“Aren’t you ready yet?”
Priscilla Dahl must have heard these words a thousand times. She heard them when she was little and they were preparing to go on a visit to her grandparents; she heard them when she was a little older, and running late to a dancing lesson or piano practice. She heard them every time the family needed to present its sleek, perfectly groomed face to the photographers – and she was not surprised to hear them now, on the night of her sister’s debut ball. The whole thing, in her opinion, was a lot more fuss than it was worth. Her mother and Stephanie hardly talked of anything else the past fortnight.
“Prissy?” her mother tapped on the door again – a little refined tap-tap with perfectly manicured fingernails.
Feeling annoyed, she opened the door a crack. “I’m nearly ready, alright?” she said. “And besides, there’s plenty of time.”
Eleanor Dahl put a slender, beige-slippered foot between the door and the doorframe. “Can I come in just for a moment?”
Priscilla shrugged and stepped back, allowing her mother room to pass. Eleanor strode over to the closet and pulled the door open. “Have you decided what to wear?” she asked.
“Kind of,” Priscilla muttered, sitting down on the bed with an expression of grumpy carelessness.
“There isn’t a lot of choice,” observed her mother in clipped tones, flicking through the dresses on the rack. Stephanie had an entire dressing-room with several closets, full-length mirrors, and ceiling-high shoe racks. Priscilla was quite satisfied with a simple closet, the contents of which she always attempted to thin out.
“There’s the new green dress,” she suggested half-heartedly.
“It won’t do,” said Eleanor. “You are supposed to wear it at the charity concert next week. And besides, it isn’t festive enough for a ball. Here,” she pulled out a floor-length spangled silver gown. “It will go nicely with the color of your eyes, dear. Do you have matching shoes?”
Priscilla wrinkled her nose as she looked at the dress. “It’s too chilly for this dress tonight.”
“Nonsense. I made sure the rooms are all well-heated. Ah, there are the shoes,” Eleanor emerged out of the closet triumphantly, holding a pair of silver slippers.
“I won’t wear them,” Priscilla declared, “they pinch.”
Her mother put down the shoes and glared at her. “Now you listen to me, young lady,” she said, raising one finger. “This is a big night for Stephanie, but that’s not all. Do I have to remind you that only two weeks are left until the elections? The press is going to be here. We are going to have plenty of coverage, and everything should look just right.”