For years, I believed my sister lost to time and space. As little girls, we would pick through the pink sand for sea glass. Lore said the sea sorceresses enchanted them before tossing them to shore, little gems left like gifts from the sea to the humans. The adults laughed it off. They had grown up long ago. But children always believed. My sister and I believed. We always have. The sea glass always worked for us. A way for sisters to communicate voice to voice, heart to heart. Until the cruel day the sea glass only spit back silence.
Abigail watched as Camille stalked back and forth across her room. She was perched, like a bird, on the edge of her own bed, the soft cotton sheets and quilt covered in blooming flowers neatly folded beneath her. Her fingers dug into the soft material at either side of her, possibly to keep her from flying away or possibly just to give her nervous fingers something to do. Camille had taken the book from her hands when she’d entered and Abigail couldn’t help but feel her fingers tremble with the need to pluck it back from her sister.
“Camille, you’re making me nervous,” Abigail said, a nervous laugh escaping along with the words.
“I can’t believe Father left that woman with us,” Camille seethed, her fingers white around Abigail’s book.
“Madeline doesn’t seem so bad,” Abigail said. “She has a good grip.”
“I don’t mean Madeline, Gail. Muriel is up to no good. Gold digging woman. I could smell her a mile away. Simpering up to Father at Mother’s funeral. The nerve of that woman!”
“She made Father happy,” Abigail said in a small voice. “But, Camille, it doesn’t matter. She is our mother now.”
“Stepmother,” Camille snapped. “That woman can never replace Mother, and I don’t intend on letting her try.”
“She isn’t going to make life here pleasant.”
Camille waved a hand. “She can do what she wants.” Taking a deep breath, Camille went around to her sister and knelt on the rug before Abigail. She finally handed the book back and clasped one of Abigail’s hands. “I just want you to stay out of her way. Let this be between her and me. Please, Abigail, I couldn’t stand it if Muriel tears you down.”
“Camille, I may not like being around people, but I’m hardly fragile.”
Her sister shook her head. “It doesn’t matter, Abigail. I’m your older sister. Please let me protect you.”
Abigail smiled and placed her free hand on top of her sister’s. “Camille, you forget I am of marriageable age as well. You do not need to be my protector anymore.”
Camille leaned forward slightly, an earnest expression on her face. “But I have to, Gail! I have to be. You have such a hard time speaking to people, such a difficulty even leaving the manor. How will you even find a husband?”
Abigail’s smile dropped from her face and she tugged her hands back. She folded her arms around herself and turned her head. It was always the same. Her father. Her mother. Camille. Even Geoffrey hovered over her.
“I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Abigail said quietly.
She could feel Camille pulling away, could feel her sister’s disappointment and worry. But she couldn’t make herself turn back, couldn’t bring a smile to make things better back to her face. Camille had been shielding her all her life, had been the light of every ball and every social gathering so Abigail could nestle into a corner. She’d always taken the out with relief. She knew she needed to thank her sister. But, at twenty-two, her sister’s resolve to rule Abigail’s life was starting to grate on her. She couldn’t understand why everyone had a hard time with letting her be.
She heard Camille rise and take a few steps away. From somewhere around the doorway, she heard her sister’s soft voice, “Just promise me you’ll stay out of Muriel’s way. Let me deal with her.”
Without looking, Abigail nodded. She neither wanted to cross paths with her stepmother nor did she want everyone to continue treating her like something was wrong with her.
She clutched at her book, one of her mother’s favorites. The cover was soft and worn, and she imagined she could still hear her mother turning the pages. It had been a gift from Genevieve’s father. Abigail remembered her grandfather with fondness. His wife had passed long before Abigail had been born, so had taken to traveling back and forth between the two linked worlds. This book had come from the linked world, an old worn and used copy of what her grandfather had called a classic.
The lettering on the cover had worn away long ago. But she knew it by heart, had asked her mother read it to her night after night. It was about a girl. A dreamer of a girl just like Abigail. But, unlike Abigail, the girl had had a fantastic adventure full of wonder. The kind of adventure Abigail herself would shy away from. It wasn’t that she was adverse to any kind of fun or exploration, but she really did prefer to be at home, curled up with a book or wrist deep in smooth, warm bread dough.
Bread dough. The kitchen. Her sister wanted her to stay out of Muriel’s way. Well, she wanted to stay out of Muriel’s way, too. She chafed a bit under her sister’s orders, but she was intending on doing just that anyways. She’d thought frequent visits to her mother’s extensive library or out to chase the chickens and ride her favorite mare would be enough, but she also loved the warm yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread, of soft sweet cakes just waiting for icing, and muffins jammed full of berries from the bushes and fields behind the manor. She would just explain to Alexander and Diane and Helene that Camille wanted her to stay out of Muriel’s way, and what better place than the kitchens? They did love her company. Surely they wouldn’t have any objections, other than the one that a lady related to the king shouldn’t be acting a servant.
Oh, bah! She was only distantly related. There was barely any shared blood left. But Lawrence was still of royal blood, so still held a place of honor in the kingdom. Likewise, so did his daughters.
She bristled slightly. And now so did Muriel. Through marriage, of course. But she had no doubt that Muriel intended on perfectly placing her daughter in the way of, perhaps not the Crown Prince since he was practically married, but perhaps the Duke’s son. Or maybe one of the Marchioness’s three sons.
Wistfully, she remembered each of the boys and girls she called cousin no matter if they were the child of the Prince, the king’s younger brother, or one of the countless viscounts, counts, and barons. Prince James was close in age to her, as was Adrian, the Prince’s son. Since they all lived in the same city, they’d often spent time running the streets together as children, much to the consternation of all the nannies that had been set on them. Parties and balls had been particularly fun. James always had a prank he wanted to play and Adrian had always been more than happy to go along. It hadn’t taken much for them to talk Abigail into joining them since Camille preferred the company of Adrian’s younger sister.
Abigail wistfully ran her fingertips over her mother’s book. It had been a long time since she’d seen either James or Adrian, but, with James’s betrothal imminent, it wouldn’t be long before she could see her cousins again. The only boys who hadn’t teased her for hiding behind her mother’s skirts and her sister’s exuberance. And maybe she could warn Adrian he was likely being eyed by Muriel as a suitable husband for Madeline.
Check out Queen of the Garden of Girls