She knows there aren't many of them.

Sometimes a prince comes,

though he is never alone.

Always with someone else,

who usually ends up being

the worst sort of scum, and asks for one girl

and then another

if the first isn't pleasing in some silly way.

But they don't matter,

those frogs.

Common as muck,

her ma used to say.

If only her ma could see her now.

She doesn't think about that—

she thinks about the prince.

The prince will take her hand,

and smile,

and tell her that she is beautiful,

that she is lovely.

And he will be sincere,

as sincere as is possible in her world

of silks and laces,

of rouge and secrets.

All she wants is a gentleman,

a good man,

a kind man.

She doesn't need love.

She gets enough of that.

Quickly, she scans the crowd of men,

toads and frogs mixed in with

weasels and foxes alike,

and she waits. She always was a terrible dancer.


unlike everything else,

has not changed.

Madame will kill her for sitting in the corner,

tucked away from the customers.

In their industry,

based on looks and charm,

attracting the customers

and their wallets

is all that matters.

But really, she thinks,

she's more likely to turn them away

should she dance.

She cut her feet once as a child,

on the remains of a shamelessly decorative glass rose

her ma valued above all else.

It hurts her feet to move to the rhythm,

hurts her heart to remember that day.

Tonight, however—

tonight, she is lucky. She looks up

and catches the eye of a man. Instantly,

she knows:

she has found her prince,

her very own, at least for the night.

Hurrying, she gets to her feet,

nearly knocking over the girl next to her,

but she does not stop, does not apologize or even care.

If she did not reach him, another girl would.

She reaches out a hand to her prince,

a shuffling, pleasant-faced man in boring clothes and a shy smile.

He does not want a princess, she knows as she leans in to whisper in his ear.

And for her, that is just fine.

Though she knows of the way particularly fine fabric

slides coolly across one's skin like the trail of a snake,

though she has felt the cold press of coins in her hands,

has worn the necklaces, the earrings, the bracelets—

in the end,

none of those things can make her into one of

those envied, delicate creatures,

with their skin-of-snow,

hair-of-gold, and all that





She is not a princess.

She is a Cinderella,

one of those girls who does not deserve

a fine life, who pastes on a smile

and wears a fancy gown

during the night

in hopes of finding a prince.

For her,

for this one night,

he is a prince.

And he is perfect.

She wants a prince for this evening.

He wants a companion for this moment.

In a way,

everyone wins.