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What’s up, Royals? Hot party at Ella’s tonight. Rumor has it that Ella’s going to try to catch her prince again, so watch out, Charming. She’s coming for you. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the elite, I’ll see you at the party at eight. If you’re not, well, don’t worry. I’ll do my queenly duties, and tell you what you missed tomorrow morning. Till then? xoxo, Elsa
You can do this, Belle. One action, no matter how small, can alter the course of your life. That’s what my dad always said. He also was fond of telling me that one day’s time could change my life, or that a storm could blow in at any second, and send a ship off course to something incredibly amazing, or something as equally horrifying, and no one would know that day was coming until it hit them in the knees and knocked them over. He was big on metaphors, and signs from above.
The storm coming my way right now was the type that would send me somewhere better. That change of weather? That storm coming my way tonight?
It would change my life.
Critically, I eyed my yellow sundress, white heels, and the long brown hair that fell around my shoulders. It was so and wavy, and to be honest, it was the one thing about myself I didn’t completely wish was different. It was a nondescript dark shade of brown, and my eyes matched it. Pretty much the best way to describe my life. Nondescript. But tonight would change that.
Tonight, a storm was brewing.
You see, earlier today while I waited for my lunch at Effy’s Café, near Ninety-Sixth and Columbus Ave, with my besties Snow Winter (I know, I know. Her mom was a hippy, what can I say?) and Ariel Coralson, the unthinkable happened. Adam “the Beast” Castle, the king of H.E.A. (my school) walked in. He took one look at me, smiled, and came over. People called him the Beast because he was a cold, callous, hard-to-catch ruler, and literally didn’t give a damn what people thought of him. But he actually came over to me. And smiled.
The king of H.E.A., the Beast, actually smiled at me.
If that wasn’t enough to send a girl running to the bathroom to fan her cheeks, then I didn’t know what was. At first, I was sure I’d been dreaming about the whole thing. I even pinched my thigh under the table just in case. I mean, why would the so-called king of H.E.A. want to be seen chatting it up with a nobody like me?
Adam was the most popular boy in school, and he wasn’t in my ranking. He was a Royal, while I was a Peasant…
But hold up. We’ll get back to that in a second.
“Hey. Will I see you at Ella’s tonight, Isabelle?” he’d asked me, shooting me a cocky smile that made my stomach do a cartwheel.
Of course, I wasn’t invited to Ella’s, as she was a Royal, and like I said, I was a Peasant. But if he, the king, was willing to overlook that for the time being, well, then, so could I. I’d glanced at Snow and Ariel, who were both frozen in place. Ariel sat still, holding her drink halfway to her mouth, and Snow’s cheeks had been bright pink as she wrung her napkin in her lap, and stared at Beast. Slowly, I’d opened my mouth, closed it, then opened it again. Then I’d pinched myself one more time for good measure. It hurt. So. Not a dream. “Uh… call me Belle.”
“Belle.” He’d smiled. “I like that. It has a nice ring to it.”
I’d laughed way too hard at the lame pun, but it was Adam frigging Castle. A girl had to allow herself a little bit of slack while in Beast’s presence. “Y—Yeah. But I wasn’t invited to the party, so…”
“So, come anyway.” He’d lifted a shoulder and checked his phone. It looked like a model of iPhone that wasn’t even out yet. Somehow, that hadn’t surprised me. Adam was as rich as he was hot. “Ella doesn’t keep track at the door, and she likes a full house more than she likes Royals. Besides, I said it was okay, so it is. See you there?”
I’d glanced at Ariel, who shook her head, and Snow, who nodded like a bobblehead glued to the dashboard of a MTA bus in Times Square. “Where? What time?” I’d asked.
Beast had told us Ella’s address, and then he’d walked out as quickly as he’d walked in, with a bag of food in his hand that I hadn’t even seen him order or pay for. Snow and Ariel spoke at the same time, both on opposite sides of the Should We or Shouldn’t We Crash a Royal Party debate, and I’d just sat there, staring at the door, processing the fact that not only did Adam come up and talk to me, but he’d known my name.
So now, here I was, ready to crash a Royal party I wasn’t invited to, with a bunch of people who more than likely didn’t know I existed, just because Beast smiled at me.
Oh. Right. Social classes.
So, I was a junior at H.E.A., an affluent private school that only the richest of New York City people could afford to send their kids to. Daddy was rich, Mother had been dead ever since I was old enough to remember, and we were all Royals, by school mascot name. But, Elsa, the head cheerleader, had decided since we were a Royal school, a hierarchy must be formed.
She, as queen of H.E.A. (a title she bestowed on herself, and no one was stupid enough to object to) had proceeded to put every single student at H.E.A. into a social class, and that was pretty much the end of it all. Beast was named the king of H.E.A., even though he and Elsa weren’t an item.
Prescott Charming, Ella Cinderson, Elsa, her sister Anna, Tianna, and Danae? They were all Royals, as well as a few other kids.
Then there were Ladies and Lords, those of the students who were cool, but not quite top-notch.
And… then there was me. I was securely placed in the Peasants. Peasants were either scholarship kids, new money, or just too smart to be put higher than with the geeks, where they belonged. We were unseen. Unheard. Unknown. We were nobody.
Tonight, though, I would change that. Beast had asked if I was coming to the party, and so help me God, I would show up for my king. I would catch myself a beast, tame him, and become a Royal by association. And once I was a Royal, and by default, the queen to Beast’s king, I would put an end to this stupid hierarchy thing that Elsa and Beast had put into institution. I would make sure that everyone was treated fairly, and that no one was tortured or left out like I had been all my life.
I would rule this school with a fairness H.E.A. hadn’t seen in years.
Straightening my shoulders, I nodded once at myself, turned away from the mirror, and grabbed my phone o my bed. Sirens sounded outside, and people yelled across the street at one another, but I tuned it all out as I read the latest H.E.A buzz, sent by the current queen herself. It said the party started at eight, so we better head out if we wanted to be fashionably late, instead of missing the whole thing.
As if on cue, Snow texted me, telling me to come out. I flipped my light off, walked out of my room, and closed the door.
When I came out into the living room, my dad took one look at my short yellow dress and lowered his book. “No.”
I walked over to him bent down, and kissed his cheek. “It’s finger length. I made sure.”
He frowned even more. “Let me see.”
Sighing dramatically, I straightened my arms and met his eyes. They were as brown as mine, and he had thinning hair that made his forehead look bigger than it actually was. His fingers had pen marks all over them; he’d been deep in planning mode for most of the day. He was a pharmaceutical scientist, and was happiest when creating things with his mind. He was one of the kindest men I knew, but also one of the strictest. Guess that went with being responsible for a teenage girl all on his own, though.
“See?” I said.
He pursed his lips, his forehead relaxing a little as he zeroed in on my hands, making sure the dress was finger- length. “All right. I suppose it’s long enough, then.”
“Thanks.” I sent a silent thank you to the man upstairs for giving me short fingers and arms, then started for the door. “Bye.”
“Where are you going, and with who?” he called out.
“A back-to-school party at Ella Cinderson’s place. All the other kids will be there, but I’m riding with Snow and Ariel. Snow has her mom’s car.”
“Does she have her parents’ permission to go to the party, too?”
I forced a smile and flexed my toes in my heels. They were already hurting my feet so that wasn’t a good sign, but they were sexy, so they stayed. I had to knock Beast onto his ass, and I wasn’t gonna do that in flats. It was a proven fact that heels made guys think about sex. Cosmo said so. “Yes, both of their parents know. Like I said, everyone is going. It’s an H.E.A. party. And before you ask, yes, there will probably be drinking happening, but not by me. I know better.”
He frowned. “Does Snow?”
“Of course she does.” My phone buzzed again. “Really, though, I have to go before the cops make Snow move.” Before he could stop me again, I waved at him, opened the door, and pretty much ran to the elevator, breathless with excitement. As I stepped inside the box, I whispered, “Here we go, Belle.”
My heart pounded, and my blood heated, and all I could see as I waited for the elevator to descend was Beast smiling at me in that coffee shop. is was it. It was my chance to change my life. To make something else out of what I’d been given. To rise from the life of a Peasant. Did he like being called Beast, or did he prefer Adam? What should I say to him, when I got there? Hey, Beast. Or: Sup, Adam.
Neither one of those sounded cool, but then again, I knew nothing about being cool, so that made sense. I skipped out of my building, and right up to Snow’s shiny black BMW. She beeped the horn playfully, and I peeked in to see if I was sitting in the front or the back tonight. Ariel’s wavy red hair was a flashing beacon as I glanced in. She smiled and waved at me from the backseat, and I did the same as I opened the door and slid in. “Hey.”
“You look hawt,” Snow said, her brown eyes wide. She had a headband in her short shoulder-length brown hair, and wore a white dress with small dark blue flowers on it that stopped a lot higher on her thighs than mine did. Her parents didn’t have a finger-length rule… or really, any rules at all. “Beast won’t know what hit him.”
“Or he won’t even notice me, and I’ll be doing this for nothing.” I winced and buckled as Snow pulled out onto the road. “On a scale of one to ten, how angry do you think Ella’s gonna be at us for crashing her party?”
“A million and ten,” Ariel muttered from the back. I craned my neck to see her. She wore pink lipstick, and blue eyeliner that matched her pretty eyes. “We’ll go from invisible, to enemy number one in two-point-two seconds at, the second we walk through that door.”
Snow snorted. “Being an enemy is better than being nothing.”
“Says a girl who has never been a Royal’s enemy.” Now I really looked at her. “Have you been a Royal’s enemy?”
“No.” She averted her face, staring out the window, and her cheeks almost matched her hair, even in the darkness. “Of course not.”
When she didn’t say anything else, I turned around, watching the buildings fly by. Snow and Ariel chatted about what we would do when we got there, and I listened halfheartedly, swiping my sweaty palms across my cotton dress.
When we passed Ralph Lauren, Snow turned left; I held my breath.
We pulled into the parking garage by Ella’s building, and I slouched into my seat, staring at myself in the reflection of the window. Was the red lipstick too much? Should I have worn my blue dress instead of the yellow? Should I have put my hair up? Should I be crashing Ella’s party? The answer to that last question was an unequivocal no…
But no one ever changed their life by playing it safe, did they?