Matched, p.15
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       Matched, p.15

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 16

 

  “That’s fine,” I tel Xander. “Thanks. ” He lets go of the door and we walk into the hal together. In the back of my mind I find myself wondering what Ky wil do that night. They don’t tel you about free-rec options at work. By the time he gets home and finds out about it, the spots wil likely be ful because of the newness of the activity and because of the ice cream. We could sign him up, though. I could walk over to one of the ports here at the school and . . .

  Time’s up. The chime rings over the speakers in the hal .

  Xander and I duck through the classroom door, slide into our desks and take out our readers and scribes. Piper usual y sits next to us in Applicable Sciences, but I don’t see her. “Where’s Piper?”

  “I meant to tel you. She got her final work position today. ”

  “She did? What is it?”

  But the chime rings again and I have to face front and wait to find out until after class. Piper has her vocation! A few people get them early, like Ky, but the rest of us receive them at some point during the year after our seventeenth birthday. One by one we get picked off until everyone is gone and there’s no one left in our year at Second School.

  I hope Xander and Em don’t get cal ed for a long time. It wouldn’t be the same here without them, especial y without Xander. I glance over at him.

  He gazes at the instructor as though this is al he wants to do in the world. His fingers tap on the scribe; he jiggles one foot impatiently, always ready to know more. It’s hard to keep up with him—he’s so smart, he learns so fast. What if he moves on soon to his vocation and leaves me behind?

  Things are happening so quickly. Getting to my seventeenth birthday felt like steps taken slowly down a path where I saw each pebble, noticed each leaf, and felt pleasantly bored and anticipatory at the same time. Now it feels as if I am running down the path, flat out and breathing hard. It feels like I’l arrive at my Contract date in no time at al . Wil things ever slow down again?

  I look away from Xander. Even if Xander gets his vocation first, we’re still Matched, I remind myself. He’s not going to leave me behind. He doesn’t know that I saw Ky’s face that day on the screen.

  If I told Xander, would he understand? I think he would. I don’t think it would jeopardize our Match, or our friendship. Al the same, those are two things I don’t want to risk losing.

  I look back up at the instructor. The window behind her is dark, the sky fil ed with heavy low clouds. I wonder what they’d look like from the top of the big Hil . Can you climb high enough to get above the clouds, look down on the rain from a place in the sun?

  Without meaning to, I envision Ky on the hil , face turned to the warmth. I close my eyes for a moment, imagining I am up there too.

  The thunderstorm final y hits in the middle of class. I picture the rain in that greenspace where I met with the Official, making the fountain overflow and pounding the bench where I sat. I imagine I can hear the drops slap as they hit the metal, sigh as they reach the grass and dirt. It is dark as evening outside. The water beats on the roof and streams through the rain gutters. The one window in our classroom is sheeted and shaded in rain and we can’t see out for the flood.

  A line from that other poem, the Tennyson one, comes to mind suddenly: The flood may bear me far.

  If I had kept the poems from Grandfather, I’d be riding on a flood that I couldn’t stop. I did what I had to do; I did the right thing. But it is as though the rain outside pours on me, too, eroding my relief and leaving only regret: The poems are gone, and I can never get them back.

  CHAPTER 12

  At work that evening, we have an interesting sort for a change. Even Norah becomes animated as she describes it to me at her desk. “We’re looking at different physical traits for a Matching pool,” she says. “Eye color. Hair color. Height and weight. ”

  “Is the Match Department going to use our sorts?” I ask.

  She laughs. “Of course not. It’s for practice. This is to see if you pick up patterns in the Matchees’ data that the Officials have already noticed. ” Of course.

  “There’s something else,” Norah adds. She lowers her voice, not because this is a secret but because she doesn’t want to distract the others from their work. “The Officials told me that they’re going to administer your next test personal y. ” This is a good sign. This means that they want to see for themselves if I can work under pressure. This means that they may be considering me for one of the more interesting sorting-related vocations.

  “Do you know when?”

  She does, I can see, but she’s not supposed to tel me. “Sometime soon,” she says again, vaguely, and then she gives me one of her rare smiles.

  She turns back to her screen and I go to my station to get started.

  This is good, I think. I might get an optimal vocation assignment if I can impress the Officials enough. Everything is going wel again. I won’t think about Grandfather and the lost sample and the burned poems or my father and the Officials searching him. Or that Ky won’t ever get to be Matched to anyone or work anywhere besides the nutrition disposal center. I won’t think about any of it. It’s time to clear my mind and sort.

  It is actual y rather startling when you sort eye colors, how limited the possibilities truly are: such a smal , finite number of options. Blue, brown, green, gray, hazel—these are al of the options for eye color, even with many ethnicities represented in the population. Long ago there were genetic mutations, like albinos, but those don’t exist anymore. Hair color is similarly limited: black, brown, blond, red.

  So few options, and yet an infinite number of variations. For example, plenty of boys in this database have blue eyes and dark hair like Ky, but I am positive that not one of them looks as he does. And even if someone did, if one of those boys looked exactly like him or if he had a twin somehow, no one else could have the combination of movement and restraint, of honesty and secrecy, that Ky has. His face keeps appearing in my mind, but I know that it’s not the Society’s mistake anymore. It’s mine. I’m the one who keeps thinking of him when I should be thinking of Xander.

  The tiny printer next to me beeps, and I jump.

  I made a mistake and I didn’t notice my error within an acceptable time frame. A little slip of paper curls out onto the table next to me and I pick it up. “ERROR AT LINE 3568. ” I hardly ever make errors, so this wil cause interest. I go back to the line where the mistake was made and correct it. If this happens next week while the Officials are watching—

  It won’t happen. I won’t let it happen. But before I lose myself in the sorting again, I al ow myself one brief moment to think of Ky’s eyes, of his hand on my arm.

  “Someone said a girl your age came to the work site today,” my father says. He came to meet me at the air-train stop, something he does now and then with Bram or me so that we can have a little one-on-one time before we get home. “Was it you?” I nod. “They canceled hiking because of the rain, so I thought I’d come see you before school. Since I didn’t see you this morning. But you were busy and I didn’t have much time. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay. ”

  “You should come again, if you want to,” he says. “I’m back in the office al next week. That’s a much shorter ride. ”

  “I know. Maybe I wil . ” My answers sound a little distant, and I hope he can’t tel that I’m stil slightly angry with him for losing the sample. I know it’s irrational and that he feels horrible, but I’m stil upset. I miss my grandfather. I held on to that tube, to the hope that he might come back.

  My father stops and looks at me. “Cassia. Did you have something you wanted to ask me? Or tel me? Is that why you came to the site?” His kind face, so like Grandfather’s, looks worried. I have to tel him. “Grandfather gave me a paper,” I say, and my father turns instantly pale. “It was inside my compact. There were old words on it—”

  “Shhh,” my father says. “Wait. ”

  A couple walks toward us. We smi
le and say hel o and separate around them on the sidewalk. When they are far enough away my father stops.

  We stand in front of our house now, but I can tel that he doesn’t want to continue this conversation inside. I understand. I have something I want to ask him and I want the answer before we go where the port hums and waits in the foyer. I’m worried we won’t have a chance to talk about this again.

  “What did you do with it?” he asks.

  “I destroyed it. Today, at the work site. It seemed like the safest place. ”

  I think I see a flash of disappointment cross my father’s face but then he nods. “Good. It’s best that way. Especial y right now. ” I know he’s referring to the visit from the Officials, and before I can stop myself I ask, “How could you lose the sample?” My father covers his face with his hands, a gesture so sudden and anguished that I take a step back.

  “I didn’t lose it. ” He takes a deep breath, and I don’t want him to finish but I can’t find the words to stop him. “I destroyed it. That day. He made me promise that I would. He wanted to die on his own terms. ”

  The word “die” makes me cringe, but my father isn’t finished. “He didn’t want them to be able to bring him back. He wanted to choose what happened to him. ”

  “But you had a choice, too,” I whisper, angry. “You didn’t have to do it. And now he’s gone. ” Gone. Like the Thomas poem. I was right to destroy the poem. What did Grandfather think I could or would do with it? My family doesn’t rebel. He didn’t, aside from the smal act of keeping the poem. And there’s no reason to rebel. Look what the Society gives us. Good lives. A chance at immortality. The only way it can be ruined is if we ruin it ourselves. Like my father did, because my grandfather asked him to.

  Even as I turn away from my father and run inside, eyes burning with tears, part of me understands him and why he chose to do what Grandfather asked. Isn’t that what I’m doing, too, every time I think the words of the poem or try to be strong without the green tablet?

  It’s hard to know which ways to be strong. Was it weak to let go of the paper, watch it drift to its death as silent and white and ful of promise as a cottonwood seed? Is it weak to feel the way I do when I think of Ky Markham? To know exactly the spot on my skin where he touched me?

  Whatever I’ve been feeling for Ky must stop. Now. I am Matched with Xander. It does not matter that Ky has been places I’ve never been or that he wept during the showing when he thought no one could see. It does not matter that he knows about the beautiful words I read in the woods.

  Fol owing the rules, staying safe. Those are the things that matter. Those are the ways I have to be strong.

  I wil try to forget that Ky said “home” when he looked into my eyes.

  CHAPTER 13

  Cassia Reyes,” I say, holding out my scancard. The worker records the number on the side of the foilware dinner with her datapod and gives the meal to me.

  The datapod beeps again as Xander takes his food and stands beside me. “Do you see Em anywhere? Or Piper or Ky?” he asks.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched