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Me, Cinderella

By:Aubrey Rose

ility. But no, I should wait and buy bagels at the store. Everything was overpriced here except the coffee.

I scanned the menu again and resigned myself to just the caffeine injection. It was enough to know that I could buy something if I wanted to. My eye wandered to the café window. The man was still sitting on the bench, as still as a statue. I could see his breath coming out in small white puffs, and for some reason my heart wrenched in my chest.

“Two coffees,” I said impulsively, handing the five dollar bill over to the barista. My hands trembled slightly as I picked up the cups. What was I doing?

I pushed open the door with my shoulder bravely and exited the warm cafe, one coffee in each hand. For an instant I wavered. What if he didn’t want it? What if he thought I was a weirdo? I set my shoulders and walked over to him. He must be freezing, sitting out in the cold.

“Here,” I said, offering him the steaming cup and putting on my most well-meaning smile. He looked up at me and my breath caught in my throat.

A scar ran down the right side of his cheek, the white seam visible all the way from his hairline to his chin. That wasn’t what made me gasp, though. Dark frowning eyebrows framed his piercing blue eyes and a shock of almost-black hair threatened to escape from under his wool cap. He was younger than I thought when I walked past him, probably less than ten years older than me. And handsome. I gulped.

He must have thought my reaction was to his scar, for he immediately angled his face away from mine, the white seam disappearing from my view. A defensive expression rose up on his face, and he looked at me suspiciously, one brow slanted up.

“Um, I thought you might want something to drink...” My words trailed off lamely as I held out the coffee to him. I never could talk around handsome men. His expression softened and he reached out to take the proffered cup.

“Thank you,” he said. The slightly accented words came out low, growling even, and as he took the cup, his long fingers brushed against mine. Again my heart jumped in my chest and I pushed down the strange feeling that was twisting up inside of my body. You don’t know who this man is, Brynn. He could be a serial killer, for all you know.

“You’re welcome,” I said, quickly pulling my hand back and wrapping it around my own coffee. The warmth spread through my fingers, but it was nothing compared to the electric heat that I had felt touching his hand. After a moment he tilted his head up toward me, and I realized I had been standing there in silence, just watching him.

“Is there something I can do for you?” he said.

“No, that is—” I stumbled over my words, blushing furiously. “I mean—”

“Do you often buy strange men coffee?” The accent in his words reminded me of my mother. Eastern European. His voice lifted in a teasing lilt, but his face was deadly serious, his scar giving him a menacing look. The incongruity made my already-flustered brain even more confused. Maybe he thought I was hitting on him. Should I be hitting on him? Oh, god.

“Um, no,” I said. “I just thought... I mean, you looked like you might need one.”

“You think I am a bum?” He raised one eyebrow, his accent more pronounced. Definitely Eastern European.

“No! I mean, maybe. But that’s not why I got you coffee. I was just getting myself a cup, and I thought you might like one. You know, to keep you warm.” I couldn’t stop myself from rambling. “It’s really cold out here. That’s all.”

He smiled for the first time, and the rush of relief that swept through my body warmed me as much as the coffee in my hands. His eyes crinkled at the corners, a genuine smile. A kind smile. I felt my body heating up under the coat, and I wanted to tear the damn thing off.

“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

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