The details of "Cinderella" are girly as they come, but we all use it on a regular basis, although for guys, it's mostly about underdogs in sports - such and such a team wasn't expected to go to the tournament, but they were "invited to the ball" and... well, you get it. There's a kind of winking to it, too, because it's funny to refer to the big dudes playing college basketball as princesses; most guys probably wouldn't actually refer to D-III school whose women's basketball team makes it to the finals against UConn as a "Cinderella story"; they'd just be underdogs. But here's a thing: In sales, you play on guys playing out Cinderella fantasies all the time. You don't call it that, but when you get tickets so that a client can sit in the sort of expensive roof boxes that they either couldn't afford or wouldn't splurge for, or when you give them the chance to shake hands with a celebrity - that's total Cinderella stuff. I don't really get a chance to do that when selling real estate right now - the closest I get is getting an idea of if anybody famous lives in a neighborhood and when they'd most likely be visible - but there was a reason my office back in Cleveland had season tickets for every team, and why I knew the right guy to talk to for special backstage access to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Folks dig feeling like a prince(ss), and they will think better of you if you give them that feeling.
But you know what? The actual, literal Cinderella thing isn't so bad either.
Anyway, you may remember that the last time I posted, Joy's ex Iain invited me to a party that happened to be in London. It was actually surprisingly easy to do on short notice - when Iain's office sent me a first-class ticket to London (connecting through New York), it was for a Friday-afternoon flight, and we'd already planned to close the office early for travel. Since the airport in San Diego is actually part of the city, it's easy to get to quickly, so I went straight from work, took a domestic flight across the country (idly wondering if Harmon was working it), and actually had plenty of time to get through customs before my transfer. Both legs were first class, and when I got out of customs, Iain was actually waiting for me, wearing sunglasses and holding up a little sign, grinning at the goofiness of the gesture. We air-kissed and he handed over a small bag with perfume, toothpaste, mouthwash, and a few other sundries that TSA doesn't want you to put in your carry-on so that I could duck into a ladies' room and freshen up, all Joy's well-remembered favorites. Once I was feeling a bit more human, he led me out to his Bentley and said he hoped I didn't mind, but he'd taken the liberty of having a dress made, and although he knew my measurements, it had been a couple years, so they may need to make a few alterations, although I look just the same.
I took the compliment and allowed myself to gape a little when he pulled up to a very high-end dress shop, where the shopkeepers took me to a back room, had me strip to my undies, made a few measurements, had me try a dress on, and then gave each other a quick, gruff nod before handing me my clothing back and saying "ninety minutes". This was just enough time to get me down the street to a salon where, as one woman teased my hair, another painted my nails, and yet another told me my pores were fantastic while covering my face with some cream to make them somehow more fantastic. It took closer to two hours than ninety minutes all told, but when they finally let me look in a mirror, I was kind of astounded. I still looked like Joy, obviously, but it was like the ideal form of Joy's face. I trotted back to the dress shop, where they had a taller pair of black heels waiting because the floor-length gown they had made for me would drag on the floor without the extra height.
That's just one indication of how perfect the dress was. It was black, but shimmered, its pattern all reflective circles. I don't know if I'd say it made the most of my slender figure - it didn't push my breasts up and out, really - but it had a nice, non-showy curve beneath my underwire, and gave a hint that I had a butt without clinging, before getting comfortably-but-elegantly loose about my legs. It was strapless, showing off my shoulders and my neck with my hair in a really perfect updo. Iain beamed like he'd never seen something so beautiful when I walked out, before pulling out a jewelry box and finishing the look with a beautiful necklace and diamond earrings.
There's a bit of a tingle to the cool metal touching my chest, probably just because it had been out in his car, but... "This doesn't feel like what you do for a 'work thing', Iain."
"Well, it's more a work thing with investors than employees. I may have accidentally misled you there. Worth it to see ye all dolled up again, though."
I blush, let him lead me to the car, and then to the party.
It's quite a thing, maybe the first time I've ever seen a ballroom really used for something like a ball. I get to meet some folks who are fairly well-off trying to sell them houses, but this often seemed like another level. It's the difference between "rich" and "wealthy", I guess, but everybody I met was very nice and really just had an aura about them, if that's not getting too feminine or deferential. They all felt connected to power and resources, even the other bits of arm candy, and maybe, having desirable real estate to talk about, I was less there to do nothing but look pretty and make it look less like Iain was somebody people rejected.
Still, I was glad to get out of those shoes when we got to his London apartment afterward - I've gotten to be a fair hand in walking in those things, but my typical day has more time at a desk or driving or the like, not standing for hours on end and even dancing while still kind of tired because I don't think I got more than four hours sleep in the previous twenty-four.
I actually conked out in Iain's recliner, but it actually had me waking up at a pretty reasonable six AM local time, hoping like hell that winding up spread-eagled with each foot dangling over an arm of the chair and that long, elegant dress hiked up past my knees, like I'd had some sort of nightmare about visiting the gynecologist or something, had happened after Iain had fallen asleep. Not, I thought, how I'd want Iain to remember me or Joy. For what it was worth, he was asleep on the couch, facing a different direction, apparently not willing to take the bed and make me decide whether or not I wanted to crawl in with him if I woke up before morning.
Instead, I checked out the bathroom, wondering if the bottles of shampoo, lotion, and the like in there were bought for me or the property of the girl who dumped him. Being well-used to using someone else's stuff by now, I didn't feel any guilt as I lathered up in the shower, but him having full-sized bottles of women's product there said something, whether that he'd recently been really close to someone, that he was incredibly considerate and organized, or that he figured he'd need them for one lady or another soon enough. At any rate, it got me clean and smelling nice.
He was cooking some bacon when I'd gotten dressed in jeans, sweater, and sneakers, and smiled as I came out of the bathroom. "Now, there's a sight for sore eyes. Why did we break up again?"
Telling him his girlfriend had died but her shape stayed at the hotel room would have sounded absurd, so I mentally dug through Joy's diary and email. "If I remember correctly, you weren't quite so rich as to fly your girlfriend halfway around the world on a whim a couple years ago, and even if you were, I wasn't really looking to be something that rich guys shipped to and fro like cargo."
"Ach, ye got me there. As to the first, it turns out that while I don't know shite about horses and I'm not exactly any sort of engineer myself, I am damn good at choosing which firms to invest in using the money the family made breeding racehorses for a hundred years or so. Dad isn't really sure what to make of it, but when he finally listened to his doctors telling him to step back and then convinced me to become more involved in the business, he said that as long as I didn't risk the house where five generations of the family have lived, I had my head. And what about you? How are you different now?"
Oh, if only my life had a laugh track. "Oh, I don't know. Trying to build myself up while still not worrying about tomorrow too much, I guess. I sometimes feel like I was a different person back then, you know? Although not so different that I'm necessarily down for eight-time-zones-away for a day."
I'd started to pack my things, but moved to the bar as he set a couple plates down. "Does it have to be just a couple days? I know, you've got a job, so it's a big thing to ask, but I'd love to have you stay until the new year."
"Uh, wow, okay. I mean, okay, I'm processing, but I'm sure you've got family stuff, and I don't know if I'd necessarily be welcome."
He seemed to wince a bit. "Aye, things did get kind of complicated when we split, and they do keep me busy through Boxing Day. But I've got the whole rest of the week, and I noticed you were planning on going back to California, so you were going to spend the holidays alone anyway... Might as well do it here, right? Why don't you call your folks; there's plenty of room!"
It sounded like a crazy idea, although he couldn't know how crazy inviting Joy's parents would be for me. Fortunately, it was the middle of the night for them and it wouldn't have made sense to call right away (they totally would have answered a call from their daughter at that hour, assuming it was an emergency), so I could put that off. I had to admit, Christmas in London in what was essentially a really nice AirBNB that I didn't have to pay for had a little more appeal than Treena being judgmental about me having let Iain spend what might have been a few grand on me, so I said yes.
First order of the day was dropping him at the airport so he could head to Scotland, and then I got to go shopping - I had, after all, only brought a carry-on with what I'd thought was a nice dress and something to wear on the flight home. Finding a department store and buying some basics in a strange city on Christmas Eve is not something I would necessarily recommend as an experience everyone should have at least once, but it was weirdly exciting to be in the holiday crunch despite not exactly having a lot of people to shop for. I'd sent Joy's parents gift cards and got a thing or two for Treena and Brian/"Simon", but the Inn had me doing even less than usual.
(Speaking of Joy's folks, I extended them Iain's invitation, figuring they might take him up on it because they were originally from the UK, but between not wanting to leap right into holiday travel or be a third wheel for their daughter when it looked like she might get back together with that nice Scottish boy, they declined, albeit with a list of things for me to pick up and mail them once I was back home.)
I did pick a couple things up to give Iain when he arrived back in London, which aside from being polite also meant I felt like much less of a jerk when a delivery man rang the bell Christmas morning and presented me with a number of little presents from Iain. Nothing really romantic, but some nice perfume, a funny t-shirt, some chocolate, and a book. There was a small suitcase, too, since I obviously wouldn't fit all of that in my carry-on.
One pleasant surprise that Iain didn't have much to do with its that I didn't have any trouble finding a place to eat on Christmas; though most restaurants are closed back home, eating out is a much a Christmas tradition in London as a big family dinner. Most places were booked up in advance, but there were spots at the bars for both lunch and supper. Got the number of a sympathetic bartender who heard my accent and figured being so far from home over the holidays was rough, although I never got around to calling it. Someone told me I had to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special because he was regenerating into a woman, and maybe it's a bigger deal if you're a fan, but, man, he spent an awful lot of time moping over getting a new life and nothing else happened! I stayed in reading my new book after that - more Joy's sort of thing than mine, I expect, but alright.
I spent the 26th seeing stuff that maybe Iain would think weren't Joy's thing - the Churchill War Rooms, a Jack the Ripper tour, that sort of thing. It's not hard to fill a day in London when you're still jet-lagged enough to roll out of bed at 1pm.
Then Iain came, I gave him his presents, and the rest of the week just flew by. We did a bunch of touristy things - Abbey Road, the Eye, a horse-drawn hansom cab ride, the changing of the guard - ate some crazy good food, enough for me to joke about not fitting in that nice dress he'd bought me anymore ("that's the plan - I just couldn't bear you wearing it for anyone else!"), danced in some exclusive clubs... It was a whirlwind, and when he leaned in to kiss me on Saturday night, I knew it wasn't just the girl he'd been hanging out with for the past few days that he was kissing, but I didn't care. I wanted him to kiss me, and then I wanted him to make love to me, not just because I'm pretty straight as Joy and it had been a while, but because this is how the Cinderella story ends, and even if I didn't necessarily realize I was in one at the time, it takes hold of you.
I worried for a second that he'd realize something was up because while he knew about spots on Joy's body that I hadn't found yet, I can't say her diaries were that detailed. But, as much as he's a great guy, he's still a guy - pay enough attention to his dick, and he's not going to ask about other erogenous zones. I maybe seemed a little surprise when I was kind of insistent about the condom - we've all learned Jonah's lesson - but he probably just figured she/I had some sort of scare in the past couple of years.
They weren't happy about me taking a last-minute vacation at work, at least until I came back recharged and excited. I've got to admit - getting Joy's ex, and not just her ex, but arguably her "one", to go for me despite her having dumped and (from his perspective) ghosted him does kind of make me feel like I can sell anything. Except, maybe, settling Treena on how our continuing to text in the two weeks since I've returned is a good thing.