the dinner.

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that morning, i woke up with a pizza hangover in d.j.'s bed. the sun was just coming up, and lynette was already up and chiming.

"breakfast in fifteen minutes! grand dining room!" she chirped.

"we're skipping!" d.j. groaned out, groggily.

lynette walked over to the window and yanked up the blinds, and then snagged the blankets off the bed. "hey!" d.j. and i both exclaimed.

"arabella is home. you're mother is ecstatic. the prince's ball is tonight. get up, get at 'em. let's go! go! go!" she was dancing around the room, like it was her daughter that had just come home.

"let's just stay up here in our pajamas, and they can't make us go down," d.j. whispered toward me. my eyes were still shut tight.

"sounds go-"

lynette came flying back into the room. "dominick james junior," she said smacking d.j. with a pillow, "your sister is home for the first time in months, tonight is a big night for your brother. get your ass out of that bed and into real clothes, and down to that dining room, so help me god!" she continued to hit d.j. with his favorite throw pillow over and over until he rolled out of the bed.

"okay! okay! i give!" he yelled as his feet hit the floor. he threw his arms up in surrender.

i rolled over to look at them and laughed uncontrollably. lynette glared at me. "do i need to start in on you, too?" she asked, raising the pillow.

"nope! i'm up!" i exclaimed.

* * *

later that day, d.j., arabella, charlie, and i stood against the side wall of the gigantic foyer of the palace and watched as giant table centerpieces, a chocolate fountain, and dozens of tables were carried into the grand ballroom.

they were setting up for the ball and senate dinner, which were the bane of our existences. before every major royal ball or event, there were senate dinners, which consisted of boring chit-chat, overly fancy food, and speeches by the most boring people ever.

we all stood there, dazed and disgusted looks on our faces. none of us looked at one another as we spoke, just watched all of the delivery people run around like little ants.

"i'm gonna get prodded like a piece of meat tonight," charlie groaned.

"been there, done that," i said, "watch out for diane the esthetician, she has nails that could pluck your eye out."

"hey," arabella said, "at least you don't have to worry about the press bugging you about where you've been for the past few months."

then d.j. said, "ya know, if we leave now, we'll be in calabasas by the time the dinner is over."

"i still have the keys to the cottage," arabella said, perking up.

"my car's in the courtyard," i chirped.

"think we can pack up and leave in ten minutes without getting caught?" charlie asked.

"nope," i said as i pointed across the foyer, "you're mom's already coming this way."

she was already in her deep purple gown with gold shaw, her hair was in curlers, and her makeup hadn't been blended together yet.

"what the hell are you four doing?!" she screeched as she marched toward us. "dinner is in two hours and none of you are ready!" arabella's eye's widened in fear, charlie and d.j. stifled laughter, and i tried to hide my face with hand. "go!" she exclaimed.

we all turned and ran toward the stairs.

* * *

nearly two hours later, i was completely ready and sitting at a table surrounded by members of the senate and their spouses. the royal family all entered together to start the dinner, but before that, there were cocktails and appetizers. it was torture not to have d.j. with me during that time.

luckily for me, as i finished my fourth martini, josiah walked to the front of the room and clapped his hands. "ladies and gentlemen of the senate, may i introduce to you, the royal family. king dominick the third, queen isabel, prince charles the second, prince dominick the fourth, and returning to the palace, princess arabella."

the senate members and their dates all stood, clapping. charlie sat next to me, d.j. and arabella sat across from us, and king dominick and isabel sat, hand-in-hand at the head of the table. "be seated all," king dominick said.

as we sat, i felt charlie's hand run against the slit in my leg. i looked at him with surprised eyes, but he stared straight ahead, unfazed. the dinner dragged on and on, through tapas, salad, soup, and the main course. then, came time for speeches. the head of the senate spoke first about the amazing fiscal year, the tax plan, and stuff i really didn't care about. then, king dominick spoke about essentially the same things.  after he sat down, i gave he and queen isabel a look.  isabel tapped king dominick in the stomach.  he oomphed and nodded.

i stood, my wine glass in my hand.  all eyes were on me.  "uh," i said nervously, "for those of you who don't know me, my name is noreen groves, nora to those closest to me, like this wonderful family right here.  i grew up in a situation that no one would ever hope for, and it was one that i wouldn't wish on my, my worst enemy.  king dominick and queen isabel opened their home to me and took me in as one of their own.  i've found a best friend in prince dominick, a confidant in princess arabella, who, i might add, i am so glad is back home with her family.  i found out a few days ago that, you wonderful people in this room have not only approved for me to finally be able to live in the harper house during school this semester, but i am now able to live full time in royal properties.  i just wanted to tell you all how thankful i am for you all to consider my situation and help me out of it, so... thank you." i smiled and immediately sat down.

 the room clapped, and senator thomas' wife, dorinda, came over and gave me a big hug.  finally, after a kick under the table from his father, charlie rose to speak:

"i just wanted to, thank you all, for supporting me tonight, for welcoming me in my introduction to the senate this morning, and for, well, for not eating me alive this morning." everyone in the room chuckled. "tonight starts my journey, at least in the public eye, to becoming the next king. i know that many are concerned if i can be as great a king as my father, and to be honest, i am too. the fear of having to live up to this great man right here are great enough to make any man want to run and hide under his covers all day. but, after this week, i'll hopefully have a woman to be by my side, as amazing as my mother, to help me through it."

the room oohed and ahhed. i felt the need to reach for charlie's hand, but i held back.

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