Grace is apprentice to a powerful sorceress, but she doesn't seem to have a bit of her own magic. Things change when her tattered, yellow blanket suddenly speaks! And that's only the first change in her sorry life.
Grace stumbled at the top of the grand, curved staircase. The thick, maroon carpet burned her knees. She growled and glared at the doorway before her as if it were somehow responsible. She’d do better to blame the dim light inside the mansion—or the ridiculous number of stairs.
Embarrassed, she glanced around for witnesses, puffing a relieved sigh when there were none. She quickly straightened herself and her dress, and carefully smoothed out the crumpled corner of the letter she carried. With a huff, she pushed onward toward the massive, mahogany door, and on it, rapped as firmly as she dared. Four and a half years of residence here, and she’d bruised her knuckles on it countless times.
She’d often suspected it was enchanted to hurt anyone who dared knock too loudly.
A voice, crisp and calm, called, “Come in,” from the other side. Grace forced out a breath and sucked in another before heaving her weight against the giant door, shoving it open.
As always, the smells of tangerine and clove puffed out of the doorway and Grace held her breath, trying not to gag. She was once enchanted by the scents, and for a long time equated them to the fragrance of luxury.
The room was larger than the dining room, and lush with brown paisley drapes at the windows and bedframe. The thick, maroon carpet left no floor uncovered. Velvet clung heavily to almost everything: seat cushions, blankets, curtains and couches. It’s like some hippy’s grandmother escaped the 60’s and puked up her dream parlor, Grace thought with a scowl. It was another thing Grace had once admired turned sour.
Three maids flitted here and there, wearing dated, puffy, white blouses and full, maroon skirts. The women ushered heavy silk and satin gowns—most of them some shade of red—to their mistress.
Katerina lounged on her plush maroon couch with her glorious, luscious brown curls caressing her face and back. Her unnaturally bright, emerald green eyes drifted lazily back and forth between the dresses. She didn’t bother speaking; she merely flicked her fingers limply one way or another, to indicate which dresses met her approval.
Over the years, Grace had been envious of many things Katerina possessed, but the couch enticed and tormented her. She imagined feeling the velvet under her cheek. She fantasized about relaxing on its extravagant cushions with her feet up, reading a book.
Grace waited for Katerina to acknowledge her, squirming and holding the letter out in front of her visibly. She’d learned that if she had something to present, it was best to show it. If she didn't have anything to show, she sometimes waited hours for the wretch to glance at her.
Katerina sat up straighter when she noticed the letter, not much, but enough for Grace to risk taking a few steps forward with the letter up like a shield.
Annoyed, Katerina commanded, “Bring it to me, girl.”
It rankled and stung how Katerina still refused to call her by name. Grace was Katerina’s apprentice, and though she had yet to show any talent in her craft, Grace still believed that she deserved to be called by name. Or by her last name. Or at least by a nickname, even a slightly foul one. No name was just Katerina's way of showing Grace that she was nothing to her. Even her maids were called by their names. Well, all except Port: dubbed so for her rather full figure. The heavy maid and mother didn't seem to mind.
Grace reasoned that they were awarded this honor for actually serving their purpose.
Katerina cleared her throat delicately. Before Grace could move forward another inch, the letter was snatched from her hands and shot through the air to land daintily on Katerina's open palm.
Grace hated when Katerina used magic in front of her. It was a slap in the face.
Katerina's usually bored expression slipped into a smirk for a moment. It was as if she'd said, “This is only something small. Even you should be able to manage it.”
Holding her mouth in a grim straight line, Grace resisted the urge to turn and walk out. The mystery of the letter (and its contents) kept her standing there.
Katerina obviously liked being the mistress. She liked having control over everything she saw. And so, her mansion was far removed from regular society, hidden miles into a thick forest—so far that the post office only delivered there once a week. Bills were sent to Jeremy Blake, her accountant. She rarely received personal letters, and when she did, everyone knew.
Grace had the unfortunate luck to be walking by the front door when this letter arrived, and the doorman, far too busy serving his purpose, had handed the task of delivery to her.
For her trouble, she expected to at least know what she’d delivered.
The envelope seemed to open itself and Katerina then extracted the letter with crimson-painted talons. Katerina would never use these perfectly manicured nails to open an envelope. No.
Grace watched as her mistress perused the letter with her usual lack of interest. She simply skimmed it.
Oddly enough, Katerina leaned forward and reread part of the letter. She read it a third time. She looked painfully pensive. That was certainly new.
She snapped the letter closed and tapped it against her knee a few times while staring into the dozing embers in the fireplace. Then, she looked up and said, “Take a letter, Port. We will tell this girl she can come immediately.”
Grace wanted to ask so many questions but didn't dare. Katerina raised a well-defined brow at her and smirked. “You're going to have a fellow apprentice, girl.”
In the morning, the servants brought in another bed to fill some of the empty space in Grace’s room. She didn't own much: a small bed, a smaller dresser, an old trunk, and a writing desk with a chair that needed delicate handling.
The room was rather large, and usually cold. It had only one drafty window that overlooked the back garden four stories down. The light that came through was weak, making the drab, half-empty room even more sad. To make matters worse, the beautiful, colorful garden was mostly blocked by a giant elm tree, who stood in front of the window. He always looked grey and grim, and never cared to grow a single leaf to please anyone. Grace called the tree “he” because of the gnarled bit of his trunk outside her window, which looked like a sour, old man's face.
Grace had little, so she learned to respect what she had. Her bed was clothed in a yellow comforter with pink roses which she had hated for the first few years. She and it were closer now, as Grace felt some sort of empathy for the thing. It was unwanted and she felt awful for not wanting it. So, she decided to love it.
It was, to her amazement, easy to love when she made up her mind to do so.
Grace found herself talking to it nowadays, sometimes imagining it laughing at her witty jokes.
For over two years now (since Grace had sprouted at fifteen), her feet had hung over the edge of the mattress. She would never ask for another bed, and no one ever came into her room to check on her.
Today, however, the servants brought a new bed for a new girl, and even Katerina appeared regally in the doorway for a moment. Grace had been writing a letter to her mother but when she saw her ward, she jumped up to full attention, badly startled.
Katerina looked blandly around the room and her eyes landed on Grace. Grace was, once again, struck with envy as she eyed the rich, silk gown on her mistress. It was very dark red today, making her brown hair appear lighter, and her emerald eyes stand out among so much darkness. Grace looked down at her own sea-foam-green, cotton dress and then back up at Katerina. The older woman stared back with interest and perhaps curiosity. Then she glanced down at Grace’s tatty, green dress.
“It’s about time,” she said flatly, yet managing to be cryptic. She looked around the room once more and her lip curled in revulsion at Grace's bed. Then with a last curious glance at Grace, she turned and left.
Afterward, alone in her room, Grace thought about the encounter. She wondered at Katerina's behavior. She had never taken even that much interest in Grace's appearance before—not even on the first day she’d arrived more than four years ago.
Grace stooped down by her trunk and opened the creaking lid. She shifted her photo album and her “treasure box” (she would surely be the only living person to call the bits and pieces “treasure”) and pulled out her hand mirror.
She disliked looking at herself. Grace bathed every day and kept the second-hand clothes her mother sent her in good repair, but she didn't take pride in her appearance. She preferred to forget what she looked like: shoulder-length, mousy brown hair that always seemed limp; eyes that wanted to be blue but were truly, unremarkably grey; small, freckled nose; pale skin; and a straight, thin body.
There were the natural signs over the last few years of her becoming a woman, but not until recently did she have a desire (or rather, a hunger) to be beautiful. She knew it was hopeless, so she forced herself not to look. She was determined not to waste away in front of the mirror, pining for a beauty that she would never have: Katerina’s beauty.
If not for Katerina’s interest in Grace’s looks, she could have gone on for years more without looking at herself, but what caught her ward’s attention was something that Grace had to know.
She released a calming puff of breath and allowed her hand to raise the mirror to her face. She hissed impatiently and wiped the thin layer of dust from the mirror’s surface. Then she peered into it.
She blinked. Blue. Definitely blue eyes. “Huh,” she murmured aloud. They'd finally decided they were blue. She raised her eyebrows at her yellow blanket. “I think it's strange too,” she told it. She looked back at the mirror, this time taking in her hair. It was still light brown which made Grace sigh with relief, but then she looked closer and noticed that it was wavy. It was never wavy before. Her nose was still freckled, but her skin was a better color; more peach than ivory.
She took a deep breath and held it as she angled the mirror down at her body. Her breath seeped out through the tiny opening of her mouth. She’d accepted the growth of her breasts, but only as another strange, uncomfortable change since moving here. However, she didn't know that they made her body look completely different.
All the letters where her mother had alluded to the changes in her body…
Grace hadn’t wanted to realize that these changes meant she was a woman.
Grace quickly knelt and put the mirror back in her trunk. She started pacing the floor, trying to shake the creepy feeling in her belly. She supposed she hadn’t wanted to be a woman. She was still trying to be a girl at seventeen.
She stopped and pointed at her yellow blanket. “You knew, didn't you?” she accused it. For a brief moment she wondered if Katerina had cast a spell on her, changing her appearance. She dismissed that. The thought that Katerina would waste a spell on her was laughable.
Then she wondered if the wavy hair and blue eyes were some strange gift from the blanket for being nice to it. She dismissed that too. Then, just in case, she bent over and patted the blanket. “It's okay,” she said soothingly. “I wasn't really upset with you.”
“You're a little crazy, dear,” the blanket said, and it laughed a rather pleasant and friendly laugh.
Grace laughed too, nodding.
Then, a cold rush of fear froze her stiff as she stared down at the blanket.
Grace stood there for a long moment, breathing in and out. She had several ideas. She could go open the window, then grab a corner of the blanket and throw it down the four floors to the ground. She could run from the room and tell Katerina, though the woman would likely think her mad. She could poke the blanket to see if it moved.
Then, her mind cleared and she decided that she'd imagined it. Why not? She'd been imagining that the blanket understood her for a while now. She'd imagined it laughing at her jokes before. She decided that she was simply allowing herself to become delusional from loneliness. She needed to stop talking to her blanket as if it were a friend.
Grace nodded to herself, firmly believing her reasoning.
To be sure, she knew she had to check.
She straightened to her full height and peered down at the part of the blanket she always spoke to: the middle, right where it covered her chest when she slept. “Did you speak?” she asked, quite conversationally, though her body was tense and ready to spring toward the door.
A second of silence passed, and then, “Well, yes. I suppose I did.”
A whimper escaped Grace's throat.
“I wonder when I learned to do that,” the blanket went on. “I do rather like it. My voice sounds much like yours!”
Grace blinked a few times. She said, “Say something now,” and quickly covered her mouth with both hands.
“Umm...” said the blanket. “Well, now I'm on the spot and I don't know what to say.”
Grace allowed herself to be slightly relieved as she dropped her hands. At least she knew she wasn't having a conversation with herself aloud. “But... why are you talking? How?”
“I don't really know,” the blanket said, completely comfortable and contented with speaking now. “I've heard you talk so many times; I suppose I just learned it from you!”
Grace took a moment to think about that. “So you've never heard anyone else talk?”
“Well, of course I have,” the blanket chatted amiably. “But yours was the first voice I heard. Before that, I could sense when you were around and before that... well, nothing.”
“Can you—,” Grace gulped, “—move?”
Then the blanket replied glumly, “No.”
Grace felt relieved, as well as a little sad for the blanket. How tragic to be fully aware of one's surroundings and unable to change them! She approached the bed. “May I sit?”
“Please,” the comforter said in a cordial way that made Grace glad she’d asked.
Grace sat near the foot of the bed (well, the ankle in Grace’s case) and she patted the blanket a bit. “Do you have a name?” Grace waited patiently.
“Blanket?” asked the blanket in a nervous voice.
Grace held back a giggle. “That’s not your name. That’s what you are.” She patted it again. “We’ll give you a name.”
At first, Grace had wanted to run. She’d been afraid and wanted to tell someone about the magic that was occurring in her bedroom. Now, she wanted to keep it to herself. She was already coming to enjoy it. She’d never made any friends in the mansion. She knew most of the people who lived there by sight, but she’d never made a friend. Many of the residents were much older. A few had children who were much younger. Those her own age avoided her. Grace was always kind to them and polite, but she never received much in return. There was such stigma surrounding her nonexistent progress with magic; no one wanted to get involved with her. She cursed magic most days.
“How about Rose?” Grace asked. “You are covered with roses after all.”
“Is that a proper name?”
“Well, yes. I’ve never met a Rose but I’ve read about women named Rose in books.”
“Alright,” the blanket said, voice quivering. “I’m quite pleased.”
“As am I. You’re my only friend, Rose.”
Rose giggled. “And you’re mine.”
That night, when Grace went down to have dinner, she heard the news whispered among the servants: the new apprentice would arrive in three weeks.