I could not hold it in longer. I burst out laughing to the point it made my stomach hurt. Mila seriously thought that I could be upset with her for doing her job. It is no secret that Mila wants to write an article about me. I knew exactly what her role is and still wanted to be around her regardless. I knew that she would find out more information sooner or later. I had to admit that I did not mind her knowing more about me. It felt good to open up, even if it little. Mila threw the pillow that was on the sofa at me and it made us both laugh even harder.
“You asshole!” She yelled. “I thought you were pissed at me!”
“It took you a week to find a small puzzle piece of my life. I was thinking you would have my birth certificate on the third day with your credentials Ms. Torres. You are behind schedule.” I gave her a small wink.
“Oh, it’s game on Phoenix. You wait and watch!” She responded as she sat closer to me on the couch.
We fell into a peaceful quiet as we continued to watch television and eat popcorn. The quiet between us did not feel awkward because it felt like I was in the comfort of my own home. Her head found the crook of my neck and I could feel her breathing slow down. She had fallen asleep. I looked down at my watch, it was almost 11 pm. Apparently, time seemed to work differently when I was with Mila. I sent Luke a message telling him that I would be home soon. Luke was still on high alert around me but allowed me to take the car out tonight to visit Mila. He assured me that he would be tracking my phone in case anything popped up and that I had to be home by midnight.
I heard keys turning the lock at the front door and was surprised to see Mila’s mother dressed in her blue scrubs. She suddenly stopped as soon as she saw me. I had a feeling that she was not aware of me spending so much time in her home. I moved as quietly as I could to not wake up Mila and moved towards Mila’s mother. She put her finger up to her lips and signaled for me to follow her to the kitchen. I followed suit.
Once we were in the kitchen, Mila’s mother started picking up the few things that were scattered around, “So you are Prince Phoenix? If I knew we would have royalty in this house I would have prepared a grand feast and cleaned up a bit more.”
“You have a beautiful home and please just call me Phoenix, no titles necessary.” I gave her a small smile that she returned. I could see so much of Mila in her. They shared the same eyes, smile, and looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. Mila’s mother just appeared to be more tired which no doubt had to be connected to the long hours that she worked as a nurse.
“Well Phoenix, we might not have a home made out of gold but you are welcome here anytime you’d like. Mila told me that you two are going to homecoming?” She asked while heating up some packaged dinner. She offered me some which I politely declined.
“Yes, we are. She has proved to have great dancing skills in her car so it looks like I might have to practice a bit before the dance.” This received a laugh from Ms. Torres.
“You have seen my daughter dancing and still asked her to the dance? You’re a brave man Phoenix.” She said sitting across from me in the kitchen. We fell into a random conversation. She told me that she visited Calida many years ago. She had met Mr. Garcia when he was a young man opening up the cafe for the first time and how she even helped him with the secret recipe of his famous burgers. I tried to squeeze the secret recipe out of her, but she told me that she swore an oath to Mr. Garcia and would never tell.
“Why did you choose to come back to the states? It sounds like you loved being in Calida.” I said curiously.
“Calida is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited Phoenix. I planned to spend more time there, but my mom got really sick and I had to come back home.” She explained that her mother had passed away from a rare form of cancer. She was so inspired by the nurses that helped her mother during that hard time, that she decided to be a nurse herself. She told her stories with such warmth and passion that I quickly realized that Mila must have inherited that drive of telling stories from her mother. Her stories made me feel like I was back in Calida. It even made me feel a bit homesick.
I looked down at my watch and realized that it was close to midnight.
“Thank you for sharing your stories with me Ms. Torres. I could hear them all day, but unfortunately, I have to head back now.”
“Of course, I understand. Please drive safely. I hope you can join us for a real dinner one day Phoenix. I will have Mila set it up.” She said with a smile.
“That sounds perfect,” I said before heading out. Mila was still sound asleep on the sofa as her mother grabbed a blanket and placed it on top of her. She sat next to her daughter and cuddled her as she remained asleep. I felt a sense of jealousy deep down. A part of me always wanted those actions to be done from my own mother, yet it was always Cassandra who would step into that maternal role.
I got to the apartment complex five minutes before midnight and saw that Luke was still wide awake. I reassured him that everything ran smoothly and that he could go to bed now. We have not had any incidents with the paparazzi since the first day of school. Mr. Mendoza worked a plan with the local sheriff and got a perimeter set around the school. No journalist was allowed near the school to ensure the safety of the students and myself. Luke has been able to relax more the last couple of days knowing that we had a great routine in place. He has sent constant updates to my father and thankfully they never included Mila.
I brushed my teeth before heading to bed myself. It was yet another long day and my body was soothed to sleep as soon as I laid down.
I woke up around 8 AM. It was still a perfect time to call my mother and father before they went to sleep. I called the palace and Cassandra was the first to pick up. She wanted to know everything that was new with me. I briefly told her about the homecoming dance and how I was adjusting quite well in the states. She reminded me how much she loved me and that she was happy for me. Of course, I missed parts of Calida like Cassandra and the twins, but I was not ready to head back just yet. Cassandra transferred me to my father’s office where he automatically picked up.
“Hello son, how is everything going?”
“Hello father, everything is going great. It has taken some time to grow accustomed to the American culture, but I do feel like I am starting to get a hang of it.”
“A hang of it? It sounds like you are absorbing the American lexicon quite well son. Well, I am pleased to hear that you are doing well. I wanted to inform you that your mother and I have agreed on a bride upon your return. Her full title is Princess Elle Charlotte of Taran. You met her once briefly as a child. Her father and I have come to an agreement and they have approved of the marriage. The wedding will take place next summer.”
I fell like someone had punched me in the stomach. I had forgotten about the terms that I had set with my father and mother. I had agreed to a prearranged marriage and that is exactly what was set for me. I shut my eyes and began to think. Elle Charlotte of Taran was the youngest daughter of King Albert of Taran. She could not be older than sixteen if her eldest brother was around my age. They ruled the island of Taran that was smaller than Calida. Taran’s economy ran solely on transporting goods through Calida which we benefited from taxing them. A marriage linking the two countries was good for both countries.
“The Calida Times will announce the engagement in tomorrow’s paper. I will have Jenna send you a copy in your email. Take care son. Your mother and I will keep in contact.” My father said before hanging up.
I felt like I could not breathe and the room was getting smaller. I started gasping and yelled out for Luke. I never had a heart attack, but I assumed they felt just like this. Luke slammed my bedroom door open looking around the room for a possible intruder in a true fighter’s stance. I waved him down to look at me laying in my bed.
I pointed to my chest, “I can....I can not breathe.” Luke kneeled down at me and observed me. Luke did not hesitate. He picked me up with such force and took me down to the car. I sat in the back in the car still having difficulty breathing as Luke drove. We arrived at a small clinic about five minutes away. Luke carried me from the car into the emergency entrance of the clinic. I saw numerous nurses running around tending to different patients. Luke yelled for one of them to help and one nurse brought over a wheelchair. Luke placed me in the wheelchair and explained that I could not breathe. The nurse told him to take a seat in the waiting room and rolled me into one of the clinic’s rooms. She helped me up onto the bed in the room.
“Phoenix?” A familiar voice said in the distance. As the person got closer, I noticed that it was Ms. Torres standing there in her blue scrubs. She told the other nurse that she would take it from here and pulled out her stethoscope. She continued to ask me questions as she checked my heartbeat. By this time, I had gained more control over my breathing and only had trembling hands. Mila’s mother began writing down all the symptoms that I felt when I started to feel more normal.
“Oh, honey. I know exactly what this is. You had a panic attack.” She explained.
“A panic attack? I never felt anything quite like that. It surely had to be something more serious than a panic attack. It felt horrible.” I said.
“I know they feel horrible. For some of us, anxiety hits us different and certain stressors can affect us differently. Some people get panic attacks more frequently or randomly than others. Have you ever had one?” She asked.
I shook my head.
“You will be okay,” She sat on the bed with me and brought me in for a hug. It felt so peculiar and reassuring at the same time. “I’ll call the doctor to check you once last time. He can prescribe you something for the attacks if you would like.”
I nodded. The doctor was called in and he confirmed that it was indeed a panic attack. He prescribed me some medication that would help me relax and stop the trembling in my hands.
“Thank you for your help. You really are a great nurse.” I told Ms. Torres after the doctor left.
“Of course honey. I will need a couple of signatures from a guardian before you go. Is someone here with you?” She asked. I told her that my driver was out in the waiting room. She called the front desk asking them to send Luke back to the room.
After a few minutes, Luke appeared at the door. Once he saw that I was okay, he sighed in relief.
“Ok sir, I’m going to need a few signa--wait Luke?” Mila’s mom stopped dead in her tracks. Luke’s eyes widened as he had just seen a ghost. I have never seen Luke scared of anything until this very moment.
“Natalie? What...What are you doing here?” He asked still flabbergasted.
“How do you two know each other?” I interrupted.
“Natalie and I....,” Luke tried to explain. “We um...”
“We are old friends.” Ms. Torres finished for Luke. She did not look quite pleased to see him. “Now, if you could sign these papers and take Phoenix home for some well-needed rest, I would really appreciate it.”
Luke grabbed the clipboard and finished signing my release papers. Mr. Torres took the clipboard from him and gave me one last hug before she walked away.
Once we were in the car, I felt the tension in Luke.
“I am assuming that Ms. Torres is the ex-girlfriend?” I asked.
Luke nodded and started the car. As we drove home, I had three things swirling in my mind; I just had a panic attack, my engagement would be announced tomorrow, and my driver’s ex-girlfriend was Mila’s mom.
My life just got a lot more complicated.