Chapter 13

Jolene stared down at the guys from her balcony as Ian led them in a light jog around the gardens. She couldn't help but chuckle as some of them pretended to faint or only half-ran like it was gym class. It was getting a bit later in March, and it would start warming up soon, but some of the guys were still wearing sweatshirts and knit hats to keep warm as they ran. Others had abandoned their warmer clothes in favor of running shorts and a t-shirt. Ian was shouting at them to continue moving, and they groaned in response.

Jolene didn't feel an ounce of longing, she was just fine sitting up in her room and going over files over running laps outside. Her father had given her more files on businesses and how the rebels were affecting them to go over, but she was getting rather tired of business all day. She wondered what would happen if she went down to the gardens and made it obvious she was watching. Would they all change attitudes?

She sighed, walking back into her room, pulling her cardigan closer to her. For as warm as it was getting, she was still freezing. Maybe she would go to the music room to practice piano or singing, or she could go bother Marcus and Damon. She could go down to the kitchen and steal a snack.

She left her room, closing the door behind her, and made her way downstairs. She went into the kitchen, rifling through the cabinets, hoping to be gone by the time the chef got back. She found a bag of chocolate cookies and snatched the entire thing. She took one out and shoved it in her mouth, closing the cabinet. As she walked back upstairs, she saw Damon walking down the hall.

She hid the cookies behind her back as he came closer to her. "Hey, Jo, do you know where Rhys is?"

Jolene tilted her head, "I would think he's outside with the rest of the guys, have you checked?"

"I didn't even know they were out."

"Oh, yeah, they are, Ian's got them working." Jolene chuckled, "Come on."

Jolene and Damon stepped outside into the gardens, Jolene leading him to the path the boys were running on. She leaned against a tree, nodding towards the oval of guys.

"He's probably in there somewhere."

Damon hummed, also leaning against the tree, "Well, I'm not about to interrupt them." Jolene was going to reply before Chad announced their presence.

"Oh hey, Your Highness, Damon!" Chad grinned as he waved and ran by. The other guys perked up, smiling as they ran by, some of them calling hello to them as they passed. Jolene swore she saw a few of them straighten up and run a bit faster. She shook her head, smiling fondly. They were really something.

It was only once Jolene was down here that she realized Luna was also running alongside the guys. Jolene laughed at seeing the dog run among the guys, some of them tripping up as she weaved between their legs. Luna noticed Jolene, and came running to say hello.

"Hello, sweet thing!" Jolene purred, scratching the dog gently on the head. Luna gave her hand a kiss, and sniffed the bag of cookies in her hand. "Oh, no-no. This is people food, not doggy food."

Jolene could have sworn the dog pouted, but she couldn't give her chocolate cookies, she wasn't about to poison her Selected's dog. She continued petting her before Martin whistled for Luna to come back. The dog quickly perked up and ran beside her master.

Jolene crossed her arms, watching the men before her. Damon cleared his throat, drawing her attention. "You know you're smiling?" He asked.

Jolene scoffed, "I am not."

"You totally are."

"Shut up," she hissed, "Even if I am, it's because of Luna, not the guys." Damon only rolled his eyes.

Ian called the last lap, and a chorus of cheers echoed from the guys as they crossed the 'finish line'. Some of them promptly collapsed while others tried to look like they were casually walking and catching their breath. But the heavy breathing was a dead give away. Ian walked over to Jolene.

"Hello Your Highness, what can I do for you?" Ian asked, tilting his head to the side.

"Nothing much, I was bored and came to see how the boys were doing. Cookie?" She offered, holding out the bag to him. Ian grinned and took one, looking to Damon.

"And you, Your Highness?"

"I was just looking for Rhys."

"Ah, well, he's around here somewhere."

The two men stared at each other silently, and Jolene was about to break the awkward silence before Damon walked off, nearly running straight into Ian.

Jolene sighed, shaking her head, "I'm sorry about him, he can be so grumpy sometimes."

Ian grimaced, but shrugged, "It's fine, not everyone has to like me. Only your opinion matters."

Jolene blinked, "Oh, uh…"

"Well you hold the power to fire me. So…" He spoke softly.

Jolene sighed, laughing, "Ah, yes, right. Of course."

Ian was about to speak but Elias approached them. Ian excused himself, while Elias smiled sweetly at Jolene.

"Excuse me, Your Highness, I was wondering if perhaps tomorrow you would like to go for a walk in the gardens with me? The weather is supposed to be rather nice and we could talk and get to know each other a little bit."

Jolene was surprised, she'd expected Elias to be a little more shy about dates, but she smiled, "Of course! I look forward to it. Shall we say just before lunch? How does 11:30 sound?"

Elias grinned, and nodded eagerly, "It sounds perfect Your Highness, see you then." He gave a little wave before walking off to join the other Selected.

Martin walked over after him, smiling softly as Luna ran ahead of him to greet Jolene as though she hadn't seen Jolene five minutes ago. Jolene scratched Luna's head again, and smiled up at Martin.

"How are you?" She asked, as he stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"I'm fine, how are you?" He replied, staring down at Luna.

"Fine? I'm okay, just bored I guess." She stopped petting Luna, and nudged her over to Martin.

Martin nodded to her, "A rough night…"

Oh.

Jolene wasn't aware of the full extent of Martin's troubles, but she knew he needed Luna for a reason, and she could only assume it affected his night terribly.

"I- don't know what to say…" Jolene replied, "But I feel like I should say something."

Martin chuckled monotonously, "It's fine, you don't have to say anything."

Jolene frowned, he was one of her Selected, and dare she say a friend. She wanted him to know it was okay.

"Well, I'm usually up pretty late…if you ever need company, you could always try to find me in my office or my room." Jolene offered, giving her gentlest smile.

"We're not allowed on your floor, Your Highness." He chuckled slightly at that, and Jolene huffed as she realized he was right.

"Good point." She scrunched her face in thought, then snapped. "I know! Okay, so there's a phone inside the men's sitting room. You can call me! Here, uh-" She fumbled for a pen, finding one in her cardigan pocket. Thank god. She turned to Martin, then hesitated.

He tore off a piece of the bottom of his shirt, and handed it to her.

"Woah."

Martin looked from the cloth to her, then laughed, "Yeah, I would hope I can tear my own shirt when my profession includes carrying people and regular cutting and tearing of bags and clothes for emergencies."

Jolene tried to cover her surprise, "Oh, yes, of course." She hoped he couldn't see the small blush rising to her ears as she wrote her personal number on the cloth.

She clutched it closely, then handed it over slowly, "Make sure the others don't get a hold of this please. I don't need Chad calling me at 3 am to fight owls or something."

Martin smiled, nodding softly, "Of course." Then he added, almost so softly she could have missed it. "Thank you."

Jolene resisted the urge to reach for his hand, but instead decided to say, "You're welcome, you deserve to be comfortable."

Martin's eyes met hers, and she swore she had never seen a more vulnerable look. All that seemed to exist in that moment was the two of them. It seemed an entire conversation was happening and neither one of them spoke.

I wish I could help, I really do.

Support is all I can ask right now.

It hurts to know I have no way of stopping this for you.

Some things can't be stopped.

Nobody deserves troubles like this.

Nobody ever deserves anything bad, but sometimes those who are strong enough are given extra troubles to help someone else who may not be as strong.

Well if I can be your support I'll gladly do so.

Jolene was almost startled when Martin spoke, "Of all the people to know, I'd be glad if it would be you."

"If, and when, you're ready I'm always here. You don't have to worry." Jolene replied. Martin smiled softly and nodded before bidding her goodbye and walking back towards the group of guys.

She hoped that no one else she cared for would ever have to go through anything horrible enough to permanently scar them. However, she worried her family may already be on that track.


The next day Jolene slipped into comfortable jeans, a pair of ankle boots, and a long-sleeved orange shirt. She threw her hair into a ponytail and bounced down the stairs. She was actually quite excited for this date with Elias. He was such a sweet guy. She hoped to know more about him.

Jolene walked to the entrance of the gardens, and found Elias standing in a light grey button up shirt and dark grey slacks. She smiled at him, and he waved to her.

"Hello, Elias, how's it going?"

"It's going well, Your Highness, how about you?" He asked, offering his arm for her to hold onto as they walked. Jolene smiled, and took his arm. They began walking as she answered.

"Good, I was excited for this date. I've been looking forward to getting to know you more."

"As have I, Your Highness. So, I guess I'll start. What's your favorite hobby?" He questioned, "Although I may have an idea."

Jolene smirked, "I'm sure. I love my motorcycle, it's my baby, and I love riding it as often as I can. How about you?"

"Pottery, it is my job after all, but I also love painting. And languages, my real dream is to be a language professor."

"Really? That's awesome!" Jolene replied, "Well, I know now that you're in the Selection you're a Three, so you totally can! All you need to do is apply. What languages do you know?"

"I know English, Spanish, French, Italian, and I'm currently learning Mandarin and Japanese."

"Oh wow, that's really fucking impressive. Excuse my French," she teased, shaking her head, "Seriously that's amazing."

He blushed, smiling, "Thanks, I love it."

"I really need to learn more languages if I'm going to be Queen. I know a good amount of Spanish, 'where's the bathroom' in French, and 'My name is Jolene' in Mandarin."

"Hey, everyone needs to start somewhere, I could teach you some stuff if you want." Elias offered.

"Really? That might be great, actually. Thanks." She replied, patting his arm in excitement.

They made their way to the center of the gardens. They sat on a small bench, looking at the flowers, listening to the wind blowing through the branches of trees and bushes. It was a peaceful day, and she felt so relaxed next to Elias.

"So, what's your family like?" Jolene asked, "You've met mine, my brother who's cold and quiet and my dads who love attention and hovering over me, and my cousin who can't mind his own business. But what about you?"

"Well, my mom and stepdad are great, I call him 'Dad' actually, and my sister is great. Honestly she reminds me a little of you, she's so energetic, confident, and curious. She's 11, a cute kid." He smiled brightly, remembering his family back home.

Jolene wondered if she would be able to meet them during family visits. She hoped so, Elias seemed very fond of them.

"And your father?"

Elias's smile dropped, and Jolene immediately regretted asking. "We don't talk about him. He's no father."

"Oh, I'm sorry…"

"It's fine, you wouldn't have known."

Jolene sighed, then perked up, hoping talking about his sister would bring back the smile. "Tell me more about your sister?"

Elias did gain a new, small smile. "Her name is Celia, she's a little fireball. She's definitely going to go far in life. A lot of my money from the Selection is going home so she can get a good education, they're Fives, but that doesn't mean she can't do great things. The rest is going into my savings."

"That's awesome, I hope she knows how awesome of a brother she's got."

He chuckled, "Me too." Jolene snorted, and he shook his head, "Nah, she probably just thinks I'm a dork of an older brother just like any other younger sibling thinks."

"That's okay, when she's older she'll understand."

Elias nodded, glancing up and down. "By the way, I love your shirt. My favorite color is actually pretty close to that orange."

"Oh? Well, then I guess I made the right choice." Jolene laughed.

Elias's eyes sparkled, "I guess so."

Then the mood shifted, and he leaned towards her, but Jolene felt a panic rise in her chest. He wanted to kiss her? Already? Oh god, she wasn't ready. Or was she? Elias was nice enough, and how would she know if she was interested if she didn't? She felt herself lean away. Too much, too fast.

Instead of feeling his lips she felt herself crashing into the ground.

Slam.

Jolene scrambled up, holding her head, and brushing off her pants. "Oh, uh, sorry, I-"

Elias shook his head, "Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?"

"I'm fine. I just…uh…wasn't expecting it."

"The fall? I hope not."

"No, the um, you…kiss…"

"Oh, I'm sorry I should have asked first." Elias apologized, standing to offer her support. She was still holding her head. That was going to hurt the rest of the night. "Can I help you to the medical wing?"

She supposed she should go to the medical wing, just in case. But she thought she was fine. She was so flustered, and she was sure the nurse would scold her. "Yeah, sure, thanks."


Jolene walked back to her room with an ice pack pressed to her head. She grimaced as she unlocked her door and walked in. She gasped and slammed back into her door, injuring her back this time as she saw Marcus on her bed, reading a magazine.

"Oh my god!" She took off a boot and threw it at him. "What the hell are you doing in here? I locked it!"

"I have my ways. So, how was the date?" Marcus asked, "Took you forever."

Jolene scoffed, removing her other boot and tossing it in the corner of her room. "Good, we talked for a while, then I fell off a bench and we went to the med wing."

"Jo, Jo, Jo. How many times do we have to go over this? Details! Why did you fall?"

"Uhm, well, Elias wanted to kiss me….and I panicked."

Marcus's eyes widened. "Now we are getting somewhere! Did you kiss him at all?"

"No."

Marcus groaned, "Girl, you seriously need to get a more interesting love life. Why not? Is it just him? Or were the vibes off? What?"

"I don't know, I just…when I picture my first kiss he's not the one I imagine kissing, and it freaked me out, that I could kiss someone else. I don't know."

Marcus shot up and was across the room in the blink of an eye. He held onto her arms, looking so deeply into her eyes that she genuinely feared he could read her mind for a moment. He squinted and gasped.

"Oh. My. God."

"What?"

"No way!"

"What?!"

"You totally have to kiss him next time you two are together! I knew it, I knew it! You totally have the hots for that medic!" Marcus cheered.

"What? No way. He's just a friend. We haven't even really been on a date. How can I have feelings for someone I don't even know?" Jolene asked, scoffing. "I only talk to him sometimes when I check on the guys' lessons and we haven't had any super late study night sessions yet. Besides, he's totally not into me, he has too many aspirations to reach for and enough worries as it is."

Marcus sat silently for the first time in his life, eyebrows arched, and a smug smile on his face. "Whatever you say, but trust me. That guy is totally gonna be your first kiss."

Jolene shook her head, "No, if anything it would be a kiss on the hand or cheek or something. I'd say Chad or Rhys or hell, even Rustin would probably kiss me before I kissed Martin."

Marcus rolled his eyes, "Well you already said the difference, whether you think so or not. They would kiss you. But you said you would kiss Martin."

Jolene was stunned, confused. "What?"

"I mean sure, those guys are great and stuff, and I'm sure they would love to kiss you, but Martin is probably going to wait until you make the first move, and that's why you have to kiss him, Jo." Marcus answered. "C'mon it's obvious."

"Well…for reasons I did give him my number…" Jolene saw Marcus's eyes widen. "BUT that doesn't mean anything. It wasn't a romantic reason."

Marcus tilted his head, no doubt going to press further when a knock sounded at the door. They both turned to the door, and Jolene walked over to answer it. Damon walked in, glancing at Marcus.

"God, I can hear you two down the hall."

"Sorry," both Jolene and Marcus murmured, though Marcus grinned while he said it.

Damon rolled his eyes, "Look, Jo, you know that Ian kid?" Jolene nodded, duh, of course she did. "Well, I don't like him."

"Yeah, I noticed yesterday. What was that about?"

"He's always in the right place at the wrong time, it's weird. He's getting a little too confident with the guys and…a little too bold with you."

"With me?" Jolene asked, crossing her arms.

"Rhys told me about some things Ian's been implying, and I don't like it one bit." Damon replied.

"Like what?" She didn't want to jump to conclusions, and she certainly liked Ian. She couldn't possibly think he'd be negatively affecting the Selected or herself.

"Well, I heard that he mentioned to some of the guys that a few of them would never get the hang of royal etiquette, not like he could. Then he was mentioning to a maid that he was already invested in a relationship when she was flirting with him."

Jolene scoffed, "Well, obviously he knows more than some of the guys, he's been trained for years on this stuff, that's why we hired him. And who knows if he has a girlfriend outside of here? Did you ask him?"

"No, but-"

"Then this is just dumb, Damon. Just because Rhys doesn't like him you don't?"

"We both have a good sense of character, Jo. When have I ever been wrong about this kind of stuff?"

Jolene couldn't think of any, but she also couldn't think of when he was last right either. She shook her head, arms falling dramatically to her side. "Whatever, fine, I'll think about it. Thanks, now-"

"Jo, you're not listening. I think this guy is gonna try to make a move."

"And if he does?"

Marcus gasped from behind them, and she looked between her brother and cousin. She couldn't believe this. "What, you're taking his side?" Jolene demanded.

Marcus glanced away uneasily. He shifted from foot to foot. "Well, Jo, I'm all for fooling around and taking risks. But you have 15 guys you can flirt with, if Ian does make a move, a bold one, that could be treason. It's not worth it. And besides, it's not like you like him like that….right?"

When she didn't answer right away the boys shared a concerned look.

Marcus spoke first, "Jo, look, it's not a good idea. You can't feed into his fantasies. You have a Selection going on, it's still a duty, although it's a more fun one."

"Don't you dare pull the duty card on me, Marcus." Jolene snapped, and both Marcus and Damon jolted in surprise. "I know what duty is. That's why I even agreed to this stupid Selection. But I need time to figure everything out."

"Jo-"

"Get out. Both of you. I'm done talking." She shoved the boys, making them stumble back towards the door. She opened it and ushered them out.

"Jo, listen please-"

She shut the door, locking it.

Fudge cookies….

She wasn't about to hear anymore of their prodding and pushing tonight.

Sugar cookies…

She was her own person, and could make her own decisions.

Gingerbread…

She could be a grown up and talk to Ian about it.

Cinnamon…

She could go on dates and take her time with her feelings.

Chocolate chip…

She didn't need them to tell her how to live her life.


AN: …..Hi? Um, okay, so before you shoot me or something I would like to say sorry for the lack of updates. I only wrote like once during school. But um, hopefully next semester will be more forgiving *fingers crossed*. Also, uh, love that I haven't updated in like 7 months. It's a whole new year and I finally updated omg. Happy New Year btw. 2022 starting off strong I guess.

Jolene is going through some seriously confusing times rn, she's got friends, potential lovers, and family all pulling her from a dozen angles. Poor girl. But will she be able to sort some of it out in the upcoming chapters?

Or will it create more drama? Idk you guys know me hehe, Guess we'll see. Only like 4 more chapters of individual dates, and some drama. Then it's group date time, with 2 more eliminations there I think. Hehe.

We very slowly chugging along. Thanks for sticking through this with me. Bless y'all. Let me know what you think, leave a review if you feel like it lol. You guys are comedic geniuses in your reviews lmao.

See you in the next chapter~