Reality Ever After

**The following is a dream I had.  I blame the mozzarella sticks.**

Belle considered her options.  Returning to the castle – her home – was not a possibility.  Neither could she stay here in her father’s house, as he would be returning from his honeymoon any day now.  While she loved Mrs. Potts like the mother she never knew, Belle realized she did not belong here.  She never did.

There was only one place she truly felt like she belonged.

But in the last several months, everything had changed.  He had changed.  What began as a fairy tale eventually spiraled into old habits.  The prince she had married regressed back to being spoiled, selfish, and unkind.  His temper was out of control.  By the last month before she left, they had been sleeping in separate bedrooms on opposite sides of the castle.  He isolated himself in the West Wing and refused to see her.

Belle anxiously recounted the events before her departure.  She had requested they have dinner, and initially he refused.  Pressured by his loyal and faithful servants, he finally agreed.  There she laid out a plan of helping him return to the kind, patient, and selfless individual who had broken the spell.  She had a stack of psychology books she had found in the library and an outline of how they would proceed.

But he would have none of it.  Flying into a rage, he overturned the table, breaking dishes and spoiling food.  He began throwing the books against the wall, and what books he didn’t throw, he ripped the pages from their binding.  “You keep trying to change me!” he screamed.  “You don’t love me for who I am!  You never did!”

Belle clutched her heart as she collapsed onto her old bed in her old room.  That was the night she had calmly but firmly told him she was leaving.  He stormed out of the dining room, leaving a path of destruction all the way to the West Wing.  She knew he wasn’t a monster, but sometimes he made her wonder.

She had hoped someone would be able to talk some sense into him.  Lumiere could schmooze anyone.  Cogsworth might be able to reason with him.  Perhaps Chip could appeal to his heart.

It was after she returned to her father’s house that she found out the terrible news.

Chip had been exploring outside the castle gates when it happened.  When he returned, everything had changed.

The mysterious enchantress had transformed the castle back to the dark, foreboding place it once was.  The servants were reduced to common household objects once again.  And the prince was back to his familiar form – a Beast.

This time, however, there was no enchanted rose, and no explanation for it.  The servants took this to mean one thing – that they would be imprisoned like this forever.  All hope was lost.

Chip raced to Maurice’s cottage to deliver the disturbing news, explaining that he was not inside the castle’s perimeter when it happened, and therefore was not under the spell.

Belle was crushed.  It seemed nothing could be done now.  He had done this to himself, she reasoned.  And he made everyone else suffer for it.

“He’s a monster,” she whispered out loud and alone in the cottage.  “My husband is a monster.”

Then she heard the stirrings at the front door.  Kind voices.  Laughter.

Her father and Mrs. Potts were home.

Belle wiped her tears away on her blue pinafore dress and summoned her courage.

“Belle!” her father cried when she appeared in the doorway.  “What are you doing here?”

Tearfully she explained what had happened.  Her father listened patiently, and Mrs. Potts began wiping her own tears away.  Their worst fears had come true.  He had never truly changed at all.

Then there was a knock on the door.  It was Chip, who excused himself from his mother’s embrace when she let him in, and he struggled breathlessly to get the words out.

“Gaston,” he gasped, “is alive.  He survived the fall.  And he wants revenge.”

Belle cried out before she could cover her mouth in surprise.

She grabbed Chip’s shoulders.  “Are you sure?  How do you know this?”

“He called a meeting at the tavern.  The whole town is there.  Everyone knows you left and that The Beast is back.”

Belle immediately felt unsteady and sick.  She stared blankly at the wall behind her family.  “I shouldn’t have left,” she whispered.  “This is all my fault.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” her father said.  “You did not cause him to be this way.  He was like this before you.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Potts agreed.  “You cannot control these things.  No one can.”

But Belle was not listening.  She turned to her father.  “Where is the mirror?”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.  I put it away after the wedding.”

“You lost the magic mirror?”

“No.  I did not lose it, Belle.  I just put it away.”

Belle began walking through the house.  “Help me find it,” she said.

She searched cabinets, cupboards, and closets to no avail.  Then she began searching drawers.  Finally, in the very back of a drawer next to her bed, her fingers touched the glassy metal of the mirror’s spine.  Relief washed over her, but it was quickly replaced by the panic of her situation.

“Show me Gaston,” she said, trembling.

The mirror’s glow nearly blinded her, but the glass swirled into an image.  Men huddled around a table at the tavern, steins half-empty with beer.  In the center was their leader, a man so ugly and disfigured he was hardly recognizable.  But Belle knew his diabolical sneer.

Gaston.  His so-called handsome face was now twisted with scars from the fall.  He had wild hatred in his eyes.  And he was talking about Belle’s husband, The Beast.

“I’m going to free Belle from that monster once and for all,” he growled.  “Tonight, we kill him.  Tomorrow, I’ll be a celebrated hero, and Belle will have to thank me.  And then I’m going to marry her.”

Belle turned the mirror over, disgusted at the fading image.  This was all too familiar, yet it seemed worse now than it ever had been.

She searched her heart for truth.  Did she want to be free?  Surely, she had the means to escape this poor, provincial town once again.  She could see the world.  Have her own adventures in the great wide Somewhere.  Gaston would never find her.  Perhaps one day, she could even learn to forget any of this had ever happened.

“Show me The Beast,” she said softly to the mirror.

She closed her eyes as the glass rippled and changed.  When she opened them, her heart was wrenched in two.

He was crouched beside her bed in the East Wing, listlessly gazing at nothing.  “My life is over,” he lamented.

He looked as sad and pitiable as he always had before.  Belle knew he felt regret.  He wasn’t heartless.  He wasn’t the monster.

She slipped the mirror into her apron.  Then she draped her cloak around her shoulders.  With determination in her eyes, she gazed about the room quickly for anything she might need on her journey.  Time was of the essence.  Any moment now, Gaston and his fickle, mindless followers would march to the castle gates once again and finish the job.  And Belle wasn’t sure anyone would try to stop them this time.  His beloved servants were likely just as bitter, depressed, and hopeless as he was.  They probably assumed she was never coming back.  If Gaston attempted kill The Beast, would anyone stop him?

Belle wasn’t going to take that chance.  If no would defend him, not even he himself, then she would.

She slipped on a bow and a quiver of arrows.  Then she noticed the head of a rose lying on the table in her bedroom.

It was the one her father wore on his lapel at his wedding a month ago.  The bloom was dying, but still vibrant and beautiful.  Belle pinned the rose to her breast with a kind of trembling purpose that shined from within.  If The Beast had no enchanted rose, then she would be one.

Her father tried to stop her at the door, but she refused his pleadings, even though she did not know what would be waiting for her at the castle.  She didn’t have a choice anymore.  “I promised to love him,” she reminded her father.  “Not change him.”

With that, she mounted her trustworthy steed, Phillipe, and they rode for the castle.

Belle was heartsick when she clapped eyes on her once glorious home.  It was just how she saw it the first time when she was a scared and lost girl searching for her father.  But now was not the time to think about the past.  She dismounted her horse and began to run, her eyes fixed on the towering East Wing where she believed him to be.

Panting breathlessly, she climbed flight after flight of stairs until she reached her bedroom.  There, The Beast still was, and Belle noticed the dagger beside him that she did not see in the mirror.

She cried his name and he opened his eyes.

He stared at her in disbelief as she approached, kneeling on the floor next to him.

“You came back,” he said softly, his voice kind but broken.

She touched the matted fur on his face and gazed into his blue eyes.  “Of course I came back.  I’ll always come back.”

Just as his lips barely curled into a smile, the sound of breaking glass startled them.  Belle rose up with a bow and arrow aimed and ready at the dark figure in the window.  It was Gaston, his eyes glowing red with madness, as he sneered and laughed maniacally at Belle, clutching his rifle.

Belle pulled the arrow back and let it fly, striking him in the heart he didn’t have.

Gaston collapsed to the floor, stunned and powerless.

“This is my home,” she said.  Then she looked down at The Beast, who was staring up at her in shock but had not moved.  “And I will always come back.”

**For Stacy.**

 

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