Home > The Guard (The Selection #2.5)(8)

The Guard (The Selection #2.5)(8)
Author: Kiera Cass


She leaned in even closer. “My dad was proud, too. The queen said I shouldn’t act that way, but she was glad I did. It’s been confusing. Like it was almost a good idea but not really, and then it didn’t fix anything anyway.”

I held her tight, not wanting her to doubt what seemed natural to her. “It was good. It meant a lot to me.”

“To you?”

It was awkward to admit my worries, but she had to know. “Yeah. Every once in a while I wonder if the Selection has changed you. You’ve been so taken care of, and everything is so fancy. I keep wondering if you’re the same America. That let me know that you are, that they haven’t gotten to you.”

“Oh, they’re getting to me all right, but not like that,” she spat, her voice sharp. “Mostly this place reminds me that I wasn’t born to do this.”

Then her anger faded to sadness, and she turned toward me, burrowing her head into my chest, like if she tried hard enough she could hide under my ribs. I wanted to keep her in my arms, so close to my heart that she could practically be a part of it, and bat away all the pain that might come her way.

“Listen, Mer,” I started, knowing the only way to get to the good would be to walk through the bad. “The thing about Maxon is that he’s an actor. He’s always putting on this perfect face, like he’s so above everything. But he’s just a person, and he’s as messed up as anyone is. I know you cared about him or you wouldn’t have stayed here. But you have to know now that it’s not real.”

She nodded, and I felt like this wasn’t entirely new information to her, like a part of her always expected this.

“It’s better you know now. What if you got married and then found out it was like this?”

“I know,” she breathed. “I’ve been thinking about that myself.”

I tried not to focus on the fact that she’d already wondered about a life married to Maxon. It was part of the experience. Sooner or later, she was bound to think about it. But that had passed.

“You’ve got a big heart, Mer. I know you can’t just get over things, but it’s okay to want to. That’s all.”

She was quiet, thinking over my words. “I feel so stupid.”

“You’re not stupid,” I disagreed.

“I am, too.”

I needed to make her smile. “Mer, do you think I’m smart?”

Her tone was light. “Of course.”

“That’s because I am. And I’m way too smart to be in love with a stupid girl. So you can drop that right now.”

She gave a laugh like a whisper but it was enough to pierce through the sadness. I’d had my own aches because of the Selection, and I needed to try to understand hers better. She didn’t ask to put her name in the lottery. I did. This was my fault.

A dozen times, I’d wanted to explain myself, to beg for the mercy that she’d already given. I didn’t deserve it. Maybe now. Maybe this was the time that I could finally, really apologize.

“I feel like I’ve hurt you so much,” she said, shame covering her voice. “I don’t understand how you can still possibly be in love with me.”

I sighed. She acted like she needed forgiveness, when it was certainly the other way around.

I didn’t know how to explain this to her. There weren’t words wide enough to hold what I felt for her. Not even I could make sense of it.

“It’s just the way it is. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and Aspen endlessly loves America. It’s how the world was designed to be.” I felt the lift of her cheek against my chest as she smiled. If I couldn’t bring myself to apologize, maybe I could at least make it clear that those last minutes in the tree house were a fluke. “Seriously, Mer, you’re the only girl I ever wanted. I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for that, just in case, and . . . I can’t.”

When the words failed, our bodies spoke. No kisses, nothing more than hushed embraces, but it was all we needed. I felt everything I had felt back in Carolina, and I was sure that we could be that again. Maybe be even more.

“We shouldn’t stay much longer,” I said, wishing it wasn’t true. “I’m pretty confident in my abilities, but I don’t want to push it.”

She reluctantly stood, and I pulled her in for one last embrace, hoping it would be enough to sustain me until I could see her again. She held on tightly, like she was afraid to let me go. I knew the coming days would be hard for her, but whatever happened, I’d be here.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m really sorry Maxon turned out to be such a bad guy. I wanted you back, but I didn’t want you to get hurt. Especially not like that.”

“Thanks,” she mumbled.

“I mean it.”

“I know you do.” She hesitated. “It’s not over though. Not if I’m still here.”

“Yeah, but I know you. You’ll ride it out so your family gets money and you can see me, but he’d have to reverse time to fix this.” I settled my chin on her head, keeping her as close to me for as long as I could. “Don’t worry, Mer. I’ll take care of you.”

 

 

CHAPTER 6


I HAD A VAGUE SENSE that I was dreaming. America was across the room, tied to a throne, and Maxon had one hand on her shoulder, trying to push her into submission. Her worried eyes were locked on mine, and she struggled to get to me. But then I saw Maxon was watching me, too. His stare was menacing, and he looked so much like his father in that moment.

I knew I needed to get to her, to untie her so we could run. But I couldn’t move. I was tied up, too, on the rack like Woodwork. Fear ran down my skin, cold and demanding. No matter how we tried we would never be able to save each other.

Maxon walked over to a pillow, picked up an elaborate crown, and brought it back to place on America’s head. Though she eyed it warily, she didn’t fight when he set it on her gleaming red hair. But it wouldn’t stay put. It slipped over and over.

Undeterred, Maxon reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a two-pronged hook. He lined up the crown and pushed the hook in, affixing it to America’s head. As the pin went in, I felt two massive stabs in my back and screamed from the burn of it. I waited to feel the blood, too, but it didn’t come.

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