All Strings Attached

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Chapter 17: Blend-in Outsider

~Arika’s POV~

 A crowd began to form around the large table. There were six teams of three. In front of them were a large pile of meat, a side of mixed vegetables, and a large drink for each player.

 Arika stood in the front of the crowd as she waved to Sin-Vira, who sat between two men who were more than eager to let the prince join.

 “Alright! A reminder of the rules,” The sign-holding woman announced. “Each team must finish their drinks, sides, and the main course in any order they decide. Any member who spews their food is disqualified! There’s no time limit, first to clear their plates and shout ‘finish’ win! Now chew chew chew!” The crowd roared with excitement as everyone began their own methods of tackling this challenge.

 Some were eating the pile of pulled meats, eating the sides, or chugging down their drinks.

 Sin-Vira’s team was eating their sides like madmen. Arika stayed quiet as she kept her face concealed by her large hat. She didn’t want to be seen spectating in a sport favored by common folk after all. A royal like her had no place to be enjoying their fun.

 The hastily eating groups began slowing down one by one. Some picking up buckets to hurl. Others were staring at the amount of food they had yet to eat. She looked over to Sin-Vira’s team.

 He was still eating, but it was much slower. His side and drink were both finished while he was eating the last bite of his meat. Sin-Vira looked over at Arika with exhaustion.

 “Great job,” she mouthed to him while giving a quiet clap. He gave her a thumbs-up as he looked over to his own team.

 They had a few bites of meat left, but it was clear they couldn’t finish it without puking. To Arika’s surprise, he reached over and snatched their last scapes of meat. He crammed it into his mouth chewed it done.

 “Finished!” Sin-Vira shouted before leaning back in his chair.

 The crowd grew quiet as the announcer looked over their table and nodded. “Yep! We have ourselves a winning team! Clean plates and not a drop left in those glasses! Lemme bring over the trophy in the back!” She walked towards the booth while Vira’s team became rowdy.

 The brunette woman pats his back. “Lucky us for gettin’ a guy with a bottomless stomach!”

 His older team member slung his arm over Vira’s shoulder. “I thought I was about to burst from that! What’s your name kid?”

 Sin-Vira took a few breaths. “S-Sin-Vira. Prince- actually…” he answered quietly.

 “…Of the Snapdragon kingdom?” the blond asks.

 He hesitantly nodded before looking ashamed. Arika feared the upcoming outburst and took a step forward to intervene.

 “We not only won but with a freaking royal!? I can’t wait to tell everyone I know about this!” The brunette shouted. “I should’ve noticed with your pretty eyes! They look like a dragon’s!”

 “Sin-Vira, was it? You should come by and see us later in the evening! There’s gonna be a lot of free drinks for the winners!”

 “Yeah! We can’t really thank you any other way, so it’s the best we can offer!”

 Arika shyly took a step back into the crowd.

 She was just jumping to conclusions. Sin-Vira looked happy with his team members, all she could do was watch him have fun with others. Arika knew she was happy he could blend in with everyone so easily. But deep down was envious of how she couldn’t do that same.

 Though she had her sister to blame, Sibylla’s past actions were now Arika’s responsibility to shoulder.

 She turned to leave, but stop when she heard his voice. “Sorry fellas! But I have plans with someone for the day. Please keep on celebrating for me.”

 Arika glanced over her shoulder to see Vira moving around the table and smiling at her.

 “Sorry you had to watch me not eat like a ‘gentleman’” he mocked as he joined her side.

 Arika smiled slightly. “Well, ‘beloved Vira’, you were taking one for the team. So I’ll look past it this one time.”

 He stumbled a bit and had Arika catch him.

 “I’m might throw up for real this time…” he warned. Arika held the basket out to him and turned her head away once he took it.

 She remembered throwing up many times when she was little. Rather than spending time with Sibylla and Vira, she would hide in the garden and eating strange bugs and roots. The acidic taste was vaguely in his mind.

 “You might not want a kiss for a while…” Vira advised.

 “Go rinse your mouth then. What gentleman doesn’t kiss a lady after a dance?” she asked. “Seriously. I doubt it’s a taste you want to keep in there! Go back and get some water. Meet me at the fountain when you’re done!” Arika waved as she walked away.

 While she felt no pain in her legs from standing around, she couldn’t push her joints. While she replaced the hinge to her ankle, she didn’t want to strain it.

 At the fountain was a long bench, which she happily sat on and leaned back. The reason she never liked the festivals was because of how everyone looked at her. Admiration, disgust, discomfort. Suni was the only one she could be around, but she was too busy to talk. Which meant Arika was forced to stay inside for the whole day to avoid everyone.

 “I should thank you sister dearest. For being the worst royal to come after our father…” Arika grumbled. “No matter what I do, I’ll always be hated for things I never even knew happened.” She slowly closed her eyes.

 Smelling and tasting were two senses she wasn’t given. As her father deemed them as ’unimportant. But she couldn’t help but imagine how much fun it would’ve been to share food with Vira and tell him how she felt about it. When they’d dance, she’d never know if he smelled like cologne or nervous sweat.

 All she wanted was to enjoy every moment of being alive. Once her duty has been fulfilled, her body would be discarded like trash and her soul being sent somewhere far deeper than a grave.

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