Matched, p.22
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       Matched, p.22

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 23

 

  “I hope she can. ” The idea of talking with my mother comforts me.

  The dinner chime sounds in the kitchen. “Time to eat,” my father says, putting his arm around me. “Would you rather we waited here with you or got out of the way?”

  Bram is already halfway to the kitchen. I smile at my father. “You should go eat with Bram. I’l be fine. ” My father gives me a kiss on the cheek. “I’l be back as soon as the doorbel rings. ” He’s a little wary about the Official, too. I imagine my father coming to the door and saying politely, “I’m sorry, sir. Cassia won’t be able to go tonight. ” I imagine him smiling at Xander so that Xander knows he’s not the one my father’s worried about. And then I picture my father closing the door gently but firmly and keeping me safe inside this house.

  Inside these wal s where I have been safe for so long.

  But this house isn’t safe anymore, I remind myself. This house is where I first saw Ky’s face on a microcard. Where they searched my father.

  Is there a safe place anywhere in this Borough? In this City, this Province, this world?

  I resist the urge to repeat the words of Ky’s story to myself while I wait. He is already in my mind far too much and I don’t want him coming along tonight.

  The doorbel rings. Xander. And the Official.

  I don’t think I’m ready to do this and I don’t know why. Or rather, I do know why, but I can’t look at it too closely right now or I know it wil change everything. Everything.

  Outside the door, Xander waits for me. It strikes me that this symbolizes what is wrong here. No one can ever real y come in, and when it’s time to let them, we don’t know how.

  I take a deep breath and open the door.

  “Where are we going?” I ask on the air train. The three of us sit side by side—me, Xander, and our bored-looking Official, who is youngish and wears the most perfectly ironed uniform I’ve ever seen.

  The Official answers. “Your meals have been sent to a private dining hal . We’l eat dinner there and then I’l escort you both back to your homes. ” He rarely makes eye contact with us, choosing instead to look past us, out the windows. I don’t know whether he intends to make us feel at ease or uncomfortable. So far he’s doing the latter.

  A private dining hal ? I look over at Xander. He raises his eyebrows at me and mouths the words “Why bother?” and gestures to the Official. I try not to laugh. Xander’s right. Why go to al the trouble of eating at a private dining hal when this outing is anything but private?

  I start to feel sorry for al the Matchees who have to have their first conversations monitored by the Officials over the ports. At least Xander and I have had thousands of conversations before.

  The dining hal is a smal building one air-train stop over, a place where Singles sometimes go, where our parents can arrange to have meals in the evening now and then if they’d like to get away. “It looks nice,” I say in a lame attempt at conversation as we approach the hal . A smal greenspace surrounds the redbrick box of a building. In the greenspace, I catch sight of a flower bed ful of the ever-present newroses and also some kind of ethereal wildflower.

  And then a memory so specific and so clear that it’s hard to believe I haven’t thought of it until now comes to mind. I remember a night when I was much younger and my parents returned from an evening out. Grandfather had come to stay with Bram and me, and I heard my parents talking with him before my father went to Bram’s room and my mother came into mine. A soft pink-and-yel ow bloom fel out of her hair when she leaned over to pul up my blankets. She tucked it quickly back behind her ear out of sight, and I was too sleepy to ask how she came by the blossom. At the time, it confused me as I drifted off to sleep: How did she get the flower when picking them is forbidden? I forgot the question in my dreams and never asked it upon waking.

  Now I know the answer: My father sometimes bends the rules for those he loves. For my mother. For Grandfather. My father is a little like Xander, the night that he bent the rules to help Em.

  Xander takes my arm, bringing me back into the present. When he does, I can’t help myself; I glance over at the Official. He doesn’t say anything.

  The inside of the dining hal looks nicer than a regular meal hal , too. “Look,” Xander says. Flickering lights in the center of each table simulate an old romantic system of lighting, candles.

  People look at us as we pass among the tables. We’re clearly the youngest patrons there. Most are our parents’ age or young couples several years older than Xander and me, couples newly Contracted. I see a few people who are probably Singles out on recreational dates, but not many.

  The Boroughs in this area are primarily family boroughs, ful of parents and contracted couples and youth under the age of twenty-one.

  Xander notices the staring and stares back, his arm stil linked with mine. Under his breath he whispers to me, “At least everyone at school is pretty much over our Match by now. I hate the watching. ”

  “I do, too. ” Thankful y, the Official doesn’t gawk at us. He leads the way through the tables and finds one marked with our names near the back.

  The waiter arrives with our food almost as soon as we sit down.

  The simulated candlelight flickers across the round black metal table in front of me. No tablecloths, and the food is regulation food—we’l eat the same thing here that we’d eat at home. That’s why it’s necessary to book in advance; so the nutrition personnel can get your meal to the right spot.

  Obviously dining here doesn’t compare at al to the Match Banquet at City Hal , but it’s the second-nicest place I’ve ever eaten in my life.

  “The food’s good and hot,” Xander says as the steam escapes from his foilware container. He peels back the lid and peers inside. “Look at my portion. They want me to bulk up so they keep giving me more and more. ”

  I glance over at Xander’s portion of noodles with sauce. It is enormous. “Can you eat al of that?”

  “Are you joking? Of course I can. ” Xander acts offended.

  I peel back the foilware and look at my portion. Next to Xander’s, it seems minuscule. Maybe I’m making this up, but my portions seem to be smal er lately. I’m not sure why. The hiking and running on the tracker keep me fit. If anything, I should be getting more food, not less.

  It must be my imagination.

  The Official, looking even less interested than before, twists the noodles from his container on a fork and looks around the room at the other patrons. His food is exactly the same as ours. I guess the myths about certain departments’ Officials eating better than anyone else aren’t true. Not when they eat in public, anyway.

  “How’s hiking going?” Xander asks me, popping a bite of noodles into his mouth.

  “I like it,” I answer honestly. Except for today.

  “Even more than swimming?” Xander teases me. “Not that you ever did much of that, I guess. Sitting there on the edge. ”

  “I swam,” I tel him, teasing back. “Sometimes. Anyway. I do like it more than being at the pool. ”

  “That’s not possible,” Xander says. “Swimming is the best. I heard that al you’ve been doing at hiking is climbing that same little hil over and over. ”

  “Al you do at swimming is swim around the same little pool over and over. ”

  “That’s different. Water’s always moving. It’s never the same. ”

  Xander’s comment reminds me of what Ky said in the music hal about the songs. “I guess that’s true. But the hil is always moving, too. The wind moves things, and the plants grow and change . . . ” I fal silent. Our neatly pressed Official tilts his head, listening to our conversation. That’s why he’s here, isn’t it?

  I move my food around and the motion makes me think of writing with Ky. One of the noodles is curved like a C. Don’t. I have to stop thinking about Ky.

  Some of my food stubbornly refuses to wrap around my fork. I twirl the utensil around and around an
d final y give up and shove some noodles into my mouth, the ends sticking out. I have to slurp them in.

  Embarrassing. For some reason my eyes fil with tears. I put down my fork and Xander reaches over to straighten it. As he does, he looks straight into my eyes, and I can see the question there as though he speaks it out loud: What’s wrong?

  Shaking my head slightly, I smile back at him. Nothing.

  I glance over at our Official. He’s momentarily distracted, listening to something on his earpiece. Of course. He is stil on duty.

  “Xander, why didn’t you—you know—kiss me the other night?” I ask suddenly, since the Official isn’t listening right at this moment. I should be embarrassed, but I’m not. I want to know.

  “There were too many people watching. ” Xander sounds surprised. “I know the Officials don’t care, since we’re Matched, but, you know. ” He inclines his head slightly toward the Official next to us. “It’s not the same when you’re being watched. ”

  “How could you tel ?”

  “Haven’t you noticed al the Officials on our street lately?”

  “Watching my house?”

  Xander raises his eyebrows. “Why would they be watching your house?”

  Because I read things I shouldn’t read and learn things I’m not meant to know and I might be falling in love with someone else. What I say is,

  “My father . . . ” I let my voice trail off.

  Xander flushes. “Of course. I should have realized . . . It’s not that, at least I don’t think so. These are basic-level Officials, police officers. They’ve been patrol ing a lot more lately and not just in our Borough. In al the Boroughs. ” Our street was ful of Officials that night and I didn’t even know. Ky must have known. Maybe that’s why he wouldn’t come up the porch steps.

  Maybe that’s why he never touches me. He’s afraid of being caught.

  Or maybe it’s even more simple than that. Maybe he never wants to touch me. Perhaps to Ky I am only a friend. A friend who final y wants to know his story, nothing more.

  And at first that’s who I was. I wanted to know more about this boy who lives among us, but who never truly speaks. More about what happened before. I wanted to know more about my mistaken Match. But now I feel like finding out about him is one of the ways I find out about myself. I did not expect to love his words. I did not expect to find myself in them.

  Is fal ing in love with someone’s story the same thing as fal ing in love with the person himself?

  CHAPTER 18

  Another air car sits on our street, this time in front of Em’s house. “What’s going on??? I ask Xander, whose eyes widen with fear. The Official with us looks interested but not surprised. I resist the urge to grab his shirtfront tight, wrinkling it in my hands. I hold back from hissing, “Why do you watch us? What do you know?”

  The door to Em’s house opens and three Officials come out. Our Official turns to Xander and me and says, almost abruptly, “I hope you both had an enjoyable evening. I’l file the report with the Matching Committee first thing tomorrow. ”

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched