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It all clicked into place when he finally told me. He was clumsy and humorous, but there was an air of refinement he couldn’t shake off, regardless of what he was wearing or doing. He was born and raised to rule a nation. I was daunted simply listening to him explain his life. I understood why he buckled under pressure when his grandfather passed. Aside from losing a loved one, he was literally one heartbeat away from being in power. That’s a startling realization to come to terms with at the tender age of fourteen. I cut him slack for not telling me sooner. I would’ve viewed him differently if I had known right off the bat. I was a little mortified by all the things I had done and said to a future king, but then I realized he was still Milo, my best friend, and we were weird together. He couldn’t exactly judge me.
“It’s freezing.” I pulled my coat tighter as we sat on the gr*** in the vacant field.
“It is February. This wasn’t one of my smartest ideas.”
“Nu-uh, but you took the lead. I commend the effort.” I scrambled to my feet. My joints were stiff from the cold. I jiggled my legs to warm myself up as he worked himself off the ground.
“And now you understand my apprehension to display leadership skills.” He dusted off his jeans.
“You’re capable. I’m still not going to let you sell yourself short.” We started on the path back to main campus.
“Your stubbornness is part of the reason I love you.”
I looked down at my boots and played with my keys in my coat pocket. Our footsteps on the bricks were the only sounds audible.
“You’re not obligated to say it back. This is subjected to the honesty oath.”
I spared a glimpse in his direction. His eyes met mine. Warmth rushed through my veins and my heartbeat accelerated.
My chest constricted and I returned my eyes to my shoes.
“You’re my best friend. I love being around you.” I swallowed hard.
I wanted to say more to let him know he wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t do it, not yet.
“Imagine me kissing you on the cheek.”
“We’re holding hands too.” I nibbled on my bottom lip to keep myself from smiling too hard.
I went into my dorm alone. All of my roommates were in the living room when I walked into our suite. Sami and Elle were comforting her as she cried.
“H-he dumped me because I-I’m boring.” Morgan hiccuped.
“No, you’re not. I will destroy him without remorse if he said that to you.” Sami rubbed her back.
I removed my backpack and coat and sat down in one of the armchairs.
Elle started texting.
“Okay, got the dets. He said they never do anything. Did he mean that literally or sexually?” Elle looked to Morgan for input.
“He’s been trying for a while. Today too, but I couldn’t give it up to him.” She buried her face in one of her hands.
“SOMEBODY CALL WATSON!” Sami demanded as she guided Morgan’s head to her shoulder.
“On it.” Elle replied.
“Mom, you made the right decision, obviously. The first time is awkward and uncomfortable. Sharing it with someone you trust and/or love makes it worthwhile. He’s an ***. You’re way too good for him. I’ve always thought that.” I brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them.
“Really?” She sniffled.
“Yes, we all have. I didn’t say it because I wanted to be supportive.” Elle covered the receiver with her hand.
“Sami’s boiling over. We need you at our place ASAP.” She relayed to Finn.
“I had no problem saying to his face.” Sami told Morgan.
“Don’t kill him.”
“I won’t, only because you asked. The ***** took my best friend for granted. He’s going down.”
She smiled softly. “I need to clean myself up. I’ll be back.” She wrapped her arms around herself and shuffled off to her room.
“Finn’s on his way.” Elle hung up the phone.
Sami waited until Morgan shut her bedroom door.
“I’m sucker punching him in the nads. The rest is up in the air, but I’m doing it. He’s earned it.” She vowed passionately.
“I can’t believe he was pressuring her like that.” I shook my head in disdain.
“Don’t fuel her hate fire, Babydoll. It’s more intense when she fights for others.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I checked it, thinking it was a text from Milo. Instead, it was one from Everett. I called him immediately.
“She’s in labor?! Where are you?” I blurted the moment he answered.
“At the hospital. We’ve been here since last night. She was nine centimeters dilated the last time the doctor checked. It’s time to set up your webcam.”
“So excited! Comfort her. I’ll be there soon!” I tossed my phone aside.
“Audrey’s having the baby?” Elle clasped her hands together.
“Any minute now. Keep me updated on this.” I gestured to them before collecting my things.
“Will do. I wish them luck.”
I rushed to my room, sat down on my bed, and logged into Skype. My call request was accepted and I impatiently waited for the screen to buffer.
The computer’s vantage point was the bed table. I was able to see them from the waist up. She was sitting up in bed, visibly in pain with her eyes clenched shut. Everett was massaging her lower back and offering her words of encouragement.
She exhaled and slumped back on the mound of pillows behind her.
“How long have you been toughing out the pain?”
She cracked her eyes open at the sound of my voice. “27 hours. I need to push.”
“You will be very soon. The doctor is on her way. The nurses are prepping you.” Her bed was raised, bringing the back up to a 90 degree angle.
“I hear you’re ready to start pushing, Audrena.” The doctor checked her chart.
“I’m so tired and ready for her to be out.” She pushed up her glasses.
“You are fully dilated. Push through your next contraction.”
She looked over at Everett.
“I love you so much.” He looked into her eyes.
She pressed her lips to his and they kissed tenderly. He draped one of his arms across her shoulders. She clasped his other hand tight. She closed her eyes and exercised her breathing techniques. She pushed on the doctor’s cue. It took an hour of pushing for Emilia to crown. Everett and I encouraged her every step of the way. Audrey’s exhaustion couldn’t have been more apparent.
“You are doing so well. She’s almost here.” I told her as soothingly as possible.
“I can’t –“A sob escaped her chest.
“Aud, you’ve got this. You’re so close. In a few minutes, it’ll all be over. She’ll be here.” He kissed the side of her face.
She got a better grip on his hand and resumed pushing. We coached her through it. It felt as though the world stalled for a nanosecond when Emmy’s crying filtered through my computer speakers. Aud exhaled in relief and laid back. Both she and Everett looked at her with tears in their eyes.
“Would Daddy like to cut the cord?” The doctor offered.
Speechless, Ev nodded as he worked to regain use of the rest of his body. Audrey placed her hand over her mouth and silently cried as he tended to her. I was still unable to see the baby, but sheer love and joy were written all over Aud’s face. Ev returned to her side minutes later with a yellow bundle in his arms.
“She’s so beautiful.” He sat down beside Audrey and transferred Emilia to her.
“She has your hair.” Aud smoothed it down with the back of her index finger. Most of it laid down, but the ends curled upward, refusing to be tamed – just like her father’s.
“Everything else is from you. She’s too beautiful for that not to be the case.” He draped his arm across his wife’s shoulders as they watched her.
Instead of begging them to show me my niece, I observed the way Ev and Aud looked at each other.
They were so in love. It radiated off of them. My limited belief in romance was established because of them. It existed. I couldn’t deny that, but I knew it was impossible for everyone to stumble upon their other half within their lifetime. Lucky wasn’t an adjective I could use to describe myself. I was terrified of everything Milo made me feel. I wanted to remember him fondly when he inevitably left my life for good.
“Emmy, I’d like you to meet your Aunt Izzie.” Audrey angled her daughter towards me.
Her brown eyes, chubby cheeks, pink lips, and full head of hair rendered me awestruck – they made a real live person.
“Sweetie, you are the cutest little thing. I can’t wait to hold you. I love you already.” I waved.
“I need both of you to flood my inbox with pictures. I’m not even kidding.” I pointed to them.
“We will. We promised.” Aud held Em to her chest.
“I’ll leave you alone now. Congratulations from all of us here at SMA. You’re going to be the best parents.”
“Bye. You did great as my backup birth coach.”
“You did all the hard work. It’s not hard to support a person you love. Give her extra kisses for me.” I blew them kisses.
I signed off and closed my computer, smiling off into space.
“We’ve got a code black! This is not a drill!” Elle burst into my room.
“She’s rocking the fight hat?!” I crawled off of my bed.
Sure enough, Sami’s black snapback was on backwards. She practiced tai chi as Finn sat on the couch took an inventory of their supplies.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“That’s classified.” He scribbled down notes.
“A hint, something.” Elle pleaded.
“That’d be no fun.” Sami smoothly transitioned into her next move.
“Can this result in arrests and/or expulsions?” Morgan crossed her arms.
“It won’t.” He dismissed us.
“Done.” He informed Sam. She flipped over the back of the couch and landed on it with a bounce.
“Let’s roll.” She slung her satchel strap over her shoulder.
He followed her out of the suite. Morgan, Elle, and I watched the door.
“Tomorrow’s going to be interesting.” I thought aloud.