Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
A small shriek sang from her harp.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry.” she looked to her instructor with apologetic eyes. Mr. Carter simply smiled and waved her off.
“It’s quite alright Bernadette. Now please,” he placed her hands back on the harp gently. His touch lingered just a tad bit too long. “Continue.”
Bernadette allowed her fingers to flow once more. The sheet of music in front of her spun a tale that she had to emulate through her instrument. Soft, charming chords bounced off the music room’s walls. The girl closed her eyes, allowing the music to flow. Mr. Carter applauded once she finished.
“Another great session.”
“Thank you. I love doing this—” Bernadette paused when she felt weight looming behind her.
Mr. Carter rested his hands on her shoulders. “Of course. Remember, if you ever want any extra sessions,” he massaged her suggestively. “Just send me a note and I’ll be here.”
Bernadette tried not to shudder. “Yes.”
The monotonous tone made him back off. Mr. Carter took the music sheet off of its stand and winked before he left the music room. Bernadette sighed, leaning back in her chair. She stared at the piano in the corner of the room. Left untouched since her father passed. Come to think of it, everything in this room used to be her father’s—even the harp she adored so much. The paintings on the wall and the copper music stand was his too, but she’d use that even when her father was alive.
Bernadette smoothed her Turkish gown when she stood up. She loved this dress because it complimented the regal copper of her late father’s harp. Music had surrounded her since she’d been born. Sir Gerald David Roberts, her father, was an esteemed piano player. He’d gone to university—where he learned the harp—and married her mother when he graduated three years later. The man had been so loving towards Bernadette. He saw the beauty in her, the talent he had seen in his pupils. After he heard her play once, the harp belonged to Bernadette exclusively.
Bernadette ran her hand along with the piano keys. Lightly, so that no sound came out. The last person to play it was her father and she vowed to never let a single chord escape from it because of that. Even Mr. Stanford Carter, when trying to tune her, wasn’t allowed to go near the piano. Her reminiscing was broken by the striking black ribbon on her wrist striking into her line of sight.
Oh, yeah. Did she mention she’s engaged?
She’s not exactly happy about it. Lady Madeline Roberts, her mother, insisted that her daughter was not to become a spinster and needed to marry a man of good status, both financially and good looking. Bernadette groaned thinking about her mother nagging her until finally, she reluctantly agreed to be Christopher Thornhill’s fiancee maybe a year ago give or take.
‘Bernadette. Your father and I had made arrangements a long time ago for your betrothment to Sir Christopher Thornhill. Finally, their patriarch has contacted us to approve our proposal. You and Christopher are going to be married, and directly into the Thornhill family.’
Bernadette groaned, throwing her head back into the grass. She was spending time playing outside and picking flowers, making flower crowns. Her mother loved to encroach on her private time to tell her about things—no, more like command her—just for her agenda and satisfaction. ‘Mom, no. I don’t wanna get married!’
‘Don’t talk back to me, young lady. You will respect me, and you will accept this decision. We are going to meet with them soon to talk about dowry. He’s a nice boy and you’ve met him before. What’s the problem?’
‘I’m gonna play the harp and he’ll just bother me if we get married and then I have to like, I don’t know…stop playing and studying music and I won’t!’
Her mother sighed, running a hand through her messy hair in a stressed manner. Bernadette was really difficult when she wanted to be, even Bernadette knew this and still acted out like the lady she wasn’t supposed to be.
Thornhill is technically the whole package: handsome, blonde, and rich. He was heir to this up and coming, the famous textile corporation that his father currently owned. They’d known each other since childhood, but Bernadette never saw him in a romantic light. He was such a playboy when they were but children, so for him to settle for her of all people was beyond her realm of thinking.
Nevertheless, this wasn’t her choice. Unfortunately, it was a requirement for all women to be married by the age of twenty. Bernadette is nineteen and would’ve gone to university to study music and music theory if she wasn’t tethered to the Thornhill boy and his family’s wealth.
“Bernadette? Are you in there?”
Lady Roberts poked her head into the music room and brightened seeing her daughter alone.
“Darling! I have some very exciting news to share with you! And it has to do with you as well.”
“What is it, mother?” Bernadette internally sighed, tipping her head back so that she could stare at the ceiling of the music room. It was a boring sight but Bernadette could care less at the moment.
“Remember when I told you about the man I was seeing?” her mother giggled with a blush on her face that reminded her daughter of a little school girl talking about her first crush to her parents and best friends.
Vaguely, Bernadette remembered a conversation from a while ago that she had barely been mentally present for.
‘So, I met a botanist on my way to the writing firm. Remember I was getting some books for you to read. And just as a remember, those books are for after sewing and music lessons—’
‘Just…okay, mom. Anyways, you were saying?’
‘Oh right! I decided to be engaged to this man, as he was so kind and sweet. Soon you will have a stepfather that can give you the male presence you’ll need before your debut ceremony in a month or so.’
Bernadette had tuned her out, pretending to sew. Whatever her mom was saying was probably just indirectly insulting her and Bernadette didn’t care to listen to another one of her mother’s rants about her behavior and ladylikeness. Whatever that means.
Grabbing her daughter’s hands, she continued. “He’s agreed to marry into our family.”
Bernadette raised an eyebrow.
“But, you’re a widow.”
“So what? I’m not desirable anymore?”
“Well, according to the standards that you insist that I’m breaking all the time…yes.”
Lady Roberts let go and scoffed. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that. Anyways,” she sat down in her daughter’s chair. “You’re going to have a stepsister. They’re arriving in the afternoon, so be respectful.”
“How was your lesson today?”
Bernadette paused. She wanted to tell her mother about the passive moves that Mr. Carter had been making ever since she turned nineteen. But, this wasn’t the time. Her mother was too excited about the new marriage and a larger family. Plus, the debutante plans she’d been making would be in shambles if she found out that Bernadette was touched by another man. “It was alright.”
Well, that was at least a half-truth. It did go well. She got to play music—which is a win in Bernadette’s book regardless of anything Mr. Carter did or said to her.
Lady Roberts stood up when they both heard the sound of horses stopping in front of their simple home. “Oh! That’s them. Come with me to greet them.”
She wordlessly followed her mother to the foyer. Patiently waiting, Bernadette went over the proper greetings of an engaged woman in her head. The outfit she was wearing was presentable, at least. The Turkish dress dulled her silhouette, so a mahogany belt with silver embellishments gave her waist shape once more. Her dress was white with sabot sleeves cut about five inches from the elbow so as not to get caught on the harp strings. Baby blue lace accentuated her breasts; the flowery pattern on her dress complimenting the white fabric.
Even after her music lesson, Bernadette’s hair was still relatively together. Her updo had some flyways but was mostly covered with decorative pearls and weaving multi-colored silks. Those same silks were neatly wrapped in a knot behind her head. This allowed the excess weaving to leave an elegant trail of silk down her back.
She’d been numbering the waves of her properness that her stepfamily had already been inside the home. Bernadette quickly curtseyed when she felt eyes judging her harshly. “Sorry,” she tried to sound genuine. “I’m Bernadette Roberts.”
“Nice to meet you.” That was her stepfather, so where was the stepsister?
Ah, there she is.
The girl curtseyed once more. “My name is Elizabeth Bishop. It looks like we are to be sisters.”
Elizabeth wore a traditional silver dress with a v-neckline accentuated by ruffled white lace. She was the definition of a proper lady in their town; her coiffed sleeves that are cut like Bernadette’s—but her waist looks smaller, so she must be wearing a corset. Bernadette couldn’t help but notice the absence of a black ribbon on her wrist. Instead, she had a tight pearl necklace brought together by a short white ribbon matching the silver of her dress.
Their parents had scurried off long ago, probably to make tea and prepare an early supper. Elizabeth spoke first,
“I see you are spoken for.” her eyes were trained on Bernadette’s wrist.
“Yes. I’m engaged.”
“How delightful…” Elizabeth trailed off. “So, what are some of your interests? Have you had a debutante ball yet?”
Bernadette blanched. “No…my mother and I have been putting it off until you two arrived,” she gestured towards the kitchen where their stepfather was. “I don’t have a lot of interests. I only play the harp.”
Elizabeth played with her brunette locks, only becoming interested when her stepsister mentioned the harp.
“I play an instrument too,” she mimed fingers flying over keys. “the piano. Since I was five, at least.”
Bernadette’s anxiety spiked drastically. She didn’t get to see the coaches unloading their bags, but a piano would’ve been noticeable so matter how scatterbrained she was. “Did you bring your piano?”
The brunette shook her head. “No. My father informed me that there is already a piano in this house,” she looked around Bernadette. “speaking of, where is the music room?”
“You can’t touch that piano.”
Elizabeth gasped incredulously. “What? Who are you to tell me what to do?”
“That piano is important to me,” Bernadette continued. “My mother nor I have given you permission to touch it.”
“Goodness, your anger is funny enough to make a dog laugh. I’m using that piano whether you or your mother for that matter, like it or not.”
Elizabeth then dashed off deeper into the house. Bernadette’s heart was racing as she followed her quickly, hoping that her advantage of knowing the layout of her house would aid her. Unfortunately, Elizabeth was quick to learn.
By the time Bernadette entered the music room, her stepsister was opening the folder full of music sheets. Her cat-sticks pressed on the pedals below the mahogany base. Elizabeth’s slender fingers glided over the keys like waves coming to shore and quickly escaping back into the ocean.
The piano sounded different now. Bernadette didn’t feel the same way that she did when her father played. It was all wrong.
Bernadette approached the piano quietly, trying not to let her stepsister know that she was about to stop her. Reaching from behind, Bernadette grabbed the case that goes over the piano keys, lifting it, and then dropping it onto Elizabeth’s fingers.
Elizabeth yelped in pain. “What the— ?”
Bernadette pushed her to the floor without thinking and took the piano bench for herself. “I told you not to touch it.”