"Goodnight, Jenny," I told the seven-year-old girl I was babysitting as I tucked her into bed. This was my first time watching her, and so far everything had gone smoothly.
"Wait!" she called after me as I headed for the door. I stopped and turned around. "Mommy always tells me a bedtime story before I go to bed."
"Um, ok." I walked uncertainly back over to her bed and sat down on the edge. Jenny grabbed her stuffed elephant from the her bedside table and clutched it close to her chest, eagerly awaiting the story.
"Well, once upon a time there was a young girl named Cinderella-" Jenny interrupted me with a disgusted look on her face and a groan.
"I don't like fairytales," she complained.
"Why not?" I asked, surprised. Most girl's loved fairytales, including me when I was a young girl.
"Because the girls in fairytales are wimps. They always have to wait around for the prince to save them. The prince always comes chasing after them and they never have to do anything at all. My teacher says that girls can do anything that boys can do." In the seventeen years that I've been alive I have never once heard a seven year old girl say that, so I was a little shocked. After I recovered from the surprise I cleared my throat, determined to tell her a story.
"Well, what kind of story do you want to hear?"
"Do you know the story about the robot that explored space?"
"Um, no, I only know fairytales." Those were the only stories my mom told me when I was young, and I never complained. I decided to try a different approach.
"Fairytales aren't so bad, you know. My mom used to read them to me when I was a little girl," I offered. Maybe her mom didn't like for her to listen to fairytales, but I didn't have any problem with them. She read me a big book of Grimm Brothers Fairytales up until I could read them for myself, and I think I turned out pretty good.
"But this is the 21st Century, things have changed!" Jenny exclaimed. I knew I shouldn't be upset with her, since she was only parroting what she probably heard her mother and teacher say, but I was still a little irritated. Here I was, a young, single women, and I was about to lose the only job I could find all because of the feminist movement. How ironic.
Before I could say anything, Jenny continued, "You lived back in the olden times, like the 1800's!"
My mouth dropped open in shock. "I'm not that old!" I snapped, finally feeling my anger come out.
Jenny sighed, leaning back into her pillows. "Never mind. I liked Mrs. Finney better, she told cool stories."
I started to panic. This was my first time babysitting…ever, and I wanted to make a good impression, otherwise I wouldn't be hired again. I couldn't afford to lose this job, I really needed the money since my mom got laid off at work.
"Wait, I just thought of a story you might like. It has a princess in it, but this one is different from all the other princesses, she's very independent," I said, making it all up on the spot. I needed a story I could tell Jenny, and all I knew were fairytale's, but how hard could it be to make up my own?
"Ok, tell me the story," Jenny agreed.
"Once upon a time there was a princess named…" Hm, ok, I need a name for the princess in my story. "Lydia who lived in a castle in a very far, far away place…"
The hem of my silk gown swished around my feet as I walked through the castle halls. The birds chirped an early morning song outside the walls as I strolled along. It seemed as though they were singing just for me; as if they knew today was a grand day and decided to sing their best just for the occasion, and they would not be the only one's singing.
Today was my twentieth birthday and, as my father had already decided, high time for me to choose a husband. That was the only down side to this special day. My father had sent out invitations to all the surrounding kingdoms, as far as the messengers would go, telling all the kings with sons that his daughter was looking for a husband. Today all the potential suitors would be lining up at my door, eagerly awaiting a chance to win me over.
My beauty was known throughout the land, even though I didn't see what the big fuss was about. When I looked in the mirror I saw a girl with a slightly crooked nose and a lopsided smile. My hair was too unruly and my eyes were an unflattering shade of green, yet everyone called me beautiful, and that was what the princes wanted: a beautiful doll that they could show off to other princes and kings.
Today they would all be coming, dressed in their finest clothes and smiling their most dashing smiles, not that it mattered. I didn't want to marry any of the princes, I wanted somebody who loved me for me, not because I was a princess, or because I was thought of as beautiful.
Today was a day of dread and excitement for me. Dread because of the princes coming to visit, but excitement because of the song in my honor that would be written by our court jester, Dawson. For as far back as I can remember he always wrote me a song for my birthday. Each birthday I spent eagerly awaiting his song, and this year was no exception.
I sighed as I reached the end of the hall because it split off in two opposite directions. I was about to take the left hall when I heard my name being called.
"Princess! Princess!" I turned around and saw my favorite maid-in-waiting, Cassie, hurrying to catch up to me. It was considered unladylike to hurry along as she did, with her cotton skirts bunched up in her arms as she ran so she wouldn't trip over them, but that's what I loved about Cassie. She didn't care what other people thought of her, as long as it didn't get her in trouble. I stopped and waited for her to reach me, and when she did she was out of breath.
"Princess, the suitors have arrived earlier than expected and your father wants you ready immediately to meet them in the throne room," she told me breathlessly. I nodded.
"l will go there now," I said, but she straightened up and spread her arms out, stopping me.
"No, princess. Your father said he wants you to wear the gown he bought you last year for your 19th birthday." I sighed, remembering the gown. I had only worn it once. It was a splendid gown, fit for a queen, but it was dreadfully heavy because of all the fabric and decorations adorning it. I always felt like I was drowning in silk when I wore it.
"Okay," I agreed.
I held onto the bedpost at the end of my bed as my other lady-in-waiting, Adela laced up my stays. My breath was sucked away from me as she yanked on the strings. I wanted to let out a groan of pain, but I couldn't find the breath to do so.
"Another yank another inch lost," she said as she continued to lace them up until she reached the top, then gave them a final yank before tying them in a neat knot.
"Okay, now where did you put that dress?" she asked as she walked back to my wardrobe. I released my grip on the pole and turned around.
"Way in back Adela, behind all the other dresses," I told her. She turned around and gave me a quick look of confusion.
"May I ask why you put such a elegant dress in the back of your closet?" she asked.
"I agree it is elegant, but it is so heavy! I wish there were not so much ribbons and decorations ornamenting the dress." I knew Adela wanted to say more by the way she bit down on her lip as she searched for the dress, but she knew it was not her place to argue with me.
She quickly found the dress and brought it over to me. She held the top of the dress while I took the bottom and slipped it on over my head. I poked my arms through the sleeves and my head through the lacey top, then turned around and grabbed the bedpost again. Adela grabbed the string and gave it a hard yank, harder than usual, while I grimaced.
"Must it be so tight?" I asked as she gave another hard yank.
"Men love thin girls, and today you will be meeting your future husband. Don't you want to look your best?"
"Yes," I lied. When she was finally done I turned around and slipped on the shoes that went with the dress. They were the only part of the present that I could actually wear and feel good in. I walked over to the chair in front of my mirror as Adela ran a brush through my hair. She smiled at me as she finished and began to put it in an intricate braid.
"Are you excited to be choosing a husband?" she asked as she worked.
"I will not be choosing a husband until next month," I replied, deliberately avoiding the question. Adela caught on and finished her work in silence as I thought about what the next month held in store for me. Just a week ago I had thought that father would be choosing a husband for me, as was custom, but seeing as I was his only child, and therefore his favorite, he doted on me. He gave me everything I wished for and catered to my every whim. When he saw that I was not too enthused about being married off he decided to break tradition for what he thought would be my happiness. He called me into the throne room not more than four days ago and told me that I would be allowed time to get to know each suitor and then choose one of them to be my husband. I knew he thought that would make me happy, but it did little to change my attitude on the subject.
One knowing my thoughts would say that I was spoiled, but I did not think that that was the case. I had the whole world set before me, but I only wanted one thing, and it was something I dared not ask for, knowing that even though father would give me anything money would buy, he would surely object to the one thing I wanted more than anything else.
As Adela finished the braid off with a bright green ribbon to match the dress, I stood up. It was time to accept my fate and put a brave face on. As I walked down the hall towards the throne room, a room I had been to hundreds of times before and was quite familiar with, I felt a sense of horror wash over me. Instead of walking into a room filled with men who wished to marry me, a dream come true for most women my age, I felt like I was being fed to a den full of hungry lions waiting to devour me.
I took a deep breath as I reached the large double doors of the throne room and the guard slipped through the doors before me to announce my presence. I imagined the men inside as lions tensing up, claws drawn and ready to pounce on their prey.
The wide doors were both thrown open before me as I lifted my head high and prepared to walk into the lion's den.