Read Letters to Zell Online

Authors: Camille Griep

Letters to Zell

BOOK: Letters to Zell
8.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 Camille Griep

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by 47North, Seattle

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781477827819

ISBN-10: 1477827811

Cover design by Cyanotype Book Architects

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014957280

For Ashlee:
This is a story because of us and friends like us and friends not like us. This is a story because the years of our friendship now outnumber the years without. This is a story because I love you.

nce upon a Time

rom the Desk of Cecilia Cinder Charming

Crystal Palace

North Road, Grimmland

Dear Zell,

We were all waiting for you at the Swinging Vine so we could start our book club, when poor DJ dropped your note off with the first round of wine. You won’t be surprised to learn Bianca went off like a confetti cannon, pelting him with accusations of cowardice and collusion.

All this drama to let us know you left to manage a unicorn preserve? I thought that sort of rural charity work was only for indulgent royalty out West. You said in your note, “I’ve always dreamed of making a difference.” Since when? I know you love animals, but this is a bit more involved than leaving a saucer of milk out for stray kittens.

How did you expect we’d react? Laugh? Cry? Lament your departure to the half dozen tipsy, dancing princesses in the corner of an otherwise empty wine bar? I almost expected you to come through the door, doubling over at your own practical joke.

It was a long time—too long—before anyone said anything at all. And then it was clear your note was real. That you and Jason have actually departed to start a new life in the country. That you were already gone, having avoided those “messy good-byes” you’re so opposed to, ever since Mother Gothel banished you to the edge of the Realm after she caught you two mid-canoodle.

Once Jason found you out there in the boonies, I know it was hard trying to reconcile the broken, blind man with the one you fell in love with back in the tower. You had to be the strong one, raising the twins on your own during the hardest years.

I understand that leaving lets you focus on your relationship and your family. But why not tell
your solution? Did you think we were too shallow to understand?

Perhaps I should have seen such an audacious move coming. It seems like just yesterday you and Jason returned, but really it’s been years. After the drama of his homecoming and your wedding was over, I suppose I got wrapped up in my own engagement and the dwarves announcing Bianca’s recovery—and, of course, Rory’s ongoing quest to mold Henry into a prince worth waking up for. It’s no wonder you needed some space away from everything and everyone. I get why you left, but I still can’t see why you kept the decision to yourself. No discussion, no apology, just good-bye.

The other girls were as baffled as I was. Rory used her signature narcoleptic detachment to defend your actions as “romantic.” Bianca threatened to enlist the dwarves to retrieve you.

What am I supposed to do without you? You and I didn’t start out as royalty—me the little cinder girl and you Rapunzel, prisoner of the Tower. We complemented our eccentric princesses, the four of us a perfect team. Now we’re like a three-legged goat. Or something.

The thing is, I had no idea that you wanted anything other than the life we’re currently living. When did you experience this big revelation? When did you decide to allow yourself to follow through?

We’ve all lived beneath the weight of our Pages for so long that wanting something of our own volition feels dangerous. We aren’t like the lucky ones waltzing around as they choose. You and I had to live out unpredictable stories penned by a capricious author. It’s true we’re free now, but I’ve never dreamed of admitting I still want more than what I already have.

I can’t figure out if you’re brave or crazy or selfish or brilliant. Maybe all of those. You’ve always been ahead of the curve.

Then there’s Bianca, whose Pages don’t end until she’s married and Valborg is executed for those four counts of stepmotherly attempted homicide. Pages always seem to be the most trying right before they’re finished. Worse, Bianca doesn’t want to be a queen. She doesn’t want to live in a castle. She wants to travel the Realm—and beyond, Outside—just like her father is doing. She talks big about young Human women wasting time at universities, chewing on their pens and debating whether a chair is really there, but under all that bluster, I know she’d rather do that than sit listless on an ebony throne.

And now here you are, traipsing off into the sunset. Bianca tried to act like she didn’t care that you’d gone, but she spent the remainder of the night trashing the romance novel you’d chosen for book club. I’d fill you in, but I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it directly from her.

I’m not sure how late I stayed after everyone else left, but it must have been pretty late because I was still sitting there when DJ shooed the last of the prance-cesses (get it?) out the door. The girls had left a glittering mess from one end of the bar to the other. “Damned pixie dust,” DJ muttered. “Not everything needs to sparkle.” Those dancing ditzes have such a terrible reputation as a group, but I guess I don’t know anything about them as individuals—not the six in the bar, not their six sisters. What are the chances that all twelve are intolerable? There’s a fourth spot in the book club now, so I could find out. We could even ask the new girl in town, the one from Swan Lake telling everyone about her mattress problem. I’m almost mad enough to fill your spot.

Instead of kicking me out as well, DJ asked why I was pouting. I told him that you had moved to the country to save the unicorns, focus on your family, chase your dreams, grow tomatoes, maybe compost.

He said, “Well, good for her. Those kids could use some fresh air and a change of scenery.”

I told him he was right because he probably is, and I’m sure I won’t be angry with you forever. And maybe you’ll get there and reconsider and come back to us after all.

But when I got home, I
still mad at you or maybe just sad at you, so I rummaged up another bottle of wine from the deserted cellars. I figured I’d work up a batch of scones while I unwound. I know princesses aren’t supposed to bake, but baking helps me relax. Edmund was in Wonderland again, going over the new plans for the Bunny Byway (to avoid further collisions with curious children), and the kitchen staff always clears out around nine or so.

You know what the best part about the kitchen is? My brooding stepsisters wouldn’t set one mutilated foot in there for fear of being seen, nor would my nosy stepmother. Also it smells good and it’s nice and warm.

Last night it was maybe too warm.

I fell asleep at the long table, head resting on a half-full sack of oats. At some point, Rosemount, returning from jestering, removed my very well done scones from the oven, and bustled me to my chambers. Even though I had the whole bed to myself, I had harried, black dreams.

Dreams interrupted, of course, by my stepmother.

“Cinderella! Time to get up.”

It didn’t feel like it could have possibly been a time consistent with morning. I should have asked Edmund to install a secret passageway in my chamber. Or a moat filled with alligators. Or a better lock. But instead, the door swung open and Duchess Lucinda of Everland swept in wearing a crisp, white dress, inlaid with an intricate pattern of black silk.

When I was small, I thought her flair for drama, her style, and the way she carried herself was so beautiful. Actually, I still think so—no one evil is ever so simple—but that morning I wasn’t yet ready to see anything, beautiful or otherwise.

Lucinda stared at me. “Why in Grimm’s name do you still have yesterday’s dress on? What kind of skulking about have you been doing? Are you trying to bring ruin to our house—after all we’ve been through, all we’ve accomplished?”

I tried hard to make the room stop spinning, but she was so loud. Her voice reverberated off the stones on the wall, the floor. I should have asked for a trebuchet. A terrier. A trapdoor. For a moment, I imagined how her face would contort as she fell through the floor, black petticoats swishing around her head. I smiled.

“You think this is funny, do you?”

Vertigo. I opened my mouth to speak and instead out came a veritable torrent of red wine and bile.

They’ll be talking about it for weeks. I
feel ashamed.



mportant Fucking Correspondence from Snow B. White

Onyx Manor

West Road, Grimmland


You silly bitch.

First, you made us read
The Cake and the Damned
for book club just because those glittering, gallivanting Glindas did, and then you couldn’t even bother to show up? We all gathered at your favorite froufrou bar, and you didn’t come? You sent a note? I’d address your epistle line by line, but I got a little carried away and burned it with one of DJ’s ridiculous ambiance candles. We had to get your address from Fairy Records.

So DJ drops the note on the table and CeCi reads it to us. Everything seems too loud. Especially DJ’s choice in music. I say to him, “Hey, can you turn that earsplitting dubstep shit off?”

“Why didn’t you say so?” he sings. “Everybody likes house music better anyway.” He flutters his fingers, and the volume goes up on something equally reprehensible. At a table over in the corner, a half dozen voices start to squeal, “We love this song!”

There isn’t enough port in my glass. In fact, there isn’t any port in my glass, so I wave it in the air. The universal signal for more. But DJ is too busy showing off his dance moves. If he’s going to convince Grimmland he’s a highfalutin’ sommelier instead of a barkeep like the generations of DemiJohns before him, he’s going to have to make some changes in his repertoire.

Patronizing as usual, CeCi motions to my glass and says, “Careful with that stuff, it makes you obnoxious.”

“What’s your excuse, then?” I ask her.

Rory rearranges her petticoats and clears her throat. “Ladies, this always happens at book club. Someone starts talking about something else, and we never discuss the story. Perhaps we can talk about
The Cake and the Damned
, instead?”

“Fine,” I say. “This pandering drivel is the single worst piece of literature I’ve ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. It is, in fact, so abominable I fear I’ve been mentally impaired by reading it.”

I wish you had been there, Zell, so I could have thrown the book at you. Instead, I slam it on the bar for emphasis. Rory jumps off her stool because she’s strung tighter than a cheap harpsichord. She spills her wine and CeCi’s wine and so we’re
out of wine and I suggest Rory try drinking a little more frequently, you know, for her nerves.

CeCi isn’t finished being sarcastic. “Okay, Bianca, tell us how you really feel about the book.”

“Do you have specific complaints?” asks Rory in a timid little mouse voice.

“Nobody wants to read shit like this. It isn’t how life works. There’s no such thing as True Love and soul mates and perfect perfection. My ass. Love isn’t anything like this. Life isn’t anything like this! What is this author thinking? We
the Fairy Tale. We know better.”

At this point, I pause to inquire of anyone who will listen as to whether DJ is still serving alcohol at this particular establishment.

Rory seizes the moment to argue with me. “Maybe, in this person’s experience, True Love

“Magic has nothing to do with it,” I tell her. “A relationship should be based on mutual interests, trust, friendship. Come on, CeCi, back me up here.”

“In the book,” Rory insists, “Star wanted Sabian to love her, she just didn’t know it yet.”

I can’t comprehend how she can possibly be so naïve. “It’s irresponsible storytelling. Love can certainly include the occasional experimental romp in handkerchiefs or a playful smack on the behind with a riding crop, but it doesn’t involve isolation and belittlement. Star is already worthy of Sabian. What does she have to reinvent herself for?”

“Maybe she wants to change,” Rory mumbles. “You said yourself love is compromise.”

“I meant eating your eggs scrambled instead of poached on Wednesdays and Saturdays, not giving up everything you are and becoming someone else. What kind of love is that to want?”

Rory squirms in her seat and CeCi frowns. I continue, reminding them none of our parents had healthy relationships and at the very least we should attempt to learn from their abysmal examples.

After my mom died, my dad immediately traipsed out to find another woman, one so obsessed with herself she tried to kill me. And look at your parents, Zell. Your father was so eager to regain your mother’s approval that he traded you for a
bunch of goddamned lettuce
. Those weren’t relationships based on True Love. I’m half tempted to go Outside and ask this author just what her malfunction is. If this literature is the future of Human imagination, we Fairy Tales are seriously fucked.

DJ mercifully sails over with more wine, and I grab him by his velour collar. “You have to put something else on the speakers.”

“Oh, honey,” he sighs at me. “Do you object to all popular music or just happiness in general?”

“Anything else, okay? I’m trying to be reasonable here.”

A moment later, something slower, yet still strange and cacophonous, floats over our heads. Sometimes I think DJ’s ability to run Human electronics with magic is useful (the blender, for instance, has its advantages), but often I want to throw that CD player into the frog pond.

I start to say something, but he levels a long, jeweled finger at me. “You asked for
anything else
, sister, so zip it.”

And I do zip it because I remember it’s your fault we aren’t at Shambles listening to rock and roll or at Ma Kettle’s sucking down those dastardly carbs everyone’s so scared of. But I’m getting distracted. Back to the book.

CeCi says, for maybe the first time ever, “I think Bianca has a point.”

Both Rory and I struggle to stay on our stools. “You do?” I cough.

She nods. “I agree. Love is hard work, not magic. There’s no secret formula, there’s no right person; it just takes a certain amount of chemistry and then working your ass off. Being honest about who you are and what you want and then hoping for the best. The magic part comes later. At least in my experience.”

“Magic, eh?” I poke her in the arm. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

She flushes red. “I didn’t mean it like

Rory asks if we’re absolutely sure things didn’t happen that way in the book.

“It positively didn’t happen that way in the book.” I stand up, and the Twirling Twits in the corner stop talking and stare. “Instead of making each other stronger, Star and Sabian hobbled one another. Sort of like Zell and Jason—practically joined at the hip.”

So before either of them tells you, yes, I said that. I think you are making a terrible mistake. I think you’re just like that book. I think you couldn’t face real life here and you’re running away. Who wants to work at a glorified zoo, cleaning up unicorn shit every afternoon? It’s not like it smells nice or glitters in the sun.

I guess you think this is the way you’re going to salvage your marriage. You think you owe Jason because he never stopped looking for you. You think he owes you because you got knocked up. He thinks he owes you for healing his sight. Love—and friendship, for that matter—isn’t a game of reciprocity.

You act like you have things figured out just because you’re a few years older than the rest of us. (Well, not Rory, technically, but still.) Just because the two of you chose to be together at seventeen doesn’t mean that you have to choose to be unhappy for the rest of your lives. You completed your Pages. You’re free now.

I envy that freedom, Zell. I don’t want to get married. It feels like a waste of time—opportunities flying past—while I plan this sham of a wedding. I chose William because, if I am being forced to do this, at least it’s to
friend on

That said, if you miss my wedding, I swear on my own glass coffin you’ll be dead to me. And your stupid unicorns, too.


BOOK: Letters to Zell
8.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Ungrateful Dead by Naomi Clark
When in Rome by Giusti, Amabile
2007 - The Dead Pool by Sue Walker, Prefers to remain anonymous
Stoked by Lark O'Neal
Edge by Jeffery Deaver
Die Laughing by Carola Dunn
The Best of Lucy Felthouse by Lucy Felthouse
Saving Mars by Cidney Swanson