"Marie, you need to come down here right now!"
Marie glanced at the hall past her bedroom door, holding her mascara wand mid-air. She checked the little watch on her arm. "I've still got fifteen minutes!" She called back but placed the wand down and rose from her seat in front of the dressing table to walk out of her room barefoot, curious to know why Giselle suddenly sounded so eager to leave. Marie was definitely in no hurry to go. Their father was already at the university. Final check would begin in half an hour and Marie was already low in spirits. The dread of facing her father for the day was almost worse than a rehearsal with Prof. Tech.
Marie found her sister at the front door, staring out with an awed smile on her face. She caught Marie's eye and turned. "You need to see this," Giselle said and took a step back into the house. A slight frown creased Marie's brow as she walked towards the door. Marie gasped at what she saw. Their entire front porch was lined with bouquet after bouquet of colorful flowers. She stepped outside.
"Wow," Marie said as her eyes traveled along the beautiful arrangements. Giselle came to stand next to her and folded her arms over her chest. Marie was still staring at the abundant display. She wasn't sure how they were going to get to the car without moving a few bouquets, and if they moved one they would have to move all. And where would they put everything? There was no way they would get to rehearsals on time.
Still, Marie thought as she felt a shadow of a smile at her lips, this was very sweet. Her sister had a gem in Eric. She lowered her eyes as she felt her heart clutch onto something she couldn't grasp.
Marie cleared her throat and slapped on a proper smile before glancing at her sister.
"Eric's developing a taste for surprising you."
Giselle laughed and shook her head. "They aren't for me."
Marie stared at her sister blankly until Giselle gestured towards the flowers. "I think one of them has a card," she said. Marie turned and scanned the bouquets again until her eyes landed on a pale pink piece of paper sticking out between them. She picked it up and flipped it over. Her breathing hitched as she read over the words.
'Good luck. See you tonight. - Derek'
"There's something about being in love that just makes you catch your breath at anything. I'm sure if he just wrote his initials down your heart would have tried to break through your ribs."
Marie couldn't stop smiling even though she was fully aware that her sister was teasing her. Giselle stood with her arms crossed over her chest and a proud smug smile on her lips. Marie knew Giselle was waiting for her to address the fact that she was calling her out on her feelings for Derek but . . .
Marie pulled up her shoulders. "Probably."
"What if she doesn't want to talk to me?"
"But what if she doesn't?"
Emmet's lip tugged at a smile as he regarded his anxious friend pacing from one end of the balcony to the next. Luckily the balcony was so large that if you stood at the far back, the crowd below couldn't see you, and the stage curtains were still closed so he could have his little freak out in private.
"Then she'll still talk to you," Emmet said as he leaned back against the backrest of one of the seats. "This is Marie. She tends to allow people to speak their mind even when she struggles to do so herself."
Derek acknowledged that with a nod and adjusted his tie for the seventh time in the past ten minutes.
"Okay, let's say she does. What am I gonna say? How do I start?"
"Maybe with an apology."
"I've never had to apologize to a girl with the hopes of asking her out afterwards. You're pathetic so you've probably had some experience in this."
"Watch it," Emmet said with narrowed eyes. "I can leave and let you go to your grandma for help. I'm not sure if you know this, but that's considered pretty pathetic too."
"Not if your grandma's Natalie West."
Emmet lifted a hand and gave a shrug. "Okay, you've got me there."
They both smirked then Derek continued pacing. "Alright. I -." Derek blew out a breath of air and reached back to scratch his neck.
"Man, I'm nervous."
Emmet crossed his arms over his chest. "Really? Can't tell."
Derek shot him a glare.
"Let's try to be serious for a moment." He stopped pacing and braced his elbow against the wall near the curtain that separated their balcony from the hall behind it. Derek pressed his forehead into the lifted forearm.
"What do I say?" Derek asked and lifted his eyes towards his friend.
"Just tell her the truth. Be yourself. And by that I mean; be yourself without being an arrogant dick."
"Didn't I just say we should try to be serious?"
"That was the most serious advice I've ever given you."
Derek looked at the watch on his wrist. Emmet took his phone from his pocket to check the time himself. Fifteen minutes before show time. Most of the audience members had arrived and if Derek didn't get his act together soon, their balcony would have two more spectators, the princes of Palanadia, to watch him scramble for his marbles. Since the final show had been booked out weeks in advance, Giselle's only option to get Derek in was to persuade her fiancé to allow Derek and a guest to share their balcony. Derek rotated his body and pressed both forearms against the wall then pressed his face into them. He was comical, actually. Emmet couldn't help but find great humor in the situation.
"The last time I saw you like this we were fifteen and you were trying to build up the courage to ask Courtney Moss out," Emmet said.
The shake in Derek's shoulders and the muffled chuckle indicated that he remembered. When they were growing up, Derek entered his teen years as an awkward, superhero-loving nerd while Emmet was always a jock. Then puberty hit and suddenly Derek became a smooth talking, charismatic stud. His first girlfriend, Cortney, was one of the most beautiful girls in school who built up his confidence - and her own - by making him aware of how attractive her friends found him and eventually ended up teaching him how to dress, act, and hit on other girls to try to make her friends more jealous.
Obviously it didn't end well.
"Luckily Marie's not a thing like Cortney. Side question, if she told you to stop dressing the way you did and tried to rearrange your entire closet would you allow it?" Emmet asked jokingly.
He heard Derek smirk then lift his head and stare at something in the corner of the room. He shrugged. "I want to say no and also say that she wouldn't do that but to humor you on this . . . maybe."
Emmet raised an eyebrow. Derek looked at him and caught his expression. He dropped his arms, straightened and gave a shrug. "What? Marie's got great style. She always looks like she just stepped out of a clothing catalog and even when she doesn't dress up she's still . . ." He shook his head and looked away again. Emmet noticed the curtain behind him open slightly and straightened automatically. The two princes of Palanadia appeared. The younger one, Shane, surprised him by acknowledging him with a casual lift of his chin, a form of greeting he had never expected someone of royal status to express. Before Emmet could think to bow or anything, his eyes shot to Derek to try and warn him but the idiot was absolutely oblivious. "She's beautiful, man. She's . . ." Derek released a heavy, shaky breath and shook his head again.
"She's got to be Marie he's talking about," Eric said. Derek jumped and spun around. Emmet burst out with laughter when he saw the color at Derek's cheeks deepen with red. The two princes both looked at him with obvious amusement. The two were so polished and well-dressed that Emmet felt out of place even with his best suit. He had never been the suit and tie type, that was Derek's field, Emmet preferred an actual field whether it be sports or crops. The princes resembled each other enough to be able to tell they were brothers; they had the same silver-grey eyes, dark hair and tanned skin, but they differed in build; Eric was tall and lean while Shane was more muscular. Both displayed confidence and carried it with elegance even as they stood, both with their left hand in their pants pocket. It was clear just from their amused expressions that Shane was the more laid back one. His forehead was wrinkled, his grin wide and even his eyes crinkled at the corners while Eric's lip just lifted at a smirk.
Shane was the first to laugh. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a silver flask with a symbol on it that Emmet assumed was their kingdom emblem. Derek raised an eyebrow but took it.
"Some liquid encouragement. Seems like you could use it," he said. When Derek gave him the dubious expression all the other men seemed to mimic, Shane just gave a casual shrug.
"Relax, there's not enough in there to get one man drunk. I carry it around mostly for fashion, not function." He gave a tip of his head. "Although the function comes in handy quite often." He glanced at Emmet with half a smile at his lips. "Especially if you're seeing an ex."
His statement wasn't lost on anyone of them. Everyone knew Prince Shane had once dated Princess Rosaline. Apparently they were crazy in love as well.
Shane looked at Derek. "In your case, you seem to just need to relax."
Derek unscrewed the top. "Thanks," he said. "No problem. Marie's like a little sister so I've got her best interest at heart. You seem genuine enough but make no mistake, she's under the protection of two royal families."
Emmet would have laughed at Derek's expression if Shane's tone weren't that serious. Strangely though, his smile remained friendly throughout his threat.
"Well that makes me feel so much better, thank you, your highness," Derek said dryly as he lifted the flask to his lips. Something seemed to catch his eye before he could take a swig. Whatever it was stole all his attention entirely. Emmet turned around and smirked when he saw that the musicians had walked into the orchestra pit. It wasn't difficult to spot Marie even though all of them were wearing black. There was only one piano and she was the only one that glanced up to scan the balconies until her eyes reached theirs. A shy smile spread over her lips but it definitely wasn't aimed at anyone in the balcony except for Derek. She looked almost angelic in the soft lighting. Emmet didn't have to be in love with her to feel the impact of her smile. He was sure Derek couldn't feel his legs at that moment. He looked towards his friend. Derek smiled back at Marie in a way Emmet had never seen him smile. Emmet felt a smile tug at his own lips. He would tease Derek about this ruthlessly, but he was happy for his friend. Who would have thought Derek West would lose his heart to someone, much less someone who seemed to reflect his affection.
The lights in the theater dimmed until they went out completely except for the ones illuminating the stage.
"I suppose we should sit down, gentlemen," Shane said.
Emmet looked at Shane as he gestured towards their seats. He looked at Emmet. "You're girl isn't performing as well is she?" He asked with a lifted brow. "Even if I had a girl she probably wouldn't be performing here," Emmet said with a lift of his arms. "Great. You can join me at the back row and we'll let these two sit together in the front and drool over the balcony rim," Shane said, making Emmet aware that Eric was staring out at the musicians the same way Derek was. It wasn't hard to guess what he was looking at. Shane stretched out a hand in greeting. "My apologies for not asking earlier; you are?" He asked. Emmet stepped closer and shook his hand as they lowered into their seats while Derek and Prince Eric took the front two seats. "Emmet," he said. "Shane. Yes, just Shane," the prince said as an answer to Emmet's internal question as he let go of his hand. "A pleasure. We're going to be sharing a balcony, checking out beautiful Balaco women for the next three hours as two free men while in the company of two love struck fools. We're officially on first name basis."
Emmet smirked. This could turn out to be more entertaining than he had initially anticipated.