Read The Cinderella Hour Online
Authors: Katherine Stone
Copyright ©2005 by Katherine Stone
Since its first publication in 2005,
has been published in hardcover, mass market paperback,
large print, and foreign languages editions. Ebook and trade paperback editions
published in 2013.
Katherine Stone is the
New York Times
author of twenty-one novels, including
Illusions, Home at Last, Pearl Moon, Love Songs,
Her books are sold worldwide and have
been translated into twenty languages. A physician who now writes full-time,
she lives with her husband, physician-novelist Jack Chase (
Transplant, Mortality Rate, Fatal Analysis)
in the Pacific Northwest. All
of her bestselling novels are being published in ebook and trade paperback.
Please visit her website,
KatherineStone.com, for additional information and newsletter sign up.
THE CARLTON CLUB
BED OF ROSES
THIEF OF HEARTS
HOME AT LAST
A MIDNIGHT CLEAR
STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT
THE OTHER TWIN
ANOTHER MAN’S SON
THE CINDERELLA HOUR
She was eight and new to the
He was eleven and had lived in this charming town north of Chicago his entire godforsaken life.
She—Snow Ashley Gable—found him on that snowy Christmas
afternoon in the wooded ravine beyond her new home. Snow heard him before she
saw him, heard the rhythmic thuds, fast and hard, and the low, anguished sound.
It was an injured animal, she thought. Injured and
Snow ran toward the sound, uncertain of what she would find
but determined to save the wounded creature from further torment.
The creature was the boy whose name she knew, but hadn’t met,
and from whom she had been warned to stay away.
The admonition had come from Snow’s
mother, Leigh, following a visit a week earlier from Beatrice Evans.
Mrs. Evans was the self-appointed neighborhood welcome
committee. She arrived with a smile, a basket of Yuletide goodies, and the
assertion that Pinewood was the friendliest subdivision in all of Quail Ridge.
Pinewood also boasted the town’s most acreage per
property—with the exception, that is, of the hilltop estates. Such spaciousness
meant that even if it hadn’t been a bitterly cold December afternoon, and even
though she was in “pretty good” shape for forty-three, Mrs. Evans would have driven
from the home she owned on Meadow View Drive to the Dogwood Lane house Leigh
Snow liked Mrs. Evans right away. And she worried, right
away, that her mother would be rude. But as Leigh invited Mrs. Evans inside and
offered her tea, Snow reminded herself that her mother had changed.
The transformation had started last May. Wearing a newly
purchased cream-colored suit with matching hat, Leigh had taxied to Lake Forest to attend a wedding reception at the Deerpath Inn. She had returned energized,
not exhausted, unlike the way she was when she came home from dates for which
she wore dresses that looked like slips. That evening, while waiting for the
phone to ring, she scoured the society pages in search of other receptions to
Phones rang frequently in the decrepit apartments where they
had lived. Leigh’s personas—Scarlett, Tara, Melanie—received calls around the
clock. Short calls meant the caller, a woman, had scheduled a date for Leigh.
Longer calls meant a conversation had been requested and Leigh had agreed. Once
the scheduler provided the man’s name and who he wanted her to be, Leigh would
talk to him as the desired persona.
There had been a time when Leigh engaged in such
conversations behind closed doors, in a closet or the bathroom when those were
the only doors they had. Leigh couldn’t be sure her very young daughter wouldn’t
blurt out “you’re
hot” when both mother and daughter were bundled in
blankets—or react with alarm or giggles to the funny sounds Leigh made.
Once Snow was old enough to understand the conversations were
make-believe and could be relied upon to remain silent, they would typically
share the same space during the calls. Snow would be reading or doing homework,
and Leigh would be polishing her nails for an upcoming date, or boiling pasta
for their dinner, or scowling at the stack of unpaid bills, or, with her hand
over the receiver, chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.
Snow had always been permitted to answer the phone. The men
who played make-believe with Scarlett, Tara, and Melanie never called directly.
Snow answered Leigh’s new calls, too, from her wedding-reception men. They were
allowed to call directly, and they asked for her only by her new name, Leigh
Ashley Gable, the widow from Atlanta with a daughter named Snow.
“You can forget Tara Butler, Snow. She no longer exists.
Scarlett Wilkes is also dead as dust.” Leigh’s certainty had translated into
action. She’d taken scissors to Tara’s Marshall-Field’s—and Melanie’s Jewel-Osco—charge
cards before thinking better of destroying all her previous identities. “Who
knows? Leigh might find these useful some day. Not, mind you, because this isn’t
going to work. It
. But Leigh may want bank accounts in a few names.
Huge bank accounts. We’re going to have
“We are?” It would be nice not to be cold from October until
April. And to find an apartment where Snow felt safe when her mother was away.
Snow cared, a little, about the money. What mattered most was Leigh. If more
money, so much money, could make her this happy all the time . . .
“We are, Snow. You’ll see. I’m going to need your help,
“Good. Here’s what you need to tell anyone who asks. Your
daddy died before you were born—”
“He did die before I was born. He was a brave policeman who
died saving another little girl’s life.”
“Right. We’re going to have to say some other things, too,
and it’s essential for you to remember them. I’m counting on you, Snow. Can I
count on you?”
“All right. Listen carefully. You’ve lived in Atlanta, not Chicago, all your life. Your daddy and I met in Atlanta, fell in love in Atlanta, and got married there. I’ve been working in a bridal boutique in Atlanta since he died. I’ve decided to move to Chicago because my college roommate, who’s also
my best friend, wants me to help her start a wedding planning business. Are you
with me so far?”
Snow nodded. She would have no trouble remembering the story
and retelling it on cue.
“Our last name is Gable. With luck, it’s the
name we’ll ever need. Your first and middle names can be whatever you want.
They don’t have to come from
Gone With the Wind
Like her mother, Snow knew the movie by heart. Unlike Leigh,
she had also read the book. She had been searching for a reason to like the
story and its heroine. She didn’t find it. She hated the slavery, and, although
she understood why there needed to be a civil war, she hated that as well.
Snow didn’t discuss the disturbing themes with Leigh. She
assumed her mother found them troubling, too. And she wondered how Leigh could
admire anyone as
nice as the fictional Miss O’Hara.
Snow told herself it was just Scarlett’s favorite sayings
that appealed to Leigh. “Tomorrow’s another day” and “I’ll never go hungry
again” were Leigh’s favorite sayings, too.
Snow took very seriously the choice of a new name. She took
everything seriously. Because Leigh suggested it, she even considered
discarding Snow, her name since birth. “Snow” was a problem for a name. Her
teachers and classmates frowned when they heard it.
She could choose a
Gone With the Wind
name. But she
couldn’t forsake her given name. It saddened her, quite a bit, that Leigh
could. Had she forgotten the reason she was Snow?
Snow chose Ashley for her middle name, as Leigh had. Ashley
was a character she liked.
Leigh had another new name. Mother. Scarlett’s name for
mother. It was more formal than what her classmates called their mothers, but Snow
was thrilled. Always before, she called Leigh by whatever name she was using at
the time to pay—or not pay—her bills.
The more wedding-reception calls Leigh received, the less
willing she was to accept calls for her other personas. By summer’s end,
Scarlett, Tara, and Melanie—and their sleazy clothes—were gone.
With the help of her eight-year-old daughter, Leigh also
tossed out a lexicon of dirty words. Snow wrote down the words Leigh told her
she was determined to purge. Snow guessed, phonetically, how to spell them. As
for their meanings, she found some in the dictionaries at school. Even then,
she had only a vague idea what they meant.
Snow was surprised by some of the words on Leigh’s list. She
had heard them so frequently it hadn’t occurred to her that even the Southern
belles she and her mother were to become would consider them bad. But “bastard”
made the list. And “son of a bitch” and “hell.” Even Rhett’s parting shot to
Snow was also surprised by a missing word. “Sex” wasn’t bad,
apparently, despite the verboten words Leigh used with it—and the fact that
most of the off-limits words had to do with sex . . . whatever sex was.
Snow’s job was to tell Leigh whenever she swore, and she did
so without fail. But it wasn’t until Leigh levied a one-dollar-per-offense fine
on herself, to be awarded to Snow, that her vocabulary improved.
Parting with so much as a penny would have infuriated Tara
Butler and Scarlett Wilkes. But “You swore!” became a game both mother and
daughter enjoyed. It was also the only game they had ever played. Leigh laughed
as she showered each day’s bounty of dollar bills on her daughter and told Snow
how grateful she was to her for being so alert.
Snow hadn’t wanted the game to end. It was all right, though,
when it did. Leigh’s giddiness about their new life and her eagerness to
practice her new vocabulary—free of swear words—made her happy to talk. A lot.
Leigh had a new philosophy of money. You had to spend it to
make it. And wasn’t it lucky she had been hoarding her meager earnings all
The revelation amazed Snow. If Leigh had money in a
safe-deposit box—and she did—why had they fled apartment after apartment under
threat of eviction due to delinquent rent?
If her new business was the success she believed it would be,
Leigh told her, they wouldn’t be moving again anytime soon.
Snow knew her mother wasn’t going to be planning weddings
with a friend from college. Leigh hadn’t gone to college. And she had no
Snow wasn’t sure what the new business would be—or what Leigh’s
previous business had been. The two were related, however. And the
wedding-reception men were involved. She was doing it right this time, Leigh
explained, cutting out the middleman, calling her own shots, becoming a
She only wished she had thought of it long ago. Think of all
the money she could have made—and saved. The money not spent on beer and
cigarettes would have been a fortune in itself.
“Oh, well!” she said, laughing, as she emptied an untouched
six-pack into the sink. “Better late than never.”
Snow was glad to see the alcohol and cigarettes go. Leigh
became moody when she drank. And when she smoked in excess of a pack a day, the
slightest thing would irritate her.
Cigarettes or not, it had never taken much to irritate Leigh.
She had been impatient with the curiosity of neighbors where they had lived and
rude when they appeared at the door with news to share.
Admittedly, the news was often grim, a recounting of who was
serving time for drugs, theft, assault, or a follow-up on the screams, gunshots,
and sirens that had undoubtedly awakened her the previous night.
It was Snow, not Leigh, who would have been awakened by
violence, even on nights when Leigh was home. As soon as her dates and phone
calls were finished for the evening, Leigh drank herself to sleep.
Snow always awakened to the sounds in the night.
She wondered, after her first—full—night’s sleep in Pinewood,
if she had ever really slept in the scary places she and Leigh had lived.
She was astonished by witnesses’ accounts on TV. How could
anyone confuse the sound of a backfiring car with a gun going off? To Snow, the
difference was as clear as the distinction between
pop, pop, pop
Leigh’s aversion to nosy neighbors was the reason Snow
worried she would be rude to Mrs. Evans.
But Leigh remained in character as the Georgia peach she now was, accepting with charm and surprise, as if it was something she
had never heard before, Mrs. Evans’s raves about her voice.
That Leigh Ashley Gable was beautiful went without saying.
Which was why, Snow thought, people always commented instead on Leigh’s voice.
It was beautiful, too, and unusual. Soft and low, yet strong . . . or fragile,
when she wanted it to be.
In her soft voice, with threads of fragility woven in, Leigh
shared their story with Mrs. Evans. The false tapestry complete, she urged Mrs.
Evans to tell them about the neighborhood to which they had been so happy to
move. Yes, Leigh conceded before Mrs. Evans began, Chicago was colder than Atlanta and arriving in winter was a bit of a shock. But her friend had already lined up
spring and summer weddings for them to plan.
Besides, Leigh said, she had heard the schools in Quail Ridge
were so terrific she was anxious to get her “incredibly bright daughter”
enrolled as soon as possible.
“Daughter” caught Snow’s heart and held on tight. Daughter, not
kid. It clung, warm and welcome, as Snow considered what else Leigh had said.
Did she actually care about the Quail Ridge schools? And did she really know
how bright Snow’s teachers believed her to be?
terrific, Mrs. Evans affirmed. The
schools, Pinewood, the entire town!