Just like that fateful day all those weeks ago, Stellan found himself standing in front of his full length mirror.
How could you do this? He asked himself. There was no question about it – regardless of whether Salem was his son or not, he had failed the other five girls in the house. How could they ever forgive him now? He had disgraced his family name alongside everything else.
What happened to his dignity? His morals, values? Where did it all go?
“You look like you just bit into a lemon,” Simcess said, coming to stand behind him. The two friends locked eyes through the mirror’s reflection. Again, Stellan was transported to the very first day of the competition.
“I have to prepare for the worst, don’t I?”
Those were the words he had uttered that morning. Yet here he was, the possible father of a woman he was neither betrothed to nor hopelessly in love with.
“You never come visit me without news,” He scoffed. “So spit it out.”
“Meow!” Simcess laughed, curling a hand to mimic a cat. She placed a hand on Stellan’s shoulder. “Look – I know you’re stressed out. But I’ve come to know the girls, and they’re good people. They won’t condemn you for it.”
Stellan softened, feeling some of the tension in his body dissipate. “Maybe you’re right.”
“You’re right too,” Simcess shrugged. “I do have news.”
“We asked the public who they thought fathered Salem. They picked you.”
Stellan’s eyes grew wide as his body became slack. He stumbled to the bed and rested his head between his hands, trying to calm the rapid fire of his heart.
“He’s my son?”
Simcess nodded solemnly. “He’s a cute kid, Stel.”
“I know that,” He fired back. “But I just can’t believe it.”
“So what are you going to do?”
Stellan looked down at the floor for a moment, weighing his options. “I won’t marry her, if that’s what you’re asking. I won’t if I don’t love her.”
“But if she’s eliminated?” Simcess said, prodding him to continue.
“How about this: Kara is not exempted from any challenges. She’ll compete alongside the other girls and can win and lose normally. If she loses and is sent home by the public, we’ll eliminate her from the competition but keep her and Salem in the palace.”
Simcess nodded. “That’s a good plan. And after you’re married?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, assuming I marry someone besides Kara.”
“Alright. I’ll go tell the girls.”
While Simcess updated everyone on what had transpired, they were shell shocked.
“It’s his?” Ming balked, eyes practically popping out of her head.
“This can’t be real.” Lyric said, covering her mouth.
Tears formed in London’s eyes. Kara sat in her chair, silent as a stone. The others seemed to have forgotten her presence, as they looked at each other instead.
“This is insane!” Alex said. “How could he?”
“So if one of us marry him, Salem becomes our…stepson?” Raina asked. “Would he be the heir?”
“No.” Simcess said. “The only way Salem will be heir is if Stellan marries Kara. Otherwise, your children will be the heir and subsequent spares. Assuming you’re able to have children, of course.”
“He’s not just going to marry me?” Kara shrieked, waking up from her stupor. “That’s absurd! He needs to man up – anyone else would.”
“Kara!” Simcess admonished. Her small scolding didn’t hold up against the others’ shouting.
“You can’t say what he can or can’t do!” London screamed. “He deserves his say, too!”
“Did you get pregnant just to see if he’d end the competition?” Ming scoffed.
“Of course not!” Kara shouted. “I wasn’t planning on having a baby.”
While the girls continued their shouting match, Stellan sat in the garden with Salem. The two had played in the garden all afternoon. Dirt clung to Stellan’s face as he scooped Salem into his arms for a big hug. Stellan had to admit it – Salem was adorable. He toddled back and forth, occasionally tripping but standing right back up again.
“Dada!” Salem cooed, snugging deep into the crook of Stellan’s neck.
Stellan took a deep breath as he rested his head on Salem’s. “That’s right, bud. Dada.”
That afternoon, Simcess gathered all the girls into the parlor.
“Your challenge today is…less physical than usual.” Simcess said.
“Thank plum for that,” Ming whispered to Raina.
“It is expected you will at some point have a child. When you’re a Queen, this is an even bigger deal. An heir is required to continue your bloodline, and spares are suggested in case the first child perishes. You’re all beautiful girls, so we thought we’d have a little fun with genetics. Today, our royal scientists will take your genetics and combine them with Stellan’s to produce a picture of what your teenage son will look like. It will be randomly generated until we feel that the son created best represents you and Stellan. Kara, you’re a special case. Because you have Salem, we’ll use technology to see what he’ll look like as a teen.”
The girls looked at each other. Excitement rippled through the air mixed with a twinge of nerves.
“What if my son is ugly?” Alex whispered to London.
“He could never be!” London admonished. “You’re beautiful, and of course Stellan is quite handsome. Your child will be so lovely.”
Alex smiled at the confidence booster.
“Let’s go!” Simcess said.
The next few hours were spent in a sterile room. The girls stood in front of a special camera while people in white lab coats took their pictures. It was tedious work, but the curiosity was too strong to back out.
Finally, the girls were given their results.
The girls squealed when they saw the pictures.
“I love him already!” Lyric laughed, jumping up and down. “He’s got my skin and Stellan’s eyes!”
“Look at my son!” Ming smiled. “He even got Stellan’s hair!”
For the next few hours, the girls compared the pictures in their room. Some were practically bouncing on the bed in excitement. There’s just something about seeing your future child that had the girls giddy.
Kara was the only girl who wasn’t as excited. She knew her son already, and knew what he would probably grow up to look like anyways. Now she had a clear picture in her hand, and suddenly she felt the deep pit of regret. Not for her beautiful baby boy, of course. But for the fact that she’d miss out on wondering what he’d come to look like.
She meandered into the garden to find Stellan still playing with Salem.
“Hello, boys.” She greeted, coming to scoop Salem up.
The young boy promptly fell asleep on her shoulder.
“Did you have a good day?” Stellan asked, shifting from one foot to the other.
“I guess so,” Kara said, rubbing a soothing hand on Salem’s back. “It was strange, seeing him all grown up. Takes the surprise out of it.”
Stellan nodded. “I can see that. He’s a great kid.”
“He truly is.” Kara smiled warmly.
“Well, I’m sorry to cut our time short, but I have some things to attend to,” Stellan said diplomatically. “I’ll see you later.”
That evening, Stellan took London’s hand and led her up to the observatory. The two had changed into their pyjamas for maximum comfort.
“I’m sorry this is such a delayed date,” He apologized, waiting for London to sit down before he did.
“It’s nothing!” London grinned. “I’m just glad we’re here now. The sunset is beautiful.”
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Stellan said, smiling softly as he peeked at London.
She leaned into him gently. “I had the best day today,” She admitted. “Seeing what our son would look like was magical.”
“Oh yeah?” Stellan teased, bumping her shoulder lightly. “Have you picked out any names?”
London tipped her head back in thought. “What do you think about Edward?”
“That’s a perfect name for a prince.” Stellan smiled.
“Or Phillip!” She chimed in. Reaching into her pocket, London pulled out the picture of her “son”. “Does he look like more of an Edward or Phillip?”
The two chatted on and on about their imaginary son for the next hour.
“So you’re not angry that Salem’s my child?” Stellan asked eventually.
“Oh, not at all. He’s a darling little boy. I’d be honored to welcome him into my family, whether it’s my blood in his veins or not.”
“I can’t tell you how much that means to me,” Stellan admitted. “I was worried you’d all go running once you heard.”
“Never. You’d have to do something a lot worse to get me to leave,” London smiled.
“Oh, yeah? Like what?”
“Like…kick a puppy! If you kicked a puppy, I’d run away screaming. Or any animal, really.”
Stellan laughed at the clear honesty ringing through London’s voice. He knew she was dead serious.
“I vow to never kick a puppy.” Stellan smirked, drawing London into a hug.
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