Page 5


“We wanted to come here and tell you in person first, of course,” Alex says. Even though he’s Scottish, he sounds as English as my parents, if a lot more posh. El has a similar accent but starts sounding more like me when she’s home.
“Of course, there will be a formal announcement at Holyrood next week,” Alex continues, “and I’m sure there will be a fair amount of press attention, so let’s hope my southern cousins get into some kind of scandal, take a bit of the heat off.”
He smiles at that, glancing around at all of us, and I’m impressed how he manages to make all that sound super casual and normal. “Holyrood,” like it’s just a place and not a freaking palace. His “southern cousins” are the royal family of England, and holy crap, those will be El’s cousins, too.
El is going to be royalty.
“Are you sure about this?” I ask, and everyone’s head turns toward me. I look at Ellie, and . . . oh wow, I never understood the “glaring daggers” thing, but those are some sharp eyeballs.
Maybe that wasn’t exactly the best thing to say when your sister tells you she’s engaged, but I can’t help it.
“Oh, Daisy,” Mom murmurs, and Alex clears his throat as Ellie’s leg begins to jiggle. I know that tremor. I used to see it in the back seat of the car right before she’d elbow me or tell Mom I was being a jerk. Before Ellie left for Scotland, she could actually be a real person sometimes, complete with a temper, and every once in a while, bits of that person reappear.
“I’m sorry,” I say, looking around. “And, I mean, I guess we all knew this was coming, but it’s just . . .” I wave my hands around. “You’ve spent all this time keeping us separated from Alex’s family, and Alex’s family separate from us, and now you want to, like”—I move my hands again—“squash everyone together.”
Ellie’s face goes red, but whether it’s from embarrassment or rage, I’m not sure.
“It’s a wedding, not a squashing,” she finally says, but then Dad scratches his scruffy beard and says, “When you think about it, weddings are just very formal and expensive squashings.”
“Liam,” Mom chides, but she’s laughing and then adds, “Can you imagine the invitations? ‘We request the honor of your presence as our daughter squashes herself to this man.’”
Dad guffaws and Alex’s lips twitch a bit while Ellie’s nails dig into her thighs.
I widen my eyes, pointing at Mom and Dad. “See? This is what you’d be inflicting on Scotland. These people as the future king or queen’s grandparents.”
Mom laughs again, wiping her eyes. “Lord, I hadn’t even thought of that,” she says. “My grandbaby, a king!”
“Or a queen, don’t be sexist, Bessie,” Dad says, then wonders, “Do we get titles for that? Royal Grandad?”
It’s hard to know if he’s serious or joking, because such is Dad, and by now Ellie has gone so stiff and still that I think she might actually shatter into a billion shiny pieces in front of us.
Alex pats her knee again, then gives us the same game smile he probably has to give to crazy people who run up to him and insist they’re the real prince of Scotland. “We’ll see what we can do about that, sir,” he tells Dad, then looks to me.
“I realize this is going to be quite a change for you, Daisy.” Now I’m getting the Sick Kids in the Hospital Look—chin tilted down, brows drawn together, compassionate blue eyes. He does this a lot, relying on the combination of handsomeness and royal authority to convince us everything is going to be okay. “But possibly not as much as you’re thinking. We all do try to live fairly unremarkable lives, really, and we’re going to do everything we can to mitigate any . . . unpleasantness for you.”
Leaning back in my chair, I fold my arms over my chest. I like Alex—I do. He’s a genuinely nice guy, but he comes with a lot of baggage, and I can never escape the feeling that it’s more than a little unfair that I’m going to have to carry some of the weight, just so that Ellie can be a princess.
Which, I mean, I get the appeal, and lord knows she has looked like a princess since she was about three, but it just seems . . . I don’t know. So pointless. Waving at crowds, cutting ribbons, being this ornament all because of an accident of birth.
Or, in Ellie’s case, of marriage, I guess.
“And I assure you,” Alex goes on, “this will, at the end of the day, be a fairly normal wedding.”
“It’s going to be on TV,” I remind him. “That’s not normal.”
The corners of Ellie’s mouth turn down, and in that second, she once again looks like my regular older sister, the one who once stole all my colored pencils because I’d used her favorite lipstick in one of my drawings (in my defense, that shade of pink made a killer sunset, and that picture is still hanging up in Mom’s office).
It’s Alex who steps in again. “We understand this is going to be a lot for all of you,” he says. “The attention, the travel, all of that. And we’re already putting things in place to ensure this whole process goes as smoothly as possible. Like Ellie said, we want this to feel like the family event it is rather than a . . . spectacle.”
From her spot in the corner, Mom leans forward and says, “And we appreciate that, Alexander, we truly do.”
“I don’t,” Dad says, still leaning in the doorway. “Love a bit of spectacle, me.”
We all ignore him, and Ellie flexes her fingers where they interlock with Alex’s. “The wedding is going to be in the winter,” she tells us. “Christmas.”
Now Mom blinks, her hands coming up to fiddle with her long necklace, the one I bought her on a school trip to Boston two years ago. It’s a pewter tricorn hat, and she’s worn it pretty much every day since I gave it to her. “December?” she repeats. “That’s only seven months from now. Ellie, surely you’ll need more time to plan—”
“There’s already protocol in place for a royal wedding,” Alex interjects. “And our dates are rather limited due to my mother’s calendar as well as the twins’ school schedule.”
Right. The twins.
At the thought of Prince Sebastian and Princess Flora, my stomach drops all over again. Like I said, we’ve gotten used to Alexander, but we’ve had nothing to do with any other part of El’s fancy life, and that includes meeting Alexander’s siblings. They’re my age or just a little bit older, and even though he’s only seventeen, Prince Sebastian is basically one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. And Princess Flora? If Ellie seems glamorous now, that’s nothing compared to Flora, who had a Vogue cover when she was eight.
And they’re going to be part of my family now. What is that even going to mean, really? Will we go on vacations with them? Will we exchange Christmas gifts? What do you even get for a freaking princess?
All of a sudden, I feel dizzy and a little sick, and I find myself lurching to my feet. “You okay, kiddo?” Dad asks, and I nod, pushing my sweaty hair back from my face.
“Yeah, just . . . I think I need some air.”
When I walk out onto the porch, it’s even hotter, but being out of the living room, even for just a little bit, helps. It smells like rain is coming, and I take deep breaths, closing my eyes, listening to the sound of Mom’s wind chimes.