The Contest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: All Star Story Writers

Chapter 8 (v.1) - THE BIRTHDAY BALL

Submitted: October 13, 2016

Reads: 159

Comments: 2

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Submitted: October 13, 2016

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“Oh I couldn’t possibly eat a thing I’m far too nervous.”

Zilla had thoughtfully brought in my breakfast on a tray, as a special birthday treat.

“You must try to eat something, just try some scrambled egg or a slice of toast. You do have a very busy day and evening ahead of you.”

I obediently picked up a piece of toast and nibbled at it distractedly.

“You have to be in the music room at eleven o’clock to open all your presents and cards, I have organised lunch for you at one o’clock, your hairdresser is due at three thirty and the photographer for your official birthday portrait at four thirty and …

“Zilla, please stop organising me, it’s my birthday, not a military operation. I know you mean well, but I just want a moment to myself, it’s going to be a very hectic day.”

She raised her eyebrows at me in despair. “Suit yourself, I’m only trying to help.”

“I’m really sorry Zilla, please forgive me I didn’t mean to snap, and I really appreciate all your help. It’s just that I‘m feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

“I‘m absolutely sure everything will be fine, just try to relax and enjoy your birthday celebrations, we are all going to have a fabulous time.”

“Yes, you're right, it's party time.”

I picked up my cyPhone and was just about to read through all my scripts when the door suddenly burst open. “Happy birthday darling,” shrilled Mum excitedly, wrapping me in a tight hug. “I have a special birthday present for you, one I know you will absolutely love.”

At that moment a small black furry head appeared around the door. An adorable black cocker spaniel puppy proceeded to walk unsteadily towards me.

I immediately scooped it into my arms, smothering it with kisses. “Oh Mum, it’s so cute. Is it a he or she?

“It’s a she, so what are you going to call her?”

I thought for a moment. “I think I’ll call her Nettie.”

At eleven o’clock sharp, still clutching Nettie in my arms, I made my way to the music room, entering to a rowdy chorus of “Happy Birthday to You . . .”

All my friends and family were there, showering me with all kinds of wonderful gifts.

I can see exactly where Pop inherited his eccentric ways, and where I get my mop of frizzy hair. Grandma, proceeded to delve frantically into the depths of her huge handbag with her knobbly fingers, searching for my present. Hundreds of old receipts and tissues spilled out, along with an assortment of lipsticks (all with the tops missing), an old powder compact, about twenty biros, various boxes of pills and several pairs of glasses. Eventually she managed to find my present, holding it aloft triumphantly.

“Happy birthday darling Eemay,” she sang, her dark eyes sparkling with excitement, lighting up her small birdlike face, that peeped out of a mass of ‘blue rinsed’, frizzy hair  She proudly handed me a small package, gift wrapped in paper that said ‘happy anniversary’ in red letters. I opened the battered box and took out a beautiful antique gold watch, inscribed with my name. Hugging her closely to me, I breathed in her familiar musky lavender perfume that never fails to take me back to happy childhood days spent with her. “Oh, Granny, thank you so much, it’s beautiful.”

“It was given to me as a wedding present by your late grandfather, and I wanted you to have it,” she explained, her eyes glittering with tears.

Mum was walking towards me carrying a round box, which she handed to me very carefully. The last thing I wanted was a hat, but as I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, I accepted it with an air of intrigue. When I lifted the lid I couldn’t help but gasp. Inside was a beautiful jewelled tiara. I knew the family’s crown jewels had been sold off long ago to raise money, but Mum had obviously kept it for my eighteenth birthday.

I was not used to such extravagance and became completely overwhelmed. Big fat tears of pure joy splashed down my face. “Everyone has been so kind, and you have made me feel so special, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The remainder of the day seemed to fly by in a hectic social whirl, and I was running late. “Zilla, would you mind looking after Nettie for me, I’m late for my hair appointment.”

Zilla didn’t hesitate. “Of course, I’d love to. Come to Auntie Zilla, my little beauty.” (In record time, Nettie had successfully turned us both into soppy, fawning slaves).

The hairdresser and make-up artist were waiting for me in my room, consulting their watches as I entered.

My unruly curls were gathered into a sophisticated knot on top of my head, pulled so tight that my eyes became slits and my ears seemed to stick out more than ever. It was then cemented in place with hundreds of vicious looking hairpins, and industrial strength, mega hold hairspray.

When the last fierce jet of hair spray had settled, the make-up artist took over.

“Not too much make-up” I warned, but she was so engrossed in her work that she either didn’t hear me or chose to ignore my warning. She proceeded to plaster my face with layer after layer of thick foundation, sealed with great puffs of face powder that clogged my skin and made me splutter and choke.

She then smeared my cheeks with lashings of luminous bright pink blusher that made me look like a painted doll (with big ears).

Satisfied with her efforts, she then focused on my eyes, using jet-black eye-liner to harshly outline my dark eyes, followed by coat after coat of super strength mascara that succeeded in sticking my lashes together in thick spidery strands. After she had applied crimson lipstick to my lips, the makeover was complete. She stood back to admire her handiwork, appearing well pleased with the transformation.

I was horrified at my reflection. My hair had been scraped up and lacquered into a stiff unnatural shape, my face was a hideous mask I no longer recognised and my ears stuck out like great flags either side of my head.

Panic began to rise in me. “I really don’t think this suits me.”

“But you look stunning and so graceful,” the hairdresser gushed.

“Yes, he’s right, you look absolutely beautiful and so sophisticated,” the makeup artist agreed.

“But, I don’t feel right,” I said, waving my hands about frantically. “All this is just not me, so if you don’t mind I think you had better leave.”

They both looked at each other quite puzzled and shocked by my reaction, but obediently and silently left the room.

I began pulling frantically at my hair, which had been fastened so tightly with hairpins and spray that it refused to budge. I started to cry, my tears quickly turning into black watery trails cascading down my cheeks, when there was a tap on my door.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, Zilla. They said you asked them to leave and that you seemed upset,” she said, peeping round the door.

Shock registered briefly on her face, before she collapsed with laughter. “No wonder you’re upset, you look ridiculous.”

“Well thank you very much, tell me something I don’t know!”

I stared at Zilla who was now crying with laughter, and suddenly realised just how comical I must have looked, and soon we were both laughing hysterically together.

“Come on, let’s get that stuff off your face, and your hair restyled.”

She set to work and soon released some of my natural curls that now fell softly around my face and neck and, thankfully, covering my ears (which Zilla insisted I was far too critical of).

When I had washed my face thoroughly, I applied just enough make-up to flatter my complexion, a touch of subtle blusher, a light coating of mascara and finishing off with soft pink lip-gloss. I heaved a sigh of relief, content that I now looked more myself rather than some alien creature I barely recognised!

“Thanks Zilla, I don’t know what I would have done without you. But you must go and get changed for the Ball, I’ve already taken up far too much of your time.”

After wrapping my arms around her in a big hug, she left.

Time was ticking by. I was so nervous, the butterflies in my tummy were doing somersaults, and I felt quite sick. But once I had changed into my red silk gown, my confidence soared. I was ready to party - it was my party and I was determined to enjoy it.

I joined my parents on the staircase leading down to the Great Hall. Pop looked dashing in his white Captains uniform, his thick dark hair, peppered with silver, was immaculately groomed. My friends have often commented on his rugged good looks which, quite honestly, I always found both embarrassing and ridiculous. But tonight, for the first time, I saw just how distinguished and proud he looked. With Mum standing beside him, a vision of style and grace in her satin ball gown, they made a strikingly attractive couple. I also noticed with surprise that their eyes were brimming with tears.

“Let’s get going, we have guests to welcome,” Pop said, trying to distract from his sudden display of emotion. So we made our way down to the entrance hall to await their arrival.

Beautiful flower arrangements were everywhere filling the air with their fragrant perfume. Twinkling Chinese lanterns lit up the palace courtyard turning it into a magical grotto, through which guests would pass on their way to the entrance hall before being greeted and welcomed by my parents and myself. It was as if we had been transported back in time, a time when the palace had been proud, regal and majestic, where wealth and prosperity had once thrived.

But I was soon snapped sharply out of my daydreaming, when I saw all the huge glossy photographs and posters promoting Vanessa’s latest creations adorning the walls, and jumping out at me at every opportunity. She had also put up a huge screen featuring the video of me and my friends modelling our ball gowns along the red carpet. It was being played over and over on a loop, accompanied by bold statements encouraging potential customers to ‘Dress like a Princess’, telling them to ‘Stand out from the Crowd’ and to ‘Shine like a Star’!

‘Buffet Boffins’ had similarly made the most of their advertising opportunity, having filled the opposite walls with huge banners promoting their catering expertise, advising guests to take advantage of their ‘Party Package Deal’ and to ‘Book Early to Avoid Disappointment’. Their glossy catalogues were everywhere boasting ‘Quality Catering for Weddings, Christenings, Funerals, Parties, Conferences and Banquets’!

Then there was Ian, the pushy Incyte magazine photographer, who had employed the services of several security guards whose task it was to make sure no guest was allowed into the ball with any equipment capable of taking photographs, and, if considered necessary, even making guests submit to a body search. It was absolutely ridiculous, airport security procedures could not have been stricter.

A wave of sadness and regret suddenly washed over me. It seemed my birthday celebrations had been hijacked and turned into nothing more than a grand advertising campaign, rather than a grand ball. But the fact was, we had willingly entered into all the agreements as a way of paying for it, so we could blame no one but ourselves.

I noticed Mum glance at me with a worried frown. “What’s wrong Emmy, you look upset?”

I decided there and then to put it out of my mind and enjoy the evening. “Oh nothing, I’m just a bit nervous,” I lied.

At last, the first of the guests began to arrive (and searched by the security team).

The Master of Ceremonies stood resplendent in his regalia, ready and waiting to announce each one as they arrived.

“Prince Blotter of Blogside,” his deep voice suddenly boomed, making me jump nervously.

I shook hands with the prince, noting his rather limp and decidedly damp handshake. He was very skinny and when he smiled, revealed big yellow teeth that looked as if they had never seen a toothbrush. Here we go again, I thought, seriously hoping he wouldn’t be one of the top three princes.

Next to arrive was Lord and Lady Paddington, followed by the Duke and Duchess of Verdana.

The welcoming process continued until the last guest had been announced and greeted. I had rated each prince introduced, as a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in my mind.

When everyone had been greeted and announced, we moved into the ballroom, which was now throbbing with music. An air of expectation filled the room, and guests nudged each other knowingly as they observed all the princes eyeing each other suspiciously.

At eight o’clock sharp, the Master of Ceremonies asked for silence from the guests. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he boomed. “Can I please have your attention, the time has come for the names of the Top Three Princes to be drawn from the hat.”

To a loud fanfare of trumpets, Pop took to the stage holding on tightly to a black bowler hat containing all six names, which he proceeded to shake vigorously before the draw took place.

“Eemay, would you care to join me,” he invited, taking my hand and helping me on to the stage.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, HRH Princess Eemay of Cyberia, will now draw three names from the hat.

I plunged my hand deep inside, grasped one of the tightly folded pieces of paper, handed it to Pop and waited expectantly.

“The first of the Top Three Princes is . . . . .”  Pop paused for what seemed like an eternity before announcing, “Prince Mycroscott of Excelsior. Please take your place beside the Princess.”

I then repeated the process, handing over the name of the second prince.

“The second prince is . . . . ..” Again another long drawn out pause before Pop declared, “Prince Jeverson of Askerville, please take your place beside the Princess.”

“Last but not least, the third and final prince is . . . . . .” There was one last pause even longer than the previous two, before Pop finally announced, “Prince Hughchube of Sharemoor.” Clearly elated, he proceeded to punch the air victoriously before jumping athletically on to the stage, taking his place beside me, without waiting to be invited.

I was stunned. The three princes were all ones I had awarded a ‘yes’ to earlier.

After the Grand Ball had been officially declared open, and photographs taken of me surrounded by my ‘Top Three Princes’ (my face now stuck in a big cheesy grin), I wasted no time in getting to know them.

Prince Mycroscott of Excelsior shook my hand politely. “Please call me Scott, everyone does.”  He was tall with short spiky blonde hair that really suited his strong features. His bright blue eyes twinkled seductively and his tantalising smile lit up his face. Wow, I thought, sensing an immediate connection.

Prince Jeverson of Askerville was next to shake my hand warmly. “Please call me Jev,” he said, fastening me with his beautiful dark soulful eyes. He was obviously the youngest of the three princes with a kind of boyish appeal, having a mop of dark, bouncy curls.  Of the three princes he definitely had the 'cute' factor.

Prince Hughchube of Sharemoor suddenly took my hand and cheekily kissed it. “Please call me Hugh.” I immediately sensed his steely determination, strength and energy. His short dark hair was groomed to perfection, and his piercing dark eyes smouldered with an intensity I found captivating. With his handsome chiselled features, I was instantly drawn to him.

Oh dear, this is going to be soo difficult, I thought, completely overwhelmed (and by now becoming extremely irritated by the continual flashes of the photographer’s camera).

Despite being on friendly terms before the ball, the three princes were now competitors. “Let the best man win,” they had vowed.

I was having a fantastic time, dancing with each prince until my feet ached. They each tried their best to claim my undivided attention, which I soon realised I had to control. I was determined to give each one a fair share of my time, so that I could be absolutely sure which one to reject at midnight.

During the interval, when the buffet was served, Pen and I performed our own rendition of the hit “Parasol” by Sienna, as always, I accompanied her on the piano. Determined to put on a faultless performance, we had been rehearsing relentlessly and our efforts had obviously paid off

When the rapturous applause finally ceased, Prince Louigee jumped to his feet. “You really made that song your own, I really believe you could be the next big girl band.”

Not to be outdone, Lord Wellco was also on his feet in a standing ovation, clapping heartily. “You know what, I didn’t like it … I actually loved it.”

To another fanfare of trumpets, my birthday cake was grandly wheeled in. At first glance, I thought it was a beautiful bouquet of flowers, until I realised it was intricate work of art made entirely out of cup-cakes, cleverly decorated with brightly coloured icing and marzipan. It was far too grand to cut up and eat, so it stood resplendent for everyone to admire!

Someone then handed me a giant sparkler, which I waved madly around in the air, its fluorescent sparks darting and dancing maniacally. Everyone burst into a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You”, and as the sparks finally fizzled out, the deafening chant of “Hip Hip Hooray”, “Hip Hip Hooray, “Hip Hip Hooray” resonated through the huge ballroom.

Impulsively, I jumped up on to the stage and, in the space of a split second, the deafening noise was replaced by an expectant silence, so I grabbed the microphone.

“I would just like to thank everyone for coming tonight, for making my birthday so happy and memorable. Thank you all for your kind and beautiful gifts. I hope you all continue to enjoy the evening as much as I intend to, so come on what are you waiting for, let’s dance.”

Everyone cheered madly, and as music once again filled the ballroom, the dance floor throbbed.

I noticed Ian the photographer, muscling his way through the crowded ballroom, roughly pushing guests aside to get the ‘shots’ he wanted.

“Do you have to be so rough?” I snapped. But he just pointed the camera lens straight into my face, blinding me with flashes.

I swept away in a strop, heading for the ladies loo, so that I could take a break and calm down. As I stood touching up my make-up, my friends came bustling in, brimming with excitement.

“Which one do you like the most?” asked Tash. “I think Scott is gorgeous,” she continued, without waiting for my reply.

“What about Jev?” Grace asked. “He’s just so cheeky and cute.”

“That Hugh is a bit of a charmer,” observed Katy. “There’s something devilishly attractive about him.”

Pen breezed in looking like a golden goddess. “I told you it would be one of the most exciting nights of your life. Have you decided which one to reject? It looks like it’s going to be a really tough decision.”

“Yes Pen, is it that obvious?

“Well, let’s just say that the match making programme worked wonders!”

I smiled broadly. “I’ll speak to you later.”

Scott dazzled me with his dance moves. He was a natural dancer, with a perfect sense of timing. We instantly connected and with him I felt completely at ease, as if I had been reunited with an old friend.

I then found myself in the arms of Jev, who absolutely charmed me with his quick wit and impish good looks. He was just so cute, full of fun and utterly adorable.

I was then drawn like a magnet to Hugh, who I found completely irresistible. He was confident and unpredictable, which I found exciting and compelling.

Annoyingly, at my every move, Ian and his camera followed me like a shadow.

To my surprise, the clock suddenly began to chime midnight. The time had come for me to take to the stage to announce the name of the prince I would be turning down.

All three princes stood shoulder to shoulder, their heads bowed. The music stopped and the crowd hushed.

Pop took the microphone. “Eemay, can I please have the name of the prince you have decided to reject.”

I was in a complete dilemma, unable to choose between them, as all three had so many different, but equally appealing, qualities and charms.

Pop prompted me solemnly. “I must urge you to make up your mind Eemay.”

Again, Ian zoomed in seizing the opportunity to record my obvious torment, his camera now flashing like a beacon.

Mum thoughtfully handed me a tissue and I gratefully dabbed at my streaming eyes and blew my snotty nose. I paused again in genuine torment, trying desperately to make a decision - the right decision.

After agonising over my dilemma for what seemed like an eternity, I finally came to a decision, based purely on age and immaturity. I steeled myself, took a deep breath and announced . . . . “The prince I am going to reject is . . .

Prince Jeverson of Askerville.” (flash, flash, flash).

I turned to embrace him saying how very sorry I was, but that I had to make a decision (flash, flash, flash). He took his rejection with dignity, wished the remaining princes good luck and jumped from the stage.

Grace, not one to miss an opportunity, went straight over to him. “Hi Jev I’m Grace one of Eemay’s friends. Do you fancy coming to a B-B-Q with me tomorrow?”

“Why not,” he said without a backward glance. “You win some, you lose some.”

Pop then took to the stage. “Ladies and Gentlemen, can I please have your attention for a moment.”

When the noise had once again settled, he continued. “The two remaining Princes will now proceed to the final stage of The Contest. They will both be invited to stay at the palace to accompany the Princess on a variety of social and formal occasions. At the end of this final stage, she will select the winner, who will become her prince charming”.

Everyone applauded, Scott was grinning broadly from ear to ear as he went over to shake Hugh’s hand in a gesture of genuine comradeship.

My birthday celebrations finally ended in the early hours of the morning, and what a night it had been.

“Princess Eemay, it has been a delightful evening. I would just like to thank you for giving me such a fantastic opportunity to display my latest collection, which has been a huge success,” Vanessa gushed, kissing me briefly on both cheeks with false affection before sweeping from the room.

Barry from ‘Buffet Boffins’ left with a big fat order book that matched his big fat smile! It seemed his ‘book early to avoid disappointment’ advice had paid off!

Ian the Photographer left with a rather self-satisfied smug expression on his face, in the knowledge that his camera was full to bursting with all the ‘shots’ he had been determined to take!

Back in my room, I kicked off my shoes and fell onto my bed. My mind was in a complete turmoil, and I was far too excited to sleep. I kept reliving the evening with both Scott and Hugh who, although complete opposites, had attracted and impressed me equally. I knew it was going to be a very busy and exciting time getting to know both princes, but finally, I now felt ready for it.

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Sue Harris. All rights reserved.

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