Chapter 72: Past Lives - Børns
I did not allow our situation to completely overtake our final week of high school. We were late to Dance, but we still went. We attended all of our classes, enduring our next level attention together. I was caught up on all that I missed in terms of recon after the last class of the day.
Advisors were flying in from Listonenia with photographers, a camera crew, wardrobe stylists and all of the other key players in orchestrating an interview. There was to be a teleconference interview and several photoshoots. It was game time and both of us did all that we could to prepare. I did not trust myself to wing it.
I ate a post-dinner snack composed of almonds, pretzel nuggets, rice cereal squares, dried cranberries, and white chocolate chunks. Izzie’s mom made it and sent it to me to let me know she supported the direction in which our relationship was going. It was one of the many food items she had sent Izzie over the course of the school year. She must have told her it was my favorite.
I almost chocked on a pretzel when Izzie and Elle joined me in their living room.
“Are you okay?” Izzie handed me the cup of water I had put on the coffee table.
“What is on your face?” I asked as soon as I stopped wheezing.
It was covered in thick green paste.
“A homemade facial mask. Beauty is a process. Tell her she’s pretty.” Elle demanded.
“He doesn’t –“
“He does if he expects me to let him marry you.” She addressed her. She looked at me with great intensity. “Your desire for her needs to be unconditional. She’s precious, even as a little green alien.”
“You’re beautiful. I was surprised.” I kissed Iz to apologize.
“I don’t care one way or another. It tastes good.” She poked her cheek and put the acquired goop into her mouth.
I did the same. “It does taste good. What’s in it?”
“Honey, lemon, and avocado.”
“It’d be good on chips.”
“That’s what I was thinking too. --”
“You can go back to eating her face later. I’d like to kick off rehearsal.” Elle interrupted us.
“Your time is valuable. Thank you for sharing it with us.” Izzie settled into her seat beside me.
“Yes, thank you.” I put my arm around her.
“I’ve been rooting for you babes from the start. It’s my pleasure.” She shuffled through the notecards in her lap. “We’re going to go over standard interview questions. I’m going to give you best and worst case scenarios.”
“Are you going to critique our reactions immediately or wait until the end?”
“Immediately. We’re short on time. Both of you need to get plenty of rest.” She crossed her legs at the ankle and sat up straight. “We can go over posture and seating arrangements later. I want you to be comfortable while I berate you.”
“Berate?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Worst case scenario. I need to make sure you can keep your cool. You’re not exactly known for that, especially when it comes to Babydoll.”
“This is what rehearsal is for.”
Izzie picked up a few pieces of the snack mix I had in the bowl on my lap. “Is this from my mommy?”
“Yes, it arrived a few days after I proposed.”
“She must really like you. Her mix is sacred.”
I kissed the top of her head, careful not to get her mask on my shirt or face.
“First question: how did you meet Ms. Hales?”
“You know it’s –“ Iz tried to remind her of new last name.
“I do, but the reporter might not. I repeat, how did you meet Ms. Hales?”
“I met Isabella at Sella Moora Academy, the boarding school we attend. Though Hales at the time, her last name has since changed to Zapata.”
“May I ask why?” She boldly intruded the way reporters in which reporters were prone.
“I was emancipated last year. I took my mother’s maiden name afterwards for much needed closure.” Her pain was audible.
“Okay, stop.” Elle held up her hand. “Babydoll, you can’t look away in discomfort as you explain things and you really can’t make yourself vulnerable by disclosing that much information.”
“I thought I had to be honest.”
“There’s a difference between lying and over-sharing. You’re not going to allow them to meet a girl who is struggling to piece her life back together. That’s not you anymore.”
“What should I say if asked this question?”
She pondered for a few moments. “Well, first, you’re going to put your head up and shoulders back. You’re going to hold a comfortable amount of eye contact and relax your face. You’re going to say, ‘I made the decision to change my last name to my mother’s maiden one following my emancipation’.”
“Body language aside, how is that any different from what Izzie did?” I asked on her behalf.
“I left out the reasoning and I framed it as an important decision Izzie made for herself for her own reasons. She looks strong, not scared and confused.”
“What if they ask about my emancipation?”
“They won’t. They already asked Milo about it last summer. Repeat reporting makes them look ill-informed.”
“You are good.” I stated, astounded.
“I know.” She returned her eyes to her notecards. “Izzie, I have the answer to that question written on here for you. Read it over tomorrow.” She sat the card on the armrest of the chair in which she was seated.
“Can you just do the interview for me?”
“No, moving on.” She shuffled to the next card. “Prince Milo, your relationships before the one you formed with Isabella have been very short lived and virtually nonexistent. Do you truly believe you are ready for such a commitment?”
“I know this relationship is vastly different than those of which I have previously been a part. She fell in love with me as a person; she was unaware of my title when we started seeing each other. We have been together almost two years. I have yet to feel so much as an inkling to wander.”
“Which date are you referring to as the start of your relationship? You use many.” Elle removed a pen from her bun.
“October was the start of our trial run. We’ve been together ever since.”
“I’ll take it. Will you Iz?”
“Yep. It’s not a lie.”
“Almost two years.” She said aloud as she wrote it on the notecard from which she read. “Why did you propose recently as opposed to later if your relationship is as strong as you believe it to be?”
“The circumstances were right. We are ready for this step as a couple and the misconception concerning my eligibility has been rectified prior to our return to Listonenia.”
“I like the conviction in your voice and fire in your eyes.” She pointed at me with her pen. “Very good look.”
“I need to rinse this off my face.” Izzie pushed herself up off the couch. She went through Elle’s room to get to their shared bathroom.
“Did she tell you what Anna said to her?” I resumed eating snack mix, both of my hands free.
“And?” I looked up from my bowl.
“She told you what she said too. I told Anna to watch how she talks about you from now on, so stay away from her.”
“Gladly. I was only willing to do it for Iz.”
“I thought so, but decided to make sure.”
“Is she –uh –“ I eyed the door to make sure Izzie wasn’t coming. “Is she intimidated by Anna’s looks?”
She pursed her lips together and glanced at her door the way I had. “She’s what Genette wished she looked like naturally and tried to make her. She’s not intimidated. She was reminded.”
“How was I supposed to know?”
“You obviously couldn’t, but it is hard for her to face that you were attracted to that, who she wished she could be for so long. Just be sensitive and patient with her. That’s all you can really do.”
“I’ll talk –“ I fell silent the moment I heard the doorknob twist.
“I said nothing. I’ll be back in a second.” Elle was quick to escape to the kitchen.
The door revealed Izzie’s newly washed face. Her makeup was rinsed away, revealing the freckles I adored. Her hair was removed from a ponytail, her loose curls free to fall past her shoulders. Her spandex athletic pants revealed the curves of which I was so fond. She flashed me a quick smile when she caught me staring. My heart hammered in my chest. I was completely mesmerized as she walked towards me.
“What’s with the face?” She sat at an angle and on one of her legs.
“Only you.” I placed her hand over my heart.
She rubbed my chest as she touched her lips to mine.
“Can I eat all of the white chocolate?” She whispered into my ear.
I smiled and nodded. She kissed my cheek as she stole my bowl.
“Where’s Elle?” She started searching through the mix for chocolate.
“The kitchen.” I rested my arm on the back of the couch. “How are you feeling about all this?”
“It is what it is. It’s becoming rather cathartic if I’m being honest.“ She put a chunk of chocolate into her mouth.
“You have nothing to worry about.”
“What are you talking about?” She found another piece.
“I’ve never been attracted to someone as much as I am to you. I love all that you are and have.”
She finally looked up from the bowl. “What did she tell you?”
“The sentiments remain true.”
“Eleanor!” She called for her. “Get in here!”
“Yes, Babydoll?” Elle batted her eyelashes as she poked her head through the kitchen’s archway.
“Why is he showering me in beauty-based praise?”
“Because he doesn’t know how to be subtle.” She glared at me.
“I needed her to know forthright. I hate this. I’d take it back if I could, but I can’t.”
“Babe, what are you talking about?”
I looked at her. “I was never with her sober. I was completely sober the first time with you and most of them thereafter. You’re incomparable.” I was quiet enough to keep the conversation between the two of us.
“You didn’t have to do this.”
“I love you.” She kissed me.
I moved my arm to her shoulders and kissed the side of her face. “I love you too.”
She shifted and her seat and rested her head on my shoulder.
“Everyone happy?” Elle walked in with a mug.
“You’re in trouble.” Iz resumed eating.
“I produced a moment. I should be thanked.”
“You still disclosed something embarrassing.”
“It’s just me.” I breathed into her ear before kissing the top of her head.
She snuggled closer.
Elle spent hours quizzing us. It left us with a promising sense of preparedness. I went into Izzie’s room and cuddled with her as I waited for Adam arrived to escort me home. I remained above the covers as she lied below them, ready for bed. Her head was on my shoulder and her arm across my torso.
“I didn’t want to come across as insecure. That’s why I asked you to drop it earlier.”
“You have a painful history you are still working to overcome. I’ll always try to understand as best I can and support you.”
“I knew that deep down, but the thoughts of inferiority aren’t rational and I hate acknowledging them.”
“You can’t repress things like that.”
“I hate making everything about me.”
“There’s a difference between high maintenance and taking care of your needs. You won’t let me pamper you, at least allow me to ensure you’re taking proper care of yourself.”
“I wish there was a way to explain this.”
“How well we fit together.” She traced the collar of my t-shirt. “You’re my other half, Milo. I feel it.”
I put my hand on top of the one she had on my chest. “I have felt it since our first kiss.”
“There were sparks.”
“Maybe I’m just a good kisser.”
“No one said both couldn’t be the case.” I kissed her fingers, one of which held her ring.
“Are you sure you can’t spend the night?”
“The advisors will be in by tomorrow morning. I do not know what time, so I should be in my bed for good measure. Believe me, I wish I could.”
“I’m going to turn in for the night. Replace yourself with Eric and Christina when you leave.” She angled her face up to mine and kissed me. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Beautiful.” I kissed her again. “Sleep well.”
She snuggled back into her place at my side. I held her until Adam texted me, telling me he was in the living room. Her stuffed frog and bunny were situated beneath her arm, just as she requested. I placed a kiss on her forehead and crept out of her room as quietly as possible.
We went to all our classes the next day, though given the option to spend the day relaxing in preparation for our big moment. We wanted as many things as possible to be on our own terms. Show prep started as soon as our last class let out. We were split up and told to report to our respective suites.
“Your school has been very accommodating. We were given permission to use the headmaster’s office for the interview and photographs. It is the most polished location on campus.” Gisele read from a clipboard.
“May I please shower in peace?” I used both of my hands to wipe water from my eyes.
“There is not time. Your first outfit is your approved uniform. We need photographs of you and Isabella as students to contextualize your relationship. Your blazer and other items have been pressed and are waiting for you in your room. Your suit is in the headmaster’s office. Time will be limited and we do not have time to return here to retrieve it. The director wants natural lighting.”
“Is that all? I rather you not be in the room as I exit the shower and get dressed.”
“For now. I will be in the living room. Do not dally. I will be waiting along side the makeup artists.”
“Which advisor is with Izzie?”
“Calvin. He knows to remain in the living room as she prepares herself.”
“Replace him immediately. He does not know how to speak to her or of her with respect. Send Verna.”
“But she is overseeing the crew --”
“Now. It is non-negotiable.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” She promptly left the room.
I concluded my shower shortly after she did. I picked up my phone on my way to my wardrobe. I pinned it to my ear as I sifted through my drawers.
“Hello?” Izzie answered.
“How has he been to you?”
“Ice cold but he has given me space. Elle and the stylists are in here with me.”
“They should have known better.”
“He hasn’t been close enough to effect me or my mood. Sami’s on it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Relax, Honey.”
I smiled. “I miss you.”
“Gosh, needy much? It’s been less than an hour.”
“My mind’s made up. I officially miss you.”
She jokingly groaned. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Goodbye, Handsome.” She imitated my accent.
I tossed my phone onto my bed. I was quick to put on my required garments and assigned ensemble. I spritzed on the cologne I knew Izzie liked best and went to the living room. I fought through the discomfort the hair and makeup artists produced. Gisele went over the plans for the day in more detail.
“Ultimately do what you can to make your family proud. Your brothers and sister will be watching this one day and you must set a good example.”
“Your brothers and sister. Did your father not reveal the genders of your siblings?”
“He has been rather busy. They just found out this week.”
“We have immediate access to her medical records. They did not tell us.”
I was disappointed in my father. I deserved to know. They were to be a part of my family too. I was once again left in the dark in situations that pertained to me.
Izzie looked stunning when we reunited in the admission’s office lobby.
“You look beautiful.”
Her arms were around my neck. My arms were around her waist.
“You look both handsome and upset. Why?”
“I was told by an advisor that I will soon have two brothers and a sister.”
“Your dad or Jacqueline didn’t tell you?”
“No. Gisele accidentally did.”
“I’m sorry, Babe.” She kissed me. “If it makes you feel any better, you’ll be there the moment I find out I’m pregnant and at all of my doctor’s appointments.”
“That does make me feel better.”
I was reminded we were forming a family, one that was to share everything.
“Your first pictures will be of you on the couch.” The photographer instructed, pointing to the gold French settee in front of the founder’s portrait.
“No, all wrong” Elle disputed, putting her hands on her hips after we sat down.
The photographer looked over at her. “Who are you?”
“Elle Woollard.” She created a box with four fingers in ‘L’ positions. “While visually appealing, they will look best in motion. It is more playful and modern. They will be the start of a new regime.”
“I have been taking royal portraits for longer than you have been alive. I believe I know what will be most appropriate.”
“The subjects will respond better to this. They like her because she is personable. Do not put her in a stuffy and stiff position. It is a waste.”
“Would you like to take this picture? It seems as though you think you know everything.”
“I was hoping you would ask.” She motioned us off the couch.
“What on earth do you think you are doing?” Calvin was right behind her.
“I’m giving you the photos you didn’t know you needed. You can thank me later.”
She had her own crew organized in the corridor. Misha was behind the camera and Ryan was standing beside her with his arms casually crossed.
“Interesting team.” I stopped in from of them.
“There are no hard feelings here. She’s the best photographer we know.”
“He has a knack for co-directing.” She adjusted her tripod.
I nodded for him to follow me as she continued to set up.
“Yes?” He asked when we were an acceptable distance away.
“Don’t sleep with either of them.”
“Thank you, Miles. I truly appreciate your faith in me.” He retorted sarcastically.
“You know this collaboration has the potential to spur something. Both you and Elle enjoy power. Misha could appreciate the gesture and the compliments you’re sure to give her through out the evening.”
“I am celibate at the moment per my counselor’s request. I can’t use another person as a vice. It isn’t fair. I think I can figure out how to keep it in my pants.”
“Good man.” I patted him on the back.
“Still pissed you doubted me.” He had the last word as we went our separate ways.
Elle placed us, literally walking us to our marks.
“Take her hand.” She ordered.
“You’re going to slowly walk towards Misha. Milo, I need you to look in Izzie’s direction, but not directly at her. It needs to look like you’re on your way to do it. Izzie, I want you to do your sweet closed mouth smile at the camera. Try to keep your face relaxed and not stare too hard. You’re in love and caught someone watching. If one of you ends of walking faster than the other, try to make sure it is Milo. It’ll be cuter and it will be a metaphor for him leading you into the spotlight. Got it?”
“Got it.” Izzie answered for both of us.
“This won’t be hard at all.”
“We did this earlier today.”
I kissed her for good luck.
“Ready?” Misha asked behind the camera.
“Ready.” Again, Izzie answered for both of us.
Our starting point was at the end of the meters long hallway. We maintained our specified poses for a while. We needed to create variations for comfort and to lessen awkwardness. I was in front of her by the time we reached the ending tapeline.
“We got some really good ones.” Elle’s eyes were on the Mac computer linked to Misha’s camera. Ryan was looking over her shoulder.
“I agree, but I want to get some at a bit of an angle. It’ll be a little more artistic. It’ll be more representative of where we are.”
“Yes.” Elle snapped and pointed to her.
“Also, Iz, continue you hold Milo’s hand with your right one and put your ring hand on his forearm. It’s adorable and it shows off the coveted ice.”
“Give her the chance to lead too. Have her look over her shoulder at him. She’s taking him some place new.”
“God, we’re good.” Elle shook her head with self-satisfaction.
The advisors were suspiciously quite. I believed at one point they had a collective stroke. Iz and I once again followed the team’s instructions. Calvin and Gisele were the ones at the computer the second time around.
“So?” I asked.
“I know the king will like them. This is how he loves seeing you.” Gisele smiled at the screen.
“You are photogenic.” Calvin begrudgingly admitted.
“We have plenty to choose from. Wilmer will be in charge of the final decision of which ones to send to distributers.”
“They need to edited first. It can be done within the hour. Finn!” Elle snapped her fingers.
“Do that again and I’ll delete everything and walk.” He walked up with his laptop beneath his arm.
“It’s best you don’t upset my client. He is a man of his word.” Sami appeared beside him.
Elle rolled her eyes. “I apologize. Please do the task you agreed to do.”
“You’re lucky he enjoys attitude.”
Finn plugged an external hard drive into the laptop they were using and downloaded the photographs onto it.
“I’m doing this from Lawrence’s desk.”
“Please do not move anything.” Gisele followed them into his office.
“Do you plan to film the teleconference too?” Izzie asked Elle as we made our way into the office.
“Obviously. They have no artistic direction. Nicky’s behind the camera. Finn set up the equipment while we were shooting. Sami and Adam helped him carry it from the art building. Morgan made snacks. You weren’t able to eat dinner.”
“You have taken over everything?” I couldn’t help but smile.
“Did you really think we would allow you to be their puppet? Never again. You’re humans. Two of our favorites.”
Izzie and I changed and had our makeup touched up by professionals before the cameras started rolling. Elle was spot on with the interview questions. It was almost eerie how she knew.
“I asked her because there is no reason to wait to pledge my love. We will wait a few years to become bride and groom, but I already know with whom I want to spend the rest of my life.” I concluded, looking at both Izzie and the collection of people behind the camera.
I felt better than I ever had during an interview. Izzie was at my side, holding my hand. Our family was behind the scenes making sure we remained ourselves as we shared our love with the world.