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Stepsister

She finds a husband for me within the month.
Not a prince, of course. One such misalliance is bad enough; two would be unthinkable. But a baron--more than I might have been expected to wed on my own. A moneyed baron, I am assured, even if at this court the word moneyed is so common it has almost lost all meaning. And nothing to the wealth of the many dukes and grand dukes and marquises and princes. But I will have a title; it will allow me into her presence without difficulty. And I will have a future.
And, she adds coolly, as if this part does not matter, if I wish, my mother can live with me.
She means it, everyone assures me, kindly.
That evening, I meet the baron. He is short, with bulging eyes and wet lips that immediately make me think of a frog. Perhaps when I kiss him he will turn into a prince, I think, and find myself giggling. His eyes narrow. I swallow.
From a chair of gilt and silk, she smiles.
Three days later, I am limping down a long aisle of marble and fine wood, in shoes carefully designed to hide my missing toe, shoes without a touch of glass. His lips are soft and wet, and his hand in mine is hard.
That night, beneath his bulk, I dream of two white pigeons, a pear tree and a hazel tree, and birds scattering seeds before flying into my face. I dream of my mother, and pumpkins, and ashes; and when I wake, I am weeping.
When I am summoned to see her, two weeks later, I hide the bruises beneath long sleeves and a high neck, and thank her politely for the gilded box she places in my hands, as a gesture of sisterhood. A box with a pair of glass slippers.
"Should you choose to run," the note inside says, without a word of love.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021
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