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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Happily Ever After, Ltd. - 13. No Jest

“What the hell just happened?” Dorothy said.

“I’m not sure,” Liam said, “but my best guess is that, with all the deviations in this cycle, gaps are appearing in the story. To fill those gaps, some of the material in our archives is filtering through.”

“It’s from the Grimm’s version,” Maria said. “The stepsisters mutilate their own feet in order to fit the shoe. You showed me yesterday morning.”

“If Mr Kobayashi finds out about this,” Dorothy said, “we’ll be facing a lawsuit. That material shouldn’t even be in our archives. Who authorised that?”

“I’m not sure,” Liam lied. He knew that Dorothy herself had authorised the archiving of all historic Cinderella material, only three months previously. At the time, Liam pointed out the copyright issues, but Dorothy had said she would arrange for Legal to obtain the rights to archive the material. The Grimm material was important for historical context, she’d said.

“Ryan needs to put the shoe on Cinderella as soon as possible,” Dorothy said, “or someone in there could end up getting more than their toes cut off.”

*

The King’s doctors arrived and carried Lucille upstairs. Her giggles had turned into sobs. There was still blood all over the floor but nobody seemed to notice. In fact, as soon as Lucille left the room, the story resumed as if nothing had happened.

“Well, my son,” the King said, “we’ve visited every house in the land and every young lady has tried the shoe. It fits nobody!”

“But Your Majesty!” the Stepmother said. “My daughter Lucille may well fit the shoe now.”

“Well, yes, that’s true,” the Queen said.

“No!” Ryan said. “Lucille cut two of her toes off! Is that really the type of person you want your son to be married to? Do you really want psychotic grandchildren?” He turned to the Stepmother. “Look, this is ridiculous. I need to try the shoe on your housekeeper.”

“Here we go again,” the King said.

The Queen laughed uncomfortably. “Son, surely you jest!” she said.

“Nope, no jest,” Ryan said. “I told everyone I wanted to try it on every lady in the land. That includes servants, and you said that you have a housekeeper. The daughter of your second husband, right?”

“Well, yes,” the Stepmother said uneasily, “but she didn’t attend the Ball last night.”

“Rightly so,” the King muttered. “Having servants is well and good, but to mix with them socially is unthinkable.”

“And if she wasn’t at the Ball,” the Stepmother said, “she won’t fit the shoe.”

“Well, it’s part of the story,” Ryan said irritably, “so humour me, alright?”

“I do apologise for my son,” the Queen said to the Stepmother. “He has been acting quite strangely these last few days. Seems to think he’s in some kind of book.”

“No need to apologise, Your Majesty,” said the Stepmother. “Of course, if it’ll put your son’s mind at ease, we’re happy to oblige. Katrine, darling?” Katrine had not budged from the armchair throughout the chaos and appeared to be thoroughly disinterested. “Summon our housekeeper,” the Stepmother said to her. “Tell her to try to make herself presentable.”

Katrine heaved herself out of the armchair and shuffled out of the room, oblivious to the fact that she was dragging her bare feet through her sister’s blood.

“Really, son,” the King said. “This jest of yours will embarrass you, not to mention the Queen and I. It was bad enough trying to squash that shoe onto that plump girl at the last house – but a common housekeeper!”

While waiting for Cinderella, Ryan stared out the window at the pumpkins. There was an awkward silence in the room, but he couldn’t have cared less. The Queen and the Stepmother eventually attempted small talk.

“Looks like a lovely day out there,” the Stepmother offered.

“Yes, beautiful day,” the Queen replied. “We’ve been lucky lately.”

“Yes. I’m so glad the weather held out for the Ball last night as well.”

“Yes, me too.”

Eventually Katrine slouched back in. “I found her. She was in the cellar, cleaning out the rat traps.”

Cinderella came in, almost unrecognisable from the night before. Her face was flushed pink from her chores, with dark smudges across her chin and forehead. Her hair was unbrushed and streaked with cobwebs. She was wearing a crumpled blue smock and a brown apron. Although she looked completely different, Ryan couldn’t help thinking that she was actually more attractive like this.

“Hi again,” Ryan said.

“Now,” the King said, “tell her why you’ve dragged her away from her chores, then let us be on our way.”

“I need you to try this shoe on,” Ryan said. “It’s this thing I’m doing today. Limited time offer.”

“Okay then,” said Cinderella.

“Don’t be so insolent, you filthy wretch!” the Stepmother barked. She turned to the King and Queen. “Pardon my language, Your Majesties.”

“No, you’re quite right,” the King said. “Strong language is the only way to keep servants in line.”

Cinderella sat down in the armchair and unlaced her muddy work shoe, revealing a child-sized foot.

The Queen gasped. “Why, her feet are positively miniscule!”

“Of course they are,” the King said. “All servants are born with small feet. It helps them to go about their duties without thumping all over the floorboards like elephants.”

Ryan had the glass shoe in one hand and Cinderella’s foot in the other, but he didn’t even have to put it on. There was a strong pull against the glass slipper, a magnetic force between shoe and foot. The glass slipper shot out of Ryan’s hand, fitting her so perfectly that it seemed her foot had been poured into it.

“No,” the Stepmother said. “It can’t be.”

“But, son,” the King said, “this isn’t the young lady from last night.”

“Yes,” the Queen agreed, pinching her nostrils. “This young lady quite clearly needs to bathe.”

“She’s been emptying rat traps all morning!” Ryan said. “How do you think you’d smell? And last night her hair was flatter.” He patted it down. “She was wearing a big pink dress and she had a lot more make-up on.”

The Queen tilted her head to one side as she considered this.

“Oh, my,” the Queen said. “I think you’re right.”

“It can’t be!” the Stepmother said again.

“Is it true?” the King demanded. “Were you the one?”

Cinderella looked around the room uncertainly. “I can’t say.”

“Yes!” Ryan shouted. “Yes, you can say! You were the one! Remember? I came here and brushed your hair! Then we went to the Ball and we danced—”

“Sort of,” the King muttered.

“—and then you left at midnight!”

Everyone looked at Cinderella. She covered her face with her hands. “You did brush my hair,” she said, her voice muffled.

“Thank you!” Ryan said. “So, there you go! It’s her. I choose her! I’m going to marry Cinderella.”

The King and Queen looked at each other doubtfully.

“You said I could choose anyone,” Ryan reminded them.

“But a housekeeper?” the King said.

“Well, at least she has a full set of toes!”

*

“How can there still be no romance?” Liam said. “He got the shoe on her. Something should’ve happened between them.”

“They can still get married without being in love, right?” Maria said. “That’s what my parents did. Does it really matter if there’s no real romance?”

“It matters,” Dorothy said quietly.

Liam and Maria were startled – they’d forgotten that Dorothy was even there. She hadn’t spoken for several minutes. She was looking down at the Core Book, but didn’t seem to be reading it. She had a strange, faraway expression on her face. Dorothy had seen Cinderella’s engagement scene play out hundreds of times. The shoe fitted and everyone rejoiced. It usually only amounted to four or five sentences. But today had been different. Today had been – familiar.

*

Dorothy and Burnham had been living together for two years when they became engaged. They were renting an apartment in town. It was a tiny place, which Dorothy liked because it was close to the office and anyway, she worked such long hours that she did little else than sleep there.

It was a Sunday morning and Dorothy had woken up to find that the refrigerator had broken and was leaking. This depressed her. She did not want to deal with a broken refrigerator. She wanted to be at the office running through her notes for a presentation that she was giving to new investors the following afternoon. But she had promised Burnham that she would stay away from work this weekend – a promise that she was now regretting.

When Burnham came into the kitchen, he found Dorothy laying down towels on the floor and tipping yoghurts down the sink.

“The refrigerator has broken,” she informed him.

He smiled. There was a pinkness in her face that Burnham did not see often. Her hair, still ruffled from sleep, was tied in a loose ponytail.

“Max can come take a look at it,” Burnham said. “He’s coming over on Thursday anyway.”

“It’s probably not fixable,” Dorothy said. “Let’s just order a new one online.”

“But Max is coming anyway.”

“Well, I think he’ll tell you that fixing it isn’t cost-effective.”

Burnham laughed. He wrapped his arms around Dorothy and kissed the top of her head. “I love that you’re still in your pyjamas,” he whispered. “Makes me want to spend the whole day in bed with you.”

“These aren’t my pyjamas,” Dorothy said. “These are my casual clothes.”

“But they have teapots on them.”

Dorothy wriggled away from him. “Help me with the fridge. We’re throwing away anything that’s going to go bad.”

“That seems a bit wasteful, don’t you think?” Burnham asked. “Shouldn’t we offer some of it to the neighbours?”

“What, that Swedish family? They don’t want our leftovers.”

“Let’s do the fridge later,” Burnham said, grabbing at Dorothy’s hand. “I can’t focus on chores with you looking like that.”

Dorothy let herself be pulled back into him. He kissed her, his rough jaw scraping against her cheek.

“I haven’t brushed my teeth,” she said.

Burnham laughed. “I love you so much.”

“Do you?” she asked. Even after three years, she still had difficulty believing it.

“Afraid so.”

Dorothy smiled but didn’t say it back. She had said it to him before, usually in Christmas and birthday cards, but she had said it out loud a few times too, usually fortified by a glass of wine.

“Marry me,” Burnham said.

Dorothy didn’t respond to that either, at least not at first. Matters progressed. Her shirt that had the teapots on it was unbuttoned. Then Burnham drew away from her, pausing.

“Why not?” he said.

“Why not what?”

“Get married.”

Dorothy laughed, a little too heartily.

“Why not?” he said again. “We’ve talked about it.”

“We have?”

“We’re going to do it eventually. So let’s make it official. We can go out today, get a ring.”

Dorothy laughed again, less heartily and more uncertainly. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

“Yes, you can. You know I’m not.”

“You joke sometimes. It’s hard to tell.”

“I wouldn’t joke about this,” Burnham said.

“If you’re seriously asking me, then ...”

“I’m seriously asking you.”

There was an awkward pause.

“You can say no,” Burnham said.

“No,” Dorothy replied quickly. “It’s not that at all.”

“Then what? Do you want to think about it?”

“No!” Dorothy said, again quickly – too quickly. Then she blurted out, “I do want to marry you,” without having ever decided any such thing.

“Dot, you don’t have to say yes just because you didn’t say yes straight away.”

“So are you saying you’re changing your mind now?” Dorothy shot at him. “I’ve said yes but now you’re saying no?”

“No! I’m saying yes but only if you want to.”

“I do!” Dorothy said, her head spinning. How had they gone from a broken fridge to this? “I do want to marry you.”

Dorothy said it over and over again, before Burnham burst out laughing, finally persuaded. He picked her up and spun her around, whooping like he’d won a prize at a carnival.

For Dorothy, it was like being in a car accident. She had swerved to avoid a collision, but had over-corrected, gone off the side of a bridge, and suddenly found herself hurtling down into icy black water.

*

“It matters,” Dorothy said again. “Prince Charming and Cinderella need to feel something for each other. It’s the only way to get a happy ending.”

“Well, it’s not happening,” Liam said.

“There’s got to be an explanation,” Dorothy said. “Give me Ryan’s file again.”

Dorothy flipped through the file again, bringing her focus back to the crisis-at-hand. Again she read what they knew about Ryan’s childhood – devoted parents, who were politically conservative, who had taken Ryan to church every Christmas morning until he was nine. Ryan had read plenty of fairytales in the critical early years – he had even played the role of Prince Charming in a school play for God’s sake. Then there were the school records Maria had tracked down – he’d been a good student, except for science and physical education. A common refrain in Ryan’s school reports was, “Can be easily distracted,” but that should’ve given his character a bit of colour.

Most importantly, there was frequent, documented social interaction with females. Maria had found photos on social media, of Ryan with his arm around blonde, Caucasian, age-appropriate girls. By all accounts, Ryan should have been attracted to Cinderella on some level – so what was Dorothy missing?

*

Dave hadn’t looked up from the book for hours. In the morning, he’d only been glancing at it, as Ryan went from house to house with the shoe. In the afternoon, Dave had watched with a bit more interest as Ryan arrived at Cinderella’s house. Then, as the stepsister hacked her own toes off, Dave had barely blinked. He hadn’t been this engrossed in a book since Game of Thrones.

When Burnham and Dorothy came in, Dave looked up at them, awestruck. “This is the best fairytale ever. Did you see? That stepsister cut half her goddamned foot off!”

“I’m glad you’re entertained,” Dorothy said. “I don’t think our younger readers are going to be quite so delighted.”

“And that bit before?” Dave said. “Announcing he was going to marry her, surrounded by puddles of stepsister blood? That was sick!”

“Well, actually, that scene is the reason I’ve come to talk to you,” Dorothy said. “I was hoping you could help me figure something out.”

Dave set the book down. “Me? How would I be able to help?”

“It’s Ryan.”

“What about him?”

“We knew he might not actually fall in love with Cinderella, especially with everything he’s been through. But the problem is that there’s absolutely no attraction between them, on any level. None of the right bonds are forming.”

“I don’t understand,” said Dave. “What do you mean, the right bonds?”

Dorothy listed them on her fingers. “Romance, desire, passion, even basic sexual compatibility. But all of the wrong bonds are forming: sympathy, agreeability, charity, friendship – neutral bonds. Why isn’t he attracted to her? She’s programmed to be the perfect woman. Does Ryan have some sort of aversion to blonde bombshells?”

It took Dave a few seconds to realise – she didn’t know. He’d assumed from the beginning that it didn’t matter. It was just a story after all. He thought that the words said that they fell in love. Dave hadn’t realised that it actually had to happen.

“Oh my god,” he said. “I can’t believe you don’t know.”

“Know what?” Dorothy said.

“I really thought you knew. I didn’t realise ...”

“Didn’t realise what?”

Dave shifted uncomfortably. “Alright, um, let me think how to put this. Well, I guess it all started with my sister Alison. She likes to meddle and stick her nose into everyone’s business. You know what sisters are like. Do you have one?”

“I did,” Dorothy replied shortly.

“Did?”

“Yes. She died when I was little.”

For a moment, Dave faltered. “Oh. Oh, no way. I’m sorry.”

“There was a tornado, a house fell on her, you know how it is. Please, go on.”

“Um, alright well, when Ryan vanished, he and I were hanging out, but we’d only just met. It was a set-up, a blind date thing. Alison had set me up with him.”

“Oh, shit,” Burnham said quietly, but Dorothy stared at Dave blankly. Dave wondered whether she actually understood what he was saying.

“That’s why the sparks aren’t flying,” Dave said. “It’s not just that Ryan isn’t attracted to Cinderella. It’s that he isn’t attracted to girls in general.”

“No.” The colour drained from Dorothy’s face. “You didn’t knew all this time and didn’t say a word?”

“I thought you must’ve known – or that it didn’t matter!” Dave said. “I mean, if it mattered, isn’t that the first thing you’d check?”

It was a fair point. How had Dorothy missed that? But then Dorothy realised. This must’ve been the plan all along. Bjorn Berger had probably arranged it with his accomplice, to make sure the replacement was never going to fall in love with Cinderella. And now they were too far in. Dorothy would have to let it play out.

Then Dave got the giggles. It started out as a nervous chuckle and he quickly slapped his hand over his mouth, but then he gave a loud snort. Dorothy’s colour came back. Dave was not just laughing, Dorothy thought to herself. He was laughing at her. Dorothy had kept her cool this whole time, more or less, but now she snapped.

There was a glass of water on the desk. Before she knew what she had done, she picked it up and tossed its contents at Dave’s face.

She might’ve done worse if Burnham hadn’t come to her rescue. He grabbed her around the middle and steered her out of the room. As he shut and locked the door, a dripping wet Dave shouted after them.

“I don’t see what the big deal is! It’s actually kind of perfect. There’s a reason that we get called queens, you know!”

Copyright © 2020 Richie Tennyson; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Awesome chapter. So Ryan gets the shoe on Cinderella. Dorothy is worried that there is no sign of love between The Prince (Ryan) and Cinderella so she goes to talk to Dave to find out if she had missed anything about Ryan and that's when Dave got water thrown over him after he told Dorothy that Ryan wasn't attracted to girls. That moment in time Dorothy realized that Bjorn had his accomplice pick Ryan, to make sure the story of Cinderella wasn't going to go to plan. 

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Ha, how wrong was I, predicting that the child sized slipper would not fit Cinderella's foot but would fit one of the seven dwarves? Well, for sure, there was more chance of Ryan making out with Happy.

So where will Dorothy go from here? Enter Cinderella's long lost twin brother: Dave who hits it off with Ryan.

-------------------------------------------------------

One small typo that I spotted.

“Not need to apologise, Your Majesty,”

Edited by Bard Simpson
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Could Dorothy be any more clueless? Has she never met any gay people? Probably not because the fairytales don't contain any. (at least until now) 😛

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