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The Selection Part 13

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I turned to Maxon.

"They're fine. The rebels were slow, and everyone here knows what to do in an emergency."

I nodded. We stood there quietly for a minute, and I could tell he was about to move on.

"Maxon," I whispered.

He turned back, a little surprised to be addressed so casually.

"About last night. Let me explain. When they came to prep us, to get us ready to come here, there was a man who told me that I was never to turn you down. No matter what you asked for. Not ever."

He was dumbfounded. "What?"

"He made it sound like you might ask for certain things. And you said yourself that you hadn't been around many women. After eighteen years ... and then you sent the cameras away. I just got scared when you got that close to me."

Maxon shook his head, trying to process all this. Humiliation, rage, and disbelief all played across his typically even-tempered face.

"Was everyone told this?" he asked, sounding appalled at the idea.

"I don't know. I can't imagine many girls would need such a warning. They're probably waiting to pounce on you," I noted, nodding my head toward the rest of the room.

He gave a dark chuckle. "But you're not, so you had absolutely no qualms about kneeing me in the groin, right?"

"I hit your thigh!"

"Oh, please. A man doesn't need that long to recover from a knee to the thigh," he replied, his voice full of skepticism.

A laugh escaped me. Thankfully, Maxon joined in. Just then another ma.s.s. .h.i.t the windows, and we stopped in unison. For a moment I had forgotten where I was.

"So how are you handling a roomful of crying women?" I asked.

There was a comical bewilderment in his expression. "Nothing in the world is more confusing!" he whispered urgently. "I haven't the faintest clue how to stop it."

This was the man who was going to lead our country: the guy rendered useless by tears. It was too funny.

"Try patting them on the back or shoulder and telling them everything is going to be fine. Lots of times when girls cry, they don't want you to fix the problem, they just want to be consoled," I advised.

"Really?"

"Pretty much."

"It can't possibly be that simple." Intrigue and doubt played in his voice.

"I said most of the time, not all the time. But it would probably work for a lot of the girls here."

He snorted. "I'm not so sure. Two have already asked if I'll let them leave if this ever ends."

"I thought we weren't allowed to do that." I shouldn't have been surprised, though. If he had agreed to let me stay on as a friend, he couldn't be too concerned with technicalities. "What are you going to do?"

"What else can I do? I won't keep someone here against her will."

"Maybe they'll change their minds," I offered hopefully.

"Maybe." He paused. "What about you? Have you been scared off yet?" he asked almost playfully.

"Honestly? I was convinced you were sending me home after breakfast anyway," I admitted.

"Honestly? I had considered that myself."

There was a quiet smile between us. Our friendship-if I could even call it that-was obviously awkward and flawed, but at least it was honest.

"You didn't answer me. Do you want to leave?"

Another something hit the wall, and the idea sounded appealing. The worst attack I'd gotten at home was Gerad trying to steal my food. The girls here didn't care for me, the clothes were stifling, people were trying to hurt me, and the whole thing felt uncomfortable. But it was good for my family and nice to be full. Maxon did seem a bit lost, and I'd get to stay away from him for a little bit longer. And who knew, maybe I could help pick out the next princess.

I looked Maxon in the eye. "If you're not kicking me out, I'm not leaving."

He smiled. "Good. You'll need to tell me more tricks like this shoulder-patting thing."

I smiled back. Yes, it was all wrong, but some good would come out of this.

"America, could you do me a favor?"

I nodded.

"As far as anyone knows, we spent a lot of time together yesterday evening. If anyone asks, could you please tell them that I'm not ... that I wouldn't..."

"Of course. And I really am sorry about everything."

"I should have known that if any girl was going to disobey an order, it would be you."

A collection of heavy objects. .h.i.t the wall at once, making a handful of girls scream.

"Who are they? What do they want?" I asked.

"Who? The rebels?"

I nodded.

"Depends on who you ask. And which group you're talking about," he answered.

"You mean there's more than one?" That made the entire experience much worse. If this was one group, what could two or more do together? As far as I knew, a rebel was a rebel was a rebel, but Maxon made it sound like some could be worse than others. "How many are there?"

"Two generally, the Northerners and the Southerners. The Northerners attack much more frequently. They're closer. They live in the rainy patch of Likely near Bellingham, just north of here. No one really wants to live there-it's practically all ruins-so they've made it a home of sorts, though I guess they travel. The traveling is one theory of mine-one no one listens to. But they're far less likely to break in, and when they do the results are ... tame almost. I'd guess that this is a Northern job right now," he said over the din.

"Why? What makes them so different from the Southerners?"

Maxon seemed to hesitate, unsure if this information was something I should know. He looked around to see if anyone could hear us. I looked around, too, and saw that several people were watching us. In particular, Celeste looked like she was trying to set me on fire with her eyes. I didn't keep eye contact for long. Still, even with all the onlookers, no one was close enough to hear. When Maxon came to the same conclusion, he leaned in to whisper.

"Their attacks are much more ... lethal."

I shivered. "Lethal?"

He nodded. "They only come about once or twice a year, as best I can tell from the aftermath. I think that everyone here is trying to protect me from the statistics, but I'm not stupid. People die when they come. The trouble is, both groups look alike to us-dingy, mostly men, lean but strong, no sort of emblem as far as we can tell-so we don't know what we're getting until it's all over."

I looked around the room. A lot of people were in danger if Maxon was wrong and they happened to be Southerners. I thought of my poor maids again.

"But I still don't understand. What do they want?"

Maxon shrugged. "The Southerners appear to want us demolished. I don't know why, but I'm guessing some dissatisfaction or another, tired of living on the fringes of society. I mean, they're not even Eights technically, since they have no part in the social network. But the Northerners are a bit of a mystery. Father says they just want to bother us, disrupt our governing, but I don't think so." He looked rather proud for a moment. "I have another theory about that as well."

"Do I get to know it?"

Maxon hesitated again. I guessed this time it wasn't so much out of fear of scaring me, but perhaps not being taken seriously.

He came close again and whispered, "I think they're looking for something."

"What?" I wondered.

"That I don't know. But it's always the same around here after the Northerners come. Guards are knocked out, injured, or tied up, but never killed. It's like they just don't want to be followed around. Though some people get taken with them, and that's a bit disturbing. And then the rooms-well, all the ones they can get into-they're a mess. Every drawer pulled out, shelves searched, carpet upturned. Lots of things get broken. You wouldn't believe the number of cameras I've replaced over the years."

"Cameras?"

"Oh," he said bashfully. "I like photography. But despite all that, they don't end up taking much. Father thinks my idea is rubbish, of course. What could a bunch of illiterate barbarians be looking for? Still, I think there must be something."

It was intriguing. If I was penniless and knew how to break into the palace, I think I'd take every piece of jewelry I could find, anything I could sell. These rebels must have something in mind beyond a mere political statement or their day-to-day survival in mind when they came here.

"Do you think it's silly?" Maxon asked, bringing me out of my wonderings.

"No, not silly. Confusing, but not silly."

We shared a small smile. I realized that if Maxon had simply been Maxon Schreave and not Maxon, future king of Illea, he would be the kind of person I would have wanted to be my next-door neighbor, someone to talk to.

He cleared his throat. "I suppose I should finish my rounds."

"Yes, I imagine there are quite a few ladies wondering what's taking you so long."

"So, buddy, any suggestions as to whom I should speak with next?"

I smiled and looked behind me to make sure my candidate for princess was still holding it together. She was.

"See the blond girl over there in the pink? That's Marlee. Sweetheart, very kind, loves movies. Go."

Maxon chuckled and walked in her direction.

The time in the dining hall felt like an eternity, but the attack had only lasted a little over an hour. We found out later that no one had actually gotten inside the palace, just inside the grounds. The guards didn't shoot at the rebels until they tried for the main doors, which accounted for the bricks-bricks that had been gouged out of the palace walls-and rotten food being thrown at the windows for so long.

In the end, two men got too close to the doors, shots were fired, and they all fled. If Maxon's labels were correct, I would a.s.sume these were Northerners.

They kept us tucked away for a little while longer, searching the perimeter of the palace. When everything was as it should be, we were released to our rooms. I walked arm in arm with Marlee. Despite holding it together downstairs, the strain of the attack had exhausted me, and I was glad to have someone to distract me from it.

"He let you have the pants anyway?" she asked. I had started talking about Maxon as soon as I could, eager to know how their conversation had gone.

"Yeah. He was very generous about it all."

"I think it's charming that he's a good winner."

"He is a good winner. He's even gracious when he's gotten the raw end of things." Like a knee to the royal jewels, for example.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing." I didn't want to explain that one. "What did you two talk about today?"

"Well, he asked me if I'd like to see him this week." She blushed.

"Marlee! That's great!"

"Hush!" she said, looking around, though the rest of the girls had already ascended the stairs. "I'm trying not to get my hopes up."

We were quiet for a minute before she burst.

"Who am I kidding? I'm so excited I can barely stand it! I hope he won't take too long to call on me."

"If he's already asked, I'm sure he'll follow through soon. I mean, after he finishes running the country for the day, that is."

She laughed. "I can't believe this! I mean, I knew he was handsome, but I wasn't sure how he'd behave. I was worried he'd be... I don't know, stuffy or something."

"Me, too. But he's actually..." What was Maxon actually? He was sort of stuffy, but not in a way that was as off-putting as I'd imagined. Undeniably a prince, but still so ... so... "Normal."

Marlee wasn't looking at me anymore. She'd lost herself in a daydream as we walked. I hoped that this image of Maxon that she was building was one he could deliver. And that she would be the kind of girl he wanted. I left her at her door with a small wave and went on to my room.

My thoughts of Marlee and Maxon flew out of my head as soon as I opened the door. Anne and Mary were crouched around a very distressed Lucy. Her face was red with tears falling down her cheeks; her usual tiny trembles were full-on shakes, racking her entire body.

"Calm down now, Lucy, everything's fine," Anne was whispering as she stroked Lucy's messy hair.

"Everything is over now. No one was hurt. You're safe, dear," Mary cooed, holding a twitching hand.

I was too shocked to speak. This moment was Lucy's private struggle, not meant for my eyes. I went to back out of my room, but Lucy caught me before I could back away.

"S-s-sorry, Lady, Lady, Lady...," she stammered. The others looked up with anxious expressions.

"Don't trouble yourself. Are you all right?" I asked, closing the door so no one else would see.

Lucy tried to start again, but couldn't form the words. Her tears and the shaking were overwhelming her little body.

"She'll be fine, miss," Anne interceded. "It takes a few hours, but she calms down once everything's quiet. If it stays bad, we can take her to the hospital wing." Anne dropped her voice. "Only Lucy doesn't want that. If they think you're unfit, they hide you down in the laundry rooms or the kitchen. Lucy likes being a maid."

I didn't know who Anne thought she was hiding her voice from. We were all surrounding Lucy, and she could hear those words clearly, even in her state.

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The Selection Part 13 summary

You're reading The Selection. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Kiera Cass. Already has 559 views.

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