This is the story of how I got my first sweater.
I know, I know. Compared to the story of how Flynn Rider died, this one's boring as hell. But I'm Eugene Fitzherbert now, and guys named Eugene, apparently, get sweaters for their birthdays.
Especially when their wives knit.
And when their wives are Rapunzel, the knitting is…Well, you remember Rapunzel's old approach to hair growth, don't you? Her knitting is like that. Seriously, when our story begins, I was literally the only thing in our Royal Apartments that she hadn't knitted some kind of cozy for during a bout of insomnia. Even Pascal had socks, hats, and sweaters--in angora, merino, even cashmere, to boot: a tiny sweater wardrobe fit for a frog prince. Believe you me, I did everything in my power to stop the same thing from happening to me.
But let's face it, I'm just the Prince Consort of Corona; I may have the authority to order the palace chef to make me pastrami sandwich at three in the morning (which I never do), or to make the captain of the guard drop and give me twenty (which I often do), but I don't have any actual power.
Not that any married man does.
"Stop!" Rapunzel shouts as I emerge from the palace into the dormant rose garden where she's waiting for me to join her for a frolic in the snow--frolic being the word she used in the note she sent me from her conference with delegations from Florin and Gilder. I halt at the top of the steps leading down to the garden and wait for her to trudge over to me in her heavy woolen skirts and cloak.
"What are you thinking, Eugene? You can't come out here dressed like that!"
I glance down at my clothes: brown trousers, crisp white shirt, burgundy jerkin--the same general outfit I wore as Flynn Rider, only in better fabrics, and embroidered. Honestly, I'm not really sure how I feel about embroidery, but Rapunzel insists the gold threads bring out the highlights in my hair and the flecks of amber in my eyes, which sounds like a lot of girly mumbo jumbo to me, except that more often than not these details get me out of my clothes, so I wear whatever the hell she tells me.
Not seeing anything amiss with my Rapunzel-approved outfit, I shove my hands into my pockets and commence with going down the steps. "What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?"
"It's not appropriate!"
I inspect myself again, this time noting the rolled-up shirt sleeves. "What, are forearms the new cleavage? Can't be shown before dinner?"
"Not appropriate for the weather! You'll catch your death of cold out here dressed like that!"
"Has anyone ever actually caught a cold just from going out in the cold?"
Her mouth falls open at this, and then closes again in a pensive frown as her eyebrows twitch together. "You know, I don't know. I'll have to ask the Royal Physician."
"You do that, and get back to me. Until then, rest assured that I'm not cold."
Rapunzel splutters. "But…It's freezing out here! And you're not wearing a cloak!"
"Cloaks impede movement. You never know when you might need to make a quick getaway. "
It's been ages since I led the palace guards in a Merry Chase (okay, yesterday, when I swiped the Captain's sandwich just to see if I still had it in me; and he didn't chase me so much as stand there looking like he would chase me if it wouldn't be a gigantic breech of protocol), but I can't shake a certain paranoia where my girl is concerned. I mean, she's the Crown Princess of Corona, and she's already been kidnapped once by a person of nefarious intent, and seeing Rapunzel as she is now, unable to even put her arms all the way down against her sides due to her voluminous layers of winter clothing, looking so darn cute and vulnerable all bundled up like that, makes me go all alpha male. For years I've been at her to lose all forms of restrictive clothing, the corsets being at the top of my list, though she thinks I'm just trying to initiate sexy times whenever I mention that one. In some cases, she's right. But in any case, protecting Rapunzel is in no way a job I trust to the Palace Guards, no matter how well Maximus has trained them in the art of wielding a cast-iron skillets.
"Or a hat!" Rapunzel draws me out of my internal monologue and back into her diatribe against my winter wardrobe--or rather, my lack thereof.
"Blondie, hiding this hair under a hat would be even more criminal than my past. Not to mention the unpardonable fashion felony: hat hair."
"Or a scarf!"
I pull a face. "Ugh. And feel like I’m being strangled by a really weak, scratchy boa constrictor all day? I'll pass on that one."
I fold my arms over my chest and stroke my goatee as I consider this point. "Maybe you could convince me to wear gloves--if they were those badass fingerless kind."
Rapunzel's nose scrunches up in disgust. "You mean hobo gloves? Prince Consorts can't wear those!"
"Fine, the pockets it is, then. My hands stay nice and toasty, while I stay cool."
"So you are cold!"
"What? No, I mean cool as in--"
"I know how you mean cool."
Rapunzel sidles up to me, her heavy layers of skirts and petticoats brushing against my pants legs and rather diminishing the coy effect they have when she's wearing her lighter, swishier gowns. God, I miss summer.
"You're cold," she goes on, "but you won't compromise your sense of style."
"Yes! I mean, no! Winter wear does go against my sense of style, but I promise, I'm really not cold."
Rapunzel's eyes narrow in skepticism.
"Really," I insist, feeling a bit like I did that long ago day in her tower, when she had me tied to a chair with her hair and was coming at me with a frying pan. "This isn't cold to me. It's a guy thing."
"Oh." She smirks. "So this isn't even about looking good. It's about being macho."
Most of the time, I'm really proud of how far Rapunzel has come since her days as Gothel's prisoner, how much progress she's made in regard to not taking everything everybody says as gospel.
Then there are the other times, when I wish she couldn't read me like I'm a dog-eared copy of The Adventures of Flynnigan Rider.
"I saw Dr. Biermann today," says Rapunzel the next evening, as we stroll hand in hand through the palace to our chambers after dinner with the King and Queen.
Her eyes shine with triumph--and something else that I can't really identify except that she looks a little dazed in a way that makes me feel a little scared, so I respond as I always do in such situations.
I deflect. "Did you ask him why he didn't become a barkeep with a name like Biermann?"
"So he could have the pleasure of being asked that question by smart asses like you," Rapunzel deadpans, which makes me even more alarmed, because she only deadpans when she's being diabolical.
And I've never seen anything quite as diabolical as the gleam in her green eyes at this moment--that's saying a lot, coming from a man who once consorted so close with thieves, brigands, and other outlaws as to be all of the above himself.
"I also asked him about colds," she goes on, "and whether you can catch them from dressing unseasonably."
"And what was the prognosis?"
"Ha! I told you!"
"But--he also said that going outside in the cold with, oh, say, your shirtsleeves rolled up--" She cuts her eyes slyly up at me. "--and nothing on your head or hands can give you a chill. A compromised immune system can make you more susceptible to cold viruses."
"I'm going to knit you a sweater!"
Normally I don't like to rain on Rapunzel's parades, but I mentioned she doesn't look excited right now so much as evil, didn't I?
"A sweater?" I say. "Oh, darling, you shouldn't."
"Oh, but I should!" She drops my hand and skips ahead of me down the corridor. "Your birthday's coming up!"
"Really. You shouldn't. I can't think of anything I want less for my birthday than a sweater."
"When you see this sweater, you won't want anything else."
We've arrived at our wing of the castle, and Rapunzel pauses with her hands on each of the big wrought-iron handles that open the great gilt doors carved all over with sunbursts to look back over her shoulder at me.
"I promise, that won't be the case," I reply, not even referring to the birthday presents I intend to get from my wife that can't be wrapped.
Or maybe they can. Rapunzel in gift wrap. Or just a bow. Hmm. Okay, so maybe I am referring to sex, just a little.
But as I join her at the door, resting my hand in the small of her back, I say, "Have you ever seen a cool guy wear a sweater? No? Didn't think so."
"Pascal looks adorable in sweaters, you said so yourself."
My hand falls to my side with a faint swish as it brushes the back of her silk skirt."But I'm not a frog."
"That's okay!" Rapunzel pecks my cheek, then tugs open our chamber doors and darts inside, directly to her knitting basket. "Your sweater will be adorable, too."
I should have known that by adorable, Rapunzel means pink, but somehow I didn't think she'd be that cruel. Diabolical, yes. Evil, even. But cruel, never.
For the I've-forgotten-how-many-nights-running, I wake to pee and, not finding my wife sprawled out all across our king-sized bed, pad like a zombie into the sitting room, where Rapunzel sits with her feet propped on an ottoman, you guessed it, knitting.
Ordinarily I'd encourage knitting as a sleep aid--I can't think of a more yawn-inducing activity--but I can't tonight. It occurs to me that a good, protective husband like me should be concerned about my wife's change in sleep patterns, even though she assures me she's always been one to keep weird hours when she's on a creative binge--and I know from experience that, unlike me, she gets a little wired after we engage in what the Queen referred to once before our wedding as marital congress. But tonight I'm more concerned that those long needles in her hands are clicking and clacking together, adding row after row of pink to form a tube that must be a sleeve. Looks a tad narrow, but maybe that's for my wrist.
"Look, Blondie," I say through a yawn, flopping onto the chair opposite hers, draping my legs over the arm. "I know pink's this season's color in men's formal wear, but I'm not going to--"
--continue that train of thought.
Not when she's sitting there in that high-backed chair that looks like a throne, giving me the look she's taken to giving me whenever she actually is sitting on her throne and knitting (because ever since she threatened to knit me a sweater, she's taken to carrying her knitting basket around with her everywhere--from the breakfast table to council meetings to court sessions), knitting, always knitting, with a look on her face like she's knitting the names of everyone on her hit list into the sweater, mine being in all caps right at the top.
I wonder whether there's a knitting pattern for one of my old wanted posters, and if Rapunzel can do better justice to my nose with knitting needles than the Royal Sketch Artist could with a pencil.
"--disturb you while you make me such a thoughtful, personalized birthday present," I say, earning a sly grin, then slink back to bed.
The next night, when insomnia strikes again, I'm cheered to see that the pink thing taking shape between Rapunzel's knitting needles clearly isn't a sweater at all.
"Socks!" I say. "Now there's a winter garment I can get behind, in any color. You can knit me as many pairs of pink socks as you like. Just make them all cashmere."
Rapunzel doesn't say anything, but her smirk deepens. I lean over her shoulder to examine her work more closely.
"Those look kind of small for me. I mean, you should know I have pretty big feet, because my--"
Rapunzel doesn't have to tell me to put a sock in it, because she does it for me.
My birthday dawns bright and early--because even though it's still dark outside, and even without her mane of lustrous hair that responded to the gleam and glow song, Rapunzel has a way of lighting up whatever room she's in. I'm not talking about a sunny disposition, either. I mean she's big on candles and lamps. And singing. Usually it's this chipper little ditty about it being 7 AM and a run-down of my Royal Duties with a little chorus about how it's time for my day to begin, which I find deeply annoying at that ungodly hour. Today, it's just the traditional "Happy Birthday To You," which I realize doesn't actually have a tune that well suited to the occasion.
I throw back the covers, but immediately and dramatically jerk them back up to my chin. "Brrr! Nippy this morning."
A glance across the chamber from our bed indicates that the chambermaid hasn't been in yet to build up the fire. Ordinarily, this means one or the other of us requested privacy, but I don't think I could possibly take advantage of it in these conditions.
And then I remember what Rapunzel threatened to give me for my birthday, and I wonder if this arctic bedchamber is all part of her diabolical plot.
"Good thing my wife knitted me a sweater for my birthday."
"You're going to like it," she says, approaching the bed with a lumpy wrapped gift. But she catches her lower lip between her teeth, and, for the first time since this whole joke about sweaters began, looks nervous. "I think."
Suddenly I'm ashamed of myself for moaning and groaning and teasing her and generally being an ungrateful ass. I'm the Prince Consort of Corona, damn it. If there's anything I want, I can buy it; I don't have to be petulant about people giving me homemade birthday gifts I don't particularly care for. It's the thought that counts, after all, and if Rapunzel thinks a sweater--even a pink one--is a suitable gift for me, then I'll trust there's a perfectly logical explanation for it somewhere in that slightly crazy but totally brilliant mind of hers. When has she ever steered me wrong before?
"I'm sure I'll love it," I tell her, leaning forward to kiss her as she perches on the edge of the bed, the sheets slipping down around my waist. "Especially if it comes with matching socks."
It does, I find, tearing open the gift wrap.
And a hat, too.
A tiny hat.
To go with the tiny socks.
And the tiny sweater. Not quite Pascal tiny, but nothing I've been able to wear since I was--
I look up at Rapunzel.
Then back down at the miniature ensemble spread out across my lap.
Then back up at Rapunzel again.
She's glowing. Like she used to when she did the hair thing. Only this time, there's no magic involved. Except for the magic that she…I…we…
"A baby?" I squeak, sounding like I did when I first became capable of reproduction. "You're having a…little person who will wear little sweaters?"
Rapunzel nods. And giggles. "You know all that insomnia I've been having? When I went to see Dr. Biermann about colds, he noticed I was looking tired and did a little exam, and it turns out I'm pregnant! Who knew insomnia was a sign? Oh! And did you know that if you put a pregnant woman's wedding ring on a string and dangle it over her belly, the way it swings is a sign of what you're having? Back and forth like a pendulum means a boy, and around in a circle means a girl."
I look down at the pink sweater clutched in my hands. "I take it yours went around in a circle?"
I'm not sure that's very scientifically sound, but what do I know? That I'm not about to open my big, sarcastic mouth and ruin this for Rapunzel, that's what.
"Are you happy, Eugene?" Rapunzel asks. "I mean, that we're having a baby? A girl baby? I thought we could name her Eugenia."
There aren't words to express how happy I am that Rapunzel and I are going to have a baby--that in fact we already have one, being knit together inside her right now. If I try to find the words to express how that makes me feel, I'm afraid I'll do something totally unmanly like cry. And, as I'm already teetering precariously close to the edge here, with a tiny pink sweater in my lap and a lump in my throat, I wrap my arms around Rapunzel and kiss her long and slow.
"Blondie, you can knit as many pink sweaters as you like, and I'll be happy as long as I don't have to wear them."
As it turns out, the wedding ring gender test is a total load of BS. No surprise there. Next time, I'm going to insist Rapunzel get a second opinion from a doctor whose name doesn't make me question his sobriety and the steadiness of his hands.
She never shed a tear the whole time she was pushing out that nine pound, four ounce baby who decided to come out butt-first, cried when she realized she'd put complete faith in the old wives' tale and knit an entire pink wardrobe for the mythical Eugenia. But she got over it when the Queen assured her that in the olden days, pink was considered a masculine color and it was okay to dress him in the clothes she'd made for him until she had time to do some in blue.
I have to admit, little Flynn wears pink well.
So, apparently, do I. Because Flynn's my mini-me. Right down to the nose, which the Royal Artists mysteriously seem to get just right when they do the birth announcements that are plastered all over the kingdom.
And that, my friends, is the story of how I got my first sweater.
Best. Gift. Ever.