Bem Shelby prided himself on never rushing into things. Being the crown prince meant that spontaneity was not a word in his vocabulary. And for twenty-nine-year-old Bem, that was okay. Until he met Julissa.
“Can I have a soda please?” Bem leaned over the bar counter and asked the pretty bartender. He glanced over at Antonio and smiled when he saw him slow dancing with Rae.
“What do you want in it, vodka, whiskey or gin?” The bartender smiled at him while popping the top of a can of Coke.
“Just the soda please.” With his attention back on the bartender, he realized just how pretty she was. With long black hair that highlighted her tanned skin and full lips, she looked like she belonged on a magazine cover, not behind a bar, but then so did many good bartenders.
“I would think at a wedding, you’d do your best to get as drunk as possible as soon as possible. You’re a gem in coal mine buddy.”
Bem grinned and reached for his glass of soda. “Not really, it’s my parents’ wedding. Can’t have the best man drunk before he gives his speech; afterwards maybe, but never beforehand.”
Bem’s grin grew wider when he heard her laugh. She had a loud, infectious laugh and he found himself chuckling along with her.
“Well, best man, enjoy your soda. I have plenty more if you find yourself in need.”
Bem saluted her with his glass and walked over to his mother, who was calling him over for what looked to be yet another family photo. He had a feeling he’d need more than soda sooner rather than later.
The next week, Bem headed over to Green Park, where he was scheduled to make the opening remarks at the year’s first Simfest Performance. Running a little late, he was almost to the stage before noticing that the announcer was the same pretty bartender he’d met at his parents’ ceremony.
He’s personal assistant, Jonathan, led him straight to her and said, “Prince Shelby, this is Ms. Julissa Gomez, the new proprietor of the performance park. Ms. Gomez, may I introduce you to the Crown Prince, Bem Shelby.”
After making the introductions, Jon immediately walked away to take a phone call.
Julissa held her hand out. “Nice to meet you, your Highness.”
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Bem took her hand and looked at her askance.
“Oh, I remember you, Best Man. Soda, straight up.”
Bem laughed, relieved that she remembered. “Yeah, that’s me. Always preparing to make a speech.”
“Hmm, yes. And you’re running late too. You should let go of my hand and go do what you came here to do.”
Bem looked down at the hand still clasped in his. “I don’t know; this hand can pour a mean glass of soda. You don’t just let go of a commodity like that without at least making sure you can see its owner again soon.”
Julissa laughed. “Oh that was a terrible pick up line!”
Bem gave her a hurt look. “Can I at least get an A for effort?”
“Yeah, fine, okay.” Julissa was still laughing when Bem moved over to the stage stairs to go make his speech.
Luckily, it was very short and a little while later, Bem was able to get back to Julissa and set up a date for the end of the week. He didn’t know what was compelling him to try so hard to see her again, but he wasn’t going to fight it. He liked her and after seeing Aaliyah and even Aaron so happy with their partners, he was ready to make a real go at a relationship.
Bem left the park with a promise from Julissa to meet him at Amity Park later that week.
Bem had to admit that Julissa was one of a kind. He’d spent a lot of time thinking about her and what it would mean to try to have a serious relationship with someone. Being a future king made living a normal life very difficult. Now he understood why Aaliyah forwent the crown and let the old tradition of a male succession continue. The pressure to always do the right thing and never make a mistake in the public eye – whether real or imagined – was at times, all-consuming.
But with Julissa, she treated him like a normal human being; she laughed at him and was quick to correct him when he stepped out of line. That alone was a refreshing change from the women he was used to dating.
One night while they were dancing, Julissa asked him what it was like being royalty and if he ever got tired of it.
The first part of the question he heard a million times from people who thought having the world watch your every move was cool and something to be desired. Very few people ever fully understood the kind of scrutiny his family was under all the time.
Aaliyah had lived in a small ranch town to try to get away from the family publicity, turning towards acting as a way to control the media coverage. Instead of having to discuss her family at press conferences, she shifted the focus and talked about her films. Kandy seemed to want to do the same thing with her music career. Aaron though, was too quiet and thoughtful to open himself up to the public like that. He was a military man, through and through. However, even that had its advantages. He worked for the government and that gave him a bit of protection against media scrutiny.
Bem fell somewhere in the middle of all that. “It gets tiring, yes. But you can’t really get tired of your life, you know? I try to keep myself busy with my job and I take care of my responsibilities.
“We’re a small country and so I’m lucky in way. I can still have a regular career and live a pretty normal life. How about you? You ever get tired of being a Gomez?”
Julissa smiled up at him. “Nope. I love that I come from such an important family. Although, it’s not really the same thing. My great-grandfather was a cultural figurehead and created a musical genre that has exploded all over the world, but he was never responsible, day-to-day, for the wellbeing of the people who followed him.
“I am not responsible for anyone’s welfare but my own. If I wanted to quit singing tomorrow, I could do that and no one would really care. But you have a whole country that would care.”
“Hmmm. No more talking. This is my favorite song.” One of Julissa’s songs had just started playing. Bem twirled her around.
Julissa laughed. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
Unable to resist, Bem leaned in for a kiss. Their first, but hopefully one of many.