Matched, p.5
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       Matched, p.5

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 6

 

  “I hope you find out who did it,” I say. “You’re right. It’s cruel. ”

  “We’l find out,” she says, smiling at me. “I can promise you that. ” Then she looks down, glances at her watch. “I have to leave now. I hope that I’ve been able to eliminate your concern. ”

  “Yes, thank you. ” I try to pul my thoughts from the boy who is an Aberration. I should be thinking about how wonderful it is that everything is back in order. But instead I think about Ky—how sorry I feel for him, how I wish I didn’t have to know this about him and could have gone on thinking he had chosen to be a Single.

  “I don’t need to remind you to keep the information about Ky Markham confidential, do I?” she asks mildly, but I hear the iron in her voice. “The only reason I shared it with you was so that you could know without a doubt that he was never intended to be your Match. ”

  “Of course. I won’t say anything to anyone. ”

  “Good. It’s probably best that you keep this to yourself. Of course, we could cal a meeting if you would like. I could explain to your parents and Xander and his parents what happened—”

  “No!” I say forceful y. “No. I don’t want anyone to know, except—”

  “Except who?”

  I don’t answer, and suddenly her hand is on my arm. She does not grip me roughly, but I can tel that she wil wait out the answer to her brief question: “Who?”

  “My grandfather,” I admit. “He’s almost eighty. ”

  She lets go of my arm. “When is his birthday?”

  “Tomorrow. ”

  She thinks for a moment, then nods. “If you feel that you need to talk to someone about what happened, he would be the optimal one. Stil . That is the only person?”

  “Yes,” I say. “I don’t want anyone else to know. I don’t mind Grandfather knowing because . . . ” I leave the sentence unfinished. She knows why. At least one of the reasons why, anyway.

  “I’m glad you feel that way,” the Official says, nodding. “I have to admit that it makes things easier for me. Obviously, when you talk to your grandfather, you wil tel him that he wil be cited if he mentions this to anyone else. And that’s certainly not something he wants now. He could lose his preservation privileges. ”

  “I understand. ”

  The Official smiles, stands up. “Is there anything else I can help you with tonight?” I am glad the interview is over. Now that al is right again with my world, I want to take my place back inside that room ful of people. It suddenly feels very lonely out here.

  “No, thank you. ”

  She gestures at the path leading back to the center. “Best wishes to you, Cassia. I’m glad I could help. ” I thank her one last time and walk away. She stays behind, watching me go. Even though I know it’s nonsense, I feel as if she watches me al the way to the door, al the way down the hal s and back into the room and over to the table where Xander stil plays the game. He looks up and holds my gaze. He noticed that I was gone. Everything all right? his eyes ask me, and I nod. It is now.

  Everything is back to normal. Better than normal—now I can again enjoy the fact that I’ve been Matched with Xander.

  Stil , I wish she hadn’t told me about Ky. I won’t be able to look at him the same way again, now that I know too much about him.

  There are so many of us inside the game center. It is hot and humid in the room, reminding me of the tropical ocean simulation we had in Science once, the one about the coral reefs that teemed with fish before the Warming kil ed them al . I taste sweat and breathe water.

  Someone bumps into me as an Official makes an announcement over the main speaker. The crowd goes quiet to listen: Someone bumps into me as an Official makes an announcement over the main speaker. The crowd goes quiet to listen:

  “Someone has dropped their tablet container. Please, stand completely still and do not speak until we locate it. ” Everyone stops immediately. I hear the clatter of dice and a soft thud as someone, perhaps Xander, puts down a game piece. Then al is quiet.

  No one moves. A lost container is a serious matter. I look at a girl near me, and she stares back at me, wide-eyed, openmouthed, frozen in place. I think again of that ocean simulation, how the instructor paused it in the middle to explain something, and the fish projected around the room stared back at us, unblinking, until she switched the simulation back on.

  We al wait for the switch to be thrown, for the instructor to tel us what comes next. My mind begins to wander, to escape this place where we al hold stil . Are there other unknown Aberrations standing here in this room, swimming in this water? Water. I recal another memory of water, real this time, a day when Xander and I were ten.

  Back then, we had more free-recreation time, and in the summers we almost always spent it at the swimming pool. Xander liked to swim in the blue-chlorinated water; I liked to sit on the pockmarked cement side of the pool and swish my feet back and forth before I went in. That’s what I was doing when Xander appeared next to me, a worried look on his face.

  “I’ve lost my tablet container,” he told me quietly.

  I glanced down to make sure that mine was stil hooked to my swimwear. It was; its metal clip snapped securely to the strap over my left shoulder.

  We’d had our tablet containers for a few weeks, and at that point they contained one tablet. The first one. The blue one. The one that can save us; the one with enough nutrients to keep us going for several days if we have water, too.

  There was plenty of water in the pool. That was the problem. How was Xander ever going to find the container?

  “It’s probably underwater,” I said. “Let’s get the lifeguard to clear the pool. ”

  “No,” Xander said, his jaw set. “Don’t tel them. They’l cite me for losing it. Don’t say anything. I’l find it. ” Carrying our own tablets is an important step toward our own independence; losing them is the same as admitting we aren’t ready for the responsibility. Our parents carry our tablets for us until we are old enough to take them over, one by one. First the blue, when we are ten. Then, when we turn thirteen, the green one. The one that calms us if we need calming.

  And when we’re sixteen, the red one, the one we can only take when a high-level Official tel s us to do so.

  At first, I tried to help Xander, but the chlorine always hurt my eyes. I dove and dove and then, when my eyes burned so much I could barely see, I climbed back onto the cement next to the pool and tried to look beneath the sun-bright surface of the water.

  None of us ever wears a watch when we are smal ; time is kept for us. But I stil knew. I knew that he had been under the water much longer than he should. I had measured it out in heartbeats and in the slap of the waves against the side of the pool as one person, then another, then another, dove in.

  Did he drown? For a moment, I was blinded by sunlight slanting off the water, white, and paralyzed by my fear, which felt white, too. But then I stood up and drew a deep breath into my lungs to scream to the world Xander is under the water, save him, save him! Before my scream was born, a voice I did not know asked, “Is he drowning?”

  “I can’t tel ,” I said, tearing my eyes away from the water. A boy stood next to me; tanned skin, dark hair. A new boy. That was al I had time to notice before he vanished, slipping under the surface in one quick motion.

  A pause, a few more slaps of the waves against the cement, and Xander’s head popped up above the water. He grinned triumphantly at me, holding the waterproof case. “Got it,” he said.

  “Xander,” I said, relieved. “Are you al right?”

  “Of course,” he said, the confident light back in his eyes. “Why would you think I wouldn’t be?”

  “You were under so long that I thought you were drowning,” I admitted. “And so did that boy—” Suddenly I panicked. Where did the other boy go?

  He had not come up for air.

  “What boy?” Xander asked, puzzled.

  “He went searching for
you. ” And then I saw him, below the blue, a shadow under the water. “He’s right there. Is he drowning?” Just then the boy broke the surface of the water, coughing, his hair glistening. A red scrape, almost healed but stil noticeable, ran along his cheek. I did my best not to stare. Not just because injuries are uncommon in a place where we are al so healthy and safe, but because he was unknown to me. A stranger.

  It took the boy a few moments to catch his breath again. When he did, he looked at me but spoke to Xander, saying, “You didn’t drown. ”

  “No,” agreed Xander. “You almost did, though. ”

  “I know,” the boy said. “I meant to save you. ” He corrected himself. “I mean, to help you. ”

  “Don’t you know how to swim?” I asked him.

  “I thought I did,” the boy said, which made both Xander and me laugh. The boy looked into my eyes and smiled. The smile seemed to surprise him; it surprised me, too, the warmth of it.

  The boy looked back at Xander. “She looked worried when you didn’t come back up. ”

  “I’m not worried anymore,” I said, relieved that everyone was safe. “Are you visiting someone?” I asked the boy, hoping he was staying for a long visit. I already liked him because he had wanted to help Xander.

  “No,” said the boy, and though he stil smiled, his voice sounded quiet and stil like the water had become around us. He looked right at me. “I belong here. ”

  Now, my eyes fixed on the crowd in front of me, I feel that same feeling of relief and release as I see a familiar face, someone who, until now, I had been desperately worried about. Someone I must have thought had drowned or slipped or been pul ed under and might never be seen again.

  Ky Markham is here and he looks right at me.

  Without thinking, I take a step toward him. That’s when I feel something burst beneath my foot. The lost tablet container has broken open, and everything it is supposed to protect has spil ed out on the floor and been crushed under my foot. Bluegreenred.

  I stop in my tracks but the movement has been noted. Officials swarm toward me and the people near me draw breath and cal out, “Over here!

  It’s broken!”

  I have to turn away when an Official takes my elbow and asks me what happened. When I look back at where Ky stood, he has disappeared. Just like he did that day into the pool. Just like his face did earlier on the port at my house.

  CHAPTER 6

  There was a new boy at the pool today,” I told my parents that long-ago night, after the incident while Xander and I were swimming. I was careful to leave out any mention of Xander losing his tablet container. I didn’t want him to get in trouble. The omission felt like the tablet itself stuck in my throat. Every time I swal owed, I felt it catch there, threatening to choke me.

  But stil , I didn’t tel .

  My parents exchanged glances. “A new boy? Are you sure?” my father asked.

  “I’m sure,” I said. “His name is Ky Markham. Xander and I swam with him. ”

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched