“You look worried, darling,” Madeleine said softly.  “Is everything all right?”

Matthew nodded.  “Just a long day at work.  We’ve had some problems.  The merger isn’t going as smoothly as we had predicted, but I think that after another few days, everything will be just as it should be.”

“I’m glad.”  She put her hand on his arm.  “Maybe we should think about a short trip somewhere when it’s finished.  I think a few days away would be beneficial for you.”

“That’s a good idea,”  he told her with a smile.  “I would like to get away for a while. I’ve missed spending time with my two favorite girls.”

Madeleine’s reply was lost as the library door was flung open. Their four year old daughter rushed in, giggling.  “Daddy!  Daddy!  Come dance with me!  We’re playing Cinderella, and there’s going to be a ball at the castle!  Please, please, Daddy,  will you come dance with me?”

The red-faced governess who had been unable to prevent her charge’s interruption quaked under Madeleine’s icy glare.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Wheeler.  I didn’t intend…”

Matthew shook his head with a frown.  “Do not apologize.  My daughter is welcome in here at any time.”   He was oblivious to his wife’s displeasure as he smiled at his now-trembling child.  He bowed deeply as he took her tiny hand.  “Lead me to the castle, milady.  Let’s show everyone at the ball just how it’s done.”

Honey giggled, her nervousness gone.  “Thank you, Daddy.  Who knows? We may even get to meet the prince!”

“Just remember,” he cautioned her as they walked hand in hand towards the nursery wing. “You’re my princess!  Just any old prince won’t do for my little girl.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “It’ll be forever and ever before I’m all grown up and ready to really find my prince.  We’re just pretending now, you know.”

Sounds from the record the governess had left playing filled the air, and Matthew smiled as he picked her up and started to dance her around the room.  An idea struck him.  “We’re pretending for now, but how would you like to really visit Cinderella and her castle? Go to Disney World with me and your mother in a couple of weeks?”

“Really?”  The child’s eyes sparkled, and she squeezed him even more tightly than she had been.

He nodded. “Yes, really.  We’re going to have so much fun!”

She nodded excitedly.  “Then we really need to practice our dancing!”  She was quiet for a brief moment, then leaned in to kiss his cheek.  “I love you so much, Daddy!”

“I love you, too, Honey,” he whispered.  Time with this precious child was all too rare, and he made up his mind that he would do something about it.  The trip to Florida would be a new beginning.
So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
‘Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t wanna miss even one song,
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone

Ten years later…

“You’re not even fifteen yet,” he protested weakly, staring at his daughter in dismay.  “You’re not old enough to be thinking about proms!”

“I will be in a couple of months,”  Honey reminded him softly.  “And you know Brian, Daddy. He would never do anything to hurt me.”

“I know,”  Matthew admitted.  “But you’re still only in ninth grade.”

“But he’s not,”  she said, looking at him beseechingly.  “This is his senior prom, and out of all the girls he could have asked, he asked me.  We’ll go out to dinner.  We’ll go to the dance.  He’ll bring me straight home afterwards.”

“And I’ll be right there,”  Jim’s voice came from the doorway.  “If Mr. and Mrs. Belden allow Trixie to go with me, we thought the four of us could all go together.  It won’t be any different than the other dances we’ve attended as a group.”

He sighed wistfully, thinking back to the long ago day he had danced with his daughter in her nursery.  His best intentions had fallen by the wayside when his wife had fallen ill not long after their trip to Florida, and it had taken too many years to regain the closeness they had once shared.  It was no longer “forever and ever” before his tiny Cinderella would find her prince; her pleading expression only confirmed his feeling that her prince was already waiting in the wings.

“Please, Daddy?  Please?  You’ve said you like Brian.” She took a deep breath and blushed. “I don’t want him to go with anyone else.”

“He wouldn’t, anyway,”  Jim assured her. He looked at Matthew. “Please, Dad. I promise I’ll take care of her.”

Despite his inward turmoil, Matthew grinned. “And if I won’t let Honey go, Trixie won’t be able to go, either. Right, son?”

Jim flushed, but returned the grin.  “Is it that obvious?”

“Yes,”  Matthew nodded.  He took another long look at his daughter and sighed. “All right, but I insist that all four of you stay together and come straight back here afterwards.”

“Oh, thank you, Daddy!”  Honey breathed excitedly, jumping up to hug him.  “Thank you!  I’m going to go call Brian and let him know.”

The two redheads watched as she dashed out of the room.  “I do trust you and Brian,”  Matthew assured his son.  “But one day, you’ll know first hand just how hard it is when you realize your own daughter is almost grown up.”

Jim started, but quickly recovered his aplomb.  “One day, but not for a good many years yet.”

“At least it better not be,”  Matthew said archly.  “I suspect Peter Belden is just as protective of his daughter as I am of mine. I will not be happy to see him coming here with a shotgun.”

“That won’t happen,”  Jim assured him. “She’s barely fifteen, and I’m only seventeen.  We have our entire lives ahead of us, and our futures are too important to risk.  She’s too important to me to risk.”

“And you have too good a head on your shoulders,”  the older man said.  He took a deep breath.  “That’s how Brian feels about Honey, too, isn’t it?  He really is going to take her from me someday, isn’t he?”

Jim shrugged.  “I do know he really cares for her and that he would never intentionally hurt her.  We’re just all too young yet to plan forever.”

Time seemed to repeat itself as Honey came barreling down the hallway.  “Thank you, again, Daddy!  This means so much to me – to both of us.”

“I know,”  he said softly, feeling himself twisting around her little finger.

A glimpse of the child she had once been shone through the excitement on the young woman’s face, and she smiled at him. “Prom is just a few weeks away.  Will you help me practice my dancing?”

He blinked. “How did you know…?”

“I’ve never forgotten that day,”  she said softly.  “The visit to Disney World was like a dream come true, but I really felt like I was a princess dancing with you that day.”

“You’ve always been my princess,”  he said, swallowing past the lump in his throat.  “You always will be.”  He brushed his eyes, then bowed to her.  “I believe there’s a stereo in the den.  Would you do me the honor?”

She took his hand.  “I love you, Daddy.” she said, leading him to their makeshift dance floor.

“I love you too, my precious Honey.”  He brushed the top of her head with a kiss. “Come on.  Let’s practice your dancing.”

So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
‘Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t wanna miss even one song,
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone

After another ten years…

“I’m going to be entirely honest, Mr. Wheeler.  I know I’ll never be able to offer her everything you can give her, even though I wish I could.  I do promise that she’ll never want for anything she needs.”

He shook his head.  It was true that the young man sitting before him would most likely never be a millionaire in his own right, but he had something far more important than wealth untold.  There was no doubt that this small-town physician held Honey’s heart.

“I’m not worried about that, Brian,”  Matthew said softly.  “I know how hard you work.  I know you’ll take care of her.”

“Yes, I promise I will,”  Brian assured him.  His hands trembled slightly and he set down the tea cup Celia had foisted on him minutes earlier.  “Does this mean….”

Matthew nodded, but his heart ached.  “She loves you, Brian.  She has since she was thirteen.  I know you realize how precious she is.”

“I do,”  he whispered.  He swallowed and tried to find his voice.  “Thank you,  Mr. Wheeler.  She’s become my whole world.”

“It’s ‘Matt’, son. ”  He reached out his hand and clasped his shoulder.  “When are you going to ask her?”

“Tonight,”  he replied. “Tonight…”

A few hours passed.  Matthew sat beside his wife in their living room, idly stroking her arm.  “I’m not ready for this, Maddie.  Where has the time gone?”

Madeleine brushed a tear from her cheek. “I’m just thankful for the years we have had.  If only I hadn’t been ill….”  She shook her head. “No. I still would have wanted to send her to boarding school.  It wasn’t until we came here that I realized just how miserable she was.”

He gently pulled her close. “Brian played a large part in turning that around.  All the Bob-Whites did.”

“I know,”  she said, laying her head on his shoulder. “And I’m grateful to all of them.  Not only for Honey, but for Jim, as well.  I just wonder if he will ever settle down.”

“I hope so.  I want grandchildren!”

She laughed softly.  “Honey will be married, I daresay, within a year, if that long.  Don’t you think children will follow?”

He blanched. “I’m trying very hard not to think about that.  She’s still my little girl!”

“Who will be a married woman soon,”  she reminded him.  “She’s already older than I was when she was born.”

“I know,”  he admitted reluctantly.  “Somehow, it’s just easier picturing Jim as an adult than it is Honey.”

“Jim was practically grown when we adopted him,”  she said. “You still see Honey as the four year old playing dress up.”

“You’re right, Maddie,” he sighed.  And we’ve known for years that this day would come.”

They sat up straight as the door opened and their daughter floated inside.  Brian followed close behind, the worry lines that had creased his face that morning replaced with a euphoric smile.

“Mother, Daddy,”  Honey bubbled, holding out her left hand for them to see. “Brian asked me to marry him!”

“Congratulations!”  Madeleine said, jumping up to embrace her.  “I’m so happy for you!”

“Thank you,”  Brian spoke quietly to his future father-in-law. “I promise I won’t let you down.”

“I know,” Matthew replied. “There’s no one else I would entrust her to.”

Honey turned and flung herself into his arms.  “We’re getting married, Daddy!  Can you believe it?”

“Yes,”  he nodded.  He had to blink back sudden tears.

“I’ll always be your little girl,”  she told him.  “And we’ll be living in Sleepyside.  I won’t even be very far away.  I promise we’ll come visit often.”

“See that you do,”  he said gruffly.  “Have you set a date?”

She nodded. “The first Saturday in May, assuming we can get the church.”

“I don’t see that being a problem,” he assured her.

“We still need to go tell the Beldens tonight,”  Honey said. “And I know the wedding is still six months away, but I’m going to have to practice my dancing.  Will you help me when I get home?”

“I’d be honored,” he choked. He reluctantly released her. “Right now, though, your prince is waiting for you.”

“I love you, Daddy.” She quickly embraced him once again.

“I love you too, Honey,” he whispered.

So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
‘Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t wanna miss even one song,
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone

Author’s Notes:  As mentioned above, this story is heavily based on Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. It really struck a chord with me the first time I heard it, and I knew I wanted to use it in a story.  It didn’t quite fit into any of my established universes and quickly became a stand-alone.

I admit that writing this has been rather bittersweet.  Midnight came all too soon for the singer when his five year old daughter was killed in a tragic accident this past May.  I know, too, that it came all too soon for my own dad when I left their area two years ago.  It’s been a struggle for him seeing my life become established here so far away, and the commitment I will make next May (Honey and Brian’s tentative wedding date was not accidental) is one that he knows will keep me here permanently. This story was written with him in mind.