Father peeks out from the windows. "The snow is sticking."
Mother sneezes and all eyes dart to her. The plague had cleaned the streets and the last few untouched houses were becoming infected. People lost homes and families.
"Stay in bed," Father advised, his green eyes very calm but his voice was shaking. He was nervous. He didn't want anyone else to catch it.
"I wanted to see the snow," Mother starts to say more but she starts coughing. She covers it with skill, moving her elbow to her face.
"I'll get the bread," Father says and his eyes go to me. "Stay in bed as well, Flower."
"I feel fine," I smile, though it twists into a frown when I watch Mother shakily walk to the bedroom. "Can I start the tea?"
Father's tense face relaxes. "Thank you."
"I'll be right back!" I curtsey. Father smiles brightly and bows. We always pretended to be royalty. Father's the king, Mother's the queen, and I'm the princess. Our servants are my little kitten Pascal. Pascal seems the carry the genes of the Mendel household, having green eyes close to emerald.
He follows me out into the snow, despite me telling him to go back inside.
"You're going to get a cold, too, Pascal," I chide him like Mother chides me. Pascal only meows and strolls up to me, his fur bushed out to keep warm.
I make my hand into a fist and pound at the snow, spitting hair from my face. My hair is brown for the moment, as it always is in winter. It's funny how summer lightens hair, and darkens the skin. There's less sun in the winter when it snows, so my hair darkens to chocolate brown. It's gold in the summer, my father jokes about me being a sun flower's daughter because of the blond in it.
Pascal's fur changes to a light brown instead of the warm tawny it is now. Father's hair stays brown all year, and Mother's lightens to honey.
The Mendels are strange, sometimes I agree with the rumors that go around.
I feel a snowball hit me square in the back and I turn to see a group of young men and maidens laugh. They have shrunk in number, and I can't be happy. Some of them didn't make it to today; the plague claimed members of the group that never leaves me alone.
I force a smile, ignoring the hurt that fills my chest, and get to my feet, the pot now full of snow. Pascal's hiss no longer startles me. He doesn't like them either.
I struggle back to the house, my cloak doing little for my snow bitten hands. I forgot my mitts in the house by the stove. I'll sit by the stove after the tea boils to warm my hands.
I am so cold. My breath, in a cloud in front of my pale face, billows out thickly. It's freezing outside and I hurry into the house.
The warmth of the fire reaches me as I walk toward the kitchen. Father fusses.
"Damn snow." I hear him growl.
"I thought the king doesn't swear!" I gasp in fake astonishment. Father whips around and then he relaxes. "Why so jumpy, your Highness?"
Father tries to relax his posture a little more. "I keep forgetting to lock the front door. Looters are roaming about."
"Still?" I place the pot on the stove. The people that are alive after the plague resort to stealing for the moment because they are too heart-broken to go back to work. At least, that's my reason for the looters.
"I talked to our queen earlier," Father says, but I don't hear him, not too well. My mind is on the looters.
"Oh?" I mumble.
"She," I hear Father's voice darken. "She thinks she's. . ."
The looters don't have to kill people. Father's best friend's brother was killed a month ago for defending his house from them. The looters are desperate, no longer caring for life because they lost their own when the plague arrived.
"How's Pascal?" Father asks and I jump, realizing that I had been lost in thought. Father's green eyes go to the tawny cat sitting by the fireplace.
"I don't know if cats can catch it," I say absently. The ice has turned to slush and I find a spoon. I whisk the ice, almost wanting to blow on it as if it would help it melt faster.
"Hope not." Father says, and then trying to joke, "we'd have to throw him out."
"He keeps the rats away," I pout, turning to Father, widening my eyes. "We can't."
"I'm kidding, Flower," Father pouts next. "Calm down."
We enter a duel, each trying to make the other one laugh. I pout, jutting out my lower lip, and then Father breaks into a crazy smile that makes his eyes crisscross and widen and I know I lost.
I break down into hysterical giggles and Father comes closer to me, making alternative versions of the face that made me lose.
"Stop it, stop it!" I gasp and cover my smiles. "I didn't lose!"
"Did to!" Father puts on a normal smile, and then he makes his eyes crisscross again.
At that moment, I hear Mother call for Father. Father's entire body stiffens. His green eyes darken and the smile leaves his face. He turns to look at me and he looks as if he wants to say something.
"Your Highness!" Mother then calls in a tone that makes Father's face drain of color. I watch him walk away from me, and into their room. He closes the door behind him.
I look at Pascal who is busy licking his cold paws.
Father has never acted that way before.
I turn to the melting snow and tell myself everything is fine.
Father comes back out an hour later, and pulls me to Mother's room without a word.
Mother lies on the bed, her eyes going straight to me.
"Darlin'," the soft way she spoke and the way her eyes gaze at me intently makes me scared. "Come here."
I obediently go to her side and grab her unscarred hand. Touching Mother was forbidden once Mother got it. Father says nothing, and I try to understand what's happening.
Her emerald eyes peer at mine. "I'm sorry, dear."
I don't understand.
"Why?" My voice breaks, and I whisper, "What's going on?"
"God's calling," Mother blinks and a lone tear falls onto her cheek. My eyes zoom in on the tear while I try to process her words.
"Mother," I mumble to her, "Mother, you can't."
"I have to, baby," Mother sniffles and her other hand goes to my hair. Her wrist is scarred but the palm of her hand is smooth when it goes to my face. "I'm sorry."
"Don't leave us." I cry, and the tears appear out of nowhere, blurring my vision. I blink them away furiously, trying to see her face. "Don't leave us."
"Flower," Mother says Father's nickname for me. "I love you, Flower."
I lay my head onto her chest, sobbing. "Mother, please."
Her hand on my cheek wipes the tears away.
The motion brings back memories, some long forgotten and some very recent. Mother smiling at me as I fell in a snow drift, Mother handing me a baby Pascal dressed with a little white ribbon around his neck, Mother and Father dancing in the middle of flower beds as summer warmed our skin and Pascal and I played.
Mother kissing me 'goodnight', Mother teaching me how to waltz, and then laughing when I knock her down. Mother teaching me how to braid my hair, Mother begging me not to cut it, Mother's green eyes when she addressed me as the princess she and Father called me.
Mother saying 'goodbye'.
I look up at her, and squeeze her hand.
"I love you," I mumble to her, and her eyes light up, like they always did. Like they used to before the plague.
Something changes in her face and her hand squeezes mine once.
"I love you, too, Princess." She smiles. "Flower Princess."
Father's hand goes to my shoulder. He knows what's coming and I don't.
"I will love you two," her eyes go to Father. "I will love you two forever."
It's at that moment when I notice the tearstains on her cheeks.
"So long, your Highness," she looks at my Father when she says it.
Her eyes go blank as she addresses me. The light is still there but my Mother is leaving.
"So long. . . Princess. . ." Her voice dies away and then the light is gone too.
It's at that moment when I realize that now only two people are breathing.
My mother is gone.
"You can't go." I say to her body firmly, and then a pain so unfamiliar stings my heart, flooding into every limb. I start to scream. "You can't go! You can't!"
Father's arms go around me and he pulls me away from Mother.
I scream and cry. "Don't go! Don't leave me! Mother, you said you could do it! You said you were fine!"
"Flower, Flower," Father coos in my ear and I ignore him, my eyes only on Mother's face. Somehow, Father knew. He knew, and he didn't tell me.
I don't care. I just want her back.
"Come back to me! Come back to me!" I struggle with Father.
My cries break the silence her death made.
"Mother, no! Mother, no, Mother, no!"
Father gets it, too. He shuts me away from him.
I make him tea and leave it at the door after knocking. I hear him rasp, "Thank you, Princess."
When I hear only silence, I enter Father's room to see Father writhing on the bed. I scream and hurtle myself on the bed with him, trying to grab his muscles and still them.
Father never let me see Mother have these.
When it is over, Father's in tears.
"I didn't want you to see that," Father whispers to me, his green eyes on my face.
"It's okay, your Highness," I say soothingly, though I want to be soothed. "The princess can't be unaware of what happens."
Father says nothing else, only pull me to him and breathe the other way.
"I love you, Princess," Father says suddenly.
I snuggle into him, almost wanting to have what he and Mother caught.
"I love you, too, Father."
It's the one and only time in my life I never called him, 'king'.
It's when the snow falls for the third night in a row, a week after Mother, that I lose Father, too.
Pascal and I do nothing, only sit on the bed.
Father and me and Pascal. The three of us had buried Mother together.
Pascal and me. We have to bury Father together.
I pull Pascal to me, and cry into his fur.
The next two days pass by in a tearful blur.
My hands and Pascal are the only thing that keep me aware of reality. Pascal cries for food, and my hands scream for relief from digging.
Pascal gets his dinner, but my hands do not get relief.
When Father's next to Mother, I find two sticks and bind them together with twine. I make a cross, not for religion, but for me. I want to go outside and know where their bodies are. Father did it for Mother, I do it for him.
I cry over their bodies and silently demand why I lost them so quickly.
I demand why the plague arrives and steals lives.
I demand for my king and queen to return.
Something crashes in the house.
Pascal and I shoot out of the bed and stagger down the hallway.
"Who's there?" I shouted and grab the one weapon I have, a long piece of their bed. I had to destroy it for firewood and because the memories haunted me. Pascal and I sleep in my room now.
I storm down into the house to see a young man digging into the cupboards. I scream at him and he turns around, shock on his face. It changes into recognition when he sees me, which is strange because I don't know him.
We both stand still, gazing at each other.
He's handsome, with facial hair only on his chin. He has broad shoulders and dark brown hair that falls into his eyes and around his neck. He doesn't look too big, but his biceps are tight and strong in the cotton sleeves that cover the rest of his arms.
"What are you doing here?" I have to summon my nerve. A looter is one thing. A looter that's a man is something else. I wish I had brought my cloak so I could cover myself. I'm in my nightgown.
He stands still, not speaking.
"I said, 'what are you doing here'." I demand.
His face changes and darkens with sadness.
"I don't know what to do," he mumbles and to my surprise, he holds his hands up and walks slowly to me. I nearly take a step back but tell myself that he seems to be on the defense. "I don't have any other ideas. I'm sorry."
I glare at him, unsure what to say. He's yards from me now.
"You were going to steal from me," I accuse.
He nods, ashamed. Pink floods his fair skin, and I nearly blink at the sight of it. His eyes are light brown, almost hazel.
"Why?" It's a terrible question, but I ask.
He looks at me, meeting my eyes though he's taller than me.
"I lost my family." He said, and then he gestures around. "And it looks like you've lost yours, too."
"Not all of it," I glance down at Pascal.
The man smiles. "Same here." He then whistles and my eyes widen when a dog, I think it's a dog, stalks in from around the corner of one of the kitchen walls.
The dog has thick white fur, tinged with gray, and brown eyes. He looks more wolf-like, with an angular jaw and slightly spaced, pointed ears. His tail is definitely wolf-like, a bushy long mass of white-gray fur.
"That's Maximus." The man introduces him. Maximus looks at Pascal and makes no move to eat him.
"And you are?" I turn my wide eyes back to the man, the looter.
The man doesn't smile.
"To those I steal from, I'm Flynn Rider." He says. He lives two lives?
I stiffen. "Are you still going to steal from me?"
"No. We've met before." He says, and it confuses me. "You know my name."
I try to think of where I could have seen him. I can't think, though. My mind keeps going back to my king and queen, to my late parents.
I glare at him, now on the offense. I hold up my weapon, threatening. "I don't know you."
"Of course you do," Flynn Rider says, and then his hand goes to my weapon. He grabs it, and slowly takes it from me. It falls to the floor, and Pascal, usually easily startled, doesn't flinch.
Flynn Rider leans into me, and I nearly lean back. When had he gotten in front of me?
He whispers. "Checkmate."
It all comes back in a flash.
I used to play chess all the time outside in the spring up to autumn. No one left me in peace, only bothered me and harassed me with anything they could throw at me. I hated it, but endured it with a smile. Rumors went around, and never stopped, about the Mendels. About my king, my queen, and me.
One day, after the groups had finished with the taunts, a young man left the already leaving group to play with me. He had waved them away, insisting that they didn't know anything. He had found me in tears and offered to play with me.
He had made them all bother me a little bit less, but I saw him more and more after that. He played with me often, up until the coldest day in autumn that announced winter.
And then the plague arrived.
"Eugene?" I whisper.
Eugene smiles faintly. "We were best friends in the spring, Rapunzel," he calls me by my name.
"A spring friendship finds itself buried in the winter," I murmur and Eugene frowns.
"You weren't so negative."
"I had everyone, once upon a time," I sniffle.
"Me too," he sighs, and his eyes go to our companions watching us. "Danger's over, Pascal."
Pascal says nothing, only pads to the fireplace, his fur bushing out. He's unused to company. It had only been me and him for long time.
Eugene looks at me.
"Nothing will ever be the same again," he voices what I think.
I pull away from Eugene, and walk to Pascal, crouching down to pet him behind the ears.
"Before the plague, everything was fine." I sigh. Eugene and Maximus come up behind me.
"After the plague, everything was ruined." My eyes go to the wall, to where my king and queen are buried.
Nothing will ever be the same again.