Jim swept his blanket aside and pushed himself to his feet. He slumped over to his window, drew the curtains and opened it. The salty air filled his lungs and he took a deep breath through the nose. He watched the sunrise reflecting on the breaking waves of the sea. He looked at the sand, which turned a darker shade where the waves crashed over it. He watched as the water went back to make room for a new wave and the foam that stayed on the sand for a few moments, before it vanished and the longing started to grow in him once again.
He had not been out of the Ben Bow for months. It was his home and it was peaceful now and actually all he had ever known. All he had ever needed. But after all he had seen, all he had lived through, all the places he had been, people he had met – it seemed like this was simply no longer enough. He wanted more than anything to get out there again. Feel the adrenaline, the wind in his hair. Why, even mopping the deck of a ship was better than washing and serving dishes day in and day out.
"Jim! Hurry up, we open in quarter of an hour!", his mother called.
Jim sighed and closed his window again. It was no use. His mother would never let him leave her sight again – ever.
"Good, there you are, we have a family here, they want two average and two kids' sized breakfast menus, one with extra Morcus plant juice on the side.
Jim wrinkled his nose in disgust and strolled over to the kitchen. He gave Ben, his slightly dysfunctional robot friend the order and then went to grab himself a plum for breakfast. He was just about to bite into it, when it wiggled and suddenly formed into a small, goey, violet being with two big eyes, cackling. Jim rolled his eyes. "Morph!" The small blob quickly morphed into a smaller version of Jim, imitating him in a high-pitched voice: "Morph!"
Jim grabbed his clone and tossed him aside, shaking his head. "Not this early, please!"
He grabbed another fruit and then exited the kitchen, with his small friend never leaving his side.
He sat down at a small table in a corner, putting his feet on the wooden surface and took his first bite.
Suddenly he heard some giggling from the side. He didn't move his head, but simply glanced to where the noise came from. Two alien girls with pale blue skin, black eyes and greyish horns were looking at him, with their heads together, smiling and whispering. Morph began imitating them.
Jim turned his eyes to his food again and tried to block them out. He got this every day. It was another reason why he would rather be somewhere else.
"Jim! Get over here, young man!", he heard Sarah shouting.
He slipped his feet off the table, threw the last piece of plum in the air and then caught it in his mouth. He heard the girls at the next table sighing in awe, but he simply ignored them. He got up and made his way to the kitchen.
"Good, that's where you are, now come on, get your apron on and serve some customers!", his mother greeted him.
"Good morning to you too, mom.", he said ironically and wrapped the apron around his waist, grabbing the small scribbling note pad.
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear.", she said and grabbed his face in both hands, giving him a kiss on the head. "Good morning.", she said smiling and ruffling his hair.
"Whatever.", he replied, but smiled. His relationship to his mother had gotten so much better – did he really want to risk it by asking her such a trivial question as what he had in mind? He didn't know.
He left the kitchen and looked around for people who were waiting to give their order. He looked around desperately, but the only table that remained that needed waiting on was the one with the two giggling girls sitting at it.
He sighed, took a deep breath and slumped over to them.
"Have you...decided yet?" They immediately started giggling and one of them winked at the other, who blushed. Jim rolled his eyes and felt awkward, just standing there.
"Erm...we...we would like...something hot.", the blushing one said and the other cackled.
"Well, we don't serve hot dishes this early, just a soup.", he answered bluntly.
"Okay, we'll have that.", she said.
"Great.", he replied and turned away. She called something after him, but he pretended he hadn't heard her.
He pushed open the kitchen door. "Phew!"
"Hard work, ey?", Ben asked.
"You could say that.", Jim said. He looked back through the small window in the door and saw the girls enjoying themselves with little Morph.
"Honestly, that little guy sucks up attention like a sponge.", he moaned.
"Indeed. Why don't you do the same? You're practically bathing in it."
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "No thanks."
Ben laughed. "So what's the order?"
"They wanted something hot.", he said, mimicking their giggling voices.
"Aww, the soup then.", Ben said.
"Yeah.", Jim said monotone and turned around again, to wait on some of the other customers.
Five minutes later, when he had just served the family with the breakfast menus, Ben called to tell him the soups were ready.
Jim grabbed the bowls, balancing them and three piles of dirty dishes on his arms and head. He places them on the table and turned to leave when one of the girls said: "That looks really impressing." This time he couldn't pretend he hadn't heard and he couldn't be rude, since his mother was watching him. So he turned a bit and said: "Thanks." He regretted it right the next second, when they both started giggling and whispering again.
He rolled his eyes and was just about to stomp off to the kitchens, when she got up and grabbed him by his free arm. "Come and sit with us!"
He looked to the kitchen frantically and caught Ben looking over. He urged him for help with his eyes, but Ben simply shrugged.
Jim bit his lip and slowly sat down on the free chair, which he placed a bit further away from the table.
"I should really get back to the kitchen."
"You're so anxious to work, how cute."
He was screaming inwardly and shook his head. "Not at all, actually.", he said, as calmly as possible.
"Oh...so is there something you'd rather be doing?", she asked and leaned forward a bit.
He looked at her and frowned. "Yes.", he said and leaned forward.
Her eyes widened, but then he got up, pushed his chair in it's place, turned and walked away. "But I'm not going anywhere.", he said coldly, not even looking at the girls.
He asked Sarah to get the bill for that table until they left and then continued his work with a much glummer-looking face than before.
The soft sound of violins awakened Melody out of her sleep. She was tired, she hadn't fallen asleep until very late last night.
Her first maid Katelyn stood ready and waiting with a fresh and silky dress over her arm. Melody gave a deep sigh on the inside and got up.
"Morning, princess. Beautiful day today.", Katelyn said.
"Isn't it always?", Melody asked and tried her best to smile. 'Just get through another day, Mel.', she told herself, biting her lips.
She got dressed, brushed her hair and made her way down the staircase to join her parents at the dining table.
"Good morning, sweety.", Ariel said to her daughter.
"You look pretty today, Melody.", her father said and beamed at her.
Melody sat down and started eating. Sure, right now they were sweet and friendly and loving, but later the scolding and the pressuring would start, she knew it. It always did.
The ball yesterday had landed her with two weeks of grounding. She was not allowed anywhere near the sea. It was the only proper punishment her parents could give her.
"Oh, Mel, are you still angry at us for yesterday? Listen, we had to do it, your behaviour yesterday was just not okay. I hope you understand.", her father said.
Melody remained silent. Yeah, she understood perfectly fine. But her parents did not. They didn't understand anything. Not even their own daughter.
"Mel...look, we'll shorten your punishment. Just one week, okay?", her mother told her.
Melody felt like bursting. There was so much inside her, her heart wouldn't be able to hold it back forever. All she wanted was to do everything everyone else could not. Or did not.
She looked up at her mother, then turned to her father and beamed. "Thanks, mom...dad...", she said and got up to hug them.
After she had finished breakfast and the conversation about how a princess should always sleep long, to have enough energy to master her duties the next day, Melody got up. She wanted to go to her room, read a book or play a game she invented herself, when her mother grabbed her by the arm. "Darling, you have your music practice today and he'll be throwing in an extra dance class today, so it'll take a little longer than usual, so..."
Melody stopped herself from rolling her eyes and nodded. 'So don't plan anything for today.', she finished Ariel's sentence in her head.
The lessons were the usual boring they always were. He taught her the proper stride of royalty, which he started off with every day, by piling books on her head and putting foot long high heels on her feet. She kept tumbling over, once quite violently, so he began with her speech.
"No, no, loud! Speak up, child!", Frederico ordered.
"I AM HAPPY TO WELCOME YOU ALL TO THIS DANCE FESTIVAL HELD AT OUR CASTLE! I HOPE YOU ENJOY YOURSELF AND DO TRY SOME OF OUR DELECTABLE WINES!"
Frederico shakes his head and sighs. "Too loud, you silly girl, you need more grace and strength in your voice, you're holding a speech, not starting an argument!"
Melody huffed. She would never get this stuff. She stood still for a minute, breathed out and turned off everything. All her thoughts, all her wishes and daydreams. Anything that distracted her. She blocked out who she was and what she liked doing and everything and everyone she loved. And when Frederic next asked her to speak, her voice was clear, echoing and majestic. Flawless.
He clapped and wanted her to repeat her stride "because she was now focused". Melody concentrated only on balancing the three books on top of her head and striding forward. She looked elegant and graceful and royal. But she didn't feel good at all.
Hours passed and Melody blocked out everything that tried to sneak up on her. Like a cheeky thought or a passing servant.
Until the instrument lesson began. He handed her her fiddle and started directing. "Okay, A...A...C! Melody, focus!"
So she did. She played the whole piece. The melody clung in her ears and without knowing, she started rocking her head to the music. The sound was all around her, surrounding her. She was not the master of it, it was hers. And it was gorgeous. Her soft voice started humming to the rythm and soon she started "lala"ing along. There was no way to stop it, it was too overwhelming.
The pace quickened and she found her whole body moving to the sound.
"Melody.", Frederico's voice ordered more impatiently, but Melody could hardly even hear him. Her ears were full.
She sang louder and stronger and it felt so great. The whole day had been so tiring. The way she had to swallow everything, block out everything that made her who she was, for it was the only way to be what everyone wanted her to be. Perfect.
"Melody! Stop singing! Just play, child! No singing, princesses don't-"
Melody got up and tossed her instrument to the side. Her teacher gasped in horror.
"Thank you for the help with being someone I'm not.", she said without looking at him. Then she turned and strode out of the room. Gracefully and elegant – just like it was fit for a princess.
Jim closed the door behind the last customer and turned the sign from open to closed.
"Good work today, Jim. Thanks for helping so much.", his mother said.
"Yeah. Lot of customers."
"I know, isn't it great?"
Jim didn't answer. He swept up the last part of the room and then put the broom in the cupboard again. He knew he couldn't delay it forever. He realized today that this is just not what he wants from life. There was a whole galaxy to explore out there and he was continuously cooped up in some inn. He knew how much it meant to his mother and his mother meant everything to him, but he just needed to go his own path.
"Mom...I've been thinking. This...I mean the Belbow...I don't...this just..."
"Jim, what are you trying to say?", Sarah asked, suddenly serious.
"Look, I know you love it here and that you're happy with this life, but...it's just not enough for me. I would really love to get out there again, see the world! See the galaxy!"
Sarah swallowed. Jim sounded just like his father right now. She was never enough for him either. He needed more, much more. He left and now Jim wanted to leave too.
"Mom, I need to do this. Get into a crew and on a ship again! I miss it so much, I want to get out there again! Feel the life!"
"James Pleiades Hawkins...", Sarah started, frowning at him. "You know how worried I get about you!"
"Yes, I know. But Mom..."
"And a trip like that...you never know what to expect! Pirates, unexplored planets, accidents...it's space, not a playground!"
"I understand, but..."
"You sound like a little child who can't wait to do something reckless! You aren't thinking of any consequences!"
"However", Sarah continued. "I always knew this would happen. You're not the kind to settle down and wait tables for the rest of your life. Though sometimes I really wish you were, you never will be. And I know you have dreams and wishes...and needs."
Jim looked at his mother, his eyes widening slowly. Was she...?
"So...I want you to go. I want you to get out there and live life...just the way you want to." Sarah's eyes filled with tears and Jim laughed in joyful disbelief.
"Are you serious?"
"If you promise to send me messages daily. And don't you dare not visit, mister."
Jim could hardly contain himself. He let out a whoot and then ran to hug his mother.
"I love you, mom. I promise I'll visit all the time. This will always be home."
"Oh, Jimmy...", Sarah smiled and tears rolled down her cheeks as she hugged him tightly and ruffled his hair. "I love you too."
There was a knock on the door. Melody hid her bag with seashells and other beautiful treasures under her bed, just in case her parents felt like punishing her again.
Ariel opened the door cautiously and peeped her head in. "Melody?" She spotted her and sat down on the edge of her bed.
"I heard about what happened today.", her mother said calmly. Melody didn't say anything. "Frederico was very angry. You can't always be so rude, Mel."
"Oh, but the servant can?! In case you hadn't noticed, he's not Jesus himself either!"
"I understand, but that's just the way teachers are. You still have to respect him, even if you are a princess."
"Oh, don't turn it that way, don't pretend I'm some royal spoilt brat who thinks she owns the world, you know it's not true."
"I never said that, Melody!"
"But you meant it."
Ariel sighs. "You are fifteen now, when will you stop acting like a child?"
"Why should I? Were you planning on marrying me off any time soon?"
"Of course not! Mel, please don't be like this! I'm really trying to help!" Suddenly Melody felt the guilty conscience creeping up on her. Her mother was always there for her, how could she be so mean to her?
"I'm sorry, mum. I'm just having a bad day...a bad week...a bad month."
"A bad life?", Ariel asked, eyebrows raised in understanding.
"It's normal to think that way at your age, Mel. Just know we all want the best for you."
Melody sighed on the inside. She couldn't tell her mother that the only way she could be the perfect princess was to turn off everything she was and that she was scared of losing herself. That it was the only reason for her to cling on to childish behaviour so desperately. She couldn't tell her, because she didn't want to make everything more complicated.
Ariel kissed her daughter's forehead. "Look forward to the day after tomorrow. The next ball will take place at our palace this time. This time you'll look even prettier and we'll train extra hard, okay? You will be the perfect, charming princess you want to be."
'But that's not who I want to be at all!', Melody thought to herself, but nodded at her mother.
"Thanks mum. I love you."
Ariel got up and smiled. "I love you too."