The Prince or My Lover…….{Episode-10~Swasan bond}

Hi…guys Natasha…back again with an update…..sry 4 being late…..ty sooo much Rachana, Hope, Arohi : ), Vb, Kavya, Pramudi, Serena, Jenisha, lucky sravzzz, Turaifa Shafenazand sheeba……ty sooo much 4 commenting and reading my story……Ty silent readers{if they are any}……enough of my bak bak’s on to the epi……
????
Happy reading?????
????
Link 4 this ff’s previous epi’s:
www.tellyupdates.com/?s=the+prince+or+my+lover
????
Episode-10~SWASAN BOND
He smiled. “Good. You’ll need to tell me more tricks like this shoulder-patting thing.”
I smiled back. Yes, it was all wrong, but some good would come out of this.

“America, could you do me a favor?”

I nodded.

“As far as anyone knows, we spent a lot of time together yesterday evening. If anyone asks, could you please tell them that……u had a wonderful time with me…..and pls…..donot disclose all the incidents…pls????…”

“Of course. And I really am sorry about everything.”

“I should have known that if any girl was going to disobey an order, it would be you.”

A collection of heavy objects hit the wall at once, making a handful of girls scream.

“Who are they? What do they want?” I asked.

“Who? The rebels?”

I nodded.

“Depends on who you ask. And which group you’re talking about,” he answered.

“You mean there’s more than one?” That made the entire experience much worse. If this was one group, what could two or more do together? As far as I knew, a rebel was a rebel was a rebel, but Maxon made it sound like some could be worse than others. “How many are there?”

“Two generally, the Northerners and the Southerners. The Northerners attack much more frequently. They’re closer. They live in the rainy patch of Likely near Bellingham, just north of here. No one really wants to live there—it’s practically all ruins—so they’ve made it a home of sorts, though I guess they travel. The traveling is one theory of mine—one no one listens to. But they’re far less likely to break in, and when they do the results are … tame almost. I’d guess that this is a Northern job right now,” he said over the din.

“Why? What makes them so different from the Southerners?”

Maxon seemed to hesitate, unsure if this information was something I should know. He looked around to see if anyone could hear us. I looked around, too, and saw that several people were watching us. In particular, Celeste looked like she was trying to set me on fire with her eyes. I didn’t keep eye contact for long. Still, even with all the onlookers, no one was close enough to hear. When Maxon came to the same conclusion, he leaned in to whisper.

“Their attacks are much more … lethal.”

I shivered. “Lethal?”

He nodded. “They only come about once or twice a year, as best I can tell from the aftermath. I think that everyone here is trying to protect me from the statistics, but I’m not stupid. People die when they come. The trouble is, both groups look alike to us—dingy, mostly men, lean but strong, no sort of emblem as far as we can tell—so we don’t know what we’re getting until it’s all over.”

I looked around the room. A lot of people were in danger if Maxon was wrong and they happened to be Southerners. I thought of my poor maids again.

“But I still don’t understand. What do they want?”

Maxon shrugged. “The Southerners appear to want us demolished. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing some dissatisfaction or another, tired of living on the fringes of society. I mean, they’re not even Eights technically, since they have no part in the social network. But the Northerners are a bit of a mystery. Father says they just want to bother us, disrupt our governing, but I don’t think so.” He looked rather proud for a moment. “I have another theory about that as well.”

“Do I get to know it?”

Maxon hesitated again. I guessed this time it wasn’t so much out of fear of scaring me, but perhaps not being taken seriously.

He came close again and whispered, “I think they’re looking for something.”

“What?” I wondered.

“That I don’t know. But it’s always the same around here after the Northerners come. Guards are knocked out, injured, or tied up, but never killed. It’s like they just don’t want to be followed around. Though some people get taken with them, and that’s a bit disturbing. And then the rooms—well, all the ones they can get into—they’re a mess. Every drawer pulled out, shelves searched, carpet upturned. Lots of things get broken. You wouldn’t believe the number of cameras I’ve replaced over the years.”

“Cameras?”

“Oh,” he said bashfully. “I like photography. But despite all that, they don’t end up taking much. Father thinks my idea is rubbish, of course. What could a bunch of illiterate barbarians be looking for? Still, I think there must be something.”

It was intriguing. If I was penniless and knew how to break into the palace, I think I’d take every piece of jewelry I could find, anything I could sell. These rebels must have something in mind beyond a mere political statement or their day-to-day survival in mind when they came here.

“Do you think it’s silly?” Maxon asked, bringing me out of my wonderings.

“No, not silly. Confusing, but not silly.”

We shared a small smile. I realized that if Maxon had simply been Maxon Schreave and not Maxon, future king of Illéa, he would be the kind of person I would have wanted to be my next-door neighbor, someone to talk to.

He cleared his throat. “I suppose I should finish my rounds.”

“Yes, I imagine there are quite a few ladies wondering what’s taking you so long.”

“So, buddy, any suggestions as to whom I should speak with next?”

I smiled and looked behind me to make sure my candidate for princess was still holding it together. She was.

“See the blond girl over there in the pink? That’s Ragini. Sweetheart, very kind, loves movies. Go.”

Maxon chuckled and walked in her direction.

The time in the dining hall felt like an eternity, but the attack had only lasted a little over an hour. We found out later that no one had actually gotten inside the palace, just inside the grounds. The guards didn’t shoot at the rebels until they tried for the main doors, which accounted for the bricks—bricks that had been gouged out of the palace walls—and rotten food being thrown at the windows for so long.

In the end, two men got too close to the doors, shots were fired, and they all fled. If Maxon’s labels were correct, I would assume these were Northerners.

They kept us tucked away for a little while longer, searching the perimeter of the palace. When everything was as it should be, we were released to our rooms. I walked arm in arm with Ragini. Despite holding it together downstairs, the strain of the attack had exhausted me, and I was glad to have someone to distract me from it.
“He let you have the pants anyway?” she asked. I had started talking about Maxon as soon as I could, eager to know how their conversation had gone.

“Yeah. He was very generous about it all.”

“I think it’s charming that he’s a good winner.”

“He is a good winner. He’s even gracious when he’s gotten the raw end of things.” Like a knee to the royal jewels, for example.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing.” I didn’t want to explain that one. “What did you two talk about today?”

“Well, he asked me if I’d like to see him this week.” She blushed.

“Ragini! That’s great!”

“Hush!” she said, looking around, though the rest of the girls had already ascended the stairs. “I’m trying not to get my hopes up.”

We were quiet for a minute before she burst.

“Who am I kidding? I’m so excited I can barely stand it! I hope he won’t take too long to call on me.”

“If he’s already asked, I’m sure he’ll follow through soon. I mean, after he finishes running the country for the day, that is.”

She laughed. “I can’t believe this! I mean, I knew he was handsome, but I wasn’t sure how he’d behave. I was worried he’d be… I don’t know, stuffy or something.”

“Me, too. But he’s actually…” What was Maxon actually? He was sort of stuffy, but not in a way that was as off-putting as I’d imagined. Undeniably a prince, but still so … so… “Normal.”

Ragini wasn’t looking at me anymore. She’d lost herself in a daydream as we walked or so i thought. I hoped that this image of Maxon that she was building was one he could deliver. And that she would be the kind of girl he wanted. I left her at her door with a small wave and went on to my room.

My thoughts of Ragini and Maxon flew out of my head as soon as I opened the door. Anne and Mary were crouched around a very distressed Lucy. Her face was red with tears falling down her cheeks; her usual tiny trembles were full-on shakes, racking her entire body.

“Calm down now, Lucy, everything’s fine,” Anne was whispering as she stroked Lucy’s messy hair.

“Everything is over now. No one was hurt. You’re safe, dear,” Mary cooed, holding a twitching hand.

I was too shocked to speak. This moment was Lucy’s private struggle, not meant for my eyes. I went to back out of my room, but Lucy caught me before I could back away.

“S-s-sorry, Lady, Lady, Lady…,” she stammered. The others looked up with anxious expressions.

“Don’t trouble yourself. Are you all right?” I asked, closing the door so no one else would see.

Lucy tried to start again, but couldn’t form the words. Her tears and the shaking were overwhelming her little body.

“She’ll be fine, miss,” Anne interceded. “It takes a few hours, but she calms down once everything’s quiet. If it stays bad, we can take her to the hospital wing.” Anne dropped her voice. “Only Lucy doesn’t want that. If they think you’re unfit, they hide you down in the laundry rooms or the kitchen. Lucy likes being a maid.”

I didn’t know who Anne thought she was hiding her voice from. We were all surrounding Lucy, and she could hear those words clearly, even in her state.

“P-p-please, miss. I don’t—I don’t—I…,” she tried.

“Hush. No one’s turning you in,” I told her. I looked to Anne and Mary. “Help me get her on the bed.”

With the three of us it should have been easy, but Lucy was writhing so that her arms and legs would slip from our hands. It took quite a bit of effort to get her settled. Once we tucked her under the covers, the comfort of the bed seemed to do more than our words could. Lucy’s shudders became slower, and she stared vacantly at the canopy above the bed.

Mary sat on the edge of the bed and started humming a tune, reminding me all too much of the way I would baby ladoo when she was sick. I pulled Anne into a corner, far away from Lucy’s ears.

“What happened? Did someone get through?” I asked. I would expect to be told if that were the case.

“No, no,” Anne assured me. “Lucy always gets like this when the rebels come. Just talking about them will send her into a crying fit. She…”

Anne looked down to her polished black shoes, trying to decide if she should tell me something. I didn’t want to pry into Lucy’s life, but I did want to understand. She took a deep breath and started.

“Some of us were born here. Mary was born in the castle, and her parents are still here. I was an orphan, taken in because the palace needed staff.” She straightened her dress, as if she could rub off this piece of her history that seemed to bother her. “Lucy was sold to the palace.”

“Sold? How can that be? There aren’t slaves here.”

“Not technically, no, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Lucy’s family needed money for an operation for her mother. They gave their services over to a family of Threes in exchange for the money. Her mother never got better, they never made their way out of the debt, so Lucy and her father had been living with this family for ages. From what I understand, it wasn’t much better than living in a barn with the way they were kept.

“The son had taken a liking to Lucy, and I know sometimes it doesn’t matter what caste you’re in, but Six to Three is quite a jump. When his mother discovered his intentions for Lucy, she sold her and her father to the palace. I remember when she came. Cried for days. They must have been terribly in love.”

I looked over at Lucy. At least in my case, one of us got to make the decision. She had no choice when it came to losing the man she loved.

“Lucy’s dad works in the stables. He’s not very fast or strong, but he’s incredibly dedicated. And Lucy is a maid. I know it might seem silly to you, but it’s an honor to be a maid in the palace. We are the front line. We are the ones deemed fit enough and smart enough and attractive enough to be seen by anyone who comes to call. We take our positions seriously, and with reason. If you screw up, you’re put in the kitchen, where your fingers are working all day, and the clothes are baggy. Or you chop firewood or rake the grounds. It’s no small thing to be a maid.”

I felt stupid. In my mind, they were all Sixes. But there were rankings even within that, statuses that I didn’t understand.
Two years ago, there was an attack on the palace in the middle of the night. They got the guards’ uniforms, and everyone was confused. It was such disarray, no one knew who to attack or defend, and people slipped through holes in the lines … it was terrifying.”

I shuddered just thinking about it. The dark, the confusion, the wide expanse of the palace. Compared to this morning, it sounded like the work of Southerners.

“One of the rebels got ahold of Lucy.” Anne ducked her eyes for a minute. She spoke her next lines quietly. “I’m not sure they have very many women with them, if you catch my meaning.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t see this myself, but Lucy told me that this man was covered in grime. She said he kept licking her face.”

Anne cringed away from the thought. My stomach heaved, threatening to bring up my breakfast. It was positively revolting, and I could see how someone who’d already been as scarred as Lucy would break under that kind of attack.

“He was dragging her off somewhere, and she was screaming as loud as she could. In the commotion, it was hard to hear her cries. But another guard came around the corner, a real one. He took aim and fired a bullet right through the man’s head. The rebel fell to the ground, pinning Lucy. She was covered in blood.”

I covered my mouth. I couldn’t imagine delicate little Lucy going through all that. No wonder she reacted this way.

“She was treated for some cuts, but no one ever really saw to her mind. She’s a little jittery now but tries to hide it as best she can. And it’s not just for her sake, but her father’s. He’s so proud that his daughter is good enough to be a maid. She doesn’t want to let him down. We try to keep her calm, but every time the rebels come, she thinks it’s going to be worse. Someone’s going to take her this time, hurt her, kill her.

“She’s trying, miss, but I’m not sure how much more of this she can stand.”

I nodded, looking over to Lucy in the bed. She had closed her eyes and fallen asleep, even though it was still quite early.

I spent the rest of the day reading. Anne and Mary cleaned things that weren’t dirty. We all stayed quiet while Lucy recovered.

I promised myself that, if I could help it, Lucy wouldn’t have to go through that again.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
AS I PREDICTED, THE GIRLS who had asked to go home changed their minds once everything had settled down. None of us knew exactly who had wanted out, but there were some—Celeste in particular—who were determined to find out. For the time being we remained at twenty-seven girls.

The attack was so inconsequential, according to the king, that it barely warranted notice. However, since camera crews had been making their way in that morning, some of it was aired live. Apparently the king wasn’t pleased about that. It made me wonder just how many attacks the palace suffered through that we never heard about. Was it far less safe here than I’d thought?

Silvia explained that if the attack had been much worse, we would have all been able to call our families and tell them we were safe. As it was, we were instructed to write letters home instead.

I wrote that I was well and that the attack probably seemed worse than it was and that the king had us all kept safely tucked away. I urged them not to worry about me and told them that I missed them and handed the letter off to a helpful maid.

The day after the attack passed without incident. I had planned on going down to the Women’s Room to talk up Maxon to the others, but after seeing Lucy so shaken, I chose to keep to my room.

I didn’t know what my three maids busied themselves with while I was away, but when I was in the room, they played card games with me and let pieces of gossip slip into the conversation.

I learned that for every dozen people I saw in the palace, there were a hundred or more behind them. The cooks and laundresses I knew about, but there were also people whose sole job was to keep the windows clean. It took a solid week for the team to get them all done, by the end of which the dust would find its way past the palace walls and cling to the clean glass, and they’d have to be washed all over again. There were also jewelers hidden away, making pieces for the family and gifts for visitors, and teams of seamstresses and buyers keeping the royal family—and now us—immaculately clothed.

I learned other things, too. The guards they thought were the cutest and the horrid new design of a dress the head maid was making the staff wear for the holiday parties. How some in the palace were taking bets on which Selected girl might win and that I was in the top ten picks. A baby of one of the cooks was sick beyond hope, which made Anne tear up a bit. This girl happened to be a close friend of hers, and the couple had been waiting so long for a child.

Listening to them and joining in when I had something worth saying, I couldn’t imagine anything more entertaining happening downstairs and was glad to have such company. The mood in my room was a quiet and happy one.

The day had been so nice, I stayed up there the day after as well. This time, we kept the doors open to both the hallway and the balcony, and the warm air filtered in and wrapped itself around us. It seemed to do particularly wonderful things for Lucy, and I wondered how often she actually got to step outside.

Anne made a comment about how this was all inappropriate—me sitting with them, playing games with the doors open—but let it drop almost immediately. She was quickly getting over trying to make me the lady it seemed I ought to be.

We were in the middle of a game of cards when I noticed a figure out of the corner of my eye. It was Maxon, standing at the open door, looking amused. As our eyes met, I could see that his expression was clearly asking what in the world I was doing. I stood, smiling, and walked over to him.

“Oh, sweet Lord,” Anne muttered as she realized the prince was at the door. She immediately swept the cards into a sewing basket and stood, Mary and Lucy following suit.

“Ladies,” Maxon said.

“Your Majesty,” she said with a curtsy. “Such an honor, sir.”

“For me as well,” he answered with a smile.

The maids looked back and forth to one another, flattered. We were all silent for a moment, not quite sure what to do.

Mary suddenly piped up. “We were just leaving.”

“Yes! That’s right,” Lucy added. “We were—uh—just…” She looked to Anne for help.

“Going to finish Lady America’s dress for Friday,” Anne concluded.

“That’s right,” Mary said. “Only two days left.

They slowly circled us to get out of the room, huge smiles plastered on their faces.

“Wouldn’t want to keep you from your work,” Maxon said, following them with his eyes, completely fascinated with their behavior.

Once in the hall, they gave awkwardly mistimed curtsies and walked away at a feverish pace. Immediately after they rounded the corner, Lucy’s giggles echoed down the corridor, followed by Anne’s intense hushing.

“Quite a group you have,” Maxon said, walking into my room, surveying the space.

“They keep me on my toes,” I answered with a smile.

“It’s clear they have affection for you. That’s hard to find.” He stopped looking at my room and faced me. “This isn’t what I imagined your room would look like.”

I raised an arm and let it fall. “It’s not really my room, is it? It belongs to you, and I just happen to be borrowing it.”

He made a face. “Surely they told you that changes could be made? A new bed, different paint.”

I shrugged. “A coat of paint wouldn’t make this mine. Girls like me don’t live in houses with marble floors,” I joked.

Maxon smiled. “What does your room at home look like?”

“Um, what did you come for exactly?” I hedged.

“Oh! I had an idea.”

“About?”

“Well,” he started, continuing to walk around the room, “I thought that since you and I don’t have the typical relationship that I have with the other girls, maybe we should have … alternative means of communication.” He stopped in front of my mirror and looked at the pictures of my family. “Your little sister looks just like you,” he said, amused by this observation.

I walked deeper into my room. “We get that a lot. What was that about alternative communication?”

Maxon finished up with the pictures and moved toward the piano in the back. “Since you are supposed to be helping me, being my friend and all,” he continued with a pointed look at me, “perhaps we shouldn’t be relying on the traditional notes sent through maids and formal invitations for dates. I was thinking something a little less ceremonial.”

He picked up the sheet music on top of the piano. “Did you bring these?”

“No, those were here. Anything I really want to play, I can do from memory.”

His eyebrows rose. “Impressive.” He moved back in my direction without finishing his explanation.

“Could you please stop poking around and complete an entire thought?”

Maxon sighed. “Fine. What I was thinking was that you and I could have a sign or something, some way of communicating that we need to speak to each other that no one else would catch onto. Perhaps rubbing our noses?” Maxon ran a finger back and forth just above his lips.

“That looks like your nose is stopped up. Not attractive.”

He gave me a slightly perplexed look and nodded. “Very well. Perhaps we could simply run our fingers through our hair?”

I shook my head almost immediately. “My hair is almost always pulled up with pins. It’s nearly impossible to get my fingers through it. Besides, what if you happen to be wearing your crown? You’d knock it off your head.”

He shook a thoughtful finger at me. “Excellent point. Hmmm.” He passed me, continuing to think, and stopped near the table by my bed. “What about tugging your ear?”

I considered. “I like it. Simple enough to hide, but not so common we could mistake it for something else. Ear tugging it is.”

Maxon’s attention was fixated on something, but he turned to smile at me. “I’m glad you approve. The next time you want to see me, simply tug your ear, and I’ll come as soon as I’m able. Probably after dinner,” he concluded with a shrug.

Before I could ask about me coming to him, Maxon strolled across the room with my jar in his hand. “What in the world is this about?”

I sighed. “That, I’m afraid, is beyond explanation.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Friday arrived, and with that came our debut on the Illéa Capital Report. It was something that was required of us, but at least this week all we had to do was sit there. With the time difference, we’d go on at five, sit through the hour, and then go off to dinner.

Anne, Mary, and Lucy took extra care in dressing me. The gown was a deep blue, hovering near purple. It was fitted through my hips, and fanned out in satiny smooth waves behind me. I couldn’t believe I was touching something so beautiful. Button after button was fastened up my back, and my maids put pins bedecked with pearls in my hair. They added tiny pearl earrings and a necklace made of wire so thin and pearls so far apart they looked like they floated on my skin, and I was done.

I looked in the mirror. I still looked like me. It was the prettiest version of myself I’d seen so far, but I knew that face. Ever since my name had been drawn, I’d feared I would become something unrecognizable—covered in layers of makeup and so hung down with jewelry that I’d have to dig out of it for weeks to find myself again. So far, I was still America.

And, exactly like myself, I found that I was covered in a sheen of sweat as I walked down to the room where they recorded messages at the palace. They’d told us to be there ten minutes early. Ten minutes meant fifteen to me. It meant more like three to someone like Celeste. So the arrival of the girls was staggered.

Hordes of people were swarming around, putting the last touches on the set—which now held rows of tiered seating for the Selected. The council members who I recognized from years of watching the Report were there, reading over their scripts and adjusting their ties. The Selected crowd were checking themselves in mirrors and tugging at their extravagant dresses. It was a flurry of activity.

I turned and caught the briefest of moments in Maxon’s life. His mother, the beautiful Queen Amberly, pushed some stray hairs back into place. He straightened his jacket and said something to her. She gave a reassuring nod, and Maxon smiled. I would have watched a little longer, but Silvia, in all her glory, came to escort me into place.

“Just head over to the risers, Lady America,” she said. “You may sit anywhere you like. So you know, most of the girls have already claimed the front row.” She looked sorry for me, as if she were delivering bad news.

“Oh, thank you,” I said, and went happily to take a seat in the back.

I didn’t like climbing the little steps with a snug dress and such strappy shoes. (Were the shoes really necessary? No one was even going to see my feet.) But I managed. When I saw Ragini come in, she smiled and waved and came to sit right next to me. It meant a great deal to me that she chose a place beside me as opposed to a spot in the second row. She was faithful. She’d make a great queen.
Her dress was a brilliant yellow. With her blond hair and sun-kissed skin, she looked like she was radiating light into the room.

“Ragini, I love that dress. You look fantastic!”

“Oh, thank you.” She blushed. “I thought it might be a bit too much.”

“Not at all! Trust me, it’s perfect on you.”

“I’ve wanted to speak to you, but you’ve been missing. Do you think we could talk tomorrow?” she asked in a whisper.

“Of course. In the Women’s Room, right? It’s Saturday,” I said in a matched tone.

“Okay,” she answered excitedly.

Just in front of us, Amy turned around. “I feel like my pins are falling out. Can you guys check them?”

Without a word, Ragini put her slim fingers in the curls of Amy’s hair and checked for loose pins. “That feel better?”

Amy sighed. “Yes, thank you.”

“America, is there lipstick on my teeth?” Zoe asked. I turned to my left and found her smiling maniacally, exposing all her pearly whites.

“No, you’re good,” I answered, seeing out of the corner of my eye that Ragini was nodding in confirmation.

“Thanks. How is he so calm?” Zoe asked, pointing over at Maxon, who was talking to a member of the crew. She then bent down and put her head between her legs and started doing controlled breathing.

Ragini and I looked at each other, eyes wide with amusement, and tried not to laugh. It was hard if we looked at Zoe, so we surveyed the room and chatted about what others were wearing. There were several girls in seductive reds and lively greens, but no one else in blue. Olivia had gone so far as to wear orange. I’d admit that I didn’t know that much about fashion, but Ragini and I both agreed that someone should have intervened on her behalf. The color made her skin look kind of green.

Two minutes before the cameras turned on, we realized it wasn’t the dress making her look green. Olivia vomited into the closest trash can very loudly and collapsed on the floor. Silvia swooped in, and a fuss was made to wipe the sweat off her and get her into a seat. She was placed in the back row with a small receptacle at her feet, just in case.

Bariel was in the seat in front of her. I couldn’t hear what she muttered to the poor girl from where I was, but it looked like Bariel was prepared to injure Olivia should she have another episode near her.

I guessed that Maxon had seen or heard some of the commotion, and I looked over to see if he was having any sort of reaction to it all. But he wasn’t looking toward the disturbance; he was looking at me. Quickly—so quickly it would look like nothing but scratching an itch to anyone else—Maxon reached up and tugged on his ear. I repeated the action back, and we both turned away.

I was excited to know that tonight, after dinner, Maxon would be stopping by my room.

Suddenly the anthem music was playing, and I could see the national emblem on tiny screens around the room. I shifted to sit up straighter. All I could think was that my family was going to see me tonight, and I wanted them to be proud.

King Clarkson was at the podium speaking about the brief and unsuccessful attack on the palace. I wouldn’t have called it unsuccessful. It managed to scare the daylights out of most of us. Announcement after announcement came, and I tried to be aware of everything they said, but it was hard. I was used to watching this on a comfy couch with bowls of popcorn and family commentary.

Many of the announcements tied into the rebels, placing blame for certain things on their shoulders. The roads being built in Sumner were behind schedule because of the rebels, and the number of local officers in Atlin was down because they’d been sent to help with a rebel-caused disturbance in St. George. I had no idea either of those things had happened. Between everything I’d heard and seen growing up and what I’d learned since coming to the palace, I began to wonder just how much we knew about the rebels. Maybe I just didn’t understand, but I didn’t think they could be blamed for everything that was wrong with Illéa.

And then, as if he had appeared out of thin air, Gavril was walking on set after being introduced by the Master of Events.

“Good evening, everyone. Tonight I have a special announcement. The Selection has been going for a week now and eight ladies have already gone home, leaving twenty-seven beautiful women for Prince Maxon to choose from. Next week, by hook or by crook, the majority of the Illéa Capital Report will be dedicated to getting to know these amazing young women.”

I felt the little beads of sweat pooling on my temple. Sit here and look nice… I could do that. But answer questions? I knew I wasn’t going to win this little game; that wasn’t the issue. I just really, really didn’t want to look like a moron in front of the entire country.

“Before we get to the ladies, tonight let’s take a moment with the man of the hour. How are you tonight, Prince Maxon?” Gavril said, walking across the stage. Maxon had been ambushed. He didn’t have a microphone or prepared answers.

Just before Gavril’s microphone reached Maxon’s face, I caught his eye and gave him a wink. That tiny action was enough to make him smile.

“I’m very well, Gavril, thank you.”

“Are you enjoying your company so far?”

“Yes! It’s been a pleasure getting to know these ladies.”

“Are they all the sweet, gentle ladies they appear to be?” Gavril asked. Before Maxon replied, the answer brought a smile to my face. Because I knew that it was yes … sort of.

“Umm…” Maxon looked past Gavril at me. “Almost.”

“Almost?” Gavril asked, surprised. He turned to us. “Is someone over there being naughty?”

Mercifully, all the girls let out light giggles, so I blended in. The little traitor!

“What exactly did these girls do that isn’t so sweet?” Gavril asked Maxon.

“Oh, well, let me tell you.” Maxon crossed his legs and got very comfortable in his chair. It was probably the most relaxed I’d ever seen him, sitting there poking fun at me. I liked this side of him. I wished it would come out more often. “One of them had the nerve to yell at me rather forcefully the first time we met. I was given a very severe scolding.”

Above Maxon’s head, the king and queen exchanged a glance. It seemed they were hearing this story for the first time, too. Beside me the girls were looking at one another, confused. I didn’t get it until Ragini said something.

“I don’t remember anyone yelling at him in the Great Room. Do you?”
Maxon seemed to have forgotten that our first meeting was meant to be a secret. “I think he’s talking it up to make it funnier. I did say some serious things to him. I think he might mean me.”

“A scolding, you say? Whatever for?” Gavril continued.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really sure. I think it was a bout of homesickness. Which is why I forgave her, of course.” Maxon was loose and easy now, talking to Gavril as if he were the only person in the room. I’d have to tell him later how wonderful he did.

“So she’s still with us, then?” Gavril looked over at the collection of girls, grinning widely, and then returned to face his prince.

“Oh, yes. She’s still here,” Maxon said, not letting his eyes wander from Gavril’s face. “And I plan on keeping her here for quite a while.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In my room, Anne, Mary, and Lucy waited to help me out of my gown, but I explained that I’d need to stay in it a little bit longer. Anne figured it out first—that Maxon was coming to see me—because I was always eager to get out of the binding clothes.

“Would you like us to stay later tonight? It’s no problem,” Mary said just a little too hopefully. After the calamity of Maxon visiting earlier this week, I decided sending them out as early as possible was the best way to go. Besides, I couldn’t bear to have them watching me until he showed up.

“No, no. I’m fine. If I have a problem with the dress later, I’ll ring.”

They reluctantly backed out the door and left me to wait for Maxon. I didn’t know how long he’d be, and I didn’t want to start a book and have to stop, or sit down at the piano only to hop right back up. I ended up just lounging on the bed, waiting. I let my mind wander. I thought of Ragini and her kindness. I realized that, besides a few small details, I knew very little about her. Still, I trusted that her actions toward me were in no way fake. And then I thought of the girls who were all too fake. I wondered if Maxon could tell the difference.

It seemed like Maxon’s experience with women was so great and so small at once. He was gentlemanly enough, but when he got too close, he came undone. It was like he knew how to treat a lady, he just didn’t know how to treat a date.

It was quite a contrast to Laksh.

Laksh.

His name, his face, his memory hit me so quickly it was hard to process. Laksh. What was he doing now? It was getting close to curfew in Carolina. He’d still be at work, if he had a job today. Or maybe out with Brenna, or whoever else he’d decided to start spending his time with since we broke up. Part of me ached to know … part of me wanted to crumble just thinking about it.

I looked over to my jar. I picked it up and felt the penny slide around, so lonely.

“Me, too,” I whispered. “Me, too.”

Was it stupid of me to keep this? I’d given back everything else, so why save one little penny? Would this be all I had left? A penny in a jar to show my daughter one day, to tell her about my first boyfriend—the one no one knew about?

I didn’t have time to dwell on my worries. Maxon’s firm knock came only minutes later. I found myself running to the door.

I drew it open in a big sweep, and Maxon looked surprised to see me.

“Where in the world are your maids?” he asked, surveying my room.

“Gone. I send them off when I come back from dinner.”

“Every day?”

“Yes, of course. I can take my clothes off by myself, thank you.”

Maxon raised his eyebrows and smiled. I blushed. I hadn’t meant it to come out like that.

“Grab a wrap. It’s chilly out.”

We walked down the hall. I was still a little distracted by my thoughts, and I knew by now that Maxon wasn’t great with starting conversations. I had looped my hand around his arm almost immediately, though. I was glad that there was a sort of familiarity there.

“If you insist on not keeping your maids around, I’m going to have to post a guard outside your door,” he said.

“No! I don’t like being babysat.”

He chuckled. “He’d be outside. You wouldn’t even know he was there.”

“I would too,” I complained. “I’d sense his presence.”

Maxon made a playfully exhausted sigh. I was so busy arguing, I didn’t hear the whispers until they were practically in front of us. Celeste, Emmica, and Tiny were heading past us toward their rooms.

“Ladies,” Maxon said, and gave a small head nod.

I supposed it was foolish to think no one would see us together. I felt my face heat up, but I wasn’t sure why.

The girls all curtsied and carried on their way. I looked over my shoulder at them as we went toward the stairs. Emmica and Tiny looked curious. Within minutes, they would be telling others about this. I would be cornered tomorrow for sure. Celeste was staring daggers at me. I was sure she thought I had personally wronged her.

I turned away and said the first thing that came to mind.

“I told you the girls who got nervous about the attack would end up staying.” I didn’t know exactly who had asked to leave, but rumors pointed to Tiny as being one. She had fainted. Someone else had said Bariel, but I knew that was a lie. You’d have to pry the crown out of her cold dead hands first.

“You can’t imagine what a relief that was.” He sounded sincere.

It took me a moment to think of how to respond, as that wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and I was very focused on not falling. I didn’t know how to take steps down very well while holding on to someone else. The heels didn’t help. At least if I slipped, he would grab me.

“I would have thought it would be helpful in a way,” I said as we made it to the first floor and I found my footing again. “I mean, it has to be complicated to pick one person out of all these girls. If the circumstances weeded some out for you, shouldn’t that make it easier?”

Maxon shrugged. “I suppose it should. But it didn’t feel that way at all, I assure you.” He looked hurt. “Good evening, sirs,” he greeted the guards, who opened the doors to the garden without the slightest hesitation. Maybe I would have to take Maxon up on that offer to have them know I liked to go outside. The idea of being able to escape so easily was appealing.

“I don’t understand,” I said as he led me to a bench—our bench—and let me sit facing the lights of the palace. He took a seat with his body facing the opposite direction, so that we were sort of turned in toward each other. It was an easy way to talk.
“You can’t seem to keep your eyes in one place. I can tell that you’re paying attention, but you seem to be looking for something.”

I realized he was right. All through his little speech, I’d scanned the garden and the windows and even the towers along the walls. I was getting paranoid.

“People … cameras…” I shook my head as I looked into the night.

“We’re alone. There’s just the guard by the door.” Maxon pointed to the lone figure in the palace lamplight. He was right, no one had followed us out, and the windows were all lit up but vacant. I’d seen that already through my scanning, but it helped to have it confirmed.

I felt my posture relax a little.

“You don’t like people watching you, do you?” he asked.

“Not really. I prefer being below the radar. That’s what I’m used to, you know?” I traced the patterns carved into the perfect block of stone beneath me, not meeting his eyes.

“You’ll have to adjust to that. When you leave here, eyes will be on you for the rest of your life. My mom still talks to some of the women she was with when she went through the Selection. They’re all viewed as important women. Still.”

“Great,” I moaned. “Just one more thing I can’t wait to go home to.”

Maxon’s face was apologetic, but I had to look away. I was freshly reminded of how much this stupid competition was costing me, how my idea of normal was never coming back. It didn’t seem fair….

But I checked myself again. I shouldn’t take it out on Maxon. He was as much a victim in this as the rest of us, though in a very different way. I sighed and looked back to him. I saw his face set as he decided something.

“America, could I ask you something personal?”

“Maybe,” I hedged. He gave me a humorless smile.

“It’s just … well, I can tell that you really don’t like it here. You hate the rules and the competition and the attention and the clothes and the … well, no, you like the food.” He smiled. I did, too. “You miss your home and your family … and I suspect other people very, very much. Your feelings are incredibly close to the surface.”

“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “I know.”

“But you’re willing to be homesick and miserable here instead of going home. Why?”

I felt the lump rise in my throat, and I pushed it back down.

“I’m not miserable … and you know why.”

“Well, sometimes you seem okay. I see you smiling when you talk to some of the other girls, and you seem very content at meals, I’ll give you that. But other times you just look so sad. Would you tell me why? The whole story?”

“It’s just another failed love story. It’s nothing big or exciting. Trust me.” Please don’t push me. I don’t want to cry.

“For better or for worse, I’d like to know one true love story besides my parents’, one that was outside these walls and the rules and the structure…. Please?”

The truth was I’d carried the secret for so long, I couldn’t imagine putting it into words. And it hurt so much to think of Laksh. Could I even say his name out loud? I took a deep breath. Maxon was my friend now. He tried so hard to be nice to me. And he’d been so honest with me….
“I suppose u should know my true identity first..”
“I know that already….everything of u is written in that form .”he said.
“No…not everything is…..” i said.
“Do u mean 2 say u are not America singer from carolina?????”‘
“No…not like that…..”
“U know what…..i have an indian origin…..and my original name is…..Swara….Swara Gadodia”i blurted out the truth.
He looked baffled…
I contd.
“My mother has indian roots….but my dad is a native of this country…..their’s was an love marriage…..my mom wanted us to know our roots….so we have….we as in my siblings have two identities…….”
“My elder brother…..is abhishek gadodia….my lil sis…..swastika gadodia………my sweet lil bro…..aadhik gadodia…..my mumma…..sharmizhta gadodia….”
{She says everything about her family…i donot want to prolong this part by writing more}
“Umm…hmm…”he wanted to say something, but hesitated to do so….
“Does ur lover know about this?????”…..
“Yup he knows to…..he is my bro’s frnd……he also has indian origin……i went to my bro’s workshop one day…to help him clean it…..and laksh was also there….”
I paused, remembering.
“So there I was, just pulling things out of boxes … and there he was. Our eyes met, and he didn’t seem so old or rough anymore. It had been awhile since we’d seen each other, you know? We weren’t kids anymore.

“The whole day I was there, we would accidentally touch each other as we moved things around. He would look at me or smile, and I felt like I was really alive for the first time. I just… I was crazy about him.”

My voice finally broke, and some of the tears I’d been longing to shed came out.

“We lived pretty close to each other, so I’d take walks during the day just in case I might get to see him. Whenever his mother came by to help, sometimes he’d show up too. And we’d just watch each other—that’s all we could do.” I let out a tiny sob. “He’s a Six and I’m a Five, and there are laws … and my mother! Oh, she would have been furious. No one could know.”

I was moving my hands a little spastically, the stress of all the secret-keeping coming to the surface.

“Soon, there were little anonymous notes left taped to my window telling me I was beautiful or that I sang like an angel. And I knew they were from him.

“The night of my fifteenth birthday, my mom threw a party and his family was invited. He cornered me and gave me my birthday card and told me to read it when I was alone. When I finally got to it, it didn’t have his name or even a ‘Happy Birthday’ on the inside. It just said, ‘Tree house. Midnight.’”

Maxon’s eyes widened. “Midnight? But—”

“You should know that I break Illéa curfew regularly.”

“You could have landed yourself in jail, America.” He shook his head.

I shrugged. “Back then, it seemed inconsequential. That first time, I felt like I was flying. Here he was, figuring out a way for us to be alone together. I just couldn’t believe he wanted to be alone with me.

“That night I waited up in my room and watched the tree house in my backyard. Near midnight, I saw someone climb up. I remember I actually went to brush my teeth again, just in case. I crept out my window and up the tree. And he was there. I just… I couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t remember how it started, but soon we were confessing how we felt about each other, and we couldn’t stop laughing because we were so happy the other one felt the same way. And I just couldn’t be bothered to worry about breaking curfew or lying to my parents. And I didn’t care that I was a Five and he was a Six. I didn’t worry about the future. Because nothing could matter as much as him loving me…

“And he did, Maxon, he did….”

More tears. I clutched my chest, feeling Laksh’s absence like I never had. Saying it out loud only made it more real. There was nothing to do but finish the story.

“We dated in secret for two years. We were happy, but he was always worried about us sneaking around and how he couldn’t give me what he thought I deserved. When we got the notice about the Selection, he insisted that I sign up.”

Maxon’s mouth dropped open.

“I know. It was so stupid. But it would have hung over him forever if I didn’t try. And I honestly, honestly thought that I would never get chosen. How could I?”

I raised my hands in the air and let them fall. I was still baffled by it all.

“I found out from his mom that he’d been saving up to marry some mystery girl. I was so excited. I made him a little surprise dinner, thinking I could coax the proposal out of him. I was so ready.
But when he saw all the money that I’d spent on him, it upset him. He’s very proud. He wanted to spoil me, not the other way around, and I guess he saw then that he’d never be able to. So he broke up with me instead….

“One week later, my name got called.”

I heard Maxon whisper something unintelligible.

“The last time I saw him was at my send-off,” I choked. “He was with another girl.”

“WHAT?” Maxon shouted.

I buried my head in my hands.

“The thing is, it drives me crazy because I know other girls are after him, they always were, and now he has no reason to turn them down. Maybe he’s even with the girl from my send-off. I don’t know. And I can’t do anything about it. But the thought of going home and watching it… I just can’t, Maxon….”

I wept and wept, and Maxon didn’t rush me. When the tears finally started to slow, I spoke.

“Maxon, I hope you find someone you can’t live without. I really do. And I hope you never have to know what it’s like to have to try and live without them.”

Maxon’s face was a shallow echo of my own pain. He looked absolutely brokenhearted for me. More than that, he looked angry.Anger rippled of him in waves.
“Swara….”he hesitated.
“Go on…u can call me swara…”i assured.

“I’m sorry, swara. I don’t…” His face shifted a little. “Is this a good time to pat your shoulder?”

His uncertainty made me smile. “Yes. Now would be a great time.”

He seemed as skeptical as he’d been the other day, but instead of just patting my shoulder, he leaned in and tentatively wrapped his arms around me.

“I only really ever hug my mother. Is this okay?” he asked.

I laughed. “It’s hard to get a hug wrong.”

After a minute, I spoke again. “I know what you mean, though. I don’t really hug anyone besides my family.”

I felt so drained after the long day of dressing and the Report and dinner and talking. It was nice to have Maxon just hold me, sometimes even patting my hair. He wasn’t as lost as he seemed. He patiently waited for my breathing to slow, and when it did, he pulled back to look at me.

“Swara, I promise you I’ll keep you here until the last possible moment. I understand that they want me to narrow the Elite down to three and then choose. But I swear to you, I’ll make it to two and keep you here until then. I won’t make you leave a moment before I have to. Or the moment you’re ready. Whichever comes first.”

I nodded.

“I know we just met, but I think you’re wonderful. And it bothers me to see you hurt. If he were here, I’d… I’d…” Maxon shook with frustration, then sighed. “I’m so sorry, Swara.”
“Even i want to tell u a secret of mine…..”he drawled.
“But…this is not the right time..i’ll tell u when time comes…”
He pulled me back in, and I rested my head on his broad shoulder. I knew Maxon would keep his promises. So I settled into perhaps the last place I ever thought I’d find genuine comfort.
????
Precap: 2 more epi’s for the SUPRISE……..
????
How was it guys???????…..
Hope u all like it……….
Ik i promised u a suprise….but i made mystk…guys…ur suprise will unfold only after 2 more epi’s……i’m sorry about that……I now promise u guys that the suprise will be worth the wait…….pls 4give me…..pls…do comment…ur comment gives me lot of encouragement……..bashers are also welcome……..
Luv ya guys?????

Credit to: ❤?Natasha?❤

25 comments

  1. Hope

    Nats…. It was so beautiful.. I really love the talk.. U read mmz ff page on telly updates too..ryt. Just check my cmnt on Gauri di’s ff “destiny passion obsession latest chapter” if u did then u wud know my condition… And dis talk made miss him more,coz he was d one who gave shoulders when i cried and made me smile.. Tnq yaar.. U just made me realize how much he meant to me…

    • ❤?Natasha?❤

      Hey dear…..he’ll come 2 u and apologise…..just make him realise the misunderstanding……..srsly he’ll be dying to talk 2 u…..blv me cause…..even i have undergone such a situation…..and tks dear 4 ur comment…..luv u loads and tonnes…….tc sweetie ???❤❤❤

  2. Turaifa Shafenaz

    Well, No Needs 4 Sorries. We R Frnds, Right? Great Things Comes After Wait. Another Fabulous Epi. I Love America & Maxon Now. Yea I Started To Read This Because Of Swasan, But Now I Don’t Need That. It Is Not Going Out To Be Swara’s Dream, Is It? Enough Bak Bak, Keep It Up. <3

    • ❤?Natasha?❤

      Hmm..ya…we r of course frns….ur comment is overwhelming me…..,ty for ur constant support…..??❤❤❤

  3. Anandha

    Oh my god! The one series. Thankyou so much for reminding me once again abt this beautiful story….☺ thanks once again natasha

    • Anandha

      Ive not read this before and its by chance i read it now nd am all d way to read d previous episodes

      • ❤?Natasha?❤

        Anandha….pls do read the prvs epi’s…..i’m glad to hear u liked it dear…ty?????

  4. Pramudi

    Hey Natasha.. This was awesome. Yesterday i missed your story so much. Even today morning, i came here to check whether you have updated it or not. Believe me.. I have addicted to yuor story. ?
    Good work dear. Keep it up.
    Update the next one soon. Eagerly waiting. ??

    • ❤?Natasha?❤

      Ty sooooooo much Pramudi…….it means a lot 2 me…….ur comment is very encouraging……..tks 4ur constant support??❤❤❤???

  5. Shreya

    Natasha…! I am back baby..! Ha ha.. Okay first of all bada wala sorry to my sis.. Sorry for not commenting on the previous chappy.. But I was really busy with my 12th class results.. And you completely forgot me..! ?
    Well the episode was as usual amazing.. Love reading your stories..
    Love❤

    • ❤?Natasha?❤

      Srsly….shreya……how dare u think that i’ll not miss u.???????…….i was missing u lyk hell?????……even ur ff tooo…hope u update that soon……u know wat….i was reloding prevs chaapy’s page to check whether u have commented or not……..hope u got gud marks….but i have a blvf that u would have scored very gud…cause ur my rocking sis right????…… was missing ur ff………sissy…i have a ques…which stream r u???…i mean which grp…????……luv ya loads.. and… .tons……???❤❤❤….finally……missed me????????

      • Shreya

        I missed you a lot.. My Lil sissy..!
        And my marks.. Huh..! Not so good this time.. 87.8℅ .. I am greedy when it comes to marks..
        So your didn’t rock much this time.. ??
        And my stream.. Okay go to ff page .. I have commented there.. And now make your id on wattpad.. Please..! Request..! Or order..! Whatever you think of it as.. Lol ..! Love ya .. My Lil sista..! ❤?

  6. Vb

    Oh so emotional epi. Loved the way he comforted swara. Poor swara how could laksh do that. Very well written.

    • ❤?Natasha?❤

      Ty sooooo much Vb…..glad 2 hear that u liked 2days epi…….luv ya???❤❤❤

    • ❤?Natasha?❤

      Ty…sooooooo much arohi dear……..ur comment means a lot 2 me……. luv ya ???❤❤❤

  7. B

    Wonderful episode making me forget the surroundings. Awesome. Waiting for your next episode desperately.

  8. Tanvesha

    U r just awesome!!! Keep writing!! U r a fabulous writer with superb imagination n creativity.. Update soon 🙂

Your comment will now be reviewed first before it's published. Read more here..

Your comment will now be reviewed first before it's published. Read more here..