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Never Settle

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Cinderella couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so much fun!

She’d danced, not just with the Prince but other courtly gentlemen as well. And the food! Cinderella had never seen such an abundance of it – delicately iced cakes, lacey cookies, sweet and savory pies.

Some other girls her age included her in their group, all of them exclaiming over each other’s ballgowns and hairdos and fancy jewelry. Cinderella basked in the attention, showing off her unique glass slippers and swishing the skirts of the frothy dress her fairy godmother had magicked up for her.

“You look like you’re having a good time,” the Prince said when they were dancing again.

He was very handsome and seemed nice. Cinderella wondered if he felt weird, having to pick his future wife from a group of strangers. Her stepsisters thought it was romantic, but it didn’t seem that way to her.

Marriage should be about love and knowing someone well enough to know you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them. Choosing a girl from a party was like choosing an apple from a bushel. Just because it looked nice didn’t mean it tasted sweet.

“This is a nice party,” Cinderella replied. “Are you really choosing a wife tonight?”

The Prince shrugged. “My parents want me to. They think it’s taking me too long to settle down.”

“Do you want to settle down?” Cinderella asked curiously.

“I’m not in any hurry,” the Prince said.

When the song ended, Cinderella went on a walk through the garden with the Prince, on his arm. There were lanterns lit all along the stone pathway.

“What’s your name?” Cinderella asked.

“Stephen.”

“Stephen Charming. That’s a good name.”

“Your name is very unusual,” Stephen said. “I like it.”

“My mother read it in a book, before I was born. She fell in love with it.”

“It suits you.”

Stephen asked Cinderella a lot of questions. She wasn’t accustomed to talking about herself, but it was nice to have someone take an interest for a change. So she talked about her mother, who she barely remembered, and her father, who she missed dearly. She talked about all the things she wanted to see and do, if only she had the opportunity.

Cinderella was having such a good time she didn’t pay attention when the big clock started chiming the hour. She just kept talking, until she felt the cool stone under her bare feet and noticed that Stephen had stopped walking and was staring at her.

“Darn it!” she exclaimed when she heard the last chime.

Cinderella looked down at herself. She was back wearing her raggedy old dress, the one with soot marks and little holes burnt through it from wayward embers. Gone were the glass slippers and the stunning ballgown and the all the pretty accessories.

She looked up at Stephen, embarrassed, but he was just grinning.

“I bet that’s one heck of a story,” he said. “Come on inside. I’m sure we can find something a little warmer for you to wear.”

Cinderella and Stephen stayed up all night talking, and the next day they slipped away and left the kingdom together to see what the rest of the world had to offer.

They did not settle down.