Chapter no 23

The Elite (The Selection, 2)

CURTSIED TO THE QUEEN as I walked into the dining room, but she didn’t notice. I looked over to Elise, who was the only one already there, and she merely shrugged. I sat down as Natalie and Celeste entered and were equally ignored; and finally Kriss arrived, sitting next to me but keeping her eyes on Queen Amberly. The queen seemed to be in her own world, staring at the floor or occasionally glancing at Maxon’s and the king’s chairs as if something was wrong.

The butlers began serving food, and most of the girls started eating; but Kriss kept watch on the head table.

“Do you know what’s going on?” I whispered.

Kriss sighed and turned to me. “Elise called her family to get some insight into what was happening and to have her relatives meet Maxon and the king once they got to New Asia. But Elise’s family says they never arrived.”

“They never came?”

Kriss nodded. “The weird thing is, the king called when they landed, and he and Maxon both spoke with Queen Amberly. They’re fine, and they told her they were in New Asia; but Elise’s family kept saying they never showed.”

I scrunched my forehead, trying to understand. “What does that all mean?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “They say they’re there, so how could they not be? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Huh,” I said, not sure of what else to add. Why would Elise’s family not know they were there? What if, maybe, they weren’t actually in New Asia? Where could they be?

Kriss leaned closer to me. “There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about,” she whispered. “Could we go for a walk in the gardens after breakfast?”

“Of course,” I answered, eager to hear what she knew.

We both ate quickly. I wasn’t sure what she’d found out, but if she wanted to talk outside, there was clearly a need for secrecy. The queen was so distracted, she barely even noticed as we left.

Stepping into the sunlit gardens felt wonderful. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been out here,” I said, closing my eyes and lifting my face to the sun.

“You usually come with Maxon, right?”

“Mm-hmm.” A second later, I wondered how she knew that. Was it common knowledge?

I cleared my throat. “So, what did you want to talk about?”

She stopped under the shade of a tree and turned to face me. “I think you and I should talk about Maxon.”

“What about him?”

She fidgeted. “Well, I had prepared myself to lose. I think we all had, except for maybe Celeste. It was obvious, America. He wanted you. And then everything with Marlee happened, and it changed.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say. “So, are you just telling me you’re sorry for moving to the top or something?”

“No!” she said emphatically. “I can see he still cares about you. I’m not blind. I’m only saying, I think you and I might be neck and neck at this point. I like you. I think you’re a really great person, and I don’t want for things to get ugly, however it turns out.”

“So this is …?”

She clasped her hands in front of her, trying to think of the right words. “This is me offering to be completely honest about my relationship with Maxon. And I’m hoping you’ll do the same.”

I crossed my arms and went for the one question I’d been dying to ask. “When did you two get so close?”

Her eyes got a little dreamy, and she toyed with a piece of her light- brown hair. “I guess right after everything with Marlee. It probably sounds stupid, but I made him a card. That’s what I always did back home when my friends were sad. Anyway, he loved it. He said no one had given him a present yet.”

What? Oh. Wow. After everything he’d done for me, had I really never done anything for him in return?

“He was so happy, he asked me to sit with him awhile in his room and—”

“You’ve seen his room?” I asked, shocked. “Yes, haven’t you?”

My silence was all the answer she needed.

“Oh,” she said awkwardly. “Well, you’re not missing anything. It’s dark, and there’s a gun rack, and then he has this mess of pictures on the wall. It’s nothing special,” she promised, waving it away. “Anyway, after

that he started visiting me during pretty much every free moment he had.” She shook her head. “It happened kind of fast.”

I sighed. “He basically told me,” I confessed. “He made a little comment about needing us both here.”

“So …” She bit her lip. “You’re pretty sure he still likes you?”

Hadn’t she already suspected that? Did she simply need me to confirm it? “Kriss, do you really want to hear all this?”

“Yes! I want to know where I stand. And I’ll tell you anything you want to know, too. We aren’t running this thing, but that doesn’t mean we have to be lost in it.”

I walked in a short circle, trying to make sense of everything. I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to ask Maxon about Kriss. I could barely talk honestly with him about me. But I kept feeling like I was missing pieces of the truth about where I stood. Maybe this was my only hope of really knowing.

“I’m pretty sure he wants me to stay around for a while. But I think he wants you here, too.”

She nodded. “I figured.”

“Has he kissed you?” I blurted out.

She smiled bashfully. “No, but I think that he would have if I hadn’t asked him not to. In my family, we sort of have this tradition where we don’t kiss until we’re engaged. Sometimes we have a party when people announce their wedding date, and everyone gets to see the first kiss. I want that for me.”

“But he tried to?”

“No, I explained before we got that far. He kisses my hands a lot, though, or sometimes my cheek. I think it’s kind of sweet,” she gushed.

I nodded, looking at the grass.

“Wait,” she said, hesitating. “Did he kiss you?”

Part of me wanted to brag that I was his first kiss ever. That when we kissed, it felt like time stopped.

“Sort of. It’s kind of hard to explain,” I hedged.

She made a face. “No, it’s not. Has he or hasn’t he?” “It’s complicated.”

“America, if you’re not going to be honest, then this is a waste of time. I came here wanting to be open with you. I thought it would benefit us both to be friendly.”

I stood there, wringing my hands, trying to think of a way to explain myself. It wasn’t that I disliked Kriss. If I went home, I’d want her to win.

“I do want to be friends with you, Kriss. I kind of thought we already were.”

“Me, too,” she said gently.

“It’s just hard for me to share private things. And I appreciate your honesty, but I’m not sure I want to know everything. Even though I asked,” I said quickly, seeing the words coming to her lips. “I already knew he had feelings for you. I could see it. I think I need things to be vague for the time being.”

She smiled. “I can respect that. Would you do me a favor though?” “Sure, if I can.”

She bit her lip and turned her eyes away for a minute. When she looked back, I could see the hint of tears in her eyes. “If you’re certain that he doesn’t want me, could you maybe warn me? I don’t know how you feel, but I love him. And I’d appreciate being told. If you know for sure anyway.”

She loved him. She said it out loud, fearlessly. Kriss loved Maxon. “If he ever told me for sure, I would tell you.”

She nodded. “And maybe we could make another promise? Not to purposely get in each other’s way? I don’t want to win that way, and I don’t think you do either.”

“I’m no Celeste,” I said with disgust, and she laughed. “I promise to be fair.”

“Okay then.” She dabbed at her eyes and straightened her dress. I could see it so easily, how elegant she would look with the crown on her head.

“I need to go,” I lied. “Thanks for talking to me.” “Thanks for coming. I’m sorry if I was too intrusive.” “It’s fine.” I stepped away. “I’ll see you later.” “Okay.”

I turned as quickly as I could without being rude and made my way to the palace. Once inside, I quickened my pace and bolted up the stairs, aching to hide.

I made my way to the second floor and headed toward my room. I noticed a piece of paper on the floor, which was unusual for the typically immaculate palace. It was by the corner leading to my door, so I guessed it might be for me. To be sure, I flipped it over and read.

Another rebel attack this morning, this time in Paloma. Current count is over three hundred dead, at least one hundred more wounded. Again, the main demand appears to be terminating the

Selection, calling for an end to the royal line. Please advise on best response.

My body went cold. I scanned both sides of the paper, looking for a date. Another attack this morning? Even if this was a few days old, it was at least the second one. And the demand was again ending the Selection. Was this what all the recent attacks had been about? Were they trying to get rid of us? If so, were both the Northern and Southern rebels pursing that end?

I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t supposed to have seen this message, so it wasn’t like I could talk to anyone. But did the people who were supposed to know already have this information? I decided to put the paper back on the ground. Hopefully, a guard would come around soon and get it to the right place.

For now I would just be optimistic that someone was responding.

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