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Without the mask, where will you hide?

“Annabelle?” The sound of her mother’s sweeping dress made the girl frown, and wonder if her mother really wanted to upset her. The sun’s pale rays stung in her eyes, and for a moment Annabelle thought that it was the warm rays of spring that lit up the room.

With weak but hopeful hands Annabelle lifted her gown’s skirts, and without another thought she walked up to the wide-open door, where she was greeted by two pairs of eyes. Annabelle was just about to turn around when she discovered how the dull December sun had tricked her eyes, but the sound of her mother’s trembling voice made her change her mind.

“Annabelle,” Charlotte said again, this time more firmly, and the sun shaded her smile so that it became sad. Annabelle took a deep breath when she noticed how Simone had crept up behind her and loosely held her arms. She didn't like what was happening.

“This is Alice, daughter of an old friend of mine.” Annabelle looked first at her mother, and then let her eyes travel towards the stranger. Alice was beautiful, probably around the same age as herself, and Annabelle nodded and held her head up high, as if to show that this was her territory and her place to rule.

But Alice didn't notice any of that, as she stood by the door, looking lost and a bit confused with a shining smile on the rose-red lips. The emerald green, rather dull eyes shone with tears and her cheeks were naturally rosy. The girl’s skin was milky white, had neither freckles nor scars. She looked like an angel.

All of this made Annabelle become jealous of the girl, who looked as innocent as a little lamb and as protected from the world like a caterpillar in its cocoon. Annabelle’s jealousy faded, though not that much, when she noticed what the girl was wearing. The pale brown dress, which according to Annabelle shouldn't even be called a dress, was patched and covered with dirt, and suddenly Annabelle realized that the dress probably hadn't been brown when it was new. The shoes seemed very well-worn, more ragged than whole. The girl’s ebony-colored hair was frizzy and tucked into a hairnet, with only a single curl hanging by her bare neck, and Annabelle thought quietly to herself that her mother wouldn't even let the servants go dressed like that.

Annabelle opened her mouth to say something, but soon closed it again, as she could not come up with a single good thing to say. Alice then lowered her head and smiled; one of those childish, innocent smiles that Annabelle never had been able to accomplish, no matter how hard she tried, and her jealousy suddenly grew bigger.

“Alice is from Atlanta.” Mother took a deep breath, as if she was preparing herself as to what she was going to say. “She will stay with us for a while, and I truly hope that you, Annabelle, take good care of her.” Annabelle swallowed hard when she heard her mother’s emphasis on the words ‘for a while’, and realized that she did not mean a few days or weeks.

But when Annabelle then realized, and that took a few seconds, that this dirty, homeless girl would live in the same house as her for a while, it was almost so that she lost it; that her false facade fell hard to the floor, shattered into thousands of pieces.

“A while.” Annabelle tasted the words, and tried not to distort her face in a disapproving grimace. “She will stay with us for a while.” She nodded slowly, trying to sound enthusiastic, but as soon as the words left her mouth, she realized that it hardly convinced any of them. But Charlotte just smiled happily, unable to understand her daughter’s hidden thoughts in this happy moment, and patted loosely on Alice’s lowered shoulders.

“I knew it would work.” For a while, Annabelle thought that her mother would start crying, but of course, she didn't. Charlotte never cried; at least not when Annabelle was near. To be honest, she had never once seen her mother cry, and sometimes she doubted whether Charlotte was capable of feeling anything. Alice raised her head and smiled a happy smile; a smile that could have had anyone worship her like a goddess. Anyone except for Annabelle.

“Alice, come on in.” Charlotte smiled proudly when Alice carefully stepped into the house. Simone quickly rushed towards Alice, and took her right hand. Whether it was for support or simply the feeling of human intimacy, Annabelle didn't know.

“Oh,” Alice said, when she discovered the black-haired figure next to her. Simone shook her head in embarrassment when she found out that she had forgotten to introduce herself.

“I'm Simone,” she said shyly with her french accent, and curtsied in front of the girl. “Miss Annabelle’s maid.” Annabelle noted, with broken pride and grim thoughts, how Simone hadn't mentioned anything about their friendship. With a bitter smile, Annabelle stepped away from the door and walked with a few sweeping steps up to the two girls. Charlotte murmured a silent prayer before she walked out the door to summon the servants from the plantations.

“Alice,” Annabelle said and fixed her eyes on the newly arrived girl. Annabelle saw how Simone tightened her jaw and held Alice’s hand harder. Annabelle looked disapprovingly at Alice’s frail body. “You look like you could need some new clothes,” she said with raised eyebrows. “Come with me.” Annabelle gave her a fake smile that made Simone step away from Alice.

Simone might have been Annabelle’s best friend, but sometimes she could not understand why Annabelle acted the way she did. There was no point in doing what she did right now. Simone knew that Annabelle hated Alice - even though they had just met. And it was this that worried Simone so much. She wanted to protect Alice from Annabelle’s burning hatred, from her furious anger.

She wanted Annabelle to see what Simone saw - a young orphan, an innocent girl, completely lost, who only wanted to find love and friendship. Who wanted to find a home; a family. She could not understand how Annabelle could feel such a strong feeling towards someone who had not deserved it. Simone knew that Annabelle would eventually tear deep, hurting wounds in Alice’s pure heart, wounds that formed scars that never would heal completely.

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