A Week Earlier
ROYAL WEDDING COUNTDOWN:
Seven Days to Go
Can you believe it is nearly here? it seems as if I have been waiting forever! The family and fam-to-be are going utterly mad about all the details, but I am trying to stay above the fray. It seems more THEIR wedding, actually. But it will be MY marriage . . . well, OUR marriage, and after all the fuss, THAT will be the reward.
Oh, I’m so glad you will FINALLY get to meet my fiancé and see my lovely city. After all my secret undercover visits
to your town, I will finally be able to acknowledge you in public!!!
My secret, darling Cousin Claire, coming all the way across the pond . . . just for little old me! I adore our correspondence–the feel of the pen on stationery, the scented sealing wax. So old-fashioned, but it’s also quite fun, don’t you think?
Must go–Mummy is shrieking about some nonsense. Love to all! Especially you!
“No,” I muttered, carefully putting the letter back in the envelope and flopping onto my bed. No, I could not believe there was only one more week until the wedding.
Until a wedding that I couldn’t tell anybody about. Not even my BFF Evie, who would absolutely D-I-E.
Not to mention all the kids at school. I would become instantly, miraculously popular. Then I’d have to hang out with Fake Farrah and her Poser Posse.
Hmm . . . maybe it was a good thing it was all hush-hush after all. Because if everybody in this tourist-trap town found out, it’d be the biggest news since the three-eyed frog was found in the lake. (It turned out to be a genetic mutant, not the result of toxic chemicals or anything, so the lake is safe to swim in.)
That I, Claire Gross (I know, really?) am closely related to Belle—the commoner who is marrying the prince and future king of . . .
“Claire!” my mother called from downstairs. “Dinner!”
“Okay, Mom!” I yelled back, not moving. I stared at a thick ivory card I held in my hands. It was embellished with a gold insignia. The fancy black print said “Cordially Invited.” An invitation coveted by millions but granted to only a select few.
And on it in elegant script was my mother’s name . . . and mine! My mother was invited to sit among the privileged rows of guests.
I was invited to be in the wedding party.
One would think I would be out-of-my-mind excited to be a royal bridesmaid.
One would be wrong.
BTW, I was a junior bridesmaid. The senior bridesmaids were Belle’s friends from University who were like in their twenties.
I’m almost twelve.
But that has nothing to do with why I wasn’t excited about the wedding.
It was because I wasn’t sure that there’s ever a “happily ever after.”
“Claire!” my mom called. “Dinner’s ready!”
“Coming!” I yelled.
But not quite yet.
I was lying on my bed in front of my laptop. I clicked save and print and shut my computer down.
While my printer spit out pages, I began clearing my stuff off the floor. There were books about the British monarchy—kings and queens, princes and, of course, princesses. I also had a travel guide to London, England, and a folder filled with royal trivia—past and present.
No, I wasn’t doing a research paper for history class.
Sput. The last page popped out into the paper tray. I grabbed my latest research and put it in the folder.
This folder held all the information I’d been collecting. It was stuffed full. If Belle truly became a real princess, I wanted to know as much as I could about what her new life would be like.
“Claire Elizabeth!” Mom’s voice made me jump a little. “Downstairs, now!”
“Okay!” I called. I put the folder on my desk and headed for dinner.
Walking downstairs, I heard a familiar high-pitched voice.
“It’s all so thrilling!” it squealed. “Isn’t it, Fred?”
“Umph,” another familiar voice grunted.
Fabulous. Fab. U. Lous.
My grandparents were here.
Okay. I love Gram and Grandpa. I’m happy they live only twenty minutes away. But tonight, the dinner table was going to be especially hard to deal with.
I braced myself and went into the kitchen.
“Darling!” Gram exclaimed. “We were just talking about you and the wedding!”
“When aren’t you talking about it?” my grandfather muttered, shoveling food into his mouth.
“We brought spaghetti,” Gram said. “Now, sit down and tell us everything.”
I sat down and immediately bit into a dinner roll.
“Claire’s dress arrives tomorrow!” my mom said, as she poured water into our glasses. Except Grandpa’s glass. He had already opened a can of soda pop, which I eyed enviously.
“Hello? Earth to Claire!” Mom squealed, as she ladled sauce on top of my angel hair. “Don’t you want to tell Gram about your dress?”
“Er, yeah.” I focused on twirling my pasta. I’d had three fittings for that dress, and each time was a horror. Imagine being in your underwear and having a strange lady putting a measuring tape around parts of your body that you’d rather not think about. Like my “bust,” as the sewing lady had called it. My nonexistent bust that wouldn’t keep the dress up. Which is why there were three fittings. They had to “modify” it for my unusual shape.
My cheeks were probably as red as the sauce just thinking about it.
“I just hope everything is all right over there,” Gram said.
I stopped chewing. “What do you mean?” My stomach
started to lurch, as I swallowed hard and peered over at Gram, who was fishing for something in the side pocket of her enormous purse.
“I mean this!” Gram said, slapping a magazine down on the table.
“‘Will They or Won’t They?’” My mother read the headline aloud. “‘Prince Caught Kissing Other Girl! Royal Wedding in Chaos!’”
“Guys,” I groaned. “That’s a tabloid. Just a ridiculous gossip magazine!” I did, however, lean over and peek at the cover photo. Hmm . . . probably Photoshopped. I hoped.
See, over the years that prince fellow had given me reasons to wonder if he was truly THE ONE for Belle.
I knew that my cousin could make her own decisions. I should probably mind my own business. But Belle was THE nicest person I knew, and I had seen her get hurt before. And heartbreak ain’t pretty. And when it became global gossip, it was downright humiliating.
Like the time he broke up with Belle, saying he was too young and needed some space. That lasted a whole month!
Or the second time he broke up with her, and they told the
world they were just on a break. Yeah—a HEARTbreak, for my cousin. I saw the tears.
Okay. Those happened years ago. My mother said that people their age do dumb things. (Like her marrying my father. One more reason that I am skeptical about marriage.)
And to make it all worse—as they always do—the tabloids and gossip blogs came up with embarrassing things to say about Belle and the prince’s eight-year relationship: PRINCE TARRIES TO MARRY! SHE’S STILL RINGLESS AND KINGLESS! They nicknamed her NO-WEDDING BELLES.
If the prince really wanted to be with her, wouldn’t he put a “ring on it”?
And then . . . he did. And what a ring! A ginormous emerald (her birthstone) surrounded by diamonds.
Belle promised me that I would adore (her word) the prince, and that I could trust him to be a loyal and good husband.
“‘Prince’s Great-Great-Grandmum’s Ghost Nixes Nuptials!’” Mom interrupted my thoughts and held up a magazine. “Oh, no!”
“That’s bad,” Gram said grimly.
“If the prince’s ancestors are against the wedding, it would be heartbreaking,” Mom wailed. “What could she possibly have against our Belle?”
“Ancestors can be difficult,” my Grandmother nodded sagely.
“And so can mothers!” I practically shouted. “And grandmothers!”
That got their attention.
“Respect your elders,” said Grandpa. Then he belched.
“Sorry,” I said. “But over half of marriages fail these days. How do we know the prince is good enough for her? What if he ends up breaking her heart?”
“Oh, Claire-Bear,” Gram said. “Everything will be fine. He’s a prince!”
“Claire is just being dramatic,” Mom said, “when she should just be enjoying herself. Why, a royal marriage is simply so romantic!”
“Not always,” I informed them. “Jane, the Nine Days’ Queen, thought so until she was executed at the Tower of
London just months after she married Edward the Sixth in 1554. And Anne Boleyn? Beheaded by order of King Henry the Eighth in 1536? Or what about—”
“Pffft . . .” Mom said. “Ancient history.”
“And more recent history,” I reminded her. “Scandals and divorces and dysfunctional people . . .”
“And deadbeat Hollywood hippies,” my grandfather muttered.
“Dad, what on earth are you babbling about?” Mom said. I knew exactly who he meant. My mom—of all people—should be more cynical about weddings.
“Reality,” I sighed, spearing a meatball. Ooh. Spicy. I reached for my drinking glass.
“Oh, Debra,” Gram said. “All children go through phases.”
I sputtered, choking a little on the water I was chugging. “I’m just interested in royal families. Historically.”
“It was much sweeter when you were into Disney princesses,” Mom sighed.
I was a little kid then. What did I know? That was before I’d found out the truth about “happily ever after.” I had seen enough Lifetime Channel specials, with my mom sobbing on the couch
next to me, to know the reality. The horrible real-life endings.
“It’s just that too many marriages start out so good,” I sighed. “And then end up so tragic. It’s like romance is cursed!”
“Claire-Bear,” Mom put a protective hand on my shoulder. “I know you think you know what you’re talking about. But there is no curse.”
“Because if there were,” Gram said. “It would be right here.”
She pointed at the tabloids.
“There has been no mention of any romantic curse in Star, the National Enquirer, or the Globe.” Gram said. “If it were real, it would be in the news.”
“I didn’t mean a literal curse,” I said.
I looked from my mother to my grandmother. Both reddish blonde, both blue-eyed, both in denial. They just didn’t get it.
I got my medium brown hair and brown eyes from my father. He’d left when I was a baby to go to Hollywood to “pursue his acting career.” Grayson Gross. Of course, eleven years later and no one had ever heard of him. And I rarely heard from him. Except when Belle and the prince had gotten
serious. Then he’d wanted to use his connections with her to get publicity for himself. But the prince’s family would have none of that! They made him sign something that said he’d get in BIG trouble if he contacted a tabloid or blogger or anyone. I overheard Mom tell Grandma that they paid him off. I can’t really blame the royal family for silencing my dad. He didn’t act like part of their family until something was in it for him. Ugh. My father. All I’d ever really gotten from him was my last name, Gross. What a gift, right? Ha.
“Okay,” I said, and changed the subject. “What’s for dessert?”
Gram stared at me in horror. “Dessert?” she said. “It’s just mere days before the wedding! Sugar can mar a young lady’s delicate complexion.”
Gram patted my hand.
“Pimples!” Mom said with a gasp. “Claire, she’s right. No dessert.”
“What? No dessert?” My grandfather said, suddenly awake. “We’re leaving. And we’re stopping at the ice-cream place on the way home.”