Matched, p.23
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       Matched, p.23

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 24


  “Thank you,” I say automatical y as he turns back to the air-train stop, although I don’t know why. I don’t feel grateful.

  The Officials at Em’s house walk across her yard and go to the house next door. They hold a container, something Society-issued, and they’re not smiling. In fact, if I had to say how they looked, I would say they looked sad. I don’t like it. “Should we go see if Em is al right?” I ask, and as I do, she opens her front door and looks out. She sees Xander and me and hurries across the yard to meet us.

  “Cassia, it’s al my fault. It’s al my fault!” Em’s voice shakes, and tears mark her face.

  “What’s your fault, Em? What happened?” I glance next door to make sure the Officials aren’t watching us, but they’ve already disappeared inside. Em’s neighbors opened the door before the Officials had to knock, as though they were expected.

  “What’s this about?” Xander’s voice sounds harsh and I send him a look, trying to tel him to be patient.

  Em’s face grows even paler and she grabs my arm. Her voice is hushed. “The Officials are col ecting al the artifacts. ”


  Em’s lips tremble. “They said that I’d been seen with an artifact at the Match Banquet, and they’d come to col ect it. I told them it wasn’t mine, I’d borrowed it from you and given it back. ” She swal ows and I remember the night of the green tablet. I put my arm around her and glance at Xander.

  Em keeps speaking, her voice shaky. “I shouldn’t have told them. But I was so scared! Now they’re going to take it from you. They’re going house to house. ”

  House to house. They’l be at mine soon. I want to comfort Em, but I have to try to save my artifact, futile as the effort might be. I have to go home.

  I give Em a hug. “Em, it’s not your fault. Even if you hadn’t told them, they knew I had an artifact. It’s registered, and I took it to my Banquet. ” Then I remember something, and fear washes over me. Ky’s artifact. I stil have it tucked away in my closet. The Officials might know about my artifact, but they don’t know about Ky’s. It could get us both in trouble.

  How can I hide it?

  “I have to go home,” I say, out loud this time. I pul my arm away from Em’s shoulders and turn toward my house. How long do I have before the Officials get there? Five minutes? Ten?

  Em starts crying harder, but I don’t have time to reassure her again. I walk as quickly as I can without drawing attention. A few steps later and Xander is next to me, linking his arm in mine as if we have been on a normal outing and are on our way home.

  “Cassia,” he says. I don’t look at him. I can’t stop thinking about al that could be lost in a few short moments. Ky is already an Aberration. If they find out that he has an artifact, wil he become an Anomaly?

  I could cover up for him. I could say that it’s mine and I found it when we hiked in the woods. Would they believe me?

  “Cassia,” Xander says again. “I can hide it for you. Say you’ve lost it. Make your story convincing. ”

  “I can’t let you do that for me. ”

  “You can. I’l wait for you outside while you grab the compact. It’s smal enough to fit in your hand, right?” I nod. “When you come back out, act like you’re crazy about me, like you hate saying good-bye. Throw your arms around me. Drop it down my shirt. I’l take care of it after that. ” I’ve never seen this side of Xander before, I think, and then I instantly realize that I have. When he plays the games he’s like this. Cool and calm and ful of strategy and daring. And in the games at least, his risks almost always pay off.

  “Xander, this isn’t a game. ”

  “I know that. ” His face looks grim. “I’l be careful. ”

  “Are you sure?” I shouldn’t let him do this. It’s weak to consider it. But stil : He can take my compact for me. He would save it for me. He would risk this for me.

  “I’m sure. ”

  Once I close the front door behind me, I run down the hal to my room as fast as I can. No one from my family sees me, for which I’m grateful. With shaking hands I tear open my closet door and push the sets of plainclothes along the rack until I find the pair where I’ve hidden Ky’s artifact inside the pocket. I open the brown paper envelope and tip it so that the arrow in its case slides out. I shove the envelope into my pocket; I grab the compact from the shelf and look at the two items in my hands.

  Golden and beautiful. In spite of myself, I’m tempted to give Xander my compact instead of Ky’s spinning arrow, but I put the compact onto my bed and close my hand over Ky’s artifact. Saving my compact would be selfish. It would only save a thing. But saving Ky’s artifact saves both of us from questioning and him from becoming an Anomaly. And how can I let them take the last piece of his old life?

  This is safer for Xander, too. They don’t know Ky’s artifact exists, so hopeful y they won’t miss it. My compact wil be accounted for and taken away, as expected, so they won’t look for it or wonder if I’ve given it to someone else.

  I run back down the hal and open the front door.

  “Xander, wait!” I cal out to him, trying to make my voice light. “Aren’t you going to kiss me good night?” Xander turns, his face open and natural. I don’t think anyone else could see the glint of cunning in his eyes, but I know him so wel .

  I skip down the steps and he holds out his arms to me. We embrace, his hands at the smal of my back and my arms around his neck. I place my hand just under the col ar of his plainclothes and open my fingers. The artifact slides down his back and my palm lies flat against his warm skin. We look each other straight in the eyes for a moment and then I lean close to his ear.

  “Don’t open it,” I whisper to Xander. “Don’t keep it in your house. Bury it or hide it somewhere. It’s not what you think. ” Xander nods.

  “Thank you,” I say, and then I kiss him right on the lips and I mean that kiss. Even though I know I’m fal ing for Ky it is impossible not to love Xander for everything he is and everything he does.

  “Cassia!” Bram cal s from the steps.

  Bram. He’s going to lose something today, too. I think of Grandfather’s watch and anger rises in me. Do they have to take everything?

  Xander breaks away from our embrace. He has to hurry to hide the artifact before they get to his house. “Good-bye,” he says with a smile.

  “Good-bye,” I cal back.

  “Cassia!” Bram cal s again, fear in his voice. I glance back down the street, but I don’t see any Officials yet. They must stil be in one of the houses between mine and Em’s.

  “Hi, Bram,” I say, attempting to sound casual. It’s better for us al if he doesn’t suspect what Xander and I have done. “Where’s—”

  “They’re taking the artifacts,” Bram says, voice shaking. “They cal ed Papa in to help with the col ection. ” Of course. I should have realized. They need someone like him to help determine if the artifacts are real or false. Another fear strikes me. Was he supposed to take our artifacts? Did he pretend mine was lost? Did he lie for Bram or me? How many stupid mistakes is he wil ing to make for those he loves?

  “Oh no,” I say, trying to act as though al of this is new to me. Hopeful y Bram won’t find out that Em told me earlier. “Did he take ours with him?”

  “No,” Bram says. “They won’t let anyone col ect from their own families. ”

  “Did he know this was going to happen?”

  “No. When the cal came over the port he was shocked. But he had to report right away. He told me to listen to the Officials and not to worry. ” I want to put my arm around Bram and comfort him because he is about to lose something, something important. So I do. I hold onto my brother and for the first time in years he hugs me back, tight, the way he did when he was a little boy and I was the big sister he admired more than anyone else in the world. I wish I could have saved his watch, but it was the wrong color, silver instead of gold. And the Officials know about it. There was nothing
I could do, I tel myself, trying to believe it.

  We hold on for a few seconds and then I pul away and look Bram in the eyes. “Go get it,” I say to him. “Go look at it for the last few minutes you have and remember it. Remember it. ”

  Bram doesn’t pretend to hide the tears in his eyes now.

  “Bram,” I say, and I hug him again. “Bram. Something bad could have happened to the watch even without this. You could have lost it. You could have broken it. But this way you can look at it one last time. It’s never real y lost to you as long as you remember it. ”

  “Can’t I try to hide it?” Bram asks. He blinks and a tear escapes. He brushes it away angrily. “Wil you help me?”

  “No, Bram,” I say gently. “I wish we could, but it’s too dangerous. ” What I risk has a limit. I won’t risk Bram.

  When the Officials arrive at our house and come in the door they find Bram and me sitting on the divan side by side. Bram holds silver; I hold gold; we both look up. But then Bram’s gaze flickers back to the polished silver surface in his hands and I glance down at the gold one in mine.

  My face looks back at me, distorted by the curve of the compact’s surface, the way it was at the Match Banquet. Then, the question I asked myself was: Do I look pretty?

  Now the question I ask is: Do I look strong?

  As I look at my eyes and the set of my jaw, it seems to me that the answer is yes.

  A short, balding Official speaks first. “The Government has decided that artifacts promote inequality among members of Society,” he says. “We request that everyone turn in their artifacts for catalog and display at the Museum in each City. ”

  “Our records indicate that there are two legal artifacts in this residence,” a tal Official adds. Does he stress the word legal, or is it my imagination? “One silver watch, one gold compact. ”

  I don’t say anything and neither does Bram.

  “Are these the artifacts?” the bald Official asks, looking at the items we hold. He seems weary. This must be a terrible job. I imagine my father taking artifacts from people—old people like Grandfather, children like Bram—and I feel sick.

  I nod. “Do you want them now?”

  “You may retain them for a few more minutes. We are required to do a quick search of the house. ” Bram and I both sit quietly while they go through our house. It doesn’t take long.

  “Nothing valuable here,” one of them says quietly to another in the hal way.

  My heart is on fire and I have to keep my mouth shut tight so that I don’t try to burn these Officials with the flames. That’s what you think, I say to myself. You think there’s nothing here because we’re not putting up a fight. But there are words in our heads that no one else knows. And my grandfather died on his terms, not yours. We have things of value but you can never find them because you don’t even know how to look.

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