Inspired by a tweet from Deanna Raybourn, I wrote a short story about the life Bulgom Pamplemousse von Bearstein, Johan’s teddy bear in A Prince on Paper. [Note: this is flash fiction and it has not been edited.]
CW: grief, anxiety
My name is Sir Bulgom Pamplemousse von Bearstein.
I don’t remember my life before Jo-Jo—my human. My first memory is of Laetitia tucking me against a crying wriggling pink thing with a cap of fine orange hair—I didn’t like this, non. But the pink thing seemed to sense my presence. It stopped wailing into my stuffing, like a siren winding down, and gripped my paw tightly. It sucked at the fur on my ear, which wasn’t entirely pleasant but not so bad as one might imagine.
“You have your first friend, Jo-Jo,” Laetitia said softly, placing a hand on both me and the baby. “He will watch over you.”
I felt it then, the burst of something deep in my stuffing that leapt out to meet something from this small wriggling human’s warm body and loop into an unbreakable knot between us.
I would protect this child.
He was mine.
As Jo-Jo grew, he began to speak, and named me Bulgom Pamplemousse. He began to explore, to read—to worry.
I met other stuffed protectors, when Jo-Jo carried me with him to school or the playground, though we didn’t communicate much. Their humans were often mean, nasty creatures, who found pleasure in making Jo-Jo cry. I wanted to rip them to shreds with my bear claws, but then I’d remember I only had soft padded paws.
“I am sorry, Jo-Jo,” I would say, as my stuffing absorbed his tears. “I cannot disembowel them.”
And sometimes, as if sensing my disappointment, my human would squeeze my paw and whisper, “It’s okay. I’m glad you’re my friend.”
He is a very good human. I’m glad I was made to protect him.
It was me, my Jo-Jo, and Laetitia for many years, but soon Jo-Jo told me that she was to marry a king! Like in the fairy tales he always read to me! Jo-Jo worried over this until he was sick, and one day the king came to speak to just the two of us.
I prepared for battle, staring at the man with my intimidating scowl and beady eyes. What if he was an evil king? What if he hurt my human?
“I love your mother,” King Linus said. “And I love you. I want us to be a family, and for you to take the von Bronstein name.”
Jo-Jo frowned and held me close to his chest. “What about Bulgom Pamplemousse?”
I worried, then; so many of the adults already told Jo-Jo that he was too old to be my friend, that he should give me away and stop behaving like a baby.
The King touched my ear with his index and middlefinger straight, the sign of the blade. “I hereby pronounce him Sir Bulgom Pamplemousse von Bearstein, Knight DouDou of the Liechtienbourgish Realm, Protector of Johan, and a member of the family as well.”
He gave my head a pat, and when I looked at Jo-Jo, he was smiling at his soon-to-be step-father.
When Lukas was born, Jo-Jo pulled me from under his pillow, where I slept every night, and carried me to the nursery. He placed me on a shelf overlooking the crib, and said in a solemn voice that was no longer quite so childish, “Sir von Bearstein, you have a new and extremely urgent mission. Watch over the prince and protect him from harm. I’m counting on you.”
I took this job very seriously, and didn’t resent that Johan also came to do the job every so often, sneaking into the nursery to check Lukas’s breathing and sleep at the foot of his crib.
I don’t know how much time passed. The next thing I remember is being showered with warmth—was I in the wash?
I knew the scent of my Jo-Jo’s tears. The sounds of his sobs were deeper now–a young man’s pain.
“I made a mistake,” he whispered. “I should have asked you to protect her too.”
He squeezed me as he did when he was a child, and I wished for claws to shred whatever caused him this pain, but I don’t think even claws could have helped this. Instead, I absorbed his tears and tried to take some of the pain with it, but my body was too small and his grief too much.
But I was there for him when he needed me, as a good knight would be, and he never made me feel I wasn’t enough, because he was good even if he wasn’t a prince.
Jo-Jo carried me everywhere with him after that. I watched him grow taller, stronger, and sadder. I peeked from his travel bags as he posed for paparazzi. I saw the parade of lovers, though I went into hibernation when they came for late night visits—I’m a knight, not a voyeur.
Years passed. His pain grew.
I could do nothing.
It happened when we were on a plane of all places. He held me so tightly as he slept, the giref inside of him so heavy. A strange woman came into the room and got into bed with us—she couldn’t see in the dark like us Knights DouDou.
At her presence something flared in him, and he turned to hold her, as he often held me. I was squeezed between them, filled with both jealousy and wonder as his pain began to dim.
Was she also a knight doudou? No–she was very soft, but clearly human. Why could she do what I couldn’t? She jumped up and yelled at him, but he didn’t cry as he had when he was a child. When he spoke to her, he almost felt…happy.
Something changed inside of Jo-Jo when he met this woman who was not a knight, Nya. Since she’s been around, and stayed around, the pain inside him has lessened. She didn’t vanquish it, and she has her own, too, but the strange magic between them helps both of them to heal.
The humans call it love.
I see her pain too because one day, after she’d given me a pat on the head and left for work, Johan looked into my eyes and spoke seriously to me for the first time in years. He said, “Sir Bulgom Pamplemousse von Bearstein, Knight DouDou of the Liechtienbourghish Realm, please protect Nya.”
He is not a king, but he is my liege and I will obey him.
I will protect them both, and the small one in Nya’s belly, with my soft stuffed paws.
They are mine.
It’s release week for An Unconditional Freedom, the last book in the Loyal League series! Below is the Author’s Note for anyone who’d like to read it without having to commit to the whole book.
Writing any book has some level of difficulty, but among the books I’ve written thus far, An Unconditional Freedom is lovingly called “the book that broke me.” That’s not exactly accurate—it was the world that existed as I tried to create Daniel and Janeta’s story that broke me.
When I first started this series, America was seemingly on an upward trajectory, despite still struggling with the whole “liberty and justice for all” thing. When An Extraordinary Union came out, it was alongside surging White supremacy, with neo-Nazis and Confederates being given glowing profiles in national newspapers, which led to them taking to the streets with torches. If you’ve read the book before reading this (I know some of you skip to the back of the book and I will not judge you [too much] for that), then you know this book was about a man who believed in America and was grievously wronged by it, a man who was unable to process his trauma in a country that was still hurting people like him while also expecting them to help right the wrongs baked into the foundational bricks of the country.
As I was writing this book, it seemed that every other day brought a new story about a Black man or woman being killed by police. As I was writing this book, opening social media meant seeing the casual cruelty of the current government’s policies. As I was writing this book, I couldn’t help but succumb to sadness and defeat because what promise could I make a character like Daniel about America, knowing that in 2018 it had reverted back to everything he feared? How could I give him a happy ending in a country that was so set against him having one?
I became depressed and despondent at several times during this book. I stopped and started, and couldn’t bring myself to push toward the end. There were several individual things that allowed me to finish the book—films, books, articles—but maybe foremost among them was one I watched with Betty Reid Soskin, a ninety-six-year-old park ranger and author of Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life, and Luvvie Ajayi, author of I’m Judging You. Soskin said something that resonated with me deeply:
“There’s still much, much work to do. But every generation I know now has to recreate democracy in its time because democracy will never be fixed. It was not intended to. It’s a participatory form of governance that we all have the responsibility to form that more perfect union.”
It reminded me of something that I had already known but had been buried under the relentlessly growing pile of awful news: Daniel’s happily ever after didn’t mean that America had to be that perfect Union as I was writing the story. It is in the possibility of perfection, in finding a community of like-minded people who share similar goals and work toward them, together. I wish that things were different. I wish the injustices chronicled in the Loyal League series were truly in the past. But wishing only gets us so far. I hope that by the time this is published, America is moving in a better direction. Whatever the situation is, I hope that you, dear reader, have found a way to exercise your rights, to participate in our democracy, and that you have found the community that will fight alongside you. We can’t all be daring detectives, but we can all do something, no matter how small, to make the future brighter for every American.
World Central Kitchen