The Rhys family gathered in their spacious backyard, giddy with excitement. Finally, after months that might as well have been years, Lyric would be coming home. Three whole days filled with their eldest daughter. A family reunited. Lyric’s mother Jubilee wouldn’t admit it, but she often spent nights crying in bed, missing her daughter. Lyric would almost always be seated at the piano, filling the house with glorious sonatas and original tunes. Since she had left, Jubilee found the house to be almost empty. Sure, her other children were proficient in other instruments, but none of them played the piano like Lyric. She was a true virtuoso.
The oldest of the siblings was Allegro, a fine young man with a deep love for music. He was passionate about his work, but not passionate about the very man Lyric might marry.
“We don’t even know this guy,” Allegro said, folding his arms over his chest. “He’s dated eleven other girls, all at the same time. Who does that?”
“I think it’s kind of cool,” Reed admitted. He was the only other son in the Rhys’ family. “I mean, he’s a prince. Doesn’t get much better that.”
“He seems like a fine young man,” Brio interjected. Listening to his eldest son complain about Prince Stellan was unacceptable in his eyes. “This man might be apart of our family one day, and we must treat him as such.”
“I hope he ends up in our family,” Key whispered to Melody in the pool.
The older girl turned to her sister. “I hope so too, but with me and not Lyric!”
“Now Allegro,” Jubilee chastised. “Your father is right. If Lyric likes him, then that should be good enough for us. If his personality isn’t to your liking, then you can judge him. Not before.”
“I’m just saying, he might be a pompous, plum-”
“Stop that right now!” Jubilee scolded, jabbing a finger in his direction.
“Mom’s right,” Reed agreed. “He can’t be any more cocky than you!”
Brio coughed to conceal a laugh as Jubilee looked on in horror at her son. “Who raised you, Reed? It certainly couldn’t have been me!” She looked to her husband for support, but only saw his poorly hidden laughter. “You! You’re not off the hook either – I saw you eating the pie last night! It was supposed to be for Lyric!”
Allegro and Reed snorted.
“Nice one, dad.” Allegro muttered.
“I’ll make another one, I swear!” Brio said, trying to placate his wife.
“Don’t bother,” She huffed, standing up. She couldn’t hide her own amusement at the situation. And okay…maybe she had some of the apple pie, too. But she made it! She was just tasting it. Y’know, to make sure it wasn’t poison.
Truthfully, Jubilee loved her big family. They poked and teased one another, but it was always in good taste. No one ever got offended or angry at the others, and Jubilee wouldn’t have it any other way.
As she made her way into the kitchen, Melody and Key followed.
“When are they coming?” Key asked, looking from her mom to her older sister.
“Any minute now!” Jubilee said, kneading dough.
“Do you think he has a brother?” Melody asked, laughing.
As the family continued their joking, Lyric and Stellan stood outside.
“Should I be nervous? I’m nervous,” Stellan rambled, stuffing his fidgety hands into his pockets. “And I mean really nervous.”
Lyric grinned. It was cute, realizing Stellan wasn’t cool, calm and collected all the time. Honestly, she’d have been worried if he wasn’t nervous. His shifting feet and darting eyes only showed how much he cared about making a good impression.
“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” Lyric assured him. “My family is going to love you.”
“Brio, Jubilee, Allegro, Melody, Reed, Key, and baby we don’t know about,” Stellan recited.
“You got it,” Lyric said, pulling him in for a hug.
“I can do this!” He finally exclaimed. “I mean, I’ve met sultans and kings and fought the kraken. I can meet some possible in-laws.”
“That’s the spirit,” Lyric said, slipping a hand into his. “Now come on. Knowing my family, they’ve been waiting at the door all day.”
As soon as the couple walked in the door, they were assaulted by hugs, kisses, and the odd handshake.
“Nice to meet you, sir.” Stellan said, shaking Brio’s hand.
“No need for formalities, boy!” Brio smiled, clapping a hand on Stellan’s shoulder. “Welcome to our home,” He continued. “These are my sons, Allegro and Reed.”
Stellan shook their hands and smiled brightly. Everything was going better – much better – than how he had expected.
“So you’re like, a prince.” Reed said, peering at the fair-haired man.
“That I am, Reed.” He said. “But I still know how to play a mean game of basketball.
“You play basketball?” Reed asked, brightening up. It was one of his favourite pastimes.
“Yeah, man! Back home we’ve got our own court.”
The men continued to converse while Lyric ran to her mom.
“Lyric! Oh, my baby,” Jubilee cried, pulling her daughter in for a tight hug.
“Welcome home, sis.” Melody smiled, hugging Lyric next. Lyric knew that her sister wasn’t one for affection and often had that I’m a teenager, I don’t care about anything attitude, but she was still touched when Melody’s hug was tighter than her emotions would suggest.
“Lyric!” Key cried, jumping into her arms. “I learned a new song on the piano!”
“Without me?” Lyric asked in mock offense. “You’ll have to play for me as soon as possible!”
Jubilee suddenly remembered another person had come home with Lyric. She turned to Stellan and dipped into a curtsy.
“Your Highness,” She said respectfully, bowing her head. Reed snickered and nudged Allegro, pointing to his mom.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that!” Stellan exclaimed, rushing over to help her stand. “I should be bowing to you, really. I’m honored to be in your home.”
“Lyric, he’s so sweet!” Jubilee stage whispered. Stellan chuckled as a pink blush spread on his cheeks. Jubilee gave him a huge hug before calling everyone into the dining room for dinner.
“Capella’s napping right now, but you’ll see her later.”
“So it was a girl, then.” Lyric mused. “I wondered.”
“Don’t give me that long face!” Jubilee said. “What have you been up to, so far away?”
Lyric and Stellan launched into a huge spiel about their adventures. From learning to play the piano to their karaoke date in the city, they left no detail out.
“You should’ve seen it, Melody!” Lyric exclaimed. “There was this old man up on stage, screaming into the microphone. I thought my ears would fall off!”
“Even my singing isn’t that bad,” Stellan laughed. “And we also went shopping-”
“SHOPPING?” Melody cried out. Why oh why didn’t she sign up for the competition?
“Yep,” Lyric smiled. “Traditional San Myshuno wear.”
“It was beautiful, but heavy.” Stellan explained. “They were so intricately beaded that the shirt alone must have weighed five pounds.”
The two finished recounting their stories as everyone finished eating. True to her word, Jubilee served the apple pie, much to Lyric’s delight.
“No offence, Stellan, but this is the best food I’ve had in months. Chefs just can’t compete against a mother’s cooking,” Lyric said.
“I agree,” Stellan smiled. “My mother used to say that love was her special ingredient.”
“That’s what I say!” Jubilee said happily. “What’s your mother like?”
Stellan cleared his throat, trying to stall. “She passed away when I was twelve. She was…murdered. By rebels, in the street. She was trying to hand out extra food to the poor.”
A somber silence fell over the table. Allegro stared down at his plate, feeling an unexpected surge of pity course through him. He couldn’t imagine growing up without his mother around, let alone grow up with the weight of a kingdom on your shoulders.
“But she was a wonderful woman,” Stellan continued once he couldn’t stand the silence. “Brilliant, funny, happy, just like a mother in a storybook. My dad is gone too, he died only months after my mom. But I’ve had such a wonderful support system. I can’t imagine what it would be like with five other siblings!
With that statement, a new conversation sparked. The siblings recounted many stories of their childhood, of pranks played and dares completed. Stellan listened happily – his sheltered life gave him little chance to experience such bonds.
After dinner, Lyric and Stellan sat in the living room. They were talking about how well the day had went when Brio approached.
“There’s one family member who you both haven’t met,” Brio said, coming to stand in front of the two. “Her name is Capella.”
The little girl removed her head from where it had been tucked into the crook of her father’s neck and observed the couple distrustfully.
“Hello, Capella.” Stellan cooed, waving. Lyric and Capella stared at each other in silence. She was so much a Rhys, Lyric decided. Dark hair and dark eyes, with beautiful golden skin. The guitar on her shirt was one that had been passed down in the family. There was a picture in one of Lyric’s baby book that had a little Lyric in the same shirt.
Brio placed Capella on the ground when she began to squirm. Lyric smiled at the little girl and got down on her knees to meet her at eye level. Brio talked to Stellan about his newest daughter, telling stories of gross diapers and an episode with a blue magic marker.
“She does love to dance, though!” Brio smiled, watching as Capella bobbed up and down.
“I don’t mind a dance or two myself,” Stellan said.
“Oh? Prove it, old man,” Brio said haughtily.
“Who are you calling old man, old man?” Stellan retorted.
As the two men began to trash talk each other, Lyric tried to give Capella a hug.
“No!” Capella cried, stepping backwards on unsteady feet. “Stranger danger!”
“Oh, no, no,” Lyric said softly. “I’m your sister, Lyric!”
“NO!” Capella wailed. Crocodile tears burst from her eyes, spotting the floor with wet droplets.
“Oh, don’t mind her,” Brio said, rubbing Lyric’s back soothingly. “She’s in a phase.”
Brio scooped up Capella and turned to Stellan. “You! Rooftop, half an hour. Be there, old man.”
“I will.” Stellan called out as Brio made his way up the stairs.
Lyric shook off the wave of sadness that had washed over her and smiled at Stellan.
“I need to talk to my mom for a little bit. Will you be okay with my dad?”
“Of course,” Stellan said reassuringly. “He is so going down.”
Half an hour later, the men of the house gathered on the roof. Brio had put Capella to bed before meeting up with them. Jubilee said they’d have a family day tomorrow, which had earned an eye roll from Allegro. Everyone else was excited for it, for it was a chance to really get to know Stellan and spend more quality time with Lyric.
On the rooftop, Brio pointed at his eyes with two fingers, then turned them towards Stellan. “I’m watchin’ you, old man.”
Stellan threw his hands up in the air, framing his face. “You talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”
Allegro and Reed looked at each other. The trash talking between Brio and Stellan was embarrassing, even more so when the two got more into it.
Stellan went first. He used all the skills he’d learned – and admittedly it wasn’t much – to snap his arms upwards and gyrate. He kicked his legs upwards and pivoted to the right, practically falling over. Still, Stellan continued to do some strange dance that could only be described as interpretive. Allegro and Reed stood off to the side, swaying in time to the music.
“That’s all you’ve got?” Brio huffed, walking to the middle of the floor. “Watch and learn.”
Brio was surprisingly light on his feet for a man of his age. He pulled out some old moves he once used at his wedding. He shook and shimmied all over the floor, not stopping, even after the music ended. Stellan clapped and laughed – he was no ballerina, but he had to admit that Brio had talent. No surprise there. The Rhys’ had as much talent as they did blood.
“So who won, boys?” Brio asked, turning towards his sons.
“Don’t bring us into this,” Allegro laughed. “That was painful to watch.”
“Well, I think I won this time, old man.” Brio said, placing his hands on his hips.
“Alright, alright,” Stellan conceded. “You win. But only because I want you to like me!”
Brio laughed as he wrapped an arm around Stellan’s neck. He gestured his other two sons to join them, and they all walked into the house together. They parted ways to go to bed, saying their goodbyes. Stellan made his way into the kitchen for a glass of water. Dancing was a lot more work than he’d once thought.
He wasn’t expecting Jubilee to be sitting at the island, sipping orange juice.
“Oh! Sorry, I thought everyone had gone to bed.” Stellan apologized.
“No worries, dear. Come sit with me! Sometimes I like to relax and appreciate the silence,” Jubilee explained as Stellan took the seat next to her. “There’s always so much music flowing, but I think silence has a melody to it as well.”
Stellan nodded. “Three months ago, I would have had no idea what you were talking about,” He admitted. “But once I met Lyric, that all changed. She’s taught me so much, and not just about music.”
“It warms my heart to hear you speak about her this way,” Jubilee said, smiling softly. “I was a little hesitant when she signed up for the competition, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“She’s something special, that’s for sure,” Stellan said, staring at the counter top. “Whatever happens between us, I know she’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
The pair continued to chat for some time. They were more alike then they had originally thought – both Stellan and Jubilee were kind, happy, and open. Tears pricked Stellan’s eyes when he looked at Jubilee. She exuded a motherly love that he hadn’t felt for a long time, and he realized he had missed it dearly.
Jubilee yawned and said she had to go to bed if she wanted to wake up at a decent time. She bade Stellan goodnight and gave him a soft hug before retiring to her room.
Stellan was about to make his way to the guest room on the ground floor when movement caught his eye. Someone was sitting out by the water. He recognized Lyric almost immediately, and promptly forgot his exhaustion. Stellan opened the front door and began to jog towards .
“Lyric!” He called.
Lyric turned her head at the voice, and then began to look out on the water once again.
“How long have you been out here?” Stellan asked once he made it to her side.
“An hour or so,” She said passively.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, noting the sadness in her eyes.
Stellan smiled sadly. “It’s not nothing. Will you tell me? Maybe I can help.”
Lyric sighed. “It’s Capella. My own sister doesn’t recognize me, and it feels awful. I wasn’t even here when she was born!” Lyric practically cried out. “I never got to hold her as a baby, or sing to her, or give her her first instrument.”
Stellan went quiet for a moment. He had taken a lot from the girls in the competition – he knew that. However, it was different seeing it in action.
“I don’t know what to say,” He admitted. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Lyric shrugged. “I knew what I was getting into when I signed up. I just didn’t think about this part of it. Not being with my family as they grow.”
“It’s almost done,” Stellan said softly, wrapping Lyric in a tight embrace. “You’ll be able to make up for lost time. Capella will love you in no time, I know it.”
Stellan brushed a stray tear off of Lyric’s cheek. The two stared out at the water and continued to talk about everything and nothing, long into the night.
The next day, the family decided to spend the day outdoors, soaking up the sun. Their backyard was always a hub of activity, and oftentimes they would host amazing parties…with live entertainment, of course.
“So how are you feeling?” Reed asked, splashing Lyric in the pool.
“Pretty good! Mostly I’m just happy to be home.”
“I’m glad you’re back, too. It’s not the same without you.”
“Oh, yeah?” Lyric teased.
“Yeah. Like that girl I’ve been talking to? Gemma? You weren’t here to help me with how to ask her to the school dance, and so Ty ended up asking her.”
“Oh no! When’s the dance?” Lyric asked.
“And you don’t have a date yet?”
Reed sighed and palmed the water. “Nope.”
“Well, you’re in luck,” Lyric smiled, flicking water at his face. “Stellan still has to go meet the other families, so I’ll be home for about a week. We’ll get Gemma back, don’t you worry.”
Meanwhile, Stellan was having a serious chat with Allegro and Melody.
“Don’t you think it’s wrong to be dating three women at once?” Allegro asked, leaning back in his chair.
Melody scoffed before Stellan could answer. “You went on four different dates with four different girls last week!”
Melody rolled her eyes and groaned. “How so?”
“Cause Lyric’s involved in this. I don’t want her to get hurt.”
“That’s the last thing I’d ever do,” Stellan said seriously. “Lyric is one of the most amazing girls I’ve ever met. She could do a lot better than me, and yet she’s still by my side. I respect her for it. This competition wasn’t easy, but she navigated it with dignity and class.”
Melody smiled. It sounded like Lyric, that’s for sure.
“That being said, I’m glad she’s home,” Stellan continued. “The palace is filled with so many memories, and most of them haven’t been exactly good.”
“Will you move?” Allegro asked.
Stellan pondered the question. “If whoever I marry wants to, I would. Maybe we’ll build a new castle. We’ll pick out everything together. And I’d like to have her family close by, if not living in the palace with us.”
“Sounds good to me!” Melody laughed.
“Guys!” Key ran over, interrupting their conversation. “It’s karaoke time! Stellan, will you sing with me?”
Stellan nodded. “Of course!”
The entire family made their way over to the lounge. Lyric had spent the day getting to know Capella, and was pleased when the young girl climbed up to sit next to her.
“What are we singing?” Stellan asked.
“My favourite,” Key said vaguely, passing him a microphone. Country music blared from the speakers. The two sang their hearts out, even when Lyric laughed and Reed cringed.
“ANNNND THHHE FARRRRMMMMMER SMMILLLEEEES!” Stellan shouted, hitting the final notes. Capella clamped her tiny hands over her ears as Lyric playfully booed. “HEEE ISSS A OIERGNOIEGR,” Stellan finished, screwing up the last word. “I think I need new glasses!” He laughed afterwards.
Key and Stellan high-fived once the song ended. They were pleased with their performance, as evidenced by the breathless grins on their faces.
“You crushed it!” He told Key. “Maybe you’ll sing on the stage just like your mother someday!”
Key beamed. “You really think so?”
“I know so.”
Lyric had scooped up Capella and gestured Stellan over.
“That was hilarious,” She said. “I’m glad you’re getting along with Key. She’s fickle, sometimes.”
“She’s a great kid,” Stellan said simply.
“And you’re a great guy.”
Stellan smiled. “And see? I told you Capella would come around,” He said playfully, tickling the girl’s neck. Capella squealed and swatted his hand away.
“I love her,” Lyric said softly. “I can’t wait to see her grow.”
That evening, the adults and teens gathered on the rooftop, once again. Capella and Key had been put to bed, as they had been yawning all day. The outside activities had drained their energy, and both had fell asleep immediately.
Brio, Jubilee, Allegro and Stellan got together to play a few rounds of Don’t Wake the Llama. They had a great time laughing and getting to know one another better.
“I’m gonna win this time, old man,” Stellan winked.
“You try, old man!” Brio retorted.
“Old man?” Jubilee whispered to Allegro.
“I don’t judge,” He replied. “They’re both older than me!”
Melody, Lyric and Reed had gotten on the dance floor as they waited for a turn at the game. Clearly Reed got his dance skills from his father, for he jerked from side to side and somehow managed to still stay on his feet.
“Hey, how do you guys feel about going to the Bluffs tonight?” Melody asked them.
Lyric laughed. “I forgot about the Bluffs! I haven’t been there in years.”
“It’ll be fun!” Melody said. “Just like old times.”
“When we hid from mom and dad?”
“I’m in,” Reed said, throwing his hands up. “Sounds like it’ll be a good time.”
“Allegro!” Melody shouted. “Bluffs tonight?”
“Plum yeah!” Allegro cheered. “You too, Stellan.”
“What’re the Bluffs?” He asked.
“It’s a hidden little cove the kids used to hang out in. Thought it was their secret hiding place. We just let ’em think that so we’d have a few hours of silence.” Brio explained.
Stellan shrugged. “Why not? It’s my last night here, might as well go out with a bang.”
As the sun set, the kids – minus Key and Capella – ran to a vine-covered cave. Allegro pushed aside the vines and gestured for everyone to go in ahead of him.
A bonfire stood at the edge of the ruins, begging to be lit.
“Oldest one does it,” Allegro said, tossing a matchbox towards Lyric. She caught it in one hand and nodded her thanks.
Lyric picked up the lighter fluid they kept beside the wood and poured it.
As soon as the bonfire erupted in flames, everyone cheered.
“Just like old times,” Allegro smiled, wrapping an arm around Lyric. He used his other hand to prod the fire, stoking it.
“This place is great,” Stellan mused, coming forward to stand on the other side of Lyric. She leaned away from Allegro and into the crook of Stellan’s shoulder. Allegro made his way over to stand with his siblings. They watched the fire quietly, thinking about all that has changed since they were young kids dancing around a fire.
“Everything and nothing has changed,” Lyric smiled.
“Agreed.” Melody whispered.
“Okay, enough cheese.” Allegro shouted. “Reed, show us your moves!”
“Again?” Lyric asked, peering over to look at her brother.
“Oh no, no,” Allegro smiled. “He learned a new trick while you were away.”
“Stand back, folks.” Reed smiled as he walked to the other side of the fire. “Things are about to get hot!”
He proceeded to light two sticks on fire and swirl them around, occasionally ducking or screaming when the flames got too close. Lyric cheered and Stellan watched in amazement.
He wasn’t doing too bad until his sleeve managed to catch fire.
“FIRE!” He screamed, waving his hand around manically. “FIRE!!!”
“Stop waving it!” Lyric shouted.
Reed didn’t listen. He continued to wave spastically, transferring the fire to the other wrist.
“Dude, stop!” Allegro shouted.
Luckily, his frantic waving actually did put out the fire. Reed knelt on the ground in shock, trying to calm his racing heart.
“That’s enough fire for today,” Melody said, extinguishing the flames. “Maybe you need a little more practice…without the deadly fire.”
Now that Reed was out of danger, the siblings began to tease him mercilessly. Allegro began mocking his high-pitched screams while Melody flapped her arms like a chicken. Lyric and Stellan used the distraction to have some peace and quiet further away from the fire.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving tomorrow,” Lyric said sadly. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I don’t want to go, either.” Stellan admitted. “But it’ll be good for you to spend some alone time with your family. I can tell they mean a lot to you.”
Lyric smiled and wrapped her arms around Stellan’s neck. “You mean just as much, you know that?”
“I didn’t know, but I’m glad,” He said softly, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.
“Don’t have too much fun with the other girls, okay?” Lyric said after a brief moment of silence. Stellan smiled sadly as her eyes swam with tears. Instead of responding, they stepped closer and said their own version of goodbye.