Failure is part of life.
If you don’t fail, you don’t learn.
If you don’t learn you’ll never change.
Henford-On-Bagley Cromwell Castle
Looking up at the mirror I wondered what this day would hold for me. It was early morning, well, by my standards anyway, 7:30 am, even though Max’ side of the bed had been empty as usual when I woke up, he was an early riser, and as usual, there was a single red rose – my favorite flower – with a brief, hand-written note by my bedside.
‘Good morning, queen of my heart, meet me in the formal dining room for breakfast together when you rise. Love, always and forever. ~Max‘, it read.
Thinking about that, I smiled to myself, amused that if Max only knew my royal butt was sitting on a different kind of throne right now with a small wand in my hand and a timer going on my phone, waiting for the wand to decide if it wanted to give me one line – or two lines that could change our lives forever …
I can almost hear you all gasping. What?! Aria-Grace taking a pregnancy test and not flipping out completely? Yeah, I know, right? I am just as shocked as you are.
Let me backpaddle a bit to explain how we arrived here. Each day since our wedding had been different and always very eventful. I’ve been to the fanciest places and events, met so many other royals, ladies and lordships, even attended another royal wedding, that of Max’s sister Genevieve to the Italian Crown Prince Gaetano “Tano” Rinaldi.
By now I had also accumulated a solid score of humiliating myself through ignorance. One of my own family’s favorite crowd pleasers might amuse you too. I made the mistake of telling my Grandpa Blaine about it, might as well have made it a newspaper ad, for he will tell anyone he talks to longer than 5 minutes about this while doubling over and snorting for laughter.
You see, the royal house of Cromwell is also famous for their warmblood steeds, a whole huge stable full of world-famous horses for Polo, breeding and riding. And to let you know how little I knew about all things equestrian before moving here, listen to this.
So, me being a big city girl, I had never even sat on a real horse in my life before coming to the castle. Riding is part of being a Cromwell, it’s in their flesh and blood, Max is an excellent horseman and looks amazing on horseback, the epitome of elegance and manliness, the few times he had taken me out for a ride on his horse had been a romantic eruption of emotions for me. I mean, my literal prince on a literal white horse. I may consider myself a modern woman, but I am not made of stone. You best believe that got my juices flowing in some big way!
So, in order for us to share this pastime in style, I was to learn how to ride properly on my own. Max wanted to go through all the basics with me first, for safety, but that was too boring for me, I mean, how hard could riding a horse really be, right? So, we skipped that, Max decided on a very calm ‘bay gelding’ for me to see how I would do naturally and go from there. I didn’t know what that was, a bay gelding, so Max tried to keep his teen brother Leopold from laughing while carefully explaining it to me. I wanted to slaughter that damn teen prince right there! You know how many horses of ANY color with or without nuts there were in Del Sol Valley, my hometown? That’s right, ZERO!
One stable worker was out sick, the other was getting Max’ horse ready, and me now being even more uninclined to drag that pesky Leopold along on what in my mind could become an ultra-romantic ride through nature, just my prince and I, climaxing in us doing romantic and naughty things in some beautiful meadow, I was in a great hurry to get my horse ready to go before the stable hand could get Leopold’s saddled, as I had every intention of leaving the pesky teen brother-in-law behind. He was only tagging along cos he knew it would annoy me, as he was more interested in his cell phone anyway, to the point that it took all my willpower to not slap that thing out of his hands.
So – me being a modern and capable woman, I went looking for that gelding myself. Plan was, that once I located that nag, I was gonna drag it out of its stable, slap some saddle and bridles on it and be ready to go – without Leopold! Look, I liked him, really, but he was a teen, and I was a newlywed. Ya know?
According to Max was bay some shade of brown, so the white and black horses were out, and I limited my hurried search to any brown horses I could find, but my quest ended when I looked up to find the King, Queen, Max and Leopold plus stable hand nearly losing their minds laughing so hard as they were watching me looking at all the brown horses’ undercarriages to see which might be said gelding. I have no idea why King Frederick and Queen Margaret were even at the stables, they weren’t dressed to ride, so I just shot up, glaring at the group.
“What?! Just looking for the one with no balls. How is that even funny?” I asked in a very unladylike, unroyal, but very Cameron-way, very irritated.
All that did was start another round of hysterical laughter by the usually always so composed royals at my expense. I kid you not, I had NEVER seen them like this. They were always composed. ALWAYS. Except now.
Eventually the King managed to quit laughing long enough to point at a sign on the wall, designating this section of the stables which I had been creeping stall to stall in as being for “STUDS ONLY”, then to the open barn door where I could see the rear ends of a white and a brown horse, apparently waiting for riders. Under much effort the King was now laboring out the words to explain to me that geldings are usually kept with the mares, not with breeding studs.
So … yeah. Overlooking the signage in my hurry, I had been enthusiastically perusing the admittedly impressive twigs and berries of top breeding quality stallions in their prime, obviously with no chance of finding any geldings in that section.
That was only one of many examples where I realized you cannot just join royalty like a club and that sometimes slow and steady wins the race, not a go-getter attitude.
On that humorous note, now a downer.
There was that really unamusing day when the King asked Max and me into his private office.
We were sat down and with a serious expression His Majesty dropped the bomb I had been dreading.
“It has now been almost a year since you first came to live with us at Cromwell Castle, and several months since your wedding, my dear Aria-Grace. I think it is time to discuss the timeline for a family addition, or, better put, an heir. While I respect this as a private matter, I do have on good authority, Maximilian, that your sister is already working on that following her recent marriage to His Royal Highness, Prince Gaetano. While I am not a stickler for rules or appearances normally, it would shine a rather unflattering light on us if your younger sister were to produce an heir for another kingdom before you did so for us. After all, you will be the King after me, Maximilian. That is not to be taken lightly and as much a curse as it is a gift. Again, with all due respect for this being a private matter, there is more at stake in this case than personal preferences.”
Mouth agape, I stared, then blurted out.
“A baby?! Already?! I am not even 23 yet! Not for three more months and change! I don’t want to be a mother at 23!”
Was King Frederick serious?! He sure looked serious!
“Yes, I am aware. Not to be too direct or correct your Math, Aria-Grace, but as far as I know, a baby takes around 40 weeks from point of conception until birth, and they don’t usually happen at will on first attempt. Ergo, by the time it would get close to any birth, you’d probably be nearing the age of 24, which isn’t an usual age for first-time motherhood. Just food for thought. Besides, the younger the woman, the easier the pregnancy I have been told. Another plus point for a speedier timeline.”
I glared at Max, who just sat there, digesting his father’s request, but said nothing. Since nothing was coming from either of us, the King concluded the meeting.
“Well, that was all, I don’t mean to keep you and I have a rather important call to prepare for. I will see both of you at high tea then.” the King dismissed us, Max got up immediately, offered me his hand, then pulled me along with him, outside the study I dug in my heels.
“Can you believe that?! What in the world?! So, your sister can’t wait to pop out little Italian princes and princesses the moment she takes off her wedding gown and now I have to get to baby making because of her so we ‘don’t look bad’?! And why did you just sit there saying nothing?! Why was I the only one fighting our battle for us?”
“Aria-Grace, my angel, please. You are causing a scene. Let’s talk about this in private.” he pulled on my elbow, pointing up the staircase, apparently to go to our suite. Or private quarters, as it was referred to here.
Max was lucky I loved him so, for I was fuming, but kept my mouth shut as I ungracefully stomped up the stairs to our suite next to him. As soon as the door shut behind us, I unleashed all my thoughts on him. Poor guy got the full blast, I was livid! I was not used to other people deciding my future for me, let alone what to do with my body and when.
Max stayed calm, and when I finally demanded some sort of reaction from him, he simply stood there and spoke softly.
“I believe father has a valid point. I would much prefer to be a younger parent, and I am already 26, Aria-Grace. If we wanted to have more than one child, two, or more even, hypothetically speaking, that would probably put me well over the age of 30. And as father said, babies don’t happen at the push of a button. Sometimes it takes a long time to conceive, which is why there are larger age gaps between my siblings and me, and evidently you and your brother as well.”
“Two? More? Thirty? What the hell, Max?! I am freaking out about ONE child, and you are already planning two or more for some hypothetical royal Cromwell soccer team??! I did NOT sign up for this shit, hypothetical or otherwise!” I ranted irately.
“Actually, you did. I did tell you about this. Us needing an heir. At least one. I very vividly remember us in the castle gardens talking about us having an heir not too long following a marriage. Maybe you forgot, but I remember it well.” Max said, and his calmness was angering me more.
Plus, now that he said it, I did remember it as well, which only upset me more as he had taken all the wind out of my now very much deflated sails of arguments.
So, my beautiful prince and I had our first ever fight.
Correction: I fought, I yelled at him, he just stood there and took it, initially trying to calm me down, then just quietly.
Until he said something that I will never forget while I was gasping for air following yet another rant about a fucked-up society in which someone, anyone would even dare try to tell a woman what to do with her body and when.
“I agree this may not seem ideal, but it is what it is, a reality of royals, especially in my position, and I fail to see the horrors of me being the father of a child with you. I don’t know why it matters so much whether this would be now or in some years. Wouldn’t it be a love child, regardless? At least to me it would be so.” he said, still composed and without raising his voice after listening to me screech at him, then he just left.
Not even slamming the door. Nope.
Just politely walked out and shut the door quietly behind himself.
There is no sugar-coating it, I felt like shit, and didn’t know what to do, so I called my mom, but her assistant answered, telling me she was about to go into a live interview with some TV station and would have to call me back afterwards.
This angered me even more. Stupid assistant!
And how dare my mom just live her life without me when I needed her?! How dare she go to work when I needed her more than her stupid fans? ARGH! I did mention I wasn’t thinking clearly, didn’t I?
Even more furious than before, now pacing between the bedroom and the large dressing room like a captured wild animal, I called my dad, who picked up right away.
Immediately I interrupted his happy and sweet greeting by biting his head off, telling him about the perceived injustice that had been done to me, about the fight with Max and topped it off by saying to my very own, very excellent father, whom I love very, very much that all men were swine and in cahoots with each other.
Once I was done, or better, once I stopped yelling at my poor dad because I was now sobbing so hard, I could barely breathe, there was quiet in the line.
Eventually I calmed down enough to realize what I had done. My poor daddy! OH NO!
“I am here. Sorry, sweetheart, but you just sounded so much like your mom again, it gave me bad flashbacks. It shocks me every time when I realize how much you are just like her. I think I may not be the right person for you to talk to here, for anything I would say to you would only upset you more, just like it did your mother back long before Nick was even conceived and for many years after.” dad’s voice was low and growly.
Yeah, he wasn’t happy with me now. I was legit afraid he’d hang up, but I really needed to hear his voice and opinion.
“No daddy! I need you. Say it. Whatever it is. I can take it and I need honesty. I know I was an asshole just now; I swear I didn’t mean it! You are the best daddy ever and a role model for all men. I mean it! I was just so … upset. Daddy, do you really think I should have a baby? Now? Do you think I could even be a good mother? I know absolutely NOTHING about babies! I just graduated college this year! I haven’t experienced anything yet. That’s just too soon, isn’t it? Dad?”
“Okay, AG, if you want honesty, here is what I think. I think you knew what you were getting yourself into, you agreed to it eyes wide open. You are young, maybe a bit too young to become a mother, but you are not at risk of missing out if that is what you are afraid of. You already experienced more in those 22 years than most people will have by my age and it’s not like with your royal status you could just suddenly go backpacking across Europe, nor are you ever stuck. If you want to see your mom and me, or your brother, you will always have the funds and means to do so, childless, with one child or even a baker’s dozen of kids. You knew Max and his father needed and wanted an heir; you knew all that when you agreed to marry him. How does he feel about all that anyway?” Dad wondered. He sounded a lot more like a lawyer than my daddy right now, but he was right.
“I don’t know. I think I said bad things to him, dad. He left the room after saying something about why it would be so bad to have him be the father of a love child. That’s not what this is about though, not at all what I meant. I don’t not want him to be the father of my child, just not right now. He knows that, right? I mean, he knows I love him and me not wanting a kid has nothing to do with him as a person and as a man. Right? This is obvious, right? OMG, I don’t think it is. Dad … how bad did I just screw up?”
“AG, this is EXACTLY your mother and me many years ago all over again. We ended up breaking up over this. One of many times we broke up. I will admit, hearing this now worries me greatly. Maybe he does know what you really meant, I do understand your concerns and I understood your mother’s back when all this was happening to us, but it really doesn’t matter. At the core of it all you got angry at him for wanting a love child with you. That is not something any man can just walk off, seeing the woman they love lose her shit so badly about such a grand gesture of utter love. Maybe if you had calmly discussed not being ready, then maybe come up with a timeline you both could live with. But verbally kneeling him in the balls when he’s most vulnerable never just pearls off a man like water off a raincoat. Speaking 100% from experience here. What I do not know is how to fix it or how to advice you. For me, it took almost dying to fix it. I sure hope that’s not what you need. Poor Max, he is awfully young for a heart attack.”
The memory of that day when my daddy had this sudden heart attack out of the blue during a Cameron family BBQ at Everett Heights, following yet another terrible fight with mom caused a hot flash of fear and regret inside of me.
Had it not been for Rohan, dad wouldn’t be there on the other end of the line. That thought alone send ice water through my veins.
My wonderful, amazing daddy! All his life he had been the epitome of athleticism. Maybe that was part of why he even made it at all, either way my dad was still fit as a fiddle and not the type of man you’d expect to have a heart attack, let alone such an extreme one.
“Daddy. I am sorry. I am so so so so sorry.”
“Sorry for what, sweetheart?”
I sniffled but said nothing. I couldn’t.
“AG, sweetheart, I know you didn’t mean it. I am sure Max does too, but it still doesn’t feel good when you love a girl so much and she so vehemently rejects the dreams you have for both of you. I am not saying you have to bend whichever way to make everyone happy, far from that, but whatever you decide, about this and in future, always look at the big picture BEFORE casting any judgment and before making any big decisions. Sometimes we have to suck it up and jump into something with both feet that makes us uncomfortable, or even scares us, worries us. But sweeping ideas off the table without giving it a second glance is never a good idea, and this is coming from a hothead with a serious temper, trust me, I learned the hard way and happily share this insight, so you and your brother won’t have to repeat my bullshit. Not everything can be fixed later, AG. Sometimes things break too badly to be put back together. Your mother and I got extremely lucky several times and we both realized that. All that being said, whatever you decide, your mom and I will have your back. I love you, princess.”
“I love you more, daddy.” I said, and meant it.
After that phone call I felt at ease. Calm. It’s true. Dad was right. I had known what I was getting into, and Max had always been very upfront with expectations. And I knew how bad things had been between my parents all because of stubbornness on both sides.
This wasn’t the first time I had been compared to my mom, which overall was a great compliment, she was an amazing and beautiful woman, one couldn’t help but admire, except, those comparisons usually happened when I was being an egoistic bitch, something my mom was guilty of too and she’d be the first to tell you that.
Even mom had talked to me about all that, her regrets, her mistakes, so I wouldn’t repeat them, yet, advice is only good if you take it and heed it.
I loved my mom, looked up to her, to me she was the queen of everything, but I also knew she had a bad temper and could be very self-centered. Surprise, surprise, so was I.
Great feeling, that realization, pardon the sarcasm.
As they say, ‘self-awareness is the first step to improvement’.
So, I changed my attitude.
Immediately I apologized to Max, and to dad, again, then without saying anything to anyone, I stopped all birth control, leaving the decision in the hands of the powers there’ll be.
I may not feel ready for a baby, but I wanted to make Max as happy as he had made me and still made me every day. What I did NOT want was to repeat my parents’ mistakes, to make all the heartbreak they had to go through worth something.
And I wanted my parents to be young and fit enough to be able to experience their grandkids fully and for as long as possible. Nick and Addy had a headstart on me with that grandkid thing, but I was sure Max and I wouldn’t be too far behind.
And now we wait …