Matched, p.26
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       Matched, p.26

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 27

 

  The older Ky has turned his face away from the vil age in the middle, from the other boy. His hands are no longer open. They are clenched.

  Behind him, people in Official uniforms watch him. His lips curve in a smile that never touches his eyes; he wears plainclothes, a line indicating the crisp crease where he’s ironed them neat.

  at first when the rain fell

  from the sky so wide and deep

  it smelled like sage, my favorite smell

  I went up on the plateau to watch it come

  to see the gifts it always brought

  but this rain changed from blue to black

  and left

  nothing.

  There’s a drought of Officials at the game center, even though the center itself brims with people playing, winning, losing. I see three Officials, watching the largest of the game tables. They look earnest and on edge in their white uniforms, their faces showing more stress than usual. This is strange. Usual y, we have twelve or more lower-level Officials in the center, keeping the peace, keeping score. Where are the rest of them tonight?

  Somewhere, things aren’t going quite right.

  But here, as far as I’m concerned, at least one thing has. Ky’s with us. I look at him once as we weave our way through the masses of people, fol owing Xander, hoping that Ky understands from that look that I have read his story, that I care. He walks right behind me and I want to reach back and take his hand but there are too many people. The one thing I can do for Ky is to help keep him safe, to hold onto what I want to say until there is a good place to say it. And to remember the words he wrote, the pictures he made, even though I wish that part of the story had never happened to him.

  His parents died. He saw it happen. Death came from the sky, and that’s what he remembers. Every time it rains.

  Xander stops and so we al do, too. To my surprise, he gestures to a game table where the games played are one-on-one. Games Xander doesn’t usual y play. He likes to take on a group, to win when the stakes are higher and more players are involved. It’s a better test of his abilities—

  more chal enging, more variables. Less personal. “You want to play?” Xander asks.

  I turn to see who he means.

  Ky.

  “Al right,” Ky says without hesitation, nothing revealed in his voice. He keeps his eyes on Xander, waiting for the next move.

  “What kind of game do you want to play? Skil or chance?” Is there a trace of chal enge in Xander’s voice? His face remains perfectly even, as does Ky’s.

  “I don’t care,” Ky answers.

  “How about a game of chance, then,” Xander says, which surprises me again. Xander hates games of chance. He much prefers ones that involve actual skil .

  Em and Piper and I stay, watching, as Xander and Ky sit down and scan their cards into the datapod at the table. Xander sets out the playing cards, red with black markings in the center, first stacking the edges even with two sharp hits of the deck against the metal. “Want to go first?” Xander asks Ky, and Ky nods and reaches to draw.

  “What game are they playing?” someone asks next to me. Livy. She’s here for Ky, I’m sure of it, her eyes possessive as she watches his hands over the cards.

  His hands are not yours to watch, I think to her, and I remember again that they aren’t mine, either. I should be watching Xander. I should be hoping for Xander to win.

  “Prisoner’s dilemma,” Em says next to me. “They’re playing prisoner’s dilemma. ”

  “What’s that?” Livy asks.

  She doesn’t know the game? I turn to her in surprise. It’s one of the simplest, most common games. Em tries to explain it to Livy in a low voice so she doesn’t disturb the players. “They each put down a card at the same time. If they both have an even card, they each get two points. If they’re both odd, then they each get one point. ”

  Livy interrupts Em. “What if one has even and one has odd?”

  “If one is even and one is odd, the person who puts down the odd card gets three points. The person who puts down the even one gets zero. ” Livy’s eyes fix on Ky’s face. Jealously, I think that even if she sees him in the same amount of detail that I do—which I doubt—she doesn’t know anything about him. Would she stil be so interested in Ky if she knew about his status as an Aberration?

  I have a thought that strikes me cold: Would I be so interested if I didn’t know that he’s an Aberration? I never paid Ky particular attention before I knew about his classification.

  And before you saw his face on the microcard, I remind myself. Naturally, that piqued your interest. Besides. You weren’t supposed to be interested in anyone until you were Matched.

  I feel a little sick thinking that Livy might see Ky’s true worth in a way that is somehow more pure; she’s simply interested in him. No hidden reasons. No tangles. No extra layers beneath her basic attraction to him.

  But then again, I realize, I never know. She could be hiding something, as I am. We could al be hiding something.

  I turn my attention back to the game and I watch Ky’s and Xander’s faces closely. Neither one of them blinks an eye, pauses before a move, shows their hand.

  In the end, it doesn’t matter. Ky and Xander end the rounds with an even number of points. They’ve each won, and lost, an equal amount of hands.

  “Let’s go walk around for a minute,” Xander says, reaching for me. I want to look at Ky before I twine my fingers with Xander’s, but I don’t. I have to play the game, too. Surely Ky wil understand.

  But would Xander? If he knew about Ky and me, and the words we share on the Hill?

  I push the thought away as I walk from the table with Xander. Livy immediately slides into his place and starts up a conversation with Ky.

  Xander and I go out in the hal way alone. I wonder if he’s about to kiss me and I wonder what I’m going to do if he does, but then he whispers to me instead, his words soft and close. “Ky throws the games. ”

  “What?”

  “He loses the games on purpose. ”

  “You tied. He didn’t lose. ” I don’t know what Xander’s getting at.

  “Not tonight. Because it wasn’t a game of skil . Those are the ones he usual y throws. I’ve been watching him for a while. He’s careful about how he does it, but I’m sure that’s what he’s doing. ”

  I stare back at Xander, not sure how to respond.

  “It’s easy to throw a game of skil , especial y when it’s a big group. Or a game like Check, when you can put your pieces in harm’s way and make it look natural. But today, in a game of chance, one-on-one, he didn’t lose. He’s no fool. He knew that I was watching. ” Xander grins. Then his face gets puzzled. “What I don’t understand is why?”

  “Why what?”

  “Why would he throw so many games? He knows the Officials watch us. He knows they’re looking for people who can play wel . He knows our play probably influences what vocations they assign us. It doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t he want them to know how smart he is? Because he is smart. ”

  “You’re not going to tel anyone about this, are you?” Suddenly I am very worried for Ky.

  “Of course not,” Xander says, thoughtful y. “He must have his reasons. I can respect that. ” Xander’s right. Ky does have his reasons, and they are good ones. I read them on the last napkin, the one with the stains that I know must be tomato sauce but that look like blood. Old blood.

  “Let’s play one more time,” Ky says when we get back, his eyes on Xander. They flicker once, and I think he’s looked down at my hand in Xander’s, but I can’t be sure. His face shows nothing.

  “Al right,” Xander says. “Chance or skil ?”

  “Skil ,” Ky suggests. And something in his expression suggests that he might not throw the game this time. He might be in it to win.

  Em rol s her eyes at me and gestures at the boys as if to say, “Can you believe how primitive this is?” But we
both fol ow them to another table.

  Livy comes, too.

  I sit between Ky and Xander, equidistant from both of them. It’s as if I’m a piece of metal and they are two magnets and there’s a pul from either side. They’ve both taken risks for me—Xander with the artifact, Ky with the poem and the writing.

  Xander is my Match and my oldest friend and one of the best people I know. When I kissed him, it was sweet. I’m drawn to him and tied to him with the cords of a thousand different memories.

  Ky is not my Match, but he might have been. He’s the one who taught me how to write my name, how to keep the poems, how to build a tower of rocks that looks like it should fal but doesn’t. I have never kissed him and I don’t know if I ever wil , but I think it might be more than sweet.

  It is almost uncomfortable, this awareness of him. Each pause, each movement when he places a piece on the black-and-gray board. I want to reach out and grab his hand and hold it to me, right over my heart, right where it aches the most. I don’t know if doing that would heal me or make my heart break entirely, but either way this constant hungry waiting would be over.

  Xander plays with daring and intel igence, Ky with a kind of deep and calculated intuition; both are strong. They are so evenly matched.

  It’s Ky’s move. In the quiet before Ky takes his turn, Xander watches him careful y. Ky’s hand hovers over the board. For a moment, as he holds the piece in the air, I see where he could put it to win and I know he sees it, too, that he planned the whole game for that last move. He looks at Xander and Xander looks back, both of them locked in some kind of chal enge that seems to run deeper and older than what’s happening here on this board.

  Then Ky moves his hand and puts his piece down in a spot where Xander can eventual y overtake him for the win. Ky doesn’t hesitate once he places the piece; he sets it down with a solid sound and leans back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling. I think I see the slightest hint of a smile on his lips but I can’t be sure; it’s gone faster than a snowflake on an air-train track.

  Ky’s move may not be the bril iant one I know he could have made, but it’s not stupid, either. He made the move of an average player. When he looks back down from the ceiling, he meets my gaze and holds it, as he held the game piece earlier before putting it down. He tel s me something in that silent pause that he cannot say out loud.

  Ky can play this game. He can play al of their games, including the one in front of him that he just lost. He knows exactly how to play, and that’s why he loses every time.

  CHAPTER 21

  I have a hard time concentrating at sorting the next day. Sundays are for work; there are no leisure activities, so I won’t likely see Ky until Monday. I can’t talk to him about his story until then; I can’t say, “I’m sorry about your parents. ” I said those words before, when he first came to live with the Markhams and we al welcomed him and expressed our condolences.

  But it’s different now that I real y know what happened. Before, I knew they died, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know that he saw it rain down from the sky while he watched, helpless. Burning the napkin with that part of his story on it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Like the books out at the Restoration site, like Grandfather’s poem, Ky’s story, bit by bit, is turning into ash and nothing.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched