Chapter 17: Love Me Like You Do - Ellie Goulding
My freshly molded identity was propped up on a stage and available for all the world to see, at least that’s what it felt like. I was used to seeing my family on screens and gracing the covers of magazines. Seeing a picture of myself accompanied by a short summary of my story was surreal. There were also pictures of Milo and I kissing and walking around the city as a couple that were taken without our recollection. Some people liked me – they claimed that I was a refreshing step away from what the royals had gone for in the past. Others weren’t so forgiving. To them, my past was too tainted to overlook and I was too rough around the edges to ever be on the De Luca family’s level of refinement.
Surprisingly, it was fairly easy for me to not allow their commentary to dictate the way I acted or perceived myself. I was well aware of the fact that most of them would never know me personally. Their opinions were solely based on the manner in which the writer of the article or the editor of the interview footage wanted me to be seen. I still loved who looked back at me in the mirror. I refused to let them take that away from me.
As for my second love, dancing professionally was no longer a dream – it would be my reality right after graduation. Seven different companies from all over the world wanted me. I didn’t want to rush into a decision that would most definitely shape the rest of my life. I had worked my whole life to make it to that point. I didn’t want to blow it by picking the wrong environment to continue my growth.
In terms of my relationship with Milo, we were still happy together. We got into tiffs occasionally, but none of them were about anything significant. We spent the majority of our time giggling about things no one else would understand. It was easy to be with him mainly because he was my best friend. I could tell him anything. It was simply a bonus that we could fool around after or during our friendship-charged interactions. He promised me that he wouldn’t transform into someone else to be their idea of Prince Milo. He kept it – he never left me. That’s how I knew I wasn’t going to walk away without a great and personal reason.
After breakfast, the eight of us went to the ballroom for dance instruction. It was a simple waltz. I mastered it years ago. I perfected it with Milo, but I refused to be absent when the others learned, especially Finn and Sami. The girls and I were asked to wear the shoes we were planning to wear that night. I put on black pumps. Elle had pale pink peek-toe pumps with rhinestone detailing. Morgan wore metallic sandals. Sami wore the black heels she was supposed to wear to prom.
As she tapped over to Finn, she subtly held her arms out for balance.
“Don’t judge me, Watson.” She grumbled once she reached him.
“I’m not.” His smirk told a different story.
“If you say anything about a baby dinosaur or any other reference you can think of that pertains to an awkward walk, I’m hitting you – probably with one of these stupid things.” She threatened, narrowing her eyes at him.
“You’d get more use out of them if you used them as weaponry full-time. They’d actually be practical.” He retorted.
“When you’re right, you’re right.” She agreed.
“Good morning. My name is Vladimir. I will teach you to waltz in time for Prince Milo’s birthday party. Before we get started, I’d like each of you to introduce yourselves, aside from Izzie and Milo, of course.”
“Hi, I’m Elle.” She waved.
“Great posture.” He complimented.
“Thank you.” She smiled.
“I’ve gotta be honest with you, Bud. I can’t dance or walk well in heels. My attempt at doing both will be your worst nightmare. Many have tried and failed to teach me to move gracefully. If you can, you’re some sort of wizard. I will dedicate the remainder of my life to informing others of your magic.” Sami stated instead of her name.
I giggled. Vladimir warded off a smile. “What is your name?”
“Sami, which is more important to you – dancing or the heels?”
“I’m not particularly fond of either option, but dancing, I guess.”
“Do you have an additional pair of shoes with you?” He inquired next.
“My Dr.Martens are over there and my Converse are upstairs.”
“Combat boots or sneakers?”
“That’s all I wear. Literally. I own multiple pairs of the same shoes in different colors. Elle made me buy these evil things for prom. –“
“Because they looked cute with your outfit.” She interjected.
“I didn’t wear them – I rocked Docs. I won’t even say the b.f. words.” Sami continued without skipping a beat.
“Ballet flats.” Morgan informed him.
“The boots will do.” He smiled to keep from laughing.
Sami yanked off her shoes and walked over to where we placed our shoes. She sat down on the ground. She put on her mismatched footie socks. She slipped into her black boots. She whipped the laces into double-knotted bows before rising to her feet. Her confident strut to Finn proved that she was back in her comfort zone and ready to go.
“The first waltz step you are going to learn is the left box turn. Izzie and Milo, will you demonstrate as I explain?”
“Sure.” I replied.
The two of us made our way to the front, to make it easier for everyone to see us.
“Both parties need to start with their feet together. You should be roughly 50 centimeters from your partner.” Vlad instructed.
Elle and Finn were the only two who complied.
“Watson, what would that be in America?” Sami inquired.
“About a foot.” He answered with ease. Everyone else able to follow his instructions after that.
“We’re from the sole country that refuses to convert to the metric system.” Elle told Vlad.
“Right. I’m not well versed in the US customary units. Do mind converting for the duration of the lesson?” He requested.
“Not at all.”
“Ladies, hold up your right hand and place the left on your partner’s shoulder, leaving your arms slightly bent.—“ I did as told.
“Men, clasp your partner’s right hand with your left one. Place your right hand right below their left arm.” Milo placed his hands on me.
“Now, men, your first step is stepping forward with your left foot. Ladies, yours is stepping backwards with your right.”
Milo took one step toward me, I simultaneously moved my right foot back, remaining on the balls of my feet. For our next step, I moved my left leg away from my right. Milo mirroring me in sync. The third step was my turn to step forward as he moved back. We concluded in the feet together position in which we started. We continuously did that move as music played and Vlad helped the others grasp it.
After a while, he moved his hand from beneath my arm to my hip.
“Sloppy form, Sir.” I jokingly scolded.
A small smirk played on his lips. “It’s my birthday. I think we should let it slide.”
“Literally?” I played along.
He breathed a laugh. “I love you.” His tone was light and playful, but the sincerity in his eyes was far from it. He leaned down and pecked me on the lips.
“I love you too, Old-timer.”
“All day – relentless old jokes?”
“Silliness is part of my charm.”
He placed the hand that was holding mine on the side of my face and returned his lips to mine.
“What was that one for?” I asked with a dopey smile after he pulled away.
“My birthday.” We resumed dancing.
“Will everything fall under the umbrella of ‘my birthday’ today?” I inquired as he spun me.
“Mhmm. A person’s birthday is the one time a year they don’t have to explain their behavior.” He returned his hand to mine when I reached him.
“Really? You didn’t make me aware of that on my new birthday. I could’ve done so much.”
“Like what?” He played along, radiantly smiling at me.
“Can’t say. It’d ruin the surprise.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Both.” I tried so hard not to smile.
“So stubborn.” He pretended to shake his head at me in disapproval.
“I won’t make things easy for you, Princey, even on your birthday.” I flashed him a cheeky smirk.
“That is one of the things I’ve always loved about you.” He kept his eyes on mine, momentarily dropping our ruse.
“Are you gearing up for a goodbye?” I was serious, but tried to hide my fear with as playful of a tone as I could muster.
He shook his head. “You mean too much to me.”
“We don’t do sentimental often.”
“I was supposed to get engaged today. I get to remain a kid instead. It feels worthy of words that carry their true meaning, at least for a second.”
“That’s accredited to you and your dad. I don’t see where I factor in.”
“I do not have to change for you. I get to grow up with you.” He sort of averted his eyes away from mine. I guided his face back to mine with my hands.
I offered him a soft smile. “We’re going to be such weirdoes.” I whispered, lightening the mood.
“I think we were born to be. Being self-aware will benefit us in the long run.” He played along with a smirk.
I giggled, inching my face closer to his, grinning from ear to ear. My intent was to simply rub my nose against his. I was only able to do so once before he pressed his lips against mine.
“Good job, Sami, but Finn’s actually supposed to le—“
“Let her have this. You do not want the rant that accompanies that correction.” Elle intervened, moving gracefully around the room with Ry.
“Big time.” Morgan verified.
“Alright, good job.” He complimented before moving on to the next pairing.
“You are so far apart. It looks uncomfortable.” He watched Morgan and Nick dance.
“A close proximity feels awkward.” Morgan explained.
Nick nodded in agreement.
“Partner switch. “ Vlad announced in response.
All of us stopped dancing.
“Where do we go?” I asked.
“Izzie go with Ryan. Milo with Elle. Sami and Nick. And Morgan with Finn.” He answered.
“Have fun.” Milo placed a kiss on my cheek.
I smiled. “You too.”
I made my way over to Ry. “I heard about California.” I informed him with a smile.
He kept his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Good things?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Great, actually. You understood.”
A small smirk crept onto his face as we got into our starting position. “She’s in a league of her own. I have to treat her accordingly.”
I smiled at his response. “Bend your wrist a touch.” I corrected the wrist he was using to hold my hand.
He kept it in place as we continued to move.
“She said you help her. What do you do?” He asked, breaking the comfortable silence we were dancing in.
“Listen. She’s hyperaware of the fact that her negative thoughts are irrational, but that doesn’t make them stop. I let her say them aloud and counter them with the truth. It doesn’t turn them off, but it keeps her from taking all of them to heart.”
“I’m really happy she has you.” He offered me a warm smile.
“We help each other. I didn’t relapse. I certainly could’ve with the year I had.”
“I forgot about your eating disorder.” He thought aloud.
“It’ll always be a part of me, but it’s not me – if that makes any sense.”
“It does.” He reassured as he spun me.
“Getting fancy.” I complimented upon returning my hand to his shoulder.
“I had to keep up with Elle. She’s a fast learner.”
“You’re keeping time well and all of your movements are rhythmic. You deserve some credit.” I allowed him to guide me.
“Nick, are you afraid of Sami?” Vlad asked, watching them dance.
“Is that a trick question?” He inquired in response, timidly allowing her to lead.
“Not his fault. Half-pint’s intimidating.” Ryan called over there.
“Was that a short joke, Stephens?!” She fired back at him.
“Nope.” His dimpled smile said otherwise.
“Good. I was about to go over there.”
“Carry on.” Vlad approved, learning his fear was warranted.
We finished up our dance lesson about an hour later. We ate lunch and proceeded to have a relatively low-key afternoon. We hung out in the game room, which had a bowling alley, pool, air hockey, and foosball tables. We went our separate ways to prepare for Milo’s birthday celebration around 4 PM. I showered upon returning to my room. The girls did so too before coming to my room so that we could help each other get ready.
Wearing a robe, I sat down at the vanity table and allowed Elle to do my makeup after I pinned the front my hair to create finger waves. I roller set the back.
“Once again, you chose a good suit, Sams.” Elle told Sami as she dusted my eyelids with shimmering gold eye shadow.
“I’m just happy they were willing to accommodate my fashion preferences. The fact that they whipped out a tailored female tux in two days has my mind blown.” She kept her eyes closed as Morgan glided black eyeliner across her eyelid, ending in a winged angle.
“They are fashion wizards. They are what I aspire to be one day.” Elle mused.
“Along with a million other things.” I replied.
“Your freckles are freaking adorable.” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“They make me look five. My eyes don’t help me look my age either. The curse of the baby face is unforgiving.” I warded off a smile of my own.
“I hear ya. Same problem. We should start a support group.” Morgan told me.
I giggled. “We really should.”
“Sit still, Babydoll. I don’t want to mess up.” Elle warned.
“Sorry.” I smiled.
My dress was red, so she kept my makeup neutral. My eye shadow was close to my skin tone, but necessary for its sparkling quality. She gave me a cat eyes with black eyeliner and maxed out my eyelashes with mascara. She gave me a sheer coating of foundation. She dusted the apples of my cheeks with a rosy blush. Lastly, she smoothed lip gloss identical to my lips’ natural color onto them.
Elle wanted to do her own makeup, so she moved onto doing Sami’s hair. Morgan sat down in my seat and I did her makeup. The stylists took away our outfits to remove the wrinkles with steam prior to the girls coming into my room. They returned to their rooms to pick up theirs when mine was delivered. There was a knock on my door moments later. It was far too soon for them to be back and I didn’t order anything. I had an inkling it was Milo and opened the door with a smile. It faltered when I found the king’s mother on the other side of it. Her disapproval was etched into her stern expression. I tightened the wrapping of my robe to make myself more presentable.
“Good Evening, Queen Mother. I wasn’t expecting to see you until later.” I curtsied.
She bypassed me and walked into my room. She shut and locked the door without expressing acknowledgement of my greeting.
“To what do I owe this visit?” I tried again.
“You can drop the doe-eyed routine. You will never win me over. Sit down. I need to talk to you.” She stated harshly firm.
I sat down on the cushioned bench at the foot of my bed.
“How much compensation would you like?” She strode about the room, examining my personal items with distaste.
“Name your price to walk away and leave my grandson alone. I know you have one. You departed from your wealth earlier this summer.” She allowed her eyes to settle on me.
“You can’t buy me out of love.”
“2.5 million US dollars. I can write a check right now.” She offered, ignoring my stance.
“I don’t want your money. Don’t waste your time by raising the price, hoping I’ll change my mind. I’d NEVER do that, especially to him.”
“Do you understand what you could do with that money? You would be set for life if you invested responsibly. Think of your future.”
“I am. I could never live with the guilt.”
She sighed, pursing her lips together. “I will approach this from a different angle then. Milo will become king, just as my husband was, his father is, and all the men before them. You are depleting Milo’s chances of developing into the man he needs to become to uphold our family’s legacy.”
“I am doing no such thing. He’s happy.”
“He is unfocused and impulsive. He will be a reckless leader if he remains on this path. He will be overthrown almost immediately. All of our lives will be ruined as a result.”
“He’s eighteen. He’s young. It’s not a crime for him to act like it.”
“He cannot afford to grow up at a normal speed. He is a heartbeat away from taking the throne. I will not have him sullying the De Luca name by remaining in this childish fantasy with you.”
“If disaster were to strike, God forbid, and something were to happen to King Vincent, Milo would not be coronated until he turned twenty-one. His uncle Matteo would take over until then. That is your rule. It was put into place because no one is ready at this age.”
“Your relationship will never amount to anything!” She spat at me in frustration.
“You wouldn’t be here if you truly believed that.” I remained calm.
She narrowed her eyes at me slightly. “If he asked you to marry him tonight, what would you say?”
“I’m not ready for marriage, but I love you.”
“Osha would say ‘yes’.” She immediately fired back as if that would change something.
“Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean she loves him. I’m being honest with myself. I’m not ready to be someone’s wife. I know he isn’t ready to be a husband.”
“You truly believe that?” She challenged me with her eyes.
“Without a doubt in my mind.” I kept my eyes locked on hers.
“You have got my son and grandson under your spell with the intent to bleed them dry. You are good. Better than the last one by a long shot.”
Her next tactic was easy to see through. I knew just how to bypass it.
“You’re entitled to your opinion. I’m aware of the truth, as is Milo. I don’t need you to love me. I’ll be here as long as he does.”
“We will see about that.”
“I guess we will.” I offered her a curt smile.
The repetitive knocks on the door prevented her from giving me a reply.
“My friends and I need to finish getting ready.” I informed her, rising to my feet.
“Try to refrain from dressing like the disgrace that you are.” She managed to work in a final snide remark when we arrived at my door.
“I’ll see what I can do on such short notice.” I twisted the lock and opened the door for her to exit.
Sami fell into the room and onto the ground.
“Are you okay?” I cried in shock.
“I was picking the lock with my Swiss Army knife. You were taking too long.” She eased herself up to a standing position.
“I was worried.” Morgan tagged on.
“How charming. It’s nice to know all of you are well versed in illegal activities.” The former queen stated sarcastically, looking at them as if they were the scum of the earth as she bypassed them to enter the hallway.
Elle scoffed in outrage. “Rude, much?” She walked in, holding both her and Sami’s black garment bags.
“Who’s the old bat?” Sams pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.
Morgan shut the door after she entered.
“Milo’s grandmother. From the kindness of her heart, she tried to bribe me to break up with him.” I took deep breaths and paced to release some of the fury adrenaline pumping through my veins.
“How much we talkin’ here?”
“Sams!” Elle and Morgan looked to her in outrage.
“I just wanna know how much Izzie intimidates her.” She shrugged.
“2.5 million dollars’ worth.”
“Seriously?!” Elle cried in shock.
“She had her checkbook. She wasn’t bluffing.” I verified.
“How’d you reply?” Morgan asked.
“I obviously said no. I could never do that to him.”
“Are you going to tell Miles?” She pressed on.
“Yeah, I don’t want her to manipulate him into thinking I was going to take it and run. She’s the type that would try to do something like that – definitely.” I thought aloud.
“I need to talk to him now. I’ll be right back.” I rushed to my door. I walked over to his room and knocked on the door repeatedly until he answered.
“Where is the fire?” He answered the door with a playful smirk, wearing his tuxedo pants and his undershirt.
“I need to talk to you.” I requested, keeping my eyes on his.
“Are you okay? You seem upset.” He stepped aside, allowing me to walk in.
I closed my eyes and exhaled. “Your grandmother just bribed me to break up with you.” I returned my eyes to his.
His face fell, but he didn’t seem shocked by the allegation. “How much?”
“2.5 million. I’m not a prostitute, not even one of the high-class ones with famous clients and a 7-figure salary. I didn’t mean for all those people to see me naked. I didn’t want to d0 anything with him -- I’m sure she knows and --” A few tears escaped my eyes.
“I know, Beautiful. I am so sorry.” He stepped forward and held me in his arms.
I closed my eyes and melted into him.
“Say the word. I’ll kick her out of my party and Dante will take her seat at the head table.”
I giggled through my congestion.
Queen Henritta had a moderate fleet of Bolognese dogs. One of them recently had puppies. The runt, Dante, was mistreated by the rest of the bunch. Milo and I took a liking to him. We stole him on countless occasions to play with and care for him.
“I love you.”I smiled.
“I love you too.” He kissed the side of my face, still holding me. He pulled back and placed his hands on either side of my face. He wiped away my fallen tears with his thumbs.
“She is not ending this for me.” He told me with a sincere smile gracing his handsome face.
“Where you serious about the puppy?”
“No, you would forget all about me. You are already doing it.”
I smiled. “Fine. May I request something else?”
“It is my birthday, so I will hear you out but I have the right to say no.”
“Tell me you love me. I’m sorry if it comes off as needy, but --.”
“I more than love you, Iz, all of you.”
“To the moon and back?” I tilted my head to the side.
“To Pluto because you still insist on calling it a planet.” He put his arms around my waist.
“There are no takesies backies when it comes to planethood.”
“I love you.” He leaned down and placed his lips on mine. I moved my arms around his neck when our tongues met.
I pulled away and rested my forehead against his when I realized where things were heading. “Give me a reason to keep going.” I nibbled on my bottom lip.
“You are questioning everything I feel about you.” He kissed the top of my head. “You never do when we make love. We love being that close.”
“We’re short on time.”
“It’s my party. I can be late if I want to. Do you want to be?”
I nodded and smiled.
We made love with such intensity that I ended up crying out and scratching his back, learning a manicure and the throws of passion are a poor combination.
“I’m so sorry.” I breathed, not possessing a stronger voice than that.
“It’s alright. Sound-proof and resilient.” He kissed me with a relaxed smile.
“I should go.”
“No, party is cancelled.”
“I do not think you possess that power, Princey.” I pushed his hair back.
“I hate that you are correct in that assumption.” He gave me one final kiss before rolling away. “I appreciate your lingerie by the way.“ He sat on the edge of the bed.
“Surprised you noticed. We were very eager.” I closed my robe and quickly tied the tie, finally fully aware our over the cover decision.
“I paused to put on protection and your brassiere remained and your undergarments needed to go somewhere.” He stood up.
I scanned the room for them. “Where exactly?” I blushed and ran a hand through my hair.
He patted his pants pockets. He handed me the ball of lace. We freshened up in the bathroom together.
“We are meeting here before the ball. I hope you come.” He dried his newly washed face.
“I’ll try to squeeze it into my schedule. My time is in high demand. No promises.”
He smiled. “That’s all I ask.”
“Bye.” I bounced up and kissed him once more before leaving.
I walked back into my room with a smile.
“You were gone for a while.” Elle smirked knowingly as Morgan zipped her dress.
“Quiet. He invited us to his room to pregame.”
“We’re doing this up right.” Sami nodded, stamping it with her seal of approval. Her collar was popped as she was meddling with her bow tie in the mirror.
I smiled. “Would you like me to help you?” I offered.
“Yeah. Thanks. I am better with neck ties.” She dropped her hands to her sides.
I had it folded and tightened in a minute flat.
“So, how do I look?” She lowered her collar and straightened her jacket.
“Very beautiful. You look like yourself.” I told her honestly.
She fought off a smile. “Thanks.”
“It’s the truth.” I momentarily placed my hand on her shoulder.
I went over to my vanity table and sat down to complete my hair. While I was still seated, I reapplied the makeup Elle put on me earlier. I put in my diamond stud earrings and adjusted my charm bracelet on my left wrist. I spritzed on perfume and applied lotion to my arms and legs.
“I love your dress.” I smiled at Morgan as I slipped on my heels.
“Thank you. I can’t wait to see yours.”
“I fell in love the first time I saw it.” I walked over to the bag.
When I unzipped it, there was an audible gasp. It was no surprise that it was from Elle.
“It’s glorious.” She placed her hand on her chest.
My gown was candy apple red. It was strapless and featured a cat-ear bodice that hugged my torso. The skirt stopped a little below my knees in the front, but was long enough to have a short train in the back; the dramatic pleating made it voluminous.
Elle walked up to my back and zipped it up once I had it on.
“Gorgeous. Simply stunning.” she mused.
“That’s what I was aiming for.” I smiled.
We took plenty of pictures together, determined to remember every second.
“Ready to go?” I asked when we were done with our photoshoot.
“Oh, yeah.” Sami replied.
“Let’s do this, Ladies.” I opened my door, holding my hand up for each of them to high-five on their way out. I switched off my light and shut the door. Morgan knocked on Milo’s door. Ryan opened it moments later with a smile.
“How great of you to join us. All of you look lovely.” He ushered us inside.
“Sup, Sexy? Seeing anybody?” He checked Elle out as she passed. She fought off a smile and pushed him away.
Milo was in the middle of taking a shot with Finn and Nick when I entered.
“Hey.” I greeted when I knew he had swallowed it.
He immediately turned around. His eyes went wide as he took everything in. “Iz.”
“Is that a good ‘Iz’ or a bad one?” I approached him with a small smile playing on my lips.
“Too good.” He slid his arms around my waist and leaned down to kiss me.
“You taste like Gin.” I noted lightly when he pulled away from me.
“Two shots of it. Well done.”
“Are you going to get wasted?”
He shook his head. “I promise.”
“Good. We have plans later.” I pecked him on the lips.
I nodded, rubbing his chest. He leaned down to kiss me once more.
Ryan finished his drink before hopping up on the couch, holding the television remote like a microphone.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of one of our own. Miles, we’re going to give you the weird birthday party you’ve always wanted. Can’t clue you in on specifics just yet, but it will be one hell of a good time. Let’s blast some music, dance in here until our buzzes kick in, and roll into that party as a pack. Let’s go.” He announced into his ‘microphone’.
We all threw our hands into the air and cheered.