Matched Chapter 23

White space had a lot of advantages, Cassia reflected. It was very malleable, for one. Given the right amount of will and forethought, it could be anything she wanted it to be. From the boardroom in an office to the rotting deck of a sunken ship as it was called for. This offered her and the rest of the supporting cast an opportunity to break away from the boring and poorly described landscape. Though it did make things awkward when Xander decided he wanted to have their meeting in the middle of a warzone. Cassia had stumbled over a tripwire and nearly been blown apart before changing the setting.

So they’d settled on a break room as a neutral zone. Some of the details shifted, depending on who was focused on it. Sometimes a vending machine would appear or move or even disappear only to be replaced by an old arcade cabinet. But it was always a slightly dingy white room with scattered tables and chairs. The only true constant was an aging green airpot sitting on one of the tables was an always full of coffee that tasted old and was inexplicably hot.

“Alright, I think that’s everyone with a name. I’m calling this to meeting to order,” Cassia said, rapping the table with her knuckles.

“Wait, why are you in charge?”

Cassia scowled at her dad. There was always one person who had to ask that question. Usually it wasn’t because they wanted to lead but because they wanted everyone to defer to them. Decisions were hard but they’d put in the effort if it meant preferential treatment.

“Because I’m the protagonist,” Cassia said. She saw him getting ready to argue and headed it off. “Also, I’m the dumbest character out there. Not only am I too dumb to know what a pen is I’m also shockingly cynical about our government. Every word of narration stains my soul whereas you only have to act stupid in the few chapters you’ve appeared in. Anyone else object?”

Ky threw up a hand. It smacked the table wetly then disappeared but not before everyone turned towards him. “Sorry,” he said.” I was thinking about something else. I was going to say what about me?”

“What about you? You don’t say a whole lot and when you do it’s usually bland.”

“Okay, that might be but what about my actions? I’m basically being set up to be a serial killer.”

“Eh hem,” Xander raised his hand. “I’m the boy always gets along with everyone and charms the ladies yet I feel no emotions. Clearly I’m meant to be a serial killer.”

“Yeah, if we were in a crime thriller. You’d be the charming boyfriend who’s only suspected when the heroine sees him kill someone right in front of her.” Ky snorted. “I’m the quiet, troubled boy who’s broken by his past and always keeps to himself.”

“And all of that would be relevant if it meant either of you got screwed,” Cassia said. “I’m the one who’s so impressed by your ability to write that I’m going to throw my life away. Unless any of you have done something that stupid, that puts me as the worse off out of any of you. Until that changes, I’m in charge.”

A sudden low rumble rippled through the floor, like a distant generator kicking on. A couple of the nameless officials began to panic, running around in circles. Most of them lacked the vocal cords necessary to scream so they flailed their arms like they were trying to send semaphore signals to the bees circling them.

”Alright everyone, there’s no cause for alarm!” Cassia rapped the table again. “It just means we’re all going to wake up in just a few moments. Just close your eyes and try to remember who you are. But, most importantly, don’t try and fight it or you’ll only end up hurting yourself.’

The rumble faded into a powerful whine that drowned their cries. Everyone clapped their hands over their ears. Cassia closed her eyes and did her best to prepared for disappointment.  It was never enough.

The next morning I wake to a shrieking so high and keening that I bolt straight out of bed, tearing the sleep tags from my skin.

Whoa, it’s like my version of Cassia really is trapped inside the character. Maybe that’s what’s been giving Ally’s version nightmares, the thought she’s flatter than cardboard and half as useful. For some reason, Cassia runs to her brother’s room while screaming his name. Because who better to protect her from her nightmares than a boy seven years younger than her? He’s not there so she runs to her parents room.

I run down the hall to my parents’ room. My mother came home from her trip last night; they should both be there. But their room is empty, too, and I can tell they left in a hurry: I see twisted sheets and a blanket on the floor. I draw back. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen their bed unmade and, even in the fear of the moment, the intimacy of that tangled bedding catches my eye.

Oh no, they’ve been taken away for reprogramming! Too bad the government forgot to grab Cassia. Or perhaps they know that there’s no fixing her brain. Don’t worry though, Cassia’s parents are under special guard by the author. There’s no way in hell they’re disappearing unless Cassia is awake to see it and then only so it can be dramatic.

To prove my point, Cassia’s mom comes running. She’s wearing her “sleepclothes” and worried about Cassia. She says that sound that’s like screaming, but totally isn’t, is the saws chopping through the trees. Apparently they’re cutting down the maples because their leaves are too messy in the fall. Right, because they’re just evil bastards that destroy things for no apparent reason.

Cassia says that their yard doesn’t look the same without their tree. Then she says that Em’s yard doesn’t look much different because their tree was always sickly. Cassia’s mom says it’s sad for them all and Cassia says she looks angry. That could be because she painted her eyebrows on wrong that morning. Something about the jet lag from her trip.

The faceless government folks continue cutting the trees down while others will come along to get the roots out. Cassia says that she’s seen her mom so angry and her dad tries to comfort her. Apparently he didn’t love the tree like her mom did but he’s loved things the government has destroyed. Like what? Ally’s not telling because that would mean developing his character. Then this comes out of nowhere.

“It’s a warning,” my mother says, almost to herself.

No, Ally, just no. Cassia’s passing interest in Ky would not mobilize the government to cut down a few trees. Bram says he hasn’t been late to school in weeks and mom says that it’s for someone else. Someone who hasn’t learned to keep her thought crimes to herself. Cassia is about to say it’s her fault when Cassia’s mom says that it’s a warning for her.

Cassia then tells us about her dream because that will totally have any impact on the story. She says if the gub’mint can see her dreams then they’ll be happy. She dreamt that they came to take Ky away. Then she says she wants to know how he escaped last time and this need to know conflicts with her need to be safe.

Fast forward to the bus, again, where Cassia’s mom is quiet and appears deep in thought. Little does Cassia know this is merely an illusion caused by her naturally blank expression. Her mom leaves, Cassia sees Ky and then she walks to towards the hill with Ky. She says that they know about them and Ky says of course.

Ky isn’t worried because the whole government is run by clones of Don Knotts. She asks him if he’s worried and he doesn’t say anything. No, Cassia, you do all the worrying necessary for everyone in the book. He hands her a poem and says that it’s by the same author who did “do not go gentle”. She asks how because there were no other poems by Dylan Thomas in the collection.

Ky shakes his head, evading my question. “It’s not the whole thing. I could only afford part of a stanza.” Before I can ask what he gave in exchange for the poem, he clears his throat a little nervously and looks down at his hands. “I liked it because it mentions a birthday and because it reminds me of you. How I felt when I saw you that first day, in the water at the pool.” He looks confused and I see a trace of sadness on his face. “Don’t you like it?”

It’s hard to like something when you haven’t looked at it. Cassia doesn’t bother trying to read it because she’s busy crying all over the place. The bit is from “Poem in October” and Ky reads it to her because she’s all bleary eyed. They walk for a bit, not doing their job and then Ky says the birds are flying her name. She stops, turns around and then they kiss and she compares it to being brushed by the cottonwood seeds. I’m not one hundred percent, Ky, but I think she’s saying you kiss like a wuss.

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