And it’s not just words. He’s drawn things, too. The surface is covered with lines and meaning. Not a picture, not a poem, not the lyrics to a song,
although my sorting mind notices the pattern of all these things. But I can’t classify them. This is nothing I have seen before.
I realize that I don’t even know what you would use to make marks like this. All of the words I practice are written in the air or traced in the dirt.
There used to be tools for writing but I don’t know what they were. Even our paintbrushes in school were tethered to artscreens, our pictures wiped
away almost immediately after we finished them. Somehow, Ky must know a secret, older than Grandfather and his mother and people before
them. How to make. Create.
Two lives, he’s written.
Two lives, I whisper to myself. The words hush and hang in the room, too soft for the port to hear above the other sounds in the house. Almost too
soft for me to hear above my heart beating fast. Faster than it ever has in the woods or on the tracker.
I should go to my room, to the relative privacy of that little place with my bed, my window. My closet where plainclothes hang, dead and still. But I
can’t stop staring. It’s hard, at first, for me to figure out what the picture is meant to be; but then I realize it’s him. Ky. Drawn twice, once on each side
of the fold of the napkin. The line of his jaw gives it away; the shape of his eyes, the spareness and strength of his body. The spaces left empty; his
hands and the nothing they hold, though they are cupped, tipped skyward, in both pictures.
That’s where the similarity between the pictures ends. In the first picture, he looks up at something in the sky, and he looks younger, his face is
open. The figure there seems to think his hands might still be filled. In the second, he is older, his face narrower, and he looks down at the ground.
Along the bottom he has written Which one is the true one, I don’t ask, they don’t tell.
Two lives. I think I understand this—his life before he came here, and his life after. But what does he mean by the line of song or poetry or plea at
“Cassia?” my father calls from the doorway, behind me. I scoop the napkin up with my foilware from dinner and take it all toward the incinerator
and the recycling bin.
Even if he sees it, it’s a napkin, I tell myself, looking at the brown square on my tray. We incinerate them after every meal, and it’s even the right
kind of paper, not like the one Grandfather gave me. The incineration tube won’t register the difference. Ky is keeping you safe. I lift my eyes to
“It’s a message for you on the port,” my father says. He doesn’t look down at what I carry; he’s focused on my face, to see what I’m thinking.
Maybe it’s there that the real danger lies. I smile, try to look unconcerned.
“Is it from Em?” I slide my foilware into the recycling bin. Only the napkin left.
“No,” my father says. “An Official from the Match Department.”
“Oh.” Just like that, I push the napkin down the incineration tube. “I’ll be right there,” I say to my father. I feel the faintest hint of heat from the fire
below as Ky’s story burns, and I wonder if I will ever have the strength to hold onto something. Grandfather’s poems. Ky’s story. Or if I will always be
someone who destroys.
Ky told you to destroy it, I tell myself. The man who wrote the poem is gone, but Ky is not. We have to keep it that way. Keep him safe.
I follow my father into the foyer. Bram glares at me on his way out of the foyer because this message has interrupted his game. Hoping to hide my
nervousness, I give him a playful shove as I walk toward the port.
The Official on the screen is not one I’ve seen before. He’s a cheerful, burly looking man, not at all the cerebral, ascetic type I imagine hovering
over datascreens in the Match Department. “Hello, Cassia,” he says. The collar of his white uniform seems tight around his neck, and he has laugh
lines near his eyes.
“Hello.” I want to look down and see if my hands are stained from the drawings, the words, but I keep my eyes on the Official.
“It’s been over a month since your Match.”
“Other Matchees are arranging their first port-to-port communications now. I’ve spent the day putting those together for your peers. Of course, it
would be rather ludicrous for you and Xander to have a formal port-to-port communication.” The Official laughs cheerfully. “Don’t you think?”
“I agree, sir.”
“The other Officials on the Matching Committee and I decided it makes the most sense for the two of you to have an outing together instead.
Supervised, of course, by an Official, as are communications for the other Matchees.”
“Of course.” Out of the corner of my eye I see my father standing in the door of his room, watching me. Watching over me. I’m glad he’s there.
Even though the idea of spending time with Xander isn’t at all new or scary, the idea of an Official at our meeting feels a little strange.
I hope it isn’t the Official from the greenspace, I think suddenly.
“Excellent. You’ll be eating outside of your home tomorrow night. Xander and the Official assigned to your Match will pick you up at your regular
“I’ll be ready.”
The Official signs off and the port beeps, indicating that we have another call waiting. “We’re popular this evening,” I say to my father, glad of the
distraction so we don’t have to talk about my outing with Xander. My father already looks hopeful and hurries to stand next to me. It is my mother.
“Cassia, can I speak with your father alone for a few minutes?” she asks me after we exchange hellos. “I don’t have much time to talk tonight. I
have some things I need to tell him.” She looks tired, and she still wears her uniform and insignia from work.
“Of course,” I say.
A knock sounds at the door and I go to answer it. It’s Xander. “We still have a few minutes before curfew,” he says. “Do you want to come talk on
the steps with me?”
“Of course.” I close the door behind me and go outside. The porch light shines bright above us and we are in full view of the world—or at least the
world of Mapletree Borough—as we sit down on the cement steps side by side. It feels good to be with Xander, in a different way than it feels good
to be with Ky.
Still. Being with Ky, being with Xander—both things feel like standing in the light. Different types of light, but neither feels dark.
“It sounds like the two of us have an outing tomorrow night,” Xander says.
“The three of us,” I say, and when he looks puzzled, I add, “Don’t forget the Official.”
Xander groans. “Right. How could I forget?”
“I wish we could go alone.”
“Me too.” Neither of us says anything for a moment. The wind sails along our street, ruffling the leaves on the maple trees. In the evening light the
leaves look silver-gray; their colors are gone, sucked away for now by the night. I think of the night I sat with Grandfather and thought the same thing;
I think of the old disease of color blindness, eliminated generations ago, and how the world might have looked to those people.
“Do you ever daydream?” Xander asks me.
“All the time.”
“Did you ever daydream about your Match? Before the Banquet, I mean?”
“Sometimes,” I say. I stop watching the play of the wind on the leaves of the maple tree and glance at Xander.
I should have looked at Xander before I answered. It’s too late now. Now I can tell by his eyes that my answer wasn’t what he hoped, that by
saying what I did I closed a door instead of opening it. Perhaps Xander dreamed about me and wanted to know if I dreamed about him. Perhaps
he has moments of uncertainty, as I do, and needs me to tell him that I feel sure about the Match.
This is the problem with being an uncommon Match. We know each other too well. We feel the uncertainties in our touch, see them in each
other’s eyes. We don’t work them out on our own miles away from each other the way the other Matches do. They don’t see the day-to-day. We do.
Still, we are a Match, and a deep understanding runs through us even in the midst of a misunderstanding. Xander reaches for my hand and I lace
my fingers through his. This is the known. This is good. When I think about sitting on a porch with him on other nights in this life we’ve been given, I
can picture it easily and happily.
I want Xander to kiss me again. It’s late evening and there’s even a newrose smell in the air the way there was for our first kiss. I want him to kiss
me again so that I know that what I feel for him is real, if it is more or less real than Ky’s hand brushing mine on top of the little hill.
Down the street, the last air train from the City sighs into the station. A few moments later we see the figures of late workers hurrying down the
sidewalks to get back to their houses by curfew.
Xander stands up. “I’d better get back. See you tomorrow at school.”
“See you tomorrow,” I say. He squeezes my hand and joins the others on the sidewalk walking toward home.
I don’t go inside. I watch the figures and wave to a few of them. I know who I’m waiting for. Just when I think I won’t see him, Ky pauses in front of
my house. Almost before he’s stopped, I walk down the steps and over to talk to him.
“I’ve been meaning to do this for the last few days,” Ky says. At first I think he’s reaching for my hand and my heart pauses, but then I see that he’s
holding out something. One of the brown paper envelopes that people who work in offices sometimes use. He must have gotten it from his father. I
realize right away that my compact might be inside, so I reach to take the envelope from him. Our hands do not touch and I find myself wishing that
What is wrong with me?
“I have your …” I pause because I don’t know what to call the case that holds the spinning arrow.
“I know.” Ky smiles at me. The moon, hanging heavy and low in the sky near the horizon, is a harvest-yellow slice like the melon we get to eat
during the Autumn Holiday. The moon’s light brightens Ky’s face a little but his smile does even more.
“It’s inside.” I gesture behind me, at the steps and the lighted porch. “If you want to stay here, I can run in and get it.”
“That’s all right,” Ky says. “It can wait. You can give it to me later.” His voice sounds quiet, almost shy. “I want you to have a chance to look at it.”
I wonder what color his eyes are right now. Do they reflect the black of the night or the light of the moon?
I move closer to try to see, but as I do, the almost-curfew bell rings down the street and we both jump. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Ky says as he turns
“See you then.”
I have five more minutes before I have to be inside, so I stay out and do not move. I watch him all the way down the street and then I look up at the
moon in the sky and close my eyes. In my mind, I see the words I read earlier:
Ever since the day of the mistake with my Match, I’ve never known which life is my true one. Even with the reassurances of the Official that day in
the greenspace, I think a part of me hasn’t felt at peace. It was as though I saw for the first time that life could branch into different paths, take
Back inside the house, I tip my compact out of the envelope and take Ky’s artifact from its hiding place deep in the pocket of one of my extra sets
of plainclothes. When I place them side by side, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two golden circles. The surface of Ky’s artifact is plain,
scratched. The compact shines brighter, and its engraved letters catch my eye.
On a whim, I pick up my artifact, twist the base, look inside. I know Ky saw me reading the poems in the forest. Did he also see me open the
What if Ky left a message for me?
I put the compact away on its shelf.
I decide to keep the envelope, to put Ky’s artifact inside before I put it back in the pocket of my extra plainclothes for safekeeping. But before I do,
I open the case and watch the spinning arrow. It settles on a point, but I still spin, wondering where to go.
The climb is almost too easy.
I slap branches out of the way, leap over rocks and push through bushes. My feet have worn a path on this hill and I know where to go and how to
get there. I wish for a bigger challenge and for something harder to scale. I wish for the Hill with its fallen trees and ungroomed forest. Right now, I
think, if they put me on the Hill I could run straight up it. And when I reached the top there would be a new view and maybe, if he came with me and
we stood there together, I would learn even more about Ky.
I can’t wait to see him and ask him about his story. Will he have more for me?
I burst through the trees and grin at the Officer.
“Got some competition for your spot today,” he says as he records my climbing time on the datapod.
What does he mean? I turn to see Ky. A girl sits next to him, bright golden hair streaming down her back. Livy.
Ky laughs at something she says. He makes no move, no gesture to indicate that he wants me to come sit by him. He doesn’t even look at me.
Livy’s taken my place. I take a step forward to get it back.
Livy holds out a stick to Ky. He doesn’t even hesitate. He takes hold of it right above her hand, and I see him helping her make swirling motions in
Is he teaching her to write?
My one step forward becomes many steps back as I turn and walk away from it all. From the glint of sunlight on her hair; from their hands, almost-
touching, writing letters in the dirt; from Ky’s eyes looking away from me; from the spot in the sun with wind and whispered words that are supposed
to be mine.
How can I talk to Ky with her sitting right there? How can I learn how to write? How can I get more of his words?
The answer is simple: I can’t.
Back down at the bottom of the hill the Officer gives us a speech. “Tomorrow will be different,” he tells us. “Stay at the Arboretum air-train stop when
you arrive and wait for me so I can lead you to the new site. We’re finished with this hill.”
“Finally,” Ky says behind me in a voice so quiet only I can hear. “I was beginning to feel like Sisyphus.”
I don’t know who Sisyphus is. I want to turn around and ask Ky, but I don’t. He taught Livy to write. Is he telling her his story, too? Did I trick myself
into thinking I was special to him? Perhaps many girls know Ky’s story and have fallen for the gift of writing their names.
Even as I think these things I know they are wrong, but I can’t clear my mind of the sight of his hand guiding hers.
The Officer blows his whistle to dismiss us. I walk away, staying slightly separate from everyone else. I’ve walked a few steps when I hear Ky
“Anything you want to tell me?” he asks softly. I know what he’s asking. He wants to hear more of the poem.
I shake my head no, turn my face away. He didn’t have any words for me. Why should I give him any of mine?
I wish my mother weren’t gone. The timing of this trip is strange—summer is the busiest season at the Arboretum, so many plants to tend—and I
miss her for selfish reasons, too. How am I supposed to get ready for my first official outing with Xander without her?
I put on a clean pair of plainclothes, wishing that I still had the green dress. If I did, I would wear it again to remind both Xander and me of what
everything was like just over a month ago.
When I come out into the foyer, my father and my brother wait for me. “You look beautiful,” my father says.
“You look all right,” Bram says.
“Thanks,” I tell him, rolling my eyes. Bram says this every time I go somewhere. Even on the night of the Match Banquet, he said the same thing. I
like to think he said it with more sincerity, though.
“Your mother’s going to try to call tonight. She wants to hear all about the evening,” my father says.
“I hope she can.” The idea of talking with my mother comforts me.
The dinner chime sounds in the kitchen. “Time to eat,” my father says, putting his arm around me. “Would you rather we waited here with you or
got out of the way?”
Bram is already halfway to the kitchen. I smile at my father. “You should go eat with Bram. I’ll be fine.”
My father gives me a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be back as soon as the doorbell rings.” He’s a little wary about the Official, too. I imagine my father
coming to the door and saying politely, “I’m sorry, sir. Cassia won’t be able to go tonight.” I imagine him smiling at Xander so that Xander knows
he’s not the one my father’s worried about. And then I picture my father closing the door gently but firmly and keeping me safe inside this house.
Inside these walls where I have been safe for so long.
But this house isn’t safe anymore, I remind myself. This house is where I first saw Ky’s face on a microcard. Where they searched my father.
Is there a safe place anywhere in this Borough? In this City, this Province, this world?
I resist the urge to repeat the words of Ky’s story to myself while I wait. He is already in my mind far too much and I don’t want him coming along
The doorbell rings. Xander. And the Official.
I don’t think I’m ready to do this and I don’t know why. Or rather, I do know why, but I can’t look at it too closely right now or I know it will change
Outside the door, Xander waits for me. It strikes me that this symbolizes what is wrong here. No one can ever really come in, and when it’s time to
let them, we don’t know how.
I take a deep breath and open the door.
“Where are we going?” I ask on the air train. The three of us sit side by side—me, Xander, and our bored-looking Official, who is youngish and
wears the most perfectly ironed uniform I’ve ever seen.
The Official answers. “Your meals have been sent to a private dining hall. We’ll eat dinner there and then I’ll escort you both back to your homes.”
He rarely makes eye contact with us, choosing instead to look past us, out the windows. I don’t know whether he intends to make us feel at ease or
uncomfortable. So far he’s doing the latter.
A private dining hall? I look over at Xander. He raises his eyebrows at me and mouths the words “Why bother?” and gestures to the Official. I try
not to laugh. Xander’s right. Why go to all the trouble of eating at a private dining hall when this outing is anything but private?
I start to feel sorry for all the Matchees who have to have their first conversations monitored by the Officials over the ports. At least Xander and I
have had thousands of conversations before.
The dining hall is a small building one air-train stop over, a place where Singles sometimes go, where our parents can arrange to have meals in
the evening now and then if they’d like to get away. “It looks nice,” I say in a lame attempt at conversation as we approach the hall. A small
greenspace surrounds the redbrick box of a building. In the greenspace, I catch sight of a flower bed full of the ever-present newroses and also
some kind of ethereal wildflower.
And then a memory so specific and so clear that it’s hard to believe I haven’t thought of it until now comes to mind. I remember a night when I was
much younger and my parents returned from an evening out. Grandfather had come to stay with Bram and me, and I heard my parents talking with
him before my father went to Bram’s room and my mother came into mine. A soft pink-and-yellow bloom fell out of her hair when she leaned over to
pull up my blankets. She tucked it quickly back behind her ear out of sight, and I was too sleepy to ask how she came by the blossom. At the time, it
confused me as I drifted off to sleep: How did she get the flower when picking them is forbidden? I forgot the question in my dreams and never
asked it upon waking.
Now I know the answer: My father sometimes bends the rules for those he loves. For my mother. For Grandfather. My father is a little like Xander,
the night that he bent the rules to help Em.
Xander takes my arm, bringing me back into the present. When he does, I can’t help myself; I glance over at the Official. He doesn’t say anything.
The inside of the dining hall looks nicer than a regular meal hall, too. “Look,” Xander says. Flickering lights in the center of each table simulate an
old romantic system of lighting, candles.
People look at us as we pass among the tables. We’re clearly the youngest patrons there. Most are our parents’ age or young couples several
years older than Xander and me, couples newly Contracted. I see a few people who are probably Singles out on recreational dates, but not many.
The Boroughs in this area are primarily family boroughs, full of parents and contracted couples and youth under the age of twenty-one.
Xander notices the staring and stares back, his arm still linked with mine. Under his breath he whispers to me, “At least everyone at school is
pretty much over our Match by now. I hate the watching.”
“I do, too.” Thankfully, the Official doesn’t gawk at us. He leads the way through the tables and finds one marked with our names near the back.
The waiter arrives with our food almost as soon as we sit down.
The simulated candlelight flickers across the round black metal table in front of me. No tablecloths, and the food is regulation food—we’ll eat the
same thing here that we’d eat at home. That’s why it’s necessary to book in advance; so the nutrition personnel can get your meal to the right spot.
Obviously dining here doesn’t compare at all to the Match Banquet at City Hall, but it’s the second-nicest place I’ve ever eaten in my life.
“The food’s good and hot,” Xander says as the steam escapes from his foilware container. He peels back the lid and peers inside. “Look at my
portion. They want me to bulk up so they keep giving me more and more.”
I glance over at Xander’s portion of noodles with sauce. It is enormous. “Can you eat all of that?”
“Are you joking? Of course I can.” Xander acts offended.
I peel back the foilware and look at my portion. Next to Xander’s, it seems minuscule. Maybe I’m making this up, but my portions seem to be
smaller lately. I’m not sure why. The hiking and running on the tracker keep me fit. If anything, I should be getting more food, not less.
It must be my imagination.
The Official, looking even less interested than before, twists the noodles from his container on a fork and looks around the room at the other
patrons. His food is exactly the same as ours. I guess the myths about certain departments’ Officials eating better than anyone else aren’t true. Not
when they eat in public, anyway.
“How’s hiking going?” Xander asks me, popping a bite of noodles into his mouth.
“I like it,” I answer honestly. Except for today.
“Even more than swimming?” Xander teases me. “Not that you ever did much of that, I guess. Sitting there on the edge.”
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested