In the alcove of the smoke-infested Medusa, over the din of mid-90s rock and pole-dancing Swedes, I had to let the prince down easy. His hand on my chest, both of mine on his shoulders, I pulled away and let him kiss my cheek, my neck, my hair. "I can't do this," I yelled in his ear, competing with Hoobastank for the prince's attention. "I know this usually works out for you - I mean, I figure - but I don't do this." He didn't stop, weakening my resolve. I hardly heard myself mumble a pitiful, "I'm sorry," around his lips on my own.
Slowly, he worked his way back to my ear, over my hair again. "You leave tomorrow," he shouted.
"I do," I agreed, and I pushed him gently away to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing," he chastised. So he had heard me. He brought his lips back to mine, lightly, then backed away without reproach. With a sad smile, he added, "I get it. Just let me get as much of you as I can now, before you go."
"I have a free weekend," I replied, mostly to stop him from reminding me of our imminent doom. "In two weeks. Just two weeks. I can come back."
"You always have a place to stay in Stockholm," the prince said, then took a deep draught of our shared Norlander Guld. He exhaled, deeply pleased. The song changed - Guns N Roses. "Do you want to dance?"
"I want to go home with you."
"No, you don't. Not really."
"Not really." He knew me so well. It was three in the morning and I wasn't even buzzed and I was making out with a stranger in a Swedish rock club and I was in love. What had my half-assed backpacking through Europe done to me? "I'm not like that."
"I'm not a bikini model."
"That's not what I want."
"I did. Now, I just want to see you again." He put his lips near my ear, brushed my hair aside and politely ignored the sheen of sweat on my neck. "Say you'll come back."
"I'll come back."
"Say you'll stay with me."
"I'll stay with you."
"Promise me it's not just because I'm...me."
"It's only because you're you." I kissed his cheek. "But I promise it's because you sat and talked to me and saved me from your drunken countrymen. It's not because you're..." I couldn't say it, either. It sounded so ridiculous, coming from either of us, even he, who had been who he was all his life. "I'm sorry I'm awkwardly obsessed with your family. I'm sorry I can't just come home with you. But I can't."
"Stop apologizing," he repeated. And he kissed me until the club closed and I knew I wouldn't be just another notch on the prince's belt.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!