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Not So Secret Love

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While Edward chased girls, while George surfed, while Richard read, while Meg and Isabel tanned, while they spent their summers as they always had, Anne sat in the parlor with her mother and Cecily Plantagenet. Sometimes they played cards. Other times they watched TV, or the women read while Anne colored. At first, she felt special. Now she realized she spent her summers at her mother’s side because there were no other children in their little circle close to her age. 

“You’re our miracle baby,” her mother told her. That’s why everyone else was so much older than her. “When your father and I thought we couldn’t have another baby, we had you.” She tapped Anne on the nose, and Anne giggled, placated by her mother’s tenderness. Still, when their summer house was so frightfully quiet, she couldn’t help but wish she was older, or maybe that the others were younger. Above all, she wished she had someone to play with.

Her mom and Cecily rarely went to the beach, even though it was a stone’s throw from the house. Instead, they stayed in, or shopped in the city, or sat poolside and looked out at the view as they sipped cocktails. 

“Why would we go to the beach, Anne, when we can see it just fine from the luxury of our own private terrace?” 

They sat her down with activities, while the two of them engaged in gossip or complained about the other children. Anne sat quietly. After plenty of practice, she’d realized they wished she was older too. They wished she could be out with the other children. 

She begged one day, just as Meg and Isabel finished packing a cooler. “Can I go with you?” 

Isabel shrugged. “Ask Mom.” 

“Mom, can I go to the beach with Isabel?” She’d asked before, and the answer had been no, but Isabel was older now. Isabel was fifteen, and Meg was eighteen. Surely they were old enough to be trusted with Mom’s miracle baby. 

“I don’t know, honey.”

“Well, can you take me?”

“I’m sorry, honey. Cecily and I planned to meet some friends. Isabel, do you think you can watch her?” 

Isabel’s eyes cut to Anne. “WIll you be good?”

Anne nodded enthusiastically. 

“Anne, you have to be really good for Isabel. You girls have fun.” 

“Go put your bathing suit on,” Isabel instructed, and Anne nearly raced down the steps before Meg called her back to ask what kind of sandwich she wanted. 

“Peanut butter please,” she called back, though Anne didn't really care which sandwich she got. Meg could have packed her sardines, and she’d be just as happy. Today she would finally get to go to the beach with the big kids. 

“Don’t stay all day,” Cecily chided. “The men will be here for dinner.” 

All three of the girls perked up. Their fathers worked together and had worked together for decades. Richard Neville and Richard Plantagenet were foreign ambassadors and traveled often, so when school was out for the summer, they encouraged their wives to take the kids to fly to Menton, France where Anne’s mother had inherited a villa on the beach. It was the tradition for the men to vacation with them two weeks every summer.

Spending the day at the beach, and coming home to Daddy? Nothing sounded better to Anne.  

“Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your sister.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “I know, Mom.”

“And, Anne. Be good.”

“I will,” she promised. 

She held Isabel’s hand as they crossed the small street that separated their villa from the open ocean. The sun was warm on her shoulders, and she used her other arm to keep her sunhat in place from the breeze. Once they crossed atop the wooden steps above the dune, and the beach was completely in her line of sight, Anne dropped Isabel’s hand and sprinted into the sand. She kicked her shoes off by the steps and spied George and Richard, Meg’s younger brothers, tossing a frisbee. 

“Anne, wait!” yelled Isabel. “You need sunscreen.” 

Anne dutifully ran back to her sister, but not before she caught the frisbee after Richard tossed it to her. She tossed it back with a smile. 

“Babysitting today, Bella?” George teased. 

Isabel glared as she sprayed Anne’s arms and legs. “I don’t think I’m getting paid.” 

“Probably not,” Anne said. Isabel playfully swatted her head. 

“There. Go play.”

Anne didn’t need to be told twice, not when the water looked so inviting. She looked back once to see George and Isabel smiling at each other, George’s frisbee game long forgotten at the sight of her sister. 

The water was cool at first, refreshingly so, and Anne immediately raced far enough out so that the water was chest-level. She wanted to float as she had in the pool. She laid back and spread her arms and legs wide as the waves rocked her back and forth. 

She didn’t lose her balance, though, and for that she was proud of herself. She closed her eyes and relaxed, sighing peacefully. Soon, she would go back up on the shore and build sandcastles, but for now she wanted to enjoy the water. 

When she stood up, she could see Edward on his surfboard in the distance. She could barely see him; she only knew it was him because of the blond hair shining in the sun. It was the same blond as George, as Meg, as Cecily. Only Richard looked like their father, black curls and tanned skin. 

As she laid back to float again, a wave caught her off guard, and Anne lost her footing in the sand. She searched for it again, kicking her feet down to anchor herself, only to panic when she realized she couldn’t touch the bottom. She tried a different approach when that didn’t work and reached upwards, surfacing for a second, and then pushed under by another wave. 

She would have screamed if she could. She didn’t know she could be in trouble so quickly. She had to get above water and stay there. When she resurfaced again, she realized she was further away from the shoreline than when she first lost her footing. In the second she surfaced, she tried to yell for her sister, but opening her mouth only made it worse for her when she went back under. 

Then she felt strong hands underneath her shoulders, hoisting her up. Coughing, lungs burning, her eyes stung from the saltwater. 

“Anne, are you okay?”

It was Richard. Richard had saved her. She nodded and coughed again, holding on tighter to him. He carried her until they got close enough to shore. Then he set her down and held her hand until they walked back onto the sand. 

“Aren’t you supposed to be watching her?” he scolded Isabel.

“I am! Why did you go out that far?”

Anne felt the urge to cry. “I didn’t mean to.” 

“There’s a drop-off,” Richard reminded them. “And a strong current. She shouldn’t be in the water by herself.” 

“Yeah, Anne, stay up on the beach with me, okay?”

“Okay.” 

“And thank Richard. It was lucky he got you.”

“Thanks, Richard.” 

“You’re welcome.” 

Anne spent the next hour building a sandcastle. She packed the sand with care and dug narrow ditches for seawater. When she noticed Richard had taken a break from his book, she asked, “Do you want to help me build?” 

She had already asked Meg, who had helped for a little while before going swimming, and Isabel, who had refused. 

“Sure,” he said. The youngest Plantagenet was the same age as Isabel, but sometimes he acted older than all of them. What Anne liked the most about him, though, was how nice he was. 

He added quite a bit to her castle. He told her about drawbridges and moats and helped her pick out sticks for the battlements.

“This isn’t a battle castle,” she said.

“Then what kind of castle is it? All castles were for battle.” 

“Not this one. It’s a princess castle.”

“Ah, I see. Then the sticks can simply be decoration,” he amended. 

“Isabel, look!” Anne yelled when the masterpiece was complete.

Isabel barely looked up from her magazine. “Very nice, Anne.” 

“She didn’t see,” Anne whispered conspiratorially to Richard. He laughed at her, at their shared secret. 

When the kids packed up, all but Edward, who could only be dragged away by Cecily, Anne boasted, “I can’t wait to tell everyone Richard saved me.”

Isabel’s grip on her hand tightened. “Maybe you shouldn’t say anything, especially to Mom. She might not let me take you to the beach ever again. Okay?”

Anne didn’t want that. Despite everything, she’d had fun. “Okay.” 

Richard rescuing her would be another secret between them. 

That was alright. Today was the beginning of days of fun. The beginning of her father’s vacation. The beginning of secrets. The beginning of an everlasting love for Richard Plantagenet.