"I am sorry to have to tell you such horrible news Bella. Is there something we can do?" King Caleb says reaching over and placing an aging hand over mine. Corrina sitting in the seat to his side. Her eyes watched mine full of emotions. "I received the phone call not even twenty minutes ago. I am shocked and very sorry. The palace guard was calling Finn straight after."
"Yes he is currently on the phone." I reply. What else is there to say? My world is falling apart. But my world is Spain. My people are in Spain.
"Bella. We … what can we do?" She speaks calmly. Practiced, but her eyes give it away. Her sympathy. Her sorrow. She knows that even when I leave, Matteo. She will have him and though I can only pray he is better off than me. In fact I know he will be. His family will hold him up and keep him moving forwards, keep his heart beating.
If I had known only a week ago when I had woken in Matteo's arms with a killer headache and told him not to leave. To stay in bed with me that day. To watch films and eat rubbish. The days that followed as we joked and said goodbye to Sofia. The announcement from Alessandro afterwards to the media. A formal statement of his relationship with Sofia. We had celebrated before she left. A picnic and swimming in the lake. All the kisses. All the love and friendships. It was all here and now I must return to reality.
I knew this day was coming. Two weeks left here was never going to be enough. But the countdown suddenly sped right up and drew a zero with a final click. The large clock rang loudly in my ears as though it was real. I am truly going to be alone. A woman surrounded by hundreds of people but alone. A glass shard that will painfully pump blood through my veins, replacing the heart that I am about to leave behind.
"I must leave." I speak formally. Everything about me is back to the polished princess that arrived here. So many years of practiced performance. "I should be with my father in his last moments. Hopefully I'll arrive in time." I stand up straightening out my dress. Corrina and Caleb stand with me. Both silent. My next words rip the beating heart out of me. As though I was reaching into my chest and crushing it with my own bare hands. "You asked what you could do for me? I ask you to keep Matteo occupied for the next two hours. Then you tell him."
The shock resonates on Corrina's face. Even she could not hide the look. She goes to protest but Caleb takes her hand in his. Squeezing it reassuringly. His eyes looked at hers even as hers pleaded with him. He kisses her forehead before looking at me.
"Of course. We offered and our word is genuine. As you wish we will try to occupy Matteo and inform him at the latest opportunity."
"Bella please consider …" Corrina says but Caleb interrupts.
"If it is the last thing we can do for you during this visit. We will do our best. I am sorry Bella. If there is anything we can do. We are only a phone call away."
"Thank you." I turn and only make it a few steps before I stop. Taking a deep steadying breath. Trying to swallow back the lump in my throat. It painfully constricts my next words. I don't turn to face the loving couple. The amazing powerful king and queen. The people that have created someone so special. Another so funny and caring. "Thank you. Both of you. Everything you have done for me. The freedom you have given me." A single tear drops from my eyes swiftly batted away by the back of my hand. Then I am formal again. I have to be. I have to close off. Fight every instinct I wish I could follow with. "Spain is indebted to you. I hope to continue our alliance."
I leave the room and Finn is at my side instantly, putting his phone in his pocket. As we walk I speak formerly. Quickly and precise with orders. The queen my father would be proud of.
"Have Lucy pack my belongings only those that are needed. In fact anything she can in the next half an hour. Have our plain ready within two hours. I want to be in the air before then."
"Bella." Finn speaks sweetly. I stop. I cannot take him being sweet to me. I am crushed. Reality is hitting me like a train crushing everyone of my rib bones. Looking at Finn I speak next.
"Finn. It is time to return home. My father has been given hours rather than days. My corination will stand for just over a month but I will be queen the moment he dies. I need to be in my country when that happens. Make it happen."
I deserve no sympathy, no love or sweet words of comfort. I have been selfish. I have not only led Matteo on. I have allowed myself to believe it was ok. It wasn't. The next thirty minutes I spend in my room. Helping Lucy frantically throw clothes into suitcases. When she turns to me I know it is coming. I don't allow her to speak. I've seen it in her face or as she has spoken about her new friends. Her boyfriend. She has fallen in love with Italy as much as the people in it. Who can blame her. I have fallen in love myself.
"You want to stay?" She nods. "I will ask Corrina to take you on. I'll have a reference written and sent over whilst I am in transit. Lucy I'll miss you and I hope you find happiness here."
With that I turn away. I'm losing everything. Finn is at the door as my five guards grab the suitcases. Leaving Lucy stood with watery eyes I followed Finn, not looking back. We make it onto the drive. The range rovers packed and I am sliding in. Finn closes the door and opens his own in the front passenger climbing in quickly. The thump as he closes it doesn't match my heartbeat.
When I see him. Matteo running down the marble steps. Two at a time. Frantic. Face full of horror. Grief.
"Bella." He screams over and over running towards the other range rover. The blacked out windows not allowing him to see in. Or to see I'm not in that car. "Bella. Don't do this. I'll come with you. We will find a way .."
God I need to leave. It hurts. His pounding on the window the way he pulls at the handle with force. Screaming at the driver to open the damn door. His body physically and visibly trembling.
"Finn get me out of here." I cry out quietly. Tears pooling down my face. No blinking needed as they free fall. I have never felt such pain. A heart is an organ. The function of pumping blood. How is it even possible the physical pain that is between my chest bones? So sharp and steady in force.
Finn nods and radios to the other car and tells them to drive. The gravel beneath the tires begin to churn like my stomach. Matteo does not stop. Instead he moves along with the car that goes slowly. Afraid to hurt the prince on his own property.
"Bella. Please. Talk to me. This is not over. It isn't. We can find a way. We can do it together. I want to be there for you." His voice is angry, upset and scared. Mostly scared.
O Matteo I am scared too. My life will never be the same after meeting you. Never. I will never love how I love you. I will never forget a moment of our time or the person you helped me become. So many unspoken words. But speaking them wouldn't make this any easier. Not for him or for myself. Alessandro, Caleb and Corrina come to the large double doors. Corrina begins to cry and Caleb takes her in his arms. The scene before them is like something they've probably never had to see. This is my fault. Matteo's pain. Corrina's tears. Alessandro is the one to jog down to Matteo taking his brother by the shoulders as he fights. As he tries to throw Alessandro's hands off of him. As he continues to scream my name.
The gap Alessandro has allowed makes it safe for the car in front to drive. So they do. As mine passes closely to Matteo I raise my hand to the cool glass of the window. Like I could reach out and touch his cheek. Feel his small daily stubble beneath my palm. His distraught face makes the tears spill from my neck to my chest. I deserve this pain. I can only hope Matteo finds love. That he doesn't live how I will now live. An unhappy life. A marriage not for love but for responsibility.
"Bella we could stop. You could have five minutes." Finn says looking over his shoulder. I don't look at him. My eyes focused on Matteo. Who is being held back by Alessandro. Now watching through the back window I see Alessandro finally let him go, now the cars are far enough away.
Matteo falls to his knees. His eyes look up and it is like they see me. Right through me.
"Stop." I call out. The driver does immediately and I slide forwards at the force in my seat. Unlocking the door I grab the handle and step out.
This is wrong. I should have just kept going but I needed to kiss him one last time. To apologise to tell him … I don't want to confess my love and say goodbye in the same conversation. But something inside of me could not just leave him on the ground.
Matteo rises from his knees and runs towards me as I stand on the gravel. His arms wrap around me taking me off the ground and nearly stumbling into the open door.
"My Bella." His hand holds the back of my head to him. I inhale his scent into the deepest edges of my lungs. As though I can hold them there forever.
"Matteo I have to go. I should have just gone but …"
"I could come with you …"
"We knew this was coming. We played with fire and are both now being burnt but Matteo I couldn't not tell you. You are so special. Everything in fact."
He lets me push my head back to look up at him. One of his hands clasping my cheeks. I hold his waist and I love him. I hope he sees that.
"You don't have to do this. We could find a way."
"Not without war. You know that as well as me."
"Then Italy would back you."
"I cannot do that to my people. Nor to yours. Matteo I am sorry I was selfish. That I couldn't keep away. But I cannot regret any second I spent with you. I promised you I wouldn't and I don't." My face, neck and chest is covered in damp tears. "I have lived whilst being here. You have given me the only memories that are worth remembering. You are precious to me."
"Please Bella. Don't say it."
"I will not say goodbye because we will meet again. When we do though I will be queen Isabella and you may well be King Matteo. But this, just Bella and Matteo. It was all real. And I don't regret a single moment of it." I feel tears spill again and he wipes them away with his thumb. His eyes watery. As gentle tears slip from his thick lower lashes. His soft lips meet mine. The salty taste from our tears. We hold each other and kiss as though it is the last. Because it is my heart screams. "I must go." I finally pull away. Our fingertips lingering against one another as I step away and continue to. "Please keep living Matteo. For you, for your family and because you are everything."
I may have not said the three words I want to. I've done that because it will not help. I've had so many perfect opportunities but not told him. Not wanting to voice them. Hoping because I didn't this moment would not hurt as much.
"I will not give up." He speaks as I climb into the car. Holding the door standing in the way of closing it. "I will not." He sounds angry, determined and then closes the door with a bang.
I couldn't even nod to Finn as the car began to move. I am grateful. The loud sob that begins to escape me. I will allow myself this. I will allow myself to cry on the plane and then I have to hold it back all day until I am completely alone in bed. I will pretend and be patient. Be perfect. Be queen Isabella.