Page 18


‘So I’ll be working under her then?’ For one brief moment, I want to ask if Maela is the Creweler, but if she is, I’d rather not know.
‘No,’ Enora says in a heavy voice. ‘Her work is delicate and time-consuming. She rarely interacts with anyone but the officials and highest-ranked Spinsters. There’s a lot you’ll have to learn about how things work here, Adelice.’
Somehow this doesn’t surprise me, but I hold back the comment I want to make.
‘I’m sorry, I have a lot of questions,’ I say instead. I want her to like me. I need allies here, but her dismissal leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
‘I can’t blame you. It’s been a difficult transition for you.’ She stumbles on ‘transition’, and I realise how inadequate it sounds. With a full belly and a warm fire, it’s been easy to forget my initial imprisonment, but now doubt creeps back up my spine and down through my limbs, shooting a chill along my nerves. I hate myself for forgetting what they did to me – to my whole family – after two hot meals and a night of luxury.
Enora glides over and waves me to my feet. Moments later she’s fussily holding up ensembles, one after another, and muttering and sighing her disapproval. I see silk and satin, and each outfit looks skimpier than the last. I was never allowed to wear anything so revealing back home. It wouldn’t have been proper for me to show my arms, let alone my flat chest. Between my guilt and my complete fear of anything without sleeves, I begin cracking my knuckles. Enora notices and leads me to the bathroom. My mom used to do the same thing – distract me when I was upset. Now that the Valpron has long worn off, I feel a constant throbbing ache when I think of my family. With the clutching pain of hunger loosened, it’s become more acute. Almost unbearable.
‘Enora,’ I whisper, as she waves her hand over the switch scan, ‘do you know what happened to my family?’
Enora gives me a slight shake of the head, but I can see the understanding in her eyes. ‘I’ll see what I can find out, but, for now, you need to get ready for orientation.’
The bathroom is every bit as oversized and decadent as my sleeping chamber. At one end, a small station with an aesthetician’s chair waits ominously. I can only imagine how many hours I’ll waste being fussed over there. The rest of the room is tiled in marble and porcelain. In the centre sits a large bath with small marble steps and benches carved along its edges. I could easily swim in it. It’s already full and I wonder how this has been taken care of without my knowledge, like so many things here at the Coventry. I’m not sure I want to know the answer. There are no taps or spouts easily accessible, but I dip my toe gingerly at the edge and discover it’s hot. The thought of heat soaking into my skin is so tempting. I’m pretty sure I would sell my soul for a bath after the nights in the cell.
‘Your profile indicated that you liked water, so this was created for you.’ Enora points to the extravagant pool. ‘And you were appointed an ocean view.’
‘I would have been fine with a shower stall,’ I mutter.
‘We could arrange to have it changed . . .’ she says, a smirk playing on her lips, but I quickly shake my head, recalling the cramped old tub in my family’s one bathroom.
‘It’ll be fine,’ I say.
‘I thought it would be.’ She chuckles and takes my arm, shepherding me to the chair at the far end. ‘Valery is here to work on you.’
I sigh and flop down in the chair, resigned to my fate. Valery is almost as beautiful as Enora or Maela. But her features are Eastern in origin, her eyes sloping elegantly around toffee irises. Even in her heels, she’s much smaller than the rest of us. I’m beginning to understand why Spinsters are so finely polished. They could never allow other, inferior women to be more beautiful than they are. Staring at the number of prep tools on the cart next to me, I can’t help wondering how much time they waste in pursuit of perfection.
After an hour of lining and curling and spraying, Enora brings in her final choice for today’s outfit – a peacock-green suit that puffs at the sleeves and tapers to my knees. It is at once perfectly understated and completely unmissable. I slip into it and then grip the post of my bed while Enora hands me a pump.
‘Wrong foot,’ I say, passing it back to her. ‘Left first, please.’
She gives it to me with a raised eyebrow. ‘Superstitious? I’ve never heard that before.’
‘Not superstitious.’ I shake my head. ‘My grandmother always told me to put my left shoe on first, because my left leg’s stronger than my right. Easier to stand on one heel.’ I slide on the shoe and demonstrate my perfect balance.
‘Are you left-handed as well?’ she asks.
‘Yes, my grandmother was, too.’ The memory of her tugs at me; it’s an old sadness, more of a ghost than an ache, although it pulls harder on me here than it has for years. It’s different from the hot, panicked grief I feel for the rest of my family.
Enora hands me my other shoe, and Valery pushes me towards the mirror. The image is not the shock it was yesterday, but this girl with the brilliant hair and bright eyes is not me. I’m simply dressed in someone else’s skin.
Valery and Enora stand behind me like proud parents. My new mentor places a hand gently on my shoulder. ‘You’re stunning, Adelice.’
‘This isn’t me,’ I say, watching the strange scarlet lips move.
‘It is now,’ Enora whispers firmly. I can hear in her voice the same tone I use with Amie when I know what’s best for her, even when it’s something she hates, like brussel sprouts. I wonder if she has anyone watching over her now. I feel the panic creeping from my belly into my throat, but my reflection doesn’t change.