The walk home was filled with the sting of rain, and the terrifying silence. It seemed to scream at her, becoming a paradox that pointed out the mark on her neck and the scratches on her thighs. She had never felt nails dig so deep, never felt teeth break skin quite so easily. But Ella had done it, and that fact drove her on, keeping her on her feet when all she could do was shake like weeds in the wind. In truth, she was a weed. Something picked from the most obscure grasses, placed in a bouquet as a mistake, and then ruthlessly tossed aside when found.
Hattie was a weed, and Ella was the rose.
She crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling very naked, despite her cloak. Her corset had been ripped in places, the laces pulled out and carelessly strewn about Ella's floor. Hattie wondered if Ella had thrown them away.
The castle stood before her now, frightening and promising nothing but judgment and disdain. She recalled the way Charmont's parents always looked at her, as if she were a leper and they were fearful of getting too close. There were days Hattie wished she had such a disease.
The lights were off, and Hattie had to carefully place her steps to prevent falling over the stairs as she climbed them.
"Where have you been?"
Charmont stood at the top of the stairs, his arms over his chest, curly, auburn hair tousled and his dark skin flushed with embarrassment at having slept alone. Hattie loathed being put on the spot. She remembered how she handled it when she was a stubborn child; throwing biting remarks and smirking like she owned the world. Now, she only cowered.
"I just…I needed fresh air."
Charmont descended the stairs, taking her arm and leading her back up them.
"You could have told me," he said, sighing and wrapping an arm around her waist. His touch burned her.
"No, I couldn't have."
Charmont didn't say anything.
They reached their bedroom, a place that made Hattie ill. She could swear she smelled the putrid scent of sex and failure. She could still hear him yelling at her, gripping her hips and slamming into her as hard as he could manage, begging her to give him a son. An heir to his throne.
Give me what I need. I know you can. Take it. Give it.
She shuddered at the memory, not wishing to return to a time where she spent hours in the bathroom, scrubbing herself until she bled.
He left her side, moving to sit on the bed. The room was bright, and it made Hattie move to instinctively cover her neck.
"What's that on your neck, lover?"
"It's…it's nothing, I just fell and I…" tears stung her eyes. Ella had told her to wear the mark with pride. To parade around with teeth marks on her neck, with a bruise that was purple and blue and goddammit she was a whore.
"Move your hand, please."
She dropped it, shame crashing over her in waves. What would he do? He would throw her out. He would leave her. She would be executed. Banished.
"Those are bite marks. Who were you with?"
The tears erupted then, and Hattie found herself falling to her knees, sobs shaking her form like earthquakes. Earthquakes that threatened to shatter her very being.
"I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."
Charmont was beside her, an arm circling her waist. He picked her up, cradling her like a child, only to throw her onto the bed. He was on top of her, spreading her legs with his knee and ripping her dress, tearing the fabric and glaring at her like he wanted to take his sword and cut her to pieces.
"Charmont, please. I can't do it, you know I can't."
He paid her no mind.
Hattie had never felt worse. Her body ached, and she felt bruises blossoming on her hips. Charmont was gone, off to be a king and do the duties the regal lifestyle had assigned him. And she stayed, curled up in a ball under sweat-soaked sheets, wishing to be back with Ella, where she could experience a touch that didn't leave her broken. She felt like she had been picked up, and thrown onto the ground. Dragged around and smashed into thousands of tiny little pieces. It would have been better if Ella did it. If it had been Ella who had ripped her apart, she would have cried with joy as she wiped blood from the insides of her thighs and cleaned her insides and scrubbed herself clean. She would have smiled at having been defiled. At having been ruined.
Hattie sat up, running her shaking fingers through tangled curls. Slipping out of bed, she made a grudging effort of slipping on a dress and pulling her cloak tight over herself. Ella's house. That was all she needed. It was the only safe place she had left. She couldn't go back to the manor, her mother would tell her, it's all okay, dearest, be strong. You'll give him what he wants, and he'll stay. She couldn't take that; not now, not ever.
The only thing she could take was Ella's indifference.
Ella wasn't home. She was greeted with an unlocked door, and an empty living room.
I'm fucking done with you.
She crossed the floor, kicking books aside and trying to make her way to the bathroom. If Ella wasn't there, she could at least bask in the comfort of her home. The bathroom-what she intended to be her haven, was messy with Ella's clothes. Dresses littered the floor, and a robe was draped over the side of the bathtub. Hattie smiled, wondering if Ella had plans involving the bath. The thought made her stomach do a strange little dance. She disregarded it, taking note of the water that was already sitting in the tub. Acting on pure impulse, she grabbed one of Ella's dresses, and sank into the tub, inhaling the scent of her stepsister.
We are nothing. Nothing. Not even stepsisters.