Matched, p.35
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       Matched, p.35

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 36


  Everything can stil be fine. If the sort is what I suspect, if Ky leaves for a better life, wil I pick up the pieces of my life here? The biggest piece, my Match with Xander, would not be hard to shape a life around. I could love him. I do love him. And because I do, I have to tel him about Ky. I do not mind stealing from the Society. But I wil not steal from Xander any longer. Even if it hurts, I have to tel him. Because either way, whichever life I build, has to be built on truth.

  Thinking of tel ing Xander hurts almost as much as thinking of losing Ky. I rol over and hold the tablet container tight in my palm. Think of something else.

  I remember the first time I saw Ky on top of that little hil , leaning back, sun on his face, and I realize that is when I fel in love with him. I didn’t lie to him after al . I didn’t see him differently because I saw his face on the portscreen the morning after my Match; I saw him differently because I saw him outside, unguarded for a moment, with eyes the color of the sky in the evening before it goes down into dark. I saw him seeing me.

  Lying in bed, my body and soul bruised and tired, I realize that the Officials are right. Once you want something, everything changes. Now I want everything. More and more and more. I want to pick my work position. Marry who I choose. Eat pie for breakfast and run down a real street instead of on a tracker. Go fast when I want and slow when I want. Decide which poems I want to read and what words I want to write. There is so much that I want. I feel it so much that I am water, a river of want, pooled in the shape of a girl named Cassia.

  Most of al I want Ky.

  “We’re running out of time,” Ky says.

  “I know. ” I’ve been counting the days, too. Even if Ky’s new work position is stil here in the City, the summer leisure activities are almost over. I won’t see Ky nearly as much. I al ow myself to daydream for a few seconds—what if his new position is one that al ows him more time? He could come to al of the Saturday night activities. “Only a couple of weeks of hiking left. ”

  “That’s not what I mean,” he says, moving closer. “Don’t you feel it? Something’s changing. Something’s happening. ” Of course I feel it. For me, everything is changing.

  His eyes are wary, as though he stil feels watched. “Something big, Cassia,” he says, and then he whispers softly, “I think the Society is having trouble with their war on the borders. ”

  “What makes you say that?”

  “I have a feeling,” he says. “From what you told me about your mother. From the shortage of Officials during free-rec hours. And there are changes coming at work. I can tel . ” He glances at me and I duck my head.

  “Do you want to tel me why you were there?” he asks gently.

  I swal ow. I’ve been wondering when he would want to know. “It was a real-life sort. I had to sort the workers into two groups. ”

  “I see,” he says, and he waits to see if I wil say more.

  And I wish I could. But I can’t get the words out. Instead, I say, “You haven’t given me any more of the story. What happened after the Officials came to get you? When did that happen? I know it wasn’t long ago, because . . . ” My voice trails off.

  Ky ties a red cloth on the tree slowly, methodical y, and then he looks up. After years of seeing only surface emotions from him, the new and deeper ones startle me sometimes. The expression on his face now is not one I have seen before.

  “What’s wrong?” I ask.

  “I’m afraid,” he says simply. “Of what you’re going to think. ”

  “About what? What happened?” After everything he’s been through, Ky’s afraid of what I might think?

  “It was in the spring. They came to talk with me at work, pul ed me aside into a room there. They asked if I ever wondered what my life would be like if I weren’t an Aberration. ” Ky’s jaw tightens at this and I feel sorry for him. He glances up and sees it on my face and his jaw becomes even more set. He does not want my pity, so I turn my face away to listen.

  “I said I never thought about that much. I said I didn’t worry about things I couldn’t change. Then they told me there had been a mistake. My data had been entered into the Matching pool. ”

  “Your data?” I ask, surprised. But the Official told me it was a mistake on the microcard, Ky’s picture where it shouldn’t be. She told me that he hadn’t been entered into the pool.

  She lied. The error was much bigger than she said it was.

  Ky keeps talking. “I’m not even a ful citizen. They said the whole incident was completely irregular. ” He smiles, a bitter twist to his mouth that it hurts me to see. “Then they showed me a picture. The girl who would have been my Match if I weren’t what I am. ” Ky swal ows.

  “Who was she?” I ask. My voice sounds harsh, grating. Don’t say that it was me. Don’t say that it was me, because then I will know that you saw me because they told you to look.

  “You,” he says.

  And now I see. Ky’s love for me, which I thought was pure and unblemished by any Officials or data or Matching pools, is not. They have touched even this.

  I feel like something is dying, ruined beyond repair. If the Officials orchestrated our whole love affair, the one thing in my life I thought happened in spite of them—I can’t finish the thought.

  The forest around me blurs into green and without the red flags marking the way, I would not know my way down. As it is, I tear at them wildly, pul ing them off the branches.

  “Cassia,” he says behind me. “Cassia. Why does it matter?”

  I shake my head.

  “Cassia,” he cal s after me. “You’re keeping something from me, too. ”

  A whistle sounds sharp and clear below us. We have come so far but never made it to the top.

  “I thought you were eating lunch at the Arboretum,” Xander says. The two of us sit together in the meal hal at Second School.

  “I changed my mind,” I tel him. “I wanted to eat here today. ” The nutrition personnel frowned at me when I asked for one of the extra meals they keep on hand, but after checking my data, they handed over the meal without further comment. They must have seen that I hardly ever do this. Or maybe there’s some other flag on my data that I can’t think about right now. Not after the revelation from Ky.

  I realize how much food my container holds this time, now that it’s a general portion and not labeled specifical y for me. My portions have been getting smal er. What purpose does that serve? Am I too fat? I look down at my arms and legs, strong from al the hiking. I don’t think so. And I realize again how distracted my parents must be; under normal circumstances, they would have noticed my smal er portions and had plenty to say to the nutrition personnel about them.

  Things are wrong everywhere.

  I push back my chair. “Wil you come with me?”

  Xander glances at his watch. “Where? Class starts soon. ”

  “I know,” I say. “We’re not going far. Please. ”

  “Al right,” Xander says, looking at me with a puzzled expression on his face.

  I lead him down the hal to the classroom area and push open the door at the end. There, in a smal area like a courtyard, is the Applicable Sciences botany pond. Xander and I are alone.

  I have to tel him. This is Xander. He deserves to know about Ky, and he deserves to hear it from me. Not from an Official in a greenspace, today or some other day.

  Drawing a deep breath, I look down at the pond. It isn’t blue like the pool where we swim. This water is brownish-green under its silvery surface, messy with life.

  “Xander,” I say, my voice as quiet as if we were hidden in trees on the Hil . “I have something to tel you. ”

  “I’m listening,” he says, waiting, looking at me. Always steady. Always Xander.

  It’s better to say this quickly, before I find myself unable to say it at al . “I think I’m fal ing in love with someone else. ” I speak so softly, I almost can’t hear my own voice. But Xander understands

  Almost before I’ve finished, he’s shaking his head and saying, “No,” putting up his hand to stop me before I say more. But it isn’t either of those gestures or that word that makes me fal silent. It’s the hurt in his eyes. And what they are saying isn’t No. It’s: Why?

  “No,” Xander says again, turning away from me.

  I can’t bear that, so I move in front of him, try to see him, too. He won’t look at me for a long moment. I don’t know what to say. I don’t dare to touch him. Al I can do is stand there, hoping he wil look back.

  When he does, the pain is stil there.

  And something else too. Something that doesn’t look like surprise. It looks like recognition. Did some part of him know this was happening? Is that why he chal enged Ky to the games?

  “I’m sorry,” I say, rushing. “You’re my friend. I love you too. ” It is the first time I’ve said those words to him, and it comes out al wrong. The sound of it, hurried and strained, makes the words seem like less than they are.

  “You love me too?” Xander says, his voice cold. “What game are you playing?”

  “I’m not playing a game,” I whisper. “I do love you. But it’s different. ”

  Xander says nothing. An hysterical giggle rises up in me; it’s exactly like the last time we had an argument and he refused to speak to me. Years ago, when I decided that I didn’t like playing the games as much as I once had. Xander was mad. “But no one else plays like you,” he said. And then, when I wouldn’t give in, he wouldn’t talk to me. I stil wouldn’t play.

  It took two weeks before our peace was brokered, that day he saw me jump into the pool from the diving board after Grandfather jumped first. I surfaced, frightened and exhilarated, and Xander swam over to congratulate me. In the rush of the moment al was forgotten.

  What would Grandfather think of this jump I’m taking? Would this be one time he would tel me to hang on to the edge with al my might? Would he say to cling to the side of the board until my fingers became bloody and scraped? Or would he say that it was al right to let go?

  “Xander. The Officials played a game with me. The morning after the Match Banquet, I put the microcard in the port. Your face came up on the screen and it disappeared. ” I swal ow. “And then someone else’s face appeared instead. It was Ky’s. ”

  “Ky Markham?” Xander asks, disbelieving.

  “Yes. ”

  “But Ky’s not your Match,” Xander says. “He can’t be, because—”

  “Because why?” I ask. Does Xander know about Ky’s status after al ? How?

  “Because I am,” Xander says.

  For a long moment, neither of us speak. Xander doesn’t look away and I don’t think that I can stand this. If I had a green tablet in my mouth now, I’d bite, taste the bitterness before the calm. I think back to that day in the meal hal when he told me Ky could be trusted. Xander believed that. And he believed he could trust me.

  What does he think of us both now?

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