Fireborn author Caitlin Ricci has a new fairy tale short story out:
When they tumble into financial trouble, Amanda and her family have no idea how they’re going to afford to perform The Nutcracker for their town like they do every year.
But a stranger in a heavy coat and a hood has the perfect solution in a seemingly endless supply of gold coins. The only catch is that one of the daughters needs to marry the stranger.
When her sisters refuse, Amanda steps in to save her family, but will her sacrifice be her family’s salvation or their downfall?
Amanda leaned over the old-fashioned porcelain sink and turned on the faucet to get the water flowing. She splashed the cool liquid over her face, attempting to wake herself up. Outside her window, the mourning doves called to each other in the early predawn gray, far away from the bedroom she shared with her two older sisters, Regina and Bella. She hurried to finish her morning routine before they could start complaining about her taking too long to get ready, just as they did each and every day.
Back in their room, Amanda went to her dresser and pulled out a pair of leggings, a tank top, and her biggest sweatshirt. She dressed as quickly as she could. Then she grabbed a pair of high socks from the bottom drawer in her dresser. Only Regina, as the oldest, had a closet. She and Bella each had a dresser. And she and Bella shared a bunk bed.
Her sisters were just barely getting up when she went downstairs, grabbed a banana for breakfast from the small kitchen, then headed into the basement to practice. She put on Adele, placed her banana on the ground next to the speakers, then went over to the barre for a few hours of dancing.
She hadn’t been able to get much sleep the night before, not with Regina snoring loudly only five feet away from her, but as the music started, she found herself coming fully awake. Her movements were lithe and graceful, as if her body had taken over without her mind having to think about it.
After years spent dancing, the movements pushed her body to the point where, even though she was long used to the strenuous work of practicing, her muscles trembled under the strain after an hour spent on the barre.
She kept her necklace on while she practiced and danced. She touched the delicate pearls as she came away from the barre and moved into the center of the room to begin her routine. Her thigh muscles ached, her ankles felt stiff, and by the time she called it quits, nearly an hour later, she was trembling as she leaned against the wall and sipped on one of the bottles of water they kept down there.
“Oh look, it’s Amanda. Still trying to be the perfect little ballerina,” her sister Bella said snidely as she came stomping down the stairs.
Behind her, Regina laughed. “As if it would ever actually happen. You know Amanda’s far too much of a klutz for that. Plus, she’s got that little problem.”
“Little problem? Tell me you’re not talking about her butt!” Bella snorted. “Because there’s nothing little about that monstrosity.” She dropped her towel next to Amanda’s feet. “Face it, sweetie. Ballet just isn’t your thing. Maybe you could go do something else. Be a waitress or something like that. You know…something that you don’t have to have a lot of talent for.”
With a sigh Amanda got to her feet. Her muscles burned and now she really needed a shower. But what she needed most was to have a break from her awful sisters. They were both stunning, with perfect bodies and long black hair. Amanda’s hair was just as dark, but when it grew to be much past her shoulders, she couldn’t keep it from getting tangled. It was much easier to keep it cut short and spiky around her face. And those extra ten pounds they were talking about? Well, she was trying to get rid of them. She’d been trying, but while the doctors had told her she was at a perfectly healthy weight, she wasn’t a small enough size to dance center stage. Her sisters were right, she decided in defeat. If she couldn’t get the pounds off by the next time the three of them went on, there was no hope for her ever getting to be a star in any performance. Their annual Christmas performance of The Nutcracker was coming up, and for once she didn’t want to be just one of the background dancers while her sisters took center stage. She wanted to be noticed and adored and have some of the applause for herself. She wanted to be a star.
Bananas were full of sugar and fat, she decided, as she left hers there for one of her sisters to eat. They could enjoy the piece of fruit without having any adverse side effects–like their butts getting bigger. Instead of going upstairs and showering like she’d intended to, Amanda slipped on her tennis shoes and took off out of the front door.
The house they shared with their father sat almost half an acre off an already largely deserted street in the woods of Maine. It was the third week in November, and the snow was thick on the grass, but the driveway was mostly cleared. As Amanda jogged, she thought about the woods, those dangers their father had always warned them about, those beasts lurking there like something out of Little Red Riding Hood or such. As children, the three of them had laughed those tales off, but being out there alone–even when it was mid-morning and the winter sun was shining down on the snow around her–Amanda could believe those tales of monsters lurking in the shadows cast by trees older than everyone in her family put together.
Getting lost in those stories and the fear that was beginning to bubble up inside of her would have been easy to do, but she desperately needed to focus. If she was going to lose that extra weight before they performed again, she had to get serious about this, which meant only water and vegetables. She knew the routine from watching her sisters in the week before a big performance. Three days of water and vegetables then four days of only water. Bella and Regina said it was a miracle cure for any kind of bloating and extra weight that they had been carrying around–as if either of them had even an ounce of fat anywhere on them. They barely even fit into an A-cup, had only gotten taller, and not filled out any since they’d been pre-teens.
Amanda had always scoffed at their rituals, but now she knew she would have to adopt them too, because being a star was the most important thing to her. There was nothing else. There couldn’t be. So she ran as hard as she could. Then when her legs felt weak and like she couldn’t run another step, she pushed herself even harder and farther until finally her legs gave way completely. She stumbled and fell along the side of the road, only feet from the woods.
She leaned forward, breathing heavily as she sucked as much air into her lungs as she possibly could. Breathing hurt, but so did kneeling there on the pavement with the little rocks pressing into her knees and shins. She hadn’t scraped herself up at all when she’d stumbled, which was a near miracle, but now she knew her run was definitely over.
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Caitlin was fortunate growing up to be surrounded by family and teachers that encouraged her love of reading. She has always been a voracious reader and that love of the written word easily morphed into a passion for writing. If she isn’t writing, she can usually be found studying as she works toward her counseling degree. She comes from a military family and the men and women of the armed forces are close to her heart. She also enjoys gardening and horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies where she calls home with her wonderful fiance and their two dogs. Her belief that there is no one true path to happily ever after runs deeply through all of her stories.
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