The Princess and the Monster

July 1, 2011
By that_one_kid10 BRONZE, Dickinson, Texas
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that_one_kid10 BRONZE, Dickinson, Texas
2 articles 0 photos 16 comments

Favorite Quote:
Love? Above all things I believe in love. Love is like oxygen. Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love.~Moulin Rouge!


Author's note: I thought I'd try something more realistic and was inspired by the story of Aladdin...but I wanted an extra special twist.

“Milo James Lehmann, you face charges against the country of Spain and King Carlos Santiago III, the penalty for which is death. Thirteen counts of first-degree murder and confirmed intention to assassinate the heir to the throne. Do you have anything to say in your defense?” The burly officer glared expectantly at the offender. Such words would strike terror into the everyday human being, but what sat opposite Officer Morales was arguably far from human. Eyes of pale ice rose to meet his, and the criminal, to say the least, raised his thick, dark eyebrows in reply.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” he retorted, scooting closer to the table before resting his chin on a fist. Morales lifted a disinterested eyebrow, already closed to any remarks Milo would make. Like most of the king’s guard, Morales had learned over the years to simply trust his gut instinct, and from the moment Lehmann walked in the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. The guy made him nervous, and Morales didn’t like that. However, law stated that no matter how severely disturbed an individual appeared to be, he was obligated to treat them with a certain degree of courtesy. On days like this, he wondered if the job was worth it.

“Oh really? And what might that be?” he asked with a sarcastic lilt in his voice.

“It’s only twelve counts of murder. Miss Luiz didn’t die. She’s due to be released from the hospital. I remember the article in the newspaper, Morales,” Milo said with a neutral, pleasant smile. Well, Morales thought, it would be pleasant from anyone but him. On this guy, any smile is just creepy. No matter how uncomfortable Milo made him, though, Officer Morales refused to break his poker face. There was no way he’d let fear show in front of the equivalent of gum he might scrape off the bottom of his boot. As he watched, Milo’s “pleasant” smile became a knowing grin, still beneath a sheet of pleasantry.

“Do I make you uncomfortable, Officer Morales? The lower lid of your right eye has started to twitch slightly…and your pulse has quickened considerably.” His poker face had been blown, and Milo relished in the idea. Morales began to mildly panic at the extent of Milo’s inhumanity. There was just something so indescribably wrong with the way Milo leaned against the back of the metal chair, still as stone save for the movement of his lips. He was like a snake watching a mouse with interest, and Morales happened to be the mouse in uniform. Like a nervous tic, his hand involuntarily twitched towards the gun on his hip. Cool it, Morales, he told himself, you’ve got three guards behind the one way mirror in front of you and Lehmann is unarmed. Relax. His fingers eased away from the holster, and with a deep breath, he leaned against the uncomfortable back of the chair, imitating Milo to the best of his ability. Rolling the tension out of his shoulders, he exhaled in a whoosh, and eased a content smile across his face.

“You don’t care about the consequences of your actions, do you Lehmann? There’s something just not wired right up there...but don’t worry. When your autopsy is done, the doctors are under instruction to pay special attention to your intensely twisted brain.” As Morales expected, there was no reaction from his conversational partner. If he didn’t see him breathing, he wouldn’t believe Milo was anything more than a wax statue, set there to mock him. Alright, let’s get this over with, he thought in frustration. The quicker he got the perpetrator’s story, the quicker he could go home and be with his family.

“Lehmann, let’s just get this over and done with. You and I both know why we’re here, and the quicker I’m done interrogating you, the quicker I can get the hell away from you, you creeper,” he said abruptly. Milo gave a short bark of laughter, and, when he noticed Morales staring at him, motionless, began his story.

“You’d think a man cleaning a bloody machete as he walks down a crowded cobblestone street would raise eyebrows. Maybe I had an unnoticed talent of becoming invisible after a killing, or maybe Spain is just an ignorant country. I vote for the latter. It was October 23rd, and the pieces of flesh I’d left bleeding out in the alleyway had once been-“

“Rebecca Gonzales,” Morales interjected, “Yeah I was put on your case the day we found the crime scene.” Milo nodded slowly and continued.

“Personally I believe it wasn’t much of a loss. Rebecca wasn’t known for being particularly kind or virtuous,” he murmured, the corners of his mouth twitching into a grin as a vein in Morales’s forehead began to pulse angrily.

“Gonzales had four children,” he growled through gritted teeth.

“That she beat excessively, putting each in the hospital at least once. Her husband also sexually assaulted the youngest girl, yet no one ever provided enough evidence to put either away. I did you a favor by taking her off this earth and giving those children a chance to go to a better home.” Morales crossed his arms on the table.

“Is that why you did it? To help the children?” he asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice that Milo surely didn’t miss. Truthfully, Morales figured he’d butchered her just to see what her insides looked like

“Of course not. I wanted to see if her heart was as black and withered as she made it seem,” Milo replied, returning the sarcasm. Morales had to clench his fist tightly to keep it from noticeably shaking. The look in Milo’s eyes said that the previous statement wasn’t too far from the truth.

“As I was saying, I had just finished the day’s work and was on my way to run a few errands when I met the woman who would soon become my next job. I had just placed my machete inside my jacket when I happened to pass the town’s most popular brothel. It was only noon, but there she was, lounging on a bench in front of the entrance, an advertisement for the night’s show. Her legs went on forever, stemming from the frilled skirt of a flamenco dress that left little to the imagination. Endless waves of hair black as a raven’s wing framed a porcelain face of exceeding beauty. Her lips were red as a rose, and her almond eyes were chocolate windows into a soul as dark as night. Her cold cruelty was what sparked my interest, and her extremely misguiding appearance drew me to her. I had to know if there was a human hidden beneath that flawless beauty…or merely a siren.” Morales was unknowingly spellbound by this creature’s storytelling. As much as it frightened him, such a complex and alien mind was fascinating to behold. Milo still scared the bejeesus out of him, oh yes, but in a way he was like a scientific specimen that Morales felt compelled to study.

“Her name was Nina Cortez. I’m sure you remember her case file,” Milo began again, glancing up to meet Morales’s uneasy stare. As expected, Morales nodded slowly, lowering his gaze to the table. The very memory of that particular crime scene was still grisly enough to make his stomach lurch. Without 15 years on the police force, Morales would have never believed that a body could expel so much blood. That had been the cause of death-she had been skinned alive and bled to death. Her bloody carcass had been found hanging from a hook in the freezer of the local butcher shop. There had been a river of blood leading from the alley in back to where the body then hung, and it was almost as if buckets of red paint had been splashed across the walls. It seemed Nina put up a bit of a struggle.

“Officer Morales? Are you still listening?” Milo asked quietly, waving a hand in front of his face. Morales raised his gaze, taking a moment to glance past Milo into the one way mirror. His complexion had turned considerably pasty and grey, and he was visibly trembling. Attempting to regain his composure, he cleared his throat and replied, “You really did want to see what was beneath Nina’s skin, didn’t you?” Milo grinned.

“As with Miss Gonzales, I was sorely disappointed. You’d think the women I chose would be different on the inside than the rest of us. However, I was glad to remove that gorgeous exterior. Her muscles, bones, and organs were just as ugly as the rest of the world. Without her alluring looks, she was the same as the rest of us. However, I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?”

“Anyway, the moment I laid eyes on her, I saw right through her exterior and gazed upon a beautiful but cruel siren of the night. She gazed right back, and saw only the money in my pockets. Perfect, I thought to myself. She wouldn’t be hard to lure. She wasn’t, in case you’re wondering. Once I exuded interest, she was more than happy to play the game with hopes of hitting the jackpot, so to speak. It all started with possibly one of the cheesiest lines of my career.”

“’Are you the sideshow or the main event?’ I asked, approaching the bench she was stretched across. I made a movement as if to sit beside her, and after a moment’s pause, she smiled saucily at me and uncrossed her legs, assuring that I caught a flash of what lay beneath that minuscule skirt before placing her feet on the ground.”

“’You tell me, honey,’ she replied smartly, pulling a cigarette out of her dress and lighting it. She inhaled long and deep, and exhaled through her nostrils, twin jets of nicotine flooding the air. I looked up, flashing my best neutral smile at her.”

“’I’m betting you’re the grand prize that very few men have the skill to win.’ Her eyes narrowed a bit and the arch of one of her eyebrows rose a bit.”

“’You could say that. I’m the courtesan. The pricey courtesan, at that. It takes a very deep wallet to buy a night with me.’ I smiled.”

“’What may I call you?’ I asked softly, turning towards her a little more. She inhaled and exhaled again, this time blowing the smoke in my face.”

“’My name is Nina Cortez. But for the right price, you can call me anything you’d like. She was practically walking into this, she really was. But, I am a man who loves the chase, so I decided to draw it out, and cut the conversation rather short.”

“’Well, Nina,’ I said to her, rising and tipping my hat, ‘Until we meet again.’ She gave me a hint of a rather cynical smile, and twitched her fingers in an almost confused miniscule wave. I tucked my hands into my pockets and left for the market in the central square, ideas swirling in my head. This siren had successfully cast her spell on me, but I had something different in mind than her usual “victim”. It promised to be an interesting week.”

“When I reached the central square, it was packed with people and bustling with business as usual. If I remember correctly, it was the first day of the Fall Festival, and it seemed as if the entire nation had fit themselves in front of the palace for the day. In fact, there were so many people that all you could really see was the palace rising high above their heads. The rest of my day had recently been freed up, so I decided to participate in one of my favorite hobbies.” Morales raised an eyebrow.

“You have…hobbies,” he said quietly, more to himself than to Milo. Milo nodded.

“People-watching,” he said simply. Morales’s mouth formed a small “o” of understanding. His thoughts had been more along the lines of boats in bottles or a musical instrument…which would have been much stranger.

“I made my way over to an (amazingly enough) empty bench and sat down. There were plenty of strange people to study, frantically pushing and shoving their way through the throngs of bodies. I noticed visitors from all over Europe, and heard dialects from Britain and France, Poland and Belgium. I watched a man and woman argue in two completely different languages and what I think might have been a streetwalker from France arguing with a shopkeeper. A noticeably irritable bird swooped down and pecked a grape out of a little boy’s hand. I was watching it fly back to its home in a nearby tree when I noticed movement in the top east window of the palace.”

“The princess?” Morales interjected. Milo dropped his gaze and smirked.

“The princess,” he confirmed. “Of course, all I saw of her then was a shapely silhouette high in a castle window. She resided so far above the hustle and bustle of daily life…Later I began to wonder what could have made her want to leave such a calm world of regal splendor.”

You might be asking yourself why someone would wish to abandon a peaceful life of regal splendor. If so, I have to ask you what you could possibly know about the life of royalty. It may seem that we live the charmed life, gifted with a nation of Spaniards looking to us for guidance, hundreds of royal guards at our back, and dozens of servants waiting to fulfill our slightest whim. If so, think a little harder about that. My father, King Carlos Santiago III, made decisions that affected thousands of people daily. Since I was his only child, it would soon become my job, unless I wanted to forfeit the kingdom that had been ruled by my family line for centuries to the Baron and Baroness, who had been greedily eyeing the throne since my birth (and gender) were announced. No pressure, of course. Plus, all of the people constantly around with the servants and the royal guards gave us zero privacy. I’ve had more than ten boyfriends literally run screaming from me because of my personal guard, Juan. He was a big, beefy guy, not very well known for being understanding. He was always ordered to watch me from a distance, and from 20 feet or so, a passionate kiss could closely resemble a mugging. Juan was more of an “attack first, ask questions later” sort of guy. Needless to say that guy didn’t call me after that.

Today was the beginning of the Fall Festival, and I awoke to complete chaos in the central square. I’d escaped Juan the night before and ridden with some of my friends to one of our favorite night clubs that he hadn’t gotten us thrown out of. He never took kindly to strange men grinding on me. Needless to say, we milked the opportunity for all it was worth and by looking at my bedside clock, I figured that I had barely gotten two hours of sleep. Oh how I wished that my super thick curtains blocked out sound as well as light! I groaned and whined at the monstrously unfair day I was suddenly having.

“Rough night?” I screamed and curled up in the fetal position to protect my vital organs. After a few seconds free of hideous slaughter, I peeked out from under my arm to find that it was only Juan. Embarrassment turned my face bright red, and I scowled at him before pulling my goose down comforter over my head and tucking my knees up against my chest in the fetal position. Someone had turned off the heater, and I couldn’t feel my toes because of it. Before I let myself fall back into the mercifully silent folds of sleep, I remembered that Juan was still waiting for a response. I groaned loud enough for him to hear and put my head under my pillow as if the fluffy mass of goose down would protect me from the wall of anger that was my bodyguard. A feather suddenly poked me in the eye as if to tell me otherwise. I yelped in discomfort and grabbed at the thing scratching my cornea. I decided to just go ahead and face the music, so I pulled the comforter down just a smidge to where I could peer over the top of it to look him in the eyes.

“You mad?” I asked nearly inaudibly, gripping the blanket tightly enough to push out a few feathers, just in case I needed to throw it over my head for protection. He sighed in exasperation.
“Does it matter?” he asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorjamb. Nope, he wasn’t mad. Just more than a little bit annoyed. However, I’d been doing this for years, so he’d grown used to it for the most part. I could claim responsibility for the pair of grey patches in his hair above his ears. As childish as it was, I was sort of proud of them. Made me feel like I accomplished something. Needless to say, he didn’t share my pride.
Reassuring myself that he wasn’t going to murder me today, I released my death grip on the comforter and sat up in bed. Feeling sort of ashamed of myself, I held a hand to the developing headache in my left temple to hear Juan laugh.
“I guess it was a noche aspera, huh?” he laughed, approaching the bed and sitting beside me. I hated when he did this. It made me feel even more guilty. Because I almost never got to see my father, what with his job of running an entire country and all, Juan had always taken his place as a stand in dad when I needed one. I loved my father-always have. He just never had the ability to be there quite when I needed him. So, Juan was just like his understudy that happened to take part in the majority of the performances. I never liked to sneak out on him. If only he wasn’t so darn protective! Then again, that is what my father hired him for.
“Ugh,” I groaned, pulling my knees up to my chest and resting my chin on them, “why can’t you just yell and scream at me like a bad parent? Makes me feel less guilty.” He sighed and shook his head.
“Why can’t you just groan like a normal person and not actually say the word ‘ugh’? Makes me less inclined to laugh at you, mija,” he replied, leaning against the headboard and crossing his arms again. That seemed to be something all bodyguards were good at, crossing their arms. Made it a telltale sign when you were looking for one. I placed my elbow on my knee and rested my face against the palm of my hand.
“Touche.”

The day seemed much brighter a few minutes later when I looked out the bay windows of the palace over a breakfast made by the hands of God. My father had made absolutely sure to hire the confirmed best chefs in the world, offering them a salary they couldn’t refuse to ensure their employment. Most of them didn’t work except on special occasions, and in those times, we’d fly them over from whatever country they lived in so they could cook for us, usually a dinner party or something like that. We only had one live in chef, and he insisted on me calling him Uncle Jude, practically from birth. Yet another stand in father when he wasn’t busy working or womanizing. Even though I was almost positive I’d tasted every dish in his arsenal, he insisted on acting like he was still working in his gourmet restaurant back in London. Not sure why, but then again I never did understand the English. I spoke English, but not their brand. He still had a habit of losing me in the middle of a sentence.
“Good mornin’, Miss Amaris! ‘Ow are we feelin’ today?” Now you see why I called him English, not British. British always made me think of the UK people with those odd, airy accents that speak very proper English. Uncle Jude was more of a slang talker. I sometimes had to remind him to speak a bit more clearly, otherwise I had no idea what he was talking about. Most people had a hard time believing he was the top chef in the world, judging by just the way he talked.
I smiled my best morning smile. No, I was not a morning person, and he knew that. He just liked trying to convert me into one.
“Oh bien, tio Jude,” I replied, stifling a yawn with the back of my hand. I was hoping to leave it at that when Juan interjected, “She had a late night.” I silently cursed him. If Juan was bad about nights out, Uncle Jude was worse. His pale eyes widened a bit, and as his light eyebrows lifted up towards his hairline, I saw where the train of thought was heading. It wasn’t anywhere good. But, he smiled pleasantly, and I thought he hadn’t heard Juan correctly…until he pulled out his favorite kitchen knife and began cleaning it with his apron. Oh dear, I thought uneasily.
“So…” I braced myself for the worst. “What’s ‘is name?” I gulped audibly, thankful there really wasn’t a particular man to give a name for. If Juan was an overprotective father, Uncle Jude was the terrifying one that happened to be cleaning his shotgun on the front porch when the boyfriend came to pick his daughter up. Now you see why it was always so hard for me to keep a boyfriend. Then again, they usually had the right to worry. My entire rebellious stage had consisted of me dating the scum of the earth, merely vying for my father’s attention. Once I got it, I realized not all attention was good attention and upped my standards quite a bit. I convinced myself that I had turned over a new leaf. The only issue was getting everyone else to believe it too. Needless to say, my “parents” were always looming over me, waiting to find something to disapprove of in my significant other. The fact had kept me single for quite some time. I decided to stay under the radar until I found someone that lived up to their expectations-which would probably never happen.
“Mija? Jude, maybe we should wait to question her until she’s fully conscious,” Juan joked. I shook my head, rubbing some sleep out of my eyes.
“Amazing as it may sound, there was no man last night. It was just me, Sierra, and Mila. Just a girls’ night,” I muttered, yawning wide enough to make my eyes water. The Englishman and the Spaniard shared a glance that said all too much. They didn’t believe a word. Oh well. The point was that I was telling the truth, whether they believed me or not. I shrugged, resting my chin in my hand and struggling not to fall asleep at the table. Uncle Jude noticed, and, clapping his hands together, cleared his throat, probably to announce the morning’s specialty, aka my breakfast.
“Alright, girls and…well, girl,” he chuckled, tickled by his own humor, “today’s specialty is the traditional English breakfast. Rashers, bubble and squeak, corned beef hash, scones, kippers, mushrooms, potato waffles, toast, and a tottie scone.” I stared at him blankly.
Bubble and squeak? I thought to myself, a bit befuddled. The English language was full of slang that just didn’t sound appetizing. However, the plate in front of me was making my mouth water, so without any further distractions, I dug in like every good little princess should. Shoulders back, small bites, etc. Never gained weight because by the time I got half the food in me, most of it had already been digested so I was full. Made me a wimpy eater.

Most people didn’t know this, but for as long as anyone privy to it can remember, my family has had a team to make our family look good. Literally. I’m talking makeup artists, hairstylists, and personal trainers. As pathetic and self absorbed as that sounded, it’s a fact that the world has an image set in their head as to what royalty should look like. Kings and princes were well groomed and physically fit. Queens and princesses were beautiful, never messy, never trashy. I learned to leave my appearance up to my team, therefore ignoring any significance it may have had to my day. It left room for more important things on my plate, which was good considering sooner or later I’d have to fit the problems of an entire country on it.
When I woke up, I suffered from bedhead like the rest of the world. I had bad morning breath, sleep in my eyes, and loose sweat pants disheveled from sleep. Before I left the house, I was obligated to seek out my hair and makeup artists, Veronique and Michel. Both originally from France, they were two of the highest rated runway artists of the past ten years. It didn’t matter much to me, but it was pretty impressive to see their work on supermodels. Some of it was a bit out there, but with me, they knew to always tone it down. Didn’t want a princess that resembled a clown, did they?
“Where to today, Miss Amaris?” Veronique asked, her voice thick with her native accent. Veronique was my hairstylist. She was a petite woman, shorter than me by a good four inches, and I barely made average height for womankind. Being a hairstylist, her short locks were chopped to where they stuck out in all directions-pixielike. Being one of the least conventional people I knew, she’d also streaked her nearly black hair with pink and blue. I envied her because she knew that I’d always wanted to color bits of my hair like cotton candy, but you know, being the image for an entire country and all, hair coloring was slightly frowned upon when it came to me. Veronique had a routine of asking me where I was going before styling my hair so that she could settle upon an appropriate look. I preferred a simple ponytail, but as she always reminded me, hairstyling was not my forte.
“I thought I’d just visit the Fall Festival. Make my appearance, you know. Plus I put some paintings in the market, and I want to see how they’re selling,” I explained. She nodded as she began to pull my hair into a topknot. A little formal for my taste, but I stayed silent. Never criticize the woman holding all of your hair if you’re tender headed. It tended to result in a lot of hair-pulling. She proceeded to ask me if I had any other plans for today and other small talk to fill the silence one experiences while getting their hair done. She had practice, so it wasn’t as awkward as your first conversation with a random hairstylist. She twisted and pulled, but very gently, as she spoke.
“Where’s Michel?” I asked, making eye contact with her in the mirror. Usually she and Michel worked on me together so as to save time, but I hadn’t been able to find Michel this morning. It may have been a pretty big castle, but I could walk it blindfolded, so I knew for a fact that she was nowhere inside.

“She went out for some supplies early this morning. She should be back any minute,” she explained. As if on cue, Michel entered through the door, three bags of makeup in hand. She was always prepared for any possible makeup situation I could throw at her.

Michel was the perfect subject for Supermodels 101. She was Veronique’s exact opposite, tall and stoic, and slightly boyish in build. Where Veronique was simply adorable, Michel was almost intimidating in more ways than one. Her icy stare could make the toughest men shrink away, but her perfect blonde waves and full lips usually pursed with a look resembling disapproval kept hopeful suitors at bay, afraid to approach. She was one of those people you had to be very brave to befriend.

“Good morning! I just had to pick up some different shades of eye shadow that I just knew you would love!” she exclaimed, making excited hand gestures.

Yep, she was scary. At least till she opened her mouth.

“Oh really? What color is it?” I asked in response. She did pick some interesting colors for me. She mimed turning a key in a lock on her mouth and throwing the key away. I shrugged. I’d find out soon enough. While Veronique pinned some of my curls in place, Michel set up all of her makeup kits, and, after asking me what my plans were for the day, started my daily transformation.

“Amaris, it would have been a good idea to get dressed before coming down here. You know you’re going to have to be extra careful getting dressed after we’re done,” Michel scolded, gently brushing concealer under my eyes. I sighed with a smile. If Juan and Uncle Jude were my stand in fathers, Veronique and Michel were my stand in mothers. They were very good at the job; they knew every bit of my social life that I was willing to share with anyone, and when I was in desperate need of advice, we usually discussed it over my morning routine. Being a princess, I was never really punished, but they did scold me from time to time, and I treated it like punishment. I never would have dreamed of losing their trust, so I stayed as far from trouble as possible. They were the closest friends I had, and the closest to a mother I’d ever known.

I didn’t tell them the real reason I was going to the Fall Festival. The real reason was something I didn’t really want to discuss. Today was the eighteenth anniversary of my mother’s death, and in her honor, the city was holding a memorial at the opening of the festival. I was sure that everyone in the castle knew this, but, knowing it was a sensitive subject for me, they didn’t mention it.

“What’s on your mind, mon ami? You seem so very distant this morning,” Veronique muttered, brushing some curls from my eyes as Michel brushed a three tone green onto my closed eyelids. I inhaled deeply, opening my eyes and raising my gaze to meet hers in the mirror.

“Nothing,” I answered, “I just didn’t get much sleep last night.” I raised my hand to rub my eyes, a reflex to my words, and Michel swatted it lightly before I smeared my makeup. She and Veronique exchanged a glance. Michel broke the glance to meet my eyes as she opened my mascara.

“What’s his name?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh no. Not you too,” I groaned.

“Oh come on, Amaris. You always tell us about your boyfriends. We promise not to tell Juan or Jude,” Veronique added. I shook my head.

“There’s no guy. I was just out with Mila and Sierra.”

“Oh really? How are they doing?”

“Fine. Mila’s got a new man.”

“Doesn’t she always?” Michel muttered. I chuckled, leaning back in my chair.

“Amaris, whatever happened to Embry? He was such a nice boy,” Veronique suddenly asked. The question was uncomfortable enough to make me squirm, but not for any reason she needed to know.

“Things just didn’t work out between us,” I said simply. Truth was, he was a total creep that wanted a simple combination of the key to my pants and the kingdom with no relationship attached. Story of my life.

“Voila! There we are. Pretty as ever.” Michel moved aside so I could see my reflection in the mirror. She’d played up the red specks in my eyes so they stood out intensely against my pale skin. Being in the royal family kept my bloodline pure Spanish, and put vivid contrast between my eyes and skin. Since my hair was jet black, it made my skin look all the paler. Dark colors were usually out of the question. They made me look painfully washed out and so pale that I believed people sometimes averted their eyes when I walked by. Veronique had curled and twisted my hair in such a way that it seemed only half as long as it really was and framed my face without looking too formal. The women were magicians, I tell you. I smiled at my reflection with lips the perfect shade of rose for my skin and stood up.

“You two are incredible. What would I do without you?” I said with a grin, hugging them both in turn. They exchanged a knowing glance.

“You’d go out in public the way you came in here,” Michel answered with a smile. I shrugged sheepishly.

“You know me all too well.”



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