Matched, p.24
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       Matched, p.24

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 25

 

  They walk back into the room and I stand up. Bram does, too. The Officials wave detection instruments around us to make sure we haven’t concealed anything on our persons. Of course, they find nothing.

  The female Official comes forward and I see a pale band of skin on her finger, where a ring must have been. She lost something today, too. I hold out the compact, thinking about how my artifact has traveled from a time before the Society, from one family member to another, to me. And now I have to let it go.

  The Official takes my compact; she takes the watch from Bram. “You can come see them in the Museum. Any time you like. ”

  “It’s not the same,” he says, and then he straightens his shoulders. And oh, I see Grandfather, I do. My heart swel s with the thought that perhaps he isn’t completely gone after al . “You can take it,” Bram says, “but it wil always be mine. ” Bram goes to his room. The heaviness in his step and the way he closes the door tel s me that he wants to be alone.

  I feel like punching something but I shove my hands into my pockets instead. There I find the brown paper envelope: a crumpled shel that once contained something valuable and beautiful. It’s only an envelope, not an artifact; it didn’t even register on the Officials’ detection instruments. I pul it out and tear it in half, angrily. I want to rip it up and shred it to pieces. The jagged line along the envelope pleases me. It feels good to destroy. I get ready to make another wound. I look down for another place to tear.

  My breath catches in my throat when I see what I almost ruined.

  Another part of Ky’s story. There’s something else the Officials have missed.

  Drowning, drinking the words at the top say, the letters strong and beautiful, like he is. I think of his hand writing them, his skin brushing the napkin. I bite my lip and look at the picture below.

  napkin. I bite my lip and look at the picture below.

  Two Kys again, the younger one, and the one now, both of them with hands stil cupped. The background in the first one is a spare, bare landscape, the bones of rocks rising behind Ky. In the second picture, he’s here in the Borough. I see a maple tree behind him. Rain fal s in both pictures, but in the first one his mouth is open, his head tipped back, he drinks from the sky. In the second one his head is down, his eyes panicked, the rain thick around him, streaming off him like a waterfal . There is too much rain here. He could drown.

  When it rains, I remember are the words written at the bottom.

  I look out the window where the burning evening sun sets in a clear sky. There is no trace of clouds, but I promise myself that when it rains I wil remember too. This paper, these pictures and words. This piece of him.

  CHAPTER 19

  The air train into the City the next morning is almost silent. No one wants to talk about what happened in the Borough last night. Those who gave up their artifacts are hushed with the loss; those who never had any to begin with are quiet out of respect. Or, perhaps, out of satisfaction, because now everything has been equalized.

  Before he gets off at his stop for swimming, Xander leans over to kiss my cheek and says softly, “Under the newroses in front of Ky’s house. ” He steps off the air train and disappears with the other students while I ride on toward the Arboretum. Questions crowd my mind: How did Xander hide the artifact in the Markhams’ flower bed unseen? Does he know it belongs to Ky or is it coincidence that he picked the Markhams’ house as the hiding place?

  Does he know what I’m starting to feel for Ky?

  Whatever Xander knows or guesses, one thing is certain: He couldn’t have picked a better hiding place. We’re al charged with keeping our yards neat and clean. If Ky digs in his own yard, no one wil suspect anything. I just have to tel him where to look.

  Like everyone else, Ky stares out the window as we glide toward the Arboretum. Did he see Xander’s kiss? Did he care? He does not meet my eyes.

  “We’re pairing off for this next round of hiking,” the Officer says once we reach the bottom of the Hil . “You are each partnered with another hiker according to ability assessed by analyzing the data I col ected from your earlier hikes. That means Ky is paired with Cassia; Livy is paired with Tay

  . . . ”

  Livy’s face fal s and I try to keep mine expressionless.

  The Officer finishes reading his list. “You have a different goal on the Hil ,” he says. “You won’t ever see the top here. The Society has asked us to use our hiking time to mark obstacles on the Hil . ” He gestures to the bags piled next to him. They hold strips of red cloth. “Every pair takes a bag.

  Tie the markers on branches near fal en trees, in front of particularly bad thickets, etc. Later, a survey crew wil come through. They’re going to clear and pave a path on the Hil . ”

  They’re going to pave the Hil . At least Grandfather doesn’t have to see it.

  “What if we run out of cloths?” Lon whines. “They haven’t cleared the Hil in years. There’l be obstacles everywhere! We might as wel mark every tree we see. ”

  “If you run out of cloths, use rocks to make cairns,” the Officer says. He turns to Ky. “Do you know how to make a cairn?” There’s the briefest of hesitations before Ky answers. “Yes. ”

  “Show them. ”

  Ky gathers a few rocks from the ground around us and stacks them, largest first, in a smal pile. His hands are quick and sure, the way they are when he’s teaching me to write. The tower looks precarious but does not fal .

  “See? It’s simple,” the Officer says. “I’l blow my whistle later and that means you need to start making your way back. You blow your whistles if you get lost. ” He gives us each a standard-issue metal whistle. “It shouldn’t be hard. Just head back down the mountain the way you came. ” The Officer’s thinly veiled disgust for us used to amuse me. Today, I understand it. I feel disgust when I think of how we climb our little hil s when the Officials say the word. How we hand over our most precious items at their bidding. How we never, ever fight.

  We are barely out of view of the others when Ky turns to me and I turn to him and for a moment I think he is going to touch me. I sense, more than see, his hand move slightly and then drop back down. I feel a disappointment deeper than the disappointment I felt this morning when I opened my closet and did not see the compact resting there.

  “Are you al right?” he asks. “Last night, when they searched the houses—I didn’t know until after I came home. ”

  “I’m fine. ”

  “My artifact . . . ”

  Is that al he cares about? I whisper fiercely, “It’s in your flower bed. Buried under the newroses. Dig it up and then you’ll have it back. ”

  “I don’t care about the artifact,” he says, and although he stil does not touch me, I am warmed at the fire in his eyes. “I couldn’t sleep al night, worrying that I’d gotten you in trouble. I care about you. ”

  Those words are quiet here under the trees but they sing loudly in my heart, louder than al the Hundred Songs caroled al at once. And his eyes are shadowed underneath, from thinking about me. I want to reach up and touch that skin under his eyes, the one place I’ve seen any vulnerability in him, make him feel better. And then I could run my fingers there, across his cheekbones, down to his lips, to the place where his jaw meets his neck, where his neck meets his shoulder line. I like the places where one part meets another, I think, eyes to cheek, wrist to hands. Somewhat shocked at my own thoughts, I take a step back.

  “How did you—”

  “Someone helped me. ”

  “Xander,” he says.

  How does he know? “Xander,” I agree.

  Neither of us speaks for a moment; I stand back, seeing him whole. Then he turns and begins to walk through the trees again. It is slow going; the underbrush grows so tangled here that it’s more of a climb than a hike. Trees that fel have not been cleared away and lie like giant bones across the forest floor.

  “Yesterday . . . ” I begin. I have to a
sk, as inconsequential as the question now seems. “Were you teaching Livy how to write?” Ky stops again and looks at me. His eyes seem almost green under the canopy of the trees. “Of course not,” he says. “She wanted to know what we were doing. She saw us writing. We weren’t careful enough. ”

  I feel stupid and relieved. “Oh. ”

  “I told her I’d been showing you how to draw the trees. ” He picks up a stick next to me and starts moving it around to make a pattern that does look remarkably like leaves. Then he places the stick down as the trunk of the tree. I keep looking at his hands after he has finished, not sure what else to do.

  “No one draws once they’re out of First School. ”

  “I know,” he says. “But at least it’s not expressly forbidden. ”

  I reach into the bag I carry for a piece of red cloth and tie it on a fal en tree near Ky. I keep my eyes down, looking now at my fingers as they twist the fabric into a knot. “I’m sorry. About the way I acted yesterday. ” When I straighten up, Ky has already moved on.

  “Don’t be,” Ky says, pul ing a tangle of climbing green vines away from a shrub so that we can pass through. He throws the vines at me and I catch them in surprise. “It’s good to see you jealous once in a while. ” He smiles, sun in the woods.

  I try not to smile in return. “Who said I was jealous?”

  “No one,” he says. “I could tel . I’ve been watching people for a long time. ”

  “Why did you let me hold onto it, anyway?” I ask him. “The case with the arrow. It’s beautiful. But I wasn’t sure—”

  “No one but my parents know that I have it,” he says. “When Em gave me the compact to give back to you, I noticed how much alike they were. I wanted you to see it. ”

  His voice sounds lonely al of a sudden, and I can almost hear another sentence, the one that instinct stil keeps him from saying: I wanted you to see me. Because isn’t this what it’s al about, the golden case with the arrow, the bits of story offered here and there? Ky wants someone to see him.

  He wants me to see him.

  My hands ache to reach for him. But I can’t bring myself to betray Xander in that way after everything he has done. After he saved us both—Ky and me—just last night.

  But there is something I can continue to give Ky that is purely mine, that doesn’t belong to Xander. The poem.

  I only mean to tel him a few more lines, but once I start tel ing him it’s hard to hold back, and I say the whole thing. The words go together. Some things are created to be together.

  “The words aren’t peaceful,” Ky says.

  “I know. ”

  “Then why do they make me feel calm?” Ky asks in wonder. “I don’t understand. ”

  In silence, we push our way through more undergrowth, the poem heavy in our minds.

  Final y, I know what it is I want to say. “I think it’s because when we hear it we know we’re not the only ones who ever felt this way. ”

  “Tel it to me again,” Ky asks softly. His breath catches; his voice is husky.

 
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