By the way, just in case anybody cares to know: this is Fiction, spun out of my own head. Any similarities are purely coincidental. Now, on with our story:
Lisette thought it would be easy to vanish the day of the Krewe of Nike ball. Hairdressers, make-up artists, photographers, jewelers -- all their attention should have been, would have been, focused on the debutante upstairs.
Except Pia -- and CB -- insisted.
"It's not right. You have no business, no business being in there, getting all gussied up, for what?" Mama fussed, watching two nail techs buff and file and polish Lisette's nails.
Lisette couldn't meet her mama's eyes. She felt ashamed, helpless.... The words she'd lived by mocked silently. What Mama doesn't know couldn't hurt Lisette....
"Why don't you just have a seat here," James, in charge of everything spa, pulled a cushy armchair over to Lisette's mother and pushed her into it with an undeniable air of authority. "Drea here will polish your nails next. You get a little pampering for a change, alrighty?" He strutted away to check on the progress of Pia's foils.
"Huh. Bet he thinks he's rooster of the henhouse," Mama muttered.
"He thinks he's sumpthin' awlright," Drea drawled around the gum in her mouth. "But it ain't a rooster," she grinned and gave a quick wink to the housekeeper of Barilloux House. The nail techs all giggled, Mama missing a beat before dissolving into girlish laughter.
But not Lisette. The ice cube in her belly flipped and settled again. Seeing Mama pampered and enjoying herself for the first time since they'd left Dad, left the apartment, and his debt collectors ... How much could CB know about their lives prior to Barilloux House? What kind of carrot are you dangling before me CB?
She sighed inwardly, caught between her own wrongs, and Mama's delight.
Oh Mama, how could I ever let you get caught up in this?
Frenzy descended once the dress was drawn up over Pia's shoulders, the crown set upon her head, the train affixed to her collar. After the official photos were snapped, the Queen's Coach gave Pia her first curtsy, and some last minute reminders. "Head up, always.... Smile, show teeth, but don't crinkle the eyes.... Wave your scepter, gracefully... there, like that. Oh, you make a beautiful Queen Nike...."
"Enjoying the show?" CB stood behind Lisette. She couldn't help but stare at how refined and handsome he looked in his white tie and black tails.
"Stunning," Lisette whispered, then caught herself. Oh no, this would not do. Not do at all. Falling for CB? She shook herself mentally. Foul, low, dirty scourge.... "Pia looks stunning," Lisette said slowly.
"Pay attention. Wouldn't want you embarrassing yourself." His gray eyes bored right through her, the only part of his face visible over the scotch and water he brought to his lips.
The ice she felt in her belly started to spread to her heart. If she were to survive this, if Mama could be happy and taken care of, Lisette would need to harden herself against CB and all he offered.
"Of course. I'll pay attention. I'll learn." Keeping her eyes fixed on his cravat, Lisette drew herself up and straightened her shoulders, giving CB the full effect of her stature in the strapless gown. It sickened her to think that she stood before him in something so white, so bridal. She swept her hand over the silken folds that dropped gracefully from the center of the pleated bodice. No beading or crystals or lace of any kind adorned this dress.
I'll learn.... I will be your Royal Majesty, your Queen of Ice.
CB reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a velvet jeweler's box. He opened it quickly, peeked inside, then snapped it shut to return it to his pocket again. He looked over Lisette again, as he had earlier.
"Think I'll just hold on to that for you. I don't think you have anywhere to put it." With that, he turned to give his sister one final embrace before escorting her to the awaiting limousine.
To be continued....