I was in middle school when Ever After was released. So in other words, I saw it in the theater with my some friends, and we all thought it was the greatest thing ever. My opinion of it isn't quite so high now, but it's still a darn good movie.
This story is a pretty sad one. I usually try to give my stories an optimistic ending at least (because I'm a Pollyanna who hates to end things on a sad note) but I just couldn't find a way to do that here. I mean, you know growing up with Rodmilla had to seriously suck for Danielle. So just, be warned.
Danielle pursed her lips and thumbed again through the pile of old fabrics that she and Paulette kept in the washroom. She, Jacqueline, and Marguerite had all grown several inches over the past year, and between their outgrown dresses, she had no shortage of old fabric. But fabric alone would not suffice for the article of clothing that she needed now.
Of course, the materials from Jacqueline and Marguerite's old dresses – silks and satins and crushed velvets – were far nicer than her own. The Baroness made Danielle dress far more plainly than her own daughters, like a servant, but in the five years since her father died, Danielle had to come to accept this. Truth be told, she didn't mind. Ever since she was a little girl, she'd never been good at keeping her dresses clean, and she'd always felt odd and out-of-place wearing any finery.
Danielle never wished for beautiful dresses. She only wished that the Baroness would say a kind word to her sometimes.
She sighed, moved the pile of fabrics aside, and sat down on an overturned wash-bucket. Danielle could sew well enough for a girl of thirteen – sewing and mending clothes was one of the many chores that the Baroness made her do – but she had been a fool to hope that she could make a corset herself. Corests required a stiff material to keep their shapes; the finest ones had elephant ivory, but even the plainest ones had a layer of very slender wood or animal bone inside them. Danielle had neither the tools nor the skills to manipulate wood or bone that way.
Paulette had encouraged her to approach the Baroness and ask her for the money to buy a corset. Danielle didn't want to, but she supposed that she would have to. She couldn't ignore the fact that her body was changing, that she was now of the age when most young ladies wore their first corsets. She knew that many women wore corsets not only for support, but also to narrow their waistlines. Some corsets had tightlacing that could whittle a woman's waist down to practically nothing. But Danielle didn't want anything like that; she only needed a corset for support.
Her stepmother had been thirteen once, as impossible as that was to imagine; surely she would understand.
Danielle stood up from the bucket and gathered her courage.
"A corset?" the Baroness repeated, with a mocking tone in her voice that made Danielle truly despise her. "You think you need a corset?" Her gaze moved from Danielle's face to her chest, and Danielle felt her cheeks burn hotly with embarrassment. Corsets weren't so expensive, were they? And the Baroness had control over all of Danielle's father's money. Why couldn't she simply buy her one?
Just when she thought that the situation couldn't be any more mortifying, the Baroness reached out one hand and grabbed a pinch of fabric at the waist of Danielle's plain, rough-linen dress. She tugged down, pulling the top of dress tightly across Danielle's small, high breasts. She studied them for what felt like an eternity to her stepdaughter, and then the look on her face turned resentful. She released Danielle's dress and stepped back from the girl.
"What age are you now, Danielle?" she asked in that low, dangerous voice that Danielle had learned to dread. The heavy golden cross necklace that she always wore rose and fell on her breast.
"Thirteen," she answered softly, struggling to keep her voice even, for the question made her want to weep. Did her stepmother care so little about her that she couldn't even remember Danielle's age?
The Baroness's eyes narrowed as she studied her. There was an uncomfortable silence, and then she asked suddenly, "Have you started bleeding yet?"
Danielle blushed and ducked her head, even more embarrassed. She knew what the Baroness meant, even though the her stepmother had never once spoken to her of a woman's bleedings. Had there not been another woman on the estate, Danielle would've remain completely ignorant of the phenomenon, until one day when she was terrified and confused by a strange ache in her belly and blood on her thighs. Only then would the Baroness have explained to her about a woman's bleedings, and then she would've done so reluctantly and scornfully, without a word of comfort for the frightened girl.
Fortunately, not long ago, Paulette had calmly told Danielle about bleedings, describing it in detail and answering all her questions, so that she know what to expect when her day came. But it had not come yet. Too embarrassed to answer, Danielle shook her head in response to her stepmother's question.
The Baroness nodded smugly, as if that settled everything. "I might've guessed," she said, and there was an accusing tone in her voice, as if it were Danielle's fault that she wasn't bleeding yet. "You've no need of a corset until you've begun bleeding, girl. Ask me again then." She dismissed Danielle with a careless wave of her hand and turned to go, but paused. "And don't," she added warningly, "try to get one before you're due, for if I suspect you're lying to me, I'll check to see your blood myself."
You are not going to cry, Danielle told herself firmly, as she left the parlor where her stepmother sat, to return to her chores. You are not going to cry in front of her, Danielle. She took slow, calm breaths and kept her shoulders straight and her head high as she walked across the rug. You will not cry. She was almost at the door now. There.
She considered going outside to the apple orchard to look for Gustave, who was always sympathetic... but no, she couldn't possibly talk to a boy about this, so she went instead to the hot, stuffy kitchen, where she knew she would find Louise. Fortunately, the woman stopped in the middle of kneading dough for bread, sat down at the table with Danielle, and patted her hand while she cried. Danielle had never in her life felt so humiliated.
"Corsets are the most restrictive things you can imagine, child," Louise said, trying to comfort Danielle after she told her what had happened. "I've no doubt they were invented by some man. And they're absolutely wretched to wear in hot weather." She handed Danielle a cup of sweet apple cider and a handkerchief to wipe her tears with. "You'll likely have the curse upon you soon, poor thing. You can ask her for a corset again then."
But Danielle shook her head. She had already decided that no matter when her bleedings started, no matter how large her breasts might grow, she was never – never again – going to ask her stepmother for a corset. The Baroness had threatened to check herself, to see if she was actually bleeding. Danielle shuddered just to think of that.
Besides, she could tell from admiring her mother's gown that her mother had been a small-breasted woman. As Danielle grew older, it seemed that she had inherited her mother's build, rather than her father's. Perhaps her breasts would stay small enough that she could get away without a corset.
Her servant friend spoke again, interrupting her thoughts. "Old Louise was once thirteen going on fourteen, too, believe it or not." Danielle managed a weak smile at this. "'Tis a hard age to be, certainly, but it doesn't last forever."
Danielle had to nod in agreement at that. How she hated being thirteen. It felt like a punishment; she just didn't know for what. She'd read in books that adolescence was a difficult time for most girls, and as she wiped her teary face one last time, a sad sense of dread settled into her heart. Likely the years ahead would be especially difficult for her. Likely the Baroness would make them so.