“And you?” he asked Lucy.
She nodded, too.
“Are you surprised to find yourself down here?” He smiled at Lucy, making light of what was an unimaginable situation.
“No, Your Majesty. Not with her.” Lucy nodded in my direction.
Maxon turned to look at me, and his face was incredibly close. I felt uncomfortable. Too many people could see us; Aspen included. But the moment passed quickly, and he turned back to Lucy.
“I know what you mean.” Maxon smiled again. He looked like he might say more, but then changed his mind and moved to stand.
I quickly grabbed his arm and whispered, “North or South?”
“Do you remember the photo shoot?” he breathed.
Shocked, I nodded. These rebels were making their way northwest, burning crops and slaughtering people along the way. Intercept them, he’d said. These rebels, these murderers, had been slowly coming for us all this time, and we couldn’t stop them. They were killers. They were Southerners.
“Tell no one.” He left, moving on to Fiona, who was holding herself and crying quietly.
I practiced breathing slowly, trying to imagine ways I could escape if they got to us, but I was fooling myself. If the rebels managed to get down here, it was all over. There was nothing to do but wait.
The hours crept on. I had no idea what time it was, but people who had dozed off had woken up, and those of us who had powered through the time were starting to wilt.
Finally, the door opened as some guards left to investigate. More time passed as the palace was swept, and eventually they returned.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” one of the guards called, “the rebels have been subdued. We are asking that everyone please return to their rooms via the back stairs. There’s quite a mess and scores of injured guards. It’s better if you all bypass the main rooms and halls until they can be cleared. If you are a member of the Selection, please proceed to your room and stay there until further notice. I’ve spoken with the cooks, and food will be brought to you within the hour. I’m going to need all medical personnel to report with me to the hospital wing.”
With that, people stood and started moving like nothing had happened. Some people even looked bored. Except for the faces of people like Lucy, it seemed everyone took the attack in stride, as if it were to be expected.
My room had been ransacked. Mattress on the floor, dresses pulled out of the closet, the pictures of my family torn up on the ground. I looked around for my jar, and it was still intact with its penny inside, just hidden under the bed. I tried not to cry, but my eyes kept welling up. It wasn’t that I was afraid, though I was. I just didn’t like that an enemy had put their hands all over my things, had ruined them.
It took quite a while to set things right, since we were all so tired. We managed, though. Anne even found some tape so I could put my pictures back together. I sent my maids to bed the moment I got my tape. Anne protested, but I wouldn’t have any of it. Now that I’d found my ability to command, I wasn’t afraid to use it.
Once I was alone, I let myself cry. The fear, even though it had mostly passed, still had a hold on me.
I pulled out the jeans that Maxon had given me and my one shirt from home and put them on. I felt a little more normal this way. My hair was messy from the events of the night and most of the morning, so I pulled it up into a casual little bun on the top of my head, pieces falling down around my face.
I set the fragments of pictures on the bed, trying to figure out which ones went together. It was like having four puzzles’ worth of pieces all in the same box. I had managed to put only one together when there was a knock at the door.
Maxon, I thought. Please be Maxon. I threw the door open hopefully.
“Hello, dearie.” It was Silvia. She had a little pout on her face that I supposed was meant to be a consolation. She scuttled right past me into my room, then turned and took in what I was wearing.
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re leaving, too,” she whined. “Honestly, it was nothing.” She wiped the whole incident away with her hand.
I wouldn’t call it nothing. Couldn’t she tell I’d been crying?
“I’m not leaving,” I said, tucking a hair behind my ear. “Are others going home?”
She sighed. “Yes, three so far. And Maxon, dear boy, told me to let anyone who wants to leave go home. Arrangements are being made as we speak. It’s so funny. It was as if he knew girls would be leaving. If I were in your position, I’d think twice before leaving over all this nonsense.”
Silvia started walking around my room, taking in the decor. Nonsense? What was wrong with this woman?
“Did they take anything?” she asked casually.
“No, ma’am. They made a mess, but nothing’s missing as far as I can tell.”
“Very good.” She walked over to me and handed me a tiny portable phone. “This is the safest line in the palace. You need to call your family and tell them you’re fine. Don’t take too long, now. I still have a few girls to see.”
I marveled at the tiny object. I’d never actually held a portable phone. I’d seen them before in the hands of Twos and Threes, but I never thought I’d get to use one. My hands trembled with excitement. I was going to hear their voices!
I dialed the number eagerly. After everything that had happened, it actually brought a smile to my face. Mom picked up after two rings.
“America! Is that you? Are you okay? Some guard called to tell us we might not be able to get ahold of you for a few days, and we knew those damn rebels had gotten through. We’ve been so scared.” She started crying.
“Oh, don’t cry, Mom. I’m safe.” I looked over at Silvia. She looked bored.
“Hold on.” There was a bit of movement.
“America?” May’s voice was thick with tears. She must have had the worst day.
“May! Oh, May, I miss you so much!” I felt the tears rising again.
“I thought you were dead! America, I love you. Promise me you won’t die,” she wailed.
“I promise.” I had to smile at such a vow.
“Will you come home? Can’t you? I don’t want you there anymore.” May was practically begging.
“Come home?” I asked.
I felt so many things. I missed my family, and I was tired of hiding from rebels. I was getting more and more confused over my feelings for Aspen and Maxon, and I didn’t know how to handle them. The easiest thing to do would be to leave. But still.