As the sun droops lower into the sky, my eyes gaze at the water’s reflective surface. I listen to the waves crashing against the shore, waging an eternal battle that the sand always seems to lose, what with the constancy of the incoming army of waves. It’s funny to think that Mother Nature wages wars against herself when some people think that man shouldn’t fight himself, that it’s unnatural and destructive. Well, it certainly can’t be unnatural because at times Mother Nature can be just as destructive and ruthless. At least, that’s my opinion anyway.
When the last sliver of golden sun sinks below the horizon, I decide to go home. It’s not like there’s much left to see on the beach after sunset except for the clouds, of course. But I can see those as I walk home, so there’s no need to linger here. I pick up my shoes and stride through the thick sand, barefoot.
I’ve always loved living on the coast - having the smell of seawater nearby to comfort me in my darkest moments, and truly feeling free at being on the edge of a continent, able to leave at any time I desire, or at least that’s how it seems standing in the deep, vast ocean. It connects me to something larger than myself, and it fills me with wonder and joy to be able to take part in such a beautiful, gigantic world. Plus, the sunsets are absolutely astonishing. There’s no way to properly describe the colors as they emanate from the sun in ringlets of orange, pink, blue, violet. And the way that the light reflects from the constantly-changing, powerful waves is purely remarkable. It allows you to see the sky from a whole new perspective while simultaneously seeing it as it is. Truly, there aren’t enough words to describe its awe-inspiring beauty.
I’ve always loved the feel of sand beneath my toes, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. When I was really young, I lived in Arizona with my parents, but apparently I would always complain about the heat, so one day, when I was 4, they took me to California. I don’t remember much from my past life in Arizona; all of this I learned from my parents, but I do remember watching the sunsets there. And, while they were beautiful, the sunsets here are much more worth seeing.
I’m almost home when I see Harold, my best guy friend ever, carrying a surfboard, wearing swim trunks, and heading towards the beach. He notices me and says, “Hey, Angie, back from a swim?”
“Yeah. A girl’s gotta do something over summer.” It was only two weeks into summer, and I was already having a blast. Next year I’m going to go to Stanford, I have it all planned out. I can’t wait! College is going to be so fun. But, of course, I still wish summer could last forever, endless days of surfing and swimming and lounging on the beach.
Harry’s smile fades over some thought of his, and I’m dragged out of my daydream. I frown and ask, “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing,” he says with a sign. He plasters on a forced smile and adds, “Enjoy your dinner. I’m going surfing.” He indicates his surfboard.
Classic Harry. He knows me so well. I never swim after I eat, so, of course, since it's gotten late, it’s time for me to eat. Of course, he’s the opposite. He eats dinner early to let his stomach digest, and then, right as the sun goes down, he goes out surfing, claiming he likes the challenge of the dark. Personally, I think it’s dangerous to surf late, but, of course, he likes to do it just as the last of the sun’s light is leaving the sky, so I suppose it’s not the darkest it could be.
I walk into my house, my stomach growling at the scent of flounder with fried potatoes. Flounder has always been my favorite fish, though salmon and trout are good, too.
I sit down, my hunger gnawing at me, and I’m overcome with the desire for food. Swimming out in the ocean tends to make a person hungry. I cut a portion of flounder out and lift it to my mouth, not failing to regard the house rules about dining table etiquette. Though I’m starving, my fear for my parents’ punishment is much stronger. Wow, that came out wrong. My parents aren’t bad people. They just always look at me with such disappointment that I’m shamed beyond compare when I do something wrong. It gets to me more than any other punishment would. So, I keep my manners as much as it pains me while I’m eating.
I’m not one of many words, so I don’t speak until my mother drags me into the conversation. “Angela, I see you’ve been swimming lately. Have you been having fun?”
“Yeah, of course I have, Mom. You know I love to swim, especially in the ocean,” I reply.
“Yes, I simply can’t imagine why you like the ocean so much more than our swimming pool, but whatever makes you happy, dear.”
At that last note, the room fades to silence. Clearly Mom doesn’t have anything else to say, and neither do I, but the look on my father’s face makes it awkward. I can tell he’s trying to find the words to put something lightly, and immediately my stomach flips in anxiety for what he might have to say. I force myself to breathe since that always helps when I’m feeling nervous about something.
I focus on my younger brother, Ren, who is currently playing with his fish. He’s never liked flounder, nor has he ever liked the table rules. I manage a slight smile and shift my focus back to Dad, knowing I ought to listen to whatever he has to say.
Dad’s crinkled brows morph into a determined face as he turns to me and calmly says, “Angela,” —oh no, that’s a bad sign, Dad never uses my full name unless it’s serious— “you’ve been in California almost all your life, you’ve made good friends, found here to be the place you belong. But, sweetheart, as sad as it makes me feel to have to say this and break your heart, we can’t stay here. We’re moving to Limonia as a family.”
Despite the fact that Dad tried to put it lightly, it is like a blow to the gut, forcing the breath out of me. I can’t breathe from the shock of it all. I gasp for breath and squeak, “What!?” This can’t be happening. I’ve spent almost my entire life here, and dad has the audacity to strip me of my home, the only place I truly belong. Not to mention all of my friends and—the ocean—please don’t tell me they’re taking that away, too. I won’t stand for this. I’m remaining here no matter what they say. I’m a grown adult, going to Stanford, and that’s final. I won’t let my parents get the best of me this time.
I abruptly stand from the table, my chair scraping against the floor and leave. I vaguely hear Dad shouting after me. I run out of the house, out of that cursed house with its broad, white walls and green-curtained windows. I never liked it, anyway. The ocean’s my true home.
I run away from my parents, my home, my childhood. I run and run, and there’s no turning back. I don’t even realize where I’m going until my feet soak up the wet water like sponges, and the tears start pouring out, into the giant puddle of Mother Nature’s tears that makes up the ocean. The ocean always adapts to my every need, comforting me when I’m sad, waving up and down in excitement when I’m happy. It’s as if it feels my presence, and, like a friend, knows just the right way to act around me. Sometimes I just wish I could float away with it, wrapped in its arms forever, but I’ve never had the motivation to leave my life here before. Now, it seems like it will be taken from me one way or another.
The truth is, I can’t go back there because then I would be giving in. it’s less of California that I love than it’s ocean. I feel like if I leave it, I will betray it somehow, and it would never forgive me. How can they force me to leave something so important to me? I mean, I’m sure Limonia has beaches, but, with my luck, I’ll get stuck in the middle of the country where I can’t reach the ocean. Plus, isn’t it cold there? And, I mean, what kind of name is that anyway? It sounds like it should be the name of a disease.
My thoughts turn back to the ocean. I could just float away, right here, escape from this awful situation and join the ocean in a welcoming peace. Slowly, foot by foot, I walk toward the ocean’s open arms, aching to be free at last. Once the water’s deeper, I turn around and move to lie on my back—
A shout jolts me from my determination. “Angela,” I hear Harry shout. “Get out! There’s a huge wave coming!”
That’s all it takes for me to snap out of my foolishness and find my common sense. I stand up and run-swim out of the water, fleeing from the dark, formidable wall of ocean. Clearly I was wrong about the whole ocean being my friend thing. Not until my feet touch dry sand do I look back. Harry’s right behind me, but it’s going to be a close one.
I keep running until I’m a good distance away, not daring to stay so close to where the wave might hit. Harry reaches the sand only seconds before the wave hits, and I see the water gush out around his feet. He’s alright. Oh my gosh, he’s alright. The wave was so close I almost thought he wouldn’t make it. I have nothing to wipe away my scared tears at his near death, so I just leave them there, drying on my cheeks. And to think, if Harry hadn’t been out surfing, or if I hadn’t heard him, I’d probably be dead right now. A new wave of horror gushes through me. “That was one nasty wave,” I comment, yelling so Harry could hear me.
All lightheartedness about him is gone, wiped clean off his face. He walks up to me, and when he arrives, he states, hints of fear and pain tinting his voice, “What was that, Angela? What are you doing out here so late? Why aren’t you eating dinner with your family? You could have died out there, Angela, what were you thinking?” My stomach clamps with guilt and shame. “You weren’t even watching the waves. Do you know how dangerous that is?” I shrivel into myself, flinching at his harmful words. “What if I hadn’t been there, Angie? You would have died.” At that last word, the bite of his words fades completely into a soft, fearful, worried voice that eats away at my insides.
What had I been thinking? How did I lose my self-control so quickly? Come to think of it, I’d wanted to die, for the unbearable thought of leaving to die with me. I’d wanted to remain in the ocean forever, buried in its manipulative, drowning arms. It had tricked me, and now it’s the unforgivable one. I can’t believe I’d thought the ocean was my friend. The shame and guilt that was inside me is now replaced with disgust for that naïve coward of a girl. I’d found the easy way out, but now, I’m ready to face my fears and travel to Limonia, the “Kingdom of Life” as they call it. I’m no longer afraid, I can’t be, or I’ll end back up in that traitor’s vast, wet clutches.
I tell Harry that I was stupid and made a life-threatening mistake, and that I have to go, but am grateful for him saving my life. He stares at me, baffled, and I rush back to my house. He calls out, “So after I save your life, all I get is a ‘thank you’?”
I shout back, my voice rising as we get farther apart, “Sorry, Harry, we’ll talk more later, I just have something really important to clear up. I promise I’ll call you after everything’s done.”
I practically sprint home, my legs moving back and forth like a machine. It’s not that I want to leave my friends and childhood, it’s just I have to get away from this endless, snake-like ocean, that mesmerizes its prey while it constricts and suffocates them. But the truth is, I’ve always been obsessed with the ocean so much that it was practically my entire childhood. Despite how many times its creatures bit or stung or pinched me or how hard the waves hit, I had always foolishly believed that the ocean was on my side. Well, now I know different. In being so ignorant, I put myself in danger because the ocean isn’t a safe place, its arms aren’t welcoming.
I reach the black wooden door and push it open into my bright, white marble house. I look for my parents. They’re in the living room. They must have finished dinner already. I walk in, and their clamoring voices cease to a halt. They must have been talking about me. Mom rushes over to me and embraces me.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she says. “We thought we’d lost you. Where did you go? You can’t just leave like that. You scared us half to death. Did you even think about Ren? He was so scared you wouldn’t come back that he locked himself up in his room, crying.” Tears of guilt well up in my eyes. Poor, innocent little Ren. How could I even think to leave my little brother like that? And if I’d died? Horror courses through me. Ren would be all alone in the world with no big sister to comfort him, to hold him while he cries, to play games with him and beam at his crooked smile at winning every time.
I ignore whatever else Mom has to say, and I leap up the stairs to his room. I knock on the door. “Ren, are you in there? It’s Angie.”
I hear shuffling, and then Ren crawls out and hugs my waist tight, burying his face in the folds of my wet swimsuit. He’s crying, so I wrap my arms around him. “I thought you had left us for good,” he stammers, tears straddling his voice. “Please don’t do that ever again.” He looks up at me, eyes intent, begging me.
“I promise I never will ever again,” I tell him earnestly. I can’t scare him like that, not even to save my life. He’s my little brother, and he needs me to hang onto, so I have to be there for him. Whatever it is I’m supposed to do next, I can’t abandon him, not ever, since he relies on me so much.
I walk downstairs, Ren in tow, and face my parents. I have to tell them I’ll go. It’s for the good of Ren and for me as well. I need to escape this place where I was taunted so easily by such a dangerous thing as the ocean. Though I’ll miss Harry and the rest of my friends, I’ve got to move on and hope that they’ll understand. Speaking of which, as soon as I finish talking to Mom and Dad, I’ve got to call Harry and let him know that I’m leaving.
I walk up to them and state in my maturest of voices. “I’ll go.” Shocked silence. Maybe they thought I would refuse or that I would need more time, but I’m ready now, after 18 years of life, to face my fears of leaving. Only now do I understand that I don’t belong here, none of us do. Only now am I embracing a change that I’ve desperately needed yet blindly feared. To emphasize my point, I continue, “I’ll go to Limonia, but under one condition: we live no where near the ocean.” Confusion muddles their faces, I suspect from the fact that I used to love the ocean.
But Dad surprises me. About this trip I would expect them to be lenient, especially since I yielded to even going. But, no, surprise and a little bit of anger explode on my face when Dad says, “No.” Again, his words hit me like a blow to the gut. He’s pushing his luck here. He’s just waltzing around trying to get me to do whatever he wants and expecting to get his way. “I’m afraid we can’t do that, honey.” I absolutely hate it when he tries to soften his words with “honey” or “dear” or “sweetheart.” Who is he to push me around like this, controlling me, manipulating me? He’s just as bad as the ocean.
I run away, but this time not to the ocean, rather to my meager, ocean-picture-filled bedroom. I rip the traitorous photos off the walls and stuff them in my trash can. I want to be away from this life and this scheming father. I feel like running away again, but I can’t break my promise to Ren. It would devastate him. I glance my phone hiding beneath a couple papers on my desk. Without another thought, I pick it up and dial Harry’s number. I need a friend to talk to, to help me figure out what I’m going to do. Plus, I need to let him know about everything at some point.
I break from my thoughts as Harry picks up. “Angela? Did you get everything sorted out?”
I try to keep my voice steady, but I can’t; I feel like I’m falling apart. “I don’t know what to do, Harry,” I reply desperately.
“What’s wrong? It’s okay, you can tell me. That’s what friends are for, right?” I imagine he’s probably smiling a crooked smile right now, trying to cheer me up. Somehow, despite everything, I laugh at the thought.
“Yeah,” I respond. I focus back on what’s going on and my smile falters. “It’s a long story, Harry.”
“I have time. Just tell me.”
I sigh and let the words fall off my tongue. “When I came in and ate dinner, Dad had something serious to tell me. He said we’re moving to Limonia.” I take a second to let that sink in. Stunned silence greets me, but I continue, “I couldn’t take it; I wouldn’t stand for leaving this beautiful life I’ve made here. So I ran away from all my problems and found myself at the water’s edge. Escape seemed so sweet, and I could almost taste it, the salty wetness of release and an end to all my suffering.” I pause. “I was about to float away when I heard your voice. Harry, you saved me from making the worst mistake of my life.” I can almost feel his surprise, as if it travels with sound between phones.
“Oh my gosh, Angela—” he starts.
I cut him off. “No, I’m not finished. After I realized that, I felt betrayed by the ocean’s sparkly surface. To get away from it, a thing I’ve loved all my life, I decided I ought to leave anyway. I can’t have it tempting me to do drastic, dangerous things anymore. So, I told my parents I would go, but under the condition that we wouldn’t live near the ocean. And guess what?” I say, my voice rising. “Dad said ‘no’ flat to my face! He’s so controlling it makes me sick.”
“Well,” Harry begins quietly, “I understand where you’re coming from, but you didn’t even bother to ask why. What if he actually has a legit reason that’s not selfish?”
“Like what?” I snap. “List one reason he would do that that’s not selfish.” Silence. “I thought so.”
“Angela, it’s still not a bad idea to ask why. More information is better than none.”
“No, it’s not,” I argue. “Sometimes it’s better to hear nothing than the truth. And since when have you been taking his side? I thought you were on mine. You’re just as bad as him, trying to convince me to do things I don’t want to do.
I hang up, not bothering to say goodbye. Since when have I felt so alone? I lost the ocean, my father, and Harry, three friends in one day. It seems as though no one understands me.
I startle as someone opens my door. I forgot to lock it in my rush of thoughts and emotions as I was breaking down. A rush of relief fills me as I notice it’s Ren. He might be my only lasting friend in this world, and I’m so grateful to have him beside me, now more than ever. “Angie,” his timid voice squeaks, are you alright?”
The thought that he cares about me puts a small smile on my lips. I suppose I’m not entirely alone after all. “I’m okay, Ren. It’s just that this whole moving thing is such a big change, and I’m not sure if I can handle it yet.”
He nods. “I didn’t let Mom or Dad in here. They wanted to talk to you, but I don’t want you running off again, so I stopped them. They tend to cause that.” He offers me a smile, and a new wave of gratitude washes over me, deepening the love I feel for my thoughtful little brother. Honestly, I think I need him just as much as he needs me.
“Thank you, Ren. I really appreciate it.” I suddenly realize how late it is. Wow, time sure does fly by. “Why don’t we get some rest and talk about this in the morning?” I suggest, yawning for the added effect.
“You promise you’ll go to sleep now?”
I laugh at my brother’s need to stay up just as late as me. “Yes. I promise. Are you going to go to sleep now?”
“Yeah. Good night, Angie.”
“Good night, Ren. Sweet dreams.”
I close the door behind him and collapse onto my bed. Though he’s not here, I’m still going to keep my promise to go to sleep. I’m exhausted anyway. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in a better mood and I’ll be able to talk to Dad civilly.
I jolt awake when I hear my brother’s soft voice telling me to wake up. “What time is it?” I ask him.
I cover my face with a pillow. “What is it?” Ren doesn’t wake me up early unless it’s for a good reason.
He seems close to tears when he says, “We have to go, Angie. We’re supposed to leave today.” His lip quivers in unspoken sadness, and he looks ready to burst out bawling.
Despite how much the facts hurt me and slice up my insides, I’ve always determined to be nice to my brother, mature to him, to be the bigger sister. None of this is his fault, so it would be wrong to blame him or yell at him. I say, “Come here.” He climbs up onto my bed and rests his tiny head on my shoulder. “It’s okay, Ren; everything’s going to be okay.”
We lie there a moment before he says, “I don’t want to go, Angie.”
His honesty prepares me for mine. “Me neither,” I tell him. “But you know what?”
“We’ll get through this together, okay? I promise.”
“Okay,” he says, assured. A few moments pass before he talks again. “And Angie?”
“You need to listen to Dad this time. It’s really important that you understand what’s happening. He wouldn’t have us going to the ocean if he could help it. That condition took us by surprise, but he can’t change it now. Speaking of which, why do you hate the ocean all of the sudden?” he asks, curiosity lining his words.
I’m surprised at how easily the words come to me and how I manage to say them without falling apart. I suppose that good night’s rest must have helped. “I used to think it was my friend, but now I know better.”
“You sure it’s not still your friend?” Ren asks skeptically.
“I’m pretty sure,” I say quietly.
“Oh. I guess we should get going. But promise me you’ll listen to Dad since you’ll want to hear everything he has to say.”
“Okay. I promise.” Wow, how many promises do I make to my brother? I really need to make sure I’m not making ones I can’t keep.
Well, now it’s time to face my dad and whatever important things he has to say. Let’s just hope I don’t get too angry to keep my promise.
“Oh, Angie!” Dad exclaims. I must have startled him. “Sit down, sweetheart, I’ve got some important information to tell you.” I obey silently, and he goes on, “I know that you’ve been angered by all of the news I’ve told you so far, and I’m extremely sorry. I never meant to enrage you.” He seems earnest, so I bite back my retort. He pauses and sighs.
Then, he tells me the whole story of why this is all happening. “It all started a month ago. I was looking through the newspaper, like I always do, and a particular ad caught my eye. It promised a tour and permanent residence of Limonia if you send them your name and you get chosen.” Realization dawns on me. He signed up for it. That’s why we’re moving. Maybe Harry was right. Maybe I should have listened to him, but the reason for this move is still clearly because he was selfish enough to want to live somewhere so beautiful. “I waited the four weeks we had to wait for the winner to be chosen, and I was shocked when a letter with the Limonian royal seal showed up on our doorstep yesterday.” He holds up a letter that, sure enough, holds the royal seal on its envelope. It must have been sitting on his lap. I hadn’t even bothered to notice it until now.
“We were the lucky family that gets to live there. Now, I know what you’re thinking: how could I be so selfish as to drag the entire family to where I’ve always dreamed of living?” Now I’m curious. Does he have an explanation for this selfish action? Because if so, I sure would like to hear it. “Yes, Angela, I’ve always wanted to live there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have other reasons,” he says, answering my thoughts. “I love my family, and I would never force them to do anything if I didn’t think it was for the best.” What’s he getting at here? Now he’s making me impatient, my curiosity begging my mouth to burst and ask him what reason he’s talking about. “Angie, I hate myself for being so greedy and selfish in signing us up without telling even your mother. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t.”
I’m shocked. The Dad I thought he was last night is certainly not here, perhaps never was. I guess I’d just interpreted that something so against what I want couldn’t be something reasonable, and I needed someone to blame. So I blamed Dad, and then I blamed Harry. What was I thinking? Harry’s my best friend. I’ve got to make up with him before we leave. But, my curiosity returns to me. “Why are we still going, Dad?” I ask, exasperated. He’s been getting around the subject for way too long here.
“We have to, sweetheart,” he says frankly. This confuses me even more. What on Earth could possibly force us to do anything? We’re a family of Taurus's, all of us, so I don’t understand why Dad would bend so easily, especially since he regrets signing us up for it.
“What on Earth does that mean?” I respond. I have to know what he’s talking about; I have to get rid of this confusion he’s put me in.
Dad looks at me as if the answer is obvious. “Why do you think the letter has a royal seal?” he says, trying to get me to think my way to the answer. “It’s a royal command that we move there, Angela. There’s nothing I can do about it. The advertisement was misleading. We have no choice. If we don’t go, Limonia might take it that we don’t like Limonia and declare war. You know they have a big army; you learned it in history. We barely managed to hold them off in World War III, and I doubt we could survive another war. We would lose.” His eyes look at me, pleading me to forgive him for the grave mistake he made. “Angela, King Liam is looking for a wife for his son, the Crown Prince. A marriage is our best hope right now for unifying our countries in peace. He’s already gone through female suitors from India and China. You’re our best hope, Angela, please forgive me.”
I break down from what he’s said. If he hadn’t had me sit down, I might have collapsed onto the floor, and I doubt I would have been able to get back up. Dad wasn’t careful with what he did, and he ended up forcing me into trying to get a marriage to some prince that I don’t know, else there’ll be war between our two countries. I don’t know how to handle this. I’m gasping, my breath coming too thin, my hands trembling, my eyes focused on the ground. I’m on the verge of tears.
I’ll never get to find true love, never get to walk down the aisle knowing that I’m the happiest woman alive, never get to have Harry at my wedding probably. Limonian marriage customs are probably different than ours, so the wedding I’ve always dreamed of will never be a reality, not anymore. I can’t—I just can’t handle this. It’s like my world has been turned upside down, all of my dreams and hopes vanquished with Dad’s simple, deadly words. I want to scream at him, to tell him how much I hate him for needing me to fulfill my duty to my country, to win a prince over as to prevent a war.
But something deep inside me tells me not to, that it’s not his fault that we’re so close to war, that he honestly thought moving to Limonia would be a happy dream and not this forced nightmare, and I heed the voice, knowing that he’s not the one to get angry at. I made a foolish mistake in believing something I shouldn’t, too. I believed the ocean. I can’t get mad at him when I feel such a strong empathy growing inside me. The king is the one who sent that ad, who trapped my father into thinking we could live a dream-come-true. He’s the one that’s playing around with me, going to force me to act nice as to save a nation, my nation. And if Dad can handle facing the trickster that destroyed his daughter’s life, I suppose I could handle the ocean that almost killed me.
No girl should have to endure this, yet nonetheless, I’m being forced to. And, deep within myself, I know I can do it. I know I’m stronger than I’ve ever felt myself to be, probably because I’ve learned from my mistakes from the ocean, and, now that my crying is over, I know I can get through this. Sure, I have no experience in being a princess, but I have always been in touch with my elegance and mature self. Surely being a princess and later a queen can’t be too hard, can it? I suppose I’ll have to find out, but for now, it’s time to pack and travel. We’ve got a long plane flight to catch, and I need to let Dad know I’m on board. That’s the first step to fixing this mess. Let’s just hope I make it through the last. I wouldn’t want to put so much hard work into securing a marriage and find it backfiring on me and find us at war with Limonia. No, I’ve got to stick with this until the end because only then will I, and the United States, truly find peace.
“Let’s go,” I state confidently, preparing for my role in royalty. If I can be mature with my father when my life is turned upside down, what situation can’t I conquer? My father’s startled face vanishes as I turn away and run to pack.
I put the last of my things—a snow globe of the frozen winter ocean, my favorite sunglasses, some bobby pins and hair ties—into my suitcase. While surveying the room for anything else useful, I notice I entirely forgot my cell phone. I pick it up, and, before I know it, I’m calling Harry again. I guess I just couldn’t leave him without making up with him. He’s been there for me all my life, and I could probably use a friend back at home to comfort me.
My phone rings and rings until I get his voice-mail. My heart sinks. Is he mad at me? I can’t imagine having to go through all of this without my best friend to cheer me up, tell me stories about what’s going on at home, make jokes just for the fun of it. I’m really going to miss Harry, so I can’t bear not being able to talk to him. I have to fix this before I go, no matter how close I bring our countries to war. I’m sorry, but Harry’s that important to me. Ever since we were children, we’ve lived near one another. I’ve always had him to talk to when I didn’t want to talk to my parents or Ren, and he’s always understood me more than most. I’m not letting him go over some silly words I said yesterday.
“Harry,” I speak into my phone. “Are you mad at me? I mean, you don’t usually leave me on voice-mail, so…” I trail off and laugh nervously. “I want you to know that, at the least, I’m not mad at you anymore. I said some stupid things yesterday, and I regret them. I’m going to miss you, Harry. We have to leave today. Please don’t make me lose you; I’m losing enough as it is.”
“Angie?” a groggy voice answers. He must have picked up his phone after all. “Why are you calling me so early in the morning?”
Of course! I forgot! Harry loves to sleep in, not unlike myself, and Ren woke me up really early today. I glance at my watch. It’s only 6:15. Harry usually wakes up at eight or later during summer. “Oh, sorry, Harry! I didn’t mean to wake you. I just wanted to apologize for last night. I said things I didn’t mean, and I got much angrier than I should have.”
“It’s okay, I forgive you,” Harry says with a yawn. “What are you doing up so early?”
“Oh, Ren woke me up. We’re leaving at seven o’clock, Harry. We’ve got to go.” Ren had told me when we are leaving. He always makes sure I know everything I need to. He’s such a thoughtful brother!
“Why are you agreeing to this? I thought you were opposed to leaving.”
“We have to, Harry. We have no choice.”
“Huh?” Harry’s confused voice utters. “Don’t you always have a choice?”
I decide to tell him everything. It’s not like I want to hide anything from Harry anyway. “Well, not in this case. Dad explained everything to me. He signed up for some rare chance to get a permanent residence in Limonia, and it turns out, we won. Yesterday morning, a letter with the Limonian royal seal showed up, and it told us that I was to report to Limonia by tonight (since of course you know how long it takes to travel there. It’s so far away, but airplanes make long distances seem shorter.) It’s like a royal command, Harry, and if we don’t comply, then Limonia might go to war with us. Plus, the whole thing about staying there is that I get to be a female suitor to the Crown Prince.”
“What!?” Harry interrupts.
But I continue, nonetheless, “Yes, and if it turns out I’m not fit to marry the heir, it would heighten tensions between our countries, and probably lead to war. Therefore, not only do I have to leave, Harry, but I have to do my best to be the girl Prince Jasper wants to marry. Otherwise, the U.S. is doomed.”
“What?” Harry squeaks again.
“You have to understand, Limonia has one of the best militaries, and since we’ve been focusing more on peace than on building our military the past few decades...we’ve got to do this. It’s our best hope, Harry, I’m our best hope.”
If he was here right now, I’m sure he’d be staring at me, gaping. I can tell he’s surprised, and he’s also probably pretty surprised at how calm and determined my voice is. He probably would have expected me to find some sort of loophole, some sort of way out, but no, I’ve resigned to my fate. I will not let my country go down without at least trying to help it first.
After a long silence, Harry sighs and says defeatedly, “I guess there isn’t much of a choice, then.” He sounds sad, like he lost something, though he’s not losing more than one friend. I’m losing them all. “But at least I was right about your Dad.” He gives me a drowsy laugh.
I ignore his comment. “It’s for the best Harry. I’m really going to miss you!” I’d be hugging him goodbye right now if I were with him. Ignoring how soon we have to leave, I ask, “Can I come by your house to hug you goodbye?”
Immediately, he replies, “Yes, but bring something for me? So that I can remember you?” It’s a request. He wants a parting gift, and I’d be happy to do at least that for my friend. He’s not going to see me for a while, assuming I do get to visit him or he gets to visit me, so I might as well give him something to remember me by.
“I will,” I tell him, snatching up the snow globe I’d only just put in my suitcase. I’d always loved the way the waves get frozen over, and now I realize I like it since it proves that even a dangerous thing as the ocean can lose all its power. Maybe I’m not too different from the ocean after all. I think I’ve just lost almost all of my power in signing—well, really, it was Dad who did so—myself off to get married to some prince I don’t know. Maybe I can learn to forgive the ocean again, like I forgave Dad and Harry. Maybe. “See you soon, Harry.”
“Yeah, you too,” he replies.
I rush downstairs and out of the house, trotting over to Harry’s house. It’s only a couple houses down, so it’s not too far. The sun has only just peaked over the horizon, its beautiful, warm rays dispelling the morning chill. I hope Harry will like my gift. I know he’s seen it before and shaken it upside down to get the snow to fall onto the icy waves. I think he enjoyed it, or at least he’ll get to remember the times we looked at it together.
I walk up the path to his doorstep and almost ring the doorbell, but I decide not to since I would wake his entire family up. He’s probably close to the door anticipating my arrival, so I decide to knock softly, five raps on the white birch door.
It swiftly and quietly opens, Harry popping his head out. “What’d you bring me?” he asks.
“Nothing of too much importance,” I tell him, and I laugh at his pouty face.
“Am I not important enough to receive a gift of importance?”
“Of course you are, but I can’t go giving you any jewelry or clothes. I’ll need those when I get there.”
His face sinks from that thought, and I’m not sure why it causes him so much trouble. Maybe he sympathizes for what I’ll have to going through? I don’t know, that doesn’t seem like it.
To brighten his mood, I slip my hand into my pocket and grab the snow globe to give it to him. He brightens and says, “I remember this! You always had it on display in your room on your desk. I remember one time, I think it was Christmas, I shook it up and down and told you to imagine we were in that little scene, smiling at the vast amounts of snow and ice.” His thoughts seem to snap back to the present as his eyes snap back to mine, and he says, “Thank you. This was a thoughtful gift.”
He seems to mean it, so I respond with “You’re welcome.” A moment passes before I can take it any longer. I rush to him and give him a hug. “I’m going to miss you, Harry,” I tell him. I pull back to look at him. “Promise you’ll call me every day.”
He chuckles. “I promise.”
“And promise me you won’t get a new best friend while I’m gone.”
“I promise, but same goes for you. Don’t let that prince matter more than me, alright?” He laughs, though I can tell it’s covering up some hurt feeling at the thought.
I can’t let him feel like I would abandon him like that. He’s my best friend, and I doubt anyone could ever take his place. I need him to know as such, so I earnestly say, “I promise, Harry. I won’t let any of his charm get to me on the inside. Though I may have to marry him, you’ll still be my best friend, don’t worry.” I force a strained smile, but I can’t hold it when the tears fall out.
He seems satisfied with my answer, pulls my hair back behind my ear, and kisses me. It’s so soft, so gentle, and yet full of so much compassion, I can’t breathe. It’s not our first kiss. When Harry and I were young, we were playing around on the beach, and suddenly, he pecked me on the lips, but of course, at the time, I believed in cooties and yelled “Ew! Don’t you know about cooties?” He just laughed, as if he knew more than I did, and we went back to making a sandcastle. I should have stopped it ages ago. He’s loved me this entire time and had to suffer through being friends with me.
Sorry Harry, but I don’t feel the same way. I should have seen it, should have known that day that he’s been in love with me since forever, but I was so blind. I kept telling myself that we’re just good friends, but clearly Harry doesn’t see it that way. I hate that I have to break his heart right before I leave. He’s such a great person. But I know that I can’t let this go on any longer. Plus, my heart is supposed to belong to Prince Jasper now. Though he may not be the friend I see in Harry, I’m sure I’m not supposed to love anyone else. It would probably be traitorous.
I break from the kiss, not wanting to face him, yet needing to all the same. I mean, it was wonderful, swept away my worries and all, but I can’t lead him on like that. I can tell that my heart doesn’t belong to him, and I’m not sure who it belongs to yet, but that doesn’t matter. This has to end.
“Harry—” I start.
His face fills with worry. “Was it that bad?”
“No, it’s just—”
“What? What’s wrong?” he asks, worry etching lines deeper into his face.
I take a deep breath and let it all out. “I can’t, Harry. I can’t do this. I’m not in love with you.” I flinch at those last words, hating to have to say them. I can see his heart sinking; I can see him collapsing within himself. It’s been years. He must have been in love with me for years. “I’m so sorry, Harry. I don’t want to lead you on. I wish I didn’t have to tell you right before I have to leave. Harry, you’re a great friend—”
“Stop,” he says coldly. “Just stop. I need a little time to get through this, Angela.”
“Harry, wait!” I insist, but he won’t listen. He slams the door in my face, and I flinch at the abrupt coldness of it all.
Maybe he just needs time to heal. I’m sure it’s got to be hard for someone like him to have to go through something like that. I’ve just got to give him time. Hopefully me being away will help him. I can’t stand seeing him so helpless.
I walk home, more weary than ever. Only now is this marriage weighing down on me. Only now that I lost my best friend am I having a difficult time. I hope he’ll come back to me. I hope I haven’t lost him forever.
My brother greets me as I walk back up the stairs to my room. I really am going to miss these marble walls that spiral up to the black metal chandelier that rests on the ceiling of our main hall. I’m sure the Limonian castle will be much more beautiful, but, still, I’ve come to love this home. Though it will surely be small in comparison to the palace, I find its size comfortable and cozy.
I look at Ren. It’s going to be hard. I’m not going to get to see him everyday anymore. I’m sure I’ll be off doing things with the prince, entertaining him, and I’m going to miss spending time with my brother. We won’t be in the same room together, Dad told me that much. I’m a female suitor, so I should get my own room and not have to worry about privacy with my family when I could become a princess. At least that’s what the royal letter said.
I bend down and give him a hug. I’ll be sure to visit him as much as I can, but it still won’t be enough. I’m going to miss him. You know what, if the prince does seem to have a heart, I might ask him if I could bring Ren along sometime. I’m sure he would love to come, and if the prince would allow it, I would love that. I’ll just have to see. I don’t want to be pushing my—and my country’s—luck.
But who am I kidding? Ren is who I’m doing this for. Not for Dad or for Mom or for America or for Harry. Not even for myself. In all honesty, Ren is the only reason that I’m forcing myself to bear this heavy weight. I can’t let us go for war because I know I wouldn’t let him bear it. If the prince won’t let my brother, the soul I cherish the most in this world, come along, then I’ll move us along to another country. I won’t let him get hurt—not now, not ever.
I pull back from my embrace and look deeply into his blue, wonderful eyes. I smile and hope I’m not doing something foolish. “Would you like to come with me to see the prince when I go to meet him?”
He lights up at the idea, but wavers, unsure. “But isn’t that not allowed?”
I grin deviously. “Since when are you so intent on following the rules?”
“I don’t know, it’s just—” he responds, trying to justify his sudden change.
“Don’t worry so much, Ren; we’ll be fine. If Jasper doesn’t like you, then we’re in big trouble. You’re the most adorable kid ever, and I’ll insist he get to know you. There’s practically a zero percent chance that this won’t work out, and if it doesn’t, I’ll take you somewhere where you can be safe.” Ren is so important to me that I wouldn’t want to be friends with anyone that doesn’t like him. I don’t care if Jasper is a prince. We’ll flee to another country if we have to to escape the war, but if Jasper can’t accept Ren, I don’t think we should be making peace with Limonia.
I mean, I’m sure Dad will be furious at me for crossing such a line, but maybe I can steal Ren away without his notice. Maybe, just maybe, I can win myself this marriage without needing to change too much of my behavior. Maybe I can still be myself. Because if I can’t? I don’t know how I would survive. At the very least, I’m hanging on to Ren. I’m sure he’ll keep me being myself, and I really do need someone to ground me.
I watch Ren debate intently with himself, considering all that I have said. In the end, his face lights up and he gives in with an excited “Okay.” At least I have Ren. If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d have a shred of life to hang onto. He’s my anchor, and I need him now more than ever, when I’m being tossed about by a mighty wind that surely could push me away.
I walk back up to my room once again. I zip my suitcase back up. Right now it’s already 6:45. I better get going. I haul the suitcase up in my hand and walk back down the stairs. Ren is already down there, sitting on his suitcase. We’re almost ready to go. Dad’s got to turn the water off, and tomorrow, some of his friends will help him sell the house. It is such short notice that we didn’t get the chance to do much.
Mom asks us if we have everything. She goes through her list, and we tell her, object by object, that we do, in fact, have everything we need. At the end of it, she smiles briefly and pulls us into a hug. Now she’s the one being bigger, maturer. “I love you both so much. Just know, no matter where we are, I will always love you two. Don’t worry, we’ll get through this, one step at a time.” She pulls back and addresses me specifically, “Angie.” She embraces me. “I love you, sweetheart. Don’t forget to brush your teeth every night, and floss.” I laugh at her incessant worrying. “But sweetie, don’t do anything you don’t want to do. I know that we’re on the brink of war, but you have to follow your heart. Don’t let a situation the US has been in for years ruin the life you’ve only just begun. The only thing I’m hoping for is that you manage to fall in love with the prince and he chooses you. But don’t force it. Above anything else, I want you to be happy.”
She moved me to tears. It’s been such a long time since I’ve actually had her advice. I’ve been trying so hard to be independent that I shut out my own mother. My tears seep into the shirt on her shoulder, and I wish I could have more time with her, an eternity even. Yeah, for sure I’m going to need to visit them often. My mother is as dependent on me as I am on Ren. I can’t go breaking her heart. I have to be brave and strong. But I also have to heed her. Now I know that she would be heartbroken and ashamed if I married Jasper without loving him. She would feel guilty for such tiny reasons and think it was her fault. I can’t. I can’t marry him and doom my mother to a horrible life. Not only would it break her, it would break me. I wouldn’t be able to bear seeing my own mother so broken, so I have to try, try really hard to love him because if I don’t? There’ll be no one left to save America now.
Everything went by quickly. We went through security, boarded the plane, flew for seven hours, ate lunch at 11:00 and landed. I didn’t even get bored. Time seemed to be on my side. I couldn’t stop thinking about everything, and I suppose that was what occupied me. It seemed almost dreamlike, like I was walking through a trance. None of it seemed real, what with the first class seats, the little to no turbulence: it was as if we really were royalty and clearly King Liam meant to serve us as such before we got there.
I was so preoccupied about planning everything I would do with what if situations like what if I don’t love Jasper, but before we leave, but King Liam stops us before we can go and holds us as prisoners-of-war. In that scenario, I would either barter with the king to let Ren out, convince him that he has nothing to do with any of this, that he’s just an innocent child, or I would fight my way out with my bare hands or find some sort of path to escape Liam. These are the thoughts that kept me busy on the entire seven-hour flight. I was determined to do exactly as my mother told me, so I prepared myself for the worst scenarios.
But deep inside, where my deepest secrets are locked up tight, I wondered if maybe Jasper, and Limonia as well, aren’t too bad to fall in love with. If perhaps I could learn to love them like my own. If maybe Jasper isn’t the manipulative, evil man that his father is. If maybe I’m wrong about his father, too. But I can’t tolerate those thoughts. Liam tricked my father. I can’t possibly ever come to even endure him. It would feel like betraying my father. So I shut those thoughts out, cast them away where no one, even I, can easily see them. Somewhere where the shadows that hide my secrets can cover them as well.
And they’re almost completely forgotten as I gasp at my first view at the vivacious terrain of Limonia. Lush green grass bends up towards the blue, broad sky, making the hills look like ocean waves of green fur. Flowers peek out of meadows and birds tweet their happiness. Bunnies run across the fields and into forests of trees of all varieties. Water streams through the hills and gushes into a valley, looking as blue and beautiful as the sky. Mountains strike poses beside the palace, which shimmers in the sun. And when I turn to my right, a giant, amiable-looking ocean greets me. It looks so different from what it was last night that I forget my hatred toward it and smile.
Now this is one beautiful home. No wonder they call it the “Kingdom of Life.” It sure looks that way. I step out into the sunlight and breathe in the fresh air. So fast I don’t have the time to swat it down, a tiny thought sweeps through me: maybe, just maybe, this could become my home, the place I finally belong.