They all turn and look at me. I can feel their eyes slicing through the layers of dandelion silk and fluffy petticoats, right to my bare skin and bony limbs. You don’t belong here. Their eyes proclaim the message more clearly than the echoing of trumpets. Why did the Prince invite me here? I am only a peasant. My heart beats faster with disgust and anger. I turn and run through the marble halls, out the massive mahogany doors into the blinding storm. My skirt tears on the iron railing; I snatch the loose fabric, draping it over my head as the rain beats down. Soaked petticoats cling to my legs, threatening to trip me as I stagger down to the piers. I sit down and let my legs dangle in the angry water, unseen, silent as a spirit of the storm. Light shines from the windows of the distant palace. They don’t care that I’m gone. The dance goes on, headless of my broken heart. No one cares. I am used to it. No one cares about me… Well, he did. At least, I thought he did. The Prince invited me to the ball, provided my gown, but I hadn’t seen him at the dance. Maybe it amused him to toy with my emotions, like waving a bone before a hungry mutt and then tossing the bone out the window. “Do you have somewhere to go?” I blink at the cloaked figure standing next to me. “Child, are you all right?” He kneels and touches my cheek. “You’re soaked to the bone. Come with me.” “It doesn’t matter.” “Why not?” “It just doesn’t.” “Would you like something warm to drink?” “I’m not thirsty,” I shiver as the rain pelted my gown. “Are you sure you don’t need anything?” “You can’t help me,” I murmur. He stands and walks off into the storm, but I can feel his eyes on me all night. When the sun rises the next morning, I look down at my reflection. The half-torn ball gown still sparkles in places, but the storm debris speckles my petticoats. “I have some bread for you,” I didn’t hear footsteps, but last night’s visitor hands me a piece of bread. Still warm, it explodes with cinnamon richness in my mouth. “I suppose you wonder why I’m dressed like this.” He nods. “I was at the ball last night.” A servant? Not one I recognize. “Well, I’m not a fine lady. The Prince invited me—probably to make fun of me. I couldn’t take all their stares so I—I ran away.” “All those fine ladies were peasants once. Slaves, even prisoners.” The man says softly. “None of them were born to wealth. The Prince gave it to them.” “Then why did they stare at me?” “People don’t like to be reminded of their past. Some of them are different, though. Would you like to meet them?” “Not after last night.” “What would you want?” “Don’t know.” He reaches under his cloak and produces a wrapped bundle. “There’s another ball tonight. I brought you some things. Ask for me before you come in.” “But I don’t know your name.” “They’ll know me,” he smiles. “I’ll see you there.” The bundle holds a massive towel, combs, shining slippers, and another gown. But this one is simpler, with only two loose, flowing layers of white silk under sheer black drawn into an inversed v-shape. It feels more natural then last night’s gown. As laughter spills from the palace windows, I nervously stalk up the path to the great doors. “I was told to ask for someone.” “Who?” The guard questions. “I don’t know his name…he was wearing a cloak, and I think he works here.” I blush at my sketchy description, but the guard’s eyes flash with understanding. “Follow me.” The guard leads me through the swirling dancers to the far end of the hall. I lock eyes with a man standing near the edge of the dais; my friend. The guard bows low. “My Prince, I have brought her.” Surprise unbalances my wobbly curtsy. I crash to the marble floor. The Prince extends his hand to pull me up. “I hoped you would return.” “I—I…”
”I love you, no matter what the others say. Don’t let them scare you away. They have a lot to learn.” He touches my cheek. “You’re beautiful.” No one had said that to me before. “You are beautiful. Come, dance with me.” “I don’t know how.” “I’ll teach you. And this is a wonderful dance to begin. It’s called ‘Ragged Rose,’” Rain drizzles down the windows as music fills the room. Rhythm fills my body, sweeping me away. It tells me of a ragged blossom, a torn rose, restored to beauty by love.