Crossed, p.37
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       Crossed, p.37

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 38


  At the center he painted his parents.

  Painting in the dark, he couldn’t see. The scenes blend and bleed into one another. Sometimes the colors are strange. A green sky, blue stones. And me, standing there in a dress.

  He painted it red.

  Chapter 45


  The sun beating down on the boat makes it hot to touch. My hands turn red and I hope she doesn’t notice. I don’t want to think anymore of the day she sorted me. What’s done is done. We have to go forward.

  I hope she feels the same way, but I don’t ask her. At first it’s because I can’t—we all walk single file on the narrow path and everyone else could hear—and then it’s because I’m too tired to frame the words. Cassia, Indie, and Eli help Hunter and me with our packs but my muscles still burn and ache.

  The sun wears on and clouds gather on the horizon.

  I don’t know which would be better for us—dry or rain. Rain makes it hard to walk but it does cover our tracks. We’re walking another fine line for survival. But I’ve done what I can to make sure Cassia comes out on the right side of this line. That’s what the boat is for.

  Once in a while it’s useful on dry land—when the path is too muddy and torn up to walk on, we put the boat down, walk over it, and pick it up again. It leaves marks like long narrow footprints on the path. If I weren’t so tired I might smile. What will the Society think when they see the prints? That something enormous came down and picked us up and walked with us right out of the Carving?

  Tonight we’ll camp. I’ll talk to her then. By night I’ll know what to say. Right now I’m too tired to think of anything that could make everything right.

  We make up for the lost time from the day before. No one rests. We all push through, stealing sips of water and pieces of bread along the way. We have almost reached the edge of the Carving when the light becomes dusky with evening and rain begins to fall.

  Hunter stops and eases his part of the boat to the ground. I do the same. He looks back at the Carving behind us. “We should all go now,” he says.

  “But it’s almost dark,” Eli says.

  Hunter shakes his head. “We’re running out of time,” he says. “There’s nothing to stop them climbing over from the Cavern once they find out what’s happened. And what if they have miniports? They might call in people to cut us off at the plain. ”

  “Where’s our miniport?” I ask.

  “I threw it in the river before we left the township,” Cassia says. Indie draws in her breath.

  “Good,” Hunter says. “We don’t want anything that could track us. ”

  Eli shivers.

  “Can you keep going?” Cassia asks him, sounding worried.

  “I think so,” Eli says, looking at me. “Do you think we should?”

  “Yes,” I say.

  “We have the headlamps,” Indie adds.

  “Let’s go. ” Cassia reaches to help us lift the boat.

  We hurry to the the bank, moving as fast as we can. I feel stones under my feet, thrown from the river. I wonder which one is the fish that marks Vick’s grave. In the dark it all looks different and I’m not sure I know where he lies.

  But I know what Vick would have done if he were still living.

  Whatever he thought would take him closest to Laney.

  In the trees, in the light of a headlamp that we smother down low, Hunter and I snap the boat open and insert the pump. The boat takes shape quickly.

  “Two can ride in it,” Hunter says. “The others who want to make their way to the Rising will have to follow the stream on foot. That way will be much slower. ”

  The air sighs into the boat.

  For a moment I stand completely still.

  The rain comes down again, stinging-cold and clean. It’s different from the storm before—this is a shower, not an onslaught. It will end soon.

  “Somewhere higher, this water is snow,” my mother used to say, opening her palms to catch the drops.

  I think of her paintings and how quickly they dried. “Somewhere,” I say out loud and hope she hears, “this water is nothing at all. It is lighter than air. ”

  Cassia turns to look at me.

  I imagine these drops of rain hitting the scales of the sandstone fish I carved for Vick. Every drop helps the poisoned stream, I think, holding my hands out open wide. Not catching the drops or trying to hold them. I’m letting them leave their mark and then letting them go.

  Let go. Of my parents, and the pain of what happened to them. Of what I failed to do. Of all the people I failed to save or bury. Of my jealousy of Xander. Of my guilt over what happened to Vick. Of worrying about what I can never be and who I never was in the first place.

  Let go of it all.

  I don’t know if I can, but it feels good to try. So I let the rain hit my palms heavy. Run down my fingers to dirt. Every drop helps me, I think. I tip my head back and try to open myself back up to the sky.

  My father might have been the reason all those people died. But he also helped make their lives bearable. He gave them hope. I used to think that didn’t matter but it does.

  Good and bad. Good in my father, bad in me. No fire raining on me can burn it away. I have to get rid of it myself.

  “I’m sorry,” I say to Cassia. “I should never have lied to you. ”

  “I’m sorry, too,” she says. “The sorting was all wrong. ”

  We look at each other in the rain.

  “It’s your boat,” Indie says to me. “Who’s going in it?”

  “I traded for it for you,” I say to Cassia. “It’s your choice who comes with you. ”

  I feel the way I did before the Match Banquet. Waiting. Wondering if what I’d done would be enough for her to see me again.

  Chapter 46


  Ky,” I say. “I can’t sort people again. ” How could he ask this of me?

  “Hurry,” Indie says.

  “You did it right last time,” Ky says. “I belong out here. ”

  It’s true. He does. And even though trying to find him has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I am stronger because of it.

  I close my eyes and think of the relevant factors.

  Hunter wants to go to the mountains, not the river.

  Eli is the youngest.

  Indie can pilot.

  I love Ky.

  Who should go?

  This time, it’s easier, because there’s only one choice—one configuration—that feels right to me.

  “It’s time,” Hunter says. “Who do you choose?”

  I look at Ky, hoping he’ll understand. He will. He would do the same thing. “Eli,” I say.

  Chapter 47


  Eli blinks. “Me?” he asks. “What about Ky?”

  “You,” Cassia says. “And Indie. Not me. ”

  Indie looks up, surprised.

  “Someone has to get Eli down the river,” Cassia says. “Hunter and Indie are the only ones who know anything about water like this, and Hunter’s going to the mountains. ”

  Hunter checks the boat. “It’s almost ready. ”

  “You can do it, can’t you?” Cassia asks Indie. “You can get Eli there? It’s the fastest way to take him someplace safe. ”

  “I can do it,” Indie says, without the slightest sound of doubt in her voice.

  “A river is different from the sea,” Hunter warns Indie.

  “We had rivers that went to the sea,” Indie says. She reaches for one of the oars that came wrapped inside in the boat and slots the pieces together. “I used to run them at night, for practice. The Society never saw me until I went to the ocean. ”

  “Wait,” Eli says. We all turn. He lifts his chin and looks at me with his solemn, serious eyes. “I want to cross the plain. That’s what you wanted to do first. ”

  Hunter glances over in surprise. Eli will slow him down. But Hunter is not the ki
nd of person who leaves anyone behind.

  “Can I come with you?” Eli asks. “I’ll run as hard as I can. ”

  “Yes,” Hunter says. “But we have to go now. ”

  I grab Eli and pull him into a hug. “We’ll see each other again,” he says. “I know it. ”

  “We will,” I say. I shouldn’t promise a thing like this. My eyes meet Hunter’s over Eli’s head and I wonder if Hunter said the same thing to Sarah when he told her good-bye.

  Eli tears away from me and throws his arms around Cassia and then Indie, who looks surprised. She hugs him back and he straightens up. “I’m ready,” he says. “Let’s go. ”

  “I hope we meet again,” Hunter says to us. He raises his hand in a kind of salute and in the light of the headlamp I see the blue marks all down his arm. We all stand for one last moment looking at each other. Then Hunter turns to run and Eli follows him. For a moment through the trees I see the lights from their lamps and then they’re gone.

  “Eli will be all right,” Cassia says. “Won’t he?”

  “It was his choice,” I say.

  “I know,” she says. Her voice is soft. “But it happened so quickly. ”

  It did. Like that day I left the Borough. And the day my parents died, and when Vick crossed over. Good-byes are like this. You can’t always mark them well at the moment of separation—no matter how deep they cut.

  Indie pulls off her coat and, with a quick sure movement of her stone knife, slices out the disk inside. She throws it on the ground next to her with a flourish and turns toward me. “Eli’s decided what to do,” she says. “What about you?”

  Cassia looks at me. She reaches up to brush the rain and tears from her face.

  “I’ll follow the river,” I say. “I won’t be as fast as you and Indie will be in the boat, but I’ll catch up with you at the end. ”

  “Are you sure?” she whispers.

  I am. “You came a long way to look for me,” I say. “I can come to the Rising with you. ”

  Chapter 48


  The rain turns lighter, turns to snow. And I have a sense that we have not yet arrived, that we are still reaching. For each other. For who we are meant to be. I look at him, knowing that I will never see everything, understanding that now, and I make the choice again.

  “It’s hard to cross over,” I tell him, my voice breaking.

  “Cross over where?” he asks.

  “To who I need to be,” I tell him.

  And then we both move.

  We have both been wrong; we will both try to make things right. That is all we can do.

  Ky leans in to kiss me, but his hands stay down at his sides.

  “Why won’t you hold me?” I ask, drawing back a little.

  He laughs a little, holds out his hands as if in explanation. They are covered in dirt and paint and blood.

  I pull his hand to mine, put my palm against his. I can feel the grit of sand, the slick of paint, and the cuts and scrapes that speak of his own journey.

  “It will all come clean,” I tell him.

  Chapter 49


  When I pull her to me she feels eager, warm and reaching, but then she flinches slightly and draws back. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I forgot. ” She pulls a small tube from inside her shirt. She notices the shock on my face and rushes on. “I couldn’t help it. ”

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