Improv law dictated that Ari was supposed to say yes right now. Without hesitating. Her tiny improv partner had just said this man was her prince, so this man was her prince.
The problem was that he might not go along with it. He looked serious with his dark hair styled away from his forehead and his business attire brown suit, the pocket square intricately folded like it was a bird in flight. If he didn’t like talking to strangers—or didn’t like children—Ari would be in trouble.
He’d definitely heard the question, though, brow lifted as he glanced between her and the young girl. Maybe that was amusement in the upturned corner of his mouth.
She decided to go for it. Worst case scenario: she would tell the girl he was a prince with a tragic case of amnesia. From a magic spell or something.
She met the man’s eyes and smiled encouragingly. “Your royal highness,” she said, tilting her head toward the girl as she curtsied to him in hopes that he’d catch on. “What a surprise.”
Her little friend copied the curtsy next to her, a bit wobbly and brimming with the never-ending energy Ari had come to associate with kids. “It’s nice to meet you,” the girl said, as proper as a six-year-old could be.
The man rose from his chair and, much to Ari’s relief, bowed to the two of them in return.
Really well actually: not just a dip of his head but a smooth bend at the waist. It was grand enough to make the little girl giggle excitedly. Maybe the man wasn’t so new to acting after all.
“The pleasure is mine, princess…” He paused. “May I ask your name?”
The girl blinked up at him innocently. “I’m not supposed to give my name to strangers.”
Ari stifled a laugh. She’d gotten the same response earlier.
“That’s a very smart rule,” the man said, his voice soft.
The girl’s mother came up beside them, taking her daughter’s hand. “Thank you so much for tonight,” she said to Ari. “I think it’s time for us to go home, but would it be okay if she gets a picture with the two of you before we leave?”
“Of course,” Ari said. She glanced at the man. “Do you mind?”
“Why don’t I take it for you?” he asked, turning to the woman and holding out his hand for her phone. “That way you can be in the picture, too.”
The woman smiled in understanding and passed him the phone, fussing over her hair as she came to stand closer to Ari.
Three photos later, Ari waved goodbye to the girl and her mom. The little girl waved back, walking sideways as she clung to her mom’s hand, and they disappeared around the corner.
Ari let her shoulders slouch. Sleep. She so needed to sleep.
She needed to check on Sim.
She turned to go back in that direction but stopped short when the room spun. The all-nighter she’d pulled breaking down a scene for her acting class was starting to feel like an extremely poor life choice.
A few nurses had said they would come find her when there was news. Maybe she could rest for a minute.
“Are you alright?” the man asked, reminding her he was there. His arm hovered in the air near her back like he was worried she might still fall.
She was done for the night; there was no way she could dredge up her cheerful princess character again, but she faced the man and hoped she could at least pull off awake and polite.
“I’m okay,” she said. “It’s just been a long day.” She gestured to the hall the little girl and her mom had gone down. “Thank you. For playing along.”
He shook his head. “I hardly did anything. They both seemed happy, though. That was nice of you.”
If Ari was being honest with herself, the whole thing might have been just as much for her as it had been for the little girl. She’d needed the distraction. Now, all she could do was worry again, and there was no telling when she’d get more answers from the doctors—or if she’d be able to bear them.
“You should see me when I’m not about to drop over,” she said, clinging to this new distraction instead of the sound of machines beeping or a cart passing by. The receptionist began whispering on the phone at her desk, and Ari told herself it wasn’t about Sim. He was going to be okay.
She walked to a nearby chair, smoothing the skirt of her costume before she sat down to keep the fabric from creasing. The movement was basically habit now.
“Do you usually go around in extravagant dresses?” the man asked, sitting across from her.
“Oh, all the time,” she said. She nodded toward the leather journal on his lap. “Do you usually carry around your diary?”
He traced a hand over the journal’s cover. “I like to make lists.”
“Like grocery lists?”
“More like budgets,” he said after a moment, “if I had to compare them to something.”
“You’re being vague,” Ari said. “It’s definitely a diary.” She smiled when the man chuckled quietly. “Don’t worry. I won’t make you tell me about your middle school crushes.” She’d had her own diary back in middle school and an annoying younger brother that—
She dropped her head against the wall behind her seat. Sim was going to be okay.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” the man asked.
“My brother was…” She swallowed around the tightness in her throat and tried again. “He got hurt tonight. There was an accident, and I’m worried that…” She blinked back tears and lifted her shoulder in a shrug. “You know.”
“Have the doctors said anything?”
Ari thought back to the way the doctor had looked at them while explaining the procedure, to the resigned nod the doctor had given her parents. “Just that it doesn’t look good.”
She shivered. Now that she wasn’t moving around, the cool hospital air brought goosebumps up along her arms.
“Here,” the man said, slipping off his suit jacket. “Would you like to borrow it?”
“Are you sure?” Ari asked.
“I’m not cold,” he assured her.
She felt awkward accepting a stranger’s jacket, especially one that looked to be designer, but she drew the warm fabric over herself like a blanket anyway.
A light, flowery scent hung in the air, something herby, like the plants in her parents’ kitchen.
“It sounds like you and your brother are close,” the man said, staring at his journal. “Like you would do anything to help him.”
“Yeah.” She sighed, wishing it was that simple. That there was something she could do besides sit here.
“Even if it was dangerous?” the man asked.
“I mean, that’s what family does.”
He smiled. “Not always.”
Ari frowned. What kind of family did he have? She and Sim didn’t even miss each other’s performances. The only time they had was when she’d been in LA, and she’d literally cried.
“I would die for that brat,” she said.
For a second, the man’s eyes seemed greener, his hair more red than brown under the fluorescent lights. “I’ll take your word for it.”
Ari blinked, and he was normal again. Had the power surged? Wouldn’t that be risky in a hospital? She glanced around the waiting room, but no one else seemed to have noticed it.
She added finding coffee to her list of things to do.
“What about you?” she asked, sitting up straighter in the hopes that it would help her feel more awake. “Are you here for anyone?”
“One of the doctors here is an old client of mine. I thought I’d stop by to say hello.”
“I’m glad it’s nothing serious,” Ari said.
The man glanced at his watch. “I should probably try to catch him before his shift ends,” he said, standing.
Ari started to return his jacket.
“I don’t mind if you’d like to hold on to it,” he said. “I have to pass by here again on my way out. I can get it from you then.”
“Thanks,” Ari said. “I’ll leave it with the receptionist, if I need to go check on my brother before you get back.”
“Perfect,” the man said. “And I’ll ask the receptionist to keep an eye out for you, in case you fall asleep.”
“Was I that obvious?”
“Aside from almost falling earlier, you blink slower and slower every minute.” He passed his journal to his other hand. “I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I’m Jonás Goodfellow,” he said, holding out his free hand.
“Goodfellow?” Ari asked, shaking it. “Like Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
He grimaced. “Exactly like that.”
“Sorry. You must get that a lot.”
“Fairly often,” he admitted. “And you? May I have your name?”
She was so tired she had to stop herself from reciting her audition spiel. “Arianna Williams.”
“Middle name Princess?” he joked.
She laughed. “Aliyah, actually. I’m only a princess at birthday parties.”
“That does explain a lot,” he said. “I’ll be back soon, then.”
Ari nodded and watched as Jonás went to speak with the receptionist. The woman waved cheerfully at Ari and mimed lying on a pillow with her hands before shooting Ari a thumbs up.
Ari smiled at the two of them and let her eyes slide shut.
She woke up to her mother shaking her shoulder. “Simeon is being transferred to a specialist. He’s going to be okay.”
“He’s okay?” Ari asked, bolting upright. “You’re sure? Has he woken up?”
“Not yet,” her dad said, “but the specialist said he should soon.”
“And his leg?” Ari asked.
“It’s going to need some time to heal,” her mom said. “But we’ve dealt with sprains before. As long as he rests properly and is good about his physical therapy, he’ll be good to go in no time.”
“Good luck getting your brother to rest, though,” her dad said.
“We’ll have to literally tie him down,” Ari agreed.
Her mom dropped into the chair next to her and kissed her forehead. “If your boyfriend hadn’t shown up with that specialist when he did, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Ari pulled back to look at her mom. “Boyfriend?”
“Oh, yes,” her mom said. “We’re going to have a little talk about you and this boyfriend you didn’t tell us about once I’ve gotten some sleep.”
“Mom, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Her parents shared a look.
“We’ve got visual evidence,” her dad said. “Introduced himself and everything.”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” Ari said.
“Okay,” her mom said, raising a brow. “Then whose jacket is that, Arianna?”
Ari’s heart sped A) because her mother had just full-named her and B) because there was a brown suit jacket in her lap.
“Mhm.” Her mom patted her leg before standing up. “I’ll call you.”
“Let’s all get some rest,” her dad said.
“Drive safe,” her mom called over her shoulder. “Text us when you make it home.”
When her parents were out of sight, Ari picked up the jacket. She wasn’t sure how her parents had come to the conclusion that Jonás was her boyfriend, but borrowing this jacket was starting to seem like more work than it had been worth. Had Jonás forgotten and left without it?
She patted the pockets for some form of contact information and pulled out a folded piece of paper with her name on it.
“Excuse me,” a voice interrupted before she could open it.
The host from Sim’s performance bounced nervously from one foot to the other, ringlets of curly hair swaying with him. “I recognized you from the show last night. You were there for Simeon, right?”
Ari nodded. “That’s right.”
“I’m Oliver. I’m a theatre major at Simeon’s school. Is he okay? I wanted to come find him right away, but they made me get checked for injuries first. I’m fine!” he added when Ari started to look him over in concern. “Not a scratch on me. But Simeon?”
Ari smiled. “He’s going to be alright. My parents just told me.”
“Really?” His shoulders sagged in relief. “Is there any way I could see him?” He pushed his hands into his pockets. “I wanted to apologize. I feel like this is all my fault.”
“Why would you think that?” Ari asked. “It was an accident.”
“But I saw the sign was unstable. I should have done something. Or said something. I don’t know. Simeon got hurt because he pushed me out of the way.”
“I think we’re all just glad you’re safe, Oliver. I’m sure Sim will be, too, when he hears.”
“What was going on with you and Sim, though? It didn’t seem like you two got along on stage.”
“I don’t know what I did,” Oliver said. “Yesterday was our first time meeting. I saw him rehearsing, and he was amazing. I really wanted to talk to him, so I told him to break a leg, and—”
“Oh, my sweet fellow theatre major.”
“What?” Oliver asked. “What did I do?”
“You told a dancer to break a leg?”
He nodded innocently.
Ari sighed, knowing full well how petty her brother could be. “Dancers don’t say ‘break a leg.’ Ballet dancers definitely don’t.” Her and Sim’s childhood instructor had had no qualms teaching them to swear in French before a ballet performance, as per tradition.
Oliver’s eyes widened in horror. “And then he actually broke a leg.”
This shouldn’t have been funny, but Ari had gotten so little sleep, and Oliver’s face looked so horrified, and Sim really was going to be okay. She brought a hand to her mouth to cover her growing smile. “It’s only a sprain. He’ll be alright.”
Oliver tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. “There is no way he’ll give me his number now,” he muttered, a blush covering his light brown cheeks.
Ari smiled outright. “He’s being transferred right now, but if you leave your number with me, I can pass it along.”
Oliver’s face lit up. “Yeah. Yes, definitely.”
Ari was already looking forward to messing with Sim as soon as he woke up while Oliver put his number into her phone.
“Nice dress, by the way,” he called as he left.
She waved goodbye to Oliver and remembered the note still in her hands. She unfolded it.
I didn’t want to wake you. Your parents seem nice. I’m at the café next door, if you have time.