Chapter 6: When You Were Young - The Killers
“You are very talented, Isabella. Have you ever considered dancing professionally?” Vladimir, the dance instructor, complimented.
“For as long as I can remember.” She answered as we continued to waltz around the ballroom.
I spun her around and dipped her. “She will do it.” I smiled down at her. I lifted her back to a standing position as she beamed at me.
“I still haven’t received any job offers.”
I clasped her left hand with my right and kept my left on her waist. Her other hand was securely placed on my shoulder.
“They have not been sent out yet.” I reassured.
“What’s your specialty?” Vladimir asked.
“Are you on pointe?”
“Yes. For years. Why?” She looked over at him, unsure where he was going with all of his questions.
“I am the director at The Listonenian Royal Ballet Company. I am on retainer at the palace to instruct dances for balls, but my main job is there. Would you be interested in auditioning?”
She opened her mouth several times, attempting to say something, but unable to find the correct words.
“Do not feel obligated. I will understand if you say no.”
She shook her head. “I just – you want me?” She stammered in disbelief.
“Your level of grace is not taught. It comes naturally. Years of instruction have simply nurtured it. I’ll have to see to be sure, but I feel like you would make a nice addition to my roster.”
She returned her eyes to mine. “Would that be weird for you – me attempting to get a job here?”
“I know you are not trying to smother me. This is about you, as it should be. Go for it.”
“I brought my pointe shoes. I’d love to dance for you.” She told Vladimir.
“You are busy today, but we will find a time. I am interested in pursuing this. I will leave you my card.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity.” She thanked him graciously.
After running through our dance one more time for Vladimir, I had to get a haircut. Izzie tagged along. She played on her phone for the majority of the time. Afterward, the two of us returned to our rooms to get ready for the remainder of the day. I dressed for my interview. It was a televised interview masquerading as a friendly gathering. In ordinance with that, I was given casual clothes to wear. I showered before getting dressed.
I was attempting to fasten my watch to my left wrist when my cell phone started to ring. I knew it was Izzie because of the ring tone.
I brought it to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hey, do you mind coming to my room? My dress has buttons in the back and I can’t fasten them myself.”
“Sure. I will be over in a second.” I hung up and slid my phone back into my pocket.
I quickly strapped on my watch before walking to her room. I knocked once and she answered the door.
“You look beautiful.”
She smiled. “Thanks. Do you mind?” She turned around.
I saw the three pearl buttons at the top of her back. “Not at all.” I stepped forward started buttoning them.
“I know I am sitting on the sidelines today, but I didn’t want to look like a complete slob.” She admitted, smoothing down the skirt.
“You never do.”
“What if they bring up my eating disorder, my lawsuit, or my parents? I don’t want to make your family look bad.”
“Someone once told me that the things that happened in their past are theirs and they can do whatever they want with them. She wanted to laugh about them during that particular conversation. I will not take away her opportunity to tell her story by doing to for her. If they ask, I will not be answering.”
“You’re using my words against me?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Are they helping?”
“Maybe. I don’t want the women in your life to keep hating me. I feel like owning my flaws will make them do it more.”
“Your ability to do that is what I love most about you. You are your own person; different from anyone I have ever met. Showing that will make them understand why you are the one I want.”
“Okay.” She meddled with her bracelet. “You look nice in your polo by the way.” She added after a moment of thought.
I breathed a laugh. “What makes you say that?”
“For starters, darker colors look good on you. This one in particular defines your chest and your biceps. My boyfriend’s sexy.”
I chuckled lightly. “My girlfriend is too.” I placed a kiss on her shoulder when I was finished with her buttons
She twirled around. “Are you finished getting ready? You can stay in here if you want. I’ve got to do my hair and makeup and put on my shoes.”
“Okay, I’ll wait.” I sat down on the couch in front of the television.
I watched a football match as she fluttered about her room, trying to get ready. When she was done, the two of us went to the back patio. The natural lighting and the garden backdrop created the picturesque stage the producer wanted. After meeting the reporter and shaking her hand, I was fitted with a clip on microphone. I sat down on the cushioned rod iron loveseat. I was relaxed, casually resting my arm on the armrest.
The first questions were typical – what my plans were for the summer, how was my semester at school, and what I missed most about Listonenia while I was away. I was aware things were about to shift the moment she pulled out a file folder. I braced myself for the worst.
“There are reports that you have a new girlfriend.”
I momentarily glanced over at Izzie. “Yes.”
“Where did you meet her?” She asked next.
“At the boarding school I attend in the United States.”
“Is it true that she has a complicated past?”
“What does that even mean, really?” I politely deflected.
“There are reports of a major conflict with a former classmate, unstable behavior, and family disputes.”
“She has overcome many obstacles. The specifics of which are no one’s business.” I flashed a smile afterward to tone down the blunt honesty.
“What attracted you to her?”
“She does not rely on me to be her hero. She accepts me as I am and I do the same for her. That is why I love her.”
The reporter’s mouth went agape. She quickly regained her composure. “You feel as though you are in love?”
“How does your long-term girlfriend Osha feel about your new relationship?”
“I never dated her. We do not keep in touch. I do not know how she feels.” I set the record straight.
“But your grandmother –“
“Does not know about my romantic life and never has. She asserts her opinions.” I interrupted.
She returned to standard questions when she perceived that I would not lash out in my old manner or over-disclose. As soon as the camera stopped rolling, I sighed in relief as I pulled off the microphone that was clipped to the collar of my shirt. I stood up from the couch and handed it to the nearest technical crew member.
“Thank you.” Izzie hugged me.
“They do not know us.” I kissed the top of her head.
We ate lunch shortly after my interview. The rest of the afternoon was ours to do what we wanted. Iz understandably wanted to change out of her dress before we did anything.
“Unbutton me?” She requested when we reached her room.
“Sure.” I walked up to her back.
I unfastened each of her buttons with ease. “Do you want me to leave?” I asked when I was done.
“You’re fine. Thanks.” She offered me a smile. I sat down on the couch. She retreated to her closet. She came back shortly wearing a baseball tee featuring dinosaurs, jean shorts, and Converse.
“Now I feel like I should change.” I stood up from my seat.
She smiled. “It’s not too late.” She slipped her phone into her pocket.
“Come with me?” I offered her my hand.
“I guess.” She rolled her eyes with a smile, placing her hand in mine.
The two of us headed over to my room. I quickly changed into my definition of causal clothes. Afterward, the two of us headed outside. I took her to the golf cart charging station. I sat in the driver’s seat and waited for her to climb into the passenger.
“Where are we going?” She asked as I started it.
“Can’t say.” I drove out of its parking space.
“Can’t say or won’t?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Both.” I sent a smile her way.
She giggled. “Can you at least tell me why we need a golf cart?”
“Where we are going is on palace grounds, but located on the far side of the estate. Walking would take way too long, especially for someone as impatient as you.”
“Can I drive?” She requested with a hopeful smile.
“You don’t know where we are going. How can you drive there?”
“You tell me when to turn.” She shrugged.
“Fine.” I pressed the brake. We switched sides. Her face was lit up with excitement when she settled into the driver’s seat. She pressed the gas pedal and we zipped off at lightning speed.
Though we were going fast, I would not describe her as a poor or reckless driver. She managed to maneuver past all obstacles and follow the directions I threw at her. I am sure it provided the tourists with a good show.
“Horses?!” She cheered when I told her to park outside the stables.
“Mhmm.” I stepped out, happy to no longer be whizzing across gravel paths at top speed.
I walked over to her side and extended my hand to her. She took it and the two of us walked up. Trainers were there, grooming and caring for the horses. They greeted us, but left us alone for the most part. When were at the stall I wanted, I paused and looked over at Iz.
“It’s not a mini horse, but one of the horses had a pony eight months ago. Would you like to pet it?”
She nodded eagerly as she beamed with excitement. I chuckled as I unhinged the gate of his pen and stepped inside. I gestured for her to follow me. She placed her hand on her mouth when she saw him. I was truly worried that she would start to cry from happiness.
“It’s so cute. Is it a mare or a filly? ” She stepped forward to touch him. She ran her fingers through his white mane.
“Mare. If you could give him any name, what would it be?” I asked out of curiosity.
“Peter Nincompoop.” She continued to pet his pure white coat.
I laughed. “Peter Nincompoop – right off the bat, no need to think?”
“You’re not allowed to judge me. Isn’t that right, Peter?” She gave him a hug.
I shook my head at her.
“Do you mind taking a picture of us?” She requested, extending her phone to me.
“We should take this out to the pen. There is better lighting outside.”
“Can we watch him walk around afterward?”
I smiled. “Sure.” I fastened a bridle and reins to him.
I led him outside with ease. He had a little bounce in his step because his legs were still growing. For whatever reason, Iz felt it made him that much cuter. The three of us went into the gated circle. I shut and locked the door before letting him go. I took Izzie’s phone and waited for her to pose with him. I ended up taking over a dozen pictures. She stated that it was too important of an event to only settle for one shot. We let him run around and play. One of the trainers gave us apples to feed to him. She stated that they were his favorite. His whinnying proved her to be correct. Iz was on cloud nine. I had not seen her that happy since her birthday. I knew playing with a pony all afternoon made up for my family’s behavior the night before.
We headed inside to get ready for the ball at 5:00 PM.
Upon entering my room, I took a shower. Once I was done with that, I threw on a t-shirt and sweatpants, plopped down on my couch, and started playing video games.
I had full intentions of playing until 7:00, throwing on my tuxedo at the last possible minute, and praying like hell that I would be ready to go at 7:30. That is not what happened. There was a knock at my door around 6:00.
I reluctantly paused my game and climbed off the couch to answer the door.
“Is it alright if I come in and talk with you?” My dad requested.
“Sure.” I ushered him inside. I shut the door and returned to my couch.
“Nice room. Has it always been here?”
“No. It used to be down the hall from yours. Will moved me here when I came home this summer. It is a win/win. I am closer to Iz and away from Nonna’s nagging.” I rested my back and watched him pace around my room.
“Hmm, I may have to ask if he can do the same for me later.” He joked.
“She gets on your nerves too?” I asked playfully, not at all expecting him to respond.
“Are you kidding me? She used up my last nerve twenty years ago. ”
“I am glad I am not the only one that feels that way about her.”
“You are not the only one that feels a lot of things.” He stopped pacing, putting his hands behind his back.
“I may not care for Katalina as I should, but I will always love that she gave me you.” He continued.
“I thought so, but restating it could not cause harm. Keep Izzie and the rest of your friends close, even the one that examined your mother, claimed it was hot, and took his shirt off as an attempt to impress her. --”
“That was Ryan. He hates clothes and loves women.”
He chuckled. “Have fun with them. I like that they make you happy. Try your best to be careful. You are young, not invincible.”
“Your last request is going to be difficult for me. I am accident prone.”
“I am aware. How did you manage to hit that poor girl with your skateboard?”
“I was not wearing my glasses or contacts. I was skateboarding down a hill. You can figure out the rest.”
“And she is still willing to date you? She might be the one.” He teased.
“Maybe.” I smiled.
“I have a few things to give you.” He dug into the inner pocket of his jacket.
“There are some accidents we can prevent.” He tossed me a rectangular box. I caught it.
“Condoms?” I looked at him in disbelief.
“Last night’s announcement was made to get a rise out of our mothers. Let us keep it that way.”
“That was the most fraternal thing you have ever said to me.” I teased.
“I am not even done yet.” He retrieved a small velvet box from his pocket and sat down beside me.
“Can’t throw this one?”
“No. It has been in our family for centuries.” He placed it in my hand.
“You are trusting me with a family heirloom?”
“It is supposed to go to you. It was in your grandfather’s will. I was asked to wait until your eighteenth birthday, so that you could propose to Osha. We have changed your fate. There is no reason you cannot have it now.”
I lifted the lid slowly. The ring nestled in the silk folds was undeniably beautiful. An oval-shaped emerald green jadeite gem was surrounded by small diamonds, causing the antique ring to resemble a flower. It was daintily perched on a yellow gold band.
“An engagement ring.” I thought aloud.
“It was supposed to help you with your task. How unbelievable is that? Like an antique engagement ring was going to make it any easier for you to marry someone you do not love.”
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I looked to him for guidance.
“Keep it somewhere safe. I trust that you will know who to give it to and when to use it. All of it is your choice.”
I returned my eyes to it. “Whom did it belong to?”
“Roselina I. It was deep within the vault. A true treasure because of its age and how much Faustino loved her. I believe its next owner must be worthy of it.”
“You believe I will not mess up?” I asked in small voice.
“You cannot do any worse than my father did.”
I breathed out a small laugh and looked back down at the ring. “Thank you.”
“I know I have not been the best at showing it, but I am proud of you, Milo.” He offered me a smile.
“You have put forth effort to improve yourself. You have always had spirit, but you are finally displaying in a productive manner.” He pulled me in for a hug.
I held him close and took a deep breath. He didn’t pull away until I did, which made me smile internally.
“I think I will be in a lot of trouble if I show up wearing this.” I joked.
“Right. I will leave you alone.” He rose to his feet.
“I like your girlfriend. She talks a lot when she is nervous, but she – she is something.” He looked over his shoulder on the way out.
“That is one of the best ways to describe her.”
“See you later.” He waved goodbye and left my room.
I smiled uncontrollably as I got a dressed. I had attempted to talk myself into believing that I did not need his approval my entire life. He told me I had it and I was a little embarrassed by how happy it made me.
I walked into the ballroom alone. My full name was announced as I stood on the landing at the top of the stairs. Instead of focusing on my sea of guests, I scanned the room for Izzie. As soon as my eyes settled on her, my heart started to hammer in my chest. She was standing near the stairs, looking up at me with a smile. As I descended, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from hers. I felt like everything and everyone around me disappeared; we were the only ones left.
I made a point to memorize everything about her. She was wearing the mauve strapless dress she wore to prom. A diamond necklace rested on her collarbones, gleaming delicately in the light. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a side bun, her curly tendrils framing her face.
I noticed Osha waiting on the first step with her hand extended for me to take.
“We can stop pretending.” I told her softly, lowering her hand to her side.
“Are you kidding me?” She growled under her breath.
I looked to Izzie for a moment and returned my eyes to Osha’s. “I can’t do this.” I stated simply before walking away.
I went right up to Izzie, took her left hand and brought it to my lips. “You are so beautiful.”
She curtsied and allowed a crooked smile to grace her face.
“Who taught you ball etiquette?” I kept her hand in mine and led her to the table.
“I’m from the Upper East Side. I know all the rules of high society. I simply choose not to follow them on a daily basis.” She whispered and kept a pleasant smile for the outside world.
We sat down together at a table with my family. It was my parents along with my uncle, aunt, their spouses, my cousins and my grandmother. I was confused about why there were five more seats at our table than necessary. As if in answer to my question, Osha and her family joined us. All of them, except for Penelope, who was her usual indifferent self, stared daggers at Izzie as they sat down.
I removed Izzie’s hand from her lap and held it to comfort her.
The beginning of dinner was awkward. Iz and I kept to ourselves, whispering little things back and forth to each other to ease the tension.
“Why did you make them waste their time by cooking for you? You are just going to make yourself throw it up as soon as you excuse yourself to the restroom.” Osha called to Izzie when our entrees arrived.
Iz flushed and looked around at everyone at the table, hoping they did not hear.
“Darling, what do you mean?” Osha’s father asked.
“Isabella is bulimic. She vomits after every meal as an attempt to be thin.” She announced loudly, gaining everyone at the table’s attention.
I was seething with anger. I opened my mouth to tell her off when Iz beat me to it.
“Anorexic, purging type, actually. I was, as in past tense; I’m not anymore. I know your next announcement will be along the lines of ‘she went to rehab’. I’ll save time and address it while I have everyone’s attention. That’s where I was last summer. I received treatment for my eating disorder. That’s not a crime nor something appropriate to announce during dinner.” Iz explained before she resumed eating.
“She is healthy now. That is all that matters.” My father broke the awkward silence.
“It should come as no surprise that I refuse to marry you!” I told Osha.
“MILO!” My grandmother cried in outrage.
“I stand by my statements. She had no right to attempt to publicly disgrace Isabella.”
“Vincent, --” She pleaded with him to intervene.
“I must agree with him. That display was deplorable.”
She looked at him pointedly. He looked down at his meal and began to eat, ignoring her silent tantrum. After the world’s most awkward dinner, Izzie and I left the table and went out on the balcony.
“Even on my best behavior, I’m still the dirty mistress.” She rested her elbows on the railing.
I put my arm around her waist. “My dad likes you.”
She looked over at me. “What did you say?”
“Nothing. You did. More accurately, you nervous rambled.” I teased.
She nudged me lightly. “Dads scare me.”
“I know.” I kissed the top of her head.
“Your should-be-wife is kind of awful.”
I chuckled. “Yes, she is.”
Instead of going inside, we danced under the stars to the music filtering in from the ballroom.
“You’re cute.” I smiled down at Iz. I started laughing when she scrunched her face up adorably.
“Why do you keep saying that?” She whispered in response.
“Why do we keep whispering?” I asked in a whisper. We both busted out laughing.
“I don’t know, but it’s fun.” She said in the same tone of voice. She resumed giggling.
“You’re cute” I said again to pick with her. She narrowed her eyes at me.
“If you don’t st-” Before she could finish her sentence, I lowered my lips to hers and kissed her. Instead of pulling back right away, our lips moved in sync as I tightened my arms around her waist and she put her arms around my neck.
“Ready to get out of here?” I breathed into her ear when we pulled away for air. As soon as she nodded in agreement, I took her hand and we strolled of out the ballroom as discretely as possible. Once we were away from everyone else, we started to laugh hysterically as we ran through the palace, hand in hand.