"How long has he been like this?" I ask. Standing over my father's bedside. The doctor puts his belongings back into his small bag.
"He took a turn for the worst yesterday evening. Early hours of this morning I started him on a syringe driver. He doesn't have long so i will give you some privacy." He bows his head and I nod. As he leaves the room I look at my father. His so very pale face and hollowed cheeks. The sunken eyes.
Taking a cloth I walk into his ensuite dampening it beneath the warm tap. Walking back towards his bed I sat down on the edge. Reaching over and wiping his face clean. Slowly dragging the material over his forehead and eyes. I have never done something like this for my father. Rinsing the cloth once more before taking his hand in one of mine. I begin to wipe his fingers down.
"You've been strong for long enough father." I have held my father's hand to walk into balls. All for show. All to make it look as a united front. Nothing more. Nothing to do with us having a father daughter relationship.
What is it inside of me then that wishes that could be different? My heart is still aching. Painfully constricted in my chest from losing Matteo and here I sit. With the man who made it impossible to have the man I love. Yet I cannot bring myself to hate him. I want to be here. I want him to know in his last moments or hours that he is loved. Even though Finn is more of a father to me. This slender version of my dad is still that. He is my dad.
"I forgive you for everything. I hope you find happiness with her once more." I whisper, placing a gentle kiss to his forehead. Finding it strange that this is the first time I have kissed my father. Spoken to him so freely.
He lost my mother and was never the same. Is this how it will be for me? Will I be distant from my children? I can understand. Now as a woman that Matteo helped create. My father may have not verbally blamed me, but how could he not. He lost the woman he loved and had a child he didn't know how to love without her. A broken heart with a child. My mother was so beautiful and the papers report she was always kind. She cared for her people. Somewhere along the way with grief my father lost himself. Because he must have been a good man at some point he must have been decent and kind. I regret never meeting that side of him.
Climbing into bed beside him I allow myself to cry. Something I would never have done around my father before. I feel lost. I feel like a little girl who wants to scream for someone to help. To make it all better. How can I feel so lost in a palace I have grown up in? There is no saving me now. My salvation has already been and now I'm lost to him as he is lost to me.
"Finn?" I say as i realise i am being picked up and cradled by his strong arms. He carries me from my father's room and I go to look back towards the bed.
"Has he passed?"
"Yes. It was peaceful and in his sleep. He was in no pain." He says holding me that bit closer to him. I put my head to his chest and realise I have no more tears to cry. The halls and rooms are dark. The night sky is covered by a thick blanket of clouds. Rain tapping at the window. Finn places me in my bed and walks to the window closing the curtains. "My queen."
He bows over. His hand over his stomach as his bald head moves down and I see the thick pen lines drawing a smiley face. My heart that burns. That hurts to pump anything feels the smallest amount of release. I jump from the bed and run to him. Leaping into his waiting arms. He holds me close. Helping some of the pain seep from my bones. My swollen and red eyes closed with relief. My father is no longer in pain and I am not completely alone.
"You wont leave me will you?" I whisper against his shoulders. My feet dangle from the floor.
The relationship between me and Finn is nothing as it should be. Completely inappropriate for a Queen and her bodyguard. Not in a physical manner but in every other one. I am too emotionally involved with him. As he is with me. He is the only father figure I have truly had in one sense. My education and training was all my father, the king. Everything else was Finn. The person I would ask for. The person that is always standing just behind me. Even as I would study or practice walking and table placing. Finn was always just there.
"For as long as I am breathing, I am your most loyal subject." He breathes out.
It is a very long time before I reluctantly climb back down, Finn and lay on my bed. Not even bothering to pull back the sheets. For the first time in some weeks i am sleeping alone. O how i wish Matteo was here to hold me right now. To make the pain go away. How wrong it is that I am feeling more pain at the loss of Matteo than my father. He is now at peace. Happy with my mother. No longer pushing himself to every limit. Matteo is still living and breathing. He has my heart in his hands and can do nothing to relieve the pressure.
Some point after the sun begins to rise I finally fall asleep. Only for a few hours before climbing from bed again. Stripping out of my clothes and washing myself clean. Calling for a maid. Realising I don't even have the easy conversation with Lucy this morning. A makeup artist is arranged and comes to do my face. Which needs to be covered. The thick lines beneath my eyes. The dark bags. The once white rims of my eyes are now red.
Once I am polished and poised wearing a black plain bodycon dress that fits to just below my knee and covers my arms. I walk into the large ballroom.
A memory of my father dancing with me on this very floor. I had beamed at him loving the very slightest interaction. I had probably been seven. His tall much larger arms had moved me through the formal dance perfectly. Afterwards he had bowed low to me. Blinking away the memory I move to the stage that has been built. Just for this press release. Ignoring the noise from the press and the camera's. Finn stands just to the back and side of me. Out of camera shot.
"In the early hours of this morning King Elijah, my father passed away. He has not been well for some time now. I understand you will all have questions which i will answer in an orderly fashion." I stand and point to a random person in the crowd of raised hands.
She stands up coughing to clear her throat. "Are you going to move your coronation forwards?"
"No. That is not necessary. From this morning I will be standing in the position of queen but the five weeks and some days, until I am formly made can stay as they are set." I point to another. Letting that women know her questioning is over.
"Is it true your father had cancer?"
"Yes. Though the details of his death are not yet finalised, you understand."
The next few questions roll through and I feel terrible. My chest still aches. How did my father manage to do this after my mother? How could he act so cool and collected? I feel like at any moment I could fall apart. Burst into tears making a fool of myself.
"Is it true that you and Prince Sebastian of France are engaged? Sources from within his palace walls are confirming it. That and the French forces recently helping your father? You were also photographed together at a ball in Italy?" Ruthless reporters. My father has been dead only hours and this is the news they want. My throat burns at the idea of confirming any of these claims. Looking directly into one of the many cameras. Like I can feel Matteo's eyes burning into mine. My heart races imagining his face in the crowd. As though he was close enough for me to reach out and touch.
"There is no engagement. I do not plan to marry until after my coronation. One thing at a time. At eighteen I will be a young queen, but I have been trained for this exact day. I am ready to accept the responsibility without a king at my side." Not true. I'd accept a king at my side. Just not the one they are talking about.
"What of your relationship with Prince Matteo of Italy?" Another reporter stands without being pointed too. "It is rumoured of the love affair whilst you were in Italy. For a time the rumours were of both princes. With Prince Alessandro courting Princess Sofia now, the rumours of you and Matteo have risen."
"My time in Italy was nothing short of breath taking. Their country and people are both unique and stunning. I fell in love with the country and people." I cannot lie. Not knowing he will be watching. This is not how you should tell someone you love them. It is so wrong that I even want to scream the words. To call out to him now in a room full of reporters. It is wrong that I want to ask him to come to me. Knowing we will be torn apart again. "The King and Queen have raised some remarkable children. I will hold the memories of my time in Italy dear to me."
"You didn't …" The reporter says when I quickly speak into the microphone and turn nearly at the same time.
"That will be all for today. Thank you."
Finn is by my side and helps me out of the room just as quickly. Press shouting questions at me even as I walk from the room. I rush the halls until I am in my room. Pulling at my dress. It makes it even harder to breathe.
"I can't …" I keep tugging close to hyperventilating. Finn comes behind me and rips the dress open down my back. I begin to breath and take deep breaths. Trying to steady my breaking heart. "When does it get easier Finn?"
"Hearts take time to heal Bella. Some much longer than others."
Brilliant. When I close my eyes all I can see is Matteo. When I smell another man's scent all I want is Matteos. Now that I have made an announcement with how forward Sebastian is. I know within a day or two that he will be here. Or he will be arranging to be. The pressure is suffocating. I throw open my window and look down.
"Finn could you please have a trellis fitted against this wall." I say turning towards him. Not caring that the back of my dress is torn open showing the latch of my bra.
Finn smiles. "As you wish my queen."
"I do. I really do." Is a tresslis I can climb down going to make me feel any closer to him? Make this feel any less painful? Any less real. Probably not. But if it can keep me from considering throwing myself from the window just to forget the pain for a minute, then it is exactly what I need.
My hands on the window ledge I look out across the endless palace gardens. So similar and yet so different to Italy. I will rule the opposite to my father. I will build our country back up and give them faith in me.
I will not break visibly even as my insides are turned inside out. I will drown my tears away in the shower each evening. I will be the best queen I can be. I make these promises to myself, to my people. My last and final is I will love Matteo. Not for being my first anything but just for being him. Even from far away and all the pain I wouldn't change falling in love with him.