Arion stood in the hallway, looking at our huge family painting on top of the staircase. It was painted a few years back, when I was seven years old, and my mother was still alive. My mother was beaming with happiness as I sat on her lap looking like a haunted doll from a horror flick, and my father stood behind her, his left hand on top of her shoulder, and his right arm around both of us. We looked like the picture-perfect family (well, except for me, who looked nightmare inducing).
I felt a pang of nostalgia as I recalled how my late mother would always wake me up with a kiss on the cheek, and I felt my eyes grow moist. It was unfortunate that I wouldn’t be able to see her anymore, now that I’ve gone back in time. I was sure that we’d have a lot of things to talk about. I could probably even confide in her the fact that I came from the far far future, and maybe she wouldn’t even bat an eye nor send me to the nearest mental institute.
“Elena.” Arion turned around with a smile when he noticed my presence. I saw that he held a big box wrapped in a pretty lace ribbon.
I curtsied in front of the prince, then held my hand out. “Welcome back, Arion. Let me carry that box for you.”
The box was even bigger than his ten-year-old frame, and the adult in me wanted to help out the kid, forgetting that I myself probably had half his strength.
But Arion looked amused at my offer. “I can’t possibly have you carry your own gift, Elena.”
“My gift?” I looked coolly surprised, yet secretly excited. I mean, who didn’t love gifts?! “Awww, you shouldn’t have! Thank you so much!”
A smile stretched across his lips. “You’re welcome, Elena.”
“Okay!” I tried not to sound too excited. “We’re currently having our lunch, do you want to join us?”
“That would be lovely.”
I led the way to the dining area, and as we passed by the maids and butlers, their eyes were popping out of their sockets as they saw how Arion was carrying a huge heavy box by himself as he refused any assistance. Even Philip the pageboy was among the crowd, looking a bit stumped himself. It was an uncanny sight to have a Royal person do such a menial task himself, but personally I enjoyed the view.
I wasn’t being sadistic or anything. It was just nice to know that someone born in the lap of luxury, was able to function on their own like that, instead of ordering people around every second.
When we entered the dining area, my father and Rizanne immediately stood up from their seats to welcome the prince.
“I apologize for coming unannounced,” Arion said, looking a bit rueful towards my father. “I hadn’t planned on visiting again so soon, Lord Esteban, but I found something that I thought Elena would love. I had to come here right away.”
What, I loved?! Did he magically find some kimchi?!
“No need to apologize, Your Highness! Come anytime, we will always welcome you! Let me carry that, please.” My father was about to take the box from Arion, but Arion stepped to the side, evading his outstretched arms, and placed it at the end of the dining table. My father looked a bit stumped, and I couldn’t hide my giggle.
Arion pulled the ribbon tied around the box. He turned around and said to me, his eyes dancing with undisguised joy, “I hope you will enjoy this gift, Elena.”
I half-expected to see some cabbages, but when he opened the lid, it was a huge fluffy strawberry shortcake! It looked different from the estate’s cake, as this one looked white and fluffy, with the top layer full of strawberries that were dipped in chocolate. I could tell that it was super fluffy, as even the slightest movement on the box caused the cake to jiggle, as if taunting me to eat it.
It looked absolutely delectable! I was euphoric!
Arion carefully studied my expression, his ears turning a shade pink.
I turned to Arion, hugging him enthusiastically as I said my thanks. I caught a whiff of his perfume as he stiffened in my arms. He smelled good for a kid, like a little man.
“You’re so thoughtful, Arion!” I beamed at him, and he looked down while blushing. This boy was too cute.
I grabbed his hand and made him sit beside me at the dining table.
“That cake was delicious!” I rubbed my big belly while I walked with Arion around our back garden.
This meticulously manicured garden had all sorts of flowers, hedges, apple trees, and odd-looking garden gnomes that my late mother thought were cute. But if I stared too hard at one, I felt as if it were cursing me while holding its shovel.
“I’m glad you found it delicious.” Arion raised an arm to brush something off my hair, and I was relieved to know that it was a leaf, and not an insect.
“Where did you get it?” I inquired.
“It’s from the best pastry shop in the Capital. I recalled how much you love strawberry cakes, so I had one made for you.”
I grinned. “Thank you! I’ll have to order one from the same shop next time!”
“You don’t have to. I can bring cakes every time I visit.” He cleared a bench full of leaves, and motioned for me to sit down.
“But it’s not like you visit daily! I might want those cakes every day!” I laughed as I sat down beside him.
I looked confused. “You can what?”
“I can visit every day.” He looked down, slightly embarrassed, as if studying his toes.
This boy was just too adorable. I wanted to pat him on the head, but then remembered he was a legitimate prince, not some puppy.
I started laughing again.
“No, it’s okay, you don’t have to.” I patted his shoulder. “It’s not like we’re engaged anyway. My father is just cultivating friendship between us. Friend. Ship.” I swayed my hands while saying each syllable. “Friendship!”
I shouldn’t get too attached to someone who might fall in love with someone else in the future, right? My old self was already severely traumatized. I didn’t want to commit the same mistakes.
Arion looked crestfallen for a second, before replacing it with a more determined expression.
“But would it be alright?” Arion asked, looking like a child asking for permission from his mother.
“Would what be alright?” I asked.
“Would it still be alright to visit you as often as I can?” He drew his eyebrows close together, a bit anxious of my reply. “As friends?” he added after some thought.
“Sounds like a good plan.” I smiled and nodded. “Friends.”
He grinned wide.
“Just don’t forget the cakes,” I added while poking his shoulder.
He replied in laughter.