Chapter 3: The Rewrite in which I Meet the Character I Shamelessly Planned to Kill Off

It was Autumn’s 16th birthday.

I woke her up, dressed her, and styled her hair, just like a proper lady’s maid. All the while I kept up a running commentary, prepping her on who would be at the party. We would be surrounded by allies, enemies, and people on the sidelines, and Autumn needed to be aware of who could be charmed, who could be bought and who needed to be ignored. Fortunately after two years of Head Maid Gertia’s boot camp from hell, I knew exactly how to coach her. 

Autumn endured my lecturing without complaint. She really was a sweet girl, with a quiet temperament but strong morals. I thought she was adorable and felt inclined to protect her. I had felt similarly when I was writing her character. I thought the calm sweet way she approached things was fitting of the protagonist of my story, and made sure she would have a beautiful romance and a happy ending. Fortunately those feelings didn’t fade even after spending every day with her as her maid in this world. Now that I had skills and knowledge, I was even more determined to make sure her future was bright.

Once she was prepared, she walked down the stairs towards the ballroom, looking beautiful in her usual pink and red. I walked a few steps behind her, secretly patting myself on the back for doing a good job. After all, today was the day she was meeting her future husband, Prince Coron and I wanted to make sure she knocked him dead! 

 The party was packed; all the nobility in the city seemed to be here to celebrate Autumn’s birthday. Hardly surprising, given her status as a favored marriage candidate to the crown prince. Dresses in all shapes and colors made the room look like a garden of dancing flowers, the smell of delicious foods and strange perfumes filled the air. I could feel Autumn’s excitement, this was her first big party. Sixteen was an important age for young noblewomen, this was her debut as the daughter of Duke Terotta. She would no longer be considered a child. She was old enough to inherit, be courted, and even get married. It was a big deal. 

Watching her bright eyes take in the room, I felt a slight twinge of regret for myself. As the daughter of a Baron, Katarina would have warranted a social debut 2 months ago, on her 16th birthday, but that had been sacrificed for the chance at social advancement for her family as she served as Autumn’s personal maid. Although it destroyed my own prospects of a good marriage, my connection to the household of Duke Terotta opened many doors for my family. Last I heard, both of my older sisters had married well, to titled, wealthy men.

I shook my head at the strange turn of my thoughts. After two years of living as Katarina, it became harder and harder to separate her from my own identity. Before this, it would have never occurred to me to be disappointed at losing a chance to have a social debut. This change in my personality was a little bit worrying, but in the end, I decided not to overthink it. The important task of avoiding becoming the trash side character who gets executed, while making sure little Autumn gets her happy ending, was before me. I could not waiver now. 

“Lady Autumn.” A quiet voice called out her name, and everyone stopped to stare as they saw who it was. 

“P-Prince Coron!” Autumn blushed a pretty pink color, nearly matching her gown. The Prince made a gentlemanly bow before her, taking her hand and kissing it gently. I studied him, curious to see how he would match up to my descriptions of him in my book. He was handsome, in a classic sort of way, with a gentle smile. He was a perfect, handsome prince, I supposed, but I couldn’t help but feel mildly disappointed. 

Isn’t he a little boring?

I mentally chided my younger self for writing him so straight-laced and perfect. Couldn’t I have at least given him a dark, tortured secret personality or something?

Oh well. As long as Autumn likes him, I’m sure it will be fine. 

“Oh that reminds me, I brought you something.” The Prince turned to the tall, quiet man at his side. “James, you still have it with you?” 

The man smiled, the expression lighting up his unusually serious face. “Of course, Your Highness.” 

He handed him a small wrapped box. The Prince took it, saying, “Oh yes, before I forget, Lady Autumn, allow me to introduce my good friend, Duke Harrington.” 

I turned my attention to man as Autumn greeted him with a polite curtsey and a murmured “Your Grace.” He stood even taller than the prince, with dark hair and eyes that seemed always to be forming a serious expression. If I hadn’t seen that small smile when he spoke to the Prince earlier, I may have thought his face was stuck perpetually in a look of mild disapproval. 

Without a doubt this was James Harrington, a side character and my most shameful secret as an author. 

He was the best friend of the prince, and despite holding one of the most prestigious titles in the country, was neither arrogant or self centered. He constantly wanted to do the right thing, for his family, for his friends, and for his country. This sometimes led him down some dark paths in my stories, but he always was striving to help others, so he was very popular with the readers. His character did fall in love with the protagonist Autumn, but since she was engaged to his best friend, and they cared for each other, he never said anything, just silently supported them both from the sidelines. As the series was drawing to a close, however, more and more requests for an Autumn/James ending came pouring in. 

As an author, I did appreciate that they cared about my characters this much, but in the end I started getting annoyed. Why did so many people want me to change my course from Autumn’s dream of marrying her perfect prince and set her up with his friend instead? Were they kidding me? I could never do that to her! Or so I told myself was my reasoning. 

But deep down inside, only I knew the shameful truth:

I didn’t want to set them up, because I had developed a crush on my own character. This was my most embarrassing secret, both as an author and a person. Because of this, I felt extremely uncomfortable not only pairing him with my protagonist; I couldn’t even write him a happy ending like I did for Captain Alexander. 

Unfortunately, probably because of my unnatural interest in the man, he was an extremely complex, deep and likable character. This made the prince, who was the main love interest, seem… a little boring. As more and more fans of the James pairing appeared, I in my isolated room with no one else but my computer to keep me company, made a shameful decision:

I decided to kill him off in the last book. 

I figured it would dash their hopes for him to hook up with Autumn, while giving a darker, more meaningful weight to the ending. Never mind that I sobbed uncontrollably while writing the damned scene, now that I was standing in front of the man himself, I couldn’t help but feel mortified that I had chosen such a terrible way out of my internal conflict. 

I snuck a few glances at his face, too embarrassed to look for too long. He really was handsome. Ugh, this was awful. Despite my excitement for getting to meet the character I had had a crush on for so long, I was worried about how this meeting would go. After all, his loyalty and protectiveness of his friends is what in fact made him the greatest enemy to a certain worthless side character who was always scheming to come between them. 

That’s right, poor stupid Katrina was the one that James hated the most. The character that of course I was now. 

I caught his eye during on of my brief glances, and felt my heart drop at the look of disdain as he met my gaze. 

Oh great, he’s heard of me. 

Old Katrina had developed quite the reputation as a flighty, arrogant girl, an incorrigible flirt. Now of course that I had been undergoing my two years of “operation overpowered maid character” development plan, I’m sure little has been done to correct my image. After all, it wasn’t like Miss Gertia or Captain Alexander was going to join in on the local gossip corner to tell people how hard working I was. I was just going to have to prove myself. 

“This is for you.” The Prince, completely oblivious to my internal conflict and silent screams of embarrassment, handed Autumn the wrapped box. 

Inside was a delicious looking chocolate truffle. “Oh how cute!” Autumn looked excited as she took out the treat. “It’s almost too pretty to eat!”

The Prince chuckled, “Please, try it, it will only go to waste otherwise. Besides, it’s your birthday!” 

Nodding happily, the girl lifted the treat towards her mouth. 

WAIT A MINUTE! WHAT WAS THAT SPRINKLED ON TOP?!

To my horror, as I looked closer, I could see peanut crumbles decorating the top of the elaborate chocolate truffle. Autumn was deathly allergic to peanuts! What was the prince thinking?!

I only had a moment to act, the dessert was almost in her mouth. Moving quickly, my hand pushed her arm, knocking the treat from her hand. It landed on the floor with a quiet thud, ruined. 

There was an awkward silence. 

“Oh no, how clumsy of me! What a terrible accident!” I had to say something. I didn’t want to embarrass the Prince or James in front of the crowd by telling him he almost killed his future wife. Autumn looked at me strangely, but when she glanced again at the truffle on the ground, she realized what I had done. Gratefulness filled her eyes and she opened her mouth to speak… only to stop as I shot her a warning glance to stay silent. It would not do for her to say something now. I would make sure to quietly inform the Prince’s party of her allergy at a later date to prevent this from happening in the future. 

I was feeling quite pleased with myself, until I heard a low angry voice speak up.

“It is indeed unfortunate.” I glanced up, James was staring at me, but in a way that one would stare at an insect, or mud on your shoe. “Perhaps, if you are so clumsy, you might be better suited to less delicate work? I believe there may be job openings at the local stable shoveling out manure.” He spoke quietly, but in the silence of the room everyone hear him and laughed out loud. 

I tilted my head, staring at him. This all seemed oddly familiar. 

Of course!

I remembered a passage from my book, regarding Autumn’s 16th birthday party. The Prince had just given the protagonist a dessert, but jealous and angry, Katrina had intentionally knocked it to the floor. 

“Oh how clumsy of me!” she had laughed evilly, while she faked sympathy. If I remember correctly, the Duke had called her out similarly in the book as well. So despite all the changes I had made, apparently I had managed to act out the first scene of the plot anyways. 

In my heart I apologized to old Kristina, despite her ill intentions, it seems like she accidentally saved Autumn’s life in the book. (Although I don’t remember writing Autumn’s character to have a peanut allergy. I hadn’t given much thought to small details like food preferences or allergies when writing the original story).

The rest of the party passed uneventfully. Autumn had felt guilty and wanted to clear my name after everyone laughed at me, but I made her stay silent and carelessly shrugged off all the critical gazes in my direction. So what if they didn’t approve of me? They didn’t know that I was a secretly overpowered maid character now. I chuckled to myself, stopping quickly when I noticed a few concerned glances from Autumn and her family. 

After everything was over, I quickly made my way to the Prince’s carriages. My plan was to grab one of their maids to pass on a message about Autumn’s allergy, but to my surprise I found my way blocked by the one and only Duke James Harrington. 

Startled, I dropped a polite curtsy. “Your Grace.”

He stood in front of me, his arms crossed. The look of disgust still painted his features, making me feel a little irritated. 

“The Prince doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone, Miss Katrina.” He said my name like a curse. “So I bid you to move along.” 

I sighed quietly. “Of course I would never dream of bothering His Highness, or Your Grace for that matter. I am simply passing on a message from my mistress to one of the Prince’s servants, so if you don’t mind…” I tried to move past him, but the aggravating man simply shifted and continued blocking me. 

“What’s the message?”

I considered telling him, but looking at his face annoyed me too much and I refused to oblige him. Had I really had a crush on this character? What bad taste in men.  

“I would hate to bother Your Grace with such a trivial matter.” I murmured, again trying to move around him. 

“Just stop embarrassing yourself already.” His voice was cold, his gaze even colder. “The Prince never has and never will care for power and money hungry girls, and you certainly don’t have any redeeming qualities that could induce him to overlook your terrible personality.” He was sneering now, looking over me in my oversized grey maid’s uniform as if unimpressed. What a jerk! I was about to lose it, but instead I closed my eyes, and counted to 5. Opening them, I gave him a calm, polite smile, enjoying the look of shock that flickered across his features. 

“I will keep your advice in mind, Your Grace, and I thank you for your concern. I do however, have three things I wish to convey to you this evening.”

I held up one finger. “First, taking rumors at face value is poor practice, and a foolish one at that. You should take the time to judge a person based off of their abilities, otherwise you may find that you make potential allies enemies.”

I held up a second finger “Second, not every girl that is near you or His Highness is ‘power and money hungry.’ You must meet these sorts of people regularly so I will forgive the assumption this time, but I will not extend such understanding a second time. Again, people are more complex than you realize, and if you don’t take the time to sort out friend from foe, then I pity our future king for having such a poor advisor.” 

Too furious to keep up the polite smile, I turned and started walking away. I had only made it a few steps before he called out to me. 

“W-wait. What was the third message?”

I stopped, but refused to turn around. I didn’t want to show him the expression on my face at that moment. 

“Lady Autumn is deathly allergic to peanuts. I beg His Highness and Your Grace to please refrain from trying to kill her again in the future.”

With that, I quickly walked back to the mansion, and this time he didn’t call out to stop me.

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