“With all due respect, Mistress Kaye,” she paused, chewing on the inside of her cheek, “how does this relate to Sir Kaye?”
“Kingsley wrote of female heroines,” Mistress Kaye explained, a yawn escaping her lips. “Father would never endorse such oddities. I only assumed he hadn’t the slightest clue what his prodigy was actually cranking out each year.”
Lydia offered a nod. “I see why you’d make such an assumption.” Her first meeting with the man, Cyrus Kaye, had been all but pleasant. He constantly belittled her and her sisters, holding both the butler and the chef with much higher regards. She remembered, too, how he had hit her for meeting his gaze. She absentmindedly cupped her cheek.
Mistress Kaye nestled her head in the crook of Lydia’s neck, whose response was elicited as a soft whimper.
“I’ve read all of his novels, hoping that once, just once, I could see someone like myself written in such an eloquent way. I hoped to be... depicted, just as his heroines were. Eventually, Lydia, I stopped my wistful thinking. I found that characters like myself are best left for the imagination.”
“Characters like… yourself?” Lydia blinked twice, perplexed. Mistress Kaye’s short, white hair was as noteworthy as any blonde’s. Her bloody eyes shone like embers, glared with great animosity, softened with beauty that rivalled a thousand sunrises. Pale, milk-white skin contrasted against the pages of his work could outshine any typical caucasian he had ever written about. What was there that Kingsley didn’t see? “I... I don’t believe I get it.”
“I never expected you to.”
Lydia arched a brow.
“Different.” Mistress Kaye met her gaze, smiling. “The kind that derive power from overthrowing the patriarchy, that evade marriage to learn and keep their chastity, rather than to make a statement, that, simply put, are far less unconventional than the lot.” At that, she shrugged her shoulders.
“I think otherwise.”
“N-No, err, I meant that I find you far too, well, complex to summarize in a few thousand words. Different... ‘Tis a wonderful word, isn’t it?” Lydia spared a glance to her left, soaking in her mistress’ awestruck gaze. A small smile graced her lips. “I find that strength comes in how we evaluate ourselves and conclude, not where we failed, but where the world failed us. Kingsley failed you by ignoring your strength, by ignoring the countless times this world betrayed you.” This was what she used to remind herself of her value. It grew exceedingly hard with her low self-esteem dropping with each passing day.
Lydia had never been significantly close to the girl, however, something she regretted immensely, and took that moment to make a lasting impression on her.
“Not to mention that a mere man could never capture all there is to you, Mistress Kaye. He’d likely fail, perhaps embarrass himself.”
The corners of Mistress Kaye’s lips quirked up, relinquishing their trademark scowl. “I hadn’t thought of it like that, I confess.”
“I thought as much, my mistress.”
Unlike the other servants, Lydia actually made the effort to see her mistress for what she was worth. She always had. On a few occasions, she was put in charge of watching over her while Amon conversed with her parents. One such occasion resulted in the two sitting in silence, separated by nothing but her fluttering butterflies and self-restraint, both keeping her from holding hands with the other girl.
It went without saying that Mistress Kaye had been limited by the same internal factors. Tonight would be no different than that evening.
“Thank you, Lydia.” A light blush found her cheeks. “It means a lot.”
“Oh, uh, ‘twas no problem, my mistress!”
Lydia looked up at the ceiling. Silence ensued, leaving the two to sit around comfortably, save for the pain in Lydia’s shoulder from playing the part of a pillow. Regardless, she felt solace, felt somewhat at ease, felt like there was far more between them than a mistress-servant relationship.
Had they met under other circumstances, would they have gotten this close?
Lydia hoped so, she really did.
“You look quite horrid at night,” Mistress Kaye went on to say. Her gaze casually drifted along Lydia’s profile, her breath caught between her lips. Horrid didn’t do her justice. She had never been one for ogling, she abhorred it, but there existed something about her sole dimple, about her distinct sideburns, about her pink-tainted cheek, that resonated deep within the heiress. She wanted to blame Lydia for that. Once their gazes met, that thought vanished. “Haven’t you a nightcap?” she hurriedly asked.
Lydia dropped her gaze. “Y-Yes.” She stared down at Mistress Kaye’s hand atop her own, willing, no- forcing herself to pull away. Freed, she took ahold of the plain, white nightcap. Her self-deprecating thoughts surfaced. “I apologize for how… how unsightl--”
“Allow me.” Mistress Kaye outstretched her hand.
Lydia shook her head three times. The first was impulsive, followed by the recoiling of her nightcap to her chest. The second was a timid contradiction of the first. The third, she soon realized, had been neither, her head tilting diagonally for a few seconds. Perplexed. Taken aback. “My mistress,‘tis my own fault for being so hideous before y--!”
“I hate repetition,” Mistress Kaye pried Lydia’s fingers from the nightcap, “Almost as much as I hate insolence.” Once the maid dropped her gaze, a grin found her lips. “Here,” she gestured around the attic, “We are alone. What better time than the present for me, for you, to release our… our fortresses? What better time than now for us to take on the facade of being close, of being bosom somethings, of being something more?” She spoke in one breath, her ample chest heaving with every word. She wanted this. God, she wanted this. A blush coloured her pale cheeks. “Name a better time, Lydia, and I’ll wait until then.”
Lydia’s cheeks brightened in response.
Mistress Kaye stared at her maid, lifting a gloved hand to cup her face. “I thought as much.” Human contact was incredibly far-fetched. For the vast majority, the bare minimum was just that. Bare. Skin to skin, padded flesh to fleshy pad, bare thumb to bare dimple. But she knew herself, knew her queer mannerisms, knew that this was all she could offer. As Lydia softened to her touch, a blush found her cheeks. It was a relief, an utter relief, to know that the girl didn’t require much more.
What a consolation it was after twelve years of being taught otherwise.
Lydia found her head in her mistress’ lap. “My mistress?”
Mistress Kaye toyed with Lydia’s tresses, unknotting the bun atop her head. Her fingers nestled amidst the silky, black hair. “Speak, Lydia.”
“‘Tis about, erm, about Kingsley,” her voice quivered, despite the gentleness of her mistress’ hands, “I, um, fancy myself a writer.” That much was true. Papa Monde encouraged Lydia to write whatever she wanted. He’d then act the various parts with his old socks in puppet shows. There was no man greater than her Papa.
Mistress Kaye arched a brow. “Is that so?”
“Y-Yes,” she nodded, “And I agree.”
“On?” Her delicate fingers, stifled by the thick gloves, smoothed Lydia’s thin sideburns.
“You.” Her blush darkened. “You, as a character. Kingsley may not have seen the potential inside you but… I sure have.” She turned her reddened face away from Mistress Kaye. “The world will, too. I guarantee it.”
Mistress Kaye stared down at the maid’s profile yet again, soaking in the bright, scarlet hue, the unruly hairs by her head, the dimpleless cheek. Prior to this, Lydia was just a maid, preoccupied until she was summoned, carefree until there was no longer a need to be, forever accompanied but better off alone. Mistress Kaye assumed the typical maid served such purpose and nothing more. But Lydia had ignored curfew, had stared at her with great longing, had poured her spirit without stint. She busied herself with the chores of her sisters, her damned sisters, she overworked until she fainted, she, above all else, always kept a close eye on her, her mistress.
A smile graced her lips. “I’d be content, Lydia.” She looked towards the bustling candle by them. “Very content.”
Lydia stared ahead, whispering a “thank you” once the nightcap was fitted on. Tonight was not a night to write in her journal, it seemed, nor was it a night for sitting in solitude. Tonight was a night for bashing writers she envied, a night for being awestruck and smitten, a night for killing butterflies.
“I propose we do this again, Lydia.”
Just then, a single butterfly escaped the ruins, fluttering up a storm within the confines of her stomach. She had hoped the corpses would slow their reincarnation, would keep the persistent, nagging idea down, would give her a moment to fully understand all that had just transpired.
But they hadn’t.