After six months, things started looking a bit different. Kayley had a scholarship and was preparing to graduate high school while Giselle was neck deep in festive season, concerts, and events. She had flown down for their third month anniversary, starting rumors of their relationship, and Eric had managed to come visit for a few days a month later, where he met her family between handling royal business. "Turns out I didn’t need to marry Rosaline to establish good relations with your kingdom," he said to her when they were walking along the beach one day. After a few months of tension between the King of Cashadin and the Queen of Palanadia due to the abrupt end of the engagement, Eric could drop in to clear the air with the king and speak to him face to face.
"He’s not as unreasonable as people say."
Giselle shook her head. "That’s because you two speak the same language, you’re just not apathetic."
He smiled at her then, a smile that made her knees weak. "That’s partially your fault."
Giselle laughed and kissed him.
After that day on the beach, there was no way they could hide their relationship anymore and the media exploded. Giselle hadn’t felt this pressured by cameras and journalists since her debut when she was twelve. People tried to organize interviews, games, and talk shows. Her calendar filled up quickly with high class events that she wasn’t considered good enough for before, and all of this in the middle of exams. If it weren’t for her dad who organized a manager for her, she would have lost her mind. Giselle had never had a personal manager before, her father usually took up that roll or she managed on her own, but even he couldn’t keep up with her latest fame.
"You’re making enough money now, you can afford one," he joked one day. Giselle wasn’t at ease with the craze at all initially. Even walking to a café with friends was a risk now. Dealing with journalists before was easy, there weren’t that many of them. One good thing came out of all this, she got to spend extra time with her sister. When Giselle wasn’t rehearsing, she was studying, and Marie was there, keeping her calm. She never realized just how cathartic the familiarity of her sister’s presence was.
At first it felt a bit odd, like she was hiding from the public, which she was. She usually enjoyed being around people and gathering her energy from that. Now, if she even checked her emails, she risked failing. Marie made sure Giselle didn’t become insane from being indoors most of the time. They watched movies when they both had a decent gap between exams, alternated between comfort food and healthy food, worked out in the backyard, now that it was getting warmer.
She had some proper family time and she saw friends during rehearsals, thankful that they had a limited amount of time to ask questions.
What really drove her was what Eric had said to her when he last visited.
"I love you."
It hit her like a thunderclap. It was after he had spent the day with her and her family. They had lunch by the ocean, went mini-golfing, after which Mr. Balaco insisted on having a coffee with Eric while the girls went bowling, something their mother loved. After having dinner, Marie and her parents excused themselves leaving the two of them to chat on a sofa in the living room.
She could only stare at Eric for a moment after. It had come out of nowhere. She didn’t even remember what she said, it was something so mundane, and Eric just smiled at her as he rubbed her hair between his fingers. Then he said it. No warning.
"I am deeply, utterly, and completely crazy in love with you, Giselle Balaco," he added, as if she hadn’t heard him. He traced a line on her cheek then pushed a strand of hair behind her ear as he waited for her response. Elation and awe battled inside of her as she took a moment to absorb his words. She noticed the small frown between his brows. Though he was smiling, he seemed worried. Then she laughed joyfully, and relief flooded into his face. "Well you don’t have to look so glum about it," she said and put her arms round his neck as she moved closer.
"Especially since . . ." she lowered her eyes briefly, her heart racing. "I love you, too," she said as she lifted her gaze back to his. She felt his hand on her back, urging her towards him before he kissed her, sending warmth into her belly. She had known for a while, but actually saying it out loud seemed to change things. For one, saying goodbye to him was even more torturous than before.
The bedroom door flung open so abruptly that Giselle nearly flipped her laptop off the bed. She placed a hand over her racing heart and relaxed when she saw it was only her sister. "Geez, Marie," Giselle said and pressed her free hand to her forehead. "What the hell?" She asked as Marie plopped onto the foot of her bed, her long dark curly hair flopping about her heart-shaped face. Giselle smiled. She had always thought her sister was beautiful. Maire still seemed to hold some baby fat and a soft pink at her cheeks that Giselle hoped would never go away. She had full pink lips, and round green eyes with a thin blue rim around the irises.
Marie was definitely more left brained than Giselle. Marie was the academic, always trying to piece things together and learn more about it. Giselle wanted to explore and create. It didn’t really matter how it got there, as long as it was something she could celebrate or derive art from. Giselle was the energetic one, which was why it was so strange to have Marie bouncing on her bed.
"Where have you been all day?" Giselle asked.
"I’ll get to that in a moment. You, get dressed. Now!" She said and bounced off the bed again with a grin on her face. "What?" Giselle asked, placing her laptop aside and felt a smile coming on. The excitement radiating from her sister suddenly gave her new energy. She noticed Marie was wearing a little soft beige halter dress with black gladiator wedges hanging from her hands.
Giselle grinned and jumped off the bed, not sure what was happening, but excited all the same.
"Where are we going?" She asked, planting her feet firmly, half-squatting, ready for action. She was already in cozy pajamas but that would change soon.
"We are not going anywhere. You, however, have a date," Marie said.
Giselle frowned but it didn’t dampen her spirits. "It’s nine in the evening!" She laughed. "Why would dad want to go out now? Is that where you two were today? Did he decide to take you out and now me?"
"Kind of. We had dinner with a certain royal guest from six until now. Dad’s very happy with him," Marie said with an impish smile. Giselle’s smile dropped and her stomach felt like it was trying to push up her lungs. "You’re joking," she said, breathless. She hadn’t seen Eric in two months and he hadn’t even hinted at coming up anytime soon.
Marie shook her head. "Nope. I decided it was a good idea to surprise you. Why do you think we went shopping yesterday?"
"You little vixen! I love you!" Giselle said and spun around, heading towards her closet to find the bib neck burgundy dress she had bought the day before.
Giselle leaned back to say something to Marie then caught the somber look on her face. Her spirits dropped. "What’s wrong?" Giselle asked. Marie recovered quickly, smiling, but the hint of sadness remained.
"Giselle, I fully approve of Eric."
Giselle smiled. "But."
"I’m just going to miss you," she admitted, pulling up her shoulders. "Aw, Marie." Giselle went over and hugged her sister. "That’s a few years away. Don’t worry about it, yet."
Giselle let go and turned to walk back to her closet. "Love you," she said.
"Love you too," Marie said back. Giselle reached up when she saw the dress and took it off the hanger.
"What on earth are you listening to?" Giselle heard Marie ask, the confusion and disdain in her voice evident. Taylor Swift’s music video for Blank Space was playing behind Giselle’s emails. Giselle stepped out to check her sister’s expression and laughed at the aversion on her face.
"I missed the kids," she said, as if that would explain it all.
Eric’s heart hadn’t calmed since he landed. How the hell Shane always managed to take what they had been taught for years, push the boundaries of propriety and still get away with it was beyond him. But tonight, he didn’t care.
He was about to deliver what could be the most important speech he had made in his life so far, and Shane had gotten him here. Maybe he could learn a thing or two from his brother.
He stood on one of the patios of the Cashadin castle, staring at the reflection of the moon in the lake, trying to steady himself. Someone cleared their throat and he turned. The moment he did, the world stopped. Giselle smiled at him with those gem like eyes, her hair flowing over her shoulders. The butler that had guided her announced her, but Eric couldn’t manage to look at him. When Giselle realized, a laugh escaped her throat and she looked at the butler.
"Thank you," she said. The man gave a bow and walked away, and Eric would never know who it was.
He took in a breath when his lungs started burning, he hadn’t even realized he stopped breathing. Giselle looked back at him. She laughed again. "Well, don’t just stand there, hug me or kiss me. Do something!"
Eric laughed then, snapping out of it. He stepped towards her and took her in his arms, inhaling deeply. He pressed his forehead against hers.
"I just can’t believe you’re mine," he said and put his lips to hers. He felt Giselle’s smile beneath his mouth as his eye fell and her hands came up to his shoulders.
He brought his mouth from hers and looked into her face. Giselle giggled.
"I can’t believe you’re here," she said, sending his heart racing again. He pressed a kiss against her forehead then felt his nerves return as he released her and took her hand.
"Come on. We have a picnic on the grass and a lot to catch up on," he said and guided her down the grass embankment. "Aw," Giselle said when she saw the blanket spread near the lake with the fairy lights around it and a large picnic basket in the middle.
"You were right, the view from here is magic," he said. She looked at him, her gaze tender, sweeping through him.
"When did you plan this?" She asked. He pulled up his shoulders. "It kind of happened on a whim. I was talking to your dad on the phone –."
"My dad?" He looked at her, she seemed both surprised and delighted. "Yes," Eric said and chuckled. "He’s got a lot of advice on how to handle a Balaco girl."
Giselle laughed as she sat down on the blanket, letting go of his hand.
"I think he’s been waiting years to share that advice, being the only man in the house."
Eric sat down and gave her a faint smile. Giselle held his gaze for a moment, and he felt struck by the pure joy radiating from her.
"Eric, what are you doing here? I know you, if you did something like this ‘on a whim’ then you’ve got something important to discuss. What is it?" She asked.
He smirked and reached out to pull a strand of her hair from her shoulder, watching it as it glided between his fingers then rubbing it lightly.
"Let me tell you a story first," he said, meeting her gaze again. "On the day of my eighteenth birthday, my father decided to take Shane and I out fishing. It used to be his favorite thing to do with the two of us. At the time, I loved it as well, and I was so sure he would get me –." Eric shook his head. "I don’t know, a yacht or a house boat, something extravagant. We got to the water, and there was a beautiful Boston Whaler 370 Outrage waiting for me." He stopped and grinned when Giselle frowned slightly.
"That’s . . . a boat?"
She lifted her shoulders apologetically. "I’ve never gone fishing, Eric, I know nothing about it," she admitted. "I’ll take you," he said. The idea of being alone with Giselle on the water for the day sounded very appealing. He shifted his focus back to the story.
"Anyway, I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to do about it. I was so surprised by how excited I was that I couldn’t react immediately. My dad knew. He laughed and told me something about myself that I never realized." Giselle tilted her head to the side as she watched him. "I have a habit of taking what is expected of myself, of this lifestyle, and turning it into what I think I want. I thought royalty was supposed to have the most extravagant things when it’s really the simple things that make life worth living. I believed that because I’m of age and my father passed away that it was expected of me to take up the throne as soon as possible, by entering an advantageous marriage for the sake of my kingdom." He reached up to cup her cheek. His entire body reacting to how much he loved her. "I nearly missed out on you because of that. Giselle, I would never be able to marry someone without loving them first, I only realized that after falling in love with you, but it’s been true my whole life. I would have been absolutely miserable if I had married for other reasons, but I would have convinced myself that it was what was right. I know now that I wouldn’t be able to spend my life with anyone but you."
Giselle gave a trembling smile. Her nerves building as she saw his build. Her heart hammered hard against her ribs. "The reason I’m here tonight is because I’ve been wanting to ask you something . . ." He let out a gust of air as he held her gaze. Her heart pounded hard against her chest. " – basically since that first ‘I love you’," he said. She tried to calm down and ready herself for whatever he wanted to ask. "Okay?" Giselle pulled her shoulders back a bit as she waited. Surely, he wouldn’t pop the question. Not so soon.
"I’m not going to be able to visit you as often as I want and I’ve seen what distance can do to a couple who love each other. I’m not taking that risk."
She lowered her eyes, knowing he meant Rose and Shane. Their relationship was falling apart and there was nothing either of them could do about it. They had seen each other once in the last six months, when Eric had come down. Rose had a temper on her and Shane wasn’t mature enough to know how to handle it, especially from so far away. It broke Giselle’s heart. And terrified her that the same might happen to her and Eric. If it weren’t for how well he handled things and her understanding nature, she knew they would likely have split in the early stages of their relationship.
"I can’t leave my kingdom, so I want you to move to Palanadia."
Giselle’s eyes shot to his. It felt like someone had dropped her into a pool of ice. She saw the steadiness of his gaze and understood in an instant how serious he was about this. Her mouth went dry.
"I’ve got . . . My classes are here, all my tutors."
"You can Skype your lessons and lecturers. Everything is done electronically so you can easily access any documents you need, you can fly back for any exams and we have talented musicians as well, should you need them." Giselle took a breath to reply but he intercepted. "Besides." Eric smiled and placed his hand on hers. "You’re Giselle Balaco. I haven’t seen you take on any musical challenge you can’t conquer yet," he said. Giselle lowered her eyes. She searched the ground blindly. "Eric . . . My family’s there," she said, lifting her gaze to his. He lowered his eyes. "I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I wasn’t 100% sure that I want you by my side for the rest of my life."
Her shoulders sunk. "I don’t do things by half-measures, Giselle. Loving you seems to be no exception."
She dropped her gaze. The way he was looking at her made her already frantic brain spin. She tried to think this through rationally. She knew something drastic would have to happen for them to continue their relationship. Giselle tried thinking of other solutions, but came up with none that made more sense than the one he was proposing.
She almost cussed out loud.
The reality of it all suddenly hit Giselle. She had thought about marrying Eric, and she knew it was what she wanted, in a few years. She wouldn’t be able to let him go, but everything was becoming so real now. She was barely twenty-one! And here she was, being asked to flip her entire life upside down for a guy!
She risked looking at him and at Eric’s tender gaze, she relaxed a bit.
He wasn’t just some guy to her, though. He wasn’t just some guy in general! The prince of Palanadia. She felt lightheaded. Eric had somehow become someone she couldn’t imagine life without anymore. But he was the future king, a reality she still struggled to fit herself into. If she married him . . . She felt her shoulders tense up again as the pressure of it dawned upon her. Queen. Just thinking the word made her want to vomit, not out of disgust, but stress.
Eric saw the different emotions running through her and didn’t know how to comfort her. He had to force himself to breathe and wait. He couldn’t take it back, wanting to when he saw the panic on her face, but knowing there was no other way he was aware of.
"I love your kingdom," she blurted then shook her head. "But I don’t know if I could . . . and I love you, I just . . ." She lifted her eyes to the stars, took a deep breath through her nose to calm herself then looked at him. He felt her place her free hand on top the hand he had placed on hers. Then felt her give a squeeze and his heart skipped a beat. He placed his hand on top of that hand, as if it would help hold on to her.
"Eric . . ." Her eyes softened, the panic leaving them, clarity returning. And along with it doubt. "Do you really think I’ll be able to rule at your side? I’ve grown up with the same classes as Rose and Rosie so –." She gave a self-deprecating chuckle. "We’ve got the etiquette of royalty sorted out, at least from Cashadin." She lowered her eyes and bit her lip. "But . . ." Giselle stared up at him, her eyes seeming larger. Not able to hold back anymore, he bent his head and touched his lips to hers gently. He felt a fine tremor run through her body and brought a hand up to cup her cheek. She brought a hand to his shoulder and he felt her relax under his lips. He kissed her slowly, trying to reassure her, enjoying the way her skin felt as he rubbed his thumb against her cheek. He broke the kiss and looked at her.
"I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met in my life. You’re beautiful and fun and you’ve got more love in you than . . ." He let out a breath when it hit him again. "You love me?"
"I do," she said with tears starting to well up in her eyes. "And you love my kingdom?"
"Everything about it."
"That’s why I want you, by my side, for the rest of my life. You might doubt yourself, but you’d make a better queen than any girl that had spent her entire life groomed for it. I haven’t met anyone that loves as easily as you, Giselle. And I’m not changing my mind about this."
When she didn’t say anything, he continued.
"The night I met you, you stunned me. You got up on that stage with all the elegance, beauty and grace of a royal. You played and it moved a part of me that I haven’t felt in my life, but I wasn’t in love with you then. I fell in love with the parts of you that you don’t put on the stage. You’re beautiful and immensely talented and charismatic, but what made me fall in love was seeing the way you truly care about people. You treat everyone like they’re friends and family. I fell in love with the girl who loves my kingdom. I have no doubt that you belong in Palanadia Giselle, with me."
Giselle stood, breaking his gaze. She wrapped her arms around herself and turned, taking a few steps away from him. Eric got to his feet as well and watched her wander towards the lake, his heart hammering hard against his ribs as he waited. He wasn’t giving up without a fight. She loved him and that was all he needed to know he’d never be able to let her go.
Giselle stared at the lake. What was she thinking? She had to be insane. What would her parents – Marie – her dad! Her eyes widened. What would her dad say?! What would he think? He’d think she’s lost her mind. Not to mention everything else they’d still need to arrange. How on earth was she going to be able to still graduate with a Balaco degree if she wasn’t even in the kingdom most of the time? What about all the plans they had made?
But then, for a moment, her mind went beyond her degree. If they were to pull this off, if she could still get her Balaco degree, what then? She had planned on following in her father’s footsteps. She wanted to compose and create music for the rest of her life. She wanted to travel the world and discover different sounds.
Moving to Palanadia . . . She’d be able to explore the streets with the musicians, she’d be able to visit Maira and the kids more often, Shane would be an unending pit of entertainment, she loved the queen, she knew the queen adored her, and Eric . . . Eric loved her. In comparison to all of that, what she thought she wanted before she met him seemed so lonely. Sure, her father would be by her side most of the time if she chose that life. Not to mention all the musicians and crew that she had come to adore so much over the years. But they weren’t family the way Maira and the royal family of Palanadia had become.
She turned around and looked at Eric.
"I’ve got some conditions."
Eric nearly dropped to his knees. Anything! A bright spark of hope exploded inside of him.
"You want to marry me?"
"Yes, someday." He paused, doubt hitting him like a train. "Do you want that at all?" He saw some of the tension leave her face when she gave him a small smile, and he relaxed. "Someday."
She walked towards him.
"Firstly; I want to finish my degree before that happens."
Eric stared at her. "That’ll take another two years."
She nodded. He blew out a controlled breath of air. "I don’t like that this is the one you’re starting with, but yes, alright. It’ll give my kingdom a chance to get used to the idea as well. What else?"
She threw her arms in the air then dropped them. "You need to ask my father’s permission before I can move to an entirely different kingdom." Eric chuckled and placed his hands on her upper arms. "I’ve asked him, love, the first day I met him we had this discussion. He’s a very blunt man, remember. Small talk wasn’t on the table, neither was it tonight when I brought it up again during dinner," he said.
Giselle frowned then laughed, seeming more relieved now. He ran his hands up her arms. "What else?"
"You can’t propose until we’ve been together at least a year and a half. I’ll only accept your proposal if you can date me for that long and still feel the same."
"Am I allowed to mention it?" He asked. Giselle nodded.
"Just as long as you’re not formulating any wedding plans or bringing me a ring or physically ask the question again, it’s alright."
He thought a bit. "A year," he said. Her eyes narrowed a bit. "And a half."
"Giselle," he said, trying to sound stern, but failing when he met her teasing eyes. Giselle laughed. "Are you worried you won’t feel the same after eighteen full months with me?"
"I’m worried you’ll wake up and realize that you deserve so much better."
Her eyes squinted with disbelief then she laughed and shook her head.
"You’re insane if you think that day will ever come."
He grinned. "I’m just excited to call you my fiancée." She smiled and rose on her toes. Eric felt the hair lift at the back of his neck when she kissed him. He pressed his head against hers when she broke the kiss. "But this is nice, too," he said, opening his eyes. He met her green eyes and felt his resolve slip. She loved him. She was in his arms. He had two years to prove to her that he deserved this, and then the rest of their lives to do the same.
"Fine," he said, knowing he’d have the engagement ring by next week, but he was a man of his word. "What else?" He asked as he gently slid his hands down to her elbows.
"After, if you ask me again –."
"If." She held his gaze for a moment before continuing. "If you ever propose again, I want you to ask because you love me but more than that I want you to ask because you think I’d be worthy of being the queen your kingdom deserves one day. If at that point I’m inadequate, don’t ask me. I’m dead serious, Eric. If I lack the potential your people deserve and you ask me, I will take it as deceit from you and I will never be able to forgive you for it."
He smiled and gave her arms a light squeeze. She was more than he had ever expected to be blessed with. "I love you," he said. He felt the bumps that rose on her arms and felt his smile broaden.
She brought her hands to the back of his neck and ran her nails lightly over the sensitive skin. "I’ll think of a few more after, but for now, those are my main conditions," she said.