Spring Ball: Pepa
Pepa had been frantic all morning and the afternoon wasn’t looking much better. Spring was finally spurring the gardens to grow in earnest, the last vestiges of winter now more than a month past, and the first ball of the season was imminent.
Pepa fussed with her hair, tugging out the yellow ribbon that Aleja had woven into it not 20 minutes ago. It still didn’t look right!
Pepa heard Aleja’s quiet knock on the door and the serving girl entered. Pepa knew her face probably looked quite guilty, but Aleja kept her own expression carefully blank.
Aleja pursed her lips and gently took the ribbon from Pepa’s outstretched hand.
“Shall we try again?”
Pepa blushed red in the mirror. “The… the braid was already falling out. I think maybe if we put it up all the way? That would look more elegant anyways. What is Julieta doing with hers? She always looks so refined.”
Pepa forced herself to relax her hands in her lap as Aleja began combing through Pepa’s hair for the fourth time.
“Would you like me to check with Milena? Perhaps she could do yours to match?”
Pepa had a sudden vision of Milena’s hands running through her hair oh-so-tenderly and her face grew even hotter.
“Uh. No. That’s… I mean I’m sure this will be perfect.” She gestured at Aleja’s handiwork. Aleja was braiding Pepa’s hair into a tight crown that looped across her head, leaving just the right amount of curls to cascade around her face, framing it just so.
Aleja finished pinning it into place and retreated towards the wardrobe.
“Are you still content with the saffron dress?” Aleja asked. “It is still a bit brisk and the wool will keep you warm if that old manor is drafty.”
“Yes, I think so. Do you suppose a shawl, as well?” Pepa realized she was wringing a section of her chemise into a knot again and ordered her hands to stay still. She turned to watch her lady’s maid. Aleja nodded absently.
“If you like. You have your good wool stockings already,” Aleja reminded her. “I think that will be sufficient.”
Milena burst into the room without knocking and Pepa jumped.
“Lady Madrigal says we are to leave at once if we are not to be intolerably late! Oh. Sorry… I… uh.” Milena’s face grew red to match Pepa’s.
“We will be down shortly.” Aleja assured her and gestured for her to leave. “Go pester Bruno. He’s the one that will make us late. Or tell her ladyship to take the first carriage and we will follow along shortly.”
Milena was gone in a flash of skirts before Aleja had finished talking. Pepa and Aleja both let out a breath.
Aleja helped Pepa into her saffron gown. It fit beautifully, which was good because Pepa had been afraid she would need to look through her wardrobe for something else and she simply couldn’t imagine wearing another color to start the season.
As Aleja adjusted the dress, Pepa blurted, “What else can you tell me about the new season?”
Aleja met her eyes in the mirror, one eyebrow raised.
“You already know everything that I do, milady. Would you like me to go over it again?”
Pepa nodded rather more frantically than she intended.
“According to the grounds staff, Lord Guzmán and Vicount Velasco are planning to summer here. Nico says their valet is inordinately tight-lipped, but seems content working there. And Hernando says they have employed two gardeners to revitalize the old gardens, which were in some disrepair. Elena and Emilia will be there, of course. They just returned from visiting Emilia’s aunt. Poor dear. And Lady Adriana Currea Manrique and her mother have taken quite modest rooms nearby. Paola was quite surprised to hear! But they don’t seem to be under financial distress. There is speculation that they are simply not planning to stay long.”
Pepa relaxed hearing this again. Aleja had told her all of this before, but it was reassuring to hear it once more. She clasped Aleja’s hands in her own and turned to look down at her.
“Thank you. You’ll be with me, yes? The whole time?”
Aleja smiled. “Just out of sight, Lady Pepa.”
Aleja had wrapped Pepa in a shawl as they left the manor and handed her an elegant yellow fan. Pepa would certainly not need the fan to stay cool, as perpetually cold as she always was, but Aleja knew she would need something to do with her hands and the fan was sturdy enough to withstand some mild wringing. Thank heavens.
They had met Lord Bruno and Nico in the entrance hall as they prepared to leave. Bruno looked a bit disoriented, but at least he was there. Nico informed them that Lady Julieta and Lady Madrigal had already departed and that he would be driving them in the smaller carriage. Aleja followed Nico to the driver’s seat rather than spend the ride bumping about with the anxious Madrigal siblings. She was glad to breath in the bracing, spring air. It smelled like renewal.
She grinned at Nico, who met her smile with a matching one of his own. He stepped lightly into his seat and nudged her with his elbow.
“Do you reckon I should take the long way just to let them simmer down a bit?”
Aleja pushed his arm playfully.
“I don’t think it’ll help. They’ll probably just work each other up more if we do that. Best get them there as soon as possible. Then they’re Lady Madrigal’s problem.”
As they passed by the stables, Aleja caught sight of Viv. She was leaning casually against the doorway, arms crossed under her armpits to keep warm. Aleja’s heart leapt to her throat as they made eye contact.
She grabbed Nico’s arm to ground herself and nodded in a way that she hoped conveyed serenity and poise, but which probably just made her look grumpy and aloof.
Damn. Well, it was probably better to play it cool.
Nico glanced at her and returned his gaze to the road. He cleared his throat.
“Don’t.” Aleja said, threateningly.
“I didn’t say anything!”
“You were about to.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence, Aleja still gripping tightly to the coarse wool of Nico’s jacket.