The first ball of the Season and I'm in pain. I can't move without the fabric of my shirt scraping against the welts on my back. My coat is black velvet, so should any blood leak through, no one can tell. I slide over to stand behind a large potted palm. I don't know anyone here and doubt anyone would make an effort to come and talk to me.
I'm used to being invisible. Father ignores me unless he's angry. Then I'm his whipping boy. I stare down at the bruise circling my wrist. He'd dragged me out of my room and forced me to get dressed. He says I need to go around in Society. Maybe the Ton will rub off on me. I shiver as a piercing laugh rings over the music. There is no way I want to be a part of them. They are cold like my father and that scares me.
I edge closer to the door leading out into the garden. The air is getting heavy. I'm having a hard time breathing. I pant, trying not to panic or faint. Father wouldn't approve of me making a scene. Someone brushes against my arm and I murmur an apology. I don't make eye contact. My father has taught me the folly of showing any type of defiance.
As I make my escape into the night, someone runs into my back and I bite my lip to keep from crying out. Pain causes tears to swim in my eyes. I rush down the path to where I can hide without anyone noticing me. I throw my head back and fight the tears while I glare up at the moon. Silver light bathes my face. I long to be away from here. I will never fit in.
My differences are more than just my shyness. My father says I have the devil inside. He claims my secret longings are the path leading me to Hell. I don't know how he knows about them. He has yet to understand that he makes my life hell, so maybe finally following that path would ease the pain.
A noise draws my attention. Looking back at the veranda and the doors leading into the ballroom, I see a silhouette. It's a man. He stands, staring out into the darkness as if he is searching for something or someone. I shrink farther into the shadows of the bushes. I know he isn't searching for me, but I won't risk getting caught and pulled back into that room.
The man stays outside for a few minutes. I don't move. He turns and heads through the doors. Before he disappears into the swirling kaleidoscope of the ball, he looks back. I stumble as I step back. It feels as if his gaze touches me. Yet he can't know that I'm out here. As he melts into the crowd, I see the glint of gold as the light hits his hair.