I was snoozing the morning away caught in between the sweetest of dreams until I felt the full force of a pillow to the face. Disorientation struck as soon as I opened my eyes. My mom stood above me with her hands on her hips. She was still in her pajamas with her long black hair loose, a big difference from her scrubs that felt like a second skin to her.
“WAKE UP MILA! YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE FOR SCHOOL!” My mom shouted as she grabbed my legs and began to tug on them.
I groaned pulling up the covers above my head, “Five more minutes mom.”
“No, it’s time to get up princess!” She said while still tugging at my feet.
I gave up the fight and got up. The clock that was adjacent to my bed read 6:30 AM and I realized I only had 10 minutes to get ready. I quickly worked a brush through my hair with one hand while attempting to brush my teeth with the other hand. It proved to be a tedious way of doing the task and I had to rush myself into an outfit even quicker. I picked a dark pair of slim jeans paired with a gray sweatshirt and my white converse. I had to skip breakfast completely, but luckily my mom was waiting with my backpack and car keys by the door.
“I packed a protein bar in there.” She said as I grabbed my items. She gave me a forehead kiss before I ran out of the door. The time in my Jeep read 6:40 AM exactly which gave me 5 minutes to get to school for the Journalism team meeting. We were required to attend a meeting every school day 15 minutes before school started. Nick hated when our members arrived late, which gave me more motivation to get there on time. Thankfully, school was not too far and I managed to get every green light. Luck was on my side today or so I hoped.
When I arrived on campus and parked my Jeep, I spotted Nick Collins getting out of his car. I grabbed my backpack and ran as fast as I could.
I managed to beat him to the lab room where everyone else was already sitting. I took my usual empty seat next to Ava.
“Cutting it close there Babe,” Ava said under her breath. Jimmy was sitting on the other side of her giving me a quick head nod of acknowledgment.
I didn’t get the chance to respond because the storm of Nick Collins came rolling in. He was fuming like he had been every meeting last week, yet he looked particularly angry today. He sat his belongings down at the desk and turned on the lab’s projector that was connected to his laptop. We could see his laptop screen up on the projector. He typed in The Calida Times and it all came crashing down.
The online news article was headlined, ”Prince Phoenix James of Calida Betrothed To Taran Princess“.
Some of us gasped. Some of us stayed quiet. I was a part of the later. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I continued to read the online article that read:
"King George James and Queen Catherine of Calida are happy to announce the engagement of their son, Prince Phoenix Elliot James of Calida and Princess Elle Charlotte of Taran. The highly anticipated wedding has been confirmed to take place next summer in Calida after the Crowned Prince’s 18th birthday.
King Albert of Taran and the Taran Family have expressed their excitement over the engagement and the future union of Calida and Taran. The Calida Times still awaits an official comment from Prince Phoenix Elliot James of Calida who is currently studying abroad in the United States.”
Nick stood at the front of the room, “How the hell did no one know about this?” He yelled out loud, yet focused his attention on me.
I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Did Phoenix know? Of course, he did. He had to, but what didn’t he tell me anything? We spent so much time together this week and he never thought to tell me that he had a future bride waiting back home? My head began to spin with my thoughts.
“We have a chance to salvage this,” Nick began to pace across the room. “The article mentions that they are still waiting for an official comment from the little Prince, so we are going to get one.” He stopped pacing right in front of my seat. He lowered his head to meet my gaze straight on. The action made my whole body tense up.
“Mila, this is your last shot. You either get me something worthy of your position or you are off this staff.” He said straight to my face.
“You can’t do that!” Ava stood up.
“On the contrary Johnson, Mr. Mendoza gave me full liberty to make any changes on this team as I see fit. Mila has slacked off because she’s too busy hooking up with the Prince.”
“I’m not! You’re just being an asshole!” I yelled back.
“I don’t give a fuck. What I do care about is you standing in my way! So do your damn job or you’re off this staff.” He yelled.
The school bell rang. It was time to head to our first class of the day. Everyone scurried away to their classes mostly to avoid Nick’s fury. He gave me one last look before I walked outside of the classroom. My blood boiled thinking about him embarrassing me in front of the others. I couldn’t believe I actually had a thing for him at one point.
“Why do we deal with that douche?” Ava said when we were far away from the classroom.
“We need him,” I stated. Before Nick came along, no one took our paper seriously. After he was put in charge, it became the number one news source in our town. Some of our articles even went trending, gathering attention from some important individuals. The rumor going around was that Nick was already offered a full ride to Stanford University and a summer internship. With so many eyes on us, I have to make sure to deliver because my dream school and a full-ride were possibly on the line. I have to deal with Nick and I have to get this damn comment from Phoenix.
I waited for him to show up at our usual spot at lunch, but he never showed up. I asked Becca Fuller if she had seen Phoenix, but she said that he never showed up. I texted him during lunch but he never responded. Part of me was worried, this felt very unlike Phoenix. However, maybe it was all in my head and I never really knew who Phoenix was in the first place.
The school day had finished and he never showed up. I headed home wishing I knew where Phoenix lived to go to him instead of waiting for him to respond.
Once I was home, I grabbed my phone and began texting, “Emergency. Need to see you. My house?” I pressed send.
A few minutes passed before I felt a vibration coming from my phone.
“Be over soon.” He text read.
Around 20 minutes passed before I heard the front doorbell ring. I opened it and there he stood. He looked quite awful compared to his usual self. He looked like he had not slept or eaten. He was dressed in a hoodie with sweatpants. His ocean eyes were grey today and they managed to highlight the dark circled under his eyes. I told him to come in expecting that he might have passed out any minute.
“What is the emergency?” Was what he first said.
My mom came into the room interrupting what I was about to say. She gave him one look and headed towards the kitchen. She came back with a store-bought sandwich from our fridge and gave it to him.
“Eat it, honey. You need to eat something.” She told Phoenix.
Phoenix sat down and began eating the sandwich. He was famished.
“Are you taking the pills Phoenix? Are they making you sick?” My mom said sitting next to him on the couch. She pressed the palm of her hand on his forehead checking if Phoenix had a fever. I could see that my mom was in her full mother/nurse role.
“What pills?” I interrupted.
My mom looked at me and then at Phoenix. There was something that they were not telling me and I didn’t like it.
“I had a panic attack yesterday and your mom helped me out at the clinic. I got some pills prescribed and no Ms. Torres, they are not making me sick. I just had a rough night and did not get any sleep.” Phoenix responded.
“Wait, what? Why didn’t you tell me, mom?”
“Phoenix is a patient. You know I can’t talk about my patients.” She responded and I understood. She took her job seriously and could lose her license if she talked about her patients outside of work.
“Are you okay?” I asked Phoenix. It was a silly question. Of course, he wasn’t okay. He didn’t look okay. It made me feel awful seeing him this way.
“Just tired.” He responded.
“Honey, give me your phone. I’m going to call Luke and tell him that you are staying over. No way are you driving back like this.” My mom ordered. Phoenix handed his phone over and my mom went to take the phone call in the kitchen. I remembered Phoenix telling me that Luke was the name of his driver, but how did my mom know him? My mom came back and handed Phoenix his phone back. My mom grabbed her car keys and told us that she was heading to the store to buy a few things for Phoenix. He protested. She pretended to not hear him and left.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the engagement Phoenix?”
I don’t know if it was because he was tired or because he had no one else to talk to, but he told me everything. He told me about his arrangement with his parents, how broken his family truly was, and how rough it got growing up. He told me how he only found out about the engagement yesterday. He told me he didn’t want to marry her. My heart broke for him over and over. He once told me that there was only ever one path for him and I could see what he meant now. He was being forced to marry a girl that he did not love because of his duty to his country. He did not have the liberty to choose because he had the whole weight of his country on his shoulders. He said that pressure like that could consume anyone, well did that pressure finally consume him?
I reached out for his hand and he took it, slowly intertwining our fingers together. I came closer and rested my head on his chest. I focused on his breathing, on his smell, on him. I wanted to take his pain away. I wanted my Phoenix back. I knew deep down I could never write about what Phoenix told me today. It was too personal and could ruin his life if it ever got out to the public. I do not want to be the person who breaks him. His parents would definitely drag him back to Calida if this ever got out. I decided not to tell him about the ultimatum that Nick gave me today. I know that Phoenix would feel guilty about it and realized he did not need this extra added guilt. I would figure everything out later.
“I’m so sorry Phoenix,” I said breaking the silence.
“You did nothing wrong Mila.” He responded running his thumb against my knuckles. It’s odd knowing how such a small action can make my skin flush.
“I just wish I could do something. Anything.” I said.
“You are. Trust me. You and your mother have shown me more kindness than I feel worthy of.” He replied.
“She likes you. She might even care for you more than me.” I chuckled against his chest.
“And what about you?” He asked.
“What about me?”
“What do you think about me?”
“The jury is still out on that one,” I replied.
“That is good enough for me.” He said before pulling me in closer.
By the time my mom came back from the store, Phoenix had fallen asleep on the couch. She left me with some basic hygiene supplies, food, and a blanket for Phoenix before heading to sleep herself.
I slipped into Phoenix’s pocket, carefully to not wake him up, and grabbed his phone. I went into the contacts looking for two specific numbers and wrote them down in my own phone. I put his phone back and cuddled right back into his arms.
I was going to do something for him this time.