She was like something out of a fairy tale: wearing a billowy, formal gown, her rich, sable hair loose to tumble over creamy collarbones and down her back. She was introduced to me as Cinderella. She smiled shyly and, at my mother's bidding, lifted the voluminous skirt of the dress to show what appeared to be glass slippers.
What captured my attention most was the sweetness of her smile, the warmth of her eyes, and the fact that she was brave enough to be a model for the Patron's Spring Tea at Huntington Library, where a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales were being introduced for the Spring/Summer season.
"Cinderella?" She nodded with a blush. "You mean Aschenputtel? Ash Girl? Grimm never named her Cinderella."
My mother, Alice Whitlock-Cullen, was on the Board for the Library. She slapped me lightly on the arm. "Jasper, you're showing off." I acknowledged that with a grin without taking my eyes from the vision in front of me. "Well, I'll leave you in my son's care, Bella. Rapunzel is around here somewhere and she needs help with her wig."
Cinderella's eyes widened as she saw my mother step lightly away. "Crap," she whispered under her breath.
I had to laugh. "Not a very Fairy Tale thing to say, Cinderella."
Her blush splashed pink on her cheeks and she seemed to wobble. I reached for her shoulders to steady her, there on the lawn. To the left was the Rose Bower Walk, and I realized I wanted nothing so much at the moment than to visit it with this modern Cinderella.
"You all right?"
She grimaced. "Fine. I'm just not good in heels," she said, lifting her dress again. "But yeah, I'm okay. And I'm not Cinderella," she went on, tilting her head and meeting my look with defiance. "I'm Isabella. Swan. Bella."
I had slid my hands from her shoulders but my fingers itched to touch her again, so I held out my hand to shake hers. "Nice to meet you, Bella. Jasper Whitlock-Cullen. Do you want to sit down? There're some shaded benches in the Bower."
She smiled. So did I - I was still holding her hand. "I'm supposed to mingle, Mrs. Whitlock-Cullen said." She winced as she took a step toward the gathered Patrons and Friends of Huntington. "I guess it won't be too bad, on the grass."
Grateful for the opportunity, I decided to flirt. Bowing, I said, "I'll be Prince Charming and you can take my arm."
She blushed again and slid her hand where I indicated. "Thank you." We walked slowly, the sun catching the glass slippers every time she had to lift her dress up to make her passage a little easier.
Many of the Patrons were known to me, as my family had been involved with the Library all of my life. I worked as a troubleshooter-slash-heir apparent for the family business, and had just returned from the Seattle office when Mom told me to make sure to come to this charity event. "I will absolutely need you," she insisted.
I had rolled my eyes. "Another of your visions, Mom?"
"Go ahead and laugh, Jasper, but I met your father that way..."
"Everything all right?" Mom stopped by on her energetic pursuit of patronage. "Bella? Jasper?"
"Just fine, Mom. And thanks, by the way."
"See?" With a wink, she patted Bella's hand and scampered off - gracefully, but at four-ten, she tended to look like a little girl.
"How'd you get roped into this?" I asked Bella while we got some lemonade. "I'm obviously in it for life, but what about you?"
"It all started because I was trying for a scholarship in high school," she admitted, looking embarrassed as she dropped her eyes to the clear plastic cup in her hands. "The Rose Queen thing for the Rose Parade?"
With a self-deprecating smile, she shrugged. I saw how her skin peeked through long locks of hair. She was captivating, but had absolutely no idea. "I applied because I was trying to get money for college..." A slanted glance. "Don't guess that was a problem for you, huh?"
I shook my head. "No. But I admire anyone who had to work for it, to be honest."
She straightened a little and I was relieved to have said the right thing. "So, anyway, they called on past Rose Queens to model for the Library this spring."
"Wait, how old are you?" I blurted, suddenly feeling like a perv.
She caught on to my minor freak-out and openly laughed. I didn't mind. "I'm twenty-two, Prince Charming. Don't worry. I'm actually starting grad school up in Seattle pretty soon, so I'm officially a grown-up."
"I just came from there," I murmured, rescuing her cup before she spilled it on her costume.
"Isabella!" A statuesque blonde with a look of business about her strode toward us. "Isabella! I wanted to show your dress to Mr. and Mrs. Eleazar."
I felt my chest tighten. I had to get her email or phone number or something. "Bella..."
"Coming, Miss Hale." With a rueful look up at me, Cinderella fluffed out her hair. "She's the costume designer. I've gotta go. Thanks for not letting me fall and embarrass myself," she added, stepping away.
She stumbled, but Miss Hale caught her arm and whispered something. Bella nodded and, after a brief hesitation, walked much more smoothly at the designer's side.
The sunlight sparkled on the reason for her newfound ease: Cinderella had lost her slipper.
Its mate was right next to me; the heel apparently stuck in the soft soil near my feet.
I grinned; I knew that I had every reason to get her contact information. I would be Prince Charming for real. I retrieved the slipper nearest to me and watched as Cinderella was escorted back into the Library.
"Isabella Swan," I whispered to myself. That name would echo in my thoughts until I saw her again.