Dearest Teen Casey–
The time traveling Powers that Be are letting me write one more letter to my teen self. (How cool is that?!? Michael J. Fox gets to go back in time…AND SO DO I.) But I’ve decided to outsmart them and send my second letter to you instead. (Take that, Powers!) Besides, you’ll believe this long before I do. YOU believed in unicorns first. YOU had all the Elfquest graphic novels. YOU discovered the magic song (it’s called “Presto”, by the way, by a band named Rush). YOU wrote the first short story. YOU never stopped believing that one day a door would open up from my bedroom and lead into yours.
If anyone can convince me that all of this is for real, it’s you, Princess Star. I’d tell you to never change, but I know for a fact that you never do. Nor do I. That’s the best part about us.
1987. I think maybe you saved my life back then. Did you know that? I was the most popular girl at North Springs Elementary, but thanks to the Mean Girls I started E.L. Wright Middle as a pariah. They made my life hell. Almost every day of sixth grade, I went home and cried.
Talk about Fate: The closest Greek church was almost an hour away and we certainly didn’t have “lock-ins”, like you cool Presbyterian kids that went to the church across from the high school. The only reason I even attended that one lock-in was because no one else would be friends with V after they started spreading evil rumors about her sleeping around.
People believed that nonsense. And we were only eleven.
But I was V’s friend. I sat next to her on the bus when she cried and I went to the lock-in with her that summer, even though I had no idea what a lock-in was.
V, of course, abandoned me the moment we got there, but I made my own fun. There was a pool open all night long–just like home for the girl who lives on a lake, even if I swam by myself. And then I found the movie room.
There you were, alone in the dark, a tiny bundle of wild blonde hair and glasses. I sat with you and we watched Poltergeist II together. I didn’t even like horror movies, but you were the nicest anyone had been to me in over a year, so I stayed. Eventually the room filled up with people and someone stole my sleeping bag and pillow and I spent the wee hours on a hard gym mat with no blanket…but I was more disappointed that I would probably never see you again.
Then seventh grade started. And there you were.
The day you told someone I was your best friend was one of the best days of my life. (Even though few people believed it, all the way up until the day we graduated. Were we really so different back then?)
In hindsight I realize what bold a thing it was that we did, collecting all the misfit girls. Not that we united them against anything, as the Mean Girls would have done, we just gave them a place to go. What other seventh graders performed live shows for their friends everyday at lunchtime? What was it that inspired you to concoct “gourmet” meals with our leftovers? Your Julia Child impression was so over the top, and yet so spot on. I still have a handmade advertisement for Casey’s Cookery, airing under the tree at 11:01am. How lucky we were to not be confined to a cafeteria. (But we did eat lunch terribly early, didn’t we?)
Somewhere, too, I have a handful of the tiny, weatherbeaten glass fragments we collected from the parking lot every day and hid in our socks while waiting for the busses. How did other young girls pass the time before discovering romance novels? Oh, that one you found in the bathroom–the one with the butterfly symbol that was so terribly written, blurbed by the woman whose qualifications were “…and I read a lot.”
Then Mom found Jude Deveraux for me at the library book sale and our lives changed forever. But we had already started writing together…I was so jealous of your word processor and your unicorn story. I wanted to write epic fantasies. My Princesses were always you, and their names were always Casey. You never quibbled about that. Nor did I, happy in my role as Queen of Thieves. All those afternoons on the dock at my house, getting sunburnt as we read and wrote for hours upon hours…
One of these days, I really will finish The Legacy. I may change a few names, but only a few, and never Princess Casey.
Oh, all the things I want to say! But really, I can just call and tell you over the phone. And the sound of my voice will not bother you, even though your daughter has been watching my Fairy Tale Rants nonstop for days now. She’s just like us, you know–the poor thing walks into walls because her nose is so far into her books. Though she reads most of them on a flat, handheld screen BECAUSE WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE.
Here in 2015, you and I have raised “being an adult” to an art form. Unhappy as it might be to hear, we’re a lot like our amazing mothers, who never stopped learning new things and continue to dance in the background. Just as Mr. Stafford predicts in high school, Sally Beth, you become a teacher. But instead of being set adrift by selfish students you are embraced by them, creating possibly the most highly recommended fairy tale and folklore class at Winthrop University. (And not just because my writing is part of your syllabus!
Mr. Stafford sees me as a Duchess on a Grand Stair waving to my party guests. Strangely enough, he isn’t far off there, either. I do become a Princess, complete with a closet full of ballgowns. It’s not the role I imagined for myself–you know that better than anyone. But Princess Alethea arose from the ashes of a shattered soul…a transformation I had to make. You could not save me from it, nor would I have had you do so, but you were there for me when it happened. You are always there for me.
The world called for a Princess and I stepped forward, assuming the role with all the honor, respect, and responsibility it deserves. I put good out into the world and inspire others to do the same. I bring sparkles and sunshine, and I leave light and laughter wherever I go.
I had an excellent role model.
But though my optimism shines like a rainbow for all to see, I know that I will never reach your level of mastery. I will forever be the dark sister to your light, the shadow to your sun, the Erin to your Aeriel. (You write me a fairy tale of your own to this effect, as an intro to my memoir, and every time I read it, it makes me cry.) I may yet be wandering the world in search of that soul mate in shining armor on a horse you imagined for me, but I will always have you there to complete me, to save my life, every single time.
I love you, Casey Althea Cothran. I loved you then, I love you now, and I will always love you, until every tree on earth has perished and Time itself forgets that it was ever Time to begin with.
Thank you for never giving up on me.
Alethea / Harry / Llogan
PS — Tell Qqq zat I ‘ave stolen zee bear! Love, Zee Illustrious Masked Kidnapper.
PPS — Please don’t ask me to teach you to count to ten in Greek after we watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We stay up half the night, you remember none of it in the morning, and I pretty much never forgive you.
PPPS — I still cannot believe you told THE ENTIRE SCHOOL about the crush we had on Erik Younginer at our fifteen-year reunion. It was bad enough that you made me get on stage with you and sing that Patsy Cline song I didn’t even know…oh my gosh! And you know what he said to us after? “But you were the Smart Kids.” I’m still not sure if he meant that such a match could never have bridged the gulf between us and the Cool Kids, or if we should have just been smart enough to walk up to him and ask him out. I suspect the former…but we’ll never know. Unless you happen get this letter in time to change that bit.
Let me know how it works out.
New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a fairy godmother, and a geek. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, turning garden gnomes into mad scientists, and making sense out of fairy tales.
Alethea is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s DARK-HUNTER COMPANION, and penned the ALPHAOOPS! series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. She has done multiple collaborations with Eisner winning artist J.K. Lee, including The Wonderland Alphabet and Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Her YA fairy tale novel, ENCHANTED, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012, was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both ENCHANTED and its sequel, HERO, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award.
Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.You can find Princess Alethea online at: www.aletheakontis.com.