A Not-So Cinderella Story

When I felt like I was being swept off my feet in a Cinderella story, someone had to be there to drop me, right?
Let's backtrack a little.
Cher Topman. A simple name for a complex girl like me. I'm an orphan at a little orphanage in London, but don't be fooled. Just because it's in London doesn't mean that it's extravagant.
When a rich American single woman makes the fatal decision to adopt me and take me back to America, my life is turned upside down by some people I never thought I'd meet.

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1. Picture imperfect.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHER!" 

My eyes flutter open to spot all the kids huddled around my bed. Sarah, the orphanage owner, hobbles over to me holding a cupcake with a candle in it, presented on a chipped plate. I smile and wipe the sleep out of my eye.

Today I am 19.

"Thanks you guys," I smile.

"Make a wish! Make a wish!" Little Martha says.

I close my eyes and think about the same wish I wish every year.

This year I'll be adopted and I can help poor Sarah.

I blow the candle out to see Sarah smiling at me with such tenderness, it makes my heart hurt. I wish I could help her.

You see, everyone around me is dressed in rags and is coated in dirt. Even Sarah. But this isn't the kind of orphanage where we get abused and neglected. No, not at all. It's just a really poor orphanage.

Sarah has it the worst, by far. She's the one who opened this orphanage and I was the first kid to get registered here as a newborn. The orphanage was actually doing fairly well until Sarah ran out of money to support it. We weren't getting enough donations or help from the government, and Sarah had no money to give. She was 30 at the time. So she did what a lot of people would do. She found a husband with money to support us. At first, it was all great and happy. But two years into the marriage, Earl started to abuse Sarah and he has been ever since. He lost his job. So we work with what we have. Once I turned 10, I took it as my job to lead the kids. Someone had to and I was the oldest one here. Ever since then, I've helped Sarah tremendously and mentored the kids. We all go to the public schools, act like nothing is wrong with our lives and that we're perfectly normal, then we come home and work, drowning in the stench of Earl's beer breath. But we try to make the best of it.

"What did you wish for?" JJ asks me.

"I think you already know," I smile.

"It's time for school! Time for school!" Mason jumps around, knocking his glasses off. I get up, pick them up, and stick them back on his head.

"Be careful you monster," I laugh.

"First, open your present!" Emily squeals.

"Present?" I say. Tessa brings out a present from under my bed.

"We all pitched in for it," she smiles. I grab the small box and open the wrapping paper carefully. Lifting the lid, I gasp. Inside that little box is the best gift I've ever been given. It's a silver charm bracelet. I lift it up and examine the charms. There's a smiley face, a notebook, a shoe, a cake, a monkey, a monster, and a castle.

"The smiley face represents how even though you've been through a lot, you still have a smile at all times," Tessa tells me.

"The notebook represents how you love to write beautiful poems," Sarah says.

"The shoe represents how your Cinderella story will happen soon," Emily swoons.

"The cake represents that time when we made the best cake ever," JJ says and we all laugh at the memory.

"The monkey and monster represent your nicknames for us," Cheese tells me. Cheese is a little boy who didn't have a name, so we call him Cheese.

"And the castle represents how you are a princess," Martha giggles.

"You guys are amazing. I love it so much," I say, a tear escaping my eyes. I look into Sarah's eyes and she  knows how much I appreciate this.

"Alright, time to get ready for school, everyone," Sarah laughs. Everyone runs to their corner of the room to get dressed. I pull out my small suitcase from under my bed and look around, trying to find my best clothes. I eventually decide on the purple blouse I got for my 16th birthday and some black pants. I slip on my purple flats and lightly curl my hair with a curling iron I bought with money I raised by selling newspapers. Sadly, I don't' have any makeup, so I fasten the charm bracelet on my wrist, grab my bag, and walk to school.

I breathe in the smell of the crisp London air. It's a beautiful Autumn day. I think about my schoolwork and how I can graduate early in the top of my class. How lucky I am to be gifted academically. At least I have something going for me.

As I open the school doors, the rush of high school hits me full force. The chaos everywhere. People socializing, people trying to study by their locker, people dropping their books. The sound of laughter. The smell of pizza. 

And the thought of it scares me. So I quickly walk into class and take my seat. In what seems like a million years, the bell rings and everyone settles into their seats.

About an hour into 3rd period, I hear the intercom say words that changed my life forever.

"Cher Topman to the office. She's checking out," 

I quickly grab my things, stuff them in my bag, and go to the office. I wonder why I'm being checked out. 

I soon see Sarah sitting outside the office.

"Why am I being checked out?" I ask her. She wouldn't say anything until we got outside.

"We must hurry," she kept saying and we kept walking faster. Soon we were back at the orphanage and she sent me into her office. I drop my bag by her door and push it open, walking inside. A young woman, in her 20's probably, stands up.

"Hello. You must be Cher," she smile sweetly.

"Yes, that's me," I say, still confused.

Then it started to register. I think I'm being adopted.

Sarah walks into the office with a smile. 

"Cher, this is Haylee Maxwell. She wants to adopt you," Sarah beams.

"What do you think? Could you manage with a crazy lady like me?" she smiles.

"I think I could manage with anyone," I smile.

"Perfect! I'll go get the papers!" Sarah says and digs around in her drawers, finally pulling out papers.

Haylee pulls out a pen covered in pearls and starts signing the papers. In minutes, she hands them back to Sarah who files them and says to me,"Would you like to say goodbye to the kids and gather your things?" 

I nod full of excitement and run to my bed, throwing everything I own, which isn't much, into my suitcase. Then, I see all of the kids gathered at the front of the orphanage. I set my stuff down and kneel down next to them.

"Martha. I just know someday you'll be a princess," I smile and pinch her cheeks. She smiles back.

"JJ. Stay awesome, all right?" I laugh and he returns it with a laugh. I ruffle his hair.

"Mason. You are the smartest little monster I know. Keep these knuckleheads in order," I smile and fix his glasses.

"Emily, you little sweetheart. You're the prettiest heart breaker in the 3rd grade. Don't go kissing too many boys," I laugh and she blushes.

"Cheese. Stay weird, you goofball," I laugh.

"Tessa. Thanks for helping me with these monkeys. You're the best friend anyone could ask for," I smile.

"Sarah. Thank you for everything. I promise I'll write to you guys all the time," I say, my eyes filling with tears. I hug her tightly and then hug everyone else. And then, I leave. Forever.

"You guys seem pretty close," Haylee says.

"Us orphanage kids stick together," I smile.

"All I can tell you now is that you're going to have the time of your life. This is going to be so fun!" she laughs and all I can do it laugh in return.

That is how your life can change in 3 hours.

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