"Beauty is not in the face. Beauty is a light in the heart."
'Smith' entered Donaldson's at nine-thirty. Without asking him, I went to the kitchen and prepared his order. Recognizing it, Mrs. Stewart asked, "Is Will here?"
"Yeah, in disguise, of course. He's meeting Mia with me later."
"You trust him to meet her?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you trust this not to be some publicity stunt on his part? Will's charming and nice, but be careful with what you tell him."
"I will, Mrs. Stewart." We bumped heads, and I started to head out of the kitchen when she added, "Anna? Take the rest of the night off. Go spend time with Mia."
I turned around. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. Have some pie too. Go on." She handed me another plate and glass of milk. I thanked her and joined Will, who was reading a humongous stack of papers. Placing the food down on the table, I sat in the booth opposite him.
I peered at his reading material. "What's this?"
With a mouthful of pie, he said, "My mom wants me to hire a secretary. These are all the applicants. I already know who I prefer, but I'm reading this for her sake. If I'm going to rule the country one day, I want a secretary I know I can rely on."
I took a sip of my milk and added, "What would they have to do?"
"Besides scheduling things for me? Preparing me for upcoming meetings and events, learning the names of dignitaries and helping me learn them and make sure I pronounce the names correctly, travel with me, and then I have my own requirement for the job."
"I know you want me to ask, so I'll take the bait. What would that requirement be?"
"I'd want them to be my friend."
"Hire James, then. He'd be good at it."
"He doesn't want to be a secretary. He wants to be a chef."
"How about I help you choose someone?"
"Actually, I was hoping I could talk to you about it."
"Hard for me to do when I haven't read the applications."
"No, about you taking the job. Just hear me out," Will begged when I started to object. "I've seen your planner. You keep everything so organized and detailed, and I need that in my life. I need someone who can keep me on track. Plus, I know you. I know what you like, what you don't, and what you expect. The position would pay twice as well as your job now, and all your flights would be paid for."
"Will, that sounds- that sounds absolutely amazing," I said.
"But I couldn't leave Mia. She's in such a fragile position right now. We don't know what the cancer is doing, and if something happened to her while I was in a foreign country, I'd never forgive myself. I have to be here with Mia. I can't leave until she's better."
"I can make the travel optional. I can take James with me instead of you. You two have a system. He could learn about foreign foods and cooking methods while we're away. I mean, you'd have to be available pretty much twenty-four-seven when I'd be away but… please consider this," he pleaded. "I really don't want anyone other than you for this position. Please consider it, okay?"
I paused. "Okay."
"Thank you. All right, here's the money for the meal." He handed me thirty dollars. "Now, let's go see Mia!"
I heard Annalise talking before I saw her. I quickly checked that nothing showed underneath my pillow before she came in with… an old man? It wasn't Mr. Griffiths. He didn't have Albert Einstein's hair.
After closing the door and shutting the blinds, Annalise said, "Mia, meet Will. Will, meet my sister, Mia."
"Hello, Mia. Pardon the disguise; I didn't want the paparazzi noticing me," Will explained, taking off his hat and wig. My mouth dropped open at the sight of the prince.
Pictures did not do him justice. He was even more handsome in person.
"It's an honor," I managed to say, bowing my head.
"No need to bow to me. After all, I'm just an old man." He winked. "Besides, it's an honor to meet the person Annalise cares about most in this world. She's told me a lot about you."
"I can't believe you actually got her to talk to you!" I exclaimed. My sister buried her face in her hands, but I had a feeling Will didn't care about the comment.
Will laughed. "It wasn't easy. She called me a child the first time we met."
"You were drunk and hitting on me!" Annalise defended.
"I obviously have good taste in women even when I'm drunk. Anyways, we're relatively good friends now. Tell me something though: has she always been stubborn?"
"Always; it's gotten worse as she's gotten older."
"I'm not stubborn!" Annalise exclaimed. Will and I shared a disbelieving glance, causing her to add, "Shut up, you two."
"We didn't say anything," Will pointed out.
"You didn't need to." Annalise stood up. "Would you like anything to drink? I'm going to the cafeteria to get something because I'm thirsty."
"Can you get me some chocolate milk?" I begged.
"Of course. Will?"
The prince pulled some money out. "Regular milk and I'm paying for it all. You've been kind enough to let me meet Mia, so let me at least pay for the drinks."
Annalise smiled. "I won't argue. It won't do any good. All right, I'll be back. Behave."
"Don't worry, I'll make sure she behaves," Will promised.
"I wasn't talking to her," Anna quipped before slipping out of the room, leaving me alone with the Prince of Verona.
The freaking Prince of Freaking Verona.
"So," Will began, sitting at the foot of my bed, "how are you feeling?"
"I'm okay. Why?"
"I didn't want to say anything in front of Annie, but she doesn't know, does she?"
"Know what?" I asked, dread filling my stomach. He couldn't possibly know...
"The hair you're hiding under your pillow. I saw it when we were talking a few minutes ago. Annie doesn't know you're losing it, does she?"
I bit my lip, fiddling with my blanket. "No… she's so stressed about everything else that I don't want to burden her with it. The hair's been falling in small clumps, nothing noticeable. I keep planning on telling her, but Anna always comes in so exhausted, and she always cheers up when she talks to me that I don't want to ruin it. Does this… make me a bad person?"
"Not at all. It means you care about Annie just as much as she cares about you. I think you should tell her soon, though. She'd want to know."
"Yeah…" I sighed in dismay. "Okay, I'll tell her tonight."
"I'll support you in any way I can."
"You're really sweet, Your Highness. Thank you."
"You're welcome, and please, call me Will. It's an honor to help such a wonderful girl as yourself." I blushed right as the door opened, and Annalise came in, carrying our drinks.
"So, did I miss any good conversations?" she queried.
I took a deep breath. "Anna, I need to tell you something."
Annie slumped in her chair after Mia told her the news. I offered to leave the room, but both Stark girls declined it. Instead, I sat quietly while Mia explained that her hair was falling out to Annie. Tears rolled l down Mia's cheeks, and Annie swiftly pulled her into a hug.
"Oh, Mia, never think you have to hide anything from me. I can handle it. If it comes to it, I'll buy you a wig."
"But the money-" Mia began.
"Is not of an issue when it comes to you. I'll find a way, I always do," Annalise promised. "But for the record, you look beautiful with hair, and I know you'll look beautiful without it. But try not to think about it, okay? Everything will work out. What do you say we move on to another topic, hmm?"
"That sounds good," Mia agreed, beaming at her sister. I smiled at the sight of them. They didn't have much, but they had each other, they had a family. They had a relationship I wish I had with my parents, where I wasn't afraid to say anything to them.
I engaged in the conversation about this show called "Once Upon A Time." Mia and Annie both loved the show. Mia liked a guy named Graham, Annalise liked Killian. Strange considering the pirate's history and whatnot considering Annie's morals.
"Will? May I ask what all those papers are in your coat?" Mia inquired curiously.
I grimaced. "They're applications my mother gave me to look over. She wants me to have a secretary."
"You should do it, Anna!"
"I actually did ask her," I said. "Your sister turned me down again."
"You should do it!" Mia repeated even more excitedly.
"Not while you're in the hospital. If anything were to happen to you while I was away, I'd never forgive myself." Annie stroked some hair out of Mia's face. "Besides, it's not like I have any clothing befitting a prince's secretary."
"I told you the travel was optional, and I could give you an advance to help you buy clothes and shoes. You could take Everly. She's been dying to see you again."
"Anna, take the job! You'd be great at it!" Mia insisted.
Her sister paused. "I'll think about it. Will and I should get going, though, and you need to get some rest. James and I will see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. Love you." Annie kissed Mia on the forehead. "It was so nice meeting you, Will!"
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Maybe I can see you again if that's all right with Annie."
Annalise shrugged. "I have no objections."
"Awesome! Then, Mia, I shall see you again someday."
"I look forward to it!" Mia chirped as I slipped on my disguise again.
Annie and I said goodbye one last time before we left. When we got in the elevator, I asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah, just... shocked. I mean, I talked to the doctors before I went in, and the last test results said the cancer's going away. It's going away slowly, but it's going away, and that's what matters. I just wish Mia didn't have to go through this. She doesn't deserve it. It should be me, not her."
"What if it was you, Annie?" I countered. "How could Mia support herself if you were here? I'm not saying she deserves it because she doesn't, but she's not old enough to work, or at least earn a livable income. You can, and you do. There's a reason it's her and not you in there, Annie. Plus, you're not alone. You have your family from Donaldson's, the Griffiths, James, and whether you like it or not, you have me. We're all here for you."
"Thank you, Will. It means a lot to hear that. It's still hard to see her like this, though. But enough of my woes, let's talk about what you did to my sister."
I frowned. "W-what?"
"What you did to my sister," she repeated. "You made her so incredibly happy! I haven't seen her smile like that in ages. Okay, well, maybe when James comes around, but still. You just made her day. I can't thank you enough for doing this."
"Oh," I breathed in relief. "You're welcome. It was no problem."
"… Will, about that job. Can you promise me the travel will be optional?"
A burst of hope flooded my chest. "I can make sure of it. Why?"
Annie bit her lip, hesitating before saying, "Tell your mom you found someone for the job."