"It's not what's under the Christmas tree that matters, but who's around it."
Thirty minutes into jamming to Michael Buble, Will strode in, evidently upset. I didn't know if I should say anything, and rather than risk saying the wrong thing, I chose to remain silent. If Will wanted to tell me, he would. He always did.
I returned to decorating. It took me two hours to finish putting up all the ornaments. Incredibly I didn't break one, not even one of the fragile glass roses. I took a step back, admiring my work. Now all that was left was to hang some lights and garland around the office and to grab some sugar cookies.
"Hey, Will?" I called out. "I'm going to go see if there are any cookies ready. Do you need anything from the kitchen?"
"No, I'm okay," he responded. Will sounded off, but rather than barging in on him, I let him be. He didn't act like he wanted to be bothered at the moment. Swallowing down my worry for him, I hurried to the kitchen, eager to get myself some sugar cookies. James was in the middle of organizing a plate for Will and me when I entered.
"Hey, Anna," he greeted cheerfully.
I braced myself on the counter next to him. "Hey, you. I see the cookies are ready."
"That's all that's been on your mind, hasn't it?"
"Yes, I've just hidden it better than Will. Where's the hot chocolate and marshmallows?"
"Cupboard right next to you. How's the tree decorating coming along?"
"Mine's done," I said, beginning to make the hot chocolate. "Will's is a work in progress."
"Need help bringing everything up?"
"No, it's okay. I'll just use a tray." I didn't want help because it meant I'd lose my chance to have a valid reason to see Will without seeming nosy.
Carefully placing the cookies and hot chocolate on a tray, I carried the snacks upstairs. I knocked on Will's door with my foot. "Will? Do you want hot chocolate and cookies?"
"Yes, please," he replied, opening the door. I found him sitting on the floor, unwrapping the ornaments. His face was drawn, contemplative.
I placed the tray on his desk and asked, "What's wrong?"
Will didn't answer immediately. For a few brief moments, I wondered if he'd even give me a response at all. But finally, he said, "Close the door. I want to talk to you privately, and I don't want to risk anyone overhearing us."
I obeyed. Once the door was shut, I sat next to Will, and he began. "You trusted me enough to tell me about Mia, and now I'm going to trust with a secret of my own. Remember when I was Will Smith, and I said maybe 'Prince Will' was drinking and partying because he was trying to escape something?"
"Yes." How could I forget that night? He'd saved my life.
"I wasn't lying. My dad's been keeping secrets from me. My mom has too. Everyone has. It seems like I'm the only person who doesn't know, even though I know that's not true. The public doesn't, and I get that, but why me? I'm his son!" Will ranted.
I placed a hand on his shoulder. "What hasn't he told you?"
"That he's sick. Two years ago, I discovered he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. That's when the partying started... I didn't drink right off the bat, but the moment I was old enough to, I did. The thought of my dad forgetting who I am, the thought of him dying sooner than he should, it terrified me. It still does. The only time I didn't think about it was when I was drinking and partying. It was an escape."
"So, you knew before he told you?"
"Oh, he still hasn't told me."
"Then, what did he want to talk to you about?"
"He's mad at me for keeping secrets from him. Secrets that don't even exist. And then he has the audacity to act like nothing's wrong when something is very wrong. It ticked me off."
I fell silent, trying to think of what to say. The only thought that came to mind, though, was, "What changed?"
"What stopped the drinking?"
Will fiddled with an ornament, unable to meet my gaze. "One day, I just had this massive realization that I was going to be king one day, and I wanted to make sure I'm a good one. I need to redeem myself. I want the people to feel like they're going to be in good hands."
"The people already love you, and they're impressed with this sudden change in behavior. I know I am," I said, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Why don't you talk to your dad about this? Why don't you tell him you know?"
Will shrugged. "He needs to tell me himself. I want him to explain to me why he felt like he had to keep this a secret from me. Does he think I can't handle the truth? Does he think I wouldn't love him anymore or something?"
"How did you find out?"
"I might've… eavesdropped. Dad and I were talking, and his secretary came in, announcing he had a visitor. Neither of them would say the person's name in front of me, which made me suspicious. I followed them and listened in on the conversation. Once I heard about the Alzheimer's and the extent of it, I left. I don't really remember what I did after that. Denial hit me pretty hard. After that, you know how I decided to cope with it."
"How many people have you told this?"
"Just you. I don't know why I just burdened you with all this when you have so much else on your plate." Will ran a hand through his hair, still refusing to look at me. "I'm sorry, Annie."
"It's okay. You needed to get it off your chest," I said. "How bad is the Alzheimers?"
"Right now, it's just minor things, like forgetting where he's placed things. But they think it's going to get much worse soon. It'll probably be a rapid decline… but now you know why I wanted my secretary to be my friend as well. Particularly why I wanted it to be you. I don't think I could trust anyone else to keep what I just told you a secret."
"I won't tell a soul," I promised. "Why don't we change the subject and get that frown off your face, hmm? It's the beginning of Christmas. Come on, let's get this tree decorated. We still have a lot to do before your trip next week."
Will stood up, offering his hand for me. I took it. "That sounds like a good idea. Are you sure you won't come to Japan with me?"
"I can't. Not yet. Not until Mia's out of the hospital."
"It was worth a shot," Will said. "Okay, let's retry getting that star on top of this thing."
"I have an idea. How about you stand on a stable chair, and not a rolling one?" I suggested when he started for his desk chair. Grinning, Will disappeared to find another one, leaving me to wonder how many injuries he would end up with at the end of this.