Annabeth and the Unexpected Challenge
I sighed in frustration as the door’s vibrations reverberated through the room hurt my ears.
“What is her problem?” I mumbled more to myself than to anyone else.
I turned and looked at Seth, who’s eyes were darting from the door to me, repetitively.
“What do you know that I don’t?” I asked him, for the first time feeling out my rank.
“I’m not sure,” He frowned, looking no less uneasy.
“Did something happen last night that has her all weird?”
“A lot has happened,” He mumbled under his breath, not realizing I could hear him.
“Not helpful, Seth,” I grumbled back rolling my eyes.
“Well, I don’t know what you want me to tell you,” He said defensively. “She doesn’t want to talk about what happened with her dad with me. So I know about as much as you.”
I froze. “Her dad?”
Seth froze too. “Maybe I do know more than you…”
“What happened with her dad?” I asked slowly, dreading the answer. “What are you talking about?”
“Listen,” He dropped his voice to a whisper as if he was afraid she was simply on the other side of the door listening to whatever was about to happen. “I know you’re the Princess and all, and if I thought telling you would help, I would. However, if she hasn’t mentioned it, then she’s probably simply not ready to.”
“What happened with her Dad?” I commanded, ignoring everything else he had just said because I was in need of information.
“If you tell her, I promise you, I will not speak to you again and everything that happened earlier will never happen again.” A voice rang through the closed door sounding slightly shaky.
“Sorry Princess,” Seth said, giving me a slightly sheepish smile as his ears turned red, “I know you’re all powerful, however, I’m more afraid of her.”
I glared at him and then at the closed door that I knew she was somewhere behind.
“You’re being ridiculous,” I called back, knowing she was still listening whether with her mind reading abilities or her physical ears.
There was no answer, so I looked at Seth pleadingly.
“No,” He responded, putting his hands up in surrender. “She’ll tell you when she’s ready. A lot has happened. She’s processing these things herself. When she’s ready, she’ll tell you.” He then disappeared through the door leading to her room, and the barricades that had been in front of both of our doors this morning flashed through my mind.
I moved to follow him, but Jake moved to block my way.
“I don’t think you should go in there yet, Princess.” He said, his voice firm, taking me by surprise.
I crossed my arms in irritation.
“Why?” I asked.
“Let him calm her down first,” He answered.
“I should be the one helping her,” I retaliated bitterly.
“Clearly that went so well the first time,” Jake muttered under his breath.
“Excuse me?” I felt myself defending myself again. It was far too early for this. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything right either, Princess,” Jake told me hotly. “She’s right. You were far too careless about your door. This is the castle. It’s a cutthroat place full of tests, and you are severely underprepared. And the quicker you realize that, the better off you’ll be.”
I looked at him coldly as the door reopened and a blank looking Lexy reentered the room followed by Seth.
“Don’t let anyone else hear you talking like that, Jacob,” She said quietly. “Or they’ll have your head.”
She then proceeded to drag her finger across her neck, letting it go limp as if she had cut it off.
“Very funny, Alexandra.” Jake responded looking slightly disgruntled that they had come back.
Her serious face smirked slightly before she said, “Breakfast?”
I nodded feeling out of place again. I didn’t feel like a princess going down to breakfast with her family. I felt like a stranger. An outsider. An intruder.
My heels clicked softly on the carpeted floor of my hallway that lacked the grandeur of the rest of the castle. Perhaps it was simply to muffle the sounds that would surely echo throughout the hall every time someone would walk on it if it wasn’t there.
Lexy must have sensed my uncertainty for she linked her arm with mine, and we continued on. There was something calming and unnerving about Lexy. There was no emotion showing itself despite her wishes. There was no glimmer of happiness or hurt. There was just nothing but this almost eerie calm that I had never seen before.
“Are you okay?” I whispered.
“Of course,” She gave me a tight smile, but it was not a believable one. She must have read my mind because she added, “We have more important matters at hand.”
I shot her a look, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking ahead at the double doors that would lead to the dining room that were fast approaching. Was something waiting on the other side that we wouldn’t like? Would my family be less intimidating today or would they be worse? Would they have even noticed my absence, or did Lexy and Seth cover it up? A million questions pulsed through my mind, each leading to another question.
I felt Lexy take in a deep breath beside me, and I did the same.
Jake and Seth opened the double doors for us, and without hesitating we walked in.
“Ah, look who finally arrived,” My mother, the Queen announced when we entered her field of vision. “Please, sit, sit.”
Lexy reluctantly let go of my arm as we approached the table. A man I didn’t recognize pulled a chair out for me, and another moved one out for Lexy.
I nodded my thanks as Lexy murmured a thank you and we both turned our attention to my mother.
“Good morning,” I smiled, trying to hide my nerves.
“I didn’t realize it was,” My mother said almost coldly.
I looked at her in surprise. “Did something happen that made it not?” I asked trying to be polite.
“You disappeared last night. Your friend here said you were angry at how you were treated. Is this true?”
I did my best to hide the surprise I felt by Lexy’s cover. The truth was, I had absolutely no idea how I felt.
“It was not a very welcoming first day with my long-lost family.” I said finally finding the right words to say.
“Are you still considering leaving?” There’s was an uncertainty in my mother’s voice that I didn’t know what to do with, but I knew it was rare.
“I have reached no conclusions,” I responded, trying my best to be the opposite of uncertain.
“Then we will continue with today as planned.” My mother stated. “And the ball tonight.”
“Ball?” I felt my confidence wavering.
“Yes, the welcome ball. You may join whatever meetings you like today. But around 3 pm you will need to go, so you have enough time to get ready.
I nodded and she continued.
“I strongly encourage you to pick a new Bwenzi Nkhondo. One who is not so deeply enthralled in the other side. And who doesn’t make a spectacle of herself in the gym.”
The last comment brought on some confusion however, I didn’t really have time to dwell on it since Lexy, whose face was slightly flushed, was already answering.
“I have already proved that I am loyal to Annabeth.” Lexy said softly, but there was something in her tone that I almost didn’t recognize.
“You did. However, you could easily change your mind once you start to miss your parents.” My mother brushed her aside.
“I already miss my parents,” Lexy said in the same quiet voice with a darker undertone. “However, they have made their choice. And that isn’t something they can take back. And neither can I.”
If my mother was surprised, she didn’t show it. She simply nodded and looked to me.
“Lexy is my ride or die.” I said, but I cringed at my own word choice. “I mean, where I go, she goes. She saved my life twice when Vivian came looking for me. She even tried to pretend to be me when my life was in danger. She invited me to dinner nearly everyday for the last 2 years, and she had no idea who I was. Her parents might have, but it wasn’t their choice. It was Lexy who got me when no one else could even begin to understand what I was going through. It’s been Lexy for nearly as long as I’ve known her. And that’s not up for debate anymore, your majesty.” I felt bolder than I had ever been in my life, but I also had never really had trouble standing up to authority either.
“Very well then. The ceremony will commence this afternoon. I suggest after breakfast you children go clean up in your rooms. You look like you haven’t slept in weeks, and I simply cannot have that.”
It took everything in me to not just roll my eyes at her comment. However, I was trying my hardest to remain on her good side so that meant not doing anything ‘stupid’ or ‘unladylike’ to piss her off more.
“Thank you for the understanding.” I replied. It sounded strange even to my own ears, but what else was I supposed to say to that?
It was then I realized that my plate was full of waffles, fruit, and a sauce/syrup like thing that I didn’t recognize but looked exquisite. I dug right in after realizing how amazing it was and did my best not to just scarf it down.
“Eat.” I heard someone mutter to my left. “You’ll feel better.”
I looked slightly that direction, and saw Seth whispering into Lexy’s ear, and Lexy looking like her plate had a human head on it, her meal completely untouched.
“I don’t remember inviting you to the table, Mr. Steele.” My mother said coldly.
Seth bowed to her and backed away; however, his eyes were still trained on Lexy.
“He is right though, dear,” My mother continued, putting her own fork to her mouth. “You should eat.”
For some reason, Lexy looked incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of eating right now, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why or if she was just being dramatic.
For a moment, she looked uneasy, but then she straightened up, and brought her fork to her mouth, all while looking straight at my mother. I then realized, stupidly, that there was clearly a reason for Lexy not eating, but even as I wracked my brain for an answer, I couldn’t figure out my best friend’s struggle right now.
“It tastes lovely, doesn’t it?” My mother smiled, but an unsettling smile.
“Lovely indeed,” Lexy responded, taking another bite.
The meal then progressed in silence, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Lexy pick at her meal. Her eyes on my mother, and my mother’s on her. There were no questions about how I felt about all this change. No personal questions about what my life was like before. Or even what my favorite color was. No. It was just some ongoing battle between my mother and Lexy and I didn’t even seem to exist.
“Are you happy?” Lexy finally asked when her plate was empty. I looked up in surprise. Lexy never talked to adults like that. I had rarely ever even heard her raise her voice like that to her parents.
My mother simply shrugged, and Lexy stood up.
“If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m done now.” There was an anger in her voice that I was not familiar with.
“Me too,” I stated, trying to match whatever she was bringing to the table.
“Annabeth!” My mother gasped. “Are you a leader or a follower?”
Her question sent real anger through me this time.
“Where she goes, I go.” I retaliated. “And if she chooses to jump off a bridge, I guess I choose it too.”
“Why would she jump off a bridge?” My mother questioned, an edge in her voice.
“It’s an expression,” I sighed, pushing Jake away and my own chair in. “I guess I’ll uh see you later.”
I looked to Lexy, who hadn’t said anything at my defense of her. At first, I felt annoyed by the lack of a response, but when I looked at her, I noticed her face was incredibly pale, and she was leaning hard into Seth.
The double doors swung open, and I marched out, pretending not to have noticed. It was too imperative that we seemed strong, so when one of us was failing, the other had to pick up the pieces.
The doors closed behind us, but the hallway was filled with people. I could physically feel Lexy was struggling, so I picked up the pace, only to realize that Lexy was not able to keep up.
I made eye contact with Seth and made a “what the hell is happening?” face.
He just shook his head at me and shrugged.
Suddenly Jake left my side and just swept her up, causing a bit of a spectacle. Everyone was staring, so Jake smiled and kissed her forehead.
My stomach churned. What the hell was happening?
Both Seth and Jake were suddenly back at my sides.
“Come on, Princess,” He grumbled. “We’ll be late.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that, but I picked up the pace. Jake was whispering something to Lexy who turned her head into him. I felt stupid. Lexy had liked Jake this whole time, and I was just standing in her way.
A weird, strangled noise caused me look at them again, and I realized Jake was all but running.
“Seth,” Jake said as we approached my room. “Get off your damn high horse and open the fucking door.”
A disgruntled Seth took a couple steps ahead of us and swung open the door with a little more force than necessary.
I was about to scold him however, Jake was already rushing into the room, leaving me little room to follow. To my surprise, he went immediately to Lexy’s side, and I felt my stomach do another flip. Wow. This was really happening. The first guy I like in forever, and all he wants is my best friend.
Despite feeling as unwanted as Seth, I followed anyway.
“Was I just a joke to the both of you?’ I asked, but Jake ignored me.
“Where is it?” He demanded as he laid her on the bed.
“Where is what?” I inquired feeling totally lost.
“The Epi pen! Where the hell does she keep it?” He was rummaging through drawers and slamming them shut as he was running out of luck.
I then looked at my best friend and felt sick to my stomach. Her face was pale and clammy, and her lips had a blueish hint to them. And her eyes were closed.
“Shoe,” Lexy gasped.
Jake frowned, pausing briefly before heading to the closet.
“No.” Seth stated as he walked in, his own face also pale. “Not the ones in the closet. The ones she’s wearing. She keeps it in her shoes.”
He immediately moved to her, gently taking off her shoes and revealing a small little injection.
“Will this work here?” He asked Jake, looking uncertain. “Medicine is different here. It may not work.”
“Dude, we can’t get out of here right now. So you better pray to god that this works.”
Without any further hesitation, Seth lifted her dress and gave her the shot.
“What now?” I whispered feeling scared. I had never seen her have an allergic reaction. I wasn’t even sure what she was allergic to.
“We wait for it to kick in.” Jake said through gritted teeth.
“How did you know?” I asked in a small voice. I felt small.
“It was obvious.” Jake answered. “She was upset about her breakfast. She just stared at it. So whatever it was, the Queen knew. It was a purposeful thing.”
“I know I don’t know my mother well… But do you really think she’d try to kill my best friend?”
“Yes,” Both Jake and Seth answered simultaneously.
“She hates her,” Seth added quietly when I looked at them in surprise. “The Queen thinks she’s scum. I just wanted her to eat because she hasn’t really been. I thought after her workout today that she needed food. I didn’t realize the syrup had a fruit that is similar to pomegranate. But she must have heard the thoughts of somebody. She knew what was happening. She always knows.”
“Then why did she eat it?” I whispered.
“Because if she didn’t, she’d have to accuse the Queen of knowing she was allergic to something and trying to use it against her. She didn’t want to start that yet, so she made a choice to challenge the Queen silently.”
“That was so stupid.” I murmured as I climbed into bed next to her.
“You haven’t been here long yet, Princess,” Jake said quietly. “But there’s a lot you don’t know yet, that you need to learn… Fast.”
I felt beyond frustrated and as close to tears as I’d come so far. “Well everyone’s talking so freaking cryptic! Start telling me what I need to know before someone dies, and it’s my fault!”
Jake gave me an awkward look. Like he didn’t know what to do either. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how much to say. He was scared. As scared as I was. And in that moment, I was terrified.
“Look,” Seth said quietly after a moment. “When she wakes up, we can come up with a plan. The 4 of us will be a team from here on out. It’s not a question anymore. It’s not a choice. We need to have each other’s backs, or we’ll all be dead.”
“Who said I wanted to be on her team?” Jake sneered.
I wasn’t sure which her he was referring to, Lexy or me, but either way, it was unacceptable.
“Get the hell out.” I snapped.
“What?” Jake looked taken aback.
“If I can’t trust you 100%, then get out.”
“It’s not that simple Annabeth…” Jake tried.
“No. It is.” I stated angrily. “You are either with us, or you’re against us. And I would hate to find out what will happen if they find out you’re against me.”
“Please stop yelling,” Lexy mumbled, her eyes still closed.
My heart stopped for a moment.
“How do you feel?” I breathed, uneasily.
“Like hell.” She answered, still sounding raspy.
“You knew that you were allergic, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yea.” She whispered. “Yea, I knew.”
Her eyes were still closed, and it seemed to be taking a lot of energy for her to be talking to me.
“Rest, okay?” Seth interjected before I could ask any more questions. “We can talk when you feel better.”
“Just 5 more minutes, okay?” She mumbled.
“Sure. I’ll wake you in 5 minutes.” Seth looked a wreck, but he seemed to be trying to hold it together for her, and she was back asleep before he had even finished his sentence. When he noticed that, he turned to me and said, “If you and Jake would like to keep fighting, please go do it in your room. Let her just rest. Please, just let her rest.”
“We’re done fighting,” Jake grimaced. “I’m in.”
I looked at him in surprise but didn’t say anything. From here on out, the 4 of us were a team. I knew things would be tough and challenging. But it was nice to know I had at least 3 people in my corner right now. Because 3 was better the 0 and 1 had nearly died for me tonight. I needed as many people as I could get because I had no idea what was going to come next.