Summary: Being a Coldstream Guard was an honour – until one day. Not talking or moving on the job – easy. Not asking a beautiful girl out on the job – a hell lot harder.
As a boy he had always found the red uniform sharp. He liked the black boots and pants they wore; those enhanced the smartness. The black furry hat he found to be a little ridiculous, but it came with the package and he decided he would just have to bear with it.
The day he became a Coldstream guard was his proudest moment yet. Thereafter, he was assigned Windsor Castle, which he was disappointed with (he wanted Buckingham Palace). But he was determined to make the most of it and become the best guard the castle had ever seen.
Keeping still was easy for him. He had a very active imagination, and he could stare at a spot for hours and think about anything in particular. Of course, you were supposed to pay full attention to the goings-on around you, but he prided himself on his ability to multitask.
Within the first three months of working there, he was assigned a post in the courtyard of the castle, where the hoards would visit. This was a compliment, he was told by his friends, because it meant that he was good enough to be appraised by the public.
In his new position, he people-watched. Most of the people were tourists, and they all wanted pictures with him. He was thrilled at the idea of appearing in strangers' photo albums, but a nasty experience where an elderly woman put her hands on him in every part imaginable ruined the experience for him. From then on, if someone took too many liberties with him, he marched back and forth around his spot in hopes that the person would clear off. Marching around was the only way to get into a comfortable position, he knew, and surely having someone's hand clamped on his bottom was not a comfortable position.
For a year he was very satisfied with his post as a Coldstream guard. Then came a day when all changed.
It started, like all other days, very ordinary. It was a Sunday that day, so there were more people milling around the castle than usual. He only hoped that none of them were elderly female cradle-snatchers. He was to resume the post of his friend, and did so during the ceremony of the changing of the guard. He liked this part the best, when tourists were snapping away in awe at the precision of the measured steps that the guards took. As he resumed the post his friend (who had all but smirked as they saluted each other) had vacated, and as the Old Guard marched away, a hoard of eager tourists rushed up for a picture – and he let his mind wander.
His parents hadn't been particularly pleased when he entered the military force – his father had been a tailor, and was hoping that he would inherit the family business. It took a lot of convincing on his part, and for his mother to see him in his uniform (she shed tears), for them to realise that his heart was entirely in it, and that his younger sister was up to the challenge of running the shop and calling the shots. He had gotten to meet the Queen on several occasions – well, she walked past him, at least – and the new Cambridge family as well. He had been the one who displayed the easel announcing the birth of Prince George, something his sister and mother had proudly declared to their friends. It was a decent job with decent perks –
Someone jostled his arm, and his train of thought broke off. He would have liked to turn and frown at the person, but that would be breaking the rule of not moving, so he chose to frown at the person's photographer friend instead. He frowned at the lens of the camera, which was obscuring the person's face, just as the camera fired off consecutive flashes, effectively blinding him temporarily. Blinking, he heard the cameraperson call out, "One more! Three, two, one!"
As she finished another series of shots, this time without flash, he regained his vision. When she was done with taking the pictures, she peered at the screen of the camera. He took in the long wavy dark hair that framed her pale oval face. He took in the elegant point of her nose, and when she looked up from reviewing the pictures she had just taken ("They're perfect!"), he took in her huge green eyes, and the pleased smile on her pink lips.
He felt as though his knees had given way, even though he was still standing. He watched in a daze as she handed the camera over to her friend, and exchanged places with her by his side. He forgot the rule of not moving, and tilted his head to look at her.
"Go on, take the photo," the girl said, "people're waiting."
"He's not looking over here."
The dark-haired girl looked right up at him, and too late, he realised he had been caught staring. Quickly, he faced the front, and had to restrain himself from smiling, the way he normally would if a gorgeous girl was about inches away from him. The girl's friend was an amateur photographer, taking ages to figure out how to get the best exposure, and for that he was glad. And then it struck him that he was never going to be able to ask her for her number, and for the first time, he hated his job. He looked at the clock tower, and saw that his shift was due to end in a few minutes. Minutes! Minutes during which this girl and her friend could slip away and he would never know her name, never –
"Okay, Anastasia, three, two, one!"
Fine, so he knew her name. So what? There were hundreds, thousands even, other Anastasias on this earth. How the heck was he supposed to find one who was dark-haired, green-eyed, and beautiful to boot?
"One more!" her friend said, and he felt something curl around his elbow. Was she holding on to his arm? He thought he might smile, but his facial muscles weren't working properly. Neither were the rest of his muscles, which longed to break free and make him turn around, grasp the girl by her shoulders, and ask her for her number.
Her friend finished taking the pictures, and he felt her poke him and say, "Thank you, mister," before going off to review the photos, leaving an elderly Asian man to take her place.
"Wait," he wanted to say. But he could only watch as she and her friend walk off after giggling over the pictures, watch as she turned around and waved at him cheekily. He followed them until he could no longer discern them from the crowd, and he was certain that his posture sagged more than a little.
For what it felt to him, a thousand years might have passed during the five minutes that actually did before the clock tower struck the hour, and he heard his colleague marching towards him. He sprang into action, and cursed for the very first time the lengthiness of the procedure of the changing of the guards. The only blessing was that it wasn't the actual ceremony, which could take up till 45 minutes. When his place had been taken, he forced his legs to march him back to the Victoria Barracks, when in fact all he wanted to do was to hurtle through the crowd in search of Anastasia. The march downhill had never been so torturous. Once within barrack walls, he had to return his weapons, but after doing so, he abandoned all decorum and sprinted through the halls and corridors towards the exit he could take. At the exit, he stripped himself of his red uniform, revealing his white shirt and brown pants beneath (thank goodness it was winter) unceremoniously dumped his bearskin hat on the floor, and exited the castle after brandishing his pass at the appalled guard.
At last, at too long last, he found himself in the castle grounds again, his breaths forming mist before him. Everywhere he looked, he couldn't for the life of him spot a girl with dark hair and a blonde companion. At last he saw one, and without pausing to think he hared off, tapping the girl on the shoulder. The girl turned back, and he saw at once that he had made a mistake; for one, Anastasia was much taller (and prettier), and for another, the companion with the blonde tresses in this case was a boy, presumably the girl's boyfriend going by the murderous glare. He had probably interrupted a moment.
"Sorry," he said, backing away with his hands up, "wrong person. My bad." He bumped into someone, and whirled around to apologise, but lost all words when he looked right into a pair of startled green eyes.
"Whoa," she said, and he saw that she was holding a cup of coffee in her hands. She must have dropped by the café, thank god.
"Sorry," he said, finding his voice.
"Come along, didn't you say you wanted to go spy on that cute guard?" said a voice, and both of them turned around. The blonde friend was slightly ahead, half-turning around, and when she saw them, her eyes went wide. "Oops," she said.
He felt his cheeks colour. A look at Anastasia told him that she was feeling about as embarrassed as he was, if not more so.
"I'll, er, just wait for you at the café, k?" said her friend quickly, and walked off.
Anastasia said nothing, glancing up at him and catching his eye briefly before looking down at her coffee.
"Hey," he said. "Sorry I walked into you earlier."
"S'okay," she said in a small voice to his shirt. He wished he had bothered to put on a better-looking one that morning. This one was slightly worn and there was a small hole near his left armpit. He prayed she wouldn't notice.
They stood in awkward silence for a while. And he cursed the years he had spent in schools for gentlemen, cursed the years he had spent in the military. He racked his brain for something people used in the movies to pick up girls, but the last proper romance flick he had watched was something that came out in the last century.
"Um, would you like to go for coffee?" he said without thinking, and then wanted to die. "Um – I mean, something to go with your coffee."
He was crap at this. But then he must have done something right, because she was beginning to smile.
"The scones in the café here are really not bad," he said, emboldened.
She looked him in the eye at last. "You don't have to do it to be nice, you know."
"Nice?" he said. Was she talking about him being apologetic, or trying to cover up for her friend? But he didn't know if the cute guard they were talking about was him. It would be a little presumptuous if he acted like he knew for certain the friend was talking about it. Better to play safe, then. "I'm really sorry about knocking into you, but the coffee isn't about that –"
"No," she interrupted. "I'm talking about what my friend said."
So the cute guard her friend was talking about was really him? He started smiling.
"Yeah," she said, scuffing her shoe on the ground. "Thanks, though. Nice meeting you."
Then she turned around and started walking away, and he stood where he was, stunned at the abrupt farewell. Then reality kicked in and he lunged forward and grasped her shoulder.
"No, wait!" he said. She turned around questioningly. "As soon as I got off my shift, which was precisely" (– he checked the clock tower –) "twelve minutes ago, I marched as quickly as I could back to the barracks which for some reason had to be so goddamn far away from the castle, got out of my uniform, and ran straight back out here, hoping to find the girl who poked me in my ribs. And now that I have been so lucky to literally bump right into her, I am not going to let her walk away thinking I only asked her out because I was sorry for her."
She blinked. And then she started smiling. It was an even nicer smile than the last, and it gave him just enough courage to say what he needed to. He drew a quick breath, and then said, "So, Anastasia, would you like to have coffee – I mean, something to go with your coffee? With me? Not because I'm sorry for knocking you over, not because I overheard your friend say that I was cute, but because I genuinely want to."
There was a pause, during which he was really afraid that she might refuse. Then –
"I would like that very much indeed," she said. "Let's get a bite and then we can go spy on the cute guard."
His smile froze. After a beat, she laughed.
"Just kidding," she said, beaming.
"That wasn't funny," he said.
"So why're you smiling?" she said. "Shall we head to the café? The cute guard said the scones there are really not bad."
"You mean, the one you wanted to spy on?" he ribbed.
"Well," she said, considering. "Nah, I don't think I need to spy on him anymore." She started walking, and he followed. "There's someone else in the picture."
"Whom?" he said teasingly, hoping and somehow knowing that she was referring to him.
"The boy with a hole in his shirt at his left armpit."
Well. One can't have everything.
Author's Note: So this story was largely inspired by a trip I took to England (I miss it way too much). I took a few liberties with this story, such as the presence of a café within Windsor Castle. But hey, there was a gift shop there so it isn't that huge a change… I hope? Also, I took some liberties with the Coldstream Guards – I'm not sure what happens in their barracks. But in any case, I would love to know what you all think of the story!