Not in time to the music—I’m so pissed, I’m lucky to still be standing at all.
Usually I play the guitar too, but my fine-motor functions fell by the wayside hours ago. I’m a fantastic musician—not that anyone really notices. That talent gets lost in the shadow of the titles, the same way the talented offspring of two accomplished stars get discounted by the weight of their household name.
My mother gave me my love of music—she played several instruments. I had tutors, first for the piano, then the violin—but it was the guitar that really stuck with me. The karaoke stage at The Goat used to be my second home and in the last few hours, I’ve given serious consideration to moving in beneath it.
If Harry Potter was the Boy Under the Stairs, I could be the Prince Under the Stage. Why the fuck not?
As I delve into the chorus for the second time, voices whisper on the periphery of my consciousness. I hear them, but don’t really listen.
“Christ, how long’s he been like this?”
I like that voice. It’s soothing. Deep and comforting. It reminds me of my brother’s, but it’s not him. Because Nicholas is in a land far, far away.
“He’s had a rough go of it.”
And that sounds like Simon—my brother’s best mate. He checks up on me from time to time, because he’s a good man.
“It’s been particularly difficult the last few months,” Simon says—not to be confused with the electronic game.
“Months?” the smooth voice chokes.
“We didn’t want to concern you until there was something to be concerned about.”
That voice is a beauty. It could almost pass for Simon’s stunning and frighteningly direct wife, Franny. I wonder if Franny has a twin sister? I would so hit that, if she does.
“James contacted me when he refused to go home. In the last two days he’s gone from bad to—”
“—rock bottom,” Franny says, finishing Simon’s sentence. They’re cute like that.
Hashtag relationship goals.
“Wow. You royal guys don’t do anything halfway, do you?” a pretty, distinctly American voice chimes in. “Even your mental breakdowns are historic.”
The song ends and after a moment, I open my eyes.
One lone patron at a table in front claps, the ash from the cigarette between his fingers falling in slow motion to the floor.
And then I look up.
And my eyes absorb a glorious sight.
My big brother, Nicholas, standing tall and straight by the bar, his face etched with worry. It may just be a fantasy. A delusion. But I’ll take what I can get.
I start to smile and move forward, but I forget about the stage—the fact that I’m standing on it. And that first step is an absolute corker. Because a moment later, my whole world goes black.
The next time I open my eyes, I’m on the floor, on my back, staring at the water-stained ceiling of The Horny Goat. And . . . I think there’s gum up there. What kind of demented bastard puts chewing gum on the ceiling? Has to be a health hazard.
My brother’s face looms over me, blocking out everything else. And sweet, blessed relief surges in my chest. “Nicholas? You’re really here?”
“Yes, Henry,” he says gently. “I’m really here.” His big hand rests on my head. “You took quite a fall—are you well?”
Well? I could fucking fly.
“I had the most ridiculous dream.” I point at my brother. “You were there.” I point at Simon beside him. “And you.” Then Franny, all of them huddled on the floor around me. “And you too. You . . . abdicated the throne, Nicholas. And they all wanted to make me king.” A maniacal laugh passes my lips . . . until I turn to the right and see dark blue eyes, sweet lips. and black, swirling hair.
Then I scream like a girl. “Ahhhh!”
It’s Olivia. My brother’s wife. His very American wife.
I turn back to Nicholas. “It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
I lie back down on the floor. “Fuuuuuck.”
Then I feel sort of bad.
“Sorry, Olive. You know I think you’re top-notch.”
She smiles kindly. “It’s okay, Henry. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time.”
I scrub my hand over my face, trying to think clearly.
“It’s all right. This is a better, new plan—I won’t have to live under the stage now.”
“You were going to live under the stage?” Nicholas asks.
I wave my hand. “Forget it. It was Potter’s stupid idea. Boy Wonder Wizard, my arse.”
And now my brother looks really worried.
I gesture to him. “But you’re here now. You can take me with you back to the States.”
“Henry . . .”
“Give me your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free—that describes me perfectly! I’m a huddled mass, Nicholas!”
He squeezes my arms, shaking just a bit. “Henry. You can’t move to America.”
I grasp his shirt. And my voice morphs into an eight-year-old boy’s, confessing he sees dead people. “But she’s so mean, Nicholas. She’s. So. Mean.”
He taps my back. “I know.”
Nicholas and Simon drag me up, holding on so that I stay on my feet. “But we’ll figure it out,” Nicholas says. “It’s going to be all right.”
I shake my head. “You keep saying that. I’m starting to think you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”