. “Well, we will see you in the cafeteria, I suppose”
“Yeah,” I mumbled as I dried my hands before I followed them out the door.
Trailing my hands along the walls of the dormitory as I walked back to my room. I had wandered these halls for so long, I can hardly remember anything else. I only had a few fuzzy, unreliable, flashes of life before Grooming Tech. How many people could clearly remember something that happened when they were four?
My great-great-great-grandfather, on my mother’s side, established Grooming Tech soon after The Chapter was formed, and the government was reconstructed. One of The Chapter’s main objectives was to raise responsible human beings.
It was determined a long time back that the poor were overbreeding, childhood obesity was at an all-time high, education standards were below par, and because not all people were immunized, certain diseases had begun to return.
The Chapter seized control and implemented birth control, education, fitness, nutrition, and general health standards. A few years later, when Grooming Tech opened its doors, the raising of children was taken over as well.
My mother said that the people were reluctant to comply with the changes, so my great-great-grandfather persuaded The Chapter to see the truth… that the new government knew what was best for the survival of our society.
When I got back into our room, Vivian practically bounced off the walls. She was already dressed in our standard uniform that consisted of a white skirt and a blue shirt, with a dark green and brown striped tie, that I hate for some unexplainable reason. Her hair was a little wet down, and her natural spiral curls were rearranged.
Poor Vivian repeatedly told our Protector that it would be easier on her hair if she could shower in the morning. But the rules stated that we shower exactly one hour before lights out, and the rules would not be bent for a hairstyle. Vivian could not wait until the day we left Grooming Tech for Career Education. Our lives would be a lot less controlled, our classes varied, our days less scheduled.
I dressed quickly as Vivian ranted on about our future.
“Eight months of Coalesce, and then we get to go back to our homes,” Vivian said dreamily.
“It’ll be kind of weird” I worried as it has been a long time, we stepped outside the walls of the Grooming Tech compound.
“I can’t wait to get out of here. I can barely remember what my house looks like” she was lost in her thoughts, probably trying to picture what her home looked like.
“My parents have moved ever since so nothing will be familiar for me anyway,” I shrugged my shoulders as I reminded her.
“Oh... yeah! I always forget about that… when did your father get his Council Seat?” I met her gaze through the mirror.
“When we were in Year two. Gloriana goads him with that like he should have been on The Chapter way before. She always likes to remind him that her family has held a seat on The Chapter since it was formed” I pulled on my tie and started tying it.
“Oh... yeah... that’s right. You are lucky he’s in Council now. There are a lot of perks that come with being a Councilman’s daughter and granddaughter… and the great, great, granddaughter, or however far back you go. You will never have to worry about being a Protector or being stuck with some other low-level job” she pulled on her shoes.
“Neither will you. Your father may not be Council, but he oversees our Weaponry Development” I tucked my shirt in and started adjusting it.
“That is true” she sighed “When did you stop calling her Mother by the way?”
“Gloriana? When I was 9 or 10. She insisted I stop calling her mother and told me to call her by her first name, instead. Are you going to do my hair or not?” I said and plopped myself on the chair in front of our mirror. I hate talking about my family, especially my mother.
My mother, Gloriana, was always cold and detached whenever she chose to show up on a Social Visit Day. On the rare occasions that she would attend, she would sit near my father, with a possessive hand on his back, uninterested in what I was saying, staring with distaste at everything that I said. She always had a fake smile for the other mothers, well, at least for the ones she deemed important enough to grant eye contact.
'I wish my parents were more like Vivian’s parents. They have always shown genuine affection for Vivian, as well as for each other'.
At 7:30 another alarm buzzed signaling that it was time to quickly make our way to the cafeteria. Breakfast, a mundane experience. Multigrain bread, a protein and vitamin shake, and a piece of fruit were prepared on identical trays that had to be picked up from the service area, while we kept ourselves in an orderly line. Then we all sat down to eat.
The Protectors watched over us and reported any student that did not consume all of their meal. Sharing was f*******n but talking was not. Mealtime was our time. The gossip always flowed, and Vivian and I started to get an earful of it right from the moment we sat down at our table.
“I will finally get to see my brother, Nash, today,” Lily squealed with excitement “My mother always brought a picture of him with her when she visits, but I can barely remember anything about him. He grew into his good looks just as I did. You girls are in for a treat!” she winked at us and started laughing.
“That’s right! I forgot you have a twin” I said gulping down my drink as fast as I could.
“We both had blonde hair and mom's eyes, the last time I saw him, but his hair is much darker now, in the last picture I saw. My mother also mentioned that he is excelling in his classes. She cannot stop saying how much of a catch he is. They go over to the boy’s ward every Sunday after they visit me. He used to snatch my toys and run from me all the time when we were little. I think he hated that I was the older twin. I am seven minutes older than him, you know,” Lily smiled.
It always seemed silly to me that siblings were not permitted to socialize or at least visit… unless they are of the same gender, siblings go years without seeing one another.
“I am six minutes older than Petra,” Petricia winked as she nudged her twin sister's shoulder.
“Petricia here thinks that means something. But we all know that the young win all the time” Petra smiled winking at her sister.
Petra and Petricia or “Pet 1” and “Pet 2” as we liked to call them, were the only identical twins at our Grooming Tech. Although Vivian and I had heard our Protector say something about there being another set of identical twins… males… in Three (we lived in One - where the founding government resided).
I looked at Meg as she was not talking to anyone. She was just staring down into her lap.
As the rest of the table continued with their giggles and stories, I began to rub at my left wrist. I repeated the back and forth motion, not fully aware that I was doing it. My skin grew warm from the friction. Vivian grabbed onto my hand, stopping me. She gave me a reassuring smile.
The table grew suddenly quiet. All talking had stopped. My friends glanced nervously at me, looked at each other, and then stared down at their own wrists. Meg stared into my eyes and nodded, letting me know that she was just as uneasy as I was. I nodded back. I was not sure how I would get through the next part of my day.
We all finished our breakfast in silence.
There are two things that happened every Coalesce day. The second one… was being in the same room as the male students for the first time in our lives. The first one… was Citizen Branding where every Citizen gets a mark imprinted into the flesh of his or her left wrist. It is a single circle in black color.
At the end of Coalesce when each Citizen’s medical tests were finalized and the results revealed, an ‘I’ would be added to the center of the triangle if a Citizen was barren and would not be able to produce offspring and an ‘F’ would be added in the center if a Citizen was more than likely to be fertile… the fate of our future rested on those test results.
The first bell of the day rang notifying that it is time to find out where out fate lies and be branded as fertile citizens or barren citizens.