I think about that sometimes. Falling asleep next to you, I mean, like we did in the safe room. It was nice to hear your breaths as they came and went, something quiet and close, keeping me from feeling so alone.
This letter has gotten foolish, and I think you know how I detest looking like a fool. But still I do. For you.
December 25, 10:35 p.m.
It’s nearly bedtime, and I’m trying to relax, but I can’t. All I can think about is you. I’m terrified you’re going to get hurt. I know someone would tell me if you weren’t all right, and that has led to its own kind of paranoia. If anyone comes up to me to deliver a message, my heart stops for a moment, fearing the worst: You are gone. You’re not coming back.
I wish you were here. I wish I could just see you.
You are never getting these letters. It’s too humiliating.
I want you home. I keep thinking of your smile and worrying that I’ll never see it again.
I hope you come back to me, America.
December 26, 10:00 a.m.
Miracle of miracles, I’ve made it through the night. When I finally woke up, I convinced myself I was worried for nothing. I vowed that I would focus on work today and not fret so much about you.
I got through breakfast and most of a meeting before thoughts of you consumed me. I told everyone I was sick and am now hiding in my room, writing to you, hoping this will make me feel like you’re home again.
I’m so selfish. Today you will bury your father, and all I can think of is bringing you here. Having written that out, seeing it in ink, I feel like an absolute ass. You are exactly where you need to be. I think I already said this, but I’m sure you’re such a comfort to your family.
You know, I haven’t told this to you and I ought to have, but you’ve gotten so much stronger since I met you. I’m not arrogant enough to believe that has anything to do with me, but I think this experience has changed you. I know it’s changed me. From the very beginning you had your own brand of fearlessness, and that has been polished into something strong. Where I used to imagine you as a girl with a bag full of stones, ready to throw them at any foe who crossed her path, you have become the stone itself. You are steady and able. And I bet your family sees that in you. I should have told you that. I hope you come home soon so I can.
December 26, 7:40 p.m.
I’ve been thinking of our first kiss. I suppose I should say first kisses, but what I mean is the second, the one I was actually invited to give you. Did I ever tell you how I felt that night? It wasn’t just getting my first kiss ever; it was getting to have that first kiss with you. I’ve seen so much, America, had access to the corners of our planet. But never have I come across anything so painfully beautiful as that kiss. I wish it was something I could catch with a net or place in a book. I wish it was something I could save and share with the world so I could tell the universe: this is what it’s like; this is how it feels when you fall.
These letters are so embarrassing. I’ll have to burn them before you get home.
December 27, noon
I might as well tell you this since your maid will tell you anyway. I’ve been thinking of the little things you do. Sometimes you hum or sing when you walk around the palace. Sometimes when I come up to your room, I hear the melodies you’ve saved up in your heart spilling out the doorway. The palace seems empty without them.
I also miss your smell. I miss your perfume drifting off your hair when you turn to laugh at me or your scent radiating on your skin when we walk through the garden. It’s intoxicating.
So I went to your room to spray your perfume on my handkerchief, another silly trick to make me feel like you were here. And as I was leaving your room, Mary caught me. I’m not sure what she was looking after since you’re not here; but she saw me, shrieked, and a guard came running in to see what was wrong. He had his staff gripped, and his eyes flashed threateningly. I was nearly attacked. All because I missed your smell.
December 27, 11:00 p.m.
My Dear America,
I’ve never written a love letter, so forgive me if I fail now. . . .
The simple thing would be to say that I love you. But, in truth, it’s so much more than that. I want you, America. I need you.
I’ve held back so much from you out of fear. I’m afraid that if I show you everything at once, it will overwhelm you, and you’ll run away. I’m afraid that somewhere in the back of your heart is a love for someone else that will never die. I’m afraid that I will make a mistake again, something so huge that you retreat into that silent world of yours. No scolding from a tutor, no lashing from my father, no isolation in my youth has ever hurt me so much as you separating yourself from me.
I keep thinking that it’s there, waiting to come back and strike me. So I’ve held on to all my options, fearing that the moment I wipe them away, you will be standing there with your arms closed, happy to be my friend but unable to be my equal, my queen, my wife.
And for you to be my wife is all I want in the world. I love you. I was afraid to admit it for a long time, but I know it now.
I would never rejoice in the loss of your father, the sadness you’ve felt since he passed, or the emptiness I’ve experienced since you left. But I’m so grateful that you had to go. I’m not sure how long it would have taken for me to figure this out if I hadn’t had to start trying to imagine a life without you. I know now, with absolute certainty, that is nothing I want.
I wish I was as true an artist as you so that I could find a way to tell you what you’ve become to me. America, my love, you are sunlight falling through trees. You are laughter that breaks through sadness. You are the breeze on a too-warm day. You are clarity in the midst of confusion.
You are not the world, but you are everything that makes the world good. Without you, my life would still exist, but that’s all it would manage to do.
You said that to get things right one of us would have to take a leap of faith. I think I’ve discovered the canyon that must be leaped, and I hope to find you waiting for me on the other side.
I love you, America.
THE GREAT ROOM WAS PACKED. For once, instead of the king and queen being the focal point of the room, it was Maxon. On a slightly raised platform, Maxon, Kriss, and I sat at an ornate table. I felt as if our positioning was deceitful. I was on Maxon’s right. I always thought being on someone’s right was a good thing, an honored position. But so far he’d spent the entire time speaking to Kriss. As if I didn’t already know what was coming.
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