Continued from Chapter One.
First part of the second chapter. I’m submitting the book idea at the end of the month, so if you have editorial commentary, now’s your chance.
Summary: Colleen, adopted through foster care with her brother, dreams of finding her birth family and learning they are royalty. She hates chores and feels displaced by her adoptive parents’ pregnancy. She wishes her life were different, the life of a princess. A gift from her grandfather might make her wish reality.
Grandpa is late.
He’s never late.
Did he forget?
How could he forget my birthday?
My grandpa is amazing. We connect. He understands me. He’s always understood me.
In one of my earliest memories, I hold the dash of his beat-up diesel truck as we bounce across the cow pastures to check on new calves. The afternoon wind pushes through the cab, warm and buffeting. I’m small enough that I can just see over the hood as I stand in the cab. Gold streaks the sky, edging the clouds, as we look for new babies.
Soon, in the blue dusk, we find the big girl with her fuzzy little clone tripping along behind. He coaxes her to follow us back to the paddock. I clamber up to watch out the back window as we drive slowly across the field. The calf follows his mother, head bobbing. The vinyl seat pattern creates basket-weave on my bare shins, the rolled seams pressing into my bones. Hours later, in my sleeping bag on the couch, I think I can still feel them.
Now that I’m grown, I realize all those cute little calves ended up as filet mignon on some rich guy’s plate in a fancy restaurant with napkins you can’t blow your nose on. Back then, though, I just knew I was helping Grandpa, and I loved it. His little sidekick.
Mom catches me peeking out the window. “Grandpa’s on his way. He called from a rest stop a few hours out. He had a flat and had to change it.” She sighs. “One of these days, we’ll talk him into getting a cell phone.”
I roll my eyes. This is a conversation Grandpa and I have often. He thinks cell phones are unnecessary. Last week, I said phones attached to a wall are constricting, clunky and old-fashioned. “Constricting” is one of my favorite words. Sounds like a snake, coiled up and squeezing me to death. Sort of like the curly phone cord. I told him we could talk almost face-to-face if he would agree to a phone with a screen.
“What? And then you’ll see how my hair sticks up. I need a haircut. You wouldn’t believe it. And what if I forget to wipe my mouth after dinner? You’ll see the food on my face. No. Besides, I’m almost eighty. This old-fashioned clanky phone is just fine for me.”
I consider correcting him, but he’s probably forgotten to replace his hearing aid battery again. It’s pointless. Mom says he doesn’t forget; he just decides it’s easier to ignore what he doesn’t want to hear if we think the hearing aids aren’t working.
Hovering over the snack table, I inhale the scent of vanilla cupcakes with buttercream icing. My favorite. Cupcakes used to be for little kids, but all my friends like this show about a cupcake shop in the city. The owners come up with unbelievable flavors and even group the cupcakes together to recreate famous paintings. Last week they did Starry Night and something by Monet.
My cupcakes aren’t that fabulous, but my mom did manage to talk the bakery into grouping them to look like a big daisy. It wasn’t that hard. Just put the yellow in the middle and white on the outside. A baby could do it. I talked her into buying some orange sprinkles, then shook them over the yellow cupcakes to make the flower look little more artistic. Kevin wanted a cake shaped like a torpedo, but it would have cost a fortune. Mom talked him into getting an ice cream cake with a picture of the Blue Angels flight squad instead.
Our weird doorbell has been ringing all morning. Kevin’s friends are all showing up early because he sent out a picture of the new prize Fender. If that thing duh-BONG-bongs one more time in the next ten minutes, I swear I’ll go tear it out of the wall. I don’t know why we have to have such a stupid sounding bell. All my friends’ houses have the regular ding-dong style, except Emma’s. Hers plays Bach or Beethoven or something because her dad’s a composer for the movies. It’s actually pretty cool. Not like duh-BONG-bong.
A loud crash sounds from upstairs. Mom heaves herself up to the third step, then stops, hanging on the stair railing and panting. “KEVIN!” she squalls, “GET DOWN HERE!” His face, topped by wild spikes of brown and purple hair, appears at the head of the stairs. She blinks at him.
“First, explain the crash. Second, what in the world did you do to your hair?”
He grins. “Sorry, mom. Robert fell out of the chair.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Fell?”
“Well,” he shrugs, “he was trying to see how many times he could spin in thirty seconds. We were timing him. I guess the centrifugal force knocked him out of the seat.”
“Ah, well, tell him to find some centripetal force or he’s going to find a place to science himself out of a chair outside.” Her foot hovered over the second step, then she turned back to him. “Wait. You didn’t answer my other question. What have you done to your hair? Please tell me it isn’t permanent.”
He grinned, that wide, half-cocked smile he uses on adults. He thinks it’s disarming. Most of the time, it works. “Oh, that. Uh, no, it’s not permanent. It’s going to turn clear pretty soon.”
I can almost see mom’s mental wheels spinning. “Turn clear…is that one of the glue sticks you’re using for the science project presentation?”
She bought him a bunch of different glue sticks that start out purple and turn clear as they dry. He wants to document the color change, drying time and explain the science behind stuff that dries a different color. Sounds stupid to me, but it’s his project.
His grin widens. “Yep. Pretty cool, right? We took it out of the tube and squished it around until we could use it for hair gel. So we can start a rock band in style. Isn’t it amazing? Can I get some real purple hair dye?”
Mom rolls her eyes and slithers back down the railing until she stands on the hardwood floor of
the hall. She sucks in a breath, then hisses. I don’t know how she’s going to survive until her due date. I don’t even know what they were thinking. They already have us.
She looks back up at my brother, still hovering at the top of the steps. “If you pull your Spanish grade up to a B, I’ll consider it.”
Kevin could ace Spanish if he turned in his homework. He actually does it, then leaves it at home. I don’t know what his problem is. I’ve never told mom, though. It’s not my business. And he doesn’t tell her that sometimes I wear eye shadow at school, so. Fair’s fair.
Five minutes later, the doorbell sounds again. Six boys tumble down the staircase, trying to be the first to open it. When Robert pulls the door back and gapes at the front porch, I realize they must have been looking out the upstairs window. I see a sleek white sedan backing out of our driveway. It’s the car Emma’s mom drives. I guess she’s not staying.
Sure enough, my beautiful friend waits on the porch. Empty-handed. I wonder why she didn’t bring me a present. I push Robert out of the way and pull the door wide.
“Finally! I have no one to talk to. You wouldn’t believe the morning I had. Mom made me get up and clean the bathroom. On my birthday,” I emphasize, grabbing her hand and dragging her past the group of ogling trolls.
“Did your mom make cookies? Or put out any pre-birthday cupcakes?” Emma asks, always ready for sugar. Flashing her perfect, pearly teeth, she waves at Robert as we head to my room. I think people expect rich, beautiful Emma to be a snob, but she’s nice to everyone, even nerdy boys.
If only I had her life…
Among all the other ways her life is better than mine, Emma already had her teeth fixed. She said her dad paid “out of pocket” so she could get braces early, and they weren’t the silver metal-mouth things the rest of us have. Or will have. Mom said our insurance won’t pay for the braces yet because I still have baby molars that refuse to fall out. Emma’s parents didn’t wait for insurance. She had extractions and a bunch of stuff done as soon as the orthodontist said it was okay. Then they gave her the braces you could barely see.
My teeth stick out like a donkey’s. Mom says it’s not that bad, but she doesn’t spend hours in the mirror looking at them. And one of my teeth is turned sideways. It’s horrible.
The orthodontist told me it’s no big deal, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I know everyone can see it. I don’t smile for pictures anymore unless Mom forces me with threats of dismemberment.
“Is your grandfather here yet?” Emma loves my Grandpa. We all do. He tells amazing stories and always brings interesting gifts. The last time he visited, he gave me a book of princess tales. This might not sound that great to you, but I love to read AND the book was almost a hundred years old. It belonged to my great grandmother, the one who gave me my name. She died a year after Kevin and I arrived.
Inside the front cover, she’d written her name in perfect cursive. My grandmother’s name appears below it. He never gave it to my mother, even after my grandmother died. I’m not exactly sure why, but it makes sense to me. He probably recognized she has no imagination. I wrote my name under their names, and now the cover says, “Colleen Elizabeth” three times, in three different girls’ handwriting, because it was also my grandmother’s name. Three times, like a magic spell.
“Colleen.” Emma is wrinkling her nose. “What is that smell?”
Floating under the surface of my memories, I hadn’t even noticed. Now, a definite odor permeated my room. I narrowed my eyes at the tendrils of smoke reaching under my door. “Hold your breath.” I pull on the handle to find one of my brother’s homemade stink bombs smoldering by my door.
“Mommmmmm!” I can’t believe he did this. Again.
“MOMMMMMMM!” no answer.
Dad pokes his head out of their doorway, blinking. He must have worked late last night. “What are you screaming about, Colleen—” he stops, staring at the stink bomb. “Oh.”
Pulling his old green terrycloth robe on over his t-shirt and plaid pajama pants, he staggers to Kevin’s door. The room is empty.
“I’ll be back,” he says, “with air freshener. Close your door and stuff a towel under the crack. I might also kill your brother. If your mom asks about his body, you know nothing.” He winks and saunters down the hall.
Emma stares at me, wide-eyed. “Plaid. Is your dad okay?”
She’s spent the night enough to know that his pajama pants tend to correspond with his mood. Flannels sporting happy faces, penguins or a square sponge in short pants mean he’s had a really good day. He even has a pair with CELEBRATE! plastered all over them. He saves those for birthdays and work promotions.
“I think he’s just tired. He’s been working a lot lately,” I say, a little annoyed that she noticed before I did. Come to think of it, he’s been wearing plaid a lot lately.
I think I’ll start doing it, too. Then maybe they’ll realize how unhappy I am. I could just get a bunch of black pajamas and wait for mom to ask how I’m feeling. If she even sees them. She’s so obsessed with this new baby growing in her belly, she barely notices me.
Here’s the full first chapter. I’m submitting the book idea at the end of the month, so if you have editorial commentary, now’s your chance. 🙂
Summary: Colleen, adopted through foster care with her brother, dreams of finding her birth family and learning they are royalty. She hates chores and feels displaced by her adoptive parents’ pregnancy. She wishes her life were different, the life of a princess. A gift from her grandfather might make her wish reality.
I am so tired of that woman. She will not leave me alone.
I just want to have peace and quiet, but no. It’s bad enough that Mom puts her nose in my school business, calling my teachers, showing up for lunch without warning, bribing my friends with cookies so they’ll like her. But that’s not enough meddling in my life. Nope. She also makes me do work. Like I’m her slave or something. If I forget, she follows me around and nags.
“Chores are your duty as a citizen of this great land we call our household,” she tells me.
Chores. Ha. More like doing her job for her. Parents are supposed to take care of the house. Moms do the inside, dads take care of the lawn and the cars and all that. Or they hire someone. None of my friends have “chores.” So much for my childhood.
“You’re lucky, Colleen,” mom says. “Not every kid learns life skills. When you graduate, you’ll be able to survive on your own. I know you don’t appreciate it all, but chores are good for your character. Be thankful. Your life, even when you think it’s horrible, is someone else’s fairytale.”
“Fairytale, ha. Emily and Madison don’t have to learn life skills,” I complain.
She laughs. Laughs. Like it’s no big deal.
“Well, when they pull their first all-pink load of laundry out of the dryer in college, they’ll wish they did. In the meantime, you still need to clean the downstairs bathroom. People are coming over in three days, and you’ve left it a mess. And then sort your laundry so we can start a load for you. I’m asking you to clean up after yourself. It’s not like you’re Cinderella.”
Pink clothes? What does that even mean? And no, I’m not Cinderella. If only. I’d ride off with that prince and live in style.
My thirteenth birthday party is Saturday. I will be a TEENager. Almost eighteen. In just five more summers, I can be outta here. A few weeks ago, I said this out loud. Stupid me. She laughed then, too.
“Wait,” she said, doubled over and gasping for air, “you’re killing me. Do you remember how long it’s been since you were eight years old?”
I sniffed. “That’s forever ago.”
“Exactly,” she said. By this time she was cackling, that annoying snorty laugh she does when she thinks something is really, really funny. “You are not almost eighteen. Trust me, five years is a long time. By the time you hit eighteen, thirteen will feel like ‘forever ago,’ too.”
I’m counting the days, believe me. One thousand, eight hundred twenty-nine, to be exact. In case you’re checking my math, don’t forget leap year.
I head downstairs to my bathroom. It’s actually the guest bathroom, but last year I sort of claimed it. Mom said it was fine as long as I clean it. And I do. Most of the time.
My twin brother Kevin and I used to share a bathroom. He’s completely gross. Leaving him in his filth was one of the best hygiene decisions I’ve ever made, right up there with deciding to wear deodorant. So he has to clean the upstairs bathroom himself. Now, if we could just get him to shower. With soap. Mom said he’ll start when he finally discovers girls. Like that will happen. He’s got his head so far inside his science books, he’s lucky he remembers to eat.
I wipe the toothpaste dots off the mirror. Mom always checks. She says “no one wants to see that.” I rub the chrome until it sparkles, then flick the rag across the counter. If the chrome is shiny, no one notices the rest. After I pour blue stuff in the toilet bowl, I figure the bathroom is good enough. It’s not like party guests are going to use the tub.
My birthday is horrible.
I knew this would be an awful day before I opened my eyes. Drops of rain splatter against my window as thunder crashes above. Kevin, always up “at the cracka,” according to my dad, is already adding his ridiculous noise to the cacophony. Apparently my parents gave him his big present early. Of all things, an electric guitar. My parents were thrilled when he started showing interest in music.
“Finally, we’ll hear something from Kevin other than science facts,” my dad winked at me yesterday from his perch on the edge of his favorite chair. Leaning over the Fender’s slick black and pearl body, he finished tuning the instrument and ran through a few chords. “Beautiful music will be a blessed change.”
Maybe, but this is not beautiful. Or music. It’s awful.
Wrapping a hypoallergenic, fiber-fill pillow around my head, I blunder out into the hall. The pillow stuffing shifts under my hands, soft and puffy. Still groggy, I try to keep it over my ears, skimming my shoulder along the wall for support. Mom appears, carrying a large gift bag.
“Happy Birthday, honey!” She crows. Yes, crows, like a rooster. It is way too early for this. I’m pretty sure it’s not even eight o’clock.
I narrowly avoid her kiss; it lands on my pillow.
“Can you do something about Kevin? I’m still trying to sleep!” I grit my teeth.
She laughs. Why does she always laugh at me? Like I’m trying to be funny. This is serious.
“Really, mom. It’s Saturday. It’s my birthday. I should be allowed to sleep in a little.” I pull the pillow tighter, trying to block the noise.
“It’s your birthday, Colleen. Plural. His too, you know. He can play if he wants.”
“It’s not playing. It’s noise,” I frown.
“Well, you remember what your teacher said after the Christmas program. ‘We’re supposed to make a joyful noise. Nobody said anything about talent.’ As long as he’s happy, and he’s making noise…” she trails off, looking at the hall clock. “ And, hey, it’s already nine. You should be up anyway. I need your help.” She hefts the bag.
“Help? On my birthday?” I grimace. Can’t even catch a break on my birthday.
“Yes. If you’d cleaned the bathroom properly the other day, you could sleep longer. As it is, you gave it a lick and a promise instead of a good cleaning. So, now you have to clean a toilet on your special day. Seems unfair, I’m sure, but you did this to yourself.” She grins.
“I gave it a what?” I imagine licking the tub faucet.
“Never mind. Go.” She staggers down the hall under the weight of the bag and her enormous belly.
Yep, that’s right. She’s pregnant. Preggers. Bun in the oven. Having a baby. Knocked up. Mom, laughing again, asked me where I’d heard that last one. It’s so ridiculous, at their age. I mean, seriously. She’s like, thirty-eight. And do you know what they had to do in order for her to get that way? So disgusting. I can’t even think about it.
The day she took me to find a dress for the eighth grade dance, she was all excited because she and dad went to the doctor that morning and they found out the baby is a girl. She couldn’t even concentrate on my dress. She said, “that’s great!” and, “beautiful!” every time I tried on something new, but I could tell she wasn’t even looking. Not really.
A little blue dress was already hanging in my changing room, the kind they’d never let me wear, so I tried it on for fun. It made me look older. I liked the way it stayed up without straps and barely skimmed my knee. I knew she wasn’t paying attention when I pranced out in front of the mirrors and she said, “wow, cute!”
I almost got away with it, but her eyes focused at the last minute and she said, “when you’re twenty-one, you can come back to get that one.”
Finally, she said, “come, on, just pick one already.”
She used to spend more time picking out my dress than I did.
Before the baby.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the baby department, looking at frilly baby clothes. Everything was impossibly fluffy and lacy and pink. She gave away all my baby stuff years ago, so we have to buy it all again. And, since baby things are expensive, Kevin and I will have to pick between two weeks of summer camp, instead of getting to attend both. This baby is already irritating. I’m just waiting for her to tell me I have to let it share my room.
I toss the pillow back on my bed and pull on my favorite jeans, the ones with colorful cheetah print on the side. By the time I pull a brush through my hair, Kevin has stopped his racket. Thank God. Hopefully this new interest will go the way of his pet hissing cockroach, last year’s birthday present.
Mom said it escaped. I’m pretty sure she flushed it.
Pulling my hair into a ponytail, I head downstairs to scrub the toilet. Like a slave. On my birthday.
After she made me do everything three times, the bathroom finally met mom’s military inspection. Seriously, no one notices dust in the corners. Ridiculous waste of time. I got all sweaty scrubbing out the tub and had to take a shower, so all that work was for nothing. At least she didn’t make me clean it again.
Thirteen. I just can’t stop saying it. Thirteen. ThirTEEN. Finally a teenager.
The night before I turned five, I remember thinking I’d be able to reach the kitchen faucet in the morning. When I woke up, I ran to the sink, shocked to find the handle still several inches out of reach.
This time, I am a teenager. No question. Height is irrelevant; I am older. More mature. Almost eighteen. Almost out of here.
I can find my birth parents.
Kevin and I had other parents, but no one knows much about them except our mother was really young. “She loved you so much, she wanted you to have a family with parents who could take care of you.” That’s what they say to our faces. But once, years ago, I heard mom whispering to Aunt Melissa that the social worker said our grandmother forced our first mom to give us up. I think of my birth mother’s mom as a green-faced wicked witch, not a grandma.
I bet our mom was from a really rich family and the wicked grandmother just didn’t want to deal with the stigma of teenage pregnancy. We learned about stigma in my psychology elective class. It’s when people get treated differently because of something shameful they did.
So they dumped us into foster care for six months, and then Dad and Mom picked us up. A year later, we officially “belonged” to them. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate what they did for us. But some days, I wish I knew about the family we were born into. And borne out of.
When I turn eighteen, I can see the files. And maybe, by that time, the wicked witch will be gone, and our birth mom will be happy to see us, and we’ll get to live like the modern-day royal family we were born to be.
I wake, cheek pressed against a cool, smooth surface beneath me. Breathe in, steady and deep. Out. In.
A slight breeze whispers through my hair, just this side of cool. The air brushes my back.
Light filters bright through the haze above and reflects from facets around me. I move my head just a little bit and the sparkling environment spins. I still, before the nausea causes complete surrender.
I don’t know how I got here. Or, for that matter, the definition of “here.”
I hold myself motionless, allowing my mind to focus.
No memory swims to consciousness.
I stare down, tipping my face away from the dazzling light. Attempting to calm the headache. Grasping for any clue about my arrival. Nothing.
I pull my fingers across the glassy floor, smooth and slow. No nicks or scratches. No bumps, no sand, no crumbs. Perfection. I roll over, my back against the hard ground, to see the shining, sharp edge of a cliff inches from my face. A terrified breath jerks in as I imagine slipping over.
Fear pours down my spine like ice water and I slide in the opposite direction. I want to be far away from that vertical drop.
Managing to distance myself from the edge by a few feet, I rest. This will do for now; movement is a struggle. Once I’ve regained strength, assuming I started with some, I’ll remove myself completely from the danger.
Not that the cliff poses a threat as long as I don’t throw myself over—and that’s not happening. I might not remember anything else, but a healthy fear of heights overpowers my memory gaps.
I listen, eyes closed. What is that noise?
There. To the left. Voices approach. Grow louder. I see them, a knot of slender forms. Everyone moves together. A smaller cluster materializes from the right. Each is wearing the same dark tunic. I squint. My eyes refuse to focus.
“Here! Another one! She’s over here, quick!”
Many hands pull and lift and carry. I realize suddenly that I do not have a matching tunic, but am too exhausted to care. Everything spins.
I embrace the dark.
I saw this suit jacket in front of an empty building for lease.
Can’t help wondering how it ended up on the ramp. Where is the owner? How did this happen? Why leave the jacket but not the pants?
It appears to be arranged with some care. Did the jacket have a family? Why was it abandoned? Does the owner plan to retrieve it?
Now, take my challenge. Write the story of this coat.
- You may not read anyone else’s story until you write your own.
- Link to your story in the comments below.
- Make it as short or as long as you like.
- Enjoy writing!
I look forward to seeing your imagination at work.
Sent my laptop for repairs.
Parts on backorder.
Laptop finally returned, but isn’t fixed. Back it goes.
Thank God for extended warranties.
Trying to post via phone just doesn’t work for me…
Want to guest post? Email me via the contact link above. You’re always welcome in my virtual writing den. 🙂
*Posts involving adoption (truth or fiction) get first dibs. 😉
In response to Writing 101. Today’s Prompt: You stumble upon a random letter on the path.You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.
Please, Maddie, come home.
Everybody wants to be a princess. Well, everyone who isn’t already a princess wants to be one. It’s no picnic, let me tell you. Except for when guards shoo the villagers away and you see thirty beautiful people carrying baskets and blankets into the meadow circle…then, right, it’s a picnic.
Oh, it sounds lovely, I know. All the beautiful gowns and dances past midnight and sweeping bows from everyone you meet. I’ll admit, you can’t beat the food. Mouthwatering herbed meats that fall from the bone, savory vegetables, hot and cold soups, incredible cakes and mousses and chocolates. The petit fours are to die for. Not literally, of course. Unless they’re poisoned petit fours…but you can usually avoid that by paying your cook well.
And there are perks. The music, the grand ballroom, the enormous feather bed, the tapestried walls, the turrets. Let’s see, what else. Ladies to wash and dress me. Boys to carry my things. My horse is made ready to ride anytime I like, the lake is cleared any time I want to swim, flowers and fruit appear at my side. I understand. You want to switch places with me. Who wouldn’t?
If I were you, I wouldn’t.
I’d be happy to just stay you.
Here’s the drawback that nobody discusses during the Princess Interview Process. Okay, okay, there’s no princess interview. How would that go? “Hello, Baby Born to the Queen, would you like to be a princess? No? Well, in that case, let’s switch you for a peasant baby, so everyone will be happy.” Yeah, like that would ever happen.
Someone will probably point out the flaw in my logic—that babies can’t talk or make informed decisions—but I’m sure there’s a fairy godmother somewhere who could help out.
Back to the Princess Problem. It’s not just a problem for princesses. Kings, Queens, Princes, Heads of State of any title…we all have this issue. Most people love us. That’s not really the issue, unless it’s time to choose a partner; that can get a little hairy with all these people vying for affection. Who in their right mind would make someone choose from twenty-four potentials? It sounds like a badly-written play, and it’s not going to end well.
Anyway, as I was saying. The Princess Problem.
And really, it’s not just one problem. All those perks I mentioned earlier? Two sides to every coin, honey. Those huge gowns are heavy. I think the seamstresses must sew stones into the hems. Dancing until after midnight sounds amazing, but think of the last time you stayed up late. Your feet were tired, your back ached, your legs threatened collapse. Now imagine trying to dance through that feeling, smiling at every smelly gentleman doing his best to hold you close.
I don’t care what you say; no one gets fully clean by bathing in the village pond. The princes don’t smell as bad after a true bath and some cologne, but sweat and stink don’t care how rich you are. They arrive late to the ball, but everyone knows when they show up—fashionably late, after the seventh crazy dance. That’s when I’d like to bow out, but my princessly duties require a full dance roster.
As for the rest…I’m no longer seven and would like to bathe in privacy, dress myself, and carry my own bag. The tapestries are pretty, but they’re actually there to fight the cold—a stone castle is freezing most of the time. Imagine living in a cave. Those tapestries don’t help much. Your toasty warm living space sounds perfect to me.
The food is wonderful, but I can’t eat much, because a princess must fit into size skeleton waistcoats. If I eat too much, my chambermaid goes all personal trainer on me. Fifty pushups? You’ve gotta be kidding.
The feather bed would be the one item with no drawbacks…if I weren’t allergic to feathers. I can barely sleep for the sneezing. I keep asking for a regular straw-stuffed tick, but noooooooo, it wouldn’t do for the princess to have a regular bed.
I love riding, but taking four guards everywhere just seems excessive. Clearing the lake? Who wants to swim alone? Not this princess. But gee, if anyone sees my bare shoulder, gasp, they might realize I’m human. I’ll be honest; years ago, it was fun to have adults bow to me. Now, I’d just really like to see the color of people’s eyes. Riding through town with everyone face-down is just plain spooky. Are you getting the picture?
Sorry, I’m a bit distracted. We were talking about the Princess Problem. I have no idea why it’s so common.
Most princesses at least try to be nice. I can’t think of a mean princess, can you? It’s always the horrible stepsisters. By the way, stepsisters get a bad rap. It’s really unfair. Just because a few stepsisters tried to ruin their princess sisters’ lives, everybody blames the stepfamily. I know several stepsisters, and we’re actually good friends. They are rather nice to each other, and sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind having a stepsister. I’m sorry, I’m rambling. I’ll get back to it.
As I said in the beginning: everybody thinks they want to be a princess, and I’ll admit there are many excellent reasons to enjoy princessdom. Princessing? Princesshood? Other than having people sit and listen to you even when you get off track. My apologies.
Everyone wants to be a princess, and it seems logical, until you understand the Princess Problem.
Someone always wants to kill you.
“‘scuse me, dis is not my car. It tis my son’s car and I cannot open dis.” I finally get his attention.
These Americans. So busy. I know he can see me try to open stupid little gas cap door.
I muddle accent on purpose. Doesn’t matter. Americans all think they know where we are from by our talk. Other day, this redhead, she said, “So, I bet you are from Czech Republic?” Sure, sure. Why not? No one can ever place my speech, but I move a lot. So. I pick up a lot of the accent.
Soon I will get rid of this rusty bucket. My son says car is jalopy. I think jalopy is pepper. I like rusty bucket better. Once mission is done, I go home.
Busy Americans never want to help or it would be over already. Finally. We have winner. Coming to rescue immigrant grandma. Eblan.
I wrap coat tighter. You think it’s cold here? Try Siberia. Ukraine. Minsk. Moscow. I watch him scan my face for…what? My age? Ha. He will never guess. No one does.
I watch him watching me. He is tall. American food makes tall boys. Tall but not big. He needs potatoes. Stiff Moldovan wind would blow him down, I think.
He looks at driver door. Door? Why would gas cap be in door? I don’t know. He folds into car. Almost in half, I think. Ha, this balvan will hit his head. Well, that’s nothing. Just wait.
Then I notice. His foot, outside car. Tapping. This moodozvon likes my music. This is problem. How can I push button if he likes Nikita K’s Best Party MixTape 2? I think I have to push button. Walk away. Quick. Push button.
But no, he hums. He taps wheel, looking. I can not decide. Push button? Don’t push button? He grins through open window.
“Hey, this unicorn air freshener is great. Where’d you get that? I know a guy who really needs one for his handlebars. D’you remember where you bought it?” He laughs. Handlebars? I sigh. He likes unicorns? How can I push button now?
He finds gas cap lever. Finally. I thought we would stand all day, not pushing button.
He even pumps gas for me. Only a little, I say. Not much money. He nods.
He walks away, back to car with bike rack. Oh. Handlebars. Wait. He didn’t like unicorn. Thinks unicorn is joke. Chort tzdbya beeree! Swine. I should have pushed button.
But. He likes music. Okay. You live today. But tomorrow. Tomorrow is different story.
Vlad say, we have to get noticed. We don’t have to take it. I put detonator back in little box. I drive. I look for next mark. I sing with Sisters, bang on wheel.
We’ve got the right to choose and
There ain’t no way we’ll lose it
This is our life, this is our song
We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong
We’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it anymore
She tripped, then fell, twisting in the air for one last frantic gulp of air before her back hit the water. It enveloped her, cushioning her fall and oozing around her body. She sank into the cool, slippery fluid, a descent slower than she’d expected. As it filled her ears and eyes, she began to struggle, pushing toward the surface. The smooth, heavy liquid held her back, pressing down, filling with bubbles as she moved. The bubbles did not rise.
She froze, conserving the last of her oxygen, considering. She relaxed into the silent, weightless support. She saw shadows above her, blurry figures moving, darting around near the edge. She crawled toward the surface, using the density of the liquid to push. In moments, her face broke into the humid, salty air above. A large, calloused hand reached down and grabbed her collar, hauling her to firm ground.
Her eyes traveled from the hand, up the bulging arm to broad shoulders, then to the sweating, red face of the captain. On a scale of irritation to rage, he teetered between annoyed and angry. She was in trouble, but not too much, since she was alive.
“Princess, how many times must I ask you not to walk beside the moat?” His voice was stiff. Before he could continue, she blurted, “Well, at least we know the new gel works. It’s much better than water. It’s not really scary, though, so you might think about finding some large snakes; I think they could navigate the thicker consistency.” The captain’s eye twitched. She imagined he wished someone would give her a thrashing. “Let’s get you inside.”
She grabbed his offered arm and he pulled her to standing. The gel, with no pressure to thicken it, ran from her clothes in watery rivulets. “I should probably stay out for a bit, drip dry, you know.” She smiled brightly at the captain. He narrowed his eyes at her, but she could see guards behind him turning to hide smiles.
“My job is to keep you alive until your father returns,” he growled, “but if you continue making it more difficult than it should be, I’ll request permission to confine you to quarters. Consider this a warning.” She pressed down a giggle and straightened her shoulders, saluting as they began to walk. “Yes, Sir, I understand. No more throwing incendiary devices back across the moat.”
He stopped short, swinging around to face her. “What?” She grinned up at him. “Pretty sure that’s what it was, but we’re likely to find out in a few minutes. A young woman ran to the edge of the moat, threw something over, then off she went. It rolled to a stop near the wall, almost at my feet, so I thought perhaps I should return it. I lost my balance and fell in the moat right after I threw it back.”
“What did it look like?” He scanned the other side of the moat. She pointed to the top of the mossy green bank. “There. That pile of sticks. It looked innocent enough, which is why I threw it back. Why would anyone break the law to throw a bunch of sticks over here? Pretty sure they wouldn’t.”
Moments later, a spectacular explosion sent rocks and dirt flying into the air. Most of the biggest rocks rained down into the moat, landing with a muted splash, but some soared toward them. The captain tackled the princess, his body shielding her from the debris. His big hands cradled her head as they landed. Sharp pain shot through her wrist.
As earthen shrapnel thudded around them, he shouted in her ear, “That’s twice today you could have been killed. Why didn’t you call a guard?” She shrugged. “No time.” The last of the large flying rocks skidded to a stop nearby, sending spray of dirt across her face. She tried to wipe it off, but her hands were even dirtier. He pulled back, sitting up. “Well. You’re quite a sight. I can guarantee none of my men have ever before seen a muddy princess.” He pulled a small cloth from his pocket. “This might help.”
As she sat amid dirt clods and wiped her face, he shook his head. “It didn’t. You need a full wash; let’s get you back to your ladies.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t need help.” He finally cracked a grin. “Right. Well, they can at least keep you from falling into the tub.” She stood, ignoring his offered hand, and brushed some of the mud from her pants. The movement sent sharp aches zinging through her wrist. She gritted her teeth, hiding the pain.
Handing the small cloth back with her good hand, she noticed an embroidered pink flower at the corner. She quirked an eyebrow. “Like flowers, do you? I would have never—“ she broke off at the dark look crossing his face. He pressed his lips together in a tight line. She pushed hair out of her face. “So…I should probably get inside and clean up.”
He was once again aloof. “Can you manage the walk? I need to check on my men and send someone to scout our perimeter for any additional threats. This could have easily been one rebel working alone, but I don’t want to assume.”
She nodded, turning. “I think I can manage walking a few yards.” As she started toward the buildings, he muttered, “Just stay away from the moat.” She looked back to retort, but he was already striding toward the guards. She cradled her wrist, now swollen, and pushed the heavy wooden door in with her shoulder.
Once inside the cool, dark room, she sank down against the door. The hard, cold stone floor sapped her warmth, reaching cold fingers through her clothes, but she stayed, propped against the rough-hewn wood. Now that it was over, she thought of dying. If the bomb had exploded when it landed, an entire section of the wall would have been destroyed, and she would have been killed. If she hadn’t thrown it quickly enough, or if she hadn’t remembered to stop struggling in the moat, she might have died. Shaking violently from both the cold floor and fear, she huddled around her wrist, exhausted.
Thanks to my buddy for suggesting I write something for fun. 🙂
So, I made it to 36,279. Not quite 50,000…but I somehow forgot to account for things like the kids getting croup, having a wolf chew on my shoulder and oh, right, Thanksgiving. I probably could have finished by sequestering myself through the last five days, but I only get to see my siblings and niece a couple times a year, so put the computer away in favor of family time.
Hubby announced this morning that today could be “Casey’s Day to be Depressed About Not Finishing NaNoWriMo” but tomorrow I have to get off my butt and keep writing.
Please excuse me; I have only two more hours to wallow in self-pity.
(Actually, I’ll be eating ice cream. Wallowing gets really boring after the first three minutes…)