Chapter no 31

The Elite (The Selection, 2)

TUGGED AT MY DRESS. “Isn’t this a bit grand for the occasion?” “Not at all!” Mary insisted.

It was late afternoon, but they’d put me in an evening gown. It was purple, and very regal. The sleeves went to my elbows, as it was colder back in Carolina; and a sweeping hooded cape was draped over my arm for when I landed. A high collar would protect my neck from any wind that might come, and they’d pulled up my hair so elegantly, I was positive this was the prettiest I’d ever looked at the palace. I wished that I could go see Queen Amberly, sure that even she would be impressed.

“I don’t want to linger,” I insisted. “It’s hard enough to go as it is. I just want you all to know that I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for me. Not only for keeping me clean and dressed, but for spending time with me and caring about me. I’ll never forget you.”

“And we’ll always remember you, miss,” Anne promised.

I nodded and started fanning my face. “Okay, okay, I’ve had enough tears for one day. If you could tell the driver I’ll be right down, I’m going to take a moment.”

“Of course, miss.”

“Is it still improper for us to hug?” Mary asked, looking at me and then Anne.

“Who cares?” she said, and they crowded around me one last time. “Take care of yourselves.”

“You, too, miss,” Mary said.

“You were always a lady,” Anne added.

They stepped away, but Lucy held on. “Thank you,” she breathed, and I could tell she was crying. “I’ll miss you.”

“Me, too.”

She let me go, and they walked to the door, standing together in a group. They gave me one last curtsy, and I waved as they left me alone.

So many times in the last few weeks I had wished I could leave. Now that it was here, seconds away, I was dreading it. I walked onto the balcony. I looked down at the gardens, gazing at the bench, the spot where Maxon and I had met. I didn’t know why, but I suspected he’d be there.

He wasn’t though. He had more important things to do than to sit around thinking about me. I touched the bracelet on my wrist. He would think about me, though, from time to time, and that comforted me. No matter what, this was real.

I backed away, closing the door and heading to the hallway. I moved slowly, taking in the beauty of the palace one last time, even though it was slightly marred by broken mirrors and chipped frames.

I remembered walking down this grand stairwell the first day, feeling confused and grateful at the same time. There were so many girls then.

When I reached the front doors, I paused for a moment. I’d gotten so used to being behind those massive blocks of wood that it almost felt wrong to go through them.

I took a deep breath and reached for the handle. “America?”

I turned. Maxon was standing at the other end of the corridor. “Hey,” I said lamely. I hadn’t thought I’d get to see him again.

He walked over to me quickly. “You look absolutely breathtaking.” “Thank you.” I touched the fabric of my last dress.

There was a breath of silence as we stood there, watching each other.

Maybe that’s all this was: a last chance to see.

Suddenly he cleared his throat, remembering his purpose. “I’ve spoken with my father.”


“Yes. He was quite happy that I wasn’t killed last night. As you might have guessed, carrying on the royal line is very important to him. I explained to him that I nearly died because of his temper and attributed my finding a hiding place to you.”

“But I didn’t—”

“I know. But he needn’t.” I smiled.

“I then told him that I set you straight on some behavioral things. Again, he needn’t know that’s untrue; but you could act like it happened, if you wanted.”

I didn’t know why I would need to act like anything happened when I would be on the other side of the country, but I nodded.

“Considering that I owe my life to you as far as he knows, he agreed that my desire to keep you here might be somewhat justified, so long as you were on your best behavior and could learn your place.”

I stared at him, not completely sure I was hearing this right.

“Really, the fair thing to do is let Natalie go. She’s not cut out for this; and with her family grieving right now, her home is the best place for her. We’ve already spoken.”

I was still dumbstruck. “Shall I explain?” “Please.”

Maxon reached for my hand. “You would stay here as a member of the Selection and still be a part of the competition, but things will be different. My father will probably be harsh toward you and do whatever he can to make you fail. I think there are some ways to fight that, but it will take time. You know how ruthless he is. You have to prepare yourself.”

I nodded. “I think I can do that.”

“There’s more.” Maxon looked to the carpet, trying to align his thoughts. “America, there’s no question that you’ve had my heart from the beginning. By now you have to know that.”

When he brought his eyes up to mine, I could see it in every part of him and feel it in every piece of me. “I do.”

“But what you do not have right now is my trust.” I was stricken. “What?”

“I’ve shown you so many of my secrets, defended you in every way I can. But when you aren’t pleased with me, you act rashly. You shut me out, blame me, or, most impressively, try to change the entire country.”

Ouch. That was pretty rough.

“I need to know that I can depend on you. I need to know that you can keep my secrets, trust my judgment, and not hold things back from me. I need you to be completely honest with me and to stop questioning every decision I make. I need you to have faith in me, America.”

It hurt to hear all of that, but he was right. What had I done to prove to him that he could trust me? Everyone around him was pulling or pushing him into something. Could I just be there for him?

I fiddled with my hands. “I do have faith in you. And I hope you can see that I want to be with you. But you could have been more honest with me, too.”

He nodded. “Perhaps. And there are things I want to tell you, but many of the things I know are of such a nature that they cannot be shared if there’s even a minuscule chance that you can’t keep them to yourself. I need to know that you can do that. And I need you to be wholly open with me.”

I inhaled to respond, but it never came out.

“Maxon, there you are.” Kriss called, rounding the corner. “I didn’t get to ask you earlier if we were still on for dinner tonight.”

Maxon looked at me as he spoke. “Of course. We’ll eat in your room.”

“Wonderful!” That hurt.

“America? Are you really leaving?” she asked, coming up to us. I could see the spark of hope in her eyes. I looked to Maxon, whose expression seemed to say This is what I’m talking about. I need you to accept the consequences of your actions, to trust me to make my own choice.

“No, Kriss, not today.”

“Good.” She sighed, coming to hug me. I wondered how much of this embrace was for Maxon’s sake; but, really, it didn’t matter. Kriss was my toughest competition, but she was also the closest friend I had here. “I was really worried about you last night. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Thanks, it was lucky—” I almost said that it was lucky I had Maxon to keep me company, but bragging would have probably ruined what little bit of trust I’d built in the last ten seconds. I cleared my throat. “Lucky the guards got there so fast.”

“Thank goodness. Well, I’ll see you later.” She turned to Maxon. “And I’ll see you tonight.”

Kriss skipped down the hall, giddier than I’d ever seen her. I guess if I saw the guy I loved put me above his former favorite, I’d feel like skipping, too.

“I know you don’t like that, but I need her. If you let me down, she’s my best bet.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said with a shrug. “I won’t let you down.”

I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and headed upstairs without looking back. A few hours ago, I thought I’d lost Maxon for good; and now that I knew what he meant to me, I was going to fight for him. The other girls wouldn’t know what hit them.

As I made my way up the grand stairwell, I felt encouraged. I probably should have been more worried about the challenge that was ahead of me, but all I could think of was how I’d eventually overcome it. Perhaps the king sensed my joy, or maybe he was just waiting; but as

I stepped onto the second floor, he was there, halfway down the hall.

He approached me slowly, a clear display of control. When he stopped in front of me, I curtsied.

“Your Majesty,” I said.

“Lady America. It seems you’re still with us.” “So it does.”

A pack of guards passed us, bowing as they did so. “Let’s talk business,” he said sternly. “What do you think of my wife?”

I pursed my forehead, surprised at the direction of the conversation. Still, I answered honestly. “I think the queen is amazing. I don’t know enough words to say how wonderful I think she is.”

He nodded. “She’s a rare woman. Beautiful, obviously, and also humble. Timid, but not to the point of being cowardly. Obedient, good- humored, an excellent conversationalist. It seems that even though she was born into poverty, she was meant to be a queen.”

He paused and looked at me, taking in the clear admiration on my face. “The same cannot be said of you.”

I tried to stay calm as he continued. “Your looks are average. Red hair, a bit pale, and I suppose a decent figure; but you’re nothing next to Celeste. As far as your temper …” He inhaled sharply. “You’re rude, jocular; and the one time you do something serious, it tears at the fabric of our nation. Completely thoughtless. And that’s not even counting your poor posture and gait. Kriss is far lovelier and more agreeable.”

I pushed my lips together, willing myself not to cry. I reminded myself that I already knew all this.

“And, of course, there is absolutely no political advantage to having you in the family. Your caste isn’t low enough to be inspiring, and your connections are nonexistent. Elise, however, was very helpful with our trip to New Asia.”

I wondered how true that could be if they never actually made contact with her family. Maybe there was something going on that I simply didn’t know about. Or maybe all of this was being exaggerated to make me feel worthless. If that was the goal, he’d done an excellent job.

His cold eyes focused on mine. “What are you doing here?” I swallowed. “I suppose you would have to ask Maxon.” “I’m asking you.”

“He wants me here,” I said firmly. “And I want to be here. As long as both of those things are true, I’m staying.”

The king grinned. “You’re what, sixteen? Seventeen?” “Seventeen.”

“I suspect you don’t know very much about men, which you shouldn’t if you’re here. Let me say, they can be very fickle. You might not want to hold on to your affection for him so tightly when a single moment could take his heart away for good.”

I squinted, unsure of what he meant.

“I have eyes all over this palace. I know there are girls offering him more than you’d dream. Do you think someone as plain as you could stand a chance next to them?”

Girls? As in plural? Was he saying that more than what I’d seen in the hall between Maxon and Celeste was happening? Were our hours of kisses last night tame compared to everything else he was experiencing?

Maxon had said he wanted to be honest with me. Was he keeping this a secret?

I had to decide in my heart that I trusted Maxon.

“If that’s true, then Maxon will let me go in his own time, and you have nothing to worry about.”

“But I do!” he bellowed, then dropped his voice. “If by some act of stupidity, Maxon actually chooses you, your little stunts would cost us everything. Decades, generations of work gone because you thought you were being a hero!”

He got in my face to the point that I actually took a step back, but he came closer, leaving very little space between us. His voice was low and harsh, and far more frightening than when he was yelling.

“You’re going to need to learn to hold your tongue. If not, you and I will be enemies. Trust me when I say that you do not want to be my enemy.”

His angry finger was pointing into my cheek. He could rip me to shreds right now. Even if there was someone nearby, what would they do? No one was going to protect me from the king.

I tried to sound calm. “I understand.”

“Excellent,” he said, suddenly turning cheerful. “Then I’ll leave you to settle back in. Good afternoon.”

I stood there, only realizing once he left that I was shaking. When he said to keep my mouth shut, I assumed that meant not even thinking of mentioning this to Maxon. So, for now I wouldn’t. I was betting this was a test to see how far he could push me. I willed myself to be unbreakable.

As I thought it, something in me changed. I was nervous, yes, but I was also angry.

Who was this man to order me around? Yes, he was king; but, really, he was just a tyrant. Somehow he’d convinced himself that by keeping everyone around him oppressed and quiet, he was doing us all a favor. How was it a blessing to be forced to live in a corner of society? How was it good that there were limits for everyone in Illéa but him?

I thought of Maxon sneaking Marlee into the depths of the kitchens. Even if I wasn’t here for very long, I knew he would do a better job than his father. Maxon at least had the capacity for compassion.

I continued to breathe slowly, and once I felt composed, I carried on.

I walked into my room and scurried over to press the button that sent for my maids. Faster than I could have imagined, Anne, Mary, and Lucy came running breathlessly into my room.

“My lady?” Anne said. “Is something wrong?”

I smiled. “Not unless you think me staying is a bad thing.” Lucy squealed. “Really?”


“But how?” Anne asked. “I thought you said—”

“I know, I know. It’s hard to explain. All I can say is that I’ve been given a second chance. Maxon matters to me, and I’m going to fight for him.”

“That’s so romantic!” Mary cried, and Lucy started clapping her hands.

“Hush, hush!” Anne called out sternly. I thought she would be excited and didn’t understand her sudden seriousness.

“If she’s going to win, we need a plan.” Her smile was diabolical, and I grinned with her. I’d never met anyone as organized as these girls. If I had them, there was no way I could lose.


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