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Just Like Christmas

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The castle of Oriens was a beehive of activity on Christmas Eve morning, with servants rushing to and from the roaring kitchen and the nippy courtyard, hot chocolate and cookies in tow. It was an annual Royal Casiraghi tradition to treat the citizens to a winter festival, where they had a chance to enjoy some sweet treats, tour the festively decorated gardens, skate on an improvised ice rink and listen to live music amongst other holiday activities. Your excitement for the party, and the dreamy prince you would be attending it with, had been brewing for weeks; but to your chagrin, Glenn broke the news to you the night before that he could no longer accompany you. His father, the King, had come down with the flu, leaving Glenn to preside over the festivities.

“I’m sorry,” he said sternly, as if trying to convince himself as well as you, “but I have a responsibility to represent the royal family at the event. I hope you won’t be too lonely without me.”

Before you could answer, Alan ran over to you and threw his arms around your waist to give you a tight squeeze.

“Yaaay! That means you can go to the festival with me!! Will you, huh, will you?”

You smiled and patted Alan on the head. “Of course!”

“Hmph, I would’ve thought you’d be a little more disappointed…,” Glenn muttered to himself.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” you asked, looking up into Glenn’s coppery eyes that glinted at you like hot coals over an open fire.

Glenn’s cheeks flushed a bright red. “N-nothing! Just go ahead and have fun with him then!” he grumbled before walking off in a huff.

————————————————————

It was a brisk 40 degrees in the winter wonderland that was the castle courtyard, but you were kept warm from all the energy you burned keeping up with a saucer-eyed Alan. From ice skating to building snowmen to sledding, the little prince flitted from activity to activity like a hummingbird with a bellyful of nectar. You didn’t mind though; it was rare that he got to run and play like a normal boy, so you enjoyed indulging him in this once a year frolic.

Coming upon the hot chocolate and cookie tents, you found an opportunity to bribe Alan into a brief break. You sighed in relief once you sat down with him to enjoy the tasty treats at a picnic table by the open-air theater, the perfect place to both rest your weary legs and watch Glenn, who was onstage judging the entries of the wreath-making competition. You giggled to yourself seeing Glenn’s face scrunch in concentration as he painstakingly analyzed each and every wreath before furiously jotting down notes on his clipboard. “Leave it to Glenn to even take wreath judging seriously,” you thought wryly.

While Alan happily swung his legs as he munched on his cookies, you gazed at Glenn presenting the grand prize winner with a blue ribbon and an oversized check. “He looks so handsome,” you thought as he put on his most princely smile for the photographer who was documenting the festival for the Oriens Daily Journal. As though reading your mind, Glenn’s eyes darted from the camera and landed directly on you. For a brief moment he nodded and smiled at you before turning his attention back to the camera, and your heart throbbed in happiness. It never failed to amaze you how no matter how grandiose the setting, he always was able to pick your face out from the crowd.

“Aren’t these the best cookies ever?” Alan asked you, his mouth covered in crumbs.

You nodded at him in agreement. “The best! I love eating Christmas cookies, almost as much as I love baking them!”

His eyes widened at you in awe. “You know how to make Christmas cookies?”

“Sure do! I make them every Christmas with my mom. It’s a tradition in my family to make cookies for the people you care about.”

He looked over at the stage where Glenn was now taking pictures with the runners-up. “Do you think Brother would like to get Christmas cookies from me?”

“Yes, I think he would really like that,” you smiled.

Alan swung his legs around and jumped off his seat, landing softly in the snow. “Then let’s go bake some right now before Christmas is over!”

“But the kitchen is really busy baking for the festival! I don’t think they’ll be able to make room for us today.”

His mouth began to twist in a small pout, and you could see the tears gather in his eyes. “But I really want to give them to Brother…” his small voice trailed off into what you knew would become a wail if you didn’t do something quick.

“D-don’t worry!” you reassured him, “maybe we can get Yu to talk the cooks into it!”

“Yay!” His tears disappeared in an instant and he latched onto your arm to pull you out of your seat. “Come on, let’s hurry up then!”

“Alan,” said a familiar voice behind you, “a gentleman does not pull on a lady, much less a prince. She is not made of taffy.”

You looked up to see Glenn gently remove Alan’s hand from your arm. While his tone of voice was firm, his expression was one of pure affection towards his younger brother who was almost a carbon copy of him from the dark ochre hair down to the clever chestnut eyes.

“Your Highness!” you chirped happily, “Are you finished with your duties?”

He shook his head. “Not yet, I still have a couple more contests to judge, but then I should be free.” An amused grin spread over his handsome features. “But I have a feeling you have been just as busy as I have today.”

Alan grabbed your hand possessively. “Yeah, and we’re super busy right now! With secret stuff! So we don’t have time to talk to you, Brother!”

Glenn blinked in surprise at the boy’s commanding tone of voice. “And just where did you pick up the habit of talking to people so rudely like that?”

“Gee, I wonder,” you giggled under your breath, causing Glenn to shoot you a sulky glare over Alan’s head.

“Come on!” Alan pulled your hand, forcing you to stand up. “We gotta hurry!”

“But-” Glenn was just about to respond when he was interrupted by the event coordinator informing him that his judging skills were required for the eggnog competition that was now underway. While Glenn was distracted, Alan took the opportunity to pull you towards the castle.

“Sorry!” you mouthed to Glenn’s sullen face that gazed at you in exasperation as you were dragged away by his younger brother who resembled him not only in appearance, but in stubbornness as well.

—————————————————————-

Despite the kitchen being the dead center of the holiday hurricane, Yu managed to find a small corner where you and Alan could bake. Upon hearing the plan, the pastry chefs who were working also got into the spirit, happily bringing over extra cookie dough, frosting and sprinkles and even letting Alan choose which cookie cutters to use from their vast selection. While you picked out traditional snowman and reindeer cutters, Alan decided on a race car and train engine stating “because they’re for boys” in an authoritative tone that you could only describe as pure Casiraghi.

With a determination that would put Glenn to shame, Alan carefully cut out each cookie from the dough you rolled out, making sure the edges were pulled away from the cutter just so. Then, as if painting a masterpiece, he decorated each cookie down to the sprinkle before scrutinizing your own to make sure they met his strict standards. Once your cookies passed his discriminating inspection, you placed both his and yours in the oven for baking, all the while Alan attentively watching you set the temperature and timer.

Alan’s chocolate brown eyes looked up at you above his button nose dusted with flour. “Do you think Brother will really like them?”

“I’m sure of it!” you smiled, using your apron to wipe the flour off his nose. “You picked the coolest cookie cutters after all!”

“Hey,” he frowned, rubbing his nose with his sleeve. “I’m not a little kid! I can clean my own nose!”

“Sorry, sorry!” you soothed. “It’s just that it’s hard to see your own nose when it’s dirty so I thought I’d help. That’s what people who care about each other do.”

“Really?” He scrunched his face dubiously.

“Yes, really,” you crouched down so that you were the same height as him. “Can you check and see if my nose needs to be cleaned too?”

He nodded before taking your face in his hands to study it intently. After a moment, he used his own apron to pat your nose. “There, that should do it!” he grinned.

“Thanks!”

While the cookies baked, Alan bounced around the kitchen peeking in cupboards, sneaking tastes of chocolate chips and raisins, and generally getting into everything and anything possible. However, the pastry chefs welcomed their visitor and good-naturedly answered his questions on important topics such as how many marshmallows could feasibly fit in one’s mouth and if the North Pole was really made of a candy cane, and if so, how big would it be. Once the cookies were ready, the two of you neatly packaged them in cellophane and ribbon to present them to Glenn, who according to Yu, was finished with his princely duties and resting in his office.

After stopping at your room to pick up your presents for both your princes, you and Alan went straight to Glenn’s office and knocked on the door. Glenn had hardly given his brusque, “Come in,” when Alan flung the door open and ran inside, sack of cookies in tow.

Glenn, who had been lounging in his recliner with his hand on his forehead, opened his tired eyes. A flicker of happiness spread across his face at the sight of the two of you, which was quickly clamped down by a sulky pout. “Oh, it’s you. Please come in. I am so flattered that you would bestow me the honor of fitting me into your busy schedule,” he said in a flat tone.

Alan, completely oblivious to his brother’s sarcasm, simply jumped onto Glenn’s lap and shoved the cookies in his face. “Merry Christmas, Brother! Look at what we made for you!”

A rosy tinge spread across Glenn’s stunned face. “You…made these for me?”

“Yup! That was our super secret surprise!” Alan grinned with pride. “Are you gonna taste them, huh, huh?”

“It took us all afternoon to bake them,” you explained to an astonished Glenn who looked up at you over Alan’s head. “I do hope you enjoy them as they were made with love.”

Glenn’s blush deepened at your last comment, and he quickly took the bag of cookies from Alan. “Oh, all right, I guess I’ll try them since you worked so hard,” he conceded. Pulling out a race car cookie, he took a bite, his eyes widening in surprise.

“I made that one!” Alan leaned in to scrutinize Glenn’s face. “How does it taste?”

Glenn swallowed his mouthful of cookie. “It’s…not bad.”

Alan jumped off Glenn’s lap and made a beeline for you. “Yaaaay! In Brother speak that means he likes it!” he cried happily, hugging your waist in triumph.

You couldn’t help but giggle as you heard Glenn mutter, “Am I really that transparent…?”

“I knew he would!” you smiled at Alan. “Are you ready for my gifts now?”

Alan could hardly contain his excitement as he ripped the paper away from the festively wrapped box you handed him. Upon finding the model airplane inside, he squealed in joy and promptly began to run around Glenn’s office, moving it up and down with his arms and making airplane noises.

Glenn, however, sat motionless on his recliner, staring at the hand-knitted black and gold scarf you had given him in his hands.

“I know it’s not much,” you explained shyly, “but I made it for you myself. I thought you could use one to match your dress uniform when you have to go out during winter.”

His cognac eyes looked up at you, brimming with emotion. “This is the first time anyone’s given me something they’ve made with their own hands.” He stood up and in two quick steps enveloped you in his arms. “Thank you,” he murmured into your hair. “I’ll treasure it always.”

Looking up into Glenn’s flushed face, you were just about to lean in for a kiss when he suddenly stopped and pulled away from you.

“Your Highness?”

He tilted his head and nodded at something behind you. “It’s gotten rather quiet, don’t you think?”

Turning your head in the direction of his gaze, you saw Alan lying on the rug in front of the fireplace fast asleep, clutching his model airplane to his chest.

“Guess his sugar high just crashed,” Glenn chuckled.

“He did have a pretty busy day,” you said with a fond smile.

“Well, so did you,” Glenn said, pulling you close to plant a light kiss on your lips. “And now it’s time for me to reward you for a job well done.”

—————————————————————–

Once Yu had carried Alan off to bed, Glenn led you out to the castle balcony, where the sun was making its final descent into the horizon. The sky was already tinted a dark purple, and you knew it was only a matter of moments before night would come to blanket the kingdom in stars. You sighed, happy to enjoy this alone time with your fiancé, moments which were few and far between with his demanding duties forever tugging him away from you.

He faced you out towards the courtyard and stood directly behind you. “Close your eyes,” he whispered, his warm breath tickling your ear.

You obeyed, and to your surprise, you felt something light and cool encircle your neck, followed by Glenn’s deft fingers brushing along your skin.

“There,” he said with satisfaction. “You can open your eyes now.”

You looked down to see a golden necklace hanging from your neck, bearing a sparkling diamond encrusted heart pendant.

“Oh, Glenn,” you breathed, taking it into your hands, “it’s beautiful!”

He smiled at you adoringly before wrapping his arms around you from behind. “Only because you’re wearing it.”

You tried to turn around in his arms to give him a hug and kiss in thanks, but he held you firmly in place. “Not yet,” he chided. “Look out over the balcony.”

Turning your attention back to the courtyard, you gasped in delight as one by one, each tree, hedge and topiary lit up in a dazzling array of multi-colored holiday lights that brought thunderous applause from the crowd still enjoying the festival below. As if that weren’t enough, the luminous display was capped by the grand finale – the lighting of the three-story tall castle Christmas tree in the festival center that, once illuminated, shone like a beacon against the night sky. It was a breathtaking sight, and you felt your heart fill with wonder and holiday cheer.

“You know, I never really cared all that much for Christmas,” Glenn began, resting his chin on the top of your head. “Everyone else would talk about the excitement of waking up Christmas morning, and opening presents and what not. But I was a prince who could have anything he wanted, any time, so I didn’t understand what the big deal was.”

You opened your mouth to respond, but he interrupted you.

“No, wait. Scratch that. I got everything I wanted, and nothing I wanted at the same time. Material things, sure. But not the stuff that really mattered. Time. Attention. Love.”

Sensing there was more to what he wanted to say, you stayed quiet. After a few moments, he went on.

“But now that I have you, I understand it now. The excitement of waking up and looking forward to all the wonderful things in store for me each day.” Here, he turned you around and gazed into your eyes, the love he held for you shining across his face. “Because for me, every day is Christmas day, with you.”

You were so moved that everything you had thought to say earlier flew out the window. “Oh, Glenn,” was all you could manage as happy tears flooded your eyes.

“Argh, I can’t wait anymore when you look at me like that,” he groaned, picking you up to carry you in his arms bridal style. “I want to unwrap my present now!”

“But, Glenn!” you cried as he rushed you back into the castle, down the hallway, and straight to his bedroom. “You already opened your present from me!”

“That’s what you think,” he gave you wicked smirk before kicking his bedroom door open. “But don’t worry, I won’t rip your clothes nearly as badly as Alan did the wrapping on his model airplane.”

Later, as you looked at the crumpled heap of what had been your clothes on Glenn’s bedroom floor, you realized that despite his words, yet another thing he and his brother shared was the same impatience for and method of unwrapping presents.

“Good thing I brought extra clothes,” you smiled to yourself, snuggling further into a sleeping Glenn’s arms before drifting off into your own blissful slumber.