I woke at the sound of the horses of my stepmother's carriage clattering in the courtyard. The rain continued to pour down as my unwanted family made their way to the entrance. I moved as quickly as I could to reach the door before they did but found myself arriving there as my stepmother was opening it. She looked at me with a scornful look of disapproval.
My damp clothes made her scowl deepen. As she straightened her head and strode in, my stepsisters loftily nattered on about the men they had danced with. They then suddenly began to speak of the lady who was dressed in silver that fled the ball. My stomach lurched and my hands refused to work properly as I struggled to assist my stepmother in removing her cloak. She slapped my hands away with a harsh sigh.
"Stupid girl," she snapped, "Standing out in the rain waiting for us is not what you were supposed to do. And now you can't do the simplest thing." I swallowed past a lump that rose up in my throat. "Go attend your sisters," she said, "Then bring a light and make me tea."
"Yes, m'am," I mumbled and I turned to my taller step-sister. Her pasty complexion was made even more so by the lead powder that was caked on her. The mole painted on her cheek was a black smudge in the dark. It seemed like some sort of insect in a wet pastry. The sight of it made me shudder even as she breathed her wine soured breath in my direction and increased my revulsion.
I took her cloak and hung it upon the peg, doing my best not to make a noise that would draw her attention and sharp tongue in my direction. I listened as she speculated on who the strange woman they saw at the ball could be and what kind of person of high society didn't know how to dance. To her right, stood her comically short and grotesquely fat sister. Where the tall sister had all the charm of a gatepost and the features of a slab of limestone, the shorter one seemed a mound of dough on a good day. She wheezed and sighed rather then laugh, as though the weight upon her rendered her unable of that most human of actions.
One would have thought that my short step-sister would have been a weak thing by virtue of her ill health. Indeed, she was not weak at all. Instead, she was my chief tormentor in the way of physical abuse. I regularly found myself not merely pinched but rather beaten by my ham handed step-sister, often for the amusement of her stick like elder sister, who would pepper me with acerbic comments as this happened.
I wasn't terribly surprised when she shoved me aside. "Useless thing," the skinny one said, "Always in the way." The shorter sister took off her cloak and dropped it to the floor. As I stooped to pick it up, I bit back a yelp as two unexpectedly bony fingers were jammed into my ribs.
"You are in the way, girl," the owner of those fingers wheezed at my side.
"Sorry, m'am," I mumbled. I hung up the cloak and skirted around my stepmother, who shook her head with disapproval. The sisters resumed their cheerful banter as I returned with a candle lit from the kitchen fire. My stepmother raised her eyebrows with an incredulous look.
"What," she said, "No lantern?" My heart sank. I only wanted them to go to bed. Instead, I had the terrible feeling that they were going to stay up later and be contrary.