All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The sky is bruising a wicked black, and by the time I make it to the cottage my slipper has shattered. Shards of fine glass slice into my foot and leave red prints in the grass. I'm grateful I only have one ruined foot; the other slipper was left on the wide marble steps of the palace. Or maybe the Prince has already taken it back for inspection.
I bet he hates me already.
The thought hits me with insurmountable pain. All those years. All those years of training, leaving behind the half-life I had under my stepmother and sisters, and I feel guilty about what I had almost done. No, not guilty. Ashamed. Withered. And for the second time this night, terrified.
The warm remnants of champagne buzz through my veins, and my bare shoulders, glitter dusted and previously sweating from hours of dancing, shake beneath the blanket chill of November air. My dress, such a lovely designed thing painted in pale silver, is destroyed: the skirt bores one ugly gash like a maniacal grin, the bodice in tattered strips to reveal the sleek ribcage of my white corset. Both of my puffed sleeves have deflated, slipping from my shoulders, my hair a giant nest of tangled blond waves. I don't even want to think about my face, but warm and wet trails my cheek like a giant bloody tear.
I am not crying. I am not going to cry.
I do not go inside the cottage, but sink to the damp forest floor and begin to pick at the shards embedded in my skin. Each piece of pain is a memory coming loose, sending with it a wave of unbidden images. First come the ones that fueled my hatred, that remained with me every day since I was young. The Blue Knights taking my mother away, and my father dying of a broken heart, leaving me at the mercy of my stepmother and sisters. Then the spindly, twig limbs of starving people of the kingdom, factions that the Royal Family cared nothing about. Stories of the violent tempers of the Royal Princes, and the ruthless coldness of the Queen and King.
I remember the day I first saw Natalia, when it all began. She recruited me into the Sisterhood when I was fourteen years old. Took me from my childhood home and introduced me to the girls I would call sisters: Snow White, Rose Red, Briar Rose, Belle, and little Red. They asked if I wanted to change my name, since many of them were under pseudo names. I said no. I liked my name: Cinderella. It reminded me of where I'd been.
We were all gathered for one purpose: infiltrate the Royal Family through marriage. And take them out. We were a Sisterhood of Assassins under the disguise of fake Princesses. We were to smile and obey our husbands while we hid daggers beneath the folds of our skirts. Before long the wedding day arrived for four of us. The task should have been easy, but I didn't know the boy I was marrying.
Another flurry of images bombard. Me and my sisters' wedding day to the Princes. My Prince protecting me from the protest riot. My Prince secretly helping families on the outskirts of the kingdom. Saving Snow's life. The day at the Jeweler's. His kind smile and the way the light scattered into a million colors in his dark hair. The day he told me he loved me. The day I began to realize this boy was nothing like the rest of his family, that his heart was as heavy with what his kindred had done as any citizen, and how he was trying to make it right however he could. The day I knew he was a better person, better than me, and I began to battle this feeling that planted itself inside me and slowly bloomed.
And then, of course, the memory of not two hours ago: the ball.
This one is a particularly deep shard. My Prince took me to the private sanctuary of the royal library, away from the prying eyes of the guests. It was the best chance I would ever have. He tried to kiss me, and I shoved him to the ground. Broke a nearby lamp and straddled him, held the biggest shard feet from his heart. Prepared to strike.
I couldn't feel the slamming of my own heart. All I could see were those tawny brown eyes flecked with gold, and they weren't surprised. They weren't even scared. And that's when I realized. He knew all along who I was, who my sisters were. He knew we weren't all real princesses. And he knew we weren't all here to be married and done with, swept into riches like some glamorous fairy tale. We came to assassinate the Royal Bloodline, and he was my target.
And yet…he'd showered me with kindness. He'd loved me, truly, unconditionally. My mother's voice came to my head, softly spoken words when I was just a child.
"Don't throw away the good in your life. Hold onto it as long as you can, because it is the easiest to slip away."
Was that what I was about to do, throw it away? I willed myself to move, to finish years of dedication, but all I could do was swallow, grip the shard tighter. I couldn't do this. No amount of training could have prepared for this…feeling, this sensation that made me sick just to think of hurting him. Yet here I was. My hands shook, and the glass bit my palms and fingers, drawing blood. It seeped over and droplets splattered scarlet on his snowy jacket. He moved for the first time since I dropped him, slowly raising his hands in surrender. Then they came forward, and I started when they made contact with my own. My vision clouded.
Crying. I was crying.
He wrapped his hands around mine but made no move to remove my weapon. Instead he flattened my hands against the glass so it didn't cut. Our eyes locked the entire time, and I watched as his careful neutrality was overshadowed by something else. Tenderness. He was trying to stop the bleeding. For the longest and briefest moment I was lost to the swell of confusion and joy inside of me.
A deep boom reverberated through the palace and shook the floor as the clock struck midnight. The library door burst open, and I ran. Escaped the palace and the guard regiment and found myself sitting in the grass, bruised, broken, and pulling glass out of my foot. And I lost a shoe.
The forest is heavy with the sounds of night, and perched on a branch high above me is an owl, staring at me with unblinking, accusing eyes. A sudden panic overtakes me and steals my breath. I've failed my duty, my sisters. What would become of them? Execution? Slavery? Would I ever see them again? And the Sisterhood. Am I even welcome back? I'd committed treason. I was supposed to kill my prince, but instead I fell in love with him and revealed us all. Another emotion racks me, and it's something I do not recognize for the longest moment. When it hits, it is vicious: the deepest, incapacitating regret. I can only feel my shame crawl inside me, my betrayal, both to the family that I love and the one who loved me. I had to choose, but I cannot decide if I made the right choice.
His face comes clear and gentle in my mind. I cannot even conjure harshness: it looks wrong. For me he always carried the beginnings of a smile. Now more than ever I wish I could smile back. I was trained to pretend to love. I was never supposed to have the time. In my situation it proved to be the most dangerous distraction. But now I realize my life could have been so different.
The first raindrop explodes off my shoulder, and as the sky tears open and expresses its discontent, I mix my own tears with the downpour and weep for all I've lost.