Constantine slunk up the unfinished wooden stairs, through the cat door, and into the house. The whole way up, Maurice berated him. "How could you be so stupid?" he asked. "You said that no one would miss him, but, guess what– some stupid little mouse friend of his did!"

"How is that possible? He didn't have any friends. His family was killed."

"I don't know, but a little white mouse seemed to miss him a lot."

"A white mouse? But he was black!"

"I know. It's frightening, right? Honestly, what the hell were you thinking!"

"I was hungry?" Suggested Constantine, shrugging his shoulders, and nimbly hopping through the cat door.

Maurice leapt through the hole, pushing the flap up so hard that it bounced off the door above it after making a 180º rotation. He jumped onto Constantine, careful not to let his claws dig in. "You idiot! How could you let your hunger get the best of you at the potential expense of our regime? I ask again, how could you possibly be so stupid?"

Constantine laid there limply, waiting for Maurice to let go. "I'm sorry," he mewed. "I didn't mean to. I should have put him on trial, but I missed my dinner! My stomach was growling, and I couldn't help it!"

Maurice sighed and let him go. "You better hope Father doesn't ban you to the upstairs. You're definitely losing your little Deputy job."

Constantine's face switched in an instant to a smirk. "Father already knows. I still have my job!" he declared proudly, taking off up the stairs to the cat beds in the hall.

Maurice chased after him, a playful hint added to the frustration. He bolted up the plush mauve carpet on the stairs and through the hall lined with victorian-style floral wallpaper. When he reached his plush purple bed, he curled up in it resentfully. But the comfort of the feathery velvet cushion encasing him soothed his anger. "Why is it that no matter how irresponsible you are, you still keep Father's favor?"

Justinian stepped out into the hall, carrying a toy mouse Susannah had given him in his mouth. He glowed gold in the early morning light shining from the window behind him. He looked like a lion proudly carrying home his day's kill for his young. "He's the first born, Maurice. You know that. The rule of the family has been passed down from my father, my grandfather, and a thousand fathers before that. Even when he falls, he must pick himself back up again."

"Yes, Father," Maurice grumbled. When Justinian had disappeared around the corner, Constantine grinned. "See," he said, "Father really does like me better!"

Maurice pawed at the carpet with annoyance, but soon, curled up in his own purple kingdom, and began to sleep.

Constantine sat up, staring at the little purple and red roses on the wallpaper, waiting to be sure Maurice was out cold. He watched as Henry walked over to his mother's room to wake her. He could hear them exchange groggy morning greetings, and then watched as Susannah began rolling her walker down the hall, wearing nothing but her wedding ring on her swollen, wrinkled, arthritic ring finger. He winced. His naked owner was not a pretty sight. She saw him, sitting up, and bent over slightly to stroke his back. Her bare, saggy breast swung down in his face. Constantine recoiled, afraid the wrinkly old sack of skin might hit him. Rejected, she slowly unbent her back and continued walking down the hall.

By this time, he knew Maurice was asleep. If he had been awake, he would have made some sort of snarky comment about the exchange by now. Constantine stood up carefully and silently ran down the stairs to follow his father.

The End

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