I squeeze it on, feeling like I’m going to have an aneurysm doing so, and can’t even get it zipped all the way up the back. Well, if there was any doubt that I’ve gained weight since moving to Europe, here’s the proof. Not that I’ve been lazy (I like my walks, and running after kids is brilliant cardio) or eating crap (the food here is amazingly fresh and whole compared to back in Oz), but I was painfully thin back then. In fact, this skirt used to be huge on me to begin with.
I shudder at the memory and figure I should probably take it off lest it remind me of my past all day. Only I can’t. The zipper is stuck halfway.
“Oh for crying out loud,” I grumble, twisting and trying to fiddle with it.
Someone knocks at the door. “Aurora,” Maja calls out. “Just making sure you’re up.”
“I’m good, just getting dressed!” I yell back, frantically trying to get the zipper unstuck.
“Breakfast will be served in the dining room in five minutes,” she says, and then I hear her footsteps go down the hall and knock on another door. She must be waking up the girls.
I sigh and look at myself in the mirror with my rumpled “Dogs Love Me” sweatshirt I slept in and an ill-fitting mini-skirt. I need to make the best of this. I mean, the skirt is probably too short but maybe if I pair it with tights and knee-high boots and a blouse it will be okay.
But of course the only pair of tights I have are snagged. So I put on thick knee-high socks to go with my boots and a white V-neck t-shirt underneath a light grey cardigan—the “grandpa” kind which is long enough to cover the fact that my skirt is only zipped halfway up—and quickly pull my long hair back into a ponytail, heading out into the hallway. I probably should bother with a bit of makeup but I’d rather be bare-faced than late.
It takes longer than anticipated to finally find the dining room since there are so many freaking dining rooms in this palace and by the time I get there, Clara, Freja and Maja are all sitting at the table and eating what looks like muesli and yogurt. There are two extra empty placements and I’m assuming one of them is mine.
“Hello Nanny,” Clara says cheerfully.
“Honorary Goddess,” Freja says under her breath, giving Clara a contemptuous look.
Meanwhile Maja has one brow raised as she glances at my skirt. She doesn’t say anything though I can practically hear the tsk-tsk in her head. What’s Danish for hussy?
I clear my throat, fighting back the urge to cover my thighs. “Sorry I’m late. I got lost.”
Clara giggles. “I must play hide and seek with you later. There are so many hiding spots, you’ll never ever find me.”
“Clara,” Maja chides her quietly. “You know what happened last time.”
“What happened last time?” I ask, sitting down at my spot and eyeing the empty bowl. Maybe I’m supposed to go into the kitchen and fix up my own stuff?
“I hid so well, it took them days to find me,” Clara says proudly.
“It was a few hours,” Maja corrects her with a shake of her head. “And it was enough to make the old nanny cry when she couldn’t find you. You must promise you won’t do that to Miss Aurora here.”
All I can concentrate on is getting coffee into my veins and I’m about to ask where I can get some when Karla, the cook, enters.
“Good morning, miss,” she says to me. With her blunt-cut blonde bangs, squinty eyes and round cheeks, Karla looks like she’s perpetually cheerful. “What would you like for your breakfast? Waffles? Cereal? An omelet? Cold cuts and cheese?”
I don’t want to be a pain in the ass so I just say, “I’ll have what they’re having. Plus as much coffee as you can give me. Cream and sugar, please.”
“Of course,” she says, and then eyes the empty plate at the head of the table. “Is he not coming again?”
Maja shakes her head. “He’s very busy today.”
Karla nods and heads out of the room while I turn to Maja. “Does Aksel normally eat breakfast with you?”
“Papa used to,” Clara speaks up and seems to stab her muesli with her spoon. “Every morning it was him and me and Freja … and Mama.”
A heavy hush seems to come over the table. This is the first time I’ve seen the girls mention their mother and I have no idea how they’re going to handle it.
Though Clara seems to handle it by being violent with her breakfast and Freja shrinks in her seat like she wishes the room would swallow her whole.
“I’m sure he will soon,” I say, trying to be positive even though I honestly have no clue at this point how anything in this place works.
“You girls know he’s been so busy lately,” Maja explains but even that sounds a bit weak.
It makes me sad to imagine how this family was before Queen Helena died. It must feel like a ghost dines with them every day.
After I mainline a pot of coffee and pick at some muesli, Clara and I pile into the waiting car at the back, Henrik behind the wheel. Freja stays behind with Maja though Maja notes she’ll probably start coming along for the ride if she’s not available. Maja acts as the girls’ grandmother but in the end, she’s not their nanny.
“Good morning, Miss Aurora,” Henrik says cheerfully as he twists in his seat to nod at me and Clara. “Godmorgen, Deres Kongelige højhed.”
“You can speak English to me, Henrik,” Clara says as she shuffles along the back seat of the car. “I’m fluent, you know.”
“Yes, of course, Your Royal Highness,” Henrik says as he starts the car.
Clara looks at me with a big smile. “I am fluent, correct? Am I not the best English speaker you’ve ever met?” She’s impossibly cute in yet another dress, this one a blue print that matches the blue headband in her long straight blonde hair, with coral-colored sandals. A backpack that seems to dwarf her occupies the space between us.
“Definitely one of the best,” I tell her and catch Henrik’s expression in the rearview mirror, trying not to laugh. “I’m surprised you don’t have to wear a uniform at school.” I’m also surprised that she started school back in the middle of August.
“It’s public school, we can wear whatever we want,” she says.
Public school? That’s a new one. I would have thought the girls would be locked up in some ultra-private, ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive academy for royals.
“I’m sure you’ll discover the royal family here is quite casual compared to England,” Henrik says, reading my expression. “They always believed in being as down to earth as possible. Aksel even used to ride his bike around the city all the time, with security and minders following him, of course.”
I laugh. I don’t know what’s funnier, the thought of Aksel on a bike or the fact that at any given time you might be strolling around Copenhagen and see the King whiz past you on two wheels. “I can’t picture it,” I admit.
“His Majesty used to do many things,” he says. “Risky things.”
Again, Aksel doesn’t seem like a risk-taker or rule-breaker. If anything, he’s the guy who makes the rules just to piss other people off. “Like what?”
“Ask him why he took up sailing,” he says with a laugh.
I recall seeing pictures of him on a boat though I didn’t think he was an actual sailor. Usually rich dudes just sit on boats and drink and look pretty while someone else does all the hard work. Still, I make a note to ask Aksel one day, hopefully when he’s in a good mood.
If that’s even possible.
The drive to the school is fairly short and Clara seems pretty excited to go, which I take as a good sign.
“So you like your classmates?” I ask her as the car slows down. I can see the school in the distance, which is a rather non-descript building in a quaint, leafy residential area.
“Not really,” she says with a shrug.
She says this in such a casual way that I blink at her for a moment. “What? Why? Are they mean?”
She seems to consider this as she stares out the window at the passing schoolkids. It’s hard not to notice that every single parent and child is staring at the Town Car, either with disdain, apprehension, or envy.
“No,” she says slowly. “They just don’t want to be my friend. That’s okay.”
“Here we are,” Henrik says as he pulls up to the curb.
They don’t want to be her friend? Well that’s definitely a conversation for another time.
“Thank you Henrik,” Clara says politely, opening the door herself.
I get out of the car and quickly run—which is hard in this skirt—over to the other side to help her out, taking her backpack out. I close the door and go to grab her hand but she subtly pulls it back.
“You don’t have to hold my hand,” she says, taking the backpack from my hands and swinging it over her shoulder. “None of the other nannies did.” She looks over her shoulder at the school entrance where kids are filing in. “You don’t have to walk me over either.”
It seems like most parents are walking their kids to the door but…
“Okay,” I tell her. I know at her age the school dynamics can be tricky enough and that’s without factoring in the whole princess thing. “I’ll be here after school, though.”
“Cool,” she says, giving me a thumbs up as she turns and walks off. Everyone looks at her as she goes but she walks with her head held high. That attitude probably only makes things worse for her at this age with the whole “princess” title, but believe it or not, I can relate. I grew up with people whispering about me or my parents in one way or another and the only thing you can do is just smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you, no matter how much you’re breaking on the inside.
After she disappears into the building, I get back in the car and Henrik drives me back to the palace, back to casual chit-chat along the way. There’s a lot I want to ask—about everything—but I have to remind myself it’s only the first day. God willing, they’ll be plenty of time to learn things on my own.