Lisa had been spending more time with the now-pregnant Nancy since her falling-out with Rocco. The editor still tossed her the occasional bone, including a children’s bonfire at which an A-lister’s niece and nephew had roasted marshmallows and giggled. Lisa had hated herself as she’d snapped the shot, but she had eaten heartily that evening, feeling like a hunter-gatherer, always just days away from hunger.
Nancy had many friends, almost all of them with children, and they had piled into a rented restaurant space for Nancy’s baby shower. The parents sipped lattes and stared at each other big-eyed, telling tales of how cute their children were. Lisa mostly smiled and nodded, offering an occasional contribution to their conversations. “Oh wow, she’s really walking now? That’s amazing.” “He lost two teeth in the same day? He must have freaked out!”
But soon, she found herself hovering by the counter, sipping her second coffee.
“You okay there?” the barista asked, giving her a warm smile.
“Oh, um, sure. I just really don’t like baby showers,” she echoed back.
“Oh, darling. You’re here,” Nancy cried, finally noticing Lisa. She wrapped her arms around her friend’s neck from behind, nearly pouring Lisa’s coffee down her shirt. “I’m so glad you could make it. You know, we’re all kinds of worried about you.”
Lisa’s eyebrows rose high as she turned to her friend, whose face and body were creamy with youth and vitality. Lisa assumed she’d begun to look tired and old in Nancy’s eyes.
“Well, actually, you’re glowing,” Nancy said, her eyes widening. “What kind of face cream are you using these days? Wow. You look great.”
Lisa sensed the lie in Nancy’s words, but she smiled and asked all the appropriate questions—how was she feeling, how was her husband doing, and so on. Soon, Nancy’s smile began to falter, and she turned her attention toward another woman near edge of the group, giving her a wide, soccer-mom smile.
Left to her own devices again, Lisa felt oddly lost. She leaned heavily against one of the booths, her mind tracing thoughts of Francesco for what seemed like the tenth time that afternoon. It had been two months since she’d spent the night with him, two months since she’d smelled his delicious musk. And still, she awoke to dreams about him nearly every night. Dreams in which they stood on a beach, their hands clasped, gazing out at the horizon—a metaphor, she assumed, for a beautiful future together.
The reality was rather horrible. In the weeks that followed her affair with the Prince—if she could even call it that—Lisa had found herself living like a hermit in her apartment block, drinking endless cups of tea, and living off of granola bars. She’d eyed the news uneasily, hopeful that her face wouldn’t pop up. “Paparazzo Spotted with Prince—Is It Love?” She’d imagined the headlines.
But nothing had come of it. Even Connor, that snake, hadn’t published a single note about her leaving the Prince’s apartment building. Perhaps he didn’t have proof that they’d spent the night together, or perhaps he’d sensed something unhinged within her, a clear signal that she wasn’t to be messed with; that she would bite back.
Instead of seeing herself in the tabloids, Lisa saw plenty of Prince Francesco. He was an eternal figure, strolling through Manhattan, socializing with models and actors at awards shows. About two weeks after Lisa had met the Prince, rumors had surfaced that he and Princess Rose were breaking up.
“Royal Family’s Horror as Prince Turns to Drink in Wake of Breakup”, one tabloid had spouted. “Princess Rose’s Affair with her Butler”, another had claimed. The photos had been wretched, taken by an unscrupulous, untalented photographer. And the copy had been even worse, making assumptions about where the Prince and Princess had been, and whether or not they were “on” or “off.”
Lisa had wanted nothing more than to wipe her hands of the entire business. But, as it was her only income, she had clung to it.
“Have you heard the latest about the Prince?”
The voice of one of Nancy’s friends came ringing through Lisa’s ears. She turned rapidly, joining the conversation, plastering on a soccer-mom smile of her own.
“What about him?” Lisa asked brightly. “Oh, don’t mind me. I am just obsessed with royalty.”
“Me too,” another mom confessed. “I can’t get enough of his on-again, off-again relationship with Princess Rose. God, he seems too good for her, don’t you think?”
Lisa took pleasure in everyone’s nods. She hated herself for it.
“He’s simply gorgeous,” another mom affirmed. “And such fine taste, too. I saw in a magazine a few weeks back. His New York apartment, and his place in London. They were simply divine.”
Lisa parted her lips, wanting to explain that she’d seen it all in the flesh. She’d gazed at the tapestries. She’d felt the emotions that design was meant to evoke. The mothers peered at her, sensing she was going to speak.
“I mean. I saw that magazine as well,” Lisa said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Man, to be a fly on that wall.”
“Right,” the mother said, raising her left eyebrow slightly. “Anyway. I read that he and the Princess are back together. Isn’t that just awful?”
“When did they break up?” another woman piped.
“Maybe a month ago?” another one replied.
“Six weeks,” Lisa whispered, remembering the tabloid photograph—and the burst of hope that had come with it.
“Boy, you really do know your Prince Francesco trivia,” the woman teased, jabbing her lightly with her elbow. Her flowery perfume wafted into Lisa’s nose.
“I guess so,” Lisa murmured. “Why did it say they were back on? I read that they were really unhappy. Always bickering.”