Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 3 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

"May I have my book back, please?" Belle asked after a few seconds. She reached out, but Gaston moved it away from her easily. He opened it and flipped through a few pages.

"There's no pictures," he commented after a second.

"No, there aren't," Belle agreed. If she didn't say anything too provoking, maybe she could still escape him. "May I please have it back now?"

"How can you read books without pictures? I thought that was all you were reading."

"I've been reading books without pictures for a long time, Gaston." Since she was eight years old, as a matter of fact. Still, Belle hesitated to say anything he might deem annoying. The last time had gotten her into far too much trouble. She clasped her basket in front of her and looked steadfastly at the toes of his boots.

"That's what I like to see in you, Belle. Womanly shyness. It suits you to behave as a girl ought, and not waste your time with trash like this." His weight shifted slightly, and Belle heard a splash behind him. Hot anger raced around inside her. She could now see her book clearly. It was in a deep puddle of mud.

Before she could slip around him to fetch it, he put a heavy arm around her shoulders. "Why don't we take a walk to the tavern? You can admire my trophies, and we can talk about our future together."

Belle panicked at his touch. "No!" she said, louder than she meant to. Luckily, they were on the edge of town, and only a few people turned to look at them. She slid out of his grasp and made towards the bridge, unfortunately tripping over Gaston's lackey, Lefou, whom she had only just realized was also present. Both of them went down in a mud puddle. Belle only just managed to save her basket of vegetables and bread, but her dress and apron were soaked.

She scrabbled on her knees out of the puddle. Luckily for her, it was the same one her book had fallen into, and she scooped it into her apron. Doubly lucky, it hid anything her clinging wet dress might reveal.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, to both Lefou and Gaston.

Lefou was kinder, and could always be counted on to speak before he thought. "It's not the first time I've been dumped in a mud puddle." He glanced at Gaston, and cringed away at the look of fury on the big man's face. "Gosh, Gaston, it's not a big thing! Look, she's still here!"

Gaston responded with a slap on the back of the head that sent Lefou's face back into the mud. "You got her all dirty, Lefou! Now she's not fit to be seen on my arm at the tavern!"

"Yes!" said Belle, glad for the ready-made excuse. "Yes, I have to go home and change my clothes. And, I promised my father I'd help him with his invention. Today's not a good day to have visitors; we'll be busy." She was already backing towards the bridge, basket and book in hand.

"You can go change and get that mud out of your hair. I'll see you later," Gaston said.

"We'll be busy, Gaston," Belle answered, letting just a little of her exasperation show. "And there won't be much to talk about, besides."

"You know there's plenty for us to talk about. What sort of curtains you want, when you're going to learn how to cook my favorite meals…"

"Not today, Gaston." Not on any day, if she could help it. Belle paused, one foot on the bridge. "I'm sorry for tripping over you, Lefou."

Lefou shrugged, a gesture impossible to read. Gaston watched Belle with folded arms, obviously displeased. "Still playing hard to get, I see. How much longer do we have to keep up this little charade?"

"I have to go home," she said, still backing away. When she was at the peak of the bridge, eyes still on Gaston and Lefou, an explosion from behind her made her whirl around. Smoke rising from the cellar doors told her immediately what had happened. Terrible images began to flash through her mind. Her papa, all she had left, gone…

"Papa!" she cried, racing towards home.

Behind her, she heard Gaston snort with laughter. "That crazy lunatic, he'd better not burn the village down next time—"

Her fury that he even thought she would marry him when he would stand by and watch her father die made her run even faster.

She reached the cottage quickly. The cellar doors, which opened from outside the house, felt like they weighed nothing at all as she flung them open. A billow of smoke curled out, causing her to stumble backwards, coughing and choking. She waved a hand in front of her to clear some of the smoke away. This can't be good for the baby, she thought, a little worriedly. She moved to the side of the doors so the rest of the smoke could clear away without her having to breathe it.

"P-papa?" she called, around a final cough.

A sneeze was her response. The tight feeling in her chest eased almost at once. If her father was well enough to sneeze, then he was probably fine.

"Papa?" she called again, putting her head into the cellar. Most of the smoke had already risen through the door and one broken window. The room was still hazy, but she could make out a moving figure. He seemed rounder than usual, however.

"Here, Belle," her father said.

"Thank goodness," Belle replied, making her way down the steps to the earthen floor. "You scared me half to death! Are you all right?"

Her father, Maurice, came into view. Belle had to stifle a laugh when she saw what had happened. He had clearly been flung backwards in the explosion, plunging him into a large empty barrel conveniently stored in the cellar. The wooden container had kept him safe, but now he was hard-pressed to get out of it, as he was shaped much like the barrel.

"Fine, fine, no thanks to that hunk of junk," Maurice grumbled. His round head bobbed in the direction of his invention, which sat innocently on its wheels. It was no longer smoking, Belle was pleased to see.

"Here, let me help you," she said. Between the two of them, they managed to extricate him from the barrel by pulling it apart.

"Thank you," Maurice groused. He glared at the invention, then sighed in a defeated sort of way. "I don't know, Belle. I'm starting to think I'll never get this thing ready in time for the fair."

"Oh, no!" Belle was genuinely dismayed. She'd been counting on the machine to win first prize, or at least a good amount of money, so they could move away from the village before her pregnancy became too obvious. If gossip got around, people would demand to know who the father of the child was. To preserve her honor and the child's status as legitimate, Belle would be married to Gaston in a heartbeat. She would get no say in it; not even her father would be able to halt the time-honored process. The idea of her child—children, for there would surely be more—being raised by such a man made her shudder. She hadn't told Maurice of her condition, not wanting to pressure him with even more responsibility before the fair. Maurice was a worrier by nature; he would work even more slowly if he knew how much was riding on his success. Her plan had been to tell him the moment he got home with the money.

"Papa," she began, trying to hide her desperation. "I know you can fix this. You have before. And you'll win first prize at the fair."

Maurice raised an eyebrow at her. "You really believe that?"

"I always have," Belle said affectionately. She was not just telling him this to boost his confidence; as a child she had literally believed he could do anything. They had so many small conveniences around their various city homes that it had taken her some time to realize other children did not have devices that automatically cracked eggs perfectly or allowed you to see who was at the door before you opened it. Even after they had lost all their money on a failed invention, Belle had still believed he could turn things around for them.

"You're serious, aren't you?" Maurice studied her face. Then he smiled. "Well, what are we waiting for? I'll have this thing fixed in no time!"

Belle grinned with delight. "How can I help?"

"Hand me…" Maurice considered, looking over the long series of pipes that somehow made the machine go. "Yes, here's the break. Hand me my dog-legged clincher, if you don't mind." It was only when Belle had found the tool and brought it to him that he blinked, and looked at her like he was seeing her for the first time. "Why, Belle! You're all muddy! What happened?"

In all the excitement, Belle had completely forgotten the state of her clothes. "Oh…it's nothing. I tripped on the way home." She tried vainly to pick some of the mud off one of her sleeves.

"What have I told you about reading and walking?" Maurice asked. "Two things that should not be done at the same time."

"Yes, Papa," Belle said meekly.

"Well, go on up and change. Then come back here and you can help me get this blasted thing ready. I think I might know what the problem was." He disappeared under the machine.

Belle obediently went out the cellar doors and into the house, where she changed her muddy dress and apron for another identical pair. The cloth merchant had practically given away all his merchandise in this particular shade of blue, claiming there was no one else in the world the color would suit. Belle was grateful for the excess. Soon she would have to be letting out her dresses, anyway. She put her muddy clothes to soak in a laundry tub, rinsed the worst of the mud from her hair, and went out to help Maurice.

Belle enjoyed being her father's assistant. She didn't know how his inventions worked, but she knew where all the tools and parts were, so it was her job to hand him things when he asked. She had done this often as a child, but since the death of her mother several years earlier she had taken on all the household chores herself and no longer had much time. She had missed their easy conversations. However, Belle was dismayed to find how far apart she and her father had grown despite living in such close quarters.

"Papa?" she began tentatively after a few moments. "Do you think I'm…odd?" She really wanted his opinion; if even the bookseller thought she was strange, it might be true. Before coming to this small town, she had never considered it before. She would always be different in any crowd, now, because of the baby, and she had at least partially begun to accept it. But she had never felt so alone in her life as she had in the past year.

Maurice looked startled. "My daughter, odd? Where did you get an idea like that?" Since he was wearing the lenses of his own invention that magnified his eyes many times and made him look like an overlarge insect, Belle did not find this reassuring. And she felt a sinking in her stomach. She had thought her father knew her better than that.

She shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. "I don't know. I just don't think I fit in here. There's no one I can really talk to."

"That Gaston's been around quite a bit, these past few months," Maurice pointed out. "He's handsome enough, and I've heard he's quite a hunter. He'd be a good provider. I know you keep turning him down, but—"

Not her father, too! "He's handsome, all right. And I suppose he's a good hunter; good enough to hunt in the village without anybody getting hurt."

Maurice rolled himself out from under his invention to raise an eyebrow at her.

"I know, but only one man would be brash enough not to think of the danger to other people. He's also rude, and conceited, and rough, and…" Belle trailed off before she said too much. "I can't stand to be near him for more than a minute, let alone think of a lifetime as his wife. Papa, he's not for me. Not ever."

Maurice studied her face a moment longer, then gave a slight nod. He vanished back under the machine, though he continued to talk. "Well, that settles it, doesn't it? I would be the last person to force you to get married before you're ready. Your mother and I married for love, even though she was class, and we never regretted it. I'd never deny you your own chance at happiness."

If only it were that easy, Belle sighed to herself. What he was describing sounded just like the fairy tales she read, where true love always won out. Once she, too, had believed it might possible to find the kind of love her parents had had for one another. But now? She could hardly expect it. What sane man would take a woman with a child out of wedlock? Refusing Gaston meant refusing to get married at all.

Oblivious to Belle's sad turn of mind, Maurice had been moving around his invention, tightening a cog here, checking a pipe soldering there. "I think that's done it," he said, stepping back. To Belle, nothing looked different, other than all of the pieces that had been broken in the previous explosion had been repaired.

"Are you sure, Papa?" she asked, cocking her head to one side.

"The only way to know is to try it out. Here goes!" Maurice pulled firmly on a lever. The invention let out an ear-splitting whistle, causing both Belle and her father to cover their ears. Cogs began to churn; gears ground into motion. Maurice backed away slightly, and Belle could not help attempting to duck behind his more reassuring frame. She noticed as she did Maurice had closed his eyes.

More noise issued from the machine, but nothing that seemed to indicate an explosion was forthcoming. Instead, the sounds settled down into a more regular churning. Maurice straightened slightly.

The axe that was the focal point of the entire contraption began to swing. Up it went, and down, leaving a sizable dent in the log it had been set to chop. Up again, and back. After three more chops, the log split neatly into two perfect halves. First one half and then the other were then jettisoned over Belle and Maurice's heads to the woodpile.

"It works!" Belle exclaimed. She watched joyfully as the machine fed another log to be chopped, and began to work on it as well.

"It does?" Maurice sounded almost surprised. He ducked as a split log flew neatly over his head. "It does work! It does!"

Belle ducked as well, going to her knees in order to hug her father. "You really did it this time, Papa! You're going to win first prize, I just know it!" The idea of being forced to marry Gaston was, for only a moment, a distant concern.

Her father shared her enthusiasm. "Hitch up Philippe, girl! I'm off to the fair!"

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 3 of 33

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