I smiled at my mother. We had actually had a really nice talk for once. We sat outside on the balcony of the hall. We could still see everything going on inside, but could hear each other better here, and there were fewer distractions. She sighed and sat back in her chair. "Yes, perhaps I was a bit too eager for this marriage ..." She trailed off. "I could see how unhappy it made Rose but ... there was nothing I could do and I was grateful that it was Eric. Rose could have been forced into a much crueler marriage. Eric is a very good young man. One, any mother would be ecstatic about having as a son-in-law..." She looked to the inside of the castle. I watched as a smile appeared on her face. "But so is Shane. One thing, both of you have excellent taste in men." I giggled when she said that. "That is the last thing I've ever expected you to say," I said.
She looked at me with the same smile. "And I'm proud of Matthew as well, for standing up to your father. He has the characteristics of a great King and so does Mark. Oh, I'm so proud of the person Mark has become and he keeps on becoming more like the King this kingdom needs." Her eyes became distant. "I know your father and I have had little to do with raising you four ... but you've all grown to be such incredible people. I admire all of you," she said. I dropped my eyes and smiled. "You should tell them too, mother." I said and looked at her. "They would all really appreciate having a talk like this with you," I said. She nodded. "I will," she said simply.
I could only smile at her. There was a slight knocking sound at the doorframe. My mother and I both looked in the direction the sound was coming from. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Ethan smiling at me. "Can I interrupt? I'm sorry, I won't have another break for the rest of the night," he said. My mother stood up and I followed, not knowing what else to do. "Yes, you may. Would you like to speak to him now?" My mother asked Ethan. I carefully came beside her and felt incredibly awkward. Ethan's eyes fell on me briefly then went back to my mother. That split second sent my heart racing. "If that's alright with you, your majesty," he said to my mother. She smiled. "Follow me," my mother said and walked into the hall. I stood there and looked at Ethan, trying hard not to look away shyly. He smiled and held his hand out to me. I smiled a little and took it.
"What's going on?" I asked softly as we followed my mother through the hall. "We're setting everything right tonight," he said and winked at me. With that, I knew not to ask any more questions. We followed my mother all the way to the King, my father, and I started walking more reluctantly. I bit my lip as we walked up the steps to his throne. I was terrified at this point and my heart was racing for a different reason now. We stopped when we were in front of him and bowed. My mother sat down next to my father. "Your majesty, I would like your permission to date your daughter," Ethan said. It felt like someone had punched the breath out of my lungs. My eyes started stretching but I willed myself to calm down and couldn't look at Ethan. I kept my eyes on my father as his gaze shifted from Ethan to me, then back. "Weren't you two already dating without my permission?" He asked, making me fear this moment even more. I squeezed Ethan's hand, trying to encourage him a little. "It wouldn't be dating if we didn't have your permission, your highness," Ethan answered. My mother leaned over and whispered something to my father. His gaze landed on me, and I stiffened. Ethan gave my hand a squeeze and I relaxed a tiny bit.
"Yes?" I asked my father. "Are you in love with this young man?" My father asked. This time I allowed my eyes to stretch. This wasn't something I wanted to confess to my father before confessing it to Ethan first. I could feel Ethan's eyes burning through me as he waited on my answer. I took a deep breath and looked at Ethan. His eyes were questioning. He still didn't know even after all this time. My heart pounded painfully against my chest. "Yes," I said.
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and sighed. "What a night," I mumbled to myself. I had sorted everyone I could for a romantic night and I was single - how ironic! I shook my head and headed toward the drinks table, feeling dehydrated from all the night's events. As I reached the table I noticed Aquamarine's friend walking toward the exit. Forgetting about the drink, I jogged toward her. "Hey," I said and touched her arm. She turned and looked at me. I froze for a second, really looking at her for the first time that night. "Where are you going? The party just got chilled," I said. She smiled a little. "I'm heading home," she said. "Why?" I asked. She looked around the hall. "This isn't really my scene. I don't belong. I only came because Aqua needed someone to come with," she said. I raised an eyebrow. "Not your scene? Do you realize you're at a royal ball?" I asked. She giggled a little. "Perfectly," she said, "and that's why I don't belong."
I stared at her for a while. "You're telling me, you are going home when you can be at the one party every girl in the entire kingdom will probably give their right arm for?" I asked. She tilted her head a bit and looked around the hall again. I could see the insecurity in her eyes. She chewed on the corner of her lip and I realized something, she was actually incredibly beautiful. Why hadn't I noticed this before? I guess the whole plan was a bit more of a distraction than I thought. "You're uncomfortable," I said. Hope looked at me again. I smiled. "This intimidates you, you're insecure," I said. She smiled a little and nodded the slightest bit. "Yeah, but thank you for ... what was truly an unforgettable evening, your highness," she said and turned again.
I grabbed her arm, not wanting her to leave. She looked at me. "You can call me Mark ... Hope, I have a feeling; a girl like you will only come around once in my life and there's no way I can let you walk out of that door without making sure that you really did enjoy yourself tonight. If this makes you insecure, fine, there's a whole castle with different things to do in every room. We could go watch a movie, shoot pool, swim in a pool, I would even get my nails done to spend some time with you - I don't care, it's your pick," I said. Her big eyes questioned before she pulled her arm free. "Mark ... I'm flattered but I know your type. Prince or not, it's not worth all the drama," she said and turned again. I was dumbstruck. "Are you seeing anyone?" I asked just as she reached the door. Hope looked over her shoulder. "No," she said and disappeared. I just stared at the door. So this was what rejection felt like.
"Wuh-ow, this night will not be soon forgotten. Can't wait to see what the media has to say about all this, tomorrow." I said and sat back in my chair next to Aqua. Sometimes, I wondered if I forgave too easily but Aqua seemed sincere enough when she apologized. I took a champagne glass filled with sparkling grape juice (allergic to alcohol). Aqua sighed. "You don't have to remind me," she said and pushed the hair back that hung into her face. I nodded absentmindedly and tilted the glass back against my lips, taking a long sip. "It was so stupid to play Mark like that. He's a great guy ... Not really my type though ... Hey, you know who's a total dish? Matthew."
I almost choked on my juice and carefully set the glass back on the table then looked at Aquamarine. I coughed in a failing attempt to get the juice out of my lungs. I patted my chest as I tried calming myself. I coughed a few more times then looked at her. Aqua's eyes widened excitedly. "I so knew it!" She said and moved up closer to me. "How long?" She asked. I laughed a little. "You almost killed me just so you could find out if there was something between me and Matthew!" I said and laughed again. I choked on my own laughter and went silent. "Matthew ... oh, crap. I completely forgot." I stood up. "I'm sorry, Aqua. I need to find Matthew," I said and walked off. I noticed Mark standing at the other side of the hall and hurried toward him.
"Mark." I touched his arm and he turned to look at me. "Do you have any idea where Matthew is?" I asked. He pulled up his shoulders. "Beats me. He walked out of the hall after I told him about you moving to Australia," he said. My eyes widened. "Mark, why would you tell him that?" I asked. "Because I thought he knew! You two are best friends so I assumed you told him," he said. I sighed and dropped my eyes to the floor. "But, are you still going?" Mark asked. I looked at him and pulled up my shoulders miserably. "I just need to find Matthew so I can set this right," I said. Realization clicked in my mind. "Wait, I know where he is," I said and tapped Mark's arm. I smiled at him. "Thanks Mark. Good job with maintaining the peace by the way." I said as I rushed off.
The second I stepped out of the hall, I kicked my shoes off and carried them along with me to the stables. As I walked to Autumn's stable, I prepared myself. The closer I came, the heavier the dread sunk in my chest. I walked slowly when I reached the final stall and saw Matthew sitting in the corner of the stable next to Autumn and Sid. His eyes were low and on his horse, but they looked miles away from here. Sid was warmly cuddled up next to his mother. The sight caused a painful twinge in my heart and I felt tears sting my eyes. I sighed and unlocked the latch on the gate. Matthew's head shot up and I locked the gate after I entered. "I knew I'd find you here," I said. He smiled sadly and I sat down right next to him, tucking my dress beneath me and putting my heels down next to me. An uncomfortable silence dawned and I nibbled on my lip as I felt the tension rising. I stared down at my hands in my lap. "How mad are you?" I asked carefully.
I couldn't find it in myself to look at him. Matthew remained silent for a few more seconds. I bit harder onto my lip. "So, you really are leaving?" He asked. I sighed. "I was going to tell you tonight ... Mark was there when I got the call from my father and that's how he knew." Matthew was silent. I hated the silence. "What do you want me to say, Matthew? My dad won custody," I said and still couldn't look at him. "That doesn't mean you need to leave ... Can't you stay with your mom?" He asked. "She's moving to New York," I said softly. More silence. I raised my eyes and looked at him through my lashes. He looked directly at me, looking helpless. My nerves were building as I waited for his response. Matthew finally put his arm around me and pulled me closer. I felt bittersweet pain ache in my chest. I put my head against his chest and felt him lower his chin onto my head. "Well, I guess that's it then. No more early morning archery, no horseback riding, no Ice Age marathons, no more pointless conversations ..." He trailed off. I closed my eyes.
"Matthew ..." I lifted my head from his chest and looked at him straight on. "I want to be with you," I said, my heart aching. His expression jumped as realization set in. He dropped his eyes. "And ... I'll be back by the end of next year." I said. His eyes lifted back to me, seeming to have more life than it had a few seconds ago. I smiled sadly and dropped my eyes. "My dad's relocation will only be for fifteen months ... I know using the word 'only' doesn't make it less long, but ... if you're willing-" I felt his lips on mine before I could finish. Quickly and lightly. I looked up at him as he pulled away. He wasn't smiling but something had brightened in him. He cupped the side of my face. "I'm willing to wait for you. I don't care how long, as long you'll come back." I had to bite my lip at his words. I smiled a little. "You're sure?" I didn't want him to put his life on hold for me if he wasn't 100% sure he could do it. Matthew smiled. "Hey, I've waited this long." He shrugged and I giggled. "Just don't forget that I'm waiting, okay," he said and ran his thumb over my cheek lightly. I smiled. "I won't. I promise."
I was still shaking even after Ethan and I were a good distance from my parents. Luckily, I was holding onto his arm for support. I noticed that we were heading to the center of the hall just as gentle violin music filled the room. The melody was familiar. I turned my attention toward the musicians. My cousin, Giselle, was playing, her eyes closed as she concentrated on the music. Eric was standing close by. I had to smile when I saw the look he was giving her. He was already infatuated and he knew it. Ethan stood still and I turned to look at him. His arms found my waist and I put mine over his shoulders, feeling small as I stared into his soft eyes.
"So ..." He said as we slowly swayed to the music. "You love me." It sounded more like a question than a statement. I swallowed hard. He smiled and I couldn't stop myself from returning the favor. I dropped my eyes shyly. "I can't believe you didn't know," I said quietly. I felt his forehead rest against mine but refused to look up yet. "You know, that pause you gave after your father asked you if you loved me, was the longest pause of my life." His voice was low, a tone that made the rest of the world fade away. "In those few seconds a million thoughts were running through my head, millions of possibilities. I was terrified that the time we spent apart had changed your feelings for me," he said and my heart leaped to my throat. I couldn't stop the smile from tugging gently at my cheek. I sighed, relaxing in his arms for a while, savoring the moment. I raised my eyes to his when Giselle stopped playing and we could move away from each other a bit. I looked at Ethan. He was still waiting for a reply.
I looked to the busy hall and realized we had more than a few eyes on us, mostly family members that believed, like my mother did, that I deserved better but they didn't understand. I felt sorry for them. I turned to Ethan and guided him to the balcony, away from the preying eyes. When we could finally be alone, I kissed him quickly and lightly. He still waited. I smiled a little. "You don't ever have to second guess my feelings for you. You are the best thing that could have ever happened to me," I said. Ethan smiled and held me by my waist. Putting his forehead against mine again, he whispered in a slow tone that sent shivers down my spine, "And you're the most beautiful thing in my life." I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. "And?" I teased. I wanted to hear him say it. Ethan held my gaze for a while. "And I love you ... more than I thought I could love a girl." My heart skipped a beat. I smiled and put my hands lightly to his chest, feeling his quick heartbeat through his suit.
"There he is." I pointed toward Eric sitting at a table that was empty other than him and ... was that Giselle? My jaw dropped in happy amazement at the way he was looking at her. "Who's that?" Shane asked. I laughed. "That's my cousin, Giselle. Ah, why didn't I think of that? Those two are perfect for each other," I said. I heard Shane smirk. Eric's gaze landed on us. He motioned that we should come closer. As we neared, he stood up and I knew this was to be a private, brother to brother conversation so I walked toward my cousin and left them to talk. I sat down on the chair Eric was sitting at and faced my smiling cousin. I hugged her. "Giselle," I said. She giggled. "Rose, you must be so relieved," she said when we looked at each other again.
I laughed and glanced at Shane. His eyes were on me. My heart skipped a beat. He smiled and turned back to his brother. "Oh, my word." I looked back at my cousin. She was still looking at Shane. I realized she was reading his lips. Giselle had lost her hearing ability when she was only a few months old. After she turned six, doctors regained it for her and she fell in love with music soon after. That's why Giselle had such a gentle nature. She appreciated the world and its beauty more than anyone I knew. I loved that about her. She looked at me and smiled gently. "He really loves you, Rose." She said. I dropped my eyes shyly. "What did he say?" I asked, curiously. I looked back at her. "He can see himself spending the rest of his life with you." My heart skipped a beat.
"I can tell, Eric really likes you too." I said. Giselle smiled. "I like him too. I didn't think I would but he gave my cousin the freedom she deserves so I decided to give him a chance. Turns out he's not that bad a guy," she said. I opened my mouth to clarify what I meant but thought better of it and laughed instead. She'd figure it out on her own eventually. "Do you want to go talk to them?" I asked. She nodded. I laughed again as we stood up. "I need to relax, I know," I heard Eric say as we approached. "Yes, you do." Shane said, his eyes falling on me. Eric turned when he realized we were standing behind him. Giselle giggled. I hooked her arm in for support. "Why do you need to relax?" She asked. I saw Eric shoot Shane a look for help and bit my lip to catch myself from laughing. They had been discussing Giselle. "He's had a long night, cross-examining him now wouldn't be nice, cousin."
Matthew and Chanelle joined the conversation. I couldn't stop the huge grin from appearing on my face when I saw how close they were. Anyone could see something had happened between the two of them. My eyes went to Shane and he nodded, smiling. "I guess everything turned out the way it was supposed to," I said and winked at Chanelle. She dropped her eyes sheepishly. "Pfft, for all of you, yes." I looked at Mark behind me and stood away a bit so he could join the conversation. I raised an eyebrow. "What happened?" Shane asked. "I just got rejected," Mark answered, his eyes low. A few seconds of silence fell in the group until Giselle burst out laughing which caused us all to laugh. Matthew patted Mark on the shoulder. "Well done Mark." He said sarcastically. "There's a first time for everything," I added between laughs. "Hey, come on, you guys, don't be mean," Giselle said but couldn't contain her laughter either. I let my eyes wander around the laughing group, letting my eye hold Shane's for a few seconds. Even Mark was laughing. I felt so full inside. So happy for the first time in months. So relieved. I didn't care what the weather was going to be tomorrow, everything was just perfect.
And thus, we have come to The End of one story I had such fun writing. I'm actually quite sad to let go of my characters ... Which is why I will (am busy) writing another story that follows this one with exactly the same characters used in this chapter. :D I'm not ready to leave Mark's story hanging like that so give me a few weeks and look out for a story with the word "Royally" in it.
Thanks to all my loyal readers that have stuck by me and my story.
*Cecilia: Their story also kind of continues in my next one.
*Anne: Haha. I'm so glad I could make you smile.
*Emma: Thank you, but it had to end sometime (feeling your pain).
*Mrblobby: Thank you.
*Mar: Haha. Thanks.
*BriBri: Here it is. You! I want you to be the first one to comment on my next story. Okay?
*Muskan: Haha. Can't get enough. I'm actually gonna miss this story.
*Sammer: Haha. Hope, I've pleased you again.
*Comfy: Thank you.