Not dead! tbh im only still going on this story to prove to myself that i can finish it. Also i am rather fond of these characters.

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Kalee Myers, 3, Hansport

"Someone looks happy," Kalee commented dryly as Cal plopped down on his favorite armchair, eyes dreamy and far away. "What, did Everett trip on the stairs?"

"Hm? No, no, nothing of the sort." His smile widened as he rested his chin on his hand. "I guess I'm just in a good mood."
"Really," she said, eyebrows raised as she put her book down. "And you can't think of anything that might have have led to this moment?"

He paused, eyes flickering down to his shoes, and then his ears flushed tellingly, even as he fidgeting with the hem of his shirt.

"You do know," Kalee realized triumphantly. "Spill, Callum. What's got you looking like you're on cloud nine?"

"Let's go outside," he blurted out instead of answering, the flush spreading to his neck. "It's such a nice day, let's just–let's go outside for a while."

"No, wait, I'm not letting you go that easy," Kalee said, crossing her arms. "Tell me what you're so giddy about!"

"I will," he promised earnestly, jade eyes shining. "Outside."

They had a brief staring contest but Cal's lashes fluttered momentarily and Kalee's eyes darted away quickly.

"Fine," she groaned. "But this is not what I signed up for. Our friendship is built upon the fact that neither of us are 'outside people', Cal. I thought I could trust you."
"Come on, Kalee," he said, grabbing her hand casually. "I promise I won't make you run or anything."

She tried to think of something witty to say, but the sensation of his warm hand wrapped around hers sort of short-circuited her brain, and she ended up just mumbling a soft, "Okay."

"Okay," he agreed, grinning. Subsequently, Kalee's heart tripped and she had to remind herself to breathe deeply before she made a fool of herself.

With their hands swinging between them, they made their way outside the library to the backdoor. She slipped through the door he held open for her, and breathed in deeply as the smell of something floral and sweet swept over them.

"Where are we going?" she asked as Cal tugged her to the right. "Aren't the gardens over to the left?"
"We're not going to the gardens," he replied. "Not the official one, anyway."

That just left her with more questions, but she bit her tongue and decided to be patient. They went down a winding little dirt path through some slender birch trees, with Cal pulling her impatiently along every time she slowed to admire the golden leaves piled up at their bases. The rich fall colors of the dying trees painted the landscape in vibrant red, oranges, and yellows that left Kalee breathless.

"Not much is blooming during this time of year," Cal commented as the path widened and funneled through a wrought iron gate. She winced at the squeal of the hinges. "But luckily I've got a couple perennials back here."

They were standing in a simple little garden, bursting with colors, and confined by a twisting metal fence. Bunches of different flowers rustled in the crisp breeze; she recognized a few daisies and lilies, as well as some chrysanthemums, but there were many more she couldn't name. A small shed in the corner contained a watering can, terra-cotta pots, shears, and fertilizer from what she could see, and there was a small spigot next to it. Although the garden was beautiful, it had a rustic, shabby sort of quality to it; in sharp contrast with the typically immaculate nature of everything else on palace grounds. She could definitely tell that this place had never seen the touch of a landscaper.

"Very Frances Hodgson Burnett of you," she said, smiling. "I hope you're not going to tell me that your father is hiding your crippled brother in a secret room next."

Cal laughed, "No, I don't think so. At least, it would be news to me. Do you like it?"

She softened at the hopeful shine in those sea-green eyes, and nodded. "It's really, really beautiful. It's like a little pocket of paradise. Do you oversee the whole thing alone?"

"Yes. Not always. Before, when Everett and I were closer, we used to come here together. That was quite a while ago, though. Now I'm sort of the only person that knows about this place," Cal explained, gazing proudly at the fruits of his labor. "You should see it during spring, I get all the poppies to bloom. Summer is a great time for the roses too."

"Maybe I'll be around to see that," Kalee remarked mostly to herself.

"What was that?"

"Nothing. Tell me what these plants are, I'm afraid I don't know jack about flowers." She smiled sheepishly.

His face lit up and he bounced on the balls of his feet enthusiastically. "Right, lilies, daisies and chrysanthemum you probably know. Over here, these yellow bunches here are goldenrod." He darted to another area. "These pink ones are called stonecrop, aren't they lovely?" He knelt down next to a bed of red flowers. "And these gorgeous things are called sneezeweed."

Kalee burst into surprised laughter. "Sneezeweed?"

"Yes. Silly name, but aren't they just a treat to look at?" Cal said, glowing as he beamed up at her.

"Absolutely," she agreed, coming to sit next to him. "All of this is really pretty. It's incredible to managed to do all this by yourself."

"Ah, well," he said bashfully. "I try. You should have seen it back when Everett and I were young, it was even nicer than this. We'd spend hours here in the summertime."

"So," Kalee said after letting the silence steep for a moment. "Do you want to tell me why you came in today looking like you just pet a hundred puppies?"

At once, his clear expression clouded with dreamy fondness, and he sighed. Even so, he mumbled, "Maybe I shouldn't say. It's sort of dumb."

"Tell me," she insisted, squeezing his knee. "I'm here to listen, Cal."

Cal giggled to himself, a contagious, giddy sound that had the corners of her lips tugging upward. "You promise you won't tell anyone?"

As if she had anyone to tell–not as though that was the point. "Of course not."

He hesitated, teeth catching on his bottom lip, and then gave into his wide grin. "Okay. Do you–um–do you know Lady Cecilia?"

Huh.

Her smile faded slowly, like the setting sun. "I know of her."

"I was talking to her a–uh, a couple days ago." His fingers twisted in the grass and pulled it up from the ground. "She–do you think she's nice? I think she's really nice."

Kalee took a breath to respond, but he was already barreling onward. So that wasn't a question he wanted an answer to then. The thought filled her with irrational irritation that she quickly forced down.

"I don't know, I've just sort of never met anyone like her before," Cal said, releasing the loose grass he'd pulled up. "I think I really like her."

"From one conversation?" Kalee asked, trying to keep her voice neutral. She was being skeptical, reasonable, like a normal person. Normal people would question this, too. Not because she had any personal bias in this fact. "You have a crush on her after one conversation?"

"I mean. Kind of? I don't know, I've never really like, had crushes? There weren't like a lot of girls in the castle," Cal mumbled, tugging his curls over his eyes. "I guess I just really want to talk to her again, you know?"

"Oh." Her heart did a sad little deflating thing that sort of stole her breath for a second. After a moment, she pressed her lips together and sat up a little straighter. You're not bothered, you're not bothered, you're not bothered, get it together Kalee, you're fine.

"Why, do you not like her?" Cal asked curiously, peering up at her.

"No, no, I'm just–she seems nice. I'm sure whatever you think of her is accurate, you're a good judge of character," Kalee said, smiling thinly. "Are you going to do anything about it?"
He sighed. "I don't know. Probably not. I can't really infringe on my brother's Selection. But–I don't know. While she's here, I'll try to at least be her friend. That's better than nothing, right?"

Not really, she wanted to tell him. Being friends with someone you want to be more with, it's not much better. It's a taunting, cruel thing, having them so close and yet so far out of reach. Some small part of her wished she'd never met Cal in that library that day, because this was too much. Watching his eyes light up at some other girl, talking about Cecelia like she was golden and wonderful, well–

Kalee wondered if this was what it felt like to get her heart broken.

...

Crown Prince Everett Schreave

"My strategy is to get all the hard ones out of the way first," Everett explained to a skeptical Cal. "Just weed out the ones I already can tell I might not get on with."

"Still, you might be going a little too hard," Cal said, head tilted. "How many dates have you been on now?"

"Uh, like seven? Let's see, there was Bella, Fallon, Felicity, Taylor, Lena, and Eleanor. So that's six."

"Well, even so, Lady Nova doesn't exactly seem like someone easy to swallow."
"More like a choking hazard," Everett agreed. "I thought I'd ask her what she wanted to do, but she didn't even wait for that. She had her maid deliver a letter to Roseburn on what she wanted to do."

"Roseburn?"

"My valet." Everett pinned him with a frown. "You didn't know Roseburn's name?"

"I'm sure your valet's name was Leon," Cal retorted. "I'm almost certain, I just spoke with him the other day."

Everett scoffed. "Don't be silly. Roseburn, come in here a moment!"

The copper-haired man stepped in, grey eyes clear and neutral as he bowed low. "Yes sir?"

"You see?" Everett said triumphantly. "He responded to it."

"Leon," Cal spoke up. "Would you mind proving my point?"

Roseburn's eyes widened and a pink flush rose to his cheeks. "Ah, yes, Your Highness."

Everett put up his palms in the universal sign to stop. "Wait, what? Roseburn, what is your name? Full name."

"Your Highness, my full name is Julian Leonidas Roseburn," the valet said in a controlled voice, looking straight forward.

Cal laughed aloud. "You didn't know your own valet's name? Leon, how long have you been in Everett's service?"

Roseburn's jaw worked almost as if he was fighting a smile. "Nearly four years now, Your Highness."

"You're dismissed," Everett grumbled. Roseburn bowed again, turned on his heel, and left without another word, but there was a distinct twinkle in his steely eyes.

"Well, that is quite embarrassing for you," Cal pointed out rather gleefully. "Four years, huh, Everett?"

"Oh, shut up," Everett said, rolling his eyes. "What's got you so close and personal with the staff anyway?"

"Mm, I don't know. Met someone who reminded me that I should pay closer attention to the people who help us every day," Cal said, shrugging. "Amazing how ignorant we tend to be about them. Or sorry. How ignorant you can be, isn't that right, Everett?"

Everett cocked a fist mockingly. "Listen, you little shit, do you want to hear about Nova's letter or not?"

Cal waved for him to go on, still grinning widely.

"She said, and I quote, 'it is part of my duty as a participant to engage with you in a romantic fashion. As I find nothing more romantic than bettering the community, I hope you will join me at the Angeles City Soup Kitchen on any available Tuesday at two o'clock'," Everett recited, snorting. "She basically organized the whole thing by herself."

"Good for her," Cal shrugged, folding his arms. "Taking initiative, that's very professional of her."

"That's the thing, though. Doesn't that whole thing make it sound like a business transaction?" Everett pointed out. "I mean, it's supposed to be romantic. And by the way, can we talk about that for a second? The fact that she honest-to-god said that she found nothing more romantic that 'bettering the community'?"

"Good quality in a queen, you have to admit," Cal remarked. "Even if she doesn't sugar-coat anything, she is quite clear about her intentions and interests. That's rather refreshing, in my opinion."

"It's off-putting is what it is," Everett grumbled, tousling his hair.

"I think it just bothers you because everyone else in our lives says nothing but sweet nice things to us," Cal mused, steepling his fingers. "It's unusual to you that she always tells you exactly what she thinks of you."

Everett's brow knitted. "Of course it bothers me, it's completely unnatural for someone to be so upfront. She's borderline rude."

"I think she might be the reality check you need," Cal said sagely. "You're liable to get too big in the head if someone doesn't check you, and Nova clearly isn't cowed by your title. You're just afraid she's going to roast you."
"Not an unfounded fear," Everett replied wryly. "I suppose I better get going. Something tells me she doesn't take well to tardiness."

Cal chuckled. "Look at that. Not even one date and she's already got you running to and fro to meet her demands."

"Shove it where the sun don't shine, Callum," Everett advised acidly, before sidling out and letting the door slam shut behind him.

...

"You're nearly late," Nova said thinly, eyebrows arched as Everett approached.

"'Nearly' being the operative word there," he replied snarkily. "Anyway, I'm a prince, lest you forget. So everyone else is early if I will it so."

She sneered haughtily. "I truly hope you're joking."

"I am, but technically I don't have to be," Everett answered, jaw tightening. "Off to a good start, we are, don't you think?"

"And who's fault might that be?" Nova fired back, piercing eyes narrowed.

Christ Almighty grant him patience.

"You really have no sense of self-preservation, do you?" Everett remarked. "You realize I could dismiss you right now?"

"And have the public find out that you dismissed the girl that wanted to take you to volunteer for charity? Media would have a field day with that, don't you think? So much to pick from," Nova responded casually. "Is it because you hate poor people or strong, independent women?"

Fuck. She was smart. He hadn't even thought about that.

He ground his teeth, inhaling and exhaling slowly to keep his temper. "Lady Nova, have I told you that you look lovely today?"

Nova looked over at him, glittering eyes slitted in suspicion. "Thank you," she responded stiffly. "Likewise."

Oh, now he was onto something. She seemed at a loss of how to respond to compliments or anything remotely superficially kind. Motivation, that was the thing. She didn't know how to respond to kindness without motivation.

His smile widened. "And I truly thank you for your eloquently delivered arguments, you always bring a fascinating argument to the table. I look forward to your thoughts every time we talk."

Her eye twitched. "That's very kind of you to say." Then she cleared her throat sort of awkwardly and glanced to the side. "We should be going, Your Highness."

"Please, call me Everett," he insisted smugly. "I admire your meticulous punctuality greatly."

"Thank you," she said through gritted teeth. Her eyes flickered away briefly. "–Everett."

Check and mate. He offered his elbow to her. "Shall we?"

Nova accepted with a light scoff and surprisingly allowed him to lead her to the elevator that descended to the royal garage. Everett, one; Nova, zero.

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