The majestic ebony doors towered what seemed like hundreds of feet above me. I hadn't expected the castle to be so...so...big. The entire castle itself was constructed out of giant boulders that were taller and thicker than I was. My mind suddenly flipped into panic mode and I wondered if the royal family were giants. I nervously entertained the idea before I doused my over-active imagination with a rhetorical bucket of logic.
"Now, blondie," I muttered, using my nickname for myself, "if the royal family were giants, I'd be a giant because this would be a giant kingdom." As childish as my reasoning sounded, it satisfied my wild fancies and they settled back into the corner of my mind. I knocked delicately on the wood and smoothed out the dark forest green chiffon of my dress. The giant doors swooped open slowly and suddenly I felt very dramatic. A row of lavishly dressed soldiers stood at attention on either side of me. I managed to compress my giggle into a smile as I walked through them on the velvet red carpet. My imagination toyed with the idea of the soldiers talking and goofing around just seconds before my knock.
Then my gold-sandaled feet brought me to the ball room where all the people where. My stomach dropped and I found myself mentally cursing the decree that had ordered all unmarried women to come to this stupid ball. So many women swarmed around the room, as if they were circulating around a focal point. It reminded me of a picture I had once painted of a flock of moths swarming around a torch. Mindless titters and giggles filled the room and all but drowned out the orchestra music.
For a moment, I wondered if the soldiers would mind if I just hung out with them.
But it was too late, for the King and Queen had already spotted me from their balcony perch. A smart choice, I thought enviously. The Queen pointed to my dress and said something to her husband. I looked down.
My dress was made of dark forest green chiffon that clutched becomingly at my waist and fell down to the floor. A gold band crossed just under my chest and bordered the top of the dress. Sure, it was strap-less, but strap-less was the new style (and the only dress they had left at the boutique I had visited.) Even the queen had one on.
Then I realized, she didn't disapprove of my dress; she liked it.
I smiled a little bit, and couldn't help but feeling as though I had avoided an awful crisis. I chastised my imagination again and drifted over to the punch table. A few men were mingling here, casting angry and bitter glares at the cyclone of women drifting towards the middle of the room. I picked up a cup and leaned back on the table, sipping leisurely. The men's eyes shifted to me. I nodded cordially and continued to observe the strange phenomenon occurring before my very eyes. But I would still peek at the bemused group of men standing next to me and gaping at me. I felt like an animal displayed in a traveling circus.
Finally, one of the men cleared his throat. "Uh, excuse me miss."
I looked at him. He and his friends were clearly confused and a little amused at something. I only wish I knew what. "Yes?"
"Would you mind telling us why you're here?"
I blinked at his boorish comment. What a rude thing to say. I put my hands on my hips and demanded, "Excuse me?"
He understood my tone and groveled immediately. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. I just meant, why are you here and not over there?" He pointed to the swarm of girls and women. Some were becoming increasingly violent to get to whatever was in the middle.
"Why would I want to get myself maimed?" I asked innocently. His friends hooted with laughter. Was what I had said really that funny?
"Touché." Silence fell upon the group again, and I felt very grateful. I returned my own eyes to the crowd of now screaming females. A question surfaced in my mind.
"What's so fantastic that is causing them to fight to get to it?"
The men looked at me like I was mentally retarded. "You mean you don't know?"
"Well why would I be asking if I didn't know?" I received another round of laughter and another "Touché." I tried really hard to keep my annoyance from surfacing.
"The prince is over there," Touché man sneered. His friends growled and scoffed and one of them spat in his cup. If I hadn't ben really desperate for information, I would have walked away.
"So the prince is single. He's sexy," he paused and made a face, "I'm told. Anyway, we're surprised you aren't over there in the thick of things."
I blinked at him and crossed my arms. "So you're surprised that I choose not to embark in reckless disregard for life and limb just for a guy."
The men laughed again, and I began to wonder what was in their punch that made them laugh at everything I said. "Well, thanks for the information," I said nonchalantly and walked as briskly as I could away from them. I left them murmuring and wondering why I had left my punch cup on the table.
I traveled half-way around the swarm of women before I felt comfortable enough to relax. There were no women here, and I wondered why.
They're probably too eager to get to him first, they've stopped thinking logically,I reasoned. Everybody was in front of me, so I leaned up against the cool stone wall to watch the poor Prince fend for himself. I felt a little sorry for him as he drifted closer to where I was standing.
"Ladies," the Prince was pleading, "I really need to relieve myself."
About half of the women swooned and the other half shamelessly asked about hisotherneeds. I gasped and a mortified blush crept up my cheeks. I could only imagine how he felt.
Unfortunately, my gasp was heard and the Prince turned. I felt as though I had been spying on him and my flushed face grew even redder. I ducked my head and grinned sheepishly. I was surprised to find that my grin was returned. I lowered my eyelids and suddenly found an overwhelming desire to study my shoes. The last thing I wanted was the Prince to think that I was stalking him. I inched along the wall away from him when I found I couldn't move. A strong hand had grasped my wrist.
A jealous buzz fizzled in the room. I let my eyes travel s-l-o-w-l-y up his rough fingers and to his elbow. That was the farthest I got. The immensity of his biceps took me by surprise. It seemed like he could donate a layer of muscle and still be roughly the size of a barge.
"Like them?" A soft voice breathed down my neck. I tensed. How did he get behind me? I turned around and my stomach lurched. He was very close to me. One mis-step and our lips would touch. I shuddered a little bit and peeled his fingers off of my wrist.
"Sorry," I muttered sheepishly, feeling very much like a naughty toddler. I looked back down to my feet and clasped my hands behind my back. Mentally I congratualted myself. Now he couldn't grasp my wrist.
"That's okay. At least you were only looking." The smile in his voice was unmistakable, but I could tell he was looking away. From the slight breeze I could feel on on my abdomen, I wondered if he was signaling something. As if on cue, the lights dimmed and the orchestra struck up a waltz. "Would you like to dance?"
I couldn't help myself. I looked around for the girl he must be talking to. My eyes looked up into his gorgeous brown ones.Gosh, he sure is tall..."You mean me?" I squeaked. Despite myself, I felt a little giddy. I mean, me: April Winters dancing with the Prince. It was all too good to be true. Then I remembered.
Don't be stupid blondie! You don't know how to dance!
He nodded and I was speechless. Then I thought of the dumbest, most lame excuse ever. But it was the only one I could come up with.
"Don't you need to relieve yourself?" I whispered.
To my surprise, he chuckled. He leaned in very close and I shivered as his warm breath traveled down my neck and lingered at the small of my back. "That, my dear," he whispered into my ear, "was just my lame attempt to dispel the stalkers." I clamped a hand over my mouth to avoid bursting out in laughter.
He straightened back up and smiled rather cheekily. "So may I take that as a yes?"
I bit my lip. Oh, I really didn't want to tell him. How embarassing to go to a ball and not know how to dance. So I simply nodded, figuring that I could watch the other couples and see what they would do.
I must have looked insecure, because the Prince smiled reassuringly at me before gently taking my hand. He pushed through the now dumb-struck crowd of females, pulling me through with him. Dirty looks and rude mutters were sent my way, but I didn't take note of them. I could only fret about the Prince and my new-found haters finding out I couldn't do a dance as simple as the waltz.
He took me to the middle of the floor and I felt everybody's eyes on us. My breath caught in my throat as I looked into the Prince's eyes. Why was nobody else coming in the dance floor? For a moment, I only knew blinding panic. But I had no time to brood on it, because the music started and the Prince began to step. I took a deep breath and stepped along.
It turned out that I didn't need to worry at all. The waltz was simple enough; all I had to do was follow the Prince's steps. What was hard was the intimate physical contact that came along the dance. Our bodies were so close, I felt his wild heartbeat on top of his chest. At least I knew he was nervous, too. Although I coudn't figure out why. His hand had rested on the small of my back. He held me so gently, I felt...I'm not sure how I felt. It was certainly nice to be looked at by a man. But there was something strange about the way the Prince looked at me that made me giddy and uncomfortable at the same time.
During the waltz, we talked a great deal and we learned many things about each other. He learned that my name was April Winters and laughed at the irony of my name. I learned that his name was Kingsley and I laughed at the irony ofhis name. We talked about agriculture, politics, and even fashion.
"How do you know about dresses?" I asked after he had proven that his knowledge of the fashion world far exceeded mine.
He smiled and looked at me very intensly. "You should try living with my mother sometime." I laughed, but noted that he didn't. He simply looked at me intently and created a very awkward moment before he changed the subject.
Before I knew it, the clock struck midnight and I looked at the giant clock face hanging above the ballroom entrance. Kingsley tightened his grip around me and I looked at him with question marks in my eyes. "What?" I asked.
"You're not going to run off to your pumkin-turned-carriage are you?" he asked, only half-joking.
I laughed and shook my head. "No, unfortunately my fairy godmother has the day off today." I cuckled at my own (albeit lame) joke. Kingsley smiled, but didn't loosen his grip.
"Hey, April," he said in a low voice that sent chills down my spine. "Can I show you something?" I nodded. He looked so vulnerable, how could I say no?