How did she manage to do that? Hadn’t that same clip declared her one of the immediate favorites? How did she get people to talk to her?
Dessert was an assortment of fruits in vanilla ice cream. It was like I’d never eaten before. If this was food, what had I been putting in my mouth up to this point? I thought of May and her equal love for all things sweet. She would have loved this. I bet she would have excelled here.
We weren’t allowed to leave dinner until everyone had finished, and after that we were under strict orders to go straight to bed.
“You’ll be meeting Prince Maxon in the morning, and you’ll want to look your best,” Silvia instructed. “He is someone in this room’s future husband, after all.”
A few girls sighed at the thought.
The click and clack of shoes up the stairs was quieter this time around. I couldn’t wait to get out of mine. Out of the dress, too. I had one set of clothes from home in my backpack and was debating putting them on just to feel like myself for a moment.
We dispersed at the top of the stairs, each girl heading off to her own room. Marlee pulled me aside.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yes. It’s just that some of the girls were looking at me funny during dinner.” I tried not to come across as whiny.
“They’re just a little nervous because everyone liked you so much,” she said, waving off their behavior.
“But the people liked you, too. I saw the signs. Why weren’t the girls being mean to you?”
“You haven’t spent a whole lot of time with groups of girls, have you?” She was smiling slyly, like I should know what was happening.
“No. Just my sisters mostly,” I confessed.
“Well, I get tutored with a bunch of other Fours back home, all girls, and they each have their ways of getting under other people’s skin. See, it’s all about knowing the person, figuring out what will bug them the most. Lots of girls give me backhanded compliments, or little remarks, things like that. I know I come across as bubbly, but I’m shy underneath that, and they think they can wear me down with words.”
I scrunched my forehead. They did that on purpose?
“For you, someone kind of quiet and mysterious—”
“I’m not mysterious,” I interrupted.
“You are a little. And sometimes people don’t know whether to interpret silence as confidence or fear. They’re looking at you like you’re a bug so maybe you’ll feel like you are one.”
“Huh.” That kind of made sense. I wondered what I was doing, if I was picking away at others’ insecurities somehow. “What do you do? When you want to get the best of them, I mean?”
She smiled. “I ignore it. I know one girl at home who gets so irritated when she can’t bother you, she just ends up sulking. So don’t worry,” she said. “All you have to do is not let them know they’re getting to you.”
“I almost believe you … but not quite.” She laughed a little, a warm sound that evaporated in the quiet hallway. “Can you believe we meet him in the morning?” she asked, moving on to more important things in her eyes.
“No, actually, I can’t.” Maxon seemed like a ghost haunting the palace—implied but never really there.
“Well, good luck tomorrow.” And I could tell she meant it.
“Better luck to you, Marlee. I’m sure Prince Maxon will be more than pleased to meet you.” I squeezed her hand one time.
She smiled in a way that was both excited and timid and walked off to her room.
When I got to mine, Bariel’s door was still open, and I heard her muttering something to a maid. She caught sight of me and slammed the door in my face.
Thanks for that.
My maids were there, of course, waiting to help me wash and undress. My nightgown, a flimsy little green thing, had been laid out for me on the bed. Kindly, none of them had touched my bag.
They were efficient but purposeful. They obviously had this end-of-the-day routine down, but they didn’t rush through it. I suppose the effect was meant to be soothing, but I was ready to have them gone. I couldn’t speed them up as they washed my hands and unlaced my dress and pinned my silver name tag to my silken nightgown. And as they did all these things that made me incredibly self-conscious, they asked questions. I tried to answer them without being rude.
Yes, I’d finally seen all the other girls. No, they weren’t very talkative. Yes, dinner was fantastic. No, I wouldn’t meet the prince until tomorrow. Yes, I was very tired.
“And it would really help me wind down if I could have some time alone,” I added to the end of that last answer, hoping they would take the hint.
They looked disappointed. I tried to recover.
“You’re all very helpful. I’m just used to spending time alone. And I’ve been swarmed with people today.”
“But Lady Singer, we’re supposed to help you. It’s our job,” the head girl said. I’d figured out that she was Anne. Anne seemed to be on top of things, Mary was easygoing, and Lucy I guessed was just shy.
“I really do appreciate you all, and I’ll definitely want your help getting started tomorrow. But tonight, I just need to unwind. If you want to be helpful, some time to myself would be good for me. And if you’re all rested, I’m sure it will make things better in the morning, right?”
They looked at one another. “Well, I suppose so,” Anne acquiesced.
“One of us is supposed to stay here while you sleep. In case you need something.” Lucy looked nervous, like she was afraid of whatever decision I would make. She seemed to have little tremors now and then, which I guessed was her shyness coming to the surface.
“If I need anything, I’ll ring the bell. It’ll be fine. Besides, I won’t be able to rest knowing someone’s watching me.”
They looked at one another again, still a little skeptical. I knew one way to stop this, but I hated using it.
“You’re supposed to obey my every command, right?”
They nodded hopefully.
“Then I command you all to go to bed. And come help me in the morning. Please.”
Anne smiled. I could tell she was starting to get me.
“Yes, Lady Singer. We’ll see you in the morning.” They curtsied and quietly left the room. Anne gave me one last look. I supposed I wasn’t quite what she had been expecting. She didn’t seem too upset about it, though.