The Selection Part 12

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Slowly we moved down the hallway and toward the stairs. He didn't appear to be in any sort of rush.

"After me there's May. She's the one who sold me out and didn't cry. Honestly, I was robbed; I can't believe she didn't cry! But yeah, she's an artist. I ... I adore her."

Maxon examined my face. Talking about May softened me a bit. I liked Maxon well enough, but I didn't know how far I wanted to let him in.

"And then Gerad. He's the baby; he's seven. He hasn't quite figured out if he's into music or art yet. Mostly he likes to play ball and study bugs, which is fine except that he can't make a living that way. We're trying to get him to experiment more. Anyway, that's everyone."

"What about your parents?" he pressed.

"What about your parents?" I replied.

"You know my parents."

"No, I don't. I know the public image of them. What are they really like?" I pulled on his arm, which was quite a feat. Maxon's arms were huge. Even beneath the layers of his suit, I could feel the strong, steady muscles there. Maxon sighed, but I could tell I didn't really exasperate him at all. He seemed to like having someone pester him. It must be sad to grow up in this place without any siblings.

He started thinking about what he was going to say as we stepped into the garden. The guards all wore sly smiles as we pa.s.sed. Just past them a camera crew waited. Of course they would want to be present for the prince's first date. Maxon shook his head at them, and they retreated indoors immediately. I heard someone curse. I wasn't particularly looking forward to being followed around by cameras, but it seemed strange to dismiss them.

"Are you all right? You seem tense," Maxon noted.

"You get confused by crying women, I get confused by walks with princes," I said with a shrug.

Maxon laughed quietly at that but said no more. As we moved west, the sun was blocked by the ma.s.sive forest on the grounds, though it was still early in the evening. The shade crept over us, creating a tent of darkness. When I'd sought isolation the other night, this was where I wanted to be. We truly seemed alone now. We walked on, away from the palace and out of earshot of the guards.

"What about me is so confusing?"

I hesitated but said what I felt. "Your character. Your intentions. I'm not sure what to expect out of this little stroll."

"Ah." He stopped walking and faced me. We were very close to each other, and in spite of the warm summer air, a chill ran down my spine. "I think you can tell by now that I'm not the type of man to beat around the bush. I'll tell you exactly what I want from you."

Maxon took a step closer.

My breath caught in my throat. I'd just walked into the very situation I feared. No guards, no cameras, no one to stop him from doing whatever he wanted.

Knee-jerk reaction. Literally. I kneed His Majesty in the thigh. Hard.

Maxon let out a yell and reached down, clutching himself as I backed away from him. "What was that for?"

"If you lay a single finger on me, I'll do worse!" I promised.


"I said, if you-"

"No, no, you crazy girl, I heard you the first time." Maxon grimaced. "But just what in the world do you mean by it?"

I felt the heat run through my body. I'd jumped to the worst possible conclusion and set myself up to fight something that obviously wasn't coming.

The guards ran up, alerted by our little squabble. Maxon waved them away from an awkward, half-bent position.

We were quiet for a while, and once Maxon was over the worst of his pain, he faced me.

"What did you think I wanted?" he asked.

I ducked my head and blushed.

"America, what did you think I wanted?" He sounded upset. More than upset. Offended. He had obviously guessed what I'd a.s.sumed, and he didn't like that one bit. "In public? You thought ... for heaven's sake. I'm a gentleman!"

He started to walk away but turned back.

"Why did you even offer to help if you think so little of me?"

I couldn't even look him in the eye. I didn't know how to explain I had been prepped to expect a dog, that the darkness and privacy made me feel strange, that I'd only ever been alone with one other boy and that was how we behaved.

"You'll be taking dinner in your room tonight. I'll deal with this in the morning."

I waited in the garden until I knew all the others would be in the dining hall, and then I paced up and down the hallway before I went into my room. Anne, Mary, and Lucy were beside themselves when I came in. I didn't have the heart to tell them I hadn't spent the whole time with the prince.

My meal had been delivered and was waiting on the table by the balcony. I was hungry now that I wasn't distracted by my own humiliation. But my long absence wasn't the reason my maids were in a tizzy. There was a very large box on the bed, begging to be opened.

"Can we see?" Lucy asked.

"Lucy, that's rude!" Anne chided.

"They dropped it off the moment you left! We've been wondering ever since!" Mary exclaimed.

"Mary! Manners!" Anne scolded.

"No, don't worry, girls. I don't have any secrets." When they came to kick me out tomorrow, I'd tell my maids why.

I gave them a weak smile as I pulled at the big red bow on the box. Inside were three pairs of pants. A linen set, another that was more businesslike but soft to the touch, and a glorious pair made from denim. There was a card resting on top with the Illea emblem on it.

You ask for such simple things, I can't deny you. But for my sake, only on Sat.u.r.days, please. Thank you for your company.

Your friend, Maxon


I DIDN'T REALLY HAVE THAT much time to feel ashamed or worried, all things considered. When my maids dressed me the next morning without a hint of worry, I a.s.sumed my presence downstairs would be welcome. Even allowing me to come down to breakfast showed a hint of kindness in Maxon I hadn't been expecting: I got a last meal, a last moment as one of the beautiful Selected.

We were halfway through breakfast before Kriss worked up the courage to ask me about our date.

"How was it?" she asked quietly, the way we were meant to speak at mealtimes. But those three small words made ears all up and down the table perk up, and everyone within hearing distance was paying attention.

I took a breath. "Indescribable."

The girls looked at one another, clearly hoping for more.

"How did he act?" Tiny asked.

"Umm." I tried to choose my words carefully. "Not at all how I expected he would."

This time, little murmurs went down the table.

"Are you being like that on purpose?" Zoe interjected. "If you are, it's awfully mean."

I shook my head. How could I explain this? "No, it's just that-"

But I was spared trying to form an answer by the confusing noises coming down the hallway.

The shouts were strange. In my very short time at the palace, not a single sound had registered as anything close to loud. Beyond that, there was a kind of music to the click of the guards' shoes on the floor, the ma.s.sive doors opening and closing, the forks touching the plates. This was complete and absolute mayhem.

The royal family seemed to understand it before the rest of us.

"To the back of the room, ladies!" King Clarkson yelled, and ran over to a window.

Girls, confused but not wanting to disobey, slowly moved toward the head table. The king was pulling down a shade, but it wasn't the typical light-filtering kind. It was metal and squealed into place. Beside him Maxon came and drew down another. And beside Maxon the lovely and delicate queen was racing to pull down the next.

That was when the wave of guards made it into the dining hall. I saw a number of them lining up outside the room just before the monstrous doors were closed, bolted, and secured with bars.

"They're inside the walls, Majesty, but we're holding them back. The ladies should leave, but we're so close to the door-"

"Understood, Markson," the king replied, cutting off the sentence.

It didn't take more than that for me to comprehend. There were rebels inside the grounds.

I'd figured it would come. This many guests in the palace, so many preparations going on. Surely someone would miss something somewhere and let our safety slip. And even if there were no easy way in, this would be an excellent time to mount a protest. At its barest of bones, the Selection was kind of disturbing. I was sure the rebels hated it along with everything else about Illea.

But whatever their opinion, I wasn't going down quietly.

I pushed my chair back so quickly it fell over, and I ran to the closest window to pull down the metal shade. A few other girls who understood how threatened we were did the same.

It took me only a moment to get the thing down, but locking it into place was a little more difficult. I had just managed to get the latch right when something crashed into the metal plate from outside the palace, sending me screaming backward until I tripped over my fallen chair and tumbled to the ground.

Maxon appeared immediately.

"Are you hurt?"

I did a quick evaluation. I'd probably have a bruise on my hip, and I was scared, but that was the worst of it.

"No, I'm fine."

"To the back of the room. Now!" he ordered as he helped me off the ground. He raced down the hall, s.n.a.t.c.hing up girls who had begun to freeze up in fear and ushering them to the back corner.

I obeyed, running to the back of the room, toward the cl.u.s.ters of girls huddled together. Some of them were weeping; others were staring into s.p.a.ce in shock. Tiny had fainted. The most rea.s.suring sight was King Clarkson talking intently to a guard along the back wall, just far away enough that the girls wouldn't hear. He had one arm wrapped protectively around the queen, who stood quietly and proudly beside him.

How many times had she survived attacks now? We got reports that these happened several times a year. That had to be unnerving. The odds were getting slimmer and slimmer for her ... and her husband ... and her only child. Surely, eventually, the rebels would figure out the right alignment of circ.u.mstances to get what they wanted. Yet she stood there, her chin set, her still face wearing a quiet calm.

I surveyed the girls. Did any of them have the strength it would take to be the queen? Tiny was still unconscious in someone's arms. Celeste and Bariel were making conversation. I knew what Celeste looked like at ease, and this wasn't it. Still, compared to the others, she hid her emotions well. Others were near hysterics, whimpering on their knees. Some had mentally shut down, blocking out the entire ordeal. Their faces were blank, and they absently wrung their hands, waiting for it to end.

Marlee was crying a little, but not so much that she looked like a wreck. I grabbed her arm and pulled her upright.

"Dry your eyes and stand up straight," I barked into her ear.

"What?" she squeaked.

"Trust me, do it."

Marlee wiped her face on the side of her gown and stood up a little taller. She touched her face in several places, checking for smudged makeup, I guessed. Then she turned and looked at me for approval.

"Good job. Sorry to be so bossy, but trust me on this one, okay?" I felt bad ordering her around in the middle of something so distressing, but she had to look as calm as Queen Amberly. Surely Maxon would want that in his queen, and Marlee had to win.

Marlee nodded her head. "No, you're right. I mean, for the time being, everyone is safe. I shouldn't be so worried."

I nodded back to her, though she was most a.s.suredly wrong. Everyone was not safe.

Guards waited on edge by the ma.s.sive doors as heavy things were thrown against wall and windows again and again. There wasn't a clock in here. I had no idea how long this attack was lasting, and that only made me more anxious. How would we know if they got inside? Would it only be once they started banging on the doors? Were they already inside and we just didn't know it?

I couldn't take the worry. I stared at a vase of ornate flowers-none of which I knew the names of-and bit away at one of my perfectly manicured nails. I pretended that those flowers were all that mattered in the world.

Eventually Maxon came by to check on me, as he had with the others. He stood beside me and stared at the flowers, too. Neither of us really knew what to say.

"Are you doing all right?" he finally asked.

"Yes," I whispered.

He paused a moment. "You seem unwell."

"What will happen to my maids?" I asked, voicing my greatest worry. I knew I was safe. Where were they? What if one of them had been walking down the hall as the rebels made their way in?

"Your maids?" he asked in a tone that implied I was an idiot.

"Yes, my maids." I looked into his eyes, shaming him into acknowledging that only a choice minority of the throngs who lived in the palace were actually being protected. I was on the verge of tears. I didn't want them to come, and I was breathing rapidly trying to keep my emotions at bay.

He looked into my eyes and seemed to understand that I was only one step up from being a maid myself. That wasn't the reason for my worry, but it did seem strange that a lottery was the main difference between someone like Anne and me.

"They should be hiding by now. The help have their own places to wait. The guards are very good about getting around quickly and alerting everyone. They ought to be fine. We usually have an alarm system, but the last time they came through, the rebels thoroughly dismantled it. They've been working on fixing it, but..." Maxon sighed.

I looked at the floor, trying to quiet all the worries in my head.

"America," he begged.

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The Selection Part 12 summary

You're reading The Selection. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Kiera Cass. Already has 482 views.

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