The hullabaloo following this pronouncement, was great, to say the least. Snow White gasped and looked at her sister for some sort of help or reassurance. Rosie was absolutely appalled, and looked in her turn at her mother, but not before letting out a resounding and rather shrill, “What?”.
“Er, yes. This is rather sudden, isn’t it…?” The nobleman looked, quite frankly, a little sheepish as he shoved a hand through his hair and watched the people around him a little nervously. “I confess that, as I would imagine many are, I was first smitten by and interested in your daughter’s beauty, but this changed when she pleaded with her sister to help me, although perhaps my injury was well deserved.”
“Has it healed well, then, my lord?” The timorous voice came from Snow White, who was watching him intently.
“There is a scar, but in the transformation, the wound itself healed over beautifully. I owe Miss Rosie many thanks.” Charles folded his hands on the table, steepling his fingers around the mug of cocoa. He hadn’t drunk any yet.
“What I did, I did for love of my sister. You, sir, spoke of your brother – you will understand what it is to love one’s siblings.” Rosie hadn’t spoken much yet. She knew that her propensity for saying and doing very stupid things would probably get her into trouble, and she did not want to jeopardize her sister’s chances at a good marriage any more than she had with her fears of society. It seemed that, rather like Shakespeare’s Ferdinand and Miranda, Snow White and Viscount Mortland had fallen madly in love upon seeing one another.
Rosie wasn’t entirely certain she believed that that was possible, but her sister would believe in it, and if Snow White was happy, then Rosie would find her happiness, too.
“What does my daughter have to say about this?” Rosie’s mother’s voice broke through Rosie’s thoughts of Shakespeare, bringing her attention back t the matter at hand. Snow White appeared to be forming an answer, but taking her time of it, as though (for once) she was unsure of how to phrase what it was that she meant to say.
“I confess, I do not know Viscount Mortland. However, he seems to be a good man of upstanding character and fine disposition. I could not hope to marry better, from our current situation, Mama. In…” Snow White trailed off, putting a hand to her hair in a gesture that Rosie recognized as nerves. “Considering this, I will consent to be his wife.”
The smile that broke out across Charles’s face seemed to light up the room; certainly, it warmed Rosie’s heart about the situation. She was generally a very good judge of people, and Charles’s lopsided grin and open, honest expressions had endeared him to Rosie for the moment. She would, of course, wait before making her final judgment of him, but for now she approved.
“Mama,” the words jumped out of Rosie’s throat before she could think to stop them, “perhaps we should give Snow White and the Viscount a few moments to speak with one another.” She blushed dark red and put a hand to her mouth. “I don’t know where that came from, truly.”
To her surprise, Rosie’s mother stood up and looked at Snow White, then at the viscount. “We will be in the next room if you need anything, dear. Do come find us when his lordship is leaving. We will want to bid him farewell.” She then swept out of the room rather grandly, into the back room where she kept her supplies. Being the local hedge-witch, she often was called upon in cases of a birth, or sudden illness or injury. There was no local doctor in this tiny village, so the people relied solely on folk magic. In the long run, this was probably better for them. Big city doctors killed more people than they healed, it often seemed. They wouldn’t be likely to trust one in the village.
Rosie followed her mother, closing the door behind her. “Mama, do you think this is a good idea?” Her mother looked at her with sad eyes, then back at her herbs.
“It is always painful for a mother to give her daughter up in marriage, especially in a case so sudden as this one. But if it is what Snow White wants, I must allow her to leave us.” Rosie nodded, and moved across the room to hug her mother. “I do not believe that the young viscount will do wrongly by your sister.”
As she bent down and embraced her mother, Rosie closed her eyes and thought of herself. Too tall by far, and too heavy by half, she was far from the perfect beauty her sister was. Mentally, Rosie knew she was unable to control the words that came out of her mouth, a problem that was exacerbated by her razor wit. She straightened, and looked around the room, and out the window. “Mama, I believe I shall go out into the gardens for a short time. I wish to enjoy the stars.” Without grabbing her cloak, Rosie walked out the side door of the house, and managed to get through the gardens to a stump in an area away from the view of the house or of the forest, in the patch of wild gardens where no one was allowed to weed or prune, before the tears began to fall down her cheeks.
As she sat there on the old stump of wood, Rosie cried for things she hadn’t known she felt the need to cry over. She cried for losing her sister to a stranger. She cried for her own plain face compared to Snow White’s gorgeous one. She cried because she would never marry, because it seemed that she would live in her mother’s house for the rest of her life. She cried because she saw her life stretching out before her, and it was all the same, a very long, straight path. There was no light at the end of her tunnel – there was no tunnel. Rosie cried until she lost track of time, until she forgot why she had started crying in the first place. She cried about her weight, about her height, for every time she smiled and gave something up for Snow White, that Snow White never saw. She looked back at her life and cried for the times that she knew she should have cried at but never did. She looked at her future and cried for the wedding that was to come; she cried selfish, jealous tears. She cried because she saw herself spending more days and more time watching her sister succeed and get forward in life, while Rosie knew that in the end, she was going nowhere but back into the cottage, for the rest of her life.
And when she thought she was done, she cried hot, angry tears. Not anger with her sister or her mother, or Charles, Viscount Mortland; she cried out of anger with herself, with Rosie. For not working hard enough to be wanted like Snow White was. For being jealous of her sister’s happiness, for not finding her own happiness in Snow White’s happiness. She berated herself for her own pessimism, and then she stood up, brushed off her skirts, and looked at the stars like she had said she would.
They were beautiful. There was not a cloud in the sky, no smog from the cities to clog her skies. For a moment, Rosie stood alone in the garden, not breathing, just staring at the skies, and she was struck that, no matter where she went, whether she was here or hundreds of miles from the cottage she had grown up in, she would be able to look up and see the stars, and to know that her family could look up and see the same stars, and it would be like she was with her sister once more.
The decision wasn’t even one that required lots of time to make. She knew that whatever happened, she must never let Snow White know how upset she had been. Her sister was a better woman than Rosie could ever be, and she would not marry Charles if it made Rosie this unhappy. She calmed herself, and walked along the edge of the garden to the front of the house to see if Charles was still at the cottage. His carriage was still there, so Rosie made her way back through the gardens to the side of the house.
With wedding plans underway, Rosie found herself becoming more and more useful to her mother. As Snow White and their mother grew busier with plans, it was left to Rosie to take over the day-to-day running of the house and taking care of the people who came seeking the services of the local wise woman. She made poultices and set a broken bone, went to the birthing of a baby, gave advice, cooked, cleaned, and generally made herself useful. It helped her to forget her sadness. Mostly.
Her mother made sure to still talk to her, keep her company as they worked (her mother worked on wedding things and Rosie did her work). The two women worked n companionable silence, usually. Rosie’s naturally meek nature made her eager to shy away from the attention of others but she didn’t want to be ignored entirely.
What Rosie wanted was to be noticed for some reason other than her clumsiness, or worse, to be noticed because she was next to Snow White. She was glad of the reprieve from being noticed only for her clumsiness, though. It gave her time to do things that she was good at, the little things.
“Rosie, there’s a man here to see you!” Snow White’s voice made Rosie look up from where her sister had stuck her head through the door. “It’s Charles’s brother. He wants to talk to you about something with the wedding, I think…” Her brows furrowed for a moment, but quickly smoothed and she smiled once more.
“Could you ask him to come talk to me in here?” Rosie knew that her request was pressing the bounds of propriety, but she knew that people would think of her and Alexander as brother and sister soon enough. She wasn’t worried, too much, but she’d never really spoken to her future brother-in-law except in passing. “I’m really rather busy, and if I stop now, I’ll lose the roll I’m on.”
Snow White nodded and closed the door, but she was replaced a few minutes later with Alexander Mortland, Charles’s brother.
“Future sister-in-law! Grab your cloak! This is a kidnapping!” Alexander was grinning as he threw the aforementioned garment at Rosie, who didn’t manage to catch it in time and was soundly whacked in the face with it. She muttered another word that Snow White never would have said, and stood, sliding her cloak on over her simple work dress, not bothering to argue that she really ought to be working on this.
“Good, put your boots on.” Alexander was trying to restrain his smile now, working to keep a straight face. It wasn’t really working. Rosie’s laughter, which she was trying to restrain now, too, bubbled up and over when she saw that he had made his fingers into the shape of a pistol. She laced her boots without question, and stood, looking at him.
“You will regret this! Where are you taking me?” Rosie held her hands above her head as she was marched out the back door and towards the forest.
“I can’t help but notice that you’ve been working constantly since the wedding furor started. I’m sick of it. If I have to hear another word about your sister or my brother, I swear I shall scream. You and I are going on an adventure.” Rosie blinked at her future brother-in-law and grinned, then put her arms down and began walking like she normally did – with her face pointed towards the ground.
“Where will this adventure be taking us, then?” She was shaking her head as she spoke. All of a sudden, she ran forward and spun in a circle, looking back at him with her smile really and truly there rather than faked or strained as usual. Her spinning and turning caused her to lose her balance though and she hit the grassy area soundly with her bum, and started laughing once more.
She lay on her back in the grass and laughed, staring up at the clouds in the blue sky. Alexander’s confused face entered her vision, interrupting her view, and his words made her laugh even harder.
“You, Rosie, are much crazier than they give you credit for. Come on, we’ll go find some ruins in the woods and then find shapes in the clouds and make fun of our besotted siblings and you can vent like I’m sure you’re dying to do.” He held out a hand, which Rosie took gratefully, and pulled her to her feet.
After a few minutes of walking between trees to find one of the paths, which would take them most of the way to the ruins, Alexander spoke once more. “So tell me about your feelings on the wedding. I’m dying to know.” Rosie couldn’t tell if Alexander was being sarcastic or not, but she rather doubted that he was. She lied anyways.
“I am truly happy for Snow White and Charles. They make a beautiful couple. I can only hope to love someone so ardently one day.” Alexander raised a brow, at her.
“Half truths are still lies, my dear.” He put a hand on the small of her back as they walked, and watched her expectantly for a better answer.
“I can only hope to love someone so ardently, but it is unlikely that he will notice me past the silly girl who walked into a wall or tripped over her own feet. The tall, fat girl with a beautiful sister.” Her voice was bitter, but she immediately blushed and covered her lips with her hand. “I didn’t mean to say that much.”
Alexander’s hand went to her shoulder, which he squeezed lightly to offer her what comfort he could. “It’s not a bad thing to feel that way. People have ignored you for years, I’ll wager. But your sister adores you. She sees so much in you – bravery, confidence, even if it’s a bluff – that she wishes she had all the time.” At her dry look, he continued, “I watch people, you see. I’m the ignored sibling. My brother was always the golden child, could do no wrong, so in the hubbub surrounding my parents’ death, people forgot about me, and I learned to watch people.”
Rosie’s eyes got wide as she watched him. “I confess, I had never guessed that it might be like that for you.” She pushed her hair back behind her ears. Because she hadn’t expected to be with company, she hadn’t bothered to put her hair up in a socially acceptable hairstyle, preferring to leave it loose around her back. She also did the unthinkable and wore her corsets looser than was socially acceptable, meaning that her blouses and dresses were inadvertently quite a bit tighter than was fashionable. What Rosie saw as fat, another person – like Alexander – might see as voluptuous, or curvaceous. Having lived her whole life in the shadow of her sister’s good looks, Rosie was unable to see how she might be attractive to someone.
“But I didn’t kidnap you to talk about me, Rosie.” Alexander was pretty sure they were coming up to the ruins, which would give them a chance to sit down where he could let her talk. In the years since he had started becoming more introverted, and more interested in watching people than interacting with them, he’d learned a thing or two about how to tell what people were feeling, and he could tell that over the past few days, Rosie had been screaming to be noticed for herself. He guessed that something had snapped inside of her about this wedding, and, sensing something of a kindred spirit in this rather strange girl, was determined to find out what it was. “Talk to me about the wedding, about your sister, about your life.”
Rosie found that as the words began to flow from her mouth, haltingly at first, she couldn’t stop them, and all the emotion she had cried out on the night her sister had become engaged returned to spew out in words. She didn’t even notice as the tears began to fall down her cheeks once more. When Alexander took her hands and sat her down on a fallen pillar, taking a seat beside her, she didn’t complain or stop talking. Apparently, Alexander’s evaluation of her had been spot on, and all she had needed was someone to talk to. Being forgotten for so long had made her forget how nice it was to have a friend she could talk to. She didn’t know why she trusted him but she did.
When she had finished speaking, Alexander put his arms around her and pulled her in to hug her. He ran his hands over her hair, smoothing it. Rosie wasn’t crying, but it was a close call. “Rosie, don’t let sitting in your sister’s shadow detract from your own beauty. You can’t be her. You’ll only ever truly see how beautiful you are when you can look at yourself and be you, not be your sister. In my eyes, you’re as beautiful as Snow White is, any day.”
Rosie looked up at him from where she’d buried her face in his shoulder, and with a sinking feeling of horror in her stomach, felt herself tumble headfirst and start falling in love with someone she would never be able to call her own. Her puffy, tear-stained eyes blinked a few times, before her lifelong pessimism and cynicism kicked in, and she moved away from him on their makeshift bench. “Don’t lie to save my feelings. You think I don’t know how I lo-”
“Rosie, do you know what I see when I look at you?” Alexander’s voice had lost a bit of its gentleness. He stood up and pulled her with him. She looked a little frightened at his sudden roughness, and became self-conscious of herself once more.
Slouch. It made her look fatter, but it made her feel shorter, which was good at her height. Alexander was still taller though.
“Stand up straight.” She did. “Rosie, when I look at you, do you know what I see?” She shook her head no, not looking at him. “I see a woman who has been ignored since her sister hit puberty and became more conventionally beautiful than her. I see a woman whose true goodness and sunny nature have been overlooked because society is too stupid to see it. I see a woman who can’t see the depth of her own attractiveness, and,” he reached up with one gloved hand to tilt her face up towards him. Her mouth opened slightly, and her eyes were wide as saucers. Alexander stepped forward, putting one hand on her waist, and looked her full in the face. “I see a woman who is beautiful. You are beautiful, Rosie. It’s what I first thought when I saw you.”
Rosie didn’t believe him, not really. Years of “training” were not so easily erased, and she was immediately put in the mind that he was truly a nice man who was lying to spare her feelings about the marriage of her sister to his brother. Given this, she could not have been more surprised than she was when he muttered an apology (although it might have been an apology to God, Rosie wasn’t sure) and pulled her towards him, meeting her lips with his, and moving his hand from her chin to the back of her neck. His other arm slid around her waist and her eyes, which had gotten wider in surprise, slid shut. As soon as the kiss had started though, Alexander stepped back, with a muttered curse, staring at her as though she might hit him, which she had every right to do. What he saw was a young woman who had just been kissed for the first time in her life, touching her lips with her fingertips and staring at him like she wasn’t sure whether to think him a villain or to worship the ground he walked on.
Rosie, for her part, was feeling just about that way. She knew that she should slap him and march home in righteous indignation. The truth of her feelings was not quite so clear-cut as that. She truly was unsure whether to embrace him or to hit him. In the end, she settled for turning away from him and sitting down on the fallen pillar, her eyes downcast. “You didn’t need to do that to prove your point.”“You’re right. I didn’t. But I wanted to.”