Chapter no 8

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

AVOIDED EVERYONE OVER THE weekend, and no one seemed bothered by it, not even Mom. With the names out there, the Selection felt that much more real, and I was saddened by the dwindling days of solitude.

The Monday before the candidates arrived, I finally rejoined humanity and made my way to the Women’s Room. Miss Lucy was there, seeming back to her usual, cheerful self. I kept wishing I could do something to help her. I knew a puppy wasn’t a person, but so far my only idea was to get her a pet.

Mom was talking to Miss Marlee, and they waved me over the moment I was through the doorway.

‌Miss Marlee put her hand on mine as I sat. “I wanted to explain about Kile. He doesn’t want to leave because of you. He’s been talking about going for a long time, and I thought the semester away would put an end to it. I can’t bear to let him go.”

“You’ll have to let him make his own choice sooner or later,” Mom urged.

Funny, since she was the one trying to marry her daughter to a stranger. “I don’t understand it. Josie never talks about leaving.”

I rolled my eyes. Of course she doesn’t.

“But what can you do? You can’t force him to stay.” Mom poured a cup of tea and set it in front of me.

“I’m hiring another tutor. This one has hands-on experience and can give Kile more than a book could, so I think I’ve bought some more time. I keep hoping—”

Aunt May burst into the room, looking as if she stepped out of a magazine. I bolted over to her and gave her a bone-crushing hug.

“Your Highness,” she greeted. “Shut up.”

She laughed and pulled me back, grasping me by both shoulders and looking into my eyes. “I want to hear everything about the Selection. How are you feeling? Some of those pictures were cute. Are you already in love?”

“Not even close,” I replied with a laugh. “Well, give ’em a few days.”

That’s how it was with Aunt May. A new love every few months or so. She treated the four of us—and our cousins, Astra and Leo—like we were her kids since she never settled down herself. I particularly enjoyed her company,

and the palace always felt more exciting when she was here.

‌“How long are you staying?” Mom asked, and May held my hand as we crossed back to her.

“Leaving again Thursday.” I gasped.

“I know. I’m going to miss all the excitement!” She pouted at me. “But Leo has a game Friday afternoon, and Astra’s dance recital is on Saturday, and I promised I’d be there. She’s really coming along,” Aunt May said, turning to Mom. “You can tell her mother was an artist.”

They shared a smile. “I wish I could go,” Mom lamented.

“Why don’t we?” I suggested, picking up some cookies for my tea.

Aunt May gave me a questioning look. “You do realize you already have plans for this weekend, right? Big plans? Life-changing plans?”

I shrugged. “I’m not too worried about missing them.” “Eadlyn,” Mom reprimanded.

“Sorry! It’s just overwhelming. I like the way things are now.” “Where are the pictures?” May asked.

“In my room, on my desk. I’m trying to learn the names, but I haven’t gotten very far yet.”

May waved her arm at a maid. “Dearie, will you go up to the princess’s room and grab the stack of Selection candidates’ forms off her desk?”

The maid beamed and curtsied, and I suspected she’d be thumbing through the pile on her way down.

‌Mom leaned in toward her sister. “I just want to remind you that, one, they’re off-limits, and, two, even if they weren’t, you’re twice their age.”

Miss Marlee and I laughed, while Miss Lucy only smiled. She was much easier on Aunt May than the rest of us.

“Don’t tease her,” Miss Lucy protested. “I’m sure she has the best intentions.”

“Thank you, Lucy. This isn’t for me; it’s for Eadlyn!” she vowed. “We’re going to help her get a head start.”

“That’s not really how it works.” Mom leaned back, drinking her tea with an air of superiority.

Miss Marlee laughed loudly. “This from you! Do we need to remind you of your head start?”

“What?” I asked, shocked. How many details had my parents omitted from their story? “What does she mean?”

Mom put down her tea and held up a hand defensively. “I accidentally ran into your father the night before the Selection started, and, I will have you know,” she said, more to Miss Marlee than to me, “I could easily have been

kicked out for that. It wasn’t exactly the first impression you hope for.” I sat there gaping. “Mom, exactly how many rules did you break?”

Her eyes darted up as if she was trying to tally them. “Okay, you know what, go through the pictures all you want; you win.”

‌Aunt May laughed with delight, and I tried to memorize the way her head sloped gracefully to one side and her eyes sparkled. Everything about her was so effortlessly glamorous, and I adored her with a love close to what I held for my mother. While I felt a little slighted by Josie being my closest female playmate growing up, Mom’s circle of friends more than made up for it. Aunt May’s spirit, Miss Lucy’s kindness, Miss Marlee’s buoyancy, and Mom’s strength were invaluable, and more enlightening than any class I ever took.

The maid came back, placing the pile of forms and pictures in front of me. To my surprise, it was Miss Marlee who grabbed the first handful of applications to graze through. Aunt May was close behind, and while Mom didn’t pick up any herself, she did lean over Miss Marlee’s shoulder to peek. Miss Lucy looked like she was trying not to be curious but in the end had a pile in her own lap as well.

“Oh, he looks promising.” Aunt May shoved a picture in front of me. I stared into a set of dark eyes embedded deep in ebony skin. His hair was cropped short, and he wore a bright smile. “Baden Trains, nineteen, from Sumner.”

“He’s handsome,” Mom gushed.

“Well, obviously,” May agreed. “And with a last name like Trains, he probably comes from a family of Sevens. It says here he’s in his first year studying advertising. That means either he or someone in his family is very determined.”

“True,” Miss Marlee agreed. “That’s no small feat.”

I pulled a couple of the forms over, picking through them.

“So how are you feeling?” Aunt May asked. “Is everything ready to go?” “I think so.” I flipped over an application, scanning for something that

‌might seem remotely interesting. I just didn’t care. “For a while everyone was in such a tizzy I thought it might never end. It looks like all the rooms are finished, the food calculations have been made, and now that the list is official, travel arrangements should be done by tomorrow.”

“You sound positively thrilled,” May teased, poking me.

I sighed, then looked pointedly at Mom. “You might as well know, this isn’t completely about me.”

“What do you mean, honey?” Miss Lucy asked, setting her pile of papers on her lap, looking between Mom and me with concern.

“Of course we’re hoping Eadlyn will find someone worthy of settling

down with,” Mom began shrewdly. “But as it happens, this is coming at a time when we were in need of a plan to calm the unrest over the castes.”

“Ames!” May said. “Your daughter is a decoy?” “No!”

“Yes,” I muttered. Aunt May rubbed my back, and it made me feel so much better to have her there.

“Sooner or later, we would have needed to look at suitors, and this isn’t binding. Eadlyn has an agreement with Maxon that if she doesn’t fall in love, then the whole thing is off. However, yes, Eadlyn is doing her job as a member of the royal family by creating a little . . . diversion while the population cools down and we investigate what more we could do. And, might I add, it’s working.”

“It is?” I asked.

‌“Haven’t you looked at the papers? You’re the center of everything right now. Local papers are interviewing their candidates, and some provinces are holding parties, hoping their suitor will be the winner. Magazines are talking about possible front-runners, and I saw a segment on the news last night about a few girls who were forming fan clubs and wearing shirts with the names of their favorites plastered all over them. The Selection has consumed the entire country.”

“It’s true,” Miss Marlee confirmed. “Kile living in the palace is no longer a secret.”

“Have they also discovered he has no interest in participating?” I asked, more irritation in my voice than I intended. Miss Marlee wasn’t to blame for this whole debacle.

“No,” she answered with a laugh. “Again, though, that has nothing to do with you.”

I smiled back. “Miss Marlee, you heard Mom. He doesn’t need to worry. I think Kile and I already know we wouldn’t be that great of a match, and there’s a chance I’ll walk away from this without a fiancé anyway.” A one hundred percent chance, to be more accurate. “Don’t worry about him hurting my feelings, because I’m just seeing how it goes,” I replied, as if this was normal, bringing in a slew of boys for me to pick from. “I’m not upset.”

“You said it’s taken over everything,” May began, concerned. “Do you think it will last?”

“I think it’ll hold things off long enough for the people to forget some of the unhappiness that’s been so prevalent lately and for us to come up with a way to address issues if they pop up again.” Mom sounded confident.

‌“When they pop up,” I corrected. “My life might be exciting for a while, but eventually people will start worrying about themselves again.” I went

back to looking at the pictures, almost pitying these boys. They had no chance of winning and no idea they were part of a public distraction.

“This is strange,” I said, picking up one of the applications. “I don’t want to be judgmental, but look at this. I caught three different spelling mistakes on this one.”

Mom took the form. “It’s possible he was nervous.” “Or an idiot,” I offered.

May chuckled.

“Don’t be so harsh, sweetie. It’s scary on their end, too.” Mom handed me the form, and I clipped it back to a picture of a boy with a very innocent face and a head full of wild blond curls.

“Wait, are you scared?” Aunt May asked, worry on my behalf coating her voice.

“No, of course not.”

Her expression relaxed back into its normal, beautiful, carefree state. “Can’t imagine you being scared of anything.” She winked at me.

It was comforting that at least one of us thought so.

You'll Also Like