CHAPTER X

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It was three years before I would enter the mansion.

I was thirteen, I still kept my hair short, but the pants I'd worn until then were starting to feel awkward in places. They didn't fit me like they used to.

I was... I was growing up.

Most of the people around me, my father included, took it as a breath of fresh air.

"Good, that Sophie is finally starting to look like a young woman," they said, speaking of me as though I was as much a subject for open conversation as the weather.

One person treated me differently though.

He would be dead three years later, but in those days, I never thought I would see a season without him. He was my favorite person in the world, and he'd just given me a present.

"I got you a little something," my uncle told me just before heading out the door. He'd visited me for the weekend. We shared many meals and even more stories.

I couldn't have been happier, and yet— he managed to widen my smile.

I opened the little box he gave me. Inside was a necklace made of pale-white metal. The chain was light, and at the bottom of it hung a clear gem, like a droplet of water frozen in time.

"Oh, I can't take this," I told him, but there was no convincing him. I looked down at the floor. I felt ashamed. I didn't see myself wearing jewelry. I was just a farm girl. More often than not, I had dirt under my fingernails. What use did I have for fancy, silvery things?

"It's not something to wear everyday," he told me, smiling. "I know life can be pretty boring around here, but if you ever want to get away..." he gave me a wink, "put it on and pretend you're a city girl. It's the latest fashion, you know? Everyone is wearing them in the capital, even the boys. We live in interesting times."

I shook my head. The necklace felt like an alien thing. I was not a city girl. I didn't think I could ever be such a thing. Wearing long dresses, silk stockings, and carrying around little parasols. None of that sounded like... well, like me.

"Just keep it around for whenever you feel like getting away. Trust me."

And that was all he said that day.

I wore it a few times but mostly in the darkness of my room. One day, I built up enough courage to take a walk around town with it. I was not surprised when no one ever said anything about it. They ignored me as though I hadn't been there at all. The truth was that I was a fake. I was no more real than a clay weight painted to look like a book.

Eventually, I gave the necklace back to my uncle. I told him I couldn't keep something so expensive. I lied and said that people were threatening to steal it. I said that he was better off selling it and buying himself a new coat or hat, or both.

My uncle seemed sad, but also distracted.

"Did you at least try it on?" he asked, and although he didn't want to take it... he ultimately did. "Well, I'm sure you looked pretty with it. But I agree with you— you have more of a 'natural' beauty. A girl like you doesn't need fancy things."

He kept the necklace, and I thought it was gone forever. My uncle returned the next season with a new hat, coat, and cane. I thought he'd sold the necklace. I thought I would never see it again.

The necklace was nothing but a painful reminder that I wasn't what I'd been expected to be. A beautiful daughter would've fetched a man— or even better, a strong man. The farm needed someone who could take over when my father grew too old to lift the spade. But no, instead I was the one working; I plowed the fields and took care of the animals.

And for a while... I was happy, because I thought — I really did — that I would never see that necklace ever again, and that at least that reminder of my failure as a daughter would be forgotten.

But I was wrong. I was very wrong.

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