My brother is the King of Nowhere.This fact doesn't matter to anyone except my family a rapidly shrinking circle of people who Used to Be. And, even for us, there are surprisingly few perks. Now we sit in our airless apartment, curtains closed against the outside world, pretending.
My mother pretends that nothing has changed.
She is good at this charade. Her every gesture oozes money and power now long gone. They wouldn't let her take her closets full of designer clothes when we left our country, but she still spends hours on her appearance pretending that photographers might still want to take pictures of her every outing, even dressed as she is now in J. C. Penney sale-rack clothes and drugstore lipstick. Pretending her old life didn't die along with my father.
My brother is six.
I try to remember six. What it might feel like at that age to be told that you are the exiled ruler. That you deserve to be king. That someday soon you will be once the right people die, that is.
My younger brother's almost-title and nonexistent kingdom do not make me anything at all. And yet I'm right here beside him, thousands of miles from everything I once knew. Mine is a nameless, purposeless banishment. Guilt by relation.
My fifteenth birthday came and went yesterday. No one remembered. It's understandable, I suppose, considering what we've all been through in the last few weeks. There are bigger things to remember, and we all certainly have far bigger things to forget.
Perhaps I'll start calling myself the Invisible Queen. Sometimes just having a title helps.
My brother the king does not like that he has to share a bedroom with me.
I don't like it either. So I pretend he's not there. I ignore his king-sized tantrums and the dirty royal socks that he leaves on my bedspread. I pretend not to hear him when he tells me what to do.
"Mom!" Bastien shouts. "Laila isn't obeying me. Tell her she has to obey. I'm the king!" He pouts in a very regal way.
It doesn't help that Mother encourages him. She thinks it's cute. "Laila. Can't you at least show him respect? Someday you will have to, you know." She pinches his cheeks. "My little prince."
"King!" he insists, getting even more angry. "I'm not a prince. I'm a king!"
I suppose it doesn't occur to him that his promotion from prince came at the cost of our father's life. He's only a child, after all; he can be forgiven for missing the connection. So sometimes I play along. "Yes, Your Majesty." I curtsy, even though back home we never did such things. Ours was not that kind of royalty. Not the kind with ball gowns or high tea or croquet matches played on manicured lawns. It wasn't even real.
But still we pretend.
Bastien whining and turning up the volume on the TV. "Daddy, make them stop. I can't hear my show." He keeps pressing the button, up up up, until the voices of the talking cartoon fish drown out the sound of gunfire outside.
Father ruffles Bastien's hair. Confident to the end, if you weren't close enough to see the frown lines around his eyes and mouth growing deeper every day. If you didn't pay attention to how many hours he spent just pacing, pacing. If you didn't notice, as I didn't at the time, that he hardly seemed to leave the house anymore, or that when he did go out, it was with twice as many bodyguards as before. "It's amazing," he says to us. "The satellite dish still works, through it all. Everything else out there has gone to hell, but just look at that resolution. Programs from the other side of the world the best technology money can buy."
Excerpted from The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson. Copyright © 2014 by J.C. Carleson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Children's Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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