When I hear beeping hours later, it’s my alarm clock. I get up immediately and almost scream when I see someone in my room before I recognize that it’s Avery.
She smiles at me. “I did not mean to frighten you, Miss Young. Your parents sent me in here to watch you last night.” She gestures to the door. “Breakfast is being served.”
I stand up and enter the command to retrieve a robe from my closet. We walk out together and I notice that the windows are still closed off. My parents are already seated, silently reading their tablets. Neither of them look up when I sit down and Avery starts serving us. Luckily, my father starts his meal immediately, absent-mindedly eating his Eggs Benedict.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“One of the accomplices has been captured. They should Relocate him immediately.”
“Not before we get information on the others,” my mother counters, finally looking up from her device. She takes in my appearance and purses her lips. “Get dressed, Rosemary. We are expecting company.”
“Aren’t we still in lockdown?”
“Your closet has already been programmed with the appropriate outfit,” she says, ignoring my question.
I get up and walk to my room. As I enter, I feel our home lifting upward and see the metal plates retract.
Unsure of how to call forth what my mother has chosen for me, I say “Outfit, please,” hoping the machine will forego its customary questions.
It produces a sleeveless, silk purple dress with a lace overlay and an illusion neckline. It is the dress intended for my eighteenth birthday.
I step into the changing compartment and let the machine clothe me and secure a silver hammered collar around my neck. I step into a pair of nude heels, and follow the sound of voices into the living room.
I almost stumble when I see all five Matchmakers, seated in a circle in the center of the room, in a deep discussion with my parents. My mother is wearing a concerned expression and my father looks like he’s about to close a business deal.
I take the only empty seat, which is almost out of hearing range. I sit quietly and listen.
“These are unusual circumstances, Mrs. Young,” Matchmaker Richards says. “We’ve never had to Match a minor before, but as she is only a year younger than usual, the Ceremony will proceed.”
“But why now? She isn’t ready,” my mother insists.
“It’s the right thing to do,” my father says, clasping her hand between his.
“Come here, Miss Young,” Matchmaker Mitchell says, her tone brooking no argument.
I approach them, stopping beside my father. He suddenly takes my hand in his and says, “Pay attention, Rosemary. This is very important.”
I nod, still not sure of what is going on.
“Due to the recent attacks, we have decided the most prudent course of action would be to Match the President’s son as soon as possible.”
I look down at the floor. “But why me?” At least my nightmare was unfounded.
My father squeezes my hand a little too tightly. I suck in a breath and try to focus on Matchmaker Houston’s answer.
“This isn’t a random selection by any means,” he says. “You were already intended for each other and would have been Matched next year.”
I’m still fixated on his words when three Adorners approach me. One ties a black blindfold over my eyes while the other cleans my arm. It burns as my skin is peeled off and I stifle my cries, not wanting to embarrass my parents by appearing weak. Everyone who’s been Matched survives it, surely I can too. The pain subsides and almost immediately, I feel the cold metal closing around my arm as I tense in anticipation. Then I feel what must be at least a thousand needles piercing my skin. I suck in a breath and start counting in my head, hoping to distract myself from the unimaginable pain. How had Kalli dealt so well with this? Tears start to fall and the fabric absorbs them before I can feel them on my cheeks. The needles retract and I inhale deeply, trying to fight the sudden wave of dizziness.
I’m pulled to my feet and nudged forward. The blindfold is whipped away and I blink to see the President’s oldest son standing in front of me.
“Miss Rosemary Katherine Young and Mr. Henry Alden Clark,” Matchmaker Mitchell begins.
He turns to face her as she speaks, but I can’t take my eyes off him. I repeat his name in my head, marrying it to his face. He catches me staring and raises one eyebrow at me, his green eyes twinkling, before diverting his gaze forward again. This time, I follow suit.
Matchmaker Mitchell opens her tablet and continues. “Both of you are loyal, rational people who take their responsibilities very seriously. Your work ethics make you compatible and will encourage each other to continue on your paths toward not only knowledge and achievement, but for steady leadership as well. Together, you will guide our society into a new generation of creativity and innovation.”
The words pass over me as if I am underwater and cannot hear them clearly, I try and focus on them rather than my Match, who is standing up so straight it looks as if he’s stuck that way.
“Both of your families have experienced unprecedented immunity to most diseases, even before the War ended. With our technology and your combined MHC genetic makeup, your offspring will be among, if not the best, biologically protected citizens of the Heartland,” says Matchmaker Houston before taking a sip of water. “A very important consideration for the future of the Presidential line.”
I try to control my blush at his mention of children.
“In addition to having admirable general health, your families have no history of mental illness. Both of you also have many brilliant people in your lineages who have made priceless contributions to our society. I look forward to seeing what you and your eventual offspring will accomplish,” Matchmaker Taylor says, giving us both meaningful glances.
I feel my stomach knot, knowing that she probably expects me to share my grandfather’s photographic memory and mathematical prowess. Unfortunately, I inherited neither.
Matchmaker Richards clears his throat. “Both of you can be extremely stubborn.”
Henry frowns, but it’s the only sign of his displeasure at the label. I hear my mother sigh and look down, unable to deny it.
Matchmaker Richards continues, “While this trait tore people apart in past years, your shared determination will cause you to adapt rather than argue to the point of self-destruction. These lessons will make you better prepared for political situations that will require not only intellect, but also forethought and compromise.”
That would require an actual conversation and by the way Henry refuses to look at me, I doubt that one will be in our immediate future.
“We have already established your many similarities,” Matchmaker Tunstall says, “but it’s important to note your different perspectives related to your being the second and middle children in your families. From the start, you have been part of a familial unit that required cooperation on all levels. The ability to interact with people outside your own age group is an asset in the interpersonal relations required of the President and his wife, and both of you have grown up honing this skill your entire lives.”
Matchmaker Mitchell stands. “Hold hands and face each other.” We follow her instructions. “You are about to embark on a new chapter in your lives with your partner. It is a great gift and responsibility. Are you prepared for this change?”
I watch Henry and we say, “We are,” in unison after a small hesitation on his part. It’s just nerves, I tell myself. What else can it be?
“And do you promise to care for your Match to the best of your ability?”
This time we answer immediately. I feel Henry grip my hands tighter and return the gesture.
“In sickness and in health? Through good times and bad?”
We repeat our affirmation for both questions without missing a beat. Henry’s eyes seem to have glazed over like Kalliope’s had yesterday and I wonder if mine look the same way.
Matchmaker Mitchell turns to face our families. “I declare this Matching Ceremony complete.”
My parents and the First Family stand. Henry, still holdng my hand, walks towards them and I follow.
My father holds out a hand to his new son-in-law. They shake and Henry bows to my mother. I walk over to his parents and curtsey.
“Rosemary, it’s so nice to have you in the family,” his mother says.
“Thank you, Mrs. Clark. I’m honored.” I realize that my title is now the same as hers and it’s still hard for me to imagine sharing anything with the First Lady.
Henry’s sister, the oldest of the three Clark children walks up to me and pulls me into a hug. When she lets me go, her Match is by her side, smiling down at her with the same affection I see between my parents.
“It’s so nice to have another girl in the family,” she says. “You have no idea how hard it was to deal with two boys before I turned eighteen.”
I hesitantly nod and give her a small smile, not able to fully picture Henry as a younger child.
“Oh, I completely forgot to introduce myself. I’m Brigid Emily Campbell.” She turns to her Match and says, “And this is Samuel Frederick.”
“It’s nice meeting you,” I manage.
Brigid continues, “I’m sorry your sister and Mr. Adams couldn’t be here. I’m sure you’re missing her. I hope you’ll come to see me as a sister, too.”
I paste a smile on, trying not to feel the pain of Kalli’s absence. “I’d like that.”
I see the parents begin to talk and hear Mrs. Clark say, “Thank you for welcoming us into your home.”
My mother nods. “Of course. It’s our pleasure.”
Henry walks around the room, looking at the family portraits on the mantle piece. I try and picture his perspective. In each of them, I think we all look like painted dolls.
President Clark clears his throat and Henry rejoins the group, scowling at his father as he approaches. A moment of silent challenge passes between them and the President recovers first.
Mrs. Clark faces me with a placating and slightly apologetic smile in place. “Please pardon them, Miss Young. You know how men are.”
I want to say, “No, I don’t,” but I keep my mouth shut and give her a small, noncommittal smile.
Henry frowns and steps forward, his hand outstretched. “We haven’t been properly introduced.”
“I already know who you are.” I don’t mean to sound snippy, but some of my annoyance slips out anyway.
“As your Match and the President’s son,” he clarifies. “I’m Henry Alden Clark, but only my parents use my full name when I’m in trouble.”
Stunned, I take it. “Rosemary Katherine Young, but my sister calls me ‘Romy.’” I don’t know why I say it, and begin to wish I hadn’t when Mother frowns, but it seems to amuse Henry because the corners of his mouth tip upward.
“Nice to meet you, Romy,” he says.
I feel a tug on my skirt and see the youngest Clark child, whose dark locks are a stark contrast to his siblings’ light hair, watching me with surprising intensity. “My name is Wyatt Jackson. You’re pretty.”
I kneel down to face him. “Thank you. That’s a very nice thing for you to say.”
“It’s true,” he answers.
“Wyatt,” President Clark snaps. “Quiet.”
The boy complies and I stand up.
My mother claps and Alfie steps forward with two lavender large suitcases with my initials on them.
My eyes shoot to my parents and my mother gives me a watery smile. I almost start at the unexpected show of emotion. “Good bye, Rosemary. Stay safe and I hope to see you again soon.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You and Henry will be leaving immediately.”
I look around and realize everyone is watching me. “But... everyone does that after a Matching Ceremony.”
“You don’t understand,” my father says. “Because of the security threat, you will both be going to Basheart.”
Another continent? “What about you? And Kalli?” I ask.
“We’re going back underground. I assume Geoff and Kalliope will be doing the same.”
My mother steps forward. “When this is all over, we can all celebrate.” I catch her covertly eyeing my new in-laws.
“We’ll see what we can do,” the President says. He turns to us. “The car is waiting for you. If you need any more belongings, use the private network and they will be shipped to you.” He places a hand on Henry’s shoulder and says, “We are depending on you.”
Henry grabs my hand, finally making voluntary contact, and we practically run to the car and duck inside. The door closes, the driver starts the engine, and Henry and I are left facing each other in stony silence.
I pull out my communicator, intending to tell Charlotte and Jasper what’s happened and that I won’t be able to see them tomorrow, but Henry puts his hand over it. I look up at him, silently challenging him.
“Safety precautions. If no one knows we’re leaving, there’s less chance of us being attacked.”
I freeze at the word and stiffly nod. This is my reality now.
Ten minutes later, the car comes to an abrupt halt, sending me flying forward, only to be yanked back by the seat’s safety gravity. I groan at the impact.
Henry grabs my hand. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say, leaning back in my seat.
A few minutes pass and our car doesn’t start moving again.
“What’s happening?” I ask Henry, turning in my seat, pulling my legs up when they bump into the leather.
He looks through the one-way glass at the driver’s seat. “I don’t know, but our chauffeur is gone.”
Just as he says it, the man returns and speaks through the communication system. “Apologies for the delay.”
“What happened?” Henry asks through the small microphone embedded in the side of his headrest, his tone surprisingly calm.
“I was double checking the vehicle.” Our chauffeur restarts the ignition.
Henry surprises me by staying next to me. He turns off the connection to the front compartment and says to me, “We won’t be there for a while. You can sleep if you want.”
As if on cue, I yawn, but I hesitate.
“Take a nap, Romy,” he insists. Warmth blooms in my chest. He remembered.
No sooner have I closed my eyes than I feel the gravity strengthen, causing my stomach to drop. My eyes open instantly. “What—?”
The connection to Malcolm crackles to life and he says, “Ready for take-off.”
Henry replies, “Go,” and I feel a sudden upward force, then a matching one pressing down on me.
I grab his hand and squeeze.
Without turning to me, he asks, “Not tired anymore?”
“I’ve never flown before,” I admit in a whisper.
He looks at me then. “Are you okay?”
I force myself to release his hand and give a jerky nod. “Why aren’t we taking the highway?”
He doesn’t look convinced and takes my hand again in his in a strong grip. “It’s faster to fly. Besides, they’re renovating the road. It won’t be ready for a month, at least.”
I sigh, sit up straighter, and blink away the rest of the fatigue. “On second thought, I think I’ll stay awake.”
He faces forward again. “Suit yourself.”
A beat passes and we finally level out. I hit my button and the communication light turns green. “Hello?” I ask.
“Mrs. Clark,” our chauffeur greets curtly.
“What’s your first name?” I ask.
Henry looks up and shoots me a bemused look, but doesn’t reprimand my asking.
“Malcolm, ma’am,” he says.
“What are you doing?” Henry mouths to me.
“Distracting myself,” I whisper. I proceed to converse with our driver for the next five minutes, asking more trivial questions about his life and family.
“Forgive me, Mrs. Clark, but I need to focus on flying.”
“Oh, of course,” I say. The light turns red and I lean back in my seat, my eyelids heavy now that the adrenaline from getting Matched and traveling has begun to wear off.
Henry notices and says, “If you’re comfortable enough, you should rest. We may have work to do once we land.”
This time, he doesn’t have to convince me. I close my eyes and settle further into the leather seat.