Matched, p.17
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       Matched, p.17

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 18

 

  I see an answering look of mischief in his eyes as he leans a little closer. “There are no rules about kissing, Cassia. We’re Matched. ” I have looked at Xander’s face many times, but never like this. Never in the almost-dark, never with a feeling in my stomach and heart that is two parts excitement and one part nervousness. I glance around but no one looks at us, and even if they did, al they would see is two shadowy figures sitting rather close as the evening dims.

  So I lean closer, too.

  And if I needed any more confirmation that the Society knows what they’re doing, that this is the Match for me, the taste of Xander’s kiss would convince me. It feels right, sweeter than I expected.

  A chime rings across the schoolyard as Xander and I pul back, looking at each other. “We stil have an hour of free-rec time left,” Xander says, glancing down at his watch, his face open, unembarrassed.

  “I wish we could stay,” I say, and I mean it. The air feels so warm on my face out here. It’s real air, not chil ed or warmed for my convenience. And Xander’s kiss, my first real kiss, makes me press my lips together, try to taste it again.

  “They won’t let us,” he says, and I see that it’s true. They’re already gathering the cups, tel ing us to finish up our free-rec hours someplace else because the light is leaving here.

  Em detaches from her other group of friends and walks over to us, graceful. “They’re going to see the end of the showing,” she says, “but I’m tired of that. What are you going to do?” The moment she asks the question, her eyes widen a little, remembering. That Xander and I are Matched. She had forgotten, for a moment, and now she worries she’l be out of place.

  But Xander’s voice is warm, easy, friendly. “Not enough time for a game,” he says. “There’s a music hal near here, one stop over. Should we go there?”

  Em looks relieved, glances at me to make sure it’s al right. I smile at her. Of course it is. She’s stil our friend.

  As we walk to the air-train stop, I think about how there were once more of us. Then Ky got his work assignment, then Piper. I don’t know where Sera is tonight. Em is here, but there wil come a time when she leaves, too, when it’s just Xander and me.

  It’s been a long time, months even, since I’ve been to a music hal . To my surprise, this one is fil ed with blue-clothed people. With workers, young and old, who have finished their late shift. I suppose this happens often; with only a little time left, where else do they have to go? They must stop here on their way back out from the City. Some of them sleep, I see to my surprise, heads tipped back, tired. No one seems to mind. Some talk.

  Ky’s here.

  I find him almost immediately in the sea of blue, almost before I knew I was looking. Ky sees us, too. He waves but doesn’t stand.

  We slide into the nearest seats, Em, Xander, me. Em asks Xander about his experience at the Match Banquet, searching again for assurance, and he starts tel ing her a funny story about not knowing how to put his cuff links on that night, or how to tie his cravat. I try to keep from noticing Ky, but somehow I stil see when he stands up and edges his way toward us. I smile a little when he takes the seat next to me. “I didn’t know you liked music so much. ”

  “I come here a lot,” Ky says. “Most of the workers do, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. ”

  “Doesn’t it get boring?” The high clear voice of the woman who sings this song winds above us. “We’ve heard the Hundred Songs so many times. ”

  “They’re different, sometimes,” Ky says.

  “Real y?”

  “They’re different when you’re different. ”

  I’m not sure what he means, but I’m distracted suddenly by Xander pul ing on my arm. “Em,” he whispers, and I look at Em. She’s shaking, breathing fast. Xander stands up and trades seats with her, guiding her, shielding her with his body so that she’s on the inside of our group instead of on the edge.

  I lean, too, instinctively helping to hide her, and soon Ky presses next to me, blocking her, too. It’s the second time we’ve touched, and although I’m worried about Em, I can’t help but notice it, can’t help but want to lean into him a little in spite of the fact that I stil feel Xander’s kiss on my lips.

  We’ve closed around Em now, hiding her. Whatever’s happening, the less people who see it, the better. For Em’s sake. For ours. I glance up.

  The Official in charge of the music hal hasn’t noticed us yet. So many people are here, and most of them workers, requiring a closer eye than students. We have a little time.

  “Let’s get your green tablet,” Xander says to Em gently. “It’s an anxiety attack. I’ve seen people at the medical center who have them. Al they have to do is take their green tablet, but they’re so scared they forget. ” Even though his voice sounds confident, he bites his lip. He seems worried for Em, and he’s not supposed to say too much about his job to others who don’t share his vocation.

  “You can’t,” I whisper. “She took it earlier today. She hasn’t had time to get another one yet. ” I don’t say the rest of it. And she’ll get in trouble for taking two in one day.

  Xander and Ky exchange glances. I’ve never seen Xander hesitate like this—can’t he do something? I know he can. Once, a child on our street fel and blood was everywhere. Xander knew what to do—he didn’t even flinch—until the ful -time medics arrived and took the boy to the medical center to fix him up.

  Ky doesn’t move either. How can you? I think, angry. Help her!

  But even while he holds stil , his eyes hold Xander’s. Ky’s lips move. “Yours,” he whispers, looking at Xander.

  For a split second, Xander doesn’t understand; and then at the same moment he does, I do, too.

  But here is the difference between us. Xander doesn’t hesitate once he knows what Ky means. “Of course,” Xander whispers, and he reaches for his tablet container. Now that he knows what to do, he’s fast, he’s smooth, he’s Xander.

  He puts his own green tablet in Em’s mouth. I don’t think she knows what’s happening; she’s shaking so much, she’s so afraid. She swal ows reflexively; I doubt she tastes anything as it goes down.

  Almost immediately, her body relaxes. “Thank you,” she says to us, closing her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ve been worrying too much about the Banquet.

  I’m sorry. ”

  “It’s fine,” I whisper, looking at Xander and then at Ky.

  Between the two of them, they’ve pul ed it off. For a moment, I wonder why Ky didn’t give Em his tablet, but then I remember. He’s an Aberration.

  And Aberrations aren’t al owed to carry tablets of their own.

  Does Xander know now? Did Ky just give himself away?

  But I don’t think Xander guessed. Why would he? It makes as much sense for him to give Em the tablet as it would for Ky. More, even. Xander has known Em longer. He settles back in his seat, watching Em as he takes her pulse, his hand around her delicate wrist. He looks up at Ky and me and nods. “Everything’s fine now,” he says. “She’s going to be fine. ”

  I put my arm around Em, and close my eyes, too, listening to the music. The song the woman was singing has ended, and now it’s the Anthem of the Society, bass notes rumbling, choir coming in for the final verse. Their voices sound triumphant; they sing as one. Like us. We closed around Em in a circle to protect her from the eyes of the Officials; and none of us wil tel about the green tablet.

  I am glad that al is wel , glad that I promised to let Em borrow the compact for her Banquet. For what is the point of having something lovely if you never share it?

  It would be like having a poem, a beautiful wild poem that no one else has, and burning it.

  After a moment, I open my eyes and glance over at Ky. He doesn’t look back, but I know he knows I’m watching. The music is soft, slow. His chest rises and fal s. His lashes are black, impossibly long, the exact color of his hair.

  Ky is right. I wil never hear this song the sa
me way again.

  CHAPTER 14

  At work the next day, we al notice immediately when the Officials enter the room. Like dominos fal ing at a game table, head after head turns toward the door of the sorting center. The Officials in their white uniforms are here for me. Everyone knows it and I know it, so I don’t wait for them. I push my chair back and stand up, my eyes meeting theirs across the dividers that separate our slots.

  It’s time for my test. They nod for me to fol ow.

  So I do, heart pounding but head held high, to a smal gray room with a single chair and several smal tables.

  As I sit down, Norah appears in the doorway. She seems slightly anxious but gives me a reassuring smile before she looks at the Officials. “Do you need anything?”

  “No, thank you,” says an Official with gray hair, who looks significantly older than the other two. “We’ve brought everything we require. ” None of the three Officials makes smal talk as they set things in order. The Official who spoke first seems to be in charge. The others, both women, are efficient and smooth. They hook up a datatag behind my ear and one inside the neck of my shirt. I don’t say anything, not even when the gel they use stings my skin.

  The two women step back and the older Official slides a smal screen across the table toward me. “Are you ready?”

  “Yes,” I say, hoping my voice sounds level and clear. I straighten my shoulders and sit up a little tal er. If I act as though I’m not afraid maybe they wil believe me. Although the datatags they’ve attached to me might tel a different story, thanks to my racing pulse.

  “Then you may begin. ”

  The first sort is a numbers one, a simple one, a warmup. They are fair. They want me to get my legs under me before they move into the hard sorts.

  As I sort the numbers on the screen, making order out of chaos and detecting patterns, my heartbeat evens out. I stop trying to hold onto so many other things—the memory of Xander’s kiss, what my father has done, curiosity about Ky, worry about Em in the music hal , confusion about myself and how I am meant to be and who I am meant to love. I let it al go like a child with a handful of bal oons on her First Day at First School. They float away from me, bright and dancing on the breeze, but I don’t look up and I don’t try to grab them back. Only when I hold onto nothing can I be the best, only then can I be what they expect me to be.

  “Excel ent,” the oldest Official says as he inputs the scores. “Quite excel ent. Thank you, Cassia. ” The female Officials remove my datatags. They meet my eyes and smile at me because now they can’t be accused of showing any partiality. The test is finished. And it seems that I have passed, at least.

  “It’s been a pleasure,” the gray-haired Official says, reaching across the smal table toward me. I stand up and shake his hand and then the hands of the other two Officials. I wonder if they can feel the current of energy that runs through me: The blood in my veins is made of adrenaline and relief.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched