Mark held his finger to his lips using the classic nonverbal means of communicating with Hazel’s classmates not to give away that he was sneaking up behind her. Snobby-looking guys and girls in swanky school uniforms sat around an upscale cafeteria style lunchroom that was more like a coffee shop.
This room barely resembled his high school cafeteria with its fold-up tables on wheels that were pushed out of the way after lunchtime so the gym teacher could start his next class.
“Hello, princess,” Mark whispered close to Hazel’s ear after placing his hands gently over her eyes.
“Mark!” Hazel jumped off her high stool and threw her arms around his neck, nearly knocking him over.
“Well, this is a better reception than I thought I’d get after you left Puerto Aventuras without even saying goodbye.” He was worried that his rumpled clothing would give away the fact that he slept on his private jet on the way back from his trip to the Middle East. He’d come straight from the airport to see her and hadn’t bothered going home to North Carolina yet.
“Are these two of the guys you met on spring break, Hazel?” one of her friends asked, batting her obviously fake eyelashes at Alex.
Hazel pulled away from their embrace and turned to her friends. “Yes, this is Mark. And this adorable guy over here is my cousin, Alexander.”
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, ladies,” Alex said, reaching his hands out to each of the girls in turn. “Mind if we join you for lunch? The food on the airplane was dreadful.” Alex slipped onto a stool between two of Hazel’s friends.
Mark chuckled at Alex’s jest about the food on the airplane which had been the equivalent of a five-star restaurant. He pulled a tall stool over from another table, positioning himself close to Hazel and turning so that their knees were touching.
“Did you just get back to the states?” Hazel asked, creasing her brow, and running her fingers up through his disheveled hair. “You were gone, like, two weeks.”
“I had a lot of family members to meet.” Mark glanced over at Hazel’s friends, raising his eyebrows, wondering if they knew who he was and where he’d been. She kind of shook her head infinitesimally and her eyes widened.
“How was your grandfather’s funeral?” Hazel changed the subject to something more normal. “You have total hat-hair.”
“Different.” One-word answer. Safe. “And I wasn’t wearing a hat these past two weeks.”
“Oh… oh! Gotcha.” Hazel pulled away and narrowed her eyes playfully. “Wait, how did you find me?”
“I had to get creative, since you didn’t give me your phone number.”
“I told you—” Hazel lifted her chin— “There is no way on this polluted green earth that I’ll ever give you my phone number.”
“Yeah, I had to call your father’s office.”
“You called the Senator’s office?” Hazel asked loud enough for half the cafeteria to hear.
“For someone who doesn’t want her friends to know who her boyfriend is, you sure talk loud,” Mark said, chuckling.
“Okay, everyone, I have an announcement to make,” Hazel called out. “My boyfriend’s a prince. There, are you happy?”
If having two hot guys show up in the lunchroom at her school didn’t start enough whispering, that announcement sure did. Just for fun, Mark stood and called out.
“I’m sorry she insists on calling me her boyfriend. I’ve tried to get her to marry me but apparently she’s averse to wearing a crown and moving to the Middle East.”
“We would have to move to Madain Saleh?” Hazel’s face fell.
Mark moved closer and placed his hands on her hips, able to look her in the eye since she was seated on the high stool. He spoke quietly to only her. “Only if my great-grandfather dies, and he seemed very healthy to me.”
“I don’t want to live in the Middle East.” She sounded like a little girl pouting about wanting to stay up past her bedtime.
“Not even if I give you a palace full of white walls and set you free with a paintbrush and make you my queen?” he asked reverently.
“I might be persuaded if the move involved a paintbrush,” she said, resting her hands on his forearms. She lifted her gaze as if just remembering her original question. “You really got through to my father by calling his office? How’d you get past his staffers? Senators don’t answer their own phones.”
“It’s amazing what happens when the royal secretary from the head of state’s office in a Middle-Eastern sovereign nation calls and says, ‘Please hold for His Highness, Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh.’ Your father’s very nice, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Hazel said.
“I figure I’d better get on his good side if I’m going to tell him I intend to ask his daughter for her hand in marriage.”
“Don’t you mean ask him for my hand in marriage?”
“No, I will respectfully inform him that I intend to ask his daughter if she wants to marry me,” Mark said, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “As you so eloquently described when we were making out by the river, I don’t want our grandparents, or parents, deciding who we should marry.”
“Can we make out again?” she asked, her eyes smoldering.
“Won’t you get in trouble with your principal or something?”
“I’m the daughter of a senator and future of queen of Madain Saleh,” Hazel said. “I can do just about anything I want.” She grabbed onto Mark’s loosened tie and pulled him closer.
Mark allowed her to pull him almost forcefully to her and their lips met in a passionate embrace that almost crossed a line of too inappropriate for the school cafeteria.
The room erupted in applause and cheers and suggestive comments and someone called out, “Get a room!”
Mark pulled away and turned in the anonymous caller’s direction. “Not until we’re married, dude. They’d take away my crown if I defiled my future queen in such a disrespectful way.”
“Hey, cuz,” Alex asked Hazel, taking advantage of her distracted state of mind by handing her his phone. “Can I get your phone number so we can keep in touch?”
“Sure,” Hazel said, taking the little black case from Alex, which Mark recognized as his own phone. She typed the number into the proffered contacts list and handed the phone back to Alex, which he promptly handed to Mark.
“Thanks, man.” Mark reached out to Alex for a fist bump, his eyes never leaving Hazel’s.
“You snake.” She pushed his shoulder.
Mark held her at arm’s length and spoke definitively. “Finish high school. I’ll see you after you turn eighteen.”
With that he leaned forward and kissed Hazel gently on her lips, her expression one of shock.
As Mark walked away, he sent a quick text. I miss you already.