Reluctantly Royal(4)

By: Nichole Chase



“He died?” Fat tears pooled in his eyes. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Yes, baby. He died in his sleep.” I pulled him against my chest and buried my face in his hair while he cried.

“But I’m going to mi-i-iss him so-o-o much.” His little arms wrapped around my neck and part of me broke right there on the floor of his school. “He can’t be dead.”

“Shh.” I smoothed his hair and placed a kiss on his forehead. “Remember how much he loved you? He’s always going to be with us.”

“It’s not the same.” His little body shook against mine and tears filled my eyes. “It’s not the same!”

“I know, baby. I know.” I sat down and pulled him into my lap, letting him cry. “But he’ll be here in our hearts, in the little things that remind us of him.”

“Like fishing?” He sniffled and rubbed his nose on the back of his arm. Apparently that was a family trait.

“Oh, you know it. Every time you catch a big one, he’ll be right there watching.” I rocked us gently and fought to keep a smile on my face.

“What about the little ones? I always manage to catch tiny ones.”

“Even the little ones.” My chuckle sounded wet so I cleared my throat. “Remember what he always said?”

“Can’t catch the big ones without the little ones.” He lowered his voice.

“That’s it. Bait fish make the fishing go round!” I mimicked his tone.

“What does that even mean?” Marty looked up at me with red-rimmed eyes and a curious expression. “What goes round?”

“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “It’s just what he always said.”

“Now we’ll never know.” His little voice sounded so sad.

“I bet we’ll figure it out.” I squeezed him tightly once more, before getting up off the floor. “Are you ready? There is a plane waiting for us.”

“Can I have your pretzels?” He rubbed his nose on his sleeve again. I really needed to cure that habit.

“We have a lot more than pretzels.” Max’s deep voice rumbled from the doorway.

I looked up at him, annoyed that he had come to check on us—thinking that he had been tired of waiting—but the anger melted away at the sympathy in his eyes as he looked at Marty.

Max leaned against the door frame with his hands stuck in his pockets, looking like a GQ model.

“What are you doing here?” Marty looked up at the prince in surprise.

“Prince Max is the one that came to tell us.” I shook my head at Marty’s lack of decorum, but right now wasn’t the time to correct him.

“Did you draw the short straw?”

I laughed. He was obviously my son.

“Rock, paper, scissors.” Max knelt down and smiled. “I chose rock.”

“Paper is the sneaky answer.” Marty nodded his head as if that made the most sense in the world.

“I do believe you’re right,” Max agreed.

While Marty was distracted I quickly wiped at my cheeks and dragged the tips of my fingers under my eyes to make sure I didn’t have any runaway mascara.

“Are you ready?” I held my hand out to Marty while Max picked up the tiny backpack by the door.

“Does this mean we’re going to fly on a private jet?” Marty looked at me with a little more of his usual excitement.

“I think so.” I squeezed his fingers and tried to not think of why we were being escorted “home” by Max.

“Awesome!” He bounced a little as we walked down the hallway. “Do you think I can drive it?”

“Um, that would be a no.” I laughed, but it was a show.

People had lined the hallways to watch us leave. Some of them had sad expressions as they watched Marty and me, but the rest were out in full force to get a glimpse of the royal guest. Not that I blamed them. Max filled out his suit perfectly.

“Have a safe flight.” The woman from the front desk nodded in my direction before turning around and making shooing motions at the people in the hallway.

“Thanks.” I blew out a breath. At least the private jet would be a good distraction for Marty. I was already mentally preparing myself to deal with my father. If I was lucky he’d be passed out in his office and leave everything to me. Coaching Marty through the funeral on top of making all the plans would be difficult enough. Dealing with my father at the same time would be almost impossible.





TWO

BAD.

My feet were planted just like they had been in the auditorium while listening to Meredith sing. It felt like my shoes had been glued to the floor. My legs refused to move.

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