Book: The Ugly Stepsister (Unfinished Fairy Tales Book 1)

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THIRTY-NINE

 

 

“Pumpkin, check. Mice, check. Lizards? I’m not going to use lizards!” Meg’s voice rises to a squeal.

“Be quiet,” I hiss. Others can’t hear Krev, but Meg is different. She confessed that although she could make herself invisible, she couldn’t control her voice. She’s not a bat that can send special signals.

“That’s what the story says. Mice become horses, rats become coachmen, and lizards are transformed into footmen. Or maybe you can substitute the lizards?” I ask hopefully. I’m not a fan of lizards-turned-men either.

“How about a cockroach?” Krev asks.

“NO!” Both Meg and I yell. We had roaches in our house before, and I swear they’re the most disgusting creatures to have ever inhabited the planet. I still haven’t forgiven the director of Enchanted for including roaches in the heroine’s cleaning song.

“Spiders?” Krev says.

I shudder. Meg looks scared and backs away.

Krev runs through a list of crawly critters: grasshoppers, centipedes, snakes … until I stop him.

“Why can’t we have something normal? Like a dog or cat?”

Meg brightens. “The very thing! There’s a litter of kittens in the backyard. Cats would make very graceful humans.”

“Thank God,” I say, relieved. “So what’s left is Elle’s dress and the slippers. Can you transform one of my dresses for her?” I fling open my wardrobe. Meg comes forward, a curious look in her eyes.

“Krev, keep an eye out,” I whisper. If Martha barges in when Meg is performing her magic…

I sit on the bed. Meg drapes my snuff-brown dress over the coatrack (that was once my “twin”) and waves her wand.

Poof! A slinky, glittering beady dress appears, slit up to the thigh.

“No way,” I say, dismayed. “That looks like an outfit for rhythmic gymnastics.”

“What’s rhythmic gymnastics?” Meg says. “We wear these dresses to parties.”

“Never mind; do another one. In this world, we have dresses with huge skirts and tight bodices.”

Meg waves her wand. This time, a Barbie pink dress with layers of tulle appears. No, no, no. Way too gaudy. Even the jewels along the waistline look plastic.

“Um, can we try something more…elegant? And change the color. Elle has lovely honey-blonde hair.”

Poof! A gorgeous white satin gown that looks like a wedding dress replaces the pink tulle one. Diamonds run down the bodice. The skirt is a sea of laces and bows. It’s a dream for any woman.

“Yes!” I can’t help applauding. “I don’t think even the finest dressmaker can do this.” Now I get why the fairy godmother is needed. Some things are only achieved by magic.

Meg looks smug. She raises an eyebrow at Krev, who sticks out his tongue. “Fuss and feathers.”

“What’s next on the list?” Meg asks.

“The slippers. But they can’t disappear after midnight.”

“I suppose a few more hours won’t be a problem,” Meg concedes, after a moment of reflection.

My pen reaches the end of the list.

“The spell di amor,” I say. “How are you going to get Elle to use it?”

“First I need something from the prince, so the spell will know at whom to direct the amorous energy.”

I groan. “Why didn’t you tell me that before I went to the palace?”

She looks sheepish. “I forgot. We were too busy worrying about how to keep you invisible.”

“Maybe use a coin?” Krev suggests. “Half of the coins have the prince’s figurehead on the back.”

“Won’t do,” Meg says. “It has to be something the prince owns. A coin has been through too many hands to find its original owner.”

I run to my dresser and rummage through a drawer containing handkerchiefs. Thank heavens, it’s still there. Edward’s cravat, the one he used to bandage my foot. I let my fingers run over the smooth silk, longingly, before holding it up.

“Here. It’s the prince’s cravat. And don’t ask how I got it.”

“Have you got the gloves?” Meg asks. I produce a pair of white satin gloves that reach to the elbows.

“Where did you get those?” Krev asks. “Didn’t the mistress confiscate all your fine clothes so that you couldn’t go to the ball?”

“From Bianca. I stole a pair when I came back in my invisibility cloak. She has so many that I doubt she’ll miss them.”

“All right.” Meg lays the cravat on my dresser. She takes a bottle and uncorks it. No liquid flows out; just a silvery mist rising in the air. She waves her wand, and the cravat flies into the mist, turning it as pink as a Valentine Day’s candy. Another flick of the wand, and the mist settles over the gloves. Fascinated, I watch as the mist gradually disappears, as though the gloves are absorbing the pink mist like a sponge. Soon the mist completely disappears. The gloves look completely normal now.

“There!” Meg says gleefully, her voice high-pitched and shrill. “All she has to do is touch the prince with those gloves, and he’ll fall in love with her!”

“Will this spell last?”

“It’s the same as the other spells.” Meg shakes her head. “It’ll lose its effect by midnight on the night of the ball.”

“All right,” I say. Once I finish the opening dance with Edward, I’ll lead him to Elle. He had promised me he would dance with her. One touch, and he’ll fall in love with her.

Everything’s ready. I’ll be seeing Mom and Paige again soon.

Be happy, I tell myself fiercely. Only a few days remain till you leave Athelia.

 

The days leading up to the ball pass faster than expected. Lady Bradshaw and Bianca cease all social activities and throw everything into preparing for the ball. Since Elle left, Bianca has hired several new maids to do her hair and dress her up, since none of the other servants can match Elle’s skill. Meg keeps practicing solidifying the gown and slippers. The timing has to be right—the gown must disappear by midnight, but the slippers remain. Krev sits on the mantelpiece and taunts her, but he’s actually being helpful. Meg, when taunted, is spurred into a fervor for improvement.

“Too bad we can’t practice with the pumpkin and mice and kittens,” I say.

“No worries,” Meg says in a chipper tone. “I’ve been honing my skills with the outfit, so there’s no reason I can’t perform well with the rest when the time comes.”

“Are you sure?” Krev asks. “The carriage is going to be a whole lot bigger, and creating humans from animals is extremely different from creating illusions of an inanimate object.”

Meg glares. “And what can you do, you mottled-skinned demon?”

“I’m a goblin,” Krev snarls.

“Okay guys, stop it,” I say. “The ball is tonight. We have to work together for happily-ever-after.”

After a few more seconds of glaring back and forth, Meg sticks her wand in her pocket.

“I’m tired,” she yawns. “How much time till Elle arrives?”

I glance at the clock. It’s five in the afternoon. I told Elle to meet us at nine. Bianca will certainly be at the ball by then.

“There are still four hours,” I say. “Perhaps you’d better take a break. Save some energy for when Elle arrives.”

Meg nods. She sits on the bed for a while, then stands up. “Father told me to give Mother a piece of jewelry.” She pulls out a sparkling necklace from her bottomless pocket. The diamonds are so exquisite that again I’m reminded why the fairy godmother is needed. Of all the gowns I’ve seen Bianca wear, nothing comes close to the dress or accessories Meg created.

Meg starts to make herself invisible. She’s halfway through, with only her upper torso showing, when she suddenly stops waving her wand.

“By the way, where is Mother’s house? It’s such a long time since I last visited.”

“Krev, could you show her?” I say. Obviously I can’t get out, and even if I could, I still don’t know the way.

The goblin huffs. “Say please.”

“Please, Krev,” I urge him. “If it weren’t for Lady Gregory, I would have never found Lysander and Meg. And you know that without Meg, you couldn’t report a good show to your king.”

After more pleading, Krev relents. I’m rather glad to see them leave. Right now I prefer some time alone.

I flop on the bed. Tonight could be the last night, or tomorrow. What did Krev say again—the happy ending only occurs when the wedding takes place with bells ringing? I feel a bit guilty about stealing Elle away from Henry, but I try to console myself. Claire’s mom says Henry falls in love easily, like Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Hopefully it won’t take long for him to find another girl.

Anyway, once everyone in the ball witnesses Edward captivated by Elle, no one can mistake his choice. I close my eyes. Visions of that gorgeous white satin gown trimmed with golden lace flood my mind. When I first saw Bianca and Elle, I was skeptical that Elle could have a chance to outshine Bianca, but now I have no doubt. The fairy-made dress simply puts ALL the gowns I’ve seen—and I’ve seen many—to shame. There’s simply no competition.

There’s a click from the door—someone is unlocking it. I launch off the bed. Maybe Martha has come with the dinner tray.

To my surprise, Bianca enters.

I stare. She has never been in my room before.

Bianca is ready for the ball, arrayed in a breathtaking, form-fitting amethyst gown that shows off her Victoria Secret model figure. It’s low cut as well, revealing the elegant shape of her swan neck and the swell of her breasts. Another day I might be impressed, but after seeing Meg’s gown for Elle, I merely blink.

“You conniving little sneak,” she hisses. “You had me fooled.”

Something isn’t right. What is she referring to? “I’ve no idea what you mean.”

She folds her arms. “Van told me everything. All this time you’ve been sneaking off to see His Highness, instead of the duke, as you led us to believe.” She seizes my arm, her sharp nails digging into my skin. I cry out in pain and wrench my arm away, but she grabs a fistful of my hair.

Bianca gazes at me with a probing intensity. “You have nothing to recommend yourself. No beauty, no grace, no mind of cultivated intelligence. What kind of witchcraft did you use to seduce him?”

“You’re crazy!” I try to twist away, but then strong arms grab my hands, pinning them behind me.

From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of red hair and a lanky figure.

“Van?” I say disbelievingly. “Are you mad? Let me go!”

He doesn’t budge except to tighten his hold on me.

Bianca’s gaze sweeps over the room. In case of Martha entering, Meg left the dress and slippers in their original state, but the gloves remain intact on the bed.

“You’ve found a witch to enchant those gloves, haven’t you?”

“No!” I lunge toward her, but Van yanks me backward.

Bianca picks up the gloves and looks at them curiously.

“I’ve been hearing voices from my room,” she says, pointing at a ventilator near the ceiling. My heart sinks. So Meg’s voice was too loud, or the walls too thin. “‘All she has to do is touch the prince with these gloves, and he’ll fall in love with her.’”

“You heard wrong,” I snap, trying to free myself, but Van is way too strong.

“Then you won’t mind if I take them.” Bianca flaunts the gloves in front of me. “Since you appear agitated, I suppose my suspicions are not unmerited. As a matter of fact, I’m just reclaiming what you stole from me.”

Her tone drips with venom. She’s not just talking about the gloves.

“When Van told me about your seducing the prince, I thought he was out of his mind. How could His Highness be interested in a plain, insignificant girl like you? Only witchcraft can be the explanation.” She draws the gloves over her arms. “Tonight I shall find out exactly how you ensnared the prince.”

I try to scream, but Van clamps a hand over my mouth.

“Take her down to the cellar and lock her inside,” Bianca instructs. She glances at the clock. “I must leave now. It will not do to keep His Highness waiting.”

And she saunters off with my magic-infused gloves. I struggle, but it’s no use. Van drags me downstairs, keeping a firm hand clamped over my mouth. The laundress happens to pass by with a fully loaded basket, but Bianca silences her with an icy glare. I guess it doesn’t help that I usually cause her more work due to my tendency to soil clothes.

I’m shoved into the cellar. For a split second, Van averts his gaze from me and mutters, “Sorry, miss.” Then the heavy door clangs shut.

Bianca’s voice, ominous and menacing, echoes through the air: “I warned you, Katriona. No one shall ever interfere with me becoming queen.”

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Next: FORTY