Eric chewed at the back of his pencil idly as he stared off through the window in his office. He rocked his chair lightly, not fully realizing he was. He always struggled to get back to anything after a day with the kids. He was unfocused and got little work done. All he could think of was how happy it made him to see all of them. Their names rolled through his mind as he tried to figure out what each of them needed most and how he could manage to make that happen.
Tomorrow would be the same when they went to visit again.
But something else was distracting him now as well. That same nervous energy he had felt the day before at dinner returned. He had felt it all day since seeing Giselle with Maira.
Eric lowered his eyes. Watching her today with the kids was like watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. She started off looking like she was ready to drive the car back to the castle herself and then one little girl melted her heart. Eric smiled to himself. Soon she was sitting on the floor of the studio with a group of kids around her as she played on a xylophone. She even let a couple of girls braid her hair as she played.
There was a light tap at his office door. Eric spun around in his chair and put the pencil down. He sat up straight before answering.
The door opened slowly until Giselle’s figure appeared. She smiled carefully.
"Hi, are you busy?" She asked, still half holding the door knob. Her hair was now pulled back into a ponytail and she had downed on a light blue summer dress. Eric smiled, feeling his spirits lift.
He shook his head. "No, not at all. Come on in," he said and started getting up from his chair. She released the doorknob and he noticed the pages in her hand. She raised her palm faced down.
"Oh, don’t get up, it’s alright. I just wanted your opinion on something," she said and came closer. There was something hesitant about her presence. He lowered himself back into the chair.
"I’m sorry for bothering you, but Shane said you’d be the best person to speak to," she said, standing in front of his desk now. He gestured for her to sit down.
"Please. And you’re not bothering at all. I never get much done after visiting the kids."
A smile came to her lips. "Shane said that as well." She sat up straight in her seat. Eric felt a tug at his lip. He lowered his eyes as he thought about the smiles on the kids’ faces. "I guess I’m becoming a bit predictable." He looked at her. "What can I help with, Giselle?" He asked. "I . . . I composed today," she said. He gave a nod, waiting for her to continue. Her grin widened and she let out a breath of laughter. "You don’t understand, I have been more incompetent for this visit than I’ve ever been. I’ve barely been able to pick up a guitar and play. It’s like I had a musical block." She lay the pages down on the desk in front of him. He lowered his eyes to the sheet music that lay before him. The title on the first sheet was lettered perfectly, another example of her elegance.
"For Maira," Eric read, feeling his heart give a squeeze. The notes seemed less tidy than the title, she was clearly in a rush while penciling them in. "I’ve been in the music room for less than two hours and I’ve got two songs." Eric lifted his eyes to hers and noticed the light in her eyes.
"Those kids . . . They’re incredible. Watching them play around today was music," Giselle said, lifting her palms up then lowering them. Eric nodded, smiling at the way she perceived the world. "They are, and you haven’t seen half of them."
"That’s actually why I’m here. Some of kids . . . they have untapped talent. There’s this seventeen-year-old, Kayley, she’s something else with a guitar, and I watched her dancing later. She is incredible."
Eric thought back, remembering the dark curly-haired girl with the chocolate skin and freckles that Giselle was speaking of. "Kayley is incredible," he agreed. "I noticed her talent when she arrived three years ago. She’s a natural. I plan on teaching her how to tango tomorrow."
Giselle squinted slightly then laughed.
"Well I look forward to witnessing that."
"You’re joining us again, then?" He asked. Giselle pulled up her shoulders innocently. "If you wouldn’t mind having me along."
Eric grinned. "I saw you with them today. If you were willing, I would have you go everyday."
Eric personally could only squeeze in two days per term to see all the orphanages, but Giselle’s schedule could be more easily manipulated than his own.
"You would?" She asked. He nodded sincerely. "You can open up a new world for them with your talent, Giselle," he said. Giselle’s shoulders lowered slowly as well as her smile.
"You really think so?" She asked. Eric nodded again. She dropped her eyes as she thought. She had a week to go. "Maybe I should," she said quietly and raised her eyes back to his. He gave her a small smile. She felt herself straighten up, thrilled and uncomfortable at the look of approval in his eyes.
"The reason I came here was to figure out a way to exploit Kayley’s talent. She’ll be eighteen next year. She’s not sure what she wants to become one day, but right now she’s leaning towards becoming a teacher so that she can also teach dance. I spoke to her for a while. Her entire mindset is weighed down to this town, she’s never had anyone to feed into more than what she’s been exposed to, but if she works hard and has the proper guidance, she could land a full bursary at our university when she finishes. I want to make that happen for her."
Eric paused as he thought. He tilted his head to one side slightly, holding her gaze as he did.
"How would you feel about becoming a big sister?" Eric asked. Giselle winced. "My parents aren’t all that thrilled whenever Marie brings a new pet home – not that ever stops her – I seriously doubt they’d approve if I brought Kayley home."
Eric’s face blanked for a split second before he looked away and burst out laughing. Realization dawned upon her and she brought a hand to her forehead. She closed her eyes tightly as she felt her cheeks burn.
"Unless you meant big sister as in the program where you volunteer to be a kid’s mentor," she said, dropping her head. Eric chuckled again. "Yes, Giselle. That’s what I meant," he said with laughter still clear in his voice. When she finally could, Giselle looked at him.
"I’m not stupid, I promise," she said. "I never thought you were." He smirked. "So about becoming a big sister?"
Giselle thought a bit. "I won’t be here for much longer," she said. Eric shrugged. "When she gets a full bursary at your university, that won’t be a problem," he said.
Giselle felt excitement tingle her chest. "I suppose that’s true." She sucked in a deep breath and looked at her hands in her lap. It would be a bit difficult for a year but they could make it work. The gigs she did part-time paid well enough to send some money, and if she asked her dad she was sure he wouldn’t mind investing in someone like Kayley. They could organize for her to have proper dance lessons, someone or some place that could give her personal attention as well. They could facetime. Giselle could monitor her progress and smooth some people over at the university.
Maybe they could even get her a flight ticket and she could come visit for a while, see that there’s more in this world. Was that allowed?
"Why don’t you take a few nights to sleep on it?" Eric asked, pulling her from her thoughts. "You can let me know anytime before you leave."
She looked up at Eric, his gray eyes smiling. "To be honest, I think you would be a perfect mentor for her. She needs someone like you," he said. Giselle felt a swell of pride in her chest.
"I’ll think about it," she promised.
He nodded then lowered his eyes to the pages she had placed on the desk. Eric lifted one of them. "May I?" He asked, glancing at her. Giselle nodded. He was so well-mannered that, he asked permission for just about everything. Eric held the sheet in front of him. Giselle took in a deep breath to steady herself. Oh, he was beautiful. Now that he wasn’t full on looking at her, she could take a moment to study the line of his jaw and how perfectly his brown skin and dark hair complimented his eyes. She was embarrassed by how many times in the last few hours she had found herself in this situation where she couldn’t help but just stare. How had she not noticed how attractive Eric was?
Her heart pounded in her ears as she watched him study the title.
"Volunesia," he read and chuckled. "I remember the first time I self-diagnosed myself with it too," he said, then lifted his eyes back to hers. She lowered her eyes bashfully, suddenly not sure how to act when he looked at her.
"It’s been an eventful day."
"And it’s not even seven in the evening," he said. He looked at the page again, remaining quiet for a moment.
"Would you mind playing this sometime?" He asked and looked at her. For some reason, Giselle felt her chest give a flutter. She shook her head.
"No, I wouldn’t mind. When?"
He pulled up his shoulders. "Anytime you’re not busy, or what about playing it for the kids tomorrow morning?" He asked and looked at her.
"I’d love that."
"Great." He glanced at the clock that hung on the wall. "I’m going to stop lying to myself and be an enemy of productivity somewhere with a better view. Do you feel like getting some fresh air?"
Giselle blinked. Her chest tightened nervously.
"You mean go sit outside?" Together?
Eric nodded and stood up. "Yeah, why don’t you join me? I need to see my dogs anyway."
"You have dogs?"
He looked at her with a slight frown. "Don’t you?"
"We have a couple of great danes."
"And you never play with them?" Eric asked, lifting one eyebrow. Giselle had to smile. She could see the resemblance between him and Shane when he did that. It must be a family thing.
"We do." Giselle stood as well. "Well, they’re technically my father’s. He and Marie are the animal lovers in our house, more Marie than him, though."
"And you’re not?" He asked. Giselle pulled up her shoulders. "I’m an animal enthusiast. I love watching the dogs run and I play with Marie’s pets, but I’m always making plans to go gig somewhere or travel or have rehearsals so I’m just doing all animals a favor by not investing in one."
She watched as Eric came around the desk. Eric tilted his head slightly, an amused grin at his lips.
"So you enjoy the fast life?" He asked, glancing at her as he passed. Giselle forgot to breathe for a moment.
"I don’t like standing still."
"Standing still . . . what’s that?" He asked. Giselle let out a breath of laughter. "I suppose, being the first prince, the opportunity to take a break doesn’t come often," she said.
"That is why I have two Gordon setters, Carton and Lucie." He smiled at her as he crossed the room. "They are my therapists," he added and opened the door for her. Giselle hesitated, her lip giving a tug as she stared at him.
"Carton and Lucie? Sydney Carton and Lucie Manette? From A Tale of Two Cities?"
Eric angled his head, his expression not hiding how pleased and surprised he was at her guess.
"Yes. I love that book."
"Me too!" Giselle laughed.
"You enjoy reading?"
"Are you kidding me? Dickens is MY therapy," she said, laughing again.
"Mine as well," Eric said with a laugh, still in awe of her response.
"More therapy? You didn’t strike me as the type that needs it," Giselle said, deciding to entertain him on this. At this point, she walked passed him and stepped into the hall. Eric followed and closed the door behind them.
"Well you clearly haven’t seen my work schedule."
"I don’t think I want to." She winced. "I don’t know how you do it. You’re a bit of a genius, aren’t you?"
"I’d say no more than you, but that would make me sound arrogant," he said, putting his hands behind his back as he strolled alongside her down the hall. Giselle glanced away at the compliment and felt a fine tremor cause the hair on her scalp to lift. She dropped her eyes sheepishly.
"If you heard my dad, you wouldn’t say so," she said. "Oh, so your father can play every instrument under the sun as well?" She looked at him and he lifted his brows. Giselle lifted her eyes to the ceiling to stop the goofy smile she felt coming on. "Okay, he can’t play as many instruments as I can, but he can play enough, and he excels at everything he puts his mind to. He’s the real genius," she said, looking at him again. He shook his head and looked ahead.
"I haven’t known you long, but you are almost annoyingly modest about your talent."
"Would you prefer it if I were conceited?"
"I would prefer –." His gray eyes met hers with a gentle sweetness that robbed Giselle of thought for a moment. " – that you recognize a compliment and accept it gracefully." He looked ahead before continuing. "You are a musical genius, Giselle, you have a gift for making anyone smile, you’re beautiful –." She blinked in surprise. " – and I haven’t sampled your carrot cake but according to Rosaline it’s something I have to insist you make before you leave. Compliments aren’t something you’re going to fall short of in your life."
"I –." Giselle pressed her lips together when he looked at her, his brows lifted slightly. "Thank you," she said, relenting. His smile deepened. "There you go, very graceful," he said and looked ahead again.
"But I’m not perfect. You on the other hand. . ."
"Oh, no, you’re not turning the tables on me. I am a great deal away from perfect, however, I have been trained to accept complements and not let negative comments deter my judgment, but –. " He glanced at her. "I can only play two instruments, guitar and piano, and not that well, anyway."
Giselle rolled her eyes.
"Well it’s not as if it’s a critical skill required to manage a kingdom."
Eric laughed. "It does come in handy, though. Maybe we can learn from each other."
"You want me to give you music lessons?" Giselle asked skeptically.
"Actually, I was thinking more down the line of baking." He pulled up his shoulders. "I’ve already convinced you to play tomorrow. I need some means to ensure you actually make that cake."
"You have private chefs at your disposal and you want me to bake." She lifted her brows.
"Well, so does Rosaline and she still praises your skills."
"You really want this carrot cake, don’t you?"
"Giselle, neither Shane nor I will ever joke about cake."
She laughed. "Alright!" She shook her head. "When would you want me to bake it?"
"There’s a great chance I’m going to be unfocused tomorrow after our visit. I could help you then."
Giselle couldn’t stop the small frown from forming between her brows but she smoothed out her expression before he noticed. She didn’t really expect him to help her.
"Okay." She glanced at the floor and cleared her throat. A burst of excitement sprung to her chest again as she remembered what she had discovered just a moment ago.
"Can we please go back to talking about Dickens?" She asked, grinning brightly. Eric met her smile with his own. "Have you read Oliver Twist?"
Monicka - Thank you!! Yeah, they're adorable :)
Butterfly - Haha. I'll add it in the epilogue because now I also want that
Annabelle - Lol. Rose . . . I really enjoy playing around with her character when I do. She's a bit of a diva and very loving.
Cara - Thank you :)