You all know the story of Cinderella – clock striking at midnight, the prince with the glass slipper – that was all my story, but what I really wanted was a different one. It shouldn’t have been this way. I wanted my happy ending, my perfect resolution. Oh, the prince was fine and dandy, but he wasn’t Pierre. No one was quite like him but of course you would never have heard of him. Since storytellers always succeeded in neglecting his existence, I have taken it upon myself to faithfully inform the public of what happened before I got to the ball.
With the upcoming ball, my two stepsisters and stepmother had sent me to the market with a list of of all the packages I had to collect from various stores around town. Gloves, hair ornaments, necklaces; if it was fashionable, it was on the list. The hardest thing was passing the bakery on my way home. On a street made of stone, cold and uninterested, the bakery radiated warmth and just beckoned any passerby to stop in. Today, a boy, of about twenty, with a basket of bread on his arm, was calling out trying to entice customers for a loaf. I tried to ignore him but I was struggling immensely with my load as I had foolishly not anticipated how many packages I would actually be picking up.
“Miss, fancy a baguette? Hot out of the oven!” the boy waved the bread in my face.
“I don’t have money” I tried to ignore the rumbling coming from my stomach, but seeing from the look of amusement on his face, I had failed miserably.
Suddenly I felt a weight being lifted from my arms as he took some of the packages and carried them into the store. I finally got a better look at him and the first thing I noticed was his height. He was tall, slender and despite carrying an air of maturity he still had the face of a young boy; still filled with hope and dreams.
“The name’s Pierre,” he turned with a wink setting my packages down on the counter.
I must’ve blushed since he laughed, waiting patiently for me to introduce myself.
“Ella,” I finally managed to force out, suddenly registering the heat rising to my cheeks and trying to focus my attention on anything but his eyes.
This feeling, this warm, fresh from the oven, fluffy and golden brown feeling, threatened to escape my poor little heart. I had almost forgotten that it existed for anything besides its function of keeping me alive. They say my father passed away of a broken heart without my mother, and I had sworn off love in order to avoid such a fate. At this point, I didn’t know anymore.
But his eyes. They reminded me of the chocolates my father would bring home from his travels as a special treat. Like those tiny sweets, I wanted to indulge in them forever, to feel the satisfying sensation of the chocolate melting on my tongue again. These days, I was lucky enough to not have starved to death, though the thought of doing so had crossed my mind.
Pierre held out the piece of bread again, pulling me out of my head, “Just take it.”
“No I couldn’t.”
“But I insist.”
“Well I refuse.”
“But your stomach doesn’t.”
I tried to come up with something witty, but my mind panicked. I tried to shove that hunger away along with the giddiness of being in Pierre’s vicinity. These were things I could not allow myself to feel. I did not have the luxury to revel in the golden sunlight that was Pierre, away from the shadows of my reality.
“Please. Just take it. For heaven’s sake, it’s one baguette,” he fished a few coins from his pocket, ringing up the coveted treat.
“ Stop! You’re crazy! I can’t let you pay for that.”
“I’m buying it for myself,” he looked peeved.
“Oh”, I stared at the ground willing the wooden floorboards to split open and swallow me up whole; I could not stand that look of disgust on his face.
But then the sound of chuckling convinced me to look up, “Of course I’m paying for it for you, you silly.”
He was holding his stomach with one hand, as he chortled.
“Don’t torture me like that!” I laughed from the relief that he wasn’t mad at me.
He handed me the bread with that boyish smile on his face again, “My treat. And don’t you refuse now. My feelings would be terribly hurt.”
Rolling my eyes, I felt the energy to resist melt away as I inhaled its scent, and felt it crackle ever so slightly beneath my fingertips. I felt tears well up in my eyes.
Looking alarmed, he put his hand on my shoulder, “Why are you crying? Did I do something wrong?”
I shook my head, smiling up at him, “No, you didn’t do anything wrong. You did everything right.”
By then, I was a faucet that couldn’t be turned off. I missed my mother. I missed my father. I missed the hugs they gave me and the kisses on my forehead. I missed feeling like someone actually cared for me. I began to eat the bread between hiccups, chewing thoughtfully, slowly and deliberately to calm myself down.
“Thank you” I finally managed to say once I had finished the bread, “You’re the kindest person I’ve met for a while.”
He smiled from ear to ear, patting me on the head affectionately. Out of the corner of my eye, I gasped at the time and it was well past the time I was expected home.
“I have to go! I’m so sorry! I hope we meet again,” I gathered up my things, hiked up my skirts and ran out the door.
He didn’t say anything as he sent me on my way, standing in the doorway waving slowly as I scurried off to face the wrath of my stepmother.
“Cinderella! Where were you?” my stepmother towered over me, seeming like a giant about to gobble me up.
I hated how my voice sounded so small as I shrunk into myself, “I got caught up at one of the shops. They couldn’t find your gloves.”
As her eyes narrowed, I felt like a butterfly with its wings pinned as I trembled, “I’m telling the truth!” I insisted.
“Oh Cinderella, I’ve known you long enough to tell when you’re lying to me. Up to your room this instant!”
Knowing that there was nothing else I could do, I listened obediently, flying to my room in the attic. She followed behind, her heels against the marble sounding like the ticking of a clock.
“You will stay in here until you learn your lesson!” she slammed the door in my face, and despair overtook my body as I heard the turning of a key, locking me in.
“Please! Please don’t lock me in here!” I cried, pulling at the door with all my might.
“You should’ve thought about that before coming home late and lying to me,” and with that there was silence on the other side of the door.
I missed Pierre with an ache in my heart so impossible to avoid. I wondered constantly how he was. Trapped could not even begin to describe how I felt. As the ball drew nearer, I began to see it as my means of escape. As I began to formulate a plan, the younger of my stepsisters rapped on my door before finally opening it up.
“Cinderella! I need rouge!” she demanded, “Mother said to go into town with you because you’re our servant.”
I raged at the implication, for wasn’t I family too? But as I didn’t want to make them suspicious, I agreed without complaint and was just glad to finally have been let out of my prison. I could barely hear my sister complaining about her aching feet as we headed into town, too excited to see him.
We passed the bakery. I saw Pierre. But he was with another girl, holding her and smiling into her hair as I had imagined he’d do with me so many times. I didn’t hear anything except for the shattering of my own heart, the pieces spread across the floor impossible to put back together again. The events leading up to the ball were a blur, a distraction from the realization of what I was: a poor orphan girl, starved for love. That story, you already know so why should I repeat myself?
In the end you say, Cinderella got her prince and she lived happily ever after. I say, she did what she had to do to survive. Maybe… maybe one day this will be a comfortable ending. But for now, I tell this story with sorrow in my heart and with hope that this has cleared up your confusion and misunderstanding of how a fairytale truly ends.