Exactly six weeks, five days, and nine hours ago, my mother ruined my life. And even worse, because of her, I am missing a damned good party.
Right this second, I should be over at my best friend Christie Toleski's house, getting ready to watch hotties like Heath Ledger walk the red carpet at the Golden Globes. My friends Natalie Monschroeder and Julia (aka Jules) Jackson are already there, undoubtedly noshing on popcorn, watching Joan Rivers on television and discussing the plasticity of Joan's face while she kisses and disses the celebs and their clothes -- or lack thereof.
When Christie's parents aren't in the room, they're also probably talking about how far Christie and her boyfriend, Jeremy Astin, went on their last date, how far she actually wants to go, and how all of them are sooooo sure David Anderson (who I've been crushing on since kindergarten) is finally interested in me.
But no. They're doing all that without me. I know because they IM'ed me about half an hour ago to rub it in.
Unfortunately, my failure to attend this year's let's-make-fun-of-celebrities Golden Globes party (not to be confused with our annual let's-make-fun-of-celebrities Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy parties) is because, thanks to my mother, my parents are getting a divorce and I had to move with my dad to Schwerinborg a month ago.
Yes, Schwerinborg's a real country, and yes, my friends all refer to it as Smorgasbord, even though the people here aren't even Scandinavian. The Schwerinborgians -- or Schwerinborgers or whatever they're called -- speak German. And we're south of Germany, not north. Not that any of my friends care where it is, other than the fact that it's very, very far from Virginia.
So why not live with my mother? After all, she has a nice apartment back in Virginia, where all the important awards shows are carried live. And even though the location of Mom's new place means I'd have to go to Lake Braddock High School instead of to Vienna West, where I've been going, I could still see my friends on a regular basis.
Hmmmm...how about because Mom's new apartment is also home to Mom's new GIRLFRIEND?
Yep, girlfriend. A super-organized, yoga-twisting, vegan Weight Watchers-devotee girlfriend named Gabrielle, who is, no kidding, a decade younger than my mother. And no, Gabrielle isn't a girlfriend like Christie, Natalie, and Jules are my girlfriends.
Gabrielle is THAT kind of girlfriend.
I haven't even had the guts to tell my girlfriends about her, and it doesn't take a psychology degree to guess why. It's the kind of thing that takes you a while to work up to telling someone, even your best friends. Telling them about my parents' divorce -- and that I was moving to Europe with Dad -- was bad enough. Popping out with, "Oh, and by the way, my mom -- the woman who took us all out for manicures and facials before homecoming and has definitely seen all of you naked at one time or another when we've gone clothes shopping -- yeah, well, she's decided she's gay!" wouldn't have gone over with them very well.
I know they say they don't care whether a person is gay, and I've never heard them say one derogatory word about anyone's sexual preferences, but I'm not quite sure I want to test their beliefs yet.
And it's not that I'm a homophobe. Seriously. I know a couple of gay kids at school, and they're totally cool. But this is different. This is MY MOTHER.
It's like the mom I knew disappeared one day and now there's another person inhabiting Mom's body. That's the really hard part. Not the what-is-she-doing-with-that-woman? part. It's that I have to wonder if she's lied to me about who she is my entire freaking life.
You'd think I'd want to find the highest turret -- well, if it had turrets -- of Schwerinborg's royal palace and toss myself off of it.
But no. I'm not even close to suicidal right now, even though I'm sure Heath Ledger and Hugh Jackman and about a hundred other hot actors look completely droolworthy walking the red carpet in their Armani tuxes and I'm missing it. (Thankyouverymuch, Mom.)
It's because Schwerinborg is completely incredible. I mean, there are definite downsides, like the fact they use mayo on their French fries, that the weather is misty and depressing all winter long, and that I can't watch the Golden Globes live. (Which, come to think of it, makes absolutely no sense -- the awards are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press, and if anything's foreign to Hollywood, it's gotta be Schwerinborg.)
It's because I have a BOYFRIEND.
I have a boyfriend who looks like Colin Farrell, only better. More of a hottie, less of a male slut.
I have a boyfriend named Georg Jacques von Ederhollern, and he is a freakin' PRINCE.
Yep. I, Valerie Winslow, a totally boring, non-cheerleader, non-athletic, non-popular sophomore redheaded nobody from Vienna, Virginia, have officially hooked up with a European prince. A prince who knows how to kiss in the most knock-me-on-my-ass way, and who is formal and polite and looks beyond hot in a tux, but who also knows how to kick back and be cool and totally un-prince-like when we're alone, if you catch my drift.
And you wanna know a secret? Even though it's the dead of winter and he's always in sweaters and jackets, I've discovered that he has these amazing arms.
Ever see Hugh Jackman in X-Men? Or when he has his shirt off in Someone Like You? Yeah. THOSE arms.
Okay, Georg's almost seventeen, so he's not quite Jackman caliber yet, and he's a lot more lean and wiry than Hugh Jackman, but he's headed in that direction. His arms are totally ripped and solid -- the kind that other guys refer to as guns. A girl could be about to go off a cliff, grab on to those biceps just as her footing slips, and not worry for even a second she's going to fall, you know?
Yes, I know that girls probably go for Hugh Jackman -- and Heath Ledger and Colin Farrell, for that matter -- because of their accents as much as their arms or other, um, physical attributes. But if his name alone doesn't make it clear, Georg also has an accent, and it's pretty damned sexy. Better than Hugh's, Heath's, or Colin's, even. (However, I will admit that if someone had told me a year ago that listening to a guy speak with a deep, German accent would make me get all gooey inside, I'd have thought they needed some serious therapy.)
But you see, the thing that makes Georg an even better boyfriend than Hugh Jackman could ever be is...HUGH JACKMAN DOES NOT HAVE A CROWN! He does not have staff members who polish his shoes before school or ask him if he'd like a Coke or finger sandwiches while he's studying Trig in the palace library. Georg does. And he's not the least bit egotistical about any of those things. In fact, it makes him blush if you mention it. He gets this little pink glow right along his cheekbones, and then he tries to hide his face so you can't see. It's totally cute.
Also, Georg does not care that my mother is a lesbian. He actually tells me I should try to be more understanding of her, and at the same time, he totally gets that while I really do love her, I'm completely ticked off at her for what she did to me and Dad.
Is that love, or what? You don't find that with just any guy. The arms, the accent, and even the crown are simply bonus material. He likes me for me, and David Anderson never did.
Well, unless you believe my friends, who I think keep telling me David likes me to try to make me feel better about the whole divorce thing.
Wait until they hear about my prince. Or better yet, wait until I put them on the phone with him so they can hear his accent.
So right now I'm on the phone with Georg, and I can hardly follow what he's saying, because I'm so hung up on how he's saying it. All rich and Euro-like, but thankfully without even a hint of that thick nasal sound that Arnold Schwarzenegger makes. Georg's voice is way more smooth and seductive. And it's making me wish he would hurry up and get over here so I can grab him and kiss him the way he kissed me day before yesterday, when we went to this dinner-party-reception-formal thing his father was hosting for the British prime minister here at the palace, then ditched for a while to go make out in the garden. It was icy out there, and all the plants were that generic shade of gray-green that plants get in the middle of January, but between the kissing and him whispering to me in that fabulous accent, I was totally warm. It was our second kiss, but the first serious one, and this time we both knew there'd be more. Lots and lots more.
I can't think about anything else but kissing Georg.
"Valerie. Are you still listening to me?"
I sit up on my bed and try to focus. It's difficult, though, when my room is maybe only five degrees warmer than the garden was and Georg isn't here to keep me toasty.
My dad and I live in the royal palace in Schwerinborg because he's the new protocol chief to the royal family -- meaning he works for Georg's dad, Prince Manfred -- who rules the country -- and Georg's mom, Princess Claudia. He advises them on things like the proper way to address everyone from visiting Buddhist monks to the queen of England, and warns them about the fact that when they visit Egypt, they might get served pigeon but that it's perfectly safe to eat.
It's a totally whacked thing to do for a living, but since it got me a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House (which is where my dad did his protocol thing until the überconservative, up-for-re-election president discovered Dad had married a lesbian) and it's the reason I met Georg and have gotten to hang out with him despite the fact I'm your average American fifteen-year-old, I'm not going to make even one crack about it.
On the other hand, while it might sound cool to actually live in a real palace, I'd much rather the royal couple hadn't offered us their, uh, hospitality. Other than the fact that Georg is under the same roof, it pretty much sucks. Our very ritzy-sounding "palace apartment" -- which is actually only three small rooms and a kitchen -- is always so cold I have to wear double layers of socks, and it has the decor of a circa-1970s, never-been-renovated Holiday Inn. Probably because we're in a 150-year-old section of the palace that hasn't been renovated since, well, the 1970s. We'd have been better off living a couple blocks away, in a nice little walk-up.
Preferably one with heat.
"Yeah, I'm listening," I say to Georg as I stare at my tiny, ancient bedroom window and wonder how much cold air is leaking in from outside. "You said you had two assists and a goal at the scrimmage yesterday. But I wish you'd just come over. I can follow soccer talk much better in person."
I'm totally kidding because we both know it's way too late, but still. Does he think a five-minute walk from one side of the palace -- the beautiful, warm, renovated side, where his family lives -- over to the other side, where my apartment is, would kill him? I mean, the guy's an incredible soccer player, so you know his legs work just fine.
They're very nice legs. All tight and muscular and --
This thought zaps my brain back to reality. I have it bad for him. Way bad. I can't stop thinking about his various body parts, and we went out -- officially -- for the first time, what, Friday night, and it's only Sunday?!
Maybe I'm wigged out because this is the first time I've ever had a real boyfriend (since I don't count Jason Barrows, who everyone thought I was going out with because he kissed me on a dare in seventh grade. Puh-leeze.). Maybe it's because Georg's a prince, and no matter where he goes, he always has this prince-like aura around him.
But even so, this is not good because Georg and I are trying to keep things low-key, or at least make it look that way for the time being.
Given the way my synapses are firing right now, though, if Georg and I get within fifty feet of each other, I'm going to be all over him. On top of it making me look totally desperate, which would be bad because Georg has no idea I'm a little, um, inexperienced, it would blow the whole low-key thing out of the water.
"I know you're kidding, but if I thought we could get away with it, I would," Georg tells me. "But it's nearly midnight. My father said the fund-raiser would be over around one a.m., which means everyone will be back soon. Until your father's not suspicious about the cigarettes anymore...well, we have to be careful."
"I know." I twist one of my sheets into a little whorl with my fingers, then glance at the bedside alarm clock. "I still can't believe we got busted."
We weren't even smoking them when my dad walked in on us Friday night, and we weren't going to. Really. Georg was just showing me where he keeps an emergency stash, behind the paper towel holder in the handicapped stall of the men's restroom that's below the palace ballroom. He'd even hidden them back away before my dad came in, but they'd fallen on the floor.
I must be pretty desperate, though, because I add, this time only half-joking, "I still think you'd be okay, if you really wanted to come over. Now that Dad's had a day to chill, he's beginning to understand that I wasn't trying to corrupt you with cigarettes."
"And get him fired."
"Exactly." Europeans are pretty lax about smoking -- just not when it comes to their royalty. Apparently, Georg getting caught with cigarettes -- say, by the press or something -- would be a pretty big deal.
I pull the covers up over my shoulders like a cape, then cradle the phone a little closer to my ear. "I told him they were on the sink when we got there, and one of us must have accidentally knocked them off when we were, ah, talking in there."
If it's possible to hear someone smile over the phone, I can hear it. "Well, that's good news, at least. So he seems to think it's okay if we're going out?"
"Hey, all we're doing is engaging in a little soccer talk, right? Nothing that will jeopardize your reputation as the next leader of Schwerinborg."
He laughs, but it dies out pretty quickly, which means he's thinking about something serious. "Well, that's what I was getting to. Some of the guys were talking yesterday after we got out of practice."
"Well, remember how Ulrike's dad was at the dinner on Friday night? He must have mentioned seeing us together to Ulrike, because the guys were asking me about it."
Uh-oh. I know exactly where this is going. Ulrike is this really nice girl at my new high school who's the president of everything. One of those girls with white-blond hair and a perfect Crest smile, and who I usually write off based on her looks alone, because 99 percent of girls who look like Ulrike are just heinous. Snobby and mean and they think they're God's gift to the world. But Ulrike's actually really smart and friendly -- and not just to other beautiful people, but to everyone.
On the other hand, Ulrike has this equally beautiful friend, Steffi, who's the world's biggest bitch. One of those fake, manipulative people no one -- especially naive, trusting types like Ulrike -- ever get until it's way too late.
"Let me guess -- "
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure Steffi already knows we're together." Georg sounds irritated by Steffi's mere existence as he talks. "If not, she'll know soon. Thought we should figure out how we're going to handle it when she asks us about it."
Great. It's not that I really care if she knows. Maybe it'll knock her down a peg to realize that just because she's tiny and brunette and popular, she can't get any guy she wants. Like Georg.
But chances are, rather than just acting like a normal person with hurt feelings when she hears that the object of her crush has a new girlfriend, she'll get totally ticked off, meaning she'll be more aggressive than usual about giving me backhanded compliments when everyone's around...making offhand comments about how I must have some wonderful hidden traits if Georg is willing to take the time to introduce me around the school when he's such a busy person.
As if whatever good traits I might have aren't obvious, or as if Georg is doing me this huge favor because I'm clearly not good enough to be around him.
Steffi's like that. You can't really pick apart anything she says as being nasty and call her on it, because she says it in this fakey-nice, syrupy way. But I know she wants me to get the message, especially because she makes genuinely nasty little remarks to me under her breath when she knows no one else can hear -- she's so quiet with it, I can barely hear her.
So I say to Georg, "Well, you know how I usually deal with Steffi. I ignore her. But what do you think?"
As much as I'd like to rant to Georg about what Steffi can do with her opinions, I don't, because I know it'll only make me sound like a whiner. Georg tries to be nice to Steffi -- since he's a prince, he's stuck trying to be nice to everyone or else risk his family's good reputation, which really sucks if you think about it -- but he's the one guy in school who sees right through her.
And I love that about him. We have this funky-cool connection, where we just look at each other and know we both see the world the same way. As deranged as it is, the fact we both get Steffi and her little games -- when no one else does -- just makes our connection that much stronger.
"Well, I figure we have three choices -- assuming she actually asks us what's going on. First, we can play dumb. Second choice, we act like it's no big thing, and say we were just at the reception together because we both live under the same roof and thought it'd be fun."
"We come clean, and who cares if Steffi knows we've hooked up." I can hear the smile in his voice again. "And that's the fun option, because it means if I feel like kissing you between classes, I can, which definitely has its appeal."
'"So what do you want to do?" No way am I making this call. I like option three, for the same reason Georg does. Frankly, a quickie make-out session with Georg -- of course where Steffi can see -- would totally strengthen my ability to deal with her and all her crap. But Georg knows Ulrike, Steffi, their friend Maya, and all the rest of the kids at school way better than I do. So I figure he's the one who should decide.
"I'd prefer to be honest about it." His voice has that tone that makes it sound like a but is coming, and it does. "But the more I think about it, the more I think it wouldn't be smart."
I make a face at the wall. Ooo-kay. Georg was the one who said he didn't care if Ulrike's father saw us dancing together, or who knew about us. And now he does?
"So I shouldn't say anything around school?" I guess it would pretty much be the gossip of the week if we confirmed it to anyone. But why should he care?
Then I realize that I'm the hypocrite of the century. I'm freaked about him not wanting to tell his friends, even though I still haven't told my friends about him -- let alone about my mother and everything else. And they're thousands of miles away.
I'm about to apologize, and say we can do whatever he wants, when he says, "School isn't really the problem. It's the people outside of school. Okay, Steffi's a problem, but it's not her attitude around school that worries me. It's who else she talks to."
He gets quiet a second, and the lightbulb turns on in my head. Now I get it. Tabloids.
There's this one reporter assigned to Georg who walks about twenty yards behind him on the way to school a couple times a week. The poor guy's probably the bottom of the food chain at Majesty magazine. There really isn't much to report about Georg -- his parents crack down on him hard, so he really can't get in any trouble, he doesn't go out partying; and I'm willing to bet most of the world's population couldn't find Schwerinborg on a map, let alone identify its prince. Not like they could Prince William or Prince Harry.
But still, Georg is always careful, so that most of the reports this guy files are about fairly innocuous things, like last week's story, "Teen Prince Risking His Smile," which ran alongside a snapshot of Georg ducking out of a coffeehouse on his way to school, but mostly talked about how if you drink coffee or tea for years and years, your teeth can get stained.
"Valerie, I don't want you to think I'm embarrassed to be with you, or that I don't want anyone to know -- "
"Hey, no problem. Really." And I mean it. I don't exactly want to be on the front of some trashy rag either. I'm beginning to realize that keeping things low-key goes with the dating-a-prince territory, even if you weren't almost caught smoking.
"You know how I feel about you. It's just that -- "
He sounds so concerned about it, I can't help but laugh. I know I shouldn't -- my dad would probably tell me it's against some very important rule of protocol -- but I can't help it. "I told you, no problem."
He's quiet for a sec, then says, "If I hurry, I can be over there in five minutes, stay for maybe twenty, then get back before my parents are home from the fund-raiser. I just need to watch the clock so I have a five-to-ten-minute cushion."
"And what if we get caught?"
"Have your Chemistry book out, maybe?"
This time I'm really laughing, because my dad knows -- and so does Georg -- that I'm a total geek, and there's no way I'd put my Chem homework off until midnight Sunday. I can hardly stand to have homework that's not done by Saturday at noon.
Is it any mystery why I haven't had a boyfriend before?
His voice is low and completely hot as he tells me, "I'll be there in five minutes, like it or not."
Exactly four minutes and thirty-two seconds later, there's a knock at my apartment door. And I definitely like it.
Subject: Armor Girls
Heya, Val Pal!
Can I just say I'm totally bummed you missed the GGs last night? Joan was in fine form, and Melissa Rivers was wearing a dress that was totally see-through when she stood under the lights. They kept having to cut away from her and back to Joan, which was hysterical. You'd have made tons of jokes about Melissa wanting to show off her boob job.
So -- here's the hottie report: My dearest Orlando Bloom looked devastating, even though he was there with this snotty little French actress. (I was heartbroken he didn't think to stop in Virginia and ask me to be his GG date, but don't tell Jeremy.) And Heath Ledger made me drool, he looked so good, even though you know I usually don't go for him. BTW, Jules told me about your Armor Girl theory -- the whole thing about A Knight's Tale, the movie where Heath falls for this totally shallow rich-girl-princess type and ignores the girl who makes his armor. Jules claims that you think you're only an Armor Girl to David Anderson's knight, and that he's only interested in you until he can find a Shallow Princess.
You are WRONG.
Tonight sucks for me, but you will be home tomorrow night, so I can FINALLY talk to you on the phone, right? I was nice to my cousins for an entire week so my mom would let me call you, and you haven't been there. Now you MUST be. Because I have actually talked to David about you, and you are so not an Armor Girl.
DO YOU GET IT YET?! YOU ARE THE PRINCESS.
I'm tired of dropping hints about this, which is why I'm cyber-yelling. You said you could change your mind and live with your mom if you wanted. I think you should. (I promise I will forgive you for going to Smorgasbord.) Natalie and Jules think you should come home too.
How often do all three of us agree on something? Seriously. Think about it. I know you told Jules that you thought David could never really like you for you -- but you are so, so wrong. David is perfect for you. AND HE WANTS YOU.
Hugs and miss you and etc.,
P.S. So what is this "unbelievable dirt" you told me about in your e-mail on Friday night? PLEASE tell me you haven't met someone. And if you did, get over him. He's not David.
Subject: You and your potential ass-kicking
Five very important things. Are you paying attention?? GOOD.
Number 1: Okay, I will acknowledge, after seeing him at last night's Golden Globes, that Heath Ledger is hot.
Number 2: You're still wrong about the Armor Girl thing. I told Natalie and Christie about it when we saw Heath on TV, and they totally agree with me that you're the princess, NOT the Armor Girl, so get over yourself.
Number 3: Heath is still not as hot as the hottie Schwerinborg prince Christie and Natalie and I read about on the Internet. The one the article said lives in the same palace you do. The one named Georg. (Did his parents forget the "e" in George? Or is that some bizarro Schwerinborg thing?!)
Number 4: You have still not written me back to say what happened when you gave Hottie Prince Georg, mentioned in item Number 3, my phone number and e-mail address.
Number 5: If you haven't done it yet, I'm going to kick your ass. You're on a tight time line here, Val, because we KNOW you're coming home soon. RIGHT? So go accidentally and on purpose bump into my future boyfriend and GIVE HIM MY E-MAIL!! I am not joking about the ass-kicking and you know it.
The future princess of Smorgasbord,
Copyright © 2005 by Nicole Burnham