Could he feel it, too?
Maxon broke the kiss and looked at me. “You’re so pretty when you’re a mess.”
I laughed nervously. “Thank you. For that and for the rain and for not giving up.”
He ran his fingers along my cheek and nose and chin. “You’re worth it. I don’t think you get that. You’re worth it to me.”
I felt as if my heart was on the edge of bursting, and I just wanted everything to end today. My world had settled onto a new axis, and it felt like the only way to handle how dizzy it made me was for us to finally be real. I felt certain now that it would come. It would have to. Soon.
Maxon kissed the tip of my nose. “Let’s go get dry and watch a movie.”
I carefully tucked my love for Maxon away in my heart, a little afraid of this feeling. Eventually, it would have to be shared, but for now it was my secret.
I tried to wring out my dress in the little canopy where the door was, but it was hopeless. I was going to leave a little trail of water back to my room.
“I vote for a comedy,” I said as we went down the stairs, Maxon leading the way.
“I vote for action.”
“Well, you just said I was worth it, so I think I’m going to win this one.”
Maxon laughed. “Nicely done.”
He chuckled again as he pushed on the panel that led us back into the parlor only to stop dead in his tracks a second later.
I peeked over his shoulder to see King Clarkson standing there, looking as irritated as ever.
“I’m assuming this was your idea,” he said to Maxon.
“Do you have any idea how much danger you put yourself in?” he demanded.
“Father, there are no rebels waiting on the roof,” Maxon countered, trying to sound rational but looking a bit ridiculous in his dripping clothes.
“One well-aimed bullet is all it would take, Maxon.” He let the words hang in the air. “You know we’re stretched tight, sending guards to watch the girls’ homes. And dozens of those who’ve been sent have gone AWOL. We’re vulnerable.” He glared past his son at me. “And why is it that when anything happens these days, she’s got her hands all over it?”
We stood there, silent, knowing there was nothing we could say anyway.
“Get cleaned up,” the king ordered. “You have work to do.”
A single look from his father told Maxon that any plans he’d had for the day were done.
“Very well,” he said, caving.
King Clarkson took Maxon’s arm and pushed him away, leaving me behind. Over his shoulder, Maxon mouthed the word Sorry, and I gave him a little smile.
I wasn’t afraid of the king. Or the rebels. I knew how much Maxon meant to me, and I was sure that it was all going to work, somehow.
AFTER ENDURING MARY’S SILENT SMIRK as she made me back up, I went to the Women’s Room, happy the rain was still coming down. It would always mean something special to me now.
But while Maxon and I could escape for a little while, once we were out of our bubble, the tension of the ultimatum the rebels had placed on the Elite was thick. All the girls were distracted and anxious.
Celeste wordlessly painted her nails at a nearby table, and I could see the slight tremor in her hand from time to time. I watched as she cleaned up her mistakes and tried to carry on. Elise held a book in her hands, but her eyes were trained on the window¸ lost in the downpour. None of us could quite manage to finish even the smallest task.
“How do you think it’s going out there?” Kriss asked me, her hand paused over the needlepoint pillow she was working on.
“I don’t know,” I answered quietly. “It doesn’t seem like they’d threaten something huge and then do nothing.” I was penciling out a melody I’d had in my head on some sheet music. I hadn’t written anything original in nearly six months. There wasn’t much point to it. At parties, people preferred the classics.
“Do you think they’re hiding the number of deaths from us?” she wondered.
“It’s possible. If we leave, they win.”
Kriss did another stitch. “I’m going to stay no matter what.” Something about the way she said it seemed to be directed specifically at me. Like I needed to know she wasn’t giving up on Maxon.
“Same here,” I promised.
The next day was much of the same, though I’d never been disappointed to see the sun shine before. The worry was so heavy that it was all we could do to stay put. I ached to run, to put some of the energy into something.
After lunch, our return to the Women’s Room was staggered. Elise was reading as I sat with my sheet music, but Kriss and Celeste were missing. Maybe ten minutes later, Kriss walked in with full arms. She sat down with drawing paper and a collection of colored pencils.
“What are you working on?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Whatever keeps me busy.”
She sat for a long time with a red pencil in her hand, hovering over the paper.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she finally said. “I know that people are in danger, but I love him. I don’t want to leave.”
“The king won’t let anyone die,” Elise offered comfortingly.
“But people already have died.” Kriss wasn’t argumentative, only worried. “I just need to think about something else.”
“I bet Silvia would have work for us,” I offered.
Kriss gave a single chuckle. “I’m not that desperate.” She put the tip of the pencil down, making a smooth curve across the page. It was a start. “Everything will be fine. I’m sure of it.”
I rubbed my eyes, looking at my music. I needed to switch things up.
“I’m going to hop over to one of the libraries. I’ll be right back.”
Elise and Kriss each gave me a cursory nod as they attempted to focus on their tasks, and I stood to leave.
I wandered down the hall to one of the rooms on the far end of the floor. There were a few books on those shelves I’d been wanting to read. The door of the parlor swung open quietly, and I realized I wasn’t alone. Someone was crying.
I searched for the source and found Celeste, hugging her knees to her chest, sitting on the wide perch of a windowsill. I felt immediately awkward. Celeste did not cry. Up until this moment, I hadn’t even been sure she was capable.
The only thing to do was leave, but as she wiped her eyes, she caught sight of me.
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