Crossed(7)By: Ally Condie
A boot appears now at the edge of the grave. I know whose it is by the notches carved around the edge of the sole—a method some use out here to mark time survived. No one else has as many cuts, as many days tracked. “You’re not dead,” Vick says.
“No,” I say, pushing myself to my feet. I spit dirt out of my mouth and reach for the shovel.
Vick digs next to me. Neither of us talk about the people we won’t be able to bury today. The ones who tried to climb to the snow.
Back in the village, I hear the decoys calling to each other and to us. Three more dead here, they cry out, and then fall silent as they look up.
Not one of the decoys who went up to the plateau will be coming back. I find myself hoping the impossible, that at least they quenched their thirst before the fire. That they had mouths full of clean, cold snow when they died.
Xander, here, in front of me. Blond hair, blue eyes, smile so warm that I can’t stop from reaching out to him even before the Official has given us permission to touch.
“Cassia,” Xander says, and doesn’t wait, either. He pulls me into his arms and we both hold on tight. I don’t even try to keep myself from burying my face against his chest, against his clothes that smell like home and him.
“I’ve missed you,” Xander tells me, his voice rumbling above my head. It sounds deeper. He seems stronger. It’s such a good and glorious feeling, this being with him, that I lean back and grab his face in both my hands and pull him down and kiss him on the cheek, in a place dangerously near his mouth. When I step away we both have tears in our eyes. It is such a strange sight, Xander with tears, that I catch my breath.
“I’ve missed you,” I tell him, and I wonder how much of the ache inside me comes from having lost Xander, too.
The Official behind Xander smiles. Our reunion lacks nothing. He steps away a little, discreet, giving us space, and enters something into his datapod. Probably something like: Both subjects expressed appropriate reaction upon seeing each other.
“How?” I ask Xander. “How are you here?” Though it’s so good to see him, it’s almost too good. Is this another test from my Official?
“It’s been five months since our Matching,” he says. “All the Matchees from our month are having their first face-to-face meetings. The Department hasn’t eliminated that yet.” He smiles down at me, something sad in his eyes. “I pointed out that we don’t live near each other anymore, so we deserved a meeting, too. And it’s customary to meet where the girl lives.”
He didn’t say at the girl’s home. He understands. He’s right. I live here. But this work camp is not home. I could call Oria home, because Xander lives there, and Em, and because I began there. Although I haven’t lived there, I could also call the new place in Keya home, because my parents and Bram live there.
And there is a place where Ky lives that I think of as home, even though I cannot name it and don’t know where, exactly, it is.
Xander reaches for my hand. “We’re allowed to go on an outing,” he says. “If you’d like.”
“Of course,” I say, laughing; I can’t help it. Minutes ago I stood scrubbing my hands and feeling alone and now Xander is here. It’s as though I have walked by the lighted windows of a house in the Borough, pretending I don’t care about what I’ve lost and left behind, and then suddenly I’m in that golden-warm room without even having lifted my hand to open the door.
The Official gestures toward the exit, and I realize he’s not the same Official who accompanied us on our outing to the dining hall back in the Borough. That was a special arrangement for Xander and me, arranged in place of our first port-to-port communication since we already knew each other. The Official who escorted us that night was young. This one is, too, but kinder looking. He notices my glance and inclines his head, a gesture formal and polite but warm somehow. “There are no longer specific Officials assigned to each Match,” he tells me in an explanatory tone. “It’s more efficient.”
“It’s too late for a meal,” Xander says. “But we can go into town. Where would you like to go?”
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed