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A Rose By Any Other Name

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LeFou wasn't supposed to be this way. He knows that. God would never make someone this way on purpose. It was his fault, a conscious decision he made somewhere in the past that was now such a part of him he could never change it. But by God, if he didn't try. He would smile at pretty girls from across the square, desperately trying to make something in him want them. He knew they were pretty. If he could just translate that into the way he came alive when Gaston walked into a room.

Gaston had been there since LeFou was a child. LeFou had little friends in his youth, always the short one, fat one, dull one. Both his parents died in the plague when he was only twelve. But then Gaston arrived, tall and toned, able to throw a ball across the field in one try. When LeFou first saw him, he revered him as a godly creature. This was the boy he wanted to be.

LeFou doesn’t understand why or how Gaston ended up noticing him. He was just another face in the crowd of boys who wanted to be Gaston’s second-in-command. All stronger than LeFou, handsomer, full of energy and confidence. Maybe Gaston picked LeFou because LeFou was the least likely to outshine him. Next to a bumbling idiot like him, Gaston would look brighter than the sun itself. It’s a topic LeFou doesn’t like to ponder, in fear of the half-realized truths it would reveal.

LeFou quickly became latched on to Gaston, there at his heel in every waking moment. When Gaston played with the other boys, he let LeFou be on his team, right alongside him. He never passed him the ball, though. He was too busy scoring points. Gaston was always scoring points in something. Points in sports, points in the school LeFou couldn’t afford to go to, points with the ladies. How Gaston loved women. It was around the age of 14 when Gaston first started making the rounds in the village. Talking smooth, kissing dames, and leaving behind a trail of broken hearts in the process. Too many women to count. 14 was also the year LeFou’s life began to fell apart.

Before the age of 14, LeFou was good. He paid women no mind, but that was to be expected of children. Most importantly, LeFou paid men no mind. Gaston was a friend, someone to spend time with, someone who truly cared about him, and nothing more. But then came the age of 14. LeFou must have made the decision then, the decision he cannot remember, the decision that damned him to hell. He does not remember much of that year, but he does remember the fear. Fear of Gaston, yes, but that was not new. He had always been afraid of Gaston’s temper, and the subsequent bruises that went along with it. No, the thing LeFou remembers the most is the fear of himself. The terror that went along with looking in the mirror. The knowledge that he was looking at a heathen. A sodomite.

He hated it all. The feelings in his chest when Gaston looked his way. The loss of breath. Voice. The stuttering. He hated it. And yet, he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t make it all go away. What he would give to be like the other boys, charming girls endlessly. But he couldn’t. All he could do was watch Gaston and fight the feelings threatening to break free. He was no longer the boy who was jealous of Gaston’s muscles. He no longer wanted to be Gaston. He wanted to be with Gaston. God, how he needed to touch him, feel him, be needed by him. It was torture, and LeFou became an expert in the art of disguise. He fooled the world as long as he was awake. He was not a sodomite, only LeFou. A simple fool. Even the man he struggled to be was only a simple fool.

***

LeFou is running from enemy fire, ducking behind debris to shield his body from the bullets that tear through the air. The air is hot with fire, and the noise shakes him to his core. All he wants to do is lay down and sleep.

Gaston is here somewhere, LeFou lost track of him hours ago, but he can’t have gone far. He’s probably out there right now, shooting down the leader of the army. LeFou smiles at the thought, than screams when a bullet grazes past his left ear. He burrows himself down into the ground, resting with his head against a rotting wood cart. He cannot breathe, he’s so afraid. Is this where he spends his last moments? Alone, covered in mud? What a fitting end, for someone as good as dirt itself. LeFou begins to cry silent tears, listening to the gunfire tear up the world as he knows it.

He thinks about his life. A sinner, a heathen, all the words that he had used to cut himself down fall to the floor, meaningless. What is so terrifying about love when you are two inches away from death? What will death be like? Will he spend an eternity in the pits of hell, suffering unimaginable pain? No pain compares to the terror of this moment, of not knowing.

Maybe hell will be this moment, frozen in time. All the terror, all the guilt, the knowledge that all the misdeeds he has ever committed, all the lust-filled dreams and longing stares, will all be rendered meaningless by an unforgiving God. All the uncertainty. LeFou sits, sobbing, with his face in the mud, waiting for an answer to his questions.

But the answer never comes.

LeFou stays in place for hours, or maybe only seconds. Time loses all meaning when all you can hear is your own staggered breaths, all you can smell is rotting flesh in the summer sun.

Eventually the shooting stops. LeFou does not dare move, even with the ice cold silence chilling him to the bone. Has he made it to the other side?

“LeFou!” A voice screams, jolting his face up. He is blinded momentarily by the light of day (wasn’t it just night?) and slowly comes to register the scene in front of him.

Blood. It is everywhere. Pooled in puddles on the ground, stinking and boiling in the heat.

Carnage. Coating every inch of countryside is bits of flesh, torn off limbs, moaning soldiers with innards spooled about.

LeFou! ” The voice screams, louder this time. LeFou looks in the direction of the voice, seeing Gaston standing by roadside. He is in tattered clothes, and bloodstained, but the blood does not appear to be his. He has a vague look of annoyance on his face, and someone, another soldier, is pulling on his arm. LeFou’s stomach soars with a mix of relief and reverence.

“It’s hopeless, Gaston, he was the saddest sap in the lot. He would’ve been lucky making it five minutes in this bloodbath.” Gaston shakes him off, and squints his eyes into the field. LeFou starts to stand up, but his weak legs give way under him.

“Gaston! I’m here!” LeFou yells, and Gaston whips around in disbelief. What was a look of shock quickly gives way to rage, however, when taking in LeFou’s situation. Muddy, intact, and unable to stand.

“Are you joking, Lefou?” Gaston shoots, and LeFou shrinks back into the ground. “Brave men were dying out there. It was a massacre! And you just hide in the corner, unable to even get your face out of the mud?” His voice is a roar now, and with a turn of his heel, he is walking down the road. “I’m not helping a coward.”

 

LeFou walks for hours towards camp. He’s staggering but keeping a steady pace, and the mud is slowly drying to his clothes. It’s well past noon when he reaches camp, and realizes the gravity of the situation.

Of the men that went out to battle, less than a fourth returned. There are men being treated, wrapped with bandages. There are men telling stories, with most crowded around Gaston, who’s miming a gruesome kill that must have taken place. And then there’s LeFou, with his ruined clothes, coward’s attitude, and heathen’s soul.

He does not deserve to be among the living.

 

At night, LeFou sits before the fire long after the rest of the men have gone to bed. They lost 238 men in the last 48 hours. Staring at the fire, LeFou imagines the flames of hell that he nearly touched.

He is vaguely aware of another person sitting next to him, and assumes it is one of the other soldiers, wanting to warm themselves some more. It is only when the form speaks that LeFou can identify it.

“You should have died out there. I don’t know how you didn’t.”

Gaston gets up and walks away.