He doesn’t come back with the dress until way late. We skipped dinner because Karla and the cooks have been so busy with appetizers and drinks for the ball, so I scrounge around in the bustling kitchen for some bread and cheese and then bring it out to the dining room, so we at least have something to munch on before things get started.
My makeup is already done, and I straightened my hair, wearing it down to make up for the fact that it was stuffed in a braid and bonnet all afternoon, when he appears in the other doorway to the hall.
“Sorry I’m so late,” Henrik says, breathless. In his hands he’s holding a huge garment bag. “But I got the dress. I may have consulted with my wife on this one, so if you don’t like it, it’s all her fault.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I tell him, and I’m a bit relieved since I’ve met his wife once and she seemed to have good fashion sense. Then again, most people in this city are effortlessly stylish.
When we’re done scarfing down the bread and cheese, I wrangle the girls back up to my room since I don’t dare trust them alone when there’s party prep going on. I place them on the bed and tell them they can be my fashion show judges.
“Make sure you smize,” Clara calls out as I take the dress into the bathroom.
How on earth this girl knows about “smizing” and America’s Next Top Model is beyond me.
I close the door and unzip the garment bag.
Well, the first impression is good.
It’s a bronzy, nude color with glitter and sequins and…
I wrestle it out of the bag and then it expands to five times its size.
This is an actual ball gown.
Like, a princess kind of ball gown.
From a Disney film.
I hold it up, trying to see if it will even fit but thankfully it seems to be my size.
I manage to get it on and look in the mirror.
The bustier top is full-on sequins, low-cut, pushing up my breasts while nipping in my stomach. The rest of the gown poufs out majorly, all glitter and tulle and magic.
“Let us see,” I hear Clara cry out.
I open the door and make a dramatic entrance, shifting my hips to the side and throwing out my arms. “Ta-da!”
“You’re a princess!” Clara yells, jumping off the bed and running over to me. “You’re more princess than I am!”
“Du ser smuk ud,” Freja says, following her sister and running her hands down the side of my dress.
“Thank you,” I tell her. She said I look gorgeous.
I feel gorgeous.
For once I don’t think that my ears stick out a little or that my teeth and smile are oversized or that my brows are too strong and bold for my face. For once I think it all comes together, making me beautiful.
But let’s face it, Aksel has been making me feel beautiful every single night that I’m in his bed.
“Sleeping Beauty,” Clara says, looking me over. “That’s who you are.”
“Princess Aurora,” Freja clarifies.
Clara grabs her sister by the arm and starts twirling her around my bedroom. “I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream,” she sings one of the songs from the cartoon. It’s terribly off-key and she shrieks more than she sings, but there’s something so utterly charming about the scene in front of me that I feel my heart breaking into a million pieces. It’s so strange how something can make you feel so happy, so good, it makes you painfully sad at the same time.
“You’re crying,” Freja says, once Clara has twirled her toward me.
“Am I?” I say, carefully running the edge of my fingers under my eye. “Probably just dust in the air.”
I head to the bathroom and look in the mirror again, making sure that my makeup isn’t ruined. I don’t know if it was the compliments that Maja was giving me earlier, or seeing Aksel give that rousing speech, or feeling like a princess, like I actually belong here for once, but my emotions all seem to be at the surface today.
As long as I don’t drink too much, I’ll be able to hold it together.
At about 7:30 p.m., after I get the girls into dresses of their own, shiny pink and green numbers with bows, I get a text from Aksel.
Where are you?
I breathe a sigh of giddy relief. I thought he’d forgotten about me.
I text back: Just got the girls ready.
He says: Come down. I need you here.
I need you.
Such simple words and they’re setting my heart on fire.
Be right there.
“Okay girls,” I say, putting my phone on the desk. I don’t have a clutch and the dress doesn’t have pockets so it’s better off in my room. “Let’s go.”
I take them by the hands and we head off to the ball.
The ballroom is located at the far wing of the palace on the first floor and other than playing with the girls and Snarf Snarf in there, I don’t go there much.
But tonight, it’s like entering another world.
You know those royal balls you see in the movies, people in fancy dresses dancing beneath glittering chandeliers, while butlers walk around with appetizers and champagne and a violin orchestra plays in the corner.
It’s like that.
Except everyone is a lot more modestly dressed.
And by that, I mean it’s all very sleek and Scandinavian and understated.
And I’ve just walked in the room in the world’s poufiest prom dress.
“Who is that?”
“Is that the nanny?”
“Who does she think she is, a princess?”
Okay, well I can’t really hear or understand them from where I am, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re saying.
It doesn’t matter though. I hold my head high, ignoring the looks, and scan the room for Aksel.
I don’t see him at first, so, while still holding the girls’ hands with an iron grip, I slowly walk through the crowd, nodding my head at some of the staff that I know. But even they are giving me a look, you know, the one that says, aren’t you working too? Probably followed by, how on earth did she afford that dress on our wages?
The latter I don’t know. The label said Valentino and I really hope it doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass, because I don’t have those kind of funds.
And then, like the sea parting for Moses, the crowd disintegrates in front of me and I see Aksel, standing with the Danish Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister spots me first, nods and says something to Aksel.
Aksel’s head pivots toward me.
His jaw practically drops. At least it seems that way to me since it’s usually held in such a tense manner.
That was the reaction I was hoping for.
I smile at him, knowing my smile makes him weak at the knees, and then glide toward him.
“Good evening, Your Majesty,” I say to him sweetly. “I have your children here.” You know, to remind him that I’m the nanny and we haven’t been secretly screwing for several months.
Clara and Freja are incredibly quiet at the moment and Aksel says to the Prime Minister, “Warnekros, may I introduce to you my nanny, Aurora James.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Prime Minister,” I say, holding out my hand.
Warnekros is an older man with a shock of white hair and glasses and he seems a little befuddled at the moment. Still, he shakes my hand with a firm grip then looks at Aksel. “She’s much prettier in person.”
He said that in Danish but I’m certain that’s what he said.
Not sure if I should be insulted or not. I guess the tabloids never do publish my good side.
“I’ll let you two be,” the Prime Minister says, placing a hand on Aksel’s shoulder before walking away to the champagne.
“Lovely party,” I say to Aksel.
“It just got a lot lovelier,” he says, his voice awed and rough. He’s getting a look in his eyes, a look he can’t show in public. “You…” his eyes slowly rake over me, up and down. “You’re more than a goddess.”
I grin, wishing I could reach out and adjust his bowtie. “Well you look like a Nordic god in that tux, so I guess we make quiet the pair.”
It’s only then that I realize both Clara and Freja are staring up at us, watching.
“Okay girls,” I say to them, overly cheery. “Let’s get you something to eat.”
“Give them to Maja,” he says, reaching out and touching my shoulder.
“I want to dance with you,” he says. His eyes are intense and commanding, I can feel them all the way to my toes. They possess me in ways that nothing else does.
I look around. A lot of people are staring at us. Actually, I think everyone is. They’re watching our every interaction, our every look.
I feel like I’m at the zoo.
The most glamorous zoo in the world.
“You want to dance with me?” I ask. “What happened to you not being able to dance?”
“Perhaps I’ve improved.” He turns and waves at Maja nearby then smiles at his girls. “Go to your Tante Maja. I’ll bring Aurora back.”
They nod and Clara grabs Freja’s hand and they cross the ballroom to Maja, all while I hear Clara start to sing, “I know you, I danced with you once upon a dream.”
Once upon a dream is right.
Aksel holds out his arm for me to take. “If you will, Miss James.”
I do a small curtsey and then take his arm as he leads me to the middle of the floor.
Everyone who was dancing there suddenly scatters, leaving it open for just us.
He won’t stop smiling at me, not as I put my other hand on his shoulder, not as he puts his other hand at the small of my waist.
“Aren’t you afraid people will get the wrong idea?” I whisper, keeping focused on the strong, chiseled lines of his handsome face. From a scar across this nose where he broke it during his rally driving crash, to the sprinkles of grey at his temple and the permanent crease between his arched brows, I’ve memorized his face like a map that leads me home.