Before Maddie had the chance to enjoy a piece of the candy Harry had presented her with, she was pulled from her office and off to work with a patient who had just come into the Emergency Room. And from that point on, her day was bustling. She met with child after child until, finally, that evening she had a chance to pause. She caught up on her notes and moved around; tidying up her office, putting things away and preparing for the next day. As she slid some books back onto her shelf, she heard a knock on the door and turned towards it; sleepiness evident on her face. Though she brightened instantly when she saw who it was.
“You’re still here?” He smiled.
“I am,” she returned the grin. “You’re finished with your meeting?”
“Just,” he nodded. “May I come in?”
“Since when do you ask permission?” She teased, but gestured for him to enter. He stepped into the room and, with more time this time, he looked around; taking it all in. “How was the meeting?” She almost laughed at how easy the small talk slipped from her mouth.
“It was good,” he answered without turning to look at her, his eyes scanning the shelves and bins. “You have…a lot of toys in here.”
“Yes,” she chuckled. “I use them with the children.”
“You play with the children?” His eyebrows rose in question.
“Sort of,” she moved to stand next to him. “It’s a technique; play therapy. There are ways to use the toys, ways for them to tell their story and…well…children tend to talk more when their hands are busy, form alignments easier.”
“Do you find the same to be true for adults?”
“Sometimes,” she nodded; watching as his fingers traveled over the labels on the bins, stroking the fur of a few of the stuffed animals she held on a shelf.
“Khenda was telling me that sometimes you are called out to a site, to work in an emergent situation. Is that true?” Maddie tried not to get hung up on the thought of Khenda discussing her with Harry and focused on what he was asking.
“Yes. That’s true.”
“Are you ever frightened?”
“For myself?” She thought for a moment before shaking her head. “No. I know it’s naïve of me, but in the moment, I’m not thinking about those sorts of things. We usually have others with us who are trained to think of those sorts of things. When we go out like that, I’m trained to do other things, so I do them. That’s how it works. Each person does their particular piece. The time is generally limited in the field so…” She noticed how intently he was listening to her speak and it brought a smile to her eyes. “But…am I ever frightened? By what I see? By what the children have experienced? By what that means for them in the long term? By what could possibly happen to them the next day? Yes. I am…at times…horrifically frightened.”
“Yes…” He nodded slowly, having no words to follow up what she had said; having nothing that could possibly articulate the understanding he had for what she was saying. A heaviness settled over the room and it was Maddie’s turn to break it.
“Would you like some candy?” His face lightened and he smiled to himself. “This very kind Crown Prince of England dropped by with a new bag.” He chuckled and then moved his eyes to hers; not even bothering to correct her.
“I suppose I should try a piece of this lauded concoction.”
“I suppose you should,” she smiled; gesturing towards where the bag still sat on her desk. Reaching into the bag, she retrieved two pieces; handing one to him and working on the wrapper for herself. She couldn’t help the small moan that escaped her lips as she bit into the candy; memories flooding her senses. He raised his eyebrows, amused, and took a bite.
“Hmmm,” he studied the treat in his hand. “Minty.”
“Amazingly so,” she smiled. “Thank you for bringing these with you.”
“This was very slick, by the way.”
“The candy. Remembering the story I told you, going to the trouble to find them…”
“It was really not much trouble,” he interjected, finishing off his piece.
“Bringing them all the way to Bendal…”
“Well, I was coming this way anyway,” he shrugged; giving his best effort at nonchalance; moving to sit in one of her chairs.
“Is that something you do with all of the women you meet?” Her eyes narrowed slightly as she sat across from him. Now that she felt so much more comfortable around him, she was curious. She had never imagined that he would even remember her, but the five crisp ten dollar bills in her pocket said otherwise.
“I hardly ever meet women,” he avoided the question.
“That is absolutely untrue. You meet hundreds of women.”
“Well, not exactly. I am introduced to hundreds of women. I find that Imeet very few. There is a distinction.” He shrugged. “And the answer is no. I do not normally deliver childhood treats to the women I meet.”
“Hmmm…” She leaned back in her chair; contemplation etched across her face. “And what does your girlfriend think of all of this?”
“Excuse me?” His eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“I’m sorry,” her forehead scrunched up. “I didn’t mean to…I just….here you are, in Bendal for a week and you’re bringing candy to a woman you barely know, stopping by her office after work hours and…
“Am I being analyzed right now?” He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees; hands pressed together. “Shouldn’t I be allowed to at least play with a toy while we do this?”
“Would you like to pick one out?”
“Did you want me to leave you alone? If I’m making you uncomfortable or…”
“I’m not uncomfortable,” Maddie cut in leaning forward, matching his position. “I don’t mind that you stop by my office. I certainly don’t mind that you bring candy when you do…” He laughed at that, easing just a bit. “I just thought that maybe your girlfriend might have some questions.”
“I think maybe you have some questions,” he pointed his finger at her with a small smirk.
“Maybe,” Maddie shrugged. Maybe she had a lot of questions. Maybe Ella was going to have more. “Do you blame me?”
“No,” he let out a deep breath and leaned back, deep into the chair. “No, I don’t blame you. I have some questions to.” Sitting with the silence, she watched as his mind processed it all. “I’m not here to screw around. I…I didn’t come here just on a whim. I am actually working; the meetings…they aren’t for show.”
“I believe you.”
“We’re having meaningful discussions in there,” he rubbed a hand over his face. “And as much as I hate to admit it, me being here…my name…it brings attention to what’s happening here, to the violence, to the humanitarian violations, to the economic and agricultural issues the people are facing…”
“Hmmm?” He looked up to her.
“You sound like you’re trying to justify why you’re here.”
“Yeah,” he sighed and leaned up again. “Maybe I am.”
“But why?” She smiled. “Nobody doubts your work here. Not one person. I’ve heard everything from this end and I’ve seen the coverage outside of Bendal. Nobody questions your motives or…”
“I do,” his voice was small, not at all what she had grown used to. “This is a part of my work that I don’t mind at all; coming to Africa. I love it here. The people, the culture…I feel like I can almost…hide. I can runaway here and take a break.”
“Is that what you’re doing? Running? Taking a break?”
“No,” he shook his head. “But it doesn’t hurt that I can do that.”
“It’s okay to get something for yourself out of the work that you do. It’s okay to take a break while you’re bringing attention to what’s happening down here.”
“I know,” his eyes shifted from the spot on the wall he had been studying as he thought to meet hers. “And then…there’s you.”
“Me?” Her voice came out in a shaky whisper. “I…I’m sorry I don’t know what you…”
“I didn’t come here to see you,” he flinched as he said the words. “That sounded terrible. I just mean that my trip to Bendal was not planned so that I could see you.”
“Never in a million years would I have imagined that it was,” she found her voice. “I actually lost money to Ella betting that you wouldn’t remember me.”
“You thought I wouldn’t remember you?” His nose crinkled at the thought.
“I thought there was a chance.”
“You were wrong,” his eyes were wide and open, as if he were opening himself up to her.
“I see that now.” Their eyes met and held for a breathless moment before he tore away.
“How much did you lose?” They both cracked a smile.
“Fifty dollars—US.” She shrugged and looked down at her hands. “But I gained a bag of candy out of the deal. So it all worked out in the end.”
“Well there you go…” His grin widened and he took a breath. “What I meant to say earlier was that…while I didn’t come to Bendal to see you…it doesn’t exactly hurt that you’re here.”
“I enjoy talking to you,” he waved a hand towards her. “You’re funny and smart and not at all intimidated by my title. And the last time we spoke I thought…I thought there was a connection.”
“You did?” Damn him, Maddie thought; Damn his soft voice, sweet smile, and his eyes for looking at her in such a way that her mind seemed to have trouble with normal thought processes.
“Did I misread that? Was there not something there?”
“No,” she shook her head and let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and he balked at her answer. “No! I’m sorry. I meant…I don’t think you misread that.”
“Good,” he breathed, his smile widening; making his eyes twinkle. A small knock on the door drew their attention from each other. “Thomas,” Harry smiled up at the man who had now become quite familiar to Maddie. “I’m guessing you’re here to pull me off to something else.”
“I am, Sir.” He was older, almost fatherly as he looked at the young Prince with a warm smile.
“Of course,” Harry clapped his hands together and rose to his feet. Maddie, holding on to the tiniest bit of her self-control stood. “Thomas, I think it might be time for you to meet Dr. Madeline Forrester.” He nodded in her direction. “She is a Child Psychologist from the United States working with Khenda and Collins through Doctors Without Borders. Maddie, this is Thomas Smith, my boss.” There was sarcasm in his voice as he introduced the two of them; bringing laughter around the room.
“Dr. Forrester,” Thomas held his hand out to her.
“Mr. Smith,” she took his hand in hers.
“I do apologize for interrupting, but we’re scheduled to be in a dinner meeting across town,” he turned empathetic eyes to the Prince.
“Sure,” Maddie smiled; she wondered if she knew his schedule just as well as he did, having heard so much about it from her friends.
“Would you…” Harry struggled for a moment a she looked to her with hopeful eyes. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” The surprise in Maddie’s eyes was matched in Thomas’.
“I…” Maddie felt her throat go dry. “I’m sorry, I am not sure if that would be…appropriate.” And though it was minuscule, she could see Thomas relax at her decline. “Thank you, though. For the offer.”
“Of course,” Harry nodded. “Another time maybe?” He wanted very much to not take her answer personally.
“Another time,” Maddie agreed, her face flushing. “Absolutely.”
“Okay then,” he clapped his hands together; satisfied. “I’ll be seeing you.”
“Have a good night,” she nodded to him and to Thomas. “It was nice to meet you.”
“You as well,” Thomas nodded in return before stepping out of her office.
“Good night Doctor,” Harry’s eyes met hers with a gleam of playfulness.
“Oh and Maddie…” Harry turned in the doorway and met her eyes. “The answer to your question is…there is no girlfriend. No questions, no wondering what I am doing in Bendal delivering candy to a doctor from the United States. There is no girlfriend.”
“Oh…okay then,” Maddie swallowed.
“Okay then.” And then, with a smug grin and a wave, he disappeared into the hallway.