Chapter no 10

The Elite (The Selection, 2)

THRASHED AND SHRIEKED ALL the way back. The guards had to hold me so tightly that I knew I’d be covered in bruises later, but I didn’t care. I had to fight.

“Where’s her room?” I heard one ask, and twisted to see a maid walking down the hall. I didn’t recognize her, but she clearly knew me. She escorted the guards to my door. I heard my maids shouting in protest at the way I was being handled.

“Calm down, miss; that’s no way to behave,” a guard said with a grunt as they threw me onto my bed.

“Get the hell out of my room!” I screamed.

My maids, all of them in tears, rushed over to me. Mary started trying to get the dirt from my fall off my dress, but I slapped her hands away. They knew. They knew, and they didn’t warn me.

“You, too!” I yelled at them. “I want all of you out! NOW!”

They recoiled at my words, and the tremors running down Lucy’s little body almost made me regret saying them. But I had to be alone.

“We’re sorry, miss,” Anne said, pulling the other two back. They knew how close I was to Marlee.

Marlee …

“Just go,” I whispered, turning to bury my face in my pillow.

Once the door clicked shut, I slipped off my remaining shoe and climbed deeper into bed, finally making sense of a hundred tiny details. So this was the secret she had been too afraid to share. She didn’t want to stay because she wasn’t in love with Maxon, but she didn’t want to leave and be separated from Carter.

A dozen moments suddenly made sense: why she chose to stand in certain places or stared toward doors. It was Carter; he was there. The time the king and queen of Swendway came and she refused to get out of the sun … Carter. It was Marlee he was waiting for when I ran into him outside the bathroom. It was always him, standing silently by, perhaps sneaking a kiss here and there, waiting for a time when they could truly be together.

How much must she have loved him to be so careless, to risk so much?

How could this even be real? It didn’t seem possible. I knew that there would be a punishment for something like this, but that it happened to Marlee, that she was gone …. I couldn’t understand it.

My stomach writhed. It so easily could have been me. If Aspen and I hadn’t been so careful, if someone had overheard our conversation on the dance floor last night, that could have been us.

Would I ever see Marlee again? Where would she be sent? Would her parents have anything to do with her? I didn’t know what Carter was before the draft made him a Two, though my guess was he was a Seven. Seven was low, but it was better than Eight by a long shot.

I couldn’t believe she was an Eight. This could not be real.

Would Marlee ever be able to use her hands again? How long did such wounds take to heal? And what about Carter? Would he even be able to walk after that?

That could have been Aspen. That could have been me.

I felt so sick. I had a cruel sense of relief that it wasn’t me, and the guilt of that relief was so heavy it was hard to breathe. I was a terrible person, a terrible friend. I was ashamed.

There was nothing left to do but cry.

I spent the morning and most of the afternoon curled in a ball on my bed. My maids brought me lunch, but I couldn’t touch it. Mercifully, they didn’t insist on staying and let me be alone in my sadness.

I couldn’t pull myself together. The more I thought over what had happened, the sicker I felt. I couldn’t get the sound of Marlee screaming out of my head. I wondered if a time would come when I’d forget.

A hesitant knock came at the door. My maids weren’t here to open it, and I didn’t feel like moving, so I didn’t. After a brief pause the visitor came in anyway.

“America?” Maxon said quietly. I didn’t answer.

He shut the door and walked across the room to stand by my bed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t have a choice.”

I stayed still, unable to speak.

“It was that or kill them. The cameras found them last night and circulated the footage without us knowing,” he insisted.

He didn’t talk for a while, maybe thinking that if he stood there long enough, I’d find something I wanted to say to him.

Finally he knelt beside me. “America? Look at me, darling?”

The endearment made my stomach turn. I did look at him though. “I had to. I had to.”

“How could you just stand there?” My voice sounded funny. “How could you not do anything?”

“I told you once before that part of this job is looking calm, even when you aren’t. It’s something I’ve had to master. You will, too.”

My brow folded together. He couldn’t still think I wanted that now? Apparently, he did. As he slowly took in my expression, his fell into absolute shock.

“America, I know you’re upset, but please? I told you; you’re the only one. Please don’t do this.”

“Maxon,” I said slowly, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can do this. I could never stand by and watch someone get hurt like that, knowing it was my judgment that sent them there. I can’t be a princess.”

He drew in a staggered breath, probably the closest thing to a truly sad emotion I’d ever seen from him.

“America, you’re basing the rest of your life on five minutes of someone else’s. Things like that rarely happen. You wouldn’t have to do that.”

I sat up, hoping it would help me see matters more clearly. “I just … I can’t even think right now.”

“Then don’t,” he urged. “Don’t let this make a decision for the both of us when you’re so upset.”

Somehow those words sounded like a trick.

“Please,” he whispered intensely, clutching my hands. The desperation in his voice made me look at him. “You promised you’d stay with me. Don’t give up, not like this. Please.”

I let out a breath and nodded.

His relief was palpable. “Thank you.”

Maxon sat there, holding on to my hand like a lifeline. It didn’t feel like it did yesterday.

“I know …,” he started. “I know that you’re hesitant about the job. I always knew that would be hard for you to embrace. And I’m sure this makes it harder. But … what about me? Do you still feel sure about me?”

I fidgeted, uncertain of what to say. “I told you I couldn’t think.” “Oh. Right.” His absolute dejection was clear. “I’ll let you be for

now. We’ll talk soon though.”

He leaned forward like he might kiss me. I looked down, and he cleared his throat. “Good-bye, America.”

Then he was gone.

And I broke down all over again.

Maybe minutes or hours later, my maids came in and found me bawling. I rolled over, and there was no way they could miss the pleading in my eyes.

“Oh, my lady,” Mary cried, coming to embrace me. “Let’s get you ready for bed.”

Lucy and Anne began working on the buttons of my dress while Mary cleaned my face and smoothed my hair.

My maids sat around me, comforting me as I cried. I wanted to explain that it was more than Marlee, that it was this sick ache over Maxon, too; but it was embarrassing to admit how deeply I cared, how wrong I’d been.

Then my heartbreak doubled when I asked for my parents, and Anne told me that all the families had been escorted away quickly. I didn’t even get to say good-bye.

Anne stroked my hair, gently shushing me. Mary was at my feet, rubbing my legs comfortingly. Lucy simply held her hands to her heart, as if she felt it all with me.

“Thank you,” I whispered between sniffles. “I’m sorry about earlier.” They exchanged glances. “There’s nothing to apologize for, miss,”

Anne insisted.

I wanted to correct her, because I’d certainly crossed the line with how I treated them, but another knock came at the door. I tried to think of how to politely say I didn’t want to see Maxon right now, but when Lucy hopped up to answer it, Aspen’s face was on the other side.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, ladies, but I heard the crying and wanted to make sure you were all right,” he said.

He crossed the floor toward my bed, a bold move considering the day we’d all had.

“Lady America, I’m very sorry about your friend. I heard she was something special. If you need anything, I’m here.” The look in Aspen’s eyes communicated so much: that he was willing to sacrifice any number of things to make this better if he could, that he wanted to take it all away if only for my sake.

What an idiot I’d been. I’d almost given up the one person in the world who really knew me, really loved me. Aspen and I had been building a life together, and the Selection nearly destroyed it.

Aspen was home. Aspen was safe.

“Thank you,” I replied quietly. “Your kindness means a great deal to me.”

Aspen gave me an almost imperceptible smile. I could tell he wanted to stay, and I wanted that as well; but with my maids bustling around, it couldn’t happen. I remembered thinking the other day that I would always have Aspen, and I was happy to find that it was absolutely true.

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