“What did you do?” she asked.

“Same.” Penn tried to say as little as possible. He liked to hear her talk. And he was too tired to make conversation.

“Same?” Rosie tried to say as much as she could. It kept her from falling asleep at the table. “It’s true you’ve spent a lot of time at the hospital lately, but I’m not sure that qualifies you to treat patients.”

“Not treating patients. Thinking about the difference between school and practice, books and life. What you think things are going to be like and how they actually are.”

“Is everything in your life a metaphor?”

“As many things as possible,” Penn admitted. “So what now?”


It was important to keep his face exactly neutral. He froze his eyes and eyebrows and lips and mouth and cheeks. He tried hard to go into a coma.

“Don’t look so excited,” she said. “I’m too tired to do anything but sleep. So are you.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You’ve been awake for thirty-seven hours. Your eyes are glassy and bloodshot. You’re losing brain tissue as we speak. I know the signs. I’m a doctor.”


“You took a nap while they made your eggs. That’s the first sign of exhaustion. They covered that our first year of med school.”

“I can rally,” said Penn. “I can get a second wind.”

“You need to sleep,” Rosie insisted. “First we sleep. Then we’ll see.”

Penn thought “we’ll see” sounded like a good start. He agreed to these terms. He couldn’t remember another time when his first foray into the bed of a woman he was wooing was for sleep, but he was willing to give it a shot. Her sheets had pictures of basset hounds and that softness you get not from thread count but from washing again and again and again. They were well-loved sheets. Among those basset hounds, just as his eyes were closing, she said, “Tell me your story.”

“What story?”

“The waiting room story.”

“You just lived that one.”

“I wasn’t waiting,” she said. “I was on the other side.”

He couldn’t keep his eyes open, but he didn’t think he’d need to. “How about a bedtime story?”

“A bedtime story would be perfect,” she said.

“Once upon a time…”

“Not a very original opening.”

“There was a prince.”

“Aren’t you supposed to start with a princess?”

“Named Grumwald.”


“Who lived in a far-off land where being a prince was, well, just not that fulfilling. Or impressive. He hadn’t been elected to it. He hadn’t earned it with good deeds or quick thinking, clever problem solving or hard labor. He was the prince for the same reason princes are always princes. Because their fathers are kings and their mothers are queens. And yes, he had his own wing in a castle with that funny roofline that looks like bad teeth.”


“And yes, he had robes and crowns and those sticks with balls on the end.”

“Scepters. God, Penn, I thought you were a word guy.”

“I’m tired.”

“What are those things even for anyway?”

“That was Grumwald’s question too. What was the point of any of it? It’s true there was an actual suit of armor in the hall right outside his bedroom. But otherwise, he was a fairly ordinary guy. He cleaned his own bathroom. He saw no use for sticks with balls on the end. The crown gave him a headache.”

“Cranial neuralgia due to continuous stimulation of cutaneous nerves.”

“And it seemed that his friends, with their ordinary lives, who had summer jobs, whose rooflines were flat or at least roof-shaped, were a lot happier than he was.”

“How did he meet these friends with ordinary lives and roofs?”

“High school,” said Penn.

“He went to public school?”

“His parents—”

“The king and queen.”

“—were progressives who believed neither money nor class nor royal status meant that one child deserved a good education while another child did not. They realized the world would be a better place if all children had knowledge, intelligence, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and a fair shot at a good career which supported them financially as well as spiritually.”


“Yes. But hard for Grumwald, who had no career to prepare for, who would not be going off to college, who thought it unlikely his parents, no matter how liberal, were going to be wild about his dating a peasant, no matter how impressive her bootstraps. He was allowed to play sports but couldn’t because no one would throw a pitch inside to the prince or try to sack him or block his shots. The school dances that so thrilled his friends with their opportunities for fancy dress and limousines and expensive meals were just an ordinary Tuesday night for poor Grum. He skipped graduation altogether because he couldn’t stomach one more moment of pomp and circumstance in a life made up of little but. His world, though beautiful, shrouded in layers of purple mist, warmed by a sun that seemed to shine just for him, smelling of forest and the promise of adventure and the possibility of magic, proved, however, very small indeed. Education served only to show him what was out there, not to offer it as an actual possibility.”