Between the Lines

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Chapter 4

The people of Astoria rejoice today after the announcement of Prince Tristan’s engagement to Alisha, Princess of Aberdeen.

I groaned loud enough from my room that my father took pity on me and lowered the volume on the television. Ever since that morning’s official announcement of Tristan and Alisha’s engagement, it had become the only story any media outlet was reporting. If I had to hear one more time about how excited the kingdom was about the royal wedding, I was going to pull one of those mounted swords off the palace walls and stab someone.

It was an irrational reaction, I knew, especially since I had prior knowledge of the engagement, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself from rolling my eyes whenever it was mentioned. The whole unrequited love thing was probably a big factor in that.

Shrugging on my favorite leather jacket, I nodded at my reflection in the mirror before grabbing my messenger bag and making my way into the common area to say goodbye to my father before work. Although the king financed my education, I lived in the palace while I went to university because I didn’t want to be away from my father. Still, I liked having something to keep me busy besides school and it was nice to get away every now and then, so I worked as a bartender at a pub in town on the weekends, a place where I wasn’t bound by rules of etiquette because, well, there weren’t any rules.

“Alright, Pops,” I said, leaning down to kiss the top of his shaved head as I walked behind the couch. “I’m off to work. Don’t wait up.”

“I won’t,” he laughed quietly, turning his neck to look up at me. “Hey, Jules, I know you might not be ready right now, but when you are, I’m here to talk to.”

“Talk to about what?” I replied innocently, my fingers curling around the strap of my bag to keep from revealing that I knew exactly what he meant.

Holding in a sigh, he didn’t respond with words, instead, glancing towards the television, where the footage of the engagement announcement was being shown: Alisha standing with her arm slipped through Tristan’s on the palace’s front balcony as they waved to the masses of people standing just outside the gates. Seeing as a week had passed since the Aberdeen royals had come for dinner and all of the household staff were back to their usual duties, my presence hadn’t been required, so I’d told my dad that I had heaps of studying to do for an exam I had next week when he asked me if I wanted to attend anyway and spent the entirety of the day being completely extremely productive in order to keep my mind off of events I’d rather not think about.

Despite the fact that I knew Tristan wasn’t particularly happy with this arrangement, it didn’t change the fact that he would be getting married a year from now. Which meant the next few months of my life would undoubtedly be spent helping to plan the wedding, a task to which I was not looking forward.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” I shrugged my shoulders. “He’s marrying a princess and they’re gonna have cute little royal babies and everything will be right with the world.”

“Will it?” my dad lifted his eyebrows, keeping his expression unreadable. “Are you really going to be happy at the wedding? Or are you going to be standing in the audience, wishing it was you up at that alter.”

Sometimes I really thought it would be easier if I didn’t share so much with my father. But we’d always been close and I told him everything, so naturally, when I figured out that my feelings for Tristan ran way past platonic at the age of sixteen, I’d confessed them to him as well. And just like when I’d asked what I should do when I realized I had butterflies in my stomach about Henry Newhall when I was twelve, he’d told me to be honest, advice I still hadn’t taken four years later.

“Look, Dad,” I let out an exasperated sigh, reaching up to rake my hair back from my forehead with one hand. “There’s no version of my story with Tristan that ends in happily ever after.”

“How could you possibly know that if you never tell him how you feel?”

Under completely different circumstances that might have been good advice, but considering the situation, it didn’t help much.

“Because my feelings are irrelevant,” I insisted. “At the end of the day, he’s still the future king of Astoria and I’m still a commoner and someone like him is never going to end up with someone like me. It’s just the way things are.”

Before he could protest, I leaned forward to kiss the top of his head and waved as I walked out the door. “Later, Dad.”

I hummed as I wound my way through the palace hallways and out the back door which led to the rows of garages where the staff parked their vehicles, making my way to the third garage from the end where I kept my motorcycle. It had taken a lot of puppy dog eyes and pleading and very thoroughly researched presentation, but I had been able to convince my father to buy me a motorcycle instead of a car once I was old enough to get license. It wasn’t a decision he regretted exactly, but I knew he stayed up, waiting for me to get back from work because he was worried I’d crashed on my way home.

I, on the other hand, loved old Sadie like was my child and I couldn’t wait to ride her every day, rain or shine. As usual, I could barely keep myself from smiling as I pulled on the helmet decorated with lightning bolt stickers, courtesy of the twin princes, and swung my leg over the bike to settle myself into the seat. My grin stretched wide as I started the engine and exited the garage, speeding towards the back gate, which opened when I pressed a button and I started laughing once I was out on the main road, zooming towards town. I’d always loved the feeling of the road beneath my tires and by the time I parked my bike behind Duffy’s Tavern, I was riding high on adrenaline.

“Hey, Sterling,” I called out to the head bartender as I entered the employee break room and placed my motorcycle helmet in one of the cubbies where we kept our belongings.

He flashed me a smile as he raised his head momentarily from the inventory list and nodded in greeting. “Hey, Jules. I got a feeling it’s gonna be a full house tonight. Are you ready?”

“Always.” I stretched my lips into a grin, ducking beneath the strap of my messenger bag as I pulled it over my head and stuffed it in the cubby beside my helmet before shrugging off my jacket and doing the same. “What’s the occasion?”

His eyebrows furrowed in confusion and his lips parted, but before he could speak, a petite girl with wild black curls and wide brown eyes burst through the employee entrance, panting slightly as she addressed her apology to the head bartender. “Sorry I’m late, Sterling. Traffic was horrible.”

Shaking his head, Sterling let out a light laugh as he set down his clipboard on a nearby table. “No worries. Lydia, this is Jules, she’ll be training you tonight.”

My eyebrows shot upwards in surprise as I turned to face the new girl, unaware that Sterling had hired new staff, but I suppose it did make sense that we’d need some extra help on what was apparently going to be a very busy night. Stretching my lips into my friendliest smile, I lifted my hand in a wave. “Hey, Lydia. Welcome aboard.”

“Thanks,” she smiled widely, her breathing rate slowing with each passing second, though she maintained her air of excitement. “I actually hadn’t expected to start until next week and then Sterling called to say that you guys could use the help tonight.”

I parted my lips to once again ask why Sterling was under the impression that tonight would be so busy, but he answered my question before I could speak.

“Yep,” he agreed with Lydia, looking directly at me to acknowledge the fact that he understood my confusion. “Everyone’s out celebrating Prince Tristan’s engagement.”

Right. I had spent the entirety of the day avoiding thinking about that very subject to the point that I’d forgotten it was something the rest of the kingdom was happy about.

“Definitely a cause for celebration,” I nodded, knowing that to Sterling, it sounded completely unconvincing. We’d spent enough time together before and after work, cleaning the bar and restocking the inventory, to each other’s life stories.

My backstory wasn’t one that I usually delved very deep into, not because I was embarrassed, but because it was just a strange situation all around. Telling people that I was raised in the same household as the princes of Astoria meant that people often assumed I held the same amount of power and influence by proximity, which wasn’t true at all. I still had the same status as a commoner, I just lived in an apartment that happened to be inside the palace.

Sterling knew that I was friends with Tristan but not how deep my feelings actually ran, so the knowing glance he shot me had less to do with understanding the unrequited love of the situation and more to do with him being sympathetic that I was afraid of what would happen when my best friend got married and left me behind. So he didn’t say anything, just held my gaze for a few seconds before turning his attention back to Lydia.

“We got a big night ahead. Why don’t you and Jules start getting ready?”

Nodding, I gestured towards the door to indicate that she should head out to the bar first, and shot Sterling a grateful smile for his support as I walked by.

I was glad to get to work, because it helped get me out of my own head. Duffy’s was one of the most popular pubs in town, so it was always busy on the weekends, but Sterling’s prediction about having a full house had been accurate to the point where there was literally a line of people outside waiting for seats to open. I was constantly on the move, whether it was taking orders or pouring drinks or telling drunks who had fallen asleep on the bar top that they needed to get a move on or breaking up arguments between people who were a bit short tempered, Duffy’s after nine was never boring.

Despite the chaos she’d been thrown into, Lydia seemed to be settling in well, only turning for me to help with particularly difficult drink requests or if there was a particular customer she didn’t feel entirely comfortable telling to fuck off.

“Hey, Jules, come here,” she pulled me aside when we had a lull at the bar around 11:30, her voice low, despite that none of the customers at the bar were paying attention.

“Everything alright?” I asked, furrowing my brow in concern. “I know this is all a little overwhelming for your first shift, but you’re doing great.”

“Thanks!” she replied, her gaze shifting between me and someone at the end of the bar. “It’s not that, actually. You know how Sterling said the reason tonight was gonna be so crazy was because everyone was celebrating the engagement. Well, I think the list of people celebrating might include the prince.”

I held in a snort, knowing full well that Tristan wasn’t particularly thrilled with the situation. Though, his feelings might have changed since the last time we talked about it in the treehouse. I had been avoiding him, after all. Clearing my throat, I tilted my head to the side. “What makes you say that?”

“Because,” she said slowly, nodding towards where her gaze kept drifting at the end of the bar. “I’m pretty sure the guy I just pulled a pint for is Prince Tristan.”

My lips parted to inform her that she must be seeing things because there was no way the crown prince of Astoria would be at a pub in town this close to midnight – his parents would never allow it, no matter the occasion, but as I shifted my gaze to look where she was looking, my words caught in my throat at the sight of the person she had pointed out. Sure enough, sitting at the end of the bar with his fingers wrapped around the base of a pint glass and a black knit beanie pulled over his otherwise recognizable sandy blonde curls, attempting to look inconspicuous, was Tristan.

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