The Guard
Page 11

 Kiera Cass

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She considered this. “That doesn’t explain what you meant by calculating.”
How bad could it be if I shared what I knew with her? She kept our relationship a secret for two years. I could trust her. “I was in one of the offices the other day, before all the Halloween stuff. They were mentioning rebel sympathizers in the South. I was told to see these letters to the postal wing safely. It was over three hundred letters, America. Three hundred families who were getting knocked down a caste for not reporting things or for helping someone the palace saw as a threat.”
She inhaled sharply, and I watched as dozens of scenarios unfolded in front of her eyes.
“I know. Can you imagine? What if it was you, and all you knew how to do was play the piano? Suddenly you’re supposed to know how to do clerical work, how to find those jobs even? It’s a pretty clear message.”
Her concern shifted. “Do you . . . Does Maxon know?”
That was a good question. “I think he has to. He’s not that far off from running the country himself.”
She nodded and let that settle in on top of all the other new things she had learned about her sort-of boyfriend.
“Don’t tell anyone, okay?” I pleaded. “A slip like that could cost me my job.” And so much more, I added in my head.
“Of course. It’s already forgotten.” Her tone was light, trying to mask the weight of her worries. Her efforts made me smile.
“I miss being with you, away from all this. I miss our old problems,” I lamented. What wouldn’t I give to be irritated about her making me dinner now?
“I know what you mean,” she said with a giggle. A real one. “Sneaking out of my window was so much better than sneaking around a palace.”
“And scrounging to find a penny for you was better than having nothing to give you at all.” I tapped on the jar by her bed. I always took that as a good sign, that she kept it nearby before I was even in the palace. “I had no idea you’d saved them all until the day before you left,” I added, remembering in awe the weight of them being poured into my palms.
“Of course I did!” she exclaimed proudly. “When you were away, they were all I had to hold on to. Sometimes I used to pour them over my hand on the bed, just to scoop them up again. It was nice to have something you touched.”
She was as bad as I was. I never took anything from her to keep as my own, but I stored up every moment like it was a physical thing. I’d thumb through memories whenever things were still. I spent more time with her than she ever knew.
“What did you do with all of them?” she wondered.
I smiled. “They’re at home, waiting.” I’d had a small store of money to marry America saved up before she left. These days I had my mom set aside a portion of each paycheck for me, and I was sure she knew what I was putting it toward. But my most precious corner of that stash was the pennies.
“For what?”
For a decent wedding. For actual rings. For a home of our own. “That, I cannot say.”
I’d tell her everything soon enough. We were still working our way back to each other.
“Fine, keep your secrets,” she said, pretending to be annoyed. “And don’t worry about not giving me anything. I’m just happy you’re here, that you and I can at least fix things, even if it’s not what it used to be.”
I frowned. Were we that far from what we once were? So far that she needed to address it? No. Not to me. We were still those people back in Carolina, and I needed her to remember that.
I wanted to give her the world, but all I had at the moment were the clothes on my back. I looked down, plucked off a button, and held it up to her.
“I literally have nothing else to give you, but you can hold on to this—something I’ve touched—and think of me anytime. And you can know that I’m thinking of you, too.”
She took the tiny, golden button from my hand, and stared at it like I’d given her the moon. Her lip trembled and she breathed slowly, as if she might cry. Maybe I’d done this all wrong.
“I don’t know how to do this right now,” she confessed. “I feel like I don’t know how to do anything. I . . . I haven’t forgotten you, okay? It’s still here.”
She put her hand on her chest, and I saw her fingers dig into her skin, trying to calm whatever was happening inside.
Yes, we still had a long way to go, but I knew it wouldn’t feel that way if we were in it together.
I smiled, needing nothing more. “That’s enough for me.”
I’D HEARD ABOUT THE KING’S tea party for the ladies of the Elite and knew America wouldn’t be in her room when I came knocking.
“Officer Leger,” Anne said, opening the door with a wide smile. “What a pleasure to see you.”
At her words, Lucy and Mary walked over to greet me.
“Hello, Officer Leger,” Mary said.
“Lady America is out right now. Tea with the royal family,” Lucy added.
“Oh, I know. I was wondering if I could chat with you ladies for a moment.”
Anne gestured for me to come in. “Of course.”
I made my way to the table, and they hurried to pull out a chair for me. “No,” I insisted, “you sit.”
Mary and Lucy took the two seats, while Anne and I stood.
I took off my hat and rested a hand on the back of Mary’s chair. I wanted them to feel comfortable talking with me, and I hoped dropping a little of the formality would allow for that.
“How can we help you?” Lucy asked.
“I was just doing a security sweep, and I wanted to see if you’ve noticed anything unusual. Probably sounds silly, but the littlest things can help us keep the Elite safe.” There was truth to that, but we weren’t exactly charged with seeking out that information.
Anne bowed her head in thought while Lucy’s eyes went to the ceiling as she wondered.
“I don’t think so,” Mary started.
“If anything, Lady America has been less active since Halloween,” Anne offered.
“Because of Marlee?” I guessed. They all nodded in answer.
“I’m not sure she’s over it,” Lucy said. “Not that I blame her.”
Anne patted her shoulder. “Of course not.”
“So, beyond her trips to the Women’s Room and meals, she’s more or less staying in her room?”
“Yes,” Mary confirmed. “Lady America has done that in the past, but these last few days . . . it’s like she just wants to hide.”