He remembered her large dark eyes, and imagined gazing into them once more. Fighting back the tears in his own eyes, he thought, Oh, Rapunzel, how did it all go so horribly wrong? I loved you so much and you loved me – or so you said.
Cinderella spoke, bringing him once more into the present time, “Prince, I’m freezing. Let’s have a coffee here.”
I sat here with her, he thought.
As they sipped their coffees in companionable silence, he recalled how he’d held her hand last year. He could almost feel her presence there still as he gazed out onto the formal gardens, remembering how the summer sun had playfully danced and reflected on the pond’s surface, in stark contrast to the ripples made by that day’s rainfall, the sky moody and grey.
He looked across at Cinderella and reached for her hand. “I love you,” he said, remembering how he’d spoken those very same words to her. I never stopped loving you, Cinderella, he thought. But I loved her so much, too. “I’m really glad you agreed to try again,” he continued. “I can’t believe how close we came to divorce.”
“I’m glad you came clean.” She dabbed her cappuccino “moustache” away with a napkin. “I love you, too.” She squeezed his fingers.
He kissed his wife’s hand, trying desperately not to think how he had kissed her hand. “Shall we take a stroll up to the old church?” At least I didn’t go there with her, he thought.
“Are you thinking of her?” she asked as they tramped on through the squelching mud.
“Nope. I’m just enjoying being here with you again. It’s the first day of the New Year, and time for a clean start.” He returned Cinderella’s smiles and squeezed her hand affectionately, but, despite his denial, his mind was still living exclusively in the past. The last time he had visited the estate, many months before, he had been with her. “Now it’s time to reclaim our territory,” he said, squeezing the tender hand in his once again.
The rain drenching him as if he stood under a cool shower, he remembered how she had held his hand, too, and how they had walked across the meadow, memories of her constant chatter filling his anguished mind. The distinctive smell of rain on the grass could not remove the memory of her expensive perfume; and his wife’s warm presence could not chase her relentless shadow away. How could he get over her?
He recalled how they had stopped occasionally to kiss and his heart ached at the painful memory. How could such sweetness leave such a bitter aftertaste? In his mind’s eye, he could see her still, smiling at him, her mouth nearing his again. He remembered her once passionate kisses and he longed to taste them again. He could almost feel the pressure of her lips against his, and he remembered how his eager hands had caressed her back and shoulders, stroking her long blonde hair, longing to touch her…
Cinderella broke his reverie by losing her footing and skidding on a patch of mud. He grabbed at her shoulder as he steadied her, looking into her grey-green eyes. He recalled that she had tripped on a sizeable pebble and he had steadied her; they had made such loving eye contact. Oh, those dark eyes!
After Cinderella’s reassurances that she wasn’t hurt, they pressed on, hand in hand, as before. “What a good start to the New Year breaking my leg would have been!” Cinderella said with a laugh. “And I would have worn just one shoe again.”
“You’d have one Wellington boot instead of a single glass slipper this time,” he said, grinning at Cinderella’s muddy boots, but once again, his mind returned to the summer. He had wanted to take her up to the old church, but she was too tired and, instead, they had sat on the grassy bank, overlooking the sea, the warm sun on their backs. He remembered he had felt at that moment in time that he was truly the happiest man on Earth: he had a loving wife, a peaceful kingdom, and a mistress, who was practically half his age. His mood darkened like the grey skies overhead as he relived the arguments that had followed that perfect day, when she had wanted him to divorce Cinderella and marry her and, on his refusal, had accused him of using her as a trophy. “That’s simply ridiculous,” he had shouted, adding in a forced calmer voice, “There, don’t cry. Make yourself pretty and we’ll go out to dinner, my love.”
He had later wondered if he irritated Cinderella as much as he had eventually annoyed Rapunzel. “Am I insensitive? Stubborn? A male chauvinist pig? Difficult to be with?” he had asked.
“Yes, totally,” Cinderella had laughed, adding, “But I love you.”
He remembered how he had then experienced the first real pang of guilt during the duration of his three-month affair. “I don’t want to hurt Cinderella but I love Rapunzel, too,” he had told his best friend at the Polo Clubhouse.
“Well, you can’t have them both, mate,” Smithy had said. “One hand can’t have two gloves at the same time!”
Lost in his memories, he bitterly recalled how she had finally made the ultimatum: “It’s your wife or me – choose!”
She’s gone. It’s time I forgot her, he reasoned, forcing his mind to the present time, and noticing that the rain had stopped. He kissed Cinderella as they approached the church. “I was just remembering our wedding day,” he said. “You looked stunning in that dress and” – he laughed – “just one shoe.”
“But we got married at the palace -”
“We’ve always loved this place and I just thought that maybe we should repeat our vows - in a church this time?”
Beaming, she took his arm. “For our Twenty-Fifth anniversary?”
He nodded, smiling, too. “Do you forgive me for that stupid affair?” he asked. “I mean, really forgive me?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
“It was just a mid-life crisis. It won’t happen again.” He pointed to a rainbow arcing in the sky. “It’s a sign - a good omen for the New Year.” He looked into her warm eyes and stroked her soft greying hair, suddenly realising just how much he loved her.
Remembering Smithy’s words at the Polo Clubhouse, he took a glove from his jacket pocket and hurled it into the dense woodland surrounding the churchyard.
“It’s my New Year’s Resolution,” he mumbled in response to her curious glance. “It’s symbolic.”
“Yes, I get it.” Smiling enigmatically, Cinderella threw one of her gloves after his.