Welcome to the Blogfest=)
(If you’re stopping by for the finish of Temple of Night and Wind, click to the left under recent posts on Option Ab1.)
This post is a participation of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest where men and women are posting something to celebrate beauty. Check out August McLaughlin’s Blog for the other posts in this fest. Those who comment on any of the blogs have the chance to win a Kindle Fire or equivalent Amazon gift card.
This story came about because becoming comfortable in my own skin happened after some wonderful people helped me see who I am through their eyes. It’s amazing how most of the flaws we see in the mirror others don’t see at all. Thank you to those who’ve repeatedly told me the beauty they see in me.
Alina groaned but covering her head with the blanket didn’t help. It was time to rise. The sun hit the wall and pierced the wake holes, streaming onto her bed. The holes punched through the wall, small dots in a perfect circle, and were positioned so the rising sun was captured and aimed at the head of Alina’s small bed.
Borletta experienced 358 days of sun a year. Alina worked 358 days and slept in on the rare 7 days of cloud cover. The whole of Borletta slept in on cloudy days.
Rolling out, Alina yelped as her bare feet hit the floor.
When will I learn?! The stone floor was always cold first thing in the morning.
Grabbing her socks, she shoved her cold toes in and then found her slip.
Next she swished water around her mouth and splashed more across her face, refusing to look in the small glass above the washbowl. She was always pudgy in the morning with dark circles under her eyes and sleep-matted cheeks. Never attractive.
Alina snatched her dress and pulled it over her head. No amount of not looking in the glass hid how it didn’t fit right. She didn’t have enough money for a new dress, so she bought a tailor’s oops. Unfortunately his oops happened to be in the waistline and the dress hugged her just above the hips, accentuating her love handles to horrible effect.
Alina scowled at the offending bulges, imaging how she must appear from behind.
There was no help for it. She wouldn’t have enough for a new dress for another month and only then if she was especially frugal.
She’d be frugal. Next month was the Borletta Ball. A town wide dance where, for one night, everyone could dance with anyone else. She’d have a new dress by then.
Stepping toward the door as she braided her hair, Alina halted as an envelope slide under the door at her toes.
The envelope was the color of cream with a red stamp. The city hawk: official mail of Borletta.
My dance card.
Alina’s fingers shook as she retrieved the envelope. It wafted roses as she flipped it to open the flap.
A cream card with ivy trim slid out. It contained ten names. The city assigned the first ten dances as a show of equality. It was humiliating for anyone with two left feet. Like Alina.
Alina scanned the names and gasped.
5. Aaron Alcott.
Her mouth went dry. She giggled and covered it with a hand.
I’ll make a fool of myself! He’ll see I’m fat and clumsy. But he’ll see me. Oh God, he’ll see me.
Alina suddenly wanted to cry. She’d hoped for three years to see Aaron’s name on her card but now she wasn’t sure she could handle it.
Pitching the card on her nightstand, Alina left. She’d be late for work but today no one would care. Everyone was congregating in the streets to share their cards, so one servant among dozens drew no interest.
“Alina,” Mary Jay called as she passed the central fountain, “Alina, haven’t found a new dress? Better before the ball, even Mr. Kenton will notice and not dance with you if you don’t.”
Alina didn’t answer although her stomach churned. Of course Mary Jay pointed out her pudginess. Thanks so much. But she wasn’t worried about Mr. Kenton caring.
Poor Mr. Kenton, who, at twenty-six, was balding and walked with a slight limp. The remnants of a riding accident. He was well off but the bane of any dance partner. He was number four on Alina’s card. Had been for the past six years. She was pretty sure he bought the spot. She enjoyed his conversation because he was smart and called things how he saw them. He always ruined the toes of her shoes but she never noticed until after the song.
Mary Jay wasn’t curious about her card, though.
“Come now, Alina, a little bottle might help you get noticed,” the woman giggled, the sound high and chirping.
Alina glanced sharply at her and winced, Mary Jay had paid for another potion. Her face was stiff as she laughed. Must have been a slimmer. Although the concoction melted fat, it also constricted airways, thus Mary Jay’s unfortunate laugh.
Why did she do that? Mary Jay was gorgeous without slimmers or glams or graces.
Alina yelped and fell as her foot squished into something. Mary Jay’s laughter chirped loudly behind her. Looking back, Alina bit off her unladylike exclamation.
Mrs. Williams was lowering herself to retrieve her groceries, mostly fruit that Alina squished when she fell.
“I’m sorry. I should know better than to over load myself,” Mrs. Williams apologized.
Alina picked up several apples and added them to the basket Mrs. Williams managed to right.
“Wasn’t watching where I was going,” Alina said. “Where’s your son?”
“That boy,” Mrs. Williams gingerly reached for an orange that rolled into the road. “He disappeared as soon as his card arrived. Completely forgot me, I’m afraid.”
“That can’t be. Mr. George loves you dearly. Everyone can see it,” Alina assured.
She helped Mrs. Williams to her feet and picked up the basket before the elderly woman could, sliding it to her elbow. She offered her free arm and Mrs. Williams laid a hand in the crook. Alina felt that hand tremble. It resembled the woman’s walk.
“If you need a hand, just send a runner. I can come over during lunches,” she offered.
“Such a dear,” Mrs. Williams patted her arm, “shouldn’t be needed. George’s just excited because a certain Miss Becca showed up on his card. He’s fancied her for years.”
Alina grinned. “I couldn’t imagine why. She’s only the best cook around.”
Mrs. Williams chuckled as they reached her gate. She took the basket and used the gate to steady herself.
“You rival that standard,” she said.
“Maybe, but I don’t match either you or Becca for beauty.” Alina shrugged like she didn’t care. It’d always been her protection, acting like she didn’t care.
“There are different beauties, dear.” Mrs. Williams said before shuffling down the path to her door.
Alina stared after her. Different beauties?
The bell tower chimed and Alina jumped. Lunch would be late if she didn’t hurry.
Mistress Nadine requested lunch in her chambers.
Alina drew a long straw. She sighed in relief when the room maid left with the try. Five minutes later the room maid returned with a full try. She walked to Alina and handed it to her.
“She requested you,” she said and walked away.
Alina adjusted the tray and headed to Mistress Nadine’s room.
Opening the door with an elbow on the latch and a shoulder to the wood, she entered the room backwards and paused to adjust to the dark.
Mistress Nadine sat in her chair by the fire. The curtains were drawn and the Lady drew a dark silhouette.
“Set it there,” She flicked her fingers at a side table.
Alina set the tray and backed toward the door but that hand flicked up.
The fingers beckoned.
Alina stepped around the chair until her mistress could see her.
In Mistress Nadine’s hand was a page with wavy handwriting that looked rushed.
Alina looked away. It would be impolite to read but she caught the salutation and signature. For the sake of perception, Mrs. Williams?
“In that room,” her mistress pointed, “is a painting I want brought here.” She described a picture with wild horses and then she shoed Alina.
Alina had never been through that door. She couldn’t think of a servant who had. It was always locked.
She turned the latch and stepped through…into an elaborate storage room. To the left were sets of silverware, to the right bookshelves, and straight ahead wardrobes. Alina swallowed. Within those would be stacks of dresses, all worn once.
She refused to go near them even as her own dress squeezed her waist.
Looking deeper she located what might be paintings far back behind the cutlery.
Yup, paintings. All set into frames that swung like a carpet display.
Alina flipped through them, only looking close enough to tell if they had horses.
Then she froze.
It wasn’t wild horses. It was a mirror…no, a painting of a mirror and in the reflection was her face.
No…Not quite her face. Her resemblance?
“What? Don’t recognize yourself?”
Alina jumped back and the paintings clattered.
With a trembling hand, she located the mirror again.
The image smiled. “Didn’t mean to startle.”
“What are you?”
“No.” There was no way.
“Well, kind of. I’m your reflection.”
“No you’re not.” The reflection was too perfect. Sure it had her dark hair and heart shaped face but it lacked her puffiness.
Something about the green eyes made her stare. She wanted to look like this.
The reflection continued to smile, eyes kind.
“I see,” it said, “would this suit you better?” The picture changed and her image, her real image, stared back.
Tears clouded her eyes. That’s me.
“That’s more honest.” She couldn’t help the tears streaming down her face. With the beautiful her and then the real her put so close together it hurt. Her chest ached. No potion could create that gorgeous creature from what she truly looked like even if she could afford a potion.
The image sighed. “That’s a matter of opinion. Do you know what I am?”
Alina shook her head.
“I’m an Eye,” the mirror explained, “I show the perception of a person. This image, this is what you perceive. This,” the image changed back to the beautiful, green eyed version, “this is what Mrs. Williams sees. She sees the giving heart behind your eyes.”
“She’s biased,” Alina stammered. How could Mrs. Williams see her so?
“Really?” the image asked, “then how about this?”
Again her reflection altered. Alina gasped and touched her lips. Her eyes, still beautifully gem like, became second fiddle to full, well shaped lips. Alina had bigger lips than many in Borletta. It was a feature she sometimes found attractive but usually just thought were out of character with the rest of her face.
“That’s not right,” she protested.
“Mary Jay would disagree. She sees you smile and every man smiles back. Part of the reason she buys potions, to create such a smile but she assumes it’s in the lips and misses the attitude.”
Alina frowned. Didn’t everyone smile back if you smiled first?
“Or perhaps this is less biased,” again a change.
Alina’s hand shot to her hair. No way she had that sassy of hair.
“A lot of character, wouldn’t you say?”
“More than exists in reality,” Alina replied.
“But it exists in Mistress Nadine’s mind. She often figures if she had a daughter, she would like the child to have your hair.”
“She’s too old for children.”
“Doesn’t change the thought.”
Alina shook her head, hard. Her hair swished around her head in soft waves.
“She likes your sass, likes that you speak up when she’s wrong and takes care of her when she refuses. The hair just embodies the character.” The image flipped said hair back over one shoulder.
Alina crumbled to the floor and hugged herself. Her dress pinched painfully at her pudgy waist.
The image changed again. Alina looked away, afraid of what it might show next. Some thin wisp of a girl, maybe.
“No, I’m not that girl!”
“You are in their eyes.”
“It’s not real,” She sniffled and wiped her sleeve across her eyes.
“I’ll show you two more,” the image said. “But beauty is really in how you see yourself. In what you choose to perceive. We all have beauty.”
“I don’t want to see,” Alina refused.
“What?” Alina’s head shot up.
Her reflection was pretty, sparkling green eyes, gentle wavy hair and a shy smile.
“He’s accustomed to potioned women, females who flaunt themselves. A woman who smiles and he can’t help but smile back is rare in his world but he doesn’t know if you like him because you smile at everyone…”
“He doesn’t know?” Didn’t everyone know? Mary Jay teased her endlessly about her swooning.
Her image smiled at her. It was gentle and lovely.
Do I smile like that?
Alina found herself smiling tentatively back.
“Last perception,” the image said.
Alina stared as the reflection altered and her mouth gaped.
This one was beyond flattering. No feature outshone another but they all culminated to make a beautiful creature any woman would envy.
“Now that’s too much,” she protested.
Alina swung the frame away. Pulled out the wild horses painting behind it and left. No one could see her like that. It just wasn’t possible.
Faint moonlight peeked through the wake holes onto Alina’s bed. It didn’t matter. She would have been awake without the light.
Every time she glanced in the glass now, she couldn’t help but see herself through another’s eyes.
She messed with her hair and saw the character. How’d I missed it?
She smiled and her eyes shone. So she smiled more and sure enough, people responded.
But when she closed her eyes at night, it wasn’t her hair or eyes that appeared behind her lids, it was the perfection image. The one that envisioned her a pure delight to see.
She tried each morning to see that woman in the mirror, but how could someone see her so?
And then, of course, it plagued her who the man could be. But her stubbornness would not let her go back to the eye. So instead she worked and saved, woke each morning to stare in the glass, smiled even at Mary Jay and finally bought herself a new dress. But she refused to look even at the door to the storage room.
The new dress swished around her ankles with gentle tickles on the tops of her feet.
She twirled and giggled.
Now for her hair. She gazed in her small glass, wet her fingers in the washbowl and, on a whim, threw her hair into a tie and pulled soft tendrils out to trickle down around her face.
Mary Jaw would tease her but who cared, it was fun.
Lastly she slid her feet into her dress shoes. She wore them once a year and each year she re-shined them. She loved the flats, they made her feet look dainty. And this year they accented her blue dress well.
With a last glance, Alina headed out, a light bounce in her step.
The hall glowed with lanterns and light colored drapes.
Alina grinned at Mrs. Williams who watched her son dancing with Miss Becca. He looked at the woman like she was a precious flower. Anyone with eyes could see he loved the floor she walked on. The beautiful thing was, Miss Becca returned the look.
“Lovely, aren’t they?” Alina sat beside Mrs. Williams.
Mrs. Williams gave a distracted nod.
The formal dancing had yet to start. George and Becca were ‘warming up.’
“Alina, new dress?” A high, nasal voice asked.
Alina glanced at Mary Jay. The other woman wore a flowing black gown of velvet. Alina would never own such a dress, not when it would cost her a year’s wages.
“Hides you curves, doesn’t it?” Mary Jay pinched her side.
Alina squeaked. Of all the...
“Snarky, isn’t she?” Mrs. Williams commented at Mary Jay’s back.
Alina shrugged. “She’s never been taught better.”
Wait, I just said that?
But she believed it. The ache that gnawed at her when May Jay teased her wasn’t there. What changed?
“You’re a marvel,” Mrs. Williams patted her knee, “took me forty years to realize that.”
The music kicked up and a young man, maybe twenty, offered Alina his hand. He chatted a lot and barely moved around the floor. Alina was thankful because she didn’t destroy his toes.
The second man was middle aged and danced so jerkily Alina thought he had metal joints. He might, in fact, have metal joints, but she didn’t ask.
The third dance partner was Alina’s age, fluid as a panther with a dark expression to match. She aimed to get a smile from him…and succeeded after killing his toes and comparing herself to a bear in a dress.
She’d never teased herself like that before, afraid she’d break out in tears at her own joke. It was surprisingly easy now. She could get a smile from a man she couldn’t even name.
“Miraculous! You got Lord Marrion to smile. I’ll mark the day in my calendar.”
Mr. Kenton. Alina grinned. Mr. Kenton couldn’t dance any better than she but neither of them really noticed.
“Should I invite him to dance again?” Alina asked.
Mr. Kenton’s expression darkened but then it passed and he chuckled.
“Na, he wouldn’t know how to answer a woman so bold.”
“Bold, me?” Alina almost snorted. “Wouldn’t even know where to start.”
The song finished and Mr. Kenton bowed and passed her hand to her next partner.
His eyes glittered with something left unsaid. Alina almost followed him to ask but then she realized who had taken her hand. Oh dear. Alina shook as Aaron Alcott started the waltz. He was tall with sculpture like features. Strong jaw, straight nose, beautiful eyes.
But he refused to look at her.
“Enjoying the dance?” she asked.
How inane! Couldn’t come up with a better question?
She got a nod in answer.
The song ended before she could come up with a more engaging question.
Aaron Alcott moved on with barely a bow.
Alina fought tears. The Eye must have lied. Aaron didn’t see her and treat her like he just did.
Alina danced the last five dances but couldn’t recall later who she danced with. She sat after the tenth dance.
No one would want to dance with her again. It was how every year went. A whirlwind first hour, and then watching.
But two pairs of feet appeared in the vision of her bowed head.
Glancing up, surprised, Alina found Aaron Alcott and Mr. Kenton holding out their hands.
She felt light headed.
She started to accept Aaron’s hand and froze. There was no question in his eyes. He assumed she would accept. There was no excitement, no joy as she leaned to take his hand. His sculpture features faded, dulled to her.
And took Mr. Kenton’s hand. His face lit…and Alina knew, this was the man who saw her beauty.
And he was handsome. He still had the balding head and slight limp but his dark eyes laughed and, for how horrible of a dancer he was, he moved with confidence. This was a man who knew who he was and was perfectly okay with himself.
Beauty is really in how you see yourself.
Alina understood. Mr. Kenton was handsome, flaws and all.
I’m beautiful, flaws and all. She’d spent the last month seeing it through other’s eyes and knew it was true.
“Ready for me to ruin your toes?” she asked.
Mr. Kenton burst out laughing. “Only if you’re ready to replace your shoes. They’ve lasted what, six years?”
He swept her into the dance. Alina grinned. She felt beautiful. Not because of the dress or shoes, but because she knew she was. And this man just reinforced it.
Mrs. Williams waved at her with a smug smile from the side of the floor. Beside her stood Mistress Nadine. Those two, always scheming. For the sake of perception indeed!
Blessings and have a wonderful weekend,