By: Winter Renshaw

Royal walks past me, and my body won’t move. He looks at the ladder and then at me.

“Royal.” My brother’s voice comes from beneath the wooden floor. “You up there?”

“Yeah,” he calls back. “Just a sec.”

I tap my foot on the ground.



Royal licks his lips and leans in to give me a peck on the lips.


I try to shove him across the tree house, but he’s bigger than me so he barely moves. When he laughs at me, I slap him across the face. I’ve never hit anyone before. Not even Derek, and man, have I wanted to a couple of dozen different times.

“Why’d you do that?” I wipe my mouth against my arm and then spit onto the dirty floor of the tree house.

Royal shrugs. “Because I’m a prince. It’s why my name is Royal. Princes kiss princesses.”

I know that’s not true. Mom said he’s a foster child. I don’t know what that means, but I know he’s not a prince. We don’t have princes in Rixton Falls anyway.

He won’t stop looking at me. It’s super uncomfortable.

I spit again. He laughs. I think he liked the kiss. He hasn’t tried to wipe it off yet.

“I’m not a princess.”

“You act like one most of the time. And you’re always hiding up here like it’s some fancy tower or something.”

“Don’t do that again.” I glare and step back. “Next time I’ll tell Derek.”

Royal’s face falls. Derek is his best friend. They’re like brothers. Sometimes I get jealous that Derek spends more time with Royal than me anymore.

He climbs down the ladder, stopping one more time to look at me. “See you at dinner, Princess Demi.”


He’s staying for dinner again?

I need to see if I can change places with Delilah tonight. I don’t want to play footsie with Royal under the table again. I want to eat my shepherd’s pie, then go upstairs, lock my door so he can’t bug me, and read my book until he finally goes home.

He’s so annoying.


Demi, Age 13

{three years later}

“Oh, my goodness . . .” My mother’s making a fuss down the hall. The front door slams. “It’s so good to see you again. How’ve you been, sweetheart?”

I yank my ear buds and cock my head. Sounds like a stampede of winter boots downstairs. I pick up a boy’s voice, but it’s not Derek.

Popping up from my bed, I peer out my bedroom window to the driveway below. I don’t see any cars. I dog-ear my page and fold my book across a pillow before tiptoeing down the hall and peeking down the stairs.

One careful step. Then another. And another. I’m halfway down when I see my mother with her arms wrapped around someone. She pulls away a second later, and then I see him.

Royal Lockhart.

I hold my breath, flatten myself against the stair wall, and pray he doesn’t notice me.

“I’m so glad you were placed back in Rixton Falls,” Mom says, running her hand along his cheek like he’s a little boy. “Are you liking your new foster parents?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He doesn’t seem excited. Royal folds his hands in front. He stands up straight. I think he’s taller now. His hair is longer. He looks older.

A year ago, he had to move in with a different family in the northeast part of the state. Derek went to visit a few times, but Royal’s new family could never drive him here for some reason.

“You’ll spend Christmas with us, won’t you, Royal?” Mom asks. “Christmas dinner is tomorrow. You’re welcome to stay the night. Derek told me you were coming. I hope it’s okay. I went ahead and put some gifts under the tree for you. Just because you went away for a while, it doesn’t mean you’re not still an honorary Rosewood.”

Royal’s face lights when my mom says that. I know he doesn’t have a family like we do. I know it means a lot that we include him. I just wish he wasn’t so obnoxious.

He’s pretty cute now though. Like the kind of boy I’d pass a note to in school if he were anyone but Royal Lockhart.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been staring at him, but the second his eyes lift to the stairs, my heart leaps into my throat.

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