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07.03.2019

Her office was decorated in Modern Duck. They were all over the place … duck prints on the walls, duck decoys on the credenza, even a duck pencil holder on the woman's desk. "I appreciate you taking the time to see me."

"Hey, Doc, let's cut the shit, all right? We both know this wasn't my idea. That minister's got it in for me." What's the term for fear of ducks? Duckopkobia? What would she do if she had a patient who was scared of waterfowl? Redecorate? Treat them at home? "He, like, hates me."

"I doubt that very much, my lady."

"Okay, if I'm gonna have to sit in here for fifty minutes—and get charged for an hour, and don't think I didn't notice how fishy that is—you're gonna have to stop with the 'my lady' stuff right now. Chris is fine."

"Very well, Chris. Why do you think Minister Cray sent you to me?"

"Because he hates me and is evil?" she guessed.

"Close, but not quite. He's concerned about your motives in agreeing to marry Prince David."

"The king didn't care why, and the prince doesn't care, but that's not good enough? Now I have to justify myself to a shrink?"

"Do you think you need to justify your actions?"

"Shrink talk," Christina muttered. "Are you going to be like that cool shrink in Good Will Hunting, or the annoying shrink in Girl Interrupted?"

"That raises an interesting point… have you noticed that Robin Williams seems compelled to play brilliant, yet misunderstood, men? Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, Dead Poets Society, Awakening I wonder what he's trying to tell us."

Momentarily startled—whoa, the doctor actually sounded like a real person for a second—Christina replied, "Actually, his new thing is playing psychos. One-Hour Photo, Insomnia. Like that. He was great in Insomnia."

"I agree. It's interesting, the choices people make."

"Oh, here we go. By the way, you're about as subtle as a brick to the forehead."

"Thanks—I went to school for many years and learned just how to swing that brick. But we were talking about choices—"

"Speaking of choices," Christina interrupted, "I read up on you."

"I'm flattered, yet alarmed."

Her mouth twitched, but she refused to give the shrink the benefit of a smile. "Yeah, well, I read that you did your master's thesis on the royal family. And you're considered an expert on them. So who chooses to spend their life studying other people's lives?"

"Someone with no life of their own," the doctor said cheerfully. "You can't annoy me by saying things that are true, you know."

"Oh, yeah? Well, give me a chance. How about—"

"Do you miss your work?"

"—the way you—hmm?"

"Your job with the cruise line. Do you miss it' You've been staying at the Sitka Palace for a few weeks now. And my understanding is that you and the prince will live there after your wedding."

"We will?"

"That's what I was told," Dr. Pohl replied carefully.

"Well, we'll see about that. Although I guess there are worse things. Anyway, my job—no, I don't miss it When you cook for that many people, it's hard to be creative. Do you know how many loaves of bread I went through on French Toast Tuesdays?"

"No, I—"

"Six hundred and forty-two."

"That's a buttload of bread," Dr. Pohl observed.

"Tell me! So, no, I don't miss it. I have the run of the kitchens at the palace—let me tell you, that really weirded out the kitchen staff. Took 'em a while to come around."

"Well, you very likely will be queen someday," Dr. Pohl pointed out. "They probably prefer you to stay out of the kitchen."

Tough. They were all, "This isn't your place,' and I was all, 'I'll be the judge of that,' and they were all 'We're telling Edmund!' and I was all 'Fine, see if I care.' And they did! They ratted me out to that skinny weirdo. But we get along okay now," she added hastily. "Once they saw that Eds couldn't make me quit cooking."

"You traveled quite a bit for your work?"

"Different port almost every day, sure. Great way to see the world for cheap."

"Difficult to make friends, though."

"Well, you know. We were all pretty busy. The geese—I mean, the passengers—come first."

"That's very interesting to me. Do you know why?"

"Because you have no life?"

"Not only that. I was told that you moved around a lot as a child."

"My, my, they're like a bunch of fishwives over at the palace, aren't they? Yeah, we moved a lot. So? My dad took off when I was a baby, and my mom bounced around the country, chasing work. She had a kid to feed."

"Uh-huh. Probably not much fun for you. Growing up that way, I mean."

Christina shrugged.

"What's interesting is, you've chosen one of the few professions that also makes it impossible to set down roots. In essence, you've duplicated your childhood."

Christina opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

"You can see how, as an impartial observer, that would be interesting to me."

"So, what?" Christina said defensively. "You're saying I like to be alone?"

"I'm saying we choose what's familiar, for good or ill. And now you're going to be a member of the royal family."

"Which is deeply meaningful how?"

"My understanding," Dr. Pohl said, "is that a big reason you agreed to marry His Highness is because you want your children to have roots. But I think you may have overlooked the fact that you, also, will have roots. At last."

"Well, what if I did? I mean, what if that's my big reason? So now I'm a nutjob?"

"Good heavens, I hope not. I'm not equipped to treat nutjobs."

"Well. You know your shit, I'll give you that much."

"Dare I hope you will return?"

"I have to," she said gloomily. "David and Jenny and I made a pact. They'll get me out of most of the rest of the wedding meetings, and in return I come here."

"That seems like a fair deal."

"You have no idea."

"So, how did it go?" Jenny stood the moment Christina entered the room, and slung her purse over one shoulder. "You didn't break this one, too, did you?"

"Hardly. She looks like a sweet old lady and she's as sharp as a shuriken."

"A what?"

"Never mind. I'd have an easier time breaking a steel girder. She was okay. Not too shrinky. I guess."

"My heart! Can it stand the strain?"

"Ho-ho, I'm convulsed with laughter."

"Do you want to grab a bite before we head back?"

"I can't," Chris replied glumly, following Jenny out through the entryway. "David's going to show me how to feed the penguins today."

"Oh."

"Yeah, I know, tres lame, but he really wants me to, and it's, like, the thing he thinks is the most interesting thing in the whole world, so I guess it wouldn't kill me to go back in the penguin room. You know. Once."

"So you've crammed all your—ah—less—um— desirable errands—"

"Into one never-ending, hellish day, yes."

"Good practice," Jenny predicted. "And speaking of undesirable errands—"

Christina groaned.

"—has anyone spoken to you about Boston?"

"You mean from a historic standpoint? Do they want my thoughts on the Big Dig?"

"His Highness gave quite a bit of money to the New England Aquarium, and they're anxious to show their appreciation. He'll be going late next week, and he thought it might be nice if you joined him."

"David did? David asked if I could come?" That changed everything! "Because if he wants me to go, I'll go. Y'know, if I don't have anything else on my schedule."

"Well, perhaps we could discuss it with him when we get back."

"Yes, perhaps we could. New England Aquarium, huh? Wait a minute … aren't there, like, a thousand penguins in that exhibit?"

"I don't know," Jenny said seriously. "I never counted."

"Remind me to kill you one of these days," she grumped.

Jenny laughed, which made Chris laugh and, still giggling, they shrugged into their coats, and when Jenny pushed the door open they both heard the snap of a camera shutter.

"Lady Christina! This way, please."

Poor guy had less of a life than Dr. Pohl if taking her picture was part of the job description. "Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer. Oh, wait, you just did."

"Don Cook, Juneau Empire. Are you seeing a psychiatrist, Lady Christina?"

"Don," Jenny said, exasperated, "you know perfectly well we've got a press conference set up next—"

"Yes," Christina replied. "I am."

Snap! "Why?"

"Because," she said, feeling absolutely evil but deciding to go with it, "the pressure of marrying into the Alaskan royal family has turned me into a drooling psychotic."

"Chris!"Jenny nearly howled.

"I hope you'll send me a copy of the story," she added sweetly, grinning for the camera and then walking away.

"Don .. ."Jenny said pleadingly.

"Sorry, Jenn. Does the SitkaPalace have anything to add about our future queen's rampant psychosis?"

"Don, please."

He was smirking. "Give me a break… if you were me, would you go with it?"

The press officer clutched her head, then hurried up the street after Christina.

Chapter 15

"So,how'd it go?"

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