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Authors: Rebekah L. Purdy

Cinderella Complex (9 page)

BOOK: Cinderella Complex
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After dinner, I went to my room. Against my better judgment, I thought I'd share the good news with Katrina. Standing in the bathroom, I took out my wand and opened the portal. Sucked inside, a shriek tumbled from my lips. I spun through the darkness like a toy top spinning out of control.

Moments later, a dim light glowed before me. I dropped into Katrina's room and onto her bed. She jumped and screamed.

“Cripes! You scared the heck out of me. What are you doing here? I didn't call you.” Katrina's lips puckered.

Loose-fitting sweat-pants hung low on her hips, her t-shirt had paint stains across the front of it, and her hair was tied into a low ponytail. She looked frumpy. Nothing like Ms. Popular.

“Well, I was trying to be nice and tell you I've got a plan for next week. A way to help you get closer to Connor. But if you don't want to hear it, I'll go back home.”

Katrina sat back down. “Okay, I'm listening.”

As I told her my plan, her shoulders relaxed. The weariness disappeared from her eyes.

She smiled. “It's perfect. Parents love me.” Then she narrowed her gaze. “Besides, you owe me after lunch went so horrible.”

“What do you mean it went horrible?”

“Your friend Taylor tossed a Frisbee into our picnic area and knocked our lunches everywhere. We spent most of the time cleaning stuff up. We didn't even get to talk. So you need to rein her in if this is going to work.”

I fisted one of her blankets and glared. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“Are you sure? Because, for being my Fairy Godmother, you seem pretty interested in Connor.” Kat trailed one of her burgundy-lacquered nails across the headboard.

“I can't help it if I was crushing on him. But it was before I knew he was meant to be
your
happy ending. Trust me. I'm trying not to think of it. So cut me some slack.”

I heard a door open in the living room. Katrina's dad poked his head in. “Hey, Kat, can you help me get these groceries?” He held up several plastic bags of food. “The State deposited money on the food card today.” Kat scrambled from her bed. She refused to look at me as she hurried to her father's side.

Mr. Melville turned a startled gaze in my direction, but quickly smiled. “Hi, I'm Daniel. I didn't realize Kat had a friend over.”

I climbed off the bed. “I'm Maggie.” I offered him my hand.

His eyes drifted to his daughter then back again. “It's nice to see Kat invited a friend over. She never has anyone come by.”

Kat tensed next to me. “You'll probably be seeing a lot of Maggie. We're growing really close.”

Mr. Melville smiled. “Well in that case, why don't you stay for dinner?”

“Um—sure.” I took one of the bags from him. Of course, I didn't mention the fact I'd already eaten. Instead, I followed them into the kitchen, where Kat scrambled to put things away. She avoided eye contact. What was wrong with her?

Mr. Melville got a pan of spaghetti going. Dark circles painted the undersides of his eyes. His cheeks looked sunken, as if he hadn't slept in days.

“You would've loved the man I had to chauffer around last night.” He shook his head, casting a quick glance at Kat.

She frowned. “Don't tell me. Mr. Farber?”

“You got it. He decided to hang out at the casino all night. He lost. Then spent the entire car ride to his house screaming at me before puking all over the interior.” Mr. Melville's eyes narrowed. “It took me several hours to scrub the car clean. And I didn't even get a tip. Which means, no extras this week.”

“It's fine, Dad. I don't need anything.”

“Well, John might let me pick up a few extra hours at the garage this weekend.”

“Dad, really, it's no big deal.”

“If I'm working two jobs, I'd like to at least be able to show something for it. It's bad enough that I have to leave you home all the time.” He ran a hand through his already disheveled hair then turned to me. “Sorry about this. Been a long week.”

“No need to apologize.” I smiled. He was so nice. Which made me wonder where Kat got her nasty attitude.

I sat across from Kat at the small oak dining table. Exactly three chairs and the table wobbled when you bumped it just right. Her dad dished us both a plate of spaghetti and garlic bread.

The scent of sauce and bread permeated the air, making me salivate. I twirled my fork, wrapping the long noodles on it.

“I'm glad my daughter has someone to hang out with,” Mr. Melville said at last. “I think it's been kind of lonely for her.”

My chest tightened. Great, did I actually feel sorry for her?

“I enjoy her company.” I darted a quick look in Kat's direction. “Actually, I'm hoping she can come to an art thing with me next week.”

Mr. Melville's eyes lit up. “That'd be great. Kat, you'll need to remind your mom when you see her this weekend. She'll be happy to hear you're going out with friends.”

At the mention of her mom, Kat lowered her gaze and stared at her plate of food.

Whoa, her mom? Kat never mentioned her. And I didn't see any evidence of her living with them. Other than in Kat's room, there was a serious lack of feminine touch around the house. The few times I'd zapped over, I'd never run into her or heard anyone talk of her. Maybe her parents were divorced, like mine.

“Yeah, she'll be happy. Listen, Dad, Maggie has to be home by seven. We probably shouldn't keep her any longer.” Kat stood up abruptly.

I dropped my fork onto the plate and smiled. “Man, I didn't realize it'd gotten so late. I'll see you tomorrow, Kat.” As I headed for the front door, I wondered what was going on. Obviously, her mom was a sore spot for her. And I wanted to know why. Maybe there was more to Katrina Melville than I first thought.

Chapter Fifteen

 

Taylor shifted sideways in her seat while our drama teacher, Ms. Monteray, stood on the stage sorting through a handful of papers.

“Okay, so I was thinking.” Taylor twisted a dark curl around her finger. “We should get together this weekend.”

Seth leapt over the back of the auditorium seats and landed in the spot next to me. “I agree. We've barely hung out since school started.” He bumped me in the arm with his elbow.

“Sounds fun. Jack will want to invite Riley.”

Taylor stuck her finger in her mouth and pretended to vomit. “Now we'll have to spend the whole time watching them make out.”

“Then bring a blindfold.”

As gross as it was, I owed Jack a night with his girlfriend. I needed to make things up to him for all the stupid crap that'd happened this week. Plus, he'd kind of saved my life at the restaurant. Not that I planned on admitting it to him.

My gaze shifted as Kat rushed into the auditorium for class, her mouth set in a thin line.
Now what's wrong with her
?

She raised a finger and gestured for me. I groaned. Why did she have to be so needy?

“Tell me you're not going over there?” Taylor crossed her arms and stared down her nose at me.

“I kind of have to. I told you, I'm tutoring her.” I grabbed my notebook from the floor and stood up.

“Katrina must be a complete idiot. Seriously, how much tutoring does one girl need?”

“Girls with boobs like that don't have to study.” Seth laughed. “Unless they've got female teachers.”

“You're a total pig!” I pushed past him and turned to give Taylor a sympathetic smile. But she only glared in return.

“Let me know if we're supposed to purchase you a new best friend necklace,” she muttered.

Ugh, now was not the time for her to throw a fit. Why couldn't she just understand I had to help Kat?

“I'm not replacing you. But I volunteered to tutor this year. I can't back out.”

“Just ignore me. I'm in a mood.” Taylor faced the stage once more.

I hurried over to Kat, who scowled. “Took you long enough.”

“Well, some of us have friends.”

Kat flung her hair over her shoulder. The scent of roses lingered in the air. “I didn't invite you over here to talk about your lame friends.” She sat down and patted the seat next to hers. “We need to find me a dress for that art thing next week.”

“I know. We'll take care of it this weekend. I promise.”

“Yeah, well that's not the only problem.” She cleared her throat, her hands folded in her lap as she glanced at the floor. “Homecoming's in a couple of weeks. And if I'm going to have any shot of being crowned queen and dancing with Connor, we need to get posters made. Not to mention, it'd be nice to know if I'll have a date or not.”

If I'd known this Godmother business would be so demanding, I might've told Grandma to keep the title. Where would I find the time to get everything done and still enjoy my own life?

“We'll take care of it.”

“Okay, class.” Mrs. Monteray tapped the microphone. The lights spotlighted her on stage. Her bohemian skirt swished at her ankles as she moved around. “Today, I'll be breaking you into groups of four to act out a scene from a play. You've been rehearsing these lines since school began, now it's time to see you act them out. Each group will have thirty minutes to meet and discuss what props, costumes, etcetera they want to use.” She grinned. “Remember, you will be graded on delivery, creativeness, and your use of the stage and props. Think of this as improvisation and do the best you can.”

The class erupted into pockets of whispered irritation. I groaned. Why didn't the teachers realize we hated group work? Well, unless we got our friends paired up with us.

“Quiet down,” Mrs. Monteray said. “I'll start reading the names off. Once I've finished, you may meet up with your groups. Taylor Packard, Seth Charmaigne, Katrina Melville and Maggie Winters are in group one. Misty Marshall, Kendra Reiter, John Peppers, and Kyle Ludwig, group two.”

And on she went. Once she'd finished the list, Katrina and I walked over to Taylor and Seth. Mrs. Monteray hurried down the aisle carrying our scripts. She stopped next to us.

“Taylor, I want you to play the part of the witch. Katrina will be the queen. Maggie, you can read the part of the princess who's fallen in love with the stable-hand, who will be played by Seth.”

My cheeks grew warm as I gazed at Seth. He winked.

“I think you got this wrong, Mrs. Monteray. Katrina should play the witch.” Taylor smirked.

Not again.

Katrina snorted. “Please. I make a far better queen. Just look at me.”

“Girls,” Mrs. Monteray warned. “I advise you to quit bickering. Your grade is dependent upon it. Now you've got thirty minutes to rehearse.”

I clutched Taylor's arm and dragged her to the stage. “Let's go find our costumes and props.”

Kat pushed ahead of us and headed straight for the medieval-style dresses. The dimly-lit backstage did little to chase away the shadows. I shivered, casting a quick glance over my shoulder.

“You okay?” Seth brushed his arm against mine.

“Yeah.” I released Taylor and went over to find a dress. Kat held up a lilac-and-gold colored one.

“That was the one I wanted,” Taylor said.

“There are tons of others. Besides, purple isn't really your color, and I doubt
you
can squeeze into it.” Kat spun on her heel, moving to the changing rooms.

“Maybe I can shove that crown up your butt!”

“Knock it off.” I grabbed a crimson dress and tossed it at Taylor. “With your dark hair, you'll look awesome in red.”

She crumpled it into her arms and stalked off as well, leaving me with Seth. He stood beside me, flipping through the script.

“Hey, did you read our scenes together?” he asked.

“Uh, no. I've been busy trying to keep those two from killing one another.”

Seth grinned. “When you get a chance, check out page five.” He grabbed a white tunic and a pair of tan breeches.

Page five. I flipped through the packet, scouring the scene with the princess and the stable-hand.
Princess sneaks from her room and down to the stable
.
She finds Derek, her true love
.
Couple embraces
.
Derek kisses her tenderly
.
No way! This so wasn't happening. Seth and I had to kiss.

I swung around. But he'd already left to change. My heart catapulted from my chest. Okay, I could do this. Seth was my best friend. And it wasn't like it meant anything.
Then why are my palms so sweaty
?

“Hurry up and get changed. We still have to pick out props.” Kat walked toward me. The long gown brushed the floor. A purse of gold belted at her waist. Her hair was twisted into a pile on her head. She even wore a crown, and it was woven into her freaking hair! I gasped. She looked like a queen.

“Yeah, I'm having a hard time finding something to wear.” More like, freaking out over my first kiss. Which wasn't really a kiss, because it was staged.

Kat pushed through the hangers, her teeth grazing her bottom lip. She pulled a light blue gown from a hanger and held it up to me. “Here, blue will go perfect with your hair and complexion.”

No way. Katrina Melville acting nice? “Thanks. If you want, you can look for props while I put on my costume.”

I hurried down a narrow hallway, which branched off from the costume closets and into one of the small rooms designated for changing. It smelled of mothballs. Once I locked the door, I whipped my clothes off and tugged the gown over my head. The fabric felt silky against my skin. I twirled around. It was perfect. The faux satin and lace material fell to my feet. The hem dragged on the floor. I shook my hair out and draped it around my shoulders. I placed the crown on top of my head.

I heard Kat and Taylor arguing before I even got back to the stage.

“We're not using a throne room,” Taylor said. “The scene doesn't even call for one.”

“But that's where we can start the play. The princess is supposed to have her mother talk to her about the arranged marriage. It makes sense to have it in the throne room.”

I placed myself between them. “C'mon, you two need to quit fighting. You both just pick props out for your own scenes, okay?”

Taylor pushed past me. “So you're taking her side?”

“No. I'm trying to get you two to stop fighting before you screw up our grade.” My gaze narrowed.

“Whatever.” Taylor frowned.

“What'd I miss?” Seth's hand rested on my lower back.

Swallowing hard, I turned to face him. My breath caught in my throat. The white tunic was unlaced, revealing his sculpted chest. The breeches were tight in all the right places.

“Wow, you look like the cover of one of my mom's romance novels.” I laughed.

He tugged me closer. “Yeah, but the guy always has a girl in his arms. Kind of like this.” He tipped me back slightly so my hair tumbled behind me.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and giggled. “Um, yeah. Although, I think they're more risqué.”

His eyes blazed. “Are you saying you want more risqué?” His hand slid up my leg, dragging the gown hem up with it.

My breath caught in my throat. “Let's pick out our props. Our thirty minutes are almost up.” I totally needed to cool it. Maybe some anti-hormonal shot or something.

Seth released me and we walked to the prop room. We sorted through things in silence. I grabbed a fake bag of gold, a couple of paintings for the castle walls, and a bench to put in the garden. Seth pulled out a stuffed donkey, two square bales of hay, and a pitchfork.

We met Taylor and Kat, who were busy getting their sets ready. Taylor had a cauldron hanging over a fake fire. She'd put a cave made of foam rocks behind her. And, of course, Kat opted for the enormous, elaborate throne. Taylor reeled at the sight of it.

“Okay, class. Time's up.” Mrs. Monteray clapped her hands. “Maggie, your group goes first. Remember, I'll be watching from the front row. Each person will be graded on their individual parts as well as how they perform as a group. Again, we'll be looking to see the transitions, stage movements, and use of props. So, whenever you're ready.”

Seth and I helped Taylor and Kat get their props on stage, then stood behind the curtains to watch.

The scene started with the queen visiting the witch in the forest to ask for a potion to make her daughter fall in love with the man she was arranged to marry.

“Good day, witch,” Kat said. “I've come to ask a great favor from you.”

“I don't grant favors for people like you,” Taylor answered.

No. No. No. That wasn't in the script. What were they doing?

“Just because you're jealous doesn't mean you can't help my daughter.” Kat held her head high.

“Jealous? Of you? Give me a break.”

“They're doing a great ad-lib, don't you think?” Seth grinned.

“Yeah, if we want an F.” I gripped his arm. “We've got to do something.”

“Like what?”

“I—I don't know. Maybe bring down the curtain and narrate how the two came to an agreement or something.”

He laughed. “Monteray would see right through it.”

“I've brought you gold, you fool witch. Surely your services can be bought?” Kat threw the purse at Taylor, clocking her in the head.

Taylor's jaw clenched. “The only thing I'd sell to you, queen, is poison.”

I kicked a plastic rock onto the stage. It skittered toward them and stopped at Kat's feet. I heard the class laugh. Kat and Taylor turned and glanced at me. I gestured a knife slitting my throat.

They turned back to face one another. In a softer voice, Kat said, “Please, it's for my daughter.”

“Fine. But forsooth, you must remember that potions can go wrong.” Taylor handed over a small tube and the scene ended. Thank God!

The four of us switched out our set backgrounds to the stable. Once we situated the stuffed donkey behind the hay bales, we took our places.

I rushed in from stage left to where Seth stood, using his pitchfork to scatter the straw. “Derek, I've been waiting all day to see you.”

Seth set his pitchfork aside and opened his arms to me. “My dear princess, if your parents find out you've snuck out to see me, they shall punish us both.” He drew me into his embrace.

My fingers trembled against his chest. My eyes met his. “But I couldn't stay away. Don't you understand that I love you?”

Seth's arms tightened. I pressed against him, my body close to his. Through the fabric, I felt his heartbeat quicken. “Then come away with me.”

I wet my lips. My breath staggered. His gaze penetrated mine as if he was diving into my very thoughts. “When shall we go?”

“Tomorrow night. We can take a cart to Marion and be wed by Monday morn.”

“You ruined our scene.” Taylor snapped from behind Seth. My glance shifted to her and Kat just off-stage. I had to stop them before they ruined everything.

“Til tomorrow then.” My fingers touched Seth's cheek and we broke apart. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to handle the next scene. The kiss.

Seth and I exited the stage.

“You just had to toss the coins at me, didn't you?” Taylor stood, her hands on her hips, glaring at Kat.

“Me? You totally screwed up the lines. I mean, can you act any more jealous?” Kat snapped back.

“Knock it off!” I shouted. “Just get through your next scene and you two won't have to talk again for the rest of the day.”

“Not likely.” Taylor snorted.

I moved away from Seth, Kat, and Taylor. “Wand.” Sucking in a lungful of air, I prayed this would work. “Let them focus and quit messing around. Make them act, no more screw-ups.” My skin pulsed with tingled sensations, magic humming around me like a cyclone.

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