For Astrid

“Stop fussing with your hair, CJ. Your vanity will be the end of you, mark my words.”

Cal resisted the temptation to roll his eyes, for his mother’s constant doting left him feeling like he was a small child again and not the sixteen year old man of the house, and to act as such would do him no favors now. 

“Every young lady tonight will be unable to tear their eyes from you. I have no doubt that your future wife- your future queen– will be among them,” she said, turning a heel and heading to the door. “You must take this seriously.”

He caught her eye once more in the mirror as she glanced back to him with her usual stern, straight face. Her eyes, however, betrayed the confidence that she clung to with her voice. Cal forced a reassuring smile and a nod, and she reluctantly slipped out his chamber.

Cal knew the queen’s fears. For the first time since his father’s murder in the garden two years ago, guests would be welcomed back into the palace for his nameday celebration. He couldn’t help shuddering at the vision of his father, tall and fair as he, splayed among the lush garden plants, his neck bruised and those icy blue eyes lifeless. A garden hose was hidden under the blooms, innocently, but most in the Verdant Kingdom believed it to be the murder weapon.

All male servants, guards, and groundskeepers had been tirelessly interviewed before all were replaced. Cal himself had been interviewed if only because his quarters overlooked the garden. His mother still occasionally probed for more details of the night of the murder, but Cal never had more to add. He had always been a sound sleeper, he would remind her again and again.

As for the palace, it was effectively shut down and heavily guarded…until tonight. 

Unnerved, Cal shook away the memory of that terrible night and retrained his thoughts. It didn’t matter how many girls would be there tonight hoping for a dance with him, he thought as he ran his hands just one more time through his sweeping platinum hair. Tonight would only be about Astrid. 

What will she think of me now, he mused, throwing on his jacket and adjusting the cuffs. Cal was easily 6 inches taller than the last time Astrid had seen him, with a sharp jawline and a smile that made all of the maids trip over one another just to serve him an extra piece of bread or fill his glass. 

Astrid would not be disappointed to see that the cherubic boy he had once been was no longer. He could imagine them now, King Calvin and Queen Astrid, sharing the court, he fair and her golden, the perfect royal couple.

Pity, he thought, that it has taken so long to make this moment happen. With his mother, he would have to think out his eradication plan a bit more carefully. He smiled to himself in the mirror one last time and turned toward the door.


Awake, I sit up, hair matted with sweat. I gasp, like his hands are around my throat all over again. The past doesn’t like to stay in the past, it seems.

It always feels so real. But it’s just my mind, tangled inside. He is gone forever.

Wait. Something moved in the shadows.