"Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit."
The next morning, I stopped outside Mrs. Griffiths' door to look at the picture James instructed me to. A brunette girl stood in front of the Eiffel Tower, beaming at the camera. She couldn't be much older than me, probably nineteen or twenty.
"That's Nelly. She was my daughter," Walt informed, coming to stand beside me.
"Was?" I asked cautiously.
"She passed away a couple years ago from meningitis. We never even knew until the night she lay in the hospital. The doctors tried to save her, but it was too late."
I understood the pain that flashed across all too well when he talked about Nelly because I knew I did the same thing when I spoke of my parents or Mia. When you lose the person you live for, the pain is indescribable.
Walt placed a hand on my shoulder. "Annalise, are you okay? You look ready to pass out."
I simply blurted, "My sister has leukemia!"
Smooth Annalise. Real smooth…
I sighed and sat down on the couch. "When Mrs.Griffiths asked me in my interview about why I needed the money, it's because I'm in debt. I've gone through all my parents' money. I figured if I got this job, I could get out of debt sooner than later. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, I'm just don't like talking about my personal life to people. I'm sorry if I just put all that on you," I said, hastily standing up. "I'm going to get out of your hair, and-"
"Annalise, I hardly have any hair for you to get out of. Second, don't apologize for telling me all that. I just wish I would've known sooner. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask us. The younger staff members, particularly James, are like our family. We treat them as if they were our own, and you're no exception. One day, if you'll let me, I'd like to meet Mia." Mr. Griffiths gave me a very fatherly hug; I felt like crying but held it in. This was not the time or the place. "Now, off you go. I will see you later."
I retrieved my chore's list from Mrs. Griffiths. I had to serve breakfast to the Royal Family with James, and then I had to clean the library and three of the guest rooms. I shoved the paper in my pocket before heading to the kitchen. James was cooking away; he didn't notice me until I tripped over an obnoxious orange cord I hadn't seen lying in the dead center of the floor.
He grinned at me. "Morning, sunshine. You okay?"
"Morning," I replied, shoving the cord out of the way with my foot. "I'm good!"
"Here; I made you breakfast," he said, sliding a plate in front of me. I dug in, biting back a moan at the divine taste. The bacon might as well have melted in my mouth, and the eggs were perfectly scrambled. They had an unrecognizable cheese in them, but it tasted delicious. And the hash browns… words cannot describe how much I enjoyed that particular potato.
"You could open up your own restaurant," I remarked, shoveling more into my mouth.
"I want to; I just need to accumulate some more money before that can happen. Come over to my flat sometime; I'll cook for you."
"If you cook like this all the time, I'll be at your flat every day."
"You're welcome to do that too," he said, turning off the stove. "All right. So, we're not serving the queen and king today. Darcy and Tina are taking up trays to them. William has decided to join us in the kitchen for breakfast."
I must've made a face because James laughed and added, "Don't worry, he'll be civil."
"Morning!" William exclaimed from the doorway, walking over to us. He wore jeans and a blue plaid shirt that matched his eyes, making them stand out more than usual. I hated to admit he looked exceedingly handsome right now.
As if realizing I was there, his signature smirk appeared on his face when he greeted, "Hey Annie."
"Please don't call me that," I groaned.
"Why? It's cute. Just like you," he teased.
"Will, leave her alone," James intervened.
"Fine. I simply won't say her name. Would you please stay for breakfast, though? James is fun to talk to, but not near as stunning to look at," William commented.
"I don't really have a choice in the matter, do I?"
"You do, but I'd really like your company," he admitted. I sighed in defeat. I might not like him, but I wasn't going to say no to the Prince of Verona if he genuinely wanted me there. Why he wanted my company was questionable, but I decided not to prod. The less he talked to me, the better.
Instead, I busied myself with cleaning the kitchen. James helped, but William kept him mostly preoccupied with conversation. I finished cleaning within an hour. Will still sat at the counter, conversing with James. Not wanting to get near the stove (since I have a tendency to burn things or myself), I stood next to William, albeit a conservative distance away.
"I'm moving on to A Tale of Two Cities. I've heard it's good," Will said.
I couldn't help it when I blurted, "You read?"
"Ah, the mute talks." The prince stared at me, the corners of his lips upturned. "Yes, I do read. I'm more into the classics than anything else. Have you read it?"
"Yes, a few years back."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"Very much so."
William grinned. "Did you just have a casual conversation with me with only one insult?"
"I can insult you again, if you'd like," I retorted.
"I don't, but you're free to do whatever you please."
"Then, if I may, I'm going to go start my chores for the day." Not giving either James or William a chance to respond, I swiftly left the kitchen.
"Is she always that abrupt in leaving?" Will queried as the two of us watched her leave.
"Only when you're around," I replied.
"Is she that intimidated by me?" he joked.
"More like you are intimidated by her."
"There is truth in your statement, but she doesn't scare me," he confessed. "I have no idea why she refuses to speak with me. I'm not all that bad, am I?"
"For her, you are. Anna isn't one of those girls who's going to kiss the ground you walk on. She has her head firmly on her shoulders. If you want to talk to her, prove you're worth her time," I suggested. Why I was helping Will, I didn't know; I did know Annalise didn't want much to do with him, something I personally found amusing. You didn't come across a girl like that every day.
"I'm working on that," Will said, determination flaring in his eyes. "Are you sure you're not interested in her? You already have a nickname for her."
"So do you. Thing is, she doesn't mind my nickname. Yours, she does. And no, I'm not interested in her like that. She reminds me too much of my sister."
"Does she think of you as something else?" he prodded.
"I don't think so. She's too focused on working."
"She won't tell me."
"Then earn her trust so she will. Listen, I have to go do some chores. I'll see you later, okay?" The two of us fist-bumped before I left. I tried to not let it get to me that Will was going after Annalise. I hadn't been kidding when I said she reminded me of my sister; I couldn't really think of Annalise in any other way but a sister, no matter how beautiful she was. But seeing her as a sister evoked the protective brother instincts in me. I didn't care if Will was my friend or the future King of Verona. If he hurt her, I'd go ballistic on him…
… Of course, I just gave him advice on how he could get Anna to talk to him. Maybe I felt that she could handle him, unlike other girls. Anna rarely mentioned him, didn't give him goo-goo eyes whenever he walked in the room, and my favorite part? She continually sassed and insulted him. I don't think Will's used to anything but flirtation from him.
In my rambling thoughts, I failed to pay attention to where my feet led me, causing me to almost run into Mrs. Griffiths.
"Good morning, honey," she said sweetly. I smiled at her, returning the greeting. Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths were practically parents to me. My own parents were always traveling, so I didn't see them much. They offered to let me go with them, but I chose to stay in London and work to save enough money to start my own restaurant. I wanted to be independent. My father wasn't all too keen on the idea of me starting my own restaurant. He wanted me to take over the family business. When I refused, he nearly disowned me. I kept in contact with my mother. She supported me in whatever I did, but I rarely saw her. Mrs. Griffiths took her place, which I didn't mind whatsoever.
"How was breakfast? Did William join you?" She queried.
"Breakfast was good. And yes, he joined Anna and me."
She sighed. "That boy is biting off more than he can chew with her. Do you know where he is now?"
"Probably trying to find Anna or getting some type of alcoholic beverage," I joked.
"I know you're only making fun of him, but you're probably right. I'll check the kitchen first, then on Anna. I need to talk to her about something anyway." Mrs. Griffiths must've seen the expression on my face because she added, "You know?"
"About Mia? Yes. She told me yesterday."
"Bless their hearts. They don't deserve everything getting thrown at them." She checked her watch. "I must be off, but I'll see you later. Would you like dinner with Walt and me tonight?"
"I would love to, mom. Thank you," I told her, giving her a wink. I had started calling her 'mom' about two years ago by accident. She took the name in stride, though, and started calling me' son.'
"I'll see you at six, son." She patted me on the shoulder and padded quietly down the hall towards the kitchen. I figured her search of Will would be in vain; if he didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be. He made sure of that. I could never figure out how he could hide so well.
I focused on getting to the first chore of the day: cleaning the living room. The room was massive, and if I didn't get started now, I wouldn't be done for another three hours.