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First Chapterss


Finn Clarke

Continuing the fairytale

... "She's ruined it. She's absolutely ruined it."
*long read

"Of course," agreed Mimi on cue. "Anything you want, Cinders. I'd be only too happy to help out."
"Me too," echoed Lily.
I got up and left. A wise woman knows when she is beaten. Mimi and Lily's clothes were fine if you wanted to look like a real live Barbie - which they obviously both did; but if you're into Marilyn and Manic Street Preachers… Well, do me a favour.

I got my revenge though. I waited until they were out one afternoon then took a selection of some of their favourite clothes. I slashed them and stitched them, cut bits in half, swapped them around and tagged them together with safety pins. Then I put on the result and waited for them to come back in.

"Da-daah!" I sang, leaping into the hallway from behind one of the pillars. "What do you think?" Lily put her hand to her mouth. For once it wasn't studied.
"Oh my good," she whispered, "my Armani. You've ruined it!"
Mimi said nothing. I had the pleasure of seeing her go pale.
"Don't you like it?" I asked, gliding around, model-like, to give them a better view. "I have to admit I'm not sure myself. I really appreciate your kind offers - "anything you want" - and all that - and believe me I've worked really hard at trying to create something suitable - it was so kind of you both. But, well, I don't know…. It's not really me, is it?"
Mimi found her words. "You little bitch," she said, stepping forward. "You fucking bitch. Just wait 'til I get my hands on you…."
I waited. It was the first time I'd seen her lose control like this and it felt great. If she wanted a fight, she could have one.
Wicked stepmother, however, was on the ball.
"Mimi," she said coldly. "Please take the shopping upstairs." Mimi looked surprised. She wasn't used to her mother speaking to her like that.
"But-" she protested.
"Now, Mimi," she cut in. "Right now." Then she smiled. "I'll come and find you in a minute."
Years of implicit collaboration paid off. Mimi went, now. I could feel my heart beating with adrenaline and frustration. She was going to make me lose this one, too. Then Lily started crying, which made it all worth while.
"Lily," her mother snapped. "Go to your room."
"My Armani!" Lily cried, one hand to her mouth and the other pointing at what was left of it, safety-pinned to my shoulder. "She's ruined it. She's absolutely ruined it." She brought up her other hand to her mouth and cried into her knuckles. "Oh mummy, she's ruined it!"
"Go to your room!" Mummy snapped. Then, at Lily's look of surprise and anguish she softened. "Don't you worry blossom, everything will be all right, but just now I'd like you to go to your room and freshen up. You're smudging your makeup."
It was a comment designed to go straight to Lily's heart. She went.
"Right, young lady," said the wicked stepmother, advancing on me. "This time you have gone too far."
"You don't like it?" I asked, skipping out of her way under the pretext of a model's pirouette. "I have to admit I agree with you. It was so generous of the Duo to offer me anything in their wardrobe, but lets face it - they just aren't me. No matter how I tried to alter them…."

I stopped. She was getting close now and her face looked dangerous. She'd never hit me before, but that didn't mean she never would. I felt uncomfortably like the time had come.
She stopped a foot in front of me, lowering in my body space, and brought her face down close to mine. I could smell the garlic on her breath, see the mole underneath her foundation.
I looked straight back. I was scared, but I wasn't going to let her know it. We were at some kind of crisis and I wasn't going down without a fight.
She opened her mouth and I waited for a torrent of words. Weak words, faulty words, words showing up her sins and failures, words I could attack in response. I was good with words.
But she was too clever for that. I could almost see her counting up to ten. She held my gaze and I could feel her stealing the initiative. Silence and the currents of the unsaid were her best weapons and she knew it.
"That's the way you want it," she hissed suddenly. "That's the way you get it." And she turned and left leaving me standing there alone, victor of an empty space.
Why hadn't she tried to send me to my room instead of her daughters? Why hadn't she let us have a fight? Why wasn't she trying to lock me in the cellar? Because she was too fucking clever, that was why, and she'd won again.

Slowly I took my clothes off and dropped them in the bin. I'd have liked to burn them, but despite my nickname this house had had nothing except central heating for years. I pulled on my jeans and sweatshirt. I felt heavy and empty at the same time; mocked by my hollow victory and oppressed by a sense of dread. Something bad was going to happen.
Then I thought of Mimi and Lily's faces. I'd got them, whatever their mother might say. I'd got them good. I nursed the feeling to me. It was all I had.

Of course they had new dresses for the ball. They'd probably have got them anyway but I'd kind of made sure of that. I was spared the humiliation of having to help them get ready because they were too scared of sabotage, but they made sure I suffered in other ways: showing off their new clothes in front of me, practising their dance steps with each other, prancing around with the invitation, imagining it was the royalty in question.
"Me?" They would say to each other in mock surprise. "Dance? Oh, I'd looooove to." and they'd flutter their eyelashes and smile in their sappy Barbie way, and off they'd go until they collapsed in giggles.
"You have no idea," I said scornfully, after one performance too many, "how boring and stuffy these things are. First, you'll be lucky if you even get to talk to the prince; second, it'll be so crowded that even getting a drink will take half an hour and third, even if you do get to dance it's all stiff and formal and polite conversation. They're not events where you're meant to enjoy yourself, for god's sake."
"Oh listen to her," Mimi mocked. "Doesn't she know it all."
"A hell of a lot more than you, dearest," I smiled. "But then you nouveau riche get so excited and tawdry about these things."
I'd hit home. Mimi's dress was all glitter and spangles and I knew their mother had a deep-seated fear of not being accepted, which her daughters had absorbed.
"Well, all I can say is you must be jolly glad you're not going," said Lily, coming to her sister's defence. "You must be relieved to stay at home and miss such a boring occasion - not to mention the embarrassment of watching your so-tawdry," she spat the word out, "stepsisters."
"You bet," I smiled and walked out. I'd carried it off, but the fact was I minded like hell. Why are human beings so contrary? Two years ago, my parents would have dragged me kicking and screaming to a royal ball and I'd have sulked until I got drunk enough to forget I wasn't supposed to enjoy myself. Now I'd have given anything to go. Everything is so relative.

The week before the ball whittled down to the day before. Wicked stepmother had piled on extra work, of course, using the ball preparations as a pretext. (How much laundry, cooking and extra cleaning can three women going out for one night generate?) But she still hadn't officially 'punished' me for the clothes episode. This was worrying because I knew she wouldn't let an opportunity like that pass her by. I understood she was hoping to make me stew; but just because I understood that, it didn't make me stew any less. Something fundamental had changed since that day when she had looked me in the face and kept her temper. Some kind of cold violence had been unleashed that scared me far more than if she had screamed and shouted and locked me in my room. I tried to tell myself I was being melodramatic, but that didn't stop the feeling I had to keep checking over my shoulder.

I still didn't expect what happened. They day before the ball I went down into the cellar to bring up some champagne they were planning to drink before leaving. It had to be nicely chilled beforehand. While I was still down there I heard the door slam shut and the key turn in the lock. That was the kind of practical joke that made Mimi and Lily's day so I didn't even respond. I just sat down on the bottom step to wait, wishing I'd brought my book: it'd have been a good opportunity for a quiet read. They'd soon let me out when they wanted some work done.

Then the light went out. I sighed and climbed up the steps to put it back on again. There were switches both sides of the door and I supposed we were going to have some kind of switch war. To my surprise though, nothing happened. They must have taken out the fuse, the little bitches. I sat down where I was, a little less phlegmatic - I'm not that keen on the dark - but still not really worried.
What seemed like an hour or more later I was cold, bored, stiff and beginning to wonder how long they could keep it up. Another hour or so, and I was beginning to think that it might not be such a loss of face as all that to call out. Yet another hour, and I hammered on the door.
"OK" I shouted, "the joke's over. You can let me out now."
Silence. Not the silence of someone trying not to make a noise, but the silence of nobody there. No one.

I started to get scared. How long were they going to keep me down here?
In the end they kept me down there nearly 24 hours.
I drank a bottle of champagne to keep me company and started on one of the big round cheeses that had been there since my mother's time. Then I tried smashing a few bottles of wine to see if it would make me feel better, but my heart wasn't in it. The wine smashed back over me, so I ended up wet and smelly as well as cold and miserable. Then I had to worry about stepping on broken glass in the dark on top of everything else. (I'd gone down in my socks.) Besides, I'd begun to understand that whatever I did she would get me for it; that she would always win, and the more I upped the stakes the more I would lose. She'd killed my father, I told myself in a melodramatic way that seemed at one with the midnight cellar darkness. She would finish by killing me off too. In fact, maybe that wasn't so melodramatic after all.
When there was finally a knock on the door I was so tired and lethargic that my brain only just registered it. The knock came again and my body stepped into gear.
"Yes," I said, as if it were someone wanting to come in. "Who is it?"
"Ella," it was my stepmother's voice. "I want you to know you can come out now."
"Yes," I said, but I didn't stand up. There had to be more.
"I hope that this has given you time to reflect," she continued, "on what a bad, ungrateful girl you have been." There was a pause as though she were waiting for an answer. When I didn't reply she carried on.
"I hope that this will be a changing point. The start of a new relationship between us: of a new you, Ella. A helpful, cheery, pleasant Ella we would like to be with." There was another pause. I still didn't answer. When she spoke again her voice had a harsh edge to it.
"I warn you, Ella," she warned me. "Any more behaviour like that you displayed last week and you will be severely punished. Do you understand me?"
"Yes" I said, because I did.
There was the sound of a key turning in the lock and the door opened.
"You can come out now, Ella," she repeated.
I stood up. I felt shaky and as if nothing were quite real. I don't know if it was the champagne or hunger or cold or the sudden light, but I just couldn't seem to get a grip on the situation. I stepped clumsily over the doorjamb into the bright fluorescent strips of the kitchen. The floor was littered with shreds of material.
"The girls have been rather naughty," wicked stepmother told me, indulgently. The 'girls' sniggered. "They have taken their revenge. I have told them that two wrongs don't make a right and they have assured me that they will never do such a thing again, isn't that right girls?"
"Yes, mama," they chorused. A smirk lit up their eyes and painted their lips. I looked more closely at the material on the floor. It was my clothes. It had been my clothes. Everything had been chopped up into little pieces. Everything: tops, jeans, bras, knickers. I doubted I had a sock left bar what I was wearing. Even my shoes had been hacked apart. I had nothing but the wine splashed clothes I stood in.
"When?" It came out as a croak, although the word was clear enough in my head.
"What?" wicked stepmother was surprised. This was not the reaction she'd expected. Nor had I, come to that. The words seemed to come out of their own accord.
"When?" I repeated. And then, as they still didn't seem to grasp it, I spelt it out. "When are you going to lock them in the cellar? As their punishment?"
"Oh." Wicked stepmother smiled. The girls giggled. "Don't you worry about that. They've been punished all right. Haven't you girls?"
"Yes, mama," came the chorus. I gave up.
"We're going out now." Wicked stepmother changed the subject. "We're off to our ball. Please clear up this mess by the time we come back - oh - and have all the tea things ready for us. I expect we'll be glad of a cuppa after all that dancing."
She turned to go.
"Maybe you could stitch your rags into some trendy new clothes" Mimi hissed before following her, "Cinderella."

I stood there until I heard the front door shut behind them, then I sank down into the rags. I was very cold, and I didn't even have a jumper to put on.
I crouched there amongst the material for a few minutes, getting colder; feeling like when you move around in a cooling, shallow bath to keep warm. Then I got a grip. A bath was a good idea.
I stood up, put the kettle on for a cup of tea then went to run a bath. I tried the wicked relations' doors but, unsurprisingly, they'd locked them. They hadn't thought about the towels though, and I wrapped two or three around me while I fetched the joints I'd kept hidden under my floor boards, waiting for some suitable occasion. I made a mug of tea, found some matches, grabbed the cordless phone, and was all set up for a long soak.
When I'd started to warm up, I called Gordon O'Dare, or God as he was known to his friends.
He was in.
I was so relieved I almost cried and he had to wait until I could continue. Briefly I explained my situation, cutting short his exclamations.
"I don't need sympathy, I need clothes," I snapped frightened of choking up again. "And the sooner the better."
"I'll be there in an hour darling," he cooed reassuringly. "45 minutes even. Get yourself a hot water bottle, go to bed, and hold on. God will fix all. Don't I always?"

I smiled despite myself. Gordon very rarely fixed anything, but he always tried. If friends were the sum of their good intentions then Gordon was solid all the way through. He was also one of the few people I felt I could bear to see me like this. I hoped to hell he thought about what type of clothes to bring with him. Gordon's tastes were not always conventional.

Instead of taking his advice I went down to the cellar and opened another bottle of champagne. Then I raided the fridge for niblets before heading up to the attic. It was warm up there. It was also where I'd stashed the rest of my dope, along with a couple of tabs I'd been given ages ago and had never got around to using. Life had been weird enough lately without resorting to drugs. But now was different. Tonight was the first night of the rest of my life and I felt the need of a flexible reality.
He arrived an hour and a half later - predictable - but I wasn't counting. I'd taken half a tab, sipped steadily at the champagne, and was on my third spliff. Life wasn't necessarily looking good but it was certainly looking vibrant. I floated downstairs to let him in.
"Christ," he said. "Darling." He put his arms around me and held me for a moment, tight and gentle. God never did that: he was shocked.
"Do I look that bad?" I asked. "I thought thin was all the rage these days."
"All the rage," he agreed, putting a phoney smile onto his lips. "In which case, darling, you've got it made. Now," he took me in hand, "give me some of that delightful-looking cigarette there, and come and drink some strong black coffee."
"Coffee?" That did surprise me. "What do I want with coffee?"
"To sober up," He took a long, measuring look at me and then really smiled. "You, my dear Ella, are going to the ball."
When I'd got over the shock I had to admit it was a good idea. Then I got the giggles just thinking about it. I didn't sober up, but I did mellow out, which was even better. God got out his clothes and explained his plan.
"By the time I've finished with you, darling, they won't even recognise you," he said, fondling a pink, silk evening dress. "I mean - who in their right senses would expect to see you wearing something like this."

He was right. Gordon was into pretty dresses - all frills and flounces which he wore whenever he got the chance, and it was a selection of these that he'd brought with him. He was also the makeup queen of London and he dyed ("it'll wash out") and curled ("it'll brush out") my hair in the time it takes me to put on lipstick without smudging it.
Only when we were finished did he let me look in the mirror. My first instinct was to look round behind me to find the pretty woman. I was beautiful. I still looked a bit gaunt, but that was so trendy it hardly looked out of place, and the dope was softening out my face nicely. I really did look like a gorgeous young girl out at her first ball. I sniggered. If only they knew.
"Right," said God, looking at his watch. "9:00pm. You'd better go if you're going. I'll get you a taxi."
I moved to follow him and realised something.
"Shoes," I said.
"You've forgotten the shoes. Aren't I supposed to be wearing glass slippers or something?"
"Glass slippers!" He was shocked again. "You can't dance in glass slippers, my dear. You'd ruin your feet."
"Well, naked toes for people to tread on isn't exactly a winner either."
For a minute God looked worried and then he bounced his fingers off his forehead up into the air as an idea hit him.
"Mine are no good to you, Sweetie," he said unnecessarily, looking down at his size 10's. "But I know where we can get just the thing. Come with me."
He directed the taxi to Soho, and left me in it while he rushed down into the depths of a topless bar. I lay back in supreme confidence. I hadn't a clue what he was up to, but it obviously made perfect sense: God moved in mysterious ways.
Five minutes later he was back clutching a shopping bag. He gave the driver the address of the ball then sat back to show me his booty: shoes.
"I don't need three pairs," I said ungratefully.
"I wasn't sure about size," he explained. "You want them to fit as well as possible dear, if you're going to be on your feet all night."
"You remind me of my mother," I told him, although in truth she would never have shown so much initiative.
They were stage shoes, made to look like high heels but with a perspex see-through wedge between heel and toe to make them more stable. The toes were made of strong, soft leather and offered a lot more support than at first appeared.
"These are brilliant," I told him, having chosen my pair. "How on earth did you wrangle it?"
"It's just a loan," he told me hastily. Please take good care of them. They're doing me a real favour here."
"Who are?" I asked. "Don't tell me you've got a string of secret girlfriends God, 'coz I just won't believe it."
"Not exactly," he suddenly looked shy. "But I do seem to have acquired a , um, a boyfriend."
"Oh God!" I took his hand. "At last. I'm so pleased for you."
"'Marvellous Melissa' is his stage name," God confided. "And he does a wonderful act. Really creative, you know. Not just the usual curves and wiggles. Anyhow. His sister works there too - she and Jane, her friend, offered to lend you their spare shoes. I explained a little bit of your predicament - nothing detailed! - and they were happy to help out. But they do need them back tomorrow. All right darling?"
"All right?" I leant forward and gave him a long kiss. "You are the best friend a girl could have. Thank you."
"Right." Gordon changed the subject; he was a typical British male at heart, for all his dress sense. "We're nearly there. I'll keep the shoes you don't need. Now here's some money. Don't forget to leave by midnight or you'll miss the tube."
"Midnight! It's after nine already. What's the point of going if I leave by midnight? I'll get a taxi."
God pulled a face. "I do feel you need to be back safe and sound before the - er - wicked relations," he explained. "If they got back to find you missing all hell would break loose - and - well, you know who'll suffer if it does…"
He didn't need to say any more. "Midnight," I told him firmly, and smiled. "They'll never know I've left the house."

The taxi stopped. I leapt out, tottered on my new shoes and caught my balance. When I looked back to wave he'd already gone. Ahead a row of fairy-lit steps led up to the ball. I went on in.
I kept being asked to dance. Normally, the places I went, the only kind of bloke who asked me to dance was the kind who really wanted to fumble. That's probably what they'd have liked to do here, come to think of it, only it was too - well - not permitted. Here dance meant dance.

I'd had a couple of spins with an Honourable Henry and was just beginning to remember the steps again when the good old Prince himself came up and tapped my partner on the shoulder.
"Don't hog all the pretty girls to yourself," he said by way of introduction. "Go and dance with somebody's mother and give the rest of us a chance."
Honourable Henry dutifully bogged off and left Prince Charming the field. I looked around for the wicked stepfamily. If they could see me now.
"I don't think we've met before," was his opening gambit. "I'm Andrew, Andy to my friends."
I had a moment of panic. If I gave my real name I'd blow it all.
"Cinderella," I blurted out. "And my friends do not call me Cindy."
He burst out laughing. "Oh you poor thing, saddled with a name like that." I agreed with him and conversation blossomed. Every time it got near anything remotely sticky I lied my way through with the first thing I could think of. This leant a spontaneity to our talk that fitted well with my reality-bent state, and he seemed to think I was the best thing since sliced bread. When the dance was over he went to get me a drink and when we'd finished our drinks he asked me to dance again. I hoped to god that the wicked's were drinking it in, and accepted.
"Aren't you supposed to socialise?" I asked him. "In a Jane Austen novel it would have been considered very rude for a host to ignore all the eligible young females like this. There must be something in court etiquette on it, surely?"
"There probably is," he replied airily with a mischievous look in his eye, "and I'll probably get my ear bent tomorrow. But you're only young once, after all!"
'Young!' I said, but only to myself. Tact wasn't my strong point, but even I could see that there were some jokes he wouldn't appreciate.
I had a whale of a time. Deprivation can be a wonderful thing: all I needed in consequence was the attention of a rich, famous man and the jealousy of those I hated, and I had all I wanted. When midnight struck it came as a big surprise. I froze.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Midnight," I explained, then smiled when he looked as though I were odd.
"My namesake," I reminded him. "Don't forget that I turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 12." He laughed uproariously. He was a man who liked to laugh. "On a more serious note," I added, "I need to use the bathroom. Would you excuse me a moment?"
As soon as I was out of sight I headed towards the exit. I had to move quickly now - it was a ten-minute walk to the underground and I was late. To make things worse, it was an awkward exit. I had to walk up circular stairs to a kind of balcony and then through a door at the back in order to come down some more stairs that led to the front door. As I got to the balcony Andrew met me there, having shimmied up the opposite stairs.
"I thought so," he triumphed. "Running away? You can't go without giving me your number, at least. We've had such fun."

I looked at my watch. I had no time to mess around. I looked back at him with some false number ready on my lips only to see the wicked's walking up towards me. I panicked, pushed past him, and ran down the stairs taking them three at a time. I lost a shoe at the first landing and pulled off the other one to help me run more quickly. He shouted out behind me but only once - thank god the British hate a scene - and then I was out. One shoe down and one shoe in my hand I rushed for the underground and began my return to hell.
God was waiting for me at home.
"Just to see how it went, darling and check you're OK." He brushed aside my thanks. "Now, tell me all about it."
I did while he got me a cup of tea and washed the dye out of my hair.
"I'll take the one shoe back to Jane," he decided, when I confessed about the other. "I'm seeing Melissa after his show anyway. Don't worry about it darling," he added, seeing that I was indeed worried at repaying her generosity in such a way. "I'll get her a new pair. I'll put it on your bill."
And he went.

The next day the wicked stepfamily were full of the Prince's strange dancing partner, as were the tabloids. I enjoyed both versions: the wicked's were full of my affront and bad manners (their noses had been well and truly put out of joint); and the tabloids were full of the possibility of titillation and sex. Some paparazzi, hearing the commotion, had got in through the main doors as I ran out. Seeing Andrew pick up the shoe, they must have been making up their story even as they photographed the scene. Sundry serving staff had filled them in on the rest. The papers had a hey day.
"Cinderella's Slipper Clue" said one, and "Court It", another. They all speculated on whether he'd try the 'slipper' on every foot in the land, and what he'd do if it fitted more than one. The odds, the Mail calculated, , were that it would fit approximately a million women in the country. The Mirror used its photos to work out computer-generated dimensions and started up a competition: 'Guess its size and make and you could win a trip round Buckingham Palace'. Great stuff.
Two days later, God called by. He waited until the wicked's had gone out then banged on the window.
"Jane wants to take him her slipper," he said as soon as I let him in. "She says that at the bottom line she'd at least get her other shoe back, and at best there'd be a reward. She says her only other option would be to sell her story to the newspapers. She looked me in the eye," God was white with rage. "That little bitch looked me in the eye and told me she reckoned a story like that was worth at least £20,000 and what did I think. I ask you!"
"And what do you think?" I asked. I felt more scared than angry. If I got the tabloids on my tail now they'd keep at me until they dragged me down, that was for sure. And they'd surely drag Gordon down with me. A fine way to repay his help.
I thought of all the innuendo and crap I'd seen over the last two days and answered my own question.
"I'll go with her," I said. "I'll explain as much as needs explaining and she can come to make sure she gets her shoe." I sighed. "There won't be a reward of course, and she'll feel short changed - and let's face it - the opportunist will probably go to the papers anyway. But, we'll do whatever damage limitation we can." I made an effort to smile. He looked so stressed out and worried. "Don't you worry God," I reassured him, "I'll get us out of this or my name's not Cinderella."
"It isn't," he retorted, but not too loud.

He leant me his coat to go over my remaining pair of jeans and T-shirt and we got a taxi back to Soho. It was early afternoon and I had naively expected it to be closed, but the lights were flashing cheerfully as ever around the photos of what waited inside.
"Won't she be working," I asked, once I saw it was open. "Will she be able to leave just like that?"
"Oh she'll think of something." Gordon gave in to a rare cynicism. "This is a young lady who'll go far."

Sure enough, ten minutes later he came up the steps with a young, blond woman. They got into the taxi without a word. I'd already given the driver Honourable Henry's address. It seemed to me that the fewer details she knew, the better.
For a while she maintained a stubborn silence, looking defensive. I guessed God had already had a go at her and she was waiting for me to do the same.
After a few minutes I made up my mind.
"I just want you to know, Jane," I started, and she looked at me with hostility, "that whatever happens, I think you were very kind to have leant me your spare shoes the other night - and I'm very sorry I lost one of them and landed us in all this trouble.
"I bet you are." She sneered. "Not what you were planning at all, was it?" I don't know what I'd expected, but her voice surprised me. Behind the sneer, she sounded well-spoken.
"I wasn't planning anything," I replied, keeping my cool. "Just reacting. But now I'm planning." Her hostility deepened into suspicion. "I'm planning how we can get you what you want, and us what we want - that is to be left in peace. You wouldn't feel the need to go to the papers if you were well done by, would you?"
She sniffed. "It depends what you mean by 'well done by', doesn't it?"
"It does," and I smiled. Not a sympathetic, 'trust me' smile, but one of pure joy. Inspiration had hit. "And believe you me, whatever I mean by it, you'll get more out of this if you put a smile on your face and play along. All right?"
To my surprise she relaxed and grinned back. "You're all right you are," she decided, and got out a packet of cigarettes. "So, what's the plan?"
It was the voice and blond hair that had done it. Her shading was so similar to the colour God had done mine, that I suspected him of having borrowed her hair dye. She was thin too and nicely turned out - not too tacky: physically she'd got what it took. The rest was down to personality. I crossed my fingers and coached her for the rest of the journey while Gordon looked on, his expression ranging from protest through hope to disbelief, and finally to that of the po-faced British gentleman he felt was required for the following scene. We had arrived.

I didn't know how good a friend of Andy's the Honourable Henry was, but I suspected from their comments, and the Hello-type gossip I remembered from my past, that they were close. We obviously couldn't go straight to Andrew, carving a path through the paparazzi camped at his door, so we went to Henry and I hoped to god that his flunkies would let us in. Once face-to-face, I was fairly sure I could make it work.
They did. Both my name and Gordon's were known as belonging to the lesser aristocracy and that, along with innate British good manners were enough. An hour later we were drinking tea and waiting for Andrew to turn up while Jane was practising her charismatic charm, personality and spontaneous wit on Henry. He seemed to be responding nicely.
The prince, when he finally showed, was in a foul mood.
"This is all your fault," he yelled at Jane as soon as he saw her. "All this rubbish about Cinderella and glass slippers and running away at midnight. Have you no sense of propriety at all? Mother's absolutely furious."

Jane didn't blink. "Well, it depends what you mean by propriety," she said. "But within the context of my business I consider myself as honourable as the next girl."
"In the context of your business…." Andy had now seen me and the shape of my face, combined with Jane's unfamiliar tones were giving him room to doubt. He sat down.
"Look, what on earth is going on here?"
We told him. In fact, what with one thing leading to another, we ended up telling him pretty much everything (apart from God's penchant for transvestism), and as we did so I understood that this was going to make me free. Sod the media, sod Jane, and sod the money. From now on the wicked stepfamily were history. It was exhilarating.
"So that's it," I finished. "Believe me the last thing we wanted was to get the media involved." I shot a glance at Jane.
"Well," she said, with a straight-forwardness that left me standing. "I had wanted to get them involved, because in my line of business just about all publicity is good publicity. But that was just thinking about me - I can appreciate that with you lot it's different."
"It certainly is." Andrew sighed. He stood up and absently poured us all a glass of Henry's sherry. "The point is, what are we going to do about it?"
"Well," I coughed a little nervously and was glad to sip the sherry as all eyes turned to me. "I have a plan.
"It seems to me," I continued, "that Jane looks quite similar to the media descriptions of me at the ball. It's also obvious that I don't normally look like those descriptions at all - my own stepmother didn't even recognise me. It also seems likely that none of the Royal Watchers in the press would ever have come across Jane before, or know anything about her. Finally, nobody could deny that the sandals fit her perfectly - they're hers.
"What I suggest," I rushed on, as Andrew looked unconvinced, "is that without ever actually saying so, we let the press conclude that Jane is Ella Fitzgerald, a perfectly acceptable young woman, who happens to fit the shoe in question. The publicity will all blow over and - " I took a deep breath, this was the crunch, "should you ever want to see her again, she has a perfectly respectable cover. I meanwhile, can disappear off the face of this earth and get myself a life. The wicked stepfamily will be told to keep away from me - that is Jane - and set me - that is her - up in an independent flat. If they don't, they get prosecuted. They'll never see me again and need never know the truth. I get to be free, Jane gets 'well done by' and you get - er - well, whatever you want from it. And we all live happily ever after. What do you reckon?
Andrew looked at me. Then he looked at Jane who arched her eyebrows and smiled. She was very pretty. He looked back at me and stood up.
"Come into the study a minute, will you? I want to ask you something in private."
I went. I felt nervous. He hadn't made his mind up and I couldn't blame him. On the other hand it couldn't be easy for a man with his background to get casual sex on tap with no repercussions. Not these days, with this media. And if Jane was game who was I to moralise? But was he game, that was the question.
In the study he walked over to the mantelpiece and leant on it, gazing at the unlit fire.
"It's been a long time since I read Cinderella last," he said when he was ready, "but I seem to remember it had a different ending."
I smiled. "Yes," I said. "They fell in love at first sight, got married, and lived happily ever after. Fairy-tales are so easy, aren't they?"
"Unlike life," he expanded.
I nodded.
"Which, I take it, means that you don't - fall in love at first sight, that is - and all that."
"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "Certainly not."
"Right." He looked relieved.
"Why?" I pressed. "Surely you didn't want to?"
Instead of answering my question he looked me in the eye.
"You are extremely refreshing," he said. "Resourceful, witty, honest, brave, spontaneous…."
"Mendacious," I continued, getting embarrassed. "Conniving, tactless, hot-tempered…"
"You're right of course," he interrupted, although I felt he was referring to a previous remark rather than what I'd just said. "But do you really want this plan you've worked out to happen? Is it really your choice?"
I realised that I hadn't really thought about it.
"I haven't really thought about it," I said.
"Well then I suggest you do." He smiled. "Because, from a personal point of view, I'd like you to know that I'd be just as happy to act out your arrangement with the real Ella Fitzgerald as with the impostor."

I thought about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised what a brilliant plan I'd come up with. My idea had been only to save us all from ruthless publicity, but the result really did get me what I wanted.
"If it's all the same to you," I said finally, "I really rather like things the way they are. And I don't think the real Ella Fitzgerald would be nearly so 'convenient' as the impostor."
"Ah. Well, that is rather a consideration." He smiled again, eyes twinkling with a rather boyish charm that took away all offence. It was decided. "It'd be nice to see you again from time to time though. Catch up on your adventures?"
"That'd be great," I agreed. "God will always know where to find me." Then, at his look of bewilderment: "Gordon - Gordon O'Dare. We call him God for short."
He nodded.
"Let me know what you want to do," he told me, opening the door. "I'd like to help you out." I nodded in turn. I may be proud but I wasn't stupid. If you're going to have powerful friends you may as well use them.
We left in one of Henry's private cars a few minutes later. Gordon, like the fairy godmother he was, was putting me up until I got a life. Jane stayed. I watched the house recede out of the back window, then tucked Gordon's arm through mine and looked ahead. The future beckoned.
"Today," I said firmly, "is the first day of the rest of my life."
And what a life it's been.

© Finn Clarke 2001
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