"Presence is more than just being there."
~Malcom S. Forbes
"Anna?" Mia whispered. "Why is Will on our couch, and why aren't you at work?"
I bolted up, scrambling to look at my phone. My eyes widened in horror when I saw it was ten in the morning.
"I'm so fired!" I exclaimed, running to my closet. "Go wake up, Will, please! Tell him we need to get to the palace!"
"There's no need," Will said. I poked my head out of my closet. He leaned against my doorway. "I turned off your alarm clock. Did you not see my note?"
"That answers that. I wrote you a note saying you had the day off. I'm heading back to the palace in an hour to face the shit storm- pardon my language, Mia. I don't want you there for that."
I bit my lip. "Mia, would you mind getting breakfast started?"
"No problem." My sister slid out of my room. I waited until I heard the vent turn on before I said, "Will, you've been there for me when I needed you. Let me be there for you. After last night, I worry about you facing your dad alone. I'm not saying I need to be in the room when it happens, but at least let me be nearby, so in case you need to blow off steam, you don't have to sneak out again."
Will shook his head. "No, I don't want you anywhere near my dad's wrath."
"I don't want you near it by yourself."
"I want you to stay here and get some sleep. You're not getting near enough, especially with how hard and how much you work."
"How about this: I go with you to the palace and catch up on sleep there while you deal with your dad?"
"Promise me you'll sleep and not sneak and do work?" Will narrowed his eyes at me. "I know how you think, Annalise Stark."
"I promise." Will sighed and agreed to the deal. Patting him on the shoulder, I went back into my closet to change, making sure to shut the door behind me to avoid giving him an unsolicited peep show.
"Your bed is really comfy!" Will shouted.
"I can hear you just fine with my closet door shut, you know. It's also too early in the morning to be yelling."
"Sorry. Forgot you weren't a morning person." Will shut his mouth and waited patiently for me to get dressed. I chose a royal blue business dress paired with nude peep-toe heels. I proceeded to my vanity to apply my makeup and do my hair. From the mirror, I could see Will observing me closely.
"How long does it take to do your makeup?" he asked.
"About twenty to thirty minutes, depending on distractions. Hair takes about fifteen to twenty to curl."
"You curl your hair?"
"What? Did you think it was perfectly curled every time I woke up?"
"I mean, every other part of you is perfect, so I assumed your hair would be too." He gave me a cheeky grin as I tried, but failed, not to laugh.
"You're something else, Your Highness."
"Now, you know not to call me that."
"Only when I want to annoy you."
Will stuck his tongue out at me. "I'll leave you be, so I don't distract you. I'll see if Mia needs any help."
Will got up and headed to the kitchen. I heard him asking Mia what he could do to help.
"Would you grab some plates and silverware?" Mia requested.
"You got it, boss!" Will replied.
I couldn't help but smile. He fit in so naturally with us, one would never guess Will was a prince if you didn't know him.
At ten to eleven, I finished dressing. I found Mia and Will lounging on the couch watching TV with their breakfast in hand. Grabbing my own plate, I joined them and asked, "How are we going to get to the palace?"
"I took a secret way here, so we'll probably have to walk back."
"How on earth did you get past security?" I held up my hand. "You know what, it's probably best I don't know. Get a move on. We need to get you back to the palace."
"Aye aye, Captain. Let me wash my dishes first."
"Don't worry about it. I got it," Mia said.
"But I don't want you overexerting yourself," he argued.
"Oh, yes, because washing dishes is so difficult," she teased. "Get a move on, or my sister will have your head before your dad does."
"I don't care if she takes my head. I'd deserve it if she did it."
Taking the prince by the hand to finally get him moving, I said bye to Mia and led Will out the door. Even with him wearing his disguise, we kept our heads low to avoid anyone recognizing him. We were lucky in the fact that no one did.
I hailed a cab to take us to Windsor Palace. Will and I slid into the backseat. I occupied myself by watching the sights go by, but Will kept his fists clenched. Glancing over, I noticed how white his knuckles were. I figured it was more from his unwillingness to see his dad than being worried about being recognized. In an attempt to help calm him down, or at least in an effort to give him some comfort, I reached over and laced my fingers with his. He visibly relaxed.
When we exited the cab and approached security, Will took off his disguise. They swiftly brought him inside, but they detained me to do a search. Will refused to go any further until I was deemed clean. Once cleared, we made our way upstairs to his office. To our surprise, we found the Griffiths and James there.
"Do you know how upset your poor mother's been, William?" Patty demanded harshly the moment we stepped inside. "What were you thinking?"
"Did you know about his Alzheimer's?" He replied. Her face fell, giving him the answer he needed. "I'm not mad at you for keeping it from me. I'm mad at him for keeping it from me, and for blaming my excessive partying and drinking on irresponsibility while dismissing the fact I did those things because I didn't know how to cope with my dad having a debilitating disease."
James' shoulders sagged. "Why didn't you tell any of us?"
"I thought you didn't know, and I thought if my dad was keeping it from me, then he was keeping it from the rest of the staff as well. I found out that was a lie, but by the time that happened, I'd already changed, and I'd told Annie. She helped me get through it."
"Where were you all night?" Walt inquired.
"I went to Annie's."
"You know she doesn't get enough sleep as it is," James said disapprovingly.
"Yes, but she was the only one who knew what was going on between my dad and me."
I frowned. "Have you two talked about my sleeping schedule or something?"
"Yes. On more than one occasion too," Will said matter-of-factly. "Right, I need to go a not-so-pleasant conversation with my dad, and you, my dear, promised me you'd get some sleep while said conversation occurred. James, will you make sure she doesn't do any work?"
James nodded, and I plopped down on the couch. Will took a deep breath and then went to face the storm.
"What work needs to get done?" James asked, taking a seat at my desk.
"I have a list of things I need to print off on a sticky note on the printer. There's another sticky note below the computer screen of things I need to edit. Just follow those," I said. Grabbing a blanket and pulling it up to my chin, I closed my eyes. Within a few minutes, I was out like a light.
I stirred when I heard conversation. It ceased at my movement.
"Annie?" Will asked.
Still trying to pry my eyes open, I mumbled, "How'd the meeting go?"
"It's… worked out." He sat down next to me. "My dad and I are at least semi on the same page now."
"How long have I been asleep?"
"About…" He paused, and I assumed he was doing the math. "Six hours."
At that, my eyes flew open. "Six hours?!"
"You needed it. Also, my mom wanted to give you something."
It suddenly registered with me that Will wasn't the only one in the room. Walt, Patty, and the Queen were also there.
Patty must've seen my confusion because she said, "We're here because we know you won't want to leave Mia. We were going to offer for her to stay with us. We live right next to the hospital for her chemo sessions, and in case anything went wrong for some reason."
I blinked in surprise. "You'd really keep her?"
"You're like daughters to us. It'd be our pleasure to watch out for her while you join Will," Walt assured.
"Patty, Walt, I'd like to speak with you privately," the Queen requested. "Before we go, Annalise, this is for you. I advise you to open it after the three of us leave."
She handed me an envelope and smiled sincerely. "Thank you for being there for my son. While my husband may not see the extent to which help Will and have helped Will, I do, and I have. That envelope right there is to express my gratitude. I shall see you soon."
The Queen, Patty, and Walt left the office. I sat in a stupor until Will nudged me.
"I have a thank you gift as well, but I'm saving that for Africa. Now open it up!" Will encouraged excitedly. I ripped the top of the envelope. Inside rested a single sheet of paper.
When I read the amount on it, the check suddenly became much heavier. It was as if the amount of money became a physical weight in my hand.
"I can't… this is too much. I can't accept this," I breathed.
"You can, and you will." Will enclosed my trembling hands in his. "My mom wasn't joking when she said you've helped me. I think my parents thought I was a lost cause until you came along and whipped me into shape."
"But Will, is that really worth thirty-thousand dollars?"
"Yes. I know you told her about Mia, but I know you didn't tell her about the debt. I kind of mentioned it to her, and then she went on a warpath of wanting to help you out."
"I only needed three thousand dollars. This could pay off my debt ten times over!"
"Use it to treat yourself. Buy some new outfits. Put it into savings. Buy something for Mia. Do whatever you want with it because you deserve it," he stressed. I threw my arms around him, unable to hold back my tears. After years of being in debt, after years of watching my sister suffer from our money troubles, we were finally free.
"I'm going to take that as a sign you're happy, and you're going to accept the check?" Will inquired. I gave him a muffled response of 'yes.'
At that moment, our door burst open. Will and I jumped apart. Everly stood in front of us, nearly vibrating from excitement.
"Am I interrupting something?" she queried.
"No, I just got some… amazing news," I answered. "You look like you have good news as well?"
Everly nodded so hard I thought her head would fly off. She snapped her left hand up, where a diamond ring glittered in the light. "Eric proposed!"