the birthday.

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the alarm on my phone chimed over and over as i lay there awake.  i had been wide awake for nearly two hours at that point.  slowly and dreadfully, i rolled out of my nice, soft bed and onto the cold, hardwood floors.

everyone in my house was still asleep.  it was still pitch black outside as i turned on the shower.  i made the water as piping hot as possible, and let it run until steam was curling around me in rings.  the tiny pink pill and a full glass of water sat next to the sink, i sighed as i popped it into my mouth and gulped from the sweating glass. 

my stomach growled.

but it wasn't hunger.

it was nerves.

it was anger.

it was dread.

once i was in the shower, i stood there until the water ran cold.  as i washed my hair, the water was bone-chilling cold, which finally made me feel something.  i had to force myself out of the shower.  i slowly wrapped the fluffy, white cotton towel around my wet, naked body, and stared at myself in the mirror.

i padded quietly down the hallway to my room.  a box wrapped in red-and-white striped paper with a navy blue bow was laying on the table next to my unmade bed.

"n-" the card read, "happy birthday.  -d.j."

i gently pulled off the ribbon and slid the lid off the box.  underneath navy blue tissue paper was a red wrap dress with gold embellishments.  absolutely stunning.  too bad i couldn't wear it that day.  instead, i slid into a pair of grey sweatpants, my king's university sweatshirt, and brushed my still-wet hair.

dressed, but not ready for my day, i trudged down the stairs.  my father sat at the kitchen table, a cup of tea, bottle of whiskey, and the daily newspaper in front of him.  he looked up at me, tears brimming his eyes.  neither of us saying a word as i walked out the door.

my car sat in the same spot in the driveway as it always had.  a classic, baby blue mustang convertible.  normally, i would have jumped at the chance to drive it, but today, i just wanted to hide in my room.

as i drove down the road, the radio in my car was blasting, but i had no idea what song was playing.  my stomach lurched when i saw the pointy spires from the castle as i came over the hill on palace avenue.

years ago, this country had been a democracy. a president ran the government from a house on the opposite coast -- that is now called new east coast -- but a couple years into his rule, he overthrew the democracy and forcefully turned it into a monarchy. the country was in ruin. thousands fled to other countries as the nation's capital literally burned to the ground in protest.

the president forced himself as king.  he turned an old amusement park into his palace.  a castle stood guard at the gates of the park, he made it his home.  the rides and all else were demolished as he expanded the castle into his obnoxious palace.  

the week after his palace was complete, he was assassinated, and a new, kinder, more civil family took rule.

but not before he enacted the "loyalty law," the reason i was being tortured on my twenty-first birthday.  the loyalty law required that every girl on her twenty-first birthday was to sleep with the closest prince of age, so that they would forever be loyal to their king.

it was stupid.

luckily for most girls, the law was adapted so that loyalty weekend only happened once a month.  unluckily for me, that weekend just happened to be the weekend of my birthday.

i pulled around to the back entrance of the palace.  the guard waving happily to me.  i weakly smiled back.

josiah, the king's top aide, was standing in the cobblestone driveway, waiting for me.

"hello, darling," he said with faint happiness as he opened my car door for me, "happy birthday."

"what's so happy about it?" i griped.

he sighed.  "i'll lead you to the room, but first i must tell you the rules the king has dictated for you.  first, you are to play along as best you can.  no one is to know that you have an inside with the royal family.  of course, some people will know, as you've been linked to the royal family for years.  after orientation, miss traverse will come get you, and take you to prince dominick, but you are not to give any notion of your knowing him before then.  i will come find you when it's time for your... meeting... with prince charles."  

we walked down the long service hallway where i usually entered.  instead of going straight up the back staircase to d.j.'s room like i always did, this time, josiah led me to the grand hall in the basement.  we stood outside the huge, oak double doors, and he sighed again.  "don't fret," he said, "every girl goes through it.  men do worse things.  it'll be over quickly."

i rolled my eyes and pushed through the doors.  i knew this room well.  d.j. and i snuck down here thousands of times when we were kids.  i'd met him when my mom was one of the designers for the palace hall remodel.  d.j.'s mom, queen isabel, had an intuition that something wasn't right with my family and immediately took me in.  she even helped get me into the trump academy for children, where d.j. and i had been in every grade together and stayed inseparable since.

we would sneak down to this room and giggle about when it would be his turn to "kiss" all of the pretty girls that came through here.  then, the room was light and airy as hairspray and glitter floated through the air.  but, as i walked through the room, alone, it seemed dark and cold.  dozens of beds lined two sides of the rooms.  girl's in robes and cute, slutty outfits sat happily chattering away on the beds.  this room had once been magical for me, but now, it was a prison.

i went to the wrought iron bed with my name on the end.  i tossed my stuff on the floor and flopped down on the frilly white bed spread with a huff.

"not into this either?" i heard a raspy voice say beside me.

i snorted. "not exactly how i wanted to spend my birthday."  i looked up to see a girl with fried, obviously box-dyed hair, and matching nose and lip piercing sitting on the bed beside me.  her clothes were black and grey.  her eyes were cold and the same color grey as her sweater.

she laughed back, "yeah, well, i ran out of deferrals.  there's only so many times you can have mono and travel to new eastland."

"i'm nora," i said.

"della," she nodded.  she opened her mouth to say something more, but then we heard the sound of heavy heels clomping into the room.

my stomach dropped as i knew what that meant.

"laaaaadies!" she crowed.  mrs. del pecki, the women's loyalty association director, stood at the front of the room.  "i know you're all excited for your time with the prince, but first we must do some housekeeping.  you may leave your belongings here, but please follow me to the auditorium for our orientation."

as we filed out of the room, i heard girls giggling about what was to come.  della and i were the last two out of the room.  we walked down the hall, and halfway to the auditorium, the girls began to ogle over a giant portrait that hung on the wall outside of the auditorium.

"he's so cute!" one girl screeched out.

i groaned and rolled my eyes.

what a great way to spend my birthday.


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