the morning after.

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it was a dreary day as i walked down the back steps of the palace.  the paparazzi were lining the gate of the palace, their cameras shuttering aways as they yelled out questions.  i hustled to my car, but not before running into d.j., who had just gotten back from his overnight hunting trip with his father.

"what's going on?" i asked, pulling down the sleeves of my shirt.

"what's going on?" d.j. chuckled hysterically.  "man, you must have been holed up in my room all night not to notice!  a girl spent the night with charlie."

"yeah, so?" i said confused.

d.j. pulled me out of the line of sight of the paparazzi.  "dude, girls never spend the night during loyalty weekend.  it's just unheard of.  he's turning twenty-five in a few months.  they're speculating there's a future princess on the horizon."

my face went flush.  "do they know who it was?"

d.j. shook his head.  "you seriously didn't see anyone?"

i shrugged and shook my head.  "there was an full house marathon on last night."

i changed the subject to d.j.'s trip, and eventually we started to part ways.  "listen," he called as he walked away.  "drop your stuff off at home, come back here, and we'll celebrate your birthday right."  he smirked.  "and we'll burn those heels!"

* * *

i turned the ignition on my car and the words on the radio sent chills down my spine:  "but this has never happened before! i'm telling you guys, i think we have a future princess on our hands. come on! we've all heard that prince charles has a tendency to sleep around, our photography team always has photos of random girls leaving the palace at all hours of the night, but they never spend the whole nigh-"

i snapped off the radio and laid my head back further in the head rest.

as i drove home, all i could think about was what d.j. had said, and about the night before...

i sat, curled up in charlie's bed.  my hair was hanging wild and wet around my face.  i had nothing on but his faded blue new america trumpeters baseball tee.  the palace was quiet.  charlie had sent peter and the rest of his staff home when he went to get the pizza.

i began to shake as my hand went for the drawer next to his bed.  i pulled out a condom and stuck it in my pillowcase like we were told to at orientation.  just as i pulled my hand out of the pillowcase, charlie came back through the door.

"i found something for you," he said as he laid the pizza and napkins down on the bed.  "my parents had a little present saved for you."  he said as he presented me with a bottle.

"champagne?" i questioned.

he nodded.  "only the best for my mother's favorite daughter," he laughed.

"charlie," i scoffed, "your mom has a daughter."

"yeah," he said as he scooted in next to me, "and we see how that's going."

as we ate our pizza and drank the bubbly, we talked. about everything.  about school.  about d.j. about all the girls he'd met earlier that day.  about him being terrified of having to choose a wife in a few months.

as the conversation grew deeper, i became brave.  we'd finished off the pizza and cleaned it up.  we were left there with half a bottle of champagne, and a nice little buzz.  i don't know if it was the alcohol or what, but i was beginning to see charlie as a whole new person.  someone caring and sensitive, with real fears that he masked with his perverted ways.

swiftly, i pulled the condom out from the pillowcase and held it in front of him.  "so, uh," i said awkwardly.

his eyes bulged when he saw it.  he didn't say anything for a few seconds.  then, in the dark, with only the glow of the t.v. giving us light, i heard him whisper, "i can't."

my face fell.  "wha- i mean did, did i... was it something i di-"

he cut me off.  "no, no, it's not you.  well, it is, but not in the way you think." he grabbed my hand.  "you are, my brother's best friend.  i've grown up with you around, but tonight, tonight i see you as this grown woman.  you're not just my kid brother's friend.  you're this gorgeous, smart, funny woman, and i'm really attracted to you right now."

"then why-"

charlie sighed.  "because, right now, i don't want to do this just because i have to-"

"but you have to-"

he sat up and sighed.  "no, i don't.  i get one pass each year.  i've never used one, so i don't know all the details, but i think it's time i learn."

"charlie-"

"no way.  first thing in the morning, i'll talk to peter and see what i have to do."

not another word was said about it.  for the rest of the night, we laid in bed talking.  by three in the morning, i was laying with my head on charlie's bare chest.

"i didn't know you were like this," i said quietly as i twirled his chest hair around in my fingers.

"like what?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around me.  then he smiled. "an actual person?"

i wrinkled my nose and smiled.  "kinda."

he rested his chin on my head.  "it's just easier to hide it sometimes."

i looked up into his eyes and he looked into mine.  we paused, our eyes locked.  my stomach fluttered and i knew he was going to kiss me, but the moment never came.

* * *

my mind was consumed with thoughts of the night before as i walked through my parent's front door.  i hated this house and everyone in it.  that's why i'd spent as much time as possible at the palace.

it was barely ten in the morning, but my dad was already on the couch drinking a whiskey sour.  my mom was sitting at the kitchen table organizing paint samples.  no one acknowledged me as i walked in.

it wasn't until i was in my room packing to go back to d.j.'s that my mother came in, without knocking.

"how was your night?" she asked, coldly.

"fine," i said without looking at her.

"is that the outfit you wore?" she asked sharply.

i glanced over my shoulder and shot her a dirty look.  my mother was the queen of tearing me down.  nothing i did was ever good enough for her.  i think that's why d.j.'s mom, isabel, was so quick to take me under her wing when i was so little.

"your sister called yesterday-"

"which one?" i quipped.

she sighed. "well, all of them. joanna got promoted at work.  leslie is having another girl. and courtney is having her seventh paper published."

"good for them," i grumbled.

my mom sighed again, "yes, if only you had something worthwhile as well."

i huffed and threw my bag over my shoulder.  "i'm going back to d.j.'s.  that's where i'll be for the rest of the week."

"you know, your birthday was yesterday.  you should celebrate it with the people that love you."

i rolled my eyes.  "that's what i'm doing."  i pushed passed her and walked out the door.

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