It was finally Christmas Day. I had asked Grandmother over and over, doing my hardest to please her, and she finally caved to allow me to see my siblings. She warned over and over that it would be a one-time deal, but I didn’t even care, I was seeing the four individuals that I had hoped to see the most! The night before I had meticulously wrapped each gift fully, with paper bows and all. I didn’t have a clue if Grandmother had gotten them anything. I doubted it. I knew Momma had a few things from the fleeting conversations we could manage. At seven sharp, Grandmother came to my room, ushering me upstairs quickly where Momma was waiting.
“Merry Christmas.” I whispered quickly to her, which she responded to just as quick.
The door was unlocked, and we stepped inside just before the door was latched behind us. The room was, as I remembered, tiny, made even worse by the fact seven people were in it. Everything looked exactly the same, besides a few, tiny pieces of evidence that people lived there. Momma, however, had brought more gifts than I’d seen in a long time, and was already making quick work of spreading them out as my siblings eagerly tore them open. They barely noticed me, but Cory quickly ran into my arms.
“Cammie!” He shouted. “Where you been?”
I grinned, tears of happiness rushing in. “Oh honey I wish I was here! But you know I’m a big girl. Did you like all the letters I sent?”
He nodded. “Merry Christmas!”
I set him down, and handed him his gift. “Merry Christmas to you too, I missed you!”
He took it, and unwrapped meticulously. The moment his eyes contacted with the set, his grin grew, and he threw his arms around my waist in the biggest hug a four year old could muster. However, the toddler he was, his attention span was short, and he focused on his other gifts. Laughing, I distributed the others. Carrie was eager to draw, Cathy explained that there was a record player in the attic (to my relief) and that she would be happy to have something new to dance to, and Chris’ eyes lit up at the new book. He had been dying for more reading material as always, and I mentally noted to get more books for his birthday. I was happy to see them all after the months. They were sickly, though. Their skin, as I had feared, was pale and even their hair seemed a softer shade. They were shades of grey, their clothes seeming too bright. The morning was nice, though. I had to leave at eight for Christmas breakfast, but not before they presented me with their tiny gifts, all gently crafted with paper or fabric scraps. The tears of joy spilled over, and I kissed them all a million times before I had to go. Who knew when I could see them again.
Grandmother ushered Momma and I out again, having us get breakfast and begin to get ready for the day. Fueled by my short visit, I was eager to see what the ball had in store. It began at seven in the evening, so I had more than enough time to ready myself. After lunch, I bathed in oils as Momma always had, getting a flowery halo of scent around me. Momma had even had some of the maids help me with hair and makeup. I looked strange in the mirror, rouge covering my cheeks, lips reddened, hair pulled into a tight bun. I had never worn so much makeup, even for homecoming dances. I welcomed the change, though. I felt mature, empowered by the feminine charm that I inherited from my mother, even if we had little resemblance. I was better able to see how she attracted men.
I was zipped into my dress at six thirty. It was powder blue, high necked, and was as regal as could be, much like a princess’s. For the most part, it was tulle, down to the neat bow in front. Perhaps it was a little much, a little heavy, but if I was going to play the part of an orphaned daughter of two aristocrats moved in with her cousins, I damn well was going to dress it. It was my Cinderella moment, from servant to sweetheart, allowed one night of dancing and frivolity. My heart leaped at the idea of finding some boy to dance with, though I doubted anyone near my age would attend. The guests were my grandparent’s friends, and they all were likely ancient. If 'anyone that was close to my age anyway, they’d likely be distant cousins, which, by the God-fearing interpretation of the Bible my family had adopted, so any dancing or flirting would be worse a sin than murder. I strode to the main hall, greeted by my mother in a fine gown, Grandmother in a dress almost similar to mine, though velvet, and to my surprise, she was pushing Grandfather around in a wheelchair.
I greeted them politely. Grandmother looked to be pleased with how I looked, and flatly told me that I was acceptably conservative. It was then that I learned that Momma already had a date, one that had been courting her for months. It was none other than Grandfather’s lawyer in charge of his will, Bart Winslow. I had to stifle a gasp. My father, her husband, the man she had called her soul mate, hadn’t been dead a year, and she already was in a relationship with someone. He was, in my opinion, rather handsome and trustworthy, but my blood ran icily at the thought of him potentially becoming my stepfather, or anyone for that matter. I had never imagined it, actually, until then. I had always assumed that Momma would regain Grandfather’s trust, get the inheritance when he died, and we could live happily, us six. It didn’t seem the case. In fact, when he arrived at seven on the dot, she was on his arm, leaning her head on his shoulder, exchanging soft words of love and courtship. It sickened me to my stomach, and I politely excused myself outside to the balcony for fresh, cool air. Everyone had arrived anyway, and I didn’t think I’d be missed.
I stared into the night. It was cloudless, starry, and cold. I shivered slightly as a breeze blew by. It ruffled the hem of my dress, but could not tousle the heavily hair sprayed curls framing my face. My heart ached. My siblings were locked in a tiny room, not allowed out even on Christmas; I had only seen them twice in six months. In that time my mother had transformed herself from a grief stricken widow to her old, charismatic, socialite self, dating half a dozen men and apparently sticking with the one absolutely closest to my Grandfather. He had become a barrier, and I realized a striking fact. He knew exactly what was in the will. I knew it wasn’t written that I had to be eighteen in the will of course, but I now had to tread lighter than ever. He was the individual closest to the man that held my family’s fate like marionette strings. If he learned that I existed, it was over. Momma would get nothing, probably cast onto the streets and beaten, and Grandfather would know that I wasn’t dead. Knowing the streak of divine punishment that they enjoyed inflicting, I didn’t want to know what would happen to me.
My thought trail was interrupted by the sound of the door opening, and I whipped around. It was a boy, probably sixteen or so though a little short, with an angular face framed by soft brown hair, hazel eyes staring back at me. He seemed startled, and jumped back a little.
“O-oh, sorry.” He quickly said, voice cracking nervously. “Thought nobody was out here.”
I offered a small smile. “It’s alright… I was just going back in. You are?”
“Nicholas. Nicholas Manning.” He answered, and extended a hand, which I shook politely. “You?”
“Lucille Winfield.” I answered, lying through my teeth. I didn’t let the hatred of my facade slip through. “Are we related?”
He chuckled. “If you’re kin of the Foxworths, than no. I’m not a Winfield either. Uh, Malcolm and my father were business partners.”
I sighed in slight relief. At least it wasn’t a sin to flirt with him. He was even a little cute. “What did you come out here for?” I questioned softly.
He blushed, and pulled out a thin, metal case. “I was going to smoke,” He hummed, “but it’s impolite around a lady.”
“How old are you, anyway?” I asked, now blushing as well. He had seemed my age, perhaps a little older-
“I’m sixteen.” He answered, relief once again washing over me. “I’m, uh, obviously not supposed to be smoking. Laws and all that. Sometimes you need it, though.”
I put a hand on his shoulder. “Stress relief?”
“Come on inside. We’ll both catch colds. We should dance.”
He took my hand gently. His was warm, rough at the tips but the palms were soft. They reminded me of guitarist’s hands. Leading me back inside once he pocketed the cigarettes once more, he took me to the ballroom. A slow waltz began as we entered, and he led me in it, hands placed perfectly. He really was a gentleman. I believed I had found my prince charming.
Hours passed. Just before midnight, as all the guests began to disperse to their rooms, we found ourselves in a small hallway, secluded for the most part. He held my hands gently in his.
“I don’t want to go, Lucy.” He disclosed, as shy as he had been all night. He avoided my gaze, but was smiling. “You’re really a nice girl. My parents are expecting me, though. We’re staying the night, and then leaving first thing tomorrow morning. I don’t think I’ll be able to get you out of my head.”
I turned his face to mine, a daring move perhaps. “We should write each other.” I suggested, voice barely above a whisper. We were alone, there were no bedrooms this way, but it felt right to be so quiet. “You’ve been so nice tonight. I couldn’t forget you even if I tried.”
He smiled, and I was surprised when his lips met mine for a fleeting kiss. No matter the stories I had told Cathy, I’d never actually been kissed, and my cheeks erupted in crimson. It was over too soon for my taste.
“Take that to remember me by?” He asked, as red as I was. “I’ll leave my address for you, alright?”
“C-can you walk me to my room, at least?” I asked, still in a star struck daze.
He shook his head, but then paused. “I shouldn’t… But I will. Damn me to hell, I will.”
I led him to my room with a few detours to stall, through winding halls and up flights of stairs for what felt for miles, but finally we paused at my door. “Do you have to go?” I breathed.
“I have to.” He murmured frowning. He kissed me again, this time more lingering. “I hope to see you soon.”
“I hope so too.” I whispered, and then he was gone, off to his room that he was sharing with his parents.
When I fell asleep, I dreamt of him.