The big party tonight is all everyone talks about in our house. What to wear: the sparkly red shoes that pinch the toes or the green satin ones that slip off the heel? The salmon dress with maroon flounces or the yellow and lime green? Hair up with curly tendrils over the forehead or ringlets over the shoulder? Should George drive the coach alone in full livery or should Tom, his boy, be in attendance too, also in livery?
By everyone, I mean of course Mummy and Emelda, my older sister.
“But I want to stay home tonight,” I wail. I’m reading this terrific book about a man on a desert island, but I can’t tell Mummy that. She detests books.
“How will you find a husband if you stay at home?” Mummy asks, primping up the bow in my hair. I jerk my head away. I want to be in a shipwreck and washed up on a desert island, not find a husband.
Later I catch Freddie as he’s about to go into his study. Mummy snagged Freddie last summer. Just in time, according to Mummy’s financial advisor. I tell him about needing to stay home to read my book, hoping he’ll come to my rescue.
“Your mother knows best, dear.” The door closes quietly behind him.
After lunch Mummy makes Emelda and me go to our room to nap so we don’t yawn at the party. I open my book but Emelda’s snoring makes it difficult to concentrate so I creep down to the kitchen.
At first I think I’m alone, but I’m not. Cindy is there, slumped on the stool by the open fireplace, gazing into the flames and sighing. Her sighing is as annoying as Emelda’s snoring.
I notice the newspaper on the floor by her feet. Looking up at us is a photo of Philippe Maney-Ricardet, the new prince of stage and screen. His dark eyes gleam. I look at his soft skin. He wouldn’t last twenty-four hours on a desert island.
I nudge the newspaper with my toe. “Did you hear? He’s going to the party tonight.”
“He is?” Cindy’s little pearly white rodent teeth gnaw at her lower lip.”I didn’t know.”
“What a shame,” I say. “You’re not going. One look at you and… Wham!” I thump my chest. “It would have been love at first sight. No eyes for anyone but…” I point my finger at her. “You.”
Cindy clasps her hands under her chin, her mouth in a little ‘o’.
Most people don’t notice because Cindy’s got no sense of style and dresses as though she’s a scullery maid – simply because she hates Mummy for marrying Freddie and knows it drives Mummy absolutely crazy to see her looking like a damp dishrag – but she’s not a bad looking girl. And she knows it. She’s always squinting sideways to catch her reflection in mirrors and fluffing her hair.
Cindy is distraught. “What am I going to do? I don’t have an invitation.”
I stop myself from saying serves her right for ripping up her invitation and throwing it on the fire just to infuriate Mummy. I’ve never seen Mummy so angry! And she’d just bought Cindy a lovely blue dress.
“You could…” I lower my voice. “Take my invitation.”
I’m already imagining myself on the stool Cindy is sitting on, reading my book without interruption all evening. I’ll make myself a jug of hot chocolate and open a packet of my favorite shortbread cookies and finish the two left-over éclairs in the larder and the Madeira cake.
“You can wear my glass slippers.” I know she loves my glass slippers because I’ve caught her trying them on more than once. “They’ll go nicely with that dress Mummy bought you. You can have my glass slippers. Forever.” I say nothing about them being far too tight for me.
“We’d never get away with it.” Her eyes are all big and round and scared like Freddie’s when Mummy gets in a snit. “It would be obvious. Everyone would notice…”
Although Mummy took care to explain that “homely” is used to describe a girl who has a particular gift for making any place, even a hovel, heaven forbid, into a delightful home for husband and children, I’d understood exactly what Lady Dettingham had been saying about me. I’d also understood what Mrs. Barnett had meant when she said “My dear Lady Dettingham, you’re being far, far too kind.”
“It’s a masked party,” I tell her, my lips a little stiff.
“Even so.” Her hands go to her wand-like waist. “People couldn’t help but know.”
When I blush, I go an unbecoming purple color. I suck in my stomach as best I can. I draw a deep breath. With an entire evening of reading on the line, this is no time for shallow pride. “Please,” I beg.
“Anyway,” she says. “It would be cheating.”
I slam my book closed. Self-righteous little prig.
But I know what to do. I go upstairs and polish my glass slippers until I have to put on my sunglasses to look at them. Then I sneak into her room and place them in front of her mirror.
The mirror will do the rest.