Read Matched Page 1


  I can’t save it for later. It is now, or never.

  I have just popped the last bite in my mouth when the announcer says, “We are ready to announce the Matches. ” I swal ow in surprise, and for a second, I feel an unexpected surge of anger: I didn’t get to savor my last bite of cake.

  “Lea Abbey. ”

  Lea twists her bracelet furiously as she stands, waiting to see the face flash on the screen. She is careful to hold her hands low, though, so that the boy seeing her in another City Hal somewhere wil only see the beautiful blond girl and not her worried hands, twisting and turning that bracelet.

  It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.

  There is a system, of course, to the Matching. In City Hal s across the country, al fil ed with people, the Matches are announced in alphabetical order according to the girls’ last names. I feel slightly sorry for the boys, who have no idea when their names wil be cal ed, when they must stand for girls in other City Hal s to receive them as Matches. Since my last name is Reyes, I wil be somewhere at the end of the middle. The beginning of the end.

  The screen flashes with the face of a boy, blond and handsome. He smiles as he sees Lea’s face on the screen where he is, and she smiles, too.

  “Joseph Peterson,” the announcer says. “Lea Abbey, you have been matched with Joseph Peterson. ” The hostess presiding over the Banquet brings Lea a smal silver box; the same thing happens to Joseph Peterson on the screen. When Lea sits down, she looks at the silver box longingly, as though she wishes she could open it right away. I don’t blame her. Inside the box is a microcard with background information about her Match. We al receive them. Later, the boxes wil be used to hold the rings for the Marriage Contract.

  The screen flashes back to the default picture: a boy and a girl, smiling at each other, with glimmering lights and a white-coated Official in the background. Although the Society times the Matching to be as efficient as possible, there are stil moments when the screen goes back to this picture, which means that we al wait while something happens somewhere else. It’s so complicated—the Matching—and I am again reminded of the intricate steps of the dances they used to do long ago. This dance, however, is one that the Society alone can choreograph now.

  The picture shimmers away.

  The announcer cal s another name; another girl stands up.

  Soon, more and more people at the Banquet have little silver boxes. Some people set them on the white tablecloths in front of them, but most hold the boxes careful y, unwil ing to let their futures out of their hands so soon after receiving them.

  I don’t see any other girls wearing the green dress. I don’t mind. I like the idea that, for one night, I don’t look like everyone else.

  I wait, holding my compact in one hand and my mother’s hand in the other. Her palm feels sweaty. For the first time, I realize that she and my father are nervous, too.

  “Cassia Maria Reyes. ”

  It is my turn.

  I stand up, letting go of my mother’s hand, and turn toward the screen. I feel my heart pounding and I am tempted to twist my hands the way Lea did, but I hold perfectly stil with my chin up and my eyes on the screen. I watch and wait, determined that the girl my Match wil see on the screen in his City Hal somewhere out there in Society wil be poised and calm and lovely, the very best image of Cassia Maria Reyes that I can present.

  But nothing happens.

  I stand and look at the screen, and, as the seconds go by, it is al I can do to stay stil , al I can do to keep smiling. Whispers start around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my mother move her hand as if to take mine again, but then she pul s it back.

  A girl in a green dress stands waiting, her heart pounding. Me.

  The screen is dark, and it stays dark.

  That can only mean one thing.


  The whispers rise soft around me like birds beating their wings under the dome of City Hal . “Your Match is here this evening,” the hostess says, smiling. The people around me smile as wel , and their murmurs become louder. Our Society is so vast, our Cities so many, that the odds of your perfect Match being someone in your own City are minuscule. It’s been many years since such a thing happened here.

  These thoughts tumble in my mind, and I close my eyes briefly as I realize what this means, not in abstract, but for me, the girl in the green dress. I might know my Match. He might be someone who goes to the same Second School that I do, someone I see every day, someone—

  “Xander Thomas Carrow. ”

  At his table, Xander stands up. A sea of watching faces and white tablecloths, of glinting crystal glasses and shining silver boxes stretches between us.

  I can’t believe it.

  This is a dream. People turn their eyes on me and on the handsome boy in the dark suit and blue cravat. It doesn’t feel real until Xander smiles at me. I think, I know that smile, and suddenly I’m smiling, too, and the rush of applause and smel of the lilies ful y convince me that this is actual y happening. Dreams don’t smel or sound as strong as this. I break protocol a bit to give Xander a tiny wave, and his smile widens.

  The hostess says, “You may take your seats. ” She sounds glad that we are so happy; of course, we should be. We are each other’s best Match, after al .

  When she brings me the silver box, I hold it careful y. But I already know much of what is inside. Not only do Xander and I go to the same school, we also live on the same street; we’ve been best friends for as long as I can remember. I don’t need the microcard to show me pictures of Xander as a child because I have plenty of them in my mind. I don’t need to download a list of favorites to memorize because I already know them. Favorite color: green. Favorite leisure activity: swimming. Favorite recreation activity: games.

  “Congratulations, Cassia,” my father whispers to me, his expression relieved. My mother says nothing, but she beams with delight and embraces me tightly. Behind her, another girl stands up, watching the screen.

  The man sitting next to my father whispers, “What a piece of luck for your family. You don’t have to trust her future to someone you know nothing about. ”

  I’m surprised by the unhappy edge to his tone; the way his comment seems to be right on the verge of insubordination. His daughter, the nervous one wearing the pink dress, hears it, too; she looks uncomfortable and shifts slightly in her seat. I don’t recognize her. She must go to one of the other Second Schools in our City.

  I sneak another glance at Xander, but there are too many people in my way and I can’t see him. Other girls take their turns standing up. The screen lights up for each of them. No one else has a dark screen. I am the only one.

  Before we leave, the hostess of the Match Banquet asks Xander and me and our families to step aside and speak with her. “This is an unusual situation,” she says, but she corrects herself immediately. “Not unusual. Excuse me. It is merely uncommon. ” She smiles at both of us. “Since you already know each other, things wil proceed differently for you. You wil know much of the initial information about each other. ” She gestures at our silver boxes. “There are a few new courtship guidelines included on your microcards, so you should familiarize yourselves with those when you have an opportunity. ”

  “We’l read them tonight,” Xander promises sincerely. I try to keep from rol ing my eyes in amusement because he sounds exactly the way he does when a teacher gives him a learning assignment. He’l read the new guidelines and memorize them, as he read and memorized the official Matching material. And then I flush again, as a paragraph from that material flashes across my mind: If you choose to be Matched, your Marriage Contract will take place when you are twenty-one. Studies have shown that the fertility
of both men and women peaks at the age of twenty-four. The Matching System has been constructed to allow those who Match to have their children near this age—providing for the highest likelihood of healthy offspring.

  Xander and I wil share a Marriage Contract. We will have children together.

  I don’t have to spend the next few years learning everything about him because I already know him, almost as wel as I know myself.

  The tiny feeling of loss deep within my heart surprises me. My peers wil spend the next few days swooning over pictures of their Matches, bragging about them during meal hour at school, waiting for more and more bits of information to be revealed. Anticipating their first meeting, their second meeting, and so on. That mystery does not exist for Xander and me. I won’t wonder what he is like or daydream about our first meeting.

  But then Xander looks at me and asks, “What are you thinking about?” and I answer, “That we are very lucky,” and I mean it. There is stil much to discover. Until now, I have only known Xander as a friend. Now he is my Match.

  The hostess corrects me gently. “Not lucky, Cassia. There is no luck in the Society. ” I nod. Of course. I should know better than to use such an archaic, inaccurate term. There’s only probability now. How likely something is to occur, or how unlikely.

  The hostess speaks again. “It has been a busy evening, and it’s getting late. You can read the courtship guidelines later, another day. There’s plenty of time. ”

  She’s right. That’s what the Society has given us: time. We live longer and better than any other citizens in the history of the world. And it’s thanks in large part to the Matching System, which produces physical y and emotional y healthy offspring.

  And I’m a part of it al .

  My parents and the Carrows can’t stop exclaiming over how wonderful this al is, and as we walk down the steps of City Hal together, Xander leans over and says, “You’d think they’d arranged everything themselves. ”

  “I can’t believe it,” I say, and I feel opulent and a little giddy. I can’t believe that this is me, wearing a beautiful green dress, holding gold in one hand and silver in the other, walking next to my best friend. My Match.

  “I can,” Xander says, teasing me. “In fact, I knew al along. That’s why I wasn’t nervous. ” I tease him back. “I knew, too. That’s why I was. ”

  We’re laughing so much that when the air train pul s up neither of us notice for a moment, and then there is a brief moment of awkwardness as Xander holds out his hand to help me climb aboard. “Here,” he says, his voice serious. For a moment, I don’t know what to do. There is something new in touching each other now, and my hands are ful .

  Then Xander wraps his hand around mine, pul ing me onto the train with him.

  “Thank you,” I say as the doors close behind us.

  “Any time,” he says. He does not let go of my hand; the little silver box I hold creates a barrier between us even as another one breaks. We have not held hands like this since we were children. In doing that tonight, we move across the invisible divide that separates friendship from something more. I feel a tingle along my arm; to be touched, by my Match, is a luxury that the other Matchees at Banquets tonight do not share.

  The air train carries us away from the sparkling, icy-white lights of City Hal toward the softer yel ow porch lights and streetlights of the Boroughs.