For my beautiful bestie Sarah on what I hope will be one of her best, happiest birthdays. May you have a long, wonderful life with all the best the world can offer you.
I am nothing without your guidance.
I love you.
Once upon a time, there was a woman.
A beautiful woman, who was sought after by princes and noblemen – and ordinary peasants; who was the life of every party, standing there in the gown that every woman stared at with envy, swan-like, pale and beautiful, smiling secretly to herself as ruby-red drops of wine dripped down her lips.
She was perfect.
And he loved her.
He was nothing to look at, at least as a fifteen-year-old boy with scuffed up knees and odd hair that looked like the rust coating the underside of an old truck. He spoke too fast and walked too slow, a veritable trainwreck with decrepit social skills and no friends.
She didn’t seem to notice it, the way he stared at the wake of her shadow, how he shivered under the thick sheets, forgetting to pretend to be asleep when those rosebud lips grazed his at night.
Sleep, my Green Eyes. It’s too late for young princes to be awake.
And he would sleep, twisting and turning as her wraithlike face burned behind his eyelids.
She never knew.
But I did.
Because I was that boy.
The page glistened, embossed gold and silver and embellished with forgotten secrets, a thousand broken hearts and longing sighs and not-quite-but-forced-to-be happily ever afters captured in it.
If my father had caught me looking at the book of fairy tales, I doubted that the night would end without a midnight trip to the shed; my pants melting down to my ankles in the humiliation of the moment as the firm smack of the paddle hit my backside.
Edward Masen Sr. was not a man who tolerated frippery.
It wasn’t frippery to me. It was bound magic, salve for a heart almost shattered, hope that maybe – just maybe – the prince could win the heart of the beautiful Ice Queen.
I let my finger rub against the beautiful etched face; a longing woman, leaning against the rocks, her fish tail barely visible as she stared out towards a receding ship, her hair billowing around her face – reddish-brown, odd-tinted, a publisher’s error of discoloration that to me seemed like an omen.
I was no mermaid.
I did not pine for a prince.
But, she was my everything, and I would give up my voice, my heart, my life, just to see her smile at me.
A warm hand caressed my hair.
“What are you doing here alone, Green Eyes?”
Her touch, even playful – never condescending, but overly kind, the touch of an adult to a naïve child – still sent shivers gliding up and down my spine.
“Look,” I said, ignoring her question, not looking at her eyes – the enchantment always hits harder that way.
It was a pity that I wanted to fall harder, wanted her to sink her claws into my helpless heart and shred it the way she did all her other unfortunate suitors, disposed of, forgotten; another notch in her literal bedpost.
She bent her head against mine, delicate, a swan taking her gosling under her wing, and when she saw the picture, she giggled, a silver sound that slid down into my pants.
I wasn’t a child, whether or not she and my parents realized that fact. The evidence formed a hard lump in my trousers, and I shifted uncomfortably as her hand rested on my shoulder.
“The Little Mermaid,” she murmured. “I used to read this story to you all the time when you were little – remember? You were so happy that you weren’t the one person in the world with carrot hair.”
I don’t like the fact that she is reminding me of how much older she is than me. She used to coddle me, change my sheets when I had accidents I shuddered to remember, patted my face when I was sick, carried me and cooed over me like I was her own.
And she still did.
Which was some comfort.
She thought of me as belonging to her.
Her Green Eyes.
“You didn’t tell me why you’re here by yourself,” she whispers. “This is your birthday party, Edward. You should be socializing, mixing with people your age. Aren’t there any pretty girls whose hearts you would like to break?”
Yes, girls my age, with their caked, frosted faces and mascara-lined hearts constantly beating the same refrain.
More than a few of them have looked my way, swayed their hips, splayed over me in their attempts to be seductive.
I don’t care for anything of them.
My beautiful swan, my angel, outshone them all, pure and fresh and unpretentious.
I would never be able to settle for second-best.
“I don’t want to spend time with them,” I responded honestly, and I finally managed to look up into her shimmering brown eyes, liquid chocolate. She smiled, that warm, sweet smile she always saved just for me, and that gave me the courage to whisper.
“I want to be with you.”
She misinterpreted it, like she always did. Her arm pulled me into her side, huddled up against her breasts. I closed my eyes and tried to think of the girls that I hated, my father’s harsh, disapproving eyes, the princess in the fairy tale who cut off the prince’s other suitor’s head and impaled them on sticks, Vlad Drakul style.
“You’re my Green Eyes,” she said, simply, but I knew that the word held a thousand pages of meanings.
And I smiled against her soft skin, because I still had hope.
“And you are my Swan.”
The page turns.
Another fairy tale unravels.