The next morning, the girls finally got the chance to sleep in. Most of them took this time to their advantage, snuggling deep into their expensive duvets and blocking out the rising sun with feathery pillows.
Only one girl was woken up early.
Raina was elated to be back in her room. Anything – even having Kara as a roommate – was better than the Redemption Room. She had missed the comfort she’d begun to associate with her own room. Something about being trapped in a basement with only damp walls and no one around was unsettling, especially as she’d gotten used to the endless chatter of her fellow contestants.
Raina swung her legs over the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, doing her best to allow Kara to sleep. She had gotten a letter the night before from Stellan, urging her to be ready by eleven o’clock the next morning. She practically screamed with excitement as she rushed to tell Natalia the news. The two had become inseparable lately, and were content to share their romantic escapades with one another.
At exactly eleven, Raina slipped out of her room and ran right into Stellan in the middle of the corridor.
“I was just about to come get you,” He said. “Looks like you’re one step ahead.”
Raina shrugged. “I didn’t want the knocking to wake up Kara. I think everyone needs some sleep after the last few days we’ve had.”
Stellan offered an arm out to Raina as they walked down the stairs. To her surprise, two guards swept open the front doors. Sunlight poured down on them, as Raina shielded her eyes.
“Is this your way of kicking me out?” She quipped.
“Hardly,” Stellan laughed. “I just think it’s time we get out of this castle and explore. Have you ever fished before?”
“I can’t say that I have,” Raina admitted. “I’m more of a book person. Does it count that I’ve read about it?”
Stellan laughed heartily. “It’s a little different.”
After a short walk, Raina and Stellan came upon a glistening lake filled with fish leaping in and out of the water.
“Looks like they’ll bite today,” Stellan mused, setting two poles and a tackle box on the ground. He showed Raina how to attach the bait and cast the line. Raina took to it instantly, feeling giddiness at each tug on the pole.
“This is fun!” She smiled, meeting Stellan’s eyes.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” He grinned back.
Hardly any time had passed before Raina’s fishing pole jerked. She gasped as she began tugging and reeling the line in. A small fish revealed itself, and she caught it proudly before showing it off.
“Are you kidding me?” Stellan asked incredulously. “I’ve been fishing all my life, and the newbie catches one before I do?”
Raina laughed and stuck out her tongue. “Poor baby,” She teased.
After a few more hours of fishing, the couple sat down at a picnic bench to chat. Stellan had attempted to grill some hamburgers, and while they weren’t half bad, both couldn’t stomach the thought of actually eating the entire thing. Instead they opted for some fruit they had picked from the trees.
“So.” Stellan started.
“So.” Raina mimicked.
“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?” Stellan shrugged. “That’s a good place to start, right?”
Raina smirked at his timid expression. “You’re dating what – eleven women? And you can’t figure out how to start a conversation?”
“My brain is fried!” Stellan said in mock offense, lifting his hands up. “I feel like I’m drowning in estrogen.”
Raina laughed before getting serious. What is exactly the best way to reveal a tragic past? She opted for complete honesty.
“I grew up as royalty,” She revealed. “My father was a Rajah and my mother his Queen. They had ruled our county for two decades, and for the most part were well respected. When they had me, they were surprised at first. I’m an only child, and part of me knows they had hoped for a boy – it’s just the way my country ruled. Men could ascend the throne without a wife, but a woman couldn’t without a husband. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise though, because our country was slowly slipping into poverty while my mother was pregnant. They betrothed me at birth to a kind prince of the neighboring kingdom, our strongest ally.”
“You were betrothed?” Stellan asked, eyes wide.
Raina nodded. “He was ten years older, but my parents had a large age gap as well. It didn’t last long, though. When I was eight, there was an uprising in their kingdom. A terrible man and his army tore through the country, killing the entire royal family along with anyone that got in their way. Then they turned their sights on my kingdom. By then, they were too strong to stop, and we had no strong alliances to help us fight them off.” Raina put her head in her hands, overwhelmed with the memories. “So we fled.”
“Where did you go?”
“To this day I don’t know the name,” Raina admitted. “If it had one at all, that is. All I know is that it – and we – were dirt poor. My mother pawned off all her gold to make ends meet. She was able to find a tutor for me who taught me everything I know. My mother would have hated knowing I was reading books about the world, so if I completed my chores for the day, my tutor would slip a new book under my mattress each night. I was so excited to read them, I’d finish them that night. It went on like that until I was fourteen, and my mother sent her away. I haven’t seen her since. Looking back though, I appreciate that I got to live a normal life. I don’t know how I would’ve ended up if I were surrounded by glittering jewels all day. I wouldn’t go back.”
As Raina finished her story, Stellan felt sadness tug at his heart. How had someone so young gone through so much? He felt a surge of thankfulness for his parents and the normal life that had been bestowed on him. He’d served during the wars his kingdom had gone through, but couldn’t begin to imagine the horrors Raina had endured.
“I find you amazing,” Stellan murmured. He tucked a piece of Raina’s fiery red har behind her ear and stared into her green eyes. “And I’m sorry you went through all of that.”
Raina shrugged lightly. “It doesn’t matter now. I’m here.”
And with that, no more words were needed.
Raina floated back up the stairs into her room after the date she had considered incredibly successful. As she entered her room, Kara looked up. She had been sitting in her room perusing a book as Raina carried in a glass tank and set it on her vanity.
“What on earth is that?” Kara asked, craning her neck to see the monstrosity.
“It’s a frog!” Raina said, peering into the glass. “Stellan and I found him on our date this morning. His name is Hopper.”
“Clever,” Kara murmured.
“What was that?” Raina asked, facing Kara.
“I said cute!” Kara smiled. I think I know a few spells for little Hopper…
Before Raina could retort, the intercom blared to life.
“All girls please come down to the competition room!” Simcess called.
A fleeting sense of camaraderie came over Kara and Raina as they rolled their eyes and gave each other a “what’s next?” look. They joined the other girls and went to the main floor of the palace, grateful that at least they weren’t in the catacombs again.
Every girl filed into the room and saw rows of woodworking tables. They were randomly assigned to different ones.
“Good afternoon, ladies!” Simcess called.
“Is it really?” Shirley whispered to Ming, who laughed in response.
“Today you’ll all be creating a wooden horse from scratch. We’ve supplied you with all the tools you’ll need, and the girl with the highest valued horse wins! On the same grounds, the girl who creates the least valued horse – or fails to create one completely – loses and will be eliminated immediately!”
The girls stared at each other, worry crossing their faces. None of them had even considered that handiness would be a useful skill in a palace filled with repairmen to fix everything they broke. Everyone was going in blind.
“Go!” Simcess called, officially started the competition.
Everyone fiercely got to work, sawing wood, hammering chisels, and sanding furiously. None of them really had any idea of what they were doing, but they took solace in knowing that everyone else didn’t either. They tried to work together, pointing at sharp edges that didn’t resemble hooves and ears that looks more like they belonged on a rabbit than a horse in an attempt to help their friends out.
In the end, almost everyone had a horse of…decent quality. Alexandria put her hands on her hips and smiled. It was a horse! While it wouldn’t end up at the art gallery any time soon, at least it didn’t resemble a deformed cat.
On the opposite side of the table, Ming laughed at her monstrosity. Everyone had created a horse except for her. Instead, she had a jumbled pile of hacked up wood.
She would be going home.
“Wait a minute!” Simcess called out. The challenge didn’t work out the way she had anticipated…at all.
“Every single horse is worth the same,” She said, examining each sculpture. “Except for Ming’s, of course. But it wouldn’t be fair to kick Ming out when everyone else tied. So I propose a new challenge. Everyone, go back to your rooms and change into something comfortable.”
The girls were even more confused than before as they shuffled out. Not willing to look a disfigured gift horse in the mouth, Ming followed the rest out.
Some time later, the girls all returned. In place of the woodworking tables, treadmills had been placed.
I shouldn’t have eaten that biscotti for breakfast, Natalia thought to herself.
“Welcome back!” Simcess greeted. “We decided to totally revamp today’s challenge because – let’s be honest – all your horses were awful.”
Yasmine tried to look offended, but all she could do was shrug. It was true.
“So instead, we’re going to have an endurance competition. You’ll all hop on the treadmills, and whoever lasts the longest wins! Whoever gets off first loses and is kicked out immediately. The second person off goes to the RR.”
On her cue, the girls jumped on the treadmills and ran as if their lives depended on it…because it did.
The girls had spent more time indoors eating fine cuisine than they did going for jogs, and it began to show. Each girl tumbled on unsteady legs, peaking over in hopes that Stellan had missed it.
London took a huge tumble, legs splaying out like a newborn giraffe’s.
After a moment of starry eyes, London got back up and continued running.
It continued like this for what seemed like hours. Each girl was waiting for another to give up before she too could catch her breath. Simultaneously, six girls jumped off heir treadmills and gasped for water.
Yasmine, Natalia, Raina, London, Shirley, and Klavdiya all tied for last place, so they were asked to once again step on the treadmill. She who got off first would leave immediately.
This time, there was no tie.
Yasmine stepped off the treadmill and bent over, trying to catch her breath.
“I’m sorry, Yasmine.” Simcess said, placing a reassuring hand on her back. “But I’m going to have to ask you to wait in the foyer.”
Tears welled in Yasmine’s eyes as she trudged to the foyer. Her muscles ached and twitched, but nothing hurt as much as her heart.
The second one off the treadmill was Klavdiya, and she was escorted down into the Redemption Room immediately. Filled with relief, the other four girls jumped off as well and headed over to sit against the wall where they could watch the other girls compete for first place.
Lyric, Ming, Kara and Alexandria stepped up onto the treadmills. On Simcess’ mark, they hit the on button and began running.
One by one, three of the four girls jumped off their respective treadmills, still heaving.
Only one continued to jog.
“Lyric, congratulations!” Simcess called out. “You’ve won!”
Lyric tried to cheer, but all she could do was cough. The girls had spent around roughly six hours in that room, running off and on. Most of them were highly uncomfortable, and took the chance to go soak in the large bathtubs. Lyric retreated to her room as well to get ready for the next day’s date.
Meanwhile, Yasmine paced the floor of the foyer. She knew she’d wear a rut in it, but couldn’t care less. Involuntary tears streamed down her cheeks as she prepared to leave.
Yasmine turned to see Stellan striding towards her.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“I wanted to say goodbye,” He admitted. “I’m truly going to miss you. I felt so comfortable with you. And if I’m being honest, I’ll miss your baking.”
Yasmine laughed as he leaned in for a hug.
“Take care of yourself, okay?”
Yasmine smiled. “I will. Good luck with everyone here – I know you’ll find a more than suitable wife.”
With that, Stellan watched Yasmine walk out of his life for good.
The next afternoon, Lyric wrapped an arm around Stellan’s as he lead her into a wing of the castle she’d never been before.
“Where are we going?” She asked.
Stellan winked mischievously. “Somewhere special. I think you’ll like it.”
Large double doors swung outwards as Stellan lead Lyric into a large, hexagonal room. She was at a loss for words. Stellan peered at her from the corner of his eye and smiled at the awe written on her face.
“What do you think?”
Lyric shook her head in disbelief. “I…I love it.”
“I thought you would,” He smiled, taking her hand and leading her further into the room. “I have a small request.”
“Oh?” Lyric asked, turning to face her prince. “What’s that?”
“Will you play for me?” He asked, rocking on the balls of his feet.
Lyric smiled brightly and nodded. “Of course!”
Lyric made her way to the piano and daintily sat on it’s cushioned seat. She smiled shyly at Stellan as he stood behind her.
“I’ve been waiting to play this song. I wrote it for you.”
With that, Lyric leaned forward and pressed her fingers on the keys, warming up. Within seconds, she was lost in the notes of her love ballad. The music flowed from her fingertips as she swayed back and forth, letting the notes move her. Stellan was enchanted as he watched the song take over Lyric’s soul and body. He had never seen someone with as much passion as Lyric, and knew as he was watching her that he was with a girl who was completely special.
After the ballad ended, Stellan embraced Lyric before leading her over to the small dining table.
“That was…incredible,” He managed to say. He knew that no words could truly describe what Lyric had just created, but knew that to not to try at all would be a terrible injustice.
Lyric smiled shyly. “Thank you.”
“Where did you learn to play like that?” He asked, taking a sip from his drink.
“My mother,” Lyric revealed. “She was an incredibly gifted musician, and would always call me her little songbird. Mother used to perform at the opera, sometimes singing and sometimes playing the piano or the violin. If I was good all week, she’d let me come with her on Friday evenings and stand in the wings of the theater to watch her.” Lyric’s eyes glossed over as she fell into the memory.
“What about your father?” Stellan asked, prompting her to continue.
“Oh, he loves music just as much as mother. Actually, he owns the theater where she performs. That’s how they met – she was hired by another partner at the theater, and when dad saw her perform, he was totally entranced. He still jokes that he thinks my mother is a siren.”
“If she’s a siren, then it must be genetic.” Stellan smiled.
Lyric tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and blushed.
“My siblings are huge fans of the arts as well,” Lyric revealed.
Stellan leaned forward, intrigued. He had grown up an only child, and hearing about the experiences people have had with brothers and sisters always transfixed him.
“I have four other siblings,” Lyric said. She laughed as Stellan’s eyes widened. “And one more on the way! Mother was in her third trimester when I left to come here, so I guess she must have given birth by now.”
Stellan smiled brightly. “That’s incredible! Have you had any contact with them lately?”
Lyric shook her head in dismay. “Unfortunately, no. We haven’t had much time to send letters or call home.”
Stellan looked down at his plate, ashamed at the way he had allowed this competition to run. Some of the girls must be feeling incredibly homesick, and he felt the guilt wash over him at the thought of them not being able to have any contact with home.
“Don’t worry!” Lyric laughed, leaning over to place a hand on Stellan’s. I know that look – you think it’s sad I haven’t been home in a while, don’t you?”
“I guess so,” Stellan agreed.
“Well, it’s not a big deal.” Lyric reassured him. “My sister Key is probably jumping for joy at the thought of not having to share a room for a while. She’s seventeen, and I know she’s been begging for her own space for years. Same thing with my brother, Reed. He’s shared with his twin sister Melody for as long as they’ve lived. Unfortunately, their arrangements haven’t changed since I’ve left.”
Stellan chuckled. “What about your other sibling?”
“Oh! I forgot about Allegro,” She laughed. “He’s older than me, and gave up music entirely. He was in love with this girl named Skye, but she died a few years ago. He hasn’t been the same since. He was the most amazing painter, but hasn’t picked up a brush since.”
After some more chatting, the two finished their dinner and moved to sit on one of the benches by the piano. They dropped all heavy topics and focused on getting to know each other more, laughing and teasing each other constantly.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Stellan laughed. “I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh?” Lyric asked, leaning back with a huge grin.
Stellan cleared his throat. “I figured that if you were willing to play me a song on the piano, I should do something for you, too. So I wrote you a song.”
“Lyric, your voice is like a nightingale, sweet and kind and your face isn’t…pale.”
Lyric stifled a laugh.
“Lyric, the notes you play tug on my heart, lingering in the room like a smelly fart.”
This time, Lyric couldn’t contain her laughter. It rang melodically around the room as Stellan laughed as well.
“Lyric, your smile brings a grin to my face, and I wouldn’t want any other girl in your place.”
After Stellan finished his broken song – if you could call it that – Lyric was smitten. She admired his attempt. It didn’t matter that his voice broke and his rhymes were less than stellar. He tried, he cared, and she loved him for it.
After their date, Stellan was summoned to the Redemption Room. He sat beside Simcess, who flashed him a knowing smirk.
“What?” He asked.
“Someone’s got it ba-ad,” She said in a singsong voice.
“Oh shut up,” He grinned, elbowing his friend. “What’s in store for Klavdiya?”
“Let’s find out.”
Simcess called into the intercom for Klavdiya to come forward. The stunning Russian waltzed into the room and was met with an easel.
“Afternoon, Klavdiya.” Simcess said. “You’ve been down here before, you know the drill. Please paint us a large painting worth at least 150 simoleons, and you’ll be welcomed back into the house.”
As Klavdiya worked, Stellan and Simcess talked about devising new plans for the competition. They were anticipating twists and turns as the number of girls in the house dwindled. Simcess whispered her newest idea, and Stellan reared back. Before he could react, Klavdiya called out to the empty room.
Simcess examined the painting.
“Congratulations, Klavdiya! You’re painting is worth 165 simoleons!”
Klavdiya cheered as the doors swung open to allow her out. Stellan rushed into the room and wrapped the girl in his arms, lifting her up and swinging her in a full circle.
“Welcome back,” He smiled.