Cinderella Downloaded

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Ashley swore under her breath as she swept the floor for the umpteenth time. Her stepmother’s “beloved girls” were at it again and Ashley was tired of cleaning up after them. The worst part was, her father took their side.

“Think of it as a form of training. You’ll learn some responsibilities. Besides, you’re always on your laptop. Why don’t you bring them around the neighborhood? It’ll be a good time to bond! All right, got to go, sweetheart!”

“No, wait, why do I have to — Hello?”

Ashley stared at her iPhone that was at her ears a couple of seconds ago. She could not believe it. Her father had hung up on her. He had never done that before. He had changed upon meeting Ella, and more so since he married her and invited her and her girls to live with them. Which she had objected to vehemently.

“Darling, what’s taking you so long? Do you need help? Or maybe I’ll just go ahead and make dinner?” A sickeningly sweet voice came from their bedroom door — the one her mother and father used to share. Currently, it was invaded by Ella. Ashley turned around.

Ella, her stepmother, was at the door, her beloved girls following closely. Just like lapdogs at their mistress’s heels. They were quiet, cocking their heads to one side at her.

“Darling?” The instant diabetic voice broke her musing.

“It’s OK, Ella, I totally got this! And I’ll be in the kitchen in a minute to prepare dinner,” Ashley managed a smile that did not look too much like a grimace. She already had too much taken from her and she refused to address Ella as “Mother”. That would be the ultimate insult to her and her mother’s memory.

“Oh. All right.” Ella folded her arms, looked around the room and pursed her lips. After a moment of silence, she continued brightly. “Maybe I’ll do the laundry?”

“No, no, no! It’s OK! Really! I totally got all the housework!” Go ahead and be passive-aggressive! You may break my body but you’ll never break my spirit! Ashley’s thoughts echoed in the vaults of her mind.

Ella frowned at Ashley’s words, as if mentally making a careful study of her words. Probably to find some fault, Ashley thought to herself. After another moment of silence, Ella decided to leave. “All right then. Come on, girls, let’s go! We’ll leave Ashley to her chores.”

Snowie and Dusty, upon Ella’s command, quietly turned and followed. Ashley narrowed her eyes at their departure. They are really a couple of lapdogs…

Ashley’s eyes flicked to the clock on her MacBook Pro. She still had some time until midnight. Then her eyes flicked back to the Skype Messenger. If it were not for her conversation partner, CharmingCharles, she would not have endured for so long.

Burning_Cinders15: So I have to clean everything! Again!
CharmingCharles: Well, what do you expect? Huskies shed a lot. And they are very energetic. You really need to work them out so they don’t have zoomies and destroy things at home.
Burning_Cinders15: That’s not all. I’ll tell you, they are the spawn of Devil, familiar of witch. They seem to be guided by some obscure sadistic instinct! Each time I sweep, I swear they come running and try to snatch the broom away from me!
CharmingCharles: Haha! Yup yup! That’s Siberian huskies for you. My husky does that all the time. Vacuum cleaner, broom, mop, it doesn’t matter. He comes in immediately and start a tug of war with me.
Burning_Cinders15: Yeah, if Snowie and Dusty weren’t my stepmother’s pet huskies, I would have convinced my dad to give them away. He just doesn’t seem to understand how much cleaning is involved with them around.
CharmingCharles: Well, I got to say at least your stepmother…
CharmingCharles is typing………

“ARGH!” Ashley swore savagely at the lost internet connection. It was already midnight. As usual, the wifi was turned off.

Ashley slammed the laptop shut and shoved the chair back with so much force that it fell to the carpeted floor with a dull thud. Unsatisfied at the weak expression of her anger, she flung her bedroom door open with a loud bang to investigate the absence of the much needed wifi signal in the living room.

The two annoying huskies, Snowie and Dusty, jolted awake by her entrance to the living room, sprang up from where they were lying and ran to her, their tongues lolling sideways and their tails wagging, ready to play.

“Get lost,” she snarled and attempted to kick one of them. It dodged aside nimbly before springing forward to catch the leg of her pants. That only exacerbated her anger.

“What’s going on?” Ella’s voice drifted out from their bedroom. Then she drifted out.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on! Why the hell did you turn the wifi off? I was talking to a friend!” Ashley screamed.

“She didn’t, I did.”

Ashley turned around and faced her father. He was standing at the kitchen doorway with a coffee mug. “It’s school night, it’s midnight. That’s the rule we agreed on.”

“Oh yea? News flash, Dad! I’m fifteen! And I should have more freedom! Instead, I’m stuck in the house cleaning after these stupid mutts and doing housework and…Someone get these stupid dogs off me!” Ashley yelled.

Ella whistled. “Snowie! Dusty! Heel!”

The huskies, which were scampering around Ashley, obediently trotted to Ella and sat down at on their haunches. Then, with a tight smile, Ella stepped back and started to close the door.

“No, Ella, stay. You don’t have to leave us in privacy each time we have a fight. You have every right to discipline her as well.” Her father set the coffee mug down and turned towards her. “And you, young lady, are you sure you want to take it that tone with me?”

“Why not? You don’t care much about me these days, anyway!”

Her father heaved a sigh. “Ash, I’ve been nothing but patient with you. Ella,” he stressed the name, “has been nothing but patient with you. But you’re the one pushing us away. You were hurt when your mother abandoned us and ran off with someone. I understand that, but don’t get all angsty and pretend you’re some unwanted orphan suffering at the hands of an evil stepmother.

“Now, Ella has been trying her best to accommodate your outbursts and help you with your homework and also around the house. But you’re the one showing hostility and not letting her get involved. Is this some kind of a teenage rebellion? Trying to mark your territory, not letting her feel welcome at home by doing all the housework?

“Because if you are, it’s not working. Your mother’s not coming back, Ella and I are married and she’s part of this family as much as you are, Ashley. So enough with your tantrums!” Her father stood beside Ella and wrapped his arms around Ella’s shoulders. A symbol of perfect union and bliss.

Ashley hissed. “Well, you know what? I hate you! I hate this so-called happy family of yours! And it’s all your fault! You’re just glad that Mum’s gone and there’s no one to stand in your way to eternal happiness. Well, why don’t I leave too and leave — ”

Ella’s eyes widened and her hands covered her mouth. Snowie and Dusty whined a little. Ashley was initially too surprised to notice but slowly, her face started to register the stinging pain. She touched her burning cheeks and looked up at her father.

“You slapped me…”

“Wake up from whatever fairy tale you’re in!” Her father released the breath he had been holding in. “Some people don’t get to have nice stories. The one you are in is decent enough!”

Turning around, he guided a shocked Ella back to their bedroom and left Ashley alone in the living room.