“I’m still not sure,” she says softly, almost to herself. Then she straightens up. “We went to another Arboretum to look at some crops. After that, we
had to go to some Farmlands. It all took some time.”
“But now everything’s back to normal, right?”
“For the most part. I have to write a formal report and submit it to the Officials in charge of the other Arboretum.”
“What’s the report about?”
“I’m afraid that’s confidential information,” my mother says regretfully.
We both fall silent, but it is a good silence, a mother-daughter one. Her thoughts are far away somewhere, perhaps back at the Arboretum.
Maybe she’s writing the report in her mind. That’s all right with me, though. I relax and let my own thoughts go where they want, which is to Ky.
“Thinking about Xander?” my mother says, giving me a knowing smile. “I always daydreamed about your father, too.”
I smile back. There’s no point telling her that I’m thinking about the wrong boy. No, not the wrong boy. Ky may be an Aberration but there’s nothing
about him that is defective. It’s our Government and their classification system and all their systems that are wrong. Including the Matching System.
But if the system is wrong and false and unreal, then what about the love between my parents? If their love was born because of the Society, can
it still be real and good and right? This is the question that I can’t get out of my mind. I want the answer to be yes. That their love is true. I want it to
have beauty and reality independent of anything else.
“I should get ready to go to the game center,” I tell her, and she yawns. “You should go to sleep. We can talk more tomorrow.”
“Well, maybe I’ll rest for a little while,” she says. We both stand up: I take her foilware container to the recycling bin for her and she carries my
water bottle to the sterilizer for me. “Come say good-bye before you leave, though, won’t you?”
My mother goes into her room and I slip into mine. I have a few minutes before I’m due to meet everyone. Do I have time to read a little more of
Ky’s story? I decide that I do. I pull the crumpled napkin from my pocket.
I want to know more about Ky before I see him tonight. I feel as if the two of us are our true selves when we hike in the trees on the hills. When
we’re with everyone else on Saturday nights, though, it becomes difficult. We go through a forest that is complicated and full of tangles and there
are no stone cairns to guide us except the ones we build ourselves.
Sitting on my bed to read, I glance again at the spot in my closet where I kept the compact. I feel a sharp pain of loss and turn back to Ky’s story.
But as I read and the tears slip down my cheeks, I realize that I do not know anything about loss.
In the middle of the crease Ky drew a village, little houses, little people. But all the people lie prone, on their backs. No one stands straight, except
the two Kys. The young one’s hands are no longer empty; they carry something. One hand holds the word Mother, slumping over the edge of his
hand, shaped a little like a body. The top of the t tips up, like an arm flung askew.
The other hand holds the word Father, and that word lies still too. And the young Ky’s shoulders are bent with the weight of these two little words,
and his face is still tipped to the sky, where I see now the rain has turned into something dark, something deadly and solid. Ammunition, I think. I’ve
seen it in the showing.
The older Ky has turned his face away from the village in the middle, from the other boy. His hands are no longer open. They are clenched.
Behind him, people in Official uniforms watch him. His lips curve in a smile that never touches his eyes; he wears plainclothes, a line indicating the
crisp crease where he’s ironed them neat.
at first when the rain fell
from the sky so wide and deep
it smelled like sage, my favorite smell
I went up on the plateau to watch it come
to see the gifts it always brought
but this rain changed from blue to black
There’s a drought of Officials at the game center, even though the center itself brims with people playing, winning, losing. I see three Officials,
watching the largest of the game tables. They look earnest and on edge in their white uniforms, their faces showing more stress than usual. This is
strange. Usually, we have twelve or more lower-level Officials in the center, keeping the peace, keeping score. Where are the rest of them tonight?
Somewhere, things aren’t going quite right.
But here, as far as I’m concerned, at least one thing has. Ky’s with us. I look at him once as we weave our way through the masses of people,
following Xander, hoping that Ky understands from that look that I have read his story, that I care. He walks right behind me and I want to reach back
and take his hand but there are too many people. The one thing I can do for Ky is to help keep him safe, to hold onto what I want to say until there is
a good place to say it. And to remember the words he wrote, the pictures he made, even though I wish that part of the story had never happened to
His parents died. He saw it happen. Death came from the sky, and that’s what he remembers. Every time it rains.
Xander stops and so we all do, too. To my surprise, he gestures to a game table where the games played are one-on-one. Games Xander
doesn’t usually play. He likes to take on a group, to win when the stakes are higher and more players are involved. It’s a better test of his abilities—
more challenging, more variables. Less personal. “You want to play?” Xander asks.
I turn to see who he means.
“All right,” Ky says without hesitation, nothing revealed in his voice. He keeps his eyes on Xander, waiting for the next move.
“What kind of game do you want to play? Skill or chance?” Is there a trace of challenge in Xander’s voice? His face remains perfectly even, as
“I don’t care,” Ky answers.
“How about a game of chance, then,” Xander says, which surprises me again. Xander hates games of chance. He much prefers ones that involve
Em and Piper and I stay, watching, as Xander and Ky sit down and scan their cards into the datapod at the table. Xander sets out the playing
cards, red with black markings in the center, first stacking the edges even with two sharp hits of the deck against the metal. “Want to go first?”
Xander asks Ky, and Ky nods and reaches to draw.
“What game are they playing?” someone asks next to me. Livy. She’s here for Ky, I’m sure of it, her eyes possessive as she watches his hands
over the cards.
His hands are not yours to watch, I think to her, and I remember again that they aren’t mine, either. I should be watching Xander. I should be
hoping for Xander to win.
“Prisoner’s dilemma,” Em says next to me. “They’re playing prisoner’s dilemma.”
“What’s that?” Livy asks.
She doesn’t know the game? I turn to her in surprise. It’s one of the simplest, most common games. Em tries to explain it to Livy in a low voice so
she doesn’t disturb the players. “They each put down a card at the same time. If they both have an even card, they each get two points. If they’re
both odd, then they each get one point.”
Livy interrupts Em. “What if one has even and one has odd?”
“If one is even and one is odd, the person who puts down the odd card gets three points. The person who puts down the even one gets zero.”
Livy’s eyes fix on Ky’s face. Jealously, I think that even if she sees him in the same amount of detail that I do—which I doubt—she doesn’t know
anything about him. Would she still be so interested in Ky if she knew about his status as an Aberration?
I have a thought that strikes me cold: Would I be so interested if I didn’t know that he’s an Aberration? I never paid Ky particular attention before I
knew about his classification.
And before you saw his face on the microcard, I remind myself. Naturally, that piqued your interest. Besides. You weren’t supposed to be
interested in anyone until you were Matched.
I feel a little sick thinking that Livy might see Ky’s true worth in a way that is somehow more pure; she’s simply interested in him. No hidden
reasons. No tangles. No extra layers beneath her basic attraction to him.
But then again, I realize, I never know. She could be hiding something, as I am. We could all be hiding something.
I turn my attention back to the game and I watch Ky’s and Xander’s faces closely. Neither one of them blinks an eye, pauses before a move,
shows their hand.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Ky and Xander end the rounds with an even number of points. They’ve each won, and lost, an equal amount of hands.
“Let’s go walk around for a minute,” Xander says, reaching for me. I want to look at Ky before I twine my fingers with Xander’s, but I don’t. I have to
play the game, too. Surely Ky will understand.
But would Xander? If he knew about Ky and me, and the words we share on the Hill?
I push the thought away as I walk from the table with Xander. Livy immediately slides into his place and starts up a conversation with Ky.
Xander and I go out in the hallway alone. I wonder if he’s about to kiss me and I wonder what I’m going to do if he does, but then he whispers to
me instead, his words soft and close. “Ky throws the games.”
“He loses the games on purpose.”
“You tied. He didn’t lose.” I don’t know what Xander’s getting at.
“Not tonight. Because it wasn’t a game of skill. Those are the ones he usually throws. I’ve been watching him for a while. He’s careful about how
he does it, but I’m sure that’s what he’s doing.”
I stare back at Xander, not sure how to respond.
“It’s easy to throw a game of skill, especially when it’s a big group. Or a game like Check, when you can put your pieces in harm’s way and make
it look natural. But today, in a game of chance, one-on-one, he didn’t lose. He’s no fool. He knew that I was watching.” Xander grins. Then his face
gets puzzled. “What I don’t understand is why?”
“Why would he throw so many games? He knows the Officials watch us. He knows they’re looking for people who can play well. He knows our
play probably influences what vocations they assign us. It doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t he want them to know how smart he is? Because he is
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