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  • Writer's pictureBecca Whitham

Who is Debra?

I recently spoke at a writing retreat. The camp is nestled in the beautiful Cascade Mountains and, after I was done with the majority of my speaking, I felt inspired to write. To JUST write. I didn't do any research, I didn't chart out my plot, nor did I work on any character development. I simply opened my computer and started to type. (NOTE: Before writing, I had been reading several stories from The Regency Brides Collection published by Barbour.) It was fabulous. I don't think I've just written for the sheer joy of writing in ten years. Here's the story I started:

London, England

September, 1897

Why yes, there were worse things than living with parents who hated each other so much they never spoke except through an intermediary…usually her.

Elizabeth Carver wrapped her arms around her waist, the diamonds sewn into her bodice cutting into her flesh. Gilt mirrors reflected a thousand candles from three massive chandeliers lighting a ballroom filled with swirling, shimmery pastel silks and winking gems that made her eyes hurt. The smell of clashing perfumes, hair pomades, and sweating dancers combined to curdle her stomach. Stifling heat made breathing difficult yet couldn’t penetrate the cold in her bones.

And the noise. Gracious, the noise!

The string ensemble played every note full force to be heard over chattering, laughing, and the occasional drunken shriek.

Yet her small corner was silent. No one crossed whatever invisible barrier surrounded her to ask her to dance or draw her into a conversation.

They stared though. Oh how they stared! The questions in their eyes were as clear as if they’d shouted. The men wondered who among them was desperate enough to marry the dowdy American heiress, while the woman wanted to know whether the mousy girl against the wall had enough gumption to ruin their social aspirations should she—like Yankee heiresses who'd crossed the ocean before her—marry a duke or earl.

If only they knew that all she wanted was to marry a man who loved her, and she didn’t care if he was a duke, a parson, or a chimney sweep. She was tired of living in luxury suffocated by bitterness. And she wanted out of London. As soon as possible. Were someone brave enough to approach her, she would offer her entire dowry for a simple carriage ride back to the house her mother had rented for the season.

As though the thought had conjured her up, Mother appeared on the edge of the dance floor. She frowned then immediately fixed a smile on her face. As soon as she was within range, she whispered, “What are you doing hiding over here?” Her mother’s question was full of the coldness Elizabeth associated with this woman who was supposed to love her. “I didn’t pay Charles Worth an exorbitant amount of money for that”—Mother swept her gaze over the white satin gown which, in spite of the renowned dressmaker’s skill, couldn’t disguise Elizabeth’s dumpling-like figure—“for you to disappear into the wall.”

Elizabeth cast a glance over her shoulder. “I don’t think the Duchess of Suffolk would appreciate you disparaging her walls in such a way.” Indeed, the skillfully painted murals interspersed between the giant mirrors depicted forests, gardens, and meadows. They were in no way plain, drab, and white.

“Do not be insolent, child.” Were they home, the command would have been punctuated by a slap. “I will not tolerate any insubordination from you. You will dance and smile and be the perfect debutante, or I shall drag you out of this room by your ear, your father’s wishes be hung.”

Elizabeth almost laughed. Her father wanted to broaden his shipping business to England, that was true, but he didn’t need to marry his daughter into the English aristocracy to do it. That was mother’s idea. She’d orchestrated this entire ridiculous season in London to vicariously fulfill her own wish to be addressed as Lady Something-or-other. And she would do nothing to ruin her daughter’s prospects.

The knowledge lifted Elizabeth’s chin. “Go ahead. Drag me by my ear. It couldn’t be any more embarrassing than dressing me up like a doll and dropping me into a society with rules I don’t understand but threaten my ruin should I fail to follow them.”

During the long weeks it took to cross the Atlantic, Elizabeth was drilled on the varying depths of curtsies afforded to the prince versus a duke versus a mere baron, the proper way to pour tea, and the vital necessity of a chaperone to preserve the reputation—and marital prospects—of a single lady.

Truly, the important matters of life.

And all to impress people she found as intolerable as the weather on this wretched, little island filled with wretched, little-minded people who despised their need for outsiders’ money to maintain their wretched, little lives. If there was a single person in this social class who looked beyond their own comforts, she’d eat the ostrich feathers poked in her tightly wound hair bun.

The sound of her mother’s voice penetrated the haze of disillusionment filling Elizabeth’s mind. “…follow me to meet him now.”

“No.” The refusal fell from her lips when Elizabeth meant to only voice it inside her head.

Red filled Mother’s cheeks. “Do not cross me girl, or I will make your life sheer misery.”

An empty threat, if ever there was one.

Mother’s eyes narrowed. “And I shall make Debra’s life a misery as well.”

After typing this, I sat back and stared at the words. I had no idea who Debra was: Elizabeth's horse, her maid, her younger sister, or her pet parakeet. Instead of trying to figure it out, I decided it would be fun to let you decide.

So...tell me who you think Debra is and why her welfare matters to Elizabeth. I'll choose my favorite suggestion, send a prize to the winner, and keep the story going using the winning suggestion.

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