Ella was persistent in her quest to get an invitation to the ball.Over the next few days she was on her best behavior, enduring relentless squeals of excitement from the twins and snarky comments from her step-mother without even one sassy reply.
She also called in a favor from an old friend whom she’d set up on a blind date three years ago. Her friend, Cristi, was still with the guy, and rumor was they were soon to be engaged.
Using her leverage as the instigator of a successful relationship, Ella called and asked for a ride.
“We’d love to take you! But we’ll have to bring you about a half an hour early, because I have a work meeting that evening. Is that alright?” Cristi asked over the phone.
“That’s perfect! Thank you so much.” They chatted for a short while longer before hanging up. Triumphant, Ella called down the hall to see if Adri was still home.
“What?” A harsh voice came in reply.
Ella danced into Adri’s room. “I have a ride for the ball. All I need is the ticket in.”
“And a dress. And something to hide your… deformities. And a list of completed chores. Not to mention my permission.” Adri listed, sounding bored, and without looking up from the novel she was reading.
Biting back an angry retort, Ella took a deep breath. “I will find a dress. I’ll do the chores. You know I can.”
“Hmm…Perhaps you can go, but under one circumstance.”
“Another one?” Ella blurted out, exasperated.
Adri raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. You are not to talk to or act as though you know in any way, me or your sisters. Stay far away from us. And don’t mention our names to anyone.”
“Easily.” Ella replied dryly.
Adri made a shooing motion with her hand. Leaving hurriedly, Ella had to suppress her own squeal of delight as she headed into the living room. Paris and London were playing checkers, laying on the floor in jeans and t-shirts, a rare thing for those two.
“How’s the game, girls?” She surprised them as she plopped onto the couch, her feet rather near their heads.
“It’s fine.” Paris smiled at her.
“No, it’s awful.” London frowned.
“Oh, is Paris winning then?” The girl’s faces made it clear she had been right. “Well, how about the three of us play a game of Monopoly when you’re done?”
The twins looked at each other. “Why?” They asked in unison.
“Because, when you guys were little, I used to play with you all the time. Don’t you remember?” The twins were only one year younger than Ella, but maturity-wise it seemed much more than that.
“Well, it does sound kind of fun…” Paris looked over at the game cupboard, contemplating her options.
“Ya, not so bad…” London’s usually pessimistic attitude seemed to change a little bit, inclined towards the game as she was. “I’m pretty good at Mono.”
Now it was Paris and Ella who spoke in unison. “Mono?” They asked, concernedly.
“Yeah, it’s slang for monopoly, isn’t it?”
They shook their heads no. “Definitely not.”
The twins finished their checkers while Ella prepared the next game. When they were all about half way around the board in their third roll of the dice, Adri’s heels could be heard down the hall.
Ella seized her leg, which she had taken off for comfort purposes, and shoved it under a blanket, knowing that Adri usually wasn’t all that pleased with body parts lying around her living room.
In came the old hag, peering down her nose as usual. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. “Girls! What are you wearing?”
The twins looked ashamed of themselves. Ella laughed nervously, “They’re just jeans, Adri, what’s wrong with some denim?”
“Nothing. Except I just bought them new pantsuits yesterday, and it seems my money was wasted if they’re just going to disrespect me in that way.” She moaned dramatically and covered her eyes with her hands.
The twins stood up. “We’ll go change. We’re sorry Mother,” Paris almost whispered. They gave Adri a brief hug before scurrying down the hall to their rooms.
Ella shook her head ever so slightly and looked down at the game board.
“So what should I be expecting for dinner tonight?”
“Probably leftovers, since you haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while.” Ella replied coolly.
“So I’m the reason we have to eat sub-par again tonight?” Adri feigned wounded innocence. “I thought I could trust you to make a simple meal for three.”
“You mean four?” Ella reminded her, ignoring her first sentence.
“No, I most certainly meant only three. You see, London hasn’t been watching her waist as well as she should be, so she will get a meal substitute bar for dinner tonight.”
“You’re starving your own daughter?” Ella asked incredulously. “That’s barbaric!”
Adri sighed heavily. “It’s in her best interest. She’ll be lucky to catch a simple Duke’s eye the way she looks lately.”
“Cruelty, thy name is Adri.” Ella quipped.
“Clean up that mess and get cooking already. London’s bar is in the top right cupboard, over the pantry.” With one last sweeping glance over the mess of game pieces on her floor, Adri stalked out of the room haughtily.
The twins slipped past her back into the room, now in matching lavender and grey pant suits. Seeing Ella scooping up the cards and play money stopped them in their tracks.
“What are you doing?” Paris asked, sounding hurt.
“Your mom wants me to start cooking dinner. I’m sorry girls.”
They sunk onto the couch whispering to each other while she cleaned. After attaching her leg back onto her thigh Ella made her way to the kitchen and began the search for ingredients for a soup.
She couldn’t believe how Adri treated her own daughters sometimes. Like they were simply social tools to help her get where she wanted to be. That was when Ella decided that for the next year, her last one in this miserable house, she would be her step-sisters guardian angel. She would give them extra food and make sure they were able to get the individual and sincere attention that was necessary for their healthy human growth.
Whenever Adri wasn’t in the house, the girls would be cuddled and talked to and helped. They would be shown that it’s okay to be imperfect. They would be taught kindness. And hopefully they would show Ella the same generosity.
About an hour into the soup simmering away on the stove, Ella was sitting at the kitchen table, cocoa in hand and her favorite book in front of her. Her peace was disrupted when Adri came swooshing down the hall, black and white fur coat over her shoulders and purse in hand.
“Never mind, you’ll only need to make dinner for yourself and Paris tonight, Maurice has asked me out last minute. Goodnight, expect me back late.”
Rebelliously, Ella still set the table for three and sat down the twins at the table.
“My mom doesn’t want me to eat this.” London said sadly, looking into her steaming bowl of broth.
“Yeah well, what she doesn’t know won’t kill her.” And so, after checking the ingredients of the meal replacement bar, they fed it to a very pleased Moriarty and the three of them enjoyed their first pleasant meal together since before their teenage years.