She was ready. My work was done. I stood back and looked her over. I had outdone myself, I thought. But I didn’t feel the usual satisfaction. Not even close.
Her face was radiant, perfect. The smudges of dirt were gone, the circles under her eyes disappeared. Her eyes were almost shockingly blue. Her starlight hair lay piled on her head, with long tendrils hanging down her neck. The gown nipped in her waist, flared out over her hips, and shimmied along her as she moved, stopping just above the glass slippers that shone like diamonds from under the hem. The dress’s pale blue color lit up her skin, making it luminous and pale, almost iridescent. I looked at her and thought of pearls, the inside of shells.
We were rarely moved by human beauty, but I found myself frozen in front of her with my heart caught in my throat. I loved her then, despite the ache in my stomach. She seemed absurd in the dusty stone room, standing in front of the cracked mirror, next to the straw mattress on the floor. I thought of her mother, her fairy blood. No matter how much magic I had worked on her to sweep up her hair and brighten her cheeks, it was clear that her beauty was something inside her, a gift she had been given.
“Does it suit me?” she asked. “Do I look right?” Her voice was so soft it seemed like the rubbing of silk against the stone floor.
I forced myself to smile. “You look beautiful,” I said. “Like a princess. No one will be able to take their eyes off of you.
Gently, I touched her shoulder and turned her to the glass. “Look,” I said.
I stared at her face as she watched herself. The shock in her eyes that turned to wonder. The happiness and anticipation that seemed to bleed off her and color the room. I could feel it moving up over me and I winced, resisted the urge to slap it off.
This is what you are supposed to do, I told myself. This is who you are.
“Thank you,” she breathed. “I can’t believe it.” She turned her head back to me. “You have no idea how much I have dreamed about this.”
“Oh, I think I do,” I said, smiling, trying to keep my voice kindly but hearing that same sharp edge creep in. I glanced forward, into the glass, and caught my own face next to hers. My human face, with its hair like autumn, its green-grey eyes. The face he had seen. Oblivious, she leaned back against me, in a gesture of caring and thanks. I put my hand on her shoulder. Maternal. Soothing. I breathed her in, that same desire and longing, and when I closed my eyes, her thoughts became my thoughts. The feel of glass on marble as we walked up the silver stairs. Towards him. His arm circling around.
She was so close to me, I thought. I could reach up and snap her neck.
I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror. This is who I am, I thought. And then: It should be me.
I stepped back and breathed in. I needed to get her to the carriages, I realized, as soon as possible. Stay focused. I thought of Maybeth’s words: “Everything they long for, we already have.” I thought of her voice at the fairy lake, her wings spreading out in front of me as we raced along the shore. How happy I had been, before the day we went to the palace. How full I had been, how complete. Maybeth was right. It was human need that had infected me.
But the thought kept rankling, creeping up and sliding against my neck. You don’t have everything, it said. You don’t have him.