Sven and Romelle sat atop the low stone fence, watching fireworks go off over the castle. Her head was tipped back, her eyes alight with excitement. She seemed completely comfortable and at ease, even though her cheeks and the tip of her nose were pink with cold. At each glittering rainbow pinwheel, she wriggled beside him; had she not been holding a mug of glögg between her mittened hands, Sven had no doubt she would have been clapping.
You should be there, he thought. You are their princess and they love you. He had tried to say those words earlier, several times, in fact. When she’d first arrived at his house, breathless from her ride across the snow-covered hills. As she’d tugged off her wet boots and socks and set them neatly in front of the stove in his small kitchen. While she stood beside him, wearing a pair of his slippers – which were almost comically too big for her small feet – as he ladled glögg into their mugs.
He’d tried to say it, had looked away and opened his mouth with the words on the tip of his tongue … but the aroma of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and bitter orange had filled the air, mingling with her perfume, and he’d shut his mouth.
As they watched the fireworks, Sven couldn’t help laughing at himself, albeit internally. He would die for her. Once, he very nearly had. There was really nothing he wouldn’t do for her. Why, then, did he feel like such a coward when he was sitting right beside her?
As if sensing his distress, Romelle set her mug down on the fence and wrapped both arms around one of his. Leaning her cheek against his shoulder, she said softly, “Did you know that fireworks are not actually a New Year’s custom on Pollux?”
He glanced down at her. She was smiling and her eyes had a mischievous gleam.
His breath hitched. “I … did not know that,” he replied softly.
“I’m sure we’ll adopt it as a custom,” Romelle continued. “They are lovely.”
There was a pop! and a great green-and-purple spiral opened like a flower in the sky above them. Romelle hugged Sven’s arm tighter.
When the last sparks had faded into the night sky, Sven cleared his throat and then said hesitantly, “Fireworks are a New Year’s custom in Sweden.”
“They’re not making you homesick, are they?”
“A little,” he confessed. “But I would rather be here.”
“I’m glad.” She lifted a hand to cup his chin and guide his mouth down to hers. “Because they’re for you, you know.”
Her kiss was warm and sweet, like spiced wine. Letting his eyes drift closed, he drank her in, and the fact that she was a princess while he was merely an ex-pilot did not make one bit of difference. You should be here, he thought as he held her and kissed her under the exploding sky.