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Someone asked me recently if I've ever written a Cinderella story. I guess they meant rags-to-riches, but it reminded me that I really never liked that particular fairy tale. I was more of a Sleeping Beauty or Beauty and the Beast fan.

Anyway, here's my attempt at a Cinderella story, but told from the POV of the stepsister, Drusilla:

CRACKING THE GLASS SLIPPER: the other side of the story
By Drusilla X

They say history is written by the winners.

In the case of my stepsister Ella, that is so, so true. According to her, she was just perfect. And we – the “Ugly Stepsisters” a.k.a. Drusilla and Giselda (yes, Giselda not Griselda!) – were devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Black and white – no gray areas at all. Of course, we all know that in real life, it’s never that simple.

And it wasn’t that simple in my family either.

So I thought I’d tell the other side of the story. And unlike Ella, I’ll try to be fair. Not that I blame her for the way the story has gone down in history. The poor daft girl was as much a victim as we were.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?


CHAPTER ONE

As children, Drusilla and Giselda were treated like princesses, even though they were simply the daughters of the local shoemaker, a humble, gentle man. The shoemaker loved his little girls dearly, and in his own way, showered them with riches – mostly of the shoe-and-boot variety. Their mother Gwendolyn worked as a day servant for the mighty Lord Havenwood, who often made amorous advances toward her. But Gwendolyn’s heart belonged to the shoemaker, and she was always loyal to him.

Before she met and married the shoemaker, Gwendolyn had been the most sought-after maiden in the county. She could have married well above her station, and even though she never regretted her choice, she was determined that her pretty daughters would lead more luxurious lives. She watched in awe as Lord Havenwood’s wife and daughter were petted and spoiled. Their every wish was fulfilled, which in the case of Lady Havenwood, meant lavish jewels, sumptuous meals, and stunning ball gowns.

Lord Havenwood’s daughter Ella was a slightly different story. Yes, she was spoiled and willful, but her tastes did not run to extravagant gifts. Rather, she had an unfortunate love of animals – unfortunate because her favorites were the mice and rats that lived in the walls of the manor house. As one of the housekeepers, Gwendolyn wanted to banish – if not exterminate – the rodents, but Ella would cry piteously whenever any efforts to subdue the population were made. Eventually, the place was overrun with furry creatures, and despite her revulsion, Gwendolyn had to tolerate their presence. But every time she refilled the food bowls that Ella left on the floor by the main hearth, Gwendolyn vowed that one day, she would convince the lord and lady to exercise firmer discipline, if not for the sake of cleanliness, than at least to keep Ella from being a laughingstock.

And the spoiled child was just that. Visitors to Havenwood were aghast at the situation, and told stories far and wide about the beautiful but addle-brained young heiress. Still, most of the families in the area would have gladly allowed a match between one of their sons and little Ella because of the riches and influence that could be gained.

Meanwhile, when Gwendolyn arrived home each evening, she took great pride and joy in Dru and Gigi, who were so close to Ella in age and beauty, yet so far removed from her strange, rodent-filled world. More than once, Gwendolyn dreamed of kidnapping the young heiress and bringing her home, where she and the shoemaker could teach her how to behave, and where Ella would have human playmates rather than furry ones. In her heart, Gwen couldn’t help but love Ella. For all her faults, the strange girl was just misguided, and needed someone to show her the light before it was too late.

When the opportunity presented itself, it was in the guise of great tragedy.


CHAPTER TWO

A plague swept through the county, killing almost a quarter of the population, rich and poor alike. It claimed the life of the shoemaker, thus breaking the hearts of Gwendolyn and her sweet, innocent daughters.

And it took Lady Havenwood as well. Ella was devastated, and took to her bed, inviting her rats and mice under the covers with her to mourn and wail and completely retreat from the world.

Gwendolyn begged Lord Havenwood to intervene – to offer true comfort and love to his child before she lost what was left of her fragile mind. But Havenwood was concerned with something much less lofty. With the shoemaker and Lady Havenwood out of the way, he could pursue the beautiful Gwendolyn and finally make her his own.

She resisted at first, but he concocted an offer so tempting, she was blinded by it. He said he would adopt Dru and Gigi, and would find them wealthy and loving husbands. And he would allow Gwendolyn a firm hand with Ella.

Penniless and confused, Gwendolyn decided that it was the only chance for happiness the three girls had. And so after a decent interval of mourning, she allowed the handsome, arrogant lord to sweep her off her feet and into his bed. Only too late did she discover how perversely cruel he could be. She finally understood why his first wife had been so preoccupied with parties and riches – to avoid the ugliness of her private life. She even understood why the first wife had neglected Ella so. Because nothing threw the man into a rage more surely than suggesting that there was something wrong with his precious daughter.

He had lied about allowing Gwendolyn to take a firm hand with the girl. And he had lied about treating Dru and Gigi as his own. Instead, he made them servants like their mother, requiring them to wait on him and Ella –and the rodents – and never showing them an ounce of kindness for the next four dreadful years.

Gwendolyn tried to console her girls, but they were understandably miserable. They missed their father, and it didn’t help to see Lord Havenwood spoiling Ella at their expense. Life made no sense to them, living in a house where rats were treated better than they were.

By the time Dru reached her sixteenth birthday, she was ready to run away, and to take fifteen-year-old Gigi with her. Unlike her softhearted mother, Dru despised Ella, but she reserved the true force of her wrath for her cruel stepfather. She dreamed of avenging her mother by killing Lord Havenwood, and vowed to give her heart to any man who was willing to fight a duel with the lord. None of the young men in the county would be so foolish, she knew. But perhaps in some far off land she could find her prince, and bring him back to rescue Gwendolyn.

Then at the last moment she received the most wonderful birthday present imaginable – Lord Havenwood was killed in a hunting accident.


CHAPTER THREE

Gwendolyn and her daughters weren’t surprised to learn that Lord Havenwood hadn’t provided well for them despite his promises to the contrary. He appointed Gwendolyn as Ella’s guardian until the girl turned eighteen. At that point, Ella would rule the manor, and Gwendolyn and her daughters would be turned out into the world, penniless again.

That gave Gwendolyn two years to accomplish her twin goals: find decent husbands for Dru and Gigi; and turn Ella from a spoiled, rodent-loving, unpresentable girl into a charming, sophisticated, marriageable young woman.

The first goal would be simple, since the daughters were lovely and graceful, although perhaps a bit hardened by the cruelty of the last few years.

But turning Ella into a lady? That would take a little longer. And Gwendolyn had less than two years before it was too late. She needed to work quickly, but wasn’t cruel enough to take the rodents away completely, at least not yet. Ella needed to mourn with them – to sing her strange little songs to them by the hearth. So Gwendolyn decreed that rats and mice would only be tolerated near the main hearth and in the attic. Everywhere else, including Ella’s room, would be cleared of all infestation forever.

The stubborn young heiress responded by spending her days sitting in front of the fire. At night, she slept in the attic.

And she still tried to order Dru and Gigi around, but those days were gone forever. Gwendolyn announced that each of the three girls would have a list of chores to go along with their studies and their etiquette lessons. To Ella, any chore at all, however mild, was an outrage, and she wailed and was inconsolable. But she soon learned that if she wished to keep her furry little friends at all, she needed to follow Gwendolyn’s rules.

The first year was the hardest, but at the end of that time, progress had been made. Dru and Gigi were so busy preparing for the annual royal ball – where most young ladies met the men they would marry – they forgot to be bitter, and the house was filled with laughter and hope for the first time in forever.

Gwendolyn knew that Ella wanted to go to the ball too, so she used the occasion as an incentive for the girl. If she would keep up faithfully with her lessons and her chores, she could go. Ella reluctantly agreed. But there was one final condition that Ella simply wouldn’t accept – it was time to give up the rodents. Gwendolyn explained that the young men at the ball, including the prince himself, would never love Ella as she deserved to be loved, but would only marry her for her riches and beauty, then treat her with disrespect, if she didn’t conform to society’s demands.

Ella pretended to agree. She did her chores, studied her lessons, and dressed herself in a beautiful gown. But as they were boarding the carriage, Gwendolyn discovered that Ella had three mice hidden in a pocket in her skirts. Aghast, she insisted that her stepdaughter stay behind, promising that perhaps by the time the following year’s ball arrived, Ella would be ready to be presented to society.

Miserable, Ella ran back into the house. Gwendolyn was torn between staying with the girl and accompanying Dru and Gigi. But she had given so much time already to the heiress, she knew that for this one night only, she had to devote herself to her daughters if she ever wanted to see them happy and well-loved.

So Gwendolyn accompanied her daughters to the ball, but her heart was heavy as she pictured Ella sitting by the hearth in her beautiful dress, crying her eyes out.

Little did she know that Ella had no intention of staying behind.


CHAPTER FOUR

Furious and determined, Ella ran to Gwendolyn’s room and stole the glass slippers the shoemaker had made for his bride for their wedding day. This pair of shoes was the only keepsake Gwendolyn had brought to the manor house, and Ella knew how her stepmother adored them.

It would crush the woman to see them on Ella’s feet at the ball. And it would crush those worthless stepsisters when Ella stole the prince right out from under them.

And that’s just what she did. The prince was enchanted by Ella and her glass slippers. He ignored his guests – including a noble king from a neighboring kingdom and his two sons – in favor of dancing with the mysterious woman with the beautiful shoes.

Unfortunately, the glass slippers were a memento of the leather ones Gwendolyn had worn on her first wedding day. They weren’t meant for dancing. They began to crack under the strain, and Ella ran off, embarrassed, and anxious to tell her rodent friends the story of her adventure.

The prince searched the kingdom, looking for the beautiful girl and her glass slippers. When he arrived in Havenwood and reunited with Ella, she was thrilled. She didn’t want him to know she had broken the slippers, so she showed them to him but insisted they had cracked when her stepsisters forced their feet into them. Then she told him that the stepsisters had been cruel to her for years, making her their virtual slave, and mocking her for her sweet, gentle ways.

Enraged, the prince decreed that no man in his kingdom would ever marry the stepsisters – Drusilla or Giselda. Then he swept Ella into his arms and carried her off to his castle, where he married her forthwith.

Fortunately for Gwendolyn and her daughters, the noble king who had been visiting the ball from a distant realm was not bound by the prince’s edict. He had been bewitched by his lovely dancing partner Gwendolyn, and now asked for her hand, then he transported her to his kingdom, where his beautiful new stepdaughters found eager suitors.

As for the prince – he found out too late that his bride had some peculiar habits. But she was rich and beautiful, so he indulged her to a point.

But sleep with her and her pets? He rather drew the line at that! Still, they all lived happily ever after, each in his or her own way.

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