“TESS! TESS, GET DOWN HERE! SET THE TABLE!” Mother yelled from downstairs.
I groaned. I brushed my long brown hair off my shoulders and face. I sat up on the hardwood floor and pushed my only blanket off. It was the middle of winter, and this was Angelica’s first baby blanket. By now it was worn and faded, torn at all four edges. It didn’t even cover my legs anymore, and came down to about my waist.
If there was one more snowstorm this season, I would most likely get frostbite or even hypothermia.
I climbed out of my faded red nightgown and put on an ugly dark dress the color of a half rotten orange. Then I put a gray apron over it. The apron had been originally white but Mother refused to wash it because it was mine. I now looked like a pilgrim.
I guess this is what you get if you are born a Moreno. A Moreno is someone born with brown hair to a pure blonde family.
A pure blonde family is extremely rare and extremely cherished. If you are pure blonde, you are very rich and every relative in your family is blonde.
I “ruined” our family. Our family wasn’t pure anymore because of me, the Moreno. At first, when I came to understand what I was, I was ashamed and never showed my face to anyone. But now, I was changed. I didn’t really care anymore because I’d adjusted to their cruelty. I was used to it by now.
I rushed down the stairs from the attic. The small, cramped, slanted attic was the room where I slept. I wouldn’t even consider it mine because Annie shared it with me. Annie, the terribly annoying, noisy, clumsy cat.
I kept on going down flights and flights of stairs of our huge house, zigzagging past maids and butlers, who served my family members but did nothing for me, the Moreno.
I sighed. I ran into the dining room to face Mother.
“TESS! You took longer than you should’ve. Now set the table for me and your two sisters,” Mother scolded, and shoved me into the kitchen. Mother and my sisters had never stepped one foot into the kitchen –– they’d never even breathed near the door of it. Only maids and butlers went in there. And me, the Moreno.
I grabbed the fancy and expensive white lace tablecloth and spread it across the table. I started to walk back into the kitchen but Mother stopped me.
“Tess! You know that there aren’t supposed to be wrinkles in the tablecloth!” Mother shouted. So I fixed all the little tiny wrinkles, even the smallest ones that weren’t noticeable at first. Then, I finally set up all the plates, utensils, cups, napkins, food, and drinks. I waited for my sisters to file in.
“Good morning Mother. I thought you were going to get rid of the little Moreno?” my oldest sister, Angelica, said. She was wearing her flowing white dress, and her luxurious, silky hair was tied back in a french braid three-quarters of the way down her back. She scowled at me.
“Mother! I am terribly hungry. May we have breakfast now?” my other older sister, Evangeline, asked.
“Yes, darlings, sit around the table,” Mother said, and they all sat down. I started to sit in a chair but Evangeline stopped me.
“Tess, you have to sit on the ground over there. You don’t deserve to sit with us.” Evangeline gestured to the corner where the kitchen wall meets the dining room.
Angelica handed me a plastic plate with a plastic fork, two strawberries, and a mini waffle. They get more food than I do because they are blonde.
I took the plastic plate. They didn’t want me to make their fine utensils and plates as impure as I am, the Moreno.
I sat down in the corner where Evangeline told me to sit. I looked down at my food. I shoved the two strawberries into my mouth because I was beyond starving. I quickly ate the mini waffle and then threw out the plastic plate, which was now pink from strawberry juice, and took the garbage outside and left it in the bin for the garbage men to collect.
“TESS! GO TO TOWN AND BUY SOME MILK AND EGGS!” Mother yelled, and I made my way through the rocky path without shoes. Mother never bothered to get me shoes; she thinks I’m not worth it.
I saw the town coming closer and closer. My feet hurt. All the little pebbles, sharp stones, and tiny pieces of broken glass were unavoidable and dug into the soles of my feet.
Then the town came full into my sight and was right in front of me.
I ran to the paved road. I sat down and started picking all the sharp things out of my feet because I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I stood up and was relieved. There was no pain at all anymore.
I walked down the road to the farmer, Farmer Greene. He always sells milk and eggs.
“Hello, Mr. Greene. May I please have some milk and eggs for Mother?” I asked.
“How many, Tess?” Farmer Greene asked.
“Five milk cartons and five boxes of eggs,” I responded. If I got fewer than five, Mother would kill me and send me out on that horrible road, and if I got more than that Mother would send me back to return it. Either would involve going back on that horrible, sharp, painful road.
“Here you go, Tess, have a nice day. My wife noticed that whenever you come to town you never have shoes, so she decided to go out and buy you some,” Farmer Greene said thoughtfully.
“Oh, I am sorry, but I can’t accept that. You see, I am a Moreno, and Mother would kill me if I did. I truly appreciate it, but you see, Mother… ” I started to say, but Farmer Greene interrupted.
“It’s okay, take them –– I will escort you home. When you are done shopping, come here when you are done, Tess,” Farmer Greene said. I walked down the street into the heart of town.
I continued walking down the side of the street and came face to face with Mr. Warner.
“Good morning, Mr. Warner,” I greeted him. Mr. Warner was in his 70s and was the sort of man who was very prejudiced against anyone who wasn’t blonde, especially Morenos.
“Shut up, you foolish child! Your mother should have sent you away, little Moreno. She is stupid enough to keep you! You are a disgrace to the Faircastle family name! You are as impure as ever! Get out of my sight!” Mr. Warner screamed, and everyone in town stared. He threw me to the ground and all my groceries flew everywhere around me.
I recovered and knelt down to pick them all up. Then a boy kneeled down and started to help me.
“It’s not fair for Morenos to be treated like this,” the boy said.
“Are you a Moreno?” I asked, and then I looked up to see his perfectly blonde hair with not even one hint of brown in it. He was very tall and had small freckles covering his nose. He was wearing the most expensive pixelgram t-shirt you could get and fancy jeans.
“No, I’m pure, but that shouldn’t make a difference. It is just hair color, people, come on! This is like 20th century discrimination all over again,” the boy said.
“I know!” I agreed, and stuck the last of the groceries back in the bag.
“I am trying to stop all this stuff. It isn’t really working. My father won’t change the law. He just won’t do it. He likes people to be separated,” the boy said.
“Wait, you mean your father is the king?!” I was surprised. I mean, really surprised.
“Yeah. By the way, I’m Brad,” he said. He looked sort of embarrassed at my reaction to him being the prince.
“ I’m Tess. Just Tess. Mother won’t even let me use my last name,” I sighed.
“Oh, I am so sorry. Maybe I can convince my father to change the law and make everyone equal. It’ll be hard but I’ll try. Meet me by that rock tomorrow, same time,” Brad called and turned to go.
I stood up and walked back to Farmer Greene.
“Here you go, Tessie,” Farmer Greene said kindly, as he helped me slip on my new shoes. They were the softest, best-fitting, most soothing things I had ever put on. I had never really felt comfortable being a Moreno and all, but this was great. I guessed this was what normal feels like.
We walked back home together.
“TESS! WHY ARE YOU WEARING SHOES?” Mother yelled furiously. She was like a lion and I was a defenseless lamb.
I quickly ran into the kitchen and put away the groceries. I left Mother to talk this through with Farmer Greene.
I finished up my daily duties. I am never allowed to have lunch. At most I have two meals a day, if I am lucky.
I did the rest of my chores and was sent up to bed.
I sat down on the creaky floor of the attic and crawled under the blanket. Actually, I couldn’t crawl under it –– it was way too small for that.
I lay down. Annie jumped on the floor from the top of the ancient bedside table Grandma Bessie so “thoughtfully” gave to me (she just wanted to get rid of it), and an antique vase from 2017 was sent into the air and came down with a smash.
“Oh, you clumsy little cat. Annie! Look what you’ve done! I am going to get in trouble with Mother now. Annie, I wish you weren’t so clumsy… move into Angelica’s room and annoy her! I’d like to see that,” I said and shooed Annie away from the mess.
“TESS! You darn Moreno, stop being so clumsy and clean this mess up. When you are done, get into bed,” Mother scolded, and went back down stairs. I swept up the mess and fell asleep.
The next day I was sent to town. I walked there happily in my extremely comfortable shoes.
I met Brad at the rock. He seemed excited.
“TESS! Guess what! Look at this!” Brad squealed happily and showed me a hologram of the show News On The Go.
“Hello, citizens of Carolina! Today the King has changed a law. The law has been changed so Morenos will have equal rights and will be treated the same as Pures. If you are not treating Morenos the same, you will go to prison,” the hologram said.
I was beyond excited. Mother would finally treat me the same as Evangeline and Angelica. I would get new blankets, and I would actually get a bedroom and I wouldn’t have to share with Annie anymore. The best part was that I wouldn’t be a servant or slave anymore.
“That is amazing! Thanks so much, Brad! But, I guess that means I won’t come here much anymore,” I said sadly while looking at the ground. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.
“You don’t have to be sent here –– you can just come here on your own and sit at the rock, and I’ll be there,” Brad suggested, and that brought my spirits back up.
And that is what I did. I was still despised by my family, who held onto the old prejudices, but outside I was treated as an equal. Life was great. Every morning I would head into town, but instead of looking like a pilgrim, I looked like a normal girl.
That was all I had wished for, and it came true.
I was free.