Red Tablet

By Laura Schiller

Based on the Matched Trilogy

Copyright: Ally Condie

As I wake up, I find Cassia's side of the bed already cool.

She's curled up in the window seat, her white sleepclothes blending with the white walls, the morning light touching her auburn hair with gold. She's looking out at the tree in our front yard, how the pale green leaves flutter in the wind. She turns to me and smiles, her eyes the same delicate shade, red-rimmed and blinking.

"Morning, sleepyhead," she says.

"Since when have you been awake?" I ask.

She shrugs, and I decide not to press the issue. I know she thinks I worry too much; it's a habit I'm picking up from my medical training, even more so since our Contract. Instead I remove my dream tags, walk over to her and hold out my hands to help her out of the seat, making her grin and shake her head at what she calls my gallantry. We kiss, and it's an ordinary, happy morning in the Carrow household – nothing more.

On each of our nightstands is a silver box, the one that held our microcards and later our rings, but her square of green silk is nowhere to be seen. She told me she lost it, but she wouldn't meet my eyes.

I watch her dress, pulling on her crisp blue plainclothes, zipping up her jacket all the way to the collar. She doesn't like to wear her white Official's uniform, so she changes into it at work. Like her father and her grandfather before her, she's a Restoration supervisor, and a very good one too. She enjoys it, mostly, but not when it comes to destroying books. On those days, she comes home and holds me especially close, like I'm her lifeline. I try not to feel too proud of that.

Last of all, I watch her drop her tablet container into her pocket with complete, casual indifference. Every time she makes that gesture, I remember. I remember what she forgot, and what I wish I had forgotten too. It's a mixed blessing, being immune.

Four years back in time, I watch Cassia and Official Standler standing face to face in someone's front lawn: my best friend, tousled and barefoot, blazing with suppressed rage and fear; the Official immaculate, her eyes cold as marbles, the first morning light staining her white uniform with red.

The Markhams are already gone, handlocked and hustled into an air car, Patrick's accusations still ringing in everyone's ears. The whole neighborhood is frightened, taking the pills, turning to the authorities for comfort because it's all they know how to do. Even I have taken mine, pretending I'll forget. As if I could forget that the bravest, most intelligent man I ever knew is being sent to his death.

But he's also the man Cassia loves, and looking at her haunted face tonight, I know she will never be the same again. I saw her drop the tablet and step on it. I can see that Standler is about to move on, letting her remember, letting her break her heart over Ky's fate and possibly even take some crazy, reckless, hopeless measures to rescue him.

I'm a Check player. I anticipate actions and reactions; my mind goes in several directions at once. I also know Cassia Reyes, her stubbornness, the way her desire to be safe is only outmatched by her burning curiosity and her fierce defense of those she loves.

I take a calculated risk. If she remembers, she might never forgive me … but if she doesn't, we will both be happy and safe. I tell myself I'm doing this for her.

"Excuse me, ma'am," I announce in a carrying voice. "Cassia didn't take her tablet. She lost it in the grass. I saw her."

The look Cassia casts me is one I will never forget, until my dying day. Her eyes are wide, filled with tears, spring leaves crushed in a rainstorm. She never would have thought me capable of this.

Neither would I.

A pair of Officials pin her arms behind her back and Standler shoves the red tablet into her mouth. She swallows hard, as if her throat aches, her hair falling forward to hide her face. Then she looks up one last time, and I recognize her message as if she had screamed it: She will not forgive me.

The next morning, however, she waves at me by the air train stop as if everything were still normal. There is sadness in her face, but no anger.

"Did you hear?" she asks. "The Markhams are being transferred to Central. Apparently Patrick's been transferred to a government position. Quite an honor, isn't it?"

"It is." I clear my throat. "You'll still miss him, won't you?"

She takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders. "As long as he's happy there. It's what I sorted him for, after all. Don't worry, Xander ... it's going to be all right."

We link arms, and for the first of innumerable occasions, I swallow down the truth as bitterly as she swallowed her tablet. Is a betrayal still a betrayal if the victim doesn't know?

But it's too late now, and it's no use worrying about it, so I put on my own clothes and wait for the meal truck to chime, announcing breakfast.

"Something wrong with your container, Xander?" she asks lightly. "You're glaring at it. What's it done wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all."