Okay, so this is a repost of the story 'Who Was She?', since I like the story as a whole. However, I didn't like the ending. (I was sort of out of it from lack of sleep when I wrote and posted this.) So I've gone back through, edited it, and completely rewritten the ending. Sorry if you liked the old ending. I didn't.—KG64
I sit up and my head starts spinning. Shit. What happened last night? Oh, dear god, my head hurts. Wait, where am I? I look around the room. It's all blue. My room is all red and black. Where the hell am I? I look next to me. There's a large, human-shaped lump beneath the sheet. And this is why I don't drink. I don't remember a single fucking thing when I wake up.
I groan and drag myself out of bed. I slip my clothes on and leave without saying goodbye. If she was stupid or drunk enough to sleep with a guy as totally trashed as I was last night, then that is not my problem. And if she was as drunk as I was, I somehow doubt she'll even know she slept with someone. Fuck, I can't even remember if it was any good or not.
I walk outside and find that it's unbelievably bright. Well… it's probably past ten. Good thing it's a Saturday. Otherwise I'm sure I'd be suspended. I go to the nearest Starbucks and get some coffee. What the hell happened last night? Do I even care? Nothing that hasn't happened before, I'm sure. I got drunk, went back to a girl's apartment, slept with her… I need to stop drinking. One of these days I'm gonna get someone pregnant or get an STD and really regret being so stupid. Cause I really doubt either of us was sober enough to think to use protection.
I sleep for most of the afternoon and well into Sunday morning. I wake up sober, and find that I remember a few details from that night. I remember whose house I was at. I remember that the music sucked. I remember being pissed at my boss and my parents. And… the color green. Not sure what that's about.
I just sort of wonder about the girl… who was she?
The next day…
I go to school and then work. I do everything my boss tells me. If he shouts my name one more time, though, I'm gonna need to shoot something. "Ethan!" he shouts. "Hurry up! It's called fast food for a reason!"
"Kinda hard to move quickly when you still can't remember what the hell you did Friday night," I mutter under my breath. But I move to make the order that's been sent back to me.
Haley laughs at me. "Get drunk again, Ethan?"
"Yeah… I woke up in some chick's apartment. I don't remember how I got there or what her name was. And the color green is driving me mad."
Haley raises an eyebrow, the one with the piercing. "The color green?"
"I don't know, Haley," I groan. "I just know that something happened and the color green was important and if I don't find out why, it's going to drive me mad."
"Is this really my Ethan O'Riley?" she asks mockingly. "Wondering what happened on one of his one night stands?"
I roll my eyes. "No. I really don't care. I was too drunk to remember anything. And you know you're the only one I'd come back to."
She smiles. "As long as you put it that way." She suddenly seems to remember something and says, "I slept with some guy from West Creek Saturday night."
"I still don't understand you two," Daniel mutters from across the room. "I don't understand why you even say you're dating. You sleep around so much."
"Only when I get drunk," I note.
"Only when he's hung over," Haley adds.
"All three of you!" Thomas shouts. "Cut the chit-chat and get to work! I'm not paying you to gossip!"
Whatever. Why the hell can't I get the color green out of my head? Not just any green, either. This dark, vibrant green, flecked with gold and… rimmed in blue? Eyes, maybe? The girl I slept with Friday? It would explain why I can't get the color out of my head.
Haley comes up to me as the bell rings, releasing me from my English 12 class. She stands on tiptoes, kissing me. "My parents won't be home till late, Ethan," she says. "You wanna come over?"
"I'll take you out first," I answer. "We haven't gone out in a while."
Her eyes light up. She's beautiful. Everyone calls her a slut. Even the other girls who sleep around. The only difference is that ours is an open relationship. She sleeps with other guys, I sleep with other girls and neither of us gets mad or jealous. The other girls—and guys—who sleep around… they're cheating on their boyfriend or girlfriend. It's just that Haley and I don't try to hide that we're sleeping with other people.
I take her to dinner and then back to her house, where we make love. Just… it's not as good as before. And she seems to sense that. "Ethan," she whispers when we're finished. "What's wrong? You weren't nearly as enthusiastic as you normally are."
How can I tell her that I wasn't nearly as turned on as I normally am? Because the only thing I can think about are the eyes that are slowly returning to my memory. Green eyes, flecked with gold and black, dark blue edges, and the edges of her eyelids darkened by black eyeliner. "I can't get her freaking eyes out of my head," I admit to Haley.
Haley sits up, covering her chest with a sheet. "Thank god," she says. "I've been thinking lately that we should break up. Neither of us is really in love with the other. The sex is just good." She frowns. "Usually. At any rate, I'd like to try having a regular relationship with someone." She smiles. "You can try and find your mystery girl. Maybe she'd actually like to have a boyfriend."
I get out of Haley's bed and get dressed. I kiss her cheek. "Maybe I will. I'll go talk to Mike, see if he saw me leave with anyone."
Haley nods. "So no hard feelings?" she asks. "Still friends?"
I nod. "Of course. Always. Let me know when you find this guy of yours. I'll let you know when I find this chick. If I find her."
The next day…
I go over to Mike's house. "Hey," I say.
He raises his eyebrows. "You forget something last Friday? You were pretty trashed."
"I pretty much forgot all of Friday," I answer. He laughs. "I was wondering if you saw me leave with anyone. I woke up next to this girl and I have no idea who it was. I just remember green eyes. And not knowing who it was is driving me mad."
Mike frowns. "I don't really remember. I was pretty drunk too. I saw you talking to a lot of people. The last person I saw you talking to was a guy though, so that's not much help. Sorry. I don't even know who was over here that night. Seemed like the whole freaking school."
Two months later…
"Ethan," a girl purrs, pressing her body up against me. "Come home with me."
"No, Amber," I reply. She's hot, she's drunk, and my morals aren't good enough to refuse to sleep with a drunk girl just because she's drunk. It's just that… in the last two months… I have not had good sex with anyone. Including girls I distinctly remember it being very good with in the past. Haley thinks there's something seriously wrong with me, because I still can't get turned on like I used to.
And the only explanation is that one night stand after Mike's house. Especially considering that when I think about those green eyes… then I start getting seriously turned on. That must have been some good sex, for me to react this way. Wish I could remember it.
One week later…
I'm walking through the halls, on my way to Spanish, and I catch sight of green eyes. And I just know that they're the same green eyes that have been haunting me. But it's a guy, not a girl. I continue on my way. He seemed familiar though… what's his name? Stephen? Yeah, Stephen. Where have I met him before? Did I have a class with him sometime or something? I don't remember… freshman or sophomore year, maybe.
I find him at lunch. "Stephen?" I ask, walking up to him. He stands up almost immediately, his green eyes panicked. He looks like a cornered rabbit. I didn't realize he was this short. He's probably only five foot six, compared to my six foot one. I also didn't realize he has hair falling well past his shoulders.
"What do you want, Ethan?" he asks, sounding scared.
What does he think I'm going to do, hit him? "I just want to know if you have a sister," I answer.
He breathes a sigh of relief. "No," he says. Then his eyes get curious. "Why?"
I shrug. "I slept with some girl at a party a couple months ago. I can't remember anything about her except her eyes. But for some reason, I want to know who she was. Your eyes reminded me of hers. That's all."
He looks almost disappointed. Then he says, "What if—" He stops, glances around at the other students, and says, "Never mind. Stupid question." Then he takes his tray of uneaten food and throws it all in the trash, including the tray.
Well, that was weird. But that's not my biggest problem. My best, first and only lead went nowhere.
I wake up with a start. I talked to Stephen at the party. That's where I know him from. The party. He was there. Maybe… maybe he knows who I left with, or at least what she looks like?
I don't fall back to sleep, and I more or less sleep through the first four classes of the day. And then I spend most of lunch searching for Stephen. He looks surprised to see me again. "Ethan?" he asks.
"You were at the party at Mike's two and a half months ago," I say, and it comes out more like an accusation.
"Yeah," he says uncertainly. "So?"
"I talked to you," I say. "Didn't I?"
"Yeah," he answers. "So?"
"Do you know who I left with?" I demand. "I need to find her." I think I'm falling in love with her. Or at the very least, her eyes and her mystery.
He hesitates, then he says, "Yes. I know her. But after the way you left in the morning… she doesn't want you to know who she is. She's embarrassed she let herself think you cared."
Stephen knows who she is. This is very, very good. "But I do care," I answer.
Stephen shakes his head. "Not about her, Ethan. You just care about finding out who you slept with. I don't know why she's so different from all the others to you, but you don't care about her. And I know your type. You wouldn't give her the time of day if you weren't plastered. You'd probably feel disgusted if you met her sober."
And with that, he walks away.
Three weeks later…
I've taken to eating lunch with Stephen every day. And even after three weeks, he doesn't seem too happy about it. I've stopped bugging him about the girl. But… now's the time to bring it up again, I think. "Stephen?" I ask.
"What, Ethan?" He sounds exasperated, as though he knows what's coming. He doesn't even bother to look up from the book he's reading.
"Will you ask her to go to prom with me?"
That gets his attention. "What?"
"I want her to go to prom with me," I repeat.
His green eyes—those same green eyes, I swear to god, he must be related to her. A cousin maybe? An older sister? I hope to god it wasn't a younger sister—flash. "I don't think that's a good idea," he says.
I look down. "Well… invite her anyway. Tell her that… tell her I'll wait outside the school. Tell her that if she decides to come… if she finds me… she needs to tell me… just have her say, 'I'm Stephen's friend.' And I'll know. Okay? Or… or if she changes her mind, she can have me pick her up."
"Do you know where she lives?" he asks, suddenly horrified.
I shake my head. "I dropped back by, and some older guy answered. When I asked if his daughter was home, he looked at me like I was crazy and said that he didn't have a daughter, although his niece stayed with him occasionally. And then he closed the door and wouldn't open it again."
Relief is written on Stephen's face. One thing I've noticed these past few weeks is that Stephen has really delicate features. He's a funny kid. I wonder what it'd be like to kiss him… wait, what? Just cause he looks a little girly doesn't mean he's a girl, Ethan. Okay. That thought just needs to be stricken from my memory forever, cause now I feel like I'm gonna throw up.
It's almost over. Prom. I can do this.
One month later…
I wait outside the school. Stephen refused to tell me if she was coming, even yesterday at lunch. I get a lot of stares, standing there alone, scanning the crowd for a single girl. I hold a corsage in my hand. I hope she's here. It's almost an hour before a girl comes up to me.
She is wearing a dark blue dress, covered in silver sparkles, a single strap holding it up. It fits her body nicely to the waist, where it widens, like the dress of a princess from a storybook. A ball gown. Her dark hair is set in elaborate curls, styled so that it is perched on top of her head. She avoids my eyes. She doesn't say a single word. Finally I ask, "Are you Stephen's friend?" She nods. I reach out and lift her chin. Sure enough, those green eyes stare back at me, shy and afraid. Once again they've been lined in black eyeliner, although this time she's added some mascara and a small amount of eye shadow. I slip the corsage onto her wrist. "You look beautiful." In the floodlights they have on outside, I see a slight pink tinge cross her cheeks.
I lead her inside, handing off our tickets. We get to the dance floor, and they've started playing the slower songs. I offer her my hand. "Would you like to dance?"
She nods, and follows me to the floor. I put my hands on her waist and she puts her hands around my neck. Then we sway with the music. I just look into her eyes. This has to be her. No one else could have eyes that look so eerily close to hers. "I wish you would have let me take you to dinner," I say. "We would have had more time to talk."
She doesn't answer, just rests her head on my shoulder. I keep talking to her, but she won't answer. The end of the night rolls around, and I still haven't learned much about her, since I can only ask yes or no questions. Prom's almost over, so I ask her, "Can I kiss you?" Her eyes flash with a surprise that is strangely familiar. She stares at me. When she sees I'm serious, she nods. I lean in and press my lips to hers, moving my mouth gently. "Who are you?" I whisper when I pull away. She shakes her head. "Just tell me your name," I plead. "Please."
She shakes her head again. And then she's gone.
One week later…
I get my prom pictures and look at them. She's beautiful. At lunch I hand some of them to Stephen. "Give her these, will you? And ask her if I can see her again, for a real date."
Stephen frowns, uncertain of what to say. "You're really still interested in her, even after spending an entire night with her?"
I nod. "Yes. She's pretty. And she's sweet."
Stephen thinks a moment. "No. Just because Haley was okay with an open relationship… I don't think she would be."
I shake my head. "You misunderstand, Stephen. I'm not going to pretend that I haven't slept around. But I will stop. I want her to be my girlfriend."
Stephen bites his lip, looks down at the pictures, then says, "I'll tell her."
"Ethan!" Haley says, coming up to me. "Why have you stopped sitting with us at lunch?" She looks at me, looks at Stephen and then asks, "Who's this, Ethan?"
"This is Stephen," I answer. "He knows the girl I slept with at Mike's party."
Haley stares at me. "You're still obsessing over this girl, Ethan? You never obsessed over me like that. What are you, in love with her?"
"I think so," I murmur, mostly to myself. I've been wondering the same thing.
"You've seen her once, Ethan," Haley says, sounding exasperated. "Once when you were so trashed you don't even remember what really happened. It's Cinderella, Ethan, only in real life there aren't usually fairytale endings."
"Not Cinderella," I object. "It was me that couldn't get away fast enough, not her. She didn't leave anything behind. And I've seen her twice."
"What?" Haley demands. "When?"
"I took her to prom," I answer. "She met me at the doors."
"You didn't tell me about this," Haley accuses. "Details, Ethan. Spill."
I shrug. "There's not much to tell," I reply. "She showed up, we danced, she vanished."
"Cinderella," Haley repeats.
"Whatever. Stephen, do you—" I look around and find that Stephen is gone. "That kid," I sigh. "So weird."
"You seem fond of him," Haley notes.
"Define fond," I mutter.
Haley snorts. "You spend a lot of time hanging out with him, Ethan. You talk to him a lot." So she was just pretending when she said she didn't know why I had stopped eating with her at lunch.
I shrug. "He is the only person I've found who seems to know the girl. And I need to find her, Haley. I need to."
"Why is this so important to you, Ethan?" she asks. "Maybe you just need to get laid and forget about her."
"That's the thing," I say, and I can hear the frustration in my own voice. "I go to try and get laid, and some part of me, physically, knows it isn't as good as it was with her. And then I'm plagued by the same question over and over again. Who was she?"
Two days later…
Stephen approaches me between classes and hands me a slip of paper. "That's her email and instant message name," he tells me. "She's not quite ready to start an actual relationship with someone she doesn't feel she can completely trust. And she still thinks you'd react badly if you learned who she really is."
I look down at the paper in my hand. Ethan'sCinderella. Did she set this up specifically to talk to me? But I don't have an account compatible with this site.
So I go home and boot up my computer, creating an account for myself. I think for a moment. If she thinks of herself as my Cinderella… EC's Prince Charming. We'll see how she responds to that.
She logs in, and I start the conversation.
EC's Prince Charming: Are you Stephen's friend?
Ethan'sCinderella: Yes. EC's Prince Charming?
EC's Prince Charming: I figured that if you are my Cinderella, that must make me Prince Charming.
Ethan'sCinderella: That's not how it works.
EC's Prince Charming: Then tell me, how does it work?
Ethan'sCinderella: Prince Charming is supposed to come and sweep the princess off her feet. He's not supposed to get drunk, sleep with her and leave without kissing her goodbye.
Well that's not a pointed accusation at all. She's right, though. I'm far from being Prince Charming.
EC's Prince Charming: Everyone makes mistakes, even Prince Charming. And now I'm just trying to fix them.
EC's Prince Charming: I want to know who you really are. I want to take you out to dinner. I want to start over.
Ethan'sCinderella: Why? So you can have me as your girlfriend while you screw other girls on the side?
Okay, I felt the anger in that one. Well, I just need to remain calm.
EC's Prince Charming: Girlfriend, yes. Screw other girls on the side, no. I know you think that's what I want, because that's the kind of relationship I had with Haley. But I'm not stupid enough to think that that might work for someone other than Haley. And I was only with Haley because… well, it worked.
Ethan'sCinderella: Is it really over?
EC's Prince Charming: Yes. We're still friends, but nothing more than that.
Ethan'sCinderella: … I'll think about it.
Ethan'sCinderella has logged off.
EC's Prince Charming: I'm in love with you.
I hold the backspace key down, removing the last words. That's creepy, even for me. I just need to be patient. So instead I send: Who are you?
The next day…
I get home from school and sit on my computer, waiting for her to get on. It's close to an hour before she does.
Ethan'sCinderella: How long have you been on?
EC's Prince Charming: Since I got home from school.
Ethan'sCinderella: Why is finding out who I am so important to you? You've slept with plenty of girls, and I'm sure some of them you never found out who they were.
She's just a little too smart for me, I think. But I think I'm falling in love with her anyway. Can a relationship work even if two people are different? I think… well, I think it's worth a shot at least.
EC's Prince Charming: Do you want the truth or an edited version that sounds more romantic?
Ethan'sCinderella: The truth, Ethan.
That's the first time she's called me by my name, in person or online. Well, the first time that I remember at least. I assume she said my name that night, but I don't remember that at all.
EC's Prince Charming: I started trying to find you because I couldn't get turned on around any girls, but every time I thought of your eyes, my body seemed to remember something my mind can't. The only conclusion I can find is that the sex I had with you was better than any I've ever had, including with Haley. And then I met you… and I still like you. I think I like you more now that I've met you.
Ethan'sCinderella has logged off.
Damn it, why'd I have to admit that? I send one final message.
EC's Prince Charming: At first it was because of the sex. But now that I've met you sober, it's because of you. I like you. A lot. And we can wait as long as you want to sleep together, if that means anything at all. But for some reason… you are important to me. You are my Cinderella. And I am going to try my hardest to be a real Prince Charming for you, Cinderella. I'll do whatever it takes.
I love her. Whoever she is.
The next day…
I sit down to eat lunch with Stephen. He isn't reading his usual book, but he still won't look up at me. "Stephen?" I ask. "Something wrong?"
"I'm worried about… Cinderella," he says.
He's never opened this subject before, at least not with me. "What about her?" I ask.
He sighs and murmurs, "She likes you more than she's willing to admit, even to herself. But she's still afraid of getting hurt. But she really… she really wants to see you again. So… she wanted me to tell you… to tell you that if the offers still open, she'll go out with you. Once. On Friday."
She's willing to… she's going to go out with me? I negotiate the time and place with Stephen, and then we sit in an awkward silence. Finally I break it, saying, "Thank you, Stephen, for helping me with this."
"I just hope I don't regret it," he says.
I take a deep breath. Friday. That's when I'll find out who she is.
The next day…
At lunch, Haley comes up to me and Stephen and sits down. "So Ethan, you have plans on Saturday?"
I shake my head. "Nope." Just tonight.
Her eyes glint. "You want to come over?"
"The whole 'regular relationship' thing not working for you, Haley?" I ask, laughing.
She shakes her head, looking frustrated. "No. No one trusts me not to sleep around." She grins. "So, you up for it?"
I shake my head. "I have a date tonight. I might have a girlfriend after tonight, Haley."
Haley grins. "Good for you, Ethan. Well, if you don't have a real girlfriend after tonight, you wanna come over?"
She puts a hand to my forehead, as though she's checking for a fever. "Are you ill?" she asks.
I shake my head. "I'm going out with Cinderella tonight, Haley. Whether or not she's my girlfriend after tonight… I'm determined to get her to be my girlfriend." Stephen looks at me in shock, then gets up and walks away. He's weird… but in a good way. His weirdness is actually kind of endearing.
"Girls aren't possessions, Ethan," Haley scolds. "You should have figured that out from dating me."
I shake my head. "That's not how I meant it. I'm not being stubborn. I think… I think I'm falling in love with her, Haley."
Haley's eyebrows go up. "You're kidding." I shake my head. Then Haley asks, "Do you even know her name, Ethan?"
"No," I say. "But… I still can't get her eyes to leave me alone, even though I've seen her again, without alcohol polluting my blood. I've talked to her a couple of times online… I can't help it, Haley. And… now that I can contact her without Stephen's help… I don't think it's the mystery that's drawing me in. I'm pretty sure these are real feelings."
Haley laughs. "Unbelievable. Well, I'm happy for you, Ethan." She stands and begins to walk away. But then she turns back. "One question. If you can contact her without Stephen's help, why do you continue eating lunch with him?"
I frown. "I like the kid," I finally say. "I enjoy his company, I guess. He's my friend."
Haley pauses and then asks, "If he didn't know your Cinderella, who would you have told about your feelings? Would you have told him or me?"
"I only met him because he knew Cinderella," I answer.
"That's not an answer, Ethan," she points out.
I guess she's right. But… why is this such a hard question to answer? The answer should be obvious. I've known Haley since seventh grade. We sort of dated for two years. I should trust her far more than I trust this kid I've known less than a year. But… if neither of them knew Cinderella… I'm honestly not sure who I would've told. But my silence seems to answer her question. She smiles, but it's a sad smile. "As sad as that makes me, Ethan, I think it's a good thing. Your best friend shouldn't be the girl you dated for two years. It's better if your best friend is Stephen, as hard as it is for me to admit that. Cinderella won't have to worry about me so much."
That didn't seem too hard for her to admit. "Why do you assume you're my best friend?" I ask.
She rolls her eyes. "You talk to me and Stephen, Ethan. No one else. I'm not stupid. It's one of us, or your best friend is someone I've never met."
I make a face. She turns to walk away. I call out, "Haley… thanks. For understanding, and for encouraging me."
She smiles. "I didn't do it for you. Now you owe me one. You can make it up to me by letting me meet your Cinderella when you figure out who she actually is."
Stephen comes back. Is there something he doesn't like about Haley. We eat in silence for several minutes, then without warning, he asks, "Did you mean what you said?"
What did I say? Was he listening to our conversation? "What did I say?"
"That you want her as your girlfriend. That even if she's not officially your girlfriend after tonight you'll keep trying. That you're not going to sleep with Haley. Did you mean any of it?" Oh yeah, he was here for that part.
I nod. "Yeah, Stephen. I meant all of it." I also meant what I told Haley. But I'm not going to repeat that part. With how much he tells me, I don't even want to know how much he tells Cinderella.
The bell rings, and we get up and go to our classes. He's only a sophomore, which explains why I didn't know him before now, or why we haven't had any classes together. Although it doesn't explain why he was at a party only seniors were invited to. Then again… there were freshman there… I guess it's more surprising that a smart kid like Stephen—cause he is smart, way smarter than me—would be at that kind of party. Much less talking to me, completely smashed as I was. Wait. There were a lot of sophomores and freshmen at that party. What if the reason I don't know Cinderella is because she's one of them?
Then again… why wouldn't she be eating with Stephen if she goes here? If she was an eighth grader, I will kill myself. A freshman would be bad enough… either way, it's still illegal since I'm eighteen, but younger than a freshman is practically molestation, even if I was drunk.
I can't focus on precalc or woodshop or English, cause those damn green eyes won't get out of my head. And neither will the worry that she might have been an eighth grader. The bell rings and I rush to the hall I know Stephen's locker is on. I catch sight of him and shout, "Stephen!"
He looks up, and then he frowns. "Ethan?" he asks uncertainly as I approach him. "What's wrong?"
"Cinderella," I gasp. "Cinderella. How old is she?"
He looks at me as though I've gone mad. Then he shakes his head, "Ethan, I can't tell you that. She needs to tell you everything. I've gotta go or I'm gonna miss my bus."
"Stephen," I say. "I'm just… please. I don't remember anything about that night except her eyes. Only seniors were invited to that party. But you were there. So were a ton of other sophomores." Not to mention the massive numbers of juniors and freshmen.
Stephen's eyes flash. "Are you saying you wouldn't be attracted to her if she was an underclassman?" He sounds as though I've said something to personally offend him.
I shake my head. "No, Stephen. Junior, sophomore"—I hesitate—"maybe freshman—Stephen, I'm a senior. I'm eighteen, a legal adult. Virtually everyone other than seniors at this school are minors, making a sexual relationship of any kind with them illegal. But I could start a relationship with anyone in high school, just being cautious with how far we go if it was a freshman or sophomore. But… there were so many underclassmen at that party… Stephen, I need to know that Cinderella is at least a high school student. If she's in middle school… my morals disappear when I'm drunk, but I'm not drunk anymore, Stephen. If she's in middle school… I can't do that."
Stephen looks relieved. "She's a sophomore," he says. "I promise."
Sophomore. Okay. Junior, senior or college girl would have been better. But sophomore is better than eighth grade. Okay. "Thanks, Stephen. I was panicking for a little bit. Cause I don't want to hurt her, but… legally… morally… eighth graders are off-limits." Legally, technically, sophomores are off-limits… but that's not the point. Two years is a lot different than four.
I walk with Stephen toward the parking lot and the buses. And just as we're getting to the doors, the buses pull away. Stephen's eyes widen. "No," he groans.
"It's fine," I say. "I've got my car. I'll give you a ride. You'll probably get home before the bus would've dropped you off."
Stephen's eyes widen in horror. "No," he says, shaking his head frantically. "No, you can't. I'll just walk."
I follow him towards the sidewalk. "Stephen, don't talk crazy. It's hot outside. If you normally ride the bus, you don't exactly live close, do you? I can't let you walk."
"No," he objects again.
What's his problem? Does he not want me to see his house or something? Maybe… "Would it be better if I brought you back to my house? We could hang out for a while, you could have a parent pick you up." I do have a date… but that's okay.
"Where do you live?" he asks hesitantly.
"Over in the Spring Creek subdivision," I answer. "Why?"
"I can't stay, cause you've got your date and my dad doesn't get home till late, but your house is a lot closer to my house than the school. I'll walk from there."
"How close is close?" I ask suspiciously.
He shrugs. "A fifteen minute walk rather than a thirty five, forty minute walk."
"There's no way I'm going to convince you to let me drive you home or have you wait at my house?" I ask. He shakes his head. I sigh. "Fine. Whatever."
I stop at my house. "So now you know where I live," I say. "Drop by anytime, kay?"
"Sure," he says. "I gotta go."
He jumps out of my car and all but sprints down the street. That kid… he hides from me almost as much as Cinderella does. Ah well. Best go take a shower and kill some time till she's supposed to meet me at the restaurant.
Later, I wait outside, and it's nearly fifteen minutes after the meet time that he shows up. She's wearing a floor-length black skirt and a pale purple tank top. Her hair is brushed back into a braid. I lean down to kiss her cheek. "They already called our table," I tell her. "Let's go."
I lead her inside, where we're seated. "Are you going to talk tonight?" I ask. Immediately she shakes her head. "Then how am I supposed to ask you anything but yes or no questions?"
She hesitates then pulls a pen and some paper out of her bag. "You'll write it down?" I ask. She nods. "Why don't you want to speak? Wouldn't that be easier?"
She looks sad. But she writes you wouldn't like my voice. It's not pretty. I'm not pretty. You shouldn't have to tolerate the way I look and the way I sound. I know this is a pity date. Or a curiosity date. Either way, my voice and my face match. Not beautiful.
"No," I say. "You are beautiful. If your voice and face match, then your voice must be like an angel's." Okay, Ethan, did they spike your drink with something? I never say shit like that except when I'm drunk.
Don't say stuff like that. You don't mean any of it. You just want to get in my pants again. Or rather, you want to get up my skirt.
I read the note and then look at her. "You want the truth again?" She nods shyly. I don't want to tell her the truth. It makes me seem vulgar and rude. "Then yes, I do want to sleep with you. But… I'd rather have dinner with you multiple times, get to know you better than sleep with you once."
What about Haley?
Not this… "Haley and I broke up. Really broke up. She's my friend, but nothing more, I swear. How do you know Haley?"
I don't know Haley. I just know who she is. Everyone at school knows who Haley is. Everyone at school knows who you are. No one would believe me if I told them you agreed to go out with me.
"Why wouldn't they believe you?" I ask.
She avoids my eyes, sliding the paper across to me. You ignore all the pretty girls. Why would you pay attention to me?
"Because you are prettier than any of them," I say. "And… do you go to my school?" She nods. If she does… why haven't I seen her? "Why don't you eat lunch with Stephen?"
You're always there. She doesn't eat lunch with her best friend because I'm eating lunch with him? Suddenly she takes the piece of paper back and scribbles but don't stop eating with him. I have other friends. Stephen doesn't. Stephen only has you and me. And… if you don't eat with him… I'm still not going to eat with him, cause I know you'll be watching for me. Okay… I hadn't even thought about that…
I nod. "I wish you'd eat with us."
"The school year is almost over," I tell her. "I won't be there next year."
Then our food comes and the conversation slows down, since she's trying to eat and write at the same time. "How old are you?" I ask.
"When's your birthday?"
March 22. Yours?
"October 29," I reply.
They give me the bill and I pay. "Do you want to go to a movie?" I ask. She hesitates, then nods. We see some romantic comedy I didn't even know was in theatres. But she doesn't object when I put my arm around her. She actually lifts the armrest and moves closer. The movie is essentially a Cinderella remake. When it's over, I ask her, "Did you pick a Cinderella movie on purpose?" She nods. "Are you ever going to tell me your name so I can give you that happy ending?" She doesn't answer.
So I ask, "Can I take you home? Or is someone coming to get you?"
The paper comes back out. I'm staying with my uncle this weekend. You can drop me off at the apartment where we She stops writing. I place my hand on hers.
"It's fine. No need to finish. I'll take you back." I drive slowly, hoping she'll say something. She doesn't. We arrive and I walk her to the door of her uncle's apartment. I touch her chin with my hand and kiss her. This feels so natural. I love her. I just don't know how to tell her that. And Haley's right. I don't even know her name. I finish kissing her goodnight and ask, "When can I see you again?"
The paper once more. I'll message you, or have Stephen tell you.
I nod. "Now please," I beg. "Tell me your name."
She thinks a moment, then writes something on the paper. She folds it up, places it in my hand and enters the apartment. I unfold the paper and find the new writing.
I like it when you call me Cinderella.
I've gone to Prom with her, I've taken her to dinner, I'm falling desperately in love with her… and yet I still don't know who she is.
Lunch rolls around and I go to the cafeteria to find Stephen unbelievably happy. "What's going on, Stephen?" I ask. I find myself smiling. He's never this happy. It's contagious.
"You didn't break her heart," Stephen says. "You actually care about her."
"Did you not believe me before?" I ask.
Stephen shakes his head. Those lips… I still say I'd like to kiss them, just to know what they feel like. Okay, Ethan, don't go there again. Just don't. You go there more often than you should. Stephen: guy. You: guy. Can you see the conflict of interest here? Not to mention the fact that you have a girlfriend.
The next day…
I get home from school and call out, "Mom! Where are you?"
I walk in and drop the bombshell. "I don't want to go to ONU. I want to go to the community college."
She drops the dish she's washing. It makes a loud clanging in the sink. "What, Ethan? What do you mean you want to go to the community college? ONU is a good university."
I nod. "I know. It's just… Mom, there's this girl. I don't want to move away from her."
"This is about a girl?" Mom shrieks.
I nod. "Yes."
Mom shakes her head. "No, Ethan. You're going to ONU. You're not throwing this chance away."
"Mom," I say. "I'm not going to ONU. I'm staying here. If you and Dad kick me out, fine. I'll put off college for a year and save up some of my own money. But I'm not going to move away."
Mom stares at me. "Who are you?" she asks. "I knew you broke up with Haley, which in all honesty, I was happy about. But you don't seem like the same person, Ethan. You always… girls were just people to kill time with. You never showed any real interest. And now you're going to a community college instead of a university because of one girl? Who is this girl, Ethan?"
She had to ask. How do I tell her that I'm throwing away the opportunities at ONU for a girl whose name I don't even know? Finally I just bite the bullet and say, "I call her Cinderella."
Prepare for nuclear explosions. "I don't know who she really is."
One month later…
I walk across the stage, looking into the audience. Stephen's not here, and neither is Cinderella. I invited both of them, but neither of them came. For some reason, it hurts that Stephen didn't come. It hurts almost as much as knowing Cinderella didn't come.
The ceremony ends and I find Haley, her parents and my parents. "Congratulations!" she shouts. "We're college kids now!"
"You are," I correct. "I'm not going this year."
Haley's jaw drops. "What do you mean you're not going this year?"
I glance at my parents. "I'm staying here because of Cinderella. They don't approve of the community college, so I moved out and I'm going to have to pay my own tuition. So I'm taking a year off to save up money."
Suddenly Haley is jumping up and down in excitement. "Ethan this is wonderful!" My parents scowl. Haley doesn't notice. "It's so romantic! And it shows that when you told me you love her you weren't lying! Oh, I wish I could find a guy willing to treat me like that…"
Stephen suddenly appears. I guess he was here. I smile. "Hey, Haley. Stephen's still single."
Haley makes a face. "He's a sophomore. Or a junior, I guess."
"Cinderella's only going to be a junior," I remind her.
Haley scowls. "Unlike you, I am going away. As far away as I can get." She glances at her dad. "Well, I gotta go!" She kisses my cheek. "Good luck with Cinderella!"
Stephen hesitates then asks me, "Are you really staying in town, going to the community college so that you can stay with Cinderella?" I nod. "Did you mean it when you said you love her?" Shit, he heard that?
I nod. "But don't tell her. Please." I hesitate then add, "Why isn't she here today, Stephen?"
He pauses. "She doesn't feel well. She didn't tell you because she didn't want you to worry."
Cinderella's sick? No. And I can't even go try and make her feel better. "Stephen?"
"Will you give her something for me?"
"What?" he asks uncertainly.
I lean in and quickly brush my lips up against his. "Tell her… tell her… Stephen, I take back what I said earlier. Tell her I love her."
Stephen's cheeks are flaming. But he nods, and says, "Congratulations on graduating." And then he runs off.
Mom stares. "Did you just kiss that boy, Ethan?" she hisses.
Did I? "Yes," I whisper.
"Are you gay?" she demands quietly so no one else will hear. "I thought you had a girlfriend." Why is she so angry? Did she not listen to a word we said?
"No, I'm not gay," I reply. "Cinderella doesn't want me to know where she lives. But she's sick. She's Stephen's best friend. I wanted him to give her a kiss for me."
"Well that doesn't look good, Ethan," Dad scolds me. Well, screw him. All he cares about are appearances. It hardly matters what something looks like. All that matters is what something actually is.
I just shrug. "I don't really care. All I care about is Cinderella."
"You need to either find out who she is or end this bull, Ethan," Dad warns as we head out to the car. I don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that he means 'break up with this girl and go to ONU or I might disown you.' Well… screw him.
"No. I won't make her tell me anything she doesn't want to tell me," I answer. "And I am not breaking up with her."
They both sigh dramatically, but I ignore them. Why do my lips feel hot? Like fire…. Did Stephen have something on his lips I'm allergic to or something? But… it's a pleasant sensation. Like how I feel when Cinderella takes the initiative and kisses me instead of waiting for me to make the first move. But why would I feel that way after kissing Stephen. It makes no sense. It makes about as much sense as the fleeting desires I've had to kiss him since the beginning.
But I like girls. I'm in love with a girl. I can't be gay. It wouldn't make sense. But… as short as it was… it felt normal to kiss Stephen. Familiar, almost, like I've kissed him before. But I haven't. I've never kissed a guy before. Could I… Is it possible that I like guys? Could I be gay and not have realized it till now? Why am I not totally against that idea? Because… because it's true?
But… if I'm gay… how could I possibly be this in love with Cinderella? How did Stephen do this to me?
Who the hell is that kid?
I sit straight up in bed. I'm bi. That's why it doesn't feel weird to kiss a guy but I can, at the same time, be in love with a girl.
Just… why do I feel so relieved? I should be angry. Liking guys isn't normal, it's wrong. That's what I've always been taught. But… so what if I do? That's no one else's business, unless there is a specific guy. But even that doesn't matter since it's Cinderella I'm in love with. I fall back onto my pillow.
Okay. I have things a little more sorted out. Okay. We're good. Except for the little issue of not being able to get her to talk or tell me who she is.
The next day…
I go up to Stephen after school. Well, after school for him since, miracle of miracles, I actually graduated.
"Stephen… I'm sorry I kissed you. I… wasn't thinking. So… sorry for doing that to you." Why do I sound so awkward? I sound like a kid asking a girl on a date for the first time.
"It's fine." His voice is a whisper. "Cinderella is feeling better. She says it's because of our ki—kindness. She really appreciated the kiss."
I nod and start to leave. But he grabs my arm and says, "Ethan, the… you know… it didn't bother me at cause I'm… you know." I know what? I look at him. "I'm gay," he clarifies.
I stare. "Okay. I wasn't expecting that one, but okay." I'd be a hypocrite to not be okay with it. But finding out now that he's gay… it really doesn't bother me. It doesn't even surprise me.
"Dang it!" Stephen says. "The bus!"
"I'll give you a ride," I offer. "You can either chill at my house or bake on the way home. Or you can quit being stupid and let me drop you off."
He shakes his head. But he smiles. "I'll come over to your house. As long as you're sure."
I nod. "I'm sure."
We head out to my car, and we don't really talk about anything important. This kid… I swear he's related to Cinderella. He's got her eyes… he's about the same age… wait. "Stephen, when's your birthday?"
"March 22," he answers immediately. "And yours is October 29. We already discussed this."
I look at him. "No… we didn't… I never told you when I was born. I told Cinderella. But… you have the same birthday. Just admit it, Stephen. She's your twin sister, isn't she?"
He bites his lip, debating something. Then he sighs and admits, "Yes. She is."
He won't tell me anything else the whole rest of the way to my house, or even once he's there. But that's fine. I'm still one step closer to finding out who Cinderella is.
One and a half years later…
I sit in front of Cinderella. She's as beautiful as always. She hasn't really changed in the year and a half we've been dating. And I still love her. I love her more. Only problem is… she still won't talk. That's her decision. But I wish she'd talk to me. I wish even more that she'd tell me her name.
But… that's all irrelevant. She answers my questions, asks her own, we have complete conversations. Sometimes I speak out loud, sometimes I write everything down right along with her.
So I wait until they bring the desert. And then I pull out a box and say, "I know you're not out of high school, and I know you want to go to college. But all the same, Cinderella, will you marry me?"
A hand flies to her mouth as she lets out a little squeak of surprise. And then she's shaking her head no, frantically, as she scribbles something down. I look. You don't even know my name, Ethan.
I'd know it if she told me… but that's not romantic at all. "What's in a name?" I ask. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
She shakes her head and looks as though she's going to cry. Then she writes down two words, jumps up and runs out of the restaurant. I can't.
And now I want to cry. I love her. So much. I haven't pushed her to do anything. Which results in us having done… well, we've more or less just kissed, lately adding more and more tongue. But that's not the point. The point is… doesn't she believe I love her?
I go home and call Stephen. I hate to do this to him, since it's his sister. She'll be crying to him as well, but he's my best friend. He answers the phone. "Hello?" He sounds as though he's been crying.
"Hey, Stephen, it's Ethan," I say.
"Oh?" His voice cracks. What's up with him? Cinderella's crying, I'm almost crying… but why is Stephen crying.
"Stephen… what's wrong?"
"Nothing," he chokes out. "Nothing. Did you need something?"
I feel bad talking to him about this. But it's been forever since I talked to Haley about anything this serious. "I proposed to your sister."
"That's what—that's what she said," he whispers.
"I just… I want to know why she said no," I answer.
"She can't," he answers. "She just… she just can't." He's still crying.
"Okay, Stephen, what's wrong? Why're you crying? And don't give me this shit about nothing being wrong."
"I wish more than anything she could marry you." I can barely hear Stephen's voice. "She loves you."
Too bad she's never told me that, not even on paper. "She… loves me?"
"Yes. But Ethan… she has to stop seeing you. I'm so sorry." And he hangs up. Just like that.
But I'm not going to let it end this way. I get in my car and go to their uncle's house. When he answers the door, I ask if his niece is over. "No," he says. "My niece only stays with us on long weekends." That's not right. I've dropped her off here on regular weekends before.
"Well can you tell me where she lives?" I ask, and even I can hear the panic in my voice. "Her and her brother?"
"Her brother?" the man asks. "She doesn't have a brother. She lives in Colorado Springs, if that helps."
"No," I say. "I've dropped her off here. Many times. I saw her this evening."
His eyes widen. "Oh no."
I look at him. That doesn't sound good. "What?"
He thinks a moment then says, "This may sound like a very personal question, but have you slept with her yet?"
"Once," I whisper. An odd look crosses his face. I add, "But I was so completely trashed I don't remember it at all." Understanding returns.
"Come in," he says gently. "There's something I need to tell you. And I highly doubt you're going to like it." I sit down on the couch I've sat on many times before with Cinderella. He thinks a moment then says, "What's your name?"
"My name is Ethan," I answer.
He nods. "I was afraid of that. She's really in love with you, you know." I nod. Then he goes on, on a completely different topic. "I have one son, Ethan. His name is Stephen."
"Stephen?" I ask. "Stephen Carter?" I thought Cinderella was his twin sister… God, I'm so confused.
He frowns. "You know Stephen?"
"He's my best friend," I answer.
He closes his eyes and I can see him breathe in deeply. "Ethan… Stephen isn't who you think he is."
"What do you mean?" I ask quietly.
"Stephen is… well… Stephen…" He runs a hand through his thinning hair, totally at a loss for what to say.
Suddenly the door opens. "Dad, I'm—Ethan."
I spin around at the sound of Stephen's voice. Except it's not Stephen's face that greets me. It's… Cinderella… fuck. What the hell? I've been… I've been dating Stephen this whole time? He looks at me and then looks at his dad. Then he says to his dad, crying, "I can't believe you! You've ruined everything!" Then he runs from the room, skirt trailing after him, and I hear a door slam.
His dad doesn't seem quite sure of what to do, talk to me or deal with Stephen. He settles for me. "I'm sorry you had to find out like this," he says quietly. "Normally Stephen has more sense than this. He… You've probably figured this out by now, Ethan, but Stephen is transgender. He feels like he's a girl. He… whenever he's anywhere but school, he dresses as a girl." He sighs. "That's why… that's why his mother left. She couldn't take a cross-dressing son, even if he did feel more comfortable dressed as a girl. I know it won't fix everything—or even one thing—but I feel like I need to say it. I'm really sorry Stephen did this to you.
I shake my head. "Mr. Carter… I was so drunk… The guy who had the party said that the last time he saw me, I was talking to a guy. My best guess is that it was Stephen. And my other guess is that… there is a good chance I made the first move." I look at the ceiling and admit. "All the time I've known Stephen, I've been wondering what it would be like to kiss him. I guess… I guess I already know."
Mr. Carter gives me an odd look. "Do you make a habit of sleeping with other guys?"
I shake my head. "That was the first and only time. But… it made me realize that I am bisexual."
He sighs and heaves himself off the couch. He knocks on Stephen's door. "Stephen, can I talk to you?"
"No!" Stephen shouts. "You ruined everything! I love him, Dad, and you ruined it!"
"If you love him so much, why were you lying to him?"
"Because… because… who could love me as much as he did?" Stephen shouts, and I can hear the tears in his voice. "We've been dating for a year and a half, Dad, and he never once tried to force me to do anything. He never tried to force me to speak which would have revealed that my voice is fucking male. He settled for calling me Cinderella since I wouldn't tell him my name! How many guys are going to love me that much? Just him! And even he won't be willing to love a freak! Who could love a girl who looks like a guy? No one! Not even Ethan!"
I stand, but I don't know which door to move towards. Stephen's or the front door. I… could I love Cinderella, now that I know she's not really a girl, now that I know she's Stephen? I…
The old man walks back out and says quietly, "I'm truly sorry you had to find out this way, but things had already gone too far. You can leave. I'll tell him you said goodbye."
"No," I whisper. I… I already love Stephen. As a friend, but I'm attracted to him physically as well. Who says… what is there to stop me from loving him the way I love Cinderella? Just the fact that I thought they were two people.
"What do you mean no?" Mr. Carters says quietly.
"I want to say goodbye," I say. Unless… unless they still… unless Stephen can love me even though I know the truth. I go up to the door and knock.
"Go away!" he screams. "You ruined everything!"
"It's Ethan," I say quietly. The stomping in the room stops. And in its place, a sobbing.
"Just… I'm sorry, Ethan. You can… you can go. I don't expect… I don't want you to stay here because you feel… you feel sorry for me."
I don't have anything to say to that. I don't. I bite my lip and stick my hand in my pocket. The ring is still there. My eyes light up. "I'm leaving something with your dad," I say. I return to the living room and hand it to him. "I proposed to Cinderella tonight. I still love her. I mean, I love Stephen. You don't need to tell him that. Just… just give that to him. Please."
He looks bewildered, but he nods.
I walk down the stairs to my car. It's not fair. None of it. It's not fair for me, it's not fair for Stephen. When I reach the lobby, as I walk past the elevators, the doors open and something hurtles out of it, running into me, not bothering to apologize, running for the doors. I fall down. And I don't have the energy to get back up. So I just sit on the floor. And I let the tears come. Cinderella and Stephen, both lost in one fell swoop. It's not fair.
Eventually the person who came flying out of the elevator trudges back inside. And then the footsteps stop. "Ethan?" their voice whispers.
I look up. "Stephen…"
He falls to his knees and reaches up to wipe my tears away with his right hand. In his left, the small velvet box is clutched so tightly the knuckles are turning white. "You stayed," he whispers. "You found out about everything and you still stayed."
I close my eyes. "Stephen… I should have told you… the only reason… the only reason I wasn't falling in love with you as Stephen was that I was already in love with you as Cinderella."
He throws his arms around me. "I love you, Ethan."
I wrap my arms around him. "I love you too."
He starts crying, and we just sit there in the lobby, me holding Stephen in my arms, trying to hold back my own tears. Then I laugh. "What's funny?" he sniffles.
"Everything makes perfect sense now," I say. "Why Stephen and Cinderella never ate lunch together, why they didn't both come to my graduation. They couldn't. Why you wouldn't let me see where you live, since I knew that's where I spent the night with Cinderella. Why Cinderella can't marry me. Why Cinderella wouldn't speak." I pull him tighter.
"Thank you," they whisper, and I can feel that it's both of them speaking. "Thank you."
I know who she is now. She is a he. And it is he who is Cinderella.