Chapter no 12

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

THE CAMERAS DID A LAP around the room and left to let us enjoy our breakfast in peace, getting one last shot of the prince before they departed.

I was a little thrown off by the sudden elimination, but Maxon didn’t seem too distressed. He ate his food without a care, and as I watched I realized I should eat my own breakfast before it got cold. Again, it was almost too delicious. The orange juice was so pure that I had to take smaller sips just to absorb it. The eggs and bacon were heaven, and the pancakes were perfectly done, not too thin like the ones I made at home.

I heard lots of little sighs all around me and knew I wasn’t the only one enjoying the food. Remembering to use the tongs, I picked up a strawberry tart from the basket in the center of the table. As I did so, I looked around the room to see how the other Fives were enjoying their meals. That was when I noticed that I was the only Five left.

I didn’t know if Maxon was aware of that information—he barely seemed to know our names—but it was strange they were both gone. If I had been another stranger to Maxon when I walked into that room, would I have been kicked out, too? I mulled this over as I bit into the strawberry tart. It was so sweet and the dough was so flaky, every millimeter of my mouth was engaged, taking over the rest of my senses entirely. I didn’t mean to make the little moan, but it was by far the best thing I had ever tasted. I took another bite before I even swallowed the first.

“Lady America?” a voice called.

The other heads in the room turned to the voice, which belonged to Prince Maxon. I was shocked that he’d address me, or any of us, so casually and in front of the others.

What was worse than being called out so unexpectedly was that my mouth was full of food. I covered my mouth with my hand and chewed as quickly as I could manage. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but with so many eyes on me, it felt like an eternity. I noted Celeste’s smug face as she watched me. I must have looked like an easy kill in her eyes.

“Yes, Your Majesty?” I replied as soon as I had most of it swallowed.

“How are you enjoying the food?” Maxon seemed on the verge of laughter, either from my bewildered expression or because he’d brought up a detail from our very first and highly unauthorized conversation.

I tried to stay calm myself. “It’s excellent, Your Majesty. This strawberry tart … well, I have a sister who loves sweets more than I do. I think she’d cry if she tasted this. It’s perfect.”

Maxon swallowed a bite of his own breakfast and leaned back in his chair. “Do you really think she would cry?” He seemed exceedingly amused at the idea. He did have strange feelings toward women and crying.

I thought about it. “Yes, actually, I do. She doesn’t have much of a filter when it comes to her emotions.”

“Would you wager money on it?” he asked quickly. I noticed the heads of every girl turning back and forth between us like they were watching a game of tennis.

“If I had any to bet, I certainly would.” I smiled at the idea of betting over someone else’s tears of joy.

“What would you be willing to barter instead? You seem to be very good at striking deals.” He was enjoying this little game. Fine. I’d play.

“Well, what do you want?” I posed. Then I wondered what in the world I could offer someone who had everything.

“What do you want?” he countered.

Now that was a fascinating question. Almost as interesting as thinking about what I could offer Maxon was what he could offer me. He had the world at his disposal. So what did I want?

I wasn’t a One, but I was living like I was. I had more food than I could finish and the most comfortable bed I could imagine. People were waiting on me hand and foot, whether I liked it or not. And if I needed anything, all I had to do was ask.

The only thing I really wanted was something that made this place feel like less of a palace. If my family were running around somewhere, or if I wasn’t so done up. I couldn’t ask for my family to visit. I’d only been here a day.

“If she cries, I want to wear pants for a week,” I offered.

Everyone laughed, but in a quiet, polite way. Even the king and queen seemed to find my request amusing. I liked the way the queen looked at me, like I was less of a foreigner to her now.

“Done,” Maxon said. “And if she doesn’t, you owe me a walk around the grounds tomorrow afternoon.”

A walk on the grounds? That was it? It didn’t seem like anything special to me. I remembered what Maxon had said last night, that he was guarded. Maybe he didn’t know how to just ask a girl for time alone. Maybe this was his way of navigating something very alien to him.

Someone next to me made a disapproving sound. Oh. I realized that if I lost, I’d be the first person to officially get time one-on-one with the prince. Part of me wanted to renegotiate, but if I was going to be helpful—as I’d promised him—I couldn’t brush off his first attempts at trying to date.

“You drive a hard bargain, sir, but I accept.”

“Justin?” The butler he had spoken to earlier stepped forward. “Go make a parcel of strawberry tarts and send it to the lady’s family. Have someone wait while her sister tastes it, and let us know if she does, in fact, cry. I’m most curious about this.”

Justin nodded and was off.

“You should write a note to send with it, and tell your family you’re safe. In fact, you all should. After breakfast, write a letter to your families, and we’ll make sure they receive them today.”

Everyone smiled and sighed, happy to finally be included in the goings-on. We finished the rest of our breakfast and went to write our letters. Anne found me some stationery, and I wrote a quick letter to my family. Even though things had gotten off to a very awkward start, the last thing I wanted was for them to worry. I tried to sound breezy.

Dear Mom, Dad, May, and Gerad,

I miss you all so much already! The prince wanted us to write home and let our families know we were safe and well. I am both. The plane ride was a little scary, but it was fun in a way, too. The world looks so small from up so high!

They’ve given me lots of wonderful clothes and things, and I have three sweet maids who help me get dressed and clean for me and tell me where to go. So even if I get totally confused, they always know just where I’m supposed to be and help me get there on time.

The other girls are mostly shy, but I think I might have a friend. You remember Marlee from Kent? I met her on the way over to Angeles. She’s very bright and

friendly. If I have to come home anytime soon, I’m hoping she makes it to the end.

I have met the prince. The king and queen, too. They’re even more regal in person. I haven’t spoken to them yet, but I did talk to Prince Maxon. He’s a surprisingly generous person… I think.

I have to go, but I love you and miss you, and I’ll write again as soon as I canLove,


I didn’t think there was anything shocking in there, but I could have been wrong. I was imagining May reading it over and over again, finding hidden details about my life in the words. I wondered if she’d read this before she ate the pastries.

P.S. May, don’t these strawberry tarts just make you want to cry?

There. That was the best I could do.

Apparently, it wasn’t good enough. A butler knocked on my door that evening with an envelope from my family and an update.

“She didn’t cry, miss. She said they were so good she could have—as you suggested— but she did not actually cry. His Majesty will come and get you from your room around five tomorrow. Please be ready.”

I wasn’t so upset about losing, but I seriously would have enjoyed the pants. At least, if I couldn’t have that, I had letters. I realized that this was the first time I’d been parted from my family for more than a few hours. We weren’t wealthy enough to go on trips, and since I didn’t really have friends growing up, I’d never even spent the night away. If only there was a way I could get letters every day. I supposed it could be done, but it would have to be so expensive.

I read Dad’s first. He went on and on about how beautiful I looked on TV and how proud he was of me. He said I shouldn’t have sent three boxes of tarts, because May was going to get spoiled. Three boxes! For goodness’ sake.

He went on to say that Aspen had been at the house helping with paperwork, so he’d taken a box home to his family. I didn’t know how to feel about that. On the one hand, I was glad they would have something so decadent to eat. On the other, I just imagined him sharing some with his new girlfriend. Someone he could spoil. I wondered if he was jealous of Maxon’s gift, or if he was glad to be rid of my attention.

I lingered on those lines much longer than I meant to.

Dad closed by saying he was pleased I’d made a friend. Said I always was slow in that department. I folded the letter up and ran my finger over his signature on the outside. I’d never noticed how funny he signed his name before.

Gerad’s letter was short and to the point. He missed me, he loved me, and please send more food. I laughed out loud at that.

Mom was bossy. Even in print I could hear her tone, smugly congratulating me on already earning the prince’s affections—she had been informed that I was the only one to get gifts to send home—and telling me firmly to keep up whatever I was doing.

Yeah, Mom, I’ll just keep telling the prince that he has absolutely no shot with me and offend him as often as I can. Great plan.

I was glad I’d saved May’s for last.

Her letter was absolutely giddy. She admitted how jealous she was that I was eating like that all the time. She also complained that Mom was bossing her around more. I knew how that felt. The rest was a barrage of questions. Was Maxon as cute in person as he was on

TV? What was I wearing now? Could she come and visit the palace? Did Maxon have a secret brother who would be willing to marry her one day?

I giggled and embraced my collection of letters. I’d have to make the effort to write back soon. There had to be a telephone around here somewhere, but so far no one had made us aware of it. Even if I had one in my room, it would probably be overkill to call home daily. Besides, these letters would be fun to hold on to. Proof I’d really been here when this whole place would be a memory.

I went to bed with the comforting knowledge that my family was doing well, and that warmth lulled me into a sound sleep that was only hitched by a twinge of nerves at being alone with Maxon again. I couldn’t quite pin down the reason, but I hoped it was all for nothing.

“For the sake of appearances, would you please take my arm?” Maxon asked as he escorted me from my room the next day. I was a little hesitant, but I did.

My maids had already put me in my evening dress: a little blue thing with an empire waist and capped sleeves. My arms were bare, and I could feel the starched fabric of Maxon’s suit against my skin. Something about it all made me uncomfortable. He must have noticed, because he tried to distract me.

“I’m sorry she didn’t cry,” he said.

“No you’re not.” My joking tone made it clear I wasn’t too upset about losing. “I’ve never gambled before. It was nice to win.” His tone was slightly apologetic. “Beginner’s luck.”

He smiled. “Perhaps. Next time we’ll try to make her laugh.”

I instantly started running scenarios through my mind. What from the palace would make May just die with laughter?

Maxon could tell I was thinking about her. “What’s your family like?” “What do you mean?”

“Just that. Your family must be very different from mine.”

“I’d say so.” I laughed. “For one, no one wears their tiaras to breakfast.” Maxon smiled. “More of a dinner thing at the Singer house?”

“Of course.”

He chuckled quietly. I was starting to think maybe Maxon wasn’t nearly the snob I’d suspected he was.

“Well, I’m the middle child of five.” “Five!”

“Yeah, five. Most families out there have lots of kids. I’d have lots if I could.” “Oh, really?” Maxon’s eyebrows were raised.

“Yes,” I answered. My voice was low. I couldn’t quite say why, but that seemed like a very intimate detail about my life. Only one other person had really known about it.

I felt a spasm of sadness but shoved it away.

“Anyway, my oldest sister, Kenna, is married to a Four. She works in a factory now. My mom wants me to marry at least a Four, but I don’t want to have to stop singing. I love it too much. But I guess I’m a Three now. That’s really weird. I think I’m going to try to stay in music if I can.

“Kota is next. He’s an artist. We don’t see much of him these days. He did come to see me off, but that’s about it.

“Then there’s me.”

Maxon smiled effortlessly. “America Singer,” he announced, “my closest friend.” “That’s right.” I rolled my eyes. There was no way I could actually be his closest

friend. At least not yet. But I had to admit, he was the only person I’d ever really confided

in who wasn’t family or someone I was in love with. Well, Marlee, too. Could it be the same way for him?

Slowly we moved down the hallway and toward the stairs. He didn’t appear to be in any sort of rush.

“After me there’s May. She’s the one who sold me out and didn’t cry. Honestly, I was robbed; I can’t believe she didn’t cry! But yeah, she’s an artist. I … I adore her.”

Maxon examined my face. Talking about May softened me a bit. I liked Maxon well enough, but I didn’t know how far I wanted to let him in.

“And then Gerad. He’s the baby; he’s seven. He hasn’t quite figured out if he’s into music or art yet. Mostly he likes to play ball and study bugs, which is fine except that he can’t make a living that way. We’re trying to get him to experiment more. Anyway, that’s everyone.”

“What about your parents?” he pressed. “What about your parents?” I replied. “You know my parents.”

“No, I don’t. I know the public image of them. What are they really like?” I pulled on his arm, which was quite a feat. Maxon’s arms were huge. Even beneath the layers of his suit, I could feel the strong, steady muscles there. Maxon sighed, but I could tell I didn’t really exasperate him at all. He seemed to like having someone pester him. It must be sad to grow up in this place without any siblings.

He started thinking about what he was going to say as we stepped into the garden. The guards all wore sly smiles as we passed. Just past them a camera crew waited. Of course they would want to be present for the prince’s first date. Maxon shook his head at them, and they retreated indoors immediately. I heard someone curse. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to being followed around by cameras, but it seemed strange to dismiss them.

“Are you all right? You seem tense,” Maxon noted.

“You get confused by crying women, I get confused by walks with princes,” I said with a shrug.

Maxon laughed quietly at that but said no more. As we moved west, the sun was blocked by the massive forest on the grounds, though it was still early in the evening. The shade crept over us, creating a tent of darkness. When I’d sought isolation the other night, this was where I wanted to be. We truly seemed alone now. We walked on, away from the palace and out of earshot of the guards.

“What about me is so confusing?”

I hesitated but said what I felt. “Your character. Your intentions. I’m not sure what to expect out of this little stroll.”

“Ah.” He stopped walking and faced me. We were very close to each other, and in spite of the warm summer air, a chill ran down my spine. “I think you can tell by now that I’m not the type of man to beat around the bush. I’ll tell you exactly what I want from you.”

Maxon took a step closer.

My breath caught in my throat. I’d just walked into the very situation I feared. No guards, no cameras, no one to stop him from doing whatever he wanted.

Knee-jerk reaction. Literally. I kneed His Majesty in the thigh. Hard.

Maxon let out a yell and reached down, clutching himself as I backed away from him. “What was that for?”

“If you lay a single finger on me, I’ll do worse!” I promised. “What?”

“I said, if you—”

“No, no, you crazy girl, I heard you the first time.” Maxon grimaced. “But just what in the world do you mean by it?”

I felt the heat run through my body. I’d jumped to the worst possible conclusion and set myself up to fight something that obviously wasn’t coming.

The guards ran up, alerted by our little squabble. Maxon waved them away from an awkward, half-bent position.

We were quiet for a while, and once Maxon was over the worst of his pain, he faced


“What did you think I wanted?” he asked. I ducked my head and blushed.

“America, what did you think I wanted?” He sounded upset. More than upset.

Offended. He had obviously guessed what I’d assumed, and he didn’t like that one bit. “In public? You thought … for heaven’s sake. I’m a gentleman!”

He started to walk away but turned back.

“Why did you even offer to help if you think so little of me?”

I couldn’t even look him in the eye. I didn’t know how to explain I had been prepped to expect a dog, that the darkness and privacy made me feel strange, that I’d only ever been alone with one other boy and that was how we behaved.

“You’ll be taking dinner in your room tonight. I’ll deal with this in the morning.”

I waited in the garden until I knew all the others would be in the dining hall, and then I paced up and down the hallway before I went into my room. Anne, Mary, and Lucy were beside themselves when I came in. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I hadn’t spent the whole time with the prince.

My meal had been delivered and was waiting on the table by the balcony. I was hungry now that I wasn’t distracted by my own humiliation. But my long absence wasn’t the reason my maids were in a tizzy. There was a very large box on the bed, begging to be opened.

“Can we see?” Lucy asked. “Lucy, that’s rude!” Anne chided.

“They dropped it off the moment you left! We’ve been wondering ever since!” Mary exclaimed.

“Mary! Manners!” Anne scolded.

“No, don’t worry, girls. I don’t have any secrets.” When they came to kick me out tomorrow, I’d tell my maids why.

I gave them a weak smile as I pulled at the big red bow on the box. Inside were three pairs of pants. A linen set, another that was more businesslike but soft to the touch, and a glorious pair made from denim. There was a card resting on top with the Illéa emblem on it.

You ask for such simple things, I can’t deny you. But for my sake, only on Saturdays, please. Thank you for your company.

Your friendMaxon

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