As she ran through the small comfy cottage she called home, Belle could barely contain her excitement. She was finally going out to the movies with a group of close friends. After being at home all week, sitting around, cleaning, and cooking, Belle was exhausted and longed to be with her friends. She loved her family and all, but sometimes, she needed a little air.

"Can I have five bucks to go to the movies?" Belle asked her mother quickly. She wore her best puppy dog face, knowing she'd probably get what she wanted.

Mrs. Porter, her mother, sighed deeply and smiled. "Sorry, love, but you can't. Your brother has a soccer game in fifteen minutes, and little Monica has dance at two thirty. You can come and watch Kent's game, though, if you like. Or you could always invite your little friend Elizabeth over and go for a walk. Whatever you want. Only no movies today."

Belle's face fell a little, and it was her turn to sigh. "Okay, mom," she nodded. "You've got me. I think I'll go to crazy little Kent's soccer game. Hey, by the way, when you take Monica to dance, I can watch Kent. Is that okay?" Belle loved her younger siblings. They were the world to her.

Mrs. Porter, a short, motherly woman with a pretty face, smiled happily at her role model daughter. "Of course, honey!" she said as she beamed at Belle. "Thank you so much! That saves me a lot of trouble. You are so considerate of everyone else!"

The girl felt proud. Though they were poor, her mother treated her like a princess.

"Belle! Isabelle! Wake up!" yelled Lilli.

Quickly, Belle whirled around. Since when was Lilli in her family, in her perfect house? Belle went to public school; she didn't need a sheltering tutor like Lilli. "Huh?" Belle gasped, confused.

"Princess Isabelle! Please wake up! Our session is almost over!" called a stern voice with a strong British accent. "Ten minutes! That's all I'm asking of your highness!"

Belle looked around again, this time more carefully. Her world was changing, going black. Her home's pretty pink walls were fading, shimmering away. Belle closed her eyes tightly, then opened them again. She was in her boring old Grand Dining Hall with her tutor, Miss Lilli Hungary. It was sunny and beautiful outside, but poor Isabelle, also known as Belle, was trapped inside, in this chamber of madness, for another ten minutes of sheer torture.

"Aah. So you've joined me again. Really, Isabelle, you ought to just pay attention to it all. It's only an hour out of your day," Lilli scolded, frowning slightly. She hesitated, then declared, "Why, if you went to a public school, you'd have to put up with six hours of this. You got off lucky with me."

Belle laughed. "Clearly, you don't understand, Lilli. I'd have six different professional teachers if I went to public school. I wouldn't have even one of you!"

Lilli grinned, preparing her retaliation. "I know you love me, Miss, and since you've been so excellent, I will excuse you early. But only because I don't want you falling asleep again," Lilli added carefully.

The princess smiled. "That's more like it. Thanks, Lilli!" And with that, Princess Belle dashed out of the Grand Dining Hall and moved toward the door which led out to the courtyard, her favorite place on the palace grounds. Hundreds of flowers in every imaginable color, fruitful trees, and smartly trimmed and tamed bushed stood waving in the breeze, beckoning Belle. She ran to them, following their commands; following her mother nature.

Isabelle reached for the door swiftly and grabbed a firm hold of the solid gold handle. As she moved in front of the door to pull it open, Belle felt almost too happy, like she was supposed to be upset. But she brushed that thought aside as she thought of the beautiful courtyard. Princess Belle poised herself to back up and pull the door open, then--BAM!

Belle fell to the floor, clutching her head and holding her bloody nose, screaming crying with tears streaming down her face. Isabelle felt the pain shoot straight to her maimed head. She lay on the floor, then felt someone step on her long, straight black hair. She cried out in pain, unaware that the person was staring down at her in fear, holding his own nose and mouth in surprise.

"Oh my God! What did I do?" cried a boy's upset voice. "Um, miss? Miss? Oh, no! I killed her!" the person bent above her was frantically trying to scold himself and console Belle at the same time.

"OW!" Belle shrieked as this stranger spoke to himself. She felt a hand gingerly touch her head, moving her hair away from her face, which was now wet with blood and tears.

"AAH! She's bloody!" cried the boy. "Mary! My God, she's Bloody Mary! What did I do to deserve this?!?"

Isabelle opened her eyes briefly to try to catch a glimpse of this mass murderer. With difficulty, she made out that the criminal was a tall boy with fair skin and piercing but wide dark eyes. Still hysterical, Belle closed her eyes as her headache grew.

"I'd better get you on you feet, Mary! Oh, God, spare me!" he paused for a moment, unsure of how to comfort her. Belle heard faint footsteps between her cries. "Oh, no! No! Someone's coming! Shoot! I'd better take you with me, Mary!" the boy's voice grew suddenly frantic. "Aaw, I'm so sorry! Ssh! Shush!" Belle felt hands reach under her arms to lift her up. One strong arm brought her own trembling left arm over the boy's shoulder; another strong arm lifted her legs off the ground. The mysterious young man ran with her in his arms out unto the courtyard and carefully closed the door behind himself. Belle was certainly exhausted, and despite the fight she put up, the girl gave in to sleep in mid-step.

----------

When Belle woke up, she was in the courtyard under a large pear tree. The sun was beating down on her face, but rather than being annoying, it felt good mixed with the autumn winds.

Belle tried to lift her head, but the pain pierced her so much that she decided to stay in the brilliant sunlight for just a moment longer. She laid there calmly, just breathing and looking around when a voice broke the silence.

"Thank God, Mary, I thought you were dead!" said a frantic boy's voice. "Now, if you don't mind, since my conscience is at rest knowing you're alive, I think I'll go."

She opened her eyes slowly. "Who? . . ." she couldn't put her question into a full sentence.

"Oh." The voice seemed less frantic, more shocked than scared. The voice's body grabbed Belle's arms and propped her up against the sturdy pear tree. "Right here, ma'am. I'm Oliver."

She looked around, and her eyes settled on the boy who'd knocked her out earlier. From what she had seen earlier, which was sort of blurred and distorted, Belle expected either a sizzling hot prince or a nerdy duke, coming to court her, who'd lost their way. She'd expected someone who looked extreme, or maybe even her boyfriend who she hadn't seen in a month because he was on vacation in the Mongos Islands.

But instead, Belle's eyes landed on a teenaged boy who wasn't ugly, or even nerdy, but who, at the same time, exactly Orlando Bloom either. The boy looked fourteen, maybe even fifteen, but yet, he had a soft voice, and was thin and tall. He had strawberry blonde hair and extremely fair skin with a handful of freckles sprayed across his face. He had dark, concerned-looking eyes and was blushing slightly. He smiled a bit, then looked away, ashamed, when Belle glared at him. The young man looked back softly again, then gingerly touched her arm with a thin, fair-skinned, freckled hand.

"Princess, I apologize, but the authorities . . ." he tried to explain something, but had difficulty and gave up for a moment.

Belle glared at him and shook his hand off. "What were you doing, trying to enter the royal palace? I mean, why on Earth did you--who--did you even think--and that door--you know you could've--I could call out for the authorities right now, and they could just whisk you right off to jail! God!" Belle yelled, clearly mad at this regular citizen.

The boy's eyes widened. "Please, your highness. . . . I didn't . . . . But if you insist, I'll go. I mean, I probably deserve it for bashing you like that. . . . But I didn't do that other crime!" The boy frowned and whimpered softly.

Belle considered this. She could turn him in, and she'd strongly considered it, but after the way he'd stuck around to make sure she was alive, Belle decided not to call the cops. She rubbed her sore nose and noticed that there was no blood on it.

"Did you wipe my face off?" she asked quietly.

The boy nodded slowly, frightened by the princess. "Is that okay, Mary? I assumed you'd probably spare me. . . . Plus, you did look kind of bloody, and I felt bad. . . ." he trailed off slowly.

Belle nodded. "Thanks. By the way, why do you keep calling me 'Mary?' I'm Princess Belle; Queen Mary's my mother. And I'm sparing you because you stuck around . . . thanks." She gave him a funny look.

The boy shook his head. "I thought. . . . I thought you were Bloody Mary . . . you were all bloody. . . . I couldn't tell. . . . sorry," he said sheepishly.

The girl grinned and nodded. "Yeah, okay, I get it. And your name is . . . what?" she asked out of curiosity.

The boy blushed. "I'm Oliver Bunting, your highness," he said as he stood and bowed smoothly. "Nice to meet you."

Belle shook her head. "I've got to hand it to you, Mr. Bunting, you bow almost as nicely as my boyfriend." The princess thought briefly and longingly of her beau, Prince Pancho of Rockepa. He was handsome and kind to everyone. He was Belle's life. She would never be able to carry on without him. "Now let's go inside and you can go home, and we'll forget this ever happened.

Oliver nodded. "Okay." He hesitated for a moment before asking gingerly, "Just our of curiosity, who is your boyfriend?" He frowned slightly, as though he was deeply concerned that she even had a boyfriend in the first place.

Waving her hand in the air as if dismissing his question, Belle responded, "Oh, you know, Prince Pancho, the prince of Rockepa." She smiled dreamily.

Belle looked for Oliver's reaction. He had turned white now, and was shaking slightly. "You know him?" Belle asked. "You okay? Need some water?" Even though this guy had just given her a bloody nose and a migraine, Belle had a soft spot for the poor and the sick. If he wasn't feeling well, she was willing to tend to him, or at least bring him to her doctor.

The boy shook his head, staring at the ground. "Yeah, yeah, no, but. . . . he's dead." He looked slowly up at Belle.

It took a moment for this statement to register in her mind. Her prince was dead. Pancho was dead. He wasn't here. She would never see him again. Ever. Then it registered to Belle that this kid was most likely pulling her leg, but still . . . if he was, then why did he look so upset and sick?

"I'll see about that," said Belle. "No way my prince is dead. No." She stood up slowly and carefully, because her head still ached, then scurried to open the door to the courtyard. As soon as she opened it, she heard voices, and as she listened, she knew something was wrong.

"Yes, that's what we've heard. There's nothing more they can do." said an old man's voice.

"But what about Belle? How'll she handle this?" cried Lilli's voice, concerned.

"There's nothing left." said the first voice.

"But still, how're we going to break it to her? She'll be crushed."

"Nothing."

"What can we do? She's in danger now, too."

"No."

"But--"

"He's dead," said the old man.

"What?" Lilli cried.

"Prince Pancho is dead. Hear me now. He's dead. There's no life in him. There never will be. He's gone. He's dead."

And with that, Belle heard footsteps coming toward her down the hall. It was Lilli, and she had fat tears filling her soft brown eyes. When she saw Belle, she choked up even more and threw her arms around the girl.

Tears began to pour out of Belle's eyes, one salty tear after another. By the time Lilli had broken the news to her, Belle was already depressed. She was single, and a princess, and her perfect boyfriend was dead.

In a total of three minutes, Princess Belle's whole life was ruined.

-----

Oliver timidly approached the weeping princess and her young tutor. He wished he could reach out and comfort her, but he was sure she'd be angry or throw the blame on him. Everyone else would. But it seriously wasn't his fault. Oliver had actually seen who had killed Belle's beloved Prince Pancho.

Earlier that day, young Oliver had been riding his ten-speed mountain bike to Church. He needed to pray for his Grandmother in a nice, holy place, such as a Church, and he'd run into the building at the perfect time, between masses. Oliver bowed his head to pray when he heard footsteps approaching quite rapidly. The boy knew he shouldn't have been in church at that time, and he was afraid that Sister Bernice was approaching. Although nuns were normally somewhat harsh unmarried women with no life, Heaven knew that Sister Bernice hated Oliver for no reason whatsoever. Even though she didn't know so much as his name, she would go to any length to make sure the boy was always punished. So of course, out of instinct, Oliver ducked down in his pew and waited out the footsteps.

After about fifteen seconds, the footsteps ceased momentarily. Oliver carefully raised his head a few short inches above the fancy wooden pews, only to be relieved at the sight he saw.

Rather than spotting Sister Bernice, his archenemy, Oliver's eyes landed on a tall, buff young man. The guy had naturally sunny blond hair and wore an expensive-looking suit. His head was bent in prayer, and he was murmuring softly. He was only about six rows in front of Oliver, so the Bunting boy couldn't sneak out undetected until this newcomer left.

As he sank back to the floor in his pew, Oliver heard a new set of footsteps approaching at a calm, steady pace. As the feet of this other person passed, Oliver caught a glimpse of another young man, probably about seventeen, who was wearing khaki pants and expensive alligator-skin shoes. Oliver cringed at the thought that those shoes were probably authentic. He had bleached blond hair and carried a potato sack. Strangely enough, he wore a trench-coat in the sweltering hot church.

About a minute after Oliver heard this second set of footsteps come to a halt, he took a quick peek above his pew again and saw a sight he wished he hadn't.

At first, he didn't know exactly what he was seeing, like it took a while to register in his brain. The man in the trench coat was holding a short, shiny, black object in his right hand and somehow aiming it at the man in the alligator shoes. Slowly, silently, the man in the trench coat brought his left hand up to join his right on the handle of the object he held.

That's when it all clicked. The first man, the guy in the trench coat, was trying to murder, or maybe even assassinate, the other man with a small handgun. Oliver's mouth went dry and his face flushed. His stomach jumped to his throat as he tried to form a response to this scene. He was about to witness a murder, unless . . . the man's life was in his own hands.

"Help!" Oliver finally shouted, gasping for air. Obviously, though, this was the wrong line, for instead of the assassin dropping his gun, or the assassinated ducking, the man in the alligator shoes turned around fully to greet his fate, and was instantly shot by a silenced gun. The poor man never even got to react. He just died.

The other man, the murderer, began to run for the doors, but dropped his gun at Oliver's knees as he left, and yelled, "Nice going, bud!" as he left. Oliver stood and felt instantly sick. He leaned over and, as a reflex, threw up on the gun in disgust. As he wiped his mouth, Oliver made his way over to the victim. As he gazed down at the tall man with spiked, dirty blonde hair, Oliver realized that he had, in fact, just watched an assassination. The man he gazed down at was the one and only Prince Pancho of Rockepa. Little did he know he would see a similar scene again, when he knocked Princess Belle over fifteen minutes later.

Of course, being the barnacle of bad luck and misfortune, as Oliver stood over the body, who should come dashing briskly into the room but Sister Bernice herself? Automatically, she began to scold Oliver for being in the church by himself, but it wasn't until she saw the body formerly known as Prince Pancho that she panicked.

"My, oh, my, young man, are you in trouble! Why, if I were of a higher position in this church, I would have you thrown in jail! Who knows what you could've been--oh my God," she trailed off. Oliver made a mental note that she'd just used God's name in vain in a church. He turned around and saw that she'd finally noticed the dead body on the floor, and the gun lying several yards away. Naturally, she connected the gun to the body and the body to Oliver, and began to flip out. "Oh my God, young man, you're coming with me! And if you don't obey me, then you will suffer some mighty consequences from the Lord himself!" Sister Bernice yelled, frightened of Oliver, the body, and this sacred room simultaneously.

Of course, Oliver wasn't planning on following Sister Bernice to her office. Naturally, she hoped he'd obey and she'd be able to call the police and deal with this mess in an orderly fashion. But Oliver Bunting was in trouble for a crime someone else had committed, and he needed a place to run. If he ran home, it would just make his grandmother even more upset than she already was. And if he ran away, to hide in another country, the police would catch up with him by the time he was two streets over. So he needed somewhere close to the church, and fast. . .

Oliver fled the building, swift as a fox, to a place with which everyone was connected; a place close by--the palace.