by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
I stood waiting in the driveway of Grandmother’s house gazing down the hill to the edge of the forest.
When I was young, I had believed that someday, the prince would emerge from those trees. He would come for me. He and his horse.
While I was still thinking about it, the prince and his horse turned up. The rider was saddled upon his steed like a painting from a story book staring back at me. I blinked a few times, but they were still trotting up the bank in my direction.
“Do not be frightened, my lady!” he called out. He, the prince.
I backed up until I was pressed against my old Nissan sedan. Before I could think about what to do, they were upon me. I stared stupidly at the massive animal as it sniffed my face.
“Please,” said the rider, dismounting the white steed. “We mean you no harm. Is it Pluto that frightens you so, or I?”
Turning from the wet, flaring nostrils, I looked at the very handsome prince and tried to speak, but nothing came out.
While growing up, my brothers and I had explored the woods behind Grandmother’s house every weekend. They sought wild animal tracks, treasures and trails, but I had always been interested in something else. I spent my time near ponds or creeks hoping to encounter slimy but personable frogs who might be princes under a spell. Many times, I nearly spotted the red caps of elves as they tromped otherwise invisible through the brush. I could feel the fluttering wings of fairies flying by. And once, I even thought for certain I saw dwarves carrying a glass casket a great way off.
In short, I wanted to be swept up into a fairy tale. I knew one day, the handsome prince would ride up to me on his horse and declare my beauty to be unmatched in all the land. He would ask for my hand in marriage and take me to a gleaming palace. That was, after all, the way the whole thing worked. No one knew it better than me.
All too aware of my worn jeans and sneakers now, I was unprepared for this encounter.
“Pardon my intrusion, my lady,” the prince said. “I seem to be lost. Can you tell me where I am?”
I thought my mouth might finally be moving, but I was clearly still in shock.
“Are you well, lady? Shall you sit?”
The only place to sit was my twenty-first century car. Talk about shattering an illusion.
“Can you speak?” he pressed.
The prince wore some type of black leotard and tights under a long vest-like thing, and knee-high, brown suede boots. His cap was brown cloth in a triangular shape with a long point in the back. The sword in a metal scabbard banged against his side when he moved. It seemed like he was wearing a costume rather than the real thing. But something inside of me told me it was him. He had finally showed.
I took a deep shuddering breath. “Yes, I can talk. I’m sorry.”
He gave a low bow. “The fault is mine. I have startled you. Forgive me. This land is very strange to me, though I can see the maidens are quite beautiful.”
Did he just throw a line? Our eyes met. His blue ones seemed to be made of sparkling, magic water. He grinned. “Perhaps the most beautiful in all the realm."
Heat rushed to my cheeks. Yep, definitely a line. Were fairy tale princes like other men? That would make sense, of course. Where had he been all this time? Slaying dragons? An epic stag hunt? What was so important that it took him so long to show up?
I set my shoulders and cleared my throat. “Are you really the prince?” I asked. It was time to be over my shock. I had waited a long time for this moment.
“Yes, sweet lady. I am the prince.”
“Well, if you are him…Then where have you been?”
His smile vanished. “I do not understand.”
These days, I didn’t slosh near the muddy creeks or venture down the long, tree-shaded paths behind Grandmother's house. I had long since realized that a hunter may more likely mistake me for an animal rather than a beautiful wood nymph. I was also more likely to step on a snake or get poison ivy than stumble across a fairy ring. Besides, none of my precious fairy tales with their magical characters had originated in America much less the woods behind my Grandmother’s house.
To make matters worse, I had also once held firmly that the prince would appear at just the right time. Probably my sixteenth birthday. I was twenty-seven now.
“I waited for years,” I said. “Right here. Even when I knew you weren’t really going to come to me this way, I still thought of you every day. I would stargaze until my hands and feet were numb with cold because I believed you were out there under the same stars. I’d wonder what you were doing. I imagined you were thinking of me, too.”
He looked stunned. “I do not know what to say.”
I crossed my arms, gathering more courage. “The first few heartbreaks of my life were disappointing, but I was so young. I knew it wasn’t too late or anything. Later, I met someone who also wasn’t you at all, but I had thought I put childish ways behind me. So I married him. He lied to me a lot, you know. He pretended to be many things he wasn’t.”
He raised his eye brows. Clearly, he was not trained for this scenario. I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Divorce. He’s gone now.”
“That is well, my lady,” he said.
“Yes, it is well. But he took a lot when he left. He shattered my dreams. The whole world was turned upside down. I was in so much debt I could hardly breathe. I was lonely and scared. I thought you would come for me then. But still, you didn’t.”
He face scrunched. “My lady, if I had only known, I would have been here.”
“Would you?” I wasn’t finished. “Other men came for me. They said the same thing. I was so ashamed of what had become of my life that they easily stripped what was left. I clung to each one of them hoping he was you. Just when I had to either resign myself over to a dreamless life with one of them or wait once more for you…”
A wave of his hand. “Sweet lady! What can I do? Simply tell me what I must do.”
I shook my head. Classic. “I had to come through for myself always. These men didn’t truly love me. You didn’t truly love me. I couldn’t even depend on the fairy tale prince.”
“I am here now!” he protested. “I see that you are kind and beautiful. I pray you will come with me to my kingdom.”
I laughed. “Why’s that?”
His eyes lit up as though he finally knew what to say. “The moment I saw you, I knew I must have you for my wife.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve heard that before. All of them had their own charming lines. I wanted to hear those things, so I believed them.”
He went rigid. I wondered if he was finally out of lines, but I should have known. He dropped down on one knee. “My lady,” he said regally, “tell me how I might mend your broken heart. Come away with me. Let me show you all you have longed to see under the greenwood shade. I know where the fairies live. I know where the magic places are. Let me ease your heart that you might believe again and be my bride, as you dreamed long ago.”
I put my hands on my hips. “You expect me to go with you? Just like that?”
“Is there another way?”
“I don’t know you at all.”
“Does it matter? We have a lifetime to know one another. We are meant to be together. True love has brought me here.”
His sharp eyes pierced me again. I glanced back down the hill at the trees. How time had changed so many things.
“Yes, I thought of you,” I said. “But not really you. I thought of… the one for me. My prince. Do you understand?”
He shot up from the ground. “What makes you think I am not this prince of yours? Tell me what you wish, and I will give it to you. Up to half my kingdom.”
Money? Really? This guy was a piece of work. “One man I dated was a doctor,” I said. “Believe me, prince, nothing matters more to me than how I am treated. I’m not interested in your kingdom.”
“How shall my bride be treated but as a princess?” He grabbed my hands, but I took them back.
“Hey, just a minute,” I said. “You really do think I’ll just jump on the back of your horse and go marry you?”
“Of course. You will be royalty and never have to live this way again.”
What way? What was this guy getting at?
“So, we would sit on our thrones and be waited on hand and foot?” I asked.
A new thought dawned. “So, you have never done anything for yourself in your whole life?”
“And neither would you,” he promised. His eyes darted to Grandmother’s house. “I would save you from the peasant life. You will have fine clothes and pearls and diamonds, and servants for your bidding all your days.”
“I see,” I said. “Save me from my peasant life.”
All the years of learning to take care of myself without any help came flooding back. Times had been hard, but those years had made me who I was.
“Do you know even how to change a light bulb?” I asked.
“What is… a bulb of light?”
“Have you ever patched drywall, fixed plumbing, painted a room?”
“My portrait hangs in the great hall...”
“Won’t bother asking if you can change motor oil.”
“Do you speak of lamps?”
I sighed. “Prince, my grandmother needs me."
“Then she shall come to the palace as well!"
“I don’t think so. You see, Grandmother is the one who read fairy tales to me when I was a child. She listened to the stories I dreamed up and encouraged me to never stop believing. She told me to wait for my prince as long as it took. I didn’t really listen at first, but I understand what she meant now. She’s one of the most important people to me in the whole world, and she’s getting older. She took great care of me for a long time, and it’s my turn to care for her now. What she needs, and what I need, is not with you. It never has been.”
He was perplexed. “So, you truly wish to stay here and to not… marry me?”
“You weren’t there when I needed you. You’re late, unreliable, and spoiled. And quite frankly, I need a real man who can provide for himself.”
“I could learn this… changing of the oil...”
“I doubt that,” I said. “Anyway, it’s alright. There might be a pretty maiden in the woods somewhere right now happening upon some sort of peril. You really shouldn’t be late. Just a tip.”
He looked at the forest and back at me as if I really knew there was someone in danger. It was possible. There really was a prince. Perhaps the maiden existed, too. She just wasn’t me.
“Indeed. You baffle me, my lady. I will depart, for it is your wish. Fare thee well!”
He mounted Pluto effortlessly and did some sort of salute as they galloped away. Pluto’s giant hooves tore up plods of grass in the yard. Prince and horse entered the wood and vanished as if they were swallowed into the magic.
“Fare thee well, prince,” I whispered.
I imagined my little-girl-self staring at me in horror. If she knew my husband though, she wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Hey babe, ready to go?” My real hero came up behind me from inside the house.
“Oh, yes,” I breathed, spinning around and looking up into the face of the man I loved.
He shook his head. His wife was a hopeless romantic. He was used to me.
“Everything all set inside?” I asked.
“Definitely. Your grandfather was really smart. First of all, there are two wells. He had two hot water heaters on either side of the basement. There was a valve so I could shut off the water from the one that was leaking. I guarantee he did that on purpose in case something happened to one of them. If he hadn’t done that, she would be out of hot water until we could get it fixed. She’s doing fine right now. Just eating her dinner.”
“Thank you so much for all you do,” I gushed.
He wrapped his arms around me. “No need to thank me. I love you, and I love your family.”
I squeezed him back. “I love you, too, with all my heart. You were worth it. All the broken hearts. All the lonely days. It brought me to you."
“Geeze, babe.” He stole a kiss. “You want me to get a white horse or something?”
I shook my head. "Nah, they're overrated."
Don't forget to subscribe to this story blog to receive notifications of new stories.
*I wrote this one while divorced.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.