Disclaimer: This story gives me no profit but fun. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: ElfineStarkadder's story The Glass Riddle (an intriguing combination of fairy tale and mystery, I recommend it!) planted the seed for this story.
Dedicated: For ElfineStarkadder.
Not That Girl
You have been one of his closest friends for as long as you can remember. ("Friends since infancy…and more," your maid often claims with a grin, laughing when scolded by your nurse Lootie, because it is true.) As a little girl you conspire with him and his cousin Erik to get them out of their boring lessons. The three of you run through the passages of the castle, find hideaways, and trade secrets (not all of yours, though). During the months spent at the summer palace in the country, it is five of you – shy Annison and bossy Fanny now part of your group – acting out plays, having duels with sticks, and sharing ghost stories around the fire. During those summer times, your heart is on your sleeve, though neither you nor he knows.
As you both grow older, the carefree summers diminish, and the responsibilities and obligations mount. He is scared by the demands starting to be made of him, if he can do this. You gently tease him when you catch him daydreaming, an attempt to ease the load on his shoulders. Before returning to his letter-writing or reading, he lightly accuses you of not wanting to become a "proper princess" since you leave your music lessons to ride in the woods. Yet he provides a sympathetic ear as you share about the tension between you and your parents, wonder if you can, want to live up to their expectations. You claim he is like the brother whom your family lost at birth. And you are the sister he does not have, he says seriously. And you both smile.
You come of age, and the soft, just out-of-earshot whispers and gossip concerning you and him grow to a seemingly roar. Since you were in the cradle… You come from a noble, proud line… Have been so close for so long… And you smile and dream more, your heart now hidden from prying eyes.
Tonight it is the ball. "A bride-finding ball," they say outside the castle. "An engagement ball," they primly correct inside. "For did he not formally propose under the stars three months past when he drew her outside for a private moment in the midst of his birthday party? I saw him lead her out by the hand myself." But you simply hug your dream closer to your heart, which beats excitedly, nervously…
Naturally, you and he open the ball, and he looks every inch the noble, just king you know he shall become, his face grave, new beard thickening, and deep eyes taking in everything. When he smiles at you, your heart is in your eyes, and you know this is where you belong.
Then late in the night, while the two of you are resting on a sofa watching the dancing, the music falters and a hush descends on the great room. You wonder what is happening, but you do not look far, because he draws your notice. Surprise, recognition, and unmistakable joy flash across his face as he gazes at something beyond you. Without a word he rises from the sofa and walks to the front of the ballroom.
You can only watch as he whirls around the room with a young maiden, in dance after dance. You try to keep your castle in the air together, reminding yourself of everything you have shared together over the years, providing explanations for why he behaves so, why you were left alone under the stars that night…
"Too long, Annison!" you catch the words as they go by.
"Annison…" you repeat with surprise. Your long-ago summer childhood friend who hung quietly on the edge of the group. The girl you have not seen or heard of in over five years. He had wondered about her, you remember now, wondered why his letters went unanswered. As time went on, she was mentioned less and less. A friend forgotten. Or so you thought.
The angry voice jerks you and her. A tall, proud woman steps out of the crowd. Fear fills Annison's face as she looks between the fast approaching lady and him for a heartbeat. Then she is tearing herself out of his arms and fleeing towards the doors. He stands for a moment like a statue. Suddenly he is running…away from you…after her. Calling frantically for her to wait, come back. (He never came after you whenever you stormed off in a huff, whether due to genuine hurt or playing coy. It was always Erik who followed you.)
"Andrew…!" you mechanically shout along with his parents, feeling numb, your heart bursting.
And now you realize. …As he disappears from sight paying no heed to your calls, and returns many minutes later, alone but not empty handed. …As he cradles a dance shoe in his hands, a light you've never seen burns in his eyes as he tells his parents (and you, included in his sweeping and apologetic gaze) that he must go after Annison.
And you (perhaps always did) know…you are not to be that girl.