“Cerise, come play with me,” Rosabella demanded, as she did day after day on the playground. And every time she did, she made Cerise so nervous. “We can play whatever you want. Please?”
“No thanks,” Cerise mumbled, curling up even tighter under her tree on the edge of the yard. “I just want to sit.”
A little pout grew on Rosabella’s face. “Come on, please? You could play with me and Darling. We’re playing pirates. Don’t you wanna come?”
Cerise shook her head, but inside, her heart was pounding. She couldn’t go and play with them, could she? Because then her hood might fall off and everyone would be mad at her. And she would have to leave nursery rhyme school. That’s what her parents had warned her about. So she had to be careful.
“Fine, then. If you don’t want to play, I’ll sit with you.” With a little princessy huff, Rosabella plopped down on the grass a few inches away from Cerise. The other girl shrunk back.
She hadn’t expected this. Her heart was racing. “Are you sure? What if Darling gets mad at you?”
“She won’t,” Rosabella stated confidently. “She can play with her brothers. Do you want to know a secret?”
“A secret?” No one ever asked Cerise to keep a secret, even though she was probably the best secret keeper in the whole school.
Rosabella took the question as an answer. “I think that Darling likes Apple. But she won’t tell her. So, I’m gonna do it.”
“No,” Cerise blurted out, before she could stop herself. She clasped a hand over her mouth and slid down along the treebark, mortified.
Rosabella tilted her head and stared at her. “No, what?”
“You…” Cerise said quietly, still embarrassed, “you shouldn’t tell other people’s secrets.”
The princess blinked at her for a moment, then nodded. “Alright. I won’t do it, then. But I still think she should tell her. Otherwise, isn’t that kind of lying?”
Cerise’s heart picked up again. Was it lying not to tell your secrets? Was she lying to the whole school? “I… I don’t…”
Rosabella picked up the conversation again, clearly noting Cerise’s distress. “Have you ever liked anyone? It’s okay if you say no. And I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
This whole interaction was making Cerise’s head spin. Rosabella was so confident and smart. It was hard to keep up with her. “No, I mean, I don’t think so?”
“That’s too bad.” Rosabella dug the toe of her boot into the dirt, kicking up a little pile of dust. “I’ve been trying to figure out what the point of it all is. I mean, there’s no reason to like someone if your destiny tells you you’re supposed to like someone else, is there?”
This was getting too complicated. Best to just agree with her, even if Cerise was still processing what the princess had been saying. “Yeah.”
“Anyway, the reason I brought it up is because I think you’re really pretty, but I don’t think there’s any point in us liking each other if nothing could come from it. Don’t you think so?”
Had she heard her right? Cerise felt her heart race even faster. “You… you like me?” she asked hesitantly, not sure if her ears were just full of cotton.
Rosabella giggled, looking at Cerise’s shocked face. “I do. I think so. I guess you haven’t thought much about it. But that’s okay. You don’t have to say anything about it right now.” She kicked her boot a little deeper into the dust. “Maybe you should talk now. You’ve been pretty quiet. Do you have any secrets? And you can tell me if you don’t like me. I would understand.”
“No, no,” Cerise quickly exclaimed. “No, Rosabella, I think you’re really pretty too, and nice! And…” She didn’t know how to go further. Rosabella was blinking at her with those big eyes, and her mind had just gone blank. Thankfully, the princess saved her again.
“I think recess is almost over. Here,” she stood up, dusted off her skirt, and extended her hand to Cerise. “We can talk more tomorrow.”
Cerise looked at the girl’s little fingers and bit her lip. Was it dangerous to talk to Rosabella? Would she find out about her secret? But at the same time… she really was so nice… Hesitantly, Cerise reached up and took the other girl’s hand, letting the princess pull her to her feet and drag her back into the school building.
It was such a small thing to do, holding her hand, but somehow, Cerise felt some of her loneliness slipping away as Rosabella tugged her through the doors, flashing her a bright smile as they walked together into the classroom. And when she looked at Rosabella, Cerise maybe understood some of what Darling was feeling.