The soft whir of power source fans and the hushed, whispering voices slowly came back into focus as William raised his head from the desk and rubbed his eyes. That was the third time he had woken up in the computer lab on campus during just one assignment. The combination of late nights and mountains of non-interesting homework was taking its toll on Will as it has done and will do for thousands of other upper middle class men at any university across the nation. William’s Alma matter of choice happened to be Utah State University. It wasn’t that he didn’t like majoring in Computer Science, he did, it just didn’t make for the most interesting study sessions in the world.
Usually when he needed a break to get him back in focus, he hit the gym from anywhere to a half an hour to a few hours. Swimming, racquetball, basketball, running, anything that got his heart pumping and got rid of the nervous energy that develops while sitting in one position in class or in the computer lab. This time, though, it was getting really late and he decided to save the assignment for tomorrow morning before class.
He leaned back, making the computer lab chair creak and pop as it supported his muscular torso and clean cut head stretched out over the top. He rubbed his freshly shorn head and stretched back forward, reaching for the mouse and keyboard to close everything up.
Just one more click. He glanced through the drop down menu of friends’ blogs and scrolled to Justin. Click. Funny man Justin must not have had time to blog this week, it’s the same blog as a few days ago. The mouse skimmed up to the top right corner towards the big red X. Wait, what’s this? Click. The button read “Next Blog.” William is digitally whisked to someone else’s blog, their thoughts coursing through miles and miles of cable from what appeared to be Japan. A couple of interesting pictures, but no words he could understand. Click. German. Click. A blog dedicated to promoting a weight loss product. Click.
William’s eyes widened. “Rapunzel” flourished across the top in a sweeping font. The caption underneath read, “My lifeline thrown out of my tower, for expressing myself to the unknown is my only relief from captivity.”
A little dramatic, Will thinks to himself as he reads her profile. “It doesn’t really matter where I’m from or what I’m like, you will never meet me and even if we did meet, you would never know it was me. I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so come on, let’s dance anyway!”
Will can’t help but read on about this anonymous woman. She could be anywhere and she doesn’t know he is the one ogling her thoughts from a college computer lab in Logan, Utah. The ambiguity and anonymity of the web makes it as intriguing as it is perilous.
The first entry is less than a week old followed by one posted this morning. Scrolling to the bottom, Will started with the first entry.
I’m not really sure who to address this to, since nobody I know can ever find out about this blog. My parents are already in a habit of checking all of my email before I do, so this is the way I have come up with to pop the stopper on my bottled emotions. I guess if that’s weird or scary, nobody will keep reading and I can use this as my own personal journal to spill my guts to. Who wants to listen to a 22 year old shut in anyway? If I want to hang out with my Dad at all, I can’t be exposed to sicknesses that his chemotherapied body can’t handle. I take my Vitamin C every day, drink lots of water, get lots of sleep… it’s almost like I’m the one that is sick all the time.
Today is the day that he found out last year. One year of doctor appointments, treatments, tears and a regular roller coaster of finding hope, losing it and finding it again. The man I knew a year ago as the strongest man in the world, my rock, has been reduced to a skinny, pale, balding man with a quiet voice and sad eyes. The only mother I’ve ever known, my Step Mom Alice, is taking things really hard. I don’t remember life before Alice; I was only 3 when they got married. What kid loses both parents to cancer?
William was acutely aware of his heart beating in his chest. Everything around him moved in slow motion as the mystery woman’s words sunk in. He was in her world, feeling what she was feeling. Should he be reading this? Should he be privy to the thoughts and emotions that she was writing to no one in particular? He vowed to shut everything down after he read the most recent post and then go home to sleep.
So, I realized how depressing that last post really must sound when I reread it today. Anniversaries can be so depressing.
Today was my first day of classes this semester. I didn’t get to take any last year due to the Dad thing, but after working all last year and keeping the job I have now, I’m able to pay for it all myself instead of putting that extra burden on my parents. I’m so excited!! I talked to my counselor today and because I killed myself those first two years, I’m actually well into my Junior credits even though I’m just starting my Junior year. Yes!” Will smiled, he knew the feeling.
While l was out running yesterday, I came up over this hill just as the sun was rising. When I left, the sky had been all purple and gray after the rain yesterday. The air was like Heaven to breathe and I felt like I was gliding as I ran down this little dirt road. I like to run that road because of its little hills and curves; it looks different every time I go there. I got a little farther than usual before the sun finally came up since it’s getting to be fall and everything. Anyway, as I came up over this little hill, the sun peeked out from behind the mountain and ignited the leftover rain clouds. They were golden and pink and orange. I picked my favorite one and pictured my Mom peeking out from behind it winking at me with her sideways, dimpled grin. I’ll never stop running if it means I get to have moments like that.
Will sat in awe realizing for the first time that he had been smiling the whole time. What a beautiful person, he thought. She’s so real, but she gushes about things she’s really passionate about. I think I might like to read about her again, sometime. How can I…? Will made a couple of clicks and sent the link to her page to himself in an email that he could check later on.
The walk home seemed much shorter than usual as he pictured the sunrise in his mind. He had seen many sunrises on his own runs and they were always amazing. That God would give us such a peek into Heaven was an amazing gift, he had always thought.
In a couple of days’ time, Will found himself back in the computer lab programming the next part of his assignment. His mind wandered to the mystery girl and her morning runs. In fact, he had not been able to get her out of his mind for the past couple of days. He had even dreamed about a beautiful girl running with long, flowing hair flying behind her. He wanted desperately to find her page in his email and read about her some more, but he knew his assignment would suffer if he tried to split his attention. He made himself finish the programming before peeking in on his friendly stranger’s thoughts. Never had an assignment gotten done so quickly!
After a click here and there, Rapunzel’s page came up once again. The background had changed to a landscape view of a beautiful sunrise. The pink and gold clouds repeated themselves down the page as he scrolled down to check the posts that he had missed.
She had not missed a day of writing, while Will had. He leaned his chin on his hand as he eagerly read.
Daddy’s doing well today. He went golfing with his buddy, Earl. Earl and Daddy have been more brothers than friends since I can remember. He introduced my Mom and Dad, actually. I like Earl; he has always been there for my Dad. He has a son he’s determined I should marry, but I like him anyway.
I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be married. I feel like I am married to my family. Mom (Alice) doesn’t always get out of bed in the morning in time for Daddy’s appointments, so I usually take him. She deals by buying junk food and literally sits on the couch watching TV and eating bon bons. Dad says to give her time and that she’ll come to terms with it all someday. Sometimes I feel like I’m not allowed to be depressed. What good would that do me? I have too much to do and Daddy needs someone to drive him around. Plus, Billy and Zach need rides to school and stuff. Mom actually did that once this week, so maybe she will get better. Sometimes she just rides with me and that’s better than sitting at home, I guess. I never go anywhere just for me.
My stalker wrote me another email and they deleted it. Nobody has figured out how he keeps finding me and, I thought I’d never say this, but I’m glad my parents delete the emails before I see them. They save copies of them if we ever figure out who the sicko is. That’s why this blog is top secret. While I need to express myself, it would be horrible if he found out about it somehow. I think I’ve done enough, I guess I can only hope.
Will sat up in his chair. That is something he could help her with. He would be able to program around things so that she could appear anonymous while using her home computer. How could he tell her without coming off as a stalker himself?
Little Zachy broke his nose today! He was at preschool and he tripped on a toy on the floor and dove face first onto the corner of a little table. He looks so pitiful with the splint and tape all over his cute little face. The amazing thing is that it seems to have pulled Mom out of her funk. Who knows if it will last, but she actually went to get him and got him some ice cream on the way home from the doctor. That’s a pretty big deal for someone who has held the couch down for months. (See why this blog has to be top secret?) She even baked his favorite dessert and did dinner all on her own today! I’m excited that this may be the turning point for her. Not that I mind doing a lot of it, but it would be nice to just be me.
Speaking of just being me, an equally anonymous friend that I’ll call A, keeps trying to get me to go out with this new guy in her Biology class. The last date she set me up on was a complete disaster, so forgive me if I’m not all that eager to try again. I’ll go because she’s so excited about it, but I’m not promising anything. Wow, I can’t believe I’m typing about that. I guess the lack in the comments department has made me braver! I think I actually have succeeded in being anonymous.
I found the most beautiful song the other day. Usually I just sing the songs I find and save them on my computer so I can redo them a hundred times and just enjoy them. So, keeping in mind that I am an amateur that just really loves to sing, I just had to put this up because the words speak right to me.”
Her words were followed by a link that read: “Baby Girl.” Will popped the ear phone jack out of his iPod and clicked it into the slot on the campus computer. He clicked on the link strangely excited to hear Rapunzel’s voice. The tones that came through the cord and into his ears took his breath from him. It started on a strong, high note and continued on with a keyboard piano playing in the background. It was a song about being Daddy’s little girl and never being anybody else’s baby. Her passionate voice revealed her longing to find a love of her own, while still remaining loyal to her father. Will would have loved to have a strong voice like hers in his garage band in high school. She sounded amazing. His piano keyboarding skills couldn’t touch her obvious natural talent.
Accessing his private storage account, Will easily found the program he was looking for. In order for her to access it, he’d have to put it up on the web. The articles he read about the Napster swam through his mind as he decided what to do with the program he’d worked so hard to write. It was an identity protection program that, while running, would hide a person’s IP address by making it appear as a different number each time it was looked up. In some ways, it was illegal, but he envisioned its use for people just like Rapunzel who had online stalkers. It was kind of like a witness relocation program to allow people to hide from online predators.
Swallowing the thought that he might be giving away a goldmine, he had to reach out to her and help her if he could. He clicked on the comments section of her blog and began typing. After several false starts, he wrote what came to him, keeping it real and honest.
I stumbled on your blog the other day and I hope you don’t mind my reading thoughts you may never have meant to be read. I am drawn to your spirited way of writing and ‘dealing’. And your voice, it’s… well, I don’t have just the right word to describe the way your song made me feel. Amazing. Please forgive me for intruding on your most personal thoughts and please don’t stop on account of me. In fact, if I make you uncomfortable, you give the word and I will never click near here again.
The reason I even got up the guts to write to you is that I can help you keep yourself safe from stalkers, the online variety anyway. I am just a guy studying Computer Science at a Rocky Mountain university and I wrote a program that can make your computer signature appear different every time you use it. I made a special page on my webpage that will allow you to download the program. As it installs, it will walk you through what to do, but if you have questions, email me and I’ll help any way I can. By the way, Hotmail offers great free email addresses, in order to stay anonymous to me, too. All I ask is that you don’t share the program with anyone else until my patent comes through. No, I’m not sure it’s that good, but it will help.
You have been the bright spot in my week this week and I am at your service.
Your humble servant,
Will must have read the post 5 times before he finally sent it with a little prayer that she would not reject his help. As soon as he clicked Send, regret flip flopped through his mind back and forth with hope. What was done was done and he left the computer lab that day fully expecting never to hear from or read about Rapunzel ever again.
The next day, getting his big assignment in on time, which for Will meant by the skin of his teeth, felt really good. He was walking on air as he stopped by the library computer lab to check his email. One from his Mom and about 7 spam messages. As he clicked the spam to the trash, he stopped, mid-click over an email from firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line that read, “Anti-stalker program.” Will’s heart skipped as he clicked it open and read a message from his fairy tale blogger.
Thank you for your concerned email. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous at first that someone out there was actually reading what I wrote. Thank you for your kind words and you are, of course, welcome to keep reading if you like.
I showed the website to my Dad. I hope you don’t mind that I made it seem like something I just found. Your website is so professional! He said it looked good and I’m actually writing from home this time! Thanks so much! You’re a Prince!
Will grinned, lacing his fingers behind his head and stretching back. Good deed, good karma. There was a link at the end of her email to her blog and he didn’t even think twice.
You know that scene in Aladdin when he’s fighting the evil wizard Jafar? Jafar has got Jasmine trapped inside an hourglass with sand rushing in. She can see out and everyone can see her, but she is trapped, separated from the world by a layer of glass. The suffocating sand is rushing around her and she can’t do anything. Then, the Princely Aladdin smashes the walls around her and pulls her gasping from the sand. Safe in his arms, she is safe in the knowledge of who he is and what he has done for her. Though I don’t know who you are, I am much safer after what you have done for me.”
Will blinked. He felt his cheeks get warm and he glanced around the lab to see if anyone had noticed him blushing. Big guys of the six foot 2 variety don’t usually blush, especially when compared to cartoon characters. He cleared his throat and tried to decide what to do. He couldn’t just reply with a lame “you’re welcome” after a thanks like that. Words are not always strengths for computer guys, but Will was not an average computer guy. After all, he was wrapped up in the blog of someone he’d never met before in an emotional way he’d never experienced before. He cracked his knuckles, took a deep breath and began typing.
Once upon a time, there was this average guy named Will. One day he was walking through the forest when he came upon a tall tower. He heard the most angelic voice emanating from the tower that he had ever heard. Anyone who could be imprisoned like that and still have something to sing about was very intriguing to him. Bill himself was the kind of guy who was good at fixing things for other people, without paying too much attention to himself. The voice in the tower made him feel like he had something to fight for.
Will couldn’t go on. This was all so surreal and personal and he felt strange typing things he would never say to a real person. But this real person was different than any other human being he knew. She was real at the same time as being poetic and she brought that out in him, too.
The story doesn’t end here, it is just beginning. As the woman behind the voice used her words to open the curtains on the window of her soul, they formed a lifeline stretching down and around the tower toward Will. He, in turn reached upwards to her and they formed a connection. The nature of the connection remains to be seen, but at that moment, in that forest, it was what they both needed.
Will quickly hit Send and uploaded his parable to her comments section before he chickened out. It was kind of a rush to be so completely honest and to express himself in such a freeing, articulate way. His conscience whispered, would you be able to say these things to the girl if she were right here standing in front of you? I would want to, he pondered back. If I had the guts and could come up with the words on the fly, I would love to make her feel as I hope these words I have sent to her make her feel.
As the days went on, they continued their conversation through her blogging and his replying. No one ever bothered them or interjected their own words. They were free to communicate and reflect and share thoughts and feelings.
Rapunzel: I am trapped at home. I can’t go away for school because I can barely afford the classes on my own, let alone food and housing. My Dad needs me here. Mom is getting more reliable these days, but there are still days that she depends on me to get things taken care of. I am trapped in a tower with only a window and no stairs. I can see what I want, to go to school, to learn, to live on my own, but I have no way of getting there.
William: I wish I could come in riding on my noble steed, let’s call him “Beat up Volkswagen.” I’d take you away from there and you could come live in the building across the parking lot from me. We could go on dates and eat greasy food and have fun together. Sing me another song, I love to hear your voice!
She would send him songs saved in her archives of years of recording herself singing other people’s songs. Depending on her mood, she would send him silly, twangy country songs that made them both laugh or other times slow, beautiful ballads that not only showcased her lilting voice, but also her heart and her truest feelings. Will downloaded her songs onto his iPod and listened to them often.
As the months passed and the time for finals approached, their posts grew farther apart. They centered more on the mundane subjects they were studying and were rife with excuses for not writing more often. The summer was no better as they both worked hard to earn money for the next semester. Then something magical happened.
Will was driving his beat up Volkswagen to work one afternoon and the radio station he was listening to began playing a very familiar tune with a very familiar voice singing it. He could hardly believe his ears as Rapunzel’s voice came to him over the air waves. He was so excited he didn’t know what to do! He saw a phone booth and pulled over erratically to look up the address of the radio station. It was in the business park near his job, and he could hardly contain himself as he pulled into the parking lot just beyond the one for his job and swung open the glass door with the station’s call letters emblazoned on it.
“I know I’m gonna sound a little crazy,” he said breathlessly to the manicured woman behind the desk, “but I gotta know who sings that song!”
“Excuse me?” the heavily made up girl asked slowly.
“You just played a song. I’ve heard it before, but I don’t know who it’s sung by. I’m sorry if I’m being a pest, I just have to know. Please?”
“Here,” she thrust a Xeroxed list at him and went back to her typing. It was a list of songs to be played that day. Next to the title of the song, Baby Girl was written Guest Artist.
“I’m sorry, ma’am? The song I was wondering about, it just says Guest Artist. Do you know who it was?”
“Some chick came in and recorded it last week. She never picked up her check though. I’m still waiting for her to come in.”
“Last week? She lives here in town?”
“If you can call Salt Lake a town, then yeah, she lives here.”
Staggered by the thought that his Rapunzel could walk in at any moment to pick up a paycheck, he rubbed his head with his left hand and stared at the song printed on the paper in his right. He turned to leave and didn’t realize until 20 minutes later when he was already sitting behind his desk that he had forgotten to ask the receptionist her name.
His blog entry that night was carefully thought out and had been rumbling around in his head all day at work.
“Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair! I was riding through the forest on my noble Volkswagen when your voice came to me as though from a dream. When I realized I was awake, and that you were coming from my radio speakers, I could hardly contain myself! When the radio station told me the song was done by a local artist, I nearly fell on the floor! Is there any way you would lend me your hair so I may climb up to meet you? Even if it’s as scary to you as it is to me, I beg you not to say no. Even if we’re not a perfect match physically, I wouldn’t give up these months of communication for all of Rumpelstiltskin’s gold! You name the place and I’ll follow you there.”
There was no response that night or the next. Will’s will began to buckle as he began to lose hope of meeting his fairy tale girl. Just then, the window opened and down came a long, woven braid. The message read:
“Meet me at the Jamba Juice near State Street and 53rd South Saturday night near 6:00. I actually do have long hair, but It doesn’t really matter where I’m from or what I’m like, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so come on, let’s dance anyway!”
The reference to her profile was not lost on William and he realized she was as nervous about meeting in person as he was.
The night couldn’t come soon enough and William drove with the windows down hoping the movement of the air might convince the sweat not to threaten his composure. His characteristically short hair hadn’t needed more than a wash, but his clothes he had carefully chosen to present the best image of himself. A tie would have been false representation, but a buttoned shirt undone by one seemed to fit his style along with well-fitting jeans and gym shoes. His arm reached across the passenger seat to keep the vase of flowers from tipping whenever he turned. If things went well, they would be hers before the night was over.
He entered the Jamba Juice ten minutes after 6 and, hands in pockets, looked around. A trio of girls twittered to each other in the corner and he studied them wondering if one could be her. They looked too young and he turned his glance to the board of choices above the register. Something cold to sip might calm his nerves. He walked towards the counter, face uplifted to the lighted sign. As he approached the register and brought his gaze down, his eyes met hers and he knew. He just knew.
“It’s you;” he paused, “isn’t it?”
Her crystal blue eyes looked misty and far away as they gazed back at him. She nodded and without a word, went to the back and shed her black apron and hair net to return wearing a beautiful silk blouse and slim fitting jeans. Her wavy golden hair nearly reached her waist when freed from the poofy hair net. She grabbed two juices already prepared from the counter and followed his outstretched arm holding the door open for her into the glaring setting sun.
“Lets’ walk this way,” she said softly, offering him one of the juices.
They walked around the corner and through a back parking lot and up a grassy hill to a park. They began the path stealing glances at each other and sipping their juice.
“I’m Rebecca,” Rapunzel noted quietly.
“I’m William, but I go by Will.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Prince William,” Rebecca giggled infectiously.
Will chuckled as his right hand found her left and they continued walking down a shady path between the trees.