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“What was I supposed to tell her? That she can have whatever she wants?” Anne shot back.

“Yes! What would the harm be in simply saying you had faith in her?”

What was going on? Was this why they had all seemed so distant lately?

“She aims too high!” Anne accused. “It would be unkind of me to give her false hope.”

Mary’s voice bled with sarcasm. “Oh, and everything you told her was so kind. You’re just bitter!” she accused.

“What?” Anne lashed back.

“You’re bitter. You can’t stand that she might be closer to something you want than you are,” Mary yelled. “You’ve always looked down on Lucy because she wasn’t raised at the palace as long as you were, and you’ve been jealous of me because I was born here. Why can’t you be happy with who you are instead of stepping on her to make yourself feel better?”

“That’s not what I was trying to do!” Anne said, her voice breaking.

The tight sobs were enough to silence Mary. It would have stopped me, too. Anne crying seemed like an impossibility.

“Is it so bad that I want more than this?” she asked, her voice thick with tears. “I understand that my position is an honor, and I’m glad to do my job; but I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I want more. I want a husband. I want …” She was finally overcome by her sadness.

My heart broke into a thousand pieces. The only way for Anne to get out of this job was to marry her way out. And it wasn’t like a slew of Threes or Fours were going to parade down the palace halls looking for a maid to take as a wife. She really was stuck.

I sighed, steadied myself, and entered the room.

“Lady America,” Mary said with a curtsy, and Anne followed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her feverishly mopping the tears off her face.

Given her pride, I didn’t think acknowledging them was a good thing, so I strode past the both of them to the mirror.

“How are you?” Mary continued.

“Really tired. I think I’ll be going to bed right away,” I said, focusing on the pins in my hair. “You know what? Why don’t you both go relax? I can take care of myself.”

“Are you sure, miss?” Anne asked, trying so hard to keep her voice composed.

“Very. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

They didn’t need any more encouragement than that, and thank goodness. I didn’t want them to take care of me right now any more than they probably felt like it. Once I managed to get out of my dress, I lay in bed for a long time thinking of Maxon.

I wasn’t even sure exactly what I was thinking about him. It was all slightly vague and unfixed, but I kept flashing back to my overwhelming happiness when I found out he was safe and on his way back. And there was a corner of my mind that wondered if he’d thought about me at all while he was gone.

I tossed for hours, completely unsettled. At about one in the morning, I figured that if I couldn’t sleep, I might as well read. I turned on the lamp and pulled out Gregory’s diary. I skipped past the fall entries and picked one from February.

SOMETIMES I ALMOST HAVE TO LAUGH AT HOW SIMPLE THIS HAS BEEN. IF THERE WAS EVER A TEXTBOOK WRITTEN ON THE TOPIC OF OVERTHROWING COUNTRIES, I WOULD BE THE STAR OF IT. OR I COULD PROBABLY WRITE IT MYSELF. I’M NOT SURE WHAT I’D SAY STEP ONE WAS, AS YOU CAN’T REALLY FORCE ANOTHER COUNTRY TO TRY AND INVADE OR PUT IDIOTS IN CHARGE OF WHAT ALREADY EXISTS; BUT I CERTAINLY WOULD ENCOURAGE ANY OTHER WOULD-BE LEADERS TO ACQUIRE UNGODLY AMOUNTS OF MONEY BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.

A FASCINATION WITH MONEY WOULDN’T BE ENOUGH, HOWEVER. YOU MUST POSSESS IT AND BE IN A POSITION TO LORD IT OVER OTHERS. MY LACK OF BACKGROUND IN POLITICS HASN’T BEEN AN ISSUE IN GAINING ALLEGIANCE. IN FACT, I WOULD SAY AVOIDING THAT SECTOR ALTOGETHER MAY BE ONE OF MY GREATEST STRENGTHS. NO ONE TRUSTS POLITICIANS, AND WHY WOULD THEY? WALLIS HAS BEEN MAKING EMPTY PROMISES FOR YEARS IN THE HOPES THAT ONE OF THEM MIGHT COME THROUGH, AND THERE ISN’T A CHANCE IN HELL ANY OF THEM COULD. I, ON THE OTHER HAND, OFFER THE IDEA OF MORE. NO GUARANTEES, MERELY THAT FAINT GLIMMER OF OPTIMISM THAT CHANGE MIGHT COME. IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER AT THIS POINT WHAT THE CHANGE MIGHT BE. THEY’RE SO DESPERATE, THEY DON’T CARE. THEY DON’T EVEN THINK TO ASK.

PERHAPS THE KEY IS STAYING CALM WHILE OTHERS PANIC. WALLIS IS SO HATED NOW, HE’S ALL BUT HANDED THE PRESIDENCY OVER TO ME, AND NOT A SOUL IS COMPLAINING. I SAY NOTHING, DO NOTHING, AND WEAR A PLEASANT SMILE AS EVERYONE AROUND ME SINKS INTO HYSTERICS. ONE GLANCE AT THAT COWARD NEXT TO ME, AND THERE’S NO DENYING I LOOK BETTER AT A PODIUM OR SHAKING A PRIME MINISTER’S HAND. AND WALLIS IS SO DESPERATE TO HAVE SOMEONE THE PEOPLE LOVE ON HIS SIDE, I’M PRETTY SURE IT WILL ONLY TAKE TWO OR THREE INCONSPICUOUSLY WORDED DEALS TO HAVE ME RUNNING EVERYTHING.

THIS COUNTRY IS MINE. I FEEL LIKE A BOY WITH A CHESS SET PLAYING A GAME HE KNOWS HE WILL WIN. I’M SMARTER, RICHER, AND FAR MORE QUALIFIED IN THE EYES OF A COUNTRY THAT ADORES ME FOR REASONS NO ONE CAN SEEM TO NAME. BY THE TIME SOMEONE THINKS TO CONSIDER IT, IT WON’T MATTER ANYMORE. I CAN DO WHAT I LIKE, AND THERE’S NO ONE LEFT TO STOP ME. SO WHAT’S NEXT?

I FEEL IT’S TIME TO COLLAPSE THE SYSTEM. THIS PITIFUL REPUBLIC IS ALREADY IN SHAMBLES AND BARELY WORKS. THE REAL QUESTION IS, WHO DO I ALIGN MYSELF WITH? HOW DO I MAKE THIS SOMETHING THE PUBLIC BEGS FOR?

I HAVE ONE IDEA. MY DAUGHTER WON’T LIKE IT, BUT I’M NOT REALLY CONCERNED WITH THAT. IT’S ABOUT TIME SHE MADE HERSELF USEFUL.

I slammed the book shut, confused and frustrated. Was I missing something? Collapsing what system? Lording over people? Was the structure of our country not a necessity but a convenience?

I considered hunting through the book for what happened to his daughter, but I was already so disoriented, I decided against it. Instead I went to the balcony, hoping some fresh air would help me wrap my mind around the words I’d just read.

I looked to the sky, trying to process all this, but I didn’t even know where to start. I sighed, and my eyes wandered the gardens, stopping on a flicker of white. Maxon was walking alone on the grounds. He was finally home. His shirt was untucked, and he wasn’t wearing a coat or tie. What was he doing out so late? I saw that he was holding one of his cameras. He must have been having a rough night himself.

I hesitated a moment, but who else could I talk to about this?

“Pssst!”

He jerked his head around, looking for the source. I did it again, waving my arms until he saw me. A surprised smile flashed across his face as he waved back. Hoping he’d be able to see it, I pulled on my ear. He did the same. I pointed to him, then to my room. He nodded, holding up a finger to tell me it’d be a minute. I nodded back and went inside as he did the same.

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