All nagging thoughts and worries were blotted out from my mind as I drank in his flawless eyes. He placed his hand on my back, my hand on his shoulder, and our free hands clasped together. As I twirled around, the full skirt of my dress flared out in a fluttering blur of sparkling blue color. He turned elegantly, his body in tune with the music. Every moment, every angle seemed to be planned in advance. I felt as if I was floating with every graceful move. Together, we danced to the music, blissfully unaware of our surroundings.
Dong! Dong! Dong! The noise pierced my reverie. Suddenly, a sense of dread rushed over me. My dress would be reduced to rags when the clock struck twelve! How could I be so forgetful of my godmother’s warning? With one look of regret, I broke away from Prince Gabriel’s arms.
“Uhh, I’m very sorry; nice dancing with you.” But it was too late. As soon as my arms were unlocked from his, my gown vanished. In a split second, I was clad in filthy rags.
Not even the fittest of words could describe what humiliation I felt. I watched as his tender gaze changed into a look of shock, then one of bitter contempt.
“How dare you deceive me by your mock beauty, you double-crosser! You ruined all my plans! I was going to marry you-” He spat onto my cheek, then violently punched my jaw.
I must have laid unconscious for quite a while, because everyone had left and only two paramedics by my side examined me. They lifted me onto a stretcher, and placed me inside the ambulance.
My kind stepmother Lady Charlotte and my stepsisters Mary and Alice helped me to a carriage. During the bumpy ride, I tried to make sense of what had happened. Surely Gabriel had gone to jail by now. Even though he had hurt me, I ached with a sense of loss. He had been my only hope of marriage.
As I settled under the blanket, my head began to ache. How could he have rejected me? Was I actually ugly? Mother had always reassured me about the opposite. I trusted her, until now. She just said that to comfort me, but it was a lie. I imagined myself in my head. That freckled face covered with acne. Those stretch marks across my chest and belly. At least I wasn’t fat like other girls at the ball. Nobody ever noticed me until today, when the godmother transformed me into a princess. Maybe Gabriel was right. I did double cross him. Every bit of beauty I had was fake. Will he ever forgive me?
I cried myself to sleep.
Eight days later, there was a knock on the door. Out of habit, I flung it open. A handsome man with stark brown eyes greeted me. He introduced himself as Gabriel’s brother, and informed me that he had been released from prison. He then told me that he invited me to his palace to talk with me. I hesitantly accepted.
My heart pounded furiously in my chest. I felt as if it was going to leap out at any moment. My hands were cold with sweat. A guard escorted me to the prince’s quarters. As I gazed around at the familiar halls, last night’s incident flooded my memory. As we approached the prince’s room, the door swung open.
I involuntarily gasped, my eyes wide with wonder. This bedroom was unlike anything I had ever seen. So – so magnificent – no that was not the right word for it. Everything was either covered in velvet red, or overlaid with gold. A sparkling chandelier hung overhead from the ornately carved ceiling. The air was scented with an abundance of fresh flowers. The luxurious carpet sank comfortably under my feet.
The prince summoned me to sit beside him. He seemed embarrassed because he would not look me in the eye.
“I – I really feel bad about what I did to you. You didn’t deserve it. You were only trying to look pretty. I – I’m sorry. You see – well, you don’t understand,” he faltered.
“I do understand.”
He opened his mouth to speak again, but no words came out. At last, he burst into tears. He put his head into his hands, sobbing quietly. I ventured to place my hand on his shoulder.
“My mother died when I was only three months old,” he said in between sobs. “My father became very angry. He would yell and abuse us. I remember constantly getting black eyes. As I grew older and began talking to other girls, the would laugh at my attempts to court them. Then I would become enraged and hit them. Often, I was sentenced to juvenile prison. My father then hosted a ball, and you came along -” he could not bear to go on.
“I forgive you, and you were right about my ugly appearance. You couldn’t have described it better.”
He gazed into my eyes with renewed hope.
“How – how can you be so – kind?”
“God forgave me of my sin and disobedience. So now I can forgive others.”
As I said those words, his hand enclosed mine in a seal of friendship. That was all I needed.