Cinderella Screwed Me Over
By Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2013 Cindi Madsen
All rights reserved.
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.
* * *
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 fiancé 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 realize now that's enough for me. No future. No big wedding. No forever. Just low-risk here and now."
Stephanie frowned. "I can't believe my maid of honor doesn't believe in love. Please don't tell my mom."
"Well, you and Anthony are an exception."
"I thought you said there are no exceptions."
I smiled. "I did. But not to my best friend who's getting married in two months. That would just be cruel." Honestly, I hoped she and Anthony were an exception. If anyone deserved happiness, Steph did.
"What about that saying?" Steph tapped a finger to her lips. "'No man is an island.'"
"No man is an island because he'd never survive. Men are like overgrown babies. Women, on the other hand — well, without men, I think we'd be relatively problem-free. I could totally be an island."
But the thought of being all alone, without anyone else, was pretty depressing. "I suppose I'd need my family and friends. I'm more like a peninsula."
Steph sighed. "At least you admit you need me. I still think, though, that if you just found the right guy —"
"We're not puzzle pieces, Steph. There's no 'you complete me' guy out there, and the beauty of this day and age is I don't need one."
"So why are you dressed like that" — she waved a hand at me — "if you don't have anyone to impress?"
My red dress hugged in all the right places and showed off my legs. "One, because I run my butt off so I can pull it off. And two, what am I supposed to do? Look like a slob because I don't think relationships last forever? I'm not itching to run off and become a nun or something."
Steph laughed. "Yeah, you'd be a great nun."
Chad walked up to the table and shot me a big, toothy grin. "Darby. Hey."
I returned his smile. "If it isn't my favorite waiter. How are you today?"
"Good. We're getting kind of slammed right now, so it's crazy. But good." He lifted his pad of paper. "What can I get for you ladies?"
I didn't even bother with the menu anymore. I rattled off my order, then waited as Stephanie placed hers.
Steph watched Chad walk away. "What about him? He's super cute and you two seem to have a vibe."
"We don't have a vibe. We have a I-come-here-all-the-time-so-we-say-hi thing. Besides, he's way too young, not to mention I have a strict policy against dating people I run into all the time. No guy's worth losing my favorite place to eat."
Steph rolled her eyes. "You're completely hopeless."
"No, you're the hopeless romantic. They call it that for a reason, you know."
Steph's phone rang and she hovered her finger over her earpiece. "Anthony's probably calling to tell me what his mom said about the flowers. I'll just be one minute."
"I knew you'd never make it." I dug through my purse until I found the envelope I was looking for and took it out. "I'll be right back," I whispered.
Making my way toward the back of the restaurant, I took in all the different kinds of people out on a Saturday night. One couple sat, smiling at each other but not saying anything, neither one eating much of his or her food.
On a date. Probably first or second.
The next table over, a woman in her late thirties to early forties had her arms folded across her chest, a scowl on her face. The guy across from her leaned in, looking frustrated and confused, saying, "I'm sorry, okay."
Married and not speaking — well, she's not speaking.
The kitchen would be a madhouse tonight, so I didn't bother heading in that direction. Brent, the head chef and owner, had done me a huge favor last week, making a special plate for one of my clients. The list of items she couldn't have had been lengthy, but he'd managed to pull off a delicious meal anyway. I'd written him a thank-you note because that's the kind of girl I am.
The office in the back corner had a plastic in-box attached to the door. Brent had mentioned I could place notes or special requests in there if he was ever too busy to come out of the kitchen. I dropped my note inside, then headed back the way I'd come.
A large group of people walked toward me, taking up most of the walkway, and I flattened myself against the wall to let them through. After they passed, I stepped forward, my thoughts on getting back to my table, when the heel of my stiletto caught. To keep from falling, I had to leave the shoe behind.
"Whoa," I muttered as I recovered from my almost-fall.
I turned around in search of my shoe and saw a guy bend over to retrieve it.
"I think you lost this," he said, tugging it loose from the crack in the floor.
"Yeah, it kind of stuck in there and ... Let's just say it wasn't my smoothest move."
He stood up, a big smile on his face. His very handsome face. His bright blue eyes, killer smile, and short, dark hair made it hard to look away. So I didn't bother trying.
"Well ..." He held my black stiletto out to me. "Here you go."
Oh, that's right. I'm standing in the middle of a crowded restaurant, one foot four inches higher than the other.
"Thanks," I said as I took the shoe. Balancing on my other foot, I bent my leg back and attempted to slide the shoe on. Stepping into this pair wasn't an option. They took a little extra work — a finger on the back — to wedge in the heel.
He reached out and put a hand on my hip to steady me. It sent my heart racing, which just goes to show you how long it had been since my last physical contact with a guy.
The shoe finally slipped into place and I put my foot down. When he didn't move his hand, I glanced at it, then back up at him.
"I didn't want you to fall," he said, one corner of his mouth lifting.
A deep stirring I hadn't felt in a long time burned through my core. "I wouldn't fall."
"You see how I might worry, since you did trip just a minute ago."
Between the grin he was flashing me and the heat radiating from his hand, my pulse was having trouble staying steady. I smiled back, pulling out the flirty grin that was rusty from lack of use. "I suppose I do have that against me. Although I choose to blame the faulty flooring and not my coordination."
He took his hand off my hip and held it out to me. "I'm Jake."
I placed my hand in his — firm shake. Bonus points. "Darby."
"Interesting is one word for it. For a long time, I thought my parents chose it to torture me. People used to tell me that because of my name, they thought I was a boy."
Jake's gaze ran down my dress, then lifted back to my face. "I doubt anyone makes that mistake now."
My throat went dry, and with him staring at me like that, I got a little lightheaded, too. "Yeah, well, the dress and the heels, they kind of put it all in perspective."
"So did you need something?" Jake asked. "I saw you near the office. Complaints? Compliments? Just so you know, we prefer compliments. And I'll remind you that I did help you out with your shoe problem. Although with the flooring issue, that's probably going to be a wash."
It took me a moment to shift gears. Was he saying ...? I looked him over again. All the waiters wore white shirts and black slacks. Jake had on a red button-down shirt with a black tie and nice black pants. In fact, we matched.
"You work here?" I asked.
"I do a little of this, a little of that." Jake scooted to the side as Mindy led an older couple down the walkway, bringing him even closer to me. I caught a whiff of his musky, masculine-smelling cologne. "Actually, I manage and own the place. Well, my buddy and I do."
That pulled me out of my he-looks-and-smells-amazing daze. Sure you do, you big fat liar. "Funny, I've never seen you here before."
"Oh, do you come here often?"
I narrowed my eyes at him.
"It's not a line," he said. "Unless it worked, then I'll go with it."
"You know, I've got to get back to my friend. Thanks for the help with the shoe and everything." I turned to walk away.
I glanced back at him.
He leveled those dangerous blue eyes on me. "Could I take you to dinner sometime?"
I motioned around. "Like, here? In this lovely restaurant you own?"
"Wherever you want," Jake said. "It doesn't have to be here."
"I'm going to have to pass. Now if you'll excuse me, I've really got to get back." Before he could say anything else, I turned and walked away from the best-looking guy that had ever hit on me.
It's such a shame he's a liar. Otherwise, I might've been tempted. And I haven't been tempted in a long time.
Our food was at our table by the time I got back. Steph was even off the phone. "Where did you disappear to?" she asked.
I slid into my seat. "I was walking back from dropping a note off to Brent and my shoe got caught. This guy got it out for me."
Steph grinned. "Did he slip it on for you, too?"
"No. I did that." I picked up my fork, ready to devour my dinner. "Stop looking at me like that."
"It's just funny that the girl who is so anti-fairy tale had her shoe rescued by a guy. It's very Cinderella."
"The guy was definitely cute and charming. But he claimed he owned this place, making him a liar."
"Maybe he wasn't lying."
"Steph, I've never seen him before and I eat here all the time. And I happen to know Brent, who actually owns the place. So, yeah, the very handsome guy's a liar. And ever since Allen, I have a strict no-liars policy."
"Liars are the worst," Steph said.
I lifted my glass, ready to recommit myself to what I'd come here to celebrate. "To male sobriety."
* * *
Being burned time and time again takes an emotional toll on a girl. I'd know. After my last failed relationship, I called Steph, like I always did, and she came over for calorie splurging, guy bashing, and binge drinking. Over pizza, Steph and I rehashed our worst relationships.
The next afternoon, I got the idea to lay out all my relationships, so I'd avoid making the same mistakes. Since fairy tales were partially responsible for my messy love life, I'd drawn parallels to my failed relationships.
The first of my case studies demonstrates why I never date liars — even charming ones. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Cindi Madsen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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