Author's note: Chapter 10 completes Once upon a time in San Francisco. I liked to spend time with some characters I haven't used a lot in my stories, such as Miss Gupta, Lilly and last but not least Helen. A lot will happen in this chapter. Hint: at the bottom you've got an opportunity to let me know what you think of this story.
Chapter 10 – End of story
The guards having rushed outside as well as the attacker's screams had alarmed the servants and they had hurried to the hall. The Queen, being ushered in by her Head of Security, told them that she was all right and that there was no longer a threat. The maids, the butler and Miss Kutaway as well privately questioned Her Majesty's words.
It wasn't just because Mr Romero had blood on his knuckles and looked fearsome. Another thing that seemed to defy the Queen's words was that the attacker was still screaming outside. And last but not least there was the Queen's appearance.
After checking the Queen's suite for danger Joseph knelt by the sofa where Clarisse had seated herself. She was fingering a huge cut in her sleeve.
´I'd better wear a turtle neck tomorrow,´ Clarisse said, refering to the painful marks that were left on her neck. She didn't mention the mud stains on her outfit.
Joseph shivered. If the wind hadn't caught her shawl, if he hadn't gone after it, if he'd been there when the attacker broke out of a bush... He felt guilty for nearly having failed his job and he felt guilty for his urge to make love to his lady as if the sun would never rise again. When he found the courage to look at her face he expected to see disappointment or anger. Clarisse however had seen a knife flashing and all she wanted was to have Joseph before it was too late. Her worries about being involved in role playing had shrunk to insignificance.
The two of them flawlessly read the want on each other's face and they didn't speak until they lay in bed, their bodies covered in sweat.
´When did that happen?´ Clarisse breathed.
´That,´ Clarisse said, gesturing at the floor.
Joseph rested himself on his elbows and saw a trail of clothes.
He looked at Clarisse's puzzled expression and kissed her shoulder.
´That is our road to paradise,´ he said in a cracked voice.
Helen found her daughter looking intently at a local TV channel.
´Good morning. You're up early. Did you sleep well Mia?´
Mia made a small sound in reply.
´When you got home last evening you went straight to bed. You didn't have a fight with Lilly, did you?´
´You talked about your car and stuff?´
Mia sort of nodded. An item about day care centres reached its conclusion and the news continued with the upcoming elections for the DA's office.
´Did you know,´ Helen said, ´that in Genovia you wouldn't be allowed to drive a car until you're twenty-one?´
When the weather forecast started Mia announced that she was going to do some homework.
Ten minutes before her grandmother was to arrive Mia tiptoed downstairs. She positioned herself near the front door along with an obligingly cuddlesome Louie.
Helen was folding towels when the bell rang. She hurried to the ground floor.
´- came to apologize last evening,´ Helen heard her daughter say.
´And then…these cops and an attacker -´ Mia added before her voice failed and she started crying.
The Queen and Joseph looked shocked.
´Mia?´ Helen said. Before Clarisse could comfort her little girl Helen pulled Mia away to embrace her tightly.
´What is this about?´ Helen demanded, looking over Mia's shoulder at the Queen.
´I… I…´ Mia started.
´It's OK baby.´
´There was a man in the consulate's garden who attacked me. Fortunately Joseph was there too.´
´I saw that man,´ Mia said with difficulty, ´He was covered in blood!´
´I knocked him down,´ Joseph said in the same casual tone as the Queen had used.
Mia broke her mother's embrace but Helen put her arm around her shoulders to keep her close. While wiping her cheeks with her sleeve Mia said: ´Lilly asked a cop if anyone got hurt. He said no and I just left.´
´That's all right darling. It must have been unpleasant to witness.´
´Unpleasant! How can you be so…´ Mia said, shaking her head.
The Queen caressed her granddaughter's face.
´Shall we sit down?´ she suggested.
Joseph helped the Queen out of her coat.
´I'm sorry for saying that I didn't want to turn into you. It was unkind. That's what I came to tell you.´
´Thank you dear,´ the Queen managed.
´Do you know who the attacker was?´ Helen inquired. She now understood why her daughter had been watching the local channel.
´He was the son of a fired courtier.´
Mia dropped herself on the arm rest of a chair.
´When was the last time you had to protect me Joseph?´ the Queen pleasantly chatted as she sat down on a couch.
´That was two months ago when I had to scare away a mouse in the gardens,´ Joseph replied with just the right amount of humour and respect in his voice and countenance.
Mia didn't grin. Mia didn't smile. The Queen got sick at heart.
´But other than that… In '91 there was this man who threw paint at His Majesty,´ Joseph recalled.
´Ah yes, the colour the world activist,´ the Queen replied with a smile. ´A real attack is rare and fortu-´
´I can't do it!´ Mia burst out.
Helen inhaled sharply. When no one spoke Mia forced herself to look at her grandmother who bit her lower lip. Mia felt her eyes get moist. She rose to stand behind her chair. Now having a barrier between herself and the woman she needed to justify herself too, she started talking, raking the back rest with her nails as she did.
´I really thought it over grandma! I really did. I know what it means to you. I considered what it would mean to Genovia. I kept wondering whether dad would have wanted me to be his heir.´
She inhaled deeply before continuing. ´He took a risk when he allowed mum to raise me here. I am free grandma. I never realised it until I met you. What you said about the good things of being a queen, I can see that. I can. But there are so many bad things. One of them is being a public figure and getting attacked by lunatics. People will gossip about me too. I don't want all that. I do want to make a difference but in my own way. On my own conditions.´
The silence that followed was broken by the Queen.
´That was quite a speech Amelia.´
The Queen patted the seat next to hers. Mia, with her eyes cast down, sat down next to her grandmother. When the Queen smiled at her reassuringly Mia started crying again.
´I'm sorry grandma!´
´I know that darling.´
The Queen put her arm around Mia's shoulder and the girl, feeling tired, leaned against her. The Queen kissed her head.
´Will I see you again grandma?´
´I very much hope so.´
´Oh little one,´ the Queen said, caressing Amelia's hair, ´You are my son's daughter. I wanted to meet you from the day you were born. You choosing your own path isn't going to make me abandon you.´
´I'll make tea,´ Helen offered. Apart from the moment when she'd first held her daughter, she had never been so happy. She smiled radiantly at the kitchen wall telling herself that she should check that smile when facing Clarisse. With the war won she could sympathize with the defeated party and she found it only natural to admire the way Clarisse bore her loss.
Mia, having been relieved of a heavy burden and wanting her grandmother to know that she really liked her a lot, chatted along. She asked about her Genovian family, mentioned that she'd like to see the place where her father grew up and told her grandmother about her aunt Sofia and her cousins and she insisted to show her around the house.
The Queen put down her cup of tea and accepted Mia's hand to be given the full tour. Fat Louie and Mr Romero followed close by.
Helen brought the cups to the sink and buried her face in a kitchen towel to muffle her cries of joy.
When the bell rang she sprinkled some water in her face before answering the door.
´She said no,´ the girl concluded.
I'm an open book to a fifteen year old, Helen said to herself.
´Yes she did.´
Lilly nodded. ´After last eve- I mean- ´
´She told me that the two of you went to the consulate. Was the attacker really covered in blood?´
Lilly shrugged. ´His nose had been bleeding and it got on his clothes. Nose looked broken too.´
´What did you see?´
´He was handcuffed. They tried to get him to a car but he was furious. He called Mia's grandmother names.´
´Fortunately she didn't get hurt,´ Helen replied.
From somewhere in the house Mia's laughter rose.
´That has been some days,´ Lilly observed.
The Queen was kind and efficient when discussing something with the butler. She was patient and clear when explaining something to Charlotte. She was charming and intelligent when talking to the President of the United States who had called her to express his regret that she had been attacked.
Who would guess that her country's fate has just been altered? Joseph said to himself. He admired her more than ever but he also saw the tragedy of her being the poised lady she was. I am the luckiest man in the world for being her mate, he told himself. His mind drifted away to the previous evening and he didn't notice that Clarisse ended the call and dialled another number.
Clarisse, seeing a soft smile adorning Joseph's face, turned her chair around for she needed to focus on her son. Her conversation with him took several minutes and the tension in her voice brought Joseph back to earth. When she had put down the receiver, he said: ´I feel guilty.´
Clarisse looked up sharply.
´If I had personally checked the garden I would have found Chanel. He wouldn't have attacked you, your granddaughter wouldn't have been scared away and she - ´
´Would still have said no,´ the Queen interrupted. ´Oh Joseph. When we left Pyrus I was so confident that it would all work out fine. I simply couldn't imagine Genovia without House Renaldi. But I'm unable to look at a queen's life from an outsider's point of view.´
´It wasn't you.´
´It was. I couldn't persuade her to serve Genovia.´
´If you couldn't do it, no one could.´
´But it was my task Joseph.´
´And one you've executed with wisdom and sensitivity,´ Joseph said while handing his beloved his handkerchief.
´What did prince Pierre say?´ Joseph asked when Clarisse had tried her tears.
´He agreed to come to the Castle so we can talk face to face.´
´Your son loves Genovia. He never stopped doing so. He won't abandon his country: he's already considering his return. Remember what he made you promise about the Regency?´
Clarisse cherised Joseph's loving gaze. He radiated confidence. Confidence in her. He'd support her no matter what. She felt inspired.
Helen had invited Clarisse to visit on Monday in the afternoon, when Mia would be home from school. She had just contacted a caterer who would deliver a first class farewell meal for five, when the phone rang. It was Clarisse who asked her if she would mind if she bought Amelia's Mustang for a birthday present. Being a generous victor Helen didn't object.
The Queen had retired for the night. Joe had done so too but after having a shower and a change of clothes he had slipped through the connecting door into his lover's suite. He was waiting outside her dressing room.
´I bought the safety vests, the first aid kit, the fire extinguisher, the emergency hammer, the sun hat and the thingy to put a mobile telephone in,´ Joe said.
´You are mocking me sir. Amelia may smirk too but it is safe to have those items in a car and they will remind her of me.´
Joe was about to reply that the princess wouldn't forget her grandmother when Clarisse continued: ´I was thinking Joseph: if Pierre accepts, he'll have to get married and start a family. It might frighten him and I wouldn't be surprised if he would wait for his niece to get to know our country, lest she would say yes after all.´
´So it is important to have Amelia visit Genovia soon, while I am still ruling. Wouldn't she and Lilly just love spending a year or half a year as exchange students in Genovia? She can be anonymous of course.´
´A daughter of a friend of Charlotte's perhaps?´ Joe suggested.
The dressing room door opened and a delicious scent waved toward Joseph. Clarisse stepped outside wearing a black lace dressing gown. Joseph rose from his seat, his question as to whom his beloved planned to manipulate with her exchange scheme quite forgotten.
It had been many years since Helen had tucked in her daughter.
Mia wanted to be told that uncle Pierre would say yes and Helen assured her that he would.
´Everything is going to be OK, isn't it mum?´
´It's going to be perfect Mia.´
Helen wandered downstairs, light–footed as an elf. She poured herself a glass of wine and thought merry thoughts. When she started yawning she called it a day. After checking if all doors were closed she blew out the candles she had lit. It didn't darken the room for a single table-lamp was burning, illuminating a silver picture frame.
Helen walked toward it, feeling Philippe gaze at her. She picked up the photo and caressed the face of her ex-husband.
´She found out who she is,´ she whispered. ´She is free. And she will travel her road as a free woman.´
Helen put down the picture and switched off the light.