Eugene woke up with sunlight streaming across his face from the nearby window. Turning to look out at the sky, he sighed happily. It was nice to wake up on his own for a change, instead of being dragged out of bed by an excited princess, or sent for by the king and queen, or climbed on by that stupid chameleon-frog. It was a nice morning – a nice late morning – and he almost didn't want to get up. But then, just because he and Rapunzel had finally managed to see the whole castle didn't mean there was nothing fun to do anymore. After all, with Rapunzel around, "fun" could mean just about anything.
Then again, maybe he could find something to do alone. It would be a nice change of pace, and he wasn't used to being surrounded by people all the time like this. Maybe he'd try to surprise Rapunzel. He could make her some new paints or something. She liked painting pictures of the new and exciting things they'd seen, and she was running low on several colors now that she'd had so much to make pictures of.
Getting up, Eugene dressed quickly, hoping Rapunzel wouldn't show up again before he could leave for the forest, then reached for his boots, only to find that they weren't in their usual spot on the floor beside his bed. Getting to his feet, he moved to check the wardrobe in case some overzealous servant had put them away. He didn't use the wardrobe much because most of the fancy clothes, as much as he liked them and as long as he'd dreamed of owning rich things like them, were just not suited to running around after Rapunzel or exploring abandoned passageways in the castle or crawling on the floor looking for the frog. The single pair of dress shoes in it would never do for a day in the forest, either, but his boots were nowhere to be seen.
Scratching his head, he stepped backward, looking around the room. Where could they have gone? There were several pairs of shoes scattered around, but none of them were his. There were the purple strappy ones in the corner that Rapunzel had kicked into a pile when she'd bet him a slice of pie that she could jump higher on the bed than he could. There was a green shoe lying on its side on the floor beside the window, where Rapunzel had left it when she decided the toes were uncomfortably pointy, and a blue leather one, which she'd said made her feet too hot, sat on the window sill, holding a single geranium dug out of the garden because it matched the shoe's color so well.
Checking under the bed, he found a cloth one Rapunzel had worn longer than most, until Pascal had claimed its mate to sleep in. It was accompanied by a pair of black heels that were too tall and a blue shoe that was too tight around the ankle. For a moment, he thought he might have found his boots, but then when he grabbed one, it turned out to be a fancy ladies' dress boot, with a dozen tiny buttons down the side.
Suddenly, he heard a noise out in the hallway, through the open door of his room. Rapunzel spent so much of her time in here, reading books or eating cookies or teaching him the new court dances she'd learned in her lessons, or even just talking for hours on end, that he didn't even bother closing it anymore. He'd gotten out of the habit more quickly than he liked to admit. He couldn't have the door closed while she was in his room because that would be bad for both their reputations, and there wasn't much point in having it closed when she wasn't in his room because she'd just burst in anyway. So he left it open, and he told himself it was because he liked being able to hear people coming. Like whoever was coming now, clopping loudly up the nearby staircase.
Crawling out from under the bed, Eugene turned toward the doorway. "Oh no! You're awake! I wanted to surprise you." She wanted to surprise him? He couldn't help but laugh. Rapunzel stood in the doorway, holding a tray of pancakes and looking very put out. At the sight, he laughed even harder. He'd found his boots. Flopping around her slender ankles, they stuck out like a sore thumb from under her fancy dress, battered and broken in, with deep creases in the places his feet bent when he wore them and uneven color around the toes, where the leather was extra worn-out.
"You did surprise me," he replied, chuckling. "I had no idea where those shoes were."
Looking down at her feet, Rapunzel laughed. "Oh, right! I borrowed them when I came in to make sure you were still asleep. Apparently, I'm supposed to wear shoes in the kitchen." She sighed. "I'm not sure why – I mean, it's not like wearing shoes would actually stop me from dropping something on my foot if I was going to drop it."
He clambered to his feet, pulling the covers haphazardly across his bed so they could sit on it. "They'd protect you if you did, though," he said halfheartedly. He knew everyone was pushing the princess to wear shoes like a normal person, but he didn't really see why it was so important. Being barefoot all the time was part of what made Rapunzel, well, Rapunzel.
"I guess so," she answered, moving over to place the tray on the center of the bed. Eugene sat down crosslegged at the head of the bed, and Rapunzel sat sideways at the foot, feet sticking out into the room.
"Anyway, I like them," she said decisively.
He looked up from his pancake, surprised. "But you hate shoes!"
Rapunzel wrinkled her nose. "I know!" she answered. "Shoes are awful!" She glanced at her feet, smiling gently at them in her usual adorable way. "These are different. These remind me of you. And they're comfortable! They're warm and cozy and make me feel safe."
Eugene laughed. "And they're at least three sizes too big! I'm not sure that's what your etiquette teachers were going for." A thought struck him. "Hmmm." Gazing dramatically off to the side for a moment, he stroked his beard. Then he looked back at her, grinning devilishly. "Come to think of it, those old coots could use a little shaking up. You should keep 'em!"
Rapunzel smiled happily, pouring syrup onto her plate. "Oh good! I'm supposed to wear shoes to the banquet tomorrow, and I really didn't want to have to try to find another comfortable pair. I'm not sure there even is one!"
As far as Eugene was concerned, if the only shoes in the entire kingdom Rapunzel liked were his, it was the least he could do to give them to her. Everyone else could sort it out later, and he'd just go barefoot until they did. He went back to his pancakes, glad he'd managed to make Rapunzel happy, even without a day to himself.