Matched, p.36
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       Matched, p.36

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 37

 

  Xander leans closer. Blue eyes holding mine, hand hovering next to mine. I close my eyes, both to shut out the pain in his gaze and to stop myself from turning my hand up, weaving my fingers through his, leaning forward, meeting his lips. I open my eyes and look at Xander again.

  “I came up on the screen, too, Cassia,” he says quietly. “But he was the one you chose to see. ” And then, quick as a player making his last move, he turns away and pushes through the doors. He leaves me behind.

  Not at first! I want to tel him. And I still see you!

  One by one, the people I can talk to have gone. Grandfather. My mother. And now, Xander.

  You are strong enough to go without it, Grandfather told me about the green tablet.

  But, Grandfather. Am I strong enough to go without you? Without Xander?

  The sun shines down on me where I have chosen to stand. No trees, no shade, no height from which I can look down on what I’ve done. And even if there were, I cannot see for the tears.

  CHAPTER 28

  At home that night, I take out the green tablet again. I know what it can do for me; I saw what it did for Em. It will make me calm. That word, calm, sounds impossibly beautiful, gloriously uncomplicated. A water-smooth word, a word that can take the edge away from fear, gloss it over, make it shiny. Calm. Gentle.

  I put the tablet back in the container and snap it shut, turning to another kind of green next to me. My framed piece of dress in its bit of glass. I wrap my hand in one of my socks and then press down, hard. A faint snap. I lift my hand.

  It’s harder to break something than you would think. I wonder if the Society is finding this to be true of me as wel . I put my hand down again, push harder.

  It would be easy if no one watched, if no one could hear me. If these wal s weren’t so thin and my life weren’t so transparent, I could throw the glass against the wal , smash it with a rock, destroy with abandon and noise. I think the glass would make a glittery sound when it broke; I would like to see it burst into a mil ion pieces and shine al the way down. But instead, I have to be careful.

  Another long silvery crack runs across the surface of the glass. Underneath, the smooth ice-green cloth is undisturbed. Careful y I pul the pieces of glass apart, lift the largest one up, and pul out the fabric.

  I take off the sock and hold up my hand. I’m not even cut, not even bleeding.

  After the scratchy wool of my sock, the silk feels cool in my hand, luxurious, like water. My birthday began with the water, I think as I fold the material, and I smile.

  After I’ve tucked both the fabric and the tablet container into the pocket of tomorrow’s plainclothes, I climb into bed with that image in my mind.

  Water. I wil drift away tonight on my dreams. That way the datatags won’t pick up a thing in my mind except me, Cassia, floating on the waves, letting them carry my weight for a little while.

  The Officer is not at hiking today.

  Instead, we have a junior Official who bites his words out quick and fast, as though he thinks this is how the Officers speak. His eyes sweep over us, happy with the power to oversee, to direct. “The decision has been made to shorten leisure activities this summer. Today’s your last day of hiking. Take down as many of the red flags as you can and knock over the cairns. ” I glance over at Ky, who does not seem surprised. I try not to let my gaze linger on his face, try not to look for answers in his eyes. We were both polite and normal on the air-train ride to the Arboretum this morning; we both know how to perform when we’re being watched. Al the time I wondered what he thought of me running away from him on the Hil yesterday. What he wil think of me once he finds out about the sort, and if he wil accept the gift I want to give him today.

  Or if he wil do to me what I did to Xander and turn me away.

  “Why?” Lon asks in a whine. “We spent half the summer marking these paths!”

  I think I see a faint smile on Ky’s face and I realize that he likes Lon. Who asks the questions no one else wil ask even though he never gets an answer. It strikes me that this is a kind of bravery. A wearing-down kind of bravery, but bravery nonetheless.

  “Don’t ask questions,” the Official snaps at Lon. “Get started. ”

  And so, for the last time, Ky and I begin to climb the Hil .

  When we are far enough onto our own path that no one else can see us, Ky grabs my hand as I reach to untie a red cloth from one of the shrubs.

  “Forget it al ,” he says. “We’re going to the top. ”

  Our eyes meet. I’ve never seen him look so reckless. I open my mouth to say something but he interrupts me. “Unless you don’t want to try?” There’s a chal enge in his voice I haven’t heard before. His voice isn’t cruel, but he’s not just curious. He needs to know the answer; what I do now tel s him something about me. He doesn’t say anything about yesterday. His face is open, his eyes alight, his body tense, every muscle saying It’s time. Now.

  “I want to try,” I tel him. To prove it, I lead the way along the path we’ve marked together. It isn’t long before I feel his hand brush mine and when our fingers intertwine I feel the same urgency he does. We have to make it to the top.

  I don’t turn around but I hold on tight.

  As we break into the last part of the forest, the part we haven’t charted, I stop. “Wait,” I say. If we’re real y going to clear this Hil , I want to pul out the last tangles and twists so we can stand on the top free and open.

  Behind the patience on Ky’s face I see worry, worry that we aren’t going to make it in time. Even now, the whistle could be shril ing below us and I wouldn’t hear it over the beating of our hearts and the sound of our breathing in and out, in and out, the same air. “I was scared yesterday. ”

  “Of what?”

  “That we fel in love because of the Officials,” I say. “They told you about me. They told me about you, the morning after my Match, when your face came up on my microcard by mistake. You and I knew each other al along, but we never did anything about it until . . . ” I can’t finish my sentence, but Ky knows what I mean.

  “You don’t throw something away just because they predicted it,” he protests.

  “But I don’t want to be defined by their choices,” I say.

  “You’re not,” he says. “You never have to be. ”

  “Sisyphus and the rock,” I say, remembering. Grandfather would have understood that story. He rol ed the rock, he lived the life the Society planned for him, but his thoughts were always his own.

  Ky smiles. “Exactly. But we,” he tugs at my hand, gently, “are going to make it to the top. And maybe even stand there for a minute. Come on. ”

  “I have to tel you something else,” I say.

  “Is it about the sort?” he asks.

  “Yes—”

  Ky interrupts me. “They told us. I’m part of the group that’s going to get a new work position. I already know. ” Does he know? Does he know his life wil be shorter if he keeps working at the disposal center? Does he know he was right on the line between those who stayed and those who moved on? Does he know what I did?

  He sees the questions in my eyes. “I know you had to sort us into two groups. I know I was probably right in the middle. ”

  “Do you want to know what I did?”

  “I can guess,” he says. “They told you about the life expectancy and the poisons, didn’t they? That’s why you put me where you did. ”

  “Yes,” I say. “You know about the poisons, too?”

  “Of course. Most of us figure it out. But none of us are in a position to complain. Our lives are stil much longer here than they’d be in the Outer Provinces. ”

  “Ky. ” It’s hard to ask, but I have to know. “Are you leaving?”

  He looks up. Above us, fierce and golden, the sun climbs the sky. “I’m not sure. They haven’t told us yet. But I know we don’t have much time. ” When we reach the top of the Hil it feels completely di
fferent in some ways and not in others. He is stil Ky. I am stil Cassia. But we stand together in a place where neither of us has been before.

  It’s the same world, gray and blue and green and gold, that I’ve seen al my life. The same world I saw from Grandfather’s window and from the top of the little hil . But I am higher now. If I had wings, I could spread them. I could soar.

  “I want you to have this,” Ky says, handing me the artifact.

  “I don’t know how to use it,” I say, not wanting to reveal how much I want to accept his gift. How deeply I ache to hold and have something that is part of his story and part of him.

  “I think Xander can teach you,” he says gently, and I draw in my breath. Is he tel ing me good-bye? Is he tel ing me to trust in Xander? To be with Xander?

  Before I can ask, Ky pul s me close and his words are in my ear, warm and whispered. “It wil help you find me,” he says. “If I ever do go anywhere. ”

  My face fits perfectly into the spot against his shoulder, near his neck, where I can both hear his heart and smel his skin. I’m safe here, too. Some essential part of me is safer with Ky than anywhere else.

  Ky presses another piece of paper into my hand. “The last part of my story,” he says. “Wil you save it? Don’t look at it yet. ”

  “Why?”

  “Just wait,” he says, voice quiet, strong. “Wait a little while. ”

  “I have something for you, too,” I say, pul ing away just a little, reaching into my pocket. I give him the scrap of fabric, the green silk from my dress.

  He holds it up to my face to see how I looked that night at the Match Banquet. “Beautiful,” he says, gently.

  He puts his arms around me on the top of the Hil . From where we stand I see clouds and trees and the dome of City Hal and the tiny houses of the Boroughs in the distance. For one brief moment, I see it al , this world of mine, and then I look back at Ky.

  Ky says, “Cassia,” and closes his eyes, and I close mine too so that I can meet him in the dark. I feel his arms around me and the smoothness of the green silk as he presses his hand against the smal of my back and pul s me closer, closer. “Cassia,” he says once more, softly, so close his lips meet mine, at last. At last.

  I think he might have meant to say something more, but when our lips touch, there is no need, for once, for any words at al .

  CHAPTER 29

  There is screaming in the Borough again and this time it is human.

  I open my eyes. It is so early in the morning that the sky is more black than blue, the slice of dawn at the edge of the horizon more promise than reality.

  My door slams open and in the rectangle of light I see my mother. “Cassia,” she says in relief, and she turns back to cal to my father, “She’s fine!”

  “Bram, too,” he cal s back, and then we are al in the hal , going toward the front door, because someone on our street is screaming and the sound of it is so uncommon it cuts deep. We may not hear the sound of pain often in Mapletree Borough, but the instinct to try to help has not yet been Matched out of us.

  My father throws open the door and we al look out.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched