Chapter no 29

The Elite (The Selection, 2)

CROSSED MY ARMS. “I’VE heard Kriss’s version of what happened, and I don’t think she’s exaggerating anything. As for Celeste, I’d rather never talk about her ever again.”

He laughed. “So stubborn. I’ll miss that.”

I was quiet for a minute. “So it’s done then? I’m out?”

Maxon thought it over. “I’m not sure I could stop it now. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

I shook my head. “I was mad,” I whispered. “I was so mad.”

I looked away, not wanting to cry. Apparently Maxon decided that I needed to listen to what he had to say, whether I wanted to or not. Finally he had me trapped, and I would hear everything he’d been waiting to tell me.

“I thought you were mine,” he said. I peeked over and found him staring at the ceiling. “If I could have proposed to you at the Halloween party, I would have. I’m supposed to do something official with my parents and guests and cameras, but I got special permission to ask you privately when we were ready and have a reception afterward. I never told you about that, did I?”

Maxon looked over to me, and I gave a small shake of my head. He smiled bitterly, remembering.

“I had this speech prepared, all these promises I wanted to make. I probably would have forgotten it and made an idiot of myself. Though

… I can remember it now.” He sighed. “I’ll spare you.”

He paused briefly. “When you pushed me away, I panicked. I had thought that I was done with this insane contest, and I found myself feeling like it was the very first day of the Selection all over again, only this time my options were far more limited. And just the week before, I’d spent time with all those girls trying to find someone who outshone you, who I thought I could want more, and failed. I felt hopeless.

“And then Kriss came to me, so very humble, only wanting to see me happy, and I wondered how I’d missed that in her. I knew she was nice, and she’s very attractive; but there was something more to her this whole time.

“I think I simply wasn’t really looking. What reason did I have when there was you?”

I wrapped my arms around myself, trying to hide from the ache.

There was no me anymore. I’d ruined all that.

“Do you love her?” I asked meekly. I didn’t want to see his face, but the long pause let me know that there was something deep between the two of them.

“It’s different than what you and I had. It’s quieter, maybe friendlier. But it’s steady. I can depend on Kriss, and I know without question that she is devoted to me. As you can see, there is very little certainty in my world. She’s refreshing in that way.”

I nodded, still avoiding eye contact. All I could think about was how he spoke of him and me in the past tense and had nothing but praise for Kriss. I wished I had something bad to say about her, something that would bring her down a notch; but I didn’t. Kriss was a lady. From the beginning she’d done everything well, and I was surprised that he had ever favored me over her anyway. She was perfect for him.

“Then why Celeste?” I asked, finally facing him. “If Kriss is so wonderful …”

Maxon nodded his head, seeming embarrassed about this subject. It was his idea to talk about this in the first place, though, so he must already have had something in mind to say. He stood, giving his back another tentative stretch, and started pacing the small space.

“As you now know, my life is full of stresses that I prefer not to share. I live in a constant state of tension. I’m always being watched, judged. My parents, our advisers … there are always cameras in my life, and now you’re all here,” he said, motioning to me. “I’m sure you’ve felt trapped at least once because of your caste, but imagine how I feel. There are things I’ve seen, America, and things I know; and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to change them.

“You’re aware, I’m sure, that technically my father is supposed to retire in my twenties, when he feels I’m ready to lead; but do you think he’ll ever stop pulling the strings? That’s not going to happen so long as he lives; and I know he’s terrible, but I don’t want him to die …. He is my father.”

I nodded.

“Speaking of which, he’s had his hand in the Selection from very early on. If you look at who’s left, it’s pretty clear.” He started ticking off the girls on his fingers. “Natalie is extremely pliable, and that makes her

my father’s favorite, as I am too willful in his opinion. The fact that he’s so fond of her makes me have to fight the urge to hate her.

“Elise has allies in New Asia, but I’m not sure if that’s of any use at all. That war …” Maxon debated something and shook his head. There was some detail about this war that he didn’t want to share with me. “And she’s so … I don’t even know the word for it. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want some girl who would agree with everything I said or just roll over and adore me. I try to contradict her, and she concedes the point. Every time! It’s infuriating. It’s like she doesn’t have a spine.”

He took a steadying breath. I didn’t realize how much she got under his skin. He was always so patient with us. Finally he looked at me.

“You were my pick. My only pick. My father wasn’t enthusiastic; but at that point you hadn’t done anything to upset him. So long as you were quiet, he didn’t mind me keeping you. In fact, he was fine with me choosing you, if you were well behaved. He’s used your recent actions to point out the flaws in my judgment and is insisting that he have the final say now.”

He shook his head. “That’s beside the point. The others—Marlee, Kriss, and Celeste—were chosen by advisers. Marlee was a favorite, as is Kriss.” He sighed. “Kriss would be a fine choice. I wish she would let me closer, if only for the fact that I don’t know if we have … chemistry. I’d like to at least have an idea.

“And Celeste. She is very influential, a celebrity in her own right. It looks good on TV. It sounds right for someone who is close to being on the same level as me to be the final choice. I like her if only for her tenacity. She at least has a backbone. But I can tell that she’s got a manipulative streak and that she’s working this whole situation for everything she can get out of it. I know when she holds me, it’s the crown she pulls close to her heart.”

He closed his eyes, as if what he was about to say was the worst of all. “She’s using me, so I don’t feel guilty using her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been encouraged to throw herself at me. I can respect Kriss’s boundaries. And I’d much prefer to be in your arms, but you’ve barely spoken to me ….

“Is it so awful of me to want fifteen minutes of my life not to matter? To feel good? To pretend for a little while that someone loves me? You can judge me if you want, but I can’t apologize for needing something normal in my life.”

He stared deep into my eyes, waiting for me to reproach him and hoping I wouldn’t at the same time.

“I get that.”

I thought of Aspen, holding me tight and making his promises. Hadn’t I done the very same thing? I could see the wheels turning in Maxon’s head, wondering how literally I meant that. This was one secret I couldn’t share. Even if it was all over for me, I couldn’t let Maxon think of me that way.

“Would you ever pick her? Celeste, I mean?”

He came to sit beside me, making his moves carefully. I couldn’t imagine how much his back was hurting him.

“If I had to, I’d take her over Elise or Natalie. But that won’t happen unless Kriss decides she wants to go.”

I nodded. “Kriss is a good choice. She’d make a much better princess than I ever would have.”

He chuckled. “She is less of an instigator. Lord knows what would happen to the country with you at the helm.”

I laughed along because he was right. “I’d probably ruin it.”

Maxon continued to smile when he spoke. “But maybe it needs ruining.”

We sat there in silence for a little while. I wondered what our world would look like ruined. We couldn’t get rid of the royal family—how could we possibly transition it out?—but maybe we could change the way some things were run. Offices could be elected instead of inherited. And the castes … I really would love to see those dead and gone.

“Would you indulge me?” Maxon asked. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve shared a lot of things with you tonight that are very difficult for me to admit. I was wondering if you could answer one question for me.”

His face was so sincere, I didn’t want to deny him. I hoped I wouldn’t regret whatever this was about, but he had been more honest than I deserved at this point.

“Yes. Anything.”

He swallowed. “Did you ever love me?”

Maxon looked into my eyes, and I wondered if he could see it there. All the emotions I’d fought because I thought he was something he wasn’t, all the feelings I never wanted to put a name on. I ducked my head.

“I know that when I thought you were responsible for hurting Marlee, it crushed me. Not just because it happened, but because I didn’t want to think of you as that kind of person. I know that when you talk about Kriss or when I think about you kissing Celeste … I’m so jealous I can hardly breathe. And I know that when we talked on Halloween, I was thinking about our future. And I was happy. I know if you had asked, I would have said yes.” Those last words were a whisper, almost too difficult to think about.

“I also know that I never knew how to feel about you dating other people or being a prince. Even with everything you told me tonight, I think there are pieces of yourself that you will always guard ….

“But, with all that …” I nodded. I couldn’t say the words aloud. If I did, how would I be able to leave?

“Thank you,” he whispered. “At least I can know for certain that, for one brief moment of our time together, you and I felt the same thing.”

My eyes stung, threatening to spill over with more tears. He’d never actually told me he loved me, and he wasn’t exactly saying it now. But the words were so, so very close.

“I’ve been so foolish,” I said, my breath catching. I’d fought hard against the tears, but I couldn’t anymore. “I kept letting the crown scare me out of wanting you. I told myself that you didn’t really matter to me. I kept thinking that you had lied to me or tricked me, that you didn’t trust me or care about me enough. I let myself believe that I wasn’t important to you.”

I stared at his handsome face. “One look at your back says you’d do damn near anything for me. And I threw it away. I just threw it away


He opened his arms, and I fell into them. Maxon held me silently, running his hands through my hair. I wished I could erase everything else and hold on to this moment, this brief second when he and I knew how much we meant to each other.

“Please don’t cry, darling. I’d spare you tears for the rest of your life if I could.”

My breathing was uneven as I spoke. “I’ll never see you again. It’s all my fault.”

He held me closer. “No, I should have been more open.” “I should have been more patient.”

“I should have proposed that night in your room.” “I should have let you.”

He chuckled. I looked up at his face, unsure of how many more of his smiles I’d have. Maxon’s fingers swept away the tears from my cheeks, and he sat there gazing into my eyes. I did the same to him, wanting to remember this so badly.

“America … I don’t know how much time we have left together, but I don’t want to spend it regretting things we didn’t do.”

“Me either.” I turned my face into his palm, kissing it. Then I kissed the tips of each of his fingers. He slid that hand deep into my hair and pulled my lips to his.

I had missed these kisses, so quiet, so sure. I knew that, in my whole life, if I married Aspen or someone else, no one would ever make me feel this way. It wasn’t like I made his world better. It was like I was his world. It wasn’t some explosion; it wasn’t fireworks. It was a fire, burning slowly from the inside out.

We shifted, sliding so I was on the floor and Maxon was above me. He ran his nose along my jawline, down my neck, across my shoulder, and kissed the same path back to my lips. I kept running my fingers through his hair. It was so soft, it almost tickled my palms.

After a while we pulled out the blankets and built a makeshift bed. He held me for the longest time, looking into my eyes. We could have spent years doing this if not for me.

Once Maxon’s shirt was dry, he put it on, covering the dried stains with his coat, and curled up next to me again. When we both got tired, we started talking. I didn’t want to sleep through a second of this, and I sensed he didn’t either.

“Do you think you’ll go back to him? Your ex?”

I didn’t want to talk about Aspen right now, but I considered this. “He’s a good choice. Smart, brave, maybe the only person on the planet more stubborn than me.”

Maxon laughed lightly. My eyes were closed, but I kept talking. “It would be awhile before I could think about that though.”


The silence stretched. Maxon rubbed his thumb along the hand he was holding.

“Could I write you?” he asked.

I thought about that. “Maybe you should wait a few months. You might not even miss me.”

He gave an almost-laugh.

“If you do write … you have to tell Kriss.” “You’re right.”

He didn’t clarify whether that meant he would tell her or simply not write me, but I didn’t really want to know at the moment.

I couldn’t believe that all this was happening because of a stupid book.

I gasped, and my eyes shot open. A book!

“Maxon, what if the Northern rebels are looking for the diaries?” He shifted, still not quite alert. “What do you mean?”

“When I was chased that day in the gardens, I saw them as they passed me. A girl dropped a bag full of books. The guy with her had bunches, too. They’re stealing books. What if they’re looking for a specific one?”

Maxon opened his eyes, squinting in thought. “America … what exactly was in that diary?”

“A lot. About how Gregory basically stole the country, how he forced the castes on people. It was awful, Maxon.”

“But the Report was cut off,” he insisted. “Even if that is what they’re looking for, there’s no way they could know that was it or what’s inside it. Trust me, after that little display, my father is making sure those things are even more protected than usual.”

“That’s it.” I covered my face, stifling a yawn. “I know it.”

“Don’t,” he said. “Don’t get worked up. For all we know, they just really, really like to read.”

I moaned at his attempt at humor.

“I seriously thought I couldn’t make this any worse.”

“Shh,” he said, coming closer. His strong arms grounded me to the earth. “Don’t worry now. You should probably sleep.”

“But I don’t want to,” I whispered, though I curled closer into him.

Maxon closed his eyes again, still holding on to me. “Me either. Even on a good day, sleeping makes me nervous.”

It made my heart ache. I couldn’t imagine his constant state of worry, especially considering that the person keeping him on edge was his own father.

He let go of my hand and reached into his pocket. My eyelids parted a bit, but he was doing all this with his eyes closed. We were both so close to sleep. He found my hand again and started tying something on my wrist. I recognized the feeling of the bracelet he got me in New Asia as it slid into place.

“I’ve been carrying it in my pocket. I’m a pitiful romantic, right? I was going to keep it, but I want you to have something from me.”

He’d put the bracelet on over Aspen’s, and I felt the button pressing into my skin underneath it.

“Thank you. It makes me happy.” “Then I’m happy, too.”

We didn’t say anything else.

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