The sky was the clearest that King Richard had ever seen, and the air was crisp and sweet, yet warm. He stared ahead into a sort of meadow alive with wildflowers. A man and a woman spread a checkered cloth over the grass and set a picnic basket beside it. As he came closer, he recognized them as his parents. Matilda met his eyes and smiled. Alexander beckoned him closer with his hand. And with them was a slender woman with lengthy coffee hair and brown eyes. Her rosy lips stood out from her pale complexion. It was apparent to him that Alexandria would have been the beauty of the twin girls.
Julia's cry snatched his attention.
"Come stay with us," Alexandria was suddenly close. "Julia and the others will have to be patient."
She reached toward his hand and drew him to the picnic.
"Well done, good and faithful servant," a warm, loving voice seemed to vibrate in his very being.
Queen Julia kneeled down beside his bed and clasped his hand. She peered into his ashen expression with tears streaming down her cheeks and dripping onto the crimson sheets. Jesse appeared at the open doorway, stunned. His heart clenched in his chest and he could not breathe.
"What happened?" Demetri demanded as he stormed up beside him. He peered into the room and stopped, completely still as he realized what was going on.
Winter snowflakes drifted to the royal cemetery when the ebony casket framed with ivory was lowered into the earth. Queen Julia crossed her arms beneath her lengthy black coat as tears smeared icy trails down her cheeks. Demetri wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a solemn squeeze. Together, they crouched down and cast the first handfuls of mud and daffodils onto the wood. Jesse and the Ramos Esparzas came around them and did the same. The Yelizarov relatives accompanied them. All the while, "Days Like This" by Kim Taylor played on the wind.
The sermon was almost unbearable to listen to without crying, but the loved ones savored every word about eternal love and life. Each knew he or she would be with the Lord and Richard again, but the uncertain wait seemed an eternity in and of itself.
The return to the palace may have been the worst. Hearts decorated the banister because of the season, and the silence made room for more grief.
"I can have my room empty by this weekend," Jesse said when he entered behind the Queen. She spun around and threw her arms around his neck.
"Say no more about it. You're family."
He squeezed his eyes shut as another tear escaped. Esperanza and Shane enclosed their arms around them, and soon, the monarchs and their loved ones all were in a tearful embrace.
"Heart attack," Jesse managed between tears. "Same reason I lost my father."
"They're not lost," Queen Julia sniffled. "They're ahead of us on the journey home. We'll go soon."
He gave her another squeeze. Then everyone separated to grieve in their own rooms and in their own manners.