By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Not so ever after: Write the sequel to your favorite fairytale. Are Hansel and Gretel tried for murder? Do Snow White and her prince contemplate divorce? Does money really buy happiness for Jack and his beanstalk? What happens after “The End”?
I stared at the clock for the tenth time in as many minutes. When would he come home?
“Don’t worry, dear, I’m sure he’ll be home soon. He knew you had planned for his favorite meal tonight.”
I tried to smile bravely as the dear elderly woman patted my hand affectionately.
“I know he’ll be home, Mrs. Potts, and I’m really happy that things have changed for the better for him.”
She smoothed her hands over her apron and surveyed the table she’d set.
“Anything else, Belle?”
“Nothing, thank you. If he comes home and we decide we need anything else, I’ll send Lumiere for you. And anyway, I know you’re eager to get Chip into bed.”
“That I am, dearie. Oh, you take such good care of everyone in the castle, sweetheart. I know he appreciates everything you do.”
I just smiled again, wondering whether I should really believe what she said or simply take it as a kind courtesy.
He’d said many times since the Transformation that he appreciated what I did for him, and when we kissed I certainly felt it. But B had certainly…changed, in more ways than one.
His name, for instance. Before, everyone always called him “Beast.” When he underwent the Transformation, we talked later that night about what he wanted everyone to call him. By then “Beast” just seemed ridiculous, for obvious reasons.
“I don’t know,” he answered slowly, glancing in the mirror again for what felt like the hundredth time. “I’m having a hard enough time getting used to myself like this.” He gestured somewhat uncertainly to his reflection.
I nodded, failing miserably at suppressing an excited grin. I’d learned long before this day that he truly had a warm, wonderful heart, and now his outer self matched his inner self.
“I’m just so used to hearing ‘Beast’ from everyone.”
“Well, what was your name before you became a—well, you know.”
He frowned, and even doing that he looked handsome.
“I don’t remember. There are so many things I don’t remember from my life before it happened. And now I’m afraid that if I choose a different name, I won’t recognize it and I won’t remember to answer.”
“Well…how about B?” I said, suddenly inspired. “It’s close enough but different enough from what everyone used to call you.”
“B,” he replied slowly, trying it out. After a moment he smiled back. “I like it.”
In those first heady days after the Transformation, B reveled in our relationship. He would pull me into his arms at every chance he had; sometimes he would twirl me around and tell Lumiere to put some music on his new phonograph so we could waltz. Usually those waltzes would end with a heady kiss, and a long embrace. He wouldn’t want to let me go, and I would end up giggling and breathless.
I knew he loved me, and I enjoyed all the extra attention. Somehow losing that horrendous exterior made it easier for his heart to beat as loud as it wanted. It gave him the facility to express himself without worrying about what others would think.
I also knew he felt petrified of engaging with the world outside the castle. I let him flutter at my elbow for the first few weeks. Then I told him he had to go to the village and interact with the residents.
“But, my darling, why would I need to do so when we have everything we need right here?”
He smiled a little too brightly, his voice a touch too enthusiastic. It only confirmed my suspicion.
“My love, you must show them that the Transformation only served to reveal who you are inside,” I told him gently. “You must show them that the Beast was simply a measure of who you were on the outside.”
It took several conversations of this nature, but finally he took his first steps into the village. At first he refused to leave my side, barely meeting the eyes of the villagers. But they treated him with an exorbitant—and unexpected—amount of kindness. Between my encouragement and their genial acceptance of B in his new avatar, he gained confidence and began meeting people with head held high and eye to eye.
He began going to the village on his own. At first I felt delighted that he felt self-assured enough to venture to the village without me holding his hand. I knew he had truly accepted his new self.
But then he started staying later and later in the village. And lately he has taken to visiting the village at all hours of the day. We hardly ever waltz anymore.
I leaned on the grand dining table and propped my chin in my hand, thinking of the first time we sat in the room and shared a meal. He had forced me to do so, a part of our deal. I still wondered whether that gamble would come as a winning hand for both of us.
A noise, and I heard the front door open. I heard B greet Lumiere, no doubt as Lumiere took B’s coat and offered him something to eat and drink.
“No, thank you, my good man, but it warms my heart that you still worry about me.”
“Not me, sire.”
“Oh, yes…is Belle—”
“She awaits you in the dining room, sire.”
No response, but a minute later B entered the dining room and when he spotted me he slowed down until his steps stopped and he simply looked at me. His eyes held affection, but I noticed something missing. What, though?
“Belle, my darling, I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
I shook my head, trying to hide my annoyance. “I just wanted to share your favorite meal with you. Mrs. Potts and I spent most of the morning working in the kitchen.”
“My love, I’ve already eaten. In fact…”
He came and sat down in the chair diagonal from mine, and as he reached for my hand I suddenly realized what he no longer had in his eyes: love.
“Belle, my sweet, we must talk…”