Shel sat up. A req form for a centrifuge stuck to his back. "You'rewhat ?"
"In addition to having your heart broken, did someone rupture your eardrums? I said I'm moving."
Sheldon blinked. He was used to Crane being a little on the weird side, but this? "To Alaska?"
"Of course. My fiancee lives there, and she's even now using her contacts to secure a job for me. First chair," he added smugly.
"And you're just—you're just going? Who's your fiancee?" he asked dumbly.
"Jenny," the Grange twins said in unison.
"Jenny?Jenny Jenny? Alex's Jenny? Who you only met, like, sixteen hours ago?That Jenny?"
"It's been longer than that," Crane said.
"And they haven't even done it!" Teal said gleefully.
"Wh—but—why—" Shel brushed the paper off and tottered to his feet. "But you live in Boston! You've got the nicest apartment I've ever seen! You put down roots! You've got pussy thrown at you from cars!"
"Stop shouting, I'm right here. And ugh, by the way."
"You're just picking up and going? Turning your back on your whole life? To live with someone you barely know?"
"Why are you saying things out loud? Everyone in the room already has this information."
"Has everybody gonecrazy ?" Shel yelled at the ceiling.
"Hey, I tried to talk him out of it," Teal said, kicking over an overturned file cabinet just to hear the noise. "Okay, I didn't. What do I give a shit if he lives in Boston or Juneau? He'd be annoying if he lived in Moscow. And by the way, I amnot helping you clean this shit up."
"Just like that?" Shel mused.
"There's no point in waiting," Crane said, "or letting some other gentleman realize what a fine woman she is. I'm not getting any younger, certainly."
"You can tell," Teal said, "by all the grotesque wrinkles on the jackass's face." He turned to his brother. "By the way, you owe me huge. Not only did I introduce you to your wife, I didn't bone her."
"The thank-you note is already in the mail."
"I can't believe this!" Sheldon said, raking his fingers through his hair.
"I'd invite you to the wedding," Crane went on with his trademark maddening calm, "but you'll likely be too busy sulking in this opium den to attend."
"Oh, that's just great! She got in a plane and took off. I told her I loved her and she was all 'oh, that's just the hormones talking, gotta go, my jet's waiting.' What the hell was I supposed to do?"
"Stop being a dick," Teal said at the same moment that Crane said, "Go after her."
"What? She didn't even tell me she loves me. And sheleft ."
"Not unlike another beloved family member."
"Oh, cram it up your ass, Crane! This isn't about my father. It's about us and how we'd never work."
"Because you've, like, tried super hard to make it work, instead of just showing up at her hotel room to bone her," Teal said.
"You can cram it up your ass, too. You don't know anything about what we—just shut up, both of you."
"So that's it? You're just gonna let the most eligible babe on the planet, who lets you do pretty much whatever you want to her, who thinks you're the swellest guy around, at least according to theNational Enquirer —"
"Swellest?" Crane asked.
"—you're just gonna let her go back to her palace and—what? You're gonna find someone else? Who's gonna be better than her? Because, pal, if she was out there, you prob'ly would have found her by now."
"Get it through your head," Shel snapped, "both of you. She left me. She wouldn't even stay the day, and it was her day off!"
"Yeah, she's so stubborn, you guys have nothing in common."
"A disguised miracle," Crane agreed, "that she left town."
Shel blew out a breath. The twins were aggravating beyond belief, as usual, but their logic was starting to penetrate. He'd already endured three hours knowing Alex was gone forever; he didn't relish picturing what the rest of his life was going to be like.
"Look, why should I go after her? Why can't she come back and just admit that we have something? Why do I have to be the one to make it easy for her? I mean, she's got everything. Money, and power, and her dad's a king, for God's sake."
"And in return, all she has to put up with is someone occasionally trying to kill a family member, and giving up mostof her privacy—she can't go to the movies, grocery shopping, or the park."
"Seems like a decent trade to me," Teal agreed. "You don't have to worry about the rent, just the occasional assassination attempt."
"Really, she has it very easy."
"Totally," Teal agreed.
"So—what? You're saying I should go after her and, you know, tell her we can work it out? Give up my job, my home? Move again? Be the goddamned Prince of Alaska?"
"Assuming she'll have you."
"Big assumption," Teal added.
"You're saying I should take a chance? That maybe it'll work out?"
"No," Crane said. "You'resaying." He glanced at his watch. "Either way, I must be going. Jenny and I have a date tonight."
"Because I can't just hop a plane to Alaska and barge into the palace. For one thing, I'll probably get shot, or stabbed. The place is lousy with guards. For another, if they don't get me, Alex will. We, uh, didn't exactly part on good terms."
"I'll bet you impliedshe was the coward."
"Because, of course, you're a dick," Teal said cheerfully.
"I think he's having an epiphany," Crane told his brother.
"I had that once. But the doctor gave me a shot and it went away."
"You—enjoy your date. You—drive me to my apartment. I've got to have my goddamned passport to get on the goddamned plane to goddamned Alaska."
"Aw," Teal said. "That's so fuckin' romantic."
"I really really really appreciate this," Shel told Jenny for the hundredth time.
"It's my great pleasure, Dr. Rivers. And I hope, after the princess terminates me, you'll help me find work."
"She'd never do that," Shel said. "You're like family."
"Really?" Jenny seemed pleased.
"She told me."
"It's always nice to hear the truth out loud."
"Not always," Shel murmured, turning to look out the window. North Dakota was falling away from them and he closed his eyes and tried not to picture flaming fuselage.
"I can't wait to see your home, my dear. I've never been to Alaska."
"Crane, you'll love it. It's the most beautiful place in the entire world."
"As beautiful as your eyes, my little ballerina?"
"Kill me now," Shel muttered, glaring into the postcard-beautiful sky.
Jenny had arranged everything. Crane, that sly dog, had called her while Shel was frantically searching for his passport. By the time they'd gotten to the airport, she'd arranged seats for them and fixed everything with customs, the pilot, and Alaskan Air Control.
"What a stroke of luck you were still in the country," Crane was babbling.
"Well… Her Highness left too quickly, I had a few things to arrange before I could follow her. And I didn't want to miss our date," she said shyly.
"Never! I'd sooner miss the opening of Rachmininoff's Piano Concerto number two."
Jenny giggled. "Do you know, when I was younger—"
"A doddering nineteen?"
"—I would be so uplifted by his music that I mistook the feeling for—for—you know."
"I shall have to play it for you when we're alone," he murmured.
"No, really," Shel whispered to the window. "Kill me right now."
"You should be working on your apology," Crane informed him, cutting himself off in mid-smooch.
"Me?" he yelped.
"Oh, knowing you, you said some perfectly atrocious things and now you're expecting her to apologize for your bad behavior."
"Right," Jenny added. "You should be ashamed, Dr. Rivers."
"I'm throwing you both off the plane if you don't get off my case right now."
"That doesn't sound very contrite."
"No, it doesn't," Jenny sniffed.
"Now, if it were you, turtledove, I would be on bended knee," Crane cooed, staring into Jenny's eyes with the rapt expression of a George Romero zombie. "I would ask the gods for your so-kind forgiveness."
"Oh, Crane, really?" she breathed. "I would give it. In a heartbeat, I would give it!"
"Oh, God," Shel said, looking back out the window.
"Welcome back, Jenny," Marin said warmly. "The palace isn't the same without you."
"What a lie, Marin. And thank you. Please log me in as of twenty-three-hundred hours. I'm also bringing these gentlemen up with me. This is Mr. Grange, and this is Dr. Rivers."
"I don't think I can do this," Shel said, looking around the grandeur of the castle's west foyer. It was bigger than his apartment, times five. "This is not my thing."
"Don't take the coward's way out now," Crane said. Bastard. He'd played in concert halls around the world, and for the Queen of England. He was used to this fancy shit. "You've come all this way."
"Dr. Rivers… Dr. Rivers…" Marin, the receptionist/guard/whatever was squinting at him. "You look familiar, Doctor. Have you been to the palace before?"