After dinner (banquet is the more adequate term), Derek and I walk together to the pond, which also seems to have been stuck in time the four years I was gone. The only difference is that now black roses bloom among the silver ones.
“Your mother made the black roses grow after you were gone,” Derek says as he hands one to me.
I smile. “I’m really glad to be back.”
“I really missed you, Alyessia.”
“I missed you too,” I say as I look out at the moon’s reflection on the water.
“There was something I wanted to talk to you about,” he says with a slightly deeper and softer voice.
I turn around. “What? Does it have to do with what Boss was talking to you about?”
He shrugs. “They’re related. But remember how when we were kids, everyone would smile when they saw us together?”
I nod. “Yes. And they’d say words like ‘marriage when they’re old enough.’”
Derek laughs. “Exactly. That’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“I know you’ve been gone for four years, and you’d probably rather start back where we left off, as best friends, but I can’t do that. I love you, Alyessia.”
I stand in silent shock.
Derek takes my silence the wrong way. “I’m sorry, mother was right, I shouldn’t have brought this up yet.”
I shake my head and put my hand on his shoulder. “No, it’s fine. But this is the first time we’ve seen each other in four years, are you sure? I’m sure every girl in the kingdom would love for you to say this to them.”
Derek looks up at me. “I know this, but every other girl has a problem. They’re not you. If I’d look at another girl, I’d only see how different she looked from you. No other girl knows me the way you do, and if I tried to do half the things I used to do with you with them, they’d think I was crazy.”
“The way you say this makes me think you’ve tried before.”
He nods. “There was a time when I didn’t know if you were coming back or not, and I tried seeing other girls, but it didn’t work out.”
“Because of me?”
He nods again. “But in a good way, because now you’re back.”
I stay silent.
He walks closer. “Just think about it. I’m not going to force you into anything, Alyessia.” He leans down and kisses me, and I suddenly know what everyone was talking about when he was thirteen and I was twelve.