I’m anxiously sitting in Celines studio. She and Millie are fluttering around me, pulling out fabrics and holding them up against my skin.
Phoenix is in a meeting with Mercer. I know that we can’t be together all the time but I want to be together all the time. Being away from him makes me nervous. When we arrived home and there was a message for me to come to Celines I hoped Phoenix would say ‘no.’ Unfortunately, he seemed to think it was a good idea for me to go for awhile.
I can see Miles, his back pressed against the glass door, keeping me safe. I know Sloane is nearby. There are so many questions floating around in my head. Everything is so secretive, I don’t know what I can ask and what could be dangerous, so I don’t ask anything.
“When is the wedding?” Millie asks.
“In a few weeks,” I smile, even with all the turmoil surrounding us, I’m excited for our wedding.
“We haven’t had a royal wedding in ages. It is going to be the party of the century!”
“Um..actually, we’re planning to keep it small. Just...because of everything that’s going on.”
Her face drops, “oh, that makes sense.”
“We’ll still design a fabulous dress,” Celine winks at her, seeming to lift her spirits.
“Millie, dear, can you run the designs to Madam Archer? Tell her I need a decision by the weekend.”
“Of course,” Millie grabs some papers from a desk before bowing and leaving.
“How are you, Noelle?” Celine asks, her voice laced with concern.
“I’m fine...I...” she cuts me off, obviously seeing right through my lie.
“How are you, really? This can’t be easy for you.”
“I’m...managing. Eventually, everything will be ok. I don’t know why but... I can feel it. If we can make it through this, we will be ok.”
She smiles at me, “And Phoenix ? How is he?”
I bite my cheek to keep from crying, “he’s... going to be ok.”
She cups my face in her hands, “you give him strength, you know? I can see it. Helene was so relieved to know that he would have you after she was gone.”
I nod my head, unsure of how to respond. Everyone keeps talking about how great it is the Phoenix found me, how much of a help I am to him. It doesn’t feel that way. He is making my whole world better. Without even knowing it, he is fighting to save my people. I’m not sure how I’m such a great addition to his life. I’m not even being honest with him about who I really am. The longer this goes on the more afraid I am to tell him the truth.
While I’m still bound by the fear of him not wanting me once he knows what I really am, deep down I know he won’t. Now I’m consumed by the fear that he won’t forgive me for lying for so long. How will he be able to trust me when he finds out that I was dishonest with him? Guilt is starting to eat away at me. I’m supposed to be his respite from the darkness but I’m lying to him.
“Everything Helene did was with purpose, Noelle. Phoenix , Mercer, Sloane, we all know what we are doing, what we have to be willing to sacrifice in order to right an immeasurable wrong. King Remus was... very dear to me, once upon a time. I lost him, he changed. His lust for power became all consuming. When he passed his title to his son, we were so hopeful that he would be a better King, a better man, than his father. Helene tried to get him to see reason, she believed she could change him. When Phoenix was born, he changed, it was gradual at first, he became more and more withdrawn. Arius was a member of the royal training corps at that time. He was a nothing, a nobody. We don’t know how he got so close to the King. Slowly he became his only confidant. By the time Phoenix was a teenager we almost never saw the King. He wouldn’t even see Helene. I can’t say that I understand the corruption of power. It makes people do unexplainable things. Abandoning your beloved is unheard of. How was the King able to kill his? A beloved one is a treasured gift so many of us are not given. I can only assume that there are no parts of him left, he is lost. I stood by, all those years ago, I watched Remus transform from my dear brother in law to a monster, sucking the good from everything around him, like a black hole. It has taken us a long time to get to where we are. I know you don’t understand your place in all of this, but we need you. Phoenix needs you. Keep him tethered to the ground.”
I sit in stunned silence. Before I can speak Milli bounces back into the room. Celine gives me a small smile and pulls her finger to her lips quickly, gesturing to be quiet.
“She’s going with the second design!” Milli tells Celine, completely unaware of everything that happened in her absence.
“Just like I predicted,” Celine laughs.
“Arius wants you to make him something, some kind of suit...thing,” my temporarily clouded mind clears completely at the sound of his name.
“When did he tell you this?” Celine questions.
“Just now, he was in the courtyard when I pulled up, going to talk to the Prince.”
I shake my leg nervously. I want to run to Phoenix , to make sure he’s ok. Why is Arius there? I know that Phoenix is probably relieved that I’m not there right now and there is nothing I can do to protect him in human form, but I still want to go to him.
“Oh, Your Majesty!” Milli chirps “You have been named the luckiest woman alive! The city is absolutely bursting with broken hearts! Every single woman is devastated that the Prince is off the market! If you listen closely I’m sure you can hear the weeping from here!”
“Stop talking nonsense, Milli!” Celine days as she hands her a bundle of fabrics. “Put these in the back, please.”
Milli grumbles under her breath as she disappears into the backroom.
“Noelle,” Sloane pokes her head in through the door. “Dannon just called us back.”
I quickly hug Celine and rush out the door, flooded with relief to be going back to Phoenix .