VIVIENNE DIDN'T believe in fairy tales. Growing up, she never dreamed of becoming a princess. She was the kind of girl who fantasized about marrying the boy next door. In her wildest, most secret of dreams, she used to pretend she was the girlfriend of a gangster. Not a real gangster, but one of the boys at school who dressed in baggy jeans, put gel in their hair, and who used to get kicked out of movie theaters for wearing belts with too many chains. That was probably the wildest fantasy she ever had when it came to boys.
When she woke up the next morning, Vivienne discovered she wasn’t the shy girl with dark witchy hair who fantasized about boys on motorcycles anymore. The morning news called her “The Verge Vixen.” The girl who was on a verge of royalty, that was her new claim to fame.
Wistera, on the other hand, was strutting about the courtyard as though she already had a tiara on her head. She waved enthusiastically to Vivienne on the hallway.
“I’m so sorry about the prince,” Wistera said, with a gaggle of followers admiring her every move. “You probably wouldn’t fit in with his crowd anyway.”
Vivienne wondered if Wisteria had bothered to listen to the second story of the day, which was that Prince Mercury had been spotted cavorting about the outskirts of Coral City with a full house of disreputable girls in his company. But here, with her bright yellow dress and pretty pink ballerina flats, one would think Wistera were the queen of the world. Vivienne hoped none of her new followers were cruel enough to inform her that her new nickname was “Wed to Prince Terrible.”
Vivienne suddenly regretted dressing in a simply black skirt with a white blouse with pearl buttons. To those that didn’t know her, she probably looked like she was going to a funeral. Vivienne picked up breakfast and met Sallen in the dining room to eat. The dining area was surprisingly empty. There were a couple of seasoned Orlins, stuffing their faces with salad while checking their cellphones. There were also men and women with shifty eyes who Vivienne didn’t recognize. She finally found Madame Jyger, seated among a group of serious-looking Orlins. She pointed Vivienne to an area behind a painted silk screen. There, Vivienne found Sallen was sitting by herself and a bowl of spinach and anemone soup.
“Where is everybody?” Vivienne asked.
“Sssh,” Sallen said. “Keep your voice down.” Sallen was wearing make-up and her hair was done up in a bun. Vivienne suddenly wished that she had done more than brush her teeth and run a comb through her hair that morning.
“Don’t you know anything?” Sallen asked. “Oh yeah, you’re been too busy hibernating to follow the news. After the Night Masquerade, the Pearl Tower is open to the public again. Only the richest, classiest members of Coral City citizens could afford to come in but even so reporters manage to get inside. They’re listening to us.”
“So we’re supposed to sneak around like criminals?”
“No, we’re supposed to leave,” Sallen said and showed Vivienne a text message from Jaker Henton. “He invited us to live at the Henton Estates with his uncle. Calbert will be there too, of course. I’m supposed to tell you to pack your things. We’re leaving in three hours.”
“Wait, wait, back up. First of all, where did you get a cell phone?” Vivienne asked. She wondered if she had been sleeping for ten years instead of ten hours.
“I got it from Madame Jayer. She gave me yours too. They will call us when we’re supposed to meet with them again. For now we’re supposed to work on our bonds with our Anemois.” Sallen pulled a cellphone out of her other pocket.
When Vivienne turned it on, the welcome screen said “Greetings, Vivienne Salome. You have one new message.”
Vivienne clicked on it immediately, hoping for a second that it was from her parents. Instead it was from Calbert. It said “Sallen has a message for you. Let me know when you get it. We’ll talk soon.”
Vivienne frowned and shut the phone down. “I don’t like this idea of moving in with a family we barely know.”
“Well, we don’t have a choice do we?” Sallen asked, with a touch of impatience. She angrily shoved another large spoonful of soup into her mouth. Vivienne suspected she was more angry with their situation than with her. “We can’t stay here. The Hentons aren’t bad people. I bet they have a big house.” Sallen looked like she didn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth.
“I wonder if Calbert knows that I intend to escape back home the first chance I get.”
“Vivienne!” Sallen snapped. “Stop joking like that. There are people listening! Where are we going to stay if that makes it into the news?”
“All right,” Vivienne finally agreed. She stood up and picked up the remains of her uneaten sandwich. She was starting to wish she could go back home where she could spend her days dreaming of the awful things happened in Coral City instead of actually living them. With Blake being revealed as one of the bad guys, she didn’t even know who to hate anymore. It was so much easier when there was a figure to hate and to fight. Now, she just felt confused.
Vivienne left the dining room to find Wisteria still posing in the courtyard. Now, she had a large black panther on a diamond leash sitting beside her. For a second, Vivienne wondered if Wisteria were rich, or rather vain enough, to buy herself a panther for the expressed purpose of posing with it. However, on closer inspection, it was clear that it belonged to one of her admirers - a young boy dressed in a custom tailored suit with a silk scarf around his neck who had so eagerly come to meet his idol.
Vivienne momentarily felt envious that despite being the larger news item, she hadn’t been approached by a single fan. Wisteria, on the other hand, had the population of a small town at her feet.
As Vivienne turned to leave, she came across a young girl who was holding out a sheet of blank paper.
“Orlin Vixen, will you sign this?” the girl asked. The girl was so adorable with her apple-like cheeks and angelic voice that Vivienne could hardly say no. She picked up the pen and signed the sheet of paper. No ink came out but Vivienne recognized it as a disposable pen that memorized one’s signature and could be reproduced anywhere. It also, apparently, took down her fingerprints. Coral City took their celebrity worship seriously.
“Don’t go using it to sign your report cards now,” Vivienne joked. “What’s your name?’
“It’s not for me,” the girl with the pigtails said with a smile and plucked the pen out of Vivienne’s hands. “My mistress is a big fan. Don’t disappoint her.” The girl turned and ran away.
After the girl with the pigtails left, a swarm of well-wishers suddenly appeared out of nowhere. At their forefront was a chubby girl with huge round librarian glasses who was jotting down notes. “How does it feel to have been followed by the King’s daughter, the Lady Maglania herself, Vix?”
“The king’s daughter?” Vivienne asked. In the distance she saw an entourage of guards all dressed in white. She suddenly understood why all the fans had all kept their distance until now. They had been terrified of impinging on the King’s daughter. She wasn’t a princess or a prince. Maglania was so secretive that no one had ever seen her face. But rumor had it that she was very disfigured. The last time Vivienne had heard, Maglania had an incurable disease and had retreated to a hospital to die. That was years ago. Vivienne squinted to see a glimpse of the poor woman, the one who if she had been healthier would have been the king’s heir.
Vivienne imagined a shriveled up old crone in a wheelchair, perhaps those guards dressed in white were doctors. She wondered if Maglania was so sickly that she couldn’t bring herself to approach Vivienne in person. Vivienne wanted to at least catch her eye and smile at her. Vivienne prepared herself for the worst sight in the world. She was ready for a woman covered in bandages or a body with missing limbs. Vivienne readied herself to smile back like a superstar.
But there was nothing that could have prepared Vivienne for what she saw. Vivienne didn’t smile at all. The woman that the girl with pigtails ran up to was accompanied by the royal guards. She was wearing a capette of snow-white fur. Her hair was as red as blood and it cascaded down her back in curls. Vivienne had seen hair like that before. With one gloved hand, Maglania received the autograph pen and smiled back. She tilted down her sunglasses and met Vivienne’s eyes.
Vivienne’s blood froze in her veins. Those eyes. That red hair. That could not be Maglania. Vivienne had grown up with that woman.
“Allison,” Vivienne whispered.