Henry lay in the hospital bed with his eyes closed. His right hand fingered the bit of black silk he had tied around the left. In his mind’s eye, he could see her still, struggling with her demons while she slept.
He had wanted to reach out and enclose her in his arms. Just to hold her. Nothing more. Blessed with more than a fair share of his father’s good looks, and his mother’s easy charm, he had never felt so inept in a girl’s presence before.
But she had that power, even now. And so he had run his fingers over the black ribbons in her hair instead. When she cried out in her sleep and woke once or twice, he had quickly shut his eyes, and pretended to sleep.
What would she have thought to find him wide awake and staring at her in the dark tent, with the cold and the night air outside? Would she have felt threatened? Left maybe?
When his parents collected his things from camp, he had found one of her black ribbons on the bed of the tent. It was the only trace he had of her. Indeed, it was the only trace anyone had of her.
Two days into the investigation, and the small town was as shaken and confused as they had been from the start. The stepmother had since been taken into police custody, but he had heard his mother say one was as likely to see the inside of a prison cell as the other.
“He seems fine to me,” he heard the doctor say to his parents. “His leg was set perfectly and the herbs – I’m not sure what they are, but they did the job.”
After a pause, he had added, “I believe he may be in shock. He did face his own mortality in a way. Maybe he’s fighting mild PTSD. I recommend a doctor of a different kind, if you catch my meaning.”
Henry ignored them.
It was no the pain and desperation that he remembered of that night. It was smoked ham and bread, the company of a beautiful girl, and the thrill of the escape. And what plagued him now was the possibility that she might be locked away for a crime she did not commit.
Besides, his parents knew the cause of his melancholia. It had come about long before he broke his leg in the forest. It happened the day he realized they were serious about sending him to med school, when he couldn’t even stand the sight of his own blood.
“It’s wise that she stays hidden,” he heard his mother say to his father, on the drive back to the cabin. “This is a small town, and Dr. Bell came from one of the most prominent families here. If they find that girl, the town will want blood from either her or the wife. The longer she stays away, the more time the police has to build a proper case.”
“Do you think she did it?” his father asked.
“The case against the stepmother is more convincing than the case against the daughter. She had nothing to gain from her father’s death. She has no mother, and she and her Dad were apparently really close.”
When he returned home, he realized that Cinderella was the talk of his own town, too. But the talk went in one ear and out the other. So did the words of his shrink.
He worried for her. Was she still in the woods? Had she found shelter? Was she still alive? There was no telling what fate might befall her in the wild.
“Henry?” Dr. Moore prompted him.
“Did you hear a word I said?”
“Not a one,” he answered, truthfully; and then he fell into himself again.
A few minutes later, he heard his parents enter the room. There was talk of time off from school – of delaying his college attendance by a semester or two. “Some travel might do him some good.”
“Travel…” he caught the word. “I’d love to go back to the cabin – to go riding again.”
“Not with that leg,” his father replied.
“Hmm…” he said, and then he was lost to them again. Black silk fell between his fingers and the memories returned.
A week later, Cinderella’s grandparents were arrested under suspicion of harbouring a fugitive. Due to the weak evidence against her, and a town bias in her favor, a formal warrant for her arrest had never been issued, and so the grandparents were released after 24 hours.
Even so, the arrest had its desired effect. A few hours into their detention, Cinderella strolled into the police station, and submitted to metal bracelets on her wrists.
The news had sent a chill through him, even as he read the words. His mother’s remarks certainly didn’t help the situation any.
“They’re gonna shake down that poor girl,” she said at dinner that night. “She’s likely innocent, but the case made the national news. The police won’t take kindly to being made a fool of. And what’s worse, they still have no concrete evidence against her or the mother.”
“Then help her,” Henry said, while he made patterns with his peas, in his plate.
“Help her?” his mother replied with half a laugh, as if the idea was absurd. “Do you know how many cases I have on my desk right now?”
“He has a point,” his father chimed in. “A high-profile case like this would do wonders for your career.”
“I didn’t ask her to help for her personal benefit,” Henry said, still poking at his peas. He turned to his mother. “I’m asking you to help her because of me.”
“Excuse me?” His mother’s tone was at once accusatory and curious.
Henry met her eyes squarely across the table. “It was her,” he said. “It wasn’t a guide or a ranger. It was her who helped me in the woods. If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have been mauled by bears or something. The least you could do is help her.”
His mother’s eyes popped out of her head. She bent low over her plate, and lowered her voice, as if she feared the police was listening just outside her door. “You were with her? In the woods? Right after she supposedly murdered her father?”
“She didn’t murder anyone,” he insisted.
“And how do you know that? Because she ‘comforted’ you in a tent while the wind howled outside?! Did you really sleep with-“
“Samantha!” his father’s stern voice drew her ramble to a halt.
She took a moment to compose herself, all the while fuming at the remonstrance. And then she answered her son’s request with a simple, but defiant, “No.”
If someone had told her she would be rotting away in a jail cell in the second week of school, she would have laughed in their face. But sure enough, there she was.
To their credit, the officers had tried to make her stay as comfortable as possible. But deep down there was anger for eluding them.
“Why didn’t you turn yourself in sooner, Cindi?” the sheriff asked her. “If you have nothing to hide, you should have walked right in here without us needing to drag your grandparents into the mix.”
She had glared at him, then; her eyes a mix of defiance and tears. “My mother is dead. My grandmother is dead. And my father was shoved off the balcony by his good-for-nothing, cheating wife. What else did I have left but my freedom?
“If it was her that had fallen off that bloody balcony, you could have locked me up in here good and true without a doubt to my guilt. But my father…” The tears rolled down her cheeks. She turned away from him.
The sincerity of her words struck a cord in his heart. “I remember when I lost my father-” he began.
She stood from the table, and wiped at her eyes. “Please leave.”
“Cindi, I’ve known you since you were a child. Tell me what happened.”
“Get out, Steven.”
“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” She screamed at him, sinking into the farthest corner with her hands over her ears.
He fled the room, then.
The following day, her father’s lawyer came. He assured her he knew she was innocent. He also confirmed that they were holding off on the funeral plans for as long as they could.
Her tears this time was from gratefulness.
He then begged her not to speak to the lawyer they had provided, as he intended to find one for her, himself.
“Hang tight,” he told her. “I have the perfect person in mind.”
The next day, the sheriff sent someone else to question her. She told him the same story she had told everyone else. She told him the truth. The next day, they sent another.
And the next.
And the next.
And the next.
“Do you have proof of this?” one of the officers asked her. “We want to believe you, but the evidence isn’t conclusive.”
“Can you prove without a shadow of a doubt that there is a god?” she asked him.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, no,” he answered, truthfully. “But I believe. I have Faith.”
“That’s how much proof I have to offer you: belief and faith.”
The next day, Brad returned.
But not alone.
A woman walked ahead of him. Her strawberry blonde curls fell about her face in an artful tumble. They framed verdant eyes, set in a face that had seen fifty-plus years, but still held on to its youthfulness.
Dressed in a navy blue tailored suit and stilettos, she looked at once suited to charm and to conquer. Whatever her mission, Cindi could tell this was a woman who more often than not, got her way.
In the last few moments of her approach, Brad rushed ahead to introduce them. “Cindi, this is Dr. Fostel.”
“A doctor?” Cindi questioned.
“A doctorate in criminal psychology, but I practice law,” she explained as they took a seat. “A totally unnecessary title, to be honest, but when women want equal success, we must work twice as hard.
“I believe you know that more than most. My son describes you as a very capable young woman, who saved his life… and his leg.”
Cindi stared at her, incredulously. “Henry? Henry is your son??”
“He had the audacity to look like his father instead of me, but yes,” she joked. “Anyway, he gave me an offer I could not refuse, so here I am.”
“What offer was that?” Cindi enquired.
Dr. Fostel eyed her for a moment, as if judging whether or not she was worthy of the disclosure. “Henry does exceptionally well at two things in life: the sciences, and writing. He wants to be a journalist; we believe medicine would be a wiser choice.
“Up until now, he has completely rebelled against the notion of going to med school. But… if I ensure you walk away a free woman from this, then he will happily go to USCF; provided you don’t mind his company, of course. I understand you are enrolled there, as well.”
Cindi was speechless. She could only manage a nod.
“Good. Then perhaps you can help talk some sense into him.” She stood, then. “We’ll be waiting outside.”
Cindi stood, as well. “For what?”
“For you. I’ve spoken to the judge, and secured your release. Collect your things, and meet me out back.” She added with a sly smile. “Your knight in shining armor will be waiting by the car.”
After she had taken a few steps away, Cindi found her voice again. “Dr. Fostel?”
The lawyer turned around to face her. “Samantha,” she urged.
“Samantha,” Cindi accepted the informality. “How do you plan to win my case? They say there isn’t enough evidence.”
Samantha flashed another of her sly smiles. “Easy,” she said. “Confession.”
TO BE CONTINUED
- Read Cinderella & the Black Ribbon at Fostel Hall PT 1
- Read Cinderella & the Black Ribbon at Fostel Hall PT 2
- Read Cinderella & the Black Ribbon at Fostel Hall PT 3
By special request from Anne J, for her Invitation: write your own “Cinderella” story! writing prompt. If you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to give it a go. I had lots of fun working on this one.