By Laura Schiller
Based on: Matched/Crossed
Copyright: Ally Condie
"It's not fair! How come Lia gets an Artifact and I don't?"
Thirteen-year-old Aida's hands are on her hips, blue eyes blazing. Her twin, protectively cupping the golden compass in both hands, shoots an identical glare across the table, where two pink-frosted birthday cupcakes (specially delivered by the meal truck, according to custum) sit untouched.
"Because she's the oldest, remember?" Father sweeps his gray-black hair off his forehead in an irritated manner. "It's a family tradition, going back before the Society, even. When the oldest child turns thirteen – "
"But she's only older by like, ten minutes!"
Lia grins and lifts her hands. "Too bad for you, little sister. Can I help it that I'm lucky?"
"Girls, please!" Mother's clear, musical voice cuts through the air like the chime of glass. "Stop arguing. This is a time for celebration. Honey," turning to Father with a smile, "Aida has a point. They share our love, so why shouldn't they share your legacy? From now on, why don't you take turns keeping it? How about every month?"
"But who gets to be first? Lia asks.
"Let the compass decide," Mother says.
Lia fishes it out of her plainclothes, opens it on the table between her and Aida, and lets it spin. The needle swings in Aida's direction, and she beams.
They are seventeen, and their Match Banquet starts in half an hour. Lia, standing behind Aida at the vanity table, rolls her eyes at her sister's reflection.
"Would you make up your mind already?" She holds up a hairbrush in one hand and a blue butterfly necklace, on loan along with the matching gown Aida chose. "Or we'll be late!"
"I just don't see how any of this is supposed to help." Aida gestures ruefully at her own face: straight black hair, blue eyes, nondescript features. A typical Oria face, as forgettable as their daily oatmeal. "Why do you have to be the pretty one?"
It's true that only their eyes are identical: Lia's hair falls in soft brown waves, and the leaf-green dress she chose highlights her rosy complexion perfectly. She's already prepared; even her nerves are barely detectable. It doesn't seem fair.
"Oh, come on." Lia drops a kiss on the top of Aida's still-unbrushed head. "I'd kill to have curls like yours. Here." She crosses the room to her nightstand, picks up the compass, and drops it into an astonished Aida's hands. "Let it decide, okay?"
"But … but it's not my turn yet," Aida murmurs, unexpectedly touched.
"It's a one-off occasion, all right? Don't get used to it."
The compass needle, being attracted to metal, points toward the necklace immediately. They both smile as Lia fastens it around Aida's neck.
They are twenty-seven, and Lia shows up on Aida's doorstep one evening with her arms wrapped around her middle, as if to warm herself, even though it's June.
"What's wrong?" Aida asks, without even a hello.
They both sit down on the porch steps, since even for sisters, the prohibition against entering another family's residence still holds.
"I thought … you'd better hear it from me first, instead of some Official." Lia's voice is frighteningly low, all the color gone out of it. "It's Sione … he's … he went too far this time."
Aida's hand covers her mouth. "What's he done now?"
"Better if you don't know. Anyway, we … we're being Relocated. To the Outer Provinces, if you can believe it." She laughs, a little too loudly. "And to think – I've always wanted to live in the country."
"Oh, Lia … "
The Outer Provinces. Those bleak hot deserts where the savage Anomalies live. Aida's breath catches in her throat and her mind races, scrabbling for solutions, anything but this. She could slap her hot-headed brother-in-law for getting Lia and little Ky into this situation. Didn't he realize how dangerous his little revolution was for all of them?
"You can ask for a divorce, can't you? Tell them you had nothing to do with this, whatever it was – "
The look in Lia's eyes, implacable as desert rock, silences her.
"Don't even say that. I'm not leaving him – or Ky. Wherever they go, I go."
In spite of herself, Aida understands. She would do the same for Patrick and Matthew in a heartbreat.
Lia tries to show the old, confident grin, but her eyes are shadowed. She takes the compass out of her pocket. "It's your turn, baby sister. Remember?"
"But … how can I give it it back to you?" Aida chokes out. "What if I never see you again?"
"I don't know," Lia admits, leaning her head against her sister's shoulder as if to hide some tears of her own.
Aida is thirty-four, her sister is dead, and her sister's son is in what used to be Matthew's room.
Peering through the doorway, she watches him as he sits with his head in his hands. Her first reaction to his arrival was resentment – did the Society think they could replace her own son as easily as a broken port? – but seeing the child like this, ten years old and already weighed down with a man's sorrow, makes her want to hold him close and wipe all his tears away.
But she's a stranger to him, so instead she sits down on his bed and gives him the compass, along with the story of its history. Ky looks up at her with Lia's deep blue eyes and the first smile she's ever seen from him. For the first time since the Officials called on the port to politely deliver the news of Lia's death, Aida finds it possible to smile in return.
That night, she dreams of Lia, radiant in her green Matching gown, holding out a shining compass.
I don't want it! Aida calls, holding up her hands defensively. It's not fair! Why do you have to go first, and leave me behind?
In Lia's hands, the compass turns into a baby, a living, blue-eyed, solemn-faced baby boy. He reaches for Aida with tiny hands, and she can't help but hold him close.
Your turn, little sister. Lia smiles through a mist of tears as she fades away.