First Meeting

    Eight year old Odessa Tae stood behind the column, watching her father hold court. An older boy stood beside the two adults. She raked her brain, trying to figure out where she knew them from. Her father’s gaze landed on her, and she ducked behind the column.
“Odessa, come on out,” he called, motioning for her to come forward. Shyly, Odessa stepped out from around the column and walked to her father’s side. Her father extended a hand out to her, smiling as she took it. The boy watched her with bright eyes, and he bowed at the waist. Odessa dropped into a shallow curtsy before straightening and looking at her father.
“Gerald and Rebecca, may I present my eldest daughter, Crown Princess Odessa.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Princess Odessa,” the woman, Rebecca, said. “Jayden, this is my oldest boy, Anthony.” The two children stared at each other, sizing each other up. Odessa peered at the boy, comparing him to Wes. Anthony wore worn jeans and a stretched out sweater. He played with a loose thread on his sleeve and scuffed his tennis shoes against the floor.
“Why don’t you go take Anthony out to play in the garden with you?” her father suggested. Odessa nodded and held out her hand to the boy. He stared at it before slipped his hand into hers. Giggling, she pulled him through the palace out to the garden.
***
She clung to her father’s pant leg and watched the chaos in the courtyard. The noise overwhelmed her, and she buried her face against her father. He smoothed down her hair, trying to comfort her.
“It’ll be okay, Odessa. It’ll be all over soon,” he whispered. She looked up at him, tears pooling in her eyes.
“I don’t understand, Papa. Those are Anthony’s parents,” she cried. “Who’s going to take care of him?”
“My sweet girl, always worrying about others,” he said. Odessa stared into the bright flames, trying to make out the silhouette of Anthony. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching the flame. She stepped out from her father and walked towards the boy. He met her halfway, and the two friends embraced each other. Her father approached and stood behind them, keeping watch.
“I have to take care of Jessie,” Anthony whispered. He untangled himself from Odessa and stepped away. “I have to go.” He glanced at her once more before running out of the courtyard. Odessa watched him disappear before looking up at her father. Her father watched mournful as the boy walked away. As the fire died down, her father guided her into the palace. The smell of smoke clung to her, and she wrinkled her nose. She caught her father brushing away tears as they climbed the steps up to their apartments.
***
As they continued to grow up, Odessa kept track of where Anthony was. It broke her heart to watch as they struggled. When he and his sister arrived at the palace, she knew she needed to keep her distance from him. She replaced her interest in him with work and learning the ins and outs of the country.
The last place she expected to see him was kneeling in front of her throne with guards on either side of him. Her heart pounding in her chest as she listened to the accusations against him. Deep down she knew that he wasn’t capable of what they were accusing him of. His love for his sister took priority, and he would never leave her behind.
Her father’s eyes were on her as she swallowed. He lifted his head and met her gaze. Today, his fate rested in her hands.