It always felt strange to walk around town in the middle of the night. For years, I had my mother on my back yelling at me whenever I came home late, giving me something like “Reagan, do you know how dangerous it is for a pretty blonde girl like you to be out this hour?!”
She drilled it into my head that the world turned into a version of hell after ten at night, and the only way for me to be safe was to hole up in my house until the sun was up again. She’d force me to read stories about girls who had been mugged, murdered, or raped in the middle of the night when nobody was watching; and then she’d spend a long time explaining why I’d be the next one. According to her, just because my bra size was above a C-cup, men wouldn’t be able to resist my charm.
That was when I was in high school, of course. It continued a bit into college when I’d party with my friends during breaks, but once I had my own job my life was my own to live. So here I was, at two in the morning, strolling the streets and enjoying the crisp but still warm air of a mid-July night.
“Where was I going again?” I had made up some excuse to get out of the house – still my mother’s house while I saved up money for my own – just to take a walk with nothing but the wind and the stars as my companions.
Oh, right, we were down to our last gallon of milk. There was a convenience store nearby which was open this late at night, so I turned the corner to head towards there.
The neon lights were green and red, inviting anyone in at all hours.
The familiar chime greeted me as the sliding doors moved on their own. The place was pretty much empty save for a sleepy clerk and some guy who was examining a stack of bagels.
“Milk, milk,” I repeated to myself, moving to the back of the store.
Anyone who had shopped at this convenience store for milk knew not to take the one up front. The refrigeration in the glass case had not worked in years, meaning any cool air the milk got came from the refrigerated room behind where they would refill the empty shelves. So I reached back as far as I could until I found one which felt cold enough to handle and—
Another hand touched mine.
I looked over. There was that guy who was looking at bagels before. At a first glance, he was quite handsome with his whisked back black hair, beady blue eyes, and muscular build. His skin was a darker complexion than mine, probably Italian instead of my pale German flesh, and the hair on his arms mostly blended in with the skin.
This was the kind of guy my mother used to warn me about. “They’ll look all pretty, and as soon as they get all alone with you, you’ll find their hands up your skirt.”
Sorry mom, but I was wearing a pair of pink knit shorts tonight. “Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Oh, no, it was all my fault.”
Seeing how he was reaching back, I knew where to take the conversation. “Shop here a lot then?”
“Here and there when we run out of supplies. We’re usually well stocked, but when I have a craving for some milk and a bagel at night we always seem to run short.”
“You’re telling me.” I grabbed my milk and pulled it out. “Well then, it’s all yours.”
Instead of reaching for his milk, he reached inside of his wallet and pulled out four bills. “Your milk’s on me.”
“Oh, really, you don’t need to—”
“I insist.” His smile was to die for. I could feel my heart racing, and my breath getting deeper. Would I really mind it if this guy tried to take things a step further with me?
Yes. Yes I would. I was a woman, and in control of my own body. Nobody got to take it without my permission.
“Well then, I’ll see you around. Thanks for the milk.” I gave him a smile of my own: likely crooked and yellowed from the few years I had been hooked on tobacco. Thank God I gave up that habit only a few years after I started.
As I turned to the cashier he said, “would you like to talk for a bit?”
There were the dreaded words. This man was trouble. Just like mom said, he was only thinking below the belt. Yet, somehow, it didn’t feel that way.
“There’s a bench outside the store,” I said. “Plenty of lighting and security cameras around. If you’re fine talking with me there, I’m game.”
He cocked his head. “Sure?”
Maybe he did just want to talk.
Five minutes and a couple of dings of the cash register later, we were outside on the bench close enough for me to feel a bit of his body heat. He was really tall, now that I was close enough to notice. Sure, I was tall for a woman at 5’10, but he was still at least half a foot taller than me.
“Ah, you can’t beat this weather,” he said.
“Sure you can. It could be sunny and 85 with me lying out on the beach working on a tan.”
“You? A tan? With that skin?”
I looked aside. “Fine. Working on becoming a lobster.”
He snickered. “Yeah, of course. I could see you just crawling around on that sand snapping your hands like claws. Snap snap~ Snap snap~” He made motions with his hands to mock me.
“Oh, shut up. Fine, you win. I spend most of my time hiding under an umbrella reading a book. But the air always feels great there.”
“Oh, so you’re more of a hermit crab than a lobster.”
My eyes narrowed. “Are you done with the sea references?”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry.”
I held my bag with the milk between my legs, feeling its cold outer shell pressing against my skin. “Still, I sometimes have to wonder what it’d be like to be a hermit crab.”
“I still live with my mother. I’m 26 already! It should be time for me to move from apartment to apartment, or maybe settle down into a forever house. Right now I’m just a bird trapped in a cage.”
“You’re not alone there.” He followed my lead and turned his head up to the glittering stars above – at least the ones not destroyed by light pollution. “I’m 28, and I don’t think I’ll ever move away from mine.”
“What a life we millennials live, stuck inside forever straddled with debt.”
“Well, hate to admit it but I don’t have any.”
So he was a braggart without student loans. “I see. Well, I’m going home. See ya sometime.”
“Wait!” He moved quickly as I got up. Here we go, the forceful grab, pushing me down, and my mother’s prophecies coming true.
I turned ready to defend myself, but he wasn’t reaching for me. He had instead reached for his phone.
“Share numbers, Princess?” he asked.
The better part of me said I shouldn’t. Who gave somebody a pet name this quickly? Then again, I didn’t mind it. When we were in middle school and people wore shirts saying “Angel” “Princess” or “Bitch” I was always the princess.
But I wouldn’t want him calling me that alone.
“The name’s Reagan. But if you prefer, you can call me Princess Reagan. Never just Princess.” Sure, put me on a pedestal. I’ve never been on one before. “What’s your name?”
Sticking his tongue out, he said, “Prince Liam.”
As if I were going to call him that.
We swapped numbers and called it a night. I put the milk in the refrigerator and went back to the same room I’d had for years now. I expected that’d have been the end of it, and I’d never meet this Liam person again.
My hopes ended with my phone ringing the next morning, stirring me from my slumber. “Prince Liam” said the caller ID. Give me a break, he actually called himself that on his phone?
I let out a yawn and turned around, trying to catch a few more hours of sleep.
An hour later, it rung again. “Give me a break already!” I groaned and put my phone to vibrate. This was my time to sleep, not my time to answer calls from a guy I’d just met the night before.
Sometimes phones vibrated louder than they rang.
“What?!” I finally demanded. “Don’t you know what time it is?”
“Eleven in the morning, Princess Regan. I thought you’d be up by now.”
“When I was with you at two in the morning? Come on now!”
“And you returned home and went to sleep, right? It was pretty late, so I figured a good princess like you.”
“Gah, stop calling me that! No, I went home and played on my phone until the sun rose. Call me tonight if you really care.” I slammed on the end call button and turned around. That idiot…
Like clockwork, he called again, this time at three. Great, I had earned myself a stalker. Mom was right, don’t walk around at night or the wolves would come back to bite you. I’d have to block him, but for now I was just too lazy.
I finally got out of bet at five in the afternoon and went downstairs to my mother who was busy with dinner. “Ah, good morning,” she said out of habit despite the time of day. “Enjoying your summer break I see.”
My phone buzzed again. Damn it.
“Aren’t you going to answer that?” she asked.
I pressed it to mute. “No. Just some guy I met last night who won’t stop calling me.”
My mom frowned. “If you do that, he’s just going to call back. You can’t ignore his calls forever. You need to talk to him.”
“And tell him what, that I don’t want him to call me?”
“Exactly. Go for it.”
The phone rung again. I tore it out of my pocket and pressed the speaker button in a whirl. “What is it, damn it?!”
“Is this Princess Reagan?” The voice on the other line didn’t belong to him.
My heart beat fast. “Um… who is this?”
“Ah, my apologies, my name is Javier. I was told I could reach Princess Reagan through this line.”
My jaw dropped. “I… Mr. Javier, I think you’ve made a huge mistake here.”
“You met Prince Liam last night, did you not?”
“Well, I did meet a Liam, yes, but…”
“Oh, you’re on first name basis already? That makes this so much easier. You see, Princess Reagan, Prince Liam was curious if you’d like to go out on a date with him. The royal gardens are absolutely splendid this time of year if you’d like to take a stroll there.”
Royal gardens… prince… some Javier who sounds like a butler… don’t tell me… “Um, Javier, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m not a real princess. I’m just a—”
“You do know that lying about royal status is a crime punishable by death, do you not?”
That wasn’t a real statement! No court ever maintained that law or there wouldn’t be girls with princess shirts in the first place!
But, with my chest tight, I realized that this butler intended to use it on me if I didn’t make Prince Liam’s wishes come true. I was trapped.
“I’m free tomorrow…” I whispered.
“Good. I will pick you up at nine in the morning. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep and dress properly for your date, Princess Regan.”
Mom was right. Never trust any man after ten.