I’m srsly sry….late update…..i got my results and i had fared well…..so my frnds forced me for a treat…… the shopping, movie….and etc….was really hell tiring….so was not abe to update earlier………..sry my dear frns…..so an extra long epi 4 u guys 2day….
I’m overwhelmed by all of ur comments for my previous epi……..
Ty sooooo much…Goldie, Turaifa Shafenaz , hope , jenni ,Arati, Unknown, Pramudi, Puuuuu, Sara, Sam ,Vb,Harnoor ,B, Harshitha, Rachu ,Kavya ,Sheeba , en ooru ponnu sanchami and my shreya sis….for commenting and encouraging me…….
Kk…now on to the epi…
Link 4 this ff’s previous epi’s:
I TOLD NO ONE WHAT had happened between Maxon and me, not even to Ragini or my maids. It felt like a wonderful secret that I could revisit in the middle of one of Silvia’s boring lessons or another long day in the Women’s Room. And to be honest, I thought about our kisses—both the awkward and the sweet—more often than I expected I would.
I knew I wasn’t just going to fall in love with Maxon overnight. I knew my heart wouldn’t let me. But I suddenly found myself in a place where that was something I might want. So I thought about the possibility quietly in my head, though I was tempted to blurt out my secret more than once.
Particularly three days later when Olivia announced to the half-full Women’s Room that Maxon had kissed her.
I couldn’t believe how shattered I felt. I caught myself looking at Olivia and wondering what was so special about her.
“Tell us everything!” Ragini insisted.
Most of the other girls were curious as well, but Ragini was the most enthusiastic. In the short time since she and Maxon had their last date, her interest in everyone else’s progress seemed to be growing. I couldn’t tell what was behind the shift, and I wasn’t quite brave enough to ask.
Olivia didn’t need encouragement. She sat down on one of the couches and fanned out her dress. It looked like she was practicing to be the princess. I felt like telling her that one kiss didn’t mean she was winning.
“I don’t want to go into all the details, but it was quite romantic,” she gushed, tucking her chin into her chest. “He took me to the roof. There’s this place that’s kind of like a balcony, but it looks like it’s used for the guards. I couldn’t tell. We could look out over the wall, and the whole city was just glittering as far as we could see. He didn’t really say anything. He just pulled me in and kissed me.” Her whole body contracted with joy.
Ragini sighed. Celeste looked like she was ready to break something. I sat there.
I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t care so much, that this was all part of the Selection. And who’s to say that I’d really want to end up with Maxon anyway? Honestly, I ought to consider myself lucky. It was clear Celeste’s malice had a new target, and after that whole episode with my dress—which I realized I’d forgotten to mention to Maxon—I was glad to see her move on.
“Do you think she’s the only one he’s kissed?” Tuesday whispered in my ear. Kriss, who was standing beside me, heard her concerns and piped in.
“He wouldn’t just kiss anyone. She must be doing something right,” Kriss lamented.
“What if he’s kissed half the room and people are keeping quiet about it? Maybe it’s part of their strategy,” Tuesday wondered.
” Idon’t think anyone who kept quiet would necessarily consider that a strategy,” I countered. “Maybe they’re just private.”
Kriss sucked in a breath. “What if Olivia telling us all this is just some game? Now we’re all worried, and it’s not as if any of us would actually ask Maxon if he’d kissed her. There’s no way to tell if she’s lying or not.”
“Do you think she would do that?” I asked.
“If she did, I wish I’d thought of it first,” Tuesday said longingly.
Kriss sighed. “This is much more complicated than I thought it would be.”
“Tell me about it,” I mumbled.
“I like almost everyone in this room, but when I hear about Maxon doing something with someone else, I just want to figure out how I can do one better than her,” she confessed. “I don’t like feeling competitive toward you all.”
“It’s kind of like what I was telling Tiny the other day,” Tuesday said. “I know she’s a little on the timid side, but she’s very ladylike and I think she’d make a great princess. I can’t be mad at her if she has more dates than me, even if I want the crown myself.”
Kriss and I met eyes for a second, and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing. She said crown, not him. But I let it drop, because the other part of her little speech struck on something familiar. “Ragini and I talk about that all the time. How we can see great qualities in each other.”
We all exchanged looks, and something felt different. Suddenly I didn’t feel so jealous of Olivia or even so at odds with Celeste. We were all going through this in a different way, and maybe even for different reasons, but we were at least going through it together.
“Maybe Queen Amberly was right,” I said. “The only thing to do is be yourself. I’d rather have Maxon send me home for being myself than keep me for being like someone else.”
“That’s true,” Kriss said. “And in the end, thirty-four people have to go. If I was the last one standing, I’d want to know I had everyone else’s support, so we should try to be supportive, too.”
I nodded, knowing she was right. I was confident that I could do that.
Just then Elise burst into the room, followed by Zoe and Emmica. She was usually very slow and calm, and never raised her voice. Today, however, she turned her head and squealed at us.
“Look at these combs!” she cried, pointing to two beautiful hair ornaments that were covered in what looked like thousands of dollars’ worth of precious stones. “Maxon gave them to me. Aren’t they beautiful?”
This set the room into a new flurry of excitement and disappointment, and my newborn confidence disappeared.
I tried not to be disappointed. After all, hadn’t I received gifts? Hadn’t I been kissed? But as the room filled with girls and the stories were retold, I found myself wanting to just go hide. Maybe today would be a good day to spend with my maids.
As I was considering leaving the room, Silvia came in, looking slightly frazzled and excited at the same time.
“Ladies!” she called out, attempting to quiet us. “Ladies, are you all here?”
We sang our yeses back to her.
“Thank goodness for that,” she said, settling down. “I know this is very late notice, but we’ve just learned the king and queen of Swendway are coming to visit in three days, and as you all know, we have relations in their royal family. Also, the queen’s extended family will be coming in to meet you at the same time, so we’re going to have quite a full house. We have very little time to get ready, so clear your afternoons. Lessons in the Great Room immediately after lunch,” she said, and turned to leave.
You would have thought the palace staff had months to plan. Giant tented pavilions were set up in the gardens, with food and wine stations scattered about the lawn. The number of guards out was higher than usual, and they were joined by several Swendish soldiers the king and queen had brought with them. I guess even they knew how at risk the palace was.
There was a tent with thrones set up for the king, queen, and Maxon as well as the king and queen of Swendway. The Swendish queen—whose name I couldn’t pronounce to save my life—was almost as beautiful as Queen Amberly and seemed to be a dear friend to her. They were all settled comfortably under that tent except for Maxon, who was busy making rounds with all the girls and the extended members of his family.
Maxon looked thrilled to see his cousins, even the little ones who kept tugging on his suit coat and running away. He had one of his many cameras out and was chasing the children with it, snapping away. Nearly all the Selected girls were watching him in adoration.
“America,” someone called. I turned to my right to see Elayna and Leah talking to a woman who looked almost identical to the queen. “Come and meet the queen’s sister.” There was something in Elayna’s tone that I couldn’t quite name but made me nervous about joining them.
I walked over and curtsied to the lady, who cackled and said, “Stop that, honey. I’m not the queen here. I’m Adele, Amberly’s older sister.” She extended a hand, which I took, and she hiccuped as we shook. The woman had a slight accent, and something about her was comforting in the way that coming home feels. She was curvaceous and held a near-empty glass of wine that, based on the heavy look in her eyes, was not her first.
“Where are you from? I love your accent,” I said. Some of the other girls from the South sounded similar, and their voices seemed incredibly romantic to me.
“Honduragua. Right by the coast. We grew up in the tiniest house,” she said, making a space the size of an inch between her finger and thumb. “And look at her now. Look at me,” she said, motioning down to her dress. “Such a change.”
“I live in Carolina, and my parents took me to the coast once. I loved it,” I replied.
“Oh, no, no, no, child,” she said, waving her hand about. Elayna and Leah looked like they were holding in laughter. Clearly they didn’t think the queen’s sister should be quite so familiar. “The beaches in middle Illéa are trash compared to the ones down south. You have to go see one day.”
I smiled and nodded, thinking that I’d love to see more of the country, but it was doubtful I ever would. Shortly after, one of Adele’s many children came up to her and pulled her away, and Elayna and Leah burst into laughter.
“Isn’t she hilarious?” Leah said.
“I don’t know. She seems friendly,” I replied with a shrug.
“She’s vulgar,” Elayna replied. “You should have heard all the things she said before you came up.”
“What was so bad about her?”
“You’d think she’d have picked up a few lessons in decorum over the years. How did Silvia not get ahold of her?” Leah said with a sneer.
“Need I remind you, she was raised as a Four. Same as you,” I shot back.
Her smug expression faltered, and she seemed to remember that she and Adele weren’t so different. Elayna, however, was a natural Three and kept on talking.
“You can bet, if I win, my family will either be trained or deported. I wouldn’t let any of them embarrass me like that.”
“What was so embarrassing?” I asked.
Elayna sucked her teeth. “She’s drunk. The queen and king of Swendway are here. She ought to be caged.”
I decided that was enough and walked away to get some wine of my own. Once I had a glass, I looked around and honestly couldn’t find a single place I wanted to settle. The whole reception was beautiful and interesting and completely aggravating.
I thought about what Elayna had said. If I ended up living in the palace, would I expect my family to change? I looked at the children running around, the people huddled together catching up.
How much would living at the palace change me?
Would Maxon want me to change? Was that why he was off kissing other girls? Because there was something not quite right about me?
Was the rest of the Selection going to feel this irritating?
I turned, and Maxon snapped a picture of me. I bounced back in surprise. That unexpected picture wore out the last of my patience, and I turned away.
“Something wrong?” Maxon asked, lowering the camera.
“What’s going on?”
“I just don’t feel like being a part of the Selection today,” I answered curtly.
Unfazed, Maxon stepped closer and lowered his voice. “Need someone to talk to? I could tug my ear right now,” he offered.
I sighed and tried to put a polite smile on my face. “No, I just need to think.” I went to leave.
“Swara,” he said quietly. I stopped and turned. “Have I done something?”
I hesitated. Should I ask about him kissing Olivia? Should I tell him how tense I was feeling around the girls now that things had changed between us? Should I tell him how I didn’t want to change myself or my family to be a part of this? I was about to let everything spill out when a shrill voice called from behind us.
We turned, and Celeste was standing there, talking to the queen of Swendway. It was clear she wanted to have this conversation with Maxon on her arm. She waved, inviting him over.
“Why don’t you run along?” I said, my annoyance leaking into my voice again.
Maxon looked at me. The expression on his face reminded me that this was part of the deal. I was expected to share.
“Careful with that one.” I gave Maxon a quick curtsy and walked away.
I made my way toward the palace, and along the way noticed Ragini sitting alone. I didn’t even want to be with her right now, but I noticed she was parked on a bench near the back wall of the palace in the brutally hot sun, her closest companion a young, silent guard stationed just a few yards away.
“Ragini, what are you doing? Get under a tent before you burn your skin.”
She gave me a polite smile. “I’m happy here.”
“No, really,” I said, putting a hand around her arm. “You’ll look like my hair. You should—”
Ragini jerked her hand out of my grip, but spoke gently. “I want to stay here, America. I prefer it.”
There was a tension in her face she was trying to mask. I was sure she wasn’t upset with me, but something was going on.
“Fine. Try to get some shade soon, though. Sunburns hurt,” I said, attempting to cover my frustration, and walked toward the palace.
Once inside, I decided to go to the Women’s Room. I couldn’t be gone for too long, and at least that room would be empty. But when I went in, I found Adele sitting near the window and watching the scene unfold outside. She turned when I entered and gave me a small smile.
I walked over and sat next to her. “Hiding?”
She smiled. “Kind of. I wanted to meet you all and see my sister again, but I hate it when these things turn into state functions. They make me tense.”
“I’m not such a fan myself. I couldn’t imagine doing things like this all the time.”
“I bet,” she said lazily. “You’re the Five, right?”
The way she said it, it wasn’t an insult. More like she was asking if I was in the club. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“I remembered your face. You were sweet at the airport. It’s the kind of thing she would have done,” she said, nodding out the window toward the queen. She sighed. “I don’t know how she does it. She’s stronger than most people know.” I watched her pick up a wineglass and sip away.
“She does seem strong, but ladylike, too.”
Adele beamed. “Yes, but it’s more than that. Look at her now.”
I watched the queen. I noticed her eyes were trained across the lawn. I followed her gaze, and she was watching Maxon. He was speaking to the queen of Swendway next to Celeste while one of his cousins clung to his leg.
“He would have been a great brother,” she said. “Amberly had three miscarriages. Two before him, one after. She still thinks about it, she tells me so. And then I have six kids. I feel guilty every time I show up.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t think of it that way. I’ll bet she’s excited every time you visit,” I assured her.
She turned. “You know what makes her happy? You do. Do you know what she sees out there? A daughter. She knows that when this is all over, she’ll have two children.”
I turned from Adele to look at the queen again. “You think so? She seems a little distant. I haven’t even spoken to her yet.”
Adele nodded. “Just you wait. She’s terrified of becoming attached to all of you just to watch you leave. Once it’s a smaller group, you’ll see.”
I looked at the queen again. And then at Maxon. Back to the king. And then to Adele.
So much went through my head. How families are families, no matter their castes. How mothers all have their own worries to bear. How I really didn’t hate any of the girls here, no matter how wrong they might be. How everyone out there must be putting on a brave face for some reason or another. And finally, how Maxon had made me a promise.
“Excuse me. I have someone I need to talk to.”
She sipped her wine and happily waved me away. I ran out of the room, and back into the blinding sun of the gardens. I searched around for a moment and found that Maxon’s young cousin had begun chasing him around a shrub. I smiled and approached slowly.
Finally Maxon stopped, waving his hands in the air, admitting his defeat. As he laughed, he turned and saw me, his smile still wide on his face. When our eyes met, his smile faded. He searched my face, looking for a sign of my mood.
I bit my lip and looked down. It was clear that caring about what happened to me as a member of the Selection would mean processing a lot of other feelings that I hadn’t been prepared for. However I took them in, I had to try not to force them out on other people, especially Maxon.
I thought about the queen—hosting visiting leaders, family members, a gaggle of girls all at once. She managed events and backed causes. She assisted her husband, her son, and the country. And underneath it all, she was a Four who held her own heartbreaks and never let her former rank or current aches keep her from doing it all.
I looked beneath my eyelashes at Maxon and smiled. He slowly smiled back, and whispered something to the little boy, who immediately turned and ran away. He reached up and tugged his ear. And I did the same.
THE QUEEN’S FAMILY STAYED A few days, and the visitors from Swendway an entire week. They did a segment on the Report discussing international relations and movements toward more peace for both nations.
It was now a month into my stay at the palace, and I was completely at home. My body was comfortable in the new climate. The warmth of the palace was heavenly, like a holiday. September was almost over, and it got very cool in the evenings, but it was much warmer than home. The sights of this giant space were no longer a mystery. The sounds of heeled shoes on marble, crystal glasses clinking, guards marching—they were starting to become as normal as the refrigerator humming or Gerad kicking a soccer ball up against the house.
Meals with the royal family and times in the Women’s Room were staples in my routine, but the middle moments of my days were always new. I spent a lot of time working on music; the instruments at the palace were far superior to the ones I had at home. I had to admit, they were making me spoiled. The quality of the sound was unimaginably better. And the Women’s Room had gotten a little more exciting, as the queen had shown up at least twice now. She hadn’t really spoken to anyone yet, but she sat in a comfortable chair with her maids at her side, watching as we read or conversed.
In general, the animosity had settled as well. We were getting used to one another. We finally found out the magazine’s top picks for our photographs. I was shocked to see I was one of the front-runners. Ragini was in the top spot, with Kriss, Tallulah, and Bariel close behind. Celeste didn’t talk to Bariel for days upon hearing this, but eventually everyone let it pass.
What still seemed to bring the most tension were the bits of information tossed around. Whoever had been with Maxon recently couldn’t help but gush about their little interlude. The way everyone spoke, it seemed as if Maxon was going to be choosing six or seven wives. But not everyone was shining in this experience.
For instance, Ragini who has had more than a few dates with Maxon, which put everyone on edge. Still, she never came across as excited as she had after their very first one.
“America, if I tell you this, you have to swear not to tell a soul,” she said as we walked in the garden. I knew it was something serious. She’d waited until we got away from the listening ears in the Women’s Room and far beyond the eyes of the guards.
“Of course,Ragini. Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I just… I need your opinion on something.” Her face was heavy with worry.
She bit her lip. “It’s Maxon. I’m not sure it’s going to work out.” She looked down.
“What makes you think that?” I asked, concerned.
“Well, for starters, I don’t… I don’t feel anything, you know? No spark, no connection.”
“Maxon can be a little shy is all. You have to give him time.” This was true. I was surprised she didn’t know that about him.
“No, I mean, I don’t think I like him.”
“Oh.” That was something very different. “Have you tried?” What a stupid question.
“Yes! So hard! I keep waiting for a moment to come when he’ll say or do something to make me feel like we have something in common, but it never happens. I think he’s handsome, but that’s not enough to build a whole relationship on. I don’t even know if he’s attracted to me. Do you have any idea what kind of things he, you know, likes?”
I thought about it. “No, actually. We’ve never talked about what he’s looking for in the physical department.”
“And that’s another thing! We never talk. He talks on and on to you, but we never seem to have anything to say. We spend a lot of our time quietly watching something or playing cards.”
She looked more worried by the minute.
“Sometimes we’re quiet together, too. Sometimes we just sit and say nothing. Besides, feelings like that don’t always happen overnight. Maybe you’re both just taking it slow.” I tried to sound reassuring—Ragini looked like she was on the verge of tears.
“Honestly, America, I think the only reason I’m still here is because the people like me so much. I think their opinions matter to him.”
That thought hadn’t occurred to me, but it sounded plausible. Long ago, I’d dismissed their opinion, but Maxon loved his people. They’d have more of a hand in choosing the next princess than they would know.
“And besides,” she whispered, “everything between us feels so … empty.”
Then the tears came.
I sighed and hugged her. Truthfully, I wanted her to stay, to be here with me, but if she didn’t love Maxon…
“Ragini, if you don’t want to be with Maxon, I think you need to tell him.”
“Oh, no, I don’t think I can.”
“You have to. He doesn’t want to marry someone who doesn’t love him. If you don’t have any feelings for him, he needs to know.”
She shook her head. “I can’t just ask to leave! I need to stay. I couldn’t go home … not now.”
“Why, Ragini? What’s keeping you here?”
For a moment, I wondered if Ragini and I shared the same dark secret. Maybe there was someone she needed distance from, too. The only difference in our situations was that Maxon knew about mine. I wanted her to say it! I wanted to know I wasn’t the only one who’d ended up here out of some ridiculous circumstances.
But Ragini’s tears stopped almost as quickly as they started. She sniffed a few times and straightened up. She smoothed out her day dress, squared her shoulders, and turned to face me. She pulled a strong, warm smile to her face and spoke.
“You know what? I bet you’re right.” She started to back away. “I’m sure if I just give it some time, it’ll all work out. I have to go. Tiny’s expecting me.”
Ragini half ran back to the palace. What in the world had come over her?
The next day, Ragini avoided me. The day after that, too. I made a point of sitting in the Women’s Room at a safe distance and making sure to acknowledge her whenever we crossed paths. I wanted her to know that she could trust me; I wouldn’t make her talk.
It took four days for her to give me a sad, knowing smile. I just nodded. It seemed that would be all there was to say about whatever was going on in Ragini’s heart.
That same day, while I was sitting in the Women’s Room, Maxon called for me. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t absolutely giddy when I ran out the door and into his arms.
“Maxon!” I breathed, falling into him. When I stepped back, he sort of fumbled a moment, and I knew why. The day we’d left the Swendway reception and went inside to talk, I confessed what a hard time I was having dealing with the way I felt. And I asked him not to kiss me until I was more certain. I could tell he was hurt, but he nodded and hadn’t broken his promise yet. It was just too hard to decipher those feelings when he acted like he was my boyfriend, but clearly wasn’t.
There were still twenty-two girls here after Camille, Mikaela, and Laila had been sent home. Camille and Laila were simply incompatible and left with very little fanfare. Mikaela got so homesick she burst into heaving sobs during breakfast two days later. Maxon escorted her from the room, patting her shoulder the whole way. He seemed fine with letting them go, and was happy to focus on his other prospects, myself included. But he and I both knew it would be foolish of him to invest his heart completely in me when even I wasn’t sure where mine was.
“How are you today?” he asked, stepping back.
“Perfect, of course. What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“The president of the Infrastructure Committee is sick, so the meeting was postponed. I’m free as a bird all afternoon.” His eyes were gleaming. “What do you want to do?” he asked, holding his arm out for me.
“Anything! There’s so much of the palace I still haven’t seen. There are horses here, right? And the movie theater. You still haven’t taken me there.”
“Let’s do that. I could use something relaxing. What kinds of movies do you like best?” he asked as we started walking toward where I guessed the stairwell to the basement was.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t get to watch a lot of movies. But I like romantic books. And comedies, too!”
“Romance, you say?” He raised his eyebrows like he was up to no good. I had to laugh.
We turned a corner and continued to talk. As we approached, a mass of the palace guard pulled to the side of the hall and saluted. There had to be more than a dozen men standing in the hallway. I was used to them by now. Even the sight of a collection that big couldn’t distract me from the fun time I was about to have with Maxon.
What did stop me was when I heard the gasp that escaped someone’s mouth as we passed. Maxon and I both turned.
And there was LAKSH.
I gasped, too.
A few weeks ago, I’d heard some administrator in the palace talk about the draft in passing. I had wondered about Laksh, but seeing as I was running late to one of Silvia’s many lessons, I didn’t really have a chance to speculate much.
So he’d been taken by the draft after all. Of all the places he could have gone…
Maxon caught on. “swara, do you know this young man?”
It had been more than a month since I’d seen Laksh, but this was the person I’d spent years committing to memory, the person who still visited my dreams. I would know him anywhere. He looked a little bigger, like he’d been fed, really fed, and was working out a lot. His scraggly hair had been cut short, practically all gone. And I was used to seeing him in secondhand clothes that were barely being held together by threads, and here he was in one of the brilliant, fitted uniforms of the palace guard.
He was alien and familiar at once. So many of the things around him seemed wrong. But those eyes … those were Laksh’s eyes.
My eyes fell to the name tag on his uniform: OFFICER LEGER.
I doubted a second had passed.
I kept myself composed enough that no one saw the storm raging inside—a miracle in and of itself. I wanted to scream at him, demand he leave my sanctuary. I wanted to melt away and disappear, but I felt so very here.
None of it made sense.
I cleared my throat. “Yes. Officer Leger comes from Carolina. He’s actually from my hometown.” I smiled at Maxon.
No doubt Laksh would have heard us laughing as we rounded the corner, would have noted that my arm was still draped on the prince’s. Let him make of that what he would.
Maxon seemed excited for me. “Well, how about that! Welcome, Officer Leger. You must be happy to see your Champion Girl again.” Maxon held his hand out, and Laksh shook it.
Laksh’s face was like a stone. “Yes, Your Majesty. Very much so.”
What did that mean?
“I’m sure you’re pulling for her, too,” Maxon encouraged as he winked at me.
“Of course, Your Majesty.” Laksh bowed his head a bit.
And what did that mean?
“Excellent. Since America is from your home province, I can’t think of a better man in the palace to leave her with. I’ll make sure you’re put on her guard rotation. This girl of yours refuses to keep a maid in her room at night. I’ve tried to tell her….” Maxon shook his head at me.
Laksh finally seemed to relax a bit. “I’m not surprised by that, Your Majesty.”
Precap: kriss’s b’day party……..
Sry guys ik late update…..i am really exhausted…….these two days were a nightmare…..i had to manage tym btwn my frns and family…..frns wanted a treat…..i had to spend litreally my whole energy in it…..and after that come home and help everyone for preparing for my sister’s weeding……and after that i was not able to move……so landed up in my bed……and slept like log for wat seemed like centuries…..after i got up…..again…the nxt day started with preparing for my sis’s pre marriage rituals……and so on….i was not even able to get some me tym….let alone type the epi……..ik this epi is slightly boring….its cause i’m hell tired and i’m not able to concentrate…sry again…..so now pls do comment and one more thing…..i have replied to all ur comments in the prev epi……so do read them…..and pls do give ur wattpad id…..if u r a user……mine is
Hope to catch up with u all there….
Waiting for ur comments…..cause i really need a energy boost right now…….
Tired as hell Natasha….