"Grief does not change you. It reveals you."
One week later…
I smoothed out my black dress before knocking on Will's door. A quiet voice told me to come in. I entered his room and found him standing in front of the mirror, struggling with his tie.
"Here," I said, "let me."
Will sighed, dropping his hands and shoving them in his pockets. "I don't want to do this… I don't want to mourn in front of millions of people."
"I know you don't. I can't begin to imagine what you're going through."
"Yes, you do. You and Mia are the only ones I know that understand. You lost both your parents."
"Yeah, but they weren't royals. We didn't have to share our grief with the world. We could grieve in private. You don't have that luxury. I don't know if I could do what you're about to."
"Where are you going to be?" Will asked.
"On the sidelines with Mia, Mark, and James. The Griffiths, Stewarts, and Wallaces will be with us too." I straightened his black tie. "There."
"I wish you were walking with me," Will said. I looked up to see his brows were furrowed in consternation. "But if you did, the media would have a field day, and I've put you through enough with them, and-"
"Screw the media," I declared rather hotly. "What they say shouldn't dictate anything right now, and if they try to spin this into something it's not, I'll set them straight. If you want me to walk with you, I will. We all will."
"You'd really do that for me? After everything I've-"
"Exceptions are made in times of crisis. You said it yourself, I'm the only one who understands what you're going through along with Mia. Even if we hadn't spoken until today, I still would walk with you. No one should go through this alone, so if you want me to walk with you, I will."
Will cupped my face in his hands, and for a split-second, I thought he might kiss me. He leaned forward and kissed my forehead, bracing his forehead against mine when it ended. His voice barely above a whisper, he said, "I know this is only temporary, but I'm really glad you're here right now."
"It doesn't have to be temporary," I replied, craning my head to look up at him. Our noses were a hairsbreadth apart. Now was not the time for anything romantic, but I couldn't help but think our shared grief was dredging up long-forgotten memories and feelings for him. I know it was for me.
Pain flickered across Will's already grief-stricken face. "It has to be…"
My heart sank, and I stepped away from him. Clasping my hands in front of me, I said, "We should get going."
"Right…" Will took a deep breath and walked out of the room with me on his heels. My heart ached, and my head hurt, both conflicted by the mixed signals Will gave me. Sometimes it seemed like he wanted everything to do with me, and other times, nothing at all. I couldn't place my finger on it.
But I had to push those thoughts out of my mind. Now wasn't the time to point out the contradictory behavior. Right now, I needed to focus on the sorrowful event ahead: King George's funeral.
The funeral procession marched slowly back to Windsor Palace from Saint Luke's Cathedral, where King George had been buried along with his many, many ancestors. Halfway there, Will broke down into tears, hanging his head in a futile attempt to hide them from the public. Everly and I shared a sympathetic glance before she nodded her head towards Will. I understood what she wanted me to do, but I hesitated to listen. Remembering my conversation with him early, I doubted whether or not he wanted me to show any affection towards him in public.
Just do it! I chastised. You said you wouldn't care what the press thinks, and Will was fine with your proximity to him earlier up until the end. Go and comfort him!
Steeling myself, I picked up the pace and fell into step beside him. I brushed my hand against his to gauge how close he wanted me, and before I was even halfway through it, Will laced his fingers with mine, gripping my hand so firmly, I thought it might break.
Someone else's hand found their way into my free one. Swiveling my hand around, I saw Mia walking next to me, tears rolling down her cheeks. And slowly, one by one, the rest of our group linked up: James, Everly, and Mark, who held a sleeping baby Reid. At that moment, a ray of sunlight peeked through the cloudy gray sky, and I couldn't help but think that maybe King George was smiling down upon us all.
When we arrived at the palace, we had to take a different entrance to avoid all the bouquets of flowers resting outside the main gates. Will waved to the crowd, smiling appreciatively at them, but the moment he was behind closed doors, his strong façade disappeared. Queen Lillian pulled her son into a motherly embrace, and I motioned for the others to give them some privacy. Noiselessly, we left the foyer and made our way to the kitchen. No one was in there. All the staff had been given the day off except for the security team.
James took over, making a large but simple bowl of nachos and setting them in the middle of the table. We nibbled on them in between conversation. None of us spoke of today, not wanting to think about it any more than we had to. Today was solemn enough.
Instead, we swapped funny stories from our childhood, like when Mark and I were walking down a small mountain, and I accidentally tumbled down it after throwing my arms out. Mark thought I was just messing around and threw himself on the ground to tumble down with me. Then there was the time Mia mistook black pudding for chocolate at a Scottish breakfast buffet and nearly threw up all over our dad. James sent a crockpot lid skyrocketing after he decided to try and make caramel from sugar in the crockpot when he was little. The lid embedded itself into the ceiling and took some construction workers to remove it. Everly inadvertently started a snowball fight with a visiting dignitary when she accidentally hit the Prime Minister directly in the face instead of Will. Having aimed from the window, no one knew it was her that had thrown it, so she wasn't even apart of the snowball fight she started.
The five of us talked for hours, exchanging different stories. No one noticed Will entering the kitchen until the fridge creaked open.
"Hey, want to join?" Everly asked. "We're telling funny stories from our childhood."
Will shook his head. "No, I don't want to intrude. I'm going to head up to my room."
Everly and I shared a concerned look, wondering why Will suddenly felt like he would be intruding in our conversations. I took the initiative, saying, "But who's going to tell Mia about the time you and Everly got banned from the armory for five years?"
Mia gasped. "Five years?"
Will cracked a smile. "I'm sure Ev can tell it just as well as I do."
"I definitely can't, especially since it all started with you falling through the ceiling," Everly pointed out.
"You fell through a ceiling?!" Mia exclaimed. "I'm not going to force you to tell this story, but I will love you forever if you do!"
Will's jaws clenched a few times before he said, "All right."
Everyone shifted over to make room for him, and he took a seat next to me. I could feel how tense he was, and I worried about how he was holding up. Instinct told me Will was hiding something from all of us, and I worried he was going to shut us out during a time when he would need friends the most. I'd have to find a way to bring it up to him one day if I noticed his behavior getting worse.
I settled in as Will began, "It was a dark and stormy night… just kidding, it was snowy and cold as hell outside…"