There wasn't always a wall separating us from the neighbors. We hadn't needed one, the simple wooden fence that had been there before was enough. I was always a very quiet little girl, who spent all her time reading books. What need had I to go snooping near Hucklebee's garden? Mama's garden was nice enough, she has always planted vegetables since before I can remember.
Even if I had been curious as a child, and I know I was at least a little because all children are, Mama wouldn't have let me stray very far. Besides going to school, I rarely left the safety of home. I think Mama was frightened to let anything happen to me, which at the time I thought was silly. I longed to go outside and see the world I read about in my books. Being so sheltered would get me in trouble later on, as it turned out.
I found plenty to explore inside the house though, like our dusty attic. Mama had boxes upon boxes of things up there. Most of them belonged to my father I think. I asked Mama once why they were up there, and she scolded me for being in the attic. I suppose she doesn't like thinking about him, I still don't understand why.
I thought those boxes were interesting, and I thought up all sorts of stories about who my father could have been. Perhaps he had been a king in a great palace, who died defending his French or perhaps Eurasian kingdom in some sort of beautifully dramatic way. I never found much to support that idea, until one day I happened upon the crown jewel, the most beautiful necklace I'd ever seen. A necklace fit for a queen, or perhaps even a princess!
I stole the necklace, claiming it as my own hardly five seconds after I laid eyes on it, and hid it away in my room. Mama told me never to take things out of the attic, but this one thing was proof of my heritage. I was a princess! Every morning while I got ready for school I would pull the necklace out of its hiding place and put it on, just for a moment. I looked different every time, not only was the necklace fit for a princess but it was magical too! It made my eyes change colors, or sometimes I would have great visions of the future.
Life as a princess was very different, it was also very lonely. I didn't have many friends since I couldn't go out. I just occupied myself by reading more and more. Soon a time came when I had read every book in the house. Without more books, I began wanting to act upon the knowledge I had gathered from them. As a princess, I needed my hero to rescue me from this peasant life and take me away to my palace. I began venturing outside more, much to my Mama's dismay. She did her best to keep me in the garden, and so that's where I did most of my day-dreaming.
I can hardly even remember what processed me to go looking over the fence one summer's day, but I did. I was out in the garden watering vegetables for Mama while she cooked dinner, and I glanced over there. I was absolutely shocked to see a handsome boy sitting on the other side of the fence. I didn't remember seeing him before, usually Hucklebee was there all by herself clipping her flowers. I never said anything to her even when I saw her because she frightened me a little. Mama told me she'd been in the Navy once. She didn't look very tough, but I'd read enough books to know that looks could be deceiving. Still, even though I was afraid when she waved to me I waved back, because princesses are polite like that.
But that day there was a boy, who was sitting on a bench near the fence reading a book. I walked over to him, pretending to be watering the peppers. I glanced up at him and smiled sheepishly, feeling a little shy, "Hello," I said to him. He looked up sharply, and his eyes nearly took my breath away, but I couldn't quite explain why.
"Hello," he replied, smiling back.
"Do you live here?" I asked him.
He glanced back at his house, "Oh, yes. I live here. I haven't been home much lately, I'm only home for the summer. Going to college and all."
I recognized the text in his hand with just a glance, "Do you enjoy Shakespeare?" I asked, genuinely curious.
The boy chuckled, "A bit, why? Do you?"
I smiled, "Yes! Shakespeare is wonderful! Othello is one of my favorites! Romeo and Juliet too!" I told him.
"You're an interesting girl. What's your name?"
"Princess Luisa, and you?"
"Matt. You're a princess?"
I shrugged, "Well, perhaps I am. My father was a king, you see. So I must be a princess. I'm waiting for someone to save me and take me to my palace, but wonderful things like that don't happen very often around here."
Matt seemed very curious and interested in what I was saying, which was a strange thing. Not even Mama was very interested in what I had to say most of the time. She said it was a bunch of nonsense.
"Wonderful things do happen!" he insisted, "Just today I was sitting here reading all alone, when suddenly I looked up…." he trailed away and stared at me. My heart fluttered wildly in my chest like a caged bird trying to break free and suddenly I felt afraid.
"I have to go," I told him abruptly, turning to go inside.
He stood up and leaned over the fence, reaching out and catching my arm, "Why?"
Yes, why? I looked at his hand on my arm, it wasn't burning or anything. It felt, nice. "Well, uh, you're talking to me and, I don't know you. Mama said not to talk to strangers."
"Does that really matter?" he asked.
"Well, no, not to me. But I heard it isn't polite. As a princess I'm supposed to be polite."
Matt dropped his hand and my arm felt cold without his warmth despite the fact it was August and quite warm outside. "Well, since you like to make believe things, why don't we make believe we know each other?"
"All right, that sounds fair." I sat down on the bench in my garden, and he pulled the bench on his side closer so it might be as though we were sitting right beside each other.
He showed me the book he'd been reading. How long we were out there, we'll never know, but it ended when his mother called him from the house and told him to come outside. It was only then that we realized that the sun was setting and the sky was growing dark. We both stood up, and he looked rather sad to go as he picked a nearby flower and handed it to me.
"If you'd excuse me, princess. I hope to see you again sometime." With that, he was gone. Not long after he'd left, my Mama called me inside. As I entered the kitchen, she gave me a funny look. I sat down at the table.
"Oh Mama, did you just see that young man I was talking to?"
She didn't seem very happy as she placed my supper in front of me, "Yes dear, I saw him."
"Mama, he was such a gentleman! I can't wait to see him again!" I told her. She sat down across the table from me, and looked rather cross.
"Luisa, I don't want you seeing that boy! He and his mother are villains, no good will come of it!" she told me. I was shocked, because Mama didn't usually say mean things about people. She'd certainly never said anything mean about Hucklebee. Then again, she'd never really said anything about Hucklebee.
I picked at my dinner glumly after that, but my mind was racing and before I'd finished my meal I'd already decided I would see that boy again. So I did, every evening I would go out, telling my Mama I was watering the garden. He was always there at the fence waiting for me. We'd fallen in love at first sight, just like in the books! We were certain our mothers didn't know, until he went away to college at the end of the summer.
Winter passed, and then spring, and summer too. I did my chores, and my schoolwork, and dreamed about Matt, my soon to be hero I could feel it. I had visions when I put on my necklace, of him saving me from terrible scoundrels. Since I spent so much time in the garden, I grew my own patch of flowers while I waited. Mama seemed to have mixed feelings, she was happy I was taking interest in gardening, yet she wanted me to grow vegetables, not flowers. Flowers were what the enemy gardened, and flowers were useless too.
A month before Matt was due to come home Mama and Hucklebee built a wall between our houses. I sat on the back steps of our house and watched them work on it. They didn't seem to talk to each other, and the wall was built pretty quickly. When it was finished Mama placed the bench next to it but told me to stay away. That didn't make much sense to me, why place the bench there if she wanted me to stay away from the wall? Well, it was pointless to stand there until Matt returned anyway, so I stayed mostly on the back steps of the house and in the garden away from the wall.
I waited and waited in the garden what seemed liked forever for Matt to come home. But one day, when I'd been wistfully singing about all the things I wanted to do, I heard him calling for me. Calling me Juliet, Helena, all the names of the heroines in all our favorite stories. I rushed to the wall, standing up on the bench and trying to see him over it. He was there! And he said such lovely things I couldn't help but swoon and collapse on the bench as he spoke of me. I was love itself! He told me so!
Then I told Matt of the visions I'd had, in hopes of perhaps getting them to happen sooner. He listened intently, as he always did, but didn't seem to have much to say about it. In fact, he seemed strangely confused, yet just as excited as I was about it. I would have told him more about the happily ever after I'd envisioned for us, but his mother came out of nowhere right then and we had to part. I sat right next to the wall and listened to their conversations.
I was shocked and horrified to hear that she was trying to marry off my Matt to someone else. I almost gave myself away I was so shocked! Yet he stood his ground, my dashing hero, and told her that he wouldn't marry just anyone. He didn't say outright that he'd marry me of course, but I knew that's what he meant. I was a diamond!
Our mothers would not stop us, even with their wall! We met in the glen one September night in secret. Perhaps we could have picked a better night to meet, a storm was on the horizon that particular evening. But just as our mother's couldn't stop us, a little bit of rain wouldn't either. We vowed to meet no matter what happened, and when I came into the glen he was there just as he'd promised he would be.
"Hello," he said, smiling sweetly at me.
I felt very bashful for some reason, and couldn't meet his gaze at first, "Hello," I replied. Finally I managed to look up at him, the moonlight shining down on Matt made him truly look like one of the dashing young heroes in my books. I swallowed, a little anxious, as though I was going to mess something up in our perfect storybook scene. "My mother's going to be very angry," I told him.
He nodded, "I know, so is mine!"
"We've never been here, at night," I said, trying to gather up my courage. I had nothing to be afraid of, it was Matt! Why did I feel so afraid?
"Nope," he replied to my statement, glancing around. He was so brave! Not to be even a little frightened.
I looked around too, there were a lot of shadows, and not much was visible. What if, just like my vision, there really were bandits hiding, waiting to carry me off! I wrapped my arms around myself as a gust of wind blew, "It's different from the day," I told him.
"Are you frightened?"
"Yes….," I took a step away from him and shook my head, of course I wasn't frightened! "No….," he could probably tell I was lying and princesses aren't supposed to lie. But what was I supposed to say? I decided to change the subject, "It's cold, there's going to be a storm!"
"Would you like my jacket?" he asked, already moving to take off his sweater as he asked.
I shook my head, "No, thank you." We stood in silence for a brief moment before I gave in to my feelings, I was afraid. "Matt, my hand is trembling."
He immediately took my hand, his hands were so warm it made me almost forget about the chilly wind that was blowing. "Don't be afraid, please."
"Alright, I promise."
A sudden rumble of thunder caused me to jump, and Matt squeezed my hand in reassurance, "It's going to be all right, I promise."
"Matt," I started, stepping into his warmth. He wrapped his arms around me and held me, and though I couldn't see his face I knew he was listening to me with great interest, just like he always did. "Take care of me, teach me! I don't want to be akward or afraid, I love you Matt! I want there to be a happy ending."
He smiled, at least I'm pretty sure he did. "I promise, that there will be. Look," he said, holding out his hand.
"My hand's trembling too," he told me gently. I took his hand and held it, feeling safe and secure in his arms. What was there to be afraid of when my dashing her was with me?
It began to rain while we were there. But even then I wasn't afraid, not with Matt's strong arms around me, protecting me. I hardly felt the rain, I was lost in his starry eyes. Together we dreamed of our beautiful palace, and danced in the grandest ballroom I'd ever imagined. All the while my heart thundered in my chest, louder than the thunder of the incoming storm. The moment was simply perfect, until a very strange thing happened.
Indians came, leaping out of the bushes and shouting at each other as they began taking me away. One swooped in and picked me up, slinging me right over his shoulder and running. It was strangely like my vision, down to nearly every detail. A bandit too, old like the one I'd imagined, came dashing out of the bushes and began fighting with Matt. Battling gallantly, Matt defeated all the villains and rescued me, and everything the necklace had shown me came to light. It was the moment I had been waiting my whole life for! Now we would live happily ever after, and as our mother's joined together as friends in our moment of triumph, I was elated.
Mama took me home after that, I confess I was exhausted after my ordeal and freezing from the rain. Hucklebee escorted Matt back to their home, promising that I would surely see him again tomorrow, and the day after, and every day for the rest of my life. I was beyond delighted and could hardly sleep that night, I was simply too excited. The next morning Mama and Hucklebee tore down the wall, and I was overjoyed to see them gardening together, at first.
Matt and I were happy, at least, as happy as we could be. In the days that followed, I found myself growing annoyed by small things. Things that they don't actually tell you about in the books, like what actually happens after your hero saves you. They don't tell you about how to react when he gets annoyed at you for informing him your plum is too ripe, or when he yells at you for watching him eat. They don't tell you that he might actually appear shorter during the day either. We were still happy though, yes, we were. We had to have been, I insisted.
Our mothers got angry listening to us talk about that night in the glen. Matt in particular enjoyed boasting about all the bandits he'd slayed, and I loved remember how heroic he'd been. One day in particular though his mother got fed up and began scolding us. I called her a pantaloon, because she was honestly acting like one. She began saying some strange things after that, and just as I began to actual sorta listen to her my Mama handed Hucklebee a piece of paper that would change everything.
It was a bill, a bill for the abduction they'd set up. Mama had paid someone to kidnap me and fight Matt. They'd even paid for moonlight, how could it be? Matt and I were horrified, for we realized that we'd been tricked. It was an arranged marriage! Our mothers stormed off when the lead bandit arrived, and Matt tried to fight him again. The older man defeated my once shining hero easily, and injured my arm when I tried to tell him off for it.
In the heat of the moment, Matt became infuriated with me. I didn't understand why, but I told him to grow up. How dare he shout at me! He said a bunch of nonsense, like saying I had freckles. Of course I don't have freckles! The fact he would even say that made me inexplicably hate him. I slapped him in the face after he called me adolescent, and storming off I told him I didn't care if he left. When he did leave to see the world though, I found myself upset anyway. I felt at a loss somehow. The anger I'd previous felt didn't last, and that night I cried alone in my room. I missed Matt, and it hadn't even been a day.
I waited in the garden for him to come back every day. I thought surely after a day or so he'd come back and apologize to me for being foolish. But he never did, so instead I found myself just standing in the garden out of habit, waiting for no reason. I dreamed of Matt returning, oblivious to the world around me. I didn't realize it had gotten cold out until Mama placed her hand on my back one day after checking the wall and begged me to go inside. I didn't answer her, I found it hard to speak, as though I'd forgotten how. She placed a shawl around my shoulders and left me alone, and I felt a little guilty for not answering her.
A month went by, Matt still never came back. I still didn't give up on waiting. When I got tired of standing, I sat on the back steps of the house or on the bench near the wall that was ever so slowly being reconstructed. Sometimes I would peek over it to see if maybe Matt was sitting on the bench on his side, he never was. I wrapped a ribbon around my wrist at some point, to cover up the bruise the bandit had given me when I stood up to him. It began to get colder and colder, October ended, then November began to draw to a close. As I stood in the garden, I began looking at my little flower patch. All the flowers had died by then, it was simply too cold for them to survive.
Trying to occupy my mind, I began singing the same song I'd sung all those months ago, when Matt finally came home from college and called to me over the wall. I had almost hoped reminding myself of the dreams I'd had would comfort me, but it didn't, it made me feel worse. Suddenly my song was interrupted by the bandit, the very one that had fought Matt and tried to take me months ago.
For some reason, I felt similar then to the way I'd felt when I first saw Matt. It wasn't quite the same, but I found myself drawn to him anyhow. Perhaps it was out of longing for someone, anyone to talk to. Thankfully my ability to speak quickly returned to me. I asked him lots of questions, every single one that popped into my head as a matter of fact. He was sitting in the tree that was near the wall, and I climbed up beside him. I showed him the ribbon around my wrist with pride, telling him how he'd given me a bruise there. He apologized and kissed it, nearly taking my breath away. I told him not to be silly, since it had become my almost favorite thing! He too, like Matt had been, seemed interested in what I said, and complimented me. He had seen the world, the very world that I'd never seen before but only read about. Suddenly the allure that Matt had felt before leaving, hit me too.
The bandit then did something I still can't quite explain. He must have hypnotized me or some such thing, for I had vivid visions of all the places he promised to take me. Venice, Athens, Indja, it was as though we were really there while still sitting in the tree. There were lights, and colors, and people spinning all around wearing masks. I had a mask too, and despite how tired I felt I danced on and on and on as though I couldn't stop. The floor was unsteady under my feet and I felt horribly dizzy. Each place he showed me there were strange things happening too. A man was on fire, a man was dress up and beaten, a man was put on a bed of nails. It was the most terrifying yet mesmerizingly beautiful vision I'd ever had.
When reality came back into view, the bandit kissed me upon the eyes, the thing I'd dreamed of for so long, and told me to pack so we could leave. I went to run back, but he stopped me before I entered the house, telling me to leave my necklace with him. I'd almost forgotten I was wearing it, the necklace that I'd once kept hidden from sight. I'd been wearing it every day that fall, and especially as I waited for Matt to come home, as though its magical powers would bring him home sooner. No wonder my Mama had seemed even sadder lately.
I left it with him, because he gave me his word he would be there when I returned. He promised! I was only gone a few minutes, hardly 5, but when I returned he was gone. My necklace, the proof that I was a princess, the magical object that made me special, different than anyone else, was gone with him. My precious crown jewel, never to be seen again. Brokenheartedly I took the ribbon off my wrist and let it fall to the ground. It meant nothing to me now, just like his word it meant nothing.
I sat down, at a total loss and for the first time completely unsure as to what to do or how to react. I felt ashamed, upset, and embarrassed. I'd been so foolish, so naïve, it was a wonder that bandit didn't do something worse than steal that necklace. To think I might have left the safety of my garden and my home to run off with him! A total stranger! A soft voice suddenly drew my attention, and I turned to see Matt, sitting in his garden leaning against the tree. He'd finally come back, but how terrible he looked.
His eye was swollen, and he was covered in scratches and blood with his shirt torn to ribbons. I asked him in dismay if he'd done all the things he'd said he was going to, but he told me instead of the horrors he'd endured. Of the torture and abuse, how he'd lost everything he'd left with. My poor lost hero, who was a hero no longer, who was just Matt now, had returned to me.
I apologized to him, which was the least I could do. For I'd played a part in what had happened to him, perhaps the biggest one. When he took my hands in his, I felt that familiar flutter in my chest. Yet it was different this time, more subdued and gentle. It was not an excited, frantic feeling, it was gentle and warm, and it was comforting. At that moment, I realized what love truly felt like, and realized even more how selfish and stupid I had been.
I also realized at that particular moment just how hurt Matt had been, and I insisted he sit down. I had no idea what I was doing, how to bind his wounds or anything, but it wouldn't stop me from trying. He gently took my hand, stating that I had been hurt too. How like him, always talking about me instead of himself. How could I repay him? Suddenly our attention was drawn away by a few flakes of snow beginning to fall.
"Look, it's beginning to snow!"
"I know," was all I could think to reply. He pulled off his familiar black sweater and began to offer it to me, much like he had back in the glen what seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Do you want my jacket?" he asked, smiling gently at me.
I didn't hesitate to smile back at him, "No," I told him, more sure of myself than I'd ever been, "Both. There's room enough for both."
Together, we sat and quietly confessed our love for one another. It was so intimate, I hardly noticed the snow even as it began to fall heavier, nor did I notice our mothers emerge from the house. As long as Matt was with me, I couldn't feel the cold. As long as he spoke to me, I couldn't hear anything except his voice. As long as his hand was in mine, I knew everything would be all right.
Our mothers never took down the wall, but they don't fight anymore. They play cards and talk about gardening, and though they disagree on that sometimes they're usually smiling and laughing together by the next morning. They trade seeds a lot, my Mama has a little patch of daisies she absolutely adores and Hucklebee was incredibly proud of the cumquats she grew last summer.
Matt and I, well, we got married in the very particular way he'd envisioned for us all those summers ago. In a field, while kneeling, being joined by the joy of life, I became Luisa Hucklebee. We, perhaps rather foolishly, built a house near our mothers. They come pester us often, but we don't usually mind.
We decided not to garden anything just to spite them, but we do have a rather lovely array of animals that we keep in a small barn Matt built with his own two hands. We have a cow and a goat, whom we named Henrietta and Mortimer respectively after a certain pair of bandits, as well as a lovely flock of ducks and chickens. We have a rooster too, El Gallo, just so we don't forget that one particular summer. I'd say the rooster is rather handsomer than the bandit. I confess I sometimes wonder whatever became of him after he stole my necklace.
I've grown up now, finished my schooling, and become a housewife. Matt works in a lab, studying and dissecting various plants in an attempt to find cures for all kinds of diseases. It sounds complicated to me, but what would I know of such things? I never even went to college! I still enjoy my books, I've even written a few of my own. However, I've decided being a princess is overrated. I tried swimming in an icy cold steam, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone it was just horrible. Going to town in a golden gown with my hair unfastened is just impractical, and I've learned not to trust gypsies and bandits so I'm not going to ever have my fortune told, or go dancing at all hours of the night. Yes, I've learned my lessons, and decided I much prefer the simpler things in life.
I enjoy going for long walks with Matt, seeing my animals every morning, sipping tea in lazy afternoons, and in bursts of childish immaturity, I love to jump in rain puddles. Matt hates it when I get mud on his sweater doing that, but I always wash it for him afterwards to make up for it. I'll admit I still make bad decisions sometimes, I tried riding Henrietta like a horse once, and it didn't end well. Matt stayed with me in the hospital while my leg healed though, which was nice. Overall, I'd say that I wouldn't change anything that's happened to me. Everything happened for a reason, and made me the person I am today.
There's no such thing as a perfect life, but I'm certain this is as close as anyone can get. Now all that's left to do is figure out how to tell Matt that I'm pregnant. I suppose that'll be another story for another day.