A Princess. That's what he'd said. A Princess.
The conversation with my friends tried to rear its head, but I pushed it firmly back down. No. No he wasn't interested in me. No. That's not what... but how else would I be... but no. No right?
It was confusing. I had been enjoying lessons. I'd always loved learning. Even if it was learning to dance properly, which was difficult. Apparently, while I'd been growing up as some sort of heathen, there were thousands of different dances that I had missed. And languages! I knew a little French already, but god, learning it as though time would run out any second was frustrating. And the alien's own language! God if that wasn't ten times more difficult. Human vocal chords did not seem to have the range that they did and half the lessons were usually just them trying to get me to make the right sound.
The best parts were when Kevin was brought in to see me at the end of a lesson; something I'm sure Ramona was doing without permission. I loved to bury my face in his hair and hold him tight. Ramona had become a friend too, and even helped me with the language. She was more patient than my tutors, and just had conversations with me. Basic at first, but as I developed she pushed me in to conversations that included political themes. She would stop and help me whenever I would get stuck with a word or phrase, and then continue straight on.
"You did well," she murmured, in her own language, as I bounced Kevin on my knee.
"But learning quickly, and willingly, which is more than I can say for most humans." She smiled gently at me. "I hope you make him happy."
"What?" I started. "Who?"
She shook her head, smiling.
"Don't worry, I know it shouldn't be spoken of. But I see it. Most don't because they can't entertain that idea that the rumours are true. But every single one of your tutors knows; why else would you be here?"
"I don't... this is just some plan he's cooked up... I don't know what it means." I frowned, and hugged Kevin, who was falling to sleep, closer to me.
She sat down and laid a hand on my arm. When I looked closely at her face, it seemed sad.
"Have I told you about Celestina?"
"No. Who is that?" I asked. She sighed.
"She was the first human I ever... bought. I had come to this land thinking that we were taking over from a lesser race. One that deserved to work for us. One that we could use as we willed. God she was angry, filled with rage. It was not long after we had taken over." She saw the look on my face. "Yes, we live longer than you. I have been around for so long..." She stopped. "Celestina challenged me, and I fought back, determined to break her. But she was so impressive, and I knew that I had let slip how I felt. Humans were not as I had thought they would be. She was incredibly intelligent; she had been a professor. One night I could not sleep and I came down to the kitchen to get a drink and I heard her talking to the rest of the people. She was reading to them, poems of love and hope. I didn't think I had ever heard anything more beautiful. And she looked... so much more different than I had ever seen her. She was always angry around me; hating me with her eyes and her words. She looked happy here, with her books and her friends. I forgot where I was and moved and they all closed up so fast... I realised how they must see me. As someone who took away all their hope, who could not love... I apologised and fled; I couldn't bear to intrude any longer."
She paused and looked at me, hesitantly. I begged her to go on.
"She had gone to market with me one day, and I had been trying, for weeks, to get her to smile at me the way she smiled when she read. She found me odd. Our customs seemed to insult her, and I am embarrassed to say I had not learned about your customs by then. One of my kind, an ambassador, marched past and knocked her and all our things in to the mud. Before I could react, she had called him out, shouting that he was rude and conceited and to watch where he was going." She paused and frowned. "He turned and struck her down. He ordered his guard to kill her on the spot. I threw myself in front of her. Caught an electric charge meant to kill a human. Luckily, we are made of stronger stuff. It took a lot out of me. She could have escaped; left me lying there, unconscious. But she picked me up and half carried me home. She tended to me; barely left my side."
Her eyes had grown soft and fond, although the tinge of sadness still lingered.
"She read to me; her books. Explained them to me when I could not understand. Dressed, and redressed my wound. Talked about her culture, although she was confused at first as to why I would ask. And I loved her voice. I could have listened to her forever. I didn't know if she would be like this with me when I was well, so I extended it as long as I could. Once I was back to my normal self, I began to invite her to join me. Play games, read... anything I could think of. She was resistant; I think she disliked the idea that she could have been wrong about our kind. I had felt the same for a while. But we became friends.... of a sort. She encouraged me to learn, and my staff... well they became my friends too. But never like her. I had never felt as close to anyone as I felt to Celestina. Named for the stars, as though we were meant to find each other across the galaxies..."
"You loved her." I murmured. She looked at me, and I saw that a tear had made its way on to her cheek.
"She was the most beautiful person I ever met. Headstrong, intelligent, kind... rather like you. But she had wild red hair, bright blue eyes... sometimes I thought she could see right through me. I was scared though. It was forbidden, the unwritten law; they never thought any of our kind could fall for any of yours, so they never bothered to make it official. But we all knew it could never... so I never did anything about it. I watched her, loved her, but always at a distance. When we came here, for my job, she came with me. The first ball... they created it to keep you in line; to give you something to love and look forward to so that you would think we were to be cared for. That they could take away if you were bad. The first one, I was serving and god... when she walked through the door I forgot myself. I had thought she was beautiful before, but to see her dressed up, for the first time... I could not stop staring. And she saw me and smiled at me; so big, so brave and beautiful in the middle of this room where no one could know that we were friends... If I hadn't fallen for her completely before, this was when I knew I was done for. And that night, she came to me for our usual time together, and she beat me so thoroughly at chess because I was so distracted. She didn't crow or rub it in my face. She told me off for letting her win. Said it was too easy and she knew I wasn't concentrating. I could barely form a sentence in my defence. I was so lost in her; my forbidden love. She was going to leave and I followed her to the door to see her go, and she turned to me and told me that she wished we could always be like this. Equal. Together. I could only whisper back that I wished it too. And then, she told me later it was because the day and the clothes had given her a sudden confidence, she pulled me to her and kissed me. It was the happiest moment of my life to that point. We loved each other from then until she... until she died."
I gripped her hand tightly, unable to hug her because of Kevin, but wanting desperately to comfort her.
"How did she die?" I felt afraid that something dreadful had happened. "Was she... did someone find out?"
"I think they knew. Maybe. But those here, as I have said, no longer consider you so below us. I know there are others who have had similar loves. But no. My darling love died of cancer. We did not know she had it. She suddenly collapsed... I wasn't there. One of her friends knew and came to tell me. They even managed to distract the nurse, to give us a few moments. But it could never have been enough. She told me she loved me, and I told her that I loved her and that I would always love her. That I would cure her, that we would be together forever; the things you say when you wish it could be true. She told me that she wished that we had been able to walk along the beach, hand in hand. We had always loved the beach... I scattered her ashes there, and sometimes I go and visit her. The waves... they make me feel as though she is still here, whispering her love in my ear. She was the love of my life and I will never love another like her." She wiped her eyes. "And for her, for us, I will do whatever I can to make things work for you, and the Prince. Because if you become a Princess, then they will never be able to keep people in love apart again."