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Chapter 34

"The war's not over, but this battle is. It's time to pick up the pieces and move forward."
~Christine Warren


One week later...

“Work! You stupid, bloody computer!” I griped, banging my forehead against my keyboard. I’d been searching for new jobs since five in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. After a week of wallowing in my grief and eating my sadness away, I finally forced myself to get my butt off my bed to do something productive, like finding a new job.

“You know, doing that isn’t going to make it go any faster, it’s just going to give you a headache,” Mark said, walking into the kitchen. He’d barely left my side except to go to work. Everly was here almost as much as he was, despite her parent’s attempts to keep her on a tight leash. They also didn’t want her around ‘the little snitch who ratted out the king,’ but I’m pretty sure they didn’t use the word ‘snitch’ to describe me, although it might’ve rhymed with it.

“I’ve been applying to jobs left and right, and if they don’t accept me because I’m a traitor to the country, they’re accepting me so they can ask me if I really did it, and what the royal family was like.”

“Is that even legal?”

“I could probably file something against them.”

“What do you tell them?”

“I politely tell them to f-”

“We’re back!” Mia exclaimed, walking into the room with James close behind. He’d also practically taken up residence with us, being with us whenever possible. I had a feeling he relayed information back to Patty and Walt about mine and Mia’s wellbeing. The Griffiths called when they could, but with all hell breaking loose at the palace, they didn’t have much time to themselves at the moment.

Mark groaned. “If you’d just been two seconds later, I think I would’ve heard Annalise swear for the first time in her life.”

I chucked a pen at him, and it bounced off his chest. “I swear! You just never hear me.”

“I’ve never heard you swear,” James admitted.

“Anna, you’ve said ‘bitch’ more times in the past week than you have in the last seven years,” Mia said, setting the groceries on the counter. “It barely counts as a swear anyways when we’re using it as a name for She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

“Thank you!” Mark exclaimed.

Unable to think of a good retort, I told them to shut up and returned to my computer, the words swimming on the screen, probably a side effect from my exhaustion. Between the amount of time it took me to fall asleep and the number of times I woke up in the night, I’d maybe been getting two or three hours of sleep a night. Not near enough to function properly. This also meant I’d crash during the day, actually sleep, then wake up, and repeat. It was a vicious cycle I couldn’t break.

“I have something that may lift your spirits,” James said, handing me a file. “Patty and Walt gave this to me. It’s a job at a well-known event planning company. They hire the best of the best. All you need to do is attach your CV. The Griffiths wrote glowing recommendations for you, as did yours truly. You have an interview tomorrow at eight.”

James handed me the file, and I flipped through it, reading the job description. It all seemed manageable, but I still worried they were going to interrogate me about what happened with the prince. That’s all everyone wanted to talk to me about now, with the exception of my family.

“Annalise, there’s something you need to see,” Mia said softly. I frowned and directed my attention to her. “We hid it because you’ve had enough on your plate lately, and not going to lie, we figured you might go ballistic on the press when you found out.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “What is the press doing?”

Mia motioned at my computer. I moved aside, and she typed something into the search bar, pulling up a video of a newscaster. I leaned forward as it played.

“With the news about the King’s condition, the announcement of William’s ascendance to the throne, and the alleged betrayal by Annalise Stark, rumors have been swirling about who the culprit is behind this crime. A poll conducted earlier this week shows the public believes Miss Stark had no participation in it. However, with the rise of a new theory, the public’s belief might be swaying,” the newscaster stated. Fury boiled in my veins, dreading what this ‘new theory’ could be. “An anonymous blogger pointed out Annalise had been deep in debt due to her sister’s condition, a serious form of cancer. Since that was her only remaining family, she would’ve been desperate to help her out in any way she could. Therefore, by working with the prince and gaining his trust, she could discover his secrets and exploit them.”

I slammed my fist on the spacebar, effectively pausing the video. Tears welled in my eyes as I stared at the screen, aghast they dragged Mia into this. They could say whatever they wanted about me, but bringing in my sister crossed a line. She was innocent, and I didn’t want her thrown into the crossfire.

“Keep watching,” Mia encouraged, resting a comforting hand on my shoulder. Reluctantly, I listened to her.

“Annalise has remained incredibly quiet after the whole ordeal, and no one has seen or heard from her since she left the palace that morning. Prince William has come to her defense multiple times since the incident, including a response to this new rumor. Take a look.”

The screen switched to Will walking through the crowd to an event. In the background, you could hear a reporter ask him about the theory. Will stopped immediately, turning to the camera and saying, “The theory is absurd. I know Annalise would do anything for Mia, that’s true, but she would do it all by the books. Annalise wouldn’t risk bringing Mia into the spotlight when she worked for me, and she wouldn’t risk it now. Mia is an innocent caught in the crossfire of this mess and this theory, and Annalise is as well.”

“Why hasn’t she been back to the palace? Have you spoken to her again?” another reporter questioned, shoving a microphone at Will’s face. His expression faltered at the mention of my name, but he gathered himself quickly and responded, “No, we’re not speaking at the moment. My anger clouded my judgment that day, and I foolishly and falsely accused her of committing the crime. I know now, with a clear head, she would never have done this. Us not speaking is a result of my actions and nothing on her part.”

The camera switched back to the newscaster, and Mia closed the video. We all sat in silence- me from shock, the others waiting for my response.

It dawned on me that the public must think I’m hiding either because I’m guilty or because I’m inexpressibly upset. The latter was undeniably true, not to mention confused and shocked and angry, but I wasn’t going out in public because I didn’t want to be harassed. Maybe it was time for that to change...

“I think it’s time I show the world something. It’s time that I show them I’m not sitting on my ass wallowing in grief, or crying my eyes out, or hiding from my nonexistent guilt. It’s time to show everyone that I’m innocent, and I’m not letting this mess ruin my life,” I decided, standing up. My family stood up with me.

“What’s the plan?” Mark inquired.

I smiled. “I’m glad you asked.”

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