Matched, p.4
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       Matched, p.4

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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  “Are you al right?” Xander asks.

  Too late, I realize that I should have responded to Xander’s comment and asked him which guideline he found interesting. If I can’t pul myself together soon, he’l know something’s wrong. We know each other too wel .

  Xander reaches for my elbow as we turn the corner and leave Mapletree Borough. When we’ve walked a few steps more, he slides his hand down my arm and interlaces his fingers with mine. He leans closer to my ear. “One of the guidelines said that we are al owed to express physical affection. If we want. ”

  And I do want. Even with al the stress I feel, the touch of his hand against mine with nothing to separate us is stil welcome and new. I’m surprised that Xander is so natural at this. And as we walk, I recognize the emotion that I see on some of the faces of the girls staring at us. It’s jealousy, pure and simple. I relax a little, because I can understand why. None of us ever thought we could have golden, charismatic, clever Xander. We always knew he would be Matched with another girl in another City, another Province.

  But he’s not. He’s Matched with me.

  I keep my fingers locked in his as we walk toward the game center. Maybe, if I don’t let go, it wil prove that we are meant to be Matched. That the other face on the screen means nothing; that it was simply a momentary malfunction of the microcard.

  Except. The face I saw, the face that was not Xander: I knew him, too.


  There’s an opening over here,” Xander says, stopping at a game table in the middle of the room. Apparently the other youth in our Borough feel the same way we do about this Saturday’s recreation options, because the game center is crowded with people, including most of our friends. “Do you want to go in, Cassia?”

  “No thanks,” I say. “I’l watch this round. ”

  “What about you?” he asks Em, my best girlfriend.

  “You go ahead,” she tel s him, and then we both laugh as he grins and spins around to give his scancard to the Official monitoring the game.

  Xander’s always been this way about the games—completely alive with energy and anticipation. I remember playing with him when we were little, how we both played hard and didn’t let the other win.

  I wonder when I stopped liking the games. It’s hard to remember.

  Now, Xander settles himself at the table, saying something that makes everyone else laugh. I smile to myself. It real y is more fun to watch him than to play yourself. And this game, Check, is one of his favorites. It’s a game of skil , the kind he likes best.

  “So,” Em says softly, the sounds of laughter and talking covering her words from everyone but me, “What is it like? Knowing your Match?” I knew she would ask me this; I know it’s what everyone would like to know. And I answer the only way I can. I tel her the truth. “It’s Xander,” I say.

  “It’s wonderful. ”

  Em nods in understanding. “Al this time none of us thought we could ever end up with one another,” she says. “And then it happens. ”

  “I know,” I say.

  “And Xander,” she says. “He’s the best of us al . ” Someone cal s her name and she drifts toward another table.

  As I watch, Xander picks up the gray pieces and puts them out on the gray and black squares of the board. Most of the colors inside the game center are drab: gray wal s, brown plainclothes for the students, dark blue plainclothes for those who have already received their permanent work positions. Any brightness in the room comes from us: from the shades of our hair, from our laughter. When Xander sets down his last piece, he looks across the board at me and says, right in front of his opponents, “I’m going to win this one for my Match. ” Everyone turns to stare at me and he grins mischievously.

  I rol my eyes at him, but I’m stil blushing a few moments later when someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around.

  An Official waits behind me. “Cassia Reyes?” she asks.

  “Yes,” I answer, glancing over at Xander. He’s engrossed in making his move and doesn’t see what’s happening.

  “Could you come outside with me for a moment? It won’t take long, and it’s nothing to worry about. Merely procedural. ” Does the Official know what happened when I tried to view the microcard?

  “Of course,” I say, because there’s no other answer when an Official asks you for something. I look back at my friends. Their eyes are on the game in front of them and on the players moving the pieces. No one notices when I leave. Not even Xander. The crowd swal ows me up and I fol ow the Official’s white uniform out of the room.

  “Let me reassure you that you have nothing to worry about,” the Official tel s me, smiling. Her voice sounds kind. She leads me to the smal greenspace outside the center. Even though being with an Official adds to my nervousness, the open air feels good after the crowd inside.

  We walk across the neatly cut grass toward a metal bench that sits directly underneath a street lamp. There’s not another person in sight. “You don’t even have to tel me what happened,” the Official says. “I know. The face on the microcard wasn’t the right one, was it?” She is kind: she didn’t make me say the words. I nod.

  “You must be very worried. Have you told anyone what happened?”

  “No,” I say. She gestures for me to sit down on the bench and so I do.

  “Excel ent. Let me set your mind at ease. ” She looks directly into my eyes. “Cassia, absolutely nothing has changed. You are stil Matched with Xander Carrow. ”

  “Thank you,” I say, and I’m so grateful that saying it once isn’t enough. “Thank you. ” The confusion leaves me and I final y, final y, final y can relax. I sigh and she laughs.

  “And may I congratulate you on your Match? It’s caused quite a stir. People are talking about it al over the Province. Perhaps even al through the Society. It hasn’t happened in many years. ” She pauses briefly and then continues. “I don’t suppose you brought your microcard with you tonight?”

  “Actual y, I did. ” I pul it out of my pocket. “I was worried—I didn’t want anyone else to see . . . ” She holds out her hand, and I drop the microcard into her outstretched palm. “Perfect. I’l take care of this. ” She places it inside her smal Official’s case. I catch a glimpse of her tablet container and notice that it is larger than standard issue. She sees my glance. “Higher-level Officials carry extra,” she says. “In case of an emergency. ” I nod, and she continues. “But that’s not something you need to worry about. Now, this is for you. ” She takes another microcard from a side pocket inside the case. “I’ve checked it myself. Everything is in order. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  Neither of us says anything for a few moments after I slip the new microcard into my pocket. At first, I look around at the grass and the metal benches and the smal concrete fountain in the center of the greenspace, which sends up silvery wet showers of water every few seconds. Then I peek over at the woman next to me, trying to catch a glimpse of the insignia on her shirt pocket. I know she is an Official, because she wears white clothing, but I am not sure which Department of Society she represents.

  “I’m part of the Matching Department, authorized to deal with information malfunctions,” the Official says, noticing my glance. “Fortunately, we don’t have much work to do. Since the Matching is so important to the Society, it’s very wel regulated. ” Her words remind me of a paragraph in the official Matching material: The goal of Matching is twofold: to provide the healthiest possible future citizens for our Society and to provide the best chances for interested citizens to experience successful Family Life. It is of the utmost importance to the Society that the Matches be as optimal as possible.

  “I’ve never heard of a mistake like this before. ”

  “I’m afraid it does happen now and then. Not often. ” She is silent for a moment, and then she asks the question that I do not want to hear: “Did you recognize the other person whose face you saw?”

  Suddenly and irrational y I am tempted to lie. I want to say that I have no idea, that I have never seen that face before. I look over at the fountain again and as I watch the rise and fal of the water I know that my pause gives me away. So I answer.

  “Yes. ”

  “Can you tel me his name?”

  She already knows al of this, of course, so there is nothing to do but tel the truth. “Yes. Ky Markham. That’s what was so strange about the whole thing. The odds of a mistake being made, and of a mistake being made with someone else I know—”

  “Are virtual y nonexistent,” she agrees. “That’s true. It makes us wonder if the error was intentional, some kind of joke. If we find the person, we wil punish them severely. It was a cruel thing to do. Not only because it was upsetting and confusing for you, but also because of Ky. ”

  “Does he know?”

  “No. He has no idea. The reason I said it was cruel to use him as part of this prank is because of what he is. ”

  “What he is?” Ky Markham moved to our Borough back when we were ten. He is good-looking and quiet. He’s very stil . He is not a troublemaker.

  I don’t see him as much as I once did; last year, he received his work position early and he no longer goes to Second School with the rest of the youth in our Borough.

  The Official nods and leans a little closer, even though there is no one around to hear us. The light from the street lamp above shines down, hot, and I shift a little. “This is confidential information, but Ky Markham could never be your Match. He wil never be anyone’s Match. ”

  “He’s chosen to be a Single, then. ” I’m not sure why this information is confidential. Lots of people in our school have chosen to be single. There’s even a paragraph about it in the official Matching material: Please consider carefully whether you are a good candidate to be Matched.

  Remember, Singles are equally important in the Society. As you are aware, the current Leader of the Society is a Single. Both Matched and Single citizens experience full and satisfying lives. However, children are only allowed to be born to those who choose to be Matched.

  She leans closer to me. “No. He’s not a Single. Ky Markham is an Aberration. ”

  Ky Markham is an Aberration?

  Aberrations live among us; they’re not dangerous like Anomalies, who have to be separated from Society. Though Aberrations usual y acquire their status due to an Infraction, they are protected; their identities aren’t usual y common knowledge. Only the Officials in the Societal Classification Department and other related fields have access to such information.

  I don’t ask my question out loud, but she knows what I am thinking. “I’m afraid so. It’s through no fault of his own. But his father committed an Infraction. The Society couldn’t overlook a factor like that, even when they al owed the Markhams to adopt Ky. He had to retain his classification as an Aberration, and, as such, was ineligible to be entered in the Matching pool. ” She sighs. “We don’t make the microcards until a few hours before the Banquet. It’s likely the error occurred then. We’re already checking to see who had access to your microcard, who could have added Ky’s picture before the Banquet. ”

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