Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
I sat in the back of the limousine, my eyes were locked on the window. The azure blue water of the sea lining Listonenia’s coast was visible from the cliff side we were on. It glittered beneath the sunlight; it would’ve acted as a mirror if the waves didn’t crinkle the surface. Boats with large white sails navigated the tides with ease. Fisherman cast out their nets, diligently working to harvest one of our country’s most bountiful resources. Pastel painted homes were embedded in the hill behind the harbor.
Listonenia’s vibrant and intense colors were a massive shift from the Massachusetts boarding school I had just left. It was a school for the performing arts, but it was hard to tell from first glance that it was filled to the brim with artist-types. The campus itself was composed of very traditional brick buildings with gothic architecture features for flair, each named after a famous American artist, actor, dancer, or musician. There was plenty of greenery, even woods on the east side of campus, but the only body of water was a modest lake. We were issued uniforms, but customization was an epidemic. It was practically an unwritten rule. The administration wanted to see how we’d take the tools we were given and make something all our own. That was the whole philosophy behind Sella Moora Academy. It was truly one of a kind and I loved it there.
Unlike my home banked in the Mediterranean Sea, I was just Milo. I had best friends that felt like family, classmates I could have a good time with, a girlfriend, and temporary freedom from the crown that was a heartbeat away from being mine. The title of Milo Ferdinando Giovanni De Luca, Crowned Prince of Listonenia, was a heavy one to carry. There was so many expectations applied to me from birth. My father was the eldest of three children. I was an only child. I was destined to be Listonenia’s heir and my family and the advisors equipped me with all of the trimmings of a refined royal. The most widely spoken language in Listonenia was English, but I spoke Italian and Greek fluently both because they were our neighbors and my mother was Greek; I was a classically trained pianist and dancer; I knew the names and uses of all utensils and fine china utilized during formal state dinners; sailing was a hobby of mine; and that’s just scratching the surface. The array of knowledge I was forced to absorb simply because they wanted to flaunt that it had been afforded to me was vast. I was born with a simple, yet complicated task – to remain on my pedestal, be brave enough not to look down, and smart enough not to walk off.
My grandfather died shortly after my fifteenth birthday. My father went from the responsible and respectable prince with an impressive military record to the ruler of a nation occupied my millions. He was no longer there to act as an extension of my grandparents. He was the one at the helm, calling the shots he’d worked his entire life retaining. Along with looking up to him, they looked over at me and waited to see me blossom into his replacement as their beloved crowned prince.
The microscope intensified the day my grandfather’s crown was transferred to my father’s head. I began to buckle beneath the pressure. I used recklessness to numb my fear of failure. It backfired dreadfully, starting days after my grandfather’s funeral. I had never dealt with death before. Everyone around me was discussing it like it was simply a business transaction, not a man’s life. The thought of them doing the same when my time came crept into my mind and I drank until everything buzzing around in my mind was silenced. That amount resulted in alcohol poisoning, my stomach being pumped, and my first negative national headline. My father didn’t hesitate to throw the legal book at me to assert his unbiased stance on breaking the law. I had a mark placed on my juvenile record and was sentenced to ten hours of community service. Already saddled with a dim reputation, I played into it for a say in my life. I messed around with a number of the girls that threw themselves at me because of my pedigree. I was labeled a womanizer. Regular attendance on the club scene got me bumped up to a party boy. Once there, I was approached by people who deserved that title. Every drug on the market was dangled in front of me. I selected what helped me accomplish my goal of forgetting. My performance at boarding school was effected. Suspecting drugs to be the issue, my bedroom was searched. Marijuana and pills were found in my sock drawer and I was expelled. That’s when my parents and their team of specialists came in and cleaned up my mess.
The public learned of my expulsion, but not of the reason. The advising team immediately set to work trying to calculate our next move. They wanted me away from bad influences and the contacts I had, so that ruled out the boarding schools within the country. Their first choice was the Junior Naval Academy, which was just off the coast. They administered a physical before admitting me. That’s when they learned of the severity of my astigmatism. I had worn glasses for years. The public never knew because of contacts. My vision was too poor for artillery training, which rendered me ineligible to attend military school and the military itself after university. It was a centuries’ long tradition that De Luca men served in the military, the branch of their choosing. I’d always aspired to go into the navy like my father. That plan dissolving as well made everyone around me lose hope that I’d ever amount to anything.
The head advisor developed a new course of action – sending me to a foreign country, hoping the culture shock, anonymity, and isolation would be enough to extinguish my blaze of destruction. Wilmer stumbled upon Sella Moora, a private boarding school in a remote and secluded area of Massachusetts. He had faith that I’d get in because of the cultured portion of my upbringing. I was better at playing the piano, but they felt the rigorous dancers’ schedule would provide much needed structure. I applied to the dance department and was accepted. I started the spring semester and finished the year relatively strong, gaining a sense of self I feared didn’t exist.
The problem was, with summer afoot, there were plenty of triggers that could cause me to jump off the bandwagon. I did everything I could to focus on the fact that one misstep meant I wouldn’t be permitted to go back to my safe haven. That’s why I was determined to be exactly what they wanted.
The media were camped outside the palace gates, waiting for me to slip up and create a fresh scandal. I took a deep breath. I rubbed my dampening palms on my pants. One of the guards opened my door.
“Good afternoon, Your Highness.” He greeted, bowing.
“Hello.” I replied with an easy smile.
I walked away from the car. I raised my hand, forced a smile, and waved to the crowd. I was soon ushered inside by one of the advisors. They feared I was gearing up for one of my legendary stunts. Seven advisors filled the foyer of the palace front entrance, all of them waiting with their personal tablets, ready to bombard me with the many different dimensions of my schedule.
“Welcome home, Milo.” Wilmer greeted with a warm smile, standing at the front of the pack, rightfully so as their leader.
“It looks the same as it did when I left.” I slid my hands into my pockets.
“Your grandmother and mother will approve of this.” He gestured to my outfit.
“That is why I’m torturing myself.”
A hint of a smirk crept onto his face. “You must’ve really liked America.”
I nodded. “The alternate reality is a nice change of pace.”
“Are you still dating Anna?”
“Yes. Do not ask or say what comes next. I am not engaging in a relationship with Osha. It would be uncomfortable. I have been with her sister.”
“Sometimes I feel like you try to put yourself in these sorts of situations.”
“I did, but I am done. You have my word.” I solemnly vowed.
“If this is your true tune, you’re going to hate us in several seconds.”
“I will?” I raised an eyebrow.
“First, I will be taking you to produce a urine sample and have your blood drawn.” Verna stepped forward.
“I am being drug tested? I am sober. I have been on a plane for fourteen hours. I am not a member of an international drug cartel. I am not skilled enough to get in or out of customs with drugs. ” I started following her. The others trailed behind.
“We need to know how long that has been the case.” She started tapping things into her tablet as we walked.
“I was under lock and key while I was here. When I was there, it would have been impossible for me to smoke and keep up in dance classes. Initial conditioning was hard enough because of what I had already done.”
“I knew dance was the department to go with.” Wilmer thought aloud.
I looked over at him. “That is sadistic. I could barely walk after my first couple of training sessions. I was wheezing so much my teacher thought I had asthma. She sent me to the nurse.”
“No one’s fault but your own. Have you been intimate with your girlfriend?” He segwayed without skipping a beat.
I sighed. “Can we not do this this time?”
“It’s not a fun question for me to ask. I rather not know. It’s for the records and further testing.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes.”
“Is she on birth control?”
“She has mentioned it before.”
“Does she know who you are?” He paused for a moment. “You won’t just have children. You’ll have heirs and heiresses to both the throne and your family’s private fortune. Is she aware?”
“Yes, but having a baby is the last thing she wants, believe me.” I growled.
“I’m not saying there is no chance she likes you for who you are. You simply need to be hyper-vigilant in ensuring her intentions are pure. I don’t want you to be taken advantage of.” He attempted to talk me down.
It was something that flickered through my mind often, whom was there for me and whom was there for who I was. I told Ryan, Finn, and Nick. Anna found out accidentally. She answered my phone without my permission. Verna answered and addressed me as “Your Highness”. I was left with no choice other than to explain why another woman was calling my phone and using royalty nouns to refer to me. It had major potential to turn into a cheating allegation if I asked her to let it go.
I submitted a sample of my urine and sat down in the chair to have my blood drawn. A latex tourniquet was tied around my forearm. I clenched my first and looked away, recognizing that I wasn’t the best with needles.
“With how often you’re in need of medical attention, you’d think you’d have mastered this by now.” The doctor said lightly to put me at ease.
I offered him a small smile. “I am fueled by adrenaline then. Waiting for a prick without a distraction is nerve-racking.”
“Still skateboarding?” He chuckled lightly. He swabbed the area with an alcohol toilette.
“The dose of danger is significantly tame in comparison to my past exploits.”
“As long as you wear your contacts or glasses. The stitches I had to put into your arm over spring holiday prove it’s dangerous for you to go without them.”
“Dangerous is a bit extreme – ow.” I cringed when he inserted the needle.
“Sorry, I thought sneaking up on you would help.” He pulled back the plunger slowly to extract blood.
“Not at all.”
“Tonight, you are having dinner with your entire family. Your wardrobe selections are hanging in your room.” Verna informed me as he worked.
“Tomorrow you have your first interview. I’ll fully brief you later, but for now visualize all the things you’ve missed about Listonenia as your talking points. You may have loved school, but this is your home. We need the citizens to know that you love it more than any other place in the world.” Gisele jumped in.
“Televised or print?” I asked.
“Print, par your grandmother’s request. She’s concerned about inappropriate comments or gestures. It’s much easier to edit an article than to discontinue a live feed.” She answered with precision and speed.
“Photos during or separate?”
“Separate shoot prior to the interview. You will be in the formal sitting room. The layout mock ups are lovely.”
“I’m sure they are. All of you are good at your jobs.” I shifted my eyes back to the vile of blood being drawn.
He added an empty vile, removing the full one and placing it beside the other one he took.
“Am I going to have any blood left?” I joked with the doctor.
“Yes, this is the last one. Many tests were ordered, Your Highness.”
I looked over at Wilmer pointedly. He looked up from his smartphone. “I get my orders from the top.”
“My father requested all of this?” I raised an eyebrow of disbelief.
“No, your mother. Queen Katalina wants a detailed report of how you are doing on all levels – substance consumption, nutrition, and STIs. You have an appointment with your therapist tomorrow after your interview to cover the mental portion of that evaluation.”
“She cannot converse with me? I can answer most of those questions myself.”
“She doesn’t feel like she can trust you.”
“Common thread here. I know I messed up. You have a better idea than anyone, Will; do I have any chance at redemption?”
“I’d say so. They haven’t brought up rearranging the heir order in months.”
“Stay under the radar. You will only be featured in press releases we had a hand in producing. You will not go out, painting the town red with Salvatore. He’s sixteen; he can legally drink with you now. I know he’s going to ask for your accompaniment. Say ‘no’. You have far more to lose.”
“All summer, it is going to be me, alone with them, is it not?”
“Your grandmother, father, and mother may not be your first choices for companionship, but it won’t be intolerable. There is always the option of alone time.”
“I appreciate your honesty.” I forced a smile.
I did my best to remain positive as they all took turns talking at me, instead of with me. I did my best to imagine what each of my friends were doing on their side of the world. It was a sad, but amusing internal game to play with myself.
I showered and changed into the suit set aside for me to wear to dinner. I glanced down at my phone and saw that I had no more time left to stall. I shoved my hands into my pockets and strolled downstairs to the formal dining room.
The door was opened for me by a servant. My entire family was already seated when I walked in. My father and grandmother were seated at the heads of the table, on opposite ends. My mother was on my father’s right. My uncle Robert was beside her, my aunt Francesca was beside him; their daughter Carlotta was beside her. My uncle Matteo across the table from his niece and beside his mother. His wife Olivia was beside him. Their youngest son Walter was beside her and Sal was seated beside the empty seat designated for me.
“Good evening.” I greeted politely as I sat down in my seat.
“Hello, Darling. We’re pleased you made it through an entire semester of school. We hear you did very well in America.” My mother replied, lifting her glass of wine to her ruby red lips.
“Yes, I made friends. You met three of them over spring holiday. I have a girlfriend now.” I replied, looking around at all the eyes on me.
“You have a what?” My grandmother asked in a harsh tone.
“Girlfriend. Her name is Anna-Lizbeth. She is an aspiring ballerina from Florida.” I tried to smooth things over with a smile.
“Is she a bella ragazza?” Sal glanced over at me.
I smirked. “Gorgeous.”
“You have to show me a picture. I need to see what level of girl you can get when they think you are normal.” He retorted lightly-heartedly.
It was meant as a joke, but it felt like a sucker punch to the chest. Never knowing where my worth lied kept me up most nights. It was the driving force behind my self-destruction.
“Later.” I picked up the glass of water in front of me.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed Walter, who was 11, and Carlotta, who was 8, and I were the only ones who weren’t served wine. Frustration slowly bubbled.
“What about Osha?” My grandmother asked.
“What about her?”
“You are scheduled to propose to her next summer. Some sort of relationship before then would be respectful and display your commitment to the arrangement.” She continued to push.
“I do not respect it, neither does she, aside from the prospect of owning her own crown. We detest each other.” I looked down at my empty plate.
She was well aware of my stance on an arranged marriage, just as all of them were. It felt like they were purposely trying to upset me each time they mentioned it or her.
“Your entanglement with Penelope was inappropriate.” My mother critiqued between sips of wine.
I looked over at my father for some sort of rescue. His eyes met mine for a moment before they fell to the table. I was the only person he couldn’t hold eye contact with. I knew it was rooted in disappointment. I was his only child and I made his legacy look bleak.
“Quel che è fatto, è fatto.” I concluded the conversation geared towards me by reminding them that I couldn’t change the past.
I fell silent after that. There was no point in talking. None of them were listening. I politely excused myself and retreated to my room. I changed out of my suit and into my swimming shorts. I walked through the palace barefoot with my phone in my hand. I went to the outdoor pool on the south lawn. It was a freshwater pool, instead of chlorine. It was better for the environment and much easier on hair and skin. The layout of the pool area coincided with the water’s naturalistic approach. It had a curved in shape. There was a waterslide in a rock formation and a grotto beneath a waterfall. Towels were draped on the lounge chairs. I turned on the pool lights and the sound system. I placed my phone and glasses on one of the chairs. When I tuned into a music station that suited what I’d be doing, I dove into the deep end. I relaxed and allowed myself to peacefully drift to the bottom. I swam up to the surface when my lungs were craving air. The burst of it allowed me to feel alive again. I set my sights on the far side of the pool and swam over there as hard and fast as I could. I did several laps that way, whizzing back and forth across the pool as aggressive rock music allowed me to work through my pent up anger.
I stopped swimming when I heard my phone ring. The ring tone, Girls Like You by The Naked and Famous, clued me in to the fact that it was someone I wanted to talk to. It fit her, just as all my ringtones fit their contacts.
I hoisted myself out of the pool with my arms. I padded over to where my phone was, dried my hands off on my towel, and sat down as I clicked the talk button.
“Hey, how are you?” I answered.
“Hi, you won’t believe who’s here in New York! Guess.” Anna gushed with excitement.
“I have no clue.” I wasn’t in the mood to guess.
“Boo, no fun! Lex, Kimber, and Heather! It’s like a mini SMA reunion. We’re going to have such a great time here this summer.”
“Why is it great that Alex is there?” I scoffed.
“I know him. We already have a clique and everyone else is scrambling around for someone to make small talk with. Weeks ahead of the curb already, Babe. I had a good feeling about this intensive.” She continued in an upbeat manner.
“Alex is already a nickname. Why does he need Lex too?”
“What, are your jealous?” She retorted almost teasingly.
“He is always flirting with you. You engage him.”
“It’s ONLY flirting. You’re the only one that gets to get with this.” She quipped flirtatiously.
I smirked. “Not any time soon. I am a whole ocean away.” I started to lighten up.
“Would you swim to me if you could?”
“Anywhere is better than here.” I admitted honestly, allowing my tone to darken.
“Liar. I’m sure it’s AMAZING over there. I know if I was a princ—“
“I am begging you, please don’t.”
“You’re so weird sometimes. Whatever. Oh! I should warn you now, I’m not going to be able to talk much after today. It’s all about moving in and socializing. Tomorrow we get to work.” She remained bubbly.
“Will you be there all summer?”
“Yep. I had to beg my parents for ages, but they finally came to their senses and let me come to the City of Dreams. Ugh, I love it here. I can’t wait to live here after graduation. Have you ever been to New York?”
I slicked back my hair with my free hand. “No, attending school was my first time in America.”
“Oh, you have to see it. Look it up on your computer or something. It’s great.”
“I will be sure to do that.” My voice was monotone as I wiped away water droplets that fell from my hair and into my eyes.
“If you’re going to be all boring, I’m going to go hang out with fun people. I called my boyfriend because I miss him. Do I need to send him pictures to remind him of why he should miss me too?”
“I can not have stuff like that on my phone. They are babysitting me harder than usual right now.”
“What about what’s already on there?” She purred seductively.
“I deleted each one as soon as you sent them. They monitor my phone relentlessly. They use the GPS on it to track me when I go out without notifying anyone.”
“I took those for nothing?” She cried in disbelief.
“I did not ask you to.”
“I wanted to, but it’s like insulting, like I’m not good enough for you. Do you think you’re better than me? That you can get someone hotter?” She asked accusingly.
“Absolutely not! I just –“ I sighed and buried my face in my hand. “I want a private private life. You do not know what it is like to be owned. I want this to be special, sacred.”
“I love you.” I could hear a huge smile in her voice.
My eyes bugged in shock. My mouth gaped open.
“I love you too…” I hesitantly stated, not wanting to hurt her feelings by remaining silent or telling the truth.
I liked her, but love was a strong word. I didn’t miss her the moment she was gone; it usually took a while. It was one of those relationships that made tons of sense on paper – people often said we looked good together, being in the same department allowed us to make time for each other, she was always the life of the party, and though she was sought after by so many people, I knew she was just as lost as I was. She needed to people to love her or fear her enough to act like they did to a pathological extent. If her looks were stripped away from her, she wouldn’t know who she was. The same could be said about my crown. I resented it the majority of the time, but too many people saw it as the reason I mattered. At the end of the day, I had no clue who the hell I was and all I wanted to do was run away. My life was as charmed as it could get; I resented myself for being unable to view it that way.
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.