Not So Prince Charming
Once upon a time, in an ordinary town with sixteen pregnant teenagers, one swimming pool with a hole in the bottom, a dysfunctional bowling alley that was usually missing bowling pins, and four pet shops that only sold cats, there lived a young woman named Cinderella, though everyone just called her Ella. No boys wrote poems about her beauty or lined up to ask her to the dances at school; Ella was just Ella.
Growing up, Ella always ended up in the principal’s office for throwing dirt, pulling pigtails, and yelling insults at the other little girls. She loved to throw a football with the boys and watch horror movies that made her hair stand on end. Being a girl was boring – books and fancy handwriting. She had a handful of female acquaintances and that was plenty. Ella preferred hanging out with the boys.
Everything changed on her eighteenth birthday. When other girls were asking for cars or fancy vacations, Ella received a different type of gift. Wrapped in blue and white polka dot paper was a small box, the leftover container from some of her favorite thin mint cookies. It contained a picture of a handsome young man that she didn’t recognize, dressed in a strange white shirt with gold stripes on the puffy sleeves, and a large black dress shoe that was scuffed.
“I don’t get it,” she mumbled.
“It’s your birthday present!” her mother squealed.
“That much I understand… the wrapping paper and birthday card, but… why is there a picture of a guy inside and a shoe?”
“Tada! I got you a handsome prince for your birthday. He was on sale at the department store and I just fell in love with him. All you have to do is find him by trying the shoe on as many guys as it takes until the shoe fits. The prince has six toes on his right foot; the shoe will only fit him.”
Ella’s jaw dropped. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”
Her mother flipped her hair over her shoulder and rolled her eyes at her daughter. “Just be grateful that you didn’t have to rescue him from some tall tower and kiss him to wake up. You could get communicable diseases from that.”
“And touching men’s dirty feet is okay?”
Ella’s mother sighed. “Trust me. I had to rescue your father from three witches that loved dressing him in pink and blue drag dresses. It was awful.”
Ella threw her hands up in frustration. “I don’t want a prince! Did you ask me if I wanted you to buy me a prince charming?”
“Well, no… I just assumed that every girl wants to find her prince.”
“How am I supposed to find him? Ask every guy I meet if I can put this shoe on his foot and if he has six toes on his right foot? What is this, The Princess Bride?”
Ella watched as her mother picked up the newspaper off the coffee table and opened to the commitments section.
“No, it would be six fingers instead of toes. You could put up posters or something to find him.”
“Mom, I don’t want a prince!”
Her mother sighed once, flipping the page loudly. “Sorry dear, but it’s a nonrefundable gift.”
Ella fidgeted at the table, kicking off the ridiculous hot pink heels that her mother had insisted she wear. The one-strap, hot pink dress with sequined top and puffy lace bottom was also not comfortable and totally not her style. Her mom had hung up posters and rented out the local ballroom for Ella to try the scuffed shoe on every available prince in the city. Ella’s best friend, Snow sat quietly next to her, applying another coat of red lipstick and adjusting the ridiculous matching red bow in her hair. She had picked a bad wingman… err, wing-woman.
“I wish my mom would buy me a prince,” Snow said, tucking away her mirror.
“You can have mine if we ever find him.”
“I already read the contract that your mom signed; he is nonrefundable and you can’t transfer him to someone else. It’s totally unfair.”
Ella rolled her eyes, watching as groups of men dressed in puffy-sleeved shirts wandered around the room, sipping raspberry punch and munching on chocolate chips cookies. She was surprised that no one had bolted yet. These princes must be as desperate as her mother. Ella groaned as her mom ran up onto the stage, almost tripped on her long blue dress and grabbed the microphone.
“All right, gentlemen,” her mother said. “It’s time to begin. You will each get two minutes to talk with Cinderella and she will slip a shoe onto your foot to see if you are her prince. Don’t be shy! Have a lot of fun!”
Snow sat up straight beside her, sticking out her flat chest. Ella put a fake smile on her face as the first man approached the table. He had wild blond hair, a dark blue tunic covered by gold colored armor, brown gloves, and a sword strapped to his hip. Was he going to fight someone for her love and his shoe?
“Hello, I’m Phoebus, Captain of the Guard. I have a horse.” He cleared his throat. “I also like saving girls and attending fairs with gypsies so I can watch their breasts. I mean chests! I mean I like their dancing. Oh, and I really don’t like goats.”
Phoebus just stood there. It was apparently all that he had to say. Ella picked up the shoe and watched as he stuck out his socked foot, which smelled of mold and horse dung. Ew. It didn’t fit. Thank goodness! Phoebus shrugged his shoulders and quickly darted after a well-endowed girl serving sandwiches from a plastic plate.
“He wasn’t really a prince,” Snow whispered.
“I know and I’m pretty sure he was looking at your boobs the whole time he was talking. Pig. And he didn’t have six toes on one foot.”
The next potential prince approached the table. His dark brown hair fell slightly into his dazzling blue eyes and distracted Ella momentarily from the small planks with tassels sticking out from his shoulders and the twenty buttons on his white suit top.
“Hi, I’m Prince Eric and I must say that you look lovely. I saw a girl with your hair color once… she saved me from drowning.”
“Thanks,” Ella mumbled. “Tell me about yourself.”
“I have a dog named Max and I live on my own private island. I have a butler named Grimsby, a crazy cook, and I love crabs. I also have no other family members, so we would never be interrupted.”
Ella snatched the shoe off the table and stared at the pristine white sock with his name sewn into the bottom. Way too childish. Luckily, it didn’t fit either. Also, he only had five toes. The instructions on the poster said that they had to have six toes on their foot. Could these princes not even read? Ella sighed, waiting for the next prince. The next man was big and burly with broad shoulders and blond hair. He flashed his white teeth.
“The name is John Smith. I love exploring and talking to animals.”
“Next!” Ella shouted.
Her mother quickly popped up from talking to Prince Eric. “Honey, you’re supposed to try the shoe on his foot first,” she said through her teeth, the smile not leaving her face, though her voice was tight with disappointment.
Ella grimaced. “Do you have six toes on your right foot?”
“No, but – I”
Ella glanced down at the impossibly long list of names and photos and groaned. One of the men had actually signed his name as “Tarzan” and half of the letters were backwards. Next to the name was a picture of a long haired man dressed in only a brown loincloth. No way! This was a waste of time. The next suitor was followed to the table by seven extremely hair and short men, grumbling about unwashed dishes, a pest problem, and the lack of soap in their hut. Talk about baggage. Ella didn’t even look at the prince before dismissing him and his pack of dwarves.
“He was cute!” Snow protested. “I wish I had dwarves as pets. So much better than fish or birds or ferrets or –”
“You are welcome to have him,” Ella exclaimed, throwing her arms up in frustration.
Snow jumped up from the table and chased after him, claiming that she could sing to animals and they would clean for them. Wow, desperate.
The evening continued to get worse. Prince after “prince” described his lack of intellectual ability to think for himself, his loneliness, and his longing for a beautiful woman to become his princess. Even a green frog with a strange accent tried to convince Ella that he really was a prince and he didn’t have a gambling problem, but one kiss from her sweet lips would break the spell and they could hang out or something. However, he also wanted to know if she had a rich father and could bake. No. Another man, with a strange bun on top of head claimed that he could make a man out of her. That was not romantic in the least. Her favorite was the man was the puffy white hat with a purple feather sticking out of it, billowy white pants and he claimed to be Sultan… except he had a tattoo of “Street Rat” on his left hand and a monkey named Abu hiding with a lamp under his hat. Hmm, that wasn’t at all suspicious.
Only two more princes left. The second to the last approached the table. It was hard to see his face, partially covered by a long dark purple cloak. Two furry hands were holding the cloth in front of his face and Ella could see that the hair went up his arms and down his neck. Okay… he was fuzzy.
“What’s your name?” Ella asked, trying to see around his cloak.
“Beast,” his deep voice rumbled.
“Beast… that’s an interesting name. Tell me about yourself.”
She rolled her eyes as he leaned in, looking around anxiously.
“I live in a castle with enchanted talking objects. The candlestick won’t shut up and the clock is extremely annoying. I demand that you come and live with me!” Beast yelled. “Please,” he added as an afterthought.
“No,” Ella said.
“I said please!”
“And my answer is no. Move on.”
Finally, the last prince stepped up to the table. His blond hair looked as if someone had placed a bowl upon his head and cut off all of the hair that wasn’t underneath the covering, and then sprayed it down with an entire bottle of hairspray. His eyes were color of a blue baby blanket and his lips looked as if he’d borrowed a young girl’s pink Chap Stick. He was dressed in black dress pants that were a size too tight, a hideous pink and black checkered suit coat, a white button down, and a hot pink bowtie. The suit coat was too small and he could barely move his arms in it. In his hands were a bouquet of six plastic roses and a heart shaped box of chocolates with a silver ribbon on the front.
“Do you have six toes on your right foot?” Ella asked in a monotone voice.
What? Ella sat up a little straighter. She actually found a guy that had six toes on his right foot? She had begun to think that he didn’t exist and it was a typo on the certificate.
“Oh, well… have a seat. What’s your name?”
“Henry, but first I have something to admit to you.”
Ella frowned. “What?”
“I’m not actually a prince. My mom forced me to sign up as a “prince” since she calls me her little prince. I actually work for a living.”
Ella rested her chin on her hands and leaned forward on the wobbly table. “What do you do? Tell me about yourself, Henry.”
“I’m actually a fire-fighter, so I work late hours sometimes and I smell like smoke most of the time. I spend way too many nights watching reruns of Law and Order and I secretly like musicals, but I’ll deny it if you ever tell anyone. I’m not romantic at all. For my last girlfriend’s birthday I bought her a hammer and screw driver kit and she dumped me. I’ve got four younger sisters and a dog named Frodo. Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve got a little bit of a fear of commitment. I once told a girl that I was getting a sex change so I didn’t have to take her to prom.”
The young woman’s laughter filled the room. He was the first real guy that she had met all day.
“So, you don’t try to have conversations with your dog or sing with him?” she asked.
“You don’t have crabs or like the chests of dancing gypsies?”
Henry’s laughter sounded like music to Ella’s ears. He shook his head “no” and gave her a big smile. Surprisingly, she felt her heart skip a beat.
“Would you like to go for wings? I’ve got a coupon, if you buy twenty you get ten wings free,” Ella asked.
“Isn’t this the part where you are supposed to return my shoe and propose marriage?”
Ella picked the shoe up off the table and handed it to him, before coming around the other side and taking his offered arm. He gently guided her out of the ballroom and out into the chilly night air.
“Don’t you want to see my foot?” Henry asked.
“Let’s just save that for the second date. We don’t want to move too quickly.”