I think hell want me to be happy, I answered defiantly, speaking what was in my heart, for it was what I truly wished for him. You do? Mamma raised an eyebrow. Then youre a bigger fool than I took you for.
The words stung, like a slap across my facehad she called me ugly, I wouldnt have minded, but I realized I had long set a great store in the fact that Mamma thought me sensiblebut I would not let her see my pain. Ill join you in the carriage in a moment, Mamma. I must find Sophie first. Without meeting her gaze, I brushed past her and headed to my room.
Before I reached the door, I heard her say, once, Alice. It was not a command; it was more like a prayer. A mothers prayer? I wondered. I could not know, for I had never once heard my mother ask God for anything. I ignored her and entered my room, shutting the door behind me.
I found Sophie sitting like an obedient child at my dressing table; I told her to hand me my wrap and gloves, and to try, for pitys sake, not to crush my nosegay on the drive to the ball. Then I ran to the mirror for one more lookhad I ever stared at myself more than I had this evening? Holding my reflection in my gaze, I forced myself to shake off the effects of Mammas words; I slowed my breathing down, felt my cheeks lose some of their heat, blinked my eyes so the tears would not fall. I tried to recapture the giddy joy I had felt in Ediths room; but I knew I would not recover it except in Leos arms.
Suddenly I could wait for him no longer; I ran from the room, Sophie struggling behind, and flew down the stairs, scarcely bothering to wrap my shoulders in my cloak. Joining Rhoda, Aubrey Harcourtlooking very pale and morose without Edithand my parents in the carriage, I leaned forward as we rumbled away, as if I could will the horses to fly. Mercifully, the journey was short. In no time we drew up to the entrance of the new Corn Exchange behind the Town Hall, where the Oxford Commemoration Ball of 1876 was being held.
I had to fight off the urgetruly, it pulsed through me like a feverto run out of the carriage, calling Leos name. Instead, I demurely walked down the steps, the folds of my dress gathered in my clenched hands, and followed my parents into the building, waiting to be announced, one more time, as Miss Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean and Mrs. Liddell. your royal highness, I believe many young ladies are staring at you, hoping against hope that you will sign their program for even one turn about the floor.
Are they? I have no idea, for I cannot look at anyone but you.
You will tire of that someday, you know, I teased, not believing my own words. You will look back upon the days when you could have danced with any number of young ladies with longing, and possibly regret.
I believe youre talking of yourself, after all! Now, fess up, Alice: You want to dance with one of those hopping young undergraduates see that pack of them, over in the corner, the ones who look as if theyve borrowed their fathers waistcoats? instead of poor me. Youre the one who fears regrets, not I!
Oh dear, youve found me out! I cant hide anything from you!
Laughing, Leo spun me aboutnot quite in step with the orchestrauntil I grew dizzy, but I didnt mind. Looking up into his smiling facefinally he was filling out, so that his cheekbones werent so prominentI surrendered myself to his sure, confident embrace as he guided me across the crowded dance floor. It was such a relief to have him steer me about so; tonight, I didnt want to think, I didnt want to worry. I wanted only to laugh, and smile, and dance, and, yesperhaps even flirt. But most of all, I wanted to love, and be loved.
Excerpted from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin Copyright © 2010 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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