“He made me promise that if anything ever happened, I’d give them to you. I have ones for May and Gerad, but I’m not sure they’re old enough. I haven’t read them or anything. They were meant for you, so . . . I thought this would be a nice time to read them. This is Kenna’s,” she said, handing over a letter. “Kota.” He sat up straighter and took his. Mom walked over to me. “And America.”
I took my letter, unsure whether I wanted to open it or not. These were my last words from my father, the good-bye I thought I’d lost. I ran my hand over my name on the envelope, thinking of my father dashing the pen across it. He dotted the i in my name with some kind of squiggle. I smiled to myself, trying to guess what made him decide to do that and not caring at the same time. Maybe he knew I’d need to smile.
But then I looked at it closer. That little mark had been added later. The ink on my name had mostly faded, but that scribble was darker, fresher than the rest.
I flipped over the envelope. The seal had been broken and taped back together.
I glanced over to Kenna and Kota, who were both diving into the words. They seemed engrossed, so they hadn’t known that these existed before this moment. That meant either Mom was lying and had read mine or Dad had opened this again.
That was all it took for me to decide I had to know what he’d left for me. I carefully picked at the retaped seal and pulled open the envelope.
There was a letter on faded paper and then a short, quick note on bright white paper. I wanted to read the short note, but I was afraid I wouldn’t understand it without reading the long one first. I pulled out the letter and took in Dad’s words in the sunlight by the window.
My sweet girl. I’m having a hard time even starting this letter because I feel like there’s so much to tell you. Though I love all my children equally, you have a special place in my heart. Kenna and May both lean on your mother, Kota is so independent that Gerad is drawn to him, but you have always come to me. When you scraped your knees or were picked on by the upper kids, my arms were always the ones you wanted. It means the world to me to know that, at least for one of my children, I was their rock.
But even if you didn’t love me the way that you do, without any sort of worry or restraint, I’d still be incredibly proud of you. You’re coming into your own as a musician, and the sounds of you playing your violin or just singing around the house are the loveliest, most soothing sounds in all the world. I wish I could give you a better stage, America. You deserve so much more than standing in the shadows at stuffy parties. I keep hoping you’ll be one of the lucky ones, the breakouts. I think Kota has a chance at it, too. He’s gifted at what he does. But I feel like Kota would fight for it, and I’m not sure you have that instinct in you. You were never a cutthroat kind of girl, the way some of the other lowers can be. And that’s part of why I love you, too.
You’re good, America. You’d be surprised at how rare that is in this world. I’m not saying you’re perfect; having dealt with some of your temper tantrums, I know that’s far from the truth! But you’re kind, and you ache for things to be fair. You’re good, and I suspect you see things in this world that no one else sees, not even me.
And I wish I could tell you how much I see.
As I’ve been writing these letters to your brothers and sisters, I’ve felt the need to pass on wisdom. I see in them, even in little Gerad, the things in their personalities that could make every year more difficult if they don’t make the effort to fight against the hardness in life. I don’t quite feel that urge with you.
I sense that you won’t let the world push you into a life you don’t want. Maybe I’m wrong, so let me at least say this: fight, America. You might not want to fight for the things that most others would fight for, like money or notoriety, but fight all the same. Whatever it is that you want, America, go after it with all that you have in you.
If you can do that, if you can keep from letting fear make you settle for second best, then I can’t ask for anything more from you as a parent. Live your life. Be as happy as you can be, let go of the things that don’t matter, and fight.
I love you, kitten. So much that I can’t find the words to say it. I could paint it maybe, but I can’t fit a canvas in this envelope. Even then it would never do you justice. I love you beyond paint, beyond melodies, beyond words. And I hope you will always feel that, even when I’m not around to tell you so.
I wasn’t sure at what point I had started crying, but it was hard to make out the last of the letter. I wished so badly I’d had a chance to tell him I loved him the same way. And for a minute there, I could feel it, that warmth of absolute acceptance.
I looked up and saw that Kenna was crying, too, still trying to make her way through the letter. Kota looked confused as he flipped past the pages, seeming to go over them again.
Turning away, I pulled out the little note, hoping it wasn’t nearly as touching as his letter. I wasn’t sure I could take any more of that today.
I’m sorry. When we visited, I went to your room and found Illéa’s diary. You didn’t tell me it was there; I just figured it out. If there’s any trouble from this, the blame is mine. And I’m sure there will be repercussions because of who I am and because of who I told. I hate to betray you that way, but trust that I did it hoping that your future and everyone else’s could be better.
Look unto the North Star,
Your everlasting guide.
Let truth, honor, all that’s right,
Be always by your side.
I stood there for several minutes, trying to riddle this out. Repercussions? Who he was and who he had told? And what was with that poem?
Slowly, August’s words came back to me, that my display on the Report wasn’t how they knew the diaries existed and how they knew more of what was inside than I’d exposed. . . .
Who I am . . . who I told . . . look unto the North Star . . .
I stared at Dad’s signature and remembered the way he signed the letters he’d sent me at the palace. I always thought the way he wrote his o’s looked funny. They were eight-point stars: North Stars.
The scribble over the i in my name. Did he want it to mean something to me, too? Did it already mean something because we’d talked to August and Georgia?
August and Georgia! His compass: eight points. The designs on her jacket weren’t flowers at all. Both different but absolutely stars. The boy Kriss got at the Convicting. That wasn’t a cross on his neck.
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