Lilac chiffon. Glistening pearls. White tulle. Wine corset. Slim florals. Bejeweled leather. Drops of silver. Marie had outdone herself. Flowery vines stitched in silver thread cascaded down the skirt, covered by a shower of sheer fabric. A belt of pearls adorned the waistline and drew attention to the dark corset. Flat-soled white leather sandals shimmering with small amethyst stones. Silvery jewelry laid on top of this ensemble.
I sprawled face down on my rich coverlet. The dress was ethereal, but I was about ready to throw myself out of the window. The Hawthorne ball was fun and extravagant. But this was going to be my coming out. My older brother, Andrew, had been teasing her all day, “Welcome to the world of adults, bite-sized.” I was going to be shown off to all the eligible young men of London and be the cover-face of the Rothermere family. I much preferred the freedom of flirting, and simply having fun, that I had now.
“Adelia! You only have two hours left to get ready!” Mum wasn’t too happy about the fact that I was moping all week. Apparently, this was an opportunity to “exhibit my amazingly feminine qualities” to all the men who were already quite familiar with me.
Heaving a sigh, I hauled my beautiful self out of bed and glided to the mirror. After practicing both my disinterested and sultry facial
expressions – which I must say I am exceptional at – I called out for my
lady-in-waiting. Marie walked in and simply declared, “A normal smile might make a huge difference in your extensive relationships with men.”
“A bad difference darling. Whatever will I do without the attention?”
“I don’t know...maybe be a sane and proper young lady?”
“But sweetie, I live for my discretions. They prove that my parents don’t control me. No matter how much they want to,” I settled myself at my vanity and pulled out a case of decorated pins, “They want me to be perfect, so I do my best to show them perfection. They get what they want, and I get to live.”
“You do remember that you got caught with that Belmont boy, right?”
“Oh! The French one? He was funny and his accent made most girls swoon. I just wanted to check him out.” I diverted my attention from Maria’s hands expertly styling my hair and directed it to the steady stream of men I had running through my life – behind my parents’ backs of course.
“What about you? Anyone broke through your icy heart yet?”
“Mon chéri, many have tried, just as many have failed.”
By this point, my hair and make-up were done, and I slipped on a white chemise. With Maria’s assistance, the ball gown slipped over my head and comfortably settled on my lean figure. I carefully slipped on earrings and a necklace. With a little tugging here and there, the outfit was complete.
A ball awaits.
Our gilded carriage arrived at the gates of the Hawthrone manor. My mother sat across from me oozing excitement and nervousness, “Don’t worry darling. The men will seem intimidating at first. Remember you are very beautiful and only the best deserves your attention. Make sure the man you choose to marry has a title to his name. Age and looks are inconsequential. You must marry up for you are simply a countess. Perhaps, after tonight you have the chance to be a duchess!”
Marriage? Nope. Not happening. I am not hitching myself to a rich man old enough to be my father simply for her gold-digging dreams. With this thought, I accepted the hand of the footman and stepped down with the grace and pride of a woman who knows she gets what she wants.
I glided through the doors of the ballroom as my name was announced and eyes snapped to me immediately. The men’s eyes swept down my lean silhouette and jealousy flared up in all the ladies’ eyes. I tilted my chin condescendingly and waited. My coming out ceremony was supposed to be early actually. While most girls wait until their sixteenth or seventeenth year. I was “ready” at fifteen. I am intelligent and a perfectionist. I completed my studies quickly and courtly manners came to me naturally. However, Mother waited until I was 17 like the other girls. She always remarked that I was born for a royal life. But that’s not what I want.
“Miss Rothermere! What a pleasure to have you at our ball.”
“Anytime for you Lady Hawthorne.” I kissed both her cheeks. She is one of the few adults I can respect. There’s just something about the way she treats me.
Eventually I moved on and circled the ballroom. Some of my “close” friends winked at me and a few girls came up to share the gossip. Apparently, Mr. Roland has a mistress and his wife is not pleased at all. Finally, Bella came up to me. I immediately latched onto her arm and dragged her towards the refreshments.
“I need a drink. All kinds of men have come up to me tonight and only a few are suitable.”
“By whose standards?”
“Mine. If I think from my mother’s point of view, then most of them qualify. I’d say at least ten of them are rich and entitled enough to be suitable.”
“What’s the issue?”
“They’re all at least 30!”
“And the few that aren’t old are boring. Or ugly. Or I have already sampled them and didn’t like it.” I reached down towards the table, grabbing a strawberry and a flute of champagne. I turned to the room and nibbled on the strawberry. And then the brilliance of the evening dimmed.
“Done playing around Adelia?” Olivia was an annoying little rat. She was a gold-digger and thought that I had monopolized any good options she could have had. But maybe it was just the fact that she couldn’t flirt, dance, or shut up.
“Oh darling! You know me. I am not changing myself for something as trivial as society.”
“You know I can tell everyone about you and my brother, right?”
“He will have to side with you, and do you really think he would risk angering me like that?”
“Someday, Adelia, you will pay for your sins.” Olivia stormed off leaving a lingering stench of her perfume.
The rest of the evening was perfect. Well...for the most part. Near the end I wandered to the gardens for some alone time. Contrary to popular belief, I am not a goddess. I need time to think occasionally. My misdemeanors are simply so I don’t die of boredom. I grabbed another flute of champagne and strolled down to the dark gazebo in the rose gardens. With little of my usual grace, I slumped into a chair and laid my head on my arms.
“I must say the rumors I have heard about you are most interesting, Bellissima. Not many ladies are so open-minded in their decisions,” a deep, smooth voice carried to me from outside.
I whipped around and froze. A man was standing there. It was too dark to make out his features. Definitely not from London. For once I didn’t straighten my back and bat my eyelashes. I was too tired. After a night of being paraded around and being complimented for my beauty and my manners, I was not in the mood of showing them off anymore. I simply waved him to the seat in front of me and nodded, “Feel free to sit and enjoy the view. I am too damn tired to properly converse with you.”
“But signorina, maybe I simply want to enjoy your company.”
“Men enjoy my company in a unique way. I really don’t have the energy
“Tell me about your life in London.”
“I heard you! Why do you want to know about me?”
“I saw you flitting around in there with your mother, brother, or who I assumed to be your best friend. You seemed bored and exhausted being shown off. But every time you took a moment in a corner with your friend, your eyes lit up as you recounted a tale of something that seemed to amuse you. Every time a man came up to you, it was as if you were following a drill. You would lower your eyes and extend your hand. You smiled and flirted but never much more. I could see the look in your eyes. It is a game to you, and you love it despite everything.”
Throughout his little speech I was wondering, “Exactly how long were you watching me? I never saw you.”
“I was usually surrounded by old acquaintances and this one lady refused to let me out of her sight for long. Every time you neared me, she would drag me to the opposite side of the ballroom. I believe her name was Lady Barine.”
“I would expect no less of her and would really not like to discuss her. I am Adelia Rothermere. I grew up in London, but I love the country. I like the city for its shops and parties. But something about the country just draws me in. I like feeling the breeze and reading in the garden. Gardens and parks have also always held a special allure for me. The peace is so welcoming.”
“So, you don’t enjoy balls?”
“Not exactly. I love socializing but the little stolen moments of nothing are...something.”
“I moved here from Italy just a week back. Maybe you could accompany me to Hyde Park tomorrow afternoon, and we could get to know each other better?”
“Of course. It will be refreshing to accompany a man without wandering eyes.” I winked at him and his chuckle seemed to brighten the room. He stood, kissed my hand, and left. I too stood and walked back to the ballroom.
Bella spotted me and nearly keeled over from shock, “You are blushing!”
I lifted a hand to my cheeks finding them warm. I didn’t know what to say except, “Heard of a visiting gentleman from Italy?”
“Oh gods! You didn’t! You got Alessandro too? Olivia is going to be very upset. You need to take a break from men in general.”
“For your information, I simply agreed to go to Hyde Park with him tomorrow. I didn’t do anything too bad.”
“Well that’s a first.”
“You know I am right.”
The next morning for the first time in forever I practically danced out of bed with a beaming smile on my face. Maria walked in with lemon tea, caught sight of me, and froze mid-step. I am not a morning person and always walk up with a few curses. Speaking of curses, Alessandro didn’t react when I said “damn” last night. Oh well whatever.
“Good morning Maria! I shall have breakfast in my room this morning.”
“Uh...Adelia,” Maria sets the tray down and puts her hand to my forehead, “No temperature. Did you eat something questionable last night?”
“No Maria I didn’t, and I am perfectly fine. But I did get a date.”
“You’ve been on countless dates if you want to call them that.”
“What would you rather I call them?”
“Whatever. This is a proper date. Alessandro will be picking me up this afternoon and taking me to the park. It will be amazing. We will have a proper conversation. No wandering eyes. The sun will be shining, and a breeze will be blowing—” I am pretty sure at this point I was practically gushing rainbows.
Maria’s eyebrows seemed to be trying to escape and her jaw had already left the company of her face, “Adelia? Are you actually swooning?”
I didn’t say a word. I just turned away with a flush on my face. Maria caught sight of it and broke out into gales of laughter, “Just yesterday you were bragging about the fact that you have no heart to be stolen and now...” Maria didn’t stop laughing for quite some time. I finished my tea, told her to pick out a suitable dress and strode into the bathroom. I could still hear her chuckling outside as I lowered myself into the bathtub.
“Miss Rothermere, Mr. Rossi is here for you.”
“Anne, please tell him I shall be down in a moment.” I smoothed down the skirt of the yellow day dress and looked to Maria for approval. Maria nodded at me confidently, shining with pride. I could tell she was happy I was being sensible and going out with someone I liked. I nodded back and made my way to the entrance hall. I properly caught sight of him for the first time and stood fixated.
Alessandro Rossi was a gift to females everywhere. A sharp, angular face. A finely-cut figure. A soft stubble. Piercing green eyes. A confident stance. He turned to me and his face lit up with a smile. I did something I have never done before: I blushed and ducked my head. I heard him approach me and lift my chin.
“Look at me Bellissima. Those eyes are too pretty to be directed to the ground.”
I blushed deeper, called on every ounce of my experience and smoothly asked if we could leave now. I grasped Alessandro’s hand and let him lead me to the carriage outside.
We stepped out into the park.
“Mr. Rossi, perhaps we could walk around?”
“Did you just call me Mr. Rossi after you cursed in front of me last night?”
“What would you prefer I call you by?”
“Alessandro will be just fine.”
“Okay then Alessandro may we walk now?”
“Why of course my lady.”
An odd feeling raced through me as he called me his lady. Now, I was smart enough to know it probably meant nothing, but, hey, a girl can dream.
The afternoon passed with lighthearted conversation and undertones of flirting. I returned home looking happy and alive. Mother noticed immediately. She swooped down on me and demanded the name of the man. And like a fool...I told her.
The next day I had tea with Bella. I told her about the date and gushed about Alessandro. After she got over her shock, Bella shared all the latest gossip. Most of it was dull. My evening when I got home was not.
I calmly stepped in and was immediately whisked to the sitting room. Alessandro and whom I assumed to be Lord Rossi where sitting there. My mother looked delighted and that frightened me. Something had happened.
“My darling Adelia. Lord Rossi and I were just discussing a marriage.”
“And my presence was not deemed necessary,” I fumed.
Lord Rossi spoke up. “Is the contract final then?”
“Yes sir, Adelia will be signing it. Now.”
Since I wasn’t entirely averse to the idea, I picked up the pen and signed it. Throwing a glare at my mother, I excused myself to my room.
I heard the front door close and footsteps approach my bedroom. My mother peeked in, looked at my lazily arranged figure slumped on the bed, announced, “You could do better, but I would rather you marry soon.” She left and I let out a groan. She just had to taint this.
Hauling myself upright, I walked to my writing desk and quickly wrote a note to Alessandro asking if we could meet before the marriage that would inevitably happen in a few months.
Both of us were sitting at a park bench in Hyde Park, simply thinking. Finally, I had had enough.
“Alessandro, two things. First, if you have an issue with the contract tell me. Second,” here I rolled my eyes, “can you give a nickname I can call you by. Alessandro takes forever to say.”
Alessandro smiled and said, “First, I was assuming you were unhappy. I am perfectly happy with this. I was intending to win your hand over a longer period however. And, you may call me Andre.”
My smile was bright and lively as I said, “I am just glad that I like the man I am marrying.”
“Just like?” Alessandro, no, Andre smirked at me and I regretted the fact that we are in a public place. People could hear me cursing. Then he did something that surprised me. He knelt in front of me and pulled out a ring.
“This is my grandmother’s ring. We may have been forced together in a sense. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do this right.” I simply sat there shell-shocked. I looked up and saw Olivia storming towards us.
“You little whore! Alessandro is mine! Back off!”
“Miss Barine! Control yourself when addressing my fiancée.”
“Oh, great. She manipulated you into submitting to her wishes too. I am not surprised at all. She tends to tease all men by acting all innocent at first, and then leaving as soon as something starts to come out of it.”
By this point I had enough. I pushed Andre behind me with one hand and stepped in front of him. “At least I don’t sleep with any and all men who show interest in me Olivia. I may be a flirt, but I have morals. He knows I play around sometimes. But I have limits, and everyone knows that. You are a different story all together.”
“How dare you!?”
“Go away Olivia. I really don’t care about anything but if you try to get between me and Alessandro again, I will make sure you pay several times over.” I am sure my face looked positively murderous. I leaned closer and whispered, “I may not care about several things but society might feel just a little differently.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Oh darling, Bella’s the sensible one. I am unpredictable and loyal to a fault to those I love. Don’t tempt me Barine.
Olivia stormed off and Andre tugged on my hand, turning me around. Surrounded by onlookers he slipped the ring onto my finger. It was a simple band engraved with detailing of vines and a single diamond shone at the center. He kissed it and led me back to the carriage.
This was the happiest day of my life. I was getting married to a man I had fallen in love with 3 months ago in a dark gazebo at my coming out ball. Alessandro Rossi was handsome, loving, and most importantly, trusted me. Not many people do that.
Everything was perfect. My dress was off-shoulder, ivory, and beaded with a cinched waist. My corset was a baby blue and matched my heels and jewelry. Andre looked stunning in his suit and every time I glanced at him, I wondered: I was so lucky. My bridesmaid, Bella of course, looked gorgeous in her pink gown. I was thrilled.
I walked down the aisle locking eyes with Andre, making sure he saw everything I felt. We wore mirroring expressions of love and happiness. And the moment when we said “I do” was everything I had ever dreamed of.
Harry was running all over the place. As a child everything is so pure, so bright. Everything holds wonder. I see it in his eyes every time he looks at the sky or at the squirrels scurrying across the garden. And every time I see Andre holding him, I know that my whole world can be captured in that one moment.
Our cottage in the country was perfect for Harry. Our neighbours were sweet, and the tight-knit community left no room for the social manipulations of the city. Every day, I wake up to the sun shining in my eyes and Harry’s blue eyes inches from my face. I never thought wishes could be granted, but maybe you just must believe in them enough.
One time, Harry asked me, “Mum, how did you and dad meet?”
I pulled him close and began, “Lilac chiffon. Glistening pearls. White