Crossed(10)By: Ally Condie
“I only have tonight,” I say.
Before I can say anything more, the man takes the offering and leaves my hand empty. “Where are you going next?”
“The music hall,” I say.
“Check under your seat when you leave,” he whispers. “I will do the best I can.” Above us, the lights dim. His eyes do, too, and then, in the flat voice he first used he tells me, “We’re closing. You all need to go.”
Xander leans over during the music. “Did you get what you needed?” he asks, his voice deep and low and his breath brushing my neck. On his other side, the Official stares ahead. He taps his fingers on the armrest of his chair, keeping time to the music.
“I don’t know yet,” I tell him. The Archivist said to look under my seat when I left, not before, but I am still tempted to try earlier. “Thank you for helping me.”
“It’s what I do,” Xander says.
“I know it is,” I say. I remember the gifts he gave me: the painting, the blue tablets neatly rowed in their compartments. Even the compass, I realize, my gift from Ky, was something Xander saved for me once, on that day back in the Borough when they took the artifacts.
“But you don’t know everything about me,” Xander says. A mischievous grin crosses his face.
I glance down at his hand around mine, his thumb brushing across my skin, and then I look back up into his eyes. Though he still smiles there’s something serious about his expression now. “No,” I agree. “I don’t.”
We hold on to each other. The Society’s music plays around and over us, but our thoughts are always our own.
When I stand up, I brush my hand underneath the chair. Something’s there—a folded square of paper—and it comes away easily when I tug on it. Though I want to look now, I slip it into my pocket instead, wondering what I have, what I’ve traded for.
The Official walks us back to the main hall of the camp. When we go inside, he glances around the hall, at the long tables and the single hulking port, and when he looks back at me there’s an expression in his eyes that I think might be pity. I lift my chin.
“You have ten minutes to say good-bye,” the Official tells us. His voice, now that we are back in the camp, sounds sharper than it did before. He pulls out his datapod and nods to the Officer waiting to take me back to my cabin.
Xander and I both take a deep breath at the same time and then we laugh together. I like the sound of it, our laughter echoing around the almost empty hall. “What was he looking at for so long?” I ask Xander, nodding toward the Official.
“A display on the history of Matching,” Xander says quietly. He looks at me as though there’s some meaning there I should understand, but I don’t. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the Official.
“Nine minutes,” he says without looking up.
“I still can’t believe they let you come,” I tell Xander. “I’m so glad they did.”
“The timing was optimal,” Xander says. “I’m leaving Oria. I’m only passing through Tana on my way to Camas Province.”
“What?” I blink in surprise. Camas is one of the Border Provinces, right along the edge of the Outer Provinces. I feel strangely untethered. Much as I love looking at the stars, I never learned to guide by them. I mark my course by people: Xander, a point on the map; my parents, another point; Ky, the final destination. When Xander moves, the geography of everything changes.
“I have my final work position,” Xander says. “It’s in Central. Like yours. But they want me to have experience in the Border Provinces first.”
“Why?” I ask him softly.
Xander’s tone is sober. “There are things I need to learn there for my work assignment that I can’t learn anywhere else.”
“And then to Central,” I say. The idea of Xander in Central feels right and final. Of course he would belong in the capital of the Society. Of course they would see his potential and bring him there. “You’re really leaving.”
An expression of what looks like anger flashes momentarily across his face. “Do you have any idea what it’s like being left?”
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed