I sighed. “Actually, Mom, we argue pretty regularly.”
“What?” She gaped at me. “Well, stop it!”
“Oh, and I kneed him in the groin once.”
There was a split second of silence before May barked a laugh. She covered her mouth and tried to stop, but it kept coming out in awkward, squeaky sounds. Dad’s lips were pressed together, but I could tell he was on the verge of losing it himself.
Mom was paler than snow.
“America, tell me you’re joking. Tell me you didn’t assault the prince.”
I didn’t know why, but the word assault pushed us all over the edge; and May, Dad, and I bent over laughing as Mom stared at us.
“Sorry, Mom,” I managed.
“Oh, good lord.” She suddenly seemed very excited to meet Marlee’s parents, and I didn’t stop her from going.
“So he enjoys a girl who stands up to him,” Dad said once we all calmed down. “I like him more already.”
Dad looked around the room, taking in the palace, and I stood there trying to absorb his words. How many times in the years Aspen and I had been dating in secret had he and my father been in the same room? A dozen at least. Maybe more. And I’d never really worried about him approving of Aspen. I knew getting him to consent to me marrying down a caste would be hard, but I had always assumed I’d get his permission in the end.
For some reason, this felt a thousand times more stressful. Even with Maxon being a One, with him being able to provide for the lot of us, I was suddenly aware that there was a chance my dad might not like him.
Dad wasn’t a rebel, out burning houses or anything. But I knew he was unhappy with the way things were run. What if his issues with the government extended to Maxon? What if he said I shouldn’t be with him?
Before I could go too far down that path of thought, Maxon bounded up a few of the steps so he could see all of us.
“I want to thank you again for coming. We’re so pleased to have you at the palace, not only to celebrate the first Halloween in Illéa in decades, but so that we can get to know all of you. I’m sorry my parents weren’t able to greet you as well. You will meet them very soon.
“The mothers, sisters, and Elite are invited to have tea with my mother this afternoon in the Women’s Room. Your daughters will be able to escort you there. And the gentlemen will be having cigars with my father and myself. We’ll have a butler come for you, so no worries about getting lost.
“Your maids will escort you to the rooms you’ll use for the duration of your stay, and they will get you properly suited for your visit, as well as for the celebration tomorrow night.”
He gave us all a quick wave and went on his way. Almost immediately, a maid was at our side.
“Mr. and Mrs. Singer? I’m here to escort you and your daughter to your quarters.”
“But I want to stay with America!” May protested.
“Sweetie, I’m sure the king gave us a room every bit as nice as America’s. Don’t you want to see it?” my mother encouraged.
May turned to me. “I want to live exactly how you live. Just for a little while. Can’t I stay with you?”
I sighed. So I’d have to forgo some privacy for a few days, so what? There was no way I could say no to that face.
“Fine. Maybe with two of us, my maids will actually have something to do.”
She hugged me so tightly, it was instantly worth it.
“What else have you learned?” Dad asked. I looped my arm through his, still getting used to him in a suit. If I hadn’t seen Dad a thousand times in his dirty paint clothes, I could have sworn he was born to be a One. He looked so young and smart in the formal outfit. He even seemed taller.
“I think I told you everything we were taught about our history, how President Wallis was the last leader of what was the United States, and then he led the American State of China. I didn’t know about him at all, did you?”
Dad nodded. “Your grandpa told me about him. I heard he was a decent guy, but there wasn’t much he could do when things got as bad as they did.”
I’d only learned the solid truth of the history of Illéa since I’d been at the palace. For some reason, the story of our country’s origin was mostly passed on orally. I’d heard several different things, and none of them was as complete as the education I’d received in the last few months.
The United States was invaded at the beginning of the Third World War after they couldn’t repay their crippling debt to China. Instead of getting money, which the United States didn’t have, the Chinese set up a government here, creating the American State of China and using the Americans as labor. Eventually the United States rebelled—not only against China, but also against the Russians, who were trying to steal the labor force set up by the Chinese—joining with Canada, Mexico, and several other Latin countries to form one country. That was the Fourth World War, and—while we survived it, became a new country because of it—it was pretty economically devastating.
“Maxon told me that right before the Fourth World War people hardly had anything.”
“He’s right. It’s part of why the caste system is so unfair. No one had much to offer in the way of help in the first place, which is why so many people ended up in the lower castes.”
I didn’t really want to go down this path with Dad, because I knew he could get really worked up. He wasn’t wrong—the castes weren’t fair—but this was a happy visit, and I didn’t want to waste it talking about things we couldn’t change.
“Besides the little history, it’s mostly etiquette lessons. We’re getting a bit more into diplomacy now. I think we might have to do something with that soon, they’re pushing it so hard. The girls who stay will have to anyway.”
“It turns out one girl will be going home with her family. Maxon’s supposed to make an elimination after meeting you all.”
“You sound unhappy. Do you think he’ll send you home?”
“Come on now. You must know if he likes you or not by this point. If he does, you have nothing to worry about. If he doesn’t, why would you even want to stay?”
“I guess you’re right.”
He stopped walking. “So which is it?”
This was kind of embarrassing to talk about with my dad, but I wouldn’t have talked about it with Mom either. And May would be worse at interpreting Maxon than I was.
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