- Royally Yours
A hoarse bark of a chuckle comes from Edward’s throat. And I almost laugh with him, even while the memory makes me want to cry.
“Good,” he whispers.
And we resume our vigil.
I DO THE MATH IN my head . . . mostly to keep from losing my mind. I was gone for ten years, eleven if you count the war. I wrote Thomas about a letter a week, sometimes more, sometimes less—an average of four per month. Four, times twelve months a year, times eleven.
Five hundred and twenty-eight letters, tens of thousands of words, countless moments between my baby brother and me.
I don’t have any of his letters; they were burned in campfires all around the globe. When you live on the move, you must travel light, and sentimentality is too heavy to carry. But I don’t need them—I already know every word and every curve of every letter he wrote, by heart.
It’d be a mistake to think we weren’t close just because we didn’t live in the same place. I know brothers who shared the same bloody bed who couldn’t stand the sight of each other.
But Thomas was with me all the time. Every new place, new experience, new memory . . . he was there, in my thoughts—I couldn’t wait to share them with him. And I know it was the same for him. Thomas confessed his deepest secrets to me in those letters, like he thought it would matter to me. As if there was anything in the world that he could write about himself that would make me think less of him. That would make me not love him fully and completely—the same way he loved in return.
There wasn’t and I told him so.
I know how to live in a place where my brother’s not. But I don’t know how to live in a world where he doesn’t.
And as I sit here at the side of his bed and watch his life slowly slip away, it’s like a part of my soul is slipping away with it. Leaving it hard and barren. Like the parched, cracked earth without water. Like the arctic without the sun.
I watch him and think of when he was a little lad—all head and glasses and short, skinny limbs.
“Show me, Edward! Show me how to kick the ball like you.”
“Can I sleep in here with you? You’ll keep the shadows away.”
“When you go away to school, Edward, can you take me with you?”
His breathing gets slower and slower, and I know Lenora and Michael see it too.
And I look at his face and he’s not wearing his glasses. They’re folded on the bedside table because he doesn’t need them. Because he’ll never need them again.
And it’s so fucking wrong.
And there’s absolutely nothing I can do.
Except sit and watch him go, and feel the fury at the injustice of all of it.
Thomas lets out a deep, slow breath—peaceful—longer than any that came before. And I lean forward, waiting, praying for him to inhale just once more. To stay just a little longer.
But it doesn’t come.
The only sound in the room is the click of the clock in the corner—it’s deafening against the still, perfect silence. The doctor steps forward and checks for a pulse, a heartbeat, with his stethoscope. He lifts each of Thomas’s eyelids gently and even before he utters the words, Michael’s face collapses into his hands and the silence is overwhelmed with his sobs.
“He’s gone,” the doctor tells us.
And it’s over, just like that. But I don’t feel empty or drained. My muscles tighten with a rage I’ve never known. I want to destroy something. I want to tear this damned castle down, stone by stone, for no other reason than because it’s still here and my brother is not.
I pat Michael’s back, trying to channel the seething energy into comfort because I know that’s what Thomas would’ve wanted.
The doctor lifts the sheet and covers him. And still—stupidly—I wait for it to billow with his breath. When it doesn’t come, when the white cotton lies quiet over his features, a wave of crushing disappointment presses down on me. Slowly I get to my feet and move over to the bedside table. With reverence, I pick up those thick-framed glasses, and my vision blurs as I hold them in the palms of my hands. I choke back the burn of wetness that’s drowning my throat and slip the glasses into my shirt pocket, above my heart—where I swear they will stay every day for the rest of my life.
“There, there . . .” I hear from behind me, in a lovely feminine voice. Nothing should be so lovely on such a terrible day.
“It’s better this way,” Lenora tells Michael.
I spin around, ready to attack.
“Better for whom?”
She looks up at me with wide, dry eyes and perfectly composed features.
“It’s better that he didn’t suffer,” she says.
And even that rationale infuriates me.
Lenora stands. “I will go to the chapel and pray for his eternal soul.” She looks to the maid. “I’m not to be disturbed.”
The maid nods.
I have an altogether different reaction.
“Prayers? That’s all you’ve got? My brother’s final days on this earth were filled with concern for you. Your welfare, your future—and all you have for him are fucking prayers? Not even one tear? Or does the Queen not grieve either? Not feel anything for anyone except herself?”
She regards me with as much emotion as stone.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“I think your relationship with my brother was lopsided. I think he cared for you a fuck of a lot more than you ever cared for him.”
Her gaze remains infuriatingly steady. As calm and flat as the surface of a breezeless gray lake.
“I don’t care what you think.”
She turns her back, dismissing me.
The dark-headed guard who barely takes his eyes off her steps forward.
“I’m here, Your Majesty.”
“Stay with the Duke,” she says. “He shouldn’t . . . I don’t want him to be left alone.”
The guard dips his head. “I won’t leave his side.”
With her shoulders back and head high, like she’s wearing some invisible crown, the Queen walks from the room.
Later, I don’t know how long it’s been, Michael and I sit together in the great room. Drinking whiskey. Lots of it. And staring at the enormous wall of ancient, nasty-looking weaponry hanging from it. The wall of death.
We don’t speak, not yet. That will come later, when we’re strong enough—or drunk enough—to actually form words. But when I hear the door open, and see men walking through the foyer and up the stairs rolling a gurney, I rise to my feet.
“Who the hell are they?”
“They’re from the palace,” Michael explains. “Thomas is to be buried there.”
“What? Why? And you’re all right with that?”
He swipes the back of his hand across his nose. “The Queen says I’m welcome to visit at the palace whenever I like.”
Then he shrugs, and pours himself another glass.
“No—no, they can fuck right off. We have a family plot on our land where generations of Rourkes are buried. He belongs here.”
I don’t know why I care, it’s idiotic—Thomas wouldn’t give a single shit. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling possessive and protective of him. Or maybe I’m just itching for a fight.
I march through the foyer, toward the door. The maid—the one from upstairs; I think she came with Lenora from the palace—intercepts me, as if she’s reading my mind.