This was not what she had bargained for with the fairy godmother, she cursed, especially with a smitten prince at her heels.
She ran outside the palace yard and whistled for a cab by the gate. Not a minute too soon either; her ball gown dissolved into the usual tattered dress as soon as she closed the carriage door behind her.
"To stepmother's house, please."
Entering from the back of her stepmother's house, she saw the pumpkin smashed on the side the gate. Mice and vermin circling it, merrily eating the pieces.
A horse's reins were tied tight to a tree nearby. It never left the house to pick her up from the ball.
Entering her cold room, she washed her face and tried to diffuse the smell of merriment off her. She did not want it to show even in her dreams. And especially not to him, the faithful drunkard sleeping there.
He stirred groggily as she removed his shoes and pushed him aside, making room for herself in their tiny cot. He reeked of cheap wine and whiskey, the smells of jealousy and grief.
When she felt his eyes on her, she said, "You forgot to pick me up."
"I thought you wanted to live there." He looked at her, the drunken glaze gone from his eyes. "Did he take bait?"
He scooted further away from her, as if there was any room left in their cot, his back turned to her, avoiding the sad thought of her leaving him for something better.
She sighed. Caressing his back, she saw that her hand was bare. Taking it out of her pocket, she slipped the ring back on her third finger.
They still had time until the prince found her, she thought. She refused to spend it in argument with him, the simple man she married out of loneliness in that big, cold house.