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I think it over a few seconds. Our boss may be right. I’ve been too scared of losing my comfortable place here to dare ask for pay or express my needs. I was afraid I would be out in the cold all the time. They always feed me when I get here, lunch and before I leave.

I take Sir Orris’ hand which is an odd experience. The guards stationed where he works follow us. We walk out of the Town Archives and through the noble districts. We pass the Marquess, Earl and enter the Viscount district.

Neoclassical architecture dominates this area. Large white buildings of cement and stone. The entryways of the mansions have many white pillars that command the entrance giving a sense of grandeur.

Where is he taking me? These houses must be many times what I’ve made in the time I’ve worked as a Hidden Art Archivist. I don’t understand. Am I going to live in his house or with one of his relatives?

“I have some good news for you,” Sir Orris says, breaking our long silence.

“Julian said he pulled some strings,” Sir Orris smiles, “Vivi won’t be staying with her family anymore.”

I dip my head, doesn’t sound like good news, the orphanages in Redwood Kingdom are horrible. There’s no longer an orphanage in the capitol we stay in. “Where will she be staying now?”

“You’ll see,” Sir Orris says.

We stop at the smallest of the mansions. It’s still many times larger than the Rubble Rats’ second hide-away and two stories to boot. We near the entrance and I swear I see someone peeking out at us.

Sir Orris opens the front door with a key.

I stop dead in my tracks, “I saw someone watching us from inside.”

Sir Orris tugs me forward, “It’s fine, it’s no one dangerous.”

We enter the building and I take a moment to catch my breath. I’m greeted by a double staircase of black and white marble. Ahead past the staircases is a small indoor fountain. My nose catches a whiff of bacon in the air and I hold back my instinct to drool.

“Welcome to your home,” Sir Orris says.

“What?” I ask with a pointed tone.

Sir Orris hands me the key he used to open the door, “Welcome home.”

“I can’t afford this!” I shout. I extend the key toward him. He needs to take this back.

“You don’t have to. You see, when you started, you were conferred a Viscountess title.” Sir Orris sighs, “There were conditions you had to clear to be informed of it though.”

So if I hadn’t asked, I look around the entryway, all this would just sit here?

A chirpy voice catches our attention, “So, this little one is Anessa?” I see a tall lithe woman walk our way. Her notable features are her pitch black hair and porcelain skin.

“Yes Duchess Burmene of Leawood, she is.” Sir Orris replies.

"Thank you Sir Orris, you may leave now.” Lady Burmene says, “I will take it from here.”

Sir Orris bows, “As you wish my lady.”

Sir Orris leaves before I have a moment to say goodbye or stop him. Great, now I’m stuck with a tall pretty woman who I don’t know.

I turn back toward Duchess Burmene who stoops down brings me into a hug, “My fiancee explained everything to me.” She pulls away, and clears my hair from my eyes. “I’m sorry you had to go through such a traumatic ordeal.”

What, who’s her fiancee, and what does she know?

I suspect my confusion is plastered on my face because she clears her throat and stands. “Excuse me, I suppose I should properly introduce myself first. I am Duchess Veronica Burmene of Leawood, fiancee of Julian Valar, the prince of Juniperwood.

“I am here to help you adjust to your new title and role in Redwood as a favor to my fiancee,” Veronica says. “Also,” She pauses and walks out of the room. She returns with Vivi who’s blushing.

Whoa, she’s Julian’s Fiancee? Julian’s a prince? Why is someone of his station even near me? I shake my head and look back to Vivi.

Vivi’s in what is close to a French maid outfit. The black and white dress reaches the floor with frills everywhere. My mind is melting by this point. Why is Vivi here?

Vivi gives a curtsy and almost loses her balance. She steadies herself, “Welcome home Lady Anessa.”

“Okay Vivi, go help Tina with lunch,” Veronica says. She pushes Vivi’s back and shoos her out of the room. “I need to talk to Anessa hon.”

“I have a lot of questions, Veronica.” I say. This is too much, why would they extend this offer to me, this makes no sense.

“Okay, I’ll answer the one probably on your mind right now.” Veronica extends her left pointer finger and touches it with her pointer and middle finger from her right hand, “Vivi is here because we had three options:

“1. Put her in an orphanage - This is a bad choice, in my opinion. This kingdom needs to work on their orphanages. Rampant abuse and missing kids.

“2. Adopt her into the family name you’re about to register as your sister.

“3. Keep her close as a maid to open your options in the future.” Veronica finishes with her pointer, middle and ring finger extended.

I tilt my head to the side, “Open my options?”

Veronica takes my hand and leads me to a large sitting area with a fireplace.

I take a seat on the couch next to where she sits.

“She told me what she did in the ruins before she went to get help for Bola.” Veronica informs.

My cheeks start to burn and look down.

“Neither of you are old enough to understand where you truly lie,” Veronica says.

I look back up at her and quirk my brow. She’s right, we’re a bit too young, but where’s she going with this?

“Puberty changes a lot of things, and neither of you is at that age yet.”

I bury my head in my hands, I burn in embarrassment up to my ears and beyond to the top of my scalp.

“I’m sorry if it’s not the decision you were hoping for, but there wasn’t a lot of time to make it before they would have shipped her off to an orphanage. Once that happened, you would have most likely never have seen her again.

“I ask you, are you okay with her being here?”

I nod my head, “Yes, she’s my best friend.”

Veronica starts to rise and I pull on her dress.

I flush again and whisper to Veronica, “And you’re right that I’m too young, I have no idea.”

I forgot all about puberty. Veronica’s dead on though. I have no instinctual feeling one way or another. I do like Vivi but liking and attraction are way too different.

There’s no way to know right now. I’m at least eight years too young to even have those thoughts. Twelve years too early to act on such thoughts. I’m sure it’s the mostly the same for Vivi.

I suspect Vivi’s confusing my attention and concern for her and her situation for something more. It’s too soon to tell.

I can imagine how much more frustrating this would be for someone who hasn’t lived a life before, or didn’t remember it. I think things would’ve ended up different for Vivi if I was not as mature as I am for my age.

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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