“Uh.” I gasped.

As the pill passed down my throat, the effects of the medicine began to take effect. I coughed a few more times before covering my mouth with my hand and frowning. My pale skin is now stained red with blood. It was a side effect of consuming too much poison these days.

I was relieved I hadn’t started getting ready for the family meal yet. The maid would have had to help me change into another evening gown and redo my makeup if I had spilt blood any later.

Looking at my bleeding hand, I felt the urge to smile. In my reflection, I saw a beautiful, expressionless woman who seemed oblivious to the red smear that was forming around her mouth.The red appeared to be poorly applied lipstick as it shone vividly against her lips.

I extended my hand. I received a handkerchief from Emily, who was standing to the side. I used it to wipe my mouth of the warm blood. Emily was unfazed and calm as usual. She and I were used to these situations.

Someone knocked on my door

My mother’s voice was clearly audible, “Sana.” 

I looked at Emily. She bowed. She opened the door to reveal a beautiful woman with a face that resembled mine.

Sara Colonis, my mother, maintained her beauty and grace well into middle age. From any angle, she didn’t look like a mother with a sixteen year old daughter, let alone a twenty year old son.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, my little Sana,” She said.

“Yes, mother.” I said.

I moved into the main building and away from my mother a few years ago after getting my father’s approval. There was not even a tiny chance of accidentally running into her. My mother gracefully walked towards me until she stopped. Her eyes widened.

“Blood….” Her face darkened with horror. “Are you injured?”

Despite wiping my face, there was still wet residue along my neckline.  I felt a thin drop of liquid dripping between my breasts.

“Mother, it’s nothing. What are you doing here?” I said.

Without further explanation, I turned and looked away from her. She was too weak like Asil to confide in. My mother dropped the topic when she saw me close off from her. 

“Your father is having dinner with you and some of your brothers and sisters today. I came in case you were worried,” he said.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had a formal dinner.” I laughed. “Why would I be worried?”

Mom looked at me, not knowing what to say.

She must be worried that I would rebel against Father today. At some point we drifted apart. I was an obedient child and behaved carefully around her, but she could be afraid of me being as restless as girls my age were.

Her visit was pointless. I was old enough to take care of myself.

Her sad eyes begged me to forgive her for being worried. She still loved me, so she had to come see me today. Until she realized that I was doing well, she couldn’t be at peace.

I took a gentle stance with my elbows on the table and one hand cupping my chin. “I’ll be fine, mother. You have nothing to worry about.”

Relief shone on her face when she saw how calm I was. She let out a deep breath through her teeth. “Of course, you’ve become a great Agriche,” She said.

It was the highest compliment she could give me. She smiled softly at me with her hands clasped together over her skirts. My mouth relaxed for a split second, and I let go of the fake smile I had been giving her. My eyes hardly opened wider. Unbeknownst to me, my eyes widened.

“Thank you, mother. I will do my best to be worthy of being an Agriche as you wish.”

Sadly approving of me, my gorgeous mother’s shoulders appeared frail and flimsy. She was merely a spectator and helpless in my situation. She wept at Asil’s passing after seeing his unjust death. In the event that I were to pass away in the same way that I did today, I might envision her watching helplessly as she held my shattered neck in her arms while once more shivering in horror.

“Mother, can I rest a bit more? I’m afraid I won’t be a good host, since I have to prepare  for dinner.” I turned to face the vanity mirror.

“Yes, I came at a busy time.” she excused herself. She shook her head, realizing that I wanted to end the conversation. “Then, I will take my leave.”

While feigning to hear her, I pretended to fix my hair.

I caught my mother hesitating before leaving the room in my mirror’s reflection.

Emily started getting me ready for the formal dinner as soon as she left. She lavishly dressed me up, as if I were a general celebrating the end of a war; the kind of ceremony where an officer would polish his sword and wear medals and ribbons before greeting a monarch. I didn’t appear to be dressed for a simple family meal.

The young woman in front of me looked stunningly attractive in the mirror. Her vacant, lifeless expression vanished when I raised the corner of my mouth. As if a warm breeze had given her new life, her smile illuminated her face.

“Miss, dinner is ready.”

I went out into a quiet hallway. I followed the same way my mother must have taken to head back to her rooms before abruptly turning around for dinner.

I didn’t hate my mother. I didn’t hold it against her for marrying into this ridiculous family or for being too frail to defend me. I have to remain alert. If you give up and beg to be hugged, you won’t last long here.