The Gilded Cage

CHAPTER I
Left, Right, and Middle

The sky was a beautiful baby blue, with a few condensed clouds scattered across. A single, bight sun sat directly in the middle, untouched by the clouds and hanging proud. Every few minutes, a stray bird would fly overhead, singing a tune or two before disappearing behind the buildings and trees. Heat swam in waves, wriggling in the air lethargically and hypnotizing the world below.

"Alexandria, what are you doing? Your dress is going to be a mess!"

The young woman sighed and rolled onto her stomach, her arms crossed on the grass casually.

"I'm only lying, Mother."

"I don't care if you are lying or rolling, get up now!" Elizabeth Dubois was standing at the entrance of the private gardens, her hands perched on two narrow hips, blue eyes glaring dangerously. Alexandria stayed stationary for a moment before slouching upwards, admitting defeat gracefully.

A weak breeze teased her curls, tugging at them persistently, coaxing them out of their neat up-do as the girl walked toward her mother, careful not to trip on anything (something that happened all too often).

"Look at you, child," her mother scolded, scowling at her dress. The red silk was creased in several places and a small grass stain hugged the hem stubbornly. Alexandria didn't think too much of it: the stain was hardly noticeable and the creases just needed to be pressed out. Her mother, on the other hand…

"Well, you're just going to have to change before Margret and David get here. Go!"

Without another word, Alexandria turned and walked through the gardens to the house door, holding it open briefly for her mother before waltzing over to the small staircase in the kitchen.

"Is there anything in particular I should wear?" she asked, halting at the bottom of the staircase. Her mother hummed thoughtfully, working with their servant to get the meal ready.

"The blue one, with the lace and corset: Arianna will help you." And the servant promptly dropped her utensil into the sink, moving to follow Alexandria up the steps. A rarely used entryway, the staircase was creaky and dusty; the walls covered in portraits of forgotten ancestors and extended family they never talked to.

And suddenly, the staircase ended, bringing them to a large, square landing with several doors, a second staircase leading downwards (the main entryway to the second floor), and yet another staircase that led upwards, where all the guest rooms were located. Alexandria walked into the room nearest the decrepit stairs and walked in, waiting for Arianna to enter before closing the polished door.

The room was woefully plain. A single bed sat against the far wall, parallel with a large mahogany vanity. Carefully chosen rugs covered the wood floors and a wide bay window dominated a single wall. Four wardrobes sat, side-by-side, beside the vanity. Alexandria pulled open one of them and quickly tugged a soft, delicate-looking dress.

The corset, a darker blue then the rest of the gown, rest on top of the fabric rather than beneath, making the skirt hug the hips before flaring a bit and then falling straight down to the floor, attempting to mimic a graceful waterfall

Alexandria changed quietly, turning to press her palms flat against her vanity when it was time to tie the corset. The servant, Arianna, worked in the same manner, tugging the laces viciously and getting a small amount of satisfaction from her mistress's grimace of discomfort.

"Would you like me to make-up your face, miss?" she asked, folding the scarlet gown over her arm neatly while Alexandria sat on the cushioned seat in front of her vanity clumsily.

"No, thank you. Mother probably needs you in the kitchen, anyway."

Arianna bowed respectfully before turning on her heel and leaving the room, sending the oblivious Alexandria a brutal glare. The door slammed.

The young Dubois pressed a hand to her stomach, making a face at herself in the mirror.

"I hate corsets."

-.-.-.-

"Hurry, hurry! They're coming up the road!" Elizabeth hissed to her two young daughters, holding the youngest in her arms securely. Alexandria took her place beside Katherine, standing as tall as she could (which wasn't saying much) and falling silent. Her elder sister rolled her eyes, watching as her Mother fretted about.

Everyone knew she wanted Margret to regret leaving home, by making it look as if everything was perfect. But still, they said nothing.

Moments later, the sound of a horse whinnying and a carriage hobbling along came into view, glistening madly in the setting sun. Gold paint saturated the carriage, making it look like an overgrown hunk of cheese.

Or, at least, that's what it looked like to Alexandria. The horse leading the buggy was just as grandiose, it's pelt white as snow and hooves clomping impressively against the dirt. The driver was dressed in violet cloth, sticking out against the gold of the carriage. He didn't look all that happy about it, either.

The carriage had barely come to a full stop when the door swung open and a man stepped out, dressed in a fine suit. He folded his hands on the vest and tugged down, as if to make sure he looked as good as he thought, before holding a hand out.

A pale hand reached out and grasped the man's, using the leverage to pull the rest of the body out. Margret folded outwards elegantly, dressed in an expansive dress the color of salmon.

Katherine and Alexandria were unimpressed, used the theatrics of their eldest sister. Elizabeth's mouth tightened into a thin line, hugging her six-month-old daughter into her side delicately. The three servants they had weren't present; instead, they were inside, setting the table for dinner.

"Mother! Sisters!" Margret greeted exuberantly, flinging her arms open as if waiting for her family to run into them. Alexandria hid a smile, while both Katherine and her mother twitched slightly.

"Hi, Maggie," she greeted first, walking forward to hug her sister. She could hardly tell what was dress and what was her sister, but she relished the hug all the same. It had been a full year since the last time they had seen each other, due to Margret's engagement and David's expansive family she had to meet before the wedding preparations were to begin.

"Hi, Lex, how are you?" Maggie whispered, a bit of concern entering her eccentric voice. Alexandria shrugged a bit before turning to David, her hand held out.

"Hello, David; it's a pleasure to meet you," she greeted with a smile. He grasped her small palm with his own and gave his own smile, though it seemed to twitch with nervousness.

Taking his arm, Margret waltzed over to the two remaining members, overly-excited smile on full blast again.

"Mother, Kathy—" Katherine seemed to have trouble hiding her scowl "—this is David Bradshaw, my fiancé."

Both women shook hands with the man, thought they looked as if somebody was pulling the strings to make it happen. Margret looked around, feigning surprise.

"Oh, is Father on another business trip?" she asked aloud, face falling comically. Elizabeth sniffed disdainfully and turned her back on the company, frog-marching back to the house.

"I am going to put Renee to bed before she gets too fussy. Dinner is already plated in the dining room," she announced without turning back. Katherine seemed to twitch backwards for a moment, as if longing to have a reason to stomp away, but stayed put nonetheless. Alexandria grasped Margret's other arm.

"We're using the big dining room today, so Mother's a bit stressed today," she tried to explain, walking the couple up the walkway and into the foyer. Katherine walked in front of them, back straight and hands at her sides tautly. Alexandria made a face at her back.

"Oh? And what's Kathy's excuse?"

"She doesn't have one. She's always like this, you know that."

Katherine whipped her head around to scowl at them fiercely, as if hoping to reduce them to ash with her eyes alone. All she managed to do was get an amused smile from Margret and a defiant gaze from Alexandria.

David feigned deafness for the whole of the conversation.

Katherine continued her stiff walk while the other two sisters chatted amicably, sharing stories of the past year. And when they finally reach the dining room, Katherine waited until everyone else was seated before choosing her spot, purposely on the other end of the table from Margret and David. The servants stood at attention against the wall, each holding a glistening silver tray.

Food covered every inch of the table, from fresh bass to slow roasted ham to juicy turkey to thick apple sauce to rich mashed potatoes.

Elizabeth came marching in soon after, taking her seat at the head of the table.

"You must be hungry. You've had a long trip." Though the words were hospitable, her tone was far from it; it almost dared them to try it, to see if she made maybe poisoned it.

"Oh, we're famished! Thank you, Mother," Margret exclaimed, loading her plate hurriedly with everything she could reach. Alexandria, who sat on her left side, copied her sister, though with less gusto. David seemed unsure as to whether or not Elizabeth did poison the food.

"David, don't worry, no one's poisoned anything," Alexandria whispered reassuringly with a smile while scooping a ladle-full of mashed potatoes. Katherine and Elizabeth were beginning to eat as well, daintily using their utensils. Margret was too busy eating to reassure her fiancé.

But Alexandria's assurance seemed to be enough for the man and soon, the only sound in the dining hall was that of clinking cutlery and chewing.

"Whew, that was good!" Margret sighed, patting her stomach lazily. David nodded and opened his mouth as if to say something, but when Elizabeth stared at him with her cold blue eyes, he seemed to have lost his nerved and closed it again sheepishly. Alexandria eyed the two ends of her family acutely.

But Margret and the other two seemed quite happy to just stare each other down, appearing oblivious to the awkward atmosphere it was creating. Alexandria shifted in her seat than stood up, stumbling slightly on the hem of her dress.

"Well, I'm going to—"

Ding-dong! The chime of the doorbell echoed in the house and Alexandria happily seized the opportunity.

"—get the door. If you all need anything from me, I'll be at the front of the house," she explained softly, heading out of the dining room quickly. Once the door flapped shut behind her, she breathed a heavy sigh and winced, pressing a hand to her chest.

"I really hate corsets," she muttered to herself while meandering down the hall and into the foyer. Their doorman wasn't present, which the young girl found odd, but just shrugged off: her mother may have given him the night off.

Tapping the top of her corset absentmindedly, she unlocked the heavy door and heaved it open, pressing her entire body against it to make it lie flat against the wall.

"Lex! Wait, why are you answering the door?"

"Did your doorman quit again? Not that I blame him."

A broad smile, the first all day, split Alexandria's face and she looked up at her two best friends, who were standing in the doorway.

Jacquelyn held a large sheep blanket in one arm and a soft pillow in the other. Trudy had a large brown bag with her that was bulging at certain areas. Both were adorned with velvet cloaks that hung down to their ankles.

"Because Margret and David arrived earlier and now everyone is having dinner. No, he didn't quit. Or, well, I don't think he quit."

Trudy winced sympathetically at the news of Margret's visit while Jackie seemed exultant.

"Margret's back? Well, that's great, isn't it? I mean, you've missed her, obviously. And now, maybe the air can be cleared between all of them, you know?" she rattled off in a single breath. Alexandria gave a half-shrug, then seemed to focus in on their equipment.

"Why are you two here, by the way?" she asked. Jackie grinned widely, than gestured her exit the house.

"Oh no, I can't, they're wai—"

"Just for a moment, Lex, I promise!" Jackie pleaded, giving her most attractive smile. Alexandria eyed the two of them for a moment before reaching to her right and snatching here own cloak off the coat rack.

"Just for a moment, then I have to go back inside!" she insisted, tying the cloak at her neck and pulling the door shut (with the help of her friends). Trudy and Jackie shared a smile before hopping up on the elevated lawn that stood a foot or two higher than the walkway. Alexandria pulled herself up clumsily, refusing help despite her history of clumsiness.

"Why are we on my lawn?" she asked, pushing herself up completely and unfolding to stand up straight. The other two walked down to the edge of the lawn where the lush grass meets the steel fence. Alexandria crossed her arms beneath her cloak, silently cursing the autumn winds. Summer was fading fast and with it, the warm breezes.

"Yes! Okay, here it is!" Trudy exclaimed. Alexandria glanced over and had to stifle her laughter: Trudy was on her elbows and knees beside the side of her house, her rear high in the air, which was currently wriggling with excitement

She quickly scrambled up to her feet, holding a heavy rusted bronze key with a dark red ribbon tied on the end. Curious, Alexandria moved closer, watching as the old key glinted in the moonlight. The rusted bronze turned an almost sinister shade of crimson under the beams of the moon and it made goose-bumps appear on her arms.

"Do you remember those ghost stories we used to tell each other all the time?" Jackie whispered hurriedly. With a grimace, Alexandria stared at her friends.

"You mean, when you would trick me into spending the night in the woods so you could scare me with your ghost stories? Yes, I remember."

Trudy shrugged and Jackie waved her explanation away with a hand, both clearly unrepentant.

"Details, details; anyway, remember the one about the old hut, by the creek?" Jackie continued, bouncing on her heels with excitement. Alexandria nodded, remembering the one time that the other two had convinced her to try and break into it.

She still stands by what she said when she came screaming back to the camp. She had seen a bloodied face in the window, watching her grotesquely.

"Well, this is the key to get in!" Jackie finished excitedly, now bouncing up and down, a large grin on her face. Alexandria blanched and backed away, shaking her head.

"Oh no, no no no!" she said, glaring at her two friends. "I'm never going near that creepy old place again. No. Way."

"Lex! This is an awesome discovery!" Trudy injected, smiling too. "We can be the first one's into that old hut. Our name's will be remembered forever!"

"Okay, so you two go right along and do that and I'll stay here, nice and safe."

"We can't do it without you!" Jackie whined, pouting slightly. Trudy nodded in agreement.

"Of course you can! Just walk right on through the woods, turn left—" Alexandria was cut off when the sound of a voice moaning echoed in the air. The three girls immediately crowded together, eyes wide and body's stiff.

The sound continued to echo in the air, scratching against their skin creepily.

"What was that?" Alexandria whispered, clutching one arm of each of her friends. Trudy cleared her throat, always the voice of reason.

"J-just the wind," she whispered back, nodding as if to reassure herself as much as her friends. Which, in hindsight, wasn't all that reassuring.

"Yeah, yeah, you're right. I mean, what else could it be?" Jackie nodded her voice strong and convincing. But she moved closer to her friends, huddled against them safely. The three girls stayed quiet, straining their ears for anymore sounds. The noise had long since stopped and the night was quiet, besides the occasional hoot from an owl or the scurrying of a squirrel.

Then a loud crashing came from the right woods and all three girls screamed, stumbling backwards and tripping over each other and tumbling to the ground.

"Whoa, whoa!"

"Sorry, sorry, we didn't mean to scare ya!"

The girls lay on the ground for several seconds, trying to catch their breath before they realized the voices speaking weren't ghostly, ghoulish, or ghastly. Jackie surged to her feet in anger, scowling at the three boys on the other side of the fence. Her glare intensified when she recognized who they were.

Trudy helped Alexandria up, whose legs were still trembling slightly and they walked up beside Jackie, staring at the boys.

"Well, look at that. We ended up in the Gilded Cage, fellas!" the middle boy muttered, glancing around at the wealthy neighborhood. The other two grinned and snickered, staring up at the girls (whom the middle one didn't seem to notice at all).

"So, these are rich dames! Never seen one up close before!"

"What the hell are you talking about? They don't look no different than any other dame, except for maybe the clothes."

"Sure they do!"

"No, they don't!"

Alexandria watched, curious, as the two boys bickered about whether 'rich dames' were physically any different than 'normal dames', while Jackie and Trudy looked on, obviously offended. The middle boy, who had finished taking in his surroundings, glanced at his friends. It only seemed to take a moment or two for him to understand what, exactly, they were arguing about and, with a quirk of his brow, he turned to the girls.

Alexandria shivered and rubbed her arms, only to realize that her cloak had fallen off when she went tumbling to the ground. Making a face, she turned around, searching for the dark cloth on the unlit ground. A second or two of searching proved fruitless: it was much too dark and she had no way to light the ground.

"Oh. Hello, ladies."

Alexandria glanced back over at the boys, only to notice that the middle boy was leaning against the fence, smiling handsomely at the girls. Jackie remained unmoved, glaring angrily at intruders. Trudy nodded at the greeting, but didn't smile back, staying stoic. Alexandria had a sudden suspicion she was missing something.

Jackie glanced at Lex out of the corner of her eye, as if telling her to keep her distance. Alexandria realized that the boy was staring at her now, expecting a response to his greeting.

Feeling immensely awkward, she turned to him, fidgeting slightly.

"Hello?" she greeted, but it came out as more of a question than anything else. The boy's grin widened and Jackie rolled her eyes. Trudy merely slumped a bit, in defeat.

"So, what could you possibly be doing outside so late?" he asked, eyes straying to Alexandria the most. She observed all three boys interestedly, hands chafing her arms for friction.

The left and right boys were nearly complete opposite in appearance. Where the left was very tall and burly, the right was rather shorter and lanky. A mop of brown hair, pulled back in a tail sat on top of right's head, while left was a mere buzz-cut. The right was deeply tanned and the left was nearly as pale as Alexandria. The only similarity in their appearance was their eyes: a deep and strange hazel that had obvious specks of blue and green.

Alexandria tried to avoid staring at the middle boy; mainly because she was nervous she might get caught. He seemed more perceptive than the other two. But she was never one to fight her curiosity, so within a few minutes, she took a chance and observed him from the corner of her eye.

He was only a little shorter than Left and not nearly as meaty. He was lankier, but not in an awkward way; rather, he seemed to know his body and how to carry it so instead of awkward, it was attractive. A messy mop of black hair sat above two bright green eyes. A lock or two would fall into his eyes often, but it didn't seem to bother him.

And, just like she feared, he suddenly caught her gaze with his own shocking green eyes. His grin widened cheekily.

"What we do at night is none of your concern," Jackie spoke up angrily. She then spun to Left and Right. "And we are not zoo animals for you to gawk at."

The two boys seemed a bit taken aback by her snappish statement, but Middle simply glanced at her fleetingly before turning his gaze back to Alexandria, who hadn't looked away. She tilted her head slightly to the side, vaguely amused when he mimicked her teasingly, trying to place him. Because he was so obviously out of place in her posh neighborhood that it disconcerted her slightly.

She hadn't ever left the, admittedly large, neighborhood. Everyone her family associated with was inside the gates and anybody outside them wasn't important. The only times she had been beyond the gates were when Trudy, Jackie, and her went adventuring through the woods to tell ghost stories (or, as they told Alexandria, to go exploring).

And if their attitudes and use of language weren't proof of their otherworld-ness, then their clothes were a dead giveaway.

Left and Right wore stained, brown button-down shirts that weren't quite the right size for them, along with black breeches that trailed after their bare feet or hung several inches above their feet.

Middle's shirt was white and stained with what looked like coal or oil or something-of-the-black-colored-variety. His brown breeches were a bit too big in the waist and trailed after his heels.

All three boys had black suspenders that were either unstrapped and hanging down the back of their legs (Middle and Right) or were being worn properly (Left). They also had dirt on their hands, faces, feet, and any other spare inch of skin.

"You alright, doll?"

Alexandria blinked and shook her head slightly, blushing a bit at Middle's question and his accompanying grin.

"Just fine, thank you," she answered kindly, ignoring her blush and smiling back. Trudy shook her head and sighed, while Jackie practically spat fire. Left and Right hurriedly moved away from her, scurrying behind their friend in retreat.

"Ya know, I reckon rich dames are different, Liam," Right whispered, eyeing the three girls warily. Left (renamed Liam) nodded haughtily.

"Told ya so, Pat; they're a different breed."

Jackie rolled her eyes and snorted, but Alexandria smiled a little wider in amusement, still chafing her arms for warmth.

"Lex, where's your cover?" Trudy asked, both parts curiosity and a want to take the attention from the boys to keep Jackie from blowing up. Alexandria glanced over and gestured backwards.

"Somewhere over there. I think it fell off when you rolled on top of me or when Jackie tugged me down."

Trudy smiled sheepishly and went in search of it while Jackie moved over to Alexandria's side, glowering at Middle now. But before she could say something rude (Lex could tell by the way she was straightening and reddening in the face), Alexandria interjected.

"Okay, you're Liam and you're Pat. Am I right?" she inquired softly, pointing to each boy in turn. They both blinked and, at the sign of a somewhat normal girl, smiled tentatively.

"That's right."

"Mm-hm."

Alexandria's smile widened a bit before she turned to Middle, who was now having a staring contest with Jackie. The latter seemed determined to fry her opponent to a crisp while the earlier seemed to be lazily competing.

"So who're you then?" she asked, biting her lip a bit at interrupting. Middle immediately turned to look at her and donned his grin again.

"Who're you, doll?" he replied. Alexandria blinked in surprise before remembering that he obviously didn't live inside the gates and as such, wouldn't know who she was. She was so used to everyone knowing her family, either through business or family connections or gossip that it was both refreshing and a bit of a shock that he didn't know her.

"Alexandria Dubois," she answered with a smile. His eyes sparkled mischievously.

"That is an awfully long name. I think I'll just stick to 'doll'," he commented casually. And, almost as an afterthought, he added, "And I'm James O'Reilly."

"Why 'doll'?" Lex immediately inquired, watching as he laughed delightedly. He leaned forward a bit, his face between the bars of the fence.

"Because you look like one, doll," he teased. Alexandria narrowed her eyes and pressed a hand to hip.

"So, should I call you 'scruffy'?" she retaliated, knowing her response wasn't all that clever or witty and feeling a bit embarrassed because of it. But he simply threw his head back and laughed again, his grin stretching. She noticed it was lopsided.

"If you want to," he murmured when his laughter had stopped, leaning his head against the fence. Alexandria held his gaze for a second before shaking her head and tugging a curl distractedly.

"No, I don't think so. I'll just call you James, if that's just fine with you."

"That's perfectly fine with me, doll."

Alexandria opened her mouth to ask another question, her curiosity rearing its head again, when the sound of a door slamming echoed in the air. She whirled around, slipped on the hem of her dress again, and stumbled back against the fence with a soft, "Oomph!"

"Alexandria! If you wandered off again, child, I'm going to lock you in your room for a week!"

The girl blanched and gasped, gathering her skirt in one hand hurriedly.

"Oh no, I completely forgot about the dinner! She's going to kill me!" she hissed to Trudy and Jackie (who both seemed to be in the middle of a very quiet and very serious discussion), pushing off the fence quickly. The light from the door illuminated the top of the lawn enough to spot the edge of the cloak and she tied it back on with one hand, speeding across the lawn.

But then, just before she dropped down to the walkway, she glanced back at the dark fence. The boys were gone, disappearing into the trees to where they came from. But, when she went to turn away, she saw one last glimpse of James O'Reilly. He winked cheekily and then turned tail and ran into the trees, disappearing as quickly as he had come.


Lady and the Tramp © Walt Disney

Gilded Cage © SinisterMastermind (Sara J. W.)
Please, do not distribute/translate/copy unless given explicit permission from ME.

A/N: Just a new idea. Originally, my inspiration came from "Lady and the Tramp", the classic Disney movie I adore. I had originally planned on making characters to mirror Jacques, Trusty, Tramp, Lady, Peg, and all of the others of the Pound Gang. I even had a really clever name for my Jacques character: Jacqueline Russell Terry. Then this happened. ...And I learned that Jacques is not, in fact, a Russell Terrier.

So…I'm keeping the name! And the idea of a Lady falling for a Tramp is still there, just…not as much as I had originally intended. Whatever, I like it.

Okay, so, one thing I really wanted to get across is Alexandria's dramatic character change from the beginning to the end, mainly based on whose company she was in. Let me know if I succeeded, won't you? –nudgewinknudge- Anyway, I know pieces of it seem kinda abrupt. I meant that too. =)

Baaahh. Here's a quote, let's see who can guess where it's from first (though maybe this one is a little too easy...):
"Tony, dogs a-don't talk!"
"He's a-talkin' to me!"
"Okay, he's a-talkin' to you! You da boss!"