“My, my, Lindsay, that is quite the stack of books you have there.” Mrs. Nelson pulled her reading glasses lower on her nose to scrutinize the stack of books that Lindsay thunked on the library desk. The red beads along Mrs. Nelson’s glasses chain clattered together with her movement.
“Are you planning on reading all,”—she paused to count the books—“seven of these books in the next two weeks?”
“Yup!” Lindsay tucked a strand of long, curly blonde hair behind her ear, but the strand popped out and hung in front of Lindsay’s face once again. “It’s summer, Mrs. Nelson. No more of that pesky homework to keep me from visiting new worlds.”
“And what worlds have you chosen today?” Mrs. Nelson glanced at the glossy book covers as she scanned barcodes.
“Mythical ones with damsels in distress and knights that save them. Although I’m not quite sure why a damsel would need a man to save her.”
“Well, men are strong and handy, don’t you think?” Mrs. Nelson pushed the stack of books towards Lindsay, who carefully maneuvered them into her arms and under her chin.
“Well, yes, I guess they can be. My dad is pretty strong. I’m not sure about high school boys. Their arms are kind of noodly.” Lindsay turned away from the library desk, her voice getting louder as she walked away from Mrs. Nelson. “But I don’t understand why a princess can’t save herself. Have a good day, Mrs. Nelson.”
The lady standing in line behind Lindsay chuckled along with Mrs. Nelson as she slid her books across the desk to be scanned. She leaned towards Mrs. Nelson, resting an arm on the desk.
“Sure, a princess could save herself, but who would turn down the help of a handsome young man?” Both women laughed.
“The day Lindsay finally drags her nose out of a book and notices a boy is the day I’ll dye my hair blue.”
The woman grabbed her books and began to walk away. “I don’t know, Mrs. Nelson. Blue might look good on you!” Mrs. Nelson shook her head at the woman’s retreating figure and rolled her eyes.
“Mom! I’m home!” Lindsay nudged the front door closed with the toe of her shoe and made her way to the staircase, peeking around her stack of books to make sure that her foot landed securely on the first step.
“Hey! Shoes off the carpet, young lady.” Lindsay’s mom, Sharon, peeked around the corner from the kitchen to frown at Lindsay.
“But Mom, I have to put these books in my room. I don’t have any hands to take my shoes off.”
“Give them here.” Sharon held out her arms, and Lindsay passed the books to her. Lindsay sat down in the entryway and unlaced her shoes before shoving them onto the shoe rack.
“There is this thing, Lindsay—I don’t know if you’ve heard of it—but it’s called the outdoors. You are planning on visiting it at least once this summer, right?” Sharon gave Lindsay a questioning glance, with one eyebrow raised.
“Of course. I already visited it once on the way to the library.” Sharon folded her arms. “I’ve got to say I’m less than impressed. It’s warm and sticky out there, and there’s this big thing in the sky—the sun I think it’s called—that makes my skin red.” Lindsay began climbing the stairs. “Two stars.”
“Nature is God’s gift to mankind, and you give it two stars?”
“Two and a half if it’s breezy.”
Sharon shook her head and turned back towards the kitchen. “Of all the children I’ve had, you are certainly the weirdest.”
“Thanks a lot, Mom!” Lindsay swung a left at the top of the staircase and made her way to the second door. Once in her room, Lindsay dropped the books onto her bed and closed her door.
Now that the outside world was firmly locked out of Lindsay’s room, she jumped onto her bed, which sat in the middle of the room, and spread the books in front of her. She put a hand on her chin and read through the book titles, trying to decide which book to read first.
Her eyes paused on the book farthest to the right. The Princess of Montaigne it read. She pushed the other books out of the way and ran her hand over the front cover. It felt cool to the touch, and a strange sensation zinged from Lindsay’s fingertips straight to her heart. She looked around, paranoid that someone was witnessing the moment.
The book drew her in; a voice in her head chanted, “Read it! Read it! Read iiiiiit.” She cracked the cover open, and the air in her room seemed to woosh about even though there were no windows open. A twinge of panic hit Lindsay’s heart, but curiosity forced her to continue.
When Lindsay had opened the book fully, she felt this strange pulling sensation, like when she put her hand over the hose of a vacuum cleaner. It tugged hard on Lindsay until it was almost unbearable, and then everything went dark.
Lindsay blinked once. She tilted her head to the left. She heard noises, but they were fuzzy, like cotton filled her ears. She shifted her arms and legs, noting that all four limbs seemed to be attached. Her legs moved more sluggishly than her arms. They felt pinned underneath something.
“Princess? Are you alright?”
Princess? Lindsay thought. Her eyes shot open, and she struggled to sit up. Three girls who looked a little older than Lindsay and wore long gowns hovered around her. They all had worried expressions and towered above Lindsay, who realized she was sitting sprawled on the floor.
“Are…are you speaking to me?” Lindsay pointed a finger at her chest. The three girls all looked to each other and then back at Lindsay. The middle one spoke.
“Of course, we are. Who else would we be speaking to?”
“Um, someone who is a princess. I’m most certainly not a princess.”
“Oh no! She must have hit her head. I told you she hit her head, Margaret,” the girl to Lindsay’s left blurted out before glaring at the girl to Lindsay’s right.
“I never said she didn’t. I said I didn’t see her hit her head.” She folded her arms.
“Hey, let’s not fight again.” The middle girl shot a look at the other two girls before turning a warm smile back to Lindsay. “We’re here to help Princess Elysia.”
“Princess who, now?” Lindsay tucked her arms into her chest to avoid the outstretched arms of the middle girl.
“Oh my, she can’t even remember her own name.”
“Margaret, Cordelia. Stop it and help me.”
“Yes, Athena,” they chorused. Athena pried Lindsay’s left arm from her chest, and Margaret got ahold of her right arm. They pulled Lindsay to a standing position and helped her over to an ornate bed piled high with embroidered blankets and pillows.
An equally ornate bench rested at the foot of the bed, and the three girls led Lindsay to it. Then, they sat on the floor in front of Lindsay, smoothing out the many layers of their skirts. They looked at Lindsay with rapt attention as they waited for her to say something.
Lindsay’s thoughts zoomed through her head. A second ago, I was reading a book, and now I’m in a long floofy ballgown with three strangers. Totally not weird. Not weird at all…Okay, it’s totally weird. Think, Lindsay, think!
“Um, yeah, I’m not a princess. I don’t know who you are or who you think I am, but my name is Lindsay, and the only princesses I know are from books.” Lindsay folded her hands in her lap and sat back. There, that ought to clear things up.
“No,” Margaret started. “Your name is Princess Elysia, and we are your ladies-in-waiting. And actually, you know quite a few princesses.”
“I don’t know how to make this any clearer, but I. Am. Not. Elysia. I don’t know where I am or what you’ve done to me, but I need to get home.” Lindsay stood up, and the three girls jumped up with her.
“You are home. The castle of Montaigne is your home.” Lindsay jerked her head to look at Athena. The title of the book Lindsay had tried to read had the name Montaigne in it. Am I in a book?
“Oh! I know! Show her the portrait. That will settle it.” Cordelia pointed to the wall behind Lindsay and tugged her in its direction. “Look. That’s you.” An almost life-sized painting stared down at Lindsay. A girl sat in the painting, holding an open book and a quill. Lindsay felt like she was looking in a mirror.
“Oh, wow, yeah. That’s me all right.” She reached her hand out to the painting but stopped when her fingertips drew close, afraid to touch it. How can that be me?
“And look at the inscription. It has your name on it. Portrait of Princess Elysia.”
Lindsay took a step back and brought a hand up to her forehead. Which life is a lie? This one or my one back home? No, no, no. This one is definitely not real. I’m in a book somehow. Her eyes flitted around the room.
Two balconies with billowing gauzy curtains framed the bed—the largest bed Lindsay had ever seen—and a three-mirrored vanity sat in the far-right corner. Well, I am a princess in a book. Maybe I should just enjoy this a little? Lindsay turned to the three girls and grinned.
“I don’t know what possibly came over me. Of course, I am Elysia, who else would I be? Now why don’t we find something to occupy our afternoon. Perhaps a stroll down to the royal library?” Lindsay tucked her hands behind her and rocked back on her heels. The girls laughed.
“You’re very funny today, Elysia.” Cordelia said.
“Why is that funny?”
“Why would we go to the library? Women don’t read.” Lindsay’s smile slipped right off her face. Before Lindsay could ask why on earth a woman wouldn’t know how to read, a butler entered the room and bowed slightly.
“A Prince Desmond for Princess Elysia.” He bowed again and left the room. The girls squealed, and Lindsay raised her eyebrows.
“Alright, Athena, you got to chaperone last time, so I think it’s my turn.”
“No way, Cordelia, it’s my turn.”
“Actually, I agree with Margaret. You chaperoned her before I did.”
“Woah, woah, woah,” Lindsay held her hands up in front of her. “Slow down. Why are we talking about chaperones?”
“Because Prince Desmond is here.” Margaret waited for the blank expression to leave Lindsay’s face, and when it didn’t, she rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Elysia, you are not yourself today. Desmond is your betrothed. He’s here to court you.”
Lindsay’s heart stuttered a beat and then sprinted. A boy? How does one exit this book immediately? Yes, I would like to leave right now. As Lindsay contemplated how far of a drop it would be for her to jump from the balcony, a young boy with brown hair tied with a bow at the nape of his neck entered the room. He wore tall, shiny black boots and held a bouquet of flowers. He locked eyes with Lindsay and then bowed.
“Good afternoon, Elysia.” Lindsay was silent until Athena jabbed an elbow into her side, and she wobbled into something that resembled a curtsy.
“Good afternoon,”—she gulped—“Desmond.”
“I thought that perhaps today we would take a stroll through the gardens? The flowers are looking radiant today.”
“Oh, um, yeah sure, that would be sweet.” Desmond tilted his head a little but didn’t comment on Lindsay’s word choice. Athena walked up to Desmond, curtsied, and took the flowers from him. Cordelia followed close behind Athena. Margaret stayed behind Lindsay and out of her line of sight. After a beat of silence, Desmond stuck out his arm in front of Lindsay.
“…We shall.” Lindsay placed her hand in the crook of his elbow, and they left the room with Margaret not far behind. A thick silence settled over the group.
Think, think, think. Say something witty. Lindsay poked at her thoughts, but nothing intelligent sprang to her lips until she spotted a door cracked open, and inside the doorway was a room filled with row upon row of books. She pulled Desmond to a halt.
“Say, what if we didn’t go to the garden?”
Desmond smooshed his eyebrows together and stayed silent for a moment. “Then…what else would we do?”
“Let’s go to the library.”
“Why would you want to go to a library?”
Lindsay peeked behind her at Margaret, who pretended to inspect a painting on the wall. Lindsay faced Desmond again and leaned in close.
“I’m going to let you in on a pretty big secret, ok?” A sparkle of interest dashed across Desmond’s eyes.
“I can read.” Desmond gasped and brought a hand to his lips.
“No. I don’t believe you.”
“Would I lie to you, Desmond?”
“I don’t actually know the answer to that question.”
“Want me to prove it to you?” Say yes! I want to look at books!
“I think I will need to see this to believe it.”
Lindsay bounced a little on her feet and clapped before placing her hand back on Desmond’s arm. “Lead the way, dear prince.” Desmond shook his head a little and chuckled as he steered them toward the library.
Once inside the room, Lindsay’s eyes went wide, and she spun around to look at the beautiful books surrounding her. Her mouth hung open slightly, and she had to stop herself from wiping the back of her hand across her mouth to check for drool. She composed herself and looked at Desmond.
“Pick a book, any book, and I’ll read from it.” Desmond strolled in front of the back wall and selected a thick tome that looked older than Lindsay’s grandpa. He cracked it open and pointed to the top of the page.
Lindsay delicately cleared her throat before looking down at the page. “‘In the days of King Edward III, there was a great famine, and nearly a third of the population died from emaciation.’ Wow, that’s some bleak stuff.” Lindsay looked at Desmond, whose jaw currently attempted to touch the floor.
“Could you really read that? You didn’t come in here earlier and memorize this exact page to trick me?”
“Look at that book.” Lindsay closed the book, turned the cover towards Desmond, and dragged one finger through the dust. “I think you would know if someone had touched this book recently.”
“You are…incredible! You’re unlike any other woman I know. Not even my own mother can read.”
“It’s really not all that hard. I don’t think it’s a skill that makes me incredible.”
“Well, I think it does. What else can you do?”
“Um,” Lindsay looked away from Desmond and ran her finger along the backs of the books behind him. “I can play the piano, horribly, sing the alphabet backwards, and climb trees better than any boy I know.” Margaret gasped from where she stood off to the left. When Lindsay looked at her, she turned away, her hand covering her mouth.
“You climb trees?”
Lindsay looked down at the miles of fabric coving her legs. Hmm, Princesses probably don’t climb trees. Oops.
“Well, yes, but,”—she leaned in closer—“secretly. It’s not really ladylike, you know?” Nice save.
Desmond grinned. “Of course. A princess wouldn’t be caught dead climbing a tree.” He glanced at Margaret, then leaned even closer to Lindsay, lowering his voice to a mere wisp of noise. “What do you think of losing Margaret and finding ourselves a tree of challenge?”
“I think that’s your best idea yet.”
“Here, let me give you a hand.” Lindsay swatted Desmond’s hand away. He crouched a foot or two higher than she was on a branch of the thick oak tree. Her feet still dangled a few inches off the ground as she swung her legs, trying to hoist herself and her heavy dress onto the first branch.
“I got this.” She dropped back down to the ground. “I just need a running start.” She backed up a little and scrunched her eyebrows at the branch; then, she ran and jumped. She managed to get her left leg hooked over the branch, and she slowly scooted forward until she sat upright and straddled the branch. Desmond clapped.
“Woo-hoo! Go Elysia!” She gave a half bow.
“Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.”
“I stand by what I said. You are incredible.”
“You’re not so bad yourself.” Lindsay leaned back a little, both hands still on the tree branch, and looked at the castle. “I’ve forgotten how much fun real life can be.” Desmond tilted his head.
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” Lindsay chuckled. “Let’s just say I spend most of my time living in other worlds.” Desmond’s head stayed tilted. “Worlds of the literary kind.”
“Oooh. You must feel cooped up in the castle all day then. Right?”
Well, Lindsay thought. Not really. The outdoors is there—I just choose not to experience it. But I can’t tell him that.
“Yeah, the castle can get quite…boring sometimes.” Lindsay picked at the bark beneath her fingers.
“Lindsay, why are you sleeping?”
Lindsay jerked her head to look at Desmond. His expression was blank.
“What did you just say?”
“Lindsay, wake up. Wake up.”
Lindsay jolted upward in bed, and The Princess of Montaigne slid off her chest and into her lap. Her heart thumped against her ribs.
“Why were you sleeping? It’s three in the afternoon.”
Lindsay debated what to say. Was all that a dream?
“Um, I must have dozed off. All that reading. You know how physically exhausting it can be.”
Sharon chuckled. “Yeah, because you’re using so many muscles.”
“Only the essential ones, duh.” Lindsay lifted The Princess of Montaigne off her lap and shut it firmly, setting it on her bedside table. “Actually, my neck is feeling a little stiff from reading so long. I think I might go outside. Stretch ye old limbs or whatever people do in nature.”
“You? Go outside for fun? Are you feeling alright, honey?” Sharon pressed a palm against Lindsay’s forehead, and Lindsay pushed it away.
“I am not an old dog. I can learn new tricks. Enjoying the outside might actually be a fun thing to master.”
Sharon rolled her eyes and smiled as she turned toward the door.
“I hope you learn the way of hippie well.”
“I will try.” Lindsay saluted her mom as she left the room. She glanced at the book on her bedside table and gulped. Nope. Nature first. Then weird magical dream books. I can only handle so much in one day.