His Royal Highness

I couldn’t believe he cared, couldn’t believe he wanted to know more about me. In the minutes that followed inside that coffee shop, I shared with Derek the defining pieces of my childhood. Avery’s illness. The way my parents uprooted us and dashed off to Georgia for her. The unintentional imbalance of our family dynamic. My role as her donor. I even told him about the few times I’d wanted to be the sick child instead of the healthy one, the raw shame that went along with that. Then, finally, I capped it off with the phone call I’d gotten right before meeting with him, the news that none of them were coming down for Thanksgiving, though compared to everything that came before it, that issue seemed miniscule.

I don’t remember exactly how Derek responded, if he was taken aback or not by the amount of personal information I’d dumped onto his lap, but I do remember his attention never wavered as I spoke. Once, he glanced over my shoulder—presumably at Heather—and held up a finger. A signal that he and I weren’t quite done. I know I threw his entire schedule off that day. We talked for two hours. Or rather, I did.

I don’t know why I felt comfortable enough with Derek to open up to him about my most private demons when I hadn’t even discussed them with Carrie yet. Maybe it’s because he was my mentor, someone I already looked to as an adviser and confidant. Or maybe it’s because even then, my heart loved him in ways my head hadn’t caught on to.





A week later, the head of the intern program sent me an email informing me that I’d been granted time off for the week of Thanksgiving. I hadn’t requested it, but I knew who had, and the gesture, though small in his eyes, meant everything to me.

I carried my feelings for Derek with me all the way to New York City, spending the week with my family, thinking mostly of him. I told Avery about my crush, though I kept the details of his identity a secret. She assumed it was another boy in my intern class, and I didn’t feel the need to correct her. She encouraged me to take a chance.

“That whole ‘love is patient’ nonsense? It’s bullshit! There is no room for patience when it comes to love! If you want this guy, you need to tell him!”

“It’s not that easy.”

“I. Like. You.” She ticked off the words on her fingers. “Explain to me why that’s difficult.”

“The circumstances—”

“Circumstances? Oh my god. You’re eighteen! Circumstances shouldn’t matter!” Avery was always like this. Growing up, the future was never definite for her. In her opinion, we were all taking advantage of tomorrow. You get today, that’s it, she’d tell me, her pale green eyes flaying me open.

We were back at the apartment she shared with my parents, a shoebox disguised as an efficiency. My mom and sister slept on the bed. My dad slept on the couch. While I was in town, I took the floor. My parents were out picking up groceries for Thanksgiving dinner, and I sat on the bed watching Avery. I couldn’t help it. When we were together, our old roles always fell into place. She would always be the star.

She sat on the windowsill, one leg bent against her chest. Her head leaned against the glass pane. The city sat at her fingertips. Warm light flooded past her blonde curls.

“Is he married?” she asked, her gaze on the street below.

“No.”

“A criminal?”

“No.”

“Then kid”—we’re only a year apart—“you gotta go for it.”

Before I could come up with a solid rebuttal, she’d hopped down from the windowsill like a graceful cat and snatched my laptop from where it lay on top of my duffle bag.

“What’s your password?”

“Avery!”

She was already typing in her first guess. “Huh. AverySucks seemed like a sure thing.”

I tried in vain to snatch the computer away from her, but she spun away and ran for the restroom, squealing with terror as I chased her. The door slammed. I slapped my hand against it, shouting.

“Avery. This isn’t funny.”

“You’re right. It’s very un-funny how you’re willing to let life just slip right by you. I’m trying to help you. Now tell me, what’s your password?”

I let my forehead smack against the door. “Avery…”

“ILoveAvery didn’t work either. This would be a lot easier if we worked together. If you swear you won’t steal the laptop back, I’ll come out there and we can sit on the bed and behave like adults.”

I seized the opportunity. “Fine! Okay.”

The door cracked an inch. One of her eyes scanned the perimeter. “Show me your hands.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have a weapon if that’s what you’re thinking.”

When she didn’t make a move to open the door any wider, I backed up so she’d see I was empty-handed then turned and splayed my body out on the bed. She came to sit beside me and asked me again for my password. I stared at the peeling popcorn ceiling, my heart a thundering racehorse in my chest.

“Derek.”

“His name is your password?! Oh wow.”

I squeezed my eyes closed in embarrassment. It’d been an impulse thing. My computer required I have a password for log-in. I wanted it to be easy, something that was always at the forefront of my thoughts.

I listened to her clicking and scrolling.

“You guys email a lot.”

I kept my eyes closed.

“Oh…what an interesting development. Little miss perfect has a crush on an older man. Her mentor, in fact. This just got so much juicier.”

I rolled over and stuffed my face into a pillow.

She must have sensed I’d hit my breaking point. She put the laptop down and threw herself over me like a steamroller. Her weight crushed me against the bed. Her hand tugged my hair away from my face and she leaned down, her lips in my hair, right by my ear.

“Do you want me to drop it?”

I thought for a long second, debating. Then I shook my head no.

It felt good to share my crush with someone else. I’d been wanting to tell Carrie for weeks, but I was too scared of her reaction. She and I were too similar—cautious, smart. Avery was the person I needed now—someone who’d give me a little nudge in the wrong direction.

“Let’s just send him an email. Since that’s your preferred form of communication, it won’t seem weird.”

I rolled her off me and sat up. Eyes blinking. Contemplating her idea.

“What would it say?”

Her lips turned into a devious smirk. “Dear Derek, I want to suck your dick.”

I tried to smack her with a pillow but she dodged it, laughing diabolically. “I’m kidding! Relax! We can write the email together.”

It took forty minutes to pen and was an endeavor akin to pulling teeth. Avery would suggest a word, I’d shoot it down and spend five minutes trying to come up with something better. In the end, it read like this:



Dear Derek,





Thank you for giving me time off this week. I didn’t realize how badly I needed it. New York City has been a blast, but I’m anxious to be home. This is my favorite time of year at Fairytale Kingdom—there’s nothing like seeing the castle decorated for the holidays.





I know we don’t have another meeting set until next month, but I was hoping you’d join me for dinner on Saturday night, after I get back in town? Maybe we could even drop the mentor/mentee labels just for one night.





Until then,

Whitney

XO





Avery talked me into the “XO” and the sentence about dropping labels, because in her opinion, without them, I wasn’t making my feelings known.

“It’s still subtle. Don’t worry.”

I did worry. I worried through the remainder of that day and the next.

I worried myself out of enjoying Thanksgiving dinner and the rest of my time in New York. I flew home to Georgia in a cold sweat, wondering what fate would greet me once I touched the ground. I should have immediately followed the first email with a second.

Ha! Oh my god. Sorry. My account got hacked.

Maybe I would have had I not received an auto-response from him right away.





I’m out of the office for the Thanksgiving holiday and won’t have regular access to email.





I’ll try to respond in as timely a manner as possible.





If it’s something urgent, please email [email protected]





Sincerely,

Derek Knightley





I couldn’t bear the idea of emailing him a second time. I wanted the first one to disappear, but it sat in my sent folder, festering.

The Sunday before classes started back up, an email finally hit my inbox.





From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: Mentor Program





This email is to inform you that your mentor is no longer a participant in our program. This will not jeopardize your credit hour. All previous meetings will be counted toward your requirement.





You’ve been placed with a new mentor: Charles Knightley, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Knightley Company.





His assistant will contact you within the next week to establish a time frame for your first meeting. As a reminder, each mentee is required to meet with their mentor at least four times per semester.





Do not respond to this email. Please direct questions to [email protected]





I kept it together as I snatched my phone off my bed and headed for the door. Carrie asked me where I was going, but I shook my head and scurried out into the hall, trying desperately to make it outside before losing it. Avery was the only person I wanted to talk to, and she answered on the second ring, listening as I told her what had happened.

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