Cinderella in Skates

CHAPTER ONE

November

Snow hits me in the face before I've even taken a step off the airplane.

Wind -- fierce, biting, unrelenting wind -- swirls the flakes so ferociously around me that I can't see more than a few inches in front of my face. The bitter cold blowing into the safe, warm shell of the plane numbs my bare arms and legs.

It's the first time in my life that I've ever seen a snowflake.

And I have to tell you, so far I'm not impressed.

"Oh, sugar, you sure goin' to wish you had a nice pair of boots and a wool wint'r jacket in about two seconds," the redheaded flight attendant who had refused to give me a second glass of ginger ale somewhere over Kansas says as I prepare to step off the plane and out onto the tarmac.

Seriously. We're actually deplaning onto the runway. Where there are planes driving by and stuff. I wonder if this place is so out there that the airport hasn't even caught up to the latest jet bridge technologies yet.

"It wasn't cold when we left Phoenix," I mumble to her.

The flight attendant smiles. "This ain't Phoenix, honey. Welcome to Wisconsin."

I grimace and take my first steps into my new state. I rub my hands over my bare arms and sprint toward the terminal. A tightly bundled-up man (or maybe it's a woman -- it's really hard to tell with all the layers) holds the door open, and I barrel through it.

The heat inside shocks my body. My legs are so cold they're stinging with the abrupt change in temperature and I glance down to make sure they're actually still attached to me because suddenly I can't feel them anymore. My cheeks burn and when I look around at the people waiting at the gate, I realize they're all staring at me.

"Boy, that's something you sure don't see every day." My dad stands behind me, staring happily out the window at the winter hell we've just escaped.

"Why do I get the feeling that sight is all too common here?" I mutter.

"We told you to dress warmly." Mom definitely sounds unsympathetic. "But you refused to listen, like usual."

I think back about six hours ago and remember laughing at my parents in their jeans, boots and jackets boarding a flight in sunny, 105-degree Arizona.

For some reason, I don't find it all that funny anymore.

"Come on, then, let's collect our luggage and find the driver," Dad says, a smile spreading across his face. "You're going to love the new house, Nat."

"I doubt it," I say.

My dad's definitely wrong about this, but if there's one thing he's got right, it's that our new place in Wisconsin is just that: a house and nothing more.

It will never be my home.

***

"So, what do you think?"

We've just finished walking through our new house in WhoKnowsWhere Suburban, Wisconsin. Truth is, the house itself isn't really all that bad. But, well, you can figure it out by now. It isn't in Arizona so I'm not happy.

Just a month ago, this life I'm starting today had been completely unimaginable to me. I never even thought about Wisconsin except when my dad watched his beloved Badgers play football on Saturdays.

And now, well, here I am.

It's all my dad's fault, but I can't even blame him much. When the head of the University of Wisconsin's history department called and offered him a job teaching at his alma mater, how could he say no?

Exactly. He couldn't.

Me, my mom and my dad, all ripped from our happy, sunny comfortable lives in the Phoenix suburbs in November, but somehow it feels like