Juliana held on to the bedpost while Eleanor stood behind her and pulled the strings on the corset that encased Juliana's torso. Juliana grunted after a hard yank from Eleanor tightened the corset.
"Why does it have to be so tight?" Juliana asked.
"Now, girl, you know good and well why it has to be tight," Eleanor said. "That's just the way it's made to be worn."
"I know," Juliana conceded. "That doesn't mean I have to like it, though."
"Didn't you ever do this for the mistress of the house back at the Harris place?" Eleanor asked.
"I did, but I didn't know what it felt like," Juliana replied.
"Get ready; I'm gonna give it one last pull," Eleanor warned. Juliana gripped the bedpost and braced in preparation. "Suck it in some more, girl." Juliana sucked in her stomach as much as she could and Eleanor pulled and tied the strings on the corset. "There," Eleanor said with finality.
Juliana stood up straight. Her posture was probably the best that it had ever been in her life because it was the only way that she could breathe at the moment. "I don't know how I'm supposed to make it through the night like this," she said. "I can't hardly breathe."
"You have to breathe into your chest," Eleanor instructed her. "That'll make it a little easier." Juliana did as Eleanor suggested and found that it did actually make it a little easier, but it didn't change the fact that the corset was still unbearably tight. "Don't concern yourself with it, girl. You'll get used to it and forget about it before the night's through."
Both of the women turned their attention to the beautiful, blue dress that was laid out on the bed for Juliana. Eleanor shook her head and smiled. Juliana was actually getting ready to go to a ball and hobnob with all those rich folks. In all her years, she'd never heard of anything like this happening to a slave. She was happy for Juliana. In the weeks she'd spent with Juliana, the younger woman had become almost like a daughter to Eleanor. With all that Juliana had been through in the recent months, losing her entire life as she'd previously known it and being tossed into a completely different setting, something as marvelous as attending a fancy party would be good for the girl.
"You gon' have a time tonight," Eleanor said. Maybe the colonel wasn't completely without a heart, after all. "This is gon' be a night to remember for you, gettin' to be part of high society for a spell. What a nice gesture by the colonel."
Juliana cast her gaze downward at the floor. She sat down on the bed, beside the dress. "He's not doing this out of kindness, Eleanor," Juliana said.
Eleanor dismissed her assertion. "Oh, hush. This is just proof that there are some kind of redeemin' qualities inside that man."
Juliana looked up at Eleanor, still standing near the bedpost. "No." She shook her head. "You remember how we were talking about what my purpose here was supposed to be?"
Eleanor nodded. "Yeah?"
"I asked him during dinner one night, asked him why I was here. Do you know what he told me?" Eleanor didn't reply. She only looked at Juliana expectantly. "He told me that my duties consist of nothing more than serving as one of his possessions, a souvenir from one of his many military exploits. He's taking me to this party so he can show me off. He only wants to put me on display. Don't you see? That's all I am to him – some thing. I'm not even a person to him."
"He told you that?" Eleanor asked.
"Every word of it. Do you know what it's like to feel completely useless, to know that your only purpose is to exist for someone else's entertainment?" Juliana asked. "It makes you feel completely ... empty."
YOU ARE READING
For Juliana Harris, life had always been cut and dry: People were Loyalists or Rebels, they were good or bad, they were master or slave. That perception of life changes suddenly one night...