🌹🌹The Swedish Prince 🌹🌹
🌸🌸(ROYAL ROMANCE) 🌸🌸
NEW YORK CITY
* * *
“That is the absolute last time I’m trying online dating” Sam says to me with an exaggerated sigh as she leans back in the couches we’ve taken over in the corner of the bar.
“What happened this time?” I ask her this out of courtesy because I know she’s going to tell me anyway. Plus, Sam is a pro at online dating at this point. It doesn’t matter how many times she says she’s quitting, the next day she’s back in the proverbial saddle, swiping left and right and complaining about dick pics. I should probably note that she doesn’t exactly complain about getting them only If the dicks said in the pics are up to her standards.
“What didn’t happen?” she says, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. “I mean, we just met up for drinks down in the village, which is fine. Super casual, you know? And in person he was a tiny bit more attractive than his picture online.”
“Which pic, the one in his profile or his unsolicited dick pic?” I ask.
“For your information, no dick pics were sent, unsolicited or not. Anyway, so he wasn’t bad looking though I could already tell we didn’t have that easy chemistry I hoped we would. Halfway through the date, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going home with him.
I raise my brows. “Sex playlist?”
“Yeah. On his phone. And the music was really good.” She shrugs. “So I slept with him.”
“I know. I know.” She shakes her head before picking up her margarita and leaning over to take a loud slurp of it. “Worst part is, he put it on shuffle and I hadn’t seen the entire list. So when he was going down on me, Never Going to Give You Up came on.”
I burst out laughing. “You were Rick-rolled during sex?”
She nods frantically. “I couldn’t come if my life depended on it! So I said I had to leave and quickly got out of there. Highlight of the night was getting a kebab on the way home. My life is a never-ending cycle of bad decisions and falafel.”
She’s kind of right about that. Sam is my closest friend here in the city, which counts for a lot since I’ve been living in New York for nearly two years now and making friends is harder than you think.
Luckily we’re both in the same journalism program and we’ve bonded over hating most of our teachers and the dismal dating scene.
At least Sam is putting herself out there night after night. I won’t even look at Tinder or Huggle or any of those oddly-named apps, even though Sam has created a profile for me absolutely everywhere. I might be just twenty-two years old but I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to dating and
Of course, this has proved to be nearly impossible in this city. Don’t get me wrong–NYC is a million times better than my hometown of Tehachapi, California. The only guys in that town are ex-convicts from the state prison, and with my father being a prison guard there, there would be some definite disapproval.
But New York is just too big and chaotic to date. Everyone looks like a model, first of all, and while I’m fairly thin and not too hard on the eyes, I look like some tiny, cute, big-eyed pixie. Looks wise, I’d like to say I’m about an eight out of ten in Tehachapi, probably a six out of ten in the Midwest, but in the supermodel streets of Manhattan, I’m pretty much a Chihuahua. Woof.
Still, I’m holding out hope. Hope that one day, while I’m in a bookstore, I’ll be reaching for the last copy of the new Neil Gaiman just as someone else is and my fingers will brush his and I’ll look up and find the man of my dreams. I know that’s a terribly optimistic way to look at love, but I can’t help it. I never held out for a prince charming until I moved here, where a new beginning seems to be waiting around every corner.
Hell, I don’t even need love right now. What I really need is to get laid and I know I don’t need Prince Charming for that. We might reach for the same book in a bookstore but I’d be just as happy if he slammed me up against those bookshelves and fucked me senseless. Sam’s been getting dick left and right–dicks flying all over the place–and I’m hard up for even just one.
“You’ll find someone,” I say to Sam. “And he’ll have a better sex playlist than that guy. Here, let me buy you a drink.”
“Don’t be stupid,” she says, putting her hand on my arm and forcing me to stay seated. “You know you’re broke as fuck and this is one pricey drink.”
Also true. I got a scholarship to NYU and the journalism program, thanks to studying my ass off for years, but I could only afford to move here thanks to working my ass off for years.
My family doesn’t come from money–that’s putting it mildly–and even though my parents both work, my father as a prison guard, my mother as a hotel housekeeper, they still have six kids, including me, to support.
The only reason I’m here right now is because I spent my evenings during high school working with my mom at the local La Quinta. Even now I’m working most nights and weekends as a barista at a coffee shop around the corner from the residence halls, and I’m barely scraping by.
I give Sam a grateful look, though I honestly wish I could do more. “How about I just sprinkle good blessings on you?” I reach into my purse I picked up from the thrift shop, a terrible fake of a Gucci that’s made from plastic rather than leather, and take out a small jar of gold glitter eye shadow. I dip my fingers in and before she has a chance to object, I sprinkle some on her head.
“What are you doing?” she shrieks, trying to get out of the way, but she’s laughing. Soon she’s covered in a very light dusting of gold.
“I used to do this to my sister April all the time,” I tell her, putting the shadow back. I don’t want to waste it. “She believed it.”
“And where is your sister now?”
“Well she’s only thirteen and I think if I tried this again she’d give me the evil eye and never speak to me again. Teenage angst, you know.” Actually, at this moment, all of my siblings are out with my seventeen-year-old brother Pike, the oldest after me. There’s a fair or something down in Bakersfield that they’ve made the trek to, I guess to give my parents a night of peace for once.
Knowing that my siblings are all together like that makes my heart ache, just a little. I don’t get homesick often. I mean, I’d been dreaming about leaving that town for most of my life. But every now and then it hits me for a moment, usually passing quickly. Tonight is one of those nights.
In fact, I’ve had this weird feeling in my chest for most of the evening, a sense of unease. I’m prone to worry about things like money and school and my lack of love life but this is something different, something I can’t put my finger on. I consider myself to be quite intuitive so I probably should pay attention, but I just don’t know how.
“Are you okay?” Sam asks me, staring at me inquisitively. “Why don’t I buy you a drink?”
“I’m fine,” I tell her. “Just vibed out for no real reason.”
“It’s not the company, is it?”
I grin at her. “No, not tonight.”
“Then you look like you could use a drink. I’ll be right back.”
Normally I would protest a bit but Sam comes from money and is quite generous with it. It makes me feel small sometimes that she often has to pay for me to do the things she wants to do, but that’s just my own pride. And tonight, I do think I could use a drink to settle my nerves.
I watch her as she goes to the bar, her lithe, barre-class sculpted body capturing the eyes of every guy in the room. You wouldn’t even think she’d need Tinder and all those dating apps, but most guys are too intimated to talk to her.
Then there’s me. Guys will sometimes approach me once I smile at them (I have a pretty severe case of resting bitch face otherwise), but then, once I open my mouth, I usually say something awkward or off-putting. My sense of humor can be odd and I’m not always on everyone’s frequency.
I lean back into the couch, doing that thing where I’m scoping the crowd but trying not to make eye contact with the wrong guys. And by wrong guys, I mean the ones you have no interest in, ones who take a mere meeting of the eyes to mean something a whole lot more. I don’t know why simply looking at someone means you want to have sex with them but anyway.
My phone vibrates in my purse and I fish it out.
It’s a call from April which is weirder than weird. Maybe she could sense I was talking about her?
But even as I’m about to answer it, the unease in my chest builds and twists and I know this isn’t a matter of her checking in with me and seeing how I’m doing. That’s not like her. Something is wrong.
And usually when something is wrong, Pike or my parents would call me, not her.
My heart races as I press the talk button.
“April?” I ask, plugging my other ear and turning away from the noise of the bar.
Crying. I hear crying on the other end, sobbing, a kind of crying that isn’t born of a teenager getting dumped or bullied, but of something unfathomably worse.
“April? Is this you? What’s wrong?” I ask, trying not to sound panicked.
“Maggie,” she sobs. “Oh my god, oh my god. Maggie, they’re dead!”
Time seems to fold in on itself in slow motion.
The terror flowing through me is spreading, slow sticky fingers that take over every muscle.
“Who is dead?” I cry out softly.
“They were murdered!” she cries, then erupts into even louder sobs. “The guy, he came for dad.”
Oh my god.
“He came for him, we weren’t there,” she goes on in hysterics. “Maggie, he shot them both, they’re dead. Mom and dad are dead.”
“I…” I don’t know what to say, what to feel. Surely this isn’t actually happening. This isn’t happening.
This has to be a joke or a misunderstanding or maybe I’m dreaming? I look around me and I just see blurs and colors. I must be dreaming. “Are you…are you sure? Where is Pike?”
Pike is talking to the police” she says. “They’re dead, they’re dead, they’re dead!”
I shake my head, unable to understand any of this. “But they can’t be dead, April. They don’t die, this doesn’t happen. It isn’t happening. It isn’t…” I try to swallow. “Who shot…who shot them? I don’t get it.”
“They’re dead!” she screams and then breaks off into loud sobs that seem to shake the phone and then there is silence.
In the silence I realize I’m not breathing.
My heart is barely beating.
I feel hot outside and inside my body all at once, reality of whatever this is refusing to set in.
“Hello?” someone says into the phone. I forgot I was even holding it to my ear and it takes me a moment to recognize the voice.
“Pike? Pike, what’s going on?” I manage to say.
He clears his throat, his voice shaking as he says, “There was a guy, from the prison. He’d been out for a few months, I guess he hated dad. He, uh…he came into the house and shot him. And mom. As they were watching TV in the living room. We were all at the carnival fair, the neighbor heard the shots and called me.”
To hear it from Pike, quiet and dependable Pike, suddenly makes it real.
“I can’t believe this,” I whisper. Because I can’t. “Dad would have shot back. Dad has his guns, how could he have walked in, wouldn’t Walter have barked?”
“He shot Walter too.”
Our beloved dog.
Somehow this is making it hit home, suddenly this seems like it could be real. An ex-convict broke into our house and shot our dog, our wonderful dog.
But how could he shoot my parents? How could they be dead?
This isn’t happening.
“The guy was arrested not too far from here,” Pike says and I’m wondering how he’s staying so calm. I guess he has to. Our parents are dead and I’m not there. He’s the oldest after me.
But I’m their legal guardian.
“They’re gone, Maggie,” he says. “Gone.” He takes in a deep breath and a small whimper comes over the phone. “I think you need to talk to the cops. Hold on.”
What is there to ever hold on to again?
What in this world will ever be solid and stable and good again?
“What happened?” Sam whispers as she sits down across from me, placing my drink in front of me. The drink. She bought me a drink. I would give anything in my power to go back in time, just five minutes, to that moment where my biggest worry was my lack of love life and money. To that time where my parents were alive.
“They’re dead,” I say to her, voice barely a whisper, flat, dull. “My parents are dead.”
My world, my wonderful, crazy, hopeful little world, was forever gone.
“This can’t be happening,” I tell her, the shock starting to wear off, letting in tiny slivers of pain that I know will rip me apart, never to be put back again. “This can’t be happening.”
ONE YEAR LATER
* * *
“Where the hell are the Frosted Flakes?”
“Rosemary, don’t say hell.”
“We just have Cornflakes.”
“Okay, who drank the last of the orange juice and put the carton back in the fridge?”
“Why don’t you just sprinkle sugar on the Cornflakes, it’s the same as Frosted Flakes.”
“These aren’t even Cornflakes. They’re called Flakes of Corn. We can’t even afford real Cornflakes.”
“Did you know that Cornflakes were invented to stop masturbating?”
“April! Not in front of Callum.”
I close my eyes and try to will myself back into the happy peaceful place that the yoga and meditation YouTube videos have been telling me about. I’ve been using them for months now to help my stress and anxiety, and I think I have to face facts that my happy peaceful place just doesn’t exist.
“Guys, everyone shut up,” Pike says in his deep voice, making everyone in the kitchen hush. “You’re going to give Maggie an aneurysm.”
A brief pause.
I can hear the grandfather clock in the hallway tick on.
Finally, Callum asks. “What’s an aneurysm?”
I open my eyes and can’t help but smile at my youngest brother. He’s only seven but he’s smart and always asking questions. Always getting into trouble too, which I’ve been discovering lately.
“It’s what I’ll get if you guys don’t behave.”
“Then what’s masturbating?”
“It’s what you do when you can’t get laid,” April says under her breath.
“April,” I reprimand her, but she doesn’t shrink at all from my glare. She never does. Pisses me right off.
I sigh and mix up some instant oatmeal into the boiling water on the stove and the kitchen dissolves into chaos again.
I never asked to be the legal guardian of my siblings. I never asked for my parents to be brutally murdered in the very home that we’re all in. I never asked to give up my dreams of a career and a better life to come back here to Tehachapi and pick up the pieces of all the lives that were completely shattered.
I never asked for any of this. None of us did. But I’m here and I’m doing the best I can every day to ensure a brighter future for my brothers and sisters.
But…shit. It is hard as hell. I was close with my mother, though we had many years of ups and downs as all mothers and daughters do. But I never once thought about how hard it must be to raise us all.
I knew she worked her ass off, I knew my father did too. I knew that we always just scraped by. I grew up in a world where if something broke, you either fixed it or waited years for a replacement that wasn’t much better. Where bargain bins and thrift stores and generous neighbors were our only real source of goods.
But I never realized how emotionally tiring and complex it is to actually raise a family, especially one of this size with so many different, and often times conflicting, personalities.
There’s Callum, who is the youngest. But when I say he gets into trouble, I mean the moment you tell him not to do something, he’ll do it. And as bright and curious as he is, he’s struggling at school and getting in fights with kids. He may smile a lot and have big sparkling blue eyes but I can see the pain and frustration underneath.
There are the twins, Rosemary and Thyme (yeah, yeah I know they have different names), who are eleven years old. Despite their names, which makes many eyes roll, the twins are smart, hard-working and diligent. They don’t “match” either–Rosemary is a jock-in-training, Thyme is a goth-in-training. Contrary to what you might think, Thyme is the outgoing one and Rosemary can be competitive and sullen. But other than Pike, they’re the biggest help to me in this house.
April is fourteen, boy-crazy, pretty—and she knows it—but angry too. All of that combined makes for a lethal force. My biggest fear for her is that she’s going to get pregnant at some point, or maybe start doing drugs if she hasn’t started already. Maybe something worse. I worry about her the most and she seems to hate me the most, so I guess that’s kind of how this relationship works.
Then there’s Pike. Now eighteen and out of high school, Pike is old enough to be their legal guardian, so we kind of share the duties. He was all set to go to university on a scholarship except our parent’s death threw his last bit of high school out of whack and he pretty much bombed all the classes he needed to ace. He won’t even try again. He now has his sights set on being a tattoo artist instead of the paleontologist he originally wanted to be. Talk about a 180. He’s quiet, doesn’t talk much, and spends a lot of his time smoking cigarettes and putting ink on himself.
My family was always kind of complex before my parents died, so you can imagine that everyone here, including me, is still deep in the thick of it, each trying to deal with the loss the best we can.
“Hey,” Pike says, coming over with some papers in his hand. “R and T are going on a field trip to the air force base and need a signature. Oh, and Callum’s teacher wants us to have a meeting with her.”
I sigh, stirring the oatmeal vigorously. “Why are we doing this now? Where were those papers last night?” I glance at the clock. I have to drop them all off at their schools before I head into work.
“Rosemary forgot,” Thyme speaks up, looking sheepish.
“Oh and you didn’t?” Rosemary says snidely.
I don’t even bother looking at Callum. I know he’s got a mischievous grin on his face. Don’t know why he loves being in trouble so much.
“You know you can sign these,” I tell Pike, snatching the papers from his hands and, oh jeez, I think he just added knuckle tattoos. “What are those?” I gesture to the fresh tattoos.
“Ink,” he says simply, handing me a pen. “And they’re hieroglyphics.”
“What are hieroglyphics?”
“Oh come on, Callum, don’t be a dummy, you know what those are,” Rosemary says to Callum.
“Rosemary, don’t call him a dummy,” I tell her and then raise my brow at Pike. “Just promise me you won’t start tattooing your face. You have a nice one.”
He gives me a rare smile. “I do?”
“Don’t get a big head about it but yeah. You’re the only hope this family has to go off and marry a sugar mama. Or daddy. We won’t judge as long as you pass the coin down our way.”
“What’s a sugar–?”
“Callum, stop asking so many questions!” someone yelled.
I quickly sign the forms and then stride over to the calendar on the fridge where I make a note of an after-class meeting with Callum’s teacher.
“Do you want to go or should I?” I ask Pike. “It’s in the evening.”
T. B. C