It was Friday the fifth of July, the ball was in two days.For the last week Ella and her sisters had become closer than they’d been in a long time.
There were still many snide remarks and rude comments exchanged of course, and Adri was still biased and cruel, but at least they were able to talk to each other now.
Take that morning for example. Tension in the house had gotten almost unbearable. Emotions were prone to go back and forth to extremes. London was still being forced to diet, and Paris was having to exercise for at least two hours every day because her mom said her legs were too weak for a night of dancing and she was probably right.
Speaking of which, all three of them were now in a beginning ballroom dance class. It was just after one of those painful mornings of spins and triple steps and under the arm turns and who knows what else, the three girls stumbled through their apartment door and threw themselves on the couch. Dainty, high heeled shoes were tossed off onto the carpet along with a heavy metal leg, and Moriarty had to be shooed away before he chewed on them.
They lied there complaining about their strict tutor while watching Dance Moms. But when keys could be heard in the door, shoes were snatched up, a leg was refastened, the TV was turned off and Moriarty was shooed down the hall in record time. Adri came in sighing loudly.
“What are you all doing?” She asked accusingly. “Why are you just sitting around? You should be getting ready for the ball.”
“We just got back from dance class, we have our outfits chosen, back-up outfits in case a tragedy happens before we get to the palace, hair appointments tomorrow, and meals in the freezer for food that day so you can focus on the ball and not worry about anything else.” Ella rattled off reassuringly.
For once, Adri seemed pleased. “Well done, ladies. Now just work on your dancing and one of you will be sure to snag the prince.”
Ella grabbed London. “Did you hear that? Did she actually compliment us or was I dreaming?” London giggled, and Paris glanced over her shoulder, unaccustomed to being left out of anything.
It was nice to have friends in her house again. That hadn’t happened much since her father had died.
“Ella, as an outside opinion, who of the two of us do you think is most likely to end up with Prince Frederick?” Paris asked, one eyebrow raised mischievously.
The twins stared her down while Ella tried to think of a way to answer that would keep both of them happily.
“Well…let’s see…Paris, you have a great sense of humor and you’re very witty, so you’re words might be flattering enough to catch his eye an-”
“Mother has told me not to make jokes as it will make me look silly. He’s two years older than me, I have to appear mature,” Paris shot her down.
“That’s crap. Guys like girls who will laugh, just be yourself.” Ella gave her a small side hug. “And London, you really are gorgeous. You have a sweet air about you, you just seem nice.”
The girls smiled. “Thanks, Ella.” Turning arm in arm, they wandered down towards their rooms.
“Hey, where are you going?” Ella started to follow them.
“We were going to play a game, do you want to join us?” London asked kindly.
Ella grinned. It was nice to be included, but “No thanks. I’m going to take Moriarty for a walk. Have fun.” She whistled and her dog came running, skidding on the carpets like he always did.
“Hey boy! Wanna go for a walk? Yeah? Yes you do, my good boy…” She spoke to him while struggling to attach his leash. Finally she got it on. “Okay, let’s go!”
Out the door and across the hall they went. In front of the elevator Ella reached to push the button, but the doors began opening before she could. Quickly stepping back to let three people past her, she said hi to an elderly couple she knew from down the hall.
The last one out was a younger guy who looked vaguely familiar, and curiously enough, he was holding a thick manila envelope that couldn’t even close fully because of its contents. They nodded at each other, and Ella began to step into the elevator.
The boy put his hand up and held the door for her. She saw him glance down at her leg, and she tugged at her shorts some, painfully aware of her extremities.
“Have a nice day.” He said quietly as he turned down the hall.
“You too,” she called, but the door had already closed.
The elevator stopped three times to pick up passengers and when they finally got to the ground level, Ella and Moriarty gladly stepped out into the warm air just outside the building. Ella took a deep breath and led Mori to the right.
Being outside was nice, and here people didn’t know her as well, so they were less likely to care about her metal parts. She waved at everyone with her right hand happily, Mori had his tongue lolling and he barked at cats in the alleys of streets they passed.
After about an hour they had made a u-turn and were getting close to their apartment again.
“Hey, isn’t that the guy from the elevator?” Ella raised her hand in salute, but something odd was happening. A group of girls had crowded around him and try as he might to duck away, more people surrounded him, leaving no room for escape.
She caught a glimpse of his face and he seemed very uncomfortable, searching for a way out.
Ella jogged up to the mob and picked up Mori. Together they started pushing to the center where he was. People gave her space, probably disgusted by her leg and hand. Finally she caught hold of his sleeve, and his face lit up in recognition. “Help,” he begged.
She could hear everyone’s conversations around him. They were calling him Fred and Frederick, Prince Frederick. Suddenly she understood the situation. She started shouting until people started turning towards her.
“Everyone, please, back up!”
Some guy in the crowd yelled back “Not until I get his autograph!”
“Oh, I see, you all think he’s the Prince don’t you?” She shook her head with a smile. “No, you see, this is my cousin. He’s a look-a-like, he gets this all the time…”
“So he’s not the Prince?” One girl asked, disappointed.
“No, he’s not, I’m sorry,” And so, with a hand out in front of her, she pulled him along behind her until they were able to dodge into a store, leaving the crowd behind.
“Woah..thank you, so much.” He was breathing heavily still, but he stuck out his hand to shake.
She shook with her metal hand, and for the first time there was a person who didn’t flinch when they touched her. In fact, he grasped her hand, examining it with an intrigued look on his face.
She cleared her throat awkwardly and he backed up. “I’m sorry. That was rude.” He bowed. “Please accept my most humble apology.”
She laughed. “You’re all good.” They looked at each other for a moment. “So, are you really, you know, Prince Frederick?”
He grinned, his smile slightly lopsided. “Fred is fine.”
“I should be the one bowing then.” Ella said, hand on her hip. “I won’t though.” Quickly she added, “I mean, because people would notice and bombard you again, not out of disrespect…”
“I know what you mean.”
“Why are you here anyways? I mean, why were you in my building?” She asked.
“Oh, I wanted out of the palace, and there was an invitation for my coronation ball I decided to deliver.” He glanced at her, “I don’t suppose you would want to come? To the ball, I mean.”
“Um, thanks, but I’m actually already coming…” She smiled, but he looked confused.
“You are?” He paused, but then understanding spread across his face. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Ella. Ella Bonds.”
He straightened up and laughed. “I was bringing the invitation for you. See, we found out that the Tremaine’s had been invited, but a step-daughter was unfortunately missed on the invite list.”
“Wait, so you are personally inviting me to your ball?” Ella clarified. He nodded. “Well, I’ll definitely be coming, there’s no way Adri can stop me now.”
“Why would she stop you?”
“We aren’t all that close.” Mori barked, and a shopkeeper looked up and frowned. “Oh crap, Mori shouldn’t be in here, I have to go, I’m sorry…”
Fred walked with her to the door and out onto the street. “I’ll see you Friday, then.”
“Friday it is. Goodbye, Your Highn- Fred.” She caught herself.