Smile Like You Mean It
Save some face, you know you've only got one
Change your ways while you're young
Boy, one day you'll be a man
Oh girl, he'll help you understand
Smile like you mean it
"Smile Like You Mean It" – The Killers
Early Spring 2010, Kingdom of Volterra
Victoria Langely was confused.
In all her years as a journalist, prying newscaster, and all around gossip, she had never encountered something so divinely scandalous as this. Sure, there were the almost laughable baby mama clichés, the cheating husband and murdering wife, even the routine, albeit pathetic embezzlement and fraud from prominent political figures that she encountered daily.
What confounded her though, was the woman sitting across from her, primly seated in a wingback armchair, ankles crossed, hands fiddling from anxiousness.
She looked so innocent.
Victoria was used to not being surprised. She always knew how to twist a story, make it sell, make it look dreadful. Bad. Dirty. Glamorous, even. There was always a plan forming the back of her mind. She knew what was scandalous in the eyes of the simple public. She knew what made them boil in outrage and hiss in delight. She knew where the proverbial tomatoes were thrown, and where praise was given. She knew what news sold, and what didn't. Nobody in this bloodsucking town was interested in underdogs and burning buildings. No. They wanted words unspoken, deeds not done. They lived for proverbial bloodshed. The dark, twisted underbelly of horrifying truth was what kept them always conscious of their television sets and newspaper subscriptions.
Rows of pristine tile could stretch for miles, and all they saw was the gritty clay that held it together. Victoria wrapped up the grit with a big red bow and sold it to the public for a few Euros.
Victoria could not wrap this sorry excuse for a Queen in a big red bow, unfortunately.
"So, let me get this straight. You knew, then, about your husband's affair?"
This was like pulling teeth. Clipped, one word answers were all she had been given, and just now, finally, she was getting to the good stuff. The Queen was set to end the interview in less than thirty, and so far, Victoria had not gotten the answers she wanted.
Fearing she came off as uncouth and brash, she tried a different approach. She could play the part of humility, couldn't she?
"Please, Ms. Langely, call me Bella."
"With all due respect, ma'am, it is forbidden-"
"I am Queen, am I not, loathsome title as it is?"
Victoria ducked her head in respect. "Yes."
"You pay your tributes to me, and you bow to me when society dictates. Moreover, you have sworn me your loyalty, have you not?"
Victoria decided it was useless to argue with this pauper-turned-princess.
"Then, Ms. Langely, I command you to address me as Bella."
"Yes, M- Bella."
The Queen looked relieved. "Now, what were you asking?"
Victoria sharpened her claws. "With all due respect, what kind of a woman…" she swallowed hard, her head could very well get cut off for this. "What woman, tells her husband to have an affair, with one of the most loathsome creatures ever to walk this earth? He has stained your reputation, gallivanting about with a, a whore."
Victoria did not dare breathe. But the lady in question behaved as if she had merely made a callous remark about the weather, not brought up a topic so wicked that it was not spoken of in the most liberating social circles. And, she actually smiled.
"You do not waste time with idle chatter, do you?"
"Ma'am, I apologize, forgive me."
The Queen laughed. Her voice was like a chorus of tinkling bells. Bells, like her name, Bella. Beautiful. How fitting.
"You amuse me, Miss Langely. Did you know, I was one of those- what did you call them? Oh, whores, once."
Victoria gaped. The Queen laughed again- Victoria's open mouth made her resemble a codfish.
Victoria was glad she had taken the time to watch the sun rise this morning. It was going to be her last- on this earth. She was not going to come out of this interview alive.
"Yes, yes I was. Don't be so surprised, Ms. Langely. You are with my husband often. How else do you think Edward took up with someone so common? He only ventures out to the… low places. Establishments not befitting his title, you see. But what were you asking me? Yes, about Tanya."
You're in charge, Victoria tells herself, You ask the questions, you direct the flow of conversation.
And you find out all the juicy details before your hour and twenty is up.
"I have been painted as a callous wench by my own subjects. I have been told I am cruel, heartless, and brazen. I have been told that I am an unfit mother to my son, and have failed our King as a wife. There is a saying, Ms. Langely, that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Such is not the case, as I've often found; but that does not matter. I wanted him to love someone else, Ms. Langely. I needed someone else to share his bed…
I just wanted him to leave me alone."
And then the Queen burst into tears, astonished at her own admission.
Victoria's pen, which had been poised to take copious notes, fell to the floor in an unholy clatter.
-Two years earlier-
March 2008, Kingdom of Volterra
"Ach, Swannie, you'll be the death of me," the portly, red faced landlady fumed, "I told ye, you'll earn your keep one way or another, be it in a respec'able location, or somethin' less pleasin' to the female race. We do what we can, missy, and ye'll do what ye can, with that pretty face, or ye'll be out on yer arse. Hear me girl?"
"I hear you," the girl stated primly, her head thrown back in defiance, wild glossy chocolate colored curls cascading down her back. "But I'll have you know, that I went to Harvard, and I will not be subjected to becoming a prostitute."
The coarse woman interrupted her with a cackle. "'Arvard don't mean nothin' here, lass. And it certin'ly don't mean nothin' to me. Now, Ange's laid out a dress on yer bed. Make yourself pretty, love. The King likes brunettes, 'specially the new ones. Ya look like a lady, mebbe the King'll take a shine to ye. Ye'd be right fortunate to have that, yes ye would."
Fortunate to have a filthy man's hands all over her body? Bella didn't think so.
She stomped up the rickety stairs, clinging to the worn railing when the wood buckled under her slight weight. She breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the top, thankful that the stairs hadn't collapsed today. Lady Cope could not be bothered with fixing old, rotting, creaking staircases.
"Do I look like a woodworker to ya?" She had sneered, when Bella had approached her about fixing them.
She quietly made her way through the narrow hallway, trying to squeeze past a gossipy twosome or loud foursome. She managed not to trip over the various items that were lying about- a shoe here, scraps of lace there…was that a sandwich?
The girls hardly ever cleaned up after themselves. What was the point? Anything thrown in the hallway was fair game. Expensive lingerie and Christian Louboutins were safely kept under lock and key in the dormitories by their respective owners. The girls were supposed to provide their own outfits, décor, and makeup.
Bella, having no money to purchase anything, let alone fancy undergarments, made do with the hallway castoffs, and the other girls' generosity. It was one of Lauren's knockoff Dior gowns she was borrowing tonight.
She wasn't going to stay this way forever.
The dress on the bed was shameful. Red satin, backless, neckline plunging down to her stomach. The dress was ruched on one side, all the way up to her mid-thigh, with the rest of the sordid material trailing behind her. The shoes would be the death of her, same shimmery red, with four inch heels. A clumsy woman as herself was doomed to end up on her face before the night was over.
Her breasts, which were not something to write home about, were given new life and light, in this…thing. Bella loosely pinned up her curls, but still let them flow down her back in rich waves. Her makeup was overdone, she knew, but Angela would kill her if she wiped even some of it off. When Bella dared to look in the mirror, she didn't even recognize her own face. Someone wanting a specific something, stared back at her, brown eyes dull with the wearisome trials of life. Her ivory skin dared to glint in the moonlight, borrowed lotion giving her an ethereal, if not somewhat unrealistic look.
"God, Swan, would it kill you to hurry up?" A simpering voice whined through the locked door.
"Almost done Jess," she called softly, giving her reflection one last scathing glance before sliding the deadbolt.
Jessica Stanley rushed in quickly, eager to get a primp in the shared mirror before she was due downstairs. Bella suddenly felt overdressed watching Jessica, who was arrayed in a set of ice blue lace, with shoes and garter to match and nothing else. Jessica was mountains of fluffed hair and soft skin. She apparently was a popular favorite among the clientele, never known to say "no". She was old lady Cope's favorite as well, her tips were always the best, and kept the rent paid.
Bella shuddered. This poor woman had sold her soul to the devil, for what?
"This is your first night, isn't it, Isabella?"
Bella nodded, eyes downcast in shame.
Jessica adjusted her fake breasts in the mirror. "Tonight is special. King Edward visits every Friday."
Bella looked startled by this. "Th- the King comes here? To this place?"
Jessica frowned at Bella in the reflection. "Don't look so shocked little Isabella. He's not wedded, and he has no patience to court a lady or take a mistress. He comes here for the same purpose every man does. Although he is far richer and much more handsome than the others, of course. He has a thing for brunettes, as Cope told you, but I think he's caught on that I dye my hair, which leaves me out of the running. But I have to try, right?"
She smiled sadly at Bella, but no sympathy coursed through Bella's being. She felt sorry, of course, that her new comrade was forced to live as a prostitute, stringing along dreams of the title 'Queen' preceding her name. Jessica was rather pathetic.
Bella herself had no interest in a King who made his shameful indecency known. What a rich, arrogant pig.
"He was this close to inviting me to the palace once, a few months ago, I know he was…"
Bella left Jessica to drown in her dreaming.
King Edward slammed the door to his Aston, not caring if the delicate window glass shattered. He was not in a good mood, and sadly, he knew just how to make it better, if only for a little while. He beeped the lock, not satisfied that the miscreants of the neighborhood would leave his things alone.
The brothel he had set out to visit was in deplorable condition. Half of the glass in the windows had been shattered, and the peeling paint served to make the building look ages old. There were no neon signs, no crude language graffitied upon the outside. Cope's House was a well kept secret, but it was no secret that the King frequented the business often.
He was a bit of an unattentive womanizer, and to avoid scandalous public displays, he did not keep a woman, or even pretend to date someone.
A woman was a woman.
But a pretty face, that was harder to come by.
The air was damp around him; it was going to rain soon. The bleak outdoors suited his mood perfectly. He tucked the collar of his jacket more securely around his neck, fruitlessly trying to fight off the chill that had suddenly invaded his body. The call house was not in the best part of town, and he hoped his bodyguard was already inside, trusty Glock residing in his vest. He was not in the mood for a hospital trip tonight.
His new campaign was not going well, and many men would kill to have his head on a platter.
He just couldn't do anything right anymore, and he didn't know why. He was no longer the energized, hopeful youth who had sworn to protect and rule over his country seven years prior. Somewhere along the way, between the death of his mother and the loss of the war, he had become a shadow of himself – a despicable man with a penchant for prostitutes and strong alcohol. He had torn down the church with his own two hands, and the executioner had never had so much business.
He was glad his mother was gone; if his mother saw him like this…
She would be devastated.
He hated himself, and nothing made the pain he felt every day depart from him.
"Vodka," he snapped to the bartender once he had been ushered inside the dimly lit building. The bartender, knowing him well, not only handed over the bottle, but a glass of ice as well. Edward did not thank him, or even acknowledge his thoughtfulness. He stomped over to the front row, accidently pushing down a maid in his haste.
He didn't notice her angry squeal when the alcohol made contact with her clothing, a silk bustier that had cost her eight months' wages to procure.
He never noticed anything anymore.
He had heard, by word of mouth, that Lady Cope had added to her collection of girls the fortnight before, and that the latest gem in her jewel box was ready for her début.
Ordinarily, he wouldn't have cared.
But James had said she had the face of an angel, and Edward was more than ready for a fresh girl,- one that did not have an unattractive face, preferably.
He sat down gingerly in one of the more comfortable seats, cringing at the thought that they probably hadn't been cleaned since his last visit. He made it a point to have a servant wash his jacket,- or possibly just burn it. He looked about, as he waited, taking in the same lavish décor that had always been there. He appreciated the tastefulness of it all, if a place such as this could be tasteful.
There were no stainless steel poles, no topless women begging his attention, and nothing was hot pink in color. Rich reds and lavenders counteracted the golden tones of the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling. The tables set about for drinks were made of mahogany, no doubt donated by an appreciative patron like himself. The glossy floors had been drenched with more blood and bodily fluids than a fighter's ring, but tonight they shown pristine. Everyone there was dressed smartly. this was a gentleman's club, after all. Already, men had begun to light their expensive Cuban cigars and cheap cigarettes, easing their anxious minds and muting thoughts of the hardworking women they had left at home.
Their women just weren't enough anymore. No wife could understand her man's pain.
Half of the men were soldiers in Edward's army, and somewhat proudly wore their regimented uniforms, silently declaring their devotion to 'the cause.' Their haggard faces masked their young ages, and many of them were probably too young to be standing about sharing flasks.
The bouncer, if he could be called that, for rarely was anyone denied entrance, appreciated bribe monies and bottles of wine, no matter how young the giver was.
Cope came to the King, giving her usual wobbly curtsey and flirtatious smile. He answered her dull questions with monosyllabic phrases, wishing she would just leave him the hell alone.
The woman was close to fifty, and married although, that was not scared in anyone's eyes anymore.
He was King. He was in charge, damnit. And all he wanted to do was pretend that for one night, he didn't have any responsibility.
She eventually took the hint, not wishing to dare offend her best patron and ruler. She couldn't make any money off her girls if she was dead.
The lights dimmed even further, signaling that the tawdriness was about to begin. Edward uncorked the bottle, and poured his first drink of many.
"Marcus," he said lowly to the man who had sat down next to him, thrusting the glass into his hands. The rough country man was actually a cleverly disguised bodyguard. Marcus knew the drill well, he proceeded to sip, ensuring that the rich, clouding liquid had not been tainted with poisons or drugs that would impair his King physically, or worse, cost him his life.
When the man did not die or show signs of distress after a few minutes, Edward took back his glass, and refilled it, settling in to watch the show.
The bodyguard rubbed his hands together in anticipation. If his King got good and drunk tonight, he would pass out in the wee hours of the morning and not wake until it had become dark again, leaving him free to visit his lady who worked in the scullery.
King Edward of Volterra did not allow fraternization between unequal classes, such as his personal bodyguard and kitchen maid, even though he himself frequented Cope's whorehouse regularly.
As King, he was above such trivial rules.
Slow, sultry music began to play, and one by one, the scantily clad girls danced out, each inwardly praying to catch the King's eye tonight.
It was the piece de resistance that captured his intentions. He sat on the edge of his seat, glass dangling precariously from his fingertips in anticipation. He scanned the pouting figures attentively, checklisting familiar faces, making sure he hadn't missed her.
Lady Cope, if she could even be called that, made sure too.
"'ere ya are, Isa. Now let me 'ave a look at ya, before ya go." She fussed with Bella's hair and dress for a minute, plucking and pulling, making sure that all her assets were on display.
The woman was in desperate need of a new oven.
Lady Cope took sixty percent of the tips the girls earned, claiming half for room and board, and the other half to fund her perceived lavish lifestyle.
The King tended to be generous when he was pleased.
"There," she breathed, when she was done, steeping back to admire her handiwork. She had mussed Bella's hair, and pulled her dress higher and lower in respective places, making sure as much skin was displayed as possible. "Now go ou' t'ere, chick, and fer the love of God, doan' fall on yer face."
Bella froze, timidly looking out towards her audience. She had been told the King always sat in the front, and that his copper colored hair and bottle of alcohol were impossible to miss.
She couldn't see him in the dark, with the haze of smoke and dim lighting clouding her vision.
Someone pinched her arm. "Git, girl, yer on."
And with that, Lady Cope pushed her out on the stage, leaving Bella shaking like a lamb in front of ravenous wolves.
Please say hello to liketoread22, who has graciously agreed to beta this story for me. This chapter looks ten times as better than it was before she made it pretty.
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