Wow, it has been forever since I added to this. (It seems like I always say that, doesn’t it? 😄 ) I’m excited to finish this story up. I hope you enjoy this last chapter!
If you haven’t read the previous chapters, you might want to do so here.
Alright, let’s do this!
As the carriage glided smoothly over the road, the thoughts in my mind jostled against each other. Should I have stayed with the Prince’s grandmother? She looked like she needed some help. Then I remembered why she told me to go, and my thoughts soared in another direction. I was to meet the prince! Me, dusty little forgotten Ella. Think of that! What would my sisters say when they saw me? My, wouldn’t they be surprised? And then my thoughts would start over again, back at the beginning, a repeating, never ending circle. I thought I had solved one problem only to come upon it again. But I really shouldn’t have left Grandmother…
Finally the circle shattered: we had reached the palace. I pushed my head out of the carriage window for a quick peek and forgot to draw it back in. My mouth fell open and my eyes sparkled with the reflection of hundreds of candles in hundreds of windows, set in a dazzling cacophony of turrets and towers that nearly touched the clouds. A bubbling fountain sparkled in the immaculate lawn, dancing and murmuring to itself in the dying light. Everything was bathed in the soft rose light of sunset.
I almost forgot to breathe.
My glass slippers tapped on the cobblestone walk as I left the carriage, and my heart echoed back every tap with a loud and breathless voice. My hands felt damp and slippery in their soft white gloves.
Two well-dressed men stood at the door to greet the guests. I couldn’t believe that they bowed to me politely as I went in. I was the one who should have been bowing to them! After all, who was I but a lowly servant girl?
But all other thoughts were swept away as I stood at the top of a majestic marble staircase leading down to the ballroom. There were so many people! And so many girls waiting to dance with the prince! Girls who no doubt far surpassed me in beauty and kindness and good character. I thought of all the times I had lost patience with my sisters and stepmother, all those times when I had been so weak and cried myself to sleep, all those times when I felt ready to tear myself apart with anger at myself and my never ending chores and my tiresome, miserable life.
My heart sank. I knew I could never make the Prince happy. He deserved a princess, and I was only Cinderella, the filthy servant girl who swept floors and cleaned fireplaces.
I whirled around to leave, hot tears of shame and self-pity burning my eyes, but suddenly I stopped. The room had gone silent; the music had stopped. All faces had turned toward mine, all eyes were fixed on me, tearing me to shreds from the inside out with their scrutiny. By this time I didn’t care whether my sisters saw me or not – in fact, I hoped they didn’t. I felt terrible, foolish. What had I been thinking? But then the crowd of people turned away and looked with one accord at another figure.
It was the prince. He parted the sea before him and walked towards me. I shrank back, but he held out his hand. He ascended the staircase and smiled his beautiful, brilliant smile at me. He didn’t say a word, but took me by the hand and led me down, down into the sea of faces, all looking at me with wonder and surprise. I gripped the prince’s hand so tightly my fingers hurt.
Then I saw my sisters and stepmother – they were looking straight at me. I wanted to cry out, to turn around, to flee, but I didn’t. I dropped my eyes, and then quickly looked up again. They were looking at me with the same wondering expression that everyone else had. They didn’t recognize me.
Finally we reached the end of the sea of people. The prince looked at me again. For a moment he wore the same amazed, wondering expression that everyone else did, and then he smiled again, wider than ever.
“Oh, Ella!” he whispered joyfully. “I knew you’d come.” I tried to answer him, but all my words were bottled up in my heart. So I just smiled and squeezed his hand.
Then the music started up again and everything went back to the noise and laughter. But it was different. Now everyone kept stealing glances at me and the prince. I wondered if they were inwardly laughing at my disguise. Could they see the real me underneath the layers of lace? Finally I could stand it no longer.
“Why are they looking at me?” I cried to the prince, stepping and turning in time to the music.
He held my hands tighter as we whirled and spun. He whispered in my ear, “Because you are beautiful.”
I was shocked. Was that what everyone was really thinking? I pondered in silence for a while.
“That is because of your wonderful grandmother,” I said at last. “Can you believe that she have me this dress?”
The prince nodded. “I can believe it. But you were already beautiful, even before the dress, Ella. You were beautiful the first day I met you with dirt on your cheeks and an apron over your dress. You are beautiful because your heart is beautiful and as pure as the sun, and it shines from your eyes and your whole self.”
As he spoke, my heart soared inside of me. As he spoke, I knew that I could marry the prince, not because of who I was, but because of who he was, because he had chosen me. I could marry the prince because he loved me and I loved him back. It didn’t matter if I was a servant girl or the fairest princess in the world. It didn’t matter if he was a wild, shaggy Beast or a wealthy, handsome prince. I knew that it didn’t matter at all. Suddenly the words that were bottled up in my heart spilled over, and for hours and hours we talked and laughed and danced as if we were the best of friends – because we were.
But suddenly, I stopped up short in the middle of a dance. I heard something faintly – a chiming clock. With increasing terror I counted each chime. Twelve o’clock. Midnight.
Suddenly I broke away from the prince and dashed through the people. I raced up the stairs, stumbling over my dress. One glass slipper clattered down the steps, but I ran on, panting and gasping for breath.
It was no use. When I reached the top of the stairs, my gorgeous dress had turned into my filthy, soot-stained apron. My hair had fallen around my face in dismal strands.
I was Cinderella again.
Again, the crowd grew quiet. Suddenly, three shouts burst from the sea of faces. Three people hurried toward me. My sisters and stepmother. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was outraged with myself that I hadn’t left sooner, had embarrassed myself in front of them and all those people… and the prince.
My stepmother spoke first. “Cinderella! What on earth are you doing here? Don’t you know this is no place for servant girls?”
Anastasia and Drucilla just stood dumbfounded. I hid my face in my hands and wept. It had been such a wonderful evening, and now this!
I heard a voice through my tears. “But don’t you understand! Her name is not Cinderella, it is Ella. And she is not a servant girl. She is a princess. My princess.”
My head shot up. It was the prince. And he had… he had called me…
I ran to him and threw myself into his arms. “I will always be your princess,” I whispered.
For a moment, everyone just stared. Then Anastasia broke the silence. “WELL!” she huffed. “WELL!” She beamed me a look of pure hatred, and stalked out the door. Druscilla looked at me with the most shocked expression I have ever seen, and then she dissolved into wails. For once my stepmother’s iron composure had been broken. She gathered up what was left of her dignity and dragged Druscilla after her.
I turned back to my prince. My prince! And I was going to be his princess. He had turned me from a servant into royalty, from a miserable, lonely girl into the happiest girl on earth. He had found beauty in the ashes.
I looked out over the crowd, happy to see Grandmother sitting among them. She looked older than ever, and just as exhausted, but her smile made her face look young. I found my sisters and stepmother watching me intently, but they looked away as soon as they saw me glancing at them. I knew they were ashamed now of how they had treated me, but I had forgiven them. I couldn’t change the past, but I could make the future better.
And thinking of the future, my eyes swept back to the prince. He telling me something, something important. I didn’t hear his words, but his eyes told me what he was saying.
“I do.” I answered. “I will always be your Cinderella forever and ever, until the end of time.”
Ta-daa! I hope you liked it! Ahh, it feels nice to have finished the story. 🙂
Thank you for reading, dear friends!