Eugene started working at the book shop again. It felt different, though it was rare for him to see Joan during one of his shifts previously. A few regular customers offered their condolences, having seen the sign on the door. Frank was quiet and thoughtful when he took receipts and cash to him in the afternoons. The old man seemed to be holding himself together quite well, but Eugene didn't push him for thoughts or ask how he was feeling.

They'd fallen into a routine, without having spoken about it. He drove her to the cake shop on Friday morning without asking if she wanted him to, and told her he would pick her up when her shift finished.

Rapunzel watched his car pull from the curb and leave the street with a small, satisfied smile on her face. His little actions were more than anyone had ever done for her before, and she promised herself she would never take him for granted.

Chelsea was the first person she saw when she walked through the door. They offered each other welcoming smiles, but Chelsea's expression fell into something a bit darker as Rapunzel neared her.

"Morning," Rapunzel greeted her unsurely. "Are you okay?"

"I just wanted to let you know that they've been talking about your boyfriend this morning. I didn't get in on the conversation. I just wanted to give you the heads-up."

"Oh," Rapunzel felt nervous butterflies erupt in her stomach, and her cheeks got hot immediately. "Thanks, Chelsea."

She put her bag in the back room, wondering if Chelsea had become a friend. They had never really said much to each other, but she seemed to be looking out for her when she wasn't here. She came back to the main room and a cup of peppermint tea was handed to her automatically.

She wasn't greeted by the older women at all, but she wasn't expecting to be if she was being completely honest. The day was busy, and her shift passed quickly. Chelsea left an hour before Rapunzel's shift was due to finish, and Rapunzel suddenly felt a little unsure without the other young girl there. She didn't know why she felt she needed back-up, but something about being stuck there just with Sally and Monique felt a little uncomfortable.

Monique waited until Rapunzel put a passionfruit slice in the white paper bag she was holding to speak to her.

"Rapunzel, do you mind if we just have a quick word with you?"

Sally was leaning against the stainless steel bench-top beside Monique, neither of them giving her any hints as to what their conversation was going to be about.

"Sure," Rapunzel answered automatically. "Have I done something wrong?"

"No, no," Monique attempted a comforting smile, but it looked wrong. "Sally and I were talking about the guy that came to pick you up the other day…is that your boyfriend?"

"Um," Rapunzel huffed, frustrated. This boyfriend word was really starting to get to her. "I suppose he is…"

The older women shared a troubled look, which seemed to be over-dramatised just for her viewing pleasure, and Rapunzel felt her cheeks and neck starting to heat up again.

"We thought he looked familiar after you left the other day. Do you know who he is?"

Rapunzel swallowed angrily. "Yes, I do," she said shortly. The tone of the words coming out of her mouth didn't feel right, and she felt rage fill the pit of her stomach.

"Do you know what he's done?" Sally piped up in the background. "He used to be on the news a lot, but I suppose that was before you were out of that house. He's not a good person, Rapunzel. We just want you to be careful."

"He is a good person," Rapunzel said quietly, clenching her hands into fists and squishing the slice in the bag. "I know what he did, he's told me. He's not keeping secrets from me." Something about her tone made her feel like she was a child arguing with her mother.

Monique hesitated before speaking again. "And that's really good and all, but people don't change, Rapunzel. We just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting yourself into. We'd hate to see anything bad happen to you."

Rapunzel felt as though she could have blown up. Her anxiety crept up on her, but it wasn't confusing and didn't make her feel completely lost, as was typically the norm. She was hot and shaky, and wanted to scream. She took a deep breath, the kind where you count like her therapist had taught her, and let it out slowly. When she spoke her voice was quiet. "My shift is finished."

Eugene's car was waiting for her where he'd dropped her off. She only realised when she reached it that she was still wearing her apron. She opened the door without hesitation and slid into the seat, ripping the frosting-covered cloth off her front and throwing it at her feet.

"Hey," Eugene said unsurely, watching her with a small frown. "You alright, Blondie?"

"Let's go,"

He didn't push her to speak as they drove back toward the bookshop, but it only took a few minutes until she started speaking on her own. "They recognised you from the news the other day," she said angrily. "They were worried about me, and they wanted to have a chat about you, and tell me that you weren't a good person and you weren't going to change!"

Eugene opened his mouth to speak, but Rapunzel continued, her voice getting higher and higher until it began shaking. "Which is complete bullshit, because they could not have cared less about me since the minute I walked through the door. It's just because they love to have a gossip, and I'm always the first one to talk about because I have no one there to stand up for me! They just want to ruin my life even further because it's their favourite hobby -"

"Hey," Eugene grabbed her hand from ripping at the ends of her hair and cut her off. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks immediately, and she hung her head so he wouldn't see them. "I'm sorry that happened to you. I shouldn't have gone in the other day."

"Why are you apologising to me?!" Rapunzel gasped. "It's not your fault! It's them! They're so bored with their lives that they need to get involved with everyone else's!"

"They're right, though," Eugene said quietly. "If it was anyone else, I would say they were looking out for you. Isn't that something similar to what Cassandra was saying? It's my fault I went down that path, Rapunzel. You don't have to stand up for me. I did the wrong thing."

"They have no idea about anything." Rapunzel spat. Eugene got the impression that was her way of ending the conversation, so he stopped himself from saying anything else.

Eugene took down the sign telling customers he was on his lunch break and unlocked the front door. Rapunzel immediately disappeared into the rows of books, hiding somewhere in the back corner and immersing herself in a story about pirates. It took her an hour or so to meet him back at the front desk, and she started looking over the numbers of what they'd made each day since the store had reopened.

It was Saturday tomorrow. Rapunzel's last day before she met her family. Eugene asked her what she wanted to do a couple of times, but she responded quietly and said she didn't know. She'd been thoughtful all afternoon, and he let her hover at his side instead and just exist.

Frank opened the door behind the desk and hesitated when he saw Rapunzel seated on the counter beside the small cash register while Eugene made notes on a piece of receipt paper.

"Oh! You're back!" it was the liveliest Eugene had heard him speak since before Joan had passed away.

"Frank," Rapunzel pushed herself off the counter and immediately crossed to give him a small hug. "I'm so sorry to hear about your wife. How are you going?"

"It's fine, my girl. She had a long and happy life. Now I'm just going to wait out my days until I see her again." He brushed Rapunzel's short hair once, and looked toward Eugene. "How did we go today?"

"Quiet," Eugene didn't have to tell him. The bookshop was failing, and they both knew it. Rapunzel looked between them silently.

"Eugene," Frank cleared his throat, perhaps with nerves. "I was wondering if you wanted to come upstairs and have a chat with me about the shop? You're both welcome, of course. I just need to get some things organised."

Eugene and Rapunzel followed him up the stairs without a second thought. The house was neat, nothing moved from its place, and it made Eugene a little uneasy. He felt as though Joan was going to peer around the corner and feed him compliments at any moment. Rapunzel excused herself from their conversation to make tea and Frank sat Eugene down at the small dining room table, crossing his hands in front of him, unable to look at the young man seated across from him.

When he finally spoke, his voice was soft, but stern, telling Eugene he didn't want an argument from him.

"I'm too old to keep the shop," he began quietly. "Now, I know you're going to have a lot to say, but I want you to listen to me, and I want you to take what I'm telling you seriously before you start to argue."

Eugene swallowed back his words and leaned back in his chair, staring at the dark wood of the table. Frank continued.

"I don't want you to feel like you have nothing to keep yourself busy with. We know what happens when you're feeling that way. You have your parents inheritance still untouched, and you could do all sorts of things with that, but I wanted to offer you the shop, if it's something you would think of keeping up. Our customers know you, and you know what you're doing to keep it going. You've got a young mind, you can figure out what needs to be done to keep it from failing like it has been. I've been meaning to make some changes for years, but my age has slowed me down and kept me from taking those steps, and now with Joan gone, I just can't be bothered anymore. I'm moving into an aged community in the area. I don't want to be kept busy with this stuff anymore."

"Frank, you're still perfectly able," Eugene said softly. "There's no reason why you have to stop everything."

"I want to," Frank said finally. "I'm finished with it all, Eugene. I know you would be able to take care of it all, but I want it to be your decision. Move in up here, if you wanted to. Bring your girl in. There's only two bedrooms, but that's all you'd need to begin with. You can live close to work. You can work together. Do things to keep it busy."

"Frank," Eugene sighed heavily, tapping his fingers on his knees nervously.

Frank stood from the table and put his hand on Eugene's shoulder. "Think about it. You don't have to make your decision now. I know it's a big one. Just let me know what you decide."

Rapunzel insisted she make dinner for everyone. She left to go to the small grocery shop down the road and returned, letting Eugene help her make salad and chatting with Frank while he leaned against the counter with a glass of wine.

Frank told her stories Eugene had never heard before, and it made Eugene regret how absent he'd been in his adult years.

"I didn't go to school," Rapunzel told Frank honestly when he asked her.

"Don't need it," Frank said gruffly. "I left when I was thirteen. I sold ice cream out the back of a truck. I was allowed to eat all the ice cream I wanted! That's when I got this," he smacked his middle with a chuckle. "And then I started driving the truck, and kept doing it until I was twenty-five. I met Joan when I was working, you know. She was sixteen. We were married four months later. Her parents had to sign papers giving her permission to marry me at such a young age," he and Rapunzel laughed.

"You're a smart girl, though," he said seriously. "What are you doing with yourself?"

Rapunzel looked toward Eugene with wide eyes, as if he could help her. "I don't know yet."

"You've got plenty of time." Frank told her reassuringly.

Eugene parked his car and the two walked up the staircase to his door silently. He opened the door and Rapunzel let herself inside, fixing him with an interested look.

"What did Frank want to talk to you about?"

"He's getting rid of the shop, and he wants me to take over." Eugene cleared his throat.

Rapunzel's eyebrows just about shot up into her hair. "Oh! Eugene, that would be amazing for you! You would get to be your own boss!"

"Don't get too excited," he told her seriously. "I'm thinking about it. I don't know how I'd be running a business."

Rapunzel followed him into the kitchen and sat herself at one of the barstools. "Well, I think you'd be amazing. You're so clever, and you like to be busy. And I could help you there! I could work with you instead of at the cake shop!"

"Whoa, whoa, Blondie! We're not busy enough, remember? Imagine how dull the day would be with us both working there. We seriously need to have a think about it all. I don't want to throw it back in Frank's face, but book shops aren't needed like they used to be. We could be digging ourselves a hole, honestly."

He saw her slip into thinking about the situation, and for a long time she didn't say anything. He packed away the dishes and turned on the television, and she sat herself on the floor and pinned patterns to fabric, cutting around them and pinning bits and pieces together silently. His eyes slipped between the movie he'd put on and her working, her bottom lip between her teeth and her eyebrows furrowed. Every so often, she's squeak as she pushed pins into her thumb instead of the fabric.

"What are you making?" he asked her when the movie had finished. She'd finished what she was doing for the night and threw it up on the kitchen counter so it was out of the way.

"A dress," she answered softly. "To wear on Sunday, when I meet my family."

"How are you feeling about Sunday?" he'd tried not to speak about it too much. He was constantly waiting for her to go all silent and anxious as she did, but so far she'd been pretty good.

She looked away from him now and let out a long sigh. He wondered how someone so small could fit so much air in their lungs. "I'm terrified," she answered him honestly. "This is just my biggest dream, and I worry that I'm too invested in it. They might not like me. What if they think I'm annoying? Or stupid? Or ugly?" tears stung her eyes and she swallowed incase her voice broke. "You and Cass and the guys at the Snuggly Duckling are the only people to ever actually like me, and that's not very many people compared to everyone I've met since I've been out."

"Blondie," he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her neck, holding her against his chest tightly. "Your parents are going to love you," he told her honestly. "Think about how long they've been looking for you – they love you already," her small hands crept up his back and her nails dug into his shirt, holding him tightly. "And there's no way they could think you're stupid, or ugly," he leaned back to make her look at him. "Annoying, maybe," they both laughed, Rapunzel quite nervously, and a huge, worried tear fell down her cheek.

"I just don't know what I'm going to do if it doesn't work the way I want it to. Sometimes I get so anxious that I can't even bring myself to talk, and if that happens we're just going to be sitting there in silence the whole time. They can't like me if that happens."

"Well, you'll have me to talk. I'll talk about all sorts of things, if you want. And you can correct me when I get things wrong, and then they'll know you're not stupid." She attempted a laugh, and he let his arms fall from her. "But you know what? They haven't been around yet, and I could be wrong, but you seem pretty happy to me."

"I am happy," she told him.

He smirked. "Well, there you go. You don't need them, see? It'll be great if it all works out and you can add them to your list of favourite people, but if it doesn't happen, you'll be fine. You can go out and find a new dream."