by Anxious Owl
What if Cinderella thought she was the ugly step sister? A twist on a classic fairy tale.
My name is Drizzella. I know, it’s a terrible name, but my father insisted on it. His mother had been named Drizzella and her mother before her, so one of his daughters would be named Drizzella as well. Not the first one of course. The first he gave a beautiful name: Anastasia. I was always jealous of Anastasia’s name. It sounded like a name for a Russian princess; a name for a girl with snow-white skin and deep black hair and big bright eyes with long lashes.
Not that Anastasia looks like that. Neither of us was particularly blessed with looks. Anastasia has frizzy red hair and I have a huge gap between my teeth that has always made me look silly at best.
Even though he gave me a funny name, I loved my father very much, from what I remember. I have one clear memory of him. He got down on all fours and Anastasia and I jumped on his back and he pretended to be our pony. He crawled around the floor neighing and whinnying and going wherever we asked until we all were so tired we fell laughing in a tangle of arms and legs by the fire. Then, Father gathered us in beside him, close to the hearth, and read us a story until we fell asleep in his arms. The smell of yellowed pages and smoking embers still remind me of him.
When I was four, he got very sick, and died. There was no money for a while, until Mother married again. Mother’s new husband had kind eyes and told us to call him Papa. We moved into a grand new house with white walls covered in vines, and a turret that contained our playroom. Some of my happiest memories are from the years after they were wed. Mother was always singing then, and humming to herself, and as their happiness grew so did our family. It wasn’t very long before he and Mother had a baby- a beautiful baby sister for us, with big blue eyes and soft blonde hair. Anastasia and I used to dangle toys over her crib and she would gurgle and smile. Papa taught us how to hold her and rock her when she cried. Sometimes Mother let me feed her and I would make funny noises till she opened up her mouth. Then she clamped back down on the spoon and her little cheeks got all big with all the mashed up food in her mouth.
They named her Isabella, Bella for short. She only got prettier as she grew up. Mother was so proud that she finally had a daughter to inherit her fair hair and that she had Papa’s eyes. Anastasia and I loved having a baby sister to spoil. We dressed her up in pretty pink dresses and ribbons made of satin almost as soft as her skin. I sewed her dolls and Mother bought her tea sets to play at with them. Papa tied a swing to the tree in the garden for her. I remember how I would be sitting at my desk, working on my lessons, and she would come and tug on my dress and say
“Izzy! play with me!!” and look up at me with her big blue eyes.
“No, Bella, I have to study right now” I’d say.
“Pleeeaaaassseee?” Then she would clasp her hands behind her back and stick out her bottom lip.
“Fine” I told her. I would take her into the garden and push her on her swing, or chase her around the cabbage patch pretending to be the big bad ogre trying to kidnap the beautiful princess. Our little family seemed to have everything we could ever want. Which of course meant that it couldn’t last.
Things got bad again when I was thirteen. Papa fell off his horse during a hunting trip, leaving us alone again. That time, however, he left the house to us, and enough money to stay there. But most of the house staff had to leave. Bella’s nurse, the maids, the cook, the gardeners and the butlers all had to go. The house’s white walls turned grey and seemed to sag under the weight of the vines. Mother kept only two servants: a young chauffeur named Fred to keep our horses and drive our carriage, and our governess, Miss Georgina, to give us lessons in reading, writing, and manners, so we could be educated ladies and marry well.
Mother never failed to impress upon us the importance of marrying well. Marrying well would save the family from this life of hardship. Marrying well would pay our debts, and let us hire back the servants. Marrying well would give us the place in society that we deserved.
Though we were all schooled together, it was clear the bulk of Mother’s hope for an advantageous marriage rested on Bella. She was the beautiful one, and one day, we hoped, her marriage would save us.
Once the staff was fired, it fell to us to maintain the house. Mother, Anastasia, Bella and I learned to cook, clean, do laundry and garden. At first, we tried not to give Bella too much to do. She was so young when her papa died. As she got older though, we gave her more and more.
“Why do I have to do the laundry?” she pouted when she was thirteen. “It’s not my job!”
“It wasn’t your job before Bella, but it is now because you’re older!” I said, trying to make it not sound so bad. “We all have to help out so Miss Georgina can keep giving us our lessons, and Fred can keep driving the carriage.”
“I don’t care about lessons or the carriage,” she crossed her arms.
“Don’t you like learning reading and writing and drawing and languages?” I asked her.
“No. It’s boring.” I looked at her in shock. It was unfathomable to me that the best part of my day was boring to her.
“But then how will you marry well?” I asked her.
“I’m pretty!” she smiled brightly at me. I simply stared, slack-jawed as she traipsed down the hallway to the laundry room.
Mother was always scolding her, and having to remind her to do her chores.
“Bella! Do the laundry!” she would yell out the window when Bella was picking wildflowers in the overgrown garden.
“Bella! Clean the dishes,” she called after her when she left the dinner table.
“Bella! Where is breakfast? It was your day to make breakfast!”
“Bella! Why didn’t you mop the floor?”
“Bella! Why didn’t you mend my dress?”
“Bella! Dust the foyer!”
“Bella! Draw the drapes!”
“Bella! Tend the vegetable garden!”
“Bella! Go to your lessons!”
Day in and day out we called for Bella. She always seemed to be off in her own world, daydreaming in the corner of the kitchen, or wandering through the garden.
I didn’t understand her at all. I would race through my chores so I could go sit with Miss Georgina before our lessons. In our extra time together, she would give me extra books to read, books that were hers and spanned all different subjects and genres. I ate through them as fast as I could. While Bella had her daydreams in the gardens, I had my books. I could hide away in my book world, instead of cleaning the house, or pretending that our poverty wasn’t obvious when we entertained guests.
As time went by, we had fewer and fewer guests. Slowly, family and friends drifted away from us, and my world got smaller. My friend Eloise used to come over to our house to play often. Sometimes she would take lessons from Miss Georgina with us. But when her mother and father came to dinner, I could see them looking around our big empty house with growing distain. They sniffed at the lack of servants, the imperfect dusting, a broken lamp we couldn’t afford to fix.
Eloise’s mother would scrunch her nose at it all. Every time they came over her little up-turned nose was scrunched more and more, until they didn’t come at all. When I walked through town, noble families and servants alike looked at me with sympathy. Except for Eloise, my childhood friends offered their assistance but kept their distance. Besides my sisters, Eloise and Georgina were my only companions.
Georgina would talk to me for hours, discussing books, or telling stories. My favorite stories were from the palace. When I was fifteen, Miss Georgina married Mr. Thomas, the official tutor to His Royal Highness Prince Andrew. Mr. Thomas would tell Miss Georgina stories about royal life and she would tell them to me. She told me about the time the royal chef accidentally added sugar instead of salt to the soup, but she didn’t realize until it had been sent out to the table of visiting dignitaries. And the poor cook was horrified and running around the kitchen almost pulling her hair out over her mistake when the waiter came down to tell her that the king himself said that it was the best soup he had ever tasted.
She told me also, that the prince shared the king’s sweet tooth. When he was young, Mr. Thomas would give him candy when he did his studies correctly, only the young prince was so smart that he soon had a mouth full of cavities. She told me about how Prince Andrew would feed the stray cat that found its way onto his balcony. She told me about the time he made silly faces beside his father at a state address to make the daughter of a duke who had been crying smile. When Andrew was older, Miss Georgina told me how he became an excellent hunter, how he learned to speak many languages and helped his father by traveling all over the world to meet with foreign kings. She told me how he stayed good and kind even as he grew into manhood. I felt like I knew him.
When I was seventeen, Eloise married and moved to the country. With the departure of my last friend, my life became completely closed to the outside. It revolved around my sisters, my books, Georgina, and her stories.
On my twenty-second birthday, I walked into the study room, and Miss Georgina was there, holding a package covered in colored paper and ribbon. It was clearly shaped like a very large book. She held it out to me and I snatched it out of her hands and ripped off the paper.
“The Complete Guide to Being a Gracious Spinster,” I read allowed. I looked up at Miss Georgina in confusion. “I mean, I know I’m old, but I’m not THAT old yet…” I muttered. Miss Georgina laughed at me.
“Open it,” she told me. I flipped open to the title page.
“The Odyssey,” I read again. “Oh thank you!” I flung my arms around her and immediately breathed in her scent of laundry soap and lavender.
“Can’t let your Mother think you’re getting too educated,” she laughed over my shoulder. I laughed too. Mother always worried about things like that. She said that no man wanted his wife to be too smart, and that I shouldn’t learn much more than reading, writing, drawing and manners. If I had time after that I could learn music. History, literature, math, or science were all unnecessary.
“It isn’t proper!” as she would say. It also wasn’t proper for young ladies to be cleaning their own house and cooking their own meals, but I never mentioned that to her.
“I have another present for you as well,” Miss Georgina said as she pulled away. I looked around but she had nothing with her.
“Another story?” I guessed.
“Not exactly” she told me. “I have news,” she smiled secretively at me.
“What is it?” I asked. She only continued to smile at me. “Please tell me!” I tried again.
“You will have to wait until your sisters get here,” she told me.
“Oh, please just tell me now,” I begged, but to no avail.
“Go try to make your painting acceptable while you wait,” she said, knowing my lack of artistic ability was a sore spot. I sulked and went over to my easel.
“Please?” I tried one more time.
“You must wait!” she barked back from behind her lesson plans. I sullenly dabbed paint at my disastrous attempt to recreate fruit until Anastasia and Bella arrived. When we were all seated at our desks, Miss Georgina addressed us.
“I have news for you, from the palace,” she announced. Ana and Bella perked up.
“Now, this is privileged information. It has not been officially announced yet, so consider yourselves lucky. The only reason I’m telling you is so you can go out and get the best dresses before they raise the prices,” she continued.
“Dresses?” Bella almost raised out of her seat at the word.
“Dresses,” Georgina smiled at us all again. She paused.
“What is it?” I asked when I could take it no longer.
“The prince is giving a ball.”
I took my breath in sharply. A ball? A real ball? And Andrew would be there?
“And we’re invited?” I asked suspiciously.
“Yes. Thomas has asked Prince Andrew and the prince has asked the King, and you three will receive invitations,” she smiled at us.
“But why?” I asked. I simply could not believe that such important people would go out of their way to invite three poor gentlewomen to the ball.
“Because I insisted,” Georgina became serious as she answered. “Because this is my good bye gift to you.”
“Good bye?” My voice cracked as panic surged through me. “You’re leaving?” “Yes. Very soon, I will be leaving you,” she explained. “You see, I’m pregnant.”
My sisters and I screeched in unison and ran to hug her.
“Really?” we clamored, “after all this time?” “How long have you known?” “Is Thomas pleased?” “When will the baby be born?” “What will you name it?” Georgina could only laugh and cry.
“Thank you all,” she said, wiping her tears with her handkerchief. “I’m very happy. Except that I’ll be leaving you. But I haven’t told you the best part.” We all paused in our congratulations to listen.
“The best part,” she continued, “is that Thomas tells me, the prince has begun to look for a wife, and his future bride very well could be at this ball.”
I am certain my heart stopped completely in my chest as she spoke. After so many years of hearing story after story, I would finally meet Andrew. I shook my head- the prince. I must call him the prince, I could never call him Andrew in front of anyone. But I would go to the ball. I would meet him, and even get to watch him choose his bride.
And I knew there was no chance, not even the slightest possibility, but I couldn’t kill the sliver of hope in my breast that he would choose me. My head felt fuzzy, like it was all a dream, until Bella was shaking me and jumping up and down.
“Can you believe it Izzy? Can you believe it?” she screeched.
“No!” I laughed and hugged her.
“Now girls,” Georgina yelled over the commotion. “Don’t forget to ask your mother before you get too excited-“
Before the words were even all the way out of her mouth, the three of us were racing out of the room and down the hall to the drawing room.
“Mother! Mother! MOTHER!” we yelled as we rushed in.
“My goodness,” Mother glared at us as we tumbled in. “Is this how my young ladies present themselves? It’s an absolute disgrace! You shall all be spinsters and I will never be rid of you! Now! Quickly! Calm yourselves and behave like ladies!”
There was a fire in her eyes that made us stop in our tracks, readjust our dresses, and tuck stray pieces of hair behind our ears. When Mother was content that we were presentable, Ana and I nudged Bella forward. If anyone could convince Mother to say “yes,” it was Bella.
Bella took a step forward and cleared her throat.
“Mama?” she asked.
“Yes, darling?” Mother replied, not looking up from her papers.
“Well, you see, Miss Georgina has just told us the most wonderful news,” she looked up through her long lashes as she said it.
“And what is that, Bella?” Mother said putting down her letters.
“Mr. Thomas has secured for us, Ana, Izzy and I, that is, invitations to a ball that his highness will be giving soon.”
Mother’s eyes lit up as she saw the opportunity to marry her daughters to rich husbands open up before her.
“And with your permission, we would like to go,” Bella continued, batting her long lashes over her big blue eyes. Mother’s efforts to remain poised in the face of her excitement were visible. With a tight jaw she said,
“Well, I don’t see why not. Provided you girls finish all of your necessary chores beforehand.”
“Oh we will, Mother!” Anastasia and I burst out, but a warning look from Mother stopped us from celebrating too profusely.
“Thank you, Mother,” we said more calmly. Then the three of us walked out of the room at a lady like pace, and into the hall, where we jumped for joy. I can only imagine Mother rolling her eyes as she heard our screams through the door.
That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Anastasia snuck into my room. I was awake, staring out my window, when she crept in with her tiny candle. It wasn’t until she was much closer that I saw that the candle had been pushed into a small round cake.
“Happy Birthday!” she grinned at me. I giggled.
“You know we’re not supposed to eat cake.”
“It’s your birthday though!” she insisted.
“We should get Bella and share,” I whispered.
“No, no. I just made enough for you”
“I can’t eat this by myself though!”
“Yes you can, and if there’s some left over we’ll save her some and she can eat tomorrow. Let her sleep for now.”
“Oh all right” I said.
“Now make a wish,” she held the cake out to me.
I closed my eyes, and wished.
Then I blew out the candle. We were cloaked in darkness again. I laughed softly.
“How are we supposed to eat it now?” I asked.
“I didn’t think of that,” Anastasia laughed too. “You’ll just have to eat it in the morning. But at least you got to make your wish.”
“I did. Thank you Ana,” I smiled in the dark.
“What did you wish for?” she asked.
“I can’t say!”
“Right. Right. Well I would have…” Ana trailed off and looked out my window. You could see the grounds of the house from there. Our jungle of a garden leaned against the house and fields of grass spread out in all directions. The stables and garage stood like small sentries by the road.
“What?” I asked her. She turned back to me, but said nothing. I could see her freckles standing out against her pale skin in the moonlight.
“Why didn’t you want Bella to come?” I tried. I knew it wasn’t because there wasn’t enough cake.
“I,” she hesitated. “I want to tell you something. And… I don’t think Bella would understand.”
“What is it?”
Her eyebrows arched in worry.
“You can’t tell anyone,” she said.
“You can’t tell Mother, or Bella, or Georgina,” she said.
“And I suppose I can’t tell Fred either?” I joked. She squeezed my wrist tight when I said it.
“No! You can’t tell Fred. Especially not Fred!”
I looked at her curiously. What could possibly need to be kept specifically from Fred the stable boy?
“Alright. I won’t tell Fred. I won’t even tell the horses. Promise.” Ana released her hold on me.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Well,” she hesitated again.
“Ana, you can tell me anything.” I told her. She looked at her hands in her lap but continued.
“Um. So. You know how I’ve never been very good at horseback riding?”
“Sure. But you’ve gotten much better,” I said. She blushed and nodded.
“Right, but for quite a while now, I’ve been taking extra lessons with Fred to get better.”
“I know,” I said.
“Well, I spend an awful lot of time with Fred. And he’s very nice to me, and patient with me. And he’s kind to the horses and takes good care of them.”
“I know,” I said.
“Well, he’s very nice, and very interesting to talk to. Did you know that one day he wants to breed his own horses?”
“Ana. What do you want to tell me?” I asked, exasperated.
“Well, it’s just, I mean, I can’t be sure, I mean I can’t anyways but-“
“Ana!” I snapped. She finally looked up and met my eyes.
“I think I’m in love with Fred,” she said. I stared at her for a moment.
“Ana,” I wasn’t sure what to say.
“I know. I know it’s stupid. I know that we’ll never be able to get married or even spend any time together when there aren’t horses around. I know Mother would have a heart attack. Bella would probably laugh until she cried. I don’t even know what Georgina would say. But I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I had to tell someone. I just don’t know what to do with these feelings,” a nervous giggle escaped her. “I mean, every time he touches my hand, I just feel so… so fluttery! And I can’t wait to talk to him. He has the bluest eyes Drizzella, deep blue like... I don’t even know what they’re like! I’ve never seen anything so blue. And when he looks in my eyes, I can’t breathe. I don’t know what to do!”
What could I do but smile and hug her?
“It will be ok,” I told her. Tears started to slip out of her eyes.
“I hope so. I can’t imagine not seeing him every day. I just, I wish he could come to ball with us. Oh, and if Mother makes me a match at this ball! I’m her first born. I know she’ll be trying her hardest to find me someone. I don’t know what I’ll do! I just can’t marry some pompous duke or fat count, I-”
“Sshh, it’ll be ok,” I told her. She buried her face in my shoulder and tried to steady herself. When she had quieted a little, I pulled away and looked at her. “Does Fred know?” I asked.
“No!” she shook her head with wide eyes.
“Are you sure?” I prodded, “I mean, you hardly need those extra lessons anymore.”
“No! And he can’t know!” Ana thought for a minute, then grasping my hand asked, “You don’t think he knows do you?”
“I don’t know, Anastasia”
“Well, how do I know?” she asked. I shrugged.
“You could ask him?”
Ana nearly choked.
“I don’t know then,” I told her, apologetically. “I don’t know what to do either.” Ana flopped down on my pillows and I lay down beside her.
“Love is awful,” she murmured.
“Mmhhmm,” I assented, though I had no idea.
We stared up at the stars for a while, before drifting off to sleep.
Both of us started out of bed when the cock crowed.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stay here all night!” Ana immediately began gathering up my pillows.
“It’s alright,” I reassured her, working out a kink in my neck. When the bed was made, we set to dressing and hurried out into the house to start our chores.
That afternoon, I remember I was dusting in the entryway when the bell at the door rang. Quickly, I removed my apron and hid my dusting tools and hurried to the door.
On our stoop stood a hobbled old woman. An outdated pink cloak covered her grey head and she leaned on a fine black cane. Smile lines surrounded her perfectly rouged lips and her eyes sparkled with excitement.
“Grandmother?” I said before I could hide the surprise in my voice.
“Well, child, are you going to let me in or am I to remain on the porch?” she asked as she stepped past me into the house.
“What are y- erm, to what do we owe this pleasure Grandmother?” I stuttered as she hobbled into the sitting room.
“Fetch your sisters, and that mother of yours, and I’ll tell you when you are all gathered here. I am not fond of repeating myself.”
I found Anastasia in the laundry and then ran upstairs to find Mother. Bella was with her in the garden.
“Mother? We have a visitor,” I informed her. Mother looked up frowning from her papers.
“It is Grandmother,” I tugged on my dress as I said it. Bella snapped out of her daydream to listen.
“Which one?” Mother asked. “My mother?”
I shook my head. Grandmother was Papa’s mother.
Mother’s face darkened.
“Very well,” she stood to go downstairs.
“Grandmama is here?” Bella asked excitedly. I nodded. She grinned broadly and headed for the stairs as quickly as Mother would allow her.
When we had all been assembled, Grandmother tapped her cane on the floor.
“Now, it has come time to tell you why I am here. I have come because there was a need, and I am here to fill it.”
I struggled not to roll my eyes at her. Next to me Bella was holding her breath in excitement.
“I have been informed that you are going to a ball, and that you have nothing appropriate to wear. So. I am here to take you shopping. Your mother is much too busy and dear Georgina simply cannot go in her condition. It’s a marvel she still has energy to try to educate you girls. So, I have been called for. I will take you to the dress shops and see that you have all that is necessary, and are dressed as proper young ladies should be.”
“Really Grandmama? We’re really going?” Bella gushed.
“Yes dear,” Grandmother asserted. “In fact, we should leave immediately.”
Bella jumped off the couch and enveloped grandmother in a hug.
“Thank you!” she cried. “I wonder what colors they will have?” she asked. As Grandmother began to answer her, Mother motioned us out of the room. We followed her into the hall.
“Here,” she said, handing us each a small bundle of bank notes. “God knows that woman won’t help you buy anything. She’s here for Bella. But take these, and find the most beautiful dresses you can. Find ones that flatter your figures, and don’t underestimate the simple dresses. Make sure you also buy appropriate shoes, and that everything is modest. I will not have my daughters parading about baring their shoulders for the entire court to see.”
We quietly took the notes and placed them in our bags. Mother placed her hands on our cheeks and smiled.
“Have fun,” she said. Then we filed back into the sitting room to interrupt Grandmother and Bella’s debate of satin versus silk, and soon we were off.
Before I could believe it, we were standing before the cobbler’s shop.
“A perfect ensemble begins with the shoes!” Grandmother exhorted cheerfully. Bella squealed and sent the bell tingling and she flew through the door. Anastasia and I stood staring outside in horror.
“I hate shoe shopping,” said Anastasia.
“I hate my feet,” I said.
Then sighing, we entered the shop. As we entered the cobbler came out to greet us.
“Welcome ladies! How can I help you?” he asked.
“Hello George, did you prepare my order?” Grandmother asked.
“Oh yes, Madame Tremaine, you had the special order. I’ll have Maria fetch it from the back.” He nodded at a shop girl standing nearby and she scurried off. “Now, will the other young ladies be requiring shoes as well?”
“I suppose so,” said Grandmother.
“Well then, I’ll need to start by determining their measurements. Have a seat ladies,” he motioned to a bench for the purpose. We sat, and each slid a foot out from under our skirts.
“Oh my,” said George, taking my foot by the heel. He adjusted his glasses, as if to reassure himself that my feet were, in fact, as large as they appeared. I smiled apologetically at him.
“Well, this will be a challenge,” he rolled up his sleeves.
It did not take very long for Anastasia and I to find our shoes. There were only two pairs in the entire shop that our feet could be shoved into without breaking entirely. Both were simple pumps with large velvet roses on the toes. One pair was blue, and one yellow.
“I’ll wear the yellow ones,” I told Ana. “You always look best in blue.”
“Thank you,” she said, looking down at her feet. We both considered the shoes for a moment.
“It could have been worse,” I said, looking away from the obnoxious shoes.
“Definitely,” Ana agreed.
By then, Maria had returned from the back with a box. Grandmother took it from her and peeked inside. Grinning she turned to Bella.
“Now, if they don’t fit, we can have them remade, but I had them made special for your little feet, so they should fit,” she handed Bella the box. Bella opened it.
“Oh Grandmama!” she said reverently. Gingerly, she took out the most delicate little shoe I had ever seen. It looked like it had been made from glass, and sparkled like it too. All along the edges were tiny detailed carvings in an elegant design.
“Can they truly be worn?” Bella asked in awe. They looked as if they would crack when she put them on.
“Yes darling,” Grandmother laughed. “Put them on! Put them on!”
Carefully, Bella put each little shoe on the floor and stepped into them. She took a step, then another, and then she twirled. The shoes glinted and caught the light as she moved; it looked like she was dancing on stardust.
Instantly, I was green with envy. I knew I would never move so gracefully, or have anything so delicate and fine. And I knew no one would ever look at me while Bella was there.
After a moment I shook myself. That was no way to think. I smiled at Bella.
“You look beautiful, sister,” I told her. The supreme happiness on her face melted away my jealousy.
“Have you ever seen anything so wonderful?” Bella cried.
“Never,” Ana and I shook our heads. Bella twirled again.
Once the shoes were packed safely in their boxes, and the cobbler paid, we moved on to the dress shops. Grandmother insisted that we visit twelve different shops before she was satisfied that she had found the perfect color, material and design for Bella’s gown. Along the way Ana and I found our dresses as well, and arranged for them to be altered. Anastasia chose a handsome, dark blue dress with a wide skirt that set her pale skin to advantage. I found a yellow one that was not entirely unflattering and matched my horrid shoes. It had a square neckline and cap sleeves, but accentuated my waist.
Bella’s dress would be the most beautiful. It was to be made of the palest pink satin. The sleeves were off the shoulders, and the bodice tapered to her tiny waist, then flounces drifted down to the floor in tendrils of soft fabric. Her perfect shoes would just peek out from underneath her perfect dress. Her golden hair shined, and her skin looked like ivory against the fabric. The men at the ball would not be able to take their eyes off her.
At least they wouldn’t see my shoes.
The next day, I walked into the study room, Odyssey in my arms. Georgina looked up and smiled at me.
“I hear that you girls went shopping yesterday!”
“We did,” I sat and flipped open my book. “The dresses should be here on Tuesday.”
“Oh good. The ball is not for a month, but one can never be too careful with these things.”
I nodded and turned to my book.
“Is everything all right, Drizzella?” she asked.
“Yes.” My smile must have seemed strained since she did not seem satisfied. “Bella will be the most beautiful girl at the ball,” I continued.
“You will be beautiful too!” she told me.
I nodded, but didn’t believe her.
“I love the book,” I said instead.
“I’m glad you like it,” Georgina said.
“How have you been feeling?” I asked, looking at her belly.
“Excited, and nervous,” she shifted in her seat. “But otherwise I am well.”
“I’m glad,” I smiled, genuinely this time, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”
“I would love a little girl to raise as my own. Watching you girls grow up was always so much fun,” Georgina was positively glowing.
“And you’ll let us come visit and spoil her when she’s born?”
“I hope so. I hope that my child will have one of you as a godmother.”
I grinned at her. Being the godmother of Georgina’s daughter would be an incomparable joy. When I was older, and proclaimed an irreconcilable spinster, I could play with this child, give her presents, love her, and help her whenever she needed help, the way Georgina had always helped me. I knew instinctively that I would love Georgina’s baby. We, all three, would be kindred spirits.
At that moment Anastasia walked into the room. She sat stiffly in her chair and her hair was mussed. She smelled like horses. She gave me a meaningful sidelong glance.
“Ana, are you ok?” I asked her.
“I’m fine,” she said, but the urgent look she shot in my direction told me she needed to talk to me. I nodded and patted her knee under the table to let her know I understood.
As soon as lessons were finished, she pulled me aside and marched me into her room.
“He knows,” she began to pace. “He knows, he knows, oh he definitely knows.” She stared distractedly.
“What?” I tried to catch up with her thoughts. “Who knows what?”
“Fred,” She threw her hands in the air.
“Oh,” things suddenly made sense. I felt my gut tighten. “Ana… did anything…happen?” I had to ask.
“This close,” she put her fingers very close together and squinted at me through the gap in them. “This close,” she repeated.
“That close to what?”
“That close to kissing me. He was that close to kissing me,” she said. I let out the breath I’d been holding.
“What? What happened?”
“Well we had just come back from our lesson, like always, and he was helping me down from my horse, just like always,” Ana paced back and forth, “but then my foot got caught in the stirrup and I fell, and he caught me and helped me down and the next thing I knew he had his arms wrapped around me and his face was close to mine and he was looking into my eyes and I couldn’t breath, I was terrified, and then he began to move closer.”
“And then what?” I asked. Ana stopped pacing.
“And then I ran,” she said.
“You ran?” I ask incredulously. Ana nodded.
“I ran. Through the field, all the way back to the house.” A small laugh escaped me.
“You ran back to the house?”
Anastasia nodded again.
“He must know!” she said. “He must know how I feel and think that he can… that I would- he must know.” Ana hung her head.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“How could he not?” she asked.
“Perhaps he doesn’t know. Perhaps he just feels the same way about you that you do about him.”
Ana raised her head.
“You don’t think he knows?” hope wavered in her voice.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I don’t think running away from him is a conventional sign of affection.” Ana blushed. I continued, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew nothing but that he himself had feelings for you.”
Ana shook her head.
“He can’t! I mean, I’m not pretty, I have no money…”
“Has Fred ever cared about those things?” I asked. Ana stopped to consider it. “Fred has never cared much for money, and has always judged people by their character,” I reminded her. “Or at least by their taste in horses,” I added. Ana nodded. It was clear she was trying not to smile now.
“Thank you,” she said finally, taking a deep breath.
“You’re welcome,” I told her. “Just, try not to fall out of your saddle again, ok?”
“I shall try.”
Anastasia gave me a hug and then left to wash up. I sat in my room for a while after she had left. Life seemed to be speeding up, and getting more complicated as it went.
The next day, when I was done with my chores and studies, I sat in the entryway with Odyssey. There was a bench there by the door, though it was rarely used. It was a stiff, wooden bench, and not very comfortable, but I wanted to be close to the door as much as possible. I wanted to be the one to open the door and receive the invitations when they arrived.
I knew that announcement of the ball had hardly been made, and that it might be some time before they arrived, but I couldn’t help myself. Every few minutes or so, for the first few days, I would look up at the door as if expecting the bell to ring at any second. I could hardly focus on Odyssey for excitement. But the bell didn’t ring. It didn’t ring the first day, or the second. It didn’t ring for the whole first week. It wasn’t until the second week that the bell rang, but it was only our banker coming to speak with Mother. The invitations did not come the entire second week either.
Finally, I slammed my book shut.
“I’m going out for a stroll Mother!’ I called through the house. I took my shawl and left. Once I arrived in town the bustle of passing people was somehow calming. I was watched people going about their everyday business- mothers towing their children along to the bakery, servants scurrying to the market with large baskets, carriages carrying ladies to make their social calls and lawyers to meet clients. It had recently rained and the roads were muddy, but I navigated the puddles carefully and took in the sights. The smell of new mud and clean grass soothed me.
In my wanderings I found myself at the Royal Library. It was an impressive building with soaring Roman columns, built by the late King Henry. It had been built for the people, in an effort to improve the cultural heritage of his country. I had never been there, since mother said it was improper for a woman to enter. It was a place of grand professors, men of learning, nobility, and young men set on improving their minds. I stopped on the steps and stood staring up at the white marble architecture. Then-
“Oof!” I grunted as I was suddenly thrown backwards. I stumbled back from the steps, dropping Odyssey as I struggled to keep my balance. The man who had bumped into me looked up from the book he was holding just in time to grab my hand and keep me from falling. He pulled me upward and began to apologize profusely.
“I am terribly sorry madam,” he said, bending to pick up my book. “I was simply engrossed in my book, I should have paid more attention, please forgive me.”
For a moment all I could do was stare. It was him. Andrew. I mean, the prince, was standing in front of me.