She's tried to persuade me to call her
Mother. Or Countess. Or even Elira, her given name. I persist with Stepmother. A reminder to her and to me of what she truly is: an object to be stepped on.
Once I have enough white magic, I'll crush her like a beetle beneath my heel.
Crunch, crunch, crunch will go her bones.
I enter the sitting room which is mostly white. The lace curtains, the velvet furniture, the plush carpet. I think Stepmother chose white because it shows every speck of dirt so splendidly. There's always a spot for me to scrub out somewhere.
"Hello, my darling," Stepmother says. Though she treats me like a servant, she insists on calling me '
darling' like her daughters. Probably revenge for me calling her Stepmother. I promise you, I'm
She holds a long sheet of parchment in her brittle fingers. The bottom of it curls upward and I notice the royal seal at the bottom. It's from the king.
"It seems," Stepmother says, "that the prince is giving a ball."
"Oh," I say, perfectly respectful. But really I want to say,
"So?" The prince can't go a season without a ball or two. He's a party mongrel.
Stepmother taps the parchment with her finger. "This one is interesting. He has requested that all the unmarried young ladies of the kingdom attend."
"Unmarried?" My fingertips tingle. "Does that mean I may go too?"
Stepmother lifts her pigeon-gray eyes to me.
Amused. Disdainful. She doesn't have to say a word.
Of course I'm not going.
"Now," she says, "my daughters will need gowns for this ball. New gowns, naturally. Something...
striking... and sure to entice the prince." She smiles coldly at me. "You have three days."
My stomach pinches. "Three days?" To sew two ball gowns from scratch? Buying the cloth, selecting a design, cutting the pieces, sewing-sewing-sewing, and then the fittings, adjustments, revisions while my stepsisters fidget and fault-find. I need a month to make those gowns.
"In addition to your other chores, of course," Stepmother says.
I don't trust my voice so I merely nod.
Stepmother stands, rolling the parchment. "You should buy the cloth now before the best pieces are snatched up. Oh... and when you return, I notice there's a smudge of something on the arm of this couch." She smiles at me. "Don't forget it."
I'm not who they think I am. A docile girl who meekly obeys her stepmother and stepsisters. Some kind of sick angel who cheerfully bears their mistreatment. That's what I WANT them to think. Because then they won't suspect what I'm really up to. But, they're about to find out.