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Weeping For Me
My fingers felt stiff after a full night of sewing as I untacked the crisp bills from the shutters outside my window.
“The Godmother of Gates Street strikes again,” I murmured, counting out twenty-three dollars.
As I held them in my cupped hands, I thought about what to do with the money. Mom and Dad had no idea the Godmother came to my window and left it. The note she left the first day told me not to. I bet she knew how they spent the income I made.
“Thank you,” I whispered to the wind, retreating inside to shut the taped-up window.
I winced at my mother’s shrill scream and hurriedly threw on my white uniform made up of too many frills. I hated the look of it, but it’s what the Rhodes family insisted I wear. “Coming!” I called back, shoving the money into a small strip of fabric I kept stowed away in my closet.
I had two-hundred dollars saved up and still didn’t know what to do with it.
“Mariana! Let’s go!”
I shoved the small slippers onto my feet and pulled my stockings up to my knees. I never looked anything but plain, but that didn’t stop me from tucking my strawberry blonde hair behind my ears and using a headband to keep the curls back. There was nothing to be done about my freckles, but I used a small tin of rogue on my lips to make my blue eyes pop.
“Do you want to be fired!?” My mother pounded on my bolted door and I said a quick prayer that Connor would fall madly in love with me before unlocking it.
My mother immediately tore the door open and descended on me, berating my “lack of brains since I clearly wanted to get fired”.
I did my best to ignore her squawking and grabbed my black crossbody bag from off the hook near the front door.
“Mariana, don’t forget my special juice!”
I scoffed at my good-for-nothing father. “We need groceries today, Carle.”
“Don’t call your father by his name!”
A sharp slap accompanied her words, but my tongue couldn’t help wagging once again. “Of course not, May.”
Her second slap missed me as I hurriedly slipped out the door and into the grimy streets of Gates. On my way out, I had snagged a dollar from Dad’s “special juice” savings jar. It would get me a ticket on the trolley. But only a one-way ticket.
I sighed and made my way over to where the trolley was waiting. Cars had been banned years ago in America, at the new monarchies request, and now I lived exactly like Cinderella from the story books. Only, my prince charming was a dunce who would never think of picking up my sodden shoe and scouring the kingdom for me.
But we can’t all be that lucky, Cindy.
The trolley “masters” as the monarchy liked to call them, were old men in blue suits that smoked until their lungs failed. Then they were replaced. Only five weeks ago, the old trolley “master” had died of lung cancer and was replaced by someone even older and fatter; Thomas Ibogen.
“Mariana, been a while.” He didn’t even bother opening the doors wider than they were, so I had to squeeze in through a gap no bigger than my thigh.
“Jerk,” I muttered, moving past him. The trolley was sweltering, but would be better than walking four miles at the crack of dawn.
Or so I told myself.
All the seats were occupied, and no special guy flashed me a smile and insisted I take his. Instead, I was forced to hold on to one of the slick-with-sweat bars smack dab in the middle of everything. My day didn’t get any better when I arrived at the Rhodes, a sweat stain already forming around the frills of my collar.
If only the Godmother of Gates street would appear and suck the sweat out of my body with her magical wand.
Darn you, Cinderella!
I straightened my rumpled dress and smoothed out my hair, waiting by the door until I decided nothing more could be done about my unfortunately bad looks.
“Okay, Connor, don’t be a dunce today,” I whispered, using my spare key to get inside.
The Rhodes house was immaculately structured and made completely of some sort of marble. The curtains were blue silk, of course, and the plants probably thrived off of liquid gold. Not that I’m jealous, of course. The two-bedroom townhouse my family owned was just as nice.
If not more.
Can you see the sarcasm in my words? Good, I was afraid you hadn't caught that.
“Mariana,” Julius, the butler, looked up from his newspaper when I peeked inside the servant's “lazy” room. I found him there often.
“Are the Rhodes out?”
He nodded his head, returning to that week’s headlines since I was such boring company. “They’ve gone to the dressmakers. Again.”
I cursed out loud, but he barely noticed. “Is Connor here?”
“Yes. Out back.”
I smiled sweetly. “You said they were all gone?”
“You asked about the Rhodes. Connor is not a Rhodes.”
“Yes, he is!” I spat, “they adopted him officially nine years ago!”
He flipped the page over. “If you want to keep your job, I suggest you hurry to him. He’s dreadfully bored.”
Something about the wicked way he smiled to himself made me pause. But Connor was just out back, waiting for me to swoop in and cure him of all things boring.
I cursed out Julius first, making his grin widen, and then deposited my bag on the kitchen table. I could just make out his solid form through the glass door in front of me. Good Lord, he was shirtless.
I think I started drooling.
Without an ounce of dignity, I tore open the door and nearly collided with him in my rush to get better acquainted with his abs.
I felt my mouth drop open at the sight of his very wet form.
“What have you been doing? Swimming?” I burst out, still staring at his chest like a fool.
“Oh, no, Madeline and I were just spraying the flowers.”
Immediately, my thoughts snagged on the word Madeline. I must confess, the rest I hardly heard, as my mind was too busy shouting out about how hot Connor was.
“Madeline?” I squeaked, finally looking up into his chocolate eyes. His brown hair was clumped against his forehead, but my-oh-my did he look good. He made Ashton Kutcher look like a toddler in a suit.
“Did you hear me, Mariana?”
I refocused on what he was saying, shaking my head to clear up my thoughts. “Huh?”
“Madeline is the new gardener.”
I felt my heart plummet into my feet. The gardener. He was helping her water the flowers. But he was the wet one. He never helped me with my duties.
I bared my teeth, preparing to rip off this gardener’s head. But she wasn’t in the vast yard. And the flowers looked drier than before. Was she wet too?
“O-Oh. Where is she?”
Of course, he couldn’t hear the hatred in my voice. I told you he was a dunce. A hot one.
“She’s changing in my room.”
“Your room?” I kept my voice as calm as possible; meaning that a near-shriek was ripped from my chest.
“Uhm, yeah?” He took a step back, finally registering my boiling hatred. “Are you okay? Is it your parents again?”
I wanted to shout that it was the gardener, but knew that would only make me feel worse. What was it going to do, anyway? She had just been hired and hadn’t done anything wrong yet. So I couldn’t exactly convince Julius to⎯
He knew about my infatuation with Connor… did he intend to hurt me like this? I didn’t know. All I knew was that I wanted as far from Connor and Madeline as possible.
“I have to go,” I blurted, already turning to head inside.
“Where?” Connor tentatively followed after me, pulling on his shirt. Thank the Lord.
“Anywhere,” I spat, scooping up my purse, “just anywhere.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
I halted, my feet feeling laden and my eyes moist. Yes. He had.
I gave him no time to respond since my legs had already begun carrying me towards the front door much faster than I had entered it. Before I slipped out, I heard a tinkly voice ask “who’s that?” behind me.
Outside, I stomped past the rows of gorgeous dream houses, realizing that I had nicked a few dollars from the plate by the door when I left. Connor’s parents liked to flaunt their money; plus they wouldn’t miss it. They had plenty to go around.
I clenched the bills hard, deciding I would use them to buy myself something from the market. Maybe a pretty broach. Something nice before I quit my job and lost my family’s prime source of income. Yeah, there was no way I was going back.
The large houses began to fade into rows of dingy townhouses and grimy bars as I ventured into Penalty Street. Penalty Street was much worse than Gates Street in way that it had more shady joints and less-than-friendly people. I hated going there. But I was feeling somewhat self-destructive.
I had started working for the Rhodes at just thirteen, the same day as when Connor was adopted. We had hit it off immediately and he had even kissed me once. In his room.
I pressed my lips together thinly, trying to keep the tears at bay. This wasn’t some silly crush. I was in love with that boy. And, without knowing it, I had fancied him in love with me too. He certainly acted like my best friend. Why couldn’t we be more?
“Lovely enchanted necklace, Miss?”
I turned my head to see a street urchin offering me a gaudy necklace clearly worth no more than three dollars. In my rage, I hadn’t noticed I had come to the bustling market.
“Oh, no thank you.” I moved away, bumping into someone shrouded in a violet cloak in my haste to escape her dark eyes. “Whoops!” The figure turned, and I bowed my head. The streets had taught me to never look someone in the eyes unless I wanted a fight. “I’m sorry,” I apologized, peeking up through my lashes at the person. Whoever it was seemed glued in place, their dark green eyes the only thing I could really see.
I cleared my throat, unable to stop the annoyance tinging my voice. “I said I’m sorry.”
They grunted, and I took that as an acceptance, and, hopefully, a dismissal. Thankfully, they didn’t stop me. I let out the breath I had unknowingly been holding and moved deeper into the crowd. Hagglers shouted out prices and thrust things into my line of vision. Yards of exquisite fabric caught my eye, but I only lingered momentarily to realize that the price was much too high. I had only snatched up to twenty dollars, and they were asking for fifty. A bolt.
“Hardly seems worth it,” I told the woman trying to sell me the fabric.
“If you’re not going to buy anything, then move along!” She spat, pulling a scrap of silk out of my hands.
I scowled, and, before leaving, nicked a small piece of yellow fabric off her table. I was working on a patchwork dress, something to sell for more money, and needed more scraps than I had.
Dare I say anything more about a Fairy Godmother poofing me into something better than a patchwork dress?
Yeah, I thought so.
I milled around for a while, ogling at expensive jewelry that was practically worth my house, until I heard a delightful round of chirping. A man, seeing me watching, beckoned me over to his colorful cart.
“Delighted by my darlings?” He stroked one of the iron cages and the blue bird inside nuzzled against his fingers sticking through the bars.
I nodded, studying the array of gorgeous creatures. “I hardly ever see birds anymore.”
“Probably because those blasted royals have legalized hunting those that were recently protected.” He sighed wistfully. “I miss America. Tholime is just so…. Old-fashioned.”
I glanced around nervously, wondering if anyone had heard such blasphemy about the new monarchy. “I see…” I shifted awkwardly. A bird would be a waste of space, according to my mother. But…
“They need good homes,” the man told me, seeing my hesitation.
I chewed on my lower lip, eyes lighting on a beautiful yellow and grey bird that was eying me and hopping about on its perch.
“Ah, that’s a New World Warbler. I think he likes you.” He shuffled over to the silver cage, cooing at the small bird lovingly.
I glanced behind me, searching the stalls for something more useful before I bought the poor thing and my father used it as a target for his shooting. I could keep it hidden, though. Right? Because I wanted that bird.
“How much?” I asked, shifting closer when he moved towards me with the cage.
“Let’s say an even twenty.”
I studied the bird, trying to gauge if he was worth it. Its dark eyes shone right back at me and I found myself nodding, “I’ll take him.”
The man grinned, his blue eyes crinkling in the corners. “I call him Roy.”
I exchanged the crisp bills for the cage and the man waved at me until I was a speck in the distance. The whole time he was waving, I was staring at my new pet. Roy stared right back.
“Hi,” I said, glancing up to make sure I wasn’t in anyone’s way. Oddly enough, the crowd seemed to part for me, casting worried glances like I was radioactive or something.
I know I was sweaty, but… was it that bad? Wait, don’t answer that.
Roy chirped in response, cocking his head at me.
“You sure are cute.”
I turned into an alley, hoping to sit and study him. I had never, ever, seen a bird of such color. Or any bird, for that matter.
“Well, well, what have we got here?”
I looked up at the voice, thankfully stopping before I collided with an imposing form blocking my path.
I lowered my head almost immediately. “I’m just going home.”
“What’s that? Speak up!”
A round of laughter behind me. She had friends. Great.
I cleared my throat and raised my voice, “I’m going home.”
“And what’s this, little bird?” She pointed at the cage, and I hugged it close to my chest, Roy chirping at the towering woman to protect me.
She barked out a laugh and moved to tear it from me.
I snarled and stepped back. “The bird is mine. Let me through.”
“Ah, we have a tongue, Doranelle,” one of the guards behind me said.
“Yes. I can see that.”
I growled again, getting angrier by the minute, “Let. Me. Pass.”
“Then give us the bird.”
My gaze snapped up to meet hers, and she grinned. Shoot. How could I forget the number one rule? Never look up into their eyes unless you want a fight.
I bet Cinderella never had this problem. Oh. Wait… she was treated as a slave by her stepsisters and stepmother.
“I bought him,” I spat, not caring how deeply I was looking into her face. “He’s mine.”
She grinned. “What do you say we fight for him?” Her fingers stretched out to graze my freckled cheek. “I’d love to bloody up this pretty face of yours.”
I shied away from her touch and sat my bird on the ground beside me. “Fine.” I raised my chin and balled my fists.
“Get her, Doranelle!” One of her friends shouted.
I locked my jaw, stubborn to a fault. “Do it.”
Doranelle’s fist came at me and I squeezed my eyes shut, expecting to reel back from her punch. I did hear a shout of surprise and pain, but it wasn’t from me.
It was from the bird stealing bully in front of me.
My eyes shot open, and I reeled back as a blade, polished til it shone, arced overhead to skewer one of Doranelle’s cronies. I let out a scream as the blade struck again, taking a chunk out of the other woman’s cheek.
The person that wielded it was wickedly fast. And very familiar.
But I didn’t dwell on how handy he was with a sword; I scooped up my bird and ran. Furious cries accompanied me through the alley. Was Doranelle in pursuit? Why wasn’t she protecting her cronies? But… why couldn’t I remember what she should be protecting them from? Roy squawked furiously, his beady eyes pleading with me to run faster.
“I’m trying!” I screeched, veering left. The alleys in town were a labyrinth, and I was already discombobulated.
Thankfully, my rescuer, whom I had oddly forgotten, zoomed around the corner and caught my wrist. “Come with me!” They shouted.
I resisted at first, but gradually allowed him to pull me further away from our assailants. We turned down another alley, and I was tugged into a crevice beside a doorway. I opened my mouth to speak, but my savior held up a hand.
Roy chirped, and I shushed him hurriedly as Doranelle rushed past our hiding place with a companion.
I had yet to see the woman who had been run through with⎯
“Was he worth it?”
I startled out of my thoughts and looked down at my bird. Roy cocked his head at me and sang a little tune. I smiled warily, still unsure of my hero. “Yes.”
I jerked my head up, frowning. My head had fogged away the person in front of me. Again. “Yes? Oh! You probably want me to thank you? Well, I guess I can deal with the trauma you inflicted and say I’m glad you saved me.” I paused. “But I didn’t need it,” I added hastily.
My savior rumbled out a small laugh and pushed back the hood covering their face. At the sight of the black curls fanning his face, his sparkling green eyes, and the dimples dotting both cheeks, I let out a small gasp.
I dropped the bird cage, bottom down, of course, and sunk into a very sloppy curtsy. “I’m so sorry for not recognizing you, Your Highness!”
How did I not recognize the Crown Prince!? It was true that he was hardly mentioned, and when his image did grace the papers, I immediately forgot about what he looked like seconds after dropping the news. I had thought it was my fluttering mind, but⎯
Wait. What was I thinking about? Why was I in a curtsy?
I stooped to pick up Roy and turned away.
“Where are you going, Mariana?”
I startled and swung around to face the Crown Prince. “I-I’m so sorry, Your Highness!”
He watched me warily. “You forgot, didn’t you?”
I shook my head, “Of course not!” Who would forget the Crown Prince?
“Allow me to walk you home?” He asked, using his cloak to wipe his blade clean. I barely flinched at the red now staining the fabric, I had seen blood before.
“Will you be riding a horse with me sitting behind you? Because if so, I prefer the whole prince-in-shining-armour thing, and will then thank you sincerely.” I couldn’t help it, the joke just came rumbling out, and I regretted it almost immediately. To make up for it, I pushed in a timid “Your Highness,” and curtsied again.
He smiled brightly. “No. I don’t have a horse, but feel free to grab a piggy-back ride.”
I snorted and then flushed. “Right. You can walk me home. But please leave your possy of guards behind… I assume you have a possy?” I frowned when he shook his head. “Why not?”
He shrugged and started walking. “They would forget me, anyway. What’s the point?”
I didn’t press further; his long legs were making impossibly far strides that I couldn’t keep up with unless I jogged. Or skipped, but I preferred to look less like Dorothy and more like a sweaty, huffing, track racer with no experience.
I didn’t tell the prince where I lived, but he took my route home, never once straying in confusion. His lips set in determination, he stepped exactly where I stepped on my daily walk to my place of employment.
“Pardon me, Highness,” I couldn't help my posh tone. “Um, this is my route home?”
“Yes, I know.”
“How, exactly? Do you slum it here in your castle of trash?” I winced at the joke and mentally slapped myself. “I’m sorry.”
He glanced back to grin. “I find you… refreshing. Bad jokes and all.”
“Bad jokes? Excuse me, Your Royal Highness, but my jokes are hilarious!”
Roy chirped in agreement.
The prince stopped before my house, in the back. Where my window was. Where he then proceeded to tack money to the shutter.
“It’s you? You’re the godmother of Gates Street?”
He nodded timidly, “I am.”
I tapped my chin, “Huh, and here I thought she was a fat old lady with a bulky ball gown yelling Bippity-Boppity-Boo as she passed houses.”
He chuckled, “Mariana, you truly are a delight.”
My cheeks reddened. “Oh. Thank you.” Now if only I could get Connor to see that.
The prince pulled his hood up and grabbed my hand tenderly. “I’m sure I’ll see you again.”
“Where? In an alleyway being beaten by hulking women? I doubt it.”
His grin broadened, and I stiffened as he planted a kiss on my fingers, “Until then.”
With a whoosh, he was gone.
I peered down at my new bird, relishing in the strangeness of it all, “Don’t worry, Roy, these things never happen to me.”
Wait. What never happened to me again? I scrunched my face, trying to hold on to a…. Prince? No. I shrugged and turned to my window. Money was tacked to the shutter.
I grinned, “Thank you Godmother of Gates Street!” Without another thought, or even a backward glance, I snuck into the house and forgot all about princes. Connnor stole my thoughts as I stashed the money away.
And then the tears came.
If I had peeked out my window, I would have seen a pair of green eyes watching me, tears dripping down olive cheeks. I would have seen the Crown Prince.
Weeping for me.