Exclusive Excerpt from You Or No One
by Olivier Bosman
“Have you been briefed?” Eric looked at Button-eyes for an answer.
“He has,” was the reply.
“Good. We will go in together, and I will introduce you. The queen is in a bad mood, but don’t let that put you off. She can huff and puff all she wants, but my father is the one in charge, and he is usually quite reasonable. Are you ready?”
I nodded, and we both stepped into the room. It was a large, bright room. The breakfast was laid out on a buffet table, but no one was eating. The king sat in an armchair, a newspaper on his lap. He was in his fifties; a handsome man with a full head of hair, brown and slightly curled, with a dignified sprinkling of grey on his temples. He wore corduroy trousers – like me – a green cardigan, and a gold-and-black-chequered cravat.
The queen and Petra sat next to each other on a sofa. The queen had a stern face. I could tell that she had been a great beauty in her youth, but time had been unkind to her. The wrinkles around her mouth gave her a permanently sour expression, and her blonde hair, tied tightly into a bun, did nothing to soften her image.
“Mother… Father…” Eric’s voice cracked, and he stopped to clear his throat. “This is my friend… my dear friend from Oxford. Joel Bottomley.”
I turned towards the king, placed my arms by my sides as instructed, and nodded slowly. Then I turned towards the queen and did the same.
“Joel is a first year PPE student,” Eric continued. “He has been a great companion to me at Oxford and has helped me out on numerous occasions.”
“Pleased to meet you, Joel,” the king said. “Do sit down.” He pointed at a chair opposite the sofa. I took my seat. Eric sat down next to me.
“Now, Bottomley…” the queen said, looking me up and down. She spoke with a thick German accent. “Are you the grandson of Lady Bottomley?”
I was confused. “Beg your pardon, your majesty?”
“Of Kelston in Somerset?” the queen clarified.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know who that is.”
Petra frowned and rolled her eyes. “He’s not related to Lady Bottomley, Mother. You know he’s not. Lady Bottomley doesn’t have any grandchildren.”
“Well, whose child are you, then?”
“You don’t know his family, Mother,” Eric said. “He comes from Wales.”
“Wales? Where in Wales?”
“A village called Tonypandy, ma’am.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Not many people have.” I smiled. I hoped that remark would break the ice, but it didn’t. The queen seemed offended that I had the gall to come from a village she’d never heard of.
“You’re very skinny,” she said, looking me up and down again. “That jumper looks like a potato sack on you.”
Eric’s jaw dropped, and Petra almost choked on her tea. Even the king was forced to raise his eyebrows.
“I had to borrow this jumper, ma’am. My shirt got wrinkled in the suitcase.”
“Who gave you that jumper?”
“It was… um…” I had to be careful. I’d been calling him Button-eyes for so long, I’d almost forgotten his real name. “Mr Boersma. Mr Boersma gave it to me.”
“How long have you known each other?” the king asked.
Eric answered. “Since September.”
“That’s only four months.”
“Yes, but we’ve become good friends during that time.”
There was a pause in the conversation. A long, awkward pause. Eric nervously bounced his knee up and down. The king gently tapped his fingers against his newspaper, and the queen kept playing with the pearls around her neck.
“So…” the queen said, finally. “What is this thing you want to tell us? Why have we been summoned back from Denmark so suddenly?”
“Well…” Eric sat up nervously. “I wanted you to meet Joel.”
“Why?” The queen frowned with impatience. “Why have we been forced to interrupt our tour for this?”
Eric took a deep breath and blurted it out. “Joel and I are in love. We want to get married.”
A quiet fell over the room. Eric, Petra, and I kept staring at the king and queen, wondering who would answer first. The king cast his eyes to the ceiling while he thought of a reply, but it was the queen who finally spoke.
“Marry? You want to marry?” She laughed. A fake, bitter laugh. “You can’t marry a man, Eric. It’s ridiculous!”
“Why can’t I?” Eric protested. “It’s legal, isn’t it?”
“Not for us, Eric! Not for people like us! I’ve had enough of this!” She slammed her tea mug onto the glass coffee table and stood up. “How dare you interrupt our tour for something like this! How dare you!” She stormed out of the room.
Petra called after her. “Mother, stay. Please. Hear him out.” But it was of no use. The queen had gone.