"Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself."
Even after tricking William out of the nightclub, he still refused to ignore me. For at least two weeks, he attempted to make conversation. At first, I'd been polite, but that lasted only a short while. I lost my temper too easily with him and finally told him to leave me alone. Miraculously, I got through to him, and no other words were exchanged except when I passed him in the halls, which he would greet me cheerfully with "Hello, Miss Stark." He tried calling me Annie again, but I shut him down.
My day at the palace ended early, meaning I could start my shift at Donaldson's sooner rather than later. Monday night wouldn't be busy, which was a relief. Exhaustion hit me by noon, and I dreaded how I would last at the pub tonight.
James offered to walk me there since he got off early too. I accepted, glad to have the company. We were just about to leave the palace when a voice queried, "Are you two a couple?"
James and I turned around. William leaned on the stair rails in front of us.
"No, we're not," James replied with an amused smirk. "I'm just walking Anna to work."
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. "How'd you know?"
"I might've been drunk when you got me out of that club, but I remember you saying something about Donaldson's. You certainly weren't there to drink, so you must be there to work. Also, I've been there a few times before." Will held his hands up in a peaceful gesture when he noticed my disgusted expression. "This was before you started working for us; long before I ever met you. I promise."
"Huh... I think I'd remember if the Prince of Verona came into Donaldson's. You're not thinking of coming to visit me there are you?"
Will chuckled. "No, I won't harass you outside of the palace. Where are you going, James?"
"Like I said, I'm walking Anna to work and then heading to my place. Why?"
"Just curious. I'll see you two tomorrow. James, Miss Stark." Will bowed his head before leaving. I stared after him, utterly confused.
"Is he always that… weird?" I asked.
James laughed. "He's something, that's for sure. Come on, let's go."
Pushing William out of my mind, I focused on my conversation with James. We talked about our interests and hobbies, what we liked to eat, what our favorite movies, books, and shows were, and more. We had a surprisingly similar taste in… well, everything. He wasn't a big drinker either, although he would go out to have a good time once in a while. I didn't mind that.
"Any siblings?" James questioned, looking down at me.
I tensed, not sure how I should bring up my sister. I opted to just be simplistic in my answer and hope he didn't enquire further. "Yeah, I have a younger sister. What about you?"
James's face fell. "I used to. Her name was Lydia. She was four years older than me. She passed away fighting in the war. Listen, you should bring your sister to the palace one day. I'd like to meet her. What's her name?"
I couldn't lie to James after he just admitted the death of his sister. That would be wrong. "Her name's Mia. I can't bring her anywhere right now, although I would if I could. She'd love to see the palace."
"Why not? I'm sure Patty and Walt wouldn't mind."
"She's in the hospital with leukemia, had it since right after our parents died in the war."
James stopped walking. "Anna… why didn't you tell me before? Do Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths know?"
"It's not something I go around telling people. I don't like to. They know Mia's sick, but not how badly."
"Why don't you tell people?"
"Because I get pity, and I don't want it, or I need it," I confessed, continuing our walk to Donaldson's. I could see the pub from where we were. "What I need is faith. Faith that she'll get better; faith that I won't lose the last family member I have left. She's all I have, and I'd do anything to make sure she gets better," I rambled, taking a deep breath when I finished.
"If you ever need my help with anything, just let me know. I understand the part about wanting faith and not pity. If you need a day off from work, I'll take your chores for the day. And Anna? Tell Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths about Mia. They'll be more understanding than you know."
"How would I even bring something up like that?"
"When you go to check in with Mrs. Griffiths tomorrow morning, ask who the girl in the picture is. The picture next to her office door. Do you know which one I'm talking about?"
"Yeah, I see it every day."
James and I stopped outside of Donaldson's. "Just ask about it. I promise it'll give you an easy transition into explaining about Mia. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" James pulled me into a tight hug, one I willingly returned. I stared after him as he walked away, shocked by the facts I found out about him and of the facts I told about myself. James would be a good friend for a long time, I could tell.
When I entered the pub, I found Mrs. Wallace taking care of the few occupied tables.
"Hey, Ellen," I greeted, taking off my coat.
"Hey, sweetie. How was your day?" She asked, bumping her head lightly against mine. It was our way of greeting each other. Before, we'd give each other a kiss on the cheek but quickly switched to bumping heads after we kept getting shocked. Mark, Frank, Larry, and Jane also developed the act of affection.
"Nothing to entertain. James walked me home. That's about it."
"He's handsome. You should go on a date with him," Ellen suggested.
"No, James is a friend. That's all. Now, what am I doing tonight?"
"You're working in the kitchen unless told otherwise."
"On it." I went into the back where Frank and Larry were cooking.
"Come to help?" Larry said.
"According to Ellen," I answered.
"Why don't you start making the apple pie? The customers seem to like it when the women make it."
I laughed but did as told.
Like always, business was slow. Mark came in not long after me and waited on tables. He kept griping about one man in a booth who refused to order anything and just sat there, reading a newspaper. Finally, when Mark brought up the man for the twentieth time that night, I said, "Maybe he needs a woman to talk to. I'll go see."
"Good luck," Mark muttered, turning to grab dishes for some other customers. I exited the kitchen, looking around for the mysterious man. I found him sitting by his lonesome in the most isolated booth there was in the pub. He had on beaten old hat, a worn brown overcoat, and plain shoes. His pants looked old, and they had mud on the hem. My first guess was he was homeless, looking for a warm place to rest, but upon closer inspection, recognized him as the old man that had been coming in for the last couple of months.
"Good evening, sir. May I get you something to drink?" I asked sweetly.
He didn't look up but replied, "May I have a glass of milk and a slice of apple pie, please?"
Shocked he actually ordered something, I could barely stutter out a "yes, sir" before heading back to the kitchen.
"Any luck?" Mark inquired.
"Yeah, actually," I said, hearing the surprise in my own voice. "He wants milk and apple pie."
"How the hell did you get him to answer?"
"No idea. Maybe I just went up to him at the right time."
"Because he wasn't hungry or thirsty in the past four hours?"
"How about whenever he comes in, tell me, and I'll take care of him. Deal?"
I filled a glass of milk and put a piece of apple pie on a plate and took it out to the man. He was still reading the same page. While setting down his order, I decided to make light conversation. "Anything interesting in the news?"
"Not really. Not unless you're interested in book reviews, obituaries, economics, or politics," he remarked. "Thank you for the food."
"You're welcome, Sir. And actually, I'm quite interested in book reviews. Any books worth reading?"
"Ah, a fellow reader!"
"Sort of. I'm usually too busy with work to read anymore, unfortunately. What is the newspaper recommending?"
"Books, I find, have always been a good escape from the real world. The newspaper suggests reading Deception Cove. Ever heard of it?"
"Me neither. I believe I shall try it. Although I must admit, I'm more into the classics."
"Same here. I would love to continue talking, but I must get back to work. I'll come check on you in a bit." I smiled, which he didn't see, and left.
I checked on him twenty minutes later. He'd finished his apple pie and had moved on to the Style part of the newspaper.
"Would you like anything else, Sir?" I inquired kindly.
"No, thank you. I need to get going." He pulled out his wallet. He took out forty pounds. "Here."
He handed the money to me and remarked, "Sir, your meal was only eight pounds. What is-"
He cut me off. "Keep it. The change is your tip."
My mouth dropped open. "Thank you! But what did I do to deserve this?"
"For keeping me entertained with conversation. Not many people treat me like a normal human being."
"You're a person like everyone else. Why would they not treat you normally?"
"Have you seen the way I'm dressed? They judge my appearance and act accordingly. You didn't seem to care, so thank you. Apologize to your friend for me for being so blunt. He seemed busy with the other tables, and I didn't wish to trouble him with my order. Goodnight, Miss…?"
"Annalise. As long as you don't call me Annie, I'm fine with whatever nickname."
"Pretty name. Goodnight, Miss Annalise." He bowed his head and left, leaving me stupefied with my thirty-two-dollar tip. Despite being kind of odd, he'd been an extremely kind man. I realized I never even got his name... Hopefully, he'd come in tomorrow, and I could find out then.
"What happened to the old man? He's gone," Mark observed, coming to stand next to me.
"He wanted me to tell you sorry for not being so friendly and not ordering anything when you asked. He didn't want to trouble you because you seemed swamped with the other tables," I said.
"Really?" Mark's expression softened. "That's nice."
"Nice hardly explains him. He just gave me a thirty-two-dollar tip."
"Apparently, he enjoyed our conversation."
Mark whistled. "Next time he comes in, you're taking care of him, okay?"
"But if he's going to leave such good tips, you and the others should have the chance to get the tip too!"
"Anna, you deserve that money. You're taking his table whenever he comes. No arguing with me on that."