Nervously, I smiled at my reflection in the mirror. Behind me, Peggy was intricately braiding my hair into an elegant bun, a few pins sticking out from her pursed mouth.
“Eliza, I know you don’t want to do this anymore than Peggy or I, but it’s just one party, and you can fake a sickness halfway through if need be.” Angelica spoke from far behind me, sitting on her bed. “It’ll be over before you know it.” She stood, and I gaped at her appearance.
“Angelica, you look beautiful.” She looked like a goddess, her dress the color of a primrose in springtime. Angelica’s dark skin practically glowed, and I knew her every move in the ballroom would be purposeful and graceful. A small silver ornament was nestled in her hair, reminiscent of an angel’s halo. I pushed down the jealousy rising in my chest.
“As do you.” Angelica responded, buckling her glossy shoes on.
“Really?” I said faintly, staring at myself in the mirror. I took in in my appearance. My dark hair had been twisted into an elegant updo, and rouge liberally applied to my cheeks by Peggy. A dark red lipstick stained my lips and I tugged at the low neckline of my emerald green dress, trying another smile in the mirror. It seemed as fake as it felt.
“Girls, are you ready?” My father appeared in my peripheral vision, and I turned to him. After rejecting Alexander, he had acted as if our relationship was fine, when in reality it been been ripped to shreds. I stiffened and stared down at my chestnut-colored, heeled shoes.
“Yes, we’re ready.” Angelica regarded our father coldly and snatched up Peggy’s gloved hand, brushing past him. My father frowned at her slightly, but turned to me.
“Believe me when I say this is going to be a very important party for you, Eliza.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. He simply nodded knowingly and squeezed my shoulder, ignoring my uncomfortable facial expression. I didn’t get a chance to push past him before he hooked his arm through mine, leading me down the hallway, and then the grand staircase. Below me the ballroom gushed with energy and people, and the chandelier hanging in the center of the room sparkled.
I watched as Angelica and Peggy hurried off and out of my sight, and I turned to my father. “Thank you, father, but I can take it from here.”
I shook his head. “No, Eliza. There’s someone I want you to meet.” He pulled me away from the foot of the ornate staircase, and to a small group of people dressed in obnoxiously coloured clothes.
My father tapped one of the men on the shoulder, and he turned towards us. “Oh, how dare you- ah, Mr. Schuyler! What a wonderful party!” The man exclaimed, greeting my father warmly.
“Thank you; there’s someone I want you to meet.” He swept his arm out towards me, and the man’s gaze raked greedily down my frame.
“Elizabeth Schuyler, it’s lovely to meet you.” I said, and sighed quietly, shifting around uncomfortably and crossing my arms in front of me. I didn’t even know this man, but he was already beginning to irritate me.
“Thomas Johnson.” He drawled in a bored tone. In my father’s mind, Thomas was obviously a prestigious individual. He had light blond hair that had been secured into a slick ponytail at the nape of his neck, and unattractive green eyes the colour of river muck. His face held all the signs of a person raised to believe they were much better than the people around him, and that they existed only for his pleasures and whims.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to talk with my sisters-” I started to announce, but my father cut me off.
“That is not necessary, Eliza. You should spend some time with Thomas, get to know him a little better.” He said, pushing me towards Thomas. “Go, take a walk.” My father suggested, already turning away to chat with the rest of the group.
“I’m sorry, but I would be much more comfortable with Angelica and Peggy. I should hope you understand.” I started to turn away, but Thomas grabbed at my wrist.
“Absolutely not.” He froze, then continued in a more light-hearted tone. “Your father has said what you should be doing, and as his daughter you should be listening to him.” Thomas said, tightening his grip on my wrist. “So, let’s take a walk.” He lead me out of the spacious ballroom, and into the gardens. I had to admit that I was grateful to be out of the crowded room, the noise fading behind me.
“Could you let go of my wrist? You’re starting to hurt it.” He reluctantly dropped my wrist, and I let it fall to my side, tangling my fingers in the soft, green material of my dress.
“How long have you known my father?”
“Since I was fifteen.” He offered no other information, and I nodded my head.
“Well, um, how did you meet him?” I asked, biting my lip. My earlier thoughts of dislike were only becoming further reaffirmed.
“My parents were part of a project with him.” He stopped suddenly. “For a woman, you ask quite a lot of questions.”
I stopped dead in my tracks, and looked him in the eye. “Excuse me?” I breathed out, scarcely able to imagine that my father had thought I could get along with this man.
“Didn’t your father ever teach you that women are supposed to be seen and not heard?” Thomas questioned.
“No, because my father is somewhat sensible.” I blurted, my hands curling into fists.
“How dare you speak to me-”
“Excuse me, but what the hell, man?” I whirled around, and caught sight of Peggy and Hercules. A few years back Hercules Mulligan had become a fast family friend after Peggy and I met him through Alexander. Peggy and him had retained a special friendship throughout the years, and I considered him a friend as well. Thank goodness he was here. Breathing out a sigh of relief, I hurried towards my youngest sister. She pulled me into a hug, and patted my back lightly.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned, releasing Peggy. “Are you okay?” Hercules asked me, and I nodded.
“Thank you, Hercules.” I said, and he smiled at me. He turned back towards Thomas.
“Now you and me are gonna have a little talk…” I heard him say as Peggy lead me back inside. She pulled me into the area behind the staircase that was always deserted at our father’s parties, and took my hands in her own.
“Are you really okay?” She asked me, her eyes sparkling with worry for me.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I repeated and smiled reassuringly.
“If you say so.” She breathed out a sigh of relief. “Are you ready to rejoin the party?”
“For a little while, I-”
“Eliza? Eliza, there you are!” My father said, turning into the hiding spot. “Come with me, I have an announcement to make.” He hooked his right arm through my left, and his left arm through Peggy’s right. He shooed Peggy away as soon as we reached the crowd, and she turned back towards us in panic.
My father pulled me up a few of the steps, before clearing his throat loudly. “I would like to make an announcement!” He exclaimed, and the party started to gradually fade into an impatient silence.
“I am all too happy to announce my daughter, Eliza’s, engagement to Thomas Johnson.” He said, and I had to fight the urge to scream aloud.
“What?” I whispered, biting my lip, begging myself to look happy. Why hadn’t he told me his plans? "Oh my God,” I spoke, my words almost inaudible. Please don’t let my face betray my heart.
The crowd started to clap, and I spotted Angelica in the very center of it. She was clearly fuming, and under other circumstances I would have laughed at the face she was making. Dark spots peppered my vision and I felt my heartbeat increase.
My father raised a glass. “To your future union, Eliza. May you always be happy and satisfied!” I fought for a smile, and nodded, agony blossoming throughout my body.
“Thank you.” I said, trying my hardest to look only at Angelica. The crowd began to dissolve, resuming their activities. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m- I’m off to go find Thomas.” I blurted out, and hurried down the stairs and out the door, in dire need of the fresh night air.
“Father!” I shouted, rushing back down the stairs. I had taken Eliza to her room after the last guest had left the party. She was a mess, sobbing so hard she was gasping for air, muttering about how she could never be happy now.
“Angelica! Did you enjoy the party?” He laughed heartily. “I bet you’ll be excited to finally have a brother in the family!” He came towards me for a hug, and I stepped back.
“No. I did not enjoy the party.” I stated, pushing my shoulders back and raising my head confidently, trying to make myself look as tall as I could.
“Well, why ever not?” He asked, his smile drooping.
“Because you’ve ruined her! You’ve ruined Eliza!” I shouted. “How can you not see it?”
“I’m making a sacrifice because I know what’s best-”
"Sacrifice?!” I practically screamed, the word echoing around the large room with an eerie resolve.
“Yes. It’s a sacrifice I’m making because I love her, and I know what’s best for her.” He said, setting down the wine glass he was holding. “You should be content and happy with my decision.”
I let out a shocked breath. “I love my sister more than anything in this life, I would choose her happiness over mine every time!” I yelled, taking a step towards him. “Eliza is the best thing in our lives! Never lose sight of the fact that you have been blessed with the best child!” I took another step towards him, and he took a step back. “Congratulations!” I shouted, and pushed him lightly, already preparing to turn around.
“Angelica!” He roared after me, and I stopped moving.
"What?” I spat.
“I’m not sorry.” He said, not a tinge of regret in his tone.
I turned towards him, looking him full in the face. “I know my sister like I know my own mind, you will never find anyone as trusting or as kind. I know she’ll never love him, but she’ll just say ‘I’m fine.’” I said, letting my anger fuel me. “She’ll be lying.” I breathed out, and turned on my heel, running up the stairs.