"What am I going to do, Chester? What am I going to do?"
Ana's words echoed in The Queen's head. Ana was her eldest daughter, squirreled away in The Summer Palace so she would not be put to death. The Queen's weakness was her children; she could not deny that fact, no more so than she could deny this recent development.
The Queen had suspected Arthur might fancy Ana and his eagerness to go to the Summer Palace this year had only deepened her fear, but she never expected him to kiss Ana. Turning from the peephole through which she had watched the exchange, the Queen began to think. There was an upside to this -- if Arthur could find Ana beautiful despite the birthmark upon her face, perhaps she could still be suitably married.
Storming down the hall, Arthur passed his mother and felt her eyes watching him. He wondered if The Queen knew what had happened. Thinking of Ana's rejection made Arthur's fists clench involuntarily. She was my best friend, he thought, one I could trust with any secret. He had even let Charlotte join their duo to make Ana happy. Yet none of that had mattered to Ana, he thought, none of it at all. She just ripped out Arthur's heart and tore it to pieces.
"Argh!" The Prince's frustrations vented themselves as he slammed the garden door.
"Arthur!" Charlotte called.
Groaning inwardly he turned and growled, "What do you want?"
Charlotte's step faltered slightly at the acidity of Arthur's tone. Boy, he had taken Ana's rejection hard, she thought. She intended to enjoy this last summer and wasn't about to let some argument between Arthur and Ana ruin it.
"Why you are so upset at Ana?" Charlotte demanded, her hands automatically going to her hips.
"It's none of your business ‘Lotta," Arthur spat out Ana's favorite nickname for his little sister.
"I think it is; because we are friends, and I'm not about to let you ruin our friendship over a stupid kiss!"
"A stupid kiss? A stupid kiss?" Arthur raged. "I offered her my affection, I offered her my love and she turned it down."
"Oh come on." Charlotte thought he was being so babyish about the whole affair.
"Oh come on?" Arthur stared into his sister's eyes. She stepped back scared by the anger in them. "Why don't you try rejecting Prince Seth by telling him you're his sister and see how he feels!"
Speechless Charlotte opened and closed her mouth as she watched Arthur storm away. Quickly gathering her thoughts back up, she ran after her older brother; again.
"Go away Charlotte. I don't want to talk to anyone right now," Arthur grumbled, thrusting his way past rose bushes that needed serious pruning.
"Did she really tell you she was your sister?" Charlotte had often felt like Ana was her sister.
"Yes," he grumbled.
"Do you really think that could be true?" Despite Arthur's hatred of the idea, Charlotte wished it was true.
Arthur heaved a heavy sigh. "Charlotte, are you that dense? She's our cousin. That's it. Father's estranged sister's daughter."
"But if she was our aunt's daughter, how come we've never met our aunt?"
"Maybe she visits when we aren't here." Arthur threw his hands in the air at her. "Really, Charlotte? What are your trying to do? Rationalize Anastasia's rejection of me?"
"But what if she is our sister," Charlotte's excitement was quickly stopped by her brother's glare. "Look, if she really is our sister, will you forgive her?"
Arthur glowered but didn't say a word. Not that it mattered because Charlotte's mind was too occupied spinning all sorts notions as to how Ana was their sister and why they'd never been told.
Leaning towards Arthur, Charlotte whispered, "Do you think Mother had an affair and sent Ana here as our cousin so that father wouldn't find out?"
Arthur pushed Charlotte away with a groan. "Spar me your ruminations sister and let me be in peace."
"I'm going to get to the bottom of this," she waggled her finger at him as he walked away. "You just wait and see."
I don't know how long I stayed in the dining room with tears rolling down my cheeks. Charlotte did not come back and I feared Arthur had turned her against me. I hoped not, for I loved Charlotte like a sister. Well she was my sister, but I thought that meant something seeing as I only saw her for six weeks out of every year.
I stood, displacing Chester off my lap. He yelped slightly then scurried off, nails clacking on the tile floor. There was no use in trying to hide my tears from Natasha, she knew me too well, so I turned to face her.
"Ana!" She gave me a motherly hug before stepping back to place her hands on my shoulders. "Why don't you go up to your room and I'll fix you a nice hot cup of tea."
I nodded mutely and let her lead me to the stairs. I went up them while she went to the kitchens. It wasn't long before she joined me in my sitting room with a pot of tea and two cups. Sitting next to me on the loveseat, she poured us each a cup. I could only look into mine as she sipped hers. After a long moment she set her cup down and took my cup gently from me, setting it next to hers.
"Now Ana," her tone was warm and kind. "Tell me what got you so upset."
At first, my voice wouldn't work and then it all came out. How Arthur kissed me. How I'd told him I was his sister. How he'd stormed out angry at me.
"Oh ‘Tasha what am I going to do?" I sobbed. "He's such a good friend and I love him like a brother but..."
"I know," Natasha sighed. "I know."
We sat in silence and drank our tea. When our cups were empty, Natasha stood. "I am going to go tell your mother."
"What? But she will..."
Natasha waved off my protest. "She needn't know that you know, but she does need to know of this." Picking up the tray, my nursemaid left, leaving me to worry if Arthur and I would ever be friends again.