The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Growing Up A Superhero (8)
by JB McDonald
The girl ignored these as she ignored everything else, for all intents and purposes concentrating on her game of solitaire. If one had asked her if she liked it, she would have told him heatedly what a wretched game it truly was. But no one asked, and so she played.
Black jack on the red queen.
Red five on the black six.
Lightening crashed again, brightening the room for only a moment. The lamp flickered, and went out. Screams from above, not truly scared but startled. She sat in the blackness for a moment, letting her violet eyes become accustomed to the dark.
Black six on the red seven. Flip the top card. Ace of spades.
Set the killing card aside, put the two of spades on top. Other black two on the red three. Flip the card. King of spades. Black four on the red five. The whole set on the king of spades.
Flip the card. Black and white. White and red. Ace of diamonds. Put it at the top, put the two of diamonds on it and the three of diamonds on that.
Flip the card.
Laughter. The lights came back on, and there was a screech of delight. The floor thumped above her head, and she blinked as her eyes re-adjusted themselves to the light.
Black jack on the red queen.
Above, a thump. Music played. A clock on the opposite wall blinked 12:00 in morbid red light. A glance at her watch told the girl it was actually closer to ten. Long before her bedtime.
Laughter above. Three of spades on the two of spades.
More laughter. Glasses clinked. People talked. Someone was dancing.
Black four on the red five. Flip the card. King of clubs. Everything fell into order, and she methodically piled the cards into their right places.
Above, light, sound, laugh, dancing.
She glared at the ceiling above, refusing to admit that she wished she were up there too. "You're too young." Right. She knew that the Andersons had brought their two boys, and the Castiles had brought their girl.
She smiled slightly as she unfolded long legs like a spider coming out of its web. Black stretch pants slid across white skin as she walked silently up the stairs, tucking black hair behind her white ear. Her sweater dropped softly around her thighs. Something her mother had bought because it was 'appropriate.'
She hesitated as she reached the basement door.
Lightening flashed again and the lights went out once more. She opened the door, walking into the now dark room with its white carpeting and leather furniture. People milled about, some of the women pretending to be afraid of the dark.
Her eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the dark, and she bumped into someone before backing away quickly, looking up to see who it was. Their often-hired help smiled down at her, his blue eyes friendly.
"Topaz, be careful," he whispered, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Aren't you supposed to be in bed?"
She shook her head slowly, watching him. "Not for another hour at least. It's only ten."
Ben smiled at her uncertainly, then nodded. "Your mother's over by the door."
Topaz glanced down that way, at the other end of the room, and spotted her mother. The woman was very elegant in her blue sparkling evening dress, her blonde hair swept up into some intricate looking design. She laughed, holding a champagne glass that bubbled merrily. Like the champagne she was bubbly and pretty to watch, sweet going down with enough snap to make you know she was there, but very sophisticated. And like the champagne, Topaz thought wryly, if you had too much it made you sick.
"Thanks, Ben," Topaz whispered, then turned and went the other way. Ben watched her for a moment, wondering if he should say anything, then went back to pouring wine and champagne for the guests.
Topaz wandered through the throngs of people, listening to the sounds and keeping her face down. Eventually she made it to the kitchen, where she stopped to get something to eat. She snuck food from one of the platters the cooks were working on, then hurried out before any of them threw a fit. She bumped into two boys as she walked out, both wearing tuxedos and looking bored.
"Hey, Topaz, that you?" one of them asked, stopping her.
Topaz sighed and looked up through her black hair at the blond teen. Lightening crashed in fury, tearing through the sky.
"I thought your mom said you were at boarding school," Andrew said, frowning.
"I am. I'm just an illusion," she answered with a fake smile.
The boys laughed, and blocked her from going anywhere. They were bored with the adult conversation, and talking to ten-year-old Topaz was better than nothing. They had only met her once before and she had been five at the time, her face bandaged from a fire, her mother and father had said. The boys had written a few letters back and forth to her (it was good for public relations for their father if they wrote letters to poor, burned Topaz), but hadn't seen her again. She was gone whenever her parents threw parties.
"You're an awfully good illusion," Tailor said, grinning.
Topaz hadn't lifted her head once, her hair falling over half of her face. She just smiled and went to move away, only to be blocked again by Andrew. She glared up at him.
"You're awfully pale. You sick?"
*No, dimweed, I'm just pale.* "Yeah. Let me by."
The boys sighed and moved aside, and Topaz started to pass. She stopped dead when she saw her mother coming this way, and turned quickly back to the boys so that she was facing away from the woman. "You guys want to go play dominoes?" she asked, keeping track of where her mother had stopped by a group of people.
"Sure," Tailor said, the younger of the two and thoroughly bored.
They hurried through the kitchen and into a hallway, down that and into a playroom. "They're in here," Topaz said over her shoulder.
"What have you got on your eye?" Andrew asked in surprise. "Hold still, you've been playing with grease or something."
Topaz was faster than she looked, and dodged away. "It's nothing," she said quickly, going to a cabinet to get the dominoes.
But both Tailor and Andrew were curious now, and they cornered her against the wood paneling.
"Give it up, Paz," Andrew said seriously. "What is that?"
Topaz sighed and turned around, moving her hair away from her face.
The two boys looked at her in silence for a minute, then Tailor brightened. "You look like Snow White with a tattoo. You really ought to go out in the sun more."
Andrew piped up with "Your parents let you get a tattoo?"
Topaz hid her surprise at their reactions well. "Um, yeah," she said slowly. "A tattoo. I didn't tell them. I just got it." A tattoo?
"That is so cool," Tailor said, only to be ribbed by his brother.
Andrew was about to say something when the door opened and Topaz's mother walked in.
"Topaz!" she said, shock and anger warring on her face. "Andrew, Tailor, would you please excuse us? Topaz is sick."
The two boys muttered apologies and slunk out the door.
Adrienne watched her daughter for a moment, then turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Topaz sat down slowly, her back against the wall. Outside fire ran through the sky, brightening the room and casting eerie shadows.
The door opened again and Adrienne and Grace came in. "Keep her out," Adrienne snapped to the younger woman before leaving and closing the door behind her.
Grace looked down at Topaz, sighing. "You *know* you were supposed to stay downstairs," she said softly, coming to sit next to the girl.
"I know," Topaz muttered. "I just wanted to see the party."
Grace nodded, smoothing Topaz's coal black hair away from her face. "I know."
Topaz looked up at the woman, soft brown hair braided down her back. "I wish I had skin like yours," she said, touching the tanned woman's cheek softly. Grace captured the hand and kissed it, then held it up against her own hand.
"But you look like a princess," she said softly.
"I look like a ghost with a tattoo," Topaz returned bitterly.
"It used to be that women tried hard to be as white as they could. It was a sign of beauty," Grace returned.
Topaz screwed her face up. "I read that. They can keep their whiteness. I'd rather be dark. With no tattoo."
Grace smiled slightly. "You don't have a tattoo," she pointed out.
Topaz pointed to the black circle around her violet eye. "That's what the boys thought this was. A tattoo."
Grace giggled. "Your parents would never let you get a tattoo."
"Why not? It's not like they let me be seen anyway. They want to lock me up like . . . like . . . the Hunchback!"
"But who won in the end?" Grace asked.
Topaz scowled. "The Hunchback, sort of. Only wasn't he retarded?"
"Yes, and you're very smart. Quasimodo's not a good comparison. What about the Beast?"
Topaz considered, then nodded. "Beauty and the Beast? Yes, he was locked away."
"And he was kind, just like you. And in the end he won."
"But he became beautiful," Topaz muttered, standing up and walking to the hanging mirror. "And I won't."
"We just need some make-up on you," Grace said, coming to stand beside her. She opened her small purse, pulling out powder. "This is all I have, but it'll have to do for now." She turned Topaz to face her, then slowly started applying the powder to the girl's face. It didn't do much other than add a hint of color, and it did nothing whatsoever to hide the black circle, but Topaz seemed happy with the results when she looked in the mirror.
"Can I have blush too?" Topaz asked slyly.
Grace smiled and pulled it out of her purse.
"Now," Grace said after they were done playing with the make-up, "shall we go to bed?"
Topaz sighed and let herself be led out of the playroom, her face all made up. "I wish you were my mom," she said as she crawled into bed, pulling the blankets up to her chin while Grace sat on the edge.
"I wish you were my daughter," Grace answered.
"You wouldn't tell me I couldn't come to parties because you were ashamed of the way I looked, would you?" Topaz asked.
Grace smoothed the girl's hair away from her face. "Your mother's not ashamed of you." Grace knew Topaz thought it was a lie, and if she were to be truthful with herself it was.
"Then I suppose she doesn't let me go anywhere for my health," Topaz answered sarcastically.
Grace eyed the girl. She was much too smart for ten years old. She read everything she got her hands on, and knew all the classics by heart. And she was much too cynical. "Go to sleep," Grace said, preferring not to answer Topaz's remark. "In the morning I'll show you the new book I bought. It's long, and it'll take you at least a week to read."
"Does it have fighting?" Topaz asked wistfully, her mind diverted from its destructive course.
"Swordfighting," Grace answered, her eyes sparkling.
"What's it called?"
"The Three Musketeers."
Topaz thought about that. She smiled. "Sounds good."
Grace nodded and kissed the girl's forehead, standing up and leaving the room. She closed the door behind her, blocking out the intrusive noise. The thunder rumbled contentedly as Topaz drifted off to sleep, rain pattering a tune against the window. Almost asleep, Topaz smiled. Someday--maybe someday *soon*--she would leave this house. She would be just like one of the heroes in her books, and everyone would love her and think she looked *good.* With a sigh Topaz slipped into her dreams.
Thanks to Mica, my beta-reader, and DuAnn the all knowing Domino person. I also owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people who answered my Domino infoseek, but my bird is hungry and I don't have time to list you all! You know who you are! Thanks! :) JB
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