The tension in the room was so thick Lottie was sure she would suffocate under it. The awkward silence as the two stared each other down was only broken by the soft ticking of the clock above the door. Ellie’s eyes were ablaze. She was truly furious and Lottie could feel the intense anger radiating towards her – that same storm she’d felt when she first saw Ellie at the school entrance. She willed herself to say something, anything to break the oppressive silence before it consumed them both.
‘I tried to tell them it wasn’t true.’
Ellie laughed humourlessly. ‘You are so selfish – it’s unbelievable.’
Lottie flinched as if she’d been slapped. That stung. She prided herself on being kind, on being welcoming, helpful. Selfishness was the exact opposite of her nature. She hung her head in shame. ‘I’m so –’
‘I bet it didn’t even cross your mind once what this means for the real princess, did it?’
She couldn’t argue with that; it hadn’t. Not once had it occurred to her that the Maravish princess might actually be at Rosewood. She’d thought it all sounded like a fairy tale. She suddenly felt exceptionally stupid, not just because of her lack of thought but the idea that she could ever pass as an actual princess. A feeling she had never experienced had settled firmly in the bottom of her stomach, hard and cold, and wound its way up through her chest and caught in her throat. She was truly horrified. By not clearing up the misunderstanding as soon as it happened she’d been partly responsible for the rumour spreading. She prayed that this wouldn’t affect Ellie’s attempt at a normal life.
Ellie stared at her, but Lottie couldn’t think of any way to make it better.
‘I’m sorry. I tried to tell people it wasn’t true, but it got out of hand.’ Somehow the words felt empty and useless.
Ellie grunted in furious exasperation. She grabbed the photo of her and the mystery boy from her bedside table and sank into her bed, shoulders hunched over in a protective little shell. Her raggedy hair covered her face as she stared intently at the picture. Lottie wondered if the boy in the photo was her boyfriend.
Ellie sighed deeply, placing the picture frame back on the table. ‘I’m not going to tell anyone it’s not you,’ she said firmly.
Lottie was incredibly confused. If Ellie was saying this to make her feel better, then she had to stop her – she couldn’t face that much guilt.
‘You can if you want to. I know I should have tried harder to correct everyone.’ Lottie sat opposite her on her own bed with a new feeling of resolution. ‘You can shame me as much as you want; I completely deserve it.’
‘No, you don’t understand,’ replied Ellie. ‘I’m not even mad at you. I’m mad at the situation but . . .’ She looked down at the photo again. ‘This might actually be a blessing.’
Lottie blinked a few times, trying to understand how this could be a good thing for either of them.
‘Maybe –’ Ellie paused and took a deep breath – ‘maybe it’ll be OK if we keep pretending it’s you.’
‘What?’ There was no way she’d heard that right. Ellie responded with her usual little side smile.
Lottie quickly composed herself. ‘I mean, if that’s really what you want?’ The idea that she would actually get to pretend to be a princess sounded like a story she’d made up as a kid.
This caused Ellie to burst into fits of laughter. Lottie was starting to get the feeling she might be better suited for the title Princess of Mood Swings.
Ellie wiped the tears forming at the sides of her eyes as she snorted. ‘It’s just so funny. I would do anything to be in your position, Lottie. All I’ve ever wanted is to not be a princess . . . And then I end up getting roomed with a girl who’s obsessed with them.’ She let out a long breath. ‘You know before I came to Rosewood I’d only met twenty people in my life? Twenty!’
Lottie’s jaw literally dropped at this statement. ‘Wow!’ she said in amazement. ‘How is that possible?’
Ellie chewed her lip and began fiddling with her locket. ‘I’m the sole heir to the throne of Maradova, but I never wanted to be announced or play the part of the perfect princess so . . . the only option was to hide me away in the palace until one day I’d be ready to take on my role.’
Lottie listened with fascination, her heart aching for the lonely little girl Ellie.
‘Don’t get me wrong. I’d sneak out sometimes, but that started some rumours and my parents had to put me on lockdown. So here I am, fifteen years old, and only the most trusted members of the royal Maravish household even know what I look like.’ Ellie didn’t look up as she finished speaking.
Lottie had thought her life had been challenging, but at least she’d been free to make her own choices.
‘I’m not obsessed . . . with princesses, that is.’ Lottie said the words before she had even processed them. ‘I know it probably seems really childish but –’ Lottie paused but she owed Ellie the truth considering she’d just shared so much with her – ‘it’s my mum. See . . . I got this tiara from my mum before she passed away . . . and she taught me this silly phrase that I say to remind myself to be like a princess when I’m anxious or frightened.’ She was sure Ellie was going to laugh at her, but she couldn’t stop herself. ‘I say “I will be kind, I will be brave, I will be unstoppable”. And then everything seems clearer and I’m OK again . . .’ Lottie looked away, scared to see the reaction on Ellie’s face at her childish mantra.
‘It’s not silly,’ Ellie said sternly, surprising her. ‘You’re not silly, Lottie – you’re very smart.’
Lottie looked up to see Ellie looking at her with complete and utter candour. She felt the sting of tears prick at the corner of her eyes. She hadn’t realized how much she needed the validation until she got it.
‘Thank you,’ she said softly.