‘What are you two young ladies doing out here in the freezing weather?’ Nick comes out, holding a bottle in his hand.
‘Just talking. Getting to know each other.’
‘Yeah, besides is not that cold anyway.’ I can see the goosebumps starting to appear on Alexandra’s arm. She must’ve thought that she would insult me if she asked to go inside. But again, she wanted to talk in private.
‘Is a bit chilly I must admit Gabriella.’ She went from your majesty to Gabriella very quick.
‘Shall we go inside then?’
‘If we may.’ And in we go.
As we enter back into the ballroom, the smell almost knocks me off my feet. The agonizing smell of alcohol and heat that stinks like armpits that haven’t been washed for several weeks is just too much to handle. I excuse myself and head towards the stairs. I walk down the hallways, observing the pictures on the wall and thinking about the conversation that I had with Challan’s sister. Thinking about Eleanor and the possibility of her being the reason why I’m constantly being paralyzed in my sleep. Now it all makes sense. At least I hope so. I make a turn, heading towards my bedroom but someone pulls me into the room.
‘What …’ Someone puts their hand over my mouth.
‘Relax baby girl … it’s just me.’ A flood of reliefs overcomes my body. It’s Challan. Or is it? I don’t remember Challan having such raspy hands.
‘Who are …’
‘Who do you think …’ His slow motions and delayed voice made me realize who’s holding me. He swiftly turns me around, giving me a second to look at his face and then push me abruptly onto the bed and starts unbuttoning his trousers.
‘Stop …’ I try to remain collected. If I scream I might risk of putting him in a danger. But I must act quickly, and wisely. Otherwise, I’ll get him and myself into trouble.
‘Why … you’d prefer his touch over mine more?’
‘You never even touched me.’
‘Oh, but your majesty,’ the way he says it makes me feel disgusted and unworthy of my self-proclaimed title, ‘I did. In fact, every single time you had your sleeping-beauty moments I took some privilege to touch you.’
‘You raped me?’
‘NO!’ He quickly realizes that he’s being too loud and adjust his voice, ‘no … it never went sexual. I’m not a somnophiliac.’
‘Get away from …’ he puts his hand over my mouth and starts pulling my panties down with his other arm.
‘You’ll like this. You’ll like this very much.’ I try to remain silent. Motionless. I can’t hurt him. But I must. If I use my force and slam him into the wall and then get up I might risk the possibility of being forced to have him executed. After four years of absence, I can’t risk him being exposed to kryptics again. Judging by what happened last time he’s better off staying here. Inside of the castle’s walls. After all, in here is much safer than it is out there. At least for him, it is.
After he’s done I manage to get up. But I don’t run. I can’t. I want answers. I want to know why he did it. Why now? Why after everything we been through.
‘I’m sorry.’ That’s the only thing he manages to say. The only words that come out of his mouth. A cold, bitter, not-needed apology.
‘It’s okay Jack.’ I figured that there’s no point of interrogating him so I just nonchalantly get up from the bed and walk towards the door. In that moment, the door opens and Nick appears.
‘There you are! We thought that something might’ve happened to you two.’
‘No, we’re fine.’ I glance back at Jack who’s gazing at the view through the window. I wonder what he’s thinking about. Or should I say, not thinking about?
‘Can you give us a minute.’ Jack says to Nick. And as Nick starts closing the door, I hear Challan’s voice coming from the distance. My body tenses and for the first time after a long time, I’m afraid.
‘Nick, did you find them?’
‘Yes, Prince Challan, they’re here.’
‘Ella, are you alright?’
‘She’s fine.’ I hear Jack saying from behind.
‘I have a tongue Jack, I can answer for myself.’
‘What happened? Where did you go?’
‘I …’ in that moment I realized that I have nothing on my mind. No perfectly reasonable excuse. So, I just go with the most blatant lie that I could think of. ‘I was just wondering around.’
‘How come that you ended up in Jack’s bedroom?’
‘I needed her to help me with something.’ Jack’s coming to the rescue. It’s weird how he’s feeling completely fine. Like nothing happened. Nothing at all.
‘Oh really? With what, if I may ask?’ I can see Challan’s jaw tensed and he put his hands on his hips.
‘I’m going through some stuff right now Challan, and it’s a bit private. Besides I wouldn’t wanna ruin your lovey-dovey status with my friend, Ella.’ A friend. Last time I checked friends don’t fuck each other.
‘It’s something of a personal nature, that’s why I figured that it’s best for us two to talk somewhere privately.’ My brain starts to work again, and I just start linking one lie with another.
’Very well. If you’re finish may I be able to see you as well? Privately?’ I look at him and back at Jack.
‘Sure.’ I exit with Challan by my side. As we walk I take a glance back, in the corner of my eye I see Nick closing the door and Jack putting his hands over his face. Either he’s regretting what he had done to me or trying to cover his face from smiling.
What is love? Is love just one of the many forms of lust. When the feeling is so powerful that the desire to have an intercourse is not enough? We need to put a label on it. To classify ourselves in order to make us feel better. To have a title of what we are and where we are with each other. I’m glad that I don’t necessarily depend too much on it. I love love. But I can live without it. Besides I must. If anything was to happen, I must learn how to live and adapt without it. After all, love is not essential. At least not to me, it isn’t.
‘So, what were you talking about?’
‘I told you is a bit private.’
‘You can tell me, Ella.’
‘It was about Trinity.’ Here you go Ella, more lies to masquerade what truly happened. What you let it happen. You should be disgusted with yourself.
‘It’s a long story and I’m sure that you wouldn’t be interested in hearing it.’
‘I like long stories.’
‘Then you can tell me more about Eleanor.’
‘Well, your sister is all over it.’
‘Ignore her. She just wanted to see if you would be jealous if she mentioned her.’
‘Well, maybe I am jealous.’
‘No, you’re insecure.’
‘Don’t tell me what I am and what I’m not. I know what I am. I’m jealous, Challan.’
‘There’s nothing to be jealous about.’
‘She told me about the curse.’
‘That was made up.’
‘Show me your foot then.’
‘What? Why would I do such a thing.’
‘Because if there’s nothing to worry about then there wouldn’t be any problem with you showing me your foot. Right?’
‘Do you have a foot fetish?’
‘No, I just wanna see your foot. If there’s nothing special about it then you can put it away.’
‘And what if I refuse to do that?’ I open the nearest door. Turn the lights on and push him onto the shelf. I kneel down and start to move downwards. As I make my way down to his feet he gets my head with his hands and brings me up to his face. He starts kissing me but I quickly back away.
‘No, I’m just decisive.’
‘Alright. Let me do it.’ He takes his shoe off and his sock as well. To my surprise, it’s clean. ‘There. As you can see there’s nothing special. It’s just my foot.’
‘No. Show me the other foot.’ I look up at his face and I can see the uneasiness evoking.
‘Ella, I assure you…’
‘Stop assuring me and do it as you’re told.’ He shuts up and I feel horrible. I wanted to make him realize that I’m not joking and that I’m serious, but with all my royalty status and cold-hearted approach, maybe I didn’t think this through. Maybe he’s not feeling comfortable enough with me asking him to do such a thing. ‘Look Challan, I’m sorry. If you don’t wanna do it or if you’re not feeling comfortable with it, I understand.’
I get up and turn around but he grabs me by my arm.
‘Wait. I’ll show you.’ I smile and turn around.
‘Thank you.’ He manages a smile and bends down. He removes his shoe carefully and slowly. Too slow for my taste but I manage to remain calm and patient. ‘Look, Ella, I don’t want you to be scared.’
‘I’m not Challan, trust me.’
‘What I’m about to show you isn’t for everyone. Honestly, I don’t think that even you will be able to handle it.’
‘I can handle a lot Challan,’ I really can, ‘don’t you worry about me.’
He removes his sock and there it is. A curse is written in a language that I can’t comprehend. But what happens immediately after makes me gasp in shock. His foot is alive. It has a face. A disfigured one that is.
‘It’s a curse that Eleanor has put upon me after I failed her.’
‘It wasn’t your fault. How could you’ve have known what Eleanor was going through?’
‘It is my fault. I did nothing despite her missing for several days.’
‘Challan, I don’t want you to blame yourself for something that you couldn’t control or do anything about.’
‘Why are you being so nice to me about it?’
‘Because. Why not?’
‘I am a cold person.’
‘I’m sure you had your own reason behind it.’
‘No, I mean literally. I’m a cold person.’ He smiles and I manage to laugh. ‘Do you love me?’
Yes. I love you so much Challan. But I slept with a person you hate just a couple of moments ago. But I can reassure you that that meant nothing and I was indirectly forced to do it out of my sympathetic and flustered nature. I love you to the moon and back but I don’t necessarily emphasize the meaning of love. Mostly because I never felt love. Just lust.
‘Yes. I do Challan.’ Or do I?