"Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike."
For the next week, I avoided William as much as possible. Thankfully, the only times I saw him were during breakfast and lunch when I helped James serve the royal family.
James and I quickly became good friends. He turned out to be the same age as Mark, which potentially explained why he gave off the 'big brother' vibes. Instinct told me if the two boys ever met, they'd hit it off. I also knew I'd receive endless teasing.
Both boys attempted to get me to loosen up, to have a little fun once in a while. Mark didn't try as often as James because he knew about my sister's situation. James didn't. I'd have to tell him one day, but it was still hard to think about it, let alone talk about it. Knowing I could lose my sister, the only family I had left…
Currently, I waited on tables at Donaldson's, attempting to keep up with the constant crowd of patrons. I went to the kitchen to pick up some food orders when Mark came in.
"I thought you were supposed to be hanging out with Eric tonight," I said.
"Change of plans. He met a girl named Everly Ward, who apparently is a 'babe,' and he wanted to take her out on a date," Mark replied, tying an apron around his waist.
"So, in other words, he ditched you?"
"Pretty much. When were you going to tell me about your man?" Mark's eyes glittered with amusement.
"A dashing young man is waiting at the bar for you. He says he needed to ask you something."
My first thought was that William had somehow found out where I worked and decided to torture me here. Then I realized if the prince was here, Mark definitely would've told me.
"Take these orders to the MacDonalds. I'll go see this dashing young man."
Mark obliged, and I went to the bar, pleasantly surprised to see James. He did look casually dashing in a grey hoodie and dark jeans.
"Hey, James! What are you doing here?" I greeted cheerfully. "What are you doing here?"
"Anna! Listen, I hate to ask you this, and you have every right to say no, but I need help," he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Whatever you need, I'll do it."
"I was sent to get William from a club. He's drunk out of his mind. I've been trying to get him out of the club for over an hour, but no luck. Could you help me get him out of there? You don't have to, it's just I think he'd come running to you, which means I could grab him and drag him out of there."
"Let me go tell my boss I'll be gone for a little bit. I'll meet you outside."
"You're the best, Annalise. Thank you!" His shoulders sagged in relief as he walked off. I made my way to the kitchen, sidling up next to Frank.
"Hey, a friend of mine from the palace needs my help rounding up the prince. Mind if I go? I won't be long. I promise," I said.
"Yeah, sure, but go home afterward. You need sleep, Annalise."
"That's an order, sweetie. Get going, okay?" Frank's firm tone meant he wouldn't budge from his answer. I kissed him goodbye on the cheek. Mark walked me out, curious to meet James as his older brother protectiveness kicked in.
"Going to make introductions, Annalise?" Mark asked, staring at James with a hidden wariness.
"Sorry," I apologized. "Mark, this is James Monroe. James, this is Mark Stewart."
The two boys shook hands. "Watch out for her. The guys seem to-"
"Pay a lot of attention to her? Stare at her as she walks by?" James suggested.
"Already noticed, have you?"
James chuckled. "Lucky guess. Don't worry, I'll take good care of her. Thanks for letting her come. She's probably going to save me from losing my job."
"No problem." Mark turned to me. "Be careful, okay? I'll see you tomorrow."
I hugged him and then got into a cab with James. The driver shot down onto the busy streets towards a club I'd never heard of.
"How long have you and Mark known each other?" James inquired.
"Since we were kids. He's always been there for me. He's practically my big brother. Why?"
"You two seemed close. I just wondered if you two were related or something."
"Might as well be. Most people think we are. We apparently have the same eyes or something like that. I don't really see it."
James fell silent; I pondered what could possibly be running through his mind. Just as I was about to ask him, we pulled up to a club with a harsh, neon blue sign that read: Karma. James and I exited the cab with James paying the fare.
"Stay close to me," he said. I shifted closer to him, feeling completely out of my element.
The bass from the music reverberated through the ground into my body. I prepared myself for the loudness of the club, but nothing could truly prepare me for it. I couldn't hear myself think, let alone what James was trying to shout at me. I scanned the crowd, trying to find the tall, dark-haired prince. I convinced James to let me go off on my own. He reluctantly let me go, staying near the door in case William discovered our scheme and tried to make an escape. I doubted he would but better to be ready just in case.
It didn't take me long to find him. Actually, it's more like he found me. I'd been weaving my way in and out of the dancing, jumping bodies when someone gently grabbed my hand. I turned around to be greeted by William towering over me.
"What are you doing here?" He slurred; his breath reeked of alcohol.
"Follow me and find out," I said as seductively as possible. Predictably, William obeyed, trailing me like a lost puppy. I maneuvered my way up to the front, winking at James on the way to let him know I had William. James ducked so the prince wouldn't see him and figure out he'd been led into a trap.
I got outside into the fresh air, which I gladly welcomed. I didn't like the claustrophobic atmosphere of the club.
"What are you doing here?" William repeated, rubbing his thumb against the back of my hand. I stepped away from him.
"Helping me," James said, approaching the prince from behind. William swore colorfully for allowing himself to be tricked. James cocked an eyebrow at him. "Really? You're going to cuss in front of a lady?"
"Sorry…" William mumbled.
"It's not like you have to be polite to me. Even if you did, it still wouldn't prompt me into dating you," I said.
William shook a finger at me. "You're a firecracker. I like firecrackers. They're pretty. Like you. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"Come on, you big flirt. Let's get you home," James insisted. A black Range Rover pulled up to the curb. The window rolled down, and the friendly face of Walt Griffiths appeared. He looked exhausted.
"I see you found him," Walt observed. "Had to resort to using poor Annalise to lure him out?"
"I know; I feel horrible," James said."She's the reason Will's out here at all. Annalise, you get in the front. Walt will drive you home. As for you, Will, get in the back behind Walt. I don't trust you to sit behind Anna."
"You're no fun, but your judgment is good," the prince replied, sliding into the backseat. Walt apologized for using me in their little operation when I got settled into the passenger's seat.
"I'm happy to help you two," I assured. "Could you drive me to Donaldson's? I forgot my purse there."
Walt readily agreed. In five minutes, I was back at my pub, waving bye to my two friends and the crazy prince. Mark walked out behind me and rested his head on my shoulder.
"How'd everything go?" he asked.
"The prince followed me like a puppy."
"Does he harass you at the palace? If so, I'll kick his ass for you," Mark offered.
I snorted at the idea. "Yes, but he knows where he stands with me. I am also perfectly capable of kicking his ass myself, seeing as how he's so smashed half the time it'd be easy. Plus, I'd rather not have my best friend in jail for assaulting the Prince of Verona. I don't think orange is your color."
"Every color is my color. Except for pea green. Then I just look like someone threw up on me."
I turned to look at him. "Thank you for that lovely image."
"I'm going to go get my purse and head home. I'd work some more, but Frank is laying down the law on me and is insisting I get some rest."
"He's right you know. I'll walk home with you. Business really slowed after you left."
"Why don't you stay at my place tonight? We'll eat Chocolate Therapy and watch Star Wars," I suggested.
"This is why I love you. Hurry up and get your purse."
I purposefully walked as slow as possible to get my purse. By the time I got back outside, Mark was pacing. He narrowed his eyes at me. "You did that on purpose."
"Yes. Yes, I did. Now let's go. Mind dropping by the hospital with me to see Mia?"
"Of course not. Let's go!"
We hopped on the subway and arrived at the hospital a few minutes later. When we got there, Mia was nearly asleep. However, when she saw us, she instantly perked up, chattering about all the exciting things that happened to her. Apparently, a man with dementia ran about the hospital wearing nothing but his untied hospital gown, meaning she saw the bare backside of a hundred-and-two-year-old. Then her favorite nurse, Mrs. Kirk, brought her some strawberry ice cream from this fantastic ice cream shop down the street plus a new book: Gone with the Wind. My sister read like crazy, a trait she and I had both inherited from our parents.
Mia then listened to my adventure involving the prince, which she proceeded to exclaim afterward that he was in love with me and how we'd soon end up married with children. Mark joined her, teasing me relentlessly about William being in love with me. I banged my head on the bed's guardrail in an effort to block them out.
After an hour of visiting with my sister, Mark and I went back to my flat. He went to the guest room, where he had a stash of clothes for when he stayed over. I took a quick shower and changed into sweat pants and a tank top. I brought my phone along, putting on the alarm because I figured I'd end up falling asleep on the couch.
Mark, wearing only sweatpants, was already there on the couch waiting for me with our ice cream in hand and Star Wars: A New Hope playing on the television. How he wasn't cold eating ice cream while being shirtless, I'll never know. I was freezing after my first bite of the ice cream.
I was also out cold within twenty minutes.