He took a seat on the park bench close to the oval fountain near the staircase that lead down to the botanical gardens. The day was pleasant and warm with birds and squirrels providing ample entertainment for most folks who came to enjoy a peaceful lunchtime. Nibbling on his sandwich, he sat watching her in almost reverent awe. Even from this distance, she was absolutely radiant. The warm sunlight on her face, the soft glow of her chestnut-amber hair – just one look at her and he forgot about his dreary existence. She was at the far end of the fountain, singing a song of romance and dipping her hands in the water without a care in the world.
Over the past few months, he had seen her frequently at the park. Whether she was singing songs at the fountain, savoring the aromas of the flowers in the garden or dancing on the flagstones with the musicians that played in the square on the other side of the park, she did it all with an elegant combination of grace and frivolity. He, on the other hand, couldn’t sing or dance, he was allergic to most flowers and he certainly had no elegance or grace. She had a magical quality about her that enhanced the world around her. The water pouring from the fountain took on a crystalline sparkle and tone as she sang, flowers where more vibrant when she brought her nose close to them, the musicians’ instruments didn’t sound so out of tune as she pirouetted and leap about. She was Joy personified and he didn’t even know her name.
She was a princess no matter who she was. She would never notice a nobody like him. The reality was he was a simple tinkerer, a less-than-average commoner with nothing real to offer someone like her. In his mind, he at least had boundless love and affection to shower her with. Absolute servitude to her happiness would be his only vocation. He turned away from her, looking west through the trees toward the ocean. Looking at her was both uplifting and painful. The joy they shared in his daydreams was equal to the depression knowing he could never have a woman like her.
A tap on his shoulder brought him out of his reverie of self-pity. He turned to see who it was and found himself staring into her shimmering hazel eyes. He was immediately swept away by the depth of their color – a gentle green near the center that gradually darkened toward the edge, with streaks of light brown and flecks of gold sprinkled throughout. For a minute, time stopped. His heart was pounding in his chest while a surging mix of emotions flooded his mind and soul. When he finally blinked, he realized that she was speaking to him but he had been too stunned to hear the words.
A flash of panic gripped him. “I…I’m sorry?” he somehow managed to squeak out after a few desperate seconds.
“I said I think I lost my ring. Would you help me look for it?” she asked. It was then that he realized that the shimmer in her eyes was actually the beginnings of tears. Her face had a sad cast to it. Sadness. It was not an emotion that she should be experiencing. It was alien, even vulgar considering that, in all the times he had seen her, she had never been without a smile. That something could cause her to feel anything less than pure happiness ignited a fire in his mind that quickly spread to every corner of his conscious being. His muscles tightened, every nerve snapped to attention, his senses took on an acute hypersensitivity as he realized that a great wrong had been inflicted upon her.
“What did it look like?” he asked as his eyes began scanning the ground.
“It was a skinny band with three small rubies. I think it fell off in the fountain over on the other side,” she said, turning to point to a spot close to a lion’s head spewing sparkling water.
His half-eaten sandwich plopped to the ground as he stood to confront the Fountain Demon. His mind had transformed it from a collection of statues celebrating some long-forgotten war victory into a hydra emerging from a bog of evil. The once pure waters now a churning fetid, morass threatening to engulf any living organism that strayed too close. The jets of water were now streams of venom pouring from every dragon head. Somewhere in that cacophony and vortex of death was a magical ring, a ring that would save the world from certain destruction.
He almost flew to the spot she had pointed at and, resting one hand on the fountain to steady himself, thrust his arm up to the elbow into the water, feeling around for anything resembling a ring. To his dismay, he discovered a layer of pea-sized gravel several inches deep covering the bottom of the fountain. He had to search gently because if he was too rough, he could easily bury the ring and never find it. As he made his way along the fountain, he realized that she was beside him, leaning over the fountain, looking into the waters. It was a useless gesture since she saw what he saw which was nothing but a million points of light from the sun reflecting off the choppy surface. But his heart skipped a beat when he saw that her hand was only an inch or two away from his.
“Do you come to the park often?” she asked after a couple minutes.
“Um, I like to eat my lunch here sometimes,” he said, mentally chastising himself for lacking the wit to say something bold and clever instead of something that puts his intelligence on par with the common household dog.
“I thought so. I’ve seen you several times. You’re kinda cute.”
His hand slipped off the fountain and he plunged head-long into the crisp water. He flailed about for a second or two, trying to brace himself so he wouldn’t fall the rest of the way in. His hands slid through the gravel and found purchase on the stone bottom. With a firm shove he hoisted himself out of the water and, standing there, gasped for breath.
He kept his eyes closed as the water continued streaming down his face, dripping all over his shirt, pants and shoes. Not only was he inept with words, now he had demonstrated that he was a clumsy fool as well. Standing there, he waited for her mocking laughter. Raising his hand to wipe away the remaining water from his eyes, he finally heard her voice ring out of the silence.
“My ring! You found it!” she exclaimed. Opening his eyes, he pulled his hand away from his face and saw a small golden ring with three rubies sparking like burning embers, encircling his little finger just above the second knuckle. She reached out and, cupping his hand in hers, removed the ring. Her hands were smooth but electrifying, and when she finally let go, tingling sensations raced up his arm as if it were waking up from being asleep. He stood mute, watching as she slid the ring on her finger. When it was finally back where it belonged, her face lit up with a smile that reflected the sun’s radiance.
She turned and, staring at her ring, started to walk away. She took a dozen steps before turning around and saying “Thank you so much, um…you never told me your name.”
“T-Thomas,” was the only thing he could stammer while trying to cope with the slowly fading tingle in his arm.
She casually walked back over to him and, taking both of his hands in hers, leaned in and kissed his cheek. As she drew back, she looked deep into his eyes and breathed “Thank you, Thomas.” She let go of one hand but tightened her grip on the other. “I hope you’ll be attending the feast at St. Alban’s tonight. I shall save a dance for you.” She gave him another smile as she let go of his hand, turned and skipped down the stairs into the garden. The smile was Joy and Happiness and…something more.
He stood there like some mindless buffoon staring off into space. The smile she gave him, holding his hands, kissing his cheek – he could vaguely remember the events but, similar to his vision, he couldn’t focus his thoughts on them. The more he tried, the more everything got fuzzy. His knees started to wobble until, in one fell swoop, his thoughts and vision went dark and his legs buckled as he fainted. The last thought he had was that he still didn’t know her name.