Home > The Elite (The Selection #2)(15)

The Elite (The Selection #2)(15)
Author: Kiera Cass

Perhaps a half-dozen songs in, Officer Woodwork appeared next to me. Like Aspen, he had opted to stay in his uniform.

“Lady America,” he said with a bow. “May I have this dance?”

His voice was bright and warm, and his enthusiasm washed over me. I took his hand easily.

“Absolutely, sir,” I replied. “I should warn you, though, I’m not very good.”

“That’s fine. We’ll take it slow.” His smile was so inviting that I couldn’t be worried about my poor dancing skills, and I happily followed him to the floor.

The dance was an upbeat one, which suited his mood. He spoke through the entire thing, and it was hard to keep up. So much for taking it slow.

“It seems you’ve fully recovered from me nearly running you over,” he joked.

“It’s a shame you didn’t do any damage,” I shot back. “If I was in a splint, I wouldn’t have to dance at least.”

He laughed. “I’m glad you’re as funny as everyone says you are. I hear you’re a favorite of the prince, too.” He made it sound as if it was common knowledge.

“I don’t know about that.” Part of me was sick of people saying that. Another part yearned for it still to be true.

Over Officer Woodwork’s shoulder, I saw Aspen dancing with Celeste. Something knotted in my chest at the sight.

“Sounds like you get along well with most everyone. Someone even said that during the last attack you took your maids with you to the hiding place for the royal family. Is that true?” He sounded amazed. At the time, it seemed like a completely normal thing to protect the girls I loved, but to everyone else it came across as daring or strange.

“I couldn’t leave them behind,” I explained.

He shook his head in awe. “You’re a true lady, miss.”

I blushed. “Thank you.”

I was left gasping for breath after the song, so I took a seat at one of the many tables sprinkled around the room. I drank orange punch and fanned myself with a napkin, watching others dancing on the floor. I found Maxon with Elise. They looked happy as they spun around in circles. He’d danced with Elise twice now and still hadn’t sought me out.

It took awhile to find Aspen on the floor since so many men were in uniform, but I finally spotted him in a corner, talking with Celeste. I watched as she winked at him, her lips turned up in a flirtatious smile.

Who does she think she is? I stood to go and tell her to stop but realized what that would mean for both Aspen and myself before I took a step forward. I sat back down and continued to sip my punch. By the time the song ended, though, I was on the move and had situated myself close enough to Aspen for it to be appropriate for him to ask me to dance.

And he did, which was good, because I didn’t think I could have been patient.

“What in the world was that?” I asked quietly but with obvious outrage in my voice.

“What was what?”

“Celeste was running her hands all over you!”

“Somebody’s jealous,” he sang into my ear.

“Oh, stop it! She’s not supposed to be acting like that; it’s against the rules!” I looked around to make sure no one could see how intimately we were talking, particularly my parents. I noticed Mom sitting and talking with Natalie’s mother. Dad had disappeared.

“This from you,” he said, rolling his eyes playfully. “If we aren’t together, you can’t tell me who I’m not allowed to talk to.”

I made a face. “You know it’s not like that.”

“So what is it like?” he whispered. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to be holding on or letting go.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to give up, but if there’s nothing for me to hope for, then tell me.”

I could see the effort behind him keeping his face so calm, the lingering sadness in his voice. And I hurt, too. Thinking about letting this end brought a stabbing pain to my chest.

I sighed and confessed. “He’s been avoiding me. He’ll say hello, but he’s been very devoted to dating the other girls recently. I think I must have imagined that he actually liked me.”

He stopped dancing for a moment, shocked at what I was saying. He quickly picked back up, studying my face for a moment.

“I didn’t realize that was what was going on,” he said softly. “I mean, you know I want us to be together, but I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“Thanks.” I shrugged. “I feel stupid more than anything.”

Aspen pulled me in a little closer, still keeping a respectful distance though I knew he didn’t want to. “Trust me, Mer, any man who passes up the chance to be with you is the stupid one.”

“You tried to pass me up,” I reminded him.

“That’s how I know,” he replied with a smile. I was glad we could joke about that now.

I looked over Aspen’s shoulder and found Maxon dancing with Kriss. Again. Wasn’t he even going to ask me once?

Aspen leaned in. “You know what this dance reminds me of?”

“Tell me.”

“Fern Tally’s sixteenth birthday party.”

I gave him a look like he was crazy. I remembered Fern’s sixteenth birthday. Fern was a Six, and sometimes we got help from her when Aspen’s mom was too busy to fit us in. Her sixteenth birthday party came about seven months after Aspen and I had started dating. We were both invited, and it wasn’t much of a party. A cake and water, the radio turned on because she didn’t own any music discs, and the lights dimmed in her unfinished basement. The big thing was that it was the first party I’d been to that wasn’t a “family” party. It was just the local kids alone in a room, and that was exciting. However, it in no way compared to the splendor of what was happening around us now.

“How in the world is this party like that one?” I asked disbelievingly.

Aspen swallowed once and spoke. “We danced. Remember? I was so proud to have you there, in my arms, in front of other people. Even if you did look like you were having a seizure.” He winked at me.

The words stirred my heart. I did remember that. I lived off that moment for weeks.

In an instant a thousand secrets that Aspen and I had built and saved flooded my mind: the names we’d picked out for our imaginary children, our tree house, his ticklish spot on the back of his neck, the notes we’d written and hidden away, my failed efforts in making homemade soap, games of tic-tac-toe played with our fingers on his stomach … games where we couldn’t remember our invisible moves … games he always let me win.

 

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