After I hurry and eat my breakfast, I make my train with seconds to spare and sit back. I may not have dreamed about Xander while I slept, but I can
daydream about him now. Looking out the window and thinking about how he looked last night in his suit, I watch the Boroughs slide by on my way
into the City. The green has not yet given way to stone and concrete when I notice white flakes drifting through the sky.
Everyone else notices them, too.
“Snow? In June?” the woman next to me asks.
“It can’t be,” a man across the aisle mutters.
“But look at it,” she says.
“It can’t be,” the man says again. People twist, turn to the windows, looking agitated. Can something wrong be true?
Sure enough, little white puffs drift past on their way to the ground. There is something strange about this snow, but I’m not exactly sure what. I find
myself holding in a smile as I look at all the worried faces around me. Should I be worried, too? Perhaps. But it’s so pretty, so unexpected, and, for
the moment, so unexplainable.
The air train comes to a stop. The doors open and a few pieces drift inside. I catch one on my hand, but it does not melt. The mystery of it does,
however, when I see the little brown seed at the center of the snow.
“It’s a cottonwood seed,” I tell everyone confidently. “It’s not snow.”
“Of course,” the man says, sounding glad to have an explanation. Snow in June would be atypical. Cottonwood seeds are not.
“But why are there so many?” another woman asks, still worried.
In a moment, we have our answer. One of the new passengers sitting down brushes white from his hair and plainclothes. “We’re tearing out the
cottonwood grove along the river,” he explains. “The Society wants to plant some better trees there.”
Everyone else takes his word for it; they know nothing about trees. They mutter about being glad it isn’t a sign of another Warming; thank
goodness the Society has things under control as usual. But thanks to my mother, who can’t help talking about her work as a caretaker at the
Arboretum, I know that his explanation does make sense. You can’t use cottonwood trees for fruit or fuel. And their seeds are a nuisance. They fly
far, catch on anything, try to grow everywhere. Weed trees, my mother says. Still, she harbors a particular affinity for them because of the seeds,
which are small and brown but cloaked in beauty, in these thin white tendrils of cotton. Little cloudy parachutes to slow their fall, to help them fly, to
catch the wind and glide them somewhere they might grow.
I look at the seed resting in the palm of my hand. There is still mystery in it after all, in that little brown core. I’m not sure what to do with it, so I tuck
it into my pocket next to my tablet container.
The almost-snow reminds me of a line from a poem we studied this year in Language and Literacy: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It
is one of my favorites of all the Hundred Poems, the ones our Society chose to keep, back when they decided our culture was too cluttered. They
created commissions to choose the hundred best of everything: Hundred Songs, Hundred Paintings, Hundred Stories, Hundred Poems. The rest
were eliminated. Gone forever. For the best, the Society said, and everyone believed because it made sense. How can we appreciate anything
fully when overwhelmed with too much?
My own great-grandmother was one of the cultural historians who helped select the Hundred Poems almost seventy years ago. Grandfather has
told me the story a thousand times, how his mother had to help decide which poems to keep and which to lose forever. She used to sing him parts
of the poems as lullabies. She whispered, sang them, he said, and I tried to remember them after she had gone.
After she had gone. Tomorrow, my grandfather will go, too.
As we leave the last of the cottonwood seeds behind, I think about that poem and how much I like it. I like the words deep and sleep and the way
they rhyme and repeat; I think to myself that this poem would be a good lullaby if you listened to the rhythm instead of the words. Because if you
listened to the words you wouldn’t feel rested: Miles to go before I sleep.
“It’s a numbers sort today,” my supervisor, Norah, tells me.
I sigh a little but Norah doesn’t respond. She scans my card and hands it back. She doesn’t ask about the Match Banquet, even though she has
to know from my information update that it happened last night. But that’s nothing new. Norah barely interacts with me because I’m one of the best
sorters. In fact, it’s been almost three months since my last error, which was the last time the two of us had a real conversation.
“Wait,” Norah says as I turn toward my station. “Your scancard indicates that it’s almost time for your formal sorting test.”
I nod. I’ve been thinking about this for months; not as much as I thought about my Match Banquet, but often. Even though some of these number
sorts are boring, sorting itself can lead to much more interesting work positions. Perhaps I could be a Restoration supervisor, like my father. When
he was my age, his work activity was information sorting, too. And so was Grandfather’s, and of course there is my great-grandmother, the one who
participated in one of the greatest sortings of all when she was on the Hundred Committee.
The people who oversee the Matching also get their start in sorting, but I’m not interested in that. I like my stories and information one step
removed; I don’t want to be in charge of sorting real people.
“Make sure you’re ready,” Norah says, but both she and I know that I already am.
Yellow light slants through the windows near our stations in the sorting center. I cast a shadow across the other workers’ stations as I pass by. No
one looks up.
I slip into my tiny station, which is just wide enough for a table and a chair and a sorting screen. The thin gray walls rise up on either side of me
and I can’t see anyone else. We are like the microcards in the research library at Second School—each of us neatly tucked into a slot. The
government has computers that can do sorts much faster than we can, of course, but we’re still important. You never know when technology might
That’s what happened to the society before ours. Everyone had technology, too much of it, and the consequences were disastrous. Now, we have
the basic technology we need—ports, readers, scribes—and our information intake is much more specific. Nutrition specialists don’t need to know
how to program air trains, for example, and programmers, in turn, don’t need to know how to prepare food. Such specialization keeps people from
becoming overwhelmed. We don’t need to understand everything. And, as the Society reminds us, there’s a difference between knowledge and
technology. Knowledge doesn’t fail us.
I slide my scancard and the sort begins. Even though I like word association or picture or sentence sorts the best, I’m good at the number ones,
too. The screen tells me what patterns I’m supposed to find and the numbers begin to scroll up on the screen, like little white soldiers on a black
field waiting for me to mow them down. I touch each one and begin to sort them out, pulling them aside into different boxes. The tapping of my
fingers makes a low, soft sound, almost as silent as snow falling.
And I create a storm. The numbers fly into their spots like flakes driven by the wind.
Halfway through, the pattern we are looking for changes. The system tracks how soon we notice the changes and how quickly we adapt our sorts.
You never know when a change will happen. Two minutes later, the pattern changes again, and once more I catch it on the very first line of numbers.
I don’t know how, but I always anticipate the shift in pattern before it happens.
When I sort, there is only time to think about what I see in front of me. So there in my little gray space, I don’t think about Xander. I don’t wish for
the feel of the green dress against my skin or the taste of chocolate cake on my tongue. I don’t think of my grandfather eating his last meal tomorrow
night at the Final Banquet. I don’t think of snow in June or other things that cannot be, yet somehow are. I don’t picture the sun dazzling me or the
moon cooling me or the maple tree in our yard turning gold, green, red. I will think of all of those things and more later. But not when I sort.
I sort and sort and sort until there is no data left for me. Everything is clear on my screen. I am the one who makes it go blank.
When I ride the air train back to Mapletree Borough, the cottonwood seeds are gone. I want to tell my mother about them, but when I get home she
and my father and Bram have already left for their leisure hours. A message for me blinks on the port: We’re sorry to have missed you, Cassia, it
flashes. Have a good night.
A beep sounds in the kitchen; my meal has arrived. The foilware container slides through the food delivery slot. I pick it up quickly, in time to hear
the sound of the nutrition vehicle trundling along its track behind the houses in the Borough.
My dinner steams as I open it up. We must have a new nutrition personnel director. Before, the food was always lukewarm when it arrived. Now
it’s piping hot. I eat in a hurry, burning my mouth a little, because I know what I want to do with this rare empty time in this almost-vacant house. I’m
never really alone; the port hums in the background, keeping track, keeping watch. But that’s all right. I need it for what I’m going to do. I want to look
at the microcard without my parents or Bram glancing over my shoulder. I want to read more about Xander before I see him tonight.
When I insert the microcard, the humming takes on a more purposeful sound. The portscreen brightens and my heart beats faster in anticipation,
even though I know Xander so well. What has the Society decided I should know about him, the person I’ll spend most of my life with?
Do I know everything about him as I think I do, or is there something I’ve missed?
“Cassia Reyes, the Society is pleased to present you with your Match.”
I smile as Xander’s face appears on the portscreen immediately following the recorded message. It’s a good picture of him. As always, his smile
looks bright and real, his blue eyes kind. I study his face closely, pretending that I’ve never seen this picture before; that I have only had a glimpse of
him once, last night at the Banquet. I study the planes of his face, the look of his lips. He is handsome. I’d never dared think that he might be my
Match, of course, but now that it’s happened I am interested. Intrigued. A little scared about how this might change our friendship, but mostly just
I reach up to touch the words Courtship Guidelines on the screen but before I do Xander’s face darkens and then disappears. The portscreen
beeps and the voice says again, “Cassia Reyes, the Society is pleased to present you with your Match.”
My heart stops, and I can’t believe what I see. A face comes back into view on the port in front of me.
It is not Xander.
What?” Completely startled, I touch the screen and the face dissolves under my fingertips, pixelating into specks that look like dust. Words appear,
but before I can read them the screen goes completely blank. Again.
“What’s going on?” I say out loud.
The portscreen stays blank. I feel blank, too. This is a thousand times worse than the empty screen last night. I knew what it meant then. I have no
idea what it means now. I’ve never heard of this happening.
I don’t understand. The Society doesn’t make mistakes.
But what else could this be? No one has two Matches.
“Cassia?” Xander calls to me through the door.
“I’m coming,” I call out, tearing the microcard from the port and shoving it into my pocket. I take one deep breath, and then I open the door.
“So, I learned from your microcard that you like cycling,” Xander says formally as I close the door behind me, making me laugh a little in spite of
what just happened. I hate cycling the most out of all the exercise options, and he knows it. We argue about it all the time; I think it’s stupid to go
riding on something that doesn’t move, spinning your wheels endlessly. He points out that I like to run on the tracker, which is almost the same thing.
“It’s different,” I tell him, but I can’t explain why.
“Did you spend all day staring at my face on the portscreen?” he asks. He’s still joking, but suddenly I can’t catch my breath. He viewed his
microcard, too. Was my face the one he saw? It feels so strange to be hiding something, especially from Xander.
“Of course not,” I say, trying to tease back. “It’s Saturday, remember? I had work to do.”
“I did, too, but that didn’t stop me. I read all your stats and reviewed all the courtship guidelines.”
He unknowingly throws me a lifeline with those words. I am not drowning in worry anymore. I am neck deep and it still washes over me in cold
waves, but now I can breathe. Xander still thinks we are Matched. Nothing strange happened to him when he viewed his microcard. That’s
something, at least.
“You read all the guidelines?”
“Of course. Didn’t you?”
“Not yet.” I feel stupid admitting this, but Xander laughs again.
“They’re not very interesting,” he says. “Except for one.” He winks at me significantly.
“Oh?” I say, distracted. I see other youth our age mingling and gathering on our street, walking to the game center like us. They’re waving, calling,
wearing the same clothes we wear. But there’s a difference tonight. Some are watching. Some are watched: me, and Xander.
The others’ eyes glance at us, hold, flicker away, look back.
I’m not used to it. Xander and I are normal, healthy citizens, part of this group. Not outsiders.
But I feel separated now, as though a clear thin wall rises up distinctly between myself and those staring at me. We can see each other, but we
can’t cross over.
“Are you all right?” Xander asks.
Too late, I realize that I should have responded to Xander’s comment and asked him which guideline he found interesting. If I can’t pull myself
together soon, he’ll know something’s wrong. We know each other too well.
Xander reaches for my elbow as we turn the corner and leave Mapletree Borough. When we’ve walked a few steps more, he slides his hand
down my arm and interlaces his fingers with mine. He leans closer to my ear. “One of the guidelines said that we are allowed to express physical
affection. If we want.”
And I do want. Even with all the stress I feel, the touch of his hand against mine with nothing to separate us is still welcome and new. I’m surprised
that Xander is so natural at this. And as we walk, I recognize the emotion that I see on some of the faces of the girls staring at us. It’s jealousy, pure
and simple. I relax a little, because I can understand why. None of us ever thought we could have golden, charismatic, clever Xander. We always
knew he would be Matched with another girl in another City, another Province.
But he’s not. He’s Matched with me.
I keep my fingers locked in his as we walk toward the game center. Maybe, if I don’t let go, it will prove that we are meant to be Matched. That the
other face on the screen means nothing; that it was simply a momentary malfunction of the microcard.
Except. The face I saw, the face that was not Xander: I knew him, too.
There’s an opening over here,” Xander says, stopping at a game table in the middle of the room. Apparently the other youth in our Borough feel the
same way we do about this Saturday’s recreation options, because the game center is crowded with people, including most of our friends. “Do you
want to go in, Cassia?”
“No thanks,” I say. “I’ll watch this round.”
“What about you?” he asks Em, my best girlfriend.
“You go ahead,” she tells him, and then we both laugh as he grins and spins around to give his scancard to the Official monitoring the game.
Xander’s always been this way about the games—completely alive with energy and anticipation. I remember playing with him when we were little,
how we both played hard and didn’t let the other win.
I wonder when I stopped liking the games. It’s hard to remember.
Now, Xander settles himself at the table, saying something that makes everyone else laugh. I smile to myself. It really is more fun to watch him
than to play yourself. And this game, Check, is one of his favorites. It’s a game of skill, the kind he likes best.
“So,” Em says softly, the sounds of laughter and talking covering her words from everyone but me, “What is it like? Knowing your Match?”
I knew she would ask me this; I know it’s what everyone would like to know. And I answer the only way I can. I tell her the truth. “It’s Xander,” I say.
Em nods in understanding. “All this time none of us thought we could ever end up with one another,” she says. “And then it happens.”
“I know,” I say.
“And Xander,” she says. “He’s the best of us all.” Someone calls her name and she drifts toward another table.
As I watch, Xander picks up the gray pieces and puts them out on the gray and black squares of the board. Most of the colors inside the game
center are drab: gray walls, brown plainclothes for the students, dark blue plainclothes for those who have already received their permanent work
positions. Any brightness in the room comes from us: from the shades of our hair, from our laughter. When Xander sets down his last piece, he
looks across the board at me and says, right in front of his opponents, “I’m going to win this one for my Match.” Everyone turns to stare at me and
he grins mischievously.
I roll my eyes at him, but I’m still blushing a few moments later when someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around.
An Official waits behind me. “Cassia Reyes?” she asks.
“Yes,” I answer, glancing over at Xander. He’s engrossed in making his move and doesn’t see what’s happening.
“Could you come outside with me for a moment? It won’t take long, and it’s nothing to worry about. Merely procedural.”
Does the Official know what happened when I tried to view the microcard?
“Of course,” I say, because there’s no other answer when an Official asks you for something. I look back at my friends. Their eyes are on the
game in front of them and on the players moving the pieces. No one notices when I leave. Not even Xander. The crowd swallows me up and I follow
the Official’s white uniform out of the room.
“Let me reassure you that you have nothing to worry about,” the Official tells me, smiling. Her voice sounds kind. She leads me to the small
greenspace outside the center. Even though being with an Official adds to my nervousness, the open air feels good after the crowd inside.
We walk across the neatly cut grass toward a metal bench that sits directly underneath a street lamp. There’s not another person in sight. “You
don’t even have to tell me what happened,” the Official says. “I know. The face on the microcard wasn’t the right one, was it?”
She is kind: she didn’t make me say the words. I nod.
“You must be very worried. Have you told anyone what happened?”
“No,” I say. She gestures for me to sit down on the bench and so I do.
“Excellent. Let me set your mind at ease.” She looks directly into my eyes. “Cassia, absolutely nothing has changed. You are still Matched with
“Thank you,” I say, and I’m so grateful that saying it once isn’t enough. “Thank you.” The confusion leaves me and I finally, finally, finally can relax. I
sigh and she laughs.
“And may I congratulate you on your Match? It’s caused quite a stir. People are talking about it all over the Province. Perhaps even all through the
Society. It hasn’t happened in many years.” She pauses briefly and then continues. “I don’t suppose you brought your microcard with you tonight?”
“Actually, I did.” I pull it out of my pocket. “I was worried—I didn’t want anyone else to see …”
She holds out her hand, and I drop the microcard into her outstretched palm. “Perfect. I’ll take care of this.” She places it inside her small Official’s
case. I catch a glimpse of her tablet container and notice that it is larger than standard issue. She sees my glance. “Higher-level Officials carry
extra,” she says. “In case of an emergency.” I nod, and she continues. “But that’s not something you need to worry about. Now, this is for you.” She
takes another microcard from a side pocket inside the case. “I’ve checked it myself. Everything is in order.”
Neither of us says anything for a few moments after I slip the new microcard into my pocket. At first, I look around at the grass and the metal
benches and the small concrete fountain in the center of the greenspace, which sends up silvery wet showers of water every few seconds. Then I
peek over at the woman next to me, trying to catch a glimpse of the insignia on her shirt pocket. I know she is an Official, because she wears white
clothing, but I am not sure which Department of Society she represents.
“I’m part of the Matching Department, authorized to deal with information malfunctions,” the Official says, noticing my glance. “Fortunately, we
don’t have much work to do. Since the Matching is so important to the Society, it’s very well regulated.”
Her words remind me of a paragraph in the official Matching material: The goal of Matching is twofold: to provide the healthiest possible future
citizens for our Society and to provide the best chances for interested citizens to experience successful Family Life. It is of the utmost
importance to the Society that the Matches be as optimal as possible.
“I’ve never heard of a mistake like this before.”
“I’m afraid it does happen now and then. Not often.” She is silent for a moment, and then she asks the question that I do not want to hear: “Did you
recognize the other person whose face you saw?”
Suddenly and irrationally I am tempted to lie. I want to say that I have no idea, that I have never seen that face before. I look over at the fountain
again and as I watch the rise and fall of the water I know that my pause gives me away. So I answer.
“Can you tell me his name?”
She already knows all of this, of course, so there is nothing to do but tell the truth. “Yes. Ky Markham. That’s what was so strange about the whole
thing. The odds of a mistake being made, and of a mistake being made with someone else I know—”
“Are virtually nonexistent,” she agrees. “That’s true. It makes us wonder if the error was intentional, some kind of joke. If we find the person, we will
punish them severely. It was a cruel thing to do. Not only because it was upsetting and confusing for you, but also because of Ky.”
“Does he know?”
“No. He has no idea. The reason I said it was cruel to use him as part of this prank is because of what he is.”
“What he is?” Ky Markham moved to our Borough back when we were ten. He is good-looking and quiet. He’s very still. He is not a troublemaker.
I don’t see him as much as I once did; last year, he received his work position early and he no longer goes to Second School with the rest of the
youth in our Borough.
The Official nods and leans a little closer, even though there is no one around to hear us. The light from the street lamp above shines down, hot,
and I shift a little. “This is confidential information, but Ky Markham could never be your Match. He will never be anyone’s Match.”
“He’s chosen to be a Single, then.” I’m not sure why this information is confidential. Lots of people in our school have chosen to be single. There’s
even a paragraph about it in the official Matching material: Please consider carefully whether you are a good candidate to be Matched.
Remember, Singles are equally important in the Society. As you are aware, the current Leader of the Society is a Single. Both Matched and
Single citizens experience full and satisfying lives. However, children are only allowed to be born to those who choose to be Matched.
She leans closer to me. “No. He’s not a Single. Ky Markham is an Aberration.”
Ky Markham is an Aberration?
Aberrations live among us; they’re not dangerous like Anomalies, who have to be separated from Society. Though Aberrations usually acquire
their status due to an Infraction, they are protected; their identities aren’t usually common knowledge. Only the Officials in the Societal Classification
Department and other related fields have access to such information.
I don’t ask my question out loud, but she knows what I am thinking. “I’m afraid so. It’s through no fault of his own. But his father committed an
Infraction. The Society couldn’t overlook a factor like that, even when they allowed the Markhams to adopt Ky. He had to retain his classification as
an Aberration, and, as such, was ineligible to be entered in the Matching pool.” She sighs. “We don’t make the microcards until a few hours before
the Banquet. It’s likely the error occurred then. We’re already checking to see who had access to your microcard, who could have added Ky’s
picture before the Banquet.”
“I hope you find out who did it,” I say. “You’re right. It’s cruel.”
“We’ll 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 pull 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 call a meeting if you would like. I could explain to your parents and
Xander and his parents what happened—”
“No!” I say forcefully. “No. I don’t want anyone to know, except—”
I don’t answer, and suddenly her hand is on my arm. She does not grip me roughly, but I can tell that she will wait out the answer to her brief
“My grandfather,” I admit. “He’s almost eighty.”
She lets go of my arm. “When is his birthday?”
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. Still. 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 will tell him that he will be cited if he mentions this to anyone else. And that’s certainly not something he wants now. He could lose
his preservation privileges.”
The Official smiles, stands up. “Is there anything else I can help you with tonight?”
I am glad the interview is over. Now that all is right again with my world, I want to take my place back inside that room full 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 all the
way to the door, all the way down the halls and back into the room and over to the table where Xander still 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.
Still, 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 killed them all. 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 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 all 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 all wait for the switch to be thrown, for the instructor to tell us what comes next. My mind begins to wander, to escape this place where we all
hold still. Are there other unknown Aberrations standing here in this room, swimming in this water? Water. I recall 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 still 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 tell them. They’ll cite me for losing it. Don’t say anything. I’ll 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 tells 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 small; time is kept for us. But I still 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,
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 tell,” I said, tearing my eyes away from the water. A boy stood next to me; tanned skin, dark hair. A new boy. That was all I had time to
notice before he vanished, slipping under the surface in one quick motion.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested