The large printing on the flier said “Looking for Cinderella” and was printed on the most garish pink paper Kaylee had ever seen. Her best friend, Gavin, waved it at her, practically dancing with excitement.
“We should totally do this!” He said, pulling it away to read the smaller print out loud.
“Fantasy Faire’s Prince is seeking a Princess for this summer’s Faire. Think you’ve got what it takes to reign with our prince this summer? Come to the Faire on opening day in your best ball gown and compete for his favor. The lady of his choice will be Princess of the Faire for the entire summer. Glass slippers optional.”
“Check out the deets, Kaylee, that’s some good pay right there. Sure beats flipping burgers or folding t-shirts at the Gap.” Gavin’s voice turned sly. “Of course, you can work at your father’s company again this summer. I know how much fun you had last year.”
“Never again!” Kaylee said with a shudder. “I had to spend the entire summer with Jay and May, the wonder twins. I’d rather flip burgers until I’m 83 than work with those two again.”
“See, that’s why you’re perfect for this, you even have wicked step siblings.”
“It’s supposed to be stepsisters, not a brother and sister pair, and they’re not wicked, really, just lazy and stupid. I did all of the work and Dad never even realized. It didn’t help that their mom was always taking them out for three hour lunches. I wouldn’t mind working there if it weren’t for them. But they know a good thing when they’ve got it and they’re definitely going to be back again this year.”
She pulled the flier from her friend’s hand and looked at it again, ignoring the blinding pink this time.
“That salary is better than I was getting at Dad’s office,” she said, thinking aloud. “I don’t know about wearing a princess dress all day, though. I’m not much into dresses, you know.”
Gavin looked at Kaylee’s plain t-shirt and ripped jeans and sighed. “Tell me about it. I wear more dresses than you do.”
Kaylee gave her best friend’s shoulder a shove. “That’s because you’re the best new drag performer over at Sallie Mae’s. So, when you said ‘We should do this’ did you mean you’re going to compete, too?”
“No, of course not. They’re never going to hire me. I meant I’ll be your ‘fairy godmother’ and make your dress. With my seamstress talents and your hotness, we can’t lose.”
“I don’t know about that,” Kaylee said, handing the paper back. Maybe I’ll just flip some burgers. At least that way I can wear pants.
“C’mon, Kaylee, it will be fun. Please let me dress you for the ball. I have the perfect pattern in mind and everything. Tell you what, if you’ll do this, I’ll dress up and go with you.” Gavin pleaded, making the puppy dog eyes that always got Kaylee into trouble.
“I’ll do it on one condition,” Kaylee said, eyes dancing, “you have to compete, too. If you enter the competition, then so will I.”
Gavin grumbled, but was so easily convinced that Kaylee thought he was secretly hoping she would talk him into it. They spent the next few weeks sewing furiously between final exams and school projects. The dress Gavin made for Kaylee was made of a thick, silver fabric with embroidery at the hem and neckline and with a gauzy overdress of iridescent silver. Kaylee had voted for a more muted design, but Gavin wanted her to stand out and he made sure she would. The cut made the most of her curves without making her look like she was trying too hard.
For his own dress, he made a dress of a blue and gold brocade with lace at the neckline that hid his Adam’s apple. He bought a wig for himself and had the hair styled in a complicated up-do. He wanted to do the same for Kaylee, but she refused and went with a simple style that gathered her hair up in front, but left the rest of the long, blond curls floating down her back.
The day of the competition, Kaylee and Gavin got dressed at his parents’ home. Kaylee examined herself in the mirror and then looked at Gavin.
“I can’t believe how good you made us look, although I think you make a more convincing girl than I do, Gavin. How do you do it?” She admired her best friend who, beyond the change in dress, but with subtle changes in posture and movement, no longer looked like the gawky teenager she knew and loved. He looked like a lovely, young woman.
“You look beautiful, Kaylee,” Gavin said, and even his voice was feminine. “You’re sure to win. I know you don’t believe it, but you’re a knock out.”
“Whatever,” Kaylee said, dismissing his compliments with a wave of her hand. She hated to be told she was pretty. It always made her feel uncomfortable. When she looked in the mirror all she saw was her dead mother’s face, and it just made her sad.
“We’d better get going, Milady,” Gavin said, dropping into a graceful curtsy.
“After you, my dear,” Kaylee attempted to mimic his curtsy, but half-stumbled over her heels. “Wait, a second, first. I have to change out of these shoes. Yes, I know they’re perfect, but I can’t walk in them here on your hardwood floors, how am I going to get around at the Faire. They don’t even have paved pathways; sometimes they take that rustic theme a little too much to heart.” She stripped off the heels as she spoke, swapping them out for a pair of silver sneakers she had brought along despite Gavin’s protests. “That’s better, let’s go to the ball.”
They got to the fairgrounds early enough to get a good parking spot near the entrance, saving themselves a long hike in. As they got out of the car, Gavin pulled out one last surprise.
“I’m not wearing a mask, Gavin, I won’t be able to see anything.”
“You don’t have to wear it all day,” he said, tucking it into a pocket cleverly hidden in her skirt. “Just at the competition. It will make you more alluring.”
She argued but he won, as he usually did. He also won at the payment window, where he insisted on paying her entrance fee over Kaylee’s protests.
“You can pay me back out of your princess salary,” he said and waved away her cash as they walked over to the lowered gate.
They wound their way through the crowds to take up a position near the entrance, waiting for the opening ceremonies to begin. As they waited, they watched the milling crowds, most of whom wore normal, street clothes, but many of whom were in fantasy garb. There were men and women in costumes from all of the most famous fantasy franchises: Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and so on. There were some that were in historical garb, too, and even some people dressed in Star Trek uniforms or dressed as Stormtroopers. There were at least two mermaid costumes, and Kaylee wondered how those women could walk all day with the restrictions of the lower portions of their costumes which held their legs so close together. She was suddenly grateful for the long, flowing skirts of her own dress. It might not be as free and easy as pants, but she could move well enough. If she had to go in a costume, she thought she could do worse. At least she wasn’t wearing one of the miniskirts the fairy girls seemed to favor, although the wings were cute.
Among all of the cosplayers were girls decked out in such fine gowns that they could only be here for the princess competition. Kaylee compared her dress to the others she could see and felt a glow of pride for what Gavin had accomplished. She stood straight, proud of the dress he had made for her, and suddenly hopeful that she might stand a chance in the competition after all.
As the time approached ten, two performers came out on the parapets of the entrance gate and blew a fanfare on trumpets. A mini show in with the king and his chamberlain discussed how to handle the prince’s refusal to marry. They discussed the problem and hit on the perfect solution. They would invite all of the eligible maidens in the kingdom and beyond to come to a ball where the prince would have his choice. Surely he would find his perfect princess, given such a wide choice.
As they finished their plotting, the prince came on stage and Kaylee wasn’t the only one to gasp. She didn’t know where they had found the actor for the part, but he was everything a prince should be. He had leading man looks, unspoiled by a slight scar on his chin, puckering slightly when he smiled. As for the rest of him…
“That man should never wear anything but tights,” Gavin whispered in her ear and Kaylee blushed. “He makes my heart flutter.”
Kaylee couldn’t help laughing. People assumed that Gavin was gay because of his performances in drag, but he just liked to play to the stereotype. Many of his fellow performers were gay, he just didn’t happen to be. He didn’t bother to correct people who made the assumption, because, as he put it, “they didn’t lock up their daughters when he came around.”
She had lost the thread of the story by then, but it must have been coming to an end because soon the audience was warned to cover their ears and the blast of the small cannon shot over their heads announced the opening of Fantasy Faire for the season.
They handed over their tickets and streamed into the fairgrounds with the rest of the crowd. They made their curtsies to the royal court and hurried past. They wanted to get away from the mass of tourists and cosplayers and into the quiet, back section of the Faire. The princess competition would take place at noon, so they had a couple of hours to wander. Kaylee held her delicate dress out of the dust of the pathway, lined with gravel and mulch to keep down the mud on rainy days. Thankfully, this opening day was perfect, temperatures in the high 70s and low humidity. She thought about wearing this costume later in the humid, hot summer season and shuddered. Maybe her dad’s office wouldn’t be such a terrible place to work, after all. She shook off the worry. There were many beautiful women here in gowns that shone in the sun. They might not be as perfect as her own, but they were lovely. She had plenty of competition.
Gavin dragged her to the sword swallower show and they laughed and cheered at the familiar antics of his favorite performer. They had been coming to the Fantasy Faire every summer for as long as they could remember, and some of these acts hadn’t changed by a single word in years. That was part of the fun, although it made Kaylee appreciate the improv troupe they saw next even more. Sometimes it was nice to hear some new jokes.
Finally, it was time to head to the main stage where the royal court was waiting for the competition to take place. Kaylee suddenly wished she had grabbed something to eat from one of the many food vendors, but she didn’t think she could eat anything on a stick without getting something on her delicate dress. She swore she’d go get some empty calories as soon as the competition was over. Her mouth starting watering immediately at the thought of chocolate covered cheesecake or some of those fragrant spiced nuts whose smell was driving her crazy as they hurried past.
At the stage, the aspiring princesses milled together at the front of the audience while the king and the prince argued about the ball.
“Father, I can’t believe you would arrange such a farce. Am I to parade myself in front of these maidens as a prize bull, heading to slaughter?”
“You will choose a princess from among these lovely maidens, my son, or I will disinherit you and the kingdom will go to your cousin Rupert.” The king gestured to a sloppily dressed man swilling something from a goblet.
“Rupert is a drunk and a varlet,” the prince said, his voice projecting to the audience past the waiting girls. “I can’t let you do that to the kingdom or its people.” The audience cheered and the prince waited for the noise to die down before continuing. “I will choose a princess this day, but I do it for the sake of the kingdom!” Somehow he made the hokey dialog seem noble and Kaylee felt a thrill go through her as the audience cheered again.
The chamberlain then called the prospective princesses up on the stage and Kaylee let the others push ahead of her, not wanting to fight her way up the short flight of stairs. Suddenly she saw something she had missed in the mass of costumed girls. Her stepsister, May, was one of the contestants. She had a princess costume she had evidently ordered online, its cheap fabric and poor cut looking ridiculous in this setting. She wasn’t the only girl in a pre-made costume, but it looked particularly awful on May, who always insisted on buying clothes two sizes too small. Kaylee winced and looked away, meeting Gavin’s eye.
Gavin mouthed, “OMG” at her, and they were both laughing as they climbed onto the stage. Poor May had no idea how ridiculous she looked and was flirting shamelessly with the crowd, thrusting out her hip and almost splitting the seam of her cheap costume.
“Should I say something?” Kaylee asked, feeling sorry for her stepsister despite the animosity between them. “She’s making a fool out of herself.”
“No, leave her alone. She’s having fun. She wouldn’t appreciate your advice, anyway.”
Kaylee had to admit he was right. There was nothing to be done now, but watch in horror and hope the costume didn’t pop its seams.
The chamberlain herded the girls into a long line on the stage, the king, queen, and prince standing off to one side. Kaylee and Gavin ended up about two-thirds of the way down the line from the royal court.
“Before the prince makes his choice, we will have the people decide which maidens they would approve of as princess. As I go down the line and hold my staff of office over each maidens head, please applaud for your choice.”
Kayle had been wondering how the prince could possibly make a choice from so many girls, there had to be 20-30 of them on the stage and the time set aside for this competition was not long enough for any interaction between the prince and each girl. This was smart, the audience could help narrow down the choice and feel like they had some say in the winner besides.
As the chamberlain started down the line, each girl received applause ranging from scattered to thunderous.
Thanks to her shameless mugging, May got plenty of applause and got to stay on stage with the rapidly dwindling line of girls. Kaylee was pleased and surprised to hear that her applause was as loud, or louder, than any of the others and Gavin’s was just as loud. It must be the beautiful dresses he had made for them.
By the time the chamberlain was done, the remaining number of contestants was much lower. Fewer than a dozen “maidens” waited for the prince’s attention.
Each girl got a few minutes with the prince who asked them about themselves and chatted with them about the kingdom. Most of the girls played along, talking about the Faire as if it were their only home and stayed in character as if it had been scripted.
When it was May’s turn, the prince asked her what kind of a king she hoped he would be.
“You can’t be a king here,” May answered, confused, “this is America, duh. You could be president, though, I know I’d vote for you. You’d be the hottest president ever.” She fluttered her eyelids at him and thrust her chest in his face. The audience laughed and the prince cleared his throat and moved on.
As the prince continued interviewing the contestants, Kaylee found her mind wandering. She looked out at the crowd, who were obviously enjoying the show, and saw something that made her frown. There was a large woman sitting near the end of one of the long, wooden benches. She had a huge handbag sitting on the bench next to her and, as Kaylee watched, a hand reached forward and dipped into it. A young man pulled out a wallet and tucked it into his shirt berfore rising to his feet, walking away as if bored. Not hurrying, but not wasting any time getting away, either. Kaylee looked around and saw that no one else was taking any notice of the man. He was going to get away.
“Wait here,” she said to Gavin and hiked up her skirt and took off after the man. The audience turned to watch, shocked to see one of the princess-wannabes running from the stage. They cried out in shock as Kaylee threw herself at the man, knocking him to the ground. She hadn’t played touch football in a couple of years, but it all came back to her now. She held him down with some effort as he struggled to get up.
“He’s a thief, call security!” She yelled as the onlookers watched, dumbfounded.
In minutes a couple of hefty cosplayers dressed as orcs had taken over and held the man between them until security came to clear things up. Two employees bearing security badges showed up in minutes and told Kaylee that she needed to go with them to fill out a report. By then, Gavin had joined Kaylee and offered to go with her.
“No, I’ll be fine, but you go finish the competition. You deserve it after all of the hard work you did. I’m just sorry about what I did to the dress you made for me.” Kaylee tried vainly to brush dust off of her torn dress.
“Don’t worry about the dress. You’re a hero. I saw what that guy did, too, but it didn’t occur to me to tackle him. You’re amazing.”
Gavin went back on stage where the actors were trying to get the show back on track and Kaylee followed security to their office back stage. She had pointed out the woman whose wallet had been stolen and that lady had gone with her to claim her recovered property. She offered Kaylee a reward for her actions, but Kaylee just waved her off.
“Anyone would have done it, if they had seen what was happening.”
“Most people wouldn’t have, actually,” the security chief said, overhearing the exchange. “I’m not saying I want our visitors tackling each other willy nilly, but you obviously have an instinct for this kind of work. I could use a girl like you on our team. If you want a summer job, I’d be happy to talk to you about joining our security staff this summer.”
“I wouldn’t have to wear a dress, would I?” Kaylee asked.
“Nope, just pants and a t-shirt. You can even wear jeans if you want.” He smiled at her and named an amount that was almost as generous as the princess pay.
“Where do I sign?”
By the time Kaylee had finished her report and filled out the paperwork for her new summer job, Gavin came looking for her. When she told him about the new job, he just laughed.
“Only you could come looking for a job as a princess and end up as a guard. Good for you, though. If you’re happy, I’m happy.”
“How about the competition, how did it go?”
“You’ll never guess who the new princess is,” Gavin said, laughter in his eyes.
“Please don’t tell me it’s May. That would be just my luck. Not that I’m not happy with this job, but May is unbearable enough without adding a royal title to her ego.”
“No, it wasn’t May. It’s me. I’m the new princess!” Gavin half shouted and he curtsied to Kaylee.
They danced around each other in delight, and then as they slowed, Kaylee frowned.
“Wait, does he know you’re a dude? I mean, will they have a problem with that if they find out?”
“No problem, he knows and thinks it’s great. He did ask me one question, though.” Gavin smirked.
“Oh, what’s that?”
“He asked me for your phone number.”