“No matter what happens, can we all agree to stay friends?” London asked.
The four remaining girls were seated in the tea room, finishing up the drinks Raina had prepared for them. The reality of the situation had officially hit them, and as a result, a blanket of melancholy had settled on them.
“Of course we will be,” Raina smiled, grabbing London’s hand. Alex and Lyric nodded in agreement. Just a few months ago, twelve girls sat together and eyed the competition. The four girls still observed each other, but without the contempt they once had. Instead, a bond had formed. No one else knew what it was like to compete so ferociously for so long, and so the girls were bound by a sense of understanding that simply couldn’t be replicated.
“I love you all,” London said with a watery smile. “And no matter what, we’ll have a beautiful wedding to attend!”
The other three girls nodded in agreement.
“I’ve never been one to have tons of friends,” Alex said as the silence grew heavy. “I was always so focused on my photography or schooling that I guess I never found the time to socialize. Yet here I am with all of you, and I honestly consider you guys my best friends.”
“It was always the same with me,” Lyric shrugged. “Sure, I have a bunch of siblings, but it’s not the same as having girl friends you can just go out and have fun with.”
“We’ll need to have a night out once all of this is over!” Raina exclaimed. “Dancing, karaoke, the works!”
“That would be amazing!” London squealed.
“I’m in,” Alex agreed.
As they all made plans for a night out on the town, heavy footsteps echoed in the hall. The past few days had been devastating for Stellan. Between finding out Salem wasn’t his son and dealing with the elimination he was about to do, his mind had been swimming. The dates he had with each of the girls were fun distractions, but ones that could only last so long. His mind always returned to the task at hand. On top of finding his future wife, he had the country to run. He was growing increasingly worried about his alliance with Luke’s kingdom. The news of Salem’s paternity could really affect the relations among the two kingdoms, and Stellan knew he would need another kingdom to ally with quickly. Luke and Stellan had always been competitive since childhood, and Stellan wouldn’t put it past Luke to invade the country just because Stellan had “embarrassed” him.
Stellan didn’t even realize he had made it into the tea room until Alex audibly cleared her throat.
“Stellan?” London asked.
“Oh!” He jumped, running a hand along his jaw. “Sorry, ladies.”
“Something on your mind?” Raina asked.
“It’s nothing, really.” Stellan said, tucking the worry away. The girls all stared at each other, concern etching their faces.
“Is there something we can do for you?” Lyric asked, trying to bring Stellan back into the conversation.
“Oh, right.” He sighed. “Raina, will you come with me?”
Tears welled up in Raina’s eyes immediately as all the girls got up to give her a big hug. They knew this was the end of her journey in Knight Palace. Tears streamed down London’s face as she patted Raina’s hair. Lyric hummed a soft melody while Alex simply hugged her.
Once they had all said their goodbyes, Raina tucked her arm in Stellan’s as he lead her outside. They walked to a small dock overlooking a pond. Crickets chirped softly as the soft breeze ruffled the grass.
“It didn’t seem fair to send you home in the foyer,” Stellan explained as they looked out on the water. “Too formal.”
Raina nodded solemnly. “I understand.”
“Do you?” Stellan asked. “Because I truly hope so. You are one of the most intelligent, beautiful women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. And I don’t want to stop knowing you just because you’re leaving.”
“What do you mean?” Raina asked.
“I told you I’d help you get your kingdom back if you want it. That offer stands, no matter what. And I know how close you’ve gotten to the other girls – you can come stay here anytime.”
Raina smiled. “Thank you. And I think I’ll take you up on that offer to get back my kingdom. The people there have suffered for too long under a dictator’s reign. I need to go home.”
The two embraced. “I’ll be there for you every step of the way,” Stellan whispered. “Once this crazy competition is over, I’ll send word.”
Raina thanked him and felt hope bubble up within her. She had lost Stellan, but had gained something much more meaningful in the process: Best friends, her identity, and her home.
“Don’t be a stranger, okay?” Raina smiled. “You and your bride are welcome in my home at any time. And if I can offer my advice, London is the girl to go with.” Raina winked.**
Stellan smiled slightly as Raina walked away from him. The two were great friends, and Stellan knew their promises to each other would stand the test of time. It was who they were – mature, trustworthy people who care deeply for everyone.
The next day, Stellan still felt weighed down by circumstance. He had one other thing to do, and he knew it would cause collateral damage.
Before he could lose his courage, Stellan took his favourite horse and rode to the small house on the palace grounds.
“Who could that be?” Kara cooed to Salem, sweeping him up into her arms. The young boy wrapped his arms around his mother’s neck and snuggled close to her.
The last person Kara was expecting was Stellan.
“Stellan?” She said in surprise as she opened the door. “Come in!”
Stellan followed her into the spacious sitting room as Kara offered him coffee. He denied the peace offering, using the excuse that he was pressed for time.
“Kara, I need to ask you something, and I want you to answer me honestly.”
“Don’t I always?” She smiled sweetly.
“I’m not sure,” Stellan admitted. “Is Salem truly my son?”
Kara barked out a laugh. “Of course he is! Look at that blonde mop of hair.”
“And look at those grey eyes and sharp chin,” Stellan countered. “I know he’s Luke’s son. If he were mine, he would’ve been born over a month ago, considering Luke didn’t show up practically until the halfway point.”
Kara let the information settle on her. True, she had never believed Stellan was Salem’s father, but it still hurt to hear the accusation out loud. When she announced Stellan was the father, she was desperate to win the competition. Nothing else seemed to matter aside from being the next Queen.
“So what?” She eventually blurted out. “What are you going to do, throw me out?”
“What?” Stellan exclaimed. “Never! Salem’s a great kid, and he doesn’t deserve this drama.”
“Dada!” Salem smiled, toddling over with a blue duck in his hand. Stellan patted the boy’s head as the front door opened again.
“Luke, what are you doing here?” Kara said in surprise.
“I invited him.” Stellan explained, getting up to shake Luke’s hand.
“What’s all this about?” Luke asked.
“Salem is your son,” Stellan said bluntly. Luke sputtered, at a loss for words.
“Not impossible,” Kara admitted. Remorse had finally flooded her. She had almost screwed up Stellan’s chance of said.finding love, and she didn’t even like him all that much! Kara explained the situation to Luke, who’s face went ghostly white.
“I’m not ready to have a kid!” He blurted out.
“You don’t have a choice.” Stellan ground out. “Whether you’re ready or not, Salem’s a great kid.”
Kara nodded. “He really is. Fussy, but good.”
Luke sighed. “I can’t be here for the kid. Call me later,” He said, leaving the house and slamming the door behind him.
“Double wow,” Stellan said.
“Now what?” Kara asked, turning to Stellan.
“Despite all that show, Luke is a decent man,” Stellan admitted. “He’ll come around. I’m sure of it. Still, you can live here for as long as you’d like. I’ll always be here for you, it doesn’t matter if Salem’s my son or not.”
Kara smiled softly. “You’re okay, you know that?”
Stellan shrugged. “I try. But I have to get going now. I’ll see you later. If you need anything, just call.”
“I think we’ll be okay,” Kara said, but still tucked the offer away in her mind.
“Dada!” Salem smiled as Stellan bent down to give him a hug.
“I’m not dada, silly!” He chuckled, tickling the boy’s stomach. “I’m Uncle Stellan.”
“Uncwul Stelwan,” Salem repeated. “Uncwul Stelwan!” He shouted again, running all around. Stellan smiled at the boy.
He would be just fine.
Back at the palace, the three remaining girls were chatting on a couch in the parlor. They were so engrossed in their conversation that they hadn’t noticed Simcess walk in until she cleared her throat in front of them.
Alex audibly gasped.
It was the most casual they had ever seen Simcess. Gone were the huge, flowing dresses. In their place was a simple shirt and shorts, and her blonde hair had been hastily pulled back into a low ponytail.
“Hey there, girls!” She smiled. “I know this isn’t a look you’re used to, but I’ve got a good reason for it.”
“What’s the reason?” Lyric asked, brows furrowed in confusion.
“I’m going casual for a week or so, and so are you.”
Still, the girls looked on silently.
“Because you’re all going home!”
**: Raina suggested London because the two had the highest friendship score.