“I simply don’t understand why you didn’t tell us about this tattoo trend earlier, it’s the best idea that someone’s had in a long time, Megan,” says Hannah Spade as she turns and looks at her brother. “Don’t you agree, Charlie?”
He nods. “It is. And the Red Queen is having a ball tomorrow night in celebration of the new trend?”
“Yes,” I say.
“A ball to celebrate a new tattoo. This is only to supplement her vanity,” Hannah says, then quickly looks around as if the Queen will appear out of the woodwork, ready to order decapitation.
“Relax, Hannah. The Red Queen is well on her way back to her palace, she won’t come after you here,” Charlie says as he puts a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“I've been having nightmares again," Hannah confesses sheepishly. "About the Red Queen and the history of her rule."
I think about the bloody floor in her carriage and what she’d do to me if I couldn’t convince my friends to get marks like mine and shudder. “I understand, Hannah, I have too.”
Hannah’s red-brown eyes bore into mine. “You’ve been having nightmares about the first uprising and Alice Heart?”
“Yes,” I lie, thinking of how similar Alice’s story is to mine. We both had the mark that set us aside for ruler, but the Red Queen didn’t want to abdicate the throne to her young niece, even with an army of rebels banging at her door, and Alice was captured and executed in a way that’s not even spoken about in whispers today. Alice had been sixteen, my age, when the Red Queen had her killed.
Hannah reaches out and gently takes my hand in her cool one. “I understand, Megan.” She turns and looks up at her brother. “I think we should go to the ball, it’s sure to be the most fun we’ve had in awhile since the Lord of Spades put me on ‘house arrest.’”
“You’re not on house arrest, Hannah. Just in trouble,” Charlie says, trying to hide a smile.
She sighs and drops her hands in her lap. “It’s all the same to me, Charlie. Either way he hardly lets me out of his sight. Or yours.”
Charlie shakes his head. “We’ll be there tomorrow night, Megan. And we’ll have the suite tattoos.” Still watching me, he moves his hand from Hannah’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go inside and talk to the Lady of Spades about a new dress for tomorrow night?”
In a loud rustle of fabric with too much time spent in the press, Hannah jumps up and quickly walks back inside to find her mother.
After the door closes behind her, Charlie walks around and sits down in her chair. “What’s this really about, Megan? I thought we were close friends, but you’re keeping something from me, something big. What is it? What can’t you tell me?”
I look away from his intense gaze down at the fingerless gloves covering the scratches on my hands. “I can’t tell you. I really wish I could, but it’s too dangerous.”
He pulls his chair closer to mine and leans forward, one hand outstretched toward my face.
I flinch back automatically when his hand gets close to the right side of my face. “Please don’t.”
“What’s wrong, Megan?”
I shake my head and push his hand away. “Nothing.” I can tell he knows it’s a lie, but he doesn’t press me any further.
“Then at least let me escort you to the ball tomorrow night.”
I slowly look up. “What?”
He smiles. “Megan of Clubs, will you do me the honor of attending the ball with me?”
I force a smile, still not sure about the Red Queen’s true motive of having the ball. “Of course, Charlie.”
Charlie stands, pushing his chair back, then helps me stand. “I shall see you tomorrow evening, then. May I escort you to your carriage?”
I shake my head and take my hand from his. “No, I’ll be fine, thank you. Until tomorrow evening,” I say with a small curtsey. Almost too quickly, I turn around and walk down the stone path to my father’s black carriage, all too aware of Charlie’s dark gaze boring into my back.