Chapter no 23

The One (The Selection, 3)


“If she does, it can only be for a day at the most. I don’t approve of her, but the people are fond of her, not to mention the Italians. It would be very inconvenient if she died.”

I opened my eyes. I was on my bed, but not under my covers. I saw out of the corner of my eye that Mary was in the room with me.

The shouting voices were muted, and I realized that was because they were just outside my door.

“That won’t be enough. She loved her father dearly; she’ll want time,” Maxon argued.

I heard something like a fist hitting a wall, and Mary and I both jumped at the sound. “Fine,” the king huffed. “Four days. That’s it.”

“What if she decides not to come back? Even though this wasn’t rebel caused, she might want to stay.”

“If she’s dumb enough to want that, then good riddance. She was supposed to give me an answer about those announcements anyway, and if she’s not willing, then she can stay home.”

“She said she would. She told me earlier tonight,” Maxon lied. But he knew, didn’t he?

“About time. As soon as she returns, we’ll get her in the studio. I want this done by the New Year.” His tone was irritated, even as he got what he wanted.

There was a pause before Maxon dared to speak. “I want to go with her.”

“Like hell you will!” King Clarkson yelled.

“We’re down to four, Father. That girl might be my wife. Am I supposed to send her alone?”

“Yes! If she dies, it’s one thing. If you die, it’s a whole other issue.

You’re staying here!”

I thought the fist hitting the wall this time was Maxon’s. “I am not a commodity! And neither are they! I wish for once you would look at me and see a person.”

The door opened quickly, and Maxon came in. “I’m so sorry,” he said, walking over and sitting on the bed. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Is it real?”

“Yes, darling. He’s gone.” He gently took my hand, looking pained. “There was a problem with his heart.”

I sat up and threw myself into Maxon’s arms. He held me tightly, letting me weep into his shoulder.

“Daddy,” I cried. “Daddy.”

“Hush, darling. It’ll be all right,” Maxon soothed. “You’ll fly out tomorrow morning to go pay your respects.”

“I didn’t get to say good-bye. I didn’t . . .”

“America, listen to me. Your father loved you. He was proud you’d done so well. He wouldn’t hold this against you.”

I nodded, knowing he was right. Practically everything my dad had told me since I’d come here was about how proud he was.

“This is what you need to do, okay?” he instructed, wiping tears off my cheeks. “You need to sleep as best as you can. You’ll fly out tomorrow and stay at home for four days with your family. I wanted to get you more time, but Father is quite insistent.”

“It’s okay.”

“Your maids are making an appropriate dress for the funeral, and they’ll pack everything you need. You’re going to have to take one of them with you, and a few guards. Speaking of which,” he said, standing to acknowledge the figure standing in the open door. “Officer Leger, thank you for coming.”

“Not at all, Your Majesty. I apologize for being out of uniform, sir.”

Maxon reached out and shook Aspen’s hand. “Least of my concerns right now. I’m sure you know why you’re here.”

“I do.” Aspen turned to me. “I’m very sorry for your loss, miss.” “Thank you,” I mumbled.

“With the elevated rebel activity, we’re all concerned about Lady America’s safety,” Maxon started. “We’ve already had some local officers dispatched to her home and to the sites being used over the next few days, and there are still palace-trained guards there, of course. But with her actually in the house, I think we should send more.”

“Absolutely, Your Majesty.”

“And you’re familiar with the area?” “Very, sir.”

“Good. You’ll be heading up the team going with her. Pick whomever you like, between six and eight guards.”

Aspen raised his eyebrows.

“I know,” Maxon conceded. “We’re stretched tight right now, but at least three of the palace guards we’ve sent to her house have already abandoned their posts. And I want her to be as safe as, if not safer than, she is here.”

“I’ll take care of it, sir.”

“Excellent. There will also be a maid going with her; watch her as well.” He turned to me. “Do you know who you want to go?”

I shrugged, unable to think straight.

Aspen spoke on my behalf. “If I may, I know Anne is your head maid, but I remember Lucy getting along well with your sister and mother. Maybe it would be good for them to see a friendly face right now.”

I nodded. “Lucy.”

“Very good,” Maxon said. “Officer, you don’t have much time.

You’ll be leaving after breakfast.”

“I’ll get to work, sir. See you in the morning, miss,” Aspen said. I could tell he was having a hard time keeping his distance, and, in that moment, I wanted nothing more than for him to comfort me. Aspen really knew my dad, and I wanted someone who understood him like I did to miss him with me.

Once Aspen left, Maxon came to sit with me again.

“One more thing before I go.” He reached for my hands, holding them tenderly. “Sometimes when you’re upset, you tend to be impulsive.” He looked at me, and I actually smiled a little at the accusing look in his eyes. “Try to be sensible while you’re away. I need you to take care of yourself.”

I rubbed the back of his hands with my thumbs. “I will. I promise.” “Thank you.” A sense of peace encircled us, the way it did

sometimes. Even though my world would never be the same now, for that moment, with Maxon holding me, the loss didn’t ache so much.

He leaned his head toward mine until our foreheads touched. I heard him draw in a breath as if he might say something and then change his mind. After a few seconds, he did it again. Finally, Maxon leaned back and shook his head and kissed my cheek. “Stay safe.”

Then he left me alone in my sadness.

It was cold in Carolina, the humidity from the ocean coming inland and making the chill in the air damp. Secretly, I’d hoped for snow, but it didn’t happen. I felt guilty for wanting anything at all.

Christmas Day. I’d spent the last few weeks imagining it several different ways. I thought maybe I’d be here, eliminated and home. We’d all be around our tree, dejected that I wasn’t a princess but blissfully happy to be together. I’d also considered opening gifts under the massive tree at the palace, eating myself sick, and laughing with the other girls and Maxon, for one day every corner of the competition suspended to celebrate.

Never could I have imagined I’d be bracing myself for the task of putting my father in the ground.

As the car pulled up to my street, I started to see the masses. Though people ought to be home with their families, they instead crowded outside in the cold. I realized they were hoping to catch a glimpse of me, and I felt a little sick. People pointed as we passed, and some local news crews took footage.

The car stopped in front of my house, and the people waiting started cheering. I didn’t understand. Didn’t they know why I was here? I walked up the cracked sidewalk with Lucy by my side and six guards surrounding us. No chance was being taken.

“Lady America!” people called.

“Can I have your autograph?” someone screamed, and others joined


I kept moving, looking ahead. For once, I felt I could excuse myself

from being theirs. I lifted my head to the lights hanging off the roof. Dad did that. Who was going to take them down?

Aspen, at the head of my entourage, knocked on the front door and waited. Another guard came to answer and he and Aspen spoke quickly before we were allowed inside. It was hard to get all of us down the hall, but once the space opened into the living room, I immediately felt something . . . wrong.

This wasn’t home anymore.

I told myself I was crazy. Of course this was home. It was just the unfamiliarity of how this was unfolding. Everyone was here, even Kota. But Dad was gone, so it was only natural that it wouldn’t seem quite right. And Kenna was holding a baby who I’d never seen in real life before. I’d have to get used to that.

And while Mom was in an apron and Gerad was in his pajamas, I was dressed for dinner at the palace: hair up, sapphires on my ears, and layers of luxurious fabrics draping to my heeled shoes. It felt as if I wasn’t welcome for a moment.

But May hopped to her feet and ran to hug me, crying into my shoulder. I held her back. I remembered that this might be a strange adjustment, but this was the only place I could be right now. I had to be with my family.

“America,” Kenna said, standing with her child in her arms. “You look so beautiful.”

“Thanks,” I muttered, embarrassed.

She gave me a one-armed hug, and I peeked into the blankets at my sleeping niece. Astra’s little face was serene as she slept, and every few seconds she’d unclench her tiny fist or fidget just a bit. She was breathtaking.

Aspen cleared his throat. “Mrs. Singer, I’m very sorry for your loss.” Mom gave him a tired smile. “Thank you.”

“I’m sorry we’re not here under better circumstances, but with Lady America home, we’re going to have to be quite diligent about security,” he said, a ring of authority in his voice. “We’re going to have to ask everyone to stay in this house. I know it’ll be tight, but it’s only for a few days. And the guards have been provided an apartment nearby so we can rotate easily. We’re going to try to be as out of the way as possible.

“James, Kenna, Kota, we’re prepared to leave for your homes to pick up your necessities whenever you’re ready to go. If you need some time to make a list, that’s fine. We’re on your schedule.”

I smiled a little, happy to see Aspen this way. He’d grown so much. “I can’t stay away from my studio,” Kota said. “I have deadlines.

There are pieces due.”

Aspen, still professional, answered him. “Any materials you need can come to the studio here.” He pointed toward our converted garage. “We’ll make as many trips as necessary.”

Kota crossed his arms and mumbled. “That place is a dump.”

“Fine,” Aspen said firmly. “The choice is yours. You can either work in the dump, or you can risk your life at your apartment.”

The tension in the air was awkward, and very unnecessary at the moment. I decided to break it. “May, you can sleep with me. Kenna and James can have your room.”

They nodded.

“Lucy,” I whispered. “I want you near us. You might have to sleep on the floor, but I want you close by.”

She stood a bit taller. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else, miss.” “Where am I supposed to sleep?” Kota demanded.

“With me,” Gerad offered, though he didn’t seem excited about it. “Absolutely not!” Kota scoffed. “I’m not sleeping on a bunk bed

with a child.”

“Kota!” I said, stepping away from my sisters and Lucy. “You can sleep on the couch or in the garage or in the tree house for all I care; but if you don’t check your attitude, I’ll send you back to your apartment right now! Have some gratitude for the security you’ve been offered. Need I remind you that tomorrow we’re burying our father? Either stop the bickering or go home.” I turned on my heel and headed down the hall. Without checking, I knew Lucy was right behind me, suitcase in hand.

I opened the door to my room, waiting for her to come in with me. Once her skirts swished past the frame, I slammed it shut, heaving a sigh.

“Was that too much?” I asked.

“It was perfect!” she replied with delight. “You might as well be the princess already, miss. You’re ready for it.”

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