I look around the room then back at the questionnaire on my desk. I am writing so hard I’ve torn a little in the middle. Darn it. I am in a hurry. I have planned to go out the freaking office when the bald manager had to arrive and give this damn thing. Of all the crap, crap, crappy days, it has to be today!
Are you healthy? Know your Health Status and Start Making a Difference!
I raise my brows at the title. I then knit them in annoyance. This is ridiculous.
- Do you drink eight glasses of water every day?
- Do you get eight hours of sleep?
- Do you eat healthy, home-cooked meals?
Yes, I basically cook for myself. But I don’t know if they’re healthy. Bacon is healthy, right? And potatoes.
- Do you smoke?
Not even in my dreams!
- Do you drink?
Wine, beer and all those stuff? Yes.
“Ms. Noirwood?” my boss’s loud voice booms beside me. “Answer the questionnaire properly. You do not want to disappoint the Duke with your petty remarks.”
The Duke? I tilt my head. “The Duke?” Someone from in front clears his throat and I look up to see who that is. “Oh.” I return to my paper and scold myself. I make a small promise to answer the damn questionnaire as honestly—and neatly—as possible.
- Do you have allergies?
No. Oh, wait, I forgot. I’m allergic to dogs. And cats. And anything furry.
- Have you ever been hospitalized? If yes, state the reason.
Yes, I was hit by a car when I was six. Pretty tragic, huh?
“Ms. Noirwood!” Mr. Brunswick raises his voice.
“I’m answering with all honesty!” I protest and choose to ignore him. Why is he even here anyway? Why does he have to scrutinize my answers? Why not Lily’s? I’m sure she’s writing about butterflies and whatnots!
- Does your family have a history with any disease?
My great-grandfather was diagnosed with heart problem when he was old. Is that counted? My grandfather had one too. I think my father does. I can’t tell.
- In relation to #8, do you experience any symptoms?
I think I do, sometimes. I think. Maybe I’m just paranoid. It runs in the family anyway. Who know$s?
- Overall, do you think you are healthy?
I proudly finish the questionnaire and stand to pass the paper in front. I look at the person in charge of the whole thing and realize it was the duke who is sitting on the teacher’s table. What the—where did our bald manager go? Since when did he come here?
I swallow once and keep my chin high. Who wants to look embarrassed in front of the high and mighty duke, anyway? I give the paper to him and stutter, “Your G-Grace.”
He examines my answers and looks up at me with an amused look. “Come to my office later at three.”
I open my mouth in surprise. I should deny. I should deny! I look at his brown eyes, jet-black hair and… and… “Uhm, yes, Your Grace.”
Why did I just say that? I turn my back at him and walk to my chair, gather my things and leave the room. It’s supposed to be my birthday. I should be home by now. I should be cooking for my party… even if there is no one to invite.
I am waiting for the clock to turn three. I turn my head, seeing that the computer room is finally vacant. I entered the room, playing with my USB inside my pocket. In the leftmost corner of the last row, near the door, is Sir White, the Company Secretary. “Sir, can I use that laptop?” I point at the computer at the corner of the room.
“Writing your songs, again, Sandra?” he smiles at me and I nod. He and of course, my Music professor back when I was in college, are the only ones who understand my passion. “You can use that for about an hour. A meeting will be held here later.”
“I’ll be quick, Sir.” I say and sit. I click on my document and wait patiently for my brain cells to work.
I said I’m waiting for my brain cells to work!
Oh, this is useless.
Instead of writing a new one, I decide to give up. Politely, I bid the young secretary goodbye and proceed outside. I look at the time. It is only 2:45. I guess, I’ll be waiting in front of the office then. Of course everyone knows the duke’s office is the entirety of the upmost floor. His family basically paid for it to be built.
I sit on one of the couches on the lobby and wait. If only I had my guitar with me right now, I can play my songs and sing. If only I had gone home early then I—
I looked at the gray sky by the window and started to sing to myself.
“Rain drops on the asphalt, I ignore being wet
Under my umbrella, why am I still drenched?
Is it really the rain? Or is it merely my tears?
‘Hey look, the moon’s really big tonight.’
I say to you and you laugh.
You say I’m silly but you still pat my head.
You treat me like a child but deep inside…
Do you feel the same way as I?
Every day, we walk together
I always try to tell you how I feel
But I always end up sighing
Ending up not telling.
If only I am braver
If only my front was real
Will something change?
Will we change?”
“You have a nice voice.” Someone from behind tells me.
I let out a dry chuckle. “Thanks.” I look up to see the duke standing next to me. I stand immediately and bow. “Your Grace.”
He laughs at me heartily. “You don’t have to do that. We’re at work!” he says and holds me by the shoulder.
Le oh. I look at his hand from the corner of my eye.
“Come, let’s get this started.” He says and escorts me inside a room.
“Let’s get what started?” I ask, my brows rising in confusion.
He sighs as we enter. “There’s actually this law passed recently proclaiming this month to be the National Health Month. You see, the company joined the Blue Cross Organization last month, and I and the Blue Cross President think we should make a survey. This way, we will know if all our employees are healthy or not.”
“And? What’s the point of that?”
“You’ll find out soon.” He winks and leaves me alone in yet another room. I sigh uninterestingly. Oh, this will be thrilling.
I was walking home alone. That appointment with the sexy-looking doctor was, despite being initially exciting, weird. I sigh, my arms hanging listlessly on both sides, my two bags dragging them even further down. What kind of doctor was that anyway? Why did she even ask if I still have the Virgin Island or not? While all the other tests proved to be legit, that single question creep me out.
So much for my birthday.
I open the lights inside my apartment unit and dropped my bags beside the door. Walking towards the kitchen, I see all the ingredients for my supposed birthday menu scattered above the table. I stop myself from crying.
This is the worst birthday ever.
Okay so maybe not… the worst is still last year’s when I only had to stay at home, with no one to share a bucket-load of beer.
I try not to wallow in my depression and decide I should continue on with my birthday. Despite the tiring day, I begin cooking. I chop the carrots, the potatoes and grind the pork. Oh wait, the sauce should be enough. I turn towards my pot and realize I am missing one ingredient: bell peppers. Tsk, bell peppers cause more than a shilling, darn it!
I turn off the stove and decide to go out and buy one from the convenience store. I can just change my clothes later. I swear I will have a decent birthday meal even if it’s the last thing I’ll do.
I let out a wry chuckle. So much for a party. I wear my priced flats and head out the door.
I am walking down the alley, a plastic bag on one hand when something flies past me. The thing lands on a man’s face spot on. I do a double take on the thing that hit the man and realize it was a stiletto. A four-inch red stiletto at that.
“Leave him alone!” a voice suddenly comes behind me.
“Wha—?” I open my mouth. I better not join in this ruckus. It’s my birthday, for heaven’s sake, and I’m not going to let myself be beaten up by—
The lady in coat hurls her purse at one guy and hits him again. She ingeniously wears her heels and grabs the other guy, who is sitting on the ground, his back against the wall. I think he was being beaten up by these men when the lady in coat arrived.
Who cares how I explain the situation? It’s not like I came here on purpose!
The two of them run at my direction and the lady in coat calls out to me. “Are you just going to watch? If you don’t want those douche bags get you, come with us!”
“Wha—?” I repeat, this time confused. But then I find myself pulling them both, forgetting the bag of bell peppers and running towards my home.
Once we have arrived, I lock the door to my apartment and lean my back on it. “Why,” I pant, “Did you have to do that?”
“He was being beaten, I don’t want to let—” the lady paused. “Oh my gosh.”
“What?” I scrutinize her expression. I haven’t seen her face since I ‘met’ her earlier and when I do, I echo what she said. “Oh my gosh.”
“You are—” she starts, pointing an index finger at me. “Me?
I back down with a frightened chuckle. Of course, I was scared. She fights thugs with her deadly stilettos, she comes out of nowhere, she picks up hurt people in streets and she looks just like me. Is she an alien or something? Or is she an undercover spy who underwent plastic surgery to look just like me? Is she here to ruin my reputation, my job and my whole life? Wait a minute, who the hell is she?
“Who are you?” she asks me, her face painted with an odd curiosity. She looks at me like she was some scientist who is ready to examine her sample.
“What? No, here’s the deal, Miss. Who are you? Why do you have my face?” I spat.
She looks genuinely taken aback. “I have your face?” She lets out a laugh, “You dare say that to me?”
Oh, so she’s playing high and mighty. “Well, then, who are you?” I repeat. Believe me, it’s pretty infuriating to say the same thing over and over again. “And oh, for the record, don’t tell me you’re my sister. Because it says right in my birth certificate that I am the only female live birth in my family.”
“Who am I?” she smirks and stands up straight. “I am Victoria Alexandra Stellar, Princess of Cielo.”
“You’re who-the-what now?” I swear my voice sounded like a little squeak. This is impossible! This is… this is… “This is just a dream, right?” I laugh nervously. “I know I’ve wanted to be a princess when I was young but, please, I’m twenty-three years old, I have a job and I—”
“You’re twenty-three years old too?” she whispers almost inaudibly. “When is your birthday?”
I gulp. “Today.”
I could see she is starting to fidget in her place, “Mikaela was right. The outside world is—”
“The outside world?” I repeat what she said. “And who the heck is Mikaela?”
“My Lady-in-Waiting.” She answers hurriedly. “Oh, should I return or not? It had been so much wonderful here outside and—” she looks at the guy beside her. “And you—” she is looking at him like she had almost forgotten about him already.
“You mean you really came from up there?”
“Up there?” she makes a face, the same face I make when I hear something ridiculous. Oh, what do you know? Even our facial expressions are the same. “I mean, there, in the Stellar Palace, where the King and the Queen and basically, even the Princess live.”
“Well, actually even the servants get to live there, of course.” She inserts.
Servants? I can imagine my ears extending like an elf’s. “You mean, there really are servants who serve you like 24/7?”
“Yeah, basically.” She says with a tired look. Of course I know that look too. It’s the same look I make when my brain is on ‘been there, done that’ mode.
We both pause. At the back of my mind, I cannot forget about the guy standing beside her, worry about who he is and why is he even with her, considering she’s the princess, if ever that’s true.
“What’s your name?” she suddenly says and I recoil.
How can I forget that? “I… It’s been so rude of me, Your Highness…” I stutter. “I’m Chrysandra Noirwood. I’m honoured to be in your presence.” I bow. It’s a thing we were taught of when we were in school.
She bows her head ever so slightly and I notice her hands clasp just below her chest. If she really is the princess… then…
What a pain in the neck she must be. You know? To be out here and pick up strangers just like that. She’s weird.
But if she’s really the princess, a woman with power and all, why would she want to be out here?
“Ms. Chrysandra Noirwood, there’s something I want to propose to you.” She finally breaks the silence. I haven’t even noticed that we’ve gone silent for a long time. It seems to me like she had been thinking to herself too.
“What is it, Your Highness?” I ask. Fine, I look like her. And fine, she’s the princess, yes, I get that. So, now I just have to do what she has to say right? That’s just right… right?
She looks as though she is considering her offer. I wonder what it is. She then looks straight at me and announces, “From this day until the end of the day tomorrow,” she paused before dropping the nuclear bomb right at my face. “I want you to become the new Princess of Cielo.”
“Target acquired.” My best friend’s voice is quivering under the pressure. For the past few trials, she couldn’t hit even one, single target. She breathes deeply and fires. And misses. Horribly. If only it is fine to react, I’d do it without much of a second’s warning. I mean, it’s a cardboard deer! A. Cardboard. Deer! It’s not even moving. But hey, she’s still my best friend. So no matter how horrible her firing skills are, I still love her.
She slumps in defeat, waiting for me to stand and shoot next. I could’ve stood but I feel something. I’ve been feeling it since morning.
Of all the crap, crap, crappy things that could happen in Target Practice Session, my crappy female hormones have to interfere. Mikaela looks at me in concern as I breathe deeply on my seat. “Your Grace?” I look up, trying to make the face. She and I have shared our childhood together. We basically grew up together, though in different circumstances but well—never mind that—we know each other for so long, we have invented secret codes, languages and yes, faces, that only we could understand. She recoils as she got the signal. “I believe Her Highness needs to be escorted back to her room.”
“But she haven’t said anything, how can you understand—” our male best friend complains. After my turn, it could have been his.
I stand, holding on to Mikaela and say, “You can have the whole session, Xan. Fire on.”
Happy as a little dog who is allowed to play with his ball, he grabs a nearby HK 270 and fires relentlessly at the targets.
I moan at the noise. My abdomen is in agony and Xander firing like a drunken maniac isn’t helping. Mikaela instinctively carries my weight on her shoulders and we walk a little faster. Oh, this is going to be the longest walk in my entire life.
“You should’ve told me about that earlier, Alex. We could’ve stayed in your room.” She scolds. Why would she even scold me? This happens every month.
“I thought I’d be alright. I didn’t know it would worsen like this. And besides,” I pause. “I wanted to—” I hesitate, looking out the palace gates. I wanted to go out.
Mikaela sighs. “Here we are. Rest, Alex. It’s what every girl needs during the red tide.” I know it sounds horrible to talk about that, but what can I do? “What do you want me to bring you? Tea? Coffee? Some snacks?”
“Pomegranate tea would be fine.” I throw myself on my bed and roll. “Also, some cake. Yes, vanilla-flavoured.”
And then, she had to drop the bombshell. “You eat too many sweets, Alex. You should watch your weight.”
I stand almost immediately and exclaim, “There’s no way I’m getting f—”
Of course, she had to burst out laughing. Of all the things she had to joke about was my weight. I mean, what’s 129 pounds? Tell me! I’m tall and I admit I still have baby fats here and there but I—oh, never mind.
She makes the unmistakable pig-sound at the end of each chuckle and pauses. Oh, wait, don’t tell her I told you about her laugh. She’ll kill me. “I’ll get you your cake and tea.”
“Wait!” I curl in a heap on my bed, “Tea’s fine. Never mind the cake.”
“That hurt your pride, Your Highness?” she smirks.
“Get outta here.” I throw her the pillow and laugh. “I love you!”
“I know that.” She winks and closes the door to my room.
Finally alone, I breathe deeply and drag myself out of bed. I throw the curtains open and stare at the view outside. I specifically chose this room for my own because the balcony’s main view would be the palace gates. I rest my head on the rails, staring at the metal restraints that separate me and freedom. Call me weird or stupid, but I want to go out those gates on my own and not just because I have to. Sure I’ve roamed around Gaea but I’ve never truly explored its wonders. I want to travel, experience what it’s like to wait in line, eat food the locals serve, mingle with people and most especially, write about how wonderful this kingdom is.
I look back at my room, darting my eyes on the opened laptop on my dresser. I walk over to it and sit on the velvet-cushioned chair before it. I gaze at the mirror in front of me, studying my reflection. My eyes then catch sight of the tiara placed neatly on top of my head, pinned painfully on my hair. I make a face and take it off. No one is with me anyway.
I start to press the buttons relentlessly on my keyboard, typing, typing… typing. I stare out the balcony one last time before finally ending my essay:
“Freedom, no matter how elusive it may be, will be in my hands.”
I know it sucks. It’s not like I’m a writer, though I do want to be one. I want to write about my adventure and… I drop my shoulders in yet another realization: a realization that I also do not have in my life… I want to write about romance.
I press Ctrl+O and click on one document: The Angel’s Demon. It’s a story I’ve been whipping up since last month. I read the first paragraph from ‘Chapter Seven’ and smiled in triumph. It’s not that bad at all, I realize.
“Falling feathers signalled his arrival and Lilith, gazing up at the blinding light, beamed in happiness. It was a feat no other demon can do. It had been a true miracle for her to be blessed by him, and she was given the ability to smile. They both knew it was blasphemy but the moment Sammael welcomed her into his embrace, everything else was overlooked. As long as they were bound by their love for one another, nothing else can restrain them.”
And then for a second, I am thinking, I really wrote this myself? Ha, to think I was drunk back when I wrote ‘Chapter Seven’. I am feeling inspired. I think I can write the next chapter now. I flex my fingers and crack my knuckles. This chapter ought to be good!
I begin to type the title when the door to my room flew open, revealing Mikaela in the middle and two servants on either side. “Princess, you’re tea.”
Well, what took them so long? I think for a second, realizing they have been slow.
“We ran out of pomegranate tea, Your Highness. But I ordered them to get enough supply in the pantry to last for three months.” Mikaela explains, her chin up. Of course when in front of other people, she has to treat me the way she should but when it’s only the two of us, I tell her not to be extra polite.
That explains it. My mind chirps in amusement. Sometimes, I don’t understand why these people are willing to go an extra mile to serve me and the whole of the royal family. I could understand them serving Mum and Dad with such tact but I do not need such attention. I mean, I’m just an ordinary girl… right?
“No.” Mikaela’s voice suddenly brings me back to reality. “Alex, you’re the princess, the daughter of Gaea’s King and Queen. Why do you expect them to treat you as equal?”
“You think aloud.” She points out bluntly, pouring me some tea, “Not only that, someday, you too will be crowned queen.”
I make a face.
“Ah-ah.” She scolds. She really got something from her mother, seriously. “I know that face. And I know you’re tired of being the princess but hello? It’s not like you can escape from what you’re destined to be, Alex. The moment you were born, all of these were meant to be.”
“What if I was born in a different family? With a different way of life? Then what will my life be?” I ask. I know I sound like a child but I can’t help it. I can’t help my desire of wanting to become a woman without royal restraints. Even just for a day.
“Well, if perhaps you were born into a lesser ranking family, you will have to cook, clean, wash the dishes, wear ordinary clothes and most importantly, no one will serve you like we do. In fact, no one will serve you at all.”
I’m fine with that. I muse. I just want to try it. “Have you tried doing those things, Mikaela?”
“Yes, my mother thought me how to cook and clean when I was younger. When I assumed her role as your personal lady-in-waiting, I was then trained to do these things. Tedious but it will have to do.” She laughs, making those pig-sounds again.
I frown, feeling a slight pang of jealousy. “Uhm, Mikaela? Can I be on my own for a moment? I want to write something.” I say, using my novels as a pathetic excuse for wanting to be alone.
“Yes, Your Grace.” She curtsies and leaves my room without even the slightest hint of objection. Just when I am about to go back writing, she opens the door again. “By the way, it’s your birthday, Your Grace. When you feel well, at least show up later for the party? Also, the King and Queen will return from Aria later. I’m sure there will be offerings.” With that, she goes again. This time, for real.
I sigh and face my laptop. Oh right. I look at the date and realize it is my birthday. Well, if it is my birthday then I only wish for one thing: independence, even just for one day. But I breathe deeply, thinking it is impossible. Inevitably impossible.
I shake my head. I shouldn’t be depressed on my birthday. Oh well, maybe a new story will fix me up. I open a new document and begin.
I swirl the blood-coloured wine inside my glass.
I am bored to death. This is probably the worst birthday I’ve ever had in my entire life. And I’m not even exaggerating. My parents had called earlier, telling me they couldn’t go home. Well, not that I’m sad about that. I’ve celebrated several birthdays already without them. And, of course, there are the nobles. That isn’t my problem either. I am used to them introducing their fat and sometimes ugly sons to me anyway. Nothing has ever changed.
Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating. And okay, I just turned twenty-three. Birthdays aren’t supposed to be a big deal anymore. Okay, so I don’t care anymore. This party can go on without me. I dart my eyes towards my left. Those presents don’t mean to me at all. Yeah, they’re mostly diamonds and gold. Believe me, I’ve had enough of them already.
I stand and left the table, startling Mikaela and Xander. I walk to my room, an idea forming inside my head. I can hear them both following me and I raise my hand, giving Mikaela a signal.
“What are you planning?” she shouts and I stop. I look back at her with a glum look. “Oh, is this a secret?”
“Duh.” I reply as we all enter my room. “I want to go out, guys.” I blurt, not able to contain myself anymore. “Just for one day.”
“What?” Xander gasps. “Wait… you actually mean you’re planning to ditch your own birthday party?”
“Well, I admit it is quite boring.” Mikaela says. “Nothing has ever changed. And to think you are the princess.”
“Guys, will you help me out? I’ll wear a hooded coat. I’ll right the horse form the stable. No one will know.”
“Oh yeah we’ll help you.” Xander casually says. “As long as it doesn’t kill us both!”
“Oh, come on. I’ll return as soon as I can. No one will even know!” I repeat. “Please?”
Xander and Mikaela look at each other, fear and doubt painted their faces. But soon, those are replaced with mischievous smirks. Mikaela faces me with her usual motherly gaze. “But be sure you’ll return by five, tomorrow evening. It’s just one day, Alex, one day.”
“I’ll go prepare the horse.” Xander turns his back and leaves my room.
“I love you, guys.” I smile as I prepare my coat.
Mikaela puts her hands on her hips. “Be sure to wear something simple. You don’t want the people fawning over you or some thugs kidnapping you or something. Remember, the outside world is dangerous for you, My Lady.”
“Psh, I’ll be fine.” I shrug and we prepare to leave.
Oh, by the way, when I say horses in the stable? I mean the car in the garage. Geez, thanks to my parents feeding my mind with ancient terms, I now call the car a horse.
I start the engine and with the headlights closed, drive out of the gates. I coax one guard into allowing me to go out by bribing him with money. I know, I know, it’s wrong but I did tell myself I will do anything to make this work. Once out of the palace perimeters, I open the lights and speed up.
For a moment I drove listlessly but then, I step on the brake. Where will I go? Where do I start? I shrug my shoulders and drive on. I am looking around, the lights from houses are so bright. I can see the people: some were making merry, some were quarrelling over something and some just walking in the streets. I prepare myself as I enter the main city. Buildings rise up high, the lights here were even brighter than before and the place is bustling with crowds. I ease my way when traffic emerges ahead. So this is how the city looks like at night. It seems alive.
I can’t help looking around. I feel so alive! And then one thought strikes me. With a mischievous smile, I park the car on the side of the street and step out. I run in the midst of people. I try the foods that are new to me. I roam the city like a tourist. Yes, for today, I am not the princess.
Even if it is for a day, I am at liberty.
I can see her mouth hanging open. If only it is possible for it to fall down the ground, it may have fallen by now. “Creepy as it is, we have to accept that we do look like each other.” I say matter-of-factly. “In fact, I do want to know why we look the same. Don’t you?”
She straightens herself and fixes her blazer. “And you think making me the princess for basically fourteen hours will answer that question?”
“Who knows?” I reply. We both slump in defeat. I scan her room, looking for a clock. It is still 10:30 pm. It is practically still my birthday. “You said you’re birthday’s today too?” I smirk, fishing something out of my pocket. “Here’s the key to my car. Go get it and drive to the palace. There’s a party going on and it’s still not done. Come on, we can change clothes, no one will know.”
She is making the look that reminded me of my own: the look I make when I’m trying to look like I am considering something when in fact I’ve done thinking about it already. “Being princess, eh? With servants? And basically no one to order you around like some petty pooch. In fact, I get to order people around.” She is definitely speaking to herself now. We sound like children playing a game. Well, it may sound like a game but for us, two—though I don’t know her story—it’s a chance of a lifetime. This may never come again in the future. It’s something both of us should grab right now.
She grabs the key from me and smiles. “You got yourself a deal, Your Highness.”
“Call me Alex, Your Highness.” I chuckle.
“Oh wait… before I go?” she pauses and faces me. “Can I finish cooking food? It’s still my birthday and well… you know? It’s kind of like a reward for myself. After a long year. It’s kind of like a chance to celebrate ‘me’.”
“Do you have a bucket-load of beer?”
“You bet I do.” She grins and offers me her hand. “You can call me Sandra, by the way.”
I shake hands with her and scream suddenly, a thought entering my mind. “You!” I turn around to the guy I ‘saved’ earlier.
“Yeah, you!” Sandra echoes. “Why’d you pick him up anyway? Who knows this guy’s used to fighting thugs and getting beaten up?”
“I was concerned.” I pouted, wiping the dust off his face. “What’s your name again?”
“Oh please, Princess Alex, it’s not normal to pick up strangers like that.” Sandra fires again. The way she speaks reminds me of myself sometimes.
“Harold.” We hear him speak. His voice was deep, a beautifully resounding tenor. “Harold Youngblood.”
Now it was my turn to open my mouth in surprise. “From the lost family of Youngblood?”
“The original bloodline of the royal family!” Sandra inserts. “Really? Another royalty in my house?” she complains and sits on the small sofa.
“I suppose so.” Harold laughs amusingly, though his voice was weak. To be honest, he does look like he was starving off the land. “And no, I’m not royalty. I’m just an ordinary citizen from Aria. ”
“Aria?” I whisper to myself, placing a balled fist near my lips. “So the duke really had migrated to Aria.” When I was young, there was once a rumour around the palace that a duke, the last noble from the Youngblood family, fled the palace after being accused of treason. I never taught it was true. Or, if it is true, then this guy—
I look up at Harold Youngblood and find him gazing at me. “I don’t remember having a duke for a relative.”
I rack my brain for a list of Youngblood nobles. Josiah, Henry, Lance, Paul… “Paul Youngblood?”
“You know my great-grandfather?” he widens his sky-coloured eyes at me.
“Well, apparently, he was the Duke of Aethir, right after four generations.”
Harold guffaws, like it was the most ridiculous thing he has ever heard. “He was no duke!” he says in between laughs. “He was only a carpenter. Dukes live on castles. My great grandfather lived in a small family house he himself built.”
“But your name! There are no other Youngbloods in Gaea except for the royal family.” Sandra butts in, pointing at him like he was some accused person. She backfires a moment later. “Well, the former royal family, I mean.”
“What is your proof?” he declares, unmoved. He then proceeds to the door, preparing to leave. Clearly, he finds this conversion tedious, or more or less, unconvincing.
“Fine!” Sandra sighs, exasperated. “Who needs some fake royalty guy anyway?”
“Apparently, both of you don’t need me.” he grins and goes out. Not even looking back once, like this encounter was nothing more than a speck in his own world, he is gone.
Honestly, I am a little disappointed. The Youngbloods were the reason for Gaea’s Golden Age! Oh well. If anything, I find one thing interesting.
“Who needs guys, eh?” I smirk. “Why? Got any experience?”
“Oh, please. Don’t bring that up.” She lies on the small couch, her legs up on one of its arms. “I’ve already gotten over that. Lily knows it.”
“Who’s Lily?” I face her, bending low so I could examine her face. Uhm, it’s a thing I do when I find a conversation interesting. Now that I think of it… did I put my face inches near his? Oh gods, never mind that.
“She’s my officemate. Well, more than an officemate.” She smiles knowingly. “She’s my best friend.” She then abruptly sits up and moves to one side of the couch. “Come, sit with me.”
I am more than happy to oblige. No matter how much I am used to wearing heels, standing on them for probably two hours isn’t my idea of fashion. “Is this weird?” I ask her, a sense of awkwardness suddenly dawning over me. It has been a little over an hour since we met and no, I still haven’t gotten over our faces. I mean seriously! Our parents have a lot of explaining to do.
“You’re weird, actually.” She goes straight to the point. She shakes her head and adds, “No, you’re nuts.”
I am astounded for a moment but then I laugh. Sitting there with a stranger I barely know, a stranger who looks just like me, I am laughing like a maniac. I have never laughed so hard in my life. Not able to contain herself anymore, she starts with a small chuckle and then joins me in my hilarity later on.
“We could be sisters!” she says, contradicting her earlier statement. “Seriously! Our parents have a lot of explaining to do.”
“I was thinking that just now!” I blurt, a mile-wide smile spread on my face.
We sound crazy, sniggering and grinning like freaks. “Come on, let’s get this two-woman party started.”
“What’s the plan?” she moves a bit towards me with a thrilled look. “I got the keys to your car.”
Leaning my back, I think. “Well, you can ‘go home’…” I raise my fingers, bending them twice to emphasize my words. “Tell Mikaela that it wasn’t fun ‘out there’ and that you’ll consider not going out ever again.”
“Okay. How about 5 pm tomorrow?”
To be honest, I am running out of ideas. Somehow, having a failed birthday, meeting a ‘fake’ Youngblood and then meeting someone who looks exactly like me drained the daylights out of my wits. “Tell them you had a change of heart.” I shrug.
“That’s stupid.” She crinkles her nose and lies back on the couch’s arm.
“Yeah I know. Let’s just have beer.” I stand, stretching my arms above my head and kicking the heels off my sore feet. “Where’s your pantry?”
She burst out laughing once again. “Pantry? Really? Is your stock of beer really that large back in your palace?”
“Well, everything comes from the pantry, actually. Beer, wine, food, tea. Everything.”
She stands and puts an arm around me, smirking. “Pardon my small house then, Your Highness but I have no pantry.” She walks past me and opens a small fridge. “This is all I have.” She says proudly. “You could say this is my mini pantry.” She bends low and then pops her head up, throwing me a can of beer. “There. I hope you enjoy second-class booze, Your Highness.”
“Vizz?” I brighten up. “I love this brand!”
“It’s my favourite.” She huffs after swallowing. “So okay. I take back what I said earlier. Your plan may work. What else are we similar with?”
“I write novels.” I timidly answer, playing with my thumbs. “It’s what I do to pass time.”
She cocks her head, a frown forming on her face. “I write songs.” But she quickly brightens up. “There’s little difference. What else?”
Creasing my forehead, my face shifting to thinking mode, I try to come up with things I like. “I do practice once in a while in the shooting range. You know? With cardboard deer.”
“You know how to fire a gun?” there’s her mouth hanging wide open again. Really, do I do that too?
I raise my shoulders, “I know how to use a range of guns. Instead of swords, which are so one hundred years ago, guns are actually the best weapons of choice.”
“Why do you need guns when you have guards anyway?” she makes a disbelieved face.
“That’s basically the supposed ‘principle’ behind our sessions. But really, it’s more of a stress-reliever.”
“How can you even be stressed when servants get to do everything for you?”
I chuckle, sipping from my can and sit down the couch. “Oh, you have no idea.”
“I think I want to have the idea.” She comes and occupies the space beside me. “What can you say? Until 5 pm tomorrow?”
“Deal.” I look at her and smile, levelling the can to her face. “Cheers?”
“Happy birthday?” she inserts.
Giggling once, I answer. “Happy birthday.”
Adjusting the shades on my face, I accompany Sandra to where I parked my car earlier. We have changed clothes like I suggested. “Just say what you have to say.” I tell her for like the gazillionth time already. “Say what pops in your head. Like it was awful or something to that effect.”
“I know, I know.” She whines. “Geez, I can’t believe I sound like that.”
“Yeah, and I can’t believe how you make me sound like a five-year old.” I fire back as she enters the car. “Remember, Gate 4. And tell the guard…”
“…You can still keep the money I gave you and thank you for letting me out. I promise I won’t tell the King and Queen.” With me looking at her like a strict professor, she recoils. “I mean, Mum and Dad.” I smile in satisfaction and begin to walk away.
“I don’t want to find my house trashed when I return, okay?” she calls and I turn my head to see her head popped out the window.
“As you wish, Your Highness.” I jest and grin as I wave her goodbye. This will be interesting.
Now, what do I do?
I stare at the big city right before me. What to do? I study the perimeters and spot my target.
I glance at my—oh, I mean, Sandra’s—wristwatch. It is only 11:19 pm.
Scrutinizing the bar on my right a few meters away from me, I think: This should be an exciting way to end my birthday.
Not really minding the other customers that came in with me, I sit on the last seat on the far corner of the bar and stare at the bartender. I am too lazy to call his attention so I keep quiet. He seems to catch me looking at him and grins. “Your order, ma’am?”
“Vodka.” I mutter. He looks surprised. “Why? Not used to hear women ordering that?”
“Are you sure?” he asks, wiping the mug in his hand.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” I shrug and look away. “I’m used to it. Besides, I hold a record for drinking three bottles on one sitting back at home.” He faces me with a surprised grin. “It’s my birthday and I—” I halt. “Never mind that. I’m here to celebrate.”
I sigh and scan my surroundings. At the far edge of the little room, I spot him. I raise my brows. He’s here? I see the bartender talking to him casually. They know each other? They laugh with such gusto I think they were joking on something. Or someone. Or whatever. Then I see the bartender point a finger on me and he looks in my way. And the way he looks at me makes me want to maim him. He looks as though he just saw a ghost from his bloody past. I knit my brows and make my way towards them.
“You have a problem with me, pal?” I spat. There’s no way, this guy’s going to ruin my mood, and more or less, what’s last of my birthday.
“No, nothing.” He chuckles. “I was just surprised to find you here.” He pauses and mocks straight at my face. “So, where’s the ‘princess’, huh?” he laughs. “That woman is bonkers.”
I indignantly breathe. “You dare call me—”
“What? You’re the princess now?” he challenges me. I hold my breath, my insides shaking in anger. I raise a balled fist, ready to hit him in the face but he easily catches me. He stands and pulls me close, looking at me like he was challenging me to answer. He knows I won’t admit that I am the princess. There are people in the bar and they aren’t the type of audience whom I would want to reveal my secret. He knows who I am. I can see it in his face. I don’t know how he can tell but I just know he can distinguish me and Sandra from each other. “You’re not her, aren’t you?” he whispers dangerously in my ear. “You’re the crazy girl from earlier.” I try to break free from him but he won’t budge.
I raise my free hand and hit him straight on in the face. Outraged, I storm out of the bar.
“Thanks, Mr. Fake Youngblood for ruining my night.” I mutter grudgingly. “If only I can shoot his balls!” I am about to scream in utter frustration when someone grabs me by the shoulders.
My eyes widen in surprise and for a second, my brain orders my entire body to turn around and kick whoever’s holding my shoulder.
“Whoa!” Harold Youngblood dodges my attack easily, grinning lopsidedly. I ignore him and continue walking towards Sandra’s apartment but he pulls me back.
I turn my head and make a furious face. “What do you want?”
He bashfully scratches the back of his head. “Have I ruined your mood?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” I want to cry. I think I might cry. “You think so, huh?”
“I heard from your conversation with your twin—”
“We’re not twins!” I snap but that doesn’t stop him.
“—it’s your birthday, right?”
Oh gods, why does he have to remind me of that? “Fuck you.” I utter with seething rage and leave him alone.
Gods, this is the worst day ever. I just wish Sandra will do fine in the palace.