Though other people occasionally overlooked the fact, it had always been quite clear to Luna that the world was hers and she totally ruled. As world ruler, she was therefore a bit discomfited to discover that she was currently a frog.
Still, she had once managed to safeguard her reign while shepherding Sulli through her latest disastrous crush and simultaneously organizing a wake for Krystal's ipod after its unexpected meeting with the Treehouse's garbage disposal. Being a frog couldn't possibly be any worse than having to write an obituary for 38 gigs of Europop, so Luna wasn't altogether worried at first.
She wasn't even really confused about how she ended up as Her Frogginess, though she was a bit fuzzy on the logistics. The Treehouse, after all, had been home to wayward fairytales for a while now, ever since Prince Zero. Ah, Prince Zero, named both for his charming personality (not) and his position as the first of what had since been a long line of wholly inferior princes about to happen upon sleeping princesses--that is, before the princess activated her InterScepter, and Luna and the others had stepped in and whisked her out of sight.
It was an open secret that nearly every enchanted bier and magical funeral pyre these days came equipped with an InterScepter, in case you were a princess who happened to be unable or unwilling to betroth yourself to the knight about to kiss you, or (a less common but still ghastly occurrence) you were about to be burned at the stake unless all seven of your lazy-ass brothers and/or the disembodied ghost-head of your recently deceased mule/horse/favorite servant showed up at the last minute to reveal how they had all been turned into swans or beheaded by an evil witch, and you were the truest princess of them all. It was a well-known fact that some princesses carried InterScepters on them at all times, in case of kidnapping by dragons, cursing by old hags, accidental bargains with dwarfs who were ugly and short and therefore problematically likely to be evil--the usual.
Less well known, though the truth remained a source of contention among more conservative witches and warlocks, was the fact that the InterScepter had come into being after the disastrous first kiss of Prince Char Ming and Princess Whitesnow. Luna had seen the whole thing live on Victori-cam. (Victoria had webcams in enchanted woods in every alternate universe in the kingdom. Something about her mom's microchip empire and paranoid gnomes. Luna suspected this was totally a lie, since the webcams seemed to be targeted at every enchanted tower or dragon's cave or dwarf's hut where unsuspecting princesses might be kidnapped. But she had learned not to question Victoria's mysterious ways, primarily because she also suspected Victoria was a witch.) Whitesnow had opened her eyes after said kiss and then promptly decked Char Ming with a right hook Luna frankly envied. Whitesnow had leapt out of the coffin and made a run for it, but obviously by then it was too late, and Char Ming had sued her for marriage rights. It was taking years for the case to make its way through the court system, so in the meantime, Victoria had patented the InterScepter as a quick and easy way for a royal girl to make a graceful getaway when necessary.
The InterScepter looked just like any regular old princess scepter, except that it came with a panic button. Luna had tried and failed before to find out how exactly the InterScepter worked. “How can you activate it if you’re in an enchanted sleep?” she had asked Victoria, who had countered with something something neurological something something Somnacin, and then said, “Wait, what’s that over there?!” Luna wasn’t fooled, but it turned out Victoria was pointing at Krystal’s new gold hightop sneakers, so she let it slide, because yo, those sneakers were solid.
Upon activating the InterScepter, all princesses woke up inside of the Birdcage, which wasn’t actually a birdcage--which was fitting since the Treehouse wasn’t actually a treehouse, but rather a building in the middle of nowhere that housed exactly one remodeled dance studio, six bedrooms, and a big round room that housed portals to other dimensions. This was the Birdcage. The portals themselves looked like a bit like candle votives for giants, but really they were exits in and out of the Treehouse, each one opening onto a different fairy-tale universe. Luna had awakened there once, herself, as had Amber, Krystal, and most recently Sulli. The princesses who woke up in the Birdcage could come and go as they liked, and most of them opted eventually to go back to their kingdoms, or even their enchanted coffins or towers, provided a carefully vetted, acceptable prince could be found within kissing or rescuing distance.
The unfortunate thing about inferior princes, however, was that nearly all of them wound up with a princess in the end--though there was one notable instance when the prince in question appeared to be markedly relieved when the princess he was about to kiss vanished before his eyes. He'd turned out to be totally gay for his steward, and the princess was eventually able to hold out for a hunky duke with not one, but two castles in Spain.
Still, there were quite a few times when the Victori-cam showed princesses whose InterScepters were sending off all kinds of alarm bells, but who, for whatever reason, refused to activate. “That prince started his own Scullery Maids Gone Wild production company!” Amber had groused after the last one, drumming her gloved hand on the tabletop in irritation. “Why would she even want to kiss that, much less marry it?”
“Maybe she likes to party!” said Sulli optimistically.
“Just because you like to party doesn’t mean all girls do,” said Krystal, who had just painted her nails bright gold to match her hightops and was letting them dry.
“Lies, lies, everyone loves a party,” said Sulli, adjusting her baseball cap and clearly trying not to pout. She wasn’t the youngest of them, but they all usually forgot that.
“She looks like she’s afraid to open her eyes,” said Amber, squinting at the screen, where the sleeping princess they were watching appeared to be faking rigor mortis as her prince approached her enchanted coffin. “This blows.”
Victoria, who’d been having a conversation with the stuffed horse who lived above the armoire, wandered over. “If she’s that unhappy, why doesn’t her Scepter activate?” she asked with a frown.
“She’s the one who went and got herself enchanted,” said Krystal, rolling her eyes. “Maybe she just wants to deal with her own mess.” Luna poked her in the side. “Ow,” said Krystal without inflection.
“Maybe she just isn’t the type to run away,” said Luna.
They watched while the princess reluctantly opened her eyes and fake-smiled up at the prince, who promptly groped her.
“I’d dick-punch him,” said Krystal. Luna poked her again. “Ow,” said Krystal.
“Maybe that’s it,” said Amber. “Instead of making a device that lets the princesses run away, can’t you make up some kind of device that keeps princes from kissing them until they’ve learned how not to be total jerk-offs?”
“Like a karmic transformation, you mean?” said Victoria. “Hmm. It’s possible. Certainly advanced magi--I mean, advanced technology.”
“It’s okay, we all know you’re a witch, Victoria,” said Krystal, blowing on her nails. She held one hand up to Luna, who blew on them too.
“What? I don’t know what you mean,” said Victoria. “I’m a princess, just like the rest of you.”
“You were just talking to a stuffed animal,” said Krystal.
“But you didn’t hear it talk back, did you?” said Victoria.
This time Luna pinched her. “Hey!” Krystal rounded on her, her long hair whipping Luna’s forehead. “You may be older, but I’m taller and I can totally take you.”
“Not while your nails are still drying!” Luna squeaked, and then she ran to hide behind Amber.
“Necessary sacrifice!” Krystal cried, and then she tackled Luna and tickled her, wedging Amber in the middle until Amber finally worked herself free, laughing and then looping her arms around Luna so Luna was the one sandwiched between them..
“No, you have to protect me, don’t leave me to fend for myself!” Luna shrieked, but it was all right, because about that time, Sulli looked up, shouted, “YAY, HUG PARTY!” and threw her arms around Krystal from behind. Krystal let out a yelp of surprise, and Luna seized the opportunity to work her hands under Krystal’s shirt, tickling her back and palming the smooth skin next to her belly button. Amber was warm and solid behind her, and Luna felt a tug in her chest that had nothing to do with the heat of Krystal’s skin.
“You are all the worst lost princesses ever,” said Victoria, and then she threw up her hands and joined in.
They weren’t lost princesses. Not exactly.
Amber had been the first of them to stay. As far as Luna could gather, the InterScepter had been on the market for about six months when Amber activated hers and showed up in the Birdcage. Unlike Krystal, who’d activated hers when her parents locked her in the dungeon for refusing to marry without a prenup, or Sulli, who’d freaked out because she got a C on a Chemistry test and then just kept coming back to hang out after her dad sent word that he was just kidding about turning her into a newt, Amber would never say why she’d activated hers. Luna never remembered to ask Amber directly, because something about Amber’s calm honesty disarmed Luna when she was right in front of her. Victoria always said that the Treehouse was never intended to be a permanent residence, but Luna noticed that she always kept Sulli’s bedroom ready for her whenever she came back, and she had never questioned why the rest of them chose to stay.
Anyway, Amber never said a word, either about why she was there or how long she planned to stay. She woke up every day at the same time, cooked breakfast for all of them and rebuffed anyone who tried to argue that she should at least let someone else take a turn once in a while--which only happened once because she made amazing French toast. Krystal had none of Luna’s shyness about demanding to know why Amber stuck around, but Amber always just grinned and shook her head, as if she thought Krystal knew more than she let on. Between the two of them Luna sometimes felt out of the loop, but as long as Amber kept making kimchi just for her and Krystal kept calling her “princebait” with that glint in her eye, she didn’t mind.
Krystal always said she would go back to her family as soon as they were done being boorish, but she seemed in no hurry to return. She liked to hang around the dance studio, watching Project Runway, making fun of Amber’s attempts to cook curry, and painting her nails while yelling at the Victori-cams.
“You know those people aren’t actually on reality tv,” Luna liked to tell her. She liked to curl up beside Krystal on the couch and eat the green apples that always appeared atop the tv. Krystal liked to distract her by trailing her fingers through Luna’s hair, and then stealing her apples.
“I know,” she said, letting the juice run down her chin. “But it’s fun yelling at them anyway.”
“You want to yell at people for their bad decisions, go be a therapist or a counselor.”
“Hmm, maybe,” said Krystal. “After I’m done playing princess.”
Luna frowned. “You don’t play princess,” she said. “It’s just something you are. You can’t turn it on and off.”
“Lies,” said Krystal. “What do you think we do when we come here? We turn it all off.”
She leaned over and tugged one of Luna’s curls. Luna wrinkled her nose.
“Some of us don’t,” she said.
“Oh, is that right,” said Krystal, one corner of her mouth sliding straight up in a smirk. “Princess Luna is on all the time.”
“That’s right,” Luna said, leaning in and feeling saucy enough to take a bite out of the other side of the apple. She sank her teeth into it, then spoke with her mouth full. “Princess Luna’s court is always open.”
Krystal laughed. “Princess Luna has apple on her chin,” she said, and leaned in to wipe it away with the tip of one polished lime-green fingernail.
Luna never saw Victoria bring the apples in, but there were worse things that could magically appear atop their electronics, so Luna just ate the apples and kept mum.
Except then one day she woke up as a frog, and realized that she probably should have at least asked about the whole magic thing, just so she’d know what the rules were for situations like this.
“Ribbit?” she said.
Frog voice. Check.
She tried hopping. That seemed to work pretty well too. Frog hop. Check.
Then, just for fun, she decided to try a leap off the bed, which miraculously worked, except that it turned out that the distance from the bed to the floor was huge and scary when a person was a frog, so much that when she hit the floor, she croaked in terror.
It was Amber. Luna panicked. She didn’t particularly want Amber to see her as a frog, but running and hiding just seemed ridiculous, so she wound up freezing in the middle of the room.
“Hey, Demolition Man’s on, come watch, we’re just about to meet Wesley Snipe’s hair--” Amber stuck her head around the door. “Luna?”
Her eyes lit on Luna’s empty pajamas, crumpled on the bed from where Luna had last been wearing them as a non-frog. She scanned the room, then dropped her gaze to the floor. And Luna.
“Ribbit?” said Luna.
Amber made a face and picked her up.
“I swear, you get into more scrapes than a tomboy in an Astrid Lindgren novel,” she said.
“Croak,” said Luna, which was Frog for, “I don’t know what that even means but it’s totally awesome that you do.”
“Tory, did you turn L into a frog?” said Amber, cradling Luna against her shoulder as she brought her into the dance studio.
“Huh? I don’t think so,” said Victoria, muting the tv. Luna was a bit disappointed that frog-vision was apparently just like person-vision; at the very least, Wesley Snipes as a cryogenically frozen cyborg was still freakish whether you were man or beast.
“Hmm,” said Amber, placing Luna on the table. Luna took an uncertain hop. She had huge, powerful legs, but she wasn’t sure whether this meant she was a jumping frog, or just that she was an awesome dancer.
“How do you know that’s Luna?” said Sulli, who’d come in the previous night and was lounging around in a pair of Juicy sweatpants.
Amber scoffed. “Obviously it’s Luna,” she said. “Just look at her.”
“Ribbit!” Luna agreed.
Victoria and Sulli looked at her dubiously, and then back at Amber.
Amber frowned. “It’s totally Luna,” she said. “She has Luna’s nose.” The others stared at her.
Luna tried to give her a sideeye. Her nose was just fine.
“You know,” Amber said. “Kinda flat and cute and like something you want to bite.”
“Wow,” said Krystal, who'd just appeared in the doorway. “What conversation have I missed?”
“Amber was telling us how she wants to bite Luna’s nose,” said Sulli.
“Oh,” said Krystal. “Well, obviously. Among other things.”
“Hey!” said Amber.
“Children!” said Victoria.
“I mean, who wouldn’t?” said Krystal. “Uh, why is she a frog?”
“See!” said Amber.
“I haven’t turned anyone into a frog!” said Victoria.
“Ribbit ribbit!” said Luna.
“You sure?” said Krystal. “No experimenting with curses of any sort?”
“Er,” said Victoria.
“Amber was just asking about a curse for princes the other day!” said Krystal. “Did you put a curse on Luna!”
“Um,” said Victoria. “I was working on an, um, highly advanced technological device--”
“Oh, please, just say spell,” Krystal interrupted.
“Fine! A spell,” said Victoria, “to make any unworthy prince reveal his true colors before he attempted to kiss any honorable princess. That way, if any disreputable prince attempted to kiss a princess who didn’t activate her InterScepter, she would still know that he was a bad deal.”
“Because they’d turn into a frog,” said Krystal flatly.
“It still needed some fine-tuning,” said Victoria.
“But Luna’s not a prince,” said Amber. “Or a fraud.”
“Rib,” said Luna, which was Frog for, “Er, um, well, actually, about that.”
“I may have practiced the spell last night,” mumbled Victoria. “But there shouldn’t have been any of us within the Treehouse who could be affected by it!”
“This spell needs more than fine-tuning!” said Krystal. She held out her hand to Luna, who hopped into it unthinkingly. Krystal picked her up and patted her head.
“Aha!” said Sulli. “So Luna just has to get a kiss from a real princess and she’ll turn back into a real princess herself!”
“Already on it, babe,” said Krystal, and she kissed Luna square on the lips.
Luna felt a thrill all over, from her head to her froggy toes. She tried to ribbit appreciatively, but her throat was suddenly dry. Instead she tried to remember the last time a kiss had ever made her feel like that, while she blushed some more.
“Awww, she’s blushing,” said Sulli.
“But she’s not changing back,” said Krystal in an odd voice.
“My spell had a ‘true love’s kiss’ clause” said Victoria softly, and Krystal rounded on Amber and thrust Luna abruptly into her hands, before Luna had time to register what that meant.
“You’d better kiss her then,” said Krystal, blinking hard. “Go on. The sooner you change her back, the sooner we can tease her endlessly.”
Amber looked at Krystal for a shocked moment, and then said, “Uh. Okay. Hold on, Luna,” and then leaned in and kissed her gently.
Luna closed her eyes and waited, feeling warm all over.
“Nothing’s happening,” said Sulli after a moment, and Luna opened her eyes again. Still a frog.
“Oh,” said Amber. She and Krystal darted awkward looks at each other.
“This is silly!” said Sulli. “Clearly you both need to kiss her.”
“What?” said Amber.
“It’s obvious!” said Sulli. “Don’t you people read fairy tales? True love’s kiss means the truest love of all, right? So that’s both of you.”
Krystal leaned over and slipped her hand into Amber’s. “You wanna try it?” she said.
Amber grinned at her.
“Absolutely,” she said.
This time, when the two of them leaned in together, kisses on either side of her froggy cheeks, Luna felt the change happening inside of her, lighting her up from within and spreading out from her heart to all the rest of her, like a really good hug or a cup of Christmas cheer, or a kiss from her two best friends.
“Ribbit?” she said after it was over. “I mean, wow, I’m not a frog?”
Krystal beamed at her. Amber was looking down at the floor, but still grinning.
Luna linked her arms in both of theirs and kissed them back in turn. Krystal kept her hand in Luna’s hair, and Amber slipped her the tongue, and then Krystal pulled her back for more, and then Amber kissed Krystal, too, and then Sulli was asking Victoria if they needed to leave the room.
“Definitely not a frog,” said Krystal.
“I was so sure I’d perfected that spell,” said Victoria, sounding mopey.
“No, it worked!” said Luna. “It’s a great fraud-detector, I promise!”
“I’m not a real princess,” said Luna. “I nabbed my InterScepter from a baby in a pram while her lady-in-waiting wasn’t looking.”
“I was with this jerk who kept asking me out!” said Luna. “He wouldn’t stop! I was just planning to hit him over the head with it and give it back, but I accidentally activated it instead and it brought me here. And, well--then I just wanted to stay.”
They all stared at her.
“You mean I’m slumming?” said Krystal. “I’m slumming right now?”
“Um,” said Luna. “Totally.”
“Awesome,” said Krystal. “Way to help me piss off my parents, L.”
She gave Luna a high-five, then trapped her hand and reeled her in for another kiss.
“Luna,” said Amber, wrapping her arms around Luna’s waist. “You are not a fraud.”
“She’s kind of a fraud,” said Krystal.
“Shh,” said Amber, kissing Luna’s temple. “Okay, how about this. You’re not a princess. You’re a goddess.”
Luna beamed. Krystal rolled her eyes, but didn’t contradict.
“GROUP HUG!” shouted Sulli, and then Luna was scrunched in the middle of a hug pile.
“Best princesses ever,” said Victoria, and joined in.