THE STEPDAUGHTER by Rachel Ayers

Listen, lady, we need to talk
about this Ella situation
because I'm fed up...
Haalllooooo my lovelies! Remember, even if you are a scullery maid on the outside, you are a princess on the inside! Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may!

Beep.

Listen, lady, we need to talk about this Ella situation.

I know you feel a certain responsibility for the girl, and we need to come to a consensus or she’s going to become more and more of a problem. I don’t think you want that any more than I do, even if you aren’t the one who has to live with her most of the time.

She SAYS that I make her do EVERYTHING while my own daughters laze around the house all day, and that’s simply not true. I let Magda take a nap a few days last week because she was getting over a cold, but normally they do their own chores and look after their own clothes and hair and rooms. Tilly INVITED Ella to join them in a makeover night and Ella refused. The girl said she wouldn’t let them make her their slave just so that they could be beautiful. It wasn’t friendly at all, and I admit I snapped at the girl when she came and complained to me....

But honestly, I’m sick of it. Every time her father goes away for a few days, I’m left to deal with the whining little wretch and she won’t do ANYTHING around the house.

I asked her to mop ONE floor!

She spent the next hour singing and dancing around the kitchen, and that evening I found her muddy footprints all over the floor she supposedly spent all that time mopping.

Now this ball is coming up, and my daughters are excited, but Ella’s got it into her head that all her dresses are rags and unfit to be seen by royalty. She’s been sulking for TWO DAYS, ever since the invitation came, and frankly, I can’t afford to go out and buy her ANOTHER dress. Her father spoils her rotten when he’s here -- honestly, if I’d had a better understanding of his “cash flow” issues before I married him, this girl wouldn’t even be my problem now.

I know you’re busy, flitting all around the place and taking care of all your godchildren, but please, can you spend some time with her? Sit her down and talk to her and make her try to see reason? I’m not her enemy, but I can’t give her everything she wants at the drop of a hat, either. And I can’t seem to make her see that the two things aren’t the same!

Haalllooooo my beauties! Always remember that true beauty lies within, but with a little polish it can come right out and shine! Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may!

Beep.

ARGH. I have had it up to here.

You have to talk to Ella, lady, or even sweep in with one of your grand bippity boppity gestures, or whatever, because I’m fed up and I don’t even care right now.

We’re all getting ready for the ball. Everyone is busy, and a little stressed, and trying to make the best of their situation. Heaven knows Magda's nose is too long, and it’s pretty damn generous to say that Tilly is only “plump,” but you don’t see them raging about their clothes and acting like the world will end if they don’t get a brand new corset in the next three days.

But Ella.

Ella is convinced that we’re torturing her by not having a dressmaker come and make her a custom gown on short notice.

Ain’t nobody got the coin for that!

And god forbid I ask her to do her part and help with some cooking or some dishes in the meantime. Suddenly I’m cruel and hateful? Because I asked her to take a turn doing dishes? Excuse me if her father’s money management leaves us without a scullery maid!

I told her she can have new shoes, same as my girls, and of course she immediately picks the most impractical, most expensive shoes in the whole store. Don’t even remind me of the meltdown when I said no to those things -- six inch heels made of some shiny material, they looked like they’d shatter as soon as she took a step on cobblestone! Who designed the damn things, that’s what I wanna know.

Haalllooooo my goddaughters! Just as a reminder, this line is for goddaughters only. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may!

Beep.

WhatEVer.

I don’t know what you want me to do at this point.

Ella threw another absolute fit as we were getting ready to leave. She raged so much she tore her own dress. All because I let Magda borrow my tiara -- from my first wedding -- because she’s the oldest. And frankly, because she needs all the help she can get to draw attention away from that nose.

Ella is lovely. You could put her in a potato bag and she’d still outshine half the room. So why she’s convinced she needs the biggest ball gown and the fanciest hairdo is beyond me. Finally I told her fine, stay home, we’re going.

Now Magda’s staring out the window trying not to let her tears fall, which would be a pity because I spent an hour on her makeup, and Tilly is wondering if she should have offered Ella HER hairpiece, which she paid for herself out of her sewing money. (Don’t even get me started about how my daughter is taking in sewing for pocket money because I can’t give her any.)

If YOU want her to go to the ball, YOU talk her into it. I’m not going to wrestle her into the carriage while she’s screaming and carrying on.

Haalllooooo my darlings! Follow your dreams, no matter what happens, and you will find the treasure of a life well lived! Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may!

Beep.

What a night! I’m simply exhausted.

And somewhat relieved.

Oh, I’m not totally sold on your methods -- it’s not that clever, bribing the girl to get her to go to the ball, but you both seemed to have fun with this idea that you were pulling the wool over our eyes, so we went along with it. And I think Ella really did have a nice time.

Which I am GLAD about.

Whatever my problems with the girl are, I still care about her.

She floated off to dance with the nobility, spent a lot of time with the prince and, I think, probably managed to nip away to the bar once or twice. Don’t worry, I kept an eye on her. It was easy because she thought I thought she wasn’t there.

Though why she thinks I wouldn’t recognize her under all that glitter, I don’t know.

We all managed to enjoy ourselves thoroughly, though I think Tilly was a bit disappointed she didn’t get a second chance to dance with the prince. She set it aside soon enough, though, in favor of a footman carrying a tray of pastries, sweet child. Magda found a young nobleman to flirt with; he has a little button nose.  I don’t know if she NOTICED noticed his nose, or if she just found him pleasant, but I noticed their noses together.

And of course by the time everyone was exhausted and worn out, most people weren’t dancing anymore, and then Ella had to make a big deal out of leaving, just as she had when she arrived, to make sure everyone noticed her. Whatever. If she gets a thrill out of it and it doesn’t harm anyone, I don’t care. She certainly has a flair for drama.

She was practically snorting laughter to herself when we got home. Why she wants to carry on the charade that she didn’t go, I don’t know -- unless it’s to punish us for not letting her wear the tiara. I’m game to let it lie for now.

YOU can deal with the fallout when that prince doesn’t come along and sweep her off to some romantic getaway where she can be waited on all day and do nothing for herself or anyone else.

Haalllooooo my precious jewels! You are the jewels of the world! Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may! Especially if you are a goddaughter, who is supposed to have this number.

Beep.

Look, lady, you’ve got to talk to your goddaaaa---goddaughter. Now she’s convinced that some poor cobbler is the prince in disguise, just because he brought her a new shoe. She lost one of those ridiculous things at the ball, of course; she’s lucky she didn’t twist her ankle in the process. So this lad shows up with the shoe, proclaiming that he wants to try it on every girl in the land, and when he finds the one it fits he’ll marry her.

Ella is all agog for this romantic notion, and OF COURSE her shoe fits her foot -- I let my girls try it on out of humor but of course it didn’t fit them -- and now she’s convinced she’s off to marry royalty and leave all of this behind.

But if that lad is really the prince I’ll eat my own shoe.

Haalllooooo my precious jewels! You are the jewels of the world! Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may! Especially if you are a goddaughter, who is supposed to have this number.

Beep.

I guess I’ll eat my own shoe, then.

Haalllooooo my princesses! Always remember that I have a plan for your happiness! Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I may!

Beep.

I suppose you think you’re clever, orchestrating all this behind the scenes, maneuvering all of us into position and everything falling into place.

And I’ll grant you, anyone is easier to get along with when you don’t have to live with them. It’s fair enjoyable to go visit Ella at the palace, where neither of us has to put the dishes away or sweep the floors.

Ahh, well, it’s all out of my hands now. And all before her father has even returned from his trip, which makes me wonder what exactly the prince got up to with her when I lost sight of her at the ball. I still think she’s too young to marry, but she seems smugly satisfied with the way things have shaken out. She’s been very generous to my girls, too, I suppose; though telling them she forgives them for all their snobbishness is a bit rich.

But then, she’s a bit rich now.

The prince is clearly besotted with her. I hope it doesn’t wear off for a long, long time.

In any case, I wish Ella the best, and when you see her next Tuesday you can tell her that. Yes, I’ve noticed that you have regular time to stop by and see her now that she’s at the palace and always has those little cucumber sandwiches you like so much... But she loves you, I think, more than anyone else in her life, so whatever it takes for you to be there for her.

But do be a dear and DON’T come to me if you have any trouble with her in the future; I rather like my friendly relationship with Ella, now that I’m not responsible for her behavior all the time.

It’s quite pleasant.

Happily ever after, isn’t that what they say? Taa, dear.
Rachel Ayers lives and writes in Alaska, where she looks at mountains and daydreams a lot.  She has a Creative Writing degree from Pittsburg State University. https://richlayers.wordpress.com/

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
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