Dead leaves swirled around in the biting wind and were crushed underfoot by hurrying footsteps. There was a hush of quiet in the peaceful graveyard quite out of place in the busy city. A tall fence and line of trees barricaded the pristinely surreal area from the loud city that did not care. It was a bitter day in late November. Frost lay heavy upon the grass and headstones, and a chill wind blew through the air. Men and women dressed in black passed under the wrought iron gate of the cemetery in a hurry to be getting out of the cold after paying their respects. It was not a very well attended ceremony, but everyone knew that the amount of mourners did not necessarily constitute the sense of loss.

There stood under a skeletal bare tree a young man, a lone figure being whipped by the wind. He stood just aside of the freshly packed earth in front of the granite headstone that was the object of his attention. He was a troubled young man, but the hard, expressionless mask that was his face did not betray anything. His eyes, however, showed fear. The young man’s eyes expressed his helpless fear of his future. He looked far too young to have just lost his father; trapped in vertigo between boyhood and manhood. He was only seventeen. He looked lost.

The crunching of leaves several feet away signaled that he was not alone. He turned away and wiped his face on the collar of his coat. A light hand fell on his shoulder. He did not look up.

“Is there anything I can do?”

The young man knew the voice and did not know how to face her. He knew just what she could do, and that it would make everything inside of him feel so much better. He needed her to slip her arms around him and hold him. Somehow, in some way, that would make everything wrong in his life go right. Just one embrace, and he would not have to foster the immense responsibility alone of being the manager of his father’s legacy before he even became a man. Just one moment, and he would not be trapped so claustrophobically by his own future. But that moment came and went with no movement. He slowly turned at the waist and looked into her eyes.

The young man saw a girl who he had known for years. At first glance she was ordinary; a normal looking girl of fourteen with curly brown hair and gray eyes. But he looked closer as he had learned to over the years and saw the subtle spark of courage and grace in her eyes; the confidence and humility in the way she carried herself; her beauty, a diamond in the rough, undiscovered by no one but him. Fire danced in her steely eyes. He knew that she wanted him to be strong like she was, wanted him to cling to sanity in the face of pressure, knew that she believed in him.

He knew that she thought that. But he wanted her to say it to him, and she was silent. He tried his very hardest to continue breathing.

“I’m afraid not,” he whispered. He smiled bitterly and took her hand gently. She returned his smile. He could see something from her expression struggling to grasp something very close. She squeezed his hand. He wished he knew what she was thinking.

“Royale,” the young man began softly. His voice was like the whisper of satin sheets rubbing together. “What will become of us in the future?”

The girl’s gaze was gentle but it pierced his heart like a knife. “There is no way to know,” she said. Her voice was like the lilting melody of an aria. “All we can do is to try our best to keep our friendship afloat during the hard times that lie ahead.”

He nodded. The suffocating pain inside of him was due more to his intense desire for things to be the way they used to be than to whatever sadness he felt for his father’s death. He longed for the time when he and the girl were simpatico, the time when the two of them had no boundaries with each other and no limits from the outside world on how close they could be. The pressure caused their relationship to mutate, to twist into different paths. While the young man developed feelings for her, she thought of him as only a friend, one who was beginning to be on a different level than her. He felt as though his love for her was being taken for granted, and subconsciously he hated her for it. But he would never admit that to himself. He would admit he hated his father before he ever admitted that he hated her for taking him for granted.

He tried to speak but his words hitched in his throat. He took a breath and tried again.

“Royale.” Her name was a taboo that he could not stop saying. “Promise… promise me that you will always have room for me in your heart. I want to be there wherever you go.”

She turned her gaze towards him. Her eyes were blazing. She held his gaze for a moment that felt like a lifetime.

“I promise,” she said with finality. Her voice broke. Then her eyes filled with tears. The understanding was finally there. She went to him and held him, and he held her fiercely. His face was buried in her hair, and hers was buried in his chest, drinking in the smell of security.