Home > The Crown (The Selection #5)(7)

The Crown (The Selection #5)(7)
Kiera Cass

“I know. But don’t worry. We’ll find a new normal. You’ll see.” Somehow, for them, I would make that happen.

“GOOD MORNING, YOUR HIGHNESS.”

“Good morning,” I replied to the butler. “Strong coffee, please, and whatever the chef has prepared for the Elite is fine.”

“Of course.”

He returned with blueberry pancakes and sausage links, and a hard-boiled egg sliced in half. I picked at my meal while I skimmed the papers. There was news of bad weather in one area and some speculation over who I might marry somewhere else, but in general, it looked like the entire nation had lost the will to do much more than worry about Mom. I was grateful. I had been positive the country would revolt when I was named regent. Part of me was still worried that if I gave the slightest indication that I might fail, their hatred would slam into me without mercy.

“Good day today!” someone called. Not someone. I would have recognized Henri’s greeting even in the grave.

I lifted my head to smile and wave at him and Erik. I kind of loved that Henri was impervious to the sadness hanging over the palace. And Erik seemed to be the hand that guided his charge back down to Earth, calm and kind, regardless of what happened around him.

Osten and Kaden walked in with Kile, their heads together as they moved. Kile was trying to make them smile—I could read it in his body language—and, for their part, they gave him small, tight-lipped grins. Ean entered with Hale and Fox, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him finally interacting with some of the others. Gunner trailed behind them as if forgotten. I’d kept him in the Elite because I couldn’t shake how his poem had made me laugh. But beyond that, I hardly knew him. I was going to have to try harder with him, with all of them.

My brothers sat down together at their normal places, more subdued than usual. Seeing our family table so empty sent a pang of sadness through my whole body. That type of sorrow, the quiet, lonely kind, can take over so quickly that a person could miss it. I could see it trying to creep into my brothers now, in the way they held their heads a little lower, probably not even aware they were doing it.

“Osten?” He peeked over at me, and I could feel the Elite’s eyes on us. “Do you remember the time Mom made us pancakes?”

Kaden started laughing, turning to the others to tell the story. “Mom used to cook a lot growing up, and every once in a while she’d make food for us, just for fun. The last time she tried was maybe four years ago.”

I smirked. “She knew she was out of practice, but she wanted to make us blueberry pancakes. The thing was, she wanted to arrange the berries in them so they made stars and flowers and faces. But she left the batter on the griddle so long to put the berries in that when she flipped the pancakes, they were all burned.”

Osten laughed. “I do remember! I remember the crunchy pancakes!”

I heard chuckles from the Elite.

“You were so bad, though, you didn’t even try one!” Kaden accused.

I nodded shamefully. “It was self-preservation.”

“They were pretty good, actually. Crispy, but good.” Osten took a bite of one of the pancakes in front of him. “They make these ones seem weak.”

I heard one loud chuckle and saw that Fox was shaking his head. “My dad’s an awful cook, too,” he said, projecting his voice. “We grill a lot, and he’s always saying it’s ‘charred.’” Fox lifted his fingers to quote the word.

“What he actually means is burned, yeah?” Gunner asked.

“Yep.”

“My father,” Erik said timidly. I was surprised he wanted to join in the conversation, and I found myself leaning my head on my elbow, drawn in. “He and my mother have this one dish they make for each other, and it requires frying. The last time he made it, he left the room while it was cooking, and the smoke was so bad, they had to move in with me for two days while they aired the house out.”

“Do you have a spare room?” Kile asked.

Erik shook his head. “No. So my living room became my bedroom, which was a treat when my mom woke up at six and decided to start cleaning.”

Gunner laughed in agreement. “Why do parents always do that? And always on the one day you can sleep in?”

I squinted. “Can’t you just ask them not to?”

Fox laughed wildly. “Maybe you can, Your Highness.”

I was very aware that I was being teased, but I knew it was all in good fun.

Hale spoke up. “Speaking of which, is anyone else worried about being incredibly spoiled if you lose and have to go home after living like this?” He gestured to the table and room.

“Not me,” Kile answered flatly, and the boys erupted.

The room dissolved into stories and comments, the tail end of every sentence sparking a new memory from someone else. The conversation grew so loud, the laughter so boisterous, that no one noticed the lone maid walking down the center of the floor. She curtsied and bent her face close to mine.

“Your mother is awake.”

A flurry of emotions washed over me, a dozen feelings all practically unidentifiable except for the common sensation of joy.

“Thank you!” I rushed from the room, too afraid to wait for Kaden and Osten.

My feet flew down the halls, and I burst into the hospital wing, only pausing to brace myself once I reached her door. As I slowly opened it, I was aware of the heart monitor, still recording every beat, and how the pace ticked up a notch when our eyes met.

“Mom?” I whispered.

Dad looked over his shoulder, smiling though his eyes were red and brimming with tears.

“Eadlyn,” Mom whispered, holding out her hand.

I went to her, the tears in my eyes blurring my vision so much I could hardly make her out.

“Hey, Mom. How are you?” I wrapped my fingers around hers, trying not to grip too tightly.

“It hurts a little.” Which meant it must hurt a lot.

“Well, you just take your time feeling better, okay? No rush.”

“How are you?”

I stood up taller, hoping to convince her. “I’ve got everything under control, and Kaden and Osten are doing great—I’m sure they’re right behind me. And I have a date tonight.”

“Good job, Eady.” Dad grinned and turned his head back to Mom. “See, darling? I’m not even needed out there. I can stay here with you.”

“Ahren?” Mom asked, taking a deep breath afterward.

I was crestfallen. As I opened my mouth to tell her we hadn’t heard from him, Dad spoke up. “He called this morning.”

I stood there, stunned. “Oh?”

“He’s hoping to come home soon, but he said there were some complications, though he was a little too flustered to explain what they were. He told me to tell you he loves you.” I’d hoped those words were for me, but Dad was looking directly at Mom when he spoke.

“I want my son,” Mom said, her voice cracking.

“I know, darling. Soon.” Dad rubbed Mom’s hand.

“Mama?” Osten came into the room, his face showing that he was barely containing his excitement. Kaden was sniffling, holding himself upright as if he thought himself above crying.

“Hi there.” Mom managed to pull up a big smile for them, and when Osten bent down and hugged her, she made a pained face but didn’t let out a sound.

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