I was killing time before Xavier gave the all clear when Millie barged into my room knocking as she opened the door. I raised an eyebrow but kept my mouth shut. What could she possibly want? Millie looked around like she expected to see someone else here.
“Can I help you?” I asked, not moving from my spot on the bed. I was still lounging comfortable on my bed, my hands laced behind my head.
“Is anyone else here?”
“No, why would there be?”
“Good, we need to have a discussion.”
“Great.” I rubbed my temples. “What would you like to discuss?”
“Don’t take that ungrateful tone with me.” Millie growled.
“Millie, it’s really hard to be nice to someone who obviously hates your very existence. I don’t know what I did to you, but I’m sorry for whatever it is. But let me tell you this much, I’m being very nice right now. I’m trying very hard to be cordial, and just so you know, you make that really, really difficult.”
“I am gracious enough to allow you to stay in my home,you ungrateful wretch. And then you dare to talk to me that way?”
“Millie, what do you want?”
“Do not snap at me!”
“Then get to the point.”
“Do not tell me what to do, least of all in my own home.”
I sighed and fought the groan. “Millie, you know how you find me annoying, unbearable, and utterly insufferable?”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“I want you to leave.”
“I want you to go back to where you came from.”
“Millie, have you forgotten what happened? I’m not even supposed to be in public alone, let alone back in America.”
“If I were able to get you back home?”
“Why are you really here? Are you looking to steal Angelica’s inheritance? Are you trying to find some aristocrat to mooch off of?”
“Why else would you try to ruin what Angelica has with Ethan?”
I shook my head as my anger rose up. “You can see whatever the hell you want to see, Millie. I can’t be your eyes. But maybe if you opened them every once in a while and really decided to look at what was really there, you’d be able to see so much more.”
“I’m not trying to ruin Angelica and Ethan. I think Ethan is perfectly capable of ruining that all by himself. Do I think Ethan is a player? You bet. Do I think he’s good enough for Angelica? No, I don’t. Do I want to hurt Angelica? Of course not. What I don’t understand, is what makes you think I want to?”
“You say you don’t want to, but I can’t believe you.”
“Why is that?”
“You are your mother’s daughter.”
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” I demanded through clenched teeth.
“It means your mother was little more than a floozy, a tramp, a whore.”
“You shut your mouth right no!” I roared. The anger I felt rage coursing through me. “You can hate me, insult me, do whatever you want to me, but don’t you dare insult my mother! Not to me! If you want to talk shit behind my back, I can’t stop you, but if you think I’m going to sit here and listen as you defame my mother’s character, you have got another thing coming!”
“Awfully defensive for something you know nothing about.” Millie cooed, a coy smile other face. I wanted to slap that look off her face.
“What’s going on in here?” James stormed in. “Millie? Juliet? What’s going on?”
“James, she comes in here and starts badmouthing my mother. It really pissed me off. Would you please ask her to keep her shit slinging mouth to herself about my mother while she’s in my presence?”
“Juliet, do not speak to Millie that way. She is your stepmother and you need to respect her.” I choked back my response as he continued. “As for you, Millie, what did you say to get her this angry?”
“She called my mother a whore.” I snapped back.
James pursed his lips, closed his eyes, and a pained look crossed his face. “Millie, do not ever use that word for Rose again.” Every syllable was shaking with a quiet rage. The same sort of rage that he had this morning. “Rose was not a whore and if we’ve discussed this once we’ve discussed this a thousand times. Rose had no idea I was engaged. It was my mistake, my shortcoming, and you can’t blame her for not knowing. She had no idea who I truly was until just before she left.”
I was watching them both through narrowed eyes. “What exactly happened?” My voice didn’t sound like me; it was shaking of its own accord.
James gave me a conflicted look and sighed. “This is a long story. Millie, I think it’s best you leave.”
“Millie, get out.” James warned. The look of contempt on Millie’s face was as clear as day and her hatred rested on me.
“We’ll continue our discussion later.” Millie warned as she stormed out.
James sat down on my bed and slouched down, holding his head in his hands. “It appears you’ve inherited our grief and for that, I am sorry. This is a long story. It started almost twenty-three years ago. You’ll be twenty-two here soon, if I’m not mistaken.” I nodded as I waited for him to go on. “I met your mother in Paris. We were at the Louvre looking at the same painting. I saw her and to this day, she’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. I had to know her name. Rose. I still can’t imagine a better name. She was smart, funny, inquisitive, and everything I could have ever dreamed of in a woman. She didn’t realized who I was right from the start. Even when she started grasping who I was, it wasn’t until just before I left that I really explained it. It was the best term of my life. I was sent away for school. As she was attending the same school I was, we continued our romance. At the end of term, we started talking about the future. I had to inform her I was engaged.”
“Right about the time she left?”
“No wonder she didn’t tell you about me.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“She was testing you. You gave her reasons to doubt you, and rightly so. She left and you didn’t come after her. I understand her logic.”
“She should have told me she was expecting you!” James huffed.
“She didn’t know about me until she was home. She found out, her parents kicked her out, and she took care of me. She did it alone. You made her the other woman. She was a single mother. And she did one hell of a job.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me? I would have taken care of you too?”
“It wouldn’t have proved you loved her. You may have loved her at one point, but not to the extent you want everyone to believe.”
“How would you know my feelings?”
“If you loved her, like you say you did, you would have gone after her.”
“I had responsibilities.”
“You chose business.”
“I had obligations. You don’t understand. How could you?”
“If I loved someone, like you claim to, I just couldn’t let them go. My mother loved you until the day she died. I understand why she was always so sad now. I would be too. To love someone as much as she loved you and know it wasn’t reciprocated. That would break my heart too.”
“Juliet! I will not be lectured by my own child. I have made mistakes and I have tried to atone for my sins. I was eighteen! What else was I supposed to do? Be thrown out of the family?”
“Mom did.” That shut him up. “After they threw her out, Mom’s parents never spoke to her again. I met them at her funeral. Mom didn’t take the easy way out. The easy way would have been to just get rid of me. She didn’t want that. For that, I respect my mother more than anything in this world. I’m sorry James, but I’ve lost a lot of respect for you.”
“Juliet, good night.” James stood up and stormed out. He didn’t even spare me a backwards glance. I was glad. I knew my face wasn’t pleasant.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t like who James was back then. My mother was a poor, lovesick fool who fell for someone not worth her time. Someone who knowingly let her be the other woman, who knowingly cheated on the woman he was engaged to and deceived both women. I felt the anger at the situation fill me up. She had truly loved James and I’m glad I didn’t know him growing up. I had nothing but good memories as a child. Maybe we didn’t have everything, but my mother loved me more than anything else in this world. We didn’t have it all, but there was always enough.
If James had been a part of my life, it would have broken something in my mother to watch him be with someone like Millie. If she had to hand me off to him, that would have too. I wouldn’t be who I am today if that had happened because who I am is not acceptable in this world I’d been thrust into.
I shook my head, I needed to get my mind off the topic. I was more than excited when I saw Xavier sneaking in, Gwen hot on his heels.
“How ready are you?” Gwen smirked.
“More than I can explain.” I grinned right back. “Xavier, I can’t explain to you how grateful I am.”
Xavier sighed. “Just don’t get caught.”
“Don’t worry, I’m a ninja!” I promised as I hugged him.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.” Gwen led me through the servant passageways and secret escape routes, as we were now calling them. An hour later I was in a tight black dress, combat boots and the way she did my make up made me not look like myself again. She had straightened my hair within an inch of its life and I had heavy eye make up. When I saw myself I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I look like an angsty teen.”
“You look hot.”
“All I need is a cigarette and a sign that says ‘you’ll never understand me’ and maybe a hoodie and it’ll complete the look.” I laughed. “Is there more eyeliner on my eyes or that pencil?”
“Shut up, you look unrecognizable.”
“That is very true.”
“Good. Now shut up and cooperate.” Gwen grabbed my hand and pulled me out her window. It wasn’t long before we were in a small pub watching the Flaming Penguins perform. Tracy had found a new boy to chase, Sam was watching the same boy from before, and Gwen and I were chatting and drinking. It was a much needed break. I was thankful for the alcohol. It was better not to think it was helping with that, more than a little. When the boys finished I found my way over to Harper.
“Hello, hello you.”
“What’s up, kid?”
“Just packing up. You look nice.”
“I look like Panic! At the Disco.” I laughed.
“Don’t be silly, you look fine.”
“Ouch, I go from nice to fine?” I teased.
“That’s not what I meant.” Harper rolled his eyes.
“I know. I’m only teasing. I have a question for you.”
“Can I borrow your guitar?”
“Aww, do you want me to give you a lesson? I can teach you.”
I shook my head. “I already know how to play actually.”
Harper handed me his guitar and I plopped myself down on the edge of the stage. It felt good to have an instrument in my hands again. I started absently strumming and it felt so natural. Harper and I, just chatting about nothing important. For a minute there, I felt like my old self. Just Jules, not Juliet Anastasia Victoria Benn-Eastgate or anything hoity toity like that. Just a normal girl, in a normal bar, with a normal guy. It was a welcome change and relief.
“You’re actually pretty decent at that.”
“Decent? No, my friend, amazing is the word you’re looking for.” I grinned. “This is nothing. I just needed some kind of music in my life again.”
“It’s a part of me. Being who I am, I need music. Music is my life. Not having it is like suddenly not having my left leg or something. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had an instrument in my hands. Thus, I’ve had all this pent up frustration and no way to diffuse it.”
“I can help you get out some of that frustration.” Harper joked as he wagged his eyebrows at me.
I let out a laugh. “I’m good, but thanks.”
“Awww, well if you ever change your mind.”
I looked around and noticed most of the girls in the room giving me the evil eye. “I don’t think your fan girls like me very much.”
“The blokes aren’t too happy I’m sitting next to the most beautiful girl in the room.”
“You are? Where is she?” I joked as he lightly pushed my shoulder.
“You’re going to drive me mad, aren’t you?”
“I’m mad as a hatter, so I need some company.” I grinned.
Harper was so easy to talk to. He made me feel like I was back home again. I needed this. I felt like a normal twenty-something year old. Someone who really had no idea what they wanted out of life, but was having fun figuring it out.
“Juliet,” Gwen sang as she pulled the guitar out of my hands and replaced it with a beer. “I will watch Lucy while you drink that.”
“Gwen, give me Lucy.” Harper warned.
“Come and get her. I’m stealing the love of your life!” Gwen cackled as she darted to the other side of the bar and dodged between different groups of people. They didn’t find it as funny as Gwen did. I just laughed as she made a fool of herself and enjoyed the show.
“Hello there, gorgeous.” I jumped when I realized someone was sitting next to me.
I looked over, smiled and shook my head before turning my attention back to Lucy and Gwen. Harper had caught her and was wrestling his guitar from her.
“Would you like to dance?”
I shook my head. “Probably not a good idea. My dance parter is currently being chased and threatened.” I Laughed.
“Would you consider me a place holder?”
I shook my head. “I do not have enough alcohol to start dancing with strangers.”
“Is that an invitation to buy you another?”
“Are you hitting on my girlfriend?” Gwen demanded as she plopped herself in my lap and flung her arms around my neck.
I looked up to see Harper now putting his guitar in its case.
“Baby, I think we need another shot and we need to dance!” Gwen beamed as she took my hand and started dragging me across the bar. “That is Parker, stay away from him.”
“Just trust me. Now, dance with me, darling!” Gwen pulled me out on the floor and we danced and drank until I felt something vibrating in my pocket. I pulled out the phone Xavier had given me.
“Hello? Hang on, I can’t hear!” I shouted as I went to the ladies room.
“Juliet? Juliet? Where are you?”
“What? Hey Xavier!”
“What time is it?” Xavier chided.
I thought for a moment and tried to figure it out. “I don’t know. I’m not wearing a watch.”
“It’s nearly three in the morning.”
“The arrangement was for you to be home by two.”
“Oh yeah! Oh shit! I might have forgotten that part…I’m sorry…I might be a little drunk.” I stammered as I tried to force my brain to cooperate.
I heard Xavier sigh and grumbled something under his breath. “Juliet, where are you?”
“Hang on, let me find Gwen and ask.”
When I went back out there was Gwen dancing with a handsome guys with dark hair and a leather jacket.
“Gwen!” I shouted and she waved me over. “Gwen, we’re running late.”
“Meet Nathan!” She indicated the boy she was dancing with.
“Gwen, we’ve got to get going.”
“Nonsense, the night is still young.”
“Gwen, Xavier is on the phone!”
“So hand up.”
“Fine, give me the phone.” Gwen nodded and hummed in agreement for a few seconds before everything turned. “Shut up, you insensitive prick! You’ll be lucky if she’s home by noon tomorrow!” She shouted and hung up.
“What just happened?”
“He’s a jerk and you don’t need him.”
“Gwen, he’s my advisor, I kind of do.”
“No, what we need is another drink!” Gwen handed me my phone and pulled me back over to the bar.
“Gwen, stop it. I’m not drinking anymore. I’m done.”
“Gwen, Xavier is risking his job letting me come out like this. You kind of are too. I know you don’t like him, but come on.”
“Well, I’m too drunk to drink and Sam isn’t ready to leave.” Gwen shrugged.
“Gwen, this is not cool.” I warned as I stormed off. I called Xavier back.
“Juliet? What is going on ?”
“I don’t know. My head hurts, I just, I don’t know.”
“Where are you? I’ll come get you.”
“I don’t know.”
“Xavier, if you come to find me, I have a feeling it will be very bad. I’ll find a way home. I’ll call you in a little while.”
“Juliet, please be safe.”
“I will.” I hung up and looked around. Gwen was flirting with Nathan and once again I was feeling alone. How do I keep getting myself into these sort of messes?
“Jules?” Harper was suddenly beside me. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“I have to go, but I can’t.” I mumbled.
“Where do you have to go?”
“Okay, if you want, I can take you.” Harper soothed. “Let me just tell Gwen-”
“No! Gwen doesn’t want to leave. She’s mad at me.”
“Hey, love, relax. It’s fine. Let’s just tell her bye.” Harper led my over by the hand to say good bye. “Gwen, I’m going to take Juliet home. Are you coming?”
“Do you need a ride later?”
“I can find my own way home. I’m fine.”
“Gwen, if you need me, give me a call.”
“I know Harper. You’re always there for me.”
“Juliet, be careful.” Gwen warned as she pulled me into a hug. “Very careful.”
“I will, you too.”
She nodded and Harper led me out to his car. “Juliet, you look really upset. You seem like you have been all night. You okay?”
“Yeah, let me make a quick phone call.” I dialed Xavier.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m on my way home.”
I turned to Harper. “Harper, how long?”
“The waiter you were a dick to.”
“Oh, I remember him. Hand him the phone, please.”
“Xavier wants to talk to you.”
I tuned out until I heard Harper getting frustrated.
“If you’re referring to her father, yes I’ve heard of him. Who he is doesn’t define who she is.” Harper growled. “I’m bringing her back. That should be the important thing, right? Relax, I’ll have her back when I get there. I’m not about to let anything happen to her.” I saw Harper getting more and more annoyed as he listened. “Listen you disrespectful sod, it’s like like I’d let anything happen to her. So chill the fuck out. I already told you I’m on my way there now.” Harper snorted and handed me back my phone.
“What just happened?” I asked Xavier.
“It’s nothing of consequence.”
“Well, you pissed Harper off.”
“The incompetent, blubbering buffoon…just get back here safe. It doesn’t matter.” Xavier finished after taking a few soothing breaths. “Call me when you get here.”
“Um, okay, because that made sense.” I laughed and hung up. I turned to face Harper. “So what happened?”
Harper shook his head. “It’s whatever. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is you’re alright and we’re getting you home.”
“Yeah, okay then.”
“Jules, something been bothering you tonight. Do you want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. “I really, really don’t.”
“Fair enough. What do you want to talk about?”
“I have no idea.”
“Hmm, truth or dare?”
“Truth or dare?”
“Truth, I guess.”
“What are you thinking about right now?”
“I’m wondering why we’re playing this dumb game.”
“Tsk, tsk! Don’t hate on the game. It comes in handy.”
“Fine. Truth or dare?”
“Hmm…I dare you…”I looked around the car. I had to find something that wouldn’t kill us. “Tell me about your most embarrassing memory?”
“Really? Right for the jugular?” Harper groaned as he gave me a sideways glance. “Ugh, I have to think.” Harper looked lost in thought before glancing back to me. “Which kind of embarrassment are we talking here; like naked in front of the class or end of the world mortified?”
“I’m thinking end of the world mortified.” I laughed.
“You would.” Harper sighed. “Alright then, that would be, wait, you have to promise not to laugh.”
“I make no such promises.”
“Okay, well, there was this girl. I was mad for her, head over heels. I had this brilliant idea to make this big romantic gesture and ask her out. I had a few of my best mates help me out. It all went perfect, until she answered me. We were in front of the entire school and everyone saw her laugh and tell me no.”
“Ouch.” I winced.
“Oh yeah.” Harper sighed. “Remember, you asked. Now, truth or dare?”
“Dare, I guess.”
“I dare you to tell me what’s really going on with you.”
“That is a truth and a really long story.” I groaned.
“We’ve got time.”
I sighed. I thought about telling Harper what was really going on. I thought about spilling my guts to this stranger what I’d been hiding from everyone. I let the idea sit on the back of my tongue for a moment, just for the taste. “Then I call chicken. I’m using a chicken.”
Harper stared at me for a long moment. “What if I don’t let you use chickens?”
“Then I quit.”
Harper shook his head. “Whatever you say.” Harper offered with a shrug. “Just so you know, if you want to, whatever it is you can talk to me.”
Obviously, I don’t want to. Everyone always wants to get to know you. Everyone wants to get close. Why? So they can just leave you? “Harper, I just, I can’t.”
“It’s whatever.” The car fell into an awkward silence.
“It’s not whatever.” I sighed after several more moments. “It’s far from it, but I’m a fucked up piece of shit sometimes. I’m messed up in a lot of ways. I have too much shit on my plate as it is and I just found out some shit that I can’t even process yet. I don’t know if any of that makes any sense to you, but that’s all I’m willing to share.”
Harper nodded, not turning to look at me.
“But for the record, I’m glad you’re willing to listen.” I added after another long moment of silence. “It does mean something to me that you’re willing to listen.”
“Of course I’m going to listen. I like you. From what I can tell you’re intelligent, sweet, funny, cute. You stick up for people. And you’re not afraid to stand up to people you think are wrong. There’s more to you than meets the eye, and I want to learn about you. The only way to really learn about someone, is to listen. I’ll listen if you give me the chance.”
“Harper, everyone I’ve let listen has either walked out or died.”
Harper nodded. “I’m sure you’ve had more than your fair share of heartache. I can tell you’re hurt. Some part of you was hurt recently and you’ve got scars from it. We all have them. Don’t think you’re alone.”
I stared out the window. I didn’t know what to say to that.
“Jules, look at me.” Harper sighed after a long moment. “You aren’t you know.” He added once my eyes met his.
“You aren’t alone. You’ve got friends. Gwen never shuts up about you, you’ve got me. That Xavier bloke obviously cares about you. I can’t speak for anyone else, but you’ve got people on your side.”
“How did this conversation get so deep?” I blurted out. “Let’s talk about something light, how about baking? Or shoelaces? Or funny words? I think waft is a funny word, what about you?”
“Juliet,” Harper chuckled. “, relax. If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to. I just wanted you to know you could.”
“Harper, you’re too sweet, you really are. But I still don’t want to talk about this right now. Let’s talk about something else, anything else.”
“Okay, how about that tattoo on your shoulder.”
“Oh yeah!” I glanced over and you could see the edges peaking out from under my shirt. “I forget not everyone gets to see this.”
“Does it mean anything?”
“Is there a story?”
“I got it for my mom.”
“How does she feel about all this?”
“Oh, she apathetic about this?”
“No, she’s dead.”
“Oh…blimey…I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t tell you, so how could you?” I snipped.
“I’m guessing this is one of those things you don’t want to talk about.”
“No, not really.”
“Okay, well do you have any other tattoos?”
I pulled off my boot and showed him my foot.
“Nice. Is that your only other one?”
“Can I see the others?”
“Oh. Why not?”
“Because it requires my dress coming off and that just isn’t going to happen.”
“Oh, I understand.” Harper chuckled.
“How about you?”
Harper lifted his sleeve. “I have this one and one on my back.”
Harper gave me a small smile and I felt butterflies.
“Truth or dare?”
“I thought you quit and that you thought it was a stupid game.” Harper teased with an impish grin.
I shrugged. “Truth or dare?”
“If you had to be one, would you rather be blind or deaf?”
Harper thought for a moment. “Blind. I can’t imagine being without my music.”
“I agree with that.”
“Juliet, truth or dare.”
“If you could be anywhere right now, with anyone, doing anything at all, what would you be doing, who would it be with, and where?”
“Honestly, I’d be home with Mom, just talking.”
“Can I ask a personal question?”
“I don’t promised to answer.”
“How long has you mum been gone?”
“Almost six months.”
“Not long at all.”
“How’d you end up here?”
“A few months after she died I got a letter from James. At first I thought it was a joke, but turns out, it wasn’t. He wanted to meet me so I got a few things straightened out and here I am. Dazed and confused and in a foreign country where I know basically no one and have no one. But It’s definitely been an adventure.”
“That you did that. You just picked up and came over?”
“Pretty much. I don’t plan on staying forever, but leaving now would be a pretty bad idea.”
“The media stalk me. Remember the headlines with Prince Ian?”
“That’s pretty much why in a nutshell.”
“Ah, that makes sense.”
“So because I can’t deal with that on my own, and until my family seems to believe that I can behave myself in public, I’m pretty much under lock and key and almost constant supervision. Technically, I’m kind of on house arrest.”
“I’m pretty much under house arrest.”
Harper glanced at his phone. “Then we really have to hurry.”
“It’s nearly dawn.”
I paled and gulped. “Oh no.”
We sped to the entrance of the passageway Gwen and I had used to escape. I called Xavier as we entered the grounds and he agreed to meet us outside.
“What is the matter with you?” Xavier hissed.
“What’s the matter with her? She needed some time to herself, that’s what’s the matter with her!” Harper snorted in my defense.
“I don’t believe I was talking with you.” Xavier growled. “Juliet, I give you a little bit of slack and this is the thanks I get? You try and hang me with the rope I give you? And what in the world are you wearing?”
“I can see your shoulder! You know you are supposed to keep that covered in public!”
“Give her a break, mate.” Harper growled as he stepped between Xavier and me.
“Harper, I can handle this.” I snapped.
“No, clearly you can’t. You need to learn to listen. I told you to be home by two a.m. and it’s nearly six!”
“Give her a break. She’s dealing with a lot.” Harper cut in.
“I’m not speaking with you.” Xavier warned. “Now, Juliet, as I was saying, this sort of behavior is not tolerable.”
“Who are you, her father?” Harper snarled.
“I am her advisor.” Xavier retorted as he drew himself up to his full height and placed a hand on his chest. “Who are you? The waiter?”
“Xavier!” I snapped. “That’s enough.”
“Juliet, I will deal with you in a moment. Now, you-”
“Don’t talk to her that way.” Harper growled. “Don’t act like she’s some naughty little kid. She’s an intelligent, grown woman and you should talk to her that way.”
“When she decides to act like an adult, she will be treated as one.” Xavier chastised
I looked up at him in shock. Did he really just say that? “Xavier, what is wrong with you?”
“Juliet, I will deal with you later..” Xavier growled. I’d never heard his voice sound so dangerous. It frightened me. “As for you-”
“You need to calm down. Can you see you’re scaring her?”
“You of all people should not be lecturing people. You don’t have your own life together, let alone enough pull to help another out.”
“I have plenty of pull. Maybe I can’t pull royals out, but I’ve got my mates and they’ve got me.” Harper growled.
“Lowlifes are not who I would have at my back. Juliet, go inside and go to bed.” Xavier ordered, glaring daggers at me. I looked up in time to see Harper’s fist connect with Xavier’s jaw.