After the painting competition, the girls spent the rest of the day putting the finishing touches on their rooms and taking a tour of the grand estate. In no time at all, evening fell, and everyone gathered in the dining hall to enjoy a gourmet dinner together. The conversation was lively. Each girl had something to offer about where she was from, and together they lamented their similarities and differences.
“Back home in Russia, my mother would make beef stroganoff once a week,” Klavdiya said, letting her accent overpower the voices of the others. “It was the only time she ever cooked. I hated it so much. It tasted like der’mo. I used to beg my nanny to sneak me food after I went to bed on those nights.”*
“My mom was no cook either, though I’d never tell her that,” Ming chuckled. “She would make me sit at the table for hours ’til I ate the dog vomit she called food. Then it was off to violin lessons, which I also hated.”
Lyric gasped. “How could anyone hate the violin? My mom used to ask me to stop playing,” She laughed. “She told me my fingers would stay curled if I played for too long.”
Stellan laughed at the story – it was easy to imagine Lyric as a child, gripping her violin and getting lost in the music.
Across the table, Raina and Lyndsay were busy comparing their hobbies.
“I love shopping,” Lyndsay mused. “I could spend all day just perusing the racks, flinging clothes at the employees!”
A crease formed between Raina’s eyebrows as she listened to Lyndsay go on about her shopping adventures. Raina found her shallow and mindless – she would much rather be learning from a book than bossing around the servants Lyndsay claimed to torture.
“I’m more of an academic myself,” Raina said politely, trying to ease herself out of the conversation.
Lyndsay’s eyes widened in horror. “Academics? Like…school?”
“Yes,” Raina said. “I’d rather read a book than try on clothes.”
Lyndsay scoffed. “That explains your sweater.”
Meanwhile, Stellan closed his eyes and took a deep breath before surveying the table. The day so far had exhausted him. However, someone else must have been more exhausted, for there was a missing lady. He noted Alexandria’s absence as a wave of worry washed over him. He had seen her earlier at the painting competition, and noted the flushed cheeks that betrayed a fever.
Alone in her room, Alexandria clutched her stomach and groaned. She could feel her whole body pulse along with her heartbeat. Her stomach churned and her cheeks went ruddy with fever. Alexandria trudged to her bed weakly, promising herself she’d get something to eat later.
Meanwhile, dinner was wrapping up and the girls had settled in the ladies room to drink tea.
“How do you like it here?” Simcess asked Raina over their ginseng tea.
“I’ve been loving it so far,” Raina gushed. “The tour today was absolutely amazing – I didn’t know you could put fountains indoors!”
Simcess chuckled while Sydney rolled her eyes.
Of course you can put a fountain inside, she thought to herself. Back home I’ve got nine of them. That place would make this one look like a dump.
“And your roommate – have you spoken to Kara much?”
“Well…” Raina trailed off, looking over at the raven-haired girl.
Oblivious of Raina’s hesitance to say anything, Kara examined the walls and ceilings again. She hadn’t found any secret passages yet, but she promised herself that she would find them all, no matter the cost.
“And then I said, ‘it’s okay; the half-shaved look is in right now!'”
Lyric laughed at her roommate Natalia’s joke. Natalia had a habit of recounting her early days as a hairstylist, and would often offer a funny story or two to those willing to listen.
“I can’t believe you did that!” Lyric said, covering her mouth to stifle a snort.
“It’s not like I meant to shave off some of his hair – I mixed up the tools!”
“Well I hope you’ve gained some more experience,” Lyric said, still chuckling.
Simultaneously, Kara got up and started pacing the room, her gaze roving everywhere. She settled on examining the mirrors that lined one wall, narrowing her eyes in distrust.
“That Kara girl is crazy,” Klavdiya said with a shake of her head. “Her head is in the clouds – she ought to come down and join us here on earth.”
Yasmine laughed at how offended Klavdiya looked. She was more concerned with Stellan, not the other girls around her. Still, she had to admit the girl had a point.
“I swear on my life these glasses are prescription,” Ming said, raising a hand as if taking an oath.
London smiled at the exuberance. “I didn’t doubt you, Ming. It was just a question!”
While the girls got to know each other, Stellan lead Shirley to the courtyard, tea mugs in hand. They sat across each other on the comfy picnic chairs, gazing into the fountain that spewed crystal clear water.
“So, tell me about yourself,” Stellan said, smiling warmly.
“Well…” Shirley began, trying to find the words. “I grew up with my parents, like any normal kid.”
“What were they like?” Stellan asked, leaning forward in his seat.
Shirley sighed and looked at her entwined hands. “I can’t really remember. They died when I was young.”
“I am so sorry,” Stellan apologized, coaxing Shirley to look him in the eyes. “I didn’t mean to bring up such painful memories.”
“It’s fine,” Shirley reassured him, taking a steadying breath. “I’ve had lots of time to think and heal. They died in a lobster accident – it was truly tragic. One minute your parents are hugging you, and the next, the lobsters are…well…you know.”
Stellan paused. He didn’t know. Was he supposed to know how you died at the hands of lobsters? Sure, he had heard of llama accidents and overexertion, but never lobsters.
“Since then, I was raised by my uncle. He wasn’t around much though,” Shirley continued, her lower lip quivering.
For the next hour, Stellan and Shirley talked about everything under the sun; Interests, hobbies, and more. Stellan noted with some curiosity that Shirley had a tendency to mumble to herself, and decided one day he would find out why.
While Shirley and Stellan finished up their conversation, Lyric gravitated towards the grand piano. It was like coming home – she was so comfortable sitting on the plush seat, pressing lightly on the keys. Natalia had followed the lilting sound, and had come to stand across from her roommate, swaying to the melody. Lyric had a gift – there was no doubt about that.
Stellan was on his way upstairs when he too heard the melodious sound. Stepping lightly so as not to disturb Lyric, he walked up behind her, entranced by the music.
Lyric saw a shadow fall over the piano. She turned around and jumped, letting out a little squeal when she saw Stellan so close.
“I’m so sorry!” She said, covering her mouth. “You frightened me.”
“I should be the one apologizing, not you.” Stellan said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t let me stop you. That was incredible.”
“Oh, it was nothing.” Lyric said. A pink blush had crept up on her cheeks.
“She’s just being modest!” Natalia cooed, walking over to them. “That was amazing, Lyric. You truly have a gift.”
“I agree,” Stellan said, smiling softly. “Will you teach me how to play sometime?”
Lyric’s eyes widened in surprise. “Of course! I’d love that.”
“Great!” Stellan said. “I’ll set something up. For now, I bid you good night.” he said with a slight bow.
The two girls chorused their goodbyes. Once he was out of sight, they squealed together and jumped up and down like little girls. Together, they linked arms and skipped to their room, not bothering to hide their elation. Lyric for her upcoming date and Natalia for her genuine excitement her friend would get time with the prince.
Upstairs, Stellan walked down the long hallway to stand outside a specific door.
He couldn’t hear anything, but wasn’t surprised. However, he knew he had to see Alexandria, if only to check up on her. He clutched the vial of medicine behind his back, rocking nervously on his heels. Summoning up the courage, he lifted a gloved hand and knocked on the door.
“Alex? Are you in there?”
Alexandria was sleeping lightly, still weak from the fever. A garbled voice came through the doorway, but she was too tired to answer it.
No matter how hard she tried to ignore the relentless knocks, she finally realized it wasn’t going to stop until she let the person in.
Getting up on shaky feet, Alex straightened her top and rubbed her eyes.
“Who is it?” She called, fighting to get the raspy words out.
That got her attention. Making her way to the door as quickly as possible, she unlatched the lock and swung open the door.
“Come in! I’m so sorry I didn’t answer sooner.”
“I don’t blame you,” Stellan reassured her. “I know how sick you’ve been. I just wanted to check up on you.”
“That’s very kind of you, but you didn’t have to do that.” Alex said. “I don’t want you to get sick.”
Stellan dismissed her concern with a wave of his hand. “Nonsense – I’m not worried about myself.” Handing over the vial of medicine, he said, “Here. Take this – I had the royal physician whip it up.”
Alexandria obliged happily. She would welcome anything that might make her feel better.
“Better?” Stellan asked, watching the medicine take effect.
“Much!” Alex replied, feeling the weight lift off her shoulders. “Thank you so much.”
“My pleasure,” Stellan smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And with that, the first hug of the season was exchanged.
After breakfast the next day, all the girls – including Alexandria – sat down in the parlor to chat. They were all genuinely pleased that Alex felt better, and welcomed her with open arms. Alexandria kept the prince’s visit a secret, wanting to keep that special moment all to herself.
The girls were so wrapped up in their conversation that they didn’t notice the heels clicking on the marble towards them.
All at once, the girls looked up.
In the middle of the room stood a beautiful blonde girl with green eyes. Her pink dress swished from her hips. She smiled at each and every girl.
“Hi! I’m Katya.”
*’Shit’ in Russian (I think?)