Her mother ran her fingers over the ivory keys with the skill and grace expected of any lady. As she watched the way her mother’s fingers glided, Winnifred took a deep, unseemly breath, and just like that, the music stopped. The lid to the piano closed, hiding the keys beneath a cover of polished mahogany.
Her mother sighed one of her exaggerated sighs that could only mean the depth of disappointment her precious daughter brought to her. Winnifred leBrenne didn’t need telepathy to tell that she would never be good enough for her high-strung mother. She stood, and looked down at her young daughter, her eyes like stone.
You will never be good enough.
The thought would have once made Winnie cringe, but it was a common mantra now. The Lady leBrenne looked her daughter up and down the way a butcher might eye a cow he was about to slaughter. She was tall, as tall as her tycoon husband, with slender tanned legs and perfectly soft golden hair that fell in little ringlets just past her shoulders. She had grey eyes, like a maelstrom, and her personality was just as unpredictable. Her fingers were long and thing, and with them now she picked up the silver diapason and tapped it gently. A clear, crisp note rang through the warm springtime air, and her mother closed her eyes.
“Do you hear that note, Peach?” her mother always called her ‘peach,’ or ‘berry,’ or some other fruit with a sweet flavor. “It is the sound of perfection. It is the beautiful call of the sirens on the waters. You must never stray too high above or too low beneath this note, or else you will sound like a gull. Do you understand?”
Even at the age of twelve, Winnifred’s mother spoke to her as though she were an ignorant infant. Music was the only skill her mother insisted upon teaching her personally, and as a result, it was her most miserable subject. Her father said she sang like a pretty little meadowlark, but she knew her mother despised him for his gentility. She will never learn if she is babied, her mother often thought. She also knew that her mother thought she could marry her daughter off to some well-placed Duke, or perhaps the Prince of Kyrix himself. She loathed the idea of being placed in such a way that she was her mother’s pawn.
Often, she sang poorly just to vex her mother.
“We will try it again,” her mother said, sitting back down at the grand piano and placing the forked diapason beside her.
It is useless. She could not charm a codfish.
Winnifred bit her tongue, swallowing a quip that certainly would get her ears boxed. She hated that punishment more than all the others, for it made her ears ring for days and that sound, added to her endless headache from the chatter in the grand mansion around her, led to fits of dizziness and nausea. Her mother thought her weak as a flower for the time she would spend bedridden with illness, but if she could only shut the voices off, she would have been a perfectly happy young lady.
“Tea time, mistresses,” one of the maids called into them. She bore a polished silver tray with a hand-painted porcelain teapot, two cups and saucers, and two buttery scones that made Winnifred’s mouth water.
“Just set it over there,” her mother gestured with a flick of her wrist. She never bothered to learn the names of their servants. To Winnifred, she added, “We will not break for tea until you sing properly.”
The ultimatum understood, Winnifred filled her lungs and when the piano began to sing, so did she.