Her mes McCaffrey is sick and tired of sharing his life with his father’s political career and his overbearing older brothers. So during his family’s vacation in New England, when he meets Raphaela, a lovely and b r i l l i a n t g i r l d r e a m i n g i n a h i d d e n t o w e r, i s i t surprising that he wants her all to himself? But visiting Raphaela is dangerous, and not just because of her mother’s paranoia about strangers or h e r e s t a t e ’ s s i n i s t e r c a r e t a k e r. W h e n H e r m e s d e c i d e s t o g o t o o f a r, t h e r e s u l t s a r e d e v a s t a t i n g f o r Raphaela ... and for Hermes as well. What happens when falling in love means falling into deep sin? Can sex destroy love? And when you do fall from grace, is there any way back?
Advance Praise for Rapunzel Let Down:
“A modern-day girl shut in a tower? Absolutely! Gripping and full of edgy, contemporary issues. Regina Doman's best book so far.” Michelle Buckman, author of My Beautiful Disaster and Rachel’s Contrition
“Honest, intense, fast-paced, and true to the original, rather than Disneyfied, fairy tale.”
Jamie Wilson, senior editor, Liberty Island Media “This retelling of an old, familiar story is fresh and refreshing. For anyone looking for a provocative and thoughtful story to share with a young adult audience, Rapunzel Let Down is a winner.” Jayd Henricks, Director of Government Relations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
“A needed book for teens.”
Justin Fatica, Hard as Nails Ministries “One of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. Fairy tales are cautionary tales, lessons to be learned of good and evil, love and life, and this modern day fairy tale does not fall short of the mark of its classical ancestors.” Terry Lynn Arnold, Co-Host, Homeschool Lifeline Radio Show “Regina Doman lets the monsters out of the closet in this latest volume of her popular series; unfortunately, these monsters are all too real for many teens and young adults. You will be engaged until the very last page.” Ken Huck, Meet the Author, Radio Maria
“An amazing read. Once you pick it up you will not want to put it down.”
Steve McEvoy, www.Book Reviews and More.ca
a fairy tale retold by Regina Doman
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Other Books by Regina Doman The Fairy Tale Novels The Shadow of the Bear: A Fairy Tale Retold Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold Waking Rose: A Fairy Tale Retold The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold Alex O’Donnell and the 40 CyberThieves Rapunzel Let Down: a Fairy Tale Retold Habemus Papam! Pope Benedict XVI (with Sean Lam for MangaHero) For children: Angel in the Waters (with Ben Hatke) For adults: Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes her Debut (with Rebecca Bratten Weiss) Edited by Regina Doman: For teens: Catholic, Reluctantly: John Paul 2 High Book One Trespasses Against Us: John Paul 2 High Book Two Summer of My Dissent: John Paul 2 High Book Three Undercover Papist: John Paul 2 High Book Four all by Christian M. Frank For a complete set of titles, see www.chestertonpress.com
C HESTERTON P RESS F RONT R OYAL , V IRGINIA
Text copyright © 2013 by Regina Doman. “Little Word, Little White Bird” from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Revised and Expanded Edition. Copyright © 1969, 1970 by Lillian Stiechen Sandburg, Trustee. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. 2013 cover design and interior by Regina Doman Chapter illustrations by Joan Coppa Drennen Front cover photograph by Laura Dominick All rights reserved. Chesterton Press P.O. Box 949 Front Royal, Virginia 22630 www.fairytalenovels.com www.chestertonpress.com Summary: A teen summer romance in New England has disastrous consequences when the daring son of a conservative senator forms a secret relationship with the isolated daughter of a reclusive scientist. A modern retelling of the classic tale “Rapunzel.” ISBN: 978-0-9827677-7-1 Printed in the United States of America
To my very own little white bird.
And when the girl had come of age, her foster mother placed her in a high tower deep within a great wood, to shield her from the world of men. … and then it happened that a prince came into the forest where the tower was… —Grimm
He would have reached the top if he hadn’t seen the girl. The towering New England pine, one of several around their vacation home, was nearly a hundred feet high and with no branches for twenty feet from the ground. Even so, Hermes had climbed up into its thick green needles before anyone realized he was gone. He knew he was supposed to be helping his two older brothers unload the car, but he felt the intense need to escape his family again. Heights tended to give him perspective, or at least made him feel like he had an edge. He was an expert at climbing trees, and at climbing things in general. The challenge was that this tree was swaying in a strong wind, branches sweeping back and forth with a chilling sigh that only made it more exhilarating. The girl was walking down the gravel path towards the row of mailboxes at the end of their driveway, her short blond hair flipping back in the wind. Glancing down, Hermes saw that his brothers, still grumbling, were following his mom into the house, laden with suitcases and bags. The doors of the Ford Explorer were all closed now. His dad was standing in the driveway, texting someone. So the coast was mostly clear. Hermes scrutinized the approaching girl, and was encouraged. She hadn’t seen him, of course—most people never think to look up—but she was cute, and she looked about his age—eighteen. Maybe this was the ideal opportunity to make a first impression. He decided to seize the moment. Hermes quickly backtracked, winding his way down the trunk, and landing on his feet with a practiced thump. Brushing off needles and twigs from his shirt and hair, he was glad the tree hadn’t been too sappy: but then again, it was the beginning of July. He 1
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hoped his hair wasn’t funny as he took off for the mailbox in a modified jog, trying to not look too eager. Of course, they wouldn’t have gotten any mail yet. Their vacation had barely begun, and the post office seldom started forwarding mail so quickly. His father got important papers from Washington delivered by personal messenger—but the girl didn’t know any of that, he told himself. Hermes checked her out as he got closer. She was an inch or two shorter than he was, with an athletic figure, wearing a white tee and denim cut-offs that were short enough to show her tanned legs. She had an easy spring in her step, and he wondered if she was a runner? A swimmer? Either way, she looked great. She looked up as he approached, and he noticed her blue eyes and the scattering of freckles on her nose. Hermes did his best to appear casual, running a hand over his brown hair and walking straight for the bank of mailboxes. He picked out his family’s box easily, thanks to years of practice; as the youngest brother, it was usually his job to get the mail and paper. “Hi,” he said, glancing at her and opening the McCaffrey mailbox. Fortunately, there was something in it—a real estate flyer, so he could make a show of taking it out and opening it. “Hi.” Quick, pretty smile—one that considerably enhanced her already wholesome appearance. Hermes smiled back; she blushed, but didn’t look offended. Pushing back her hair, she opened her mailbox. There were a few things in it—the same real estate flyer, a piece of junk mail, a personal letter— from a boyfriend? Hopefully not . . . He noted all this from the corner of his eye as he perused the real estate flyer, trying to look as though he were genuinely intrigued by the offerings. “You on vacation here?” he asked, glancing at her again. “Yes, we just got here,” she said. She was actually looking at him, not at the mail any more. “My family’s staying here for the summer.” “So are we,” he said, injecting a note of surprise into his voice. “Have you—been up here before?” “No, we usually go to Maine.” “Maine’s beautiful,” he said, with genuine feeling, and added, “But we come here just about every year now.” In between summer sessions of Congress, he thought, but didn’t say. “How do you like it?” she queried, pushing back her hair again. Was she nervous? He sucked in his breath and chose his words carefully, trying to gauge her response. Is she already bored with being here? Is she excited and looking for more things to do?
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“It’s fun,” he said, and added, “if you like fishing, boating, and forests.” “I love them,” she said with another smile. He really liked her smile. “Do you?” “Yeah,” he said, relieved. “Yeah, yeah—I do.” Time for an introduction. “I’m Hermes McCaffrey,” he said, extending his hand. “I’m Melissa Butler,” she said, shaking it. A firm handshake. He felt himself getting warm. “That’s an unusual name—Hermes?” “It’s my nickname,” he said. “I prefer it to Herman. Wouldn’t you?” “Yes, I can see that,” she laughed. She wasn’t nervous any more. Good! “So which house are you in?” he queried, crushing the junk mail and thrusting it into his pocket. Not needed now. “Uh—” The girl checked the side of her mailbox, “253.” “Oh yeah, I know that house,” he said. “With the green roof and the red shutters, right?” “That’s right,” she said with a touch of surprise. “I—sort of know all the houses around here,” he said. “You know, I’ve gotten around. Exploring.” “Really?” she said. Footsteps were fast approaching behind him, and the scuffling on the gravel told him to look around. His big brother Christopher came up next to him. “Hey! Where were you? Mom’s been looking everywhere for you,” he said to Hermes in his usual curt tones, and looked at Melissa. “Hi there,” he said with warmth. Hermes had to be polite. “This is my brother, Christopher,” he forced himself to say. “This is Melissa.” “Hey, nice to meet you,” Christopher said, grasping Melissa’s hand with a flash of his smile. “You new here?” Even though Christopher was only three years older and had the same brown hair, he was a head and shoulders taller than his youngest brother. It was the same conversation Hermes had started, but now he was an observer instead of a participant. He could tell that Melissa was still trying to include him, but Hermes knew from experience that few girls could resist his oldest brother’s charisma, particularly when Christopher was turning on the charm. Hermes felt himself shrinking in importance. “Do you have a boat at your house?” he asked, interrupting Christopher’s description of their beach. “Uh, no, we don’t,” Melissa said, and she looked quickly at Hermes as though she hadn’t realized he was still there.
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He had intended to tell her about their speedboat, offer to give her a ride sometime, but Christopher cut him off. “Hey, Hermes, forgot to tell you,” Christopher gave his younger brother a swift meaningful glance. “Mom wants to talk to you.” And without missing a beat, he said, “We’ve got to show you our speedboat. Do you know how to drive one?” Falling back, Hermes said, “Nice meeting you, Melissa,” but she didn’t seem to hear. He could tell she was bemused that this tall, muscular clean-cut guy was taking such an interest in her. She didn’t seem like the sort of girl who normally had guys throwing themselves at her, so Hermes couldn’t blame her much. But his disappointment was acute. Sometimes it didn’t matter how fast you were—the competition favored the endurance runners, at least when it came to girls; a guy who could come on strong and hold his stride until the sprinters fell away. Four years of high school athletics and social life—not to mention eighteen years as Christopher and Matthew’s younger brother—had already taught Hermes where his strengths—and his weaknesses—lay. Hermes turned back to the house slowly, knowing that with each step backwards, Christopher was taking one giant leap forward with Melissa. Christopher would be feeling out the political angle—always necessary when you were a U.S. senator’s son—and if Melissa’s family’s politics were on the right side, he would be dropping the Name—their father’s name. Then he would be offering to introduce her to his parents, finding out about her own—forging ahead into the territory, staking out his share—and Hermes would be finding out all this information second-hand. The possibilities for this summer vacation that had risen up shimmering before him were already falling down in a tangled splash. The trees moaned in the wind overhead, and he looked up again bleakly, wishing he didn’t hope for so much so quickly. It was going to be a lousy summer.
Raphaela sat in the back seat of the car, looking up at the high stone tower of their summer home with a mixture of feelings. On the one hand, this was their home on summer vacation—the rambling mansion built of rough stone by the bay. She loved it here. On the other hand, it would be lonely after their life in the city. She wasn’t sure if she would ever enjoy being alone, the way her mother did. Her mother seemed to prefer solitude to
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everything. “Alone again at last,” she would say with relief as the guests left, the chauffeur dropped them off, the servants withdrew. She would always say it with a sigh. And then Raphaela, her daughter, would retreat into the silence her mother required. Carefully she picked up her tote bag, heavy with the summer reading her tutor had assigned: biology, astronomy, literature, French, Japanese. She settled it on her shoulder and stepped out of the car, nearly bumping off her ivory-straw hat as she did so. Catching it and pressing it down on her overlong dark braids, she looked around. Her mother was closing the door of the car, her mind preoccupied with details of moving. “We have a new groundskeeper this summer,” she was saying, not to her daughter, but to herself. “I hope this works out. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.” None of this required a response, so Raphaela surveyed the ragged lawn (her mother would be firing this groundskeeper too, she knew) and the dark windows of the sprawling mansion. “Where are the cats?” she asked the housekeeper hopefully. She had been expecting a welcome from at least one. “The cats?” Delilah, the dark-eyed Indian woman who ran the house when they were gone, looked bemused. “Oh, the barn cats. I am afraid they all died this past winter.” “Oh, that’s too bad,” her mother said. “All of them? How?” Raphaela dropped her bag, horrified. Persephone, Miranda, Dante, Rappachini—all gone? Dead? “Well, the groundskeeper said it was probably foxes,” Delilah said, looking nervous. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” her mother said. “Why didn’t you tell me when they died?” Raphaela asked, still in shock. Now Delilah was scared. “I am so sorry, Miss Zilberger—I—well, after all, they were only barn cats. They were never in the house.” “They were my friends,” Raphaela said indignantly. Good friends, old friends. Sometimes, her only friends. She made an effort to control herself as she picked up her bag. Her mother eyed her and turned on Delilah. “How can you be so unfeeling?” she demanded. “Can’t you see this was important to my daughter?” “I am sorry,” the housekeeper apologized, now wringing her hands. “I did not realize—it was an oversight. I should have told you . . .” “Haven’t I told you before that attention to details like these are of the utmost importance to me . . . ?” Raphaela turned away. Her mother was going to make an issue out of this, and she didn’t want it to be an issue. She just wanted to cry. Her ivory
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leather shoes echoing on the flagstone pavement, she hurried past the two confrontational adults, inside the house, and closed the door. Inside was shadowed coolness, even cooler than the New England weather outside. Raphaela paced through the darkened cat-less halls, feeling tears pricking at her eyes. She had been dreaming of this day, when she saw her new rooms for the first time. She had meant to gather all the cats. Then she was going to set Persephone, the lithe gray one, on her shoulder, and pick up Rappachini, who always liked to be carried, while letting stately Miranda and ponderous old Dante lead the way. So they would have all gone up together. But now she had to go down the long hallway alone, and when she reached the thick oak paneled door that led to the tower, she almost didn’t want to open it, even though it had been sanded and refinished and had new golden hinges and a knob forged in the shape of a bird. Part of her wanted to turn and run back down the hall to the other end of the mansion, where her old room had been, in the nursery adjoining the master bedroom. But she didn’t like sleeping next door to her mother any more, and her mother had decided it was time for her to have “her own space” at last, now that she was almost sixteen. “Her own space” in their city apartment had meant that her mother had opened a tiny archway between Raphaela’s bedroom and the home laboratory so that Raphaela had a slightly bigger room. It really wasn’t a very cheerful space, so her mother had deliberated long, and finally decided that in their summer home, Raphaela would have her own suite. Hearing footsteps on the carpet, Raphaela hastily wiped the miniscule tears from her eyes. Her mother did not approve of feminine weeping. She turned and saw her mother approaching, her short gray hair catching the light from a half-shaded window as she rounded the corner. “Well?” said her mother. “Are you going upstairs? Do you want me to come with you?” She walked up to Raphaela, her dark eyes searching hers. “Are you still upset? What a thoughtless way for Delilah to greet you.” “I’m not upset anymore,” Raphaela said hastily. “After all, they were only cats.” That was what her mom would want to hear her say. Raphaela turned to the mirrored settee against the wall, fixed her eyes on her reflection, and untied the ribbon under her chin. “I’m still not sure why you insist on dressing in such an impractical manner,” her mother said, glaring at the sunhat. “And what about us getting you a haircut for the summer?” “I am expressing my individuality,” Raphaela said, taking a deep breath. She tried hard to remember the other things Minot had told her to say. “I’m
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experimenting with fashion in order to find myself.” She removed the hat and hung it carefully on the hook beside the mirror, and began to take off her gloves. Her mother looked at her suspiciously, but said, “Very well. Shall we go up together?” Raphaela hesitated as she pulled off her cotton lace gloves. She was terribly lonely, but somehow her mother was never a comfort when she was lonely. And saying so was impossible. Gloves were a wonderful distraction, because it took so long to take them off properly. She loosened each finger and slid them off, then folded them and set them in the glove box on the settee. “I understand,” her mother said abruptly. “You need your space. Well, I hope you like the room. It has everything just the way you wanted it. I suppose we did the video tour together, after all. I’m going down to the greenhouses until dinner.” She turned and walked down the carpet, pulling a phone out of her pocket and beginning to peck and slide at the screen as she walked. Raphaela turned away from her mother and the mirror, back to the door of the tower. Her own space. Her mother’s gift to her. She took another deep breath, and opened the door. Before, there had been rickety stairs with planks missing, a dark patchwork of shadows beckoning adventure. But now the stairs had been replaced with shining wide risers, softly lit, leading easily up, up, up. She lifted her lace skirts (how her mother hated lace!) and began to walk up them. The tower had always been a source of enchantment and imagination. Climbing up the old rickety stairs to the hot loft at the top, she had pretended to be Galileo in the tower of Pisa, Copernicus watching the stars, some lonely female alchemist practicing her science in secret—the roles varied according to her interests and what she had been studying at the time. But now, thanks to her mother’s orders and a top designer and architect from the city, the space had been transformed into a living area. Raphaela had been so eager to see it. When she had been traveling in Europe with her tutor, she had pored over the daily photos that had appeared in her email, showing the renovation’s opening stages. The old stone tower had to be completely reconstructed in order to accommodate the demands of the design, which included a reading room, a bathroom, and a bedroom on top. There had been masons and carpenters hard at work, and later electricians and plumbers. Raphaela had printed off the photos, even the images of the wiring, to keep in her scrapbook, now stored in their city
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apartment. What she had loved best were the handwritten sticky notes from the designer, Mr. Mason, who had sent her glossy photos of his favorite details every week. He was a bearded man who wore black turtlenecks and large glasses and jeans. She had liked him very much the one time she had met him: he had asked her to describe her “dream castle,” and she had tucked her knees under her chin and told him everything that was in her imagination, and he had recorded it on his phone, made sketches and taken notes, nodded his head eagerly, and told her how amazing it sounded. But for some reason her mother had been irritated by the interview, and Raphaela had never met with Mr. Mason again, even though she hinted several times to her mother that she would like to. “Can Mr. Mason visit us this summer?” she had asked when she had gotten back from Europe. She was sure he would like to witness her first sight of his work. And she liked the warmth of his personality, the vigor of his attention for some reason she couldn’t articulate. “I’m afraid not,” her mother said. “Why not?” “We had a falling out,” her mother said, and Raphaela knew then that there was no chance. “Falling out” was a phrase her mother used to mean total disentanglement, complete closure. Her mother had “fallen out” with many people over the years—tutors, nannies, assistants, colleagues. Once her mother had fallen out with someone, Raphaela knew she would never see that person again. “But . . .” she heard herself saying. “He wanted to photograph the rooms for some damned magazine!” her mother exploded in a short, hot burst of anger. “I told him from the start, no. Complete confidentiality. I am not a display, or a commodity, or a showpiece, and neither is my daughter!” “But . . .” Raphaela began to say the syllable, but closed her lips upon it. Violation of privacy was the most egregious offence in her mother’s book. She knew it was hopeless. The last communication from Mr. Mason had been a Christmas card, a thick rough ivory card smelling of pine wood with one of his original sketches of the room on the front, and inside a handwritten note: “I hope your tower helps you find your dreams.” There was no chance she would be allowed to reply, so she had pasted the card into her memory book and closed it.
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The rising steps had carried her full circle, and now she had reached the first floor landing, and realized she was staring at the cherry-wood door. She pushed it open and stared around the room. The half-moon of the low-ceilinged room was walled with bookshelves, her personal library, one narrow window bringing in light. She saw a tiny carved desk with room for her laptop and a comfortable-looking chair, green leather, that for some reason reminded her very much of Mr. Mason. Quickly, she closed the door and continued up the steps. Again, she was aware of how alone she was. No cats. Just herself, climbing. The next room, the bathroom, was slightly larger—decorated in sandstone colors, most of the room was taken up by the large round tub sunk into the floor. A floor-to-ceiling window looked out onto a wrought-iron balcony beyond the bathtub—but who would want to go onto a balcony directly from the bathtub? That was the question that had occurred to her, but she was too embarrassed to bring it up. Silently she closed the door and paced her way upstairs to the top floor of the tower—her bedroom. Before, this had been a loft, the highest room in the house; perilous in places, but comforting. She had read novels here, eaten forbidden candy, gazed out the window at the forested mountain and the lake beyond. At night, she had shivered in a sleeping bag, her cats in sleeping lumps around her, and watched the stars. Now she threw open the door and looked up at the round cone of a ceiling, its rafters painted a soft white against a blue plaster mural of white doves, and gradually lowered her gaze. The bed was round and covered with a soft pink patchwork quilt that made you want to throw yourself on it and snuggle in immediately. Pillows in abundance. A bookshelf, a window seat looking out over the view. A meadow-garden of flowers and animals dancing across the green oriental carpet. “Too much pastel,” her mother had said in disgust, but Mr. Mason had said, “Raphaela, what do you want?” And she had put her fingers gingerly on the light shades of Mr. Mason’s color strips, the colors at the ends, their hues mixed with white. “It will keep the space airy,” Mr. Mason had said approvingly. She had dreamed long weeks about this cozy space, imagining her cat friends curled up on the window bench, stretched out on the quilt. Looking around now, she knew which place each of them would have picked. Dante would have loved that ivory-satin chair, elderly Miranda would have stiffly laid down in that sunny spot on the carpet, and Persephone would have put her chin upon that pink pillow and closed her slanted eyes in bliss. And
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Rappachini (her favorite, though she never let him know) would have squeezed his tan muscled frame into her arms as she sat on the window seat, and purred like an engine, rubbing his head against her arm as she looked out the window. That had been her dream for this room, but it had vanished. Her bare imaginative playground had become a home, but it was an empty home. In which case, was it really a home, her home? Raphaela pondered, perplexed, her hand on the knob. Her dreams for the tower had become concrete. But suppose—just suppose you had always dreamed the wrong kind of dream? What would happen to you then? It was odd, a thought flitting through her mind like a moth. She dismissed it as she sat on the bed and began the lengthy process of unbraiding her hair. But she knew what she should do was chase the moth out of the room completely, or it would settle on the lush fabric of her life and begin to gnaw away. But who could catch a thought moth? Perhaps her cat friends could have caught it, but they were gone.
“Phones,” his mother directed, holding out a basket. With a groan, Hermes surrendered his phone, as did Matthew and Christopher. Their dad stared at the basket. “What, me too?” “You too,” Mom said, her green eyes sparking a challenge in her freckled face. “This is a family vacation. No staff, no guests, no phones. I’m tired of our vacations being interrupted by frantic calls and emails. The outside world can leave us alone for a while. And we can leave it alone.” “All right,” his father said reluctantly, but with a tease in his eyes. His sons watched him carefully as he took his phone out of his pocket and deposited in the basket. “What if the Almighty Karp needs to get a hold of him?” Christopher asked, with a head jerk towards Dad. “Don’t call Herman that,” Dad said. “When you go into politics, you’ll realize how lucky I am to have him.” “‘When’ we go into politics,” Hermes grumbled. “The choices we get in this family.” “I’m not ordaining your destiny,” Dad said. “I’m just telling you what I see.” “You’re the one who needs to get your eyes checked then,” Hermes said under his breath. He noticed that both Matthew and his dad seemed to be edging away. “And the tablets,” Mom said significantly, and Matthew and Dad both groaned, caught. “Now this is too much!” Matthew said, ruffling his black hair in feigned irritation. “What if I need to work on my class schedule for the fall?” 11
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“Tough bricks,” Mom said breezily. “You too, Mr. Senator.” “Okay,” Dad said sadly. “As you wish.” The two tablets dropped into the basket. “Mom, Dad’s holding out on you. You know he has two phones,” Hermes said. “Says who?” his dad returned. “Do I have to frisk you, Senator?” Mom put the basket on her hip, a smile playing on her lips. “Later,” Dad said with a raise of his eyebrows. Their sons all groaned. Their mother put the basket into a kitchen cabinet and locked it, then thrust the key in her pocket. “And I had the Internet disconnected too,” she said. “Mom! What are we going to do for six weeks?” Christopher complained. “Spend time together,” she said. Her eyes landed on Hermes. “This is our last summer together before my baby goes off to college in the fall. And I want it to be special.” “Awww,” Matthew and Christopher said, putting their heads to one side. Their dad laughed. Hermes, embarrassed, scowled at his brothers but submitted to his mother kissing his forehead. “I guess you unplugged the TV too?” he said. “Are you kidding?” Mom said with a laugh. “We need ESPN! No, I just want us to leave Washington alone for a while. Let the rest of the world take care of itself, just for one summer.” “OK, OK, you win,” Dad said, putting the matter to rest. “You got the CEO’s orders, right, boys? ‘No staff’ means we do the cooking. Let’s get dinner started.”
After dinner, his parents had mixed themselves drinks and staked out the porch. “Why don’t you boys go outside for the evening?” their father had said with a significant glance. The boys were all old enough now to know what that meant, and when their mother went upstairs to change, they cleaned up the kitchen and made themselves scarce. Looking back over his shoulder as they ambled into the woods, Hermes saw their father on the wide cedar porch, sipping his drink, and saw Mom come out to meet him, dressed in a long filmy summer dress. She put an arm on his shoulder gently, and he reached up and grasped her hand. Hermes turned away. His parents’ romance, now into the glory of the middle ages,
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had been a part of the background of his life ever since he could remember; a jealously guarded treasure barricaded with countless weekends alone and studded with evenings out and the occasional jewel of a long private vacation. Their parents’ relationship was rare in a world where men and women spun around each other like particles with alternating charges, attracting and repelling each other with depressing frequency. Their sons soon appreciated that they had an asset. “We’re emotionally grounded,” Christopher had put it once, after a talk on marriage at their Catholic high school. “Because we have two parents with a good marriage, we have an edge over other kids, psychologically. We can bond.” Yes, that’s what it was—an asset. Giving them the cutting edge in their foray out into the big, bad world. Hermes thought he needed all the assets he could get, saddled as he was with a strange first name, a controversial political father, and two older brothers who could have been known as Prince Charming I and Prince Charming II. The wind had calmed down as night fell, and it was barely a breeze as they followed the trail through the woods. Inevitably, walking at night led them to the lakeshore, following the insatiable pull of water at night, which yearned to be gazed upon, fondled, and admired. On the rocky beach, Hermes paced through the wavelets and kicked at the wet sand, as Matthew and Christopher, hands in their pockets, walked behind him, arguing about sports. Hermes was only-half listening. He looked out at the moonlit lake, acknowledged its beauty, and thought about Melissa. He wasn’t going to ask about her. He didn’t need to. As if reading his mind, Christopher said to Matthew, “I invited her to meet me here later tonight,” and added, “Her dad works for the Massachusetts state government.” “Democrat or Republican?” Matthew asked immediately. “Republican. He’s a tax examiner.” “Lucky he wasn’t a Democrat.” “I’m not sure if her dad’s too crazy about Dad, but at least she didn’t back away when I told her who I was. She thinks Dad’s done some good work: you know, the whole traditional marriage thing. Plus she’s pro-life.” “Lucky for you, there.” Hermes was sick of the whole business already. He had had the instinct when he met Melissa that she would be a great girl to know—and now—and now—he turned his attention elsewhere. When Christopher paused, nose to the air like a large dog scenting a friend, and turned with a grin, saying, “Hey there!” to two approaching figures, Hermes was ready to leave. Of course he
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didn’t. He waited for Melissa and her younger brother to come down to the beach, he said hi to her again, he was introduced to Ross, her brother, and put in his parts of the conversation listlessly. There was no game here, nothing for him. Not anymore. And he wasn’t surprised when Christopher inevitably drew Melissa apart for a private talk. Hermes knew it wasn’t going to go beyond talk tonight. Christopher was smooth, but not fast, and all three of the brothers could tell that Melissa was a good girl, the sort who was going to be cautious. But still Hermes didn’t want to be around to witness the opening moves. “Let’s climb Old Dog,” he said to Matthew when the couple had drifted off. To Ross he said, “Have you been?” “No.” “Let’s go then.” Hermes led the way through the forest up the slope of the nearby hill, whose base was snaked by well-worn trails. Most of them led you astray, but a few were trustworthy. He worked his way through the ink-black shadows, choosing more by hunch than by knowledge in the dark. If he guessed wrong, they’d end up back in the woods. But if he was right— —beauty. He emerged, breathing with relief, onto a stony outcropping near the top of the cleft that overlooked the lake which was glistening in the moonlight edged with narrow silvery beaches. There were only a few docks on their lake, since only a handful of houses bordered it, and there was no public access. Dark pines and feathery birches were spread over the ground below them, hiding most of the mansions from view, making the place feel very remote and wild. Hermes threw himself down on the large rock and looked over the land. “Something, isn’t it?” Matthew said to Ross. “Spectacular.” The three boys looked out over the view for a few minutes. “Hey, what’s that over there? That pointed thing?” Ross asked. Matthew squinted. “That’s a stone tower. It belongs to that mansion, hidden behind those trees. I forget what it’s called.” “The Towers,” Hermes said dryly. “Yeah, that’s it. I forget who owns it. It’s been kind of run down.” “How high is that thing? It looks massive.” Ross squinted. “I’d guess about thirty feet high.” “More like fifty,” Hermes said. “Oh, come on. It can’t be that tall.”
A Fairy Tale Retold
“Look at the proportions. It’s got to be at least twenty feet in diameter. And it’s high.” “It’s not that wide.” “Yeah, compare it to the greenhouse next door. If those windows are standard windows—about two feet by four feet—then that thing is big.” “Oh come on. You’re crazy.” Hermes found himself sliding instantly into the pattern of bickering with Matthew that had worn smooth over the years. The McCaffrey boys had no inhibitions about disagreeing in public, and even his dad had reconciled himself to it. “Wonder if you could climb that thing?” Ross broke in eventually. “You do rock climbing?” Matthew asked. “I’ve done some.” “Yeah, you could scale that thing, if you could get to it.” “With ropes or without?” “I’d say without,” Hermes said. “Depending on how strong the vines are. But you’d have to get past that security fence and probably a dog.” “You guys ever done that?” “Not yet,” Matthew said. “I could do it,” Hermes said. “Even if it were fifty feet high?” “It IS fifty feet high,” Hermes stated. “And get back without being caught?” “That’s the idea, isn’t it? Sure.” Matthew said, “I could do it if it were thirty feet.” “Then you can’t do it, because it’s not,” Hermes said. “What about you, Ross?” “I bet I could do it either way.” “Want to go try it now?” There was a pause. “Naah.” The three boys chuckled. All of them knew this hadn’t been a serious conversation. “Bet you I’ll do it by the end of the summer,” Matthew said. “If you do, put a red flag at the top so we know it’s been done,” Ross said. “Absolutely.” Eventually the three of them shuffled back down into the darkness to find their way to the beach below. Christopher and Melissa were sitting on the beach together, talking. Seeing them, Hermes felt a surge of anger. It
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should have been him there with Melissa. But he couldn’t say that. He wasn’t going to be a jerk. “Nice meeting you, Ross.” “Same.” Ross turned away from them, and Hermes likewise headed back home. He didn’t want to stick around to see the goodbyes. His parents had gone to bed, or at least to their bedroom. Hermes went into the darkened den and flicked through television channels aimlessly. After a while, Matthew came in, and then Christopher. Christopher was in a jubilant mood. “Hey Hermes, you want anything?” he called as he headed into the kitchen. “No.” Matthew followed Christopher to the refrigerator. Hermes heard his older brothers cracking open sodas and pulling out the large tin of pretzels that was their family’s snack of choice. He knew the talk would turn to Melissa soon. Christopher and Melissa had had a lot to say to each other, most of it probably public and sharable news. Hermes didn’t want to hear it. There was a creak on the stairs, and his mom came down and paused in the den, looking tired but pleased. “How was the lake?” she asked. “Beautiful,” Hermes answered, and glanced back to the TV. He wondered if his mom could tell he was upset. Probably. “Thought I’d come down to get a drink,” she said. “The others are in the kitchen,” Hermes said. “If you’re going to watch TV, you should turn on a light,” she said, worried. “You know the doctor from the hospital said you should avoid eyestrain.” “I’m going up soon,” he said, more annoyed now. “I’ll be all right.” His mother touched his shoulder. “And remember, you should avoid the sort of dangerous stunts you boys always pull—at least until you’re completely healed from that accident.” “I know that, Mom,” he said with a sigh. “I remember.” “I’m just concerned for you, Herman.” “Yes, thanks,” he said dismissively. Mom being Mom again. Then his father stumbled sleepily down the stairs, his hair all funny. “You all still up?” he asked. “It’s vacation, honey,” Mom said, squeezing him. “Let’s go out and sit with the boys.” “You going to join us, Herman?” Dad asked. “Nah, too tired,” Hermes said. He knew what the conversation would be about. Christopher was going to tell them all about Melissa.
A Fairy Tale Retold
He stared at the TV screen, and when he heard his mother exclaim, “I think I just met her mother at the store!” he got up with a groan and snapped off the TV. He needed to get away. But he didn’t go up the stairs to bed. Instead, he went out the door to the garage. He looked over the camping and recreational equipment, located his climbing shoes, and chose a few climbing ropes. He needed something red. Then his eye fell on a red knitted scarf, once his mother’s, left over from when they had been up here at Christmas on a ski trip. Tossing it over his shoulder, he went out into the night.
“Raphaela.” She had been studying a book of Michelangelo’s artwork, trying to work the proportions out in her mind. Human proportions always puzzled her. Why was it that the head was almost—but not quite—one eighth the size of the human body? Who came up with this idea? “Yes mother?” “What are you working at?” her mother had put down her magazine. She blushed a little and didn’t know why as she stared down at the picture of David she had been trying to copy. “Art.” “Your tutor tells me you did very well in the sciences this year.” “Yes, I like those best.” “She recommends that I find an internship for you in the fall at a laboratory. Would you like that?” “I think so.” Her mother shook her head. “Not even sixteen, and you’re so knowledgeable already,” she said appreciatively. “I thought I could start you as an assistant in one of our labs, if you don’t mind being my employee.” “I think I could handle that,” she said carefully. If she did, she didn’t want to be her mother’s right hand woman, which is probably what her mother would want. Raphaela wanted to do things herself. “Could I work in a hospital lab?” “No, that’s a bit too advanced, I think,” her mother said abruptly. “Come here for a moment.” She did, and her mother ran a hand down her long dark hair. “I keep wondering whether or not we should have your hair cut,” she said. “It’s almost down to your feet.”
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“I like it,” Raphaela said, truthfully. It was a trouble to keep in order, but she hadn’t had it cut since she was born—and hence her hair was long. It wasn’t particularly beautiful—dark brown with reddish highlights and somewhat coarse—but it was hers. And she loved it. “Your head would probably feel much lighter without it. I’m not sure it’s not going to cause you chiropractic problems. Besides, short hair is much more efficient,” her mother said. Of course her mother, head scientist at a research institute, had short gray hair, bluntly trimmed. She didn’t have time for much more. “I know.” This had been a point of contention for some time. Raphaela wanted her hair long because it kept her feeling—like a girl? But she was a girl, of course. “You know that Minot is having her coming-out party in a few weeks?” her mother asked. “It’s going to be a ball.” “Really?” Minot, who had been adopted from Russia, was the daughter of one of her mother’s friends. Their summer house was about an hour from here. “Yes. It’s going to be very fancy. We’ll have to get you a formal gown.” Raphaela was silent. She had been to these parties before—they were girl parties, attended by girls and mothers. Most of her mother’s friends were like her—single career women who had adopted girls. Many of Raphaela’s friends were ethnic minorities, as she was. These women, the G Club, made up the only extended family she had ever known, and their gatherings and events were different, she knew, from those of other families. For some reason, she was tired of attending all-female events, although they were very pleasant in their own way. At her fifteenth birthday party, everyone from the G Club had brought her gifts. Raphaela had worn a pink chiffon dress that made her feel like a ballerina, and they had all had a dance—but the tenor of these events was changing as she grew older. She didn’t know why she found them inadequate. “Mother,” she said suddenly. “If I’m Hispanic, why don’t we do more Hispanic things?” “Hispanic things?” her mother repeated. She turned the pencil in her hand. “Yes. Like, holidays and things.” She remembered how at her fifteenth birthday party this past February, one of the mothers had asked if it was her “quinceañera.” She hadn’t even known what that was until she looked it up. “Well,” her mother said slowly. “Many Hispanic holidays are rather overtly religious, and you and I aren’t religious, you know.”
A Fairy Tale Retold
“But couldn’t we keep them—culturally?” Discovering she had not really had a quinceañera had bothered her a lot. “I don’t know. I suppose,” her mother hesitated. “I just didn’t feel as though Hispanic culture was as welcoming—or as desirable, at any rate—for an impressionable young girl. Girls there are so subservient. I didn’t want you to be taught that, even subconsciously. Their religion is full of subservience. And I couldn’t figure out how to teach you that culture and omit the subservience.” She ran a hand over her daughter’s hair, frowning again. “I’m sorry. If you like, I can have your tutor start you a special unit on Hispanic studies in the fall.” “No, that’s all right,” Raphaela said. She didn’t want to study her heritage. She, well . . . she wanted to have a heritage. “I think I’ll go up to my room,” she said.
Hermes crept through the forest in his soft climbing shoes, his equipment over his shoulder. Tonight would possibly be only a reconnaissance mission. But part of him was gambling that he could wing his way through it, get to the actual tower tonight. He might get in trouble, but it was only trespassing, minor offense. And he thought he could prove it was just on a dare. He wasn’t a burglar. At last, he reached the grounds around the Towers. It really only had one tower, but he’d seen the discreet property sign enough times from the road to know the name. Not that he’d ever seen the house before, which was set far back from the road, heavily secluded. The boundaries were surrounded by a twelve-foot-tall wrought iron fence with ‘No Trespassing’ signs bolted to its spiked railing. He scanned it for alarms, saw none, and, grabbing the bars and climbing them like tree trunks, hiked over the top easily enough, and jumped down. Now he was alert. There might be patrolling dogs and he had to be prepared. Fortunately, he was an excellent sprinter and consummate tree climber. One hundred yards in, he saw several greenhouses in the distance, dense with foliage. There were three of them, large and set apart from the house, and obviously hi-tech. Through the glass roof of the one closest to him, he could see some kind of mechanized showerhead moving slowly back and forth over the plants. Someone was a serious gardener, to put it mildly. The plants inside were tropical, exotic-looking. There was a low stone house near the greenhouse, and Hermes paused as he made out the figure of a man sitting on the porch. Hermes crouched behind a tree and studied the man as he put a pipe to his lips. Not much hair, hat tipped back over his head, powerful arms and 20
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legs stretched out on the old rocker. A match flared up as the man lit his pipe, and Hermes caught a flash of blue eyes. Hard blue eyes. Not a man who was likely to deal kindly with pranks or trespassers. Hermes licked his lips and reconsidered. After a moment, he decided he would wait for a few minutes, just to see what the man did. If he goes inside, I proceed. If he stays put, I’ll work around him. He could see the round stone base of the tower dimly through the trees. Around and throughout the grove of fruit trees, smooth lawns stretched in every direction into deeper woods. It was lovely land, and Hermes felt himself out of place. Compared with his own family’s property—ninety-nine prime acres of wood and mountain and shoreline—this was palatial. The McCaffrey family left their land wooded and untamed, with the exception of the square lawn behind the house and his mother’s rosebushes, which they kept up only in the summertime. Dad was just too busy during the year, and Mom was too busy helping Dad. But this place was different. Someone—probably that groundskeeper and several others—lived here year-round, cultivating and upkeeping. Different families spent their money different ways, but it was obvious that these owners had considerably more disposable income than his family did. Then again, most of his dad’s money was always wrapped up in the campaign war chest. From above, the stone tower had seemed more remote from the estate, but now he could see it was an exposed area, probably attached to the main house. Climbing it was far riskier than he had first supposed. Should he turn back? But if I could make it—if my gamble worked out—then that would be a prize, wouldn’t it? And gambling was Hermes’ specialty: when randomness ruled, he tended to land on his feet. Poker wasn’t his game—too many rules, too much strategy. But betting on who could climb the school cafeteria building without being caught? That was what Hermes lived for: gut feelings, adrenaline rushes, real consequences for failure. The higher the stakes, the more confident Hermes felt. Temptation won out. Christopher and Matthew might stop here; Hermes just thought it was an even better challenge now. After all, if things were more difficult, that simply made his victory more spectacular. So he ticked off the minutes as he crouched beside the tree, watching, waiting, listening to the hum of the insects, trying to catch any noises beyond. He heard a sound—clock clock clock clock clock—heels on stone pavement. Coming closer. He saw a figure walking briskly down a serpentine flagstone path that he could now make out curving its way between the trees. A woman with short
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gray hair, wearing a gray coat and dark pantsuit with boots. The man stretched and stood up. He towered over her, but it was obvious that she was in charge. “Yes ma’am?” he spoke in a clipped New England accent as the woman came up to him. “When we arrived today, the front lawns weren’t cut.” “They’re cut now.” “Yes, and we put up with the noise of the mowing all through dinner. Why was that?” “Security system’s been down, ma’am. I’ve been working on getting it fixed.” “Down? Why?” “Electrical fault. I’ve been working on trying to get things back on track before you came up. Figured you’d rather be safe than have a nice looking lawn.” The man was unperturbed, and Hermes could tell it set the woman back slightly. “Oh.” She hesitated, then asked curtly, “How soon will it be fixed?” “By tomorrow. I told the security man that if he couldn’t get it working by then, we were going to quit our contract and find a new system.” “I certainly think so. And they promised?” “Man gave me his word it would be working by noon. Everyone on the grounds knows to be on the lookout.” “I’m glad to hear that.” The woman paused. “The other problems are all regarding the temperature in the third greenhouse. The bananas don’t seem to be thriving.” “We’ve been following your instructions, ma’am.” “Then explain this to me—” the woman turned and walked towards the greenhouses. The man followed her. Hermes took a deep breath. So far his gamble was playing out—he had come just when the security system was down. Conditions parting before him, pieces falling into place. He waited until the man and woman had gone into the greenhouse and then he moved forward. Skirting from shadow to shadow slowly, he approached the tower. It was made of rough stone, and looked as though it would be easy to scale. But—he gulped—it was wider than he had thought. Which meant, if he was right about the proportions, that it was also higher. Foot by foot he worked his way around the base, and was relieved to discover that part of the base was enclosed by bushes. That was how he would make his approach. And the floodlights around the front of the house left one side in shade.
A Fairy Tale Retold
Soon he was at the bottom, hidden in the shadows, looking up. Way in the night sky, the pointed slate roof reached up for the stars. There were only a few slit windows on this side, and he figured he could avoid those. Heavy wisteria branches, tied to guides, crept diagonally up the round slope, and he guessed he could use those for anchorage. Wrapping the red scarf around his neck, he tucked it into the front of his shirt. Then, breathing a prayer to St. Patrick, who seemed to be among the more laid-back Catholic saints when it came to matters like this, he started to climb.
After lying in bed for some time, Raphaela found she was too sad and restless to sleep, so she decided to get up and sit by the window in the moonlight with her pillow. As she got out of the bed, she stepped on something—a hard bump inside her empty tote bag. In the darkness, she picked up the bag and groped around inside until she found what had made the bump—a smooth little wooden box about three inches long with a sliding cover like a matchbox. As she held it in her hand, she remembered what it was. One of the girls from the G Group had given it to her for her fifteenth birthday, the same girl whose mom had talked about quinceañeras. It was a Hispanic good-luck charm, the girl’s mom had said. Raphaela sat down on the window seat with her pillow, and slid open the little lid decorated with painted birds. Inside were fourteen tiny worry dolls, no more than an inch high, made of twigs and brightly colored string, which her mother’s friend said represented guardian angels, angelitos. You were supposed to tell each of these little dolls one of your problems every night before you went to bed, and then when you slept, the angels would fly off during the night and take care of your problems. Or so it was said. Although Raphaela had never actually done that, whenever she came across the box, she found herself wondering about guardian angels. Which was odd, because she hadn’t thought about God since she was a small child. Raphaela’s mother always said she had never found God under a microscope. But there were many things in life that her mother just chose to ignore, such as other people. Lately, Raphaela had been thinking that God was just another person her mother had fallen out with, for some inarticulate reason.
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And not wanting to make trouble, Raphaela hadn’t tried talking to God. But guardian angels, particularly tiny ones, didn’t seem very offensive. She fingered the little dolls. Looking out the window, she saw the fireflies were out, and somehow they reminded her of little angels, flying about and blinking in the darkness. Were there really angels? Could they really hear her? “I miss my cats,” she said softly, and her voice was suddenly thick. “I miss them. Miranda, Persephone, Dante, and Rappa—” She wiped her eyes, kissed four of the little dolls, put them back into the box, and slid the lid closed quickly. There. Now I’m supposed to forget about my troubles, and let the angels take care of them, she thought. Was that how praying worked? Taking a deep breath, she put down the box, looked out the window at the dark woods below, and tried to forget. Think about bird calls, she told herself. Remember all the ones you learned with your tutor last summer? Chickadee, downy woodpecker, mourning dove . . . She laid her pillow down on the edge of the casement, and put her head on it, letting her long hair spill out the window to blow in the night breeze. But it was hard to forget her cats. They were creatures of the night—they would have kept a lonely vigil with her. Only the birds of the night were stirring below her. Wishing for any sort of companionship, she called to them. “Too woo,” she breathed. Somewhere, she thought she heard the soft moan of a mourning dove, and answered it. She wondered if it would come to her. Sleep was closing her eyelids. It was almost time for bed.
He was an experienced rock-climber, something his dad had a passion for, and he and his brothers had competed at the challenge almost as soon as they could walk. The tips of Hermes’ fingers were calloused from reaching for holds. This was living, he thought, by the skin of your fingers, as his second foot relinquished the ground and he rose, by his own strength, inch by inch. He had a slight wiry build that clung to the horizontal surface like an insect. But he was always perilously aware of his danger. Like his mother had said, he shouldn’t be doing this, because of his health. But he had had health problems all his life, and knew they weren’t going away. If I spend all my time waiting to get better, I’ll be sixty before I start living, he thought. No, he preferred
A Fairy Tale Retold
the gamble. He knew what the consequences might be if he fell . . . so therefore, I just won’t fall, he told himself. Holy Saints and Angels, you better not let me fall, or else I’ll break my mother’s heart . . . Up—up—up— he passed through one shadow into the other, reached the wisteria and grasped it tentatively. He didn’t want to trust his weight to it and have it betray him. He climbed over it and found it was relatively wellanchored, and started to become more confident. About halfway up— And he realized he was heading into a spotlight. At first he had thought he could pass through it quickly, but the stretch of light seemed too risky to him. He started to edge his way horizontally around the tower, searching for further darkness. Now his hands were getting tired and a bit unsure. This was his virgin climb for the summer, the first after a long respite, and he began to think he had been foolish to try this. At this point, he couldn’t let himself fall without serious injury, and he had to gauge if he had the strength to continue— —then he saw the iron rails of a balcony, and realized he had a chance. Swiftly he pawed his way towards it, being careful to keep his footing sure, and grasped one of the iron bars. There were French doors behind the balcony, and a room, darkened. It looked new. This was no longer a rundown tower. Grateful that the alarm system was down, he nevertheless decided to avoid climbing onto the balcony and possibly being seen through the window. So he stood on the side and rested, flexing his fingers and looking up. Not much further to go. The rooftop beckoned above. He grinned slightly. A bird called from nearby. A mourning dove. He listened to the sound, breathed, and began his climb again. The stones were smaller and not as rough, and his search for better handholds took him further and further to the right. Again he heard the bird, and realized it must be in the tower above him, maybe sitting on the windowsill. Well, he would scare it as he came closer, but hopefully that wouldn’t attract any attention. Wondering how quietly he could approach, he slowed his work and moved cautiously. Too dangerous now to look down. He was guessing that no one had seen him, or he would have heard noises below by now. Another window was above him, but he thought he could avoid it. Dark leafy branches hung down from it, the last and bravest of the wisteria. Again, the mourning dove sounded. It must be right above me, he thought. Amazing that it hadn’t yet flown away. Was he that quiet?
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He stretched out his hand and grasped for a vine to test its strength, and nearly fell off in surprise. That wasn’t a vine he had touched. It was—hair. There was a soft cry, and all at once he locked eyes with another human being. A girl.
Vaguely, half-asleep, she heard a scrabbling down below, and wondered what it was. It sounded as though some furry nighttime creature was climbing the wisteria. A raccoon? But why would a raccoon be climbing the tower? Then, as if in a dream, she remembered looking out the window one evening to see Rappachini climbing up the vines, his ringed-tail swishing as he climbed, meowing insistently to her, louder and louder. At first she thought he was frightened at his own foolishness, but then she realized he just wanted an audience for his daring feat . . . he had sprung through the tower window onto the rough board floor purring and rubbing himself exuberantly against her legs . . . The rustling below continued and she started to wake up, wondering if, against all the odds, Rappachini was still there, climbing the tower to come to her aid . . . but no, that was impossible . . . And then there was a sharp tug on her hair. Surprised, she cried out, sat up, and looked down in shock, fully expecting to see her big striped cat, alive again, clinging to the side of the tower. But instead, two human eyes looked up at her. A human face. A man. A young man. For a moment she felt dizzy, as though she were falling. But she grasped the windowsill firmly and quelled her shock. “Who are you?” she whispered.
“Uh—” he faltered. “Hermes. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this tower was occupied.” “What are you doing here?” The girl stared at him in astonishment. Two dark eyes in a round face. Beautiful eyes. He swallowed. “Trying to reach the top. Mind if I try?” “Aren’t you afraid you might fall?” “I haven’t yet.” She glanced up skeptically, her long dark hair falling around her shoulders. “Why do you want to reach the top?”
A Fairy Tale Retold
He started to reply, but all the half-prepared explanations he hadn’t thought he’d actually need now seemed foolish. Because it’s there always sounded dumb to other people. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I can get down now.” “You mean, climb down?” “Yes. Unless—” he hesitated. “Unless you could let me use your stairs?” She paused. “I wouldn’t, if I were you. My mother would be furious. She’d probably call the police. She doesn’t like visitors, let alone trespassers.” “That’s too bad,” he said, gripping with his fingers. “Um. What’s your name?” “Raphaela.” “Ah.” A beautiful name, to go with a beautiful girl. He felt himself getting a bit faint. It might not be a bad time to fall off this tower and get killed, come to think of it. “Would you like to come in?” she asked. “May I?” “Well, at least to rest a moment before you go back down,” she said with a shrug. That was quite naïve of her, and under normal circumstances, he might have said no. Normal circumstances? Was this normal? Meeting a girl this gorgeous, in the moonlight, with no one else around? On the side of a tower? And besides, his fingers were losing strength. “All right,” he said. “Give me your hand.” She grasped it with a smooth, but surprisingly firm grip, pulling him up. He got a leg over the windowsill and breathing hard, stepped inside, blinking. A round room, full of moonlight. Bookshelves. A bed. The girl, in white pajamas and a pale pink cotton robe, staring at him. He looked back at her. They were the same height, but she had to be younger than he was— seventeen? “How old are you?” she asked, apparently wondering the same thing. “Eighteen,” he said. “I’m almost sixteen.” She looked older, carried herself as though she were older. He reddened beneath her curious eyes, and pulled at the scarf on his neck. He must be sweating badly, but he tried to keep his composure. “Beautiful room you have here,” he said conversationally, looking back out the window. “Quite a view. I didn’t think anyone lived in the tower.” “It’s new,” she said. “My mother had it renovated for me this past winter.”
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“I wouldn’t have tried to—to scale this tower—if I thought someone was living here,” he said. “Usually we see birds flying in and out the windows. I thought it was run down.” “It was,” she said, with a sigh. “They had it completely restructured. I’m afraid there’s no place for the birds now. I used to sit up here and watch them. Back when it was just a series of lofts connected by ladders.” “That must have been neat.” “It was,” she said. “It feels much more grown-up in here now.” “But a lot more comfortable, I’m sure,” he said. His own room wasn’t half so nice. Not even his parents’ room. “Did you say your name was Hermes? Like the Greek god?” “Yes. It’s short for Herman, which is my real name.” “Hermes was Mercury’s Greek name, wasn’t it?” she asked. “Yes.” “I like Greek names. One of my cats was named Persephone.” “After the daughter of Demeter and wife of Hades,” he said, picking up the reference quickly. “Ceres and Pluto in the Roman, right?” “Yes, that’s right.” She smiled at him, which he found unintentionally enticing. The silence was starting to become noticeable as he struggled to think of something to talk about. “Your hair is—very long,” he said at last. “I know. It’s never been cut.” He blinked. The long dark hair fell past her knees. “It’s beautiful,” he managed to say. At least complimenting her hair wouldn’t be so forward. “Do you think so? My mother wants me to cut it.” “Don’t let her,” he said immediately. “I don’t know anyone else who has hair like yours.” She put out a hand and turned on a lamp, a reflective expression on her face. All at once she was in a pool of golden light. He could see that her hair was brown, glinting in the light. “It’s not black,” she said, studying a handful of it. “Just ordinary dark brown.” “It’s still beautiful,” he said. In the light, he could see her skin was olive and she had dark brown eyes. Her cheekbones were pronounced, her forehead smooth, her brows strong but not too strong—she was beautiful. “So—are you in high school or are you going to college?” she asked, sitting down on the seat by the window. “Please—sit down.” She gestured towards a padded, ivory-colored wooden chair. He gingerly sat, afraid of leaving some kind of mark in this purely feminine room, and rested his arms on the arms of the chair.
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“I’m going to college,” he said. “St. Boniface, in the fall. What about you? Where do you go to school?” “I have tutors,” she said, pushing back her hair. “I’ve always had tutors. My mother wasn’t satisfied with any school she could find for me, so I’ve just learned at home. I actually like it. It gives a lot more time for learning things.” “Well, when do you see your friends?” he asked. She shrugged. “I don’t have too many of them to see anyhow.” “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “No. I’m adopted. My mother’s a research biologist, and she didn’t want to get married, but she wanted to be a mother, so she adopted me from Central America.” That sounded a little odd to him, but he decided not to comment on the lack of a father. “Oh. Really? What country?” “I don’t know.” “You mean you never asked?” She shrugged. “She never told me the country.” “That’s weird.” “Do you think so?” “Well, sure,” he said, uncomfortable. “You’re her daughter.” She stared at him. “What’s your family like?” Hermes licked his lips, feeling on edge. “I’m one of three brothers,” he said. “The youngest.” “Three! That’s a lot of kids.” “Maybe.” He had to smile. In some of the Irish Catholic circles his parents moved in, three children was a piddly, token amount. His mother and father had yearned for a big family, nine or ten kids stretching behind them in the pews at church—but then they had had him, and . . . “So what grade are you in . . . tutoring?” he queried. “If you keep track of things like that.” “I’m almost ready to start work,” she said. “I’m taking college-level courses now.” “And you’re not even sixteen? Wow,” he said. He thought of telling her of his own spotty academic achievement—he’d always gotten by with doing as little as possible in school—but that might make it sound as though he thought her accomplishments didn’t matter. He was navigating the conversational minefield swiftly. “So—what kind of job do you want to get?” “Something in science. Like my mother.” “Really?” He still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, and had been hoping to get in two more years of dallying in undergraduate courses
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before he had to decide. Now he felt like a loser. “I wish I was—well, I guess I never paid enough attention to science.” “What are you interested in?” she asked, serious eyes. It was clear she wanted a serious guy. Hermes wasn’t a serious guy, not by a long shot. But she was so beautiful that he wanted to be confident and motivated, like his brother Christopher (law school bound) and Matthew (business). “I don’t know yet,” he heard himself saying dismally. “I like to read.” “Read what?” “Books. Papers. Magazines. Online stuff. I like to write. I like to—well, shoot off my mouth—go off on something and write about it. Debates. That sort of thing. Well, I did a lot of that in school.” His teacher had commended him for his skill in “persuasive writing.” Little did Mr. Turner know that most of his essays were tossed off hurriedly the night before. But that was it—Hermes could do it, and do it well. And quickly. “So you always have something to say?” He glanced up at her and had to smile. “I guess you could say that. When there’s something to talk about that really matters.” “I’m not a very good writer,” she said. “At least, in writing things that are interesting for other people to read. My tutor says I’m too meticulous.” “You probably need to be around other people more,” he said. “Writing is a form of communication, and to be a good writer, you have to be able to be understood by as many people as possible. In order to do that, you have to know how other people think. In order to do that, you have to know a lot of people.” She gazed at him. “Do you know a lot of people?” His life had, in many ways, been part of a continuous crowd of family, school, political campaigns, vast fundraisers, parties—“Yes, I guess I do. Well, I’m going to guess I know more than you do.” “You probably do,” she said. “Is your family on vacation here?” “Yes, we are, till August.” “Maybe you could introduce me to them sometime?” He swallowed, and realized what that would mean. He didn’t want to compete with Christopher and Matthew again. He was sick and tired of playing defense all the time. Then he realized that he already knew that he wanted this relationship all to himself. All his life he’d been sharing his friends—and girlfriends—with other people and with his family. There was something that made him, for once in his extroverted life, want to have something private. If only—if only—she wanted to be private with him—? “Maybe sometime,” he said carefully.
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They talked for a while, sitting alone in that lovely round room, the pool of lamplight between them. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was, being in the presence of this girl who was interested in—or at least not repelled by— him. They found things to talk about—things that had nothing to do with family or politics or other people. Then he realized how late it was, and took his leave. “Can you come back?” she asked as he got up. “Would you want me to?” “Yes.” “When?” “Tomorrow?” “During the day?” Raphaela shook her head. “My mother doesn’t like visitors,” she said frankly. “If you don’t mind—” At least he and her mother were on the same wavelength where Raphaela was concerned. “I don’t mind coming at night.” “Then I’ll look for you.” “I’ll be here, Raphaela,” he said softly. He already relished the chance to say her name again. “Goodnight, Hermes.”
Raphaela leaned out the window and watched Hermes recede from her as he found fingerholds and toeholds for himself. She was fascinated at how he climbed. He crept as surely and smoothly down the tower as a cat climbing out of a tree. When he reached the ground, he leapt to the earth and looked up at her wistfully, and she waved. He waved back, and then turned and vanished into the shadows. For a while she tried to make out where he had headed, but then realized he was truly gone. Something sank inside her, and she closed the window gently. She crossed the floor to her bed, and lowered herself into her pillows, not bothering to get under the covers, thinking. Sometimes, according to her mother, she thought too much. But now she couldn’t help thinking. A man. A young man. Coming to see her. For the past hour, she hadn’t once thought about being lonely. And then she realized what had happened. She had told her sorrows to the little angels, and the little angels had listened. And like the fireflies, they had gone winking away into the darkness—and found her a boy to replace her lost cats. A boy who was just a daring as Rappachini had been. Another cat. Raphaela smiled to herself; she had a feeling she was being silly. But it was odd, all the same. Perhaps this was her first answered prayer.
Hermes shut the garage door, breathing hard, still delirious with amazement. The farther he got from the tower, the more the encounter 32
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seemed like a dream. A girl. A girl that no one else knew about. A girl. A beautiful girl in a tower, waiting for his return. He tossed the climbing ropes back into the pile and untwined the red scarf from his neck, dropping it on the floor as well. Now he had to be quiet, because he didn’t want to alert the rest of the family to where he had been, or that he had been out at all. Inside, the house was silent, the lights off. The family pow-wow had broken up and gone to bed. Only salt remained inside the barrel of pretzels, a sign that things had gone on a long time. Hermes got a soda from the refrigerator, opened it quietly, and going out onto the porch, downed it, standing in the darkness. The luck of the Irish had been with him tonight.
Having breakfast with her mother was a rare occurrence during the rest of the year, since Raphaela’s mother had a habit of rushing off to the lab as soon as she awoke. This summer, however, her mother had announced, “And we will have breakfast together every morning,” as though it were something that was certain to happen. She seemed to think this would ensure a proper vacation. “Well, Patterson told me last night that the security system on the house was broken,” her mother said, her voice sharp with annoyance. “It makes me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t asked.” “The security system?” Raphaela asked. She knew they had one, but suddenly she had a tremulous thought. “Yes—actually, you have a separate switch in your tower, since it wasn’t integrated into the old system. You should turn it on before you go up to bed—unless you’d rather Delilah did it.” “No, that’s fine, I’ll do it,” Raphaela said. “Have her show me how.” “I woke up this morning wondering if maybe we shouldn’t just get some dogs,” her mother mused. “Patterson suggested Doberman pinschers.” “No,” Raphaela said, putting down her fork. “Please, no dogs.” Her mother looked at her quizzically, and then seemed to guess. “All right. If you’d rather not, for now. Perhaps. But I think we should have Patterson buy some dogs in the fall after we’ve left.” She ate a forkful of eggs and said, “Delilah told me she’s getting kittens from a farmer in town for the barn. But I was thinking that perhaps you and I could go cat shopping today. She told me there’s some lovely Himalayan kittens for sale in the paper. Just so long as they stay outside . . .”
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“No, that’s all right,” Raphaela said, dropping her eyes. She already had a replacement cat. “You’re still grieving then,” her mother said quietly. “That’s all right. We can wait.”
The next day was a swimming day for the McCaffreys. Swimming in the morning, lunch on the beach, then finally, when the day turned hot, reading and naps and then early dinner cooked on the grill. His dad, after glancing at Mom, who was intent on a new spy novel, picked up the paper and quietly turned to the “Nation” section. Christopher dozed on the couch while listening to a game on the radio with headphones, and Matthew read a business journal. Hermes sat with an old Tom Clancy novel and thought about Raphaela. His thoughts led him into dreams, inevitably as the warm evening drew on. After all, he hadn’t had much sleep the night before. “Hey, Hermes. You’re on.” “What?” he was startled awake and blinked in the light of a red sunset. “The tower. Remember? The one you bet you could climb?” Matthew was leaning over him. “C’mon. Time to put your money where your mouth is.” Hermes blinked, still tired, but his mind was racing. “All right,” he said slowly enough. “Let’s get going.” It was late evening now, and apparently Melissa was busy, because Christopher was there, too, and he was eager to join in the challenge. “We’ve got some time to kill,” his big brother said with a stretch. “Okay, so what do we need?” “Climbing ropes,” Matthew said. “There’s some in the garage. And a flag to tie to the top.” “Let’s go then,” Christopher said, opening the door to the garage. He began tossing gear into a backpack. “Hey, why don’t we use this red scarf?” “The very thing!” Matthew exclaimed, and tossed it over his shoulder. He glanced at his younger brother. “You don’t seem so keen on the idea now,” he remarked. “Just tired,” Hermes said, covering a yawn. He couldn’t tell them he’d already been there, done that. Well, he could, but he didn’t want to. And he couldn’t figure out how to stop them.
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The sun settled slowly into the trees and darkness was coming on fast by the time they had hiked their way in. Together the three brothers scouted through the woods towards the property where the stone tower was. Christopher and Matthew kept conferring in whispers as they got closer. Hermes was quiet, but he knew his palms were sweating. When they reached the fence, Christopher and Matthew halted. “Whew! This place is kept up nice,” Christopher said. “I’ll say,” Matthew said. “Wonder if they have alarms?” “This far back in the woods?” Christopher scoffed. “Not likely.” Hermes peered through the trees. “There’s the tower,” he said. “Looks like it’s part of the main house.” “I bet you’re right,” Christopher said. The three of them were silent. “Heck with it,” Matthew said suddenly. “Let’s give it a try.” McCaffreys were nearly genetically unable to resist a challenge. “Okay, let’s go along the perimeter and try to get closer,” Christopher said in a whisper. “Hey—you guys—” Hermes halted. This was painful for him to do. “I better not try to do it.” “Why not?” Matthew demanded. “You were pretty keen on doing it last night.” “Because,” Hermes tried to sound normal. “Because of my eye injury. Mom reminded me last night. If I were to fall, it might damage my optic nerves. They’re still weak. So I better hold off for now.” Matthew gave him a suspicious look, as if he knew Hermes was up to something, but Christopher didn’t seem to notice how uncharacteristic his youngest brother’s caution was. “I forgot. Well, then, that’s all right,” Christopher said, touching Hermes’ shoulder. “You don’t have to, Hermes. I always intended to climb it myself first,” he added as they went on. Beat you there, Chris, Hermes thought smugly, but didn’t say anything. When they reached the iron fence, Christopher and Matthew spent some time exploring in both directions, reconnoitering in whispers. Hermes trailed along behind Matthew, feigning ignorance. Christopher settled on an approach behind the barn, which they could see through the grove of trees about a hundred yards away. “We’ll make for the shadow, and then commence from there.” Matthew nodded and Hermes shrugged.
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Christopher readied the climbing gear. “Okay, let’s go for it!” he whispered, and the three brothers shinnied over the fence, Hermes last. They started weaving their way through the trees towards the barn. In less than five minutes they were crouched in the shadow of the barn, looking across another hundred yards of lawn towards the stone tower. “Ho boy,” Christopher said softly. “It’s bigger than I thought,” Matthew said, making the same realization Hermes had made last night. Hermes laughed softly to himself in his nervousness. “Maybe even more than fifty feet?” he teased. “Still want to do it?” Matthew asked Christopher, who cleared his throat. The moonlight shone brightly down on the open lawn, making the path to the tower seem like stepping into a spotlight. “Yeah. Let’s go,” Christopher readied himself. “Okay. On the count of three . . .” Just then there was a sound behind them, and the three brothers froze in place. Hermes looked over his shoulder. The tall man with the hard blue eyes was looking straight at the three of them down the muzzle of a shotgun. “Hold it right there.” Christopher gulped and retreated. “Sorry, sir,” he managed to say. “We didn’t realize this was private property.” Hermes and Matthew both winced at the obvious lie. “You didn’t notice the fence?” the man said gruffly. “Or if you did, you didn’t notice the alarm on the top, did you?” “No, sir, we didn’t.” “Who are you?” “Christopher, Matthew, and Herman McCaffrey,” Christopher said. “We have a house on the other side of the woods back there. We uh—wanted to look at your stone tower there. Hadn’t realized it was part of the property.” Christopher smiled, but Hermes could see even his oldest brother’s charm had limits. “Well, it is,” the man grunted. “You kids better get over that fence and not come back. Next time I catch you, I either call the police or start shooting. Which would you prefer?” For an answer, the boys turned and headed back to the fence. The man followed them, and thrust out a powerful hand and grabbed Hermes’ shirt, catching him like a cat caught by the scruff of the neck. “I expect an answer,” he growled. “Hey!” Christopher objected, halting.
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“I’d prefer you called the police—sir,” Hermes said, twisting in the man’s grasp. “Good. I’ll remember that,” the man said, and shoved him forward. Christopher grabbed Hermes’ arm, and the three of them ran back to the fence. Christopher made a support with his hand, and Hermes stepped into it, and hiked quickly over the fence. Matthew climbed over next, and then Christopher, and the brothers took off into the woods. “Boy that was close!” Matthew gasped when they reached their own property. “Yeah, kind of pointless,” Hermes said. “And now that guy knows who we are,” Matthew said grimly. “But I guess you couldn’t exactly lie about it, Christopher.” “No, I couldn’t,” Christopher said. “You okay, Hermes?” He was in oldest-brother protection mode, and hadn’t yet snapped out of it. “Yeah, I’m fine,” Hermes rubbed his neck apprehensively. It weirded him out that the man had targeted him for some special attention. But thanks to his brothers, he now knew about the trip wire on top of the fence, which was an important piece of information. Especially since he was planning on going back later tonight.
“What do you mean, you caught a trespasser?” her mother exclaimed, and Raphaela, who had paused in her work on a difficult passage from Stravinsky on the piano, was jolted back to reality with a catch in her throat. Hermes—? Without moving from the piano, she strained her ears to listen to the conversation in the entranceway between her mother and the groundskeeper. “Three of them actually,” Patterson said. Raphaela didn’t like the new groundskeeper, didn’t like his rough voice or his face, and she was glad she didn’t have many dealings with him. “Three boys. The McCaffrey boys.” “McCaffrey?” “Yes. It’s my guess they’re the Senator’s boys. You know he owns the property a couple miles up the road.” “No, I didn’t realize that—you mean Senator James McCaffrey?” Raphaela couldn’t place the name but she recognized the disbelieving disdain in her mother’s voice. So Hermes was a senator’s son? “The same, ma’am.” “Well, I think even less of him than I did before, now that I know his sons are hooligans.” “I put them under the gun, ma’am, and promised what would happen to them if I saw their faces again. Do you want me to call the police?” “Yes. No. Let me think about it,” her mother said. Raphaela understood the conflict. Angry self-defense was struggling with her mother’s acute need for privacy and anonymity. “Tell me if you see them again.” “I most certainly will. As I said, ma’am, you might want to consider getting a good watchdog or two.” “I will. Thank you for informing me.” 38
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Her mother didn’t say goodnight to a servant. Instead she turned and paced agitated back into the living room and met her daughter’s distraught eyes. “Did you hear all that?” her mother demanded. Raphaela nodded. “Who’s Senator McCaffrey?” “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him?” her mother said in disbelief. “Well, perhaps it’s not too surprising. Let me just say that he’s about the most bigoted, intolerant, small-minded male chauvinist that ever weaseled himself into the U.S. government. He’s against everything America stands for. Minot’s mother has been telling me about some of his backroom deals; oh, the man is a monster.” Her mother shivered. “And his sons? Trespassing on our property? It gives me the chills. Whatever could they have been after?” Raphaela wasn’t sure, herself. She knew why Hermes might have come, but why would he have brought his brothers—his older brothers? That gave her an odd feeling, and she traced the corner of the page of her book. Part of her wondered if she should blurt out, I met one of them last night. That would ensure her safety, certainly—her mother would make sure that Hermes never got on their property again. But would it be fair to him? He hadn’t seemed threatening or bigoted last night. Just . . . well, shy. But her mother and Patterson probably knew better than she did about these sorts of things. And, as her mother had said, it was very odd—almost threatening. She pictured three boys waiting for her in the darkness of her room, and the idea was not reassuring. At the very least, she should protect herself. When she went to bed, she stood looking at the alarm box at the base of the stairs. Delilah had shown her how to turn it on that afternoon, and told her that there were sensors on the balconies and lower windows. Anyone coming in from the outside would encounter them and trigger the alarm. For a long time, she stared at the green glowing words READY TO ARM on the computer panel. She abruptly turned away, her unbound hair swishing around her ankles. One more night. Besides, he might never get past Patterson. As she climbed the stairs, she thought of her tiny multicolored angels, and mutely tried to communicate her conflicted feelings. They would sort things out, wouldn’t they?
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“We’d better tell Dad,” Christopher said, after a gloomy counsel in the woods outside the house. “Otherwise, if that man calls the police on us, Dad will be caught napping. We can’t do that to him.” “At any rate, he can alert his media people,” Matthew pointed out. Hermes nodded solemnly. “He’s going to kill us, but at least he can put a couple of press releases together to explain our funerals.” There was silence as they tramped back to the house. Their mother saw them coming, and asked, “Where were you three? We missed you. And Melissa was here, looking for you.” “We would have spent our time better here,” Christopher said regretfully. “Is Dad around?” “Watching the news.” “Dad?” Christopher walked into the living room. The two younger brothers stood silent, waiting and listening. They had agreed that Christopher was the most politic of the three in these situations. He tended to be overtly repentant in a way that came off as more believable. In a moment, their father came into the kitchen, perturbed. “Well, that was a stupid bet,” were his first words. “We know,” Hermes said, trying to keep any trace of defensiveness out of his voice. His father, arms folded, looked them over like a drill sergeant, and Hermes could see the battle in his eyes. On the one hand, his father wanted to laugh it off. But on the other hand, he couldn’t, because of who he was and how it might look to the outside world if the crap hit the fan. “Do you have any idea whose house that was—the house with the tower you were trying to manfully climb up?” “No,” Christopher said. Hermes knew, at least partly, but he kept quiet. “Dr. Elma Zilberger,” Dad stated, staring at them. “Do you know who that is?” “No,” Christopher had to say again, after taking a quick visual survey of the others. “One of the top research scientists in this commonwealth, and owner of a foundation whose agenda heavily supports that of the Democrat party. Not exactly someone that I’d like to offend.” A silence fell upon the three brothers, probably felt the heaviest by Hermes. “Ouch,” he said quietly, an understatement. “So, I don’t know what you Sir Edmond Hillarys were thinking when you attempted this feat, but you’d better start some kind of major novena to
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pray that she doesn’t decide to make an issue of this. Or it’s going to be a long, bitter summer.” Chastened, the three boys retreated from the kitchen, murmuring useless apologies.
Am I still going to go? Hermes lay in the darkness, staring at the red numbers of the alarm clock. It was nearing midnight. Was Raphaela expecting him? The stakes had gotten considerably higher tonight, almost as if the tower had gotten taller, the stones smoother and the cracks further apart. It was probably impossible, but maybe he could go, just to check out the situation. At least to find out if it really was impossible. Better stay put, his prudent side warned. “Rats,” he said. He rolled over in bed, and his feet touched the ground, lightly.
Hermes hurried through the woods, as quickly and silently as he could. When he got in the vicinity of the fence, he slowed to a standstill and moved forward inch by inch warily. The one thing he had in his favor was that, by human standards, the groundskeeper wouldn’t really be expecting him to trespass again tonight. That was in his favor. But he had to get over the alarm on the fence. Somehow. Without touching the fence. He looked up. No other way, but through the trees. Fortunately, the trees around here were old and large. He trekked slowly along the fence until he found one whose branches hung over the spiked wrought-iron rails. He had brought a light climbing rope with him, and carefully looped it around his shoulders, then approached the tree and pulled himself up carefully, being wary of shaking the branches. But the trunk was too fat and rooted to be threatened by a lightweight like him. He maneuvered through the dark branches until he found a substantial one that hung over the fence, and slowly edged his way along it. When he was about five feet onto the property, he stopped, took off the rope, and wound it around the branch. Then he dropped the end to the ground, and peered through the leaves anxiously, waiting.
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Ahead of him, he could see the barn, and the greenhouse, and beyond it, the tower. There was no sign of Patterson. Had the man gone to bed? Well, let’s see what I can find out if I get down there, he told himself. It was difficult to make himself let go of the branch, which seemed a security to him. He could still go back home. Going forward— With a deep breath, he grasped the rope, let a foot go down and wind around it, and slowly slid down the rope to the grass. When he hit the dewy grass, he took a deep breath. He was in it now, and if he didn’t watch himself the crap was going to fly. He was still in deep shadow. Quietly, he pulled the rope down and looped it over his shoulder, then crept towards the barn. When he had almost reached it, he heard a sound and dropped to the ground. Lifting his head and squinting, he saw his enemy, rifle in hand, pacing slowly over the lawn in the direction of the greenhouse. Away from the tower. There was an open section between the barn and the bushes surrounding the tower. He must be patrolling, Hermes told himself. Wait till he gets further on— around the corner—around— Now. Swiftly he leapt through the bare space and into the shadows, and paused, breathing. Nothing. No one had seen him. He was guesstimating that he had about ten minutes to scale the tower before the man passed this way again. Fortunately, most people never think to look up.
Raphaela was standing by the window, watching Patterson on the lawn. He was making a stealthy route through the orchard and back, then around the house and behind the barn. She noted, with tension, that he was changing his trail constantly. The gun, something she wasn’t used to seeing in real life, hung in his hands ominously. He was protecting her, but she didn’t want him there. Fascinated and repelled, she watched, unable to leave. Her mother was part of a commission to build all-female cities in Third World countries, where women oppressed by patriarchy could flee to live a liberated life. There were many problems connected with such a venture, among them city defense. Her mother was irritated by critics who said it would be necessary to have men guarding the cities because cities guarded by women would tend to invite attacks. But here we are, Raphaela thought, on
A Fairy Tale Retold
vacation with an armed man patrolling the grounds. Why is it that men seemed to enjoy carrying guns and guarding things? Her eyes were growing heavy when she saw something flit between the barn and the bushes at the base of the tower, and her heart leapt with surprising vigor. Now she looked closer, trying to lean out without letting Patterson see her. Hermes had been caught earlier this evening. Surely he wasn’t going to try it again? He must have seen Patterson and known it was foolhardy to try— After a moment, she took a deep breath. He was climbing the tower. He was coming. Why? Why would he do something so . . . irrational? It didn’t make sense. Barely moving for fear of giving him away, her eyes flitted back and forth between the boy stubbornly scaling the rock face below her and the trees where Patterson had vanished and might reappear at any moment. She hadn’t realized how far it was for him to climb, and it seemed to take forever for him to inch his way up and around. At last he was within reaching distance. He looked up at her, his face tense, and she put out her hand to him. He took it again and pulled himself up. Once again she was amazed at his weight, the rough skin of his hand, and the tautness of the muscle behind it. Once inside, he dropped to the ground, breathing hard and looking at her. His eyes, which she knew were hazel, seemed dark in the dim light. She hadn’t yet turned on the lamp. She fell back and sat on her bed, realizing how tense she had been. “You came back,” she said at last, not really believing. “Yeah.” “Patterson said he caught you and your brothers trespassing a few hours ago.” “He did.” Hermes winced, and rubbed his neck. “Why were you here?” “I guess I didn’t explain before. We made a silly bet. My brothers and I do that all the time. I bet that I could climb to the top of this tower and hang a banner on it. That’s what I was trying to do when I saw you last night. Well, after I met you, I didn’t want to do it anymore, but my older brothers thought they should have a try.” Raphaela found that slightly troubling. “Did you tell them about me?” He shook his head. “No. I didn’t even tell them I had been here before.” “Why not?” He hesitated. “I wanted to keep it a secret. Between—well, between you and me.”
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“I can see why.” She tried to look severe. “You’re Senator McCaffrey’s son.” “Yes, and you’re—Elma someone’s daughter.” He fumbled with his hair, clearly embarrassed for forgetting her family’s name. She couldn’t help but smile. “Elma Zilberger.” “Yes. I’m sorry I forgot. My dad says your mom is a top scientist.” “Did he?” She was proud. “Yes, she works very hard. My mother says your father is a bigot.” “He’s not a bigot. He’s a conservative. There’s a difference.” “Then why did she call him a bigot?” Hermes shrugged. “Seems like lots of people use that word even if it just means they disagree. Lots of people disagree with my dad. But lots of other people agreed with him, and that’s why he was elected. He’s always been very upfront about his views.” His eyes were unapologetic. “Do you believe like he does?” “Mostly, yes.” She considered this. “Why didn’t you tell me right away whose son you were?” “I was hoping—” he paused. “I was hoping it wouldn’t make a difference to you.” She had to smile at him again, because of the hint of anxiety that crept into his eyes. There was something about him that made her soften inside, as though there was a child inside him, looking out of those grown-up eyes. It made her feel both older and younger than him at the same time. “I really wanted to see you again,” he said quietly. “I wanted to see you again too, although at first I wasn’t sure.” “Why not?” “I know my mother wouldn’t like it.” He was silent, then asked, “Do you get along with your mother?” Raphaela stared at him. “How could I not get along with her?” “Some kids fight with their parents. Do you two fight?” “No. I guess we disagree, but we don’t really fight. She’s—well, she’s busy. And when she comes home, she mostly agrees with me. I guess I must be pretty easy for her to live with. Do you fight with your parents?” “Sometimes. With my dad more than with my mom.” They fell into silence. There had been tension between them when they had first started talking about their parents, but now everything felt more normal. If there was a normal between them.
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Hermes was fiercely debating with himself. He wanted to touch her face, feel her cheek, put his lips to hers, but was unsure if the timing was right. In his previous relationships, the first kiss sometimes ruined things; plus he was fairly sure that this would be Raphaela’s first kiss. And he didn’t want to spoil it for her. Did she want to be kissed by him? Did she dream about her first kiss, the way he had dreamed about his? If so, what would she be expecting? These thoughts flew through his mind as he exchanged words with her, looking at her face. Was it too soon? He didn’t think so, but this whole situation— meeting at night, their seclusion, the almost Romeo-and-Juliet-like feeling of isolation and secrecy—made it more intense, and to him, more romantic, more intimate—but suppose it wasn’t like that for her? As their conversation moved onto other subjects, he kept feeling his way, trying to read her lovely face. He didn’t want to be too forward, or disturb her peace—he wanted—he wanted to be something for her beyond her world— a hero? A prince? Too much to ask, he knew, but he had to try for it. It was too good to let it slip by without trying. “What are you thinking?” he asked softly when she had slipped into silence. They were both sitting on the wide window seat now, at either end, and she was looking out the window. “I was wondering what it must be like to live in your family. Your life seems so different than mine.” “We’re a pretty ordinary family, despite my dad’s job,” he said, perplexed. “We fight, we disagree, we snip at each other.” “But still, it’s different. Well, different from what I’ve experienced.” She looked up at him. “Tell me about them.” So he told her about Mom and Dad, how they met, about Christopher and Matthew and himself. “We used to live around here,” he said, “back when I was a baby, before my grandparents died. Dad actually got into politics here when he was assistant district attorney and had to investigate some of the judges for corruption.” “That sounds exciting.” He put his hands behind his head. “From what Mom told me, it was. Got pretty bitter. There was a big showdown between him and the judge here, Judge J. Harold Farnsworth. Something to do with Farnsworth’s son. That’s what got Dad into the spotlight as a whistle-blower, and he decided, heck, I’ll run for state senator. And he won.”
Rapunzel Let Down
“So that’s how he became a senator?” “Well, a state senator. Then he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, served a term, and ran for U.S. Senator.” He told her about their life, shuttling between DC and their home state, about different schools, about campaigns. She listened avidly, but seemed more interested in the family stories rather than the more dramatic, public stuff. He had to remind himself that she’d grown up an only child of a single mother, and what seemed prosaic to him was curious to her. “I want to meet them,” she said at last. “Why?” he said. “They’re just like other people.” “But how could they be?” she asked. “You’re not like other people.” “I’m not?” he asked softly, hardly daring to believe it. “Not like anyone I’ve met before,” she said. But she hasn’t met a lot of people, he reminded himself. When she started meeting other guys, she’d quickly see how unremarkable he actually was. Particularly compared to Christopher and Matthew—and his dad. As she looked at him steadily like that, with her round dark eyes, child’s eyes in a young woman’s face, he realized she might be smart, but in her relationships, she was still young. I should introduce her to my family, he thought. I could help her grow—introduce her to some good people in the wider world, beyond her mother’s little circle—It was clear she was craving to get out— But if he did, would he still be special to her? Wouldn’t he decrease in importance, just as he had with Melissa, maybe into insignificance? He couldn’t bear to let go of that, not so soon. Again, he thought about kissing her—feeling the warmth of her lips spreading through him and part of him wanted to get up and take her by the hand and . . . but he knew it wouldn’t be right. He let his eyes wander over to the books in her room. “So what else have you been reading?” he asked, attempting to change the subject. Because he couldn’t freely promise her what she wanted—meeting his family—he felt he shouldn’t ask for anything in return. So he changed the subject, and they talked about favorite books, until he felt it was time for him to leave. He stood up, trying to be brisk and not let the moment linger. “Well, it’s getting late. I’d better get going.” “Patterson wants to get dogs,” Raphaela said as she followed him to the window, her brows worried. “Are you sure you should come again?” “If you want to see me, I’m going to come,” he said.
A Fairy Tale Retold
“There’s an alarm on the tower, too,” she said. “Separate from the rest of the house. I turned it off so you could come up.” “Thank you,” Hermes said. So she had been waiting for me. The thought sent a thrill through him. “I’ll keep it off tomorrow, too, if you want to come. At night.” “All right.” “Hermes—” She hesitated. “Instead of climbing down, what if you brought a rope?” “You mean, if I bring a rope, you’ll let it down for me?” “Yes.” Raphaela looked at him with such hopeful longing that he wondered why this was important to her. To keep him from falling? So that she could—go with him—? Hermes had to smile. “Then I’ll bring a second rope tomorrow night,” he promised. “Longer than this one,” he added, lifting the one he’d used to get over the fence. “You’ll come tomorrow?” she asked, as though she couldn’t believe it. “I’ll come,” Hermes smiled at her. “Good night.”
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