Down the Rabbit Hole
I used to think of springtime as a season for planting. Or sowing wild oats if you will. Between warm days full of easy pickings—distracted farmers, lonely farmer’s daughters—and cool nights that didn’t set my teeth to chattering, it was usually my favorite time of year. In the spring, I could even expect a reasonably full stomach with the return of the open market in Corona’s main square, since after the winter months, some of the stall owners would forget that I lifted more produce than I ever paid for and lower their guard in the face of my ample charms.
Of course, I didn’t have to worry about being hungry in the palace, no matter the season. Nevertheless, I was reminded of just how much of my diet had been composed of eggs over the past few months, when I strolled into Rapunzel’s studio to tell her the cherry trees were blooming and found her hunched over what appeared to be a goose egg upon which she was painting intricate gold swirls.
“Hey, babe,” I said, leaning down to kiss her cheek as I tucked a cherry blossom behind her ear.
My fingers lingered in her hair, lightly teasing the nape of her neck, but for all my casual efforts, her eyes only flicked from the egg to me and back again. The whole time her tongue stayed firmly tucked in the corner of her mouth—a clear sign that her concentration was not to be broken by a visit from her extremely handsome boyfriend, and one that only made me want to kiss her until she forgot about painting eggs. Such an unfortunate example of Rapunzel’s self-restraint.
“You look like you’ve been busy,” I said, nodding towards the basket in which already painted and dried eggs were piled up. Pascal sat on top, as brightly colored as the rest of the basket’s contents.
There was only one explanation for this proliferation of eggs: someone must have told Rapunzel about Easter. It certainly hadn't been me, because I’d completely forgotten about it. How can a guy like me with much better things to do—like nap and read and play chess with a frog—remember a holiday that doesn’t even have the good sense to fall on the same day every year? That’s just bad planning. The only way I’d ever known Easter was upon me was the smell of freshly baked hot cross buns, just begging to be snatched from the windowsills of Corona’s bakeries.
I rubbed my stomach, staring into the basket of eggs and thinking how much nicer a warm, sticky bun would be right now as opposed to yet another egg washed down with a big, nutritious glass of milk. It would be a shame to peel these eggs anyway. They were works of art. One looked like a miniature globe. Rapunzel was currently absorbed by her geography lessons and that was one hell of an accurate egg.
“How long have you been at this?” This wasn’t the kind of basket you turned out in a couple of hours.
Rapunzel paused, blew a strand of hair out of her eyes and squinted at the egg she was working on.
“Since last night.”
“You haven’t slept?”
“Can’t. I’m behind,” she said, pointing towards the corner with her paintbrush without looking up from the purple and gold egg before her.
That’s when I saw it: several crates of eggs of various sizes, carefully stacked, awaiting Rapunzel’s attention. I recognized those eggs. Those eggs and I were on very intimate terms. I could easily distinguish between partridge, turtledove, hen, calling bird, goose, and swan eggs after the feathered festivities of Christmas had resulted in some of those eggs finding their way into my bed, where wayward fowl had attempted to nest.
It appeared that in my new, royal family, springtime wouldn’t mean chasing skirts—unless of course Rapunzel felt up for a game of tag, a favorite pastime of hers I didn’t mind indulging in from time to time, because of the way her breasts heaved and her cheeks flushed after fifteen minutes of sport.
No, Easter, just like Christmas, would just mean heaps upon heaps of eggs.
"Wow," I said the next time I set foot in Rapunzel's studio a couple days later. For a lot of reasons.
One, of course, being that even though I'd had a rough idea of how many eggs Rapunzel planned to decorate for Easter, it was still pretty staggering to see them all piled up in baskets trimmed with pastel ribbon, each one uniquely designed by the Crown Princess of Corona. Special snowflakes, as it were.
"Look!" My voice sounded pinched, like I had a cold, as I tried not to breathe through it while I grabbed an egg that had caught my eye and turned around to show the Queen. "It's my face! Perfectly captured on an Easter egg. As handsome as life."
There was one of her, too, wearing a miniature gold-leaf crown that matched the one on the King's egg. In fact, it seemed that Rapunzel had done egg portraits of the entire Royal Court and all the palace staff, too. Including my pal the Captain of the Guards. Immediately I thought of a few jokes that all involved the phrase egg on your face and hoped I could be there to see the Captain find his egg on Easter afternoon.
"She even got your nose right," said the Queen in approving tones as she apprised the egg alongside my face.
But my nose, however beautifully Rapunzel had rendered it, was the other reason I'd said wow. I had to let out my breath eventually, and when I did, the stench I'd sacrificed breathing to avoid was so putrid I couldn't pretend it didn't exist. Or at least, I couldn't when I scrunched up my nose and Rapunzel asked what was wrong.
"Blondie," I replied, "if I were blind--" Actually, I was a little surprised I hadn't been struck blind by the pungency. "--I'd think I'd just walked into the Snuggly Duckling on Half-Price Drinks for Thugs Night. Is that the paint fumes, or--?"
"Rotten eggs," said the Queen, her little snub-nose crinkling just like her daughter's. "Rapunzel, darling--did you hard-boil these eggs before you decorated them?"
Rapunzel blinked her green eyes at the Queen.
The Queen blinked her green eyes back at Rapunzel, and then, looking a bit like the weary woman she'd been before her long-lost daughter pranced back into her life, sank down on the stool beside Rapunzel's paint-spattered craft table.
"I'm sorry, my love, I know how hard you've worked to make such beautiful eggs, but I'm afraid they've all spoilt."
Any other princess' huge green eyes would have welled with tears to hear that days and dozens of eggs had all been wasted, but Rapunzel isn't any other princess. Sure, her pointy little chin quivered, but with confusion, not devastation. I put my hand on her shoulder, as much to console her as to say, That's my girl, and found it rigid with indignation.
"Why would anyone boil twenty-four dozen eggs?" she asked.
"They wouldn't," I told her, helpfully. "Because no one typically decorates twenty-four dozen Easter eggs."
Rapunzel ignored me. "Aren't they so much more useful if the yolks are intact? I mean, who wants to eat that many hard-boiled eggs? Even if you put them in tuna salad, or spinach salad--"
"Or devil them," I suggested.
"--nobody wants to eat twenty-four dozen hard-boiled eggs!"
"Babe, I whole-heartedly share your sentiment," I said.
I didn't say that most of my Easter memories involved eating hard-boiled eggs--and nothing but hard-boiled eggs, not even washed down with wholesome glasses of ice-cold milk--for days after the Annual Corona Orphanage Charity Egg Hunt, or that I hadn't been looking forward to reliving that bit of my past even if it was dressed up with tunafish or spinach.
"And don't worry--I checked the aviary--" The King had to have one built after Christmas. "--and there aren't quite twenty-four dozen eggs, but there are at least enough to have a respectable egg hunt." Of course respectable was too mild a word for the egg hunt I'd been planning ever since I learned Easter was upon us. "You have to redo some of these portraits. They're too handsome not to be shared with the world."
I snatched up the Captain of the Guard egg, flashing my most charming and future-princely grin in response to the Queen's inquiringly-arched eyebrow. "This one'll do just the way it is. I can't get over how perfectly Rapunzel captured the Captain's…" I lightly tossed the egg into the air and caught it in my hand. It cracked, and rotten yolk oozed between my fingers.
"Essence?" said the Queen.
"Be sure to put that wicked gleam in your mother's eyes," I told Rapunzel, looking back to see the same glimmer in hers.
Something you might not know about thieves is that they’re not just good at taking things. Really first-rate thieves aren’t worth their salt unless they’re good at hiding stuff too. You have to have a someplace where you keep your hoard, and no one ever found mine, which is why I knew I’d be damn good at hiding Easter eggs. How hard could stashing a couple of dozen eggs be? I’d once hidden a full set of bedroom furniture before I found the right buyer—I made pretty good use of that bed in the meantime, too—so even a goose egg didn’t particularly seem intimidating. Blondie may have artfully painted them, but I’d elevate hiding them to an art form too.
Watching Rapunzel hunt these eggs—and let’s not kid around, the Princess would be a most enthusiastic hunter of eggs—would be a vast improvement over my past Easters, for more reasons than just superior egg hiding and hunting. I had plans. Big plans.
I was almost finished, and was climbing down from an ash tree, where I’d tucked one of the last eggs from the satchel at my side and congratulating myself on my incredible skill—it would take Rapunzel hours to find these eggs—when I heard a booming voice beneath me.
It still shocked me to hear that word associated with me, who had never been anyone’s son, and my foot slipped. I just caught myself under my arm on the branch closest to me and yanked myself a little frantically back onto firm footing. It was a good thing I hadn’t fallen, since I didn’t know how my plan would work if I had a broken leg I couldn’t properly bend. I certainly wouldn’t have exactly cut the dashing figure I’d pictured in my mind.
Peering down through the leaves, I could see the king’s face peeking through the foliage.
“Have you lost your mind?” he called up to me.
It was a fair enough question. The king was probably accustomed to Rapunzel being found up in trees, but I usually cultivated a cooler, more grounded persona.
I cleared my throat and shimmied down the trunk of the tree, jumping the last four feet. Probably a bad idea, given the eggs I had in my satchel, but it seemed like the manly, impressive thing to do, and I had to recover some of my dignity after being discovered up a tree.
“Your Majesty,” I said calmly as if we regularly met like this.
“You needn’t go to such great lengths. There’s a room I could recommend in the castle if you’re looking for a place to,” the king paused to clear his throat, “get away. The steward is never so far that beer and pretzels aren’t out of the question either,” he said, before clapping me so hard on the back that I stumbled one step forward.
I recovered my footing and considered his offer for a moment. With the amount of wholesome food and drink we’d been ingesting lately, the King’s super secret lair didn’t sound so bad. I’d had a lair once; lairs were kind of stupendous. They helped a guy feel like he had a certain level of cachet. Of course, the castle was a pretty impressive address, too, what with the view and the servants to wait on your every whim. Good stuff until you wanted a little privacy. No, the King’s lair sounded pretty darn good.
Actually, Rapunzel and I could use a hidey-hole for when we needed some privacy.
“Thanks. I might take you up on that offer sometime, but I wasn’t actually hiding.” I screwed my mouth up and raised one brow, reconsidering. “Well, to be exact, I was hiding,” I said, swinging my satchel around and flipping it open. “Eggs,” I said, pulling out a hen egg that was still blessedly intact after my admittedly ape-like antics.
The King looked back up, his considerable brows drawing together. “Is that really the best place?”
I scoffed, as I tucked the egg back away. “It’s the perfect place. I’ve got to admit, I really outdid myself.”
Generally the Princess looked like the spitting image of her mother, but when the King smiled with his eyes like he was now, I could see where Rapunzel got her irrepressible joie de vivre. Eyes shouldn’t be able to twinkle quite like that. Blondie’s made me do all sorts of idiotic things. Like climb up trees on the palace green. But there’s a certain kind of insanity in which a man finds himself wanting to indulge.
I closed the flap on the satchel and buckled it. “I’ve got a few left to hide, but I’m actually glad we bumped into each other. I’ve got something to ask you.”
Remember that thing I said? About it taking Rapunzel hours to find my artfully-hidden Easter eggs? Yeah…that turned out to be a rather generous estimate. By a couple of hours.
Don't get me wrong--I love that my girlfriend is clever--scarily clever--and it's not that I'm on some ego trip, trying to outwit her. But it would have been nice to know that I'd at least been scarily clever myself in accounting for the extra time it would take her to climb around on the battlements in a skirt, petticoat, and an Easter bonnet that just didn't want to stay on her head, none of which seemed to hamper her at all. And that was great information to possess on the off-chance that we'd ever find ourselves needing to make a quick getaway via the battlements, but all the same I'd hoped the egg I'd hidden in one of the gargoyles' mouths would be the last place she'd think to look, instead of the first.
Okay. So maybe there was a teensy bit of ego involved. Mostly because the King had told me this was going to happen, when I'd asked him if it was okay to follow through with my special Easter plans.
"It's more than okay, son," he'd said, laying his hand on my shoulder and giving it a squeeze, his eyes a little misty--which made mine go a little misty--for a moment before they sparkled with merriment. Like this was Christmas all over again, instead of Easter, or St. Nick had given the bunny the year off. "But don't you think a gargoyle is just the sort of place Rapunzel would think to hide an egg?"
To be perfectly honest, there had been a sort of nagging thought at the back of my mind that the King was right, that I'd thought too much like Rapunzel to really challenge her with this egg hunt, but I'd said, "Nah. This is a great spot. And won't it be so romantic to propose to her way up here, looking down over the kingdom…"
"With the gargoyles sticking their tongues out at you?"
Now that the moment had arrived, those guys were kind of a mood killer.
Or maybe my palms were sweaty and my mouth had gone impossibly dry because…the moment had arrived.
"Hey!" cried Rapunzel, pulling the egg from the gargoyle's mouth and scrutinizing it closely instead of putting it in her basket. "I don't remember painting this one."
"You don't?" My voice squeaked like it hadn't since puberty. I struck a confident pose, leaning my elbow on the gargoyle's back, and raked a hand through my hair, and hoped she didn't notice how my fingers were trembling. "Only I'm pretty sure I remember having a discussion about what great stick figures you paint. Look at them. They're us. Kissing. On a boat. With lanterns."
You really did need that description to tell what it was. And even with it, you couldn't, really. I hadn't even captured the magnificence that was my own nose.
"This isn't a real egg," Rapunzel said, rubbing her fingers all over the shell. At least the mystery had clearly piqued her curiosity, despite not having taken long for her to get to this point. "It's more like…Papier-mâché. Eugene! Did you learn to do papier-mâché?"
I'd thought it was paper mache, and honestly, I thought papier-mâché sounded a tad pretentious, and if I'd known, I'd have thought of something else. But I nodded.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she said. "We could have done it together!"
"Because I wanted to surprise you," I said, straightening up, my confidence returning as I realized that I had, even though it hadn't happened quite in the way I'd planned. "Go on. Open it."
Rapunzel's brows knit together as she looked at the paper mache egg, then up at me. "Open it?"
"It's a box," I said, and, delighted, she found the seams and pulled the two halves apart as I sank onto one knee that was slightly bruised from my earlier less than graceful descent from the tree.
"A ring!" she cried, bouncing up and down on the balls of her bare feet. "Is it candy?"
"What? No!" I stood bolt upright, and snatched the ring from her. "Don't eat it!"
"I wasn't going to eat it. Not till you told me it was edible."
"Why would you think it's edible?"
"I heard there were candy rings at the confectionery."
"I think that's more a Valentine's Day thing?" Honestly, I had no idea, but I had to get her off this candy ring thing and back on track to my proposal.
"Oh," she said, plainly disappointed. "Why didn't you get me a candy ring for Valentine's Day?"
"Because I knew I'd be getting you a real ring!" I answered, a little exasperated.
Rapunzel gave me a real ring at Christmas—five real rings to be exact—and it had made me a little woozy, thinking we were getting a tad ahead of ourselves. But the more I thought about it, I came to realize that from the moment I met her, being with Rapunzel meant running headlong into danger, excitement, and daring. It was the lover’s equivalent of stealing the crown jewels. By which I mean, incredibly thrilling.
So, somewhere between January fifth and February fourteenth, I’d become less concerned about rushing things and more concerned about getting her a ring that would blow her mind, so I’d be sure to hear the answer I was looking for—yes. And now she was disappointed that the perfect ring I’d gotten her wasn’t candy.
Actually I hadn't gotten her the ring, exactly. The Queen had given it to me some time ago--just in case, she'd said; it had been Rapunzel's grandmother's.
"For Easter," I went on. "To ask you to…" I remembered, almost too late, to drop down on one knee again and take her hand, hovering with the ring just above her dainty fourth finger. "…to be my wife."
It came out all shaky and squeaky. I wasn't about to let that be my proposal. I drew a deep breath and said, in the most confident tones I could muster--which, frankly, sounded like I was overcompensating--"Rapunzel, will you marry me?"
Her whole face lit up. "It's an engagement ring! Eugene, why didn't you just say?"
"I kinda did, babe--when I did that whole kneeling thing."
"Hm. Well, it's not a very romantic setting for it, with all the gargoyles sticking their tongues out at us."
I glanced over my shoulder, suddenly afraid the King was standing somewhere nearby, sniggering at me. He wasn't, so I smoothed my hair and turned back to Rapunzel, cool once more.
"So, what do you say, Blondie? Are we getting hitched? Tying the knot?"
"Yes!" She slid the ring onto her finger herself, and then threw herself into my arms so hard her Easter bonnet fell off and kissed me. The force of catching her had backed me up against the gargoyle, and I was fairly certain its stone tongue was digging into my back and that that was kind of weird considering my current activities, but--and I know it sounds cliché--I didn't feel it. I was completely absorbed in Rapunzel's soft, warm lips opening against mine and of her tongue exploring my mouth with as much enthusiasm as she explored everything, and maybe it wasn't the most romantic kiss we'd ever shared, but it was definitely the most exciting, because of everything it promised--a future filled with all the love and family that both our pasts had been sadly lacking. I wrapped my arms tight around her petite little frame and lifted her right off the ground, hoping she understood all of that from the way I was kissing her back.
"Wow," I said, shakily, when the kiss eventually ended.
"Yeah," Rapunzel agreed, and my chest puffed a little to hear that she was breathless, too.
"--really good at holidays!" she finished for me. Not quite with the same words I'd intended. "Just wait till you see what I've got planned for All Hallow’s!"