In Her Majesty's Secret Service
Summary: This is a story from Joseph's POV regarding a special service he provided to his Queen.
Warning: I would advise having your Kleenex ready and be prepared to cry. There is a great deal of angst and sadness in this chapter. I know I cried fairly steadily as I wrote it.
Author’s Note: Please note that this is NOT the type of story that I typically write; but my muse insisted…so if you want to blame someone, I suggest you find a way to contact her.
Dorthe for the beta of this document - I know it wasn't easy, love and I appreciate your willingness to do so. *Hugs*
Tay and Dorthe for your encouragement to follow my muse - wherever she may lead...
Final Chapter: “You’ve Been Wearing Black Too Long.”
Joseph stood looking out the window of their suite; the fall season was upon the land of Genovia as evidenced by the changing of the colors of the trees and the slow metamorphosis of the land as it prepared for its’ winter hibernation. He almost envied the course of nature…it could take refuge from the harsh realities of life by taking a period of rest that lasted for a few months and then spring would come and the earth emerged rejuvenated and full of new life. What he wouldn’t give to be able to have a second chance…a chance to go back and change the course of the past year to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and full of new life.
That was impossible, though. Too much time had passed and, simply put, he was angry. He had never been so angry at Clarisse. He missed her she had been away for far too long. He missed the warmth of her body next to his at night; the feel of her hair as she nestled further into his embrace; the scent of her perfume; and the life he saw in those sparkling sapphire eyes. He knew she had been called away; but that didn’t change the fact that he NEEDED her. It was as though she didn’t care; although he knew that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Unfortunately, once anger claimed a soul, it was hard to see the truth.
A quiet, but strong voice broke through his musings. “It’s time, Grandfather.”
Joseph turned to see the handsome young face of his great grandson, Joey…although; no one had called him that in over a year now. The face looking at him was marred with concern and filled with love and respect. Joseph knew that Clarisse’s absence had been hard on the whole family she had always been the backbone, the glue that held everyone together. Add to that how difficult Joseph had been of late, the strain was beginning to take its toll on everyone. He tried to manage a small smile for him as he answered. “Just let me get my coat.”
Joey nodded his understanding and then added. “You don’t have to do this, you know?”
His statement made Joseph pause. He thought for a moment before replying. “Yes, Joseph, I do. I need to talk to her; to make her understand why this isn’t working. I can’t live like this any longer. Some day you’ll understand. The heart does things for reasons that reason cannot understand.”
Joey wasn’t sure that he would; but decided it best not to argue the point. He extended his arm to help Joseph during the walk to the awaiting limo. Joey had asked Shades to drive them, even though he usually assigned such tasks to one of his other security personnel. Hearing the purpose of the trip, Shades had agreed without hesitation. He felt he owed that and more to his mentor and friend.
The journey to the front of the palace took some time as age had descended on the eighty five year old frame to the point where it just didn’t function as well as it once did. The knee replacements were ready to be replaced again; but Joseph had refused stating there was no point. Charlotte had tried her best to reason with him, even to the point of accusing him of becoming a crotchety old man who was more stubborn than ever. He knew what she had been trying to do…to get a rise out of him…to get him to respond somehow; but she didn’t understand no one did. He had sat in silence until she finally leaned over and kissed him on the cheek before turning to leave, no closer to convincing him than she was when she started.
Amelia came to visit him every day, even though sometimes she could only stay for a few minutes. Genovia had prospered under her leadership and she had turned out to be every bit the Queen that Clarisse had always known she could be perhaps even more. She still had a slight hint of the mischief that had been present in her younger years; but it was now tempered with a great deal more maturity, grace and poise.
Joseph’s thoughts were once again interrupted. “Here we are. Let me get the door.” Joey opened the door to help his grandfather inside. Joseph stopped cold in his tracks at the sight revealed to him when the door opened: Long legs, tucked gracefully at the ankles led to a soft pink dress that hung perfectly on the lithe frame, accented with a long string of pearls; shoulder length blonde hair shone brightly in the afternoon sun now streaming through the opened door.
At the sound of the door opening, the woman turned to meet his gaze. Joseph quickly turned away, looking accusingly at Joey. “Why is SHE here?”
Joey sighed. He knew his great grandfather would not be pleased with this turn of events; but Julie could be very persistent and stubborn. She had always been very adept at getting what she thought was the best course of action; which was why she was going to make a wonderful Queen as she most always was right. This time, though, he had pled with her to not come as he didn’t think it would be good for either one of them; but she had insisted. When tears had brimmed those magnificent blue eyes that so closely resembled that of their great grandmother’s, he had succumbed to her wishes and agreed to let her come with them. “I must speak with him, Joseph; I need to at least try to get through to him. He won’t see me and avoids me at all cost. I miss him as much as he misses Gramma Clarisse.” In the end, he could deny her no more than his grandfather had ever been able to deny his grandmother.
“She insisted and,” he cast a glance in her direction, “you know how stubborn she can be.”
He tried a small smile; but there was no response from his elder except. “Fine; let’s go your grandmother is waiting.” Joey cast one final glance at Julie and then crawled in next to Joseph on the opposite side of the limo. Joseph’s gaze was fixed solidly on the window as they pulled away from the castle. Joey’s look to Julie spoke volumes that indicated this was going to be a long trip.
About a half an hour into the trip, Joseph felt movement in front of him. He didn’t have to look to know that Julie had knelt in front of him and had moved in close enough to put her arms around his waist and rest her head against his chest. He could feel the physical evidence of her sorrow as her tears dampened his shirt. He wanted so much to reach out to her and to stroke her hair as he did when she was a child; but the pain was too much and coursed through his body like a searing heat that ignited and amplified the anger he harbored deep inside. A small part of his subconscious quietly reminded him that she could no more help the fact she so closely resembled Clarisse in both her mannerisms and physical presence than a bird could help fly. His eyes closed together tightly in an effort to quiet that still small voice. He might have been able to deal with everything else; but those eyes…those eyes that once brought him comfort when he looked into the gaze of his beloved; now only brought him pain when he looked upon the one whose eyes so closely mirrored hers. As a result, he ignored the young woman silently pleading for his attention and stared blankly out the window.
A few minutes later, he sensed that she found her composure. He didn’t have to wonder very long when her surprisingly calm voice commanded. “Look at me, Joseph.”
He ignored her.
A frustrated sigh before she unleashed a bit of temper on him. “Dammit, I am your great granddaughter and I deserve better than this.”
More silence followed by her steely voice…the one that he knew would ensure that all of the progress that Genovia had experienced under her mother would continue under her rule. “Have it your way. Know this, though, when you speak with Great Grandmother Clarisse, she will tell you what an incorrigible child you are being. You will come to your senses, eventually, and I want you to know that I will be here waiting for you when you do. I possess all of the stubbornness of my great grandmother and the patience of my great grandfather.” With that final statement, she wiped her eyes and sat back in her seat once again composed, her mask fully in place.
Joseph spent the rest of the trip trying to decide how he would confront Clarisse; what would he say? Would she be angry at him for his behavior? Even though he was upset at her being away; he knew, without a doubt, that she would find a way to diplomatically turn this back around so he would know how difficult he was being. At this point, he decided that even hearing her voice in displeasure would be a welcome change from the silence he had experienced from her of late. He knew that even though his outward appearance hadn’t changed from the customary black he always wore; for the first time in his life, he felt blackness consume him on the inside. Which was why he had to speak with her to make her see reason…it was his only hope.
Once they arrived at the designated meeting place, the passengers emerged quietly. Shades noticed the pain etched on each of their now stoic faces. Joseph was the first to speak. He looked at Joey and instructed. “I want to speak with her alone. I appreciate you making the journey with me; but I must go the rest of the way alone. I’m not sure how long I will be; the area is beautiful and the temperature is mild, I suggest you take your sister for a walk.
Joey stole a glance at his sister to gauge her reaction, but was unsuccessful as the “queen” mask (as they had learned to call it) was solidly in place. He sighed and answered. “As you wish; we’ll be here if you need us.” He took Julie’s hand and led her away from the car.
Shades watched as Joseph made his way to where Clarisse waited for him. He took the seat that had been provided and began to speak. From this distance, Shades couldn’t make out what he was saying. His heart caught in his throat as he saw his friend shake his head and then let his head fall heavily into his hands in an effort to control the sobs now overtaking his body. He fought the urge to go to him; he knew he would not accept any tenderness now. He needed this; he needed to talk to her he needed to find peace with the situation life had dealt him. And so Shades waited quietly by the car that was his duty…it was all he could do right now.
“Clarisse, we need to talk. I can’t continue like this. My heart hurts; no, that’s not right, my whole body hurts not just your typical old age aches and pains; every fiber of my being cries out in despair with every breath I draw. You told me that the heart would go on; but you never said HOW it was supposed to do that.”
He waited no response was forthcoming, so he continued. “I tried to tell you that night. Do you remember? It was our tenth anniversary and we had shared a picture perfect day. Your voice cried out your pleasure so much that I’m sure the angels in heaven must have heard you. You were so beautiful bathed in the hundreds of rose petals that I surprised you with that day. It was nothing short of perfection when we made love. We truly are one, Clarisse…one heart, mind, body, and soul. That’s why I whispered to you that night I had to tell you. My love, my life; this I know - life is not living if you are not in it.”
He took a few deep breaths and then forged on, his hurt fueling him on. “You didn’t believe me; but I was right. I may be alive, Clarisse; but this is NOT living. As you once told me, I’m awake in an infinite cold. My heart is surrounded by darkness and my soul is cold; they cannot survive without their other half. You’ve been gone for what seems like an eternity…”
Joseph’s head found his hands as he finally allowed the pain to consume him, causing sobs to rack through his now frail body. He remembered back to the day she left…
One year ago…
Amelia found Joseph tinkering with his old Jaguar in the garage. He turned to smile at her; but his smile quickly faded as one look at her face told him all was not well in Genovia. Not realizing the cause of her distress, he went to her and pulled him into his strong embrace. “What’s wrong, Amelia? You look like you’ve lost your best friend.”
The cries erupted from her body with such force that Joseph knew an answer would be a while in coming; so he just held her as she wept. Finally, she spoke the words that would change his world forever. “It’s much worse than that, Joseph…I’ve lost my grandmother.”
He heard what she said, but it didn’t fully register to his conscious mind. His subconscious, though, was fully aware and reacted accordingly causing a chill to creep throughout his body causing him to shiver in response. Thinking he hadn’t heard or understood her, she clarified. “Grandma Clarisse is dead, Joe…they found her in her gardens tending to her roses. The doctor on staff here was called and he came immediately; but it was too late. He said it was a massive stroke that claimed her quickly and decisively - those were his words…” Her voice trailed off as grief consumed her once again.
He had left her there, crying in the garage as he ran to find Clarisse. He knew they had to be mistaken…they just had to be.
Three days later, he was in a complete state of denial as he watched the citizens of Genovia file by the open casket to pay their respects to their former Queen. He heard the condolences being offered; but they were falling on deaf ears as he still couldn’t accept that she wasn’t coming back.
True to her word, Mia kept the promise she made to her grandmother by making the funeral a closed casket so a switch could be made before the casket was brought in to the Royal Cemetery. Thousands watched as the Arch Bishop offered his blessings over what a select few knew to be an empty casket. The next day, a small gathering consisting of Charlotte, Shades, Grace, Pierre, Amelia, Nicholas, Joey, Julie and Joseph paid their final respects in the small clearing that had been a haven and retreat for Joseph and Clarisse over the past 25 years.
As the days turned into months, Joseph had retreated further and further into his shell. He had cut off most contact with Julie as the physical similarities she shared with her great grandmother had been more than he could bear. He had been in a state of denial…not wanting to admit to himself that she was gone.
His sobs quieted somewhat and he spoke again, this time fully facing the head stone that read, “Clarisse Renaldi Romerro; beloved wife, mother, and grandmother. Her beauty unmatched - her love unending.” Joseph stared at the dates that signified the beginning and end of her life. “I don’t understand why you won’t let me join you. I’ve wanted to die so badly over the past year; there’s nothing left for me here. I sense, though, that there’s something you want me to do before you’ll let me let go…please, Clarisse, I’m begging you tell me what it is. My heart aches for its other half I’m no good to anyone like this.”
His words trailed off; he was cold, he was tired, he wanted peace above all else. He needed an end to the suffering that consumed his life since she was no longer a part of it. He closed his eyes hoping to find solace being in her presence as best he could.
Joey stole a glance at Julie out of the corner of his eye. They had walked a respectable distance; but still enough to keep an eye on their grandfather. They had long since stopped referring to them as their great grandparents as it was both a mouthful and was not necessary as they rarely saw their mother’s parents. In truth, Clarisse and Joseph had been the only real grandparents they had ever known. They had been extremely close to both of them. Joey’s heart broke a little as he saw a tear slip through the carefully constructed façade his sister wore on her face. Joseph’s avoidance of her over the past several months had been a true test of courage for her. She knew, down deep, that it truly wasn’t her that he harbored any ill feelings for; but the little girl in her cried out for her grandfather’s love and affection. He had always spoiled her; Joey had always suspected that it was due, in part, to the resemblance she bore to her grandmother. It was odd that now that same resemblance was causing him to hurt her more than she would ever admit to anyone.
He put his arm around her, providing the comfort he knew she needed right then even if she wouldn’t ask for it. He felt a slight rush of relief as she allowed herself to be pulled in his embrace and comforted by his silent strength.
“Joseph? My love, my life; I am so sorry you are in so much pain. I didn’t want to leave you; but it was my time.”
“Why won’t you let me join you? I want nothing more from this life than to be with you once again.”
“There are relationships that must be repaired first. Remember I said to you that our heart goes on…not for us, Joseph; but for our families. They need you to be strong; to help them get through this. It’s your duty to them, Joseph.”
“And who will be strong for me? My source of strength is gone.”
“I am always with you, Joseph. You just have to look for me in different places. You could start by looking your great granddaughter in the eyes. Your behavior and treatment of her since my death has been nothing short of horrible. You should be ashamed.”
“It was too painful.”
“Tosh! You want to find me? Find me in her eyes, Joseph.”
“For you, I will try.”
His heart stopped for a beat as he could almost feel her hand cup his cheek in the familiar gesture they had shared for most of their life together. The perceived touch spread warmth throughout his body that had been painfully absent since her death. He allowed himself a small smile she had finally spoken to him; and Julie had been right, she had admonished him severely for the way he had been treating her.
He stood up with renewed purpose. He now knew what he had to do. He turned and saw Shades standing immobile by the driver’s side door of the limo. Though because of his sunglasses, Joseph couldn’t see them; he knew without a doubt that Shades eyes had never left his form the entire time he had been sitting here at the edge of Clarisse’s grave.
He slowly turned to see Joey holding his sister, trying to offer comfort from the harsh world her great grandfather had subjected her to over the past several months. Joseph determined in his heart right then and there to correct that. He knew it would be painful; but he had to try. He needed to feel close to Clarisse again. If that meant, finding it in those magnificent eyes that he had been avoiding for the past twelve months, then so be it. He caught Joey’s eye and motioned for him to come over to assist him.
He watched as Joey slowly disentangled himself from Julie and motioned for her to move back to the car to await him. She nodded her head, composed herself and made her way over to Shades.
“Did you find the answers to the questions you were seeking, Grandfather?” Joey asked as he offered his arm to begin the walk back.
He stopped and looked at the face of his one and only grandson. “Yes, Joey, I did.”
They continued walking as Joey quietly responded. “You called me Joey. You haven’t done that in a long time.”
Joseph smiled. “I know; somehow, though, I think that’s how she would want it. You always insisted that she call you Joey rather than Joseph, didn’t you?”
Joey’s smile was much brighter as he remembered the familiar debate he had exchanged with his grandmother over the years. “Yes, as a matter of fact I did. As I recall, I always won that argument, didn’t I?”
Joseph clasped his arm and replied, “That you did, my boy. That you did.”
Any levity he felt during the walk back to the car vanished quickly as he was seated across from Julie. The air was thick with tension and he knew that, this time, he would need to be the one to make the move. She had left no doubt that she would be there, waiting for him; but she would not come to him again…her heart could not take the rejection.
They had made it about half way home when Julie heard movement in front of her. Her pride or stubbornness would not allow her to give him the satisfaction of her curiosity getting the best of her. She continued to stare icily out the window, realizing that perhaps her brother had been right and she should not have come. A few moments later, she felt it…or rather him, kneeling in front of her, his head in her lap…the tears dampening her dress. She looked with shock and surprise from her grandfather to her brother. He made no attempt to hide the tears running down his cheek as he realized the gesture his grandfather was making.
It had taken no small effort on his part and Joey was certain that the position had to be painful on his knees…but he would wait and see what happened. He knew this was a turning point; and that sometimes those could be painful not only physically, but emotionally; but they had to happen. He waited and he watched.
Julie didn’t know what to do…for the first time in her life, she was at a loss. Her mind flashed back to a time when she had walked in on her grandmother and grandfather in the library. Grandma Clarisse had been reading a book and Grandpa Joseph was lying on the couch next to her with his head in her lap. They hadn’t seen or heard her come in, so she was free to watch them as they behaved when no one else was around. She watched her grandmother, delicately trace the fringe of hair and the surrounding area with gentle caresses as she continued to read her book. Occasionally, she would look down on her husband with such love and affection that Julie knew that SHE wanted that kind of love in her life some day.
Calling on what she learned from her grandmother that day, she gently began to trace a similar pattern, hoping that he would remember the gesture that her grandmother had given him oh so many years ago. It took a few minutes for it to register, but she could sense his body calm some at her touch. A few minutes later, he looked up at her and their eyes locked for the first time since her grandmother’s death. She saw the raw pain of his loss and sought to comfort him with nothing more than her eyes. He had often told her that her grandmother’s eyes could convey a thousand emotions and sentiments and that she had used that over the years to govern the great country of Genovia; but more importantly, to capture his heart. Julie had honed that skill as well over the years; and now used it to the best of her ability to bring comfort to the man now sharing his pain with her.
Joseph looked hard and searched the blue orbs down to the depths of her soul. He could see so much of Clarisse in Julie’s eyes. While it was painful at first, as he continued to search, he found comfort in the familiar. After what seemed an eternity, he spoke; his voice nothing more than a hoarse whisper. “You were right, princess; your grandmother was most displeased with me. I believe she referred to my actions as ‘horrible’ and demanded I set things right with you.”
Julie’s heart melted at his words. Her hands went to his shoulders as her eyes implored Joey to help her get him up into the seat. She spoke softly as she answered. “Come Grandfather, sit next to me. I need to feel your arms around me, holding me as you did when I was a little girl.” She wisely had not pointed out to Joseph that she was also concerned about his knees and the awkward position his body now found itself in; she knew that he was still a proud man and would not take kindly to being coddled.
Joseph slowly and painfully rose to sit next to Julie. As soon as he was seated, he pulled her into his arms, allowing her to be comforted as she cried; cried for the loss of her grandmother and the return of her grandfather. He murmured words of love and apologies to her as she relished the feel of his strong arms around her again; making all of her problems seem insignificant. Once the initial emotion had passed, Joseph found her eyes again and offered. “I truly am sorry, Princess. I have no excuse worthy enough to even offer.”
Julie held his gaze and lifted her hand to cup his cheek, hoping it would bring him comfort rather than pain. He closed his eyes at the touch; but did not pull away. For the first time in a year, he smiled as he heard her say. “I told you Gramma would be upset.”
He took her hand that was on his cheek and lifted it to his mouth and kissed it. “And, just like your grandmother, you are always right!”
A small bit of laughter was heard, again for the first time in a long time. Joey moved over to sit on the other side of Joseph and both grandchildren felt as though they were ten again as their grandfather held them close, an arm around each one’s shoulders to hold them tightly to him. It was only a small beginning; but it was that…a beginning.
Over the next few weeks, Joseph continued to try to set things right. He made amends to those in the close knit family he had hurt and spent a great deal of time with Julie. Mostly they spoke of Clarisse and the times they had together. Often they cried, sometimes they laughed; but always, they were restoring the relationship between them that had been torn asunder when Clarisse died.
Joseph made every effort to help the family deal with the loss and their grief during the day. In the quiet of the night, though, the familiar blackness would descend upon him like a cloud and the loneliness consumed him. One night, about a month after his visit to talk with Clarisse, he had just settled into bed when he heard a knock on the door. He knew without a doubt who it was as no one else would have entered his private chambers without knocking on the outer door first. “Come in, Julie.”
She opened the door and then closed it softly behind her. She stood looking at him, noting the deep sorrow lines etched on his face that he tried so diligently to hide during the day. Their eyes met and they spoke volumes to each other without either having to open their mouth. She finally uttered with tears in her eyes. “It’s time, isn’t it?”
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I you. You take care of everyone, alright? And I don’t just mean the citizens of Genovia…this will be hard on your mother, father and brother. Take special care of Shades; he won’t say anything; but you know how he is.”
“I will. I promise.”
There were a few moments of silence before Julie spoke one last time to her grandfather. “Tell Gramma Clarisse I said hello and that I love her. I love you, too, Grampa.”
“And I love you, Julie. Sweet dreams, my dear. Everything will be alright.”
Julie nodded her head, walked over and kissed him on the cheek and then left.
Joseph smiled as he took one last look around the place he had known as home for the greater part of his life. He closed his eyes and went to sleep.
“Joseph! My love. I’ve been waiting for you!” Clarisse exclaimed as she ran to meet him.
“I would have been here sooner; but my wife insisted there were some loose ends that I needed to tie up first. Now that I’ve done that; I am free to love her once again.”
His heart rejoiced and swelled until he thought it would burst out of his chest as he felt her arms circle him and pull him closely to her. His smile broadened as he felt the blackness that had been a part of his soul since her death, fade away in the warmth of her love. His smile broadened as he heard her whisper, “That is good, my love, for you have been wearing black for far too long.”