My dress is molded to my upper body like wax. A beautiful prison of dupioni silk. I spin, pull at the waist, trying to give myself room to breathe, but the corset is unforgiving. I don't fool myself. This taste of luxury means that father is to show me off tonight like a ribbon to be won.
I haven't had a celebration for my previous birthdays, neither less a ball, but the eighteenth year is special. Now I can get married. Not that I want to. Not that I have a choice in the matter.
The knocking sound on my door startles me. I smooth out the gown and straighten my posture. Calm, confident, in control. It's been a motto ingrained in me since I was a child. My mother used to roll my shoulders back with her soft hands, reminding me to show know weakness. "It's the only way for us," she would say. She never showed anything but unadulterated strength, even the day she died.
"You may come in," I say. The old wooden door makes a pitiful cry as it squeaks open. Father stands at the doorway, smiling. A rarity.
"Congratulations on your eighteenth year, Katelyn," His voice is strategically monotone. I want to tell him to stop the formalities, but, instead, I give a fake smile and reply, "Thank you."
We stand, challenging each other's presence for what seems like years, before I break.
"How many," I ask. He runs a finger through his salt and pepper hair. We share many similarities. I have his midnight locks, icy gray eyes, and porcelain skin. I used to wonder how a wonderful woman like my mother could have married a manipulative monster. I didn't know then. I do now. Will her fate become mine? Married at eighteen, child by twenty. Death by the common flu, poorly treated. Women out of child bearing years aren't the most valued in our society. It wasn't an unusual path for Southern City girls. As long as father acquired the perks of marrying me off to a wealthy man, I was worth something. Anything. Girls were useless unless sold into slavery or forced into marriage. I shuddered at the possibilities.
"What do you mean?" He asked, his voice leaking false chivalry. He knew what I meant. This was his plan the minute I was born. His aspiration only grew as my figure matured and face lost its childish round tone.
"How many potential suitors?" I innocently asked. Eighteenth-year celebration balls were always when the lady "fell in love" with the coincidently wealthy old man.
"So clever," he strokes the nape of my neck, "Your hair is prettier down." I repeat my question.
"I said, I like your hair better down." I bite down on my tongue, and release the intricate braids woven into a meticulous bun. My hair falls into loose curls.
"Three." I purse my lips. To anyone else, this would be good news. Three men to chose from. To me it means more of a chance I will be taken away. I want love, not money.
He walks to the door and motions for me to follow. I comply.
"Nathaniel," his voice rings through the hall. Our beautiful house attendant appears at my father's side, "Escort my daughter to the ballroom. I am going to talk to our guests." Father walks down the hallway. I wait until he is gone before I put my arms around Nate's neck and pull his lips to mine. His warmth engulfs me. A familiar tingle shoots up my skin, and I feel myself melt into his body. I feel his mouth on my neck, his tongue exploring down to my cheast, hands clutching my back.
He pulls away.
"What's wrong?" I ask. I force my heart to stop pounding frantically in my chest. He is poison, and I am addicted.
"We can't do this anymore, Kate." I resist the temptation to throw myself at him and instead take a step back. Heels clicking on the cold unforgiving floor.
"What are you talking about?" I say. His words ring in my ear. We can't do this anymore, Kate.
"You know how I feel about you," he starts, "but it's not like this could go on forever. You knew that. This doesn't mean anything, not really." I clench my jaw. No, he's lying. His eyes betray him. They speak of passion and romance, everything that I ever wanted.
"You love me. I know it," I say. How pathetic can I possibly sound? He shakes his head and takes my hand. "You're just afraid of what may happen if we're found out."
"I am afraid of nothing," he insists. His normally warm brown eyes, have frozen over. They are silent now.
"Then why?" My words come out a croak.
"Damn it Kate. It was never love," he explains, "We had something, lust maybe? I don't know. You'll forget me when you're married. It'll be as it should." I can feel my heart freezing over, with every word. He was using me. Then again, I was using him. A form of rebellion. An irresponsible escape. He reaches toward my waist.
"And you forget your place, attendant," I say cooly. His eyes widen, leaving me with a small feeling of victory.
He takes my hand, leading me down the grand golden staircase. I breathe a sigh of relief when I finally reach the bottom. I am as free as I've ever been, yet not at all.
My father walks toward me, his breath smells of champagne and something stronger
"The suitors are pleased by your appearance," he tells me. My anger starts to surface like the lava in an active volcano. I am tired of being used and moved like a porcelain toy.
"Nathaniel stole from you," the words come out before I can censor them. My strong icy personality cracks, exposing a jealous little girl. My father raises his eyebrow,
"What did he take?" The night still rings fresh in my mind. I walk in the halls, and stop dead in my track as the clock signals that it is midnight. Careless steps make an echo through the area. Is it father? Nathaniel appears at the doorway. A blue sack is slung over one shoulder. He walk over and pushes me into a wall, his lips dancing into mine. I place a hand on his chest. Signaling to stop.
"Nate, What's in the sack?" I ask. Ignoring his excuses I open the bag. A golden candle holder encrusted in black diamonds weighs down the bottom. Coins litter the top.
"He won't miss it," Nate starts," Your father is rich enough." I promise I won't tell, and caress his face gently. He is as beautiful as the moon above...
"The candle and a few coins," I respond. My father's face turns red. I purse my lips as he whispers in a guards ear. Before I know it, my former lovers hands are behind his back. The room turns it's attention to man arrested. I've done Father a favor, given him an oppurtunity to show his strength.
"She told," he whispers. Nathaniel's a dead man. "I didn't just steal the candle." The room is completely silent, as if the world has frozen over.
"'I stole, Katelyn's virginity."