"Goodness, what have you done this time?"
The maid's words pierced my ears. I suddenly turned to look at her, my hands trembling as I dropped the last piece of the cookie I held. Holding up my hand, I wiped my mouth as her footsteps neared me from across the bedroom. My heartbeat picked up pace as her footsteps raced across the room. When they finally stopped, I looked up at her, my body trembling with fear.
Mary's furious eyes met mine, piercing me with a look of disgust. Her lips twitched as she inspected the crumbs on my red cheeks and the bitten cookie I dropped to the ground in panic. When her surveilling eyes came to meet mine again, a smile came to rest on her lips.
Relief washed over me.
But then came the slap. Hard and fast, stealing my breath away at the impact. The moment the warm palm of her hands skimmed my cheeks, I knew I was done for. I fell back in shock, tears forming in my eyes as I looked back at her. I bit my lip, careful not to let any sobs out. If mother and father found out that I displeased the nanny... they would punish me even more.
Because they didn't need me. They had Summer. I was to live as quietly as a rat. That's what father always said. He told me I was like rain, I brought misery and bad luck.
So they called me Rayna.
"You stupid, stupid child!" Mary hissed, her voice shaking with rage, "How could you eat those? They are for Lady Summer!" She pointed at the pretty plate sitting on the wooden table.
"I--I thought I could have one, jus-"
Her glaring eyes fell on me again with a menace that could have easily turned me into dust on the carpet.
"One?" She laughed viciously, "You can't have any at all! What have I told you before? Only good girls can have cookies, have you been a good girl, Rayna?"
I shook my head, letting the dark red curtain of my hair fall in front of my eyes and shield me from the venom that was soon going to lash out from her lips.
"Exactly! Bad girls don't deserve any cookies, and what are you?!" Her eyes searched mine, a triumphant smile plastered already on her face.
I gulped, looking anywhere but at her.
"B--bad" I replied quietly.
"I couldn't hear you, what did you say?" Mary asked, laughter in her voice this time.
Holding off a sob in an effort not to draw attention to my bedroom, I looked up at Mary with all the bravery I could muster. It was hard to do, my tearstained cheek stung like as if a bee had pierced me multiple times and I was left bleeding for all to see. My vision was glassy as I glanced up to meet her shadowed and contorted face. She looked scary. Like a witch.
No...no I'm being bad again.
"I'm a bad girl," I said, louder this time. Tears stained my tongue as I opened my mouth again, "I'm a bad, bad girl!" I repeated, my voice growing louder and louder. I met her eyes to see if she'd calm down, but instead, her expression turned stormy.
"A dirty and disgraceful child like you dares to raise her voice at me?" She remarked, infuriated as I began to shake my head in fear.
"No, I didn't mean it!" I protested.
But it was too late now.
"You deserve to be punished!" And with that, she threw her foot into my stomach, knocking the air out of my lungs. I buckled over, pain engulfing me as I pulled myself into a bundle of dust. I lay still, like a dead animal as she inflicted pain upon pain into my small body. Kicks turned into stabs and stabs into bleeding wounds that I could only feel, but not see.
I wanted to wrap myself into a bundle of nothing and disappear. I wanted to escape, somewhere far away, somewhere where someone really cared. I didn't know when I started to cry, or when I began to sob, because by then, I could hear footsteps rushing through the door.
I opened my eyes against the tears spilling down my cheeks to come face to face with my father. He took in my position on the floor before sighing loudly. A sound I heard too often these days.
"Papa-" I started before someone cut me off.
"Shut up, you wretched girl!" Uttered someone from behind him.
"Haven't you ruined this family enough by simply being alive? You cause trouble every day, why can't you be more like your sister?" There stood my stepmother, and next to her, my sister Summer and Albert, my older brother. They looked at me as if I were a burden they had to carry for the entirety of their lives.
Maybe I was a burden.
If only I wasn't born with this red hair, if only I wasn't born with this green eyes, if only I was what they wanted, then maybe I'd be worthy of their love...
Nobody spoke another word until my father shook his head and met my eyes. I expected there to be warmth in there, kindness, mercy. I expected there to be empathy, maybe even a speck of worry. There was none of that. His blue eyes were cold, like ice. His voice held contempt as he said;
"A maiden holds her virtue higher than her very life. Remember this for as long as you live, Rayna. Your actions reflect the Marquess' household. Don't you ever try again...to taint my family with those filthy hands of yours"
It was a feeling that even at the age of nine, I could not get rid of. Every time I was rejected, every time they excluded me, it was that same feeling all over again. Surely this is not what a family should be like. But this is how it is for me. And it's wrong for me to hope for something better, it is a sin for me to wake up and wish for someone to care for me, someone to love me as I love them.
To wrap me in warmth.
Maybe a hug. Maybe just a single caress. It would be enough to make me forget about the scars on my feet, the lashes on my back. Everything would be forgiven. If only...
If only they loved me back.
But I was being too greedy.
"I promise... I promise to be a good girl from now on" I whispered, my throat slit up by pain and fear. "I'll be good, for this family"
He nodded, turning his back to me.
"Bathe and bed her, Mary. She must not have a meal tonight. That punishment should be enough for now. If she acts up again, notify me without fault. I'll see to it immediately"
Mary nodded, lowering her gaze as father walked by her, "As you wish, my Lord"
The rest of the family left behind him, not sparing me even a glance. As the door nearly closed behind them, someone's familiar face appeared from the small gap.
Her blue eyes twinkled against the flames of the fireplace. She smiled when I caught her eyes. Her smile, as always, was the warmest of them all.
"That's what you get for being born a bastard's daughter" She murmured, leaving a trail of laughter behind her as the door slowly creaked shut.
But her words were the most bitter.
I stared at the fireplace and the flames that danced away at my agony. I watched them until they died off, counting down the seconds until they were nothing but dust.
And that's when I finally fell asleep as well.