The next morning she received a few messages from her parents from her staff. There were three before nine o'clock already. None of them were actual messages; they were simply notes that her father and mother had called. It reminded her of living in student housing.
She decided to call her father back when she was briefly back in her office. Chances were he had a different and more useful message than her mother. He might not even know her mother had called as well. "Hi Dad," she began. "They told me you had called?"
"Yes, yes, where were you?"
"Oh, didn't they say? I was over at Finance." She dipped a teabag into her teacup a few times and then took it out. Multitasking was an essential skill.
His interest was immediately piqued. "Why? Is anything the matter?"
"No, just being kept up to date on how much we can spend. Why did you call?"
"I had some things to ask you. When are you moving into your house?"
Anna Margaret wondered why that was interesting to know. "Er, when all the work is done. I don't really know." She assumed it was somewhere in the next month, however. They would not decide until they were told the work was done.
"People are talking."
"I'm sure they are." She did not want to ask what they were talking about. Talking people were tiresome.
"Is he still moving in with you?"
"Yes, of course." She reflected on the way he phrased it. Interesting. Frederick was moving in with her, not the other way around. Of course she had let her father believe she had paid for the house. It was not logical in any way, but perhaps they thought this was what modern women did.
"I'd advise you to keep your finances separate."
"That's impossible, but thank you for the advice. We live together. We eat the same food." She did not know how they could keep separate how much they consumed.
"People think you are being paid to rent a house and saving all that money by living at the Palace and being waited on."
"Then perhaps people should do some research," she said sharply. "I'm still not being paid to rent a house. You know that. I could apply for moving expenses, but I haven't done so yet."
"But you have moved."
"Yes and I have not applied. I moved a couple of hundred metres as the crow flies. The next time it will be an equally small distance. Nothing that the Palace vans can't cover. We have not paid them; we had a barbecue."
"You have to pay attention."
"All right. But you know, Dad, it probably says a lot more about the people who think I'm in this to get rich than it does about me. Why don't you tell them you know nothing about our finances? Because they're none of your business?"
"Hmm," said her father. "But you should set up a household account."
"I'll take your suggestion into consideration. And for your information, there is no staff in our apartment and nobody's waiting on me."
"No staff?" Her father sounded surprised.
"No staff," she repeated. "There's a cleaning lady, that's all."
"Interesting. Why not?"
"Frederick doesn't want it."
"That's quite peculiar. By the way, you're not meeting the queen this morning?" He was aware of the important parts of her schedule. Or had been, until she had changed it.
"We've changed that. We're now meeting before I go to work. It saves time."
"But?" She did not see how anyone could argue with saving time. She could go home thirty minutes earlier if she did this. Now that there was someone to spend the evening with, that was rather important.
"Nobody would know if you went in your pyjamas or not."
"No, they wouldn't," she agreed, pulling a face. "But it's not exactly relevant, is it? And it's secret. I'm not allowed to divulge what we talk about. Queen Isabelle can sign papers in her pyjamas, can't she? And I can provide them. I take them with me the night before."
"So what if you move into your new house? Will you still meet before you go to work?"
"Then we might change the arrangement again. We're flexible."
The idea of a flexible monarch adapting herself to the prime minister's schedule shocked him into silence.
"Well, Dad," said Anna Margaret, hoping he was done. "Was that all?" She half expected him to say something about her sister's pregnancy and wondered if she should bring it up if he did not. If they both ignored the subject her mother might call again.
"You do realise that if you marry him, you'll be making your position very complicated?"
She wondered if he was now going to advocate not marrying. She had always got the impression they wanted her to marry for social reasons. Maybe he was now thinking about her job. He did the things that had to do with work; her mother usually tackled the personal stuff. "I am at present not aware of any wedding plans."
"But what would you do if you did marry? You would become a member of the Family while you're held accountable for their behaviour."
"I'm already held accountable for my own behaviour." Anna Margaret did not see the difference. "Besides, I'm of the opinion that the spouse of the former monarch doesn't necessarily need to belong to the Royal Family, even though the law says they do." The law was not clear on whether this also applied to new spouses or only to existing ones. Existing ones would have more of a right, she would say. And laws could be changed.
"But that would be awkward on official occasions."
"Why? Would I go to his occasions?"
"Why would you not go?"
"Because I have no intention of going as someone's spouse. I never see my dentist's husband either, so why should people I work with see mine?" She was aware that the situation of a dentist was slightly different, but she hoped he would not go into that.
"What would the queen say?"
"What would the queen say?" Anna Margaret repeated. "She's not going to force me to do anything. We're sensible people. There's no need to do things exactly the way they were done fifty years ago. Other things have changed and this may too."
"Frederick and I live together. There's no obligation to get married these days."
"Yes, that's what you keep saying," her father said a little irritably. "But he's not an ordinary person."
"He does have obligations. If he were living with someone else you would be talking to him about it."
"Only if I fancied him and maybe not even then. I don't fancy other people's leftovers."
"I said things have changed since fifty years ago. Living together is no cause for concern. We could now enter a registered partnership and have everything covered legally." She had not actually thought of that until now, but it sounded like a good solution. In everything but the Royal Family issue it was equal to a proper marriage. "I'm not sure what you want, though. Do you want me to marry him or not?"
"I'm trying to find out what your plans are. I don't know the man well enough. He's not very communicative."
"I don't have that problem."
"What does he want with you? He hasn't settled down before. He's not exactly steady relationship material."
"And divorced fifty-somethings you met on the golf course are?" she inquired. "Or worse. Men who've hopped from secretary to secretary."
Her father paused for a few seconds. "I don't have a particular type in mind."
"Dad." She did not want to become sentimental or emotional here. It was not her style. Her breathing nevertheless became more audible and she hoped he could not hear that on the other side of the line. "I need him."
"For what?" He sounded genuinely surprised. Of course in his life people one needed were never emotionally needed.
"To let go."
She already regretted going down this path. "Of everything."
In the end her father had changed the subject to politics. He still had much to say and much to advise, but without direct influence that was all he could do. Anna Margaret found it much easier to listen to this than to personal subjects, however, and she let him talk while she tidied her desk drawers.
It had all gone too long, she noticed suddenly, because she was due in a meeting in five minutes and there were still things she needed to do on her way.
"Tomorrow evening I have to go to the opera," Frederick announced as if it was the most awful thing in the world.
Anna Margaret gave him a sympathetic look. "You don't like opera?"
"I don't mind, usually. Usually being once every few years. I don't go regularly."
"It's the people."
She wondered if she should come with him, even though she had earlier said to her father that she would not go to his official occasions. "What's wrong with them?"
"I don't know them."
"What can I do?" It was likely to end late and she was not good anymore with things that ended late. She would start yawning before they were halfway through.
"I don't know."
"Can you just nod and smile whenever they say something? That'll be enough."
He looked miserable.
"Frederick!" She wished he would pull himself together. "Is this an official-official visit?"
"What's that? The opera was built three hundred years ago. That's why I was invited."
"It would have been easier if they'd invited me too," she commented. "Not that I'd last the entire performance, but is it inthe Royal Box? The Royal Box has a comfortable sofa. I was there once."
"I can't keep a conversation going if they know who I am."
"I know who you are and you have no problems."
She sighed and sat in his lap. "Darling. There's no reason why you should be worried."
"I know." But he did not sound convinced at all.
"You didn't complain about the brewery."
"But there's something to look at there, a process to be explained. I don't have to give my opinion on it."
"Should I come with you? It's rather against my principles, but I'll do what's necessary."
"Last time there was a woman who kept touching me."
She noted he had not said yes outright, as if he was afraid to be thought weak. But he would be pleased if she came along. She could sense that much. He still had to convince himself that it was bad enough. "You said you didn't know them."
"I didn't; that was the odd thing. I mean, we were introduced and she was the CEO or something, but I did not know her."
"And how did she touch you?"
"Whenever she said something, she put her hand on my arm. And later on my leg."
"Well, the presence of predatory women changes everything, naturally," Anna Margaret mused. "Please don't put your hands on me, thanks? I've said it often enough."
"Apparently what I did do wasn't very effective. I moved my chair, I moved my leg..."
"You're lucky to be too tall to get a paternalistic arm across the shoulders. And then an attempt to peek into my cleavage." Something she had always considered pretty useless, given that she was dressed.
Frederick cleared his throat. "The woman seemed to be fond of showing cleavage."
Anna Margaret unbuttoned her blouse almost to her navel, sat beside him and laid her hand on his leg. "Like this?"
"Lean towards me."
"Something like that, but then worse."
"The farce was in the Box and not on stage," she commented. "Is the woman still there?"
"Yes. Her name was in the outline I was given."
Anna Margaret had not yet decided whether she would go to the opera, but apparently Frederick had taken some action. He did not seem to think there was anything wrong with asking her for assistance and she was glad, because she had doubted. Around lunch a courier had delivered an invitation, straight from Helene Jacobs, CEO. That was impressive. She wondered at what time Frederick had placed his request and with whom.
She would be met at the grand entrance at 20:00, whereupon she would be escorted to the Royal Box. A quick search on the internet showed her that the performance was starting at 20:00.
She studied the invitation again. Someone - she did not know who - had thought exactly what she would have thought if she had been left to her own devices. She would have arrived slightly late, so as not to draw any attention to herself. Frederick, she thought, had to dine or at least have a drink there, so he would be there before her. He would have long gone in when she arrived and nobody would be watching the entrance anymore. That was good.
It was short notice, so she squeezed herself into a simple black dress, one of the few that was not packed. When she had moved in with Frederick she had hung up only a few basic items. She had not thought she would need the rest in those few months. There was no time to look for other dresses now. She changed quickly, taking a blazer with her to keep warm.
She took Frederick's car to the Opera Hall because he had left the keys on the table. There was a huge car park just across the street that she did not expect to be full. It was not. In the street two policemen were patrolling, presumably because they had been notified there was an event. She entered the Opera Hall and before she could be asked for her ticket, she was approached by a woman.
"Welcome, Madam Prime Minister, welcome!" said the woman. She introduced herself as Elsa, events manager.
Anna Margaret greeted her back. The two uniformed men she guessed were supposed to check tickets, kept back. She consequently did not have to take the invitation out of her bag.
"Did you come alone?" This appeared to be surprising.
"Yes, I did." If she was a last-minute addition to the Royal Box, she had best not bring too many people or it would not fit. Besides, she supposed she was going to be Frederick's guest, so why on earth would she bring anyone else? This was a private visit.
She must have looked surprised herself now, because the woman clarified. "An assistant, perhaps?"
"I have no need for an assistant tonight."
"I'll be taking you to the Royal Box. Have you been here before?"
"Yes, I have. I saw a ballet performance a few months ago." She remembered what the box looked like and she would eventually find her way to it - this was only a modestly-sized theatre. Its having a Royal Box at all was pretentious enough, although she knew from experience that it was not always occupied by royalty. VIP Box would be a more suitable name these days.
"Great," said Elsa cheerfully. "We're going up this staircase now."
She remembered that.
"Would you like a champagne package during the intermission?"
"No, thank you. I don't drink."
"Is there another drink we can get you?"
"Water or juice, please."
She was shown into the box, passing one of Frederick's security men. She nodded at him. Inside a few people were already seated. One seat was still empty. It was in the second row and it would be difficult for other people to see who sat there. The lights had already been dimmed a bit. A woman who sat beside Frederick in the first row, turned and stood up. She introduced herself and the other people in the box - who were the heads of certain departments of the Opera Hall, high enough to make up the party but not high enough to sit front row - and offered her a chair in the front row.
"No, thank you." She noticed that one of Frederick's bodyguards was in the box as well and that he had not been introduced. She took half a step back to shake his hand.
"But you'll have a better view."
"And everyone will have a good view of me," she said with a polite smile. "I'll be fine back here."
Frederick began to look more comfortable now that she was there, even though he had only smiled at her. He moved his chair so she could move her chair half under the curtain. "What is the curtain for anyway?" he wondered.
"That's pure decoration," said Ms Jacobs, the CEO. "We don't actually use them anymore. I don't know if they were ever used."
The effect of moving his chair to make room for hers was that Frederick was now closer to Ms Jacobs', but Anna Margaret did not think he minded now that she was here. Ms Jacobs indeed had an impressive bosom and the faint leopard print it was wrapped in was not very classy, but at least it was wrapped up. For the most part.
Poor Frederick, to have that deposited nearly in his lap. She cleared her throat so she would not laugh.
Either Ms Jacobs had read her thoughts or she simply always did this, because she solicitously leant forwards, across Frederick, to ask her a question. "Would you like a programme?"
It took a moment before she could speak. She was definitely no match for this woman bosom-wise, but fortunately this was not the feature that Frederick valued most. "No, I'm fine. I can look in Frederick's programme. He might be able to explain things if I have questions."
"Feel free to ask me things at any time," said Ms Jacobs. "I see this nearly every day and I know the cast personally."
Whether it was consciously done or not, it would be difficult to ask someone not to lean her bosom on your lap. Anna Margaret felt Frederick would simply have to bear the inconvenience this time. Half hidden by the side curtain - from where she nevertheless had a good view of the stage - she leant sideways so he felt the nudge from her shoulder.
"Yes?" he asked.
Anna Margaret excused herself during the intermission. Or rather, as soon as she realised Ms Jacobs was taking the entire party across the balcony foyer to a more private section where the champagne was served, she slipped away. The photographer had not yet taken aim, but he was of course there, ready to record Ms Jacobs escorting Prince Frederick to the refreshments. She hated to abandon him at such a moment, but she really needed to go and this was not the first time he was doing this anyway. He could make small-talk for a few minutes and if he stuffed something in his mouth very often he would not even have to.
She joined the queue for the toilets, wondering if there was still a toilet in the Royal Box. It would have been useful. The other women in the queue were not really looking at her until she checked her phone and laughed. There were no calls she had missed, but Frederick had sent her a message a few seconds ago. Photographer is active.
Man? Then I'm safe, she tapped back.
After it had been her turn and she was washing her hands, there was a strange sound as the women next to her bent over to fix her shoe.
"Oh, ****," said that woman, realising the zipper on her back was not behaving as it ought. She tried to pull it back up, but it got stuck.
"Let me help," said Anna Margaret, quickly drying her hands. The zipper was going neither up nor down at first.
"It was dodgy to begin with, but I figured that if I didn't make any sudden movements it would be all right. Only I forgot."
When she had got it to move, the same problem quickly occurred again. She tried it a few times, but it did not work. "It's broken," she concluded after several minutes.
The woman sighed and tried to look at her bare back in the mirror. "I can't go back in like this. And my boyfriend will be wondering where I am if I don't come back."
"No," she agreed. "You can't go back like that. Here, take my jacket. It's warm enough without one." She took it off. She might have to suck in her stomach a little more so her fat would not be mistaken for a pregnancy - ironically - but that was only a small thing compared to this woman's otherwise having to go back into the theatre half naked.
"You can't go back in like this. Put it on." It might be a little tight, but it would probably fit. The woman would not necessarily have to close it around her chest. The most important thing was to cover her back.
"But how will I get it back to you?"
"Oh, you know where I work, don't you?" And if she did not get it back, it would not be a big deal either.
The woman stared, as if she realised only now. "Oh. Er. Yes."
There was not much of a queue left by this point and most had probably already noticed who she was. She picked her bag off the wash basin and checked her phone, remembering that she too had a boyfriend who might be wondering where she was. Get locked in? was the last message.
She laughed again and rang him, hoping he would have his phone close enough to notice. "No, not locked in." She stayed there, however, not knowing if there were photographers right outside the door.
"You missed the champagne."
"I don't drink. Sneak some snacks out in your handkerchief if they're good, all right?"
Frederick snickered at that. "I asked for a tray."
"Did you have champagne?"
"No, water. We're back in the box."
"Oh. Already?" She peered out of the door. There were still people lingering, but most seemed to be heading back to their seats. The intermission was not quite over yet, but almost. "I'll be there in a second."
"The place could do with a few more toilets," Anna Margaret said to Ms Jacobs. "Women especially have to queue and then they're still too late. If you spend the entire intermission queuing, you won't be able to spend any money." Maybe that argument was more convincing.
"I've never noticed."
"Well, I just spent close to fifteen minutes there and there were still women waiting by the end."
"Why would you spend fifteen minutes there?" Frederick wondered. "There's a toilet behind that curtain."
She glanced back. "Oh, now you tell me! It took that long because someone had a zipper malfunction."
"A dress with a broken zipper on the back. I gave her my jacket."
He gave her dress a look. "Oh, so that's what's different about you."
She laid her hand on his arm. He did not seem to need her. There was very little she had actually done. Because she had been late there had been little time for conversation and then she had spent the entire intermission in the lavatories. So why was she here? Or was being here simply enough?
He pointed at a small table behind his chair. "There's the tray with the snacks. Did you have dinner before you left?"
"Sort of." She studied the silver tray. They were probably snacks she was allowed to eat, nothing off-limits to pregnant women, and she took one. "I mean, not much."
"Not enough time?"
"Not a lot." She had known and she had had two lunches, but it only helped so much. There was no one to blame except herself.
"I hope you took the car."
"I did, thanks."
The lights went off and people grew quiet. Anna Margaret quickly took another snack and then laid her hand in Frederick's. It was a pity there were others in the box. She was growing tired and would have liked to sag against him completely. Now she had to make do with the wall and the curtain.
Anna Margaret woke when there was applause. People were standing up. She was not awake enough to do so. Luckily she was hidden by the curtain and no one in the theatre would be wondering if she somehow disapproved of the performance enough not to show her appreciation. Everything took rather long to get back to normal.
"Wasn't that brilliant?" Ms Jacobs was all enthusiasm. "It was even better than the tryout!"
"It was certainly very good," said Frederick.
Anna Margaret thought he was constitutionally incapable of overdoing it.
"I'm taking you backstage to meet the cast," said Ms Jacobs.
She had not known about that, but it was not surprising. Whether she was expected to come or not, she would not go. She would be far too tired to drive home if she stayed even longer, or she would be unable to sleep when she got home.
Frederick excused himself and disappeared behind the curtain.
"I must go home soon," Anna Margaret said to Ms Jacobs. "My workday always starts early." But she would stay seated another few minutes to give more people time to leave the theatre.
"Of course. I do hope His Royal Highness will come?"
"If this was agreed with him beforehand, I'm sure he will." She hoped he was not directly behind the curtain, eavesdropping.
Ms Jacobs lowered her voice for a woman-to-woman comment. "I have to say, he seems much more relaxed since he got a relationship."
Anna Margaret did not think that was it. "Since he's no longer the king, I'd say."
"I don't know. He was also more relaxed after you came in."
She hoped he had not been too bad before then. "I hope he stays that way after I leave. I'm exhausted."
"Is your visit a secret? I wasn't sure what to make of it when his office sent me the request - and I have to say they didn't seem to know either. His mother visits frequently and she's lovely," Ms Jacobs explained her willingness to go along with an odd request. "It took a while before she spoke, though."
Anna Margaret decided that Ms Jacobs was also a successful woman in a leadership position and some explanation might actually be understood. "Well," she began. "My idea was to keep our jobs separate to avoid comments. If you're successful as a woman it's of course due to anything but your abilities."
"And if I started accompanying him to places, people would think I was doing it to get ahead. So, while it's not entirely secret, I wouldn't volunteer to have my picture taken."
"I'm going home," Anna Margaret told him. "I really need my sleep."
"Yes, I know." Although he had touched her when they were seated, Frederick had not embraced or kissed her in company. He hugged her now.
Anna Margaret was stunned. "Will you be all right?" It was not a desperate hug. She supposed he would be fine.
"Yes. I'll see you later."
She left the box. People were walking past, some heading for the bar. She joined the ones heading for the stairs. Downstairs half of them went to the cloakroom and the rest went outside. Together with half a dozen others she crossed the street. Most people had not even looked at her, but the ones who had, had recognised her.
"You should wear dresses more often," said a girl, who looked a bit thrilled to see a celebrity. "You're not trying to be a clone of the German Chancellor, are you?"
"Imagine the headlines if I went to work in a short skirt tomorrow."
"Dare!" said the girl excitedly.
"No, no, no."
"Do you own one?" She entered the car park and considered queueing to pay. She waited until the conversation was over, a short distance away from the pay station. The audience would be smaller.
"Women should have the freedom to dress how they like," the girl said with a very serious look. "And they should be taken seriously no matter what they wear."
"In theory." She tried to guess the girl's age and whether she had ever encountered the issue in practice. When she had become Transport Minister herself, she had been advised never to dress like a young girl. "In practice we are as guilty of doing that as men. If you applied for an internship at my office and you wore a crop top, I'd also advise you to dress differently."
"Well, there are extremes! But mid-thigh is not extreme."
"Extreme would be hip-length or ankle-length. Would I get in with a nose piercing?"
"An intern? Yes. A minister? Depends. Although one has a tattoo," she remembered. But of course that was not visible if he wore a suit.
"Oh my god, no?" the girl exclaimed.
"Yes. We don't have to undress before we're asked to fill the position, so they don't check." And before the girl would think she had asked this man to undress, she had better clarify where she had seen it. "We have these team outings some times. He had to wear short sleeves."
"Men have it easy."
"Not completely. They're almost forced to wear suits, aren't they? On formal occasions. Not all of them like that. In theory all these social conventions are evil. In practice we ought to be glad for them. I'm really not sure I'd enjoy a visit from a foreign dignitary in shorts and beach shirt, with his beer belly poking out underneath."
The girl shuddered. "I guess."
"So you think about these things, do you?"
"Yes, some things are definitely unfair."
"And when you try to do something about them, you realise there are even more that you didn't know about. But don't give up."
"No, I would really - oh, my mum has paid," the girl said regretfully. "I guess I should go with her. I have to go to school tomorrow and it's late. It was nice talking to you."
"Yes, thanks." She walked towards the pay station as a woman walked away from it who was trying not to look at her too much. She was sure that when the girl had joined her mother they would discuss her, but she did not mind.
She had not heard Frederick come home and when her alarm went off in the morning he stayed in bed. That was a first. It must have been late. She was up a little later than usual as well, but she had breakfast alone. That had not happened for a while.
Although her skirt today was not very short, it was nonetheless a skirt and she had stuck mostly to trousers in the past year. She wondered why she had listened to a girl she did not know. Or was it perhaps to show that girl that there would be comments? There might be; she had no idea. By now she might no longer have to prove herself through her clothing.
It had required only a little digging through her boxes and had left quite a mess. She hoped Frederick would not wonder what had happened in this spare bedroom where her clothes were stored. The first skirt she had tried did not fit well. The second required a wider blouse and several boxes had been opened.
Today Queen Isabelle was starting her tour through the regions of the kingdom. They were mostly daytrips, although once or twice she would stay in a hotel if there was a late activity planned. Anna Margaret had seen the entire programme. In fact, it was on her desk somewhere.
First Isabelle was interviewed. A well-known presenter asked her a few questions in an impressive-looking room in the city hall of the first town she would visit. Anna Margaret half watched it on her computer. Well, she intended to watch it with only one eye while she read a document, but she did not quite succeed.
It started out with the usual platitudes and politeness, yet Isabelle smiled graciously. She talked about her preparation and how she had not been all too surprised and therefore unprepared. This was not too surprising, although Anna Margaret supposed not everyone who was watching would think the same.
Even the presenter looked slightly shocked, however, when Queen Isabelle mentioned her intentions to adapt the monarchy to the century they were living in and specifically spoke of liking to see a relaxation of the rules on whom her children could marry. She did not mention her brother in this regard, but Anna Margaret did not doubt that his name would come up when someone discussed the interview. He was after all the only one of the family known to have a girlfriend.
She liked the way Isabelle implied casually that she had been working with her brother since her father's death and that they had had the same ideas. And, she said, she would continue to rely on her brother in ways that might not always be visible to the public. Since she said the same, and more, about Philip, it did not sound too unhealthy or untruthful.
When the interview moved to the contents of that weekend's programme, she turned down the sound.
Still, she only got halfway down the page. George came in. "Had you read the news?"
"Yes, but what happened?" She could not remember anything that had really stood out. It was all the usual stuff. Deaths in other parts of the world and football talk. If there had been anything else she had missed it. Since she had not pegged George as a football fan, it must be a bomb somewhere of which she had completely misjudged the importance.
"You should broaden your horizon."
"Why? Did I miss something?"
"Clearly you don't read the trivial news."
"Not today. Oh, don't keep me in suspense. Google Maps forgot to censor another naked man?"
"When was that?" George asked interestedly.
"Two days ago? Sorry, the media blurred the pertinent bits. There's no need to look it up."
"But you do read that kind of stuff, madam?"
"Sometimes," she sighed. "But not today. I slept in." She had scanned the headlines of one paper only. It happened to be the one with the least number of trivial distractions on its front page online. That was a deliberate tactic when she had no time.
"You were at the opera last night."
"That was the trivial news?"
"You were seen. You queued for the loo like a normal person."
"I pee like a normal person, too."
"You gave someone your jacket and you were totally, like, normal."
Anna Margaret gave him a look. "And you had, like, no work to do? But it's good that you mention it. Now you know it's real if someone drops the jacket off at reception."
"Prince Frederick was at the opera and so were you, but you were not seen together."
She balled her fist and raised it in the air.
"There was some speculation on whether you were there together, but you went to the normal loo and you didn't have the VIP refreshment package -"
"No, I was queueing for the toilet," she interrupted. "Because they don't have enough toilets for women."
"They loved it."
She frowned because she had been ready to make another sarcastic comment and now she could not think of anything. "They loved that I had to queue, or they loved that I did?"
"They loved that you were normal."
"I've always been normal."
"You snared the king and you still queue for the loo," George explained. "That's sort of the general sentiment, I think. We've already received a few questions from the media, even though they know we never answer."
"What could they want to know? Whether I'm normal?"
"No, whether you were there and with whom."
"Kristina is all about the polls," said George, "but I'm wondering about my wedding."
Anna Margaret tried to find a connection between the opera and his wedding. The connection between the opera and the polls was easier to imagine. "Really?"
"If you don't want to be seen with him..."
"A wedding is not an official event," she reassured him. "So when is it?"
"In November. We're still negotiating a deal with the party venue, so we haven't had the cards printed yet. First there's the ceremony, then the reception, then dinner and then the party. You'll be invited to all, but of course you wouldn't really have to party. I'd understand if you didn't stay till five in the morning."
"Good grief, George. I didn't know you were into all-night parties."
"Oh, just once," George said modestly. "I don't expect you to stay that long, but we'd be honoured if you were there for some parts of the day."
"I'll await your invitation with bated breath," she smiled.
"You're in a denim skirt."
"You noticed only now?" She raised her eyebrows. From a distance it was simply grey.
"No, but I'm only now saying so."
"I take it that this means it doesn't look too casual, or someone would have told me when I came in."
"I suppose it works - only just," George said doubtfully. "And you're not going anywhere today, are you?"
"Only just because it's denim, or only just because it's above my knee?"
George peered under the desk. She let him, because he was not interested in her. "I hadn't actually noticed," he said.
"Then again, I take it this means it's not too short, or someone would have told me when I came in." She had not even noticed any funny looks - although to be honest she had not been paying attention either.
"It doesn't look too short from here." He was still peering under the desk.
"You're not suddenly into women, are you?"
"I'd still appreciate it if you stopped staring at my legs under the table, please."
George reappeared. "I'm sorry, madam. I was just assessing if you had good legs for skirts."
"What the -" She looked bemused. "And do I?"
"Yes, I suppose so. But I have hardly ever seen you wear skirts."
"Well, that is because there have been men who don't take women in skirts very seriously. Which is a sad thing, but at least I am intellectually more flexible than they are and I can simply wear trousers."
"If you had judged my legs unfit for skirts, would you have advised me to stick to trousers?"
"I don't know if I'd dare."
After work, the usual reporters waited for her outside. They too had started up again this week. Some of them had been on holiday. "Wait," she said when some seemed to need a reminder of her 'rules'. "First the work questions, so the serious people can go back to their desk and do some work."
She could handle the usual type of questions. They were rarely on something completely unexpected. What she thought of the socialists' stance on immigration? They had not changed their position, really, and neither had she. And were civil servants' salaries really going to be frozen?
"And er...our entertainment section requested me to ask something," one of the reporters said after clearing his throat self-consciously.
"Your entertainment section? I'm entertainment?" She rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, sorry...they know I only do politics, but they couldn't spare someone because of the queen's tour and I was here anyway."
"Fortunately," Anna Margaret commented. "So what's their question?" She noted that only one had left. The rest were either personally interested or they had also had instructions from their own entertainment sections.
"Did you go to the opera with Prince Frederick?"
"Why would that be interesting at all?"
"I don't know," he said a little plaintively. "I'm not with Entertainment."
"I suppose Entertainment wishes to know if we're still a couple? Not whether I enjoyed the opera?"
"You don't know." She rolled her eyes again. At least she should be glad that it embarrassed him to no end to be forced to ask this question. "I did not go there with him and I did not leave there with him, but I sat there with him. I have a job. A VIP trip to the opera takes about four hours. I just don't have the time for all of it. Does that answer your question?"
"It was not my question," he hastened to say.
"Does this answer your entertainment section's question?"
"I suppose so."
"Great. So that was it, then?" She prepared to leave.
"I have one more question, madam," said one of them. "Do you think people will use your relationship against you?"
"I've had that question before in various forms. The answers were not satisfactory, I conclude?"
"As your relationship changes, so will its impact."
"Did you ask my predecessor this question?" She knew the answer was no. The private lives of her predecessors had always been considered private.
"They were not involved in high-profile -"
She cut him short. "The only ones making this high profile are you. Not me. It's a bit annoying, really. The media publish a load of nonsense and then people accuse me of being in a high-profile relationship."
"But there are implications -"
"Aren't there always? If I had taken up with you, Benny, there would have been implications as well."
Benny blushed and the others snickered.
"Of course if I'd been a man nobody would have cared at all. There have been predecessors and colleagues with girlfriends, divorces or extramarital affairs and everybody always tacitly agreed that this was their private business and it didn't affect their functioning. But when I get a boyfriend it's suddenly a national concern. People, the only one excited about it should be me."
"But the opposition -"
"Not everyone in the opposition has an exemplary love life," she reminded them. "And as such they would have no business saying anything about mine. Of course so far no one has. It's just the media trying to fuel things, because they would otherwise have nothing to report about.
"I'm sure there would have been some interest if I'd been a man and I'd got involved with a princess," she continued. "But there nevertheless seems to be a persistent idea that women can be influenced to a greater extent than men. Everyone thus far seems to assume I'll become the Royal Family's puppet, instead of rejoicing at the possibility that they are now my puppets."
That, she observed, was indeed a novel thought for them. "The second thought is of course as ridiculous as the first one," she said in case it was now going to appear in print. "Yet the first one is so much more plausible to people. Why?"
She decided she did not want to answer any more questions and she walked away. Some tried to follow her for a while, but when they noticed she was serious, they disappeared. She still walked, because it was still the same short distance and she was still fit enough to walk. There were people who thought she should not, but so far they had not been able to persuade her to order a car.
It would be ridiculous, she thought as she crossed a pedestrian area. Cars would have to take a roundabout route. On foot she could cut across. Of course someone might think she carried state secrets in her bag, but they would find out she did not if they stole it.
The gates of the palace slid open as she approached. She made a mental note to check with Frederick how far the work on the house had progressed. It might be possible to move soon. Although she did not mind staying here, it was sometimes a nuisance that she could not unpack everything because their situation was temporary.
And, of course, they should do something about the baby's room. They had looked at furniture and had some idea of what they would like. The next step was ordering it and setting it up in the baby's bedroom. Although when they had looked she had felt detached and not yet ready actually to order something, she now told herself to get over it. She could not deny that she was pregnant. Not yet ordering a crib did not mean there was no baby coming.
It was not too early to start some preparations. There was still plenty that she had no clue about. Already getting some furniture would get that out of the way at least so she would be able to focus on things she still had to learn. Things she did not yet want to learn, she also felt.
Anna Margaret wondered how to bring it up. Frederick was vacuuming his car in the courtyard. It was an odd sight, until she wondered who would have to do it instead. This was his own car, not one of the generic official cars. Someone else would clean those. She leant against the wall and looked at it. "So..." she began.
He dropped the vacuum cleaner and walked over to kiss her. "Sorry."
"I didn't mean you had to do that!" she protested. "I was wondering what I was going to say."
"Is the house nearly ready?"
"I think so." He did a last round on the back seat and then opened the boot.
"What did you do to your car, by the way?"
"Nothing. I had muddy shoes. But while I'm cleaning one part I might as well clean all of it. I'm not going to be motivated to drag the vacuum cleaner out here until next year, after all."
"But, you'd like to move?"
To move and to move on. "Well...when I was looking for a skirt this morning I had to look through a few boxes and..." She shrugged. "It would be more convenient if I had a closet. We may need an extra one."
"Yes, I could look up where I got mine and order a new one. Or how many do you need? I created a floorplan with my app, so we can see what looks best. I think we may need a dressing room." He turned off the vacuum cleaner.
"That sounds awfully decadent."
"Decorative wear takes up a lot of space."
"You saw how many closets I had in my flat," she protested. "Not that many."
"I can't remember looking at your closets, sorry."
"Anyway. Decorative wear, as you put it, can be rented."
"Rented," Frederick repeated, as if he had never heard of renting clothes.
"You don't think I'd buy a hat I'd only wear once, do you?"
"I never think about hats at all."
Anna Margaret followed him as he went inside. She closed the door behind them. "Well, I don't have a collection of hats. If I need a hat, I rent or I borrow one and then I try to match a dress to it. It's by far the easiest way."
He put the vacuum cleaner away. "All right. We've got a few spare bedrooms in the new house. There would be enough space for a hat room. I'll show you the app. You can put furniture in the rooms if you know the measurements. Play around with that. I made it, but you'll be better at decorating it."
He started to cut the vegetables as she tried to find her way around the floorplan. "Which one will we use for the...er..."
Frederick looked up.
She knew he knew what she meant. "The...er..."
"Do you think I should be able to say it just like that?" Anna Margaret asked uneasily. She was sure she would be able to at some point.
"I have heard you say it," he said with a shrug. "I don't mind."
"The rooms are all around the same size, so the one nearest to ours would be most convenient for a baby and for us the one nearest to the bathroom."
"All right. I'll just put a bed in our bedroom so I know. How big is the bed?"
He pushed a tape measure towards her. "About two by two?"
It was actually kind of fun, she decided as she walked around upstairs, measuring furniture and adding it to the app.
Since they had just moved into their new house, Anna Margaret had thought it would only be fair to let her parents know about it in person, even though they might have seen the vans transporting the furniture. She had taken Frederick with her to visit them. He had not objected, but she doubted that he would have suggested the outing himself. He sat beside her a little stiffly. He might, she supposed, not used to these types of visits.
Her sister Irene and her husband were there as well. They had greeted the new arrivals with a peculiar attitude, Anna Margaret felt. She had not reacted to it, because she could not quite make out what it was.
"Mum, I must have some crackers, or I'll feel sick," said Irene to her mother. "And I need another pillow behind my back."
Anna Margaret calculated that she must be around nine weeks pregnant. She watched as her brother-in-law solicitously arranged another pillow behind Irene's back. She must have been staring too much, because Frederick nudged her almost imperceptibly with his leg. There was hardly any space between their legs as it was, but he was moving it even closer.
She turned sideways when her mother hurriedly placed a platter on the table. "Can I hand you a cracker?" she asked too sweetly, just loud enough for him to hear.
"Are you sure you can still bend over?" he asked just as softly.
Of course being at sixteen weeks there was something in the way, but not enough to be really visible. It was certainly not enough to prevent her from reaching for the table. She seized a cracker, which earned her a disconcerted look from Irene, who was probably thinking all crackers were hers, but who could not be so rude as to object against Prince Frederick eating a cracker as well.
"So, you have moved?" asked her father.
"Yes, we have," she replied.
He had asked it before, but apparently he could still not wrap his brain around people voluntarily moving out of a palace. "Why did you want to move?"
"It's nice to have our own place." She guessed all answering would be up to her. Frederick did not seem inclined. "And this house is bigger."
"The apartments in the Palace don't have twenty bedrooms each. Not that this house does."
"I saw the moving vans. Didn't you get any new furniture or were these all your old things?"
She imagined her parents peering out of the front window, upstairs most likely, trying to see what was carried in. It was exactly for that reason why they had not yet ordered any baby furniture. "There should have been one or two new things, but you were probably away when they came if you didn't see them. And I sold some of my old furniture when I moved out of my own flat. There are some things that you just don't need two versions of."
Her mother appeared with the tea. Apparently she had been listening as well. "But does it all go together?"
"I don't know what you mean," she lied.
"Some styles don't mix well."
"Only to people who notice such things. But we don't plan to entertain a lot, I'm sure, so not a lot of people would notice anyway." Frederick felt another urge to manspread. She wondered why. She could not imagine he disagreed. Or maybe he meant to communicate that he quite agreed.
"You're not going to receive people at home?"
"We'll see." She had always received official guests elsewhere and did not see why she could not continue to do so.
"I always received them at home," said her father.
"You didn't live in the middle of town, but in a large country home with enough space to park catering vans," she said dryly. He would have liked her to get a house like that - it was more in line with her status - but there were several reasons why she had never considered it practical. She had listed them before. He had always grudgingly agreed that for a single woman it would be too large, but she expected him to think it would do just fine for a couple.
"Mum, can put my feet up on the table? My ankles will swell otherwise," Irene cut in.
"Darling, it's too early for that."
"No, it's not! I swear I've had it. My feet will hurt."
Anna Margaret was glad her mother did not buy it immediately, although she would undoubtedly give in. Never mind that putting one's feet on the table had always been called terribly unmannered. "I've never heard of ankles swelling in the first trimester, but yes, good grief, your ankles look huge." She tried to sound extremely concerned as she studied her sister's stockinged feet. "Just imagine what they'll be like close to delivering."
Irene was not sure what to make of that. She looked uncertain.
Anna Margaret could not stay here for long. She would lose her temper if she did, but she had still not drunk her tea. She picked up her cup and hid behind it.
"You don't care for talk about pregnancies," Irene decided.
"No, not really." Anna Margaret leant back with her tea. She was not wearing tight-fitting clothes and she did not think anyone could see anything. They had often commented how she was not at all thin, so hopefully they would still think she was not. "I don't think it ought to define a person."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Well, you wouldn't want people with one leg talking about having only one leg all the time."
"Are you seriously comparing carrying a child with having one leg?"
"No, actually it's some way between being religious and having one leg," she said thoughtfully. Irene looked ready to burst. Anna Margaret drank her tea. Frederick had not yet touched his coffee, she noticed. He might be somewhat amazed if a sisterly catfight really ensued. "You know, just like someone introduces herself with hi, I'm Irene and I'm pregnant, as if that somehow says all. Some religious people do it too. As if you can infer personality traits from their belonging to a specific religion. You can't. You also can't infer personality traits from someone's being pregnant. Or having one leg."
"God!" Irene muttered. "It's unbelievable. You really don't get it, do you?"
"No, I suppose I don't," she answered calmly. She wished Frederick would drink his coffee. He had got it later, because he had first said tea would be fine, but her mother had not accepted this and had been all polite insistence about coffee. It might still be hot. If he did not drink it, she might be tempted to say more. He was not comfortable enough to take over the conversation himself.
"Have a biscuit," said her mother, setting down another plate.
Irene was back to talking. "We've already got a lot of shopping done. Mum and Dad gave us a pram. Nick's parents got us a car seat."
Anna Margaret gave this a vague smile. "Nice of them." It was all very kind of grandparents to contribute things, but aunts did not always feel that way. Not yet anyway.
"We also went shopping for clothes. Oh! There are such cute things out there." Irene mentioned a few brands that were apparently expensive and that she and Claire had not yet bought.
So some aunts were more inclined. Though not quite. Anna Margaret wondered if her youngest sister was ever going to buy those expensive clothes. She might simply have liked looking at them.
"I'll put them on my registry list," said Irene.
Frederick coughed when some coffee went down the wrong way. Anna Margaret gathered he had never heard of registries for babies either. It was probably an American invention. "What's that for? A baby shower?"
"Oh, in a few months. But it can't hurt to plan."
"Oh. No. Right." So far her own baby had nothing but a freshly painted room. Frederick had first looked up how to do it and then he had started with their own room, so it would be safe for her by the time they moved in. Then he had done the baby's room. But there was still nothing in it. That would have to wait until some people had viewed the house. It would be rather surprising if they suddenly came across baby furniture. She imagined that her parents at least would like to see the house when the boxes were all unpacked.
"Silly idea," said her father. "I've never heard of it."
"You don't have to come, Dad," Irene answered. "It's for women."
"With their husbands' credit cards, yes. So, Anna. Fill me in on that latest change," he said in a more quiet voice.
"The queen's children are now free to marry who they want."
"No, not really." A change was in the works, yes, but it was not quite what he said. "But the prospective partners won't have to meet the same requirements as before."
"Yes, I heard." He did not sound convinced that it was a change for the better.
Her father narrowed his eyes. "It's all very convenient for you, I'm sure, but what happened to the bishop?"
Anna Margaret smiled sweetly. "I can't say. I've stayed out of it."
"So this means you will only need the queen's approval?"
"Me? Oh. I suppose."
"And does she approve of you? I take it she doesn't quite approve of your living in sin if she pressed for these changes."
Frederick exerted himself to speak. "She doesn't think it a sin."
"It's just a manner of speaking." Anna Margaret's father seemed surprised he spoke. "But will you get married?"
Anna Margaret gave a careless shrug. "Oh, don't count on it. Don't reserve any days or weeks, I mean. Don't start tanning or slimming. That sort of thing."
"It's not that important, is it?"
"Will you hold a reception at your house once you're settled in?"
Anna Margaret looked at Frederick. "We haven't planned anything. If you want you could have a look now."
"Good. Yes." Her father seemed eager to leave.
She could not blame him if Irene Louise had been here for a while and acting like a pregzilla.
"Where are you going?" asked her mother when they stood up.
"Just looking at something." She did not care for dragging all of them along, as unkind as it might be.
"Why is Irene behaving like an idiot?" she asked when they were outside.
"It's hormones, says your mother."
"And what did I do?"
"You don't take her hormones seriously."
"No, of course not."
They crossed the street. It was only a few minutes away. Probably two. Still, there could be people watching. The police patrolled this street more frequently now and kindly requested people lingering in their cars to move on. She had seen that once, but she could not spot anyone now. Frederick walked behind them, presumably to allow her to speak to her father.
"She's been obnoxious since she arrived," her father revealed. "I'd rather you and Claire Sophie didn't get pregnant. Just one is enough. Thankfully she says you won't and Claire isn't ready. Unfortunately none of you have men who talk, so I'd probably end up getting drunk in my study if more pregnant women turned up."
This would be an appropriate moment, Anna Margaret reflected. She should say it now and not let this opportunity pass, because there was unlikely to be another one that was just as good. "Well, I'm four months pregnant," she said, sounding too flippant, as if she could always pass it off as a joke if he did not react favourably. "And you didn't notice."
He gave her a look. "I almost thought you were serious there for a second."
"You can't be."
They were approaching the house. She hoped they could have a discussion inside, if they were to have one at all, so she kept moving. "Why not? Because I'm not complaining about it?"
"Because..." Her father seemed mystified. "Pregnant?"
"For how long, did you say?"
"By..." He half turned towards Frederick.
She was disgusted. "I don't know how you could even ask."
"Sorry. It's just so shocking."
Anna Margaret was glad they could enter the house. There they would be safe from prying eyes. She had not checked if there were any. "Why?"
"I didn't think you would, that is all." He still looked as if she was an alien.
"I've never said I would and I've never said I wouldn't." The issue had never been relevant. She had even tried not to wonder privately as the years passed.
"But four months. Why didn't you tell us? You're almost halfway."
"Because none of you would be laidback about it. It would be extra special, wouldn't it? A prince's child. It would only aggravate me. And frankly, Irene is going to hate me if she finds out."
"Really?" Her father did not seem sure.
"You've never noticed that she's irrationally jealous? She thinks she's now beaten me to giving you the first grandchild, so she's over the moon. Her bubble is going to be burst and the mess won't be nice."
"Well. I've never noticed anything of the sort."
"Did you pay attention? No." She did not think he had. He was always pretty busy doing his own things or following hers, which nearly amounted to the same. "I'll show you around the house if you want."
He followed. "But why do you think she's jealous?"
"Because she is, not that she would say so if you asked. I suppose they don't tell you when they complain to Mum about me?"
Her father looked surprised. "Not that I recall. Why do they complain?"
It could be because he did not pay attention, or because they had really kept him out of it, fearing he would choose her side. "This is the front room," she said tersely. "The basement is for security."
"Security," he repeated.
"Unfortunately. But it's like another apartment. It's not in our way." She showed him through the other rooms. Frederick had disappeared when they had set foot in the house, but when she hesitantly opened the door to their bedroom she noticed the bed was suddenly made. It made her smile.
"But tell me about Irene," said her father when they were back downstairs. He had said nothing about the baby room because she had not introduced it as such.
"Oh," she sighed. "Claire and she have always been complaining that they didn't get the same praise or recognition. I wonder why you've never noticed? Or was it because they were right and I was really given more attention? Which would not be my fault and I've always told them so. I never asked for it."
Her father frowned. "I can't think of anything."
"You told fewer people when they graduated, blah blah blah. You didn't get them a good job, blah blah blah."
"I didn't get anyone a good job."
"Try telling them that. I didn't do anything they couldn't have done in that regard. But they're always making snide remarks about how you helped me along and that it's the only reason why I could have become a minister. You got me into all those jobs on the way, you know, and you didn't do anything like it for them."
"Your sister is a physiotherapist. I'm not sure how I could have pulled any strings."
"You did not pull as many strings as they think on my behalf either." She hoped he would now not reveal the opposite.
Frederick joined them again. Anna Margaret did not know where he had been. "I'm glad to hear it, although I could not imagine that I'd never achieved anything on my own merits, so I wasn't taking it too seriously in the first place."
"Would you like a drink?" Frederick inquired. "If you need to talk some more."
"I'll just sit," said Anna Margaret's father. "But start from the beginning. You got pregnant and didn't tell us."
"Right," she nodded. "But you know that if the media found out I'd be getting a lot of undesirable attention and criticism. And besides, when Mum got these strange ideas in her head even before anything was going on, you didn't react all too nice about it either. My job and so forth."
"So you didn't tell me."
"The fewer people who knew, the better."
"And you thought we would tell?"
She could not tell if he thought that was likely, but he was not as indignant as she had feared. Maybe he did not trust her mother very much either. "Besides, around the time when people generally reveal the news - three months - Irene revealed hers and I could hardly say 'how nice, me too, but I'm two months ahead of you.' Well, I could have, but it would not have been appreciated."
She wondered if he was genuinely obtuse. "Because she was rejoicing in the fact that she had beaten me to this milestone for once. And she would not like it that I hadn't told anyone - her - before, considering how early she was telling everyone about it herself. And I really could not have told anyone before then anyway, because I'd only that week seen the midwife. You don't tell people if you don't know if it's going well."
"But you're at four months." He seemed to calculate. "But you were not seeing him four months ago." He gave Frederick a look.
"Only just. I got pregnant right away."
Her father looked appalled. Frederick grinned. She did not know who to go with herself. Getting pregnant right away was considered irresponsible by some, and she counted her family among those, but she did not feel that had been the case. On the other hand, she was not yet proud of the achievement.
"Not before?" her father inquired cautiously.
"Before the relationship."
"Oh. Is that possible? I mean, I'm sure it is, but no."
"But why would you get pregnant right away? Did you want five children and you felt you had to start right away?"
"If that were the case it would be nobody's business except ours," Anna Margaret said sharply. She thought five was a bit much, but she did not want others to decide for her. "But for the moment let's just concentrate on this one."
"We can handle one, no problem," said Frederick. He sounded confident, too.
"But what will you do with it during the day?"
"Play or something?" That was Frederick again.
Anna Margaret's father did not understand it. "Will you give up your job then?" he asked his daughter.
"No, of course not."
"Then how could you play with it?"
"Was I the one who said I'd play with it?"
She had asked her father not tell anyone just yet. He understood what the media would do with it and how the public might react. She trusted he would want to protect her from that for a little bit longer. It would not have to be for long. It seemed most women began to show soon and if that happened she would no longer be able to keep it a secret.
She had not made any promises on when she would tell her mother. There might be a problem, she realised, if one knew and the other did not, but while her mother would have learned to be discreet during her husband's career, this was something of a different order.
She sighed and looked at Frederick when her father was gone. "Pfff."
"That went all right, didn't it?"
"He didn't take it that badly. He's a still a bit odd around me, though. Not very reverent, but not quite chummy yet."
"He doesn't know what to make of you, I think."
"Would your father have known what to make of me?"
"I doubt it. I sometimes wish he could have seen it, but mostly I think it's a lot less trouble this way."
If I qualify for Rio I can go as an athlete and a delegate," said Frederick. He appeared to be checking his email. "But I won't qualify."
"Why not?" she asked before she had realised he had said Rio.
"I'm not good enough. I mean, I'll have months to get into a better shape, but I'll also have other things to do in those six months."
Anna Margaret had not really realised he might have to give up something as well when the baby arrived. It was not entirely her fault; he had not told her. This was the first time he ever mentioned qualifying for something. She felt guilty for resembling her father. Sometimes she forgot to notice things that concerned others. Or could she have known? She searched her memory, but she did not think so. He had never mentioned Rio before. Only rowing for Germany, which she had taken to mean rowing in Germany.
But what if he was good enough to qualify for a large tournament in six months? He had said he would look after their baby. What would he prefer or choose? If this was important to him they would have to find another solution.
"But if you qualify..." she said.
"I won't. I don't train nearly enough. It was a merely hypothetical observation. Don't worry."
"Will you go as a delegate if you don't?"
"Will you? They may invite you too."
"I think not," she said hesitantly. "With a baby. Unless you get in. Then we'll need to watch."
He looked very pleased.
She wondered if he never got any spectators who came especially for him. "Who else watches?"
"Me? No one. Teammates who are there. But there won't be much in the way of competitions for months."
"Has no one ever gone to watch you? Family, I mean."
"Not really. My father, as you know, didn't like my rowing for Germany. Instead of suggesting we set up our own federation, he said I should give up altogether."
But evidently he had not done so. "And then..."
"I talked to people about having a federation of our own and of course they were willing to give some information or assistance, on account of who I was. But my father was still against it."
"Because people might then find out I had done a few World Cups using my German passport." Frederick looked amused, although that could not be how he had felt at the time. It must have been immensely frustrating. "He thought it was a disgrace for me to represent another country. Even though people don't find out about these things unless you tell them. You don't know what types of races I went to either."
Anna Margaret blushed. "No."
"Which is partly my fault, because I feared I would end up last. I haven't been training enough and I'm getting a bit old, but these were the first tournaments I could do under our own flag, so I wanted to do them anyway."
"Yes, of course." She understood that. "But I wouldn't mind if you ended up last, so you can tell me next time. And I'll try to ask more questions. I should ask you what exactly you're going to do. Or maybe I should come along."
"I thought you should get some rest on your days off."
She would like to be the judge of that herself. "When is the next thing?"
"I haven't planned anything yet, but I'll let you know."
"But..." Her cautious confidence in her future home life was a little shaken. She could not help it. "If you have something to do after we have the baby..."
"But I can't ask you to give that up. You sort of implied you had nothing to give up."
"I sort of implied it was my fault," he corrected. "But don't worry. If I have something important to do, which I doubt, there will be someone."
The undefinable discomfort did not go away. "But I..."
"I know," he said.
"But you don't know. I haven't said."
"I know. But it's probably something upsetting the plan."
Anna Margaret examined herself. "Well...finally we had some plan and then... Now it's all uncertain again."
"No, it's not."
"But I can't tell you not to go somewhere if you need to or want to go."
"How often do you think that will be?"
"I have no idea."
"So you're fearing it will be every week?"
"I have no idea."
"So in fact you have no idea what you're worrying about."
"That's the worst kind."
"I said I won't qualify. There'll be no point in training on the water three times a day."
"But if you wanted to..."
"I'm going to force you to have hobbies," Frederick decided. "The notion of people doing things other than work seems to have surprised you a bit."
"No! I simply had no idea that you might be good at it. And if you're good at it, you will want to get better and you deserve to spend time on it."
"Not if I'm not good at it?"
Anna Margaret looked pained. "You know what I mean. I don't want to take it away from you. You're not taking anything away from me either. But what about the baby?"
He shrugged. "I told you. However, if you still think I don't know my own chances, I say: Isabelle."
She remembered that Isabelle had indeed offered her services. Exactly how that would work out she could not imagine. The queen had engagements and events, she would think. She was not always home. There were always people in the Palace, that was true. Perhaps he meant one of them could do it.
Frederick, who had been looking alternately amused and annoyed, now looked more sympathetic. "I'll solve it. Besides, you may not even want to part from the baby during the first weeks."
She thought that was unlikely. "I don't feel anything of that so-called mother instinct yet, so I can't imagine that at all. I'm not sure I feel very motherly."
"It would be odd if you felt motherly already with only me to look after."
Anna Margaret was nevertheless not reassured enough. She took the matter up with Isabelle when she next saw her. "Frederick says he won't qualify for the Olympics, but this was the first time I heard about the Olympics at all and I had no idea there was even any possibility of qualifying."
Isabelle did not look surprised. "From what I heard the possibility is remote."
"Yes, but I did not even know there was a remote possibility."
"You thought he was training for fun."
"Well, it's not that much, surely? A bit of running or swimming in the morning. And sometimes a bit in the evening."
"What do you think he does when you're at work?"
"I thought he discussed official engagements and read his official mail."
"That does not take all day. What do you talk about when you're home? Or don't you talk?" Isabelle wondered, her eyebrows raised.
"The house, furniture..." But yes, apparently there were things he did not tell her. While she could understand, in this case, it was still unsettling.
"Sometimes. But that's my problem. If he's so good that he needs to train so much, how could he look after a baby? I don't want to ruin his one and only chance."
"And you thought only one of you could look after that baby?"
"No, but we should be the most important ones. If I have to go away for work and he has to go away rowing, what would we do? It never occurred to me that he might have to go away. He says it's not likely, but I'm not sure of that. I have googled," Anna Margaret said ominously.
"Well, in that case - you have to go away and he does too - you take the baby with you and you take someone along who can take care of the baby when you cannot. If you have a dinner engagement and he's not home, you either take the baby with you or you leave it with a babysitter."
"Take the baby with me to a dinner?"
Isabelle shrugged. "If I could do it, so can you."
"But how?" She could not imagine eating with a baby in her lap. At an official dinner, no less. It could simply not be done.
"They always have a waitress or dishwasher with baby skills, in case your lady in waiting doesn't have any."
"But what if it cries all the time?"
"I don't know why it should, if you're always in sight. Mine never made a fuss."
"Well, if mine takes after me and Frederick says I'm neurotic, I'm sure it will make a fuss."
"Professionally you're far from neurotic. In fact, Frederick might be more neurotic professionally. You are more or less unflappable. I find it very fascinating that this baby could turn you into Frederick." Isabelle studied her with interest.
"How? He's not worried about anything at all. I don't see it."
"I see it. Of course I haven't really spoken to him about the baby. I'll try to do so, to see if he's turned into you."
"I think you're simply mad," Anna Margaret grumbled.
"I haven't read about your happy news yet," said Isabelle.
"I've had to tell my father, but he doesn't seem to have told anyone yet."
"And you haven't either. Mind you, suppose Philip and I had been lax with our birth control, on account of my age or something like that, we wouldn't be eager to share it quite so soon either."
"I'm sure you mean to rub it in that Philip and you are never lax with your birth control," Anna Margaret commented. "Thank you, I know."
"I was pregnant when I married," Isabelle angelically. "Of course no one ever found out because I miscarried."
"Did your father know?" From what she had heard about the man she suspected he would not have liked this at all.
"Ha ha, of course not."
"Did Philip know?"
"Of course he did."
"And your mother and Frederick?"
"My mother knew, of course, but not Frederick. He was away at school at the time."
"What would other people have said if they had known?"
"Not that much, I suspect, but self-control is seen as a sign of good breeding. I'm not sure people really expect one to abstain after - or before - the engagement, but getting pregnant before getting married is not what you're supposed to do. Well, twenty-five years ago it wasn't. You've got so many years for it. Why hurry? Of course that only applies to people who are younger than you."
"So why did you?"
"Where did you meet him?"
"Behind the boatshed."
Anna Margaret rolled her eyes. She wondered if Isabelle had spiced her own coffee with something odd. These revelations were quite private. "I was asking a serious question."
"But that was a serious answer. I did meet him there."
"I did not mean to ask where you held your clandestine trysts, but where you first laid eyes on him."
"Oh. That wasn't behind the boatshed, no. That was over the phone."
"Over the phone?"
"Yes, I pretended to be Frederick's mother." Isabelle chuckled at the memory.
"And he believed you? And then he met Frederick's mother behind the boatshed?"
"No, of course not. There were some developments in between. But you don't do developments in between, do you? It's right to the boatshed with you."
Anna Margaret did not want to take the bait. She inhaled deeply and decided it would be a waste of time trying to clarify things Isabelle probably already knew. "But why did you have to phone him and pretend to be Frederick's mother?"
"What else could I do?"
"It still makes no sense."
"Frederick was a bit bullied at school, so my father decided - eventually - to send him to a boarding school where...er...there was less of a gap between our social situation and that of the other pupils. In England. I thought that might make a difference."
Anna Margaret noted how Frederick's father had sent him there, but that his sister had thought it might make a difference. That was interesting. She appreciated that Isabelle had looked out for her brother and she wondered how bad the situation had been.
"And Philip was..." She calculated. Isabelle would have been anything from early to mid-twenties and Philip had not struck her as much older than his wife and certainly not younger. He could not have been a pupil there at the same time, so he must have been connected to the boarding school in some other way.
"And you phoned him."
"I got him on the line - more or less by accident - and I wouldn't let him pass me on to someone else."
She could imagine Isabelle being persuasive and tenacious. "But did you know he was young?"
"No, of course not. I wasn't making any moves on him. Remember, I was pretending to be Princess Anna, Frederick's mother. It wouldn't do to make passes at strangers over the phone. I simply needed his reassurance that he would do exactly what I told him to do and that he understood the problem."
"And he immediately promised this."
"No, of course not. Well, I expected him to, because I'd introduced myself as Princess Anna and I imagined everyone would then do as I said. But my god, at that point I discovered that people in England really do not know anything about us. There's the Continent, they know that, and some places have princes and princesses, but who lives where, they have no clue. The name Princess Anna meant nothing to him."
Anna Margaret giggled. She could not help it.
"He was a little impressed by the Princess bit, but it was not enough to make me feel confident about the whole situation. I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't hang up a note telling everyone to ignore future calls from one Princess Anna. I felt he wasn't sure I was actually sane. So I had to fly over."
"But what exactly did you want him to do?" It would have been something to do with Frederick and being bullied. Isabelle would have wanted someone to see to it that it did not happen at this new school.
"I needed to know he understood Frederick and that he would keep an eye out. Doesn't seem complicated, does it? I thought it was extremely simple, but..."
"But you flew over?"
"Yes. The staff at the entrance were admittedly a little surprised that I insisted on seeing him in particular. I thought I looked very authoritative and royal."
She thought Isabelle still looked very authoritative and royal. However, the more they talked, the more she knew it was nothing but an image at times. Months ago she would not have dared to ask this, but now she could do so calmly. "But when you started talking about your son they considered phoning the nearest asylum to see if they were missing a patient?"
"No, I did mention my son and how I had spoken to Philip over the phone about him and they were all very accommodating."
"Seriously," Anna Margaret said in disbelief. "But you must have been twenty-two or so. You cannot possibly have looked old enough to be a pupil's mother."
"Do you really think they would contradict a princess if three quarters of her story check out?" Isabelle gave this a magnanimous smile. "They would not dare. But, let's get back to your announcement. You can have the story some other time. Would you like us to do it?"
"How?" She dragged her mind away from the unbelievable business at the school.
"The Royal Family are happy - no, delighted. We are always delighted - to announce there will be an addition to the family in a few months."
"That doesn't say where it's coming from. It might be a dog. Or was it your intention to be so vague?"
"You'll be getting a lot of questions. People asking if it's a dog, or whose baby it will be."
"I was not actually planning to announce things for you," said Isabelle. "I was simply curious when you plan to do it. I'm sure that, like us, you have people who claim to know the best moment to make announcements."
"Who claim? You don't agree?"
"Well, take those women pretending to have Frederick's babies. They didn't quite judge right there, did they? I think that maybe they weren't quite convinced he hadn't done anything."
"Were you?" Isabelle shot the question right back.
"Eventually," Anna Margaret answered. "Not when he first denied it, of course, but later."
"Yes, so. They are not always right in their estimation of when to say what. I suggest your people get together with our people and discuss the issue."
"But we have the last word."
"Actually, I do."
"Wait." Her eyes widened. "You can't stop me from telling people."
"No, theoretically I could not. However, I know you will not tell people. You will not tell those journalists you're pregnant. You're much too afraid of critical reactions. People saying you won't be able to work, people asking you how much time you'll take off, and so forth."
"I could have a press statement issued. About taking some time off for health reasons."
"That would be just as clear as implying that we're getting a dog. What sort of health reasons and for how long?"
"We may even get married first. Or do I have to let you announce that as well?"
Isabelle hid her face behind her hand. "Oh good grief!" She sat like that for a while and then shook her head, as if to get rid of the problem. "All right, it's solved. Don't you worry about it."
Anna Margaret had been looking on in some confusion. "What do you mean?"
"You'll find out. And no, I won't make any announcements before anything has happened. Back to our documents," she said briskly. "We're here to work."
"Your sister says my people and her people should get together and discuss how to announce that we're pregnant," Anna Margaret dutifully reported to Frederick that evening. "She says she'll have the last word."
"Nothing new there."
"You won't mind?"
"I'm used to having people announce things," he said with a shrug. "It's much better than doing it yourself."
"Then maybe we should get together with everyone's people some time."
"You do that. I don't particularly need to be there."
"Sorry. I'll be there if you insist. But why does a simple statement have to be discussed by half a dozen people?"
"I think that's about the timing of it, not the phrasing."
"Or you could simply wait until everyone can see it. We could take a picture of ourselves in the swimming pool and post it on Twitter. In a few weeks," he said with an eye on her waist. "Or months."
Anna Margaret had not yet consulted 'her people' a few days later. As far as she knew they were still unaware of her pregnancy - or they pretended to be. She did not have complaints like Irene and her having lost weight obscured any growth. It was ironic that Isabelle sent her a message just when she was evaluating Isabelle's tour and she expected it to be about this subject.
"The tour was a great success," said the Minister for Culture. Of course he would say so, since someone had put him in charge. He could not say it had been useless.
"And economically?" she wondered. It had been an expensive year on that front, what with a funeral, an inauguration, an abdication and another inauguration. The budget had been beyond stretched.
"It did draw a lot of tourists," said someone. "But we haven't got the exact figures yet, obviously. The hotels did report a greater occupancy rate than usual in that time of the year. It was after the peak season."
"I think Her Majesty had a positive opinion of it as well." She checked her message, which was nothing but a date, time and room in the Palace. Strange. Was she to bring her people?
"I read that you and she don't get along?"
"Read?" She stared at the message. In that case it might be an invitation to a duel. She might have to bring her people and a pistol. "And you believe everything you read?"
"Well, you didn't support the queen during any part of the tour..."
She now stared at the speaker. The tabloids were always looking for discord. In this case she really had no idea on what they could be basing it. It was a little disappointing that someone in here, where really there should only be people who had proved to have some intelligence, should believe a tabloid. "And you really think that would have been necessary? She wasn't alone."
"The article said you wanted to go, but she didn't want you there."
"I appreciate your asking me personally instead of believing that drivel," she answered. "We get along, don't worry about that. And I've never wanted to go, so she's never had any reason to not want me to."
"Will she allow you to marry her brother?"
"Tourists would like a wedding, provided it's in the right season."
"I can see those eurosigns in your eyes, Gregory," she said. "But does it seem likely for him to want such a wedding? Big? Public?" And she was definitely not going to let tourists dictate when she married.
"I didn't know they had any choice in the matter."
"This generation is different from the ones before, so yes, they do have a choice in the matter. If there's going to be any wedding, you'll hear about it the day after. Probably." She observed that some looked surprised.
"You wouldn't invite us?"
"Just imagine the prime minister having a huge, state-funded wedding." She shook her head. "You know it won't fly. And you know that if I did have such aspirations - which I don't - you lot would be required to put me in my place."
"You could fund it privately."
She laughed. "I'd rather save my money for other things. Besides, it would be a really bad start to our marriage if it began with my torturing my husband in this manner."
"It would come close. He doesn't like such occasions."
After that meeting she had an interview with a foreign newspaper from a country that might be about to have its first female prime minister. She had thought they might ask original questions, but they did not. She had no idea why she had been chosen, because she was certainly not the only one or the best-known. Or maybe they had applied to several and she was simply the only one who had said yes.
Clearly no news of her romantic escapades had ever crossed the borders. Her biography had likely been pulled from Wikipedia - and the English version had not been updated to include a relationship. It had made her wonder about the version in their own language. She answered the questions politely and patiently. They had not done their homework, but it was refreshing rather than annoying that she could tell them anything she liked. She could simply forget to mention that her partner was a prince.
"But these personal questions are rarely asked of men," she said, "and in that respect it's different. Not because a woman would behave so very differently in this position, but because other people behave differently towards her. I bet my father, who was a prime minister several years ago, was never asked if it was difficult to combine his job with a family. Yet with a woman the family angle always comes first.
I was rarely asked how I thought to reconcile the ideas of the two different parties that make up our government, when that was the real challenge, not if I could find enough time to date. Or, even worse, if a woman of a childbearing age should have been appointed at all. Nobody is afraid of male politicians having wives or children. It's something that doesn't affect their jobs, as if they're two separate lives.
"But we certainly need more women in these positions, to make this more normal and accepted, and because I think women in power are less weapon-oriented than men. It wouldn't all be nice and peaceful, because not all women are nice and peaceful, but it would be different.
"I'd personally be inclined to say 'let's not invest in state of the art weaponry for all of our three soldiers, because they'd be useless against three hundred or three thousand invaders with decent but not the latest types of weapons anyway', but this is something that is difficult to accept for men, I found."
Some people there lived in denial, she had found. Either that or they simply lacked the insight to understand the numerical majority of any enemy. While a sort of army was practical for other purposes, she saw absolutely no point in fitting it out with equipment they were never going to use simply because their neighbours had it too - or even worse, because it existed. Not if the money could be spent on more useful things like research, health care or infrastructure.
Only if they entered into some cooperation with a neighbouring country - in that case they would have to have similar standards. They were working on that and she needed to check on it. She reached for a piece of paper and discreetly scribbled a note. It probably turned out illegible, but as long as she remembered when she had scribbled it, she would remember what it was about.
When she got home she was exhausted. "What happened?" Frederick asked when she sagged on the couch.
"Oh. I had a few meetings and then I had an interview where I had to sit up straight and I had to pose for pictures. And I don't know what to make of the fact that they had seemingly not done their homework, because the man who interviewed me knew nothing about you. And I didn't tell him anything either, so I wonder how that will turn out. I said my partner was working part-time in the family business."
"Yes, more or less," he agreed. "But how does that work? How could they not know? Where were they from?"
"Abroad. Gosh. Really. It puts things into perspective, doesn't it? I really had to email the committee about this, because some were already thinking of what all the tourists might spend if we had a large public wedding. Guys! Tourists won't even know we're an item! Maybe only those directly across the border."
"I don't like that bit about the large public wedding."
"I know. I told them it was a no go. But your sister's tour got some of them overenthusiastic. I have a feeling some think the success was due to their organising skills. And honestly, do they organise well, but I don't want to be their guinea pig so they can add a royal wedding to their CV and you certainly don't want that either."
"Deep. That will convince them. The expense would be as useless as buying a tank."
"A tank? Where does that come in? I thought it was a horse-drawn carriage. Is this a new security measure?"
"Hmm. If the tank could double as a royal vehicle once a year or so its expense might be justified," Anna Margaret said pensively. "But Eric wants this super-duper tank. The problem is - well, there are several problems. But don't tell me you would actually prefer a tank over a carriage?"
"Don't give me that men are stupid look," Frederick requested.
"Don't tell me you would agree to a public wedding if you could be driven around town in a bloody tank?" she exclaimed.
"There are tanks for weddings," he discovered, looking at his tablet.
"No, no, and no."
"I'm only a reservist, don't worry. I have no special connection with tanks."
"You couldn't have; our army doesn't have any."
"Which is why Eric wants one?"
"One! More like ten. I could cry. And you know, if someone says they want ten, they really mean fifteen when it comes down to it."
"Cry. That's drastic. But you could send him a picture of the wedding tank and ask if that will do. He could rent it out if there's no war going on."
"I'm not sure he'd appreciate the joke. And what if he does? You might have to marry in it."
"I could do a tank if I could be inside. Not if I had to sit on top and wave."
"I could not do a tank under any circumstances," Anna Margaret said decisively. "And I'm not sending him a picture because he's not on the committee and he wouldn't understand the connection."
"But...these people are under the assumption that we're getting married?"
"As far as I know they know nothing, but it occurred to them that a royal wedding could be a good attraction."
"Which part of the abdication didn't they understand?" he wondered.
"It's probably good enough for them that you've kept a title and the membership of the family. Speaking of which, I'm not interested in either."
Frederick laughed. "I'm not sure that is going to work."
"What do you mean?"
"Should we leave you off official family pictures? As if you were some sort of secret mistress?"
"I wouldn't be offended. And honestly, as if royal family pictures only ever included titled persons - many include dogs."
"You have a point there," he conceded. "The family can include who they like, even dogs."
"Your sister is not going to be mean about it."
"No, probably not."
"And if I do get included I'll even smile." She was not going to be mean about it either. She had no objections to the family at all. Receiving a title was something else.
"That's very generous of you," he grinned. "But you don't want to be addressed as Her Royal Highness the Prime Minister?"
"You would agree with me that that's totally off. Maybe later, when my term is over, if you like. But I'd allow it for your sake, not for mine."
He kissed her. "And the baby?"
"I wish we could consult it. But I think..." she paused to think. "That maybe we should leave all its options open so that it can make its own choice when it's old enough. Of course it has no options unless we marry."
Anna Margaret had dutifully gone to her appointments with the midwives. Now she was due for the medical scan that was to take place elsewhere. This gave her some headaches beforehand. She wanted to take Frederick, but it would give the entire game away if they were recognised in the waiting room. She had no idea how long she had to wait. Just to be sure, she booked the last appointment of the day.
Her hair tied back, because that looked different, she observed for a while where the pregnant women were called to, then she positioned herself halfway down that little corridor when she thought the last of them had gone in. She removed the rubber band from her hair.
Now only three people knew she was here, as opposed to the entire waiting room. Not that there were that many people left in there, but bloodwork could seemingly be done until a later hour than the ultrasounds and there was still a handful of people sitting.
The technician looked visibly impressed. Anna Margaret beckoned Frederick, who had the only seat with a full view of the corridor. He was not wearing a suit and probably nobody had recognised him.
The technician was still in awe after ten seconds. "I see, I see," she said, presumably referring to Anna Margaret's lurking in the corridor to intercept her. "People don't know yet."
"No. It's been nice and quiet so far." She got into the chair and Frederick installed himself next to her.
"Would you like to find out what you're having or would you like me to keep quiet about that?" the woman asked after she had explained what was going to happen.
"We don't mind knowing," she assured the technician. She watched as the baby came onto the screen. Contrary to the previous time it was clearly recognisable now. And it moved.
The technician went through her standard programme of checks. "What do you think?" she asked as she paused at a certain point.
"Girl," said Frederick, who had said nothing until then. He had only been holding her hand. "Because I see nothing. No, wait."
"I can't think of any boy names," said Anna Margaret.
They were very helpfully let out of a back door, with the knowledge all was going well with their child. And something had happened - she had felt they were going to be parents, which was considerably different from two people looking at a positive pregnancy test. It had been one of those looks they had shared; she could not really put her finger on it. Although she had been a bit nervous going here, she went back to work feeling reassured.
It was growing colder now. Winter was fast approaching, though not yet officially. This meant that she had been wearing coats for nearly two months now. Outside no one could see she had gained a little weight again in some places. Inside it was still possible to wear wider tops and jackets. She had not checked whether her staff had found out yet. George knew, but perhaps he had not talked.
That reminded her of his wedding. She had a week and a half to find something to wear. Theoretically. In practice of course most of her days were already too full to go shopping. The invitation was at home and she did not remember if it said there was a dress code.
She took out her phone as she contemplated waiting for an undoubtedly full bus. Rush hour was in full swing, but that did not mean her work day was over. Chances were the bus would arrive just when her conversation with George was at an interesting point, but it would be good to be seen making use of public transport. It would be good to be seen walking as well, but the sooner she was back at work the sooner she could leave it too.
"George!" she said when the connection had been established. "You're getting married next week."
"I don't have the invitation with me, but did it say anything specific with regard to outfits?" She boarded the bus. It was indeed as full as she had expected. She held on to a pole and held the phone in her other hand. It had to be visible. Even though she had earphones, she still thought it ridiculous to see people apparently talking to themselves. At least when they held a phone you would not think they were crazy.
"Outfits? You mean what you should wear?"
"Yes, I mean what I should wear. Did your invitation say anything? Sorry, I put it down to check it later, but I forgot."
"Just what you're comfortable with, really. Where are you?"
"I'm on the 7."
"It's a bus line! But you know it's dangerous to let people wear what they're comfortable with." She thought of Frederick, who might prefer something all too comfortable.
"Is it? Doesn't everybody sort of know what to wear?"
"You'd think. But I still need to buy something." She feared that everything she owned would be a little too tight, if it still fit at all. "Could I borrow your intended this Saturday?"
"This Saturday?" George paused to think. "No, sorry. He's away for a stag party."
"Oh." She wondered if they both had stag parties. "I'll sort something out."
She took a quick decision when the bus drove past the first shops. They were open for another half hour at least. She would make a little detour. "Was I meeting anyone?"
"Yes. Are you planning not to show up, madam? Is public transport not running on time?" George was notoriously wary of public transport for some reason. He thought it was dirty, crowded and never on time.
"I can't say. I've not checked the timetable; I just got on the bus. But I'm planning to be later now. Just a bit. I may have to buy an outfit."
George was silent, probably in shock. Then he spoke again. "They're probably late themselves, but not that late!"
"Do you think I can't buy an outfit in fifteen minutes, George?" She pressed the button for the next stop and then got off. It was amazing that not more colleagues took the bus, but cars with personal drivers were a big thing with some of them.
And of course the moment you thought no one bothered you on public transport, they did, so Anna Margaret was fully expecting someone to start bothering her. She looked up and caught the eye of a girl, who together with another girl had come off the same bus.
"Could we take a picture of you?"
Anna Margaret obliged.
"Amazing," she had to remark. "I live and work in this town. I'm always surprised when people are surprised they see me."
"But we don't live here."
"Oh, that's a possibility too," she agreed.
"Well, thanks! Have a nice day!" The girls skipped away again.
She continued towards the first possible shop. There, she found it was more difficult than she had imagined to choose a dress. She did not want to try anything on, but she had only a vague idea of the shapes and models that would be suitable. The chubbiness must be obscured, yet it had to be something that was not too much making her look like either a teletubbie or a wigwam.
At least with a sleeveless dress she could justify a jacket, but of course nothing that hung here came with a matching jacket. She walked on, thinking there might be another shop a hundred metres or so down the street. After that, it was either two hundred metres to the left for the next shop, or to the right towards work. She did not know yet what she should do at that point.
But as she was walking, she had another idea. She looked up Isabelle's number and called her. "What did you do when you were pregnant and you needed a fancy dress?" She hoped the answer would not be that Isabelle had had them made especially for her. There was not enough time for that, although she really had no idea how fast seamstresses worked.
"When do you need one?"
"Oh no. I was already afraid you were going to say you had a personal seamstress."
"But I haven't said that yet."
"When do you need one?"
"And things you have are no longer suitable?"
"Maybe, if it's stretch, but I'd look fat. I've just looked in a shop, but I didn't want to try anything on there and I don't really want to look at maternity wear. I was already asked for a selfie. So..."
"I may have some."
"Do you keep everything?"
"No, not everything. But these things always come in handy," Isabelle said brightly. "You know where I live."
"Thanks." Anna Margaret gathered she was with other people. "I'll find a moment."
She turned right and headed for her office. Isabelle did not have the same figure, but maybe that did not matter. Hopefully she had something she could wear. It was not a public occasion, so nobody would be comparing photos to see where the dress had been worn before.
"Did you get something?" George checked her hands, but she was not holding any bags.
She smiled at his disappointment. He secretly had a fondness for dresses. "I'll borrow one from Frederick's sister."
"The queen," he said, impressed.
"Apparently she keeps some of her dresses for a second run."
"How will her dresses fit you?" he asked in a nearly dramatic whisper.
"They are dresses that will fit, if you know what I mean," she replied in a similar whisper. The nearest person was too far to overhear, but she copied him anyway.
"Oh, that kind."
"Indeed. I'll be more comfortable trying them on there where no one can see it."
"But gosh, I'll have one of the queen's dresses at my wedding?"
Anna Margaret raised her eyebrows. "Is this more impressive than having a former king there?" Although she hoped no one would pay attention to him there, for his sake.
"I'll do my best to fit in one. There are people from the office coming, aren't there?"
"And they don't know yet, I think, so I can't show off the bump."
"It's a very modest one, as far as I can tell. They may just think you fat."
"Let's hope they do. That would be lovely."
© 2016 Copyright held by the author.