Lauren didn’t believe in true love and fairy dust and happily ever after’s. At least not anymore. She was older now, wiser, and she knew that everything didn’t magically fall into place, that miracles were mere coincidences raised to fame. That's when a ghost from her past walked back into her life.
That one word glued Lauren to her seat, effectively rendering her frozen in place. Her breath caught in her throat. Maybe it was terror that kept her in place, maybe surprise, maybe excitement. Or perhaps a combination of all three.
It had been a very long time since someone had called her that. No one was allowed to call her that. Not her parents when they were alive. Not the few people she considered friends. Not even her betrothed, Adrian.
The one person who used to call her that vanished along with that nickname all those years ago. But that voice, Lauren would know that voice anywhere. The sound was deep and warm with an appealing note that thrummed just below the surface. Right now, the voice cracked, betraying the emotion and uncertainty of the speaker, something she’d rarely heard from it before. Nevertheless, there was no doubt to whom the voice belonged. It was the voice that had been with her, comforted her, guided her, since the day she was born. It was the voice of her brother, the lost prince.
It took mere milliseconds for Lauren's brain to register all this information. Almost as if those thoughts had laid dormant in her mind, just waiting to be discovered.
Lauren yanked her head upwards, letting her eyes instinctively find their twins and settling on the shimmering aquamarine eyes of a tall young man.
Time seemed to slow around them. It was almost as if some unknown deity had taken control of time, pinching this tiny space of time so that it stretched out. Lauren’s mind kicked into overdrive, trying to process and store all the new information being thrown at it. Her emotions too seemed to have been swept up in the whirlwind along with her brain. Emotions swirled in her faster than she ever thought possible, leaving her with just a wave of overwhelming feelings coursing through her: anger, surprise, disbelief, love, and even a tiny dash of fear. Everything else faded away, graying in comparison to the return of the long-lost prince. Vaguely, Lauren heard a clatter as her quill fell from her desk and rolled, loud in the silence of the empty office. But to her, the sound was muffled, distant even. Like it came from a far off distance, perhaps separated by several layers of walls.
Lauren drank in his appearance greedily, comparing this new man to the brother who had left her behind three years ago. He was very different, that much she could tell. Where he once was carefree and charming, he was now rigid and aged. His whole external image seemed to reflect on how he’d developed internally. She could see it in his eyes, in the set of his stance, even his hair displayed how much he had changed.
His eyes, the most noticeable part of his face, were unchanged, in color and shape at least. They were the same sparkling jewels of the seas and the same almond shape, but that was where the similarities ended. Where once they were bright and passionate, they were now haunted with weariness and pain. The eyes of a veteran of war. Lauren’s heart sank with sisterly sympathy and she desperately wished she could take it all away, to give him back the life he once led. But she couldn’t change the past, she could only look forward and shape the future. He’d made his choices, she’d made hers, and this was where they were. Nothing she said or did would change any of that.
His hair was still black as night and Lauren sorely doubted whether anything could change that. But unlike the carefully mused and styled black hair of the past, his hair had been almost completely shaved off, making it stiff and formal.
While these were his two most noticeable features, they didn’t completely distract from the way his face had changed over three years. His skin was still the same tanned coppery gold that matched her own exactly. At seventeen, his face had already been undeniably attractive but in a boyish way; more cute than handsome. Still, back then, girls would go out of their way to impress him and show off their beauty. Now, at twenty, his face was sharper, more refined but also blank and smooth like the features of a cold, lifeless mask. That was another change. When he was younger, his emotions dwelled close to the surface and painted themselves across his face. He seemed to be stuck between two worlds, looking both desperately young and still far too old, especially combined with the new haggard light in his eyes.
Looking at her brother, examining his changes, she pondered her changes. Lauren wondered if she was still the girl who had watched the prince leave those few years ago. Somehow she doubted it. She felt changed, too. Perhaps they weren’t as apparent as her brother's haunted eyes or his severed hair, but walking alone for three years changed a person. Lauren had felt pain, too. perhaps even more acutely than the prince. She was not a stranger to death and heartbreak. So she was different, too. For better or for worse, wasn’t for her to say.
But looking at her brother and sorting through all her emotions, the most important thing that stood out to her was that he was her brother. Not that he’d changed or that he left her. He was her brother and nothing could ever change that. She couldn’t find it within herself to feel anything negative about his return.
Euphoria bubbled up in Lauren in a giant overwhelming wave of excitement, surprise, and love. Hysterical tears of delight started to leak down her face, becoming heavier and heavier as the weight of her brother’s presence settled on her. It began as a trickle and then quickly turned to a stream of warm, salty tears.
Mistaking his sister's reaction, the prince scrambled backward, thrusting his hands out helplessly, on the verge of tears himself. Even so, he managed to stutter out the words, “I’m sorry, I am so, so sorry.”
With those words, Lauren’s thoughts scattered like a flock of birds. Pure, overwhelming joy took over her face with a giant grin to match it. So it was with an incredulous laugh, she flew into her brother’s outstretched arms, almost throwing them both off-balance. But he caught her in his arms and held her to his chest. Lauren was immediately hit by memories of the two of them in this same position many years ago, as well as a wave of nostalgia. “Christian!”