Home > The Crown (The Selection #5)(8)

The Crown (The Selection #5)(8)
Kiera Cass

“We’ve been very good,” he promised.

Mom smiled. “Well, stop that immediately.”

We laughed.

“Hi, Mom.” Kaden kissed her cheek, looking afraid to touch her just yet.

She raised her hand to cup his face. She seemed to grow stronger each second simply from seeing us. I wondered what she’d have done if Ahren was here. Jump out of the bed?

“I wanted you to know that I’m okay.” Her chest rose and fell aggressively, but her smile didn’t falter. “I think I can go back upstairs tomorrow.”

Dad nodded quickly. “Yes, if we get through today without incident, your mother can recuperate in her room.”

“That’s really good.” Kaden’s voice lifted at this news. “So you’re halfway back to normal.”

I didn’t want to kill the hope in his eyes, or Osten’s. Kaden was typically so clever, seeing around every pretense, but there was no mistaking how hard he was willing this to be true.

“Exactly,” Mom said.

“Okay, everyone,” Dad said. “Now that you’ve seen Mom, I want you to get back to your studies. We still have a country to run.”

“Eadlyn gave us the day off,” Osten protested.

I smiled guiltily. When we’d gotten out of bed this morning, that was my only order. I needed them to play.

Mom laughed, a weak but beautiful sound. “Such a generous queen.”

“Not queen yet,” I protested, thankful that the true queen still lived and spoke and smiled.

“All the same,” Dad said, “your mother needs rest. I’ll make sure you see her again before bedtime.”

That mollified the boys, and they left, waving to Mom.

I kissed her head. “I love you.”

“My girl.” Her weak fingers touched my hair. “I love you.”

Those words were the first bookend of my day, and I could get through the rest of it knowing Kile Woodwork would be the other.

As I left the hospital wing, I came across another Woodwork.

“Miss Marlee?” I asked.

She looked up from the bench she was sitting on, wringing a handkerchief in her hands, her face blotchy from crying.

“Are you okay?”

She smiled. “More than okay. I was so afraid she might not come back, and … I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her. Being here, with your mom, has been my whole life.”

I sat down, hugging my mother’s dearest friend, and she held on to me as if I was her own daughter. Part of me felt sad, because I knew she wasn’t being dramatic when she said that. One look at her scarred palms told the long story of how she’d gone from worthy competitor to wicked traitor to faithful lady. When they talked about the past, some details were glossed over, and I never pushed it because it wasn’t my place. But I worried that sometimes Miss Marlee felt like my parents’ pardon was still contingent on her and her husband paying it back in devotion.

“They said that you and your brothers were visiting, and I want to see her, but I didn’t want to cut off your time.”

“Did you see the boys leave? We’re all done now. You should hurry in before she falls back asleep. I know she’d want to see you.”

She wiped her cheeks again. “How do I look?”

I laughed. “Positively wretched.” I squeezed her. “Go on in there. And can you try to check on them for me from time to time? I know I won’t be able to come down here as often as I’d like.”

“Don’t you worry. I’ll send updates as often as I can.”

“Thank you, Miss Marlee.”

After one last hug, she made her way into the hospital wing. I sighed, trying to let myself enjoy this brief moment of calm. At least for now, everything was on its way to being better.

KILE HELD HIS HAND AGAINST the small of my back, walking me through the garden. The moon was low and full, casting shadows even in the night.

“You were spectacular this morning,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ve all been worried about your mom, and it’s so strange not having Ahren around. And Kaden? I’ve never seen him look so … bewildered.”

“It’s awful. He’s the stable one.”

“Don’t worry too much. It makes sense that he’d be a little shaken right now.”

I inched even closer to Kile. “I know. It’s just hard to see it happen to someone who never gets shaken.”

“Which is why breakfast was so great. I thought we were going to suffer through a painful meal together, unable to talk about what was happening, or even talk at all. Then you just opened it up. It was remarkable. Don’t forget you have that skill.” He shook his finger at me.

“What skill? Distraction?” I laughed.

“No.” He wrestled with the words. “More like the means to alleviate. I mean, you’ve done it before. At parties or on Reports. You change momentum. Not everyone can do that.”

We walked to the edge of the garden, where the land opened up to a wide, flat space before the forest started.

“Thanks. That means a lot. I’ve been worried.”

“Nothing wrong with that.”

“It’s bigger than Mom though.” I stopped and put my hands on my hips, wondering how much I should tell him. “Ahren left me a letter. Did you know that the people are displeased with the monarchy? Specifically, me? And now I’m basically in charge, and honestly, I’m not sure if they’ll stand for it. I already had food thrown at me once. I’ve read so many awful articles about myself … What if they come after me?”

“What if they do?” he joked. “It’s not like there aren’t other options. We could become a dictatorship—that’d put people in line. There’s a federal republic, a constitutional monarchy … oh, maybe a theocracy! We could give everything over to the church.”

“Kile, I’m serious! What if they depose me?”

He cradled my face in his hands. “Eadlyn, that’s not going to happen.”

“But it has before! That’s how my grandparents died. People came into their home and killed them. And everyone worshipped my grandmother!” I could feel the tears rising. Ugh, I’d been such a weepy mess the last couple of days! I wiped them away, fumbling over his fingers in the process.

“Listen to me. That was a pocket of radicals. They’re gone now, and the people out there are too busy trying to live their lives to spend time messing with yours.”

“I can’t bank on that,” I whispered. “There were things I was always sure of, and almost all of that has fallen apart in the last few weeks.”

“Do you …” He paused as he gazed into my eyes. “Do you need to not think right now?”

I swallowed, processing the offer. Here with just the two of us in the dark, quiet evening, it felt so similar to the night of our first kiss. Only this time there’d be no one watching, no one to print it in a newspaper. Our parents were nowhere in sight, and the guards weren’t trailing our steps. For me it meant that, for just one moment, there was nothing to keep me from having what I wanted.

“I’d do anything you asked me to, Eadlyn,” he whispered.

I shook my head. “But I can’t ask.”

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