Matched, p.9
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       Matched, p.9

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 10


  She takes the plate from my father as the door shuts behind the last guest. “Family time now,” she says, and my grandfather nods.

  “Thank goodness,” he says. “I have things to say to each of you. ”

  So far, except for that one moment when he talked about what might come next, Grandfather has been behaving as usual. I’ve heard that some of the elderly have surprised everyone at the end, by choosing not to die with dignity. They cry and get upset and go crazy. Al it does is make their families sad. There is nothing they can do about it. It’s the way things are.

  By some unspoken agreement, my mother and Bram and I go into the kitchen to let my father speak with Grandfather first. Bram, drowsy and stuffed with food, puts his head down on the table and fal s asleep, snoring gently. My mother smoothes his curly brown hair with her hand, and I imagine that Bram dreams of more desserts, a plate heaped with them. My eyes feel heavy, too, but I don’t want to miss any part of Grandfather’s last day.

  After my father, Bram has a turn, and then my mother goes in to speak with Grandfather. The gift she has for him is a leaf from his favorite tree at the Arboretum. She picked it yesterday, so the edges have curled and become brown, but there is stil green in the middle. She told me, while we waited and Bram slept, that Grandfather had asked if he could have his final celebration at the Arboretum, out in the blue-sky air. Of course, his request was denied.

  My turn at last. As I go into the room I notice that the windows are open. It is not a cool afternoon, and the breeze feels urgent and hot as it blows through the apartment. Soon, though, it wil be night and things wil be cooler.

  “I wanted to feel the air moving,” Grandfather says to me as I sit in the chair next to his bed.

  I hand him the gift. He thanks me and reads through it. “These are lovely words,” Grandfather says. “Fine sentiments. ” I should feel pleased, but I can tel there is something more coming.

  “But none of these words are your own, Cassia,” Grandfather says gently.

  Tears sting my eyes and I look down at my hands. My hands that, like almost everyone else in our Society, cannot write, that merely know how to use the words of others. Words that have disappointed my grandfather. I wish I had brought a rock like Bram. Or nothing at al . Even coming here empty-handed would be better than disappointing Grandfather.

  “You have words of your own, Cassia,” Grandfather says to me. “I have heard some of them, and they are beautiful. And you have already given me a gift by visiting so often. I stil love this letter because it is from you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings. I want you to trust your own words. Do you understand?”

  I look up and meet his eyes, and nod, because I know that’s what he’l want me to do, and I can give that gift to him even if my letter is a failure.

  And then I think of something else. Since that day on the air train, I’ve kept the cottonwood seed in the pocket of my plainclothes. I pul it out now and give it to him.

  “Ah,” he says, lifting it up to look at it more closely. “Thank you, my dear. Look. It’s trailing clouds of glory. ” Now I wonder if Grandfather is starting to slip away already. I don’t know what he means. I glance at the door, wondering if I should get one of my parents.

  “I’m an old hypocrite, too,” he says, his eyes mischievous again. “I told you to use your own words, and now I’m going to ask you for someone else’s. Let me see your compact. ”

  Surprised, I hold it out to him. He takes it and taps it sharply against his palm, twists something. The base of the compact opens up and I gasp in shock as a paper fal s out. I can see right away that it is old—heavy and thick and creamy, not slick and white like the curls of paper that come out of the ports or the scribes.

  Grandfather unfolds the paper careful y, gently. I try not to look too closely, in case he does not want me to see, but with a glance I can tel that the words are old, too. The type is not one in use anymore; the letters are smal and black and cramped together.

  His fingers tremble; whether it is from the end of his life drawing close or because of what he holds in his hand, I do not know. I want to help him, but I can tel that this is something he must do himself.

  It doesn’t take long for him to read the paper, and when he’s finished, he closes his eyes. An emotion crosses his face that I cannot read.

  Something deep.

  Then he opens his bright, beautiful eyes and looks straight at me while he folds the paper back up. “Cassia. This is for you. It’s even more precious than the compact. ”

  “But it’s so—” I stop before I can say the word dangerous.

  There is no time. I hear my father and mother and brother speaking in the hal .

  Grandfather looks at me with love in his eyes, and holds the paper out to me. A chal enge, an offering, a gift. After a moment, I reach for it. My fingers close around the paper and he lets go.

  He gives me back the compact, too; the paper fits neatly inside. As I snap the artifact shut, Grandfather leans toward me.

  “Cassia,” he whispers. “I am giving you something you won’t understand, yet. But I think you wil someday. You, more than the rest. And, remember. It’s al right to wonder. ”

  He holds on for a long time. It is an hour before midnight in a deep blue night when Grandfather looks at us and says the best words of al with which to end a life. “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. ”

  We al say it back to him. Each of us means it and he smiles. He leans back on his pil ows and closes his eyes.

  Everything inside him has worked perfectly. He has lived a good life. It ends as it is supposed to end, at exactly the right time. I am holding his hand when he dies.


  None of the showings are new,” our friend Sera complains. “They’ve been the same for the past two months. ” Saturday night again; the same conversation as the week before.

  “It’s better than the other two choices,” Em says. “Isn’t it?” She glances over at me, waiting for my opinion. I nod. The choices are the same as usual: game center, showing, music. It’s been less than a week since Grandfather’s death, and I feel strange. He is gone, and now I know that there are stolen words inside my compact. It feels strange to know something others don’t and to have something I shouldn’t.

  “So another vote from Cassia for the showing,” Em says, keeping track. She winds a strand of black hair around her finger, looks at Xander.

  “What about you?”

  I’m sure Xander wants to go back to the game center, but I don’t. Our last excursion there didn’t end so wel , what with my stepping on the tablets and having to meet with an Official.

  Xander knows what I’m thinking. “It wasn’t your fault,” he says. “You weren’t the one who dropped them. It’s not as though they cited you or anything. ”

  “I know. But stil . ”

  We don’t real y discuss the music. Most youth aren’t crazy about sitting with a few other people in the hal and listening to the Hundred Songs piped in from some other place—or maybe even some other time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any work positions related to music. Maybe that makes sense. Maybe songs only need to be sung once, recorded, and passed along.

  “No, let’s do the showing,” Xander says. “You know, that one about the Society? With al the aerial views?”

  “I haven’t seen that one yet,” Ky Markham says behind me.

  Ky. I turn to look at him, our eyes meeting for the first time since the night I stepped on the tablets. I haven’t seen him since then. I should say I haven’t seen him in person; al week long, his face has appeared in my mind the way it appeared on the screen, surprising me with its clarity and then disappearing suddenly. Leaving me wondering what it means. Why I keep thinking of him instead of moving on.

  Perhaps it’s because of what Grandfather said, at the end. By tel ing me it was al right to wonder. Somehow, though, I don’t think he meant Ky. I thin
k it might be something bigger. Something to do with the poetry.

  “That settles it, then. We’l watch that one,” Sera says.

  “How could you miss an entire showing?” Piper’s question is a good one. We never miss showings when they’re new. This one has been around for several months, which means there should have been plenty of opportunities for Ky to see it. “Didn’t you go with us when we went?”

  “No,” Ky says. “I worked late that night, I think. ” His tone is mild, but there is, and always has been, something a little deeper and more resonant about his voice. It has a slightly different timbre than most voices. It’s the kind of thing you forget until you hear it again and remember Oh yes. His voice has music.

  We al fal silent, as we always do when Ky talks about his work. We don’t know what to say to him when he mentions it. I know now that he probably wasn’t surprised with his assignment at the nutrition disposal center. He’s always known he was an Aberration. He’s been walking around with secrets for much longer than I have.

  But the Society wants him to keep his secrets. I don’t know what they would do if they found out about mine.

  Ky looks away from Piper and back to me, and it occurs to me that I’ve been wrong about his eyes. I thought they were brown but I see now that they are dark blue, brought out by the color of his plainclothes. Blue is the most common eye color in Oria Province, but there is something different about his eyes and I’m not sure what it is. More depth? I wonder what he sees when he looks at me. If he seems to have depth to me, do I seem shal ow and transparent to him?

  I wish I had a microcard about Ky, I think. Maybe, since I didn’t really need one for Xander, I could ask for another one instead. The thought makes me smile.

  Ky stil looks at me and I wonder for a moment if he is going to ask me what I am thinking about. But, of course, he doesn’t. He doesn’t learn by asking questions. He is an Aberration from the Outer Provinces and yet he has managed to blend in here. He learns by watching.

  So I take my cue from him. I ask no questions and I keep my secrets.

  When we sit down in the theater, Piper goes in first. Then Sera, Em, Xander, me, and last of al , Ky. The bigscreen hasn’t rol ed down and the lights aren’t dimmed yet, so we have a few minutes to talk. “Are you al right?” Xander asks me quietly, his words a whisper near my ear. “It’s not the tablets, is it? Is it your Grandfather?”

  He knows me so wel . “Yes,” I say, and he reaches for my hand, gives it a squeeze. It’s strange to me how our old childhood gestures come back, ones that dropped away as we stayed friends but grew older. Holding his hand stil feels like friendship, like something I’ve known for years—but also different, now that it means more. Now that it means a Match.

  Xander waits, to see if I have more to say, but I don’t. I can’t tell Xander about Ky because Ky’s sitting right here next to me, I think, and I can’t tell Xander about the paper because this place is too crowded. These are the reasons I give myself for not confiding in Xander as I usual y do.

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