I've learned to be wary of perfection, which is strange, considering I live in a perfect world.
I believe, that as a human, everyone should have at least one flaw in their character. That flaw can range from something like excessive pride, vanity, or putting pineapple on pizza.
Perfection can be misleading. Perfect looks, for example, can cover up a nasty personality that no one would want to get tangled up in. A perfect personality, however, can easily ward off those who are shallow and only believe in cosmetic beauty.
Living in a flawless world, I've gotten my fair share of strange looks whenever I would bring this up, as well as reprimanding, for I should be grateful that this world is one that I live in, and one without the problems of the previous humans who dominated the planet. We call them the Fallen--the race that fell from glory.
We, on the other hand, are the Risen, the ones that rose from the ashes of human failure and created something new. Something better.
I'm jolted from my thoughts by the arrival of my coffee, a delicious concoction of roasted coffee beans and the slightest bit of cinnamon. Immediately, I grip the cardboard sleeve around the steaming cup and draw it towards me, the heavenly smell even stronger now. I look up to thank the person who brought it to me, but they're already gone.
The bustling atmosphere of Jane's Cafe isn't one to forget anytime soon, paired with the striking design of the place, all sugarberry wood and glass windows and black and white trim. Paired with the permanent godly smell, the place is one that one would never want to leave.
I look up for just a moment, scanning the throng of people pushing open the glass double doors and spilling into the cafe, searching for a particular head of raven hair tipped with cotton-candy pink. Maeve was supposed to be here ten minutes ago, but I can't blame her for being late. It's good of her to make the most out of what could be her last few days alive.
I blow some of the steam from my coffee, the white vapor billowing in the air for a split second before floating away and disappearing entirely.
I raise the cup towards my mouth and start drinking. The delicious warmth starts its heavenly effect immediately, filling my body with much-needed goodness. I close my eyes, tuning out the conversation around me and just focusing on the combination of cinnamon, vanilla, and coffee...
"There you are!" A familiar silvery voice calls out. Immediately, my eyes flutter open, revealing a willowy girl with her predominantly black hair in a long plait down her back, hitting the occasional bystander in the face.
Muttering apologies to the poor victims of her braid, Maeve rushes to the table I'm sitting at, pulls out a chair, and sets herself in it. A barista appears out of nowhere, wearing that too obvious I-want-you look that every guy has around Maeve.
See, at Jane's, the baristas are also the waiters. The staff rotates, so you can see someone running the register one day, and them wiping the tables the next.
Maeve looks fashionable as always, despite only wearing a white sweater with black jeans, as well as a pair of goldtone earrings dangling from her earlobes. An evil smile graces her lips as she turns towards him. The barista, poor guy, he doesn't know what's coming for him.
"What can I get you today?" He asks, but I notice that his little notepad is still in his pocket, pencil/pen/writing material nowhere to be seen.
Wow, slick much?
Maeve looks away, pretending to be flustered, then turns back to him. "I like my coffee how I like my men."
The guy ditches his composure and breaks into a grin. "Tall? Dark? Sweet? Strong? Rich?"
I can imagine him checking all of those off mentally, though he doesn't look very rich, strong or sweet to me.
"No," Maeve tilts her head to the side, smile widening even more. "I hate coffee."
I choke on my drink. It gets me every time.
The guy's face falls, and an incredulous look lights his eyes.
"White tea, please." Maeve pats the guys' hand, which has been resting on the table up until now. She looks at me, a wicked light in her eyes. "And while you're at it, a cupcake too."
The barista nods once, then walks away without another word, still wearing a look of shock.
"They're honestly so dramatic," Mae rolls her eyes. She reaches across the table to squeeze my hand. "So, best friend, how's your day been so far?"
"It's been fine," I answer, thinking back to the beginning of the day. I woke up a year older, so that's exciting, I suppose, and a fleeting moment of joy passed by before I realized: Today was my seventeenth birthday.
In order to live in the Populace, every citizen, upon their seventeenth birthday, must take a test to prove that they are worthy of residing here.
Long, long ago, after the war that destroyed most of humanity, the Creators realized that humankind failed when it came to human nature. So, they created a series of tests that would pick out only the smartest, the strongest, the bravest, the kindest, the best of the best to live.
The rest, the Misfires, would be executed.
The idea behind all of it would be that Andota would be a perfect place to live, with no evil or harm.
The majority of the citizens of the Populace, the nickname for the entirety of Andota, have long since accepted the system, believing wholeheartedly that this is the way it should be.
I've grown up learning how to be the best in school, which is quite difficult, considering that there are hundreds of other students trying to do the same. As we've gotten older, it's been more and more awkward, as well as sad, as eventually, the classroom would grow smaller, the number of students would shrink, classmates would disappear.
Every year, parents, siblings, friends, girlfriends, and boyfriends would wait with bated breath to see if their loved one would survive, brought home by Populace officials, or given a white file with their last letter and the Article of their choice.
We call it the Analysis in the Eastside, but there has to be some sort of fancy Populace name for it. An acronym, maybe.
Every child knows the date. It occurs right before school begins, on the 31st of August.
One week from today.
"It's been fine?" Maeve repeats, raising a questioning dark eyebrow. "That's not how you should describe your seventeenth birthday, Ev. It should be spectacular, especially considering--"
"--The Analysis. I know." I finish, expressionless.
Maeve notices this, her smile dimming. "Oh, Evren..."
"Don't 'Oh, Evren' me, Mae. I've gotten enough of that from Alanis. She looked like she was about to burst into tears when I left today."
"But she already lost a niece during the Analysis three years back," Maeve counters, and that all-too-familiar stab in my chest returns for a moment, my blood chills, a sensation not unlike ice water running down my spine.
I take another sip of my coffee, just as Maeve's tea arrives. She gives the barista, the same one from before, a bright smile and a silvery 'Thank you!' before taking a sip.
"I don't think that she's moved on past her death," I answer Maeve. We both know who 'her' is.
"I doubt she would, especially considering her Letter." Maeve bites her lip thoughtfully.
"Aleyn was a mess after reading it," I refer to my youngest sister, still allowed three years before her Analysis.
We fall silent for a moment, just basking in the mere company of each other, trying to navigate our thoughts.
Aleyn was so small, so delicate, only eleven when Raelyn died. Me, fourteen, suddenly the oldest sister and child, still numb and broken from my sister, my protector's demise.
I force myself out of the past when Maeve taps my shoulder, brown eyes wide, eyebrows raised questioningly. "Do you remember Madeline?"
"Madeline? Dirty blonde hair, blue-grey eyes? Tall?" I recall the adults in my neighborhood speaking of a Madeline a bit over two years ago. Judging from their descriptions, she sounded like a girl at school, one of the older kids that I would only sometimes see.
"Yeah, her. Do you know what happened after her test? A year ago, she went for the Analysis and never returned. There wasn't even a letter or anything, and since she didn't have any family, no one could figure out where she went, or if she passed at all."
I take another drink out of my coffee, and Mae takes another sip of her tea.
"I just assumed that she failed, and they executed her as they did to the other Misfires," Maeve adds, downing the remainder of her tea.
"Maybe she knew too much, and that's why we never heard from her family, either." I raise an eyebrow skeptically, draining the last of my coffee. "Maybe, she figured something out that the Populace didn't want her to know, and that's why they killed her."
"What if she just went missing? Went into hiding to avoid the Analysis?" I ask, remembering how one of Rae's friends, Emersyn, tried to avoid it by sneaking off on Analysis Day. She ended up imprisoned for deceit and executed the same day.
"The Populace would've found her by now," Mae shakes her head, dismissing the idea immediately.
"But what if they didn't? What if she's still out there? Or what if she did know something, and that's why they put her to death?"
"I think you've had too much coffee, Evren." Maeve laughs, and it's at that moment when the cupcake arrives, set on our table atop an ornate china plate. It's a signature vanilla one, and this time, there's a pink birthday candle alit nestled within the white frosting.
For a moment, I forget about Analyses and Fallens and Misfires. For a moment, I remember that today's my birthday and that I should make the most of it. I have one week to live, so I might as well make it a good, fulfilling week.
"Happy Birthday, Evren. Enjoy it!" Maeve sets the cupcake so it's directly in front of me, and I hesitate for a moment before moving it closer towards me. From close up, I can count every sprinkle there is, how many white swirls are engraved in the pink wax. Or is it the other way around...?
Enjoy it, Maeve's words echo in my head. Closing my eyes, I lean in and blow out the candle, the warmth of the flame just tickling my nose. While I still can.