At that, I lost my control, and the tears came in earnest. How had I ever thought that I knew what it meant to be loved before this very second? Nothing had come close to this feeling radiating in my heart, filling every inch of me with absolute warmth.
“America,” Maxon said sweetly, forcing me to wipe my eyes and face him. “I know you see a king here, but let me be clear; this isn’t a command. This is a request, a plea. I beg you; make me the happiest man alive. Please do me the honor of becoming my wife.”
I couldn’t get out how much I wanted this. But where my voice failed, my body succeeded. I crawled into Maxon’s arms, holding on to him tightly, certain that nothing could ever pull us apart. When he kissed me, I felt my life settle into place. I had found everything I’d ever wanted—things I didn’t even know I was looking for—here in Maxon’s arms. And if I had him to guide me, to hold me, then I could take on the world.
It seemed too soon our kiss slowed, and Maxon pulled back to look into my eyes. I saw it in his face. I was home. And I finally found my voice.
I TRY NOT TO SHAKE, but it does no good. Any girl would do the same. The day is big, the dress is heavy, and the eyes watching are uncountable. Brave as I ought to be, I tremble.
I know that once the doors open, I will see Maxon waiting for me, so while all the last-second details are settled around me, I hold on to that promise and try to relax.
“Oh! This is our cue,” Mom says, noting the change in the music. Silvia waves my family over. James and Kenna are ready to go. Gerad is running around, already wrinkling his suit, and May keeps trying desperately to get him to stand in one place for two seconds back-to-back. Even if he is a bit rumpled, they all look surprisingly regal today.
As happy as I am that everyone who loves me is with me, I can’t help but feel an ache that Dad isn’t here. I feel him, though, whispering how much he loves me, how proud he is, how lovely I look. I knew him so well that I feel like I can pick out the exact words he would say to me today; and I hope it stays like that always, that he’ll never really be gone.
I’m so lost in my daydreams that May sneaks up on me. “You look beautiful, Ames,” she says, reaching up to touch the intricate high collar of my dress.
“Mary outdid herself, didn’t she?” I answer, touching parts of the dress myself. Mary is the only one of my original maids still with me. When the dust settled, we found out so many more lives were lost than we’d guessed at first. While Lucy made it through the attack and chose to retire, Anne was simply gone.
Another empty place today that ought to be filled.
“My gosh, Ames, you’re shaking.” May grabs my hands and tries to still them, laughing at my nerves.
“I know. I can’t help it.”
“Marlee,” May calls. “Come help me calm America down.”
My one and only bridesmaid walks over, her eyes as bright as ever; and with the two of them surrounding me, I do start to feel less tense.
“Don’t worry, America; I’m sure he’ll show up,” she teases. May laughs, and I swat at them both.
“I’m not worried he’ll change his mind! I’m afraid I’ll trip or mispronounce his name or something. I have a talent for messing things up,” I lament.
Marlee puts her forehead on mine. “Nothing could mess up today.”
“May!” Mom hisses.
“Okay, Mom’s losing it. See you up there.” She gives me a ghost kiss on my cheek, making sure not to leave a lipstick smudge, and goes on her way. The music plays, and they walk together around the corner and down the aisle that’s waiting for me.
Marlee steps back. “Am I next?”
“Yes. I love this color on you, by the way.”
She juts out her hip, posing in the gown. “You have great taste, Your Majesty.”
I suck in a breath. “No one’s called me that yet. Oh, goodness, that’s going to be my name to pretty much everyone.” I try to adjust to the words quickly. The coronation is part of the wedding. First the vows to Maxon, then the ones to Illéa. Rings, then crowns.
“Don’t start getting nervous again!” she insists.
“I’m trying! I mean, I knew it was coming; it’s just a lot for one day.”
“Ha!” she exclaims as the music shifts. “Wait until tonight.”
Before I can scold her, she scampers away, winking as she goes, and I’m forced to giggle. I’m so glad to have her back in my life. I officially made her one of my attendants, and Maxon did the same for Carter. It was a clear sign to the public of what was coming with Maxon’s reign, and I was happy to see how many people welcomed the change.
I listen, waiting. I know the notes are coming soon, so I take one last chance to straighten my dress.
It’s truly magnificent. The white gown is fitted through my hips, flitting out in waves to the floor. The lace sleeves are short and lead to a high collar that genuinely makes me look like a princess. Over the dress, a sleeveless capelike coat flows out behind me, making a train. I’ll take it off for the reception, where I intend to dance with my husband until I can’t stand anymore.
I turn to Aspen. “Yes. I’m ready.”
He holds an arm out for me, and I put mine through his. “You look incredible.”
“You clean up pretty nice yourself,” I comment. And though I smile, I know he sees my nervousness.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” he assures me, that confident smile making me believe that whatever he says is true, same as always.
I take in a deep breath and nod. “Right. Just don’t let me fall, okay?”
“Don’t worry. If you look unsteady, I’ll hand you this.” He holds up the deep-blue cane, specially made to match his dress uniform, and the idea makes me laugh.
“There we go,” he says, happy to see me genuinely smile.
“Your Majesty?” Silvia asks. “It’s time.” Her tone is slightly awed.
I give her a nod, and Aspen and I make our way to the doors.
“Knock ’em dead,” he says just before the music rises and we’re revealed to the guests.
All the fear rushes back. Though we tried to keep the guest list small, hundreds of people line the aisle that will take me to Maxon. And as they all rise to greet me, I can’t see him.
I just need to see his face. If I can find those steady eyes, I’ll know I can do this.
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