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Chapter 36

"She's strong, but she's exhausted."
~R.H. Sin


Annalise

Once I started my new job, I desperately wanted to make a good impression. As the only company that didn’t interrogate me about my current scandal, I wanted to prove that their trust hadn’t been misplaced in me.

Using my knowledge from planning events at the palace, I swiftly fell into the role. They gave me simple parties at first: small office dinners, small auctions, and small birthdays. I didn’t mind. The low profile events meant my name would be kept out of the media and out of the public eye, which was absolutely fine by me. Of course, the majority of my clients recognized me anyway. I had to deal with the questions they sent my way, but to my surprise, they were incredibly supportive of me. One pistol of an elderly lady even declared hotly, “That girlfriend of his, I don’t like her, and she didn’t like you. Wouldn’t surprise me if she had something to do with this!”

I smiled and thanked her for believing my innocence, but kept quiet about her accusation of Lorraine. Even though I agreed with the woman, I wasn’t going to say anything. I didn’t trust strangers to keep my secrets.

For the next three months, I kept up my passionate drive and determination, and my boss took notice. Once the media firestorm over Will’s dad died down, she gave me a higher profile event: an auction of expensive art pieces.

I was currently working on that event in my apartment while Mark cleaned my kitchen-the saint he is- and Everly searched things on her phone. She’d been strangely quiet, and I wanted to ask her what was wrong but hadn’t found the opportunity. Instinct told me that whatever it was, Mark didn’t know.

“When are Mia and James getting back? They’ve been gone for hours,” Mark asked.

“I’m sure the lines are long with St. Patrick’s Day coming up tomorrow,” I said, not looking up from my laptop. “Hey, if I placed an order for Chinese takeout, would you pick it up?”

“Yeah, sure. How much are you ordering?”

“Enough to feed an army. I’ll call Mia and James and have them meet you there to help.”

“With how much we can all eat, I’ll definitely need the help.”

“All right, I’m placing the order now. Everly, what do you want?” I looked up at her, expectantly waiting for an answer, but she remained engrossed in her phone. “Ev?”

“Hmm?!” She lifted her head. “What do you want for dinner? We’re doing Chinese takeout.”

“Oh, um, stir-fried chicken, please,” she replied, returning to her phone. I frowned, genuinely becoming concerned now.

“No sweet and sour chicken?” Mark sounded surprised. “That’s your favorite.”

Everly froze momentarily, although she regained her composure quickly. “I want to try new things.”

“I’m going to get something to drink. I’m thinking wine or whiskey?” I suggested, getting up from the table.

“Whiskey for me. I’ll have it when I get back, though,” Mark said. “I’ll see you two soon. I’ll call James and Mia on the way and have them help me.”

Kissing Everly goodbye and patting my shoulder affectionately, he left my apartment.

I glanced at Everly. “Wine or whiskey?”

“I’ll stick with water tonight,” she responded.

A sneaking suspicion crept into my mind as the puzzle pieces began falling into place. Pouring myself a glass of wine, I sat down next to her and gently inquired, “How far along are you?”

Her head snapped up as she stammered, “I-I don’t… what are you talking about?”

“Pregnant women aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, they’re strongly recommended to avoid battered dishes and curries, and you’ve been cradling your stomach all day.”

Tears filled her eyes. “Just over a month.”

I froze, unable to gauge her emotions. “Are you excited or not? I can’t… I can’t tell…”

“Of course, I am!” She replied enthusiastically. “I’ve always dreamed about being a mother! Mind you, I always thought I’d be married when I had my first kid, and Mark and I have just gotten serious. I don’t want to scare him off by telling him I’m pregnant, but I know I can’t hide it forever. He’s bound to notice when my stomach bulges out. I can cover it with flowy clothes right now, at least.”

“Mark will be thrilled!” I exclaimed. “Everly, he loves you, and y’all have been together for months now. I know relationships shorter than yours, and those people married and are still married.”

“Like who?” Everly asked, wiping a tear that had fallen down her cheek.

“Mark’s parents. His dad always said the moment he laid eyes on Mark’s mom, he knew she was the one. They even had Mark before they were married.”

“It’s different for me, though. I’m constantly in the public eye, and I’m scared they’re going to be horrible to Mark and me for having a child out of wedlock. I can handle the bad press, but I don’t want them doing that to him. They’ve already accused him of not being good enough for me, and I hate them for it. I hate them!” She spat.

“Believe me, I understand. But you’ve got to tell him. I’ll help you, too. I have a feeling we’ll need to celebrate,” I said. “Speaking of celebrating, can I please let go of my cool now and congratulate you?”

At this, Everly grinned and nodded. Letting out a squeal of delight, I jumped out of my chair and hugged her tightly. She returned it appreciatively, half laughing, half sobbing. We stayed like that for at least a minute, both of us overcome with emotion.

When we finally released each other, she wiped more tears off her face and groaned, “Ugh, I’m messing up my makeup.”

“Come on,” I said, grabbing her hand. “You can use mine. Lord knows I have enough.”

“How are you doing? I know you’re probably sick of everyone asking you, but since it’s just the two of us…”

“I’m doing okay. As upset as I am still about what happened, it was a good run while it lasted, and it helped me get out of my debt and save money, and I’ve never had so much in my savings before. Besides, I still have Mia, Mark, you, and James, and I know Patty and Walt are there for me too, and the Stewarts and Wallaces, even if I don’t see them much anymore. I have a roof over my head, I can afford little things that make me and Mia happy, I have a job… yes, things could be better. I could still have Will on my side, and as much as I hate him for what he did, I still inexplicably care for him and miss him. But I remind myself things could also be so much worse. I’m grateful for what I have.”

“You would tell me if you were upset, right?” Everly asked as she sat down in front of my vanity. I took a seat on the floor next to her, my back leaning against the wall. “I know you had that day with us after it all happened, but I’ve been where you are before. I know there are still some days where it gets to you again.”

I shifted uncomfortably, finally unable to hold her gaze. I hated talking about my feelings and emotions because, in doing so, I felt like I was giving them power over me. At the same time, I needed to remind myself I didn’t always have to be the strong one.

I needed to get some things off my chest again.

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