Basically, they look like they belong on a yacht, while I am wearing a T-shirt that says, “EVE WAS FRAMED.”
“It was a surprise!” Ellie says brightly, and Alexander flashes me and Mom a smile.
This is the unsettling thing about Ellie and Alexander. They spend so much of their life being public people that sometimes they act that way in private, too, so it can make you feel like they’re holding the world’s smallest press conference in the living room.
“And a lovely one, too,” my dad says, coming into the room. He’s wearing a pair of khaki shorts that started their life as pants, a few stray strings hanging down to his bony knees. El’s forehead creases a bit as she looks over his graying hair, which is pulled back into a ponytail, and the paint that’s splattered all over his Pink Floyd T-shirt. Dad fancies himself an artist these days, although he’s not very good at it. But he gave up music ages ago, and as Mom points out, it’s good for him to have something that keeps him busy.
And for all that Ellie is clearly not impressed with Dad’s appearance, he’s kind of the reason she even met Alexander in the first place.
Here, let me give you the Star Magazine treatment.
“10 THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT ELLIE WINTERS (OR, MORE ACCURATELY, HER FAMILY!)”
1) Ellie’s dad, Liam, was famous for eleven months in 1992! According to Liam, that’s the worst amount of time for a person to have fame—not long enough for anyone to remember you, but just long enough to ruin your life.
2) Liam was in a band called Velvet! It was every bit as embarrassing as the name implies, and full of more gelled hair and skinny suits than his daughter Daisy would like to talk about.
3) Velvet had exactly ONE HIT SONG, “Harbor Me,” and while that title sounds pretty sweet, “harbor” is being used in a metaphorical sense, and the video was banned in seven countries. The less we say about it, the better.
4) Their second song only went to #22 (“Staying the Night,” less gross than “Harbor Me” but with way too many references to sheets and skin for anyone’s comfort), and the third never even cracked the top 100 (“Daisy Chain,” surprisingly not offensive, but also not listenable).
5) By that point, Liam had a flat in London he couldn’t afford, a fancy car he’d crashed twice, and a pretty significant drug problem. It was all very Behind the Music!
6) He moved back to his hometown, a tiny village in the Midlands, where he started working at his father’s garden supply shop, only to meet a lovely journalist by the name of Bess Murdock, who was working for some hip London newspaper and came all the way out to little Glockenshire-on-the-Vale to interview Liam for a “Whatever Happened To?” piece.
7) Surprising absolutely no one who has seen a romantic comedy, the two fell in love and moved to Florida for a fresh start. Luckily for Liam, “Harbor Me”—or an instrumental version of it at least—got picked up for a car commercial, and since Liam was the sole songwriter on that track (a fact that fills his family with equal parts pride and mortification!) he became, as they say, “well off!”
8) It was this stroke of luck that allowed the Winterses to send their oldest daughter, Eleanor, off to the UK for university, and it was there that the blond girl with the shiny hair and teeth met the heir to the Scottish throne!
9) Ellie—as she’s known to friends and family—and Prince Alexander have been dating for nearly two years now, making her the most famous person in her family, which is saying something since her dad was on the cover of NME, and her mom once made out with someone in Oasis!
10) Ellie’s younger sister, Daisy, works at a grocery store and just got a killer dye job, clearly making her the real baller of the Winters family.
There. Now you’re caught up.
“Are you staying long?” I ask. The last time they were here together was Christmas, and it had kind of been a disaster. Alexander had needed to sleep on our pullout sofa, which must have been a step down from whatever dynasty-making bed he had back in Scotland (even though he’d spent the entire time insisting that he was fine, and that the sofa bed was “surprisingly comfortable” and “such an interesting innovation”), and then my dad had given Ellie a plastic tiara as a joke, which embarrassed her so much that she spent most of that evening in her room.
Mom had been flustered about everything from setting the table to whether Alexander would be offended if we ordered pizza—our Christmas Eve tradition—and then more or less bullied Alexander’s bodyguards into coming in to drink eggnog with us on Christmas Day, which made everyone so uncomfortable that in the end, we all sat there in total silence, Malcolm and David in their black suits, El and Alexander dressed like they were going to church, and me, Mom, and Dad all in our pajamas, Dad with a stray bit of tinsel tucked into his ponytail.
To be honest, after all that, I wasn’t surprised Ellie and Alexander had decided on a “surprise” visit. The less time my parents had to stress and think up new ways to be weird, respectively, the better.
“Just through the weekend,” Alexander answers, putting his hand on El’s knee and squeezing briefly. They’re usually so formal that a squeeze feels like the equivalent of them making out in front of me, and that is so not okay.
“We have to get back to Edinburgh by Tuesday,” Ellie says, “but we wanted to talk to you first.”
And then she smiles, covering Alexander’s hand with her own, and for the first time, I notice the emerald-and-diamond ring on her hand.
Her left hand.
Mom gasps, but it’s Dad’s reaction that sums up what I’m thinking.
“Bugger me, Ellie’s going to be a princess.”
“A duchess, actually,” Ellie says, and I swear she looks a little bit embarrassed, using one perfectly manicured finger to push her bangs back to the side.
“Well, still a princess, technically,” Alexander counters, putting his hand over hers on her knee. “But yes, Eleanor’s title will be Duchess of Rothesay. Although, more importantly, she’s going to be my wife.”
El smiles at that, a real smile, the kind we don’t see much anymore. Once she started dating Alex, her smiles got a little frozen, a little fake.
From his spot in the doorway, Dad says, “Does this mean you’ll be able to have us beheaded? Because if so, I’d like to remind you that it was your mother who grounded you for sneaking out when you were fifteen. Granted,” he adds to Alex, “she was sneaking out to get more study time at the library, but it was still quite the scandal.”
“Dad,” El says, but Alex just laughs, and Mom waves her hands at Dad.
“Stop it, Liam,” she says. “No teasing today.”
Mom is wearing an old sundress, and there’s ink on her fingers, which means she was probably writing when Ellie and Alex showed up—Mom is old-school and does her first drafts on yellow legal pads—but she’s practically glowing. “This is all so exciting. Surely the most exciting thing that’s happened in our family.”
“I beg your pardon,” Dad says, folding his thin arms over his chest. “I was once shot out of a cannon filled with glitter at Wembley.”
“Liam,” Mom says again, but Alex just raises his eyebrows and says, “I think that beats a wedding, sir, I have to say.”
Dad holds out one hand, tilting it back and forth. “Equal at least.”