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“And so after years of tribulation and pain, she walked in righteousness and peace until the end of her days”

(Book of Lamentations, Mary 13:1).

I always thought it was strange that my mother named me Magdalena. She didn’t even believe in the cure. That was her whole problem. And the Book of Lamentations is all about the dangers of deliria. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, and in the end I guess I’ve figured out that despite everything, my mother knew that she was wrong: that the cure, and the procedure, were for the best. I think even then she knew what she was going to do—she knew what would happen. I guess my name was her final gift to me, in a way. It was a message.

I think she was trying to say, Forgive me. I think she was trying to say, Someday, even this pain will be taken away.

You see? No matter what everyone says, and despite everything, I know she wasn’t all bad.

The next two weeks are the busiest of my life. Summer explodes into Portland. In early June the heat was there but not the color—the greens were still pale and tentative, the mornings had a biting coolness—but by the last week of school everything is Technicolor and splash, outrageous blue skies and purple thunderstorms and ink-black night skies and red flowers as bright as spots of blood. Every day after school there’s an assembly, or ceremony, or graduation party to go to.

Hana gets invited to all of them; I get invited to most, which surprises me.

Harlowe Davis—who lives with Hana in the West End, and whose father does something for the government— invites me to come over for a “casual good- bye thing.” I didn’t even think she knew my name—whenever she’s talking to Hana her eyes have always skated past me, like I’m not worth focusing on. I go anyway. I’ve always been curious about her house, and it turns out to be as spectacular as I imagined. Her family has a car, too, and electric appliances everywhere that obviously get used every day, washers and dryers and huge chandeliers filled with dozens and dozens of lightbulbs. Harlowe has invited most of the graduating class—there are sixty-seven of us in total and probably fifty at the party—which makes me feel less special, but it’s still fun. We sit in the backyard while the housekeeper runs in and out of the house with plates and plates of food—coleslaw and potato salad and other barbecue stuff—and her father turns out spare ribs and hamburgers on the enormous smoking grill. I eat until I feel like I’m about to burst and have to roll backward onto the blanket I’m sharing with Hana. We stay there until almost curfew, when the stars are peeking through a curtain of dark blue and the mosquitoes rise up all at once and we all go shrieking and laughing back into the house, slapping them away.

Afterward I think it’s one of the nicest days I’ve had in a long time.

Even girls I don’t really like—like Shelly Pierson, who has hated me since sixth grade, when I won the science fair and she took second place—start being nice. I guess it’s because we all know the end is close. Most of us won’t see one another after graduation, and even if we do it will be different. We’ll be different. We’ll be adults— cured, tagged and labeled and paired and identified and placed neatly on our life path, perfectly round marbles set to roll down even, well- defined slopes.

Theresa Grass turns eighteen before school ends and gets cured; so does Morgan Dell. They’re absent for a few days and come back to school just before graduation. The change is amazing. They seem peaceful now, mature and somehow remote, like they’re encased in a thin layer of ice. Only two weeks ago Theresa’s nickname was Theresa Gross, and everyone made fun of her for slouching and chewing on the ends of her hair and generally being a mess, but now she walks straight and tall with her eyes fixed straight in front of her, her lips barely curled in a smile, and everyone shifts a little in the halls so she can pass easily. Same thing goes for Morgan. It’s like all their anxiety and self- consciousness has been removed along with the disease.

Even Morgan’s legs have stopped trembling. Whenever she used to have to speak in class, the trembling would get so bad it would rock the desk. But after the procedure, just like that—whoosh! The shaking stops. Of course they’re not the first girls in our class to get cured—Eleanor Rana and Annie Hahn were both cured way back in the fall, and half a dozen other girls have had the procedure this past semester— but in them the difference is somehow more pronounced.

I keep going with my countdown. Eighty-one days, then eighty, then seventy- nine.

Willow Marks never comes back to school. Rumors filter back to us—that she had her procedure and it turned out fine; that she had her procedure and now her brain is going haywire, and they’re talking about committing her to the Crypts, Portland’s combo prison-and-mental- ward; that she ran away to the Wilds. Only one thing is for sure: The whole Marks family is under constant surveillance now. The regulators are blaming Mr. and Mrs. Marks—and the whole extended family—for not instilling in her a proper education, and only a few days after she was supposedly found in Deering Oaks Park, I overhear my aunt and uncle whispering that both of Willow’s parents have been fired from their jobs. A week later we hear that they’ve had to move in with a distant relative. Apparently people kept throwing rocks at their windows, and a whole side of their house was written over with a single word: SYMPATHIZERS. It makes no sense, because Mr. and Mrs. Marks were on record insisting that their daughter have the procedure early, despite the risks, but as my aunt says, people get like that when they’re scared. Everyone is terrified that the deliria will somehow find its way into Portland on a large scale. Everyone wants to prevent an epidemic.

I feel bad for the Marks family, of course, but that’s the way things are. It’s like the regulators: You may not like the patrols and the identity checks, but since you know it’s all done for your protection, it’s impossible not to cooperate. And it may sound awful, but I don’t think about Willow’s family for long. There’s just too much end-of-high-school paperwork to file, and nervous energy, and lockers to clean out and final exams to take and people to say good-bye to.

Hana and I can barely find time to run together. When we do, we stick to our old routes by silent agreement.

She never mentions the afternoon at the labs again, to my surprise. But Hana’s mind has a tendency to skip around, and her new obsession is a collapse at the northern end of the border that people are saying might have been caused by Invalids. I don’t even consider going down to the labs again, not for one single solitary second. I focus on everything and anything besides my lingering questions about Alex—which isn’t too hard, considering that I now can’t believe I spent an evening biking up and down the streets of Portland, lying to Carol and the regulators, just to meet up with him. The very next day it felt like a dream, or a delusion. I tell myself I must have gone temporarily insane: brain scramble, from running in the heat.

On graduation day Hana sits three rows ahead of me at the commencement ceremony. As she files past me to take her seat she reaches out for my hand—two long pumps, two short ones—and when she sits down she tilts her head back so I can see that she has taken a marker and scrawled on the top of her graduation cap:

THANK GOD! I stifle a laugh, and she turns around and makes a pretend-stern face at me. All of us are giddy, and I’ve never felt closer to the St. Anne’s girls than that day—all of us sweating under the sun, which beams down on us like an exaggerated smile, fanning ourselves with the commencement brochures, trying not to yawn or roll our eyes while Principal McIntosh drones on about “adulthood” and “our entrance into the community order,” nudging one another and tugging on the collars of our scratchy graduation gowns to try to let some air down our necks.

Family members sit in white plastic folding chairs, under a cream white tarp fluttering with flags: the school flag, the city flag, the state flag, the American flag. They applaud politely as each graduate goes up to receive her diploma. When it’s my turn I scan the audience, looking for my aunt and my sister, but I’m so nervous about tripping and falling as I take my place on the stage and reach for the diploma in Principal McIntosh’s hand, I can’t see anything but color—green, blue, white, a mess of pink and brown faces—or make out any individual sounds beyond the shush of clapping hands. Only Hana’s voice, loud and clear as a bell:

“Hallelujah, Halena!” That’s our special pump-you-up chant that we used to do before track meets and tests, a combination of both of our names.

Afterward we line up to take individual portraits with our diplomas. An official photographer has been hired, and a royal blue backdrop set up in the middle of the soccer field, where we all stand and pose. We’re too excited to take the pictures seriously, though. People keep doubling over laughing in their pictures, so all you can see is the crown of their heads.

When it’s my turn for a picture, at the very last second Hana jumps in and throws one arm around my shoulders, and the photographer is so startled he presses down on the shutter anyway. Click! There we are: I’m turning to Hana, mouth open, surprised, about to laugh. She’s a full head taller than me, has her eyes shut and her mouth open. I really do think there was something special about that day, something golden and maybe even magic, because even though my face was all red and my hair looked sticky on my forehead, it’s like Hana rubbed off on me a little bit—because despite everything, and just in that one picture, I look pretty.

More than pretty. Beautiful, even.

The school band keeps playing, mostly in tune, and the music floats across the field and is echoed by the birds wheeling in the sky. It’s like something lifts in that moment, some huge pressure or divide, and before I know what’s happening all my classmates are crushing together in a huge hug, jumping up and down and screaming, “We did it! We did it! We did it!” And none of the parents or teachers try to separate us. As we start to break away I see them encircling us, watching with patient expressions, hands folded. I catch my aunt’s gaze and my stomach does a weird twist and I know that she, like everyone else, is giving us this moment—our last moment together, before things change for good and forever.

And things will change—are changing, even at that second. As the group dissolves into clumps of students, and the clumps dissolve into individuals, I notice Theresa Grass and Morgan Dell already starting across the lawn toward the street. They are each walking with their families, heads down, without once looking back.

They haven’t been celebrating with us, I realize, and it occurs to me I haven’t seen Eleanor Rana or Annie Hahn or the other cureds either. They must have already gone home. A curious ache throbs in the back of my throat, even though of course this is how things are:

Everything ends, people move on, they don’t look back.

It’s how they should be.

I catch sight of Rachel through the crowd and go running up to her, suddenly eager to be next to her, wishing she would reach down and ruffle my hair like she used to when I was very little, and say, “Good job, Loony,” her old nickname for me.

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