"Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other."
The very beginnings of fall were just starting to show their existence as a bitter wind sprung up, causing me to hunch my shoulders in a futile attempt to block it. I couldn't feel my ears or my nose. Being in a skirt didn't help matters, but I had to look professional for this interview for it could very well change my life.
I was the only working person in my family because my parents- being in the Royal Navy- had passed away serving our country. My little sister, Mia, was sick with cancer, so working was out of the question for her unless she was willing to risk getting worse. Mia always said she wanted to in order to help me out, but I wasn't. As my last remaining family member, I refused to let anything happen to her.
Her hospital bills had put us deep into debt. She hadn't been sick when our parents were alive, and we'd lived quite comfortably in a decently-sized flat. In fact, Mia and I still owned the flat. The rent on it wasn't too bad. I was always able to pay it, plus the owner- Mr. Sanders- gave me a discount every month since I cleaned his office every Sunday.
I went down the steps to the subway as fast as I could. I didn't want to be late. I politely shoved past people even though practically no one else returned the politeness. I ignored it. I had more pressing matters on my mind. I barely managed to get onto the train that would bring me to the stop that could get me closest to Windsor Palace. I couldn't believe the interviewers even considered me as a potential candidate…
The train was crowded; I ended up smushed against the doors. Thankfully, my stop arrived quickly. I hurriedly got off the cramped train and back into the cold daylight, and Windsor Palace came into view. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down. It would do no good for me to go in there nervous, or else the interviewers would think my fidgeting was because I was some crazy fan of the prince, which couldn't be further from the truth.
Prince William of Verona, a tall man with black hair and sapphire eyes... girls swooned over his eyes. It's not that I didn't find him attractive, because I did, but I had better things to do than drool over a guy I had no chance with. Besides, he's a partier and a drunk, and that did nothing for me.
When I walked up to the front gates, I explained to the two burly security guards why I was there. Despite having nothing to hide, they still made me nervous, mostly because they looked like they could snap me in half like a twig. They led me inside to the palace foyer, where they examined my purse's contents and made me walk through a metal detector. Once cleared, a guard led me down a corridor lined with portraits of past rulers and landscapes the royals had visited.
"Wait here," the guard said when we entered a simple yet elegantly decorated waiting room. I happened to be the only one there, making me wonder how many people had gotten this far in the interviewing process. I sat down on a plush leather couch and out my folder, which contained my résumé and reference letters. I scanned through it, making sure I remembered certain points in my life that would highlight the skills they needed for this position, even if it was just as a maid. I'd take anything I could get
Confident I had everything memorized, I took out my phone and checked to my hair in the camera setting, assuring myself it still looked decent after being in the wind.
"Annalise Stark," a man's voice said. I stood up to face an elderly man in the office doorway; he appeared to be in his late sixties or early seventies and wore a kind smile.
I liked him immediately.
"Yes, sir," I replied.
"My name is Walt Griffiths. Please come in." He motioned for me to follow him, and I did. In the office sat a woman, about the same age as the man. Unlike her husband, her expression was blank and unreadable. I couldn't decide if it was a resting bitch face, or if she disliked me.
"Hello, ma'am," I greeted as I shook her hand.
"Hello, Miss Stark. My name is Patty Griffiths. This is my husband," she said, nodding her head to the elderly man. "Please, have a seat."
"Now," she began, "you are applying for a job as a maid here. What are your qualifications?"
"My mother always taught me to be orderly and neat and taught me how to clean nearly every type of surface imaginable. As for one of my other jobs, I clean my landlord's office every Sunday along with filing away all his files; he reduces my rent for me in return."
"It says here you work at a pub… Donaldson's is it?"
"Yes, ma'am. Family friends own it, and they gave me a job. I waitress and bartend there, and I'm in charge of keeping their cleaning supplies stocked along with keeping the bar clean."
"Why are you applying for a second job? I imagine working at Donaldson's, you must make a decent salary. It's a well-known pub," Mrs. Griffiths remarked.
"I need the money quite badly."
"Do your parents work?"
I bit my lip. I hated discussing my parents. Despite them being gone a few years, I still missed them horribly. You never get over something like that, you just learn to live with the pain. Some days are easier than others, but it doesn't mean I like to talk about them. "They passed away, ma'am… six months ago in the war. They were in the Navy."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," she said, sympathy etching onto her face. "Miss Stark, you're very young, which worries me. You're… eighteen, correct?"
"You're about the same age as the prince, just a few months younger. While you do not appear to be so, how do I know you're not taking this job as a way to get close to William?"
The question was a valid one, and one I expected. I had my answer ready. "I have more important matters I am focusing on."
I looked down, nervous about explaining my situation. "My sister is very ill. Our health insurance dropped us when the bills became too much. I've actually gone into debt; if I get this job, with the salary it's offering, it will help me get out of my debt within a year, depending on if the cost of the hospital bills stay the same each month and if my sister does not get worse. I'm desperate for the money. When I am determined to do something, nothing distracts me, not even a prince."
Mrs. Griffiths studied me carefully. "Miss Stark, please wait outside while I confer with my husband."
I nodded and headed out, sitting on the same couch. I strained my ears to listen.
"She's so young! If William comes across her, he will make a move," Mrs. Griffiths pointed out.
"I don't doubt that, but her will is strong, and I think she is one girl William will not be able to… entice. She has her head well on her shoulders, and she's desperate. She needs this job. I say we give her a go," Mr. Griffiths argued.
"If you're wrong…"
"I have a good feeling about her."
The door opened, and Mrs. Griffiths walked out. "Miss Stark, Ii don't normally hire someone on the spot, but we are desperate. Not only have you been cleared by security with flying colors, but you also show a strong work ethic and will. You are to report here tomorrow morning at seven sharp. You will be given your uniform and your list of duties. I will have one of the other workers show you the ropes and where everything is."
"Thank you so much, Mrs. Griffiths!" I exclaimed, smiling with relief. "I won't let you down."
"I hope not. I rather like you. Now off you go. Walt will escort you out."
I followed him out into the corridor, heart thundering from excitement. I had really nailed the interview! I got the job!
Entering the foyer, a guy, only a few years older than me, nearly ran into us.
"I'm so sorry, Walt!" the guy apologized. He ran a hand through his dark blonde hair. Meanwhile, his icy blue eyes landed on me, evidently curious about who I was.
"You're fine, James," Mr. Griffiths said. Placing a gentle hand on my shoulder, he added, "This is Annalise Stark; she'll be joining the team tomorrow."
"Welcome, Annalise! I'm James Monroe."
I smiled, sensing he and I would be good friends if we got to know each other. "Thank you. It's nice to meet you."
"James is one of the cooks. He's fantastic. You might be helping him in the kitchen once in a while," Mr. Griffiths checked his watch. "Well, Annalise must be off. I believe she has another job to attend to."
Waving goodbye to James, I followed Mr. Griffiths outside. Turning to face him, I said, "Thank you for escorting me out, sir."
"You're very welcome. And please, call me Walt." He took my hand in his. "I can tell you're nervous, but I have a feeling you'll fit right in. If William does meet you, I bet you'll put him in his place. I love the boy, but he's…"
"A little lost?" I suggested.
"That'll work. It was nice meeting you, dear. I'll see you tomorrow."
The two of us parted ways, and once out of the palace's view, I nearly ran to Donaldson's to announce the good news.