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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

If the Shoe Fits by Carol Ayers

“...and they lived happily ever after.”

The credits rolled as Prince Charming took Cinderella into his arms and planted a huge kiss on her perfect pink lips.

Five-year-old Jenny bounced up and down on the couch, clapping, her face alight with joy. Her tiara fell off her head, and she stopped to slap it back on, only to begin her bouncing routine all over again.

I turned to Jenny's mother--my best friend, Megan--and rolled my eyes, careful to not let our young princess see. Megan ignored me, stopped and ejected the Cinderella DVD, and placed it back in the case.

“Mommy, can I have a snack now?” Jenny asked.

“What's the magic word?” her mother prompted.


“Sure. Auntie Laura and I will make something for you while you put your toys away. Come on, Laura.” Megan led the way to the kitchen.

Once we were safely out of hearing distance, I said to my friend, “Are you sure you should be letting her watch that stuff? It's so not reality.”

Megan grabbed a paring knife from a drawer, and began to expertly slice an apple onto a plate. “Come on, Laura. We loved Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White when we were her age. And we used to dress up as princesses, remember? I don't see the harm in it.”

I found a piece of string cheese in the refrigerator, removed the wrapper, and placed it on the plate next to the fruit. “I know,” I said. “It's just that real life never comes close to what happens in fairy tales, does it? I mean, you and Joe broke up. And you two were Homecoming King and Queen in high school. Not to mention that you were voted the most likely couple to live happily ever after.”

“Sure, it's true that Joe and I didn't work out. But I still believe in love. Don't you?”

I shrugged. I wasn't sure I believed in love or happily-ever-afters. It was hard to when my previous relationships hadn't ended well. And I couldn't seem to meet anyone new, let alone my prince.

The next day at work, my boss asked me to take lunch early. We had an important meeting at twelve, and she needed me to take the minutes.

I'd been needing a new pair of pumps, and decided to go to the shoe store across the street. But as soon as I stepped out of my building, I realized I was starving. I stopped by a sandwich shop, ordered a tuna salad sandwich on wheat and a bag of potato chips, and settled into a window seat. As I ate my lunch, I gazed out the window, thinking about my love life--or lack thereof. Would I ever find someone who came reasonably close to being a prince? Would I have my own happily-ever-after?

Before I knew it, time had gotten away from me, and my break was almost over. But I really needed those shoes. The pumps I was wearing were scuffed, and the heel on the left one was about to break off. My pairs at home weren't much better. So I hurried over to the shoe store.

I spent a while browsing, and finally found a perfect pair of black pumps, exactly my size.

I plopped down onto one of the benches, and tried on the left shoe. A salesman came up to me, and I couldn't help but notice he was cute, with curly brown hair and an athletic build.

“Finding everything you need?” he asked. His name tag read Nick.

I felt myself getting nervous. It often happened when I met an attractive man--not that this was a regular occurrence. The other thing that happened was I tended to babble like a naïve teenager, forgetting that I was a (mostly) intelligent thirty-year-old grown-up.

“I really needed new shoes, Nick,” I said. “My boss is big on us dressing up. Every day. No casual Fridays for us. Dresses or skirts, pantyhose, high heels--you know, the works.”

“Sounds strict. Where do you work?”

“At the law office across the street--Berman, Lawson, and McCormick. I'm a secretary. More of a girl Friday. Or a girl Laura, in my case. I do all sorts of things, including watering the plants and cleaning out the fireplaces.”

Nick laughed. “Fireplaces? Seriously?”

I nodded. “Yep. Believe it or not. It's an old--but very elegant--building.”

“Well, those shoes should fit right in, Laura.”

I stood, wearing my old blue pump and the new black one. I walked over to the mirror to take a look. The black shoe was comfortable, and looked nice. Mission accomplished.

Just then, the clock at City Hall struck twelve.

“Oh, no, I'm going to be late!” I cried. I dug out some money from my purse and handed it to Nick. “Keep the change. I've gotta go.”

By the time I reached the office, I was dripping with sweat and my hair was a mess. I checked my watch. 12:07. I would just peek into the conference room for a second and tell everyone I'd be right back. Then I'd hurry to the restroom to get myself together. What I really needed was a shower, but I'd have to make do with washing my face and brushing my hair.

I opened the conference room door and leaned in.

“Laura, you're late.” My boss, Dana, looked up from her seat at the conference table and glowered at me.

“I know. I'm so sorry. I just need to clean up a bit...”

“Why haven't we started yet?” Another partner, Ginny, came down the hallway and brushed by me, apparently unconcerned that she herself was late. “Oh, Laura, I need you to clean my fireplace later. It's a disgrace.”

“Mine needs cleaning, too,” Rebecca Berman chimed in from her position at head of the table.

I nodded. “Sure. I just need to duck out for a second now. I'll be right back.”

“There's no time. We have to get going,” Dana said. “Take a seat.”

Resigned to spending the meeting in a less than pristine state, I came into the room and sank into a chair.

Now this is reality. Not exactly princess stuff. No princes around to save me, no sirree.

It wasn't until the meeting was underway and I'd crossed my legs that I realized I was still wearing one new shoe and one old shoe.

Later that afternoon, I was in Ginny's office cleaning the fireplace when Nick walked in.

I stood. “What are you doing here?” I blurted out. I immediately felt self-conscious, suspecting that I was probably covered with ashes.

Nick brought his left hand from behind his back, revealing the mate to my new black shoe.

“Oh, thank you! I was going to come by after work. I can't believe I did that. How stupid of me.”

“I tried to stop you when you were running out the door, but I guess you didn't hear me,” he said.

Before I knew it, Nick was bending down. He gestured for my right foot, gently took off my old shoe, and slipped on the new pump.

“Maybe you can wear these when we go out on a date,” he said. “How about dinner on Friday night at Domenico's? I heard their lasagna is fantastic.”

“I'd like that.” Then I giggled as Nick adjusted my shoe to get the fit just right. This scene seemed eerily familiar. Maybe I'd found my prince after all.

“What is it?” Nick asked, smiling. “What's so funny?”

I smiled back. “Nothing. Everything's great. Meet you at Domenico's at seven?"

I could almost hear the voiceover now: “...and they lived happily ever after.”

About the Author: Carol Ayer's short romantic fiction has appeared in The Prairie Times, Woman's World, and in previous editions of The Long and the Short of It. Her romance novella, Storybook Love, is available from Wild Child Publishing.

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