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The Difficult Princess (2018 Flash Fiction Challenge, #1)



Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named AnnaBellaMariaJane. It would be nice to say that her friends called her “Anna,” or “Bella,” or “Maria,” or “Jane,” but the princess didn’t have any friends. She’d been a difficult child because she was very particular. She was a picky eater so the cooks all hated to feed her, she was picky about her clothes so the royal seamstresses were always on edge when the seasons changed, and her rooms were always a mess because the maids didn’t understand how she liked things so she would send them away in tears. In short, AnnaBellaMariaJane had gotten a reputation as the meanest girl in the kingdom. Everyone was sure she would grow up to be someone’s wicked stepmother; or worse, an evil queen.


AnnaBellaMariaJane’s favorite place in the palace was the observation deck, where she would use her telescope to watch the people in the village. These people fascinated her. Even though most of them had jobs where they seemed to work very hard and were tired by the end of the day, they would still greet friends and family members with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. They just seemed so…happy. Having never been happy to see anyone, she was puzzled at this behavior.  She would watch the villagers and scrutinize their faces and body language, and even learned to lip read so she could figure out what they were saying to one another. This behavior, this…happiness…seemed to be pretty widespread. She was baffled.


One day, after a particularly frustrating day with her latest seamstress who couldn’t seem to understand why she wanted simpler clothes that were more comfortable to wear, she went to her usual place on the observation deck. She quickly became engrossed in her favorite activity until the sound of someone clearing his throat made her jump. When she did her elbow bumped her telescope and she watched as, seemingly in slow motion, her most prized possession tipped and started to fall. Acting quickly, the interloper leapt into action and with a very graceful movement almost like a dance step, he launched forward, caught the telescope before it hit the ground, and put it back in its original position.


AnnaBellaMariaJane rounded on him, ready to have him fired or banished but stopped in mid-tirade, puzzled. The man standing before her was her sister’s tutor, Izar. Since he technically had the run of the palace she couldn’t get him for trespassing, and she couldn’t imagine trying to explain to her father why he would need to fire a tutor who was doing a good job teaching his youngest child. He was also kind of cute, and was one of the few people who talked to her. Conflicted and quite perplexed, she just stared at the tutor with her mouth half open.


Ignoring her awkward response to his presence, Izar smiled and said, “Since you don’t seem to do the things that most young women your age like to do, I asked your maid one day where I might find you, and she said you spend a lot of time on the observation deck. I see your telescope. You come up here to watch people, don’t you?”


Still in shock over his sudden appearance, she nodded slowly while her face turned red with embarrassment.


Izar continued, clearly unphased by her discomfort. “I’m a fan of telescopes, but mostly for looking at stars and planets at night. If you’d like, I could give you and your sister an astronomy lesson some night after it gets dark.” Not waiting for an answer, he pulled something out of his pocket. “I’ve carried this with me since I was a child. I know it’s just a toy, but if you hold it up to your eye in bright light and twist the end it makes beautiful patterns. I thought maybe you’d enjoy having it. It’s called a kaleidoscope.” And with that, he walked back into the palace.


AnnaBellaMariaJane stood rooted to the spot for a long time, holding the kaleidoscope. Why had he given it to her? He seemed to like her and as this was unfamiliar territory, she was at a loss. She shook her head and, noticing the time hurried to her room to get ready for dinner. Estrella was waiting for her.


“You’re going to catch it for being late. I’ve picked out the green dress for dinner because it has pockets, which I know you love. Quickly now, put it on, and I’ll do up your hair.”


The princess dressed quickly and sat down at her dressing table where Estrella began making her windblown hair presentable. AnnaBellaMariaJane said, “No one has ever wanted to help me like this before.” Estrella replied, “Most people don’t take the time to understand your particular ways.” The princess looked at her thoughtfully and replied, “But YOU do everything the way I like.”


Estrella put down the brush. “Well…I just thought about how I’d feel if no one seemed to understand me and never asked why I felt the way I did. I wondered how it must be for a princess, who is expected to be a certain way but who, deep down, isn’t that way. Let’s face it, Jane, you aren’t a typical princess.”


“I suppose not,” sighed Jane, cocking her head to the side and looking at Estrella in the mirror. She smiled. “You’ve just given me a nickname!”


Estrella smiled gently and nodded, then said, “You need to go to dinner; you’re late!”


The princess jumped up and ran to the door, then ran back to pick up her kaleidoscope and slip it into her pocket. Estrella gave her a knowing smile, and the princess turned a bit pink before taking a deep breath, and threw her arms around her maid. “Thank you, my friend. You have made me so happy.” As she ran out the door to dinner, Estrella wiped away a tear and started picked up the princess’s discarded clothes.

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