A/N: For the purposes of this story, Mia's school gets out in April. Or, you can pretend her birthday is later in the summer.
Michael Moscovitz was a third grader before his bossy little sister, Lilly, managed to hang onto a friend for more than a day. Their psychoanalyst parents celebrated this by asking the other kindergarten-age girl's mother if she could stay over.
Since Lilly was pulling a slightly taller little girl around their house by her wrist, Michael guessed the mother had agreed.
"Michael!" Lilly squealed. He smiled blandly, used to her high-pitched voice and bubbly personality. Lilly was very outspoken about basically everything, especially her feelings. Michael had known since he was six and Lilly figured out how to speak full sentences that his little sister loved him.
"This is my best friend! This is my big brother Michael."
"What's your name?" Michael asked.
"My full name is Amelia Thermopolis. But only Grandmère, my dad's mom, calls me Amelia, because I hate it. Everyone else calls me Mia."
"Is your Grandmère French?" Michael frowned slightly.
"Nuh-uh. She's Genovian. Genovia is a small country between France and Spain, and the national language is French," she explained, as if by rote. Good thing, too, because Michael had never heard of it before, and his class was doing a European geography lesson next week. "Grandmère knows English but only speaks French because she thinks English is 'vulgar.' Dad's a politician in Genovia. He speaks English, too, a lot more often than Grandmère, but says I have to speak French to his mom because she's a 'la vieille dame ennuyeuse qui s'habitue à recevoir sa voie.' Unfortunately, I don't know what that means, but no one was around to hear, so I'm guessing it wasn't very nice."
"Why do you still live in New York, then?" Lilly interrogated interestedly. "If your dad's a politician, and all, I mean."
"Mom and Dad never got married," Mia shrugged. "My mom's an artist, Helen Thermopolis. Her family's Greek, but Mamaw and Papaw just have a farm in Indiana. I think it was their parents who were really from Greece. What about your family, Lilly?"
"Oh, Mom and Dad are just psychoanalysts. Both of their parents immigrated to America after the Holocaust, and don't talk about anything except the fact that everyone's too skinny these days and 'won't you eat some more, Lilly? I made your favorite challah!'" She rolled her eyes.
Mia nodded politely, but unlike Lilly, she probably knew very little about the Holocaust. In the same vein, she probably wasn't Jewish. Michael, at eight years old, had learned that not everyone knew the same things he did. Sometimes they knew more and sometimes they knew less. Still, Mia had put up with Lilly for almost a week. She could probably hang in there without too much help from him.
He smiled to her one last time and went to play video games.
Dinner was fun; Mia's mother had told the Doctors Moscovitz Mia had been a vegetarian (except seafood) since watching Charlotte's Web, and Maya, the cook and housekeeper, accommodated this with a large serving of fruit salad, fried catfish, and chocolate covered strawberries for dessert. The girls – and Michael – got strawberry juice all over themselves, but Michael had to admit he liked fried catfish better than meatloaf and fruit salad was a vast improvement over regular salad, especially the kind with crutons and dressing that his parents preferred.
It was almost midnight before he reemerged from his room. He was planning to sneak some chips from the pantry, and was about to get away with it – until he spotted Mia, pacing nervously by the phone.
"What's wrong?" he asked, popping a chip in his mouth.
"I'm worried about my mom," she said with a small frown on her wide mouth.
"She's not very good at taking care of herself. One of those sensitive artist types who forgets to eat and pick up groceries and laundry and stuff like that," she shook her head.
Michael realized suddenly that Mia might not have been as book-smart as Lilly, but she definitely outclassed his baby sister in responsibility. After all, if Mia's dad was in Genovia, or whatever, and she was worried her mom would do something horrible just because Mia was spending the night somewhere else, well, clearly that meant Mia was the one who took care of her mom. And it was hard for a five-year-old to be a parent.
That was one of the few stories Oba had ever told him that took place before she moved to America. She was only five when her parents were taken to Auschwitz, and never heard from again, and then she had to look after her own baby sister, two-year-old Lilith, who Lilly was named for.
She told Michael this, the young boy knew, because she wanted him to protect Lilly. But obviously the familial responsibility thing could go the other way on the age spectrum, because here was Mia, freaking out over not being able to take care of her mom.
He sat her down. "How old is your mom, Mia?"
"I dunno. Twenty-something. Not very old."
"When did you start taking care of her?"
"When I was three and started reading the mail. Mainly last year, though, 'cause I figured out what 'deadlines' were and how she usually misses them for her studio, and started making sure there was always food in the fridge."
"So there were at least three years – probably four – where she took care of herself, right?"
"Well, sort of. Dad pays for the loft and the studio, I think, but Mom usually has to cover electricity, unless she forgets. It's not that she can't be an adult, it's just that she forgets. She might have even forgotten I came to your house and think I'm just being really quiet. And then she might forget dinner, because I didn't remind her, or to go to bed, because I didn't ask for a story, or to wake up in the morning, because I didn't reset her alarm clock and hide it under the bed or some other piece of furniture so she has to engage her mind to turn it off," Mia babbled.
"Eating is important, but she can afford to miss one meal, unless she's on the brink of starvation. Sleep is important, too, but failing reminders, most people go to bed when they're tired. And if she's an artist, who's going to care if she sleeps in? My parents will call her if she's supposed to pick you up, or just take you home themselves, and either the phone or the doorbell should wake her. So, though you're obviously important, I think she can live without you for one night," Michael smiled.
Mia hugged him. "You're right."
"Now, the real question is, do I have the upper body strength to hold you up, and can we then reach the frozen yogurt at the top of the freezer?"
Mia grinned broadly, glancing critically at the freezer, then at Michael. "I think we can make it."
Michael put the chips away and they indulged in frozen yogurt instead.
When Mia turned eight and Michael was eleven, she made a long distance call from her Grandmère's château in France.
"I-is Lilly there?" she sniffled.
"She's at a protest. I didn't really catch the specs. What's wrong, Mi?" A side-affect of the preteen obsession with coolness led to Michael's tendency to abbreviate words, even those that were only three letters and two syllables.
"It's just – it's my birthday."
"Uh-huh. Lilly gave you your present early, since you always go to France in the summer."
"Yeah. But it's like no one here even remembers. They're just having this stupid state dinner with a bunch of old people who don't know who I am and keep pinching my cheeks. And then when I asked Grandmère for cake she said it was a horrible mockery of confection and wouldn't I rather have foie gras, even though I've told her before that foie gras constitutes several animal rights violations and is a disgusting example of the meat industry's tendency to mistreat their cattle." She hiccupped loudly. Michael had discovered when Mia was in first grade that she only did this when very upset.
"Didn't you say the cooks like you? Maybe one of them will make you cake."
"The kitchen's so busy because of the stupid dinner I got yelled at by one of Grandmère's aides the last time I got near it." If there had been any doubt before, it was gone. Mia Thermopolis was crying into the phone.
"Hey, calm down. You can celebrate with us, at Lilly's birthday party, like we always do. And Maya will make all the cake you want and Lilly'll probably give you extra presents anyway. I'll make sure Mom and Dad and I all give you presents, too. And I promise, no foie gras. Maybe vegetarian lasagna."
Mia sniffled, but Michael could almost hear the watery smile in her voice. "You promise?"
"Hey, what's a best-friend's-big-brother for?"
She giggled a little. "Thanks. I guess I'm being a little silly."
"No way. Birthdays are important. Just ignore their stupid dinner and do what you want for a change."
"What I want? Like what?"
"I dunno, dye your Grandmère's hair blue or something."
Mia snorted. "Only if I wanted to get murdered. Like, seriously murdered."
"Ok…then just tell your dad you want to have the day off. That you want to go – horseback riding, or something."
"I think I could swing that."
"Cool. It's getting kinda close to dinnertime, and you're, what, six hours ahead? It must be almost midnight in…wherever you are. Tell your dad you wanna go horseback riding tomorrow. I'll see you when you get back, Mia. Goodnight."
"G'night, Michael. Tell Lilly I said 'Hi.'"
They hung up.
At fourteen, Michael was a semi-hopeless geek, now a freshman at Albert Einstein High School for Boys (made coeducational circa 1975). He had already joined the Computer Club and the Chess Club and made some friends. He even had a tentative girlfriend, Elizabeth – Liza – Nero. She was thin and taller than he was, with braces and large glasses, but she was kind of cute and she liked videogames.
It was when she came over to his house to "study" that he realized the fatal flaw of Liza Nero. His little sister and Mia, who was spending the night for the umpteen hundredth time since she had befriended Lilly, popped Star Wars in the VCR and began enjoying the movie interactively. Not only had Liza never seen it, it was clear she didn't want to see it.
"Sound doesn't travel in space!" she cried out, appalled. "That explosion is absolutely falsified!"
"Calm down," Michael rolled his eyes. "It's called creative license."
She shut up for maybe ten seconds before Lilly and Mia said Han Solo's lines along with him somewhat mockingly.
"Hey, leave Harrison Ford alone!" And then she did something unforgivable. She quoted one of Short Round's most annoying lines from Indiana Jones.
Michael closed his eyes in disbelief, missing Leia's scathing derision of Solo as a wave of deep disgust washed over him.
"I dunno if this is gonna work out, Liza," he said quietly, so his little sister wouldn't hear and mock him for it.
"Could you get your freaky little sister and her stupid friend to shut up so I can watch Harrison Ford kick ass?"
Michael stood, physically picked Liza up and dragged her out of the apartment. "I know you have a cell-phone. Call your mom and get her to pick you up, take the subway, I don't care. But never call my little sister a freak, and don't you dare call Mia stupid, either. At least they have taste in film. Indiana Jones started out ok, but Short Round is a tragic example of Hollywood exploiting the cuteness of children to sell more films, and he can't even act." He slammed the door after that and fairly stomped back to the living room.
Lilly had paused the movie, he discovered, and she and Mia were clapping.
It was another midnight snack run when Michael found Mia in their kitchen, again.
"What's up?" he asked. She didn't seem agitated.
"Oh," she blushed, sheepish. "I stole some more frozen yogurt."
Michael grinned. "Any left for me?"
She nodded. He got out a bowl.
"So what was up with that Liza girl?"
"Oh…she wasn't who I thought she was," Michael said vaguely.
"Did you think she was an utterly rude person with no taste – 'cause I think you would've been right on that point."
Michael shook his head. "No, that's who she actually is. I thought she was a semi-cool girl who liked video games and programming and things like that. I didn't realize she was a – " He stopped himself. "…an utterly rude person." He really wanted to say "bitch" but didn't like swearing in front of girls, especially girls who might tell Lilly and get him in trouble for it. Not that he thought Mia would squeal to his parents, but Lilly totally would.
"So…was this supposed to be a date, or a friend thing?"
Michael's shoulders sagged. "A date, I guess. Didn't turn out too well, did it?"
Mia gave him one of those sad, Mona Lisa smiles that practically forced him to smile back. "You want to know why I'm friends with your sister, even though she bosses me around and occasionally forgets I'm a thinking person with opinions of my own?"
Michael shrugged, slightly apathetically.
"It's because when she came to my house, she didn't complain that there weren't any groceries in the fridge or ask why my mom spends all her time painting instead of cooking or cleaning up our pigsty of a place. She said disorganization was the sign of a brilliant, artistic mind, even after my mom totally walked around naked without even realizing we were there. Before Lilly, I'd had at least three friends to date who freaked out on me once they saw my apartment – and if it wasn't Mom, it was the pre-op transsexual next door, Ronnie, who is the sweetest neighbor I've ever had, or any number of the strange things and people in my building.
"So…I put up with Lilly because she has never once called my mom a space-cadet or a basket-case. And I kick the hell out of boys who call Lilly stuff like that, because she's my best friend. We all try to protect the people we care about, Michael. We want new people in our lives to care about those same people. Liza may have thought you were the typical big brother who loathes his little sister as an adolescent, or she may just have that large of a social impairment. Either way, she should have realized what she was saying was rude and uncalled for, not to mention she ought to know that Short Round destroyed any respectability that sequel had, and kept her stupid mouth shut. And if she can't do that, it's her loss."
Michael dug into his frozen yogurt with a little more enthusiasm.
Michael was seventeen when he finally admitted to himself that he had loved Mia Thermopolis since she was a tragically mature five-year-old girl. At first it was only a protective, brotherly sort of thing. But when she was eleven and he threw out his potential girlfriend for insulting her and his little sister, he knew it became something more.
As he leaned in close and corrected her algebra homework in Gifted and Talented, he realized the thundering in his heart was, in fact, a physiological response to his utterly hopeless physical attraction to his little sister's best friend, all these other realizations rushed forth in his mind. He loved her distantly, as a brother, until she called him from France, making her his own friend forever, at least in his mind. And it became a strange little crush when he threw out Liza, growing into overpowering frisson as she started failing Algebra.
She would have been too perfect without that flaw. She was a brilliant writer, he knew from seeing her English essays. He helped the ninth grade English teacher grade papers after school, as part of his community service. She was doing very well in most of her other classes, holding onto a B in Bio through sheer willpower and a lab partnership with one of the smartest kids in her grade, but other than that and Algebra, she had straight As. She was also wicked fast, though like him, disliked organized sports teams and thus refused to join the track team – well, that was what he chose to believe, anyway. And finally, Mia was physically attractive. Not the way girls like Lana Weinberger were attractive, all bouncing bosoms and golden blonde hair.
Mia was tall and thin, with gorgeous, classical bone structure and striking grey eyes. So what if her hair was a dull brown? His was about the same color. And so what if she didn't have an abnormally large chest, like his sister? She was fourteen, why should she? And he almost suspected his sister of growth hormones, but knew she would never stoop that low.
Love-struck, Michael sighed into Mia's hair and absently corrected her misconstrued use of FOIL.
Michael was twenty when he converted to Catholicism. His parents were only slightly disparaging, lacking serious religious convictions. His sister was cackling about "the cult of matriarchy." His grandparents – Holocaust survivors or the children of them, all four – shook their heads in saddened disbelief until he explained he had to if he wanted to marry Mia.
All his grandparents liked Mia. And he confirmed that he would still keep kosher – he had become a vegetarian the previous year, knowing Mia would never ask but would sincerely appreciate it. He even said he would still celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish traditions, just…in private. He also said if they did get married and have children, he couldn't encourage them to become Jewish.
Which kind of sucked, but while Michael liked his heritage, he liked Mia a helluva lot more. Which was why, on her seventeenth birthday, he proposed in the garden of her summer château, when they slipped away from her birthday ball.
He correctly judged the passionate kiss that followed to be an enthusiastic yes. He didn't give a damn about the grass stain on the Armani suit that had been a Christmas/early nineteenth birthday gift from Mia's Grandmère (who obviously hadn't realized he was still Jewish that time a year ago, but whatever).
All he cared about was the beautiful woman in his arms.
Both families agreed on a very, very long engagement. As in, not until Mia was out of college would a date even be discussed. That was fine by Michael. It was surprisingly okay with Mia, too.
Mia broke the agreement somewhat to open lines of communication during her junior year, at the age of twenty. She told her Grandmère flat out that she wanted the wedding less than a month after her graduation as a double-major, political science and economics, with a minor in diplomacy.
She had been encouraged to go the poli-sci route by the royal members of her family, but they admitted the final choice was hers. Her selection, apparently, encouraged those citizens of Genovia who were still a little nervous about her head for governing.
Michael, who was almost finished with his graduate degree in computer technology, had majored in computer engineering and minored in music.
On top of his graduate lessons, he had a tutor in deportment. The tutoring gig had been ongoing, since his proposal. Grandmère had decided the Prince Consort would know how to act, or by God she would know why he didn't.
Michael and Mia privately agreed she was staying alive solely by force of will and determination that her future rulers knew how to comport themselves in fancy company.
The wedding was set to take place in the Genovian palace, with some 200 attendees. Fifty of them would be Genovian members of the press, another twenty would be foreign of the same, seventy would be foreign heads of state, leaving some of Mia's and Michael's actual friends, their close relatives, and many of Mia's more distant relatives and other Genovian important persons, such as the Prime Minister, members of parliament, and a few mayors.
Though Grandmère hadn't been too pleased by Barack Obama's overwhelming landslide election in 2008, since she was as Republican as a non-American could get and would have appointed Bush for a third term if anyone had asked her (thankfully, they hadn't), the President was one of the many guests, and Mia had almost demanded his "adorable daughters" be her flower-girls. Her half-brother, who was nearly six years old by her junior year and would be seven and a half for the wedding, was to be the ring-bearer. Lilly, of course, would be the Maid of Honor, with Tina, some other high school, college, and politically important friends as Bride's Maids. Michael had an old friend who would be his Best Man, but the groomsmen were mostly nobles of Genovia and other countries.
Michael Moscovitz Renaldo was twenty-six years old, five months, and four days when his grandmother-in-law died peacefully in her sleep. He was twenty-six years old, five months, and four and a half days when his first child was born. This would not have been such a personal upheaval if Prince Philippe hadn't died two years before, when his cancer returned…he had lived only a week after walking his daughter down the aisle.
Mia had come to tolerate her Grandmère in her years as Crown Princess. They had explained to the country that Clarisse was essentially the Regent until Mia felt ready to rule. "It is not that I am reluctant to take up my duties to Genovia," Mia had explained in a speech to the people when she was twenty. "Merely that I feel there is much I still have to learn. And I know my Grandmère's example will be the best way for me to do that. After I graduate, I intend to increase my official duties every year…and officially take over by the time I'm twenty-seven."
But the death of Clarisse stepped up the time table. Mia refused to be crowned until her baby was out of the hospital and insisted the infant boy be present with a nurse. He slept soundly in the bassinet as she and Michael were crowned Queen and Prince Consort of Genovia. The next day their son was Crown Prince Philippe David Arthur Renaldo.
As he had been since he married Mia, but with a new depth to the feeling, the next day Michael was the happiest man in the world.