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

  His eyes grow huge. “For … for how long would I need to be here?”

  Foolishly, I had not anticipated that question. “Until I decide otherwise,” I reply.

  He clutches his hat harder. “But I cannot. I have two daughters at home.”

  I pause before my next line until I sense another pinch coming. “Then you shall send your hardiest daughter in your place.” I try not to cringe as I say this. Who would send his daughter to live with a scary beast?

  “I could do no such thing!”

  Mother figured he would say this, so I am prepared with my response. “Then my carriage shall return for you the next morn, after you have said your final farewells to your daughters. I will not send you home empty-handed, though. You may fill my carriage with as many fine jewels and objects as you like. We even have a large collection of rare books. Your daughters will be well taken care of for the rest of their lives. If I find you have fled, I shall take it all away and it shall be the dungeons for you.”

  His eyes open wide again. He begins to speak, falters, and then nods. He must know he will not get a better offer. He is gone by midday, along with two trunks filled with gold, jewels, and rare books. Mother had wept quietly as her jewelry was dropped into the first chest. Father remained silent as Beauty’s father pulled book after book from the library shelves. The man must know his business well, for he chose the most valuable ones. I suppose it is only fair, since if the plan works, he will be surrendering what he holds most dear.

  The whole experience has left me feeling beastly. I must go lie down.

  A week has come and gone, and Papa has not yet returned. I can tell by the way Clarissa has cleaned every inch of the house that she, too, is worried. At night, to make the time go faster we play cards and Clarissa tells stories of how grand life will be when we are wealthy again.

  On the eighth day of his absence, Veronica comes to the shop. She had dropped off a pouch of coins for me earlier in the week, but I had been on an errand. “It is good to see you,” I say, meeting her halfway across the floor.

  “And you,” she says. Her hair is back to its regular color again, and I am struck at how different she looks. I quickly realize it is not only her hair that makes it so, it is her bearing in general. The crystal hangs from its string on her neck. She could have replaced the leather with something a lot nicer, but she did not.

  “Is that what you sought on your quest?” the apothecary asks, coming to peer closer at the necklace.

  She nods and holds it out to him. “It is rose quartz.”

  He shakes his head. “No, it is something much rarer than that. I have never seen so brilliant a stone. It is very special.”

  She lets it fall back. “I know.”

  The front door of the shop flies open and Clarissa runs in.

  “Could not stay away, eh?” the apothecary asks.

  But Clarissa ignores him, which is not like her. She is never rude. My heart picks up its beats and I grab hold of the counter.

  “Beauty!” Clarissa says, grabbing my arm and pulling me toward the door. “You must come home. ’Tis Papa!”

  I feel my hands grow icy, although the cauldron heats the shop quite well. “Is he all right? Has there been an accident?”

  “He is home,” Clarissa says. “But I have never seen him like this. You must come quickly.”

  “Is there anything I can do?” asks Veronica.

  “Is he ill?” asks the apothecary.

  Clarissa shakes her head. “’Tis a family matter only, I think.” She pushes me ahead of her out the door before I have a chance to say anything to appease their worried faces.

  My sister is pinching the cramp in her side by the time we reach the house. I would have run even faster, but did not want to leave her behind. In the old days, Clarissa never would have been able to run all the way to town and back as she did today. She is getting stronger.

  Papa jumps up from the front step when he sees us. His face is completely devoid of color, his eyes wild with fear or pain, I cannot tell. He has twisted his hat so many times that it hangs in shreds in his hands. Yet still he twists it.

  “Papa!” I run to him. “What is it? What happened?”

  He stumbles over to the chair and nearly falls into it. “The beast! I took a mere flower from his garden and now I must return to his castle forever.” He buries his head in his hands and begins to sob. Clarissa and I look at each other, stricken. Has Papa eaten some bad berries? Has he gone mad?

  “What are you talking of, Papa?” I ask, kneeling beside him. “How can an animal have a castle?”

  He shakes his head. “This was no animal. He was huge, taller than the tallest man! And wide as two men!”

  “Not every large man is a beast,” I tell him, thinking of Flavian. “He might appear a bear on the outside but be a kitten within.”

  “He was no kitten, nor a bear, either. ’Twas a talking beast, I tell you. With long hair and fur and nails as sharp as knives!” It takes him a while — with many interruptions for clarity by me and Clarissa — but he finally gets through the entire story. After a moment of stunned silence, we follow him to his bedroom behind the kitchen.

  He takes a deep breath and pushes open the door. Our mouths drop in unison. Treasure — for that is what it must be called — covers the room nearly from floor to ceiling. Jewel-covered books and bracelets and rings and gold figurines. Fine robes and shoes and headpieces. And on top of it all, a crumpled red rose.

  For the next few days, we polish the silver and gold tea sets, scrape food and grime from in between stones, sweep the rushes under the tables and the cobwebs from the corners. I can easily reach the ones on the ceiling, so that becomes my main job. It is also my job to throw away all the objects I have either smashed or slashed by mistake. If it is the girl who chooses to come, I do not want to frighten her even more with the evidence of my strength.

  Mother happily clips flowers from the gardens and places them in bowls around the castle. I have asked many times what we will do if Beauty’s father returns instead of Beauty herself, but Mother says we will cross that bridge when we come to it. This does not make sense to me. If one does not know how one will cross a bridge, one best figure that out before one reaches it. Otherwise, it is just poor planning. But no one listens to me.

  Mother spends most of her time turning the largest guest room into an explosion of pink. I think she always wanted a girl. She hangs large, ornate mirrors and colorful artwork on the walls, and drapes a silk canopy above the bed. Freddy proves to have an excellent eye for detail, and she has taken to asking him for advice on exactly where to place a decorative pillow or a washing basin.

  When not busy running into town on an errand for Mother, Freddy has dedicated himself to figuring out how to rid my fur of its greenness, which has, if anything, gotten brighter. So far he has had no luck.

  Alexander keeps me busy by coaching me on the right and wrong things to say to a girl. Asking her if she likes spiders and then tossing one on her is wrong. Asking if she likes flowers, and then pinning one behind her ear is right. Talking about myself is wrong. Asking about her is right. I am not to talk about the stars, unless it is to point out a pretty one and compare her to it. I am not to bore her with any scientific talk of alchemy, my experiments, or anything to do with the witch and the spell.

  I am to chew on cinnamon sticks as often as possible to keep my breath smelling sweet. Apparently, as the beast, my larger mouth is more likely to collect morsels of food.

  I am also not allowed to play the bagpipes due to them sounding “like a whole herd of buffalo groaning at once.” I highly doubt Alexander has ever heard a buffalo groan in his whole life, let alone a herd of them.

  Basically, I am supposed to keep my mouth shut most of the time. I do not know how doing, or not doing, these things is supposed to make her fall in love with me. But Alexander must know what he is talking about. He always has plenty of dates. Well, he used to before the witch brought a swift hal