Better Than Perfect

By Margaret Rose

Disclaimer: This story is based on the Princess Diaries series, so all the major characters are Meg Cabot's. Genovia is all hers, too, though I want to visit and see the parking meters some day.

Chapter 1 – Ten Years Later

The best thing about being rich and famous was that Mikey M didn't have to plan his own tours. His band was finishing up its second world tour, and all he had to do was sit in the back of the tour bus and wait until they arrived at wherever it was they were going next. He didn't even know what country they were in anymore.

"Jen, what country are we in?" he asked.

His publicist looked out the window and said, "I don't know, still France I guess. Do you want me to ask the driver?"

Jen's assistant was already starting to get up to ask, but Mikey shook his head and said, "No, that's OK. It doesn't matter."

Another great thing about being famous was having everyone around ready to do whatever he wanted, no matter how stupid it was. If he wanted, someone would find get the exact latitude and longitude of their current location. He never had to order his own drinks or buy his own guitar strings. He had an entourage to follow him around and take care of practical details. He had a manager, a publicist, hair dressers, fashion consultants, a physical therapist, a personal chef, many bodyguards… He had many more people than he needed, but that was OK. He was a rock star. He was a really important guy.

Piaget's Children was the biggest thing out there in the alternative music scene. They had released their seventh album earlier that year, "Untaming the Shrew." It had been met with great critical acclaim and won a few Grammys and, most importantly, sold really well all over the world. Their music videos were favorites on MTV and VH1. They were finishing up their two-month-long world tour, filling huge stadiums of fans wherever they went. And they were making loads and loads of money.

Mikey M was a cultural icon. He showed up, impeccably dressed, arm-in-arm with his latest girlfriend at movie premiers, fashion shows, music festivals, trendy night clubs, everywhere people went to be seen. He was hailed as a musical genius and a fashion god. His opinion was always asked about every newcomer to the music world. Every time he appeared with a different hair style, people around the world noticed and ran to change their hair, too.

Did he mention the money?

Mikey M loved writing and performing his music, and he loved that people wanted to listen to him. He loved going on tour so much that he insisted on traveling with everyone else in the tour bus when, of course, he could have just flown in at the last minute and gone on stage without worrying about whether the clothes arrived wrinkled or not.

The rest of the band were also in his tour bus, sitting on the leather furniture and sometimes getting drinks from the bar or asking the chef for some food. Just because they were on a bus didn't mean that they couldn't travel in luxury.

Angus, the heavily-tattooed Scottish bass guitarist, was sleeping; Felix, the preppy drummer from New York, was describing his newest yacht to Ansel, the Texan keyboardist; and Jim, the talkative British electric violinist, was staring out the window and watching the rain. Mikey's eclectic band members had been carefully chosen over the years. Felix had been one of the founders of his very first band when he was still in high school, but other band members had come and gone until Mikey M had found people he liked and admired as musicians.

Jim said to no one in particular, "I don't see why we're bothering with Monaco. It's just one big tourist trap, if you ask me. Like Genovia. They're useless so-called countries. You'd think France or Italy would have taken over them by now."

"I'd finance the invading army," their manager Skip Hapwell said. "I had to talk to the Monaco people last night and all they did was whine, whine, whine about how some storm was flooding the stadium and how they weren't certain whether all the lighting pyrotechnics would be able to work."

"Drop the special effects. I'm not getting electrocuted for some flashing lights," Mikey M said in his low, authoritative voice that everyone knew was a direct command. He had been opposed to the pyrotechnics from the beginning, saying that the music should be enough, but he had capitulated when everyone insisted that audiences expected more of a spectacle for their money these days.

"I'll call ahead," Jen said. As usual, Mikey would get his own way. He was the big star, after all.

The rain was coming down harder outside. The weather had been miserable during the few days they had been around the Mediterranean. The weathermen were saying that it was the worst spring on record, and the flooding was not only bad in Monaco. All the coastal areas were having to deal with rapidly rising water levels.

Monaco had a covered stadium, so the weather wouldn't matter to Mikey M. People would venture out in any weather to hear them, and that was the point of all these tours. Play for audiences. Have a few interviews with the local press. Smile. Walk around in nice clothes. Pretend to be annoyed at the paparazzi getting them even more publicity. Sell more albums. Make more money.

The bus stopped. Mikey M looked out the window and could only see fields, roads, and rain. No reason to stop. But other people would worry for him. That's what they were around for. Jen's assistant was already going up to ask the driver what was wrong. Skip went up, too. Mikey looked down at the German magazine he had been pretending to read for the last hour and tried not to look like he was even aware of the unexpected delay.

He flipped to the next page, then abruptly closed the magazine. Did she always have to come up? "Die Genoviane Prinzess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo: Politikerin und Prinzess." Another article about the life and times of Mikey M's old girlfriend Mia, in time for her twenty-fifth birthday. May 1st, ten more days from now. Mikey wished he could forget that date and, well, everything else about the Genovian princess.

Skip came back from the front of bus and announced, "The road's flooded. All the major roads are in bad shape. The driver says we're going to have to stop. No need breaking our boys' heads trying to get them to Monaco today on these roads. Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be better."

"Says who? I don't want to waste an evening out with some French cows or whatever there is around here when we could be in Monaco," Ansel demanded.

If Mikey M were in a better mood, he would have told Ansel to shut up. No matter how much the media made it look like the world revolved around Piaget's Children, they couldn't control the weather or road conditions. But Mikey didn't want to get into some stupid argument over nothing with people he usually liked. Just seeing a picture of Mia for a few seconds still could completely ruin his day. It was still the morning, but as far as Mikey was concerned, the day was shot to hell. Now he wouldn't be able to stop himself from thinking more about her, and that never was good.

Monaco wasn't very far from Genovia, so the newspapers there would probably cover her birthday celebrations, too. So that meant more pictures of Mia. More hearing about Mia. More trying to pretend she didn't mean anything to him anymore. Maybe he could arrange to be off the continent by then. Maybe a nice side trip to Antarctica…

"We're not in France," Skip said. The bus was turning off the main road and slowly going on some smaller, local road. Mikey saw there was some sort of coastal town in the distance.

"We're not in Monaco either," Ansel grumbled.

"We're in Genovia," Skip said.

Mikey M looked up and, for a second, actually looked as terrified as that news made him feel. He was usually the epitome of cool, he took every unexpected setback with hardly a word of complaint, but, man, Genovia!

Everyone else in the bus had been looking at Skip, so the only person who had seen the extent of Mikey's reaction was the manager himself. And, like everyone else in Piaget's Children's entourage, Skip knew that Mikey M was the one whose opinion mattered most in every detail, practical or artistic.

So Skip ignored everyone else's questions about hotels or bars, and said, "What's wrong, Mikey?"

The bus immediately became silent. Mikey M tried to be as casual as he could, and said, "I've had some problems in Genovia. Is it possible for us to stay somewhere else?"

"What do you mean?" Skip asked. "We're already headed to the hotel. What's-her-face", the unofficial name of Jen's ever-helpful assistant, "is calling to make reservations. The driver says it's dangerous for us to be out here on the roads."

"Then don't tell anyone I'm here," Mikey M said. He reluctantly added, "I've been banned from entering the country."

"Banned?" Skip said.


Mikey M would not elaborate. He was not going to tell everyone in the bus about his dismal failure of a relationship with Princess Amelia of Genovia. Michael Moscovitz was the jerk who got in the tabloids years ago for getting dumped by Princess Amelia. Mikey M was the multi-millionaire musician who could have any woman he wanted.

The drummer Felix was the only one there who knew the whole story. Felix had been there from the beginning, so he had seen how Mikey M had reinvented himself. But Felix was a true friend and wouldn't talk. And Mikey M certainly wasn't talking.

Mia knew about Mikey M and Piaget's Children. He hadn't told her – they hadn't spoken a word for the past seven years – but she simply had to know. Somehow he couldn't imagine her not knowing what he was doing. He certainly knew everything she did, whether he wanted to or not.

Besides, Mikey M still looked like Michael Moscovitz. He hadn't undergone any plastic surgery. He just changed his name. But the people he knew pre-Mikey-M would never expect the smart computer guy Michael Moscovitz to transform into a major rock star in only a few years, and the people who knew Mikey M wouldn't think of associating him with a spoiled rich kid who got into some trouble with the press when he was still in college. He knew that eventually someone would make the connection. People were already asking too many questions about his past. But he wasn't going to help anyone out by saying what his real name was, or where he grew up, or what his favorite color was, or anything else remotely personal.

So don't let the Genovians know he was there at all, just in case they recognized nerdy Michael Moscovitz as an adult. And don't let his gossiping entourage know too much about his problem with Genovia.

"How do you get banned from a spot on the map?" Jim asked. "Didn't bow to the king?"

"Something like that," Mikey M said. He glared at Jim and then at everyone else. He didn't usually like to flaunt his power in the group, but he wasn't going to talk about this and everyone had to understand that. Skip went up front to tell Jen's assistant Mikey M's strange demand.

Mikey M looked out the window and saw the bus approaching the town. It was going to be a very quiet day for him. He would hide in his hotel suite until the bus left for Monaco the next day. No one would have to know that he was ever there.


Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo hated the rain. It made her hair frizzy, and it flooded her country. There was little she could do to prevent either from happening.

Her father Prince Phillipe was still the leader of Genovia, so he was the one who was pacing the hallways of the palace ordering important people around to deal with their little country's big natural disaster. The boats had been removed from the harbor to safer locations. The roads were being closed. Old tapestries and artwork were being removed from the palace's basement. The fire department was on call. Emergency shelters had been set up for people whose homes were being swept away.

But somewhere some old man was trapped in his flooding basement, unable to reach a phone to call for help. Cats were drowning in the alleys. Squirrels were being displaced from their natural habitats. What if someone tried to drive in spite of all the travel adversaries, and got swept away out into the Mediterranean Sea?

"Dad, can I do anything?" Mia asked.

"Stay out of trouble," he said, then turned to talk to Genovia's fire chief.

Mia was the princess of Genovia, not a child! One day she would have to lead the country through floods. If her grandmother were the one in control, she'd drag Mia around and call it another "lesson". But her father was different. Men always wanted to do everything themselves, whether it was fixing a car or running a national disaster relief effort.

"I know how to swim," she said.

She could save the drowning cats herself. She could fly around in a helicopter and look for the signs of a poor animal in trouble. They couldn't listen to the weather warnings on the radio like people. Someone had to help them!

"Don't you have some … meeting or something?" Prince Phillipe asked.

It was just her luck that she did have a meeting, but her birthday preparations were much less important than Genovia's problems. Who would care about her birthday if her country was underwater by then? But her father wanted her out of his way, so she begrudgingly complied, and went down to her offices in the palace.

She was nearly twenty-five years old, and she was still living and working at home. She had organized the palace's renovations two years ago to improve the palace's plumbing and heating, and she had also overseen the installation of a wireless network in the palace so she could be online everywhere she went. But she was still living in a seventeenth century historical landmark, with all that a seventeenth century monarch could ask for but still lacking in some twenty-first century comforts. No one would ever let her repaint her room or get a more comfortable bed. The place felt like a tomb.

She had done more than just palace renovations in the last few years. Her grandmother was in her 80s now and finally showing signs of slowing down in her old age. Her father was always busy running the country, so that meant that Mia had had to take over acting as hostess when foreign dignitaries visited. She drank tea with the wife, then often discussed political matters with the husband (or vice-versa for the female leaders). She wore nice clothes and gave interviews with magazines from around the world, as was expected from the young and pretty princess.

But she always wanted to do more. She wanted to take a more active role in Genovian politics and really do some good for her people. She was going to become the Crown Princess one day, and there was still a lot more she wanted to learn.

As long as her father was alive, she was still expected to take his orders. He wanted her to stay out of Parliament and out of his way. So she'd go to her meeting this morning and talk about her birthday party. But as soon as the weather made it safe, she was going to go with her father to survey the damage around Genovia, whether he liked it or not.

Her lady-in-waiting, cousin Francine, and her would-be-lady-in-waiting-if-he-weren't-male, Ted, were waiting for her in her office. The two of them were responsible for coordinating Mia's very busy days, sorting out who she was supposed to eat lunch with, where she was supposed to be at any particular time, and what she should know before she went there. They were also in their mid-twenties, so they were also Mia's only true friends in the palace.

"Sorry I'm late," Mia said. "It's just that the country's flooded and Dad won't let me do anything."

"The rains are supposed to stop overnight," Francine said. "Then everything will be better."

Francine was the most reasonable and proper of the trio. She was from an old Genovian family and was the duchess of something-or-another, but she always seemed happy with her important position at the palace working with Mia. She was a pretty, petite blonde, and now always appeared at Mia's side at important state functions, ready to step in whenever Mia messed up. She had perfect posture, spoke all the modern languages fluently, always knew which fork to use, never addressed anyone with the incorrect title, and was generally everything a princess ought to be, except the direct heir to the throne.

Ted was an American and didn't care about fish versus salad forks. He was more practical and less fussy than Francine, and had a great time showing off how little he cared about annoying his co-worker. He was excellent at getting results, so the rest of the palace staff excused his lapses in proper behavior and his horribly accented French. Mia was a huge fan of Ted ever since he got the dinner room staff to always put out ketchup for meals, no matter what they were serving. A true American companion!

But meanwhile her country could be sinking, like the Netherlands. They would have to build dykes and start wearing wooden shoes.

"Weathermen are always wrong," Mia said. "So what can I do?"

"Not drown," Ted said. "Your dad will ask for help if he needs it but, really, this isn't as bad as you think. Everything will be cleaned up and back to normal well in time for your birthday."

"I don't care about my birthday!"

"Well, I do, because we're giving you one heck of a birthday party," Ted said. "Lucille left this with us."

He threw down on the table in front of Mia a folder with the words "PRINCESS BIRTHDAY PARTY" in large letters on the cover. The long-awaited specific details! But Mia would think of the drowning kittens. She was not so shallow that she would immediately open the folder and…

"Ooh, Tina's coming?" Mia asked. "And Shameeka and Ling Su? Wow, someone really did his research."

The guest list included all the proper Genovian ministers and important ambassadors, various people who were related to her and were important enough to be recognized as cousins, and, sure enough, there were her real friends. Or at least they used to be her real friends. She hadn't seen most of them in ages. It's hard to stay in touch when you're busy ruling a country, or busy trying to help rule it if anyone trusted her enough to take her offers of help seriously.

"Did Lilly Moscovitz refuse?" Mia asked.

If she was going to see Tina, Shameeka, Ling Su, and Boris, it would look weird if she didn't have Lilly there, too. They had fallen out of touch thanks to the Michael crisis, but Lilly used to be her very best friend in the world.

"Old best friend Lilly? I hear Lucille couldn't find anyone who knew what happened to her," Ted said. "Not even her parents would say. It sounds like she doesn't want to be found."

It had really sucked to have to give up her best friend for the sake of her country, but it sucked even more that her old best friend was still too mad to even politely refuse to go to the party. Of course Mia didn't even ask about Michael Moscovitz, wherever he was now. There's no way he would be invited.

After Mia had flipped through the list, Francine took it. "Hmm, we need more young people," she said. "There's only those New York people who are Mia's age. A guest list like that isn't going to help things."

"Help what?" Mia asked. "The flood?"

Ted and Francine exchanged worried looks. They were keeping something away from Mia. She hated it when people tried to insulate her from some bad news. There was something wrong and her employees – no, her friends – weren't going to tell her.

"Tell me," Mia said. She tried to give her best imitation of her grandmother's glare.

It must have been close enough to the real thing, because Francine sighed and said, "You shouldn't worry about this, but it's just some image problems."

She had image problems?

What had she been doing since she moved to Genovia three years ago other than working on improving and refining her public persona? She let them take away her combat boots and make her look like a young Nancy Reagan. She submitted to fittings for designer gowns under her old grandmother's supervision. She let people take care of who she saw and how she behaved in public. She never strayed from the speeches she was given. She did everything they told her to do, and there were problems?

She tried to be very royal and show great control over her emotions. "What do my loyal Genovians want now?" Mia asked, very calmly and very serenely. "My hair is too long? I shouldn't be wearing lipstick? They didn't like the interview in Der Spiegel?"

She gave up everything for this country, and there were image problems! She gave up Lilly and Michael. She gave up Michael! And there were image problems. But she would not get mad, she would stay calm, she would not get mad, she was at peace with herself, she would not get mad...

"No, not quite," Francine said. "It's just that… well… they say…"

Mia turned to Ted. He always told her the truth, even if Francine was trying to be very delicate about it. "You're too boring," he said.

"I'm too boring? What does that mean?" Mia said, not very serenely at all. "I've been doing everything you tell me to do! I thought you all said the people wanted a boring princess." She was raising her voice higher than was proper, but she didn't care. Maybe that would make her more interesting!

"They also say you come off a bit… aloof," Francine said.

"Of course I'm aloof. I'm too boring to get to know," Mia said.

All this time she was afraid of doing the wrong thing and getting people mad at her, and now because she was only doing the right things people weren't happy with her. It was certainly one problem she hadn't even thought of worrying about. And, based on Francine and Ted's grave looks, it was actually a serious problem. Mia would never be the princess the Genovians wanted.

"What am I supposed to do?" she asked. "Have a big dinner party for all 50,000 people in my country and make charming jokes so they'll like me? Or do I need to get a tattoo and maybe pierce something?"

"It's not your problem. We shouldn't have said anything. We're working on it. So if we could get a younger crowd at your party…" Francine looked down at the list again.

Mia didn't have young friends. All those middle-aged and elderly ministers and ambassadors already on the list were the people she saw every day. They really were the people she knew best. She was never introduced to their kids or to anyone else her age. When she was in college in France, she was so often in Genovia that she hadn't make any close friends there. So it was all their fault! Not only Francine and Ted, but her dad, Grandmère...

Mia stood up and said, "I'm going to talk to someone who thinks I'm not aloof and boring enough. I'm going to visit Grandmère."

And she ran out of the room in a very un-princess-like manner, determined not to let her friends see her cry. No one liked her, not even her people. Genovia would be underwater soon, anyway, and no one would even let her go out and rescue cats.

Sometimes Mia really hated being a princess.