Home > The Selection (The Selection #1)(14)

The Selection (The Selection #1)(14)
Author: Kiera Cass

I didn’t see the sum, but it made her eyes well. I was miserable at the idea of leaving, but I was sure if I went there only to be sent back the next day, this check alone would provide us with enough money for a very comfortable year. And when I got back, everyone would want me to sing. I’d have plenty of work. But would I be allowed to sing as a Three? If I had to pick one of the career paths of a Three, I think I’d teach. Maybe I could at least help others learn music.

Skinny collected his forms and stood to leave, thanking us for our time and for the tea. I would have to interact with only one more official before I left, and that would be my aide: the person who would guide me through getting from my house to the send-off to the airport. And then … then I’d be on my own.

Our guest asked if I would show him to the door, and Mom consented, as she wanted to start dinner. I didn’t like being alone with him, but it was a short walk.

“One more thing,” Skinny said with his hand on the door. “This isn’t exactly a rule, but it would be unwise of you to ignore it. When you are invited to do something with Prince Maxon, you do not refuse. No matter what it is. Dinner, outings, kisses—more than kisses—anything. Do not turn him down.”

“Excuse me?” Was the same man who made me sign a form affirming my purity suggesting that I let Maxon have it if he wanted it?

“I know it sounds … unbecoming. But it would not behoove you to reject the prince under any circumstances. Good evening, Miss Singer.”

I was disgusted, revolted. The law, Illéan law, was that you were to wait until marriage. It was an effective way of keeping diseases at bay, and it helped keep the castes intact. Illegitimates were thrown into the street to become Eights, and the penalty for being discovered, either by a person or through pregnancy, was jail time. If someone was even suspicious, you could spend a few nights in a cell. True, it restricted me from being intimate with the one person I loved, and that had bothered me. But now that Aspen and I were over, I was glad I’d been forced to save myself.

I was infuriated. Hadn’t I just signed a form saying I’d be punished if I broke Illéan law? I wasn’t above the rules; that was what he’d said. But apparently the prince was. And I felt dirty, lower than an Eight.

“America, honey, it’s for you,” Mom sang. I’d heard the doorbell myself but was in no rush to answer it. If this was another person asking for an autograph, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it.

I walked down the hall and turned the corner. There, with a handful of wildflowers, was Aspen.

“Hello, America.” His voice was restrained, almost professional.

“Hello, Aspen.” Mine was weak.

“These are from Kamber and Celia. They wanted to wish you luck.” He closed the distance between us and gave me the flowers. Flowers from his sisters, not from him.

“That’s awfully sweet!” Mom exclaimed. I had almost forgotten she was in the room.

“Aspen, I’m glad you’re here.” I tried to sound as removed as he had. “I’ve made a mess trying to pack. Could you help me clean?”

With my mom there, he had to accept. As a general rule, Sixes didn’t turn down work. We were the same in that way.

He exhaled through his nose and nodded once.

Aspen followed me down the hall. I thought about how many times I’d wanted just this: for Aspen to walk in my house and come to my room. Could the circumstances have been any worse?

I pushed open the door to my room and Aspen laughed out loud.

“Did you let a dog do your packing?”

“Shut up! I had a little trouble finding what I was looking for.” In spite of myself, I smiled.

He went to work, setting things upright and folding shirts. I helped, of course.

“Aren’t you taking any of these clothes?” he whispered.

“No. They dress me from tomorrow on out.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“Were your sisters disappointed?”

“No, actually.” He shook his head in disbelief. “The moment they saw your face, the whole house erupted. They’re crazy about you. My mom in particular.”

“I love your mom. She’s always really nice to me.”

A few minutes passed in silence as my room went slowly back to normal.

“Your picture…,” he began, “was absolutely beautiful.”

It hurt to have him tell me I was beautiful. It wasn’t fair. Not after everything he’d done.

“It was for you,” I whispered.

“What?”

“It’s just… I thought you were going to be proposing soon.” My voice was thick.

Aspen was quiet for a moment, choosing his words.

“I’d been thinking about it, but it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It does. Why didn’t you tell me?”

He rubbed his neck, deciding.

“I was waiting.”

“For what?” What could possibly be worth waiting for?

“For the draft.”

That was an issue. It was hard to know whether to wish to be drafted or not. In Illéa, every nineteen-year-old male was eligible for it. Soldiers were chosen at random twice a year, to catch everyone within six months of their birthday. You served from the time you were nineteen until you were twenty-three. And it was coming soon.

We’d talked about it, of course, but not in a realistic way. I guess we both hoped that if we ignored the draft, it would ignore us, too.

It was a blessing in that being a soldier meant you were an automatic Two. The government trained you and paid you for the rest of your life. The drawback was you never knew where you would go. They sent you away from your province, for sure. They assumed you were more likely to be lenient with people you knew. You might end up at the palace or in some other province’s local police force. Or you might end up in the army, shipped off to war. Not very many men sent into battle made it home.

If a man wasn’t married before the draft, he’d almost always wait. You’d be separated from your wife for four years, at the very best. At the worst, she’d be a young widow.

“I just… I didn’t want to do that to you,” he whispered.

“I understand.”

He straightened up, trying to change the subject. “So what are you taking to the palace?”

“A change of clothes to wear whenever they finally kick me out. Some pictures and books. I’ve been told I won’t need my instruments. Anything I want will be there already. So that little bag there, that’s it.”

 

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