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Me, Cinderella

By:Aubrey Rose

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.

“Math.”

“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…”

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.

“Sorry?”

“I shouldn’t have. It was presumptuous. I’m not…” His stare was lost again in the distance.

“Not what?”

“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

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