One of my online writing buddies pitched a prompt this week at which I couldn’t resist taking a swing. Here’s the prompt: “What if Cinderella’s magic glass slipper also fit one of the stepsisters? And so it was the sister, not Cinderella, who became the prince’s wife, since she was the one who tried it on first.”
Here’s a short story that come from this:
Cindy rolled the family’s beat up white minivan into the circular driveway of their sprawling Tudor-style house. When her stepsister married the Prince, the family had been given a home suitable to their new station as “royal in-laws.” The old minivan, though, was kept as an appropriate vehicle for Cindy to do the household errands. She turned off the engine and slid out of the van. She sighed and wiped her forehead as she walked towards the back of the van. It was going to be another scorching July day in the Valley.
Cindy did not dwell on the fact that it should have been SHE who married the Prince. Cindy knew that if she thought too much on the matter, she would spiral down to a dark place of despair, a place she feared she could not escape. Better if she just stayed focused on the life in front of her. She did, after all, get to live in a fine new house, even if it was as her step-family’s chief-cook-and-bottle-washer.
She heard the loud growl of an engine rumbling from the rear of the property. Cindy looked up and saw a tall young man in jeans, sweat-soaked red t-shirt and a white baseball cap. He gripped a leaf-blower and was slowly working his way towards her on the walkway. Cindy did not recognize him and figured her step-mother had one of her hissy fits and fired the old gardener. She noticed that the man had stopped his slow movement across the walkway and was staring at her. Cindy nodded a greeting at him and turned her attention to unloading grocery bags from the back of the van.
She had forgotten to take her canvas bags when she left for the market. Instead she had to use the flimsy brown paper ones provided by the store. She struggled to get a grip around the bags since she did not not trust that their handles would hold. Finally, with two bags in each arm pressed close to her chest, Cindy skillfully slammed the van’s door shut with her foot and started down the walkway towards the kitchen door. The gardener stepped aside to let her pass. Cindy was aware of his gaze on her as she walked past him.
As she struggled to insert a key into the back door, she felt the bags in her arms shift. Before she could compensate she heard the sound of paper ripping. “No!” she cried out. Canned peaches, bananas, and a number of other items spilled out onto the back steps. The lid of a quart of Rocky Road ice cream popped off and rolled into the shrubbery.
“Shnuzbuckett!” Cindy swore as she set the rest of the bags down. She stooped to pick up the grocery items. She heard a chuckle.
“Shnuzbuckett? Better watch that salty language.” The gardener approached her, holding the lid from the ice cream container.
Cindy glared at him but did not respond.
“Let me help you.” The gardener picked up a can of tuna and a bunch of radishes.
“My name is Larry. What’s yours?”
She hesitated but then replied, “Cindy.”
“Pleased to meet you, Cindy”.
“You’re new,” she said
“Yep, the temp agency sent me over this morning. Seems like the old gardener wasn’t working out.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Are you part of the staff?”
Cindy laughed. “You could say so. I’m Mrs. Chesley’s step-daughter but I sort of run the household.”
“So you’re a family member. I’m sorry if I was too forward.”
“That’s okay. I won’t tell.” Cindy smiled and motioned Larry into the kitchen. They both plopped the displaced groceries on the counter. Larry went back out the door, picked up the rest of the grocery bags, and brought them in.
“Thank you again. You want some iced tea? I’m getting some for myself. It’s so hot!”
“Well, since I’ve already overstepped myself I might as well go all the way and have a drink with the boss’s daughter.”
“Step-daughter. I’m not exactly royalty around here.”
“Yes, I heard this place had a royal connection. Is that true?”
“Yes, indeedy….” Cindy looked into Larry’s dark eyes. There was something familiar about him that made her feel so at ease. After a few minutes more of chit-chat, she couldn’t help herself. She found herself telling him the whole story: her circumstances, the Prince, the Ball, and those blasted Italian clear plastic pumps.
As she spilled out the story, Larry stopped her at one point. “‘Fairy God-Mother?’ Seriously?”
“Well, that’s what I call her. Her name’s actually Loretta. She’s the hair dresser who lived next door to us in the old neighborhood. I went to her house whenever things got tough at home. She would always listen to me. And she was always trying to fix me up with boys. She’s the one who convinced me to go to the Ball. Got me all dolled up and everything. She even arranged the limo — icky shade of orange — but a really sweet ride. Anyway.. where was I? Oh, yeah..” Cindy continued with the rest of the tale.
“Finally, when the Prince came around with the plastic shoe looking for me, I was at the dry-cleaners picking up some stuff for my step-mother. By the time I got home, the Prince had already tried the shoe on my step-sister Tiffany and taken her off to the Palace. They got married right away. Who knew we wore the exact same size shoe? ”
“Didn’t you say something? You had the other shoe, didn’t you?”
“My step-mother had already thought of that and hid the other shoe from me. So I had nothing to prove anything.”
“Why would she do that?”
“She claimed that I should not have gone to the Ball in the first place and that I was trying to steal the Prince from Tiffany.”
Larry took a sip of tea. “Well…. If you ask me, it sounds like you dodged a bullet.”
“Let’s look at this: The Prince throws a ball to meet chicks and decides right then that you would be the right girl for him.”
“Yeah, pretty silly of him to pick me….” Cindy responded.
“Don’t get me wrong — I can see why he would fall head-over-heels for you. You’re sweet and cute and all that, but you deserve to be courted just like any lady. A long, slow and romantic courtship.”
Cindy’s felt an odd twinge in her stomach. “That’s sweet. Thank you.”
“AND didn’t he even bother to look at her face? He couldn’t see that your step-sister wasn’t you.?
“Yeah, you’re right. Some guys just can’t….” Cindy flushed, “well, some can’t see above the chest… Sorry.”
“S’okay. I can’t argue with that, though.”
Suddenly a voice screeched from upstairs. “Cindy, is that you? Who are you talking to?”
“Yes, Mother Chesley, it’s me. I’m talking to the new gardener.”
“Tell him I don’t pay him to talk and to get back to work. Did you get the ice cream like I told you?”
Cindy jumped to her feet and put the softening Rocky Road ice cream into the freezer. “Yes, ma’am, I got it.”
“Lucky for you you didn’t forget it. Humph.”
Cindy sat down across from Larry and sighed.
“Nice,” he said.
“Sorry about that.”
“Why do you put up with that?”
“Because she’s my step-mother. What else can I do?”
“Lot’s of things. You’re an adult. You don’t have to stay here.”
Cindy got back up and began putting the rest of the groceries away. “It’s not that easy. I don’t have any money or skills. Where would I go? What kind of job would I get? At least here, I have a nice roof over my head.”
“Man, they’ve really messed with your head.”
Cindy turned to him. “You don’t know anything about this. You —“
Suddenly, the back door slammed open and a pudgy teen-aged girl stomped in. She had a scowl on her face.
Cindy said, “Hi, Crystal.”
The girl motioned towards Larry. “Who’s he?”
“This is Larry, our gardener. Larry, this is Crystal, one of my sisters.”
“I’m not your real sister.” Crystal moved a disdainful gaze up and down Larry and made a loud snort. She turned and yanked open the refrigerator door. “Did you get some diet soda?”
“Um, no, I don’t think you put it on the shopping list.”
“You know I drink only diet soda.” Crystal took one of the regular sodas out of the refrigerator and slammed the door. “I guess I’ll have to drink a sugared one. If I get fat, it’s your fault, you idiot.” She stomped out of the kitchen.
Larry reached over and touched Cindy’s arm. “Honey, like I said, you don’t have to put up with this abuse.”
“But what can I do?”
“Well, if you’re asking me, may I suggest you go back to school and learn to do something else. I’m going to night school right now, taking business courses. I want to open my own landscaping firm. What are you interested in?”
“Um.. well…. I guess I’m a pretty good cook. Maybe I could learn to be a real chef.”
“There you go! And it doesn’t have to be a trade. Maybe you could be something like a college professor.”
It was Cindy’s turn to snort. “Yeah, right. Anyway, education costs money and I don’t have any.”
“From who? I am completely alone.”
Larry gave her a soft look. “Sweetie, no one is ever really alone. All you have to do is make the choice and the help will come.”
Cindy and Larry gazed at each other for several moments. Something akin to hope stirred in Cindy. The spell was broken when they both heard the slam of a car door and the front door swing open.
“That’s Tiffany,” she said to Larry, “the one who married the Prince. I wonder what she’s doing here.”
Tiffany stormed into the kitchen. She wore a crisp white linen suit. Her hair was pulled back into a chignon and she had on a pair of huge sun glasses. She stopped and looked towards Larry.
Cindy sighed and introduced him.
“In the palace the gardeners stay outside,” she pointedly said to Larry.
Larry stood and slowly drained his glass. As he set it down on the table, he leaned in to Cindy and whispered, “You’re in control. It’s your choice.” He pulled his cap tightly on his head and nodded towards Tiffany. “Ma’am.” He gave one more glance at Cindy before he walked out the back door.
“Is Mom here?” Tiffany asked.
“Yes, she upstairs. What’s wrong?”
“This is what’s wrong.” Tiffany pulled off her glasses. Her left eye was swollen nearly shut and showed purple and blue bruising around it and down her cheek.
Cindy gasped. “What happened? Were you in an accident?”
“If you call my marriage an accident….”
Mrs. Chesley waddled into the kitchen. “Is that Tiffany? Tiffany what are you doing here?” She let out a small cry when she saw Tiffany’s shiner.
“Did he do that to you?”
Tiffany hung her head.
Mrs. Chesley reached an arm around her daughter. “I knew you two were having trouble but I didn’t realize it was that bad.”
“Dumb-nuts finally figured out that I am not HER.” Tiffany glared at Cindy. “Got himself all worked up and swore up and down that we tried to dupe him. Said he was going get the marriage annulled and take back everything he had given us.”
“Including the house?” Mrs. Chesley eyes were wide with fear.
“Yeah. So I reminded him that his public opinion rating wasn’t too high and a nasty divorce would make him look even more like the jerk he is. That’s when he popped me. I should have called the cops and had him arrested. I don’t care if he is a prince.”
“You will do no such thing,” Mrs. Chesley sternly said. “Things are already bad enough.”
Mrs. Chesley swung around to face Cindy. “This is all YOUR fault!”
“MY fault? How?” Cindy felt her cheeks flush and an odd feeling rising up in the pit of her stomach.
“If you hadn’t butted in and gone to the Ball, the Prince would never have met YOU. And his shorts wouldn’t be all in a wad right now. You need to fix this and fix it fast.”
“Me? What can I do?”
“Yeah, what can she do?” said Tiffany.
“Well, it’s obvious that you’re on the way out, Tiff, as far as he’s concerned. We’ll just let him do his quiet little annulment and then Cindy can move on him. Then Cindy can say it was all a big misunderstanding, blah, blah, blah…. ”
Both Cindy and Tiffany cried out “What?”
“Shut up, both of you. Cindy, if you don’t do this, we’ll all be out on our butts. You’d better do this for all of our sakes.”
Something in Cindy shifted. It was as if the air suddenly cleared and everything had fallen into place.
She quietly turned towards the kitchen counter and picked up her purse.
Mrs. Chesley said, “What are you doing?” Cindy walked to the door. “Where are you going?”
“I’m outta here.”
“You can’t leave. We need you.” Cindy was out the door and heading down the driveway. Mrs. Chesley held on to the door frame and screamed, “You useless little ingrate! You’re worthless. Go ahead and get out. You’ll be crawling back before the end of the week. See if I’ll take you then!
Larry’s truck was parked near the service gate. He had just finished loading up his leaf-blower and tying it down. He looked up as Cindy approached and smiled.
Cindy said to him, “I’ve made a choice.”
“Can you give me a lift to my friend Loretta’s house?”
“I can do you one better.” He opened the door to his truck’s cab and with a flourish motioned Cindy to climb in. As she stepped on the running board, she saw an older women already in the cab. The woman smiled at Cindy.
“Loretta!” Cindy flung herself on the woman and hugged her.
“Cindy! It’s so good to see you. I see that you’ve met my grandson, Lawrence.”
“Larry? He’s your grandson?”
“Yes he is and he’s a real prince, isn’t he.”
Cindy laughed and settled into the cab between Loretta and Larry.
And they all drove off and lived happily ever after.