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A Semi-Charming Kind of Life

Suzanne Selfors

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  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  For Isabelle

  Dear Reader,

  Don’t miss the companion hextbook: Hero Training: A Destiny Do-Over Diary! Inside the diary are lots of activities inspired by the events of this story. Grab a copy so you can flip the script!


  The Narrator

  Chapter 1

  Beyond Boring

  Darling Charming had spent her entire life waiting.

  Perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, because, of course, she’d engaged in other activities, such as sleeping, eating, reading, and scrapbooking. But waiting was her least favorite thing to do, and she’d done a lot of it.

  “One hour,” she said. “Just one hour.” She sighed. “But it feels like forever after.”

  “I know it’s hard and it feels like a total waste of time,” her roommate, Rosabella Beauty, told her. “But at least you aren’t mistreated, like ogres and goblins.”

  Darling agreed, 100 percent. But that didn’t make it any less tedious. Waiting was a traditional activity for princesses, and Darling had been taught to uphold tradition. And to be dutiful. And perfect. Such was her lot in life.

  At least, that’s how it appeared. At that very moment, Darling and Rosabella were sitting on the plush carpet in their dormitory room at Ever After High, a special school for the sons and daughters of fairytale characters. Their room was opulently decorated, with carved vanities, gilded mirrors, and tasseled curtains. Vases of fresh flowers sat on every available inch of counter space. This upper level of the girls’ dormitory was sometimes called the Royal Wing because so many of the students who lived there were princesses. Rosabella Beauty was the daughter of the famous Beauty, a girl whose love had turned the Beast back into a prince. Darling Charming was the daughter of the renowned King Charming, whose royal storyline stretched back to the very beginning of stories. The Charming men had always been known for their heroic deeds, luxurious hair, and enchanting eyes. Darling’s two brothers were expected to follow in King Charming’s heroic footsteps by saving damsels, slaying dragons, and basically conquering whatever evil stepped into their paths.

  Darling, however, was not a son. She was a daughter. And being a daughter was a different matter altogether. No heroic deeds were expected of her. No quests or adventures. While the activities of the Charming princes had always been celebrated by poets and storytellers, the Charming princesses had a singular destiny—to be damsels in distress waiting for rescue. This was the way things had always been.

  And because tradition was the first, second, and third word in the Charming motto—Tradition, Tradition, Tradition—this was the way things remained.

  “What are you reading?” Darling asked.

  “The latest issue of Beast Weekly,” Rosabella said. As an activist who stood up for the rights of beasts everywhere, she liked to keep up with beastly matters. “Why don’t you read something while you’re waiting?”

  “Reading is doing something,” Darling explained as she adjusted her satin pillow. “And according to my thronework, I’m not supposed to do anything. I’m only supposed to wait.” She groaned with dissatisfaction.

  “That doesn’t make sense,” Rosabella said, tossing her magazine aside. “How can waiting be thronework?”

  Darling grabbed her MirrorPad and opened her thronework app. Then she read the assignment out loud.

  Class: Damsel-In-Distressing

  Thronework: Waiting exercise

  This week we shall practice the art of waiting, an important skill for the distressed damsel.

  Instructions: Sit perfectly still for one hour. Do not fidget. Do not engage in any activities. Any and all distractions will make the waiting difficult, so clear your minds and meditate.

  Points will be deducted if you fall asleep, unless you have a note from a physician stating that you suffer from a sleeping curse.

  Hextra Credit: Hextra points will be given for each additional hour of successful waiting.

  “Sometimes, when I stare at the wall and start counting backward, I’ll stop thinking about things,” Darling said with a laugh. She twiddled her polished thumbs. “I probably shouldn’t be talking to you, since talking is doing something.”

  “I’d flip my crown if I had to take Damsel-In-Distressing,” Rosabella said with a laugh. She scrambled to her feet. “I’d rather clean the bathrooms in the boys’ dormitory than sit and stare at walls. I’m so glad my story doesn’t require me to be a rescued damsel.”

  For a moment, envy washed over Darling, but she didn’t say anything. She sat quietly, watching as Rosabella slipped her arms into a floral-print cardigan with a fake-fur collar. It was true that Rosabella’s destiny was to be the rescuer, not the rescued. To save the beast from his horrid curse. To be the hero.

  How lucky she is, Darling thought.

  On the outside, the two girls seemed quite different. Raised by a progressive mother, Rosabella was outspoken, free-willed, and passionate about her beliefs. Even though she was from Royal heritage, she rarely wore a tiara. She chose comfortable, layered dresses and tall, fake-fur-lined boots rather than filigreed gowns and platform heels.

  Darling, on the other hand, always dressed like a princess, in elegant clothing with nary a spot or tear. A tiara perched on her pale blond tresses, which didn’t fall over her shoulders but, rather, cascaded, as she’d trained her hair to do. She wore just a touch of lip gloss and tried very hard to never scowl so she wouldn’t make a crease between her eyebrows, as she’d been taught by her mother, the queen.

  But while the roommates looked different, on the inside, they were quite similar, though Darling was the only person who knew that truth.

  “This school needs to recognize that times are changing and Damsel-In-Distressing is as old-fashioned as writing in cursive or hexpecting a fairy godmother to solve all your problems,” Rosabella said as she grabbed her MirrorPad. “They might as well call the class Dozing-In-Dresses, because until you’re actually a damsel in distress, waiting must get very boring.”

  Dozing-In-Dresses? Darling held back a snicker, but she secretly agreed with her roommate. “Where are you going?” she asked.

  “I’m going to collect signatures. I’ve drawn up a petition to make it legal for beasts to eat in cafés. They should have the same rights we have, don’t you think?”

  “Yes,” Darling said. But she wasn’t sure, considering that some beasts might want to eat the cafés’ customers, along with whatever happened to be on the menu.

  Rosabella opened their dorm room door, then turned and smiled at Darling. “You’re welcome to join me. I could use some help.”

  “I can’t,” Darling said with a sigh. “My parents would be very disappointed if I skipped my thronework.”

  “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Well, see you later.” And off Rosabella went.

  Darling’s legs twitched. She wanted to follow. She wanted to charge down the hall, dash outside, run across the footbridge, through the meadow, and beyond. But that would be unacceptable. While Rosabella’s parents encouraged their daughter to speak her mind and follow her passions, Darling’s parents were quite the opposite. Darling was as old-fashioned as a princess could be.

  In publ
ic, at least.

  Chapter 2

  Pretty Is as Pretty Does

  Because King Charming was handsome, and because Queen Charming was beautiful, it came as no surprise that when their daughter was born, everyone said, “Oh, what a pretty little thing.” Darling had not only been graced with shimmering locks, chubby cheeks, and perfectly pudgy toes, but she’d also been blessed with a sweet smile and pleasant demeanor. Her parents nearly burst with pride when they introduced their lovely new baby to the people of their kingdom.

  It also came as no surprise that as Darling grew, so, too, did her popularity and beauty—both inside and out. She was charming and a Charming. Which meant her life was charmed.

  But though she learned to walk earlier than most, and though she learned to read and write earlier than most, she was praised for only one thing.

  “You look very pretty.”

  “My oh my, what a pretty little princess.”

  “Prettiest princess in all the kingdoms.”

  “Thank you,” Darling said. Then she held up a piece of parchment. “Look, I learned how to divide decimals today.”

  “So very, very, very pretty.”

  One day, when Darling was five years old, her brothers, Daring and Dexter, both covered in mud, tramped into the castle. They received a round of applause. “I’ve been wrestling wild boars,” Daring boasted as he tugged on a leash. A massive boar grunted its displeasure as Daring led it around the room.

  “Me too,” Dexter said. A wild boar piglet squealed from the crook of his arm.

  “Good lad,” King Charming said with a slap on Daring’s back. Then he patted Dexter’s mud-coated head. “Good try.”

  But when Darling wandered out to the pigpen and wrestled a full-grown pig to the ground, she was yanked into the air by a very strong arm. Then she was set gently onto the ground. “What do you think you’re doing?”

  She stared into her father’s narrowed eyes. “I’m wrestling,” she told him. “Just like Dare and Dex.”

  “A princess does not roll around in the mud with pigs,” he informed her.

  “Why not?” she asked.

  “Because that pig is three times as big as you. You could have been squished!” He shook his head. “Rolling around in the mud. Honestly, you should know better.” He carried her into the castle and deposited her into the arms of her nursemaid. “Bathe the princess at once.”

  When her brothers limped into the castle with gashed knees, their britches torn, they received another round of applause. “I climbed to the top of Ogre Mountain and planted the Charming flag,” Daring said, his rope and safety hooks slung over his shoulder.

  “I made it halfway up,” Dexter said with a shrug.

  “That’s my boy,” King Charming said with a slap on Daring’s back. Then he patted Dexter’s shoulder. “Better luck next time, son.”

  But when Darling skipped out to the meadow, hiked up her skirt, and climbed the tallest tree at Charming Castle, she found herself staring down at her father’s scowling face.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” he called up to her.

  “I’m climbing, just like Dare and Dex.”

  “Come down this instant. A princess does not climb trees!”

  “Why not?” she asked as she shimmied down the trunk.

  “Because you could fall and get hurt! You should know better.” He carried her into the castle and deposited her with the royal seamstress. “Mend the princess’s dress at once.”

  Later that night, the queen visited Darling’s room. She sat next to her on the canopy bed and gently took her chin in her hand. “My precious daughter,” the queen said. She smelled of lilac blossoms, and her golden hair was swept into a towering beehive. “I know it seems unfair that your brothers get to tromp all over the place, doing whatever they please, while you must stay indoors and sit quietly. But that is the way it has always been and the way it must always be.”


  “Your brothers must grow big and strong and face dangers so that they can become heroes. But you must wait patiently, look pretty, and behave in a ladylike manner. A princess cannot possibly come across as charming if she is covered in mud or if her dress is torn. My mother always told me, ‘Pretty is as pretty does.’”

  Pretty is as pretty does? Darling thought long and hard about that statement. Then she frowned at her mother. “Everyone tells me I’m pretty and well liked, but what good is it if I’m not allowed to do anything?”

  “That’s not entirely true,” Queen Charming said. “You can work on your conversation skills, develop your personal style choices, and master the art of scrapbooking. And when you go to school, you will follow a rigorous course of study that will prepare you for the big day.”

  “Big day?” Darling asked, sitting up super straight. She pushed aside her stuffed fairies. This was the most exciting news she’d ever heard. “There’s going to be a big day?”

  “Of course.” The queen patted Darling’s hand. “The day your prince arrives.”

  Darling didn’t quite understand. “You mean I’m going to have a visitor?”

  “Yes, a very important visitor from a faraway kingdom. And when he arrives, he’ll rescue you.”

  “How come he’s got to rescue me?” Darling asked. “Is something bad going to happen to me?”

  “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly. “But that is how it has always been with Charming princesses. A dragon will abduct you, or an evil sorcerer will curse you, or you might even get locked in a tower, though that seems a bit overdone these days.” The queen smiled. “But fear not, because your prince will rescue you. Then he’ll proclaim his true love and marry you, and you’ll live happily ever after in a castle just like this one. But until that day arrives, your father and I must do our best to keep you safe. Now, sleep well, my darling.”

  Darling did not sleep well. In fact, after hearing such news, she couldn’t sleep one wink. So, after the castle candles had been extinguished and her parents had gone to bed, she tiptoed down the hall to her brother Dexter’s room.

  “Dex, I can’t sleep. Mother says that something bad is going to happen to me and I’ll need to be rescued.”

  Dexter was playing the latest version of Troll Quest on his MirrorPad. “Don’t worry,” he told her. He patted the bench and she sat next to him. “I’ll come to your rescue.”

  “You will?” she asked. “You promise?”

  “Of course I promise. I’m a prince, after all. Why can’t I be the one to rescue you?”

  “Thanks,” Darling said. “And if you ever need help, I’ll rescue you.”

  “It’s a deal.” Then, taking turns on his device, they made their way through the Screaming Swamp until they defeated the troll king. And even though she was only five years old, Darling realized that she and her brother made a great team.

  Chapter 3

  Strong Is as Strong Does

  As soon as Rosabella’s footsteps had faded down the hallway, Darling jumped to her feet and slid the dead bolt on the door. Go ahead—let the outside world believe she was sitting around, waiting. But forty-five minutes remained in her thronework assignment, and she wasn’t going to let that precious time go to waste.

  She opened her closet, reached into the very back, and pulled out a piece of clothing. It was not a gown dripping in jewels or a summer frock spun from gossamer silk. And it had not been approved by the Charming Committee on Appropriate Apparel. This was a suit made of lightweight, breathable, sweat-resistant material that had been woven in the Elvish District. She’d saved her coins to order it off the Mirror Network, and she’d had it delivered to the school. Such an outfit would have been forbidden at Charming Castle. Athletic wear didn’t fit her parents’ standards for proper princess attire.

  But it felt so comfortable and moved like a second layer of skin. After slipping into the silver pants and white tank top, she removed her tiara, pulled her hair into a ponytail, then proceeded with her workout routine. She began with
thirty push-ups, fifty sit-ups, and ten chin-ups on the bar in her closet. Then she started her lunges. Finding the time to exercise was always tricky, since she had to do it in solitude. But it felt so good to move!


  A bouquet of field flowers had soared through the open window and landed next to Darling’s feet. Receiving a bouquet was a daily occurrence for Darling, which was why her dorm room looked and smelled like a florist’s shop. “Darling Charming, are you in there?” a boy called. “Those flowers are for you!”

  Not wanting to be seen in her workout clothes, she stuck her hand out the window and waved. “Thank you,” she called. It was the polite thing to do, but honestly, she was sick of the attention. Because she was the only girl in the Charming family, boys were always trying to woo her in an effort to prove themselves worthy of the Charming family charm and secure their role as famous princes. It must have been tiresome. Even the cleaning fairies complained about having to haul away the bouquets when they started to wilt. The only person who seemed to appreciate the constant supply of flowers was not a person but a butterfly named Adelita. She belonged to Rosabella, and she loved to spend her days perched on the petals, drinking nectar. Darling’s pet, a horse named Sir Gallopad, never stayed in their room. He spent his nights in the school’s stables.

  “I love you!” the boy yelled. Darling frowned. Whoever he was, he didn’t actually love her. Real love was not about wanting to nab a princess just because her last name was Charming. Real love was much deeper. But she didn’t blame the boy for his declaration. She loved being a Charming more than anything in the world, and she could see why every boy in the kingdom would want to be part of her royally cool family. Luckily, the giddiness wore off eventually, and when it did, the poor besotted fellow could go on with his life.

  “I’ve never felt this way before!” he hollered, his voice cracking. “I want to be your Prince Charming! Will you marry me?”