Judith walked into an ornate dining hall with a long table where Stephen, Emily, and Amelia sat laughing heartily. She set the tray down in front of them and politely conversed, “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, you had to be there,” Emily replied.
Stephen poured himself another glass of whiskey as he noted, “Wow, you’re still here!”
Judith told him, “We’re a bit short staffed today, so I didn’t mind working overtime. Besides, I’ll get the next few days off after this, so it balances out.”
“Good! You need to rest!” Stephen commented.
“Oh, that sounds like the pot calling the kettle black!” Emily teased him.
Stephen defended himself, “Hey, she has a choice! I don’t always get the option. Like, when was I supposed to take a break in the hidden forest?”
The three of them laughed again, and Judith half smiled but sort of seemed uncomfortable, so Emily regarded her, “Go home, Judith! Enjoy your weekend!” Judith looked a little reluctant to leave, so Emily added, “Queen’s order!”
Grimacing slightly, Judith complied, “Yes, Queen Emily.”
After Judith finally left the room, Amelia poured herself another drink and remarked, “I bet if the public knew about your experience in that forest, that producer wouldn’t have had the nerve to scare you with that hobgoblin like that! That was really mean!”
Stephen shrugged. “If she knew what happened to us in the forest, her tactic would have been more idiotic than mean. The gargoyle was much scarier than Petey was!” Once again, they all laughed uproariously.
Emily picked up her cup of tea and put in, “Their whole team didn’t seem that sharp to me. I mean, suitor or impostor? If she really thought that an impostor was at the castle, wouldn’t she contact law enforcement before she posted it on social media?” She almost took a sip, but first she shared another thought, “Why is everyone so interested in my love life anyways? My education referendum will have a lasting impact on Amouraq’s future, but no one wants to talk about that! I don’t get it!”
“Because that would require brain cells to explain,” Stephen joked. They all chuckled, but secretly Stephen felt relieved that Emily didn’t get mad at him for inadvertently playing a part in creating that story. She didn’t seem upset that some people thought they were an item, which made Stephen wonder if that stemmed from the ridiculousness of the scenario or if, perhaps, she wanted it to be true. He hoped for the latter, but he still didn’t have the chance to talk to Emily about it. As much as he welcomed Amelia’s company, he wished that she would go hang out somewhere else for a while because he didn’t want to discuss such a personal matter in front of her. He supposed it didn’t make that much of a difference though since there were so many castle staffers scattered throughout the place, so no one was making this easy for him. He resolved to keep spending time with her until that opportunity came along, and he knew that as soon as they managed to be by themselves, he had to seize the chance and talk to her immediately. He still had no clue on how exactly he wanted phrase his feelings to her, but he knew that if he didn’t do it soon, he would lose the nerve to do it all. He hoped that when the opportunity finally came that the right words would naturally flow out.
“Some things never change!” Amelia asserted. “I remember when I was in school, nobody cared when they shy, quiet girl won first prize at the science fair, but…”
She paused when she saw Stephen’s face fell from amusement to concern. He saw Emily make a strange face after she sipped her tea, so he asked her, “Is everything okay?”
Emily answered, “This tea tastes kind of weird! Probably ’cause it sat out too long and got cold.” She set the cup aside and declared, “Oh, one more drink won’t kill me!” She took back her whiskey glass and poured some more alcohol. “Please continue, Grandma!”
“Oh, the shy, quiet girl won the science fair, and no one really cared, but they couldn’t get enough of her when she started dating the star quarterback! No one seemed to understand it- the jocks and the nerds just didn’t mix, and yet these two seemed to be madly in love! No one thought it would last, but we were voted best couple in the yearbook!” Amelia fondly recalled.
“We?” Stephen reacted. “Wait, that was you!”
Amelia nodded. “Yes, I was the geek who won the heart of the quarterback, and that quarterback later turned into Emily’s grandfather! Stew let his grades slide to play more football, but he wanted play in college, so he needed to get his GPA higher to get in. I got assigned to mentor him, and it turned out we had a lot more in common than people thought!”
Emily stated, “Oh, I forgot you and Grandpa were gossiped about! How did you guys handle it?”
As Amelia regaled them with her familiarity on the subject, Stephen observed that Emily’s behavior returned to normal. The face she made after drinking that tea made him anxious for a moment, but since she didn’t act sick or afflicted by anything, he let it go and just enjoyed himself for the rest of the night.
At the end of the night, the three of them walked down the corridor leading towards their chambers. “Yeah, it ended up burning!” Stephen chuckled at the memory. “I swear, I used to be an amazing cook, but it’s been so long since I’ve used the stove that I had to search the internet for recipes on how to cook rice!”
That made Emily giggle. “I probably would too! Between living in a castle and living with my grandma, I…” She looked around and realized Amelia was no longer with them. “Oh, I guess she didnt’ wanna interrupt us. Goodnight, Grandma!”
“Goodnight, Amelia!” Stephen chimed in.
“Goodnight, you two!” Amelia called out to them.
As Stephen and Emily continued walking down the hall, Stephen’s heart began to pound. They were actually alone together, and Stephen knew he should seize the opportunity to talk to Emily about his feelings. He tried to think of a way to bring it up without it feeling awkward, but before he could come up with an opening line, Emily sighed, “Tomorrow’s gonna be rough!”
Stephen deemed that addressing her concerns as more of a priority, so he chose to address this instead of just blurting out that he felt something deeper than friendship for her. He hoped that the topic might come up naturally in the conversation! “Why do you say that?”
“The parliament is discussing that bill first thing in the morning,” Emily explained. “I really hope that the day off made everyone cool down! We really need to get on the same page and get this thing passed! If I can’t get the majority of them to agree on it, my first piece of legislation will fail, and that’s all anyone will ever talk about! But I can’t let it fail! I have to get this thing done because it’s so important for the country! What am I gonna do if-?”
“Hey, hey, hey!” Stephen gently interrupted her as they arrived at her bedroom door. “You’re gonna be fine! If the bill fails, at least it’ll show that you tried! But I’ve seen you face bigger challenges than this! If you can battle dragons and outsmart Xavier, you can figure out a way to make this happen too! It’s like I told you in the hidden forest, you have to believe that you’ll succeed even when you’re inches away from death! You got this!”
Emily echoed his point, “I got this! You’re right! I can do this!” She beamed as she complimented him, “You’re amazing! What would I do without you?”
This was it, Stephen thought. He had an opening to admit how much he cared for her, but with the way she stared at him, he didn’t want to say anything at all! He had the strongest impulse to lean in and kiss her, and his body flooded with excitement at the prospect! Her lips were so inviting, and he could already feel her heat as he stepped closer. Suddenly, he felt a little dizzy, and he got forcibly reminded that he consumed quite a bit of whiskey. He began to question his judgment and wondered if the signal of readiness he saw from her had just been wishful thinking on his part. Plus, he remembered that she had a few drinks too, and while he didn’t think she was close to the point of drunkenness, he didn’t want her to wake up tomorrow and regret any actions she took with him that night. With a surge of disappointment running through his veins, he decided he shouldn’t do anything that night. It was such an important matter that he didn’t want alcohol to have an influence on anything. He pat her on the back and told her, “Goodnight, Emily!”
“Goodnight, Stephen!” She turned towards her room, and Stephen’s body ached watching her slip away. He had to assure himself that he did the right thing in order to pull himself away, and as he headed to the next door, he resolved to wake up early and catch Emily before she went to parliament in the morning. After he entered in his chambers, he began taking his shoes off to get ready for bed, but he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep that night! His mind would be racing all night hoping to see that same look she gave him tonight when he admitted his feelings for her tomorrow!
Later on, as Emily slept comfortably beneath her sheets, her breath started to grow more and more rapid. She began to breathe heavier and heavier until, all of a sudden, her eyelids shot wide open! Her golden brown eyes turned into a hellish red, and her pupils became reptilian-like! She didn’t totally believe it, so she drew herself out of the bed and walked over to her vanity table in an almost trance-like manner. When she studied her face closer, she seemed pleased at what she saw. She declared, “It worked!”
Stepping out from the shadows, Judith concurred, “Yes, it certainly did! When Emily sent me out of the dining room, I worried that it wouldn’t take! How do you feel, your majesty?”
“Excellent!” Emily grinned at her reflection triumphantly. “Except for this frilly nightgown!” She pointed at herself and chanted, “Gestero black robes!” Her pajamas changed into a dark, hooded garment. “Ah, that’s better!”
“Your team is waiting for you at Rogue’s Alcove, your majesty,” Judith informed her.
Emily replied, “Good! Simeon was right about you! Keep an eye on the castle for me! Do whatever you can to slow them down so they don’t find her!”
Judith promised, “I won’t fail you, your majesty! It’s an honor to work for you, Xavier Ryder!”
Emily wickedly grinned, chanted, “Lanumaciae Rogue’s Alcove,” and disappeared into the night!