Me, Cinderella?By: Aubrey Rose
“Come, sit,” he said, and despite my misgivings, I complied, the bench chilling my legs through my jeans. A strange man sitting alone—what was I thinking? I comforted myself with the thought that the library was just behind us. A strange thrill of pleasure ran through me as I sat next to him, and danger too—he hadn’t seemed so tall when I was standing, but now that I was beside him I had to tilt my head up to meet his gaze. Despite this, I felt more safe than vulnerable, as though he would protect me if anything were to happen at that moment. I did not know why I felt as though I could trust him.
A line from one of the books my mother used to read ran through my mind: “…and the prince, tall, dark, and brave, fought off the wolf and chased it into the snowy night.” I shook my head and the words flew away into the darkness.
“You’re a generous girl,” the man said. “Even to an ugly old bum.” He winked, and I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head.
“You’re not old!” I said. He was in his thirties, if not his early twenties. “And you’re certainly not ugly!”
“Oh! Is that so?” A twinkle shone in his eyes, and I flushed at my own admission. He must know that his looks were to die for—strikingly dark features against his light blue eyes, his strong jaw dotted with day-old stubble. Even with a scar running down the side of his face, he was achingly beautiful. Especially with his scar. It made his already fierce eyes look even more pronounced, and gave an edge to his otherwise perfect beauty.
I felt a rush of desire for something I would never possess, and shame that I had the bald temerity to desire it. Of course my words had come out wrong. They always did.
“I… I mean…”
“You don’t have to say anything,” the man said. “But thank you. It’s not so often I get complimented, I just want to savor it.” He took a long sip of coffee, inhaling with pleasure and set the cup aside on the bench. “So do you think I am a bum?”
His words were a question, but I did not know what he was asking, or if he was still joking; his smile had turned into more of a smirk. His coat looked expensive now that I could see it up close, and his watch glinted gold underneath his sleeve. Definitely not a bum.
“No, you’re not!” I said, blurting out the words before I could temper them. I quieted myself before I spoke again. “It’s just… everybody has a hard time sometime.” Something else my grandmother taught me.
The joking expression fell off of his face so quickly that I thought I might have imagined him smiling. I shifted awkwardly, the cup of coffee heating my fingers against the numbing cold.
“You’re right. This is a hard night for me.” He looked off at the dusky sky, his eyes reflecting the falling snow. Snowflakes dotted his face, melting immediately on his cheeks and dusting his dark lashes with white crystals. He did not seem to notice, his gaze straining to see something too distant to be visible. Then the look was gone, and his eyes came back to mine.
“But a hot drink and a beautiful woman make all the world of difference.”
My breath caught in my throat and I put my handkerchief up to my nose to hide my look of surprise. Beautiful was the one adjective I could definitively say didn’t apply to me. Especially now, my face flushed with the cold and my nose dripping like a busted water pipe. He must be joking. He must. But the way his gaze swept over my face appreciatively made my stomach roil with hope.
“Are you a student here?”
“Yes,” I said, stuffing the handkerchief back in my pocket and retreating my hand back to the coffee cup. It was much easier to avoid awkwardness while holding something, I found. “Actually, I have to go to my study group. I’m already late.”
“What subject are you studying?” He had turned to face me, his knee lightly pressed against mine. The touch made me dizzy with a desire that came from some unknown depths in my body. It scared me and thrilled me at the same time. Immersed in my studies and my work, I didn’t have time for a relationship. At least, that’s what I told myself.
“Ah! Mathematics!” He reached out and clasped his hands around mine, which were still holding the coffee cup. I would have pulled them away, but his blue eyes hypnotized me with their sudden intensity, and his long fingers held mine firmly, as though I belonged to him. Every nerve in my body jumped at his touch, and my heart pounded in my ears. The steam from the coffee rose between us and mingled with the white of our breaths. His face bent down, just above my own.
“It’s the most beautiful of subjects,” he said. “As beautiful as nature is beautiful. As beautiful as…”