Crossed, p.25
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       Crossed, p.25

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 26

 

  I shake my head.

  “I’m Eli,” Eli says behind me.

  For a minute, the man doesn’t answer. Then he says, “My name is Hunter. ” He looks at us closely. I do the same. He’s not much older than we are, I realize, but wind and weather have marked his face.

  “Did any of you live in the Society?” he asks.

  “We all did,” I say. “At one time or another. ”

  “Good,” Hunter says. “I might need something from you. ”

  “In exchange for what?” I ask.

  “If you can help me,” Hunter says, “you can have access to whatever you want. We have food. Papers. ” He waves his hand wearily in the direction of the storage caves. Then he looks at me. “Though it appears you might have already helped yourselves. ”

  “We thought this place was empty,” Eli says. “We’ll give it all back. ”

  Hunter makes an impatient gesture. “It doesn’t matter. What is it you want? Things for trade?”

  “Yes,” I say.

  Out of the corner of my eye I see Cassia and Indie exchange glances. Hunter notices it too. “What else?” he asks.

  Indie speaks up. “We’d like to know more about the Rising,” she says. “If it’s somewhere near here, how we can find it. ”

  “And who the Pilot might be,” Cassia says eagerly. Of course she wants to know about the rebellion, since it seems to be mentioned in a poem from her grandfather. I wish I’d told her everything back on the Hill. She might have understood then. But now, after she’s begun to hope—I don’t know what to do.

  “I might have some answers for you,” Hunter says. “You help me and then I’ll tell you what I know. ”

  “Let’s get started,” Indie says. “What do you want us to do?”

  “It’s not that easy,” Hunter says. “We have to go somewhere, and it’s getting too dark. Come back here tomorrow when it’s light. ” He reaches for the shovel he used for the grave and I motion for the others to step back.

  “How do we know we can trust you?” I ask.

  He laughs again, that same humorless laugh. A faint echo of it bounces back from the walls of the canyon and among the empty houses. “Tell me,” Hunter says. “In the Society, do people really live to be eighty?”

  “Yes,” Cassia says. “But that’s only for Citizens. ”

  “Eighty,” Hunter says. “We almost never reach eighty in the Carving. Do you think it’s worth it?” he asks us. “To have no choice, but to live so long?”

  “Some people think it is,” Cassia says quietly.

  Hunter passes his blue-marked hand across his face and what he said earlier is suddenly true. He’s done. Finished. “Tomorrow,” he says. He turns around and walks away.

  Everyone sleeps in the little house. Eli, Cassia, Indie. I stay awake and listen. Their breathing makes it sound as though the house itself breathes in and out but of course the walls hold still. I know Hunter won’t harm us but I can’t rest. I have to keep watch.

  Sometime near the approach of dawn, when I’m standing in the doorway looking out, I hear a sound from the other side of the room. Someone’s awake.

  Indie. She comes toward me.

  “What do you want?” I ask, trying to keep my tone even. I recognized Indie the moment I saw her. She is like me—a survivor. I don’t trust her.

  “Nothing,” Indie says. In the silence I hear her shift the pack. She never lets it out of sight.

  “What are you hiding in there?” I ask.

  “There’s nothing to hide,” she says, an edge to her voice. “Everything in here belongs to me. ” She pauses. “Why don’t you want to join the Rising?”

  I don’t answer. We stand in silence for a little while. Indie pulls her pack over her shoulder and holds it tightly against her chest. She seems far away. I am too. Part of me is back with Cassia under the stars in the Carving. On the Hill with the wind. Back in the Borough when I was young, I never would have believed any of this could happen. I never dreamed I could steal so much from the Society.

  I hear someone stirring. Cassia.

  “She dreams about Xander,” Indie whispers behind me. “I’ve heard her call his name. ”

  I tell myself that the scraps Xander hid in the tablets don’t matter. Cassia knew Xander and she still chose me. And the scraps won’t last. The port paper deteriorates so quickly. They’ll turn to flakes as delicate as snow. As spent and silent as ash.

  I can’t lose her now.

  Lived in the Outer Provinces for much of his life.

  Peers listed Ky Markham’s name as the student they most admired 0. 00% of the time.

  No one was ever going to get a list about me.

  And no one who loves someone else would want that person to have a Match like me.

  Does loving someone mean you want them to be safe? Or that you want them to be able to choose?

  “What do you want?” I ask Indie.

  “I want to know Xander’s secret,” Indie says.

  “What do you mean?”

  In answer she holds out a scrap of paper. “Cassia dropped this,” Indie says. “I didn’t give it back. ”

  I know I shouldn’t take the scrap but I do. Careful to keep the light away from Cassia and Eli, I switch on my flashlight to read the paper:

  Has a secret to tell his Match when he sees her again.

  A line like that would never be included on Xander’s official microcard. He added something new. “How did he do it?” I ask in spite of myself, as though Indie would know. The Society carefully monitors all typing and printing. Did he risk using a port at school? At home?

  “He must be very smart,” Indie says.

  “He is,” I say.

  “So what’s the secret?” Indie asks, leaning closer.

  I shake my head. “What makes you think I’d know?” I do know and I’m not telling.

  “You and Xander were friends,” Indie says. “Cassia told me so. And I think you know a lot more than you say. ”

  “About what?” I ask.

  “Everything,” she says.

  “I think the same about you,” I say. “You’re hiding something. ”

  I shine the flashlight full on her and she blinks. In the light she looks almost blindingly beautiful. Her hair is a color that isn’t seen very often, a fire color of red and gold. And she’s tall and fine-featured and strong. Wild. She wants to survive, but there’s an element of unpredictability about how she’ll do it that keeps me on edge. “I want to know the secret,” she says. “And how to find the Rising. I think you know the answers. You won’t tell Cassia, and I think I know why. ”

  I shake my head but don’t speak. I let the silence hang between us. She can fill it if she chooses.

  For an instant I think she will. Then she turns away and walks back to the spot where she slept. She doesn’t look at me again.

  After a moment I walk back to the door and steal outside. I open my hand to the wind and let the scrap blow away into the last of the night.

  Chapter 30

  CASSIA

  On the wall across from the angels, there is a very different painting. I did not notice it before, so intent was I on the picture of the angels. The others all sleep; even Ky has slumped over near the door where he insisted on keeping watch.

  I climb out of the bed and try to decide what the painting represents. It has curves, angles, and shapes, but I don’t know what it could be. None of the Hundred look like this. They are all clearly people, places, things. After a few moments, I hear Ky move at the other end of the room. Our eyes meet across the gray expanse of floor and the huddled dark shapes of Indie and Eli. Silently, Ky rises to his feet and comes to stand next to me. “Did you sleep enough?” I whisper.

  “No,” he says, leaning in and closing his eyes.

  When he opens them again neither of us have words or breath left.

  We both look at the painting. After a few moments, I
ask, “Is it a canyon?” but even as I name the picture, I realize it could be something else. Someone’s flesh cut open, a sunset striping above a river.

  “Love,” he says, finally.

  “Love?” I ask.

  “Yes,” he says.

  “Love,” I repeat softly, still puzzled.

  “I think ‘love’ when I look at it,” Ky says, trying to explain. “You might think something else. It’s like the Pilot in your poem—everyone thinks something different when they hear that name. ”

  “What do you think of when you hear my name?” I ask him.

  “Many things,” Ky whispers, sending rivers of chills along the length of my skin. “This. The Hill. The Carving. Places we’ve been together. ” He pulls back and I feel him looking at me and I hold my breath because I know there is so much he sees. “Places we haven’t been together,” he says, “yet. ” His voice sounds fierce as he speaks of the future.

  We both want to move, to be outside. Indie and Eli still sleep and we don’t disturb them; they’ll be able to see us from the window when they awake.

  This canyon that I earlier thought so barren and dry has surprising amounts of green, especially near the stream. Watercress laces the edges of the marshy banks; moss jewels the red rocks along the river; swamp grass tangles green blades with gray. I step against the ice at the edge of the stream and it breaks, reminding me of the time I shattered the glass that protected my dress fragment back in the Borough. Looking down at where I’ve pressed my foot, I see that even the ice I’ve broken is green under the white. It is exactly the color of my dress at the Match Banquet. I noticed none of this green the first time through the canyon; I was so fixed on finding a sign of Ky.

  I look up at him walking along the stream and notice the ease of his walk, even when he steps in places where shifting sands have drifted across the path. He looks back at me and stops and smiles.

  You belong here, I think. You move differently than you did in the Society. Everything about the township seems right for him—the beautiful, unusual paintings, the stark independence of the town.

  All that’s missing are people for him to help lead. He only has the few of us.

  “Ky,” I say as we reach the edge of the stand of trees.

  He stops. His eyes are all for me, and his lips have touched mine, and brushed my neck, my hands, the insides of my wrists, each finger. While we stood kissing that night under the cold burning stars and held on tight, it did not feel that we were stealing time. It felt that it was all our own.

  “I know,” he says.

  We hold each other’s eyes for another long moment before we duck under the branches of the trees. They have weathered gray bark and drifts of brown leaves underneath that move and sigh with the canyon wind.

  As the leaves shift, I see other flat gray stones on the ground like the one Hunter put down yesterday. I touch Ky’s arm. “Are these all—”

  “Places where people are buried,” he says. “Yes. It’s called a graveyard. ”

 
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