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I’d never really been impressed by Cinderella stories. I’d never been impressed by fairy tales in general, for that matter. I was always cynical when it came to love at first sight. The whole theory seemed flawed to me. After all, how can you know what kind of a person someone is or if they’re worthy of your love just by looking at them? How can a single look capture who they are as a person? That’s how most fairy tales start: love at first sight. After that, they all follow the same plotline: some beautiful yet idiotic girl gets rescued by a handsome prince and they ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after. It’s utterly unrealistic, if you ask me.
The idea of real life fairy tales seemed stupid, ridiculous, and impossible. But like every other naïve young woman that ever was, I eventually met a man who changed my mind. Michel. My real life Prince Charming. He was handsome, kind, and unquestionably perfect. Of course, I didn’t meet him at a ball that I arrived at in a pumpkin, dance with him, and lose a slipper, but that didn’t matter to me. That was the stuff of daydreams, anyway. Any relationship with him was the stuff of daydreams. I’d met him back in my law school days, and we’d been friends ever since. Just friends. I’d been there, waiting on him, for years. Now we were out of law school and had gotten jobs at the same firm – fate, I’d believed. I’d seen him go through what felt like dozens of girls, although in reality it was probably more like five. I’d kept my feelings to myself through it all.
We were a Cinderella story. He was Prince Charming, handsome, brave, and desired by all the women of the kingdom. I sat in my cellar, cleaning and waiting patiently for my chance. Those other girls he’d been with were just ugly stepsisters, trying to keep me away from him. But the ball would come and they wouldn’t be able to stand in our way. I just had to do my cleaning and keep waiting for the ball to come.
I was walking out of the courtroom with him and two of our other friends from work. The sky was a clear blue and a sheet of snow covered the ground like a cotton blanket. Little flurries were still falling, sticking in my hair. It was clinging to everything, the trees, and the majestic brick courthouse with the wooden roof, even my friends’ coats. Regardless, we walked quickly thought the wonderland to get out of the cold. It was our lunch break, and for a rare change none of us had work to catch up on, so we could actually relax and spend time together.
“Great job with that deposition, Lily,” Michel told me. “You were on fire there.”
“Thanks,” I giggled. I never giggled. Michel brought out that hyper, giddy side of me. Looking back I can see how much of an idiot it looked like, but I was in my own love-struck little world.
“So, New Year’s is coming up. You guys got any plans?” He asked. I shook my head. Our other friends answered no as well, but I was hardly aware of them. I only really saw him and me. I wondered what he was planning. Spending New Year’s with him would surely be perfect. Perhaps he’d even be my someone to kiss at midnight.
“Great, there’s going to be a nice little party if you all want to come.” The others made noises of assent, but I was still dreaming. “Lily?”
“There’s going to be a party on New Year’s. Do you want to come?”
“Oh!” My heart picked up a bit. “Sure, of course!”
“Great. It’s going to be really fun.” He and the others began to discuss the party as I slipped into daydreams.
This could be it. Michel was single, and a party was a perfect opportunity to tell him. He could even kiss me at midnight. There would be plenty of dancing; it would almost be like Cinderella’s ball. We could dance the night away, just like she and her prince had.
So a week later, there I was in my best dress and my favorite shoes: white heels that weren’t too high, quite comfortable. They had just a single strap in the front and a soft satin lining. They were easy to dance in, which was good, because I planned to do a lot of that.
I was ready. I sauntered into the party feeling on top of the world. Call it confidence, call it naivety (there’s not much of a difference, really), but I was utterly certain that this would be my night. The band was in the middle of an upbeat, fast number, lights flashed, and the dance floor was full of sweating, energetic people moving in rhythm to the music. And there was my prince, across the room. He stood in a button-down-shirt and an undone jacket with a drink in one hand, look effortlessly handsome. He was talking to some girl, but he didn’t seem particularly involved. He spotted me and waved from across the room. I waved back, my heart pounding, butterflies in full force.
As the night wore on, he still didn’t approach me. I was beginning to wonder if I should go up and talk to him. Perhaps he was being shy? But if I did approach him, would he think I was too forward? Men made no sense.
Just as I was about to give up and go talk to him, he came through the crowd towards me. “Hey, Lily.” He said. He seemed distracted, something I was too blinded to see. That’s what infatuation does to you, I guess. You twist situations around in your head just so you can keep that hope alive, because the alternative is just too hard to bear.
“Hey Michel!” I said. I looked like a lost little puppy, nipping at the heels of a busy owner. “How’s it going?”
“Uh, fine. Say, have you seen a really pretty girl with one shoe around here?”
“Pretty girl, blonde hair, blue dress, one shoe?”
My heart plummeted faster than Cinderella had fled from the ball. “W-Why do you ask?”
“Well, we were dancing. Her name’s Ella, and she’s totally amazing, but we were in the middle of a dance and she said something about spotting her ex, so she ran away.” He held up a pure white slipper. “And her shoe came off.”
“And you’re going to return it?”
“That’s it? You just want to return her shoe?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I also want to talk to her, of course. Get her number and her last name. She’s amazing, Lil. Beautiful, smart, funny…I want to be able to see her again.”
I just stood there, not saying a word.
“Just tell me if you see her, okay?” I nodded mutely as be walked away.
I ran out of the building in tears and sank down onto the stairs outside. I was an idiot. An utter idiot. Not just an idiot, I’m an ugly stepsister, and that was worse than an idiot in my book. I’d never really considered how horrible the story of Cinderella must have been on them. No, they hadn’t been kind to Cinderella, but they ended up alone and heartbroken. They’d tried really hard to impress to prince, and had nothing to show for it. They’d died alone and unloved. And everyone who read the story simply laughed at them and said they got what they deserved. They’d been cruel, so of course they deserved to be alone and sad. I could imagine them crying over their lost love, because that’s surely what I would be doing. In the end they went through a lot of crap and nobody even pitied sympathized with them. Except, of course, me.
I’d completely lied to myself. Looking back it seemed obvious. This wasn’t my fairy tale. My prince wasn’t about to whisk me away, I was to stay and clean the cellar for the rest of my life.
I should go back inside. After all, the ugly stepsisters didn’t show any pain after Cinderella was whisked away to marry their prince. I shouldn’t either. As I stood up, I felt the cool ground against one of my feet. I’d lost a shoe. What a perfect touch of irony.
I reentered the party and everything was exactly the same. It seemed different, though. I was indifferent to the atmosphere of happiness and celebration. The lights were dimmer, the music more mournful, and the people less excited. The people looked particularly different. They were less happy, less talkative, even less well dressed. I even spotted a girl without only one shoe.
If the ugly stepsister knew that the girl that the prince loved was sitting right upstairs, what would she have done? Perhaps she would have gotten rid of Cinderella. Perhaps she would have found a way to stop the prince from finding his Cinderella. Perhaps she could have used it, somehow, to get the prince. Perhaps the story of Cinderella would have ended much differently.
Or perhaps not.
I walked up to the girl and tapped her on the shoulder. “Excuse me, are you Ella?” She nodded. “My friend Michel has your shoe.”
Five minutes later Prince Charming was slipping the shoe onto Cinderella’s foot. But I wasn’t Cinderella. Perhaps my life wasn’t meant to be a fairy tale. But I couldn’t help but notice just how happy Michel seemed. The grin on his face was far bigger then I’d ever seen it when he was with me.
“3…2…1…Happy New Year!”
And there it was. The clock struck midnight; the ball was over. I’d been right. It was a fairy tale evening. The fairy tale just wasn’t mine. But there were other balls, other princes, and other fairy tales that could be mine. Besides, fairy tales were unrealistic. They were tales to amuse naïve girls, not something to pin your hopes and dreams on
Suddenly, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I spun around and found myself face to face with a kind-faced, handsome stranger.
“Excuse me, miss, but is this your shoe?”