November 29, 2013

In Which Morgan Smiles Back

December 10, 1183

Morgan struggled to keep her calm as she carried Viridis into the front room. Now that Viridis had been fully weaned, she'd been dreading the day Lord Severin would call for her--though with every visit this past while, she'd lucked out and found he'd come for Vera or Lucien instead. She hoped that today would be no different.

"My lord."

"Morgan." He rolled his eyes, as he typically did whenever she called him that. Yet it would be a while before she was comfortable speaking to him on a first-name basis, especially if he'd come to reclaim his granddaughter from her care. "Viridis."

"Gampa!" The little girl beamed. Good to know that Morgan's own reservations had escaped her notice.

But perhaps she had no reason to worry today. Lucien was out and he'd taken his son with him, but Vera was upstairs, resting. She was about three months along now, and after her last pregnancy had ended in miscarriage, she was making a point to be cautious, at least in the delicate early stages. But she was starting to show now, growing a little less fearful, and Morgan had no doubt that she'd be starting her new job at the school come January with a cute little four-month bump to show for it.

As the father of twelve children and the grandfather of twenty-one--or sixteen and twenty-six, if stepchildren were to be counted--Lord Severin probably knew as much about pregnancy as any man ever could, so he was likely thinking along the same lines in regards to Vera. But maybe he was just worried enough that he'd figured he'd reassure himself with a call? "Vera's upstairs."

"I shall check on her later, then--but I actually came to talk to you."

Or not. "Oh."

"My apologies if that inspires any panic. I hope this conversation will be as painless as possible." He flashed her a quick grin, which she labored to return in kind. In her arms, little Viridis yawned. "Sounds like it's time for someone's nap."

Morgan swallowed. She'd just been about to put Viridis down for an hour or so, but Lord Severin's arrival had delayed that task. The way he saw it, though, she must have looked an unfit caregiver. Though... a man with that many children would have known that not all toddler needs were obvious enough to be predictable.

Then again, a man with that many children might have known a few indicators of which Morgan was unaware. In that case, at least Viridis would be better off. "Yes, well... I was just going to take her to her crib when you showed up. I'll just--"

"Actually, may I?" He held out his arms and gestured toward himself with the fingers of one hand. Awkward, Morgan handed Viridis over. "Thank you."

"Um... no problem."

"Ready for your nap, kitten?" Lord Severin asked as he gave his granddaughter a quick tickle beneath the arm. Viridis giggled, but quickly yawned again. "I thought so. Here, I'll take you to your crib and you can sleep while Morgan and I have a little chat."

"I can take her if you like." A bit more defensive than her usual offer, but from the sounds of it, he may have had cause for concern and she had to prove herself. But why? She was going to lose Viridis eventually, and she'd known that. Stupid...

"I know you can, but you do this every day. I don't mind doing it once." He kissed Viridis on the forehead as she slumped to his shoulder. "Does she fall asleep fairly easily, for the most part?"

Morgan nodded. At least she knew that detail.

"All right. I'll be back in a few minutes, then. Make yourself comfortable."

I doubt that's possible, Morgan thought as the pair of them started toward the stairs, but she took a seat at the dining table anyway. It was Vera's preferred chair--with only four of them at the large table each meal, it made more sense for them to keep to one side--but it was the nearest apart from the head of the table, and it seemed only proper to leave that seat open if one's guest was a lord. Vera wouldn't mind.

She supposed now that Viridis would never join them at the table, at least not often. By the time she was big enough to sit here, she'd be living with her grandfather. But why was she so bitter about this? Morgan liked to think of herself as a sensible person. She didn't discount emotions the way some seemed to, but she knew that her decisions were limited to the realm of her own life, and in terms of anyone else's... well, she could disagree, but she could not argue. She was only ever meant to be Viridis's nurse, for all she'd occasionally heard herself called 'Mama' and enjoyed it a little more than she should have. Viridis's real mother would have wanted her daughter to be raised by the same loving family that raised her, and Viridis's father had spent his last days making sure that happened. Who was Morgan to argue with their wishes?

Besides, Lord Severin didn't strike her as the possessive, jealous sort. Surely he'd let her visit if she asked nicely? And maybe it would be for the best. Morgan would be quite busy once the university opened.

She had a feeling she'd need that preoccupation.

"You were right. Little tyke barely even waited to touch the pillow."

Lord Severin had returned. As Morgan had predicted, he took the chair at the head of the table. "Are you all right? You look a little concerned."

"I'm fine," Morgan lied, though she doubted he'd believe her. "Just thinking."

"I see." He grabbed the seat of the chair and pulled himself in closer to the table. "Viridis really loves you a lot, you know."

Didn't a sweet little thing like Viridis love everybody? "I know."

"Every time I have her to myself, she keeps asking me where Mama Morgan is." Chuckling to himself, he rested one elbow on the side of the table. Morgan frowned. Sure, she hadn't thought him jealous, but he'd sounded more opposite than she could have expected. "Anyway, now that she's weaned, I figured we'd better talk."

Shit. There went every hope that this conversation could have been about anything else. Morgan stiffened in her seat. She supposed there was no sense in dragging this out. "You want her to come live with you."

"Actually, I was wondering if you might like to adopt her."

Eh? Morgan blinked. Sure, the thought had crossed her mind in her weakest moments, but she never would have asked... surely she'd never thought... "Are you serious?"

"When am I ever not serious? Well, aside from when I'm joking." He winked. Not sure what else to do with that--or if she was hearing correctly--Morgan grimaced. "But really, she adores you, and the poor thing has already lost two parents. It would be cruel to rob her of a third."

"I... suppose it would." And she couldn't help but smile a little more widely. But wasn't it cruel to him, keeping his granddaughter for herself? "But what about you?"

"What about me? This way, I don't have to make sure she eats her vegetables, or punish her when she misbehaves; I just get to spoil her rotten like I do all my other grandchildren, then leave you to deal with any unpleasant effects of that."

That... did make sense, at least for a man who was probably more in the emotional mindset of a grandfather in this stage of his life. Though Morgan did have to argue with one thing. "I'm sure she'll never be unpleasant."

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure; all of my spawn and grand-spawn tend to be handfuls. Lovable handfuls, but handfuls nonetheless. Why, just last week, Roddie..." He shook his head, though a few hints of laughter slipped out between his teeth. "Ah, forgive an old man and his need to share stories no one wants to hear. But truly, if you'd like to adopt Viridis, I'd be more than happy to allow it. I just request that she keeps her original surname, for her birth parents' sake."

"That's a reasonable request." As if it mattered to Morgan what Viridis's surname was! "But yes. If you're willing, then I'd love to keep her."

He smiled--more sincerely than before, more seriously. As if to reassure her that everything would be all right. "All right. I'll have the paperwork drawn up today, then I'll bring it by tomorrow for you to sign. Will that work for you?"

And this time, it wasn't so tough to smile back. "Absolutely."


November 27, 2013

In Which Yvanette Doesn't Like the Answer

December 5, 1183

"You're awake!" Yvanette's mama rushed over from the door and took her in her arms, twirling her about. Yvanette clung to her neck, not sure if she was dreaming--and if she was, she didn't want to be dropped and woken. She hadn't expected that her mama would be happy to see her. "Oh, sweetheart! Are you all right?"

"I think so." She didn't feel sick any more, at least, or not too sick. And she only remembered flashes--her papa joining her in the water and slinging her over his shoulder, being carried back into the castle in her mama's cloak, Winter dressing her in her nightgown and tucking her into her parents' bed. That and the fear. The fear hadn't gone away. "Are you mad at me?"

"What?" Her mama set her down. Yvanette chanced a look up at her face. She'd surprised her--and maybe hurt her. How? "Honey, why would I be mad at you? Here, sit with me a minute."

Yvanette climbed back up onto the bed while her mama settled on the other side. That was her papa's side usually; Yvanette was on her mama's. Was that all right?

"Sweetie, I can't make any excuses for what happened, but I hope you know that I never would have done that if I'd known it was you."

"Oh." Did that mean she could have told? She'd thought about telling her papa once or twice, but she knew he'd tell her mama. She'd started to tell Winter once, but she'd only gotten tears out, not words. If only she hadn't been such a crybaby. "So it's my fault."

"No! Not at all!" Her mama stared at her, mouth fallen open and shock in her eye. Then, she slumped back and sighed. "God, how did a waste of space like me ever produce someone as sweet and precious as you? You have every right to hate me forever."

Heh? Now it was Yvanette's turn to be surprised--and not her first turn. "I don't hate you."

"I know you don't. You have your papa's heart, and so do your brother and sister. And all four of you deserve so much better than me." A little tear caught on her mama's eyelashes, but she was quick to wipe it aside. "I'm sorry I made you so scared. If I ever make you feel that way again, please tell me so I can fix it."

But how? Everyone had things they didn't like. That was a tough thing to fix. "But you hate cats."

"Not nearly as much as I love you." Her mother smiled, and she looked like she meant it, but Yvanette wasn't so sure. Love beat hate in stories, it was true... but real life seemed rather opposite that way. "I could never hate you, baby."

"Even if I got stuck as a cat forever?"

"Even if you got stuck as a cat forever--and I'll try to like cats in general a little more, I promise."

That would help. Sort of. "Can you stop me from turning into one all the time?"

Her mama bit her lip before she spoke. Yvanette could guess she wouldn't like the answer. "I don't know, baby. Your papa has a few acquaintances who might be able to help, but I can't promise anything and I don't want to lie to you."

So that was it, then. For all she knew, it would never be over. "Oh."

"But we'll do everything we can to make you feel safe, all right?" Her mama gestured for her to come closer. Yvanette shuffled over and slumped onto her shoulder, a warm arm wrapping around her back. "Everything we can."


November 25, 2013

In Which Rona Hears It Now

December 5, 1183

A character in an old childhood book had claimed that one never forgot the most frightening moments of his or her life.

Rona believed her. It had only been a couple hours, but the scene played again and again in her head like thespians in infinitely back-to-back performances. Her baby's screams from the bottom of the well. Yvanette's panic-induced deafness as Rona begged her to grab the rope, Ashe's command to pull them up after he'd climbed down to rescue her. She'd taken off her cloak and wrapped it around her daughter's sodden, shivering little body and rushed ahead as Ashe carried her, calling for warm towels and extra blankets and Yvanette's pink woolen nightgown. Poor girl was half-conscious and delirious by the time they tucked her into their bed.

And it was all Rona's fault.

The old steward had retired a month prior, so Ashe had hired Electra's husband, a grandson of old Widow Fedurin. Figuring Medur might bump any queue, Rona had sent him off to fetch his grandmother, and they'd returned within the hour. Yvanette hadn't woken, but she'd regained most of her color and her breathing had stabilized; Widow Fedurin had prescribed rest and fluids as a precaution, but had more or less declared that Yvanette would be fine. But since they hadn't given her the whole story, Rona wasn't so sure. 'Healthy' was not the same as 'fine'.

"I'm sorry, baby."

Yvanette rolled over, away from her. Rona tried to take that logically. There had been little room to roll toward her, and her hair was still damp enough to leave moisture on the pillow; Ashe had braided her hair to minimize its cold touch on her skin, but they had no means of drying it entirely, and the pillow would absorb whatever it could. Yvanette needed a dry place to lie her head, and her sleeping body knew it.

But it felt like her daughter wanted nothing to do with her. Rona couldn't blame her if that was true.

"She's not shivering any more." Ashe approached from the hearth and joined her at the bedside. Rona nodded, though she kept her eyes on Yvanette, just in case. She didn't know how Ashe could still stand to be around her, given what she'd forced him to do. She had half a mind to exile herself to her mother's home if he wouldn't throw her out, or would have if she'd been at all worthy of that refuge. Or if she could stand to leave not knowing if her baby was all right.

"I'm a horrible mother."

"You're not. You didn't know."

"Because she couldn't trust me. She was afraid of me." What sort of awful, sick mother inspired such fear in her own children? "You don't think any of the other cats--?"

"No." His voice was sure, like it had been when he'd tried to refuse her. Why hadn't she heard it then? "Your brother would have told you if he'd seen that aura on anyone else. That cat bite must have given her magic a way to manifest; it wouldn't have done a thing to someone without magic."

She knew that. That didn't make the thought go away. "I'm a terrible person."


"Don't lie to me." Beneath the covers, Yvanette stirred. A tear that had been seconds and hours and years in the brewing spilled.

"Not about this."


November 23, 2013

In Which Ashe Finds the Same in Both Eyes

December 5, 1183

"Aww, she's just a little kitten."

The tiny bundle of fluff had scared easily, but the snow was higher than the top of her head, so Ashe had managed to thwart her getaway without much difficulty. That didn't mean she'd gained the complacency to stop squirming. "Poor thing. Out here in the cold all alone."

Rona sniffed. This would have been so much easier if she hadn't been here, if he'd stumbled upon the kitten on his own. Her official policy on the strays called for their extermination, but whenever Ashe caught one, he'd take it to one of the villages and release it with little more than a finger-wagging and a wink. If Rona knew that, she'd argue that that didn't stop them from coming back, and that wasn't a fight he wanted to pick if he could avoid it, so he let her believe he'd taken them to the river in bags and drowned them.

If he did that with this one, he doubted she'd want to accompany him. But he didn't like lying to her face. "She probably got separated from her mother and siblings."

"So there are more of them around, then."

"I guess so." He glanced down at the wriggling kitten in his hands. She pawed toward his chest, meaning to scratch but failing to reach. Poor thing. Maybe if he gave her to one of the farmers to watch, he could reunite her with her mother and litter-mates. If he didn't find them, perhaps she'd have a home as a rat-catcher. "I'll look around after I deal with this one."

"Two trips to the river in one day? Don't be absurd. Just use the well."

As if she understood, the kitten's thrashing quickened. Ashe tried to calm her by stroking her belly with his thumb, but to no avail. "The well? We drink out of that!"

"So? Animals get into wells all the time. Remember that time Lorn's men had to clear out all those half-decayed rats?"

And now that she'd said it, those sodden carcasses of years prior were as clear in his mind as the kitten in front of him. "Never mind everything else that gets into them. As long as we keep boiling and filtering the water before we use it, we'll be fine."

Ashe sighed. The nearest farm wasn't far, but it wasn't so close that he could run there and back in the time it took to drown a kitten in his own well. He'd have to just shoo her out the gate and hope for the best. "All right. Why don't you go inside and get something to drink, and I'll... deal with her."

Rona's brow nudged upwards. "Why would I have to go inside?"

Shit. "Uh..."

"You're not really going to do it, are you?"

God, he hated lying to her. "I'm sorry. I don't feel right about it."

"That cat a few months back seemed to feel fine about attacking our daughter, in case you've forgotten." Panicked, the kitten strained her neck and tried to bite him--though if her eye movements said anything, she was more afraid of Rona. Or was his mind just playing tricks on him? If one human was holding her and wouldn't let go, and another was just standing there, Ashe thought he knew who the kitten would choose as the greater threat. "I don't feel safe with all these animals around. I don't feel that our kids are safe with all these animals around. If you send them away, they're just going to come back, and that scares me."

"But she's just--"

"But she'll grow up! And I know you think I'm irrational, but please." Her eyes hadn't been so wide since she'd woken from her coma. He couldn't see it, but somehow, when Rona looked at this tiny, defenseless little creature, she saw something terrifying, as some saw snakes or spiders. Irrational? Yes.

But did that make it any less real?


God damn it. "At least pull up the bucket for her? That's a long drop."

Rona nodded and they trudged through the snow to the well, the kitten in a panicked frenzy all the while. Ashe tried to calm her with a slight rocking movement, but it was no more effective than the stroking had been. It was a stupid thought, but he couldn't deny it. She knew what her sentence was.

I'm sorry, kitten.

Rona drew the bucket. Ashe placed the kitten inside, nearly taking her back as she clawed helplessly at its side, her two front paws and her little head poking over the rim. If only Rona would look at her. They had the same fear in their eyes.


He took the well's wheel in hand and lowered the bucket.

A light splash echoed from below as it hit the surface of the water. Ashe strained not to look down until Rona took him by the arm and led him away.

They were at the foot of the steps when someone yelled.



November 21, 2013

In Which Yvanette's Luck Runs Dry

December 5, 1183

Today had not been a lucky day.

When the tingly feeling had set in again, Yvanette had barely made it back to her bedroom in time--and when she had, she hadn't been transformed a full minute when a chambermaid had arrived, and knowing her luck, of course she'd been spotted.

The one good thing was that most of the servants only half-listened to Yvanette's mama when it came to the "cat problem", so she'd only been chased outside with a broom; once she'd been swept down the last couple stairs, the chambermaid left, mumbling something about Yvanette not picking up her clothes.

But she was still outside, in the snow, stuck in the helpless kitten body waiting to either turn back--and then head back inside stark naked--or for someone else to shoo her even further away.

"I can't believe it snowed so much overnight! Isn't it pretty?"

Or for worse.

There was enough snow for hiding, so Yvanette nudged herself into it just as her papa's boots touched the ground. Good thing he'd been first. If one of them had to see her...

Or, did it matter, if he told? If her mama asked her papa to do something, he didn't usually fight it.

But if he'd noticed her, he didn't say so. Yvanette backed deeper into the snow as her mama joined her papa at the bottom of the stairs. Her mama was more interested in the snow falling from the sky then the snow already on the ground; relieved, Yvanette slumped to her two-too-many knees.

"I guess it is, though I'm happier about the excuse to stay home." Her papa put his hands on her mama's cheeks and kissed her on the mouth. Yvanette's ear twitched. Was it safe to kiss someone on the mouth in winter? Cousin Ricky said people's mouths could freeze together. Yvanette didn't want her parents' mouths to freeze together!

Or did she? If her mama was stuck to her papa, it would be tougher for her to chase her away--or worse--if she saw her.

Yvanette's tail swished. She loved her mama. She hated having to be scared of her.

She crouched a little lower as her parents broke apart. Should've known Cousin Ricky knew nothing about kissing. "My siblings and I used to have so much fun playing in the snow. Pity you never had any brothers or sisters."

"I guess..."

"Well, you wouldn't know what you were missing, I suppose. Say, what's that over there?"

Yvanette froze--but whatever had caught her mama's attention, it wasn't her. In fact, once her papa looked the other way, her mama just bent down and scooped up a handful of snow.

"I don't see anything."

"Sorry. It might have just been a trick of the--oh, there it went!" Yvanette's mama pointed another way and stepped around her papa's back.

"Rona, what exactly--hey!"

Snow flew every direction as the ball broke against the back of her papa's head. "What the hell?"

"First snow of the season, silly!" Yvanette's mama giggled, kicking up a little more snow with a flick of her cloak. She looked so happy. If she ever found out, would she smile like that still? "Is there any better day to forget that we're adults?"

"No, probably not." Her papa reached down for a handful of powder, though he had to dodge another kick in the process--and under her blanket of snow, Yvanette had to dodge him. "Though you seemed to enjoy being an adult last night."

Yvanette didn't get it, but her mother gasped--if a little falsely. "Ashe!"

She'd swatted, but he'd already dashed over toward the gate, snowball in hand--nearly trampling Yvanette in the process. Oh, if only she were big enough to climb the stairs! Not that she could open the door...

"But if you want to be kids today..." Her papa let loose the snowball, hitting her mama on the arm.

"Oh, now you're going to get it!"

And so the snow flew. Yvanette had too much to worry about to keep track of who was throwing when and who hit who how many times--things like getting seen, or turning back and being naked outside, or that horrible combination of the two--but maybe this was her chance. If she could stay low, then she could make it to the stable door, which was always open a crack...

"Ashe! That was my face!"

Yvanette looked. Her mama was wiping snow out of her eyes. If she wanted to go for it, she had to go now.

But as she learned a few seconds too late, it hadn't been meant to be. "My God! Is that another cat?"


November 19, 2013

In Which Falidor Won't Lie to Her

November 17, 1183

"Hello, sweetie," Falidor muttered as he lifted his day-old daughter from her crib. He'd never thought it right to hope for one sex of baby over the other, and he'd always made a point to put the health of mother and child alike first in his mind... but while he'd done the latter still, he would have been lying to himself if he thought he hadn't hoped for a girl this time. He suspected that Raia had been of the same opinion, going by the smile on her face when she'd named the baby for her late sister.

And knowing that had been the plan, fate had smiled on them indeed. Viridia not only had Raia's brown eyes--her Aunt Viridis's brown eyes--like the rest of their mutual children, but she was also the first blonde among Falidor's biological children. Going by the few strands she had so far, it was more like his brothers' hair than Raia's sister's, bright and sunny rather than silvery and star-like, but Falidor counted that a blessing; she may have been named for her aunt, may have resembled her, but the hair would be a reminder of who she really was.

Her own sweet self.

"I know you haven't been with us all that long, but I hope you know we adore you already--even Rio, though you'll have to excuse him for the first while. He's used to being the baby of the family." Though privately, Falidor thought Rio would make an excellent big brother in time.

"Starting in the new year, you'll be coming to work with me at your grandfather's castle. Your mama will be working at the university, which is further away. But you'll still see her in the evenings, and on Saturdays and Sundays." Surely Viridia would understand? Well... as well as a baby could, at least. But she'd need an occupation too, one day. She may have been named for her aunt, but she was still Raia's daughter. "For a while, at least. They'll eventually have a nursery at the university, so when you're big enough for the longer ride, you can go there if you prefer.

"Or you can keep coming to work with me. I don't mind, and I know your grandfather and your Aunt Nora won't either."

And surely her cousin Celina wasn't so much older as to be a disinterested playmate? And who knew, maybe Jadin and Xeta would conceive again soon. But Viridia would never lack for cousins, that was certain.

Cousins, or love. "I won't lie to you. I'm a busy man--and your mama is a busy woman. But even though we won't be around all the time, that doesn't mean that we don't love you. We have a lot in our lives and we like it that way, but you and your siblings will always be first. You know that, right?"

Viridia blew a little bubble as he lowered her from his shoulder to his arm. He took that as a 'Yes'.


November 17, 2013

In Which Alsina Takes the Tougher Route

November 16, 1183

"I can't say I was expecting you." Aydelle slipped herself onto the bench at the end of the table, the current state of her bump just enough to show but not enough to impede. Alsina pulled back her leg beneath her skirt to avoid a collision with the other woman's; she may have come of her own accord, but there was a point to which she still needed to keep her distance. "Not that I'm not pleased to see you, of course, but--"

"Yes, I know." Alsina tried to force a smile, but her mouth wouldn't cooperate. "I just... well, I have to go to Veldorashire later, and your house was on the way, so..." No. Or yes? It seemed the least familiar thing she could say, at least without lying to the mother of the closest thing to another child she could of ever hope of having. Somehow, My nephew dropped by this morning to tell me that my oldest brother has a new daughter, so I decided to tackle two unpleasant visits at once rather than spread them out over several days of misery was a little personal. " I am."

"I see. Well, it was nice of you to call." But her eyes begged Why?.

Alsina figured there was little point in not answering. "I thought we could discuss some sort of arrangement."

"Oh." Aydelle's lashes narrowed as she swept Alsina over. It was a feeling not unlike the first few times Aldhein had walked in on her in the path--nerve-wracking and exposed. "You mean... you and me and Aldhein?"

Eh? "What?"


What? Whatever. Squirming, Alsina nudged one leg of her seat with the side of her foot. "Well, the baby will have to stay with you while you're nursing, but after you've weaned, how often do you think we should house it?"

"You want to house it?"

Had that come out wrong? Alsina swallowed. She thought she'd implied a shared guardianship... "Oh, not all the time; it's your baby, after all. But with parents in separate households, I thought that some sort of established schedule would be in order, at least until it's old enough to decide for itself."

"Oh. Yes, of course. Forgive me, I just hadn't thought..." Aydelle twisted her lips into a grimace, but her eyes were a bit more hopeful. "I'm sorry. I sort of assumed that you wouldn't be interested. I wouldn't blame you if you weren't."

Not for the first time, Alsina wondered if that would have been easier. But it was her last chance, and there was still mothering in her yet. She couldn't not take it.


November 15, 2013

In Which Yvanette Spends a Little More Luck

November 12, 1183

What's wrong with me?

Yvanette slumped out of her fallen dress and dragged her broken body around the couch. Her grandmother always said that when things were rough, try to count the things that you were lucky for, but what was lucky about this? Whatever it was? Lucky that the tingly feeling came early enough for her to run away? That the longest she'd been stuck like this had been maybe an hour? That nobody knew?

That her mama didn't know?

Her grandmother wasn't a liar, but Yvanette didn't feel any better. She could stop being "lucky" any day now.

What's wrong with me?

That stupid cat bite. That had to have been it.

But lots of people got bit by animals! As far as Yvanette knew, no one else had to deal with... this.

Another tingle took root in her toes. Good. That hadn't been very long, and it usually only happened once every couple of days. That was still too often, but at least once again, she hadn't been caught.

But what about next time?

A couple blinks and she was back to normal. Or as normal as a freak like her could be. She picked her red underdress off the floor and pulled it over her head, then did the same with the overdress. She couldn't tie her own bodice and Winter wasn't here, but her papa or Sevvie's mama would fix it before they went home.

She sat down on Sevvie's bed and wondered if anyone could fix her.