The second book defined it as something similar, only it mentioned pumpkins and Christianity.
“This will be the interesting one,” Maxon claimed, flipping through a book that was much thinner than the others and handwritten.
“How so?” I asked, coming around to get a better look.
“This, Lady America, is one of the volumes of Gregory Illéa’s personal diaries.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Can I touch it?”
“Let me find the page we’re searching for first. Look, it even has a picture!”
And there, like an apparition, an image from an unknown past showed Gregory Illéa with a tight expression on his face, his suit crisp and his stance tall. It was bizarre how much of the king and Maxon I could see in the way he stood. Beside him, a woman was giving the camera a halfhearted smile. There was something to her face that hinted she was once very lovely, but the luster had gone out of her eyes. She seemed tired.
Surrounding the couple were three figures. The first was a teenage girl, beautiful and vibrant, grinning widely and wearing a crown and a frilly gown. How funny! She was dressed as a princess. And then there were two boys, one slightly taller than the other and both dressed as characters I didn’t recognize. They looked like they were on the verge of mischief. Below the image was an entry, amazingly enough, in Gregory Illéa’s own hand.
THE CHILDREN CELEBRATED HALLOWEEN THIS YEAR WITH A PARTY. I SUPPOSE IT’S ONE WAY TO FORGET WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND THEM, BUT TO ME IT FEELS FRIVOLOUS. WE’RE ONE OF THE FEW FAMILIES REMAINING WHO HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO DO SOMETHING FESTIVE, BUT THIS CHILD’S PLAY SEEMS WASTEFUL.
“Do you think that’s why we don’t celebrate anymore? Because it’s wasteful?” I asked.
“Could be. If the date’s any indication, this was right after the American State of China started fighting back, just before the Fourth World War. At that point, most people had nothing—picture an entire nation of Sevens with a handful of Twos.”
“Wow.” I tried to imagine the landscape of our country like that, blown apart by war, then fighting to pull itself back together. It was amazing.
“How many of these diaries are there?” I asked.
Maxon pointed to a shelf with a row of journals similar to the one we held. “About a dozen or so.”
I couldn’t believe it! All this history right in one room.
“Thank you,” I said. “This is something I would never even have dreamed of seeing. I can’t believe all this exists.”
He was beaming. “Would you like to read the rest of it?” He motioned to the diary.
“Yes, of course!” I practically shouted before my duties came back to me. “But I can’t stay; I have to finish studying that terrible report. And you have to get back to work.”
“True. Well, how about this? You can take the book and keep it for a few days.”
“Am I allowed to do that?” I asked in awe.
“No.” He smiled.
I hesitated, afraid of what I held. What if I lost it? What if I ruined it? Surely he had to be thinking the same thing. But I would never have an opportunity like this again. I could be careful enough for the sake of this gift.
“Okay. Just a night or two and then I’ll give it straight back.”
“Hide it well.”
And I did. This was more than a book; it was Maxon’s trust. I tucked it inside my piano stool under a pile of sheet music—a place my maids never cleaned. The only hands that would touch it would be mine.
“I’M HOPELESS!” MARLEE COMPLAINED.
“No, no, you’re doing great,” I lied.
I’d been giving Marlee piano lessons nearly every day for more than a week, and it genuinely sounded like she was getting worse. For goodness’ sake, we were still working on scales. She hit another sour note, and I couldn’t help but wince.
“Oh, look at your face!” she exclaimed. “I’m terrible. I might as well be playing with my elbows.”
“We should try that. Maybe your elbows are more accurate.”
She sighed. “I give up. Sorry, America, you’ve been so patient, but I hate hearing myself play. It sounds like the piano is sick.”
“More like it’s dying, actually.”
Marlee collapsed into laughter, and I joined her. Little did I know that when she’d asked for piano lessons, my ears would be in for such painful—but hilarious—torture.
“Maybe you’d be better at the violin? Violins make very beautiful music,” I offered.
“I don’t think so. With my luck, I’d destroy it.” Marlee rose and went over to my little table, where the papers we were supposed to be reading were pushed to one side and my sweet maids had left tea and cookies for us.
“Oh, well, that’s fine. The one here belongs to the palace anyway. You could throw it at Celeste’s head if you wanted.”
“Don’t tempt me,” she said, pouring us both some tea. “I’m so going to miss you, America. I don’t know what I’ll do when we don’t get to see each other every day.”
“Well, Maxon’s very indecisive, so you don’t have to worry about that just yet.”
“I don’t know,” she said, turning serious. “He hasn’t come right out and said it, but I know that I’m here because the public likes me. With the majority of the girls gone, it won’t be long before their opinions change and they have a new favorite, and then he’ll let me go.”
I was careful with my words, hoping she’d explain the reason for the distance she’d put between the two of them but not wanting her to shut down on me again. “Are you okay with that? With not getting Maxon, I mean?”
She gave a small shrug. “He’s just not the one. I’m fine with being out of the competition, but I really don’t want to leave,” she clarified. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to end up with a man who’s in love with someone else.”
I sat bolt upright. “Who is he—”
The look in Marlee’s eyes was triumphant, and the smile hiding behind her cup of tea said Gotcha!
In a split second, I realized that the thought of Maxon being in love with someone else made me so jealous I couldn’t stand it. And the moment after that—the understanding that she meant me—was infinitely reassuring.
I’d put up wall after wall, making jokes at Maxon’s expense and talking up the merits of the other girls; but in a single sentence, she found her way behind all that.
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