Silvia smiled proudly. “Yes. And who headed up the assault against Russia?”
The whole room shouted out the answer: “Gregory Illéa!” Some girls even clapped.
Silvia nodded. “And that led to the founding of the country. The alliances the ASC acquired had formed a united front, and the United States’s reputation was so damaged, no one wanted to readopt that name. So a new nation was formed under Gregory Illéa’s name and leadership. He saved this country.”
Emmica raised her hand, and Silvia acknowledged her. “In some ways, we’re kind of like him. I mean, we get to serve our country. He was just a private citizen who donated his money and knowledge. And he changed everything,” she said with wonder.
“That is a beautiful point,” Silvia said. “And exactly like him, one of you will be elevated to royalty. For Gregory Illéa, he became a king as his family married into a royal family, and for you, it will be marrying into this one.” Silvia had moved herself to awe, so when Tuesday raised her hand, it took her a moment to acknowledge it.
“Umm, why is it that we don’t have any of this in a book? So we could study?” There was a hint of irritation in her voice.
Silvia shook her head. “Dear girls, history isn’t something you study. It’s something you should just know.”
Marlee turned to me and whispered, “But clearly we don’t.” She smiled at her own joke, and then focused again on Silvia.
I thought about that, how we all knew different things or had to guess at the truth. Why weren’t we given history books?
I remembered a few years ago when I went into Mom and Dad’s room, since Mom said I could choose what I wanted to read for English. As I went through my options, I spotted a thick, ratty book in the back corner and pulled it out. It was a U.S. history book. Dad came in a few minutes later, saw what I was reading, and said it was okay, so long as I never told anyone about it.
When Dad asked me to keep a secret, I did so without question, and I loved looking through all those pages. Well, the ones that were still legible. Lots had been torn out, and the edge of the book looked like it might have been burned, but that’s where I saw a picture of the old White House and learned about the way holidays used to be.
I never thought to question the lack of truth until it had been placed in front of me. Why did the king just let us guess?
The flashbulbs went off again, capturing Maxon and Natalie smiling brightly.
“Natalie, bring your chin down just a touch, please. That’s it.” The photographer snapped another picture, filling the room with light. “I think that will do. Who’s next?” he called.
Celeste came in from the side, a general group of maids still swarming around her before the photographer started up again. Natalie, still beside Maxon, said something and kicked up her foot flirtatiously behind her. He responded quietly, and she giggled as she walked away.
We’d been told after yesterday’s history lesson that this photo shoot was merely for the amusement of the public, but I couldn’t help thinking that there was some actual weight to it. Someone had written an editorial in a magazine about the look of a princess. I didn’t get to read the article myself, but Emmica and some of the others did. According to her, it was about Maxon needing to find someone who actually looked regal and photographed well with him, someone who would look nice on a stamp.
And now we were all lined up in identical cream-colored, cap-sleeved, drop-waist dresses with a heavy red sash across our shoulders, taking pictures with Maxon. The photos would be printed in the same magazine, and the magazine staff was going to make picks. I was kind of uncomfortable with it all. This was the thing I’d been bothered about since the beginning, that Maxon was looking for nothing more than a pretty face. Now that I’d met him, I was sure that wasn’t true, but it got to me that people thought that Maxon was like that.
I sighed. Some of the girls were walking around, munching on no-drip foods and chatting, but the majority, including myself, were standing around the perimeter of the set erected in the Great Room. A huge golden tapestry that reminded me of the drop cloths Dad used at home was hung up against a wall and spilled across the floor. A small couch was off to one side and a pillar was on the other. In the middle the Illéan emblem stood, giving the whole silly thing an air of being patriotic. We watched as each Selected paraded across the space to be photographed, and many who watched were whispering things they liked and didn’t or what they were planning for themselves.
Celeste walked up to Maxon with a sparkle in her eyes, and he smiled as she approached. The moment she reached him, she put her lips to his ear and whispered something. Whatever it was, Maxon leaned his head back with laughter and nodded, agreeing with her little secret. It was strange to see them like that. How could someone who got along so well with me do the same with someone like her?
“All right, miss, just face the camera and smile, please,” the photographer called, and Celeste immediately complied.
She turned herself toward Maxon and placed a hand on his chest, tilted her head down, and gave an expert smile. She seemed to understand how to use the lighting and set to her best advantage and kept moving Maxon over a few inches or insisting on changing their pose. Where some of the girls took their time and made their turn with Maxon last—particularly those who still hadn’t secured a date—Celeste appeared to want to show her efficiency instead.
In a bolt of speed, she was done, and the photographer called for the next girl. I was so busy watching Celeste run her fingers down Maxon’s arm as she exited that a maid had to gently remind me it was my turn.
I gave my head a tiny shake and willed myself to focus. I gathered up my dress in my hands and walked toward Maxon. His eyes shifted from Celeste to me, and maybe I imagined it, but his face seemed to brighten a bit.
“Hello, my dear,” he sang.
“Don’t even start,” I warned, but he merely chuckled and reached his hands out.
“Hold on a moment. Your sash is crooked.”
“Not surprised.” The darn thing was so heavy, I could feel it shifting every time I stepped.
“I suppose that’ll do,” he said jokingly.
I fired back, “In the meantime, they ought to hang you up with the chandeliers.” I poked at the glittering medals across his chest. His uniform, which looked almost like something the guards would wear, only far more elegant, also had golden things on his shoulders and a sword hanging off his hip. It was a bit much.
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