Etty looked down at the young man on the stretcher, and felt the shock of recognition. It was Nick! Even though she hadn’t seen him face to face in a couple of years, she knew the lines of his face as well as her own. He looked awful, his skin was grey-tinged and he was covered in bleeding scrapes and scratches.
She took his hand, and he opened his eyes. Etty hid her concern and gave him an encouraging smile. He tried to grin, and winced.
Etty said, “Well, what sort of excitement have you been getting into?”
“My bicycle didn’t take a corner. I was trying to avoid one of those big Hummers and was lucky it didn’t clip me,” he grumbled.
“Sounds as if you’re lucky not to end up under its wheels!”
“Not likely. The edge of the road dropped off dramatically. I tried to steer down the slope, but it was too steep.”
As he spoke, Etty and the nurses were checking Nick’s injuries. He groaned as they gently investigated his left arm, which was sitting at an awkward angle.
“Well, it looks like you won’t be back on your bike for a while. You have most certainly broken your arm, and we will have to get an x-ray,” said Etty, writing down notes on his chart. “Lucky I know your head was too hard to hurt – though I see hear you were wearing a helmet as well. I want to check you for internal injuries as well, so we will be keeping you in overnight.”
Nick saluted her with his good arm. “Yes ma’am. Is that the royal ‘we’? Should I call you Doctor Princess or Princess Doctor?”
“You can call me Etty, like always.”
Nick grinned, and retook her hand and gave it a squeeze. He said, “I feel much better knowing you’re here.”
Etty grinned back, though her heart fluttered at his warm expression. “You might not be so pleased with me in a moment. Can you remember the last time you had a tetanus vaccination?”
“In that case, guess what my next procedure is going to be?” She held up a needle.
Nick groaned again. “Well, don’t look so pleased. Do your worst.”
As it turned out, the broken arm was Nick’s worst injury. It was a clean break that didn’t need pinning. However, this didn’t stop his mother from having mild hysterics when his parents made it to the hospital.
“My poor boy,” she shrieked when she caught sight of him in his hospital bed. She burst into tears.
“There, there, my dear,” said Nick’s father, patting his queen. “Every looks to still be attached.” He turned to Nick and winked at his son over her head.
Nick said, “Hello, Dad. Oh Mum, please don’t cry. I’m being released this afternoon.”
His mother suppressed her crying, and subsided into some hiccupy sobs. She wiped her eyes. She said, “Oh darling, I’m sorry. It was just the shock of the phone call and the trip, and then seeing in that horrible cast.” She tried hard to give him a damp smile.
“I understand, Mum. It was a bit of a shock to me, too,” joked Nick. “And you’ll never guess who my attending doctor is. It’s Princess Odette.”
“Doctor Odette,” insisted Etty, coming in at that moment, as if summoned by the mention of her name. “I just have to take Nick’s blood pressure and pulse. Then you can take him home.”
She took hold of Nick, and pushed his sleeve up to take the blood pressure cuff.
Nick’s parents stared.
“Etty! You’ll get hives,” said the queen. “You’re not wearing any gloves.”
Etty and Nick froze. Etty had been looking after Nick for hours, and it was obvious she wasn’t having any sort of allergic reaction. She had been too caught up in doing her job to remember the old deception, and poor Nick too shaken up. It was too late in the game to make excuses.
“How extraordinary,” said the King. “I’ve heard of children growing out of allergies, though generally they were food allergies.”
Etty left a wave of relief. She looked at Nick, and he gave her the ghost of a nod. Neither of them wanted to admit that her ‘allergy’ had been a long-standing ruse.
“How wonderful,” said the queen. “After all these years of loving each other, you can finally get married.” Her expression had changed from worry to joy in seconds.
Panic overwhelmed Etty for a moment. Then Nick took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. He turned to his parents. “You’ve got to give me the chance to ask her, this time,” said Nick.
His father coughed. “Of course, of course.” His eyes were twinkling. He took his wife by the elbow and steered her out of the room. “I believe the children might need a moment alone,” he said, and closed the door behind him. The queen went without a single protest, but her step was buoyant.
“Phew!” exclaimed Nick. “I didn’t think they would go so easily.” He turned to Etty. “You know, you’ve been my best friend for years. What would you say if I told you that I love you, and not like a sister, but really and truly love you? Will it ruin our friendship?”
Etty burst out laughing, a rich, golden laugh of relief. “Thank goodness,” she gasped, at last. She took a few breaths to calm herself, and said, “I’ve loved you for ever so long. I don’t regret not marrying you five years ago, but if our parents had pulled the same trip yesterday…well, I wouldn’t have connived with you to ruin the wedding.”
“Really,” said Nick.
“Really. And if you weren’t all battered and bruised, I’d kiss you and show you how much I love you.”
Nick pulled her close. “I’m not dead. I’m pretty sure I can survive true love’s kiss.”
“Oh good,” said Etty.