31,881
07.03.2019

Has overtaken you two

I'm telling my dad."

"Alex, you're so odd," Christina sighed. "Shouldn't you be in a private screening of Star Wars or something?"

"I was on my way

I heard sounds of a struggle

The Dark Side had you."

She giggled in spite of herself. David, however, remained a stone. "Christina fell," he improvised. "I just came out to help her."

Edmund held up her shirt. "Quite a fall, since her shirt was on the chair inside."

"It was like—a whirlwind?" she guessed.

Alex snickered as Edmund went on implacably, like a majordomo Terminator. "Do tell. There is a slice of bread on the ceiling."

"I was saving it for later?"

David collapsed in laughter, actually rolling around the grass. She kicked him, then stood up, climbed the balcony, retrieved her shirt from a glacial Edmund, ignored Alex's leer, and set about cleaning up the room.

Chapter 19

Christina sailed into Dr. Pohl's office, tossed her coat toward the coatrack (she missed, and it landed on the floor), then flopped onto the couch with a satisfying smack. She laced her fingers behind her head, stared at the ceiling, and said, "Ah, I can feel the sweet embrace of sanity already."

"Well, well, if it isn't the tattooed lady."

"Oh, that's nice," she said, then laughed. "It's impossible to keep a secret in that place, you know."

"You're in a good mood," Dr. Pohl observed. "Also, you're late."

"Hey, a princess-in-waiting has stuff to do, Doc. Don't take it personal. And why shouldn't I be in a good mood? Spring's here—"

"And with it, your wedding."

"—the grass has riz, I wonder where the flowers is? And all that. Also, did I tell you? Met a friend in Boston and David invited him to visit! We've been having gobs of fun."

"Have you decided on a ring yet, 'midst the gobs of fun?"

"You're such a buzz kill," Christina muttered. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the couch. "Look, it's not as easy as all that."

"Really?" Dr. Pohl said, prominently displaying her own engagement and wedding rings.

"Get those rocks away from me. First of all, I had to nicely refuse Queen Dara's jewelry without hurting anybody's feelings, which was so not a walk in the park, believe me."

"They offered you the queen's wedding jewels?"

"She had, like, buckets of the stuff. Ropes of pearls. Piles of diamonds. So that was a mess, you know?"

"You had to call on all your powers of tact."

"Damn straight."

"Powers so secret and well hidden, most of us assumed they didn't exist."

"I hate you. Look, the idea of wearing a dead lady's—a dead queen's—jewelry creeps me out, okay? Tell the truth, wouldn't you feel a little funny wearing a dead monarch's rings?"

"I never thought about it," Dr. Pohl admitted.

"Well, think about it and get back to me. Anyway. So, we put that issue to bed, finally. But all the rings the jewelers have been bringing to the palace, they've just been—I dunno—"

"Not suitable?"

"Completely very much not suitable. Half of them, you need a crane to get 'em on your finger! Come on—who needs an eight-carat diamond? I could never put on another pair of pantyhose, not as long as I lived. And I'm a cook—anybody keep that in mind?" she griped. "A big-ass ring is just gonna get in my way. D'you know how hard it is to get butter out of jewelry settings?"

"Some people," Dr. Pohl said carefully, "might interpret your refusal—"

"Refusal!"

"—to choose a ring as evidence that you don't truly wish to get married, and make a life here."

"Well, those people ought to give it a rest. It's got nothing to do with David. That's not the important stuff—diamonds and gold and stuff like that—it's not. It's got nothing to do with David." Had she said that already? It was hard to remember. She'd been in a great mood two minutes ago, and now she was massively stressed out. Sweating, even!

"Really? Because an objective observer might jump to the conclusion that it has everything to do with David."

"Well, if he wants to marry me so bad, how come he keeps coming up with these rings that are so totally not me? Huh? Well, how come?"

"Are you going to hit me?" Dr. Pohl asked curiously.

"Not today. But listen. It's like, after all this time—"

"What time?" Pohl asked, her eyebrows arching like white wings. "You haven't even been here half a year yet."

"Regardless," Christina said stubbornly, "he doesn't know me at all. He's the one who doesn't know what's important," she finished triumphantly.

"And you've made how many trips to Penguin Hall since your engagement? In the interest of getting to know your future spouse?"

Sullen silence, followed by, "I'm getting to know him, Dr. Pohl, don't you worry about that."

"Oh, sex," she said, waving it away with her hand. "Sure. Real intimacy there."

"Well, there is! And shouldn't you be, I dunno, shocked or something?"

"That you've seen what you wanted and are going about getting it? Yes, very shocking, and terribly out of character."

"I'm sneaking around the Sitka Palace," she practically shouted, "boinking the heir to the crown!"

"Darling, I'm not your mother. I don't care. Listen, Christina, if gold and diamonds aren't important, then what is?"

"Family," she said promptly.

"But you're marrying into a group of strangers. Is that family? You've explained your motivations, and they're fine, if a little bloodless—"

"Hey!"

"—but isn't there at least a part of you who wants to marry Prince David because you want him for himself? In the way you hope he—and his family— wants you for yourself ?"

"I'm getting a headache." Then, grudgingly, "I like him, if that's what you mean."

"Just like? There's still time, you know," Dr. Pohl said gently. "You can call everything off, go back to your own life."

Horrified, Christina shook her head. "I'd never do that!"

"Never?"

"Besides, it's too late."

"Not until you say 'I do,' hon."

"Stop calling me that—I never know if you mean 'short for honey' or 'Attila the.' Besides . . . I'm—I'm getting kind of spoiled."

"Servants fighting to meet your every whim?"

"No! Yech! I broke 'em of that in a hurry, let me tell you. But… at least at the palace, I'm not so fucking lonesome all the time, you know? I mean, if David's not bugging me about reading his latest research paper on Aptenodytespatagonicus—that’s Latin for king penguin, and don't I wish I didn't know that—then Nicky's hiding in my closet, or Alex—that's the Princess Alex, not the Prince Alex—is bugging me to come sketching with her, or the other Alex wants me to try my hand at haikus—d'you know he only talks in haiku?—or the king wants to take me fishing, or—well—it's kind of nice. I mean, even if David can't get my ring right, they've—"

"Accepted you."

"Well, yeah. I couldn't turn my back on them after they did that. Opened their home—and their family!—to a nobody like me."

"I understand you had a strong hand in planning the food for the wedding reception."

"Well, sure." Christina wrinkled her brow. "I'm a cook. I'm into food. So I wanted the food to be good—that's not such a big deal."

"Yes, that's true, but another way to look at it—"

"Oh, here we go."

"—is that you don't dare to care about the wedding—and subsequent marriage—too much because you can't afford to take it seriously."

She shifted in her chair. "What crap."

"So an impartial observer," Dr. Pohl said carefully, "would surmise you're involved in the food to give the illusion of being interested in the wedding, when really you're only protecting yourself."

"I don't think you heard me the first time," Christina said, "so listen up. What crap!"

"My lady—"

"Watch it with that."

"—I've never known someone so dumb and so smart at the same time."

"What?"

"And with that," Dr. Pohl said, "I think we're done with the week."

"Oh, come on! You can't say all that cryptic stuff and then refuse to explain it!"

"Sure I can, especially when it's not cryptic at all—you know exactly what I'm talking about. Arrive on time next week, and perhaps I will be able to elaborate."

"Fucking shrinks," she muttered.

"Yes, we're really annoying that way," Dr. Pohl said cheerfully. "Say hello to your ex-boyfriend for me."

Christina got up and grabbed her coat. "I said he was a friend—I never told you he was an ex. You've got spies everywhere, don't you, Doc?"

"All shrinks do. We get a pack of them when we graduate from medical school."

"You know, I really can't stand you." But she couldn't keep the smile off her face when she said it.

"I'm well aware, dear. See you next week."

Kurt was waiting for her in the lobby. Me and my shadow, Christina thought wryly. It was comforting that he thought it was as hilarious as she did.

"How'd it go, cutie?"

"Oh, the usual psychobabble bullshit. And don't call me 'cutie.' "

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