I learned this weekend that I shouldn't promise a specific time to have something written and posted. I really meant to have this up on Saturday, but my weekends have suddenly gotten shorter. There just never seems to be enough time to do what I need to get done. Why can't we have five days off and work two? Then I could get the really important things done. Ah well...enough about that. Here's my twist on Cinderella. What if she'd met someone else at the party that night instead of the Prince? I hope you don't think it sympathetic dribble. I was in dire need of a happily ever after this morning.
Cinderella stood at the top of the stair case looking down on the crowd of people. The ball was in full swing and she, having to wait on her fairy godmother, had just arrived. No matter; she wasn't that intent on participating. She just wanted to experience it, be there, soak it in. Across the room she saw the Prince. Oh how handsome he looked. Surrounded by women (including her ugly step sisters) he chatted amiably with everyone who approached him. Carefully, she made her way to the floor and swayed as the music struck up a lively waltz.
"Pardon me, Miss," a soft, deep voice caused her to jump. She spun around to find a handsome young man standing next to her.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"Oh no, it's fine." Cinderella lied. She was hoping to go unnoticed, particularly by her step mother who was directly across from her, eyeing everyone with criticism and judgement.
"I've never seen you before. My name is Henry."
Cinderella dropped a small curtsy, "Pleased to meet you, sir. My name is Cinderella. This is my first visit to the palace."
"Ah, a friend of the dear boys no doubt." His voice sounded a tad bitter and his smile seemed a bit stretched.
"Ah, Edward, the Prince."
"Oh," Cinderella smiled, shaking her head lightly, "no. I've never met him."
"Really?" Henry cut his eyes across the floor at Prince Edward. His perfect teeth, perfect hair, his natural way with the ladies. Henry had grown up with the Prince and knew him to be a nice enough gentleman but a terrible flirt and a dreadful conversationalist. Prince Edward had no use for literature and science. He would rather flit about on hunting parties and make appearance at his mother's dinner parties. "I thought Edward knew all the dashing young ladies."
Cinderella felt her face flush at his compliment.
"May I have this dance?" Henry asked with a gallant bow.
"Um..." Cinderella again looked at her step mother. The woman saw her, narrowed her eyes then bobbed her head as if out of forced courtesy and continued her surveillance of the room. She doesn't recognize me! Cinderella's heart gave a little leap.
"I would be honored, sir."
Cinderella and Henry danced several dances. They laughed and talked, Henry telling her he was on holiday, staying at a little country manor and would love for her to come by and meet his mother. Cinderella kept information about herself at a minimum, telling him only that she lived nearby in a grand cottage her father had left to her when he'd passed away.
"That's dreadful! And you live there all alone?"
"No. My step mother and step sisters live with me. She, my step mother, manages the estate."
"I see," Henry had noticed how Cinderella kept glancing over at the imposing woman in the corner. "And your step mother, she governs everyone? The servants, the staff?"
"You might say that." Cinderella hadn't the heart to tell him there were no servants save herself. Her step mother had blown the inheritance Cinderella's father had left for her. It and the estate were to go to Cinderella on her eighteenth birthday. However, there was no more money, and her step mother certainly wouldn't give up the only luxury she had left: a home and a slave.
"Tell me," Henry said with a glance down at the lovely young lady, "who is that woman you keep watching?"
"What woman?" Cinderella feigned ignorance.
"That one. Just there."
Cinderella swallowed the lump in her throat. She couldn't lie to him. No matter what he may do, Henry was a kind and handsome gentleman and she owed him the truth. Lying never brought about good in the end. "That is my step mother," Cinderella sighed. "She doesn't know I'm here."
"She doesn't recognize me...like this."
Henry suddenly became very aware of the scars on her hands, the deep lines of worry that etched her otherwise beautiful face. The way Cinderella cringed every time the sneering woman's eyes raked across the dance floor in her direction. Henry discreetly guided them to the balcony, out the French doors, and out of prying eyes.
"You must be frank with me," he suddenly laughed, "I do beg your pardon! I don't even know your name!"
Cinderella again curtsied, a habit she'd been trained at when someone of higher rank spoke to her. "My name is Cinderella, sir."
"Please, you must stop this 'sir' business. A lady such as yourself-"
"I am no lady, sir." She sighed. "Perhaps, I should have been, but I try not to linger on that which cannot be changed."
"Cinderella," Henry guided her to the railing. "I implore you to tell me, your step mother, does she mistreat you?"
"Mistreat me?" Cinderella's hands began to shake, "Why, I...that is to say she..."
Henry took her hands in his, "The scars on your hands are hardly befitting a lady of an estate."
Be it moonlight, the music, or the kind sincerity in Henry's eyes, Cinderella could hold it in no longer. She collapsed onto a metal bench and sobbed. Henry sat next to her, awkward, thankful no one came onto the balcony.
"I'm sorry," Cinderella sniffed. "I'm terribly sorry. It's just been so long since anyone cared!"
Cinderella told him everything, how her father had married after her mother's death, how her step mother had treated her well until her father's death, how she was to inherit but instead was now a pauper, doomed to serve the woman who could have been her mother but hated her and turned her two daughters against their beautiful step sister.
Henry listened, nodding once or twice, but did not interrupt. When she finally finished, he handed her a handkerchief and asked, "Tell me then, if you are forced to serve, how is it that you came to this ball tonight?"
To this Cinderella only laughed. The clock on the bell tower struck 11:30. "If I told you, you
would most certainly not believe me. Know that out of all the people in all the world, there is a...a godmother, whom I just learned of this night, who cares for me. She has enabled me this one night of pleasure. I must, however, return by midnight. Those are her stipulations. For if I am gone longer, my step mother will surely find out."
"You cannot go back there!" Henry stood, his eyes fiery. "You cannot go back to that dreadful woman."
"Oh but I must! If I don't she'll..."
"She'll what? I'll be hanged if I see that woman harm you further! You are to return with me this evening. My mother will receive you warmly. She has retired to our country house."
"Oh no!" Cinderella tried to pull away but Henry kept his hand firmly gripped around hers.
"I will not take no for an answer."
"But you don't understand! If I don't' return..."
"She'll think you've run off. She'll send out the cavalry and pretend to care that you're missing only intending to treat you worse if you are found."
"But-" Cinderella looked anxiously at the clock tower.
"No buts. Come with me."
She had no choice but to comply. With her free hand, she lifted her dress and hurried behind Henry, no letting go of his hand unless she lose her nerve. What of her fairy godmother's warning? That the illusion of ladyship would be lost at midnight? Henry knew the truth. She would have to trust to his kindness for a bit longer. Then, all would be made known. If he shunned her when the truth was before his face, she would hurry back home and be no worse off than before. Deep down, however, she knew that wasn't true. She had grown fond of Henry in those few hours spent dancing. She'd enjoyed his company and appreciated his willingness to listen and his earnest questioning. Henry helped Cinderella to step into his carriage. They practically flew over the cobbled streets and into the dark night out past the reach of the castle lights. Cinderella was anxious and twisted her gloves in her hands for fear of what may occur once the clock struck twelve. Finally they arrived. The manor before her was enormous, stretching for a great distance in either direction. She could tell by the light of the moon it sat upon splendid grounds and a large, dense forest loomed behind it. The coach man helped her down and then Henry helped her to the door.
"Oh," Cinderella exclaimed as one of the glass slippers became lodged by the heel in one of the stones of the drive.
Henry bent down and plucked it from the stones, "Your slipper, my lady." He slipped it back on her dainty foot.
"Now, to my mother. She'll know just what to do!"
Cinderella allowed Henry to lead her into the house, lit by a hundred candles. Into a large library where crackling fire and the smell of tea and fresh baked cakes greeted her. She shivered when she saw the clock. It was five minutes until midnight. What would happen? Was her godmother aware of what was happening?
Suddenly, a familiar voice broke her thoughts and Cinderella spun around out of shock.
"Hello my dear! I did hope Henry would find you and bring you back."
Her eyes wide with wonder, Cinderella stared at her fairy godmother. "Godmother?" She whispered.
With a wink, the older woman went to her, arms outstretched. She led Cinderella to a chair beside the fire. "Yes, my dear, I have been watching you for some time. You father and my husband were dear friends. For years I have wanted to intervene but could find no way to penetrate the heavy walls that Cinderella's step mother had built.
"But how? I don't understand!"
Henry entered the room with a wrap and draped it over Cinderella's shoulders.
"Mother has been telling me of your plight for some time." He admitted. "I had half a mind to dash in and storm the castle, so to speak. I knew you wouldn't remember me. We used to play together when you were young, before your step mother's iron grip took you away from the world."
"You knew?" Cinderella looked aghast. "Then why ask me? Why feign interest?"
"Feign interest?" Henry strode to the fire place and stoked it viciously with the poker, "My dear, I had to know for certain if it was you and if my fears were founded on fact! When I saw you watching your step mother with hooded eyes, I knew my suspicions were clear. I had no intention of deceiving you but you had to tell me everything, you had to ask for help."
"Why? I mean, I never did ask for help."
"Didn't you?" he smiled down at his mother sitting across the room. "Your pouring out of your anguish was a plea if ever I heard one. Mother told me if you told me the truth, I was to bring you here before midnight."
"Midnight!" Cinderella gasped and looked at the clock. She looked down at her lovely ballgown. Indeed it had turned back into the rags she's been wearing. She felt her head and there was the cloth that she kept tied about her forehead, her golden curls tamed by the dirty piece of cloth. But there, on her feet, remained the two glass slippers. With tears in her eyes, she looked at her godmother, at Henry.
"How can I ever repay you?"
"Stay with me," her godmother said. "Be my companion. Henry is often away, on official business you see. He is hoping soon to retire to the country an lead a more relaxed life then what he is afforded in London."
"But what of your job in London? Surely you are needed there." Cinderella asked.
Henry laughed, a joyful, hearty, contagious laugh that could not help but be smiled at. "My dear girl, I don't have a job in town. I run this estate as well as several others. I am constantly on official business for my aunt, the Queen. You see, my mother is the Duchess of York. I, am Sir Henry of York."
"Duchess!" Cinderella exclaimed. Her godmother smiled.
"Yes." Sir Henry explained, "The Prince is my cousin. That is why I was invited. I would not have gone had my mother not implored me for your sake."
Cinderella's eyes filled with tears. "But what of my step mother and sisters? What will become of them?"
"They will be consumed by their own greed and corruption. Without you, the home your father built will fall in around them. They will be forced to sell. And I, benevolent neighbor that I am, shall buy it from them, at a reduced price, and send them on their way. The home will again be yours, child. For as long as you wish to keep it."
Cinderella forgot herself completely and flew across the room to her godmother. She engulfed the old lady in a hug and sobbed lightly on her shoulder. Henry stood behind watching, a smile on his face, knowing that finally, the girl he'd always loved was safe at last.
(image found here)