Updated: Mar 29
Cover Photo © Rosalie Thorne
Editor – Z. V. Ezell
By Rosalie Thorne
“Since the invention of the kiss, there have been five kisses rated the most passionate,
the most pure. This one left them all behind.”
- The Princess Bride
Arm and arm with Sophia, we leave the locker room in our freshly washed and oh-so-comfortable Victoria Secret sweats. The rain is pounding heavily against the non-denominational stained-glass windows above the bleachers, and we are fully prepared to lounge for the next forty-five minutes. Feet on the bottom step, however, and there’s a shrill whistle. Our eyes look over and my shoulders drop, a substitute. For some twisted reason, unlike a sub in any other class, a Physical Education sub actually wants us to do something in their allotted time. Sophia groans next to me but doesn’t give up hope by dragging us down to the lowest bench.
The elder man, a little too thin with huge glasses and crazy grey hair, waves for all over us to gather around. Most of us don’t, but we do quiet to listen. He accepts this with a sigh, “All righty, sixth period P.E.! Today we will not be able to continue your archery lesson’s given the weather. As I’m sure all over you are aware in just over a month is the Winter Formal, so, today I thought would be a perfect opportunity to learn the waltz!”
Head back, bottom of my thick, dark-chocolate braid tickling the edge of my perfectly tight Excelsior Academy gym shirt, I groan “Kill me, So-So.”
Sophia giggles and nudges me. “Oh, com’on then. You’ve been able to waltz since you were… what, six? This will be cake for you.”
Over my shoulder, my green eyes gaze at her in a familiar squint, “Horrible, dried-out, no icing, carrot cake, maybe.”
We stand and I try not to speak against the sexist rule of a male student must dance with a female student. I was hoping today might be one of those perfect days where there’s enough boys missing from class that Sophia and I can fuck around. But with one glance of the NBA regulation basketball court, I can tell it’s even-steven. By the time Sophia and I care to look around and find a partner, it’s a little too late. All the couples matched up instantly, the rest ended up with their accurate social group. Only two boys are left, Sophia’s and my third musketeer, Macen, and Christopher O’Crosphen.
Hand tight around Sophia’s wrist, nails slightly marking her pale skin, eyes wide, I whisper-screech “Sophia!”
She notices and shakes her head, her copper bob swishing quickly, hazel eyes looking sharply at me. “I got stuck with him in Physics! For the whole semester. It’s not my turn.”
She isn’t wrong. A low groan and I can’t even bring myself to look at Christopher. Macen holds a handout for her with a huge smile, “All ready, Freckles?”
They both shoot me a momentary glance of ‘I’m sorry’ before they move onto the floor. Standing tall, shoulders back, face forward, I hold out my right forearm. “Good afternoon, Christopher.”
In my peripheral his head nods slowly, his mess of black hair flittering down. His fingers reach to push back his bangs, and even in the Excelsior Academy gym shirt and spirit sweatpants, he looks like a damn hipster. “Princess.”
My left-hand fists and takes a while to ease. “It’s Lorianna,” I correct him again.
“My apologizes, Princess Lorianna.”
We turn to each other, we pose, I finally look at his stupid face. Too perfect, too symmetrical, or whatever mathematical bull shit that equates to beauty. Black hair, pale skin, icy blue eyes…. He should just run off already and be a model, not waste his time being an asshole at my school. “Christopher O’Crosphen, I don’t know how many times I have to,” I breathe instead of curse, “explain to you: just call me Lorianna.”
Music starts and we begin without hesitation. As a Prime Minister’s son, (a physical and sometimes social mini-me to his father) – his family being in politics all his life and very chummy with the English Royal Family - and me being Princess of Benovia (a tiny country that most haven’t heard of, right of Romania and just under the tip of the Ukraine, left of the Black Sea) – we spent many formal events waltzing, sometimes with each other.
Tall, thin but toned, he reminds me of most men I’ve met from the United Kingdom but that much prettier. And thanks to American orthodontia, another perfect smile. A whole head above my average-Benovian height of five-foot-four, I have to tilt my chin to keep eye contact.
Though we’ve been attending the same schools in Massachusetts since seventh grade, his London accent is still intact. “And how many times must I comment on how it bugs you so?” He smirks. “It’s the little things, Lorianna.”
As we spin, I look out to everyone else. Most of us have been taught to waltz given our family’s status or careers, but there are a few couples out there still a little awkward in their movements. “I can see a few lovely ladies that could have used your expertise today.” My eyes lazily come back to his. “Did you have your head too far,” up your ass, “in the clouds to snag one?”
One song eases into the next, much to my displeasure. If there was a break maybe I could shove another girl at him and be free of this bull shit. Though I think my face is placid, it must have given me away. Christopher responds calmly, “You dislike me that much, huh?”
I know better than to take the bait. “So… any idea why Coach Edwards isn’t here?”
“Well, hopefully, he’ll be back Monday.”
A small silence and then Christopher readjusts quickly. Back a little straighter, hand a little softer under mine, “Lorianna, there’s something I wanted to discuss with you.”
I let myself have a long blink, “If you ask me to join student government one more time, I swear I’m going to scream.”
“It’s not that,” he reassures quickly.
“Then what?” I snap a little too harshly, finally looking at him again.
Voice still quiet, still even, he doesn’t even smile, “Would you care to have dinner with me?”
My brows furrow, “I don’t have my phone on me, which gala is it now?”
His half-American side shows itself, expression blooming across his face. A small frown, red blushing from his ears to his nose, he gulps hard. “No gala… I’m, well, trying to ask you on a date.” The softness is gone just as quickly and his defensive smarminess back. “You have heard of a date, haven’t you? Where two people go out socially, dinner… maybe a movie.”
My eyes roll. “Usually those people like each other, Christopher.” Looking around the room I ask, “Someone put you up to this?”
“Why would I need someone to dare me to ask you out on a date, Little Lori?”
I push off of him and jam a finger into his chest. Scream-whispering, my rage boils over at him, “We are not some children playing tricks or stealing sweets at a gala anymore – you have no right to call me Little Lori! I’m just some ‘gypsy scum’, remember? Fuck. You.” And find Sophia and Macen just a few feet away and drag them to the weight room.
Eyes on the fabric in my shaking hands, I know my rage is making me bound for a needle prick. “I shouldn’t have offered to help with costuming since I need to study my lines.” Which isn’t at all true to what I want because my perfectionist itch would be going crazy if I wasn’t in charge of my own costume.
Macen sees right through my comment and snorts. “First off, if you didn’t handle your own costume, you’d make everyone so anxious they’d throw up. Second, it’s Romeo And Juliet again, you’ve been Juliet three times now. Do you really not know it by heart?”
“Middle school, having to read it in class, and that summer camp are nothing compared to what’s expected for a High School performance,” I bull shit.
He gives me a look and sighs. “Com’on, tell me what’s really got you all in a tizzy.”
I look to my Macen, my Mayday. Son of a theater starlet – both Broadway and the biggest stages in Europe – and a lawyer to the filthy rich and famous, Macen is one of the few outwardly gay kids who are accepted not just by their friends, society as a whole, but most importantly their family. Politics only an issue when it’s an issue for me or Sophia, he has so much freedom… to be who he wants, do what he wants, say what he wants, be friends with who he wants, and most importantly hate who he wants. The first friend I made in the States and yet there are just some things he can’t wrap his head around.
Easing back into the foot of the leather couch in the Drama room, I let the fabric of my costume fall to my lap. “It’s Christopher, again.”
He offers a crooked smile, “Well I knew that I was there in that gym, Lori. What was it this time?” His Swedish voice that he inherited from his mother is soft, comforting, coaxing me to admit more. “Was it something about your parents again or you?”
Closing my eyes, I can feel the displeasure in my face. Almost a snarl on my lips and I shake my head once. “He asked me out.”
My eyes peak open, over my nose to see a range of expressions across Macen’s face. A slightly confused look with a soft “Oh….” Then raised eyebrows and a side glance with “Oh.” Then wide brown eyes and staring at me, hand out, “Oh!” With his wide hand resting on my knee, he smiles to himself, “Well that makes sense,” and he taps my knee once then goes back to sewing his Mercutio costume.
“Makes sense?” I ask incredulously. “In what universe does that make sense?”
“Well…” he offers slowly, tossing his curly sandy bangs to the side. “You guys have a history. Albeit not a flawless one… but still, a history. Plus, you’re an excellent student, pretty popular, a beautiful dancer, you take after your mother in your writing ability… and, Lori, you’re an actual princess.” I open my mouth and he lifts a hand, “I know, I know… not a going-to-rule-your-country-one-day princess, but still.”
I focus intensely on stitching the shoulder puff of my sleeve. “And he is a half-witted, scruffy-looking, Nerf herder,” I mutter poisonously under my breath.
Macen barks with laughter and gestures enthusiastically. “See! How well did that turn out, huh?”
I roll my eyes, but my chest does ease, “At least I don’t have a brother to kiss.”
“A brother to kiss?” Sophia asks with a laugh, returning for the bathroom to plop down next us, her cheerleader skirt fanning out dramatically. “Talking about Star Wars again?”
“More or less,” answers Macen. “Less about Star Wars, more about the Christopher O’Crosphen asked-her-on-a-date thing.”
Sophia holds a glass Voss water bottle with one hand and digs around her violet leather Dooney & Bourke Hobo bag for a Crystal Light packet with the other. “Oh, that.”
“Locker room?” he looks to me.
I nod, “Locker room.”
The water turns pink, and she tightens the lid to shake. “So, what are you going to say?”
Off-guard, I cough a little. “Say? Really… is that even a question here? Of course, I’m going to say ‘no’. I’m pretty sure the ‘fuck you’ was clear enough as is.”
Sophia and Macen share a look. A look that expresses they’ve been talking about something for a while now. A look that expresses it’s time for a sort of intervention, like when I needed to stop using so many emoji’s.
“I know he’s like enemy number one when it comes to you,” Sophia takes a huge swig of water. “But he’s not that bad.”
Turning to Macen I make a face, “And you agree? You two think it would be wise for me to go to dinner with him?”
Raised eyebrows, nibbling on his cheek, he shrugs without looking up from threading his needle. “There are a lot of boys in this school I will gladly punch in the face if they even look at you or Sophia the wrong way. He is not one of those people. He’s actually… decent. Really, Lori, what would be the harm? You don’t have a good time… well, then, you’ll both know it and you’ll go back to being enemies or whatever.”
Sophia reaches out to me, palm up. “Seriously… the worst the can happen is you have a good time…. And really, is that so bad? Before the… incident you guys had a lot of fun together, right? He’s had to have grown up in three years… it’s not fair to pass judgment on him for something that happened when he was fourteen.”
“We were all moderately stupid in eighth grade,” Macen agrees.
Two trains of thoughts happen simultaneously: one, maybe if I did suffer through a few hours with him maybe he would leave me alone after that, or hell, I could buck up and actually talk to him about what’s wrong and then he’ll be forced to leave me alone; two, it had been a long time since he insulted me so harshly… I thought back to eighth grade, to my twelve-year-old self and all the silly and not-so-silly mistakes I made. In addition to that, the fact that my two best friends in the whole world are trying to get me to make peace meant more to me than how much I might actually hate Christopher O’Crosphen.
Eying all the shiny black town cars and limos in the carpool lane, I wonder if Mama would be pulling up with a honk and trying to wave through the passenger window or if a car would come to a slow stop and only when Sanders comes around the front to open the back door would I know it’s my ride. Twisting my phone in my hand, sliding it forward under my thumb with a flick of my wrist, I think how counter-productive it is that we all have black cars waiting for us. Only a few dozen of kids have their own cars, even less walk home, and there’s maybe three fancy vans in the place of normal school’s busses.
Blobs of uniforms pass me, my eyes becoming more and more unfocused with every turn of my phone. Even though Macen lives two blocks away in one direction and Sophia three blocks away in the other, we never seem to manage having rides home together. Macen with Thespian Club, Sophia with cheerleading practice… they tried to talk me into both activities – or any activity – but why in the world would I stay at school longer than I have to?
A blur of a tall uniform comes next to me; the boy’s rolled up white sleeves brushing my arm as he folds the school jacket over his messenger bag. I don’t have to flick my eyes to far his direction to know it’s Christopher O’Crosphen. Maybe cheerleading wouldn’t be so bad? Thespian Club would probably help me with Drama?
“How’s Drama? Have rehearsals started for the Autumn play?”
Too tired to put up a fight, too tired to unsheathe my usual snark, Sophia’s and Macen’s comments buzzing in my brain, I glance over at him. His usually perfect tie is loosened, the unbuttoning process started, his thumb and index adjust his thick black rectangle frames. I exhale softly, “It’s going great actually. I offered to help with costuming, sewing my own…. The sets are being finished by Thespian Club tonight, I think. A couple of evenings next week we’ll go through it with all we’ve been practicing, then we’re into dress rehearsal. With it being such a well-known play there hasn’t been much for us to worry about.”
Nodding slowly there’s a faint smile. “I can imagine.” Bobbing my head a little, I glance back at the carpool. Christopher doesn’t take the hint and continues to say “Do you think you’ll be auditioning for the Spring musical? I think it’s been announced to be Grease next year.”
I burst with laughter and shake my head quickly. “Oh man, can you imagine? Me as Sandra D? I know Papa says I have an ear for language and all that but singing… that’s quite different, isn’t it? I don’t know that I can sing in American.”
Christopher smiles and shifts his hips to face me better. “Hmm… maybe you’ve got a point. I’ve noticed when you get passionate about things, especially when you get angry about things, that Benovia accent comes out full force."
I smirk. “You would know since you’re the one who gets that side of me the most.”
“Which would bring us back full circle…. I am aware it’s a bit of an extreme, but I think a date would be a productive way to bury the hatchet.”
Hand to my face, middle finger pad getting non-existence gunk out of my eye, I can feel the ball of lead drop in my stomach. Granted, a much smaller ball than usually – maybe a golf ball instead of a tennis ball – but still… heavy, hot, and making me nauseous. “Dinner, right?”
“Or a movie… or both, tomorrow night?”
Sanders calls my name, and I don’t even look back to Christopher. “All right.”
“‘All right’? As in ‘yes’?” he calls after me.
Phone in hand, I shake it. “Bye O’Crosphen.”
“Mama! I’m home!”
“Lorianna! Anna!” she calls from the back.
Door locked, boots off, I make my way down the little hall in the center of the townhouse. Coming into the kitchen via the eat-in nook, I drop my bag into the cushioned bench of the bay window. Standing taller than me with wide shoulders and a sturdy build, creamy brown hair as unruly curly as mine, chocolate eyes, even though she’s just over forty she looks to be my sister. Wiping her hands on a fluffy kitchen handtowel, she smiles. “How was your day, iubit?”
I come over to kiss her cheek, “Well enough, Mama. I almost have my Juliet costume finished!” Scooting around her I go for a glass then to grab the apple juice from the fridge. “And what about yourself? Any luck finishing that chapter today?”
“Indeed! I was able to wrap that one up and start the next. I’m so close to finishing this installment….”
“You’re six months ahead of schedule,” I comment proudly.
She goes back to stirring the simmering pot on the stove. “What can I say? These characters are just so fun!”
There’s a lull and I fill my glass again. Easing around the table, next to my book bag, I breathe deeply. I notice Mama’s eyes come to my face thoughtfully, then she ever so nonchalantly says, “So… I had a call from Charlotte before you arrived.”
Hoping it has absolutely nothing to do with Christopher, I calmly ask “And what did Charlotte O’Crosphen have to say this time? Was it about this novel or is there another gala she insists we come?”
Studying me, Mama holds the wooden spoon still in her sauce. There’s laughter in her voice when she replies, “Really Anna? Are you going to make me wait until tomorrow night when your social media blows up about the date you have with Christopher?”
I slump against the bench’s back cushion, “Seriously, Mama, it’s nothing.”
“Nothing? A date with a boy is not nothing. Especially since it’s been over a year since you’ve had a date at all. And a date with a boy you used to be friends with… that is a big something, I’d say.”
Pointing a finger, I emphasized “‘Used to’. Used to be friends with.”
She rolls her eyes with a smile and goes back to cooking dinner, “Really, Anna, Charlotte and I don’t understand why you two stopped being such good friends. She had to overhear Christopher telling Jameson that he quote – finally – has a date with you. You know as well as I do that one of the reasons we settled on Massachusetts was because of the O’Crosphens. You two used to be inseparable….”
Her glance is soft, her eyebrows lifted ever so slightly. It’s the same look she’s given me since I declared he was no longer my friend those years ago… the same look that asks ‘why don’t you just explain why’ but never works. Her blood is the Romani blood and if she found out the son of her best friend called me a ‘gypsy scum’? She’d be absolutely crushed. Momentarily giving up, she turns back to the food, “Nicolae is rather pleased with this change. He said it’s good to let the past go and move forward….”
Pursing my lips a little I start pulling out homework. “Now, is that King Papa, Prime Minister Papa, or father Papa?”
A pet peeve of hers, she throws a look, “Does it matter?”
Pulling up my legs and crossing them, I tuck my feet against my thighs. “No, Mama, of course not. It was just a joke…” I add for safety.
“Your Papa may wear many hats when it comes to work or even this family, but that doesn’t ever mean he doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Now,” she slides a small plate of papanasi in front of me, “eat your snack and finish your homework for tonight. As for tomorrow, I’m sure your better halves will want to come over to do whatever it is teenagers do to prepare for a date. Text them that I’ll have their favorite, salata de boeuf, ready for them for lunch.”
Her soft hand brushes down the length of my braid and her lips pressing against the top of my head. “Iubit, it is perfectly possible to forgive someone without forgetting what they’ve done. You both were children, Anna… you still are – you both have plenty of room to grow. He’d not a bad seed, I promise.”
I simply nod, knowing that arguing more would mean I’d have to explain what actually happened. And not just that he called me such a derogatory name but what it was in response to and that he’s also never apologized. It isn’t worth it. Not then, not now…. Rest of Junior year, Senior year, then Christopher and I will probably only have to ever see each other a galas and the like… places where it’s easy to be civil and spend those few hours with a room of distance between us.
Balcony doors open slightly with the screen closed, Autumn Yankee Candle and White Barn candles burning, string lights aglow around the edges of my room, me and my headboard illuminated by my laptop. Thespian Club ran late and then into a Drama-kid-centric party at Macen’s, which Sophia and are invited to of course. But Sophia’s parents were at some fancy dinner and the babysitter called sick and I honestly am having a hard time wrapping my head around the semi-decent exchange with Christopher. Though, more importantly, any thoughts that are logic-based seem to have fuzzy edges because how the fucking Hell – why the fucking Hell do I have a date with him tomorrow?
And think of the Devil….
So about tomorrow….
Lord, let him be having cold feet.
Does a dinner and a movie sound doable?
Which ones were you thinking?
If he gives me an example, I can totally shoot them down.
The Hate U Give followed by Luca’s?
A movie I haven’t seen and didn’t particularly want to see.
But I could write a commentary piece about it in the school newsletter.
There’s a showing at 5:30,
9:15 if we want to do dinner before.
Luca’s is way too… romantic for dinner though.
Not really feeling Italian.
As you wish.
He must be desperate to quote my favorite movie of all time.
It makes my stomach unknot a little.
5:30 then Amelia’s
I’ll pick you up.
Not a question.
Phone face down on my sider table I open the drawer with a shaking hand and dig around for my anti-anxiety meds. Shouldn’t that mean something? That he makes me so freaked I need medication? How is this possibly a good idea? A healthy idea? My best friends on the same frequency start blowing up the group chat.
Mayday: How’s it hangin’ my chickadees?
You guys are missing the best party.
So-So: Random show-tunes, costumes, and drinking?
I’m actually having some fun with Ry-guy
He thinks he can beat me in HP Trivial Pursuit.
M: Poor guy… won’t know what hit him.
Putting the little pill down, I smile at my phone.
Night was going well until Christopher texted
About, you know…
The whole DATE-thing
M: Dude he’s nervous AF
S: What he said.
All the girls were talking about it at practice.
What does he have to be nervous for?
And I don’t get that…
He asked me!
S: He’s a guy?
M: What she said.
For real though…
I guess he’s been mad crushing on you for a while now.
Chest anchored to my bed, everything around me gets wobbly.
Not exactly the room is spinning, but it’s definitely doing some sort of jig.
Verbally whining like I’m five, I sit up and type quickly:
I’m just so confused.
S: Sad confused?
M: Happy confused?
S: Mad confused?
I don’t know
I’m mad at him.
But I’ve been using my anger as a defense, I guess.
My therapist says it’s ‘easier to be mad than sad’
And I’ve spent so long just being mad.
And now I’m getting sad?
S: You and Macen could come over here?
M: Do you want me to come over?
The two texts were sent within the same minute.
It made me smile softly and ease back into my pillows.
Just come over tomorrow?
Mama said she’ll have your favorite ready for lunch.
There’s a pause and even though I’m afraid of the answer I ask:
Has my not-so-cut-and-dry
Emotional bull shit
With Christopher been that obvious?
M: It’s a thin line between like/dislike
S: What he said.
How you are with him is different than…
Like, remember Joan Striteford?
M: No if’s and’s or but’s
She deserved it, of course, but yeah…
This HAS been different.
I can’t type back right away… since I’m not really sure what to say.
I’m not really sure what to do.
I’m not really sure what I feel.
The fact is: Christopher left me alone. After years of being attached at the hip, he fed into my worst fear. I think maybe that’s why I latched on to Macen so hard. And why Macen felt the need to introduce me to Sophia. They are my everything.
It really is easier to be mad than sad….
“Son of a Swedish actress and an American lawyer, daughter of Gaelic professor and Governor of Massachusetts, and daughter of the Benovian Royal family enter a mall in Boston….” Macen teases, glancing behind at our security detail.
“We’re just a mixing-pot of the most awesome,” I smile.
Sophia laughs, “Just like your mom’s food! So good… I could eat at your house every day.”
“Your mom is multi-talented,” Macen nods, leading our linked arms towards Viola Lovely. “I’m very excited for her next book; I need to know what happens to Markesh and Soretta!”
My nose scrunches, “Still cannot believe you read my mother’s romance novels.”
“They’re not bad,” Sophia offers as we unlink to enter the store.
My bodyguard, Ivan, holds the door open for us and comes in with Sophia’s bodyguard, David, behind us. I glance between my best friends before getting into shopping mode. “Oh, no, don’t get me wrong – my mom is an amazing writer, I just… can’t stand reading the adult-romance part of her work. I mean, it’s my Mama…,” I shiver and make a face. “And it doesn’t help that the main heroine looks like me.”
Macen stifles a laugh, “Oh yes, because a Romani princess in love with a werewolf is so very much like you.”
“Oh, and don’t forget how her brother got turned into a vampire,” Sophia laughs by a monochromatic rack of blue items.
Fingering through a rack of grey, eyeing the rack of purple just beyond it, I change the subject to what’s really on my mind, “Did we really need to go all-out for my date with Christopher? It’s just Christopher….”
“If this was any other boy we would have been here at opening, gotten lunch at Luca’s, you probably would have wanted a blowout so your hair was more tame, and then we’d be back at your place for a eighties worthy montage for a couple of hours. Meaning, this isn’t even all out…. I know it’s ‘just Christopher’ but we should at least have a little fun, yeah?” Macen holds up a mint turtleneck that looks to be woven out of wool.
I shake my head, “It’s been raining.” Moving to the purple rack, my fingers go straight for the lavender.
With having to wear the school uniform morning to evening, Monday through Friday, and then black-tie gowns for events, I’m left with little time to actually wear what I want. Contrast to my center-stage, Leo personality, I preferred to have a wardrobe that consisted of whites, greys, blacks, then soft pastels like lavender or lilacs, baby blues, and pinks (often using the hashtag #PastelPrincess and #PastelGoth on my Instagram and YouTube). Mama always voices that wearing bolder colors would complement my naturally tanner skin, but it makes me feel heavy.
Finding a cotton blouse marked for maternity, its flowiness made me think of a painter’s smock. I hold it up, “What about this? Over the grey jeans with black ties?”
Holding the shirt to my torso, Macen stands with his head slightly tilted and one fist under an elbow. “Hair down with a side part, pearl earrings, black Fossil purse, white marble ankle boots,” Macen nods.
Sophia comes to his side, “Are you sure so casual though?”
“Casual can be chic… anyway, he and I texted last night, remember? I didn’t want there to be a huge fuss over this, so we agreed on The Hate U Give at five-thirty and Amelia’s after.”
“Topical then a French bistro, I dig it. Did the thought of paparazzi help guide your decision?”
I rolled my eyes. “No.” But then my heart skipped, and I looked up from the grey peacoat I’d been eying. “Should it?” I look to Ivan, “Is that something I should be worried about, again?”
With the popularity of the social media outlets I control – private Facebook, unpersonal Tumblr, superficial YouTube, and a regularly updated Instagram – the paparazzi hadn’t been something I’d have to worry about since my last boyfriend over a year ago. Of course, there are photographers at gala’s and other high society events I’ve had to attend, but the low-brow shutter rats hadn’t been following me in quite some time. Suddenly feeling the same panic spread through me like when the assholes photographed my breakup with Trenton, I pick up the peacoat and not so subtly rush to the dressing rooms.
Ivan is in step with me and lowers his head to my ear, “Do you need anything?”
Shaking my head, I palmed the doorknob. “Let Macen and Sophia in, would you?”
The dressing room was spacious enough for all three of us, reminding me of the bridal sweet Sophia’s cousin had trying on gowns at Kleinfeld. The two other peas of my pod are used to joining me while I change and are used to calming down my anxiety. The door opens quietly, shuts softly, Ivan and David’s low voices bouncing back and forth beyond the wall.
“I didn’t mean to stress you out, Lori,” Macen grips me tight against his chest. “That is literally the exact opposite of what I try to do.”
The pressure helps, my chest starting to ease, my heart slowing. “I know.” He lets go slowly and joins Sophia on the velvet sofa. “Sometimes I think things have been too quiet, you know? Like… tabloid or even valid news-wise, we haven’t been a focus in some time.
There’s bound to be some scandal or other nonsense soon, right? Statistically?”
Sophia shrugs. “Your mom gets focus about her writing and there are factual pieces about your dad all the time. Then with the steady stream of stuff you release… I don’t know, I think your whole family does a good job of giving just enough to keep the wolves at bay.”
“And, anyway, he’s the son of the English Prime Minister… anyone that would be interested in him would be in England, right?”
New shirt over my shoulders, I look in the full-length mirror as I button all the little pearly buttons except the very top. “Right…. You’re right. It’s just a movie, just a meal.... People from our school hang out all the time. There’s nothing to worry about.” I turn back to them with hands out, “And this shirt is super soft and perfect and with my black peacoat, I’ll be all set.”
Lounging in the sitting room by the front door waiting for Christopher, I idly clean out the storage on my phone.
I’d successfully checked in on Facebook with Macen and Sophia at Luca’s for lunch, done an ‘unboxing video’ with Macen and Sophia of all our shopping today when we got back, I’d posted and re-blogged a few pictures to my Tumblr, and steadily updated my Instagram throughout the day.
Facebook I use to connect with family and friends, Tumblr is sort of an extension of my room – my happy place, YouTube is there to jump ahead of any questions I might get from the public, but my Instagram is actually something I enjoy thoughtfully updating. With my #SelfieADayChallenge, daily pictures of my beautiful husky Anastasia, #Foodstagram, #CurrentlyReading updates, and artsy snapshots given how fantastic the camera is on my Android phone, I like being able to have my whole life come down to beautiful, well selected, and simply organized photos.
Just as I empty my photo’s trash, there is a buzz from the speaker that connects to the gate below. Ivan answers it before Mama could and the familiar voice of Christopher’s bodyguard, Noah, floats into the hallway. Lifting, I dawn my peacoat, double-check my pant legs are tucked into my boots and drape my purse in the nook of my elbow. I take one last selfie in the perfectly filtered light from the front window and head to the door. After kissing Mama on the cheek, I follow Ivan down the curling stairs into the small yard. Noah is standing with Christopher, who is holding a small bouquet of inima mov (the national flower of Benovia, the soft purple crocus banaticus). A little caught off guard, I smile sincerely down at my favorite flower.
Soft petals between my thumb and index, my eyes reach his, “Thank you.”
“Your father said it would be all right if I bring you a few from the Embassy,” he comments softly while holding the gate open for me.
Memories of Christopher’s thoughtfulness and knack for remembering the little details that make me-me flood the front of my mind. If I actually let myself, time spent with Christopher reminds me why we were so easily friends. And tonight, I have promised the besties to keep my claws at bay, so I thank him again when he holds the door of his town car open. My eyes watch Noah slide into the driver’s seat after Ivan is in the front passenger. Before I have time to reject, the privacy glass goes up.
Slowly inhaling, expanding my lungs as far as they could go, I ease my breath out very slowly. Reminding myself I can tell Ivan I need to go at any time, plus I have my prescribed Clonazepam with me, I am okay… no matter what, I am okay – this will be just fine.
There’s an open-ended, “So….” from Christopher.
I glance sideways at him, “Mmm?”
“I’m not sure if I should bring this up now or later but -”
“What?” I ask sadly.
His gaze is heavy, eyelids low, brows knotted. “I’m sorry.”
Purposefully, I don’t respond. He needs to find his way out of this. I try and give him a ‘go ahead, it’s okay’ look but I have no idea if I’m successful.
“It was never okay for me to call you that name. I was beyond stupid then and beyond stupid for not bringing it up since. I could easily try and blame this on my brother or my friends at that time, but I knew better – I know better. And having that be the response to… I mean,” he shoves a hand through his hair and clears his throat. “I was scared; scared and stupid and I’m sorry.”
Tickled nose and watery eyes I readjust the rose-gold band of my Fitbit. “It’s not so much the name, Christopher. The ‘gypsy’ part, anyway. You’d be surprised – in the USA, at least, a lot of people romanticize that term… they don’t even realize it’s bad. Mama doesn’t even get mad when people use it about her characters, she just politely corrects them.”
I wave a hand, trying to riel my thoughts back in. “It’s the when… the when and in response to… that, well, devastated me.” My eyes finally meet his, my heart pounding so hard it shakes my chest. “We had kissed. The week before, at that party, remember? We had kissed. We had been holding hands. And then, I… rather bravely asked at that art show your dad dragged us to, asked you if we were dating and that’s when you said it. That we were having ‘fun and all’ but you ‘couldn’t be seen romantically involved with gypsy scum’.
“You were ashamed of me. Of me, of my family, of where I come from. Don’t you get that? That’s why. You destroyed our friendship and whatever else it could be without even blinking. And now, out of fucking nowhere, you’re trying to have a go at me again. Why?”
Jaw tightening, I try to keep my voice low, though practically growling “Why now? Because I’ve published? Because I’m beautiful? Because I rival you with my GPA? Is it my acting? My dancing? What is it that makes me so desirable, Christopher Gordon O’Crosphen? What of my attributes is so wonderful it outweighs my heritage?”
In his silence, I unbuckle my seatbelt to reach forward and knock on the privacy glass. His hand his light around my forearm before my knuckles can tap it. I turn back to him and snap, “What?”
His exhale quakes. “All of it. Your passion, your strength, and your heritage… you are so undeniably you.” I lower my hand but keep on the edge of my seat. His eyes search my face with urgency. “I know I fucked up. Royally fucked up. I know it will take you time to forgive me, but please, Lori. Please forgive me.”
I think of what Papa said to Mama, about moving forward. I think of what Mama said, about not forgetting but forgiving. Am I really such a stone-cold person? Am I really such a bitch that I would hold this poison in my heart forever? Slowly but unsurely, I lean back into my seat. I don’t want to hate… I pride myself in being selfless, pride myself in being loving and understanding… feeling too passionately sometimes, sure, but having a warm heart, a kind soul.
Blinking back tears, I shake my head. “I swear to God, Christopher… if you hurt me, even unintentionally, I will happily let Ivan kill you.”
I look down to see his hand on the middle seat, palm up. His voice thick, there’s a hint of laughter when he says, “I accept those terms.” Moving the flowers to my lap, I ease my hand into his, our fingers lacing comfortably. He lets out a soft sigh and an even quieter, “I missed you, Little Lori.”
Unable to bring myself to look at him again, my eyes turn to the window. I can’t bear to think of what will happen when this falls apart. Being abandoned a second time… will Macen and Sophia be enough? I squeeze my dates hand because I’m scared rather than trying to be affectionate. “I’ve missed you, too, Chris-Cross… I’ve missed you, too.”
Heading to our theater in the back of the huge AMC, I hold my Freestyle raspberry Sprite with one hand and box of Bunch-A-Crunch in the other, “You sure you want to see Crazy Rich Asians instead of The Hate U Give?”
Chris nods with a smile, our large extra-butter popcorn to share against his chest. “I think a comedy would be just our speed.”
I smirk and cock a brow, “A romantic comedy?”
His shoulders wiggle in a mini shrug as he leans back against the theater door to open it, “This is a date, isn’t it?”
Instead of looking at him with reproach, thinking how he didn’t deserve his handsome features, I feel those same little butterflies I did in seventh grade. It really is easy to like him, even after all these years now that his presence doesn’t make my skin crawl. With shared memories, inside jokes, the same general likes in movies and literature, we’re similar enough to be compatible romantically without being exactly the same people.
It is nice, as well, to have someone by my side who understands the ever-existence of Ivan and making sure not to do anything unseemly in public. To be polite, to smile, to use petty cash instead of big bills or cards, to be patient and kind, and never demand or expect special treatment. Unlike quite a few of our classmates, we use a town car that is parked in a garage instead of a limo dropped off at a valet.
Whether it’s the respectable Englishman in him or the American side that values the earned dollar, it’s a relief to be on a date with someone who understands. Understands I rather dress comfortably and see a movie and go to a decently priced place for dinner rather than arguing we should dress up, go somewhere too nice, and call the paparazzi on ourselves. It is also surprisingly easy to bitch and complain and laugh at stories about our former dates or significant others or friends who do all the money-means-nothing nonsense. A lot of time has passed since the beginning of eighth grade and there’s a lot for us to catch up on.
Cozy in our seats, it’s easy to forget that Ivan and Noah are two rows behind us. It’s also easy to get very comfortable because there’s almost no one in this theater given the movie being about two months old (a tricked we both learned in the trial-by-error dating adventure of being a teen like us in Massachusetts). Armrest up between us, I slide over so it feels like we’re sitting on a couch. I also wiggle myself down, resting my boots against the bar ahead of us.
Just before turning off my phone, I stare at my Facebook feed, the ‘What’s on your mind?’ taunting me. Before I can second guess myself, I click it, click for my used-often emoji’s, add a purple heart to the white space, tag Chris, check-in at the AMC, and add the activity of watching Crazy Rich Asians. I had already added a photo of my flowers, our clasped hands in the car, our tickets with the out-of-focus background of treats to my Instagram but very specifically didn’t tag Chris in it…. Now though, now seemed a good time to let the cat out of the bag and let the notifications explode while our phones were off. Looking up into the previews, I ease into my seat and let the anticipation of what will be said go. That’s chaos for future me to handle.
“Oh. My. God. My phone has been buzzing for what, three minutes now?”
Chris chuckles as he throws all our movie-theater trash away. “That’s what you get for having the entire school roster on your friends list.”
I look at him before entering the women’s restroom. “Just you wait until you turn your phone on,” and I can’t stop myself from laughing as I hear him groan, “You tagged me, didn’t you?”
After washing my hands and freshening my makeup, I pull out my roller baller of rose and vanilla perfume and apply it strategically. I was careful not to spill anything on my shirt and hope I’m lucky enough to get through dinner without my clumsiness coming back with a vengeance. Out of the bathroom, I take my black peacoat from Ivan, and we head down the long hallway to the escalator.
Shaking his head, Chris is still thumbing through his phone. “Lord have mercy, Lori.”
I double-check he’s smiling. I nudge his arm, “Com’on then, what did you except?”
His smile is so wide I can see the ghost of the dimples he had when he was younger. “Well, I think it’s only fair we take a selfie together, hm?” and he tucks his arm around my waist, pulling me under an angled light of a movie poster.
The first one is perfect, a rare feat, and I send it to him before posting to both my Instagram and Facebook. Editing it slowly I follow him over to the escalator. He turns to look up at me, his eyes passionate behind his thick-framed glasses, “You know, we’re breaching into, like, official-couple territory.”
I make a face down at him but giggle, “I haven’t changed my relationship Facebook status yet, have I?”
At the bottom, his offers his hand, which I take, and we walk towards the exit into the parking garage. “Still hungry for Amelia’s?”
I nod. “Are you?”
“‘That’s my secret, Cap, I’m always’ hungry.”
A squeeze of his hand and I smile, “You’re such a dork.”
Parking garages seem to always be empty of people which automatically makes them creepy. Stepping closer to Chris, I look to Ivan on my left, anxiety rising just a little. Maybe it’s my social status, maybe it’s my family’s wealth, maybe it’s my age… but most definitely because of my gender that makes me automatically uncomfortable in places known for horrible situations. Quick to get into the car, I see Ivan stand outside of the door until Noah is in the driver’s seat and Chris has closed the door. I lock my door manually and tug my coat sleeves into my fist. I see Ivan nod at me from the passenger seat and I smile softly at him.
“You all right?” Chris asks softly after the privacy glass is raised.
I pull out my phone and think to respond to the three musketeer’s group chat. “Yeah… yeah, I’m fine.”
Even though the car is moving, Chris moves into the middle seat and drapes his arm over my shoulders. “It’s Sophia… isn’t it? Is she… ah, all right?”
God, did everyone know? Of course… daughter of a Governor raped…. I sigh and close my eyes tight. “She has David. She has David and me… me with Ivan. It was hard getting her out of the house those first few months, not that I pushed her at all.
“But I think so… not that she’s over it – I don’t think that’s something anyone can get over. But she’s… she’s passed it, I think. She started dating again about two months ago and Eric is really nice. Patient, kind, really respectful… she’s able to talk to him the way she talks to me so….” But I don’t have much else to add.
“My aunt tried to call her parents after it happened… to offer her services. I don’t know if she ever took her up on it?” his statement coming out more a question.
“She’s a wonderful therapist,” I reply indirectly.
“I’m sure you’ve been the most help.”
I finish out a text asking if they want to come over after dinner, “I hope so. I’ve never been through anything like that… but I tried. I keep sort of being that voice of reason, that it’s something that happened to her… not who she is. And when she was talking about quitting cheerleading, I was the first to argue back.”
A quietness spreads, only the sounds of the car passing us. Watching the streetlights flick by the window, I lean into Chris a little more. There are a lot of ugly things in this world, and it’s been my fight to see the good. The good in people, in things, in actions, in… everything.
The good in myself, too – holding on to that more than anything… let myself like myself, love myself, celebrate myself. I try and rally behind myself just as much as I do Sophia and Macen… just as much as Mama or Papa. And now, after having talked things out with Chris… after letting myself relax, have some perspective, and spend time with him one-on-one I realize he’s someone that not only I can easily rally behind, but he’s someone who will be there for me as well. He’s a good one to have in my corner and though it’ll still take some time for the transformation between us to happen in its entirety, I’m ready to make the commitment.
In the back corner of the crowded French café, I’m glad Ivan and Noah are able to sit at the bar next to the door instead of right on top of us. I’m also glad that my favorite table was open and we’re literally the farthest table away from the window walls that face the busy streets of downtown Leomrock. It may not be as big as Boston, which is just a short train ride away, but on Saturday nights it sure feels like it. And, if there were going to be any paparazzi, those window walls are the worst.
Explaining this to Chris, I softly break the half-baguette apart. Finishing the story with a hint of laughter, I continue, “… I ended up having to avoid this place for months – even after the break-up, it was terrible.”
Sipping at his berry tea, he nods. “Trenton is an attention… seeker,” he catches himself from cursing, “always has been, always will be, I’m afraid.”
I eye my menu though I know exactly what I want to get. “Same with Gabriella?” I verbally jab at him.
He snorts, “She is the worst!”
My smile expands into a giggle, “And yet you were with her for what… six months?”
“Seven,” Chris groans.
“Why though? The word of you complaining and feeling… well, awful with her started floating around school around month three. Why another four months?”
A huge smile cracks across his face, rolling laughter follows. “She was an amazing baker. I gained close to fifteen pounds when I was with her – even with my phys. ed., soccer, and swimming. Her raspberry cheesecake was to die for – that’s the one that Gordon Ramsey complimented - and my goodness, do you know what a blondie is? She’d make those with pecans and this sort of maple whip cream… it was worth it.”
His smile fades and little, his eyes lowering back to the menu. “Up until I realized she was using me to get not only a cookbook deal through my mum’s company but also enough publicity to open a bakery.”
A vague memory tickled the back of my mind, “And then it was her birthday?”
His lips go thin, and he nods. “Mmm. Father specifically instructed me that I wait another three weeks after her birthday before ending the relationship.”
He adjusts his glasses again and folds the menu. “Ready to order?”
I nod with a smile, slipping my menu over his. “Of course. I always get the same thing,” I laugh softly. “Escargot to start then the filet over mushroom risotto and macaroons for desert.”
His smile is soft, his eyes content on my face. “I was thinking just the same… hmm. Maybe I should get the seafood bisque in the bread-bowl instead?”
“I’ve heard that’s good. We could always share if you want….”
Chris’s smile widens. “Remember all the times we’d get a plate of everything and just work our way through it?”
Smiling into my cup of tea I let off a soft hum. “Are you going to the dinner on Halloween? The Boston’s Children Museum is doing a Not-So-Scary Halloween thing....”
He paused before answering, giving his order to the waitress. I give mine and when she’s a comfortable enough distance away, he replies “Mum brought that up last night, actually. I think more of a way to figure out if I had plans for that night or not…. Toby and Parker and Cynthia want to ‘make an appearance’ at a handful of parties but I hate that.”
His fingers move up and down his glass dripping in condensation. “Party hoping is just so boring and takes forever. It feels like the whole night is just about getting to the places, finding the hosts, getting pictures to prove we were there… not actually about enjoying ourselves. So maybe… claiming it’s a function I have to go is an excuse I’m not afraid to use.”
I snort. “Macen and Sophia just love when I do that.”
“Right? What about you though… are you actually going or are you doing something with them?”
Eating through another half-baguette, my shoulders lift softly before I lean back into the cushioned seat. “Macen has Rocky Horror, Sophia’s taking her little brother trick-or-treating…. I was thinking about the thing in Boston. It’s not black-tie ‘cause they want everyone in costumes, so that actually seems tempting.”
An eyebrow cocks, “Costumes? Oh, now that does sound fun. Costumes, good food, and I’m sure instead of common Halloween candy they’ll have all those fancy chocolates and dipped fruits like last year at Peabody Essex.”
“Did you try those chocolate shells? Holy crap those were good!”
“In the coastal exhibit? Oh yes. Mum tried to figure out who the baker was for the event but apparently, those were imported.”
I feel his leg brush against mine as he readjusts in his chair. “Do you want to go then? Together?”
My cheeks grow warm, and I get rather fixated on pouring another cup of tea and adding a stupid amount of sugar to it. “Mmm. Couples costume or…?” Knowing I already have my Sarah Sanderson cosplay all set but there’s no mate for her.
The look is playful but cautious. “I have a Zorro costume that could totally work for Westley.”
A smile and squint as I lean my forearms on the table. “You totally creeped on me, didn’t you? I wore my red Buttercup cosplay to that end-of-the-year costume party last Spring.”
“You have every Buttercup cosplay there is, just as you have every original trilogy Princess Leia costume there is, just as I have every Han Solo outfit and a plethora of Spider-Man suits.”
“And I suppose Han and Leia would be your second suggestion and then… mmm, let me guess, Spider-Man and Marry Jane seeing as they’re officially married in the U.K. based Spectacular Spider-Man comic in two-thousand-eight?”
After our plates have landed and we’ve both taken our first few bits, also trying the other’s dishes, he slows the fork and replies “That’s the first issue I talked to you about, wasn’t it?”
“You were seven, I was six, that was the first gala we ever had together… in the fancy vineyard in France remember? That’s why you had all your comic books with you because it was wine-tasting and stinky cheese.”
Momentarily sitting back in his seat, his eyes drift past my left ear and he nods with a smile. “Damn… yeah. I remember that now.”
Knowing how funny my memory can be, I shrug it off to make it seem like a random remembrance. And not that I actually remember almost everything about our lives together or my life with anyone I deem important in general. Unfortunately burdened with such a good memory, I tend to bring up things most people don’t recall…. It also means I remember bad things, as well though, and my therapist says that’s where a lot of my anxiety may source from. “Buttercup and Westley though,” I try to get us back on target after filling my teacup again, “that seems very doable.”
Chris’s leg brushes against mine and the way his eyes linger softly on my face makes me flush again. “Yes, yes it does.”
Noah driving just under the speed limit, crawling the town car to my family’s townhouse, Chris and I are enjoying the cozy time together in comfortable quiet. Having basically cuddled in the movie, held hands at dinner, now I’m taking advantage of the luxury back seat to lay my head in his lap. As his fingers comb absently-mindedly through my hair, his eyes are heavy – closed and his breathing soft. My gaze keeps flicking to his half-illuminated, half shadowed face from my phone screen.
All the years I spent angry at him, all the years Macen was on my offense, all the years he was frustrated and therefore snippy with me seem a total waste after tonight. After our entrée’s but before desert, we talked a little more about what happened. No stress, no anxiety, relaying it to each other as if it was another movie we watched or some factual exposé. It is not unheard of for a boy at a young age – say fourteen years old – to be afraid of either dating a girl in general, ‘going steady’ as they say, or even how much he might feel for someone else. This is actually a trait we see in all ages of males, so really… I can’t be shocked.
Flitting through the extensive amount of clear and accurate memories I have of all our actions thereafter; things make a lot more sense in this new light. Bouncing back between the notepad app in my phone and Facebook, I reply to some people’s comments and write notes for my next therapy appointment.
I can’t even imagine how dominate a subject Chris has been over the years with Doctor Renfield. Next to my fear of being alone and/or abandoned, and my fear of failure because I’m my parent's only child and a fucking princess. But, at least now, it would hopefully be a good thing… a productive thing, a ‘how to mature and be an adult’ thing.
Unfortunately, the car comes to a stop and as I finish my last sentence Chris starts stirring. I swing my feet off the inner door, we both stretch, and then when I’m collected, we head out. Though both Ivan and Noah stand by the passenger side of the car, they let us have our privacy as we say our goodnight.
Purse in the nook of my elbow, flowers in my left hand, my right hand in Chris’s, and his thumb’s rubbing the back of it softly. Gate opens, we walk the mini garden path Mama is so proud of, and then we’re at the bottom of the stairs. I take one step and there’s a soft tug on my hand. Spun around softly, my right side is leaning into Chris’s chest. Head and shoulders the same height, his breath is soft on my lips. His grey eyes look into mine with an emotion I don’t recognize. Heart pounding, the moment he leans a fraction of an inch further, I close my eyes.
Finally, I understand Mama’s writing.
We lean into each other even more; with such a gravitational pull I don’t think we’ll ever part. Even with us both standing, the weight of his torso against mine makes me ease, makes me melt into him. The grip of his hand is strong, steadying me and not at all controlling. And then his lips… the same sort of light but distinct pressure as raindrops. This is very possibly the best kiss of my life. Safe, warm… an ‘oh, hello, welcome home’.
Ringing. An obnoxious ringing.
Face scrunched, eyes blinking away the darkness, chest a little acidy, I try and source the noise. My cell phone. By the time my un-coordinated hand finds it under the covers, the ringing stopped. Missed call… missed calls from both Macen and Sophia.
Getting into the group chat, I groan while dimming the fuck out of the screen. Still too bright, I hold the phone as far away as I can and blink a few more times to focus.
So-So: Lori, OMG
M: Freckles, you saw it?
S: How could I not have?
M: Google alert?
S: Google alert.
I was asleep
But then I actually retain what they’ve messaged.
What Google Alert?
OH MY GOD IS IT PAPA?
Bolting straight up, I fumble with the lamp. Looking for my international, private cell on the nightstand, I yank it out from under some books. No new messages, no new calls, not even an email.
Mama is asleep.
… what’s going on?
They both sent me the same link within the same minute. Hands shaking so hard, I drop the phone to my lap. Heartbeat too fast, pounding too hard, withheld breath I click the text bubble. The shorten URL leads me to a website called Buzzwire.
GYPSY SCUM OR PASTEL PRINCESS
Christopher O’Crosphen’s Emotional Roller-Coaster Over America’s Favorite Princess
Christopher O’Crosphen (17), son of the English Prime Minister, was seen last night with Benovian Princess, Lorianna Romenovf (16). Going to the blockbuster hit of August, romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, followed by a corner at the swoon-worthy French bistro Amelia’s, the young lovers were oh-so-cozy when not steps away from their bodyguards.
The night ended when the classic black town car all Excelsior Academy students seem to have arrived at the gate of the Romenovf’s Massachusetts residence. Princess Lorianna with a bouquet of Benovia’s nation flower in hand, locked lips in a picturesque goodnight with Christopher. (The kiss made possible by him a step down from her, equaling their height difference – how thoughtful.)
Let us not all forget, though, three years ago when the two kiddos would have been in 8th grade at Eleanor Roosevelt Prep. One night at an exclusive function with both families present, not-so-charming Christopher called the princess ‘gypsy scum’. This ended their seven-year friendship immediately; all sources say they’ve been civil enemies since.
Did his heart grow three sizes that night? Will our favorite Princess be wearing pink? Or is this another politically induced stunt to show that the two families have buried the hatchet?
Check in with Buzzwire to find out more!
Hundreds of comments on the one post.
Thousands of views since its timestamp of 2:45 AM.
Hundreds of thousands of shares to social media and other blogs picking up the story.
Wall posts, private messages, @(me) in comments, shares with me and Chris tagged on Facebook.
Tumblr question box full.
YouTube blowing up not just with views, subscriptions, but also with comments.
Instagram follower count practically doubled, comments on random posts – even going all the way back to when I first started the account, private messages from so, so many strangers.
Emotionally shut down, I email the publicity team my family uses in both America and Europe. I then email my therapist, requesting an appointment as soon as possible, but not during school hours. This leads to an email to the school’s headmaster, my teachers, and their damage control team. On my phone for contact with Papa, I text him the link and forward all my emails to him.
Realizing there’s the other side to this coin; I lift from my bed to head to my desk. First looking by bending over, then having to turn on my bedroom light, I sit down. Searching for my contact notebook, I find all of the O’Crosphen information after a very frustrating five minutes. Sending all the information I can and copy-and-pasting emails to their teams, I only stop moving through the motions robotically when it’s time to contact Chris.
Whether it’s me chickening out or honestly not knowing what to say, I just text him the link. Not knowing if it would be better or worse to call him and wake him up versus letting him sleep but then being bombarding with this, I just stare down at his picture. I jump when the phone starts ringing again, incoming call: Chris-Cross.
“Hello?” I answer.
He clears his throat. “So….”
“Yeah, I know.”
“No one on your end?”
“Macen and Sophia and Ivan would never.”
“Nah… this isn’t like any of the stunts she’s pulled for her books. This is too personal. And she didn’t know anything about what happened… before, I mean,” I heave a breath and press my palm to my forehead. “I never told her about the ‘gypsy scum’ thing, about us almost dating, about our first kiss. She’s been completely in the dark.
“What about you? Parents? Brother… friends?”
“Anyone I would have told has signed a NDA when it comes to my personal life.”
Slowly I lift from my computer chair, turn off the ceiling light, and ease down on the edge of my bed. “Smart.”
“Mmm. I’ll have our lawyers reach out to your father… it would probably be a useful tactic for you as well. Just in case, I mean.”
Throat raw, I nod. Realizing he can’t see me I utter a little “Thanks.”
“I assume you contacted everyone you need to?” God, he sounds so exhausted.
“Yeah. I sent what I could to your people, too.”
“Thanks.” There’s a long pause. “I’m sure Father’s already seen but I should probably call him.”
“I should probably call Papa, too.”
There’s a deep breath on the other end, a bit of static, and then Chris’s voice comes through clear and comforting, “Everything’s going to be okay, Little Lori, I promise.”
Feeling the sting of unwanted tears, I nod again. “I’ll just have to wear pink, huh?” I try and laugh instead of sob, it coming out a strangled Frankenstein’s monster of both.
There’s a very brief chuckle and I can hear a little smile in his voice. “You and me both. Maybe Macen and Sophia, Toby and Parker and Cynthia, too.”
Tears heavy and salty, I blink and wiggle my nose. There’s a pause and I wish we could stay on the line the whole night… just… just to know he’s there. “See you in the morning?”
“I’ll pick you up?”
“Macen and Sophia will be with me.”
“I’ll bring the limo.”
A real laugh, a roll of my eyes, weight does seem to lift from my chest. “Goodnight, Chris-Cross.”
“Goodnight, Little Lori.”
Setting that phone down after the call break, my arm feels like a ton of bricks as I reach to call Papa. Mama had told him about the date, and I’d received a text of approval but we actually hadn’t spoken in a week, since our routine Sunday post-church phone call. And this is far different from how am I doing, how’s school, how are my friends, how’s Mama… this was Trenton all over again and bile rises in my throat. Even with me reassuring myself that this isn’t actually Trenton all over again, that there’s no way Chris would have done this, that Chris is actually good for me, and shouldn’t everyone remember how close we were before?
Ringing… ringing, then the soft and sturdy and safe “Bună, floarea mea.”
“It is quite late, little one, would English be easier?” his accent so thick it almost doesn’t make a difference.
Not that I can’t speak Benovian fluently, but in the months I spend in America with school, American English does move to slot A: Most Used, therefore my brain’s go-to. “Thank you, Papa, I do think that might be easier.”
Feeling like a might implode, it is an instant relief when he replies, “I am so very sorry about that article but thank you for being so strong and doing what you can to handle it.”
Freely sobbing now, I try to respond without my voice shaking too much. “This hasn’t happened in so long… I just don’t know what to do – don’t know how you want me, want us to handle it?”
I can hear the creak of the leather of him leaning back in his office chair. “How would you like to handle it, floarea mea?”
Mind racing, I try to run through all the possible choices and all their possible outcomes. Ignore it – could get worse. It’s too widespread to try and snuff out. We could take it very seriously… but! But there’s no proof that Chris ever said that to me. Of course, he did… but I’d never told anyone who would use it now against us. Though… though, I had practically screamed it at school, and based on how the article phrased it, some of our peers had to have been involved.
“Though we’ll need to touch base with the O’Crosphens and see how they would prefer to handle this, I honestly think we should take it jokingly. The more damning parts of the article are hear-say so it would be easy for both parties to deny it and move on with positive comments.”
A long pause and I close my eyes to the sound of my papa’s steady breathing. “I will contact Edward after we hang up and I’ll text you. Does that sound all right?”
“Bun. Stai linis̗tit, floarea mea.”
“Stai linis̗tit, tată.”
Even with the call ended and quiet seeping into my room once again, I don’t think I can possibly sleep soundly. A little afraid that Chris’s father will just say it can’t continue, really anxious about how Chris feels about it all, hating being in the spotlight like this again, it makes me sad when I even think – for just a flicker of a moment – maybe it shouldn’t continue so I… we can have peace. Chris and I are not important in the grand scheme of things, not in relation to what both our parents have to face on a daily basis. And yet… maybe because it’s our age or maybe because it’s such a personal attack, it feels like a world’s worth of weight collapsing my chest.
TO BE CONTINUED in the novel. (Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.)