Chapter 4: Mother We Share - Chrvches
Izzie slid her sunglasses to the top of her head when we were inside. Wilmer was the only advisor waiting for us.
“Good afternoon. I hope you had a nice flight.” Wilmer greeted with a warm smile.
“This is a smaller turn out than usual.“I noted instead of answering.
His smile somewhat faltered, but he maintained his professional composure. “I’m working on it.”
Iz looked between the two of us. “What’s going on?”
“What we discussed on the plane.” I stated simply.
“Meeting the parents tonight isn’t going to be very fun, is it?” She asked lightly.
He laughed uncomfortably. “The whole family, actually.”
“Pardon me?” I cried in outrage.
“Your grandmother, uncles, aunts, parents, first cousins – all of them will be attending dinner this evening.”
“Where is my father?” I did not attempt to hide how furious I was.
“At the naval base with your grandmother, giving a speech.”
“That aspect is actually a coincidence. Isabella was not scheduled to come until next week. You were supposed to be there with them.”
“You know what they plan to do tonight.” I stated firmly, refusing to see it all as an innocent mistake.
“I do, which is why I am helping. There is a dress code. I ensured both of you were given appropriate wardrobe selections. I was only told to give them to you, Milo.” He vowed.
“You bought clothes for me?” Izzie asked with a hint of a smile.
“Bosworth explained your style to me. I relayed it to the stylists. They are the ones who pulled items that matched your personal taste and filled the event requirements.”
She smiled. “Thanks, Will.”
“It was not a problem. Now, I will show you to your room as I brief Milo on his schedule.” He gestured for us to follow him.
“Dinner is tonight at 8 pm. Do not be late.You have an interview tomorrow. --”
“Me too?” Izzie asked as we continued to walk.
“It is entirely up to you. We understand that you are still recovering from your legal disputes this summer.”
“I will sit on the sidelines this time.” She tightened her hold on my hand and leaned into me.
I kissed the side of her face.
“There is a ball tomorrow evening to celebrate Prince Milo’s return. It was specifically requested by his grandmother.”
“Let me guess, Osha’s number one on the guest list?” Izzie groaned.
“I presume he finally told you.” He replied as we made our way up the stairs.
“She also knows about Penelope. Our plane ride wasn’t exactly pleasant last night.”
“I told him to tell you sooner.” He informed Izzie.
“I told you to stop pressuring me to marry her.”
“I was following orders given to me by your grandmother. I listen to them, cater to you. You know how this works.” He explained as we made our way up the stairs.
“I blame both of you for the way that this was handled. Neither of you had to blindfold me and tell me everything’s bright and shiny, when it’s not. I’m a big girl. I can handle the truth.” She stated sternly.
“We didn’t mean to upset you.” Will tried to apologize.
“I’m sure you didn’t, but no more excluding me for my own good, got it?”
“It will never happen again.” Will vowed.
She looked over at me pointedly.
“We covered this last night.” I conceded.
“I don’t want to be the only one all in.”
“You’re not.” I brought the hand I was holding to my lips and kissed it.
The palace had many uses, most of which were public. I resided in a 4-story, 20-room apartment with my parents and grandmother. It was our home within the country’s home. It allowed for tours, meetings, major events, and dinners to take place at all hours without jeopardizing our safety. Guards secured the main doors at all times.
Once inside the suite, we went to the third floor and stopped at the guest room beside mine.
“This is your room, Izzie. I hope that you find everything to your liking. If anything is wrong, do not hesitate to let me or someone else know. We can correct it immediately.” He opened the double doors for her. I followed her inside.
“It’s so beautiful.” She looked around in awe.
She glided her hand along her sheets folded down at the top of the bed. “It’s so soft. It’s making me want to take a nap.”
“I think the time-change is doing that.” I replied, placing my hands in my pockets.
“You’re the expert. How long will it take for me to adjust?”
“Depends. I don’t want to feed you false hope.”
“How kind.” She joked.
“Your suitcase will be brought up shortly. All of the amenities and linens you need can be found in the bathroom. Again, if you need anything else, do not hesitate to ask.” Wilmer continued.
“I won’t. Thanks, Will.” She smiled at him.
“Would you like to see my room?” I extended my hand to her.
“Of course.” She took it.
We walked down the hall for a few meters and ended up at another set of doors. Izzie stayed long enough to check it out, before returning to her room. She wanted to shower and take a nap, leaving Will and I alone in my room.
“Is Nonna more upset about Iz or me not being with Osha?”
“Both, which is why I’m going to advise a course of action that could easily get me fired. Tell no one if you enjoy having me on staff.”
A small smile formed on my face and I nodded.
“If your grandmother targets your relationship or makes Izzie feel uncomfortable, raise hell. She will get scared that you will do it in public and back down. We can use your past outbursts to our advantage this round.”
“You are actually telling me to misbehave?” I warded off a full blown smirk.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I do not recall making a statement to that affect.” He feigned innocence.
I breathed a laugh. “Why are you so willing to help me? You usually cater to my parents more than me.”
“I see the way you look at her. It would crush you if they pried her away from you.”
“Thanks.” I smiled.
“No problem. I will leave you alone now. Do not be late for dinner. Wear what has been laid out for you.” He turned to leave.
“The tie too?” I questioned as a mild joke.
“I am letting you be impulsive. Dressing nicely is the least you can do for me. Good luck.” He waved and left me alone in my room.
I wanted to rest, but I could not. I was too worked up. Instead, I showered and played video games until it was time for me to start getting ready. I sighed heavily when I saw the suit that I had been laid out for me. I did not want to be so dressed up for a dinner in my own home, but I knew I had no say in the matter.
I put on my white shirt and fastened each of the small plastic buttons. Next were my gray suit pants. I tucked in my shirt before weaving my belt through the loops. I went to the mirror in my closet and draped my thin black tie round my neck. I tied it ease and straightened it before putting on my gray jacket. I buttoned the top button. I put on my socks and stepped into my polished black dress shoes. I gave myself a final once over before heading over to Izzie’s room. After knocking on the door a few times, she answered the door looking as beautiful as ever.
“Well, Hello, Handsome.” She smiled at me.
She wore her hair down and kept it in its naturally wavy state. She french-braided her bangs to keep them out of her face. She was wearing more makeup than she usually did, but she still looked like herself. Her beige dress was flattering to her figure, but billowy enough to look comfortable and relaxed. I was happy to see that she was still wearing her charm bracelet.
“I’ve got nothing on you, Beautiful.” I leaned down and kissed her.
“Are you sure I look okay? I like it too much to trust my opinion on its appropriateness.”
I smiled. “It is all above board and I am pleased to see that you look like yourself.” I put my arms around her waist.
“You look so nice in your suit, but I have to admit that it’s a little strange for me to see you without your skater boy hair.”
“I hate it too.”
“I never said that. It’s different than your usual style, but its sexy in a distinguished sort of way.” She brushed it back with her fingers as a small smirk graced her face.
“I want to skip dinner.”
“What would we do instead?” She played along.
“I am sure we could think of something.” I buried my face in the crook of her neck. I started kissing it.
“You better not give me a hickey.”
“And if I do?” I smiled against her skin.
“You’ll be in so much trouble that it’s best that I don’t speak of it.”
I placed a final kiss there before pulling away.
“I don’t want them to think that’s all you keep me around for.” She added as she corrected my tie. Her facial expression conveyed vulnerability, instead of the light-hearted playfulness it usually did.
“It certainly isn’t. I love you as a person – all of your contradictions and quirks.” I guided her face up to mine.
“Contradictions?” She raised an eyebrow with a hint of smile.
“You are determined, but impatient. Random, but consistently loyal. Stubborn, but open-minded – I could go on for hours.”
A full blown smile popped onto her face. “It keeps things interesting.”
“I love it. Are you ready to go?” I asked.
She nodded. I took her hand and the two of us left her room. I lead her to the dining room on the first floor. We did not encounter of my family members, leaving me to believe they arrived at once and were already in their places, ready to pounce on my relationship and passive-aggressively air their disapproval.
Two royal guard members bowed when we arrived at the dining room’s set of double doors. “Good evening, Prince Milo.” One of them greeted.
“This is Izzie.” I introduced.
“Hi.” She smiled and waved with her free hand. They bid her a quick hello and opened the door for us.
Our intimate dining room was significantly smaller than the state dining room we use for hosting events. The walls were painted a deep red. Larger than life paintings with gold frames were hung on them. The ceilings were high-vaulted, an ornate gold chandelier danged from its center. A crisp cream-colored table cloth lined the long rectangular table.Center pieces lined the table and place settings were positioned in front of each guest.
My mother somehow corrected her already perfect posture. Her overall facial expression was emotionless. Her lips were set in a straight line, giving no indication one way or another. My father was at the head of the table. His expression was welcoming. My grandmother was across from him at the other end of the table. She mirrored my mother. My father’s siblings seemed indifferent to the whole situation, as did their spouses. I could see my cousin Salvatore, who is only a year younger than me, subtly checking Iz out to determine whether or not he found her attractive. His younger brother, Walter, whispered something into his ear. Whatever it was made him breathe a small laugh and shrug. My cousin Carlotta was too preoccupied with situating her napkin on her lap to know what was going on.
Izzie tightened her grip on my hand as the two of us endured most of them watching us. I brought the hand that I was holding to my lips and kissed the back of it. I glanced over in her direction and found her offering me a warm smile. I mouthed ‘I love you’. She mouthed ‘I love you too’ as a smile tugged at the corners of her lips. The two of us made our way to the table hand in hand. My father was seated at the head of the table. My mother was on his left. I sat down on his right. Izzie sat down in the empty seat beside me.
Sensing that she was still nervous, I took her hand back into mine beneath the table.
“Everyone, this is my girlfriend Isabella. Do you mind introducing yourselves?” I requested.
I did not particularly want to give all of them the ability to speak, but I knew my manners would be targeted if I pointed to everyone.
“I am King Vincent, Milo’s father, we are pleased to have you in Listonenia this summer.” He raised his glass to her.
“Queen Katalina, his mother.” My mother’s voice was even as her face remained blank.
“Princess Francesca, Milo’s aunt and Vincent’s sister.” My aunt offered her a polite smile.
“Prince Consort Robert, Milo’s uncle and Vincent’s bother in law.” He followed suit.
“Princess Carlotta. He’s my cousin.” She chirped with a bright smile. Her father smiled over at her.
“Queen Mother Henrietta. Milo is my grandson.” Her voice matched the cold expression her face.
She was not pleased and she made absolutely no attempt to hide it.
“Prince Matteo, Milo’s uncle.” He gave a simple wave.
“Princess Olivia, Matteo’s wife and Milo’s aunt.” She subtly sized Iz up as she introduced herself.
I ran my thumb over Izzie’s to comfort her.
“Prince Walter. They’re my parents.” He pointed to Olivia and Matteo with his thumb.
“I am Prince Salvatore, but call me Sal. I am Milo’s cousin. How old are you?” He rattled through his introduction rather quickly, but took his time during the question.
“I turned seventeen in April.” She offered him a nervous smile, still adjusting to all the eyes on her.
He nodded in understanding, but said nothing in reply.
She shifted her attention to my parents. “Thank you for allowing me to visit. Your country is very beautiful.”
“I am very pleased to hear that.” My father replied with a smile, attempting to put her at ease.
Things were still a bit uncomfortable as our first course was served. To alleviate some of the edge, I brought my glass of wine to my lips and drinking. It was the first time in a year that they served me.
“How did you meet?” My aunt asked out of curiosity.
“At boarding school.” My mother answered before either of us could.
I swallowed the wine in my mouth and lowered my glass a bit. “I hit her with my skateboard and sprained her ankle on her first day of school. Instead of holding a grudge, she was very nice about it. We quickly became friends.” I explained.
My mother looked at me pointedly and I felt my grandmother doing the same as the rest of the table chuckled lightly.
“I wasn’t completely nice to you. I fussed at you for not wearing your contacts and swatted you on the chest a few times when I realized I was injured.” Iz smiled over at me.
“You also made me carry you all over campus.”
“No, you did that because you felt bad. I switched it to a piggyback ride when you almost dropped me. You even coined the term ‘seeing-eye friend’.”
I breathed a laugh. “Friend.” I corrected lightly.
She giggled. “Right, seeing eye friend. My apologies.”
I desperately wanted to kiss her, but refrained from doing so to remain out of trouble.
“She should hate you.” Sal stated.
“I know. That’s why I love her.”
A radiant smile crept onto her face.
At the word ‘love’, my grandmother pursed her lips together tightly as if she were trying hard to hold onto her regal composure.
“You are both so young. I am sure you like and enjoy being around each other, but that does not necessarily constitute to love. You hardly know each other.” She offered us a stiff smile to tone down the negativity of her words.
“King Mother, I do not mean to speak for Milo, but I assure you that what we feel for each other is actual love and not an illusion created by our imaginations and hormones. You are right; we are young. We are not trying to get married or anything remotely close to that. We just want to be together.” Izzie responded both firmly and politely.
Her eyes widened in shock and her phony smile was wiped clean off her face. My dad momentarily looked over in Izzie’s direction with a subtle smile on his face. He returned to a more neutral expression when he caught his mother glaring at him.
“You feel that way too, Milo?” My mother looked at me for verification.
“I meant what I said.” I answered simply before I returned my attention to the food in front of me.
“Who you are makes your indiscretions easier to overlook.” My grandmother stated calmly.
“She did not know about my title until several months later.”
“That is rather convenient. Do you not agree, Vincent?” She looked to my father as she daintily lifted her glass of wine from the table.
“His identity was not common knowledge in America until a few days ago. It is highly probable that she did not know of his pedigree until he felt comfortable enough to disclose it.”
Before that moment, he had never vocally opposed any of her statements. Even when he disagreed, he would remain silent and let her think she was right. I knew she was counting on him to do it then. Her aura of superiority and confidence faltered a little.
I looked over at him in disbelief. He subtly nodded to me, silently informing me that he was on my side.
“Wilmer informed me that you are a divine dancer, Isabella. How long have you studied?” He engaged her kindly to overcompensate for our mothers’ behavior.
“I wouldn’t say ‘divine’. I try really hard. But, um – I took my first dance class when I was three years old, so about fourteen years now.” She downplayed with an appreciative smile.
“What type do you study?” My Aunt Francesca followed his lead.
I sent a warm smile her way, grateful that she was choosing to aid in making her feel comfortable.
“Ballet’s my specialty, but I’ve studied tap, lyrical, ballroom, modern, contemporary, hip-hop, and jazz over the years. Ballet allows for much less free expression, but there’s something beautiful about the rigor. You have to try hard to make it look effortless. I don’t know, I’ve just always liked how it contradicts itself.” She blushed and tucked her hair behind her ear with her free hand.
“We attend the Listonenian Royal Ballet Company’s productions quite often. Hopefully, Milo will take you to one of their shows during your stay.” She replied.
Izzie smiled. “I’d love that.”
“Add it to the list below ‘meet a mini horse’?” I joked.
She giggled and nodded.
“Mini horse?” My Uncle Matteo asked with an eyebrow raised.
“They essentially stay ponies forever. I’ve never seen one in person. It’s sort of a dream of mine to pet one and take a picture with it.” She explained, blushing slightly.
“You like ponies?!” My cousin Carlotta perked up, finally interested in what was going on.
“Most baby animals, actually. I’m terrified of birds, though. Bad childhood experience– one bit me.”
As dinner progressed, the air of discomfort did its best to subside. Small talk conversations occurred. Izzie wasn’t full on targeted or interrogated. After dinner, we convened in the formal lounge. A small orchestra was gathered, playing classical music to set the mood. Tea was served. Izzie and shared a love seat, somewhat secluded. Sal joined us after excusing himself for a bit.
“I have you ask you a few things, Izzie.” He made himself comfortable in his chair.
“What sort of things?”
“Things I asked Milo if he knew about you.”
“What kind of things?” She looked at me with hurt in her eyes.
“Not what you are thinking. Like what is your favorite book? And things like that.”
“I can answer that.” She agreed less self-assured than normal.
I pulled her closer to me and kissed the top of her head.
“What is your favorite color?” Sal asked, looking at his phone as a reference.
“Yellow. Did he get it right?”
“I will tell you at the end.”
My hand roamed her side.
“What is your birthday?”
“April 14th. Milo started the tradition of celebrating it on the 15th, but technically, it is the 14th. I’ll say both just in case.”
“That was long winded.” He looked up from his phone.
“Sorry, I talk a lot when I’m nervous.”
“Meeting the family on the first night must be rough. I had plans tonight. I am not pleased about the ambush either.“He returned his eyes to his phone. “Your favorite book?”
“I know it’s a children’s book. I’ve read tons since then, but I love Matilda by Roald Dahl.”
“And lastly, what is your favorite place?”
“It was the Koch Theatre in New York, but I am currently scouting new locations to serve as my favorite. How’d he do?”
“He got them all right. I am truly surprised. I thought he was just being stubborn. I see that you are real and he actually cares.” He stood up, typing away on his phone. “If anyone asks where I am, say --”
“I am well versed.”
“Right, the roles are reversed now.” He moved to stand before us. “May I have your hand, Isabella?” He extended his to her.
She lifted one of hers. I eyed him with skepticism.
“It was a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to seeing you again. You are truly bella.” He kissed the back of her hand. I was all too familiar with the look in his eye.
“Leave before I change my mind about covering for you.” I growled.
“A pesto.” He chuckled, walking off with his hands in his pockets.
“He was nice.”
“A little too at the end there if you ask me.”
“Is there a restroom nearby?”
“Yes, I will take you.” I stood up and offered her my hand.
She took it and the two of us left the room without informing the others.
“I am sorry about dinner.” I apologized as soon as we were alone.
“It’s fine. For the most part, everyone was nice to me, especially your dad.” She added after a moment of thought, smiling.
“Do you have a thing for my dad?”
“No, I’m simply stating that you resemble him. You’re both very handsome.”
“I’m watching you.”
“No need if you keep wearing your hair like that.” She smiled.
“All of the men in your family look alike. Sal could be your -- is that why you sent him away?” Her tone shifted from observant to accusatory.
I adverted my gaze. “We had identical upbringings. He was unknowingly my replacement during my spiral. His exploits go unnoticed for the most part. He could --”
“He’ll never be you. You’re the one I want. I’m a little insulted you think I’d jump ship because he looks like you and kissed my hand.”
I glanced over at her. “I’m sorry --”
“We’ve been through a lot together and apart. A younger knock-off isn’t going to sway me. Besides, I can tell from a mile away that he doesn’t have your signature brand of charm. I mean -- there was not a single trip, crash, or fall during our introduction. What kind of girl do you take me for?” She smirked.
I lifted the hand I was holding and kissed it.
I guided her to the restroom and waited outside as she went.
“Ready to go back?” She asked as she exited.
“I would much rather make out in a closet.”
“That is a very appealing offer. Maybe next time.” She took my hand and pecked me on the cheek.
The atmosphere of the lounge had severely shifted when we returned. My grandmother was furiously fussing at my father in Italian. My mother looked to be agreeing with whatever she was hyped up about. I could not hear any of it until I got closer.
“What are they saying?” Izzie whispered to me.
“She is angry you were invited here and we are together.” I translated.
“Nonna, I will be renouncing my title to live with Izzie in America on my birthday. We have both decided to drop out of high school to care for our child. Do not fret, I will become a cocaine dealer. We will have money in no time.” I directed my announcement to my grandmother.
“It was only a matter of time! You have done everything else!--”
Izzie’s face flushed. “I’m not -- I’m not pregnant. I’ll take all the tests you throw at me to prove it. I swear I’m not pregnant.” She quickly blurted out.
“None of what I said is true. That scenario is an example of a real mess. Our relationship is not one. If you continue to do this – question and belittle my decisions and disrespect her, I will remake my false outburst at a press conference without adding the ‘just kidding’ at the end. The media will have fun separating the fact from fiction. If you want a mess, I can give you one. The choice is yours.” I threatened.
“You would not dare.” My mother stated slowly.
I chuckled humorlessly in response. “Try me.”
“You have no idea what you are doing.” My grandmother shook her head in distaste.
“I am not nearly as dim-witted as you believe me to be.” I stated firmly before turning to Iz. “I apologize. Let’s go.”
“Goodnight, most of you.” I announced lastly, looking at them pointedly.
We left the room, hand in hand.
“Are you okay?” She asked gently once we turned the corner.
“You shouldn’t be the one asking that. What they did tonight was just –“
“I love you, okay?” She offered me a warm smile.
“I like being strange.” She stated lightly as she shrugged.
I breathed a small laugh and shook my head. “They bring out the worst in me. I’m sorry you were almost whisked away for a late-night termination.”
She fought off a smile. “It was actually funny in a twisted sort of way. You should’ve said drugs AND arms dealer – more money to be brought in to support our love child. Saying I’d become a prostitute would’ve been a nice touch as well. It would’ve rounded out the whole ‘every parents’ nightmare’ scenario quite nicely.”
I chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind for next time.”
“You better.” She smiled at me.