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The Orphanage Princess
Emma fiddled with the seem of her blanket. From her many timeouts sitting and twiddling away on her bed, the blanket had grown frayed at the ends. This time was for taking a second loaf of bread. “It’s not fair.” She pouted to herself. “I’m a princess, why can’t I have all the bread I want?” Emma wasn’t a princess. She was far from it in fact. She didn’t live in a kingdom; she lived at Beatrice’s orphanage for young girls. It was a run down business made solely because it was required for the small town of Litley Lain. The walls were cracked and had changed from off white to cream over the years. Shoes were needed everywhere unless you wanted cuts and infections, and the bathrooms had to be blocked with caution tape due to a mold that may or may not have sent two kids to the hospital with temporary lung disease, not that the dinky temporary stalls were much better.
Only one girl a year usually ends up adopted before they walkout at eighteen, or breakout of the hell all together, and that girl who’s adopted is almost always under they age of 6, which meant this was Emma’s last year with a chance. She flopped onto the bed, her stunning blonde hair trailing a moment behind her, due to its length. She played with the unmanaged split ends. Where she got the idea she was a princess no one knew, but she had such an elaborate story some of the more gullible girls started to believe her. She said that she was to learn about the ways of living as a peasant so that she would understand what it was like when she ruled. She only had to wait a little longer before she would be taken to her kingdom and grow up in a huge room with pink curtains and thousands of stuffed animals. Sadly this dream was just that: a dream. She was born to a couple that couldn’t support her, and was delivered to the orphanage with nothing but a name. Emma.
“Ppsst!” someone whispered at the door. Emma turned and saw Nicole, or Nicky, leaning in the doorway, hands on the frame and just peeking her head out from behind it.
“Nicky!” whispered Emma, sitting bolt upright, grinning perkily.
“Time to get our allowances,” Nicky said in a devious voice, taking extra caution to extend each word. Emma jumped up and they ran to the fire escape, Emma climbed down first, Nicky keeping guard, then tailing her to the town shopping center.
In an orphanage, as you may have guessed, treats and toys aren’t easy to come by, so the troublesome duo of Nicky and Emma made a habit of sneaking into the shopping center after hours and taking money out of the fountain. Not much, of course, only a dollar and a half each. At the end of the week they both got a vanilla ice cream with sprinkles and saved the rest for buying freedom, even though they would be able to leave before they had enough.
They had just snuck back into the orphanage when they heard Mrs. Norringtons talking to Madam Merlta in the other room. “And to think, they, of all people, coming to adopt from us, of all orphanages!” Emma’s eyes lit up, and Nicky beamed.
“Visitors!” They whispered and tiptoed to bed.
Sun struggled through the murky windows. Emma woke up perky and bright eyed which was enough to make anyone who knew her well to become worried. She was never so alive in the mornings, but today was special. There was a visitor coming. She launched herself out of bed and squatted on the ground (it would be a danger to let her knees touch the floor) and pulled out a small wooden box of personal possessions. There wasn’t much inside, so it was only a few moments before she pulled out her hairbrush and began stroking her hair. Nicky was astonished.
“You have a hair brush?” she said a little too surprised.
“Ya, I just don’t use it cause there was no point, its not like anyone would see me, but today there’s gonna be a visitor!” Emma let out a slight squeal and tugged at her hair.
“Here, let me,” Nicky said, and even Emma would agree that Nicky had more experience with hair. Hers, a deep chocolate brown pulled back tightly in a ponytail and very sleek, matching her freckles and pale skin nicely. She brushed Emma’s hair very efficiently and within minutes, she could truly pull off being a princess. Her face, tan and thin, with her thick golden hair would fit perfectly with a tiara, instead of a cowgirl hat.
Emma was putting her brush away when Madame Merlta came into the overpopulated sleeping area. “Girls, today we have some visitors looking to adopt. Nicky and Emma stood up straight, but most of other girls looked flustered. A whispering murmur settled over the place until Madame Merlta said, with her signature voice of sternness, “Quiet or you wont get any dinner! And if I see any of you-“ She stopped dead. A tall man with a brownish beard and heavily decorated shirt stepped into view beside her. Merlta seemed undeceive on whether or not to courtesy and stopped somewhere between. “These are our girls, as you can tell they are given clean clothes warm beds and meals-“
“Unless they don’t stay quiet when there are visitors.” He said in a playful tone, although his voice was rather deep. All the girls held their breath, except Emma, who burst out laughing. Nicky nudged her in the gut and gave a warning glance. The visitor looked her way; she stifled her laugh, although having slight trouble. He walked over; behind his shoulder Madame Merlta gave a look of murder. “What’s your name, jokester?” He asked. Emma liked his smile; it was wide and caused wrinkled around his eyes, in a fatherly way. He seemed nice.
“I’m Emma,” she paused. “And that’s Nicky,” She said, pointing to Nicky, who looked mortified. She gave a little wave, although she looked like she might faint.
“Well it’s nice to meet you Emma. Finally someone laughs at my jokes. And you as well, Nicky,” He said and gave Nicky a slight wink, though Emma wasn’t too sure why. Still, she beamed at his complement, even if she didn’t have a clue what he meant. “Mrs. Marla, would it be alright if I had a quick chat with Emma?”
“Emma? Are you sure? As in, Emma?” She seemed confused; Emma was never a favorite. “Um, I suppose. Y-yes, yes of course!” She said, gaining confidence in her decision.
“Thank you. Emma, a word?” He asked, holding out a hand. Emma turned to Nicky, who gestured for her to go. She took his hand and they went into the hall. He seemed confused when she held her breath by the bathroom door.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” he asked.
“Yes, but I want to ask you some first,” said Emma. He looked a little surprised, though in a good way, and gave another grin.
“What’s your name?”
“You can call me Bailey for now.”
“Isn’t that a girl name?”
“Yes it is.”
“What’s your favorite food?”
“Vanilla with sprinkles.”
“Mine too! Do you have pets?”
“Are you a prince?”
He paused for a second, “No, I am not a prince. My turn. How long have you been here?”
“How old are you?”
“6 and 9 months.”
“Do you want to get out?”
“Since birth.” He smiled strongly.
“Would you like to leave right now?” She beamed for a second, then frowned.
“No, I can’t leave Nicky behind, I’m sorry.” He frowned too, then recovered.
“Can you tell me about Nicky?”
“Sure! We were given to the orphanage on the same day, even though we aren’t the same age. We pinky promised that when we got out we would open a candy shop, and every Friday we eat vanilla ice cream with sprinkles!”
“Well, if you’re not leaving without her, and I’m not leaving without you, then I guess there’s only one thing to do. Tell Nicky to pack her things, and you do the same. Think you can be ready in 5 minutes?”
“I bet you I can do it in 3!”
“You’re on, ready… go!” Emma raced down the hall. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her hair was flying behind her.
“Nicky, Nicky! We’re getting out, we’re getting out! We have to pack! Hurry! We have to pack!”
Emma and Nicky walked out of the orphanage, bags small, since there wasn’t much to hold, and found a white horse drawn carriage awaiting them, which was strange, but easy to ignore since they hadn’t seen much outside of the orphanage anyways. Maybe it was normal. They rode in the carriage for what could have been the entire day in Emma’s mind (2 or 3 hours) keeping up a conversation with bailey about desserts, which became a conversation about flowers, which became a conversation about how to sneak into a flower shop. Then Emma noticed something as they crossed a large marble bridge. Carved into the mountain ahead was a gleaming white kingdom cut straight out of a fairytale.
“Emma, I want to explain something to you. You see, I didn’t go to Beatrice’s Orphanage for young girls because it was the closest option, I didn’t even plan on adopting; I was coming back for my Nicole.”
“Nicole?” Emma blurted, slightly outraged. “But- but.”
“Emma, I know it’s crazy, but you know how I wrote a lot of letters? Those weren’t recommendation letters for Madame Merlta, they were messages to dad,” Nicky said, pointing to Bailey. “He was waiting ‘till I turned seven, but decided to come a week early so I would get used to my kingdom.”
“YOU’RE kingdom?” Emma was baffled. “But Bailey isn’t a prince! I asked him!”
“I’m not a prince, you’re right. I’m a king.” He said. “Now Emma, Nicky had been writing about you in every letter. I liked you more and more as she told me stories about you, but when I actually met you, in person, I truly felt a pull toward you. Nicky of course, I have met on her birthday each year, and every year I am more and more pleased with the person she has become. There was always a pull toward you, Nicky,” he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “So I went in to that orphanage empty handed, and came out with the two greatest treasures I could ever ask for, you two.”
“What about Fern?” Nicole said.
“Oh, her too, her too. She can be a real stinker sometimes though.” He said squeezing her a little harder. Emma felt like a bit of a third wheel. “Now, Emma. Do you take the responsibility, of being a part of our forever growing family, to serve as a fair ruler, and to put your people before yourself, as well as accepting the role of being a princess,”
“Yes!” He barely had a second to finish.
“Then come here!” He embraced her in a fatherly hug. They rode to the kingdom in one big huddle, and Emma, content at finally belonging to a family, fell asleep before they reached the shimmering golden gates.
At the orphanage, every day when Emma woke up, she would meet the plaster ceiling, dirty and cracked above her, once with a one-inch chunk of it resting on her pillow, inches from her face. Her blankets were an unwashed grayish once white, and tattered to the equivalent of a potato sack, and her clothes made of the same fabric. Today she woke up to a pink canopy above her head and a lovely ray of light beaming through a ceiling to floor bay window. Silk sheets felt like liquid against her skin and her room, circular and stretching incredibly high, held her own desk, with her very own chair, a few bazillion stuffed animals, and a wardrobe of dresses, and a fluffy pink round rug. When she got on her feet, the floor was polished and clean. She marveled at the magnificence a long while until the double door opened to reveal Nicky in a white sleeping gown that touched her feet.
“Oh good, you’re awake. Get dressed, your going to meet Fern,” she said enthusiastically. “Lets pick a dress.”
“Pick? How many are there?” Emma said, and Nicky walked over to the wardrobe and pulled the doors out wide to reveal what could have mounted to a hundred dresses altogether. Emma’s mouth was gaping.
“Here, wear this one, it matches your eyes. Now lets go!” a little out of place in a palace, Emma slipped the dress over her pajamas and followed Nicky down an endless hall. By the time Nicky stopped, well postured and elegant, Emma was panting.
“How big is this castle?” Nicky seemed not to have heard. She opened up the doors to reveal a room much like Emma’s only larger and with main colors of indigo, white, and black. Sitting at a desk was a girl, about fifteen with sleek black hair all the way to her lower back, with skin like milk and honey. She was absolutely blooming with beauty. At the sound of the opening doors, she turned.
“Nicky!” She said, running over to hug her sister. She lifted Nicky into the air and spun her around. “I’ve missed you so much! And who is this?” Her tone was sweet, maybe even too much so.
“This is Emma, she’s our new sister!” Said Nicky, beaming.
“Oh, can I have a short chat with my new sister, Nick?” Nicky nodded and left. The moment the door closed, all the sweetness had drained from Fern’s face. “Listen, runt. I don’t need another little kid running around this castle, much less one with any power. You can play princess sure, but little pesks like you don’t last long. Never come to me for help. I want to be able to pretend you don’t exist. Got it?” Emma felt like a popped balloon, feeling stupid in her dress and p.js, and nodded solemnly. “Good, now go,” She left the room, on the verge of tears.
Emma stayed in her own room for the next two days. When people asked, she said she was sick or adjusting, but still people were making up foul rumors about the newest addition to the royal family. Nicky was walking down the hall when she heard the staff murmuring, “I think she’s just a scam, never even existed! No ones seen her yet, so how do we know she even exists?” Nicky glared at them, making them shut up quickly. It was the third night of pretending not to exist that Emma realized what she let happen. ‘I am a princess! I shouldn’t tolerate being treated with no worth. Even before I was royalty I was better than this!’ she said to herself. Why should she be hiding away? ‘Tomorrow,’ she thought, ‘tomorrow I take a stand.’ She went to sleep.
Throughout the day Emma walked through the hall flamboyantly in a lovely dress. She batted her eyes and flipped her hair. She took extra care in walking straight past Fern, giving a little noise of laughter before looking away and strolling past. Sure, the dress was uncomfortable and she had to practice batting her eyes in front of a mirror, but the shocked and annoyed look on Fern’s face made it all worthwhile.
Fern cam into Emma’s room that night, with a face not like anger or cruelty, nor false sweetness, but instead a face between proud and guilty. Emma spoke. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to congratulate you, and apologize. You see, before being deemed ready to rule, there is a series of- tests- you have to go through. Like learning to have nothing from being at the orphanage. This test was for neglect. As a ruler you can’t let one person get to you. We needed to know you could act true to yourself even if other people didn’t want you too. It was all a test, I had to do it.”
“I forgive you. A princess doesn’t hold a grudge,” Emma said softly. “But, I never realized how much work it was, being a princess. I don’t like it anymore.”
Fern came over and actually hugged her. “I know, but this is the easy part now. All the tests are done, okay?”
“Good. Now get some rest. Good night.”
“Emma! Hurry up! We can’t be late!” Nicole yelled through the door.
“I’m going Nicole, I’m going,” Emma said. She finished putting on her right shoe, then ran out the door, and faced Nicole.
“Oh no, no, no. You are NOT wearing THAT to Fern’s 21 birthday!” She said, pushing Emma back into the room. “Wear the one that was laid out for you! And fix your hair!”
“But that dress is so boring, and so is this ball! Why can’t we just sneak into the kitchen, pour hot sauce on the cake, then not make an appearance at all?”
“Emma, you’re 17, that is so childish!”
“You did it yesterday!”
“Ya, well,” She couldn’t find an argument. “Just get dressed, and maybe I’ll put some hot sauce on the chancellor of Sunction’s slice. Always hated him. Now go!” Emma rushed back into her room, and went to fix her hair. It had become slightly lighter over the years, and had become even more of a tangled mess than before. Life of a princess had done her well, she had high cheek bones, which still contained her aggravating freckles, which she doubted would ever go away. Her eyes had grown from green to brown over the many years, but they were still as full of mischief as ever. She finished doing her hair, with the same brush she had used since the orphanage. Some things she would never let go, as that was the brush she used on the day of her new life. Nicole and Emma drew closer, and spent the days finding new ways to make the servants life more difficult, until they were caught by Fern, who never favored their, as she put it, “Crimes against the family name.” But no matter how old they got, even when they became queens and had children of their own, deep inside was the same longing for adventure that the two orphans shared everyday as they licked their vanilla ice-cream cones, together.