Page 32

On the center of the coffee table are bottles of aquavit, scotch, wine, beer, and a deck of cards. Even Einar is drinking, light beer, but still beer, since he doesn’t really have to be on his guard up here. I think that’s why he likes coming to the cabin. He can actually relax a little.

And we’re all feeling pretty relaxed as the night goes on. Ella is beside me on the couch, and I’m doing the very adolescent thing where I’m taking up most of the space so she has no choice but to be pressed against me. She doesn’t seem to mind though, and when she’s laughing especially hard, she leans into me.

Jesus. It feels like I’m fifteen again and flirting with girls at a party, concentrating on every look, every touch. Gone is the Magnus that never had to choose because women were always throwing themselves at him. Here is the Magnus that has to work hard for every single inch.

“So, Ella,” Viktor says to her. “Magnus tells me that you’re into environmental issues and that sort of thing.”

“That’s right,” she says. “Hope to have my own non-profit one day…perhaps here in Norway.” This is sounding hopeful. “Something to keep governments accountable, to keep the people involved in what’s going on with the resources, with the environment.”

Viktor presses his lips together, impressed. “Considering how much alcohol we’ve had at this point, I’m impressed that you sound so articulate.”

She shrugs and gives him a sloppy smile. “Perhaps the alcohol is tricking you into thinking I make sense.”

But I’ve been watching Ella, and though it seems like she’s drinking the same as the rest of us, she’s been very slow to take sips and often has a glass of water in between. She’s not drunk, she’s acting the part.

Then, as if on cue, Einar gets up and tosses his two empty beer cans in the trash, which prompts Ella to get to her feet.

“What are you doing? Is that recycling?”

Einar gives her the funniest look, as if she’s speaking some alien language, and I know his English is pretty good. “I beg your pardon?”

Ella marches over to the bin and pulls out the cans. “It’ll be too gross to separate them later. Do you have a bag for them?”

“Ella,” I tell her. “Just leave the cans on the counter. We’ll deal with it the next time Viktor and I come up here. Come back and join the party.”

She relents with a sigh and sits back down like nothing happened.

“Princess Planet,” I start singing under my breath, leaning into her. “She’s a hero.”

“Gonna put pollution down to zero,” Viktor finishes, grinning maniacally.

“Why do you keep singing that?” Ella asks me. It’s true, I do hum it in the halls when I pass her.

“It’s your song.”

“Oh yeah? Well, you have a song, too.”

“Was it on a kids’ TV show in the nineties?”

“Prince shitbag,” she starts singing into her beer, “oooh yeah, he’s a bag of shit.”

“That,” I start, wanting to tell her that’s not even a real song. But I say, “was pretty amazing.”

“Princess Planet and Prince Shitbag,” Viktor says, nodding his approval. “I’m rather liking this coupling.”

“Shut up, you damn Swede,” Ella tells him with a wicked grin.

“Fuck, that’s the sexiest thing you’ve ever said,” I tell her, my dick getting stiff. I have to adjust myself and hope she doesn’t notice. With her angelic face, swearing has never sounded so good.

And then of course it turns into one long lesson of Norwegian swear words where I teach her the importance of the following swears:

Ronketryne = whack-off face

J'vla bonde = fucking farmer

Kuktryne = dickface

Jævla hore kuk = fucking whore dick

Jeg driter i melka di = I shit in your milk

After that last one, when everyone finally stops giggling, Einar suddenly shouts out, “Jeg har runka bestefaren din!”

Which causes both Viktor and I to exchange a look of shock before we burst out laughing.

“Einar!” I exclaim. “I never knew you had that in you.”

“What does it mean?” Ella cries out. “Tell me!”

“No, no,” Einar says quickly, and lo and behold, I think his face is going red. “It is not meant for your ears.”

“Is it about me?” Her eyes are wide.

“Most definitely not,” I assure her. But I can understand why Einar might feel ashamed if the Princess of Liechtenstein knew that he said, “I’ve jacked off your grandfather.”

Einar, I hardly knew ye. Remind me to stay on his good side.

“Okay, I’m going to pee,” Ella says, picking up a flashlight and heading to the door. “If I’m not back in five minutes…just wait longer.”

The door shuts behind her and Viktor looks at me, brows raised.

“Did she just quote Ace Ventura?”

“I think so.”

Little by little, Ella is unveiling herself to me, to everyone, her true self, the one she doesn’t feel comfortable showing to many people, the one she buries because she tries hard to impress, to be included, to feel validated. If she feels all those things with me already, I think I’m winning.

“I think you’ve finally met your match, then,” Viktor says. “I’m happy for you.”

I give him a steady look as I take a long gulp of my scotch. “There’s nothing to be happy about.”

“You’re going to get married to her.”

I look at Einar and he looks away, not wanting to get involved, though I would love to know his opinion on the matter. He sees so much and says so little. Though apparently, when he does talk, he can be a crude motherfucker.

“That’s not a guarantee,” I remind Viktor. “I believe she has two or three more days to make up her mind on whether she wants to go through with it or not.”

“That’s crazy,” Viktor says. “Why wouldn’t she?”

“Well, she doesn’t love me, and I don’t think she even likes me much.”

“She likes you,” Viktor says. “I can tell. Einar, what do you think?”

Einar clears his throat. “Well…I think you might be right, Your Highness. But whether she knows she likes him, whether she wants to like him, that’s another thing.” He then looks at me and raises his beer. “But you, Prince Magnus, you’re head over heels for her. If you don’t mind me saying, of course.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I tell him, feeling slightly embarrassed.

“Don’t worry,” he says quickly. “She doesn’t know, if that’s what you’re worried about. You remind me of me when I was younger. Like when I was a child.”

“When was that, in the 1900s?” Viktor asks, snickering into his aquavit.

“Funny,” Einar says humorlessly, his eyes spearing Viktor, not caring that he’s giving stink eye to the Prince of Sweden. “When I was a child, if there was a girl I liked, I went out of the way to make her life miserable. I’d pull her hair. I’d put a thumbtack on her seat. I’d call her names. All because I wanted to get something out of her. Because I liked her. Sir, with all due respect, you remind me of that.”

I can only shrug because what he’s said is kind of true. If I didn’t care about Ella at all, I wouldn’t bother. I’ve never bothered with any woman before, never cared the way that I do.

But now that I know it, that I recognize it, I know I can’t continue doing it. I have to tell her how I feel. That I like her and I want this to work. And I just wish that this whole marriage thing didn’t exist, that I could just do this all in natural time, the way it happens for everyone else. I have real feelings in a very forced situation, and it’s only getting more complicated by the second.

Ella comes back shortly after having survived her session with the outhouse and we get back into it, this time Viktor doling out playing cards and getting into a drinking game.

Ella drinks a little more this time, enough that her cheeks go red and her neck looks flushed, and soon she’s getting up and saying it’s too hot in here and she needs to get some air.

Naturally, I go outside and follow her.

The moon is almost full and bathing the cabin in cool light. It’s cold, probably only five degrees above freezing, but it feels refreshing compared to the heat of the cabin.

“Are you okay?” I ask her, following her moonlit silhouette as she walks around the side of the cabin.

Then I remember that the cabin is built on the side of a rock face, and if she keeps walking, she’ll take a nasty tumble.

I quickly run to her and grab her arm, pulling her back moments before she would have fallen.

“Hey!” she cries out, but I step back and pull her with me, not letting go.

“There’s a drop-off right there,” I tell her. “You almost went over.”

“Shit,” she swears, her hands now gripping my biceps. “I didn’t know.”

“It’s kind of hard to tell in the dark.” I jerk my head back. “The outhouse is back there. I hope you haven’t been trying to pee off this ledge.”

She lets out a weak laugh though I can tell she’s still breathless. “No. Thank god. I just wanted to wander for a bit.”

“So, are you okay?” I repeat.

“Yeah,” she says. “I mean, better than if I had gone off the ledge.” She glances up at me, her hands slowly trailing down my arms. “Thank you. For being here.”

“If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been here for the last two weeks.”

She chews on her lip, seeming to consider that. “Yeah. Except for the times that you left.”

“And now you know I was chilling in a bar with a bunch of old people. And I was talking about you.”

“You were?” In the faint moonlight, her eyes seem to glow. I can hardly look away.

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