After forever, p.18
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       After Forever, p.18

           Krystal George
 
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What we have is all we want but we realize it only when it’s gone

  What we have is enough for us but now all we can do is moan!

  Tears were rolling down my cheek to fall into void and I was speculating if they could run just as far that I do not remember that I was in pain, that I was ever wounded, that I have lost my reason to live and to breathe anymore. If I could let the inexorable pain cramming out of my fractured soul swirl into a tide of time, then probably it would stop hurting eventually.

  I can look through their innocuous face, with my closed eyes but when I opened them I was left with nothing more than the repent and embarrassment. The vicious fact that I was the reason for all this chaos was piercing every cell of mine making me regret for being such an evil. I was like the scoundrel chameleon stepmother of the century old fairy tales who ended in her dreadful fate, a life worse than hell stuck in her own trap of uncouth moves.

  The sugary sore memories were flushing around encumbering my heart with guilt and I was lost.

  (1)

  The day I saw Angel and Little I decided to have them with me forever. The way Angel was gnawing my thumb and Little holding that doll in one of her hand and her frock with other, the innocence in their sad brown eyes was penetrating my soul screaming to me their miserable past. It seemed like after amassing the ache the misery of whole world god has created those serene placid eyes. There was a lot of pain and charm floating in them that one could not resuscitate themselves from doting them. Their poignant story had made my heart elegy and I still cannot believe the abyss these little buds have gone through in such an unripen age. After the disheartening dismal of their parents they were adopted by an old disingenuous lady who dispirited and dispelled them from every possible happiness. These fearless nascent agile kids subjugated that felonious witch and set themselves free.

  In this stride of constantly moving time every little bit of me was craving to be a mother. Those innocent veracious eyes, little playful palm, stubbornness to rule fate has always lured me. These kids have already made a kinship with me and all I wanted was to take them home to give them every happiness that they deserved but somehow have been kept away from. I wanted to make them forget their anathematized past and give them a pulchritudinous beginning for a new chapter of their life and embellish their future. Though adopting two kids simultaneously would not be easy but neither had they wanted to be set apart nor I sought to add to their miseries. I was striving for over one year now to be with them doing whatever could have been possible.

  I smiled at them and kissed their cheeks holding their tiny little fingers. Their steward instructed them and they left to pack their bags. I was called to complete the fiscal paperwork. Unable to take my eyes off their emblazing faces I turned towards the office. I have brought all the required documents as my attorney has suggested me. After completing the paperwork the superintendent gave me a handful of instructions and finally said “Congratulations! Ms. Snow, these kids are officially yours now! We hope you will take proper care of them.”

  I could not believe finally it has happened after all this I have gone through, I was taking my kids home. To have all that I've ever wanted instantly shot down created a sick feeling in my stomach. I picked their little bags and moved at a slow pace marking my steps with the little feet of my beautiful sweet kids towards my comet all set to be a family.

  (2)

  Before adopting I have shifted from my studio apartment to a three bedroom flat. I had also done a little shopping for the double doses of happiness but I needed to shop a little more especially for Little. I had rehabilitated the interior of her room to pink “She would love it” I said to myself.

  I showed Angel and Little their room. They seemed happy though they were very quiet but change of place and eerie past experiences explained that. I made a list of their favorites so to make them feel at ease. I tried a lot to converse with them, to make them harmonize and acclimatized with the new surroundings.

  I was preparing their bed for the night after dinner when the doorbell rang. I rushed towards the door, I knew it would be Clay, my love. I was sure he would be excited to meet the kids though he would have never imagined that there will be two of them. I was ecstatic to see his reaction, the wondering glint in his eyes when he will look at me, arraying his brows in surprise. I was sure that the kids were going to love him too.

  I opened the door and like always Clay hold my waist with his one hand and his other hand folded my arm at my back tingling his fingers around and his juicy exotic lips rested upon mine making my heart flutter. Lost in my utter excitement I entwined into him real hard and tears of joy of finally being a mother rolled down my cheeks. He kissed my cheeks and we moved towards the kid’s room. Little was sitting on the bed playing with her favorite doll managing her hairs with her soft little hands.

  “Her name is Little, isn’t she cute?” I said turning towards Clay, and to my amazement I found his eyes filled with joy. He was excited to see Little. He reached her and introduced himself to her. She smiled in the sweetest little curve I have ever seen and nodded at him without a word.

  I sat with Little while Clay went to revive up himself. I heard some noises from the other room, promising Little to be back in a tiny second I went to the other room.

  I saw Clay yelling vociferously “who are you? Why you broke into the house?”

  Angel was quivering in fear unable to comprehend with the situation. The stiff clasp of Clay was maiming him.

  In A flash of ire and appall gushed through me, making me screech in a raucous pitch “Clay, leave him, now!!”

  Clay looked at me startled, processing my vicious reaction he arrayed his brows at me.

  I dashed toward sobbing Angel and squeezed him in my arms canoodling his forehead trying to calm him down, assuring him everything was impeccably fine.

  I took him to his room and he composed himself in a while.

  I introduced him to Clay “Angel, meet Uncle Clay who is tremendously and awfully apologetic for his thoughtless obliviousness for not being acquainted of your presence.” I eyed Clay dejectedly in rile.

  “Hello buddy! I am exceedingly repentant for all that happened and look I have something for you that might bring back that stunning but missing smile. We are going to be great friends.” Clay said and dragged a wrapped gift out of his bag.

  Angel grabbed it and said “Thank you Uncle Clay”. He was so fervent to unwrap his gift that he has forgotten every other thing. His eyes were gleaming with inexpressible excitement. He was incessantly beaming while unwrapping his gift.

  Clay took out another gift and handed it over to Little and muttered “kids!” nodding his head wryly. He was very considerate to bring two gifts to save himself from the wrong guesses. I have not told him that I was adopting two kids so that I could surprise him, though it did not went as planned but still everything was fine.

  After resting the kids on their bed we moved to our room. I stood by the window pane glaring the dark dim sky filled with twinkling petite stars while Clay was setting the bed.

  He grabbed my waist tickling his suave fingers on the short of my back nibbling my earlobe brushing his mellifluous velvety lips all over my neck, he asked me “where you are lost Prim (?) Is everything fine?”

  “I am feeling remarkably terrific baby.” I said sweeping my lips over his lotus eyes.

  “Clay Have you ever thought Why every bright day is followed by a small dark night (?), to let us know that even in the gloomiest mazes and the shadiest phases of life, there will always be an incandescent star to escort us towards the veracious direction and all we have to do is look after it, be in its vicinity and let it reach us.” I said gazing on the thousands of twinkling stars escaping the darkness filling the environ.

  Clay up straightened my chin and said “Prim, baby do not let some sad past ruin the beautiful today, live, laugh cause this beautiful smile is worth million and two lovable little kids are here to adsorb all yo
ur love and fill your void with their impish elfin deeds.”

  Clay was right I have to stop those flashes from ruining everything. I could never erase from my mind the deadly accident that made me lost my family my darling husband and my yet to be born baby. There is nothing that pierces a heart of a mother more than losing an unborn child. It’s been five years but feels like it was only tomorrow when we were going for the dinner and all that happened. I do not know how I make it out, escaped death… unfortunately and was anathematized to live alone and wailing for like forever.

  It’s been four years for me and Clay have been together. It was Clay who gathered the left shattered bits of me after all that and taught me to move ahead, to live, and most of all to smile. To know that you are not alone to fight and rise above in a battle always warms us escalating our potential. Faith is very prevailing, it can make us or destroy us. Clay was that support, that faith I had for this meaningless life and he gave it a meaning. I will always be in his debt for everything he has done for me.

  Finally the gaping void of losing a child also seemed about to be filled. Angel and Little were new chapters of my life and I was excited for it.

  (3)

  After 45 days…

  “I won’t eat cereals. I won’t eat salad. I won’t eat jam bread. I am bored of all this boring stuff. Why don’t you learn to make something else? Don’t you love us? If you didn’t have time for us then why you brought us here. You all are the same” Little yelled at me.

  “Baby it’s just………”

  “Prim bring me some new games, I don’t have any” Angel screeched utterly snubbing me which made Little giggle.

  “But Angel I have brought you two last week only” I replied.

  “Damn!! Lily is right!! You don’t even like us, you just brought us here for your amusement.” Angel said snapping the door behind as he left the house.

  I was shaken and clueless for what to do next, how to react, with my eyes filled with sour water, somehow I composed myself and whispered “Lily…….”

  But I was interrupted by her yell “Oh! Please, now what (?) aren’t you happy enough!!?” she said and followed Angel.

  I was entirely clueless what I have done to make them hate me so much. I utterly and irrevocably loved them, I would do everything for them but the present circumstances were getting out of my control. Every pint of my splintered soul was crying to pounder them with every tiny wish they have ever dreamt of, to saturate their life with divine happiness and even more than that like they have living in a fairy tale, but life is certainly not a fairy tale or possibly I was a wicked debauched bitch. I may not have given birth to them physically but I loved them nothing less than a real mother would have. There was a very unfathomable and intense bond between us but it seemed like I need to prove myself to them that the absence of the their attachment with my umbilical cord and not giving birth to them, doesn’t mean I love them any less, that my affection for them was mundane or selfish. But they were not the same kids as they seemed when I first met them.

  It was one of those times when I was deep into self-hatred. What I have done to my kids, I always cursed god for taking my child away from me, for escaping me from the uttermost honor of being a mother but now I was realizing I does not deserved to be one. I tried so hard even before the beginning to bring all pleasure that can lure a kid make them the luckiest of their age, to make their wish come alive before the words can shape it but I was a failure, I did nothing but hone their pain. I started doing two jobs to give them happiness but money is never enough cause our needs are endless, they grow faster than fungi.

  I was so much upset and broken, I called Clay but he had already left for work, even if he had not he would not have spoken to me, I know. I have made him hate me too. I even do not understand what made him think that I will cheat on him, that I do not want him in my life. It was so good between us but what have I done, in hardly a month I have ruined my life and made myself alone once again, the only difference being before all those who loved me were killed, and now I have killed all the love I had. Moon has always been the symbol of beauty serenity but it too has spots …spots of life, cause every living soul makes mistakes and I was no exception.

  With an absent mind I left home for the office, though I knew I would not be able to work like I have not written a word for the about to approach deadline on my broken laptop (Of course! Thanks to my kids). I was traumatized with the web of life consuming me deliberately and excruciatingly piece by piece, day and night. I was left with absolutely no hope for my life and was just trying to gather some courage from the faces of my kids who utterly hated me. But no matter how much they say they hate or despise me, I was like a puppy, bouncing back for more just so that I can be near them, loving and nurturing them.

  (4)

  “Happy birthday to you!!”

  I was lost in the depths of dream world when I woke up chaotically with the sound of the birthday song to find myself sleeping on the floor of the living room, maybe while vacuuming all the mess up. I looked up in utter amazement to find Angel, Little and Clay with my favorite Chocolate - truffle cake. In the series of events I have forgotten my birthday but they remembered it.

  I raised my upper eyelids widening my gaping eyes and tears started rolling out but Clay held me and said “Not today Prim! It is your day princess.” Clay kissed my cheeks and gave me a laptop. I was so pleased and elated. My laptop broke last week and I desperately needed one and at this moment it was the most apt present possible.

  The kids came to me and I knelt to hug them, they said “Love you mom, this is for you.” I got so much touched by their considerate gesture, it was surely my best birthday! My little kids have brought me something, I was so enthusiastic to open it. It was a writing software “WordsAlive– make your words come alive!”

  “Oh! Sweeties I love you both so much” I said embracing them holding the tears of joy.

  Sometimes it is not the surprise itself that surprises us but the magic lies in being cared about, being cherished and treasured and still be loved after everything.

  But surprise is a short lived emotion not more than a blink on the radar, I did not know how long it will color my black and white life but today I will relish every single color of it.

  (5)

  The submission date was approaching near and I have not written a single word yet. I was feeling blank, nowadays I was tired almost all the time as if I could never be at peace. The most difficult task was to squeeze time from my hectic schedule. I was working for almost 14 hours a day and the house chores ate the rest time. I was not getting even enough sleep. Two nannies have already left and finding another nanny was like impossible now.

  It was almost midnight, and I was lying on my stomach in my bed with the quilts drawn right over my head like a tent. I picked up the software kids have gifted me on my birthday and played the DVD. I installed it and the message flashed “enjoy your story with WordsAlive - make your words come alive”. The interface was cool and flaccid, I have written hardly 90 words when Angel and Little came shouting “Prim! We want to play game.”

  “It’s quite late sweeties, go to your bed else you would be late for school.” I said.

  “Just one game then we will go to bed please please please!!!” they said making puppy face leaving me with no choice but to say yes.

  After a series of games I was finally able to make them to sleep.

  I came back to my room so tired that my eyes were dropping and my mind was blocked. I started writing again but nothing made sense. I backspaced everything and all I can write was “The Wicked Children”

  There was a huge tornado going inside me but I was totally cool, calm and collected at my exterior. I have started losing my composure and I was repenting for the atrocious vile day when I adopted them. Sometimes I wondered how it was even possible. One minute they acts like perfect little angels and the next they were bossing me around mercilessly, ignoring my
advices on any matter, or looking me squarely in the eye and swearing that they have done nothing wrong, which is nothing more than a lie. They lied to me on my face when they broke the laptop and when they manipulated Clay without the slightest wrinkle of any regret or remorse. They were one of those difficult child who can’t be mend and I was like those evil emotionless and mean stepmother who ill-treats her children.

  I was full of hatred, for myself and for everyone else as if I could never bestow them with enough, they somehow find something or the other to blame me for, they were totally insatiable. Their plutonic behavior, rudeness was wounding me irreplaceably. There are some wounds so profound, so sore that they inflict a lifelong psychological scar void of healing.

  My fingers started typing themselves pouring the immense pain stored inside my aching heart. I was suffering for a love that was not worth it.

  Finally I ended with “And she never saw them again. The End”

  (6)

  I woke up with the buzzing alarm. As my routine spoke I started doing my jobs. I freshened up, brushed my teeth, cleaned the house carefully and prepared the breakfast. Sometimes the best we can do is not ponder, not wonder, not envisage, not obsess, just inhale and have faith that everything will work out for the best. I was on the self-motivation clock today. If I might have been a driver of my fate then I might have moved the chariot of time in a different direction, but no one writes their best or worst moments, moreover I loved the kids, surely this love has become quite mundane recently but I wanted to give it a new start.

  It was quite late but Angel and Little still did not came out of their room. I called them but got no reply. I went to Angel’s room but he was not there, so I went to Lily’s room afraid what had made them upset now.

  I knocked at Little’s door but as I expected there was not any reply. Finally I entered after waiting for a long while, but to my surprise the room was vacant.

  I panicked and rushed to the washroom but it was open. So I searched every petite corner of the house but they were nowhere.

  “They must have gone to school” I mumbled to myself though I had a feeling something was not right. It is said that our mind is more inclined towards the negative aspects and that was happening with me at this moment. My every neuron was filled with baseless negative thoughts, I tried to compose myself and decide to wait till the evening and so that the time could water the fire burning the relations.

  I took an off from work as I was having a plutonic feeling of being draped in a sly web, I could never come out of moreover it could be the best time to write for the deadline, I had wasted the last night too so this day was a bliss for me.“Sometimes being alone, on your own is not so lonely”, I mumbled to myself. I went upstairs to my room to grab my laptop and start writing as soon as possible, and hopefully finish it before evening so that I am left with editing only. I moved towards my study table, in the corner towards the left but my laptop was not there. I looked for it everywhere even in the kid’s room but could not find it.

  I was in shock, how was it even possible. The thought of last night made me tremble. I hurried towards my phone to call their friends. I called almost every person they have ever spoken to but none has seen them, at least not after yesterday.

  I called Clay but he did not responded so I left him a voice message.

  I went to the cops and told them everything but they heard it and started talking among themselves and laughing as if I was a psychotic mad person who should better be ignored.

  Nevertheless, it really doesn't matter how high the odds are against me, for I will rise above them. I was not going to stop. I went to every possible place where I had the slightest hope of finding them.

  It was so hard to believe that it was only last month when I found the cure of my pain, the reason to laugh once again, to live my life and laugh with a veritable smile and I lost it again.

  I was unanswerable to what might have happen…was it really the software?? Oh!! What was I thinking?? I had lost every bit of sanity but the situations were supporting it. Was I never going to see the kids again! Even this thought gave me chills, there was a blackout in front of my eyes, my breath went down, my lips got dried, and my brain got numb… “No! I could not afford losing them! What have I done?” I said to myself almost huffing.

  Standing in front of the mirror, I came to the harsh realization that I fell short of the paradigm of a mother. The reflection that stared back was of an evil step-mother who ate her children. The entire life of a mother is devoted in thriving her children, enduring their ever mischievous doings happily and still loving them massively and unceasingly. I had always had sumptuous dreams and high aspirations. I never noticed how hard it might be to achieve something that you really want. Most people spend their whole lives searching to give meaning to their lives and I have got everything but I made a fool of myself and lost everything in a blink just like that.

  I was lost and sad. At that moment I realized a demon is not always grilled in oven by someone else, sometimes his own karmas do the favor, my hate, and my hideous karmas have paid for me. I was locked inside my own devious hatred whose key was lost forever.

  Suddenly the window opened making me jolt for a brief second and I saw Angel and Little standing there smiling at me. I was so happy to see them, like I was when I have saw them for the first time. I hurried towards them to hug them and never let them go. The last twenty four hours have been like hell for me making me repent every single thought of mine, how I can even think all that crap. But now my kids were here and I will never let them go again ever. I rushed towards the window, amazed that their smile was getting foxier and sly. The window pane was covered with glass, I tried to push it but it was of no use. When I asked kids to help me, they started laughing. I was astonished, it was only then that I noticed that they were in my room making me confused. How was it even possible and I whispered to myself “the software”. Everything was clearer to me now, why I could not find kids, why Clay was not answering my calls, why cops were acting like I don’t exist. I felt my heart drop to the floor. What I had felt till now, the love, the care everything was just a mirage, a betrayal. I remembered what I wrote last night “And she never saw them again. The End”,WordsAlive – really made the words come alive but it was me who was lost. Every word of theirs was moving around me “You are evil! You are mean! ” everything. Now I realized the reason for making me mad, why they had gifted me with this software, why they did not let me do anything….and many other why’s…!!!

  But now it was too late, there was no way out. I was feeling hurt and broken still unsure that what cracks us more, betrayal or faith? Somehow still I was sure that there will be a day which will emblaze my soul with their love, when I will be with Clay again, when all this pain and agony will end and I just have to hold my fire till that moment come, maybe after forever….

  Angel shut down the windows on my face and I was forever trapped!!

 

  Cynder and Ella

  By: Amanda Alberson

  ©2014 by Amanda Alberson

  Cynder held his books tightly beneath his grey hoodie as the rain soaked him from head to toe. He watched as the taillights of Andy’s F150 disappeared into the morning haze. Why should this year be any different? Just because it was his senior year? Because this bullshit had been going on for over 8 years now? Because he dared to hope maybe one day his step brothers would grow up just a little? No chance. They were still self-centered, spoiled momma’s boys, and he was still the unwanted burden. The only thing he could be thankful for on this particular morning was the fact they dropped him off a few blocks closer than they normally did. He begged his dad to let him take the bus, pleaded to get a summer job so he could get his own car, anything to not have to hitch a ride with them. His father insisted he needed to stay focused on his grades so there was no time for a job, and his step mother said the bus was for people beneath them. As far as C
ynder could see he was the people beneath her. While her sons attended the prestigious Tremaine Private Academy, Cynder was dropped off, often several blocks before the run down public school. While they had the finest of everything, Cynder made do with what he could get. He refused to complain to his father, who seemed blind to it all.

  Cynder’s mother died when he was five, some hospital born strain of Staph infection she picked up one night on a late shift. His father didn’t speak of her or her death very often. Cynder asked about his name when he was seven, his father looked wistfully into the air and smiled as if sharing an inside joke with the clouds.

  “Your mother named you. We met in Arizona you know. I was hiking the Grand Canyon. I thought it would make me a man to venture into the wild and conquer the vast wilderness, in all honesty I was lost as hell when I ran across your mother. It was getting dark, and cold and I heard a strange sobbing wail from around the next bend in the trail. Unarmed, my heart about to climb through my chest I turned the corner to find the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen bent over the ashes of a fire crying. She screamed when she saw me, which scared me so bad I screamed with her. The echo of my manly screech had us both laughing so hard we couldn’t stop.

  ‘Are you okay? I heard you crying.’

  She dropped her shoulders and looks mournfully down at the remains of her fire.

  ‘I got turned around and lost, so I decided I would camp here tonight and find my way back out tomorrow, but my fire died.’ She looked around into the darkness that fell over us like a thick star studded blanket and shivered.

  ‘It’s not out, you still have some cinders here at the bottom that are hot.’ I bent down and began feeding the small embers of fire. She knelt next to me and our eyes met, I knew right then she was the only woman for me. Gentle and brave but sweet and vulnerable, I wanted nothing more than to stay there with her for the rest of our lives. When the tiny flames began to flicker to life she gasped.

  ‘I didn’t think I was going to make it through the night.’

  ‘Sometimes a cinder is all you need to start a fire that can consume the night.’

  And there it was. When she found out she was pregnant she knew, you were her cinder, you would one day consume the world and make it a brighter, better place.”

  As he sloshed towards the front of the school the world did not seem at all brighter or better with him in it.

  He normally kept extra clothes in his gym locker, for dark, rainy days, but today was the first day so he sloshed from class to class cursing his bad luck and his rotten step brothers.

  By fourth period he was merely damp, but a dank, moldy smell clung to him. Lunch was spent in the boy’s restroom using the hand dryers in a vain effort to dry and air out his clothes. By the end of the school day his mood fit the stormy skies outside.

  Trudging slowly Cynder thought hard about slugging one if not both of his step brothers when they stepped through the front door. He would beat them home since they always stayed after for football and then went out with, which ever girl they were entertaining that week, for burgers and shakes. By the time he turned on his street he was sure he would knock them both out.

  He jerked the mailbox open with a disgruntled sigh and found a silver, glittery envelope inside. It was simply addressed:

  To the Fine young men of the Perrault household

  “Well, I guess that’s me.” Cynder chuckled to himself as he ran up the stairs. His step mother insisted her sons use his father’s last name, she stated it kept them from feeling like outsiders. Cynder knew she just didn’t like people thinking she’d failed at anything, including a previous marriage. His father offered to enroll him in Tremaine, a suggestion Cynder watched his step mother scoff at behind his father’s back. She would never allow it. While she would never say it in front of his father, Cynder knew she controlled everything. They lived in her house, his father worked for her father’s company, they lived in her and her son’s shadows and by her rules. While his dad made good money at the company, she never let Cynder forget how quickly that money could disappear. In his heart he knew the reason his father was out of town so much was because that’s where she liked him. Her father made him VP of foreign shipping and trading, which kept him overseas sometimes months at a time. So he refused his father’s offer and remained at the public school, remained beneath her and her sons, remained where she wanted him.

  He pulled open the envelope as he fell onto his bed. From the depths of the shimmery paper came a lace edged card stock announcing a grand ball at the academy. A smirk curled the edges of Cynder’s lips.

  Pulling on a pair of shorts and a plain white T, he tossed the invitation on the kitchen island before heading out the door towards Mrs. Walt’s house. Ever since her husband passed away two years ago Cynder checked in on her. In the summer he mowed her lawn, winter he shoveled her drive, and on wet nasty days like today he would just sit and chat with her, maybe drive her to the store.

  When Winifred Walt opened her door she adjusted her glasses on the tip of her nose, looking over the thick lens at Cynder.

  “Oh dear, you’re not turning into one of those shiny vampires are you?” She asked, squinting at him. Cynder stared back at her for a moment, afraid she had finally lost her mind.

  “I’m teasing you boy, you’re covered in glitter. Have you seen that movie? Vampires that sparkle…..HA….not in my day I tell you!” She shuffled to the side, holding the door open and allowing Cynder into her small home. Cynder loved coming here, not just because she was a sweet and funny old lady but because the house somehow always smelled of cinnamon, something that reminded him fondly of his mother.

  After two hours and several glasses of chilled milk and warm cookies, Cynder waved goodbye to Mrs. Walt, promising to come back soon and check on her. He could hear his step brothers arguing loudly before he even opened the door. He stood in the door frame watching as Andy held the invitation over his head, Drew jumping at it in vain. Even though they were twins, Andy was the taller of the two, taller, stronger and probably better looking if you liked square headed jocks with lots of muscle and no brains. Drew was slighter built, thin and lanky with an air about him that screamed egotistical maniac. He had his mother’s attitude and arrogance, a trait Cynder found horridly unattractive on both of them.

  “Give it to me Andy! I want to read it!” Drew shouted, jumping at the card again in vain.

  “Quit your whining you sissy. I’ll give it to you when I’m done.”

  Cynder crept in, not making a sound as he stepped behind Andy and snatched the card from his hand. His step brother swung around his eyes wide with surprise and anger.

  “Give it back Cindy.” He growled. Cynder ignored the petty name calling. They’d been calling him Cindy since the first night they moved in eight years ago. He remembered the way they’d swept through the house like twisters, like they owned the place. Moving things and claiming rooms and chairs and spots on the couch, knocking his mother’s books off the shelf to put up their video games and comics. Cynder had stood fuming, tears threatening to burst from his eyes when his father placed a hand on his shoulder.

  “I know it’s been just us for so long son, but give it a chance. This is new to them too.” Cynder only nodded at his father. He gave it a chance, he stuck out his hand, plastered a welcoming smile on his face and introduced himself.

  “Hi, I’m Cynder, my dad says we’re gonna be brothers.”

  He had met their mother, he thought he didn’t like her because she was so different from the few things he could remember about his own mother. She didn’t smile, or hug, she didn’t cook breakfast or sing silly songs at bedtime. She didn’t dance and hold him up by the arms on Sunday mornings, she didn’t love him, and she didn’t even like him.

  “Cynder? That’s your name?” Andy howled.

  “More like CINDY!” Drew laughed. With that Andy pushed him down and they continued through the house pushing their way i
nto his life and ruining it with every minute they were there.

  “I said give it back Cindy!” Andy growled lurching at him. Cynder dodged him easily and tossed the paper to Drew, not because he wanted to help Drew or even because he cared if Drew read it, but because it’s what would piss Andy off the most. Drew snatched the silver kissed invite and skimmed it quickly howling as he ran around the kitchen island.

  “Hot damn a masquerade ball!” He did an awkward jump, clicking his heels together as he slammed the invite down on the table. He jerked his head to the side catching Andy’s eyes and without a word they shot up the stairs shoving and vying to be the first to the top.

  Cynder shook his head and picked up the paper again as his step mother came through the door from the garage.

  She looked him over as always her eyes filled with disgust and disapproval.

  “What is that?” She asked snatching the paper from him, leaving only a sprinkling of glitter on his fingers.

  “The Academy is having a ball. The whole town is invited.” He spoke to her respectfully because that’s how he was raised, but in his head he was calling her every name he could think of.

  “Hmmm says this Friday night,” she slid the invitation onto the counter top ignoring Cynder, “I better take the boys shopping.”

  He knew better than to hope, to dream that he was included in her idea of “the boys”, but no matter how many times she let him down, no matter how much he hated her and knew she hated him back, there’s was always a moment when he hoped, wished, dreamed that she meant him too.

  Friday came quickly. Andy and Drew were dressed in the finest tuxedos, their hair gelled in place. Andy wore a black phantom of the opera-esque mask lined with silver glitter. Drew wore an impish green mask that made Cynder think of a forest troll. Cynder himself took a suit from his father’s closet, dad was out of town again on business, Denmark this time for a whole month, but he wouldn’t mind. What he didn’t have was a mask. He came down the stairs as Andy, Drew and their mother were walking out the door.

  “I just need a mask guys, gimme a sec.” His step mother looked back over her shoulder and smirked at him as she closed the door behind her. Anger bubbled up in his chest, it was one thing that she excluded him from the shopping trip, that she ignored him most of the time, but to completely leave him behind tonight was just the last straw. Andy’s tires peeled out of the drive, the headlights splashing through the window, illuminating Cynder as he stood there, alone as always.

  He stood in the empty house, fuming, wishing his real mother was here, wishing his father was home and could see how he was treated. He pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket, stepping outside in an attempt to breathe and calm down. His fingers flew across his phone screen, machine gunning a message to his father.

  When r u coming home

  He waited for a response. He didn’t know what time it was in Denmark but his dad always answered his texts.

  IDK what’s up?

  Cynder thought for a moment before he answered.

  Nothing just miss u

  Why tell him? He wouldn’t believe it, he was under her evil spell.

  “Cynder?”

  He jumped at the sound of his name in the dark. Looking around he caught sight of Mrs. Walt’s grey head poking over the fence.

  “Hey Mrs. Walt, you okay?” He walked towards her smiling as she stood on her tip toes just to see over the fence.

  “What on Earth are you doing outside dressed so nice?” She opened the gate and stepped into his yard.

  “Oh, I was going to go to the Tremaine Masquerade Ball but I changed my mind.” He smoothed the coat with is hands disappointment washing away his smile.

  “Bitch left you behind didn’t she?”

  His head jerked up as he caught the watery twinkle in Mrs. Walt’s blue eyes. Hearing her curse was the funniest thing Cynder ever heard.

  “Yeah, yeah she did. But it’s ok. I didn’t have a mask or anything anyway.” Cynder offered Mrs. Walt his elbow and she took it. He escorted her back to her porch, helping her slowly up the stairs.

  “Come in here a minute son.” She said with a smile. He followed her into the house curious about her mischievous grin. She led him through the tiny house which seemed to have more hallways and corners than imaginable for such a small square place. She came to a door with a gold star and her husband’s name beneath it. It looked like a Hollywood dressing room door. She placed her wrinkled hand against the door and breathed deeply. When she swung it open Cynder couldn’t believe his eyes. The room was full of rolling wardrobe racks. The back wall held a huge mirror surrounded by large bulb lights.

  “What is this?” Cynder whispered.

  “Mickey was a silent movie star. These are his things.” She swept her arm out as Cynder tried to look everywhere at once.

  “How old are you?” Cynder laughed, blushing at his own rudeness.

  “Younger than you think, older than I feel.” She laughed.

  She reached into one of the racks and pulled out a tuxedo. Its coat was long, the vest was backless with a deep curved V-cut, white with a silver paisley pattern running through it.

  “Try it on.” She urged, pushing it at him.

  “Oh, I couldn’t. These were Mr. Walt’s things.” He shook his head but she kept pushing it into his hands.

  “He would want you too, for all you’ve done for me.”

  Cynder took the clothes from her hand and watched as she stepped out closing the door behind her.

  It was a perfect fit. He had no clue how old the outfit was but it shined like new. The wall with the mirror was decorated with masks of all kinds, even a monkey mask. Cynder laughed as his poked the furry nostrils. Then he saw it, a full face mask, it looked ancient almost. Silver and white, with ornate, antiqued scrolling. It covered his whole face and fit like it was made for him.

  Mrs. Walt appeared behind him in the mirror, her hands clasped over her mouth.

  “What do you think?” He asked turning slowly so she could see.

  “Oh honey, you look like someone’s dream come true!” She whispered as she ran her hands down the front of the vest, smoothing the lapels.

  “I don’t know how to thank you.”

  “You don’t have to, every young man like you deserves a fairy godmother.” She turned, walking to the far corner of the room. She mumbled as she dug through a deep chest.

  Cynder looked over her shoulder as she shifted things from one side to the other.

  “What are you looking for?” He asked. She turned her eyes bright with triumph.

  “Every gentleman needs a pocket watch.” She smiled as she held out a beautiful silver pocket watch, its chain gleaming and delicate. The case was decorated with a compass rose and the phases of the moon, a tiny key hung from the chain.

  “What’s the key for?” He asked touching it gently.

  “That opens it.” She took the small key and placed it in a notch on the bottom of the watch. The face popped open showing the clock face. Inside the front was etched, ‘For my one true love, let there be nothing but time between us.’

  She clicked it closed before placing it in Cynder’s hand.

  “Never let anything come between you and your dreams Cynder. Not that wretched woman or her useless sons. Now let’s get you to the ball.”

  He kissed her cheek, tears brimming in his eyes. He would never be able to thank her enough, but he would spend eternity trying.

  She led him back to the front of the house, before turning toward the garage.

  “One last thing dear.” She said patting him on the hand. The overhead light flickered to life, illuminating a spotless garage. Sitting as if it was new on the lot was a classic car, white wall tires and all.

  “That, Cynder, is a fully refurbished 1929 Studebaker Commander.”

  He stared in awe.

  “Mrs. Walt, this is too much. I can’t drive that car. L
ook at it, it’s pristine.” He shook his head.

  “Tut- tut boy. You’re taking it. Needs to be out on the road again anyway. Now let me grab the keys.”

  As she shuffled back into the kitchen Cynder raised the garage door and walked around the car. All the times he’d been here he never knew she had this car, never even been in the garage. They always took her old ’86 gold Cadillac to town. He eased the driver door open, amazed that it didn’t creak.

  “Here you are. Have a wonderful night Cynder.” As she reached to hand him the keys they fumbled from her fingers.

  “Oh bibbty-boppity-boo!” She grumbled as she stooped down the retrieve the keys. Cynder hid his smile as she passed the keys to him.

  “Now be back by midnight. I heard the step-monster telling her minions they’d be home by 12:30. You be back before them, you hear me?”

  “Yes mam, I will.”

  He hugged her again and promised to get the car home in one piece. He pulled out into the night and turned towards the Academy. A shooting star chased him down the road. It was going to be a magical night.

  The Academy was lit up with what looked like millions of tiny white lights. Men in tuxedo’s and gold masks stood in the horseshoe drive bowing to guests as they arrived and taking their cars. Everything seemed to halt as Cynder pulled to a stop. All eyes were on the car and then on him as he exited nervously, handing the keys to a still slack jawed valet.

  As he took the wide marble steps up to the main doors he could hear the swell of the music from inside. Laughter floated in the air around him. He checked his mask for the tenth time before stepping thru the threshold. The lobby was filled with costumed guests all milling around laughing as they moved toward the main hall. Through two massive wooden doors lay the ballroom. Cynder took a deep breath and started down the steps. Women in full gowns twirled in the arms of dashing masked men. It was like stepping back in time. Cynder looked around for the step-twits and their mother. The room was so thick with people he wasn’t sure he’d notice them if they were stepping on his toes.

  The waltz ended and the room applauded. Cynder clapped as well as he moved toward the far end of the room. Past the refreshment table loomed a spiral staircase, at the foot of it he nearly tripped over a hunched over figure.

  “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.” He bent down to make sure she was okay. When she lifted her face he could see the sadness through her mask. Her emerald green eyes were swimming in tears. He sat down on the step next to her.

  “Hey, are you okay? I didn’t hurt you did I?”

  She looked over at him, the tears still threatening to fall.

  “No, it’s not you. I’m fine.” Her voice was soft and sweet. Her lips a faint shade of pink, her skin, warm porcelain. She took his breath away.

  “Would you like to step outside? Or maybe I could bring you a drink.” He asked.

  “No, thank you. You really don’t have to sit here. You can go back to the party.”

  He looked around the room again then back to her.

  “Nope, this is where it’s at, as far as I’m concerned. Life of the party right here. I mean nothing says fun like a weeping damsel in distress.” He leaned back on his elbows, crossing his feet in front of him.

  She smiled shaking her head at him. Cynder was sure he could die happy now, knowing her made her smile was all he ever needed from this miserable life.

  “Come on, I’ll get you a drink.” He rose extending his hand to her. As he gently lifted her to her feet a voice boomed behind him, a familiar voice.

  “Hey babe, dance with me.”

  Cynder turned away. He wasn’t sure if Andy would recognize him with the mask on, but he really didn’t want to take any chances.

  “I was going to get punch.” He heard her reply.

  “What? With that guy? I’m sure he won’t mind if I take you away.”

  Cynder’s blood boiled. He did mind, he minded very much, but he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He just shook his head as it hung down. With that Andy swept his mystery girl away. Twirling her onto the dance floor then pulling her against him. Halfway through the song Drew cut in, nearly ripping her from Andy’s grip. Cynder watched from the shadow of the stairs, his teeth clenched as he watched them fight over her. Andy grabbed her tiny wrist pulling her back to him as Drew snagged her by the waist. She pleaded with both of them to just let her go, but they weren’t listening to her, they were too busy arguing and trying to “win” her.

  Cynder couldn’t take it anymore, he stormed towards them, and consequences be damned.

  “Let her go.” He growled at his idiot step brothers. They both turned to look at him but held tight to their prize.

  “Who’s gonna make us?” Drew asked.

  “I will if I have to.” Cynder answered as he stepped closer to them. She reached towards him, desperate to get away from Andy and Drew. The boys considered fighting him, he could see it in their eyes. Before they could decide the dean approached them.

  “You boys enjoying yourselves?” He asked eyeing them all.

  Andy and Drew let her go and turned toward the large man.

  “Of course Dean.”

  She flew into Cynder’s arms. Her small frame pressed against him as he led her to the terrace outside.

  “Thank you again.” She whispered. The moonlight fell on her golden hair and he reached out to run his hand through it.

  “I never should have let them get away with you in the first place.” His fingers softly trailed down her cheek. He held her close to him. They swayed gently to the music. Her cheek pressed against his chest, he longed to see her sparkling green eyes again. So he lifted her head with his finger, then twirled her around, before pulling her back to him. They swayed together, lost in time, needing only each other’s embrace.

  “Why were you crying earlier?” He asked, still holding her against his chest.

  “It’s hard to explain. I came here this year to find something, and I just don’t think it exists.” She sighed heavily.

  “Well, don’t give up. You never know when you might stumble upon it.” He smiled down at her, entranced by her deep green eyes.

  “My princess charming.” She said breathlessly as she looked up at him longingly. Cynder pushed his hand into her hair and gently pulled her face to his before he remembered he was wearing a mask. Her eyes were already pinched closed in anticipation so he titled his mask back and pressed his lips to hers. It was the perfect kiss. Her mouth was soft and warm. Her lips parted ever so slightly, she tasted like summer rain. He kissed her again as her hands clenched the lapels of his vest. When they parted his mask fell back into place.

  “What’s this?” She asked thumbing the thin chain of the pocket watch.

  “My good lady, all gentlemen need a fine pocket watch.” He tugged the watch from his pocket and held it out to her to inspect.

  “Can I open it?” She asked still running her fingers across the front.

  “Of course.” He pulled the key from the chain and handed it to her, pointing to the notch at the bottom. It clicked open and to his horror read 11:49. He snatched it from her hand looking at it again.

  “I have to go, I’m sorry.” He turned and began back through the ballroom.

  “Wait! I don’t even know your name.” She called as she tried in vain to follow him through the crowd. When she burst through the front doors he was gone.

  Ella examined the tiny key for the hundredth time. Every time she looked at it she saw something new in the details. The miniscule lines were vines with nearly microscopic flowers, the rolling and winding design in the key head made a ‘W’ or maybe an ‘M’ pending which way you held it. Looking at it made her heartache, but she couldn’t put it down.

  She’d fallen asleep that night in her ball gown, the key clasped in her hand as it laid over her heart. She had to find him again. He was her prince charming, her happy ever after he was the th
ing she was searching for. He’d shown her love and kindness without ever seeing her face, without knowing her name, he’d loved her for her and that’s all she ever wanted. Everyone else wanted her for her money, or to get closer to her mother, for the power, but not her prince.

  She dashed down the hall to her mother’s room, the key on a small chain around her wrist.

  “Mom, mom I have to find him.” She cried as she threw her hands up in the air.

  “Wow Ell you really like this guy huh?” Her mother smirked at her.

  “Mom!” she groaned in desperation.

  “Fine, what do you want me to do honey? Send out the military? Call in the national guard?”

  “Can you do that?’ Ella asked.

  “No sunshine I can’t. I’m not the president of the United States.”

  “But you are the President of Global Trading United. Help me! You brought me here, told me to spread my wings, find freedom, find myself, find love so I could take your place one day. You said that here, miles from the bustling city and the prying eyes of all the people who want to take over the company I could just be me. Well I was me, and he loved me mom. I found everything you wanted me to, and then …then I lost it.!”

  “You’ve grown so much in the year that we’ve been here. I was worried it would be a wasted trip. Are you sure you want to find him again? We leave so soon.” Her mother reached out to smooth Ella’s hair.

  “Yes mom, more than anything. Even if it’s only to say goodbye.”

  “How will you know it’s him?”

  Ella raised her arm, the tiny key dangled from her wrist.

  “I have the key to everything right here.”

  “Fine, we’ll throw a going away party. Invite the entire town, no masks, you can find him and tell him goodbye.” Her mother smiled as she sipped her coffee. Ella was growing into the beautiful soul she always knew she would be.

  “Thank you mother!”

  Cynder held the light pink floral invitation in his hand. He knew it was meant for him. There were too many coincidences. The bold lettering across the top said “Our time is up, come help us say goodbye” The envelope and the invitation were both embossed with a compass rose as well as a beautiful pocket watch. His damsel in distress was leaving, but she wanted to see him one last time. His heart soared even as it sank. The party began in just a few hours he had to get ready. He ran next door to Mrs. Walt’s house.

  “Mrs. Walt,” he shouted waving the invitation over his head.

  “What is it Cynder? Is everything alright?” She asked pushing open the screen door.

  “Look, she wants to see me again. I need to borrow the watch, please, it’s the only way she’ll know it’s me.”

  She smiled as she turned the soft paper over in her hand. Cynder had barely made it home before Andy’s truck pulled into the drive that night. He’d spent the whole next day at her house rehashing the magical night and thanking her to no end for all she’d done. She pulled the pocket watch from her apron and handed it to him.

  “I was going to call you over today and give it to you anyway. I want you to have it.” She closed his hand around it before he could protest.

  “Thank you so much.” Tears welled in his eyes as he turned to rush home.

  She held her hand to her heart, he looked so much like her Mickey.

  Upstairs he worried about what to wear. In the end he decided it was best to just be himself. He pulled on a pair of faded jeans and a black button up shirt. He checked himself in the mirror one last time. Before he headed downstairs he grabbed the watch and put it in his front pocket. He clutched his bedroom door handle and ran into the door.

  “What the hell?” He jiggled the handle again. It was locked.

  “Hey!” He yelled pounding against the door.

  “Cindy, did you really think we’d let you go to the party?” Andy called from the other side of the door.

  “Yeah Cindy. You don’t know anyone there. And they don’t want to know you.” Drew piped in.

  Cynder slammed against the door. It shook in the frame but held tight.

  “Settle down Cindy. I’ll let you out when we get home.” His step mother hissed from the safety of the hallway.

  “This party is for someone very important and my boys are going to sweep her off her feet. When our companies merge, I will practically rule the world!” Her laugh echoed down the hall.

  Cynder slid down the door and crumpled to the floor. He’d never see her again, they ruined his chance, they ruined his life.

  Ella looked around the grand hall again but no one seemed to catch her eye. Prince Charming would surely recognize her. The dress she wore was the same sea foam green as her ball gown, her long blonde hair pulled into the same soft up do as before. There should be no mistaking who she was.

  The key hung from her wrist, she touched it again, checking every few minutes to make sure it was still there.

  Two boys approached her and she held her breath.

  “Hey, wanna dance?” The shorter one asked. Before she could reply the taller one stepped between them.

  “Sorry dude she can’t, she wants to dance with me.” He pulled her by the hand onto the floor, pressing himself against her.

  ‘Oh no’ she thought. These had to be the same idiots from the ball. As they began fighting over her again she managed to slip away. The party started hours ago, why wasn’t he here? Maybe their moment wasn’t as special as she thought it was. Maybe he was just a lot smoother than the morons she left on the dance floor. Broken she slipped into the kitchen and began to cry. The hostesses moved around her, refilling the drink trays and grabbing fresh hors d'oeuvres.

  Her mother found her with her head on the counter sobbing softly.

  “Oh honey, give him time. True love always finds a way.” She kissed her daughter and returned to the party.

  Cynder looked at the hard packed ground below. He wished there was a tree or a drain pipe, or that the garage roof was closer. It didn’t matter though, he had to get out of that room and get to the party before he missed his chance to tell his mystery girl how he felt. As he stepped one leg out the window he prayed he’d still be able to walk after he hit the ground.

  “Cynder!”

  He jumped almost losing his grip on the windowsill. Staring up below him was his father.

  “Dad!”

  “What are you doing son?”

  “It’s a long story dad. Get me out of here and I’ll tell you all about it.”

  As they sped toward the Grande Hotel he told his father everything. How mean his step mother was to him, how his step brothers taunted him, how they’d locked him in the room and gone to the party without him. How important it was that he get there before it was over because there was a girl waiting for him and he just couldn’t let her down.

  “I’m so sorry son, I had no idea.”

  “I know dad, it’s okay.”

  He hugged his dad, glad that he was back and relieved at last that the truth was out in the open.

  Cynder was practically out of the car before his dad could stop.

  “Go, I’ll be in as soon as I park.”

  Cars were filing out of the parking lot and Cynder was sure he was too late.

  He rushed into the banquet room. There were still plenty of people milling around, eating, dancing, and laughing. He searched the room for her. Trapped in the corner at a table she sat like a wilted flower. His step mother on one side, Drew and Andy on the other. He rushed towards them.

  “My lady.” He bowed as he reached the table. Her eyes lit up with hope.

  “Cynder, what are you doing here?” His step mother hissed.

  “Is it really you?” Ella asked, standing quickly.

  “Cindy? You’ve been waiting for Cindy?” Andy asked.

  “That’s impossible.” His step mother laughed. “This is our house boy, you needn’t waste your time talking to him.” S
he stood pushing Cynder away from the table.

  “Prince Charming?!” Ella called as Andy pulled her toward the terrace.

  Cynder pulled away from his step mother, she raised her hand at him but it stopped midflight.

  “That, would be your last mistake.” His father rumbled.

  “Oh Leonardo!” She gasped. “What are you doing here dear?”

  “It’s a goodbye party. I came to say goodbye.” He threw her hand away from him.

  “You can’t leave me! You have nothing! You have nowhere to go.” She raised her head in triumph.

  “I have my son, and that’s all I need. We’re done with you.” He turned to Cynder, “Go get her son.”

  Cynder ran to the terrace where Andy had his girl pinned against the railing, she was pushing him away to no avail as he buried her mouth with his own.

  Cynder pulled his step brother off of her then struck him in the jaw with a powerful right hook.

  Andy landed on his butt.

  “He’s nobody. He’s not the one you want!” Andy yelled.

  Cynder pulled the watch from his pocket.

  “I think you have my key….my lady.”

  “Ella….and yes I do. But does it go to your watch or your heart?” She slipped the key from her wrist and popped the watch face open. The clock read 12:00, midnight, as Cynder wrapped his hands in her beautiful hair.

  “Both…Ella.” He whispered as he kissed her.

  Cynder and his father moved out of the evil witch’s house. His father quit the company and took a position at Ella’s mother’s corporation. It offered more money and no travel time. They moved to New York, lived in a large loft that over looked Central Park.

  Cynder and Ella were inseparable. Their ‘happy ever after’? Well that’s a whole different story.

 
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