It seemed as if they’d stopped somewhere in the hallway, as Maxon’s voice wasn’t fading.
“Maxon Schreave,” Kriss started, “you make it sound like it’s a sacrifice for me to be here. Each day I’m thankful for being chosen. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would have been like if we’d never met. . . . I’d rather lose you now than have gone a lifetime without this.”
Her voice was getting thick. I didn’t think she was crying, but she was close.
“I need you to know I’d want you without the beautiful clothes and the gorgeous rooms. I’d want you without the crown, Maxon. I just want you.”
Maxon was momentarily speechless, and I could imagine him holding her close or wiping away the tears that might have come by now.
“I can’t tell you what it means to me to hear that. I’ve been dying for someone to tell me that I was what mattered,” he confessed quietly.
“You are, Maxon.”
There was another quiet moment between them.
“I . . . I don’t think I want to wait anymore.”
Even though I knew I’d regret it, at those words I silently put down my paper and pen, slipped off my shoes, and scurried to the end of the hall. I peeked around and saw the back of Maxon’s head as Kriss’s hand slid just barely into the neck of his suit. Her hair fell to the side as they kissed, and, for her first, it seemed like it was going really well. Better than Maxon’s, that was for sure.
I ducked back around the corner and heard her giggle a second later. Maxon let out a sigh that was half triumph and half relief. I walked to my seat quickly, angling myself toward the window again, just in case.
“When can we do that again?” she asked quietly.
“Hmm. How about in as much time as it takes to get from here to your room?”
Kriss’s laugh faded as they moved down the hallway. I sat there for a minute, then I picked up my pen and paper, finding the words easily now.
Mom and Dad,
There’s so much to do these days, I have to keep this short. In an effort to show my devotion to Maxon and not to the luxuries of being in the Elite, I’ve given up receiving payments for my participation. I realize this is short notice, but I’m sure with everything we’ve been given by now, there’s not much more we could want for.
I hope you won’t be too disappointed by this news. I miss you and hope we’ll get to see each other again soon.
I love you all.
THE REPORT WAS LACKING MATERIAL following what the public would see as a rather uneventful week. After the brief updates from the king on his visit to France, the floor was turned over to Gavril, who was now interviewing the remaining Elite in a casual manner about things that didn’t seem to matter at this point in the competition.
Then again, the last time they’d asked us about something that did matter, I suggested dissolving the castes and nearly got thrown out of the competition.
“Lady Celeste, have you seen the princess’s suite?” Gavril asked jovially.
I grinned to myself, grateful he didn’t ask me the same question. Celeste’s perfect smile managed to widen, and she flipped her hair over her shoulder playfully before answering.
“Well, Gavril, not yet. But I’m certainly hoping to earn the privilege. Of course, King Clarkson has provided us with the most beautiful accommodations, I can’t imagine anything better than what we already have. The, um . . . the beds are so . . .”
Celeste stammered just a bit as her eyes caught two guards rushing into the studio. Our seats were arranged in such a way that I could see them as they ran to the king, but Kriss and Elise had their backs to the action. They both tried to turn their heads discreetly, but it did them no good.
“Luxurious. And it would be more than I could dream of to . . .” Celeste continued, not totally focused on her answer.
But it appeared she didn’t need to be. The king stood and came over, cutting her off.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the interruption, but this is very urgent.” He clutched a piece of paper in one hand as he smoothed his tie with the other. He was composed as he spoke. “Since our country’s birth, the rebel forces have been the bane of our society. Over the years, their means of attacking the palace, not to mention the common man, have become far more aggressive.
“It appears they have sunk to new lows. As you may well know, the four remaining young ladies of the Selection represent a wide range of castes. We have a Two, a Three, a Four, and a Five. We’re honored to have such a varied group, but this has given a strange incentive to the rebels.”
The king looked over his shoulder at us before continuing. “We are prepared for attacks on the palace, and when the rebels attack the public, we intercede as best we can. And I would not worry you if I thought that I, as your king, could protect you, but . . .
“The rebels are attacking by caste.”
The words hung in the air. In an almost friendly gesture, Celeste and I shared a confused glance.
“They have wanted to end the monarchy for a long time. Recent attacks on the families of these young girls have shown the lengths that they’re prepared to go to, and we’ve sent guards from the palace to protect the Elite’s loved ones. But now that is not enough. If you are a Two, Three, Four, or Five—that is, in the same caste as any of these ladies—you may be subject to an attack from the rebels based on that fact alone.”
I covered my mouth and heard Celeste suck in a breath.
“Beginning today, the rebels intend to attack Twos and work their way down the castes,” the king added solemnly.
It was sinister. If they couldn’t get us to abandon the Selection for our families, they would get a very large portion of the country to want us out. The longer we held on, the more the people would hate us for risking their lives.
“That is sad news, indeed, my king,” Gavril said, breaking the silence.
The king nodded. “We will seek a solution, of course. But we have reports of eight attacks today in five different provinces, all of them against Twos and all of them resulting in at least one death.”
The hand that had been frozen over my mouth dropped to my heart. People had died today at our expense.
“For now,” King Clarkson continued, “we encourage you to stay close to home and to take any security measures possible.”
“Excellent advice, my king,” Gavril said. He turned to us. “Ladies, anything you’d like to add?”
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