But, truly, that was never something I could have held on to. No matter which path I took in life now, music might only be something I pulled out at parties to entertain a guest or a way I relaxed on a weekend.
I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I wasn’t bitter about that, not like I thought I’d be. I’d miss it, but it was just a piece of who I was now, not everything I was. There were possibilities in front of me no matter how the Selection unfolded.
I really was more than my caste.
Maxon’s light knock pulled me from my thoughts, and Mary answered the door.
“Good evening,” Maxon said to Mary as he entered, and she curtsied in response.
His eyes met mine briefly, and I wondered again if he could see how I felt about him, if it was as real to him as it was to me.
“Your Majesty,” Mary greeted quietly. She was about to leave the room when Maxon held up a hand.
“Forgive me, but could you tell me your name?”
She stared at him for a moment, looked to me, and then focused on Maxon again. “I’m Mary, Your Majesty.”
“Mary. And Anne, we met last night.” He gave her a small bow of his head. “And you?”
“Lucy.” Her voice was small, but I could sense her joy in being acknowledged.
“Excellent. Anne, Mary, and Lucy. Lovely to properly meet you. I’m sure Anne has filled you both in on last night so you can serve Lady America the best way possible. I want to thank you for your dedication and discretion.”
His eyes fell on each of them in turn. “I realize I’ve put you in a compromising position, and if anyone ever raises questions about what happened, feel free to send them directly to me. It was my decision, and you shouldn’t be held responsible for any consequences that follow because of that.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Lucy said.
I’d always sensed that my maids had a deep devotion to Maxon, but tonight I felt like it went beyond the typical obligation. It seemed to me in the past as if the highest level of loyalty was to the king, but now I wondered if that was true. More and more, I saw little things that made me think people preferred his son.
Maybe I wasn’t the only one who saw King Clarkson’s methods as barbaric, his way of thinking cruel. Maybe the rebels weren’t the only ones ready for Maxon. Perhaps there were others out there who were looking for more.
My maids curtsied and left, leaving Maxon standing beside me.
“What was that about? Learning their names, I mean?”
He sighed. “Last night when Officer Leger said Anne’s name and I didn’t know who he meant . . . it was embarrassing. Shouldn’t I know the people who tend to you better than some random guard?”
He’s not that random. “To be fair, the maids all gossip about the guards. It wouldn’t surprise me if the guards did the same.”
“Still. They’re with you every day. I should have known their names months ago.”
I smiled at his reasoning and went to stand, though he looked uneasy about me moving at all.
“I’m fine, Maxon,” I insisted, taking his outstretched hand.
“You were shot last night, if I remember correctly. You can’t blame me for worrying.”
“It wasn’t like a real bullet wound. It only cut me.”
“All the same, I won’t quickly forget the sound of your muffled screams as Anne sewed you back together. Come, you should be resting.”
Maxon ushered me to the bed, and I crawled in. He tucked me under the covers before lying down on top of them himself, facing me. I waited for him to talk about everything that had happened or to warn me of the coming fallout. But he didn’t say anything. He lay there, brushing my hair back with his fingers, sometimes letting the tips linger on my cheek.
It felt as if we were the whole world just then.
“If something had happened—”
“But it didn’t.”
Maxon rolled his eyes, his voice getting serious. “It most certainly did! You came home bleeding. We nearly lost you in the streets.”
“Look, I’m not upset with the choice I made,” I said, trying to calm him. “I wanted to go, to hear for myself. Besides, it’s not as if I could have let you go without me.”
“I can’t believe how unprepared we were, going out in a palace truck without more guards. And there are rebels just walking the streets. Since when are they not hiding? Where are they getting these guns? I feel clueless, helpless. I’m losing the country I love a little every day. I nearly lost you, and I—”
Maxon stopped himself, his frustration fading into something new. He moved his hand back to my cheek. “Last night, you said something . . . about love.”
I looked down. “I remember.” I tried to contain my blush.
“It’s funny how you can think you’ve said something when you never really did.”
I giggled, feeling that the words were coming in his very next breath.
“It’s also funny how you can think you’ve heard something when you didn’t either,” he said instead.
All the humor vanished from the moment. “I know what you mean.” I swallowed and watched as his hand moved from my cheek to lace his fingers through mine, knowing that he and I were both watching them. “Maybe, for some people, it would be hard to confess that. Like, if they worried they might not make it to the end.”
He sighed. “Or it would be hard to say if you worried that someone might not want to make it to the end . . . maybe never quite gave up on someone else.”
I shook my head. “That’s not . . .”
For everything we’d said in the safe room, for everything we’d confessed to each other, for everything that had firmly settled in my heart, these small words were the most frightening things to pass between us. Because once they were out there, we could never take them back.
I didn’t completely understand his reasons for hesitating, but I knew mine. If he ended up with Kriss after I’d put my heart out there, I would be upset with him, but I would hate myself. It was a risk I was too frightened to take.
The silence was making me uneasy, and when it became too much, I spoke.
“Maybe we could talk about this again when I’m feeling better?”
He sighed. “Of course. Completely thoughtless of me.”
“No, no. There’s just something else I wanted to ask you about.” There were bigger things than us to consider right now.
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