• Home
  • Wendy Mass
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Page 16

Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Read online

  “Perhaps not until your hair grows out,” Father whispers.

  Freddy giggles. I do not think he likes Alexander much.

  I hang my head. Lately I had been thinking only of my own fate, not theirs. “What is this girl like?”

  “Well, I do not exactly know for certain,” Alexander admits. “It was her older sister, Clarissa, whom Godfrey and I met at an apothecary shop over a three-day ride from here. Well, truly only Godfrey met her, since I was busy trying not to knock over any jars of strange-looking roots or balls of mercury and give my presence away. But she and Godfrey were talking as he gave her our order. By this point in the trip we had given up asking girls to come back with us, so she and Godfrey were merely talking like old friends. He brings that out in people. I heard the girl say she was filling in for her younger sister, a girl near your age, who is working hard to support their family. Their father used to be a successful book merchant, but they have fallen on hard times. If the girl is anything like Clarissa, she is sweet and generous — Clarissa gave us a lot of extra things we hadn’t even asked for — and quite a spectacular beauty. In fact, that is her name.”

  “The girl’s name is Beauty? What kind of name is that?”

  “A better name than Beast,” he points out.

  “But I did not choose my name.”

  “Neither, I am certain, did she.”

  I suppose he has a point. “All right, so this generous, sweet, beautiful girl, why would she come here?”

  “Well, I have not quite worked out that part yet. She is apparently very dedicated to helping her father and sister. Getting her to leave them will not be easy.”

  I sigh. “Then why are we even having this conversation? I am going to bed.”

  Freddy shakes his head in Alexander’s direction as if to say “shame on you” one last time before we exit.

  “Welcome to our crazy castle, Freddy!” Alexander calls after us. Followed by, “Ouch, Mother!”

  “Can I help you?” the innkeeper asks, chomping on an apple.

  “We have returned,” Veronica says. “We would like a room for one night.”

  He squints at us. “Have you visited The Welcome Inn before?”

  “Now, now, do not tease the children,” Flavian admonishes, striding in from the other room. He places a huge hand on both our shoulders. “These are honored guests!”

  We smile up at him. The innkeeper shrugs. “If you say so. Then I shall give you my best room.”

  Veronica rolls her eyes. “We have heard that promise before. The last was not so great, to be honest.”

  “Ah,” says the innkeeper, reaching for a key behind him. “But you have not seen the best of the best yet.” He winks at Flavian, who grabs the key from him. Instead of leading us upstairs, this time we go down a long, narrow hallway leading off from the main room. “I shan’t be here if you visit again,” Flavian says as we walk. “I have found work closer to home.”

  “That is wonderful,” Veronica says sincerely. I squeeze her hand. Her mother will not be coming home to her, but she is still happy that another little girl out there will get her father back.

  Flavian stops at the last room on the end and pushes open the door. Real beds! A window that opens and shuts to let in the air! A bathtub! We look at each other and bound into the room, grinning wide.

  “Where is your cousin?” Flavian asks as we flop onto the beds. I look up to see that he is still in the hallway. The ceiling is higher in this room than in our other, but not by much. He would never fit.

  “He had to go home,” Veronica replies with a giggle.

  “That is too bad,” Flavian says. “But no doubt you will see him soon at the next family meal.” He winks. Clearly he never believed Handsome was our cousin.

  “No doubt we shall,” Veronica replies.

  “Enjoy your stay,” Flavian says, tossing the key to me. “And you do not need to worry about getting locked into the upstairs latrine by mistake. We had to take the bolt off the outside of the door after a father and son were accidentally locked in there last week. For twelve hours.” He winks again and closes the door behind him.

  We burst out laughing and it feels good. I shall have to remember to do it more often.

  After a meal that tasted just as bad as the last time we were here, I help Veronica scrub the dye out of her hair. The tub water turns deep brown, but even so, we cannot get her hair as light as it was. Time will have to do that.

  The next morning we stop for one last visit to the field of wildflowers. Most of these varieties do not grow at home. Veronica wants to collect them for her grandfather, and I for Clarissa. I shall bring some to the apothecary, too, for he uses them in many medicines. I pull out one perfect red rose, and add that to my pile. Roses always remind me of my mother, and I instinctively reach up to touch my mother’s locket.

  Handsome had given me his compass, so as long as we follow it south through the woods, we manage to stay on course. We talk about silly things like what Handsome’s bride will wear to their wedding, and whether their cake will be made of flour and sugar like normal cakes, or from bread! This keeps our minds from worrying about meeting strangers. But in truth I am not very frightened. While I was glad for Handsome’s protection, I am equally glad to be the one in charge now. I feel more at home in the world than I ever did. Plus, Veronica and I finally get to run as fast as we can without anyone slowing us down. We could certainly outrun any stranger. As we get closer, I get more and more excited to see Papa and Clarissa. I hope they fared all right without me.

  We reach the outskirts of the village well before sunset. “Do you want to go to your grandfather’s house first?” I ask Veronica.

  She shakes her head. “I must return the robes, and repay the monks for the book. I doubt they would want it back now.”

  I laugh, remembering how we shredded it. “I think you are right. People will have to learn how to rid their house of mice some other way.”

  She smiles. “And you were right about the magic. I was silly to believe in the stuff of fairy tales.”

  “It is never silly to believe in wondrous things.”

  She hugs me good-bye and promises to bring my payment to the apothecary shop in the next few days. Before she turns away, I hand her the rose. “To remember our quest,” I tell her.

  She takes the rose and sticks it behind her ear. “I am not likely to forget it.”

  “Nor I.” I swing my pack over my shoulder again and begin the trek home. It feels strange to be alone after all this time, but I find myself enjoying the solitude.

  Papa and Clarissa are sitting at the table eating when I burst through the door. “I have returned!” I call out.

  They both jump up and run over. Papa takes my pack and Clarissa hugs me tight. “We missed you!” she shouts.

  “I missed you both, too.” I hand her the flowers. Her cheeks look rosy and her dress is clean. She almost seems like her old self again. I glance around the room. They have made it look more like a home in my absence. A rug, a comfortable chair, even a picture on the wall. A few books are stacked by the front door, which means Papa must have at least started selling a bit again.

  Clarissa goes to bring me a cup of water, and Papa pulls me aside. He looks tired around the eyes but otherwise much happier than when I left, and a little plumper, too.

  “You look good!” he says, holding both of my hands in his. “A quest changes a person, you know.”

  I smile. “So I have heard.”

  I spend the rest of the evening telling them all about our adventures. When we lay in bed later, Clarissa tells me that one of her old friends came into the apothecary shop complaining of a large scrape where her horse kicked her in the shin. Clarissa was able to make up a poultice of vinegar and myrrh, and now her friend is as good as new and no longer ignoring her. At least I think that was the last thing she said, because I faded off to sleep at the end.

  Although I do believe she has begun to enjoy the job, in the morning Clar