"Elizabeth, I'll leave the chores to you. Sierra, Meredith, let's go shopping; your Winter Formal is coming up, isn't it?" Mother looks over her shoulder at her two daughters, twins who are in the same grade as me. The three of us go to the same school, but of course my stepmother doesn't care that I'd like to go to the dance as well.
As the door closes behind them, Sierra promises, "We'll find something for you, Lizzy." It doesn't matter that I don't have a date; my sisters are dragging me along with them "for moral support." Not that they'll need it.
It's always been this way. Ever since my mother walked out and my father remarried just before he died—they say it was of heartbreak—Mother has left me working at home while she takes Sierra and Meredith shopping for fancy clothes that I guarantee will be the talk of the school for months—they're so outrageously expensive, and more flattering than anything the other girls at school could and would buy. After all, none of their mothers pay for their clothes.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no exploited orphan, no Cinderella. While Mother does make me do a lot of the housework, it actually isn't very much since she also has two maids working here full-time. And once I'm done with the chores I'm allowed to go out; Mother's just stricter with me than the twins. My stepsisters are spoiled rotten. But I truly don't care, honestly.
Besides, wasn't the whole point of the fairy tale that because Cinderella was such a good person, her fairy godmother made sure she got to go to the ball and meet the prince, and have a happily ever after? There's no way I'm good enough to have that happen to me. I really think the story's stupid, anyway; I don't believe in love at first sight. Because what are the chances that the prince conveniently happened to be Cinderella's soul mate?
Then again... it's a fairy tale. Prince Charming probably was her prince.
Now let's compare that to my life.
As I said, I do have to do chores, but not nearly as much as Cinderella had to. Plus, I really don't mind; I even like the calm repetition of daily housework. My real problem, as far as following Cinderella's story goes, isn't getting out of here; it's finding the right guy. People say teenagers are in too much of a hurry to fall in love and lose their virginity, but I think there's something seriously wrong with me. I've never even had a boyfriend, nor a real crush—at least, up until recently. Plus, I'm fifteen and I haven't even had my first kiss yet.
And most importantly... Fairy godmother? Yeah, right. So not for me. I'm hardly as good as Cinderella; I don't even try hard in school. Sure, I'm in all advanced classes, but I get B's when I could get A's if I just paid more attention.
Prince on the horizon? Maybe. There's a guy who's been staring at me in school recently: Jackson, the most popular guy in the grade. And I know for a fact that he's going to the dance—and single, too! But there's no way I'll be going out with him. Besides being a one-track-minded jock, Jackson's a total racist, a sexist, arrogant, insensitive jerk.
Yeah, there are better guys in our school—but none of them would ever spare me a second glance.
With a sigh I pull on my favorite pair of rubber gloves—the long ones that reach my elbows—and reach for the first dirty dish and a soapy sponge.
If there's one thing I like about Sierra, it's that she's like the older sister I never had: not exactly outstandingly nice to me, but she doesn't play favorites—she treats Meredith the same as me; well, mostly—and she's always there when I need her to be.
Take now, for example. The expression on my elder sister's face is encouraging as she closes the front door and hangs up her thick winter coat. Her cheeks are flushed faint pink from the bitter wind outside, but it looks really good on Sierra. She has fair, flawless skin and long, shiny blond hair straight out of some teen fashion magazine—Vogue, or whatever my classmates are reading these days.
Holding out a tissue-paper wrapped package, Meredith smiles excitedly at me. "Lizzy, this dress will look perfect on you. We looked at so many dresses, you wouldn't believe it, before we finally found this one. And, I swear, it looks like it was made just for you!" As she branches out to have a one-sided discussion about how I should wear my hair, what shoes would go best with the dress, what color nail polish I should use, etc., etc., I head up the stairs to try on the dress in the relative solitude and comfort of my bedroom.
Not very surprisingly, Meredith follows. Sierra falls into step behind Meredith, lightly tracing some pattern on the banister. She's alternately chewing and licking her bottom lip: when she's abusing her lips like that, it's a sure sign that she's really nervous about something.
As we reach my room, I finally get up the courage to ask the question I've been restraining, wanting desperately to know yet afraid of intruding on my sisters' private lives. Deciding Sierra will tell me if and only if she wants to, and Meredith would unhesitatingly ask the question were she in my shoes, I go ahead and ask. "Um, Sierra, Meredith... does either of you have a date to the dance?"
Always-cheerful Meredith just laughs softly. "Not me; I'm too boring for boys to be interested." Characteristically twirling a shoulder-length brown curl around her right index finger, she looks completely unembarrassed and unabashed. "Besides, I'm Sierra's younger sister," she adds without a single hint of bitterness. "Who'd look at me when they can stare at my sister instead?" Yeah, that last part is true enough; it's part of the reason no boy ever asks me to dances just because he wants to date me.
Compulsively Sierra clasps her hands together tightly in front of her, twisting her body from side to side slowly as she composes the best sentences to explain her situation. She's like this: always thinking before she speaks, planning the whole paragraph before she begins and never once deviating from her pre-prepared speech. (Ironically, though, she hates public speaking. But she's really good at it, when she has to give reports or whatever.)
"I had a date," she finally sighs, unclasping her hands and crossing my room to look out the window. Other than, at the right time of day, the gorgeous view of the sunset—but it's only three p. m.; the sun won't set for hours-there's never anything to see but streets and houses; but I get the feeling my sister's not so much looking outside as not looking at Meredith and me.
"You had a date. And...?" I prompt when she falls silent. Honestly, I'm really surprised she doesn't seem to have her whole explanation planned out and ready to go. But I guess that when it comes to dates and love and such, it's harder to be so cut-and-dry, so black-and-white with where you stand.
At last Sierra slowly spins to look me in the eye. We're each other's confidante; always have been, probably always will be. (Meredith's nice and all, but there's something about my relationship with Sierra that makes me feel more like her sister than her blood sibling does. Plus, given my second sister's track record with secrets...) But even though my elder sister and I tell each other a lot of our secrets, she's never actually told me very much about her love life.
I mean, of course I know that, if she so chose, Sierra could have dated as many boys as there are days in the year. And the rumor mill would have you believe that she does. I happen to know for a fact, though, that she's not that kind of girl. It's just that she's so morally virtuous and good—e. g., she won't sleep with anyone, ever—that boys get bored quickly, especially if they just want to get into her pants. Sierra's always been serious about her relationships; it was always the guy who wanted out.
Taking a deep breath, Sierra finally forces herself to admit, "I dumped him."
"Did you really?" bubbles Meredith, one of the school's biggest gossips. Sure, she stays away from rumors about Sierra and me; but everyone knows that if you have a secret, you shouldn't tell or even talk about it around Meredith. "Wait, who was it? Is he a senior? Ooh, was it Jackson?!" Like all the other girls in our school, my middle sister has a major crush on the captain of the varsity football team. But unlike her older sister's crushes, there's no real depth. As soon as Meredith finds someone better, Jackson will just be a faded memory.
Closing her eyes for a second, Sierra steadies her voice before finally requesting, sounding almost pained, "Meredith, could you leave the room, please?"
Pouting and putting on an I'm-so-wounded air, Sierra's younger sister slams my bedroom door behind herself.
"So?" I prompt gently after making sure Meredith isn't eavesdropping from behind the door. "What happened, Sierra?"
She shakes her head, a sure sign of disbelief in her own actions. "I still can't believe that I... Okay, here's what happened. I know you'll do this without my asking... but, Lizzy, please, just listen. No comments until the end, okay?"
Sincerely I promise, "Of course. That's what I'm here for, Sierra—to listen."
Sierra was walking to first period when a boy approached her. He was cute—Asian, tall, slender but muscular. My sister knew immediately who it was, of course; everyone at our school knows Evan. While still a new student, he soon set impossibly high records for all sorts of sports achievements: mile times, batting averages, basketball-shooting accuracy, and everything else in between. He's now captain of three different sports: basketball, baseball, and swimming. Probably will be football captain once Jackson graduates, too.
Yet Evan's talents aren't just limited to sports; he also gets really good test scores, always knows what he was talking about, and can answer any question that a teacher springs on him—even one that involves material we haven't technically covered in class yet. I know this because he's in my sophomore Chem Honors class. This one time, Mr. Johnson suspected Evan wasn't paying attention, so he asked a question about calculating vectors—which everyone knows isn't taught until Physics, which you can't take until junior year at the earliest. Anyway, Evan immediately answered the question—and correctly, too.
Basically, Evan would be Jackson's rival if he wasn't Asian. Not that a lot of us care; but Asians are in the minority at our school, and everyone knows that minority races can't become popular. (A/N: Not that I personally believe this. I'm just writing the part, so don't nag me about racism or whatever.) It's a pity; Evan's way nicer than Jackson, and he doesn't discriminate based on race or popularity or smartness or whatever.
"Hey, Sierra!" Evan called.
My sister turned. "Hi, Evan." She was on her guard, since she already had a boyfriend; plus Evan is a notorious serial dater. Admittedly the new kid had this "aura" to him that made Sierra's heart beat just a little faster. But she loved Andrew, and she'd never cheat.
Always-annoyingly-arrogant Evan looked a little shy, which really surprised Sierra. "Um," he began nervously, "are you going to the dance? With anyone, I mean?"
He isn't planning to ask me, is he? worried my sister, who had enough experience with boys to notice most of the usual about-to-ask-you-out indicators. Evan was displaying several of them. "Yeah. My boyfriend and I have been discussing our plans for months." Typically she wouldn't be so blunt when turning down a possible date/dance invitation, but there's something about Evan that just makes you blurt out what you want to say before his entrancing brown eyes make you forget. Even if you're Sierra.
"You have a boyfriend?" Catching himself, the Asian hottie forever hurt his chances with my sister by trying to salvage his dignity with a typical pick-up line: "Of course you do; hot girl like you, any boy would ask you out the second he saw you. Me included, naturally—dang, sweetheart, you're the prettiest girl in the school, and I'm sure the saying 'love at first sight' was invented just for you. You could live on that gorgeousness alone—I bet you do, don't you?"
If there's one thing Sierra hates more than pick-up lines and being called "sweetheart," especially by boys she isn't going out with, it's people assuming that all she has going for her is beauty. Or that she's a dumb blonde. (It basically amounts to the same thing, at least in her book.) "Excuse me?"
Realizing his mistake, Evan backtracked quickly—but too late, the damage was done.
As my sister walked away, graceful and dignified as only an offended Sierra can be, her offender called, with all the air of a last-ditch effort, "By the way, Andrew's been cheating on you! Just thought you'd like to know." Recovering his stunning smile, Evan added, "If you change your mind about going to the dance with your boyfriend, I'm free! Sierra, darling, I promise I won't ask any other girls until I get an answer from you!"
More offended than ever, Sierra resisted the temptation to glare behind her. She knew Andrew was faithful; she would never have agreed to go out with a boy who wasn't.
Except, of course, he hadn't been. Unbelievable as it sounded, Andrew had actually slept with a senior girl over the long weekend he claimed to have spent at his grandparents' house. (That was the excuse he gave Sierra, for not being able to see her during that school break.)
Outraged for several reasons—not least of which was because infuriating, cocky Evan was actually right about her boyfriend—Sierra had immediately broken up with Andrew. But she'd already told Mother she was going to the dance with her boyfriend, it would have been too embarrassing to go single—or, worse, not go at all. Mother thinks one of the most important things a girl can do in life is learn how best to snare a guy and stay on top. (Not literally—please do pardon my perverted mind, if you get my meaning. Hanging out with sophomore guys does that to a person's thoughts.)
All the other boys had already given up on my utterly unattainable sister, so she had no choice. If she was going to go to the dance with a boy, clearly she only had one choice.
Sierra caught up with Evan as he was putting on his bike helmet. Having run across the school to find him before he went home, her cheeks were flushed and she was panting. (I mention this because my sister's under the impression that Evan took the blush for shyness and the panting for hyperventilation.) "Um... what you said to me this morning..."
He grinned wolfishly. "My offer still stands, darling. Changed your mind about going with old two-timing Andrew, then?"
"I—" In the first real do-or-die moment of her love life, Sierra was having second thoughts. Stumbling over words, though, she finally got out, "Yes, please."
Looking mock-serious, Evan held up a hand. "Wait, let me do this properly." He looked my sister in the eyes. "Sierra, will you be my girlfriend?"
What? "Um... I... yes." The blush of her cheeks darkened.
"Great. Then, as my girlfriend, will you go to Winter Formal with me?"
Getting the hang of this, Sierra even managed a small half-smile. "I'd love to."
"And yeah, that's basically why I'm going to the dance with Evan," my sister concludes.
"Wow," I sigh. "Really, Sierra. I thought you of all people knew better than to go out with Evan Chang, of all people! You know he'll probably dump you the second Winter Formal's over!"
"I know!" protests Sierra. "That's the thing—I don't know why I meant it when I said yes!"
A second's pause, as that last sentence sinks in.
"You meant it when you said you'd 'love to' go to the dance with him?"
As she wrings her hands in distress, I shake my head. "Dang, Sierra—you're really in for it this time. You love him, don't you?"
It's a good thing I've never told anyone who I'm really crushing on. I'm sure it's not good form to be daydreaming about your sister's boyfriend.
"Are you positive about this, Meredith?" Critically I turn from side to side, surveying my hair in the mirror. They're shiny, my wavy naturally-red-gold locks that are mostly pinned up. A few strands hang loose; Sierra calmly informs me that it's intentional and stylish. "Think of it as similar to the style of a messy ponytail, only with more class and art value," she suggests. "And Meredith's right—this hairstyle is perfect on you, Lizzy."
"What about yourself, Sierra?"
"It doesn't matter." She forces a smile. "Like you said last week, Evan will probably dump me the second the dance ends." But any idiot—no offense, Meredith; I honestly don't know why I thought of you just then—can see that the thought pains her. She really does love him.
"Yo, Elizabeth. How's it going?"
I squint at the boy. Surely it isn't...?
But even under the dim light I can tell that I identified his voice right. "Hi, Jackson. If you don't mind, I was just going to—"
"Oh, don't be so cold!" Tightly he grips my arm. As he pulls me closer, I can smell the alcohol on his breath. "You're here to have fun, aren't you?" he breathes in my ear. "I'll show you a good time... Sierra."
Is it a bad sign that, sadly, it's not the first time a drunk guy has hit on me, mistaking me for my stepsister? Probably. But seriously now. The only thing we really have in common is the general way we carry ourselves. We don't even look alike!
"Hey. Leave her alone," cuts in another boy's voice. He pulls me from Jackson's grasp with strong, deft movements. Then he meets my eyes. "You okay, Elizabeth? He didn't... do anything to you?"
"No. Thanks..." As I realize who's holding me, my face burns and my heart begins to race. "Evan," I finish quietly. No, actually my heart's usually-steady beat sped up a lot earlier, as soon as I heard his voice. And then I remember my poor sister. "Wait, aren't you going out with Sierra? Why aren't you with her?"
"Didn't you ask my sister to the dance?"
"You have a sister? I thought—I heard you were an only child and an orphan."
"Sierra's my stepsister," I inform him warily. Who doesn't know that Sierra, and the fact that I'm her sister? I've been tricked and dumped by so many people who tried to use me as their in to get closer to my sister. "Didn't you ask her to be your girlfriend?"
"Uh... no, I never did." He pauses a second, seemingly thinking. Then he exhales slowly, his breath warm on my ear. "I truly have no idea what you're talking about, sweetheart. You're the prettiest girl here tonight."
Even though he's probably said those exact words to all the other girls at the dance already, I can't help noticing how my heart flip-flops as he gently tucks a stray strand of hair behind my ear. Evan's other hand caresses its way to the back of my head, deliberately pulling out the fancy fake-jeweled hairpins Sierra lent me.
As my red-gold locks fall around my shoulders, the hottest guy in the school—my first real crush—pulls me closer, gently pressing his lips to mine.
"Oh my gosh, Elizabeth. I cannot believe you right now." Angrily Sierra pulls the decorative comb from her hair and throws it across her room. It bounces of the mirror and lands on the floor loudly. "How could you?! You knew he went to the dance with me!"
"Sierra, I can explain—" Because of course I have to say that, even though I really can't.
"Get out of my room!"
I flee, clutching the night's events to my heart like a talisman.
Because the thing about being a princess, even for just one night?
They tell you your gown will change back at midnight, but not that you'll enjoy yourself so much that you'll forget to watch the clock.
And they never tell you that when the clock strikes, the prince will change back to a no-good, two-timing jerk who was only with you just long enough to completely screw up your life. Only in fairy tales is the prince a good guy, your soul mate.
Yeah, I'm definitely not Cinderella.
A/N: Review please! Do you think I should write a sequel?