?Where do you want to go?? Luke keeps watching me with this half-grin on his face.
I pull my feet up on the bench. ?To the moon??
?Okay, ding dong. Somewhere in the park.?
?Ding dong? We?re at the name calling phase of our relationship??
?Ella, we need to focus here.? Luke slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans and rocks on the balls of his feet. The same grin. The same light that keeps flickering across his eyes. ?Where in the park do you want to go??
?Anywhere?? I tilt my head and look up at the handful of stars that can shine through the light of the park.
?I want to see the inside of the castle.? I smile back at him, knowing it?s an impossible task. No one goes inside the castle. Not even the security guards.
?Done,? Luke says, raising his eyebrow. I hear a jingle in his pocket. ?Close your eyes. I want to show you something.? I close my eyes and wait. I hear the jingle again, louder as he pulls his hand free of his pocket. ?Okay,? he says. ?Open them.?
?You want to show me your keys?? I look at the ring of maybe fifty keys dangling from his hand. ?It does take a real man to pull off a Tinkerbell key chain.?
?Okay, ding dong. These are not my keys.?
?Again with the ding dong.?
Luke fishes in his pocket again and pulls out a folded piece of paper. ?These are Bernard?s keys. And this,? he says, passing me the paper, ?is a list that tells you what key we need to go anywhere in the park.?
?Where did he get all those?? I ask, reaching out to brush my fingers against the keys hanging lowest on the chain.
?He just told me that thirty years on the force has its benefits.?
?The force. That must have resonated with you, young Jedi.?
Luke sighs and rolls his eyes. ?You?re never going to stop, are you??
?Of course,? I say, unfolding the paper and scanning down the list. I look back up at Luke and smile. ?Like maybe when we?re seventy.?
?No, you won?t,? he says. ?We?ll be sitting out on the front porch on our rockers, half deaf complaining about our rheumatism, and you?ll still be cracking Star Wars jokes.?
I lower my voice as low as it can go and breath slowly and heavily. ?I find your lack of faith disturbing.? I start laughing before I can even finish.
?How do you know
all this stuff?? Luke asks, squinting at me. ?I mean, I get the obvious ones, but that?s pretty obscure Darth Vader.?
?Ash was a real Star Wars
freak.? It?s the second time in a long time that I?ve said his name out loud. Both times to Luke. And when I?m talking to him, it feels okay. It feels just right, like this is exactly where I?m supposed to be. Doing exactly what I?m supposed to be doing. ?How about you? You must know tons of stuff.?
?Not me,? he says, jangling the keys. ?I think on a much higher plane than that. I spend my time asking life?s bigger questions.?
?Like, who ate the last brownie??
?That was one time.? He smiles at me and reaches for my free hand. ?Come on, princess. We have a castle to check out.? We walk in silence for a few minutes, his fingers woven into mine. I?m almost afraid to breathe. Afraid to break the bubble around us. Afraid if I do he?ll let go of my hand. Luke looks over at me and smiles.
?Wonderful girl. Either I'm going to kill her or I'm beginning to like her." This time we both laugh and underneath it all I can feel his fingers tighten around mine, trapping each one with his. He?s inside the bubble too and both of us are holding our breath.
It was weird ending the date, if you could even call it that. It was more like three friends going out to eat and shopping and taking along their very beautiful and very angry pit bull. Even before we could all get through the doorway into the dorm, Cassie had said good night and was climbing the stairs to the second floor.
?I think that went well,? Mark said, smiling at us.
?Sarcasm?? Luke said, running his fingers through his hair. ?This is a weird night.?
?So are you going to look in the box?? Mark asked, pointing to the cardboard shoebox tucked under Luke?s arm.
?Should we?? Luke asked. He looked at me and I shook my head.
?Let?s wait until tomorrow. Get a little space between tonight and the surprise.? What I didn?t say is that I wanted to open it when it was just Luke and me.
?Good idea,? Luke said, lifting the box up to his ear and shaking it slightly. ?No fair peeking,? I pushed his shoulder and noticed Mark looking at us, watching us, but when he saw me looking at him he just smiled.
?You going up?? I asked Mark. He nodded at me and turned toward the stairs.
?I?m going to stay up for a while,? Luke said, turning toward the TV room. He looked back at me once before disappearing around the corner.
?Hey,? I said, catching up with Mark on the stairs. ?Thank you. It was fun.? I reached out and briefly touched the collar of his shirt, sliding the soft fabric through my fingers.
?It was, wasn?t it?? he asked, putting his hand over mine. ?Ella, it?s okay, you know.? He squeezed my hand with his.
?What is?? I tilted my head at him, watching. He leaned back against the wall and smiled at me.
?You aren?t going to make this easy on me, are you?? I shifted a bit and leaned against the wall straight across from him and looked down at my feet. ?Ella, anyone can see it. I mean, everyone
can see it.?
?Luke?? I said, my voice barely above a whisper. We stayed like that for a few moments, listening to the noises spilling down on us from the floors above. A series of thuds followed by a door slamming and then footsteps coming down the stairs.
?You two should be together,? Mark said softly. The footsteps stopped a couple of stairs up from where I was standing. Around the corner and out of my sight. ?Hey,? Mark said to the person standing there.
?Am I interrupting anything?? Robin Hood asked, jumping down the remaining steps and landing with a thud next to where Mark was standing.
?Just talking,? I said, still staring at my feet.
?You okay, princess?? Robin Hood asked. I just nodded without looking up at him.
?I was just telling her that sometimes the prince and princess don?t live happily ever after. At least not together,? Mark said. I looked up at him, but he was still smiling.
?You?re dumping her?? Robin Hood asked.
?I?m right here,? I said.
?Not exactly,? Mark said, shifting so that he was looking more at Robin Hood than at me.
?She?s dumping you? Man, bitches. You can?t live with them??
right here,? I said. ?No one is dumping anyone.?
?I was just telling her that maybe she needs to rethink her fairy tale,? Mark said.
?Maybe get a little chipmunk action,? Robin Hood said. He laughed, and Mark and I looked up at him. ?What?? Robin Hood said. ?You know it?s true. I just gave your roommate her laundry payment. Looks like Prince Charming beat me to it with you.?
?How?s that?? I asked. He just rolled his eyes at me and jabbed Mark in the shoulder.
?Come on, prince. What do you say to a couple beers to chase away the heartache??
?Sure,? Mark said. ?Just give me a minute.? Robin Hood pushed past us and down the stairs. We listened as the heavy sounds of his footsteps grew fainter. Then his voice, from downstairs.
?Luke, my man. We were just talking about you.?
Mark shook his head and smiled at me.
?It really is okay, Ella.? He touched my cheek with the tips of his fingers. ?The thing about fairy tales is they?re only as real as you make them.? He smiled again, shrugged. ?I think I will have a beer. Maybe two.?
?Wow,? I said as he stepped past me and started making his way down to where I could still hear Robin Hood talking to Luke. ?It really is a weird night.?
?The weirdest,? Mark said. I kept standing there until I could hear his voice along with the other two, then I headed up to my room.
?We?ll have to be pretty quiet,? Luke says, squeezing my fingers before releasing my hand. ?When I was here earlier, I dropped the keys and it sounded like the whole castle exploded. Something about the acoustics in here.? He?s right. Even whispering, several feet away from me, sounds like he?s talking normally, maybe even loudly, right in my ear.
?Wait, what do you mean when you were here earlier??
?I had something to drop off,? he says, climbing the stairs to the balcony, but instead of taking a right out to where I usually greet my wedding guests, he veers left and climbs another short flight of stairs to a door marked ?Private.? I stand on the step just below him and place my hand on the small of his back. He looks over his shoulder briefly, smiling at me and then back at the ring of keys in his hand. ?Here it is,? he says, freeing a key with the number 17 printed on it in black marker. He presses the key into the lock, turning it once to the right. ?It sticks a bit,? he says, pulling the handle toward himself.
?How do you know??
?I told you, I was here earlier. I didn?t want to get here and have the key not work.?
?How did you know I?d pick the castle?? Luke pushes down again on the handle and the door pops free from its jam with a sharp snap, which echoes down the stairs.
?Shhh,? I say, pressing my face into the center of his back to keep from laughing.
?Shhh yourself,? he says. ?Come on. I didn?t go all the way in before. I didn?t want to see it without you.?
?How will we be able to see anything?? I ask, stepping up and through the doorway after him.
?You?ll find I?m full of surprises.? Luke reaches down and feels around on the floor before standing. ?Here, you hold this,? he says, handing me our surprise box. ?Voila.? Suddenly the whole area we are standing in is bathed in a pale pink light. I look at the flashlight in his hand.
?Disney Princesses. Nice touch.?
?I was going to go with the Cruella de Ville one, but it was a red light. Somehow that didn?t really seem like the atmosphere I was going for.?
?Luke?? I shift the box into one hand and put my other on his arm. ?In case I forget to tell you later, I had a great time tonight.?
?Me too,? he says, smiling. ?You want to go in??
?Do chipmunks dance??
He laughs softly and takes my hand again, leading me into the darkness.
This whole night with Luke feels like one of those pictures that they have at the mall, the ones on the cart across from the pretzel place or Orange Julius or in front of Lids or Hot Topic. They?re made up of repeating squares or interlocking circles or quadrafoils turned on end. They look like bad cubist paintings. Too much symmetry, not enough dissonance. Sometimes there?s a card beside them, telling you what you?re supposed to be looking for. Telling you to try and see two people kissing or a dolphin in the ocean or the image of Elvis?the young one, not the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich one. More often than not, there isn?t a sign. You just have to stand there and look, trying to see past the patterns to the picture hidden within them, You can?t take your eyes off it. You let your focus soften. Let yourself fall into it. If you blink or if you look away for even a second, you have to start all over again, resetting yourself. Sometimes you can look and look and not see anything. You hear people around you. ?Do you see it? Right there.
There?s the nose. There?s the guitar. Do you see it?? And you think about giving up. You think that no matter how long you keep looking, nothing will happen. That all the people around you are just telling everyone they can see it so they won?t look stupid. But then you do
see it. And once you see it, you can?t stop seeing it. Now, instead of seeing the blue squares marching off into infinity, replicating themselves like microscopic organisms, you see the lion?s face or Lincoln or the unicorn. And once you see it, you turn to the strangers around you. ?Do you see it?? you ask. Because once you see it, you want everyone to know. You want everyone else to see it too.
?Do you believe in ghosts?? I ask, following Luke through the archway and into the main room. I bump against something hard with my hip.
?Yes,? Luke says, stopping and turning to look at me.
?Okay, not really the answer I was hoping for,? I say, smiling at him. His face is glowing pink from the princess flashlight.
?Well, I don?t believe in sheet-over-the-head, rattling chains, creaking stairs in the middle of the night ghosts.? Luke turns and looks toward one of the windows at the far side of the room. One of the thin ones you can see from the outside. Diamonds of metal crisscross the glass, making it look quilted. ?It?s more subtle. It?s like all of us are haunted all the time, but we usually never know it.? Luke walks over to a large shape near the wall that looks in the darkness like a snowman with a huge hat on his head. ?I don?t think they?ll be able to see this with the spotlights on the castle. He clicks something near the top of the snowman, just under the hat, and the lamp lights up.
?Wow. It?s like Retroland,? I say, looking around the room. ?This stuff is amazing.? I run my palm over the top of the couch, feeling its nubby texture beneath my hand. An orange and turquoise light that resembles an exotic tropical flower towers over a leather chair in the corner. Most of the side wall is taken up by a clock with huge metal rays shooting off in every direction. Steel and wood and molded plastic share space with hooked rugs and silk pillows. ?It?s like The Brady Bunch meets The Jetsons,? I say, touching a vase that seems made up entirely of plastic bubbles in shades of orange and green.
?Bernard told me Walt Disney originally had this put in so that he and his family could stay here, but he died before they finished the castle.? I walk around the end of the couch and toward the windows looking out on Main Street. ?This place looks like a really tasteful Goodwill,? he says. I smile over at Luke, who?s looking at a chess set, only three pieces out of their opening positions.
?Want to see what?s in the box?? I ask, pointing to the taped shoebox I set down on the couch.
?Well, yeah.? Luke says, grinning at me. He picks up the box and walks toward me. ?Want to do the honors?? he asks.
He runs his thumb along the tape line, pulling the top free. ?Ready?? he asks. I nod and watch as he flips the top off the shoebox and reaches into the folded tissue paper, extracting a bundle. ?Now you,? he says, handing it to me. I peel back the layers of paper, revealing a snow globe. One of the windup ones that makes the figures dance through the snow. ?Wind it up,? he says. The opening chimes of When You Wish Upon a Star
tinkle out as a tiny Cinderella and Prince Charming begin their slow waltz around the castle.
?Look at the front,? I say, turning it to face him.
?Dreams can come true,? he reads. He stops smiling and turns to look out the other window facing Main Street.
?Tell me more about your ghosts,? I say, watching him for a moment before turning to look back out the window. The one right over the crest with Walt?s name in it. ?Tell me what you meant about our lives being haunted.?
?I don?t know, Ella. It?s not like I have this all figured out.?
?I think you do. I think you have a lot more figured out than you let on,? I say, still looking out the window. From this angle I can see the wire Tinkerbell flies on stretching toward Tomorrowland.
?I think it isn?t so much that we are haunted by something on the outside,? he says. ?It?s more like we make our own ghosts, out of our hopes and disappointments, and then dress them up with the wishes that other people have for us.?
?Like costumes,? I say, turning to look at him.
?Exactly. It?s like we have these hopes for ourselves. These fairy tales for our lives. We think we know how to live happily ever after, but we let other people take over and put shackles on our dreams, so that even if we wanted them to, they can hardly move.?
I nod and look down at my feet. Luke walks over to where I?m standing and put his fingertips under my chin, lifting my face until I?m looking at him. ?Here?s the secret I?ve figured out. You ready?? I nod again, feeling my chest tightening as I try not to breathe. ?The trick is, we have the keys. Whenever we want to, we can unlock the chains.?
?Do you really think that?s true?? I ask. He is standing close enough for me to see the shimmery flecks of gold in his eyes.
?Ella, you asked me a question a long time ago and I didn?t answer it. Didn?t know how to answer it.? He keeps looking at me while he?s talking. Really looking at me, like he can see way inside me. ?You asked me if I believed in magic. Do you remember??
?Do you?? I whisper.
?I wasn?t sure before tonight. I wasn?t sure yesterday. But with you here and even this,? he says, pointing to the snowglobe resting on the windowsill. He looks back at me and traces my jawline with his fingers, so lightly that they?re just a whisper against my skin. ?Only magic could explain all of this,? he says, leaning forward. I close my eyes as I feel his breath against my lips. ?Ella?? he whispers. I open my eyes again to see him smiling.
?Kiss me you will,? he whispers. And then we do.
I keep thinking the sky is going to start turning pink at any minute. The sun is going to come up, but it doesn?t. We have to walk back across the park to the dorm. It takes a long time because we have to duck behind trees and into doorways as morning maintenance people filter through the park getting everything ready. ?Listen,? Luke says, tugging at my hand when we draw even with the trees bordering the dorm courtyard. I stop and face him. ?I have some things to take care of when I wake up.?
?Things?? I say, smiling.
?Well, I have to return the keys to Bernard and then? well, there?s Cassie.?
?There is Cassie,? I say, tilting my head and watching his face.
?Hey,? he says, sliding his hand around my waist and pulling me into him. ?Who did I just spend the last four hours kissing??
?Anyone I know??
He bends down and kisses me again, and again I feel it all the way through me so that instead of just kissing my mouth it feels like he?s kissing all of my cells at the same time. And again when he stops it feels like I?ve been spinning around and around in the teacups with my eyes closed because I have to hold onto him to keep from falling over.
?So, listen,? he says. ?I?ll meet you. Breakfast. Okay?? I just nod and lean against him. ?And don?t be late,? he tells me. ?No sleeping in. I almost missed out on you completely. I don?t want to miss another minute.?
?No,? I say. ?Neither do I.?