I’m in my room, standing next to my dresser, hands frozen around the whistle I wear around my neck. A birthday present from dad when I turned ten; in the shape of a horse. Hearing my name jolts me back to reality. I open my door.
“Morning, mom,” I say.
“Breakfast is in ten minutes and sweets, shouldn’t you have your bag packed by now? School starts–”
“In thirty minutes. I got it, thanks.” I turn to close the door when I kiss her on the cheek and smile. “I’ll be right there.”
I sweep my hair into a low ponytail, draping it over my left shoulder like always and adjust my blouse under my vest. With a quick glance in the mirror, I grab my things and head out my door to the kitchen.
I’m so tempted to slip away right now to our hiding place, but I know mom would miss me and don’t want to have to explain where I went and why. The entire kitchen staff greets me with a bow as I walk in. And like always, the tiniest twinge of heat prickles the top of my ears. Even after seventeen years, it still feels unnatural.
Quickly, I sit next to Colton, and as I butter a roll, my eyes spot several cases of food in the kitchen–bread, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, fish, meat–sitting ready for the ceremony. So much food. So much preparation. So much pressure. Something cold suddenly slides across my finger, and I jump. Looking down, I realize I’ve buttered part of my hand. Wiping it off, I glance at Colton to see if he’s affected by any of it. He’s busy attempting to balance a banana on the end of his finger.
“How’d the fitting go?” I ask Colton, who now has his head low in a bowl of oatmeal.
“Fine,” he mumbles.
“No, not fine,” says mom. “He purposefully tricked the seamstress into thinking he was actually six feet tall.”
“She deserved it!”
“Well? She wouldn’t listen to any of my requests about the style or anything. So, I tricked her.”
Mom winks at me across the table. It’s what I love about her. She plays tough, but she’s just as much kid as we are.
“I told you. Your father has very specific rules about what should be worn.”
“Where is he anyway?” I ask, having realized he was yet again not at breakfast. I cram the roll into my mouth but slow with one look from mom. Sitting up straight in my chair, I chew mechanically until it’s mush, then swallow.
Colton scoffs. “I bet I know where he is.”
Mom doesn’t say anything that time. Because we all know. Where he is most of the day. With his advisor, Derek Patrick, discussing plans, Naming preparations, how not to spend time with his family, etc.
Derek. The one name in the castle that leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. And I’ve got my reasons. Oily smiles; patronizing greetings; but mostly, his dominating hand over dad. Ever since he was promoted to advisor, he’s locked dad away in his office, planning and strategizing for the future, stealing time away from family. Plus, Derek’s obsession with power seems obvious. At least to me, Colton, and mom. But not, unfortunately, to dad. To dad, he’s wise. Helpful. An asset. Which is why we hardly see dad anymore.
I remember when we did–I just turned five. And we would spend time outdoors, in the fairgrounds of the castle. Our whole family. Mom. Colton, who was only one at the time, and dad. Carefree dad who somehow seemed like a different person then. He’d lift me up into the air, I, giggling at the freedom of it all, feeling like I was flying in the sky, safe; he, smiling at me, as if nothing else mattered in that moment.
Something crashes onto the table, shattering my memory and reeling me back into the present. Colton’s knife sits in his bowl, oatmeal mush scattered everywhere. Carlyle, our head of staff, hurries over from the corner he was standing in, silently watching.
“Oh, no, Carlyle, it’s fine,” says mom, who I know is embarrassed to let anyone help her clean up anything. Unlike the rest of us, she didn’t grow up in the castle. “Colton can clean it up.” She says this, staring hard at Colton, who, seemingly had tried this time to balance his knife on his finger, then managed to drop it.
“Yeah, I got it. Don’t worry Carlyle. Thanks.”
An older man with short grey hair and petite frame bows gently to us all and slips back into the corner, almost invisibly. Of all the staff, of all the people standing around, watching us, listening to us, protecting us, Carlyle I don’t mind. For some reason I get the feeling he truly does tune us out when he’s not required to listen.
We finish breakfast and head down the hallway to class. Staff kids. Government kids. Advisor kids. We’re all taught inside the castle by live-in professors. Colton passed on having a private tutor early on. I, however, took some convincing. Being the princess means living in a constant spotlight, and I’d rather cover that light as much as possible.
At least for the next four days, because of Colton’s Naming, classes are lighter, more fun, even. We get off early each day for preparations, and the day before the Naming is an entire free period. It can’t come quickly enough.
I take a seat on one of the couches by the wall and wait for my classmates to arrive. Ten of us in one class. I like that it’s small. It makes speaking up less painful.
I look up from my hands and notice Victoria heading my way. Her round face is flush with rouge; her blue eyes sparkling; and a huge grin appears on her face, which only means one thing–she’s got something to brag about. I shouldn’t think that, since she’s my best friend, but I do. It’s true.
“Breslin, look. Look what my dad just bought me. Isn’t it gorgeous?” She plops down next to me on the couch, her long blonde hair bouncing with her, and holds out her wrist to show me a beautiful silver bracelet. “He had it hand made for my wrist and everything.”
“It’s beautiful,” I say. A twinge of jealously races through me, thinking about her dad doing something special for her. But I smile and continue smiling as she tells me just where he went to get it and for how much. My eyes stray from her face to her perfectly curled hair; her perfectly pressed blue skirt; then down to my own, which I dug out of a pile on the floor. As I’m smoothing out the creases, the professor arrives and the room quiets down.
“Class, as you know, Colton’s Naming is taking place in just five days. I thought it would be a good idea to go around the room and share your experience of your Naming. As a way to help and honor Colton as he experiences his own very shortly. Princess Breslin?”
“Why don’t you start?”
Start. Talking about my Naming. The absolute last thing in the world I would ever want to rehash. And yet, here I am, staring at my classmates, staring at me. They all know what happened. What my Naming was. Why is Professor Latimer trying to force me to relive this awful moment?
“Please begin when you’re ready. I know we’d all love to hear about your ceremony.”
This man must have been sick the day of my Naming, but I take a deep breath and begin. The words that fly out of my mouth are a mixture of mumbles and nerves. I’m wringing my hands so much that my skin feels ready to fall off. I describe what I wore, where I sat. Who was there. I can feel Victoria’s eyes staring at me. And the others too. Like they’re enjoying watching me embarrass myself. I can’t tell anymore if what I’m saying makes sense, but I barrel through to the end. “The Reader wrote my meaning in ink and sealed it. I waited for the ink to appear on the paper before reading it myself. Before my Naming could reveal itself to me,” I say. I can hear my classmates whispering to one another. See them leaning towards each other with small smiles on their faces. They all know. They know exactly what my meaning was. I suddenly stop talking.
“I–I’ll be right back.”
And before I can finish, I race off towards the nearest restroom.