A/N: Songs used in this chapter are 'Walk Away' by Christina Aguilera from her album Stripped, and 'Welcome' by Christina Aguilera from her album Back to Basics Disc 2, 'Viva la Vida' by Coldplay from their album Death and All His Friends, and 'Umbrella' by Rihanna from her album Good Girl Gone Bad.
Well, this is it: the last chapter. Look for part three, Slide Show. Hopefully it will come soon. The "gang" is going on a trip this time. And if you like the Golden Girls, there is going to be a beloved, feisty character joining the gang.
Thank you to everybody that stayed with me for the long pause in between chapter 6 and 7. Sorry if you had to read the other chapters to remind yourself what was happening (I know I did). And double thanks to everybody that reviewed. It really brightens my day and encourages me to keep on writing.
"Oh, there's a crash in turn two! Two cars collided!…"
"I've met the most beautiful woman, Joe. Her name is Helen…"
"No word yet if both drivers were injured in the collision…"
"I'd like you to meet Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis…"
"Paramedics and pit crews are on the scene…"
"Why can't you just be happy for me? I love her…"
"Race officials are unsure of what exactly caused the crash…"
"She'll be sixteen in a few months…"
"One driver was killed in the two car collision…"
"I love you, mama…"
"The driver was Prince Phillipe Renaldi…"
"I love you, too, Phillipe…"
April 19, 2002 -- Clarisse's office
"Stop your pacing, Phillipe," Clarisse demanded of her son, a chuckle in her voice. "It's driving me insane."
"I'm bored," was her son's answer.
"Well then, go do something," she advised, turning her attention back to her work.
"I don't feel like it."
Clarisse laughed. "Then don't complain. Remind yourself that you could be back in America as you had planned getting ready for the race on Sunday. "
"I know but I wanted to visit you before the season gets very hectic. I want to keep my mind focused when qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 begins in May," Phillipe explained to his mother.
"And I appreciate it. I love spending time with you, but you don't have to drive me mad simply because you miss the race track," she informed him. Phillipe nodded his head and let his mother return to her work.
Phillipe sighed as he flopped himself down on the blue sofa. He glanced over at his mother. She was absorbed in her work, as was the usual sight lately. Ever since his father had contracted his illness, she had taken the title regent; she would have responsibility of the crown until Parliament gave the okay that Phillipe was ready to rule. Even though it had been Rupert's wish that she continue to rule as Queen regnant until her own death, Clarisse had turned that down to allow Phillipe his chance to rule the country he loved. Once Phillipe took the throne, she would become the Queen Mother.
She worked too much. He suspected it was to keep her mind off of his father's death. It had been eight months almost. While her clothing was still dark, she had moved out of the black phase. While he knew it was customary that she show Genovia she was still in mourning, albeit the last stages, he wished she would move back to her normal wardrobe as soon as possible. He didn't know how much longer he could handle seeing dark blues, purples, and greens.
Clarisse looked up when she felt her son's eyes on her. "Is something on your mind, Phillipe?"
"I was just thinking that I miss your normal wardrobe," he admitted, smiling over at her. She smiled back at him.
"I know and I am sick of wearing black as well," she agreed. "But you know the minute I attempt to wear something that's not depressing, Elsie Kentworthy has it plastered all over the front page and her dreadful morning program."
Phillipe only nodded. It seemed as though the woman's life mission was to tear apart the royal family limb by limb.
Clarisse glanced up at the sound of a knock at her door.
"Joe, how are you today?" Phillipe greeted, happy to see the man. Joseph had played a large role in his upbringing, often taking on the role of counselor to him and his brother. He was the first person to hear of Helen, although, his parents didn't know that. Joseph always treated Phillipe and Pierre as though they were part of his own family, never hesitating to congratulate them when they did something good or to scold them when they did something foolish. In private, at least. In public, Joseph was always very aware of his position. He was one of a kind and an excellent friend above all else.
"I'm doing just fine today," Joseph answered the young man. "How are you?"
Phillipe shrugged. "Can't complain."
"And yet he is," Clarisse piped in. "Perhaps Joseph can help."
Joseph looked back and forth between the two. "Help with what?"
Clarisse set her work aside. It was becoming obvious she wasn't going to accomplish much by the day's end.
"Find something for Phillipe to do. Apparently he's bored."
Joseph looked over at the lounging man. "How could you possibly be bored? It's a beautiful day filled with numerous chores."
Phillipe shrugged again.
"Well, if you're not busy in half an hour, I have some real work you can help with," Joseph half threatened, a smirk on his face. "I have to go down to the docks to pick up a shipment. You can unload it all."
"Because you're an old man now, right, Joe?" Phillipe teased. "Pushing sixty this year, aren't you?"
"Ha, ha," Joseph laughed dryly. "I can still do everything I used to."
"Of course you can." He tried to hide his smile but he couldn't help it. Especially not when Joe hit him with a small throw pillow.
Clarisse chuckled at the two. She never tired of the sound of her son's laughter. Phillipe and Joseph, as well as Pierre, had always been partners in crime since her boys were little. Joseph had taken a liking to the princes immediately upon his start at the palace thirty-four years ago. Back then, Clarisse had been worried at first because of her past history with the Spaniard. Her worries had quickly dissipated as with the passing of each day, an everlasting bond formed between the males with every second spent together.
"Mom, are you all right?" she heard from her left. She turned to see Phillipe looking at her strangely. "Where did you disappear to?"
"I was just thinking, that's all. What were you saying?"
"I'm going to go with Joe down to the docks. Joe was asking if there was anywhere you needed to go or anything you needed."
He was still looking at her strangely so she patted his cheek and smiled to assure him she was fine.
"No, there's nowhere I need to go right now and absolutely nothing I need," she answered Joseph's question, turning to look at him. "The only item on my agenda is to review this stack of papers."
"All right, then. We'll see you in a couple of hours." He kissed his mother's cheek. "I love you, mama."
She ruffled his unruly dark brown hair, smiling when he protested that. "I love you, too, Phillipe."
'You're riding on a shooting star
With a smile upon your face
But soon the shine fades
And you're left out all alone
Wondering where did they all go?'
'It is a sad day in the Indy Racing League …'
June 12, 2007 -- Palace Halls
"Charlotte, have you see grandma? She's not in her office."
Charlotte looked up from the week's schedule and glanced at her watch. "You should try the garden. She usually takes a walk this time of day," Charlotte offered.
Mia mentally slapped herself. She should have known. One thing she'd learned early on about her grandmother was how much she enjoyed the outdoors. She always took every spare minute that wasn't already promised to someone to enjoy the fresh air of Genovia and the sweet smell of her precious flowers.
After thanking Charlotte, Mia turned on her heel and headed for her grandmother's office. From that balcony most of the garden was visible, making it easier to find the older woman. There, by the small stream, Mia saw a figure by the roses. 'Stopping to smell the flowers,' Mia mused before practically running down the stairs.
She had only once asked about her father's death but immediately took it back before Clarisse could even open her mouth to answer. She thought she had been ready to hear about it then; obviously not. Now, however, she was ready. She needed to know what her father was like. And what happened the day he died.
Clarisse turned when she heard footsteps. She hadn't been expecting Mia, though. "Taking a break from the archives?" she said by way of greeting.
Mia smiled. "Yeah, it's getting kind of intense. I'm up to 2002."
If she saw Clarisse hesitate, she didn't show it. "That far already?"
Mia nodded. "I'm not reading absolutely everything, though. I figured I have time to go back and do that later. I'm just more curious about other things first."
Clarisse nodded but didn't say anything. Clarisse resumed her walk with Mia at her side. Despite the progress they had made in their relationship since their first meeting a few years ago, there were still topics Mia felt awkward talking about to her grandma. History that was obviously painful and personal was one of those topics.
"Grandma, do you remember when I asked you about when my dad died?" Mia started slowly, her words drawn out and deliberate. Clarisse only nodded and hummed softly. "Well, I want to hear about it now. And I don't want to read about it from the papers."
Clarisse came to a halt. Tell her about how her youngest son died? Could she tell Mia how she was ripped in two when Joseph brought her the tragic news that her precious baby boy had been in an accident during a race? Could she tell Mia how she had cried nonstop for two days and refused to speak to anyone? Could she tell Mia how she had forced herself to remain strong as she led her country to her son's burial?
She wasn't ready to do that. She would never be ready to do that.
"Mia, that was a particularly painful time in my life," Clarisse remembered solemnly. Her eyes had fallen to the brick pathway. "I lived it once and frankly I don't think I'll ever be able to speak of it aloud to anyone."
She turned to face her granddaughter but couldn't hide the emotion in her eyes. Mia tried to hide her disappointment but Clarisse could see it.
"I'm sorry, Mia, I know this is important to you.."
"No, grandma," Mia interrupted. "I understand. Maybe one day you'll be able to tell me all about him."
Clarisse took her hand. "Oh, Mia, I can tell you everything you want to know about him. Except for his death."
Mia met her grandma's eyes. She believed her; Clarisse was a woman of her word. Having never lost anyone particularly close to her, certainly not a son, Mia couldn't begin to imagine the pain her grandma had gone through at that stage of her life. First her husband had passed away then her son. Maybe her grandma was the wrong person to answer her questions. Maybe someone else held the answers she was looking for…
"Will you tell me all about him someday, then?" Mia asked shyly.
Clarisse smiled warmly at the young woman. "Of course. Anytime you want." She caught sight of her watch. "Except for now. I'll be late for Parliament if we don't get a move on."
Parliament was not a place Clarisse enjoyed spending time in. It was dull and the men were certainly not capable of scintillating conversation. Today was no different than any other day. Except today Clarisse allowed her mind to roam a little farther than normal…
April 19, 2002 -- Dining room
"So how was your trip with Joseph?" Clarisse asked Phillipe as she cut into her lamb.
"Excellent. The docks were bustling with activity today; I'd never noticed before." He took a sip of his water. "Hmm, I almost made Joe fall off the dock."
She looked up at him, question written all over her face. "What on Earth did you do? Is he all right?"
Phillipe waved it off, a grin on his face. "He's fine. Just a little joke. He got me back later when he made me stumble back into a pile of rope. You should be asking how I am instead," Phillipe realized, his tone teasing but his look showing hurt. Clarisse shook her head, returning to her meal.
"The two of you and your jokes, I'll never understand it."
"It's fun," he smiled at her. "Surely you must be used to it by now. We've been doing it for over twenty years."
"I'm used to it, yes, but I'll never understand why you two boys torture poor Joseph that way."
"As I recall, Joe started it all."
"As I recall, the two of you were always getting into mischief and Joseph was usually the focus of your pranks until he finally got you back. He is the only one that hasn't quit because of you and your brother's constant tricks."
"Well, anyway, now it's become tradition." He paused, his fork dangling in mid air. "You know, I've always wondered why you call him Joseph."
Clarisse raised her brow at him. "Because that's his name."
He chuckled. "No, I mean most everyone calls him Joe but only you call him Joseph. Why is that?"
"I don't know. I've always called him Joseph. It wouldn't feel right to call him anything else."
Phillipe nodded. That did make sense. Somehow the sound of the guard's nickname coming from his mom's mouth just wouldn't sound right.
"So," Clarisse started, taking control of the conversation, "have you heard any news from Helen about Amelia?"
Phillipe smiled, the mention of his daughter always brightening his day. "Yes, I have. She is doing wonderful in school, but she's struggling in her debate class."
"Not a born public speaker like us, is she?"
"No, she's not. But I recall grandma Renaldi telling me stories about your first attempts at public speaking," Phillipe mused.
"Never you mind about that," his mother warned looking up at him, a glint in her eyes. "I'm glad she's doing well in school. No boys are distracting her from her schoolwork, are they?"
"No, but Helen says there is one boy she's had a crush on ever since primary school. But she also says this boy isn't exactly who Amelia should be dating if that were to ever happen."
"The bad boy in school?"
He nodded. "Exactly. But I don't especially want to think about my daughter dating already. Now I know what you went through when Pierre and I came of age."
"No, it was worse with you boys," she revealed to him. "Amelia is shy so you won't have much of a problem once she starts dating. You boys, once you had your sights set on a girl, she became your entire world. Every time Joseph came into my office, I was so afraid there was going to be an angry family behind him because of your attentions on the poor girl."
"We wouldn't have done that to you," Phillipe assured her. "You and dad taught us to be more respectful than that."
"I should certainly hope so. Oh, the two of you were simply average male teenagers. You were no different than my brothers when they were your age."
Phillipe chuckled. He had heard tales of the charming Gerard brothers when they were teenagers. They'd been hell raisers, much like him and his own brother, but now they had settled down with families of their own.
Mother and son were silent for a while, both taking time to enjoy their meals. It wasn't often Phillipe was home in Genovia to enjoy a quiet supper with only his mother. With Pierre away from home studying with the church and his father dead, he was all she had left. Sure, Pierre came home every now and then, more so when their father passed on, but only Phillipe was there on a fairly constant basis. However, his mother had Charlotte and Joseph to keep her company; they were certainly her closest friends.
She was slowly morphing back into the mother he knew before his father died. She was slowly wearing brighter colors in the presence of friends and family. And she smiled more and laughed more, not as frequent as in the past but enough to tell Phillipe that she was ready to move on with her life.
His father's death had made a large impact on him as well. He realized just how short life could actually be. No one had expected his father to die, not as soon as he did. He had always been an active person. He had tried to keep his stress to a minimum. And when he had fallen ill, everyone expected him to bounce right back in a week or so. No one thought he'd land in the hospital. No one thought he'd take a turn for the worse… Phillipe had realized how he couldn't take anything for granted. And he certainly didn't want to miss anymore of his daughter's life.
"She'll be sixteen in a few months," Phillipe spoke softly, coming out of his thoughts. He looked up to meet his mother's eyes. "I do hope you'll meet again some day."
"Some day we will, Phillipe," she assured. "Her eighteenth birthday isn't that far off."
"I suppose, but I don't know if I can wait that long. I've already missed the first fifteen years of her life. Will she even want to meet me once she turns eighteen? Will she be impressed that her father drives race cars for a hobby?"
"Of course she will," Clarisse assured her forlorn son. "I'll bet she's been wondering about you all these years, wanting to meet you."
He looked up, "You think so?"
"I know so," she smiled at him. "But you must remember, Phillipe, that it'll take time for trust to develop and for a father/daughter bond to form."
"I know but frankly that doesn't concern me right now," he admitted. "I just want to know my daughter."
Clarisse nodded her understanding. She couldn't share sympathies. To be frank, she hadn't made a mistake like he had. She wasn't mad at him for his mistake; not anymore, but he certainly hadn't been aware of the sacrifices that had to be made as a result of said mistake. Although, she did understood what could happen when love took over one's life unexpectedly.
"So are you joining Joseph and I for our weekly movie and game night?" Clarisse questioned, changing the subject to a happier one.
Phillipe smiled. The weekly movie and combined game night was a fairly new addition to his mother's hectic schedule. Charlotte and Joseph had thought it up as a way for his mother to "unwind," as they had put it, after a busy week. Mostly, it was Joseph that joined her to watch whatever movie she had picked out and play whatever game he picked out. Occasionally he joined her when the movie was one he wanted to see, as did Charlotte, though she joined more frequently than he.
"No, I think I'll turn in early tonight. My flight is early in the morning," he expressed with a dreamy look on his face. "I'm anxious to return to racing."
June 12, 2007 -- Security office
"Hello, Miss Mia, what can I do for you today?" Joseph greeted the teenager when she entered his office. His attention was focused solely on the computer in front of him, making final adjustments to the detailed security plan for the queen's upcoming trip.
"Hey, Joe. Are you busy right now?"
"For you, Miss Mia, I have all the time in the world."
Mia smirked. "Joe, you're such a liar."
He only chuckled. "What's on your mind today?"
"Joe," she paused to gauge her courage, "what happened the day my dad died?"
Joseph paused in the middle of typing a sentence and looked up at her. He knew she had asked Clarisse this question before but had backed out of it before Clarisse could answer her. Of course, he knew that Clarisse wouldn't have answered; he knew how painful it still was for her. She still had trouble on the anniversary of his death every year.
"She wouldn't answer you, would she?" he took a guess. He wanted to make sure she was ready to hear it all.
Mia slowly shook her head. "No, but then I realized that you probably know all of the details as well and I was hoping that you wouldn't mind telling me about it." She finished her sentence softly, suddenly shy as she began to fear he wouldn't answer her inquires.
Joseph exhaled slowly, her request weighing heavily on him. She had a right to know; he was her father after all. While Joseph did know all of the details, he didn't want her to have to hear it. He also didn't want her to go looking for the television footage of the event.
"Please, Joe?" he heard Mia say, an urgency in her voice. She was afraid he was going to say no. He wanted to, but if it would bring her closure…
"Where's your grandmother?" he asked, wanting to assure that the older woman wouldn't accidentally overhear the details of that horrid night.
"In Parliament and then Charlotte told me she has a meeting with the Prime Minister."
He nodded and motioned to a chair that was nearby. "Shut the door and get comfortable then. It was a long week."
Mia did as she was told and sat in the straight-backed chair he had motioned to. He made the final adjustments to his program and saved it.
"Where do you want me to start?" He sounded so clinical as he gathered his freshly printed pages and turned off the computer.
"Um, I guess before you found out he died," Mia timidly replied. She'd never thought about that before. "How was he killed? Why did he decide to take up racing as a hobby?"
"He was at supper with your grandmother two days before the accident. He had decided not to join her in watching the weekly movie," Joseph remembered with ease. He leaned back in his chair as his mind transferred him to a different time. "He had decided to turn into to bed early that evening instead. He had an early flight the next morning to return to America to resuming practicing for the next race. Your grandmother and I had been playing a game that night when I received the news. I never expected for John, the guard on watch at the time and a good friend of the prince's, to come to me with such horrible news…"
April 21, 2002 -- Royal Family Great Room -- 22.50
"Are you worried about Phillipe?" Joseph noticed as he set up the game he had chosen for that night.
Clarisse rearranged the chairs to her liking and said, "Of course. You know how nervous I get when he's in a race. It's so nerve wrecking."
"Yes, it is, but it's what he wants to do," Joseph told her, moving around the arrangement of chairs. "But you just have to remember that he's not going to do anything to harm himself."
"I know, and I want him to do what makes him happy. It was Rupert that always hated his racing."
She settled into her chair as he opened up the game board.
"Where's Charlotte this evening? She usually joins us," Clarisse said about her absent aide. While Charlotte didn't join them every time, she usually enjoyed playing games with her superiors. In Clarisse's view, it brought them all closer together.
"Last I saw her, she was in your office finishing mail correspondence," Joseph relayed.
Clarisse shook her head. "I told her she didn't have to do that. She could use a break every now and then."
"She enjoys her work and she's good at it. Besides, how long has it been since we played a game together? Just the two of us?"
Clarisse looked up in thought. "About two days."
He smirked at her while she laughed gently. "Ha, ha. You're a riot." He sat in the chair next to her and they settled in as he placed the first word down.
Joseph had just laid down his word when Clarisse said, "That is not a word."
He looked up. "Yes, it is," he argued. It was a common occurrence when they played Scrabble, accusing the other of making up words. That was why they often had someone else to watch over the game or often referred to the dictionary they usually kept on hand. This was not one of those times.
"No, it's not," she laughed. "Use it in a sentence."
"All right. Um, I …can't," he admitted. He held up a finger. "I still say it's a word, though."
"It is not, you cheater," she laughed at him as she arranged her tiles.
"Like you know all the words there are?"
"Well, no, but I know a made up word when I see one," she teased with a smile on her face.
"Let's see what you come up with, your Majesty," Joseph said. She knew he was just teasing her by the tone of his voice.
She looked down at her tiles again. "All right, give me a minute."
As she arranged and rearranged her tiles, Joseph saw John standing in the doorframe. John motioned for his boss to exit the room so they could speak privately. Joseph took notice of the expression on the young man's face. It occurred to him in the back of his mind that he had seen that look somewhere before.
He turned towards Clarisse as he started to rise. "Excuse me for a moment."
She turned her head and saw John standing there. The latter smiled and nodded at the queen and the former returned the gesture.
"All right. Send Charlotte back if you find her. At least she plays fair," the queen teased.
Joseph only smiled. "I will, but I'll tell her to cheat just because I know it annoys you."
Joseph stood dead still outside her door. He couldn't bring himself to raise his fist and knock. The guards probably wondered why he was there. The only people to come to her door past ten were her lady's maids, her sons, or Charlotte. Gossip would undoubtedly be started tomorrow.
At least until everyone heard the news.
Right now, the one person who would be greatly affected by the news needed to be told first.
If only he could raise his fist to knock.
"Joe," a voice startled him from behind, "she needs to be told."
"In a moment, Charlotte. I need to gather my nerve first."
"Do you want me to go in with you?"
"No, I need to tell her myself. Are you sure she's still awake?"
"Yes, we ended our game less than fifteen minutes ago," Charlotte assured him. He heard her hesitate before asking her next question. "Are you sure it was him?"
Joseph turned his head to the floor. Was he sure? Was he sure that a man would no longer get to enjoy life in its fullest? Was he sure that a man would never get to fulfill his dream of winning the biggest auto-racing event in history? Was he sure that a man who was like a son to him would no longer be coming home to tease his mother? Was he sure that a man would no longer have the opportunity to meet his daughter? He was sure. He was regrettably sure.
"Yes, I'm sure." He raised his fist and Charlotte chose then to walk away. He was right; she needed to hear it from him, someone she trusted above all others.
Slowly, as if in a dream, Joseph heard the sound of his knock echo in his head. It sounded like a bass drum pounding away in time with the rhythm of his pounding heart. Time seemed to slow to a halt as he waited for her to answer his call. His fists curled in as he waited, as though if he clenched them hard enough he would wake from the dream he was in. 'Please let this all be a dream,' he thought to himself as he clenched his eyes shut. 'Let this all just be some horrible dream.'
His eyes snapped opened when he heard the latch release from the door frame. A quizzical face stared back at him as Clarisse took in who her visitor was.
"I need to speak with you about something. It's rather urgent," he spoke quietly.
She continued to stare at him quizzically but let him enter. She shut the door softly and turned to look at him again. "What's wrong?" she wondered.
He rubbed his palms together, suddenly nervous. He swallowed a few times to moisten his now dry mouth. He looked around the room, everywhere but at her.
"Why don't you have a seat?" He gestured a loveseat next to him. He managed to look up at her and for a moment he was afraid she was going to fight with him. She was dressed for bed; she had on her blue robe and matching slippers.
After a staring match, she slowly walked over to where he gestured. "Joseph, what's wrong?" she asked while she sat. He took a seat next to her and rubbed his palms against his black pants. He was sweating, he noticed. He wondered if she noticed it to.
He wasn't looking at her again, she noticed. Finally she reached over and took his hands.
"Joseph, are you all right?" she asked. She pressed a hand to the back of his forehead. No fever, so why was he acting so strange?
He removed her hand from his head and clasped it tightly in his. His eyes remained on their clasped hands as he spoke softly, "There's been an accident, Clarisse."
"Pierre? Phillipe?" she immediately questioned.
He nodded. "Phillipe. His race car was in a collision with another car a few hours ago."
She started to rise but he pulled her back down. Her anxious eyes met his as she argued, "Joseph, I have to go to him."
He only shook his head. "He didn't make it, Clarisse."
Her face turned to one of horror as her jaw dropped open. "No, you're lying." He only shook his head again. Tears began to fill her eyes. "Joseph, please tell me you're lying," she whispered.
He looked up to met her eyes and she noticed his were filled with tears as well. "I'm so sorry, Clarisse," he whispered, his voice unable to speak any louder. She tried to wretch her hands free but he wouldn't let her lose contact. He was afraid of what she might do.
His heart broke as she began to cry. He was vaguely aware of the moisture on his own cheeks.
"Joseph, you have to be lying. This has to be a dream. My baby's fine. Please tell me he's fine. He's just finished his race, hasn't he? He's fine; he placed well," Clarisse babbled on as she continued to try and free her hands.
"He didn't, Clarisse. And this is not a dream, though I desperately wish it was a dream. His pit crew and security team confirmed it with me over the phone a short while ago," he told her softly. The last thing she needed was him yelling at her to try and get through.
When she was unable to free her hands, she rested her head against his chest. He felt her tears soak his shirt but he didn't care. She needed the release. Maybe one day he would tell her that after hearing the news himself, he had rushed back to his room and gotten sick.
'It seems I'll never wake up from this nightmare
I let out a silent prayer
Let it be over, over, over
Inside I'm screaming
April 24, 2002 -- West Room -- 07.19
Clarisse ran her right hand over the mahogany casket. She felt her heart constrict as her breath caught in her throat. Her other hand came up to her mouth to try and stifle her sobs waiting to escape.
She was unaware of those behind her: Joseph, Charlotte, Pierre, her brothers, Sebastian, and members of the Royal Guard. She was solely focused on trying to get through that day.
Her baby was gone and she never got the chance to tell him goodbye. There were still things she wanted to tell him. Did he know how proud she was of him? Did he know how wonderful a person he was?
Richard, her older brother, came up behind her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Clarisse's hand slid off the casket and fisted at her side. Her left hand reached shakily for Richard as she allowed him to guide her from the room.
Eight Royal Guards stepped up to take their places beside the casket. On a count of three, they all lifted it off of its catafalque. They waited for the queen and her family to exit the room before slowly carrying it out of the palace and hoisting it onto the horse-drawn caisson.
With Pierre at her side, holding her upright though no one could tell, mother and son began the march to the cathedral where Phillipe would lie until he was to be buried.
Unlike at Rupert's funeral, the heavens had decided to shine down on them that day with nay a cloud in sight. The sun beat down on the citizens of Genovia as they all lined up to catch a glimpse of the procession. Most were fanning themselves but Clarisse was too numb to notice that she was even moving forward.
Thousands lined up in the heat to get their chance to pay their respects to the prince. They were informed that morning that the doors to the cathedral would close at 20.00. It was now 21.40. Security still couldn't see the end to the line. They had seen numerous people come up to the casket crying, several with roses to place at the base of the bier.
Mourning had come to cover the citizens of Genovia once again.
Clarisse stared blankly ahead as Charlotte sat down near her. She was vaguely aware that Charlotte was trading places with Pierre who had traded places with Richard who had traded places with her younger brother Max. Why they were watching her, she had no idea. She did know that her guests felt awkward in her presence, if the desperate silence in the air was any indication. No matter; she had been silent since returning from the cathedral almost twelve hours ago.
Her life felt empty. She had lost her husband and her youngest son in less than a year. Pierre was all she had left from the family she had created. It saddened her as she remembered how infrequently he was able to come home for visits. Her own brothers lived in the States and had lives of their own. She only saw them on Easter and Christmas. She had very few close confidants. The closest people to her that she saw on a daily basis were Joseph and Charlotte. 'I suppose it's only a matter of time before they leave me as well,' Clarisse thought to herself.
"Your Majesty?" she heard Charlotte's timid voice from her left. "Is there anything I can get you? Would you like some tea?"
For the first time in hours, Clarisse turned her head downwards. She didn't answer Charlotte. Instead, she asked her a question. "Was there something I did in my life that was so horrible to have my husband and son taken from me?"
Charlotte felt her heart beat to a stop for a split second. Never had she heard the queen ask her such a profound question. She usually saved that for Joseph.
Her voice was scratchy from hours of silence but she continued, "I tried to do everything I was told to do to ensure a better life for myself, for my country. Was there a wrong turn I made somewhere in my youth? Did I not love my husband enough? Was I not a good enough queen or mother? Was I not a good enough wife? Should I not have sat passively by as Rupert discovered the loophole in the laws that forced Phillipe to divorce? Is my loss punishment for the indiscretion I took too far?"
Charlotte said nothing. Indiscretion? She wondered if Clarisse knew what she had just revealed to her. If Charlotte was a different type of person, the knowledge of such a thing could destroy the queen. It was a good thing she thought of Clarisse as a second mother to her. In her eyes, she could do no wrong. Half of her brain was telling her to find a way to get Clarisse to stop talking. The other half wanted to know more about the Clarisse no one knew.
"Did I do the wrong thing? Make the wrong decision? Would things have turned out differently if I had followed my heart instead of my duty?"
Charlotte choose then to intervene. "If you had done things differently, it's more than likely that Prince Phillipe would never have existed in the first place. It would save you the heartache you are currently experiencing but you wouldn't have years of wonderful memories with your son," Charlotte said softly, choosing her words wisely.
Clarisse turned her gaze to the window next to her. It was pitch black out but that didn't matter. Rain was on the forecast for the following day. Somehow it seemed fitting.
"You didn't do anything wrong, your Majesty," Charlotte continued, hoping to reassure the other woman. "You are a terrific mother. My mother told me once that sometimes our loved ones are taken away from us so we can realize just how important others are to us."
Clarisse sniffled. "Well, it's a horrible way to realize it."
Charlotte nodded though Clarisse didn't see it. She was focused on staring out the window again. 'Oh, well. At least she finally spoke,' Charlotte mused. She heard the latch on the door give and someone walk in. It was too early for the next person to take their place on guard. Joseph and Richard had suggested the constant watch over Clarisse, saying it would be wise to keep an eye on her state of mind. One woman could only handle so much devastation.
She turned her head and saw Joseph enter the room. He was wearing his morning dress; it was almost time for his rotation to stand vigil over the deceased prince. She stood as he stepped further into the room. He stopped her when she was next to him and whispered, "Wait just outside."
She nodded and made a swift exit. If anyone could bring the queen out of her funk, albeit for a short while, it would be Joseph. He had been busy with preparations for the next day and hardly had had a moment to spare. He had been greatly concerned with Clarisse's state of mind. She hardly spoke to anyone. She'd hardly slept since finding out the news. She wasn't eating, not until Pierre and he had seen to it that she finish at least half of her breakfast that morning. He wasn't worried that she would kill herself, but she wasn't exactly taking care of herself.
He sat down slowly on the ottoman in front of her. Her eyes were still focused on the darkness outside but she was aware of his presence. She held out her hand and he readily accepted it. Her fingers melded with his tightly when his other hand came up to cover hers.
"Your hand is freezing, Clarisse," he admonished. "How long have you been sitting here?"
Despite the extremely late hour, she was still dressed in her attire from earlier in the day. Only her shoes had been removed.
Naturally she didn't answer, though he didn't exactly expect her to. Instead he rubbed his hands back and forth over hers to try and warm her. He took in her appearance. Her eyes were dark and reddened from her tears. Her body was limp in her seat. He could have sworn she had lost some weight.
"Clarisse, you need to sleep," he murmured to her. "Would you like me to fetch the doctor for you? I'm sure he has something that will help you sleep."
She remained motionless.
"You have to sleep and it's obvious that you aren't going to do so without the aide of a pharmaceutical."
Slowly, she brought her eyes to his. Her grip on his hand tightened as she said, "Will you take me to the cathedral? I want to see him one last time tonight."
"Of course I'll take you. I was just headed over there to stand vigil."
"I'd forgotten about that. Are my brothers going as well?"
"Yes, and Pierre. Charlotte will be here to stay with you until we get back. Or Pierre or I could stay with you if you want. Just say the word, Clarisse."
Slowly she stood from the oversized chair. She was a bit shaky on her legs so Joseph stood quickly to help support her.
"I just want to go to the cathedral," she repeated as if she hadn't already asked him. He helped her find her shoes and put them on. He quickly fetched her a light jacket and helped her put that on before offering her his arm. She accepted it but didn't move from her spot.
"One step at a time, Clarisse," she heard Joseph tell her. He had told her that once before, when Rupert died.
The people had their eyes focused on their queen as she walked in slowly on the arms of her Head of Security and her son. Her brothers were behind them with a lagging Charlotte. Like the Red Sea, the people parted to make way for their sovereign. They could all see the toll her son's sudden death had taken on her. Her coloring was white, more so than normal, and it was obvious that she was being held up by her son and Joseph, unable to grasp the concept of one foot in front of the other.
Joseph turned his head halfway down the aisle and cocked his head to motion for Charlotte to walk beside him. She would be the only one available to keep a close eye on Clarisse while he was standing vigil along with Pierre, Richard, and Max. Other security members were in the cathedral but most had never even spoken to the queen. It was only a twenty minute vigil but he doubted she would leave the cathedral in that amount of time. Earlier she had sat in a pew for over an hour, Pierre next to her to hold her hand and give her strength.
He leaned his head close to Charlotte so she was the only one to hear. "We'll only be twenty minutes. I want you to stay with her. The people are exiting to the left so we'll let her rest in a pew on the right side. Has she spoken to you today?"
Charlotte nodded. "Briefly. I don't know that she was aware she was speaking to me, though." He gave her an odd look. "Some of the things she said…I don't think she would have said them if she knew it was me she was speaking to. I'll tell you about it later."
"No, just keep it to yourself. If she wasn't aware of who she was speaking to, then she probably wasn't aware of what she was saying at the time."
"No, I'm fairly sure she was aware of what she was revealing but I won't betray her confidence," Charlotte assured him. Joseph nodded; he knew she wouldn't. In front of them, the four guards standing at attention around Phillipe's casket were waiting for the signal to begin the changing of the guard. Pierre caught the attention of the Captain of the Royal Company of Archers and nodded his go ahead.
Joseph and Pierre escorted Clarisse up to the casket while Richard and Max took their posts. Charlotte hung back out of their way.
Clarisse ran her hand over the mahogany casket once again as she had earlier in the day. The flag of Genovia adorned it. She ran her hand over the fabric, savoring the silky feel of it. Her baby would never get to experience being king of his beloved country. He would never get to make the changes he was so adamant about. He would never get to see his darling daughter again. Amelia would never get to know what a wonderful man her father was.
When she turned her gaze to the floor, that was Pierre's cue to get his mother away from there. It would do her no good to relive every moment and remember every regret. "Come on, mom. Let's go over here for a while."
He and Joseph guided her over to a pew on the right hand side of the altar. Pierre sat down beside her. "Would you like to go home, mom? I know you haven't slept in a while; you need your rest."
"No, I want to stay here," she spoke to her son for the first time in days. "I'll stay until you're done."
"Are you sure?" Pierre looked over at Joseph. The older man shook his head. They both had her best intentions at heart but she would be too stubborn to listen. Besides, who were they to deny her final moments with her baby boy?
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Charlotte will be here with you," Joseph stepped in. "She has orders to take you home the minute you look as though you can't handle anymore."
Clarisse squeezed his hand. "Thank you, Joseph, but I'll be fine."
He nodded and slowly he and Pierre left her side and took their places by the bier that held Phillipe. Pierre stood guard over his brother's casket in what the press had renamed the Vigil of the Prince. It was as it had been while the king was lying in state, his two sons standing guard over him. Only this time there was only one prince to stand vigil over the casket of his kin.
Charlotte took her seat next to Clarisse and took note of the time. 22.00. She hadn't slept in twenty hours. The queen hadn't slept in two days.
Pierre kissed his mother good night before watching Joseph escort her down the hallway to her suite. Her composure had been tested at the cathedral tonight, just as it would be tomorrow. She was trying to be so strong when she was hurting so badly. He admired her for keeping her chin held high, but he wondered when she was going to learn that she didn't always need to be the queen that let nothing faze her. Her country could see she was hurting but she was trying hard not to let it show.
Joseph closed the door to Clarisse's suite behind them and helped her remove her jacket. She was still in a daze but she was communicating more. He watched her move about her room, ultimately picking up a framed family photo. She had been looking at it for the last two days, running her fingers over the images of her broken family. Joseph kept his distance as she reminisced happier times in her life. The photo she was looking at was from when Phillipe had been brought home from the hospital. The smiling mother was holding her newborn son safely in her arms, Pierre next to his mother in the arms of his delighted father. Clarisse's assistant at the time had insisted on taking the photo, saying it would bring them years of happiness as they looked back on their lives. It had brought her years of happiness, but now he was afraid it would only bring her sadness.
"How could this happen, Joseph?" she whispered. "He was just here with me a few days ago."
Slowly he approached her from behind and placed a hand on her shoulder. "We all knew there were risks involved when he began racing," he reminded her. "I don't think any of us ever imagined anything bad would happen to him."
She set the photograph down and wrapped her arms around herself. She always felt cold lately.
"Am I being punished for something? Does God find it funny to take away first my husband and then my son?" Clarisse continued to ramble on.
"You are not being punished for anything," Joseph assured her. But beyond that he couldn't find any words that would ease her mind. Her shoulder began to shake under his hand and he knew she was trying to be strong by not showing her tears in front of him. Considering when they were teenagers they had gone for a swim in the lake and been naked at the time, tears were hardly something for him to shy away from.
He turned her and pulled her into his arms. It took no coaxing from her; she fit perfectly in his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder as her arms wrapped securely around his middle. Her body shook from the tears that wet his jacket. He didn't care. He only wished there was some way he could take away her pain.
"I believe that God doesn't take away out loved ones from us to be funny but so other wonderful things can happen," he whispered in her ear. "So we can realize that some good can come from something bad."
"What good can come from the death of my baby boy?" she murmured against his shoulder.
"Better safety precautions so the same accident won't happen or be as severe next time; that way another fear wrought mother won't have to live through the pain you're feeling," he suggested.
He was right, she realized. But why did that have to come at such a price? Her shoulders shuddered as she inhaled a shaky breath.
"Do you think you can sleep now? The doctor gave me some ingredients for an herbal tea and he also gave me some sleeping pills if you wish to take that," Joseph recited to Clarisse, even though he knew she would never take the pills unless absolutely forced. He rubbed her back soothingly, holding her tightly.
"I can't sleep because when I wake up, all of this won't just be a horrible nightmare," Clarisse whispered against his shoulder, her voice constricting through her tears. He rested his head against hers and swayed their bodies back and forth.
"It'll be just fine, Clarisse. We'll get through this one day at a time. But you have to remember that Pierre needs you, as does your country."
"I want him back, Joseph. I just want him back."
'One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand'
June 12, 2007 -- Security Office
"There were representatives from over eighty countries present at the funeral," Joseph remembered, coming back to the present. "A Requiem Mass was held and there was a private burial for family only. Of course being security, I was there. I remember the people were lined up for miles along the route to Crown Hill. He had a twenty-one gun salute just as his father did."
"Did the people really like him?" Mia interrupted. "I mean, since he was only the prince."
"Oh, yes. People loved him. He was often out and about mingling with the people. He loved to go to local sporting events and meet new people. While the brunt of the work fell on your grandmother's shoulders and she was too busy for much else, he would make sure the people always had an ear that would listen."
"Wow, he sounds like he was a pretty cool guy," Mia commented, her eyes tearing up at the reminder that she would never get to know her dad.
Joseph looked at her for a moment. He knew what it was like to grow up without a father, to wonder what he was like but never really knowing. Was he a good man or a bad one? Did he not want to know his child? It hurt deeply; there was no one there to teach certain things or to share adventures with. He was glad, though, that he was able to give Mia the chance of at least telling her what a wonderful man her father was.
"What happened to the other guy?"
"He wanted to leave the league but your grandmother convinced him not to."
"What?" Mia didn't believe she had heard right. She didn't blame the other driver but she didn't think she could keep on driving if she had killed someone.
"Well, she told him not to but he removed himself from the series anyway. Your grandmother didn't want him to give up something he loved. But the man blamed himself despite remembering that he and the prince knew the risks involved."
"But grandma didn't even like racing," Mia pointed out the obvious.
Joseph chuckled. "No, she didn't. But she supported your father, and his friends he made in the series, because it was something he loved to do. She now actually sponsors one of your father's friends, Tony Kanaan. At the time, he had just started out. Now he's a top contender in the series."
"Grandma actually sponsors someone? I keep learning more and more about her every day," she muttered to herself. The side bit of information had lightened the mood tremendously but Joseph had one final thing to say.
He cleared his throat before saying, "He loved racing, Mia, and he loved being prince but he loved you too. His last day in Genovia, he told your grandmother that he was ready to meet you, that he couldn't wait until you turned eighteen. You were always on his mind. He would be incredibly proud of you. I know he would."
Mia sniffled. "Thanks, Joe."
August 4, 2002 -- Crown Hill Cemetery
Clarisse murmured a thanks as Joseph opened the car door for her. She accepted his outstretched hand and slowly exited the vehicle. She cast her eyes upwards. The sky was gray, clouds heavy with rain hanging over them. The weather forecast had falsely been predicting rain all week. Looked as though for once they were right. It seemed fitting for the way her heart was feeling.
"I won't be long," she told the man beside her.
He gave her hand a light squeeze. "Take as long as you need."
She nodded, still trying to gather her nerve to encourage her legs to move forward. Her baby should have been thirty-eight today. He should have been king of his country someday. He should have been reintroduced to his daughter.
Instead she was visiting his grave.
With a slow inhale of air, slowly Clarisse Renaldi stepped forward. The ground was dry and hard, difficult terrain when one was wearing high heels. But she paid no attention to it. She had her eyes focused on the marker for her son's grave. Unlike Rupert's, Phillipe's marker was in ground instead of above it. Phillipe was a simple man so Clarisse had chosen a simple marker for his grave.
She knelt in front of the stone and ran her hand over the broken sword in the middle of it.
"Hello, Phillipe," she spoke softly. "I miss you terribly, but I'm managing. I've meet Amelia again. She's lovely, Phillipe. She reminds me so much of you and somewhat of myself. She has your features and she's clumsy like I used to be but she has the will and determination of a princess. I believe that once she gains her father's confidence, she will excel in life. She's accepted her role as heir to the throne. She needs some guidance but I believe she'll do a splendid job when her time comes."
A rumble of thunder made its presence known a few miles away but Clarisse paid no mind to it.
"I hope you were happy, Phillipe. They told me you had been leading quite a few laps when it happened, that it was possible you could have won the race," Clarisse recalled with pride. She had hated the sport but she would always support her sons wherever their ventures took them. "I was always proud of you. I hope you knew that."
She felt a drop of water fall on her head, followed by another and another onto the surface of the tombstone. She wiped them off only to have them be replaced with more. She looked over at Rupert's grave, a sad smile coming over her face.
"Take care of each other," she whispered. With one final touch over Phillipe's name, slowly she stood but she didn't move. Not even when the rain began to pour down in a steady stream from the clouds.
She didn't bother to turn her head when she heard Joseph walk up next to her. It didn't bother her that she was getting wet. It had been years since she simply stood in the rain. Being queen didn't allow her such simple pleasures.
When the rain above her head stopped, she looked up to find an umbrella protecting her. She looked over at Joseph to find him looking straight ahead.
"Would you like to go back?" he questioned. The rain sounded loud above their heads as it pounded on the umbrella. More thunder rumbled but it was closer this time.
Clarisse shook her head and looked down at the graves again. She wasn't quite ready to return home yet. She wasn't ready to let go of her past. But somehow she knew her future wouldn't be as horrible as she had originally thought. After all, she had her granddaughter to spoil.
And just as she had for the last forty years, she had Joseph to remain by her side.
"Stand with me a while, Joseph."
"Always, Clarisse. Always."
'When the sun shines, we'll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath, Imma stick it out till the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella'
I took a chance making him a race car driver. I was inspired while at the Indy 500 just a few weeks ago. Living in Indy, I couldn't help but become a fan. And if it's not obvious Tony Kanaan is my favorite driver.