"Hey dad, look at me, look back and talk to me, did I grow up according to plan?"
~Simple Plan, Perfect
The dinner had gone wonderfully. For having a two-hour crash course on the proper mannerisms expected, Annalise had done incredibly well, not that I expected anything less coming from her. Of course, Annie's exemplary teaching was due to Everly's doing rather than mine. I'd been the example of what not to do during the practice session. My cousin had the pleasure of embarrassing me whenever possible.
Annie wore a beautiful yet simple black lace dress. Paired with red lipstick and shoes to match, she knocked it out of the park. She didn't say much unless spoken to, but my mother commented on how well Annie did afterward.
Mother liked Annie, enormously I might even say, but she was confused as to why Annie wouldn't accompany me on trips. I explained Annalise would if other matters didn't require her to stay in Verona. This roused my mother's suspicions, and the day before New Years' Eve, she called Annalise into her office.
It was two hours before Annalise finally returned. She acted as if nothing had happened, and when I asked what they talked about, Annie said my mom wanted her to go on the next trip. Annie explained her situation with Mia and would alert my mom as soon as possible about whether or not she could go.
"But that doesn't explain why it took two hours," I said, leaning against her desk.
"Your mother and I talked about other things. She was just curious to know more about me, I guess. More than what my file says," Annie replied, shrugging. "Why?"
"I was worried something was wrong," I admitted, shoving my hands into my pockets.
Annalise swiveled her chair around to face me. "Why on earth would you be worried about me talking to your mom? You afraid I'll say something wrong?"
"No, more like I'm afraid she'd say something I didn't want her to."
"About you? There's not much I don't know about you, so that'd be hard."
"You know a lot, but not everything. I have to keep some secrets to myself."
"Uh-huh." Annalise gave me a brief, inquisitive look. "Oh, by the way, I'm having a small celebration dinner tomorrow for Mia. I know you probably won't be able to come because of your meeting, but if you can, I know she'd love to have you there."
"Of course. Why would you ask such a question?"
"You've seemed distant lately. I just want to make sure everything's okay."
"It has nothing to do with you, Will. I promise. I'm just exhausted. I've been working overtime recently, both here and at Donaldson's, to pay off a few of our debts. The wigs I bought Mia were expensive. I had the money, but I used some of the money I was going to use to pay off the debts to buy the wigs."
"Have you been getting any sleep?"
"About four or five hours a night."
"Annie, that's not near enough!" I chastised.
"I know… but I'm fine, really!" she insisted. "I wouldn't be doing all that I am if I wasn't."
"It's not healthy."
"I'm fine. I've gone on less sleep before."
"That's not helping."
"Will, don't worry about me. I can take care of myself." Annie got up, ruffling my hair affectionately before going to the mini-fridge and taking out a can of Diet Coke. She tossed me one.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" I queried.
"Depends on the question."
"How much debt do you have left to pay off?"
"Around six thousand dollars. With the rate I'm going, it should be paid off by the end of next year. Why?"
"You're always saying you'll be paying it off soon. I just wondered how much."
"It was much higher. Thanks to this job, it's significantly lowered. I owe you for getting through to my thick skull."
I smiled. "You owe me nothing. If anything, I owe you. God knows where I'd be or what I'd be doing if it weren't for you." The clock chimed, alerting me it was four o'clock. "Shit, I told my mother I'd see her before dinner, so I've got to go. I'll see you tomorrow, though. I'll come see Mia, whether I can attend dinner or not."
"Thank you," Annie said gratefully. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Get some sleep tonight." Kissing her on the cheek, I headed to my mother's office. I'd lied to Annie, saying that I'd promise my mother I'd see her today. But I did actually need to talk to her.
The next day…
The meeting ended early, but dad forced me to have dinner with him and mom. It dragged on for hours; by the time we were finished eating, it was nine' o'clock. There was no way Annie would allow me to come over now. Anger barely began to explain how I felt, mainly because my dad knew I wanted to attend another dinner tonight, one for a friend, and he was blatantly stalling me.
"Will, please add something to the conversation?" Dad requested.
"Like what?" I retorted, unable to hold back my bitterness.
He frowned. "What's wrong with you?"
"I had plans tonight. I'm missing them."
"Partying and drinking?"
"No, dinner with friends."
"So you weren't going out with James, and what's her name? Andy?"
"Annalise," I said through gritted teeth. "And no, I wasn't. It'd be me, the Starks, the Griffiths, and a guy named Mark. Also, in case you haven't noticed, I haven't been partying and drinking for over a year now. Then again, you never pay attention to me unless you're criticizing me."
"Watch what you say, William," Dad warned. "You're a terrible liar, and I can tell you're hiding something. What is it?"
I scoffed. "I guess hiding things runs in our family."
"What're you talking about?"
"You know what I'm damn well talking about!" I burst. "What I want to know is why you never told me!"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Did you really think I wouldn't figure it out? Did you really think I wouldn't notice the doctor's visits, or how you've slowly been forgetting things? Despite what you think, I'm not stupid. Why didn't you tell me you had Alzheimer's?"
Dad stared at me, coolly. "Because you didn't need to know."
I blinked. "How could you rationalize that I didn't deserve to know that my father has a debilitating mental disease?"
"You weren't handling responsibility well, so I didn't think it'd be wise to burden you with my diagnosis until you were ready."
"The drinking and partying wasn't because I couldn't handle my responsibilities; it's because I was so upset about what was happening to my father, and the fact he refused to share it with me!"
"Don't blame your bad habits on me. That is your problem and your problem alone."
"I could've handled the news better, sure, but you could've told me and helped me through it. But like every other time, you thought the worst of me. Well, you know what, dad, I'm sorry! I'm sorry for being such a disappointment. I'm sorry I'm not the prince or future king you want me to be. I'm sorry you and mother didn't have another child to pick up my slack. I'm sorry for trying to make up for my wrongs by trying to do everything you tell me to do and paying attention to everything you say this past year so that I could hope to be as great a king as you are. I'm sorry I'm not the perfect son you always wanted."
Trembling with anger, I stood up, throwing my napkin on my chair.
"Where exactly are you going?" My father demanded, standing up as well.
"To shower and go to bed. I have an early day tomorrow. Good night."
I stalked to my room, hands clenched, nails digging into my palms. I hadn't been lying to my father when I said I was going to shower, but I lied about going to bed. I couldn't stay in this godforsaken palace with him right now. I had no idea where I'd go, but I'd go anywhere that wasn't here.
I waited for my mom to come wish me a good night like I knew she would. She apologized for not saying anything about dad's Alzheimer's, but I told her it wasn't her fault.
However, the moment her footsteps receded down the hallway, I threw off the covers and went to my closet, grabbing my trustworthy black trench coat, hat, and wig. I stuck my head out of my bedroom, checking the coast was clear. Satisfied it was, I slipped down to the basement, entering the centuries-old secret passageway. It led out to a hidden, abandoned hallway in the subway.
I used my phone's flashlight to guide my way, and within half an hour, found myself at the subway. I switched to 'Smith's' persona, hobbling like an old man up the stairs and onto the street.
I passed familiar landmarks: Pikes' Park, the Courthouse, and Donaldson's. I avoided going inside, not wanting to engage in conversation with anyone inside other than Annie, but she wasn't working tonight.
As I shuffled through the city, I let my feet lead me. When they stopped, I found myself in front of a familiar building, one I'd never entered but heard about. My feet moved on their own accord, and after the doorman gave me a wary up-down, he let me in, deciding I must be okay. I walked up the steps and ended up in front of Apartment 713.
I raised my hand to knock.