Dating the Prince(4)

By: Addison Quinn

The stream of eager tourists with fanny packs and knee-high socks made their way toward the throne room, snapping pictures as they went. Libby stayed near the back of the pack, preferring to enjoy the moment. What good was documenting something if it got in the way of actually experiencing it? Besides, sometimes it was better not to have photographic reminders of happy memories that turned sour.

Divorce. She hadn’t known it was even a word in her parents’ vocabulary. They’d seemed blissfully happy until her father fell through the roof of their small two-bedroom house and broke his femur and tibia. Without insurance, the mounting medical bills had rapidly placed an unmanageable financial burden on her parents. That’s when the fighting started.

When Connie, a friend from high school, had offered Libby the job as Kenzie’s nanny, she’d said yes without a second thought. The compensation had been more than fair—free room and board and a decent wage to boot. Libby couldn’t deal for one more minute with the constant tension at home. Escaping to Durham seemed perfect.

Her sandals slapped loudly against the marble floor of the palace hallway, and her sundress swished around her legs. Doorways were decorated with gold leafing, and crystal chandeliers hung from the fifteen-foot coffered ceilings. A single lighting sconce would probably pay off all her dad’s medical bills and leave money to spare. It must be nice to be royal.

The tour guide paused outside the door to the throne room, hands clasped behind his back, and eyed the group with a disapproving frown. Thick, bushy eyebrows turned down over beady eyes. “I must ask you all to now put your cameras away, as photography is strictly prohibited for the rest of the tour.”

Rustling filled the hallway as tourists stowed their cell phones in pockets and cameras in fanny packs. Kenzie let out a squeak, and the guide’s disapproving stare zeroed in on Libby. She patted Kenzie’s bottom and refused to meet Stan’s eye. Hopefully Kenzie didn’t wake up and demand to be fed until the tour was over.

Stan threw open the double doors with a flourish. “And now, I invite you to enter the royal throne room of the House of Somerset.”

The tourists oohed and aahed as they entered the room. Libby watched as a woman near the doorway leaned into a man. He wrapped his arms around her and the woman smiled up at him, her face radiant. Libby swallowed hard and looked away. She’d never imagined experiencing the wonders of the world could feel so lonely.

Kenzie wiggled in her sleep, and Libby dropped a kiss on the baby’s head. The silky soft hair tickled Libby’s lips, and she forced herself not to let the sorrow well up inside.

Maybe she wasn’t in Durham with a boyfriend, or fiancé, or husband. But she wasn’t alone, either. She and Kenzie would have the time of their life exploring the country. Libby would make sure of that. She wasn’t about to squander this opportunity of a lifetime on feeling blue.

Libby stayed near the back of the tour group, letting the others enter the throne room first. Anticipation welled within her as she slowly moved toward the room. She didn’t keep up with politics or current events. Ocean Meadow didn’t have television or internet, unless you counted the ancient computer still running on dial up in the community center, and Libby didn’t pay attention to newspapers or magazines on her weekly trips to town. But she loved history and had spent her childhood reading about the European royals, many of whom had walked in that very room.

When she finally passed through the double doors, her breath escaped in a surprised whoosh. The photographs she’d seen in textbooks hadn’t done the room justice. White marble floors, flecked with silver, gleamed beneath the elegant chandeliers. Two thrones sat on a raised dais. Delicate roses intertwined around powerful lions were carved into the wood. The crushed red velvet of the seats and back showed no signs of wear. Were these thrones even used anymore? Probably not. But that didn’t lessen her awe.

Libby ran her thumb over the ridge of the penny in her pocket. She had to leave a penny here. There was a magic in the room that seemed to whisper that anything was possible.

The other tourists milled around the room, admiring the statues and various paintings. Libby pulled the small handful of pennies from her dress pocket and picked out the shiniest one.

She stared at the gleaming penny, the profile of Abraham Lincoln seeming to wink at her. If she wasn’t careful, she’d run out of pennies and have to use Euros instead. Hopefully their one cent held the same lucky properties as their American counterpart.

“If you’ll follow me through here, we’ll visit the crown jewels before concluding our tour,” Stan said.