Home > The Elite (The Selection #2)(9)

The Elite (The Selection #2)(9)
Author: Kiera Cass

“Your maids are quite talented,” Maxon said. “These are wonderful concepts.”

I tried to act like I always did with Maxon, but things felt different now, better and worse at the same time. “I know. I couldn’t be in better hands.”

“Have you settled on one yet?” he asked, fanning out the papers on my desk.

“We’re all fond of the bird idea. I think it’s meant to be a reference to my necklace,” I said, touching the thin string of silver. My songbird necklace was a gift from my dad, and I preferred it over the heavy jewelry the palace provided for us.

“I hate to say this, but I think Celeste has picked something avian as well. She seemed awfully determined,” he said.

“That’s all right,” I replied with a shrug. “I’m not crazy about feathers anyway.” My smile faltered. “Wait. You were with Celeste?”

He nodded. “Just a quick visit to chat. I’m afraid I can’t stay long here, either. Father’s not thrilled about all this, but with the Selection still going on, he understood that it would be nice to have some more festivities. And he agreed it would be a much better way to meet the families, all things considered.”

“Like what?”

“He’s eager for an elimination, and I’m supposed to do one after I meet with everyone’s parents. The sooner they come, the better in his eyes.”

I hadn’t realized sending someone home was part of the Halloween plan. I thought it was just a big party. It made me nervous, though I told myself there was no reason I should be. Not after our conversation last night. Of all the moments I’d shared with Maxon, nothing seemed quite so real as that one.

Still scanning the designs, he spoke absentmindedly. “I suppose I ought to finish my rounds.”

“You’re leaving already?”

“Not to worry, darling. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Yes, I thought, but you’ll see all of us at dinner.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

“Of course,” he answered, offering me a quick kiss. On the cheek. “I have to run. We’ll talk again soon.”

And, just as suddenly as he appeared, he was gone.

As of Sunday, the Halloween party was eight days away, which meant the palace was a hurricane of activity.

On Monday the Elite spent the morning with Queen Amberly taste testing and approving a menu for the party. It was easily the best task we’d been given so far. That afternoon, however, Celeste was missing from the Women’s Room for a few hours. When she returned around four, she announced to us all, “Maxon sends his love.”

Tuesday afternoon we greeted extended members of the royal family who were coming to town for the festivities. But that morning we all watched out the window as Maxon gave Kriss an archery lesson in the gardens.

Meals were full of guests who had come to stay early, but Maxon was often missing, as well as Marlee and Natalie.

I felt more and more embarrassed. I’d made a mistake by confessing my feelings to Maxon. For all his talk, he couldn’t really be interested in me if his first instinct was to spend time with everyone else.

I’d all but lost hope by Friday when I found myself sitting at the piano in my room after the Report, wishing that Maxon would come.

He didn’t.

I tried to put it out of my mind on Saturday, as the Elite were obligated to entertain the influx of ladies at the palace in the Women’s Room in the morning and have yet another dance rehearsal in the afternoon.

Thank goodness our family chose to focus on music and art as Fives, because I was a terrible dancer. The only person in the room worse than me was Natalie. Obnoxiously enough, Celeste was the epitome of gracefulness. More than once the instructors asked her to help others in the room, the result of which was Natalie nearly twisting her ankle because of Celeste’s intentionally poor guidance.

Smooth as a snake, Celeste faulted Natalie’s two left feet for her problems. The teachers believed her, and Natalie laughed it all off. I admired Natalie for not letting Celeste get to her.

Aspen had been there for all the lessons. The first few times I avoided him, not really sure I wanted to interact with him. I heard rumors that the guards were switching schedules so fast it was dizzying. Some wanted to go to the party desperately while others had girls back home and would be in huge trouble if they were seen dancing with someone else, especially since five of us would be eligible again soon and in very high demand.

But seeing as this was our last formal rehearsal, when Aspen was near enough to offer me a dance, I didn’t turn him down.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “You’ve seemed down the last few times I’ve seen you.”

“Just tired,” I lied. I couldn’t talk with him about boy problems.

“Really?” he asked doubtfully. “I was sure that it meant bad news was coming.”

“What do you mean?” Did he know something I didn’t?

He sighed. “If you’re preparing to tell me that I need to stop fighting for you, that’s not a conversation I want to have.”

In truth, I hadn’t even thought about Aspen in the last week or so. I was so consumed by my mistimed words and mistaken guesses, I couldn’t consider anything else. And here, while I’d been worried about Maxon letting me go, Aspen had been worrying about me doing the same to him.

“That’s not what it is,” I answered vaguely, feeling guilty.

He nodded, satisfied with that response for now. “Ouch!”

“Oops!” I said. I genuinely hadn’t meant to step on him. I worked to focus a little more on the dancing.

“I’m sorry, Mer, but you’re terrible.” He was chuckling even though the heel of my shoe had to have hurt him.

“I know, I know,” I said breathlessly. “I’m trying, I swear!”

I pranced around the room like a blind moose, but what I lacked in grace I made up for in effort. Aspen, kindly, did his best to make me look good, attempting to be a little less on the beat to be in time with me. That was so typical of him, always trying to be my hero.

By the end of that last lesson, I at least knew all the steps. I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t accidentally take out a visiting diplomat with an energetic kick of my leg, but I’d do my best. As I considered that image, I realized it was no wonder Maxon was having second thoughts. I’d be an embarrassment to take to another country let alone receive anyone here. I just didn’t have that princess air about me.

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