Crossed(8)By: Ally Condie
“I don’t even know what’s there,” I say. I have a blurry memory of coming into town on the long-distance train and walking down the street to the transport that brought us to the camp. Of almost-bare trees sparking the sky with their sparse red and gold leaves. But was that this town, or one near a different camp? It must have been earlier in the fall for the leaves to be so bright.
“The facilities are smaller here,” Xander says. “But they have what we did in the Borough—a music hall, a game center, a showing or two.”
A showing. I haven’t been to one in so long. For a moment I think that’s what I’ll choose; I even open my mouth to say it. I picture the theater going dark and my heart pounding as I wait for images to come rising onto the screen and music to swell through the speakers. Then I remember the firings and the tears in Ky’s eyes as the lights came up, and another memory flickers inside me. “Do they have a museum?”
Something dances in Xander’s eyes; I can’t tell what. Amusement? Surprise? I lean closer to try to see; Xander is not usually a mystery to me. He’s open, honest, a story I read again and again and love every time. But, in this moment, I can’t tell what he thinks. “Yes,” he says.
“I’d like to go there,” I say, “if that would be all right with you.”
It takes some time to walk into town and the smell of farming hangs thick in the air—burning wood and cool air and apples turning to cider. I feel a wave of affection for this place that I know has to do with the boy standing near me. Xander always makes every place, every person, better. The evening air holds the bittersweet tang of what might have been, and I catch my breath as Xander turns to look at me under the warm light of the street lamp. His eyes still speak of what might be.
The museum only has one floor and my heart sinks. It’s so small. What if things here are different than they are in Oria?
“We close in half an hour,” the man at the front desk says. His uniform seems threadbare and tired and so does he, as though he’s coming apart along the edges. He slides his hands along the top of the desk and pushes a datapod toward us. “Type in your names,” he says, and we do, the Official going first. Up close, the Official seems to have the same tired look about his eyes as the older man at the desk.
“Thank you,” I say, after I enter my name and slide the datapod back across the surface toward the man.
“We don’t have much to see,” he tells us.
“We don’t mind,” I say.
I wonder if our Official thinks it a strange choice to come here, but to my surprise he turns away almost immediately as we enter the museum’s main display room. As though he wants to give us space alone to talk. He walks to a glass-fronted case and leans forward, his hands behind his back in a posture that seems almost elegant in its casualness. A kind Official. Of course they must exist. Grandfather was one.
Relief washes over me as I find what I’m looking for almost immediately—a glassed-in map of the Society. It’s in the middle of the room. “There,” I say to Xander. “Should we look at that one?”
Xander nods. While I read the names of the rivers and Cities and Provinces, he shifts position next to me and runs his hand through his hair. Unlike Ky, who holds still in places like this, with Xander it’s always a series of confident movements, little waves of motion. It’s what makes him so effective in the games—the quirking of his eyebrows, the smiling, the way his hands continually move the cards.
“That display hasn’t been updated recently,” a voice behind us says, startling me. It’s the man from the desk. I glance around the room, looking for another worker. He sees me doing it and smiles almost mournfully. “The others are in the back closing up for the night. If you want to know anything, I’m the only one to ask.”
I look over at our Official. He still stands at the case nearest the entrance, his full interest seemingly absorbed by whatever is in the display. I look at Xander and try to send him a message without speaking. Please.
For a moment I think he doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to. I feel his fingers tighten around mine and see a hardening in his eyes and a slight clenching of his jaw. But then his expression softens and he nods. “Hurry,” he says, and he lets go and walks toward the Official on the other side of the room.
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed