Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night? My wings aren’t white or feathered; they’re green, made of green silk, which shudders in the wind and bends when I move—first in a circle, then in a line, finally in a shape of my own invention. The black behind me doesn’t worry me; neither do the stars ahead.
I smile at myself, at the foolishness of my imagination. People cannot fly, though before the Society, there were myths about those who could. I saw a painting of them once. White wings, blue sky, gold circles above their heads, eyes turned up in surprise as though they couldn’t believe what the artist had painted them doing, couldn’t believe that their feet didn’t touch the ground.
Those stories weren’t true. I know that. But tonight, it’s easy to forget. The air train glides through the starry night so smoothly and my heart pounds so quickly that it feels as though I could soar into the sky at any moment.
“What are you smiling about?” Xander wonders as I smooth the folds of my green silk dress down neat.
“Everything,” I tell him, and it’s true. I’ve waited so long for this: for my Match Banquet. Where I’ll see, for the first time, the face of the boy who will be my Match. It will be the first time I hear his name.
I can’t wait. As quickly as the air train moves, it still isn’t fast enough. It hushes through the night, its sound a background for the low rain of our parents’ voices, the lightning-quick beats of my heart.
Perhaps Xander can hear my heart pounding, too, because he asks, “Are you nervous?” In the seat next to him, Xander’s older brother begins to tell my mother the story of his Match Banquet. It won’t be long now until Xander and I have our own stories to tell.
“No,” I say. But Xander’s my best friend. He knows me too well.
“You lie,” he teases. “You are nervous.”
“Not me. I’m ready.” He says it without hesitation, and I believe him. Xander is the kind of person who is sure about what he wants.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re nervous, Cassia,” he says, gentle now. “Almost ninety-three percent of those attending their Match Banquet exhibit some signs of nervousness.”
“Did you memorize all of the official Matching material?”
“Almost,” Xander says, grinning. He holds his hands out as if to say, What did you expect?
The gesture makes me laugh, and besides, I memorized all of the material, too. It’s easy to do when you read it so many times, when the decision is so important. “So you’re in the minority,” I say. “The seven percent who don’t show any nerves at all.”
“Of course,” he agrees.
“How could you tell I was nervous?”
“Because you keep opening and closing that.” Xander points to the golden object in my hands. “I didn’t know you had an artifact.” A few treasures from the past float around among us. Though citizens of the Society are allowed one artifact each, they are hard to come by. Unless you had ancestors who took care to pass things along through the years.
“I didn’t, until a few hours ago,” I tell him. “Grandfather gave it to me for my birthday. It belonged to his mother.”
“What’s it called?” Xander asks.
“A compact,” I say. I like the name very much. Compact means small. I am small. I also like the way it sounds when you say it: com-pact. Saying the word makes a sound like the one the artifact itself makes when it snaps shut.
“What do the