Authors: Dara Girard
To women who dream.
estled in the rolling hills and sprawling farmlands of upstate New York was the town of Hydale. It was a place where every season had a distinct character — the late bloom of spring, fierce hot summers, fiery crisp autumns and long frigid winters. It was in this quiet town that Alvin and Caroline Duvall settled and had four daughters: Mariella, Isabella, Gabriella and Daniella.
All, except for Isabella, were known beauties and admired for their looks, grace and charm. But what Isabella lacked in her appearance she made-up for with her energy, sense of duty and intelligence. For many years, all was well for the Duvalls until tragedy struck.
With the arrival of an unexpected visitor, their lives were about to change. It started one cold winter day, unlike any other…
hen is that woman coming?” Mariella Duvall said checking her reflection in the large ornate mirror, which hung on the main wall in the living room. She trailed one long, beautifully manicured finger along her perfect profile. Nothing had changed in the last half hour since she last checked, but she enjoyed making sure.
Gabby, who preferred her nickname to her full name of Gabriella, sent her eldest sister a stern look from her position on the couch, then returned her gaze to the crossword in her lap. “That woman has a name, Mariella.”
“I don’t care what her name is. It’s so unfair that she’s taking over our house.”
Daniella, the youngest of the sisters, sat on the rug putting together a puzzle. Her long, frizzy black hair, although pulled back with two silver hair combs, hid her face as she leaned forward and said in a sad voice, “But it’s not our house anymore.”
The three sisters fell silent, remembering the major losses the past five years had brought them: first their father died, then their mother and now they had lost their beloved house. Outside, the biting mid-January winds howled through the rafters and swept across the slush-covered lawn, a distant reminder of last week’s snowfall. Tiny footprints from squirrels imprinted the surface; inside, the low hum of the radiator buzzed while a grandfather clock ticked away the seconds.
“Well,” Mariella said breaking the melancholy silence. “We still get to rent it for the next six months. I just don’t see why she and that daughter of hers couldn’t wait until then to move in.”
Gabby closed her book of crosswords and set it aside. “We should be very thankful the new owner is allowing us to stay here that long until we find somewhere else.” She turned her gaze to Isabella, her second eldest sister. Isabella sat hunched over a writing desk in the corner as quiet as a mouse, which many already considered her to be.
She hadn’t inherited the Duvall’s stately beauty — the elegant neck, the dark flashing brown eyes and skin the color of polished oak. Instead she was of small stature with indeterminate features. But if one were to take a moment’s notice, they would see Isabella’s attractive soft eyes and her full sensuous mouth, but people rarely took the time to notice. Only seven years older than the youngest, Daniella, she seemed much older. Gabby tilted her head at her sister, curious as to how she felt about their situation. “Don’t you think, Izzy?”
Isabella turned around, pushing up the sleeves of the checkered cardigan her father used to wear. “She’s coming around noon.”
Gabby frowned. “That wasn’t the question.”
Mariella turned from the mirror, satisfied with the way she looked, and sat on the couch. She picked up Gabby’s book, but finding no interest in it, quickly set it down again. “At least she answered my question.”
“We’re having an important discussion, Izzy, can’t you pay attention?”
Isabella sighed and turned back to her desk. “You have two other people paying attention to you, you don’t need a third.”
Mariella crossed her legs and looked at the clock. “She should be here at any minute.”
“Stop calling her
” Gabby scolded. “
has a name.”
“What is it again?”
“Mrs. Carlton,” Isabella said patiently.
“Doesn’t she have a first name?”
“Probably but I don’t remember hearing it. I doubt we’ll need to know it anyway.”
Daniella put a puzzle piece in place. “Yes. We’d better get used to saying ‘Mrs. Carlton,’ considering she’ll be living with us for six months.”
“You mean we’ll have to live with her,” Isabella said. “This house isn’t ours anymore.”
“I wish there had been another way. This house is all we had.” Gabby sighed and glanced around the grand room that had once housed an impressive array of ornately carved furniture. She felt a sudden sadness, now it had the bare minimum since most of the furniture had to be sold. “Father wanted us to have it.”
Isabella swung around and rested her arm on the back of the chair determined not to feel sentimental; although the pain in Gabby’s voice echoed the sorrow in her heart. “Gabby, the decision has been made. We agreed that there was no other choice. We had to pay Mom’s medical bills and we have just enough to live on. We couldn’t afford this house anymore.”
“I still don’t know why they have to live with us,” Daniella said.
“That was the arrangement we made with the new owner. I think it’s very kind.”
Mariella sniffed. “I bet you it’s just a ploy. She’s probably a miserable crab apple who stays in her room and bangs on the ground with her cane expecting us to wait on her hand and foot.”
Daniella widened her eyes. “Do you really think so?”
“Yes.” She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “And that daughter of hers is a tired spinster who scuttles to her mother’s every command.”
“Mariella,” Isabella warned.
She sent her sister a look then sat back. “She’ll probably be jealous of me.”
“Why?” Daniella asked intrigued.
“Because I’m so beautiful, of course. Mom told us that the Duvall women are always envied for their looks.” She sent a considering glance at Isabella. “Usually anyway,” she amended then returned her attention to Daniella. “It’s a responsibility one has to bear. I bet you she will —”
“Let’s not look for trouble,” Isabella cut in. “Have the rooms been cleared?”
“Yes,” Gabby said. “The very best ones as you requested.”
Daniella bit her lip. “I hope they are nice.”
Mariella smoothed out her eyebrows. “They don’t have to be.”
“Mariella, stop it.” Isabella smiled at Daniella, hoping to reassure her. “I’m sure they are perfectly fine.”
“I think —”
“That’s enough Mariella,” Isabella said in a tone that would allow no argument. Mariella sent her a look of reproach, but said nothing. “There is no need to imagine the worst. Let’s be thankful the house sold. We can think of the sale as a belated Christmas gift.”
“The only gift,” Mariella said, crossing her legs again. “I don’t even know why we put up a tree. We couldn’t afford to put anything under it. This is not the life Mom would have wanted for us.”
“At least we are all together. That’s something, isn’t it?” When no one replied, Isabella stiffened her chin. “We can do this as long as we work as a team.”
“We won’t be together long,” Gabby said. “Without this house where will we go?”
“Gabby, it’s going to be fine. We’ll find another place. You have to trust me, okay?”
Isabella returned to the desk. As she looked over the remaining bills, her resolution faltered. The stack of envelopes included bills from their father’s illness. He had died years before their mother became ill. But even after the sale of the house there wouldn’t be much money left. She knew they would have to pool their income and find a smaller place to rent for a while. Although their immigrant parents had taught them to buy — never to rent — she knew that, for now, they had no option. She had six months to make sure everyone was taken care of.
Mariella leaned over her shoulder. “What are you frowning about?”
Isabella closed the book of accounts. “Nothing.”
Mariella pushed her hand aside. “What is it?”
Isabella sighed then said in a low voice. “We don’t have any money.”
Mariella glanced at their two younger sisters then Isabella. Her tone became a sharp whisper. “I thought you said the sale of the house would cover everything.”
“I thought it would, but since Mom and Dad didn’t have any long term health insurance, and both of them had terminal illnesses, we are still over fifty thousand dollars in debt.”
“Fifty thousand? Are you sure?”
Mariella briefly held her head. “This shouldn’t be happening to me.” She glanced up. “I mean to us,” she corrected. “Okay, let me think. I could ask for more time at the gallery. I’m going to be discovered soon Izzy, just you wait. A designer is going to come in and want me to model their clothes. Or better yet, a photographer traveling to the city will enter the gallery and see me and want me to pose for him.”
“Preferably with your clothes on,” Isabella mumbled.
Mariella narrowed her gaze. “Of course, I’m not naive.”
Isabella only nodded. She knew the likelihood of anyone of any importance passing through their small town was slim. “Perhaps I could ask Mrs. Lyons for more hours.”
“Why?” Mariella sat on the edge of the desk and swung her leg. “You can hardly stand your present hours.”
“We need the money.”
“Why not just ask for a raise?”
Because she couldn’t. She wanted to bide her time and convince Mrs. Lyons to take her on the annual European visit she took every May. Mrs. Lyons had always hinted at taking her as a companion and this year she planned to go. However, until she was certain, she didn’t want to share that plan with her sisters. “I’d prefer the extra hours. She has a lot of different things that she needs to have done around the house.”
Mariella shrugged, not understanding her sister’s reasoning but choosing to accept it. “Then
ask for a raise. I deserve it.”
“You asked for a raise three months ago. You can’t ask for another one.”
“Then what is your bright idea?”
“Something will come to me.”
“Six months.” Mariella picked up a pen then set it down again with a weary sigh. “That’s all we have. Then we’ll be cast out on the street.” She made a sweeping gesture with her arm.
Isabella ducked, resisting the urge not to roll her eyes. “Not exactly.”
“We’ll never be able to afford another house like this. We’ll be forced into a hovel, crowded into a one room flat with a landlord that won’t allow any male visitors past 10 p.m.” Mariella held up a hand before her sister could speak. “Or worse, one who pinches our bottoms and makes lewd comments every time he passes.”
“Stop being so dramatic. Our situation is not that bad.”
“It’s bad enough.” She lightly touched Isabella’s limp hair wishing there was some way to make her sister look more attractive. Isabella swatted her hand away. She drummed her fingers on her lap thoughtfully. “Perhaps I could persuade Mr. Carlton to give us an extension.”
Isabella raised a mocking brow. “How do you plan to persuade him?”
She winked. “How do you persuade any man?”
“He could be eighty years old.”
“A man’s ego never ages, stroke it and he’s putty in your hand.”
“I don’t think Mr. Carlton needs anything stroked. Six months is plenty of time for us to get things in order.”
Gabby approached the table. “What are you two whispering about?”
“The fact that we’re broke,” Mariella said, checking her nails.
Isabella pounded the desk. “Mariella!”
She shrugged unapologetic. “They have to know the truth. They’re not little anymore. Besides, they need to know how important it is for me to be discovered.”
“It won’t happen,” Gabby said. “Things like that only happen in the movies.”
Daniella joined the group. “What is everyone talking about?”
Daniella folded her arms and fixed her face into a pout. “If it’s nothing, why are you all talking about it?”
“We need money, Dani,” Mariella said. “And we’re thinking of ways to make it. Mom always said I was born the most beautiful for a reason, and I think that reason is to make us all rich.”
“You’re too old to be a model,” Daniella said.
“I am not.”
“You’re over thirty.”
“Only by a year. And besides true beauty never ages. People are always shocked when I tell them how old I am.”
“And how old do you tell them you are?” Isabella smirked.
Mariella did not reply and went back to studying her nails.
Gabby rested her hip against the desk. “Well, until you’re discovered what are we supposed to do?”
“Something will come up,” Isabella said, determined to keep their spirits high.
Gabby nodded confidently. “Yes, Izzy always thinks of something.”
“That’s right,” Mariella and Daniella agreed.
“Yes, I do.” She returned her sister’s confident smiles, trying to quell a growing panic inside.