Page 17

 Ally Condie

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At some point we both stopped pretending. “She’s not coming,” I said.
“Maybe she went to visit her grandfather,” Ky said.
I nodded.
“She’ll come home eventually,” Ky said. “So I don’t know why it matters so much that she’s not here now.”
Right then I knew we were feeling the same thing. I knew we loved Cassia, if not exactly the same way, then the same amount. And the amount was: completely. One hundred percent.
The Society said that numbers like that don’t exist but neither Ky nor I cared. I respected that about him, too. And I always admired the way he didn’t complain or get upset about anything even though life couldn’t have been easy for him in the Borough. Most people there saw him as a replacement for someone else.
That’s something I’ve always wondered about: What really happened to Matthew Markham? The Society told us that he died, but I don’t believe it.
On the night Patrick Markham went walking up and down the street in his sleepclothes, it was my father who went out and talked him into going back home before anyone called the Officials.
“He was out of his mind,” my father whispered to my mother on our front steps after he took Patrick home. I listened through the door. “He was saying things that couldn’t possibly be true.”
“What did he say?” my mother asked.
My father didn’t speak for a while. Right when I thought he wasn’t going to tell her, he said, “Patrick kept asking me, Why did I do it?”
My mother drew in her breath. I did too. They both turned around and saw me through the screen. “Go back to bed, Xander,” my mother said. “There’s nothing to worry about. Patrick’s home now.”
My father never told the Officials what Patrick said. And the neighborhood knew that Patrick wandered the street that night because he was grieving his son’s death—no need to give any of us a red tablet to explain that away. Besides, his distress reminded us all of the need to keep Anomalies away from everyone else.
But I remember what my father whispered to my mother later that night when they came down the hall together. “I think I saw something else in Patrick’s eyes besides grief,” my father said.
“What?” my mother asked.
“Guilt,” my father said.
“Because it was at his workplace that everything happened?” my mother asked. “He shouldn’t blame himself. He couldn’t have known.”
“No,” my father said. “It was guilt. Real, intelligent guilt.”
They went into their room and I couldn’t hear anything more.
I don’t think Patrick killed his son. But something happened there that I haven’t been able to puzzle out.
When my shift finally ends, I head for the small courtyard. Each medical wing has one, and it’s the only place where we have access to the outdoors. I’m lucky: The only other people here are a man and woman deep in conversation. I walk to the other side of the courtyard to give them privacy and turn my back so they can’t see me open the paper.
At first, all I do is stare at Cassia’s writing.
It’s beautiful. I wish I knew how to write. I wish she’d taught me. A little surge of bitterness goes through me like someone’s shot it right into my veins with a syringe. But I know how to get over the feeling: remember that it doesn’t do any good. I’ve been bitter before about losing her and it never gets me anywhere. More importantly, that’s not the kind of person I’ve spent my life trying to become.
It takes me only moments to decipher the code—a basic substitution cipher like we learned back when we were kids and the Society tested us to see who could sort the best. I wonder if anyone else figured it out before the message got to me. Did Ky read it?
Xander, Cassia wrote, I wanted to tell you that I’m fine, and to tell you some other things, too. First of all, don’t ever take one of the blue tablets. I know the Rising has taken the tablets away, but if you come across any of the blue somehow, get rid of them. They can kill.
Wait. I read it again. That can’t be right. Can it? The blue tablets are supposed to save us. The Rising would have told me if that weren’t true. Wouldn’t they? Do they know? Her next sentence tells me that they do.
It seems to be common knowledge within the Rising that the blue tablets are poisonous, but I didn’t want to leave it to chance that you would find out on your own. I tried to tell you on the port and I thought you understood, but lately I’ve been worried that you didn’t. The Society told us the tablets would save us, but they lied. The blue makes you stop and go still. If someone doesn’t save you, you die. I saw it happen in the canyons.
She saw it happen. So she does know.
There’s something about the blue. She tried to tell me. I feel sick. Why didn’t the Rising let me know? The tablets could have killed her. And it would have been my fault. How could I make that kind of mistake?
The couple in the courtyard is talking louder now. I turn my back to them. I keep reading, my mind racing. Her next sentence offers some relief: at least I wasn’t wrong about her being in the Rising.
I’m in the Rising.
I tried to tell you that, too.
I should have written to you earlier, but you were an Official. I didn’t want to risk getting you in trouble. And you’ve never seen my writing. How would you know that the message was from me, even if the Archivists said that it was? And then I realized a way that I could get a message to you—through Ky. He’s seen my writing. He can tell you that this is really from me.
I know that you’re in the Rising. I understood what you were trying to tell me on the port. I should have realized—you’ve always been the first of us to do the right thing.
There is something else that I wanted to tell you in person, that I didn’t want to put down in a letter. I wanted to speak to you face to face. But now I feel that I should write to you after all, in case it is still some time before we meet.
I know you love me. I love you, and I always will, but—
It ends there. Water damage has made the rest of the message crinkled and illegible. For a second, I see red. How could it be so conveniently destroyed right at the critical spot? What was she going to say? She said she would always love me, but—
Part of me wishes the message ended right there, before that last word.
What happened? Did the paper get ruined by accident? Or could Ky have done it on purpose? Ky played fair in the games. He’d better be playing fair now.
I fold the paper back up and put it into my pocket. In the minutes that I’ve been reading the note the light has gone. The sun must have dipped below the horizon beyond the walls of the barricade. The door to the courtyard opens and Lei comes out, right as the other couple goes inside.
“Carrow,” she says. “I was hoping I would find you.”
“Is something wrong?” I ask. I haven’t seen Lei in several days. Since she wasn’t part of the Rising from the beginning, she’s not working as a physic but instead as a general medical assistant, assigned to whatever team and shift needs her most.
“No,” she says. “I’m fine. It’s good to work with the patients. And you?”
“I’m fine, too,” I tell her.
Lei looks at me and I see the same question in her eyes that I know was in mine when I had to decide whether to vouch for her or not. She’s wondering if she can trust me, and if she really knows me.
“I wanted,” she says finally, “to ask you about the red mark that the patients have on their backs. What is it?”
“It’s a small infection of the nerves,” I say. “It happens along the dermatomes in the back or neck when the virus is activated.” I pause, but she’s part of the Rising now, so I can tell her everything. “The Rising told some of us to look for it because it’s a sure sign of the Plague.”
“And it only happens to people who have actually become ill.”
“Right,” I say. “The dead form of the virus they used in the immunizations doesn’t lead to any significant symptoms at all. But when a person is infected with the live Plague virus, it involves the nerves, resulting in that small red mark.”
“Have you seen anything unusual?” she asks. “Any variations on the basic virus?” She’s trying to figure out the Plague on her own and not taking what the Rising says for granted. Which should make me uneasy about having vouched for her, but it doesn’t.
“Not really,” I say. “Now and then we do have people who come in before they’re completely still. I had one who was talking to me while I gave him the cure.”
“What did he say?” Lei asks.
“He wanted me to promise him that he’d be all right,” I say. “So I did.”
She nods, and it strikes me how exhausted she looks. “Do you have a rest shift now?” I ask her.
“Not for a few hours,” she says. “It doesn’t matter much anyway. I haven’t slept well since he left. I can’t dream. In some ways, that’s the hardest part of having him gone.”
I understand. “Because if you can’t dream you can’t pretend that he’s still here,” I say. That’s what I do when I dream: I’m back in the Borough with Cassia.
“No,” Lei says. “I can’t.” She looks at me and I hear what she doesn’t say. Her Match is gone, and nothing is the same.
Then she leans a little closer and to my surprise she puts her hand on my face, very briefly. It’s the first time someone has done that since Cassia, and I have to resist leaning into Lei’s touch. “Your eyes are blue,” she says. Then she pulls her hand back. “So are his.” Her voice is lonely and full of longing: for him.
At first the area near the Museum seems empty, and I clench my jaw in frustration. How am I supposed to earn my way out of Central if no one’s trading? I need the commissions.
Be patient, I remind myself. You never know when someone might be watching, waiting to decide whether or not they want to speak up. I’m the only trader here right now, which won’t last long. Others will come.
I see movement out of the corner of my eye, and a girl with short blond hair and beautiful eyes comes around the corner of the Museum. Her hands are cupped in front of her, holding something. For a moment I think of Indie and her wasp nest, and how carefully she always carried it in the canyons.
The girl comes closer to me. “Can I talk to you?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say. Lately, we’ve mostly done away with the passwords of asking about the History of the Society. There’s not as much need for them anymore.
She holds out her hands and there, sitting inside of them, is a tiny brown-and-green bird.
It’s so strange that for a minute I stare at the bird, which does not move in any way, except for the wind tossing its feathers gently.
They’re a shade of green I recognize.
“I made it,” the girl says, “to thank you for the words you wrote for my brother. Here.”