I’m going to throw up. My teacher paces, her eyebrows pinched and nose scrunched up like she does when lecturing, and now, she’s going on and on about choosing the perfect husband. Even though I’m the princess of Cevania, I’m not safe from Lesha’s lectures.
“Annabelle,” she chimes. “Are you listening?”
I straighten, though my stomach turns. “Yes, ma’am.” Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
“Good. Now, remember he must have the best interests of the kingdom at heart,” she says, completing another lap across the floor. She turns and begins a new round of pacing. “Maybe Duke Erian’s son, Dorian. He’s good with money, has excellent saving skills.” She taps her chin. “Though he does have a problem with prostitutes, so maybe not.” She shakes her head with a chuckle. “Perhaps Mavius? He’s a cousin of Lady Helena, and a fine lad. Handsome, too.” She winks. I swallow bile in my mouth. “And he has won the royal archery contest the last three years in a row. I’m sure he’d make an excellent general. He’s not very bright though, is he?” She turns and crosses my desk again. “Lord Horvek’s son might be a better choice. He is smart—”
I stand so fast my chair clatters to the floor. “I’m sorry, Lesha,” I say, voice shaking. “I’m not feeling well. I’m afraid we must finish for today.”
“Of course, Your Highness. We—”
I’m out the door before she finishes. I race down the hallway, running past confused servants carrying out the wishes of my family. I hate being royalty. Does Lesha have to go on about boys all the time? Even Mother and Father insist I’m going to marry a man and have many children. Is that all I’m good for?
I stop at the door to the royal gardens, slamming it open and running out into the sunlight. Rows of roses and lilies, orchids and tulips, trimmed shrubbery, fountains, and more stretch before me. I scramble over to a bush shaped like my father and throw up.
“Oh, gods,” I wipe my mouth with a rose-colored silk sleeve. Mother’s going to yell at me for getting vomit on one of my court dresses, but I don’t care. Tears overflow my eyes, dripping down to the earth.
“Annabelle?” a voice asks behind me. I jump, turning around, though calm at the night of my brother. He stands before me, pale-skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed.
“Lucian,” I say, smiling. He kneels down beside me and puts a hand on my shoulder, reaching forward with the other to brush some strands of long dirt-brown hair that had fallen out of my braid out of my face.
“Annie. What happened?” His face is the picture of concern. I bow my head.
“Lesha. She talked about getting married again.” I sniffle. “Apparently cause I’m the princess, I have to have a man in my life.”
“Oh, Annie,” Lucian says. I fall forward, shoving my head into the crook of his neck, tears coming anew. He lets me cry into his jacket, patting my back. “It’ll be okay.”
“How do you know?” I say, voice small. “At least you get to…you know.”
“Marry a girl.” I lose the words in a sob. “It’s not fair. It’s not fair! I want girls, too. Is that so bad?”
Lucian sighs and helps me stand. He leans back and puts a hand on my face. “It’s not fair, Annabelle. I hate the rules here, too. You think I wouldn’t rather be in a dress right now? But no, boys have to wear suits.” He chuckles. “But someday, I’ll to be king, and you’ll be next in line, and then everything will change. Okay?”
“Yeah.” I can’t wait to see my brother in a dress. He’ll look so happy. And for once, I’ll be happy too. For a moment I allow myself to picture marrying a girl. It’ll be amazing. Still… “ I don’t want to wait that long. Why can’t it be now?”
Lucian glances away. “I wish it were. But we just have to wait a little. Still…” He looks back at me. “We’ve got each other, right?” He reaches his smallest finger out, and I hook my own around it, in a gesture we’ve done since we were small.
“Always,” I agree, and wipe my eyes. “Gods, I’m a mess.”
He laughs. “Yeah, you’ve got to get cleaned up. There’s a foreign princess visiting at three o’clock…” He raises his eyebrows suggestively and winks.
“Gross!” I grin and shove him away, blushing.
“Hey, you never know.” He shrugs.
I roll my eyes but chuckle. “Okay.” I put my hand on the inside of his elbow. “But let’s stay in the garden awhile longer?”
He nods. “Of course, Annie.”
“Thank you, brother.”