I was never that clear about what charity it was for, but Eddie said something about his mum loving it, and how he just had to do it. So I said okay. It’s not like I could let the host of the “gala” (read: rich word for “party with etiquette”) go dateless. Besides, he can be quite persuasive when he wants to.
The real down side about this is the fact that it necessitates a return to the palace. I wasn’t looking forward to that at all, I muse as I drive over. Eddie would’ve been with me, but of course, he had some royal thing or another to take care of, and it would’ve been inappropriate for him to arrive with me. Or something. I’ve never been that clear about royal etiquette things.
I have been to the palace before, and honestly, I would have to be lying if I said that it wasn’t amazing and beautiful and greater than everything that I’d hoped. But no matter how I tried, no matter how many times I admired the wallpaper or wondered about the secret doors and the treasured antiques, it never felt homey. I can’t imagine growing up there, where all your feelings had to be locked behind closed doors. Where everything had to appear perfect. Expectation is everything. I supposed every royal family comes with a few scandals, but that kind of pressure, I could never live up to. Another reason I like to avoid the palace. Media exposure isn’t exactly my cup of tea.
I managed to pull myself together and seem vaguely presentable tonight, but as far as royal galas go, I’ve had little to no experience, so there’s no telling what’s awaiting me. I try to keep calm as I walk inside, ignoring the shooting pain in my legs that’s probably because my heels are too high or too thin. You can’t even see them under the dress, so I’m not sure why it matters. Fashion has always been a little beyond me.
When I walk in, I experience the sensation that’s become more common to me recently: eyes on my back. It hasn’t been very long since Eddie’s and my relationship became public, and I know enough to understand that there are plenty who don’t look too kindly upon it.
But then, as I am crossing the room, I see Eddie. He catches my gaze and our eyes stay locked, and I hold on – a swimmer drowning in a rushing river, stuck. He strides towards me and wraps an arm around my waist, leaning in to kiss my cheek.
“You wore my favorite color,” he whispers, twirling one finger through my hair. In his other hand is a glass of wine – not his first, I can tell – and he’s on his way to full inebriation. I only arrived thirty minutes late. He’s not always a patient man.
“It’s your gala,” I point out, grabbing the wine from his hand.
“Hey,” he protests quietly. “Give that back.”
“You’ve had quite enough to drink,” I say, a half-smile on my lips. Then, looking back at all the people who’re still trying to watch me inconspicuously, I say: “But I haven’t” and quickly down the rest of his wine.
We spend the rest of the evening in a blurred haze. I vaguely remember seeing his family, but they drift by. Eddie’s always known I like adventure and mystery, and when he pulls me into a side room to show me something, I can only imagine what.
I giggle, sounding immature in the vast seriousness and grandiosity of the room. “Sorry,” I murmur. “What’d you want me to see?”
He comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. “Just this,” he whispers in my ear. Then, he pulls away and goes over to a panel in the wall, then very slowly edges it open. It had been blending in almost perfectly with the wallpaper. I hadn’t even noticed.
Stepping in, I laugh. Then, when we’re there, he shuts the door. “Are you scared?” he asks.
“Don’t be stupid, Eddie,” I whisper, even though, in the dark, my heart is beating a little more quickly than usual.
He grabs my hand, but I can’t see his face. I hear his voice, though. “You look wonderful.”
“You do, too. But when aren’t you in a suit?”
He laughs this time. “I don’t wear them that often, Charlie. Really.”
“I’m not saying I don’t like it.”
He pulls me closer, and his lips brush mine. “I’m glad you do.” Then, he presses his lips to mine – a quick, chaste, kiss. “I really love you.”
I squeeze his hand. “I love you. But you’re kind of drunk.”
“It’s a good thing you already like me, then.” Even in the dark, I can hear the smile in his words – it permeates them.
“Edward!” we hear someone shout, and then the door is yanked open. At least five guards stand there, and I jump apart from Eddie instinctively. I feel the way his hand starts to tighten around mine.
One man steps forward. “Come.” Nothing more, but the urgency is immediately apparent in his voice. I don’t know what to think; I simply let myself be pulled forward by Eddie’s hand.
He won’t say anything to me, and then the doors to yet another room open, and this time, we are being stared at, but it is different. I see the queen in a chair next to Margaret. She looks…she looks...
My heart starts pounding, and Eddie’s hand is so tight around mine that I’m going to lose circulation. I squeeze his hand back. I am here. I’m not going anywhere.
“What’s-what’s going on?” he asks, his voice shaking. I’m not used to seeing him like this. But…he’s afraid.
And so am I.
Margaret breaks the silence in the room. I hear her heels click across the floor as she shakily makes her way towards us. I can count her steps. I can hear every breath she takes as she crosses the floor.
She comes to stop in front of Eddie, and I see worlds of pain pass between them, their expressions clear, even if her intentions are not. She falls to her knees then and takes his hand.
Her next words are only a whisper, but they echo throughout the room. “Long live the King.”
He is frozen for only a moment, and then, he yanks his hand away from her. “No. That’s not possible. It can’t be. Mother?” I’m used to him sounding determined, but this is not determination. This is denial.
Words whispered between son and mother are lost in her mouth, dead before they make it out, and all she manages is, “Long live the King.”
I am hot. This room is stifling, and this dress is stifling. I need to take Eddie away from here. We need to go somewhere. Only five minutes ago, we were kissing in the dark.
It’s not hitting me the right way, not sinking in. I don’t understand what the hell is going on.
I get it. It just…it’s not possible.
I want to tell him that I still love him, but I already feel a gap, a cliff. I am standing on one side, and he’s far away on the other.
“Stop that!” His shout breaks the silence, breaks me out of my thoughts. I want to be there for him, but touching his hand is no longer enough, and he breaks away, choosing to be alone. Just like that, he leaves us both empty. “Stop everything! I Just…I just want to – will someone tell me what happened to my father!” He pauses. “Please.”
Some man tries to bow to him, but Eddie stops him, and then the man tries to persuade him to sit, and I see in his eyes that I should say something. I lean into him and breathe in his scent. “Please,” I say, because I have nothing else to say. “Please, Eddie, sit down.”
I cannot speak. And I watch as the room buzzes into a flurry of activity, all centering around my Eddie, who is now almost obscured by the responsibility that lies flatly on his shoulders. I just want to make everything okay.
But there’s nothing I can do. I can’t even form any other words. I try to imagine my own father, but pulling the image into my mind makes things worse. I picture the way he picked me up and spun me around when I was a kid, and the way we still talk whenever we have time, and I wonder how it would feel, but that only makes things worse. Tears start to blur my vision, but I can’t have that.
Someone has to be strong.
I love you, I think.
But I watch as he drifts even further away.
He has a new concern, one far greater than me, something he has to love with all his heart: his country.
And what does a king need with a girl like me?
I feel my phone buzz suddenly, and step off to the side. I won’t be missed. It’s my mum, and after all this, I need to talk to her.
“Charlie?!” She sounds worried. Something on the news, most likely. A story. But I am here, and I am a real person, not a news anchor. I am the truth.
“Hi,” I say, my voice thick with emotion. With every feeling inside me that I cannot express. I’m holding back the tears, the questions, the worries, the love, but I can’t hide them forever. They are there, pressing against the dam, waiting for their turn.
“Charlie, what’s happening?”
I bite the side of my cheek, and then, so silently that no one else in the room will hear me, I say, “I have to go. Right now.”
“Charlie, are you okay?”
“The King is dead,” I say. And before the dam breaks down, before my mum’s gasp is over, I hang up the phone and slip it back into my pocket.
Later, I will cry. But right now, I have to push down every feeling I have. I go over to the sofa, and very softly, I slip my hand back into Eddie’s, run my thumb over his hand, trace his skin and try to warm him up. He feels cold, but his eyes meet mine.
His expression is indecipherable. For the first time, I truly cannot understand what’s happening inside his head. He looks hurt…almost broken.
It’s not fair for me to be broken – not at all – but I want to feel that way too.
I love you so much. I love you. I don’t say these things, but I think them, think them so hard that I hope Eddie can see them in my eyes.
There is a glint in those eyes that makes me think he’s recognized what I’m saying, and maybe he’s responding. But I watch as a tear trickles down his cheek silently, the room still in an uproar.
We hold onto each other secretly as our world falls down around us.
Sorry this story's a little rough, but it's hard to capture something so amazingly emotional.
Borrowed a bit of dialogue/scene from @roses-are-roses