“Oh, he was hard on me,” I tell her. “I believe he called me uneducated and silly at one point. But I’ll manage. I always do.”
She presses her palms together. “I’m so glad. The girls will be delighted.”
“And it’s a lot of weight off your shoulders too. You don’t have to search anymore.”
She nods primly. “Yes, well, hopefully you’ll last the full year.”
Damn, that took the wind out of my sails. I brush it off.
“I have no doubt I will,” I tell her.
Of course, on the other hand, I have no idea what I’m getting into.
And as I follow Maja down the hallway as she gives a quick tour past gilded paintings and marble statues and large, velvet-accented rooms with Baroque floors, rattling off a million different things before she takes me back to the airport, I realize how in over my head I really am.
Even though I haven’t signed anything yet, I feel like when I shook the King’s hand I was agreeing to something beyond my wildest dreams or nightmares.
I hope I didn’t just make a deal with the devil.
A handsome devil, of course.
They usually are.
“Salud,” Amelie says, raising her glass of champagne to me. “Or what do they say in Denmark again?”
I grin and tap my glass against hers before taking a sip, the bubbles tickling my nose. “I believe they say skål.”
“Skål. Why not?” she says with a dainty shrug. She takes a large gulp of her drink but manages to make it look elegant. Even when she’s plastered she appears completely refined. Must be the French way, je ne sais quoi.
“So,” she says, brushing imaginary lint from her shoulders. “I know we do this every time you start another job but this time it feels different. You won’t be in France anymore. I’ll feel so far away from you.” She sticks her precisely-lined red bottom lip out in an exaggerated pout.
“I know.” Even though I got to know Amelie through work and we have a mostly professional relationship, she’s probably the closest friend I have. I’m sure that’s considered pathetic to a lot of people but I don’t mind being a loner. Sometimes I think I prefer it that way. Ever since I left Australia, my relationships with people have been shallow and fleeting. They’ve been safe.
But I do like Amelie a lot and I’ve known her for so long at this point, which is why I wanted to have one last drink with her tonight before I leave for Copenhagen tomorrow. And something tells me I’m going to need someone to vent to in the future.
“Hey,” I say to her, looking around the bar to make sure no one is listening. “If I call or email you, you know, just to talk and vent about the job, that won’t be, like, recorded will it?”
She gives me a wry look as she takes a sip. “You mean, like if you’re being sexually harassed at your job, will I keep it a secret? No.”
That’s the thing about my last position. I had been planning on quitting anyway but it was opening up to Amelie about why that set the whole thing in motion.
“You know it’s our duty to protect our clients on both sides,” she goes on.
“I know that, and again, I’m glad for the way that everything worked out, but I’m talking about just … venting.” Then again, if I need to complain about my job, perhaps I’d better just keep it to myself.
“You mean like telling me you think your new boss is an asshole?” she asks, a twinkle in her eyes.
That might have been the first thing I said when she asked me to fill her in.
“Don’t worry, I won’t make a record of it. You’re the first person I know who will be working for actual royalty. I know in my heart you’re right for the job and that you’re going to do fine, but I also know it’s not going to be easy. Of course you can vent to me. Talk to me. Anytime you want.”
I raise my glass to hers again. “Merci.”
“He is a handsome asshole, though,” she muses after a moment. The door to the bar opens and a couple walks in, bringing with them the brisk autumn air and the sounds of evening traffic in the Marais.
“I can’t deny that.”
I also can’t deny that when I haven’t been packing up my life over the last twenty-four hours, I’ve been stalking the King online. I keep telling myself it’s just so I know what I’m up against, you know, other than a royal dick, and I’m trying to learn as much as possible.
But the truth is, I’m drawn to him like a moth to a flamethrower.
Not that his good looks save his bad attitude. They don’t. I think they make him worse. But I can definitely appreciate how well he’s put together while abhorring his manners.
“I admire you, you know,” she says, eyeing me slyly.
“Oh?” Color me surprised.
“The way you’re always able to just uproot yourself and go. Place to place, family to family. You’re so free, like a bird, doing whatever you please. No wonder you’re obsessed with Holly Golightly. You and her are the same.”
I give her a tight smile. I do love Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I used to think that being free-spirited and independent was the only way to be. I thought if you stayed in one place too long, it would hold you back, and if you got to know people too well, they’d push you down, rubbing your face into the mud.
But Amelie has a boyfriend she loves, a job she’s good at, friends, family, the amazing city of Paris. She’s got a whole life here and it’s a good one. There’s no reason for her to take off. She doesn’t have to live out of a suitcase.
I clear my throat. “You know you can visit me at any time. Or I’ll come see you.”
“Are you sure about that? I’ve seen your contract. You only get one day off a week, Sundays. And you know from personal experience, that you’re rarely going to get that day off. Plus I don’t think they’ll let just any person meet up with you. I’d have to go through many security checks I’m sure.”
I hadn’t thought about that. I suppose to anyone else it could put a real dent in their social life. Luckily I don’t have one.
“You can always say you’re there on behalf of the company. You know, making sure everything is up to code.”
“Exposing the wrongdoings of the Danish royal family.” She laughs, getting out of her chair as she grabs her pack of cigarettes from the table. “I’m going out for a smoke, I’ll be back.”
I watch as she goes, standing out under the lights of the bar as people walk to and fro, darkness falling fast, the lights of the passing cars lighting the stone buildings in a dreamy way. My heart pinches, just a bit, and I don’t even know why. I feel like I’m missing some piece of me and this job is going to either move me further away from it.
Or closer to it.
“Aurora, welcome,” Maja says as I enter through the side palace doors and into the foyer. “How was your flight? I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there to meet you, there’s been so much to do today. I hope it wasn’t any trouble finding Henrik.”
I glance up at Henrik, the driver, as he walks past me with my giant suitcase and duffle bag in tow and give him a grateful smile. “No, he was waiting for me at arrivals. I recognized him right away.”
I didn’t think much of Henrik the first time I met him. I expected he wouldn’t speak English and that the ride from the airport would be filled with silence. But the guy talks almost as much as I do. He mainly talked about his family (he’s thirty-two, has a wife and kid, wants to go back to university) but I have a feeling he’s a gossip. He already gave me the low-down about the King’s driver and I know in time I’ll be able to get all the dirty details about the King himself. I can be very persuasive.
“Good,” Maja says, and if I’m not mistaken she seems a little jumpy and nervous. She quickly pivots toward Henrik and calls after him in Danish. Then she gives me a quick smile. “I must remember to speak English more around you, otherwise it might be seen as rude. I was just telling him to put your items away in your room.”
“No worries,” I tell her. “I’m the one who needs to be picking up Danish, and fast. It’s only luck that so far everyone has been fluent in English.”
“Aside from the older generation, you’ll find most people here in Copenhagen speak English, and certainly in the palace. They might be a little, how do you say, self-conscious about it, but they will understand you very well.” She presses her palms together and nods toward the hall. “I know I gave you a quick tour last time but I doubt you were able to take any of it in. Perhaps I should show you around and make introductions to the staff, and then we can get started on the paperwork.”
It feels like the first day of school already and instead of telling myself to be cold and indifferent like I was with King Aksel, I tell myself to be warm and respectful to everyone I meet.
It’s not so hard when I’m introduced, yet again, to Henrik, or to Karla, a cook, or Agnes, the head housekeeper. They’re effortlessly polite and welcoming, reminding me a bit of the animated staff in Beauty and the Beast. But you know, actual people.
Then I’m brought upstairs to the second level to meet Johan, King Aksel’s driver, the one Henrik told me about. According to Henrik, Johan is a sleepwalker that I’ll probably see roaming about the palace in the middle of the night. He also looks—and speaks—an awful lot like Lurch from the Addams Family. I make a mental note not to scream my head off if I run into him walking around like Frankenstein at one a.m., though I won’t make any promises.
Finally, Maja takes me to the administrative offices down at the end, near the King’s office. She knocks on his door and I try and prepare myself to see him again, only there’s no answer. Can’t say I’m not relieved.
Then the door across the hall opens and a tall, skinny man with a deep-set brow and pale blonde hair strolls out, dressed in a sharp suit. He looks vaguely familiar so I figure I must have seen his picture somewhere during my spying spree.