She wanted the fairy tale ending. The romance of a single red rose, the beauty of a setting sun, her first kiss from a handsome prince. What she got was a weed, a disappointing moon, and a slobber that couldn't really be called a kiss from the village idiot.
She that seeks too much will ever find too little
Gretchen stared at her face in the mirror. It was a solemn one, uneven features and earnest eyes staring back at her. She wished she were beautiful, a classic beauty that would make heads turn and men drool. She wished she were accomplished, graceful, and loved. To sum things up nicely she wished she were her sister. Angeline got everything from the lovely name to the figure and form. Of all of the things Angeline had, what Gretchen coveted the most was what a thousand wishes and miracles could never give her; Rilith's love.
Not wanting to dwell on such terrible thoughts so early in the morning, Gretchen quickly dressed herself until her appearance was, as usual, impeccable. If nothing else she would always appear as neatly and delicately arrayed as possible. She took a deep breath and summoned the courage within her to go downstairs, to breakfast. To face another morning, another morning of being told, in no uncertain terms, what a shame it was the she was not like the perfect Angeline.
"Gretchen darling," her mother called as she descended the stairwell, "How good of you to join the family, perhaps next time you will grace us with your presence in a more timely fashion."
uncomfortable silence followed her mother's morning criticism. Her
father merely adjusted his newspaper and ignored his wife; it was his
most well honed skill. Angeline, being the saint that she was, made a
pretty attempt to defend what she thought of as her hapless sister,
"Mama, I'm sure that Gretch has a perfectly reasonable excuse
for being late, I mean look at how carefully she is dressed. It must
have taken a great deal of time, although, I'm sure I don't know
why." Her voice turned teasing she said, "Have you a suitor
Gretchen? The young man in the butcher's shop did seem quite enamored
of you." Again silence reigned in the kitchen, disturbed only by
the twitching of the Father's newspaper.
Gretchen's mother, a woman of fading beauty, but still striking nonetheless, looked at the daughter that had been such a disappointment to her. Helene was a powerful woman who ruled her household with rigid intensity. She did not believe in fate, she made things happen with the force of her will. Never once had it failed her, she married above her station because she had gone after her husband with a determined ferocity that the poor man didn't know how to deflect, and still didn't. Helene decided to have daughters, lovely all of them, and each one more so than the last. Angeline had been the fulfillment of her dreams, and Gretchen her first disappointment. Helene had not planned for Gretchen, why the child was.. ugly. Each time she glanced at her mistake, it reminded her she was not invincible, her plans were not infallible. It made her ashamed, it made her afraid. Helene would not have another child; looking at Gretchen she concluded that after all some things were beyond one's control. The thing to do was not to repeat her one mistake, ever. So, as she looked at her last child, Helene did not really see her, the woman didn't really care to look.
With one economical motion, she gestured Gretchen to the table, "You may as well sit down child, but as for myself I am quite ready to retire."
As Gretchen sat gingerly at the table, Helene swept away. The oppressive air at the table vanished and it seemed that the sun shone brighter. The Father slowly lowered his newspaper, prepared to enjoy his meal in peace at last.
"Patrick!" Helene came briefly back into the room, as if determined to play her role of nagging wife to perfection. "Patrick, darling husband, when you have finished your meal, I have a rather important matter to discuss with you." Helene then beamed at the newspaper that had magically leapt back into place in front of her husband's face and left the room, this time for good.
Silence again ruled the table, until Patrick threw the newspaper against the wall and began to eat with gusto, glancing around furtively as though afraid of Helene's intrusion.
Angeline leaned forward, beautiful eyes wide and eager, "So tell me about the butcher's boy, he is rather handsome for, well, the working sort." She said. Gretchen smiled at her sister; after all, it wasn't Angeline's fault that she was Mother's favorite. "Angel," she said gently, "There is no handsome butcher's boy and I would die before I would let one court me. You should really stop dreaming up beaus for me, no one wants me."
"What utter nonsense," Angeline returned. "Why just last night Rilith was telling me that David told him that Hope told him that...." Gretchen tuned out her sister's voice and slipped away into dreamland. Rilith. Rilith was a beautiful male. He was kind and generous, intelligent, and especially gentle where Angeline was concerned. By token of being his Angel's sister Gretchen was often on the receiving end of his kindness, and his small thoughtless gestures of gentlemanly behavior had unknowingly won Gretchen's heart. It was just as well that Gretchen didn't know that he could barely remember her name and often forgot that Angel had a sister when Gretchen wasn't standing right in front of him. Gretchen continued to weave fanciful dreams of her prince charming. They lasted her through the rest of the morning, and through her and her sister's sewing, piano, and arithmetic lessons. Gretchen's vacuity caused her governess, Mistress Mille to shake her head. It really was a shame Mistress thought to herself that the girl was so slow. It was only when Mistress suggested a walk that Gretchen "woke".
She walked self consciously down the roads of the village town, feeling inferior, even in her best coat, next to her sister. Conscious of admiring glances not aimed at her, she looked down noticing the cobblestone in front of the bakery, and the plain concrete in front of the butcher's shop. What she did not notice were the feet rushing towards her.
George bumped into her and thought that he had never seen someone so beautiful; he couldn't take his eyes off of her. It wasn't until a rather sharp looking woman cleared her throat that he tore away his gaze. Gretchen looked into the handsome face of the boy she bumped into, and thought that Rilith had at last met his match. This boy looked even better. But she felt not the least bit of attraction for him, which was why she suffered only a small pang of jealousy when she noticed that while he held onto her, he eyes were only for Angel; of course.
Ronald, the butcher's servant boy, was a good worker. His arms were muscular and he was especially skilled at skinning chickens. Ronald was not a smart boy, or really a nice one, but he was good with meat, and that was all that mattered. He had only two aspirations in his life. One was to pummel the butcher's son; an undersized, lazy, good for nothing that couldn't skin a chicken if his life depended on it, and who dared to taunt him, the other was to receive a kiss from Gretchen. He watched her now, as he carved a turkey, and imagined the sweetness of her kiss. Ronald imagined her talking to him, knowing his name, being interested in what he had to say. As he stared out across the street, at Gretchen, he continued to slice the meat. He saw George in her path, and what looked like their embrace. Ronald closed his eyes against the image that made his stomach roll, and continued to slice the meat. He was that good. Bernard, the butcher's son, watched him watching Gretchen and made plans.
George stared at the
retreating forms of Gretchen, Angel, and Mistress.
"Good looking, that lass," said the Baker who had come outside for a breath of fresh air. George agreed mutely. The baker chuckled. "Miss Gretchen does tend to have that affect on all the lads." The baker leaned conspiratorially closer to George, "If you've a mind to see her again attend the town's bonfire tomorrow night. There's a boy!" The baker hobbled back to his shop calling over his shoulder, "Bring the gel some flowers, fastest way to a young things heart!" The old baker smiled broadly, his good deed done for the day. The coming of spring, he thought to himself, young ones would be in his shop wanting cakes and the like. The oblivious old man hummed to himself as he mixed up some batter.
Poor George was left totally confused. He hurried off towards the flower shop, going the wrong way because he was new in town. He wondered what kinds of flowers a girl would like. He wondered how he could have forgotten their names so quickly. Their introductions had been so hasty, before the governess has rushed the girls away. Was Gretchen the pretty one? He had thought it was Angeline, but the baker had said., then again the old man might be senile. As George debated with himself, he observed that he was still nowhere near the flower shop. Frustrated, he turned around and started back. Bernard, the butcher's son, passed him by looking decidedly mischievous, caught up with a naughty agenda of his own.
Helene didn't bother to comment on Gretchen's late arrival to dinner. She merely pierced her with a withering look and continued eating in the graceful way that she had passed on to Angeline. Patrick flipped through the last pages of the Evening Gazette, not really seeing them. He was preoccupied with thoughts of the discussion he and Helene had had after breakfast. Poor Gretchen, Patrick stared at his youngest daughter consideringly; she really wasn't bad looking…
Uncomfortable with the scrutiny, Gretchen excused herself early and retired to her room. She looked into the mirror before she climbed into bed, and wished once more for beauty and romance.
The sun went down and Gretchen dreamed, spared one more blessed night of knowledge of the truth.