dressed up as myself

to live in the shadows of who i'm supposed to be

Royal Assistant to the Crown Prince Preston Shepherd's POV

Preston flipped through the pages of his journal with the tip of his thumb. He bit the inside of his cheek. It had been twelve weeks since Miles had mentioned his sister. The longest streak since Preston had met the boy, in years. His eyes scanned through the calendar he had taped onto the page to keep track of the boy's symptoms once more.

Well, at least it was a brief mention. Preston closed his eyes for a moment. It was also much better to have a mention than for him to be showing some of his … less savory symptoms. But those had been conquered so quickly, Preston couldn't remember the last time that Miles had a drastic symptom.

"Hey Preston."

Preston shut the notebook - not too quickly, of course, as to not arouse any sort of suspicion - and put a breezy smile on his face. "Hello Sebastian. How are you?"

The Report host mirrored the smile. "I'm fantastic! Just getting everything together for this week's show. I can't wait to see who gets picked."

"It is exciting." Preston agreed - verbally more than in actuality. In reality, thinking about the more than two dozen women that were going to be suddenly thrust into Miles' life made his stomach churn. "I've got my fingers crossed that we won't have any trouble makers."

Sebastian laughed. It was the same loud, cheery laugh that he gave the cameras during interviews. "A little bit of trouble keeps everything spicy!"

Preston wrinkled his nose. "I suppose I'm not a big fan of spice."

"Ah, I getcha. Not for everyone."

Preston tapped his fingers along the worn leather of his notebook. Sebastian seemed unaware of the awkwardly long moment of silence, but Preston felt it like a weight on his chest. He didn't hate idle conversation, but Preston wasn't familiar with Sebastian or with any of the royal house members for that matter..In fact, the two had never even had a formal introduction, so it was a bit of a surprise that the renowned talk show host even knew Preston's name.

"I was hoping to get a bit of info from you, actually." Sebastian slid along the bench of the park table to sit beside Preston. His skin began to prickle with uncertainty.

"I'd be happy to provide you with anything that you need." Preston put his hands together on top of his notebook, moving his gaze to meet Sebastian's. "Assuming, of course, that you're aware that I have things that I am contractually obligated not to share."

There was the slightest flicker of something in Sebastian's eyes before he let out a hearty laugh and the moment for further investigation was gone. "Of course! I would never put you in a bad situation, we're all friends here in the castle."

"Then what can I do for you?"

"Well, we've all been dying to know where the prince has been this past, oh how long has it even been? Six years?"

"Miles was at a private university to study out of the limelight." Preston replied. "I believe that's been public knowledge for a few years now, hasn't it?"

"Well, yes, but you know how people can be… There have been lots of rumors."

"I wouldn't know about any rumors. Miles and I have been working on our studies, so I'm not familiar."

"I just mean that… Well, you know how he has been accused of some pretty crazy things." Sebastian pursed his lips. "All the trouble he was getting into. There's still a lot of speculation about his coma."

"I'm not qualified to speak about his coma, I'm not his doctor."

"People think it was a drug overdose."

"Some people still think the earth is flat." Preston finally snapped. "It isn't anybody's business but Miles' and his doctor's why he was in that coma."

Sebastian's eyes widened in surprise and he covered his eyes shyly. "Oh my! I didn't mean to pry, I hope you know. It's just that people talk, and it would surely stop all the rumors if the truth was out."

Preston stood from his seat, pulling his notebook along with him before putting it back in his satchel. "Then I'm afraid that you'll need to talk to MIles. I apologize for the curtness, but I do have a few things I need to get done before supper."

He held out his hand to the host for a handshake, but he was quickly pulled into a hug.

"Oh, no problem at all!" Sebastian pulled away to beam at him. "It's so great to finally meet you. I do hope we can talk again soon."

Preston gave a curt nod before turning to head back into the palace. His skin still crawled with unease. He should've known that people would try to use him to get information about the prince. No, he did know. But he had thought they'd have the decency to wait longer than a few hours to try and get it.

Nonetheless, they'd have to work much harder to get something out of Preston. He hadn't spent years trying to help Miles just to let all of his work go down the drain for some petty headline. He headed down the walls, keeping his head up even though he had little idea of where he was going.

Anywhere was an improvement if he could have a moment to himself.

Crown Prince Miles Schreave's POV

"There's an hour or so before dinner, go ahead and get ready and we'll go together." Preston put a hand on Miles' shoulder, giving it a squeeze as the two reached the door to the prince's room. Miles swallowed, looking at the thick oak door. He knew that he should reach out and turn the knob in front of him, but as he stared at it, his hand was unmoving. He had not been in this room for years now - not since he was fifteen and sent to his private schooling

His heart drummed in a thick rhythm in his chest as he turned the knob and pushed the door open. His room didn't look a lot like he had left it; gone were the murals he had painted as a child, replaced by a crisp wallpaper in a beige floral pattern. His bits and bobs from adventures with his sister Penelope were also gone, with a few vases and a candle sitting on the shelves. It was his room, but it wasn't anything like he had remembered.

"I'll see you soon." Preston's voice startled Miles back to reality; he wasn't sure how long he had spent just standing in the doorway staring, but the softness of his friend's voice made him think it must've been longer than it felt like. The door shut quietly, but the sound cemented a single thing. Miles was alone.

How long had it been since he had a moment to himself? He and Preston had been practically inseparable for the years they had known each other. Honestly, though, Miles didn't mind it. He didn't like to spend time alone - he preferred the company of anyone that he could get. There was something about the silence that made him uneasy that he couldn't quite place.

Miles took a few steps around the room, but it felt so foreign to him that he wasn't sure where to start. Nothing was his. The room looked beautiful - like a luxurious hotel, even. Maybe he'd be able to go out and shop for a few things to make it more his own… or paint the walls? His lips turned into a smile. He had tried to paint the walls himself once, when he was much smaller. The look on his mother's face had been priceless - and she had scolded him for hours about how he had put handprints on top of wallpaper that was handmade and flown in from New Asia just for him… But she couldn't stay mad at him for too long, and that night he had snuggled up with her by the fire for story time as if nothing had happened.

"Heya brother."

Miles was snapped out of his nostalgia, whirring to be face to face with the intruder. He hadn't heard the door open, or any footsteps to signal that somebody had come in, but once he recognized the face a smile broke out onto his features. "Finally come to see me, Penny?"

The redhead scrunched her nose in a mockery of disgust, "You know me. Always coming late to the party."

Miles let out a laugh before he wrapped his arms around his sister. Her hair was damp - perhaps from a shower? - and he was sure that he'd get his clothes wet, but he didn't care. "Better late than never."

She grinned. It was the same grin, pulled by the strings of a mischievous puppeteer, that he had always loved about her. Penelope and Miles Schreave were always up to some sort of trouble growing up, partially to blame by their mother's gentle parenting style and their father's busy schedule. Miles took in his sister, just as he remembered despite the memories being so distant. "Why didn't you come meet me for my landing?"

"You know I don't like crowds." Penny replied, flopping herself onto the bed. "Besides, you know how Mom gets when we're together. I figured that I'd let the cameras get you at your best."

"Yeah, it's just… It's been a long time." Miles brushed his blond hair out of his face, trying not to let his emotions blush his pale features. "Especially since you stopped calling…"

She sat up straighter, narrowing her eyes. "I stopped calling? You mean that you stopped answering."

Her quick swing of emotions wasn't anything new - his sister always felt things to the fullest and could be a bit of a ticking time bomb on occasion. Miles raised a brow in confusion. "I only did the family calls. That's all I had time for."

"Or maybe that uptight little friend of yours wanted me gone."

"You mean Preston?"

Penelope examined her nails nonchalantly. "Yeah, what's-his-face. I don't care for him."

"Preston's nice. I think you'd like him. I've told him a lot about you."

She snorted in response. "Whatever, man. I don't want to fight about it. What matters is that you're home."

Relief flooded through his veins. A fight was the last thing that he needed before trying to return to his royal life. "What have you been up to?"

"Unimportant. Hey!" Penelope perked up, standing from the bed and coming to stand practically nose to nose with her brother. "Guess what?"

"What?" Miles searched her eyes for a hint of what she was going to say, but they only glittered a forest of excited greens.

"I heard you're getting a girlfriend."

Heat rushed to MIles' cheeks. "Oh god, don't even start."

She gripped his arms, giggling. "What do you mean?! This is so exciting. You know that I've been waiting forever to play matchmaker for you."

"Then you can go talk to Abi, because she's in charge." Miles wiggled out of her grasp. "Besides, maybe nobody will apply. Preston told me that the papers haven't talked about me in awhile, so who knows what the tabloids think of me."

"Poppycock." Penny waved a hand in dismissal. "Every girl wants to be a princess somewhere deep in her soul. I know it."

"Even if they think I'm some crazy kid that got sent away for bad behavior?"

"For sure, bad boys are totally hot."

Miles laughed. "You make a convincing argument."

"Yeah, I should've been a lawyer. I missed my calling, I suppose." Penelope said. Miles knew better than to ask what she was actually doing - it had been a fight more times than he could count. Mom had always been on his older sister's case to study better and become the best queen that she could. Now that Penny had stepped down from the throne, though, it felt like his sister merely… existed.

She slapped his back teasingly, bringing Miles away from his thoughts. "Anyway, you should go wash your face or something. You look a mess."

Miles nodded, heading to the bathroom to do exactly that. The cold water helped ease the redness of his cheeks, and he patted his face dry with a pristine white towel hanging near the sink. He took a minute to take in his reflection. His sandy colored hair was neat enough, rustled from it's styling after the long plane ride he had taken to get home. The bags under his eyes weren't too bad, he knew a little bit of concealer could clear it up.

What would the girls applying for his Selection think of him? Would they scoff at his clear skin due to his intense nightly routine? Would they see that lack of stubble along the coast of his jawline and assume he was immature? Would they take in his small, unimpressive frame and worry if he was even strong enough to sweep them off of their feet?

"Hey, Penny, do you think that I should do something with my hair? Or-" Miles' was cut short as he stuck his head out of the room to see that his sister was already gone. He went over to the bed where she had been sitting, but the comforter was undisturbed. In fact, the wetness that must've come from her damp hair was already dry.

He exhaled deeply through his nose. Maybe she had to get ready for dinner too.

Selection Coordinator Abilene Gartner's POV

"The first cut of girls has been made already - we've removed the usual submissions out of the proper age range, women that are already legally married, women with violent criminal records…"

Abi clenched her hands together, a sweaty mess of fingers lying atop the perfectly polished wood. Her nerves played with her heartbeat, like a children's jump rope. A quick but methodical pace of beating that kept her palms damp. She shifted in her seat lightly.

"I thought that it would be fitting for Miss Gartner to go through the applications herself. To pick the final girls." Cortana finally finished her speal, and all eyes turned to Abi. She sat a bit straighter in her seat, untangling her hands.

"I'd like the applicants left to send in a video audition."

Cortana scoffed. "You seem to misunderstand - if there are video auditions, then people will realize it's not a lottery."

"Nobody believes that anyway." Abilene said. "With the internet, nobody's believed that in years. I want to see these women."

"The idea wouldn't work. We're supposed to announce the girls on the report in less than a week." Cortana's tone was stern, but Abilene tried not to let her confidence waver.

"How would we get the info out?" One intern added, "It would take too long for the mail to be delivered, much less for all of the girls to send in videos."

"What about people that don't have access to cameras?"

"Who would be watching the videos?"

"Do we need to create a template for the structure? What if people aren't sure what to do?"

The voices were a low hum in the room. Across from her seat, Abi could see Cortana's lips resting into a smug smile. Fury flickered in her stomach. Cortana didn't have any of her own great ideas - she just wanted to shoot down anything Abilene suggested.

But with all of the questions being juggled, she did start to second guess herself. Maybe her ideas just didn't have the time necessary to make it a reality. How would she sit through hours of videos? Of course she wanted to - she wanted to ensure that her cousin had the best chance at happiness. But maybe her hopes weren't as reasonable as they seemed.

Abilene bit her lip, her eyes fluttering down to the papers in front of her. There was little written in her notes other than her messy brainstorming. There was a circle around video auditions right at the bottom of the page, following other ideas like extra applicants, random chances drawings, video calls. She had spent so much time coming up with the concept of a video audition that she hadn't stopped to think about how that would even be possible.

Delphine held up her hand to speak and the chatter came to an almost immediate halt. "I think the idea is wonderful - we can send a notice to each province's major news station to air on the news tonight and tomorrow morning. Along with some grants to provide incentive to allow women that don't have their own cameras to come to city buildings to use one."

Abi shot her aunt a grateful smile, which mirrored the one that the queen wore on her own lips. "And I'll make an email account for the women to send the videos to - I'll watch them."

"You'll watch every single one?" Cortana asked, "That's bound to take you hours upon hours."

"That's fine." Abilene responded curtly. She had never been afraid of a large workload - in fact, it only hardened her determination. She wasn't just looking for a girl that would look good with a tiara or one that would up the ratings for the Report. Abilene was helping make or break her cousin's love life. Miles had already been through so much… he deserved someone that loved him.

And Abilene was going to find that someone if it killed her.

"Then it's decided!" The king stood from his seat, a broad smile lighting up his face. "Delly and Abi will write up the message and we can call this meeting adjourned?"

Cortana still looked to be dissatisfied, but the expression only lasted an instant before the king's eyes turned back to her and she put on her cordial mask of professionalism. "Of course, your Highness."

"We can have another meeting once the girls are chosen - the morning of the Report for the announcement." Abilene flipped her binder open to a calendar, trying not to overwhelm herself with how soon the girls were to be announced. "I'll have them chosen by then."

"Great! Well, I'll see you all again soon!" King Frederickson's announcement worked like a bell letting children out of class, and everyone started to leave. He gathered his few things, but as he was leaving the room he seemed to stop and say a greeting to every member of the staff.

Abilene held a giggle in her chest - he was never the one to sit around at meetings for too long. Her uncle always wanted to be up and about, which is why Abilene thought it was odd that he and Aunt Delphine got along so well. Delphine was the kind of woman to sit with a stranger at the cafe just because she didn't want them to have a lonely meal, while King Frederickson would be jovially bouncing from table to table just to say hi to anyone he wanted to. Such opposites, yet when they were together, they made Abilene believe in true love.

She jotted down a note on the day for a meeting before flipping to a clean page in her binder before listing every district in alphabetical order down the page. At the top of it, in big letters, she wrote 'Miles' Selected'.

Just seeing all of the provinces laid out on her page, with no names next to them, let Abi know how much work she had to do. There were a lot of hopeful women trying to get in, which meant that she would have a huge pile of videos to watch to find just the right one.

She was so focused on her own thoughts that she jerked in surprise when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Abilene looked up to see Delphine looking down, smiling softly.

"Thanks for… the help." Abilene said, letting out a breath.

"It's never a problem. That's why we've got a whole team for this - to help each other." Delphine said with a small nod of her head. "I appreciate your dedication."

"It's for Miles." Abilene shrugged her shoulders. "I just want him to be happy. It's not his fault that he has to be the king, you know? None of this was meant for him."

Delphine's eyes clouded momentarily. "I know. But we can only make the best of what we have."

Abi bit the inside of her cheek and moved her gaze from the queen. There was no need to linger on the situation. Everybody in the palace knew that things weren't going exactly according to plan. Though she didn't have every detail, Abi had gathered bits and pieces of the tragedy.

"I won't let him down." Abilene said. She looked back at Delphine one more time. "I promise."

A/N - hello hello! it's been awhile, do not fret. I may be slow, but I do plan on bringing more content now and again! This was going to be my final chapter before introducing my ladies, but i will admit that i'm still running sort of low on submissions. please feel free to send me a girl if you're still working on one - i don't have a hard date set still, but i would really like to make it to ten lovely ladies to work with! if you have questions or even just an idea that you need help fleshing out, don't hesitate to shoot me a message.

thanks for the love i've been receiving so far, both here and on discord. i love seeing the excitement for Miles' and the girls he'll get to meet soon! I planned on introducing the girls via their video interviews, so i hope you guys are excited for those! thanks for reading, leave me a review if you've got the time, and i'll see you all in the next one!