How had an entire history been forgotten? How was it that no one ever spoke of the old countries? Where was all this information? Why didn’t anyone know?
I opened my eyes and looked to the sky. It seemed impossible. Surely, someone would have disapproved, would have told their children the truth. But then again, maybe they had. I’d often wondered why Dad never let me talk about the timeworn history book he had hidden in his room, why the history I did know about Illéa was never in print. Maybe it was because, if it was there in writing that Illéa was a hero, people would have rioted. But if it was always a point of speculation, where one person insisted it was a certain way and another denied it, how would anyone ever hold on to the truth?
I wondered if Maxon knew.
Suddenly a memory came to me. Not so long ago, Maxon and I had our first kiss. It was so unexpected that I had pulled away, leaving him embarrassed. Then when I realized that I wanted Maxon to kiss me, I suggested that we simply erase that memory and plant a new one.
America, he’d said, I don’t think you can change history. To which I replied, Sure we can. Besides, who’d ever know about it but you and me?
I’d meant it as a joke. Surely, if he and I end up together, we’d remember what really happened no matter how silly it was. We’d never actually replace it with a more perfect-sounding story simply for the sake of show.
But the whole Selection was a show. If Maxon and I were ever asked about our first kiss, would we tell anyone the truth? Or would we keep that little detail a secret between the two of us? When we died, no one would know, and that fraction of a moment that was so important to who we were would be gone.
Could it be that simple? Tell one story to one generation and repeat it until it was accepted as fact? How often had I asked someone older than Mom or Dad what they knew or what their parents had seen? They were old. What did they know? It was so arrogant of me to discount them completely. I felt so stupid.
But the important issue wasn’t how this all made me feel. The important issue was what I was going to do with it.
I’d lived my whole life stuck in a hole in our society; and because I loved music, I didn’t complain. But I had wanted to be with Aspen, and because he was a Six, it was harder than it had to be. If Gregory Illéa hadn’t coldly designed the laws of our country, sitting comfortably at his desk all those years ago, then Aspen and I wouldn’t have fought and I never would have cared about Maxon. Maxon wouldn’t even be a prince. Marlee’s hands would still be intact, and she and Carter wouldn’t be living in a room barely big enough for their bed. Gerad, my sweet baby brother, could study all the science he wanted instead of pushing himself into the arts for which he had no passion.
By obtaining a comfy life in a beautiful house, Gregory Illéa had robbed most of the country of its ability to ever attempt to have the very same thing.
Maxon said if I wanted to know who he was, all I had to do was ask. I’d been afraid to face the possibility of him being this person, but I had to know. If I was meant to make a decision about being a part of the Selection or going home, I needed to know exactly what he was made of.
Donning my slippers and robe, I left my room, passing the nameless guard on my way.
“You all right, miss?” he asked.
“Yes. I’ll be back soon.”
He looked like he wanted to say more, but I left too quickly for him to speak. I headed up the stairs to the third floor. Unlike the other floors, guards stood at the landing, preventing me from simply walking to Maxon’s door.
“I need to speak to the prince,” I said, trying to sound firm.
“It’s very late, miss,” the one to the left said.
“Maxon won’t mind,” I promised.
The one to the right smirked a little. “I don’t think he’d appreciate any company right now, miss.”
My forehead creased in thought as I played that sentence in my head again.
He was with another girl.
I had to assume it was Kriss, sitting there in his room, talking, laughing, or maybe giving up on her no-kissing rule.
A maid came around the corner with a tray in her hands, passing me as she descended the stairs. I stepped to the side, trying to decide if I should push the guards to let me through anyway or give up. As I went to open my mouth again, the guard cut me off.
“You need to go back to bed, miss.”
I wanted to yell at them or do something because I felt so powerless. It wouldn’t help, though, so I left. I heard the one guard—the smirking one—mumble something as I walked away, and that made it worse. Was he making fun of me? Feeling sorry for me? I didn’t need his pity. I was feeling bad enough on my own.
When I got back to the second floor, I was surprised to see that the maid who had passed me was there, kneeling as if she was adjusting her shoe but clearly doing nothing of the sort. She raised her head as I approached, picking up her tray and walking toward me.
“He’s not in his room,” she whispered.
She nodded. “Try downstairs.”
I smiled, shaking my head in surprise. “Thank you.”
She shrugged. “He’s not anywhere you couldn’t find him if you looked anyway. Besides,” she said, her eyes full of admiration, “we like you.”
She moved away, heading down to the first floor very quickly. I wondered exactly who “we” was, but for now, her simple act of kindness was enough. I stood for a moment, leaving some space between the two of us, and headed downstairs.
The Great Room was open but empty, as was the dining room. I checked the Women’s Room, thinking that would be a funny place to go on a date, but they weren’t there either. I asked the guards by the door, and they assured me that Maxon hadn’t gone into the gardens, so I checked a few of the libraries and parlors before guessing that he and Kriss must have either parted ways or gone back to his room.
Giving up, I turned a corner and headed for the back stairwell, which was closer than the main one. I didn’t see anything; but as I approached, I heard the distinct hiss of a whisper. I slowed, not wanting to intrude and not completely sure where the sound was coming from.
A flirtatious giggle.
A warm sigh.
The sounds focused, and I was certain where they were coming from. I took one more step forward, looked to my left, and saw a couple embracing in the shadows. After the image settled and my eyes adjusted to the light, a shock went through me.
Maxon’s blond hair was unmistakable, even in the darkness. How many times had I seen it just so in the dim light of the gardens? But what I’d never seen before, never imagined before, was how that hair would look with Celeste’s long fingers, nails painted red, digging into it.