Finn and I finish gutting the fish and leave half of them in the sun to dry. The other half we drop off to Heather before getting ready to go to school.
I pass through the tidy but bare living room before arriving at the room that I share with Claire. She is still outside, so I peel off my wetsuit and change into my pink lacy dress, the only real memoir that I have from my mom. I comb my long blonde hair and pin it back with a pink bow. Slipping on my worn boots, I check the clock and hurry out the door.
Heather shoves a lunch sack in my hand and a bagel in the other. As I push open the front door and fly down the front steps, Finn catches up to me and we walk hurriedly down the dirt road toward the red schoolhouse. Our village is composed of little houses that are centered around the town square, where we all the citizens can freely trade with one another. Up on the hill overlooking the sea, the Queen’s mighty castle graces the surrounding village.
Finally, Finn and I reach the school house and join the group of children waiting for the doors to open. As I look around, I see the other bright-faced kids that live in the Kingdom by the Sea. Most of them have blonde hair from endless hours in the sun, but there are some brunettes, and even a couple red-heads. Even though Queen Kylie wasn’t allowed to choose her citizens, she was lucky enough to be given mostly fair-haired and fair-skinned people to govern. I glance at Finn, who has become like a brother to me. Ever since my parents died and Heather took us in, Finn has become like a brother to me. We do practically everything together.
After a while, Annette appears in the doorway and smiles at us. I can’t help but smile back. Annette has Finn’s good looks, and her smile warms the chilly spring morning. She greets us and we climb up the steps to the classroom. I prepare for an agonizingly long time away from the sea. As Annette excitedly talks about our country’s past, I gaze out one of the many windows at the sea. It seems like no one is paying very much attention. I guess we all know that this is the last class before Spring Break. Finally, Annette closes with a singing of the National Anthem and the students file out of the classroom, shouting for joy. I join them, flooding the street with shouts and laughter. We all head to the town square, and I pull a gold coin that I earned from selling a fish yesterday out of my pocket.
“Come on, Finn!” I say, trying to break my friend’s unusually glum mood. It doesn’t work, however, and he just trudges behind me, his usual grin vanished from his face.
“You go on ahead,” Finn says dejectedly. “I think I’m gonna go back to the house and help Heather clean.”
“Okay - what’s going on?” I say. “First of all, it’s Spring Break, and second of all, you hate cleaning!”
“Weren’t you listening in class?” Finn asks. He has always been a model student, whereas I could care less about grades. “Today is the anniversary that the Chinese took over the United States!”
“So?” I ask, already fingering beautiful scarves and eyeing buckets filled with fruits from Appledale.
“So - today is the day our old country fell!” Finn says exasperatedly.
“Who cares? Now we live in the Kingdom by the Sea!” I say, and frown as I check the price of an elegant spear for spear-fishing.
“Ya, I guess. It doesn’t really matter, really. Alright let’s go!” Finn grabs my hand and we run through all of the stalls filled with fish, clothes, fruits, breads, and books. We hear a caller yelling out that the Queen will be choosing two citizens for the villagers to vote for to be their new ruler.
Finn and I glance at each other and I strike a pose as I say, “You can call me Your Majesty, filthy peasant.”
Finn plays along and preforms a mock bow. “But of course, Queen Marina!” I giggle and a grin breaks out on my friend’s face.