Chapter 9: Paper Rose

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  • Scent Notes
    A vase of blooming white roses next to a handmade journal overstuffed with pages. Spicy aromas of clove and cardamom waft through on the breeze from an open window.
  • Description

      New to our story? Start with Chapter 1, Briar Rose, here. Catching up? Go back to Chapter 8, Stone Rose, here.

      Scent Notes: A vase of blooming white roses next to a handmade journal overstuffed with pages. Spicy aromas of clove and cardamom waft through on the breeze from an open window.

      Once upon a time, there was a woman named Cindy, who was currently in the midst of sighing dramatically. “Why does nobody take me seriously?” It was Friday at 9PM. It was also the earliest she’d been home all week — as a litigator trying to make partner at Tremaine Thomas LLP, ‘early’ evenings like this one were a rarity for her. She’d been drudging her way through for years, slowly working her way up. But it wasn’t easy, as she was earth-shatteringly beautiful, and nobody believed that she had a brain to match. Which was absurd; she had litigated some of the highest profile cases for the firm and, more importantly, WON them. A lot of her colleagues, however, thought she won only because she had a pretty face and juries naturally trusted beautiful people. She knew this to be somewhat true, of course, as the aggressively handsome and hirsute lawyer in a neighboring land had won several cases by somehow having all-female juries who swooned over him and agreed with everything he said. This was before he was disbarred (not for any of his indiscretions, of course; he commingled client funds), and she heard he now ran a popular tavern in a neighboring kingdom that was always full of beautiful women and decorated conspicuously with antlers of all sorts.

      She set the bag of takeout on her kitchen counter, walked over, and fed her trusty goldfish, Ralph. “Oh, Ralphie, you’re getting an early dinner tonight!” she cooed, as the goldfish wiggled to the top of the bowl and gobbled down some pellets. If only she were so easily satisfied. Cindy walked back over and opened several containers of Chinese food and ripped apart a pair of chopsticks. She took a few bites out of one container, set it down, and picked up a different container, standing and eating over the sink. She rotated through the containers several times, then picked one up and took it over to the couch. Then she turned on the TV and surfed through, trying to find something soothing and mind-numbing to watch, and eventually settled on a marathon of an old house renovation show. Several episodes and cartons of Chinese food later, she was still somehow not tired. Her brain was twitching; she couldn’t fully relax. A book! That would do it! Something soothing that would also stimulate her gray matter, that’s just what the non-doctor ordered. And perhaps a bath? It had been a minute since she’d taken a bath, she’d so rarely had the time lately. A quick shower every day or so had become the norm, and in the mornings she just couldn’t bear to get up early enough, dry shampoo had become her best friend. She turned on the tap to the hottest water she could stand, and plugged up the tub. In about fifteen minutes she’d be in toasty bath heaven.

      The selection of a book to read in the bath was something of an art, and one she had honed over years of experience. Tonight she knew she’d be reaching for her favorite book, a tome of fairy tales gifted to her by her great-grandmother a long, long time ago. It had apparently been in the family for generations, and included non-traditional fairy tales as well as the standard classics. It was her favorite “lose herself from reality” book. She went into her home office and grabbed it off the shelf, in the spot she always kept it. Walking back to the bathroom she swung into the kitchen and poured herself one “responsible” glass of wine, and brought both into the bathroom. She lit a candle, poured in some bath salts, and readied the bath tray with the book and the wine. She turned off the water and got in, murmuring, “Hot! Hot!” to herself as she slowly sat down. After a minute or so, her body adjusted to the heat, and she relaxed. She picked up the book in one hand, and the glass of wine with the other, and started reading.

      She stayed in the bath until it went cold, having read several fairy tales and finished the glass (with maybe one quick trip out of the bath to get the rest of the bottle — allegedly — Cindy lacks sufficient knowledge to either confirm or deny the allegation). Getting up and toweling off, she contemplated some of the newer fairy tales, at least one of which she was certain was based on her great-grandmother’s life. She contemplated the inscription: “Remember that you come from a long line of terrifying women.” That had always comforted her, especially since her mother had passed away when she was young, and she’d been raised by a half-absent father and a series of increasingly wicked stepmothers and step siblings. Come to think of it, her life had been a little bit like a fairy tale: a semi-orphan girl rises through a tough childhood to make something of her life, complete with allegedly devastatingly good looks. Maybe she could write it down, write a fairy tale of her own? That would be cool. That could prove she had brains and it was something to do that wouldn’t be directly tied into her law life but keep her sharp and satisfied in her downtime. 

      A fantastic idea! It was late now, just before midnight, but that wasn’t stopping her tonight. She headed to the kitchen for another bottle of wine, poured another glass, and sat down in her office at her desk, still in a robe, her towel around her head. She took a large sip, and was about to open her laptop when she spied an old notebook her great-grandmother Rose had given her shortly before Rose had passed, along with a very old fashioned fountain pen that she’d never quite mastered. She didn’t remember getting them out recently, but there they were, propped on the desk. Well, now seemed as good a time as any to try it out again. Maybe this time she wouldn’t get ink all over her … everything? She flipped open the notebook and saw the inscription: “To my beautiful and magical great-granddaughter, use this notebook wisely, and remember to always be fair, just, and most of all, kind. Remember: You write your own destiny. Love, Grammy.” She teared up a little bit and took another gulp of wine. She turned to the first page. The notebook was empty, as expected, so she began to write:

      “Once upon a time, in a magical land far away, there was a young woman named Cindy. She was beautiful, and lived in a small house with her father, stepmother, and evil stepsisters. They were cruel to her, making her do all the chores, telling her she was ugly and would never be loved. They made Cindy cry every day in her tiny room. Her only friends were the small rodents that inhabited the far corner and ate at the straw of her mattress every day.” 

      She paused her writing, and reached for her glass of wine, but it was gone. She shook her head and looked around. She was no longer in her comfortable apartment; she was in the tiny room with the mice she had just described. She could hear the voices of the stepsisters just outside the door, taunting her. Cindy closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. “I’m asleep, it’s a dream,” she thought. She opened her eyes … and nothing had changed. She could see the handle of the door beginning to turn, so she did the only thing she could think to do: Rip the paper out of the notebook and tear it to pieces, thereby destroying her words, and hopefully, this world. 

      Once the paper was shredded to bits, she was back in her apartment, at her desk, her hand reaching for the glass that had just reappeared. Bits of torn paper floated through the air and landed all over her and the ground. Of course, she was so simultaneously relieved and terrified that she knocked her wine glass over and spilled it all over the floor. Cindy barely noticed. “I need sleep,” she mumbled to herself, stumbling throughout her apartment, touching every wall, telling herself that she was, indeed, safe and sound in her real world life. When she finally got to her bed, she climbed under the covers, and was asleep almost instantly. 

      She slept through her alarm the next morning. Sure, it was a Saturday, but the billable hour grind didn’t take weekends off so neither did she; Saturday mornings were supposed to be for a workout, breakfast, and spending the morning catching up on client correspondence (what client doesn’t feel special to have a lawyer dedicated enough to email them on a Saturday?), oftentimes in the office. Instead, Cindy awoke with a jolt several hours past her alarm, with a headache and general feeling of “blech” in her body. Stupid wine. She sipped some water and took some aspirin, then dragged herself into the shower. Sure, she’d taken a bath the night before, but without a shower this morning, she wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. Twenty minutes later, she felt semi-normal, and ordered in breakfast and fancy coffee for herself, before planting herself at her desk to begin going through stacks of legal paperwork. Her firm was currently advising the local monarchy on the ins and outs of royal succession law, so that the crown prince could take the throne free of troublesome questions about whether it was “technically” “legitimate.” But somehow his personal estate had become embroiled in a mess of legal paperwork he had signed throughout his early adulthood before his father passed. The prince didn’t know what was going on, but he seemed to be a decent fellow. To her eyes, it seemed as if his trusted advisory staff had made him sign over … well, his life, basically, and his rights to take control of the kingdom. The prince claimed that he had never intended to agree to the terms of almost everything currently bearing his signature, and that his grand viscount and other members of his staff had either forged his signature or had him sign the paperwork under false pretenses. For example, claiming the paper he was signing was to allow the household staff to be paid, when it was actually a waiver of all potential claims against his viscount. Never trust a viscount! But nobody in her firm seemed competent enough to understand that she had some great arguments for the prince based on admittedly obscure case law, and they kept ignoring the finer points of contractual language that only she seemed to be able to discover or correctly interpret. Or perhaps they had more nefarious intent? She couldn’t quite tell, but she knew the prince was close to giving up and also seemed to ignore her findings every time she brought them up. He often even accused her of trying to turn the paperwork around on him, when that was the exact opposite of what was happening. 

      The doorbell rang, and it was her much-needed breakfast. The next several hours were spent bent over at her desk, eating breakfast and drinking her elaborate coffees (she’d gotten two, one hot, one iced, because she knew herself) while poring over documents. Eventually her brain started yelling that it needed a break. There were only so many forum selection clauses and limitations of liability one could look at even with a not-hungover brain, let alone one that was recovering from being partially pickled in wine the night before. She looked out the window at the park across the street, which was always highly manicured with blossoming flowers. Everyone in the park looked perfect, with nary a hair out of place even if they were chasing their kids, or running with their dogs. Bluebirds were perched on her windowsill, chirping a delightful tune. The sun was shining, with nary a cloud in the sky. It was a perfect day outside, as it nearly always was, she realized suddenly. The weather was 73 and sunny all the time, minus the Christmas season when there was always the perfect amount of snow, and whenever something terrible or nefarious happened in her life, there was a corresponding thunderstorm. Then her brain, still angry with her, reminded her of what happened the night before. That was just a dream, she tried to say to herself, then looked back down at the prince’s paperwork. Wait a minute, she thought. Who even has a king ruling them anymore? Why did the monarchy need lawyers when the whole point is to have one person who just says what the law is? And how does she live in a place with multiple kingdoms around, each ruled by a different, either extremely beneficent or extremely maniacal, king? What is happening? Was she … no. There was no way her life was a fairy tale. Was there?

      She picked up the book of fairy tales, and began flipping through the pages frantically, looking for a clue. Towards the end of the book, a drawing fell out. At first, she thought it was an illustration from one of the stories that had come loose and fallen out from being read so much. It was a fairy godmother soaring above a park in mid-flight, a huge grin on her face. It made Cindy smile at first, but as she inspected it, she realized it wasn’t an illustration, and it wasn’t any fairy godmother. It was a photograph of Grammy, mid-flight over the very park Cindy could see from her window. “No way, no way, this is not happening,” she muttered as she dropped the picture. She started to stand up and felt too weak, and fainted in her chair.

      When dawn broke, Cindy awoke to those damn bluebirds on her windowsill again. She’d had a vague dream about her great-grandmother explaining a set of writing rules to her. Rules that would allow her to write her future but not be a jerk because, for example, if she wrote that she was a billionaire, that money would come from other, real people, and dramatically impact her local economy. Plus, she cannot change herself mentally or physically (well technically she could, but this had ended very poorly the few times it was attempted in the past), she could only change the way people and situations reacted around her, and if it was too far from the heart of a situation, it wouldn’t work. Used properly, the magic was, in effect, luck. It was hard to process all she said, though, because in the dream Cindy had been in her high school hallway, naked, trying to cover herself and get home to put on clothing with her Grammy flying after her, telling her the rules while her classmates pointed and laughed as she passed. It was awful. She stood up, bleary-eyed, and went to feed Ralph and make coffee. When it finished brewing, she poured it into the largest mug she had. Maybe it was actually a soup bowl, whatever, this was the required amount of caffeine for this morning after a weird night’s sleep in her chair at her desk while processing the world-shifting news that she was in a fairy tale with her own magical fairy godmother. She opened her freezer and pulled out some pastries and popped them in the toaster. A delicious, healthy breakfast, obviously. 

      Once the pastries had popped and she smothered them in their frosting, she took her mug/bowl and plate over to the couch, turned on a random true crime documentary, and turned her brain back off. Well, she tried to, at least. When the pastries were consumed and the plate licked clean of crumbs and drippy frosting, she refilled her coffee and went into her office. She opened the journal, and picked up the fountain pen. She had an idea and she had to try it. “Once upon a time, there was a princess named Cindy. She lived in an apartment with her gray tabby cat named Ralph.” On cue, a gray tabby cat walked into her office, mewling sweetly. Cindy screamed and ran into the kitchen. Sure enough, there was no evidence of a fish, and plenty of evidence that she had a cat, i.e., some claw marks on her couch. She went back into the office and pet the cute little kitten. “I’m so sorry little one, but I am quite attached to my fish. He’s much easier to care for.” The cat snuggled against her and purred, and her heart melted. She snuggled new Ralph in one arm while she picked the pen back up and wrote, “She also had a goldfish, also named Ralph, and cat Ralph always left him alone.” She took cat Ralph in her arms and walked back into the kitchen. “Real Ralph, you’re back!” The goldfish blurbed his mouth open and shut in his bowl, and she dropped a few extra pebbles of food in as a treat. True to what she’d written, cat Ralph paid no interest in his fishy brother. “Fine, I have two pets both named Ralph now. Only one can respond to his name, anyway,” Cindy said, walking into the living room. She grabbed a blanket and made a little nest and plopped cat Ralph into it. He purred and almost immediately fell asleep. “Okay, I’m going to put on clothes, leave this apartment, and go get things for this cat and possibly some lunch for me. Maybe I should eat a salad?” she said. “Probably not, but it’s good to dream.”

      Fifteen minutes later she was about to head out the door when a little voice in her head forced her to double back, go into her office, and grab the notebook and fountain pen. Perhaps she’d need to rewrite her life at a moment’s notice? Apparently that was A Thing she had the ability to do now, so she’d need to get more ink for her fountain pen as well. No telling when that might run out, especially as she still left a lot of large ink blots as she wrote with it. Growing up with the dawn of technology meant her handwriting left a little bit to be desired. Being a lawyer also didn’t help matters; her writing could be just as indecipherable as her doctor’s. She strode out the door and into the park. Just like yesterday, it was a blindingly beautiful day outside. The park was full of perfect, fluffy little dogs, all groomed to within an inch of their lives, and beautiful children in outfits that were adorable and probably way too elaborate for your average child to wear to run around and fall down in the park. (Three piece baby suits with a tiny monocle and cap? Really?)

      Cindy was still transfixed by the complexity of the children’s clothing when she came to the closest park bench and, by reflex, sat down, entirely ignoring the fact that there was already someone sitting on it and she’d sat straight down on his lap. She realized her mistake instantly and stood up, flushed, saying “Oh I am SO SORRY! I am so sorry!” just a little too loudly. “Shhh, it’s okay, it’s fine, please sit down,” the man said. “Sit down and be quiet, I don’t want to attract attention.” She thought this was strange, but sat down and then properly looked at the man. It was, undoubtedly, the prince. Her eyes widened, and he stopped her before she stood to curtsy and greet him properly as she had been taught to do. (As the only woman at her firm, she’d found it degrading that she was expected to curtsy for her client every time he entered or left the room, which he did frequently. Everyone else just had to bow politely. She hardly ever wore dresses, and it was so awkward to curtsy in a pantsuit, using the flared bottom half of her blazer as if it were a large skirt every time.) “I’m so sorry, sir, I must be off,” she said, running back towards her apartment and hiding behind a tree. “Sitting on his lap on accident? Really? Is that the best we can do here, a silly romantic comedy movie trope?” She pulled out the notebook and continued her story from earlier. “Cindy left her apartment for a stroll in the park, and encountered the prince as he sat on a park bench, and then arose to greet her.”

      Sure enough, she suddenly found herself walking back through the park, this time knowing where he was so she wouldn’t sit in his lap. Which was fantastic, except this time as she neared him, he suddenly stood upright as if to greet her, and the two physically slammed into each other, knocking them both to the ground. “DAMMIT!” she yelled, standing up and running back behind the tree again. She took a moment to catch her breath and calm herself down. Nobody around them seemed to notice, though the prince looked flustered as he made sure no gaze was directed his way. “Okay, think about this calmly, Cindy. Is there a different part of the park you could try?” She looked around. There was a fountain not too far away. Perfect! This time, I can be perched on the fountain looking dainty, and he can come and greet me. I am part of his legal team, after all, she thought to herself. She crossed out the line she’d written moments ago and now wrote anew: “Cindy had strolled around the park and was sitting near the fountain, enjoying the scenery, when the prince came up to speak to her.” As she wrote, she felt herself being transported across the park and sat directly on the ledge of the fountain. She looked up and saw the prince walking toward her. She put away her pen and notebook and set her bag down at her feet. The prince was just about to greet her when a voice from afar cried out, “There he is! Get him!” “I must away!” the prince yelled, and in his haste, he accidentally pushed her into the fountain. Cindy screamed, then sat there, soaking, humiliated, until she could find a little bit of her dignity to get up and get the hell out of there. “Are we really going to run through all the cliche little meet-cutes in the world? I just want to talk to the man! He is, after all, my client. Sure, he’s handsome, but this isn’t a typical, romantic fairy tale, yeesh,” Cindy mumbled under her breath as she dragged herself out of the fountain.

      She sat in a nearby field to dry herself off and gather her thoughts. Clearly, she was supposed to meet and talk to the prince today, but her efforts were going awry. This whole “you can write the world around you and your future because you live in a fairy tale and you didn’t know it” thing was not all it was cracked up to be. “Okay, let’s keep it simple,” she thought, taking the notebook and pen back out. “He’ll recognize me because I am his lawyer and he will respect me and we will have a totally normal interaction,” she murmured to herself as she wrote. Sure enough, she found herself dry and walking calmly across the park to where the prince was sitting. She stood in front of him and greeted him. She was about to do the requisite curtsy of dread and doom when he held up a hand and stopped her. “Yes, I remember you, you’re on my legal team. Please, just sit down and don’t draw attention to us,” he said. “Well, I think people are going to notice your hair, your highness,” she said. “Whatever do you mean? I’m in disguise! I snuck out to be alone to think. Nobody can recognize me with different hair,” he said confidently.

      Certainly, if he was wearing the wig correctly, he might have been able to fool passersby that he was not the prince, at least upon first glance. But he was wearing the wig as a hat, not as a proper substitute for his real hair. The straight brown wig sat upon his head of golden curls almost like a coonskin cap. It was likely to draw more attention than it would camouflage him from the public. Cindy suppressed a giggle. “You’re wearing it incorrectly,” she informed him. He looked at her like she had suddenly sprouted six heads. “Nonsense! I asked my closest confidante and he told me I was a master of disguise; I had to take it off my head for him to even know it was me again!” “Aha, I see,” she answered solemnly. “Perhaps it was knocked askew at some point? May I fix it?” “Please do!” he said. “That is likely precisely what happened, and once it is fixed, nobody will notice me.” 

      She just nodded as she forced it down onto his head, covering most of his hair, though a few golden locks absolutely escaped the bounds of the wig. “That is rather snug,” he said, but he checked his reflection in his phone the moment her hands left his head. “Perfect! I am completely in disguise,” he said. She looked at him in amazement.. “So, since you’re on my legal team, may we speak freely?” he asked. She nodded politely, instinctively knowing that a prince in disguise out in the world likely wanted to talk to someone outside of his immediate sphere of influence, and someone with his best interests at heart was all the better. “You’re the only woman on the team, and the only one who keeps raising potential issues and saying there are, indeed, problems with the paperwork that nobody in your firm seems to agree with. And, I admit, I do not believe you myself, because my own people tell me not to trust anyone outside the castle walls.” “I see,” she said quietly. “Well, I do hope that I can convince you to trust me, because I am damn sure these agreements won’t hold up before a judge, and when I am damn sure about something like that I am never wrong.” He gave a small nod. “Now I see,” he said. “I was, apparently, wearing this wig piece incorrectly, so perhaps my confidantes are not all they seem to be. A similar thing happened a few days ago, when they assured me that my outfit looked fantastic, but even I know that you cannot wear leopard print pants with a zebra print top and a hot pink sequin pleather jacket to a casual brunch without looking foolish!” “Yes, now you get it! Well, now you kind of understand part of it, your highness,” she said. “But that’s a great start!” In her mind, she thought, “Wow, he owns all those pieces of clothing? Who dresses him?”

      He turned suddenly and grabbed her hands, frightened, like a dog who heard a whistle only he could hear. “I must leave soon, they draw near,” he said cryptically. “But could you teach me more of your legal ways? I fear I do not understand enough of what is happening to me and my estate to effectively know what to do, but nobody talks to me like anything other than a handsome prince. It is infuriating, yet also, extremely flattering, and it is all I know. Will you help?” Cindy nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! That’s all I’ve wanted!” she responded. “Come to the law office tomorrow and I’ll begin to teach you. We can start with basic contract law—” That’s when she heard the voices, too. “I must go now,” he said, darting up and quickly away through the nearby grove of trees. A few moments later, guards and members of the royal staff that she knew from sight came darting over. “Who was that man with you?” one of them asked. “Have either of you seen the prince? He has left the grounds unattended and we cannot find him. We were hoping that you or your attractive blond gentleman friend could help.” It took every fiber in her body to keep herself from bursting into laughter. Cindy controlled herself and answered calmly, “I do not know him, sir, we were strangers chatting in the park. He just left, and neither of us have seen the prince. I am so very sorry.” “Thank you for your help, kind lady,” the gentleman said, tipping his hat, and he and the rest of the party began walking the wrong way. When they were safely in the distance, she burst out laughing. “How did that horrid wig actually disguise the prince from the people who see him every single day?! Something is very rotten here, but also, very funny.” And as she sat with that thought, she got quite sad. There is something terrible about people who saw him every day not recognizing him with the wig on, or were willing to pretend they didn’t recognize him and just let him be alone while they pretended to find him in some display of over-the-top faux concern. “Remind me never to become royalty,” she murmured to herself, then walked out of the park and down the road to the shops. 

      It was past midday now, and she needed real food, along with the cat supplies and extra fountain pen ink she originally set out for when the world told her that she needed to meet the prince and get this extra information and set forth … whatever was about to be set forth. “I need more coffee,” she mumbled, going into her favorite cafe and sitting down at a small table by the door. Cindy didn’t even have to order; the waitress was already bringing over a nitro cold brew with extra foam, cinnamon sugar, and whipped cream. Cindy thanked her profusely before plopping a straw in the coffee and slurping down a quarter of it gleefully. The waitress gave her a little wink, and Cindy called her “an absolute doll” before she ordered a sandwich. After she ate and re-caffeinated, she headed to the shops to get food and toys for the cat, and the elusive fountain pen ink. The fancy stationery shop did, indeed, have the ink needed for her pen, so she bought out their entire stock. No sense in running out in the midst of writing her future, right? 

      Cindy hurried home, grabbing more takeout on her way, including a side of roasted vegetables that she knew she’d pick at and eventually force herself to eat. Perhaps she could write down that she had developed a fondness for foods like vegetables and oatmeal and then, magically, she would? She made a mental note to try that … eventually, no need to push her luck with that at this moment. There were more pressing matters at hand, like getting the prince to understand damages for breach of contract! She knew it wouldn’t be easy. The prince seemed to suffer from too-handsome-man syndrome. This wasn’t a real thing, obviously, no medical doctor would diagnose it, but she saw the signs. It was similar to how people treated her, except she had brains to match and could recognize what was going on. The prince was crippled by his royal status and being waited on hand and foot his whole life combined with his very conventionally attractive good looks. It was like, because he was so handsome, he could just do whatever, and he believed whatever was told to him. For example, she could assume that he played every sport terribly, but all the people around him told him he was the best player of that sport they’ve ever seen and asked him to give their kids lessons. He’d kick a soccer ball with his toes and miss the goal and everyone around him would applaud. He’d get the highest score in a game of golf and everyone would tell him he’d won. Things like that really do a number on a person, particularly one who grows up in immense wealth and privilege to begin with. Situations like this one do not end well for the person being duped, even if they are spectacularly handsome and rich and royal. But Cindy was fairly certain that, though he was not brought up to think at all for himself, there was a tiny ember of self-assurance and questioning that she could fan into a fire of full self-esteem and intelligence with just a little bit of hard work on both their parts. She just hoped he was willing and able to do the work required.

      She was finally home. She dropped her bags in the kitchen and fed goldfish Ralph, then popped the dinner she’d picked up in the microwave to heat it up to eat while she did some all-important writing about how tomorrow would go. Kitten Ralph had been screaming for wet food the moment she walked in the door, so she got out all the new cat supplies and fed him, then got out her own dinner and carried it to her office. It was a nice change of pace, actually, to sit at her desk and eat while writing with a fancy fountain pen instead of sitting on her couch shoveling food in her mouth while half paying attention to whatever TV show was currently trending played for the evening on the screen. The writing engaged her brain in a different way than she was used to, and it was invigorating. 

      She began writing out tomorrow in extreme detail: She’ll read a new high court opinion on the front page of the GrimmsLaw database in the morning that will change the prince’s legal situation completely: the court will hold that agreements within the royal family and palace can only be considered valid if each party had their own dedicated legal advisor, retroactively including all previously signed contracts. This would give the prince an escape hatch from every agreement he had been trapped in, since all his advisors had been conflicted in one way or another. Plus, she’d teach the prince about basic contract and royal succession law and how to proceed in the future. It was genius! She was thrilled with her brain for coming up with this plan. Finishing her dinner, she closed the book and went straight to bed, exhausted, kitten Ralph curled up next to her.

      Early the next morning, Cindy awoke and went about her morning as quickly as possible, nearly forgetting her notebook as she ran out the door to get to work. Even though she arrived just before 7AM, she was one of the last people to arrive at her office that morning, which drew looks of consternation from the senior partners at the firm. She still greeted them cordially, as she always did, as they just nodded in response while giving each other eyes that implied that Cindy had arrived super late, drunk, and naked. She hadn’t written up her arrival the night before as she’d been so excited to write up what would happen once the prince arrived, and made a mental note to write in her arrivals and departures at work to avoid this in the future, if at all possible. But she worried she would never make partner as she never seemed to make the higher-ups happy, no matter how hard she worked or how many hours she billed. Once she was safely ensconced in her tiny office, she rolled her eyes, then calmed herself by taking a large gulp of coffee and a bite of her croissant, then opened a browser window to see the opinion she had written about showing up. “Success!” she said aloud, flakes of pastry clinging to the corners of her mouth.

      At precisely that moment, the prince burst into her office. “My good lady attorney, hello,” he said with a bow. Cindy stood up hurriedly and curtsied. Well, as much as she could curtsy in an office so small she had to squeeze between the wall and the edge of her desk to even get in or out of it. She kicked her desk coming up from the curtsy, but pretended she didn’t while she cursed under her breath for a second. “My viscount and associates will arrive at precisely 9AM, so please, do tell me what we can do before they arrive, as they do not know I have fled the castle.” They both sat down, and Cindy explained the opinion she’d plotted into existence. Then she started going into the basics of contract law, Monarchy 101, what each member of his advisory staff is supposed to do, etc. The prince, as hoped, caught on relatively quickly as she explained things in the simplest terms she could. He seemed appreciative of someone actually taking the time to explain things to him, instead of just taking advantage of him or assuming he couldn’t possibly understand.

      Time flew past, and suddenly it was ten minutes to nine. Cindy gathered up her things. “Are you ready?” she asked the prince. “I am, indeed, dear Cindy.” He suddenly took her hand and looked her in the eye. “I very much appreciate you taking the time to teach me things. You are brilliant and kind and the best member of my legal team here at this firm. Thank you.” He shook her hand, and their sustained eye contact flustered them both for a mere moment. She took her hand away and cleared her throat. “You are so welcome. Let’s go in there and kick their asses, shall we?” The prince chortled so loudly and suddenly Cindy startled back. “That was highly amusing, thank you for that humorous joke,” he said. Then he was serious again. “Before we go in there, can you write something for me?”

      At exactly 9AM, the prince left her office, followed closely by Cindy, who had her extremely full briefcase in hand. They went into the boardroom where the prince’s advisory staff sat on one side, and the rest of the prince’s legal team from her firm sat across from them. All the men stood to bow to the prince. The viscount stayed standing and opened his mouth to speak, but the prince held up his hand. “Do not speak, sir, as my good lady lawyer has something important to tell you all.” Cindy beamed at the assembled men and then spoke at length about the new high court opinion and how the prince would need to go over all his paperwork and be assigned a dedicated and loyal legal advisor to go through everything he’d ever touched, basically. The assembled men looked at her, bored, all of them clearly wishing she would just be quiet and go along with the status quo. When she finished telling them all that she would be the prince’s new permanent legal advisor, the men on both sides of the table burst into laughter.

      “Oh, sweetheart, you are HILARIOUS,” the viscount chortled. Cindy looked stricken; the prince looked furious. “She speaks the TRUTH!” the prince shouted, silencing the room. “How dare you all mock us!” This was not how she had imagined this going when she’d written things down. Had she missed something? As it turned out, yes. “That opinion was written by the high court for a neighboring kingdom,” the chief legal officer said. “In our realm, it’s at best a suggestion, not a rule, as you’d know if you paid attention in law school. And we found nothing wrong at all with the legal paperwork; the prince has validly signed all of these documents and there’s no way he can contest them.” The rest of the lawyers agreed. Good thing the prince had formed a backup plan. He was far more clever than anyone had given him credit for, including Cindy herself. She’d suspected he had some intelligence lurking below the surface, and she had not been wrong.

      Cindy and the prince just smiled as she pulled a new piece of paper from her briefcase. “Well, that’s just fine,” Cindy said. “The prince and I conferred, and he established a Royal Decree that abolishes sovereign immunity from lawsuits … including for all royal staff in their official duties. As his counsel, I oversaw and drafted it myself, and with this fountain pen, he’s going to sign it right now.” She handed him her beloved pen, and everyone watched as the prince signed it. “So what?” the viscount asked. “That just means we can sue him harder if we want to!” “That is no longer the case, my soon-to-be-former viscount,” the prince said. “I hereby announce that I am abdicating the throne, and I intend to sue the pants off of all of you as a normal, regular human man.” At the mention of the words “human man,” Cindy rolled her eyes internally. Then he looked over at the legal team. “And you’re all fired, except for Cindy.” “And I quit this horrible firm, and I’m starting my own practice,” she announced with great pleasure. The chief legal officer stood up, beginning to yell obscenities at everyone else in the room, though most were directed at Cindy and the prince. The viscount joined him, and it devolved into an all-out screaming match. “My good lady lawyer,” the prince said as he extended his arm. Cindy closed her briefcase, took his arm, and the two calmly walked out of the conference room, then out of the office into the bright, sunny day, the cacophony of yelling fading behind them as they walked away.

      “You can stay with me if you’d like; I have an office at home you can sleep in. It’s not fancy, but, you don’t really have anywhere else to go, and I will treat you like a real person,” Cindy said as they strolled down the sidewalk towards her apartment. “That would be lovely,” the prince replied. “I believe you could teach me a lot of things about the world, as there is so much I do not know yet,” the prince responded. “Well, you learned about royal abdication and sovereign immunity somehow. I didn’t teach you those things. How did you find out?” The prince stopped walking and turned to face her. “Did you know that there are rooms full of books called ‘libraries,’ and you can look up information of all kinds? Then you write that information down and read it, and it’s called, ‘studying.’ Then that information stays in your mind and you somehow know these things? That’s what I did this weekend after our meeting in the park. You inspired me. I can never thank you enough,” the prince said, beaming. Cindy laughed. “I did know most of that, yes, and I’m so glad I could inspire you to learn. I can show you the world, the real world, with no ill intent, I promise.” She smiled at him. “But first, I realized, I don’t even know your first name? Everyone always just called you ‘the prince.’ What is your name?” He looked puzzled, as if he was trying to remember something buried deep in his memories. “I think it’s … Ernest, though nobody has called me that in a very long time.” “Ernest. It fits you. I like it. Hello, Ernest. Let’s go live happily ever after!” She held out her arm again, but the prince hesitated. “Cindy, you should know … I really like you, but I prefer the company of men.” Cindy burst out laughing. “That’s fabulous; I prefer the company of women! In fact, let’s go to my favorite cafe, I’m seeing one of the waitresses there.” Ernest laughed his booming laugh, took her arm, and the two kept walking into a happily ever after better than she could have ever written for herself.

      Check out all the Steel Roses stories here.

      Scent Notes: A vase of blooming white roses next to a handmade journal overstuffed with pages. Spicy aromas of clove and cardamom waft through on the breeze from an open window.

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