Matched, p.29
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       Matched, p.29
 

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 30

 

  It’s the scrap of my dress from the Match Banquet. In keeping with tradition they have placed the silk between two pieces of clear glass with a smal silver frame around the edge. The glass and the material both reflect the light, blinding me for a moment and reminding me of the glass mirror in my lost compact. I stare at the fabric, trying to remember the night at the Match Banquet when we were al pink and red and gold and green and violet and blue.

  Bram groans. “That’s al it is? A piece of your dress?”

  “What did you think, Bram?” I say, and the acid in my tone surprises me. “Did you think they were going to send our artifacts back? Did you think this was going to be your watch? Because it’s not. We’re not getting any of it back. Not the compact. Not the watch. Not Grandfather. ” Shock and hurt register on my brother’s face, and before I can say anything he leaves the room. “Bram!” I cal after him. “Bram—” I hear the sound of his door closing.

  I pick up the box that the framed sample came in. As I do, I realize that it is the perfect size to hold a watch. My brother dared to hope, and I mocked him for it.

  I want to take this frame and walk to the middle of the greenspace. I’l stand next to that dry fountain and wait until the Official finds me. And when she does and asks me what I’m doing, I’l tel her and everyone else that I know: they are giving us pieces of a real life instead of the whole thing.

  And I’l tel her that I don’t want my life to be samples and scraps. A taste of everything but a meal of nothing.

  They have perfected the art of giving us just enough freedom; just enough that when we are ready to snap, a little bone is offered and we rol over, bel y up, comfortable and placated like a dog I saw once when we visited my grandparents in the Farmlands. They’ve had decades to perfect this; why am I surprised when it works on me again and again and again?

  Even though I am ashamed of myself, I take the bone. I worry it between my teeth. Ky has to be safe. That’s what matters.

  I don’t take the green tablet; I’m stil stronger than they are. But not strong enough to burn the last bit of Ky’s story before reading it, the piece he pressed into my hand earlier on our way back down through the forest. No more after this, I tel myself. Only this, no more.

  This picture is the first one with color. A red sun, low in the sky, right on the napkin crease again so that it is part of both boys, both lives. The younger Ky has dropped the words of father and mother; they have vanished from the picture. Forgotten, or left behind, or so much a part of him that they don’t have to be written anymore. He looks over at the older Ky, reaches for him.

  they were too much to carry

  so I left them behind

  for a new life, in a new place

  but no one forgot who I was

  I didn’t

  and neither did the people who watch

  they watched for years

  they watch now

  The older, current Ky’s hands are in handlocks in front of him, an Official on each side. He’s colored his hands red, too—I don’t know if he means to represent the way they look after he’s been working, or if he means something else. His parents’ blood stil on his hands from al those years ago, even though he did not kil them.

  The hands of the Officials are red, too. And I recognize one of them; he’s caught her face in a few lines, a few sharp strokes.

  My Official. She came for him, too.

  CHAPTER 23

  The next morning I wake to a shrieking so high and keening that I bolt straight out of bed, tearing the sleep tags from my skin.

  “Bram!” I scream.

  He is not in his room.

  I run down the hal to my parents’ room. My mother came home from her trip last night; they should both be there. But their room is empty, too, and I can tel they left in a hurry: I see twisted sheets and a blanket on the floor. I draw back. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen their bed unmade and, even in the fear of the moment, the intimacy of that tangled bedding catches my eye.

  “Cassia?” My mother’s voice.

  “Where are you?” I cal in a panic, turning around.

  She hurries down the hal toward me, stil wearing her sleepclothes. Her long, blond hair streams behind her, and she looks almost unearthly until she pul s me into arms that feel real and strong. “What happened?” she asks me. “Are you al right?”

  “The screaming—” I say, looking around her for the source. Just then I hear another sound added to the screaming: the sound of metal on wood.

  “It’s not screaming,” my mother says, her voice sad. “You’re hearing the saws. They’re cutting down the maple trees. ” I hurry out onto the front steps where Bram and my father also stand. Other families wait outside, too, many of them stil wearing their sleepclothes like us. This is another intimacy so shocking and unusual that I am taken aback. I can’t think of another time when I’ve seen any of my neighbors dressed like this.

  Or maybe I can. The time when Patrick Markham went out and walked up and down the street in his sleepclothes after his son died, and Xander’s father found him and brought him home.

  The saw bites into the trunk of our maple tree, slices through so fast and clean that at first I think nothing happened except the scream. The tree seems fine for a brief moment, but it is dead as it stands. Then it fal s.

  “Why?” I ask my mother.

  When she doesn’t answer right away, my father puts his arm around her and tel s me. “The maple trees have become too much of a problem. The leaves get too messy in the fal . They’re not growing uniformly. For example, ours grew too big. Em’s is too smal . And some of them have diseases, so they al need to be chopped down. ”

  I look at our tree, at its leaves stil reaching for the sun, stil working to turn light into food. They don’t know they are dead yet. Our yard looks like a different place without the tree standing tal in front of our house. Things seem smal er.

  I look over at Em’s house. Her yard, on the other hand, doesn’t look much different now that their sad little tree is gone, the one that never quite grew. It was never much more than a stick-stalk of a tree with a little burst of leaves on the top. “It’s not as bad for Em,” I say. “Her tree isn’t as much of a loss. ”

  “It’s sad for al of us,” my mother says fiercely.

  Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I crouched down near the wal to listen to her talk with my father. They spoke so softly that I couldn’t make out any of the words, but she sounded tired and sad. Eventual y I gave up and climbed back into bed. Now she looks angry, standing in front of the house with her arms folded across her chest.

  The workers with the saws have already moved on to another house now that our tree is down. That part was easy. Tearing up the roots wil be the hard part.

  My father holds my mother close. He doesn’t love the trees the way she does; but he loves other things that were destroyed and he understands.

  My mother loves the plants; my father loves the history of things. They love each other.

  And I love them both.

  It isn’t only myself and Ky and Xander I’l hurt if I commit an Infraction. It’s al these other people I love.

  “It’s a warning,” my mother says, almost to herself.

  “I didn’t do anything!” Bram exclaims. “I haven’t even been late to school in weeks!”

  “The warning isn’t for you,” my mother says. “It’s for someone else. ”

  My father puts his hands on my mother’s shoulders and it is as though they are alone, the way he looks at her. “Mol y, I promise. I didn’t . . . ” And at the same time, I open my mouth to say something—I don’t know what—something about what I have done and how this is al my fault. But before my father can finish and I can begin, my mother speaks.

  “It’s a warning for me. ”

  She turns and goes back into the house, brushing a hand across her eyes. As I watch her go, the guilt slices quick through
me like the cuts in the tree.

  I don’t think the warning is for my mother.

  If the Officials truly can see my dreams, they should be happy with what I dreamed last night. I burned the last of Ky’s story in the incinerator, but afterward I kept thinking of what it showed, what it told me: The sun was red and low in the sky when the Officials came to get him.

  So then, when I dreamed, I saw scene after scene of Ky surrounded by Officials in their white uniforms with a red sky behind him, a glimpse of sun waiting on the horizon. Whether it was rising or setting, I could not tel ; I had no sense of direction in the dream. In each dream he did not show any fear. His hands did not shake; his expression remained calm. But I knew he was afraid, and when the red light of the sun hit his face it looked like blood.

  I do not want to see this scene played out in real life. But I have to know more. How did he escape last time? What happened?

  The two desires struggle within me: the desire to be safe, and the desire to know. I cannot tel which one wil win.

  My mother hardly speaks as we ride the train to the Arboretum together. She looks over at me and smiles now and then, but I can tel she’s deep in thought. When I ask her questions about her trip, she answers careful y, and final y I stop.

  Ky rides the same air train we do, and he and I walk together toward the Hil . I try to act friendly but reserved—the way we once were around each other—even though I want to touch his hand again, to look in his eyes and ask him about the story. About what happened next.

  It only takes a few seconds in the forest before I lose control and I have to ask him. I put my hand on his arm as we fol ow our path to the spot where we last marked. When I touch him he smiles at me, and it warms my heart and makes it hard to take my hand away, to let go. I don’t know if I can do this, despite wanting him to be safe even more than I want him.

  “Ky. An Official contacted me yesterday. She knows about us. They know about us. ” Ky nods. “Of course they do. ”

  “Did they talk to you, too?”

  “They did. ”

  For someone who has spent his entire life avoiding attention from the Officials, he seems remarkably composed about this. His eyes are deep as ever but there is a calm there that I haven’t seen before.

  “Aren’t you worried?”

  Ky doesn’t answer. Instead, he reaches into the pocket of his shirt and pul s out a paper. He hands it to me. It’s different from the brown paper of napkins and wrappings that he’s been using—whiter, smoother. The writing on it is not his own. It’s from some kind of port or scribe, but something about it seems foreign.

  “What is this?” I ask.

  “A late birthday present for you. A poem. ”

  My jaw drops—a poem? How?—and Ky hurries to reassure me. “Don’t worry. We’l destroy the paper soon so we don’t get in trouble. It won’t take long to memorize. ” His face is alight with happiness and I suddenly realize that Ky looks the slightest bit like Xander, with his face open and joyful like this. I am reminded of the shifting faces on the portscreen the day after I got my Match, when I saw Xander, then Ky. But now, I see only Ky.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched