This was how they identified their own.
My father was a Northern rebel.
I felt as if I’d seen the star in other places. Maybe walking in the market or even in the palace. Had this been staring me in the face for years?
Stricken, I looked up; Aspen was waiting there, his eyes holding questions he couldn’t ask aloud.
My dad was a rebel. A half-destroyed history book hidden in his room, friends at his funeral I knew nothing about . . . a daughter named America. If I’d paid attention at all, I would have seen it years ago.
“That’s it?” Kota asked, sounding offended. “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”
I turned away from Aspen, focusing on Kota.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked, coming back into the room with some tea.
“Dad’s letter. He left me this house. What am I supposed to do with this dump?” He stood up, gripping the pages in his hand.
“Kota, Dad wrote that before you moved out,” Kenna explained, still emotional. “He was trying to provide for you.”
“Well, he failed then, didn’t he? When have we ever not been hungry? This house sure as hell wouldn’t have changed things. I did that for myself.” Kota threw the papers across the room, and they flitted to the floor haphazardly.
Running his fingers through his hair, he huffed out a sigh. “Do we have any liquor in this place? Aspen, go get me a drink,” he demanded, not even looking in Aspen’s direction.
I turned and saw Aspen’s face as a thousand emotions flickered across it: irritation, sympathy, pride, acceptance. He started toward the kitchen.
“Stop!” I commanded. Aspen paused.
Kota looked up, frustrated. “That’s what he does, America.”
“No, he doesn’t,” I spat. “You might have forgotten, but Aspen’s a Two now. It would do you better to get him something to drink. Not just for his status, but for everything he’s been doing for all of us.”
A sly smirk fell across Kota’s face. “Huh. Does Maxon know? Does he know this is still going on?” he asked, waving a lazy finger between the two of us.
My heart stopped beating.
“What would he do, you think? The caning thing’s been done, and lots of people say that girl didn’t get it bad enough for what she did.” Kota placed his satisfied hands on his hips, staring us down.
I couldn’t speak. Aspen didn’t either, and I wondered if our silence was helping us or condemning us.
Finally Mom broke the silence. “Is it true?”
I needed to think; I needed to find the right way to explain this. Or a way to fight it, because really, it wasn’t true . . . not anymore.
“Aspen, go check on Lucy,” I said. He started walking until Kota protested.
“No, he stays!”
I lost it. “I say he goes! Now sit!”
The tone in my voice, unlike anything I had ever heard before, startled everyone. Mom plopped down immediately, shocked. Aspen made his way down the hall, and Kota slowly, begrudgingly sat as well.
I tried to focus.
“Yes, before the Selection, I was dating Aspen. We were planning on telling everyone once we saved up the money to get married. Before I left, we broke it off, and then I met Maxon. I care about Maxon, and even though Aspen is with me a lot, nothing is happening there.” Anymore, I amended in my head.
Then I turned to Kota. “If you think, even for a second, you can twist my past into something and try to blackmail me with it, think again. You once asked if I told Maxon about you, and I did. He knows exactly what a spineless, ungrateful jackass you are.”
Kota pressed his lips together, ready to boil over. I spoke quickly.
“And you should know that he adores me,” I said grandly. “If you think he’d take your word over mine, you might be surprised by how quickly my suggestion of putting a cane to your hands would happen if I chose to make it so. You want to test me?”
He clenched his fists, clearly debating. If I was right and his hands got injured, that would be the end of his career.
“Good,” I said. “And if I hear you say another unkind word about Dad, I might do it anyway. You were damn lucky to have a father who loved you so much. He left you the house, and he could have taken it away after you left, but he didn’t. He still had hope for you, which is more than I can say.”
I stormed off, heading into my room and slamming the door. I’d forgotten that Gerad, May, Lucy, and Aspen would be waiting for me there.
“You were dating Aspen?” May asked.
“You were a little loud,” Aspen said.
I looked to Lucy. There were tears in her eyes. I didn’t want to make her keep another secret, and clearly it pained her to think about it. She was so honest and loyal, how could I ask her to choose between me and the family she was sworn to serve?
“I’ll tell Maxon when we go back,” I said to Aspen. “I thought I was protecting you, I thought I was protecting myself, but all I’ve been doing is lying. And if Kota knows, then maybe other people do. I want to be the one to tell him.”
I SPENT THE REST of the day hiding in my room. I didn’t want to see Kota’s accusing face or deal with Mom’s questions. The worst was Lucy. She looked so sad to find out that I’d kept this secret from her. I didn’t even want her serving me, and it seemed she was mostly fine with helping Mom however she could or playing with May.
I had too much to think about to have her around anyway. I kept rehearsing my speech to Maxon. I was trying to figure out the best way to confess this news. Should I leave out anything Aspen and I had done at the palace? If I did and he asked about it, would that be worse than me admitting to it in the first place?
And then I would get distracted thinking about Dad, wondering just what he’d said and done over the years. Were all those people I didn’t know at his funeral really other rebels? Could there possibly be that many?
Should I tell Maxon about that? Would he want me if he knew my family had rebel ties? It seemed as if some of the other Elite were there because of who they were linked to. What if my link undid me? It seemed unlikely now that we were so close to August, but still.
I wondered what Maxon was doing now. Working, maybe. Or finding a way to avoid it. I wasn’t there for him to take walks with or sit with. I wondered if Kriss was taking my place.
I covered my eyes, trying to think. How was I supposed to get through all this?
There was a knock on my door. I didn’t know if what was coming would make things better or worse, but I told the visitor to come in anyway.
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