The sweet and savory scent of the tea shop wafted past Diana as she stood at the top of the stairs that connected to the small apartment above. Mia stood at the counter, packing some tea leaves for a customer. Her smile was genuine in its kindness, and Diana often wondered how she could be so happy to be helping each and every customer that came into the shop. The secret is in the leaves, Mia often whispered with a wink when she caught Diana staring.
As Diana stepped down further into the shop, she saw Avery walking in, brushing an arm across her forehead despite barely having worked up a sweat. The tables and chairs were set outside just below the shop’s windows, the morning sun shining brightly through them and making every bit of dust that swirled the air visible. They’d only been open for half an hour, but people were already starting to pour in.
The leaves. Diana scoffed with a slight shake of her head. Setting foot on the wooden floor, her sisters turned their heads in sync. “Good morning,” Diana said, stepping further into the shop, her hands clasped behind her back.
“Diana,” Avery said surprised, “what are you doing up so early?”
Although Mia’s expression had matched their older sister’s, she quickly turned back to the friendly shop owner as another customer asked for her assistance.
“I . . . “ Diana glanced around the shop, anywhere but at Avery. “I have a job interview.”
“What?” Avery took hold of Diana’s hand, dragging her to a corner where no customers were in earshot. “Shouldn’t you be resting? You said yourself last night had been more exhausting than usual.” Putting her hands on her hips, Avery looked her younger sister up and down. “Why are you looking for a job anyways?”
Taking a deep breath, Diana squired her shoulders. “I want to help. I overheard you and Mia talk about how tight things have been lately, and since I’m old enough to work, it only seems fair that I—”
Avery shook her head, cutting her off with a raised hand. “No, I don’t want to hear it. We chose this, so we deal with the consequences. You have far more important things to worry about right now.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Don’t want to hear what?” Mia piped in. “What’s going on?”
“Ana has an interview,” Avery huffed, her arms crossed.
“What kind of job?” Mia asked.
A tiny bit of hope lit Diana’s face. “To be a maid in the duke’s household. I’ll be working only during the day and have one off day a week, meaning I have enough time to practice and still make some money to help you out.”
Mia’s brows drew together, sharing a look with Avery. “Are you certain about this, Diana?”
“I am!” Catching herself, Diana cleared her throat. “I am. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I think I can manage. You two have taken care of me for so long, it’s the least I can do to repay you.”
Avery’s gaze softened slightly. “You don’t have to repay us.”
“I know, but I want to help out.”
“We don’t need—”
“It wouldn’t be too bad,” Mia said, her expression thoughtful. “It would do her good to gain some working experience.”
“But she doesn’t need working experience.”
“It’s just an interview,” Diana added quickly. “It’s no guarantee that I’ll get the job, and if I do, I can always quit when it gets in the way of my practice.”
Looking between her two sisters, Diana fiddled with her skirt. As long as she could remember, her sisters have taken care of her. She never knew her mother, nor her father, and so they were all she had. Never had they asked her for anything but to focus on her practice. She knew what it meant if she was able to fully hone her abilities, and how important it was to her sisters, but she’s been stuck for months now. The frustration was getting to her, and with nothing to distract her but the tea shop where her sisters were constantly watching her, Diana felt suffocated. This was her chance at a change of pace, a chance to break this non-stop cycle of eating, rest, practice, sleep, repeat.
Mia sighed, glancing over her shoulder at the counter before turning back with a shrug. “It’s just an interview.”
Raising a brow, Avery blinked. “Are you really agreeing to this?”
Again, Mia glanced around, then took a step closer. “People have been talking,” she whispered. “They talk of her, ask questions about the mysterious third sister that only over is seen in the shop. A girl of her age is not supposed to be couped up in a tiny apartment above a shop, they’ll soon expect something amiss.”
“Exactly,” Diana said, though she hadn’t even considered it at first. “We can’t have people find out about what we are, we’ve only been here a few months and I started to quite like this town.”
Avery looked between Diana and Mia, her jaw clenching as she threw her hands in the air. “Fine, go to the interview, they’ll never hire you anyways with the little experience that you have. For the gods’ sake . . .”
Ignoring her last comment, Diana hugged both her sisters before darting for the door. “Thank you!”
By the time Diana arrived at the fountain in the middle of the town squire, she was ten minutes late. She didn’t know much about job interviews, but tardiness was never a good start to anything. Bending over and resting her hands on her knees, she tried to catch her breath, looking for the woman she had exchanged letters with in order to set up this meeting.
The only problem was that she had no idea who to look for.
“Miss Lilywhite?” Looking up, it took Diana a moment to recognize the false last name as her own. She hadn’t realized how stupid it sounded until she heard it spoken, but there was no turning back now. Straightening her back, she smiled as an older woman approached her. “Miss Diana Lilywhite, is it?”
“Yes,” she breathed, taking a deep breath as she accepted the woman’s outstretched hand. “And you must be Mrs. Millers. I apologize for my late arrival, I ran into some trouble along the way.”
“I’m just relieved you showed up,” she said, laughing as she shook Diana’s hand. “Shall we sit, Miss Lilywhite?”
“Please, call me Diana.” She already couldn’t stand the fake last name. She really should have taken a second longer to consider it. It might have sounded wistful and fantastical in her mind, but hearing it spoken she can only feel silly. If her sisters ever found out . . . She would never hear the end of it.
Sitting down across from Mrs. Millers on the edge of the fountain, Diana hid her hands in the folds of her skirt, hoping to look interested and alive. Avery hadn’t been wrong when she said last night had been more exhausting than usual, and Diana still felt the aftermath. All she could really do is pray to her patron that it wasn’t as obvious as she felt it was.
He had warned her about it too.
“Well, Diana,” Mrs. Millers said, snapping her from her thoughts. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around before. Have you come to town recently?”
Diana nodded. “I moved here with my sisters a few months ago to open a tea shop.”
“How lovely.” Mrs. Millers smiled, and around her eyes crow feet formed. Diana relaxed slightly, finding the same type of comfort in her eyes as she did in Mia’s. That genuine kindness. “But why not work at the shop with your sisters instead?”
“I want to stand on my own two feet for once,” Diana answered. It was best to be truthful for as long as possible, then every lie you have to slip in becomes less noticeable. It was the first thing Avery taught her once she could speak a full sentence. “I want to learn to take care of myself. My sisters have taken care of me my entire life, and I want to repay them for that as well.”
Mrs. Millers nodded approvingly. “I see. Then do you have any working experience?”
A nervous laugh escaped her throat before she covered it up by clearing her throat. “Uhm . . . I’ve helped around the shop a bit every now and again, as well as house chores.”
Which was barely anything, really, but Mrs. Millers didn’t need to know that.
“That’s alright, as long as you’re willing to learn there is really no work experience needed for this.”
Diana relaxed her shoulders once again, letting go of a long breath. “Then what is it that I’ll be doing exactly?”
“You’ll be taking care of the Duke’s son,” Mrs. Millers said, her eyes lighting up with delight. “Sylvester is his name. He’s such a sweet boy, despite what you might have heard of him.”
Diana simply smiled. “I haven’t heard anything yet.”
Mrs. Millers clapped her hands before lacing her fingers together. “Wonderful! If you do, however, don’t listen to them. They are baseless and just terrible, terrible rumors. Sylvester is a darling boy who is very misunderstood.”
How could people make up rumors about a child? Diana thought, disgusted by the thought of it. Even if it was a brat, it was hardly the fault of the child itself, the parents were responsible in the end. “So how must I take care of him?”
“Just simple things. Bringing him his food and tea, cleaning his quarters, taking care of any requests he has, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Besides, the other staff members will gladly help you out with any questions or difficulties you might be having.” Patting Diana’s hand, Mrs. Millers offered another smile. “You’ll fit right in.”
Her heartbeat a little quicker. Did this mean she got the job?
Blinking, she tried to calm herself before she got ahead of herself. There was one more thing she needed to make sure of before she agreed to anything. “I’ll be getting my own room, right?”
“Yes, of course you will.”
Unable to contain her smile, Diana asked, “Then when can I start?”
Mrs. Millers laughed at her excitement. “How does tomorrow sound?”
That sounds a little too convenient, dear.
Shut it, Rune.
“I’ll be there.”