What a strange pair we are. The sad boy and the frightened girl.
I look into his eyes, moving closer, putting my hands on his shoulders. “I won’t let you mess it up.”
“We’re friends then?” he asks. “I’m usually pretty good at that.”
Is that what I really want to be—Henry’s friend?
Again, I know the answer before I finish the thought. And the answer is no. But I can’t just blurt it out. How would that even work? What would it look like? I’ve never been good with speaking and I can’t see how this time would be any different. My stomach churns threateningly.
I have to think it through, figure it out, organize the words in just the right way. Figure out what Elizabeth Bennet would have said if she had to give the speech instead of Mr. Darcy.
So I nod. “Yes, of course we’re friends.”
Balls, balls, balls.
WE GO TO BED, but neither of us goes to sleep. I don’t know about Sarah, but I’m too relieved to be near her again. Excited. It’s like Christmas night after you’ve opened your presents and you’ve gotten exactly what you wanted more than anything. No one wants to sleep after that; you just want to keep touching and holding and looking at the lovely new toy.
“Did you think I was silly, getting so upset over a book?” she asks me, lying on her back, looking at the ceiling.
I lift my arm, showing her the platinum-linked ID bracelet dangling from my wrist.
“My mother gave me this when I was eight. I never take it off. I own a Maserati and crowns, but this is my most precious possession. I understand sentimental value.”
She sighs, turning in bed to face me, her hands tucked beneath her cheek. It’s my favorite Sarah pose, the perfect mixture of fuck-hot and innocent.
And I want to kiss her so badly my lips throb.
“I overreacted, for . . . several reasons. I’ll try not to do that anymore. From now on I should probably imagine what your grandmother would do, first. She’s such a strong woman—a very good role model. I can’t imagine her crying about anything.”
“I saw her cry once.”
Sarah moves in closer, her calf resting near mine under the covers. “Did you? When?”
I tuck my arm beneath my head, resting on my forearm, looking at the ceiling, thinking back. “After my parents’ plane went down . . . it took a few days for them to find the wreckage. Do you remember?”
She nods, and the corners of her mouth dip with sympathy.
“Those days gave me time to think . . . to concoct a little fantasy in my head. I’d always had a vivid imagination. So, even after they’d recovered their bodies, I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a trick—some evil ruse by an adversarial country that was holding them captive. Or, perhaps it was just a mistake.”
A sad smile pulls at my lips as I recall the boy I’d been, then. Despite all the toxic shit swirling around us—the complications that come part and parcel with who we are—my parents had done a fine job of keeping me insulated. Protected. And so, unlike my perpetually cynical older brother, at ten years old, I was still hopeful and optimistic.
Still young—and tragically innocent.
“I imagined them on a remote island somewhere, waiting for us to find them. I pictured my dad with a long, scraggly beard building a tree house for them with palm leaves and branches. And my mum, she’d be making little teacups out of coconut shells.”
She smiles softly. “Like Robinson Crusoe.”
“Yes.” I clear my throat, scraping the lump that’s risen there—because this part is harder. “I was sure, if I could just see the bodies, that I’d be able to reveal the truth. Convince everyone that we had to keep looking for them. So, I had the car take me to the morgue.”
Because even though I was still a young lad, I had an old title in front of my name, and there wasn’t a driver or staff member who would think of questioning me.
“I almost made it into the cold room where they stored the remains. There were guards, of course, but they were all willing to let me enter. Except for the doctor. Dr. Ramadi was the chief medical examiner—the one entrusted with the VIP cases—heads of state and such. And she stood in front of that door like Gandalf the Grey with a clipboard instead of a staff. And she refused to let me pass.
“I was furious. I stomped my foot like an arrogant little prick and told her, ‘I am Prince of Wessco—your Prince—so get out of my way.’ And she stared right back at me and said, ‘You are a child, Your Highness. And your mother and father do not look like themselves. I will not have that image in your mind.’
“It was a standoff for several minutes . . . until the Queen walked through the door. I don’t know who called her, but I remember thinking how tired she looked. The Queen never seemed weary, but she was that night. Dr. Ramadi left and my grandmother asked me what in the world I was thinking. And I told her all about my theory—the island and the teacups, all of it. As I did, I started to fall apart; it was difficult to speak. Eventually, I just ended up begging, ‘Please, Granny. They’re out there—I know they are. Please help me, Granny.’”
I pause for a moment, distracted by the words echoing in my memory and the shadow of the sickening feeling that twisted in my gut. Helplessness.
“And then, she hugged me. Really hugged me. It was the first time—the only time—she ever did that. Her arms were so strong. She pressed my face against her chest and stroked my hair, and she said, ‘Oh, my sweet boy, I would give anything . . . but they’re gone, Henry. They’re gone.’