This narrative is drawn from a dream I had just before waking today.
She was small, with tiny features and wispy dark hair, eyes shining dark against skin so pale it was almost pallid. But she was full of energy, hurtling through the hot spring resort so fast it was all I could do just to keep up, let alone right the chaos she left in her wake.
Girls like her always had hangers-on, and she was no exception. First there was the straw-haired boy who’d accompanied the household on this vacation, the son of her father’s valet; the two had grown up together and might as well have been siblings. The second was new, the brown-haired, deeply-tanned son of a local. She’d caught his eye the moment she’d stepped from the train, and he’d been following her ever since.
If you added all their ages, you’d need yet another child to reach twenty years.
I caught up to them in an anteroom surrounded by a cluster of single rooms. The main hallway continued straight to the springs. The family’s rooms were similarly arrayed, but in a suite, allowing both access and privacy. The young mistress was teasing her local’s son, making him blush. I saw the valet’s son watching quietly, from a distance, his head lowered.
“We’ll go to the baths!” the young mistress announced, not noticing me. “But we’ll need towels and robes; our playclothes won’t do. Come!” And she turned on her tiny heel and marched into the nearest single room. In moments she was tearing drawers open and ripping the blankets from the bed.
I don’t know what happened then. I had witnessed many such a scene before, and my duty was always the same: to make amends afterwards. I did not begrudge the young mistress the trouble it took to seek out her victims and compensate their losses. Such work was the reason I was employed by the household. Such work kept me clothed and fed, and let me see wonders and amusements throughout the world alongside the family. Perhaps it was the look on the face of the dear valet’s son. Perhaps it was the careless way with which the young mistress was rifling through the stranger’s belongings.
Perhaps it was because, in my head, I had so casually concocted a group of girls like her.
Whatever it was, very shortly, I found myself screaming.
“Who do you think you are?” I roared, hooking the girl by the shoulder, spinning her around, and flinging her down on the bed. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Those dark eyes were wide. It was not a look I had ever seen on her face before. Shock, certainly. Fear, perhaps. “I–I was just–we needed–”
“If you needed robes and towels, you have plenty of your own in your own rooms,” I shrilled. “Is this your room, young mistress?”
“Do the things in this room belong to you? Did your mother and father check you into this room? Is your prize possession, the braid of unicorn mane, to be found in this room?”
“No,” she said finally, in the smallest voice I’d ever heard come out of her tiny mouth.
“Then what gives you the right to come into this room and take whatever you want?”
She had no answer. Her face was turning pink.
“And what gives you the right to ignore your lifelong friend as if he doesn’t even exist?”
“What?” she tried to say, but a sob caught the word in her throat as her eyes filled with tears.
“Have you ever thought about anyone but yourself?” I seethed. “Have you ever thought about the people whose things you’ve taken without asking, whose property you’ve destroyed just for your own pleasure?”
She started outright bawling. “You’re not being fair,” she sobbed.
“When have you ever been ‘fair’?” I countered.
“Why are you being so mean?”
And I broke. Whatever had been driving me on was gone in that instant. Her dark eyes, overflowing with tears, reamed accusatory holes into my heart that I could not deflect.
“Oh, sweetheart,” I murmured, and my eyes brimmed over as well. I slipped my hands beneath her tiny form, lifting her from where she’d lay stunned and motionless on the bed, and drew her into a gentle embrace. “Shh. Sweetheart. I’m sorry. I just…I love you so.”
She made a pathetic noise that I could only imagine signaled her bewilderment.
“I know. I know. I know I’m not your mother, and I never could be…but sometimes I feel like I am, I really do.” She shook quietly in my arms. “And I just…I don’t want you to be a bad girl.”