Palla stood patiently while Lona bid Grasen goodbye. The older woman leaned up and gave the stunned young woman a hug and told her to visit often. The girl could only nod, too tongue-tied to speak. Belle patted her back and quietly urged her outside to the car. Once inside, they remained silent for a bit until the questions burst from Grasen’s lips.
“Is everyone in your family that…affectionate?”
Belle snorted. “Yup. I hope they didn’t offend you Grasen,” she added, wondering if her friend found the contact upsetting.
“No, I wasn’t offended, just…not used to it.”
“It’s how I grew up. It was puzzling when I was young and kids I went to school with would shun friendly touching. I mean, if you like someone, don’t you want them close?”
“Your family is very different Belle. Closeness, even with family members, isn’t encouraged,” Grasen sighed, realizing she felt anger over this. “Belle, the royal family can afford the luxury of affection. No one in their right mind is going to openly challenge any of you. You’re safe. None of you have to worry about someone in your family not coming home because they lost to a challenger—or the risk of being…Oh Goddess, I’m sorry. I have no right to get angry at you for being yourselves.”
Belle wasn’t angry but she did feel a little ashamed. She hadn’t thought about that point of view before. “Grasen, no, it’s okay, really. You’re right. We don’t have to worry much about such things. But you know what?” Grasen shook her head slightly and felt caught in Belle’s dark eyes. “We need that closeness.”
The Consort’s daughter waved a finger at the passing scenery outside the vehicle’s windows. “We are forever apart from everything. We don’t have the real freedoms you have. We can’t walk outside without guards. Friends are far and few between. It’s hard living and never knowing who you can allow close to you since so many merely want to use us for their own gains. Our family may be considered odd, but we need that uniqueness, that bond between us, because we’re all we have.”
Grasen’s eyes looked down, suddenly aware of how vulnerable Belle actually was. She had lowered that shroud that had always been present and let her peek into her heart. In her own soul, she knew that she had originally dared to speak to the future queen, to use her to further her standing among her peers. Her cheeks burned in shame.
“Belle…why are you telling me this? Aren’t you leaving yourself open to being used by me?” Grasen felt she had to confess but didn’t want to lose Belle as a friend. Perhaps the question would be enough.
One side of Belle’s lips rose crookedly. “Of course, just as I’m aware that your family is very ambitious for such a small House. Grasen, there isn’t a single queen in the past or present who isn’t aware of what is in the hearts of those around her.”
“You knew I was--”
“Yes. I knew, but I also know a lot about who you are, deep inside. You approached me for selfish reasons because that is how the game is played. But what we want on the surface isn’t always what we need inside. You needed a friend as much as I did.”
“We’re still friends?” Grasen asked hopefully.
“Yes, of course. We were from the first moment, you just didn’t know it.”
* * * *
Yawning, Grasen entered her homeroom early and sat down, hoping Belle hadn’t changed her mind about their relationship. Her mind was still reeling, having been awake most of the night thinking over their conversation. She hadn’t been able to shut off her thoughts, until very late, when she realized she really wanted Belle as a friend, no strings attached. Once that thought came to her, she vowed to be worthy of that friendship.
Watching each person as they entered nervously, she found her heart skipping a beat and her breath catching as Belle entered the classroom. A warm smile of greeting spread across her face. Relieved, Grasen let out her breath and smiled back. To her surprise, the taller girl placed her hand gently on her shoulder and rubbed it in reassurance. Pleased, and feeling a warmth unknown to her before, she blushed. Belle was kind enough not to tease her about it.
She sat down and pulled out an envelope from her pile of books.
“Lonnie printed this up for you. It’s the first four chapters of her newest story. Feel free to make suggestions or corrections.”
Surprised barely scratched the surface of her reaction. Her hands trembled as she took it. “She just handed it to you?”
“Of course. You’re my friend, so she trusts you,” Belle told her with a shrug.
The Consort trusted her. Belle trusted her, and the Queen had treated her like family. Silently reaffirming her vow to earn this honor, she bit back the unfeminine urge to cry.
They met at lunch outdoors, enjoying the mild weather. Belle leaned back on a tree and invited her friend to join her. “Go ahead and start reading the story, I know you’re dying to. Besides, I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Nope, Lonnie says I get too involved with her characters and try to influence her, so I usually don’t get to read them until they’re finished,” she confessed with a sheepish grin. Grasen chuckled and leaned back. Pulling the sheets from the envelope, she ran her hands reverently over the first page before beginning to read aloud.
* * * *
“…No, she just writes about her own world. To people on C’helan, it seems like science fiction, but to her, that world is quite real. She doesn’t have to make up a society, it already exists—or did exist in her time.” Belle explained.
Her friend began asking a lot of questions, for which Belle really couldn’t answer. She only knew what Lonnie had told her. She suggested Grasen ask her the questions later, after school was out. Reassured her welcome wouldn’t be worn out, she agreed to see her after classes were over.
Soon, it became a habit and Grasen saw little of her own family. Knowing she was spending time at the Residence, they didn’t censor her activities, assuming she was building a future for herself as every good daughter did.
As for Lonnie, she practically adopted Grasen as her third child. Belle often teased her parent, whining she was hogging her friend, but was actually pleased rather than jealous. Grasen usually joined Lonnie when she was in a writing mood, watching over her shoulder as she typed and making suggestions. Belle joined them, pulling a chair next to them.
It didn’t take long before she made suggestions of her own, often far from the ideas her mother had planned. She was once more banned from the creative process.
“Oh fine,” Belle pouted. “You two enjoy yourselves, I’m going to finish my studying.” She bent down and kissed both females on the cheek before leaving the room.
Lona bit back a smile. She knew her daughter well and was pretty sure Belle had a tender for the young woman even if she was a trifle slow, okay, downright sluggish, in saying so. Peeking at Grasen through the corner of her eye, she could see the girl blushing. Pleased, Lona continued typing.
* * * *
Lona collapsed onto the shoulder of her mate, her breathing heavy after their long evening of lovemaking. Tashalia’s arms wrapped around her muscular mate as her lips nuzzled her hair.
“Goddess, I’m getting old,” Lona suddenly announced.
Tashalia laughed. “Old? After three hours of lovemaking, you decide you’re old? Why do you say that, you silly thing?”
“Because our oldest daughter is in love—at least I think so.”
“Belle…with Grasen, I assume?”
Lona nodded and kissed Tashalia’s collar bone.
“Hmm, I wouldn’t disapprove of the match. They seem suited and they have the advantage of friendship already.”
Chuckling, Lona scooted a bit and sought her mate’s lips, in the mood for more sweet kisses, her daughter already gone from her thoughts.
* * * *
To be Continued
Return to the Academy