Day 217 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about something that is not as perfect as it seems.
Shannon: “I wish I had your life,” my friend revealed.
“What? No you don’t,” I quickly brushed her off.
“Are you kidding? Who wouldn’t want your life? You basically won the lottery of lives. You have the perfect husband, house, job…should I go on, because I can,” she smiled.
I shook my head, trying to understand how she could feel that way when I had seen such a different side of everything. “However perfect those things look, they’re not perfect. Nothing is. Each of those things takes a lot of work, and I get really frustrated with them sometimes. Don’t get me wrong I love my life, but I honestly don’t think you’d choose to trade if you knew all the details.”
She smirked, and let out a laugh. “Is it bad that I’m happy about that?”
I shrugged, “Nah, perfect is boring.” I placed my hand on my chest dramatically, “I’m proud of my problems.”
Erin: “There is no way you two are braking up.”
“Well we are,” I assured her.
“How is that even possible. You always looked so happy in all your posts,” she sounded so upset. Like our lack of perfection was a letdown of all of her hopes and dreams. That was precisely the problem though.
In trying to convince the whole world of our flawless relationship we just kept finding more flaws our self. When we saw the beach picture all Adam could remember the 156 attempts that took up our time over swimming and paddle boarding. The picture I took on our anniversary led to a fight about living in the moment and not for our “couple brand.” All the happy pictures were laced in unhappy memories and all the unhappy memories faded due to them not being document. All we could see was doom. Only strangers believed in us anymore.
“It was all a facade,” and toward the end it was.
Reveal the imperfect.
Lauren was a gentle, patient teacher in the ways of the mundane world, though she did grow weary of my many concerns left over from a life of royalty, I could tell. In the weeks that we spent together, I learned how to clean my own clothing, mend a hole in any material, cook menial amounts of food for myself, grow carrots and other hearty vegetables, barter with merchants, and other peasant things. For most in our kingdom, the royal family was a cesspool of guilty parties doing whatever suited them best, dirty money spent on extravagance that our people couldn’t begin to imagine, and haughty egos. Truthfully, I was shocked by some of the things our people told me when they didn’t know a royal was present; though, I suppose they wouldn’t have recognized me without my stunning attire.
On the sixteenth evening, as we were scurrying through the muddy streets to pay off a debt before it was too late, I forgot myself entirely and spoke in a hushed voice to one of the castle guards, “Hey, ya got’ta le’me pay off ‘er tax righ’ now, you’ve got’ta.” After I caught my breath and the guard conversed with his fellows on our proposal, eventually deciding that we could pay interest and they’d forget the matter, I realized I’d lost my proper vocabulary. “Lauren, did I just sound like you right there?” I asked her behind my damp cloak, watching the grin break across her dirty face.
“Willow, you did indeed sound like a peasant. I suppose yer one of us now, eh?” she replied, passing the coins through the gates and dashing back into the laneway between the sweet-smelling bakery and the butcher whose hut always smelled strongly of rancid blood. We huddled there for a moment, each contemplating ideas the other could never understand, before we started the long and arduous journey back to our own room.
As the rain poured down the thatched roofs and into puddles set into the dirt ground, there was the occasional passerby hunched over in the night, but not many. This late in the night, rats shot past us in the dark and animals bleated about their uncomfortable situation while the people were asleep in their huts. Rain made the trek home tougher as the mud sucked at our soft-soled shoes and the curtains that fell obscured our vision and sense of direction. Before long, we were at the town center, on the other side of the city, and the storm continued to rage against our thread-bare cloaks. We hunched over and headed back into the alleyways in the direction we thought was correct.
If it took us half the night to get home, I would say we were lucky, as the storm had finally begun to clear off and the lamp at our corner was burning low. Slouching through the front door, Lauren hung our cloaks in front of the open window as she hunted around for the panels to keep the rain out. Everything on one side of the room, including our food, was sopping with frigid rainwater while the rest merely smelled of must and mud. Silently, we stripped our damp clothing off and pulled on relatively clean nightdresses to lay awake in bed for hours.
Lauren’s bed was tough, compressed mud blocks with moldy hay feathered on the top that made it more uncomfortable than if it had just been mud. Squeezed onto the tiny frame with one light blanket to share between us, we lay shivering for hours as we waited for the sun to rise. Save the occasional whispered question, there was just silence until the church bell tolled painfully loud around the corner and the sun began its slow climb above the mountains. As the streams of light snuck under the window panels to bring us warmth, roosters and other animals about awoke and called out to each other with deaf ears.
I rolled onto the floor and stretched my sore back as Lauren yawned and rubbed her eyes. This morning we had to bring the carrots and peas to market otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to eat for the week, so we both dressed quickly and hustled outside. Up and down the street, townspeople were starting their mornings heading to work, market or on quests unknown; every year there seemed a few optimistic idiots who thought they could win a princess or golden egg. Stray cats prowled about with their fur in mats so severe they couldn’t move properly between people’s feet and pounced on unsuspecting mice and gnats alike. Everywhere you looked there were stray feathers and ill people.
Even if it wasn’t luxurious and we were barely surviving, I felt more alive and rested better than I ever had in the castle. Though I was irritated that my parents hadn’t even announced that I was missing, I had decided to not care about my old life, as this was all that really mattered anyway. I had a wonderful friend, clothing on my back, a roof over my head and food on the table; what more could I ask for?
Lauren and I wandered through knots of people selling goods just as everyone was getting up, making sure to charge as high a price as possible since their customers weren’t fully awake yet. Some days we got up before the crack of dawn, too, and sold at exorbitant prices, but it never sat well in my heart that anyone could take advantage of someone’s state of mind like that, so we didn’t do it often. As we passed an egg merchant, I counted out a few coins to buy something for breakfast, though I knew we didn’t have quite enough to spare on eggs. Instead of splurging on eggs, I bought some more rations of rice and some fresh herbs for our days’ meals.
Up ahead, I could see my dark-haired roommate’s head bobbing through the crowd on the way to our garden plot just outside the townsite; they yielded the best crops, but every morning and afternoon we had to trek out to tend it. Suddenly, as I stepped between a very tall, haggard man, and a skin-and-bones woman, the world opened up before me into a lovely countryside with nary a soul on the road other than Lauren. She was standing, bathed in golden sunlight, at the edge of the trail taking a bite of a luscious apple and grinning like the world hadn’t dealt her a fool’s hand. As I reached her, she turned her wondering eyes on me and offered the apple with her calloused hand. Taking it, I reveled in the sweet juice that dribbled down my chin.
“It was Jared, that farm’and who sells apples and potatoes ev’ry ot’er mornin’; ‘e’s sweet on me so ‘e gave me an apple for free,” she cooed, smacking her lips decidedly and started back on the road. “O’ course, we’re gon’na ‘ave ta sell more ter make up fer las’ night, bu’ we can do tha’ pretty easy, eh?” Hurrying to catch up to her, I mumbled with my mouth full of another apple bite as I handed it back to her with hungry eyes. Sometimes I missed having everything I could ever want, but I’d never tasted fruit so sweet as when I had to work my hands to the bone to pay for it.
Chuckling to myself, I thought aloud, “Do ya think he’ll court ya?” I knew that was more something the old me would be interested in, but Lauren was the only soul who knew who I was, and I couldn’t bear to lose her.
With an offhand wave, she dismissed the idea completely, “Nah, ‘e’s got a good job. I’d hold ‘im back.” After that, we continued in relative silence until we reached the public garden, hung a right and ended up on our little plot surrounded by everyone else’ little plots of veg and fruit. There weren’t many people working their gardens yet, but those that were, looked half-dead as the blazing light hit them.
We studiously got to work carting water from the well down the road, plucking insidious weeds and finding the ripest veg to take to market. Every day we worked here for a while before heading back into town to help with the seamstress and launder clothing some didn’t have time for. In the afternoons I would return to tend the garden again while Lauren continued with the clothing, as she had always wanted to do when she was my maid. She had a real knack for getting stains out of soiled dresses and mending holes so you wouldn’t know they weren’t brand new.
When the day was coming to a close, we met back at home to have some rice and chat idly about the day’s mundane events, but as we finished up our food, there was a commotion from the town center. “What’s that?” I asked, peering out the door in the direction of the noise and was greeted by faces in doors and windows up and down our street. Shrugging her shoulders, Lauren pushed past me and headed out into the chilly evening with nothing but her dress on. I grabbed our now-dry cloaks and followed her into the river of bodies heading toward the noise in a mass of tattered clothing and emaciated limbs.
We continued through the crush of people, hoods protecting us from the cold, and were deposited on the outskirts of the town center. Sitting on his palomino was one of the royal knights who was tasked with announcements and taxes, seeming to be waiting for something important to begin his speech. After a few moments of nervous laughter sweeping through the crowd, he cleared his throat, unrolled a scroll and shouted over the heads of the townspeople, “Hear ye, hear ye! This is an announcement directed at Princess Willow, who has been missing for several weeks along with her maidservant Lauren. If the princess does not return to the castle by sunrise, she shall be cast out into the peasants forever. That is all!”
Conversation ran through the crowd like a plague as I shrunk down as small as I could get and started back toward our hut. My mind raced with the decision that had to be made, but I couldn’t think straight with the crush of bodies pressing in on me.
When I was standing in front of our house, with the sun dying behind me and the commotion of an entire town returning to be, I slipped silently inside and sat in the dark staring at the wall. Lauren appeared in the doorway after a long wait, disheveled and pale-faced as if she’d just seen the ghost of her mother again. Shutting the door behind her, she quietly sat and put her hand on my shoulder in a loving sort of way I found very calming, and the silence stretched on in our room.
“Willow, may I speak freely?” she asked in the dark with servant-like meekness.
Nodding, I whispered, “O’ course.”
“’Ell, I know you’ve ‘ad an enlight’ning time ‘ere, bu’ yer mean’ ter be the princess,” Lauren spoke with content, rubbing her hand in circles on my back. After a minute, she chuckled and sighed, “Besides, ya ‘ated cleanin’ clothes an’ ne’er havin’ ‘nough ter eat an’ havin’ ter be cold all the time an’ I know you’ve been mis’rable,” she stated finally.
It took me a while to come to terms with that because I really wanted to have the courage and down-to-earth quality of a true leader, but I knew Lauren was right; I was, and would always be, a princess. “You are correct, Lauren. I suppose this was not as perfect as I wanted it to be,” I spoke regally again, having dropped the unnatural cadence the peasants used.
Shedding the rags I’d been wearing, I slipped back into my royal garments, which were in perfect condition thanks to Lauren’s abilities, and the two of us headed to the castle in the middle of the night.
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“August,” Nikki says hesitantly.
“Yes, Nikki?” August asks, finishing clean up in the dojo.
Nikki sighs, then stands straighter, letting her voice project, “I’ve been thinking about the team.”
“…Well… And I’ve been thinking about the recent events.”
August stops putting stuff away, “…How so?”
Nikki huffs, “You realize we can’t do this forever, right?”
August stands up, “People need protectors.”
“Yes, I know-”
“And enhanced, gifted people need protectors.”
“I know. But, August, who said that has to be us?”
August stares at Nikki for a minute, but she doesn’t waver, “You wanted to do this, Nikki. You wanted part of the team, to do some good.”
“I know,” Nikki says slowly, “but I realize now that it will be more difficult-”
“We’re up to the challenge,” August brushes off.
“And there’s the future.” Nikki stresses, “What if Finn wants to study art? What if Jacey wants to go study animals abroad in Africa or India? What about Josh and college? What if Rick wants to join an engineering company, or even start his own?”
August stops working again, listening from his crouch on the floor.
“…They can’t do that stuff and the Novelty,” Nikki states.
August looks over his shoulder, “Is there something you want to do, Nikki?”
Nikki takes a deep breath, “I just… When looking into the future, I don’t see myself helping people with a mask.”
If August was telling the truth, he feels the same. The world is different, and while the government won’t be aiming to help the smaller occurrences, and the enhanced of the world will be more exposed, August feels overwhelmed by it all.
August stands up, “The good times were… good weren’t they?”
Nikki rolls her eyes, “You still have communication issues.”
“I can’t remember many fights we all had.”
“They weren’t perfect times, August,” Nikki states, “we did fight. Almost to each others throats. But… yeah, it was good.”
“Though it won’t last forever,” August states, “it isn’t over yet.”
Nikki nods, “I know.”