Early in January a letter camr from Michael in which he said he was planning a visit to the States to see Farah, if she had no objection. "I want us to get to know each other better, for I'm sure now that the feeling I have for you goes deep," he had written. "I have delayed writing in order to give you time to deal with your grief, but am afraid if I wait longer I'll run the risk of losing you.I plan to come unofficially, with no publicity to cause embarrassment or annoyance to either of us.
"Please don't say no, Farah. Let me come as a friend for now. You know my intentions, and you can decide when you are ready whether or not our relationship can go beyond friendship."
This letter lifted Farah's spirits, for she had been feeling isolated, although she was making an effort to cultivate friends and go out more. She had spent Christmas in Boston and returned home warmed and nourished by being accepted lovingly as a member of Jason's family. Perhaps she should seriously consider Aunt Margaret's invitation to come live with them; she needed to belong somewhere.
Although she had no romantic feelings toward Michael, she had found his company stimulating, and the prospect of seeing him again pleased her. Since he was not asking for a commitment, she thought, why not let him come and leave herself an option? So before she could change her mind she wrote telling him to come.
Michael arrived on a Friday morning in February and checked into a Beverly Hills hotel. As Farah waited for his call, she noted with approval that a Santa Ana wind had swept the air clean and the day was warm and sparkling.
Michael called just before noon. "How soon can I see you?" he asked.
"I can come at once," Farah told him. "Unless you'd rather meet me somewhere."
"I'll be waiting in the lobby."
"What would you like to do today? Did you have anything in mind?"
"I'd like to see the things no one ever shows me when I'm here on an official visit. All I've ever seen are places of historical or cultural importance. I'd like to get out and rub elbows with people, visit all the tourist spots -- Hollywood Boulevard, the Sunset Strip, Disneyland, the beaches. Would that be possible?"
Farah relaxed. She had been wondering how she would entertain a prince; it would be easy if he was always this decisive. "Quite possible," she said. "I'll pick you up in half an hour. Wear something casual."
He was standing on the sidewalk as she drove up, blending with the crowd in brown slacks, beige sweater and brown leather jacket. Pulling to the curb, she opened the car door and he got in, a broad smile revealing his pleasure at seeing her.
"I couldn't wait inside," he said. "I was so anxious to see you. You look wonderful."
"Talk like that could turn a girl's head." She edged the car deftly into the traffic. "You're looking good yourself."
"Is that all?" he asked in mock dismay. "No, hugs, no kisses? No telling me how much you've missed me?"
She gave him a reproachful look, trying not to smile. "You said you would come only as a friend."
He grinned. "I couldn't have said that. You're making it up."
"Oh, no, I have it in black and white."
"Good. That means you saved my letter."
"Only to prove to my grandchildren that once I knew a prince." She could feel her cheeks reddening.
"Then why are you blushing?"
They laughed together, feeling very comfortable with each other.
"I'm going to give you the Grand Tour," Farah told him, "starting with lunch at the Farmer's Market, then on to Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Sunset Strip, Disneyland, the beaches, anywhere you want to go, not all in one day, of course. How's that for starters?"
Michael was the perfect companion, interested in everything and properly impressed. As they wandered hand in hand they kept up a running conversation, exploring each other's likes and dislikes, their ambitions, their dreams, the rules they lived by, delighted to find they had so much in common. Michael talked about his country, explaining that although Zhad was originally a part of Catholic France, the prevailing religion was Protestant, disagreement over religion having been one of the reasons for their becoming a separate state.
"You're amazing," Michael said at one point, as they rested briefly with a cool drink. "Your interests range over so many subjects, surprising in a girl your age."
Farah hesitated. Sometimes she forgot and made reference to things relevant to her life as Donna that, as Farah, she could not have known. Had she betrayed herself? "It must be because I've spent most of my life with adults," she hedged. "I have endless curiosity about things and almost total recall, so what I hear and see and read takes root."
Over the next two days their talk continued. On the second day they visited Disneyland, and on the third day Farah took him out to her house for lunch.
As they toured the house, Michael said admiringly, "This is a wonderful house. You say Jason designed it himself? He must have been a man of many talents."
"Many talents and a big heart," Farah said. "A man you could go to when you needed a friend."
They were standing in Jason's bedroom when she said this, and suddenly the full force of what this house meant to her struck her. Here she had known Jason, who had literally made her into a new person. Here she had known Noel and Kevin. Noe both Jason and Kevin were gone, and Noel lost to her.
I'll have to tell Michael about Noel, she thought. Caesar's wife should be above reproach. I'll have to tell him now, so that if it makes a difference to him, he can ease out of this gracefully before any commitment is asked for or made.
"I have something to tell you," she said. "I can tell you better outside." She led theway to the patio.
Michael followed, looking puzzled. "What is it, Farah? You look so solemn."
"Don't let yourself get serious about me, Michael, for I wouldn't be a proper wife for you. You see, you wouldn't be the first one for me."
Michael stood very still. "You mean McKay?"
"Yes." She felt numb and stiff, waiting to be rejected.
"He was the only one?" His face was expressionless.
At her gasp, he reached for her hand. "I had to ask." He studied her face. "You loved him, you were engaged to be married. I don't think even my mother would think that terribly improper."
Oh, God, he thinks I mean Kevin, she thought. I'll have to tell him about Noel. She closed her eyes. No, I can't tell him about Noel. Let him think it was Kevin, only Hack knows the truth, and he'll never tell. She opened her eyes. There was no rejection in his face.
"Do you think I could stop loving you just because you've loved someone else? My past is far from spotless." He smoothed back a lock of her hair that in her agitation had fallen forward. "It took courage to tell me. I respect that."
"I bring bad luck to everyone who loves me."
"That's nonsense. It'll take more than that to scare me off."
I could love this man, she thought. But I must keep my head. Look what happened when I let myself fall in love with Kevin. If I had just waited. Why do I always feel there's no time to waste? In a sudden flash of illumination she realized that she had been thinking like Donna, who saw life passing her by and felt the need of haste. But she, Farah, had no need for haste, she had a lifetime before her.
She smiled at him through sudden tears. "You have a big heart, too, Michael."
He looked at her blankly, as if he had been sure that all this was leading to heragreeing to marry him. "You sure blow hot and cold, don't you," he said, and only a little stiffness in his voice revealed that she had hurt him. "I said I'd come as a friend. I was hoping to change that before I left."
When he saw she had no immediate answer, he went on talking to give her time to pull herself together.
"You Americans have been brought up on fairy tales about the handsome prince and the beautiful princess who are expected to be chaste and pure. The truth is that just as much hanky-panky goes on in royal bedrooms as anywhere else, maybe more. Did anyone ever tell you about my bastard cousin, Andre?"
Farah shook her head. "Not a word. Is he supposed to be a secret?"
"Oh, no, everyone knows about him. Actually, it was his father who was the bastard, the result of an affair between my grandfather and a French actress. We have skeletons in our closets, too," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "Grandfather acknowledged Philip as his son and arranged for him and his mother to be financially independent. Philip never made any trouble for the family, but Andre is ambitious. He'd like to sit on the throne himself."
"Would there ever be any chance of that happening?"
"He thinks that because he is not illegitimate and is a direct descendant, he should be able to inherit. But his father was illegitimate and according to our law that makes him ineligible." He hesitated. "I suppose if there were no other legitimate heirs, the French Government might be willing to declare him a legitimate heir and save our country from reverting to their jurisdiction, but that's a big 'if'. And Andre is not very popular and would be ill qualified for the job."
"Do only sons inherit?" Farah was regaining her composure.
"Daughters can inherit, too, which is fortunate because for some reason the men of my family are not very prolific. Boris is hoping for a son, of course. Did I tell you? His wife is expecting, at long last."
Feeling something like relief, Farah said warmly, "How wonderful. They must be very happy."
Michael left on Monday. He had convinced Farah that what she had told him had not altered his feelings or his intentions, and she felt again the strong rapport between them.
Driving to the airport, they were comfortably silent, as if all the nonstop talking of the last few days had left them nothing more to say. As they stood by the airport window watching the planes take off and land, Michael suddenly put his arms around her and held her close.
"I love you, Farah," he said. "Is there any hope for me?"
"I don't know, Michael. It's too soon."
"But you're not saying no?"
"I'm not saying no, I just don't want to make a commitment before I'm sure. You wouldn't want that either."
"I can make you love me," he said, and kissed her, a long, urgent kiss.
She was unprepared for the fervor of her response. She put her arms around him and kissed him back, wanting to love him, needing to find a home and family. But still she wasn't sure.
The last call for boarding the plane was announced and she drew away. Michael picked up a small bag and said ruefully, "We were just getting to the good part. Now I have to go or I'll miss my plane."
"I'm sorry to see you go, Michael. I'm really glad you came."
"I'll be back. And next time I come you can forget about this friend business. I'll be coming for an answer." He kissed her again, then ran down the ramp to the waiting plane.
As Farah watched him go she remembered a Valentine her fiance had sent her from camp during World War II, a small bag holding pieces of a jumbled jigsaw puzzle, which she hurriedly put together, only to find one piece missing. She searched for it, thinking it might have fallen out, but it was nowhere to be found. Finally, she read the message on the Valentine. It said the missing piece represented the sender, and his happiness wouldn't be complete until they were together again.
She had cried then. She was crying now. She dashed away the tears, telling herself sternly that she had to stop being such a crybaby.