Alone she walked through the doorway, chestnut brown legs that seemed to go on an on, draped in gold silk that led up past an hourglass figure to only just frame elegant, ebony shoulders. Emerald eyes that sparkled as the soft lighting hit them; lightly sprinkled freckles that dotted themselves eloquently over high cheekbones, framing a beautifully dimpled smile that showed 32 small gleaming pearls.
The smile in question, however, did not seem to exude joy. On the contrary, it seemed this pool of jade framed by feathered eyelashes was downcast, and the glowing pearls gave more of a picture of civility than happiness.
Why a face so exquisite in detail would not be the life and soul of this dreary event was beyond the young man who stood watching her. Instead she sat at a table in solitude, smiling politely at every older woman who stopped to acknowledge her. And there were a lot of older women.
It seemed this place, this ‘Established Womens’ Ball, should not be a place for a lady who looked no older than 22. A lady who turned more than just his head and, unbeknown to her, had almost every eye in the room watching her, faces agleam with jealousy or lust. It seemed to the young man, now incapable of doing anything else but gawk at her, that established or not, she should be out enjoying her life, finding her love and breaking a few hearts. The young man wondered what in the world would reduce a lady so young, so innocent, so undeniably beautiful to sit alone at a table in a women’s ball, looking as close to tears as a stunning swan could look. After moments of pained wondering, he decided to find out.
“In case you were unaware, you are distracting a lot of the guests from eating their meal. If you could miss, please try not to look so…..delicious; I really don’t welcome competition”
Cindy jumped up at the sound of a voice suddenly popping up behind her, actually talking to her. The teasing voice belonged to a male, whose baritone chords made the hairs on her neck stand to attention. She began to turn around to match this seductive voice with a face which she prayed would not disappoint. But before she could, the male voice stooped down behind her and whispered softly:
“You know the only reason you’re sitting here alone is because every man in the room is too scared to approach you.”
She began to object, feeling the reason behind her failed night out was nothing to do with any hostility she may have shown any strangers. He leaned closer, stopping any protest she may have had, as it took all her strength not to lean back into him.
“Beauty, especially one as alluring as yours, intimidates men. Believe it or not, every man in here is probably thinking the same thing and I’m sure they’re all thoughts they wouldn’t want their wives to hear”
“And what kind of thoughts may those be?” Cindy said, catching up to his flirtatious game.
“Oh, thoughts I don’t think an innocent young lady like you should be privy to hearing. Why, I believe ears as delicate as those should never hear such things.”
“Who told you I’m as innocent as I look?” Cindy replied.
The young man was stunned at such a bold reply and Cindy took this opportunity to survey the face of the man who had heightened her senses far more than any man she’d ever met.
As soon as she did, she wished she hadn’t. The man in question was wearing what was undoubtedly a waiter’s uniform and carrying a silver tray full of au d’oeuvres. Despite his chiselled face, rock hard cheek bones and a cheeky dimple in one corner of a delectable smile; eyes that seem to look into your very soul and an aura of a man five times his earning potential, Cindy did not want to be charmed and enchanted by a man who couldn’t hold a job or be committed to it; who went around charming young, lonely women; and certainly one who could not keep her company on this miserable night on account of having to run into the kitchen to do his job. Yes, Cindy certainly wished she hadn’t turned around, but still, she had to be polite.
“So what is your name, sir? I think I deserve the pleasure of knowing that before this conversation can go any further.”
“Let’s not worry about formalities like that tonight, Madame” he said coyly. “Why waste a beautiful night like this exchanging things like names and addresses? I don’t know about you, but when I first meet a breathtakingly stunning woman, the first thing I want to do is take her in my arms and make her feel as wonderful as she looks” He pursed his full lips and deepened his stare to ensure the implication was not lost.
Cindy was about to make a sarcastic remark about her not knowing anything about that sensation as she was attracted to gorgeous men and how he should stop being so distractingly sexy and answer her question; when she saw a colourfully dressed woman walk in with bouts of laughter all around her and two men rushing to take her coat. Cindy looked at the huge clock in front of the banquet hall.
“Sorry, I have to go...” She said, as she quickly gathered her things. “It’s been really nice meeting you but erm….bye” and with that, she rushed out as fast as she could, leaving behind a small white-gold encrusted purse which the dejected waiter picked up and tried to give her before she ran too far out of his reach. He stopped, remembering he had a job to do, checked his breath and body odour, suddenly feeling a little insecure (a feeling strange to him), before proceeding to serve the night’s guests.
Cindy ran as fast as her legs could carry her, all the while checking the white snakeskin watch her father gave her a few years ago. His last present. Thankfully, she got home just before midnight and even had time to run up to her room in the attic without being noticed. She wiped off her make-up, delicately took off the heavy jewellery and swiftly changed into her nightgown. This took the better part of 10 minutes and by the time midnight struck, Cindy was safe in her bed and her household was none the wiser.
“Cindy, Cindy, come down here. I know you’re not asleep!”
No sound came.
“CINDY!” The busty woman, tired and agitated from her night out, started to climb the stairs, in search of her stepdaughter. Thankfully, Cindy appeared on the stairs before the poor woman had to drag her 4 layers of clothing- undergarments, frock and jacket included- up many flights of stairs. Cindy was dressed in an ankle-length nightgown and tattered old slippers that were becoming too small. She looked tired and annoyed from having been woken up after midnight, except one thing. Her hair was done up in a messily elegant hairstyle which gleamed and glittered from many angles. How strange...
“Cinders, you sure you’ve been sleeping?”
“Course! What else would I have been doing?!” Cindy snapped “And I TOLD you to stop calling me Cinders!!! That ISN’T my name!!”
“Well, I’m sorry darl, I just thought since your dad used to…”
“What do you want? Some of us have things to do tomorrow morning!”
The woman started to back down the stairs, holding onto to the banister with slightly trembling fingers. Uh-oh, Cindy was in another one of her moods.
“Erm, well I just came back from that ball. Remember? That women’s ball?” The woman asked.
Cindy rolled her eyes and urgently tapped her foot, indicating that the woman should hurry to the reason for her inquiry. “Well, you know those ugly women who haven’t got anything better to do than show off their husbands and gossip?” She waited for a laugh from Cindy. Nothing.
“Erm, well, they were all getting roused about some girl, apparently some young thing, who showed up out of nowhere and took the attention of a lot of their ‘perfect’, faithful husbands. I wanted to meet her, you know, thank her for bringing some life into the party, but apparently, she left just before I came. I…I just wondered whether you knew her or anything. You seem to be popular round these parts.”
“Is that the reason you woke me up at this ungodly hour?!” Cindy looked at this middle-aged woman up and down as if she was a piece of gum on her shoe. “Why don’t you just ask one of your precious daughters?”
“Oh honey, you know they’re at that sleepover tonight. Plus, they aren’t nearly as popular as you”
“Oh yh, the sleepover I was conveniently NOT taken to. And I’m only popular cos there aren’t any friends for me in this house!”
“Now Cindy, don’t be like that. My girls try their hardest to be friends with you, and you always just push them away. They too know what its like to lose a father and they’re trying to be there for you. But sometimes, you’re just so impossible…”
Cindy put her hand up in the woman’s face before she could finish. “Impossible? Impossible?! Hah! You guys are the ones keeping me prisoner here and treating me like the housemaid ever since my dad left. Your girls! Hmm, I bet you they don’t know what its like to lose a father and gain a slave-driving, EVIL stepmother at the same time. Hah, your girls, your pathetic, unpopular, weedy little…”
Right on cue, Mary-Ann and Joanna, the blonde, 17-year old twins of the house, walked in, oblivious to the tense scene that had erupted in their 4-storey mansion. Their giggling and squealing soon stopped when they saw the livid expression on their stepsister’s face, hovering over their plump mother who looked positively scared to death. Oh no, Cindy had started again.
“Hey Cindy” They both nervously crept towards their mother, anxious to help her off the stairs, as she began to lose balance. Cindy’s mad eyes darted towards them with a look of venom that caused the girls to retreat back towards the door. Their mother didn’t notice them come in.
“Now….now look here, Cindy, ever since your dad died, my family and I have tried our best to look after you. I have invited you on every family trip, included you in all our games and even offered to give you me and your dad’s old room. Lord knows I couldn’t sleep in there no more. Yet, every offer I have made, you have shut down with a thousand arrows! You didn’t want to be seen with us, you detested family games and you insisted on locking yourself up in that old attic, to isolate yourself from this family. You have never shown me an ounce of gratitude, not that I ever asked for it, and I’ve even taken the many insults you have thrown at me over the last few years. But when you start throwing those insults at my girls, well missy, I just won’t stand for it. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!!!”
The middle-aged woman put her hand on her heart as she started to breathe heavily, exasperated from all the drama her stepdaughter had began, and the thrill from having finally stood up for herself. Well, her daughters.
“MUM!” Mary-Ann and Joanna saw how weak their mother was getting and immediately rushed to hold her up before she fell down the stairs, or worse, collapsed.
Their shout was heard by their housemaid, Beatrice, a curvy African-American, who had known Cindy since she was born and had been like a second mum to her. The only woman who could tell her the truth and the only woman who was allowed to comfort her when her dad passed away.
“What happened?! Cindy, you started your nonsense again?!” Beatrice waggled her claw-like nails at Cindy, who had now relaxed her death grip on the banister, but still had the nastiest scowl on her face. “Honestly, Miss Cornflower, I told you to kick her out. She ain’t nothing but trouble! Look at how she’s been giving you heart attacks and whatnot every night! Don’t let a brat end you up in hospital ma’am, kick her ungrateful butt out!” Cindy looked at the woman who used to bathe her, clothe her and even feed her when her mum was too sick to do it. Her face was one of utter disbelief. The betrayal, the backstabbing, the…shock of it all froze Cindy on the spot.
“Don’t look at me like that! You’ve been running around here as if you the queen bee, giving anybody who tried to be nice to you sheer hell! Guess what, honey, you ain’t the first person to ever lose your daddy, and you certainly ain’t the last! Not in this house. Now this woman tried her hardest to welcome you into her family, your ONLY family, and you ain’t been nothing but rude! She should’ve kicked you out years ago!”
Cindy looked around at her ‘only’ family. Her stepmother, still in her colourful party frock, was being held up by a struggling pair of happy-go-lucky twins who had tried to be Cindy’s friend ever since her dad had married their mother 10 years ago. All being supported by her friend and confidante, the only woman who could ever tell Cindy the truth, who could chastise Cindy while somehow still being on her side, who was always her supporter, no matter what. She covered her face as the tears came pouring down and ran upstairs as quickly as she could so the women wouldn’t see her cry.
“Cindy!” the girls, led by their mother, started to run upstairs to comfort their ungrateful family member.
“Let her go! Let her go! She will be back tomorrow morning, will she not?! She can apologize properly then!”
As Cindy heard that last snide remark from her Mama B, she could hardy hold in her tears as she now sprinted away from the rejection radiating from downstairs. But the tears were not just from sorrow, as she thought more and more about her luck in life, her sorrowful sobs slowly turned into anger. An anger that carried her up the last 2 flights of stairs, ripped open her wardrobe and threw all her clothes into an emergency holdall sitting by the door. Her anger that took her to the drawer and threw open every chest, and flung every valuable onto the floor, just missing the bag. Thankfully, the vast space in her father’s mansion meant that no-one could hear the fierce tirade going on in Cindy’s room between her and all her furniture, and no-one could hear the violent screams that slowly turned into great heaving sobs as Cindy ran out of energy and flopped onto her bed.
Her groans took her into the night as she thought about how she lost her mother to MS a few short years after she was born; how she had barely dealt with her mother’s grief when she had to welcome a new woman into the house 6 years later and how she was left in the hands of this strange woman after her dad died and left the woman his entire estate. She wept bitterly as she remembered all the good times she’d had with Beatrice who’d been the only consistent figure in her life, even more so than her parents. She remembered the times she would take Cindy to a ball game or a theatre production whenever her dad cancelled on her, yet again, for a work-related event. In fact, it was in one of the Shakespeare productions, ‘King Lear’ that Beatrice and Cindy decided, whatever happened, whoever came along, it was her and her Mama Bonnie against the world. All for two and two for all! That was before Miss Cornflower. Now it looked like Cindy was on her own.
It was about 2am when the tears finally dried up and for the first time, Cindy could see things much clearer. She finished packing up the rest of her stuff, carefully selecting only what she needed- a few shirts, a few trousers, a lot of underwear and some jewellery. She left enough space, though, for one more item: a pink and white photo album hidden underneath her bed, tucked up right under where she put her head. She changed into a jumper, a pair of jeans and trainers and tiptoed quietly out of the house.
It’s not like she’d never run away before. In fact, she tried to escape several times a year through the trellis outside her window. However, she’d only ever gotten as far as the end of the clean, suburban road before realising that with no money and no loyal friends, she’d be better off miserable in a mansion than miserable on the street (and after the trellis was cut down, she was too scared of getting caught and whipped by Beatrice).
But this night was different. This night she had been humiliated and conspired against by her entire household. This night, more than ever, she longed for her parents who she was sure, would always be on her side. This night, she thought as she looked back at her big pink house, by far the largest on the neighbourhood, which held some of her happiest (and saddest) childhood memories; this night she would never return.