Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Palace Envy, Chapter 2



It’s a little miracle that I make it up the stairs to Prince Arthur’s room without dropping the tray all over the floor. I really feel like somebody up above must be looking out for me.

And the hallway to get to his bedroom is endless. On my first week working here, I walked up and down the hallway, my shoes digging into the luxurious red carpet, just taking in the sheer space of it all. I loved it.

But I don’t love the long hallway quite as much when I am delivering a heavy tray (or vacuuming). Also, Arthur has the very last room, past at least a dozen other rooms. Iris told me once that he chose the room so nobody would hear his sexual escapades, but I’m sure that’s her wild imagination. Arthur is engaged, after all. Whatever the reason, by the time I get there, my arms are shaking.

And naturally, the door to the room is closed. I have to knock with my foot.

I hear whistling coming from inside the room, so he must be in there. But he takes his sweet time pulling the door open. And then when he does open up the door…

Oh my God, he’s naked!

I let out a breath of relief when I realize he’s not completely naked. I thought so at first because the giant tray is obscuring my line of vision. He’s wearing tighty whities. But no pants. And no shirt. And no shoes either, but that seems like a minor point.

Even though she was very negative about our visit to the palace, when we were teenagers, my roommate Gertrude—like every other girl in the kingdom—hung a poster of the prince in our bedroom. He was posing on some sort of yacht, his T-shirt arms just short enough to show off his firm biceps, his golden hair perfectly windblown, one hand planted firmly on his hip and the other shading his beautiful brown eyes, which were squinting into the distance. Gertrude used to slobber over that poster on a daily basis.

Truthfully though, the image of Prince Arthur on that poster never really appealed to me. Not to say that Prince Arthur isn’t spectacularly handsome. I’m sure he has plenty of time to spend working out in the gym, and it shows. There are well defined muscles in his chest and arms, and his legs look powerful. And his facial features are very classically handsome. He looks a bit like a plastic Prince Arthur doll that I might have bought at the store as a child.

“Hello there.” Arthur flashes me a smile with the most perfect, whitest teeth I have ever seen in my life. They are almost blinding. “What do we have here?”

“Dinner for you, Your Royal Highness,” I say.

“Dinner,” he muses. “What is it?”

My arms are starting to really tremble, but I stay as steady as I can while he slowly, slowly lifts the cover off his plate. He picks up a fork and jabs at the chicken.

“Chicken again?” he says.

“I… I didn’t prepare the menu, Your Royal Highness. The food was prepared by the cook.”

“Glad to hear it because it appears dry.” He scoops up a dollop of mashed potatoes and inserts it in his mouth. “And this needs salt desperately.”

Oh my God, is he going to make me stand here holding the tray while he eats the entire meal? I would try my best, but I don’t think I can do it. I will collapse before half the mashed potatoes are gone.

But then he steps aside to let me put the tray down on his empty dresser. Thank goodness, because in another five seconds, it would have been all over the floor. Now, with my arms free, I curtsy for him.

When I look back up at him, his eyebrows are raised. “That’s it? That’s your curtsy?”

My cheeks burn. My curtsying skills may have grown rusty in the last six years. As I said, the duke never expected me to curtsy for him. He could not have cared less. And it’s not like I curtsy for my own health.

“I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness.”

I try again, crossing my right foot behind my left and lowering myself before him. I glance up. Was that a proper curtsy? Please say yes.

“Lower,” he says.

Lower? I don’t know if I can go any lower. It’s like he wants me to limbo a curtsy. But what can I do? He’s the prince. If he tells me to jump, my job is to ask how high. (Or if he tells me to curtsy, my job is to ask how low.) It’s my honor and privilege to curtsy for this man.

So I do my best. I get as low as I can until my ankles and knees start to scream with pain. Once again, I’m shaking to try to maintain my balance. But after a minute, the prince says, “Much better.”

Thank goodness. Now I just have to stand up without falling on my knees.

I manage to do it somehow, and even better, the prince puts on a pair of pants. Still no shirt though.

“So,” he says, “you’re the new girl, huh?”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“Holly, was it?”


“Oh.” He nods vaguely in a way that makes me think he’s going to forget my name again in another sixty seconds. “Did they find you at that orphanage?”

I nod. It’s no secret that a lot of the staff for the royal family have been recruited from the local orphanages. “Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“What happened to your parents then?”

My cheeks flush at his bold question. It’s not proper to just ask something like that, is it? But then again, he’s the prince. I suppose he can do whatever he likes. “My mother died in childbirth.”

“And your father?” he presses me.

“He… he wasn’t around.” According to the relatives I lived with when I was young, my father was a scoundrel. They used that word so often, I literally thought his name was Scoundrel Clarke until I was about eight.

“Ah.” The prince nods. “So he knocked her up, huh?”

I don’t know what to say to that. I also don’t appreciate the way he’s snickering under his breath. Also, he is still shirtless. There’s a shirt on his bed. I’m not sure why he doesn’t just pick it up and put it on. Seems like it would be very easy. And wouldn’t he be more comfortable with a shirt on? I would like to suggest such a thing, but it’s not my place.

“So what do you think of working in the Royal Palace so far?” he asks me.

I look him straight in the eyes. It’s customary to make steady eye contact when addressing members of the royal family. “It’s wonderful,” I say honestly.

“Anyone giving you any problems?”

“No. Not at all!”

“Huh.” Prince Arthur scratches at his chin. He has just a bit of a five o’clock shadow sprouting from his jaw. Just like he did in the poster. “Well, if anybody gives you a hard time, you let me know straight away.”

I have to stifle a laugh at the idea of it. Right. The next time the queen asks me to re-iron her dresses because I didn’t do it right the first time, I’ll be sure to go and tell Arthur. That would go wonderfully, and I wouldn’t be fired even a little bit.

I clear my throat. “Will that be all, Your Royal Highness?”

Arthur places a hand on his hip. “Are you in some sort of a rush, Hannah?”

His tone is teasing, but there’s a bit of an edge in his voice. I hope I haven’t upset him. “No, not at all! I just wanted to know if there’s anything else you need.”

“Anything else I need…” He taps his finger against his chin. “I don’t know, Hannah. What do you think?”

I swallow. I don’t know exactly what’s going on here.  He has this funny look in his eyes. And also, the prince is still shirtless.

I mean, really, would it kill him to put on a shirt?

“Arthur! Arthur, are you up here?” A shrill voice echoes down the hallway. “Arthur! I’ve been waiting for you!”

Oh goody, it’s Charlotte.

I’ll say one thing. The sound of Charlotte’s voice gets Prince Arthur to put on his shirt real fast. He’s got it over his head and smoothed out by the time she bounds into the room, her insanely high heels stabbing the floor with each step.

Charlotte is very beautiful. Before I came to work here, I saw some photographs of her in supermarket tabloids, but they didn’t do her justice. In real life, she is like a work of art. Model tall and thin, with legs that go practically up to her armpits. She wears her impossibly silky long blond hair loose, and it swishes when she walks. I’ve never met anyone whose hair was so noisy.

“Arthur.” As beautiful as she is, Charlotte’s voice is not beautiful. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard. “What nonsense are you doing here?”

At the word “nonsense,” her eyes rake over me. I am the nonsense. I’m not sure how to respond to that, but I decide to curtsy to show her respect. Even though she’s not the princess yet. She’s nothing.

But in six months, she will be a queen. That’s a horrifying thought.

No, I shouldn’t say that. Charlotte will be a wonderful queen. I am… looking forward to it! Yes. Totally.

“Hannah here just brought me up some dinner.” Arthur flashes one of his blindingly white smiles at his fiancée. “I thought we’d have a quick bite before we go out.”


Charlotte removes her light jacket and tosses it on me. Not at me, but on me. Like I’m a coat rack. She doesn’t give me any instructions for what to do with the coat she draped over me, but there is a coat room downstairs. I guess I’ll put it down there.

Charlotte shoots me a look. “That will be all, Hannah.”

“Yes, Miss.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be addressing me as ‘Your Royal Highness’?”

My mouth falls open. “But… you’re not…?”

“Excuse me?”

Prince Arthur throws an arm around Charlotte’s thin shoulders. “Charlotte is to be my wife in three months. You should call her Your Royal Highness.”

“Yes, of course.” The words stick in my throat. “I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness.”

Then I get out of there as fast as I can.

I don’t know why, but I have a lump in my throat as I take the stairs back down to the kitchen. I shouldn’t be sad. I am living out the dream I have had since I was ten years old. I am living in the royal palace. I am waiting on the king and queen. I should be the happiest I’ve ever been.

Yet somehow the thought of going back to Prince Arthur’s room makes my skin crawl.

The job working for the Duke was far less glamorous, but in retrospect, it was so much better. The Duke was kind to me. He didn’t care about how deeply I curtsied or if I curtsied at all. He always thanked me when I helped him out with anything. You’re a sweet girl, Hannah, he would say. You should be working somewhere better than this.

The Duke was nice, but he didn’t understand. It’s not like I had some great opportunity that I turned down to work for him. My parents left me with nothing. I had no family that I could turn to. My grades were never anything special either—college was never a realistic option on the horizon. All I ever wanted was to work here, and now I’m doing it.

When I get back downstairs, dinner has already been served to the king and queen, the chefs have retired for the evening, and Iris is cleaning the kitchen. She is spraying down the oven and scrubbing at it furiously. She always seems like a woman on a mission when she’s cleaning.

When I enter the kitchen, Iris raises her eyes. “You were up there a long time.”

She doesn’t say it in an accusing or angry way. More like she’s curious.

“The prince wanted company,” I say, tugging at my ugly uniform.

A knowing smile touches her lips. “I’ll bet he did. How was it?”

I suck in a breath. “Iris! I didn’t… I mean, I would never…”

She puts down the spray bottle and folds her arms. “Please. Nobody would judge you for making out with the prince. It’s a rite of passage around here.”

I clasp a hand over my mouth, horrified. “Did you…?”

She giggles. “Oh, yes. It wasn’t bad at all. I mean, it was definitely all about him, but that’s fine. He’s gorgeous. And it’s got to be better than that gross old Duke you worked for before.”

It takes me another few seconds to realize what she’s implying. I want to throw up. “Iris, I did not have sex with the Duke. That’s… yuck. He was old enough to be my grandfather!”

“I know. No judgment.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. And if Iris thinks it, everybody else must think the same thing. “I’m not messing around with the prince. He’s engaged!”

“So? He doesn’t care so why should you? It’s not like anyone is going to feel sorry for Charlotte.”

“This is ridiculous!” My voice is sharp enough that there’s a chance the king and queen might’ve heard it from the dining room. I take a deep breath and get myself under control. “I’m not going to do that. Ever. I’m not interested.”

“Well, if you want to keep your job at the palace,” Iris says, “I suggest you get interested.”

I check her face for signs that she’s joking. She’s not.



I keep very busy during the day. Part of it is that I’m a workaholic, but there also isn’t a lot in my life now outside of work. So I may as well be successful.

Uncle Walt has had this restaurant for as long as I can remember. He always struggled to get customers in the door, but after I graduated college, I came back home and told him I was going to help him. After a series of advertisements and promotions, the restaurant doubled then tripled its revenue. Walt was happy to sit back and let me handle the business end of the restaurant because what he really likes to do is cook. (Nobody but nobody makes a better burger than my Uncle Walt.)

Now Walt is semi-retired and we have two other restaurants that I opened. I spend all my time handling the business end of it and driving between the three restaurants. I work seven days a week because the restaurants are open seven days a week. That said, all the restaurants have their own managers who do a good job. I could probably step back more if I wanted to, or even occasionally take a vacation. But I don’t.

Today I am at one of the restaurants, sitting in the back office, looking through the inventory for the week. I’m scribbling some notes in the margins, and that’s a very accurate description of my handwriting—scribble. Although my arms aren’t as weak as my legs, they are also affected. I do curls with five pound weights to keep my arms as strong as possible, but there’s only so much you can do about genetics. My dexterity sucks and my hands get shaky. As a consequence, my handwriting is a disaster. But I know what I’ve written, at least.

I’ve been at it for about half an hour when I hear a fist tap against the open door. It’s Uncle Walt.

“I knew I’d find you here,” he says.

I shrug. “So I’m at work. So what?”

“So it’s Saturday night.”

“Right, so?”

“So you should be out enjoying yourself, Eddie!”

“Saturday night is the busiest night for the restaurant. You know that. I can take Monday night off.”

Walt tilts his head to the side. “You used to sometimes take Saturday night off. Back when…”

He’s talking about when I was with Kate. Yes, I had a more active social life back when I had a girlfriend. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

“You know,” he says, “there’s a singles night at the church tonight. Grace organized it.”

And that’s why Walt is here. Because Aunt Grace is having yet another singles night at the church. I’m fairly sure if she is organizing these events entirely for my benefit, even though she has not yet persuaded me to go. And she won’t.

“I’m busy,” I mutter.

“You got to get back on the horse again sometime, Eddie. I know you’re still upset about…”

“I’m not upset. I’m just busy.”


Uncle Walt never curses, so it’s enough to make me look up in surprise. My uncle is in his mid-seventies now, and he looks older—there are wrinkles etched into every millimeter of his face. He and Grace want me to settle down. They talk about it constantly. They want to see my life squared away, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.

“There are plenty of nice women out there,” Walt says. “They’re not all like her.”

“I’m sure there are.”

“Yeah, but it seems like you don’t care. How long are you going to keep moping over her?”

My lips pull down. What part of “I don’t want to talk about Kate ever again” does he not understand? I want to forget it happened. I want to forget she existed. I’m not bitter, I’m not angry—I just don’t want to think about it.

Walt lets out a long sigh at the expression on my face. “Fine. Did you at least have some dinner?”

“I’ll grab something in the kitchen.”

“Will you?”

I shoot him a look. “Walt, I’m really busy…”

“Fine.“ He holds up his hands in surrender. “At least walk me out.”

This is another trick on his part. When I first came to stay with the Boyds when I was five years old, I wasn’t walking very well. Walt and Mary took me to the Conroy rehab center in the next town over, and they got me set up with braces and crutches. Walt got very good at assessing the way I walked, trying to figure out if I needed an adjustment to my braces as I grew or maybe another course of therapy as my muscles deteriorated further.

Now I’m an adult and perfectly capable of knowing when I need an adjustment. Which is why I really don’t want Walt to see me walk right now.

“I’m busy,” I say again.

“Too busy to spend five minutes walking your old uncle to his car?“

“You know it will take me longer than that.“

His eyebrows shoot up. “Is there something you don’t want me to see, Eddie?“

Damn it. “No. It’s fine.”

I reach for my crutches and pull myself to my feet. I usually use my crutches at the restaurant instead of the chair, just because it’s hard to wheel between the tables. Ironically, my restaurants are not as wheelchair accessible as they could be. But better than most places in town.

I thought I could fake it from the distance from the office to Walt's car, but I can’t. I’m limping more than usual, and he can tell. Especially when I’m going down the ramp outside the restaurant, and there is a tiny little groove in the pavement and I nearly fall. In my defense, I don’t fall. I’m very good at not falling. (I’m also very good at falling.)

“Jesus, Eddie,” he says.

“I’m okay,” I insist.

“The braces fitting okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

But I’m not quick enough to keep Walt from pulling up my pants leg. I guess I’m flattered he cares so much. Considering my real parents probably don’t even know I wear the braces in the first place.

Or maybe they do. After all, this is why they kicked me out in the first place.

Anyway, the second Walt pulls up my pants, he figures out my secret. “Eddie, are you kidding me?“

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine!”

He’s referring to the fact that the ankle foot orthosis (AFOs) that support my ankles and keep my knees from buckling are literally duct taped together right now. The thing is, I’ve had them a while and I put in a lot of mileage. So they’re in bad shape. Duct tape is the only thing keeping them from collapsing.

This isn’t entirely my fault. The Conroy rehab center, where I’ve been getting my braces adjusted since I was a kid, isn’t doing well. They are on the verge of shutting down and the next appointment I could get was two months from now. I felt sick when I heard about their near bankruptcy. I asked them what I could do to keep them from closing, but it’s a lost cause. People don’t have much money around here and the insurance doesn’t cover everything they do. For years, they were treating people for free and eating the cost, but you can’t do that forever. It’s not a solvent business model. I don’t go around serving people free meals, after all.

“I’m taking care of it,” I say. “I promise. I’ve got an appointment.”

Walt grunts. “Come by the house tomorrow. I’ll fix them up in my shop until your appointment.“

My uncle has a little workshop in the garage. He’s good with his hands. I wish I could say the same about myself, but I’m never going to be a master woodworker like Walt.

I’m busy tomorrow, but I recognize how much my duct taped braces are slowing me down. This is something I should make time for. “Okay. Thanks.”

For the first time since he walked into the restaurant, he smiles. “Good. And then you’re going to stay for dinner.”

“Fine. As long as Aunt Mary doesn’t invite any single women.”

He snorts. “You can’t stay single forever, you know.“

Yeah? Watch me.

To be continued.... 


  1. I wonderful chapter, can't wait to read more!

  2. Great chapter! Can’t wait for more!

  3. Annabele, thank's so much for posting, as I look forward to reading more and more.

  4. Thank you. You are a wonderful writer, no matter what you write about or whether or not you ever write again. Annabelle, you have a singular voice.

  5. Thank you for the update Annabelle , Im looking forward to real the whole book once its released