Crossed, p.2
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       Crossed, p.2

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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  Vick and the others worked next to me. We had seven holes to dig. Not too many, considering the intensity of the firing and the fact that there were almost a hundred of us to lose.

  I kept my back to the climbers so I didn’t have to see how the snow was all gone by the time they reached the top of the plateau. Climbing up there was a waste of time.

  It’s also a waste of time to think about people who are gone. And judging by the way things out here are going, I don’t have a lot of time to waste.

  But I can’t help it.

  On my first night in Mapletree Borough, I looked out of the window in my new bedroom and not one thing was familiar or seemed like home. So I turned away. And then Aida came through the door, and she looked enough like my mother that I could breathe again.

  She held out her hand with the compass in it. “Our parents only had one artifact, and two daughters. Your mother and I agreed that we would take turns sharing it, but then she left. ” She opened my hand and put the compass inside. “We had the same artifact. And now we both have the same son. It’s for you. ”

  “I can’t have it,” I told her. “I’m an Aberration. We’re not allowed to keep things like this. ”

  “Nevertheless,” Aida said. “It is yours. ”

  And then I gave it to Cassia to keep and she gave me the green silk. I knew they’d take it from me someday. I knew I would never get to keep it. And so that’s why, when we walked down from the Hill the last time, I paused and tied it to a tree. Quickly, so she wouldn’t notice.

  I like to think of it out there on top of the Hill under wind and rain.

  Because in the end you can’t always choose what to keep. You can only choose how you let it go.


  I was thinking of her when I first saw the snow. I thought, We could climb up there. Even if it all melted. We’d sit and write words on the still-damp sand. We could do that, if you weren’t gone.

  But then, I remembered, you’re not the one who’s gone. I am.

  A boot appears now at the edge of the grave. I know whose it is by the notches carved around the edge of the sole—a method some use out here to mark time survived. No one else has as many cuts, as many days tracked. “You’re not dead,” Vick says.

  “No,” I say, pushing myself to my feet. I spit dirt out of my mouth and reach for the shovel.

  Vick digs next to me. Neither of us talk about the people we won’t be able to bury today. The ones who tried to climb to the snow.

  Back in the village, I hear the decoys calling to each other and to us. Three more dead here, they cry out, and then fall silent as they look up.

  Not one of the decoys who went up to the plateau will be coming back. I find myself hoping the impossible, that at least they quenched their thirst before the fire. That they had mouths full of clean, cold snow when they died.

  Chapter 4


  Xander, here, in front of me. Blond hair, blue eyes, smile so warm that I can’t stop from reaching out to him even before the Official has given us permission to touch.

  “Cassia,” Xander says, and doesn’t wait, either. He pulls me into his arms and we both hold on tight. I don’t even try to keep myself from burying my face against his chest, against his clothes that smell like home and him.

  “I’ve missed you,” Xander tells me, his voice rumbling above my head. It sounds deeper. He seems stronger. It’s such a good and glorious feeling, this being with him, that I lean back and grab his face in both my hands and pull him down and kiss him on the cheek, in a place dangerously near his mouth. When I step away we both have tears in our eyes. It is such a strange sight, Xander with tears, that I catch my breath.

  “I’ve missed you,” I tell him, and I wonder how much of the ache inside me comes from having lost Xander, too.

  The Official behind Xander smiles. Our reunion lacks nothing. He steps away a little, discreet, giving us space, and enters something into his datapod. Probably something like: Both subjects expressed appropriate reaction upon seeing each other.

  “How?” I ask Xander. “How are you here?” Though it’s so good to see him, it’s almost too good. Is this another test from my Official?

  “It’s been five months since our Matching,” he says. “All the Matchees from our month are having their first face-to-face meetings. The Department hasn’t eliminated that yet. ” He smiles down at me, something sad in his eyes. “I pointed out that we don’t live near each other anymore, so we deserved a meeting, too. And it’s customary to meet where the girl lives. ”

  He didn’t say at the girl’s home. He understands. He’s right. I live here. But this work camp is not home. I could call Oria home, because Xander lives there, and Em, and because I began there. Although I haven’t lived there, I could also call the new place in Keya home, because my parents and Bram live there.

  And there is a place where Ky lives that I think of as home, even though I cannot name it and don’t know where, exactly, it is.

  Xander reaches for my hand. “We’re allowed to go on an outing,” he says. “If you’d like. ”

  “Of course,” I say, laughing; I can’t help it. Minutes ago I stood scrubbing my hands and feeling alone and now Xander is here. It’s as though I have walked by the lighted windows of a house in the Borough, pretending I don’t care about what I’ve lost and left behind, and then suddenly I’m in that golden-warm room without even having lifted my hand to open the door.

  The Official gestures toward the exit, and I realize he’s not the same Official who accompanied us on our outing to the dining hall back in the Borough. That was a special arrangement for Xander and me, arranged in place of our first port-to-port communication since we already knew each other. The Official who escorted us that night was young. This one is, too, but kinder looking. He notices my glance and inclines his head, a gesture formal and polite but warm somehow. “There are no longer specific Officials assigned to each Match,” he tells me in an explanatory tone. “It’s more efficient. ”

  “It’s too late for a meal,” Xander says. “But we can go into town. Where would you like to go?”

  “I don’t even know what’s there,” I say. I have a blurry memory of coming into town on the long-distance train and walking down the street to the transport that brought us to the camp. Of almost-bare trees sparking the sky with their sparse red and gold leaves. But was that this town, or one near a different camp? It must have been earlier in the fall for the leaves to be so bright.

  “The facilities are smaller here,” Xander says. “But they have what we did in the Borough—a music hall, a game center, a showing or two. ”

  A showing. I haven’t been to one in so long. For a moment I think that’s what I’ll choose; I even open my mouth to say it. I picture the theater going dark and my heart pounding as I wait for images to come rising onto the screen and music to swell through the speakers. Then I remember the firings and the tears in Ky’s eyes as the lights came up, and another memory flickers inside me. “Do they have a museum?”

  Something dances in Xander’s eyes; I can’t tell what. Amusement? Surprise? I lean closer to try to see; Xander is not usually a mystery to me. He’s open, honest, a story I read again and again and love every time. But, in this moment, I can’t tell what he thinks. “Yes,” he says.

  “I’d like to go there,” I say, “if that would be all right with you. ”

  Xander nods.

  It takes some time to walk into town and the smell of farming hangs thick in the air—burning wood and cool air and apples turning to cider. I feel a wave of affection for this place that I know has to do with the boy standing near me. Xander always makes every place, every person, better. The evening air holds the bittersweet tang of what might have been, and I catch my breath as Xander turns to look at me under the warm light of the street lamp. His eyes still speak of what might be.

  The museum only has one floor and my heart sinks
. It’s so small. What if things here are different than they are in Oria?

  “We close in half an hour,” the man at the front desk says. His uniform seems threadbare and tired and so does he, as though he’s coming apart along the edges. He slides his hands along the top of the desk and pushes a datapod toward us. “Type in your names,” he says, and we do, the Official going first. Up close, the Official seems to have the same tired look about his eyes as the older man at the desk.

  “Thank you,” I say, after I enter my name and slide the datapod back across the surface toward the man.

  “We don’t have much to see,” he tells us.

  “We don’t mind,” I say.

  I wonder if our Official thinks it a strange choice to come here, but to my surprise he turns away almost immediately as we enter the museum’s main display room. As though he wants to give us space alone to talk. He walks to a glass-fronted case and leans forward, his hands behind his back in a posture that seems almost elegant in its casualness. A kind Official. Of course they must exist. Grandfather was one.

  Relief washes over me as I find what I’m looking for almost immediately—a glassed-in map of the Society. It’s in the middle of the room. “There,” I say to Xander. “Should we look at that one?”

  Xander nods. While I read the names of the rivers and Cities and Provinces, he shifts position next to me and runs his hand through his hair. Unlike Ky, who holds still in places like this, with Xander it’s always a series of confident movements, little waves of motion. It’s what makes him so effective in the games—the quirking of his eyebrows, the smiling, the way his hands continually move the cards.

  “That display hasn’t been updated recently,” a voice behind us says, startling me. It’s the man from the desk. I glance around the room, looking for another worker. He sees me doing it and smiles almost mournfully. “The others are in the back closing up for the night. If you want to know anything, I’m the only one to ask. ”

  I look over at our Official. He still stands at the case nearest the entrance, his full interest seemingly absorbed by whatever is in the display. I look at Xander and try to send him a message without speaking. Please.

  For a moment I think he doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to. I feel his fingers tighten around mine and see a hardening in his eyes and a slight clenching of his jaw. But then his expression softens and he nods. “Hurry,” he says, and he lets go and walks toward the Official on the other side of the room.

  I have to try, even though I don’t think this tired gray man has any answers for me and the hope I had seems to be slipping away. “I want to know more about the Glorious History of Tana Province. ”

  A pause. A beat.

  The man draws in a breath and begins to speak. “Tana Province has beautiful geography and is also renowned for its farming,” he says, his voice flat.

  He doesn’t know. My heart sinks. Back in Oria, Ky told me that the poems Grandfather gave me could be valuable, and also that asking the history of the Province was a way to let the Archivists know you wanted to trade. I’d hoped it would be the same way here. It was stupid of me. Perhaps there are no Archivists in Tana at all, and if there were, they must have better places to be than waiting for closing time in this sad little museum.

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