I shut the door
behind me as politely, and yet, as quickly as I can. My feet march on the path
I know so well without much conscious thought. I need something concrete. I
need an embrace to remind me what all this is for. And I know where to get it.
from my Dad. But as that won’t work, I know who can fill the emptiness and fear
I feel with warmth and hope.
I hug myself as
I push past the trees, old berry bushes, and mossy stones until I reach our
spot. Like the other night, the water sparkles in the moonlight and the lantern
lantern, sitting on the mossy rock that is our bench, waiting for me with a
smile that lifts my heart like the rising sun, is Jake. I knew he would be. He
opens his arms wide to me.
My heart lifts
again. The smile escapes before I can process it. In moments, I’m engulfed in
his loving embrace. I smile and hide in it. I shut my eyes and listen to Jake’s
breathing and heartbeat.
In my life, that
sound was one of the few things that was truly mine. I adore my music and
dance, but they are not mine, but my mother’s and the theater’s. I relish in
fencing and my swordplay, but that’s Dad’s. Jake’s warmth, his embrace, and his
love are mine, and mine alone.
And Dad wants me
to betray the one thing that is mine.
My heart sinks
at the thought, but then Jake hugs me tighter, squeezing the despair out of me.
He chuckles at my delight, making my heart sing. Oh, how I love that feeling. I
soak it in along with the sound of his breath, the tinkle of the river, the
distant rush of the seaside. I take in the scent of the evening air on Jake’s
clothes, the smell of his breath, the mossy scent in the air. I can hide here
and enjoy the one thing that is mine. The thing I can’t betray. I’m reminded of
how I had the strength to reject my Dad though I never had before.
after all your work during the day, your hair always smells so sweet,” Jake
and the sea.”
“We do live next
to the ocean,” I point out, delighting in this banter.
Jake smiles. “Yes,
but you are far more beautiful. I can’t wait to enjoy it more once we’re
He entwines his
fingers with mine, playing with each finger as I had his earlier. He plays with
the ring on my right hand most. It’s our secret bond to one another.
It’s of two
hands reaching for a heart in the center with a crown on the top. I wear it
with the heart pointing inward to show I am taken, but wearing it in this
manner meant only dating to most. But not to us. We know what it meant. He
wears one like it, only his is pure silver. Mine has an opal in the heart. It
is a tradition handed down by my family. And it suits our secret engagement
I sigh heavily
as I watch Jake fiddle with my fingers. I had wanted to talk to him so badly
about it, but now, I just want to avoid it. He is too busy kissing the tips of
my fingers to notice my mood yet.
He pulls back
just a bit, still smiling. “I brought something for you.”
I gasp in
delight. “Jake, you didn’t?” But I hope he did.
Jake grins like
a cat over milk and steps back to his bag. He pulls out exactly what I love
most, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, cream in the center, and a small
blue flower on top. My eyes pop out in delight. That is an expensive and rare
treat for a girl who is on a strict diet and small budget.
Jake laughs in
pleasure. “Those blue eyes could outdo the sea for vastness when I bring you
cake,” he says. “It’s worth every gemlet.”
“Oh Jake, you’re
the best!” I kiss him on the cheek in excitement, my heart brimming with
happiness. How I love him. How he looks after me. How much he gives up for me.
“I know,” Jake
sighs dramatically, making me giggle. “Come on then.” He sits on the rock,
putting his arm out, so I can sit and lean against it.
I sit down and
let him wrap his arms around my shoulders. I smile as he hand-feeds me bites,
taking bits for himself now and then, but he gives me far more of it. I never
let him not at least share a little. But it also means the world to me how he
wants to give me the most.
I hold Jake’s
arm around my shoulders, hanging my hands off arms almost like I am going to
pull myself upon them as I lean against his chest and enjoy our shared treat.
I wish this
would never end. The perfect sunset, the glitter of the water, the sweet treat,
his warm arms around me. I just want to turn and kiss him, give him everything.
But that’s not for today. We still have to wait. If I break my oath, we’d be in
far worse trouble.
We finish the
treat, and Jake puts the box aside. I lean deeper into his arms, holding him
tight and sighing in contentment, shutting my eyes. I needed that. I wanted to
vent to him when I came, but now, I just want to enjoy the moment.
I close my eyes,
taking in all the smells, savoring the chocolate and cake flavor on my tongue,
listening to Jake’s breath and the wonderful waterworks around us. This is
heaven. I can’t betray this. I can’t lose this.
“How was your
raid?” I ask in a relaxed tone, eyes still shut, wanting to forget why I’d come
into this magical place so upset.
sigh shakes me from my moment. I frown in concern for him. He sounds so tired.
I turn to look at him as he lets his head plop back on the tree behind him.
“Not great,” he
laments. “It wasn’t one of the Enthronement loads like we hoped. We hardly got
enough to feed those who helped us, let alone help the others.”
I feel the
sadness and weight that came with those words. Jake is dedicated to the
Loyalist rebellion, most of all, in its efforts to feed those in the ranks who
want to support themselves. He sounds worn already, and we aren’t even on the
throne yet. My heart aches for the stress and exhaustion in his voice.
“We’ll figure it
out.” I assure him.
“I just wish we
knew how they were transporting all their money. They tax it. It should go
right to them, right? How are they spending it if it never gets into the
castle?” Jake scowls.
His frustration makes his breath hot, his arms tense, and his movements
haphazard as he moves his free hand about. “We tried the sea. It’s not coming
in there, and what we get in raids is nothing, hardly enough to feed the palace
for a day. So, what in creation are they doing to get the money?”
I have no
answers. I never do. I don’t think anyone does or we’d have tried it by now. I
wish I was more helpful, but I feel useless when it comes to this kind of
strategy. I would support Jake on the throne, but I feel much more confident in
helping with orphanages and schools and programs to help people get jobs
“I just wish…”
Jake sighs, all the anger draining out of him in a heavy sigh, “…we had enough.
I’m so tired of looking at the small ones begging for food and… being powerless.”
Jake drops his head.
I know what that
means. They lost another child to illness or hunger or who knows what. Each one
strikes Jake hard. We try, but… how can we help those starving children when
we can hardly help ourselves?
“H-how many this
time?” I ask as gently as I can, trying to comfort him and let him vent.
hard. “Five died in the last month,” his voice shakes. “We got three more. I
don’t know how we’ll keep feeding them if we can’t find out how to get the
money back from the royals.” Jake shakes his head. “We tried. It goes into that
storehouse, and we attack all the carts going to the palace we can. And it’s
always chump change. We feed our troops, sure, but that’s not the goal.” He
lets his head fall against the tree, “I just want this life to be over.”
Well, I don’t
want all of it over. I don’t want to give up my shows, but I know this means
the world to Jake. And for him, I’ll give it up. I shut my eyes to dream of
what it will be like.
But instead, all
I can think about is Dad’s plan that would change everything. My heart drops,
and I tense as if to defend the one dream I was allowed to have for myself.
“Nothing,” I say
“Kascia.” I hear
the hint of a scold in Jake’s voice as I stare into the running water. “We both
know it’s not nothing. Something’s wrong.”
I sigh heavily
and hold him tighter. “Nothing, just…” I try to find the words to dismiss it,
“It’s not really
important right now.”
“So are you
saying that to assure me or avoid it?” Jake asks carefully.
I have to admit
I’m not even sure. I bite my lip. If I don’t tell him, does that make it as if
it won’t happen? Maybe if Mom agrees with me, but she didn’t seem to at dinner.
Would I ever find a way out of this? Maybe if Jake doesn’t agree, I’ll have a
leg to stand on. Why I felt I had to talk to him at all, but I don’t want to
lose this magic. “I love you.” I choose to say instead.
the matter? Did something happen today?”
I nod, biting my
lip harder and taking a deep breath to hold in the anger and pain. “Yes, but
it’s not something we need to talk about now.”
“If it upsets
you, we do,” Jake disagrees. “That’s how we got over ourselves, remember?” He
“I screamed I
didn’t like you. Then we realized we had something in common. Took years.”
“You were worth waiting for.”
He kisses me
deeply; I suck it in. Dad can’t take this. He can’t take the thrill I feel as
the energy of that kiss rushes through me, or the intoxicating dizziness I feel
at his touch, or the pleasurable press of his lips on mine, and the delightful
soft bite of his lips on mine. He just can’t take it. I won’t let him.
“So, tell me,”
Jake says when he pulls back, “what is bothering you? Saying it and screaming
at each other is always better. You can throw anything at me. I’ll take it.”
“It’s not you,”
I insist, grunting in annoyance.
“I didn’t mess
“No,” I kiss him
to assure him, “not this time.”
I kiss him
deeper, harder. He grins and puts his other arm around me as I push myself up a
bit to kiss him better, again and again, sucking his lips into mine, turning
and releasing his arm to put one hand to his cheek, while I hook my other hand
to his shoulder, keeping him close. I run my hand through his hair on the way
to the back of his head. I press closer, almost sitting on his lap.
How I adore him.
How he looks after me. How he makes me feel. His strong chest so close to mine.
His breath against my skin. How his thick lashes tickle my face as I turn to
get at his lips. His arm wraps around my waist. I all but dig into him, kissing
him harder and harder, encouraging him to hold me tighter. This is what I wouldn’t
Jake falls for
it. He always does, then again, so do I when he tries it. He returns my
intensity and fights for that passion too. We struggle for the feeling,
relishing every bit of it we dredge up.
I gasp as he
switches from kissing my lips to kissing the round of my shoulder. I shut my
eyes and relax a little as he kisses down my arm, inch by inch, until he
reaches my hand and presses his lips to it, holding it closer to him. I sigh
again, eyes fluttering at his touches. I want more of his touch. I want that
touch more than anything.
I leap forward
and kiss his jaw, yanking his face to mine, bringing him down with me. Jake
returns it, kissing me again, and again. I feel myself tilt back as he gets
breathes. I love his breath on my skin.
“What?” I ask,
kissing his cheek.
“I can’t ever get
enough,” he sighs heavily.
“Have enough,” I
“We know better.
We’ll lose what made our fathers agree,” he reminds me.
This floods me
with anger. Who cares anymore!? Maybe if we just caved in, Dad couldn’t make me
lose my whole life again. “I don’t care what he wants!” I snap and kiss him
pulls away and puts a hand to my cheek to hold me back. “Kascia, what is that?”
I hate him for
denying me this. I push him away, turning my back to him. I fold my arms
tightly and don’t turn around, pulling into myself as if to protect myself.
frowns deeply. “What’s really going on? What did your father do?”
care,” I snarl back.
“Yes, I do.” Jake
runs a hand down my arm, starting at the round of my shoulder again. I shut my
eyes. Yes, touch, his touch it’s all I want. Dad can’t take it.
I shut my eyes
as tears come. “Will you all take it?”
“Take what?” Jake
kisses my cheek from behind.
I adore that. I
turn to him to kiss him hard, but Jake holds me back. “What is it?” he asks.
I roar in
frustration and shove him away. “He can’t take it,” I insist. “So why must
“What am I
taking?” Jake asks. “I love you.”
gently and pulls me closer like a toddler refusing to sit next to her parents
and puts his arm around me again, kissing my cheek. I lean into it. I need it.
“Yes, I do,” he
assures me. “You can throw anything at me.”
“The only thing
I need to throw at you is me.” I don’t want to discuss Dad taking him from me.
Even if the plan is to go back to him, I couldn’t be gone that long. And we’d
never gotten into the castle. No rebel had in my lifetime.
are good at taking no for an answer, just like I do when I get too intense.”
Jake rubs my
shoulders. “I’m not pulling away, Kascia. Just keeping our rule. What’s the
change?” He kisses my shoulder and neck.
“He wants to end
it.” I finally admit as hot tears come.
“End us?” Jake
I turn to him in
shock. He’s laughing at this?!
“That’s not what
the plan means,” Jake is still laughing.
“Excuse me?” I
snap. “You know?”
“He proposed his
plan to get us inside, right?” Jake asks, still smiling at me like an
“Which is?” He
can’t know, can he?
“To use the
Enthronement to get a girl on the inside,” Jake says. “And as you’re the best
princess we know. It’s why I love you,” he adds, “he figures you’ll get in,
piece of cake.”
I gape at him.
“What?” I can’t believe this. “You knew he wanted me?”
Jake asks innocently.
“Do you not
understand what the Enthronement is?” I demand, pulling away to see him better.
My anger mounts,
but it’s just to cover up the hint of fear. I feel my heart stilling, afraid
it’s going to have to deal with the hints of a crack that are threatening to
form depending on the answer I’m about to get.
“A contest to
prove yourself a true princess?” Jake looks at me as if I’m crazy.
goal?” I demand.
“Uh, for you, it
doesn’t matter. You’ll let us in before it’s even over.”
“And you think
courting the prince isn’t part of that?”
“So!” I clench
my fists and stand up as the flood of emotions rises in me, wanting to break
out like a stormy tide against a coastal wall. One wave is anger; how could he
not understand!? The next: desperation, he had to be thick because if he isn’t,
the last wave strikes: fear.
It was an old fear I’d not thought about in many
years. So buried I’d all but forgotten about it until this moment. That the
love we’d built was forced so unreal. Did this mean what I’d feared, deep down,
for so long, our love was manufactured, fake, unnatural?