Her Royal Highness
Penguin Young Readers Group
Copyright © 2019 Rachel HawkinsISBN: 978-1-5247-3826-6
All rights reserved.
Since flying from Houston to London, I’ve been on a train to Edinburgh, and after that, to Inverness. There, I was picked up by a Land Rover driven by a bearded guy who introduced himself as “Mr. McGregor, groundskeeper.” He looks about a hundred years old, but I am so exhausted that he could drive like he was in Scotland’s version of The Fast and the Furious, and I’d be fine with it. So long as I’m getting closer to Gregorstoun, I’m good.
There are three other kids in the car with me, two girls and a boy, and all three seem younger than me. They’ve stayed close together, murmuring in low voices. I saw them on the train from Edinburgh, huddled together.
That was a weird experience, riding the train up, watching the land change from the suburban houses outside the city to the fields, and then stony hills as we got farther north. I was so unsure of what to do that I stayed frozen in my seat the whole time, not even going to look for the bathroom.
All three of them keep shooting me looks, and finally, as the Land Rover crests a hill, I turn back to face all of them with a bright smile.
“So where do you think the sorting hat will put you?” I ask, then lift my hand, twisting two fingers together. “Come onnnn, Ravenclaw!” I say, and all three of them blink.
Mr. McGregor chuckles. Or maybe he’s choking, hard to say. “You’re American,” one of the girls says. She’s truly little, with ashy blond hair and giant blue eyes. I can just make out the top of a plastic horse sticking out from one of the pockets on her leather satchel.
“I am,” I say. “My name’s Millie.”
The girl blinks at me before offering, “Elisabeth. Lissie, really. And this is Em”—she gestures to the dark-haired girl beside her—“and Olly.”
“Elisabeth, Em, Olly,” I repeat, nodding at each of them. They all smile politely, and okay, sure, they’re all like twelve, but maybe this is a good sign of the kind of people I’ll meet at Gregorstoun. Maybe they won’t all be Scary Rich People, but just . . . awkward kids.
Rich Awkward Kids, but kids all the same.
In any case, the road is leveling out now, and the school is suddenly rising up before us, just like the website only . . . real.
In front of me.
The pictures really didn’t do it justice. It’s all cream-colored stone against the green, rising up four stories, a long gravel drive in front, windows blinking in the sun.
“Oh, wow,” I breathe, and Mr. McGregor looks over at me, a twinkle in his eyes if I’m not mistaken.
“Aye,” he agrees. “She’s a sight.” Then he sighs, brows drawing together. “Used to be my family’s home, ya ken, but now I just work here, shuttlin’ you lot about.”
I’m not really sure what to say to that, so I just sort of hum in agreement and turn my attention back to the school.
There are a bunch of students milling around on the lawn, some in uniform, some not. I’m still wearing my jeans and T-shirt, since my uniform is supposed to be waiting for me in . . . Pulling my backpack into my lap, I take out the email I printed out. Room 327, I read, my fingers moving over the numbers. My room. The room I’m going to live in for the next year.
With another girl.
That’s one of the weirder parts of this whole boarding school experiment—living with someone else. I was an only child up until eighteen months ago, and I’ve never shared a space with someone else like this.
Still, good practice for college, right?
Mr. McGregor pulls the car up to the front of the school, where there are already kids heading in, dragging huge roller bags. I have a massive suitcase of my own in the back of the Land Rover (gotten on sale at TJ Maxx, thank you very much), and before I know it, I’m standing there in the huge front hall of Gregorstoun, the handle of the bag in my hand.
It’s chaos, people weaving in and out, and I look around, trying to take it all in, a mix of nerves and jet lag making me feel more anxious than I’d anticipated.
I’m mostly surprised by how many boys there are. All kinds of boys. Boys who look about twelve, boys who tower over me as they make their way into the house. There must be five boys for every one girl, and I wonder just how many of us applied to be part of Gregorstoun’s first female class.
The ground floor still looks like someone’s house. There are paintings on the wall, little tables full of bric-a-brac, and soft carpets underfoot.
Ahead of me, a wooden staircase spirals upward, and, swallowing hard, I head toward it, lugging my bag behind me.
There are no elevators—or lifts, I guess they’d call them here—so I definitely get my cardio in hauling everything I own up to the third floor.
It’s a little less chaotic up here, and dimmer. There are fewer windows, and the carpet underfoot feels almost moldy as I creep along it.
But I find Room 327 easy enough, and when I open the door, there’s no one in there.
Standing on the threshold, I face two twin beds, one dresser, and a desk on either side of the door. In fact, if you open the door all the way, it hits one of the desks, and for some reason, I decide to go ahead and claim that side of the room. That might endear me to my roommate, right? Picking the crappy side?
Pulling my suitcase all the way into the room, I sit on the little bed with its scratchy white sheets and green wool blanket.
I’ve done it. I’ve come to Scotland, and I’m here for the next year.
Before the enormity of what I’ve done can fully sink in, I whip out my phone, pulling up FaceTime to call Dad.
He answers almost immediately, and I grin with relief to see him there in the living room.
“You made it!” he enthuses, dark eyes crinkling at the cor-ners, and I nod, spinning my phone around so he can see my room.
“Living it up in the lap of luxury, obviously,” I say, and Anna pops her head in.
“Oh my god, it’s so . . . quaint,” she says, raising her eye-brows, and I wave at her.
“If quaint means a little creepy and small, then yes!”
She frowns slightly, leaning closer to Dad’s phone. “Millie, if this isn’t—” she starts to say, but then the door to my room flies open again, thumping hard against my desk.
“No,” a voice insists. “This is not what was agreed to.”
A girl steps into the room followed by a man in a dark suit, and just for a second, my family and my phone are totally for-gotten.
It’s not cool to stare, I know that, but this is literally the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life.
She’s taller than I am, and her hair is gold. Like. Literally gold, like dark honey. It’s held back from her face with a thin headband, and that face . . .
I realize while looking at her that beauty is more than just the way your face is structured, the weird quirks of DNA and societal norms that make us say, “This nose is the best nose,” or “This is why I like this mouth,” or whatever. This girl has clearly won a genetic lottery, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not just that—it’s that she seems to glow. Her skin is so smooth and luminous I want to stroke her face like some kind of weirdo. I’m not sure she would even know what the word “pore” means. Does she follow one of those intense ten-step skin routines? Has she found magical sheet masks made of pearls?
Maybe this is just what being rich does to your face. Because there’s no doubt this girl is also very, very rich. Her clothes are simple—a sweater and jeans tucked into high leather boots—but they practically smell like money. She smells like money.
Also, only rich people can curl their lips the way she’s currently doing at the guy in the suit who followed her in. Her dad? He looks a little young, plus it’s hard to imagine that a guy with heavy jowls and pockmarked skin could possibly be related to this actual angel of a girl, standing there with a Louis Vuitton bag in the crook of her elbow.
“Your mother—” the man starts, and she throws up her hands.
“Call her, then.”
“Pardon?” the man asks, his heavy brow wrinkling.
“Call my mother,” she repeats, her voice carrying just the softest Scottish burr. Her chin is lifted, and I can actually feel tension vibrating off her.
“We were told—” the man says on a sigh, but she’s not giving in.
“Call my mother.”
On my phone, Dad scowls. “Everything okay?” he asks, and I glance back at my new roommate, still imperiously repeating, “Call my mother,” every time the man tries to speak. And now I realize he’s pulled his phone out, I assume to call her mother, and she’s still saying it, over and over again, like a toddler.
“Call my mother. Call my mother. Call. My. Mother.” Maybe it’s jet lag. Maybe it’s the weird, weightless feeling in my stomach that started the moment I walked into the school and just what a massive change I’d made fully sunk in.
But I turn to look over at her, and before I can think better of it, I hear myself say, “Hey. Veruca Salt.”
Her lips part slightly, eyebrows going up as she stares at me. “Pardon?”
I’ve never wanted to pull words back into my mouth so badly. Lee was right about me not liking confrontation—it’s pretty much my least favorite thing, right there underneath mayonnaise and jazz music. But something about how this girl is talking just . . . bugged me.
So maybe this is who I am now? Millie Quint, Confronter of People.
I decide to keep going with it.
“Do you mind being a little quieter?” I waggle my phone at her. “Some of us are trying to talk, and it seems like my dude here is calling your mom, so, like, maybe take it down a thou-sand notches?”
She keeps staring at me, and the man with her is now looking at me, too, his florid face going even redder.
Whatever. I take a deep breath and turn back to Dad. “Look, I’m here, I’m safe, everything is great . . . ish, and I’ll call you back later, okay?”
Rubbing his eyes, Dad nods. “Sounds good, Mils. Love you.” “Love you, too.”
He hangs up, and I go back to the suitcase on my bed. I still have a ton of unpacking to do, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get this room looking even the littlest bit homey, so I should—
“Did you really call me Veruca Salt?”
I turn around to see my new roommate standing there with her arms folded. The guy who was with her is out in the hall, talking on his cell phone, probably to this girl’s mom like she asked.
I take a second to study her now that I’m not blinded by her bone structure and shiny hair. Her sweater is a pale green that would make anyone else look vaguely ill, but just plays up the gold in her eyes, and yeah, my original take of her being the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen holds up, but the sulky way her mouth is turning down kills a little bit of her glow.
“I did, yeah,” I tell her. “It seemed like you were about three seconds from launching into a musical number about wanting things, so it just felt right.”
Her lips purse together, curling up into a smile. “Charming,” she finally says, then her eyes drop to my jeans—nowhere near as nice as hers—and my long-sleeved T-shirt. It’s the one I got working on the yearbook last year. I’d figured there was no sense in dressing up, since we’d get our uniforms as soon as we came, but now, next to this girl, I feel a little . . . grubby.
“I take it you’re my roommate,” she says, and I cross my own arms, mimicking her posture.
“So it seems.”
That smile again. It’s a straight-up Disney villain smile, reminding me that no matter how gorgeous this girl is, she’s clearly a witch.
“What a delight for us both,” she says, and then she turns, flouncing back out of the room.
She’s probably running to the headmaster to ask to be moved or something, and frankly, that suits me just fine.
But hey, maybe school is going to keep us both so busy that I’ll hardly even have to see her.
It’s only after I’ve heard her stomping footsteps disappear down the hall that I realize I never learned her name.
According to the itinerary I was emailed, I have a “tea” at 4 p.m., and since it’s 3 now, I change into my new uniform, which was hanging up in the closet, draped with plastic, when I arrived. There’s a knee-length plaid skirt, a short-sleeved white shirt, and two different sweaters, one long-sleeved, the other a vest. I choose that one, the Gregorstoun crest stitched on the front. It’s warm enough so I don’t have to bother with the dark tights, settling on the kneesocks instead and finally sliding my feet into a pair of very plain black flats.
There’s a mirror affixed to the back of the door, and I take a moment to look at myself, this new Millie. A Gregorstoun Girl.
Same boring brown hair curling over my shoulders, same brown eyes. Same dimples, as I see when I give a forced smile.
Same Millie, different place.
Sighing, I open the door and step out into the hall, only to immediately hear someone calling out.
“I’m telling you, Perry, she’s on this floor!”
The voice around the corner is clearly coming from a Disney Princess—sweet, melodious, complete with the perfect cut-glass English accent, and I expect the girl I’m about to see will look like a cross between Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. There might even be woodland creatures trailing in her wake.
The girl who suddenly appears is beautiful, and she’s also . . . a giant.
Okay, that’s not really fair, but she is easily over six feet tall, although when I glance down, I see she’s wearing high-heeled boots. And while she might not look like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, she is beautiful, with long dark hair and smooth brown skin.
And when looks down at me, I see she has lovely brown eyes that crinkle at the corners as she smiles. “Oh, hullo!” she says brightly. “I didn’t even see you there!”
That’s probably because I’m basically a squirrel while she’s a giraffe, and I give an awkward wave. “I tend to blend in.”
“Oh, you’re American!” she trills, then gestures behind her impatiently. “LOOK, PERRY, I’VE FOUND AN AMERICAN!” she calls, loud enough to make me wince.
No woodland creatures in her wake, but the boy who follows her is a bit . . . rabbity.
That’s not nice, probably, but there’s a slight overbite situation happening, plus he seems nervous and jumpy, especially compared to the girl he’s standing next to.
“I’m Sakshi.” She offers her hand for me to shake, and I take it, grateful that someone in this place seemed like a nor-mal human being.
Sakshi grins, showing a crooked tooth, and finally, something slightly imperfect about this perfect girl. I’d been starting to wonder if you had to be a supermodel to get into this place, and I was some kind of charity case. “Millie,” she repeats. “Cute. I like it.”
I’d never thought of my name as being “cute” before, but Sakshi doesn’t seem to be teasing, so I just go with it. “Technically Amelia, but no one ever calls me that.”
She jerks a thumb over her shoulder at the guy standing just behind her. “And this is Perry, who is actually a Peregrine.”
“Please stop telling people that,” he says, leaning forward so that he can shake my hand, too. He’s a good six inches shorter than Sakshi, his hair bright orange-y red, freckles smattering his milk-white skin everywhere that I can see.
“So you’re American,” he says as he steps a little closer. He’s also wearing the Gregorstoun sweater vest, but it looks a little big on him.
“Yeah,” I say, shifting my weight to my other foot. “From Texas.”
It occurs to me that that might not mean anything to them, and when Sakshi says, “Perry and I are both from Northamp-ton,” I realize that where she’s from doesn’t mean anything to me, either. This is a weird bit of culture shock I hadn’t really anticipated.
But I nod at the two of them and smile, figuring that fake it till you make it is about to be my new motto around here.
“Well, come along,” Sakshi says, threading an arm through mine and tugging me back toward the stairs. “I assume you’re on your way to the Girls’ Tea.”
I nod, letting myself be dragged along in her wake with Perry. “It used to just be the First Years’ Tea,” he says as we make our way down the stairs. I spot a few portraits of stern-looking men in tartan, as well as some framed black-and-white photo-graphs of uniformed boys standing in front of the school.
“But they’re doing a special one just for the girls,” he continues, and Sakshi sighs, waving her free hand.
“Yes, yes, Perry, I’m sure Millie here could put together what you meant by a ‘Girls’ Tea,’ for heaven’s sake. She’s American, not stupid.”
“Thanks? I think?” I say as we come to the bottom of the stairs.
There are more girls milling around now, some who are clearly my age, but a lot who seem younger. Sakshi looks at them, the corners of her mouth turning down.
“Poor loves,” she says. “There aren’t many of us intrepid ladies this year, and I feel it’s going to be harder on the younger ones. I’ve even got one as my roommate, you know. Some little horsey girl.”
“Horsey girl?” I ask, and Sakshi waves a hand.
“There’s always a handful. Those girls entirely too invested in horses. Anyway, there aren’t enough of we ladies to pair us all up with our own age group, so some of us have to room with the little ones, yours truly included.”
She takes a deep breath, folding her hands in front of her. “Like I said, poor dears. I only have to survive for a year. They’re here for ages.”
Okay, “survive” is not how I want to think of my time here in my brand-new, exciting life.
“It’s not going to be that bad,” I say, shrugging. “I mean, we all chose to be here, right?”
“Saks did,” Perry said. “I have never chosen to be at Gregorstoun, and I want that noted for the record. And possibly engraved on my headstone.”
Rolling her eyes, Saks leans down and says to me, “Perry has been moaning about this place since he was twelve, so I decided I’d come and see what all the fuss was about.” Then she flips her long dark hair over one shoulder. “Besides, if it’s good enough for a princess, it’s certainly good enough for me.”
She leans in closer, lowering her voice. “Princess Flora is here,” she says in a stage whisper. “As in the Princess Flora.”
“Right, not the other, off-brand one,” I joke. “Do they give her some kind of special tower room or something?”
Sakshi wrinkles her nose. “You haven’t seen her? She’s sup-posed to be rooming on your floor.”
I shake my head. “I have seen no princesses,” I say, and then . . .
My mouth dry, I ask, “Do either of you have a phone? So you can show me her picture?”
Perry shakes his head, but Saks looks around before reaching into the waistband of her skirt and pulling out a rose-gold iPhone.
“Saks, it’s supposed to stay in your room—you’re going to get in trouble,” Perry says, but Sakshi just holds up one finger, clicking on her phone with the other.
“Here she is,” she says. “Shopping in New Town, wearing a truly fabulous coat.”
Before she even turns the phone to me, I know, but it’s still a shock to the system to see the picture and clearly recognize Princess Flora.