PRINCESS OF CHARMING
by Yasmine Galenorn
originally published in the Once Upon A Kiss anthology
14.October. Harvest 200
The Noble’s Cottage, Kingdom of Prince Charming
So, once again, my harridan of a stepmother decided that she doesn’t want to hire any help. She’s so freaking cheap that she goes commando rather than wearing any underwear. And trust me, you do not to walk in back of her when she drops something—I ran out of brain bleach a year ago when Father first brought her and her relentless spawn home. I know he was hard up and she’s the best he could get but damn, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier for him to just make friends with his own hand?
Anyway, I know you’re tired of hearing me vent, so I’ll make it short. So, you know I’m supposed to feed the chickens every day? Well, those damned birds have started talking to me. Now, granted, this sounds weird but I figure—you talk to your teapot, don’t you? I figured you would understand.
Anyway, the chickens have been telling me they’re hungry, that I’m not giving them enough food and that’s why egg production is down. It made me feel horrible. They’re not exactly starving, but it’s only a matter of time. I tried to get Mama Bitchface to let me give them more food, but she refused. So I’ve had to resort to sneaking it to them. And because she’ll notice if the food bill goes up for them, I’ve been stashing away every spare cent I find to buy the food myself. If I don’t, she’ll decide that they’re old or lazy and it will be the axe for their feathery heads off. You know how much I like birds. I can’t let that happen.
Now she’s on a different kick. There’s going to be three weeks of dances—one a week—up at the castle, and she’s demanded that I make ball gowns for my sisters. I can do it, though I hate sewing, and I hate housework. I thought about just turning them into human voodoo dolls by leaving a few strategic pins in the material, but even I’m not that mean. So it’s back to the sewing room for me. If I refuse, she’ll scream at me and try to beat me. If I give her what she wants, at least it means I’ll be inside for awhile instead of being relegated to the garden during the rainy season. Maybe I’ll get lucky and her three spawn will find themselves husbands and head off for other pastures where they can make somebody else miserable.
I swear, Belle, if Mother’s ghost doesn’t spill the secret to where she hid her jewels soon, I’m going to just head out on my own. I have mad skills. I can cook and clean, though I don’t like it. And I can read—maybe I can get a job as a governess. But it just seems stupid to leave now, without at least trying to find out where Mom’s fortune is. She’s just being cranky. I think she’s pissed at Father for marrying again.
Hope all is well with you. How’s old Beastly? Have you had any luck convincing him to shave his back? Honestly, how you can live with a shifter beats me. I love the forest animals, but I sure don’t want to climb into bed with them. *snerk*
19.October. Harvest 200
The Beast’s House, Kingdom of the Shifters
Argh! Beastly’s all out of sorts today. He’s bipolar, you know, and frankly, I think he nurses it for all he’s worth at times. In fact, I’m pretty sure he goes to therapy just to get away from me. Well, it’s not MY fault that he’s stuck with me now. In fact, I’m the one who should be seeing a therapist.
My sisters begged for all sorts of trinkets when Father went away on his last business trip, and he had no problem bringing them home basketfuls of thrift-store junk. I ask for one lousy rose and I end up turned over to a strange beast because my old man was too cheap to buy me a flower. No, instead he had to plunder a stranger’s garden. A stranger who had been kind to him.
I have to admit, Beastly is proper enough around me, and he does try to keep me entertained, but I miss my freedom. I don’t like being cooped up inside this mansion. It’s lovely and all that, and Beastly is cordial enough, but it’s hard for me to pretend that I’m happy. I’d rather hang out in the library and read than talk, because all he does is grumble about his existence. Emo-boy. The library is the one saving grace about this joint. It has over a thousand books and at least they will take me some time to read through them.
So how are things going with your stepsisters? I’m going to confess something. I envy you. Not in having to deal with them or the StepBitch, but in the fact that you can leave any time you choose. The only thing holding you there is the fact that you want your Mom’s jewelry. But I understand. It’s hard enough in this world if you have money. Being poor…well, poor and a woman…sucks.
How are the ball gowns going? Why don’t you make yourself a dress and go, too? You might as well have a little fun.
Love and hugs,
28.October. Harvest 200 BG
The Noble’s Cottage, Kingdom of Prince Charming
I swear, I’m going to sound like I’m tripping, but Belle—the most marvelous thing happened!
Yes, I got the ball gowns made (that’s not it, I’ll tell you about that in a moment). They’re gorgeous and the spawn actually cleaned up fairly nice. They didn’t bother to thank me, but what the hell.
So, last night was the first ball. In the morning, the StepBitch surprised me. She was admiring the gowns and suddenly said, “Cinderella, would you like to go to the dance, too?”
Well, of course I said yes. I mean, after months of drudging around here? Who wouldn’t want to get out and party it up a bit? I thought maybe, just maybe she was being nice for a change. Maybe she decided to get religion or that she could spare a drop of compassion.
But what does she do? She holds up a pot of pinto beans—dry—and said, “Well, if you can pick up every last bean by the time we set out, then you may go!” And she tossed them all into the ashes in the fireplace. At first I thought, “Fuck you” but then, I realized that if I didn’t pick them up, she’d be even more spiteful. So I was down on my hands and knees, sorting out those beans. Two hours later, I had managed to find them all and I handed the pot back to her and she said, “Oh dear, but look how grimy you are, all covered with soot. There’s no way you can be clean in time for the dance.” And she and her spawn sailed out of the house and off to the castle.
Well, at least I can have a bath in peace, I thought. So I filled the tub and stretched out. When I was done and heading back into my bedroom, there was this flash of light. Now…bear with me because here it gets weird. I thought something had exploded but when I was able to see—the flash was blinding—there was this woman in my room. She was wearing a long white dress and get this—she had wings. I’m still not sure if they were real or fake. Anyway, I was like, “Who the hell are you?”
She told me she was my fairy godmother and that she was here to make sure I got to the ball. She went on about a whole bunch of stuff that I’m not quite clear on—karma and all that—but the upshot is that she hit me on the head with her wand (and that thing was heavy) and the next thing I knew, I was wearing a dress as golden as the sun—a ball gown that fit as though it were made to order.
I told her there was no way I could get to the ball on time and she grabbed me by the arm and yanked me outside. Um…here’s more of the weird stuff. She tossed a pumpkin on the ground, touched it with her wand, and it turned into a coach. And she commandeered four of my pet rats and turned them into horses, and one of the chickens ended up as the driver. Human form. Not chicken form.
By that point, I was beginning to wonder if I’d been breathing in too much soot or something, but she shoved me in the coach, telling me only to leave the dance before midnight. And zoom, away we went, speeding so fast I was afraid for my life. But hey, chickens can’t steer, I guess, and rats don’t take orders very well. So we reach the castle and the ushers escort me in (I dunno if they’re actually ushers, but I wasn’t sure what to call them). They asked my name. Well, I couldn’t very well tell them Cindy because if the StepBitch and her spawn realized who I was, I’d be done for. I told them Ella and that’s what they announced me by.
The dance was beautiful, of course—decked out with buffets and decorations and a thousand candles burning. But then…yah…the Prince came over to ask me to dance. Prince Rudyard Charming, his name is. And we danced. And he kept asking me to dance. Now…I know this is going to sound a little bit snotty, but he’s the most boring man I ever met. I begged off after three dances and went to hide out in the women’s restroom—they have really nice sofas in there.
But…I was sitting there, debating on whether to leave early, when a soft voice touched my ears. I glanced up to see the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She’s shorter than me, with hair as red as fire. And she was wearing a form-fitting green dress that covered her curves perfectly. But her eyes, Belle…her eyes were pale blue, like mist on the water. She asked if she could sit next to me, and before I knew it, we were chatting like old friends. I felt comfortable around her, and…well…I’ve never thought about this before but…I think I might be gay. All I could think about was what it would feel like to kiss her.
I know that I’ve mentioned before how I’ve never found any guy that made me even remotely interested in getting married, and now I know why. She enchanted me, and I think…I hope…she feels the same way. I have to go back to the ball next week. I have to see her again, Belle. Because I can’t forget her. I’m dreaming about her. And trouble is, I don’t even know her name. Somehow, in all our talk, we didn’t get around to introducing ourselves and by the time I realized how entranced I was by her, the clock was striking midnight and I had to run. I barely made it back home before the rats and chicken turned back into themselves.
So, that’s been my week. How about you?
31.October. Harvest 200 BG
The Beast’s House, Kingdom of the Shifters
Holy crap, that’s wild. Yeah, it does sound like an acid trip except I know you, and I know you don’t exaggerate. You have to go back and find her again. Connections like that don’t happen very often. You can’t let the chance go by that she might be the one.
I’ll be honest here, I’ve had my suspicions you might be gay for some time, but that’s something you have to figure out yourself. I couldn’t just push you on it. I saw the way you looked at Rapunzel the last time we were all three hanging out together. I’m just surprised you didn’t realize it. And it doesn’t matter to me—you’re always going to be my BFF.
As far as how I am, well, Beastly surprised me the other day, and it made me feel more kindly to him. I was in the library, crying, and he came in. He asked what was wrong, and I told him that I felt like a prisoner. That he was always moping around and that his mansion is always so dark and gloomy. I begged him to let me redecorate—at least my room—and he actually apologized. He said of course, go ahead and re-do my room and the library! And then he gave me a present. I expected it to be some dress or something, but instead, it was a first edition of The Adventures of the Gingerbread Man. That’s a collector’s item! Ever since Hansel found and ate him, the book’s been hard to come by and this one is a signed copy! It has his handprint in the front. You can even make out the marks where his hand had a few cracks on it from when he was first baked.
Well, that kind of changed my tune. At least a little. Beasty actually took the time to find me something he knew I would love. Instead of jewels or perfume, he brought me a book. And a rare one at that. I guess…Maybe he isn’t so bad. Maybe he’s been paying attention to me more than I realized. Whatever the case, when we had dinner last night, I didn’t even complain about his manners or that he got soup in his fur. And we talked about literature instead of his problems. It felt almost…like home.
So that’s about it on my front. Let me know what happens at the next dance! I’m getting a vicarious thrill out of this, you know.
6.November. Harvest 200 BG
The Noble’s Cottage, Kingdom of Prince Charming
I’m in love! I’m in love and I don’t know what the hell to do about it because yours truly had to go and find the only woman in Fairyland that she can’t have! I’m weeping, Belle. I’m weepy and crying and moping and for the first time in my life I feel like an emo chick.
First, though, the StepBitch was furious about the ‘strange beauty at the ball who co-opted the Prince’s attention.’ Heaven forbid she ever find out it was me. She and her spawn were on a real rampage the past few days about it. They wanted new gowns, brighter and better. I didn’t have time to make three new ones so I had to take the ones they wore to the first dance and do what I could to make them different. It’s amazing what twenty yards of tulle and a Dazzle-Mate can do. They loved them. I thought the gowns are hideous, but if they’re happy, fine.
So the big day came and once again, my stepmother was ready to goad me, but this time I retreated to the hen house till they left. By the way, the chickens are looking pretty good and laying eggs steadily, so my sneaky plan to make sure they’re eating seems to have worked. Anyway, I was about to put on that golden dress—I hid it in the barn—when boom, poof, and a big unicorn-fart glittery flash later, there stands the woman who insists she’s my fairy godmother.
She asked me if I wanted to go to the ball again, and I said yes. One wand-wave later, and I was decked out in a gown as silver as the moon. And four rats, one pumpkin, and a chicken later, I had my carriage and steeds. Oh, by the way, FGM is a marvel at doing my hair and makeup, too. Anyway, I was off to the ball.
But this time, when I entered the room, the Prince was waiting for me. He swept me into his arms and away we went, dancing. I felt nothing, Belle. Nothing except for his hand groping my ass. I kept swatting him away but the man doesn’t want to take no for an answer. I managed to plead a headache and slipped away to the restroom. I was hoping to see her again, of course.
She was there. She looked happy to see me, and we snuck off to a side room. She swore nobody would barge in on us. And we talked and laughed, and it felt so wonderful. She’s so beautiful, Belle. I felt horrible lying to her. Because…oh goddess, Belle, I’m going to die. Turns out that she’s Princess Charming—the Prince’s younger sister! Her name’s Antonia. Antonia Charming. She asked me what kingdom I’m from, and I had to scramble and make up something. I told her I was from Ever After, because that’s about as far away as you can get and nobody knows what’s going on over there anyway. You could be a frog and say you’re a prince from Ever After and nobody would question it.
Anyway. Belle, she kissed me. And it was wonderful and everything I imagined a first kiss should be like. Her lips were warm and supple, and she smelled like warm peaches straight out of the orchard. She took my hands and said, “I know this is sudden, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.” I told her I felt the same way and right there, we pledged our undying love, but now it’s going to be ruined because I am a stupid idiot. She thinks I’m a princess too. I have no idea what to do and I’m so unhappy!
And now the StepBitch wants brand new gowns for her spawn by the third dance. She’s convinced that I’m—well, she doesn’t know it’s me—after the Prince. As if! The last thing I want is to be saddled with him. But I can’t tell the Grand Dame of Bitchville that or she’d know it was me at the ball. What the hell am I going to do?
Of course I’m going back to the third dance, but after that—what do I do? I can’t stand thinking that I may never see my true love again. Antonia made me realize I don’t care about jewels or fancy homes…except she lives in a castle and I live in the scullery and, oh Belle…what am I to do?
Love and hugs,
8.November. Harvest 200 BG
The Beast’s House, Kingdom of the Shifters
I wish I had some advice for you. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. To find your true love and then not be able to tell her who you really are? I’d say continue the lie, let her think you’re from Ever After, and maybe…Oh, I don’t know! I’m feeling particularly stupid about matters like love. I’d almost rather die than admit this, but…I’m in love, too.
Yes, it’s Beastly, and O-M-G how can I even say that? He’s not even human! At least you’re in love with someone who doesn’t have to use flea powder. That sounds so horrid but what the hell am I going to do? How do you fall out of love with someone you didn’t even like in the first place?
He’s so nice, and his therapy has turned a corner, it seems like. Beastly’s a lot less depressed lately, and quite frankly, I’m wondering if I preferred him when he was in his angsty phase. Now he’s all gung ho and positive thinking and let’s-get-motivated. I think he’s been listening that new minstrel in town—you know, Anthony Bobbins. Either that or the teapot’s been spilling the beans to him about how I feel. I can’t help it. I talk to myself. This is the first time I ever lived in a place where you had to worry about the china and silverware eavesdropping on you. And don’t even get me started on that freaking grandfather clock. I swear, if I have to listen to him rumble on about old stories one more time, I’m going to throw that winding key into the lake.
Anyway, so yeah, I think I’ve fallen for Beastly. Unless it’s Stockholm Syndrome. In which case, I’m going to have one hell of a memoir to write once I’m able to leave this place.
I told him flat out though, this is a platonic relationship unless you find a way to change shape because I’m sorry, I just don’t do beasts. And if you can’t, then I need this to be a poly relationship so that I can at least have sex now and then. That knocked him for a loop. I think he expected to spend his days wooing me with flowers and wine and poetry. That’s all well and good, but I’m almost a grown woman. I have needs. I have desires.
Anyway, the past couple days have been tense. I love him, but I can’t bring myself to sleep with him. I mean, all that fur. And he loves me, but I think he looked at me like a china doll that he could pretend-play house with. It’s all screwed up. Unless Beastly can find a trick to shift into human form, I really think this relationship is doomed. And he’d better not use that frog prince crap on me. Edan only had to kiss the frog before he turned back into a prince. She didn’t sleep with him.
Let me know what happens, girl. I miss you.
14.November. Harvest 200 BG
The Beast’s House, Kingdom of the Shifters
Is everything all right? I haven’t heard from you for a few days and was worried. But I had to tell you that we’ve found a solution! We visited the Wicked Witch—she’s wicked good, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, turns out her reputation is devised to keep out anybody looking for free help—the beggars can be as thick as thieves around here and they all want a handout.
But we went to visit her and she fixed Beastly up with a potion so that on the three nights of the full moon, he turns into a human. So while it’s not the ideal solution, at least we can get down and do the nasty three nights a month. And otherwise, well, there are ways. I’ve gotten pretty adept in pleasing myself and Beastly, well, you know men. Anyway, the Witch assured us this is a permanent fix, and she’ll work on something better, but for now—it works. So I’ve accepted and I’m going to become Mrs. Belle Beastly come the end of the month. Would love to have you here, if possible, to be my maid of honor. It’s going to be a little weird—he wants all the household china in attendance which I find odd, but in a way, they’re his only family so whatever.
Save the date—November 30th, Harvest 200. It’s going to be grand!
Love (and write, damn it),
Belle & Beastly
25.November. Harvest 200 BG
333 Rosebud Lane, Kingdom of Ever After
I’m so sorry I haven’t written—just…so much went on. I hope to make your wedding. It depends on how quickly my fairy godmother can get us there. It’s okay if I bring Antonia, right?
So, yes…notice the new address. I’ve moved. Well, I will be moving. I know it seems sudden but the past few weeks have been insane. That’s why you haven’t heard from me. I guess I should start where I left off last time.
StepBitch was furious. She was certain that that girl was trying to steal away Prince Charming from her spawn. I tried diverting the subject but that’s all she would go on about. And she wanted me to make three entirely new gowns—ones that would ‘knock the pants off the prince.’ Well, one week to make three ball gowns? I’d like to see anybody manage that. But given their taste levels, I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong. She gave me bolts of this hideous fabric that was covered with a print of prancing ponies and, good gods, it looked like something out of a nursery rhyme. The two other fabrics were just as bad—a rainbow unicorn print, and little white kitties with pink bows. Hellooooo….we’re talking grown women here. Who wears that at our age?
But there’s no arguing with her, so I took the fabric and was trying to figure out how to get three dresses done in a week when my fairy godmother showed up again. It wasn’t time for the dance, so I was surprised to see her, but she said that she was helping out someone else too—apparently the fairy godmother circuit is a busy one—and by helping me finish the dresses, she’d be helping somebody else.
After making certain she wasn’t double timing me with the step-spawn, I stood back, she waved that witchy wand of hers, and bingo! Three ugly-as-sin dresses, ready to go. I stuffed them in the closet for now. No use letting the StepBitch know I was done so soon. At least this way I was able to lock myself in the sewing room and lounge around while everybody else thought I was drudging away.
So the closer it got to the third dance, the more nervous I got. What was I going to do? This would be my last chance to see Antonia, and how was I ever going to tell her the truth. The night of the dance, after the StepBitch and her spawn were off, I waited for my fairy godmother and sure enough, she showed up. I had been afraid she might stiff me this time, but nope, there she was. This time the dress was as brilliant as starlight, and she gave me a pair of glass heels. Damn those things hurt, but she just shook her finger at me and told me, “Beauty and pain often go hand in hand.”
Right then, I decided that—once I was married, hopefully to Antonia—I was going back to flats and being less beautiful. The chicken and rats were up for their jobs as usual. I think they were getting used to being in human form. I have no clue what they’ll do when they realize the the gig was a limited production. And then, we were off for the ball. By the way, the dizzying speeds of riding the HEA trail, as my fairy godmother calls it, are enough to make you throw up. Luckily, I was too nervous to eat dinner so my stomach just did flip-flops all the way to the castle.
I got there and damned if the Prince wasn’t waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. And this is where things took a bad turn.
“I love you,” he told me.
“What do you expect me to say to that?” I said.
I stared at him like he had two heads. What the hell was I supposed to do with that?
“I can’t give you an answer now,” was the best I could come up with to shut him up. I knew if I said no outright, he would cause a stir and that was the last thing I wanted.
After we danced three dances, I managed to slip away. But honestly, we danced nine times, said a handful of words to one another, and he was in love with me? Antonia and I had talked for hours. We had kissed. We clicked. But the Prince? I think the only thing clicking was what he had down under those tight, fugly white pants of his.
I snuck into the women’s bathroom again, and Antonia was there. Once again, it just felt right. She kissed me, and I started crying. She asked me what was wrong and I broke down and confessed to her that I wasn’t a real princess. That came as a shock, but she hustled me out of the bathroom to a private suite and made me tell her all about my life.
I guess there’s nothing like the truth because when I told her what my life had been like with the StepBitch and her spawn, and my father no longer giving a damn about anybody or anything, she teared up and said it didn’t matter to her whether I was a princess or a pauper.
“We’ll run away together,” she said. “My brother’s set to inherit the castle and they’re already trying to set up an arranged marriage for me. I’m not about to marry some drunken lout of a prince when I can have my very own princess—and don’t you talk back. You’re a princess in spirit. I have enough jewels and furs to sell so we’ll have plenty to start our lives together with. We can move to Ever After where they don’t really give a damn who’s canoodling who. Love is love, whether you’re talking two princes, two princesses, or a chicken and a duck.”
I grinned at her through my tears. “I guess that makes you the duck, right?”
We plotted and planned—she would come for me a week later, once she had gathered everything she needed, and we’d be off. Just the two of us. I gave her my address and then, reluctantly, had to leave. The last thing I needed was to be standing in the middle of the dance in my ragged dress, and for my carriage to turn back into a pumpkin.
As I was heading up the stairs for the door, however, my shoe got caught on the step. I tugged, but the heel was firmly attached to the damned stair by some sort of sticky goo. I saw the Prince racing toward me and realized he had smeared something like honey—I hope it was honey—on the staircase to catch me on the way out.
“Dude, this is insane,” I shouted at him. “You really don’t know anything about me, and what if some nice old lady got herself caught on this mess? Really, you think with your penis, don’t you?”
He let out a huff and made some rambling spiel about love and destiny—I wasn’t really paying attention, I was too busy trying to free myself—and was getting close enough that I was actually thinking he might be able to catch me. But then I saw Antonia standing behind him, miming for me to take off my shoe. And bingo, that did it. I slid my foot out of the shoe and—yanking off the other one as well—I raced up the stairs and out to my carriage and we were whisked away onto the HEA Highway.
Well, I thought I escaped. All week, I gathered what I would need, bit by bit so the StepBitch and her spawn wouldn’t notice. I decided the chickens and my pet rats were coming with. No way would I leave them to be dinner and cat food, respectively. But I underestimated Prince Charming.
Because the morning before Antonia was supposed to come for me, who should show up but the Prince and a few of his toadies. Turns out, he had managed to get my shoe and the damn thing would only fit the rightful owner—one flaw of the Fairy Godmother magic. So he had been going door to door, hunting high and low for the ‘girl who won his heart’ blah blah blah, ad nauseam.
StepBitch hustled her three spawn out, of course, to try on the shoe. I had no plans of joining them, or of even asking to join them, but my father took it into his head to start paying attention to me again, and sure enough, I found myself dragged out in front of the Prince. And let me tell you, the look I got from him was enough to make me want to slap him.
“You expect to let this beggar girl try on this beautiful shoe?” This, from the Prince.
“Well, my husband insisted,” the StepBitch said, sounding as pleased as the Prince looked.
“I can go back inside. I don’t have to try it on—really. Honest.” I turned, about to head back in the kitchen when one of the toadies whispered something to the prince.
“Wait, wait, fair maiden. My comrade here reminds me that all in this kingdom of mine have a voice and a right to strive for the betterment of their situation. Come then, try on the shoe.”
I wanted to face palm, but regardless of how democratic he tried to sound, the truth was, you defy the prince and you find yourself in the dungeon. Slowly, I stepped forward and offered one foot. He grimaced at the dirt on the bottom of my sole—I tend to go barefoot a lot—and slid the shoe onto my foot. Damned thing fit like a glove.
The Prince was looking very WTF, but in an effort to be valiant, I guess, he gallantly offered me his hand. “You are my mysterious love from the ball. Come with me and rule the kingdom by my side.”
I stared at his hand, wincing. It was then that I noticed someone else in his carriage. Antonia. Her gaze met mine and she flew out of the carriage and over to the Prince’s side, a stricken look on her face.
“I’m in love with someone else,” I blurted out.
The Prince gave me a skeptical look. “But…you are a cinder maid. How can you…Who would want…”
“It’s me! I would want her.” Antonia pushed around him. “If you cannot recognize Cinderella as the beautiful princess who graced your balls, then you’re an idiot, brother o’ mine. But I do. She’s the same one who hid in the bathroom trying to get away from you that first night. And after that, she hid out because we discovered one another and fell in love. Well, we won’t hide it any longer. She’s my true love, not yours. You can’t have her.”
The Prince’s jaw dropped. The StepBitch sounded like she’d swallowed one of the chickens whole, and my Father blinked rapidly, then drifted back inside to read the evening paper.
“Well, this is a fine little mess. What, pray tell, am I going to tell Mother? She expects me to wed this…this…scullery drudge, thinking she’s a fine princess. And then you come along and say that you fell in love with her and that you are horning in?”
I dropped the shoe and raced over to Antonia, who opened her arms to pull me in. She kissed me, Belle—in front of everybody, she kissed me long and hard, with a passion that ran from the tip of my head through my toes.
“I love you, too. I’m almost ready. I just have to gather my things and we’ll be off.”
“What? Where are you going?” Now the prince was sounding downright belligerent.
“To a place where you’ll never be comfortable. Where everybody is welcome.” Antonia gave him a little shove toward the carriage. “Tell Mother I’ll write to her when we get settled, but that if she wants to ever hear from me again, she’d better get used to the idea that there’s going to be no arranged marriage, and I’m not a pawn to be used in her diplomatic machinations.”
With that, she took my arm and kissed me on the cheek.
“Come with me while I get my things?” I led her past the StepBitch, who apparently for the first time in her life was speechless, past the spawn, who first sniggered, then figured out I wasn’t taking their prince away from them so all three descended on him, plying him with cookies and fawning and all things that would probably make an impact on his ego. Lastly, we passed by my father. He just gazed at me, almost sadly, but turned back to his paper.
In my room, I gathered a bag of my best things, and—turning to Antonia—I said, “You’re sure, now? You’re giving up a kingdom for me. I’m just giving up…hell for heaven.”
She smiled, and it might have been a little bravely, Belle, but I swear to you, she said, “You’re worth more than all kingdoms combined. We’ll make a new home, somewhere between heaven and hell.”
At that point, and this was really the crown on the cake, I heard my mother’s ghost call out to me. We left through the back door and headed to the graveyard. There, I saw Mother, standing near her headstone. She motioned for us to follow and led us into a hidden glen near her grave. There, she pointed toward a rock and told me to look beneath it.
I pushed it aside, only to see—get this—a hole in the ground, and inside the hole was a small velvet bag. I pulled it out and it fell open to reveal a fortune in jewelry. Mother’s jewels.
“I wanted you to find something more valuable than jewels and money, before I gave you these. I wanted you to find your heart’s true mate, so that these would not cloud your senses, nor become your greatest love in the world.” Mother’s spirit appeared. “And so you have found her, and now you may take these and go light the world ablaze. Love each other, and let that be your guiding force.”
And with that, Mother vanished from sight forever, to her peace.
I stood, tucking the jewels inside my pocket. “Antonia, will you marry me and be my princess over a kingdom of chickens and rats?”
She laughed. “If we can have a cat and a dog, and perhaps down the line, we’ll have children. There are so many without homes.”
“Then let’s get the chickens and rats and leave now.”
And Belle, that’s how we left for Ever After. I told her the truth about myself, and she loved me anyway. We found a tidy home on Rosebud Lane, and Ever After is filled with everybody who doesn’t seem to fit into Prince Charming’s Kingdom. And the wonderful thing is, nobody here cares. So why don’t you and Beastly come live here? You’d be welcomed in a minute and we could hang out and I’m sure Beastly and Antonia would have plenty to talk about.
Just let me know when you’re coming—I seem to feel that you will—and we’ll make sure the guest room is ready. I suppose, sometimes we do get our happily-ever-afters. It’s just not always the way you think it’s going to be, right?
Love, Cindy…and Antonia.