“This is pure lunacy
!” exclaimed my younger sister
as she arranged my curly red hair
. I shot an exasperated look at her reflection in the mirror
, even though I was beginning to agree with her. I’d been questioning my decision ever since I’d arrived at the palace
twelve hours before, clothed only in the bloody nightgown
of a dead princess
and the cheap charm bracelet
that was the only souvenir
from my former life.
“Aren’t you tired of waiting tables? Salvaging strangers’ uneaten pizza remnants just to have something to eat? Mad though this scheme may be, it’s the chance of a lifetime... how could we not take it?”
Hannah had been perfectly willing to aid me from the beginning, and I knew the doubts she now voiced were not deep-seated. It was myself that I was trying to convince.
“And if we’re discovered?” she asked almost cheerfully, allowing me to go over the details once more to comfort myself.
“We won’t be. That’s the beauty of it… the entire entourage was killed when the spaceship crashed into our building, and Princess Ruby was a mail-order bride. Prince Ivan and his family have never met her, and her own family is half a galaxy away... no one will be the wiser. We’re just lucky that I happen to look exceptionally like her.”
“And speak her native language,” Hannah added, zealously coating my curls with hairspray. “Thank goodness for those years we spent working at Casa del Alimento.”
When the cloud cleared, I examined the exquisite arrangement of copper curls and gave my reflection my best regal stare.
“Buenos días. Soy princesa Ruby,” I tried.
Hannah giggled, “You don’t even know if Princess Ruby spoke any language other than Español, Joanne! What if you know a language that you weren’t supposed to?”
“Then I will say that I learned Prince Ivan’s language as a surprise. And don’t forget to call me Ruby! I almost fainted when you called me Scarlet in front of the maid earlier. Thank goodness she thought you were asking what color I wanted to wear to meet the prince.”
The maid had jumped in immediately and scolded her for even considering I wear red with my coloring. She’d laid out an emerald silk ballgown before she left, and instructed me not to listen to any more foolish suggestions from my own maid.
“I knew it was a shade of red…” Hannah trailed off as she watched me turn before the mirror. “You look beautiful. You look like a princess.”
I went to hug my sister, and voiced what we both were thinking: “It remains to be seen whether I can be one.”
A maid came to collect me for supper with the royal family. She gushed dutifully over my appearance, but I was too busy being nervous to be pleased. I was announced and fairly pushed into the salon, and in the whirlwind of introductions I was smiling and curtsying and nodding, too busy trying to improvise royal manners to even consider my future husband.
I got an opportunity to study Prince Ivan at supper. He was most civil, speaking to me in what he thought to be my native language until it became clear that I spoke his language much better than he spoke mine. He treated me as an equal, and carefully kept the conversation to mundane topics that did not bring to mind either our tentative engagement or the horrible tragedy of the night before.
When we had finished supper and retired to the sitting room, I found myself engaging in small talk with the queen. After we exhausted stilted comments on the weather, she began to regale me with stories of Prince Ivan as a boy, although even while speaking of a son she clearly loved she maintained a certain air of coldness toward me.
“As a boy, Ivan had a dog with the same color of hair as yours. I have often thought that he chose you solely because of that beautiful hair,” she confided.
I was unsure whether she had offered me a backhanded compliment, and began babbling about a fictional puppy that had played a part in my invented childhood. The queen looked at me quite as if she didn’t believe me, and I began to think of all the things that could go wrong.
Suppose Princess Ruby was known to be allergic to dogs? Suppose she had a known phobia of them? The many slip-ups that could lead to my discovery clanged around in my head, all merging into a scenario of me and my complicitous sister locked in a labor camp with only embittered, hardened criminals for company.
I would have complained of a headache and retreated to the relative safety of my room and the comfort of my sister’s company if the prince hadn’t arrived at that moment and voiced his intention to escort me personally.
As we walked, he told me of the administration of the planet… details that I, in my poverty, had never guessed of or cared about, but which I found strangely interesting. I began to think that perhaps there was a way my newfound royalty could benefit more than just me. It didn’t seem like such an evil deception when I thought of it that way.
Prince Ivan stopped outside my door, bowed, and kissed my hand.
“You are much more beautiful in person than in your pictures, and much more intelligent than in your letters. I am very glad you came.” He smiled gravely, bid me goodnight, and left me there at my door.
Oh, I did eventually confess, and after the shock wore off (and the real princess’s body was returned to her family) I was forgiven. But you only asked me to tell you how I met your father, children. How we fell in love is a whole other story.