Apparently once our entry for the NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge is received, we can post our short story to get feedback.
Genre: Fairy Story
Subject: An Accusation
Character: A Bed and Breakfast Host
Title – The Littlest Fairy Godmother
Once upon a time, Cinderella met her prince charming, but things didn’t work out the way she expected. Now Sherry has met Zander again and he knows about the child she had after they parted, so with help from a very small fairy godmother, they may finally get their Happy Ever After.
“Once upon a time.”
Sherry was sick of those words. The only ones she hated more were the ones that came at the end of the storybooks her daughter loved. “And they lived Happily, Ever, After.”
All the same, she smiled as she closed the book and kissed her baby goodnight. At nearly four years old, it wouldn’t be long before she was off to school. Not a baby any more. She brushed the dark curls back from the damp forehead. It would be easier to push the memory of Zander into the past if Alexa didn’t look so much like him. Every day she had to confront those melting brown eyes, the firm jaw only slightly softened by her little girl face.
Downstairs she set the bread to rise for the breakfast rolls and checked over what else was needed for the morning. Only one couple were in residence tonight, but tomorrow a wedding group would be arriving ready for the celebration on Saturday. Three couples, five singles. The rooms were mostly ready. All she needed to do was prepare the last room once the current guests finished breakfast and left.
It was early afternoon when the convoy of four black SUV’s pulled into the circular driveway at the front of the guest house. Sherry went immediately to the front door, curious to see who had insisted in taking over the whole of the guesthouse for the weekend under the name of Destoni Corp. Three large men in black suits were busy unloading the luggage while the other guests milled around, admiring the gardens and chattering. They were probably the bodyguards mentioned in the booking, occupying three of the single rooms.
Finally the men started herding the others into the house. Sherry smiled and shook hands with the three older couples with the same dark Mediterranean looks as the bodyguards. The next guest was an elegant woman around her own age with Nordic colouring and a slender figure Sherry envied. Automatically she put her hand out to the final guest. He didn’t take it and she looked up.
The air thickened and she struggled to draw breath. Zander?
“We’re here for the Taylor wedding.”
“Cecy Taylor, who was at college with me?” Sherry swallowed, tasting bile. The girl who single-handedly sent her running. “I heard she was getting married, but she’s lived away from here since she graduated. How come you’re invited?”
He ignored her question, moving into the entry hall, hands buried in the pockets of his grey suit. Hastily she instructed the bodyguards as to the luggage. George, her general factotum and husband of the cook took over that task, guiding them to the staff stairway at the end of the house and Sherry returned to her guests.
“I’ll show you to your rooms so you can settle in. When you’re ready there will be afternoon tea available in the dining room to the left. The lounge room is on the right and beyond it we have a library and a billiard room for the use of guests. The swimming pool is accessed down this hall past the main staircase and along the patio.”
They followed her upstairs, quite happy to make themselves comfortable in their rooms before coming down to relax in the public areas of the B&B. Sherry held her breath when the blonde paused at the door of her room, half expecting Zander to join her. They looked like a couple. Perhaps it wasn’t protocol to be seen by the older family members to be sharing a bed. They were in adjoining rooms, though it hadn’t been specified.
“I’ll meet you downstairs, Jacinta.” His deep voice still had the power to thrill Sherry, even after more than four years. Even when talking to another woman. Thrill with an aftertaste of bitterness. Once that caressing tone had been for her.
Avoiding his gaze, Sherry opened the door to his room. His luggage was already lying on the rack. “I hope you’ll be comfortable.”
He sauntered across to the window, looking down at the pool. “I’m sure I will be.” He turned to face her. “You’ve done well for yourself. This place is quite impressive.”
“It was my family home. A windfall you might say, when they died.”
Something stirred in the depths of his eyes. Pity? “I’m sorry for your loss. When did it happen?”
“Four years ago, a little more.”
His eyes narrowed. “Is that why you left?”
“No.” The bald declaration hung in the air. “I have to go finish preparations for afternoon tea.”
Inclining his head, he dismissed her. Still as autocratic as ever. But when you grew up in the kind of wealth Zander Demetrius revelled in, it probably came naturally.
She didn’t see him alone for the rest of the afternoon. The group sat around in the large lounge room being served drinks from the bar. Sherry tried not to notice how intimate Zander was with Jacinta. She couldn’t even dislike the woman, who displayed a casual friendliness to the staff.
It wasn’t until the older couples had departed for the wedding rehearsal dinner with the bodyguards and she was cleaning up that Sherry found herself with Zander in the hall.
“Your friend is waiting in the lounge area.”
“She will keep. I want to ask you a question.”
She stiffened and forced herself to relax. He couldn’t know. “What kind of question?”
“What is a journalism graduate doing running a bed and breakfast?”
“I didn’t finish my degree. I came home and my parents died shortly after.”
“They were unwell? Both of them?”
“They died in a plane crash while holidaying in South East Asia.”
His chin dipped as he processed the information. “I didn’t realise.”
“How could you?”
“True. You made sure you vanished off the grid.”
“You knew I came from here.”
“Yes. But you didn’t come here immediately.”
He’d looked for her? “No. I stayed with an aunt for a while.”
The sound she dreaded came from the upstairs hall. Alexa, singing one of her favourite Disney songs. She appeared at the top of the stairs in her princess print pyjamas, a pink tutu, a glittering pink plastic tiara and waving a pink plastic wand.
The wand pointed accusingly at Sherry. “It’s time for my story.”
Zander stood in the centre of the hall, looking up at her. “Who are you?”
“I’m the fairy god-mother. When I wave my magic wand, Mummy will go to the ball.”
Sherry stepped forward. “Go back to your room, darling. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
“I have to make the spell.” Alexa waved the wand and threw a handful of glitter into the air. “Abbacadabba, bibbety-boo.”
The glitter settled on the timber steps. Good job she had the hand vacuum with her. “Alexa. Bed.”
Her daughter giggled one last time and trotted away along the upstairs hall.
Zander put his hands on his hips, pushing back the coat of his dinner suit, showing off his tailored trousers. “Who is she, Sherry?”
His dark eyes had a steely glint in them. “Perhaps you mean, our daughter.”
“Why do you say that?” She was stalling and he knew it, his mouth twisting in derision.
“I’m not stupid. She looks enough like me without the guilty look on your face to confirm it.”
Sherry stood tall, stiffening her spine. “Yes, she is genetically yours. But that’s all.”
“How dare you keep my child from me? You did it deliberately didn’t you? Some kind of warped revenge.”
The accusation barely registered. “I did what I had to do.”
“If she is my child, I’ll be suing for full access.”
“I don’t think you’re a suitable role model for a vulnerable child.” She looked up at his glowering face. “What kind of father would a playboy with your reputation make anyway?”
“Playboy? I don’t think you’ve been keeping up. I’m very respectable these days. Not a whisper of scandal anywhere.”
A cold lump settled in her chest. “Are you married? Engaged?” Her giveaway glance went to the lounge room.
“You think Jacinta has reformed me? Wouldn’t you like to know?” He turned away as the woman in question emerged.
“Darling, we should be going.” She took Zander’s arm with a perfunctory smile at Sherry. “The food is lovely.”
They drifted out and Sherry sat on the seat by the door. He knew about Alexa. There was bound to be trouble if he was serious about wanting access. Zander had money and lawyers to burn. She had a few hundred in the bank and possession. Somehow that didn’t seem very comforting.
Sherry was cleaning the lounge room, while the guests were at the wedding. It was late, because she’d had to shop for fresh fruit for tomorrow’s breakfast. By the time she’d done that and spent some time with Alexa, darkness had fallen. The click of the front door opening and closing and the sound of footsteps across the timber floor was the only intimation before Zander walked into the room.
“Is something wrong?”
“I thought this might be a good time to catch you alone.”
She couldn’t remember where Alexa had gone, but she was quite safe in the house. “I can spare a few minutes. I have to put my daughter to bed.”
“Yes. Your daughter. How old is she?”
The date was easy. She gave it to him and watched him calculate.
“You must have known before you left.”
“I did. But we weren’t talking at the time.”
He shifted on his feet, long black lashes shadowing his eyes. “Is that why you didn’t tell me?”
“In part. I maxed out my text message allowance that week.”
“I read them. There was nothing about being pregnant.”
“You expected me to text you the news that you’d knocked up your ex-girlfriend?”
“Were you my ex? I don’t remember us breaking up.”
“Only because you didn’t have the decency to tell me. You decided to show me by taking out every girl in my dorm room. It was pretty clear.”
His mouth shut, the lips thin, as a scuffle of sound came from near the windows. Alexa crawled out from behind the couch, wand in one hand and tiara crooked on her dark curls. “Are you the handsomest prince?”
Zander adjusted the headpiece with a gentle hand. “Sorry, sweetheart. No princes here.”
Her bottom lip drooped. “I thought you might be, because you knew Mummy a long time ago. Did you know her handsomest prince?”
“Your Mummy has a handsome prince?” He darted a cynical glance up at Sherry above the child’s head.
“Yes. It’s my favouritist story.” She sucked in a deep breath and waved her wand. “Once upon a time an orderinary girl met a handsome prince at a ball and they danced all night. But in the morning, the handsome prince had to go back to his own kingdom and Mummy, that’s the ordery girl, was sad for a long time. Then one day a fairy brought her a baby princess. That’s me. So she was very happy.”
His brows drew together in a thick line above his eyes. “I’m sure she was. What an interesting story.”
“She doesn’t have the ending yet.”
“It sounded like a perfectly good ending. For her.”
Sherry winced at the subtle barb, hidden in his affable tones.
Alexa shook her head. “But she didn’t get to live happily ever after with the handsomest prince.”
“No, I suppose she didn’t. But you can’t have everything. She did get a princess to keep all to herself.”
Anger flushed through Sherry’s chilled body. “If the handsome prince bothered to come back, or even answer his calls, he might have had his own princess too. He preferred to get lai…”
“Mummy? Are you cross with Mr. Dem…with the man?”
“No, darling. But it is past your bedtime. Say goodnight to Mr Demetrius.”
“Goodnight, Mr Demetrus. And may frights of angels take you to your bed.”
His eyes softened as he kissed the upturned cheek. “Thank you. I hope your dreams are happy ones.”
Sherry steered her daughter from the room, pausing at the door when Zander spoke her name.
“We need to talk. I’ll wait here for you.”
“Don’t you need to get back to the wedding? What about your…partner?”
“Jacinta? Her fiancé is the best man. My brother Antony. Now his official duties are more or less over, he can take care of her.”
She steadied herself on the door frame. The room spun hazily. They weren’t together. Not that it meant anything. He could have any number of woman in the background. That had been his playbook when she first met him at the university.
Reluctantly, she returned to the lounge room. The confrontation had to happen. She just wished she’d had time to dress up. He was standing in the middle of the room holding one of the shoes she’d taken off when she was cleaning up.
“These are pretty.” He held up the sparkly silver slip-on.
“She seems happy.”
“I like to think she is.” Maybe it wouldn’t be so easy once she started school and felt the dearth of a father.
“I know I behaved badly at college. My ego took a dent because you wouldn’t come with me when I finished my masters. The other girls meant nothing.”
He cocked his head. “Is Cecy the wicked witch of this fairy tale?”
“She slept with you. I met her coming out of your apartment. She confirmed it.” Her eyes were dazzled by the play of light as he fiddled with the shoe.
“She didn’t. It was Paul Varis, my cousin. She was drunk so I put her to bed in my spare room. Paul arrived in the early hours. She thought he was me, he wasn’t the kind to say no. The rest is history. They got married this afternoon.”
“Is this the truth?”
“I might avoid talking to you, but I’ve never lied. I’ve been wanting to find you ever since. When I saw your name on this B&B I took a chance.”
“I didn’t mean to keep her from you. It was never in my plan. It just happened.” A ball of pain pressed at the back of her throat. “I’m so sorry.” A hiccupping sob bubbled up and she sat on the couch, knees too weak to hold her.
“Don’t cry, my darling.” He knelt before her, one hand resting on her knee. “I’ve a lot to make up for, haven’t I?”
“I should have tried harder. Not let my hurt feelings stop me.” The sobs pushed up, choking her.
“Is this where I try the slipper on you?” His wry tone stopped her tears. She stared down at him as he slid the shoe onto her foot. He looked up and met her gaze, eyes warm and tender.
Maybe there really was such a thing as living happily ever after.