Stellan decided the meeting with Kara would have to wait. He had four other women to focus on. It wouldn’t have been fair to them to drag them all to Kara’s home. He settled with planning to meet Kara later on in the week, alone. There was no reason to wrap any of the other ladies up in it, especially Lyric. She had been involved too much for Stellan’s liking, and he wanted to politely extricate her from the situation. Luke had left plenty of scars on her already, and he worried about any more future fights between the two.
It had also occurred to Stellan that he hadn’t spent nearly enough time with anyone, as they’d been all wrapped up in the Salem business. So he called for Simcess, who finally cleared Stellan to leave the palace grounds. He would plan each date, and the girls would be chosen in a random order.
The first date was London. Stellan took her hand and led her into the city, excited at the prospect of doing some exploring. London’s excitement transferred directly to Stellan, and the two laughed like children as they walked through the city.
They came upon a golden cowboy, frozen in air. London’s eyes widened as she clapped gleefully, dragging Stellan to watch.
“This is incredible!” London cheered, throwing money at the performer’s feet. Stellan watched London from the corner of his eye and smiled at her genuine happiness. It was a nice change from the heavy atmosphere at the palace.
“You think I could do that?” She asked, watching as the cowboy once again changed positions.
“I think you’re too….energetic,” He laughed, making London chuckle too.
Eventually, the performer planted both feet on the ground. London watched intently, waiting for his next trick.
There was no next trick.
Instead, the cowboy turned his toes inwards and clamped his thighs together as he waddled away. Stellan stifled a laugh at the sight.
“Hey, look on the bright side!” London said, elbowing Stellan. “If he pees, it’ll blend in with his costume!”
The sun began to set on San Myshuno as the couple sat down to eat. Unused to such spicy food, Stellan coughed out fire and thumped a fist on his chest. London grinned, pleased that the food she had ordered had just enough of a kick to it.
“So besides making the best out of every situation possible, what else do you like to do?” Stellan asked, leaning forward on the bench.
“I run my own bakery,” London replied. “It’s called the Cupcake Cafe, and it’s practically my baby.” She looked down as she said so, feeling tears prick her eyes. “We make a bunch of different desserts, but we specialize in…”
“Cupcakes?” Stellan guessed, earning a small smile from London. She had gone quiet with the mention of her shop, so Stellan began to fill the silence, allowing London to gather her thoughts. “I’m a horrible baker, really. I tried making a cake once and it was terrible. The inside caved in, and all the icing melted off. I’m trying, though. It’s tough when you’ve got so many cooks and caterers – they don’t want an incompetent prince running underfoot. But I hope to learn more soon. Cooking and baking are so useful, and I can’t live off of ramen for the rest of my life!”
During Stellan’s spiel, London had been able to calm herself again. By the time they had finished their meals, she was ready to go again.
“Look!” She said, pointing to a taped off section on the ground. A man held a can of some sort, and was spraying different colours all over the sidewalk. “Let’s check it out.”
The two walked over to the man and watched him work, entranced by the rainbows emerging on the ground. When London asked if she could try, the man harrumphed and passed all his cans to her before walking off, grumbling about young whippersnappers. London and Stellan stared at each other for a moment in confusion before shrugging.
“How are you so good at this?” Stellan coughed. He had inhaled the fumes constantly for the past hour, and yet London showed no signs of distress.
“You’re holding it too close,” She explained, demonstrating the correct way to spay the paint.
Stellan tried again, but couldn’t get the technique.
Eventually the two grew tired of painting, and went to wash off their painted hands in the nearest cafe. Stellan purchased an espresso for London and an americano for himself. London sipped eagerly, knowing she didn’t need the caffeine, but relished the energy anyways.
“I told you about my hobbies,” London said. “Now tell me about yours.”
“Besides running a country?”
“Of course,” She smiled.
“You know, I’m not sure,” He said honestly. “I always find myself so busy. It’s tough to make time to do anything. I guess I like playing and watching sports, like football.”
“What about basketball?”
“Basketball?” Stellan repeated, leaning back in his chair. “I guess so. Why?”
“Because I challenge you to a game.” She smiled wickedly, looking over his shoulder.
“You’re on, Caliente.” He said, standing up. London smirked at his confidence.
“You sure you’re ready for this?” She teased, grabbing his hand. The two walked over to the court and grabbed a basketball.
“I was born ready,” Stellan said as he walked over to the side. “Ladies first.”
“Ever the gentleman,” She retorted. London dribbled the ball down the court and leaped upwards, slamming the ball into the net. She hung there for a minute, swinging back and forth to tease Stellan.
Stellan smiled and clapped, but continued teasing her. “You call that a dunk?” He shouted.
“I’d like to see you do better!” She called back, passing the ball to him.
“Watch and learn, Caliente.”
Stellan honed in on the net, prepared to send the ball slamming into it. He ran forward, dribbling the ball expertly. With a powerful jump, Stellan sailed into the air.
He landed smack on his butt, and the basketball came down to bump him on the head.
“Poor baby,” London cooed, coming forward to help him stand. Stellan scoffed.
“You distracted me!” He accused her.
“By your beauty.”
London laughed at the cheesy line as he moved to embrace her.
“If this is your way of making me forget about the competition, it’s not working.” She whispered.
“Damn it!” Stellan said, snapping his fingers.
“Come on!” London had already extricated herself from Stellan’s grip and was making another perfect dunk. Stellan shook his head in amazement.
At the end of the game – which London had won by a landslide – she sauntered over.
“Yes you do, m’lady.” Stellan smiled, kissing her hands.
“I demand a kiss as my reward.”
The next day, Raina and Stellan stepped out of the limo. Music from the club thumped so loudly it seemed to rattle the ground beneath them.
“Where are we?” Raina asked, looking around at the scenery. Waterfalls dotted the swooping landscape, running off into a giant river.
“Windenburg,” Stellan replied. “I know our past conversations haven’t been exactly lighthearted, so I wanted us to have some fun today.”
“I’m in.” Raina said gamely.
The two walked into the club, feeling the music take over. Neither were terribly good dancers, but they took solace in knowing no one else was either.
“This is great!” Raina shouted.
“What?” Stellan yelled back. He pointed to his ear. “I can’t hear you!”
Raina leaned in closer. “I said, THIS IS GREAT!”
“NO NEED TO YELL!” He yelled back, and the two erupted in laughter.
“Alright folks, where are the daredevils out there?” The DJ shouted into the microphone. “I think it’s time for a daaaance ooofff!”
Raina’s face lit up. The excitement in the air had swept her up and away. She grabbed Stellan’s hand and led him to the middle of the dance floor. Everyone backed off to watch their future king and his possible bride take the floor.
Stellan met Raina’s eyes and grinned. “I call this one…the alligator.”
Stellan flung his hands up in the air and made snapping motions, baring his teeth as he did so. Raina cheered him on as she swayed from side to side, waiting for her turn.
Stellan spun around in an unsteady circle and pointed at her, giving her the floor.
Raina’s dancing skill was limited, but she had grown up learning the official dance of her culture back home. She drew on those lessons, hoping her inner ten-year-old would come out. She swayed her hips from side to side, laughing as Stellan mimicked her.
“You got it!” She smiled, continuing to gyrate.
“I think we have a winner, folks!” The DJ announced, pointing a finger at Raina. Her jaw dropped as Stellan picked her up and swung her in a circle. Everyone cheered at the spectacle, hooting and whistling as Raina leaned in for a kiss.
“I’ve never won anything before!” Raina said excitedly. After the dance off had finished, the two made their way to the bar for refreshments.
“You won that reading competition,” Stellan pointed out.
“Well yeah, but I’ve always been a huge bookworm. I’ve never danced like that before, even back home. Where I’m from, we have a traditional dance we perform at weddings and other celebrations, but that’s about the only dancing I know how to do.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Stellan smiled. “I learned how to waltz when I was younger, for balls and whatnot. I’ve never been much of a dancer, though.”
“Still, it was great to let loose. I feel like I discovered a new part of myself tonight. I think we make a pretty good team.”
“It’s more than that,” Stellan said, holding up his drink so the two could cheers. “We make an amazing couple.”
“You really think so?”
Stellan nodded as he sipped his drink. “I do. It amazes me that you’re only nineteen. I feel like an old lecher when I remember that.”
“Don’t!” Raina said, patting his free hand. “Had I grown up royal, I would have been marred off to someone older than my great-grandpa.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” Stellan chuckled.
“But does it make you feel younger?”
“You make me feel younger,” Stellan smiled. “I don’t think we’ll ever get old.”
“Is that a promise?”
“It is,” He agreed. “I swear to never hit small children with my cane.”
“And I swear to never have strawberry candy in my purse.” Raina added.
“What? I LOVE those candies!” Stellan practically shouted. “My grandma always has them.”
“Okay, okay. I love them too,” Raina admitted shamefully. “So I swear to always have those candies in my purse!”
“Now I can’t ever let you go!”
The music had grown loud again, and the pounding in Raina’s head was beginning to bug her. Stellan suggested they explore the basement, where the music wasn’t so abrasive.
“We’re like that old couple everybody knows who complains about music being too loud and get angry when their sandwich has mayo on it,” Raina laughed.
“Mayo on anything is a crime.”
The quietest place was a small closet, so Raina grabbed Stellan’s hand and pulled him in. The two laughed as they kissed and talked, relishing the peace and quiet.
On their way back upstairs, Raina came upon a locked door. Feeling adventurous, she sneaked up on it and gestured for Stellan to follow.
“I think you need to know the special knock to get in,” Stellan said, examining the logo.
“We’re smart, we can figure it out.” Raina said confidently, knocking on the door.
When the door refused to unlock, Raina put her hands on her hips and stared in puzzlement before knocking again.
Stellan came to stand beside her and rapped his knuckles on the door. “PIZZA’S HERE!”
Raina slammed her fist to her mouth, trying to contain her laughter. She pulled a pin from her hair and worked it into the lock while Stellan looked on in amazement.
“Where did you learn to do that?”
Raina shrugged. “My mom used to lock the library until I finished all my lessons. Sometimes I just couldn’t wait.”
After a few minutes of working the pin into different positions, a click sounded. Raina pushed open the door, smiling triumphantly. Stellan trailed after her into the exclusive club.
The room was blissfully soundproof. Faint music played from the radio in the corner as Stellan bowed.
“May I have this dance?”
Raina curtseyed back. “You may.”
The two spun around the floor, waltzing to the lush music. It was a small moment, but one that both knew would be etched into their memories forever. Raina rested her tired head on Stellan’s broad shoulder, feeling safe and supported for the first time in many years. It seemed like hours had passed before the two stepped outside into the cool air.
“Thank you for this,” Raina said earnestly. “Sometimes I forget to enjoy the little things, and you help remind me of them.”
Tears glistened in Raina’s eyes as Stellan replied. “You balance me out, too. I know you’ve struggled a lot, I’ve seen that pain ever since that day we fished by the lake. But I want you to know that I would never want to cause you any more of that pain. It would kill me.”
Raina nodded as the two leaned in for a final kiss.
Alex’s date was up next. Stellan had something special in mind, but she wasn’t expecting something as crazy as where he brought her.
“They’re…ruins.” She said in awe, examining the tall rocks and dilapidated stone.
“I know you love photography and art. I figured what better place is there for a photo op?” Stellan explained.
“I think you’re just as nice a subject,” Alex said, pecking Stellan on the cheek. A faint blush crept up on his cheeks.
“I’ll light the fire for us. What colour flame would you like?” Stellan asked, throwing lighter fluid on the pallets.
As Alex was about to request the colour, Stellan jumped back. Flames licked his arm all the way up to the shoulder.
“Stop, drop, and roll!” Alex shouted, pushing him to the ground. Stellan fell with a thud onto the dirt. Alex nudged him with the toe of her shoe, encouraging him to roll. He began to dampen the flames until they were out. Alex reached out a hand to help him up, which he accepted gratefully.
“Did you kick me?” He asked, brushing dirt from his vest.
“I was panicking!” Alex laughed, brushing dirt from his back. “You could’ve died!”
Stellan burst into laughter himself. “I can’t believe I did that.”
As he continued to examine the damage on his arm, Alex began snapping pictures.
“Yellow,” She eventually said.
“Pardon?” Stellan asked, turning his attention towards her.
“I think the flames should be yellow.”
“Yes ma’am,” Stellan saluted her, a goofy grin sneaking up on his face. He dumped a special powder into the fire, keeping a careful distance. Alex warmed her hands despite the mild spring air. Stellan turned 180 degrees and stuck his butt out.
Alex looked over, expecting to see his face.
“What a wonderful picture,” She quipped.
“My best asset!” Stellan joked.
After warming up, Alex pulled out her camera and began to show Stellan some of her favourite pictures.
“There’s Ming covering her ears as Lyric plays the violin,” She explained, pressing the zoom button. Stellan laughed joyfully, recalling Ming’s rants on the instrument.
“And here’s Klavdiya with her homemade face mask on. Oh! And here’s Shirley telling us all a story about the time she went scuba diving in Isla Paradiso and got attacked by a shark!”
The two bonded over the pictures. Stellan was in awe of Alex’s talent. She was able to capture the mood of everything from the women in the competition to the snarling cowplant that once graced the courtyard.
“These are amazing,” Stellan mused as Alex moved on to show him some landscapes.
After taking pictures of each other standing on the ruins and making silly faces, they traveled into town. A quaint cafe was tucked away in a small corner, and the two decided to stop and get some dessert.
“Dessert is the best part of any meal,” Alex declared, digging into her pastry.
“Can’t argue with that,” Stellan said.
“It’s a huge reason why I studied the art of cooking in France,” Alex explained. “The pasty chefs there are otherworldly.”
“You’ll have to teach me sometime,” Stellan said. “Where else have you been?”
“Oh, everywhere!” Alex said happily. “The travel bug bit me when I was young, that’s for sure. I studied meditation and yoga in Asia. I explored tombs in Al Simhara, and even spent some time camping in Granite Falls.”
“Wow!” Stellan exclaimed. “I haven’t been anywhere for pleasure, just business. That’s what’s been so great about this whole experience. I get to live vicariously through you.”
Alex smiled. “Where would you like to visit?”
“That’s a tough one,” Stellan admitted. “I think France, honestly. We’ve imported nectar from there on previous occasions, and I’d love to go make some myself.”
“We’ll make a trip out of it!” Alex smiled. “I can take pictures of you making the nectar.”
“It’s a deal.” Stellan said, taking a bite of his dessert. Alex reached over and popped the last piece into her own mouth, making Stellan playfully scowl. “That’s mine!”
“Someone was an only child,” Alex laughed.
The two continued chatting about growing up royal as they made their way to the water’s edge.
“I forgot about your painting skills,” Stellan admitted as he watched her swirl different paint on a pallet.
“Consider this my redemption from the very first challenge.” She smiled.
“My first real interaction with any of you,” Stellan smiled wistfully, remembering that day so many months ago. “Giving you medicine that night.”
“I wonder what would have happened if I would’ve just painted.”
“I think you’d still be here,” Stellan smiled.
And with that, Stellan handed her a single rose. The day had been beautiful, and there was no doubt in his mind that Alex was truly an exceptional woman. He would be lucky to marry her, as would any man.
The last date was with Lyric. Stellan led her into the bar, smiling wickedly.
“What have you got up your sleeve?” She asked, voice laced with worry.
“Have a little faith!” He said, patting her back reassuringly. “It’s got a little something to do with music.”
“Oh!” Lyric perked up immediately. “Then I’m in.”
The moment the two walked in, the ear-piercing shriek of a man hit their ears. Lyric pressed herself against Stellan’s chest as the wailing continued.
“Someone help that man!” Lyric shouted.
“aka gurl, chika claps! Va vous, Zee e rex,” The man continued. Lyric looked up in time to see an elderly man singing into a microphone.
If “singing” was the right word to describe a tone-deaf banshee.
“It’s a karaoke bar,” Lyric mused, glancing at the funky lights and huge stage set up.
Stellan nodded. “You can play the piano, but can you carry a tune?”
“Watch and learn, pretty boy!” Lyric said, confidently stepping up onto the stage after the man had finished screaming. Lyric selected her favourite song, a mix between romance and power ballad. Stellan shifted awkwardly from side to side, attempting to harmonize with Lyric. Her voice was incredible. It swept throughout the room, drawing everyone’s attention. Lyric didn’t seem to notice – she had traveled to her own little world, one where music ruled and each action had a ditty to go with it.
Afterwards, the couple grabbed drinks at the bar and sat down to chat.
“I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am,” Stellan laughed, sipping his root beer. “You’re a powerhouse.”
“Thanks!” Lyric smiled. “You weren’t too bad yourself.”
“Is that the only compliment you’ve got?” Stellan said, lunging forward to tickle her. “I’m not too bad?”
“Well you’re certainly no Matthew Hamming, that’s for sure,” Lyric choked out between laughs.
Stellan hung his head in shame. “I can’t disagree with you, there.”
The two continued their chat about music as they left the bar.
“Look!” Lyric said, gesturing to a street busker. “A violinist.”
“Come on,” Stellan said, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Let’s go listen.”
The two swayed back and forth, occasionally thrusting their phones up in the air as makeshift lighters. The performer was decent, and Lyric appreciated the classical music she was playing. It was a selection Lyric would have chosen for herself. She leaned forward and slipped 100 simoleons into the woman’s violin case. Stellan balked at the amount, but smiled at Lyric’s generosity.
As the two sat down to eat, Stellan turned towards Lyric. “That was a big tip, Lyric.” He smiled. “Quite nice of you.”
Lyric shrugged. “I used to be a busker on the streets, just like that woman. Before my mother became a famous opera star, we didn’t have much money. I used to play my little violin in the park to make some extra cash. More than once it was that money that kept the lights on.”
Stellan patted her hand as she continued. “One day, a random woman came up to me and dropped 100 simoleons into my case. I ran all the way home with it clutched in my hand. When I made it back, my mother announced she had finally gotten a steady gig at the opera. I like to think that money was lucky, and I always swore I’d pay it forward as often as I could.”
“That’s amazing,” Stellan smiled, kissing her knuckles. “I can imagine little Lyric playing her violin like a pro.”
Lyric laughed. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. My father had crafted the violin at his woodworking station, so it was nothing special. I used to get splinters in my fingers as I played.” She turned her palm upwards, revealing tiny white scars over her callouses. Stellan ran a gentle finger down them, imagining the pain they must have caused as she continued to play.
“You’re quite the warrior,” He said softly.
Lyric shrugged, but a smile played on her lips anyways. “I did what had to be done. Now look where I am! If you’d have told me one day I’d be dating a prince, I would have laughed in your face.”
“If someone would have told me a beautiful virtuoso once busked the streets with a splintering violin, i wouldn’t have believed it. And yet here we are.”
“The world works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?” Lyric smiled.
“It really does.”
A bright flash of colour over Lyric’s shoulder caught his eye. A beautiful woman walked out of a store, sparkles flashing in the daylight. Lyric swiveled around to stare.
“She looks wonderful!” She smiled.
“It would be a shame if we didn’t appreciate the local culture,” Stellan said, watching more people file out of the store.
Lyric perked up. “Shopping spree!”
They entered the store and were met with a little old lady, decked out in San Myshuno wear.
“What a beautiful couple!” She purred, pushing the two into a small dressing room. “Come, come. TARA! Fetch some clothes. DAVIDE, come do their hair!”
The woman (who had introduced herself as Sasha) barked orders at all of her workers. The store hummed like a beehive, with workers all dashing about to please their queen. People held up different colours to Lyric and Stellan while Davide tugged on their hair.
After an hour of pure pampering, the two embraced.
“Lyric, you look marvelous,” Stellan said in awe as he looked at her. Sasha had insisted on putting them in matching colours – varying shades of blue and green.
Lyric looked at the ground and toed at the grooves in the wood. “Thank you,” She said shyly. “You look handsome as well.”
“I’ve got one last surprise for you,” Stellan smirked. He could sense Lyric’s discomfort at being fussed over, and decided they had had enough attention for the day. The store had become stifling, and both breathed sighs of relief when they made it to the large park.
A piano waited there, grand in all it’s glory. Lyric’s happiness bubbled back as she smoothed her dress and sat down on the bench.
“Dedicated to the man I want to spend the rest of my life with,” She smiled, kissing Stellan gently.
A slow, luscious melody poured from the piano. The two were wrapped in the loving embrace of music, binding their souls together. It was magic, and the slow but steadily growing concerto mirrored their blooming relationship.
It was a perfect day.
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