"Abuela, Abuela!" Carlos called out, running through the chocolate store with a lavender envelope in his hand that bore the royal crest.
"What is it, mi nieto?" Abuela asked.
"Yeah, Carlos, what is it?" I asked, turning around.
He opened the envelope and unfolded a piece of parchment. He cleared his throat and read allowed: "To the Garcia family: Queen Lucia and King Manuel request your presence tomorrow morning at the palace. The royal carriage will arrive at eight in the morning to deliver Senora Garcia and her grandchildren Carlos and Maria to the palace."
"Oh!" Abuela exclaimed. "Why, Carlos! This is wonderful news!"
"I wonder what they could want?" I said. "I mean, we're just a small chocolate shop near the port."
"Maria, this is our chance to finally grow the family business!" Carlos said. He spread his arms wide and said: "Garcia chocolate: the best in the kingdom!"
"No, Carlos." I said. "Our business is supposed to be personal. If there are stores throughout the kingdom, where did the love and happiness go?"
"Maria." Carlos sighed. "This is our one chance! We should take it!"
"He." Abuela laughed. "You kids and your big dreams."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Abuela!" I said, realizing where I had erred. "This is your business and we didn't even think to ask you!"
"It's alright, Maria." She told me. "We should go to the palace tomorrow and at least see what the king wants."
The next morning, Abuela, Carlos, and I stood outside our small chocolate shop, waiting for the royal carriage.
Finally, it rounded a corner. Sleek and black, it was so beautiful. Two bay stallions led the coach.
"Mrs. Garcia, Carlos and Maria." A palace guard bowed low as I climbed into the wagon.
The door closed behind Carlos and the cart pulled out of the plaza. I shrank lower in my seat as people gossiped: "Is that old woman Garcia?" "It looks like their going to see the king." "Wonder what they did this time?"
I gritted my teeth. How dare they go and badmouth mi abuela? She was one of the most caring people I had ever known.
I mean, she'd cared for me and my brother since we were twelve!
The palace gates loomed above us. We passed under them, and I was in awe of the massive architecture.
A fountain stood in the center of a huge courtyard, spouting water that seemed to dance before it turned and sloped downward.
I climbed the steps to the palace doors as the guards pulled them open, but one stood and said to us, "Follow me to the throne room, please, and keep your hands to yourself."
We followed him through the complicated twists and turns to the throne room.
Red drapes hang from the windows, and four thrones stood at the front of the room.
Princess Nani and Prince Caleb's thrones sat empty. I gave my lowest, most graceful curtsy. Carlos bowed and straightened.
Queen Lucia and King Manuel looked as regal as I'd ever seen them. Lucia had black hair done in plaits, and she wore a light blue gown with tons of sparkles. King Manuel wore a black military-like outfit.
"We are honored you invited us into your home, King Manuel, Queen Lucia." Abuela bobbed her head in their direction.
I walked up the steps to where the royal family sat and handed King Manuel a box of chocolates. "Thank you, Maria Garcia."
"The pleasure is all mine, King Manuel." I curtsied again, then backed down the steps.
"Senora Garcia, I have asked you into my home because of Princess' Nani's fifteenth birthday." The King explained. "We plan on throwing her a huge quinceanera, but have yet to find caterers for the party. The palace kitchens are enormous, and you shall find anything you need. Will you accept our offer?"
"Yes, your majesty." Abuela curtsied. "My grand children and I will make your daughter's day perfect."
"Thank you." King Manuel said.
We all turned and left. The guard didn't bother to lead us through the hallways and we entered the sunshine again where the carriage was waiting.
"Abuela, where is Carlos?" I asked once I'd noticed my brother gone.
"He was walking behind me on the way to the carriage." Abuela said. "Perhaps he was just taking a detour to see what the kitchens had."
"Mmm..." I said, not entirely convinced. "Maybe he is seeing if the kitchens have that secret ingredient you are always rambling on and on about."
Carlos ran out of the palace, jumped into the cart, and we rode back to the store.
Back in the Plaza, Abuela set to work perfecting all her recipes. I sat in the empty lobby of the chocolate shop and worked out how many chocolates we needed to make.
"Maria, can you come here, dear?" Abuela asked. I slid my chair back and walked into the chocolate-scented kitchen. "I have ran out of my secret ingredient, will you go out and find some Panera?"
"Of course, Abuela." I said. I gathered my cloak and a basket of provisions and set down the road.
The tall palms grew high above me. At last, I found a small patch of the glittering reddish purple flowers near the river. I collected as many of the blossoms as I could without getting scratched by the plant's sharp thorns. I'd already tried grabbing one close to the ground, but a thorn had dug deep into my hand before I was able to pluck it.
After that, I gave up and walked back to the city, saying hello to everyone I saw.
"Oh, Maria, did you get it?" Abuela asked. I showed her my basket. "Oh, that is more then enough!"
I handed her the basket, grimacing as I moved my hand. "Ooh. Maria, why didn't you tell me you had gotten a cut?"
A few days later, Abuela, Carlos and I rode back to the palace with all of our food for the party. The guards carried our baskets of food to the royal kitchens, where we set to warming it.
Abuela handed me plates with Princess Nani's favorite foods. I walked to the ball room and put the plates at a table.
I reached the kitchen and heard Abuela saying, "Carlos, Maria has the Panera touch. If she finds out about what she is now, it would be catastrophic for our plan."
"You still haven't told me about the whole plan, yet." Carlos said.
"We feed the Panera to the royal family, turn them to stone, and then viola! We are the rulers of the kingdom."
I covered my mouth in horror and turned to warn the royal family. "Queen Lucia, you mustn't eat the food." I exclaimed as she sat down to one of the tables with food.
I explained what I had heard, tears beginning to stream down my cheeks. "How can we be sure we can trust you?" King Manuel asked.
"Do you really think I would be sobbing if this was my plan?" I asked.
"Guards, take Senorita Garcia and her family to the dungeon, and send all the guests home."
Strong arms grabbed my shoulders and pulled me away from the ball room. I was shoved into a cell, then the prison door opened for Carlos and Abuela.
"Carlos, how could you?" I asked. Carlos looked up at me sadly.
"I was doing it for you." He muttered.