Chapter no 22

The One (The Selection, 3)

I DIDN’T REMEMBER MUCH OF the Report. I sat on my pedestal, thinking as every second passed that I was that much closer to being sent home. Then it dawned on me that staying wasn’t much better. If I caved and read those horrible messages, the king would win. Maybe Maxon did love me, but if he wasn’t man enough to say it out loud, then how could he ever protect me from the most frightening thing in my life: his father.

I would always be bending to King Clarkson’s will; and for all the support Maxon had from the Northern rebels, behind these walls, he would be alone.

I was angry at Maxon, and I was angry at his father, and I was angry at the Selection and everything that came with it. All the frustration knotted itself around my heart to the point where it made no sense, and I wished more than anything that I could talk to the girls about what was going on.

That wasn’t possible though. It wouldn’t make anything better for me, and it would only make things worse for them. Sooner or later, I’d have to face my concerns by myself.

I peeked to my left, looking down the row of the Elite. I realized that whoever stayed would have to face this without the rest of us. The pressures the public would set on us, demanding to be a part of our lives, as well as the commands of the king, ever seeking to use anyone within reach as a tool in his plans—all on the shoulders of one girl.

I tentatively reached out for Celeste’s hand, fingers brushing against hers. The second she felt them, she took hold, looking into my eyes with concern.

What’s wrong? she mouthed. I shrugged.

And so she just held my hand.

After a minute, she seemed to get a little sad, too. While the men in suits prattled on, she stretched out, reaching for Kriss’s hand. Kriss didn’t question it, and it took her only seconds to extend her hand for Elise’s.

And there we were, in the background of it all, holding on to one another. The Perfectionist, the Sweetheart, the Diva . . . and me.

I spent the next morning in the Women’s Room, being as obedient as I could. Several of the extended family members were in town, ready to spend Christmas Day in style. Tonight there was supposed to be a magnificent dinner and carol singing. Typically Christmas Eve was one of my favorite times of the year, but I felt too unsettled to even get excited.

There was a fantastic meal that I didn’t taste and beautiful gifts from the public that I barely saw. I was crushed.

As the relatives started getting tipsy on eggnog, I slipped away, not up to pretending to be jolly. By the end of the night, I’d either have to agree to do King Clarkson’s ridiculous commercials or let him send me home. I needed to think.

Back in my room, I sent my maids away and sat at my table, considering. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to tell the people to be satisfied with what they had, even if it was nothing. I didn’t want to discourage people from helping one another. I didn’t want to eliminate the possibility of more, to be the face and voice of a campaign that said, “Be still. Let the king run your life. That’s the best you can hope for.”

But . . . didn’t I love Maxon?

A second later, a knock came at the door. I reluctantly went to answer it, dreading King Clarkson’s cold eyes as he followed through on his ultimatum.

I opened the door to Maxon. He stood there wordlessly.

And all my anger made sense. I wanted everything from him and everything for him, because I wanted every piece of him. It was infuriating that everyone had to have their hands on this—the girls, his parents, even Aspen. So many conditions and opinions and obligations surrounded us, and I hated Maxon because they came with him.

And I loved him even so.

I was about to agree to do those awful announcements when he quietly held out his hand.

“Come with me?” “Okay.”

I closed the door behind me and followed Maxon down the hall.

“You have a point,” he started. “I am afraid to show all of you every piece of me. You get some, Kriss gets others, and so on. And I’ve based that on what feels appropriate for each of you. With you, I always like coming to you, to your room. It’s as if I’m stepping into a bit of your world, and if I do that enough, I can get all of you. Does that make sense?”

“Kind of,” I said as we turned up the stairs.

“But that’s not really fair, or even accurate. You explained to me once that these are our rooms, not yours. Anyway, I thought it was time I show you another piece of my world, maybe the last one where you’re concerned.”


He nodded as we stopped in front of a door. “My room.” “Really?”

“Only Kriss has seen it, and that was a bit of an impulse. I’m not unhappy I showed her, but I feel as if it pushed things forward quickly. You know how private I can be.”

“I do.”

He wrapped his fingers around the handle. “I’ve wanted to share this with you, and I think it’s well past the time. It’s not exactly something special, but it’s mine. So, I don’t know, I just want you to see it.”

“Okay.” I could tell he was feeling bashful, like maybe he’d built it up to be a bigger deal than it was, or maybe he’d regret showing me at all.

He took a deep breath and opened the door, letting me walk in first.

It was huge. The paneling was dark, some wood I wasn’t familiar with lining the whole space. On the far wall, a wide fireplace stood, waiting to be used. The whole thing must have been for show since it never seemed to get cold enough here to justify a fire.

His bathroom door was cracked open, and I could see a porcelain tub on the elaborately tiled floor. He had his own collection of books and a table near the fireplace that looked like it was intended for dining rather than work. I wondered how many lonely meals he’d had here. Near the doors that opened to his private balcony, a glass case full of guns sat, perfectly lined up. I’d forgotten his love of hunting.

His bed, also made from a dark wood, was massive. I wanted to go and touch it, to see if it felt as good as it looked.

“Maxon, you could fit a football team in there,” I teased.

“Tried it once. Not as comfortable as you’d think.”

I turned to swat at him, glad to see him in a playful mood. It was then, looking past his smiling face, that I saw the pictures. I inhaled sharply, taking in the beautiful display behind him.

On the wall by Maxon’s door was a vast collage, wide enough to be wallpaper for my room back home. There didn’t appear to be any sort of order to it, just image upon image piled up for him to enjoy.

I could see photos that surely had to have been taken by him, because they were of the palace, which was where he was almost all the time. Close-ups of tapestries, shots of the ceiling he must have lain flat on the carpet to get, and so many pictures of the gardens. There were others, maybe of places he hoped to see or had at least visited. I saw an ocean so blue it didn’t seem possible. There were a few bridges, and one of a wall- like structure that looked like it went on for miles.

But above all this, I saw my face a dozen times over. There was the picture of me that was taken for my Selection application, and the one of Maxon and me taken for the magazine when I wore that sash. We seemed happy there, as if it was all a game. I’d never seen that photo, or the one from the article on Halloween. I remembered Maxon standing behind me while we looked at designs for my costume. While I’m staring at the sketch, Maxon’s eyes are slightly turned toward me.

Then there were the photos he took. One of me shocked when the king and queen of Swendway visited and he’d quickly yelled out “Smile.” One of me sitting on the set for the Report, laughing at Marlee. He must have been hiding behind the blinding lights, stealing little images of us when we were all just being ourselves. And there was another one of me in the night, standing on my balcony and looking at the moon.

The other girls were in them, too, the remaining ones more than the others; but every once in a while I’d see Anna’s eyes peek out from under a landscape or Marlee’s smile hiding in a corner. And though they were just taken, pictures of Kriss and Celeste posing in the Women’s Room were up there, too, next to Elise pretending to faint on a couch and me with my arms wrapped around his mother.

“Maxon,” I breathed. “It’s beautiful.” “You like it?”

“I’m in awe of it. How many of these did you take?”

“Nearly all of them, but ones like this,” he said, pointing to one of the pictures used in the magazines, “I asked for.” He pointed again. “I took this one in the very southern part of Honduragua. I used to think it was interesting, but now it makes me sad.”

The image was of some pipes spilling smoke into the sky. “I used to look at the air, but now I remember how much I hated the smell of it. And people live in that all the time. I was so self-absorbed.”

“Where is this?” I asked, pointing to the long brick wall.

“New Asia. It used to be to the north of what was the Chinese border. They called it the Great Wall. I hear it was once quite spectacular, but now it’s mostly gone. It runs less than halfway through the middle of New Asia. That’s how much they’ve expanded.”


Maxon put his hands behind his back. “I was really hoping you would like it.”

“I do. So much. I want you to make me one.” “You do?”

“Yes. Or teach me to. I can’t even tell you how often I wished I could catch snippets of my life and hold on to them like this. I have a few torn pictures of my family and the new one with my sister’s baby, but that’s all. I’ve never even thought of keeping a journal or writing things down.

. . . I feel like you make so much more sense now.”

This was the center of who he was. I could feel the things that were permanent, such as his constant confinement in the palace and the brief bits of traveling. But there were also elements that shifted. The girls and I were on the wall so much because we’d taken over his world. Even as we left, we weren’t really gone.

I stepped over and laced an arm behind his back. He did the same to me, and we stood there quietly for a minute, taking it all in. And then something that should have been obvious the whole time suddenly came to me.



“If things were different and you weren’t the prince, and you could pick what you did for a living, would this be it?” I pointed to the collage.

“Taking pictures, you mean?” “Yes.”

He barely needed a second to think. “Absolutely. For art or even just family portraits. I’d do advertising, pretty much whatever I could. I’m very passionate about it. I think you can see that though.”

“I can.” I smiled, happy with this knowledge. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s just . . .” I moved to look at him. “You’d be a Five.”

Maxon slowly took in my words, and he smiled quietly. “That makes me happy.”

“Me, too.”

Suddenly, decisively, Maxon faced me, taking my hands in his.

“Say it, America. Please. Tell me you love me, that you want to be mine alone.”

“I can’t be yours alone with all the other girls here.”

“And I can’t send them home until I’m sure of your feelings.”

“And I can’t give you what you want while I know that tomorrow you could be doing this with Kriss.”

“Doing what with Kriss? She’s already seen my room, I told you.” “Not that. Just pulling her away, making her feel like . . .”

He waited. “How?” he whispered.

“Like she’s the only one who matters. She’s crazy about you. She’s told me so. And I don’t think it’s one-sided.”

He sighed, searching for the words. “I can’t tell you she means nothing. I can tell you that you mean more.”

“How am I supposed to be sure of that if you can’t send her home?”

A devilish smirk came to his face. He moved his lips to my ear. “I can think of a few other ways to show you how you make me feel,” he whispered.

I swallowed, both frightened and hopeful he’d say more. His body was now up against mine, his hand low on my back, holding me to him. The other hand pushed my hair off my neck. I trembled as he ran his open lips over a tiny patch of skin, his breath so very tempting.

It was as if I forgot how to use my limbs. I couldn’t hold on to him or think of how to move. But Maxon took care of that, backing me up a few steps so I was pressed against his collection of pictures.

“I want you, America,” he murmured into my ear. “I want you to be mine alone. And I want to give you everything.” His lips kissed their way across my cheek, stopping at the corner of my mouth. “I want to

give you things you didn’t know you wanted. I want”—he breathed into me—“so desperately to—”

A loud knock came at the door.

I was so lost in Maxon’s touch and words and scent that the sound was jarring. We both turned toward the door, but Maxon quickly put his lips back on mine.

“Don’t move. I fully intend to finish this conversation.” He kissed me slowly, then pulled away.

I stood there gasping for air. I told myself this was probably a bad idea, to let him kiss me into a confession. But, I reasoned, if there was ever a way to cave, this was it.

He opened the door, shielding me from the visitor. I ran my hands through my hair, trying to pull myself together.

“Sorry, Your Majesty,” someone said. “We’re looking for Lady America, and her maids said she would be with you.”

I wondered how my maids had guessed, but I was pleased they seemed so in tune with me. Maxon’s brow furrowed as he looked toward me and opened the door all the way to allow the guard to walk through. He came in, and his eyes had the air of inspecting me, like he was double-checking. Once he was satisfied, he leaned over Maxon’s shoulder and whispered something.

Maxon’s shoulders slumped, and he brought his hand to his eyes as if he was unable to deal with the news.

“Are you all right?” I asked, not wanting him to suffer alone.

He turned toward me, sympathy in his face. “I’m so sorry, America. I hate to be the one to tell you this. Your father has died.”

I didn’t quite understand the words for a minute. But no matter how I arranged them in my head, they all led to the same unthinkable conclusion.

And then the room tilted, and Maxon’s expression became urgent. The last thing I felt was Maxon’s arms keeping me from hitting the floor.

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