The whisper of silk was accompanied the quiet tapping of a slipper in the hall outside of Tatiana Ashurst’s bedroom. At the creak of a floorboard, all sounds stopped.
Tatiana rushed to the hall to see her twin sister paused at the top of the stairs of their grandmother’s London home. “Oh good, you’re dressed,” she said, pushing aside the feeling of dread that was slowly rising up from the floor.
Her sister half-turned and looked back. Her face was covered with guilt; her hand gripped the balustrade. “Uh. Yes. I’m er… going downstairs, or, um… out. Yes, I’m going out. I’ll be back.” Her sister turned to face the stairs once again, preparing to descend.
Tatiana couldn’t allow that. She couldn’t allow her sister to escape, to run away. Not this time. She wasn’t close enough to reach out and grab her, though. She hesitated for only the briefest moment before throwing her hand out. Magic shot from her fingertips and froze her sister in place. “No. You are not.”
She rushed up and put a restraining hand on her sister’s arm before unfreezing her with a thought. “Trina, it will be all right. We’re going to do this together. Grandmama will be there and we’ll get through this—together.”
“I can’t, Tatiana. I can’t.” Her sister dropped her head into hands that shook, absolutely shook, with nerves.
Gently, Tatiana guided Trina back to her room. “Of course you can.” Oh, how she hated being the enforcer here! But she had no choice. “I have complete confidence in you. Grandmama does as well. And you know that Mama and Papa wouldn’t have sent us if they didn’t think you could do this as well.”
Trina shook her head. “No. They sent us because they believe this is the only way to get me married.”
“And don’t you want to marry?” Tatiana asked her sister, knowing exactly what her answer would be. They’d only discussed and dissected the issue thoroughly over the past three years.
“You know I do, but…” Trina paused, looking miserable. Her brown eyes were dull with reluctance and dismay. It was all Tatiana could do to keep herself from folding her sister into her arms. She wanted to so badly, but if she did Trina would start to cry. Then her eyes would turn red and puffy, and she’d be in no state to go anywhere. She couldn’t do that to her beloved sister, so she just gave her hand a comforting squeeze as they walked back to Trina’s room.
She really did hate being in collusion with their parents against Trina. It had always been the two of them against everyone else. They’d stood together from the time they could both stand at all. But this time… this time, their parents were right. Tatiana hated that almost as much as she hated forcing her shy, unwilling sister to make her curtsey to society and place herself in the market for a husband.
Trina started to shake her head, but Tatiana cut her off as she opened her mouth to protest. “There is no other way. They’re right, you can do this and you will. You’re stronger than this, Trina.”
“No. I’m not. I’m terrified. No one will even look at me at the ball. They never do.” The tears were coming back. Tatiana could feel the heat of her sister’s fear radiating off of her.
She had to do something. Something big. Something dramatic. And something fast. Their grandmother would call for them any moment. She pulled her sister to the standing mirror in the corner of her room. Firmly placing her in front of it, she said, “Look, Trina. Look at this gorgeous dress! How can you say no one will look at you?”
Trina fluffed out the pale pink, heavy silk overdress without enthusiasm. “Well, at least I am stylish. I’m glad Grandmama allowed me the most recent fashion. I like this à l’Anglaise, without panniers. I don’t think I could have stood having a dress that extended further out than my arms.”
Tatiana laughed. “You are not only dressed in the first stare, you look beautiful!”
That comment made Trina’s face begin to crumple once again. “No. That I am not.”
“Oh yes, you are,” Tatiana said. And that is when she had the idea! The brilliance of her inspiration made her almost laugh out aloud in delight, but she controlled herself. Instead, she narrowed her eyes a little and focused herself inward. She gathered her magical power into her core and allowed a slow smile to spread across her face.
In her mind’s eye, she saw her sister’s dull, brown hair shine with vibrancy like her own. Trina’s eyes lost their brown coloring and instead glowed a brilliant green. Tatiana made her lips and cheeks ever so slightly plump, and then filled out her bust-line to give her a more womanly figure.
“Oh!” her sister gasped. She stared into the mirror, stunned at the woman she saw.
Tatiana then focused her attention on herself. As they were now they looked more like twins than they usually did. But that wouldn’t do. She needed Trina to stand out, so Tatiana dulled her own rich, dark brown hair, and faded her sparkling black eyes to a muddy brown. She thinned her face and lips, and made herself look nearly as angular as a scarecrow. Her perfectly-fitted, vibrant, blue silk dress now hung limply on her frame.
“Oh, no! Tatiana, what are you doing?” Trina exclaimed, horrified.
“Much better.” Tatiana looked in the mirror and nodded approvingly.
“No! Tatiana, really!”
“Yes, really! It is important that you look your best,” Tatiana said, admiring her handiwork. “And just as important that I don’t. This way, no one will look twice at me but focus all of their attention on you. Just as they should.”
“But your beauty…” Trina objected.
“Is inside, just as yours always is. Only now yours is showing outwardly for all of those superficial men to see—and mine is hidden away.” Tatiana nodded again. “This is the way it should be.”
Trina looked more closely at herself in the mirror. A small smile made her lips tremble and tears shone in her eyes yet again. “You are too good to me,” she whispered.
“No. I love you. But if you cry, I will be extremely annoyed. I don’t want to overlay even more magic on you to keep everyone from seeing red, puffy eyes and blotchy cheeks.”
A giggle burst out of Trina and she blinked away the tears. “No. I won’t do that to you. I promise.” She sighed and turned herself from side to side to admire her new splendor in the mahogany-gilt frame. “It is a shame, though.”
“What, that you have to marry? I’m sure you’ll find a wonderful man, Trina. You’ve got the entire season to do so.”
“Yes. But you won’t be here the entire season. And that’s not what I am referring to. It’s a shame that you won’t get to choose your own husband.”