7. burgers and butterflies [OLD]

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The kids all clamored for Prince Eric as Kaylee led Ian to our sing-a-long group, chattering a mile a minute about all the Little Mermaid stuff she owned

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The kids all clamored for Prince Eric as Kaylee led Ian to our sing-a-long group, chattering a mile a minute about all the Little Mermaid stuff she owned. Only children could make rampant consumerism seem charming.

Ian made all the appropriate oohing and aahing noises, complimented everyone on their beautiful face paint, and kissed a few hands. In the span of a minute, I was chopped tuna.

Ian didn't quite bask in the attention, but it didn't take long for him to relax around the kids, who didn't seem to notice he wasn't as out-going as me, or that he still had a panicky look in his eyes. By the time everyone calmed down, the tablet had switched to the next song in the playlist, and our singing was forgotten.

While music played in the background, Ian and I got the cardboard swords and tiara's out. The parents passed out magazines for the kids to use as a flat surface, and the kids got to coloring.

I took a step back so I could stand next to Ian while still keeping an eye on the activity. "You came," I said, keeping my voice low so no one could overhear us.

He didn't acknowledge me at first, and just as I was about to bristle and move away, he whispered, "I know it's probably too little, too late, but I'm sorry, Kavya. I...I couldn't move. I didn't care that we would make the company look bad, or that you'd have to do it alone. Every thought in my head was screaming Don't go in there!"

My eyebrows drew together. Had Ian been having an anxiety attack?

Just as he opened his mouth to say something more, I lightly touched his wrist. It was barely a second, but the skin on skin contact electrified me. From his sharp intake of breath, he felt it, too.

"Not here," I whispered. Do not break character was another rule in the Fairytale Handbook. "Later."

He nodded.

We returned to our respective tasks—Ian helped the little boys glue rhinestones to their cardboard swords while I advised the girls on how best to decorate their tiaras. A few of the boys wanted tiaras, too, and even though one parent objected, I calmly removed the tiara templates and handed over the container of sparkling gems.

I was aware of Ian's eyes on me the whole time. Taking my cue, he took out our extra swords and told the girls they could have both. I caught a few of the parents smiling and nodding as their children excitedly designed their crafts, and relief seared through me.

The face paint would wash off, but I knew from the parent testimonials on our website that the girls would wear those crowns until they were falling apart. The mementos we left behind were as precious to them as the party itself.

Ian and I each crowned the children two by two. There was actually a mild fight about which two snazzy swords would be volunteered for the coronation ceremony. After such a well-behaved afternoon, our princes and princesses were starting to get hungry and cranky—a combination that any entertainer knew would result in tantrums if they weren't fed.

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