the mother.

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charlie and i spent the next few days enjoying time alone together.  the palace was still deserted, except for the security team along the perimeter.  every morning, we would eat breakfast in the garden, relax by the pool in the afternoon, and every night, we would cuddle up in the theater room and watch movies until the early hours of the morning.

after three days, the happiness dwindled a little bit when shawn came knocking on the dining room door.

"hey, shawn, you ready?" charlie asked, wiping syrup from his mouth with his napkin.

shawn shrugged at the rain jacket he was wearing.  "yeah, you? it's still pouring out there."

charlie began to get out of his seat, leaning over to kiss me on the cheek.  "i'll see you later.  you going to your parents?"

i nodded.

d.j. and i were planning on moving into the harper house a few days after the royals got back from baja.  my parents were still on a vacation, themselves, so i thought it would be a good time to sneak over there and grab the rest of my stuff.

my mustang purred as i flew down my parents' street.  the tompkins, simpsons, and barr's, all who live around my parents' would no doubt be jumping my case about "abandoning" my family or thinking i was too good for their neighborhood and having to live in the palace.

i pulled my car into the back garage and nearly sprinted into the house to keep from being seen. i hadn't been there in over a month.  it felt unnatural, like i was breaking into somewhere.  the house was empty, and spotless, it felt sterile.  i was afraid to touch anything, like my fingerprints would show all over the bannister as i climbed up the stairs.

my room hadn't been touched.  i went to the closet, sliding back the door, and pulled out every duffle bag and empty box i could dig out.  this room was full of memories -- some good, some bad -- and i intended to leave every bad one in this house.  shirts, sweaters, jeans, hair scrunchies, i shoved all of the basics into my duffles.  then there were my diaries, stuffed animals, and yearbooks, those all stayed.

as i pulled a box labeled "d.j. and nora's best summer ever," down off the top shelf, i heard a thud somewhere in the house.  i froze for a minute, but when i didn't hear anything else, i moved on.  the box was filled with pictures of our last trip to baja.  at the bottom of the stack was a photo of ambrose and i; my arm was wrapped tightly around his neck, our cheeks pressed against one another's, and our smiles were each five miles wide, we were cheesin' hard.  i took the picture, stared at it closely, and then ripped it to shreds.

"can i help you?" a voice said from behind me.

i jumped and turned around.  "wh-what are you doing home?" i asked, as my mother stood stick straight in the doorway.

she heaved a sigh of annoyance.  "your sister felt like she might go into labor any day now, so i decided to fly home early.  not that you would know any of this, seeing as you never call."

i began furiously dumping things into my boxes.  "like you would want me to anyway."

my mother scoffed.  "noreen, i don't understand why we have to have this argument every time you come into this house.  i'm not the bad guy here, so you can drop the victim act right now.  i'm surprised the royal family even puts up with that attitude.  i'm sure you threw a fit when they didn't pick you to be their pretty, pretty princess," she said, pointedly.

i slung three bags over my shoulder and stood tall against her.  "yeah, well, they didn't pick courtney either," i spat.

my mother cocked her head and adjusted her blouse.  "well, you never know," she said with her dead, grey eyes squinted, "the senate leader's office called her this morning and asked if she would come in to meet with them today."

i rolled my eyes as i tugged my jeff's baby blanket off my bed, shoving it in one of my boxes, and tried to push passed my mother, but she stopped me.  "no!" she barked.  "you don't get to take that with you!" she exclaimed, trying to grab for my brother's blanket. 

"yes, i do," i said, furiously, "i do, because i was the only one that was ever there for jeffrey.  i was the only one who knew there was a problem with dad, and anytime i said something about it, i was shut down because i was just a kid.  you're the bitch that chose not to do anything about it, you stayed with that piece of shit, even after he killed my brother. not you, not courtney, not leslie, not joanna.  none of you did anything to help him.  i did, i tried, and i was ignore.  i was criticized.  well, now, i'm done.  with all of you," i said shoving my pointer finger into her chest.

bitsy jane hyland-groves stood there speechless, for the first time in her life.  i rushed to my car with all of my things and flung them into the backseat.  i took off out of the driveway, dialing angrily on my speaker phone.

"good morning, miss groves," the voice on the other end of the line said.

i sighed and drug my hand across my face.  "hey, luca, i'm calling in my favor here," i said, exhausted.

"anything you need, ma'am."

"luca," i exhaled, "this is a friend thing, not a palace thing.  call me nora."

he cleared his throat.  luca was petra's fiance.  when we were talking on royal terms, his voice was always light and formal, but if it was a friend matter, his voice came out slow and a little slurred.  "yoo, then what do you neeeed?" he asked with a chuckle.

i asked my favor and then turned in the opposite direction of the palace.  chubbie's diner sat just a few blocks south of where i was, and i needed a bacon garlic cheeseburger to make me feel better.

after i ordered my food, i was sitting in my stall waiting for the carhop to bring me my food, when my phone rang.

"yes?" i said, annoyed.

"why are you at chubbie's?" d.j.'s smooth, but raspy voice said from the other end of the line.

i looked around.  "how did you know i was here?"

he laughed.  "i've been tracking your phone since we were fifteen.  when you said you were going to get your stuff from your parents' today, i knew i needed to keep an eye on you somehow."  he laughed harder.  "so how'd it go?"

i scoffed.  "luca and his buddies are over there getting the rest of my stuff right now."

"that bad, huh?" he asked.  "worse than having to spend a week and a half alone with charlie?"

i shrugged.  "it honestly hasn't been that bad."

"well, he just told mom and dad he was going to go to the ski cabin for a couple days to get away from it all, so you'll have the whole castle to yourself for awhile."

"maybe.  can you just come home already? i miss you."

"i miss you, too." we were both quiet for a minute, and then he said, "on the bright side, arabella told my mom what happened between you and ambrose, and my mother pushed him into a pile of cow shit on our worksite the other day."

i chuckled.  "i'll write her a thank you note when i get back to your room tonight."

"she'll like that," he joked.

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