“Did you go in the lottery, Mama?” Gerad asked.
“No, sweetie, Mama was two years too young for the cutoff. But lucky me, I got your father instead.” She smiled and winked.
Whoa. She must have been in a good mood. I couldn’t remember the last time she was that affectionate toward Dad.
“Queen Amberly is the best queen ever. She’s so beautiful and smart. Every time I see her on TV, I want to be just like her,” May said with a sigh.
“She is a good queen,” I added quietly.
Finally eight o’clock rolled around, and the national emblem rose on the screen along with the instrumental version of our anthem. Was I actually trembling? I was so ready for this to be over.
The king appeared and gave a brief update on the war. The other announcements were also short. It seemed like everyone there was in a good mood. I guessed this must be exciting for them, too.
Finally the Master of Events came up and introduced Gavril, who walked straight over to the royal family.
“Good evening, Your Majesty,” he said to the king.
“Gavril, always good to see you.” The king was borderline giddy.
“Looking forward to the announcement?”
“Ah, yes. I was in the room yesterday as a few were drawn; all very lovely girls.”
“So you know who they are already?” Gavril exclaimed.
“Just a few, just a few.”
“Did he happen to share any of this information with you, sir?” Gavril turned to Maxon.
“Not at all. I’ll see them when everyone else does,” Maxon replied. You could see he was trying to hide his nerves.
I realized my palms were sweating.
“Your Majesty,” Gavril went over to the queen. “Any advice for the Selected?”
She smiled her serene smile. I didn’t know what the other women looked like when she went through the Selection, but I couldn’t imagine anyone being as graceful and lovely as her.
“Enjoy your last night as an average girl. Tomorrow, no matter what, your life will be different forever. And it’s old advice, but it’s good: Be yourself.”
“Wise words, my queen, wise words. And with that, let us reveal the thirty-five young ladies chosen for the Selection. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the following Daughters of Illéa!”
The screen changed to the national emblem. In the upper right-hand corner, there was a small box with Maxon’s face, to see his reactions as the pictures went across the monitor. He would already be making decisions about them, the way we all would.
Gavril had a set of cards in his hands, ready to read out the names of the girls whose worlds, according to the queen, were about to change forever.
“Miss Elayna Stoles of Hansport, Three.” A photo of a tiny girl with porcelain skin popped up. She looked like a lady. Maxon beamed.
“Miss Tuesday Keeper of Waverly, Four.” A girl with freckles appeared. She looked older, more mature. Maxon whispered something to the king.
“Miss Fiona Castley of Paloma, Three.” A brunette with smoldering eyes this time. Maybe my age, but she seemed more … experienced.
I turned to Mom and May on the couch. “Doesn’t she seem awfully—”
“Miss America Singer of Carolina, Five.”
I whipped my head back around, and there it was. The picture of me just after I’d found out Aspen was saving up to marry me. I looked radiant, hopeful, beautiful. I looked like I was in love. And some idiot thought that love was for Prince Maxon.
Mom screamed by my ear, and May jumped up, sending popcorn everywhere. Gerad got excited too and started dancing. Dad … it’s hard to say, but I think he was secretly smiling behind his book.
I missed what Maxon’s expression was.
The phone rang.
And it didn’t stop for days.
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