XXXII. Flynn, November 4

Flynn and Lottie walked out of the front door of the school together, far behind the typical rush of students hurrying to make their buses and be the first out of the parking lot. Lottie's father was picking her up in his large, shiny Hummer and Flynn, of course, had his own car waiting in the parking lot. Lottie was glowing, Flynn had noticed. It was fairly well known throughout the school that Naveen had broken things off with Lottie, and on Halloween, no less. Flynn had heard Pocahontas whispering about it to Tarzan and Jane in their art class on Monday, just moments before Lottie had slumped in to the classroom. Everyone had their own particular opinions about it, and it was the subject of some gossip, though it was largely overshadowed by some of the other major dramatic events of the night. On Monday, Lottie had seemed devastated. Usually perky and perfectly put together, she had been clearly put off by the event, badly dressed with poorly applied makeup and frizzy hair. It hadn't taken long for her to bounce back, and now she was her usual excited self, back to flirting with every cute guy that crossed her path. It was harmless, and Flynn didn't mind that kind of attention, as most guys don't.

"Oh, there's Daddy now," Lottie said with a laugh as her father gave the horn a quick toot. "I'd better be off then… See you tomorrow, sweetums!"

"Bye, Lottie," Flynn laughed. The two had sat together in Fine Art ever since they had been paired together at the beginning, and he enjoyed her company. Spending time listening to her fervent chatter was always a nice way to end the day. Admittedly, it had taken a bit of getting used to. At first, Flynn was even mildly irritated by her gusto. It didn't take too long for him to learn to love it, though.

He made his way towards the short pathway down to the car park, but something caught his attention. There was someone sitting on a bench by the flagpole. Her pastel purple and yellow backpack sat next to the petite brunette and she had her head rested on her knees. Flynn cautiously moved towards her a little and, listening, could hear small, quiet sobs. He slowly approached, but the girl didn't lift her head—he wasn't sure she even noticed that he was there.

"Hey—you okay?" Flynn asked, putting a hand on the anonymous girl's shoulder.

"Yes—yes, I'm, I'm—" the girl lifted her head, wiping at tears that had dripped down her nose. "You."

"Rapunzel?" Flynn was as surprised as she was.

"What are you doing here?" Rapunzel asked, wide-eyed.

"Well, I happen to go to school here, too, I'll have you know," Flynn said, standing up straight and crossing his arms—he was beginning to regret ever investigating this situation.

"No, I mean here," Rapunzel gestured around her to the bench and the flagpole.

"I see a girl crying, what am I supposed to do?" Flynn asked. "But I can see now that you're just fine, so I'll be on my—"

Rapunzel suddenly broke back down into heaving sobs. Flynn instantly flipped back into concern mode. He crouched down in front of her, looking at her with sympathy. He had no idea what the problem was, but it must be serious for her to be this upset.

"Hey, hey, what's wrong?" Flynn asked, putting a hand out and rubbing her arm comfortingly.

"I—I—" Rapunzel stammered, unable to finish her sentence as she was consistently cut off by her own sobbing.

"Shh, it's okay, it's okay," Flynn said. "Just tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help."

"I—missed my bus," Rapunzel said, and put her head back down on her knees, sobbing again.

"That—that's it?" Flynn asked, eyebrows raised.

Rapunzel nodded without lifting her head. Strange. Flynn didn't think Rapunzel seemed like the overly sensitive type. This was certainly a major overreaction to something as simple as missing one's bus. But, he thought, it wasn't his place to judge. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe this was just the cherry on top of the Worst Day Ever. He couldn't possibly know what hell she'd been through that day. But he could try to make it better.

"Hey, that's no big deal," Flynn said soothingly. "I can fix that—I'll drive you home. No worries, see?"

"Really?" Rapunzel asked, sniffling, as she lifted her head from her lap.

"Yeah, of course," Flynn said, waving it away casually, then reached forward and wiped the tears from Rapunzel's cheeks. "It's no problem at all."

He took her by the hand and led her to his pickup. She had stopped crying almost immediately when he offered her the ride. Maybe that was all there was to it. Flynn was glad to have another opportunity to try to impress Rapunzel, though he was a bit concerned. He wasn't sure he could handle a girl as emotionally volatile as Rapunzel seemed to be. If she got that upset over a missed bus, what could dating her be like? Would she break down over a delayed text message? Fall into a depression if he looked at another girl? But Flynn felt he was getting ahead of himself. It was a ride home, after all, not a date.

Rapunzel didn't say anything as they got into the car or drove off down the road. Flynn remembered where she lived from last time, so he didn't have to ask, but he didn't like the silence of the car.

"So… what have you been up to lately?" Flynn asked, trying to strike up a conversation.

"Not much," Rapunzel said, twiddling her thumbs.

"Not much," Flynn repeated, clicking his tongue against his teeth. "So um… you in any clubs or anything?"

"Mm… nope," Rapunzel said, shrugging.

"Yeah," Flynn said, dragging the word out. "Okay then. How about… Halloween! There's something! What did you do for Halloween?"

Rapunzel immediately broke down into weepy snuffles once again. Flynn lost control of the wheel for a moment, accidentally swerving to the side.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa—what—what did I say?" Flynn asked, looking back and forth between Rapunzel and the road.

A strip mall was coming up so he pulled into the parking lot and parked in an isolated corner near an empty storefront. He looked at Rapunzel quizzically. She was now once again bawling into her sleeve.

"Rapunzel—Rapunzel," he tried to get her attention. "What's wrong? You can tell me. I know this can't be about the bus thing."

"I—I don't want to talk about it," Rapunzel said.

"Well, you don't have to," Flynn said. "And I won't force you. But it's obvious you have something that you're keeping bottled up. You'll feel better if you tell someone—it doesn't have to be me. Just anyone. But I hate to see you so upset. Have you told anyone what's bothering you?"

"No," Rapunzel said tearfully.

"I'm here if you want to tell me," Flynn said. "But if you don't, that's okay too. Just know that my lips are sealed if you want them to be."

Rapunzel looked at Flynn and he felt like he had earned a few points there. Her gaze now seemed more friendly than it ever had before and he felt like maybe she was about to open up. Even if not, he had definitely broken through some kind of barrier here. They sat in silence for a few more moments.

"It's… my mom," Rapunzel finally blurted.

She went on to tell Flynn about how her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. She told him how she hadn't told any of her friends about what was going on. She hadn't wanted to burden them with the news because she knew it was heavy stuff. She didn't want to be the "depressing one." She didn't want to make anyone else be sad because she didn't think doing so would make her any less sad. Her mother went in for treatment on Halloween. Her parents told her she should go and do something else—hang out with her friends and take her mind off of things—but she wasn't interested. She promised her mother she would always be there through her treatments, and she planned to stick to that. So instead of going to a party or handing out candy with friends, Rapunzel was in the hospital on Halloween.

"And that's why… I started crying when you asked," Rapunzel said, throwing her hands down in defeat. "I—I'm sorry."

"No, don't be," Flynn said. He had been listening intently and filling in the gaps in Rapunzel's story with comforting words. Now he felt bad for making assumptions earlier, and realized how strong Rapunzel was. He saw her all the time at school, and she was always so composed. It was incredible considering what she was going through.

"I'm sorry for… telling you all this," Rapunzel said, pushing her hair back. "I don't even know I am, I just can't stop my mouth from going on at this point. But… yeah… sorry… I know it's not your burden to bear."

"Hey… stop," Flynn said, reaching forward and turning Rapunzel's head gently with his hand so she was looking at him. "You don't have anything to apologize for."

Rapunzel gave him a weak smile, but he knew it was sincere. She was just tired.

"Can I… show you something?" Flynn asked.

Rapunzel looked puzzled, "Like what?"

"It's a surprise," Flynn said. "But you won't regret it."

"Okay," Rapunzel said hesitantly, though she looked skeptical.

"Great," Flynn said.

He pulled out onto the road and drove the car in the general direction of Rapunzel's neighborhood but then, about a half a mile before reaching it, turned onto a winding residential road that led up a hill. This neighborhood was very lush and the road was the steepest in town. As they drove a little bit further, there were fewer houses and more trees. Finally, as the road started to level off, Flynn pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car. He came around to the passenger side and opened the door for Rapunzel.

"Where are we?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Come on, I'll show you," Flynn said. "It's better if you just see it."

He offered Rapunzel a hand getting out of the truck and she took it. Then he brought her a little way's over to a clearing in the trees.

"Wow," Rapunzel said quietly, taking a couple steps forward into the cleared area.

From where they were standing, they seemed to be able to see the entire town. They were at the top of a hill that stood high above most of the familiar neighborhoods. A slightly weathered but sturdy-looking bench sat overlooking everything.

"What is this place?" Rapunzel asked.

"I've come here a couple times already since I moved," Flynn said. "I drove around town a lot trying to figure things out. I think this is the highest point in Marceline. You can see everything from here. You can even see a little bit of Buena Vista over there."

He leaned in towards Rapunzel and pointed his finger in the direction where the edge of LCU's campus was just barely visible.

"Cool," Rapunzel said dreamily, walking over and taking a seat on the bench.

Flynn came over and sat next to her.

"You like it, then?" he asked.

"I love it," Rapunzel said, and he knew she meant it. "You know, my mom—she's okay. I mean, she has cancer, yeah, but for now… for now everything is okay. It's really uncertain, but you know, it's… I need to stop talking about this. It's all I think about, so now that I know that you know, I just… blah."

"It's okay," Flynn assured her. "I'll listen. But if you want a distraction we can talk about something else."

"Like what?" Rapunzel smiled at him.

"Like… hmm…" Flynn thought for a few moments, looking over the town. "Well, you wanna know a secret?"

"Sure," Rapunzel said, giggling a little bit.

Flynn exhaled deeply. He could feel his heart pounding—he was nervous. This conversation could go either way, really.

"My name isn't Flynn Rider," he said.

"What?!" Rapunzel said, but she didn't sound upset or angry—she laughed as if it was one of the most ridiculous things she'd ever heard. "What do you mean?"

"Flynn Rider isn't my name," he repeated. "I mean, it's what I go by in school and everything, but… I… it's not the name I was born with."

"Well, what was, then?" Rapunzel asked with increasing interest.

"You have to promise not to laugh," Flynn said, looking at Rapunzel seriously.

"I won't laugh," Rapunzel said just as seriously, and drew an "x" over her chest with her finger.

"Okay," Flynn took a deep breath. "Eugene Fitzherbert. That's my name."

"That's it?" Rapunzel asked, looking disappointed.

"What's wrong with it?" Flynn said.

"Nothing!" Rapunzel said, putting her hands on his arm to reassure him. "There's nothing wrong with it at all, it's a lovely name. I just… I don't know… I was expecting something more… more…"

"What were you expecting it to be?" Flynn asked.

"Something ridiculous," Rapunzel said. "Like… I don't know. Jar Jar Dinglehopper."

"If my name was Jar Jar Dinglehopper, you would have my permission to laugh," Flynn said, chuckling himself.

"Good, because I don't think I would be able to stop myself," Rapunzel said, giggling a little. "But you shouldn't be ashamed of Eugene—it's a nice name. It's cute. I think it suits you better—I like it a lot more than Flynn."

"You're the first, then," Flynn sighed.

"Why did you start calling yourself Flynn?" Rapunzel asked.

"I just didn't want to be Eugene," Flynn said, shrugging. "Flynn Rider seemed like a more exciting person, and that's what I wanted to be. So I thought when I came here I could reinvent myself. I decided everyone here would get to know the charming, dashing Flynn Rider—no more Eugene Fitzherbert."

"I can't speak for anyone else, but if this is Eugene Fitzherbert…" she poked him in the chest for emphasis. "…then I much prefer him. He's very sweet. Flynn Rider's kind of a jerk."

"Well, both Flynn Rider and Eugene Fitzherbert like you a lot," Flynn said, smiling. "They might have to fight about it."

"Tell Flynn Rider he can't have me," Rapunzel said, then cuddled up under Flynn's arm and looked out over Marceline. "But his secret is safe with me."

"Does Eugene Fitzherbert have a shot?" Flynn asked, bringing his arm down and resting his hand on Rapunzel's shoulder.