The mayor of Antiem was reluctant to say farewell to his Queen. Her Majesty expected Joseph to come to her aid but her bodyguard didn't want them to leave. Knowing that what he had to say couldn't be postponed, he still clutched at every opportunity to make the ride home start a minute, a moment later on. Viscountess Margoli was the one to free Her Majesty and walk her to the waiting limousine. Joseph opened the door for his Queen. She asked him to join her to discuss some business. How could he refuse?
He closed the car's door behind her and entered the car on the left side. The privacy screen was making its way up and Clarisse smiled at him. It cut Joe to the core for it was a warm, promising smile.
´So,´ Clarisse said, a twinkle in her eyes, ´what have you made up for our weekend?´
Joseph had made sure that the Queen had a long weekend off so she could keep to her suite to recover: she wasn't supposed to find out that he had something to do with her cleared schedule. He had planned to tell his beloved about Malou and the baby at the castle but he couldn't answer her question with a lie.
´I love you,´ he said, his voice gruff.
Clarisse smiled happily and looked out of the window to wave at people who'd waited to catch a glimpse of her. Joe told himself that she would always have the love of her subjects. When the car had passed the crowd, she looked at him again, reaching out.
He swallowed hard, ignoring her hand. Clarisse thought she understood.
´We've hardly seen each other these past weeks, have we Joseph? I am sorry for that. But know that I long for you,´ Clarisse said, ignorant of the fact that it had not merely been their busy schedules that had prevented them from meeting in private but also her lover's wish to avoid her.
Joseph reached into his pocket and he produced the echo picture, placing it on the couch between them.
It took a moment for Clarisse to respond.
´Is that Catalina's child?´
Joseph shook his head.
´Then whose -´
´I love you,´ Joe repeated.
He felt her stare at his face.
´Joseph?´ she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.
Joe cleared his throat. Beams of sweat formed on his forehead. He glanced at his right. Clarisse looked horrified. Joe groaned and focused his eyes on the picture again. He blurted out: ´I never meant for it to happen. Had I been sober, had there not been a party, family, had she not been so likeable and had you and I already... But we hadn't and would we ever? You... I didn't know, couldn't be sure and I...´
Clarisse registered his words from afar and when he stopped talking all she could do was whisper his name.
´It's a boy,´ he said.
They somehow made it from the car to the royal suite. Clarisse sank down on a sofa and processed the information Joseph had given her. Joseph remained standing. When Clarisse started to rock herself, Joseph began to babble.
´At my brother's feast I… I felt like a failure. It just… Dios mio. It seemed impossible for us to… to be a pair.´
Clarisse sat still. ´And she was likable and willing and young,´ she spat, ´It surprises me that you wanted me afterwards.´
Joseph felt sick at seeing the blush that covered Clarisse's neck.
´You are the love of my life!´
Clarisse rose. ´Liar!´
´No! Ti amo!´
´You are marrying her Joseph!´
´My family expected it. Her father too. He wanted to have the child put for adoption if she didn't get married. Still I only planned to provide for the child financially.´
´Because you loved me.´
Ignoring Clarisse's sarcastic tone of voice Joseph softly said: ´Yes.´
Clarisse met his eyes and blinked. ´You surrendered to their expectations.´
´I wouldn't have.´
´So what did I do wrong?´
´Nothing! It was nothing like that!´
´At Carlos's wedding… She showed me the echo picture.´
Clarisse walked to a closet. She pushed a book backwards so it became in line with the books next to it.
´And that's when you realised what you would miss,´ she said.
She stood there for some time, her back at Joseph, who felt dizzy and had plumped down on a sofa. When Clarisse turned around her face was a mask.
´Why are you crying?´ she said, ´You're getting what you want.´
´I want you!´
Feeling incredibly tired Clarisse sat down next to him. ´How had you pictured that Joseph? Did you imagine to have a family and a lover too?´
´Yes,´ he moaned.
´You've made your choice. The moment you hold your son in your arms I'll be history.´
´Never!´ Joseph exclaimed. He tried to make eye contact but Clarisse kept staring ahead. Joseph leant forward and rested his head in his hands.
When Clarisse noticed that she was slouching she went to pour herself some water. Some of the liquid fell next to her glass.
´It would be torture to have you near me Joseph. Pretending to be friends… Charlotte would ask me whether I'm going to embroider bed linen for the cradle. Ha!´
She took a sip.
´You must leave.´
´If you wish.´
´Damn you!´ Clarisse snapped, putting the glass down with a bang and walking toward him. ´I wish you had not had sex with her! I wish you'd voiced your doubts about us!´
Joseph rose. ´I should ne- never have d- doubted that we – we - we could be a cou- couple.´
´Hell you shouldn't!´
´I will always love you.´
´And at the end of the film the bodyguard walks away!´
Clarisse's laughter was fuelled by despair.
Joseph looked at her wide-eyed. ´Clari-´
She hit his face.
´How could you!´
She kicked his leg.
´How could you!´
Repeating the same three words she punched his chest and stomach. Joseph just stood there, undergoing her rage. When the attack stopped, he opened his eyes.
Clarisse had covered her face with her hands. Joseph cautiously touched her shoulder and when she didn't shrank back from him, he walked her to the sofa and cradled her in his arms. She clung to him.
In a month's time Joseph would be a man wed. He didn't look forward to it but anything was better than being here with the woman he'd hurt and to listen to her whimpers. She sounded like an animal caught in a trap and he couldn't free her or rather: he wouldn't.
A child deserves to have a father he told himself once again. And may I be damned but I want to raise my son.
Without shifting Clarisse stammered: ´Do you recommend Teballi to be your successor?´
Joseph stopped caressing his beloved's back.
´You will inform your men and the senior courtiers within the hour,´ Clarisse spoke in a tearful voice, ´You will leave tomorrow evening.´
´I don't… I don't want t- to leave you,´ Joseph whispered.
´Don't fool me, or yourself,´ Clarisse softly said, ´You've already accepted it.´
She sat up straight. Joseph reluctantly let go of her. Clarisse bit her lower lip and rose. Joseph stood also.
´I lo-´ he started but he was stopped by a gesture.
´Is I love you going to keep me company from now on? Will it hold me and make me feel cherished? Those words are meaningless now!´
Tears fell down Joseph's cheeks.
Clarisse turned her back on him and walked to a window.
´When is the wedding?´
Joseph cleared his throat.
´I suggested her mother's birthday. Tomorrow in three weeks.´
´Thank you,´ Clarisse said after a moment for Joseph had picked the day the president of Columbia would arrive for a state visit.
Joseph moaned. ´Don't thank me.´
She faced him.
´I'm not thanking you for being unfaithful Joseph. I'm not thanking you for leaving me.´
Joseph looked down.
Author's note: the coming chapter will be an epilogue.