ONCE UPON A TIME

Little Bo Peep had lost her sheep and was very glad about the whole convenient situation. Now that she didn’t have to spend hours on a godforsaken hillside she could concentrate on the more important things in life – like morris dancing, amateur photography and having her very own detective agency. And so far – with the exception of photography – Bo had been doing quite well. In fact, her detective agency seemed to be going form strength to strength, though she suspect that her new-found reputation was down to the advert she’d placed in the Once Upon a Times, rather than any notable prowess within the job itself.

And on that particular balmy saturday morning, she didn’t have to wait very long for her first client to appear. As soon as there was a knock at the door to her little office, Bo lunged for the handle, yanked it towards herself and tried to feign some vague degree of dignity. She flashed her prospective customer the most professional smile she could muster which, unfortunately for Bo, looked more manic than trustworthy. Her excitement was short lived however, and vanished entirely when she realised just who was at her door. To her credit, her smile never faltered – it simply ceased to be one of enthusiasm and became one of cold distaste. When she eventually spoke her voice was calm, though it was impossible not to detect her bitterness.

“Welcome to my office, your majesty.”

Prince Charming simply glowered at her and pushed past into the small room, slumping instinctively into the larger of the two beanbags which comprised Bo’s office furniture.

“So,” Bo began, “You need my help.”

“I didn’t know I was coming to see you! When the King said I had to find someone to help me, your firm was the first one in the phone book. He says I’ve got to go and rescue a damsel… I think I’d best go elsewhere though, I mean, if your welcome was anything to go on things between us are still just as awkward as when I left.” Prince spoke quickly, never making eye contact with Bo.

“I didn’t care when you left me and I don’t intend on there being any awkwardness now. And sure I’ll help you, but it’ll be on a strictly professional basis, involving an up-front payment and no refunds.” Bo sat primly in the smaller beanbag and smiled at Prince. He had the same liquid blue eyes she’d once seen as gentle but now saw as vagueand the hair she had once called sandy put her in mind of dog urine. He wasstill tall, still lithe and still played with his hands when he wasn’t talking. She’d once perceived that as a man waiting for action but now she saw it as a nervous boy unsure of what to do with himself.

He studied her openly in return. Bo had changed; she was no longer the chubby blonde shepherdess with adorable ringlets and had cropped her hair off into a severe cut similar to his own. He was only slightly surprised that it was naturally a mucky brown. She was still very pretty, despite her boyish clothes, stubborn jaw and dark brown eyes. Prince had loved Bo once upon a time but their brief fling never had a chance of making it to happily ever after.

“So,” Prince managed after a while, “What’s your price?”

“How much did your dad give you?”

Prince handed Bo a cheque and upon reading it she whooped once, did a little jig and folded the paper neatly, hiding it down her top.

“For that amount of money I’ll even pretend to like you! Now, which Princess do you fancy? I hear Rapunzel’s still in her tower… although she’s meant to have gone a bit crazy from solitary confinement. I guess if you’re not picky there’s always Thumbelina but you might have some trouble in the bedroom department.” She stood up and wandered over to a magazine rack by the door, “If only you’d come to me first – your brothers’ took all the good Princesses except that really pretty one who shacked up with the yeti… What was her name? Something French anyways…” Bo continued on for a while, muttering to herself as she flicked through the glossy pages.

“How do you know all this?”

“I read the gossip columns, obviously. How else are you meant to keep up with modern culture?”

Bo continued rummaging and grumbled under her breath about various celebrities. When she started to recite the names of Cinderella’s ugly sisters, Prince decided to make a decision.

“Rapunzel it is then.” said Prince.

***

It took a while to reach the Enchanted Forest , even with Bo’s manic driving. It took Prince even longer to realise Bo had tossed her old Shepard’s crook onto the back seat. For some reason it looked entirely at home with her, despite her lack of pastel uniform.

In their few hours together they’d hardly exchanged two words since Prince had tried to explain the History of the Enchanted Forest and Bo had threatened to castrate him if he didn’t shut the hell up. Still, Prince thought, the scenery was pleasant enough, even if his company was in a foul mood. Unlike Prince, Bo hated the Enchanted Forest – in her opinion it was monotonous, boring and unnecessarily green.

The deeper into the woodland the little car trundled, the more Bo’s frown deepened and her fingers tightened on the steering wheel. Glancing at Prince out of the corner of her eye, she realised that he was unarmed and his clothes looked as if they’d restrict his movements. If it came down to a fight, Bo knew she’d have to protect him. The thought annoyed her somewhat. After all, wasn’t she meant to be a lady and he some great hero? She was only really there as a glorified sidekick anyway. Any idiot could have taken him to Rapunzel’s tower – it wasn’t exactly a subtle hideaway…

The more she thought about it, the more her temper started to get the better of her and she glanced at Prince with a bitter scowl. He did his best to ignore it but the tension in the air between them became almost palpable and finally, Prince cracked.

“Fine! Ask me why!”There was a pause before Bo spoke.

“Why?” She replied, without fully understanding what she was asking.

“While you were a shepherdess there was just too much pressure on you to live up to my being so great! I thought you would feel inadequate compared to a prince so I ended it. But what I did, I did for you!” Prince laid a hand on her left thigh, gently and said, “I never meant to hurt you.”

Bo blinked twice and giggled.

“I bare my soul to you and you laugh! How dare you?!”

“Prince, you told me all of that years ago. I was scowling at you for the simple reason that you’re unarmed. Don’t be so arrogant as to think I love you – I don’t. And I don’t like you touching me.” Bo pushed down on the brake pedal and stopped the car. With practised ease she unfastened her seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out in one fluid movement. Prince could think of nothing to say and so followed her.

They had parked in the driveway, just in front of Rapunzel’s Tower and on arrival both Prince and Bo sat for a while on the bonnet of the car, just admiring the thing. It looked something akin to a giant wine glass, looming above the landscape and Bo openly admired the architect who had designed such an obvious shrine to alcoholism.

“You going to climb it?” Bo ventured eventually. Prince looked sheepishly at her,

“No.”

“You’re such a coward.” Bo began to prepare a grappling hook which Prince assumed had come from a large bag marked ‘tools’ that had been on the back seat of her car.

“I’ll go up and throw the princess down to you, then you can distract her with poetry or something while I fall to my death on the way down. You do know some poems…right? Or do I have to find you some Byron?” Bo paused in her preparation to climb and looked at Prince with piercing, dark eyes.

“Of course I know some poetry…”

“What poetry? And I swear if I hear a limerick I’ll drop her bed on you.” With that, Bo hurled the grappling hook at the balcony and whooped quietly as it caught the railing first time. She tugged on the rope to make sure it held tight and began to climb.

“How about…I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…

“No song lyrics!” Bo shouted down from half way up the tower. Prince felt dizzy just watching her and had to look away. After a minute or two he heard another yell proclaiming that she had reached the top and that he was something unmentionable.

“Is she there?” He replied, anxiously.

“No, but the climb was worth it to see the reception she gets! The giant top of the wine glass must act as a satellite dish!” Prince did not hear her though, as he was too busy rummaging around in the boot of the car.

Bo, meanwhile, was searching the room for any sign of the Princess Rapunzel and though she did come across a bathroom, a large pile of television guides and a staircase – much to her irritation – she found no trace of the girl. Bo slumped defeated onto the bed and stared up at the postered ceiling. Apparently Rapunzel had been quite keen on reality TV shows and in particular, one called Ugly Duckling. Bo had watched it a few times herself but had never been able to understand the appeal of being magically transformed into a living Barbie Doll.

There was one of the contestants in particular that Rapunzel seemed to like – a girl of rather gargantuan proportions with greasy, pale skin. Bo frowned and climbed up onto the bed, pulling the picture down from the ceiling. The dress was very familiar and Bo could swear that she had seen it not ten minutes ago…

Realisation was starting to dawn. The greasy, pale, fat-girl had the complexion of someone who had been indoors for years, without exercise, with nothing to do but watch a gigantic television. Biting her bottom lip, Bo trotted across the room to Rapunzel’s wardrobe and rummaged inside again. The dresses were certainly big enough to fit the girl in the picture and… That dress! Bo took out the gown – big enough to use as a sail -and laid it on the bed beside the photograph. It was only then she noticed the name below the picture,

Lady Azen Purl.

Lady Rapunzel.

Prince burst through the door from the staircase at that moment and smiled at Bo. He was carrying a bunch of red roses, a bottle of champagne and what looked like a box containing an engagement ring.

“You might as well go back down, she isn’t here. She went on some reality TV show under the pseudonym Azen Purl.”

“I know.”

“Well, if you know, why come up here with all the flowers and such? In fact, why hire me to get her at all?”

“I love you, Bo Peep,” said Prince, dropping down onto his knees and holding out the roses, “And this was all a clever ruse so that I could see you again! What I said in the car was true and…well…I regret leaving you… Will you marry me?”

“No.”

“But you’ll be a Queen…and I have champagne.”

Bo groaned, took the champagne, the roses and the ring from him and threw them all out of the window. She smiled a wicked smile.

“That might be true, but I don’t like cowardly men who won’t climb buildings for me. And I don’t like cowardly men who don’t take weapons with them into enchanted forests and most of all, I don’t like men with names like Prince.”

“But no one should have had to climb the tower… there were-“

“I know there were stairs and I know I should have seen them but if you dare point that out to me I’ll castrate you where you stand – not that I’d have to do much!”

Prince sniffed and his bottom lip extended involuntarily. With a little flick of his blonde hair, he stomped from the room.

Bo sighed and turned to face the huge television. Her first quest had yielded no results and once word got around that she had turned down Prince Charming she was sure that no one would show up at her offices ever again. Still, she reflected, she had Prince’s cheque stuffed down her bra, and no one had said she shouldn’t cash it. In fact now that the wine-glass tower had no inhabitant, Bo felt quite entitled to start her new life in it. With a little smile, she closed the door to the staircase and locked it before flopping down on the bed, switching on the laptop that lay beside it. On finding that her favourite pizza house delivered, she threw the key to the stair-well out of the window.

It wasn’t quite happily ever after, but it was a good start.

THE END

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