King of My Heart
The taste of him on my lips, his arms around my body. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed.
I didn’t want him to stop. I wanted more. I wished he’d just tell me what to do, take away my doubts and second-guessing and worry. I would have done anything for him in that moment, if only he’d asked. I could feel his body pressed against me and I wanted to rip his shirt off and take him to bed immediately and… and do what, exactly?
My brain slowly but surely pushed my libido out of the driver’s seat and took control back.
Samuel reluctantly broke the kiss.
“Freya? Are you OK?”
I nodded, not trusting my voice. Or my legs, for that matter. He took my hand.
“Freya, it’s fine. I love you, and I’m not going to ask you to do anything you’re not ready for.”
I was both relieved and deeply disappointed.
“Come. We better go back to the party before they start worrying about us.”
With less than a month to graduation, plans were being made.
Samuel and Griffin had already discussed sharing an apartment in the city as they were headed there for medical school next.
Both Jessica and I had been scouted and offered spots with San Myshuno FC, so we were also moving to the city.
Samuel suggested that the four of us could find an apartment in San Myshuno together. It would be both easier and much more affordable.
We might only have been dating for a few weeks, but we had been living together for the last few years anyway, and sharing a room seemed like the logical next step. After all, we needed to see where this relationship was going.
It was strange and exhilarating to get to know new sides of Samuel. Since we’d always been friends, I thought I knew him pretty well, but getting to know him as my boyfriend was something else. He’d been much more guarded than I realised.
He told me about growing up in the shadow of his brother. Charlie had always been the entertainer, the one to grab the spotlight and demand attention.
When he was little, Samuel had tried to live up to Charlie, be as smart and talented. As effortlessly good at everything he did.
Later, Charlie had demanded attention in a different way, by constantly picking fights and getting into trouble. Samuel had gone from trying to be just like his brother to trying to be the opposite. He didn’t want to cause their parents any more pain.
It felt similar to my own struggles, except I was trying not to be as much of a disaster as my parents had been. But we understood each other.
The new apartment only had three bedrooms, so while I did miss Shen and Tai, it was probably a good thing that they’d gone back home to terrorise Mt. Komorebi. At least we were still able to keep Jessica and Griffin around.
Griffin had been dating Daria ever since the party, and as she was vegan, he was working hard to expand his cooking repertoire.
I’d asked to join him. I wanted to be able to cook properly for myself – and to spoil Samuel with delicious food – and learning from a former chef wasn’t a chance I was going to pass up.
We spent so many evenings in the kitchen together, testing new variations on old favourites, and Griffin happily taught me proper knife skills and all his cooking tricks.
Daria would come by often, and it was pretty adorable to see how hard he tried to please her.
They seemed to have their own private language. Whenever they started throwing around words like “whipple” and “midnight black”, it was impossible to tell if they were flirting or discussing the relative merits of various types of heirloom beans.
Samuel and I were really busy, him with his studies and me with my training. Most nights I’d come home to find him at the computer, mumbling about phalanges and metatarsals or looking up muscle groups.
I really wanted to take our relationship to the next level, but for some reason it was impossible for me to take the initiative. I’d spent so long reining in this want, trying not to let things go too far, and I no longer knew how to stop doing that.
I also still had that stupid fear. What if I got pregnant? What if he left me, all alone with a baby?
Some memories never faded. So many nights during my early childhood I would wake up in our tiny apartment to the sound of my mom crying quietly in the other room. A faint, heart-broken sound of desperation.
I could no longer remember what I used to do when it happened. Did I go to her? Did I hide under the covers? But the sound of her crying had never left me. And even as it happened less and less over the years, it didn’t fully stop until Conrad. I was eternally grateful to him for that, for making my mother happy again.
I never wanted to be like her, all alone, raising a child who felt like a mistake. Like they were the very thing that ruined someone’s life.
But I also really wanted Samuel.
Finally, he decided to address it. I clearly wasn’t going to.
“Freya, I know you have certain… opinions. About sex. But I would still like to talk about it, to manage expectations, I guess.”
I could feel myself tense up immediately. Why did I always react like this? Samuel clearly felt it too.
“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to talk you into anything, or pressure you. I just want to understand. Why is it that you’re so against us having sex?”
I hid behind my book. Why? Because people always leave. But I didn’t know how to explain it in a way that would make sense to Samuel.
Or maybe it didn’t actually make sense at all.
“Because… maybe you’d just leave me afterwards?”
“What, the good old pump and dump? Freya, I love you, I’m not going anywhere whether you sleep with me or not.”
“And how am I supposed to know that? You might!”
He smiled, a hint of mischief in his eyes. Then he startled tickling me.
“Oh yes, I totally might! You have seen through my cunning plan, Freya! I’ve always been meaning to lure you into my bed exactly once, only to then leave you forever. It’s been my intention since early childhood, the longest con ever to be dreamt up by a precocious toddler!”
Laughing, I managed to grab my pillow and threw it at him.
“It’s not funny, Samuel!”
“It is a little funny, Freya. Do you really feel like being married first makes a difference somehow? And how do you know I wouldn’t marry you just to get you into bed, only to then divorce you immediately afterwards?”
“Samuel, don’t be ridiculous.”
“Oh, so that’s ridiculous, but the toddler-devised long con isn’t?”
I reached for another pillow to hit him with, but he quickly pinned me down.
“Truce! It’s fine, Freya. I can wait. I love you and I think you’re incredibly sexy and I want you. But I can wait.”
I didn’t have the courage to suggest otherwise.
My mother had been asking me to visit her in Del Sol Valley for months. So when my team finally had an extended weekend off, I called her.
“I can’t wait for you to get here, sweetie! It’s been so long. Is Samuel coming with you?”
“No, they have a huge test coming up, he and Griffin are really busy. Jessica and I barely see them these days.”
“Understandable. How about you bring Jessica then? Or does she have other plans?”
“Seriously? She can come?”
“Of course! We have plenty of room and I know you tend to get a little bored with just me and Conrad around all weekend. You could take her out and show her the Valley? Oh, and there’s a red carpet event on Saturday night for the Quantum Llamas season premiere, if you want to join us?”
“That sounds fun! Thanks, mom, I’m going to ask her. Say hi to Conrad.”
“Will do, and you wish Samuel good luck with the test, sweetie.”
Jessica was thrilled about going. My mother had a few meetings, so Conrad picked us up from the airport and took us to the theatrical museum. I’d been there before, but I figured it would be fun to show Jessica some of the props from movies he had been in.
Jessica was hanging on his every word, and it made me really happy to be able to give her this experience – even if it felt slightly awkward that she was clearly thirsting after my stepdad. I kept forgetting that he had that effect on people. To me, he had always just been Conrad.
She couldn’t stop talking about how cool everything was, and how amazing it was to see the Valley, she’d never been here before. It actually made me feel bad about how unwilling I’d been to visit my mother over the years. I hadn’t quite appreciated how lucky I was.
We also took a walk around the neighbourhood, looking at some of the enormous estates. I really wanted to show her one in particular, Ward Manor.
“Wait… Ward as in Samuel Ward? Are you serious?”
“Yes! It’s named after that actress, Judith Ward, if you’ve heard of her? She was Samuel’s great-grandmother, but the house is owned by a different branch of the family now.”
On Saturday, my mother surprised us by letting us have our pick from her vast wardrobe for the red carpet event.
“This is crazy, Freya, why does your mom even own stuff like this?”
“I assume it’s from a promotional event or something with Conrad. She has a lot of odd things like that.”
“What about this? Too beach party?”
“What about ‘too naked’, Jess? Same for this one, I don’t know why you insisted I try it on. I’d feel less exposed in a bikini.”
“Fine. I guess we wouldn’t want to cause some sort of scandal for your dear stepdad.”
“Actually, knowing Conrad, he’d probably find it hilarious. But let’s try on a few more things.”
When we arrived – by limousine of course – I felt giddy with excitement. I’d visited mom and Conrad over the years, and I’d sat through endless dinner parties with directors and cast members, but actually being on the red carpet was new even to me.
Jessica and I had a lot of fun posing for the cameras.
No one knew who we were, but they assumed that we had to be important since we arrived with Conrad Richards himself, the star of Quantum Llamas.
Conrad was notorious for always being extra when making public appearances. He would usually put on a little performance with my mom for the cameras, and people loved it.
Back in the day, Conrad Richards had been known as a heartbreaker, but for the last 15 years, he’d only been breaking the hearts of his fans – by being aggressively devoted to my mother.
She was only too happy to play up that fact.
As Conrad delivered a short speech and a funny monologue from the new season, I noticed my mother beaming with pride in the front row, her love for her husband written all over her face. It made me miss Samuel terribly, and I longed to go home, away from the lights and the people and just be with him.
The next day, Jessica and I spent most of the morning in the pool before going home.
“Seriously, Freya, why do you not visit your mother more often? I’d literally kill to have this life.”
“Honestly? It gets exhausting. You’ve seen my mom, she and Conrad both thrive on attention. She loves this, all the glitz and glamour and dinner parties and red carpet events, and I just… don’t. I think I’m more of a homebody, really.”
“But you still want to be a great athlete? What if you made it, and you got really big, wouldn’t it be the same? Like, paparazzi and attention and security guards and sponsor deals and all that?”
I thought about it. I loved sports and I wanted to be the best at everything I did, but I hadn’t actually considered the practicalities of the life of a famous athlete that much.
“I guess? I doubt I’ll ever be, like, internationally famous, though. Plus it’s probably going to slow down my career whenever I get married and have kids and all that.”
“True. That’s why I’m not having kids any time soon, but I could definitely use a boyfriend.”
“What, tired of your dry spell?”
“Oh, you have no idea. You’re so lucky, I bet Samuel is an absolute fiend in bed, those restrained types always have hidden depths.”
“Uh… I don’t… We haven’t actually… You know.”
“What? Seriously, excuse me for prying, but why? You’ve been together for months, the man is gorgeous – how can you not?”
“I’ve just been really nervous about it? I actually think I might be OK going for it, but we’ve waited for so long that I’m not sure how to get started.”
“Come on, Freya, just jump him when we get home! It’s not like he’s going to say no, trust me!”
I splashed her.
“That’s more than enough advice, Jessica, thank you very much!”
I was happy to see Samuel again when I got home. Even if it had only been a few days, I’d missed him. But he seemed slightly withdrawn.
“Samuel, please tell me what’s wrong? Did something happen while I was gone?”
“No, I just… I’ve been thinking a lot. You have this irrational fear of getting pregnant, I get it. But you do want kids, you’ve mentioned that. Do you… not want them with me? Is that it? You don’t see us lasting?”
He looked at me, his eyes serious. Worried. It hadn’t occurred to me that Samuel could ever feel insecure about our relationship. That was usually my job.
“Samuel! That’s not it at all!”
“Then why? Don’t you trust that I’m going to stay with you? That I’m obviously going to marry you?”
I finally understood. This was not about sex at all. This was about Samuel feeling like I was holding him at arm’s length, like I hadn’t quite decided if he was really the one I was going to spend my life with or not.
But of course he was. There could never be anyone but Samuel for me. Of course I trusted him to stay, to marry me…
To marry me?
“Samuel, was that supposed to be some sort of proposal?”
He looked at me, momentarily confused. Then he laughed.
“Yes. Yes, it was. Will you marry me, Freya?”
I leapt into his arms, kissing him.
Samuel took my hands.
“Is that a yes, then?”
“Yes! Of course, you idiot!”
He was surprised when I pushed him down on the bed. But I had thought about Jessica’s words on the entire flight home. I wanted this, and I was no longer scared. Samuel would never leave me.
“Freya, I… this seriously wasn’t what I was trying to accomplish. I didn’t ask you to marry me just so you’d sleep with me.”
I looked him in the eyes.
“I know. But do you want to wait?”
“Of course not. But we don’t have to do this now. I can wait until you’re ready.”
I began moving my hand down his body.
“Freya? What are you… oh! Oh… Oh fuck, don’t stop.”
It is often hard work to get rid of the shadows of the past. I’m glad Freya finally seems to have fought her demons 💖
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For some reason, I’m in love with Jessica. She’s so beautiful!
Great chapter otherwise, of course. 😀
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Thank you so much! I love her as well ❤️ I really just needed a bunch of random roommates and team mates for uni, but just like with Conrad, I ended up falling in love with some of them, so now Jessica, Griffin and Daria are staying around for a while 😀
Hmmm—Daria needs some help here. So she’s already simply existing as a vegan in a world of carnists and said the word “vegan,” which is already pretty aggressive, and is going to lead to a whole load of tantrums. But if she wants to reach the next level of annoying, Morally Superior™ vegan and shame them properly like the based force of nature she could be, she should spend some time in the all-vegan CT universe with the all-vegan cast.
“Let me get this straight,” Xiyuan asks. “Their blinders are on so tight, that even in the animal exploitation expansion pack where they pretend forcibly impregnating a cow and stealing her baby so they can ‘harvest’ her milk is relaxing and wholesome, they don’t acknowledge that an animal has to die for you to consume its rotting flesh, and ‘meat’ is some magical thing they buy from the store?”
Daria coconut-creams her pants. “Yes! I know, right? And if you point out where meat is from, ethical hypocrites pile on you to justify their bad behavior.”
“What your universe calls ‘cheese’ sounds vile.” Claudia pulls up a disorganized list of recipes on her phone. “My restaurants and cookbooks all use a soy-based queso fresco. I’m a mother myself. I could never put someone else through that.”
“I would eat there every day.” Tears form in Daria’s eyes at the thought of the most popular place to eat in a universe being a chain of vegan Mexican restaurants. “People over here make up all sorts of excuses to not listen to us. The dumbest one I’ve heard is, they call vegans white supremacists and colonizers for forcing their privileged beliefs on indigenous hunters.”
“What,” River refuses to ask, standing with the main cast, which would not include white people at all if the Lius didn’t keep having sex with them. “Do they think only white people are capable of changing their behavior based on evidence? That’s deranged.”
“I know! Wait. No one in your universe has ever said they’ll eat twice as much meat to ‘make up for’ you being vegan?”
“That sounds like a promise that can’t be kept, given they’ll die of heart disease carrying it out. We haven’t heard any of this,” says Charlie. He’s here, I guess. “We don’t see animal corpses or the byproducts of animal abuse as food. If someone tried to cook those things here, we’d assume they were a psychopath or serial killer.”
“Oh, god yes!” Daria screams. “Fuck this world and everything in it! I’m learning the milk delivery schedules for all the grocery stores near me. I’m slashing some tires. I’m getting ‘VEGAN’ tattooed on my forehead and I am going to let every single carnist know they’re complicit in the system.”
“Burn it down,” Bernard tells her. “Burn the whole thing down.”
That’s right, I am granting myself shared custody of someone else’s character. Let’s do this.
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