Yes, my loves, here I go again!
Edith Piaf- Padam Padam
I wish I could tell you that memories of my childhood are filled with jump ropes, pretty dolls and loving moments with my parents. If I told you that, I'd be lying, and the one thing I've learned worth remembering is to never lie…unless they pay you to.
The year was 1910 and I can still remember the way the wet grass smelled that early morning on the road. I sat next to my father in the carriage bundled up in blankets that smelled like wet dirt and mold. I couldn't see anything but I knew from the way the birds chirped in the distance that it was morning and traveling this early never gave me any comfort.
I miss my mother. I miss my home. I miss America.
My father didn't talk the entire trip. He kept his eyes on the dark road ahead and behind us, muttering obscenities in French that I was still too young to understand. From what I can remember, he was once a handsome man. A handsome man with a sickness, a sickness he said could only be cured by the soothing comfort of the contents in a flask he hid in the left breast pocket of his tattered pea coat.
"Where are we, papa?" I finally ask, tugging the blanket away from my face. Silence followed as it had the entire journey out here. The horse finally slowed in front of a dimly lit house hidden deep in the Vincennes Woods. I knew this house…it belonged to my grandparents. I hadn't been here since I was four, but I can still remember playing with the frogs by the lake while my grandmother played cards.
The door of the house opened and a woman appeared leaning against the door frame. A flickering glow from a lantern inside gave off the most angelic glow around her. Her wild hair was stacked loosely at the top of her head. She wore a flowing white dress that was gathered at her waist by a corset that was also loosely tied. A shawl hung off her shoulders as she waved us over. I could not see her face but the way she held her cigarette and stood there was so elegant…regal, almost.
"Come, Isabella." My father's rough voice pierced the quiet night air as he pulled me from the carriage.
"What about my doll?"
"I will get it before-let's just get inside, it's cold." He grabbed my bag and held out his hand for mine.
"You forgot yours, papa." I pulled away and started towards the carriage.
"Isabella!" He muttered through his teeth, "come." His calloused hands wrapped around my wrist and tugged me toward the door. "Rose." He greeted, kissing her quickly on the cheek.
"Charles." She nodded, flicking her cigarette into a puddle. She pushed open the door with her back and waved us in. My father pushed me in first, throwing my bag on an elegant looking chair. The foyer was tastefully decorated with lush red drapes and elegant carpeting. Pretty paintings hung strategically on the walls like the paintings in Versailles. "Let me get a look her." The woman said, smiling down at me. In the light, she was beautiful…the spitting image of a tin type my mother had of my grandmother. Her hair was blonde and curled in loose waves. Her eyes were a brilliant blue, like the color of a robin's egg. "She is a beauty," her arms wrapped around me and held me for a long moment. "With eyes the color of caramel and hair like sable." Her fingers run through the curls and tugged lightly before tickling under my chin.
"She gets her looks from her mother," my father agreed quietly.
"I am your aunt Rose," she says to me. "Your mother's sister. The last time I saw you was when you were just a baby…now look at you!"
"I am nearly twelve."
My father's attention was at the top of the staircase, a shadow of a woman appeared and that was the first time I had seen my father smile. "Alice!" He said, brushing past me towards the stairs. A tiny, young woman came bounding down the stairs, giggling when my father squeezed her. She was just as beautiful as Rose, but in a different way. She looked just like my mother, god rest her soul. Black hair and violet-colored eyes. "My dear sister-in-law."
"I've missed you, Charles!" She said, kissing him on his cheek. "Where have you been hiding?"
"I've had business in Vienna-"
"Avoiding us for nearly three years?"
"Business has been tough," he muttered.
"I'm sure." She muttered, looking around him to try and get a look at me. "And who is this?"
"This is your niece, Isabella." Her bright eyes blinked back tears as she looked between my father and I.
"Vous, mon cher, sont la plus belle petite poupée que j'ai jamais vu!"
"She doesn't know French, Alice." My father muttered, patting my head.
"Mon dieu! Pourquoi pas?" Alice shrieks, covering her chest in horror. "She is French! Well, the good half, at least." She winks at Charles and pulls me closer to her, surrounding me with her sweet perfume. "I said you are as pretty as a doll, and your skin….ah, to be young and fresh faced again." She pats my cheek and wraps one arm around my shoulder. "I will make you my little pet."
"She's not a doll, Alice." Rose huffs, lighting up another cigarette. "Why don't you take her into your room so Charles and I can talk." She toys with a lighter and eyes my father, he is tracing the brim of his hat with his finger and looking at the flickering candle.
"Very well," Alice grabs my hand and pulls me up the stairs. "I will show you my doll collection." We sat on her tiny bed and she let me play with her dolls while she brushed my tangled hair. "How did you like living in America?" She asks, tugging on my hair.
"I miss my home," I sigh.
"What do you miss about it?"
"I miss the warmth of my bed and my dolls. But mostly, I miss my mother." I stare at the delicate stitch of the doll's dress and blink back the tears that make my nose hurt.
"I miss my sister, too." Alice whispers. "Your father says her death was quick, she didn't suffer."
"He wasn't there." I mutter, tossing the doll on the bed. "She was sick for a long time, the drinking didn't help."
"I'm sorry, petite." Alice takes my hand and kisses it sweetly. "But your father came to get you. You weren't alone for long…that's a good thing."
"I don't really know him."
"How could you not know him?" She laughs, patting the top of my head. "He is your father!"
"I had only met him once before he came and got me. It's been my mother and me for as long as I can remember."
"Where was Charles?" She asks, brushing my hair.
"Sometimes, my mother would say he traveled on business. Other times she said I was delivered to her by a whispering wind."
"Poor Renee," she coos. "Rose said that she was loosing her mind towards the end. We wanted her to come back home to France but she loved America too much, she couldn't be reasoned with."
"She was just tired," I snap. "You would be too if you worked as much as she did."
"Oh my dear, sweet angel." Alice took my face in her hands and kissed my eyelids before pulling me into a hug. "I did not mean any offense, mon cher." I wiped angry tears away before she pulled me away from her. "You are a brave young girl."
"Can I use your restroom?" I ask, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.
"Of course, ma petite fleur." She wiped the tears from my eyes and points towards the door. "Down the stairs, first door to your left."
I crept down the stairs and smiled at the three women who were climbing up. They are all dressed in white satin corsets and long red skirts that rustle when they walked. Two of them had their curly hair pinned up at the top of their head. The third had her long black hair pulled back into a ponytail, she was the only one of the three that smiled back. They all had their makeup on perfectly and smelled like the prettiest flowers. At the bottom of the stairs, I could hear my father and Rose talking. I tip toed toward the door and listening through the crack.
"I have no where else to take her, Laurent and his men are closing in on me."
"This is not a proper place for a girl like her." Rose said, flicking the ashes of her cigarette into a glass tray.
"I won't pretend that I agree with what you are doing in the family estate-"
"My estate," she corrects him. "And I didn't see you lifting a finger to help pay the taxes."
"Business is bad, yes, I get it." She laughs dryly and shifts in her chair before looking around. "I did what I had to do to save this place…and unlike you, business for me is great."
"I am glad, Rose." Father plays with the edges of the crystal tray and rubs his brows in frustration. "I am just in a desperate way…my daughter deserves better than what I have been giving her."
"And you think life in a bordello will suit her just fine?" She laughs, a throaty laugh.
"It's better than living in the back of a carriage."
"This is true," she shrugged. "Okay," she strums the table with her nails. "The way I see it, you still owe me seventy-one Francs…she can stay here and work it off."
"She will not be a whore!" Father slams his hand down on the table and I jump back. Rose doesn't flinch but raises her eyebrow as if she's staring at a petulant child.
After a long moment, she finally inhaled and lit another cigarette. "She is my niece…the splitting image of my dear, sweet sister. Why would I subject her to a life like mine?" Her voice was eerily calm, deadly almost. She smiles at his silence and continues. "No, I think she be perfect here. She can help the girls dress and clean up after…laundry and other things I can think of."
"No men?" Father asks again, looking up from his hat.
"I give you my word," she says, patting his hand in comfort. I stepped back slowly from the door and wipe my tears, I don't know if I'm happy to be staying or sad because my father is leaving…I think it's the latter of the two.
Alice finds me shortly after and escorts me back up to her room, the sun begins to rise when Alice pulls the covers over me. "Rest your eyes, petite."
"What about Papa?"
Alice's brows knit together as she smoothes the blankets across my stomach. "Sleep, Bella."
"My name is Isabella," I correct her, scrunching my own nose.
"Bella means beautiful in Italian." She giggles, kissing my cheeks before placing her doll by my head. "It suits you." I giggle when she tickles the back of my ears and hugs me once before blowing out the light. She reminds me of my mother, same dimpled smile and scent…I love her instantly.
"I think I like it after all…Bella." I try it on for size before curling into her embrace.
"Wake up, Isabella." Rose whispers into my ear as she strokes my hair. "You need to eat and shower…you must be very uncomfortable."
"Where's Papa?" I ask, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I look between Rose and Alice and notice that they look to each other for an answer. Alice kneels before me on the bed and brushes my messy hair away from my face. "Where is papa?" I ask again.
"I will not lie to you, Isabella." Rose clears her throat and sits at the foot of the bed. "Your father is in some trouble and had to leave you here for a little while…he will be coming back soon."
I wipe my tears and taste the salt on my lips. "Don't lie to me," I whisper. "He just came here to dump me off so he can run around Europe without having to worry about me."
"You cannot be fooled, young one." Rose smiles and rises from the bed. "Your father left you to my care. You will live in this house until you are old enough to decide what you want to do with your life. Look to Alice and I for anything you might need or want."
"I want my mother," I whimper.
"Unfortunately, that is something I cannot give you." Rose says, taking my hands in hers. "But I promise you this, sweet Isabella, you will be treated as if you were my own. You are my beloved sister's child…and this is your home.
After lunch and a long bath, Rose gives me a tour of the house and introduces me to a the same three girls from the earlier that morning.
"Isabella," Rose tugs on my hand and pulls me in front of her. "These are boarders of mine. Tanya, Jessica and Angela. Ladies, this is my niece…Renee's girl, Isabella."
"Renee?" Tanya asks in a sweet English accent, crushing her cigarette into the glass tray. "She dead, is she?"
"Yes, she passed last year." Rose snapped, glaring at her.
The tall blonde woman didn't look phased by Rose's tone and shrugged her shoulders quickly before lighting another cigarette. "Shame," she muttered, eyeing me.
"It's very nice to meet you, Isabella." The brown haired girl named Angela said. "I saw you on the stairs yesterday." I nodded and froze when she kissed both my cheeks. "You are a pretty young thing."
Tanya snorted and pretended that she was coughing on her cigarette, I grabbed the ends of my hair and twisted it in between my fingers. I could feel my cheeks burning under Tanya's watching glare. "Just be sure to stay out of my room, brat." She hisses, taking another long drag of cigarette. She clears her throat and rises gracefully from her seat. "I must ready myself for tonight."
"Nothing in this house is free, Tanya." Rose says, glaring at her as she stokes my hair. "You will do well to remember that or you are out."
"Consider me warned, Mistress." Tanya eyes her from head to toe and turns slowly to leave the room, the two other girls follow suite but not before Angela turns to wave goodbye to me.
"That…woman, gets under my skin like you wouldn't believe."
"She seems so mean." I say as she grabs my hand.
"She brings in the most money so I have to deal with her." Rose shrugs.
"She brings in money?" I ask, confused by her words.
She doesn't answer me but she does look down at me and smiles a kind, loving smile.
In her room, she sits me on her large bed and playfully uses a powder brush to tickle my nose. "I run something close to a boarding house," Rose explains as Alice skips into her room. She yanks a blue dress from Rose's closet and lays it gently beside me. Alice skips to Rose and helps her tie her corset. "I host parties almost every night, except Sundays." She crosses herself and cocks her head to the side for me come closer. "There are a total of thirty rooms in this home and as of today, fifteen of them are occupied." She gasps when Alice pulls too tight on the strings and turns to glare at her. Alice shrugs and when Rose's back is turned, Alice shoots me a wink. "You will have your own room, separate from the girls but not from Alice and myself. Your job will be to lay out the girls frocks for the night. After you are done, you are to retire to your room until morning. You will do this until you are old enough and then we will change your chores."
"Why am I not allowed to attend the parties?"
"These parties are how we make money, Isabella…they are not for children."
"What kind of parties are they?"
Alice shakes her head at Rose and places a finger against her mouth. "Let me explain please…she's just a child."
"She needs to know the truth, sister. We cannot tip toe around this." Rose lifts her hands and looks around the room.
"Bella," Alice begins, taking a deep breath. "We run a…bordello."
"Bordello?" I ask, confused. "Is that a hotel?"
"A brothel," Rose says as she pinches her cheeks in front of her vanity. "It's a place where men come for…company."
"Like a whore house?" I shriek, feeling nervous all of a sudden. "They were illegal in Philadelphia…I would read about all the arrests in morning papers with mama."
"Brothels are legal here in the outskirts of France, my dear." Rose smiles, nodding at Alice. My eyes feel like they are going to bug from my head. "Please don't think of me as a wayward woman, my sweet girl. Save what we make in a night for taxes and the rest is ours to live off of…it's a lucrative trade in times like these."
"Of course not!" Rose snaps. "We work to live a comfortable life. Now that you are here…we do this to keep you clothed and with a roof over your pretty little head. This is not your life and I will not make you do this."
"Aren't you scared some men will hurt you?" I ask with tears in my eyes.
"The men that seek our company are gentlemen stuck in arranged marriages." Alice says, playing with my hair as Rose applies her lipstick. "The majority of the time, we sit around in the game room and play cards with them…sometimes not."
"Our simple home rivals that of Moulin Rouge."
"Simple home," Rose huffs. "This place is grander than that…and my women are much more beautiful."
"This is true," Alice agrees.
"You are not to worry, little one." Rose kisses my nose and sprays some perfume on me. "You will be kept out of sight."
"If people find out we have a little girl living in this house, there will be talk." Alice says, scrunching her nose at the thought.
"They won't find out" Rose says, tickling my sides. "Trust me, Alice."
"I'm just worried," Alice says. "I don't want to lose her," she says as she hugs me tight.
"Fine, Alice…Isabella, you have a choice." Rose says, her face suddenly serious. "I can pay to send you to a boarding school in Paris or you can stay here with us…it's up to you."
"A boarding school?" Alice shrieks, sounding terrified. "Oh mon dieu! Je ne pouvais pas supporter de-"
"I want to stay here." Alice stops her prattling and smiles as if she's relieved by my choice.
"Are you certain?" Rose asks again.
"There!" Alice claps. "This matter is settled then!"
"Welcome then, to La Petite Maison de Joie." Rose smiles circling around with her arms spread wide. Alice and I giggle at her silliness.
"What does that mean?" I ask, breathless from Alice's tickles.
"The little house of joy." From that moment on, this was all I ever wanted to know of a home.
Today is my eighteenth birthday.
I have lived through so much here and not a day goes by that I do not regret my decision to stay. Alice and Rose made my education their first priority so my tutors where the best their money could buy. A year or so later, I was fluent in French and some Italian.
At the tender age of fourteen, Rose insisted I take piano and singing lessons. Learning to play the piano proved easier than singing do-re-mi over and over for an hour. It was understood that my talent was not for singing but for piano forte.
My aunt's and their employees were my family, from the bartenders all the way to the grounds keeper. I was known as the tomboy who came out to play after dark.
Rose said I went from an awkward looking girl to a beautiful woman, but staring at my soot-covered face I can only come to my only conclusion…she is so full of it.
"Petite!" Alice calls from her room across the hall. "Come quickly!" I wipe off the dirt from my nose before I enter her room. Alice is pacing across the carpet, half-naked with a cigarette in her hand. The victrola in her room is playing my favorite song from Vincent Scotto, La Petite Tonkinoise. Her short black hair is pinned into tiny circles covered with a wrap. She notices me leaning against the door and stops in her tracks. "Bella! Thank god you are here!"
"What is it, Alice?"
"I have no idea what to wear tonight."
"Since when does it matter?" I laugh as she closes her thin robe. "You look beautiful in anything, Auntie."
She puts out her cigarette and gently cups my face. "You are the sweetest niece ever!" She gives me wet kiss on my forehead before pushing away playfully.
"I'm your only niece, Alice," I laugh and open the doors to her armoire. I rifle through the piles of frocks until I find my favorite-a lacy pearl-colored number, with pretty beads and fringes. "I love this one on you."
Alice eyes it for a moment and nods excitedly. "Yes, I think this is perfect!" She removes her robe and turns her back to me. "Tie me up, bel ange"
I make quick work of her corset and carefully pull the dress over her head. "You are the beautiful angel…not me."
"You are not seeing yourself the way your aunt and I do, Bella." I snort and lightly swat her butt before I scoot her to the mirror. "What's so funny?" She asks.
"Nothing." She eyes me for a moment and pinches my cheeks before sitting at her vanity.
"Tonight is very important." She says, removing the wrap and pins from her hair. "Monsieur Whitlock arrived in Paris yesterday to handle some business. Do you remember him?"
"How could I forget?" I giggle, remembering how obsessed he was with Alice. "He sent you flowers every day during his stay in Paris."
"Yes," she swoons. "But America is so far away."
"Well, he's here now."
"But for how long?" She stops toying with her hair and stares at herself in the mirror. "Sometimes I wonder…"
She continues to stare into the mirror and brushes her finger across her lips before shaking off her thoughts. "I sometimes wonder how you would look all dressed up."
"Today is the day, petite."
"No, Alice, not tonight. Tonight is an important night for Tanya, in fact, I need to help her get ready."
"Wait!" She squeals, jumping up from her seat.
"I said no, Alice."
She giggles and pulls open the top drawer of her dressing table. "This is for you." She smiles, handing me a silver box. " Joyeux anniversaire, mon ange!"
"Alice, you really didn't have to," I can feel my cheeks warming as I unwrap the silver.
"Nonsense!" She snorts, giving me a kiss on the forehead. "This is a special day."
Inside the box was a set of delicate set of brooch, necklace and hair comb. "Oh Alice!" I cooed. "These are-"
"Your mother's most prized possessions." She took out the hair comb and placed it gently in my hair. "I remember when we were little, our parents left on vacation to London. We were so upset and cried almost every night." She laughs at the memory and gently removes the necklace from it's place in the box and touches the pearls. "Rose just about tied up to a tree by our toes."
"That sounds like something she'd do."
"Well when mama and papa came home, they gave us all gifts. Mine was a ring," she held up her right hand and wiggled her ring finger. "Rose received a pair of ruby earrings and Renee got these."
"Yes," Alice laughed, hugging me tight. "Now they are yours so take good care of them."
Everyone in our home was a joy to live with-everyone but Tanya. Yes, she was the most beautiful of the ladies that worked under my aunts…but her attitude made her the ugliest I've seen in my life.
"You are late." She snaps, shoving me out of her way. "I was supposed to be ready five minutes ago!"
"Five minutes is nothing, Tanya."
"Tonight is very important to me you ingrate!"
"You forget who you speak to."
"The help," she huffs. "Nothing more, nothing less."
"What are you wearing tonight?" I ask, ignoring her jabs.
"The blue frock, Jaques bought me from London."
"Pretty?" She says, turning away from her reflection. "Maybe to your simple eyes, girl. But that is a gift from Lord Volturi…it's priceless and gorgeous."
"Then lets get you in it before you are really late." She rises from her seat and unties her robe, revealing her fancy new undergarments. "So why is tonight so important?"
"Not that it's any of your business but Monsieur Masen is expected to arrive tonight."
"Who is that?"
"An old friend of mine from Sussex." She rolls her eyes and fixes her cleavage as I button her dress. "He is in town to meet his fiancée and sent a messenger boy this morning announcing is plans to stop by."
"Fiancé?" I ask, confused as to why he'd call on Tanya.
"It's arranged," she explains, pinning back a loose hair. "She's Parisian. Her father is actually one of my patrons. I bet he's just devastated at the match…I hear she's a real dog."
"Sounds like they're really in love," I snort.
"He's only marrying this woman for her name…he wants to be a Lord."
"Well, he sounds like he's quite a catch."
Tanya smiles humorlessly and smacks my hand away from her waist. "Don't act like you're better than us." She hisses, wrapping her bony fingers around my wrist. "Remember where you came from, stupid girl…arriving here like a bum off the streets."
"Let go of her!" We both jump back and Tanya releases my wrist. Rose stands there with her hands on her hips, glaring at her. "You touch my niece again, Tanya, and I will make sure thatyour visitor sees another girl tonight."
"He called for me."
"No, he didn't." Rose walks slowly into Tanya's room and runs her fingers through the fringe on her lamp shade. "He sent notice that he would be arriving but did not mention you…that was me just being nice."
"Rose, you wouldn't-"
"Who are you to be calling me by my given name?" Rose snaps, holding out her hand for mine.
"Madam," Tanya bows, eyeing me like a snake does a rat. "My apologies."
"Bella, go wash yourself and borrow a frock from Alice." Rose says as she stares at Tanya. "Tonight you will be joining us…it being your birthday and all."
"Tut-tut, my darling." She turns to smile at me and cocks her head towards the door. "Go."
"Very well." Rose closes the door as soon as I exit and I notice that Alice is waiting by her door. "I think you had something to do with this…didn't you?"
Alice jumps up and down in place, squealing as she pushes me back into her room.
"I am not leaving this restroom." My hands are shaking and I'm afraid I'm going to sweat off my makeup. I can smell the perfume powder Alice dabbed on my chest and it's making me sick to my stomach.
"Get out here now or I'm burning your books," Alice warns in a sing song voice.
"Try me, petite." I groan in frustration and slowly rise from the toilet seat. "Aw come on sweetheart, I bet you look gorgeous!"
"Gorgeous in a corset?" I snort.
"Out!" She shrieks, banging on the door. "The first of the guests are arriving, I can hear the carriages."
I take one deep breath and unlock the door, stepping out slowly as if I'm afraid to be attacked. "Bella, Bella, Bella." Alice hums, tapping her fingers to her lips. "Raise your arms so I can adjust you." Her hands squeeze my waist and she smiles to herself as she has me turn.
"What?" I ask, feeling like an idiot. "I look stupid right? I don't even have decent clothes on and I look horrible…god, this is so embarrassing."
"Shush your mouth," Alice warns. "Relax, take a breath and listen to me." I do as I'm told and take a long, cleansing breath, she mirrors my breathing and then places her hands on my shoulders. "You, my dear, have a fine form."
"Alice," I blush, feeling uncomfortable.
"It's true!" She raises my hands and has me turn again…I feel like a horse's ass. "You are going to be the best looking woman in all of France!"
She goes to her closet and pulls out a midnight blue tea gown. It was lace and satin with beads that formed black roses at the waist and knee. Crystal beading adorned the waist and the whole thing just looks…perfect. "I can't wear that." I say, shaking my head. "It's too-"
"Perfect!" She unbuttons the back and taps her foot impatiently while I continue to gawk at the sparkles on the dress. "Arms up, Bella."
After what seemed like an eternity sitting in Alice's chair, she finally steps away and clasps her hands together. "Vous, mon petit, sont une vision." Her eyes glass over as she fans her face. "You are beautiful."
"No, I'm not," I blush.
"You are." Alice takes my mother's hair comb and tucks it into my hair. "Your hair is perfect now." The door bell rings and Alice scurries to her bed and clears it of the clothes. "It's show time, petite!"
The right wing and backyard of the mansion were used only for parties such as these. Inside was beautifully decorated with wall to wall priceless paintings, tables for card games and a bar that was hidden behind the bookcase. There was space for a hired band to present a moving picture show, whatever the patrons desired. The private rooms where the woman did their "entertaining" were just as tastefully decorated.
"You look so beautiful!" Marceline, our beloved housekeeper, whispered into my ear as I looked down from upstairs.
"I feel like a idiot," I whispered back.
"Well you look far from it."
"Thanks," I smiled shyly. Gentlemen from all ages pour in, talking amongst themselves while Philip, one of the bartenders, passes around champagne. "Who are all these men?"
"The wealthiest men in all of Europe…they travel far and wide to look at Mistress Rose in person."
"Honey," Marceline pats my shoulder and points to my beautiful Aunt, fanning herself with a Japanese fan. "Your Aunt is the most sought-after…companion in the country."
"I had no idea." I lean over the railing and watch Rose work her magic from man to man. "She's always kept me sheltered from this part of her life."
"For good reason, too." Marceline kisses me on the nose and fixes my lipstick. "You are meant for something bigger than all of this…something better."
"Isabella!" Rose calls from below, waving her fan at me. "Come here, sweetheart."
I straighten my dress and take one deep breath before making my way down the stairs. I am about to breath a sigh of relief just before I begin to stumble over the shoes Alice leant me for tonight. Before I could hit the ground, a pair of strong hands grab hold of my waist and slowly straighten me out. "Pardonnez-moi, je suis tellement désolé!" I stutter, hoping to god no one saw my blunder. The pair of hands gently squeeze my waist before releasing me, I turn around and almost choke on my tongue when I see…him.
"No need to be sorry," his accent tells me he's from London-so smooth and effortless. "The shoes you happen to be wearing are, in fact, death traps." He removes his top hat and bows gracefully. I can see his eyes staring at my shoes and slowly make their way over my body until they land on my face. His eyes bug out for a second and I can see his chest rising and falling in quick successions.
"They are," I smile. "In fact, this is my first time wearing these stilts."
"Stilts?" He laughs, shaking his head in amusement. "I've never heard them referred to as stilts."
"Isabella!" Rose calls again. She has her hand on the chest of Monsieur Black, a doctor in Provence that fancies her.
"I'm sorry, Monsieur…"
"Masen," he smiles. "Edward Masen," he holds out his hand for mine and kisses my knuckles. I can feel something in the pit of my stomach that makes my heart flutter, I feel like I'm nervous but it's a good nervous…wow. His eyes stay on my hands for a moment while his thumb massages the patch of skin his lips just touched. "Pleasure to meet you, Isabella."
"You as well, Monsieur Masen." I slowly remove my hand from his and make my way to my Aunt. I turn to get one last look at him but his attention is turned to Alice, who offers him a champagne. They are in what looks like a serious conversation that leaves Alice looking like she's sucked on a lemon.
"Ah! There she is, Jacob." Rose hold out her hand for mine and tugs me in between them. "This is my niece, Isabella, the apple of my eye." Rose winks at me and shoves me in between herself and Monsieur Black.
"Hello, Isabella." Monsieur bows slowly, never taking his eyes off my face. "You have your Aunt's good looks." Something about his manner gets under my skin, but not in a good way. I yank my hand from his warm clammy one and wipe it down the side of my dress, trying to keep a smile on my face.
"Thankfully!" Rose laughs, sipping her champagne. "She is a gorgeous girl and smart as a whip."
"Aunt Rose," my cheeks flush with embarrassment.
"What?" She smiles, pinching my cheeks. "You know, Jacob, she's read every book in our library."
"Well that is something," Jacob smiles, staring at my chest.
Rose notices this and raises her brow. She looks like she's about to rip his head off, but instead, she smiles and adjusts my necklace. "Isabella, I'm about to introduce the girls…why don't you take a seat with Alice."
I nod and rush to the table where Alice and Jasper are seated. He has his hand on the small of her back as she lights his cigarette. "Petite!" She jumps in her seat and opens her arms wide to welcome me. "You remember Jasper, don't you?"
He sits up straight and fixes his tie before extending his hand to mine. "Long time no see, Bella."
"A very long time!" I take his hand and giggle when he starts our thumb war ritual. His large thumb covers mine as he laughs victoriously. "You win again, Whitlock."
"I will always win, little one." He winks and digs out a little black box from his right breast pocket. "Happy birthday, Bella." Jasper places the box on the table and pushes it towards me.
"Jasper, you didn't have to get me anything."
"Of course I do," he looks at Alice and squeezes her shoulder. "I've known you since you were just a child, now you're a grown woman and lovely as your aunt."
Inside the velvet box is silver and pearl butterfly pin. "Oh, Jasper!" I squeal, throwing myself at him. "It's beautiful! How did you know I loved butterflies?"
"I remember you chasing butterflies when you were a girl and…Alice told me." Jasper clears his throat and kisses her on the cheek.
"Messieurs, Signors and my dear Gentleman…Welcome! Bienvenue! To La Petite Maison de Joie! I am Madam Rose and these are the lovely ladies of the house." One by one the girls would float into the room doing the can-can to Offenbach. They were all dressed to the nines with heavy makeup on their faces and not a hair out of place-flawless. Their act was amazing and the men around the room drool and whisper in awe amongst themselves…especially when Tanya took center stage.
"Bienvenue!" The girls said together before throwing themselves on their patron's lap. I had to laugh at how adorable they look. I had never been downstairs during a party and to be honest, I loved it. Everyone was laughing, drinking and having fun.
After Rose had everyone sing me an embarrassing birthday song, I decide to make my goodbyes and retire for the evening. "This was lovely, thank you for inviting me down." I kiss Rose on the cheek and hug Alice goodnight.
"You are good company to have, my sweet." Rose smiles, gently patting my hands. "This will not be a habit," her tone is serious but her smile is genuine.
"I know that," I roll my eyes and meet Margot at the stairs.
An hour later, I tip toe down the service stairs and steal a couple of cigars from Rose's clutch before escaping to my favorite tree. I can still hear the music coming from inside the mansion as I sit on the swing and enjoy the solitude. A week ago, Rose offered me a trip to America. For years, I've wanted to track down my father…Rose says that it's like finding a needle in a haystack but I'm optimistic. Even if I didn't find him, I just wanted to start a different sort of life in a new place. For as long as I can remember, I've always been dependant on someone…always living a life someone chose for me. I don't regret a single day here but I want a life that's my own.
"Are you asking for a cold?" A familiar voice says from the graveled walkway. Monsieur Masen walks slowly from the house to where I'm at with his jacket over his arm and his hat in his hand.
"It's not cold out here." I take a long drag from my cigar and begin to swing, ignoring the fact that he is staring holes into my head. "What are you doing out here?"
"I needed some fresh air."
"Party too much for you?" I smile, watching him comb back his messy bronze hair.
"Was it too much for you? You ducked out early."
"This really isn't my thing."
"Are you new to the circuit?"
"Are you one of Madame Rose's newest courtesan? I see she has hired on a few new whores."
"Excuse me!" I say, pissed at his forwardness. "I am not a whore."
"Bawd, cocotte, courtesan, harlot. Whichever you prefer is fine by me."
"Good night, Monsieur Masen." I snap, stomping out my cigar before heading back into the mansion.
"Wait a minute." He drops his jacket and hat and rushes to catch up with me. "Did I say something to offend you, mademoiselle?" He grabs my arm and out of instinct, I turn around and push him.
"I did not give you permission to touch me!"
"Milady, I apologize for my forward behavior."
"Your hand is still on me," I snap again. "Do not treat me like you would one of those whores."
"Excuse me but who are you to talk to me with such disrespect." He stops chasing me and crosses his arms over his chest. "I am a paying customer here."
"You have not bought me nor am I for sale, sir!"
"Everything and everyone is for sale."
"You would think something absolutely stupid like that." I snort, tightening my shawl around me.
"What do you mean by that?"
"You grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth…everything was handed to you without you lifting a measly little finger. So, it's natural to have some sort of 'holier than thou' attitude towards things or people beneath you." My eyes begin to prickle and I turn away before he can see me cry. "Goodnight, Monsieur Masen…enjoy the rest of your evening," I yell from over my shoulder before I slam the door to the kitchen, leaving him alone in the yard.
"You are awfully quiet this morning," Alice says before she sips her coffee.
"Rough night." I slouch back into my chair and ruffle my hair, I catch Rose eyeing me from over her newspaper. "What?" I groan, laying my head on the cold wooden table.
"What time did you fall asleep last night?" She asks, pulling the paper in front of her face again.
"I couldn't sleep last night."
"Why is that, petite?" Alice asks, worry etched across her face. "Are you coming down with a fever?"
"No, Alice." I pat her hand and rub the sleep from my eyes.
"You know, I had the most interesting conversation with Monsieur Masen last night." Rose mutters from behind her paper.
"Who?" I ask, trying to feign innocence. Rose, I can tell, sees right through this because she folds the paper and looks at me pointedly.
"The man who's arms you fell into last night…or the man who you told to more or less fuck themselves."
"Rose!" Alice mutters.
"What?" She shrugs, smiling at me. "Don't act so lady-like with me just because Jasper is asleep in your room."
"What?" My head shoots up from the table and I catch Alice's eye bug out. "Jasper stayed here?"
"So what did Monsieur Masen say?" Alice stuttered, trying desperately to change the subject.
"He likes our little Isabella. He says she has quite a mouth on her."
"I don't care for him," I scrunch my nose and steal a piece of bacon from Rose's plate. "He's not a favorable as Tanya thinks…then again, she's as shallow as a kiddy pool."
"He asked me about you, too," Alice giggled, pushing around her food. "He said you were beautiful."
"He said what?" Rose leans into her chair, and rubs her chin.
"Don't worry, I set him straight." Alice smiles and pops a piece of bread into her mouth. "I told him you were off limits."
"You make me sound like a piece of property."
"Not at all," Alice dabs her mouth with a napkin and grabs my hands. "I don't want him thinking you were…available."
"I hated the way Black was looking at you, too." Rose glared at me and shook her head- I'm not sure if she's mad at me for attracting the attention of her patron or she was just being a protective aunt. "He looked at you as if you were a piece of meat. Alice and I have fought very hard to keep you away from that part of our life and I will be damned if he or any other man…including Masen thinks you are someone to be bought." Rose's fist slams down on the table and Alice jumps back in her seat. "I knew it was a mistake to show you off yesterday…what was I thinking?"
"You were thinking that it was Isabella's eighteenth birthday and it was a reason to celebrate."
"Yes, but now all our regulars think she is a new addition…the vultures will be circling soon."
"I wouldn't worry about that," Alice snorts. "She's not going to go down that road."
"Have you made a decision about America, petite?" Rose asks, eyeing Alice out the corner of her eye.
"What?" Alice croaks, looking between the two of us. "America?"
"I offered to pay her way to Washington…she wants to track down her father."
"But America? No!" Alice shrieks, slamming her tiny hands down on the table. Silverware flies across the table and her tea cup shatters on the floor. "You are going to lose your mind there! You will never want to come back!"
"Alice, I am not my mother-"
"No!" She yells and storms out of the kitchen.
Rose and I sit in silence as she continues to read the paper. I shift uncomfortably in my seat and Rose finally puts her paper down to look at me. "She will come around."
"I don't know."
"She will," Rose says adamantly. "Now, about Masen."
"Rose, I'm sorry for talking to him-"
"Don't apologize for defending yourself. Jean Pierre was outside feeding the horses and heard everything."
"I didn't see him."
"It was dark out. That reminds me, when there's a party going on…don't go outside by yourself. The men are drunk and who knows what could happen if they see you by yourself."
"I mean it, Bella." Rose shakes her finger at me and smiles. "Promise me."
"I promise, I promise."
"Good," she pours herself more coffee and eyes me as if she doesn't believe me. "Stay away from Masen, too."
"You don't have to make me promise that, Rose. He is not a man I am interested in keeping company with."
So, my 3 year old is a peculiar one. She has an obsession with Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. Why? I have no idea but I am in NO WAY complaining! LOL She makes my life interesting. Anyway, for about a month, all she listened to was Milord by Edith Piaf and it was then when my little plot bunny was born. I've been kicking this idea around in my head until I finally sat down and decided to write it out and make it a one-shot, BUT my gorgeous pre-reader Sandy, from SouthernFanFictionreview(dot)com convinced me that I should make it into a short story instead. I predict this story to be around ten chapters or so but who knows...
A special thank you to my beta Coffeeluva Nz, a lovely gal who is one of the administrators for Twilight FanFic addicts. Check out their site -twilightffaddicts(dot)blogspot(dot)com. I appreciate you help, love! :)
Let me know what you think!