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 smaller 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 still 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 telling the truth has caused us both hurt, I don’t see how I could have given Xander anything different. It
was all 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 tell 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 Banquet, 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 all real, for me. I will 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 will make the cleanest break of all, 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 tell 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 will he tell 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 will say them. Not Xander.
“I remember what happened this morning,” Xander whispers to me. “I know what really 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 all are, I think, and we don’t
know how to see it anymore. “Tell me.”
Xander still gazes at the little house with the yellow 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.”
“Really?” I don’t remember this at all, but suddenly I hope Xander’s right. I hope part of me fell in love with Ky before anyone else told me to.
“It’s not a memory I’m proud of,” Xander tells 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 well as I know him, as much as I love him,
there are still parts of him I don’t know. It’s that way with everyone, even Xander, who I never could have pictured being so cruel.
“I dared him to find and steal two red tablets. I thought it would be impossible. I said that if he didn’t bring them to swimming the next day to prove
he could, I’d tell everyone about the compass—the artifact—and get Patrick in trouble.”
“What did he do?”
“You know Ky. He wouldn’t risk his uncle.” Then Xander starts to laugh. Shocked, I ball my fists up in anger. Does he think this is funny? What, in
this story, could there possibly be to laugh at?
“So Ky got the tablets. And guess who he stole them from?” Xander says, still laughing. “Just guess.”
“I don’t know. Tell me.”
“My parents.” Xander stops laughing. “Of course, it wasn’t funny at the time. That night my parents were upset because their red tablets were
missing. I knew right away what had happened, but of course I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t tell them about the dare.” Xander looks down and I
notice that he has a large brown paper envelope in his hand. It makes me think of Ky’s story. I’m hearing another part of it now. “It was a big mess.
Officials came and everything. I don’t know if you remember that.”
I shake my head. I don’t.
“They checked to make sure we hadn’t taken the tablets, and they could tell somehow that we hadn’t, and my parents were pretty convincing,
saying they didn’t know what happened. They were completely panicked. Finally, the Officials decided that my parents must have lost the tablets
when they were swimming earlier in the week and that they’d been negligent not to notice it sooner. They’d never caused any trouble before, so
they got off without an Infraction. Just a citation.”
“Ky did that? Took the tablets from your parents?”
“He did.” Xander takes a deep breath. “I went to his house the next day ready to tear him apart. He stood on the front steps waiting for me. When I
got there he held out the two red tablets, right for everyone to see.
“Of course, I was so scared I grabbed them out of his hand and asked him what he was trying to do. That’s when he told me that you don’t play
with other people’s lives.” Xander seems ashamed, remembering. “And then he told me that we could start over if I wanted. All we had to do was
take the red tablets, one for each of us. He promised me we wouldn’t get hurt.”
“That’s cruel of him, too,” I say in shock, but to my surprise Xander disagrees with me.
“He knew the tablets didn’t work on him; I don’t know how, but he did. He thought they would work on me. He thought I wouldn’t remember how
horrible I’d been and that I’d be able to start clean.”
“How many other people do you think are walking around out there, pretending that their tablets worked when they didn’t?” I ask, wondering.
“As many as want to stay out of trouble,” Xander says. He glances at me. “Apparently they don’t work on you, either.”
“It’s not exactly like that,” I say, but I don’t want to tell him the whole story. He already carries enough of my secrets.
Xander studies me for a moment, but then when I don’t say more, he speaks again. “While we’re talking about tablets,” he says, “I have a gift for
you. A farewell gift.” He hands me the envelope and whispers, “Don’t open it now. I put some things in there to remind you of the Borough, but the
real gift is a bunch of blue tablets. In case you have to go on another long journey or something.”
He knows I’m going to try to find Ky. And he’s helping me. In spite of everything, Xander hasn’t betrayed me. And I realize, too, that I never
wondered, as I ran down the street after Ky, if it was Xander who had set those events in motion. I knew he hadn’t. He kept faith with me. It’s the
prisoner’s dilemma. This dangerous game that I must play with Ky, and again with Xander. But what I know, and the Official doesn’t, is that all of us
will do our best to keep each other safe. “Oh, Xander. How did you get these?”
“They keep extra supplies in the pharmacy at the medical center,” Xander says. “These were slated for disposal. They’re about to expire, but I
think they’ll still work for a few months past expiration.”
“The Officials will still miss them.”
He shrugs. “They will. I’ll be careful, and you should be, too. I’m sorry I couldn’t bring you real food.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing all of this for me,” I say to Xander.
He swallows hard. “Not just for you. For all of us.”
It all makes sense now. If we could change things, in time, maybe … maybe we could all choose.
“Thank you, Xander,” I say. I think about how I might have a chance to find Ky, thanks to Ky’s compass and Xander’s tablets, and I realize that, in
so many ways, Xander is the one who made it possible for me to love Ky.
“Ky thought you might be able to help me learn how to use the artifact,” I tell him. “Now I know why. Did you recognize it that day, when I gave it to
“I thought I did. But it had been a long time and I kept my promise. I didn’t open it.”
“But you know how to use it.”
“I figured out the basic principles of what it was after I’d seen it. I used to ask him questions about it once in a while.”
“It might help me find him.”
“Even if I could show you, why would I?” And Xander can’t cover it anymore; bitterness and anger mingle with the pain. “So you can go off and be
happy with him? Where does that leave me? What does that leave me?”
“Don’t say that,” I tell him. “You gave me the blue tablets so I could find him, right? If I’m gone, and we can change things, maybe you can choose
“I did,” he says, looking at me.
I don’t know what to say.
“So I have to wish for the end of the world as I know it?” Xander asks, another hint of his old laugh in his voice.
“Not the end of the world. For the beginning of a better one,” I say, and I am frightened, too. Is this what we really want to wish for? “One where we
can get Ky back.”
“Ky,” Xander says, and there’s sadness in his voice. “Sometimes it seems like everything I’ve done has been to help you be ready for someone
I don’t know what to say, how to tell him that he is wrong, how I was wrong moments ago when I thought the same thing. Because yes, Xander has
helped Ky and me time and time again. But how can I explain to Xander that he is a reason for wanting a new world, too? That he is important?
That I love him?
“I can teach you,” Xander says, finally. “I’ll send you some instructions in a message over the port.”
“But anyone can read those.”
“I’ll make it so it looks like a love letter. We are still Matched, after all. And we’re good at pretending.” Then he whispers, “Cassia … If we could
choose, would you ever have chosen me?”
I’m surprised he has to ask. And then I realize that he doesn’t know that at one point I did choose him. When I first saw his face on the screen and
then Ky’s over it, I wanted safe and known and expected. I wanted good and kind and handsome. I wanted Xander.
“Of course,” I say.
We both look at each other and start to laugh. Then we can’t stop. We’re laughing so hard that tears roll down our faces and Xander pulls away
from me, leaning over and gasping for air. “We could still end up together,” he says. “After all this.”
“We could,” I agree.
“Then why do any of it?”
I’m serious now. All this time it’s taken me to understand what Grandfather meant. Why he didn’t want to have the sample stored; why he didn’t
want a chance to live forever on someone else’s terms. “Because it’s about making our own choices,” I tell him. “That’s the point. Isn’t it? This is
bigger than us now.”
He looks up. “I know.” Maybe for Xander it has always been bigger than us; since he’s seen more, known more, for years. As Ky has.
“How many times?” I whisper to Xander.
He shakes his head, confused.
“How many times have the rest of us taken the tablet, and we can’t remember?” I ask.
“Once, that I know of,” Xander says. “They don’t use it much on citizens. I was sure they’d make us take it after the Markhams’ son died, but they
didn’t. But, one day, I’m pretty sure everyone in the Borough took it.”
“I’m not positive,” he says. “I didn’t actually see you do it. I don’t know.”
“What happened?” I ask.
Xander shakes his head. “I’m not going to say,” he whispers.
I don’t press him further. I haven’t told him everything—about the kiss on the Hill, the poem—and I cannot ask him to do what I have not. This is a
difficult balance, telling the truth: how much to share, how much to keep, which truths will wound but not ruin, which will cut too deep to heal.
So I gesture to the envelope instead. “What did you put in here? Besides the tablets?”
He shrugs. “Not much. I was mostly trying to hide the tablets. A couple of newrose blooms, like the ones we planted. They won’t last long. I printed
a copy of one of the Hundred Paintings from the port, that picture you did a report on a long time ago. That won’t last long either.” He’s right; the
paper from the ports always deteriorates quickly. Xander looks at me, sad. “You’ll have to use all of it in the next couple of months.”
“Thank you,” I tell him. “I didn’t get anything for you—everything happened so fast this morning—” I fall silent again. Because I used what time I did
have for Ky. I chose him, again, over Xander.
“It’s all right,” he says. “But maybe—you could—”
He looks into my eyes, deep, and I know what he wants. A kiss. Even though he knows about Ky. Xander and I are still connected; this is still
good-bye. I know already that that kiss would be sweet. It would be what he would hold on to, as I hold on to Ky’s.
But that’s something I don’t think I can give. “Xander—”
“It’s all right,” he says, and then he stands up. I do, too, and he reaches for me, pulls me close. Xander’s arms are as warm and safe and good
around me as they have always been.
We both hold on, tight.
Then he lets go and walks down the path, without another word. He doesn’t look back. But I watch him go. I watch him all the way home.
The journey to our new home is fairly straightforward: ride the air train to the City Center, change to a long-distance air train for the Farmlands of
Keya Province. Most of our belongings fit into one small case each; the few things that don’t will be sent later.
As the four of us walk to the air-train stop, neighbors and friends come out to say good-bye and wish us well. They know we’re being Relocated
but they don’t know why; it isn’t considered polite to ask. As we come to the end of the street we see that a new sign has been hammered into
place: Garden Borough. Without the trees and without the name, Mapletree Borough is gone. It’s as though it never existed. The Markhams are
gone. We are gone. Everyone else will live on here in Garden Borough. They’ve already added extra newroses to all the flower beds.
The quickness with which Ky disappeared, with which the Markhams disappeared, with which we will disappear, makes me cold. It is as if we
never happened. And I suddenly remember a time back when I was small, when I used to look for the air train home to Stony Borough and we had
paths made of low flat stones that led to our doors.
This happened before. This Borough keeps changing names. What other bad things lie beneath the surface of our Borough? What have we
buried underneath our rocks and trees and flowers and houses? That time Xander won’t talk about, when we all took the red tablet—what
happened? When other people left, where did they really go?
They could not write their names, but I can write mine, and I will again, somewhere where it will last for a long, long time. I will find Ky, and then I
will find that place.
Once we are on the long-distance air train, my mother and Bram both fall asleep, exhausted from the emotion and exertion of the journey.
I find it strange, with everything else that happened, that it was my mother’s obedience which spelled the need for our Relocation. She knew too
much and she admitted it in that report. She couldn’t do otherwise.
The ride is long and there are other travelers. No soldiers like Ky. They keep them on their own trains. But there are tired families who look much
like ours, a group of Singles who laugh and talk excitedly about their jobs, and, in the last car, a few rows of young women about my age going on a
work detail for a few months. I watch these girls with interest; they are girls who did not get work positions and therefore will float around wherever
they are needed for a time. Some of them seem sad and faded, disappointed. Others have faces turned to the windows with interest in their eyes. I
catch myself glancing over at them more than I should. We’re supposed to keep to ourselves. And I need to concentrate on finding Ky. I have
equipment now: blue tablets, the artifact called a compass, knowledge of the Sisyphus River, memories of a grandfather who did not go gentle.
My father notices me watching the girls. While my mother and Bram sleep he says softly, “I don’t remember what happened yesterday. But I know
the Markhams left the Borough and I think that has hurt you.”
I try to change the subject. I glance over at my sleeping mother. “Why didn’t they use a red tablet on her? Then we wouldn’t have had to leave.”
“A red tablet?” my father asks, surprised. “Those are only for extreme circumstances. This isn’t one of them.” Then, to my surprise, he says more.
He speaks to me like an adult; more than that, like an equal. “I’m a sorter by nature, Cassia,” he says. “All the information adds up to something
being wrong. The way they took the artifacts. Your mother’s trips to the other Arboretums. The gap in my memory from yesterday. Something is
wrong. They are losing a war and I can’t tell who it’s against—people on the inside or people on the outside. But there are signs of cracking.”
I nod. Ky told me almost the same thing.
But my father goes on. “And I’ve noticed other things, too. I think you’re in love with Ky Markham. I think you want to find him, wherever he’s gone.”
I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are open now. She looks at me with love and understanding, and I realize: She knows what my father did.
She knows what I want. She knows and even though she would not destroy a tissue sample or love someone who was not her Match, she still loves
us, even though we have done those things.
My father has always broken the rules for those he loves, just as my mother has always kept them for the same reason. Perhaps that is yet
another reason why they make a perfect Match. I can trust in my parents’ love. And it strikes me that that is a big thing to trust, a big thing to have
had, no matter what else happens.
“We can’t give you the life you want,” my father says, his eyes wet. He looks at my mother and she nods at him to continue. “We wish we could.
But we can help you have a chance to decide which life you want.”
I close my eyes and ask the angels and Ky and Grandfather for strength. Then I open them and look straight at my father. “How?”
My hands are in the soil; my body is tired, but I will not let this work take away my thoughts. Because that is what the Officials here want: workers
who work but do not think.
Do not go gentle.
So I fight. I fight the only way I know how, with thinking of Ky, even though the pain of missing him is so strong I can hardly stand it. I put the seeds
into the ground and cover them with soil. Will they grow toward the sun? Will something go wrong so that they never push, never turn into anything,
just stay here rotting in the ground? I think of him, I think of him, I think of him.
I think of my family. Of Bram. Of my parents. I have learned something about love through all of this—about the love I have for Ky and the love I
have for Xander and the love my parents and Bram and I have for one another. When we reached our new home, my parents requested that I be
sent on a three months’ work detail because I showed signs of rebellion. The Officials in our new village checked my data; it correlated with my
parents’ statement. My father mentioned a particular work detail he had in mind: hard farming, planting an experimental winter crop in a Western
Province through which the river of Sisyphus runs. He and Xander and my mother keep me updated on anything they learn about where Ky might
be. I am closer to him here; I feel it.
I think of Xander. We could have been happy, I know that, and it is perhaps the hardest thing to know. I could have held his hand, warm and
strong, and we could have had what my parents have, and it would have been beautiful. It would have been beautiful.
We wear no chains. We have nowhere to go. They wear us down with work; they don’t beat us or hurt us. They simply want to make us tired.
And I am tired.
When I think I might give up after all, I remember the last part of the story that Ky gave me, the part I finally read before we left our home for the last
Cassia, he wrote at the top of the page, in letters that were tall and clear and unafraid, that curled and moved and turned my name into something
beautiful, something more than a word. A declaration, a piece of a song, a bit of art, framed by his hands.
There was only one Ky drawn on the napkin. Smiling. A smile in which I could see both who he had been and who he became. His hands were
empty again, and open, and reaching a little. Toward me.
I know which life is my real one now, no matter what happens. It’s the one with you.
For some reason, knowing that even one person knows my story makes things different. Maybe it’s like the poem says. Maybe this is my way
of not going gentle.
I love you.
I had to burn that part of his story, too, but I held the heat of that I love you close, like red, like a new beginning.
Without knowing the pieces of Ky’s story and the words of my poems I might give up. But I think of my words and of the cache of tablets and
compass hidden away and my family and Xander who send me messages on the work camp portscreen that tell me they are still looking; they are
still helping me.
Sometimes, when I look down at the pale seeds I scatter in the black dirt, it reminds me of the night of my Banquet when I imagined that I could fly.
The darkness behind doesn’t worry me; neither do the stars ahead. I think of how perhaps the best way to fly would be with hands full of earth so you
always remember where you came from, how hard walking could sometimes be.
And I look at my hands, too, which move in the shape of my own inventions, my own words. It is hard to do, and I am not good at it yet. I write them
in the soil where I plant and then step on them, dig holes in them, drop seeds in them to see if they will grow. I steal a piece of black burned wood
from one of the cropfires and write on a napkin. Later, at another cropfire; my hand brushes over the flames with the napkin, and the words die. Ash
My words never last long. I have to destroy them before anyone sees them.
But. I remember them all. For some reason, the act of writing them down makes me remember. Each word I write brings me closer to finding the
right ones. And when I see Ky again, which I know will happen, I will whisper the words I have written in his ear, against his lips. And they will change
from ash and nothing into flesh and blood.
My deep gratitude and appreciation to:
Scott, my husband, who makes writing not only possible but probable;
My three boys, who make everything exciting—I love you, and you, and you;
My parents, Robert and Arlene Braithwaite; my brother, Nic; and my sisters, Elaine and Hope, who read every word, every time (and in Elaine’s
case, over and over again);
My reader friends and writer friends, who give essential feedback and encouragement;
Alec Shane, who went the extra mile even though he is a fourth-degree black belt, not a distance runner;
Jodi Reamer, who is brilliant and down-to-earth (and fun!), the advocate of every writer’s dreams;
Julie Strauss-Gabel, a woman of unparalleled graciousness and genius, who makes every page better;
And the wonderful team at Penguin who all believed and who exercised their myriad talents on the behalf of this story, including, but not limited to,
Theresa Evangelista, Lauri Hornik, Rosanne Lauer, Linda McCarthy, Shanta Newlin, Irene Vandervoort, Don Weisberg, and Lisa Yoskowitz.
is a former high school English teacher
who lives with her husband and three sons
outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Visit her online at
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