Kenna walked in, and, for the first time since I’d come home, Astra was nowhere in sight.
I shook my head, and the tears came. She walked in and sat beside me on the bed, wrapping an arm around me.
“I miss Dad. His letter was so . . .”
“I know,” she said. “He hardly even spoke when he was here. But he left us with all these words. Part of me is glad. I don’t know if I would remember it all if he hadn’t written it down.”
“Yeah.” In that I had the answer to a question I was afraid to ask. No one else knew Dad had been a rebel.
“So . . . you and Aspen?”
“It’s over, I swear.”
“I believe you. When you’re on TV, you should see the way you look at Maxon. Even that other girl, Celeste?” She rolled her eyes.
I smiled to myself.
“She tries to look like she’s in love with him, but you can see it’s not real. Or at least not as real as she wishes it was.”
I snorted. “You have no idea how right you are on that one.”
“I was wondering how long that had been happening. With Aspen, I mean.”
“Two years. It started after you got married and Kota moved out. We’d been meeting in the tree house about once a week. We were saving up to get married.”
“You were in love then?”
Shouldn’t I have been able to answer right away? Shouldn’t I have been able to tell her that I knew without a doubt that I’d loved Aspen? But now it didn’t really seem that way. Maybe it was, but time and distance made it look different.
“I think so. But it doesn’t feel . . .”
“It doesn’t feel like things with Maxon?” she guessed.
I shook my head. “It just seems so strange now. For the longest time, Aspen was the only person I could imagine being with. I was ready to be a Six. And now?”
“And now you’re five minutes away from being the next princess?” Her deadpan voice made the whole thing funny, and I laughed with her at the drastic change in my life.
“Thanks for that.”
“That’s what sisters are for.”
I looked into her eyes and sensed that this hurt her somehow. “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
“You’re telling me now.”
“It wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. It was part of what made it special, I think. Keeping him a secret.” Saying it out loud, I realized that it was true. Yes, I had feelings for him, but there were other things that surrounded us that made having Aspen that much sweeter: the secrecy, the rush of being touched, the thought of having something worth working toward.
“I understand, America, I really do. I just hope you never felt like you had to keep it a secret. Because I’m here for you.”
I exhaled, and so many of my worries seemed to leave with that breath. At least for a moment. I propped my head on Kenna’s shoulder, and it was nice to be able to think.
“So, is anything going on between you and Aspen anymore? How does he feel about you?”
I sighed, sitting up. “He keeps trying to tell me something, something about how he’s always loved me. And I know I should tell him that it doesn’t matter and that I love Maxon, but . . .”
“What if Maxon picks someone else? I can’t walk away from this with nothing. At least if Aspen still thinks there’s a chance, maybe we could try again when everything’s over.”
She stared at me. “You’re using Aspen as a safety net?”
I buried my head in my hands. “I know, I know. It’s awful, isn’t it?”
“America, you’re better than that. And if you’ve ever cared about him at all, you need to tell him the truth just as badly as you need to tell Maxon the truth.”
A knock came at the door. “Come in.”
I blushed a little as Aspen walked in the doorway, a dejected Lucy close behind.
“You need to get dressed and packed,” he said.
“Is something wrong?” I stood up, suddenly tense.
“All I know is that Maxon wants you back at the palace immediately.”
I sighed, confused. I was supposed to have one more day. Kenna wrapped her arm around me again and gave me a tiny squeeze before heading back to the living room. Aspen left, and Lucy merely grabbed her uniform and went to the bathroom to change, closing the door behind her.
Alone again, I thought over everything. Kenna was right. I already knew how I felt about Maxon, and it was time to do what Dad had told me to do, what I’d meant to be doing this whole time: I was going to fight.
And because it felt like the bigger task, I would talk to Maxon first. Once that was settled, no matter the outcome, then I would figure out what to say to Aspen.
It had happened so slowly that it took me a while to realize how much we’d changed. But I’d known for weeks and had still kept my feelings to myself. I had to do the right thing and tell him so. I had to let go of Aspen.
I reached into my suitcase, hunting for the bundle at the bottom. Once I found the ball of fabric, I unrolled it, taking out my jar. The penny wasn’t so lonely in there now with the bracelet, but that didn’t matter.
I took the jar and placed it on my windowsill, leaving it where it should have stayed a long time ago.
I spent the majority of the plane ride going over my confession to Maxon. I was dreading this, but we could only move forward if he knew the truth.
I looked up from my comfy seat near the rear of the plane. Aspen and Lucy were sitting toward the front on opposite sides of the aisle, deep in conversation. Lucy looked upset still, and she seemed to be giving Aspen some sort of instructions. He was quiet as he took in her words, nodding at her suggestions. She retreated into her seat, and Aspen stood. I ducked back, hoping he didn’t notice me spying.
I tried to look very interested in my book until he approached.
“The pilot says another half hour or so,” he informed me.
“All right. Good.”
He hesitated. “I’m sorry about everything with Kota.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for. He’s just mean.”
“No, I do. Years ago he teased me for having a crush on you, and I brushed it off; but I think he saw through it. He must have been paying attention since then. I should have been more careful or something. I should have—”
“It’ll be fine. I’m going to tell Maxon the truth, and I’m going to take responsibility for this. You’ve got people at home depending on you. If something happens to you—”
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