Wednesdays are my busiest day, so this is a story that was essentially finished. I just polished it a bit. It’s part of a fairy tale story collection I’ve started sketching out. I also have ideas for Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, which will hopefully get finished in the next few days.
Isabella’s father owned an antique store. For most of her life it was extremely profitable, until a few years ago when it had been discovered that several of the antiques he had sold were fakes. Her father hadn’t known they were fakes, since he hadn’t picked those particular pieces out, but his reputation within the city soon dwindled to almost nothing. The clerk who had chosen the pieces had fled as soon as the fakes were discovered, and they found out that he had lied about his name when they hired him. After a short while, Bella’s family had to move themselves to a different, smaller house in a smaller town, and the business to a little store-front in the same town. Now the store was more of a junk shop than a respectable antique store.
Bella had two older sisters, Margarite and Lisel. All three sisters were pretty enough, but Meg and Lissy took their time dressing and primping in an effort to outshine each other. Everyone had said that Bella was the most beautiful of the three when they were little girls. But Bella didn’t spend any time on her looks, so now her sisters battled for the title of prettiest. Instead she spent her time studying for school, and once she finished college she spent her time reading, when she wasn’t working in the shop. Consequently, her beautiful auburn hair was bundled up into a bun (from which pieces escaped all day), her clothes were those made for comfort not style, and her glasses had constant smudges from her fingertips on them that hid much of the glory of her grey eyes. So the rest of the world thought that Bella was plain compared to her sisters, and hopelessly out of fashion.
In his last delivery of ‘junk’, however, Bella’s father had found what he referred to as a diamond hidden in shards of glass. He declared that it could make their fortune again if he sold it to the right collector. It was a small cabinet that he said was hundreds of years old, and was of a type collected by one of his old buyers in the city. Her father asked each of the girls what they wanted him to bring back if the sale went well. Meg said she wanted a new lilac silk dress. Lissy said she wanted a white rabbit fur. Bella knew how much the other two would taunt her if she asked for books, and she was tempted to ask for nothing. But her father looked at her pleadingly, asking her with his eyes to request something frivolous for once. “Very well, Papa. Bring me a dozen red roses.” He smiled a little at that. It was winter, so the only roses in bloom would be expensive hothouse ones. They wouldn’t cost as much as what the other two had asked for, but he would bring her some books on the sly as well as always.
When he returned two days later, it was with a tale so astonishing, it was almost unbelievable. He said that he had met with his contact, and all had gone perfectly. The cabinet had actually sold for more than he anticipated and the buyer had treated him to a lovely supper. After a night at a local motel, he had bought the dress for Meg and the fur for Lissy. He had wanted to wait until he was back in town to get the roses for Bella so they would be fresh. As soon as he had made the sale, he had called the florist and asked them to make up a bouquet for him and to hold them until he got back late that afternoon. On his way back, he had been caught up in a terrible thunderstorm. He had pulled into the first driveway he saw, because he wanted to get off the road. Bella’s father had had a pathological fear of driving in rain ever since her mother had died. She had died in a car accident while it was raining, with Bella’s father at the wheel. He had escaped without a scratch, but her neck had broken instantly. So he no longer drove in the rain, or even in light mists if it was at all avoidable.
After the rain stopped, Bella’s father was ready to get back on the main road, but traffic was so busy at the moment that he couldn’t back out. So he continued up the driveway, meaning to turn around as soon as he reached the house. The driveway was long and winding, bordered on each side by tall forbidding pine trees that shut out almost all the daylight. When he finally reached the house, he was amazed to discover that he was at the house of the Beast. The ‘Beast’ was not an actual beast of course, at least no one truly thought so, but no one in the town had ever seen the man. Wild rumors circulated that he was hideously deformed and that was why he hid himself away in his house; this was where the ‘Beast’ nickname came from. The Beast’s name was Jacob Smith and he was said to be incredibly rich. Rich not only for the little town Bella’s family lived in, but rich in the eyes of the entire world.
His house was up on the top of a hill that looked out over the town, and it was a bizarre combination of Gothic, Victorian, and just generally strange architectural features. The wood was silvery-grey with age, and the house had been there before the little town had been. Before the Beast moved in, he had paid men to scrape off all the old layers of paint and reveal the plain wood underneath. These same men said that the house had equally fanciful touches inside to match the outside and was simply made out of the same wood. The Beast sent handwritten orders to the local grocery every week, along with a check for the last week’s delivery. These deliveries were deposited on his front porch, where he presumably picked them up and took them inside. Other than that, he had no contact with the town at all besides his mail.
Mail was delivered to his mailbox, which was much larger than usual, to allow for packages to be left there as well. The person who delivered the package would leave a little slip, and the Beast would sign the slip and put it back in the mailbox. The other odd thing about his mailbox was that it was on his porch as well. Every now and then people grumbled about how all this was against postal regulations and how the Beast was getting preferential treatment. But then the postmaster would remind people that the Beast was the one who had paid for the new postal office in town, and who provided the funding for the extra postal employees that the town oughtn’t to have really had, seeing as how it was such a little town. Then the grumbling would die down again.
Bella’s father turned his car around, and started back down the driveway, only to have his car slowly grind to a stop. Confused, he glanced at all the gauges and discovered that he was out of gas. This was impossible, he thought. He had filled up the tank that morning before leaving the city. But there was nothing to do about it now. There must be a leak or something. He would simply have to call a tow truck. But his cell phone wouldn’t work, no matter where he stood in the yard. So he had to approach the house. He knocked on the door, rang the doorbell, and even called out the Beast’s real name, but no one answered. When he tried the doorknob, the door opened.
It opened into a hallway, and there was a phone sitting right there on a table. Bella’s father called out into the house and told any unseen listener what his problem was and that he wished to use the telephone to call a tow truck. No one replied, so he picked up the phone. It was dead. He quickly backed out of the hallway and back onto the porch. He then walked around the house, and saw a small greenhouse, with lights on inside. It would be invisible from the bottom of the hill because of the trees surrounding it. The Beast must have had it built by workers from out-of-town, or else everyone would know about it, and no one did. If there was anyone here, they were probably in this greenhouse, which was lit up and homey in a way that the house was certainly not.
Bella’s father opened the door and walked in. He was the first person in several years to set foot into the Beast’s garden, besides the Beast himself. The greenhouse was a paradise of blossoms, holding all sorts of flowers, although Bella’s father was most interested in the roses. He called out the Beast’s real name again, although the greenhouse appeared to be as empty as the house. He drew closer to the nearest rose bush, marveling at the beauty of the blooms. He knew the roses that he would get at the local flower shop would be a pale comparison to these lovely specimens, which were a deep vibrant red, brimming with life and health. Every petal was perfect, and the scent was like the finest perfume. Out of sheer desire, he plucked a rose and put the stem through the buttonhole of his suit jacket. The next moment, the Beast came up behind him with fury in his voice.
“What do you mean, entering my house and then my garden under the pretext of a broken-down car to steal a rose? I have made my wishes clear to the entire town; I have given handsomely to all the local businesses and charities. Why can’t I be left alone? I have paid, and now you will pay for that rose you have stolen.” Bella’s father looked up at the Beast with terror in his heart. The Beast seemed gigantic, both tall and broad, with long tangled hair that covered a great deal of his face. It did not cover the old scar that ran down his left cheek, from the cheekbone to the jawbone, which was a silvery-white and raised. But his blue eyes shone through the dark brown hair, burning with fierce anger. He did not appear to be malformed in any way that Bella’s father could see, and his large hands were covered in dirt where he had evidently been working in his garden.
“Sir, I only plucked one rose, and I will gladly pay you for it. I was charmed by its beauty and wished to take it home to show my youngest daughter. As for my car, the gas tank appears to have sprung a leak and is now empty. I do not lie to you, sir, you may check it yourself. How much would you like me to pay you for this bloom?” Bella’s father felt proud of himself for this speech, and thought that it might help to calm down the Beast.
He was quite wrong. The Beast actually growled at him. “You mock me with your sirs and your politeness. I will check your car first.” The Beast stomped out of the greenhouse and around to the front of the house and down the driveway to the car. After ascertaining that the car was indeed disabled, he pulled a cell phone out of a grimy pocket and dialed a number. The Beast briefly explained the situation, and told the person on the other end to fix it, then hung up. Then he glared at Bella’s father again.
“You asked me how much I wanted you to pay for that ‘one bloom’, with false subservience in your voice as though you expected me to brush it aside and exclaim that of course I would not make you pay for one rose. But you would pay for one rose at a florist, would you not? Do not answer. This was a special rose, one that I have tended since it was no more than a seed. I have devoted the equivalent of months to this one rose bush, and you plucked a bloom off of it. In essence, you have violated my rose bush and you would have me brush it aside and have you go on your merry way? That bloom will cost you $100, 000. Or if you do not wish to pay that much, you may send me your youngest daughter, the one who likes roses so much. I expect the money or your daughter in a week.” The Beast looked at Bella’s father in anger, then marched up his steps and slammed the door shut.
Bella’s father waited in disbelief for the door to open and the Beast to come out and declare it all a sick joke, but the door stayed shut. Eventually, the tow truck came and took him back to town. The driver seemed to have no idea that he had seen the Beast, saying only that he was amazed Bella’s father had been able to get cell reception out there in the woods. He did ask if he had seen the Beast, but Bella’s father simply said no, and the driver left it at that. The town was not so tiny that it was without a car rental place, so Bella’s father picked out a sedan and transferred his belongings. With a certain amount of despair, he stopped by the florist on his way home to pick up Bella’s bouquet. Then he went home and related the tale to his girls.
“And I do not know how I shall raise the money. Unless I sold the shop itself, I could not lay my hands upon so much money so quickly. I could not get a loan, for the pretext is unbelievable. $100, 000 for a flower? They would laugh me out of the bank.” Bella laid her hands on her father’s shoulders. “Papa, go to sleep. You are overtired. We will solve this problem together in the morning.” He smiled back up at his youngest daughter, who looked so much like his wife had, and did her bidding. But in the morning, Bella was gone, and there was only a note tucked under the sugar bowl. Papa, I’ve gone to the Beast to reason with him. Do not worry for my safety; I have taken the old Colt revolver from the shop in case he becomes unruly. This is how it must be. Do not come after me. You will only anger the Beast more, I fear. –Your loving daughter, Isabella
Bella got the newspaper delivery boy to take her to Mrs. Clarke’s house, saying that she had some fresh baked bread that she wished to take to her. She did have a loaf for her, and spent a half-hour talking to the kindly old woman before continuing up the road to the last house before the road turned into the highway. This was the Beast’s house, and had been her real destination all along. She had brought him a loaf of bread too, figuring a gesture of goodwill could not hurt her case. She walked up the long driveway, but unlike her father she did not find the trees forbidding. Instead, she thought they provided a nice shelter against the sun, and gave a lovely pine scent to the air. Finally, she reached the house.
Bella steeled her courage and knocked on the heavy wooden door. This time, the Beast was inside. She heard him stomp up to the door and assumed he was looking through the peephole. He started to stomp off, but she very loudly announced herself. “I am Isabella, the daughter of the man who stole your rose yesterday. I have come to talk with you.” Slowly the door creaked open and Bella became the second person in town to see the Beast. She thought to herself that Father had it wrong. The Beast was not frightening. He was not exactly handsome, but his face had an interesting cragginess to it that lent it character. His scar was nothing but a scar. His hair would probably be a very nice shade of brown if he washed it more frequently and either bound it back or cut it off. He was tall and broad, but Bella herself was tall and far from skinny.
“Well, stop staring at me and come in. What is that you have in your hands?” Bella proffered the loaf of bread, saying, “It is a loaf of bread that I have made for you as a gift. I thought we could have some while we talked about the rose my father took from you.” He took it in amazement, and then started walking off down the hallway. “What kind of gift is it, which you ask for some back immediately? Come with me, girl, we are only going to the kitchen. Contrary to what the town may think, I do not devour maidens. At least not before teatime.” A sense of humor, thought Bella. Perhaps he can be reasoned with after all.
The kitchen they entered was magnificent. The Beast unwrapped the bread from the checkered napkin, and sliced off two hunks with a bread knife, then slathered them with butter and jam. After placing them on two plates of fine china, he poured two glasses of lemonade. Everything was then placed on a small wooden dining table for two that sat in a corner. “Very well, I suppose you are here to plead your father’s case. Go ahead.” He bit into his slice of bread and appeared to wait calmly. “Sir, what would you like me to call you? Mr. Smith?” He took a drink of lemonade and smiled rather sardonically. “What, you do not wish to address me as Beast? I am aware that is what everyone calls me.”
This was quite enough for Bella. As a child her temper tantrums had been legendary, and as an adult she worked quite hard at controlling her temper, but his deliberate offensiveness today, combined with his bullying of her father yesterday sent her quite over the edge. Her reply was frigid. “Mr. Smith, I realize you are enjoying yourself very much at my expense, but since you are quite obviously only a beast in your lack of manners, I need some other way of addressing you.” He let out a great laugh and tossed his hair out of his eyes to study her closer. “Good show of spirit, girl. If you’ll take that abuse from me, you will end up taking it from anyone and everyone. You may call me Jacob. This is quite good bread. Did you really make it yourself?”
Bella was astounded at his sudden mood shift. “Yes of course I did. Why would I lie about that? Jacob, will you really charge my father $100, 000 for that rose? He is quite sorry that he picked it, and he had no idea of its importance to you. We do not have the money to pay you. And I am not chattel to be traded for a flower.” He eyed her, seeming to examine her statement for flaws. “People lie about many things, Isabella. I had your father investigated last night. He seems to be a good man. I am aware that he does not have the money. I didn’t know if he would ever come back to this house. And now he has sent his daughter to bargain for him instead.”
“My father did not send me. I left before he got up this morning. When he got home last night, he told us what had happened here at your house, and I thought perhaps I could persuade you to see reason. My father is not a logical man outside of his antique store, but a highly emotional one. And you are a very suspicious man, it seems. Why did you investigate my father? Why did you doubt he would return? He promised payment for the rose, although it was before you named your bizarre price. And everyone who knows me calls me Bella.” His lips curved up into what appeared to be a genuine smile at her last sentence.
“I shall answer your queries in the order you posed them, Bella. I have everyone I do business with investigated. I doubted his return because I have no proof that he took the rose from my greenhouse other than my word. His fear of me was quite apparent, and I assumed he would only return if he was forced to. I had no real intent of making him pay for the flower. I simply let my temper get the better of me, as it often does. Most people who meet me are afraid of me. But you seem to have no fear of me. You have even scolded me about my manners, which are indeed reprehensible, because I cannot be bothered to change them. Even now, you are looking straight into my face without a qualm. How is this so?”
Bella wondered at the self-loathing that underscored his words when he spoke of his face. “Perhaps people would not be so afraid of you if you were more polite to them, and acted less like an actual beast about to flay them alive. I am afraid of the power you wield over my family’s prosperity right now, but not for my own safety. Now, it is because I know you, but before I met you it was because I placed a loaded pistol in my purse.” Jacob’s eyes widened slightly at that. “As for looking into your face, I am not quite sure what you mean. I assume you are referring to your scar. I suppose when it was first cut, it was fairly difficult to look at. But it looks like it has been healed for quite some time. I am sorry to ruin your tragic hero complex (or perhaps villain, I am not sure which role you prefer), but it is not really anything remarkable, and certainly nothing to make people flinch away from your face.”
Jacob stared at her in shock. She noticed that they had both finished their bread and drinks during the conversation. “Would you like some more bread? Or lemonade?” He still seemed amazed, but he managed to croak out a yes, and watched her busily refill their plates and glasses. He roused himself enough for a sentence when she set his plate back in front of him. “You are a very strange girl.” She came back with the lemonades. “You keep calling me a girl. I am twenty-eight. I think that is past the category of girl. How old are you? That is one thing that no one seems to know in town.” He sipped his drink. “I will be forty in a month. I believe that you might read as much as I do. Would you like to see my library?” Bella smiled at Jacob. “I would love to. But if you suggest we go upstairs and view your etchings, the pistol is coming out of my purse.” He gave a snort of laughter, and they made their way through the house.
It was an odd courtship. Although Jacob sent Bella flowers from his greenhouse, he sent her books more often and she prized the books more. Their relationship was the talk of the town, but the age difference was hardly ever mentioned. Instead people talked only about the Beast finally coming out of hiding, and how sweet Bella had evidently tamed him. When Jacob and Bella had their inevitable fights, they would go out to the abandoned woodshed and scream at each other and throw cheap china against the back wall until their respective tempers had cooled off enough to discuss the matter. Bella’s father gave his blessing as soon as he knew that Jacob really loved her, and her sisters were happy because he knew a great many other rich men that they did their best to ensnare. Jacob even helped her father turn his store back into a proper antique store instead of a junk shop. They were married and Bella moved up to the house on the hill. She made Jacob wash his hair every day and tie it back so she could gaze on the face she loved, and he made her wear her hair down, so he could run his hands through it. Bella opened a bakery in town next to the antique store. And although they did not live happily ever after, they did love each other dearly even when they fought.
©2012 Erin Sharp