She hailed a taxi, which whipped her back to her one-bedroom in Brooklyn. She felt light with anticipation, with intrigue. The previous 24 hours had taken several manic turns, spitting her out several hundred dollars richer, with a date with royalty—and a potential front-page story for Rocco.
“Why are you smiling?” the taxi driver asked her, lifting his chin. His accent was thick, placing him as a Middle-Eastern immigrant.
“I don’t really know,” Lisa murmured. “I think I’m just happy. For the first time in a long, long time.”
“Good. It’s good to be happy,” the man said, stabbing his foot on the brake pedal and halting in front of her apartment building. “I’ll be happy, too. Once you pay me.”
Lisa rushed up the steps to her apartment, feeling jittery. She leafed through her bag, grasped her keys, and then burst through the front door, feeling strange that while her entire world had shifted, her room, kitchen and living area had all stayed the same.
She entered her bedroom and sat on the mattress, unable to imagine what feeling tired meant. In her bag, she found her camera, and then began to look through the photographs, feeling a strange sense of pride at the angles of Princess Rose’s face as she scowled at the Prince. Lisa had been practicing her craft for years, and here was the result: gorgeous portraits that displayed attitude and disgust between a powerful couple. She knew that was what the people wanted.
She glanced at the clock, then, realizing that she had only twenty minutes left until she was meant to meet the Prince. She walked over to her closet, noting that her selection of dresses—most of them black—were listless compared to the Princess’ garb from that evening. But perhaps that’s what the Prince wanted: to fly under the radar, with an ordinary girl like her.
She could already picture the tabloid headline: “Prince Spends Night with Brooklyn Girl, Slumming It.” She shivered, knowing that if she were asked to sell the story, she’d do it. Her desperation for funds was constant. Nothing else mattered. Not even the electricity between her and the Prince, or how much she loved making him laugh.
At least, that’s what she told herself.
She slipped into a short, navy blue dress—something she hardly wore, unless she was sneaking into black-tie affairs to go after celebrities. As she zipped up the back, she remembered tearing after some sex-scandal engulfed politican, her camera flashing. Her shoe had flung from her foot, the heel caught in the red carpet. Despite her current loneliness, her life to date had been anything but boring.
She peeked into the mirror, then, and swiped on a layer of black eyeliner, making her eyes appear large and blissful. Her hair was curled nicely, flowing down her back. She tugged her nicest, newest-looking coat over her shoulders, inhaled sharply, and marched toward the door—feeling as if she were in a dream.
The club the Prince had suggested was a mere five blocks from Lisa’s apartment, but her fear of being late forced her to hail a taxi again, her arm shivering in the air as she stood on the pavement.
A taxi squealed to a halt in front of her, and she popped into it, heavy with the cash from the restaurant tip.
“To the B-flat,” she said. “The jazz club. Please.”
The cab weaved through traffic and delivered Lisa at the club five minutes before the Prince’s call time. She tipped the cabbie generously, donned a confident smile, and then rushed past the smokers who hovered around a steaming heat lamp.
She entered the jazz club and was immediately thrust down the steps, toward a cave-like arena, where musicians were already playing.
Standing at the bottom of the staircase was Prince Francesco, his smile crooked and confident. His hands tucked deep within his pockets, it was clear he’d been waiting for her—like a prom date outside the bathrooms. He seemed to shiver with delight as she descended toward him, her heels tentative on the steps.
He extended his elbow, watching as Lisa pushed her arm through it, connecting them.
“Hi,” she breathed.
“You look beautiful,” he said, assessing her.
“Don’t go overboard,” Lisa laughed, tipping her head back.
In the corner, the saxophonist had begun to blare through his instrument, the noise gritty and guttural, before the drums joined and the trumpet blasted. As the music began its colorful jolting, Lisa handed her jacket to the cloakroom staff member, and shivered at the sudden chill upon her shoulders.
“Hard not to go overboard with a scene like this,” Francesco said, gesturing.
He led her to a tiny corner table, with a candle in the center. As he had before, he swept the chair back, allowing her to sit gracefully. As he sat across from her, she realized something: the Prince was by far the most handsome guy she’d ever been on a date with—if that was really what was happening.
As she sat, she forced herself to contemplate the truth of her situation: that she was there to squeeze the best paycheck possible out of this man, and that nothing else in the world mattered. Not his impending marriage, or his unhappiness, or the fact that the bass player bumped along, creating an atmosphere in which to fall in love.
After a pause, Francesco ordered a bottle of wine from the server, casually addressing the fact that he’d already drank one and a half bottles that night. “In Europe, it’s how you live. You inhale wine. It’s healthy.” He winked.
“And I suppose next you’ll tell me cheese doesn’t make you fat?” Lisa laughed.
“It doesn’t. And what is this low carb diet you Americans are always on? It doesn’t make sense. Pasta is a way of being.”
Lisa rolled her eyes playfully, watching as the waiter poured her a large glass of wine. She clinked her glass with Francesco, whose dramatic toast rang in her ears.
“To tonight. To meeting you, Lisa. Thank you for encouraging me to acknowledge my own truth.”