“Funny you should use the word fucking. From what I hear—”
“Never mind about me, young lady.”
“Young lady? Dad, I’m almost ready for bifocals.”
“How can you possibly know—no offense, Jeff—how can you know this guy is the love of your life in a measly seven days?”
“Oh, I don’t,” she assured her father. “I’m marrying him for his great big dick.”
The king and Jeffrey groaned in unison.
There was a knock on the door, and the king screamed, “Go away!”
“Uh, Dad? You okay in there?”
“Aw, fuck. Come in, David.”
The prince entered cautiously. “Hi. What’s—”
“Your sister has been boning her bodyguard like some awful American movie script she rewrote, and now she’s got the idea in her teeny brain that she wants to marry him!”
David didn’t miss a beat. “Really? Congratulations, Nicole. Welcome to the family, Jeffrey.”
“No, no, no!”
“Dad, you’re hardly in a position to—”
“Don’t tell me what I’m in a position to or not to do. I’m the goddamned King of goddamned Alaska.”
“Maybe you should get that on a T-shirt like Christina has,” Nicole suggested, “because you seem to think nobody remembers.”
“You guys, you’re killing me.” The king buried his face in his hands. “You’re all out to get me. Don’t think I don’t know. I know things.”
“Actually, David, I’m glad you’re here. I really need to talk to you about something.”
“You do, Nicole? Is there something you need help with? Because I—”
Another knock. “Big Al? You in there?”
“Go away!” he shouted. “Go away and die!”
The door opened and the Dragon sauntered in. “Aw, music to my ears, darlin’.”
“Don’t call me darlin’, you horrible horrible thing. I’m having the worst week. No offense, Nicole. Jeffrey.”
“None taken, Majesty.”
“Don’t you mean ‘Dad’?” Nicole teased, laughing out loud as the king and Jeffrey flinched in unison.
“Looks like I missed all the excitement.” The Dragon smelled news; she came into the room with her eyes wide and her ears perked up. “Congratulations.”
“Don’t congratulate them! I haven’t given my permission yet.”
“I don’t need the permission of the sovereign and you know it,” Nicole said coolly. “Neither of us do. This isn’t England.”
“Can’t you pretend you’re a little in awe of me?” the king begged.
“Aw, we all are, Big Al.”
“You hush up. All you people are trying to drive me to a—”
“Also, I’m seriously thinking about abdicating to David.”
The king pounded on his chest with a fist. “Ack! Here it comes! The fatal coronary!”
David turned to stare at her, ignoring his father’s cries of distress. “You’re what?”
“David, think about it. I’m not ready for this job. Dad’s ancient, he could keel over any second. And there I’d be, jammed into a job I’ve had minimal training for. That’s not good for the country.”
“I’m keeling over right now!” the king gurgled.
“Although I think Jeffrey would make a fine king,” Nicole added thoughtfully, nodding approvingly at the Dragon as she solicitously pounded the king on the back.
“No, I wouldn’t,” he replied. “I’m too used to seeing the job from the other side of the desk.”
“That’s why you’d—”
“Nicole, I thought we agreed we were going to spring these things on your father one at a time.”
“You planned this? To assassinate me by speech?”
“I know, Jeffrey, but then David walked in and it was kind of the perfect moment to—”
“Am I still in the goddamned room?”
“Nicole.” David was frowning at them. “I don’t understand. You’re the eldest. The crown is yours by right.”
“Will you stop being so damn noble? I don’t want it. Worse, I’m not ready for it. Even worse? I’m not worthy of it. You’ve got twenty IQ points on me, and more than thirty years of experience. There’s no contest. At all.”
“But you’re the eldest,” David repeated.
“I don’t give a shit!”
“Hello, King of Alaska in the room. Maybe we should, I don’t know, PRETEND I’M IN CHARGE AND DISCUSS IT WITH ME?”
It took twenty seconds for everyone’s ears to stop ringing. And when they did, it was the Dragon who spoke. “I know how to settle this.”
“Don’t listen to her,” Al warned. “She’s dangerously insane.”
“I think you should take care of this the American way.”
“What? Have a revolution? Loosen the gun laws? What?”
“Have a poll. Ask the Alaskan people who they want running their lives when Al kicks it.”
“But this isn’t a democracy,” David said.
“Yeah, an’ you know how many monarchies aren’t around anymore because people decided family lineage was no way to decide who ran the country? I could give you a list. Hell, David, you could probably give me one. So why don’t you put it out there for the people? I’m not saying you should let ’em decide. But the figures might help y’all decide what’s really best for the country.”
They argued. They swore at each other. The king disinherited Nicole, then fired Jeffrey, then disinherited David. The Dragon laughed her ass off. The king begrudgingly took it all back.
Then Nicole asked the Dragon, “How does one conduct a poll, anyway?”
PRINCESS NICOLE KRENSKI
BASTARD PRINCESS GIVES FIRST PRESS CONFERENCE
ANNOUNCES LEGAL TITLE TO THE WORLD
ABDICATES THRONE TO CROWN PRINCE DAVID
“S o that’s what it is?” Nicholas asked. “Your title is HRH Princess Nicole Krenski? Like Krenski was your middle name?”
“It’s the best way I can reconcile my Baranov side with my mother’s memory. I know the general consensus around here is that she was selfish to keep me to herself her entire life, but the bottom line is, I owe everything to her.”
“Nobody at this table,” the king said mildly, pretending it was a comment and not a command (no one was fooled), “has one bad thing to say about your dear mother.”
“Agreed,” David said. He raised his water glass. “To Ms. Krenski, mother of the bastard princess.”
The other siblings and in-laws raised their glasses and thundered “To Ms. Krenski!” so loud the chandelier tinkled.
“And you’ll never ever be queen?” Nicky persisted.
“God willing,” Nicole said fervently. “David’s cut out for it. I’m not. Everybody at the table was nice to pretend otherwise.”
There was an awkward silence, broken by, “Jeffrey, will you stop standing in the corner and go eat lunch with your fiancée?” the king demanded. “You’re not on her detail anymore.”
“With all respect, Your Majesty, I am until the wedding day.”
The king brightened. “Then that means—I knew your father, and your grandfather, so that means—”
“No sex until I’m a married woman,” Nicole said glumly. “Fucking sense of duty.”
“Hey, am I the eldest or am I the eldest?” she demanded, smiling up at the footman who refilled her milk glass.
“Trust me,” David said, “you don’t get any special treatment. And you’ve got to put up with gobs of annoying younger sibs.”
Kathryn sneered and threw a buttered roll at her brother, who, from years of practice, ducked handily.
“Y’all’s dinner manners remind me o’ this family of monkeys I saw in a zoo once. The head monkey, who was by far the smelliest—”
“That’s it, Dragon. You’re fired!”
“Let me finish my soup, at least. Christina made it herself. Tastes like spring, darlin’,” she added to Christina.
“Thanks. Listen, Nicole, I feel terrible that we got off on the wrong foot. I know what it’s like to lose a mother. I just—” To everyone’s shock, she burst into tears. “I handled it all wrong and I’m so sorry!”
“Jeez, stop it, okay, okay, I forgive you.” Nicole had rarely been so alarmed. On the whole, she preferred her sister-in-law to come out of the corner swinging, not sobbing. “It’s not a big deal. We’re family, right?”
“Yes, yes, we are! And, Holly, I love you. I really really love you. Al’s been alone too long.”
“We’re not discussing my sex life at the dinner table,” the king commanded.
“Sorry, Al, I—” Christina grabbed her napkin…and threw up in it.
“Oh, guh-ross!” Kathryn and Nicholas screamed in unison.
“Hey, I almost barfed myself. I sure don’t want to discuss Dad’s sex life,” Nicole said.
“My wife is indisposed,” David sighed. “Honey, I think it’s way past time you went to the doctor.”
“You mean I have to share my first pregnancy with Pregzilla?” Alexandria demanded as her husband, Shel, laughed like a hyena. “Chris, how late are you?”
“Five weeks,” she mumbled, accepting with thanks several clean napkins.
“See? Not fair! I’m two weeks behind you! You’re gonna be first…again!”
“What the hell are you bitching about?” Alexander-the-younger snapped. “The rest of us are putting up with two pregnant sociopaths.”