Me, Cinderella?By: Aubrey Rose
What was he doing? I froze in my seat, my hands still ensconced by his. He looked at me as though he saw my soul inside of me, his gaze familiar and possessive. At that moment, I knew he wanted me, desired me. I could feel threads of attraction stretching across the small space between us as tangibly as if they had been visible, hanging in the cold white air.
It was over in a second. He pulled back quickly, as though he had touched his lips to coffee that was too hot, and the connection was lost.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He released my hands, and I almost dropped my coffee all over my lap. None of my muscles were listening to me anymore. Not after the touch of his hands on mine.
“I shouldn’t have. It was presumptuous. I’m not…” His stare was lost again in the distance.
“Not whole. Not ready. I don’t know.” He shrugged his shoulders, obviously distraught but trying to hide it. “Excuse me. Thank you, thank you for the coffee.”
“It’s okay. Really.”
He looked up at me, and I saw a deep longing in his eyes. Not knowing what I was doing, I reached out and touched his cheek on the side of his face that was scarred. My thumb rested on his cheekbone, and with my hand obscuring his face the scar was erased from view, peeking out only slightly from under my palm. I caressed the white seam. His dark hair fell over my fingers and his eyes flashed dangerously, as though he were not the prince after all, but the wolf.
His strong fingers closed over mine, stroking the back of my hand with his thumb. I instinctively leaned forward into his pressure but stopped as he opened his mouth to speak. He paused, seeming to change his mind about what he would say.
“You’re a lovely girl.” His voice was nearly a whisper, and I heard in it a note of sorrow so deep that it made me want to throw my arms around him. I could tell he was hurting, that he wanted me and the wanting hurt him somehow. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know why, but I recognized the pain in his gaze as easily as I recognized my own face in the mirror each morning.
A student walked around the corner of the library into view, and I instinctively sat back upright, realizing the insanity of the situation. This was a man I did not know at all, a stranger in the snow, and I was ready to fall into his arms as quickly and easily as if I had known him all my life. I stood up from the bench, scared by the intensity of my attraction to him, unlike anything I had felt before.
“I have to go,” I said. “My study group.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, still sitting. He did not seem anxious at all to see me go, but as I moved past him his hand shot out to stop me, catching me by the elbow.
“May I ask your name?” he said.
I hesitated for only a split second. “Valentina,” I replied. “Valentina Alastair.”
“My name is Eliot. Thank you for the coffee, Valentina,” the man said. He let go of my arm and I walked quickly toward the library, forcing myself to only look ahead. I thought that if I turned to look at him, I would not be able to leave him. But at the library door, I gave into curiosity and let myself glance back at him.
There was nobody there. He had vanished, like a snowflake that falls onto your cheek and melts into water before you feel it touch your skin. Above the bench there was a wisp of white breath that curled into itself, fading, until it dissipated into the air. Under the bench no footprints left any indication to where he had disappeared. The sheets of snow whipped along the sidewalk and brushed away any trace of the man who held my hands in his so possessively.
The snow continued to fall and I blinked once, hard, then went inside.
“Dr. Herceg! Dr. Herceg! Wait!”
Eliot turned to see the department chair fairly skipping to catch up to him.
“Eliot, please,” he said, shaking Patterson’s hand in greeting.
“Eliot. Yes. Excellent. I’m so glad I could catch you,” he said.
“What can I help you with?” Eliot asked, faintly irritated. With gray hair and spectacles resting on his thin nose, the department chair resembled just about every other mathematician Eliot had ever known. Dr. Patterson had been running the department for as long as Eliot could remember, although he tried to avoid the man as a rule. Patterson preferred conversation about office politics to those of mathematics, and Eliot’s disdain for the academic rat race had not endeared him to the man. Eliot’s position as a fellow had been granted as a special exemption so that he could remain in America to study, and he knew Patterson resented the way Eliot isolated himself.
“I wanted to talk to you about your internship prize. And your work in general.”