Ella and Mori ran – well, jogged – all the way back to the apartment before she remembered she’d forgotten her keys. She pounded on the door, Mori howling beside her.
A minute later Paris opened the door. They pushed in past her excitedly, yelling for everyone to come to the living room. London ran down the hall, worried that something was wrong. Adri came huffing behind her.
“What happened? What is it?” They asked.
“You’ll never believe…I met him…”Ella panted, her run catching up to her as the adrenaline wore off.
“Met who?” Paris was intrigued.
“The Prince, Frederick.”
Silence. They all stared at her in shock, mouths slowly opening. And then a storm of questions and exclamations.
“Really?! Are you sure? What was he like? Did he talk to you? Tell us everything!” The twins screamed.
“And start from the beginning,” Adri reminded sharply.
And so she told them the whole ordeal, explaining her wit helping him escape from the mob and how gentlemanly he was in both the elevator and the little shop they’d hid in.
Adri stopped her partway through. “But you said he came to deliver your invitation. We didn’t hear a knock at the door. Explain that.”
Ella thought for a moment. “Oh!” She jumped up and opened the front door. There, laying on the ground in front of the welcoming mat, was a small envelope just like the one that had been for Adri, except thinner.
“It must have fallen out of the door without me noticing when I was coming in.”
“But why didn’t he just knock? I would have loved to meet him.” London looked disappointed.
“Well, probably for exactly that reason. He didn’t want a crowd around him like what happened in the street.” Ella explained.
Adri looked mildly impressed. “So it’s true? You really did meet His Grace.” Ella nodded. “Well that’s settled then. You can’t go to the ball.”
“What?!” Not just Ella but all three girls shouted angrily.
“You will ruin Paris’ and London’s chances of getting him as a husband. You will be too much of a distraction.” Adri stood from where she’d been sitting for the tale. “I’m sorry you’ll have to miss the party, we’ll take pictures to show you.”
“But I have to go! He personally invited me as his guest!” Ella pleaded.
“Well he’ll just be disappointed.” Adri replied coldly. “Come girls, let’s go over the schedule for tomorrow.” She grabbed the twins’ hands and pulled them unwillingly down the hall.
Ella stayed on the couch, shocked. Moriarty barked from he bedroom and she wandered in to let him out of his kennel and onto her lap.
A plan began to form in her head. She would still go, she had an invitation of her own, a ride- oh wait, her ride was coming early, how would she be able to convince Adri that she wasn’t going and still slip out past her?
That night she stayed up late, writing her plan on paper. When London came in to check if she wanted dinner, she quickly hid her notebook and declined the Orange Tofu and Miso dinner, yummy as it sounded, she could get some later.
The next day passed uneventfully, Ella was forced to clean the house until it shone and was not allowed to talk to the twins. But when she got a break and went back in her room a little while before dinner, she found a small piece of dainty lilac stationary that had been slid under her door by Paris.
On it was a note saying that Paris was going to leave a dress hanging on her door and that Ella was to get it once Adri had gone to bed. It also had Ella’s escape plan folded neatly inside it, and she assumed that Paris had found it while feeding Mori earlier. She should have guessed, it was unlike Paris to volunteer to do anything.
During a tense and uncomfortable dinner, Ella glanced up and winked at Paris with a small smile. She looked back down quickly before Adri could notice anything. London had seen though, and now it was she who felt slightly misplaced out of the three of them, unaccustomed as she was to not knowing what her twin was up to.
Ella couldn’t sleep that night, so she ended up watching Netflix until almost one in the morning which was when she grabbed the dress, still in it’s plastic bag, off of Paris’ door.
When she did fall asleep she had odd dreams of things going bizarrely wrong at the ball, such as her showing up without any clothes at all, or messing up her dancing so bad that the entire crowd laughed.
Needless to say, she was rather tired the next morning, and ended up oversleeping. Adri woke her around 10 shouting about how she was going to ruin the evening for her family as well if she didn’t get up and help the girls get ready.
“But the ball isn’t even for another,” She checked her alarm clock, “like, nine hours.”
“And?” Adri spun on her heel and hurried down the hall, calling for her daughters to start getting dressed as she went.
Ella groaned and rolled out of bed, her blankets and sweats tangled around her legs. Mori opened one eye lazily before falling back asleep with a loud puppy snore.
The girls were in hysterics.
London was sobbing because her mother wouldn’t let her have breakfast. “But it’s the most important meal of the day!” She pleaded.
“Hush!” Adri turned back to meticulously yanking each of Paris’ strands of hair into place.
Ella watched the miserable sight for a moment before speaking up. “What do you need help with, London?” She asked her youngest sister.
London sniffed. “I need to get my dress on and then do my makeup.”
“Won’t it have rubbed off by the time the ball starts?” Ella grabbed London’s ballgown out of the closet. “Here.” she helped her into it as London replied.
“I’ll reapply when it’s time.”
Ella was still finding problems with their plan. “What if you spill something on your while eating lunch or whatever? Or tear it or something?”
“The girls won’t be eating today.” Adri shoved the last pin into Paris’ scalp as she yelped. “Posture, etiquette, and dancing will be all that they do until our limo arrives. And you will be helping them with that, along with running any errands for me that I may need done.”
“Wow.” Ella breathed in disbelief. It was shocking how extremely important this dance was, more so for the mother than even the girls who it should have had more importance too.
But, to Adri’s wishes, dancing and etiquette and prancing back and forth around the house balancing things on their heads was what consumed the girls’ day. Around five, after Ella had snagged a quick dinner last night’s leftovers, Adri called her down the hall.
Ella obeyed and found her step-mother standing in front of Ella’s open bedroom door. Moriarty was sitting just inside, looking up at Adri with a snarl. Adri growled back and he slunk away back to Ella’s bed.
“Yes?” Ella asked, hiding the chocolate bar she was holding behind her back.
“You’ve done enough, thank you. Please stay in your room for the rest of the evening.”
Ella was surprised. “But won’t you need help up until you get out the door?”
Adri looked haughty, “I’m perfectly capable of getting my daughters and I ready.”
Ella shrugged. “Sounds good to me.” She stepped in her room, and then turned back. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Adri smiled and closed the door.
“Wait,” Ella called.
The lock clicked. She was stuck.
Adri had had a lock installed solely for the purpose of keeping Ella in when she was grounded for some silly thing, but now it was stopping Ella’s plan in it’s tracks.
Ella pounded on the door, yelling for help even though she knew it was no use.
Finally she gave up, sliding to the ground, her back to the door, hands over her face.
Her hand. She looked at it, the metal glinting in the light like it always did.
She’d read somewhere that humans are capable of great strength, but their mind blocks them from using it to protect themselves. If that was true, then maybe this hand would let her break the door down…
Standing, she turned and looked at the door. Right by the handle there was a chunk of wood missing from once when Adri had locked her in here for two days and three nights straight. Ella had used her switchblade finger attachment to try digging around so she could unlock the door. Of course, that failed spectacularly. But maybe it had weakened the wood just enough that she could…
It was a good thing her hand didn’t have much feeling, but her arm still tingled and felt more like a limp noodle than an arm.
So, maybe that wasn’t going to work. Mori had started barking, now she shushed him and turned back, analyzing the problem ahead of her.
After a half hour of failed attempts, her eyes fell on the top corner of her door and she felt like a colossal idiot.
Hinges. She walked over and grabbed her chair and toolbox. Carefully, she unscrewed the door from the frame but left it leaning up against it until she was ready to leave.
Adri and the twins could be heard down the hall in Paris’ room, chattering about who knows what. Ella turned back and grabbed the dress from the bag. A few minutes she stood in a long flowing blue piece. She stared at herself in the mirror for a moment.
She couldn’t remember a time when she had felt this beautiful. The skirt swished around her legs with every step, the small waistline complimented her figure and although it had looked like it would be too small, with the help of a corset that had been left in the bag, she fit comfortably.
She grabbed her slippers off the bed, they were just small tan heeled dance shoes from her ballroom class but they would work perfectly.
She snatched up her gloves and some tights and leggings but paused, and after a moment, tossed the leggings back onto the bed.
She had gotten a pear of nude leggings to hide her leg on important occasions, but she strangely didn’t feel like she needed to. The prince hadn’t minded it, why should she?
Sliding on her tights covered the shine of the metal a little but it was still rather obvious. She smiled at herself in the mirror and dropped her gloves on her floor. Ella wouldn’t be ashamed of herself anymore. This was her body, and she was proud of the way it looked.
She glanced at the clock. Her ride would be here in twenty minutes. She quickly brushed her long, gold, slightly curly hair and let it flow down her back. She usually kept it up in a pony tail, but this looked nice.
Next for makeup. She pulled out the little bit that she had and frowned. But then she simply applied a little mascara and some soft pink lipstick. She wouldn’t hide her face from the world. Besides, Fred had met her when she was only wearing mascara, this way he would recognize her.
She turned to Moriarty, who had been watching with interest.
“Now, I have a ball to get to.” She brushed a kiss across his head and grabbed her purse (which didn’t in any way match her dress) and, shoving her phone, keys and lipstick into it, she slipped out of her room, checking the coast was clear before dodging down the hall. She opened the front door and made sure to close it quietly behind her.
Fortunately, the elevator was waiting on her level, but it wasn’t until she was out the door and sitting on the apartment’s front step that she calmed some.
Ella still kept glancing over her shoulder, afraid Adri would come running after her.
A car honked in front of her, and turning she saw and jumped into Cristi’s car.
“Thanks for the ride.”
“You look incredible!” Cristi gave her a small side hug as she pulled out onto the road.
Ella looked over her shoulder one last time, but no angry step-mother was waiting for her. Breathing deeply, Ella leaned back, smiling.
She was going to Fred’s ball.