Matched, p.40
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       Matched, p.40

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 41

 

  “Are virtual y impossible,” the Official agrees. “So you can see why we were intrigued. Why we let you see Ky’s picture so that you would be curious. Why we made sure you were assigned to the same hiking group, and then to the same pairs. Why we had to fol ow it through, at least for a time. ”

  She smiles. “It was so intriguing; we could control so many variables. We even reduced your meal portions to see if that would make you more stressed, more likely to give up. But you didn’t. Of course, we were never cruel. You always had sufficient calories. And you’re strong. You never did take the green tablet. ”

  “Why does that matter?”

  “It makes you more interesting,” she says. “A very intriguing subject, in fact. Ultimately predictable, but stil unusual enough to want to watch. It would have been interesting to see your situation play out to the final predicted outcome. ” She sighs, a sigh of genuine sadness. “I planned to write an article about it, available only to select Officials, of course. It would have been an unparal eled proof of the validity of Matching. That’s why I didn’t want you to lose your memory of what happened this morning at the air-train station. Al my work would have been for nothing. Now, at least I can see you make your final choice while you stil know what happened. ”

  The anger fil s me so ful that there is no room for thought or speech. It would have been interesting to see it play out to the final predicted outcome.

  It was al planned from the start. Everything.

  “Unfortunately, my skil s are needed elsewhere now. ” She runs her hand along the datapod in front of her. “We simply don’t have the time to monitor the situation anymore, so we can’t extend it any longer. ”

  “Why tel me al of this?” I ask. “Why do you want me to know every last detail?” She looks surprised. “Because we care about you, Cassia. No more or less than we care about al our citizens. As the subject of an experiment, you have the right to know what happened. The right to make the choice we know you’l make now instead of waiting any longer. ” It’s so funny, her use of the word choice, so unintentional y hysterical that I would laugh if I didn’t think it would come out sounding like a cry. “Did you tel Xander?”

  She looks offended. “Of course not. He’s stil your Match. In order for the experiment to be control ed, he had to remain in the dark. He knows nothing about any of this. ”

  Except what I told him, I think, and I realize that she doesn’t know.

  There are things she doesn’t know. With this realization, it is as though something has been given back to me. The knowledge drops into my anger and distil s it into something pure and clear. And one of the things she knows nothing about is love.

  “Ky, however, was different,” she says. “We told him. We pretended we were warning him, but of course we were hoping to give him impetus to try to be with you. And that worked as wel . ” She smiles, smug, because she also thinks that I don’t know this part of the story. But, of course, I do.

  “So you watched us al the time,” I say.

  “Not al the time,” she answers. “We watched you enough to get an effective sample of what your interactions were like. We couldn’t watch al of your interactions on the Hil , for example, or even on the smal er hil . Officer Carter stil had jurisdiction over that area and did not look kindly on our being there. ”

  I wait for her to ask; somehow I know she wil . Even though she thinks she has an accurate sample, there is a part of her that has to know more.

  “So what did happen between you and Ky?” she asks.

  She doesn’t know about the kiss. That was not what sent him away. That moment on the Hil is stil ours, mine and Ky’s. Ours. No one has touched it but the two of us.

  This wil be what I have to hold onto as I go forward. The kiss, and the poem, and the I love you’s we wrote and said.

  “If you tel me, I can help you. I can recommend you for a work position in the City. You could stay here; you wouldn’t have to leave for the Farmlands with your family. ” She leans closer. “Tel me what happened. ”

  I look away. In spite of everything, the offer is tempting. I’m a little afraid of leaving Oria; I don’t want to leave Xander and Em. I don’t want to leave the places that hold so many memories of Grandfather. And most of al I don’t want to leave this City and my Borough because they are where I found and loved Ky.

  But he’s not here anymore. I have to find him somewhere else.

  The prisoner’s dilemma. Somewhere Ky keeps faith with me and I can do the same for him. I won’t give up.

  “No,” I say clearly.

  “I thought you’d say that,” she tel s me, but I hear the disappointment in her tone and I suddenly want to laugh. I want to ask her if it ever gets tedious being right al the time. But I think I know what her answer would be.

  “So what is the final predicted outcome?” I ask.

  “Does it matter?” she smiles. “It’s what wil happen. It’s what you’l do. But I’l tel you if you’d like. ” I realize that I don’t need to hear it; I don’t need to hear anything she has to say or any predictions she thinks she can make. They do not know that Xander hid the artifact, that Ky can write, that Grandfather gave me poetry.

  What else doesn’t she know?

  “You say you planned this al along,” I say suddenly, on instinct, acting as though I want to be certain. “You’re tel ing me you put Ky into the Matching pool yourselves. ”

  “Yes,” she answers. “We did. ”

  This time, I look right at her when she speaks and that’s when I see it. The faintest twitch of muscle in her jaw, a slight shift of her eyes, the smal est ring of performance in the tone of her voice. She doesn’t often have to lie; she’s never been an Aberration, so this doesn’t come easily to her, she hasn’t had as much practice. She can’t keep her face perfectly stil the way Ky does when he’s playing a game and he knows what he has to do, whether it’s better to win or lose.

  And although she’s been told how to play, she doesn’t know exactly which cards she’s holding.

  She doesn’t know who put Ky into the Matching pool.

  If the Officials didn’t, who did?

  I look at her again. She doesn’t know, and she isn’t listening to her own words. If the almost-impossible happened before—my being Matched to two boys I already knew—then it can happen again.

  I can find him.

  I stand up to leave. I think I smel rain in the air, even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and I remember. I stil have a piece of Ky’s story left.

  CHAPTER 31

  Xander sits on the steps of my house.

  It’s a familiar place for him to be in the summer, and his position looks familiar, too. Legs outstretched, elbows resting on the step behind him.

  The shadow he casts in the summer sun is smal er than he is, a darker, compacted version of Xander next to the real one.

  He watches me as I walk up the path, and when I get close, I see the pain stil there in his eyes, a shadow behind the blue.

  I almost wish the red tablet had wiped away more than the past twelve hours for Xander. That he didn’t remember what I told him, how much it ached. Almost. But not quite. Even though tel ing the truth has caused us both hurt, I don’t see how I could have given Xander anything different. It was al I had to give and he deserved to have it.

  “I’ve been waiting for you,” Xander says. “I heard about your family. ”

  “I was in the City,” I tel him.

  “Come sit by me,” Xander says. I hesitate—does he mean this? Does he want me to sit by him, or is he helping me put on a show for whoever might be watching? Xander keeps looking up at me, waiting. “Please. ”

  “Are you sure?” I ask.

  “Yes,” he says, and then I know that he is. He’s in pain. I am, too. It strikes me that perhaps this is part of what we are fighting to choose. Which pain we feel.

  Not much time has passed since the Match B
anquet, but we are different now, stripped of our fancy clothes, our artifacts, our belief in the Match System. I stand there, thinking about this. How much has changed. How little we knew.

  “You always have to make me speak first, don’t you?” Xander asks, a hint of a smile on his face. “You always win our arguments in the end. ”

  “Xander,” I say, and I sit down and slide right next to him. His arm goes around me, and I put my head on his shoulder and he bends his head to rest on mine. I sigh, so deep it is almost a shudder, at the relief I feel. At how good this is, to be held like this. None of it is for the Society, watching, always. It is al real, for me. I wil miss him so much.

  Neither of us says anything for a moment, as we look out at our street together one last time. I might come back, but I won’t live here again. Once you’ve been Relocated, you don’t return except to visit. Clean breaks are best. And I wil make the cleanest break of al , when I go to find Ky. That is the kind of Infraction that no one can overlook.

  “I heard you leave tomorrow,” Xander says, and I nod, my head moving against his cheek. “I have to tel you something. ”

  “What is it?” I ask. I look ahead, feeling his shoulder move under the shirt of his plainclothes as he shifts position slightly, but I don’t move away.

  What wil he tel me? That he can’t believe I betrayed him? That he wishes he’d been Matched with anyone but me? Those are the things I deserve to hear, but I don’t think he wil say them. Not Xander.

  “I remember what happened this morning,” Xander whispers to me. “I know what real y happened to Ky. ”

  “How?” I sit upright, look at him.

  “The red tablets don’t work on me,” he whispers, soft into my ear, so no one else can hear. He looks down the street, back toward the Markhams’

  house. “They didn’t work on Ky, either. ”

  “What?” How is it that these two boys who are so different are connected in such unexpected, deep ways? Maybe we al are, I think, and we don’t know how to see it anymore. “Tel me. ”

  Xander stil gazes at the little house with the yel ow shutters where Ky lived hours ago. Where Ky watched and learned how to survive. Xander taught him some of that, without knowing it. And perhaps Xander has been learning from Ky, too.

  “I dared him to take it once, a long time ago,” Xander says quietly. “It was when he first got here. I acted friendly to him, but inside I was jealous. I saw how you looked at him. ”

  “Real y?” I don’t remember this at al , but suddenly I hope Xander’s right. I hope part of me fel in love with Ky before anyone else told me to.

  “It’s not a memory I’m proud of,” Xander tel s me. “I asked him to come swimming with me one day and then on the way I told him I knew about his artifact. I knew about it because once, one Borough over, I was coming back from taking something to a friend and I caught Ky using it, trying to find his way home. He was so careful. I think it was the one time he got it out, ever, but he had bad timing. I saw him. ” This image almost breaks my heart; it’s another side of Ky I haven’t seen before—lost. Taking risks. As wel as I know him, as much as I love him, there are stil parts of him I don’t know. It’s that way with everyone, even Xander, who I never could have pictured being so cruel.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched