Casimir grunted as he teetered back and forth on a wobbly ladder Maude was attempting to hold steady. She giggled as she almost pitched him off the side, earning her one of Casimir’s infamous scowls.
“Don’t you give me that look!” Maude chided him. “I’m the only thing keeping this ladder from crashing down, you know. You ought to be smiling and singing my praises.”
Casimir stretched his lips over his teeth. “There. I’m smiling.”
Maude tutted and shook the ladder, laughing as Casimir fought to regain his balance once more.
“If you keep doing that, we’ll never have this finished!” Casimir warned her.
“I think Odette would appreciate knowing that I don’t let you stomp all over me.”
Casimir rolled his eyes as he attached another lantern in the evergreen tree. “My life is being run by a bunch of women.”
“It’s about time.” Maude said under her breath.
“I heard that!” Casimir said as he reached towards her to get another lantern. Maude simply smiled as he passed him the next decoration.
The two had been working nonstop for two days, decorating a small section of the castle’s grounds. Everyone else had pitched in, citing their appreciation for Odette as their motivation. Casimir had gone so far as to build a gazebo from scratch, using the wood from trees that had fallen from a previous storm. Casimir even found some wood stain in the castle’s basement – a whitewash that would certainly brighten up the space. At least, that’s what Maude said. However, as he painted, the white stain turned black, yet another reminder of the curse he had yet to break. It was disheartening, but Casimir reminded himself of the windows in his bedroom that now looked out to the vast sea.
It might be a small shift, but after years of his life in a dark castle, any change was welcome.
Odette gently touched a plant in the hallway and sighed. It’s leaves were encased in glass, perfectly preserved. As she tapped one of the leaves, it swung back and forth, clinking against the other parts of the plant. It sounded like a beautiful wind chime, but a sad one at that.
“Someone looks deep in thought.”
Odette turned to find Jacqueline standing behind her, long wardrobe cover in hand. The young maid had been MIA for the past few days, only appearing to help Odette dress in the mornings. Odette had chalked it up to Jacqueline’s love of sneaking out, something she had found out by accident when she found Jacqueline hiding behind a curtain one morning, wearing the same outfit as the day before.
“What’s that?” Odette asked, gesturing to the garment bag Jacqueline held.
“Just a little something for you,” Jacqueline answered coyly. “Come with me and we’ll try it out.”
Odette continued to pepper Jacqueline with questions as they made their way up to Odette’s chambers. Jacqueline stayed silent, only smiling as Odette grew more curious. When they finally made it upstairs, Jacqueline hung the garment on a butler’s hook and smiled over her shoulder at Odette.
“Ready for this?”
Odette sat on her bed and nodded.
“That’s too bad,” Jacqueline laughed. “We have to get you ready first.”
Odette groaned but obliged, letting Jacqueline fuss over her with an arsenal of makeup and hairspray. Eventually Odette gestured to the bag as Jacqueline brushed out the ends of Odette’s hair.
“Is that where you’ve been the past few days?”
Jacqueline nodded. “I sewed it completely from scratch. We all think you deserve a bit of pampering.”
“I’m not sure how Casimir would feel about this,” Odette murmured.
“What do you mean?” Jacqueline asked. “It was his idea.”
Odette straightened up in surprise. Like Jacqueline, he had been gone for the past few days. Odette had thought he had been upset with her, perhaps a delayed response to pouring his heart – and past – out to her.
“Speechless, finally!” Jacqueline laughed as she finished up with Odette’s hair. “I never thought the day would come.”
Odette huffed and tried to slap Jacqueline’s arm playfully. Jacqueline jumped out of the way just in time and went back over to the butler’s hook, smiling mischievously. As she unzipped the garment bag, Odette was left speechless once again.
She was momentarily blinded by the sparkle of the golden gown, beautiful in it’s intricacy. It was a simple shape, but the different tones of gold and hand-woven beading made it not only an exquisite gown, but a perfect representation of Odette herself. It was like a dream as Jacqueline helped her slip into it. Odette even left her locket in a cushioned, velvet box to wear the accompanying necklace. Jacqueline assured her it wasn’t necessary, but Odette decided she would take one night to forget the past and think of the future instead.
Once Odette was ready to go, Skyler appeared at the door in his best tails. He bowed deeply before straightening, offering an arm to Odette. She curtseyed respectfully before allowing Skyler to escort her down the stairs – and surprisingly – outside. He gestured to a path illuminated by candled lanterns before taking his leave. Odette followed the cobblestone path through its many twists and turns, in awe the entire time.
She gasped as a large clearing came into view. Blue lanterns hung from the trees, bathing the scene in a sea of blue moonlight. Casimir was standing at the end of the path, fidgeting nervously. Odette was standing opposite of him, smiling lightly. Though he had spent hours upon hours trying to make a small piece of his castle beautiful, none of it compared to the woman standing in front of him.
“You…” He trailed off, clearing his throat.
Odette laughed and curtseyed. “Your Highness.”
Casimir chuckled, feeling the nervousness in him dissipate. “You are the one who looks like royalty.” Casimir said softly before bowing.
He stepped forward and like Skyler, extended an arm for Odette to take. She laughed again and threw an arm around his back, leaning in close. Casimir froze in surprise before taking it in stride. He wrapped an arm around Odette’s waist and brought her to a small table laden with food.
“You look radiant,” Casimir finally said.
Odette smiled indulgently and tilted her head. “Was that a compliment?”
Casimir cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. “I’m sorry you sound so surprised.”
Odette reached a hand across the table and grabbed Casimir’s. He looked up in shock. “I am surprised,” she said softly. “But not because it’s you complimenting me. It’s because someone is.”
“I guess I’ll just have to make up for the others,” he replied smoothly.
After a brief pause, Odette smiled again. “We’re a couple of loners, aren’t we?”
Casimir threw his head back laughing. “I guess so. But hey, at least we’ve got each other.”
Suddenly, soft violin music began to play from the gazebo. Odette’s eyes seemed to light up under the soft lantern’s glow, so Casimir stood up and extended a hand.
“May I have this dance, m’lady?”
Odette laughed and placed her hand in his. “You may, good sir.”
And so the two made their way to the makeshift dance floor and tentatively began to dance. Odette had never slow danced before, but Casimir managed to gently lead her and make her feel as if she had done it a million times before.
Eventually, Odette cleared her throat. “It’s strange, isn’t it?”
Odette shrugged once Casimir brought her up from a dip. “You’re a prince and I’m just a girl from a small village. We shouldn’t have anything in common.”
“It’s just a dumb title that separates us. I’d like to think that isn’t anything at all.”
“I guess that’s true,” Odette answered. “But still, you’re royalty.”
Casimir stopped their dance and shook his head before pulling the crown off of his head. “You’re more royal than I’ll ever be,” he said, fiddling with the heavy accessory. He took it and gently placed it on Odette’s head. “There. Now you’re the royal and I’m just a boy from a small village.”
Odette touched the crown with her hand and held back tears. “I guess we should go over the rules,” she started. Casimir looked at her in confusion. “One, you are to address me as ‘Master’.”
Casimir laughed at Odette’s impression of him. “That title is archaic and demeaning!” He shouted in a high-pitched voice.
Odette laughed along with him and threw herself into his arms. She leaned her chin on his shoulder and whispered into his ear. “Your Highness works as well.”
“Oh, be quiet!” Casimir said playfully as he flicked one of the glittering jewels on Odette’s crown. “You’re not funny.”
“Neither are you,” Odette smirked. “But I am glad you ditched that horrendous cape.”
“And the gloves?”
“You know,” Odette started, leaning back so she could look Casimir in the eyes. “I myself was going to wear gloves tonight, but I thought it was too soon.”
Casimir laughed harder. “You’re still not funny, you know.”
“Is that any way to speak to your princess?”
“No, ma’am.” Casimir said, breaking out of their embrace. He knelt on the ground and crumpled forward. “Forgive me, Your Highness.”
Odette grabbed fistfuls of her dress and lifted the heavy skirt up to reveal her sparkling heels. She tapped Casimir’s hand with her shoe. “I ought to throw you in the dungeon,” she growled.
“No!” Casimir said, lifting himself up to his knees. “Please, no. There are scary people down there!”
Odette huffed and rolled her eyes. “Fine. Rise, peasant.”
Casimir thanked Odette and got back up to his feet. The two stared at each other for a beat before laughing. As they chuckled, small pops came from beyond the gazebo. Odette ran to the edge and looked out, gasping at the fireworks that soared into the night sky, free as a bird. Casimir came over and wrapped a hand around her waist, and the two watched the show in companionable silence.