How many people would step into a golden cage? How many American teenagers would leave their republic for a small kingdom?
This story is about Princess Diaries as it could have been.
It features the Queen, Mia, Helen, Charlotte and Joe naturally. But this time, he comes with a little twist (for which I got inspiration after an interesting discussion with Shakayla about role-playing).
There's someone else as well, a former Genovian who now lives in San Francisco.
The main characters belong to Meg Cabot and Disney, but you already knew that.
In case you are not interested in Princess Diaries stories only: I also wrote for Harry Potter, Sound of Music and Shakespeare and I wrote crossovers for Sound of Music/Inglorious basterds and the Big Bang theory/the Walking dead.
~ Once upon a time in San Francisco ~
Limousines are not uncommon in San Francisco, but limousines with flags on the bonnet are. Some people briefly wondered what they could mean.
One man recognised the standard of House Renaldi of Genovia.
When the pedestrian's traffic light turned green, said man only reached the other side of the road because he didn't fight the stream of bodies that walked him there. Like a robot he made it to his office, where he tried to enter using his library card.
The man looked at the security man who'd appeared next to him.
´That's not your access pass sir.´
The man looked at the pass and nodded. He was unable to act.
´Are you all right? You don't look too good if you don't mind me saying say so. Want me to get a doctor for you? Or you wanna sit down? Come on, sit down right here, I'll get you some water.´
´No no, thank you. I'm fine. Just fine. I...´
The man searched his pocket and produced his access card.
´Here it is!´ he said with a fake smile.
She was here! How dare she ignore that San Francisco was his.
Chapter 1 - She's not coming here
The Queen of Genovia looked at the streets of San Francisco with eagerness and longing. This was the city where her granddaughter had grown up. These were the streets Philippe's girl was familiar with. Some of the people walking by might be her neighbours or friends.
The Queen made some notes: she'd seen a square that looked a little like a square in Pyrus and a building which bore a striking similarity to one in her capital.
She liked San Francisco for itself but mostly for the fact that this was Amelia's town.
Aren't you forgetting something Clarisse? she told herself. You also like it for the privacy it offers.
Her Head of Security was seated next to her. She inhaled deeply when she felt Joseph's eyes roam her body.
Some years ago she'd realised that she missed him when he wasn't around. After that their relationship had changed from being employer-employee to... some sort of friendship. An odd description true, but some sort of covered both the inequality of their positions as well as the fact that their relation was bordering on far more than friendship. Friends don't kiss do they?
As Mia came sliding down, she heard something hit an empty can, followed by a stifled curse.
´Mum? What is it?´
´She just called!´
´Her... your father's mother.´
´The one and only!´
Mia fell into a chair.
´You don't like her do you?´
Helen shrugged away the feeling of being inadequate the call had given her.
´We didn't really get to know each other.´
Mia nodded but she didn't buy it.
´What did she want?´
´She wants to visit us. Here.´
Helen raised her hands.
´This is our place!´
Fat Louis jumped on Mia's lap.
´Does she like cats?´
Helen recalled that all those years ago Philippe's visiting mother had not caressed Vixen, her long gone pet, even though the traitorous animal had seated herself next to Her Majesty.
´No, I don't think so.´
Mia made a face.
´We don't like people who don't like cats, do we, Fat Louie?´
The cat looked the other way.
´What do you think she wants mum?´
´I told you -´
´Yeah, to visit us. But why? Why now?´
´Well, after your father died, perhaps - ´
´She feels lonely. Is my grandfather still alive?´
´No, he isn't.´
´Yeah well,´ Helen responded, ´they didn't really have a loving relationship.´
´Maybe she wants to talk about his will?´ Mia said, jumping to her feet to go to school.
´We can take care of ourselves!´
´OK. It's not as if I need anything from him. Or her. What's she like?´
´Oh gosh, I don't know. She's... icy. Cold.´
She felt uncomfortable referring to the nickname, for Philippe had hated it. He had assured her that his mother wasn't an Ice Queen. But Helen didn't want her daughter to feel for her grandmother.
Mia made a throatily sound.
´She never came to visit did she?´
The Queen swallowed when she put down the phone.
´Well, that went well.´
Joe, who'd been studying the garden, turned around.
´Miss Thermopolis just refused to receive me at her house. She must be acting this way for her daughter's sake.´
´It is no small thing to have the girl's future -´
Joe stopped talking when his employer cast him an impatient glance.
´My granddaughter has two paths to choose from and it is my task to make her walk the road to the throne.´
´I know,´ Joe softly said. The warmth in his eyes earned him a small smile.
´I know that Helen wants to protect her little girl,´ the Queen remarked, ´And I understand that. Yet I will fight for the Renaldi line to survive.´
She placed a hand on the back of her neck.
´You need a massage.´
´No I don't Joseph. I need an heir,´ the Queen replied, but when her Head of Security placed his hands on her shoulders, she didn't object.
Joe had given his liege neck and shoulder massages before (the next best thing to kissing her) and he had very much enjoyed the feeling of her body under his hands.
Relax, he would tell her, and loo and behold, she'd relax.
If he'd whisper Turn you head to the left a little, she'd do that.
Move forward a bit, he would instruct and she would comply without questioning.
It made him yearn for more.
She had so much to worry about, he told himself, he would enable her to let go of it all.
´My father's mother wants me to come and visit,´ Mia told Lilly.
´In Europe? Cool!´
´No, she's in town.´
´Oh. OK. Well, you never met her right? Must be nice to see her.´
´Don't know. I mean, she never came to see me before right? And now she wants to meet me and I'm supposed to run? Besides, mum doesn't want her in our place.´
´Ah! So she's the evil mother-in-law huh? My mum gets red spots in her neck when dad's mum threatens to visit. Haha. Makes you worried for the future. Maybe boys should bring their mothers with them. You know, on dates.´
´I think that had my mum seen dad's mum on their first date, she'd have told him adios.´
´Bad and wicked! Go and see her: it will be fun.´
´Right, what if she hates mum and wants to punish her by killing me?´
Lilly raised her eyebrows.
´You watch too many movies girl! You'll see: she feels sorry for never coming to see you before and she will fall in your arms, weeping, saying how much you remind her of her son.´
´You watch too many reality shows girl!´
After school Amelia found a stranger in the kitchen. Her mother and a young woman were talking about the weather.
´Hi,´ Mia said.
As the woman turned to greet the girl, Helen made a gesture behind her back telling her daughter Sorry, I couldn't help it.
´Hello Amelia. I'm Charlotte Kutaway.´
´It's Mia. Hi.´
´Your grandmother asked me to talk to you.´
Helen shot Mia an apologizing glance again. Mia figured that Charlotte had looked too nice to be sent away. She sat down at the kitchen table.
´Well - ´
´Are you a sleuth?´
The girl was enthusiastic about her idea.
´Uhm. No, I'm not.´
´Are you a friend of hers?´
´Uhm, well, no I can't say...´
Mia tilted her head. A cold woman without friends. Great. She sighed.
´What does she want?´
´She wants to talk to you.´
´She wasn't interested in me before. And now she's lonely or something and she wants to see me? It doesn't sound right does it?´
Charlotte paled with anger.
´Her... She thought you might say that. And she asked me to ask you...´ Charlotte addressed Helen, ´to tell your daughter about the arrangement that was made between you and Amelia's father.´
´I know,´ Mia said, ´Dad couldn't live here, and mum and he decided it would be for the best that he wouldn't visit because it would be confusing for me. Fine. But he wrote me for my birthday, you know, she could have done the same.´
It took Charlotte effort to stay calm. She noticed that Helen avoided her gaze.
´I can't get into the details, for I am not familiar with them. You could ask your grandmother though.´
´Why should I?´ Mia shrugged.
´To satisfy your curiosity?´
Charlotte sensed she had hit the nail. She quickly addressed Helen.
´Miss Thermopolis, could you please receive her here?´
´I haven't changed my mind since I spoke to her this morning.´
Charlotte swallowed and turned to Mia.
´Well, Amelia, to learn about your Genovian family, you are very welcome to come to your grandmother's place.´
Charlotte quickly noted down the consulate's address on her visiting card. Her function description read 'Genovian attaché corps', so it was perfectly safe to use it.
Mia ticked one foot against the other. She believed her mother didn't like the proposition. A thought came up.
´If she's got a house here, it's even more weird that she never came to visit, right?´
´It's not like that Amelia,´ Charlotte said, handing Mia her card. The girl accepted it but she didn't look at it.
´That's what you say. Is she your boss or so?´
´Yes, she is.´
´Sweetheart,´ Helen said, ´if there's anything you'd like to know about your father and his family, just ask me.´
Mia rose to her feet.
´I have homework to do now,´ she announced.
´Hey it's me. You'll never guess: my grandmother sent someone to talk to me. Can you imagine?´
´Yeah! It's weird! Why can't she come herself?´
´She didn't mention a wheel-chair.´
´Well, it's not as if mum is gonna call the police -´
´Charlotte said I could come to grandmother's place-´
´That's the woman she sent. Some sort of employee of hers.´
Listening to her friend Mia studied the visiting card she'd been given.
´The address is in a fancy part of town. You could be right: maybe she is a wealthy businesswoman.´
´Haha, she hasn't even met me Lilly, why would she pay for my baby?´
´Yeah, she is eager to see me... But I mean, mum doesn't like her and I don't need her money.´
´We have homework to do! We can't just sneak out... Can we?´
With Helen attacking a piece of canvas, Mia didn't meet objections when she told her that she was going over to Lilly's for a homework assignment.
When Charlotte left the Queen's office, Joe entered it.
´Miss Thermopolis hasn't changed her mind,´ Her Majesty replied to Joseph's unvoiced question.
She walked to a window.
´Charlotte noted down the address for her. Let us hope the girl gets curious. Charlotte will tell security to alert her in case a fifteen year old brunette with lots of hair appears. ´
When she turned around she found Joseph standing close.
The warmth in his eyes brought a smile to her face. She cupped his cheek.
Joe held her wrist, his index finger caressing her hand.
´It will all turn out fine Reina mia,´ Joe assured her before turning his head to kiss her palm.
The Queen's free hand closed the curtain and then moved to Joseph's neck.
Tentatively pulling his head toward her, she whispered his name.
´I feel like Oliver Twist in a posh part of London,´ Lilly said.
´Yeah,´ Mia agreed.
The girls had taken their scooters and it had been ten minutes since they'd entered the rich part of San Francisco. Mia was sorry she'd brought her bag with her and even more sorry she hadn't left her books at home.
´We're almost there,´ she announced after checking Charlotte's business card. The friends continued their quest on foot.
´I hate to say it, but it is nice here,´ Lilly commented the surroundings.
Mia replied that the houses were beautiful but that her house (and Lilly's as well) was a real home, whereas the people living here probably got lost all the time.
Lilly laughed: ´They will have to use walkie talkies. Where are you honey? I'm in the pool room darling. OK honey, I am in the sun parlour and I'm walking toward you now, I'll see you in five minutes.´
Seven buildings down the road she stopped in front of a gate.
´This is it. The Genovian consulate.´
Lilly whistled. She parked her scooter next to Mia's, against a pillar.
Mia swallowed and held the gate's spikes.
´It's odd you know, knowing that she's here.´
Lilly nodded. She discovered she had some chewing gum under her right shoe and she placed her foot on a horizontal bar of the gate to remove it. Mia's fingers traced the gate's 'G'.
´Ah!´ the girls shrieked at the sound of the metallic voice.
´Sorry!´ Lilly cried out.
She reached in her pocket, found a handkerchief, bent down and removed the unattractive candy from the gate. Mia got a fit of the giggles but was quickly cured when the gate slowly opened.
Both girls had seen too many films not to know what that meant.
They looked at each other, grabbed their vehicles and ran.
A few hours after her lucky escape, Mia was doing the dishes with her mother.
´How did you and dad meet mum?´
Helen looked at her daughter, who was focusing on drying a glass.
She had told the story several times over the years, but she felt that this time she'd had to be more careful. It was all right for Mia to be interested in her father, but she couldn't allow her little girl's curiosity to extend to her too.
´Well,´ she started, ´I was at college and a friend of mine, Gabriella -´
´Giggling Gabriella,´ Mia smiled.
´Yeah, giggling Gabriella. You should have heard her Mia, that girl would start giggling and whether you liked it or not, you just had to join her. It was horrible! GG told me that there were some new students from Europe. She wanted to welcome them, but she needed back-up, so I accompanied her.´
´There was a Danish girl, two Irish boys and one man. Your dad.´
Helen smiled. The memory was dear to her.
´He was tall and had broad shoulders. He was handsome, his voice was deep. He was... charming.´
´Oh yeah, sorry.´
Helen handed her daughter the plate she'd washed.
´We started to talk and I was so flattered that this man liked me. Even though I'd confessed that I'd never heard of the country he was from. He just laughed.´
´No one in my class ever heard of Genovia either,´ Mia nodded, ´but their consulate is cool.´
Shit! Mia mouthed, closing her eyes at her own stupidity.
´Lilly and me went to see the place this afternoon.´
Mia bit her lip. Helen stared at the sink.
´We were curious. You know...´ Mia shrugged.
Helen re-washed a beaker. Mia glanced at her out of the corner of her eye.
´Did you see her?´
Mia reassuringly placed her elbow in her mother's side.
´Lilly used the entrance gate -can you imagine there's actually a gate? Really! Well anyhow, she put her gum on the gate. First it was under her shoe, real gross, and she needed to get rid of it, so... Right. Anyhow, there was this creepy voice from the speaker and then the gate opened, so we just ran for it!´
´Course,´ her daughter said, ´later on – when we were catching our breath on a park bench, Lilly and I agreed that we should work or our condition, but not quite yet cause what's the fun huh, and then I figured that there hadn't been a need to run, cause dad's mother would have liked it when I'd dropped by. But it was really freaky you know, the fence. And it was so... I kept expecting people to come out of their castles to tell us to GO.´
Helen liked the fence. She liked the creepy voice. She loved her Mia for being uncomfortable in a wealthy neighbourhood.
´Do you plan to go there again?´
Helen handed her daughter the beaker she'd washed so thoroughly.
Mia shrugged under her mother's gaze.
´Don't know. But you were telling about you and dad meeting remember?´
She helpfully added: ´He was charming...´
Helen's stomach felt like water but she lightly replied: ´He was very charming. Before I knew it, I'd moved in with him.´
´Cool,´ Mia commented.
On their park bench, she and Lilly had talked about the ways their parents had met. Lilly's mother had bumped into her father in a bowling centre. The girls agreed that Helen's story was better. Well, the start was. Mia confronted her mother with an idea she and Lilly had come up with.
´Did dad's mother have something to do with the two of you breaking up?´
Helen licked her lips.
She wouldn't entirely lie when she'd reply in the affirmative... It had been Philippe's sense of duty that had made him return to Genovia. And if his mother was anything, she was dutiful. She would have reminded him of what he owed his country.
Still, it would not be quite fair to blame her. Philippe had not been a sissy. He had made up his own mind.
Mia tilted her head while staring at her mother. To Helen's relief the girl decided that her thoughtful silence meant 'yes'.
´I see,´ Mia remarked, ´Why? Didn't she like you? Was she one of those women who think no one is good enough for her son?´
´If she did, I can't really blame her, for I think no one is good enough for my daughter,´ Helen said.
She was proud of her answer. She hadn't lied and looking at Mia's face the girl was convinced that her grandmother was a bitch.
With a capital B.