“My dearest grandson, I have asked your father to speak on my behalf at your coronation,” Mr. Alverez began reading again while everyone else at the table sat in shock. “Listen to your father’s words. Learn all you can from him while he is yet on this earth. Do not be a stubborn fool like I have been with my father. Learn all you can about our kingdom that you will be prepared if you are called upon to lead.
“I ask a special favor of you, he who was given my name. Take me home. I risked the lives of my wife and your father so that he might have been born within the boundaries of our kingdom. Now I ask that you return me to that soil from which I came.
“While you are there, taste of the water, the life source that keeps our kingdom on the map. For thousands of years our family has been the keepers of that water, an oasis in an otherwise destitute region of sand and wind. Once you have tasted the waters of Madain Saleh, you will understand.
“One more thing, tell my father that I’m sorry I never returned to say goodbye. Tell him I forgive him and ask him to please forgive me. Tell my nephew, Omar that I’ve never stopped loving him and that I still miss his father, my brother, Jared, the last official Crown Prince before the crown was contested. Get to know your cousins that when the time comes for King Sayid to join his sons in death, you will be ready to lead them.
“The remainder of my wishes you will learn from your father during your coronation. Thank you for coming so quickly to visit me. I wish I could have been there to watch you receive the crown. Wear it well and honor my name. All that I have is now yours. Most sincerely, Prince Marcos Sayid of Mada’in Saleh.”
Mr. Alverez completed the formal letter that grandfather had written by pronouncing the name of the kingdom in its ancient pronunciation, which meant grandfather must have written it that way. He was taking this seriously.
Mr. Alverez folded the parchment and slipped the note into an envelope and slid the envelope across the table. Mark lifted his hand and placed it on top of the cream-colored envelope, pulling the crisp paper until it rested directly in front of him.
“All that I have is now yours,” Mark whispered. “What exactly does he mean by that?”
Mr. Alverez opened a leather binder in which an official statement of worth sat ready to be passed from grandfather to grandson. The suspense in the room was palpable. Mark held his breath.
“Your Highness, Prince Marcos Sayid of Mada’in Saleh, your estate is now worth,” Mr. Alverez gulped and continued. “One billion, two million, nine hundred fifty-seven thousand… U.S. dollars.”
* * * * * * * * *
The brackish canal that sat undisturbed in the late evening calm was just out of reach of Mark’s bare feet. If he slid forward and reached his leg down the side of the embankment, he could probably dip his foot in the water, but that would be too much effort and he didn’t want to move.
Elegant lights from the mansions across the river sparkled gracefully but did little to block the myriad of stars that brightened the night sky.
Billions of stars.
Billions of dollars.
After the will had been read, Mark did some research and found that he wasn’t even close to the richest prince in the middle east. Most Saudi princes laid claim to several billion dollars. And royal families weren’t even that rich compared to some businessmen and tech gurus in the world.
He also remembered that the Cohen family was even wealthier than the Sayids. Hazel and Alex would never have to worry about money either, but they weren’t the only grandchildren. They didn’t stand to inherit the entirety of their grandfather’s estate.
Like Mark did. Like Mark had. The will was read. The money was his.
“Hey, Mark,” Hazel called softly from several yards behind him. “I didn’t want to sneak up on you and startle you.”
Mark leaned back, bracing his hands behind him in the dew-covered grass and lifted his chin to gaze up at the girl who had taken him on a roller coaster ride the past few days. She was wearing a colorful gypsy skirt again with a lightweight cardigan wrapped around her shoulders.
“Mind if I join you?” Without waiting for an answer, she lowered herself to the edge of the embankment and swung her bare feet over the edge similar to how Mark’s feet dangled, hovering a few inches above the water. Her short legs were more like a foot above the water.
He didn’t speak and neither did she. He wasn’t sure what to say, what to feel, what to do.
“I have a favor to ask,” Hazel finally whispered. Mark continued his silence while waiting for her to continue. “I’d like you to hold onto my diamond for safe keeping.”
Mark turned to her and gulped, not sure if he should be relieved or angry.
“I’m not saying I want to give the diamond back… not really. I mean, your grandfather gave it to me, and I would never insult him by refusing his gift. I just don’t have any place to store the diamond and I figured the safest place for that little velvet jewelry box is in that leather back with your crowns.”
Our crowns, Mark wanted to correct her but held his peace.
“If we someday decide to get married, that diamond will make a beautiful engagement ring, just like your mother’s.”
“You say ‘if’ like you have doubts that will ever happen.” Mark’s voice cracked from having sat alone and not speaking for so long.
“I like you, Mark. Probably too much for having just met you less than a week ago. But I’m not in love with you. And you’re not in love with me. I want you to have the chance to marry a woman you love. I don’t want our grandparents deciding who we should marry. It was fun to joke about, but marriage isn’t a joke. When I get married, I want it to be forever. Especially because when I get married, I’m giving away a gift that can never be taken back.”
“Who are you and what did you do with the snarky teenager I met a few days ago?” Mark asked.
“She grew up real fast when someone placed a crown on the table in front of her,” Hazel said. “I don’t want us to get excited about a fun spring break and let this week affect the plans we had for our futures.”
“Two weeks ago, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
“I don’t know. I like art. And music. I play the acoustic guitar and write poetry. Sometimes I smoke pot and lay on the floor of my bedroom watching the colorful lights from my lava lamp decorate my ceiling.”
“Seriously?” Mark wondered if she was joking but could picture her in that scenario, so he was prone to believe she was telling the truth.
“I wake up the next morning wondering why my ceiling is white again and then remember that I didn’t actually have a paintbrush in my hand the previous night.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to fall in love with you,” Mark said, completely in awe of this youthful dreamer who breezed into his life and flipped his world upside down.
Hazel let her head fall back so that her gaze lifted to the stars and her long hair reached for the grass, nearly touching the tops of the blades. Her whisper was barely audible, “What did you always want to be when you grew up?”
“I didn’t really have a choice,” Mark said, not sad or upset, just resigned. “I was born a prince. You can’t just shake that off and say, ‘I don’t think I wanna be a prince anymore.’ I’m a prince. Oh, and I’ve always been destined to be Crown Prince. Didn’t realize I’d be quite this young when that happened, but whatever.”
“No, but, if you’re weren’t born a prince?” Hazel said, turning her head to look at him instead of the stars. “You’re studying geospatial analytics, right? What kind of job could you get with that degree?”
“Well, I love flying drones and using aerial imagery to visualize what’s on the ground and evaluate what it means, and how best to utilize natural resources and plan for future land uses.”
“We’re a perfect team,” Hazel said, reverently, laying back onto the grass and gazing up at Mark. “I love to lie on the ground and imagine how the world above me could be brushed with color…”
“…and I like to view the world from above and imagine how the future could look.” Mark leaned over her and placed one hand on either side of her shoulders, lifting himself as if he were poised to do a series of pushups.
Without ever touching his body to hers, he used all the strength in his arms to lower himself down and kissed her lightly on her lips.
Knowing his arms wouldn’t support his weight indefinitely and not wanting to brazenly lie on top of her, Mark pushed himself to the side and laid on the grass next to her, propping himself on his elbow.
Hazel turned her face to him and whispered, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to fall in love with you too.”
Not wasting the moment, Mark kissed Hazel and didn’t stop kissing her for a very long time.