"You get what you work for, not what you wish for."
At six-forty five, I arrived at Windsor Palace, the paranoia of missing my shift waking me up every hour after I fell asleep. I breezed through security and made my way to Mrs. Griffiths' office, where I would obtain my uniform. As I turned down the hallway, obnoxious, drunken laughter sounded behind me.
I shouldn't have turned around. I should've continued on my way to Mrs. Griffiths' office, but curiosity got the better of me.
Prince William zeroed in on me, stumbling over. "Hello, beautiful! Tell me, do you have a boyfriend?"
"No, and I'm not interested in one," I replied shortly, grimacing at the smell of alcohol on his breath. I forced myself not to back up. I would not let him intimidate me, nor would I let him get away with speaking to me in his drunken manner.
"Not even me? I could give you everything in wildest dreams," he whispered, leaning forward with a cocky smirk.
I rolled my eyes. "Sorry, but I don't date children."
"Ouch. That was quite harsh, Miss Stark," a woman remarked.
I whirled around, my face flushing a deep red. "Mrs. Griffiths!"
"Don't worry, dear," she said before I could start apologizing. "In this state, he won't remember this interaction within a few hours. Besides, he needs another woman other than his mother and me that doesn't give in to his wishes."
Turning around, she yelled, "Walt! Please escort William to his room and away from Miss Stark!"
Walt joined us with an expression on his face that said wasn't the first time they'd seen the prince like this. Did William flirt with every single maid who came through here?
"Come on, my boy. Let's get you to bed," Walt said, clapping the prince on the shoulder and leading him away from me.
"That boy bit off more than he could chew with you. You're going to do just fine here," Mrs. Griffiths said as we watched the two men walk away. When they rounded the corner, she instructed me to grab my uniform from her office and change into it. I swiftly did as she said, rushing into the nearby bathroom. A few moments later, I met her back out in the hallway.
"Come." Mrs. Griffiths walked back into her office. "James is waiting for you; he'll show you the ropes."
James lounged on the same couch I occupied yesterday, frowning at his phone. However, when he saw us, it instantly changed to a smile.
"Heard what you said out there," James said, standing up. "If you heard any laughter, that was coming from me."
I blushed. "It just came out."
"Well, it was amazing. Mrs. Griffiths tell you you'll be with me all day?"
"Don't make me feel old. I'm only twenty," James laughed. "You don't have to call me 'sir.' Call me James, okay?"
"And no need to apologize. You ready?"
I nodded. "Let's do this."
I trailed closely behind James, afraid if I lost sight of him for even a moment, I'd never find him again in this labyrinth of a palace. That didn't stop me from observing the ornate artistry and craftsmanship of the palace's interior.
James glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. "First day jitters?"
"Yeah. I'm not normally like this, but being in Windsor Palace, owned by some of the most powerful people in the world and hundreds of years old and all the history it's witnessed, it's rather intimidating," I rambled.
"Do you always ramble when you're nervous?"
"Yes," I said, feeling heat rise in my cheeks. Desperate to change the subject, I asked, "What will I be doing today?"
"First, you're going to clean one of the rooms. Each room has a sheet about what needs to be done, and you'll find out what rooms you'll be cleaning every day from Mrs. Griffiths. She handles all that. Let's see what she's given you today." He glanced at a piece of paper I hadn't realized he'd been carrying. "You have the library and guest room three-seven-two to clean. Ah, that's the room the King's brother just stayed in. He always leaves a mess. Don't worry; I'll be helping you out with that today. But after today-"
"I'm on my own," I finished.
"Someone's a fast learner."
"Always the tone of surprise," I said.
"You're a Harry Potter fan, aren't you?"
"High five!" He raised his hand, grinning from ear to ear. I high-fived him hard.
"Let's head to the kitchen first. The cooks are almost done, and we serve breakfast today. Just follow my lead. When I move, you move. While they're eating, we stand to the side very silently. Got it?"
I nodded. We walked into the kitchen where the best smell my nose has ever met hit me. Sausage, eggs, toast, pancakes, bacon- you name it, and they probably had it. James grabbed two plates, handing one to me, explaining that we all got breakfast in the morning if we wished. Some of the staff ate before coming to the palace. Most did, in fact, but since most of the younger workers either lived on their own, had low income, or both, we were provided breakfast.
I chose a single scone and a piece of bacon. I never ate much at breakfast usually, but with my anxiety-ridden stomach, I didn't want to risk upsetting it even further with a big breakfast.
Once we finished, James and I each took a silver platter. My platter held the bacon, sausage, and toast. James had the eggs, pancakes, and drinks. I carefully mimicked his movements, not wanting to screw up in the slightest.
Besides being awestruck by the massive chandelier and elaborate tapestries hanging in the room, my heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the sight of King George and Queen Lillian of Verona sitting at the table. I knew I'd end up crossing paths with them sooner or later working here but the first day?
William was absent from the table, something I didn't necessarily mind. He probably was sacked out in his bed. James and I set the platters on the table before moving to the corners of the room, waiting patiently for the couple to finish.
Fifteen minutes into the meal, William shuffled into the room. His hair stuck up in random places as if he'd just rolled out of bed. I avoided looking at him but instinctively knew he'd already noticed my presence.
The king sighed. "Out again, William?"
"Yeah…" the prince mumbled.
"When are you going to grow up and learn some responsibility? You are the future king of Verona. How can I rest well at night knowing I'm putting my country into your hands?" The King ranted.
"I'm sorry, Father," William apologized, looking down at his empty plate. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the prince. He might've been drunk, but hearing his father say that to him? I thought it seemed harsh, even if it was the truth.
"Henry, we'll discuss it with him later. I don't want to scare the new help away on the first day," the Queen chided. I stiffened. The king glanced over at me before returning his attention back to his wife and son.
"I have business matters to attend to." He stood up and left, leaving the two royals behind.
"Mom, I'm sorry," William said quietly, looking up through his eyelashes.
"I know. I just wish you'd stop. I know you won't answer, but why are you doing this?" William sat there silently, refusing to answer. The Queen sighed. "If you ever want to tell me, I'm all ears. I must be going. I'll see you later."
She stood up, kissed her son on the head, and left the room. Once it was just the three of us alone, William groaned and sank into his chair. Swiveling his head in our direction, he said jokingly, "I'm surprised we haven't scared her off."
James smirked. "She's a tough one. You'd know that, though, wouldn't you?"
"I do. Want some toast?" William offered James some who took it and munched on it hungrily. William turned to me. "You?"
I shook my head, and politely said, "No, thank you."
"Very polite. What's your name?"
"Pleasure to meet you. Well, I must be off. I have some… things I need to do, which includes finding a way to get over this hangover. If you'll excuse me." William stood up. "I'll see you later, James. Annie, nice meeting you."
"Don't call me, Annie," I said.
"No. No one's allowed to call me that."
"We'll see," he said, winking at me. He then strolled out of the room, hands in his pockets.
"Annalise, I think you're just encouraging him further," James remarked when William was out of earshot.
"You're challenging. He's never met a girl who hasn't given in to his every wish. You defying him; it intrigues him." James laughed. "That will not be the last time he talks to you. He'll be searching for you."
"Won't that be just peachy," I muttered.
"If I was a betting man, I'd place my bets on you. Come on, let's get these platters cleared up. We have rooms to clean."
With that, James and I got to work. We dropped off the platters and drinking glasses in the kitchen before grabbing a cleaning cart from the utility closet. James and I tackled the library first. The sight of all the thousands of books momentarily overrode my ability to function. I stared open-mouthed at the massive collection. If I lived in the palace, I would be in the library all day, reading every single book.
More than once, I got distracted by an exceedingly old edition of a book. James had to get me to focus more times than I care to admit, although it helped when he confessed he'd been the same way as me his first day.
Afterward, we cleaned the guest room. James had been right about the King's brother. The bedsheets were strewn about, drawers were left open, beard hair was left in the sink... if I listed everything, we'd be here all day.
Four hours later, the room was clean, and James and I made our way to Mrs. Griffiths' office. Stopping outside her door, James said, "You'll probably leave here between four and five every day, depending on how many rooms you have to clean and how long it takes to clean them."
"That's okay. My work schedule is flexible," I assured.
"Cool. I'll see you tomorrow. See ya, Annalise." We waved at each other, and I smiled to myself, happy to have made a friend.
Entering the office, Mrs. Griffiths greeted me with a surprised smile and asked how the day went. I told her James was a magnificent help, and that, overall, it went smoothly.
"Glad to hear it. Are you heading to Donaldson's now?" She inquired.
"Yes, ma'am," I replied, shouldering my purse over my shoulder.
"You're okay getting there by yourself?"
"Okay. If you ever feel uncomfortable getting there by yourself, let me know. I'll have Walt or James escort you. And Annalise, call me Patty. After today's performance, I have a feeling we'll be knowing each other for a long time."
Relief rushed through me. "I'll see you tomorrow, Patty. And thank you for the job, by the way. You really have no idea how much it's going to help me."
"Of course, dear. Now, be safe and get some sleep tonight. You look doggone tired."
I waved goodbye and headed to Donaldson's, satisfied with how the day went. If it continued like this, I'd be at the job for a long, long time. The idea gave me hope that I could get myself out of debt, more hope than I'd had in a long time.