I dropped the tray. It fell hard with a clatter that echoed through the room. The remaining tarts—still a generous load—flew everywhere spewing their jam fillings as they went—on the carpet, on my shoes, on the Queen’s skirt and all over the Prince’s sapphire blue legs.
Everything froze. The music paused, everyone stopped talking. Someone laughed in horror and said, “Oh, my God!”
Mother’s face seized in a rictus; she leered at me. For an instant I could see nothing else. Not my father, not Bethessa who, I’m pretty sure, had laughed, not even the mess that surrounded me like the fallout from an explosion.
Just her anger. Her horror. Her disgust.
Then the moment’s paralysis broke. Mother reached out quick as a wasp and slapped me. The blow took me on the cheek and its force turned my head. Instant tears flooded my eyes.
“Stupid girl!” She drew back her hand to strike again. Two things happened before she could: Father cried, “Erikka—it was my fault!” And the Prince stepped between me and my mother, and seized her wrist.
“Please, Madame, do not. It was but an accident.”
No rebuke colored his tone. He sounded exceedingly polite. But I knew my mother took it as a rebuke and a public one. Her face stained with ugly red and she transferred her glare from me to the Prince.
Even at that moment, that terrible, terrible moment I knew she would never forgive me for this.