Crossed, p.22
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       Crossed, p.22

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 23


  “Don’t,” Indie says from below. “You’re going to fall. ”

  “Oh,” I say. There is so much to see. Orange rocks and a brown-grassed plain and water and blue mountains. Darkening sky, deep clouds, red sun, and a few small cold flakes of white snow coming down.

  Two little dark figures, looking up.

  Are they looking at me?

  Is it him?

  This far away, there’s only one way to know.

  I point to the sky.

  For a moment, nothing happens. The figure stands still and I stand cold and alive and—

  He starts to run.

  I make my way down the rocks, slipping, sliding, trying to get to the plain. I wish, I think, my feet clumsy, moving too fast, not fast enough, I wish I could run, I wish I’d written a whole poem, I wish I kept the compass—

  And then I reach the plain and wish for nothing but what I have.

  Ky. Running toward me.

  I have never seen him run like this, fast, free, strong, wild. He looks so beautiful, his body moves so right.

  He stops just close enough for me to see the blue of his eyes and forget the red on my hands and the green I wish I wore.

  “You’re here,” he says, breathing hard and hungry. Sweat and dirt cover his face, and he looks at me as though I’m the only thing he ever needed to see.

  I open my mouth to say yes. But I only have time to breathe in before he closes the last of the distance. All I know is the kiss.

  Chapter 23


  Our poem,” she whispers. “Will you say it to me?”

  I put my face close to her ear. My lips brush against her neck. Her hair smells like sage. Her skin smells like home.

  But I can’t speak.

  She is the first to remember that we are not alone. “Ky,” she whispers.

  We both pull back a little. In the fading light I see the tangles in her hair and the tan on her skin. Her beauty always makes me ache. “Cassia,” I say, my voice hoarse, “this is Eli. ” When she turns to him and her face lights up I know that I didn’t imagine his resemblance to Bram.

  “This is Indie,” she says, gesturing to the girl who came with her. Indie folds her arms across her chest.

  A pause. Eli and I glance at each other. I know we both think of Vick. This should be the moment we introduce him to them but he’s gone.

  Just last night Vick was alive. This morning he stood next to the stream, watching the trout as it swam. He thought of Laney while the colors flashed and the sun shone down.

  Then he died.

  I gesture at Eli, who stands very straight. “There were three of us this morning,” I say.

  “What happened?” Cassia asks. Her hand tightens on mine and I squeeze back gently, trying to be careful of the cuts I feel carved into her skin. What has she been through to find me?

  “Someone came,” I tell her. “They killed our friend Vick. The river, too. ”

  Suddenly I’m aware of how we must look from above. We’re standing here on the plain out in the open for anyone to see. “Let’s get inside the Carving,” I say. In the west beyond the mountains the sun slides low—almost gone—on a day of dark and light. Vick gone. Cassia here.

  “How did you do it?” I ask, drawing closer to her as we slip into the Carving. She turns to answer me, her breath hot on my cheek. We come together to kiss again, our hands and lips gentle and greedy with each other. Against her warm skin I whisper, “How did you find us?”

  “The compass,” she says, and she presses it into my hand. To my surprise it’s the one I made of stone.

  “So where do we go now?” Eli asks, his voice wavering, when we reach the spot where we camped with Vick. It still smells like smoke. The beams of our flashlights catch the silver of fallen fish scales. “Are we still going to cross the plain?”

  “We can’t,” Indie says. “Not for a day or two, anyway. Cassia’s been sick. ”

  “I’m fine now,” Cassia tells us. Her voice sounds strong.

  I reach for the chert in my pack to start another small fire. “I think we stay here tonight,” I tell Eli. “We can decide more in the morning. ” Eli nods and without my asking begins to gather brush for the fire.

  “He’s so young,” Cassia says softly. “Did the Society send him out here?”

  “Yes,” I say. I strike the chert. Nothing.

  She puts her hand on mine and I close my eyes. The next time I strike, the sparks snap and fly and she catches her breath.

  Eli brings an armful of stringy, tough brush. When he adds it to the fire, it crackles and the smell of sage rises into the night—sharp and wild.

  Cassia and I sit as near to each other as we can. She leans into me and I keep my arms around her. I don’t fool myself that I hold her together—she does that on her own—but holding her keeps me from flying apart.

  “Thank you,” Cassia tells Eli. I can tell from her voice that she smiles at him and he smiles back, barely. He sits in the spot where Vick sat last night. Indie moves to give Eli more space and leans in to see the fire dance. She glances at me and I see a flash of something in her eyes.

  I shift position a little, blocking her view of us with my back and angling my flashlight so that it shines on Cassia’s hands. “What happened?” I ask her.

  She looks down. “I cut them on a rope,” she says. “We climbed into another canyon looking for you before we came back to this one. ” She glances at the other two and smiles at them before she leans in more closely. “Ky,” she says, “we’re together again. ”

  I have always loved the way she says my name. “I can’t believe it either. ”

  “I had to find you,” she says. She slips her arms around me, underneath my coat, and I feel her fingers on my back. I do the same. She’s so slight and small. And strong. No one else could do what she’s done. I pull her even closer, the ache and release of touching her a feeling I remember from the Hill. It is even stronger now.

  “There’s something I need to tell you,” Cassia whispers in my ear.

  “I’m listening,” I say.

  She takes a deep breath. “I don’t have the compass anymore. The one you gave me back in Oria. ” She hurries on and I hear the sound of tears in her voice. “I traded it to an Archivist. ”

  “That’s all right,” I tell her, meaning it. She’s here. After all of this the compass isn’t much to have lost along the way. And I didn’t give it to her to keep for me. I gave it to her to have for her own. Still, I’m curious. “What did you get in the trade?”

  “Not what I expected,” she says. “I asked for information about where they were taking Aberrations and how to get there. ”

  “Cassia,” I say, and stop. That was dangerous. But she knew that when she tried it. She doesn’t need me to tell her.

  “The Archivist gave me a story instead,” she tells me. “At first I thought he’d cheated me and I was so angry—all I had left to get me to you were the blue tablets. ”

  “Wait,” I say. “Blue tablets?”

  “From Xander,” she says. “I kept them because I knew we’d need them in the canyon to survive. ” She looks at me and misreads the look on my face. “I’m sorry. I had to decide so quickly—”

  “It’s not that,” I tell her, grabbing her arm. “The blue tablets are poison. Did you take any?”

  “Only one,” she says. “And I don’t believe they’re poisoned. ”

  “I tried to tell her,” Indie says. “I wasn’t there when she took it. ”

  I breathe out. “How did you keep moving?” I ask Cassia. “Have you eaten?” She nods. I pull out some of the flat bread from my bag. “Eat this now,” I say. Eli reaches into his bag and holds out a piece of bread too.

  Cassia takes the food from both of us. “How do you know the tablets are poisoned?” she asks, her voice still doubtful.

  “Vick told me,” I say, trying not to panic. “The Society always told us
that if there was some kind of disaster the blue tablet would save us. But it’s not true. It stops you instead. And then you die if they don’t come to save you. ”

  “I still don’t believe it,” Cassia says. “Xander wouldn’t give me something that could hurt me. ”

  “He must not have known,” I say. “Maybe he meant for you to use the tablets for trade. ”

  “If it was going to work, it would have by now,” Indie says to Cassia. “You must have walked through it somehow. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. But you wouldn’t stop until we found Ky. ”

  We all look at Cassia. She’s thinking something through, her eyes thoughtful. Sorting information. She’s looking for facts to explain what happened, but the only one she needs I already know: She is strong in ways even the Society can’t predict.

  “I only took one,” she says softly. “I dropped the other. And the paper that came with it. ”

  “The paper?” I ask.

  Cassia looks up, as if she’s just remembered that we’re there. “Xander hid little pieces of paper with notes printed on them inside the tablets. They’re little scraps of information from his microcard. ”

  “How?” I ask. Indie leans forward.

  “I don’t know how he managed to do any of it—steal the tablets or put the messages inside,” Cassia says. “But he did. ”

  Xander. I shake my head. Always playing the game. Of course Cassia didn’t leave him behind completely. He’s her best friend. He’s still her Match. But he made a mistake in giving her the tablets.

  “Will you give them back to me?” Cassia asks Indie. “Not the tablets. Only the scraps. ”

  For a moment I see something flash in Indie’s eyes. A challenge. I don’t know if she really wants the papers or if she just doesn’t want to be told what to do. But then she reaches into her pack and pulls out the foil-backed packet. “Here,” she says. “I don’t need any of it anyway. ”

  “Can you tell me what they said?” I ask, trying not to sound jealous. Indie darts a look at me and I know I haven’t fooled her.

  “Just things like his favorite color and his favorite activity,” Cassia says gently. I know she heard the false note in my voice, too. “I think he must have known that I never looked at the microcard. ”

  And just like that, my worry is gone—swallowed back up—and I’m ashamed of myself. She came all this way to find me.

  “That boy in the other canyon,” Indie says. “When you said he’d waited too long, I thought you meant that he’d waited too long to kill himself. ”

  Cassia covers her mouth with her hand. “No,” she says. “I thought he’d waited too long to take the tablet and it didn’t save him. ” Her voice falls to a whisper. “I didn’t know. ” She looks at Indie, horrified. “Do you think he knew? Did he mean to die?”

  “What boy?” I ask Cassia. So much has happened to us while we were apart.

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