"There is nothing better than a friend unless it is a friend with chocolate."
The bell above the door tinkled as I entered Donaldson's. The pub itself was owned by old family friends of my parents: Frank and Ellen Wallace, and Larry and Jane Stewart. The Stewarts' son- Mark- also worked there when he wasn't swamped with school work. Being two years older than me, he was the big brother Mia and I never had.
"Hello?" I called out.
Frank rounded the corner, wiping his hands on a towel. "Hey, Anna. How'd the interview go?"
Only the Wallaces and Stewarts were allowed to call me anything other than Annalise besides Mia. I didn't like going by Lise or Ann or Annie. I especially didn't like being called Annie.
"I start tomorrow at seven," I replied cheerfully. "The woman interviewing me scared the hell out of me, but her husband was a sweetheart. Are you the only one here?"
"Congratulations, Annalise! I knew you'd get it!" Frank hugged me. "For now, it's just me. Ellen didn't feel well, so I don't know if she'll be working tonight. Jane and Larry are on their way and Mark… I have no idea where that boy went actually. Oh, by the way, Annalise, you're getting off tonight early so you can get enough sleep tonight before tomorrow."
"No 'buts' this time. You need to rest. You're over-exerting yourself."
"I need the money, though. The bills…"
Frank placed his hands on my shoulders. "You're not helping Mia by exhausting yourself. Go home early tonight. If you don't, I'll have Mark drag you back to your flat."
"Why do I get to drag Anna to her flat?" Mark's mischievous voice floated from behind me. I hadn't even heard him enter the pub.
"Apparently, I have to leave early tonight. Owner's orders," I said.
"She got the job at the palace and has to be there by seven tomorrow. She needs sleep," Frank added.
Mark grinned. "Looks like I'm dragging Miss Blondie home tonight. She's going to put up a fight."
"Could you please stop talking about me like I'm not here?" I interjected, trying not to smile but failing horribly at Mark's impish expression.
Grabbing the towel out of Frank's hands, I used it to whip Mark in the butt. He let out a short yelp from surprise. "Drag me out of here, I'll kill you."
"Anna, I'm almost a foot taller than you. Who do you think would win between you and me?"
"Sometimes even strength must bow to wisdom," I quoted.
Mark rubbed his behind ruefully. "You and your Percy Jackson obsession."
"It's not an obsession, it's a passion. An obsessive passion," I corrected.
"Sure, Annalise, sure it is." He winked at me before heading behind the bar. I followed to help him get it ready for the evening.
Overall, the night went surprisingly smoothly. It turned out to be a quiet night. Other than a few regulars and a new, elderly man who took the corner booth, not many patrons showed up. With the concert in town, a lot of people were there instead of going out drinking.
I left at around ten, giving me time to visit Mia for a little bit. She'd be up. She slept most of the day since she seemed to feel better then. The nighttime was always worse for her, but no one knew why.
When I entered the hospital, the head Nurse- Yasmine- greeted me with a friendly smile. She knew me by name, so did every other employee who knew my sister, which meant at least half the hospital. People flocked to Mia. She had this aura about her that made everyone love her. Even as sick as she was, she was always bubbly and could talk for ages to anyone.
I was the exact opposite, more like a wallflower. I could attend a three-hour party and not be talked to once. Then again, I never attended many parties...
I found Mia watching cartoons. She looked over at me and asked excitedly, "Annalise! Did you get the job? What was the palace like? Or did the interview even take place there?"
"One question at a time, Mia!" I chided lightly. "Yes, I got the job, and I start tomorrow. I only saw a corridor and an office, but it was all lovely. And yes, it was at the palace."
"Did you see William?"
I rolled my eyes. "I will never understand your infatuation with him."
"I will never understand your insistence on using big words that I hardly know what they mean," Mia countered. "And come on, you cannot disagree with me that he is drop-dead gorgeous!"
"Just because I agree with you that he's handsome does not mean I'm interested in him. He's nothing but a partier and a drunk if you ask me. I'm not interested in that. Although one guy handsome I'm working with is extremely handsome, I must say."
"Would you date him?" she asked instantly, her eyes lighting up.
"I have more important things to-"
"Focus on right now. I know, I know. I just wish you'd do something for yourself once in a while." Mia crossed her arms. A bright light flashed on TV, illuminating the room. In that brief moment, I noticed how pale Mia was. She'd had an off day today, but she just didn't want to say anything.
"I am doing something for me. I'm getting my little sister better." I kissed her on top of the head. "I have to go, Mia. I'll see you tomorrow after my shift at the palace. I love you."
"Love you, too, Anna," she said, giving me her toothy smile.
Heart heavy with having to leave my sister, I left the hospital. My empty living room greeted me when I stepped foot into our flat. The eerie silence cemented the feeling that I was utterly alone. I turned on the television to create some background noise while I showered and dried my hair.
At midnight, I finally crawled into bed, stomach churning with anxiety about tomorrow. For a good two hours, I switched between tossing and turning and staring at my ceiling. Every possible situation ran through my mind, most of them being ones that could get me fired.
Whether it was sheer exhaustion, or I bored myself with the repetitive thoughts, sleep finally graced me a couple of hours later.