***author’s note: I’ve updated the GUIDE, it’s much prettier now (thanks Lola!)***
We met up with Riley who led us out through the courtyard to the main part of the palace.
I followed in silence, but Samuel and Nigel were chatting pretty happily behind me. How are they not nervous?
As we approached the door, Nigel walked closer behind me and whispered, “You look pretty amazing.” I decided to ignore him and face forward. I already made it pretty clear that I wasn’t interested in him, but he was overly persistent.
Riley stopped in the doorway ahead and said, “This is where we part ways. You’ll find the king and queen inside. Good luck.”
We passed him and walked inside. King Stefano and Queen Emilia were facing the window, but turned to greet us as we entered. “Welcome.” King Stefano said.
“Your Majesties.” We said simultaneously as we bowed.
The queen pulled her arm out of the king’s and said, “Please don’t be so formal dears. This part of the palace is used solely for our family without guards, servants or anyone else for that matter. Tonight is about getting to know you as you are. And we’d like it if you could treat us just as such.”
The queen wasn’t joking when she said this dinner was informal. She cooked and served everything herself. It was odd to see her so… normal? Was that the word? I expected to see her dripping in jewels and layers of fabric, so to see her laughing and chatting so casually caught me off guard.
“I’m not the best cook, but I hope it’s to your liking.” She said as we ate. “I’m sure you are used to much better meals since you’re from region five, Nigel.” She added with a smile.
“Yes. I mean no… Your majesty.” Nigel stuttered. I giggled at his discomfort.
“No worries my boy, we like to hear the truth and nothing but in this household.” The King said. “Speaking of which, I’d like to have a chat with you all one on one after we finish, if that is alright.” He said while looking at us. “Of course, your majesty.” We said in unison.
After dinner King Stefano took us individually on a walk through the palace gardens, I was last. “So Irene, how are you finding the palace so far?” He asked. “It is wonderful.” I said. I was surprised at how un-intimidating the king was. All my nerves from earlier disappeared the more we talked.
“Glad to hear it.” He said with a smile. “And how are you finding the kingdom?” He continued. I hesitated in answering, I wasn’t sure if I should be honest or polite.
The king stopped walking when he saw my hesitation. “I’d appreciate you telling me the truth.” He said. “As my wife said earlier, we wish for you all to speak freely. I stand before you as Stefano Guzman and not the king. Please, go ahead.”
I sighed; I guess I’ll go with the truth then. “It’s not easy for everyone. We know you must work hard; you, your family, the parliament and whomever else… but we only ever see you, and even then, that’s rare. Our regional officers relay your decrees and everything feels so distant.” I began. Once I started speaking it was hard to stop.
“Tonight was my second time seeing Queen Emilia’s face in my twenty-two years of living. And no one even knows how the rest of the royal family looks like. Again, we know you care, but it’s hard to tell when you feel so unreachable…” I concluded. “…your Majesty.” I hastily added. I nearly forgot with whom I was speaking to.
“I wasn’t aware that’s how the public felt. I must admit even my son, Steph, has been echoing similar thoughts as of late, about exposing ourselves to the public more. Surely you must know the reason why my family and I are hardly seen is because we are so busy running things and doing everything we can for this nation behind the scenes. All of that doesn’t allow much time for public appearances.” He said.
“I can see how that would be true, my King, but unless we hear it, it’s hard for us to draw those conclusions on our own.” I said while looking him in the eyes.
“I’ll take that into account.” He said meeting my gaze. “I must say, I find your honesty refreshing. The rest of the Elite I’ve met so far didn’t speak more than a word when we were alone. You must really care for our nation.” He said. “I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t.” I said with a smile. He gave me a small chuckle in return.
And just like that, my evening with the king and queen came to an end. It was surprisingly easy and made me more excited than nervous for the competition to begin.
The next morning I woke up and ran into Emily in the bathroom. Perfect, she was just who I was hoping to find. “Hey Emily, Kori and Kala have their dinner with the royal family tonight so they are in town buying things in preparation. I was wondering if you wanted to do something together?” I asked.
“Sorry Irene, I had some novels I wanted to finish. I won’t have as much free time once the initiative starts.” She said looking at me through the mirror.
“Don’t apologize… I understand.” I said. “See ya.” Looks like I’d be killing time today on my own.
I changed and decided to head out into town. Riley had mentioned that once the last group of elite members dined with the king, we’d be on lockdown in the palace – no freedom to roam around anymore…
Without intending to, I found myself retracing the places I’ve encountered Sebastian and his family. I guess even after how much effort I put into trying to forget him this past week, I couldn’t.
I didn’t have much time left before I wouldn’t be able to explore the capital this freely. I wanted to find Sebastian and spend what little time I had left with him…
I spent a few hours walking through the lake we went to, the pit we sat in, the movie theater Lina knocked me over at… all to no avail. Eventually, I ended up at Ronnie’s, the last possible place I went with Sebastian that I might be able to find him at…
For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to go in… What am I doing? He made it clear he wasn’t interested in me when I asked for his number… Even if I did find him, there’s no guarantee he’d want to hang out with me.
I began to turn away. I made it about three steps when a voice behind me called out, “Irene!”
I turned back to see, in shock, Sebastian walking towards me. The girl walking by checked him out quite obviously which bothered me more than it should’ve…
“I’ve been searching everywhere for you.” He said with a smile that made my heart skip a beat.
When he stopped in front of me, I couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “Oh, you were?” I said weakly.
“It appears you aren’t nearly as pleased to see me, as I am to see you.” He said, his smile fading. He’s probably being kind, I didn’t want to confuse his kindness for feelings for me, since he made it clear he had none last week. “What’s wrong?” He asked, stepping closer. I instinctively took a step back.
What is wrong with me? I was looking for him nearly all day, and now that he’s here, I can’t even look at him. I decided to be honest. I’m wasting the little time I have left… “I like you Sebastian.” I said, surprising myself. I never labeled my feelings, but I knew they were there… I continued, “I know you don’t feel the same way, but even so, I like you…”
“Irene.” He said reaching for my arm. “Look at me.” I couldn’t, my sudden confession made me embarrassed. “Look at me, please.” He said again. My eyes remained fixed on the ground.
He gently raised his other hand towards my chin and forced my gaze to find his. “I don’t know what on earth gave you the impression that I don’t like you, but I assure you I wouldn’t be searching for you all week if that were the case.” He said seriously.
He leaned in and gently pressed his lips to my forehead. Something about the gesture made it feel more intimate than if he kissed me on the lips.
He pulled way after a moment and rested his forehead on mine. “I think you are kind, loyal, intelligent, and effortlessly beautiful.” He began…
He let his eyes flutter closed and sucked in breath. “I admire how you stand by your beliefs, how you care for our country, and how you are willing to help complete strangers no matter what is may cost you…” he continued. My heart was hammering.
“I like you, too.” He said. “I don’t know how else to convince you otherwise, but if you would allow me, I’d like to spend the day with you.” He said. Maybe he wasn’t lying after all; maybe he was simply old fashioned – his gestures and manner of speech certainly were – I decided to take a leap of faith… “I believe you.” I whispered. “And I’d love to…”
Thanks for reading! Finally we are getting somewhere with Sebastian and Irene 😉 Feel free to let me know what you thought! I promise more action next chapter :p Take care~