The next day she confronted Adri about the ball.
“Adri. I’ve been wondering, since you are all allowed to bring a guest with you to the ball, if I could come as one of them?” She bit her lip, fingers crossed for luck behind her back.
Adri looked shocked. “You? Why on this great green earth would I invite you to come with us to the Prince’s ball?”
“Oh I dunno, maybe because I clean your house, cook your food, practically raised your daughters, and am your legal daughter?” Ella replied sarcastically.
Adri straightened up to her ridiculous height of at least 6 feet. “So, you believe that that merits a place at the coronation ball?”
“Well, doesn’t it?” Ella asked almost desperately.
“It would,” Adri surprised her, “But,” Oh yes, here it came, Ella thought, “But, how do you plan on coming? You don’t have a ride, you don’t have a dress, all you do have are those monstrosities for limbs, and goodness girl, no one wants to see those at a nice gathering.”
Ella fought back tears. A monstrosity, was she? Searching for a way to come, “Why can’t I ride with you three?”
“Oh dear, we’re riding in a royal limousine. Do you honestly think the Prince wants a metal creature like you climbing out of a VIP carriage?” Adri sneered.
“I’m not a piece of metal to be treated like garbage.”
“But that’s exactly what you are! You’re literally half made from scrap metal. You are garbage, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. And you think that me and my perfectly respectable daughters want our reputation damaged by something like you coming to such a prestigious event with us?” She took a deep breath. “No, we do not.”
Ella sobbed, and quickly attempted to cover her mouth before anything more could escape. Now, for the first time, Adri had fully came out about how she felt towards Ella. She had never treated her fairly, but she’d been tolerated. Now though, Ella couldn’t help her tears from flowing freely. She turned and ran to her room. She tripped and her metal ankle joint twisted, sending her sprawling.
Adri laughed behind her, a cruel, cold laugh with no remorse for what she had done to a lonely teenage girl.
Ella grabbed her foot, and turned it back into place. She walked the rest of the way to her bed, slamming the door to her room hard behind her. Moriarty jumped up and started barking.
“It’s just me, Mori.” She scooped him up and lied on her bed, tears streaming down her cheeks as the dog tried to catch them with his tongue. “Why does she hate me so, Mori? What have I done?” Adri’s words echoed around her skull, “You’re scrap metal. You are garbage, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.” Was that it, then? After all the work she’d done in the house, after taking care of Paris and London while their mother drank away her own sorrows after her husbands death, was it Ella’s fate to be hated simply for her own body?
She stared at her metal hand, turning it this way and that. The light glinted off of her knuckle on her ring finger. She reached out with her left hand and pressed a small switch that was tucked inside of the joint. Her finger fell onto the bed. Peering inside of the small cavity on her hand, she could see a tiny circle of velvet fabric that she’d placed there.
Lifting the cloth carefully, she could feel the hard lump in it. Unfolded it revealed a small gold ring inlaid with an emerald, diamond, and ruby. Tiny, tucked carefully in a triangle formation, the gems and gold made up the only thing Ella had of her real mother.
The late Mrs. Emilie Bonds had been a beautiful, kind, and rather intelligent woman. Or so Ella had been told. An apartment fire, a year after Ella had been born, had killed her and destroyed almost everything that might have been kept as a reminder of her, including pictures, clothes…everything except for her wedding ring.
By some good fortune, Mr. Bonds had decided to take the ring to the jewelers to get it polished and try to find a matching necklace for his wife’s second anniversary present. Taking Ella with him so that his wife could sleep, he’s given Emilie a kiss on the cheek and called his goodbye over his shoulder as he went out the door, chasing little Ella as she crawled down the hall towards the stairs. Little did he know that he would never see his wife alive again.
When Ella was 8 years old he had given her the ring and Adri the matching necklace. That was the year he married his second wife. 3 years later he died from a rare bone cancer.
Ella was pretty sure that Adri had sold the necklace soon after his death, but the ring remained on Ella’s person at all times.
“Mom, if you can hear me from wherever you are now, can you help me?” Ella looked towards the ceiling, as if she would see her mothers spirit appear there. “I don’t need advice. I just need comforting. I just need to know that things really will get better…”
Closing her eyes to try and focus on some small, happy warmth within her, she woke up from an unexpected nap three hours later when Paris shouted in her ear.
“Get up! We need your help, get up you lazy thing!” Spinning, she flounced out of the room as Ella wiped her eyes groggily. “And hurry!” Paris shouted over her shoulder.
“Ugghhhunn…” Ella pushed herself up. Wandering into the other room, she leaned in the doorway. Paris and London had brought almost their entire wardrobes into Paris’ room where there was better lighting from a large window. Ella could still remember the fight for the room, Paris had won through a violent game of rock paper scissors, in which London remains sure she cheated.
Dresses lay across the bed, draped over chairs, hanging in front of the window, turning the light in the room hues of pink, green, purple and white.
“What’s going on in here?” Ella asked, bemused.
London looked at her like she was an idiot. “We have to find dresses for the ball, duh!”
“Yes, get in here and help zip me up!” Paris squealed. Ella moved towards her, but Adri cut her off.
“I’ll do it, you help London get her corset on.” She pushed her the other direction.
“Corset? Is the ball’s theme the 18th century?” Laughing, she pulled on the strings for London’s already-tiny waistlines. “Or are they just trying to look anorexic?”
“They’re going to look beautiful,” Adri stated proudly.
“Having an eating disorder isn’t beauty, Adri.”
Ignoring her, Adri turned back to Paris. “Spin, darling, I want to see the flow of that skirt.
Paris obeyed her, and everyone gasped.
“Yes… perfect…now for you, London…” Adri picked up a couple dresses, tossing them carelessly aside before nodding in approval of one. “Ella put this on her.”
A few minutes later, London posed in her new gown.
“Whoa.” Ella sighed under her breath.
“Wow indeed, ladies. You’ll be sure to blow the Prince away in these.” Adri tugged at the hem of their dresses, measuring what length of heel would be needed.
“Prince?” Ella laughed.
All three of them froze and turned to her with frowns. “Why are you laughing?” London demanded.
Ella scoffed. “It’s a ball. And you think you’ll walk in and then just magically, one of you will be engaged to a huge political figurehead without another word?”
“…And?” Paris asked.
“And it’s ridiculous! You only want to marry him for his status and money,” Ella argued.
“Don’t forget looks!” London giggled.
“But you don’t even know him!” she protested.
“What else is there to know?” Adri asked as she tip toed through the clothes on the floor over to Paris’ vanity. “How about summer roses, love?” She held up a small pink perfume bottle.
“What else?! You must be joking! What about his hobbies, likes and dislikes, political views, what he thinks of animals or children…what about those?”
“He loves horseback riding and gardening. He likes swimming and hates bad hair days. No political status yet. He loves children and dogs and birds but thinks cats are evil.” London laughed at Ella’s surprised look. “I’ve done my research, watched every interview, practically memorized his Wiki page. Trust me, we know what kind of guy we’re getting.”
“Wow.” Ella said again.
Adri looked at her small silver watch. “Time for you to make dinner, girl. And don’t forget, they have to look their best, so only gluten and sugar free food for the week. Preferably vegetarian as well. Chop chop, we must keep to a tight eating schedule for their metabolisms!”
Sighing, Ella left the mess she knew she would have to clean later to go make some sort of painfully disgusting – but healthy!- dinner for her step-sisters.