Matched, p.18
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       Matched, p.18

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 19

 

  “That was an exceptional demonstration of sorting ability. ”

  “Thank you, sir. ”

  On their way out the door, he turns back to me one last time and says, “We have our eyes on you now, young lady. ” He shuts the metal door behind him. It makes a thick, solid sound, a sound of finality. As I listen to the nothing that fol ows I suddenly realize why Ky likes to blend in. It is a strange feeling, knowing for certain that the Officials watch me more closely. It is as though I stood in the way when that door swung shut and I find myself pinned now by the weight of their observation—a concrete thing, real and heavy.

  The night of Em’s Match Banquet I go to bed early and fal asleep quickly. It is my night to wear the datatags and I hope the information they gather from my dreams shows the sleep patterns of a completely normal seventeen-year-old girl.

  But in my dream I’m sorting for the Officials again. The screen comes up with Em’s picture and I’m supposed to sort her into a Matching pool. I freeze. My hands stop. My brain stops.

  “Is there a problem?” the gray-haired Official asks.

  “I can’t tel where I should sort her,” I say.

  He looks at Em’s face on the screen and smiles. “Ah. That’s not a problem. She has your compact, doesn’t she?”

  “Yes. ”

  “She’l carry her tablets to the Banquet in it, as you did. Simply tel her to take the red one and everything wil be fine. ” Suddenly I’m at the Banquet, pushing through girls in dresses and boys in suits and parents in plainclothes. I turn them, shove them, do whatever I have to do to see their faces, because everyone here wears yel ow and it al blurs together, I can’t sort, I can’t see.

  I spin another girl around.

  Not Em.

  I accidental y knock a tray ful of cake out of a waiter’s hand, trying to catch up to a girl with a graceful walk. The tray fal s on the floor and the cake breaks apart, like soil fal ing from roots.

  Not Em.

  The crowd thins, and a girl in a yel ow dress stands alone in front of a blank screen.

  Em.

  She’s about to cry.

  “It’s al right!” I cal out to her, pushing my way through more people. “Take the tablet and everything wil be fine!” Em’s eyes brighten; she pul s out my compact. She lifts the green tablet and puts it in her mouth, fast.

  “No!” I cry out, too late. “The—”

  She puts the blue tablet in her mouth next.

  “—red one!” I finish, pushing through one last cluster of people to stand in front of her.

  “I don’t have one,” she says, turning around, her back toward the screen now. She shows me the open compact, empty. Her eyes are sad. “I don’t have a red tablet. ”

  “You can have mine,” I say, eager to share with her, eager to help her this time. I won’t sit idly by. I pul out my container, twist the top, put the red tablet right into her hand.

  “Oh, thank you, Cassia,” she says. She lifts it to her mouth. I see her swal ow.

  Everyone in the room has stopped mil ing about. They al look at us now, eyes on Em. What wil the red tablet do? None of us knows, except me. I smile. I know it wil save her.

  Behind Em the screen flashes on with her Match—right in time for him to see Em fal down, dead. Her body makes a heavy sound when it fal s, in contrast to the lightness of her eyes fluttering shut, of her dress fluttering in folds around her, of her hands fluttering open like the wings of something smal .

  I wake up sweating and freezing at the same time, and it takes me a minute to calm myself down. Even though the Officials have laughed at the notion that the red tablet is a death tablet, the rumors stil persist. That explains why I dreamed about it kil ing Em.

  Just because I dreamed it doesn’t mean it’s true.

  The sleep tags feel sticky on my skin, and I wish I didn’t have to wear them tonight. At least the nightmare isn’t a recurring one, so I can’t be accused of obsessing over something. Besides, I don’t think they can tel exactly what I dreamed. Just that I did. And a teenage girl having an occasional nightmare can’t be uncommon. No one wil flag that particular piece of data when it loads to my file.

  But the gray-haired Official said that they had their eyes on me.

  I stare up into the dark with an ache in my chest that makes it hard to breathe. But not hard to think.

  Ever since the day of Grandfather’s Final Banquet last month, I’ve gone back and forth between wishing he had never given me that paper and being glad that he did. Because at least I have the words to describe what I feel is happening inside of me: the dying of the light.

  If I couldn’t name it, would I even know what it is? Would I even feel it at al ?

  I pick up the microcard that the Official gave me in the greenspace and tiptoe toward the port. I need to see Xander’s face; I need reassurance that everything is in order.

  I stop short. My mother stands at the portscreen talking to someone. Who would contact her so late at night?

  My father sees me from the front room, where he sits on the divan waiting for my mother to finish. He gestures for me to come in and sit next to him. When I do, he glances at the microcard in my hands and smiles and teases like any father would. “Seeing Xander at school isn’t enough? You want to catch another glimpse of him before you go to sleep?”

  He puts his arm around me and gives me a hug. “I understand. I was the same way with your mother. That was back when they let us print out a picture from the ports right away instead of making us wait until after our first meeting. ”

  “What did your parents think of Mama being a Farmlander?”

  My father pauses. “Wel , they were both a little concerned, to be honest. They never thought I’d Match with someone who didn’t live in a City. But it didn’t take them long to decide they were happy about it. ” He gets that smile on his face, the one he always gets when he talks about fal ing in love.

  “It only took that first meeting to change their minds. You should have seen your mother then. ”

  “Why did you meet in the City instead of in the Farmlands?” I ask. Usual y, it’s customary for the first meeting to be held close to the girl’s home.

  There’s always an Official from the Match Department present to make sure things go smoothly.

  “She insisted on coming here even though it was a long train ride. She wanted to see the City as soon as possible. My parents and the Official and I al went to the station to meet her. ”

  He pauses and I know he is picturing the meeting in his mind, imagining my mother stepping off that air train.

  “And?” I know I sound impatient, but I have to remind him that he’s not back in the past. He’s here in the present and I need to know everything I can about the Match that made me.

  “When she stepped off the train, your grandmother said to me, ‘She stil has the sun on her face. ’” My father pauses and smiles. “She did, too. I’d never seen anyone look so warm and alive. My parents never voiced a concern about her again. I think we al fel in love with her that day. ” Neither of us notice my mother standing in the doorway until she clears her throat. “And I with al of you. ” She seems a little sad, and I wonder if she’s thinking of Grandfather or Grandmother or both. She and my father are now the last two people left who remember that day, except for maybe the Official who oversaw their meeting.

  “Who cal ed so late on the port?” I ask.

  “Someone from work,” my mother says. Looking weary, she sits down next to my father and leans her head on his shoulder as he puts his arm around her. “I have to leave on a trip tomorrow. ”

  “Why?”

  My mother yawns, her blue eyes opening wide. Her face is stil sun-kissed from al her work outdoors. She looks a little older than usual and for the first time I see a bit of gray interwoven in her thick blond hair, some shadows in the sunlight. “It’s late, Cassia. You should be asleep. I should be asleep. I’l tel you
and Bram al about it in the morning. ”

  I don’t protest. I close my hand over the microcard and say, “Al right. ” Before I leave for my room my mother leans over to give me a kiss good night.

  Once I’m back in my room I listen through the wal s again. Something about my mother leaving right now alarms me. Why now? Where is she going? How long wil she be gone? She rarely goes on trips for work.

  “So?” my father says in the other room. He’s trying to keep his voice quiet. “Is everything al right? I can’t think of the last time we’ve had a cal so late at night. ”

  “I can’t tel . Something seems to be going on, but I don’t know what it is. They’re pul ing a few of us from other Arboretums to come look at a crop at the Arboretum in Grandia Province. ” Her voice has the singsong quality that it gets when it’s very late and she’s very tired. I remember it from the nights when she used to tel me those flower stories and I feel reassured. If she doesn’t think something is wrong, then everything must be fine. My mother is one of the smartest people I know.

  “How long wil you be gone?” my father asks.

  “A week at the most. Do you think Cassia and Bram wil be al right? It’s rather a long trip. ”

  “They’l understand. ” There’s a pause. “Cassia stil seems upset. About the sample. ”

  “I know. I worry about that. ” My mother sighs, a soft sound that somehow I stil hear through the wal . “It was an honest mistake. I hope she sees that soon. ”

  Mistake? It wasn’t a mistake, I think. And then I realize: She doesn’t know. He hasn’t told her. My father has a secret from my mother.

  And I have a horrible thought.

  So their Match isn’t perfect after all.

  The moment I think it, I wish it back. If their Match isn’t perfect, then what are the chances that mine wil be?

  The next morning, another thunderstorm tumbles the leaves on the maple trees and showers rain on the newroses. I’m eating my breakfast, oatmeal again, steaming in its foilware dish when I hear the port announce: Cassia Reyes, your leisure activity, hiking, has been canceled for the day due to inclement weather. Please report to Second School for extra study hours instead.

  No hiking. Which means no Ky.

  The walk to the air train is a wet one, and muggy. The rain adds to the water in the air; trapping the humidity. My coppery hair begins to tangle and curl, as it does sometimes in weather like this. I look up at the sky but only see the mass of clouds, no break anywhere.

  No one else is on my air train, not Em, not Xander, not Ky. They probably caught other trains, or are stil getting ready, but I have a sense of something missed, something missing. Someone missing.

  Maybe it is me.

  Once I’m at school, I go upstairs to the research library, where there are several ports. I want to find out about Dylan Thomas and Alfred Lord Tennyson and if they have any poems that did make the selection. I don’t think they did, but I have to make sure.

  My fingers hover over the screen on the port as I hesitate. The fastest way to find out would be to type in their names, but then there would be a record of someone searching for them and the search could be traced back to me. It’s much safer to go through the lists of poets in the Hundred Poems database instead. If I’m looking through poet after poet after poet, that wil seem more like an assignment for class and less like a search for something specific.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched