Early in the morning, dozens of people descended on the apartment, fluttering around and dealing with clothes, hair, makeup, shoes, jewelry, while Exalon had emergency political meetings he had to deal with before the ball. Angela would have preferred to hide away somewhere, but since this was technically her party, everyone was fussing over her. When lunchtime rolled around, Angela was ready to scream. Luckily, at just that moment, Exalon poked his head into the stylist’s room.
“Lunch, my love?” he asked. Angela managed to bite back her retort of, ‘God, yes, just get me away from these people!’, and reply politely back.
“Of course, darling,” Angela responded, extricating herself from the mob of fashion stylists crowded around her. “I’m sure you all will excuse me.”
Without waiting for any responses, Angela swept out of the room, closing the door behind her. Then she sagged against it, making Exalon laugh.
“Rough morning?” he asked as Angela took his proffered arm, both of them starting to walk towards Exalon’s private dining room.
“If one more person asks my opinion on shoes or makeup, I’m going to tell them to-”.
“Ah, ah,” Exalon gently interrupted her. “Ears everywhere today, I’m afraid.”
“Everywhere?” Angela asked morosely. Hearing the despair in her voice, Exalon smiled and gave her a quick kiss.
“The dining room is blocked from any type of audio surveillance,” he reassured her. “Most of the rooms are. However, when you have people wandering all around the apartment, they’re bound to overhear things.”
“After today, it’ll be nice just to have a little quiet,” Angela said softly. “Besides Harrison and Maya, I’m pretty sure I hate all stylists.”
Exalon laughed as he closed the door to the dining room. Their meals were already on the table and as they both sat down, the scooted their chairs closer together, seemingly without thought.
“How has your day been?” Angela asked. Exalon sighed, running his hand through his hair.
“Stressful,” he answered. “I have Cabinet ministers all telling me what a terrible idea this match is and I have a meeting with a very angry ambassador after lunch.”
“Your previous match’s planet representative?”
“Yes,” Exalon nodded. “They’re furious and if I don’t handle this delicately, we could lose some valuable trade deals.”
“Valuable or necessary?” asked Angela.
Exalon smiled at her, kissing the back of her hand.
“How is it you grasp governmental complexities better than anyone else I’ve spoken to today?”
“When you’re dodging loan collectors for years, you quickly learn what is and isn’t a priority,” Angela said, shrugging, as she continued to eat her lunch. “For example, a collector who will break your arm is a nuisance, not a serious threat. A collector willing to use your daughter as collateral until you pay the loan is someone you make sure stays happy.”
“Did that…”. Exalon paused, clenching his fists in anger. “Your father never…”. He couldn’t finish the question, but Angela understood and answered.
“No. I was lucky,” she reassured him, then frowned slight. “Well, actually, I was smart. I figured out pretty quickly who would hurt me to hurt my father and who would just hurt my father. God, it sounds horrible when I say it that way, like I was sacrificing him to save myself.”
“No, my love, you were protecting yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that nor is there anything right about a father who puts his daughter in such dangerous situations.”
“I’m not sure he even realized the danger he was putting me in near the end,” Angela said sadly. “He’d completely given up trying to find work and was using as many drugs as he could get his hands on. When he died, I knew I could never pay back all his debts. So I did the only thing I could do to make sure they were canceled.”
“Signing up with the ABA,” Exalon stated.
“Yep. I’ll admit, I wasn’t thrilled, but now…”. Angela smiled at Exalon. “Best decision I ever made.” He grinned and kissed her.
“When I came up with this whole scheme, I had no idea it would lead to this,” Exalon confessed. “But I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Angela gave Exalon a kiss this time, and they spent the rest of lunch talking about her childhood, his childhood, and avoiding any mention of the ball. Once lunch was over, Exalon returned to work and Angela resigned herself to returning to the packed stylist’s room. However, to her pleasant surprise, she found only Maya, Harrison, and three other stylists instead of the dozen that had been running around.
“Did I scare them away?” Angela asked, only partly joking. Harrison laughed, though, and guided her to a seat so he could style her hair down her back.
“No, I just saw you were about to lose it,” said Harrison, smiling at Angela. “I figured just the four of us could finish styling you and Her Royal Highness.”
“You, dear sir, are a God among men. Thank you.”
Harrison blushed, which Angela found adorable, then he began ordering the other stylists around like an experienced general. Angela talked with Maya while everyone worked to get them ready. Maya helpfully went through a list of people Angela was most likely to meet during the ball and their social and political standing on Axion. By the time the stylists had finished getting them ready, Angela felt as prepared as possible.
“All right, darling,” Harrison said. “Time for the Pendant.”
Harrison had shooed the rest of the stylists out of the room so they wouldn’t see the Sonsara Pendant and spread the news. Maya clasped her hands together in anticipation as Harrison cautiously lifted the Pendant from its box. When he placed it on Angela’s head, small sparks of rainbows seemed to shoot out of it, causing all three of them to gasp. Harrison carefully used the comb attachments on the circlet to pin it onto Angela’s hair, then offered her his hand to stand.
Angela turned and looked at herself in the full length vid screen monitor that was currently acting as their mirror. She almost didn’t recognize the person staring back at her. The poor, human immigrant from Triford had been transformed into a member of the titled.
“A true Princess of Axion,” Harrison murmured, awe in his voice. When Angela turned to look at him and Maya, they both bowed their heads to her.
“I guess it’s time,” Angela said with a slight tremor in her voice. “Let’s go see what the rest of my life will look like, shall we?”
Angela and Maya reached the apartment’s foyer before Exalon. Harrison was running home to change, then he and his husband were coming to the ball. He had promised to be there for the Priestess’ ceremony. Luckily, the Royal Family entered all balls an hour after their official start time, so he shouldn’t have any trouble getting to the Palace in time.