The first time you see him, you’re in a group project together. You’ve both been in the same major for nearly four years, and you’ve never seen him before. You’ve never worked with him, never had a class with him. But you’re interested. Just interested enough to overhear him when he begins talking about his girlfriend. It seems like a dead end. So you give up, but it’s a little more than love at first sight when you hear him laugh and he shoots you a smile when you make a sarcastic remark.

From then on out, he’s all sarcasm and wit and completely irresistible. And you’ve decided that is just fine. The group project keeps going, but instead of your little crush disappearing, it holds fast. Every single time he says your name, your stomach decided to flip, your heart rate quickens, your pupils dilate.

So when you hear his beloved girlfriend crying in the bathroom, on the phone with her girlfriend, you may have gotten a little bit ahead of yourself. But she needed help, and you may have needed her to get that help more than you’re willing to admit.

She tells him on a Tuesday. The day after your class ends. And he stands there, and he listens, and he understands. No hard feelings, he tells her and you stand off to the side and just watch. Because you can’t help yourself, because somehow he’s become this overwhelming important thing in your life. And you can’t breathe when she walks away. and. he. looks. at. you.

With that look. The same look he’s reserved for her. And you’re not quite sure what to do with the information your brain is encoding. So you don’t do anything. You smile a sad smile and wave a little bit as you go up the stairs to the left, trying to catch your breath while you lean against the bannister.

But he’s there in an instant, his voice behind you.

“I wouldn’t trust that bannister,” he says and you jump and turn around. And he’s wearing the most warm and inviting smile you’ve ever seen. And you’re done for.

It seems so easy at first. Lunch. Dinner. Movies. Cute text messages to wake up to, compliments when you know you look terrible. And you’re so far gone you don’t notice when it changes.

They’re at the table when you walk in. The door was unlocked because you’d said you’d be over soon. He always leaves the door unlocked when you text him you’ll be over soon. After all you had plans.

They look up when you come in. And there’s this woman you’ve never seen before, but she looks posh. She’s drinking tea and wearing couture and you’re just in some leggings and an oversized sweatshirt because you’d been planning to play video games.

He looks surprised to see you. But you know you sent that text. The door was unlocked. The door is only unlocked when you send a text first.

He says your name, rising up from the table and pulling out a chair for you. This is something you’ve never seen him do, but you go to the chair anyways, sitting down and staring at the older woman at the table.

She looks you up and down, a stoic look on her pretty face. But you can tell you’ve already left a bad impression.

“This is my mother,” he says, same stoic face and schooled features as he watches you. Your eyes widen just a little bit, but your brain can’t quite process what he’s saying.

“Pleased to meet you,” his mother says, and you panic. Because this woman is not what you expected from someone so warm and inviting and sweet. This woman is a monster cloaked in fur and prada.

“Y…yes,” you stammer, not quite sure what to do with your hands. This whole situation is a mess. But no one else’s face falters but yours. His mother chuckles. It’s a high pitched, airy sound. The kind of sound you hear from people who think they’re superior to you.

“Honestly,” she says to her son, “Where did you get this one? The Big Lots?” He sighs next to you, eyes closing slightly. It sounds long-suffering and you’re too stunned to say anything else. You close your mouth tight and force back nervous tears.

“What are you trying to do to this family?” She asks him, tone suddenly deadly serious as she looks you over again. For the first time in his presence you feel like complete and utter trash. For the first time in 3 months you feel lonely.

He says your name as you stand up and take your leave. He calls after you, but you shut the door and walk away so you don’t have to feel so hurt anymore. You’re not even sure what happened. You’ve never been so harshly judged by anyone, with the exception of your own mother.

You had hoped that his mother would be kind. And sweet. And gentle. But she’s so dark, and cruel, and she’s made you a laughingstock. And. You. Feel. Like. Nothing.

Two days go by before he finally finds you alone in the library. You haven’t been responding to his texts, calls, or messages. Because you’ve never been so humiliated before in your life.

And his smile has you so far gone that you spend the next 8 months trying to make everything right. Despite your family and his family fighting you. He doesn’t talk about his mother, and you don’t ask. She seems to be staying away longer now and you feel safe in his tiny apartment, snuggled up on the couch, playing and watching him play games.

He beats you in Pokemon more than you’re willing to admit.

Your final semester ends with an invitation to a ball. You’re not quite sure who is throwing it, but according to the internet, dressing for a ball requires a lot of work and a lot of money. You feel a little silly wishing you had a fairy godmother or maybe some animal friends to help you out.

In the end, you find a dress. Or maybe the dress finds you. Considering you never bought it. It merely “showed up” in the mail. It’s gorgeous. Breathtaking, really. Floor length with a sweetheart neckline, a gold sequined bodice, and taffeta layered skirt.

It fits. And in the back of your mind you think it’s a little bit strange, but you’re excited anyways. You spend hours googling hair ideas, but never think about talking to him about it. It’s to the point where you assume he’s already going with you.

The week before the ball you get a text message from an unlisted number. Telling you the ball is that night. The invitation was wrong. And you’re flustered because night is only a few hours away. And it isn’t long enough for you to be ready.

He doesn’t text you back when you send him a frantic message, asking him to meet you at your apartment. He doesn’t even show up. But you get dressed and go anyways, sending him the address so he’ll know where you are if he decides to make an appearance.

A car shows up to take you to the ball. You never called a car, but you don’t want to drive yourself either. So you get in and it takes you through the countryside and to a large mansion surrounded by woods.

When you arrive it’s like something out of a fairy tale. You’ve never quite seen anything like it. You’re a little wary of going alone, but the festivities beckon and your curiosity gets the better of you.

That’s when you see him. Escorting a beautiful woman in a pink and white low cut gown up the brick steps and into the mansion. You bite your tongue when you see them, but it doesn’t stop you from letting out a strangled cry of surprise.

And his eyes are on you in an instant. As if he knew it was you. As if he could hear your voice above the crowd. And he’s shocked. You run.

It doesn’t quite feel right going home. So you sneak into the quarters of the mansion, finding an unlocked bedroom to lick your wounds in. You’re crying beyond consolation before you find one, fingers cold and shaking. But the room seems cozy if a little unused.

There are a few pairs of shoes and white button up shirts tossed haphazardly on a chair by the door. But your tears blur them all together as you make for the bed. It’s a large king-sized bed with a wooden frame that creaks a little when you lay on the mattress. You wrap the dark blue duvet around your shoulders, kick off your shoes, and finally let yourself go.

You feel so stupid to think that he could love you. After all his mother would never approve. Not ever. Being in love is so stupid. And god he’s never told you he loves you. You think about how deluded you are while your eyes burn and you fall asleep.

He’s calling your name, and stroking your cheek when you wake up. And you realize this is his room. This is his mansion. And your legs can’t get you away fast enough. You’re not cut out for this life.

You’re not quite sure where you’re going to go, but you keep running. Through the halls, down the stairs, and out of the front door. The ground is muddy beneath your feet and it slows you down. You can hear him behind you and you curse your skirts for the first time. Beauty does not coincide with being swift. Cinderella was a pro.

You make it into the woods behind the house. Your feet and ankles sinking into the mud with every pump of your legs. You’re struggling and your calves are burning and you can’t quite seem to make it far enough before you’re on your knees in a tiny clearing. He’s a few steps away from you, bustling through the trees.

“Let me explain,” he says, breathless and muddy. And you don’t want to hear him, crawling through the mud to get farther away. The clearing is less muddy than the woods, and you need to be able to stand up. You need to get away.

“You were not supposed to be here,” he tells you, and you shoot him a look. Filled with betrayal.

“I’m not with her,” he says, “I’m with you. She’s nobody. I was just escorting her to the ball…” he grabs your arm and pulls you to him. He clings to you for dear life. It seems like it’s been months since you’ve seen each other.

“I love you,” you say because there’s nothing else you can say. There’s no way to hold it back anymore. And it hurts when the words from from your lungs. And you aren’t quite sure he can return them.

Until he’s kissing you. He’s kissing you all over and whispering those words against your skin and it’s everything you’ve ever wanted. He gathers the front of your taffeta skirts higher on your legs and you don’t stop him. This isn’t like every other time. You’re both drunk on each other and you don’t want him to stop.

The first time you make love is in the mud. Holding into each other like your lives depends on it. You’re not quite sure where his body ends and yours begins. And you want to stay like that forever, with him inside of you and whispering just how much he needs you into your hair.

But it does end. And you lay tangled up in each other until the cold sets in and he drags you to your feet.

Two hours in a scalding hot shower isn’t enough to chase away the cold. You snuggle, shivering under the blankets. Drying desperately to warm each other up with kisses, and hot breath against each other’s necks until you’re tangled together again. Promises of love, and need, and forever.

He’s gone when you wake up in the morning, but you expected that. However, you did not expect the old woman who is sitting in the chair by the door. The items that had occupied it formerly have now disappeared. And she gazes at your fiercely.

“I suggest you put on some clothing, young lady,” she tells you, tossing you your torn and muddied dress from the evening prior. You don’t want to put it back on, but you do as she says, trying your best to shield your naked body from her.

The fabric is stiff, and cold, and grimy. It scratches against your skin, but you still manage somehow. The clasps in the back are broken. She tosses you an oversized white t-shirt to cover what the gown cannot.

“You’re ruining this family’s bloodline,” she says, grasping your wrist and pulling you out into the hallway, “and my mistress will not have a golddigger coming after her son.” You begin to protest, but one glare forces your mouth shut as she guides you to the front door, out of the mansion, and to a car.

“Don’t come back,” she tells you, giving the driver the address to your parents house. But all you want to do is go home. Back to your apartment. You try to tell the driver that, but he continues driving the opposite direction, back to your childhood home.

Your mother is waiting for you on the porch when you arrive, coated in mud, tear stains on your cheeks. But she’s not warm or apologetic, she watches you like an animal would watch it’s prey as you make your way to the front door.

“Dry it up,” she commands you as you place your hand on the knob to the storm door and pulling. That only makes you cry harder.

He doesn’t call. He doesn’t text. And you’re no longer friends on any social media accounts. And you realize what he’s done to you. What he’s used you for. You were nothing but a cheap, easy lay to him.

Your mother agrees. And you’re not quite sure how you’re going to make it home because you’re hours away with no car, and there’s no way a cab will take you that far.

But you get a text message. From an unknown number. And you know it’s him. And he’s here to take you home. You go to your old room and pack a few things. Things you don’t really need, but want to see in your new place. And you walk out, leaving your family behind and baffled.

You meet him at the car down the street and it’s beautiful. Because he’s smiling and helping you put your luggage in the trunk between stolen kisses and hugs. And you’re so drunk on each other that you don’t even care that people are watching. And you love him more than anything, so much that it hurts.

Then he says, “Let’s go home.” And you’re both smiling so big that you’re afraid your face is going to fall off. Because it sounds like a promise. It sounds like home is somewhere you go together.

So he takes you home while you listen to music, and talk over it because you’re so happy to be together. And he tells you he loves you a thousand times in a thousand different ways. And he tells you about how he knows you’re going to make it and beat all the odds. You being poor doesn’t matter to him.

Because you’re worth so much more than money.