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Cinderella Screwed Me Over

by

Cindi Madsen

To my daughters, Kylie and Sydney. I hope you learn that you don’t need a prince charming to make all your dreams come true, but that you find one anyway.

Chapter One

Cinderella screwed me over. And really, she doesn’t deserve all the blame. Jasmine, Ariel, Belle, Sleeping Beauty—whatever her real name was, she had, like, three of them—they all added to it. This idea of happily ever after. Of finding Prince Charming.

If you rewatch Cinderella now, you’ll realize there are some similarities between Prince Charming and the guys you’ve dated. Cute, charismatic, and kind of lazy. After all, what did the prince in Cinderella really do? He danced with Cinderella, thought she was pretty, and picked up her shoe.

Then, did he go after her? Nope. He sent the duke. You’d think if he were as in love as he claimed, he would’ve gone himself. Instead he was, like, Well, as long as her foot’s that small, she’ll probably be about right for me. That’s what’s sold to us. Forced down our throats as one of the greatest romances of all time.

The brainwashing starts at about two or three years old, when you first hear fairy tales about princesses, castles, ball gowns, and everybody living happily ever after. It’s no wonder that by sixteen, you’re shocked when your boyfriend cares more about looking cool or copping a feel than sweeping you off your feet. So you tell yourself it’ll get better when you’re older.

Then you get older.

You remain optimistic, because you watch romantic comedies now—they’ve become your new, more realistic fairy tales. You see lovey-dovey couples everywhere you go, proving that romance is still out there. Around the early- to midtwenties, some of your friends start getting married. You keep waiting for it to happen to you.

I waited. And waited. But the more dating experience I got, the more I realized that guys aren’t princes and love fades, replaced with either mediocre feelings or full-on contempt. I looked back at my relationships and noticed my dating life had been more like Con Air than Cinderella—you know, bumpy and full of bad guys.

Still, I tried to stay positive. Kept hoping the right guy was out there. I dated every man in the city—well, not literally, but after a while they all started to blur together. Dating became this sadistic ritual that always ended the same way—disappointment. With each bad date, each failed relationship, I grew more and more cynical.

It was on my twenty-sixth birthday that it finally hit me: Love is bullshit. There was no happily ever after.

I swore off men and threw myself into work. I started spending lots of money on shoes. A pair of great heels was much more satisfying than a man. They lasted longer, and better yet, they didn’t leave me for someone prettier.

Sure, there were some lonely nights when I wished I had someone to talk to. So I’d stroll past the pet shop and wonder exactly how much that kitty in the window was. On more than one occasion I’d been tempted to buy myself a furry companion. But I wasn’t quite ready to be the crazy cat lady. I was saving that for my forties.

At twenty-eight, I had a relapse. I fell in love; I was sure it was meant to be. But then it ended and I was left brokenhearted. Again. You’d think, after all the disastrous relationships I’d been through, I’d know better. That I wouldn’t be crushed in the end. But as all history teachers say, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So right then and there I recommitted to my previous decision that two people couldn’t really work it out. I also watched a few of the friends who’d gotten married in their early twenties get divorced, which only reaffirmed my decision.

That’s why, at thirty years old, I’m a year sober from love, fairy tales, and happy endings. And it’s not so bad.

Really.

If I had a theme song—and I totally should—it would be one of those power ballads about being an independent woman and not needing a guy. That’s the mood I was rocking tonight. Today was a big milestone for me.

A cool, air-conditioned breeze washed over me as I stepped into the restaurant. My best friend, Stephanie, was already there, and, of course, she was on the phone. She probably hadn’t even checked in yet. Lucky for her, I love her as much as her phone-dependent fiance does.

I walked up to the hostess. She was obviously new, because I didn’t recognize her, and I ate here more than I did at my own place. “Darby Quinn, party of two.”

She ran a finger down her list, made a checkmark with her pen, then smiled at me. “Give us just a minute, Ms. Quinn, and I’ll have someone show you to your table.”

I glanced back at Stephanie, who looked like she was talking into thin air. “I understand,” Stephanie was saying. “But she’s your mom. You’ll have to talk to her about it.” Underneath her pale curtain of hair, she had her Bluetooth earpiece on. Her gaze caught mine and she held up a finger.

One minute, my butt.

Stephanie and I were often mistaken for sisters. We had the same blond hair—mine was naturally straight, whereas she was a slave to her flat iron—same hazel eyes, and after fifteen years of hanging out together, we’d developed similar mannerisms. Though she was far more detail-oriented than I was. Perfectionist was an understatement, but it worked out well for her. Who wants to hire a sloppy accountant?

“Hi, Darby,” Mindy, my usual hostess, said as she walked up to the front. She grabbed two menus. “How are you doing today?”

“I’m well, thanks.” I raised my voice and looked at Steph. “If I could just get my friend off the phone, since she’s supposed to be hanging out with me, I’d be even better.”

Stephanie stuck out her tongue. “Okay, honey, I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you at home.” Pause. “I don’t know, a few hours.” Pause. “Love you, too.” She pushed the button on her earpiece, disconnecting the call, then smiled at me. “I’m all yours.”

Steph and I followed Mindy through Blue. The place was a mix of espresso-colored wood, white, and dark blue. Miniature lamps lit the tables, casting a soft bluish glow. Blue was my favorite restaurant in Denver. My favorite restaurant anywhere, actually.

The fact that it was five minutes from my building and about ten from Metamorphosis Interior Designs, where I worked as an interior designer, made it even better.

As soon as Stephanie and I were settled into a table in the corner, she picked up her menu. “So what are we celebrating again?”

I took the white cloth napkin off the table and placed it on my lap. “It’s been a year since I’ve had my heart broken. No more relapses.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Stephanie shook her head. “You’re celebrating your jaded stance on men.”

“I prefer the term realistic, thank you very much. I’m just a girl who realizes love is not only overrated but downright impractical.”

“For the past year, anyway.”

“Right,” I said. “Before that I was miserable.”

“You weren’t miserable the entire time. You had happy moments, too.”

“That’s my point. I’m not saying I won’t find a guy to have a few happy months with here and there, but I

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