CHAPTER 37

Monday, February 10th

Princess Carolynn Schreave

It was almost with a sense of disbelief that I look in the mirror this afternoon.

This was my first-last date. Or, I suppose my last-first date, depending on which way one would look at it. After these three dates, these three days, I would have to…marry someone. Marry one of my selected. I guess I always knew that this was coming, that eventually I would have to get married to one of them, but it was something I had always shoved to the back corner of my mind. I never thought about it. I just ignored it, I pretended it didn't exist, but I couldn't do that anymore.

Anyway, I looked good. I had, well, Jenna had, spent forty minutes tying the front sections on my hair back, curling it, and then applying countless hair products. My dark jeans were tucked into heeled boots, and the yellow off the shoulder top was recently described as Spring's hottest new item.

I thought that if I looked like someone in control, maybe I would start to feel like it.

Divesh was supposed to meet me in the foyer for our date. Under different circumstances, I would have allowed him to come up to my room, even though the third floor was technically off-limits to selected. I figured it would be bad form to have three of them upstairs and then send two home in a few days.

Divesh is fiddling with his hands when I come to greet him. He looks less nervous than he usually does, which is probably a good sign. Instead of his usual panic-stricken mood, he seems excited, which, to be honest, makes me a bit more excited. I guess I'm the nervous one today. How the tables have turned.

"Hey," I say, meeting him.

"Carrie," he answers, grinning broadly, "I'm really excited for today. I don't think I've ever said that before about a date."

"What? You've never been excited to go on a date with me before?"

"No, no," he protests quickly, "I've always been, it's just usually really scary and I guess now…it's less scary. Since I know you better and all." Divesh explains, tucking his hands into the pockets of his pants.

"Yeah…I get that." I nod my head, "So, you want to know what we're doing today?" I ask as he offers me his arm.

"Sure. I'm sure whatever it is, it'll be really fun."

"We're going mini golfing!" I tell him. "It's themed after Cinderella, you know, the fairytale?"

"Yeah. I know Cinderella." Divesh answers, "I haven't been mini golfing since I was a kid."

"Are you good at it?" I ask.

"I mean, I'm okay," Divesh admits sheepishly. "I'm okay at most sports, like I wouldn't be going to the golfing olympics or anything."

"Oh," I say, frowning slightly at the revelation.

"What's wrong?"

"I like to win. I thought you would be pretty bad at it," I grin a little, crossing my arms. "I guess being a super spy means you have to be pretty athletic."

"Yeah, kinda a job requirement." Divesh answers, holding out an arm for me. I take it, "I'm really not that good at golf though. Football-uh, soccer, that I'm pretty good at, but I haven't done golf since I was a kid."

"Ah. So what I'm hearing is that you'll let me win?" I ask hopefully. He opens the door of the limo for me and I slide in, Divesh sitting next to me. With a brief nod, the chauffeur starts driving, not interrupting our conversation,

"Sure, I was planning on it." Divesh agrees easily, not looking too put out at the idea of having to participate in self-sabotage.

"That's very sweet of you."

"Thanks. I just..I don't know. Never mind," Divesh answers, flushing slightly.

"That was a compliment, you know."

"I know, I know. I'm just not always the best at accepting compliments. I'm trying to work on it, I promise." Divesh says hastily, his eyes turning towards the seat belt instead of my face. It's actually very endearing.

"It's okay. Besides, I like to be the one getting the compliments. And, as you might have noticed, I'm very good at receiving them." I smile, patting his arm.

"Yeah, you are. Not in a bad way, just that you're not self-conscious the way I am."

"Oh. Well, why are you so self-conscious sometimes? There has to be a reason. Nothing comes from nowhere, you know." I ask, genuinely curious towards the answer. Maybe I could help Divesh in exchange for him letting me win. That seemed like a fair trade for me since despite his very modest description of his skills, I'm getting the feeling that if I was someone else he would definitely crush me at mini golf. Or anything else requiring a lot of physical activity if we're being honest here.

"I…I think it's because I'm scared to…fail," Divesh says quietly. "I was always planning on going to medical school, and then I failed, and I guess I don't really want to…repeat that? Does that make sense?" He asks, still looking at the ground.

"Yeah. It actually does." I say, "I don't want to fail either. I hate failing."

"But you don't fail." Divesh says, "You always know what you're doing and it seems to work out for the most part."

"I know. I'm pretty amazing, but if I'm being honest, I was pretty nervous for this date too." I tell him, "Probably a lot more nervous than you are, or were."

"Really?" Divesh asks, "But, why? You do this all the time, and you must know…" He doesn't finish his question, "Aren't we the ones who have to impress you?"

"Technically sure, but I don't do well with change. I don't like it, and I don't like having to make decisions about that change. It's scary to me. I was nervous because after these dates, I have to choose someone for the rest of my life. That's a scary thing to think about."

Divesh nods, seeming to understand, "Yeah. It does sound scary. I don't know if I would have been able to do it."

"Well, I made it this far. I think I can make it to the end. If I don't my Mom is going to kill me for wasting her time, so I might as well pick a husband. Lesser of two evils."

"That's a nice way to think about it," Divesh says quietly. Suddenly, he presses his nose to the window, looking out, "Is that the mini golf course?"

I follow his gaze, more than happy to be done with this gloomy, reflecting, having to talk about myself, topic. I do like to talk about myself, in fact, it's one of my favorite topics, but not in such a personal, vulnerable way.

"I think so. It looks so cool. Look at the giant pumpkin." I say, pointing towards a bright orange round object that protrudes the skyline. In reality, it doesn't look much like a pumpkin. More like a giant orange ball, but I get the meaning. No one who ever liked a mini golf course ever described it as anything less than cheesy.

"I like that," Divesh echoes, following my gaze.

A guard escorts us to the ticket window, where the lady is more than happy to secure the entire course for us. After waiting almost an hour for everyone to finish, frankly, that was pretty annoying to me, Divesh and I go to pick up our clubs and golf balls.

Divesh puts one in his pocket before taking another one from the basket, "I saw that," I tell him.

"Someone is going to hit their ball into the lake. It'll be better than having to walk all the way back here to get a new one." Divesh tells me, smiling at my observation.

"Whatever you say, ball thief."

"I'm not a thief! I'll give it back. It's just to make it easier on ourselves." Divesh protests, looking seconds away from dropping the extra ball back into the basket.

"I'm just kidding. I would make you walk back anyway to get it, so I guess it's really your choice."

Divesh turns out to be really good at mini golf. Like, really good. Of course, he never actually gets the ball in, which I find pretty funny. Almost every hole, his first shot is great, which is probably him actually trying, and then he seems content to miss in various ways until I finally get my ball into the hole.

As for me, well, I'm certainly winning, though even I'm not vain enough to believe that it was purely based on merit. Divesh would have completely bodied me at this game if he was actually trying, but it's pretty nice of him to let me win. I don't think I would do that for anyone, not even my ten year old cousin.

The last hole is set where you have to hit the ball across a replica of Cinderella's glass slipper, into the castle, in which it should come out the other side.

"This looks hard," I complain, dropping my ball on the ground.

"It shouldn't be that bad, just hit it straight and it should ricochet off the bottom of the heel into the castle," Divesh tells me. He looks over at my setup. "One second, Carrie."

"What? I thought I was ready to go."

He moves my ball slightly to my left, and twists my body so I'm hitting it more of an angle. "I thought you said to hit it straight." I complain, not moving from the position he set up for me.

"I did, but in the nicest way possible, if you want to get a hole in one, I think it would be better for you to hit it like this."

"Are you saying I'm not skilled enough to get a hole in one like how you wanted to do it?" I whine.

"No. No. I didn't say that. I just think it might be slightly easier for you to hit it like this. You know, since you are winning and all. Might as well finish with a bang." Divesh recovers quickly, shaking his head. "Hit it pretty hard. The hole is pretty far away," he advises.

"If you say so." I agree, looking at the angle he set up for me. Then, I pull my club back and hit it, watching as it gets very, very close to the hole.

Divesh walks over, and subtly nudges the ball with the toe of his shoe. It goes in.

"I did it!" I cheer, going over to hug him. "Thank you for helping me. I might of, but probably couldn't. have done it without you."

"Of course. If you need help, just ask. I love helping you." Divesh says, returning the hug.

I look at him, "You love helping me?" I ask.

"Well, I love you." Divesh says, looking down. "I know this isn't the most romantic spot to tell you, and there's no flowers or chocolates or anything, but I really love you Carrie."

My heart swells, "You do?" I ask, looking at him hopefully.

"Yeah. You're funny, and sweet, and you can sometimes be mean, but it's always in a good way. I just really love you Carrie."

I smile, "That's really nice of you to say." I can't tell him that I love him back. It wouldn't be fair. Not when I'm going on a date with another guy tomorrow. As much as I want to, I can't. Maybe someday, maybe, but not today. I can't give him the answer that he wants today.

Still, I can do this.

I pull his head to mine, kissing him. Somewhere in the back, I can hear the guard that was following us awwing at the sight, and I know that the camera crew were probably snapping hundreds of photos, but I don't care.

I'm just happy to be here, kissing him.


The next of my dates is with Sebastian. His was a lot easier to come up with than Divesh's was, probably because I know what he likes, and I like it too. With Divesh, I probably had a lucky guess with the mini golf, but I was not about to sit through some presentation on germs or whatever else it is that Divesh is passionate about.

But I will most definitely sit through a presentation on modern fashion. I love clothes, though perhaps, I would be a bit more excited if I actually got to wear the clothes.

For Bas I also meet him in the foyer, very similar to Divesh. It's hard to be creative when planning three back-to-back dates. Cut me some slack.

As we settle into the limo, Bas turns to me, "So what is this fashion exhibit? I looked it up, but I didn't really see much about it."

"It's opening today. I had to pull some strings to get them to let us do a private first viewing instead of one with all the journalists and stuff." I explain.

"Was that hard?" Bas asks.

I giggle, "Not really. People are pretty happy to do things for you when you're the crown princess." I say, shrugging slightly.

"That's really nice. I wish people did things for me sometimes."

"Don't they?" I ask, actually curious, "You're a Reddlyn-Monroe."

Bas laughs, 'I don't think being a Reddlyn-Monroe is enough to get a major fashion house to delay the opening of their new exhibit, but I guess I could always try."

"Yeah. The worst they would do is say no, right?" I ask.

"It would also be really humiliating and my mom would probably be mad at me for flaunting my last name like that, but aside from that, yeah. I guess nothing bad would happen." Bas agrees, though he doesn't seem to be fully on board with the plan of him trying to get people to give him the same respect that they do me. Which is understandable, but a bit disappointing.

"I bet it would be really funny." I say.

"What? When they say no?" Bas asks.

"Yeah. That would be hilarious. I would pay good money to see that unfold live." I tell him.

"No. No way. We are not doing that." Bas says, shaking his head quickly. "That's embarrassing, and I don't want to be insulted. Anyway, so, what is this fashion exhibit?" He asks again, actually seeming really curious as to what the answer is.

"I mean. I don't exactly know. I heard it was a look at the future of fashion, but there were no reviews to read of it, and I didn't ask that many questions over the phone so… yeah. I'm really not sure. I hope it's not aliens. I hate when they do those stupid holographic clothes and say it's futuristic."

"Maybe aliens like to wear holographic clothes." Bas suggests.

"People seem to think so. I wonder where that came from. Like who decided that in space, and in the future, we're all going to have colored hair and wear only silver clothing."

"I don't know." Bas answers, 'That's a good question though. I might use it as a research paper for college. I think my professors would like it."

"What, stealing my ideas now are we? That's not very honest of you." I chastise him quickly, shaking my head.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to. It just sounds really interesting. If you're okay with it could I use it?" Bas asks, he looks so hopeful, and his voice took on such an inspired quality, that I actually can't bring myself to say no. It's adorable, how curious he looks. This boy really loves fashion, and not in the way I do, where I like to dress up in pretty clothes and pretend that I'm a supermodel. He loves it in a way where he wants to know everything about it; the history, the future, what makes things sell. This is obviously what he wants to do in the world.

"Yeah. Of course. If you really like it, then do it." I say, momentarily feeling bad for almost denying him his dreams. It passes when the chauffeur comes to open the door for us.

"This is it." I say, clutching his hand as we walk inside. The space is really just one giant, cavernous room. The floor, walls, and ceilings are covered with projections that show a city scene with women wearing dresses that might have been fashionable about ten years ago.

"Your Highness, Sir, if you would take a seat," A man in a dark suit says, coming over to us. "The presentation is about forty-fiove minutes long, and we encourage getting up to look around and interact with the digital set, but the beginning is more or less a video."

Bas looks at him, interested, "What do you mean interacting with the digital set?"

"Well, all of these walls have motion sensors allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the history." The man explains. "Not to give away too much, but I think you'll enjoy it.

Bas whistles softly, "Awesome."

"One more thing," the man says quietly, "Your Highness, if I could ask that any pictures taken not be published until tomorrow," he says nodding towards the camera crew, "We have press coming later and they have the rights to the first coverage of it."

"Oh, of course. That shouldn't be an issue. You can go speak with the camera crew, I'm sure they'll be more helpful than me."

With that, Bas and I take a seat in the center of the room. It feels weird, to be just two people in a room that's obviously supposed to fit at least two hundred. Bas puts his arm around me, as we watch the beginning film.

It's actually very interesting. The film begins about ten years ago, showing Los Angeles change, the fashion around it too. Bas is obviously much more interested in it than I am, which I can't blame him for. This is what he studies, but I find it cool too. That might be a first for what is meant to be an educational film.

Like the interactive part much better though. You get to design your own avatar, picking from a almost endless amount of fashion choices, and then send them around the room on a catwalk as others get to rate the. I assume that was where it would be more fun to be doing it with other people, but it's still nice to do it, even if it's just with Bas.

"Did you just give my outfit a two?" Basks asks, coming to stand behind me.

"No."

"You did. I saw it on the screen."

"Oh come on Bas. It's nothing personal, I just really like mine."

Bas chuckles, "Your's is very nice."

"You like it?"

"I do like it." he answers, patting my back.

"Why thank you. I spent all of seven minutes on it." I place my hands on my hips, facing him proudly.

At that moment, whether it be some combination of fate, luck, or perhaps the cameramen trying to get some clever shots of us, the room switches from a bustling city scene to a starry night.

"This is really cool." I say, looking around, "Maybe make this your final project."

"Would you come see it?" Bas asks hopefully.

"Of course I would. I would see whatever you made. I'm sure it would be great. You're very talented Bas." I tell him, rubbing his arm.

Bas blushes, "You really think so?"

"Of course I do. Do people not tell you that?"

"People do. Lots of people do, but it's people's whose job it is to tell my I'm talented. My moms, I mean they have to, and my professors, well, I'm paying them, and even some of the designers I work with, it's an internship. They're not going to yell at the intern. It's just, it's nice to have someone as brutally honest as you tell me that I'm talented."

"Brutally honest," I muse. "I don't think anyone ever described me as that before."

"Well, it's nice. I much rather someone who tells me the truth than sugarcoat it to protect my feelings." Bas says, pushing a lock of hair out of my face.

Similar to Divesh, and somehow, so different, I kiss Bas too. I know that these photos are going to be everywhere, the side by side comparison. Maybe I need to see them too. To decide who the best one for me is. Maybe this is a good thing, kissing two guys in two days.

Maybe I shouldn't be doing this.

But I don't care.

I'm under a starry sky, albeit artificial, with a handsome boy. Guilt and headlines be damned


My final date to end a very stressful week is with Nishav. I figured that this date would probably be the least amount of pressure. He made it very clear his feelings towards me were never going to be enough for marriage. Which was…not exactly great. To be honest, if it wouldn't cause some sort of media sensation and break a few hundred years of tradition, I probably wouldn't have bothered with a date for him. But everyone else got one, so Nishav needs one too.

For the first time, I actually get to the foyer before my date. I don't want to be late, I don't think Nishav would appreciate that much, and I know that he is going to come exactly on time.

Sure enough, at exactly twelve pm, Nishav comes down the stairs, looking mildly surprised to see me there. "Carolynn, I thought I would be the first one here," he says, acknowledging me.

"Well, I figured I might as well come down first. You're nothing if not punctual."

"Yes, I try to be. I find it very irritating when people are late," Nishav tells me, offering me an arm as we walk to the limo. I take it, if only for the camera crew.

"Good thing I'm early then." I say, grinning, pleased with myself that I managed to figure that one out. I know Nishav doesn't want to marry me, but maybe I could still talk to him when this was all over. I didn't have many friends growing up, and he would probably be the closest I could get from the selection. I burned most of my bridges with all of the others.

"That's very nice of you to consider me." Nishav coughs, looking at me."Where are we going today? Divesh was talking about you and him going to some sort of mini golf. I'm not the hugest fan of golf in general."

"Don't be silly, I would never repeat a date. The media would kill me. Can you imagine the news articles on that?"

"I think I can." Nishav says wryly, "It's not a very pretty image."

"Nope. That's why we're going somewhere totally different. Want to guess? I'll give you three chances."

"Princess, how could I possibly guess where we're going for this…quais-date. There are a lot of options in Angeles."

"I'm counting that as one guess."

Nishav sighs, resigning himself to guessing. "Are we going bungee jumping?"

I scrunch my nose, "Why would we ever go bungee jumping, could you imagine the liability forms for that? It would be a nightmare. What if the bungee cord broke?"

"I guess you're right," Nishav answers, with a smile that makes me think he purposefully picked the most ridiculous idea that he could think of.

"You know what, you don't get anymore guesses. I'm telling you where we're going."

"Okay." Nishav agrees easily. "And where is it that we are going today."

"We're going to go paint some pottery."

"Painting?" Nishav asks, far from the reaction I was hoping, if not expecting, for. "I'm not a very good painter. I never took many classes on it."

"It doesn't have to be good. It's supposed to be fun. You need to get your artistic juices flowing somehow. This was the best thing for you that I could think of."

"Ah. Well then, it's nice of you to consider that. I think it will be very fun." Nisha gets out, obviously not meaning any of the words he says.

"Thank you. I thought it was very nice of me too."

Inside the pottery shop, I pick out a small heart shaped dish with engravings along the side to paint. Nishav, on the other hand, picks out a plain mug. For paints, I pick a wide variety of bright colors and glittery substances. Nishav only asks for the color blue. I get several brushes of different sizes to play around with. Nishav chooses the one plainest brush he could find.

"Could you be any more enthusiastic about this?" I ask, glancing towards his sad array of supplies.

"I am being very enthusiastic." Nishav shakes his head. "I picked out a colored paint, didn't I? To be honest, I was considering just painting my mug white, but I didn't think that her Majesty would appreciate that much."

"Well, my mom is a control freak, but yeah. That would not have gone over well." I answer, dipping my brush into the hot pink paint.

"Yes, speaking of that, how are you doing?" Nishav asks, "I'm sure everyone has their pick for your winner. How have you been handling that?"

I shrug, "No one's actually said to me who they want me to choose. It's kind of a taboo thing to talk about. You know, trying to influence who my husband is. Except for my cousin, Garnet. He made it very clear that he wants me to choose Bas."

"Yes, I gathered that they're friends?" Nishav asks, his statement more of a question.

"Yeah, they've known each other for years. I guess I probably have too…I mean, I must have barely spoken to him, because I have absolutely no memory of it, but I must have met him at some point." I explain, making glittery swirls on the inside of my dish.

"Ah. Do you think that past knowledge is a good way to choose a husband?" Nishav asks, running his paint brush over the same spot for the hundredth time.

"Probably not. I mean, obviously most people would say not to marry a guy I just met, which I guess I'm doing. But I also don't think I should marry someone just because I already knew them, you know?" I ask, looking for validation.

"That makes sense. So you do know who you're going to choose?" Nishav asks.

"I…Maybe? I mean, I know who I should choose, and I know who my Mom wants me to choose, and I know who would be the best Prince Consort for Illéa, and I know who would be the best on television, but I don't want to choose someone for those reasons."

"Well, what reasons do you want to choose someone for?" Nishav asks.

"I want to choose someone because they love and... And I love them. But, I don't know if everyone left, Divesh and Bas, if they both would be happy as the Prince Consort. I know this is for me to choose and I really shouldn't care if they would be happy or not, but I feel like I need to."

"Carrie," Nishav hesitates, looking dumbfounded, "Did you just say you wouldn't care if they're happy or not?"

"That came out wrong." I amend, "I meant I shouldn't be worried about what they want more than what I want."

"Yeah. Well, do you have romantic feelings towards both of them?" Nishav asks, barely moving his paint brush.

"I think so. I mean, I don't know. What does that question even mean?"

"Could you see both of them as your husband, or could you see them as your best friend?" Nishav asks.

"Isn't that supposed to be the same thing? Like you marry the guy who's your dearest friend?" I ask, looking up from my ceramic.

"Well, no. Not really. There are different types of love." Nishav says, "At least, I think so. I'm not sure if I'm the best person to ask for advice on this."

"Huh. I never really thought about it like that before."

Nishav looks at me, alarmed, "You've never thought about who you like as a friend and who you want to marry?"

I shake my head.

"Carrie, you know you have to pick a husband in two days, correct?"

"Yeah, I'm aware. It's my engagement day, Nishav, I think I'm perfectly aware of what that day means. I know that I have to pick a husband. I'm not some sort of blithering idiot."

Nishav softens at that, "I just don't want you to be unhappy Carrie. So, my advice to you, is try to differentiate who you want to marry and who you want to be friends with."

"What if I don't like either as a friend? What if I like both as a husband?" I ask.

"Respectfully," Nishav says, "If you truly love someone, I don't think that's possible."

Hi besties, so this is the second-to-last chapter and like...wow. I don't know how to feel. After this Carrie will choose her winner, and then the epilogue, and yeah. So for our final dates, we have Divesh and mini golfing, Bas and the fashion exhibit, and Nishav and his making sure Carrie doesn't pick someone bad session. Anyway, see you all next time for the last chapter. Eek