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The Royals Next Door
Author: Karina Halle




   Nicky Graves just threw up in my handbag.

   It’s my fault, really. I knew he was sick, even though he tried to muster up some eight-year-old bravado and pretend he wasn’t. I know that when I was his age, if my forehead felt remotely hot, I’d be in the nurse’s office all day, waiting for my mom to come and get me. Any excuse to miss school.

   But Nicky loves school (and since I’m his second-grade teacher, I should be honored by this), so he pretended he was fine until he wasn’t.

   I saw it happen in slow motion too. I was reading to the class from one of their favorite series, Mercy Watson, talking about the pig’s love for butter, when Nicky’s face went a wicked shade of green. His hand shot up to his mouth, and before I could do anything, he was running to the trash can beside my desk. Which would have been great had I not left my purse beside the trash and had Nicky possessed a LeBron James style of pinpoint accuracy.

   “I’m sorry, Miss Evans!” Nicky wails, standing beside what used to be a nice leather bag I picked up in Mexico years ago when I was on vacation with my ex, Joey. I suppose it’s fitting that in the end it’s just a pile of vomit, which is exactly what our relationship turned out to be. Metaphors 101.

   “It’s okay, Nicky,” I tell him, trying to sound calm even though I can feel the class descending into panic as cries of “Ewwww!” and “Nicky puked! Sicky Nicky!” and “I’m gonna barf!” fill the room.

   I practically throw the book down and run over to him, trying to hold it together myself. This is not my favorite part of the job, and I’m probably the only elementary school teacher who still gets easily grossed out. I grab an entire box of tissues and somehow manage to get Nicky cleaned up, call the nurse’s office and his mother to come get him, and calm down the class.

   It isn’t until the bell rings that I have time to deal with the purse of puke.

   I’m staring at it, wondering if I should call it a wash and just throw it all away, when there’s a knock at the door. It’s the first-grade teacher, Cynthia Bautista, poking her head in, sympathy all over her face. Maybe a tinge of disgust.

   “You okay? I heard you had a sickie today.”

   I gesture to the bag, which I still haven’t touched. “Well, I’m in the market for a new purse.”

   She walks in and eyes it, flinching. “Oh. Fuck me.” Then she covers her mouth and bursts out laughing. “I’m sorry. It’s not funny.”

   “Don’t worry, if it had happened to you, I’d be laughing too.” Cynthia is one of the few teachers here that I’d consider a friend. Not that I’m a hard person to get along with—people pleasing is something that’s been ingrained in me since I was a child—but there aren’t that many people who “get” me, especially where I live, especially in the school system. There’s a very rigid set of rules and hierarchy at SSI Elementary, and I’m still treated like a newcomer, even though I’ve worked here and lived here long enough. They say that most people who move to Salt Spring Island only last a few years, and if you make it to five, then you’re considered a “real islander.” I’ve made it to five, and I haven’t managed to get close to anyone. People seem to think I’ll eventually go back out with the tide.

   “I think you’re going to have to throw it away,” Cynthia says, her nose scrunched up. “Anything valuable in there?”

   I sigh, nodding. “My wallet. Some makeup. A book. Tic Tacs.”

   My antianxiety medication, I finish in my head. But she doesn’t need to know that.

   Then I remember. “Oh wait. Maybe . . .” I crouch down and gingerly poke at the outside pocket where I remember sliding my bank cards this morning after getting my morning coffee at Salty Seas Coffee & Goods. My bank card and credit card seem untouched by the contents of Nicky’s stomach. Unfortunately, those are the only things saved.

   “Shit.” I slap the cards on my desk and give Cynthia a tired look. “Feel like doing me a favor?”

   “Hell no,” she says, shaking her head adamantly. Cynthia is a pretty tough cookie, emigrated here from the Philippines by herself when she was twenty, went through an awful divorce, and is now raising her ten-year-old daughter by herself. “That bag and everything in it is a lost cause. You can always get another driver’s license. And makeup. And books. And Tic Tacs.”

   She’s right. I glance at the clock. It’s just past three, which means there’s plenty of time to get to the insurance place and get a new driver’s license. Luckily our school is right in the middle of our tiny town and close to everything. “I guess I’ll go do that now before I forget. Do we have a toxic waste receptacle here?” I eye the purse.

   Cynthia gives me a look like I’m crazy. “You want to try to get your license now? Have you even stepped outside today?”

   I shake my head. During recess and lunch hour I stayed at my desk and read my book, preparing for the podcast I’m doing tonight. I’d already read it, but I wanted to skim through it to beef up my talking points in the review.

   “Why, what’s happening?”

   This island is small, and nothing much ever happens here. Perhaps there’s some hippie protest about a cell phone tower or something.

   Cynthia’s eyes go wide, and she gets this excited, knowing look upon her face. “You haven’t heard?”

   I stare at her blankly and cross my arms. Obviously not. “What?”

   “You know Prince Edward and MRed?”

   Do I know Prince Edward and MRed, aka Monica Red, aka Monica, Duchess of Fairfax? “Cynthia, I live on a rock, not under a rock.”

   “Well apparently you live under one too. They’re here! Like, today. Now. And looking for real estate. The whole island has been losing their mind over it. Paparazzi have been arriving in float planes all morning, the ferries are full of looky-loos or however you call it. The town is at a standstill.”

   My tired brain can hardly comprehend any of this.

   You see, Prince Edward, the younger, stoic son of Queen Beatrix and her husband, Prince Albert, recently married a Grammy-winning singer named MRed, and the press has been up in arms about it. Not only is Monica Black, but she’s American and she had a successful career, which may have included a lot of risqué songs, scantily clad videos, performances gone viral, etc. In other words, the UK media has been absolutely brutal to the both of them, with racism and slut-shaming at every turn. I mean, I’m by no means a royal fanatic, but I’ve been keeping up with it (they dominate the news everywhere), and I don’t see the media ever attacking Eddie’s older brother, Prince Daniel, who remains a womanizing bachelor.

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