I paced outside Lily’s door, waiting for any sound inside. I knew it was silly, but I’d woken early, dressed, and gone into town to buy a dress for her. So now I had nothing left to do but wait. She consumed my thoughts and I found it difficult to focus on anything else. This was unusual for me, since I was always so practical and productive.
I kept walking back and forth, trying to figure out how I hadn’t recognized her on the beach. Surely, I must have seen her face before somewhere. Royals cannot escape the press. And, yet, she was a stranger to me. I’d have to ask E about it later. She would know.
As though summoned by my thought, E came around the corner, her musky cologne coming with her. She was a tough, serious woman who’d practically raised me, teaching me everything a woman should know. Growing up without a mother, I’d needed someone like E. So it was with a fond smile that I greeted her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, fixing her skirts as she talked to me. “Waiting for her to wake up? That’s a bit telling, don’t you think?”
“I’m just trying to be a good host,” I replied. “Just like you taught me. What are you doing here?”
“My job,” she said with a curt nod. “Besides, I’m just passing through.”
As she went past me, I caught her arm and said,
“E, do you know who our guest is?”
“Of course I do,” she said. “And I think you’ve lost your mind, hiding her here. What are you thinking?”
“E, you haven’t told anyone?”
“I’m not quite so daft as you,” she replied. “I’ve kept it to myself.”
“But how did you know? She had to tell me her name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her photograph anywhere.”
“That’s because you’re too obsessed with your horseback riding and novels. Anyone who pays attention to foreign news has seen her. She’s not too common in the media, likes to keep to herself, but she’s there.”
I shook my head, thinking that it was time for me to start reading the newspaper.
“A heads up,” E said, leaning closer to me as she passed. “I’ve heard that Orestes is coming to pay you a visit today.”
“That damn pussy,” I snarled.
“Language,” E scolded. “I’m sure you can handle him. Here’s an idea: why don’t you just tell him you’re not interested? Or just buck up and go through with the whole courting ordeal. Those are your two options, dear.”
“I just cannot tolerate his face,” I said. “Or his conversation. He’s far too weepy and self-absorbed. I think he goes to the therapist too infrequently. Or perhaps too often. I cannot tell which.”
“Either way,” E cut in, “be nice. Let him down easy. His family is important to your father.”
E gave me a light punch on the arm and continued down the hallway, leaving me to alternate between pacing and pressing my ear to Lily’s door.
I awoke to a bright morning, the sun’s happy rays seeping into the large room from between the shades. The place felt horribly unfamiliar to me, but I was grateful for a comfortable bed and a dry set of clothes. The night before, E, Ida’s housekeeper, had taken away my wet dress and given me soft pajamas, which were a bit long on me. The woman had muttered something about them being Ida’s and that she was sorry she didn’t have anything more suitable.
My face felt tight and cold, remnants of last night’s crying. With the memory of last night, a new flood of sadness swept over me and the tears returned immediately. I tried to stifle a sob, but it escaped, loud and desperate in the quiet morning air.
A knock at my door startled me and I quickly wiped away the tears on my face as I said,
“It’s me, Ida,” came a muffled voice from the other side of the door.
“Come in,” I said, gathering the sheets up around me and trying to appear content.
Ida stepped in, a light blue dress folded over her arm. Everything about her reeked of newness: designer pants and button-down shirt pressed within an inch of its life, short hair freshly clipped and product-swept into a sort of perfection, high boots polished and pristine. Her boyish, brown hair flaunted her dark eyes, strong jawline, and almost masculine chin which seemed to lead her movements. She walked straight ahead with a fearsome determination, as though only able to focus on one thing at a time. I thought she belonged on horseback or on a golf course or even at a swanky art gallery opening, but not standing here in my bedroom while I sat in my ruffled state.
“Good morning,” she said, the same coolness in her voice that I’d noticed the night before. Her bronze skin glistened gloriously in the morning light.
“Good morning,” I answered, my voice almost croaking. A bit embarrassed, I cleared my throat. But I saw a light of pity flash in her eyes and I knew she knew that I’d been crying.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked, all politeness. I nodded, not ready to try my voice again. “Good,” she commented.
She took a step closer, watching my face as though to judge my reaction. I pulled the sheets a bit tighter around me and attempted to look more friendly and less like a scared animal.
“You went through quite a lot last night,” she said. “Are you feeling alright? Do you need a doctor or anything?”
I shook my head, saying,
“No, I’m fine.”
She took another step closer and, when I didn’t protest, she moved all the way to the end of the bed, laying out the dress she had. She left it there and stepped back, rubbing the back of her neck as though self-conscious.
“I don’t think I have any clothes that would fit you,” she said, “so I went out and bought you something. I hope it fits. I guessed your size and what you might like. I hope that’s alright.”
The dress was simple, but pretty. It looked like it would be about my size. It was light, perfect for the summer, and it had a tie around the waist. I knew I could make it work.
“It’s lovely,” I said. “And you didn’t have to do that. It’s very sweet of you.”
“It’s no problem,” she said. “It’s the least I could do.”
She looked down at the floor and a silence fell between us. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t seem to make my lips form words.
“You must be hungry,” Ida said. “I figured that you could wash up and get dressed and we could have breakfast. I’ll wait outside the door for you and bring you down to the dining room. I don’t want you wandering alone. You could get lost.”
She said “lost,” but something in her eyes made me think that she meant a different word. A more dangerous word.
“Okay,” I said simply.
She gave a short nod and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
The dining room was all whiteness in the morning light. A place I’d been so many times before seemed to take on a new life with Lily by my side. I suddenly wanted it to be the most beautiful table, the most perfect breakfast, the best experience I could possibly give her. I was relieved to see everything set out on the table, expensive white dishes sitting beside a steaming white teapot. Lily eyed the presentation and her pretty lips pulled into a small smile that reached all the way to her hazel eyes. I couldn’t help smiling myself.
Two settings caddy-cornered one end of the table. I pulled out the closest seat, gesturing for Lily to sit. But she was focused elsewhere.
I followed the line of her gaze and realized that she was staring at a portrait of my father. It was a large painting that took up a quarter of the wall at the other end of the table. I looked back to Lily to see that all the color had drained from her face. Her eyes were round, as though in shock, and she seemed at a loss for words.
“Is everything alright?” I asked.
“Who is that man?” she sputtered, the words coming one at a time from a nearly closed throat.
“That’s my father,” I answered, pride rising unbidden in my tone.
Now she looked at me, her mouth open in disgust.
“Your father?” she spat, the words a bit louder than was necessary.
“Is there a problem?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even. I took a step away from her, watching her carefully.
Lily pointed a long, accusatory finger at the painting. It shook slightly as she said,
“That man, your father, killed my father.” Shit.
“Are you sure?” I asked, hoping to the gods that she was mistaken.
“Do you think I could forget that face?” she asked, her voice rising in pitch as she grew more and more upset. “Do you think that I could forget that moment when the last member of my family was brutally killed before my eyes? I remember every gruesome detail. It haunts me every night, never leaving my thoughts or dreams for even an hour. Of course I’m sure.”
Tears made her eyes glisten and grief somehow made her face more radiant. She seemed at once to be both strong and delicate, both steel and lace, and it made her more attractive than ever. Her small brows drew together and I thought, for a moment, that she might hit me. Not that she could have done much damage. It didn’t frighten me.
Anger rose up in me, overtaking my usual restrain. I curled and uncurled my hands into tight fists, trying to dispel some of my emotions into the painful connection between fingernails and palm.
“This is my fault?” I asked, my words squeezing out between clenched teeth. “This is my fault that my father killed yours in war? I have no control over what my father does and I have no control over who my father is! I cannot help that I was born a Greek and not a Trojan.”
“And I’ve been playing the fool, having breakfast with the enemy!” Lily said, shooting a look of detest at the untouched table settings and speaking more to herself than me. “How could I have let myself do this?”
Then, she turned to me, putting out her wrists as though she expected me to arrest her.
“Take me away,” she demanded. “Lock me up! I owe it to my brothers and my father and my country! I’m a traitor to entertain you in this way. I will have none of it.”
“Do not condemn me to my father’s fate!” I shot back, grasping her proffered wrists and drawing her to me. She looked down to where my hands grasped her wrists and simply breathed, not answering my plea. She seemed surprised, shocked even. She let me hold her a moment longer, and then she gently pulled away. I let her go, taking a few paces from her to clear my head. I held her gaze and continued, a bit softer this time,
“I cannot help what the gods have dealt me, who fate has destined me to be. But I will not see any harm come to you, no matter how much you may hate me. No matter what you say, I cannot hate you. Just don’t blame me for my heritage, for who my father is.”
I looked over my shoulder at her, all alight in the morning sun with her long, brown hair at her back and her pretty face shadowed by sorrow. I could sense the anger rolling off of her and I figured it was best to let her be alone.
Looking away from her, I said,
“I’ll bring you back to your room. I’ll have breakfast sent in to you. My personal housekeeper will see to your needs. I won’t bother you anymore without your consent.”
She didn’t respond, so I looked over and she was seated at the table, her head hung low. I slowly came up behind her, careful not to touch her. I said, gently,
“I’m sorry about your father. And your family.”
She nodded wordlessly, the softest of movements. I thought that maybe she would have breakfast after all when Arbace, my father’s confidant and my tutor, walked in. He must have sensed the atmosphere, because he paused a moment before addressing me. He said,
“I’m sorry, but I have some bad news.”
Already a bit weary of bad news, I asked noncommittally,
“What is it?”
“It’s your father. His ship was wrecked and he hasn’t been found. I fear that he is dead.”
Lily whipped around immediately, her gaze finding my face. I have no idea how I looked. The idea barely penetrated my mind at first. What did it mean?
Then, with a rush of pain, it was all too clear.
I was an orphan, too.
“I’m sorry,” a small voice said and suddenly there was something embracing me. I stepped away, out of the embrace, and held up my hands.
“I know this is a shock,” another voice said.
I don’t much else except that I was running and then I was starting my car and racing down the street, driving toward the beach. I had to be on the beach, by the water, in the sand. That was the place I was most meant to be.