Next in Line

By: Vanessa Acton

1


“Wait—I’m a what?”

Carly Valmont stared at her mom, who sat across from her at the scratched-up kitchen table.

Her mom gave her an embarrassed smile. “Your full title is Princess Royal of the Kingdom of Evonia.”

“Princess,” Carly echoed numbly. This was not at all what she’d expected when she’d sat down with her mom and stepdad to talk about college applications.

“And second in line for the throne,” her mom added timidly. “After Queen Emilia, your great-grandmother, dies, your great-uncle, Crown Prince Humphrey, will become king. He has no children, so you’re technically his heir.”

Carly had never even heard of these people. Of course she’d heard of Evonia, the tiny European country where her dad had been born. But she didn’t even remember her dad, thanks to the heart attack that had killed him when she was barely a year old. Who were these random royal relatives of his? And how could she, a regular high school junior in suburban Ohio, be a princess?

“That’s . . . insane,” said Carly. Normally, she was better at choosing her words before she spoke. She hadn’t become captain of her school’s debate team by accident. But this news was such a curveball that she knew it was pointless to try coming up with a more measured response. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this before?”

Her mom shot a glance at Sal, Carly’s stepdad, who stood off to the side, leaning on the kitchen counter. Sal seemed to be very absorbed in picking dirt out from under his nails. Seeing that he would be no help, Carly’s mom said, “Evonia is your dad’s country, not mine. And since you never got a chance to know your dad, and our life has always been here, I . . . didn’t want to burden you with all this until you were old enough to handle it.”

Carly took a deep breath and looked down at the college mailers she’d collected over the past several months. Just ten minutes ago, she’d been thinking about which schools she’d like to visit this summer, which ones had the best pre-law programs, which ones gave the best scholarships to top students like her. Her mom and Sal were always telling her to aim high, so it had puzzled her that they’d been so reluctant to talk about her college plans. She’d assumed it was because tuition was so expensive. Not because they’d known she could aim way higher than an advanced degree.

“I’m sorry to dump everything on you all at once, honey,” her mom continued in a rush. “But your grandfather’s been asking me to bring you over there this summer—”

“Grandpa G?” Her dad’s father. The only member of her dad’s family she’d ever had any contact with. A clipped, British-sounding accent over the phone on her birthday. A cheerfully dignified email at the holidays—always addressing her by her full name, Charlotte. Really nice presents that she’d always appreciated. But otherwise a stranger.

“Yeah,” her mom confirmed. “Grandpa G is Lord Gregory Mortmain, the Count of Linland.”

“Lord, not prince?” She wasn’t sure why she was zeroing in on titles, except that it was the most concrete thing she could grasp right now.

“That’s right. He’s not a prince because he wasn’t born into the royal family. He married into it.”

“Like you did,” guessed Carly. “When you married my dad.”

Her mom gave an awkward little shrug. “Yeah.”

“So what’s your title?” Carly asked her a little accusingly.

Looking over at Sal again, Carly’s mom said, “I don’t have a title anymore. While I was married to your dad I was technically Lady Margaret Valmont, but now I’m just plain Maggie Acosta.”

Carly turned to Sal. “Did you know about this all along?”

“Uh, well.” Sal shrugged sheepishly. “It came up at some point when I was dating your mom.”

So basically, yes, he had known about it all along. Sal had married Carly’s mom when Carly was four. He was the only dad she remembered. And he’d kept this secret from her too.

“So you’re telling me I’m going to, like, rule an entire country someday.”

“Well, Evonia’s a constitutional monarchy,” her mom explained quickly. “The royal family doesn’t have any real power. The government’s run by elected officials—a parliament. The queen’s duties are just ceremonial. It’s the same for the royal family in England.”

Carly’s brain was slowly starting to wrap around what this meant.

“Honey, listen,” said her mom, sounding almost desperately apologetic. “I know this is a shock. And I wish we’d figured out a better way to explain everything to you earlier . . .”

“I wish you had too,” said Carly. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have been so worried about college! It’s not like I need to pick a career path if I’m going to be a queen, right?”

“Um, that’s a fair point,” her mom said, looking a little surprised.

“And I won’t have to worry about money, I’m guessing?”

“Nooo,” said her mom cautiously, drawing out the word. “The royal family is supported by taxes that the Evonian citizens pay.”

Carly nodded in satisfaction. “Just like US politicians get their salaries from tax money that the government collects.”

“Right, I guess,” said Carly’s mom. “I never spent much time in Evonia, but from what I remember, your dad’s family lives pretty comfortably.”

Huge knots of tension in Carly’s shoulder and back muscles dissolved instantly. All year she’d been stressing about how her family could afford sending her to college, about what career path she should choose. Her teachers said she’d make a great lawyer, a great politician, a great CEO, a great this, a great that. High-intensity jobs, every single one of them. Jobs with long hours and huge stakes and miles of loans to pay off. Now it turned out she could be a queen someday instead.

Queen of her dad’s country. Following in her dad’s footsteps. She couldn’t count how many times her mom had said to her “We’re so proud of you—and your dad would be so proud too.” After every good report card, every school choir concert and debate competition. It had always felt a little tacked on, a little forced. But becoming a queen: that definitely would’ve made her dad proud.

“We thought you’d be a little more freaked out about it,” said Sal.

Carly laughed. “This is actually a gigantic relief! I’ve been assuming that the rest of my life depends on where I go to college, what major I pick. Now the pressure’s off!”

Sal grinned at her, and her mom let out a long breath. “Well,” her mom said, “you might have to do some planning. At least when it comes to how you’ll spend your summer. Your grandfather has offered to pay for you to fly out to Evonia for a couple of months after school lets out. You can meet your other Evonian relatives, see the sights, get a sense of the country’s culture . . .”

Carly could barely believe that minutes earlier, she’d expected to spend her summer listening to boring campus tour guides and trying to impress college admissions staff. “That sounds amazing,” she told her mom. “When do I leave?”





2


The night before Carly flew to Evonia, the whole family went out for ice cream. Sal had suggested dinner, but no one could agree on a restaurant. When it came to ice cream, there was never a debate.

“Bet they don’t have Frozen Paradise in Evonia,” said Carly’s thirteen-year-old half-brother Nic as the five of them sat down at a table.

“No, but there’s a famous ice cream shop in Alaborn, the capital city. I read about it on some tourism sites. It’s more than two hundred years old.”

“Can’t be as good as Frozen Paradise,” Nic said firmly.

“When she’s queen she can build a hundred Frozen Paradises there if she wants to,” said Rafe, Carly’s other half-brother.

Nic slurped around the edge of his cone. “Pretty sure Mom told us that Carly will have zero power. If she wants decent ice cream she’ll have to ask the senate or whatever.”

“Parliament,” said Carly through a mouthful of chocolate fudge. Over the past few weeks, she’d made a point of getting her Evonian-related facts straight. She could rattle off the basics from memory: The Evonian monarchy stretched back to the fourteenth century. The royals had given up their governing powers fifty years ago. Now the kingdom was a constitutional monarchy, which was where the parliament came in. “But if I really need the best ice cream in the world I’ll just come back here.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” teased Sal. “I kinda thought you’d want to come back and see your family, but it’s all about the food. Good to know where we stand.”

“I’d definitely come back for your food,” Carly told him with a grin. “As long as you only made my favorites. You can’t order a future queen to eat broccoli.”

“Hey, will you be able to drive here without a license?” Nic cut in. “And be exempt from speeding tickets and stuff? Diplomatic immunity, right, like people get in movies?”

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