Matched, p.25
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       Matched, p.25
 

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 26

 

  Al the rest of the time, until we hear the Officer’s whistle, we move up the Hil repeating the poem back to each other like a song. A song that just the two of us know.

  Before we leave the forest, Ky finishes teaching me to write my name in the soft dirt underneath one of the fal en trees. We crouch down, red cloths in hand, acting as though we are tying them on in case anyone comes by and sees us. It takes me a little while to learn s but I like the way it looks—

  like something leaning into the wind. The clean line and dot of i is easy to master, and I already know how to write a.

  I write each letter in my name and connect them together, Ky’s hand near mine to guide me. We don’t quite touch, but I feel the warmth of his hand, the length of his body crouched behind me as I write. Cassia.

  “My name,” I say, leaning back and looking at the letters. They are wavery, less sure than the letters Ky writes. Someone passing by might not even recognize mine as letters at al . Stil , I can tel what they say. “What next?”

  “Now,” Ky says, “we go back to the beginning. You know a. Tomorrow we’l do b. Once you know them al , you can write your own poems. ”

  “But who would read them?” I ask, laughing.

  “I would,” he says. He gives me another folded napkin. There, between greasy thumbprints and traces of food, is more of Ky for me to see.

  I put the napkin in my pocket and I think of Ky writing out his story with his red hands, seared from the heat of the job he does. I think of him risking everything each time he slips one napkin into his pocket. Al these years he’s been so careful, but now he’s wil ing to take a chance. Because he’s found someone who wants to know. Someone he wants to tel .

  “Thank you,” I say. “For teaching me how to write. ”

  “Thank you,” he answers. There is a light in his eyes and I am the one who put it there. “For saving my artifact and for the poem. ” There’s more to say, but we’re learning how to speak. Together we step out of the trees. Not touching. Not yet.

  CHAPTER 20

  I walk home from the air-train stop with Em after school and sorting. Once the others who came with us have gone ahead or fal en behind, Em puts her hand on my arm. “I’m so sorry,” she says quietly.

  “Em, don’t worry about it anymore. I’m not angry. ” I look her in the eye so that she knows I mean it but her eyes are stil sad. So many times in my life I’ve felt as though looking at Em is like seeing another variation of myself, but I don’t feel that way now. Too much has changed recently. Stil , Em is my best girlfriend. Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots wil always be tangled. I’m glad for that. “You don’t have to keep apologizing,” I tel her. “I’m happy I lent it to you. At least we both got to enjoy it before they took it away. ”

  “I stil don’t understand,” Em says softly. “They have plenty of displays in the Museum. It doesn’t make any sense. ” I’ve never heard anything so close to insubordination come out of Em’s mouth before, and I grin at her. Maybe we aren’t becoming so different after al .

  “What are we doing tonight?” I ask, changing the subject.

  Em seems relieved about the shift in topic. “I talked to Xander today and he wants to go to the game center tonight. What do you think?” What I real y think is that I’d like to go back to the top of the first little hil . The thought of being in that center with its stuffiness and crowds when we could be sitting and talking under a clean night sky seems like more than I can take. But I can do it. I can do whatever I need to in order to keep things normal. I have Ky’s words to read. And perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’l see Ky himself later. I hope he comes with us.

  Em interrupts my thoughts by saying, “Look. Your mother’s waiting for you. ”

  Em’s right. My mother sits on the steps of the house with her face turned in our direction. When she sees me looking at her, she stands up, waves, and starts walking toward us. I wave back and Em and I pick up the pace a little.

  “She’s back,” I say out loud, and it isn’t until I hear the surprise in my voice that I recognize that part of me worried that she would stay away forever.

  “Was she gone?” Em asks, and I realize that my mother’s absence is likely one of those things that we aren’t supposed to mention outside of our family. Not that the Officials said that explicitly; it’s simply the kind of thing we’ve learned to keep to ourselves.

  “Back early from work,” I clarify. It’s not even a lie.

  Em says good-bye and goes into her house. Her maple tree isn’t going to make it, I think, noticing that even in the middle of summer the tree only has about ten green, tired leaves. Then I look toward my house, where the tree grows ful and the flowers are beautiful and my mother comes to meet me.

  This reminds me of times when I was very smal in First School and my mother’s work hours ended before I got home. She and Bram sometimes walked up the street to meet my train. They never made it far because Bram stopped to look at everything along the way. “That kind of attention to detail might be a sign that he’s meant to be a sorter,” my father used to say, until Bram got older and it became apparent that he lost his ability to pay attention to detail along with his baby teeth.

  When I reach my mother she hugs me right there on the sidewalk. “Oh, Cassia,” she says. Her face looks pale and tired. “I’m so sorry. I missed your first official outing with Xander. ”

  “You missed something else last night, too,” I say, my face against her shoulder. She is tal er than I am and I don’t think I wil ever catch up. I’m slight and short, like my father’s family. Like Grandfather. I smel my mother’s familiar smel of flowers and clean fabric, and I breathe in deeply. I’m so glad she’s back.

  “I know. ” My mother never speaks against the government. The most defiant she’s ever been was when the Officials searched my father. I don’t expect her to rant and rave about the unfairness of the Officials taking the artifacts, and she doesn’t. It occurs to me that if she did, she’d be ranting and raving against her own husband. He is, after al , an Official, too.

  Though he isn’t the one who held out his hand and asked us to drop our prized possessions into it, he did that to other people.

  When my father came home last night, he gave Bram and me each a long hug and then went straight to his room without saying anything. Maybe because he couldn’t stand to see the pain in our faces and remember that he had caused that same pain in others.

  “I’m sorry, Cassia,” my mother says now as we walk home. “I know how much that compact meant to you. ”

  “I feel sorry for Bram. ”

  “I know. I do, too. ”

  When we enter the front door I hear the chime that means our food has arrived. But when I go into the kitchen only two portions sit in the delivery area. “What about Papa and Bram?”

  “Papa requested dinner early so he and Bram could go for a walk before Bram’s free-rec hours. ”

  “Real y?” I ask. We don’t often make such requests.

  “Yes. Your father thought that Bram could use something special after everything that’s happened lately. ” I’m happy, especial y for Bram’s sake, that the nutrition Officials granted Papa’s request. “Why didn’t you go too?”

  “I wanted to see you. ” She smiles at me and then looks around the kitchen. “We haven’t eaten together in a long time. And of course, I want to hear about your outing with Xander. ”

  We sit across from each other at the table, and I notice again how tired she looks. “Tel me about your trip,” I say, before she can ask about last night. “What did you see?”

  “I’m stil not sure,” she says softly, almost to herself. Then she straightens up. “We went to another Arboretum to look at some crops. After that, we had to go to some Farmlands. It al took some time. ”

  “But now everything’s back to normal, right?”

  “For the most part. I have to write
a formal report and submit it to the Officials in charge of the other Arboretum. ”

  “What’s the report about?”

  “I’m afraid that’s confidential information,” my mother says regretful y.

  We both fal silent, but it is a good silence, a mother-daughter one. Her thoughts are far away somewhere, perhaps back at the Arboretum.

  Maybe she’s writing the report in her mind. That’s al right with me, though. I relax and let my own thoughts go where they want, which is to Ky.

  “Thinking about Xander?” my mother says, giving me a knowing smile. “I always daydreamed about your father, too. ” I smile back. There’s no point tel ing her that I’m thinking about the wrong boy. No, not the wrong boy. Ky may be an Aberration but there’s nothing about him that is defective. It’s our Government and their classification system and al their systems that are wrong. Including the Matching System.

  But if the system is wrong and false and unreal, then what about the love between my parents? If their love was born because of the Society, can it stil be real and good and right? This is the question that I can’t get out of my mind. I want the answer to be yes. That their love is true. I want it to have beauty and reality independent of anything else.

  “I should get ready to go to the game center,” I tel her, and she yawns. “You should go to sleep. We can talk more tomorrow. ”

  “Wel , maybe I’l rest for a little while,” she says. We both stand up: I take her foilware container to the recycling bin for her and she carries my water bottle to the sterilizer for me. “Come say good-bye before you leave, though, won’t you?”

  “Of course. ”

  My mother goes into her room and I slip into mine. I have a few minutes before I’m due to meet everyone. Do I have time to read a little more of Ky’s story? I decide that I do. I pul the crumpled napkin from my pocket.

  I want to know more about Ky before I see him tonight. I feel as if the two of us are our true selves when we hike in the trees on the hil s. When we’re with everyone else on Saturday nights, though, it becomes difficult. We go through a forest that is complicated and ful of tangles and there are no stone cairns to guide us except the ones we build ourselves.

  Sitting on my bed to read, I glance again at the spot in my closet where I kept the compact. I feel a sharp pain of loss and turn back to Ky’s story.

  But as I read and the tears slip down my cheeks, I realize that I do not know anything about loss.

  In the middle of the crease Ky drew a vil age, little houses, little people. But al the people lie prone, on their backs. No one stands straight, except the two Kys. The young one’s hands are no longer empty; they carry something. One hand holds the word Mother, slumping over the edge of his hand, shaped a little like a body. The top of the t tips up, like an arm flung askew.

  The other hand holds the word Father, and that word lies stil too. And the young Ky’s shoulders are bent with the weight of these two little words, and his face is stil tipped to the sky, where I see now the rain has turned into something dark, something deadly and solid. Ammunition, I think. I’ve seen it in the showing.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched