As I set my easel against the wall, my heart somersaults when I feel a gentle tug on my hair. Long blonde locks litter the tower floor, spilling over the window sill. Nothing else to indicate a visitor though. No hooves galloping in the distance, nor any piercing, beastly roars echoing in the night. Only silence couples the crackles of the fire. Nevertheless, the pull was unmistakable.
There it is again. This time, my hair shimmies across the wooden window sill, inch by sneaky inch. I hold my breath.
Is tonight the night? Is this the moment?
I’m only in my nightgown. Is this how it happens, the end to an otherwise brief story? On to something more predictable, slow-paced, wrapped up in a neat bow? I suppose that’s what he’ll want with me. An unbearably loveless marriage, dog-eared by children, sprinkled with occasional public ceremony.
Unless… it’s her.
I told myself I wouldn’t get my hopes up. She’s fragmented now, in my memories, split into bite-size pieces; the curl of her lip, her profile in the sunlight, our tangled legs. Each moment she’s away is another moment that someone else might try to fill. There’s every reason for her to stay away, considering what happened last time. My legs tremble at the thought of looking out and seeing another face in place of hers. But I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking there’s any other possibility. I should just forget.
A fervent whisper calls from below, “It’s me!”
I’m at the window before I even realize I’ve left my spot.
Three-stories below, her face is like bronzed porcelain, radiant juxtaposed with the silver of her armor. She smiles up at me, holding her helmet in one arm and wrapping the end of my hair around the other. I’m dizzy with excitement, seeing this angel in the flesh. I tie my hair around the bedpost and pull.
My memories did not do nearly enough justice to her eyes, impossibly gold in the light of the fire. They eat me up in that delicious way. In a moment, she’s on my neck, my collarbone, my shoulder. Every hesitance I had before is swept away by her graceful fingers. She abandons her armor, and I do the same with my reservations. She touches me and I’m lost. I clutch at her short messy hair, and she recenters me. I’m devoured and made whole again in a thousand different ways all in a look, in a sway, in a dance. She is the ebb to my flow.
In one of those brief moments of lucidity, I confess, “I thought I’d seen you for the last time.”
“I did too.”
“How did you come back? Why?”
She smushes her mouth on mine. I’m consumed by her warmth, her passion. We cocoon ourselves in my hair as it tangles loops around us. All the miles that had laid between us culminate in her reckless grasp, her heaving breath, like she’d been drowning until now. What monsters has she been fighting? What demons have held her captive from me? What battles have pinned her to other corners? I can only imagine I sound as desperate for her as she does me.
“You shouldn’t be here,” I say in between her lips, astonishment pouring into my words.
“You don’t mean it.”
“Then don’t worry.”
As much as I want to be swallowed by her generous liberty, I’m obligated to worry. I am, after all, supposed to be a prisoner. Although the tower is quiet, there are still whispers in the wind. I may be alone, but I’m always being watched. It’s only been a year or so, and yet not a week goes by that a strange man doesn’t attempt to climb up here. They loiter on the ground until I answer their calls. If they do find themselves in my company, their hands make knots of my hair, rough and untamed. No matter how many times I lock the windows, or poured oil down the side of the wall, they keep coming.
She continues to smother me in love, but I’ve returned back to the damp, cloistered tower.
Reluctantly, I pull away and find her amber eyes amidst the backdrop of the pillows. Her heart-shaped face is so innocent but her eyes convey all the ways she wants to make a mess out of me. This is dangerous, I can’t lose myself in her again.
“Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
“Nothing and everything,” she shrugs, propping herself up on her arm, “I fought tooth and nail to be here with you. Don’t make me revisit those harsh places.”
I cradle her cheek in my hand, her dark skin starkly recognizable against mine. “I would’ve been out there with you if I could.”
“You would have hated it.”
She smirks and it nips at my heart. “Plenty out there on the road you wouldn’t want to see. Dangers everywhere. Seems like nowhere takes too kindly to strangers like me.”
“I did.” I plant a light kiss on her forehead.
“And what a risk that was.” We giggle for a while, further nestling ourselves into each other.
There’s a sudden rustle outside that sets me on edge. I shoot upright, tearing away from her arms.
“What is it, Rapunzel?” My name suddenly feels unnatural from her mouth.
“Nothing, it’s just…”
Her hands feel their way around my waist. I’m a sinking ship.
“What if he comes?”
She sighs, but I don’t know what to think of it. “He won’t.”
“But if he does?”
She pulls away and studies me, looking for another thread to pull to unravel me. But I stay firm in my gaze, and her hands retreat from under my bodice, though I wish they had lingered.
“Look, we have no way of knowing if or when some prince is going to find you. Why can’t we just enjoy this moment?”
“Don’t be naive, Morgan. You know as well as I do it won’t happen by pure happenstance. My parents aren’t going to wait much longer for me. Any day now they’ll send the prince to rescue me.”
“More like kidnap you.”
“Well you know how traditional they are.”
They said this was for my own good, that they were putting me in the hands of fate, yet that prince seems too familiar with me, too confident. In the few letters I’ve received, my parents deny orchestrating anything, but he comes by the most often, touches me the harshest, like he already owns me. I can’t help but feel like a sitting duck.
She absentmindedly coils her fingers around a piece of my hair that’s fallen across our laps, biting her lip–though I wish I were doing that. I follow her as she sits up on the edge of the bed, taking in the fire.
“We just can’t take any chances, my love.” I rest my head on her shoulder, savoring the ease with which my head fits. She wraps a hesitant arm loosely around me, like I might scurry away if she’s not gentle enough. I put more of my weight on her so she knows I’m not going anywhere. Even if he makes a thousand more attempts at me, I won’t leave her.
The night-shaded window is a void compared to the glow from the chamber. If it weren’t for those meddling stars, I could pretend there’s nothing but a black wall there, that this was the only place on earth. The bed feels punitive beneath us, like we are the largest things in this room, two dolls in a homemade dollhouse.
She speaks as if she’s humming something seductive, sacred, “Come with me.”
I raise a curious eye at her. “Morgan.”
“Come on, angel. They want a fairy-tale ending, we’ll give it to them. Who cares what the kingdom thinks? Let me take you back. Let me be your rescuer.”
I want to believe her. I want to be swaddled in the hope that we can one day drop the clandestinity. I want so badly for it to be true that a tear dives down my cheek. As if by wishing enough it would come true.
“That’s just not how the story is supposed to go,” I finally utter, tightness seeping into my voice. I can’t bring my eyes to hers. Part of me wishes none of this was real.
A hand guides my chin up, and Morgan locks eyes with me with such determination as to call God down from his throne.
“Fuck the story.” There’s fire in her voice, low and guttural. Her other hand holds mine in a tight grip, but it doesn’t hurt as much as it excites me. “Fuck the story. You know you don’t want that life, you don’t want him, you don’t want some guy who thinks you owe him something. Why would you do it just to please your parents? They’re the ones who locked you up here. They don’t care about your happiness. Why should you care about theirs?”
“Keep it down!” I hiss.
“No, I won’t.” At this point she’s up and pacing the floor, waving her hands frantically. “This has gone on long enough and I can’t sit here and watch you waste your life trying to please people who don’t give a damn about you.”
“It’s not like tha–”
“Then what is it?”
We consider each other for a long time. Try as I may, I can’t describe it any other way. Each turn of phrase comes back to the same conclusion, a river splitting and converging all the same. But I don’t want her to think I’m misguided or naive, but what else am I really? I’m playing into the wants of my mother and father, a queen and king who hope to keep in favor with their subjects. I’m a pawn for the prince to gain wealth and status, who will toss me aside when I’m no longer useful to him. And then what? I’ll force my own children to marry someone they don’t love? The cycle repeats until these beautiful, young moments, lively and real, fade into the depths of obscurity, squashed by denial and buried under years of apathy. They’re lost to the ether of history, digested into bastards of what they once were by on-lookers wishing to tell a cleaner story.
Morgan pulls her suit of armor back on, methodically checking each piece as if to give me more time to notice. She toys with the face guard of her helmet, pursing her lips in its reflection. She must know that I’m watching her, because she refuses to look my way until she’s at the window.
“What’ll it be, princess?”
Once upon a time there was a goddess who was too happy for her own good. So the god of the underworld dragged her down with him and taught her what happiness was supposed to be.
Once upon a time there was a maiden who was held captive by a beast, and she fell in love with him so that he wouldn’t eat her.
Once upon a time there was a girl who was hidden away from the world for a thousand years, and when she asked her parents why, they just laughed and laughed. “As if you don’t know,” they said.
“Well, what do you say?”
A breeze flutters through the window and sends a chill down my spine. It revitalizes new cells in my body. There’s something so beautiful about change; maybe it’s the way the grass feels on my toes, or the vibrant expansiveness in my stomach of being under a full sheet of stars. Maybe it’s something more than that.
Once upon a time there was a woman who left everything behind to chase after the life she wanted, and no one was there to tell her she was doing it wrong. This was the same woman who loved until she burst and made love until the dawn called their names. The same woman who painted roses on her skin and twisted lilacs in her hair to remind herself where she came from. The same woman that used to be just like all those other girls and wished so badly she could pluck them out of their stories and write them into new ones, better ones, happier ones. This was the same woman who realized there was something more for her out there if she just kept running, even if she didn’t know what towards.
Nola Prevost is a poet, writer, and editor from Bangor, ME, and the author of All The Girls In The Woods, pending publication. She has a B.A. in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Maine, and has been published in The Open Field literary magazine, and later became its editor. She received the Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King Memorial Scholarship for outstanding creative writing, and is a member of the english honors societies Sigma Tau Delta and Phi Beta Kappa. When she’s not writing, Prevost enjoys exploring the woods of Maine and posting feminist nonsense on social media at 2am. You can find her on LinkedIn and browse more work on her online portfolio.