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CHAPTER 1 WHEN WE GOT THE LETTER in the post, my mother was ecstatic. She ha a!rea y eci e that a!!

o"r pro#!ems were so!$e , %one &ore$er. The #i% hitch in her #ri!!iant p!an was me. ' i n(t thin) ' was a partic"!ar!y iso#e ient a"%hter, #"t this was where ' rew the !ine. ' i n(t want to #e roya!ty. An ' i n(t want to #e a One. ' i n(t e$en want to try. ' hi in my room, the on!y p!ace to a$oi the chatterin% o& o"r &"!! ho"se, tryin% to come "p with an ar%"ment that wo"! sway her. So &ar, ' ha a so!i co!!ection o& my honest opinions* ' i n(t thin) there was a sin%!e one she wo"! !isten to. ' co"! n(t a$oi her m"ch !on%er. 't was approachin% innertime, an as the o! est chi! !e&t in the ho"se, coo)in% "ties &e!! on me. ' p"!!e myse!& o"t o& #e an wa!)e into the sna)e pit. ' %ot a %!are &rom +om #"t no wor s. We i a si!ent ance thro"%h the )itchen an inin% room as we prepare chic)en, pasta, an app!e s!ices, an set the ta#!e &or &i$e. '& ' %!ance "p &rom a tas), she( &i, me with a &ierce !oo) as i& she co"! shame me into wantin% the same thin%s she i . She trie that e$ery so o&ten. Li)e i& ' i n(t want to ta)e on a partic"!ar -o# #eca"se ' )new the &ami!y hostin% "s was "nnecessari!y r" e. Or i& she wante me to o a massi$e c!eanin% when we co"! n(t a&&or to ha$e a Si, come an he!p. Sometimes it wor)e . Sometimes it i n(t. An this was one area where ' was "nswaya#!e. She co"! n(t stan it when ' was st"##orn. ."t ' %ot that &rom her, so she sho"! n(t ha$e #een s"rprise . This wasn(t -"st a#o"t me, tho"%h. +om ha #een tense !ate!y. The s"mmer was en in%, an soon we( #e &ace with co! . An worry. +om set own the pitcher o& tea in the center o& the ta#!e with an an%ry th" . +y mo"th watere at the tho"%ht o& tea with !emon. ."t ' wo"! ha$e to wait/ it wo"! #e s"ch a waste to ha$e my %!ass now an then ha$e to rin) water with my mea!. 0Wo"! it )i!! yo" to &i!! o"t the &orm12 she sai , no !on%er a#!e to contain herse!&. 0The Se!ection co"! #e a won er&"! opport"nity &or yo", &or a!! o& "s.2 ' si%he a!o" , thin)in% that &i!!in% o"t that &orm mi%ht act"a!!y #e somethin% c!ose to eath. 't was no secret that the re#e!s3the "n er%ro"n co!onies that hate '!!4a, o"r !ar%e an comparati$e!y yo"n% co"ntry3ma e their attac)s on the pa!ace #oth $io!ent an &re5"ent. We( seen them in action in Caro!ina #e&ore. One o& the ma%istrates( ho"ses was #"rne to the %ro"n , an a han &"! o& Twos ha their cars $an a!i6e . There was e$en a ma%ni&icent -ai!#rea) once, #"t consi erin% they on!y re!ease a teena%e %ir! who( mana%e to %et herse!& pre%nant an a Se$en who was a &ather to nine, ' co"! n(t he!p thin)in% they were in the ri%ht that time. ."t #eyon the potentia! an%er, ' &e!t !i)e it wo"! h"rt my heart to e$en consi er the Se!ection. ' co"! n(t he!p smi!in% as ' tho"%ht a#o"t a!! the reasons ' ha to stay e,act!y where ' was. 0These !ast &ew years ha$e #een $ery har on yo"r &ather,2 she hisse . 0'& yo" ha$e any compassion at a!!, yo" mi%ht thin) o& him.2 7a . 8eah. ' rea!!y i want to he!p 7a . An +ay an Gera . An , '

s"ppose , e$en my mother. When she ta!)e a#o"t it that way, there was nothin% to smi!e a#o"t. Thin%s ha #een straine aro"n here &or &ar too !on%. ' won ere i& 7a wo"! see this as a way #ac) to norma!, i& any amo"nt o& money co"! ma)e thin%s #etter. 't wasn(t that o"r sit"ation was so precario"s that we were !i$in% in &ear o& s"r$i$a! or anythin%. We weren(t estit"te. ."t ' %"ess we weren(t that &ar o&& either. O"r caste was -"st three away &rom the #ottom. We were artists. An artists an c!assica! m"sicians were on!y three steps "p &rom irt. Litera!!y. O"r money was stretche as ti%ht as a hi%h wire, an o"r income was hi%h!y epen ent on the chan%in% seasons. ' remem#ere rea in% in a timeworn history #oo) that a!! the ma-or ho!i ays "se to #e crampe into the winter months. Somethin% ca!!e Ha!!oween &o!!owe #y Than)s%i$in%, then Christmas an New 8ear(s. A!! #ac) to #ac). Christmas was sti!! the same. 't(s not !i)e yo" co"! chan%e the #irth ate o& a eity. ."t when '!!4a ma e the massi$e peace treaty with China, the New 8ear came in 9an"ary or :e#r"ary, epen in% on the moon. A!! the in i$i "a! ce!e#rations o& than)&"!ness an in epen ence &rom o"r part o& the wor! were now simp!y the Grate&"! :east. That came in the s"mmer. 't was a time to ce!e#rate the &ormin% o& '!!4a, to re-oice in the &act that we were sti!! here. ' i n(t )now what Ha!!oween was. 't ne$er res"r&ace . So at !east three times a year, the who!e &ami!y wo"! #e &"!!y emp!oye . 7a an +ay wo"! ma)e their art, an patrons wo"! p"rchase them as %i&ts. +om an ' wo"! per&orm at parties3me sin%in% an her on piano3not t"rnin% own a sin%!e -o# i& we co"! mana%e it. When ' was yo"n%er, per&ormin% in &ront o& an a" ience terri&ie me. ."t now ' -"st trie to e5"ate myse!& to #ac)%ro"n m"sic. That(s what we were in the eyes o& o"r emp!oyers; meant to #e hear an not seen. Gera ha n(t &o"n his ta!ent yet. ."t he was on!y se$en. He sti!! ha a !itt!e time. Soon the !ea$es wo"! chan%e, an o"r tiny wor! wo"! #e "nstea y a%ain. :i$e mo"ths #"t on!y &o"r wor)ers. No %"arantees o& emp!oyment "nti! Christmastime. When ' tho"%ht o& it that way, the Se!ection seeme !i)e a rope, somethin% s"re ' co"! %ra# onto. That st"pi !etter co"! !i&t me o"t o& the ar)ness, an ' co"! p"!! my &ami!y a!on% with me. ' !oo)e o$er at my mother. :or a :i$e, she was a !itt!e on the hea$y si e, which was o . She wasn(t a %!"tton, an it(s not !i)e we ha anythin% to o$ereat anyway. Perhaps that(s -"st the way a #o y !oo)s a&ter &i$e chi! ren. Her hair was re , !i)e mine, #"t &"!! o& #ri!!iant white strea)s. Those ha appeare s" en!y an in a#"n ance a#o"t two years a%o. Lines crease the corners o& her eyes, tho"%h she was sti!! pretty yo"n%, an ' co"! see as she mo$e aro"n the )itchen that she was h"nche o$er as i& an in$isi#!e wei%ht reste on her sho"! ers. ' )new she ha a !ot to carry. An ' )new that was why she ha ta)en to #ein% partic"!ar!y manip"!ati$e with me. We &o"%ht eno"%h witho"t the e,tra strain, #"t as the empty &a!! 5"iet!y approache , she #ecame m"ch more irrita#!e. ' )new she tho"%ht ' was #ein% "nreasona#!e now, to not e$en want to &i!! o"t a si!!y !itt!e &orm. ."t there were thin%s3 important thin%s3in this wor! that ' !o$e . An that piece o& paper seeme !i)e a #ric) wa!! )eepin% me away &rom what ' wante . +ay#e what ' wante was st"pi . +ay#e it wasn(t e$en somethin% ' co"! ha$e. ."t sti!!, it was mine. ' i n(t thin) ' co"! sacri&ice my reams, no matter how m"ch my &ami!y meant to me. .esi es, ' ha %i$en them so m"ch a!rea y. ' was the

o! est one !e&t now that <enna was marrie an <ota was %one, an ' i my #est to contri#"te. We sche "!e my homeschoo!in% aro"n my rehearsa!s, which too) "p most o& the ay since ' was tryin% to master se$era! instr"ments as we!! as sin%in%. ."t with the !etter here, none o& my wor) mattere anymore. 'n my mom(s min , ' was a!rea y 5"een. '& ' was smart, ' wo"! ha$e hi en that st"pi notice #e&ore 7a , +ay, an Gera came in. ."t ' i n(t )now +om ha it t"c)e away in her c!othes, an mi =mea! she p"!!e it o"t. 0>To the Ho"se o& Sin%er,(2 she san% o"t. ' trie to swipe it away, #"t she was too 5"ic) &or me. They wo"! &in o"t sooner or !ater anyway, #"t i& she i it !i)e this, they( a!! #e on her si e. 0+om, p!ease?2 ' p!ea e . 0' want to hear?2 +ay s5"ea!e . That was no s"rprise. +y !itt!e sister !oo)e -"st !i)e me, on!y on a three=year e!ay. ."t where o"r !oo)s were practica!!y i entica!, o"r persona!ities were anythin% #"t. @n!i)e me, she was o"t%oin% an hope&"!. An c"rrent!y $ery #oy cra6y. This who!e thin% wo"! seem incre i#!y romantic to her. ' &e!t myse!& #!"sh. 7a !istene intent!y, an +ay was practica!!y #o"ncin% with -oy. Gera , sweet !itt!e thin%, he -"st )ept eatin%. +other c!eare her throat an went on. 0>The recent cens"s has con&irme that a sin%!e woman #etween the a%es o& si,teen an twenty c"rrent!y resi es in yo"r home. We wo"! !i)e to ma)e yo" aware o& an "pcomin% opport"nity to honor the %reat nation o& '!!4a.(2 +ay s5"ea!e a%ain an %ra##e my wrist. 0That(s yo"?2 0' )now, yo" !itt!e mon)ey. Stop #e&ore yo" #rea) my arm.2 ."t she -"st he! my han an #o"nce some more. 0>O"r #e!o$e prince, +a,on Schrea$e,(2 +om contin"e , 0>is comin% o& a%e this month. As he $ent"res into this new part o& his !i&e, he hopes to mo$e &orwar with a partner, to marry a tr"e 7a"%hter o& '!!4a. '& yo"r e!i%i#!e a"%hter, sister, or char%e is intereste in possi#!y #ecomin% the #ri e o& Prince +a,on an the a ore princess o& '!!4a, p!ease &i!! o"t the enc!ose &orm an ret"rn it to yo"r !oca! Pro$ince Ser$ices O&&ice. One woman &rom each pro$ince wi!! #e rawn at ran om to meet the prince. 0>Participants wi!! #e ho"se at the !o$e!y '!!4a Pa!ace in An%e!es &or the "ration o& their stay. The &ami!ies o& each participant wi!! #e %enero"s!y compensate (23she rew o"t the wor s &or e&&ect 30>&or their ser$ice to the roya! &ami!y.(2 ' ro!!e my eyes as she went on. This was the way they i it with sons. Princesses #orn into the roya! &ami!y were so! o&& into marria%e in an attempt to so!i i&y o"r yo"n% re!ations with other co"ntries. ' "n erstoo why it was one3we nee e a!!ies. ."t ' i n(t !i)e it. ' ha n(t ha to see s"ch a thin%, an ' hope ' ne$er wo"! . The roya! &ami!y ha n(t pro "ce a princess in three %enerations. Princes, howe$er, marrie women o& the peop!e to )eep "p the mora!e o& o"r sometimes $o!ati!e nation. ' thin) the Se!ection was meant to raw "s to%ether an remin e$eryone that '!!4a itse!& was #orn o"t o& ne,t to nothin%. The i ea o& #ein% entere into a contest &or the who!e co"ntry to watch as this st"c)="p !itt!e wimp pic)e the most %or%eo"s an sha!!ow one o& the #"nch to #e the si!ent, pretty &ace that stoo #esi e him on TA * it was eno"%h to ma)e me scream. Co"! anythin% #e more h"mi!iatin%1 .esi es, '( #een in the homes o& eno"%h Twos an Threes to #e s"re ' ne$er wante to !i$e amon% them, !et a!one #e a One. E,cept &or the times when we were h"n%ry, ' was 5"ite content to #e a :i$e. +om was the caste c!im#er, not me. 0An o& co"rse he wo"! !o$e America? She(s so #ea"ti&"!,2 +om swoone . 0P!ease, +om. '& anythin%, '(m a$era%e.2 08o" are

not?2 +ay sai . 0.eca"se ' !oo) -"st !i)e yo", an '(m pretty?2 Her smi!e was so wi e, ' co"! n(t contain my !a"%hter. An it was a %oo point. .eca"se +ay rea!!y was #ea"ti&"!. 't was more than her &ace, tho"%h, more than her winnin% smi!e an #ri%ht eyes. +ay ra iate an ener%y, an enth"siasm that ma e yo" want to #e where$er she was. +ay was ma%netic, an ', honest!y, wasn(t. 0Gera , what o yo" thin)1 7o yo" thin) '(m pretty12 ' as)e . A!! eyes &e!! on the yo"n%est mem#er o& o"r &ami!y. 0No? Gir!s are %ross?2 0Gera , p!ease.2 +om %a$e an e,asperate si%h, #"t her heart wasn(t in it. He was har to %et "pset with. 0America, yo" m"st )now yo"(re a $ery !o$e!y %ir!.2 0'& '(m so !o$e!y, how come no one e$er comes #y to as) me o"t12 0Oh, they come #y, #"t ' shoo them away. +y %ir!s are too pretty to marry :i$es. <enna %ot a :o"r, an '(m s"re yo" can o e$en #etter.2 +om too) a sip o& her tea. 0His name is 9ames. Stop ca!!in% him a n"m#er. An since when o #oys come #y12 ' hear my $oice %ettin% hi%her an hi%her. 0A whi!e,2 7a sai , ma)in% his &irst comment on a!! o& this. His $oice ha a hint o& sorrow to it, an he was starin% eci e !y at his c"p. ' was tryin% to &i%"re o"t what "pset him so m"ch. .oys comin% #y1 +om an me ar%"in% a%ain1 The i ea o& me not enterin% the contest1 How &ar away '( #e i& ' i 1 His eyes came "p &or the #rie&est o& moments, an ' s" en!y "n erstoo . He i n(t want to as) this o& me. He wo"! n(t want me to %o. ."t he co"! n(t eny the #ene&its i& ' mana%e to ma)e it in, e$en &or a ay. 0America, #e reasona#!e,2 +om sai . 0We ha$e to #e the on!y parents in the co"ntry tryin% to ta!) o"r a"%hter into this. Thin) o& the opport"nity? 8o" co"! #e 5"een one ay?2 0+om. E$en i& ' wante to #e 5"een, which ' thoro"%h!y on(t, there are tho"san s o& other %ir!s in the pro$ince enterin% this thin%. Tho"san s. An i& ' somehow was rawn, there wo"! sti!! #e thirty=&o"r other %ir!s there, no o"#t m"ch #etter at se "ction than ' co"! e$er preten to #e.2 Gera (s ears per)e "p. 0What(s se "ction12 0Nothin%,2 we a!! chor"se #ac). 0't(s ri ic"!o"s to thin) that, with a!! o& that, '( somehow mana%e to win,2 ' &inishe . +y mother p"she her chair o"t as she stoo an !eane across the ta#!e towar me. 0Someone is %oin% to, America. 8o" ha$e as %oo a chance as anyone e!se.2 She threw her nap)in own an went to !ea$e. 0Gera , when yo" &inish, it(s time &or yo"r #ath.2 He %roane . +ay ate in si!ence. Gera as)e &or secon s, #"t there weren(t any. When they %ot "p, ' starte c!earin% the ta#!e whi!e 7a sat there sippin% his tea. He ha paint in his hair a%ain, a smatterin% o& ye!!ow that ma e me smi!e. He stoo , #r"shin% cr"m#s o&& his shirt. 0Sorry, 7a ,2 ' m"rm"re as ' pic)e "p p!ates. 07on(t #e si!!y, )itten. '(m not ma .2 He smi!e easi!y an p"t an arm aro"n me. 0' -"st*2 08o" on(t ha$e to e,p!ain it to me, honey. ' )now.2 He )isse me on my &orehea . 0'(m %oin% #ac) to wor).2 An with that ' mo$e to the )itchen to start c!eanin%. ' wrappe my most!y "nto"che p!ate "n er a nap)in an hi it in the &ri %e. No one e!se !e&t more than cr"m#s. ' si%he , hea in% to my room to %et rea y &or #e . The who!e thin% was in&"riatin%. Why i +om ha$e to p"sh me so m"ch1 Wasn(t she happy1 7i n(t she !o$e 7a 1 Why wasn(t this %oo eno"%h &or her1 ' !ay on my !"mpy mattress, tryin% to wrap my hea aro"n the Se!ection. ' %"ess it ha its a $anta%es. 't wo"! #e nice to eat we!! &or a whi!e at !east. ."t there was no reason to #other. ' wasn(t %oin% to &a!! in !o$e with Prince +a,on. :rom what '( seen on the '!!4a Capita! Report, ' wo"! n(t

e$en !i)e the %"y. 't seeme !i)e &ore$er "nti! mi ni%ht ro!!e aro"n . There was a mirror #y my oor, an ' stoppe to ma)e s"re my hair !oo)e as %oo as it ha this mornin% an p"t on a !itt!e !ip %!oss so there( #e some co!or on my &ace. +om was pretty strict a#o"t sa$in% ma)e"p &or when we ha to per&orm or %o o"t in p"#!ic, #"t ' "s"a!!y sn"c) some on ni%hts !i)e toni%ht. As 5"iet!y as ' co"! , ' crept into the )itchen. ' %ra##e my !e&to$ers, some #rea that was e,pirin%, an an app!e an #"n !e it a!! "p. 't was pain&"! to wa!) #ac) to my room so s!ow!y, now that it was !ate. ."t i& '( one it ear!ier, ' wo"! ha$e -"st #een antsy. ' opene my win ow an !oo)e o"t into o"r !itt!e patch o& #ac)yar . There wasn(t m"ch o& a moon o"t, so ' ha to !et my eyes a -"st #e&ore ' mo$e . Across the !awn, the tree ho"se stoo #are!y si!ho"ette in the ni%ht. When we were yo"n%er, <ota wo"! tie "p sheets to the #ranches so it !oo)e !i)e a ship. He was the captain, an ' was a!ways his &irst mate. +y "ties main!y consiste o& sweepin% the &!oor an ma)in% &oo , which was irt an twi%s st"&&e into +om(s #a)in% pans. He( ta)e a spoon&"! o& irt an 0eat2 it #y throwin% it o$er his sho"! er. This meant that '( ha$e to sweep a%ain, #"t ' i n(t min . ' was -"st happy to #e on the ship with <ota. ' !oo)e aro"n . A!! the nei%h#orin% ho"ses were ar). No one was watchin%. ' craw!e o"t o& the win ow care&"!!y. ' "se to %et #r"ises across my stomach &rom oin% it the wron% way, #"t now it was easy, a ta!ent '( mastere o$er the years. An ' i n(t want to mess "p any o& the &oo . ' sc"rrie across the !awn in my c"test pa-amas. ' co"! ha$e !e&t my ay c!othes on, #"t this &e!t #etter. ' s"ppose it i n(t matter what ' wore, #"t ' &e!t pretty in my !itt!e #rown shorts an &itte white shirt. 't wasn(t har anymore to sca!e the s!ats nai!e into the tree with on!y one han . '( e$e!ope that s)i!! as we!!. Each step "p was a re!ie&. 't wasn(t m"ch o& a istance, #"t &rom here it &e!t !i)e a!! the commotion &rom my ho"se was mi!es away. Here ' i n(t ha$e to #e anyone(s princess. As ' c!im#e into the tiny #o, that was my escape, ' )new ' wasn(t a!one. 'n the &ar corner, someone was hi in% in the ni%ht. +y #reath spe / ' co"! n(t he!p it. ' set my &oo own an s5"inte . The person shi&te , !i%htin% an a!! #"t "n"sa#!e can !e. 't wasn(t m"ch !i%ht3no one in the ho"se wo"! see it3#"t it was eno"%h. :ina!!y the intr" er spo)e, a s!y %rin sprea in% across his &ace. 0Hey there, %or%eo"s.2

CHAPTER B

' CRAWLE7 7EEPER 'NTO THE tree ho"se. 't wasn(t m"ch more than a &i$e=#y= &i$e=&oot c"#e/ e$en Gera co"! n(t stan "p strai%ht in here. ."t ' !o$e it. There was the one openin% to craw! into an then a tiny win ow on the

opposite wa!!. '( p!ace an o! step stoo! in the corner to act as a es) &or the can !e, an a !itt!e r"% that was so o! it was #are!y #etter than sittin% on the s!ats. 't wasn(t m"ch, #"t it was my ha$en. O"r ha$en. 0P!ease on(t ca!! me %or%eo"s. :irst my mom, then +ay, now yo". 't(s %ettin% on my ner$es.2 .y the way Aspen was !oo)in% at me, ' co"! te!! ' wasn(t he!pin% my 0'(m not pretty2 case. He smi!e . 0' can(t he!p it. 8o"(re the most #ea"ti&"! thin% '($e e$er seen. 8o" can(t ho! it a%ainst me &or sayin% it the on!y time '(m a!!owe to.2 He reache "p an c"ppe my &ace, an ' !oo)e eep into his eyes. That was a!! it too). His !ips were on mine, an ' co"! n(t thin) a#o"t anythin% anymore. There was no Se!ection, no misera#!e &ami!y, no '!!4a itse!&. There were on!y Aspen(s han s on my #ac) p"!!in% me c!oser, Aspen(s #reath on my chee)s. +y &in%ers went to his #!ac) hair, sti!! wet &rom his shower3he a!ways too) showers at ni%ht3an tan%!e themse!$es into a per&ect !itt!e )not. He sme!!e !i)e his mother(s homema e soap. ' reame a#o"t that sme!!. We #ro)e apart, an ' co"! n(t he!p #"t smi!e. His !e%s were proppe open wi e, so ' sat si eways #etween them, !i)e a )i who nee e cra !in%. 0Sorry '(m not in a #etter moo . 't(s -"st that * we %ot this st"pi notice in the post to ay.2 0Ah, yes, the !etter.2 Aspen si%he . 0We %ot two.2 O& co"rse. The twins ha -"st t"rne si,teen. Aspen st" ie my &ace as he spo)e. He i that when we were to%ether, !i)e he was recommittin% my &ace to memory. 't ha #een o$er a wee), an we #oth %ot an,io"s when it was more than a &ew ays. An ' !oo)e him o$er, too. No caste e,c!" e , Aspen was, #y &ar, the most attracti$e %"y in town. He ha ar) hair an %reen eyes, an this smi!e that ma e yo" thin) he ha a secret. He was ta!!, #"t not too ta!!. Thin, #"t not too thin. ' notice in the im !i%ht that there were tiny #a%s "n er his eyes/ no o"#t he( #een wor)in% !ate a!! wee). His #!ac) T=shirt was worn to threa s in se$era! p!aces, -"st !i)e the sha##y pair o& -eans he wore a!most e$ery ay. '& on!y ' co"! sit an patch them "p &or him. That was my %reat am#ition. Not to #e '!!4a(s princess. To #e Aspen(s. 't h"rt me to #e away &rom him. Some ays ' went cra6y won erin% what he was oin%. An when ' co"! n(t han !e it, ' practice m"sic. ' rea!!y ha Aspen to than) &or me #ein% the m"sician that ' was. He ro$e me to istraction. An that was #a . Aspen was a Si,. Si,es were ser$ants an on!y a step "p &rom Se$ens in that they were #etter e "cate an traine &or in oor wor). Aspen was smarter than anyone )new an e$astatin%!y han some, #"t it was atypica! &or a woman to marry own. A man &rom a !ower caste co"! as) &or yo"r han , #"t it was rare to %et a yes. An when anyone marrie into a i&&erent caste, they ha to &i!! o"t paperwor) an wait &or somethin% !i)e ninety ays #e&ore any o& the other !e%a! thin%s yo" nee e co"! #e one. '( hear more than one person say it was to %i$e peop!e a chance to chan%e their min s. So "s #ein% this persona! an o"t we!! past '!!4a(s c"r&ew * we co"! #oth %et in serio"s tro"#!e. Not to mention the he!! '( %et &rom my mother. ."t ' !o$e Aspen. '( !o$e Aspen &or near!y two years. An he !o$e me. As he sat there stro)in% my hair, ' co"! n(t ima%ine enterin% the Se!ection. 0How o yo" &ee! a#o"t it1 The Se!ection, ' mean12 ' as)e . 0O)ay, ' %"ess. He(s %ot to &in a %ir! somehow, poor %"y.2 ' co"! hear the sarcasm. ."t ' rea!!y wante to )now his opinion. 0Aspen.2 0O)ay, o)ay. We!!, part o& me thin)s it(s )in o& sa . 7oesn(t the prince ate1 ' mean, can he serio"s!y not %et anyone1 '& they try to we the

princesses to other princes, why on(t they o the same &or him1 There(s %ot to #e some roya! o"t there %oo eno"%h &or him. ' on(t %et it. So there(s that. 0."t then*2 He si%he . 0Part o& me thin)s it(s a %oo i ea. 't(s e,citin%. He(s %oin% to &a!! in !o$e in &ront o& e$eryone. An ' !i)e that someone %ets a happi!y e$er a&ter an a!! that. Any#o y co"! #e o"r ne,t 5"een. 't(s )in o& hope&"!. +a)es me thin) that ' co"! ha$e a happi!y e$er a&ter, too.2 His &in%ers were tracin% my !ips. Those %reen eyes searche eep into my so"!, an ' &e!t that spar) o& connection that '( on!y e$er ha with him. ' wante o"r happi!y e$er a&ter, too. 0So yo"(re enco"ra%in% the twins to enter, then12 ' as)e . 08es. ' mean, we($e a!! seen the prince &rom time to time/ he !oo)s !i)e a nice eno"%h %"y. A snot, no o"#t, #"t &rien !y. An the %ir!s are so ea%er/ it(s &"nny to watch. They were ancin% in the ho"se when ' came home to ay. An no one can eny that it( #e %oo &or the &ami!y. +om(s hope&"! #eca"se we ha$e two entries &rom the ho"se instea o& one.2 That was the &irst %oo news a#o"t this horri#!e competition. ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e '( #een so se!&= a#sor#e that ' ha n(t tho"%ht a#o"t Aspen(s sisters. '& one o& them went, i& one o& them won* 0Aspen, o yo" rea!i6e what that wo"! mean1 '& <am#er or Ce!ia won12 He c!ose his ho! ti%hter aro"n me, his !ips #r"shin% my &orehea . One han mo$e "p an own my #ac). 0't(s a!! '($e tho"%ht a#o"t to ay,2 he sai . The %ritty so"n o& his $oice p"she o"t e$ery other tho"%ht. A!! ' wante was &or Aspen to to"ch me, )iss me. An that(s e,act!y where the ni%ht wo"! ha$e %one, #"t his stomach %row!e an snappe me o"t o& it. 0Oh, hey, ' #ro"%ht "s a snac),2 ' sai !i%ht!y. 0Oh, yeah12 ' co"! te!! he was tryin% not to so"n e,cite , #"t some o& his ea%erness came thro"%h. 08o"(!! !o$e this chic)en/ ' ma e it.2 ' &o"n my !itt!e #"n !e an #ro"%ht it to Aspen, who, to his merit, ni##!e it a!! s!ow!y. ' too) one #ite o& the app!e so he wo"! &ee! !i)e it was &or "s, #"t then ' set it own an !et him ha$e the rest. Where mea!s were a worry at my ho"se, they were a isaster at Aspen(s. He ha m"ch stea ier wor) than we i #"t %ot pai si%ni&icant!y !ess. There was ne$er eno"%h &oo &or his &ami!y. He was the o! est o& se$en, an in the same way '( steppe "p to he!p as soon as ' co"! , Aspen ha steppe asi e. He passe his share o& the !itt!e &oo they ha own to his si#!in%s an to his mom, who was a!ways tire &rom wor)in%. His a ha ie three years a%o, an Aspen(s &ami!y epen e on him &or a!most e$erythin%. ' watche with satis&action as he !ic)e the spices &rom the chic)en o&& his &in%ers an tore into the #rea . ' co"! n(t ima%ine when he( eaten !ast. 08o"(re s"ch a %oo coo). 8o"(re %oin% to ma)e someone $ery &at an happy one ay,2 he sai , his mo"th ha!& &"!! with a #ite o& app!e. 0'(m %oin% to ma)e yo" &at an happy. 8o" )now that.2 0Ah, to #e &at?2 We !a"%he , an he to! me a#o"t !i&e since the !ast time '( seen him. He( one some c!erica! wor) &or one o& the &actories, an it was %oin% to carry him thro"%h ne,t wee), too. His mom ha &ina!!y %otten into a ro"tine o& ho"se= c!eanin% &or a &ew o& the Twos in o"r area. The twins were #oth sa #eca"se their mom ha ma e them rop their a&ter=schoo! rama c!"# so they co"! wor) more. 0'(m %oin% to see i& ' can pic) "p some wor) on S"n ays, ma)e a !itt!e more money. ' hate &or them to %i$e "p somethin% they !o$e so m"ch.2 He sai this with hope, !i)e he rea!!y co"! o it. 0Aspen Le%er, on(t yo" are? 8o" wor) too har as it is.2 0Aw, +er,2 he whispere into my ear. 't %a$e me chi!! #"mps. 08o" )now how <am#er an Ce!ia

are. They nee to #e aro"n peop!e. They can(t #e coope "p c!eanin% an writin% a!! the time. 't(s -"st not in their nat"re.2 0."t it(s not &air &or them to e,pect yo" to o it a!!, Aspen. ' )now e,act!y how yo" &ee! a#o"t yo"r sisters, #"t yo" nee to watch o"t &or yo"rse!&. '& yo" rea!!y !o$e them, yo"(!! ta)e #etter care o& their care%i$er.2 07on(t yo" worry a#o"t a thin%, +er. ' thin) there are some %oo thin%s on the hori6on. ' wo"! n(t #e oin% it &ore$er.2 ."t he wo"! . .eca"se his &ami!y wo"! a!ways nee money. 0Aspen, ' )now yo" co"! o it. ."t yo"(re not a s"perhero. 8o" can(t e,pect to #e a#!e to pro$i e e$erythin% &or e$eryone yo" !o$e. 8o" -"st * yo" can(t o e$erythin%.2 We were 5"iet &or a moment. ' hope he was ta)in% my wor s to heart, rea!i6in% that i& he i n(t s!ow own, he( wear himse!& o"t. 't wasn(t anythin% new &or a Si,, Se$en, or Ei%ht to -"st ie o& e,ha"stion. ' co"! n(t #ear that. ' presse myse!& e$en c!oser to his chest, tryin% to %et the ima%e o& it o"t o& my hea . 0America12 08es12 ' whispere . 0Are yo" %oin% to enter the Se!ection12 0No? O& co"rse not? ' on(t want anyone to thin) '( e$en consi er marryin% some stran%er. ' !o$e yo",2 ' sai earnest!y. 08o" want to #e a Si,1 A!ways h"n%ry1 A!ways worrie 12 he as)e . ' co"! hear the pain in his $oice, #"t a!so the %en"ine 5"estion; '& ' ha to choose #etween s!eepin% in a pa!ace with peop!e waitin% on me or the three=room apartment with Aspen(s &ami!y, which one i ' rea!!y want1 0Aspen, we(!! ma)e it. We(re smart. We(!! #e &ine.2 ' wi!!e it to #e tr"e. 08o" )now that(s not how it(!! #e, +er. '( sti!! ha$e to s"pport my &ami!y/ '(m not the a#an onin% type.2 ' s5"irme a !itt!e in his arms. 0An i& we ha )i s32 0When we ha$e )i s. An we(!! -"st #e care&"! a#o"t it. Who says we ha$e to ha$e more than two12 08o" )now that(s not somethin% we can contro!?2 ' co"! hear the an%er #"i! in% in his $oice. ' co"! n(t #!ame him. '& yo" were wea!thy eno"%h, yo" co"! re%"!ate ha$in% a &ami!y. '& yo" were a :o"r or worse, they !e&t yo" to &en &or yo"rse!$es. This ha #een the s"#-ect o& many an ar%"ment &or "s o$er the !ast si, months, when we serio"s!y starte tryin% to &in a way to #e to%ether. Chi! ren were the wi! car . The more yo" ha , the more there were to wor). ."t then a%ain, so many h"n%ry mo"ths* We &e!! 5"iet a%ain, #oth "ns"re o& what to say. Aspen was a passionate person/ he ten e to %et a !itt!e carrie away in an ar%"ment. He ha %otten #etter a#o"t catchin% himse!& #e&ore he %ot too an%ry, an ' )new that(s what he was oin% now. ' i n(t want him to worry or #e "pset/ ' rea!!y tho"%ht we co"! han !e it. '& we -"st p!anne &or e$erythin% we co"! , we( ma)e it thro"%h e$erythin% we co"! n(t. +ay#e ' was too optimistic, may#e ' was -"st too &ar in !o$e, #"t ' rea!!y #e!ie$e that anythin% Aspen an ' wante #a !y eno"%h, we co"! ma)e happen. 0' thin) yo" sho"! o it,2 he sai s" en!y. 07o what12 0Enter the Se!ection. ' thin) yo" sho"! o it.2 ' %!are at him. 0Are yo" o"t o& yo"r min 12 0+er, !isten to me.2 His mo"th was ri%ht to my ear. 't wasn(t &air/ he )new this istracte me. When his $oice came, it was #reathy an s!ow, !i)e he was sayin% somethin% romantic, tho"%h what he was s"%%estin% was anythin% #"t. 0'& yo" ha a chance &or somethin% #etter than this, an yo" i n(t ta)e it #eca"se o& me, '( ne$er &or%i$e myse!&. ' co"! n(t stan it.2 ' !et o"t my #reath in a 5"ic) h"&&. 0't(s so ri ic"!o"s. Thin) o& the tho"san s o& %ir!s enterin%. ' won(t e$en %et pic)e .2 0'& yo" won(t %et pic)e , then why oes it matter12 His han s were r"##in% "p an own my arms now. ' co"! n(t ar%"e when he i that. 0A!! ' want is &or yo" to enter. ' -"st want yo" to try. An i& yo" %o, then

yo" %o. An i& yo" on(t, then at !east ' won(t ha$e to #eat myse!& "p &or ho! in% yo" #ac).2 0."t ' on(t !o$e him, Aspen. ' on(t e$en !i)e him. ' on(t e$en )now him.2 0No one )nows him. That(s the thin%, tho"%h, may#e yo" wo"! !i)e him.2 0Aspen, stop. ' !o$e yo".2 0An ' !o$e yo".2 He )isse me s!ow!y to ma)e his point. 0An i& yo" !o$e me, yo"(!! o this so ' won(t %o cra6y won erin% what i&.2 When he ma e it a#o"t him, ' i n(t stan a chance. .eca"se ' co"! n(t h"rt him. ' was oin% e$erythin% ' co"! to ma)e his !i&e easier. An ' was ri%ht. There was a#so!"te!y no way '( %et chosen. So ' sho"! -"st %o thro"%h the motions, appease e$eryone, an when ' i n(t %et pic)e , e$eryone wo"! rop it. 0P!ease12 he #reathe into my ear. The &ee!in% sent chi!!s own my #o y. 0:ine,2 ' whispere . 0'(!! o it. ."t )now now that ' on(t want to #e some princess. A!! ' want is to #e yo"r wi&e.2 He stro)e my hair. 08o" wi!! #e.2 't m"st ha$e #een the !i%ht. Or the !ac) thereo&. .eca"se ' swore his eyes we!!e "p when he sai that. Aspen ha #een thro"%h a !ot, #"t ' ha seen him cry on!y once, when they whippe his #rother in the s5"are. Litt!e 9emmy ha sto!en some &r"it o&& a cart in the mar)et. An a "!t wo"! ha$e ha a #rie& tria! an then, epen in% on the $a!"e o& what was sto!en, either #een thrown in -ai! or sentence to eath. 9emmy was on!y nine, so he was #eaten. Aspen(s mom i n(t ha$e the money to ta)e him to a proper octor, so 9emmy ha scars a!! "p an own his #ac) &rom the inci ent. That ni%ht ' waite #y my win ow to see i& Aspen wo"! c!im# "p into the tree ho"se. When he i , ' sn"c) o"t to him. He crie in my arms &or an ho"r a#o"t how i& he( on!y wor)e har er, i& he( on!y one #etter, 9emmy wo"! n(t ha$e ha to stea!. How it was so "n&air that 9emmy ha to h"rt #eca"se Aspen ha &ai!e . 't was a%oni6in%, #eca"se it wasn(t tr"e. ."t ' co"! n(t te!! him that/ he wo"! n(t hear me. Aspen carrie the nee s o& e$eryone he !o$e on his #ac). Somehow, mirac"!o"s!y, ' #ecame one o& those peop!e. So ' ma e my !oa as !i%ht as ' co"! . 0Wo"! yo" sin% &or me1 Gi$e me somethin% %oo to &a!! as!eep to12 ' smi!e . ' !o$e %i$in% him son%s. So ' sett!e in c!ose an san% a 5"iet !"!!a#y. He !et me sin% &or a &ew min"tes #e&ore his &in%ers starte mo$in% a#sent!y #e!ow my ear. He p"!!e the nec) o& my shirt open wi e an )isse a!on% my nec) an ears. Then he p"!!e "p my short s!ee$e an )isse as &ar own my arm as he co"! reach. 't ma e my #reath hitch. A!most e$ery time ' san%, he i this. ' thin) he en-oye the so"n o& my raspy #reathin% more than the sin%in% itse!&. .e&ore !on% we were tan%!e to%ether on the irty, thin r"%. Aspen p"!!e me on top o& him, an ' #r"she his scra%%!y hair with my &in%ers, hypnoti6e #y the &ee!. He )isse me &e$erish!y an har . ' &e!t his &in%ers i% into my waist, my #ac), my hips, my thi%hs. ' was a!ways s"rprise that he i n(t !ea$e !itt!e &in%er=shape #r"ises a!! o$er me. We were ca"tio"s, a!ways stoppin% shy o& the thin%s we rea!!y wante . As i& #rea)in% c"r&ew wasn(t #a eno"%h. Sti!!, whate$er o"r !imitations were, ' co"! n(t ima%ine anyone in '!!4a ha more passion than we i . 0' !o$e yo", America Sin%er. As !on% as ' !i$e, '(!! !o$e yo".2 There was some eep emotion in his $oice, an it ca"%ht me o&& %"ar . 0' !o$e yo", Aspen. 8o"(!! a!ways #e my prince.2 An he )isse me "nti! the can !e #"rne itse!& o"t. 't ha to ha$e #een ho"rs, an my eyes were hea$y. Aspen ne$er worrie a#o"t his s!eep, #"t he was a!ways concerne a#o"t mine. So ' weari!y c!im#e own the !a er, ta)in% my p!ate an my penny. When ' san%, Aspen ate it "p, !o$e it. :rom

time to time, when he ha anythin% at a!!, he( %i$e me a penny to pay &or my son%. '& he mana%e to scro"n%e "p a penny, ' wante him to %i$e it to his &ami!y. There was no o"#t they nee e e$ery !ast one. ."t then, ha$in% these pennies3since ' co"! n(t #ear to spen them3was !i)e ha$in% a remin er o& e$erythin% Aspen was wi!!in% to o &or me, o& e$erythin% ' meant to him. .ac) in my room, ' p"!!e my tiny -ar o& pennies o"t &rom its hi in% spot an !istene to the happy so"n o& the newest one hittin% its nei%h#ors. ' waite &or ten min"tes, watchin% o"t the win ow, "nti! ' saw Aspen(s sha ow c!im# own an r"n own the #ac) roa . ' staye awa)e a !itt!e whi!e !on%er, thin)in% o& Aspen an how m"ch ' !o$e him, an how it &e!t to #e !o$e #y him. ' &e!t specia!, price!ess, irrep!acea#!e. No 5"een on any throne co"! possi#!y &ee! more important than ' i . ' &e!! as!eep with that tho"%ht sec"re!y etche in my heart.

CHAPTER C

ASPEN WAS 7RESSE7 'N WH'TE. He !oo)e an%e!ic. We were in Caro!ina sti!!, #"t there was no one e!se aro"n . We were a!one, #"t we i n(t miss anyone. Aspen wo$e twi%s to ma)e me a crown, an we were to%ether. 0America,2 +om crowe , -arrin% me &rom my reams. She &!ic)e on the !i%hts, #"rnin% my eyes, an ' r"##e my han s into them, tryin% to a -"st. 0Wa)e "p, America, ' ha$e a proposa! &or yo".2 ' !oo)e o$er at the a!arm c!oc). 9"st past se$en in the mornin%. So that was * &i$e ho"rs in #e . 0's it more s!eep12 ' m"m#!e . 0No, honey, sit "p. ' ha$e somethin% serio"s to isc"ss.2 ' wor)e myse!& into a sittin% position, c!othes r"mp!e an hair stic)in% o"t in stran%e irections. +om c!appe her han s o$er an o$er, as i& it wo"! spee "p the process. 0Come on, America, ' nee yo" to wa)e "p.2 ' yawne . Twice. 0What o yo" want12 ' sai . 0:or yo" to s"#mit yo"r name &or the Se!ection. ' thin) yo"( ma)e an e,ce!!ent princess.2 't was way too ear!y &or this. 0+om, rea!!y, ' -"st*2 ' si%he as ' remem#ere what '( promise Aspen !ast ni%ht; that ' wo"! at !east try. ."t now, in the !i%ht o& ay, ' wasn(t s"re i& ' co"! ma)e myse!& o it. 0' )now yo"(re oppose , #"t ' &i%"re '( ma)e a ea! with yo" to see i& yo" wo"! chan%e yo"r min .2 +y ears per)e "p. What co"! she possi#!y o&&er me1 08o"r &ather an ' spo)e !ast ni%ht, an we eci e that yo"(re o! eno"%h to %o on yo"r -o#s a!one. 8o" p!ay the piano as we!! as ' o, an i& yo"( try a !itt!e more, yo"( #e near!y &!aw!ess on the $io!in. An yo"r $oice, we!!, there(s no one #etter in the pro$ince, i& yo" as) me.2 ' smi!e %ro%%i!y. 0Than)s, +om. Rea!!y.2 ' i n(t partic"!ar!y care to wor) a!one, tho"%h. ' i n(t see how that was s"ppose to entice me. 0We!!, that(s not a!!. 8o" can accept yo"r own wor) now an %o a!one an * an yo" can )eep ha!& o& whate$er yo" ma)e.2 She sort o& %rimace as she sai it. +y eyes poppe open. 0."t on!y i& yo" si%n "p &or the Se!ection.2 She was startin% to smi!e now. She )new this wo"! win me o$er, tho"%h ' thin) she was

e,pectin% more o& a &i%ht. ."t how co"! ' &i%ht1 ' was a!rea y %oin% to si%n "p, an now ' co"! earn some money o& my own? 08o" )now ' can on!y a%ree to si%n "p, ri%ht1 ' can(t ma)e them pic) me.2 08es, ' )now. ."t it(s worth a shot.2 0Wow, +om.2 ' shoo) my hea , sti!! in shoc). 0O)ay, '(!! &i!! o"t the &orm to ay. Are yo" serio"s a#o"t the money12 0O& co"rse. Sooner or !ater yo"( %o o"t on yo"r own anyway. An #ein% responsi#!e &or yo"r own money wi!! #e %oo &or yo". On!y, on(t &or%et yo"r &ami!y, p!ease. We sti!! nee yo".2 0' won(t &or%et yo", +om. How co"! ', with a!! the na%%in%12 ' win)e , she !a"%he , an with that, the ea! was one. ' too) a shower as ' processe e$erythin% that ha happene in !ess than twenty=&o"r ho"rs. .y simp!y &i!!in% o"t a &orm, ' was winnin% the appro$a! o& my &ami!y, ma)in% Aspen happy, an earnin% the money that wo"! he!p Aspen an me %et marrie ? ' wasn(t so concerne a#o"t the money, #"t Aspen insiste we nee e to ha$e some sa$in%s o& o"r own &irst. 't cost a #it to o the !e%a! st"&&, an we wante to ha$e a $ery sma!! party with o"r &ami!y a&ter o"r we in%. ' &i%"re it wo"! n(t ta)e $ery !on% &or "s to sa$e &or that once we eci e we were rea y, #"t Aspen wante more. +ay#e, &ina!!y, he( tr"st that we wo"! n(t a!ways #e strappe i& ' i some serio"s wor). A&ter my shower, ' i my hair an p"t on the tiniest #it o& ma)e"p to ce!e#rate, then went to my c!oset an %ot resse . There weren(t a who!e !ot o& options. +ost e$erythin% was #ei%e, #rown, or %reen. ' ha a &ew nicer resses &or when we wor)e , #"t they were hope!ess!y #ehin in the &ashion epartment. 't was !i)e that, tho"%h. Si,es an Se$ens were a!most a!ways in enim or somethin% st"r y. :i$es most!y wore #!an c!othes, as the artists co$ere e$erythin% with smoc)s an the sin%ers an ancers on!y rea!!y nee e to !oo) specia! &or per&ormances. The "pper castes wo"! wear )ha)i an enim &rom time to time to chan%e "p their !oo)s, #"t it was a!ways in a way that too) the materia! to a who!e new !e$e!. As i& it wasn(t eno"%h that they co"! ha$e pretty m"ch whate$er they wante , they t"rne o"r necessities into !","ries. ' p"t on my )ha)i shorts an the %reen t"nic top3#y &ar the most e,citin% ay c!othes ' owne 3an !oo)e myse!& o$er #e&ore %oin% into the !i$in% room. ' &e!t )in o& pretty to ay. +ay#e it was -"st the e,citement #ehin my eyes. +om was sittin% at the )itchen ta#!e with 7a , h"mmin%. They #oth !oo)e "p at me a co"p!e o& times, #"t e$en their stares co"! n(t #other me. When ' pic)e "p the !etter, ' was a !itt!e s"rprise . S"ch hi%h= 5"a!ity paper. '( ne$er &e!t anythin% !i)e it. Thic) an s!i%ht!y te,t"re . :or a moment the wei%ht o& the paper hit me, remin in% me o& the ma%nit" e o& what ' was oin%. Two wor s -"mpe into my hea ; What i&1 ."t ' shoo) the tho"%ht away an p"t pen to paper. 't was strai%ht&orwar eno"%h. ' &i!!e in my name, a%e, caste, an contact in&ormation. ' ha to p"t my hei%ht an wei%ht, hair, eye, an s)in co!or, too. ' was p!ease to write that ' co"! spea) three !an%"a%es. +ost co"! spea) at !east two, #"t my mother insiste we !earn :rench an Spanish, since those !an%"a%es were sti!! "se in parts o& the co"ntry. 't a!so he!pe with the sin%in%. There were so many pretty son%s in :rench. We ha to !ist the hi%hest %ra e !e$e! we( comp!ete , which co"! $ary immense!y, since on!y Si,es an Se$ens went to the p"#!ic schoo!s an ha act"a! %ra e !e$e!s. ' was near!y one with my e "cation. @n er specia! s)i!!s, ' !iste sin%in% an a!! my instr"ments. 07o yo" thin) the a#i!ity to s!eep in co"nts as a specia! s)i!!12 ' as)e 7a , tryin% to so"n torn o$er the

ecision. 08es, !ist that. An on(t &or%et to write that yo" can eat an entire mea! in "n er &i$e min"tes,2 he rep!ie . ' !a"%he . 't was tr"e/ ' i ten to inha!e my &oo . 0Oh, the #oth o& yo"? Why on(t yo" -"st write own that yo"(re an a#so!"te heathen?2 +y mother went stormin% &rom the room. ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e she was so &r"strate 3a&ter a!!, she was %ettin% e,act!y what she wante . ' %a$e 7a a 5"estionin% !oo). 0She -"st wants the #est &or yo", that(s a!!.2 He !eane #ac) in his chair, re!a,in% a #it #e&ore he starte on the commissione piece that was "e #y the en o& the month. 0So o yo", #"t yo"(re ne$er so an%ry,2 ' note . 08es. ."t yo"r mother an ' ha$e i&&erent i eas o& what(s #est &or yo".2 He &!ashe me a smi!e. ' %ot my mo"th &rom him3#oth the !oo) an the ten ency to say innocent thin%s that %ot me into tro"#!e. The temper was +om(s oin%, #"t she was #etter at ho! in% her ton%"e i& it rea!!y mattere . Not me. Li)e ri%ht now* 07a , i& ' wante to marry a Si, or e$en a Se$en, an he was someone ' rea!!y !o$e , wo"! yo" !et me12 7a set his m"% own, an his eyes &oc"se on me. ' trie not to %i$e anythin% away with my e,pression. His si%h was hea$y, &"!! o& %rie&. 0America, i& yo" !o$e an Ei%ht, '( want yo" to marry him. ."t yo" sho"! )now that !o$e can wear away "n er the stress o& #ein% marrie . Someone yo" thin) yo" !o$e now, yo" mi%ht start to hate when he co"! n(t pro$i e &or yo". An i& yo" co"! n(t ta)e care o& yo"r chi! ren, it( #e e$en worse. Lo$e oesn(t a!ways s"r$i$e "n er those types o& circ"mstances.2 7a reste his han on top o& mine, rawin% my eyes "p to his. ' trie to hi e my worry. 0."t no matter what, ' want yo" to #e !o$e . 8o" eser$e to #e !o$e . An ' hope yo" %et to marry &or !o$e an not a n"m#er.2 He co"! n(t say what ' wante to )now3that ' wo"! %et to marry &or !o$e an not a n"m#er3#"t it was the #est ' co"! hope &or. 0Than)s, 7a .2 0Go easy on yo"r mother. She(s tryin% to o the ri%ht thin%.2 He )isse my hea an went o&& to wor). ' si%he an went #ac) to &i!!in% o"t the app!ication. The who!e thin% ma e me &ee! !i)e my &ami!y i n(t thin) ' ha any ri%ht to want somethin% o& my own. 't #othere me, #"t ' )new ' co"! n(t ho! it a%ainst them in the !on% r"n. We co"! n(t a&&or the !","ry o& wants. We ha nee s. ' too) my &inishe app!ication an went to &in +om in the #ac)yar . She sat there, stitchin% "p a hem as +ay i her schoo!wor) in the sha e o& the tree ho"se. Aspen "se to comp!ain a#o"t the strict teachers in the p"#!ic schoo!s. ' serio"s!y o"#te any o& them co"! )eep "p with +om. 't was s"mmer, &or %oo ness( sa)e. 07i yo" rea!!y o it12 +ay as)e , #o"ncin% on her )nees. 0' s"re i .2 0What ma e yo" chan%e yo"r min 12 0+om can #e $ery compe!!in%,2 ' sai pointe !y, tho"%h +om was o#$io"s!y not ashame at a!! o& her #ri#ery. 0We can %o to the Ser$ices O&&ice as soon as yo"(re rea y, +om.2 She smi!e a !itt!e. 0That(s my %ir!. Go %et yo"r thin%s, an we(!! hea o"t. ' want to %et yo"rs in as soon as possi#!e.2 ' went to %ra# my shoes an #a% as '( #een instr"cte , #"t ' stoppe short at Gera (s room. He was starin% at a #!an) can$as, !oo)in% &r"strate . We )ept rotatin% thro"%h options with Gera , #"t none o& them were stic)in%. One !oo) at the #attere soccer #a!! in the corner or the secon han microscope we( inherite as payment one Christmas, an it was o#$io"s his heart -"st wasn(t in the arts. 0Not &ee!in% inspire to ay, h"h12 ' as)e , steppin% into his room. He !oo)e "p at me an shoo) his hea . 0+ay#e yo" co"! try sc"!ptin%, !i)e <ota. 8o" ha$e %reat han s. ' #et yo"( #e %oo at it.2 0' on(t want to sc"!pt thin%s. Or paint or sin% or p!ay the

piano. ' want to p!ay #a!!.2 He )ic)e his &oot into the a%in% carpet. 0' )now. An yo" can &or &"n, #"t yo" nee to &in a cra&t yo"(re %oo at to ma)e a !i$in%. 8o" can o #oth.2 0."t why12 he whine . 08o" )now why. 't(s the !aw.2 0."t that(s not &air?2 Gera p"she the can$as to the &!oor, where it stirre "p "st in the !i%ht &rom his win ow. 0't(s not o"r &a"!t o"r %reat=%ran &ather or whoe$er was poor.2 0' )now.2 't rea!!y seeme "nreasona#!e to !imit e$eryone(s !i&e choices #ase on yo"r ancestors( a#i!ity to he!p the %o$ernment, #"t that was how it a!! wor)e o"t. An ' s"ppose ' sho"! -"st #e %rate&"! we were sa&e. 0' %"ess it was the on!y way to ma)e thin%s wor) at the time.2 He i n(t spea). ' #reathe a si%h an pic)e "p the can$as, settin% it #ac) into p!ace. This was his !i&e, an he co"! n(t -"st wipe it away. 08o" on(t ha$e to %i$e "p yo"r ho##ies, #" y. ."t yo" want to #e a#!e to he!p +om an 7a an %row "p an %et marrie , ri%ht12 ' po)e his si e. He st"c) his ton%"e o"t in p!ay&"! is%"st, an we #oth %i%%!e . 0America?2 +om ca!!e own the ha!!. 0What(s ta)in% yo" so !on%12 0Comin%,2 ' ye!!e #ac), an then t"rne to Gera . 0' )now it(s har . 't(s -"st the way it is, o)ay12 ."t ' )new it wasn(t o)ay. 't wasn(t o)ay at a!!. +om an ' wa!)e a!! the way to the !oca! o&&ice. Sometimes we too) the p"#!ic #"ses i& we were %oin% too &ar or i& we were wor)in%. 't !oo)e #a to show "p sweaty at the ho"se o& a Two. They a!rea y !oo)e at "s &"nny anyway. ."t it was a nice ay o"t, an the trip was -"st shy o& #ein% too !on%. We o#$io"s!y weren(t the on!y ones tryin% to %et o"r s"#mission in ri%ht away. .y the time we %ot there, the street in &ront o& the Pro$ince o& Caro!ina Ser$ices O&&ice was pac)e with women. Stan in% in !ine, ' co"! see a n"m#er o& %ir!s &rom my nei%h#orhoo in &ront o& me, waitin% to %o insi e. The trai! was near!y &o"r peop!e wi e an wrappe ha!&way aro"n the #!oc). E$ery %ir! in the pro$ince was si%nin% "p. ' i n(t )now whether to &ee! terri&ie or re!ie$e . 0+a% a?2 someone ca!!e . +y mother an ' #oth t"rne at the so"n o& her name. Ce!ia an <am#er were wa!)in% "p #ehin "s with Aspen(s mother. She m"st ha$e ta)en the ay o&& to o this. Her a"%hters were resse "p as neat!y as they co"! a&&or , !oo)in% $ery ti y. 't wasn(t m"ch, #"t they !oo)e %oo no matter what they wore, -"st !i)e Aspen. <am#er an Ce!ia ha his same ar) hair an #ea"ti&"! smi!es. Aspen(s mother smi!e at me, an ' ret"rne her %rin. ' a ore her. ' on!y %ot to ta!) to her e$ery once in a whi!e, #"t she was a!ways nice to me. An ' )new it wasn(t #eca"se ' was a step "p &rom her/ '( seen her %i$e c!othes that i n(t &it her )i s anymore to &ami!ies who ha ne,t to nothin%. She was -"st )in . 0He!!o, Lena. <am#er, Ce!ia, how are yo"12 +other %reete them. 0Goo ?2 they san% in "nison. 08o" %"ys !oo) #ea"ti&"!,2 ' sai , p!acin% one o& Ce!ia(s c"r!s #ehin her sho"! er. 0We wante to !oo) pretty &or o"r pict"re,2 <am#er anno"nce . 0Pict"re12 ' as)e . 08es.2 Aspen(s mom spo)e in a h"she $oice. 0' was c!eanin% at one o& the ma%istrates( ho"ses yester ay. This !ottery isn(t m"ch o& a !ottery at a!!. That(s why they(re ta)in% pict"res an %ettin% !ots o& in&ormation. Why wo"! it matter how many !an%"a%es yo" spo)e i& it were ran om12 That ha str"c) me as &"nny, #"t ' tho"%ht that was a!! in&ormation &or a&ter the &act. 0't appears to ha$e !ea)e a !itt!e/ !oo) aro"n . Lots o& %ir!s are way o$er one.2 ' scanne the !ine. Aspen(s mother was ri%ht, an there was a c!ear !ine #etween those who )new an those who i n(t. 9"st #ehin "s was a %ir!, o#$io"s!y a Se$en, sti!! in her wor) c!othes. Her m" y #oots

mi%ht not ma)e the pict"re, #"t the "st on her o$era!!s pro#a#!y wo"! . A &ew yar s #ac) another Se$en was sportin% a too! #e!t. The #est ' co"! say a#o"t her was that her &ace was c!ean. On the other en o& the spectr"m, a %ir! in &ront o& me ha her hair "p in a twist with !itt!e ten ri!s &ramin% her &ace. The %ir! #esi e her, c!ear!y a Two #ase on her c!othes, !oo)e !i)e she was tryin% to rown the wor! in her c!ea$a%e. Se$era! ha on so m"ch ma)e"p, they !oo)e )in o& !i)e c!owns to me. ."t at !east they were tryin%. ' !oo)e ecent, #"t ' ha n(t %one to any s"ch !en%ths. Li)e the Se$ens, ' ha n(t )nown to #other. ' &e!t a s" en &!"tter o& worry. ."t why1 ' stoppe myse!& an rearran%e my tho"%hts. ' i n(t want this. '& ' wasn(t pretty eno"%h, s"re!y that was a %oo thin%. ' wo"! at !east #e a notch #e!ow Aspen(s sisters. They were nat"ra!!y #ea"ti&"!, an !oo)e e$en !o$e!ier with the !itt!e hints o& ma)e"p. '& <am#er or Ce!ia won, Aspen(s who!e &ami!y wo"! #e e!e$ate . S"re!y my mother co"! n(t isappro$e o& me marryin% a One -"st #eca"se he wasn(t the prince himse!&. +y !ac) o& in&ormation was a #!essin%. 0' thin) yo"(re ri%ht,2 +om sai . 0That %ir! !oo)s !i)e she(s %ettin% rea y &or a Christmas party.2 She !a"%he , #"t ' co"! te!! she hate that ' was at a isa $anta%e. 0' on(t )now why some %ir!s %o so o$er the top. Loo) at America. She(s so pretty. '(m so %!a yo" i n(t %o that ro"te,2 +rs. Le%er sai . 0'(m nothin% specia!. Who co"! pic) me ne,t to <am#er or Ce!ia12 ' win)e at them, an they smi!e . +om i , too, #"t it was &orce . She m"st ha$e #een e#atin% stayin% in the !ine or &orcin% me to r"n home an chan%e. 07on(t #e si!!y? E$ery time Aspen comes home &rom he!pin% yo"r #rother, he a!ways says the Sin%ers inherite more than their &air share o& ta!ent an #ea"ty,2 Aspen(s mother sai . 07oes he rea!!y1 What a nice #oy?2 my mother cooe . 08es. A mother co"! n(t as) &or a #etter son. He(s s"pporti$e, an he wor)s so har .2 0He(s %oin% to ma)e some %ir! $ery happy one ay,2 my mother sai . She was on!y ha!& into the con$ersation as she contin"e to si6e "p the competition. +rs. Le%er too) a 5"ic) !oo) aro"n . 0.etween yo" an me, ' thin) he mi%ht a!rea y ha$e someone in min .2 ' &ro6e. ' i n(t )now i& ' sho"! comment or not, "ns"re i& either response wo"! %i$e me away. 0What(s she !i)e12 my mother as)e . E$en when she was p!annin% my marria%e to a comp!ete stran%er, she sti!! ha time &or %ossip. 0'(m not s"re? ' ha$en(t act"a!!y met her. An '(m on!y %"essin% that he(s seein% someone, #"t he seems happier !ate!y,2 she rep!ie , #eamin%. Late!y1 We( #een meetin% &or near!y two years. Why on!y !ate!y1 0He h"ms,2 Ce!ia o&&ere . 08eah, he sin%s, too,2 <am#er a%ree . 0He sin%s12 ' e,c!aime . 0Oh, yeah,2 they chor"se . 0Then he(s e&inite!y seein% someone?2 my mother chime in. 0' won er who she is.2 08o"($e %ot me. ."t '(m %"essin% she m"st #e a won er&"! %ir!. These !ast &ew months he(s #een wor)in% har 3har er than "s"a!. An he(s #een p"ttin% money away. ' thin) he m"st #e tryin% to sa$e "p to %et marrie .2 ' co"! n(t he!p the !itt!e %asp that escape . L"c)y me, they a!! attri#"te it to the %enera! e,citement o& the news. 0An ' co"! n(t #e more p!ease ,2 she contin"e . 0E$en i& he(s not rea y to te!! "s who she is, ' !o$e her a!rea y. He(s smi!in%, an he -"st seems satis&ie . 't(s #een har since we !ost Herric), an Aspen(s ta)en so m"ch on himse!&. Any %ir! who ma)es him this happy is a!rea y a a"%hter to me.2 0She( #e a !"c)y %ir!? 8o"r Aspen is a won er&"! #oy,2 +om rep!ie . ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e it. Here his &ami!y was, tryin% to ma)e en s meet, an he was p"ttin% away

money &or me? ' i n(t )now whether to sco! him or )iss him. ' -"st* ' ha no wor s. He rea!!y was %oin% to as) me to marry him? 't was a!! ' co"! thin) a#o"t. Aspen, Aspen, Aspen. ' went thro"%h the !ine, si%ne at the win ow to con&irm that e$erythin% on my &orm was tr"e, an too) my pict"re. ' sat in the chair, &!ippe my hair once or twice to %i$e it some !i&e, an t"rne to &ace the photo%rapher. ' on(t thin) any %ir! in a!! o& '!!4a co"! ha$e #een smi!in% more than me.

CHAPTER D

'T WAS :R'7A8, SO THE '!!4a Capita! Report wo"! #e on at ei%ht. We weren(t e,act!y o#!i%ate to watch, #"t it was "nwise to miss it. E$en Ei%hts3the home!ess, the wan erin%3wo"! &in a store or a ch"rch where they co"! see the Report. An with the Se!ection comin% "p, the Report was more than a semi= re5"irement. E$eryone wante to )now what was happenin% in that epartment. 07o yo" thin) they(!! anno"nce the winners toni%ht12 +ay as)e , st"&&in% mashe potatoes into her mo"th. 0No, ear. E$eryone who(s e!i%i#!e sti!! has nine ays to s"#mit their app!ications. 't(!! pro#a#!y #e two more wee)s "nti! we )now.2 +om(s $oice was the ca!mest it ha #een in years. She was comp!ete!y at ease, p!ease to ha$e %otten somethin% she rea!!y wante . 0Aw? ' can(t stan the wait,2 +ay comp!aine . She co"! n(t stan the wait1 't was my name in the pot? 08o"r mother te!!s me yo" ha 5"ite a !on% wait in !ine.2 ' was s"rprise 7a wante in on this con$ersation. 08eah,2 ' sai . 0' wasn(t e,pectin% that many %ir!s. ' on(t )now why they(re %i$in% peop!e nine more ays/ ' swear e$eryone in the pro$ince has a!rea y %one in.2 7a ch"c)!e . 07i yo" ha$e &"n %a"%in% the competition12 07i n(t #other,2 ' sai honest!y. 0' !e&t that to +om.2 She no e in a%reement. 0' i , ' i . ' co"! n(t he!p it. ."t ' thin) America !oo)e %oo . Po!ishe #"t nat"ra!. 8o" are so #ea"ti&"!, honey. '& they rea!!y are !oo)in% thro"%h instea o& pic)in% at ran om, yo" ha$e an e$en #etter chance than ' tho"%ht.2 0' on(t )now,2 ' he %e . 0There was that %ir! who ha on so m"ch re !ipstic) she !oo)e !i)e she was #!ee in%. +ay#e the prince !i)es that )in o& thin%.2 E$eryone !a"%he , an +om an ' contin"e to re%a!e them with commentary on the o"t&its we( notice . +ay ran) it a!! in, an Gera -"st sat smi!in% #etween #ites o& inner. Sometimes it was easy to &or%et that as !on% as Gera ha #een a#!e to rea!!y "n erstan the wor! aro"n him, thin%s ha #een stress&"! in o"r ho"se. At ei%ht we a!! pi!e into the !i$in% room37a in his chair, +ay ne,t to +om on the co"ch with Gera on her !ap, an me on the &!oor a!! stretche o"t3an t"rne the TA to the p"#!ic access channe!. 't was

the one channe! yo" i n(t ha$e to pay to ha$e, so e$en the Ei%hts co"! %et it i& they ha a TA. The anthem p!aye . +ay#e it(s si!!y, #"t ' a!ways !o$e o"r nationa! anthem. 't was one o& my &a$orite son%s to sin%. The pict"re o& the roya! &ami!y came into $iew. Stan in% at a po i"m was <in% C!ar)son. His a $isers, who ha "p ates on in&rastr"ct"re an some en$ironmenta! concerns, were seate to one si e, an the camera c"t to show them. 't !oo)e !i)e there wo"! #e se$era! anno"ncements toni%ht. On the !e&t o& the screen, the 5"een an Prince +a,on sat in their typica! c!"ster o& throne!i)e seats an e!e%ant c!othes, !oo)in% re%a! an important. 0There(s yo"r #oy&rien , Ames,2 +ay anno"nce , an e$eryone !a"%he . ' !oo)e c!ose!y at +a,on. ' %"ess he was han some in his own way. Not at a!! !i)e Aspen, tho"%h. His hair was a honey co!or, an his eyes were #rown. He )in o& !oo)e !i)e s"mmertime, which ' %"ess was attracti$e to some peop!e. His hair was croppe short an neat!y one, an his %ray s"it was per&ect!y &itte to him. ."t he sat way too ri%i !y in his chair. He !oo)e so "pti%ht. His c!ean hair was too per&ect, his tai!ore s"it too crisp. He seeme more !i)e a paintin% than a person. ' a!most &e!t #a &or the %ir! who en e "p with him. That wo"! pro#a#!y #e the most #orin% !i&e ima%ina#!e. ' &oc"se on his mother. She !oo)e serene. She sat "p in her chair, too, #"t not in an icy way. ' rea!i6e that, "n!i)e the )in% an Prince +a,on, she ha n(t %rown "p in the pa!ace. She was a ce!e#rate 7a"%hter o& '!!4a. She mi%ht ha$e #een someone !i)e me. The )in% was a!rea y ta!)in%, #"t ' ha to )now. 0+om12 ' whispere , tryin% not to istract 7a . 08es12 0The 5"een * what was she1 Her caste, ' mean.2 +om smi!e at my interest. 0A :o"r.2 A :o"r. She( spent her &ormati$e years wor)in% in a &actory or a shop, or may#e on a &arm. ' won ere a#o"t her !i&e. 7i she ha$e a !ar%e &ami!y1 She pro#a#!y ha n(t ha to worry a#o"t &oo %rowin% "p. Were her &rien s -ea!o"s o& her when she was chosen1 '& ' ha any rea!!y c!ose &rien s, wo"! they #e -ea!o"s o& me1 That was st"pi . ' wasn(t %oin% to #e pic)e . 'nstea ' &oc"se on the )in%(s wor s. 09"st this mornin%, another attac) in New Asia roc)e o"r #ases. 't has !e&t o"r troops s!i%ht!y o"tn"m#ere , #"t we are con&i ent that with the &resh ra&t ne,t month wi!! come !i&te mora!e, not to mention a swe!!in% o& &resh &orces.2 ' hate war. @n&ort"nate!y, we were a yo"n% co"ntry that ha to protect itse!& a%ainst e$eryone. 't wasn(t !i)e!y this !an wo"! s"r$i$e another in$asion. A&ter the )in% %a$e "s an "p ate on a recent rai on a re#e! camp, the :inancia! Team "p ate "s on the stat"s o& the e#t, an the hea o& the 'n&rastr"ct"re Committee anno"nce that in two years they were p!annin% to start wor) on re#"i! in% se$era! hi%hways, some o& which ha n(t #een to"che since the :o"rth Wor! War. :ina!!y the !ast person, the +aster o& E$ents, came to the po i"m. 0Goo e$enin%, !a ies an %ent!emen o& '!!4a. As yo" a!! )now, notices to participate in the Se!ection were recent!y istri#"te in the mai!. We ha$e recei$e the &irst co"nt o& s"#mitte app!ications, an ' am p!ease to say that tho"san s o& the #ea"ti&"! women in '!!4a ha$e a!rea y p!ace their names in the !ottery &or the Se!ection?2 'n the #ac) corner +a,on shi&te a !itt!e in his seat. Was he sweatin%1 0On #eha!& o& the roya! &ami!y, ' wo"! !i)e to than) yo" &or yo"r enth"siasm an patriotism. With any !"c), #y the New 8ear we wi!! #e ce!e#ratin% the en%a%ement o& o"r #e!o$e Prince +a,on to an enchantin%, ta!ente , an

inte!!i%ent 7a"%hter o& '!!4a?2 The &ew a $isers sittin% there app!a" e . +a,on smi!e #"t !oo)e "ncom&orta#!e. When the app!a"se ie own, the +aster o& E$ents starte "p a%ain. 0O& co"rse, we wi!! #e ha$in% !ots o& pro%rammin% e icate to meetin% the yo"n% women o& the Se!ection, not to mention specia!s on their !i$es at the pa!ace. We co"! not thin) o& anyone more 5"a!i&ie to %"i e "s thro"%h this e,citin% time than o"r $ery own +r. Ga$ri! :a aye?2 There was another smatterin% o& app!a"se, #"t it came &rom my mom an +ay this time. Ga$ri! :a aye was a !e%en . :or somethin% !i)e twenty years he( one r"nnin% commentary on Grate&"! :east para es an Christmas shows an anythin% they ce!e#rate at the pa!ace. '( ne$er seen an inter$iew with mem#ers o& the roya! &ami!y or their c!osest &rien s an &ami!y one #y anyone #"t him. 0Oh, America, yo" co"! meet Ga$ri!?2 +om croone . 0He(s comin%?2 +ay sai , &!ai!in% her !itt!e arms. S"re eno"%h, there was Ga$ri!, sa"nterin% onto the set in his crisp #!"e s"it. He was may#e in his !ate &orties, an he a!ways !oo)e sharp. As he wa!)e across the sta%e, the !i%ht ca"%ht on the pin on his !ape!, a &!ash o& %o! that was simi!ar to the &orte si%ns in my piano m"sic. 0Gooooo e$enin%, '!!4a?2 he san%. 0' ha$e to say that ' am so honore to #e a part o& the Se!ection. L"c)y me, ' %et to meet thirty=&i$e #ea"ti&"! women? What i iot wo"! n(t want my -o#12 He win)e at "s thro"%h the camera. 0."t #e&ore ' %et to meet these !o$e!y !a ies, one o& which wi!! #e o"r new princess, ' ha$e the p!eas"re o& spea)in% with the man o& the ho"r, o"r Prince +a,on.2 With that +a,on wa!)e across the carpete sta%e to a pair o& chairs set "p &or him an Ga$ri!. He strai%htene his tie an a -"ste his s"it, as i& he nee e to !oo) more po!ishe . He shoo) Ga$ri!(s han an sat across &rom him, pic)in% "p a microphone. The chair was hi%h eno"%h that +a,on proppe his &eet on a #ar in the mi !e o& the !e%s. He !oo)e m"ch more cas"a! that way. 0Nice to see yo" a%ain, 8o"r Hi%hness.2 0Than) yo", Ga$ri!. The p!eas"re is a!! mine.2 +a,on(s $oice was as poise as the rest o& him. He ra iate wa$es o& &orma!ity. ' wrin)!e my nose at the i ea o& -"st #ein% in the same room with him. 0'n !ess than a month, thirty=&i$e women wi!! #e mo$in% into yo"r ho"se. How o yo" &ee! a#o"t that12 +a,on !a"%he . 0Honest!y, it is a #it ner$e=rac)in%. '(m ima%inin% there wi!! #e m"ch more noise with so many %"ests. '(m !oo)in% &orwar to it a!! the same.2 0Ha$e yo" as)e ear o! a &or any a $ice on how he mana%e to %et aho! o& s"ch a #ea"ti&"! wi&e when it was his t"rn12 .oth +a,on an Ga$ri! !oo)e o$er to the )in% an 5"een, an the camera panne o$er to show them !oo)in% at each other, smi!in% an ho! in% han s. 't seeme %en"ine, #"t how wo"! we )now any #etter1 0' ha$en(t act"a!!y. As yo" )now, the sit"ation in New Asia has #een esca!atin%, an '($e #een wor)in% with him more on the mi!itary si e o& thin%s. Not m"ch time to isc"ss %ir!s in there.2 +om an +ay !a"%he . ' s"ppose it was )in o& &"nny. 0We on(t ha$e m"ch time !e&t, so '( !i)e to ha$e one more 5"estion. What o yo" ima%ine yo"r per&ect %ir! wo"! #e !i)e12 +a,on !oo)e ta)en a#ac). 't was har to te!!, #"t he may ha$e #een #!"shin%. 0Honest!y, ' on(t )now. ' thin) that(s the #ea"ty o& the Se!ection. No two women who enter wi!! #e e,act!y the same3not in !oo)s or pre&erences or isposition. An thro"%h the process o& meetin% them an ta!)in% to them, '(m hopin% to isco$er what ' want, to &in it a!on% the way.2 +a,on smi!e . 0Than) yo", 8o"r Hi%hness. That was $ery we!! sai . An '

thin) ' spea) &or a!! o& '!!4a when ' wish yo" the #est o& !"c).2 Ga$ri! he! o"t his han &or another sha)e. 0Than) yo", sir,2 +a,on sai . The camera i n(t c"t away 5"ic) eno"%h, an yo" co"! see him !oo)in% o$er to his parents, won erin% i& he( sai the ri%ht thin%. The ne,t shot 6oome in on Ga$ri!(s &ace, so there was no way to see what their response was. 0'(m a&rai that(s a!! the time we ha$e &or this e$enin%. Than) yo" &or watchin% the '!!4a Capita! Report, an we(!! see yo" ne,t wee).2 With that, the m"sic p!aye an cre its ro!!e . 0America an +a,on sittin% in a tree,2 san% +ay. ' %ra##e a pi!!ow an ch"c)e it at her, #"t ' co"! n(t he!p !a"%hin% at the tho"%ht. +a,on was so sti&& an 5"iet. 't was har to ima%ine anyone #ein% happy with s"ch a wimp. ' spent the rest o& the ni%ht tryin% to i%nore +ay(s teasin%, an &ina!!y went to my room to #e a!one. E$en the tho"%ht o& #ein% near +a,on Schrea$e ma e me "ncom&orta#!e. +ay(s !itt!e -a#s staye in my hea a!! ni%ht an ma e it i&&ic"!t &or me to s!eep. 't was har to pinpoint the so"n that wo)e me, #"t once ' was aware o& it, ' trie to s"r$ey my room in a#so!"te sti!!ness, -"st in case someone was there. Tap, tap, tap. ' t"rne o$er s!ow!y to &ace my win ow, an there was Aspen, %rinnin% at me. ' %ot o"t o& #e an tiptoe to the oor, sh"ttin% it a!! the way an !oc)in% it. ' went #ac) to the #e , "n!oc)in% an s!ow!y openin% my win ow. A r"sh o& heat that ha nothin% to o with s"mmer swept o$er me as Aspen c!im#e thro"%h the win ow an onto my #e . 0What are yo" oin% here12 ' whispere , smi!in% in the ar). 0' ha to see yo",2 he #reathe into my chee) as he wrappe his arms aro"n me, p"!!in% me own "nti! we were !yin% si e #y si e on the #e . 0' ha$e so m"ch to te!! yo", Aspen.2 0Shhh, on(t say a wor . '& anyone hears, there(!! #e he!! to pay. 9"st !et me !oo) at yo".2 An so ' o#eye . ' staye there, 5"iet an sti!!, whi!e Aspen stare into my eyes. When he ha his &i!! o& that, he went to n"66!in% his nose into my nec) an hair. An then his han s were mo$in% "p an own the c"r$e o& my waist to my hip o$er an o$er an o$er. ' hear his #reathin% %et hea$y, an somethin% a#o"t that rew me in. His !ips, hi en in my nec), starte )issin% me. ' rew in sharp #reaths. ' co"! n(t he!p it. Aspen(s !ips tra$e!e "p my chin an co$ere my mo"th, e&&ecti$e!y si!encin% my %asps. ' wrappe myse!& aro"n him, o"r r"she %ra##in% an the h"mi ity o& the ni%ht co$erin% "s #oth in sweat. 't was a sto!en moment. Aspen(s !ips &ina!!y s!owe , tho"%h ' was nowhere near rea y to stop. ."t we ha to #e smart. '& we went any &"rther, an there was e$er e$i ence o& it, we( #oth #e thrown in -ai!. Another reason e$eryone marrie yo"n%; Waitin% is tort"re. 0' sho"! %o,2 he whispere . 0."t ' want yo" to stay.2 +y !ips were #y his ears. ' co"! sme!! his soap a%ain. 0America Sin%er, one ay yo" wi!! &a!! as!eep in my arms e$ery ni%ht. An yo"(!! wa)e "p to my )isses e$ery mornin%. An then some.2 ' #it my !ip at the tho"%ht. 0."t now ' ha$e to %o. We(re p"shin% o"r !"c).2 ' si%he an !oosene my %rip. He was ri%ht. 0' !o$e yo", America.2 0' !o$e yo", Aspen.2 These secret moments wo"! #e eno"%h to %et me thro"%h e$erythin% comin%; +om(s isappointment when ' wasn(t chosen, the wor) '( ha$e to o to he!p Aspen sa$e, the er"ption that was comin% when he as)e 7a &or my han , an whate$er str"%%!es we( %o thro"%h once we were marrie . None o& it mattere . Not i& ' ha Aspen.

CHAPTER E A WEE< LATER, ' .EAT Aspen to the tree ho"se. 't too) a #it o& wor) to %et the thin%s ' wante "p there in si!ence, #"t ' mana%e . ' rearran%e the p!ates one !ast time as ' hear someone c!im#in% the tree. 0.oo.2 Aspen starte an !a"%he . ' !it the new can !e '( p"rchase -"st &or "s. He crosse the tree ho"se to )iss me, an a&ter a moment, ' starte ta!)in% a#o"t a!! that ha happene "rin% the wee). 0' ne$er %ot to te!! yo" a#o"t the si%n="ps,2 ' sai , e,cite a#o"t the news. 0How( it %o1 +om sai it was pac)e .2 0't was cra6y, Aspen. 8o" sho"! ha$e seen what peop!e were wearin%? An '(m s"re yo" )now that it(s !ess o& a !ottery than they(re c!aimin%. So ' was ri%ht a!! a!on%. There are &ar more interestin% peop!e to choose in Caro!ina than me, so this was a!! a #i% nothin%.2 0A!! the same, than) yo" &or oin% it. 't means a !ot to me.2 His eyes were sti!! &oc"se on me. He ha n(t e$en #othere !oo)in% aro"n the tree ho"se. 7rin)in% me in, !i)e a!ways. 0We!!, the #est part is that since my mother ha no i ea '( a!rea y promise yo", she #ri#e me to si%n "p.2 ' co"! n(t contain my smi!e. This wee) &ami!ies ha a!rea y starte throwin% parties &or their a"%hters, s"re that they wo"! #e the one chosen &or the Se!ection. '( s"n% at no !ess than se$en ce!e#rations, pac)in% two into a ni%ht &or the sa)e o& %ettin% my own paychec)s. An +om was tr"e to her wor . 't &e!t !i#eratin% to ha$e money that was mine. 0.ri#e yo"1 With what12 His &ace was !it with e,citement. 0+oney, o& co"rse. Loo), ' ma e yo" a &east?2 ' p"!!e away &rom him an starte %ra##in% p!ates. '( ma e too m"ch inner on p"rpose to sa$e him some, an '( #een #a)in% pastries &or ays. +ay an ' #oth ha a terri#!e a iction to sweets anyway, an she was -"#i!ant that this was how ' was choosin% to spen my money. 0What(s a!! this12 0:oo . ' ma e it myse!&.2 ' was #eamin% with pri e at my e&&orts. :ina!!y, toni%ht, Aspen co"! #e &"!!. ."t his smi!e &a e as he too) in p!ate a&ter p!ate. 0Aspen, is somethin% wron%12 0This isn(t ri%ht.2 He shoo) his hea an !oo)e away &rom the treats. 0What o yo" mean12 0America, '(m s"ppose to #e pro$i in% &or yo". 't(s h"mi!iatin% &or me to come here an ha$e yo" o a!! this &or me.2 0."t ' %i$e yo" &oo a!! the time.2 08o"r !itt!e !e&to$ers. 8o" thin) ' on(t )now #etter1 ' on(t &ee! #a a#o"t ta)in% somethin% yo" on(t want. ."t to ha$e yo"3'(m s"ppose to32 0Aspen, yo" %i$e me thin%s a!! the time. 8o" pro$i e &or me. ' ha$e a!! my pen32 0Pennies1 8o" thin) #rin%in% that "p now is a %oo i ea1 7on(t yo" )now how m"ch ' hate that1 That ' !o$e to hear yo" sin% #"t can(t rea!!y pay yo" when e$eryone e!se oes12 08o" sho"! n(t pay me at a!!? 't(s a %i&t. Anythin% o& mine yo" want yo" can ha$e?2 ' )new we nee e to #e care&"! to )eep o"r $oices own. ."t at the moment ' i n(t care. 0'(m not some charity case, America. '(m a man. '(m s"ppose to #e a pro$i er.2 Aspen p"t his han s in his hair. ' co"! see his #reaths comin% &ast. 9"st !i)e a!ways, he was thin)in% his way thro"%h the ar%"ment. ."t this time, there was somethin% i&&erent in his eyes. 'nstea o& his &ace %rowin% &oc"se , it &e!! into con&"sion one mi!!imeter at a time. +y an%er &a e 5"ic)!y as ' saw him there, !oo)in% so !ost. ' &e!t %"i!ty instea . ' ha meant to spoi! him, not h"mi!iate him. 0' !o$e yo",2 ' whispere .

He shoo) his hea . 0' !o$e yo", too, America.2 ."t he sti!! wo"! n(t !oo) at me. ' pic)e "p some o& the #rea '( ma e an p"t it in his han . He was too h"n%ry not to ta)e a #ite. 0' i n(t mean to h"rt yo". ' tho"%ht it wo"! ma)e yo" happy.2 0No, +er, ' !o$e it. ' can(t #e!ie$e yo" i a!! this &or me. 't(s -"st * yo" on(t )now how m"ch it #others me that ' can(t o this &or yo". 8o" eser$e #etter.2 +erci&"!!y, he )ept eatin% as he spo)e. 08o"($e %ot to stop thin)in% o& me that way. When it(s -"st yo" an me, '(m not a :i$e an yo"(re not a Si,. We(re -"st Aspen an America. An ' on(t want anythin% in the wor! #"t yo".2 0."t ' can(t stop thin)in% that way.2 He !oo)e at me. 0That(s how ' was raise . Since ' was !itt!e, it was >Si,es are #orn to ser$e( an >Si,es aren(t meant to #e seen.( +y who!e !i&e, '($e #een ta"%ht to #e in$isi#!e.2 He %ra##e my han in a $ise!i)e %rip. 0'& we(re to%ether, +er, yo"(re %oin% to #e in$isi#!e, too. An ' on(t want that &or yo".2 0Aspen, we($e ta!)e a#o"t this. ' )now that thin%s wi!! #e i&&erent, an '(m prepare . ' on(t )now how to ma)e it any c!earer.2 ' p"t my han on his heart. 0The moment yo"(re rea y to as), '(m rea y to say yes.2 't was terri&yin% to p"t myse!& o"t there !i)e that, to ma)e it a#so!"te!y c!ear how eep my a&&ections ran. He )new what ' was sayin%. ."t i& ma)in% myse!& $"!nera#!e meant he( #e #ra$e, '( en "re it. His eyes searche mine. '& he was !oo)in% &or o"#t, he was wastin% his time. Aspen was the one thin% ' was s"re o&. 0No.2 0What12 0No.2 The wor &e!t !i)e a s!ap across the &ace. 0Aspen12 0' on(t )now how ' &oo!e myse!& into e$er thin)in% this wo"! wor).2 He ran his &in%ers thro"%h his hair a%ain, !i)e he was tryin% to %et a!! the tho"%hts he( e$er ha a#o"t me o"t o& his hea . 0."t yo" -"st sai yo" !o$e me.2 0' o, +er. That(s the point. ' can(t ma)e yo" !i)e me. ' can(t stan the tho"%ht o& yo" h"n%ry or co! or scare . ' can(t ma)e yo" a Si,.2 ' &e!t the tears comin%. He i n(t mean that. He co"! n(t. ."t #e&ore ' co"! te!! him to ta)e it #ac), Aspen was a!rea y mo$in% to craw! o"t o& the tree ho"se. 0Where * where are yo" %oin%12 0'(m !ea$in%. '(m %oin% home. '(m sorry ' i this to yo", America. 't(s o$er now.2 0What12 0't(s o$er. ' won(t come aro"n anymore. Not !i)e this.2 ' starte cryin%. 0Aspen, p!ease. Let(s ta!) a#o"t this. 8o"(re -"st "pset.2 0'(m more "pset than yo" )now. ."t not at yo". ' -"st can(t o this, +er. ' can(t.2 0Aspen, p!ease*2 He p"!!e me in ti%ht an )isse me3rea!!y )isse me3one !ast time. Then he isappeare into the ni%ht. An #eca"se this co"ntry is the way it is, #eca"se o& a!! the r"!es that ha )ept "s in hi in%, ' co"! n(t e$en ca!! o"t a&ter him. ' co"! n(t te!! him ' !o$e him one more time. As the ne,t &ew ays passe , ' )new my &ami!y co"! te!! that somethin% was wron%, #"t they m"st ha$e ass"me ' was ner$o"s a#o"t the Se!ection. ' wante to cry a tho"san times, #"t he! it #ac). ' -"st p"she on to :ri ay, hopin% that e$erythin% wo"! %o #ac) to norma! a&ter the Capita! Report #roa cast the names. ' reame it "p in my hea . How they wo"! anno"nce Ce!ia or <am#er, an my mother wo"! #e isappointe , #"t not as isappointe as she wo"! ha$e #een i& it was a stran%er. 7a an +ay wo"! #e e,cite &or them/ o"r &ami!ies were c!ose. ' )new Aspen ha to #e thin)in% a#o"t me !i)e '( #een thin)in% a#o"t him. ' #et he( #e o$er here #e&ore the pro%ram was o$er, #e%%in% me &or &or%i$eness an as)in% &or my han . 't wo"! #e a !itt!e premat"re, since there was nothin% %"arantee &or the %ir!s, #"t he co"! capita!i6e on the %enera! e,citement o& the ay. 't wo"! pro#a#!y smooth a !ot o& thin%s o$er.

'n my hea , it wor)e o"t per&ect!y. 'n my hea , e$eryone was happy* 't was ten min"tes "nti! the Report came on, an we were a!! in p!ace ear!y. ' co"! n(t ima%ine we were a!one in not wantin% to miss a secon o& this anno"ncement. 0' remem#er when F"een Am#er!y was chosen? Oh, ' )new &rom the #e%innin% she wo"! ma)e it.2 +om was ma)in% popcorn, as i& this were a mo$ie. 07i yo" %o in the !ottery, +ama12 Gera as)e . 0No, sweetie, +ama was two years too yo"n% &or the c"to&&. ."t !"c)y me, ' %ot yo"r &ather instea .2 She smi!e an win)e . Whoa. She m"st ha$e #een in a %oo moo . ' co"! n(t remem#er the !ast time she was that a&&ectionate towar 7a . 0F"een Am#er!y is the #est 5"een e$er. She(s so #ea"ti&"! an smart. E$ery time ' see her on TA, ' want to #e -"st !i)e her,2 +ay sai with a si%h. 0She is a %oo 5"een,2 ' a e 5"iet!y. :ina!!y ei%ht o(c!oc) ro!!e aro"n , an the nationa! em#!em rose on the screen a!on% with the instr"menta! $ersion o& o"r anthem. Was ' act"a!!y trem#!in%1 ' was so rea y &or this to #e o$er. The )in% appeare an %a$e a #rie& "p ate on the war. The other anno"ncements were a!so short. 't seeme !i)e e$eryone there was in a %oo moo . ' %"esse this m"st #e e,citin% &or them, too. :ina!!y the +aster o& E$ents came "p an intro "ce Ga$ri!, who wa!)e strai%ht o$er to the roya! &ami!y. 0Goo e$enin%, 8o"r +a-esty,2 he sai to the )in%. 0Ga$ri!, a!ways %oo to see yo".2 The )in% was #or er!ine %i y. 0Loo)in% &orwar to the anno"ncement12 0Ah, yes. ' was in the room yester ay as a &ew were rawn/ a!! $ery !o$e!y %ir!s.2 0So yo" )now who they are a!rea y12 Ga$ri! e,c!aime . 09"st a &ew, -"st a &ew.2 07i he happen to share any o& this in&ormation with yo", sir12 Ga$ri! t"rne to +a,on. 0Not at a!!. '(!! see them when e$eryone e!se oes,2 +a,on rep!ie . 8o" co"! see he was tryin% to hi e his ner$es. ' rea!i6e my pa!ms were sweatin%. 08o"r +a-esty,2 Ga$ri! went o$er to the 5"een. 0Any a $ice &or the Se!ecte 12 She smi!e her serene smi!e. ' i n(t )now what the other women !oo)e !i)e when she went thro"%h the Se!ection, #"t ' co"! n(t ima%ine anyone #ein% as %race&"! an !o$e!y as her. 0En-oy yo"r !ast ni%ht as an a$era%e %ir!. Tomorrow, no matter what, yo"r !i&e wi!! #e i&&erent &ore$er. An it(s o! a $ice, #"t it(s %oo ; .e yo"rse!&.2 0Wise wor s, my 5"een, wise wor s. An with that, !et "s re$ea! the thirty=&i$e yo"n% !a ies chosen &or the Se!ection. La ies an %ent!emen, p!ease -oin me in con%rat"!atin% the &o!!owin% 7a"%hters o& '!!4a?2 The screen chan%e to the nationa! em#!em. 'n the "pper ri%ht=han corner, there was a sma!! #o, with +a,on(s &ace, to see his reactions as the pict"res went across the monitor. He wo"! a!rea y #e ma)in% ecisions a#o"t them, the way we a!! wo"! . Ga$ri! ha a set o& car s in his han s, rea y to rea o"t the names o& the %ir!s whose wor! s, accor in% to the 5"een, were a#o"t to chan%e &ore$er. 0+iss E!ayna Sto!es o& Hansport, Three.2 A photo o& a tiny %ir! with porce!ain s)in poppe "p. She !oo)e !i)e a !a y. +a,on #eame . 0+iss T"es ay <eeper o& Wa$er!y, :o"r.2 A %ir! with &rec)!es appeare . She !oo)e o! er, more mat"re. +a,on whispere somethin% to the )in%. 0+iss :iona Cast!ey o& Pa!oma, Three.2 A #r"nette with smo! erin% eyes this time. +ay#e my a%e, #"t she seeme more * e,perience . ' t"rne to +om an +ay on the co"ch. 07oesn(t she seem aw&"!!y32 0+iss America Sin%er o& Caro!ina, :i$e.2 ' whippe my hea #ac) aro"n , an there it was. The pict"re o& me -"st a&ter '( &o"n o"t Aspen was sa$in% "p to marry me. ' !oo)e ra iant, hope&"!, #ea"ti&"!. ' !oo)e !i)e ' was in !o$e. An some i iot tho"%ht that !o$e was &or

Prince +a,on. +om screame #y my ear, an +ay -"mpe "p, sen in% popcorn e$erywhere. Gera %ot e,cite too an starte ancin%. 7a * it(s har to say, #"t ' thin) he was secret!y smi!in% #ehin his #oo). ' misse what +a,on(s e,pression was. The phone ran%. An it i n(t stop &or ays.

CHAPTER G

THE NEHT WEE< WAS :@LL o& o&&icia!s swarmin% into o"r ho"se to prepare me &or the Se!ection. There was an o#no,io"s woman who seeme to thin) '( !ie a#o"t ha!& my app!ication, &o!!owe #y an act"a! pa!ace %"ar who came to %o o$er sec"rity meas"res with the !oca! so! iers an %i$e o"r home a once= o$er. Apparent!y ' i n(t ha$e to wait "nti! %ettin% to the pa!ace to worry a#o"t potentia! re#e! attac)s. Won er&"!. We %ot two phone ca!!s &rom a woman name Si!$ia3who so"n e $ery per)y an #"siness!i)e at the same time3wantin% to )now i& we nee e anythin%. +y &a$orite $isitor was a !ean, %oatee man who came to meas"re me &or my new war ro#e. ' wasn(t s"re how ' &e!t a#o"t wearin% resses that were as &orma! as the 5"een(s a!! the time, #"t ' was !oo)in% &orwar to a chan%e. The !ast o& these $isitors came on We nes ay a&ternoon, two ays #e&ore ' was to !ea$e. He was in char%e o& %oin% o$er a!! the o&&icia! r"!es with me. He was incre i#!y s)inny with %reasy #!ac) hair that was smoothe #ac), an he )ept sweatin%. @pon enterin% the ho"se, he as)e i& there was somep!ace pri$ate we co"! ta!). That was my &irst c!"e that somethin% was %oin% on. 0We!!, we can sit in the )itchen, i& that(s a!! ri%ht,2 +om s"%%este . He a##e his hea with a han )erchie& an !oo)e o$er at +ay. 0Act"a!!y, anyp!ace is &ine. ' -"st thin) yo" mi%ht want to as) yo"r yo"n%er a"%hter to !ea$e the room.2 What co"! he possi#!y say that +ay co"! n(t hear1 0+ama12 she as)e , sa to #e missin% o"t. 0+ay, ar!in%, %o an wor) on yo"r paintin%. 8o"($e #een ne%!ectin% yo"r wor) a #it this !ast wee).2 0."t32 0Let me wa!) yo" o"t, +ay,2 ' o&&ere , !oo)in% at the tears we!!in% "p in her eyes. When we were own the ha!! an no one co"! hear, ' p"!!e her in &or a h"%. 07on(t worry,2 ' whispere . 0'(!! te!! yo" e$erythin% toni%ht. Promise.2 To her cre it, she i n(t #!ow o"r co$er #y -"mpin% "p an own as "s"a!. She mere!y no e som#er!y an went away to her !itt!e corner in 7a (s st" io. +om ma e tea &or S)inny, an we sat at the )itchen ta#!e to ta!). He ha a stac) o& papers an a pen !ai o"t ne,t to another &o! er with my name on it. He arran%e his in&ormation neat!y an spo)e. 0'(m sorry to #e so secreti$e, #"t there are certain thin%s ' nee to a ress that are "n&it &or yo"n% ears.2 +om an ' e,chan%e a 5"ic) %!ance. 0+iss Sin%er, this is %oin% to so"n harsh, #"t as o& !ast :ri ay, yo" are now consi ere property o& '!!4a. 8o" m"st ta)e care o& yo"r #o y &rom here on o"t. ' ha$e se$era! &orms &or yo" to si%n as we %o thro"%h this in&ormation.

Any &ai!"re to comp!y on yo"r part wi!! res"!t in yo"r imme iate remo$a! &rom the Se!ection. 7o yo" "n erstan 12 08es,2 ' sai wari!y. 0Aery %oo . Let(s start with the easy st"&&. These are $itamins. Since yo" are a :i$e, '(!! ass"me that yo" may not a!ways ha$e access to necessary n"trition. 8o" m"st ta)e one o& these e$ery ay. 8o"(re on yo"r own now, #"t at the pa!ace, yo"(!! ha$e someone to he!p yo".2 He passe a !ar%e #ott!e across the ta#!e to me, a!on% with a &orm ' ha to si%n to say that ' ha recei$e it. ' ha to stop myse!& &rom !a"%hin%. Who nee s he!p ta)in% a pi!!1 0' ha$e with me the physica! &rom yo"r octor. Not m"ch o& a worry there. 8o" seem to #e in e,ce!!ent hea!th, a!tho"%h he sai yo" ha$en(t #een s!eepin% we!!12 0@mm, ' mean * -"st with the e,citement, it(s #een a !itt!e har to s!eep.2 't was a!most the tr"th. The ays were whir!win s o& pa!ace preparation, #"t at ni%ht, when ' was sti!!, ' tho"%ht o& Aspen. 't was the one time ' co"! n(t a$oi him comin% into my min , an it appeare he wasn(t ea%er to !ea$e. 0' see. We!!, ' can ha$e some s!eep ai s here toni%ht i& yo" nee them. We want yo" we!! reste .2 0No, ' on(t32 08es,2 +om interr"pte . 0Sorry, honey, #"t yo" !oo) e,ha"ste . P!ease, %et her the s!eep ai s.2 08es, ma(am.2 S)inny ma e another note in my &i!e. 0+o$in% on. Now, ' )now this is persona!, #"t '($e ha to isc"ss it with e$ery contestant, so p!ease on(t #e shy.2 He pa"se . 0' nee con&irmation that yo" are, in &act, a $ir%in.2 +om(s eyes near!y poppe o"t. So this was why +ay ha to !ea$e. 0Are yo" serio"s12 ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e they( sen someone o"t to o this. At !east sen a woman* 0'(m a&rai so. '& yo"(re not, we nee to )now that imme iate!y.2 Eww. An with my mother in the room. 0' )now the !aw, sir. '(m not st"pi . O& co"rse ' am.2 0Consi er, p!ease. '& yo" are &o"n to #e !yin%*2 0:or %oo ness( sa)e, America(s ne$er e$en ha a #oy&rien ?2 +om sai . 0That(s ri%ht.2 ' %ra##e that rope, hopin% it wo"! en this isc"ssion. 0Aery %oo . '(!! -"st nee yo" to si%n this &orm to con&irm yo"r statement.2 ' ro!!e my eyes #"t o#eye . ' was %!a '!!4a e,iste , consi erin% that this $ery !an ha near!y #een t"rne to r"##!e, #"t these re%"!ations were startin% to ma)e me &ee! !i)e ' was s"&&ocatin%, !i)e there were in$isi#!e chains )eepin% me own. Laws a#o"t who yo" co"! !o$e, &orms a#o"t yo"r $ir%inity #ein% intact/ it was in&"riatin%. 0' nee to %o o$er the r"!es with yo". They are $ery strai%ht&orwar , an yo" sho"! n(t ha$e a har time comp!yin%. '& yo" ha$e any 5"estions, -"st spea) "p.2 He !oo)e "p &rom his stac) o& &orms an ma e eye contact with me. 0' wi!!,2 ' m"m#!e . 08o" cannot !ea$e the pa!ace o& yo"r own accor . 8o" ha$e to #e ismisse #y the prince himse!&. E$en the )in% an 5"een cannot &orce yo" o"t. They can te!! the prince they o not appro$e o& yo", #"t he ma)es e$ery ecision on who stays an who !ea$es. 0There is no set time!ine &or the Se!ection. 't can #e o$er in a matter o& ays or stretch into years.2 08ears12 ' as)e in horror. The tho"%ht o& #ein% %one that !on% set me on e %e. 0Not to worry. The prince is "n!i)e!y to !et it %o &or $ery !on%. This is a moment &or him to show his ecisi$eness, an a!!owin% the Se!ection to ra% on oesn(t !oo) %oo . ."t sho"! he choose to ta)e it that way, yo" wi!! #e re5"ire to stay &or as !on% as the prince nee s to ma)e his choice.2 +y &ear m"st ha$e shown on my &ace #eca"se +om reache o$er an patte my han . S)inny, howe$er, was "n&a6e . 08o" o not arran%e yo"r times with the prince. He wi!! see) yo" o"t &or one=on=one company i& he wants it. '& yo" are in a !ar%er socia! settin% an he is present, that is i&&erent. ."t yo" o

not %o to him witho"t in$itation. 0Whi!e no one e,pects yo" to %et a!on% with the other thirty=&o"r contestants, yo" are not to &i%ht with them or sa#ota%e them. '& yo" are &o"n !ayin% han s on another contestant, ca"sin% her stress, stea!in% &rom her, or oin% anythin% that mi%ht iminish her persona! re!ationship with the prince, it is in his han s whether or not to ismiss yo" on the spot. 08o"r on!y romantic re!ationship wi!! #e with Prince +a,on. '& yo" are &o"n writin% !o$e notes to someone here or are ca"%ht in a re!ationship with another person in the pa!ace, that is consi ere treason an is p"nisha#!e #y eath.2 +om ro!!e her eyes at that one, tho"%h that mi%ht #e the on!y r"!e that worrie me. 0'& yo" are &o"n #rea)in% any o& '!!4a(s written !aws, yo" wi!! recei$e the p"nishment tie to that o&&ense. 8o"r stat"s as one o& the Se!ecte oes not p"t yo" a#o$e the !aw. 08o" m"st not wear any c!othes or eat any &oo that is not speci&ica!!y pro$i e &or yo" #y the pa!ace. This is a sec"rity iss"e an wi!! #e strict!y en&orce . 0On :ri ays yo" wi!! #e present &or a!! Capita! Report #roa casts. On occasion, #"t a!ways with warnin%, there wi!! #e cameras or photo%raphers in the pa!ace, an yo" wi!! #e co"rteo"s an a!!ow them to see yo"r !i&esty!e with the prince. 0:or each wee) yo" stay at the pa!ace, yo"r &ami!y wi!! #e compensate . ' wi!! %i$e yo" yo"r &irst chec) #e&ore ' !ea$e. A!so, sho"! yo" not stay at the pa!ace, an ai e wi!! he!p yo" a -"st to yo"r !i&e a&ter the Se!ection. 8o"r ai e wi!! assist yo" with &ina! preparations #e&ore yo" !ea$e &or the pa!ace, as we!! as he!p yo" see) new ho"sin% an emp!oyment a&terwar . 0Sho"! yo" ma)e it to the top ten, yo" wi!! #e consi ere an E!ite. Once yo" reach that stat"s, yo" wi!! #e re5"ire to !earn a#o"t the partic"!ar inner wor)in%s o& the !i&e an o#!i%ations yo" wo"! ha$e as a princess. 8o" are not permitte to see) o"t s"ch etai!s #e&ore that time. 0:rom this moment on, yo"r stat"s is a Three.2 0A Three12 +om an ' #oth e,c!aime . 08es. A&ter the Se!ection, it(s har &or %ir!s to %o #ac) to their o! !i$es. Twos an Threes o &ine, #"t :o"rs an #e!ow ten to str"%%!e. 8o" are a Three now, #"t the rest o& yo"r &ami!y remain :i$es. Sho"! yo" win, yo" an yo"r entire &ami!y #ecome Ones as mem#ers o& the roya! &ami!y.2 0Ones.2 The wor was &aint on +om(s !ips. 0An sho"! yo" %o to the en , yo" wi!! marry Prince +a,on an #ecome the crowne princess o& '!!4a an ta)e on a!! the ri%hts an responsi#i!ities o& that tit!e. 7o yo" "n erstan 12 08es.2 That part, as #i% as it so"n e , was the easiest to #ear. 0Aery %oo . '& yo" co"! -"st si%n this &orm sayin% yo"($e hear a!! the o&&icia! r"!es, an +rs. Sin%er, i& yo" co"! -"st si%n this &orm sayin% yo" recei$e yo"r chec), p!ease.2 ' i n(t see the s"m, #"t it ma e her eyes we!!. ' was misera#!e at the i ea o& !ea$in%, #"t ' was s"re i& ' went there on!y to #e sent #ac) the ne,t ay, this chec) a!one wo"! pro$i e "s with eno"%h money &or a $ery com&orta#!e year. An when ' %ot #ac), e$eryone wo"! want me to sin%. '( ha$e p!enty o& wor). ."t wo"! ' #e a!!owe to sin% as a Three1 '& ' ha to pic) one o& the career paths o& a Three, ' thin) '( teach. +ay#e ' co"! at !east he!p others !earn m"sic. S)inny co!!ecte his &orms an stoo to !ea$e, than)in% "s &or o"r time an &or the tea. ' wo"! ha$e to interact with on!y one more o&&icia! #e&ore ' !e&t, an that wo"! #e my ai e; the person who wo"! %"i e me thro"%h %ettin% &rom my ho"se to the sen =o&& to the airport. An then * then '( #e on my own. O"r %"est as)e i& ' wo"! show him to the oor, an +om consente , as she wante to start inner. ' i n(t !i)e #ein% a!one with him, #"t it was a short

wa!). 0One more thin%,2 S)inny sai with his han on the oor. 0This isn(t e,act!y a r"!e, #"t it wo"! #e "nwise o& yo" to i%nore it. When yo" are in$ite to o somethin% with Prince +a,on, yo" o not re&"se. No matter what it is. 7inner, o"tin%s, )isses3more than )isses3anythin%. 7o not t"rn him own.2 0E,c"se me12 Was the same man who ma e me si%n a &orm a&&irmin% my p"rity s"%%estin% that ' !et +a,on ha$e it i& he wante it1 0' )now it so"n s * "n#ecomin%. ."t it wo"! not #ehoo$e yo" to re-ect the prince "n er any circ"mstances. Goo e$enin%, +iss Sin%er.2 ' was is%"ste , re$o!te . The !aw, '!!4an !aw, was that yo" were to wait "nti! marria%e. 't was an e&&ecti$e way o& )eepin% iseases at #ay, an it he!pe )eep the castes intact. '!!e%itimates were thrown into the street to #ecome Ei%hts, an the pena!ty &or #ein% isco$ere , either #y a person or thro"%h pre%nancy, was -ai! time. '& someone was e$en s"spicio"s, yo" co"! spen a &ew ni%hts in a ce!!. Tr"e, it restricte me &rom #ein% intimate with the one person ' !o$e , an that ha #othere me. ."t now that Aspen an ' were o$er, ' was %!a '( #een &orce to sa$e myse!&. ' was in&"riate . Ha n(t ' -"st si%ne a &orm sayin% '( #e p"nishe i& ' #ro)e '!!4an !aw1 ' wasn(t a#o$e the r"!es/ that was what he( sai . ."t apparent!y the prince was. An ' &e!t irty, !ower than an Ei%ht. 0America, honey, it(s &or yo",2 +om san%. '( hear the oor#e!! myse!& #"t was in no r"sh to answer it. '& this was another person as)in% &or an a"to%raph, ' i n(t thin) '( #e a#!e to han !e it. ' wa!)e own the ha!! an t"rne the corner. There, with a han &"! o& wi! &!owers, was Aspen. 0He!!o, America.2 His $oice was restraine , a!most pro&essiona!. 0He!!o, Aspen.2 +ine was wea). 0These are &rom <am#er an Ce!ia. They wante to wish yo" !"c).2 He c!ose the istance #etween "s an %a$e me the &!owers. :!owers &rom his sisters, not &rom him. 0That(s aw&"!!y sweet?2 +om e,c!aime . ' ha a!most &or%otten she was in the room. 0Aspen, '(m %!a yo"(re here.2 ' trie to so"n as remo$e as he ha . 0'($e ma e a mess tryin% to pac). Co"! yo" he!p me c!ean12 With my mom there, he ha to accept. As a %enera! r"!e, Si,es i n(t t"rn own wor). We were the same in that way. He e,ha!e thro"%h his nose an no e once. Aspen &o!!owe me own the ha!!. ' tho"%ht a#o"t how many times '( wante -"st this; &or Aspen to wa!) in my ho"se an come to my room. Co"! the circ"mstances ha$e #een any worse1 ' p"she open the oor to my room an Aspen !a"%he o"t !o" . 07i yo" !et a o% o yo"r pac)in%12 0Sh"t "p? ' ha a !itt!e tro"#!e &in in% what ' was !oo)in% &or.2 'n spite o& myse!&, ' smi!e . He went to wor), settin% thin%s "pri%ht an &o! in% shirts. ' he!pe , o& co"rse. 0Aren(t yo" ta)in% any o& these c!othes12 he whispere . 0No. They ress me &rom tomorrow on o"t.2 0Oh. Wow.2 0Were yo"r sisters isappointe 12 0No, act"a!!y.2 He shoo) his hea in is#e!ie&. 0The moment they saw yo"r &ace, the who!e ho"se er"pte . They(re cra6y a#o"t yo". +y mom in partic"!ar.2 0' !o$e yo"r mom. She(s a!ways rea!!y nice to me.2 A &ew min"tes passe in si!ence as my room went s!ow!y #ac) to norma!. 08o"r pict"re*,2 he #e%an, 0was a#so!"te!y #ea"ti&"!.2 't h"rt to ha$e him te!! me ' was #ea"ti&"!. 't wasn(t &air. Not a&ter e$erythin% he( one. 0't was &or yo",2 ' whispere . 0What12 0't(s -"st* ' tho"%ht yo" were %oin% to #e proposin% soon.2 +y $oice was thic). Aspen was 5"iet &or a moment, choosin% his wor s. 0'( #een thin)in% a#o"t it, #"t it oesn(t matter anymore.2 0't oes. Why i n(t yo" te!! me12 He r"##e his nec), eci in%. 0'

was waitin%.2 0:or what12 What co"! possi#!y #e worth waitin% &or1 0:or the ra&t.2 That was an iss"e. 't was har to )now whether to wish to #e ra&te or not. 'n '!!4a, e$ery nineteen= year=o! ma!e was e!i%i#!e &or it. So! iers were chosen at ran om twice a year, to catch e$eryone within si, months o& their #irth ay. 8o" ser$e &rom the time yo" were nineteen "nti! yo" were twenty= three. An it was comin% soon. We( ta!)e a#o"t it, o& co"rse, #"t not in a rea!istic way. ' %"ess we #oth hope that i& we i%nore the ra&t, it wo"! i%nore "s, too. 't was a #!essin% in that #ein% a so! ier meant yo" were an a"tomatic Two. The %o$ernment traine yo" an pai yo" &or the rest o& yo"r !i&e. The raw#ac) was yo" ne$er )new where yo" wo"! %o. They sent yo" away &rom yo"r pro$ince, &or s"re. They ass"me yo" were more !i)e!y to #e !enient with peop!e yo" )new. 8o" mi%ht en "p at the pa!ace or in some other pro$ince(s !oca! po!ice &orce. Or yo" mi%ht en "p in the army, shippe o&& to war. Not $ery many men sent into #att!e ma e it home. '& a man wasn(t marrie #e&ore the ra&t, he( a!most a!ways wait. 8o"( #e separate &rom yo"r wi&e &or &o"r years, at the $ery #est. At the worst, she( #e a yo"n% wi ow. 0' -"st* ' i n(t want to o that to yo",2 he whispere . 0' "n erstan .2 He strai%htene "p, tryin% to chan%e the s"#-ect. 0So what are yo" ta)in% to the pa!ace12 0A chan%e o& c!othes to wear whene$er they &ina!!y )ic) me o"t. Some pict"res an #oo)s. '($e #een to! ' won(t nee my instr"ments. Anythin% ' want wi!! #e there a!rea y. So that !itt!e #a% there, that(s it.2 The room was ti y now, an that #ac)pac) seeme h"%e &or some reason. The &!owers he( #ro"%ht !oo)e so #ri%ht on my es) compare to the ra# thin%s ' owne . Or may#e it was -"st that e$erythin% seeme pa!er now * now that it was o$er. 0That(s not m"ch,2 he note . 0'($e ne$er nee e $ery m"ch to #e happy. ' tho"%ht yo" )new that.2 He c!ose his eyes. 0Stop it, America. ' i the ri%ht thin%.2 0The ri%ht thin%1 Aspen, yo" ma e me #e!ie$e we co"! o it. 8o" ma e me !o$e yo". An then yo" ta!)e me into this amn contest. 7o yo" )now they(re practica!!y shippin% me o&& to #e one o& +a,on(s p!aythin%s12 He whippe his hea aro"n to &ace me. 0What12 0'(m not a!!owe to t"rn him own. Not &or anythin%.2 Aspen !oo)e sic), an%ry. His han s c!enche "p into &ists. 0E$en * e$en i& he oesn(t want to marry yo" * he co"! *12 08es.2 0'(m sorry. ' i n(t )now.2 He too) a &ew eep #reaths. 0."t i& he oes pic) yo" * that(!! #e %oo . 8o" eser$e to #e happy.2 That was it. ' s!appe him. 08o" i iot?2 ' whisper=ye!!e at him. 0' hate him? ' !o$e yo"? ' wante yo"/ a!! ' e$er wante was yo"?2 His eyes we!!e "p, #"t ' co"! n(t care. He( h"rt me eno"%h, an now it was his t"rn. 0' sho"! %o,2 he sai , an starte hea in% to the oor. 0Wait. ' i n(t pay yo".2 0America, yo" on(t ha$e to pay me.2 He went to !ea$e a%ain. 0Aspen Le%er, on(t yo" are mo$e?2 +y $oice was &ierce. An he stoppe , &ina!!y payin% attention to me. 0That(!! #e %oo practice &or when yo"(re a One.2 '& it ha n(t #een &or his eyes, ' wo"! ha$e tho"%ht it was a -o)e, not an ins"!t. ' -"st shoo) my hea an went to my es), p"!!in% o"t a!! the money '( earne #y myse!&. ' p"t e$ery !ast #it o& it in his han s. 0America, '(m not ta)in% this.2 0The he!! yo" aren(t. ' on(t nee it an yo" o. '& yo" e$er !o$e me at a!!, yo"(!! ta)e it. Hasn(t yo"r pri e one eno"%h &or "s12 ' co"! &ee! a part o& him sh"t own. He stoppe &i%htin%. 0:ine.2 0An here.2 ' "% #ehin my #e , p"!!e o"t my tiny -ar o& pennies, an po"re them into his han . One re#e!!io"s penny that m"st ha$e #een stic)y staye %!"e to the #ottom.

0Those were a!ways yo"rs. 8o" sho"! "se them.2 Now ' i n(t ha$e anythin% o& his. An once he spent those pennies o"t o& esperation, he wo"! n(t ha$e anythin% o& mine. ' &e!t the h"rt comin% "p. +y eyes %ot wet, an ' #reathe har to )eep the so#s #ac). 0'(m sorry, +er. Goo !"c).2 He sho$e the money an the pennies into his poc)ets an ran o"t. This wasn(t how ' tho"%ht '( cry. ' was e,pectin% h"%e, -arrin% so#s, not s!ow, tiny tears. ' starte to p"t the -ar on a she!&, #"t ' notice that !itt!e penny a%ain. ' p"t my &in%er in the -ar an %ot it "nst"c). 't ratt!e aro"n in the %!ass a!! #y itse!&. 't was a ho!!ow so"n , an ' co"! &ee! it echo in my chest. ' )new, &or #etter or &or worse, ' wasn(t rea!!y &ree o& Aspen, not yet. +ay#e not e$er. ' opene the #ac)pac), p"t in my -ar, an sea!e it a!! away. +ay sn"c) into my room, an ' too) one o& those st"pi pi!!s. ' &e!! as!eep ho! in% her, &ina!!y &ee!in% n"m#.

CHAPTER I

THE NEHT +ORN'NG, ' 7RESSE7 myse!& in the "ni&orm o& the Se!ecte ; #!ac) pants, white shirt, an my pro$ince &!ower3a !i!y3in my hair. +y shoes ' %ot to pic). ' chose worn=o"t re &!ats. ' &i%"re ' sho"! ma)e it c!ear &rom the start that ' wasn(t princess materia!. We were set to !ea$e &or the s5"are short!y. Each o& the Se!ecte was %ettin% a sen =o&& in her home pro$ince to ay, an ' wasn(t !oo)in% &orwar to mine. A!! those peop!e starin% whi!e ' i nothin% more than stan there. The who!e thin% a!rea y &e!t ri ic"!o"s, as ' ha to #e ri$en the two short mi!es &or sec"rity reasons. The ay #e%an "ncom&orta#!y. <enna came with 9ames to sen me o&&, which was )in o& her, consi erin% she was pre%nant an tire . <ota came #y, too, tho"%h his presence a e more tension than ease. As we wa!)e &rom o"r ho"se to the car we( #een pro$i e , <ota was #y &ar the s!owest, !ettin% the &ew photo%raphers an we!!=wishers who were there %et a %oo !oo) at him. 7a -"st shoo) his hea . +ay was my on!y so!ace. She he! my han an trie to in-ect some o& her enth"siasm into me. We were sti!! !in)e when ' steppe into the crow e s5"are. 't seeme !i)e e$eryone in the pro$ince o& Caro!ina came o"t to see me o&&. Or -"st see what the #i% ea! was. Stan in% on the raise sta%e, ' co"! see the #o"n aries #etween the castes. +ar%areta Stines was a Three, an she an her parents were starin% a%%ers at me. Teni!e 7i%%er was a Se$en, an she was #!owin% )isses. The "pper castes !oo)e at me !i)e '( sto!en somethin% that was theirs. The :o"rs on own were cheerin% &or me3an a$era%e %ir! who( #een e!e$ate . ' #ecame aware o& what ' meant to e$eryone here, as i& ' represente somethin% &or a!! o& them. ' trie to &oc"s in on those &aces, ho! in% my hea hi%h. ' was

etermine to o this we!!. ' wo"! #e the #est o& "s, the Hi%hest o& the Lows. 't %a$e me a sense o& p"rpose. America Sin%er; the champion o& the !ower castes. The mayor spo)e with a &!o"rish. 0An Caro!ina wi!! #e cheerin% on the #ea"ti&"! a"%hter o& +a% a an Sha!om Sin%er, the new La y America Sin%er?2 The crow c!appe an cheere . Some threw &!owers. ' too) in the so"n &or a moment, smi!in% an wa$in%, an then went #ac) to s"r$eyin% the crow , #"t this time &or a i&&erent p"rpose. ' wante to see his &ace one more time i& ' co"! . ' i n(t )now i& he wo"! come. He to! me ' !oo)e #ea"ti&"! yester ay #"t was e$en more istant an %"ar e than he ha #een in the tree ho"se. 't was o$er, an ' )new that. ."t yo" on(t !o$e someone &or a!most two years an then t"rn it o&& o$erni%ht. 't too) a &ew passes o& the crow #e&ore ' &o"n him. ' imme iate!y wishe ' ha n(t. Aspen was stan in% there with .renna ."t!er in &ront o& him, cas"a!!y ho! in% her aro"n the waist an smi!in%. +ay#e some peop!e co"! t"rn it o&& o$erni%ht. .renna was a Si, an a#o"t my a%e. Pretty eno"%h, ' s"ppose , tho"%h she i n(t !oo) a #it !i)e me. ' %"esse she( %et the we in% an !i&e he( #een sa$in% &or with me. An apparent!y the ra&t i n(t #other him so m"ch anymore. She smi!e at him an wa!)e away to her &ami!y. Ha he !i)e her a!! a!on%1 Was she the %ir! he saw e$ery ay an was ' the %ir! who &e him an showere him with )isses once a wee)1 't occ"rre to me that may#e a!! the time he omitte in o"r sto!en con$ersations wasn(t simp!y !on%, #orin% ho"rs o& in$entory. ' was too an%ry to cry. .esi es, ' ha a mirers here who wante my attention. So, witho"t Aspen e$en )nowin% that '( seen him, ' went #ac) to those a orin% &aces. ' p"t my smi!e #ac) on, #i%%er than e$er, an starte wa$in%. Aspen wo"! not ha$e the satis&action o& #rea)in% my heart anymore. He( p"t me here, an ' wo"! -"st ha$e to ta)e a $anta%e o& it. 0La ies an %ent!emen, p!ease -oin me in sen in% o&& America Sin%er, o"r &a$orite 7a"%hter o& '!!4a?2 the mayor ca!!e . .ehin me, a sma!! #an p!aye the nationa! anthem. +ore cheers, more &!owers. S" en!y the mayor was at my ear. 0Wo"! yo" !i)e to say somethin%, ear12 ' i n(t )now how to say no witho"t #ein% r" e. 0Than) yo", #"t '(m so o$erwhe!me , ' on(t thin) ' co"! .2 He c"ppe my han s in his. 0O& co"rse, ear %ir!. 7on(t yo" worry, '(!! ta)e care o& e$erythin%. They(!! train yo" &or this )in o& thin% at the pa!ace. 8o"(!! nee it.2 The mayor then to! the %athere crow o& my attri#"tes, s!y!y mentionin% that ' was $ery inte!!i%ent an attracti$e &or a :i$e. He i n(t seem too #a a %"y, #"t sometimes e$en the nicer mem#ers o& the "pper castes were con escen in%. ' ca"%ht Aspen(s &ace once more as my eyes swept the crow . He !oo)e paine . 't was the po!ar opposite o& the &ace he( worn with .renna a &ew min"tes a%o. Another %ame1 ' #ro)e my %a6e. The mayor &inishe spea)in%, an ' smi!e an e$eryone cheere , as i& he( -"st %i$en the most inspirin% speech )nown to man. An s" en!y it was time to say %oo =#ye. +itsy, my ai e, to! me to say my &arewe!!s 5"iet!y an #rie&!y, an then she( escort me #ac) to the car that wo"! ta)e me to the airport. <ota h"%%e me, te!!in% me he was pro" o& me. Then, not so s"#t!y, he to! me to mention his art to Prince +a,on. ' wi%%!e o"t o& that em#race as %race&"!!y as ' co"! . <enna was cryin%. 0' #are!y see yo" as it is. What wi!! ' o when yo"(re %one12 she crie . 07on(t worry. '(!! #e home soon eno"%h.2 08eah, ri%ht? 8o"(re the most #ea"ti&"! %ir! in '!!4a. He(!! !o$e yo"?2 Why i

e$eryone thin) it a!! came own to #ea"ty1 +ay#e it i . +ay#e Prince +a,on i n(t nee a wi&e to spea) to, -"st someone to !oo) pretty. ' act"a!!y shi$ere , consi erin% that as my &"t"re. ."t there were many %ir!s m"ch more attracti$e than me %oin%. <enna was har to h"% o$er her pre%nant #e!!y, #"t we mana%e . 9ames, who ' rea!!y i n(t )now that we!!, h"%%e me, too. Then it was Gera . 0.e a %oo #oy, o)ay1 Try the piano. '(!! #et yo"(re ama6in%. ' e,pect to hear it a!! when ' come home.2 Gera -"st no e , a#r"pt!y sa . He threw his tiny arms aro"n me. 0' !o$e yo", America.2 0' !o$e yo", too. 7on(t #e sa . '(!! #e home soon.2 He no e a%ain, #"t crosse his arms to po"t. '( ha no i ea he( ta)e my !ea$in% this way. 't was the e,act opposite o& +ay. She was #o"ncin% on her toes, a#so!"te!y %i y. 0Oh, America, yo"(re %oin% to #e the princess? ' )now it?2 0Oh, h"sh? '( rather #e an Ei%ht an stay with yo" any ay. 9"st #e %oo &or me, an wor) har .2 She no e an #o"nce some more, an then it was time &or 7a , who was c!ose to tears. 07a y? 7on(t cry.2 ' &e!! into his arms. 0Listen to me, )itten. Win or !ose, yo"(!! a!ways #e a princess to me.2 0Oh, 7a y.2 ' &ina!!y starte to cry. That was a!! it too) to "n!eash the &ear, the sa ness, the worry, the ner$es3the one sentence that meant none o& it mattere . '& ' came #ac) "se an "nwante , he( sti!! #e pro" o& me. 't was too m"ch to #ear, to #e !o$e that m"ch. '( #e s"rro"n e #y scores o& %"ar s at the pa!ace, #"t ' co"! n(t ima%ine a p!ace sa&er than my &ather(s arms. ' p"!!e away an t"rne to h"% +om. 07o whate$er they te!! yo". Try to stop s"!)in% an #e happy. .eha$e. Smi!e. <eep "s poste . Oh? ' -"st )new yo"( t"rn o"t to #e specia!.2 't was meant to #e sweet, #"t it wasn(t what ' nee e to hear. ' wishe she co"! ha$e sai that ' was a!rea y somethin% specia! to her, !i)e ' was to my &ather. ."t ' %"esse she wo"! ne$er stop wantin% more &or me, more &rom me. +ay#e that(s what mothers i . 0La y America, are yo" rea y12 +itsy as)e . +y &ace was away &rom the crow , an ' 5"ic)!y wipe away my tears. 08es. A!! rea y.2 +y #a% was waitin% in the shiny white car. This was it. ' starte to wa!) to the e %e o& the sta%e to the stairs. 0+er?2 ' t"rne . '( )now that $oice anywhere. 0America?2 ' searche an &o"n Aspen(s &!ai!in% arms. He was p"shin% the crow asi e, peop!e protestin% at his not=so=%ent!e sho$es. O"r eyes met. He stoppe an stare . ' co"! n(t rea his &ace. Worry1 Re%ret1 Whate$er it was, it was too !ate. ' shoo) my hea . ' was one with Aspen(s %ames. 0This way, La y America,2 +itsy instr"cte &rom the #ottom o& the stairs. ' %a$e myse!& a 5"ic) secon to a#sor# my new name. 0Goo = #ye, sweetheart,2 my mother ca!!e . An ' was !e away.

CHAPTER J

' WAS THE :'RST ONE to the airport, an ' was #eyon terri&ie . The %i

e,citement o& the crow ha &a e , an now ' was &ace with the horri&ic e,perience o& &!yin%. ' wo"! #e tra$e!in% with three other Se!ecte %ir!s, an ' trie to %et contro! o& my ner$es. ' rea!!y i n(t want to ha$e a panic attac) in &ront o& them. '( a!rea y memori6e the names, &aces, an castes o& a!! the Se!ecte . 't starte as a therape"tic e,ercise, somethin% to ca!m me own. ' i the same thin% with memori6in% sca!es an #its o& tri$ia. Ori%ina!!y, ' ha #een !oo)in% &or &rien !y &aces, %ir!s ' mi%ht want to spen time with whi!e ' was there. '( ne$er rea!!y ha a &rien . '( spent most o& my chi! hoo p!ayin% with <enna an <ota. +om i a!! my schoo!in%, an she was the on!y person ' wor)e with. When the o! er si#!in%s mo$e on, ' e icate myse!& to +ay an Gera . An Aspen* ."t Aspen an ' were ne$er -"st &rien s. :rom the moment ' #ecame tr"!y aware o& him, ' was in !o$e with him. Now he was ho! in% some other %ir!(s han . Than) %oo ness ' was a!one. ' co"! n(t ha$e han !e the tears in &ront o& the other %ir!s. 't ache . ' ache . An there was nothin% ' co"! o.How in the he!! i ' %et here1 A month a%o, ' was s"re o& e$erythin% in my !i&e, an now any !itt!e piece o& &ami!iarity was %one. New home, new caste, new !i&e. A!! #eca"se o& a st"pi piece o& paper an a pict"re. ' wante to sit an cry, to mo"rn &or e$erythin% '( !ost. ' won ere i& any o& the others %ir!s were sa to ay. ' ima%ine that e$eryone e,cept &or me was ce!e#ratin%. An ' at !east nee e to !oo) !i)e ' was too, #eca"se e$eryone wo"! #e watchin%. ' #race myse!& &or a!! that was comin%, an ' ma e myse!& #e #ra$e. As &or e$erythin% ' was !ea$in% #ehin , ' eci e '( o -"st that; !ea$e him #ehin . The pa!ace wo"! #e my sanct"ary. '( ne$er thin) or say his name a%ain. He wasn(t a!!owe to come with me there3my own r"!e &or this !itt!e a $ent"re. No more. Goo =#ye, Aspen. A#o"t ha!& an ho"r !ater, two %ir!s in white shirts an #!ac) pants -"st !i)e mine wa!)e thro"%h the oors with their own ai es ha"!in% their #a%s. They were #oth smi!in%, con&irmin% my tho"%ht that ' was the on!y one o& the Se!ecte who mi%ht #e epresse to ay. 't was time to &o!!ow thro"%h on my promise. ' p"t on a smi!e an stoo to sha)e their han s. 0Hi,2 ' sai #ri%ht!y. 0'(m America.2 0' )now?2 sai the %ir! on the ri%ht. She was a #!on e with #rown eyes. ' reco%ni6e her imme iate!y as +ar!ee Tames o& <ent. A :o"r. She i n(t #other with my e,ten e han / she mo$e in &or an imme iate h"%. 0Oh?2 ' e,ha!e . ' ha n(t e,pecte that. Tho"%h +ar!ee was one o& the %ir!s whose &aces seeme %en"ine an &rien !y, +om ha #een te!!in% me &or the !ast wee) to !oo) at these %ir!s as enemies, an her o&&ensi$e thin)in% ha !ea)e into my own. So here ' was e,pectin% at the $ery #est a cor ia! we!come &rom the %ir!s who were prepare to &i%ht me to the eath &or someone ' i n(t want. 'nstea ' was em#race . 0'(m +ar!ee an this is Ash!ey.2 8es, Ash!ey .ro"i!!ette o& A!!ens, Three. She ha #!on hair, too, #"t m"ch !i%hter than +ar!ee(s. An her eyes were $ery #!"e, which !oo)e e!icate in her peace&"! &ace. She seeme &ra%i!e ne,t to +ar!ee. They were #oth &rom the North/ ' %"esse that was why they came to%ether. Ash!ey %a$e a neat !itt!e wa$e an smi!e , #"t that was it. ' wasn(t s"re i& she was shy or i& she was a!rea y tryin% to &i%"re "s o"t. +ay#e it was that she was a Three #y #irth an )new to #eha$e #etter. 0' !o$e yo"r hair?2 +ar!ee %"she . 0' wish '( #een #orn with re hair. 't ma)es yo" !oo) so a!i$e. ' hear that peop!e with re hair ha$e #a tempers. 's that tr"e12 7espite my rotten ay, +ar!ee(s manner was so $i$acio"s that my

smi!e %rew wi er. 0' on(t thin) so. ' mean, ' can ha$e a #a temper at times, #"t my sister is a re hea , an she(s as sweet as can #e.2 With that we sett!e into an easy con$ersation a#o"t what %ot "s ma an what a!ways &i,e o"r moo s. +ar!ee !i)e mo$ies, an so i ', tho"%h ' rare!y %ot to see them. We ta!)e a#o"t actors who were "n#eara#!y attracti$e, which seeme stran%e since we were o&& to #e +a,on(s pac) o& %ir!&rien s. Ash!ey %i%%!e e$ery once in a whi!e #"t ne$er more than that. '& she was as)e a irect 5"estion, she( %i$e a #rie& answer an %o #ac) to her %"ar e smi!e. +ar!ee an ' %ot a!on% easi!y, an it %a$e me hope that may#e '( come o"t o& this with a &rien to show &or it. Tho"%h we ta!)e &or pro#a#!y ha!& an ho"r, the time &!ew #y. We wo"! n(t ha$e stoppe ta!)in% e,cept &or the istinct so"n o& hi%h hee!s c!ic)in% across the &!oor. O"r hea s a!! t"rne in "nison, an ' hear +ar!ee(s mo"th open with a pop. There, wa!)in% towar "s, was a #r"nette with s"n%!asses on. She ha a aisy in her hair, #"t it ha #een ye re to match her !ipstic). Her hips swaye as she wa!)e , an each &a!! o& her three=inch hee!s accent"ate her con&i ent stri e. @n!i)e +ar!ee an Ash!ey, she i n(t smi!e. ."t it wasn(t #eca"se she was "nhappy. No, she was &oc"se . Her entrance was meant to inspire intimi ation. An it wor)e on !a y!i)e Ash!ey, who ' hear #reathe an 0Oh, no2 as the new %ir! wa!)e c!oser. This person, who ' reco%ni6e as Ce!este Newsome o& C!ermont, Two, i n(t #other me. She ass"me we were &i%htin% &or the same thin%. ."t yo" can(t #e p"she i& it(s somethin% yo" on(t want. Ce!este &ina!!y reache "s, an +ar!ee s5"ea)e o"t a he!!o, tryin% to #e &rien !y e$en in the mi st o& intimi ation. Ce!este mere!y !oo)e her o$er an si%he . 0When o we !ea$e12 she as)e . 0We on(t )now,2 ' answere witho"t a hint o& &ear. 08o"($e #een ho! in% "p the show.2 She i n(t !i)e that at a!!, an ' %ot a once=o$er &rom her. She wasn(t impresse . 0Sorry, 5"ite a &ew peop!e wante to see me o&&. ' co"! n(t he!p it.2 She smi!e wi e, as i& it was o#$io"s she was meant to #e worshippe . An ' was a#o"t to s"rro"n myse!& with %ir!s !i)e this. Great. As i& on c"e, a man appeare thro"%h the oor to o"r !e&t. 0' hear a!! &o"r o& o"r Se!ecte %ir!s are here12 0We s"re are,2 Ce!este rep!ie sweet!y. The man sort o& me!te a !itt!e, yo" co"! see it in his eyes. Ah. So this was her %ame. The captain pa"se a moment an then snappe to. 0We!!. La ies, i& yo"(!! -"st &o!!ow me, we(!! %et yo" on the p!ane an o&& to yo"r new home.2 The &!i%ht, which was rea!!y on!y terri&yin% "rin% the ta)eo&& an !an in%, !aste a &ew short ho"rs. We were o&&ere mo$ies an &oo , #"t a!! ' wante to o was !oo) o"t the win ow. ' watche the co"ntry &rom a#o$e, ama6e at -"st how #i% it a!! was. Ce!este chose to s!eep thro"%h the &!i%ht, which was a sma!! mercy. Ash!ey ha a &o! o"t es) set "p an was a!rea y writin% !etters a#o"t her a $ent"re. That was smart o& her to pac) paper. ' #et +ay wo"! !o$e to hear a#o"t this part o& the -o"rney, e$en tho"%h it i n(t inc!" e the prince. 0She(s so e!e%ant,2 +ar!ee whispere to me, ti!tin% her hea towar Ash!ey. We were sittin% across &rom each other in p!"sh seats in the $ery &ront o& the sma!! p!ane. 0:rom the moment we met, she(s #een nothin% #"t proper. She(s %oin% to #e to"%h competition,2 she sai with a si%h. 08o" can(t thin) a#o"t it that way,2 ' answere . 08es, yo"(re tryin% to ma)e it to the en , #"t not #y #eatin% someone e!se. 8o"($e -"st %ot to #e yo". Who )nows1 +ay#e +a,on wo"! pre&er someone more re!a,e .2 +ar!ee tho"%ht that o$er. 0' %"ess that(s a %oo point. 't(s har to

not !i)e her. She(s aw&"!!y )in . An so #ea"ti&"!.2 ' no e in a%reement. +ar!ee(s $oice roppe to a whisper. 0Ce!este, on the other han *2 ' wi ene my eyes an shoo) my hea . 0' )now. 't(s on!y #een an ho"r, an '(m a!rea y !oo)in% &orwar to her %oin% home.2 +ar!ee co$ere her mo"th to hi e a !a"%h. 0' on(t want to ta!) #a !y a#o"t anyone, #"t she(s so a%%ressi$e. An +a,on(s not e$en aro"n yet. '(m a !itt!e ner$o"s a#o"t her.2 07on(t #e,2 ' ass"re her. 0Gir!s !i)e that1 They(!! ta)e themse!$es o"t o& the competition.2 +ar!ee si%he . 0' hope so. Sometimes ' wish*2 0What12 0We!!, sometimes ' wish that the Twos ha an i ea a#o"t what it &e!t !i)e to #e treate the way they treat "s.2 ' no e . '( ne$er rea!!y tho"%ht o& myse!& #ein% on the same !e$e! as a :o"r, #"t ' %"ess we were in a simi!ar p!ace. '& yo" weren(t a Two or Three, it was -"st $aryin% sha es o& #a . 0Than)s &or ta!)in% to me,2 she sai . 0' was worrie that e$eryone wo"! -"st #e o"t &or themse!$es, #"t yo" an Ash!ey ha$e #een rea!!y nice. +ay#e this wi!! #e &"n.2 Her $oice !i&te with hope. ' wasn(t so s"re, #"t ' smi!e #ac). ' ha no reason to sh"n +ar!ee or #e r" e to Ash!ey. The other %ir!s mi%ht not #e so !ai =#ac). When we !an e , the air was si!ent as we wa!)e the istance &rom the p!ane to the termina! with %"ar s at o"r si e. ."t once the oors were opene , we were met with ear=shatterin% screams. The termina! was &"!! o& peop!e -"mpin% an cheerin%. A path ha #een c!eare &or "s with a %o! en carpet !ine with coor inatin% rope #arriers. At re%"!ar inter$a!s a!on% this channe! were %"ar s, !oo)in% aro"n an,io"s!y an poise to stri)e at the &irst hint o& an%er. S"re!y there were more important thin%s they sho"! #e oin%1 L"c)i!y, Ce!este was in &ront, an she starte wa$in%. ' )new imme iate!y that that was the ri%ht response, not the cowerin% ' ha #een consi erin%. An since the cameras were there to catch o"r e$ery mo$e, ' was o"#!y %!a ' ha n(t #een !ea in% the pac). The crow was wi! with -oy. These wo"! #e the peop!e we !i$e the c!osest to, an they were a!! !oo)in% &orwar to catchin% the &irst %!impses o& the %ir!s comin% to town. One o& "s wo"! #e their 5"een some ay. ' t"rne my hea a o6en times in a matter o& secon s as peop!e ca!!e my name &rom a!! o$er the pac)e termina!. There were si%ns with my name on them, too. ' was ama6e . A!rea y there were peop!e here3peop!e not in my caste or &rom my pro$ince3who hope it wo"! #e me. ' &e!t a !itt!e ro!! o& %"i!t in my stomach that ' wo"! !et them a!! own. ' roppe my hea &or a moment an saw a !itt!e %ir! presse "p a%ainst the rai!in%. She co"! n(t ha$e #een more than twe!$e years o! . 'n her han s was a si%n that sai RE7=HEA7S R@LE? with a !itt!e crown painte in the corner an tiny stars e$erywhere. ' )new ' was the on!y re hea in the competition, an ' notice that her hair an mine were $ery near!y the same sha e. The %ir! wante an a"to%raph. .esi e her, someone wante a photo%raph, an #esi e him someone wante to sha)e my han . So ' went practica!!y own the entire !ine, t"rnin% aro"n once or twice to ta!) to peop!e on the other si e o& the carpet, too. ' was the !ast one to !ea$e, ma)in% the other %ir!s wait at !east twenty min"tes &or me. F"ite honest!y, ' pro#a#!y wo"! n(t ha$e !e&t as soon as ' i e,cept the ne,t p!ane o& Se!ecte %ir!s was comin% in, an it seeme r" e to o$er!ap their time. Gettin% into the car, ' saw Ce!este ro!! her eyes, #"t ' i n(t care. ' was sti!! sort o& in awe o& how '( a -"ste so 5"ic)!y to somethin% that ha &ri%htene me on!y moments #e&ore. ' ha ma e it thro"%h my

%oo =#yes, meetin% the &irst %ir!s, my &!i%ht, an interactin% with o"r mo# o& &ans. A!! witho"t oin% anythin% em#arrassin%. ' tho"%ht a#o"t the cameras &o!!owin% me in the termina! an pict"re my &ami!y watchin% my entrance on TA. ' hope they( #e pro" .

CHAPTER K

EAEN A:TER THE S@.STANT'AL GREET'NG party at the airport, the roa s !ea in% "p to the pa!ace were !ine with masses o& peop!e ca!!in% o"t their we!!=wishes. The sa thin% was that we weren(t a!!owe to ro!! own the win ows to ac)now!e %e them. The %"ar in the &ront sai to thin) o& o"rse!$es as e,tensions o& the roya! &ami!y. +any a ore "s, #"t there were peop!e o"t there who wo"! n(t #e a#o$e h"rtin% "s to h"rt the prince. Or the monarchy itse!&. ' was st"c) ne,t to Ce!este in the car3a specia! one that ha two rows o& seats &acin% each other in the #ac) an ar)ene win ows3with Ash!ey an +ar!ee sittin% to%ether in &ront o& "s. +ar!ee #eame as she stare o"t the win ows, an it was o#$io"s why. Her name was on se$era! o& the si%ns. 't wo"! #e impossi#!e to co"nt how many a mirers she ha . Ash!ey(s name was sprin)!e in there, too, a!most as m"ch as Ce!este(s, an &ar more than mine. Ash!ey, e$er the !a y, too) not #ein% a r"naway &a$orite in stri e. Ce!este, ' co"! see, was irritate . 0What o yo" thin) she i 12 Ce!este whispere in my ear, as +ar!ee an Ash!ey spo)e to each other o& home. 0What o yo" mean12 ' whispere #ac). 0To #e so pop"!ar. 8o" thin) she #ri#e someone12 Her co! eyes &oc"se in on +ar!ee as i& she was wei%hin% her worth in her hea . 0She(s a :o"r,2 ' sai o"#t&"!!y. 0She wo"! n(t ha$e the means to #ri#e someone.2 Ce!este s"c)e her teeth. 0P!ease. A %ir! has more than one way she can pay &or what she wants,2 she sai , an p"!!e away to !oo) o"t the win ow. 't too) me a moment to "n erstan what she was s"%%estin%, an it i n(t sit we!! with me. Not #eca"se it was o#$io"s that someone as innocent as +ar!ee wo"! ne$er thin) a#o"t s!eepin% with someone to %et ahea 3or e$en consi er #rea)in% a !aw3#"t #eca"se it was #ecomin% c!ear that !i&e at the pa!ace mi%ht #e more $icio"s than ' ha ima%ine . ' i n(t ha$e a $ery %oo $iew comin% "p to the pa!ace, #"t ' notice the wa!!s. They were a pa!e ye!!ow st"cco an $ery, $ery hi%h. G"ar s were p!ace on top at either si e o& the wi e %ate that sw"n% open as we approache . 'nsi e we were %reete with a !on% %ra$e! ri$e that circ!e a &o"ntain an !e to the &ront oors, where o&&icia!s waite to we!come "s. With #are!y more than a he!!o, two women too) me #y the arms an "shere me insi e. 0So sorry to r"sh, miss, #"t yo"r %ro"p is r"nnin% !ate,2 one sai . 0Oh, '(m a&rai that(s my &a"!t. ' %ot a !itt!e too chatty at the airport.2 0Ta!)in% to the crow s12 the other as)e in s"rprise. They e,chan%e a !oo) ' i n(t

"n erstan #e&ore they starte ca!!in% o"t !ocations as we passe . The inin% room was to the ri%ht, they to! me, an the Great Room was to the !e&t. ' ca"%ht a %!impse o& spraw!in% %ar ens o"t the %!ass oors an wishe ' co"! stop. .e&ore ' co"! e$en process where we were %oin%, they p"!!e me into a h"%e room &"!! o& #"st!in% peop!e. A swarm parte , an ' saw rows o& mirrors with peop!e wor)in% on %ir!s( hair an paintin% their nai!s. C!othes h"n% on rac)s, an peop!e were sho"tin% thin%s !i)e 0' &o"n the ye?2 an 0That ma)es her !oo) p" %y.2 0Here they are?2 ' saw a woman comin% "p to "s, c!ear!y the person in char%e. 0'(m Si!$ia. We spo)e on the phone,2 she sai as a means o& intro "ction, then imme iate!y went to wor). 0:irst thin%s &irst. We nee >#e&ore( pict"res. Come o$er here,2 she comman e , pointin% "s to a chair in the corner in &ront o& a #ac) rop. 07on(t min the cameras, !a ies. We(!! #e oin% a specia! on yo"r ma)eo$ers, since e$ery %ir! in '!!4a(s %oin% to want to !oo) !i)e yo" #y the time we(re one to ay.2 S"re eno"%h, teams o& peop!e with cameras were wan erin% aro"n the room, 6oomin% in on %ir!s( shoes, an inter$iewin% them. Once the pict"res were one, Si!$ia #e%an sho"tin% or ers. 0Ta)e La y Ce!este to station &o"r, La y Ash!ey to &i$e * an it !oo)s !i)e they -"st &inishe "p at ten. Ta)e La y +ar!ee there, an La y America to si,.2 0So here(s the thin%,2 a short, ar)=haire man sai , p"!!in% me o$er to a seat with a si, on the #ac). 0We nee to ta!) a#o"t yo"r ima%e.2 He was a!! #"siness. 0+y ima%e12 Wasn(t ' -"st me1 Wasn(t that what %ot me here1 0How o we want to ma)e yo" !oo)1 With that re hair, we can ma)e yo" 5"ite the temptress, #"t i& yo" want to p!ay that )in o& thin% own, we can wor) that o"t, too,2 he sai matter=o&=&act!y. 0'(m not chan%in% e$erythin% a#o"t me to cater to some %"y ' on(t e$en )now.2 Or !i)e, ' a e in my hea . 0Oh, my. 7o we ha$e an in i$i "a! here12 he san%, as i& ' were a chi! . 0Aren(t we a!!12 The man smi!e at me. 0:ine, then. We won(t chan%e yo"r ima%e, we(!! -"st enhance it. ' nee to po!ish yo" "p a #it, #"t yo"r a$ersion to a!! thin%s &a)e mi%ht -"st #e yo"r %reatest asset here. Ho! on to that, honey.2 He patte me on the #ac) an wa!)e away, sen in% a %ro"p o& women swarmin% my way. ' i n(t rea!i6e that when he sai 0po!ish,2 he meant it !itera!!y. ' ha women scr"# my #o y #eca"se ' apparent!y co"! n(t #e tr"ste to o a %oo eno"%h -o# on my own. Then e$ery e,pose #it o& s)in was co$ere with !otions an oi!s that !e&t me sme!!in% !i)e $ani!!a, which accor in% to the %ir! who app!ie them was one o& +a,on(s &a$orite sme!!s. A&ter they were one ma)in% me smooth an s"pp!e, attention was t"rne to my nai!s. They were trimme an #"&&e an the to"%h !itt!e pieces o& s)in aro"n them were mirac"!o"s!y smoothe away. ' to! them '( pre&er not to ha$e my nai!s painte , #"t they !oo)e so isappointe that ' to! them they co"! o my toes. The one %ir! pic)e a nice ne"tra! sha e, so it wasn(t too #a . The team o& peop!e who wor)e on my nai!s !e&t me &or another %ir!, an ' sat 5"iet!y in my chair, waitin% &or the ne,t ro"n o& #ea"ti&ication. A camera crew came past, 6oomin% in on my han s. 07on(t mo$e,2 a woman or ere . She s5"inte at my han . 07o yo" e$en ha$e anythin% on yo"r nai!s12 0No.2 She si%he , %ot her shot, an mo$e on. ' hea$e a hea$y si%h myse!&. O"t o& the corner o& my eye, ' saw a -er)in% motion -"st to my ri%ht. ' !oo)e an saw a %ir! starin% into nowhere whi!e her !e% #o"nce "p an own "n er a !ar%e cape they( rape o$er her. 08o" o)ay12 ' as)e . +y $oice shoc)e her o"t o& her trance.

She si%he . 0They want to ye my hair #!on . They sai it wo"! !oo) #etter with my s)in tone. '(m -"st ner$o"s, ' %"ess.2 She %a$e me a ti%ht smi!e, an ' ret"rne it. 08o"(re Sosie, ri%ht12 08eah.2 She smi!e in earnest then. 0An yo"(re America12 ' no e . 0' hear yo" came in with that Ce!este %ir!. She(s terri#!e?2 ' ro!!e my eyes. Since we( arri$e , e$ery &ew min"tes the entire room co"! hear Ce!este ye!!in% at some poor mai to #rin% her somethin% or to %et o"t o& her way. 08o" ha$e no i ea,2 ' m"ttere , an we #oth %i%%!e . 0Listen, ' thin) yo"r hair(s $ery pretty.2 't was, too. Not too ar), not too !i%ht, an $ery &"!!. 0Than)s.2 0'& yo" on(t want to chan%e it, yo" sho"! n(t ha$e to.2 Sosie smi!e , #"t ' co"! te!! she wasn(t comp!ete!y s"re i& ' was tryin% to #e &rien !y or ho! her #ac). .e&ore she co"! say anythin%, teams o& peop!e came to wor) on "s, irectin% one another so !o" !y there was no way &or "s to &inish ta!)in%. +y hair was washe , con itione , hy rate , an smoothe . 't was !on% an a!! one !en%th when ' came in3my mom "s"a!!y c"t it, an that was the #est she co"! o3#"t #y the time they were one, it was se$era! inches shorter an ha !ayers. ' !i)e those/ they ma e my hair catch the !i%ht in interestin% ways. Some %ir!s %ot thin%s ca!!e hi%h!i%hts, an others, !i)e Sosie, ha the co!or chan%e comp!ete!y. ."t my atten ants an ' a!! a%ree that mine sho"! %o "nto"che in that epartment. A $ery pretty=!oo)in% %ir! i my ma)e"p. ' instr"cte her to %o !i%ht, an it was nice. Lots o& the other %ir!s !oo)e a !itt!e o! er or yo"n%er or -"st nicer a&ter the ma)e"p. ' sti!! !oo)e !i)e me when ' was one. O& co"rse, so i Ce!este, since she insiste "pon pi!in% it on. '( %one thro"%h most o& this process in a ro#e, an once they were one &i,in% me "p, ' was !e o$er to the rac)s o& c!othes. +y name was han%in% a#o$e a #ar ho! in% a wee)(s worth o& resses. ' %"esse princesses=in=trainin% i n(t wear pants. The one ' en e "p in was a cream co!or. 't &e!! o&& my sho"! ers, &it sn"%!y at my waist, an hit -"st at my )nees. The %ir! he!pin% me into it ca!!e it a ay ress. She to! me that my e$enin% resses were a!rea y in my room, an the rest o& these wo"! %o "p there as we!!. Then she p!ace a si!$er pin near the top o& my ress. +y name %!ittere across it. :ina!!y she p"t me into shoes she ca!!e )itten hee!s an sent me #ac) to the corner so ' co"! ta)e my 0a&ter2 shot. :rom there ' was or ere to one o& &o"r !itt!e stations !ine "p a%ainst the wa!!. Each ha a chair with a #ac) rop an a camera sittin% in &ront o& it. ' sat own as instr"cte an waite . A woman came "p with a c!ip#oar o& in&ormation in her han an as)e me to #e patient whi!e she &o"n my papers. 0What(s this &or12 ' as)e . 0The ma)eo$er specia!. We(!! #e airin% one a#o"t yo"r arri$a!s toni%ht, the ma)eo$ers are on We nes ay, an then :ri ay yo"(!! o yo"r &irst Report. Peop!e ha$e seen yo"r pict"res an )now a !itt!e #it a#o"t what was on yo"r app!ications,2 she sai as she !ocate her papers an p!ace them on the top o& her c!ip#oar . Then she !ace her &in%ers to%ether an contin"e . 0."t we want to ma)e them rea!!y p"!! &or yo". An that won(t happen "n!ess they can %et to )now yo". So we(!! -"st o a !itt!e inter$iew here, an yo" o yo"r #est on the Reports, an then on(t #e shy when yo" see "s aro"n the pa!ace. We aren(t here e$ery ay, #"t we(!! #e aro"n .2 0O)ay,2 ' sai mee)!y. ' rea!!y i n(t want to ta!) to camera crews. 't a!! &e!t so intr"si$e. 0So, America Sin%er, yes12 she as)e -"st secon s a&ter a re !i%ht !it "p on the top o& the camera. 08es.2 ' trie to p"sh the ner$es o"t o& my $oice. 0' ha$e to #e honest, yo"

on(t !oo) !i)e yo" chan%e too m"ch to me. Can yo" te!! "s what happene in yo"r ma)eo$er to ay12 ' tho"%ht. 0They p"t !ayers in my hair. ' !i)e that.2 ' ran my &in%ers thro"%h the re stran s, &ee!in% how so&t my hair was a&ter pro&essiona! care. 0An they co$ere me in $ani!!a !otion. ' )in o& sme!! !i)e essert,2 ' sai , sni&&in% my arm. She !a"%he . 0't is !o$e!y. An that ress rea!!y s"its yo".2 0Than)s,2 ' sai , !oo)in% own at my new c!othes. 0' on(t typica!!y wear a !ot o& resses, so this is %oin% to ta)e a !itt!e %ettin% "se to.2 0That(s ri%ht,2 my inter$iewer sai . 08o"(re one o& on!y three :i$es in the Se!ection. How has this e,perience #een so &ar12 ' searche my hea &or somethin% that wo"! escri#e how e$erythin% ha &e!t to ay. :rom my isappointment in the s5"are to the sensation o& &!yin% to the com&ort o& +ar!ee. 0S"rprisin%,2 ' sai . 0' ima%ine there wi!! #e more s"rprisin% ays to come,2 she commente . 0' hope they(re at !east a !itt!e ca!mer than to ay,2 ' sai with a si%h. 0How o yo" &ee! a#o"t yo"r competition so &ar12 ' swa!!owe . 0The %ir!s are a!! rea!!y nice.2 With one %!arin% e,ception. 0+m= hmm,2 she sai , seein% thro"%h my answer. 0So how o yo" &ee! a#o"t the way yo"r ma)eo$er t"rne o"t1 Worrie a#o"t anyone e!se(s !oo)12 ' consi ere that. To say no so"n e snotty, to say yes so"n e nee y. 0' thin) the sta&& has one a %reat -o# #rin%in% o"t each %ir!(s in i$i "a! #ea"ty.2 She smi!e an sai , 0A!! ri%ht, ' thin) that(!! #e eno"%h.2 0That(s a!!12 0We ha$e to &it thirty=&i$e o& yo" into an ho"r an a ha!&, so that wi!! #e p!enty.2 0O)ay.2 That wasn(t so #a . 0Than) yo" &or yo"r time. 8o" can hea o$er to that co"ch o$er there, an yo"(!! #e ta)en care o&.2 ' stoo an went to sit on the !ar%e circ"!ar co"ch in the corner. Two %ir!s ' ha yet to meet were sittin% there, ta!)in% 5"iet!y. ' !oo)e aro"n the room an saw someone anno"ncin% that the !ast #atch was hea in% in. A new &!"rry #e%an aro"n the stations. ' was &oc"se on it an a!most i n(t notice +ar!ee sit own #esi e me. 0+ar!ee? Loo) at yo"r hair?2 0' )now. They p"t e,tensions in it. 7o yo" thin) +a,on wi!! !i)e it12 She !oo)e %en"ine!y worrie . 0O& co"rse? What %"y oesn(t !i)e a %or%eo"s #!on e12 ' sai with a p!ay&"! smi!e. 0America, yo"(re so nice. A!! those peop!e at the airport !o$e yo".2 0Oh, ' was -"st #ein% &rien !y. 8o" met peop!e, too,2 ' co"ntere . 08eah, #"t not ha!& as many as yo".2 ' !owere my hea , a !itt!e em#arrasse &or #ein% comp!imente o$er somethin% that seeme so o#$io"s. When ' !oo)e "p, ' t"rne to the other two %ir!s sittin% with "s. Emmica .rass an Samantha Lowe!! an ' ha n(t #een intro "ce , #"t ' )new who they were. ' i a o"#!e ta)e. They were !oo)in% at me &"nny. .e&ore ' ha time to %"ess why, Si!$ia, the woman &rom ear!ier, approache "s. 0A!! ri%ht, %ir!s, are we a!! rea y12 She chec)e her watch an !oo)e at "s e,pectant!y. 0'(m %oin% to %i$e yo" a 5"ic) to"r an ta)e yo" to yo"r assi%ne rooms.2 +ar!ee c!appe her han s, an the &o"r o& "s rose to !ea$e. Si!$ia to! "s the space we were c"rrent!y "sin% to %et pampere was the Women(s Room. @s"a!!y the 5"een, her mai s, an the han &"! o& other &ema!e &ami!y mem#ers entertaine themse!$es there. 0Get "se to that room3yo"(!! #e spen in% a !ot o& time there. Now, on yo"r way in yo" passe the Great Room, which is %enera!!y "se &or parties an #an5"ets. '& there were too many more o& yo" !a ies here, that(s where yo"( #e ta)in% yo"r mea!s. ."t the re%"!ar inin% room is !ar%e eno"%h to meet yo"r nee s. Let(s ta)e a 5"ic) step in there.2 We were shown where the roya! &ami!y ate, at a

ta#!e a!one. We wo"! #e seate at !on% ta#!es to either si e, so the set"p !oo)e !i)e a $ery sti&& @. O"r p!aces were c"rrent!y assi%ne , set with e!e%ant p!ace mar)ers. ' wo"! #e sittin% ne,t to Ash!ey an Tiny Lee, who '( seen %o thro"%h the Women(s Room ear!ier, an across &rom <riss Am#ers. We !e&t the inin% ha!! an contin"e on own a set o& stairs an saw the room "se to #roa cast the '!!4a Capita! Report. .ac) "pstairs o"r %"i e pointe own a ha!! where the )in% an +a,on spent most o& their time wor)in%. That area was o&&=!imits to "s. 0Another thin% that is o&&=!imits; the thir &!oor. The roya! &ami!y has their pri$ate rooms "p there, an any sort o& intr"sion wi!! not #e to!erate . 8o"r rooms are a!! !ocate on the secon &!oor. 8o" wi!! inha#it a !ar%e portion o& the %"est rooms. Not to worry, tho"%h/ we sti!! ha$e room &or any $isitors comin% thro"%h. 0These oors here %o o"t to the #ac) %ar en. He!!o, Hector, +ar)son.2 The two %"ar s at the oors %a$e her a 5"ic) no . 't too) me a moment to reco%ni6e that the !ar%e archway to o"r ri%ht was the si e oor to the Great Room, meanin% the Women(s Room was -"st aro"n the corner. ' was pro" o& myse!& &or &i%"rin% that o"t. The pa!ace was )in o& !i)e an op"!ent ma6e. 08o" are not to %o o"tsi e "n er any circ"mstances,2 Si!$ia contin"e . 07"rin% the ay, there wi!! #e times when yo" can %o into the %ar en, #"t not witho"t permission. This is mere!y a sa&ety restriction. Try as we may, re#e!s ha$e %otten within the %ro"n s #e&ore.2 A chi!! went own my #o y. We ro"n e a corner an wa!)e "p the massi$e stairs to the secon &!oor. The carpets &e!t so !"sh "n er my shoes, !i)e ' was sin)in% an inch e$ery time ' too) a step. Hi%h win ows !et in !i%ht, an it sme!!e !i)e &!owers an s"nshine. Lar%e paintin%s h"n% on the wa!!s, epictin% the )in%s o& the past an a &ew ren erin%s o& o! American an Cana ian !ea ers. At !east, that(s what ' %"esse they were. They i n(t wear any crowns. 08o"r thin%s are a!rea y in yo"r rooms. '& the ecor is "ns"ita#!e, -"st te!! yo"r mai s. 8o" each ha$e three, an they are a!rea y in yo"r rooms, too. They wi!! he!p with any "npac)in% yo" mi%ht ha$e an wi!! he!p yo" %et resse &or inner. 0.e&ore inner toni%ht, yo" wi!! meet in the Women(s Room &or a specia! screenin% o& the '!!4a Capita! Report. Ne,t wee), yo"(!! a!! #e on the show yo"rse!$es? Toni%ht yo"(!! %et to see some o& the &oota%e they($e ta)en o& yo" !ea$in% yo"r homes an arri$in% here. 't promises to #e $ery specia!. 8o" sho"! )now that Prince +a,on hasn(t seen anythin% yet to ay. He(!! see what a!! o& '!!4a wi!! see toni%ht, an then yo" wi!! o&&icia!!y meet him tomorrow. 08o" %ir!s wi!! a!! #e ha$in% inner as a %ro"p, so yo" wi!! #e a#!e to meet one another, an then, tomorrow, the %ames #e%in?2 ' %"!pe . Too many r"!es, too m"ch str"ct"re, too many peop!e. ' -"st wante to #e a!one with a $io!in. We mo$e across the secon &!oor, roppin% o&& Se!ecte %ir!s at their rooms. +ine was t"c)e aro"n a corner in a !itt!e ha!!way with .arie!, Tiny, an 9enna. ' was %!a it wasn(t 5"ite in the mi !e o& thin%s, !i)e +ar!ee(s room was. +ay#e '( ha$e a !itt!e pri$acy !i)e this. Once Si!$ia !e&t, ' opene my oor to the e,cite %asps o& three women. One was sewin% in a corner, an the others were c!eanin% an a!rea y per&ect room. They sc"rrie o$er an intro "ce themse!$es as L"cy, Anne, an +ary, #"t ' &or%ot which was which a!most imme iate!y. 't too) 5"ite a #it o& con$incin% to %et them to !ea$e. ' i n(t want to #e r" e since they were so ea%er to ser$e, #"t ' nee e time a!one. 0' -"st nee a !itt!e nap. '(m s"re yo"($e ha a !on% ay, too, %ettin% rea y an a!!. The #est thin% yo" co"! o

is !et me rest, %et some rest yo"rse!$es, an p!ease come wa)e me "p when it(s time to %o ownstairs.2 There was a &!"rry o& than)s an #ows, which ' trie to isco"ra%e, an then ' was a!one. 't i n(t he!p. ' trie to stretch o"t on my #e , #"t e$ery part o& my #o y p"!!e ti%ht, re&"sin% to !et me %et com&orta#!e in a p!ace that was so o#$io"s!y not meant &or me. There was a $io!in in the corner, as we!! as a %"itar an a %or%eo"s piano, #"t ' co"! n(t #rin% myse!& to #other with them. +y #ac)pac) was sec"re!y &astene , waitin% at the &oot o& my #e , #"t that &e!t !i)e too m"ch wor), too. ' )new they( set specia! thin%s &or me in my c!oset an rawers an #athroom, #"t ' i n(t &ee! !i)e e,p!orin%. ' -"st !ay there, sti!!. 't &e!t !i)e on!y a &ew moments #e&ore my mai s 5"iet!y tappe on my oor. ' !et them in an , as stran%e as it was, !et them ress me. They were -"st so e,cite to #e he!p&"!, ' co"! n(t as) them to !ea$e a%ain. They p"!!e parts o& my hair #ac) with e!icate pins an &reshene my ma)e"p. The ress3which, a!on% with the rest o& my war ro#e, ha #een create #y their han s3was eep %reen an &!oor !en%th. Witho"t those tiny hee!s a%ain '( st"m#!e a!! o$er it. Si!$ia )noc)e on my oor prompt!y at si, to ta)e me an my three nei%h#ors own the ha!!. We waite in the &oyer #y the stairway &or e$eryone to come an then marche own to the Women(s Room. +ar!ee spotte me, an we wa!)e to%ether. The so"n o& thirty=&i$e pairs o& hee!s on the mar#!e stairs was the m"sic o& some e!e%ant stampe e. There were a &ew m"rm"rs, #"t most %ir!s were si!ent. ' notice as we passe the inin% room that the oors were c!ose . Was the roya! &ami!y in there now1 Perhaps ta)in% in one !ast mea! as the three o& them1 't seeme stran%e that we were their %"ests #"t ha n(t met a sin%!e one o& them yet. The Women(s Room ha chan%e since we !e&t. The mirrors an rac)s were a!! %one, an ta#!es an chairs otte the &!oor a!on% with some $ery com&orta#!e=!oo)in% co"ches. +ar!ee !oo)e at me an inc!ine her hea towar one o& the co"ches, an we sat there to%ether. Once we were a!! sett!e the TA was t"rne on, an we watche the Report. There were the same anno"ncements as e$er3#" %et "p ates &or pro-ects, pro%ress o& the war, an another re#e! attac) in the East 3an then the !ast ha!& ho"r was Ga$ri! ma)in% commentary o$er &oota%e o& o"r ay. 0Here +iss Ce!este Newsome says %oo =#ye to her many a mirers in C!ermont. 't too) this !o$e!y yo"n% !a y more than an ho"r to #rea) away &rom her &ans.2 ' saw Ce!este smi!e sm"%!y as she watche herse!& onscreen. She was sittin% ne,t to .arie! Pratt, who ha hair strai%ht as a #one an so pa!e #!on it !oo)e white as it &e!! to her waist. There was no mi! way to p"t it; Her #reasts were h"%e. They crept o"t o& her strap!ess ress, temptin% anyone to try an i%nore them. .arie! was #ea"ti&"!, #"t in a typica! way. 't was simi!ar to Ce!este(s sty!e. ' wasn(t s"re e,act!y how, #"t the ima%e o& them si e #y si e prompte the tho"%ht, <eep yo"r enemies c!oser. ' thin) they( sin%!e each other o"t ri%ht away as the other(s stron%est competition. 0The others &rom the +i east were -"st as pop"!ar. Ash!ey .ro"i!!ette(s 5"iet, re&ine emeanor sets her apart imme iate!y as a !a y. As she carries herse!& thro"%h the crow , she wears a h"m#!e, #ea"ti&"! e,pression not too i&&erent &rom the &ace o& the 5"een herse!&.2 0An +ar!ee Tames o& <ent was a!! #"##!es as she eparte to ay, sin%in% the nationa! anthem with her sen =o&& #an .2 Pict"res o& +ar!ee smi!in% an em#racin% peop!e &rom her home pro$ince &!ashe across the screen. 0She(s an imme iate &a$orite o& se$era!

peop!e we inter$iewe to ay.2 +ar!ee reache o$er an s5"ee6e my han . That sett!e it/ ' was p"!!in% &or +ar!ee. 0A!so tra$e!in% with +iss Tames was America Sin%er, one o& on!y three :i$es who ma e it into the Se!ection.2 They ma e me !oo) #etter than ' &e!t in the moment. A!! ' remem#ere was searchin% the crow s, sa . ."t the &oota%e they chose o& me searchin% ma e me appear mat"re an carin%. The ima%e o& me h"%%in% my &ather was to"chin%, #ea"ti&"!. Sti!!, it was nothin% compare to the ima%es o& me in the airport. 0."t we )now castes mean nothin% in the Se!ection, an it seems La y America is not to #e o$er!oo)e . @pon !an in% in An%e!es, La y Sin%er was the crow ar!in% at the airport, stoppin% to ta)e pict"res, si%n a"to%raphs, an simp!y spea) to anyone there. +iss America Sin%er is not a&rai to %et her han s irty, a 5"a!ity that many #e!ie$e o"r ne,t princess nee s.2 Near!y e$eryone t"rne to !oo) at me. ' co"! see it in their eyes, the same !oo) '( %otten &rom Emmica an Samantha. S" en!y those stares ma e sense. +y intentions i n(t matter. They i n(t )now ' i n(t want this. 'n their eyes, ' was a threat. An ' co"! see they wante me %one.

CHAPTER 1L

' <EPT +8 HEA7 7OWN at inner. 'n the Women(s Room ' co"! #e #ra$e #eca"se +ar!ee was #esi e me, an she -"st tho"%ht ' was nice. ."t here, san wiche #etween peop!e whose hate ' co"! &ee! ra iatin% o&& in wa$es, ' was a cowar . ' !oo)e "p &rom my p!ate once to see <riss Am#ers twir!in% her &or) menacin%!y. An Ash!ey, who was so !a y!i)e, ha her !ips po"te an i n(t spea) to me. ' -"st wante to escape to my room. ' i n(t "n erstan why it was a!! so important. So the peop!e seeme to !i)e me, so what1 They were o"tran)e in here/ their !itt!e si%ns an cheers i n(t matter. A&ter e$erythin% was sai an one, ' i n(t )now whether to &ee! honore or annoye . ' &oc"se my ener%ies on the &oo . The !ast time '( ha stea) was &or Christmas a &ew years a%o. ' )new +om i her #est, #"t it was nothin% !i)e this. So -"icy, so ten er, so &!a$or&"!. ' wante to as) someone e!se i& this wasn(t the #est stea) they( e$er ha . '& +ar!ee ha #een near#y, ' wo"! ha$e. ' too) a tentati$e pee) aro"n the room. +ar!ee was chatterin% 5"iet!y with the peop!e aro"n her. How i she mana%e to o that1 Ha n(t that same c!ip ec!are her one o& the imme iate &a$orites1 How i she %et peop!e to ta!) to her1 7essert was an assortment o& &r"its in $ani!!a ice cream. 't was !i)e '( ne$er eaten #e&ore. '& this was &oo , what ha ' #een p"ttin% in my mo"th "p to this point1 ' tho"%ht o& +ay an her e5"a! !o$e &or a!! thin%s sweet. She wo"! ha$e !o$e this. ' #et she wo"! ha$e e,ce!!e here. We weren(t a!!owe to !ea$e inner "nti! e$eryone ha &inishe , an a&ter that we were "n er strict or ers to %o strai%ht to #e . 08o"(!! #e meetin% Prince

+a,on in the mornin%, an yo"(!! want to !oo) yo"r #est,2 Si!$ia instr"cte . 0He is someone in this room(s &"t"re h"s#an , a&ter a!!.2 A &ew %ir!s si%he at the tho"%ht. The c!ic) an c!ac) o& shoes "p the stairs was 5"ieter this time aro"n . ' co"! n(t wait to %et o"t o& mine. O"t o& the ress, too. ' ha one set o& c!othes &rom home in my #ac)pac) an was e#atin% p"ttin% them on -"st to &ee! !i)e myse!& &or a moment. We isperse at the top o& the stairs, each %ir! hea in% o&& to her own room. +ar!ee p"!!e me asi e. 0Are yo" o)ay12 she as)e . 08es. 't(s -"st that some o& the %ir!s were !oo)in% at me &"nny "rin% inner.2 ' trie not to come across as whiny. 0They(re -"st a !itt!e ner$o"s #eca"se e$eryone !i)e yo" so m"ch,2 she sai , wa$in% o&& their #eha$ior. 0."t the peop!e !i)e yo", too. ' saw the si%ns. Why weren(t the %ir!s #ein% mean to yo"12 08o" ha$en(t spent a who!e !ot o& time with %ro"ps o& %ir!s, ha$e yo"12 She was smi!in% s!y!y, !i)e ' sho"! )now what was happenin%. 0No. 9"st my sisters most!y,2 ' con&esse . 0Homeschoo!e 12 08es.2 0We!!, ' %et t"tore with a #"nch o& other :o"rs #ac) home, a!! %ir!s, an they each ha$e their ways o& %ettin% "n er other peop!e(s s)in. See, it(s a!! a#o"t )nowin% the person, &i%"rin% o"t what wi!! #"% them the most. Lots o& %ir!s %i$e me #ac)han e comp!iments, or !itt!e remar)s, thin%s !i)e that. ' )now ' come across as #"##!y, #"t '(m shy "n erneath that, an they thin) they can wear me own with wor s.2 ' scr"nche my &orehea . They i that on p"rpose1 0:or yo", someone )in o& 5"iet an mysterio"s32 0'(m not mysterio"s,2 ' interr"pte . 08o" are a !itt!e. An sometimes peop!e on(t )now whether to interpret si!ence as con&i ence or &ear. They(re !oo)in% at yo" !i)e yo"(re a #"% so may#e yo"(!! &ee! !i)e yo" are one.2 0H"h.2 That )in o& ma e sense. ' won ere what ' was oin%, i& ' was pic)in% away at others( insec"rities somehow. 0What o yo" o1 When yo" want to %et the #est o& them, ' mean12 She smi!e . 0' i%nore it. ' )now one %ir! at home who %ets so irritate when she can(t #other yo", she -"st en s "p s"!)in%. So on(t worry,2 she sai . 0A!! yo" ha$e to o is not !et them )now they(re %ettin% to yo".2 0They(re not.2 0' a!most #e!ie$e yo" * #"t not 5"ite.2 She !a"%he a !itt!e, a warm so"n that e$aporate in the 5"iet ha!!way. 0Can yo" #e!ie$e we meet him in the mornin%12 she as)e , mo$in% on to more important thin%s in her eyes. 0No, act"a!!y, ' can(t.2 +a,on seeme !i)e a %host ha"ntin% the pa!ace3imp!ie #"t ne$er rea!!y there. 0We!!, %oo !"c) tomorrow.2 An ' co"! te!! she meant it. 0.etter !"c) to yo", +ar!ee. '(m s"re Prince +a,on wi!! #e more than p!ease to meet yo".2 ' s5"ee6e her han one time. She smi!e in a way that was #oth e,cite an timi an wa!)e o&& to her room. When ' %ot to mine, .arie!(s oor was sti!! open, an ' hear her m"tterin% somethin% to a mai . She ca"%ht si%ht o& me an s!amme the oor in my &ace. Than)s &or that. +y mai s were there, o& co"rse, waitin% to he!p me wash an "n ress. +y ni%ht%own, a &!imsy !itt!e %reen thin%, ha #een !ai o"t &or me on the #e . <in !y, none o& them ha to"che my #a%. They were e&&icient #"t p"rpose&"!. They o#$io"s!y ha this en =o&=the= ay ro"tine own, #"t they i n(t r"sh thro"%h it. ' s"ppose the e&&ect was meant to #e soothin%, #"t ' was rea y to ha$e them %one. ' co"! n(t spee them "p as they washe my han s an "n!ace my ress an pinne my si!$er name ta% to my si!)en ni%ht%own. An as they i a!! these thin%s that ma e me incre i#!y se!&=conscio"s, they as)e 5"estions. ' trie to answer them witho"t #ein% r" e. 8es, '( &ina!!y seen a!! the other %ir!s. No, they weren(t

$ery ta!)ati$e. 8es, inner was &antastic. No, ' wo"! n(t meet the prince "nti! tomorrow. 8es, ' was $ery tire . 0An it wo"! rea!!y he!p me win own i& ' co"! ha$e some time a!one,2 ' a e to the en o& that !ast answer, hopin% they wo"! ta)e the hint. They !oo)e isappointe . ' trie to reco$er. 08o"(re a!! $ery he!p&"!. '(m -"st "se to spen in% time a!one. An '($e #een swarme with peop!e to ay.2 0."t La y Sin%er, we(re s"ppose to he!p yo". 't(s o"r -o#,2 the hea %ir! sai . '( &i%"re o"t that she was Anne. Anne seeme to #e on top o& thin%s, +ary was easy%oin%, an L"cy ' %"esse was -"st shy. 0' rea!!y o appreciate yo" a!!, an '(!! e&inite!y want yo"r he!p %ettin% starte tomorrow. ."t toni%ht, ' -"st nee to "nwin . '& yo" want to #e he!p&"!, some time to myse!& wo"! #e %oo &or me. An i& yo"(re a!! reste , '(m s"re it wi!! ma)e thin%s #etter in the mornin%, ri%ht12 They !oo)e at one another. 0We!!, ' s"ppose so,2 Anne ac5"iesce . 0One o& "s is s"ppose to stay here whi!e yo" s!eep. 'n case yo" nee somethin%.2 L"cy !oo)e ner$o"s, !i)e she was a&rai o& whate$er ecision ' wo"! ma)e. She seeme to ha$e !itt!e tremors now an then, which ' %"esse was her shyness comin% to the s"r&ace. 0'& ' nee anythin%, '(!! rin% the #e!!. 't(!! #e &ine. .esi es, ' won(t #e a#!e to rest )nowin% someone(s watchin% me.2 They !oo)e at one another a%ain, sti!! a !itt!e s)eptica!. ' )new one way to stop this, #"t ' hate "sin% it. 08o"(re s"ppose to o#ey my e$ery comman , ri%ht12 They no e hope&"!!y. 0Then ' comman yo" a!! to %o to #e . An come he!p me in the mornin%. P!ease.2 Anne smi!e . ' co"! te!! she was startin% to %et me. 08es, La y Sin%er. We(!! see yo" in the mornin%.2 They c"rtsie an 5"iet!y !e&t the room. Anne %a$e me one !ast !oo). ' s"ppose ' wasn(t 5"ite what she ha #een e,pectin%. She i n(t seem too "pset a#o"t it, tho"%h. Once they were %one, ' steppe o"t o& my &ancy s!ippers an stretche my toes on the &!oor. 't &e!t %oo , nat"ra!, to #e #are&oot. ' went to "npac) my thin%s, which was 5"ic). ' )ept my chan%e o& c!othes t"c)e in the #a% an store it in my massi$e c!oset. ' s"r$eye the resses as ' i so. There were on!y a &ew. Eno"%h to %et me thro"%h a wee) or so. ' ass"me this was the same &or e$eryone. Why ma)e a o6en resses &or a %ir! who mi%ht !ea$e the ne,t ay1 ' too) the &ew photos ' ha o& my &ami!y an st"c) them in the e %e o& my mirror. 't stretche so hi%h an wi e, ' co"! !oo) at the pict"res witho"t ha$in% anythin% interr"pt my $iew o& myse!&. ' ha a sma!! #o, o& persona! trin)ets3earrin%s an ri##ons an hea #an s ' !o$e . They( pro#a#!y !oo) incre i#!y p!ain here, #"t they were a!! so persona! that '( ha to ha$e them with me. The &ew #oo)s '( #ro"%ht &o"n their way to the he!p&"! she!& near the oors that opene to my #a!cony. ' pee)e o"t the entry to the #a!cony an saw the %ar en. There was a ma6e o& paths with &o"ntains an #enches. :!owers #!ossome e$erywhere, an each he %e was per&ect!y trimme . Past this o#$io"s!y manic"re piece o& !an was a short, open &ie! an then a massi$e &orest. 't stretche #ac) so &ar that ' co"! n(t te!! i& it was entire!y c!ose in #y pa!ace wa!!s. ' won ere &or a moment why it e,iste an then e#ate the !ast artic!e &rom home that ' he! in my han . +y tiny -ar with its ratt!in% penny. ' ro!!e it in my han s a &ew times, !istenin% to the penny s)ate aro"n the e %es o& the %!ass. Why ha ' e$en #ro"%ht this1 To remin myse!& o& somethin% ' co"! n(t ha$e1 That tiny tho"%ht3that this !o$e ' ha #een #"i! in% in a 5"iet, secret p!ace &or years was rea!!y #eyon my reach now3ma e my eyes we!! "p. On top o& a!! the tension an

e,citement o& the ay, it was -"st too m"ch. ' i n(t )now where the -ar(s permanent p!ace here wo"! #e, #"t &or the moment ' set it on the ta#!e #y my #e . ' imme the !i%hts, craw!e "p on top o& the !","rio"s #!an)ets, an stare at my -ar. ' !et myse!& #e sa . ' !et myse!& thin) o& him. How ha ' !ost so m"ch in s"ch a short perio o& time1 't wo"! seem !i)e !ea$in% yo"r &ami!y, !i$in% in some &orei%n p!ace, an #ein% separate &rom the person yo" !o$e sho"! #e e$ents that ta)e years to ro!! into p!ace, not -"st a ay. ' won ere what e,act!y he ha wante to te!! me #e&ore ' !e&t. The on!y thin% ' co"! e "ce was that he i n(t &ee! com&orta#!e sayin% it o"t !o" . Was it a#o"t her1 ' stare at the -ar. +ay#e he was tryin% to say he was sorry1 ' ha %i$en him a so"n sco! in% !ast ni%ht. So perhaps that was it. That he( mo$e on1 We!!, ' co"! see that pretty c!ear!y myse!&, than) yo" $ery m"ch. That he ha n(t mo$e on1 That he sti!! !o$e me1 ' sh"t the tho"%ht own. ' co"! n(t !et that hope #"i! in me. ' nee e to hate him ri%ht now. That an%er wo"! )eep me %oin%. Stayin% as &ar away &rom him as ' co"! &or as !on% as possi#!e was ha!& my reason &or #ein% here. ."t the hope ache . An with the hope came homesic)ness, wishin% +ay was snea)in% into my #e !i)e she sometimes i . An then &ear that the other %ir!s wante me %one, that they mi%ht )eep tryin% to ma)e me &ee! sma!!. An then ner$o"sness at #ein% presente to the nation on te!e$ision &or as !on% as ' was here. An terror that peop!e mi%ht try to )i!! me -"st to ma)e a po!itica! statement. 't a!! came at me too &ast &or my i66y hea to comp"te a&ter s"ch a !on% ay. +y $ision %ot #!"rry. ' i n(t e$en re%ister that '( starte cryin%. ' co"! n(t #reathe. ' was sha)in%. ' -"mpe "p an ran to the #a!cony. ' was so panic)e , it too) me a moment to open the !atch, #"t ' i . ' tho"%ht the &resh air wo"! #e eno"%h, #"t it wasn(t. +y #reaths were sti!! sha!!ow an co! . There was no &ree om in this. The #ars o& my #a!cony ca%e me in. An ' co"! sti!! see the wa!!s aro"n the pa!ace, hi%h with %"ar s atop the points. ' nee e to #e o"tsi e the pa!ace, an no one was %oin% to !et that happen. 7esperation ma e me &ee! e$en wea)er. ' !oo)e at the &orest. '( #et ' co"! n(t see anythin% #"t %reenery &rom there. ' t"rne an #o!te . ' was a !itt!e "nstea y with the tears in my eyes, #"t ' mana%e to %et o"t the oor. ' ran own the one ha!!way ' )new, not seein% the art or the rapery or %o! en trim. ' #are!y notice the %"ar s. ' i n(t )now my way aro"n the pa!ace, #"t ' )new i& ' %ot own the stairs an t"rne the ri%ht way, '( see the massi$e %!ass oors that !e to the %ar en. ' -"st nee e the oors. ' ran own the %ran stairwe!!, my #are &eet ma)in% s!appin% so"n s on the mar#!e. There were a &ew more %"ar s a!on% the way, #"t no one stoppe me. That is, "nti! ' act"a!!y &o"n the p!ace ' was !oo)in% &or. 9"st !i)e ear!ier, two men were statione at either si e o& the oors, an when ' trie to r"n &or them, one o& them steppe in my way, the spear!i)e sta&& in his han #arrin% me &rom the e,it. 0E,c"se me, miss, yo" nee to %o #ac) to yo"r room,2 he sai with a"thority. E$en tho"%h he wasn(t spea)in% !o" !y, his $oice seeme th"n ero"s in the sti!! o& the e!e%ant ha!!way. 0No * no. ' nee * o"tsi e.2 The wor s were tan%!e / ' co"! n(t #reathe ri%ht. 0+iss, yo" nee to %et #ac) to yo"r room now.2 The secon %"ar was ta)in% steps towar me. 0P!ease.2 ' starte %aspin%. ' tho"%ht ' mi%ht &aint. 0'(m sorry* La y America, is it12 He &o"n my pin. 08o" nee to %o #ac) to yo"r room.2 0' * ' can(t #reathe,2 ' stammere , &a!!in% into

the %"ar (s arms as he mo$e c!ose eno"%h to p"sh me away. His sta&& &e!! to the %ro"n . ' &ee#!y c!awe at him, &ee!in% woo6y with the e&&ort. 0Let her %o?2 This was a new $oice, yo"n% #"t &"!! o& a"thority. +y hea ha!& t"rne , ha!& &e!! in its irection. There was Prince +a,on. He !oo)e a !itt!e o , than)s to the an%!e my hea was han%in% at, #"t ' reco%ni6e the hair an the sti&& way he stoo . 0She co!!apse , 8o"r +a-esty. She wante to %o o"tsi e.2 The &irst %"ar !oo)e ner$o"s as he e,p!aine . He wo"! #e in terri#!e an%er i& he ama%e me. ' was the property o& '!!4a now. 0Open the oors.2 0."t3 8o"r +a-esty32 0Open the oors an !et her %o. Now?2 0Ri%ht away, 8o"r Hi%hness.2 The &irst %"ar went to wor), p"!!in% o"t a )ey. +y hea staye in its stran%e position as ' hear the so"n o& )eys c!an)in% a%ainst one another an then one s!i in% into the !oc). The prince !oo)e at me wari!y as ' trie to stan . An then the sweet sme!! o& &resh air p"!se thro"%h me, %i$in% me a!! the moti$ation ' nee e . ' p"!!e myse!& o"t o& the %"ar (s arms an ran !i)e a r"n) into the %ar en. ' was sta%%erin% 5"ite a #it, #"t ' i n(t care i& ' !oo)e !ess than %race&"!. ' -"st nee e to #e o"tsi e. ' !et myse!& &ee! the warm air on my s)in, the %rass #eneath my toes. Somehow e$en thin%s in nat"re seeme to #e #re into somethin% e,tra$a%ant here. ' meant to %o a!! the way into the trees, #"t my !e%s on!y carrie me so &ar. ' co!!apse in &ront o& a sma!! stone #ench an sat there, my &ine %reen ni%ht%own in the irt, an my hea restin% in my arms on the seat. +y #o y i n(t ha$e the ener%y to so#, so the tears that came were 5"iet. Sti!!, they too) a!! my &oc"s. How i ' %et here1 How ha ' !et this happen1 What wo"! #ecome o& me here1 Wo"! ' e$er %et #ac) any piece o& the !i&e '( ha #e&ore this1 ' -"st i n(t )now. An there wasn(t a amn thin% ' co"! o a#o"t any o& it. ' was so cons"me with my tho"%hts that ' i n(t rea!i6e ' wasn(t a!one "nti! Prince +a,on spo)e. 0Are yo" a!! ri%ht, my ear12 he as)e me. 0' am not yo"r ear.2 ' !oo)e "p to %!are at him. There wo"! #e no mista)in% the is%"st in my tone or eyes. 0What ha$e ' one to o&&en yo"1 7i ' not -"st %i$e yo" the $ery thin% yo" as)e &or12 He was %en"ine!y con&"se #y my response. ' s"ppose he e,pecte "s to a ore him an than) o"r !"c)y stars &or his e,istence. ' stare him own witho"t &ear, tho"%h the e&&ect was pro#a#!y wea)ene #y my tearstaine chee)s. 0E,c"se me, ear, are yo" %oin% to )eep cryin%12 he as)e , so"n in% $ery p"t o"t #y the tho"%ht. 07on(t ca!! me that? ' am no more ear to yo" than the thirty=&o"r other stran%ers yo" ha$e here in yo"r ca%e.2 He wa!)e c!oser, not seemin% at a!! o&&en e #y my !oose speech. He -"st !oo)e * tho"%ht&"!. 't was an interestin% e,pression on his &ace. His wa!) was %race&"! &or a #oy, an he !oo)e incre i#!y com&orta#!e as he pace aro"n me. +y #ra$ery me!te a !itt!e in the &ace o& how aw)war this was. He was &"!!y resse in his sharp s"it, an ' was cowerin% an ha!&=na)e . As i& his ran) i n(t threaten me eno"%h, his emeanor i . He m"st ha$e ha p!enty o& e,perience ea!in% with "nhappy peop!e/ he was e,ceptiona!!y ca!m as he answere . 0That is an "n&air statement. 8o" are a!! ear to me. 't is simp!y a matter o& isco$erin% who sha!! #e the earest.2 07i yo" rea!!y -"st "se the wor >sha!!(12 He ch"c)!e . 0'(m a&rai ' i . :or%i$e me, it(s a pro "ct o& my e "cation.2 0E "cation,2 ' m"ttere , ro!!in% my eyes. 0Ri ic"!o"s.2 0'(m sorry12 he as)e . 0't(s ri ic"!o"s?2 ' ye!!e , re%ainin% some o& my co"ra%e. 0What is12 0This contest? The who!e thin%? Ha$en(t yo" e$er !o$e anyone at a!!1 's this how

yo" want to pic) a wi&e1 Are yo" rea!!y so sha!!ow12 ' shi&te on the %ro"n a !itt!e. To ma)e thin%s easier &or me, he sat on the #ench so ' wo"! n(t ha$e to twist. ' was too "pset to #e than)&"!. 0' can see how ' wo"! appear that way, how this who!e thin% co"! seem !i)e it(s nothin% more than cheap entertainment. ."t in my wor! , ' am $ery %"ar e . ' on(t meet $ery many women. The ones ' o are a"%hters o& ip!omats, an we "s"a!!y ha$e $ery !itt!e to isc"ss. An that(s when we mana%e to spea) the same !an%"a%e.2 +a,on seeme to thin) that was a -o)e, an he !a"%he !i%ht!y. ' wasn(t am"se . He c!eare his throat. 0Circ"mstances #ein% what they are, ' ha$en(t ha the opport"nity to &a!! in !o$e. Ha$e yo"12 08es,2 ' sai matter=o&=&act!y. As soon as the wor came o"t, ' wishe ' co"! stea! it #ac). That was a pri$ate thin%, none o& his #"siness. 0Then yo" ha$e #een 5"ite !"c)y.2 He so"n e -ea!o"s. 'ma%ine that. The one thin% ' co"! ho! o$er the hea o& the Prince o& '!!4a, the $ery thin% ' was here to &or%et. 0+y mother an &ather were marrie this way an are 5"ite happy. ' hope to &in happiness, too. To &in a woman that a!! o& '!!4a can !o$e, someone to #e my companion an to he!p entertain the !ea ers o& other nations. Someone who wi!! #e&rien my &rien s an #e my con&i ante. '(m rea y to &in my wi&e.2 Somethin% in his $oice str"c) me. There wasn(t a trace o& sarcasm. This thin% that seeme !i)e !itt!e more than a %ame show to me was his on!y chance &or happiness. He co"! n(t try with a secon ro"n o& %ir!s. We!!, may#e he co"! , #"t how em#arrassin%. He was so esperate, so hope&"!. ' &e!t my istaste &or him !essen. +ar%ina!!y. 07o yo" rea!!y &ee! !i)e this is a ca%e12 His eyes were &"!! o& compassion. 08es, ' o.2 +y $oice came o"t 5"iet. ' 5"ic)!y a e , 08o"r +a-esty.2 0'($e &e!t that way more than once myse!&. ."t yo" m"st a mit, it is a $ery #ea"ti&"! ca%e.2 0:or yo". :i!! yo"r #ea"ti&"! ca%e with thirty=&o"r other men a!! &i%htin% o$er the same thin%. See how nice it is then.2 He raise his eye#rows. 0Ha$e there rea!!y #een ar%"ments o$er me1 7on(t yo" a!! rea!i6e '(m the one oin% the choosin%12 0Act"a!!y, that was "n&air. They(re &i%htin% o$er two thin%s. Some &i%ht &or yo", others &i%ht &or the crown. An they a!! thin) they($e a!rea y &i%"re o"t what to say an o so yo"r choice wi!! #e o#$io"s.2 0Ah, yes. The man or the crown. '(m a&rai some cannot te!! the i&&erence.2 He shoo) his hea . 0Goo !"c) there,2 ' sai ry!y. 't was 5"iet &or a moment in the wa)e o& my sarcasm. ' !oo)e "p at him o"t o& the corner o& my eye, waitin% &or him to spea). He %a6e at an "n&i,e point in the %rass, concern mar)in% his &ace. 't seeme this tho"%ht ha #een p!a%"in% him. He too) a #reath an t"rne #ac) to me. 0Which o yo" &i%ht &or12 0Act"a!!y, '(m here #y mista)e.2 0+ista)e12 08es. Sort o&. We!!, it(s a !on% story. An now* '(m here. An '(m not &i%htin%. +y p!an is to en-oy the &oo "nti! yo" )ic) me o"t.2 He !a"%he o"t !o" at that, act"a!!y o"#!in% o$er an s!appin% his )nee. 't was a #i6arre mi, o& ri%i ity an ca!m. 0What are yo"12 he as)e . 0'(m sorry12 0A Two1 Three12 Wasn(t he payin% attention at a!!1 0:i$e.2 0Ah, yes, then &oo wo"! pro#a#!y #e %oo moti$ation to stay.2 He !a"%he a%ain. 0'(m sorry, ' can(t rea yo"r pin in the ar).2 0'(m America.2 0We!!, that(s per&ect.2 +a,on !oo)e o&& into the ni%ht an smi!e at nothin% in partic"!ar. Somethin% in a!! this was am"sin% to him. 0America, my ear, ' o hope yo" &in somethin% in this ca%e worth &i%htin% &or. A&ter a!! this, ' can on!y ima%ine what it wo"! #e !i)e to see yo" act"a!!y try.2 He came own &rom the #ench to cro"ch #esi e me. He was too c!ose. ' co"! n(t thin) ri%ht. +ay#e ' was a !itt!e star=str"c) or

sti!! &ee!in% sha)y &rom my cryin% episo e. Either way ' was too shoc)e to protest when he too) my han . 0'& it wo"! ma)e yo" happy, ' co"! !et the sta&& )now yo" pre&er the %ar en. Then yo" can come o"t here at ni%ht witho"t #ein% manhan !e #y the %"ar . ' wo"! pre&er i& yo" ha one near#y, tho"%h.2 ' wante that. :ree om o& any )in so"n e hea$en!y, #"t he nee e to #e a#so!"te!y s"re o& my &ee!in%s. 0' on(t* ' on(t thin) ' want anythin% &rom yo".2 ' p"!!e my &in%ers &rom his !oose %rip. He was a !itt!e ta)en a#ac), h"rt. 0As yo" wish.2 ' &e!t more re%ret. 9"st #eca"se ' i n(t !i)e the %"y i n(t mean ' wante to h"rt him. 0Wi!! yo" #e hea in% insi e soon12 08es,2 ' #reathe , !oo)in% at the %ro"n . 0Then '(!! !ea$e yo" with yo"r tho"%hts. There wi!! #e a %"ar near the oor waitin% &or yo".2 0Than) yo", "m, 8o"r +a-esty.2 ' shoo) my hea . How many times ha ' a resse him wron%!y in this con$ersation1 07ear America, wi!! yo" o me a &a$or12 He too) my han a%ain. He was persistent. ' s5"inte at him, not s"re o& what to say. 0+ay#e.2 His smi!e ret"rne . 07on(t mention this to the others. Technica!!y, '(m not s"ppose to meet yo" "nti! tomorrow, an ' on(t want anyone %ettin% "pset. Tho"%h ' wo"! n(t ca!! yo" ye!!in% at me anythin% c!ose to a romantic tryst, wo"! yo"12 't was my t"rn to smi!e. 0Not at a!!?2 ' too) a eep #reath. 0' won(t te!!.2 0Than) yo".2 He too) the han he was ho! in% an !owere his !ips to it. When he p"!!e away, he %ent!y p!ace my han in my !ap. 0Goo ni%ht.2 ' !oo)e at the warm spot on my han , st"nne &or a moment. Then ' t"rne to watch +a,on as he wa!)e away, %i$in% me the pri$acy '( wante a!! ay.

CHAPTER 11

'N THE +ORN'NG ' WO<E not to the so"n o& the mai s comin% in3tho"%h they ha 3or my #ath #ein% rawn3tho"%h it was. ' wo)e to the !i%ht comin% thro"%h my win ow as Anne %ent!y p"!!e #ac) the rich, hea$y c"rtains. She h"mme a 5"iet son% to herse!&, a#so!"te!y happy with her tas). ' wasn(t rea y to mo$e. 't ha ta)en me a !on% time to come own &rom %ettin% so wor)e "p, an e$en more time to re!a, a&ter '( rea!i6e e,act!y what that con$ersation in the %ar en wo"! mean &or me. '& ' %ot a chance, ' wo"! apo!o%i6e to +a,on. 't wo"! #e a mirac!e i& he !et me %et that &ar. 0+iss1 Are yo" awa)e12 0Noooo,2 ' moane into the pi!!ow. ' ha n(t ha near!y eno"%h s!eep, an the #e was &ar too com&orta#!e. ."t Anne, +ary, an L"cy !a"%he at my %roan, which was eno"%h to ma)e me smi!e an eci e to start mo$in%.These %ir!s wo"! pro#a#!y #e the easiest &or me to %et a!on% with in the pa!ace. ' won ere i& they co"! #ecome con&i antes o& some )in , or i& trainin% an protoco! wo"! ren er them comp!ete!y "na#!e to e$en share a c"p o& tea with me. Tho"%h ' was a #orn :i$e, ' was co$ere with Three=ness now. An i& they were mai s, that ma e them a!! Si,es. ."t that was &ine with me. ' i en-oy the company o& Si,es. ' mo$e s!ow!y into the

monstro"s #athroom, e$ery step echoin% a%ainst the $astness o& ti!e an %!ass. 'n the !on% mirrors ' saw L"cy eyein% the irt stains on my ni%ht%own. Then Anne(s care&"! eyes ca"%ht them. Then +ary(s. Than)&"!!y, none o& them as)e any 5"estions. 8ester ay ' tho"%ht they ha #een pryin% with a!! their in5"iries, #"t ' was wron%. They were o#$io"s!y o$er!y concerne with my com&ort. F"estions a#o"t what ' was oin% o"tsi e my room3!et a!one the pa!ace3wo"! on!y #e aw)war . A!! they i was remo$e the %own with care an "sher me towar the #ath. ' wasn(t "se to #ein% na)e aro"n other peop!e3not e$en +om or +ay3#"t there seeme to #e no way aro"n it. These three wo"! #e ressin% me &or as !on% as ' was here, so ' wo"! ha$e to #ear it "nti! ' !e&t. ' won ere what wo"! happen to them when ' was %one. Wo"! they %et assi%ne to other %ir!s who wo"! nee more attention as the competition rew on1 7i they a!rea y ha$e other -o#s in the pa!ace they were temporari!y e,c"se &rom1 't seeme r" e to as) what they "se to o or imp!y that ' was !ea$in% soon, so ' i n(t. A&ter my #ath, Anne rie my hair, p"!!in% ha!& "p with ri##ons '( #ro"%ht &rom home. They were #!"e an -"st so happene to accent the &!owers in one o& the ay resses my mai s ha create &or me, so that was what ' wore. +ary i my ma)e"p, which was -"st as !i%ht as the ay #e&ore, an L"cy r"##e !otion into my arms an !e%s. There was an array o& -ewe!ry to choose &rom, #"t ' as)e &or my #o, instea . There was a tiny nec)!ace with a son%#ir on it that my a ha %i$en me, an it was si!$er so it matche my name pin. ' i ta)e a pair o& earrin%s &rom the roya! store, #"t they were pro#a#!y the sma!!est ones in the co!!ection. Anne, +ary, an L"cy !oo)e me o$er an smi!e at the res"!ts. ' too) that as a si%n ' was ecent eno"%h to !ea$e &or #rea)&ast. With #ows an smi!es, they wishe me we!! as ' went to !ea$e. L"cy(s han s were trem#!in% a%ain. ' went into the "pstairs &oyer where we ha a!! met yester ay. ' was the &irst one there, so ' too) to a sma!! so&a to wait &or the rest. S!ow!y, others starte to tric)!e in. ' 5"ic)!y notice a theme. E$ery one o& the %ir!s !oo)e phenomena!. They ha their hair p"!!e "p in intricate #rai s or c"r!s, away &rom their &aces. The ma)e"p was metic"!o"s!y one, resses presse to per&ection. ' ha pro#a#!y chosen my p!ainest ress &or the &irst ay, an e$eryone e!se(s ha somethin% spar)!y on it. ' saw two %ir!s wa!) into the &oyer an rea!i6e they were wearin% a!most the e,act same ress. They #oth t"rne #ac) aro"n to chan%e. E$eryone wante to stan o"t, an they a!! i in their own ways. E$en me. E$eryone here !oo)e !i)e a One. ' !oo)e !i)e a :i$e in a nice ress. ' tho"%ht it ha ta)en me a !on% time to %et rea y, #"t it too) the other %ir!s m"ch, m"ch !on%er. E$en when Si!$ia came to escort "s ownstairs, we sti!! ha to wait &or Ce!este an Tiny, who, tr"e to her name, ha to ha$e her ress ta)en in. Once we were a!! assem#!e , e$eryone starte to mo$e towar the stairs. There was a %i! e mirror on the wa!!, an we a!! t"rne to ta)e one !ast pee) as we escen e . ' ca"%ht a %!impse o& myse!& ne,t to +ar!ee an Tiny. ' !oo)e positi$e!y p!ain. ."t at !east ' !oo)e !i)e me, an that was a minor conso!ation. We went ownstairs e,pectin% to #e ta)en into the inin% room, where we ha #een to! we wo"! #e eatin%. ."t instea we were ta)en into the Great Room, where in i$i "a! ta#!es an chairs ha #een set "p in rows, a!! with p!ates, %!asses, an si!$erware. There wasn(t any &oo , tho"%h. Not e$en a hope&"! sme!!. 'n the &ront corner, t"c)e away in a sma!! noo), '

notice a sma!! set o& co"ches. A &ew cameramen, statione aro"n the room, &i!me o"r arri$a!. We &i!e in, sittin% where$er we wante as there were no p!ace car s here. +ar!ee was in the row in &ront o& me, an Ash!ey sat to my ri%ht. ' i n(t #other to ta)e in anyone e!se. 't seeme !i)e se$era! peop!e ha ma e at !east one a!!y, -"st as ' ha in +ar!ee. Ash!ey ha chosen her seat #esi e me, so ' ass"me she wante my company. Sti!!, she i n(t spea). +ay#e she was "pset o$er the news reports !ast ni%ht. Then a%ain, she was 5"iet when we met. +ay#e it was -"st her nat"re. ' &i%"re the worst she co"! o was not answer #ac), so ' eci e to at !east ac)now!e %e her. 0Ash!ey, yo" !oo) !o$e!y.2 0Oh, than) yo",2 she sai 5"iet!y. We #oth chec)e to ma)e s"re the camera crews were &ar away. Not that this was pri$ate, #"t who wante them aro"n &or e$erythin%1 0'sn(t it &"n to wear a!! this -ewe!ry1 Where(s yo"rs12 0@mm, it was too hea$y &or me. ' eci e to %o !i%ht instea .2 0't is hea$y? ' &ee! !i)e ' ha$e twenty po"n s on my hea . Sti!!, ' co"! n(t pass it "p. Who )nows how !on% any o& "s wi!! stay12 That was &"nny. Ash!ey ha seeme 5"iet!y con&i ent &rom the $ery #e%innin%. With the way she !oo)e an carrie herse!&, she was prime princess materia!. 't seeme stran%e that she wo"! o"#t herse!&. 0."t on(t yo" thin) yo"(!! win12 ' as)e . 0O& co"rse,2 she whispere . 0."t it(s r" e to say so?2 She win)e at me, which ma e me %i%%!e. 8et another mista)e on my part. That %i%%!e ca"%ht the attention o& Si!$ia, who was wa!)in% in the oor. 0Ts)=ts). A !a y ne$er raises her $oice a#o$e a %ent!e whisper.2 E$ery m"rm"r h"she . ' won ere i& the cameras ha ca"%ht my mista)e, an my chee)s &i!!e with warmth. 0He!!o a%ain, !a ies. ' hope yo" a!! ha a rest&"! &irst ni%ht in the pa!ace, #eca"se now o"r wor) #e%ins. To ay ' wi!! #e%in to instr"ct yo" on con "ct an protoco!, a process that wi!! contin"e &or the "ration o& yo"r stay. P!ease )now that ' wi!! #e reportin% any missteps on yo"r part to the roya! &ami!y. 0' )now it so"n s harsh, #"t this isn(t a %ame to #e ta)en !i%ht!y. Someone in this room wi!! #e the ne,t princess o& '!!4a. 't is no sma!! tas). 8o" m"st en ea$or to e!e$ate yo"rse!$es, no matter yo"r pre$io"s station. 8o" wi!! #ecome !a ies &rom the %ro"n "p. An this $ery mornin%, yo" wi!! recei$e yo"r &irst !esson. 0Ta#!e manners are $ery important, an #e&ore yo" can eat in &ront o& the roya! &ami!y, yo" m"st #e aware o& certain eti5"ette. The &aster we %et thro"%h this !itt!e !esson, the sooner yo" %et to ha$e yo"r #rea)&asts, so &aces &orwar , p!ease.2 She #e%an e,p!ainin% how we wo"! #e ser$e &rom the ri%ht, which %!ass was &or what #e$era%e, an to ne$er, e$er reach &or a pastry with o"r han s. A!ways "se the ton%s. Han s were to rest in o"r !ap when not in "se, nap)in rape "n erneath. We weren(t to spea) "n!ess spo)en to. O& co"rse, we co"! ta!) 5"iet!y to o"r nei%h#ors, #"t a!ways at a !e$e! #e&ittin% the pa!ace. She eye me serio"s!y as she %a$e that !ast note. Si!$ia went on an on in her e!e%ant tone, ta"ntin% my stomach. E$en i& they were sma!!, ' was "se to %ettin% my three mea!s at home. ' nee e &oo . ' was %ettin% a #it %r"mpy when we hear a )noc) at the oor. Two %"ar s steppe away, an in came Prince +a,on. 0Goo mornin%, !a ies,2 he ca!!e . The !i&t in the room was tan%i#!e. .ac)s strai%htene , !oc)s o& hair were tosse o$er sho"! ers, an hems were rearran%e . ' !oo)e not at +a,on, #"t Ash!ey, whose chest was mo$in% &ast. She stare in s"ch a way that ' &e!t em#arrasse &or noticin%. 08o"r +a-esty,2 Si!$ia sai with a !ow c"rtsy. 0He!!o, Si!$ia. '& yo" on(t min , ' wo"! !i)e to

intro "ce myse!& to these yo"n% women.2 0O& co"rse.2 She #owe a%ain. Prince +a,on s"r$eye the room an &o"n me. O"r eyes met &or a moment, an he smi!e . ' wasn(t e,pectin% that. ' was thin)in% that he( pro#a#!y chan%e his opinion o& how to act towar me in the ni%ht, an '( #e ca!!e o"t in &ront o& e$eryone &or my #eha$ior. ."t may#e he wasn(t ma at a!!. +ay#e he &o"n me entertainin%. He ha to %et incre i#!y #ore aro"n here. Whate$er the reason, that #rie& smi!e !e me to #e!ie$e that may#e this wasn(t %oin% to #e s"ch a terri#!e e,perience a&ter a!!. ' sett!e into the ecision ' co"! n(t ma)e !ast ni%ht an hope Prince +a,on wo"! hear o"t my apo!o%y. 0La ies, i& yo" on(t min , one at a time '(!! #e ca!!in% yo" o$er to meet with me. '(m s"re yo"(re a!! ea%er to eat, as am '. So ' won(t ta)e "p too m"ch o& yo"r time. 7o &or%i$e me i& '(m s!ow with names/ there are 5"ite a &ew o& yo".2 There was a !ow r"m#!e o& %i%%!es. F"ic)!y, he went o$er to the %ir! in the &ront row on the &ar ri%ht an escorte her o$er to the co"ches. They spo)e &or a &ew min"tes, then #oth rose. He #owe to her, she c"rtsie #ac). She went #ac) to her ta#!e, spo)e to the %ir! #esi e her, an it happene a!! o$er a%ain. These con$ersations !aste on!y a &ew min"tes an were spo)en in h"she $oices. He was tryin% to %et a &ee! &or each %ir! in !ess than &i$e min"tes. 0' won er what he wants to )now,2 +ar!ee t"rne an as)e . 0+ay#e he wants to )now which actors yo" thin) are the most han some. <eep yo"r menta! !ist rea y,2 ' whispere #ac). +ar!ee an Ash!ey #oth ch"c)!e at that. We weren(t the on!y ones ta!)in%. Aro"n the room $oices !i&te !i)e %ent!e h"ms, as we trie to istract o"rse!$es "nti! it was o"r t"rn. Not to mention the cameramen were hoppin% aro"n , as)in% %ir!s a#o"t their &irst ay in the pa!ace, how they !i)e their mai s, an thin%s !i)e that. When they stoppe #y Ash!ey an me, ' !et her o a!! the ta!)in%. ' )ept !oo)in% o$er to the co"ches as each o& the Se!ecte were inter$iewe . Some were ca!m an !a y!i)e, others &i %ete in e,citement. +ar!ee #!"she wi! !y as she wa!)e o$er to Prince +a,on, an #eame when she wa!)e #ac). Ash!ey strai%htene her ress se$era! times, !i)e a ner$o"s !itt!e tic o& her han s. ' was near sweatin% when she came #ac), meanin% it was my t"rn to %o. ' too) a eep #reath an stea ie myse!&. ' was a#o"t to as) &or a mon"menta! &a$or. He stoo an went to rea my pin as ' approache . 0America, is it12 he sai , a smi!e p!ayin% on his !ips. 08es, it is. An ' )now '($e hear yo"r name #e&ore, #"t co"! yo" remin me12 ' won ere i& openin% with a -o)e was a #a i ea, #"t +a,on !a"%he an motione &or me to sit. He !eane in an whispere , 07i yo" s!eep we!!, my ear12 ' i n(t )now what my &ace !oo)e !i)e in response to that name, #"t +a,on(s eyes %!ittere with am"sement. 0' am sti!! not yo"r ear,2 ' rep!ie , #"t with a smi!e. 0."t yes. Once ' ca!me own, ' s!ept $ery we!!. +y mai s ha to p"!! me o"t o& #e , ' was so co6y.2 0' am %!a yo" were com&orta#!e, my* America,2 he correcte himse!&. 0Than) yo",2 ' sai . ' &i %ete with a piece o& my ress &or a moment, tryin% to thin) o& how to say this ri%ht. 0'(m $ery sorry ' was mean to yo". ' rea!i6e as ' was tryin% to &a!! as!eep that e$en tho"%h this is a stran%e sit"ation &or me, ' sho"! n(t #!ame yo". 8o"(re not the reason ' %ot swept "p in a!! this, an the who!e Se!ection thin% isn(t e$en yo"r i ea. An then, when ' was &ee!in% misera#!e, yo" were nothin% #"t nice to me, an ' was, we!!, aw&"!. 8o" co"! ha$e thrown me o"t !ast ni%ht, an yo" i n(t. Than) yo".2 +a,on(s eyes were ten er. ' #et e$ery %ir! #e&ore me ha a!rea y me!te

#eca"se he( %i$en them a !oo) !i)e this. ' wo"! ha$e #een #othere that he !oo)e at me that way, #"t it was o#$io"s!y -"st part o& his nat"re. He "c)e his hea &or a moment. When he !oo)e at me a%ain, he !eane &orwar , restin% his e!#ows on his )nees as i& he wante me to "n erstan the importance o& what was comin% ne,t. 0America, yo" ha$e #een $ery "p &ront with me so &ar. That is a 5"a!ity that ' eep!y a mire, an '(m %oin% to as) yo" to #e )in eno"%h to answer one 5"estion &or me.2 ' no e , a !itt!e a&rai o& what he wante to )now. He !eane in e$en c!oser to whisper. 08o" say yo"(re here #y mista)e, so '(m ass"min% yo" on(t want to #e here. 's there any possi#i!ity o& yo" ha$in% any sort o& * o& !o$in% &ee!in%s towar me12 ' co"! n(t he!p #"t &i %et a !itt!e. ' %en"ine!y i n(t want to h"rt his &ee!in%s, #"t ' co"! n(t #eat aro"n the #"sh on this. 08o" are $ery )in , 8o"r +a-esty, an attracti$e, an tho"%ht&"!.2 He smi!e at that. 'n a !ow $oice ' a e , 0."t &or $ery $a!i reasons, ' on(t thin) ' co"! .2 0Wo"! yo" e,p!ain12 His &ace hi it we!!, #"t ' co"! hear the isappointment ca"se #y my imme iate re-ection. ' %"esse he wasn(t "se to that. 't wasn(t somethin% ' wante to share, #"t ' i n(t thin) anythin% e!se wo"! ma)e him "n erstan . 'n an e$en !ower whisper than '( "se #e&ore, ' to! him the tr"th. 0' * '(m a&rai my heart is e!sewhere.2 ' co"! &ee! my eyes %ettin% wet. 0Oh, p!ease on(t cry?2 +a,on(s whisper was mar)e with a %en"ine worry. 0' ne$er )now what to o when women cry?2 That ma e me !a"%h, an any threat o& tears retreate &or the moment. The re!ie& on his &ace was "nmista)a#!e. 0Wo"! yo" !i)e me to !et yo" %o home to yo"r !o$e to ay12 he as)e . 't was o#$io"s that my pre&erence &or someone e!se #othere him, #"t instea o& choosin% to #e an%ry, he showe compassion. The %est"re ma e me tr"st him. 0That(s the thin%.... ' on(t want to %o home.2 0Rea!!y12 He ran his &in%ers thro"%h his hair, an ' ha to !a"%h a%ain at how !ost he seeme . 0Co"! ' #e per&ect!y honest with yo"12 He no e . 0' nee to #e here. +y &ami!y nee s me to #e here. E$en i& yo" co"! !et me stay &or a wee), that wo"! #e a #!essin% &or them.2 08o" mean yo" nee the money12 08es.2 ' &e!t #a a mittin% it. 't m"st ha$e seeme !i)e ' was "sin% him. 'n tr"th, ' %"ess ' was. ."t there was more to it. 0An there are * certain peop!e23' !oo)e "p at him30at home who ' can(t #ear to see ri%ht now.2 +a,on no e his hea in "n erstan in% #"t i not spea). ' hesitate . ' %"esse the worst that co"! happen now was #ein% sent home anyway, so ' contin"e . 0'& yo" wo"! #e wi!!in% to !et me stay, e$en &or a !itt!e whi!e, '( #e wi!!in% to ma)e a tra e,2 ' o&&ere . His eye#rows shot "p. 0A tra e12 ' #it my !ip. 0'& yo" !et me stay*2 This was %oin% to so"n so st"pi . 0A!! ri%ht, we!!, !oo) at yo". 8o"(re the prince. 8o"(re #"sy a!! ay, what with he!pin% r"n a co"ntry an a!!, an yo"(re s"ppose to &in time to narrow thirty=&i$e, we!!, thirty=&o"r %ir!s, own to one1 That(s a !ot to as), on(t yo" thin)12 He no e . ' co"! see his %en"ine e,ha"stion at the tho"%ht. 0Wo"! n(t it #e m"ch #etter &or yo" i& yo" ha someone on the insi e1 Someone to he!p1 Li)e, yo" )now, a &rien 12 0A &rien 12 he as)e . 08es. Let me stay, an '(!! he!p yo". '(!! #e yo"r &rien .2 He smi!e at the wor s. 08o" on(t ha$e to worry a#o"t p"rs"in% me. 8o" a!rea y )now that ' on(t ha$e &ee!in%s &or yo". ."t yo" can ta!) to me anytime yo" !i)e, an '(!! try an he!p. 8o" sai !ast ni%ht that yo" were !oo)in% &or a con&i ante. We!!, "nti! yo" &in one &or %oo , ' co"! #e that person. '& yo" want.2 His e,pression was a&&ectionate #"t %"ar e . 0'($e met near!y e$ery

woman in this room, an ' can(t thin) o& one who wo"! ma)e a #etter &rien . '( #e %!a to ha$e yo" stay.2 +y re!ie& was ine,pressi#!e. 07o yo" thin),2 +a,on as)e , 0that ' co"! sti!! ca!! yo" >my ear(12 0Not a chance,2 ' whispere . 0'(!! )eep tryin%. ' on(t ha$e it in me to %i$e "p.2 An ' #e!ie$e him. 't was annoyin% to thin) he( press that iss"e. 07i yo" ca!! a!! o& them that12 ' no e my hea towar the rest o& the room. 08es, an they a!! seeme to !i)e it.2 0That is the e,act reason why ' on(t.2 An ' stoo . +a,on was ch"c)!in% as he rose with me. ' wo"! ha$e scow!e , #"t it act"a!!y was )in o& &"nny. He #owe , ' c"rtsie , an ' went #ac) to my seat. ' was so h"n%ry that it &e!t !i)e an eternity "nti! he( %one thro"%h the !ast rows. ."t &ina!!y the !ast %ir! was #ac) in her seat, an ' was ea%er!y anticipatin% my &irst #rea)&ast at the pa!ace. +a,on wa!)e to the center o& the room. 0'& ' ha$e as)e yo" to remain #ehin , p!ease stay in yo"r seats. '& not, p!ease procee with Si!$ia here into the inin% ha!!. ' wi!! -oin yo" short!y.2 As)e to stay1 Was that a %oo thin%1 ' stoo , as i most o& the %ir!s, an starte wa!)in%. He m"st -"st want some specia! time with those %ir!s. ' saw that Ash!ey was one o& them. No o"#t she was specia!, a #orn princess #y the !oo)s o& her. The rest were %ir!s ' ha n(t mana%e to meet. Not that they ha wante to meet me. The cameras !in%ere #ehin to capt"re whate$er specia! moment was a#o"t to occ"r, an the rest o& "s mo$e on. We wa!)e into the #an5"et room an there, !oo)in% more ma-estic than e$en ' co"! ima%ine, were <in% C!ar)son an F"een Am#er!y. A!so in the room, more camera crews swarme to catch o"r &irst meetin%. ' hesitate , won erin% i& we sho"! a!! %o #ac) to the oor an #e in$ite in. ."t most e$eryone e!se3 i& somewhat hesitant!y3)ept wa!)in%. ' wa!)e 5"ic)!y to my chair, hopin% ' ha n(t rawn attention to myse!&. Si!$ia wa!)e in not two secon s !ater an too) in the scene. 0La ies,2 she sai , 0'(m a&rai we i n(t %et this &ar. Whene$er yo" enter a room where the )in% or 5"een is present, or i& they sho"! enter a room yo" are in, the proper thin% to o is c"rtsy. Then when yo" are a resse , yo" may rise an ta)e yo"r seat. A!! to%ether, sha!! we12 An we a!! c"rtsie in the irection o& the hea ta#!e. 0We!come, %ir!s,2 the 5"een sai . 0P!ease ta)e yo"r seats, an we!come to the pa!ace. We(re p!ease to ha$e yo".2 There was somethin% p!easant a#o"t her $oice. 't was ca!m in the same way her e,pression was, #"t not !i&e!ess #y any means. As Si!$ia ha sai , the ser$ers came to o"r ri%ht to po"r oran%e -"ice into o"r %!asses. O"r p!ates came co$ere on !ar%e trays, an the #"t!ers !i&te the co$ers o&& ri%ht in &ront o& "s. ' was hit in the &ace with a &ra%rant #!ast o& steam &rom my panca)es. +erci&"!!y, the m"rm"rs o& awe across the room co$ere my %row!in% stomach. <in% C!ar)son #!esse o"r &oo , an we a!! #e%an to eat. A &ew min"tes !ater, +a,on wa!)e in to ta)e his seat, #"t #e&ore we co"! mo$e, he ca!!e o"t. 0P!ease on(t rise, !a ies. En-oy yo"r #rea)&asts.2 He wa!)e "p to the hea ta#!e, )isse his mother on the chee), %a$e his &ather a &irm pat on the #ac), an sett!e into his own chair -"st to the )in%(s !e&t. He ma e a &ew comments to the c!osest #"t!er, who !a"%he 5"iet!y, an then "% into his own p!ate. Ash!ey i n(t come. Or any o& the other %ir!s. ' !oo)e aro"n , con&"se , co"ntin% to see how many were missin%. Ei%ht. Ei%ht %ir!s were not here. 't was <riss, sittin% across &rom me, who answere the 5"estion in my eyes. 0They(re %one,2 she sai . Gone1 Oh. Gone* ' co"! n(t ima%ine what they ha one in !ess than &i$e min"tes to

isp!ease +a,on, #"t ' was s" en!y %rate&"! '( chosen to #e honest. 9"st !i)e that, we were own to twenty=se$en.

CHAPTER 1B

THE CA+ERAS 7'7 A LAP aro"n the room an !e&t to !et "s en-oy o"r #rea)&ast in peace, %ettin% one !ast shot o& the prince #e&ore they eparte . ' was a !itt!e thrown o&& #y the s" en e!imination, #"t +a,on i n(t seem too istresse . He ate his &oo witho"t a care, an as ' watche ' rea!i6e ' sho"! eat my own #rea)&ast #e&ore it %ot co! . A%ain, it was a!most too e!icio"s. The oran%e -"ice was so p"re that ' ha to ta)e sma!!er sips -"st to a#sor# it. The e%%s an #acon were hea$en, an the panca)es were per&ect!y one, not too thin !i)e the ones ' ma e at home. ' hear !ots o& !itt!e si%hs a!! aro"n me an )new ' wasn(t the on!y one en-oyin% the &oo . Remem#erin% to "se the ton%s, ' pic)e "p a straw#erry tart &rom the #as)et in the center o& the ta#!e. As ' i so, ' !oo)e aro"n the room to see how the other :i$es were en-oyin% their mea!s. That was when ' notice that ' was the on!y :i$e !e&t. ' i n(t )now i& +a,on was aware o& that in&ormation3he #are!y seeme to )now o"r names3#"t it was stran%e they were #oth %one. '& ' ha #een another stran%er to +a,on when ' wa!)e into that room, wo"! ' ha$e #een )ic)e o"t, too1 ' m"!!e this o$er as ' #it into the straw#erry tart. 't was so sweet an the o"%h was so &!a)y, e$ery mi!!imeter o& my mo"th was en%a%e , ta)in% o$er the rest o& my senses entire!y. ' i n(t mean to ma)e the !itt!e moan, #"t it was #y &ar the #est thin% ' ha e$er taste . ' too) another #ite #e&ore ' e$en swa!!owe the &irst. 0La y America12 a $oice ca!!e . The other hea s in the room t"rne to the $oice, which #e!on%e to Prince +a,on. ' was shoc)e that he( a ress me, or any o& "s, so cas"a!!y an in &ront o& the others. What was worse than #ein% ca!!e o"t so "ne,pecte !y was that my mo"th was &"!! o& &oo . ' co$ere my mo"th with my han an chewe as 5"ic)!y as ' co"! mana%e. 't co"! n(t ha$e #een more than a &ew secon s, #"t with so many eyes on me, it &e!t !i)e an eternity. ' note Ce!este(s sm"% &ace as she watche me. ' m"st ha$e !oo)e !i)e an easy )i!! in her eyes. 08es, 8o"r +a-esty12 ' rep!ie as soon as ' ha most o& it swa!!owe . 0How are yo" en-oyin% the &oo 12 +a,on seeme on the $er%e o& !a"%hter, either &rom my #ewi! ere e,pression or #eca"se he( #ro"%ht "p a etai! &rom o"r $ery &irst an hi%h!y "na"thori6e con$ersation. ' trie to stay ca!m myse!&. 0't(s e,ce!!ent, 8o"r +a-esty. This straw#erry tart * we!!, ' ha$e a sister who !o$es sweets more than ' o. ' thin) she( cry i& she taste this. 't(s per&ect.2 +a,on swa!!owe a #ite o& his own #rea)&ast an !eane #ac) in his chair. 07o yo" rea!!y thin) she wo"! cry12 He seeme e,cee in%!y am"se at the i ea. He i ha$e stran%e &ee!in%s towar women an cryin%. ' tho"%ht a#o"t it. 08es, act"a!!y, ' o. She oesn(t ha$e m"ch o& a &i!ter when it comes to her emotions.2 0Wo"! yo" wa%er money on it12 he as)e 5"ic)!y. ' notice the hea s o& e$ery %ir! t"rnin% #ac) an &orth #etween "s !i)e they were watchin% a %ame o& tennis. 0'& ' ha any to #et, '

certain!y wo"! .2 ' smi!e at the i ea o& #ettin% o$er someone e!se(s tears o& -oy. 0What wo"! yo" #e wi!!in% to #arter instea 1 8o" seem to #e $ery %oo at stri)in% ea!s.2 He was en-oyin% this !itt!e %ame. :ine. '( p!ay. 0We!!, what o yo" want12 ' pose . Then ' won ere what in the wor! ' co"! o&&er someone who ha e$erythin%. 0What o yo" want12 he co"ntere . Now that was a &ascinatin% 5"estion. A!most as interestin% as thin)in% a#o"t what ' co"! o&&er +a,on was what he co"! o&&er me. He ha the wor! at his isposa!. So what i ' want1 ' wasn(t a One, #"t ' was !i$in% !i)e ' was. ' ha more &oo than ' co"! &inish an the most com&orta#!e #e ' co"! ima%ine. Peop!e were waitin% on me han an &oot, whether ' !i)e it or not. An i& ' nee e anythin%, a!! ' ha to o was as). The on!y thin% ' rea!!y wante was somethin% that ma e this p!ace &ee! !i)e !ess o& a pa!ace. '& my &ami!y were r"nnin% aro"n somewhere, or i& ' wasn(t so one "p. ' co"! n(t as) &or my &ami!y to $isit. '( on!y #een here a ay. 0'& she cries, ' want to wear pants &or a wee),2 ' o&&ere . E$eryone !a"%he , #"t in a 5"iet, po!ite way. E$en the )in% an 5"een seeme to &in my re5"est am"sin%. ' !i)e the way the 5"een !oo)e at me, !i)e ' was !ess o& a &orei%ner to her now. 07one,2 +a,on sai . 0An i& she oesn(t, yo" owe me a wa!) aro"n the %ro"n s tomorrow a&ternoon.2 A wa!) on the %ro"n s1 That was it1 't i n(t seem !i)e anythin% specia! to me. ' remem#ere what +a,on ha sai !ast ni%ht, that he was %"ar e . +ay#e he i n(t )now how to -"st as) a %ir! &or time a!one. +ay#e this was his way o& na$i%atin% somethin% $ery a!ien to him. Someone ne,t to me ma e a isappro$in% so"n . Oh. ' rea!i6e that i& ' !ost, '( #e the &irst person to o&&icia!!y %et time one=on=one with the prince. Part o& me wante to rene%otiate, #"t i& ' was %oin% to #e he!p&"!3as '( promise him3' co"! n(t #r"sh o&& his &irst attempts at tryin% to ate. 08o" ri$e a har #ar%ain, sir, #"t ' accept.2 09"stin12 The #"t!er he ha spo)en to ear!ier steppe &orwar . 0Go ma)e a parce! o& straw#erry tarts an sen it to the !a y(s &ami!y. Ha$e someone wait whi!e her sister tastes it, an !et "s )now i& she oes, in &act, cry. '(m most c"rio"s a#o"t this.2 9"stin no e an was o&&. 08o" sho"! write a note to sen with it, an te!! yo"r &ami!y yo"(re sa&e. 'n &act, yo" a!! sho"! . A&ter #rea)&ast, write a !etter to yo"r &ami!ies, an we(!! ma)e s"re they recei$e them to ay.2 E$eryone smi!e an si%he , happy to &ina!!y #e inc!" e in the %oin%s=on. We &inishe the rest o& o"r #rea)&ast an went to write o"r !etters. Anne &o"n me some stationery, an ' wrote a 5"ic) !etter to my &ami!y. E$en tho"%h thin%s ha %otten o&& to a $ery aw)war start, the !ast thin% ' wante was &or them to worry. ' trie to so"n #ree6y. 7ear +om, 7a , +ay, an Gera , ' miss yo" a!! so m"ch a!rea y? The prince wante "s to write home an !et o"r &ami!ies )now we were sa&e an we!!. ' am #oth. The p!ane ri e was a !itt!e scary, #"t it was &"n in a way, too. The wor! !oo)s so sma!! &rom "p so hi%h? They($e %i$en me !ots o& won er&"! c!othes an thin%s, an ' ha$e three sweet mai s who he!p me %et resse an c!ean &or me an te!! me where to %o. So e$en i& ' %et tota!!y con&"se , they a!ways )now -"st where '(m s"ppose to #e an he!p me %et there on time. The other %ir!s are most!y shy, #"t ' thin) ' mi%ht ha$e a &rien . 8o" remem#er +ar!ee &rom <ent1 ' met her on the way o$er to An%e!es. She(s $ery #ri%ht an &rien !y. '& ' ha$e to come home anytime soon, '(m hopin% she ma)es it to the en . ' ha$e met the prince. The )in% an 5"een, too. They(re e$en more re%a! in person. '

ha$en(t spo)en to them yet, #"t ' i ta!) to Prince +a,on. He(s a s"rprisin%!y %enero"s person* ' thin). ' ha$e to %o, #"t ' !o$e yo" an miss yo", an '(!! write a%ain as soon as ' can. Lo$e, America

' i n(t thin) there was anythin% shoc)in% in there, #"t ' co"! ha$e #een wron%. ' was ima%inin% +ay rea in% it o$er an o$er a%ain, &in in% hi en etai!s a#o"t my !i&e in the wor s. ' won ere i& she( rea this #e&ore she ate the pastries. P.S. +ay, on(t these straw#erry tarts -"st ma)e yo" want to cry1 There. That was the #est ' co"! o. Apparent!y, it wasn(t %oo eno"%h. A #"t!er )noc)e on my oor that e$enin% with an en$e!ope &rom my &ami!y an an "p ate. 0She i n(t cry, miss. She sai they were so %oo she co"! ha$e3as yo" s"%%este 3#"t she i not act"a!!y cry. His +a-esty wi!! come an %et yo" &rom yo"r room aro"n &i$e tomorrow. P!ease #e rea y.2 ' wasn(t so "pset a#o"t !osin%, #"t ' serio"s!y wo"! ha$e en-oye the pants. At !east, i& ' co"! n(t ha$e that, ' ha !etters. ' rea!i6e that this was the &irst time '( #een parte &rom my &ami!y &or more than a &ew ho"rs. We weren(t wea!thy eno"%h to %o on trips, an since ' i n(t rea!!y ha$e &rien s %rowin% "p, '( ne$er e$en spent the ni%ht away. '& on!y there was a way ' co"! %et !etters e$ery ay. ' s"ppose it co"! #e one, #"t it wo"! ha$e to #e so e,pensi$e. ' rea 7a (s &irst. He went on an on a#o"t how #ea"ti&"! ' !oo)e on TA an how pro" he was o& me. He sai ' sho"! n(t ha$e sent three #o,es o& tarts, #eca"se +ay was %oin% to %et spoi!e . Three #o,es? :or %oo ness( sa)e. He went on to say that Aspen ha #een at the ho"se he!pin% with paperwor), so he( ta)en a #o, home to his &ami!y. ' i n(t )now how to &ee! a#o"t that. On the one han , ' was %!a they wo"! ha$e somethin% so eca ent to eat. On the other, ' -"st ima%ine him sharin% some with his new %ir!&rien . Someone he co"! spoi!. ' won ere i& he was -ea!o"s o& +a,on(s %i&t, or i& he was %!a to #e ri o& my attention. ' !in%ere on those !ines m"ch !on%er than ' meant to. 7a c!ose #y sayin% he was p!ease '( ma e a &rien . Sai ' a!ways was s!ow in that epartment. ' &o! e the !etter "p an ran my &in%er o$er his si%nat"re on the o"tsi e. '( ne$er notice how &"nny he si%ne his name #e&ore. Gera (s !etter was short an to the point. He misse me, he !o$e me, an p!ease sen more &oo . ' !a"%he o"t !o" at that. +om was #ossy. E$en in print ' co"! hear her tone, sm"%!y con%rat"!atin% me on a!rea y earnin% the prince(s a&&ections3she ha #een in&orme that ' was the on!y one to %et %i&ts to sen home3an te!!in% me &irm!y to )eep "p whate$er ' was oin%. 8eah, +om, '(!! -"st )eep te!!in% the prince that he has a#so!"te!y no shot with me an o&&en him as o&ten as ' can. Great p!an. ' was %!a '( sa$e +ay(s &or !ast. Her !etter was a#so!"te!y %i y. She a mitte how -ea!o"s she was that ' was eatin% !i)e that a!! the time. She a!so comp!aine that +om was #ossin% her aro"n more. ' )new how that &e!t. The rest was a #arra%e o& 5"estions. Was +a,on as c"te in person as he was on TA1 What was ' wearin% now1 Co"! she come an $isit the pa!ace1 7i +a,on ha$e a secret #rother who wo"! #e wi!!in% to marry her one ay1 ' %i%%!e an em#race my co!!ection o& !etters. '( ha$e to ma)e the e&&ort to write #ac) soon. There ha to #e a te!ephone aro"n here somewhere, #"t so &ar no one ha ma e "s aware o& it. E$en i& ' ha one in my room, it wo"! pro#a#!y #e o$er)i!! to ca!! home ai!y. .esi es, these

!etters wo"! #e &"n to ho! on to. Proo& '( rea!!y #een here when this who!e p!ace wo"! #e a memory. ' went to #e with the com&ortin% )now!e %e that my &ami!y was oin% we!!, an that warmth !"!!e me into a so"n s!eep that was on!y hitche #y a twin%e o& ner$es at #ein% a!one with +a,on a%ain. ' co"! n(t 5"ite pin own the reason, #"t ' hope it was a!! &or nothin%. 0:or the sa)e o& appearances, wo"! yo" p!ease ta)e my arm12 +a,on as)e as he escorte me &rom my room the ne,t ay. ' was a !itt!e hesitant, #"t ' i . +y mai s ha a!rea y p"t me in my e$enin% ress; a !itt!e #!"e thin% with an empire waist an cappe s!ee$es. +y arms were #are, an ' co"! &ee! the starche &a#ric o& +a,on(s s"it a%ainst my s)in. Somethin% a#o"t it a!! ma e me "ncom&orta#!e. He m"st ha$e notice , #eca"se he trie to istract me. 0'(m sorry she i n(t cry,2 he sai . 0No yo"(re not.2 +y -o)in% tone ma e it c!ear ' wasn(t too "pset a#o"t !osin%. 0'($e ne$er %am#!e #e&ore. 't was nice to win.2 His tone was s!i%ht!y apo!o%etic. 0.e%inner(s !"c).2 He smi!e . 0Perhaps. Ne,t time we(!! try to ma)e her !a"%h.2 ' instant!y starte r"nnin% scenarios thro"%h my min . What &rom the pa!ace wo"! ma)e +ay -"st ie with !a"%hter1 +a,on co"! te!! ' was thin)in% a#o"t her. 0What(s yo"r &ami!y !i)e12 0What o yo" mean12 09"st that. 8o"r &ami!y m"st #e $ery i&&erent &rom mine.2 0'( say so.2 ' !a"%he . 0:or one, no one wears their tiaras to #rea)&ast.2 +a,on smi!e . 0+ore o& a inner thin% at the Sin%er ho"se12 0O& co"rse.2 He ch"c)!e 5"iet!y. ' was startin% to thin) may#e +a,on wasn(t near!y the sno# '( s"specte he was. 0We!!, '(m the mi !e chi! o& &i$e.2 0:i$e?2 08eah, &i$e. +ost &ami!ies o"t there ha$e !ots o& )i s. '( ha$e !ots i& ' co"! .2 0Oh, rea!!y12 +a,on(s eye#rows were raise . 08es,2 ' answere . +y $oice was !ow. ' co"! n(t 5"ite say why, #"t that seeme !i)e a $ery intimate etai! a#o"t my !i&e. On!y one other person ha rea!!y )nown a#o"t it. ' &e!t a spasm o& sa ness #"t sho$e it away. 0Anyway, my o! est sister, <enna, is marrie to a :o"r. She wor)s in a &actory now. +y mom wants me to marry at !east a :o"r, #"t ' on(t want to ha$e to stop sin%in%. ' !o$e it too m"ch. ."t ' %"ess '(m a Three now. That(s rea!!y weir . ' thin) '(m %oin% to try to stay in m"sic i& ' can. 0<ota is ne,t. He(s an artist. We on(t see m"ch o& him these ays. He i come to see me o&&, #"t that(s a#o"t it. 0Then there(s me.2 +a,on smi!e e&&ort!ess!y. 0America Sin%er,2 he anno"nce , 0my c!osest &rien .2 0That(s ri%ht.2 ' ro!!e my eyes. There was no way ' co"! act"a!!y #e his c!osest &rien . At !east not yet. ."t ' ha to a mit, he was the on!y person '( e$er rea!!y con&i e in who wasn(t &ami!y or someone ' was in !o$e with. We!!, +ar!ee, too. Co"! it #e the same way &or him1 S!ow!y we mo$e own the ha!!way an towar the stairs. He i n(t appear to #e in any sort o& r"sh. 0A&ter me there(s +ay. She(s the one who so! me o"t an i n(t cry. Honest!y, ' was ro##e / ' can(t #e!ie$e she i n(t cry? ."t yeah, she(s an artist. ' * ' a ore her.2 +a,on e,amine my &ace. Ta!)in% a#o"t +ay so&tene me a #it. ' !i)e +a,on we!! eno"%h, #"t ' i n(t )now how &ar ' wante to !et him in. 0An then Gera . He(s the #a#y/ he(s se$en. He hasn(t 5"ite &i%"re o"t i& he(s into m"sic or art yet. +ost!y he !i)es to p!ay #a!! an st" y #"%s, which is &ine e,cept that he can(t ma)e a !i$in% that way. We(re tryin% to %et him to e,periment more. Anyway, that(s e$eryone.2 0What a#o"t yo"r parents12 he

presse . 0What a#o"t yo"r parents12 ' rep!ie . 08o" )now my parents.2 0No, ' on(t. ' )now the p"#!ic ima%e o& them. What are they rea!!y !i)e12 ' p"!!e on his arm, which was 5"ite a &eat. +a,on(s arms were h"%e. E$en #eneath the !ayers o& his s"it, ' co"! &ee! the stron%, stea y m"sc!es there. +a,on si%he , #"t ' co"! te!! ' i n(t rea!!y e,asperate him at a!!. He seeme to !i)e ha$in% someone pester him. 't m"st #e sa to %row "p in this p!ace witho"t any si#!in%s. He starte thin)in% a#o"t what he was %oin% to say as we steppe into the %ar en. The %"ar s a!! wore s!y smi!es as we passe . 9"st past them a camera crew waite . O& co"rse they wo"! want to #e present &or the prince(s &irst ate. +a,on shoo) his hea at them, an they retreate in oors imme iate!y. ' hear someone c"rse. ' wasn(t partic"!ar!y !oo)in% &orwar to #ein% &o!!owe aro"n #y cameras, #"t it seeme stran%e to ismiss them. 0Are yo" a!! ri%ht1 8o" seem tense,2 +a,on note . 08o" %et con&"se #y cryin% women, ' %et con&"se #y wa!)s with princes,2 ' sai with a shr"%. +a,on !a"%he 5"iet!y at that #"t sai no more. As we mo$e west, the s"n was #!oc)e #y the massi$e &orest on the %ro"n s, tho"%h it was sti!! ear!y in the e$enin%. The sha e crept o$er "s, creatin% a tent o& ar)ness. When '( so"%ht iso!ation the other ni%ht, this was where ' wante to #e. We tr"!y seeme a!one now. We wa!)e on, away &rom the pa!ace an o"t o& earshot o& the %"ar s. 0What a#o"t me is so con&"sin%12 ' hesitate #"t sai what ' &e!t. 08o"r character. 8o"r intentions. '(m not s"re what to e,pect o"t o& this !itt!e stro!!.2 0Ah.2 He stoppe wa!)in% an &ace me. We were $ery c!ose to each other, an in spite o& the warm s"mmer air, a chi!! ran own my spine. 0' thin) yo" can te!! #y now that '(m not the type o& man to #eat aro"n the #"sh. '(!! te!! yo" e,act!y what ' want &rom yo".2 +a,on too) a step c!oser. +y #reath ca"%ht in my throat. '( -"st wa!)e into the $ery sit"ation ' &eare . No %"ar s, no cameras, no one to stop him &rom oin% whate$er he wante . <nee=-er) reaction. Litera!!y. ' )nee His +a-esty in the thi%h. Har . +a,on !et o"t a ye!! an reache own, c!"tchin% himse!& as ' #ac)e away &rom him. 0What was that &or12 0'& yo" !ay a sin%!e &in%er on me, '(!! o worse?2 ' promise . 0What12 0' sai , i& yo"32 0No, no, yo" cra6y %ir!, ' hear yo" the &irst time.2 +a,on %rimace . 0."t -"st what in the wor! o yo" mean #y it12 ' &e!t the heat r"n thro"%h my #o y. '( -"mpe to the worst possi#!e conc!"sion an set myse!& "p to &i%ht somethin% that o#$io"s!y wasn(t comin%. The %"ar s ran "p, a!erte #y o"r !itt!e s5"a##!e. +a,on wa$e them away &rom an aw)war , ha!&= #ent position. We were 5"iet &or a whi!e, an once +a,on was o$er the worst o& his pain, he &ace me. 0What i yo" thin) ' wante 12 he as)e . ' "c)e my hea an #!"she . 0America, what i yo" thin) ' wante 12 He so"n e "pset. +ore than "pset. O&&en e . He ha o#$io"s!y %"esse what '( ass"me , an he i n(t !i)e that one #it. 0'n p"#!ic1 8o" tho"%ht * &or hea$en(s sa)e. '(m a %ent!eman?2 He starte to wa!) away #"t t"rne #ac). 0Why i yo" e$en o&&er to he!p i& yo" thin) so !itt!e o& me12 ' co"! n(t e$en !oo) him in the eye. ' i n(t )now how to e,p!ain ' ha #een preppe to e,pect a o%, that the ar)ness an pri$acy ma e me &ee! stran%e, that '( on!y e$er #een a!one with one other #oy an that was how we #eha$e . 08o"(!! #e ta)in% inner in yo"r room toni%ht. '(!! ea! with this in the mornin%.2 ' waite in the %ar en "nti! ' )new a!! the others wo"! #e in the inin% ha!!, an then ' pace "p an own the ha!!way #e&ore ' went into my room. Anne, +ary, an L"cy were #esi e themse!$es

when ' came in. ' i n(t ha$e the heart to te!! them ' ha n(t spent the who!e time with the prince. +y mea! ha #een e!i$ere an was waitin% on the ta#!e #y the #a!cony. ' was h"n%ry now that ' wasn(t istracte #y my own h"mi!iation. ."t my !on% a#sence wasn(t the reason my mai s were in a ti66y. There was a $ery !ar%e #o, on the #e , #e%%in% to #e opene . 0Can we see12 L"cy as)e . 0L"cy, that(s r" e?2 Anne chi e . 0They roppe it o&& the moment yo" !e&t? We($e #een won erin% e$er since?2 +ary e,c!aime . 0+ary? +anners?2 Anne sco! e . 0No, on(t worry, %ir!s. ' on(t ha$e any secrets.2 When they came to )ic) me o"t tomorrow, '( te!! my mai s why. ' %a$e them a wea) smi!e as ' p"!!e at the #i% re #ow on the #o,. 'nsi e were three pairs o& pants. A !inen set, another that was more #"siness!i)e #"t so&t to the to"ch, an a %!orio"s pair ma e &rom enim. There was a car restin% on top with the '!!4a em#!em on it. 8o" as) &or s"ch simp!e thin%s, ' can(t eny yo". ."t &or my sa)e, on!y on Sat"r ays, p!ease. Than) yo" &or yo"r company. 8o"r &rien , +a,on.

CHAPTER 1C

' 7'7N(T REALL8 HAAE THAT m"ch time to &ee! ashame or worrie , a!! thin%s consi ere . When my mai s resse me the ne,t mornin% witho"t a hint o& worry, ' ass"me my presence ownstairs wo"! #e we!come. E$en a!!owin% me to come own to #rea)&ast showe a hint o& )in ness in +a,on ' ha n(t #een e,pectin%; ' %ot a !ast mea!, a !ast moment as one o& the #ea"ti&"! Se!ecte . We were ha!&way thro"%h #rea)&ast #e&ore <riss wor)e "p the co"ra%e to as) me a#o"t o"r ate. 0How was it12 she as)e 5"iet!y, the way we were meant to spea) at mea!times. ."t those three sma!! wor s ma e ears a!! "p an own the ta#!e per) "p, an e$eryone within hearin% istance was payin% attention. ' too) a #reath. 0'n escri#a#!e.2 The %ir!s !oo)e at one another, c!ear!y hopin% &or more. 0How i he act12 Tiny as)e . 0@mm.2 ' trie to choose my wor s care&"!!y. 0Not at a!! how ' e,pecte he wo"! .2 This time, !itt!e m"rm"rs went own the ta#!e. 0Are yo" #ein% !i)e that on p"rpose12 Moe inter-ecte . 0'& yo" are, it(s aw&"!!y mean.2 ' shoo) my hea . How co"! ' e,p!ain this1 0No, it(s -"st that32 ."t ' was spare tryin% to &orm an answer #y the con&"sin% noises comin% own the ha!!way. The sho"ts were stran%e. 'n my $ery short time at the pa!ace, not a sin%!e so"n ha re%istere as anythin% c!ose to !o" . .eyon that, there was a )in o& m"sic to the c!ic) o& the %"ar s( shoes on the &!oor, the massi$e oors openin% an c!osin%, the &or)s to"chin% the p!ates. This was comp!ete an a#so!"te mayhem. The roya! &ami!y seeme to "n erstan it #e&ore the rest o& "s. 0To the #ac) o& the room, !a ies?2 <in% C!ar)son ye!!e , an ran o$er to a win ow. Gir!s, con&"se #"t not wantin% to iso#ey, s!ow!y mo$e towar the hea ta#!e. The )in% was p"!!in% own a sha e, #"t it wasn(t the typica! !i%ht= &i!terin% )in . 't was meta! an s5"ea!e into p!ace. .esi e him +a,on came an rew own another. An #esi e +a,on the !o$e!y an e!icate 5"een was racin% to p"!! own the ne,t. That was when the wa$e o& %"ar s ma e it into

the inin% ha!!. ' saw a n"m#er o& them !inin% "p o"tsi e the room -"st #e&ore the monstro"s oors were c!ose , #o!te , an sec"re with #ars. 0They(re insi e the wa!!s, +a-esty, #"t we(re ho! in% them #ac). The !a ies sho"! !ea$e, #"t we(re so c!ose to the oor32 0@n erstoo , +ar)son,2 the )in% rep!ie , c"ttin% o&& the sentence. 't i n(t ta)e more than that &or me to comprehen . There were re#e!s insi e the %ro"n s. '( &i%"re it wo"! come. This many %"ests in the pa!ace, so many preparations %oin% on. S"re!y someone wo"! miss somethin% somewhere an !et o"r sa&ety s!ip. An e$en i& there were no easy way in, this wo"! #e an e,ce!!ent time to mo"nt a protest. At its #arest o& #ones, the Se!ection was )in o& ist"r#in%. ' was s"re the re#e!s hate it a!on% with e$erythin% e!se a#o"t '!!4a. ."t whate$er their opinion, ' wasn(t %oin% own 5"iet!y. ' p"she my chair #ac) so 5"ic)!y it &e!! o$er, an ' ran to the c!osest win ow to p"!! own the meta! sha e. A &ew other %ir!s who "n erstoo how threatene we were i the same. 't too) me on!y a moment to %et the thin% own, #"t !oc)in% it into p!ace was a !itt!e more i&&ic"!t. ' ha -"st mana%e to %et the !atch ri%ht when somethin% crashe into the meta! p!ate &rom o"tsi e the pa!ace, sen in% me screamin% #ac)war "nti! ' trippe o$er my &a!!en chair an t"m#!e to the %ro"n . +a,on appeare imme iate!y. 0Are yo" h"rt12 ' i a 5"ic) e$a!"ation. '( pro#a#!y ha$e a #r"ise on my hip, an ' was scare , #"t that was the worst o& it. 0No, '(m &ine.2 0To the #ac) o& the room. Now?2 he or ere as he he!pe me o&& the %ro"n . He race own the ha!!, snatchin% "p %ir!s who ha #e%"n to &ree6e "p in &ear an "sherin% them to the #ac) corner. ' o#eye , r"nnin% to the #ac) o& the room, towar the c!"sters o& %ir!s h" !e to%ether. Some o& them were weepin%/ others were starin% into space in shoc). Tiny ha &ainte . The most reass"rin% si%ht was <in% C!ar)son ta!)in% intent!y to a %"ar a!on% the #ac) wa!!, -"st &ar away eno"%h that the %ir!s wo"! n(t hear. He ha one arm wrappe protecti$e!y aro"n the 5"een, who stoo 5"iet!y an pro" !y #esi e him. How many times ha she s"r$i$e attac)s now1 We %ot reports that these happene se$era! times a year. That ha to #e "nner$in%. The o s were %ettin% s!immer an s!immer &or her * an her h"s#an * an her on!y chi! . S"re!y, e$ent"a!!y, the re#e!s wo"! &i%"re o"t the ri%ht a!i%nment o& circ"mstances to %et what they wante . 8et she stoo there, her chin set, her sti!! &ace wearin% a 5"iet ca!m. ' s"r$eye the %ir!s. 7i any o& them ha$e the stren%th it wo"! ta)e to #e the 5"een1 Tiny was sti!! "nconscio"s in someone(s arms. Ce!este an .arie! were ma)in% con$ersation. ' )new what Ce!este !oo)e !i)e at ease, an this wasn(t it. Sti!!, compare to the others, she hi her emotions we!!. Others were near hysterics, whimperin% on their )nees. Some ha menta!!y sh"t own, #!oc)in% o"t the entire or ea!. Their &aces were #!an), an they a#sent!y wr"n% their han s, waitin% &or it to en . +ar!ee was cryin% a !itt!e, #"t not so m"ch that she !oo)e !i)e a wrec). ' %ra##e her arm an p"!!e her "pri%ht. 07ry yo"r eyes an stan "p strai%ht,2 ' #ar)e into her ear. 0What12 she s5"ea)e . 0Tr"st me, o it.2 +ar!ee wipe her &ace on the si e o& her %own an stoo "p a !itt!e ta!!er. She to"che her &ace in se$era! p!aces, chec)in% &or sm" %e ma)e"p, ' %"esse . Then she t"rne an !oo)e at me &or appro$a!. 0Goo -o#. Sorry to #e so #ossy, #"t tr"st me on this one, o)ay12 ' &e!t #a or erin% her aro"n in the mi !e o& somethin% so istressin%, #"t she ha to !oo) as ca!m as F"een Am#er!y. S"re!y +a,on wo"! want that in

his 5"een, an +ar!ee ha to win. +ar!ee no e her hea . 0No, yo"(re ri%ht. ' mean, &or the time #ein%, e$eryone is sa&e. ' sho"! n(t #e so worrie .2 ' no e #ac) to her, tho"%h she was most ass"re !y wron%. E$eryone was not sa&e. G"ar s waite on e %e #y the massi$e oors as hea$y thin%s were thrown a%ainst wa!! an win ows a%ain an a%ain. There wasn(t a c!oc) in here. ' ha no i ea how !on% this attac) was !astin%, an that on!y ma e me more an,io"s. How wo"! we )now i& they %ot insi e1 Wo"! it on!y #e once they starte #an%in% on the oors1 Were they a!rea y insi e an we -"st i n(t )now it1 ' co"! n(t ta)e the worry. ' stare at a $ase o& ornate &!owers3 none o& which ' )new the names o&3 an #it away at one o& my per&ect!y manic"re nai!s. ' preten e that those &!owers were a!! that mattere in the wor! . E$ent"a!!y +a,on came #y to chec) on me, as he ha with the others. He stoo #esi e me an stare at the &!owers, too. Neither o& "s rea!!y )new what to say. 0Are yo" oin% a!! ri%ht12 he &ina!!y as)e . 08es,2 ' whispere . He pa"se a moment. 08o" seem "nwe!!.2 0What wi!! happen to my mai s12 ' as)e , $oicin% my %reatest worry. ' )new ' was sa&e. Where were they1 What i& one o& them ha #een wa!)in% own the ha!! as the re#e!s ma e their way in1 08o"r mai s12 he as)e in a tone that imp!ie ' was an i iot. 08es, my mai s.2 ' !oo)e into his eyes, shamin% him into ac)now!e %in% that on!y a choice minority o& the thron%s who !i$e in the pa!ace were act"a!!y #ein% protecte . ' was on the $er%e o& tears. ' i n(t want them to come, an ' was #reathin% rapi !y tryin% to )eep my emotions at #ay. He !oo)e into my eyes an seeme to "n erstan that ' was on!y one step "p &rom #ein% a mai myse!&. That wasn(t the reason &or my worry, #"t it i seem stran%e that a !ottery was the main i&&erence #etween someone !i)e Anne an me. 0They sho"! #e hi in% #y now. The he!p ha$e their own p!aces to wait. The %"ar s are $ery %oo a#o"t %ettin% aro"n 5"ic)!y an a!ertin% e$eryone. They o"%ht to #e &ine. We "s"a!!y ha$e an a!arm system, #"t the !ast time they came thro"%h, the re#e!s thoro"%h!y ismant!e it. They($e #een wor)in% on &i,in% it, #"t*2 +a,on si%he . ' !oo)e at the &!oor, tryin% to 5"iet a!! the worries in my hea . 0America,2 he #e%%e . ' t"rne to +a,on. 0They(re &ine. The re#e!s were s!ow, an e$eryone here )nows what to o in an emer%ency.2 ' no e . We stoo there 5"iet!y &or a min"te, an ' co"! te!! he was a#o"t to mo$e on. 0+a,on,2 ' whispere . He t"rne #ac), a !itt!e s"rprise to #e a resse so cas"a!!y. 0A#o"t !ast ni%ht. Let me e,p!ain. When they came to prep "s, to %et "s rea y to come here, there was a man who to! me that ' was ne$er to t"rn yo" own. No matter what yo" as)e &or. Not e$er.2 He was "m#&o"n e . 0What12 0He ma e it so"n !i)e yo" mi%ht as) &or certain thin%s. An yo" sai yo"rse!& that yo" ha n(t #een aro"n many women. A&ter ei%hteen years * an then yo" sent the cameras away. ' -"st %ot scare when yo" %ot that c!ose to me.2 +a,on shoo) his hea , tryin% to process a!! this. H"mi!iation, ra%e, an is#e!ie& a!! p!aye across his typica!!y e$en=tempere &ace. 0Was e$eryone to! this12 he as)e , so"n in% appa!!e at the i ea. 0' on(t )now. ' can(t ima%ine many %ir!s wo"! nee s"ch a warnin%. They(re pro#a#!y waitin% to po"nce on yo",2 ' note , no in% my hea towar the rest o& the room. He %a$e a ar) ch"c)!e. 0."t yo"(re not, so yo" ha a#so!"te!y no 5"a!ms a#o"t )neein% me in the %roin, ri%ht12 0' hit yo"r thi%h?2 0Oh, p!ease. A man oesn(t nee that !on% to reco$er &rom a )nee to the thi%h,2 he rep!ie , his $oice &"!! o& s)epticism. A

!a"%h escape me. Than)&"!!y, +a,on -oine in. 9"st then another mass hit the win ows, an we stoppe in "nison. :or a moment ' ha &or%otten where ' was. 0So how are yo" han !in% a room&"! o& cryin% women12 ' as)e . There was a comica! #ewi! erment in his e,pression. 0Nothin% in the wor! is more con&"sin%?2 he whispere "r%ent!y. 0' ha$en(t the &aintest c!"e how to stop it.2 This was the man who was %oin% to !ea o"r co"ntry; the %"y ren ere "se!ess #y tears. 't was too &"nny. 0Try pattin% them on the #ac) or sho"! er an te!!in% them e$erythin% is %oin% to #e &ine. Lots o& times when %ir!s cry, they on(t want yo" to &i, the pro#!em, they -"st want to #e conso!e ,2 ' a $ise . 0Rea!!y12 0Pretty m"ch.2 0't can(t possi#!y #e that simp!e.2 'ntri%"e an o"#t p!aye in his $oice. 0' sai most o& the time, not a!! the time. ."t it wo"! pro#a#!y wor) &or a !ot o& the %ir!s here.2 He snorte . 0'(m not so s"re. Two ha$e a!rea y as)e i& '(!! !et them !ea$e i& this e$er en s.2 0' tho"%ht we weren(t a!!owe to o that.2 ' sho"! n(t ha$e #een s"rprise , tho"%h. '& he ha a%ree to !et me stay on as a &rien , he co"! n(t #e too concerne with technica!ities. 0What are yo" %oin% to o12 0What e!se can ' o1 ' won(t )eep someone here a%ainst her wi!!.2 0+ay#e they(!! chan%e their min s,2 ' o&&ere hope&"!!y. 0+ay#e.2 He pa"se . 0What a#o"t yo"1 Ha$e yo" #een scare o&& yet12 he as)e a!most p!ay&"!!y. 0Honest!y1 ' was con$ince yo" were sen in% me home a&ter #rea)&ast anyway,2 ' a mitte . 0Honest!y1 ' ha consi ere that myse!&.2 There was a 5"iet smi!e #etween "s. O"r &rien ship3i& ' co"! e$en ca!! it that3was o#$io"s!y aw)war an &!awe , #"t at !east it was honest. 08o" i n(t answer me. 7o yo" want to !ea$e12 Another somethin% hit the wa!!, an the i ea so"n e appea!in%. The worst attac) '( %otten at home was Gera tryin% to stea! my &oo . The %ir!s here i n(t care &or me, the c!othes were sti&!in%, peop!e were tryin% to h"rt me, an the who!e thin% &e!t "ncom&orta#!e. ."t it was %oo &or my &ami!y an nice to #e &"!!. +a,on i seem a #it !ost, an '( %et to stay away &rom him &or a !itt!e #it !on%er. An who )new, may#e ' co"! he!p pic) o"t the ne,t princess. ' !oo)e +a,on in the eye. 0'& yo"(re not )ic)in% me o"t, '(m not !ea$in%.2 He smi!e . 0Goo . 8o"(!! nee to te!! me more tric)s !i)e this sho"! er=pattin% thin%.2 ' smi!e #ac). 8es, it was a!! wron%, #"t some %oo wo"! come o"t o& this. 0America, co"! yo" o me a &a$or12 ' no e . 0As &ar as anyone )nows, we spent a !ot o& time to%ether yester ay e$enin%. '& anyone as)s, co"! yo" p!ease te!! them that '(m not * that ' wo"! n(t*2 0O& co"rse. An ' rea!!y am sorry a#o"t e$erythin%.2 0' sho"! ha$e )nown that i& any %ir! was %oin% to iso#ey an or er, it wo"! #e yo".2 A co!!ection o& hea$y o#-ects hit the wa!! at once, ma)in% a han &"! o& %ir!s scream. 0Who are they1 What o they want12 ' as)e . 0Who1 The re#e!s12 ' no e . 07epen s on who yo" as). An which %ro"p yo"(re ta!)in% a#o"t,2 he answere . 08o" mean there(s more than one12 That ma e the entire e,perience m"ch worse. '& this was one %ro"p, what co"! two or more o to%ether1 As &ar as ' )new, a re#e! was a re#e! was a re#e!, #"t +a,on ma e it so"n !i)e some co"! #e worse than others. 0How many are there12 0Two %enera!!y, the Northerners an the So"therners. The Northerners attac) m"ch more &re5"ent!y. They(re c!oser. They !i$e in the rainy patch o& Li)e!y near .e!!in%ham, -"st north o& here. No one rea!!y wants to !i$e there3it(s practica!!y a!! r"ins3so they($e ma e it a home o& sorts, tho"%h ' %"ess they

tra$e!. The tra$e!in% is one theory o& mine3one no one !istens to. ."t they(re &ar !ess !i)e!y to #rea) in, an when they o the res"!ts are * tame a!most. '( %"ess that this is a Northern -o# ri%ht now,2 he sai o$er the in. 0Why1 What ma)es them so i&&erent &rom the So"therners12 +a,on seeme to hesitate, "ns"re i& this in&ormation was somethin% ' sho"! )now. He !oo)e aro"n to see i& anyone co"! hear "s. ' !oo)e aro"n , too, an saw that se$era! peop!e were watchin% "s. 'n partic"!ar, Ce!este !oo)e !i)e she was tryin% to set me on &ire with her eyes. ' i n(t )eep eye contact &or !on%. Sti!!, e$en with a!! the on!oo)ers, no one was c!ose eno"%h to hear. When +a,on came to the same conc!"sion, he !eane in to whisper. 0Their attac)s are m"ch more * !etha!.2 ' shi$ere . 0Letha!12 He no e . 0They on!y come a#o"t once or twice a year, as #est ' can te!! &rom the a&termath. ' thin) that e$eryone here is tryin% to protect me &rom the statistics, #"t '(m not st"pi . Peop!e ie when they come. The tro"#!e is, #oth %ro"ps !oo) a!i)e to "s3 in%y, most!y men, !ean #"t stron%, no sort o& em#!em as &ar as we can te!!3so we on(t )now what we(re %ettin% "nti! it(s a!! o$er.2 ' !oo)e aro"n the room. A !ot o& peop!e were in an%er i& +a,on was wron% an they happene to #e So"therners. ' tho"%ht o& my poor mai s a%ain. 0."t ' sti!! on(t "n erstan . What o they want12 +a,on shr"%%e . 0The So"therners appear to want "s emo!ishe . ' on(t )now why, #"t '(m %"essin% some issatis&action or another, tire o& !i$in% on the &rin%es o& society. ' mean, they(re not e$en Ei%hts technica!!y, since they ha$e no part in the socia! networ). ."t the Northerners are a #it o& a mystery. :ather says they -"st want to #other "s, isr"pt o"r %o$ernin%, #"t ' on(t thin) so.2 He !oo)e rather pro" &or a moment. 0' ha$e another theory a#o"t that as we!!.2 07o ' %et to )now it12 +a,on hesitate a%ain. ' %"esse this time it wasn(t so m"ch o"t o& &ear o& scarin% me, #"t perhaps not #ein% ta)en serio"s!y. He came c!ose a%ain an whispere , 0' thin) they(re !oo)in% &or somethin%.2 0What12 ' won ere . 0That ' on(t )now. ."t it(s a!ways the same aro"n here a&ter the Northerners come. G"ar s are )noc)e o"t, in-"re , or tie "p, #"t ne$er )i!!e . 't(s !i)e they -"st on(t want to #e &o!!owe aro"n . Tho"%h some peop!e %et ta)en with them, an that(s a #it ist"r#in%. An then the rooms3we!!, a!! the ones they can %et into3 they(re a mess. E$ery rawer p"!!e o"t, she!$es searche , carpet "pt"rne . Lots o& thin%s %et #ro)en. 8o" wo"! n(t #e!ie$e the n"m#er o& cameras '($e rep!ace o$er the years.2 0Cameras12 0Oh,2 he sai #ash&"!!y. 0' !i)e photo%raphy. ."t espite a!! that, they on(t en "p ta)in% m"ch. :ather thin)s my i ea is r"##ish, o& co"rse. What co"! a #"nch o& i!!iterate #ar#arians #e !oo)in% &or1 Sti!!, ' thin) there m"st #e somethin%.2 't was intri%"in%. '& ' was penni!ess an )new how to #rea) into the pa!ace, ' thin) '( ta)e e$ery piece o& -ewe!ry ' co"! &in , anythin% ' co"! se!!. These re#e!s m"st ha$e somethin% in min #eyon a mere po!itica! statement or their ay= to= ay s"r$i$a! in min when they came here. 07o yo" thin) it(s si!!y12 +a,on as)e , #rin%in% me o"t o& my won erin%s. 0No, not si!!y. Con&"sin%, #"t not si!!y.2 We share a sma!! smi!e. ' rea!i6e that i& +a,on ha simp!y #een +a,on Schrea$e an not +a,on, &"t"re )in% o& '!!4a, he wo"! #e the )in o& person ' wo"! ha$e wante to #e my ne,t= oor nei%h#or, someone to ta!) to. He c!eare his throat. 0' s"ppose ' sho"! &inish my ro"n s.2 08es, ' ima%ine there are 5"ite a &ew !a ies won erin% what(s ta)in% yo" so !on%.2 0So,

#" y, any s"%%estions as to whom ' sho"! spea) with ne,t12 ' smi!e an !oo)e #ehin me to ma)e s"re my can i ate &or princess was sti!! ho! in% it to%ether. She was. 0See the #!on %ir! o$er there in the pin)1 That(s +ar!ee. Sweetheart, $ery )in , !o$es mo$ies. Go.2 +a,on ch"c)!e an wa!)e in her irection. The time in the inin% ha!! &e!t !i)e an eternity, #"t the attac) ha on!y !aste a !itt!e o$er an ho"r. We &o"n o"t !ater that no one ha act"a!!y %otten insi e the pa!ace, -"st insi e the %ro"n s. The %"ar s i n(t shoot at the re#e!s "nti! they trie &or the main oors, which acco"nte &or the #ric)s3#ric)s that ha #een %o"%e o"t o& the pa!ace wa!!s3an rotten &oo #ein% thrown at the win ows &or so !on%. 'n the en , two men %ot too c!ose to the oors, shots were &ire , an they a!! &!e . '& +a,on(s !a#e!s were correct, ' wo"! ass"me these were Northerners. They )ept "s t"c)e away &or a !itt!e whi!e !on%er, searchin% the perimeter o& the pa!ace. When e$erythin% was as it sho"! #e, we were re!ease to o"r rooms. ' wa!)e arm in arm with +ar!ee. 7espite ho! in% it to%ether ownstairs, the strain o& the attac) ha e,ha"ste me, an ' was %!a to ha$e someone to istract me &rom it. 0He !et yo" ha$e the pants anyway12 she as)e . ' ha starte ta!)in% a#o"t +a,on as soon as ' co"! , ea%er to )now how their con$ersation ha %one. 08eah. He was $ery %enero"s a#o"t it a!!.2 0' thin) it(s charmin% that he(s a %oo winner.2 0He is a %oo winner. He(s e$en %racio"s when he(s %otten the raw en o& thin%s.2 Li)e a )nee to the roya! -ewe!s, &or e,amp!e. 0What o yo" mean12 0Nothin%.2 ' i n(t want to e,p!ain that one. 0What i yo" two ta!) a#o"t to ay12 0We!!, he as)e me i& '( !i)e to see him this wee).2 She #!"she . 0+ar!ee? That(s %reat?2 0H"sh?2 she sai , !oo)in% aro"n , tho"%h the rest o& the %ir!s ha a!rea y ascen e the stairs. 0'(m tryin% not to %et my hopes "p.2 We were 5"iet &or a min"te #e&ore she #"rst. 0Who am ' )i in%1 '(m so e,cite ' can #are!y stan it? ' hope he won(t ta)e too !on% to ca!! on me.2 0'& he(s a!rea y as)e , '(m s"re he(!! &o!!ow thro"%h soon. ' mean, a&ter he &inishes r"nnin% the co"ntry &or the ay, that is.2 She !a"%he . 0' can(t #e!ie$e this? ' mean, ' )new he was han some, #"t ' wasn(t s"re how he( #eha$e. ' was worrie he( #e* ' on(t )now, st"&&y or somethin%.2 0+e, too. ."t he(s act"a!!y*2 What was +a,on act"a!!y1 He was sort o& st"&&y, #"t not in a way that was as o&&=p"ttin% as '( ima%ine . @n enia#!y a prince, #"t sti!! so * so* 0Norma!.2 +ar!ee wasn(t !oo)in% at me anymore. She( !ost herse!& in a ay ream as we wa!)e . ' hope that this ima%e o& +a,on that she was #"i! in% was one he co"! e!i$er. An that she wo"! #e the )in o& %ir! he wante . ' !e&t her at her oor with a sma!! wa$e an went on to my room. +y tho"%hts o& +ar!ee an +a,on &!ew o"t o& my hea as soon as ' opene the oor. Anne an +ary were cro"che aro"n a $ery istresse L"cy. Her &ace was re with tears &a!!in% own her chee)s/ her "s"a! tiny trem#!es were &"!!=on sha)es, rac)in% her entire #o y. 0Ca!m own now, L"cy, e$erythin%(s &ine,2 Anne was whisperin% as she stro)e L"cy(s messy hair. 0E$erythin% is o$er now. No one was h"rt. 8o"(re sa&e, ear,2 +ary cooe , ho! in% a twitchin% han . ' was too shoc)e to spea). This moment was L"cy(s pri$ate str"%%!e, not meant &or my eyes. ' went to #ac) o"t o& my room, #"t L"cy ca"%ht me #e&ore ' co"! #ac) away. 0S=s=sorry, La y, La y, La y*,2 she stammere . The others !oo)e "p with an,io"s e,pressions. 07on(t tro"#!e yo"rse!&. Are yo" a!!

ri%ht12 ' as)e , c!osin% the oor so no one e!se wo"! see. L"cy trie to start a%ain, #"t co"! n(t &orm the wor s. Her tears an the sha)in% were o$erwhe!min% her !itt!e #o y. 0She(!! #e &ine, miss,2 Anne interce e . 0't ta)es a &ew ho"rs, #"t she ca!ms own once e$erythin%(s 5"iet. '& it stays #a , we can ta)e her to the hospita! win%.2 Anne roppe her $oice. 0On!y L"cy oesn(t want that. '& they thin) yo"(re "n&it, they hi e yo" own in the !a"n ry rooms or the )itchen. L"cy !i)es #ein% a mai .2 ' i n(t )now who Anne tho"%ht she was hi in% her $oice &rom. We were a!! s"rro"n in% L"cy, an she co"! hear those wor s c!ear!y, e$en in her state. 0P=p=p!ease, miss. ' on(t3' on(t3'*,2 she trie . 0H"sh. No one(s t"rnin% yo" in,2 ' to! her. ' !oo)e to Anne an +ary. 0He!p me %et her on the #e .2 With the three o& "s it sho"! ha$e #een easy, #"t L"cy was writhin% so that her arms an !e%s wo"! s!ip &rom o"r han s. 't too) 5"ite a #it o& e&&ort to %et her sett!e . Once we t"c)e her "n er the co$ers, the com&ort o& the #e seeme to o more than o"r wor s co"! . L"cy(s sh" ers #ecame s!ower, an she stare $acant!y at the canopy a#o$e the #e . +ary sat on the e %e o& the #e an starte h"mmin% a t"ne, remin in% me a!! too m"ch o& the way ' wo"! #a#y +ay when she was sic). ' p"!!e Anne into a corner, &ar away &rom L"cy(s ears. 0What happene 1 7i someone %et thro"%h12 ' as)e . ' wo"! e,pect to #e to! i& that were the case. 0No, no,2 Anne ass"re me. 0L"cy a!ways %ets !i)e this when the re#e!s come. 9"st ta!)in% a#o"t them wi!! sen her into a cryin% &it. She*2 Anne !oo)e own to her po!ishe #!ac) shoes, tryin% to eci e i& she sho"! te!! me somethin%. ' i n(t want to pry into L"cy(s !i&e, #"t ' i want to "n erstan . She too) a eep #reath an starte . 0Some o& "s were #orn here. +ary was #orn in the cast!e, an her parents are sti!! here. ' was an orphan, ta)en in #eca"se the pa!ace nee e sta&&.2 She strai%htene her ress, as i& she co"! r"# o&& this piece o& her history that seeme to #other her. 0L"cy was so! to the pa!ace.2 0So! 1 How can that #e1 There aren(t s!a$es here.2 0Not technica!!y, no, #"t that oesn(t mean it oesn(t happen. L"cy(s &ami!y nee e money &or an operation &or her mother. They %a$e their ser$ices o$er to a &ami!y o& Threes in e,chan%e &or the money. Her mother ne$er %ot #etter, they ne$er ma e their way o"t o& the e#t, so L"cy an her &ather ha #een !i$in% with this &ami!y &or a%es. :rom what ' "n erstan , it wasn(t m"ch #etter than !i$in% in a #arn with the way they were )ept. 0The son ha ta)en a !i)in% to L"cy, an ' )now sometimes it oesn(t matter what caste yo"(re in, #"t Si, to Three is 5"ite a -"mp. When his mother isco$ere his intentions &or L"cy, she so! her an her &ather to the pa!ace. ' remem#er when she came. Crie &or ays. They m"st ha$e #een terri#!y in !o$e.2 ' !oo)e o$er at L"cy. At !east in my case, one o& "s %ot to ma)e the ecision. She ha no choice when it came to !osin% the man she !o$e . 0L"cy(s a wor)s in the sta#!es. He(s not $ery &ast or stron%, #"t he(s incre i#!y e icate . An L"cy is a mai . ' )now it mi%ht seem si!!y to yo", #"t it(s an honor to #e a mai in the pa!ace. We are the &ront !ine. We are the ones eeme &it eno"%h an smart eno"%h an attracti$e eno"%h to #e seen #y anyone who comes to ca!!. We ta)e o"r positions serio"s!y, an with reason. '& yo" screw "p, yo"(re p"t in the )itchen, where yo"r &in%ers are wor)in% a!! ay, an the c!othes are #a%%y. Or yo" chop &irewoo or ra)e the %ro"n s. 't(s no sma!! thin% to #e a mai .2 ' &e!t st"pi . 'n my min , they were a!! Si,es. ."t there were ran)in%s e$en within

that, stat"ses that ' i n(t "n erstan . 0Two years a%o, there was an attac) on the pa!ace in the mi !e o& the ni%ht. They %ot the %"ar s( "ni&orms, an e$eryone was con&"se . 't was s"ch isarray, no one )new who to attac) or e&en , an peop!e s!ippe thro"%h ho!es in the !ines * it was terri&yin%.2 ' sh" ere -"st thin)in% a#o"t it. The ar), the con&"sion, the wi e e,panse o& the pa!ace. Compare to this mornin%, it so"n e !i)e the wor) o& So"therners. 0One o& the re#e!s %ot aho! o& L"cy.2 Anne "c)e her eyes &or a min"te. She spo)e her ne,t !ines 5"iet!y. 0'(m not s"re they ha$e $ery many women with them, i& yo" catch my meanin%.2 0Oh.2 0' i n(t see this myse!&, #"t L"cy to! me that this man was co$ere in %rime. She sai he )ept !ic)in% her &ace.2 Anne crin%e away &rom the tho"%ht. +y stomach hea$e , threatenin% to #rin% "p my #rea)&ast. 't was positi$e!y re$o!tin%, an ' co"! see how someone who( a!rea y #een as scarre as L"cy wo"! #rea) "n er that )in o& attac). 0He was ra%%in% her o&& somewhere, an she was screamin% as !o" as she co"! . 'n the commotion, it was har to hear her cries. ."t another %"ar came aro"n the corner, a rea! one. He too) aim an &ire a #"!!et ri%ht thro"%h the man(s hea . The re#e! &e!! to the %ro"n , pinnin% L"cy. She was co$ere in #!oo .2 ' co$ere my mo"th. ' co"! n(t ima%ine e!icate !itt!e L"cy %oin% thro"%h a!! that. No won er she reacte this way. 0She was treate &or some c"ts, #"t no one e$er rea!!y saw to her min . She(s a !itt!e -ittery now #"t tries to hi e it as #est she can. An it(s not -"st &or her sa)e, #"t her &ather(s. He(s so pro" that his a"%hter is %oo eno"%h to #e a mai . She oesn(t want to !et him own. We try to )eep her ca!m, #"t e$ery time the re#e!s come, she thin)s it(s %oin% to #e worse. Someone(s %oin% to ta)e her this time, h"rt her, )i!! her. 0She(s tryin%, miss, #"t '(m not s"re how m"ch more o& this she can stan .2 ' no e , !oo)in% o$er to L"cy in the #e . She ha c!ose her eyes an &a!!en as!eep, e$en tho"%h it was sti!! 5"ite ear!y. ' spent the rest o& the ay rea in%. Anne an +ary c!eane thin%s that weren(t irty. We a!! staye 5"iet whi!e L"cy reco$ere . ' promise myse!& that, i& ' co"! he!p it, L"cy wo"! n(t ha$e to %o thro"%h that a%ain.

CHAPTER 1D

AS ' PRE7'CTE7, THE G'RLS who ha as)e to %o home chan%e their min s once e$erythin% ha sett!e own. None o& "s )new e,act!y who ha wante o"t, #"t there were some3Ce!este in partic"!ar3who were etermine to &in o"t. :or the time #ein% we remaine at twenty=se$en %ir!s. The attac) was so inconse5"entia!, accor in% to the )in%, that it #are!y warrante notice. Howe$er, since camera crews ha #een ma)in% their way in that mornin%, some o& it was aire !i$e. Apparent!y the )in% wasn(t p!ease a#o"t that. 't ma e me won er -"st how many attac)s the pa!ace s"&&ere thro"%h that we ne$er hear a#o"t. Was it &ar !ess sa&e here than '( tho"%ht1 Si!$ia e,p!aine that i& the attac) ha #een m"ch worse, we wo"! ha$e a!! #een a#!e to ca!!

o"r &ami!ies an te!! them we were sa&e. As it was, we were instr"cte to write !etters home instea . ' wrote that ' was we!! an that the attac) pro#a#!y seeme worse than it was an that the )in% ha "s a!! )ept sa&e!y t"c)e away. ' "r%e them not to worry a#o"t me an to! them that ' misse them an han e the !etter o&& to a he!p&"! mai . The ay a&ter the attac) passe witho"t inci ent. ' ha p!anne on %oin% own to the Women(s Room to ta!) "p +a,on to the others, #"t a&ter seein% L"cy so sha)en, ' chose to )eep to my room. ' i n(t )now what my three mai s #"sie themse!$es with whi!e ' was away, #"t when ' was in the room, they p!aye car %ames with me an !et pieces o& %ossip s!ip into the con$ersation. ' !earne that &or e$ery o6en peop!e ' saw in the pa!ace, there were a h"n re or more #ehin them. The coo)s an !a"n resses ' )new a#o"t, #"t there were a!so peop!e whose so!e -o# was to )eep the win ows c!ean. 't too) a so!i wee) &or the team to %et them a!! one, #y the en o& which the "st wo"! &in its way past the pa!ace wa!!s an c!in% to the c!ean %!ass, an they( ha$e to #e washe a!! o$er a%ain. There were a!so -ewe!ers hi en away, ma)in% pieces &or the &ami!y an %i&ts &or $isitors, an teams o& seamstresses an #"yers )eepin% the roya! &ami!y3an now "s3immac"!ate!y c!othe . ' !earne other thin%s, too. The %"ar s they tho"%ht were the c"test an the horri new esi%n o& a ress the hea mai was ma)in% the sta&& wear &or the ho!i ay parties. How some in the pa!ace were ta)in% #ets on which Se!ecte %ir! mi%ht win an that ' was in the top ten pic)s. A #a#y o& one o& the coo)s was sic) #eyon hope, which ma e Anne tear "p a #it. This %ir! happene to #e a c!ose &rien o& hers, an the co"p!e ha #een waitin% so !on% &or a chi! . Listenin% to them an -oinin% in when ' ha somethin% worth sayin%, ' co"! n(t ima%ine anythin% more entertainin% happenin% ownstairs an was %!a to ha$e s"ch company. The moo in my room was a 5"iet an happy one. The ay ha #een so nice, ' staye "p there the ay a&ter as we!!. This time, we )ept the oors open to #oth the ha!!way an the #a!cony, an the warm air &i!tere in an wrappe itse!& aro"n "s. 't seeme to o partic"!ar!y won er&"! thin%s &or L"cy, an ' won ere how o&ten she act"a!!y %ot to step o"tsi e. Anne ma e a comment a#o"t how this was a!! inappropriate3me sittin% with them, p!ayin% %ames with the oors open3#"t !et it rop a!most imme iate!y. She was 5"ic)!y %ettin% o$er tryin% to ma)e me the !a y it seeme ' o"%ht to #e. We were in the mi !e o& a %ame o& car s when ' notice a &i%"re o"t o& the corner o& my eye. 't was +a,on, stan in% at the open oor, !oo)in% am"se . As o"r eyes met, ' co"! see that his e,pression was c!ear!y as)in% what in the wor! ' was oin%. ' stoo , smi!in%, an wa!)e o$er to him. 0Oh, sweet Lor ,2 Anne m"ttere as she rea!i6e the prince was at the oor. She imme iate!y swept the car s into a sewin% #as)et an stoo , +ary an L"cy &o!!owin% s"it. 0La ies,2 +a,on sai . 08o"r +a-esty,2 she sai with a c"rtsy. 0S"ch an honor, sir.2 0:or me as we!!,2 he answere with a smi!e. The mai s !oo)e #ac) an &orth to one another, &!attere . We were a!! si!ent &or a moment, not 5"ite s"re what to o. +ary s" en!y pipe "p. 0We were -"st !ea$in%.2 08es? That(s ri%ht,2 L"cy a e . 0We were3"h3-"st*2 She !oo)e to Anne &or he!p. 0Goin% to &inish La y America(s ress &or :ri ay,2 Anne conc!" e . 0That(s ri%ht,2 +ary sai . 0On!y two ays !e&t.2 They s!ow!y circ!e "s to %et o"t o& the room, h"%e smi!es p!astere on their &aces. 0Wo"! n(t want to )eep yo" &rom

yo"r wor),2 +a,on sai , &o!!owin% them with his eyes, comp!ete!y &ascinate with their #eha$ior. Once in the ha!!, they %a$e aw)war !y mistime c"rtsies an wa!)e away at a &e$erish pace. 'mme iate!y a&ter they ro"n e the corner, L"cy(s %i%%!es echoe own the corri or, &o!!owe #y Anne(s intense h"shin%. 0F"ite a %ro"p yo" ha$e,2 +a,on sai , wa!)in% into my room, s"r$eyin% the space. 0They )eep me on my toes,2 ' answere with a smi!e. 0't(s c!ear they ha$e a&&ection &or yo". That(s har to &in .2 He stoppe !oo)in% at my room an &ace me. 0This isn(t what ' ima%ine yo"r room wo"! !oo) !i)e.2 ' raise an arm an !et it &a!!. 0't(s not rea!!y my room, is it1 't #e!on%s to yo", an ' -"st happen to #e #orrowin% it.2 He ma e a &ace. 0S"re!y they to! yo" that chan%es co"! #e ma e1 A new #e , i&&erent paint.2 ' shr"%%e . 0A coat o& paint wo"! n(t ma)e this mine. Gir!s !i)e me on(t !i$e in ho"ses with mar#!e &!oors,2 ' -o)e . +a,on smi!e . 0What oes yo"r room at home !oo) !i)e12 0@m, what i yo" come &or e,act!y12 ' he %e . 0Oh? ' ha an i ea.2 0A#o"t12 0We!!,2 he starte , contin"in% to wa!) aro"n the room, 0' tho"%ht that since yo" an ' on(t ha$e the typica! re!ationship that ' ha$e with the other %ir!s, may#e we sho"! ha$e * a!ternati$e means o& comm"nication.2 He stoppe in &ront o& my mirror an !oo)e at the pict"res o& my &ami!y. 08o"r !itt!e sister !oo)s -"st !i)e yo",2 he sai , am"se #y this o#ser$ation. ' wa!)e eeper into my room. 0We %et that a !ot. What was that a#o"t a!ternati$e comm"nication12 +a,on &inishe "p with the pict"res an mo$e towar the piano in the #ac). 0Since yo" are s"ppose to #e he!pin% me, #ein% my &rien an a!!,2 he contin"e with a pointe !oo) at me, 0perhaps we sho"! n(t #e re!yin% on the tra itiona! notes sent thro"%h mai s an &orma! in$itations &or ates. ' was thin)in% somethin% a !itt!e !ess ceremonia!.2 He pic)e "p the sheet m"sic on top o& the piano. 07i yo" #rin% these12 0No, those were here. Anythin% ' rea!!y want to p!ay, ' can o &rom memory.2 His eye#rows rose. 0'mpressi$e.2 He mo$e #ac) in my irection witho"t &inishin% his e,p!anation. 0Co"! yo" p!ease stop po)in% aro"n an comp!ete an entire tho"%ht12 +a,on si%he . 0:ine. What ' was thin)in% was that yo" an ' co"! ha$e a si%n or somethin%, some way o& comm"nicatin% that we nee to spea) to each other that no one e!se wo"! catch onto. Perhaps r"##in% o"r noses12 +a,on ran a &in%er #ac) an &orth -"st a#o$e his !ips. 0That !oo)s !i)e yo"r nose is stoppe "p. Not attracti$e.2 He %a$e me a s!i%ht!y perp!e,e !oo) an no e . 0Aery we!!. Perhaps we co"! simp!y r"n o"r &in%ers thro"%h o"r hair12 ' shoo) my hea a!most imme iate!y. 0+y hair is a!most a!ways p"!!e "p with pins. 't(s near!y impossi#!e to %et my &in%ers thro"%h it. .esi es, what i& yo" happen to #e wearin% yo"r crown1 8o"( )noc) it o&& yo"r hea .2 He shoo) a tho"%ht&"! &in%er at me. 0E,ce!!ent point. Hmmm.2 He passe me, contin"in% to thin), an stoppe near the ta#!e #y my #e . 0What a#o"t t"%%in% yo"r ear12 ' consi ere . 0' !i)e it. Simp!e eno"%h to hi e, #"t not so common we co"! mista)e it &or somethin% e!se. Ear t"%%in% it is.2 +a,on(s attention was &i,ate on somethin%, #"t he t"rne to smi!e at me. 0'(m %!a yo" appro$e. The ne,t time yo" want to see me, simp!y t"% yo"r ear, an '(!! come as soon as '(m a#!e. Pro#a#!y a&ter inner,2 he conc!" e with a shr"%. .e&ore ' co"! as) a#o"t me comin% to him, +a,on stro!!e across the room with my -ar in his han . 0What in the wor! is this a#o"t12 ' si%he . 0That, '(m a&rai , is

#eyon e,p!anation.2 :ri ay arri$e , an with that came o"r e#"t on the '!!4a Capita! Report. 't was somethin% that was re5"ire o& "s, #"t at !east this wee) a!! we ha to o was sit there. With the time i&&erence, we( %o on at &i$e, sit thro"%h the ho"r, an then %o o&& to inner. Anne, +ary, an L"cy too) e,tra care in ressin% me. The %own was a eep #!"e, ho$erin% near p"rp!e. 't was &itte thro"%h my hips, an &anne o"t in satiny smooth wa$es #ehin me. ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e ' was to"chin% somethin% so #ea"ti&"!. ."tton a&ter #"tton was &astene "p my #ac), an my mai s p"t pins #e ec)e with pear!s in my hair. They a e tiny pear! earrin%s an a nec)!ace ma e o& wire so thin an pear!s so &ar apart they !oo)e !i)e they &!oate on my s)in, an ' was one. ' !oo)e in the mirror. ' sti!! !oo)e !i)e me. 't was the prettiest $ersion o& myse!& '( seen so &ar, #"t ' )new that &ace. E$er since my name ha #een rawn, '( &eare ' wo"! #ecome somethin% "nreco%ni6a#!e3co$ere in !ayers o& ma)e"p an so h"n% own with -ewe!ry that '( ha$e to i% o"t o& it &or wee)s to &in myse!& a%ain. So &ar, ' was sti!! America. An , e,act!y !i)e myse!&, ' &o"n that ' was co$ere in a sheen o& sweat as ' wa!)e own to the room where they recor e messa%es at the pa!ace. They( to! "s to #e there ten min"tes ear!y. Ten min"tes meant &i&teen to me. 't meant more !i)e three to someone !i)e Ce!este. So the arri$a! o& the %ir!s was sta%%ere . Hor es o& peop!e were swarmin% aro"n , p"ttin% the !ast to"ches on the set3which now he! rows o& tiere seatin% &or the Se!ecte . The co"nci! mem#ers who ' reco%ni6e &rom years o& watchin% the Report were there, rea in% o$er their scripts an a -"stin% their ties. The Se!ecte crow were chec)in% themse!$es in mirrors an t"%%in% at their e,tra$a%ant resses. 't was a &!"rry o& acti$ity. ' t"rne an ca"%ht the #rie&est o& moments in +a,on(s !i&e. His mother, the #ea"ti&"! F"een Am#er!y, p"she some stray hairs #ac) into p!ace. He strai%htene his -ac)et an sai somethin% to her. She %a$e a reass"rin% no , an +a,on smi!e . ' wo"! ha$e watche a !itt!e !on%er, #"t Si!$ia, in a!! her %!ory, came to escort me into p!ace. 09"st hea o$er to the risers, La y America,2 she sai . 08o" may sit anywhere yo" !i)e. So yo" )now, most o& the %ir!s ha$e a!rea y c!aime the &ront row.2 She !oo)e sorry &or me, as i& she were e!i$erin% #a news. 0Oh, than) yo",2 ' sai , an went happi!y to ta)e a seat in the #ac). ' i n(t !i)e c!im#in% the !itt!e steps with a sn"% ress an s"ch strappy shoes. NWere the shoes rea!!y necessary1 No one was e$en %oin% to see my &eet.O ."t ' mana%e . When ' saw +ar!ee come in, she smi!e an wa$e an came to sit ri%ht ne,t to me. 't meant a %reat ea! to me that she chose a p!ace #esi e me as oppose to a spot in the secon row. She was &aith&"!. She( ma)e a %reat 5"een. Her ress was a #ri!!iant ye!!ow. With her #!on hair an s"n=)isse s)in, she !oo)e !i)e she was ra iatin% !i%ht into the room. 0+ar!ee, ' !o$e that ress. 8o" !oo) &antastic?2 0Oh, than) yo".2 She #!"she . 0' tho"%ht it mi%ht #e a #it too m"ch.2 0Not at a!!? Tr"st me, it(s per&ect on yo".2 0'($e wante to spea) to yo", #"t yo"($e #een missin%. 7o yo" thin) we co"! ta!) tomorrow12 she as)e in a whisper. 0O& co"rse. 'n the Women(s Room, ri%ht1 't(s Sat"r ay,2 ' sai in a matche tone. 0O)ay,2 she answere e,cite !y. 9"st in &ront o& "s, Amy t"rne aro"n . 0' &ee! !i)e my pins are &a!!in% o"t. Can yo" %"ys chec) them12 Witho"t a wor , +ar!ee p"t her s!im &in%ers in the c"r!s o& Amy(s hair an chec)e &or !oose pins. 0That &ee! #etter12 Amy si%he . 08es, than) yo".2

0America, is there !ipstic) on my teeth12 Moe as)e . ' t"rne to my !e&t an &o"n her smi!in% maniaca!!y, e,posin% a!! her pear!y whites. 0No, yo"(re %oo ,2 ' answere , seein% o"t o& the corner o& my eye that +ar!ee was no in% in con&irmation. 0Than)s. How is he so ca!m12 Moe as)e , pointin% o$er at +a,on, who was ta!)in% to a mem#er o& the crew. She then #ent own an p"t her hea #etween her !e%s an starte oin% contro!!e #reathin%. +ar!ee an ' !oo)e at each other, eyes wi e with am"sement, an trie not to !a"%h. 't was har i& we !oo)e at Moe, so we s"r$eye the room an chatte a#o"t what others were wearin%. There were se$era! %ir!s in se "cti$e re s an !i$e!y %reens, #"t no one e!se in #!"e. O!i$ia ha %one so &ar as to wear oran%e. '( a mit that ' i n(t )now that m"ch a#o"t &ashion, #"t +ar!ee an ' #oth a%ree that someone sho"! ha$e inter$ene on her #eha!&. The co!or ma e her s)in !oo) )in o& %reen. Two min"tes #e&ore the cameras t"rne on, we rea!i6e it wasn(t the ress ma)in% her !oo) %reen. O!i$ia $omite into the c!osest trash can $ery !o" !y an co!!apse on the &!oor. Si!$ia swoope in, an a &"ss was ma e to wipe the sweat o&& her an %et her into a seat. She was p!ace in the #ac) row with a sma!! receptac!e at her &eet, -"st in case. .arie! was in the seat in &ront o& her. ' co"! n(t hear what she m"ttere to the poor %ir! &rom where ' was, #"t it !oo)e !i)e .arie! was prepare to in-"re O!i$ia sho"! she ha$e another episo e near her. ' %"esse that +a,on ha seen or hear some o& the commotion, an ' !oo)e o$er to see i& he was ha$in% any sort o& reaction to it a!!. ."t he wasn(t !oo)in% towar the ist"r#ance/ he was !oo)in% at me. F"ic)!y3so 5"ic)!y it wo"! !oo) !i)e nothin% #"t scratchin% an itch to anyone e!se3+a,on reache "p an t"%%e on his ear. ' repeate the action #ac), an we #oth t"rne away. ' was e,cite to )now that toni%ht, a&ter inner, +a,on wo"! #e stoppin% #y my room. S" en!y the anthem m"sic was p!ayin%, an ' co"! see the nationa! em#!em on tiny screens aro"n the room. ' shi&te to sit "p strai%hter. A!! ' co"! thin) was that my &ami!y was %oin% to see me toni%ht, an ' wante them to #e pro" . <in% C!ar)son was at the po i"m spea)in% a#o"t the #rie& an "ns"ccess&"! attac) on the pa!ace. ' wo"! n(t ha$e ca!!e it "ns"ccess&"!. 't mana%e to scare the ay!i%hts o"t o& most o& "s. Anno"ncement a&ter anno"ncement came, an ' trie to #e aware o& e$erythin% they sai , #"t it was har . ' was "se to watchin% this on a com&y co"ch with #ow!s o& popcorn an &ami!y commentary. +any o& the anno"ncements tie into the re#e!s, p!acin% #!ame &or certain thin%s on their sho"! ers. The roa s #ein% #"i!t in S"mner were #ehin sche "!e #eca"se o& the re#e!s, an the n"m#er o& !oca! o&&icers in At!in was own #eca"se they( #een sent to he!p with a re#e!=ca"se ist"r#ance in St. Geor%e. ' ha no i ea either o& those thin%s ha happene . .etween e$erythin% '( hear an seen %rowin% "p an what '( !earne since comin% to the pa!ace, ' #e%an to won er -"st how m"ch we )new a#o"t the re#e!s. +ay#e ' -"st i n(t "n erstan , #"t ' i n(t thin) they co"! #e #!ame &or e$erythin% that was wron% with '!!4a. An then, as i& he ha appeare o"t o& thin air, Ga$ri! was wa!)in% on set a&ter #ein% intro "ce #y the +aster o& E$ents. 0Goo e$enin%, e$eryone. Toni%ht ' ha$e a specia! anno"ncement. The Se!ection has #een %oin% &or a wee) now an ei%ht !a ies ha$e a!rea y %one home, !ea$in% twenty=se$en #ea"ti&"! women &or Prince +a,on to choose &rom. Ne,t wee), #y hoo) or #y croo), the ma-ority o& the '!!4a Capita! Report

wi!! #e e icate to %ettin% to )now these ama6in% yo"n% women.2 ' &e!t the !itt!e #ea s o& sweat poo!in% on my temp!e. Sit here an !oo) nice* ' co"! o that. ."t answer 5"estions1 ' )new ' wasn(t %oin% to win this !itt!e %ame/ that wasn(t the iss"e. ' -"st rea!!y, rea!!y i n(t want to !oo) !i)e a moron in &ront o& the entire co"ntry. 0.e&ore we %et to the !a ies, toni%ht !et(s ta)e a moment with the man o& the ho"r. How are yo" toni%ht, Prince +a,on12 Ga$ri! sai , wa!)in% across the sta%e. +a,on ha #een am#"she . He i n(t ha$e a microphone or prepare answers. 9"st #e&ore Ga$ri!(s microphone reache +a,on(s &ace, ' ca"%ht his eye an %a$e him a win). That tiny action was eno"%h to ma)e him smi!e. 0'(m $ery we!!, Ga$ri!, than) yo".2 0Are yo" en-oyin% yo"r company so &ar12 08es? 't(s #een a p!eas"re %ettin% to )now these !a ies.2 0Are they a!! the sweet, %ent!e !a ies they appear to #e12 Ga$ri! as)e . .e&ore +a,on rep!ie , the answer #ro"%ht a smi!e to my &ace. .eca"se ' )new that it was yes * sort o&. 0@mm*2 +a,on !oo)e past Ga$ri! at me. 0A!most.2 0A!most12 Ga$ri! as)e , s"rprise . He t"rne to "s. 0's someone o$er there #ein% na"%hty12 +erci&"!!y, a!! the %ir!s !et o"t !i%ht %i%%!es, so ' #!en e in. The !itt!e traitor? 0What e,act!y i these %ir!s o that isn(t so sweet12 Ga$ri! as)e +a,on. 0Oh, we!!, !et me te!! yo".2 +a,on crosse his !e%s an %ot $ery com&orta#!e in his chair. 't was pro#a#!y the most re!a,e '( e$er seen him, sittin% there po)in% &"n at me. ' !i)e this si e o& him. ' wishe it wo"! come o"t more o&ten. 0One o& them ha the ner$e to ye!! at me rather &orce&"!!y the &irst time we met. ' was %i$en a $ery se$ere sco! in%.2 A#o$e +a,on(s hea , the )in% an 5"een e,chan%e a %!ance. 't seeme they were hearin% this story &or the &irst time, too. .esi e me the %ir!s were !oo)in% at one another, con&"se . ' i n(t %et it "nti! +ar!ee sai somethin%. 0' on(t remem#er anyone ye!!in% at him in the Great Room. 7o yo"12 +a,on seeme to ha$e &or%otten that o"r &irst meetin% was meant to #e a secret. 0' thin) he(s ta!)in% it "p to ma)e it &"nnier. ' i say some serio"s thin%s to him. ' thin) he mi%ht mean me.2 0A sco! in%, yo" say1 Whate$er &or12 Ga$ri! contin"e . 0Honest!y, ' wasn(t rea!!y s"re. ' thin) it was a #o"t o& homesic)ness. Which is why ' &or%a$e her, o& co"rse.2 +a,on was !oose an easy now, ta!)in% to Ga$ri! as i& he were the on!y person in the room. '( ha$e to te!! him !ater how won er&"! he i . 0So she(s sti!! with "s, then12 Ga$ri! !oo)e o$er at the co!!ection o& %ir!s, %rinnin% wi e!y, an then ret"rne to &ace his prince. 0Oh, yes. She(s sti!! here,2 +a,on sai , not !ettin% his eyes wan er &rom Ga$ri!(s &ace. 0An ' p!an on )eepin% her here &or 5"ite a whi!e.2

CHAPTER 1E

7'NNER WAS 7'SAPPO'NT'NG. NEHT WEE< '( ha$e to te!! my mai s to !ea$e some room in the ress &or me to eat. 'n my room, Anne, +ary, an L"cy waite to he!p me o"t o& my %own, #"t ' e,p!aine that '( nee to stay in it a !itt!e #it !on%er. Anne &i%"re it o"t &irst3that +a,on was comin% to see me3 #eca"se ' was a!ways ea%er to %et o"t o& the #in in% c!othes. 0Wo"! yo" !i)e

"s to stay !ater toni%ht1 't(s no pro#!em,2 +ary sai -"st a !itt!e too hope&"!!y. A&ter the ca!amity o& +a,on $isitin% ear!ier this wee), ' eci e sen in% them o"t as ear!y as possi#!e was the #est way to %o. .esi es, ' co"! n(t #ear to ha$e them watchin% me "nti! he showe "p. 0No, no. '(m &ine. '& ' ha$e a pro#!em with the ress !ater, '(!! rin%.2 They re!"ctant!y #ac)e o"t the oor an !e&t me to wait &or +a,on. ' i n(t )now how !on% he( #e, an ' i n(t want to start a #oo) an ha$e to stop, or sit own at the piano on!y to hop ri%ht #ac) "p. ' en e "p -"st !o"n%in% on the #e , waitin%. ' !et my min wan er. ' tho"%ht o& +ar!ee an her )in ness. ' rea!i6e that, #esi es a &ew sma!! etai!s, ' )new $ery !itt!e a#o"t her. Sti!!, ' tr"ste that her actions towar me were in no way &a)e. An then ' tho"%ht o& the %ir!s who were a!! too &a)e. ' won ere i& +a,on co"! te!! the i&&erence.'t seeme !i)e +a,on(s e,perience with women was so %reat an so sma!! at once. He was %ent!eman!y eno"%h, #"t when he %ot too c!ose, he came "n one. 't was !i)e he )new how to treat a !a y, he -"st i n(t )now how to treat a ate. 't was 5"ite a contrast to Aspen. Aspen. His name, his &ace, his memory hit me so 5"ic)!y it was har to process. Aspen. What was he oin% now1 't was %ettin% c!ose to c"r&ew in Caro!ina. He( sti!! #e at wor), i& he ha a -o# to ay. Or may#e o"t with .renna, or whoe$er e!se he( eci e to start spen in% his time with since we #ro)e "p. Part o& me ache to )now * part o& me wante to cr"m#!e -"st thin)in% a#o"t it. ' !oo)e o$er to my -ar. ' pic)e it "p an &e!t the penny s!i e aro"n , so !one!y. 0+e, too,2 ' whispere . 0+e, too.2 Was it st"pi o& me to )eep this1 '( %i$en #ac) e$erythin% e!se, so why sa$e one !itt!e penny1 Wo"! this #e a!! ' ha !e&t1 A penny in a -ar to show my a"%hter one ay, to te!! her a#o"t my &irst #oy&rien 3the one no one )new a#o"t1 ' i n(t ha$e time to we!! on my worries. +a,on(s &irm )noc) came on!y min"tes !ater. ' &o"n myse!& r"nnin% to the oor. ' rew it open in a #i% sweep, an +a,on !oo)e s"rprise to see me. 0Where in the wor! are yo"r mai s12 he as)e , s"r$eyin% my room. 0Gone. ' sen them o&& when ' come #ac) &rom inner.2 0E$ery ay12 08es, o& co"rse. ' can ta)e my c!othes o&& #y myse!&, than) yo".2 +a,on raise his eye#rows an smi!e . ' #!"she . ' ha n(t meant it to come o"t !i)e that. 0Gra# a wrap. 't(s chi!!y o"t.2 We wa!)e own the ha!!. ' was sti!! a !itt!e istracte #y my tho"%hts, an ' )new #y now that +a,on wasn(t %reat with startin% con$ersations. ' ha !oope my han aro"n his arm a!most imme iate!y, tho"%h. ' was %!a that there was a sort o& &ami!iarity there. 0'& yo" insist on not )eepin% yo"r mai s aro"n , '(m %oin% to ha$e to post a %"ar o"tsi e yo"r oor,2 he sai . 0No? ' on(t !i)e #ein% #a#ysat.2 He ch"c)!e . 0He( #e o"tsi e. 8o" wo"! n(t e$en )now he was there.2 0' wo"! too,2 ' comp!aine . 0'( sense his presence.2 +a,on ma e a p!ay&"!!y e,ha"ste si%h. ' was so #"sy ar%"in%, ' i n(t hear the whispers "nti! they were practica!!y in &ront o& "s. Ce!este, Emmica, an Tiny were hea in% past "s towar their rooms. 0La ies,2 +a,on sai , an %a$e a sma!! hea no . ' s"ppose it was &oo!ish to thin) no one wo"! see "s to%ether. ' &e!t my &ace heat "p, #"t ' wasn(t s"re why. The %ir!s a!! c"rtsie an carrie on their way. ' !oo)e o$er my sho"! er at them as we went towar the stairs. Emmica an Tiny !oo)e c"rio"s. Within min"tes, they wo"! #e te!!in% others a#o"t this. ' wo"! #e cornere tomorrow &or s"re. Ce!este was starin% a%%ers at me. ' was s"re she tho"%ht ' ha persona!!y wron%e her. ' t"rne away an sai

the &irst thin% that came to min . 0' to! yo" the %ir!s who %ot ner$o"s a#o"t the attac) wo"! en "p stayin%.2 ' i n(t )now e,act!y who ha as)e to !ea$e, #"t r"mors pointe to Tiny as #ein% one. She ha &ainte . Someone e!se ha sai .arie!, #"t ' )new that was a !ie. 8o"( ha$e to pry the crown o"t o& her co! ea han s &irst. 08o" can(t ima%ine what a re!ie& that was.2 He so"n e sincere. 't too) me a moment to thin) o& how to respon , as that wasn(t 5"ite what ' was e,pectin%, an ' was $ery &oc"se on not &a!!in%. ' i n(t )now how to ta)e steps own $ery we!! whi!e ho! in% on to someone e!se. The hee!s i n(t he!p. At !east i& ' s!ippe , he wo"! %ra# me. 0' wo"! ha$e tho"%ht it wo"! #e he!p&"! in a way,2 ' sai as we ma e it to the &irst &!oor an ' &o"n my &ootin% a%ain. 0' mean, it has to #e comp!icate to pic) one person o"t o& a!! these %ir!s. '& the circ"mstances wee e some o"t &or yo", sho"! n(t that ma)e it easier12 +a,on shr"%%e . 0' s"ppose it sho"! . ."t it i n(t &ee! that way at a!!, ' ass"re yo".2 He !oo)e h"rt. 0Goo e$enin%, sirs,2 he %reete the %"ar s, who opene the oors to the %ar en witho"t the s!i%htest hesitation. +ay#e ' wo"! ha$e to ta)e +a,on "p on that o&&er to ha$e them )now ' !i)e to %o o"tsi e. The i ea o& #ein% a#!e to escape so easi!y was appea!in%. 0' on(t "n erstan ,2 ' sai as he !e me to a #ench3 o"r #ench3an !et me sit &acin% the !i%hts o& the pa!ace. He too) a seat with his #o y &acin% the opposite irection, so that we were sort o& t"rne in towar each other. 't was an easy way to ta!). He !oo)e hesitant a#o"t sharin%, #"t he too) a #reath an spo)e. 0+ay#e ' was -"st &!atterin% myse!&, thin)in% '( #e worth some sort o& ris). Not that '( wish that on anyone?2 he c!ari&ie . 0' on(t mean that. 't -"st* ' on(t )now. 7on(t yo" a!! see e$erythin% '(m ris)in%12 0@mm, no. 8o"(re here with yo"r &ami!y to %i$e yo" a $ice, an we a!! !i$e aro"n yo"r sche "!e. E$erythin% a#o"t yo"r !i&e stays the same, an o"rs chan%e o$erni%ht. What in the wor! co"! yo" possi#!y #e ris)in%12 +a,on !oo)e shoc)e . 0America, ' mi%ht ha$e my &ami!y, #"t ima%ine how em#arrassin% it is to ha$e yo"r parents watch as yo" attempt to ate &or the &irst time. An not -"st yo"r parents3the who!e co"ntry? Worse than that, it(s not e$en a norma! sty!e o& atin%. 0An !i$in% aro"n my sche "!e1 When '(m not with yo" a!!, '(m or%ani6in% troops, ma)in% !aws, per&ectin% #" %ets * an a!! on my own these ays, whi!e my &ather watches me st"m#!e in my own st"pi ity #eca"se ' ha$e none o& his e,perience. An then, when ' ine$ita#!y o thin%s in a way he wo"! n(t, he %oes an corrects my mista)es. An whi!e '(m tryin% to o a!! this wor), yo"3the %ir!s, ' mean3 are a!! ' can thin) a#o"t. '(m e,cite an terri&ie #y the !ot o& yo"?2 He was "sin% his han s more than '( e$er seen, whippin% them in the air an r"nnin% them thro"%h his hair. 0An yo" thin) my !i&e isn(t chan%in%1 What o yo" thin) my chances mi%ht #e o& &in in% a so"! mate in the %ro"p o& yo"1 '(!! #e !"c)y i& ' can -"st &in someone who(!! #e a#!e to stan me &or the rest o& o"r !i$es. What i& '($e a!rea y sent her home #eca"se ' was re!yin% on some sort o& spar) ' i n(t &ee!1 What i& she(s waitin% to !ea$e me at the &irst si%n o& a $ersity1 What i& ' on(t &in anyone at a!!1 What o ' o then, America12 His speech ha starte o"t an%ere an impassione , #"t #y the en his 5"estions weren(t rhetorica! anymore. He rea!!y wante to )now; What was he %oin% to o i& no one here was e$en c!ose to #ein% someone he co"! !o$e1 Tho"%h that i n(t e$en seem to #e his main concern/ he was more worrie

that no one wo"! !o$e him. 0Act"a!!y, +a,on, ' thin) yo" wi!! &in yo"r so"! mate here. Honest!y.2 0Rea!!y12 His $oice char%e with hope at my pre iction. 0A#so!"te!y.2 ' p"t a han on his sho"! er. He seeme to #e com&orte #y that to"ch a!one. ' won ere how o&ten peop!e simp!y to"che him. 0'& yo"r !i&e is as "psi e own as yo" say it is, then she has to #e here somewhere. 'n my e,perience, tr"e !o$e is "s"a!!y the most incon$enient )in .2 ' smi!e wea)!y. He seeme happy to hear those wor s, an they conso!e me as we!!. .eca"se ' #e!ie$e them. An i& ' co"! n(t ha$e !o$e o& my own, the #est ' co"! o was he!p +a,on &in it himse!&. 0' hope yo" an +ar!ee hit it o&&. She(s incre i#!y sweet.2 +a,on ma e a stran%e &ace. 0She seems so.2 0What1 's somethin% wron% with sweet12 0No, no. Sweet is %oo .2 He i n(t e!a#orate. 0What o yo" )eep !oo)in% &or12 he as)e s" en!y. 0What12 08o" can(t seem to )eep yo"r eyes in one p!ace. ' can te!! that yo"(re payin% attention, #"t yo" seem to #e !oo)in% &or somethin%.2 ' rea!i6e he was ri%ht. A!! thro"%h his !itt!e speech, '( scanne the %ar en an the win ows an e$en the towers a!on% the wa!!s. ' was %ettin% paranoi . 0Peop!e * cameras*2 ' shoo) my hea as ' !oo)e into the ni%ht. 0We(re a!one. There(s -"st the %"ar #y the oor.2 +a,on pointe to the !one &i%"re in the pa!ace !amp!i%ht. He was ri%ht, no one ha &o!!owe "s o"t, an the win ows were a!! !it "p #"t $acant. '( seen that a!rea y thro"%h my scannin%, #"t it he!pe to ha$e it con&irme . ' &e!t my post"re re!a, a !itt!e. 08o" on(t !i)e peop!e watchin% yo", o yo"12 he as)e . 0Not rea!!y. ' pre&er #ein% #e!ow the ra ar. That(s what '(m "se to, yo" )now12 ' trace the patterns car$e into the per&ect #!oc) o& stone #eneath me, not meetin% his eyes. 08o"(!! ha$e to a -"st to that. When yo" !ea$e here, eyes wi!! #e on yo" &or the rest o& yo"r !i&e. +y mom sti!! ta!)s to some o& the women she was with when she went thro"%h the Se!ection. They(re a!! $iewe as important women. Sti!!.2 0Great,2 ' moane . 09"st one more thin% ' can(t wait to %o home to.2 +a,on(s &ace was apo!o%etic, #"t ' ha to !oo) away. ' was &resh!y remin e o& how m"ch this st"pi competition was costin% me, how my i ea o& norma! was ne$er comin% #ac). 't i n(t seem &air.... ."t ' chec)e myse!& a%ain. ' sho"! n(t ta)e it o"t on +a,on. He was as m"ch a $ictim in this as the rest o& "s, tho"%h in a $ery i&&erent way. ' si%he an !oo)e #ac) to him. ' saw his &ace set as he eci e somethin%. 0America, co"! ' as) yo" somethin% persona!12 0+ay#e,2 ' he %e . He %a$e me a h"mor!ess smi!e. 0't(s -"st * we!!, ' can te!! that yo" rea!!y on(t !i)e it here. 8o" hate the r"!es an the competition an the attention an the c!othes an the * we!!, no, yo" !i)e the &oo .2 He smi!e . ' i , too. 08o" miss yo"r home an yo"r &ami!y * an ' s"spect other peop!e $ery, $ery m"ch. 8o"r &ee!in%s are incre i#!y c!ose to the s"r&ace.2 08eah.2 ' ro!!e my eyes. 0' )now.2 0."t yo"(re wi!!in% to #e homesic) an misera#!e here instea o& %oin% home. Why12 ' &e!t the !"mp rise in my throat, an ' p"she it #ac) own. 0'(m not misera#!e * an yo" )now why.2 0We!!, sometimes yo" seem o)ay. ' see yo" smi!in% when yo" ta!) to some o& the other %ir!s, an yo" seem $ery content at mea!s, '(!! %i$e yo" that. ."t other times yo" -"st !oo) so sa . Wo"! yo" te!! me why1 The who!e story12 0't(s -"st another &ai!e !o$e story. 't(s nothin% #i% or e,citin%. Tr"st me.2 P!ease on(t p"sh me. ' on(t want to cry. 0:or #etter or &or worse, '( !i)e to )now one tr"e !o$e story #esi es my parents(, one that was o"tsi e these wa!!s an the r"!es an the

str"ct"re.... P!ease12 The tr"th was '( carrie the secret &or so !on%, ' co"! n(t ima%ine p"ttin% it into wor s. An it h"rt so m"ch to thin) o& Aspen. Co"! ' e$en say his name o"t !o" 1 ' too) a eep #reath. +a,on was my &rien now. He trie so har to #e nice to me. An he( #een so honest with me.... 0'n the wor! o"t there23' pointe past the $ast wa!!s30the castes ta)e care o& one another. Sometimes. Li)e my &ather has three &ami!ies who #"y at !east one paintin% e$ery year, an ' ha$e &ami!ies that a!ways pic) me to sin% at their Christmas parties. They(re o"r patrons, see1 0We!!, we were sort o& patrons to his &ami!y. They(re Si,es. When we co"! a&&or to ha$e someone he!p c!ean or i& we nee e he!p with the in$entory, we a!ways ca!!e his mother. ' )new him when we were )i s, #"t he was o! er than me, c!oser to my #rother(s a%e. They a!ways p!aye ro"%h, so ' a$oi e them. 0+y o! er #rother, <ota, he(s an artist !i)e my a . A &ew years #ac) this one meta! sc"!pt"re piece that he( #een wor)in% on &or years so! &or a massi$e amo"nt o& money. 8o" may ha$e hear o& him.2 +a,on mo"the the wor s <ota Sin%er. The secon s passe , an ' saw the connection c!ic) in his #rain. ' #r"she my hair o&& my sho"! ers an #race myse!&. 0We were rea!!y e,cite &or <ota/ he( wor)e rea!!y har on that piece. An we nee e that money so #a !y at the time, the who!e &ami!y was e!ate . ."t <ota )ept a!most a!! the money &or himse!&. That one sc"!pt"re catap"!te him/ peop!e starte ca!!in% &or his wor) e$ery ay. Now he has a waitin% !ist a mi!e !on% an char%es thro"%h the roo& #eca"se he can. ' thin) he mi%ht #e a !itt!e a icte to the &ame. :i$es rare!y %et that )in o& notice.2 O"r eyes met in a $ery si%ni&icant moment, an ' tho"%ht a%ain o& how ' was past e$er %oin% "nnotice a%ain, whether ' wante to #e or not. 0Anyway, a&ter the ca!!s starte comin%, <ota eci e to etach himse!& &rom the &ami!y. +y o! er sister ha -"st %otten marrie , so we !ost her income. Then <ota starts ma)in% rea! money, an he "p an !ea$es "s.2 ' p"t my han s on +a,on(s chest to emphasi6e my point. 08o" on(t o that. 8o" on(t -"st !ea$e yo"r &ami!y. Stic)in% to%ether * it(s the on!y way to s"r$i$e.2 ' saw the "n erstan in% in +a,on(s eyes. 0He )ept it a!! &or himse!&. Tryin% to #"y his way "p12 ' no e . 0He(s %ot his heart set on #ein% a Two. '& he was happy #ein% a Three or :o"r, he co"! ha$e #o"%ht that tit!e an he!pe "s, #"t he(s o#sesse . 't(s st"pi , rea!!y. He !i$es more than com&orta#!y, #"t it(s that amn !a#e! he wants. He won(t stop "nti! he %ets it.2 +a,on shoo) his hea . 0That co"! ta)e a !i&etime.2 0As !on% as he ies with a Two on his %ra$estone, ' %"ess he oesn(t care.2 0' ta)e it yo"(re not c!ose anymore12 ' si%he . 0Not now. ."t at &irst ' tho"%ht that '( -"st mis"n erstoo somethin%. ' tho"%ht that <ota was mo$in% o"t to #e in epen ent, not to separate himse!& &rom "s. 'n the #e%innin%, ' was on his si e. When <ota %ot his apartment an st" io set "p, ' went to he!p him. An he ca!!e the same &ami!y o& Si,es we a!ways i an their e! est son was a$ai!a#!e an ea%er an wor)e with <ota a &ew ays he!pin% set thin%s "p.2 ' pa"se , remem#erin%. 0So there ' was, -"st p"!!in% thin%s o"t o& #o,es * an there he was. O"r eyes met, an he i n(t seem so o! or ro"%h anymore. 't ha #een awhi!e since we( seen each other, yo" )now1 We weren(t )i s anymore. 0The who!e ay ' was there, we wo"! acci enta!!y to"ch each other as we mo$e thin%s aro"n . He wo"! !oo) at me or smi!e, an ' &e!t !i)e ' was rea!!y a!i$e &or the &irst time. ' -"st* ' was

cra6y a#o"t him.2 +y $oice &ina!!y #ro)e, an some o& the tears '( #een !on%in% to she came o"t. 0We !i$e pretty c!ose to each other, so '( ta)e wa!)s "rin% the ay -"st in case ' mi%ht %et to see him. Whene$er his mother came #y to he!p, sometimes he( show "p too. An we( -"st watch each other 3that(s a!! we co"! o.2 ' !et o"t a tiny so#. 0He(s a Si, an '(m a :i$e, an there are !aws * an my mother? Oh, she wo"! ha$e #een &"rio"s. No one co"! )now.2 ' was mo$in% my han s a !itt!e spastica!!y, the stress o& a!! the secret=)eepin% comin% to the s"r&ace. 0Soon, there were !itt!e anonymo"s notes !e&t tape to my win ow te!!in% me ' was #ea"ti&"! or that ' san% !i)e an an%e!. An ' )new they were &rom him. 0The ni%ht o& my &i&teenth #irth ay, my mom threw a party an his &ami!y was in$ite . He cornere me an %a$e me my #irth ay car an to! me to rea it when ' was a!one. When ' &ina!!y %ot to it, it i n(t ha$e his name or e$en a >Happy .irth ay( on the insi e. 't -"st sai , >Tree ho"se. +i ni%ht.(2 +a,on(s eyes wi ene . 0+i ni%ht1 ."t32 08o" sho"! )now that ' #rea) '!!4a c"r&ew re%"!ar!y.2 08o" co"! ha$e !an e yo"rse!& in -ai!, America.2 He shoo) his hea . ' shr"%%e . 0.ac) then, it seeme inconse5"entia!. That &irst time, ' &e!t !i)e ' was &!yin%. Here he was, &i%"rin% o"t a way &or "s to #e a!one to%ether. ' -"st co"! n(t #e!ie$e he wante to #e a!one with me. 0That ni%ht ' waite "p in my room an watche the tree ho"se in my #ac)yar . Near mi ni%ht, ' saw someone c!im# "p. ' remem#er ' act"a!!y went to #r"sh my teeth a%ain, -"st in case. ' crept o"t my win ow an "p the tree. An he was there. ' -"st* ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e it. 0' on(t remem#er how it starte , #"t soon we were con&essin% how we &e!t a#o"t each other, an we co"! n(t stop !a"%hin% #eca"se we were so happy the other one &e!t the same way. An ' -"st co"! n(t #e #othere to worry a#o"t #rea)in% c"r&ew or !yin% to my parents. An ' i n(t care that ' was a :i$e an he was a Si,. ' i n(t worry a#o"t the &"t"re. .eca"se nothin% co"! matter as m"ch as him !o$in% me* 0An he i , +a,on, he i ....2 +ore tears. ' c!"tche my chest, &ee!in% Aspen(s a#sence !i)e ' ne$er ha . Sayin% it o"t !o" on!y ma e it more rea!. There was nothin% to o #"t &inish the story. 0We ate in secret &or two years. We were happy, #"t he was a!ways worrie a#o"t "s snea)in% aro"n an how he co"! n(t %i$e me what he tho"%ht ' eser$e . When we %ot the notice a#o"t the Se!ection, he insiste that ' si%n "p.2 +a,on(s mo"th roppe open. 0' )now. 't was so st"pi . ."t it wo"! ha$e h"n% o$er him &ore$er i& ' i n(t try. An ' honest!y, honest!y tho"%ht that ' wo"! ne$er %et chosen. How co"! '12 ' raise my han s in the air an !et them &a!!. ' was sti!! #a&&!e #y it a!!. 0' &o"n o"t &rom his mom that he( #een sa$in% "p to marry some mystery %ir!. ' was so e,cite . ' ma e him a !itt!e s"rprise inner, thin)in% ' co"! coa, the proposa! o"t o& him. ' was so rea y. 0."t when he saw a!! the money that '( spent on him, it "pset him. He(s $ery pro" . He wante to spoi! me, not the other way aro"n , an ' %"ess he saw then that he( ne$er #e a#!e to. So he #ro)e "p with me instea .... 0One wee) !ater, my name %ot ca!!e .2 ' hear +a,on whisper somethin% "ninte!!i%i#!e. 0The !ast time ' saw him was at my sen =o&&,2 ' cho)e . 0He was with another %ir!.2 0WHAT12 +a,on sho"te . ' #"rie my hea in my han s. 0The thin% is, it ri$es me cra6y #eca"se ' )now other %ir!s are a&ter him, they a!ways were, an now he has no reason to t"rn them own. +ay#e he(s e$en with the %ir! &rom my sen =o&&. ' on(t )now. An ' can(t o anythin% a#o"t it. ."t the tho"%ht o&

%oin% home an watchin% it* ' -"st can(t, +a,on....2 ' wept an wept, an +a,on i n(t r"sh me. When the tears &ina!!y starte to s!ow, ' spo)e. 0+a,on, ' hope yo" &in someone yo" can(t !i$e witho"t. ' rea!!y o. An ' hope yo" ne$er ha$e to )now what it(s !i)e to ha$e to try an !i$e witho"t them.2 +a,on(s &ace was a sha!!ow echo o& my own pain. He !oo)e a#so!"te!y #ro)enhearte &or me. +ore than that, he !oo)e an%ry. 0'(m sorry, America. ' on(t*2 His &ace shi&te a !itt!e. 0's this a %oo time to pat yo"r sho"! er12 His "ncertainty ma e me smi!e. 08es. Now wo"! #e a %reat time.2 He seeme as s)eptica! as he( #een the other ay, #"t instea o& -"st pattin% my sho"! er, he !eane in an tentati$e!y wrappe his arms aro"n me. 0' on!y rea!!y e$er h"% my mother. 's this o)ay12 he as)e . ' !a"%he . 0't(s har to %et a h"% wron%.2 A&ter a min"te, ' spo)e a%ain. 0' )now what yo" mean, tho"%h. ' on(t rea!!y h"% anyone #esi es my &ami!y.2 ' &e!t so raine a&ter the !on% ay o& ressin% an the Report an inner an ta!)in%. 't was nice to ha$e +a,on -"st ho! me, sometimes e$en pattin% my hair. He wasn(t as !ost as he seeme . He patient!y waite &or my #reathin% to s!ow, an when it i , he p"!!e #ac) to !oo) at me. 0America, ' promise yo" '(!! )eep yo" here "nti! the !ast possi#!e moment. ' "n erstan that they want me to narrow the E!ite own to three an then choose. ."t ' swear to yo", '(!! ma)e it to two an )eep yo" here "nti! then. ' won(t ma)e yo" !ea$e a moment #e&ore ' ha$e to. Or the moment yo"(re rea y. Whiche$er comes &irst.2 ' no e . 0' )now we -"st met, #"t ' thin) yo"(re won er&"!. An it #others me to see yo" h"rt. '& he were here, '( * '( *2 +a,on shoo) with &r"stration, then si%he . 0'(m so sorry, America.2 He p"!!e me #ac) in, an ' reste my hea on his #roa sho"! er. ' )new +a,on wo"! )eep his promises. So ' sett!e into perhaps the !ast p!ace ' e$er tho"%ht '( &in %en"ine com&ort.

CHAPTER 1G

WHEN ' WO<E THE NEHT +ORN'NG, my eye!i s &e!t hea$y. As ' r"##e the tiny ache o"t o& them, ' &e!t %!a that '( to! +a,on e$erythin%. 't seeme so &"nny that the pa!ace3the #ea"ti&"! ca%e3was the one p!ace ' co"! act"a!!y !et myse!& #e open a#o"t e$erythin% '( #een &ee!in%. +a,on(s promise sett!e in "rin% the ni%ht, an ' &e!t s"re that '( #e sa&e here. This who!e process o& +a,on whitt!in% own thirty=&i$e women to one was %oin% to ta)e wee)s, may#e months. Time an space were -"st what ' nee e . ' co"! n(t #e s"re '( e$er %et o$er Aspen. '( hear my mom ta!) a#o"t yo"r &irst !o$e #ein% the one that stic)s with yo". ."t may#e '( #e a#!e to -"st &ee! norma! sooner rather than !ater with this time in #etween "s. +y mai s i n(t as) a#o"t my p"&&y eyes, they -"st ma e them !ess swo!!en. They i n(t 5"estion my mess o& hair, they -"st smoothe it. An ' appreciate that. 't wasn(t !i)e home, where e$eryone saw that ' was sa an i n(t o anythin% a#o"t it. Here ' co"! &ee! that they were a!! worrie a#o"t me an whate$er it was ' was %oin% thro"%h. 'n response they han !e me with e,treme care. .y mi mornin% ' was rea y to start my ay. 't was Sat"r ay, so there was no ro"tine or sche "!e, #"t it was the one ay a wee) we were a!! re5"ire to stay in the Women(s Room. The pa!ace saw %"ests on Sat"r ays, an we ha

#een warne that peop!e mi%ht want to meet "s. ' wasn(t too e,cite a#o"t it, #"t at !east ' %ot to wear my new -eans &or the &irst time. O& co"rse, they were the #est=&ittin% pair o& pants '( e$er owne . ' hope that since +a,on an ' were on s"ch %oo terms, he( !et me )eep them a&ter ' !e&t. ' went ownstairs s!ow!y, a !itt!e tire &rom a !ate ni%ht. .e&ore ' e$en %ot to the Women(s Room, ' hear the #"66 o& ta!)in% %ir!s, an when ' wa!)e in, +ar!ee %ra##e me an p"!!e me towar two chairs in the #ac) o& the room. 0There yo" are? '($e #een waitin% &or yo",2 she sai . 0Sorry, +ar!ee. ' ha a !on% ni%ht an s!ept in.2 She t"rne to !oo) at me, pro#a#!y notin% the !e&to$er sa ness in my $oice, #"t sweet!y eci e to &oc"s on my -eans. 0Those !oo) &antastic.2 0' )now. '($e ne$er &e!t anythin% !i)e them.2 +y $oice !i&te a #it. ' eci e to %o #ac) to my o! r"!e; Aspen wasn(t a!!owe here. ' p"she him away an &oc"se on my secon =&a$orite person in the pa!ace. 0Sorry to )eep yo" waitin%. What i yo" want to ta!) a#o"t12 +ar!ee hesitate . She #it her !ip as we sat own. There was no one e!se aro"n . She m"st ha$e a secret. 0Act"a!!y, now that ' thin) o& it, may#e ' sho"! n(t te!! yo". Sometimes ' &or%et that we(re competin% a%ainst each other.2 Oh. She ha secrets o& the +a,on $ariety. This ' ha to hear. 0' )now -"st how yo" &ee!, +ar!ee. ' thin) we co"! #ecome rea!!y c!ose &rien s. ' can(t #rin% myse!& to thin) o& yo" as an enemy, yo" )now12 08eah. ' thin) yo"(re so sweet. An the peop!e !o$e yo". ' mean, yo"(re pro#a#!y %oin% to win....2 She seeme a !itt!e e&eate at the i ea. ' ha to wi!! myse!& not to wince or !a"%h at those wor s. 0+ar!ee, can ' te!! yo" a secret12 +y $oice was &"!! o& %ent!e tr"th. ' hope she wo"! #e!ie$e my wor s. 0O& co"rse, America. Anythin%.2 0' on(t )now who wi!! win this who!e thin%. Rea!!y, it co"! #e anyone in this room. ' %"ess e$eryone thin)s that it(!! #e them, #"t ' a!rea y )now that i& it can(t #e me, '( want it to #e yo". 8o" seem %enero"s an &air. ' thin) yo"( #e a %reat princess. Honest!y.2 't was a!most a!! the tr"th. 0' thin) yo"(re smart an persona#!e,2 she whispere . 08o"( #e %reat, too.2 ' #owe my hea . 't was sweet o& her to thin) so hi%h!y o& me. ' &e!t a #it "ncom&orta#!e when peop!e ta!)e a#o"t me that way, tho"%h* +ay, <enna, my mai s * it was har to #e!ie$e how many peop!e tho"%ht '( #e a %oo princess. Was ' the on!y one who saw how &!awe ' was1 ' was "nre&ine . ' i n(t ha$e it in me to #e #ossy or o$er!y or%ani6e . ' was se!&ish an ha a horri#!e temper, an ' i n(t !i)e #ein% in &ront o& peop!e. An ' wasn(t #ra$e. 8o" ha to #e #ra$e to ta)e this -o#. An that(s what this was. Not -"st a marria%e, #"t a position. 0' &ee! that way a#o"t a !ot o& the %ir!s,2 she con&esse . 0Li)e e$eryone has some 5"a!ity that ' on(t that wo"! ma)e them #etter than me.2 0That(s the thin%, +ar!ee. 8o" co"! pro#a#!y &in somethin% specia! a#o"t e$eryone in this room. ."t who )nows e,act!y what +a,on is !oo)in% &or12 She shoo) her hea . 0So !et(s not worry a#o"t that. 8o" can te!! me anythin% yo" want to. '(!! )eep yo"r secrets i& yo" )eep mine. '(!! p"!! &or yo", an i& yo" want to, yo" can p"!! &or me. 't(s nice to ha$e &rien s here.2 She smi!e , then !oo)e aro"n the room, chec)in% to ma)e s"re no one co"! hear "s. 0+a,on an ' ha o"r ate,2 she whispere . 08eah12 ' as)e . ' )new ' seeme o$er!y ea%er, #"t ' co"! n(t he!p it. ' wante to )now i& he( mana%e to #e any !ess sti&& aro"n her. An ' wante to )now i& he !i)e her. 0He sent a !etter to my mai s an as)e i& he co"! see me on Th"rs ay.2 ' smi!e as +ar!ee spo)e an tho"%ht o& how the ay #e&ore he( one that, +a,on an ' ha eci e to e!iminate those

&orma!ities. 0' sent one #ac) sayin% yes, o& co"rse, !i)e '( e$er t"rn him own? He came to %et me, an we wa!)e aro"n the pa!ace. We %ot to ta!)in% a#o"t mo$ies, an it t"rns o"t we !i)e a #"nch o& the same ones. So we went ownstairs to the #asement. Ha$e yo" seen the mo$ie theater own there12 0No.2 '( ne$er act"a!!y #een in a mo$ie theater, an ' co"! n(t wait &or her to escri#e it. 0Oh, it(s per&ect? The seats are wi e an they rec!ine an yo" can e$en pop some popcorn3they ha$e a popper. +a,on stoo there an ma e a #atch -"st &or "s? 't was so c"te, America. He meas"re the oi! wron% an the &irst #atch #"rne . He ha to ca!! someone to come an c!ean it "p an try a%ain.2 ' ro!!e my eyes. Smooth, +a,on, rea! smooth. At !east +ar!ee seeme to thin) it was en earin%. 0So we watche the mo$ie, an when we %ot to the romantic part at the en , he he! my han ? ' tho"%ht '( &aint. ' mean, '( ta)en his arm when we wa!)e , #"t that(s -"st what yo"(re s"ppose to o. Here he was ta)in% my han ....2 She si%he an &e!! #ac) into her chair. ' %i%%!e o"t !o" . She !oo)e comp!ete!y smitten. 8es, yes, yes? 0' can(t wait &or him to $isit me a%ain. He(s -"st so han some, on(t yo" thin)12 she as)e . ' pa"se . 08eah, he(s c"te.2 0Come on, America? 8o" ha$e to ha$e notice those eyes an his $oice....2 0E,cept when he !a"%hs?2 9"st remem#erin% +a,on(s !a"%h ha me %rinnin%. 't was c"te #"t aw)war . He p"she his #reaths o"t, an then ma e a -a%%e noise when he inha!e , a!most !i)e another !a"%h in itse!&. 08es, o)ay, he oes ha$e a &"nny !a"%h, #"t it(s c"te.2 0S"re, i& yo" !i)e the !o$a#!e so"n o& an asthma attac) in yo"r ear e$ery time yo" te!! a -o)e.2 +ar!ee !ost it an o"#!e o$er in !a"%hter. 0A!! ri%ht, a!! ri%ht,2 she sai , comin% "p &or air. 08o" ha$e to thin) there(s somethin% attracti$e a#o"t him.2 ' opene my mo"th an sh"t it two or three times. ' was tempte to ta)e another -a# at +a,on, #"t ' i n(t want +ar!ee to see him in a ne%ati$e !i%ht. So ' tho"%ht a#o"t it. What was attracti$e a#o"t +a,on1 0We!!, when he !ets his %"ar own, he(s o)ay. Li)e when he -"st ta!)s witho"t chec)in% his wor s or yo" catch him -"st !oo)in% at somethin% !i)e * !i)e he(s rea!!y !oo)in% &or the #ea"ty in it.2 +ar!ee smi!e , an ' )new she( seen that in him, too. 0An ' !i)e that he seems %en"ine!y in$o!$e when he(s there, yo" )now1 Li)e e$en tho"%h he(s %ot a co"ntry to r"n an a tho"san thin%s to o, it(s !i)e he &or%ets it a!! when he(s with yo". He -"st e icates himse!& to what(s ri%ht in &ront o& him. ' !i)e that. 0An * we!!, on(t te!! anyone this, #"t his arms. ' !i)e his arms.2 ' #!"she at the en . St"pi * why ha n(t ' -"st st"c) to the %enera! %oo thin%s a#o"t his persona!ity1 L"c)i!y, +ar!ee was happy to pic) "p the con$ersation. 08es? 8o" can rea!!y &ee! them "n er those thic) s"its, can(t yo"1 He m"st #e incre i#!y stron%,2 +ar!ee %"she . 0' won er why. ' mean, what(s the point o& him #ein% that stron%1 He oes es)wor). 't(s weir .2 0+ay#e he !i)es to &!e, in &ront o& the mirror,2 +ar!ee sai , ma)in% a &ace an &!e,in% her own tiny arms. 0Ha, ha? ' #et that(s it. ' are yo" to as) him?2 0No way?2 't so"n e !i)e +ar!ee ha ha a %reat time. ' won ere why +a,on seeme so re!"ctant to mention that !ast ni%ht. .ase on his reaction, it seeme !i)e they ha n(t #een to%ether at a!!. +ay#e he was shy1 ' !oo)e aro"n the room an saw that more than ha!& the %ir!s seeme tense or "nhappy. 9ane!!e, Emmica, an Moe were !istenin% intent!y to somethin% <riss was sayin%. <riss was smi!in% an animate , #"t 9ane!!e(s &ace was ti%ht with worry, an Moe was #itin% her nai!s. Emmica was a#sent!y )nea in% a spot

-"st #e!ow her ear, as i& she was in pain. .esi e them the mismatche pair o& Ce!este an Anna sat ha$in% another intense isc"ssion. Tr"e to her "s"a! &orm, Ce!este !oo)e incre i#!y sm"% as she spo)e. +ar!ee note my starin% an c!ari&ie what was happenin%. 0The %r"mpy ones are the %ir!s he hasn(t #een o"t with yet. He to! me ' was his secon ate on Th"rs ay a!one. He(s tryin% to spen time with e$eryone.2 0Rea!!y1 8o" thin) that(s it12 08eah. ' mean, !oo) at yo" an me. We(re &ine, an it(s #eca"se he(s seen "s #oth one=on=one. We )now he !i)e "s eno"%h to see "s an not )ic) "s o"t ri%ht a&terwar . 't(s %ettin% aro"n who he(s spent time with an who he hasn(t. They(re worrie he(s waitin% on them #eca"se he isn(t intereste , an that once he oes see them, he(!! -"st !et them %o.2 Why ha n(t he to! me any o& this1 Weren(t we &rien s1 A &rien wo"! ta!) a#o"t this. He( seen at !east a o6en %ir!s #ase on their smi!es. We( spent the #etter part o& the e$enin% to%ether !ast ni%ht, an a!! he i was ma)e me cry. What )in o& &rien he! those )in s o& secrets whi!e ma)in% me spi!! a!! my own1 T"es ay, who ha #een !istenin% to Cami!!e with an an,io"s e,pression on her &ace, %ot "p &rom her seat an !oo)e aro"n the room. She &o"n +ar!ee an me in the corner an 5"ic)!y wa!)e o$er. 0What i yo" %"ys o on yo"r ate12 she as)e a#r"pt!y. 0Hi, T"es ay,2 +ar!ee sai cheer&"!!y. 0Oh, h"sh?2 she crie , an t"rne #ac) to me. 0Come on, America, spi!!.2 0' to! yo".2 0No. The one !ast ni%ht?2 A mai came to the corner an o&&ere "s tea, which ' was prepare to ta)e, #"t T"es ay shooe her away. 0How*12 0Tiny saw yo" to%ether an to! ,2 +ar!ee sai , tryin% to e,p!ain T"es ay(s moo . 08o"(re the on!y one he(s #een a!one with twice. A !ot o& the %ir!s who ha$en(t seen him yet were comp!ainin%. They on(t thin) it(s ri%ht. ."t it(s not yo"r &a"!t i& he !i)es yo".2 0't(s comp!ete!y "n&air,2 T"es ay whine . 0' ha$en(t seen him o"tsi e o& mea!times, not e$en in passin%. What in the wor! i yo" two o12 0We * "h * we went #ac) to the %ar ens. He )nows ' !i)e it o"tsi e. An we -"st ta!)e .2 ' &e!t ner$o"s, !i)e ' was in tro"#!e. T"es ay(s &ace was so intense, ' !oo)e away. When ' i , ' saw that a &ew %ir!s at near#y ta#!es were !istenin% in. 08o" -"st ta!)e 12 she as)e s)eptica!!y. ' shr"%%e . 0That(s it.2 T"es ay h"&&e an went to <riss(s ta#!e, "r%in% her to te!! her story o$er a%ain, 5"ite ener%etica!!y. ', howe$er, was st"nne . 0Are yo" o)ay, America12 +ar!ee as)e , snappin% me #ac) into rea!ity. 08es. Why12 08o" -"st !oo) "pset.2 +ar!ee(s #row &"rrowe in concern. 0Nope. Not "pset. E$erythin%(s %reat.2 S" en!y, in a mo$e so swi&t ' wo"! ha$e misse it i& they weren(t so c!ose, Anna :armer3a :o"r who wor)e !an &or a !i$in%3reache "p an s!appe Ce!este across the &ace. Se$era! peop!e %aspe , inc!" in% myse!&. Those who misse it t"rne aro"n an as)e what ha happene , most nota#!y Tiny, whose hi%h $oice pierce the 5"iet !e&t in the room. 0Oh, Anna, no,2 Emmica sai with a si%h. The moment a&ter it happene , Anna s!ow!y comprehen e what she( -"st one. She wo"! pro#a#!y #e sent home/ we weren(t s"ppose to physica!!y assa"!t another Se!ecte . Emmica starte tearin% "p whi!e Anna sat in st"nne si!ence. They were #oth &arm %ir!s an ha #on e ear!y on. ' co"! n(t ima%ine how '( &ee! i& it was +ar!ee s" en!y !ea$in%. Anna, who '( on!y met in passin%, ha a!ways str"c) me as an e&&er$escent creat"re. ' )new there was nothin% in her that wo"! nat"ra!!y see) to harm another person. 7"rin% a !ar%e part o& the re#e! attac), she( #een on her

)nees in prayer. @n o"#te !y, she ha #een pro$o)e , #"t no one was sittin% within earshot to pro$e that. 't wo"! #e Anna(s wor a%ainst Ce!este(s as &ar as any e,chan%e o& wor s went, #"t Ce!este wo"! ha$e a room&"! o& peop!e who co"! #ac) "p that she( #een hit. +a,on wo"! pres"ma#!y #e "r%e to sen Anna home as an e,amp!e to the others. Tears we!!e in Anna(s eyes as Ce!este whispere somethin% to her an swi&t!y !e&t the room. Anna was %one #e&ore inner.

CHAPTER 1I

0WHO WAS THE PRES'7ENT O: the @nite States "rin% the Thir Wor! War12 Si!$ia 5"i66e "s. This was one ' i n(t )now, an ' a$erte my eyes, hopin% Si!$ia wo"! n(t ca!! on me. L"c)i!y, Amy raise her han an answere . 0Presi ent Wa!!is.2 We were in the Great Room a%ain, startin% the wee) with a history !esson. We!!, more !i)e a history test. This was one o& those areas where it a!ways seeme that what peop!e )new was $arie , #oth as &ar as what was &act an -"st how in&orme they were. +om a!ways ta"%ht "s ora!!y when it came to history. We ha pa%es an wor)sheets to master &or En%!ish an math, #"t when it came to the stories that ma e "p o"r past, there was $ery !itt!e that ' )new &or s"re was tr"th. 0Correct. Presi ent Wa!!is was the presi ent #e&ore the Chinese assa"!t an contin"e !ea in% the @nite States thro"%ho"t the war,2 Si!$ia con&irme . ' tho"%ht the name to myse!&. Wa!!is, Wa!!is, Wa!!is . ' rea!!y wante to remem#er this to te!! +ay an Gera when ' went home, #"t we were !earnin% so m"ch, it was har to )eep it a!! strai%ht. 0What was their moti$ation &or in$a in%1 Ce!este12 She smi!e . 0+oney. The Americans owe them a !ot o& money an co"! n(t pay them #ac).2 0E,ce!!ent, Ce!este.2 Si!$ia %a$e her a otin% smi!e. How i Ce!este wrap peop!e aro"n her &in%er !i)e that1 't was so irritatin%. 0When the @nite States co"! n(t repay their massi$e e#t, the Chinese in$a e . @n&ort"nate!y &or them, this i n(t %et them any money, as the @nite States was #eyon #an)r"ptcy. Howe$er, it i %ain them American !a#or. An when the Chinese too) o$er, what i they rename the @nite States12 ' raise my han , a!on% with a &ew others. 09enna12 Si!$ia ca!!e . 0The American State o& China.2 08es. The American State o& China ha the appearance o& its ori%ina! co"ntry, #"t was mere!y a &aca e. The Chinese were p"!!in% strin%s #ehin the scenes, in&!"encin% any ma-or po!itica! happenin%s, an steerin% !e%is!ation in their &a$or.2 Si!$ia wa!)e thro"%h the es)s s!ow!y. ' &e!t !i)e a mo"se in the si%hts o& a haw) that was circ!in% e$er c!oser. ' !oo)e aro"n the room. A &ew peop!e seeme con&"se . ' tho"%ht that part was common )now!e %e. 07oes anyone ha$e anythin% they( !i)e to a 12 Si!$ia as)e . .arie! pipe "p. 0The Chinese in$asion prompte se$era! co"ntries, partic"!ar!y those in E"rope, to a!i%n themse!$es with one another an ma)e a!!iances.2 08es,2 Si!$ia rep!ie . 0Howe$er, the American State o& China ha no s"ch &rien s at the time. 't too) them &i$e years to re%ro"p, an they co"! #are!y han !e that, !et a!one tryin% to &or%e a!!iances.2 She trie to e,press the har ship thro"%h an

e,ha"ste !oo). 0The ASC p!anne to &i%ht #ac) a%ainst China #"t was then &ace with another in$asion. What co"ntry attempte to occ"py the ASC then12 Lots o& han s went "p this time. 0R"ssia,2 someone sai witho"t waitin% to #e ca!!e on. Si!$ia !oo)e aro"n &or the o&&en er, #"t co"! n(t pinpoint the so"rce. 0Correct,2 she sai , s!i%ht!y "nhappi!y. 0R"ssia trie to e,pan in #oth irections an &ai!e misera#!y, #"t this &ai!"re on their part pro$i e the ASC with an opport"nity to &i%ht #ac). How12 <riss raise her han an answere . 0The entirety o& what was North America #an e to%ether to &i%ht R"ssia, since it seeme c!ear they ha their eyes on more than -"st the ASC. An &i%htin% R"ssia was easier #eca"se China was attac)in% them as we!! &or attemptin% to stea! their territory.2 Si!$ia smi!e pro" !y. 08es. An who hea e "p the assa"!t a%ainst R"ssia12 The who!e room sho"te o"t the answer; 0Gre%ory '!!4a?2 Some %ir!s e$en c!appe . Si!$ia no e . 0An that !e to the &o"n in% o& the co"ntry. The a!!iances the ASC ac5"ire ha &orme a "nite &ront, an the @nite States(s rep"tation was so ama%e , no one wante to rea opt that name. So a new nation was &orme "n er Gre%ory '!!4a(s name an !ea ership. He sa$e this co"ntry.2 Emmica raise her han , an Si!$ia ac)now!e %e her. 0'n some ways, we(re )in o& !i)e him. ' mean, we %et to ser$e o"r co"ntry. He was -"st a pri$ate citi6en who onate his money an )now!e %e. An he chan%e e$erythin%,2 she sai with won er. 0That is a #ea"ti&"! point,2 Si!$ia sai . 0An e,act!y !i)e him, one o& yo" wi!! #e e!e$ate to roya!ty. :or Gre%ory '!!4a, he #ecame a )in% as his &ami!y marrie into a roya! &ami!y, an &or yo", it wi!! #e marryin% into this one.2 Si!$ia ha mo$e herse!& to awe, so when T"es ay raise her han , it too) her a moment to ac)now!e %e it. 0@mm, why is it that we on(t ha$e any o& this in a #oo)1 So we co"! st" y12 There was a hint o& irritation in her $oice. Si!$ia shoo) her hea . 07ear %ir!s, history isn(t somethin% yo" st" y. 't(s somethin% yo" sho"! -"st )now.2 +ar!ee t"rne to me an whispere , 0."t c!ear!y we on(t.2 She smi!e at her own -o)e, an then &oc"se a%ain on Si!$ia. ' tho"%ht a#o"t that, how we a!! )new i&&erent thin%s or ha to %"ess at the tr"th. Why weren(t we %i$en history #oo)s1 ' remem#ere a &ew years a%o when ' went into +om an 7a (s room, since +om sai ' co"! choose what ' wante to rea &or En%!ish. As ' went thro"%h my options, ' spotte a thic), ratty #oo) in the #ac) corner an p"!!e it o"t. 't was a @.S. history #oo). 7a came in a &ew min"tes !ater, saw what ' was rea in%, an sai it was o)ay, so !on% as ' ne$er to! anyone a#o"t it. When 7a as)e me to )eep a secret, ' i so witho"t 5"estion, an ' !o$e !oo)in% thro"%h a!! those pa%es. We!!, the ones that were sti!! !e%i#!e. Lots ha #een torn o"t, an the e %e o& the #oo) !oo)e !i)e it mi%ht ha$e #een #"rne , #"t that(s where ' saw a pict"re o& the o! White Ho"se an !earne a#o"t the way ho!i ays "se to #e. ' ne$er tho"%ht to 5"estion the !ac) o& tr"th "nti! it ha #een p!ace in &ront o& me. Why i the )in% -"st !et "s %"ess1 The &!ash#"!#s went o&& a%ain, capt"rin% +a,on an Nata!ie smi!in% #ri%ht!y. 0Nata!ie, #rin% yo"r chin own -"st a to"ch, p!ease. That(s it.2 The photo%rapher snappe another pict"re, &i!!in% the room with !i%ht. 0' thin) that wi!! o. Who(s ne,t12 he ca!!e . Ce!este came in &rom the si e, a %enera! %ro"p o& mai s sti!! swarmin% aro"n her #e&ore the photo%rapher starte "p a%ain. Nata!ie, sti!! #esi e +a,on, sai somethin% an )ic)e "p her &oot &!irtatio"s!y #ehin her. He respon e 5"iet!y, an she %i%%!e as she wa!)e

away. We( #een to! a&ter yester ay(s history !esson that this photo shoot was mere!y &or the am"sement o& the p"#!ic, #"t ' co"! n(t he!p thin)in% that there was some act"a! wei%ht to it. Someone ha written an e itoria! in a ma%a6ine a#o"t the !oo) o& a princess. ' i n(t %et to rea the artic!e myse!&, #"t Emmica an some o& the others i . Accor in% to her, it was a#o"t +a,on nee in% to &in someone who act"a!!y !oo)e re%a! an photo%raphe we!! with him, someone who wo"! !oo) nice on a stamp. An now we were a!! !ine "p in i entica! cream=co!ore , cap=s!ee$e , rop=waist resses with a hea$y re sash across o"r sho"! ers, ta)in% pict"res with +a,on. The photos wo"! #e printe in the same ma%a6ine, an the ma%a6ine sta&& was %oin% to ma)e pic)s. ' was )in o& "ncom&orta#!e with it a!!. This was the thin% '( #een #othere a#o"t since the #e%innin%, that +a,on was !oo)in% &or nothin% more than a pretty &ace. Now that '( met him, ' was s"re that wasn(t tr"e, #"t it %ot to me that peop!e tho"%ht that +a,on was !i)e that. ' si%he . Some o& the %ir!s were wa!)in% aro"n , m"nchin% on no= rip &oo s an chattin%, #"t the ma-ority, inc!" in% myse!&, were stan in% aro"n the perimeter o& the set erecte in the Great Room. A h"%e %o! en tapestry that remin e me o& the rop c!oths 7a "se at home was h"n% "p a%ainst a wa!! an spi!!e across the &!oor. A sma!! co"ch was o&& to one si e an a pi!!ar was on the other. 'n the mi !e the '!!4an em#!em stoo , %i$in% the who!e si!!y thin% an air o& #ein% patriotic. We watche as each Se!ecte para e across the space to #e photo%raphe , an many who watche were whisperin% thin%s they !i)e an i n(t or what they were p!annin% &or themse!$es. Ce!este wa!)e "p to +a,on with a spar)!e in her eyes, an he smi!e as she approache . The moment she reache him, she p"t her !ips to his ear an whispere somethin%. Whate$er it was, +a,on !eane his hea #ac) with !a"%hter an no e , a%reein% with her !itt!e secret. 't was stran%e to see them !i)e that. How co"! someone who %ot a!on% so we!! with me o the same with someone !i)e her1 0A!! ri%ht, miss, -"st &ace the camera an smi!e, p!ease,2 the photo%rapher ca!!e , an Ce!este imme iate!y comp!ie . She t"rne herse!& towar +a,on an p!ace a han on his chest, ti!te her hea own, an %a$e an e,pert smi!e. She seeme to "n erstan how to "se the !i%htin% an set to her #est a $anta%e an )ept mo$in% +a,on o$er a &ew inches or insistin% on chan%in% their pose. Where some o& the %ir!s too) their time an ma e their t"rn with +a,on !ast3partic"!ar!y those who sti!! ha n(t sec"re a ate3Ce!este appeare to want to show her e&&iciency instea . 'n a #o!t o& spee , she was one, an the photo%rapher ca!!e &or the ne,t %ir!. ' was so #"sy watchin% Ce!este r"n her &in%ers own +a,on(s arm as she e,ite that a mai ha to %ent!y remin me it was my t"rn. ' %a$e my hea a tiny sha)e an wi!!e myse!& to &oc"s. ' %athere "p my ress in my han s an wa!)e towar +a,on. His eyes shi&te &rom Ce!este to me, an may#e ' ima%ine it, #"t his &ace seeme to #ri%hten a #it. 0He!!o, my ear,2 he san%. 07on(t e$en start,2 ' warne , #"t he mere!y ch"c)!e an reache his han s o"t. 0Ho! on a moment. 8o"r sash is croo)e .2 0Not s"rprise .2 The arn thin% was so hea$y, ' co"! &ee! it shi&tin% e$ery time ' steppe . 0' s"ppose that(!! o,2 he sai -o)in%!y. ' &ire #ac), 0'n the meantime, they o"%ht to han% yo" "p with the chan e!iers.2 ' po)e at the %!itterin% me a!s across his chest. His "ni&orm, which !oo)e a!most !i)e somethin% the %"ar s wo"! wear, on!y &ar more e!e%ant, a!so ha %o! en thin%s on his sho"! ers an a

swor han%in% o&& his hip. 't was a #it m"ch. 0Loo) at the camera, p!ease,2 the photo%rapher ca!!e . ' !oo)e "p an saw not -"st his eyes #"t the &aces o& a!! the other %ir!s watchin%, an my ner$es shot "p. ' wipe my moist han s on my ress an e,ha!e . 07on(t #e ner$o"s,2 +a,on whispere . 0' on(t !i)e e$eryone !oo)in% at me.2 He p"!!e me $ery c!ose an p"t his han on my waist. ' went to step #ac), #"t +a,on(s arm he! me sec"re!y to him. 09"st !oo) at me !i)e yo" can(t stan me.2 He s5"inte into a moc) po"t, which ma e me crac) "p. The camera &!ashe at -"st that secon , capt"rin% "s #oth !a"%hin%. 0See,2 +a,on sai . 0't(s not so #a .2 0' %"ess.2 ' was sti!! tense &or a &ew min"tes as the photo%rapher sho"te o"t instr"ctions an +a,on shi&te &rom a c!ose em#race to a !oose one, or t"rne me so my #ac) was a%ainst his chest. 0E,ce!!ent,2 the photo%rapher sai . 0Co"! we %et a &ew on the !o"n%e12 ' was &ee!in% #etter now that it was ha!& o$er, an ' sat ne,t to +a,on with the #est post"re ' co"! m"ster. E$ery once in a whi!e, he( po)e or tic)!e me, ma)in% my smi!e %row #i%%er "nti! it #"rst into !a"%hter. ' hope the photo%rapher was catchin% the moments -"st #e&ore my &ace scr"nche to%ether, otherwise this who!e thin% was %oin% to #e a isaster. :rom the corner o& my eye, ' notice a wa$in% han , an a moment !ater +a,on t"rne as we!!. A man in a s"it was stan in% there, an he c!ear!y nee e to spea) to the prince. +a,on no e , #"t the man hesitate , !oo)in% to him an then to me, e$i ent!y 5"estionin% my presence. 0She(s &ine,2 +a,on sai , an the man came o$er an )ne!t #e&ore him. 0Re#e! attac) in +i ston, 8o"r +a-esty,2 he sai . +a,on si%he an roppe his hea weari!y. 0They #"rne acres o& crops an )i!!e a#o"t a o6en peop!e.2 0Where in +i ston12 0The west, sir, near the #or er.2 +a,on no e s!ow!y an !oo)e as i& he was a in% this piece o& in&ormation to others in his hea . 0What oes my &ather say12 0Act"a!!y, 8o"r +a-esty, he wante yo"r tho"%hts.2 +a,on seeme ta)en a#ac) &or a sp!it secon , then spo)e. 0Loca!i6e troops in the so"theast o& Sota an a!! a!on% Tammins. 7on(t %o as &ar so"th as +i ston, it( #e a waste. See i& we can intercept them.2 The man stoo an #owe . 0E,ce!!ent, sir.2 As swi&t!y as he( come, he $anishe . ' )new we were s"ppose to %et #ac) to the pict"res, #"t +a,on i n(t seem near!y so intereste in it a!! now. 0Are yo" a!! ri%ht12 ' as)e . He no e som#er!y. 09"st a!! those peop!e.2 0+ay#e we sho"! stop,2 ' s"%%este . He shoo) his hea , strai%htene "p, an smi!e , p!acin% my han in his. 0One thin% yo" m"st master in this pro&ession is the a#i!ity to appear ca!m when yo" &ee! anythin% #"t. P!ease smi!e, America.2 ' raise myse!& "p an %a$e a shy smi!e to the camera as the photo%rapher c!ic)e away. 'n the mi !e o& those !ast &ew &rames, +a,on s5"ee6e my han ti%ht, an ' i the same to his. 'n that moment, it &e!t !i)e we ha a connection, somethin% tr"e an eep. 0Than) yo" $ery m"ch. Ne,t, p!ease,2 the photo%rapher san%. As +a,on an ' stoo , he he! on to my han . 0P!ease on(t say anythin%. 't(s imperati$e yo"(re iscreet.2 0O& co"rse.2 The c!ic) o& a pair o& hee!s comin% towar "s remin e me that we weren(t a!one, #"t ' )in o& wante to stay. He %a$e my han one !ast s5"ee6e an re!ease me, an as ' wa!)e away, ' consi ere se$era! thin%s. How nice it &e!t that +a,on tr"ste me eno"%h to !et me )now this secret, an how it ha sort o& &e!t !i)e we were a!one &or a moment. Then ' tho"%ht a#o"t the re#e!s, an how the )in% was "s"a!!y 5"ic) to point o"t

their se ition, #"t ' was s"ppose to )eep this news to myse!&. 't i n(t 5"ite ma)e sense. 09ane!!e, my ear,2 +a,on sai as the ne,t %ir! approache . ' smi!e to myse!& at the tire en earment. He !owere his $oice, #"t ' sti!! hear . 0.e&ore ' &or%et, are yo" &ree this a&ternoon12 Somethin% )in o& )notte in my stomach. ' %"esse it was a !ate #atch o& ner$es. 0She m"st ha$e one somethin% terri#!e,2 Amy insiste . 0That(s not what she ma e it so"n !i)e,2 <riss co"ntere . T"es ay p"!!e on <riss(s arm. 0What i she say a%ain12 9ane!!e ha #een sent home. This partic"!ar e!imination was cr"cia! &or "s to "n erstan , #eca"se it was the &irst one that was iso!ate an not ca"se #y r"!e #rea)in%. She ha one somethin% wron%, an we a!! wante to )now what it was. <riss, whose room was across &rom 9ane!!e(s, ha seen her come in an was the on!y person she( spo)en to #e&ore she !e&t. <riss si%he an reto! the story &or the thir time. 0She an +a,on ha %one h"ntin%, #"t yo" )new that,2 she sai , wa$in% her han aro"n !i)e she was tryin% to c!ear her tho"%hts. 9ane!!e(s ate rea!!y ha #een common )now!e %e. A&ter the photo shoot yester ay, she %"she a#o"t their p!ans to anyone who wo"! !isten. 0That was her secon ate with +a,on. She(s the on!y one who %ot two,2 .arie! sai . 0No, she isn(t,2 ' m"m#!e . A &ew hea s t"rne , ac)now!e %in% my statement. 't was tr"e, tho"%h. 9ane!!e was the on!y %ir! to ha$e two ates with +a,on #esi es me. Not that ' was co"ntin%. <riss contin"e . 0When she came #ac), she was cryin%. ' as)e her what was wron%, an she sai she was !ea$in%, that +a,on ha to! her to %o. ' %a$e her a h"% #eca"se she was so "pset an as)e her what happene . She sai she co"! n(t te!! me a#o"t it. ' on(t "n erstan that. +ay#e we(re not a!!owe to ta!) a#o"t why we(re e!iminate 12 0That wasn(t in the r"!es, was it12 T"es ay as)e . 0No one sai anythin% to me a#o"t it,2 Amy rep!ie , an se$era! others shoo) their hea s in con&irmation. 0."t what i she say then12 Ce!este "r%e . <riss si%he a%ain. 0She sai that '( #etter #e care&"! o& what ' say. Then she p"!!e away an s!amme the oor.2 The room went 5"iet a moment, consi erin%. 0She m"st ha$e ins"!te him,2 E!ayna sai . 0We!!, i& that(s why she !e&t, then it isn(t &air, since +a,on sai that someone in this room ins"!te him the &irst time they met,2 Ce!este comp!aine . Peop!e starte !oo)in% aro"n the room, tryin% to isco$er the %"i!ty party, perhaps in an e&&ort to %et them3me3)ic)e o"t as we!!. ' %a$e a ner$o"s %!ance to +ar!ee, an she spran% into action. 0+ay#e she sai somethin% a#o"t the co"ntry1 Li)e the po!icies or somethin%12 .arie! s"c)e her teeth. 0P!ease. How #orin% m"st that ate ha$e #een &or them to start ta!)in% po!icy1 Has anyone in here act"a!!y ta!)e to +a,on a#o"t anythin% re!ate to r"nnin% the co"ntry12 No one answere . 0O& co"rse yo" ha$en(t,2 .arie! sai . 0+a,on(s not !oo)in% &or a cowor)er, he(s !oo)in% &or a wi&e.2 07on(t yo" thin) yo"(re "n erestimatin% him12 <riss o#-ecte . 07on(t yo" thin) +a,on wants someone with i eas an opinions12 Ce!este threw her hea #ac) an !a"%he . 0+a,on can r"n the co"ntry -"st &ine. He(s traine &or it. .esi es, he has teams o& peop!e to he!p him ma)e ecisions, so why wo"! he want someone e!se tryin% to te!! him what to o1 '& ' were yo", '( start !earnin% how to #e 5"iet. At !east "nti! he marries yo".2 .arie! si !e "p #esi e Ce!este. 0Which he won(t.2 0E,act!y,2 Ce!este sai with a smi!e. 0Why wo"! +a,on #other with some #rainiac Three when he co"! ha$e a Two12 0Hey?2 T"es ay crie . 0+a,on oesn(t care a#o"t n"m#ers.2 0O& co"rse he

oes,2 Ce!este rep!ie in a tone someone wo"! "se with a chi! . 0Why o yo" thin) e$eryone #e!ow a :o"r is %one12 0Sti!! here,2 ' sai , raisin% my han . 0So i& yo" thin) yo"($e %ot him &i%"re o"t, yo"(re wron%.2 0Oh, it(s the %ir! who oesn(t )now when to sh"t "p,2 Ce!este sai in moc) am"sement. ' #a!!e my &ist, tryin% to eci e i& it wo"! #e worth hittin% her. Was that part o& her p!an1 ."t #e&ore ' co"! mo$e at a!!, Si!$ia #"rst thro"%h the oor. 0+ai!, !a ies?2 she ca!!e o"t, an the tension in the room &!ew away. We a!! stoppe , ea%er to %et o"r han s on what Si!$ia was carryin%. We( #een at the pa!ace near!y two wee)s now, an with the e,ception o& hearin% &rom o"r &ami!ies on the secon ay, this was o"r &irst rea! contact &rom home. 0Let(s see,2 Si!$ia sai , !oo)in% thro"%h stac)s o& !etters, comp!ete!y o#!i$io"s to the a!most= ar%"ment that ha ta)en p!ace not secon s a%o. 0La y Tiny12 she ca!!e as she !oo)e aro"n the room. Tiny raise her han an wa!)e &orwar . 0La y E!i6a#eth1 La y America12 ' practica!!y ran &orwar an snatche the !etter o"t o& her han . ' was so h"n%ry &or wor s &rom my &ami!y. As soon as it was in my c!"tches, ' retreate to a corner &or a &ew moments to myse!&. 7ear America, ' can(t wait &or :ri ay to come. ' can(t #e!ie$e yo"(re %oin% to %et to ta!) to Ga$ri! :a aye? 8o" ha$e a!! the !"c). ' certain!y i n(t &ee! !"c)y. Tomorrow ni%ht we were a!! %ettin% %ri!!e #y Ga$ri!, an ' ha no i ea what he wo"! as) "s. ' &e!t s"re '( ma)e an i iot o"t o& myse!&. 't(!! #e nice to hear yo"r $oice a%ain. ' miss yo" sin%in% aro"n the ho"se. +om oesn(t o it, an it(s #een so 5"iet since yo" !e&t. Wi!! yo" wa$e to me on the show1 How(s the competition %oin%1 7o yo" ha$e !ots o& &rien s there1 Ha$e yo" ta!)e to any o& the %ir!s who !e&t1 +om is sayin% a!! the time now that it(s not a #i% ea! i& yo" !ose anymore. Ha!& those %ir!s who went home are a!rea y en%a%e to the sons o& mayors or ce!e#rities. She says someone wi!! ta)e yo" i& +a,on oesn(t. Gera is hopin% yo" marry a #as)et#a!! p!ayer instea o& a #orin% o! prince. ."t ' on(t care what any#o y says. +a,on is so %or%eo"s? Ha$e yo" )isse him yet1 <isse him1 We( on!y -"st met. An there( #e no reason &or +a,on to )iss me anyway. ' #et he(s the #est )isser in the "ni$erse. ' thin) i& yo"(re a prince, yo" ha$e to #e? ' ha$e so m"ch more to te!! yo", #"t +om wants me to %o paint. Write me a rea! !etter soon. A !on% one? With !ots an !ots o& etai!s? ' !o$e yo"? We a!! o. +ay So the e!iminate %ir!s were a!rea y %ettin% snatche "p #y wea!thy men. ' i n(t rea!i6e #ein% the casto&& o& a &"t"re )in% ma e yo" a commo ity. ' wa!)e aro"n the perimeter o& the room, thin)in% o$er +ay(s wor s. ' wante to )now what was %oin% on. ' won ere what ha rea!!y happene with 9ane!!e an was c"rio"s i& +a,on ha another ate toni%ht. ' rea!!y wante to see him. +y min was racin%, searchin% &or a way to simp!y spea) to him. As ' tho"%ht, ' stare at the paper in my han s. The secon pa%e o& +ay(s !etter was a!most comp!ete!y #!an). ' tore o&& a piece o& it as ' wan ere . Some %ir!s were sti!! #"rie in pa%es o& !etters &rom their &ami!ies, an others were sharin% news. A&ter a !ap ' stoppe #y the Women(s Room %"est #oo) an pic)e "p the pen. ' scri##!e 5"ic)!y on my scrap o& paper. 8o"r +a-esty3 T"%%in% my ear. Whene$er. ' wa!)e o"tsi e the room as i& ' were simp!y %oin% to the #athroom an !oo)e "p an own the ha!!. 't was empty. ' stoo there, waitin%, "nti! a mai ro"n e the corner with a tray o& tea in her han s. 0E,c"se me12 ' ca!!e to her 5"iet!y. Aoices carrie in these %reat ha!!s. The

%ir! c"rtsie in &ront o& me. 08es, miss12 0Wo"! yo" happen to #e %oin% to the prince with that12 She smi!e . 08es, miss.2 0Co"! yo" p!ease ta)e this to him &or me12 ' he! o"t my !itt!e &o! e ="p note. 0O& co"rse, miss?2 She too) it ea%er!y an wa!)e away with a new&o"n ener%y. No o"#t she wo"! "n&o! it as soon as she was o"t o& si%ht, #"t ' &e!t sec"re in its o phrasin%. These ha!!ways were capti$atin%, each one more ornate than my entire ho"se. The wa!!paper, the %i!t mirrors, the %iant $ases o& &resh &!owers a!! so #ea"ti&"!. The carpets were !a$ish an immac"!ate, the win ows were spar)!in%, an the paintin%s on the wa!!s were !o$e!y. There were some paintin%s #y artists ' )new3$an Go%h, Picasso3an some ' i n(t. There were photo%raphs o& #"i! in%s ' ha seen #e&ore. There was one o& the !e%en ary White Ho"se. Compare to the pict"res an what '( rea in my o! history #oo), the pa!ace war&e it in si6e an !","ry, #"t ' sti!! wishe it was aro"n to see. ' wa!)e &arther own the ha!! an came "pon a portrait o& the roya! &ami!y. 't !oo)e o! / +a,on was shorter than his mother in this pict"re. He towere o$er her now. 'n the time '( #een at the pa!ace, ' ha on!y e$er seen them to%ether at inners an the '!!4a Capita! Report airin%. Were they $ery pri$ate1 7i they not !i)e a!! these stran%e yo"n% %ir!s in their ho"se1 Were they on!y a!! here #eca"se o& #!oo an "ty1 ' i n(t )now what to ma)e o& this in$isi#!e &ami!y. 0America12 ' t"rne at the so"n o& my name. +a,on was -o%%in% own the ha!! towar me. ' &e!t !i)e ' was seein% him &or the &irst time. He ha his s"it coat o&&, an the s!ee$es were ro!!e "p on his white shirt. His #!"e tie was !oosene at the nec), an his hair that was a!ways s!ic)e #ac) was #o"ncin% aro"n a #it as he mo$e . 'n star) contrast to the person in "ni&orm yester ay, he !oo)e more #oyish, more rea!. ' &ro6e. +a,on came "p to me an %ra##e my wrists. 0Are yo" o)ay1 What(s wron%12 he presse . Wron%1 0Nothin%. '(m &ine,2 ' rep!ie . +a,on !et o"t a #reath ' i n(t rea!i6e he was ho! in%. 0Than) %oo ness. When ' %ot yo"r note, ' tho"%ht yo" were sic) or somethin% happene to yo"r &ami!y.2 0Oh? Oh, no. +a,on, '(m so sorry. ' )new that was a st"pi i ea. ' -"st i n(t )now i& yo"( #e at inner, an ' wante to see yo".2 0We!!, what &or12 he as)e . He was sti!! !oo)in% me o$er with a &"rrowe #row, as i& he was ma)in% s"re nothin% was #ro)en. 09"st to see yo".2 +a,on stoppe mo$in%. He !oo)e into my eyes with a )in o& won er. 08o" -"st wante to see me12 He !oo)e happi!y s"rprise . 07on(t #e so shoc)e . :rien s "s"a!!y spen time to%ether.2 +y tone a e the o& co"rse. 0Ah, yo"(re cross with me #eca"se '($e #een en%a%e a!! wee), aren(t yo"1 ' i n(t mean to ne%!ect o"r &rien ship, America.2 Now he was #ac) to the #"siness!i)e +a,on. 0No, '(m not ma . ' was -"st e,p!ainin% myse!&. 8o" !oo) #"sy. Go #ac) to wor), an '(!! see yo" when yo"(re &ree.2 ' notice he was sti!! ho! in% on to my wrists. 0Act"a!!y, o yo" min i& ' stay a &ew min"tes1 They(re ha$in% a #" %et meetin% "pstairs, an ' etest those thin%s.2 Witho"t waitin% &or an answer, +a,on p"!!e me o$er to a short, p!"sh so&a ha!&way own the ha!! that reste "n erneath a win ow, an ' %i%%!e a !itt!e as we sat. 0What(s so &"nny12 09"st yo",2 ' sai , smi!in%. 0't(s c"te to see that yo"r -o# #"%s yo". What(s so #a a#o"t the meetin%s, anyway12 0Oh, America?2 he sai , &acin% me a%ain. 0They %o ro"n an ro"n in circ!es. :ather oes a %oo -o# at ca!min% the a $isers, #"t it(s so har to p"sh the committees in any %i$en irection. +om is a!ways on :ather to %i$e more to the schoo! systems3she thin)s the more

e "cate yo" are, the !ess !i)e!y yo" are to #e a crimina!, an ' a%ree3#"t :ather is ne$er &orce&"! eno"%h to %et them to ta)e away &rom other areas that co"! mana%e per&ect!y with !ower &"n s. 't(s in&"riatin%? An it(s not !i)e '(m in comman , so my opinion is easi!y o$er!oo)e .2 +a,on proppe his e!#ows on his )nees an reste his hea in his han s. He !oo)e tire . So now ' co"! see a #it o& +a,on(s wor! , #"t it was -"st as "nima%ina#!e as e$er. How co"! yo" eny the $oice o& yo"r &"t"re so$erei%n1 0'(m sorry. On the p!"s si e, yo"(!! ha$e more o& a say in the &"t"re.2 ' r"##e his #ac), tryin% to enco"ra%e him. 0' )now. ' te!! myse!& that. ."t it(s so &r"stratin% when we co"! chan%e thin%s now i& they( on!y !isten.2 His $oice was a !itt!e har to hear when it was irecte at the carpet. 0We!!, on(t #e too isco"ra%e . 8o"r mom is on the ri%ht path, #"t e "cation a!one won(t &i, anythin%.2 +a,on raise his hea . 0What o yo" mean12 't a!most so"n e !i)e an acc"sation. An ri%ht!y so. Here was an i ea that he( #een championin%, an '( -"st s5"ashe it. ' trie to #ac)pe a!. 0We!!, compare to the &ancy=pants t"tors someone !i)e yo" has, the e "cation system &or Si,es an Se$ens is terri#!e. ' thin) %ettin% #etter teachers or #etter &aci!ities wo"! o them a wor! o& %oo . ."t then what a#o"t the Ei%hts1 'sn(t that caste responsi#!e &or most o& the crimes1 They on(t %et any e "cation. ' thin) i& they &e!t they ha somethin%, anythin% at a!!, it mi%ht enco"ra%e them. 0.esi es*2 ' pa"se . ' i n(t )now i& this was somethin% a #oy who( %rown "p with e$erythin% han e to him co"! %rasp. 0Ha$e yo" e$er #een h"n%ry, +a,on1 Not -"st rea y &or inner, #"t star$in%1 '& there was a#so!"te!y no &oo here, nothin% &or yo"r mother or &ather, an yo" )new that i& yo" -"st too) somethin% &rom peop!e who ha more in a ay than yo"( ha$e in yo"r who!e !i&e, yo" co"! eat * what wo"! yo" o1 '& they were co"ntin% on yo", what wo"! n(t yo" o &or someone yo" !o$e 12 He was 5"iet &or a moment. Once #e&ore3when we( ta!)e a#o"t my mai s "rin% the attac)3 we( )in o& ac)now!e %e the wi e %ap #etween "s. This was a &ar more contro$ersia! topic o& isc"ssion, an ' co"! see him wantin% to a$oi it. 0America, '(m not sayin% that some peop!e on(t ha$e it har , #"t stea!in% is32 0C!ose yo"r eyes, +a,on.2 0What12 0C!ose yo"r eyes.2 He &rowne at me #"t o#eye . ' waite "nti! his eyes were sh"t an his &ace !oo)e re!a,e #e&ore ' starte . 0Somewhere in this pa!ace, there is a woman who wi!! #e yo"r wi&e.2 ' saw his mo"th twitch, the #e%innin%s o& a hope&"! smi!e. 0+ay#e yo" on(t )now which &ace it is yet, #"t thin) o& the %ir!s in that room. 'ma%ine the one who !o$es yo" the most. 'ma%ine yo"r > ear.(2 His han was restin% ne,t to mine on the seat, an his &in%ers %ra6e mine &or a secon . ' shie away &rom the to"ch. 0Sorry,2 he m"m#!e , !oo)in% my way. 0<eep (em c!ose ?2 He ch"c)!e an went #ac) to his ori%ina! position. 0This %ir!1 'ma%ine that she epen s on yo". She nee s yo" to cherish her an ma)e her &ee! !i)e the Se!ection i n(t e$en happen. Li)e i& yo" were roppe on yo"r own o"t in the mi !e o& the co"ntry to wan er aro"n oor to oor, she(s sti!! the one yo" wo"! ha$e &o"n . She was a!ways the one yo" wo"! ha$e pic)e .2 The hope&"! smi!e #e%an to sett!e. +ore than sett!e, it starte to sa%. 0She nee s yo" to pro$i e &or her an protect her. An i& it came to a point where there was a#so!"te!y nothin% to eat, an yo" co"! n(t e$en &a!! as!eep at ni%ht #eca"se the so"n o& her stomach %row!in% )ept yo" awa)e32 0Stop it?2 +a,on stoo 5"ic)!y. He wa!)e across the ha!! an staye there &or a whi!e,

&acin% away &rom me. ' &e!t a !itt!e aw)war . ' ha n(t rea!i6e this wo"! ma)e him so "pset. 0Sorry,2 ' whispere . He no e his hea #"t contin"e to !oo) at the wa!!. A&ter a moment he t"rne aro"n . His eyes were searchin% mine, sa an 5"estionin%. 0's it rea!!y !i)e that12 he as)e . 0What12 0O"t there * oes that happen1 Are peop!e h"n%ry !i)e that a !ot12 0+a,on, '32 0Te!! me the tr"th.2 His mo"th sett!e into a &irm !ine. 08es. That happens. ' )now o& &ami!ies where peop!e %i$e "p their share &or their chi! ren or si#!in%s. ' )now o& a #oy who was whippe in the town s5"are &or stea!in% &oo . Sometimes yo" o cra6y thin%s when yo"(re esperate.2 0A #oy1 How o! 12 0Nine,2 ' #reathe with a shi$er. ' co"! sti!! remem#er the scars on 9emmy(s tiny #ac), an +a,on stretche his own #ac) as i& he &e!t it a!! himse!&. 0Ha$e yo"23he c!eare his throat30ha$e yo" e$er #een !i)e that1 Star$in%12 ' "c)e my hea , which was a %i$eaway. ' rea!!y i n(t want to te!! him a#o"t that. 0How #a 12 0+a,on, it wi!! on!y "pset yo" more.2 0Pro#a#!y,2 he sai with a %ra$e no . 0."t '(m on!y startin% to rea!i6e how m"ch ' on(t )now a#o"t my own co"ntry. P!ease.2 ' si%he . 0We($e #een pretty #a . +ost times i& it %ets to where we ha$e to choose, we )eep the &oo an !ose e!ectricity. The worst was when it happene near Christmas one year. 't was $ery co! , so we were a!! wearin% tons o& c!othes an watchin% o"r #reath insi e the ho"se. +ay i n(t "n erstan why we co"! n(t e,chan%e %i&ts. As a %enera! r"!e, there are ne$er any !e&to$ers at my ho"se. Someone a!ways wants more.2 ' watche his &ace %row pa!e an rea!i6e ' i n(t want to see him "pset. ' nee e to t"rn this aro"n , ma)e it positi$e. 0' )now the chec)s we($e %otten o$er the !ast &ew wee)s ha$e rea!!y he!pe , an my &ami!y is $ery smart a#o"t money. '(m s"re they($e a!rea y t"c)e it away so it(!! stretch o"t &or a !on% time. 8o"($e one so m"ch &or "s, +a,on.2 ' trie to smi!e at him a%ain, #"t his e,pression remaine "nchan%e . 0Goo Go . When yo" sai yo" were on!y here &or the &oo , yo" weren(t )i in%, were yo"12 he as)e , sha)in% his hea . 0Rea!!y, +a,on, we($e #een oin% pretty we!! !ate!y. '32 ."t ' co"! n(t &inish my sentence. +a,on came o$er an )isse my &orehea . 0'(!! see yo" at inner.2 As he wa!)e away, he strai%htene his tie.

CHAPTER 1J

+AHON HA7 SA'7 HE WO@L7 see me at inner, #"t he wasn(t there. The 5"een entere a!one. We ma e o"r e!icate #ows as she too) her seat, an then sett!e in o"rse!$es. ' !oo)e aro"n the room to &in the empty chair, ass"min% he was on a ate, #"t e$eryone was here. ' ha spent the a&ternoon rep!ayin% what '( sai to +a,on. No won er '( ne$er ha any &rien s. ' was shoc)in%!y #a at it. 9"st then +a,on an the )in% wa!)e in. +a,on ha his s"it coat #ac) on, #"t his hair was sti!! a han some mess. He an the )in% ha their hea s to%ether as they wa!)e . We h"rrie to stan . Their con$ersation was animate . +a,on was "sin% his han s to e,press thin%s an the )in% was no in%, ac)now!e %in% his son(s wor s #"t !oo)in% a !itt!e p"t o"t. When they reache the hea ta#!e, <in% C!ar)son %a$e +a,on a hea$y

pat on the #ac), his e,pression stern. As the )in% t"rne to &ace "s a!!, his &ace s" en!y &!oo e with enth"siasm. 0Oh, %oo ness, ear !a ies, p!ease sit.2 He )isse the 5"een on her hea an sat himse!&. ."t +a,on remaine stan in%.0La ies, ' ha$e an anno"ncement.2 E$ery eye &oc"se in. What co"! he possi#!y ha$e &or "s1 0' )now yo" were a!! promise compensation &or yo"r participation in the Se!ection.2 His $oice was &"!! o& a rin%in% a"thority that ' ha on!y rea!!y hear once3the ni%ht he !et me into the %ar en. He was m"ch more attracti$e when he was "sin% his stat"s &or a p"rpose. 0Howe$er, there ha$e #een some new monetary a!!ocations. '& yo" are a nat"ra! Two or a Three, yo" wi!! no !on%er #e recei$in% &inancin%. :o"rs an :i$es wi!! contin"e to recei$e compensation, #"t it wi!! #e s!i%ht!y !ess than what it has #een so &ar.2 ' co"! see some o& the %ir!s ha their mo"ths open in shoc). +oney was part o& the ea!. Ce!este, &or e,amp!e, was &"min%. ' %"esse i& yo" ha a !ot o& money, yo" %ot "se to the i ea o& co!!ectin% it. An the tho"%ht that someone !i)e me wo"! #e %ettin% anythin% she wasn(t pro#a#!y %ot "n er her s)in. 0' o apo!o%i6e &or any incon$enience, #"t ' wi!! e,p!ain this a!! tomorrow ni%ht on the Capita! Report. An this is a nonne%otia#!e sit"ation. '& anyone has a pro#!em with this new arran%ement an no !on%er wants to participate, yo" may !ea$e a&ter inner.2 He sat own an starte ta!)in% a%ain to the )in%, who seeme more intereste in his inner than +a,on(s wor s. ' was a !itt!e isheartene that my &ami!y wo"! #e recei$in% !ess money, #"t at !east we were sti!! %ettin% some. ' trie to &oc"s on my inner, #"t most!y ' was won erin% what this meant, an ' wasn(t a!one. +"rm"rs went "p aro"n the room. 0What o yo" thin) that(s a#o"t12 Tiny as)e 5"iet!y. 0+ay#e it(s a test,2 <riss o&&ere . 0' #et there are some peop!e here who are on!y in it &or the money.2 As ' !istene to her, ' saw :iona n" %e O!i$ia an no her hea towar me. ' t"rne away so she wo"! n(t )now ' saw. The %ir!s o&&ere "p theories, an ' )ept watchin% +a,on. ' trie to catch his attention so ' co"! t"% my ear, #"t he i n(t !oo) my way. +ary an ' were a!one in my room. Toni%ht '( &ace Ga$ri!3an the rest o& the nation3on the '!!4a Capita! Report. Not to mention the other %ir!s wo"! #e ri%ht there the who!e time, watchin% one another an menta!!y criti5"in%. Sayin% ' was ner$o"s was a %ross "n erstatement. ' &i %ete whi!e +ary !iste some possi#!e 5"estions, thin%s she tho"%ht the p"#!ic wo"! want to )now. How was ' en-oyin% the pa!ace1 What was the most romantic thin% +a,on ha one &or me1 7i ' miss my &ami!y1 Ha ' )isse +a,on yet1 ' eye +ary when she as)e me that one. '( #een throwin% o"t answers to the 5"estions, tryin% not to thin) too har . ."t ' co"! te!! she( as)e that one o"t o& %en"ine c"riosity. The smi!e on her &ace pro$e it. 0No? :or %oo ness( sa)e.2 ' trie to so"n ma , #"t it was too &"nny to #e "pset a#o"t. ' en e "p smir)in%. An that ma e +ary %i%%!e. 0Oh, -"st * why on(t yo" c!ean somethin%?2 She !a"%he o"tri%ht, an #e&ore ' co"! te!! her to stop, Anne an L"cy #"rst thro"%h the oors with a %arment #a%. L"cy was !oo)in% more e,cite than '( seen her since the moment '( wa!)e in the &irst ay, an Anne seeme 5"iet!y e$io"s. 0What(s this a#o"t12 ' as)e as L"cy stoppe in &ront o& me to %i$e a #"oyant c"rtsy. 0We &inishe yo"r ress &or the Report, miss,2 she rep!ie . +y #row wrin)!e to%ether. 0A new one1 Why not the #!"e one in the c!oset1 7i n(t yo" -"st &inish that one1 ' !o$e it.2 The

three o& them e,chan%e !oo)s. 0What i yo" o12 ' as)e , pointin% at the #a% Anne was han%in% "p on the hoo) near the mirror. 0We ta!) to a!! the other mai s, miss. We hear a !ot o& thin%s,2 Anne #e%an. 0We )now that yo" an La y 9ane!!e are the on!y two who %ot more than one ate with His +a-esty, an &rom what we "n erstan , there mi%ht #e a !in) #etween yo" two.2 0How so12 ' as)e . 0:rom what we($e hear ,2 Anne contin"e , 0the reason she was as)e to !ea$e is #eca"se she sai some rather "n)in thin%s a#o"t yo". The prince i not a%ree an ismisse her imme iate!y.2 0What12 ' p"t a han to my mo"th, tryin% to hi e my shoc). 0We(re s"re yo"(re his &a$orite, miss. +ost e$eryone says so.2 L"cy si%he happi!y. 0' thin) yo"($e #een misin&orme ,2 ' to! them. Anne shr"%%e with a smi!e on her &ace, not concerne at a!! with my opinion. Then ' remem#ere where this ha starte . 0What oes any o& this ha$e to o with my ress12 +ary came o$er to Anne an #e%an "n6ippin% the !on% #a%, re$ea!in% a st"nnin% re ress that shimmere in the &a in% !i%ht &a!!in% thro"%h the win ow. 0Oh, Anne,2 ' sai , a#so!"te!y awestr"c). 08o"($e o"t one yo"rse!&.2 She ac)now!e %e my praise with a no o& her hea . 0Than) yo", miss. We a!! wor)e on it, tho"%h.2 0't(s #ea"ti&"!. ."t ' sti!! on(t "n erstan what this has to o with anythin% yo" sai .2 +ary p"!!e the ress o"t o& the #a%, airin% it o"t, whi!e Anne contin"e . 0As ' sai , many peop!e aro"n the pa!ace thin) yo"(re the prince(s &a$orite. He says )in thin%s a#o"t yo" an pre&ers yo"r company a#o$e the others(. An it seems the other %ir!s ha$e notice .2 0What o yo" mean12 0We %o own to a wor)room to o most o& the sewin% on yo"r resses. There are stores o& materia! an a p!ace to ma)e shoes, an the other mai s are in there, too. E$eryone re5"este a #!"e ress &or toni%ht. A!! the mai s thin) it(s #eca"se yo" wear that co!or a!most ai!y, an the others are tryin% to copy yo".2 0't(s tr"e,2 L"cy chime in. 0La y T"es ay an La y Nata!ie i n(t p"t on any o& their -ewe!ry to ay. 9"st !i)e yo".2 0An most o& the !a ies are re5"estin% simp!er resses, !i)e the ones yo" pre&er,2 +ary state . 0That sti!! oesn(t e,p!ain why yo" ma e me a re ress.2 0To ma)e yo" noticea#!e, o& co"rse,2 +ary answere . 0Oh, La y America, i& he rea!!y !i)es yo", yo" ha$e to )eep stan in% o"t. 8o"($e #een so %enero"s with "s, especia!!y L"cy.2 We a!! !oo)e o$er to L"cy, who no e in a%reement an sai , 08o"3yo"(re %oo eno"%h to #e the princess. 8o"( #e ama6in%.2 ' h"nte &or a way to %et o"t o& this. ' hate #ein% the center o& attention. 0."t what i& e$eryone e!se is ri%ht1 What i& the reason +a,on !i)es me is #eca"se '(m not as o$er the top as e$eryone e!se, an then yo" %o an p"t me in somethin% !i)e that an it r"ins it a!!12 0E$ery %ir! nee s to shine once in a whi!e. An we($e )nown +a,on most o& his !i&e. He wo"! !o$e this.2 Anne spo)e with s"ch ass"rance that ' &e!t there was nothin% ' co"! o. ' i n(t )now how to e,p!ain to them that the notes he sent me, the time he( spent with me, meant nothin% other than &rien ship #etween "s. ' co"! n(t te!! them. 't wo"! e&!ate their happiness, an #esi es, ' nee e to )eep "p appearances i& ' wante to stay. An ' i . ' nee e to stay. 0O)ay, !et(s try it on,2 ' conce e with a si%h. L"cy -"mpe "p an own with e,citement "nti! Anne remin e her that it wasn(t proper. ' s!i the si!)y ress o$er my hea , an they stitche a han &"! o& p!aces they ha n(t 5"ite &inishe . +ary(s s)i!!e han s he! my hair in $ario"s ways to see which !oo)e #est with the ress, an within ha!& an ho"r, ' was rea y. The set was arran%e a !itt!e

i&&erent!y toni%ht &or o"r specia! show. The thrones &or the roya! &ami!y were o&& to one si e as a!ways, an o"r seats were on the opposite si e a%ain. ."t the po i"m was o&& center, !ea$in% the space &oc"se on two ta!! chairs. A microphone was restin% on one &or "s to ta)e when we spo)e to Ga$ri!. ' %ot 5"easy -"st thin)in% a#o"t it. S"re eno"%h, the room was &"!! o& resses in e$ery sha e o& #!"e. Some o& them &e!! c!oser to %reen, others c!oser to p"rp!e, #"t it was c!ear there was a theme. ' &e!t imme iate!y "ncom&orta#!e. ' ca"%ht Ce!este(s eye ri%ht away an eci e to -"st stay away &rom her "nti! ' a#so!"te!y ha to %o o$er to the seats. <riss an Nata!ie wa!)e past, ha$in% -"st chec)e their ma)e"p one !ast time. They #oth !oo)e a !itt!e "nhappy, tho"%h sometimes it was har to te!! with Nata!ie. <riss at !east !oo)e somewhat i&&erent &rom the crow as we!!. Her #!"e ress was me!tin% into white, !i)e e!icate stran s o& ice were wea$in% their way to the &!oor. 08o" !oo) st"nnin%, America,2 she sai in a way that was s!i%ht!y more an acc"sation than praise. 0Than)s. That ress is %or%eo"s.2 She ran her han s own her torso, strai%htenin% ima%inary wrin)!es. 08eah, ' !i)e it, too.2 Nata!ie ran her han across one o& the cappe s!ee$es on my ress. 0What(s that materia!1 't(s rea!!y %oin% to shine "n er the !i%hts.2 0' ha$e no i ea, act"a!!y. We on(t %et a !ot o& the nice st"&& as :i$es,2 ' sai with a shr"%. ' !oo)e own at the &a#ric. '( ha at !east one other ress ma e &rom the same type o& c!oth, #"t ' ha n(t #othere !earnin% the name. 0America?2 ' !oo)e "p to see Ce!este stan in% ri%ht #esi e me. Smi!in%. 0Ce!este.2 0Co"! yo" come with me &or -"st one moment1 ' nee some he!p.2 Witho"t waitin% &or an answer, she p"!!e me away &rom <riss an Nata!ie an aro"n the hea$y #!"e c"rtain that was the #ac) rop o& the Report st" io. 0Ta)e o&& yo"r ress,2 she or ere as she starte "n6ippin% her own. 0What12 0' want yo"r ress. Ta)e it o&&. @%h? 7amn hoo),2 she sai , sti!! tryin% to %et o"t o& her c!othes. 0'(m not ta)in% o&& my ress,2 ' sai , an went to !ea$e. ' i n(t %et $ery &ar, tho"%h, as Ce!este #"rie her nai!s into my arm an -er)e me #ac). 0O"ch?2 ' crie , %ra##in% my arm. 't !oo)e !i)e there wo"! #e mar)s #"t hope&"!!y no #!oo . 0Sh"t "p. Ta)e o&& the ress. Now.2 ' stoo there, my &ace set, re&"sin% to #" %e. Ce!este was -"st %oin% to ha$e to %et o$er not #ein% the center o& '!!4a. 0' co"! ta)e it o&& &or yo",2 she o&&ere co! !y. 0'(m not a&rai o& yo", Ce!este,2 ' sai as ' crosse my arms. 0This ress was ma e &or me, an '(m %oin% to wear it. Ne,t time yo" pic) o"t yo"r c!othes, may#e yo" sho"! try #ein% yo"rse!& instea o& me. Oh, wait, #"t may#e then +a,on wo"! see what a #rat yo" are an sen yo" home, h"h12 Witho"t a secon o& hesitation, she reache "p an rippe one o& my s!ee$es o&& an wa!)e away. ' %aspe in o"tra%e #"t was too st"nne to o anythin% more. ' !oo)e own an saw a tattere scrap o& &a#ric an%!in% pathetica!!y in &ront o& me. ' hear Si!$ia ca!!in% &or e$eryone to come to their seats, so ' wa!)e aro"n the si e o& the c"rtain as #ra$e!y as ' co"! mana%e. +ar!ee ha sa$e me a seat #esi e her, an ' saw the shoc)e !oo) on her &ace as ' came into $iew. 0What happene to yo"r ress12 she whispere . 0Ce!este,2 ' e,p!aine in is%"st. Emmica an Samantha, who were sittin% in &ront o& "s, t"rne aro"n . 0She tore yo"r ress12 Emmica as)e . 08es.2 0Go to +a,on an t"rn her in,2 she p!ea e . 0That %ir!(s a ni%htmare.2 0' )now,2 ' sai with a si%h. 0'(!! te!! him ne,t time ' see him.2 Samantha !oo)e sa . 0Who )nows when that wi!! #e1 ' tho"%ht we( %et to

spen more time with him.2 0America, !i&t yo"r arm,2 +ar!ee instr"cte . She e,pert!y t"c)e my tattere s!ee$e into the si e o& my ress as Emmica p!"c)e away a &ew stray threa s. 8o" co"! n(t e$en te!! anythin% ha happene to it. As &or the nai! mar)s, we!!, at !east they were on my !e&t arm an away &rom the camera. 't was a!most time to start. Ga$ri! was &!ippin% thro"%h notes as the roya! &ami!y came in at !ast. +a,on ha on a ar) #!"e s"it with a pin o& the nationa! em#!em on his !ape!. He !oo)e sharp an ca!m. 0Goo e$enin%, !a ies,2 he san% with a smi!e. A chor"s o& 0+a-esty2 an 0Hi%hness2 &e!! o$er him. 09"st so yo" )now, '(!! #e %i$in% one #rie& anno"ncement an then intro "cin% Ga$ri!. 't(!! #e a nice chan%e/ he(s a!ways intro "cin% me?2 He ch"c)!e , an we a!! &o!!owe . 0' )now some o& yo" are pro#a#!y a !itt!e ner$o"s, #"t yo" ha$e no nee to #e. P!ease, -"st #e yo"rse!$es. The peop!e want to )now yo".2 O"r eyes met a &ew times whi!e he was ta!)in%, #"t nothin% !on% eno"%h &or me to rea him. He i n(t seem to notice the ress. +y mai s wo"! #e isappointe . He wa!)e o$er to the po i"m, ca!!in% o"t 0Goo !"c)2 o$er his sho"! er. ' co"! te!! somethin% was %oin% on. ' ass"me this anno"ncement o& his wo"! #e re!ate to what he( to! "s yester ay, #"t ' sti!! co"! n(t %"ess at what it a!! meant. +a,on(s !itt!e mystery istracte me, an ' wasn(t so ner$o"s anymore. ' &e!t a!! ri%ht as the anthem p!aye an the camera sett!e s5"are!y on +a,on(s &ace. '( #een watchin% the Report since ' was a chi! . +a,on ha ne$er a resse the co"ntry #e&ore, not !i)e this. ' wishe ' co"! ha$e to! him %oo !"c), too. 0Goo e$enin%, !a ies an %ent!emen o& '!!4a. ' )now that toni%ht is an e,citin% ni%ht &or "s a!! as the co"ntry %ets to &ina!!y hear &rom the twenty= &i$e remainin% women in the Se!ection. ' can(t #e%in to e,press how e,cite ' am &or yo" to meet them. '(m s"re yo" wi!! a!! a%ree that any one o& these ama6in% yo"n% !a ies wo"! #e a won er&"! !ea er an &"t"re princess. 0."t #e&ore we %et to that, '( !i)e to anno"nce a new pro-ect ' am wor)in% on that is o& %reat importance to me. Ha$in% met these !a ies, '($e #een e,pose to the wi e wor! o"tsi e o"r pa!ace, a wor! that ' rare!y %et to see. '($e #een to! o& its remar)a#!e %oo ness an ma e aware o& its "nima%ina#!e ar)ness. Thro"%h spea)in% to these women, '($e em#race the importance o& the masses o"tsi e these wa!!s. ' ha$e #een wo)en to the s"&&erin% o& some o& o"r !ower castes, an ' inten to o somethin% a#o"t it.2 What1 0't wi!! #e at !east three months #e&ore we can set this "p proper!y, #"t aro"n the new year, there wi!! #e p"#!ic assistance &or &oo in e$ery Pro$ince Ser$ices O&&ice. Any :i$e, Si,, Se$en, or Ei%ht may %o there any e$enin% &or a &ree, n"tritio"s mea!. P!ease )now that these women #e&ore yo" ha$e a!! sacri&ice some or a!! o& their compensation to he!p &"n this important pro%ram. An whi!e this assistance may not #e a#!e to !ast &ore$er, we wi!! )eep it r"nnin% as !on% as we can.2 ' )ept tryin% to swa!!ow "p the %ratit" e, the awe, #"t a &ew tears !ea)e o"t. ' was sti!! aware eno"%h o& what was comin% ne,t to worry a#o"t my ma)e"p #"t so appreciati$e that it was no !on%er the top priority. 0' &ee! that no %oo !ea er can !et the masses %o "n&e . +ost o& '!!4a is comprise o& these !ower castes, an we ha$e o$er!oo)e these peop!e &ar too !on%. That is why ' am mo$in% &orwar an why ' am as)in% others to -oin me. Twos, Threes, :o"rs * the roa s yo" ri$e on on(t pa$e themse!$es. 8o"r ho"ses aren(t c!eane #y ma%ic. Here is yo"r opport"nity to ac)now!e %e that tr"th #y onatin% at yo"r !oca! Pro$ince

Ser$ices O&&ice.2 He pa"se . 0.y #irth yo" ha$e #een #!esse , an it is time to ac)now!e %e that #!essin%. ' wi!! ha$e &"rther "p ates as this pro-ect pro%resses, an ' than) yo" a!! &or yo"r attention. ."t now, !et(s %et to the rea! reason yo" a!! t"ne in toni%ht. La ies an %ent!emen, +r. Ga$ri! :a aye?2 There was a smatterin% o& app!a"se &rom e$eryone in the room, tho"%h it was o#$io"s not e$eryone was enth"siastic a#o"t +a,on(s anno"ncement. The )in%, &or instance, was c!appin% #"t witho"t e,citement, tho"%h the 5"een was ra iant with pri e. The a $isers a!so seeme torn a#o"t whether or not this was a %oo i ea. 0Than) yo" so m"ch &or that intro "ction, 8o"r +a-esty?2 Ga$ri! anno"nce as he ran onto the set. 0Aery we!! one? '& this who!e prince thin% oesn(t wor) o"t, yo" sho"! consi er a -o# in entertainment.2 +a,on !a"%he o"t !o" as he wa!)e to his seat. The cameras were &oc"se on Ga$ri! now, #"t ' watche +a,on an his parents. ' i n(t "n erstan why their reactions were mi,e . 0Peop!e o& '!!4a, o we ha$e a treat &or yo"? This e$enin% we(!! #e %ettin% the insi e scoop &rom each o& these yo"n% women. We )now yo"($e #een yin% to meet them an hear how thin%s are comin% a!on% with o"r Prince +a,on, so toni%ht * we(re -"st %oin% to as)? Let(s %et starte with23Ga$ri! !oo)e at his note car s30+iss Ce!este Newsome o& C!ermont?2 Ce!este mo$e sin"o"s!y &rom her seat in the top row an own the steps. She act"a!!y )isse Ga$ri! on #oth chee)s #e&ore she sat own. Her inter$iew was pre icta#!e, an so was .arie!(s. They trie to #e se,y, #en in% &orwar a !ot to %et c!ear shots own their resses. 't !oo)e &a)e. ' watche their &aces in the monitors as they )ept %!ancin% at +a,on an win)in%. E$ery once in a whi!e, !i)e when .arie! trie to smooth!y !ic) her !ips, +ar!ee an ' ma e #rie& eye contact an then ha to !oo) away so we wo"! n(t !a"%h. Others were more compose . Tiny(s $oice matche her name, an she seeme to &o! in on herse!& as the inter$iew pro%resse . ."t ' )new she was sweet an hope that +a,on wo"! n(t co"nt her o"t -"st #eca"se she wasn(t a %reat p"#!ic spea)er. Emmica was poise , as was +ar!ee, the main i&&erence #ein% that +ar!ee(s $oice was so &"!! o& e,citement an enth"siasm it &!ew hi%her an hi%her as she ta!)e . Ga$ri! as)e a $ariety o& 5"estions, #"t there were two that seeme to pop "p with e$eryone; 0What o yo" thin) o& Prince +a,on12 an 0Are yo" the %ir! who ye!!e at him12 ' wasn(t !oo)in% &orwar to te!!in% the co"ntry that ' ha chi e the &"t"re )in%. Than) %oo ness that, as &ar as anyone )new, '( #eha$e that way on!y once. E$eryone was pro" to say they weren(t the %ir! who( ye!!e at him. Then e$ery sin%!e %ir! tho"%ht that +a,on was nice. That was a!most a!ways the wor ; nice. Ce!este sai that he was han some. .arie! sai he was 5"iet!y power&"!, which ' tho"%ht so"n e creepy. A &ew %ir!s were as)e i& +a,on ha )isse them yet. They a!! #!"she an sai no. A&ter the thir or &o"rth no, Ga$ri! t"rne on +a,on. 0Ha$en(t yo" )isse any o& them yet12 he as)e , shoc)e . 0They($e on!y #een here two wee)s? What )in o& man o yo" thin) ' am12 +a,on rep!ie . He sai it !i%hthearte !y #"t seeme to s5"irm in his seat a !itt!e. ' won ere i& he( e$er )isse anyone. Samantha ha -"st &inishe sayin% she was ha$in% a won er&"! time, an then Ga$ri! ca!!e me. The other %ir!s app!a" e as ' stoo , !i)e we ha &or e$eryone. ' %a$e +ar!ee a ner$o"s smi!e. ' &oc"se on my &eet as ' wa!)e o$er, #"t once ' %ot into the chair, ' &o"n it was easy to !oo) ri%ht past Ga$ri!(s sho"! er at +a,on. He

%a$e me a !itt!e win) as ' pic)e "p the microphone. ' &e!t instant!y ca!mer. ' i n(t ha$e to win anyone o$er. ' shoo) Ga$ri!(s han an sat own across &rom him. @p c!ose, ' co"! &ina!!y see the pin on his !ape!. 't o#$io"s!y !ost its etai! thro"%h the camera, #"t now ' saw that it wasn(t -"st the !ines an c"r!s o& a &orte si%n, #"t a sma!! H was en%ra$e in the mi !e, ma)in% the who!e thin% !oo) a!most !i)e a star. 't was #ea"ti&"!. 0America Sin%er. That(s an interestin% name yo" ha$e there. 's there a story #ehin it12 Ga$ri! as)e . ' si%he in re!ie&. This was an easy one. 08es, act"a!!y. Whi!e my mom was pre%nant with me, ' )ic)e a !ot. She sai she ha a &i%hter on her han s, so she name me a&ter the co"ntry that &o"%ht so har to )eep this !an to%ether. 't(s o , #"t to her cre it, she was ri%ht3we($e #een &i%htin% e$er since.2 Ga$ri! !a"%he . 0She so"n s !i)e a &eisty woman herse!&.2 0She is. ' %et a !ot o& my st"##ornness &rom her.2 0So yo"(re st"##orn, then1 Ha$e a #it o& a temper12 ' saw +a,on co$erin% his mo"th with his han s, !a"%hin%. 0Sometimes.2 0'& yo" ha$e a temper, wo"! yo" happen to #e the one who ye!!e at o"r prince12 ' si%he . 08es, it was me. An ri%ht now, my mother is ha$in% a heart attac).2 +a,on ca!!e o"t to Ga$ri!, 0Get her to te!! the who!e story?2 Ga$ri! whippe his hea #ac) an &orth 5"ic)!y. 0Oh? What(s the who!e story12 ' trie to %!are at +a,on, #"t the who!e sit"ation was so si!!y, it i n(t 5"ite wor). 0' %ot a !itt!e * c!a"stropho#ic the &irst ni%ht, an ' was esperate to %et o"tsi e. The %"ar s wo"! n(t !et me thro"%h the oors. ' was act"a!!y a#o"t to &aint in this one %"ar (s arms, #"t Prince +a,on was wa!)in% #y an ma e them open the oors &or me.2 0Aw,2 Ga$ri! sai , ti!tin% his hea to one si e. 08es, an then he &o!!owe to ma)e s"re ' was a!! ri%ht.... ."t ' was stresse o"t, so when he spo)e to me, ' #asica!!y en e "p acc"sin% him o& #ein% st"c)="p an sha!!ow.2 Ga$ri! ch"c)!e eep!y at this. ' !oo)e past him to +a,on, who was sha)in% with !a"%hter. ."t the more em#arrassin% thin% was that the )in% an 5"een were !a"%hin% a!on% with him. ' i n(t t"rn to !oo) at the %ir!s, #"t ' hear some o& them %i%%!in%, too. We!!, %oo . +ay#e now they wo"! &ina!!y stop seein% me as any sort o& threat. ' was -"st someone +a,on &o"n entertainin%. 0An he &or%a$e yo"12 Ga$ri! as)e in a s!i%ht!y more so#er tone. 0O !y eno"%h.2 ' shr"%%e . 0We!!, since the two o& yo" are on %oo terms a%ain, what sort o& acti$ities ha$e yo" #een oin% to%ether12 Ga$ri! was #ac) to #"siness. 0We "s"a!!y -"st %o &or wa!)s aro"n the %ar en. He )nows ' !i)e it o"tsi e. An we ta!).2 't so"n e pathetic a&ter what some o& the other %ir!s ha sai . Trips to the theater, %oin% h"ntin%, horse#ac) ri in%3those were impressi$e ne,t to my story. ."t ' s" en!y "n erstoo why he ha #een spee atin% o$er the !ast wee). The %ir!s nee e somethin% to te!! Ga$ri!, so he ha to pro$i e it. 't sti!! seeme weir that he ha n(t mentione any o& it to me, #"t at !east ' )new why he ha #een away. 0That so"n s $ery re!a,in%. Wo"! yo" say the %ar en is yo"r &a$orite thin% a#o"t the pa!ace12 ' smi!e . 0+ay#e. ."t the &oo is e,5"isite, so*2 Ga$ri! !a"%he a%ain. 08o" are the !ast :i$e !e&t in the competition, yes1 7o yo" thin) that h"rts yo"r chances o& #ecomin% the princess12 The wor spran% &rom my !ips witho"t tho"%ht. 0No?2 0Oh, my? 8o" o ha$e a spirit there?2 Ga$ri! seeme p!ease to ha$e %otten s"ch an enth"siastic response. 0So yo" thin) yo"(!! #eat o"t a!! the others, then1 +a)e it to the en 12 ' tho"%ht #etter o& myse!&. 0No, no. 't(s not !i)e that. ' on(t thin) '(m #etter than any o& the

other %ir!s/ they(re a!! ama6in%. 't(s -"st* ' on(t thin) +a,on wo"! o that, -"st isco"nt someone #eca"se o& their caste.2 ' hear a co!!ecti$e %asp. ' ran o$er the sentence in my hea . 't too) me a min"te to catch my mista)e; '( ca!!e him +a,on. Sayin% that to another %ir! #ehin c!ose oors was one thin%, #"t to say his name witho"t the wor 0Prince2 in &ront o& it was incre i#!y in&orma! in p"#!ic. An '( sai it on !i$e te!e$ision. ' !oo)e to see i& +a,on was an%ry. He ha a ca!m smi!e on his &ace. So he wasn(t ma * #"t ' was em#arrasse . ' #!"she &ierce!y. 0Ah, so it seems yo" rea!!y ha$e %otten to )now o"r prince. Te!! me, what o yo" thin) o& +a,on12 ' ha tho"%ht o& se$era! answers whi!e ' was waitin% &or my t"rn. ' was %oin% to ma)e &"n o& his !a"%h or ta!) a#o"t the pet name he wante his wi&e to ca!! him. 't seeme !i)e the on!y way to sa$e the sit"ation was to %et #ac) the come y. ."t as ' !i&te my eyes to ma)e one o& my comments, ' saw +a,on(s &ace. He rea!!y wante to )now. An ' co"! n(t po)e &"n at him, not when ' ha a chance to say what '( rea!!y starte to thin) now that he was my &rien . ' co"! n(t -o)e a#o"t the person who( sa$e me &rom &acin% a#so!"te heart#rea) at home, who &e my &ami!y #o,es o& sweets, who ran to me worrie that ' was h"rt i& ' as)e &or him. A month a%o, ' ha !oo)e at the TA an seen a sti&&, istant, #orin% person3someone ' co"! n(t ima%ine anyone !o$in%. An whi!e he wasn(t anythin% c!ose to the person ' i !o$e, he was worthy o& ha$in% someone to !o$e in his !i&e. 0+a,on Schrea$e is the epitome o& a!! thin%s %oo . He is %oin% to #e a phenomena! )in%. He !ets %ir!s who are s"ppose to #e wearin% resses wear -eans an oesn(t %et ma when someone who oesn(t )now him c!ear!y mis!a#e!s him.2 ' %a$e Ga$ri! a )een !oo), an he smi!e . An #ehin him, +a,on !oo)e intri%"e . 0Whoe$er he marries wi!! #e a !"c)y %ir!. An whate$er happens to me, ' wi!! #e honore to #e his s"#-ect.2 ' saw +a,on swa!!ow, an ' !owere my eyes. 0America Sin%er, than) yo" so m"ch.2 Ga$ri! went to sha)e my han . 0@p ne,t is +iss Ta!!"!ah .e!!.2 ' i n(t hear what any o& the %ir!s sai a&ter me, tho"%h ' stare at the two seats. That inter$iew ha #ecome way more persona! than '( inten e it to #e. ' co"! n(t #rin% myse!& to !oo) at +a,on. 'nstea ' sat there rep!ayin% my wor s a%ain an a%ain in my hea . The )noc) on my oor came aro"n ten. ' &!"n% it open, an +a,on ro!!e his eyes. 08o" rea!!y o"%ht to ha$e a mai in here at ni%ht.2 0+a,on? Oh, '(m so sorry. ' i n(t mean to ca!! yo" that in &ront o& e$eryone. 't was so st"pi .2 07o yo" thin) '(m ma at yo"12 he as)e as he wa!)e in an sh"t the oor. 0America, yo" ca!! me #y my name so o&ten, it was #o"n to s!ip o"t. ' wish it ha #een in a s!i%ht!y more pri$ate settin%,2 he sai with a s!y smi!e, 0#"t ' on(t ho! that a%ainst yo" at a!!.2 0Rea!!y12 0O& co"rse, rea!!y.2 0@%h? ' &e!t !i)e s"ch an i iot toni%ht. ' can(t #e!ie$e yo" ma e me te!! that story?2 ' s!appe him on the si e %ent!y. 0That was the #est part o& the who!e ni%ht? +om was rea!!y am"se . 'n her ay the %ir!s were more reser$e than e$en Tiny, an here yo" are ca!!in% me sha!!ow * she co"! n(t %et o$er it.2 Great. Now the 5"een tho"%ht ' was a mis&it, too. We wa!)e across my room an en e "p on the #a!cony. There was a sma!!, warm #ree6e #!owin% the scent o& the tho"san s o& &!owers in the %ar en towar "s. A &"!! moon shone own on "s, a in% to the !i%hts aro"n the pa!ace, an it %a$e +a,on(s &ace a mysterio"s %!ow. 0We!!, '(m %!a yo"(re so am"se ,2 ' sai , r"nnin% my &in%ers across the rai!in%. +a,on hoppe "p to sit on the rai!in%, !oo)in% $ery

re!a,e . 08o"(re a!ways am"sin%. Get "se to it.2 Hmm. He was a!most #ein% &"nny. 0So * a#o"t what yo" sai *,2 he starte tentati$e!y. 0Which part1 The part a#o"t me ca!!in% yo" names or &i%htin% with my mom or sayin% &oo was my moti$ation12 ' ro!!e my eyes. He !a"%he once. 0The part a#o"t me #ein% %oo *2 0Oh. What a#o"t it12 Those &ew sentences s" en!y seeme more em#arrassin% than anythin% e!se '( sai . ' "c)e my hea own an twiste a piece o& my ress. 0' appreciate yo" ma)in% thin%s !oo) a"thentic, #"t yo" i n(t nee to %o that &ar.2 +y hea snappe "p. How co"! he thin) that1 0+a,on, that wasn(t &or the sa)e o& the show. '& yo" ha as)e me a month a%o what my honest opinion o& yo" was, it wo"! ha$e #een $ery i&&erent. ."t now ' )now yo", an ' )now the tr"th, an yo" are e$erythin% ' sai yo" were. An more.2 He was 5"iet, #"t there was a sma!! smi!e on his &ace. 0Than) yo",2 he &ina!!y sai . 0Anytime.2 +a,on c!eare his throat. 0He(!! #e !"c)y, too.2 He %ot own &rom his ma)eshi&t seat an wa!)e to my si e o& the #a!cony. 0H"h12 08o"r #oy&rien . When he comes to his senses an #e%s yo" to ta)e him #ac),2 +a,on sai matter= o&=&act!y. ' ha to !a"%h. No s"ch thin% wo"! happen in my wor! . 0He(s not my #oy&rien anymore. An he ma e it pretty c!ear he was one with me.2 E$en ' co"! hear the tiny #it o& hope in my $oice. 0Not possi#!e. He(!! ha$e seen yo" on TA #y now an &a!!en &or yo" a!! o$er a%ain. Tho"%h, in my opinion, yo"(re sti!! m"ch too %oo &or the o%.2 +a,on spo)e a!most as i& he was #ore , !i)e he( seen this happen a mi!!ion times. 0Spea)in% o& which?2 he sai a #it !o" er. 0'& yo" on(t want me to #e in !o$e with yo", yo"(re %oin% to ha$e to stop !oo)in% so !o$e!y. :irst thin% tomorrow '(m ha$in% yo"r mai s sew some potato sac)s to%ether &or yo".2 ' hit his arm. 0Sh"t "p, +a,on.2 0'(m not )i in%. 8o"(re too #ea"ti&"! &or yo"r own %oo . Once yo" !ea$e, we(!! ha$e to sen some o& the %"ar s with yo". 8o"(!! ne$er s"r$i$e on yo"r own, poor thin%.2 He sai a!! this with moc) pity. 0' can(t he!p it.2 ' si%he . 0One can ne$er he!p #ein% #orn into per&ection.2 ' &anne my &ace as i& #ein% so pretty was e,ha"stin%. 0No, ' on(t s"ppose yo" can he!p it.2 ' %i%%!e . ' i n(t notice &or a moment that +a,on i n(t seem to thin) it was &"nny. ' stare o"t at the %ar en an saw o"t o& the corner o& my eye that +a,on was !oo)in% at me. His &ace was incre i#!y c!ose to mine. When ' t"rne to as) -"st what he was !oo)in% at, ' was s"rprise to see that he was c!ose eno"%h to )iss me. ' was e$en more s"rprise when he i . ' p"!!e away 5"ic)!y, ta)in% a step. +a,on steppe #ac) as we!!. 0Sorry,2 he m"m#!e , #!"shin%. 0What are yo" oin%12 ' as)e in a shoc)e whisper. 0Sorry.2 He was s!i%ht!y t"rne away, o#$io"s!y em#arrasse . 0Why i yo" o that12 ' p"t my han to my mo"th. 0't(s -"st * with what yo" sai ear!ier, an then see)in% me o"t yester ay * -"st the way yo" acte * ' tho"%ht may#e yo"r &ee!in%s ha chan%e . An ' !i)e yo", ' tho"%ht yo" co"! te!!.2 He t"rne to &ace me. 0An * Oh, was it terri#!e1 8o" on(t !oo) happy at a!!.2 ' trie to wipe whate$er e,pression ' ha o&& my &ace. +a,on !oo)e morti&ie . 0'(m so sorry. '($e ne$er )isse anyone #e&ore. ' on(t )now what '(m oin%. '(m -"st* '(m sorry, America.2 He #reathe a hea$y si%h an ran his han thro"%h his hair a &ew times, !eanin% a%ainst the rai!in%. ' i n(t e,pect it, #"t a warmth &i!!e me. He( wante his &irst )iss to #e with me. ' tho"%ht a#o"t the +a,on ' )new now3the man &"!! o& comp!iments, the man prepare to %i$e me the winnin%s o& a #et ' !ost, the man who &or%a$e me when ' h"rt him #oth physica!!y an emotiona!!y3 an isco$ere that '

i n(t min that at a!!. 8es, ' sti!! ha &ee!in%s &or Aspen. ' co"! n(t "n o that. ."t i& ' co"! n(t #e with him, then what was ho! in% me #ac) &rom #ein% with +a,on1 Nothin% more than my preconcei$e i eas o& him, which were nothin% c!ose to who he was. ' steppe "p to him an r"##e my han across his &orehea . 0What are yo" oin%12 0'(m erasin% that memory. ' thin) we can o #etter.2 ' p"!!e my han own an proppe myse!& "p #esi e him, &acin% towar my room. +a,on i n(t mo$e * #"t he i smi!e. 0America, ' on(t thin) yo" can chan%e history.2 A!! the same, his e,pression !oo)e hope&"!. 0S"re we can. .esi es, who( e$er )now a#o"t it #"t yo" an me12 +a,on !oo)e at me &or a moment, c!ear!y won erin% i& this was rea!!y o)ay. S!ow!y, ' saw a ca"tio"s con&i ence creep into his &ace as he !oo)e into my eyes. We staye that way &or a moment #e&ore ' co"! remem#er -"st what ' ha sai . 0One can ne$er he!p #ein% #orn into per&ection,2 ' whispere . He came c!ose, wrappin% an arm aro"n my waist so that we &ace each other. His nose tic)!e mine. He ran his &in%ers across my chee) so %ent!y it seeme he was a&rai ' wo"! #rea). 0No, ' on(t s"ppose yo" can,2 he #reathe . With his han ho! in% my &ace towar his, +a,on !owere his !ips to mine an %a$e me the &aintest whisper o& a )iss. Somethin% a#o"t the tentati$eness o& it ma e me &ee! #ea"ti&"!. Witho"t a wor , ' co"! "n erstan how e,cite he was to ha$e this moment, #"t then a&rai at the same time. An eeper than any o& that, ' sense that he a ore me. So this was what it &e!t !i)e to #e a !a y. A&ter a moment, he p"!!e #ac) an as)e , 0Was that #etter12 ' co"! on!y no . +a,on !oo)e !i)e he was on the $er%e o& oin% a #ac)&!ip. There was a simi!ar &ee!in% in my chest. That was so "ne,pecte . This was a!! too 5"ic), too stran%e. The con&"sion m"st ha$e shown on my &ace, #eca"se +a,on %ot serio"s. 0+ay ' say somethin%12 ' no e a%ain. 0'(m not so st"pi as to #e!ie$e that yo"($e comp!ete!y &or%otten a#o"t yo"r &ormer #oy&rien . ' )now what yo"($e %one thro"%h an that yo"(re not e,act!y here "n er the norma! circ"mstances. ' )now yo" thin) there are others here more s"ite &or me an this !i&e, an ' wo"! n(t want yo" to r"sh into tryin% to #e happy with any o& this. ' -"st* ' -"st want to )now i& it(s possi#!e*2 't was a har 5"estion to answer. Wo"! ' #e wi!!in% to !i$e a !i&e '( ne$er wante 1 Wo"! ' #e wi!!in% to watch as he )in !y trie to ate the others to #e s"re he wasn(t ma)in% a mista)e1 Wo"! ' #e wi!!in% to ta)e on the responsi#i!ity that he ha as a prince1 Wo"! ' #e wi!!in% to !o$e him1 08es, +a,on,2 ' whispere . 0't(s possi#!e.2

CHAPTER 1K

' TOL7 NO ONE WHAT ha happene #etween +a,on an me, not e$en +ar!ee or my mai s. 't &e!t !i)e a won er&"! secret that ' co"! re$isit in the mi !e o& one o& Si!$ia(s #orin% !essons or another !on% ay in the Women(s Room. An to #e honest, ' tho"%ht a#o"t o"r )isses3#oth the aw)war an the sweet3 more o&ten than ' e,pecte ' wo"! . ' )new ' wasn(t -"st %oin% to

&a!! in !o$e with +a,on o$erni%ht. ' )new my heart wo"! n(t !et me. ."t ' s" en!y &o"n myse!& in a p!ace where that was somethin% ' mi%ht want. So ' tho"%ht a#o"t the possi#i!ity 5"iet!y in my hea , tho"%h ' was tempte to #!"rt o"t my secret more than once. Partic"!ar!y three ays !ater when O!i$ia anno"nce to the ha!&=&"!! Women(s Room that +a,on ha )isse her. ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e how shattere ' &e!t. ' ca"%ht myse!& !oo)in% at O!i$ia an won erin% what was so specia! a#o"t her. 0Te!! "s e$erythin%?2 +ar!ee insiste . +ost o& the other %ir!s were c"rio"s as we!!, #"t +ar!ee was the most enth"siastic. 'n the short time since she an +a,on ha their !ast ate, her interest in e$eryone e!se(s pro%ress seeme to #e %rowin%. ' co"! n(t te!! what was #ehin the shi&t, an ' wasn(t 5"ite #ra$e eno"%h to as). O!i$ia i n(t nee enco"ra%ement. She sat own on one o& the co"ches an &anne o"t her ress. 't !oo)e !i)e she was practicin% to #e the princess. ' &e!t !i)e te!!in% her that one )iss i n(t mean she was winnin%. 0' on(t want to %o into a!! the etai!s, #"t it was 5"ite romantic,2 she %"she , t"c)in% her chin into her chest. 0He too) me to the roo&. There(s this p!ace that(s )in o& !i)e a #a!cony, #"t it !oo)s !i)e it(s "se &or the %"ar s. ' co"! n(t te!!. We co"! !oo) o"t o$er the wa!!, an the who!e city was -"st %!itterin% as &ar as we co"! see. He i n(t rea!!y say anythin%. He -"st p"!!e me in an )isse me.2 Her who!e #o y contracte with -oy. +ar!ee si%he . Ce!este !oo)e !i)e she was rea y to #rea) somethin%. ' sat there. ' )ept te!!in% myse!& that ' sho"! n(t care so m"ch, that this was a!! part o& the Se!ection. An who(s to say that '( rea!!y want to en "p with +a,on anyway1 Honest!y, ' o"%ht to consi er myse!& !"c)y. 't was c!ear Ce!este(s ma!ice ha a new tar%et, an a&ter that who!e episo e with my ress3which ' rea!i6e '( &or%otten to mention to +a,on3' was %!a to see her mo$e on. 07o yo" thin) she(s the on!y one he(s )isse 12 T"es ay whispere in my ear. <riss, who was stan in% #esi e me, hear her concerns an pipe in. 0He wo"! n(t -"st )iss anyone. She m"st #e oin% somethin% ri%ht,2 <riss !amente . 0What i& he(s )isse ha!& the room an peop!e are )eepin% 5"iet a#o"t it1 +ay#e it(s part o& their strate%y,2 T"es ay won ere . 0' on(t thin) anyone who )ept 5"iet wo"! necessari!y consi er that a strate%y,2 ' co"ntere . 0+ay#e they(re -"st pri$ate.2 <riss s"c)e in a #reath. 0What i& O!i$ia te!!in% "s a!! this is -"st some %ame1 Now we(re a!! worrie , an it(s not as i& any o& "s wo"! act"a!!y as) +a,on i& he( )isse her. There(s no way to te!! i& she(s !yin% or not.2 07o yo" thin) she wo"! o that12 ' as)e . 0'& she i , ' wish '( tho"%ht o& it &irst,2 T"es ay sai !on%in%!y. <riss si%he . 0This is m"ch more comp!icate than ' tho"%ht it wo"! #e.2 0Te!! me a#o"t it,2 ' m"m#!e . 0' !i)e a!most e$eryone in this room, #"t when ' hear a#o"t +a,on oin% somethin% with someone e!se, ' -"st want to &i%"re o"t how ' can o one #etter than her,2 she con&esse . 0' on(t !i)e &ee!in% competiti$e towar yo" a!!.2 0't(s )in o& !i)e what ' was te!!in% Tiny the other ay,2 T"es ay sai . 0' )now she(s a !itt!e on the timi si e, #"t she(s $ery !a y!i)e an ' thin) she( ma)e a %reat princess. ' can(t #e ma at her i& she has more ates than me, e$en i& ' want the crown myse!&.2 <riss an ' met eyes &or a secon , an ' co"! te!! we were #oth thin)in% the same thin%. She sai crown, not him. ."t ' !et it rop, #eca"se the other part o& her !itt!e speech str"c) on somethin% &ami!iar. 0+ar!ee an ' ta!) a#o"t that a!! the time. How we can see %reat 5"a!ities in each other.2 We a!! e,chan%e !oo)s, an somethin% &e!t i&&erent. S" en!y '

i n(t &ee! so -ea!o"s o& O!i$ia or e$en so at o s with Ce!este. We were a!! %oin% thro"%h this in a i&&erent way, an may#e e$en &or i&&erent reasons, #"t we were at !east %oin% thro"%h it to%ether. 0+ay#e F"een Am#er!y was ri%ht,2 ' sai . 0The on!y thin% to o is #e yo"rse!&. '( rather ha$e +a,on sen me home &or #ein% myse!& than )eep me &or #ein% !i)e someone e!se.2 0That(s tr"e,2 <riss sai . 0An in the en , thirty=&o"r peop!e ha$e to %o. '& ' was the !ast one stan in%, '( want to )now ' ha e$eryone e!se(s s"pport, so we sho"! try to #e s"pporti$e, too.2 ' no e , )nowin% she was ri%ht. ' was con&i ent that ' co"! o that. 9"st then E!ise #"rst into the room, &o!!owe #y Moe an Emmica. She was "s"a!!y $ery s!ow an ca!m, an ne$er raise her $oice. To ay, howe$er, she t"rne her hea an s5"ea!e at "s. 0Loo) at these com#s?2 she crie , pointin% to two #ea"ti&"! hair ornaments that were co$ere in what !oo)e !i)e tho"san s o& o!!ars( worth o& precio"s stones. 0+a,on %a$e them to me. Aren(t they #ea"ti&"!12 This set the room into a new &!"rry o& e,citement an isappointment, an my new#orn con&i ence isappeare . ' trie not to #e isappointe . A&ter a!!, ha n(t ' recei$e %i&ts1 Ha n(t ' #een )isse 1 ."t as the room &i!!e with %ir!s an the stories were reto! , ' &o"n myse!& wantin% to -"st %o hi e. +ay#e to ay wo"! #e a %oo ay to spen with my mai s. As ' was consi erin% !ea$in% the room, Si!$ia came in, !oo)in% s!i%ht!y &ra66!e an e,cite at the same time. 0La ies?2 she ca!!e o"t, attemptin% to 5"iet "s. 0La ies, are yo" a!! here12 We san% o"r yeses #ac) to her. 0Than) %oo ness &or that,2 she sai , sett!in% own. 0' )now this is $ery !ate notice, #"t we($e -"st !earne the )in% an 5"een o& Swen way are comin% to $isit in three ays, an as yo" a!! )now, we ha$e re!ations in their roya! &ami!y. A!so, the 5"een(s e,ten e &ami!y wi!! #e comin% in to meet yo" at the same time, so we(re %oin% to ha$e 5"ite a &"!! ho"se. We ha$e $ery !itt!e time to %et rea y, so c!ear yo"r a&ternoons. Lessons in the Great Room imme iate!y a&ter !"nch,2 she sai , an t"rne to !ea$e. 8o" wo"! ha$e tho"%ht the pa!ace sta&& ha months to p!an. Giant tente pa$i!ions were set "p in the %ar ens, with &oo an wine stations scattere a#o"t the !awn. The n"m#er o& %"ar s o"t was hi%her than "s"a!, an they were -oine #y se$era! Swen ish so! iers the )in% an 5"een ha #ro"%ht with them. ' %"ess e$en they )new how at ris) the pa!ace was. There was a tent with thrones set "p &or the )in%, 5"een, an +a,on as we!! as the )in% an 5"een o& Swen way. The Swen ish 5"een3whose name ' co"! n(t prono"nce to sa$e my !i&e3was a!most as #ea"ti&"! as F"een Am#er!y an seeme to #e a ear &rien to her. They were a!! sett!e com&orta#!y "n er that tent e,cept &or +a,on, who was #"sy ma)in% ro"n s with a!! the %ir!s an the e,ten e mem#ers o& his &ami!y. +a,on !oo)e thri!!e to see his co"sins, e$en the !itt!e ones who )ept t"%%in% on his s"it coat an r"nnin% away. He ha one o& his many cameras o"t an was chasin% the chi! ren with it, snappin% away. Near!y a!! the Se!ecte %ir!s were watchin% him in a oration. 0America,2 someone ca!!e . ' t"rne to my ri%ht to see E!ayna an Leah ta!)in% to a woman who !oo)e a!most i entica! to the 5"een. 0Come an meet the 5"een(s sister.2 There was somethin% in E!ayna(s tone that ' co"! n(t 5"ite name #"t ma e me ner$o"s a#o"t -oinin% them. ' wa!)e o$er an c"rtsie to the !a y, who cac)!e an sai , 0Stop that, honey. '(m not the

5"een here. '(m A e!e, Am#er!y(s o! er sister.2 She e,ten e a han , which ' too), an she hicc"pe as we shoo). The woman ha a s!i%ht accent, an somethin% a#o"t her was com&ortin% in the way that comin% home &ee!s. She was c"r$aceo"s an he! a near=empty %!ass o& wine that, #ase on the hea$y !oo) in her eyes, was not her &irst. 0Where are yo" &rom1 ' !o$e yo"r accent,2 ' sai . Some o& the other %ir!s &rom the So"th so"n e simi!ar, an their $oices seeme incre i#!y romantic to me. 0Hon "ra%"a. Ri%ht #y the coast. We %rew "p in the tiniest ho"se,2 she sai , ma)in% a space the si6e o& an inch #etween her &in%er an th"m#. 0An !oo) at her now. Loo) at me,2 she sai , motionin% own to her ress. 0S"ch a chan%e.2 0' !i$e in Caro!ina, an my parents too) me to the coast once. ' !o$e it,2 ' rep!ie . 0Oh, no, no, no, chi! ,2 she sai , wa$in% her han a#o"t. E!ayna an Leah !oo)e !i)e they were ho! in% in !a"%hter. C!ear!y they i n(t thin) the 5"een(s sister sho"! #e 5"ite so &ami!iar. 0The #eaches in mi !e '!!4a are trash compare to the ones own so"th. 8o" ha$e to %o see one ay.2 ' smi!e an no e , thin)in% that '( !o$e to see more o& the co"ntry, #"t it was o"#t&"! ' e$er wo"! . Short!y a&ter, one o& A e!e(s many chi! ren came "p to her an p"!!e her away, an E!ayna an Leah #"rst into !a"%hter. 0'sn(t she hi!ario"s12 Leah sai . 0' on(t )now. She seems &rien !y,2 ' rep!ie with a shr"%. 0She(s $"!%ar,2 E!ayna rep!ie . 08o" sho"! ha$e hear a!! the thin%s she sai #e&ore yo" came "p.2 0What was so #a a#o"t her12 08o"( thin) she( ha$e pic)e "p a &ew !essons in ecor"m o$er the years. How i Si!$ia not %et aho! o& her12 Leah sai with a sneer. 0Nee ' remin yo", she was raise as a :o"r. Same as yo",2 ' shot #ac). Her sm"% e,pression &a!tere , an she seeme to remem#er that she an A e!e weren(t so i&&erent. E!ayna, howe$er, was a nat"ra! Three an )ept on ta!)in%. 08o" can #et, i& ' win, my &ami!y wi!! either #e traine or eporte . ' wo"! n(t !et any o& them em#arrass me !i)e that.2 0What was so em#arrassin%12 ' as)e . E!ayna s"c)e her teeth. 0She(s r"n). The 5"een an )in% o& Swen way are here. She o"%ht to #e ca%e .2 ' eci e that was eno"%h an wa!)e away to %et some wine o& my own. Once ' ha a %!ass, ' !oo)e aro"n an honest!y co"! n(t &in a sin%!e p!ace ' wante to sett!e. The who!e reception was #ea"ti&"! an interestin% an comp!ete!y a%%ra$atin%. ' tho"%ht a#o"t what E!ayna ha sai . '& ' en e "p !i$in% in the pa!ace, wo"! ' e,pect my &ami!y to chan%e1 ' !oo)e at the chi! ren r"nnin% aro"n , the peop!e h" !e to%ether catchin% "p. Wo"! n(t ' want <enna to #e e,act!y who she was, want her chi! ren en-oyin% a!! this no matter how they #eha$e 1 How m"ch wo"! !i$in% at the pa!ace chan%e me1 Wo"! +a,on want me to chan%e1 Was that why he was o&& )issin% other %ir!s1 .eca"se there was somethin% not 5"ite ri%ht a#o"t me1 Was the rest o& the Se!ection %oin% to &ee! this irritatin%1 0Smi!e.2 ' t"rne , an +a,on snappe a pict"re o& me. ' #o"nce #ac) in s"rprise. That "ne,pecte pict"re wore o"t the !ast o& my patience, an ' t"rne away. 0Somethin% wron%12 +a,on as)e , !owerin% the camera. ' shr"%%e . 0What(s %oin% on12 0' -"st on(t &ee! !i)e #ein% a part o& the Se!ection to ay,2 ' answere c"rt!y. @n&a6e , +a,on steppe c!oser an !owere his $oice. 0Nee someone to ta!) to1 ' co"! t"% my ear ri%ht now,2 he o&&ere . ' si%he an trie to p"t a po!ite smi!e on my &ace. 0No, ' -"st nee to thin).2 ' went to !ea$e. 0America,2 he sai 5"iet!y. ' stoppe an t"rne . 0Ha$e ' one somethin%12 ' hesitate . Sho"! ' as) a#o"t him )issin% O!i$ia1 Sho"! ' te!!

him how tense ' was &ee!in% aro"n the %ir!s now that thin%s ha chan%e #etween "s1 Sho"! ' te!! him how ' i n(t want to chan%e myse!& or my &ami!y to #e a part o& this1 ' was a#o"t to !et e$erythin% spi!! o"t when a shri!! $oice ca!!e &rom #ehin "s. 0Prince +a,on12 We t"rne , an Ce!este was stan in% there, ta!)in% to the 5"een o& Swen way. 't was c!ear she wante to ha$e this con$ersation with +a,on on her arm. She wa$e , in$itin% him o$er. 0Why on(t yo" r"n a!on%12 ' sai , my annoyance !ea)in% into my $oice a%ain. +a,on !oo)e at me. The e,pression on his &ace remin e me that this was part o& the ea!. ' was e,pecte to share. 0Care&"! with that one.2 ' %a$e +a,on a 5"ic) c"rtsy an wa!)e away. ' ma e my way towar the pa!ace, an a!on% the way notice +ar!ee sittin% a!one. ' i n(t e$en want to #e with her ri%ht now, #"t ' notice she was par)e on a #ench near the #ac) wa!! o& the pa!ace in the #r"ta!!y hot s"n, her c!osest companion a yo"n%, si!ent %"ar statione -"st a &ew yar s away. 0+ar!ee, what are yo" oin%1 Get "n er a tent #e&ore yo" #"rn yo"r s)in.2 She %a$e me a po!ite smi!e. 0'(m happy here.2 0No, rea!!y,2 ' sai , p"ttin% a han aro"n her arm. 08o"(!! !oo) !i)e my hair. 8o" sho"! 32 +ar!ee -er)e her han o"t o& my %rip, #"t spo)e %ent!y. 0' want to stay here, America. ' pre&er it.2 There was a tension in her &ace she was tryin% to mas). ' was s"re she wasn(t "pset with me, #"t somethin% was %oin% on. 0:ine. Try to %et some sha e soon, tho"%h. S"n#"rns h"rt,2 ' sai , attemptin% to co$er my &r"stration, an wa!)e towar the pa!ace. Once insi e, ' eci e to %o to the Women(s Room. ' co"! n(t #e %one &or too !on%, an at !east that room wo"! #e empty. ."t when ' went in, ' &o"n A e!e sittin% near the win ow an watchin% the scene "n&o! o"tsi e. She t"rne when ' entere an %a$e me a sma!! smi!e. ' wa!)e o$er an sat ne,t to her. 0Hi in%12 She smi!e . 0<in o&. ' wante to meet yo" a!! an see my sister a%ain, #"t ' hate it when these thin%s t"rn into state &"nctions. They ma)e me tense.2 0'(m not s"ch a &an myse!&. ' co"! n(t ima%ine oin% thin%s !i)e this a!! the time.2 0' #et,2 she sai !a6i!y. 08o"(re the :i$e, ri%ht12 The way she sai it, it wasn(t an ins"!t. +ore !i)e she was as)in% i& ' was in the c!"#. 08eah, that(s me.2 0' remem#ere yo"r &ace. 8o" were sweet at the airport. 't(s the )in o& thin% she wo"! ha$e one,2 she sai , no in% o"t the win ow towar the 5"een. She si%he . 0' on(t )now how she oes it. She(s stron%er than most peop!e )now.2 ' watche her pic) "p a wine%!ass an sip away. 0She oes seem stron%, #"t !a y!i)e, too.2 A e!e #eame . 08es, #"t it(s more than that. Loo) at her now.2 ' watche the 5"een. ' notice her eyes were traine across the !awn. ' &o!!owe her %a6e, an she was watchin% +a,on. He was spea)in% to the 5"een o& Swen way ne,t to Ce!este whi!e one o& his co"sins c!"n% to his !e%. 0He wo"! ha$e #een a %reat #rother,2 she sai . 0Am#er!y ha three miscarria%es. Two #e&ore him, one a&ter. She sti!! thin)s a#o"t it, she te!!s me so. An then ' ha$e si, )i s. ' &ee! %"i!ty e$ery time ' show "p.2 0'(m s"re she oesn(t thin) o& it that way. '(!! #et she(s e,cite e$ery time yo" $isit,2 ' ass"re her. She t"rne . 08o" )now what ma)es her happy1 8o" o. 7o yo" )now what she sees o"t there1 A a"%hter. She )nows that when this is a!! o$er, she(!! ha$e two chi! ren.2 ' t"rne &rom A e!e to !oo) at the 5"een a%ain. 08o" thin) so1 She seems a !itt!e istant. ' ha$en(t e$en spo)en to her yet.2 A e!e no e . 09"st yo" wait. She(s terri&ie o& #ecomin% attache to a!! o& yo" -"st to watch yo" !ea$e. Once it(s a sma!!er %ro"p, yo"(!! see.2 ' !oo)e at the 5"een a%ain. An then at +a,on. .ac) to

the )in%. An then to A e!e. So m"ch went thro"%h my hea . How &ami!ies are &ami!ies, no matter their castes. How mothers a!! ha$e their own worries to #ear. How ' rea!!y i n(t hate any o& the %ir!s here, no matter how wron% they mi%ht #e. How e$eryone o"t there m"st #e p"ttin% on a #ra$e &ace &or some reason or another. An &ina!!y, how +a,on ha ma e me a promise. 0E,c"se me. ' ha$e someone ' nee to ta!) to.2 She sippe her wine an happi!y wa$e me away. ' ran o"t o& the room, an #ac) into the #!in in% s"n o& the %ar ens. ' searche aro"n &or a moment an &o"n that +a,on(s yo"n% co"sin ha #e%"n chasin% him aro"n a shr"#. ' smi!e an approache s!ow!y. :ina!!y +a,on stoppe , wa$in% his han s in the air, a mittin% his e&eat. As he !a"%he , he t"rne an saw me, his smi!e sti!! wi e on his &ace. When o"r eyes met, his smi!e &a e . He searche my &ace, !oo)in% &or a si%n o& my moo . ' #it my !ip an !oo)e own. 't was c!ear that carin% a#o"t what happene to me as a mem#er o& the Se!ection wo"! mean processin% a !ot o& other &ee!in%s that ' ha n(t #een prepare &or. Howe$er ' too) them in, ' ha to try not to &orce them o"t on other peop!e, especia!!y +a,on. ' tho"%ht a#o"t the 5"een3hostin% $isitin% !ea ers, &ami!y mem#ers, a %a%%!e o& %ir!s a!! at once. She mana%e e$ents an #ac)e ca"ses. She assiste her h"s#an , her son, an the co"ntry. An "n erneath it a!!, she was a :o"r who he! her own heart#rea)s an ne$er !et her &ormer ran) or c"rrent aches )eep her &rom oin% it a!!. ' !oo)e #eneath my eye!ashes at +a,on an smi!e . He s!ow!y smi!e #ac), an whispere somethin% to the !itt!e #oy, who imme iate!y t"rne an ran away. He reache "p an t"%%e his ear. An ' i the same.

CHAPTER BL

THE F@EEN(S :A+'L8 STA8E7 A &ew ays, an the $isitors &rom Swen way an entire wee). They i a se%ment on the Report isc"ssin% internationa! re!ations an mo$ements towar more peace &or #oth nations. 't was now a month into my stay at the pa!ace, an ' was comp!ete!y at home. +y #o y was com&orta#!e in the new c!imate. The warmth o& the pa!ace was hea$en!y, !i)e a ho!i ay. Septem#er was a!most o$er, an it %ot $ery coo! in the e$enin%s, #"t it was m"ch warmer than home. The si%hts o& this %iant space were no !on%er a mystery. The so"n s o& hee!e shoes on mar#!e, crysta! %!asses c!in)in%, %"ar s marchin%3they were startin% to #ecome as norma! as the re&ri%erator h"mmin% or Gera )ic)in% a soccer #a!! "p a%ainst the ho"se. +ea!s with the roya! &ami!y an times in the Women(s Room were stap!es in my ro"tine, #"t the mi !e moments o& my ays were a!ways new. ' spent a !ot o& time wor)in% on m"sic/ the instr"ments at the pa!ace were &ar s"perior to the ones ' ha at home. ' ha to a mit, they were ma)in% me spoi!e . The 5"a!ity o& the so"n was "nima%ina#!y #etter. An the Women(s Room ha %otten a !itt!e more e,citin%, as the 5"een ha shown "p at !east twice now.

She ha n(t rea!!y spo)en to anyone yet, #"t she sat in a com&orta#!e chair with her mai s at her si e, watchin% as we rea or con$erse . 'n %enera!, the animosity ha sett!e as we!!. We were %ettin% "se to one another. We &ina!!y &o"n o"t the ma%a6ine(s top pic)s &or o"r photo%raphs. ' was shoc)e to see ' was one o& the &ront=r"nners. +ar!ee was in the top spot, with <riss, Ta!!"!ah, an .arie! c!ose #ehin . Ce!este i n(t ta!) to .arie! &or ays "pon hearin% this, #"t e$ent"a!!y e$eryone !et it pass. What sti!! seeme to #rin% the most tension were the #its o& in&ormation tosse aro"n . Whoe$er ha #een with +a,on recent!y co"! n(t he!p #"t %"sh a#o"t their !itt!e inter!" e. The way e$eryone spo)e, it seeme as i& +a,on was %oin% to #e choosin% si, or se$en wi$es. ."t not e$eryone was shinin% in this e,perience. :or instance, +ar!ee ha more than a &ew ates with +a,on, which p"t e$eryone on e %e. Sti!!, she ne$er came across as e,cite as she ha a&ter their $ery &irst one. 0America, i& ' te!! yo" this, yo" ha$e to swear not to te!! a so"!,2 she sai as we wa!)e in the %ar en. ' )new it was somethin% serio"s. She( waite "nti! we %ot away &rom the !istenin% ears in the Women(s Room an &ar #eyon the eyes o& the %"ar s. 0O& co"rse, +ar!ee. Are yo" a!! ri%ht12 08es, '(m &ine. ' -"st* ' nee yo"r opinion on somethin%.2 Her &ace was hea$y with worry. 0What(s wron%12 She #it her !ip. 0't(s +a,on. '(m not s"re it(s %oin% to wor) o"t.2 She !oo)e own. 0What ma)es yo" thin) that12 ' as)e , concerne . 0We!!, &or starters, ' on(t* ' on(t &ee! anythin%, yo" )now1 No spar), no connection.2 0+a,on can #e a !itt!e shy is a!!. 8o" ha$e to %i$e him time.2 This was tr"e. ' was s"rprise she i n(t )now that a#o"t him. 0No, ' mean, ' on(t thin) ' !i)e him.2 0Oh.2 That was somethin% $ery i&&erent. 0Ha$e yo" trie 12 What a st"pi 5"estion. 08es? So har ? ' )eep waitin% &or a moment to come when he(!! say or o somethin% to ma)e me &ee! !i)e we ha$e somethin% in common, #"t it ne$er happens. ' thin) he(s han some, #"t that(s not eno"%h to #"i! a who!e re!ationship on. ' on(t e$en )now i& he(s attracte to me. 7o yo" ha$e any i ea what )in o& thin%s he, yo" )now, !i)es12 ' tho"%ht a#o"t it. 0No, act"a!!y. We($e ne$er ta!)e a#o"t what he(s !oo)in% &or in the physica! epartment.2 0An that(s another thin%? We ne$er ta!). He ta!)s on an on to yo", #"t we ne$er seem to ha$e anythin% to say. We spen a !ot o& o"r time 5"iet!y watchin% somethin% or p!ayin% car s.2 She !oo)e more worrie #y the min"te. 0Sometimes we(re 5"iet to%ether, too. Sometimes we -"st sit an say nothin%. .esi es, &ee!in%s !i)e that on(t a!ways happen o$erni%ht. +ay#e yo"(re #oth -"st ta)in% it s!ow.2 ' trie to so"n reass"rin%3 +ar!ee !oo)e !i)e she was on the $er%e o& tears. 0Honest!y, America, ' thin) the on!y reason '(m sti!! here is #eca"se the peop!e !i)e me so m"ch. ' thin) their opinions matter to him.2 That tho"%ht ha n(t occ"rre to me, #"t it so"n e p!a"si#!e. Lon% a%o, '( ismisse their opinion, #"t +a,on !o$e his peop!e. They( ha$e more o& a han in choosin% the ne,t princess than they wo"! )now. 0An #esi es,2 she whispere , 0e$erythin% #etween "s &ee!s so * empty.2 Then the tears came. ' si%he an h"%%e her. Tr"th&"!!y, ' wante her to stay, to #e here with me, #"t i& she i n(t !o$e +a,on* 0+ar!ee, i& yo" on(t want to #e with +a,on, ' thin) yo" nee to te!! him.2 0Oh, no, ' on(t thin) ' can.2 08o" ha$e to. He oesn(t want to marry someone who oesn(t !o$e him. '& yo" on(t ha$e any &ee!in%s &or him, he nee s to )now.2 She shoo) her hea . 0' can(t -"st as) to !ea$e? ' nee to stay. ' co"! n(t %o home * not now.2 0Why, +ar!ee1 What(s )eepin% yo"

here12 :or a moment, ' won ere i& +ar!ee an ' share the same ar) secret. +ay#e there was someone she nee e istance &rom, too. The on!y i&&erence in o"r sit"ations was that +a,on )new a#o"t mine. ' wante her to say it? ' wante to )now ' wasn(t the on!y one who( en e "p here o"t o& some ri ic"!o"s circ"mstances. ."t +ar!ee(s tears stoppe a!most as 5"ic)!y as they starte . She sni&&e a &ew times an strai%htene "p. She smoothe o"t her ay ress, s5"are her sho"! ers, an t"rne to &ace me. She p"!!e a stron%, warm smi!e to her &ace an spo)e. 08o" )now what1 ' #et yo"(re ri%ht.2 She starte to #ac) away. 0'(m s"re i& ' -"st %i$e it some time, it(!! a!! wor) o"t. ' ha$e to %o. Tiny(s e,pectin% me.2 +ar!ee ha!& ran #ac) to the pa!ace. What in the wor! ha come o$er her1 The ne,t ay, +ar!ee a$oi e me. The ay a&ter that, too. ' ma e a point o& sittin% in the Women(s Room at a sa&e istance an ma)in% s"re to ac)now!e %e her whene$er we crosse paths. ' wante her to )now that she co"! tr"st me/ ' wo"! n(t ma)e her ta!). 't too) &o"r ays &or her to %i$e me a sa , )nowin% smi!e. ' -"st no e . 't seeme that wo"! #e a!! there was to say a#o"t whate$er was %oin% on in +ar!ee(s heart. That same ay, whi!e ' was sittin% in the Women(s Room, +a,on ca!!e &or me. 't wo"! #e a !ie to say ' wasn(t a#so!"te!y %i y when ' ran o"t the oor an into his arms. 0+a,on?2 ' #reathe , &a!!in% into him. When ' steppe #ac), he sort o& &"m#!e a moment, an ' )new why. The ay we( !e&t the Swen way reception an went insi e to ta!), ' con&esse what a har time ' was ha$in% ea!in% with the way ' &e!t. An ' as)e him not to )iss me "nti! ' was more certain. ' co"! te!! he was h"rt, #"t he no e an ha n(t #ro)en his promise yet. 't was -"st too har to ecipher those &ee!in%s when he acte !i)e he was my #oy&rien , #"t c!ear!y wasn(t. There were sti!! twenty=two %ir!s here a&ter Cami!!e, +i)ae!a, an Lai!a ha #een sent home. Cami!!e an Lai!a were simp!y incompati#!e an !e&t with $ery !itt!e &an&are. +i)ae!a %ot so homesic) she #"rst into hea$in% so#s "rin% #rea)&ast two ays !ater. +a,on escorte her &rom the room, pattin% her sho"! er the who!e way. He seeme &ine with !ettin% them %o, an was happy to &oc"s on his other prospects, myse!& inc!" e . ."t he an ' #oth )new it wo"! #e &oo!ish o& him to in$est his heart comp!ete!y in me when e$en ' wasn(t s"re where mine was. 0How are yo" to ay12 he as)e , steppin% #ac). 0Per&ect, o& co"rse. What are yo" oin% here1 Aren(t yo" s"ppose to #e wor)in%12 0The presi ent o& the 'n&rastr"ct"re Committee is sic), so the meetin% was postpone . '(m &ree as a #ir a!! a&ternoon.2 His eyes were %!eamin%. 0What o yo" want to o12 he as)e , ho! in% his arm o"t &or me. 0Anythin%? There(s so m"ch o& the pa!ace ' sti!! ha$en(t seen. There are horses here, ri%ht1 An the mo$ie theater. 8o" sti!! ha$en(t ta)en me there.2 0Let(s o that. ' co"! "se somethin% re!a,in%. What )in s o& mo$ies o yo" !i)e #est12 he as)e as we starte wa!)in% towar where ' %"esse the stairwe!! to the #asement was. 0Honest!y, ' on(t )now. ' on(t %et to watch a !ot o& mo$ies. ."t ' !i)e romantic #oo)s. An come ies, too?2 0Romance, yo" say12 He raise his eye#rows !i)e he was "p to no %oo . ' ha to !a"%h. We t"rne a corner an contin"e to ta!). As we approache , a mass o& the pa!ace %"ar p"!!e to the si e o& the ha!! an sa!"te . There ha to #e more than a o6en men stan in% in the ha!!way. ' was "se to them #y now. E$en the si%ht o& a co!!ection that #i% co"! n(t istract me &rom the &"n time ' was a#o"t to ha$e with +a,on. What i stop

me was when ' hear the %asp that escape someone(s mo"th as we passe . +a,on an ' #oth t"rne . An there was Aspen. ' %aspe , too. A &ew wee)s a%o, '( hear some a ministrator in the pa!ace ta!) a#o"t the ra&t in passin%. ' ha won ere a#o"t Aspen, #"t seein% as ' was r"nnin% !ate to one o& Si!$ia(s many !essons, ' i n(t rea!!y ha$e a chance to spec"!ate m"ch. So he( #een ta)en #y the ra&t a&ter a!!. O& a!! the p!aces he co"! ha$e %one* +a,on ca"%ht on. 0America, o yo" )now this yo"n% man12 't ha #een more than a month since '( seen Aspen, #"t this was the person '( spent years committin% to memory, the person who sti!! $isite my reams. ' wo"! )now him anywhere. He !oo)e a !itt!e #i%%er, !i)e he( #een &e , rea!!y &e , an was wor)in% o"t a !ot. His scra%%!y hair ha #een c"t short, practica!!y a!! %one. An ' was "se to seein% him in secon han c!othes that were #are!y #ein% he! to%ether #y threa s, an here he was in one o& the #ri!!iant, &itte "ni&orms o& the pa!ace %"ar . He was a!ien an &ami!iar at once. So many o& the thin%s aro"n him seeme wron%. ."t those eyes * those were Aspen(s eyes. +y eyes &e!! to the name ta% on his "ni&orm; O::'CER LEGER. ' o"#te a secon ha passe . ' )ept myse!& compose eno"%h that no one saw the storm ra%in% insi e3a mirac!e in an o& itse!&. ' wante to to"ch him, )iss him, scream at him, eman he !ea$e my sanct"ary. ' wante to me!t away an isappear, #"t ' &e!t so $ery here. None o& it ma e sense. ' c!eare my throat. 08es. O&&icer Le%er comes &rom Caro!ina. He(s act"a!!y &rom my hometown.2 ' smi!e at +a,on. No o"#t Aspen wo"! ha$e hear "s !a"%hin% as we ro"n e the corner, wo"! ha$e note that my arm was sti!! rape on the prince(s. Let him ma)e o& that what he wo"! . +a,on seeme e,cite &or me. 0We!!, how a#o"t that? We!come, O&&icer Le%er. 8o" m"st #e happy to see yo"r Champion Gir! a%ain.2 +a,on he! his han o"t, an Aspen shoo) it. Aspen(s &ace was !i)e a stone. 08es, 8o"r +a-esty. Aery m"ch so.2 What i that mean1 0'(m s"re yo"(re p"!!in% &or her, too,2 +a,on enco"ra%e as he win)e at me. 0O& co"rse, 8o"r +a-esty.2 Aspen #owe his hea a #it. An what i that mean1 0E,ce!!ent. Since America is &rom yo"r home pro$ince, ' can(t thin) o& a #etter man in the pa!ace to !ea$e her with. '(!! ma)e s"re yo"(re p"t on her %"ar rotation. This %ir! o& yo"rs re&"ses to )eep a mai in her room at ni%ht. '($e trie to te!! her....2 +a,on shoo) his hea at me. Aspen &ina!!y seeme to re!a, a #it. 0'(m not s"rprise #y that, 8o"r +a-esty.2 +a,on smi!e . 0We!!, '(m s"re yo" a!! ha$e a #"sy ay ahea o& yo". We(!! -"st #e o&&. Goo ay, o&&icers.2 +a,on %a$e a 5"ic) no an p"!!e me away. 't too) a!! the stren%th in my #o y not to !oo) #ac). 'n the ar) o& the theater, ' trie to &i%"re o"t what to o. +a,on ha ma e it c!ear &rom the ni%ht '( to! him a#o"t Aspen that he hate anyone who wo"! treat me with so !itt!e care. '& ' to! +a,on that the man he( -"st assi%ne to watch o$er me was that $ery person, wo"! he p"nish him somehow1 ' wo"! n(t p"t it past him. He( in$ente an entire s"pport system &or the co"ntry #ase on my stories o& #ein% h"n%ry. So ' co"! n(t te!! him. ' wo"! n(t te!! him. .eca"se as ma as ' was, ' !o$e Aspen. An ' co"! n(t #ear him #ein% h"rt. Then sho"! ' !ea$e1 The am#i$a!ence p"!!e at my heart. ' co"! escape Aspen, %et away &rom his &ace3a &ace that wo"! tort"re me e$ery ay when ' saw it an )new it was no !on%er mine. ."t i& ' !e&t, '( ha$e to !ea$e +a,on, too. An +a,on was my c!osest &rien , may#e e$en more. ' co"! n(t -"st %o. .esi es, how wo"! '

e,p!ain it witho"t te!!in% him Aspen was here1 An my &ami!y. +ay#e the chec)s they %ot were sma!!er, #"t at !east they were %ettin% them. +ay ha written sayin% that 7a was promisin% o"r #est Christmas e$er this year, #"t ' was s"re that came with the stip"!ation that another Christmas mi%ht ne$er #e as %oo . '& ' !e&t, who co"! say how m"ch money my past &ame wo"! #rin% &or my &ami!y1 We ha to sa$e "p as m"ch as we co"! now. 08o" i n(t !i)e that one, i yo"12 +a,on as)e near!y two ho"rs !ater. 0H"h12 0The mo$ie. 8o" i n(t !a"%h or anythin%.2 0Oh.2 ' trie to remem#er one !itt!e piece o& in&ormation, a sin%!e scene that ' co"! say '( en-oye . Nothin% re%istere . 0' thin) '(m -"st a !itt!e o"t o& it to ay. Sorry yo" waste yo"r a&ternoon.2 0Nonsense.2 +a,on wa$e away my !ac)!"ster attit" e. 0' -"st en-oy yo"r company. Tho"%h perhaps yo" sho"! ta)e a nap #e&ore inner. 8o"(re !oo)in% a !itt!e pa!e.2 ' no e . ' was consi erin% %oin% to my room an ne$er comin% #ac) o"t.

CHAPTER B1

'N THE EN7, ' 7EC'7E7 a%ainst hi in% in my room. 'nstea ' chose the Women(s Room. @s"a!!y ' arte in an o"t a!! ay, $isitin% !i#raries, ta)in% wa!)s with +ar!ee, or e$en hea in% #ac) "pstairs to $isit my mai s. ."t now ' was "sin% the Women(s Room !i)e a ca$e. No men, not e$en %"ar s, were a!!owe insi e witho"t the 5"een(s e,press permission. 't was per&ect. We!!, it was per&ect &or three ays. With this many %ir!s, it was on!y a matter o& time "nti! someone ha a #irth ay. <riss(s was on Th"rs ay. ' %"esse she( mentione it to +a,on3who seeme to ne$er pass "p an opport"nity to %i$e someone somethin%3an the o"tcome was a man atory party &or a!! the Se!ecte . As a res"!t, Th"rs ay was a ma r"sh o& %ir!s in an o"t o& one another(s rooms, as)in% what they were wearin% or %"essin% at how %ran it wo"! #e. 't i n(t appear that %i&ts were re5"ire , #"t ' &i%"re '( o somethin% nice &or her a!! the same. On the ay o& the party, ' onne one o& my &a$orite ay resses an %ra##e my $io!in. ' crept own to the Great Room, !oo)in% aro"n corners #e&ore ' committe to wa!)in% on. Once ' ma e it to the room, ' i another sweep, s"r$eyin% the %"ar s who !ine the wa!!s. +erci&"!!y, Aspen was nowhere to #e seen, an ' ha to ch"c)!e at the presence o& so many men in "ni&orm. Were they e,pectin% a riot or somethin%1The Great Room was ecorate #ea"ti&"!!y. Specia! $ases h"n% on the wa!!, isp!ayin% h"%e arran%ements o& ye!!ow an white &!owers, an simi!ar #o"5"ets sat in #ow!s aro"n the room. Win ows, stretches o& wa!!, an pretty m"ch anythin% that i n(t mo$e was rape in %ar!an s. A &ew sma!! ta#!es ha #een set o"t, an they were co$ere with #ri%ht !inens. Litt!e #its o& %!itterin% con&etti spar)!e on the ta#!e=tops. Ornate #ows a orne the #ac)s o& chairs. 'n one corner, a massi$e ca)e that matche the co!ors o& the room waite to #e c"t. Ne,t to it, a sma!! ta#!e he! a &ew %i&ts &or the #irth ay %ir!. A strin% 5"artet was set "p a%ainst the wa!!, e&&ecti$e!y ma)in% my attempt at a %i&t meanin%!ess, an a photo%rapher wan ere the room,

capt"rin% moments &or the p"#!ic eye. The moo in the room was p!ay&"!. Tiny3who ha so &ar on!y mana%e to %et c!ose to +ar!ee3was ta!)in% to Emmica an 9enna an !oo)in% more animate than '( e$er seen her. +ar!ee ho$ere near a win ow, !oo)in% !i)e one o& the many %"ar s ottin% the wa!!. She ma e no e&&ort to !ea$e her chosen spot #"t stoppe anyone who passe #y to chat. A %ro"p o& Threes3<ay!ei%h, E!i6a#eth, an Emi!y3a!! t"rne an wa$e an smi!e . ' ret"rne the %est"re. E$eryone seeme so &rien !y an happy to ay. E,cept &or Ce!este an .arie!. @s"a!!y they were insepara#!e, #"t to ay they were on opposite en s o& the room, with .arie! spea)in% to Samantha, an Ce!este sittin% a!one at a ta#!e, c!"tchin% a crysta! %!ass o& eep re !i5"i . '( o#$io"s!y misse somethin% #etween yester ay(s inner an this a&ternoon. ' %rippe my $io!in case a%ain an wa!)e towar the #ac) o& the room to see +ar!ee. 0Hi, +ar!ee. This is somethin%, isn(t it12 ' as)e , settin% own the $io!in. 0't s"re is.2 She h"%%e me. 0' hear +a,on(s comin% #y !ater to wish <riss a happy #irth ay in person. 'sn(t that sweet1 '(!! #et he has a present, too.2 +ar!ee went on in her typica! enth"siastic way. ' sti!! won ere what her secret was, #"t ' tr"ste her eno"%h to #rin% "p the s"#-ect i& she rea!!y nee e to ta!) a#o"t it. We spo)e o& !itt!e nothin%s &or a &ew min"tes "nti! we hear a %enera! c!amor at the &ront en o& the room. +ar!ee an ' #oth t"rne , an whi!e she remaine ca!m, ' was comp!ete!y e&!ate . <riss(s ress choice ha #een incre i#!y strate%ic. Here we a!! were in ay resses3short, %ir!ish thin%s3an she was in a &!oor=!en%th %own. ."t the !en%th meant !itt!e. 't was that her ress was a creamy, a!most white co!or. Her hair was one "p with a row o& ye!!ow -ewe!s pinne into a !ine across the &ront in a $ery s"#t!e resem#!ance to a crown. She !oo)e mat"re, re%a!, #ri a!. E$en tho"%h ' wasn(t entire!y s"re where my heart was, ' &e!t a pan% o& -ea!o"sy. None o& "s wo"! e$er %et a simi!ar moment. No matter how many parties or inners came an went, it wo"! #e rather pathetic to try to copy <riss(s !oo). ' saw Ce!este(s han 3the one that wasn(t c!"tchin% her rin)3#a!! into a &ist. 0She !oo)s rea!!y pretty,2 +ar!ee commente wist&"!!y. 0.etter than pretty,2 ' rep!ie . The party contin"e on, an +ar!ee an ' most!y crow =watche . S"rprisin%!y3 an s"spicio"s!y3 Ce!este c!"n% to <riss, ta!)in% "p a storm as <riss circ!e the room, than)in% e$eryone &or comin%, e$en tho"%h we rea!!y ha no choice. E$ent"a!!y she ma e it to the #ac) corner where +ar!ee an ' were stan in%, soa)in% "p the warm s"n &rom the win ows. +ar!ee, tr"e to &orm, threw her arms aro"n <riss. 0Happy #irth ay?2 she s5"ea!e . 0Than) yo"?2 <riss rep!ie , ret"rnin% +ar!ee(s a&&ection an enth"siasm. 0So yo"(re nineteen to ay, ri%ht12 +ar!ee as)e . 08es. ' co"! n(t thin) o& a #etter way to ce!e#rate. '(m so %!a they(re ta)in% pict"res. +y mother wi!! !o$e this? E$en tho"%h we o pretty we!!, we($e ne$er ha money to ha$e somethin% !i)e this. 't(s so #ea"ti&"!?2 she %"she . <riss was a Three. There weren(t near!y as many !imits to her !i&e as mine, #"t '( ima%ine anythin% c!ose to this sca!e wo"! #e har to -"sti&y. 0't is impressi$e,2 Ce!este commente . 0:or my #irth ay !ast year, ' ha a #!ac) an white party. Any trace o& co!or, an yo" weren(t e$en a!!owe in the oor.2 0Wow,2 +ar!ee whispere , o#$io"s en$y in the tiny wor . 0't was &antastic. Go"rmet &oo , ramatic !i%htin%, an the m"sic? We!!, we &!ew in Tessa Tam#!e. 8o"($e hear o& her12 't was impossi#!e not to )now Tessa Tam#!e. She ha at !east a o6en hit son%s. Sometimes we

saw $i eos o& hers on TA, tho"%h that was &rowne on #y +om. She tho"%ht we were in&inite!y more ta!ente than anyone !i)e Tessa, an it ir)e her to no en that she ha &ame an money when we i n(t &or oin% essentia!!y the same thin%. 0She(s my &a$orite?2 <riss e,c!aime . 0We!!, Tessa(s a ear &rien o& the &ami!y, so she came in an i a concert &or my party. ' mean, we co"! n(t ha$e a #"nch o& reary :i$es s"c)in% a!! the !i&e o"t o& the room.2 +ar!ee %a$e me a 5"ic) si eways %!ance. ' co"! te!! she was &ee!in% em#arrasse &or me. 0Oops,2 Ce!este a e , !oo)in% at me. 0' &or%ot. ' meant no o&&ense.2 The stic)y sweetness o& her $oice was in&"riatin%. Once a%ain ' was tempte to hit her.... .etter not to p"sh it. 0None ta)en,2 ' rep!ie , as compose as ' possi#!y co"! . 0E,act!y what o yo" o as a Two, Ce!este1 ' mean, '($e ne$er hear yo"r m"sic on the ra io.2 0' mo e!,2 she answere in a tone that imp!ie ' sho"! ha$e )nown that. 0Ha$en(t yo" seen my a s12 0Can(t say ' ha$e.2 0Oh, we!!, yo" are a :i$e. ' %"ess yo" can(t a&&or the ma%a6ines anyway.2 't h"rt #eca"se it was tr"e. +ay !o$e to snea) pee)s at ma%a6ines when we mana%e to %o #y a store, #"t there was a#so!"te!y no reason &or "s to #"y them. <riss, ta)in% on the ro!e o& host a%ain, switche irections. 08o" )now, America, '($e #een meanin% to as) what yo"r &oc"s was as a :i$e.2 0+"sic.2 08o" sho"! p!ay &or "s sometime?2 ' si%he . 0Act"a!!y, ' #ro"%ht my $io!in to p!ay &or yo" to ay. ' tho"%ht it wo"! ma)e a nice %i&t, #"t yo"($e a!rea y %ot a 5"artet, so ' &i%"re 32 0Oh, p!ay &or "s?2 +ar!ee #e%%e . 0P!ease, America, it(s my #irth ay?2 <riss echoe . 0."t they($e a!rea y %i$en yo" a32 't i n(t matter how ' proteste . <riss an +ar!ee ha a!rea y sh"she the 5"artet an ma e e$eryone come to the #ac) o& the room. Some %ir!s &anne their resses o"t an sat on the &!oor, whi!e others p"!!e a &ew chairs towar the corner. <riss stoo in the mi !e o& the crow , c!"tchin% her han s with e,citement, as Ce!este stoo #y, ho! in% the crysta! %!ass she ha yet to ta)e a sip &rom. As the %ir!s sett!e themse!$es, ' preppe the $io!in. The 5"artet o& yo"n% men who ha #een p!ayin% wa!)e o$er to s"pport me, an the &ew waitsta&& who ha #een #"66in% a#o"t the room #ecame sti!!. ' too) a eep #reath an #ro"%ht the $io!in to my chin. 0:or yo",2 ' sai , !oo)in% at <riss. ' !et the #ow ho$er a#o$e the strin%s &or a moment, c!ose my eyes, an then !et the m"sic come. :or a whi!e, there was no wic)e Ce!este, no Aspen !"r)in% in the pa!ace, no re#e!s tryin% to in$a e. There wasn(t anythin% #"t one per&ect note strin%in% itse!& to the ne,t in s"ch a way they seeme a&rai they mi%ht %et !ost in time witho"t one another. ."t they i ho! to%ether, an as they &!oate on, this %i&t that was meant to #e somethin% &or <riss #ecame somethin% &or me. ' mi%ht #e a :i$e, #"t ' wasn(t worth!ess. ' p!aye the son%3as &ami!iar as my &ather(s $oice or the sme!! o& my room3&or a &ew #rie&, #ea"ti&"! moments, an then !et it come to its "na$oi a#!e en . ' %a$e the #ow one !ast sweep across the strin%s an !i&te it into the air. ' t"rne to &in <riss, hopin% she( en-oye her %i&t, #"t ' i n(t e$en see her &ace. .ehin the crow o& %ir!s, +a,on ha wa!)e in. He was in a %ray s"it with a #o, "n er his arm &or <riss. The %ir!s were )in !y app!a" in%, #"t ' co"! n(t re%ister the so"n . A!! ' saw was that +a,on wore a han some, awestr"c) e,pression, which s!ow!y t"rne into a smi!e, a smi!e &or no one #"t me. 08o"r +a-esty,2 ' sai with a c"rtsy. The other %ir!s a!! c!am#ere to their &eet to %reet +a,on. 'n the mi st o& this, ' hear a shoc)e

s5"ea!. 0Oh, no? <riss, '(m so sorry.2 A &ew %ir!s ha %aspe in the same irection, an as <riss t"rne my way ' saw why. Her #ea"ti&"! ress was staine own the &ront &rom Ce!este(s p"nch. 't !oo)e !i)e <riss ha #een sta##e . 0'(m sorry, ' -"st t"rne too &ast. ' i n(t mean to, <riss. Let me he!p yo".2 To the a$era%e person, Ce!este(s tone pro#a#!y so"n e sincere, #"t ' co"! see thro"%h it. <riss co$ere her mo"th as she starte to cry, then ran &rom the room, which en e the party. To his cre it, +a,on went a&ter her, tho"%h ' rea!!y wishe he ha staye . Ce!este was p!ea in% her case to anyone who wo"! !isten, sayin% it was a comp!ete acci ent. T"es ay was no in%, sayin% she saw the who!e thin%, #"t there were so many ro!!in% eyes an sa%%in% sho"! ers &rom the rest that her s"pport was point!ess. ' 5"iet!y p"t my $io!in away an went to !ea$e. +ar!ee %ra##e my arm. 0Someone sho"! o somethin% a#o"t her.2 '& Ce!este co"! mo$e someone as !o$e!y as Anna to $io!ence, or thin) it was accepta#!e to try an ta)e the ress o&& my #ac), or ma)e someone as %oo as +ar!ee come c!ose to an%er, then she rea!!y was too m"ch &or the Se!ection. ' ha to %et that %ir! o"t o& the pa!ace. CHAPTER BB 0'(+ TELL'NG 8O@, +AHON, 'T wasn(t an acci ent.2 We were in the %ar en a%ain, passin% time "nti! the Report. 't ha ta)en me a who!e ay to %et a chance to spea) with him. 0."t she !oo)e morti&ie , an she was so apo!o%etic,2 he co"ntere . 0How co"! it not ha$e #een an acci ent12 ' si%he . 0'(m te!!in% yo". ' see Ce!este e$ery ay, an that was her snea)y way o& r"inin% <riss(s moment in the spot!i%ht. She(s so competiti$e.2 0We!!, i& she was tryin% to ta)e my attention &rom <riss, she &ai!e . ' spent near!y an ho"r with the %ir!. Rather p!easant time ' ha , too.2 ' i n(t want to hear a#o"t that. ' )new that there was somethin% sma!! an ten"o"s #etween "s, an ' i n(t want to ea! with anythin% that mi%ht chan%e it. Not "nti! ' )new how ' &e!t a#o"t it myse!&. 0Then what a#o"t Anna12 ' as)e . 0Who12 0Anna :armer1 She hit Ce!este, an yo" )ic)e her o"t, remem#er1 ' )now Anna ha to ha$e #een pro$o)e .2 07i yo" hear Ce!este say somethin%12 He so"n e s)eptica!. 0We!! * no. ."t ' )new Anna, an ' )now Ce!este. '(m te!!in% yo", Anna was not the type o& person to hea strai%ht to $io!ence. Ce!este m"st ha$e sai somethin% heart!ess to her &or her to ha$e reacte that way.2 0America, '(m aware that yo" spen more time with the %ir!s than ' o, #"t how we!! can yo" rea!!y )now them1 8o" !i)e to hi e in yo"r room or the !i#raries. ' aresay yo"(re more &ami!iar with yo"r mai s( persona!ities than any o& the Se!ecte .2 He was pro#a#!y ri%ht, #"t ' wo"! n(t #ac) own. 0That(s not &air. ' was ri%ht a#o"t +ar!ee, wasn(t '1 7on(t yo" thin) she(s nice12 He ma e a &ace. 08es * she is nice, ' s"ppose.2 0Then why won(t yo" #e!ie$e me when ' say that what Ce!este i was a ca!c"!ate mo$e12 0America, it(s not that ' thin) yo"(re !yin%. '(m s"re, to yo", it seeme that way. ."t Ce!este was sorry. An she(s #een nothin% #"t %racio"s with me.2 0'(!! #et she has,2 ' m"ttere "n er my #reath. 0That(s eno"%h,2 +a,on sai with a si%h. 0' on(t want to ta!) a#o"t the others ri%ht now.2 0She trie to ta)e my ress, +a,on,2 ' comp!aine . 0' sai ' on(t want to ta!) a#o"t her,2 he sai &ierce!y. That was a!! ' was %oin% to ta)e. ' h"&&e an !i&te my arms in the air -"st to rop them with a th" a%ainst my !e%s. ' was so &r"strate ' wante to scream. 0'& yo"(re %oin% to act this way, '(m %oin% to &in someone who oes want my company.2 He wa!)e o&&. 0Hey?2 ' ca!!e . 0No?2 He t"rne #ac) on me an spo)e more &orce&"!!y than '( e$er ima%ine he co"! . 08o"

&or%et yo"rse!&, La y America. 't wo"! o yo" we!! to remem#er that ' am the crown prince o& '!!4a. :or a!! intents an p"rposes, ' am !or an master o& this co"ntry, an '(!! #e amne i& yo" thin) yo" can treat me !i)e this in my own home. 8o" on(t ha$e to a%ree with my ecisions, #"t yo" wi!! a#i e #y them.2 He t"rne an !e&t, either not seein% or carin% that ' ha tears in my eyes. ' i n(t !oo) his way thro"%h inner, #"t it was i&&ic"!t to o "rin% the Report. ' ca"%ht him !oo)in% at me twice, an #oth times he t"%%e his ear. ' i n(t ret"rn the action. ' i n(t want to ta!) to him ri%ht now. ' co"! on!y ass"me '( #e sco! e more anyway, an ' i n(t nee that. ' wa!)e "p to my room a&terwar so "pset with +a,on ' co"! n(t thin) c!ear!y. Why wo"! n(t he !isten to me1 7i he thin) ' was a !iar1 E$en worse, i he thin) Ce!este was a#o$e !yin%1 +ay#e +a,on was -"st a typica! %"y, an Ce!este was a #ea"ti&"! %ir!, an in the en that wo"! #e what won o"t. :or a!! his ta!) a#o"t wantin% a so"! mate, may#e a!! he wante was a #e mate. An i& that was the )in o& person he was, why was ' e$en #otherin% with this1 St"pi , st"pi , st"pi ? ' )isse him? ' to! him '( #e patient? An &or what1 ' -"st3 ' t"rne the corner to my room, an there was Aspen, waitin% o"tsi e my oor. A!! my ra%e me!te away into a stran%e "ncertainty. G"ar s, as a r"!e, )ept their eyes &orwar an staye at attention, #"t he was !oo)in% at me with an "nrea a#!e e,pression. 0La y America,2 he whispere . 0O&&icer Le%er.2 Tho"%h it wasn(t his -o#, he !eane o$er to open my oor &or me. ' wa!)e past s!ow!y, a!most a&rai to t"rn my #ac) on him, a!most a&rai he wasn(t rea!. As m"ch as '( trie to )eep him o"t o& my hea an my heart, ' -"st wante him to #e with me in that moment. As ' passe , ' hear him inha!e -"st ne,t to my hair. 't %a$e me a chi!!. He &i,e me with another stare an s!ow!y c!ose the oor. S!eep was point!ess. ' tosse &or ho"rs as tho"%hts o& +a,on(s st"pi ity an Aspen(s c!oseness #att!e in my hea . ' i n(t )now what to o a#o"t anythin%. +y re&!ections were so cons"min%, ' i n(t e$en rea!i6e that '( #een m"!!in% them o$er "nti! we!! past two in the mornin%. ' si%he . +y mai s were %oin% to ha$e to wor) e,tra har to ma)e me !oo) %oo tomorrow. S" en!y ' saw a !i%ht &rom the ha!!way. So 5"iet!y it &e!t !i)e ' was reamin% it, Aspen crac)e open the oor, wa!)e in, an sh"t it #ehin him. 0Aspen, what are yo" oin%12 ' whispere as he crosse the room. 08o"(!! #e in so m"ch tro"#!e i& yo"(re ca"%ht in here?2 He contin"e to wa!) si!ent!y. 0Aspen12 He stoppe in &ront o& my #e an 5"iet!y !ai the sta&& he was ho! in% on the %ro"n . 07o yo" !o$e him12 ' !oo)e into Aspen(s eep eyes, #are!y $isi#!e in the ar). :or a sp!it secon , ' i n(t )now what to say. 0No.2 He rippe #ac) my #!an)ets in a mo$e #oth %race&"! an $io!ent. ' sho"! ha$e proteste , #"t ' i n(t. His han was #ehin my hea , p"shin% my &ace to his. He )isse me &e$erish!y, an e$ery %oo thin% in the wor! &e!! into p!ace. He i n(t sme!! !i)e his homema e soap anymore, an he was stron%er than he "se to #e, #"t e$ery mo$e, e$ery to"ch was &ami!iar. 0They(!! )i!! yo" &or oin% this,2 ' #reathe in a #rie& moment when his !ips tra$e!e to my nec). 0'& ' on(t, '(!! ie anyway.2 ' trie to wor) "p the wi!! to te!! him to stop, #"t ' )new any attempts wo"! #e ha!&hearte . A tho"san thin%s a#o"t this moment &e!t wron%3that we were #rea)in% so many r"!es, that as &ar as ' )new Aspen ha another %ir!&rien , that +a,on an ' ha some sort o& &ee!in%s &or each other3#"t ' co"! n(t care. ' was so an%ry with +a,on, an

Aspen &e!t so com&ortin%, ' -"st !et his han s tra$e! "p an own my !e%s. ' mar$e!e at how i&&erent it &e!t. We( ne$er ha so m"ch space #e&ore. E$en with the istraction, ' co"! &ee! e$erythin% e!se swarmin% in my hea . ' was an%ry with +a,on, an%ry with Ce!este, e$en an%ry with Aspen. He!!, ' was an%ry with '!!4a. As we )isse on an on, ' starte cryin%. Aspen )isse me thro"%h it, an soon some o& the tears were his, too. 0' hate yo", yo" )now12 ' sai . 0' )now, +er. ' )now.2 +er. When he to"che me !i)e that, ca!!e me that name, ' &e!t !i)e ' was a wor! away. @pset as ' was, Aspen &e!t !i)e home. We went on &or near!y &i&teen min"tes #e&ore he remem#ere himse!&. 0' ha$e to %et #ac), the %"ar oin% ro"n s wi!! #e e,pectin% me.2 0What12 0There are %"ar s who o ro"n s at ran om. ' mi%ht ha$e twenty min"tes, ' mi%ht ha$e an ho"r. '& it(s a short ro"n , ' ha$e !ess than &i$e min"tes.2 0H"rry?2 ' "r%e , hoppin% "p with him to he!p him strai%hten his hair. He %ra##e his sta&&, an we ran across the &!oor to%ether. .e&ore he opene the oor, he p"!!e me in to )iss me a%ain. 't &e!t !i)e p"re s"n!i%ht was tra$e!in% own my $eins. 0' can(t #e!ie$e yo"(re here,2 ' sai . 0How i yo" en "p on the pa!ace %"ar 12 He shr"%%e . 0T"rns o"t '(m a nat"ra!. They &!y e$eryone to this trainin% p!ace in Whites. America, it was co$ere in snow? Nothin% !i)e the &!"rries we %et #ac) home. A!! the new %"ar s are &e an traine an teste . There are shots, too. 7on(t )now what(s in them, #"t ' %rew rea!!y &ast. '(m a so!i &i%hter, an '(m smart. ' teste the hi%hest in o"r c!ass.2 ' smi!e with pri e. 0Not s"rprise #y that at a!!.2 ' )isse him a%ain. Aspen ha a!ways #een too %oo to !ea the !i&e o& a Si,. He opene the oor an chec)e the ha!!way. 't !oo)e empty. 0' ha$e so m"ch to te!! yo". We nee to ta!),2 ' whispere . 0' )now. An we wi!!. 't(s %oin% to ta)e some time, #"t '(!! #e #ac). Not toni%ht. ' on(t )now when, #"t soon.2 He )isse me a%ain, so har it a!most h"rt. 0' misse yo",2 he whispere into my mo"th, an went #ac) to his post. ' wa!)e #ac) to my #e in a a6e. ' co"! n(t #e!ie$e what '( -"st one. Part o& me3a $ery "pset part3&e!t !i)e +a,on eser$e this. '& he wante to spare Ce!este an h"mi!iate me, then ' certain!y wo"! n(t #e a part o& the Se!ection m"ch !on%er. '& she co"! &in a way aro"n the r"!es, there was nothin% to stop me anymore. Pro#!em so!$e . S" en!y worn o"t, ' &e!! as!eep in moments.

CHAPTER BC

THE NEHT +ORN'NG, ' WO<E &ee!in% a !itt!e %"i!ty. :ri%htene e$en. 9"st #eca"se ' i n(t ret"rn +a,on(s ear t"% i n(t mean he co"! n(t come to my room any time he wante . We so easi!y co"! ha$e #een ca"%ht. '& anyone ha any i ea what '( one* 't was treason. An there was on!y one way the pa!ace ea!t with treason. ."t another part o& me i n(t care. 'n the ha6y moments o& wa)in%, ' re!i$e e$ery !oo) in Aspen(s eyes, e$ery to"ch, e$ery )iss. ' misse that so #a !y. ' wishe we( ha more time to ta!). ' rea!!y

nee e to )now what Aspen was thin)in%, tho"%h !ast ni%ht ha %i$en me some c!"es. 't was -"st so "n#e!ie$a#!e3a&ter tryin% so har to not want him 3that he mi%ht sti!! want me. 't was Sat"r ay, an ' was s"ppose to %o to the Women(s Room, #"t ' -"st co"! n(t stan it. ' nee e to thin), an ' )new that wo"! n(t happen in the en !ess chatter &!oatin% ownstairs. When my mai s came, ' to! them ' ha a hea ache an wo"! #e stayin% in #e . They were so he!p&"!, #rin%in% me &oo an c!eanin% the room as 5"iet!y as possi#!e, that ' a!most &e!t #a &or !yin% to them. ' ha to, tho"%h. ' co"! n(t &ace the 5"een an the %ir!s an possi#!y +a,on whi!e my min was so so!i !y &i,ate on Aspen. ' c!ose my eyes #"t i not s!eep. ' trie to c!ear "p -"st how ' &e!t. .e&ore ' %ot $ery &ar, tho"%h, there was a )noc) at the oor. ' ro!!e o$er, catchin% Anne(s &ace as she si!ent!y as)e i& she sho"! answer it. ' sat "p 5"ic)!y, strai%htene my hair, an %a$e her a no . ' praye that it wo"! n(t #e +a,on3' was a&rai he( #e a#!e to rea my crimes on my &ace3 #"t ' wasn(t prepare to see Aspen(s &ace wa!)in% thro"%h my oor. ' &e!t myse!& sit "p ta!!er an hope my mai s i n(t notice. 0Par on me, miss,2 he sai to Anne. 0'(m O&&icer Le%er. '(m here to spea) to La y America a#o"t some sec"rity meas"res.20O& co"rse,2 she sai , smi!in% #ri%hter than "s"a! an %est"rin% &or Aspen to enter. 'n the corner ' saw +ary n" %e L"cy, who !et o"t a tiny %i%%!e. When he hear the so"n , Aspen t"rne towar them an tippe his hat. 0La ies.2 L"cy "c)e her hea an +ary(s chee)s !oo)e re er than my hair, #"t they i n(t answer. Anne, tho"%h she a!so seeme ta)en #y Aspen(s %oo !oo)s, was p"t to%ether eno"%h to spea) at !east. 0Sha!! we !ea$e, miss12 ' consi ere this. ' i n(t want to seem too o#$io"s, #"t some pri$acy wo"! #e nice. 0On!y &or a moment. '(m s"re O&&icer Le%er won(t nee me &or !on%,2 ' eci e , an they whis)e ri%ht o"t o& the room. Once they ha isappeare #ehin the oor, Aspen spo)e. 08o"(re wron%, '(m a&rai . '(m %oin% to #e nee in% yo" &or a $ery !on% time.2 He win)e at me. ' shoo) my hea . 0' sti!! can(t #e!ie$e yo"(re here.2 Wastin% no time, Aspen too) o&& his hat an sat on the e %e o& my #e , settin% his han s so o"r &in%ers -"st #are!y to"che . 0' ne$er tho"%ht '( co"nt the ra&t as a #!essin%, #"t i& it %i$es me the chance to apo!o%i6e to yo", '(!! #e &ore$er %rate&"!.2 ' was st"nne into si!ence. Aspen !oo)e eep into my eyes. 0P!ease &or%i$e me, +er. ' was so, so st"pi , an '($e re%rette that ni%ht in the tree ho"se since the secon ' c!im#e own the !a er. ' was too st"##orn to say anythin% an then yo"r name %ot ca!!e * ' i n(t )now what to o.2 He stoppe &or a secon . 't !oo)e !i)e he ha tears in his eyes. Was it possi#!e that Aspen ha #een cryin% &or me the way '( #een cryin% &or him1 0'(m sti!! so in !o$e with yo".2 ' #it my !ip, ho! in% #ac) my tears. ' nee e to #e s"re o& one thin% #e&ore ' co"! e$en thin) a#o"t this. 0What a#o"t .renna12 His &ace &e!!. 0What12 ' %a$e an "nstea y #reath. 0' saw yo" two to%ether in the s5"are when ' was !ea$in%. 's that o$er12 Aspen s5"inte his &ace in concentration then #"rst into !a"%hter. He co$ere his mo"th with his han s an &e!! #ac)war on the #e #e&ore poppin% "p an as)in%, 0's that what yo" thin)1 Oh, +er, she &e!!. She trippe an ' ca"%ht her.2 0Trippe 12 08eah, the s5"are was so &"!!, peop!e were stan in% on top o& one another. She &e!! into me an ma e a -o)e a#o"t #ein% a )!"t6, which yo" )now is tr"e &or .renna e$en on a %oo ay.2 ' tho"%ht a#o"t the time she

seeme to -"st &a!! o&& the si ewa!) &or no apparent reason. Why ha n(t this occ"rre to me #e&ore1 0As soon as ' co"! %et &ree, ' was r"shin% to the sta%e.2 ' remem#ere those moments, Aspen(s esperate attempt to %et c!ose to me. He ha n(t #een &a)in% at a!!. ' smi!e . 0An -"st what were yo" p!annin% on oin% once yo" %ot there12 He shr"%%e . 0' i n(t act"a!!y thin) it o"t that &ar. ' was consi erin% #e%%in% yo" to stay. ' was prepare to ma)e an i iot o"t o& myse!& i& it meant yo" wo"! n(t %et in that car. ."t then yo" !oo)e so ma * an ' %et why yo" were.2 He !et o"t a si%h. 0' -"st co"! n(t o it. .esi es, may#e yo"( #e happy here.2 He !oo)e aro"n the room at a!! the #ea"ti&"! thin%s that were temporari!y consi ere mine. ' co"! see how he wo"! thin) that. 0Then,2 he contin"e , 0' tho"%ht that ' co"! win yo" o$er once yo" came home.2 His $oice seeme s" en!y tin%e with worry. 0' was s"re yo"( want o"t an come home as soon as yo" co"! . ."t * yo" i n(t.2 He pa"se to !oo) at me, #"t merci&"!!y, i n(t as) -"st how c!ose +a,on an ' were. He( seen some o& it a!rea y, #"t he i n(t )now that we )isse or ha secret si%na!s, an ' i n(t want to ha$e to e,p!ain that. 0Then there was the ra&t, an ' &i%"re it wo"! #e "n&air to e$en thin) a#o"t writin%. ' co"! ie o"t here. ' i n(t want to try to ma)e yo" !o$e me a%ain an then*2 0Lo$e yo" a%ain12 ' as)e incre "!o"s!y. 0Aspen, ' ne$er stoppe .2 'n a swi&t #"t %ent!e mo$e, Aspen !eane in an )isse me. He p"t his han to my chee), ho! in% me to him, an e$ery min"te o& the !ast two years &!oo e my #o y. ' was so %rate&"! they weren(t !ost. 0'(m so sorry,2 he m"m#!e #etween )isses. 0'(m so sorry, +er.2 He p"!!e away to !oo) at me, a sma!! smi!e on his per&ect &ace, his eyes as)in% e,act!y what ' was thin)in%; What o we o now1 9"st then, the oor opene , an ' was horror=str"c) as my mai s too) in Aspen(s c!oseness. 0Than) %oo ness yo"(re #ac)?2 he sai to them as he p"she his han more &irm!y a%ainst my chee) #e&ore mo$in% it to my &orehea . 0' on(t thin) yo" ha$e a temperat"re, miss.2 0What(s wron%12 Anne as)e , worry &a!!in% o$er her &ace as she race to my #e si e. Aspen stoo . 0She starte sayin% that she &e!t &"nny, somethin% a#o"t her hea .2 0's yo"r hea ache worse, miss12 +ary as)e . 08o" !oo) so pa!e?2 ' #et ' i . No o"#t e$ery rop o& #!oo ha ashe away &rom my &ace the moment they saw "s to%ether. ."t Aspen, so coo! "n er press"re, ha &i,e it in a sp!it secon . 0'(!! %et the me icine,2 L"cy pipe in, sc"rryin% to the #athroom. 0:or%i$e me, miss,2 Aspen sai as my mai s went to wor). 0' on(t wish to ist"r# yo" any more. '(!! come #ac) when yo"(re &ee!in% #etter.2 'n his eyes ' co"! see the same &ace '( )isse a tho"san times in the tree ho"se. The wor! aro"n "s was comp!ete!y new, #"t o"r connection was the same as e$er. 0Than) yo", o&&icer,2 ' sai wea)!y. He went to !ea$e, %i$in% me a sma!! #ow. Soon my mai s were a!! stirrin% aro"n me, tryin% to hea! a sic)ness that wasn(t e$en there. +y hea i n(t ache, #"t my heart i . The !on%in% &or Aspen(s arms was so &ami!iar, it was !i)e it ne$er !e&t. ' wo)e to a har sha)e on my sho"! ers &rom Anne in the mi !e o& the ni%ht. 0Wha312 0P!ease, miss, yo" ha$e to %et "p?2 Her $oice was &rantic, worn with terror. 0What(s wron%1 Are yo" h"rt12 0We(re "n er attac). We ha$e to %et yo" to the #asement.2 +y min was %ro%%y/ ' co"! n(t #e s"re ' was hearin% her ri%ht. ."t ' notice #ehin her that L"cy was a!rea y cryin%. 0They(re insi e12 ' as)e in is#e!ie&. L"cy(s &ear&"! wai! was a!! the con&irmation '

nee e . 0What o we o12 ' as)e . A s" en a rena!ine spi)e wo)e me "p, an ' -"mpe o"t o& #e . As soon as ' was stan in%, +ary was p"shin% my &eet into shoes an Anne was p"ttin% a ro#e on me. A!! ' co"! thin) was North or So"th1 North or So"th1 0There(s a passa%e here in the corner. 't(!! ta)e yo" strai%ht to the sa&e room in the #asement. The %"ar s are there waitin%. The roya! &ami!y sho"! a!rea y #e there an most o& the %ir!s, too. H"rry, miss.2 Anne p"!!e me o"t into the ha!!way an p"she on a section o& wa!!. 't t"rne , !i)e a hi en passa%e &rom some mystery no$e!. S"re eno"%h, #ehin the wa!!, a stairwe!! awaite me. As ' stoo there, Tiny #o!te &rom her room an sc"rrie own the passa%e. 0O)ay, !et(s %o,2 ' sai . Anne an +ary %ape at me. L"cy was sha)in% to the point she co"! #are!y stan . 0Let(s %o,2 ' repeate . 0No, miss. We %o somewhere e!se. 8o" ha$e to h"rry #e&ore they %et here. P!ease?2 ' )new at #est they( #e in-"re i& they were &o"n / at worst they( ie. ' co"! n(t #ear them #ein% h"rt. +ay#e ' was a !itt!e coc)y, #"t i& +a,on ha %one o"t o& his way to o e$erythin% he( one th"s &ar, may#e they wo"! matter to him i& they mattere to me. E$en i& we were &i%htin%. Perhaps it was too m"ch %enerosity to #an) on, #"t ' wasn(t !ea$in% them here. The &ear ma e me mo$e &aster. ' %ra##e Anne(s arm an p"she her in. She st"m#!e an co"! n(t stop me as ' %ra##e +ary an L"cy. 0+o$e?2 ' to! them. They starte wa!)in%, #"t Anne was protestin% the who!e way. 0They won(t !et "s in, miss? This p!ace is -"st &or the &ami!y.... They(!! -"st ma)e "s !ea$e?2 ."t ' i n(t care what she sai . Whate$er their hi in% p!ace was, there was no way it wo"! #e as sa&e as where$er the roya! &ami!y was stayin%. The stairwe!! was !it e$ery &ew yar s, #"t e$en so ' near!y &e!! a &ew times in my haste to mo$e. +y min was #!in e with worry. How &ar ha the re#e!s penetrate #e&ore1 7i they )now these pathways to sa&ety e,iste 1 L"cy was ha!&=para!y6e , an ' t"%%e her own to )eep "s to%ether. ' co"! n(t te!! how !on% it too) &or "s to reach the #ottom, #"t &ina!!y the tiny pathway opene "p to a man=ma e ca$ern. ' co"! see other stairways an other %ir!s, e$eryone r"nnin% #ehin what !oo)e to #e a two=&oot=thic) oor. We ran "p to o"r sa&e p!ace. 0Than) yo" &or e!i$erin% this %ir!. 8o" can !ea$e,2 a %"ar sai to my mai s. 0No? They(re with me. They(re stayin%,2 ' sai with a"thority. 0+iss, they ha$e their own p!aces to #e,2 he co"ntere . 0:ine. They on(t %o in, ' on(t %o in. '(m s"re Prince +a,on wi!! appreciate )nowin% that my a#sence is yo"r oin%. Let(s %o, !a ies.2 ' p"!!e on +ary an L"cy(s han s. Anne was shoc)e into sti!!ness. 0Wait? Wait? :ine, %o insi e. ."t i& anyone has an iss"e with it, it(s on yo"r han s.2 0Not a pro#!em,2 ' sai . ' t"rne the %ir!s an wa!)e into the sa&e room with my hea he! hi%h. There was a c!amor o& acti$ity insi e. Some %ir!s were h" !e to%ether cryin%, others were in prayer. ' saw the )in% an 5"een sittin% a!one, s"rro"n e #y more %"ar s. .esi e them, +a,on was ho! in% E!ayna(s han . She !oo)e a !itt!e sha)en #"t o#$io"s!y &e!t ca!mer with him to"chin% her. ' !oo)e at the roya! &ami!y(s position * so c!ose to the oor. ' won ere i& it was !i)e a captain %oin% own with his ship. They( o e$erythin% to )eep this p!ace a&!oat, #"t i& it went own, they( #e the &irst ones to rown. Their !itt!e %ro"p saw my entrance an note the company ' was )eepin%. ' too) in the con&"se e,pressions on their &aces, no e once, an contin"e to wa!) with my hea hi%h. ' &i%"re so !on% as ' !oo)e s"re o& myse!&, no one wo"! 5"estion me. ' was wron%. ' too) three more steps an

Si!$ia wa!)e "p. She !oo)e incre i#!y ca!m. This was a!! o#$io"s!y o! news &or her. 0Goo . Some he!p. Gir!s, yo" wi!! imme iate!y %et to the water stores in the #ac) an #e%in ser$in% re&reshments to the roya! &ami!y an the !a ies. Get %oin%, now,2 she comman e . 0No.2 ' t"rne to Anne an %a$e her my &irst rea! or er. 0Anne, p!ease ta)e some re&reshments to the )in%, 5"een, an prince an then come -oin me.2 ' &ace Si!$ia. 0The rest can &en &or themse!$es. They chose to !ea$e their mai s a!one, they can %et their own amn water. +ine wi!! #e sittin% with me. Come, !a ies.2 ' )new we were c!ose eno"%h to the roya!s that they wo"! ha$e hear me. 'n my 5"est to ha$e a !e$e! o& a"thority, '( spo)en a !itt!e too !o" !y. ."t ' i n(t care i& they tho"%ht ' was r" e. L"cy was more &ri%htene than most o& the peop!e in this room. She was trem#!in% hea to &oot, an there was no way '( ha$e her ser$in% peop!e ha!& her e5"a! in %oo ness in her state. Perhaps it was a!! my years as a #i% sister, #"t ' -"st ha to )eep these %ir!s sa&e. We &o"n a !itt!e space in the #ac) o& the room. Whoe$er "s"a!!y )ept this p!ace rea y m"st not ha$e #een prepare &or the in&!", the Se!ection wo"! ca"se, #eca"se there weren(t near!y eno"%h chairs in here. ."t ' saw the stores o& &oo an water an co"! te!! they wo"! %et "s thro"%h months own here, i& the nee arose. 't was a &"nny !itt!e array o& peop!e. O#$io"s!y, se$era! o&&icia!s ha #een "p wor)in% thro"%h the ni%ht, an they were in s"its. +a,on himse!& was sti!! resse . ."t near!y a!! the %ir!s were in their thin ni%ht%owns that he!pe yo" s!eep in the warmth o& the rooms "pstairs. Not a!! o& them ha #een a#!e to %et a ro#e on in their haste to !ea$e. ' was e$en a !itt!e chi!!y "n er mine. +any o& the %ir!s ha pi!e themse!$es towar the &ront o& the room. O#$io"s!y, they( #e the &irst to ie i& someone %ot thro"%h the oor. ."t i& they i n(t, thin) o& a!! the time spent ri%ht in &ront o& +a,on? A &ew were c!oser to where we were, an most o& them were in a simi!ar state as L"cy3sha)in%, tear&"!, an petri&ie with worry. ' p"!!e L"cy "n er an arm an +ary c" !e her &rom the other si e. There wasn(t anythin% to say a#o"t the sit"ation that was p!easant, so we staye 5"iet, !istenin% to the c!amor o& the room. The -an%!e o& $oices remin e me o& the &irst ay here, when they were %i$in% "s ma)eo$ers. ' c!ose my eyes an pict"re that action with the so"n in an attempt to ma)e myse!& as ca!m as ' appeare . 0Are yo" o)ay12 ' !oo)e "p an there was Aspen, %!orio"s in his "ni&orm. His tone was $ery o&&icia!, an he i n(t seem sha)en #y the sit"ation at a!!. ' si%he . 08es, than) yo".2 We were 5"iet &or a moment, watchin% peop!e %et sett!e in the room. +ary ha o#$io"s!y #een e,ha"ste 3she was a!rea y as!eep an !eanin% hea$i!y on L"cy(s si e. L"cy was &air!y ca!m, a!! thin%s consi ere . She( stoppe cryin% an -"st sat there !oo)in% at Aspen with a )in o& won er in her eyes. 0't was %oo o& yo" to #rin% yo"r mai s. Not e$eryone wo"! #e so )in to peop!e consi ere #eneath them,2 he sai . 0Castes ne$er meant that m"ch to me,2 ' sai 5"iet!y. He %a$e me the sma!!est smi!e. L"cy too) in a #reath !i)e she was %oin% to as) Aspen a 5"estion, #"t a !o" ye!!in% co"rse thro"%h the cham#er. A %"ar on the &ar en o& the room was #ar)in% instr"ctions &or "s to a!! si!ence o"rse!$es. Aspen wa!)e away, which was %oo . ' &eare someone wo"! #e a#!e to see somethin%. 0That was the same %"ar &rom ear!ier, wasn(t it12 L"cy as)e . 08es, it was.2 0'($e seen him %"ar in% yo"r oor !ate!y. He(s aw&"!!y &rien !y,2 she commente . ' was s"re Aspen wo"! spea) to my mai s as )in !y as he

spo)e to me when they crosse his path. They were Si,es, a&ter a!!. 0He(s $ery han some,2 she a e . ' smi!e an contemp!ate sayin% somethin%, #"t that same %"ar instr"cte "s to #e 5"iet. A&ter a &ew -a%%e e %es o& con$ersation "!!e away, an eerie h"sh &e!! o$er the room. The si!ence was worse than any so"n . Witho"t a sin%!e sense to %"i e me, my ima%ination too) o$er, pro "cin% horri&ic scenes in my hea ; rooms emo!ishe , a strin% o& #o ies, a merci!ess army on!y &eet &rom the oor. ' &o"n myse!& c!"tchin% the %ir!s nearer to me, as i& we co"! protect one another &rom whate$er wo"! come. The on!y stirrin% was +a,on wa!)in% aro"n to chec) on each o& the %ir!s. When he %ot to o"r corner, on!y L"cy was awa)e with me, an e$ery once in a whi!e, we( ha$e a 5"ic) con$ersation in #reathe wor s, rea in% each other(s !ips. As +a,on approache , he smi!e at the pi!e o& peop!e !eanin% on me. 'n that moment, ' co"! see no an%er !e&t &rom o"r ar%"ment, tho"%h ' rea!!y wante to reso!$e it. 'nstea , ' saw his %rate&"! smi!e, simp!y happy that ' was o)ay. A wa$e o& %"i!t went thro"%h me.... What ha ' %otten myse!& into1 0Are yo" we!!12 he as)e . ' no e . He !oo)e at L"cy an !eane across me to spea) to her. ' inha!e . +a,on i n(t sme!! !i)e anythin% that co"! #e #ott!e . Not !i)e cinnamon or $ani!!a or e$en, ' remem#ere 5"ic)!y, !i)e homema e soap. He ha his own sme!!, a mi, o& chemica!s that #"rne o"t &rom him. 0An yo"12 he as)e L"cy. She no e , too. 0Are yo" s"rprise to &in yo"rse!& own here12 He smi!e at L"cy, ma)in% !i%ht o& what was an "nima%ina#!e sit"ation. 0No, 8o"r +a-esty. Not with her.2 L"cy no e in my irection. +a,on t"rne to !oo) at me, an his &ace was incre i#!y c!ose. ' &e!t "ncom&orta#!e. Too many peop!e co"! see "s/ Aspen inc!" e . ."t the moment passe 5"ic)!y, an he t"rne #ac) to L"cy. 0' )now what yo" mean.2 +a,on smi!e a%ain. He !oo)e !i)e he mi%ht say more, #"t then chan%e his min an mo$e to stan . ' 5"ic)!y %ra##e his arm an whispere , 0North or So"th12 07o yo" remem#er the photo shoot12 he #reathe . Shoc)e , ' no e . These re#e!s were ma)in% their way northwest, #"rnin% crops an s!a"%hterin% peop!e a!on% the way. 'ntercept them, he( sai . These re#e!s, these m"r erers, ha #een s!ow!y comin% &or "s a!! this time, an we co"! n(t stop them. They were )i!!ers. They were So"therners. 0Te!! no one.2 He !e&t, mo$in% on to :iona, who was ho! in% herse!& an cryin% 5"iet!y. ' practice #reathin% s!ow!y, tryin% to ima%ine ways ' co"! escape i& they %ot to "s, #"t ' was &oo!in% myse!&. '& the re#e!s mana%e to %et own here, it was a!! o$er. There was nothin% to o #"t wait. The ho"rs crept on. ' ha no i ea what time it was, #"t peop!e who ha o6e o&& ha wo)en "p, an those o& "s who ha powere thro"%h the time were startin% to wi!t. :ina!!y, the oor opene as some %"ar s !e&t to in$esti%ate. +ore time passe as the pa!ace was swept, an e$ent"a!!y they ret"rne . 0La ies an %ent!emen,2 one o& the %"ar s ca!!e , 0the re#e!s ha$e #een s"# "e . We are as)in% that e$eryone p!ease ret"rn to their rooms $ia the #ac) stairs. There(s 5"ite a mess an scores o& in-"re %"ar s. 't(s #etter i& yo" a!! #ypass the main rooms an ha!!s "nti! they can #e c!eare . '& yo" are a mem#er o& the Se!ection, p!ease procee to yo"r room an stay there "nti! &"rther notice. '($e spo)en with the coo)s, an &oo wi!! #e #ro"%ht to yo" within the ho"r. '(m %oin% to nee a!! me ica! personne! to report with me to the hospita! win%.2 With that, peop!e stoo an starte mo$in% !i)e nothin% ha

happene . Some peop!e e$en !oo)e #ore . E,cept &or the &aces o& peop!e !i)e L"cy, it seeme e$eryone too) the attac) in stri e, as i& it were to #e e,pecte . +y room ha #een ransac)e . +attress on the &!oor, resses p"!!e o"t o& the c!oset, the pict"res o& my &ami!y torn "p on the %ro"n . ' !oo)e aro"n &or my -ar, an it was sti!! intact with its penny insi e, -"st hi en "n er the #e . ' trie not to cry, #"t my eyes )ept we!!in% "p. 't wasn(t that ' was a&rai , tho"%h ' was. ' -"st i n(t !i)e that an enemy ha p"t their han s a!! o$er my thin%s, ha r"ine them. 't too) 5"ite a whi!e to set thin%s ri%ht, since we were a!! so tire . We mana%e , tho"%h. Anne e$en &o"n some tape so ' co"! p"t my pict"res #ac) to%ether. ' sent my mai s to #e the moment ' %ot my tape. Anne proteste , #"t ' wo"! n(t ha$e any o& it. Now that '( &o"n my a#i!ity to comman , ' wasn(t a&rai to "se it. Once ' was a!one, ' !et myse!& cry. The &ear, e$en tho"%h it ha most!y passe , sti!! ha a ho! on me. ' p"!!e o"t the -eans that +a,on ha %i$en me an my one shirt &rom home an p"t them on. ' &e!t a !itt!e more norma! this way. +y hair was messy &rom the e$ents o& the ni%ht an most o& the mornin%, so ' p"!!e it "p into a cas"a! !itt!e #"n on the top o& my hea , pieces &a!!in% own aro"n my &ace. ' set the &ra%ments o& pict"res on the #e , tryin% to &i%"re o"t which ones went to%ether. 't was !i)e ha$in% &o"r p"66!es( worth o& pieces a!! in the same #o,. ' ha mana%e to p"t on!y one to%ether when there was a )noc) at the oor. +a,on, ' tho"%ht. P!ease #e +a,on. ' threw the oor open hope&"!!y. 0He!!o, earie.2 't was Si!$ia. She ha a !itt!e po"t on her &ace that ' s"ppose was meant to #e a conso!ation. She sc"tt!e ri%ht past me into my room, then t"rne an too) in what ' was wearin%. 0Oh, on(t te!! me yo"(re !ea$in%, too,2 she whine . 0Honest!y, it was nothin%.2 She wipe the who!e inci ent away with her han . ' wo"! n(t ca!! it nothin%. Co"! n(t she te!! '( #een cryin%1 0'(m not !ea$in%,2 ' sai , t"c)in% a hair #ehin my ear. 0Are others %oin% home12 She si%he . 08es, three so &ar. An +a,on, ear #oy, to! me to !et anyone who wants to !ea$e %o home. Arran%ements are #ein% ma e as we spea). 't(s so &"nny. 't was as i& he )new %ir!s wo"! #e !ea$in%. '& ' were in yo"r position, '( thin) twice #e&ore !ea$in% o$er a!! this nonsense.2 Si!$ia starte wa!)in% aro"n my room, ta)in% in the ecor. Nonsense1 What was wron% with this woman1 07i they ta)e anythin%12 she as)e cas"a!!y. 0No, ma(am. They ma e a mess, #"t nothin%(s missin% as &ar as ' can te!!.2 0Aery %oo .2 She wa!)e o$er to me an han e me a tiny porta#!e phone. 0This is the sa&est !ine in the pa!ace. 8o" nee to ca!! yo"r &ami!y an te!! them yo"(re &ine. 7on(t ta)e too !on%, now. ' sti!! ha$e a &ew %ir!s to see.2 ' mar$e!e at the tiny o#-ect. '( ne$er act"a!!y he! a porta#!e phone. '( seen them #e&ore in the han s o& Twos an Threes, #"t ' ne$er tho"%ht '( %et to "se one. +y han s trem#!e with e,citement. ' was %oin% to hear their $oices? ' ia!e the n"m#er ea%er!y. A&ter e$erythin% that ha happene , it act"a!!y #ro"%ht a smi!e to my &ace. +om pic)e "p a&ter two rin%s. 0He!!o12 0+om12 0America? 's that yo"1 Are yo" o)ay1 Some %"ar ca!!e to te!! "s we mi%ht not #e a#!e to %et aho! o& yo" &or a &ew ays, an we )new those amn re#e!s ha %otten thro"%h. We($e #een so scare .2 She starte cryin%. 0Oh, on(t cry, +om. '(m sa&e.2 ' !oo)e o$er at Si!$ia. She !oo)e #ore . 0Ho! on.2 There was a #it o& mo$ement. 0America12 +ay(s $oice was thic) with tears. She m"st ha$e ha the worst ay. 0+ay? Oh, +ay, ' miss yo" so m"ch?2 ' &e!t the tears risin% a%ain. 0' tho"%ht yo" were ea ? America, ' !o$e yo". Promise

me yo" won(t ie,2 she wai!e . 0' promise.2 ' ha to smi!e at s"ch a $ow. 0Wi!! yo" come home1 Can(t yo"1 ' on(t want yo" there anymore.2 +ay was practica!!y #e%%in%. 0Come home12 ' as)e . ' &e!t so many thin%s. ' misse my &ami!y, an ' was tire o& hi in% &rom re#e!s. ' was %ettin% more an more con&"se o$er my &ee!in%s &or Aspen an +a,on, an ' i n(t )now how to han !e them. The easiest thin% to o wo"! #e to !ea$e. ."t sti!!. 0No, +ay, ' can(t come home. ' ha$e to stay here.2 0Why12 +ay moane . 0.eca"se,2 ' sai simp!y. 0.eca"se why12 09"st * #eca"se.2 +ay was 5"iet &or a moment, thin)in%. 0Are yo" in !o$e with +a,on12 :or a min"te ' hear the #oy= cra6y +ay that ' was "se to. She( #e &ine. 0@mm, ' on(t )now a#o"t that, #"t32 0America? 8o"(re in !o$e with +a,on? Oh my %osh?2 ' hear 7a ye!!in%, 0What12 in the #ac)%ro"n an then +om(s 08es, yes, yes?2 0+ay, ' ne$er sai 32 0' )new it?2 +ay -"st !a"%he an !a"%he . 9"st !i)e that, a!! her &ears o& !osin% me $anishe . 0+ay, ' ha$e to %o. The others nee the phone. ."t ' -"st wante yo" a!! to )now that '(m o)ay. '(!! write yo" soon, ' promise.2 0O)ay, o)ay. Te!! me a#o"t +a,on? An sen more treats? ' !o$e yo"?2 she ye!!e . 0' !o$e yo", too. .ye.2 ' h"n% "p the phone #e&ore she co"! as) &or anythin% e!se. The moment her $oice was %one, tho"%h, ' misse her more than ' ha #e&ore. Si!$ia was swi&t. She ha the phone o"t o& my han in a matter o& secon s an was wa!)in% to the oor. 0There(s a %oo %ir!,2 she sai , an isappeare own the ha!!. ' certain!y i n(t &ee! %oo . ."t ' )new that once ' &i%"re o"t how to set thin%s ri%ht with Aspen an +a,on, ' wo"! .

CHAPTER BD

A+8, :'ONA, AN7 TALL@LAH were %one within ho"rs. ' wasn(t s"re i& the spee was "e to the e&&iciency o& Si!$ia or the ner$es o& the %ir!s. We roppe to nineteen, an it s" en!y &e!t !i)e this was a!! mo$in% 5"ic)!y. Sti!!, ' co"! n(t ha$e pre icte how m"ch &aster it wo"! #ecome. The +on ay a&ter the attac)s, we ret"rne to o"r ro"tine. .rea)&ast was as e!icio"s as e$er, an ' won ere i& there wo"! come a time when ' wo"! n(t appreciate these ama6in% mea!s. 0<riss, isn(t this i$ine12 ' as)e as ' #it into a piece o& star= shape &r"it. '( ne$er seen it #e&ore ' came to the pa!ace. <riss(s mo"th was &"!!, #"t she no e in a%reement. ' &e!t a warm sense o& sisterhoo this mornin%. Now that we ha s"r$i$e a ma-or re#e! attac) to%ether, it &e!t !i)e these sma!! #on s ha sea!e into somethin% "n#rea)a#!e. .esi e <riss, Emi!y was passin% me honey. Ne,t to me, Tiny was as)in% where my son%#ir nec)!ace came &rom with a miration in her eyes. The atmosphere was that o& my &ami!y inners a &ew years a%o, #e&ore <ota t"rne into a -er) an we !ost <enna to a h"s#an ; &"!!, #ri%ht, chatty. ' s" en!y )new, -"st as +a,on ha sai his mother ha one, that ' wo"! contact these %ir!s own the roa . ' wo"! want to )now who e$eryone marrie an sen them Christmas car s. An in twenty= some=o years, i& +a,on ha a son, '( ca!! to as) them a#o"t their &a$orite %ir!s in the new Se!ection. An we( remem#er e$erythin% we( %one thro"%h an !a"%h a#o"t it as i& it ha #een an a $ent"re, not a

competition. O !y eno"%h, the on!y person in the room who appeare to #e istresse was +a,on. He i n(t to"ch his &oo #"t instea %a6e "p an own the rows o& %ir!s with a c!ear !oo) o& concentration on his &ace. E$ery once in a whi!e, he pa"se mi tho"%ht an seeme to e#ate with himse!& o$er somethin%, an then mo$e on.When he came to my row, he ca"%ht me !oo)in% at him an %a$e me a wea) smi!e. E,cept &or the 5"ic) inter!" e !ast ni%ht, we ha n(t spo)en since o"r ar%"ment, an there were thin%s that nee e to #e sai . This time, ' nee e to #e the initiator. With an e,pression that sai it was a re5"est, not a eman , ' t"%%e my ear. His e,pression remaine straine , #"t he t"%%e his ear, too. ' si%he with re!ie& an &o"n my eyes mo$in% towar the oors o& the massi$e room. As '( s"specte , another pair o& eyes was !oo)in% my way. '( notice Aspen when ' entere , #"t ' trie not to ac)now!e %e him. ' s"ppose it was impossi#!e to i%nore someone yo"($e !o$e that m"ch. +a,on stoo "p. The s" en mo$ement ma e his chair screech in a way that rew o"r co!!ecti$e attention. As we a!! t"rne towar him, he !oo)e !i)e he wishe he co"! sit #ac) own "nnotice . Rea!i6in% that wasn(t an option, he spo)e instea . 0La ies,2 he sai with a #ow o& his hea . He !oo)e %en"ine!y paine . 0'(m a&rai that a&ter yester ay(s attac), '($e #een &orce to serio"s!y reconsi er the operation o& the Se!ection. As yo" )now, three !a ies as)e to !ea$e yester ay, an ' o#!i%e . ' wo"! n(t want anyone here a%ainst their wi!!. :"rthermore, ' on(t &ee! com&orta#!e )eepin% anyone in the pa!ace, &acin% this constant threat o& an%er, when ' &ee! con&i ent that we on(t ha$e any sort o& &"t"re to%ether.2 Aro"n the room, the con&"sion chan%e to a c!ear an "nhappy "n erstan in%. 0He(s not*,2 Tiny whispere . 08es, he is,2 ' rep!ie . 0Tho"%h it %rie$es me to o this, ' ha$e isc"sse the matter with my &ami!y an a &ew c!ose a $isers an ha$e eci e to %o ahea an narrow the Se!ection own to the E!ite. Howe$er, instea o& ten, '($e eci e to sen a!! #"t si, o& yo" home,2 +a,on state in a #"siness!i)e tone. 0Si,12 <riss %aspe . 0That(s not &air,2 Tiny #reathe , a!rea y startin% to cry. ' !oo)e aro"n the room as the h"m o& comp!aints rose an &e!!. Ce!este #race herse!&, as i& she co"! &i%ht &or a spot. .arie! ha c!ose her eyes an crosse her &in%ers, perhaps hopin% that ima%e wo"! %arner her some sympathy. +ar!ee, who ha a mitte that she i n(t care &or +a,on, !oo)e incre i#!y tense. Why i she want to stay so #a !y1 0' on(t wish to raw this o"t "nnecessari!y, so on!y the &o!!owin% !a ies wi!! #e stayin%. La y +ar!ee an La y <riss.2 +ar!ee #reathe o"t a si%h o& re!ie& an p"t a han to her chest. <riss i a happy, &i %ety ance in her chair an !oo)e at the %ir!s aro"n her, e,pectin% "s to #e happy. An ' was "nti! ' rea!i6e that two o& the si, spots were a!rea y %one. With a isa%reement han%in% #etween +a,on an me, wo"! he sen me home1 7i he not see any &"t"re with me1 7i ' want him to1 What wo"! ' o i& ' ha to %o1 This who!e time, the power ha #een in my han s as to when ' wo"! !ea$e. ' was a#r"pt!y aware o& how important it was to me to stay. 0La y Nata!ie an La y Ce!este,2 he contin"e , !oo)in% at them #oth in t"rn. ' crin%e at Ce!este(s name. He co"! n(t )eep her an not me. ' co"! har !y #e!ie$e he was )eepin% her at a!!. ."t was that a si%n ' was %oin%1 We( &o"%ht a#o"t her $ery presence here. 0La y E!ise,2 he sai , an the room inha!e a #reath, awaitin% the &ina! name. ' rea!i6e Tiny an ' were s5"ee6in% each other(s han s. 0An La y America.2 +a,on !oo)e o$er at

me, an ' &e!t e$ery m"sc!e in my #o y re!a,. Tiny starte #aw!in% imme iate!y, an she wasn(t a!one. +a,on !et o"t a !on% si%h. 0To e$eryone e!se, '(m incre i#!y sorry, #"t ' hope yo" a!! tr"st me when ' say that ' meant this to #e a %oo thin% &or yo". ' on(t want to raise anyone(s hopes &or no reason an ris) yo"r !i&e in the process. '& anyone who is !ea$in% wants to spea) to me, '(!! #e in the !i#rary own the ha!!, an yo" may $isit me as soon as yo"($e &inishe eatin%.2 +a,on wa!)e o"t o& the room as 5"ic)!y as he co"! witho"t r"nnin%. ' watche him "nti! he crosse in &ront o& Aspen, an then my attention was i$erte . Aspen(s &ace was con&"se , an ' )new why. '( to! him ' i n(t !o$e +a,on, so he wo"! ha$e ass"me ' meant ne,t to nothin% to +a,on as we!!. So why wo"! ' #e so tense a#o"t stayin% or %oin%1 An why wo"! +a,on want to )eep me aro"n 1 .e&ore a secon ha passe , Emmica an T"es ay were r"nnin% a&ter +a,on, no o"#t !oo)in% &or an e,p!anation. Some %ir!s were in tears, o#$io"s!y heart#ro)en, an it &e!! on those o& "s remainin% to com&ort them. 't was "n#eara#!y aw)war . Tiny en e "p swattin% away my han s an r"nnin% o"t o& the room. ' hope she wo"! n(t ho! any #itter &ee!in%s a%ainst me. Peop!e !e&t within min"tes, no !on%er h"n%ry. ' i n(t !in%er myse!&, "na#!e to han !e the o"tpo"rin% o& emotion. As ' passe Aspen, he whispere 0toni%ht.2 ' %a$e a tiny no an went on my way. The rest o& the mornin% was o . '( ne$er rea!!y ha &rien s that ' wo"! miss. A!! the occ"pie rooms on the secon &!oor were open, an %ir!s sc"rrie in an o"t, passin% notes an %atherin% a resses. We crie to%ether an !a"%he to%ether, an #y the a&ternoon, the pa!ace ha t"rne into a &ar more serio"s p!ace than it was when we came. No one was !e&t in my !itt!e win% o& the ha!!, so there was no so"n o& mai s r"shin% to an &ro, or o& oors c!osin%. ' sat at my ta#!e, rea in% a #oo) as my mai s "ste . ' won ere i& the pa!ace a!ways &e!t this !one!y. The emptiness ma e me miss my &ami!y. S" en!y a )noc) came at the oor. Anne r"she to %et it, !oo)in% at me to ma)e s"re ' was prepare &or a $isitor. ' %a$e her a sma!! no . When +a,on came into the room, ' -"mpe to my &eet. 0La ies,2 he sai , !oo)in% to my mai s. 0We meet a%ain.2 They c"rtsie an %i%%!e . He ac)now!e %e them an t"rne his eyes to me. ' ha n(t rea!i6e how ea%er ' was to see him. ' stoo #y the ta#!e in a a6e. 07o &or%i$e me, #"t ' nee to spea) with La y America. Wo"! yo" %i$e "s a moment12 There was more c"rtsyin% an %i%%!in%, an Anne as)e 3with a tone that imp!ie near worship o& the prince3i& she co"! #rin% him anythin%. +a,on ec!ine , an they !e&t "s. He ha his han s in his poc)ets. We were si!ent &or a whi!e. 0' tho"%ht yo" mi%ht not )eep me,2 ' &ina!!y a mitte . 0Why12 he as)e , so"n in% honest!y con&"se . 0.eca"se we &o"%ht. .eca"se e$erythin% #etween "s is weir . .eca"se*2 .eca"se e$en tho"%h yo"(re atin% &i$e other women, ' thin) '(m cheatin% on yo", ' tho"%ht. +a,on c!ose the istance #etween "s s!ow!y, choosin% his wor s as he wa!)e . When he &ina!!y reache me, he pic)e "p my han s in his an e,p!aine e$erythin%. 0:irst, !et me say '(m sorry. ' sho"! n(t ha$e ye!!e at yo".2 His $oice was comp!ete!y sincere. 0't(s -"st that some o& the committees an my &ather are a!rea y press"rin% me in this, an ' tr"!y want to #e a#!e to ma)e the ecision &or myse!&. 't was &r"stratin% to r"n into another sit"ation where my opinion wasn(t #ein% ta)en serio"s!y.2 0Another sit"ation12 ' as)e . 0We!!, yo"($e seen my choices. +ar!ee is a &a$orite with the peop!e, an that cannot

#e o$er!oo)e . Ce!este is a $ery power&"! yo"n% woman, an she comes &rom an e,ce!!ent &ami!y to a!i%n o"rse!$es with. Nata!ie an <riss are charmin% %ir!s, #oth $ery a%reea#!e an &a$orites o& some in my &ami!y. E!ise happens to ha$e re!ations in New Asia. Since we(re tryin% to en this amn war, that is somethin% to ta)e into consi eration. '($e #een e#ate own an cornere &rom e$ery si e on this ecision.2 There was no e,p!anation &or me, an ' a!most i n(t as) &or it. ' )new that we were &rien s &irst an that ' ha no po!itica! "ses at a!!. ."t ' nee e to hear the wor s so ' co"! ma)e the ecision &or myse!&. ' co"! n(t !oo) him in the eye. 0An why am ' sti!! here12 +y $oice was #are!y a#o$e a whisper. ' was s"re this was %oin% to h"rt. 'n the pit o& my stomach ' was s"re ' was on!y sti!! here #eca"se he was too %oo to #rea) his promise. 0America, ' tho"%ht '( ma e myse!& c!ear,2 +a,on sai ca!m!y. He !et o"t a patient si%h an "se his han to n" %e "p my chin. When ' was &ina!!y !oo)in% into his eyes, he con&esse . 0'& this were a simp!er matter, '( ha$e e!iminate e$eryone e!se #y now. ' )now how ' &ee! a#o"t yo". +ay#e it(s imp"!si$e o& me to thin) ' co"! #e so s"re, #"t '(m certain ' wo"! #e happy with yo".2 ' #!"she . ' co"! &ee! tears risin%, #"t ' #!in)e them away. The e,pression on his &ace was so a orin%, ' i n(t want to miss it. 0There are moments when ' &ee! !i)e yo" an ' ha$e #ro)en own e$ery !ast wa!!, an then others when ' thin) yo" on!y want to stay &or con$enience. '& ' )new &or s"re that ', an ' a!one, was yo"r moti$ation*2 He pa"se an shoo) his hea , as i& the en o& his sentence was somethin% he co"! n(t !et himse!& want. 0Wo"! ' #e wron% in sayin% that yo"(re sti!! "ns"re o& me12 ' i n(t want to h"rt him, #"t ' ha to #e honest. 0No.2 0Then ' ha$e to he %e my #ets. 8o" may eci e to !ea$e, an ' wi!! !et yo" %o i& yo" o. 'n the meantime, ' ha$e to &in a wi&e. '(m tryin% to ma)e the #est ecision ' can within the #o"n aries '($e #een %i$en, #"t p!ease, on(t o"#t &or a moment that ' care &or yo". 7eep!y.2 ' co"! n(t ho! #ac) the tears anymore. ' tho"%ht a#o"t Aspen an what '( one, an ' &e!t so ashame . 0+a,on12 ' sni&&e . 0Can yo" * can yo" e$er &or%i$e312 ' i n(t %et to &inish my con&ession. He came e$en c!oser an starte sweepin% the tears o&& my &ace with his stron% &in%ers. 0:or%i$e what1 O"r st"pi !itt!e &i%ht1 't(s a!rea y &or%otten. 8o"r &ee!in%s #ein% a !itt!e s!ower than mine1 '(m prepare to wait,2 he sai with a shr"%. 0' on(t thin) there(s anythin% yo" co"! o that ' co"! n(t &or%i$e. Nee ' remin yo" o& the )nee to my %roin12 ' co"! n(t he!p #"t !a"%h. +a,on ch"c)!e once, then #ecame s" en!y serio"s. 0What(s wron%12 ' as)e . He shoo) his hea . 0They were so &ast this time.2 +a,on(s $oice was &"!! o& an a%%ra$ate won er at the ta!ents o& the re#e!s. ' s" en!y won ere how c!ose to isaster ' ha come #y tryin% to sa$e my mai s. 0'(m %ettin% more an more worrie , America. North or So"th, they(re %ettin% e,ceptiona!!y etermine . 't seems they won(t stop "nti! they %et what they want, an we ha$en(t the &aintest c!"e what it is.2 +a,on !oo)e con&"se an sa . 0' &ee! !i)e it(s on!y a matter o& time "nti! they estroy someone important to me.2 He !oo)e into my eyes. 08o" )now, yo" sti!! ha$e a choice in this. '& yo"(re a&rai to stay, yo" sho"! say so.2 He pa"se , thin)in%. 0Or i& yo" on(t thin) yo" can !o$e me at a!!, it wo"! #e )in er to te!! me now. '(!! !et yo" %o on yo"r way, an we can part as &rien s.2 ' wrappe my arms aro"n him, restin% my hea a%ainst his chest. +a,on seeme #oth com&orte an s"rprise #y the %est"re. 't too) on!y a secon &or him to wrap

his arms sec"re!y aro"n me. 0+a,on, '(m not comp!ete!y s"re what we are, #"t we(re e&inite!y more than &rien s.2 He !et o"t a si%h. With my hea there a%ainst his chest, ' co"! &aint!y ma)e o"t the so"n o& his heart #eatin% thro"%h his s"it coat. 't seeme to #e r"shin%. His han , %ent!e as e$er, reache to c"p my chee). As ' !oo)e into his eyes, ' &e!t that "nnamea#!e &ee!in% that was %rowin% #etween "s. With his eyes, +a,on as)e &or somethin% we( #oth a%ree to wait on. ' was %!a he i n(t want to wait anymore. ' %a$e him a tiny no , an he #ri %e the sma!! %ap #etween "s, )issin% me with "nima%ina#!e ten erness. ' &e!t a smi!e "n erneath his !ips, an it !in%ere &or a !on% time a&ter.

CHAPTER BE

' :ELT A N@7GE ON my arm. 't was ar) an either $ery !ate or $ery ear!y. :or a &raction o& a secon , ' tho"%ht that there( #een yet another attac). Then ' )new ' was wron% #eca"se o& the sin%!e wor "se to wa)e me. 0+er12 +y #ac) was to Aspen, an ' too) a moment to stea y myse!& #e&ore ' &ace him. 'n my hea , ' )new that there were thin%s that nee e to #e set ri%ht #etween "s. ' hope my heart wo"! !et me say them. ' ro!!e o$er an ca"%ht Aspen(s #ri%ht %reen eyes an )new this wo"! #e i&&ic"!t. Then ' notice that he( !e&t the oor to my room open. 0Aspen, are yo" cra6y12 ' whispere . 0C!ose the oor.2 0No, '($e tho"%ht this o"t. With the oor open, ' can te!! anyone who comes #y that ' hear a noise an was chec)in% on yo", which is my -o#. No one wo"! s"spect a thin%.2 't was simp!e an #ri!!iant. ' no e my hea in "n erstan in%. 0O)ay.2 ' t"rne on the sma!! !amp on my #e si e ta#!e to ma)e it c!ear to any passers#y that we weren(t hi in% anythin%. ' notice that the c!oc) sai it was past three in the mornin%. Aspen was o#$io"s!y p!ease with himse!&. His smi!e, the same one that "se to %reet me in the tree ho"se, was wi e. 08o" )ept it,2 he sai . 0H"h12 Aspen pointe own to my #e si e ta#!e, where the -ar sat with its !one penny. 08eah,2 ' sai . 0' -"st co"! n(t #rin% myse!& to %et ri o& it.2 His e,pression %rew more an more hope&"!. He t"rne to !oo) at the oor, as i& chec)in% 5"ic)!y that no one was there. Then he #ent own to )iss me. 0No,2 ' sai 5"iet!y, p"!!in% away. 08o" can(t o that.2 The !oo) in his eyes warre #etween con&"sion an sa ness, an ' &eare that e$erythin% ' was a#o"t to say was on!y %oin% to ma)e thin%s worse. 07i ' o somethin% wron%12 0No,2 ' sai a amant!y. 08o"($e #een won er&"!. '($e #een so happy to see yo" a%ain an to )now that yo" sti!! !o$e me. 't(s chan%e e$erythin%.2 He smi!e . 0Goo . .eca"se ' o !o$e yo", an '(m p!annin% on ma)in% s"re yo" ne$er ha$e a reason to o"#t it.2 ' s5"irme . 0Aspen, whate$er we were, or are ri%ht now, we can(t #e that here.2 0What o yo" mean12 he as)e , shi&tin% his wei%ht. 0'(m part o& the Se!ection ri%ht now. '(m here &or +a,on, an ' can(t ate yo" or whate$er this is whi!e it(s sti!! %oin% on.2 ' starte &i %etin% with a #it o& my com&orter. He tho"%ht a moment. 0So were yo" !yin% to me1 When yo" sai yo" ne$er stoppe !o$in% me12 0No,2 ' ass"re him. 08o"($e #een in

my heart the who!e time. 8o"(re the reason thin%s ha$e #een %oin% as s!ow as they are. +a,on !i)es me, #"t ' can(t !et myse!& rea!!y care a#o"t him #eca"se o& yo".2 0We!!, %reat,2 he sai sarcastica!!y. 0G!a to )now yo"( #e &ine atin% him i& ' wasn(t aro"n .2 @n erneath the an%er, ' co"! see he was heart#ro)en, #"t it wasn(t my &a"!t it t"rne o"t this way. 0Aspen12 ' as)e 5"iet!y, %ettin% him to !oo) at me. 0When yo" !e&t me in the tree ho"se, yo" cr"she me.2 0+er, ' sai '32 0Let me &inish.2 He h"&&e , then was si!ent. 08o" too) away my reams, an the on!y reason '(m here is #eca"se yo" insiste ' si%n "p.2 He shoo) his hea , irritate at the tr"th. 0'($e #een tryin% to p"t myse!& #ac) to%ether, an +a,on rea!!y cares a#o"t me. 8o" mean so m"ch to me, yo" )now yo" o. ."t '(m part o& this now, an '( #e st"pi to not !et myse!& see what happens.2 0So yo"(re choosin% him o$er me12 he as)e misera#!y. 0No, '(m not choosin% him or yo". '(m choosin% me.2 That was the tr"th at the core o& e$erythin%. ' i n(t )now what ' wante yet, an ' co"! n(t !et myse!& #e swaye #y what was easy or what someone e!se tho"%ht was ri%ht. ' ha to %i$e myse!& time to eci e what was #est &or me. Aspen m"!!e this o$er &or a moment, sti!! not happy with what ' was sayin%. :ina!!y he smi!e . 08o" )now '(m not %i$in% "p, ri%ht12 His tone was an o#$io"s cha!!en%e, an ' %rinne in spite o& myse!&. 't was tr"e that Aspen was not the type to a mit e&eat. 0This rea!!y isn(t a %oo p!ace to try to &i%ht &or me. 8o"r etermination is a an%ero"s trait here.2 0'(m not a&rai o& that s"it,2 he sco&&e . ' ro!!e my eyes, am"se at #ein% on this en o& the re!ationship. '( a!ways #een worrie a#o"t someone stea!in% Aspen. ' &e!t %"i!ty a#o"t how re&reshin% it was to see him worrie a#o"t someone stea!in% me &or a chan%e. 0O)ay. 8o" sai yo" i n(t !o$e him * #"t yo" m"st !i)e him a !itt!e to #e wi!!in% to stay, ri%ht12 ' "c)e my hea . 0' o,2 ' sai with a tiny no . 0He(s more than ' e$er ima%ine he was.2 He consi ere that &or a moment, soa)in% it in. 0' %"ess that means '(!! ha$e to &i%ht har er than ' tho"%ht,2 he sai , hea in% &or the ha!!. Then he t"rne an %a$e me another win). 0Goo ni%ht, La y America.2 0Goo ni%ht, O&&icer Le%er.2 The oor c!ic)e sh"t, an the sense o& peace was o$erwhe!min%. Since the Se!ection ha starte , '( #een worryin% that it was somethin% that was %oin% to r"in my !i&e. ."t in this moment, ' co"! n(t thin) o& a time that &e!t more ri%ht. Too soon, my mai s #"st!e in. Anne p"!!e #ac) the c"rtains, an as the !i%ht &e!! on me, it &e!t !i)e this was tr"!y my &irst ay at the pa!ace. The Se!ection was no !on%er somethin% that was simp!y happenin% to me, #"t somethin% ' was acti$e!y a part o&. ' was an E!ite. ' p"!!e #ac) the co$ers an !eape into the mornin%.

EN7 O: .OO< ONE