As Maddie sat at her desk, waiting for the first of her clients, she was startled by the sudden appearance of Khenda in the doorway.
“Okay,” her voice called into the room, arms crossed; her eyes watching closely. “You want to tell me what exactly is going on with you and Harry?”
“Excuse me?” Maddie looked up in surprise.
“You heard me.” She stepped into the room.
“Nothing!” Maddie exclaimed. “Why? Did Ella tell you something? It was just a bag of candy. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Candy?” Khenda’s face registered confusion as she sank into a chair opposite of Maddie’s desk. “What are you talking about?”
“Wait…” Maddie paused. “What are you talking about?”
“He asked me to get you on the list for the event this evening.”
“Whaa…” Maddie was stunned. “He what?”
“My reaction exactly,” Khenda pointed at her shocked expression. “Especially since you were on the list before and you asked to be taken off.”
“You know if you wanted on the list, all you had to do was ask. You didn’t need to send the Prince,” there was something sarcastic about her tone.
“I didn’t send the…I had nothing to do with this.” Maddie saw a tiny smirk on Khenda’s face; she was enjoying this.
“Yes, I know,” Khenda smiled. “Now, what’s this about candy?”
“I…” Maddie looked to the floor, her mind wrapping around the information her boss had just shared. “When he was here last month I told him I really enjoyed a particular candy and when he showed up this week he…he brought me a bag.”
“Ooooh…This is all starting to make sense now.” Khenda shook her head, a knowing, smug grin on flashed her face. “He is going to owe me huge for this.”
“Do you want to go?” She raised her eyebrows. “I’m being serious now. If you don’t want to go, if you want to avoid this altogether, say the word. I can handle Harry. He’ll understand.”
“No I…” Maddie laughed nervously and ran a hand through her hair. “What am I doing? I mean…why would he even want me to…what does that even…” She trailed off, not even knowing how to finish her thoughts at this point. The two women shared a moment; one of them asking silent questions, the other providing silent answers—all with their eyes.
“Collins and I will pick you up at five,” Khenda’s reply was matter of fact as she clapped her hands together and stood. In her mind the decision was made. Harry had not wavered once when he asked her to bring Maddie along and though she seemed to be unsure about it all, Maddie clearly had something that drew her to him. And Khenda had known them both long enough, had a deep enough affection for each of them, that she wasn’t going to step in and prevent this from going wherever it was meant to go.
“Khenda, I don’t know…” Maddie fidgeted, pulling her lower lip in between her teeth.
“Yes you do. I’ll see you tonight.” And then, with a wink and a grin, Khenda left Maddie in her office.
Maddie’s day grew incredibly busy and, by the time it was over and she was forced to go home by her colleagues, she was exhausted. After a semi-hot shower, she very much wanted to slip into her pajamas and get some much needed sleep. Fortunate or not, Ella had the night off and she was waiting, with a touch of giddiness and some wise words, to help Maddie prepare for her evening.
As they picked through the few dresses they had between them (because who really brought fancy clothes when coming on a mission such as this), Ella explained some small protocol details. There would be cameras, there would be dignitaries and, although Maddie was likely to not be at all involved in the official pieces of the evening, Ella did not want her friend to make a fool out of herself should she happen to end up in the background. When Maddie emerged from her bedroom, dressed and made up she felt good; slightly unsure about dressing up and going to dinner when there were so many other things she maybe should be doing. Ella assured her that she was fine; that there were other people working, that this was her time off; that she would have been forced out of the office regardless of what she was doing that night and that she shouldn’t feel bad about using that time for her.
“Wow…” Ella breathed as Maddie stepped into her view. It was a rarity to see people so dressed up; it was almost a surreal experience. “Maddie. You look amazing.”
“Thank you,” Maddie smiled, feeling shy.
“I just…I cannot believe you’re going on a date with a Prince.”
“That’s because I am not going on a date with a Prince.”
“What would you call this?”
“I would call this nothing. Ella. A date is when a man comes to your home, picks you up, takes you to dinner, and brings you home.”
“Seems like a lame date to me.”
“Yes, well…there may be more to it than that. But this…” Maddie looked in the mirror hanging in their hallway and shrugged. “This is not a date. This is an event.”
“An event he asked you to attend.”
“He didn’t ask me. He asked Khenda to put me back on the list. Maybe he wants me to serve appetizers.”
“Oh yes,” Ella rolled her eyes. “I’m sure that’s it.” She took a deep breath and sank back into the couch, her eyes getting a far off, dreamy look in them. “Maybe he wants you to serve him…”
“Ella!” Maddie tossed her clutch at her friend with wide eyes.
“A girl can dream,” Ella giggled, catching the bag and setting it on the table.
“Why aren’t you coming to this thing, by the way?”
“I am going to head in and pick up a shift for Tracy. She had a rough night last night and needs a break.”
“Yeah,” Maddie nodded, having heard about the rush they had the night before. They were mostly used to the craziness, the upset that came with the jobs they had, but occasionally it was too much. Occasionally it hit harder and they needed a break. “That’s sweet of you,” she smiled genuinely at her friend.
“She would do it for me,” Ella shrugged. And she was right. They were a family here, they looked out for each other. Maddie, feeling sentimental, moved to hug her friend, roommate and peer. Ella hugged her tight and then, bringing humor back to the room, she smacked her backside. “You go out there and have fun.” A knock on the door rang out. “And don’t embarrass yourself…or me!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Maddie laughed, moving to answer the door. On the other side was Khenda and Collins, both dressed in traditional tribal garb reserved for the highest of events. Khenda smiled wide and Collins let out a long slow whistle.
“Look at you, Doc,” Collins looked her over approvingly.
“You look amazing,” Khenda leaned in to kiss her cheek.
“As do you,” Maddie blushed as she turned the attention to them. “You ready for the show tonight?” Both of them would be dancing in the entertainment portion of the evening.
“I am always ready,” Collins grinned, his white teeth sparkling along with his confidence. “How about you Doc? You dancing with us tonight?”
“Not on your life,” she shook her head with a warning glare. Reaching for her purse, she waved to Ella who grinned and called out.
“You make sure she behaves herself!”
“I promise!” Khenda called out as Maddie stepped through the door; pulling it closed behind her.
And they were off.
Maddie was seated at a table close to the front of the room. Though Harry would be dining with local dignitaries, Maddie was close to the action and next to Khenda and Collins and a few others from the facility they all shared. It was strange, she thought, seeing everyone together in this way. Most often they were in their small, makeshift space with no air conditioning and their hair pulled back haphazardly. But on this night, the air was cool, they were in a beautiful room and, if their hair was pulled back it was softly and with intent. She wondered if her colleagues were having the same adjustment issues she was.
Even though she didn’t see him, she could tell the very instant he entered the room. There was an audible sigh, all eyes shifted together towards the entryway and, in waves the room rose to their feet. Slowly she turned towards where all eyes were watching and when she saw him, she had to admit, her knees weakened just slightly. He looked stunning. It wasn’t quite a black-tied affair, but he wore an unbelievably well cut blue suit and, even from across the room, his eyes were bright and his smile was charming. As he maneuvered through the tables, he seemed to be scanning the room and, when his eyes found hers, his entire face shone. With the slightest of nods in her direction, something most wouldn’t even see, he turned to his table and began greeting his mates for the evening. As the room settled and everyone sat, Maddie could feel Khenda’s eyes upon her. Ignoring her friend, she turned her attention to the moments at hand.
A small introductory speech was made while salad was served. As Harry took the podium to address the enchanted crowd, Maddie couldn’t help but wonder how often he did events like this. And, if they were during meals, did he ever get a chance to eat? And did that mean that he ate beforehand?
Shaking the random questions from her head, she turned her attention to him and, along with everyone else in the room, she was spellbound. He spoke magnificently. Yes, he had a wonderful voice. Yes, he had great speaking skills. But there was something else; an essence that he simply exuded that have the guests hanging on his words and rising to their feet in applause when he finished. And it only made it better, in Maddie’s mind, that the words he said were authentic and she knew, with no real reason for knowing so, that he meant every one of them.
As dinner drew to an end, Collins and Khenda excused themselves in order to prepare for the entertainment portion of the night. The host for the evening encouraged mingling and Maddie knew, because this wasn’t her first show, that the dancers preferred to come into the room and move about the people, not to be on a stage as the main focus.
Before long, Maddie found herself seated alone at her table, sipping on a drink and watching the interactions around her. Having always enjoyed people watching at any level, she easily slipped into a place of contentment. She was so focused on an elder couple who sat off to the far back of the room that she failed to see him sit next to her until he cleared his throat and drew her attention to him.
“Harry!” Her eyes flashed wide in surprise. “I’m sorry,” she coughed, glancing around to see if anyone other than he caught her gaffe. “I’m sorry, your highness, I did not see you sit down.” His eyes sparkled as he smiled at her.
“So I gathered,” though his attention stayed focused on her, his eyes moved around the crowd; smiling and nodding as needed. “I’m sorry that this is the first time I’ve been able to speak to you.”
“Please,” Maddie turned serious eyes on him. “Think nothing of it. You’re…a very busy man and I’m here with my friends. And…I’m a big girl. I am an excellent conversationalist and, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is plenty of champagne.” She tapped on her half empty glass.
“I did notice,” he nodded and, with a raise of his hand, got two new glasses of champagne for them. “Thank you for coming, Maddie. I know it sounds crazy, but knowing you were out here…I felt a little less nervous.”
“You were nervous?” She laughed lightly. “You couldn’t tell. Your speech was phenomenal.” He smiled, looking down at his drink and then to her.
“Either way, I appreciate you coming.” As his eyes held hers, she found it slightly more difficult to breath.
“Yes, well, I had nothing better to do,” she shrugged, trying for nonchalance and failing miserably. Deciding to go with the authenticity that he was full of, she smiled warmly and told the truth. “I am happy to be here.”
“Good,” he grinned wide and, as he opened his mouth to say something more, the music began. It was loud and rhythmic and instantly drew the room to a point of excitement. They all knew what was coming, with the possible exception of the Prince. He looked around, slightly confused as one after another of the dancers came back into the room. “I thought they would make some sort of announcement,” his voice was louder as he spoke over the music.
“That’s not how it works,” Maddie responded; joining in on the clapping that was traveling around the room.
The music grew louder as the dancers continued to file in and, when the drum beats grew silent for the quickest of moments, the crowd rose to their feet and applause rang out. They all knew what was coming. Harry followed suit and clapped along, his eyes smiling along with his mouth. This was exactly what he enjoyed about the area; the spirited, lively people that cared less and less about who he was.
And the show began. The music blared and the dancers moved around. No sooner had Harry been spotted, a few young girls came to him, beckoning him to them. He laughed aloud and spoke to Maddie.
“Ever since I danced in Jamaica during the Jubilee, they have been trying to get me out of my chair.”
“So…are you going to?” She watched as he laughed at himself; shaking his head. “Khenda did say that you owed her.” He turned to watch her, his eyes moving from her eyes to her lips and back again.
“She’s correct. I do owe her,” he agreed and took a sip from his drink before sitting it on the table. “I owe her a lot.” He watched her for two seconds longer than he probably should have before he turned to the young girls and surrendered; giving the crowd exactly what they were looking for.
Though Maddie’s head tossed back in laughter, if she was honest, she would have had to admit that he was quite the dancer. Though his moves were nowhere near Collins’ and the troupe, he could hold his own. And the crowd loved it. And, deep down in places where Maddie was honestly afraid to explore, she loved it too.
Later that night after a round of good-byes and well-earned yawns, Collins and Khenda saw Maddie home. And, after she had locked the door behind her, she pulled on her pajamas and, lying awake in her dark room, all she could see was those bright blue eyes full of laughter and enjoyment; those bright blue eyes looking right back at her. She pulled the covers tighter and sighed. Clearly she would be getting little sleep that night. And, somehow, she didn’t seem to mind too much.