Friday, December 2, 2016

Release Day! Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales

And HERE IT IS. Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales is finally released into the real world! Please, please read it and tell us how you like it! The reviews have been coming in on Goodreads and every time a new one comes out I feel a little thrill of parentship over this collection my author friends and I have been compiling since the summer. It doesn't matter whether the review is favorable or not, I just love to know that the stories are not sitting in the deadspace of Microsoft Word. Give 'em air, friends. Give 'em air! To celebrate, Suzannah Rowntree, Elisabeth Foley, J.Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Hayden Wand, and I are sharing excerpts of our particular stories. So here, friends, is a scene pulled from my contribution: She But Sleepeth. Read a bit of it here, then scurry off to Amazon to buy your copy and read the rest! This scene occurs just hours after the main character, a modern set-designer, stumbles through a staircase into Romanian history...

(from She But Sleepeth by Rachel Heffington)

When their fruit had been eaten and coffee sipped, the queen excused herself.

“Come to me soon, Mariechen. Your father would speak with you.” She rested her gentle hand on Maria's shoulder in passing.

Supper began to sit unsafely in Maria's stomach at the thought of being left alone with that sober, wood-faced king. He was her father but when had he yet showed the slightest warmth or love for her? Was he angry at her return? Did he hate the sight of her? Those years in foster-care chalked a panicked, inaccurate score in the sudden blank of Maria's thoughts: not smart enough, not pretty enough, not young enough, not old enough. People always had a reason you were not enough to let you stay. Perhaps her father, even now, would not want or allow her to stay.

The queen's footsteps pattered away toward the sanctuary of her colored-glass music-room. Maria wanted to follow her instead of remaining here with a man no gladder in face than the peculiar Eastern rooms were in decoration, but he was her father and, she mused, her king.

Many long, unripe moments of silence. Maria kept her eyes on the empty table and waited.

“Itty, child.”

Were those...tears in his voice? Maria's eyes snapped to the king's countenance. Moisture gleamed in the corners of his eyes. Candlelight sparked on something wet in his beard. Ioan, as usual, kept to his own business across the table. His long, waxen hands fingered the stem of his glass and his lips spread in that non-smile.

King Carol rubbed his thumb against his forefinger. His eyes spoke things she didn't want to guess at, they were so bare and heavy. “Come here, child.”

She hesitated a moment, then scooted back from the table and came to him, hands folded in her skirts. Her father put a hand to her cheek. Metal kiss from his signet ring, trembling flesh eager, yet cool against her face. She hardly dared to do so, but Maria raised a hand and tentatively covered her father's with it.

“Doamne, I've missed you,” the king softly swore.

It was just a flash of a moment, hardly seen before he shuttered up again behind his unfathomable face. But Maria's heart lurched happily as she nestled her hand again in her voluminous skirts. No one had ever spoken to her in that intense, immediate way. Somehow it reminded her of Heath – the same slow, slumbering fire unleashed all at once before growling back to sleep.

“I am so pleased to have you back, Maria,” her father continued. “I am not a man of gentle or numerous words, but that does not mean I lack love for you. I love quietly, by my loyal service and long peace. This is something which confuses your mother.”

“She thinks you do not love her?” The moment Maria said it, she regretted having asked so personal a question of a man who had already bent knee before her.

But the king only stood and managed a smile which wobbled on one side from lack of use. Maria thought it a darling expression, and her heart warmed even as he bade her goodnight and requested Ioan escort her to her mother, the queen.

Presently, Ioan stood and slid to her side. Everything about him chilled Maria but even she could not deny his beauty. He seemed like a white moth to her, ever fluttering in darkness, flirting with the light. What harm could he do her? If her father trusted the man he must not be a bad sort. Not likely he could have helped being born with a bloodless face and would she hate him for that?

Ioan bowed and crooked his arm. “Will you come, princess?”

“Sure.” She slid her arm into his.

He pressed her against his side as they exited the dining room and led a leisurely pace down the hall. When they reached the great hall, Maria thought her arm had spent long enough in the secretary's possession. She extracted herself and clasped her hands behind her back.

“It's a beautiful night,” she remarked. “Why don't they roll back the ceiling?”

Ioan pinched off a smile for her. “If Your Highness wishes it, I am sure an exhibition of that wonder can be arranged, though it is generally kept for parties and guests of state.”

Leave it to that bleached, brittle man to make her feel like an idiot for asking. All Maria's black dislike pooled again in her skull. “Yeah, because I'm not important or anything.”


His answer surprised her. “Yeah, I mean, I'm just the missing princess come home. Not like that's worth celebrating or anything.”

Ioan did not answer right away and when he did, his bland disgust slapped limply at her: “You say you are the missing princess.”

“I am.”

“Are you?”

“You don't believe me, do you.”

“I watched you die. I watched them bury you.” A helpless anger swayed his body. “I watched them carefully as they mourned your passing, to be sure they did not mourn themselves into their own graves. It was finished.”

“The king and queen know I am their daughter,” Maria sad. “Why would you doubt them?”

Ioan sliced a hand through the air. “Folk will see what they most desire to see. You are but a clever impostor at best. My king and queen lost a child – their only child – and it is only the basest of people who would intrude on that sorrow and exploit it for profit.”

Maria watched the rage and suspicion war within him. He really believed her a pretender, did he? Well, she was sorry to disappoint but she'd never have attempted such a coup d'etat on her own volition.

“I am the princess,” she said quite simply.


“And yet, here I am,” Maria answered. She held his gaze for an uncomfortable moment, then tipped her chin and breathed in the beauty of the glass ceiling. “If you'd be so good as to tell the king, I would like to see what that roof can do.”

Monday, October 24, 2016

Release Announcement - Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales

Fanfare! Trumpets! Excitement in triplicate! This time I'm breaking blog-silence to announce something actually a little bit wonderful. Too often you've opened Blogger to find The Inkpen Authoress has published a post, only to see it's just a scrap of scrappy flash fiction or another apology at having been so incognito. But this time, loves, this time I'm here to announce the publication of another novella. My novella which some of you were introduced to as "The Spindle and the Queen," to be exact. Now re-titled and being published in just over a month as She But Sleepeth, the novella and five others by my companion authors will be released in a one-of-a-kind collection. Friends and countrymen, meet:

Six fairytales you thought you knew, set against a tapestry of historical backgrounds.
A lonely girl plots revenge in the shadow of a mountain. A stolen princess fumbles a century backward. A dwarfish man crafts brilliant automatons. A Polish Jew strikes matches against the Nazis. A dead girl haunts a crystal lake. A terrified princess searches a labyrinth. A rich collection of six historically inspired retellings, Once is a new generation of fairytales for those who thought they'd heard the tales in all their forms.
Featuring the novellas of Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Suzannah Rowntree, and Hayden Wand.

I have been working on this project secretly since Suzannah Rowntree and Elisabeth Foley (the brain-parents of this collaboration) approached me to ask if I would participate by throwing She But Sleepeth into the ring. I am so proud of all the authors in this collection. Each fairy-tale is so unique, so different, and so exciting. With a retelling of  "Rumplestiltskin," "The Little Match Girl," "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Rapunzel" in the mix, the novellas incorporated in Once are really something else. We will be releasing Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales as an e-book fairy-tale collection on December 2, 2016, so just a bit over a month until you can read the stories for yourself!

My contribution, She But Sleepeth, is a re-spinning of "The Sleeping Beauty," set in the beautiful Peles Castle in Romania's Carpathian Mountains. Guys, having been on-location of the actual setting of my story, I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am for you to read it. There is so much of the palace I was unable to include because of the story's length, but I hope you will enjoy reading the partially-true story of Romania's Princess Maria. You will hear more about it in the story's "historical note," but the uncanny parallels between the real princess and the sleeping beauty story gave me chills. It seemed like the deeper I researched, the more perfect that pairing became. It is now time to spam you with a couple photos to whet your appetite:

Ahhhh, for a castle of my own. *happy sigh* I hope you'll go ahead and check out the Pinterest board for She But Sleepeth and continue on to the rest of the authors in the collection who are telling us a little bit about their own stories. Feel free (please!) spread the word about Once with the hashtag #OnceFairytales on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest, Facebook, your blog, and whichever form of social media you'd like! We will be spreading promo images around like confetti so ya know, why not? And if you'd like to pre-read and review the collection, please send an email to and Elisabeth Foley will get you all set! And please, travel on to see the read about the stories from the rest of my fellow #OnceFairytales authors!

Suzannah Rowntree
Elisabeth Grace Foley
J. Grace Pennington
Hayden Wand
Emily Ann Putzke

Monday, September 12, 2016

in a world uncertain say you'll be my stone

I love finding pop-singers whose lyrics actually give you food for thought. Too often I can either not understand what they're saying or don't agree with what they're saying. So when I find a singer whose lyrics are not only catchy but also thoughtful, I like to keep them close. Lately for me, the singer who holds the top spot is Alessia Cara. Favorite among her songs are "My Song" or "Stone" or "River of Tears." The following lyrics are from "Stone."

So much on my mind, I think I think too much
Read between these lines, unspoken weight of words
But time comes to rest when you are by my side, it blurs

And I will follow where this takes me
And my tomorrows long to be unknown
When all is shaken, be my safety
In a world uncertain, say you'll be my stone

Change in every wind
The sands of time don't know our name
Oh nothing's sure, but surely as we stand
I promise I will stay the same
And I've never seen forever
But I know we'll remain

And I will follow where this takes me
And my tomorrows long to be unknown
When all is shaken, be my safety
In a world uncertain, say you'll be my stone
(Oooooooh oooh oooh)
Be my stone
In a world uncertain, say you'll be my stone

Oh steady me, be my source of gravity
While my world's unraveling
Say you'll never change, ooooohhhh!!! Oh!

And I will follow where this takes me
And my tomorrows long to be unknown
When all is shaken, be my safety
In a world uncertain, say you'll be my stone
(Oooooooh oooh oooh)
Be my stone
In a world uncertain, say you'll be my stone

Who are your favorite lyricists currently?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First Lines From The Lost Stories

As I went back through all of my flash fiction pieces and story beginnings in the dusty nooks of my Google Drive files, I thought it would be amusing to share the first line of each and see whether I'm an accomplished, indifferent, or wonderful first-liner. If you so feel, publish a companion post of your own!

"Dear Hog Nose:
         In the art of espionage you're never asked to know your comrades."


"It was the first day of summer and a high, white melody was at play in the trees."


"Long after, when the yellow roses on the trellis had faded; when she knew him and knew his story and knew that he was much more intense that she’d supposed; Winona often wondered how she could have taken it so lightly.A Frenchman moving into the neighborhood."

"Kat Durrant hitched the strap of her bag higher on her shoulder and stooped so the air-vent would quit drilling into her scalp."

"Four daughters and not of a one of them turned out to be a tiny blonde. Poor Daddy. He was at a loss for exactly four years, wondering what to do with us since there weren’t any weddings in the foreseeable future. Then Jackie graduated highschool and wanted New York City."


"After--long after, when rain finally drowned the too-sunny sun and he had forgotten his splinter--Oliver thought he would remember precisely how his mother looked when he was put on the train and taken away from his family with a lot of other little children who didn’t want to go either."


"It didn’t pay to be a writer; either he failed (and owed money) or got famous (and owed more money)."


"They had asked her one too many times what he was like. It wasn’t an easy thing, describing your childhood friend before a judge and jury who thought he was guilty of murder."


"At six o’clock, just when the sky turned the color of an Anjou pear, he took a willow-basket from its nest above the bureau and thought of her."


“Would mademoiselle like me to look out for her partner in the lobby?” The maitre d’ bowed over the table, over her arm, till the white breast of his uniform nearly brushed the pink carnations.


"On Carris Street, we are very open about our misfortunes. It is nice, having things to complain about."


Monday, July 25, 2016

Dear Twenty-Five

Dear Twenty-Five:
Raise your hand if you're where you thought you'd be.
Who is?
Raise your hand if you've done things that have scared you, even if you did them accidentally.
Raise your hand if you've loved.
If you've lost.
If you've conquered.
If you've feared.
If you've seen at least one dream come true.
If you've chosen a fork in a road you thought would be straight.
Raise your hand if you've bought something on impulse. Ugly-laughed till your ribs seized in pain. Cried in public (you know you've cried in public).
And now that your hand is raised, look around at all the other hands raised, half shyly, half confidently. That shy confidence, that confident shyness are all marks of having lived a quarter century.
You tell me not to say that, that it makes you feel old.
Oh, twenty-five, I'm laughing. Don't feel your antiquity, feel the power of having grown. Your heart has pattered twenty five years, sometimes racing, sometimes lulling, sometimes the only indication that you're still here, still in reality. You've crunched through twenty-five leaf-filled autumns, twenty-five winters bright as new quarters, twenty-five shy-confident springs, melted through twenty-five summers. Five years ago you were holding your sudden adultness like a fishnet, caught in it. Ten years ago you sat in algebra class. Fifteen years ago you skinned your knee. Twenty years ago you ate someone else's graham cracker and got slapped. Twenty-five years ago you squalled at the bright lights of a new world. A world which you hadn't asked to enter and didn't know to love.
When you look at it like that, it all gets better.
But it hurts.
Yes, it hurts.
But it's beautiful.
Yes, it's beautiful.
Just think – where did you intend to be at twenty-five? Not here? Well, does that surprise you after all? Since when have you ended up anyplace you intended? Life isn't calculated to go according to our schemes, thank God.
Perhaps you haven't found your true love, but you have found love to be true.
Perhaps you haven't done all you meant to have done, but I can assure you that you've done other things you never meant to do, some of them turning points in those twenty-five years.
You've seen weird things, Twenty-Five. Things like stirrup pants and an unfortunate poncho craze, dial-up internet and FaceTime. You've seen violence and history destroyed and history made. You've seen so much in so short a time but weigh that against the age of this world and what have you seen?
Oh, you are not old.
You are not old like eternity. You are not old like the Joshua trees. You are not old like Jerusalem or the spires of Oxford. You are not even old like filling stations and big-band music and the wooden floors of the soda shop downtown.
Old? You are so young, Twenty-Five, that you have no concept of what Age is.
Age is opportunity.
Age is another year and another twelve months to do the improbable.
Age is entropy, but Age is not caring.
Age gathers the days to her chest and grins, having outwitted another year. She is far from old. She is young, and forever young. It is the young who do things, and the more days to your life, the more time to do.
How many years are yours?
I don't know.
You're not who or where or what you expected to be at a quarter century, are you?
So what?
You're much more. So much more. A ruffled, hopeful, madful mess.
So, Twenty-Five, put away your comparisons. If you are to be someone other than you are, you will be her. You're still living, aren't you? You're still growing and there are still autumns and winters and summers and springs and I think you'll understand.
Light twenty-five candles on your cake today and smile at the small forest fire it makes. And before you blow them out I want you to pause and I want you to look back and I want you to look forward. And most of all I want you to know that you, Twenty-Five, are meant to be.

I love you and I think you're fantastic. But guess what? If you live to be one hundred you are only a quarter as fantastic as you'll someday grow to be. Age? Embrace it like a hug from a long-lost friend. Bury your face in its shoulder and squeeze it hard and maybe even let it tip you off-balance with the force of its awesomeness. You're twenty-five and you're pretty damn fine.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Back To Work

Hello, Readers! So sorry for the slack in communication. I signed on for an immense real-life project that has taken up all my creativity and spare time for the last month solid so I'm afraid I have that excuse. In other news, I have a new career goal:

To have material published in the print version of Saveur Magazine.

Seeing that they accept submissions and that they're my favorite food journalism outlet, I decided I'd have a go. Now to get on that. I pulled out The Spindle & The Queen (my "Sleeping Beauty" retelling) recently, being reminded that I should finish brushing it up so that it's actually a finished product and from there making decisions about it. I'll be working on the re-haul and to keep myself inspired, I thought I'd share a few bits of it.

L.A., luridly in need of a power-wash, smelled of swimming pools and half-boiled dreams this morning.

"'ve got to get some hustle, sweetheart, or I'll call another girl to take your place. I can get 'em. Anywhere, anytime. Lot of girls. Lot of guys too. Head of design for Thurman-Fischer. Girl. Step it up like Fred Astaire."

“All right, Princess.” His sly grin nauseated her. He actually made her sick. “But only because you're cute and my Yoda told me my juju's off. Need to balance the symbiotic relationship between my spleen and diaphragm with a series of generous act and a kombucha bath.”

Maria prepared to exit this dark-paneled room with its portraits of the handsome king and his patient-eyed queen. Their long-suffering faces, especially the queen's, gave her the creeps. Like a young fashion maven who hadn't received her customary invitation to the Met Gala and was going to Talk to Someone about it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Argument, Summa Cum Laude

In honor of the more than ten friends who graduated college this past weekend comes a slightly different piece of flash fiction. Conversation inspired by them, location inspired by my cousin's wedding rehearsal dinner. I find it interesting and a good exercise to write from two perspectives - neither of which particularly hold. It's a good way to keep one's mind broad - to try to write convincingly from a side that doesn't have you fully convinced. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

Argument, Summa Cum Laude
by Rachel Heffington

From this angle the girl who had escaped to the shrubbery as I had – presumably to quit the hot crush of the crowded party room – appeared to be my height or a little taller. Instinctively, I glanced down at her feet. She wore shoes with a small heel. Were she barefoot, I would have the edge in height and this pleased me. I am not a man who can spare many inches to the advantage of others.
I stepped off the moss-grown walk onto the gravel circle, gave it a deliberate crunch under my heel. She turned, startled, then smiled. Dusk bloomed around her, blending the edges of her gray dress softly into the drawing night.
I raised a hand in greeting toward this charcoal-sketch of a stranger and wandered to fountain in the center of the gravel circle. No water in the fountain. Nor had there been for some time if the collection of cigarette ashes and dead leaves were an indication. I took careful note of these things in an effort to ignore the presence of the girl. I'd gone to the shrubbery to be alone, of course, and wished to remain that way. But soon the smallness, the ridiculousness of we two sharing the same neat-lawned, hedged-about patch of yard without speaking bore down on me.
“Rather a crowd in there, huh?” I ventured.
She, who had drawn off a few paces, turned to me. “Yes, well, graduations are a thing worth celebrating, I suppose.”
I drew a cigar from my pocket. “Do you mind?”
She shrugged. “Only if the wind turns my direction.”
Cigar clenched between my teeth, I cupped my hands and touched a match to its end. This business done, I drew on it and considered the girl. “You a graduate of the grand old Class of '39?”
She smiled a funny smile. Almost an angry smile. “I'm not.”
“Ah, so you're a student then?”
Another smile tinged with a diluted shade of fury. “Actually, no. I'm not a student at all. I don't learn anything. Never.” She hugged herself with a petulant toss of her head. “I've actually given up learning. Stupid to learn anything these days.” Her hair, cut in a blunt-edged bob, sat sharply dark against her heart-shaped face. Defiance incarnate and a dimple in her chin.
I smoked hard, processing what she had said and whether it was strictly sarcasm or whether she might, on the outside chance, believe her own words.
“If you're not a student or a graduate,” I finally asked, “do you mind me asking why you are here?”
She scoffed. “Oh, so it's only graduates or students who may attend the ceremony of a good friend?”
“Look, if you think that's what I meant...”
“Isn't it what you meant?”
“I only meant – ”
“Yes, what did you mean? You'd think a student would have enough brains to know there must be a motive behind asking a question. Now speak plain or I'll go inside. I'd much rather not be bothered by impertinent young men just now, if it's all the same to you.”
She made my mind whirl with the rapidity of her insults. How we'd gone from demure, dusk-sketched dryad to seething shrew in a few sentences bewildered me. Where'd it gone off? A fellow would never have done it. I wished madly for the seclusion I'd left the party to seek. This was why I referred gals to my older and younger brothers. This was why I'd made it into manhood without so much as a second date with any one of them. Women were such complex creatures.
Heaven-sent, I'm sure.
Beautiful, undoubtedly.
Perfection in human form.
But not something you wanted to go trawling through just for fun, you know. They were much too apt to land on you, claws out.
“Forgive me, ma'am,” I said with a cold, polite bow. I flicked my cigar into the empty fountain and watched it smolder against the skeleton of a maple leaf. “It was not my intention to offend.”
“And who offers his apologies?”
Her distinctly different tone of voice jerked my gaze to her laughing face. She'd dropped the shawl somewhat from her shoulders which were now bare to the purple evening. Proud, aristocratic shoulders as if the dignity of the world – and its riches – belonged to her.
“Don't you have a name?” she asked.
Blood rush to the tips of my ears, turning them scarlet. “Alexander Britton.”
“Madeleine Vincent.”
How small her hand felt in my big paw! Yet her grip was stronger than many fellows' and the eyes that fastened on mine were a sensible, affable blue. Not forget-me-not or violet or gray blue. Just blue, tending toward green at the outer rim.
“You're Vince's sister?” I asked, trying to reconcile she of the gray dress with Roland Vincent, currently up to his crumpled necktie in a bottle of bourbon.
“His cousin, actually. And yes, I'm here because he got it into his head to try for a tightly-rolled piece of paper which will henceforth allow him to think himself cleverer than the rest of the family.”
“College hater, I take it?”
“Not particularly.”

Somehow, in that way peculiar to strangers in a strange place, we came together and started walking; we had now reached the far edge of the gravel circle and had to turn back or cross the lawn to go on. Unhesitating, she stepped onto the grass and we sauntered through the hedge via an arched opening. Beyond the hedge lay a damp, meadow-like acre. We made in the general direction of an enormous, many-limbed oak growing in the left corner, nearest the party-house. Madeleine sat on an board-swing hanging from the tree branch unfurling like an elephant's trunk from the tree's heart.
“What's your game?” she asked, suddenly.
I cleared my throat. “I'm fair at baseball.”
“I meant now, here. Why are you talking to me?”
“Because one of you is much less terrifying to my nerves than three hundred of them.” I jerked my head toward the house as a torrent of raucous voices poured out an open window.
“And why don't you walk on, alone?” she asked.
“Why didn't you?”
“And ignore someone speaking to me?” she marveled.
“Women have done harsher things in the name of privacy.”
She sat on that swing without swinging at all, which seemed equal parts nonsensical and practical. I think it would have spoiled the effect if she'd gone cavorting through the sky. Madeleine Vincent seemed, above all, to relish her composure and balanced her girlhood (could she be older than nineteen?) with the carriage of a Parisienne.
“I suppose you're getting a degree?” she asked.
I nodded. “My second, actually.”
“Ughhhh.” A shiver.
“You do yourself no credit acting like an idiot,” I cautioned. “I'm sorry to use the term, but you don't even sound like a thinking adult when you speak that way. If you so despise the educational system, you might keep that opinion to yourself. If you choose to spout it for all the world to hear, be prepared to be laughed at.”
She chewed her bottom lip.
“There is nothing,” I said, waxing hot as I familiarized myself with the subject, “more laughable than an uneducated person beating the educated man over the head with her lack of education. There are forms to be observed in lodging complaints against the system. I'd be happy to instruct you in them if you so choose.”
“Look at him! I've made the little toffee-nose angry!” she wobbled on the swing, settling herself into it with a dangerous glint in her eyes.
“I only intend to help.” Whatever slight interest her svelte figure had brightened in me when I first saw her faded now to a weary sensation of having to calm a petulant child before she set off the hue and cry.
“Is he all right?” she asked at length.
I shrugged. “Not the worst in the lot.”
She looked off toward the house. “He drinks too much.”
“Not more than most.”
“He doesn't study,” she said, pinning me with those blue eyes.
“Not many do.”
“He doesn't apply himself at all, does he?”
I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “We-ellll...not terribly much. But nobody does.”
“And he skips classes often.”
Everyone skips classes, Miss Vincent. It's part of survival.”
“But he still graduates? Acting like that he still graduates!”
Somewhere I recognized I'd lost another battle. “Look, it's not like that.”
“Isn't it?” Madeleine shook her head and the sharp black bob swept her chin. “That's what I hate. A person might work his whole life. A person might read every book he could get his hands on. A person might splay himself wide open for the sake of self-improvement but if he didn't go to college and get a cap and tassels and a piece of paper that says he's spent four years of his life skipping classes and boozing himself, the world won't take him seriously.”
I stared, slack-jawed at her. “You little minx! It isn't like that at all. Most students work very hard for their degrees.”
“You just say most people don't apply themselves.”
“That was hyperbole.”
You are hyperbole.” Madeleine breathed very fast and a certain expression flitted across her face as if she realized the flawed logic in her comment.
“You want to misunderstand me,” I said. “You do your very best to misinterpret what I mean.”
“Oh, just shut up, Mr. Alexander Britton.”
It was the first time she had used my name and again that curious self-consciousness filtered into her eyes. She banished it and the hardness returned.
“I'm not interested in discussing it further. Look, we're here to congratulate my cousin and his friends and...and you for achieving what you all set out to achieve. I don't have to admire your pretension to congratulate you, do I? Basic civility allows me to recognize that four years devoted to any pursuit are, at any rate, four years of devotion.” She stood and the swing banged against the back of her knees. She took both my hands in hers. “Congratulations, Mr. Britton. Use your education well. Now leave me, please. I'm not ready to go in just yet.”
Nor was I but the grand oak stooped over us, forbidding me to stay. A keen wind riffled through the hedge-leaves and I shivered. “You're not cold?”
“No.” She sat on the swing again.
“Well.” I squinted at the party-house, pretending to concentrate on something, though I barely noticed at what I was squinting. Anything to avoid her gaze. “Goodbye, then.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Britton.”
“Will I see you later – at the party?”
She squared her chin. “I think not. I don't belong among those people. I'll only have this conversation with every other person in that room.” Great weariness weighted her voice to a murmur. “I don't think I have perspective to spare.”
Listening to her, I felt myself becoming more and more depressed. I didn't want her to despise me and the fifty-eight other people in the house behind, but I could not see her angle.
I sighed. “Goodbye.”
“So you said. Please go away now. I'm tired.”

I did as she commanded and once inside the hot, over-crowded house a feeling of great moroseness fell upon me. Even the Manhattan a friend shoved in my hand couldn't cheer me. I wandered to the back of the house where the clamor seemed loudest.
“Hey, Vince.”
He didn't hear me over the shrill chatter of three girls in thin dresses wearing stolen graduation caps. I waved him down instead and Vince, red in the face and shouting with laughter, squeezed through the crowd to my side.
“Alex, enjoying yourself?”
“Fine party. Fine,” I lied.
“Great! Never seen a crowd happier to be done with it all. To hell with studying! To hell with finals!” Vince raised a brimming shot filled by one of the girls, and the people nearest commended his toast with a rowdy cheer.
I licked my dry lips and tugged on his sleeve. “Met your cousin in the garden.”
“Oh, fine girl,” he yelled. “Bit dramatic, but fine.”
“Funny bird, seems to me,” I confided.
Vince's roving eyes settled briefly on me with a look of extreme amusement. “One of the funniest. Has funny ideas about society. Pretends to think college is bull.”
“Yes. She, umm...said so.”
He laughed rather harder than necessary at this. “Look at your face! Bet she told you she despises being kissed and she'd never travel abroad, not even if someone else paid for it three times over. Little Maddy. Silly girl, but sweet when she's in the mood.”
“Does she mean any of it?”
The three girls crowded once again around Vince; I could barely see his polished head above the other party-goers.
“What?” he roared.
“Does your cousin really mean it – about kissing and college and travel and all?”
“Ha!” he laughed, and even though I couldn't see him for all the arms embracing him, his intoxicated voice rose above the clamor: “Girl doesn't mean a word of it! She tried for ten colleges and they all turned her down. Silly little pigeon. Likes to spit in their eye, now, every chance she gets.”
So that was it. The irrational anger and the defiance and the childlike shame. I looked down at my hand and realized I had rolled my cocktail napkin like a diploma. I tapped it against my palm a few times, smiling. Then, still smiling, I tossed it away and stalked back outside.

With any luck, there'd still be a furious, blue-eyed girl sitting on the old board swing.