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Cha`risa let her eyes wander out of the open window and come to rest on the group of people that were already beginning to assemble on the bright grass.
“Hold still, Cha`risa,” Mandee, her servant mumbled through the six or so pins stuck in her dark red lips.
“Sorry,” Cha`risa said. “It’s hard to breathe.”
”You’ll be fine.” Mandee reassured, pulling the string through another opening on the girdle Cha`risa was being strapped into, “you are going to look beautiful,” she added as she finally finished with the whale-bone girdle and dropped her hands from Cha’risa’s waist.
“I hope it.” Cha`risa said.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you that you have to suffer for beauty?” Mandee asked with a teasing smile. She clapped a hand over her mouth when she realized what she said. “I’m so sorry, ma’am, I didn’t realize-”
“If she did, Mandee, I don’t remember it.” Cha`risa said, for her mother had been dead since she was a tiny girl.
“I doubt she would have,” Mandee said, running a mother of pearl comb through Cha’risa’s thick dark brown hair.
“Why is that?”
“You know she was a Hopi; she believed that real beauty was on the inside. She was right, you know. It doesn’t matter how you look, what matters is how you treat everyone around you.”
“My mother was pretty smart, wasn’t she, Mandee?” Cha`risa asked as Mandee pulled her almost-black hair into a pearl-adorned updo.
“Yes she was.” Mandee smiled, as if recalling Cha’risa’s mother. “Looked just like you; with her skin, it was the color of pure cocoa, maybe a shade or two lighter. And her eyes were what your father loved most about her.”
“Her eyes?” Cha`risa asked.
“Her eyes (exactly like yours, dear) were big, never-ending pools of black ink. No color other than black. So big you could hardly see the white in ‘em.” Mandee finished with Cha’risa’s hair and moved on to grab the pale pink ball gown hanging on the armoire door. “And her hair was longer than any hair I’d ever seen; must have been down to her knees, and pure jet black. Beautiful woman she was. And loved your father for everything.”
“She married for love and I’m marrying for money.” Cha`risa sighed, staring at her reflection in the mirror.
“Oh, miss…” Mandee dropped to her knees in front of Cha`risa and took both her hands in her pale twitching ones.
“I just don’t understand. Why can’t I marry for love, too?”
“Your father wants you to marry into money so you can have a good life. He doesn’t want you to end up having to beg in the streets.”
“I’d rather beg with my lover than live with a man I detest.” Cha`risa said, lifting her chin up defiantly.
“You haven’t even met Tristan yet. He could be a nice young man.” Mandee said, lifting Cha’risa’s legs into the full gown.
“And my horse might be a mule.” Cha`risa scoffed. “I don’t even see why I have to get married anyway. I’m only fourteen!”
“To your father, that’s too old.” Mandee said, “hold this,” she handed off Cha’risa’s hair to her and zipped the back of the dress up, causing Cha`risa to gasp.
“It’s far too tight.”
“You’ll be fine.”
A knock came at the door and both girls jumped. “Who is it?” Mandee called, grinning wryly at Cha`risa, who stuck out her tongue back at her.
The door opened without an answer, and Cha’risa’s father stuck his head in the room, and then came all the way in.
“Hello, darling,” he kissed the top of her shiny dark head.
“Evening, daddy,” she went to bend into a curtsy, but her father stopped her.
“No need for that.” He sunk into a chair and looked out at all the people gathering below. “All these people are here for you.” He said quietly, fingering his blonde mustache with his left hand; his right toying with his pocket watch.
“You better.” He said, and his back stiffened up. Mandee immediately excused herself.
“Daddy,” Cha`risa flung herself at her father’s body. “Don’t make me marry this man. I don’t even know him. He could be seventy years old!”
“Even if he were, would it matter?” Her father snapped at her, wrinkling his nose down at Cha`risa.
“Why are you making me do this?” She asked, working hard to keep the tremor out of her voice.
“You’re getting far too old to stay at home, Cha`risa.” He sighed, turning his blue eyes on her black ones. “This man is very wealthy and you’ll have a good life with him. He’ll take care of you.”
Cha`risa felt a tear slide down her full cheeks, and made a violent motion to rid her face of its menace.
“Don’t start, Cha`risa. You’re beginning to be just like your damn mother.”
Cha`risa sat up, instantly feeling as though her spine had been snapped. “Cha’r-” Her father started, but it was too late. Cha`risa bolted out of the open door, not even noticing that she wasn’t wearing any sort of shoes. Her slippers were lying next to her dressing curtain.
She ran down the wooden steps, each step she took pounding a shock through the soles of her feet. Her heart pounding, she raced through the yard, past all of the people gathered for her wedding, ignoring their startled yells and darted into the woods a few hundred feet away.
She stumbled, and tripped over a log, tumbling down a small hill, coming to rest after the bottom half of her beautiful wedding gown had torn and caught on a tree branch.
She pulled her knees to her visage and wept, big hacking sobs that exhausted her. After a few minutes, she attempted to sop her infantile blubbering, but found she couldn’t.
“Mom.” She choked out. She angrily reached up and released her hair from its bun, letting it flow down in long waved to her waist. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out.
Slowly, Cha`risa got to her feet and picked up the two feet of dress that had been lost in her fall down the small incline. She walked up, wincing as the sticks and branches scratched her bare feet. She sat cross-legged on the cold ground and peered through the trees, watching all of the guests talk amongst each other and point towards the woods, where the bride had disappeared.
“Something wrong?” Cha`risa looked sharply up, her heart threatening to burst her girdle.
A young man, about twenty or twenty-two was peering down at her with dazzling green eyes. “Sorry,” he said with a crisp accent of some sort, “didn’t mean to startle you, love.” He grinned, revealing sharp white teeth.
“It’s quite all right, I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be here.” She said, self-consciously smoothing her hair.
“I was here for the wedding,” at this he gestured out to the open courtyard,” and when I saw you run into the woods, I wanted to make sure you weren’t crying because of the food.”
Cha`risa smiled, a quick one. “I’ve been eating that food all day, and I just wanted to make sure nothing was wrong with it.”
“The food is fine.” She said. “I’m Cha`risa.”
“Ah…the lovely bride. Every bit as beautiful as they said.” He folded himself up next to her. He had rumpled brown hair that stuck up a bit, and a very crooked front tooth. He had a dimple in his left cheek. “But between you and me, and don’t take offense by this, love, but I’d rather not be here.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed, surprised. “I’d prefer not to be here either. I’d much rather be home.’
”What would you do instead?” He asked, picking a blade of grass and sticking it in his mouth.
“Ride my horse, Dakota or perhaps read.” She blushed, sure he would scoff.
”Just a little,” she blushed a deeper crimson.
“My horse is back their somewhere,” he made a sweeping motion with his hands, pointing to the back of the woods. “His name is Cupid.”
“A romantic?” She smiled slightly again.
“Ah,” he waved nonchalantly. “I try. Its hard, with my parents arranging marriages.”
“I can relate there.”
“Really?” He wrinkled his nose. “This was arranged?”
“I haven’t even met this Tristan fellow.” She admitted.
“He could be a major pig!” Her new friend cried, his eyes opened wide.
“I just wish I could have at least met the man. I know nothing about him.”
“Do you think he’s five foot one, with long white hair, a matching beard and a tendency to walk around only in his slippers?”
“With my luck, I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“You could luck out. He could turn out to a young dashing man of nineteen, with messy brown hair and lake green eyes. He could like to read and ride horses, and could love dogs, and be quite attached to his clothing.”
Understanding drew on Cha`risa. “The name’s Tristan Tanner.” He said, taking her hand and kissing it lightly. “Pleased to meet you.”