Giselle stared out the window as they pulled into the orphanage.
What was she being punished for? Maybe it was because of the cake heist she pulled with Mark in the castle a few weeks back. It all worked out well in the end, didn't it? They had returned the cake in the same condition they found it and she had surprised the staff with cupcakes she had spent most of the previous day baking to apologize for the half an hour of panic she had caused.
Whatever it was, she was surely being punished for something. Why else would she find herself surrounded by kids all day? It wasn't that she particularly had a dislike for children, she just couldn't get along with them. It was the most awkward thing to try and entertain younger children. She had been scarred since she had to play at that children's fund raiser a few months back. For some reason, one of the musicians thought she would be the perfect candidate for watching her three and four year old toddlers. That was a disaster.
A choir of excited little voices erupted from outside the car. Giselle looked at Eric. Surprise rolled through her for the second time that day at the smile on his face. The first was when she saw him for the first time that morning. He looked so . . . normal. He wore a pair of dark jeans paired with brown, laced up leather shoes and a grey t-shirt under a plaid shirt. His hair wasn't as tidy as she had seen for the last few days and he seemed . . . so relaxed, like he was about to grab his car keys and announce the beginning of a road trip. She had stared at him unknowingly for a while before they departed, only realizing when he turned to her and gave her an idea of what to expect today. Even then she couldn't stop staring.
Somehow, his casual look made him so much better looking.
And now she was staring at him again, thinking of how great he would look with a little scruff on his chin and cheeks. His excitement was evident when he stepped out of the car onto the parking lot pavement. Hardly a second later, a flock of little bodies rushed towards them. He took two brisk steps towards the thirty-plus kids that ran towards him and bent down as they all clustered around his legs in excitement. There were a few faces that stayed, hesitantly, at the back near the classrooms. The older kids stood at the back of the group, smiling at him or greeting Shane.
Eric picked up the one boy clutching onto his left leg and stood, bringing him to his chest. "Cruise, how's it going buddy? Oh, you're getting heavy!" he said to the boy, shaking his curly brown hair. Cruise latched onto his neck and Eric laughed and high-fived the older kids that reached taller than the toddlers.
"How's everybody doing?"
Giselle smiled nervously at the group of kids around Eric and Shane. She fiddled with the straps on the leather backpack that ran over her shoulders.
"Hey, Prince Shane!" someone called and a round football came flying in from nowhere which Shane expertly caught beneath his feet and started playing around with. Giselle's brow lifted at the absolute skill Shane displayed while manoeuvring the ball. Older kids came closer and joined in, trying to steal the ball from him.
"Wow," she said unconsciously as she watched Shane move around, side-stepping and twirling while still remaining in control of the ball. She must've blinked because the next thing she knew, Shane had crossed his one leg behind the other and the ball went flying straight towards one of the guys in the group. She looked to Rose next to her who just smiled impishly.
"Keep him," Giselle said simply, making Rose laugh.
"Everyone." Giselle looked at Prince Eric as he used his free hand to motion towards the two of them. The boy in his arms, Cruise, looked at her with dark brown eyes. "These are our friends, Princess Rosaline -." Rose gave them all a bright smile and a wave. "And Miss Giselle Balaco from the kingdom of Cashadin. They're visiting us for a while," he said and turned back to the group. "Weren't you supposed to marry her?" one little girl asked while pointing at Rose. Giselle felt her eyes automatically widen and had to pull her bottom lip through her teeth to keep from reacting. Rose was clearly fighting her own laughter. "We were, but we decided it's better to be friends," Eric said, grinning at Rose. "Way better," Rose agreed and looked at the kids as she gestured towards Giselle. "This is my cousin, Giselle." Giselle felt her blood turn cold when all the attention shifted towards her. "Does anyone have an instrument for her? She's the best musician alive."
A lady at the back wearing a long black skirt with a mossy green blouse raised her hand.
"I'm Elaine. I'm one of the teachers. You can follow me," she said. Relieved, Giselle moved towards the woman. "Hello," Giselle said and shook her hand when she reached her. Elaine smiled sweetly. She seemed young, maybe late twenties with strawberry blond hair in a bun at the top of her head and soft brown eyes.
"So you're the famous Giselle Balaco. Let me tell you, I'm a huge fan of your dad, and you yourself are incredible," she said as they walked. "Thank you," Giselle said smiling. This was more her pace. An adult. They walked into a hall that had polished wooden floors, a mirror with a rail stretched across the one side of the wall and in the corner there was a keyboard, a drum kit, an acoustic guitar and a trombone. Giselle looked around and placed her hands into the back of her jean pockets. "This is a dance studio," she said, watching at herself walk in the mirror.
"Yes," Elaine said. "The royal family had it built. Prince Eric loves to dance."
Giselle smiled to herself. She had to stop being surprised when she found out something new about the prince.
"You can set up here and go wild," Elaine said. Giselle gave a smile but didn't look at Elaine, she rather scanned the little stage at the front and the chandelier that hung from the ceiling.
"I have to ask . . ." Giselle looked at Elaine. "What is it like having Edwin Balaco as your father?" she asked, seeming in awe of the idea. "Amazing," Giselle said, not being able to sum it up better. She shook her head. "He's the best dad in the world. He's supportive, he loves us so much, he's a typical dad when we're not touching instruments. It's pretty normal at home until he picks up violin. He's at a level with that thing that I have not yet reached," she said. Elaine's smile broadened. "Ah, it must be a dream performing with him."
"Hardly." Giselle laughed and shook her head. "I'm never more stressed then when I have to play with my dad. He demands excellence and the months of practice that lead up to a big performance with him is hectic."
"But you still love it."
Giselle sighed. "Yes." She nodded, remembering the last time she performed with her dad and how she wished she were doing that right now. "Performing with my dad is so much more special than performing with anyone else." She shrugged. "He's my dad, you know. He's my hero."
Elaine smiled dreamily. "Do you play?" Giselle asked. Her cheeks suddenly flushed. "I've been playing the guitar since I was little and the saxophone."
"Great! I have a friend then," Giselle said with a broad smile. "Where's your sax?" she asked.
"It's in my car."
"Could you get it? I'd love someone to perform with," Giselle said. Elaine nodded. "I'm warning you, though, I'm nowhere near as good as what you're used to," she said as she walked towards a door on the side of the building. "I'll take my chances," Giselle said and followed.
When they stepped outside, Giselle stopped in her tracks as she caught sight of something. Elaine continued walking. Giselle had to blink a few times before she realized that what she was looking at was real. About twenty steps away, at the open playground, Prince Eric was on his back, in the dirt, playing with a group of toddlers. Giselle stared in awe at the prince as he tumbled with the kids. Never in her wildest dreams would she even imagine seeing Prince Eric willingly get into the dirt to play wrestling with a three-year-old. He gave a final roll onto his back and spread his arms on the ground with his eyes closed. The curly-haired boy that had pinned him giggled and pressed his little fists to Eric's chest. "Ah, you have defeated me," he said dramatically and peeked at the boy as he tried to suppress a smile. "I am no match for you," he said, making the boy giggle again then drop onto his chest as if he wanted to nap there. Giselle laughed quietly then realized she had brought her hand up to her heart. She immediately lifted it to play with the pendant at her neck.
"Hey, Giselle, staring is rude."
Giselle jumped and noticed Rose standing near her holding a baby wrapped in a blanket.
"Wha- No. I . . ." She glanced back at Eric. He opened his eyes and smiled at the boy laying on his chest. The look of pure joy on his face caused her chest to tingle. "I just never thought I'd see this side of the prince," she said as she turned back to her cousin. "Oh, yeah, Shane told me Eric loves kids. I was surprised too," Rose said, her eyes narrowed playfully. "What?" Giselle asked when Rose held her gaze for a moment too long. Rose placed a hand in front of her mouth as she tried to contain a burst of laughter. "I don't think I've ever seen that look of awe in our eyes before, at least not coupled with the pink shade rising on your cheeks. You are absolutely adorable when you're crushing, Giselle." Rose ran her hand across the curve of the blanket as she watched her cousin's response.
"Cru - What? No, no, no." Giselle lifted her palms and shook them. She was suddenly hyperaware of the heat on her cheeks, which just made it worse. "I'm just surprised. There is no crush happening here."
Rose lifted an eyebrow. "Alright. Hey, a girl can dream," she said and looked at Eric. "You've got to admit, you two would be good together."
"We are very different people, Rose."
"Yet you get along very well."
"Do we?" Giselle felt her brows come together over her eyes. She glanced at Eric again as he got to his feet with the child in his arms. "I haven't had a conversation long enough with him to tell," she said, turning back to her cousin. He was shattering almost every stereotype she had built around him.
"Eric's one of the few people I've met that knows what he's about. He's frighteningly in control of himself for someone so young," Rose said.
Giselle looked back at her cousin. She was always fascinated at the way her cousin summed people up. Rose observed things about people that no one else would.
"And you're unapologetically you. You have already established your self-worth, you don't need the esteem of others to feel good about yourself - okay, maybe your dad a bit."
Giselle scoffed, not even bothering to deny it. "You're both stable and kind and Eric knows how to put others before himself. He's made some tough decisions, took the fall for others for the greater good and never seeks praise for it. I'd like to see you with someone like that," Rose said. Giselle shook her head. It wasn't like Rose to skip some obvious factors that weighed in on situations. Giselle felt obligated to remind her of a few.
"He's a prince, Rose, first in line for the throne. He is set to marry someone to better his kingdom. He was engaged to you less than a month ago! I would never be able to marry someone I don't love and also I'm not in a position important enough to even be considered by him. Plus, I've got my own plans. I can't be stuck in one place. I want to do what my dad does. I want to travel the world, performing in different theatres, composing masterpieces." She smiled at just the thought of it. "I'm as in love with music as he is with this kingdom, considering that alone, it would never work."
There was a loud bang behind her that caused her to spin around. A child was struggling to climb up onto the seat of the drum kit and had accidentally caused the trombone to fall over. Without thinking, Giselle rushed towards her. "Whoa, hold on there," Giselle said and lifted the girl onto the seat before she could hurt herself or damage the kit. The girl had Caribbean coloured skin and sandy brown hair that curled in every direction. She looked up at Giselle with a pair of large eyes the colour of ripe wheat. The bright colour seemed heightened by her brown skin. Giselle felt her eyes stretch with surprise. "Wow, you have beautiful eyes," she said and lowered onto her haunches in front of the girl, not able to look away.
"You have pretty eyes, too," she said and gave Giselle a smile with little a row of baby teeth. She couldn't have been more than four years old. Giselle felt her awe dissipate slightly and smiled back. "Thank you," she said and looked at the drum kit when she realized she had no idea what to do now. "Uhm, do you want me to teach you a thing or two about playing these drums?" she asked while shrugging off her backpack. The girl nodded eagerly. "Great," Giselle said, breathing a breath of relief as she searched for her drumsticks.
Eric knew he had no right to the pride he felt when he caught sight of Giselle in the studio. She sat behind a drum kit with a little girl on her lap, instructing the girl on how to properly hit the cymbals.
He lifted one of the toddlers, Zoey, onto his shoulders and took a few steps closer to get a better view through the door. He didn't recognize the little girl, she must've been new. The girl lifted her arm high and brought the drumsticks crashing down onto both the cymbals, filling the room with the shattering sound. "Yeah! Good job, Maira!" Giselle said and clapped her hands. The girl looked up at her with a massive grin and Giselle laughed. Eric felt a smile tug at his lips.
Giselle put her arms around Maira and leaned her head just above the girl's shoulder as she pointed down to explain something that he couldn't hear. Giselle placed her foot onto the drum pedal and gave the bass drum a few hits. Maira, knowing that her legs couldn't reach the pedal, mimicked Giselle's foot movement with her own, causing Giselle to laugh again. She pushed back some hair that fell into her face and sat up then pulled a pair of drumsticks from her back pocket and began hitting the drums, holding a steady beat while little Maira explored with her own drumsticks. It sounded like chaos, but Giselle was smiling with such patience and delight.
She really was something else.
There was a tug at his jeans which made Eric realize in an instant that he had been staring too long and turned around. A group of kids were already at his legs, looking up at him with half pleading, half joyful eyes. He laughed. "You'll get your turn," he said and looked up at the girl on his shoulders. "Where are we going, Zoey?" he asked and moved in the direction that Zoey pointed.
Cara - Hey! Thanks so much! Yeah, I'm really aiming for once a week. but sometimes that gets rough so a chapter would likely come out a few days late or early of seven days following the last post - but I will try :)
Annabel - Hi! Haha. I canned myself for your comment when I saw it on the 4th/5.1 chapter. It's something I would do - and I do, a lot
Thanks for making me smile. (P.S. if "canned" is not slang where you're from, it means "burst out laughing")
Butterfly - Their dynamic is so much fun!