The Girl with the Fire Hair

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France, 1874.

Her hair was the first thing everyone noticed about her, understandably. It was a deeply saturated mass of curls and kinks, the hue of a violent sunset which would cause sailors to take warning. It offset her ivory skin terribly, and in direct sunlight, the orange of it would reflect and give her the skin a sunburned appearance. It was ironic, as she avoided sunburns as though it were death itself. There had been a time when she spent hours among the butterflies in the field, begging the sun to bleach her hair; yet the sun in its pitiless and sardonic humor had burned her skin in reply, turning it a vivid pink. After that, she had decided to spend less time in the fields.

    Among the beasts and birds of the fields that took no notice of her fire hair, she had found joy and a space to stretch her legs; yet the sun had not welcomed her. She turned to an activity safe from the harsh rays that burned skin, an activity where stretching her legs became far more deliberate and trained. She turned to dance, and found joy in the routine and the freedom of movement.

    Her hair had been her bane since birth, stealing her parent's gaze from their infant's face and forcing them to take in the red curls atop her head. It had stolen the midwife's words, and caused her to cry out in surprise. It had stolen the serenity of her tutor, and brought a playful smile to the young woman's lips when truly, nothing was funny at all. What the fire haired girl was most ashamed of, however, was how it had stolen the attention of her dance instructor. The eye catching hue resulted in criticism, as it was only natural for her eyes to fall to the brightest color in the room, and so her faults were more noticed than those of the other dancers. Her instructor's corrections stung, yet they made her resilient, and gave her a chip on her shoulder. She stayed after class to practice better pointing her toes, to make her leg straighter, to perfect her leaps. Despite her improvement, the instructor always had something to correct; yet the corrections proved to be helpful, and the girl grew not to mind it as much.

    Despite her practice, she was never as good as the tall, soft haired blonde dancer in her class. She was a year or two older than the fire haired girl, and infinitely more graceful. The fire haired girl's peers did not speak much to her. Of course, their instructor was a strict, quiet woman with a pinched face who snarled when their chatter was too much for her liking, and so they did not speak much at all, but she was not a part of the small conversation that existed. The blonde always was, however, and the fire haired girl admired her greatly. On one occasion she overcame her terrible shyness and remarked timidly that someday, she hoped to be half as good as the soft haired blonde was. The blonde glanced into her eyes for a fleeting second, turned her head, and made no reply. She turned her back and greeted her friend. The fire haired girl never made any attempt to speak to the blonde again.

    Occasionally ruddy faced boys, a few years their senior, who had nothing better to do than harass the young women of the town would loiter outside the dance studio and yell to the dancers. All the dancers, of course, would blush and swear on their lives that they hated it. A good number of them truly did. Some of them, however, rather enjoyed the attention, but they would die before revealing a scandalous truth such as that. Even the girls who legitimately found the boys' comments to be obnoxious and inappropriate were inexplicably offended if the boys failed to notice them.

    There was one boy in particular who was clearly regarded by his ragtag group as the leader. His face was dirty, eternally smudged with soot or dirt. He was never seen without his cap, tilted carelessly on his head, nor his signature smirk. However annoying he was, the dancers considered it an exceptional compliment to be noticed by the boy with the tilted cap.

    Everyday spent at the dance studio was essentially the same, as their tight lipped instructor was a stickler for routine. The fire haired girl could not separate one day from another in her mind, and all her time at the studio was blurred together in her memory, save a few particular days. One of them was the day that she finally been paid mind to for more than her hair. Although she did not match the poise of the blonde dancer, the fire haired girl was skilled for her age. Her instructor kept her after class one day and told her quietly that she wished her to perform the solo in the next dance recital. The girl's heart fired up like her hair and she could not hide her wide eyes nor still her beating heart. She was overtaken with a stifling fear, for she knew the eyes of the audience would not be fixed on her form but on her hair. Nevertheless, she accepted gratefully, and felt a thrill in her heart as she walked home.

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