I sighed as my father prattled on about the importance of this night as Cynthia pulled my hair back, attempting to pile it upon my head in some kind of fashion. My hair was unusually straight and it refused to curl as was the style. The dress I was wearing was positively atrocious; the light pink color did nothing with my gold hair and smoke gray eyes. The fabric was heavy and I felt as if I might drown in ruffles. I had protested with vehemence the moment I saw it but my father insisted that it was the latest fashion and that none of the other girl's would have a dress half as pretty.
I had snorted in reply which earned me a lecture in proper behavior for a young lady. I stifled a yawn and my father narrowed his eyes at me. "Emmeline, are you even listening to me?"
I crossed my arms, very unladylike, "It's not as if anyone even wants to marry someone they think is so sickly that she had to be kept away from others for most of her life."
"Oh, Miss Emma, you are a gorgeous young woman, I'm sure someone would love to take your hand," Cynthia intoned in her thick drawl. Her hair was kept down despite the times, to hide the burn scar on the side of her face, ruining her for marriage of her own.
I felt a twinge of guilt every time I saw that scar. "Somehow I can't quite imagine that Cynthia," I said softly. "How long do I have until this horrendous affair father?"
"The ball will start in an hour and you're not ready!" He threw his hands up in exasperation, "Emmeline don't you realize that you can't just throw your opportunities away like this? I have given you everything I can but your future and my name are at stake if you are seen as-" he trailed off. I wasn't surprised, he never liked to acknowledge my abnormality if he could avoid it. I was a shame to my family and would cast their name in the dirt if my secret was found out.
"I know father, I will not disgrace our name. Surely there is some youth that isn't smart enough to run the other way when he sees me coming. I don't even know how to waltz." I winced as Cynthia continued to pull at my hair.
"You have had lessons since you were a mere child!"
"And my instructor told me I would never amount to anything as a dancer," I replied curtly. I tugged at the fabric around my chest, "I can hardly breathe in this."
Father smirked, "Good, if you can hardly breathe then maybe that will help still your tongue."
"Ah, and there's were my sense of humor comes from," I smiled mischievously at him. I did love my father but he was much more concerned with status than I was. However with my sheltered youth I couldn't be expected to understand the importance of reputation.
The door opened and my older brother, Lucian, walked in, "Emma don't you look positively terrible."
I threw my hands up in exasperation, "See what I mean? This dress looks horrible on me."
My father glared at Lucian, "Don't listen to him Emmeline, you look beautiful. Your mother picked out the dress just for you."
I fell silent at this, I hadn't talked to my mother in a long time; I never saw her. I wanted to say something but no words came to my mind, I felt as if I had been encased in ice. Cynthia was putting paint on my lips and she saw my less than enthusiastic expression.
"I'm sure your mother meant well Miss Emma," she whispered softly so that the words only reached my ears. I smiled at her, Cynthia always tried to help me when she could, I could never imagine why she was kind to me. She had every right to hate me.
"Tonight you will dance with all of the eligible young men and look for a proper suitor." I had to stifle a retort at this as my father strode out of the room. "Cynthia please keep her out of trouble for the next hour. We don't need anything to go wrong tonight."
I pursed my lips, "I never agreed to this."
"Most girls await this night eagerly you know Emma," Lucian said, leaning against the wall and smiling at me. He had the same golden hair as me but his eyes were dark blue.
"I am not most girls Lucian," my temper was growing short. There were pins poking into my scalp and my dress was suffocating me.
Lucian's expression darkened and he shook his head, "Just get ready for the party Emmeline."
I cast my gaze down, now I had upset my brother. "I didn't choose this Lucian…"
He sighed, "I know Emma, just try to give this a chance. Don't dismiss everyone that you dance with."
"Fine, fine. For you and father, I'll try." I tugged at the dress, but no promises, I thought to myself. I stood up, turning and holding my hands out, "What do you think?"
"You look fine Emma, you will be gorgeous," he smiled. "I'm going to go convince father that tonight has a chance of success." He turned on his heel and made his exit leaving Cynthia and me to ourselves.
"Cynthia do you dance well?" I asked her looking down at my shoes with a glare.
"Not very well Miss Emma," she said clearing off the vanity table. "I'm sure you will do fine."
I shook my head, careful not to cause my hair to fall loose. I picked up my skirts and walked over to the window. My window looked over the front door and I watched as people began to file in. I tried to get an idea of what my potential suitors looked like but I couldn't make out details well enough.
The party was as pretentious as I thought it would be, full of stuffy boys that I could have thrown something at if my dress allowed for such movement. I was dancing with a young man as boring as the rest, we had hardly exchanged more than a few sentences. "Your dress suits you," he said in a flat tone.
I had to stop myself from laughing. My dancing was just as horrible as I remembered; I had already stepped on his feet twice. I looked over his shoulder at where some people were standing, waiting for a turn to dance. Someone came in late and I saw a flash of black hair and a glimpse of teal eyes. I smiled and immediately released the bore that I was attempting to dance with, eager for an excuse to get away.
"Cole, you had to come to this frivolous event as well?" I asked leaving a bewildered boy behind, the most expression I had seen on his face all night.
"Do you think I would miss the chance to see you in such a horrid ensemble?" He asked eying my putrid pink dress.
I waved off the insult, "Hideous isn't it? I would rather wear the curtains."
"I may have shown up late but I can at least offer you a dance," my childhood friend offered his hand.
"I warn you now my dancing has not improved, prepare to be trod on."
He snorted and quickly replied, "Don't worry I wore thick shoes."
Smiling I allowed him to lead me back to the dance floor. As we twirled around the floor I glanced around in search of my father, "How long do you think until we're spotted?"
Cole shrugged and looked past me, "I believe we already have been Emma."
I glanced over my shoulder to see that my father was indeed striding toward us, a frown marring his face. "Emmeline," he growled, "I thought I told you to dance with suitors." He stressed the last word.
Cole nodded to him, "Good evening Mr. Livingston, good to see you as always."
My father gave him an exasperated look, "Cole please, can't you talk some sense into my stubborn daughter? She can't do as she wishes forever, she has responsibilities."
"Then again, don't we all? It's better to enjoy youth before it's lost." Cole retorted. I smiled, there was a reason he was my best friend. Well, my only friend at that.
"See father? Besides, I have been dancing with many of the young men you invited, surely I can spare at least one dance for my closest friend?"
My father glowered at me. "Emmeline," his voice was an all business tone but I paid no heed.
"You could have at least invited someone interesting, am I to marry someone who will put me to sleep?" I countered, raising my eyebrows.
"You will marry someone who can take care of you, your well being is what comes first, not your source of entertainment." Cole tensed besides me, he wasn't one to hold his temper well, not that I could talk.
One of the servers passing behind us jumped as the champagne bottles popped open and the glasses spilled over, the liquid nearly boiling. "Good lord man," my father exclaimed, "What's going on? Get this mess cleaned up."
"I think I need to go outside for a bit," Cole said tersely and stepped away from me. I frowned, watching his retreating form.
"Thank you father, now you sent Cole away," I mumbled crossing my arms, "I thought this party was for me."
Father shook his head, "Of course this party is for you my darling but why can't you just try?
Surely these boys aren't so bad?"
"Father if I'm to marry someone I have to feel something for them," I snapped.
"Under our circumstances you do not have the privilege to wait for love Emma." My father took my shoulders in his grip and shook me.
My anger flared up and I was shaking. "I am not a child father, I make my own choices."
"I hate this! I hate this dress, this party , and all of these boring want to be suitors!" The candles flared up and the curtains caught alight. The fabric caught easily and the flames shot up as did my anger. Two of the tall curtains had caught and the flames licked the ceiling. Someone screamed and the room began to empty. My father immediately released me as if I burned him and I quickly checked his hands for burns but he was fine.
I looked around, no one was paying attention and I forced my anger down and quelled the flames, they shrank back slowly until the curtains were merely smoldering. The hem of my dress was smoking the dress was ruined, at least some good had come of this night.
I sat down in one of the chairs of the now abandoned ballroom. Cole ran back in from the gardens, "Emma, what happened?" He looked around, bewildered.
I sighed wishing that of all people I didn't have to lie to him, "The curtains caught fire but the fire died quickly enough."
"Not quickly enough for your suitors apparently," Cole said taking in the empty room.
My father looked close to tears, "Why Emma? Why of all nights tonight? Do you wish to ruin your own life?" He turned and stalked away, clearly disgusted with me.
Cole raised his eyebrows, "Your father acts as if it was your fault, did you set light to the drapes Emma?" His tone was teasing but I could not bring myself to reply in our normal witty banter. Noticing my silence his joking manner ceased, "Is everything alright? I noticed your father was a bit more flustered than usual."
I shook my head, "Everything is just as it has been I suppose. I've gone and disappointed my family again."
"Don't fret, it wasn't the first and shan't be the last," Cole said with a smirk.
I allowed myself a small smile, "I suppose not. My life will be a long line of disappointments, why get hung up on the latest?"
"Exactly, you're such a shame on your family, why get serious now?" He asked, teal eyes alight with silent laughter.
I grinned, "Well you aren't exactly the family jewel yourself are you?"
"Maybe not but at least I have the family jewels," he responded with a sly smile.
I laughed at his brazenness, "You had best be glad my father wasn't here to hear that, you would never step foot in this house again."
"Who are you to give a lesson on manners young lady? Last I checked, yours were just as lacking, if not more."
"I claim my impropriety proudly, it is a badge of honor," I gave a fake salute.
"Next thing we know you'll be impersonating soldiers," Cole chuckled.
I shook my head, some of my hair fell down from its pinned up prison, "And follow orders? Oh vanquish the thought."
"Who says you would be following orders? Perhaps you would be giving them."
"Fear the day when Emmeline Livingston gives the orders," Lucian interrupted, walking down the stairs. "So I see that as usual things have gone south?" He fixed his gaze on the burnt curtains.
I crossed my arms, "Well don't sound like you expected it Lucian." I muttered under my breath. My brother gave me a look saying that it was exactly what he had expected.
"You shouldn't be so harsh to your sister Lucian, after all she is your diamond in the rough," Cole came to my defense.
Lucian shook his head at this, "Well if she isn't shaped up soon then this household is doomed."
I scowled at my brother and crossed my arms "Why does so much rest on my shoulders? You're the firstborn and the only son."
"It takes the whole family to uphold our reputation, but only one to ruin it," Lucian replied, crossing his arms as well.
"Haven't you ever heard that you shouldn't let one bad apple ruin the basket?" Cole asked.
Lucian's gaze slid over to him, "I think you mean one bad apple can ruin the whole basket."
"Well, it's something like that," Cole responded flippantly.
"Must you discuss me in such a manner, I think I at least disserve a metaphor or something," I interrupted.
"Your dress is a putrid flower, thank goodness it's dead," Cole quipped, smirking at me.
"And you are a donkey's-"
"Emma," my brother stopped me. "Can you not even pretend to be proper?"
"We are not under the vigilance of society right now Lucian, let her say what she wants."
"You should not encourage her behavior," Lucian muttered.
"Dearest brother, you should know I don't need the least bit of encouraging, my rapier wit and crude behavior come naturally," I said with a deep courtesy in my ruined dress.
"See Lucian, I'm no contributing factor, but merely an innocent bystander," Cole said.
"What do you say we go to the gardens Cole? It is clear we're not wanted here," I said to my friend. Cole agreed and we left the ballroom.
The garden was lit with gas lamps; I discreetly willed them to brighten just a bit so that the path was clearer. "Tonight was just as bad as I thought it would be," I said as I walked.
"Well I figured as much, most people our age are as dull as dishwater," Cole looked up at the lamps squinting at the flames.
"If I must be pushed into marriage is it too much to ask for a husband that I can talk to and enjoy the presence of? I mean surely there is someone other than us that has more to talk about than what I'm wearing. Do you know how many compliments I got on this dress?"
"Do you know how much I disdain that dress? I think that is what you should look for in a suitor, someone who hates those horrible dresses you are forced to wear on a daily basis."
"No one can abhor this dress as much as myself," I assured him.
"I disagree, at least you don't have to see yourself in it," he replied.
I looked back at the house, "Well, I believe it's about time I go find my father to make amends. Goodnight Cole."
"I see I shall be off then, I'll see you soon I suppose," Cole took his leave and I headed back to the house. I prepped myself to face my father upon arrival to the house. I imagined he would be standing in the ballroom staring at the crisped curtains but he was not, the ballroom was empty save for a few servants that were cleaning up.
I froze when I heard laughter coming from the entrance hall. I walked towards the sound, my footsteps echoing in the large room. A few more strands of hair escaped and fell to drape down my back and frame my face. Annoyed with it I shook it loose entirely, I much preferred it down. I pushed the door open to see my father talking to a young man, probably in his early twenties from what I could tell. They turned at the sound and I blushed to be seen as I was, as improper as I am I do have a little pride.
The man's face was as smooth as a blank slate, brown eyes were empty and flat, there was no curiosity or any other emotion flickering behind them. His mouth was turned up in a polite smile but it was robotic and cold, this man reminded me of one of the new war machines. They moved as if they were alive but they were merely metal and gears, powered either by clockwork or steam. I almost expected to see gears instead of irises, spinning around shutter pupils.
He gave a small bow, "Miss Livingston, I regret that I did not get the chance to dance with you this evening." His voice was as flat as his gaze, it repulsed me to hear the monotone of it.
My father smiled at me, "This, Emmeline, is Albert Greene. He has already asked your hand in marriage, isn't that wonderful?"
He straightened and spoke again, "I hope you don't presume me forward, but when I saw you I knew there could be no other for me, I do hope you will have me?"
"I don't think I could make such a decision so quickly, father?" I looked to him but I knew that I was lost. My father was eager to marry me, he wouldn't want this strange man to have time to change his mind. The sooner I was married the sooner I was no longer casting shame on him.
"Oh Emmeline, you know you are older than the normal age for courting, how many chances are you going to get?" He asked, with a booming laugh, but his eyes were stern.
I backed up slowly, "I do believe I am going to retire for the night…" as soon as the door shut and I was out of sight I turned and raced up the stairs to the safety of my room. The fire inside of me sputtered as my fear grew, I felt icy cold and I needed to be alone.
When I got to my room, I discarded the horrid burnt dress and exchanged it for a long nightgown. My movements were jerky and my insides were constricting as if a large vice had been placed around me. I crawled up onto my bed and curled up on the covers, curling into myself. How would I get out of this marriage? This was just the kind of opportunity my father had been looking for and I had been dreading.
I stopped my quivering and forced myself into a firmer resolve, I would not allow my family to force me into a marriage without love. I raised my hand and caused the fire in the hearth to ignite casting a warm glow on the room and calming me down. I had been able to control fire since I was very small, it was never something my parents liked to think about. They were confident that I just had to get control of it and then lock it away so that I would be normal.
But they didn't understand, the fire was a part of me, its flames whispered to me in their secret language. I didn't want to lock that part of me away, I don't even think I could. I held my hand out and ran my fingers through the fire, enjoying the feel of the flames licking my skin. The skin did not blacken nor burn, my hands were only warmed by the fire.
I pulled my hand back, calmed by the pops and hiss of the fire. My brother chose this minute to come in. "Emma, what happened to giving people a chance?"
"Dancing is a chance, marriage is inescapable!" I cried indignantly. "You cannot expect me to up and marry someone whom I've only seen once. The once being when he was proposing," I added sourly.
"Father has already given your answer," Lucian said, crossing his arms.
I stood up abruptly, "He had no right to-"
"He had every right! The two of you are betrothed; you have two months until the wedding, so I suggest you get over any foolish notions before then." Lucian left then, slamming the door behind him.
I fell to the floor on my knees. The fire died and the room was left dark and cold, the same way my heart felt. I forced myself up and went to sit in my window seat. I looked upon the dreary streets where everyone hurried about on business. I was never allowed outside by myself, for fear of my secret becoming known. Only the most trusted of the servants knew of my powers.
Most of the ones that knew wouldn't come near me, one told my father that I had been born with devil in me. I had laughed at this notion which made my father so angry he had hit me. "Don't you see?" he had yelled, "That is what everyone will believe! You will surely be hanged if you are found out."
I brought my hand to my throat, too many times after that night I had imagined my neck in a hangman's noose. Even with all of this deterrence I could do nothing to ignore the call of the fire. I loved it as if it were my true betrothed, the other half of me. I looked up at the stars hung in the night sky. I wondered if they had a voice like my fire did.
Across the street stood Cole's family estate, the windows were mostly dark and I was sure the majority of his family had already retired for the night. I missed my friend now; he would know what to do about this mess. He could come up with some elaborate plan that would lift my spirits. I wanted to tell him about my fire when we were young but my father had convinced me that if I did then he would no longer come near me. Now I doubted that, but it had been so long I had become desperate to keep this to myself.
I rested my face against the cool glass, watching it fog up at the touch of my skin. The gas lamps began to go out and overhead I saw an airship pass, its bulbous shape blocking out the stars as it drifted. I wished I were one of the passengers on that ship, sailing through the sky to a new place, away from all of the troubles of this one. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was in one of the small bedrooms aboard an airship. As I listened I could hear the boots of the crew clanking around the ship, tending to it like a living beast that needed to be guided and kept calm.
I could hear the release of steam somewhere far away as I sat on the small bed in my quarters. I was a sly young woman, run away from home. Cut throat when I must be and as brave as a ferocious lioness. The clothes on my back were all I needed; I was to see the world. A daring independent woman, the kind my father would cringe from.
Cynthia opened the door and snapped me out of my fantasy. "Miss Emma, I have brought you a cup of hot tea to calm you down."
I sighed and turned to face her, abandoning my daydream and allowing that brave girl that I wasn't to drift far away in an imagined airship. "Thank you Cynthia," I took the cup from her and left the window seat. In the end I was as trapped in my father's plans as a bird in a well-latched cage.
A/n: alright so this is a collab with my best friend (Cole). Key words, BEST FRIENDS! which means no romancin between Cole x Emmeline. Cuz that would be just weird, so put the notion far away and burn it. anyway's "Cole" has the next chapter. Thanks for reading, luvs ya! (in a non creepy way). If you can think of an awesome name for this story pm me. review please! and remember critiques are greatly wanted.