The lights in the sky, they must have brought me to him. How else would I have found myself glowing everyday like a star? Or maybe, it's him who's the star and I just reflect his light. That must be it, because I don't believe in fate or destiny.
Chapter 14 – A Good Luck Charm from the Charmer Himself
After a few more weeks of dating, Rapunzel and Eugene had fallen into a rhythm. She painted. He typed. This was the extent of their free time in the apartment. They occasionally went out for lunch or dinner, but Rapunzel liked to stay home. It was more comfortable than being out in public. Some days though, she just itched to get out.
Eugene had pretty much healed. He could now expand his rib cage without wincing in pain. He was still a little sore, but his joints would eventually work that out. His cast was off and everyday for twenty minutes or so, he had to squeeze a stress ball to strengthen his hand again.
It had turned hot quickly. All of April had been relatively cool (and rather uneventful after the Kings' commission order) and the first week of May had been pleasant too, but New Sonnenburg was having an out of season heat wave. It was May fourteenth and all the windows in the apartment were flung open. Eugene refused to turn on the AC when he was sure it would turn chilly again.
Rapunzel sat in the spare room, only wearing a camisole and a pair of thin shorts. She'd braided her long hair (actually, Eugene had braided it for her, somehow…) and had wrapped it around her head. She looked like a little Swiss girl missing her Alps. It was so hot, she wished she was in the Alps. In the spare room, Rapunzel had a fan going. Around her sat four of the twelve paintings: a man standing in a pile of feathers in mid transformation from bird to human, a girl sitting in a cage, singing, an antlered man standing in foliage with deer, and an androgynous face in the wind. She was staring at a halfway done picture of a purple starburst flower with village like people doing daily tasks in the petals.
Rapunzel put her paint brush in her mouth and stretched her arms up. She'd been working nonstop for the last few weeks. She'd wanted to start right away, but she hadn't had any ideas. For some reason, keeping with the Kings' theme proved to be more difficult than it sounded. Eugene tossed some books her way, and of course, they were all fairytales. She'd read a few and hated every minute of it. She wrote down some ideas and taped the list to the wall in the spare room, so she could be reminded later.
It wasn't even the spare room anymore; it was Rapunzel's studio. She had a stack of canvases, all lined up and ready to be used. Eugene had gotten shelves and boxes for her to store her supplies and even found a desk for her. He of course had to have his friends set the furniture up, but it was the thought that counted. Rapunzel still stored her clothes in the room; Eugene's closet was full of his.
Her eyes wandered from her easel to the open closet door. She spotted a light pink sundress her aunt had gotten for her to impress a very famous photographer. Rapunzel cocked an eye at it.
"I don't feel like painting anymore," she said. She set her brush down, turned off the fan and went into the living/dining room, where Eugene was clacking away at his laptop. He was in a pair of sport shorts and nothing else. Rapunzel was fine with him being shirtless now (she was finding she actually sort of preferred it; Eugene was well built and any artist could appreciate that). She actually had to get used to a half naked Eugene fast; the nights were hot too and he didn't sleep in a lot. At first, she'd mostly been put off by all the little white scars that littered his chest. She wondered if she should ask about it, but she decided it might be better not to. She figured he'd just gotten them from being in the gang he was with.
Eugene had a folder sitting next to him full of loose leaf paper that was covered in black handwritten text. Rapunzel walked up behind him and slid her arms over his bare chest, liking how smooth he was. She, however, did not enjoy his clamminess.
"Eugene," she whined, "I'm bored." He stopped his typing and chuckled, taking one of her hands and kissing it.
"I'm sorry to hear that." She rested her chin on his shoulder and stared down at his computer screen.
"Working on something for class?"
"Uh…well, yes and no." Rapunzel let go of Eugene and sat down beside to him.
"How is it yes and no?"
"Uh…" Eugene gave a nervous laugh. Why did he look so embarrassed? "Well, you see, I'm in a creative writing class." That didn't surprise Rapunzel; he had books galore and his poem she'd heard was well written, so, why not?
"Okay, so is this something you're polishing up for class? Or are you sending it into a contest?"
"Actually, both, sort of. See, everyone in the class has to bring in something for review and critique. My turn is next week and I've just been fixing this up." He gestured to the screen. "But I've been working on this for awhile now. I want to get it published, as an actual book, with a cover and everything."
"Really?" Rapunzel had no idea that Eugene liked to write enough to make a career out of it.
"Yeah. I suppose I never did tell you one of my goals in life, did I?"
"Well, I never asked," Rapunzel said, thinking back to when Max had told her about getting to know her boyfriend more. Better late than never. "What's it about?"
"Uh…" Eugene scratched his neck. "Well, um, it's a young adult fiction, loosely based off fairytales."
Of course. Rapunzel refrained from the temptation to roll her eyes. She simply nodded.
"The main character is a thief, named Flynn Rider. He's always getting into trouble, not because he's a bad thief, he just makes things difficult for himself. He's sort of cocky." Eugene talked quickly, waving his hands like everything he said didn't matter that much. "Anyway, while escaping capture, he rolls down this cliff and at the bottom, he's alright, by the way, at the bottom, he discovers this cave that leads him to a tower in a clearing." Rapunzel narrowed her eyes.
"Is this Rapunzel?" Eugene laughed.
"No. Sort of the same idea, but not. Though, he does find a girl inside. She's been cursed by a witch to stay in the tower forever, singing for the witch whenever she wants a song. Anyway, he leaves the tower and goes on his merry way, but he can't stop thinking about the girl. He then realizes he has to go back to her and get her out of the tower. And of course, there are soldiers and guards and witches after him, plus old accomplices who want him dead, and a plot to over throw the kingdom which he discovers and he has just enough sense of duty to try to help. It's actually better than it sounds."
"Sounds like kids will like it. Is there a happy ending?"
"Oh, I won't give everything away. You can read the final draft for yourself, but I will say this, Flynn has to give up everything he's worked for, to get what he really wants."
"Mm, major dynamic character change." Eugene smiled and turned back to his screen.
It sounded like a cute story, but Rapunzel wasn't sure she'd read it. You read one young adult fiction; you've read them all. That was her opinion.
Rapunzel stood up and kissed Eugene on his head. He looked at her, surprised. She winked.
"Thanks, I'll need it." He went back to clicking the keyboard.
"Yeah?" He looked up at her. She looked off to the side and to the floor, twisting a strand of hair around her index finger.
"I realize you have school work, but," she looked at him as pleadingly as she could, "let's get out of the apartment. It's stuffy in here." He grinned.
"You know, I was thinking the same thing." He closed his computer and stood up. "But, where do you want to go?" Rapunzel thought.
"The park. The one with the lake."
"With the island in the middle you can only get to by rented boat?"
"That's the one."
"Alright. I'll go put something more decent on," Eugene smiled as he gestured to his bare chest. He brushed his lips over the top of Rapunzel's head and went into their bedroom. She went into the spare room and grabbed her light pink sundress. It was thin and breezy and perfect for a hot day. She peeled the other clothes off and threw on the light weight dress. She grabbed a pair of white sandals that would be comfortable enough to walk in. She checked her hair in a mirror, to make sure it was still done up and grabbed her purse.
Eugene came out of the bedroom wearing plaid shorts and a thin blue button shirt that was more open than closed. He was wearing sandals too.
"Ready to go," he asked.
"Yep." He extended an arm and she took it.
They rode the bus to the park, rather than take the car. It was more eco-friendly, Eugene said. The park they were going to was close to the shoreline of New Sonnenburg. It was on a sort of bluff that overlooked a small stretch of beach. It was actually closer to the suburbs than the city itself, so it was a long bus ride.
They didn't talk much. Eugene noticed that Rapunzel liked to look out the window when she was in a mode of transport, so he let her be. He pulled his smart phone out and began to text. Rapunzel noticed.
"Who are you talking to?"
"Pascal. He asked me about a final boss in some video game."
"Yeah. Apparently it's killed him three times since I told him how to beat it. He thinks I gave him the wrong information on purpose." Rapunzel laughed.
"That sounds like Pascal." Rapunzel turned back to the window. Eugene looked across the way at her. She looked really happy to be out of the apartment. Eugene smiled. Sometimes it was nice to just go out with no good reason except boredom.
When they got to the park, the parking lot was full of cars.
"That's weird," Eugene said. "Why are there so many people here today?" He looked around. He saw a sign. "Oh."
"What?" Eugene pointed. Rapunzel read the sign.
New Sonnenburg's annual spring fireworks festival.
"I forgot about this thing," Eugene said.
"That's okay," Rapunzel smiled up at him. "I've actually never been to this. I've always wanted to go."
"Then allow me to make your dream come true." Eugene put his hand out for Rapunzel. She took it, smiling as she did so.
Since it was a festival, there were food booths, vendor stalls, games, and even performances by local bands and dance troops. At one point, while passing by the stage, the two saw Mr. Hook playing the piano. He really could play with a hook. It was background music for a mime act.
"Hold on, Blondie, I gotta get a picture of this." Eugene whipped his phone out and snapped a picture. He grinned at it. "He's going to wonder how I got this," he laughed evilly to himself.
They began to wander down the vendor alley, when Eugene heard Rapunzel's stomach growl.
"Hungry," he asked.
"Just a little bit." They found the food.
There was a hot dog stand, burgers, barbeque, a stall selling authentic Turkish coffee, shaved ice, and a funnel cake stand with cotton candy.
"Take your pick. I'm buying." Rapunzel didn't know what to eat. All the smells mixing together in the air made it hard to decide. She really wasn't a burger person and barbeque was too messy.
"How about hot dogs?"
As they waited in line, Rapunzel bounced on the balls of her feet. She looked up at the stage; there was a band consisting of a fiddler, a flutist, and guitarist. They played a folksy number. It had a good tune and Rapunzel swayed a bit to the sound. She was listening so intently to the music, she didn't notice that the line had moved and it was their turn. She walked up, embarrassed. Rapunzel ordered a plain hot dog, while Eugene ordered a chili cheese dog with relish, onions, and saurer kraut. Rapunzel blanched at it when they got their food.
"You're actually going to eat that?"
"Yeah. It's better than it looks."
"But it has saurer kraut."
"It's an acquired taste." Eugene took a bite out of it. He 'mm-mmed'.
"I hope you like heart burn."
"Adore it." He always had something snappy to say.
After the hot dogs, Eugene bought both of them shaved ice and a bag of cotton candy. They had to eat the ice quickly and when they ate the cotton candy, they had to find a bathroom to wash the ick off.
"Would you like funnel cake," Eugene asked, after they got out of the restrooms.
"No, I can't really eat fried foods. It gives me hiccups."
"That is oddly cute." Rapunzel blushed.
Now sated, they went back over to the vendor booths and began to look at the available merchandise. There was certainly a lot of it. Artisans and crafts people from all over the area had turned out for the event. There were sellers of various forms of art; pottery, wood carving, painting, jewelry, silver and gold smiting. There was a booth of homemade candles made from bee's wax and the same booth sold local honey too. There was a vendor selling hand caved bows (they were expensive!) and a stall full of cloth good, like dresses, shirts, scarves, and purses. Someone had even gotten smart about the heat and was hocking parasols and fans for cheap. The jewelry enticed Rapunzel the most, even though she didn't wear it a lot, it was pretty. In one booth she fancied over a beautiful amber necklace. The pendant was made of six pieces of yellow amber cut to look like petals of a lily. The pistol coming out from the center was gold, and clashed a bit with the soft yellow of the gem. She stared at it long enough that Eugene noticed.
"You like that," he asked.
"I could get it for you."
"Oh, no." Rapunzel put her hands up. "It's fine. I don't wear jewelry too often and besides, it's expensive." She turned the price tag for Eugene. $80. He whistled.
"Ye-ah. That's a pretty price. Course, that's amber and amber isn't cheap."
"Yeah. It's nice to just look at." Rapunzel wandered away from the booth and Eugene followed.
They finished the many rows of vendors just as the sun was beginning to set. They walked over to where the games were set up, the park lights starting to flick on. There wasn't much, mostly things for children. However, there was a rock climbing wall. Eugene looked at it.
"Up that thing? I'm in a dress."
"I'll punch anyone who looks." He gave her a pleading look. She had a hard time refusing.
"No. Besides, you shouldn't. Your rib did just heal." Eugene stuck out his tongue.
"Nag," he said before he kissed her above the ear.
They meandered a bit more through the throngs of people. They watched as children delighted in the little games, while their parents snapped photos. Then, they passed an interesting booth that didn't really fit. It was for knife throwing.
"Oh, hey, I'm amazing at this," Eugene said enthusiastically. He pulled Rapunzel up to the booth.
"You can throw knives. How one earth did you learn to do that?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Rapunzel cocked a brow.
"Okay, but remember, you asked for it." He took a breath. "My mom was infamous for throwing things at my dad when they fought. Sometimes it was sharp things, like her hair or sewing shears. She never hit him, but the sharp pointy objects always stuck in whatever was behind my dad. After awhile, I just memorized the movement." He held up his hand and quickly snapped his wrist. "Most people think it's the elbow or shoulder, but that's just half the power. It's the wrist that makes the movement true. Here, I'll show you." As Eugene paid for the knives, Rapunzel thought about his mother again.
She threw scissors at her husband and he beat a man to death… how on earth did Eugene turn out alright? She was forced to abandon the thought as Eugene took his stance. He held the knife loosely in his right hand; his body angled slightly perpendicular to the target. He brought his hand back to his ear three times, bringing it forward again. Suddenly, he brought his hand up quickly, releasing the knife before his hand even passed completely by his head. Rapunzel strained her eyes to watch the knife turn over and over, point over handle, until it landed solidly in the wood with a satisfying thud. He grinned at Rapunzel.
"See?" She clapped her hands.
"Impressive. But can you use then in the kitchen?"
"I keep telling you I can cook if you'd let me."
Eugene threw the four other knives he paid for, all with the same dead accuracy, and they continued on their way.
They left the games and were wondering what they'd do next, when a voice came over the loud speaker.
"Attention festival goers. The fireworks show will begin in approximately a half an hour. Thank you." Eugene looked down at Rapunzel.
"Well, Blondie, what do you want to do until then?" She looked across the way at the stage.
"We could just watch the performers for awhile."
They found a bench towards the back, where there weren't too many people. Mr. Hook was on stage again, this time with three strings players and someone on a squeeze box.
"Oh, hey, those are his buddies from the New Sonnenburg Orchestra. At least the three fiddlers. I have no idea who the other guy is." Eugene took his phone out again and snapped a shot of Mr. Hook. He then turned to Rapunzel, still holding the phone to take another picture. "Smile!" Rapunzel covered her face.
"Eugene, no, I hate having my picture taken."
"But you used to model."
"And there's a reason why I hated it." Eugene put the phone down.
"But I don't have one picture of you." He sounded so forlorn and depressed.
"Fine." She smiled meekly up at Eugene. He took the photo and showed it to her.
"I knew it," he said. "A picture doesn't do you justice." Rapunzel rolled her eyes.
"Always trying to be the charmer, hm?"
"Well, someone needs to charm a smile out of you." Eugene looked at his watch, then back at Rapunzel. "Hey, I'm going to run to the restroom really quick before the fireworks start." He got up and left. Rapunzel looked back at the stage. Mr. Hook's band left and a dance group walked on. Music started that sounded like a polka. She watched for a little while, then began to look around, wondering where Eugene was. It couldn't take that long to go to the bathroom. She glanced at the way he left, then second guessed if he even went that way at all. She tried to focus on the performers, but the longer Eugene was gone, the more uneasy she got.
Did that hot dog go through him that fast?
She was considering going to look for him when he finally showed up. She smiled in relief, then decided to scold him.
"I was about ready to call Max and ask him to bring the search dogs."
"He'd never find me." The way Eugene said it, Rapunzel wondered if that was true.
"What took so long?" Eugene took a deep breath. He pursed his lips and didn't meet Rapunzel's eye.
"No toilet paper. I had to wait till I heard someone outside." Rapunzel covered her mouth to keep from guffawing on her own spit.
"Seriously," she giggled. "Wow, I'm sorry I asked."
"Don't be. It was an adventure."
"Okay, then." The two smiled at each other. Eugene offered her his hand.
"Come on, I also picked out the best spot to watch the fireworks. And don't worry, I washed my hands."
"I wasn't even thinking that." Rapunzel took Eugene's hand and he began to lead her away from the festival stalls. They took a path that winded through some on the park trees. The further away they walked from the fair grounds, the darker it got. Eventually, Eugene had to pull his phone out and turn on his flashlight app.
"Eugene, where are we going exactly?"
"You said this is your first time seeing the fireworks. I figured you'd want the best seat in the house."
They broke the tree line and came upon the lake. Rapunzel gasped.
Before she could ask anything, Eugene pulled her to the boat house, where he rented a boat and oars. As he led her down the docks, Rapunzel finally broke her silence.
"Eugene, are you serious? Watching fireworks from the lake?"
"Why not? We'll get to see them twice. The light will be reflected off the water." They got to their boat and Eugene helped her in. He got in himself and began to row to the middle of the lake. Rapunzel kept her eyes forward, not looking back at Eugene, or even at the sky. Though, she was thinking about Eugene.
She was still amazed by how he would go out of his way for her. He would do just about anything for her, just to get a smile out of her. How did she get someone like that?
Eugene stopped rowing and pulled the oars up. He settled down next to Rapunzel. He looked at her.
"Hey, Rapunzel, I'm curious. When's your birthday?"
"So, it's this month," Eugene asked, surprised.
"No, today is….." Rapunzel turned as red as a cherry. "Oh, my, gosh, it is today. Oh, I forgot my own birthday." She covered her face with her hands.
"Understandable. You've been working so hard." Rapunzel looked at Eugene. He smiled and reached a hand into his pocket. He opened it to her. Sitting in his palm was the amber necklace she'd been looking at earlier. "Happy birthday, Rapunzel." She gaped blankly at it, her mouth slightly slacked. "Pascal told me it was your birthday today. I was actually going to take you out later, but you beat me to it." She looked at him again.
"So you weren't texting him about a video game?"
"Oh, no I was. He still hasn't beaten the boss yet. I told him to get more levels. He told me to do something rather unpleasant." Rapunzel shook her head. Pascal could still be ornery towards Eugene. She stared at the necklace.
"Eugene, it's beautiful, but, it was so expensive." He chuckled.
"Well, only a little expensive."
"What?" Eugene sighed, scratching his head.
"I didn't want to tell you this until later, but I get an allowance from my parents. They insist upon it. I don't usually spend it, so it's sort of piled up. I only use it if it's for something important or, unless it's for someone else." Eugene unclasped the chain and bent down to put it around Rapunzel's neck. As a reflex, she put her hand up to pull her hair aside, but remembered she'd pinned it up. She tried to make it look like she purposefully brought her hand up to her mouth. The chain felt like water as it slid across her neck. The back of the pendent clanked against her chest. She put her hand to it, feeling the smooth lines and cold surfaces. She felt like Eugene was breathing in her ear as he hooked the ends of the necklace together. She turned around, looking him in the eyes.
"You're welcome." He leaned down and kissed her across her hairline.
He never kisses my lips, she thought. Rapunzel was sure Eugene's patience was killing him on the inside, but she was grateful for it.
Rapunzel snuggled up to Eugene's chest. He put an arm around her. She slipped her hand into his free one.
"I like being with you, Eugene," she said. He didn't say anything, but she was sure he smiled. She sighed and shifted her head so her ear was right over his heart. She grinned. It was beating at an accelerated rate.
So I can make his heart race. I wonder if I could make his heart skip a beat. But Rapunzel had no idea how to do that.
There was an incredibly loud explosion.
Rapunzel jumped, almost knocking herself and Eugene out of the boat. Eugene held her tight and patted her back.
"It's okay, it's just the fireworks," he said. He indicated to the sky. She looked up, just as another round went shooting across the night sky. The night ignited with red, blue, and gold sparks in patterns of circles and flowers. Some of the fireworks released more sparks that flittered around like lighting bugs. "Look at the water," Eugene whispered in her ear. Rapunzel did. It shimmered with the ember's light, like colored rippled glass. At every pause in the show, the water seemed to swallow up the fire light, hungry for the next round.
For about fifteen minutes, the air boomed with the sound of fireworks spraying fire among the stars. Rapunzel and Eugene said nothing. They only looked at the fireworks and held onto each other. Rapunzel didn't even notice the heat of the day anymore, only the heat of Eugene's arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, putting a hand over his chest, just so she feel his heart beat. It still fluttered.
She never thought such a bodily function of another would make her heart flutter too.