“All my life, I’ve read about true love and fairy tales, and... Tia, you’ve found it! I’ll kiss him, for you honey, no marriage required!” Princess of the Mardis Gras Parade Charlotte La Bouff scooped up the frog--Prince Naveen-- and had closed her eyes and puckered her lips, ready to make her friend’s dream come true...
The bells of the Saint Louis Cathedral began ringing, and Lottie’s eyes flew open. Her head whipped around to see that it was already midnight, and her mouth fell open in dismay.
“Oh lord! M-maybe that old clock’s a little fast!”
She hastily brought the frog to her lips and got as far as “MWW”-- when suddenly, a blinding light encompassed her field of vision, and a shimmering sound filled her ears.
Ever since she was a little girl, Charlotte La Bouff had dreamed of being at the center of a fairy tale, with a prince, beautiful dresses, and just a touch of magic to complete the perfect picture. After the events of the past half hour, Lottie could decidedly say that these (with the exception of her own impressive wardrobe) were not all they were cracked up to be. Though she hadn’t minded the second time her hopes to become a princess were dashed, given the circumstances, one couldn’t blame Lottie for still smarting from the blow she’d been dealt when she found out the charming and handsome Prince Naveen had been none other than his decidedly unattractive manservant... just under an hour ago! And if she couldn’t be expected to process that disappointment, she couldn’t guess how anyone could possibly expect her to react rationally to the lights and sounds that were presently assaulting her senses, making her feel as though she were shrinking in the enormity of the magic swirling around her.
As the blinding light and enveloping sound began to subside, Lottie dimly registered that the bells had stopped ringing, and she was left blinking as darkness finally returned to the street. When her vision cleared, two giant frogs appeared before her, with oddly concerned expressions on their faces.
“Sweet baby Jesus!” Charlotte yelped, and she promptly lost her balance and fell to the ground. She began an attempt to scramble upward but was caught up by two pairs of strong hands. She looked up at her helpers, and her powers of speech failed her. The several-times-enlarged face of Prince-Naveen-turned-frog held a mixture of disappointment and bewilderment, and while it was strange to see it on a frog, Lottie could recognize the grim set of Tiana’s mouth anywhere.
“Faldi Faldonza,” Naveen breathed. Tiana smacked him on the back of the head.
“I may not understand that language of yours, mister, but I can still figure out when you’re swearing! Do you realize we’re right outside the Lord’s house?”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine. My apologies to all who have been offended. Can we focus on the bigger problem here?”
Charlotte frowned. “I get that the kiss didn’t work the way it was supposed to, but why would it make y’all get bigger like that? This is some freaky voodoo here.” She shuddered.
Tiana put her hand on Lottie’s shoulder. “Honey, I know you’re not going to like this, but try to stay calm. We didn’t get bigger. You... well, you got smaller. A lot smaller.”
“And greener,” Naveen helpfully added. Tiana sent him a look. “What?”
With dawning horror, Lottie slowly lifted her hands to her face. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out.
“Well, that’s got to be a first,” Tiana muttered. To Charlotte, she said, “Listen, Lottie. I know this seems--this is bad. But we’ll find another way to break the spell. Mama Odie will have the answer, you’ll see!”
“I don’t get it,” Charlotte said. “How can magic be so cruel that it wouldn’t work just a few measly seconds after midnight? And that I would have to pay like this? For crying out loud, you’d think someone in charge might have a little compassion for those of us who only wanted to help out!”
Tiana’s face twisted into an expression of remorse. “Lottie, I am so sorry we got you involved like this. We might have managed, Naveen and I, as frogs, but you didn’t ask for this.”
Lottie shook her head, not sure whether she was fully disputing that or signalling that she’d moved on to other issues, but it seemed like a good response to her. “Big Daddy can’t see me like this. With his heart, he wouldn’t do so good with the shock. Oh, Tia...”
“Tiana! Naveen!” All three looked around to see a alligator lumbering down the street. Lottie was grateful that Naveen had mentioned the large reptile in his abbreviated summary of the events that required her to kiss the frog, but the sheer size difference still made her naturally wary.
“Louis, what is it?” Naveen asked when the alligator finally stopped in front of the frogs.
The alligator looked like he might cry. “Shadowman done laid poor Ray low.”
“Ray...” Tiana breathed.
“He’s hurtin’ awful bad.” Louis held out his hands to reveal a firefly laying on its back, in obvious pain-- his breathing was labored, and the light in his abdomen was flickering. Tiana gasped at the sight of him, and Louis laid him down on a leaf on the sidewalk.
Tiana cautiously brushed a finger against the firefly’s head. He opened his eyes, and he appeared to rally himself at the sight of the frog. “Hey, Cher!” He swallowed and began again. “How come y’all still...”
“We’re still working it out, Ray,” Tiana said gently with a glance toward Charlotte.
“But one thing’s for certain: we’re staying together.” Naveen assured him as he took Tiana’s hand.
“Oh. I like that very much.” The firefly seemed to stare out into the middle distance, and maybe it was just Lottie’s fancy, but it looked like he was looking at one star in particular. “Evangeline like that too.” He slowly closed his eyes, and the light finally dimmed completely.
Though she didn’t know this little bug, Lottie could still feel a cry coming on. She glanced at the other two frogs and could see they too were blinking away tears. Naveen gathered Tiana to his side, and she reached out to Charlotte. Grateful to be included in this moment of comfort after so many recent bewildering and overwhelming events, she accepted the hug.
As if God himself were crying over the death of this little firefly, the heavens opened up and began to pour like the dickens. Tiana roused herself and looked around at Naveen, Charlotte, and Louis. “We’d better get Ray to his friends and family. Louis, can you bring us back to the bayou? And of course we’ll need to see Mama Odie again now.”
The alligator pulled himself together and looked down to agree, when he at last noticed not two, but three frogs. “Sure thing, Miss Tiana! But who is this friend of yours?”
Charlotte became nervous again at the large reptile’s attention on her, but Tiana tried to smooth it over. “Well, getting my friend Charlotte to turn us back into humans kinda backfired on us, so... Louis, this is Charlotte La Bouff. Lottie, this is Louis. He’s been a real help getting us even this far.”
“I do hope it won’t be much further until we figure out a new plan. As much as we like you, Louis,” Naveen amended.
They had solemnly gotten situated on Louis’s back and had spent nearly ten minutes in reflective silence when Charlotte could take it no longer.
She cleared her throat. “Now, I understand that y’all are hurting,” she began kindly. “And I expect we’ll remember Ray in a... different kind of way than we’re used to when we get to his family, but I think it would do us good to remember that we’re really human-- and maybe it would help to talk about the good times, and what y’all liked about him?”
They all felt it when Louis slowly lifted his head up, indicating he was listening, and Tiana and Naveen glanced at each other. Charlotte still found it amazing that her hard-working, no-nonsense Tia had finally found a man (technically speaking) who she’d think of when making her plans going forward, and not just the big ones that Tia’s dreams were made of, but even the little ones like what they were going to do for the next hour or so.
Tiana slowly nodded. “Lottie, that’s a great idea. We only knew Ray for a little while, but in that short time, he was always kind, and generous, and loving, and brave, and... and--”
“He had a great sense of humor,” Naveen added.
Louis sniffed. “He helped get the prickers off of me when I jumped in that pricker bush! He was a good firefly.”
“And from what I can tell, he truly cared about you, so that’s a big plus in my book!” Charlotte smiled encouragingly. She could tell they were warming to the subject quickly, and soon they were piling story upon story of their friendship with Ray.
“Oh! We have not told Miss Charlotte about our very auspicious meeting-- and the first time you became tongue-tied around me,” Naveen smirked at Tiana, who rolled her eyes good-naturedly.
“Okay, Mister, I think someone’s rewriting history before anyone’s even had a chance to take it down!” She smiled, remembering. “Well, what happened was, Naveen was getting hungry, and he was determined to eat a bug--”
“Oh, my!” After all Charlotte had been through, this was where she drew the line. “Please please please don’t tell me I have to eat bugs! All these years I’ve been wishing for a prince, and what I should have been wishing and praying for every night was to not have to put a creepy-crawley in my mouth. Eurgh!”
For the first time since Lottie got into this mess, they all started laughing. Now this was more like a wake-- let the funeral be sad, but this time of remembrance and laughter was exactly what they needed.
After the most unique and uplifting funeral any of them had ever been to, the three frogs and the alligator were heading over to see Mama Odie once more to work out what they should do now that they had a third frog complicating matters.
“Considering last time, she was able to find out you were Mardi Gras Princess and that would work to break the spell, I’m sure we can find a princess of the State Fair or some such to satisfy.” Since the funeral, and seeing Ray finally happily situated with Evangeline, had left them in higher spirits, Tiana had taken upon herself the task of figuring out how to help Charlotte become human once more. If that included her and Naveen, then that made things all the better, but at least Tiana knew she’d have love no matter what she looked like.
“The only issue I can see is transportation to get to these fair princesses,” Naveen replied. “I think it would have to be a remarkable princess who wouldn’t mind us approaching them on an alligator. No offense, Louis.”
“None taken! I think I’ve learned a lesson on bein’ myself, and playin’ the trumpet, and...” Louis trailed off, unsure. “Well, I figure it would have been kind of hard trying to learn how to play again as a human anyway. Maybe someday, I’ll get to play just the way I want to.”
Charlotte brightened. Here was an area she could be of some help. “Well, if it’s just that you need a venue, I could always hire you to be our special performer at parties and such! When I’m human again, you can bet I’ll be fixing to celebrate, and what better way than to introduce my new friend to society?”
Louis rather effusively began thanking Lottie, and Tiana grinned. “Lottie is always looking for the next new thing to make her parties the best in New Orleans, and between your playing and my beignets, I think we’ve got a winning combination!”
Naveen looked sideways at Tiana. “And perhaps we shall have some dancing as well?”
Tiana’s smile became softer. “Of course we’ll dance.”
“Oooh, Miss La Bouff! I’ve heard of you from your friends and my gumbo pot, but it sure is nice to meet you in person. May I present my companion, Juju?” The voodoo lady’s snake halfheartedly uncoiled himself from her shoulder and nodded in her direction.
Charlotte shuddered. She may be a frog, but some things did not change, and that included her dislike of snakes. “Charmed, I’m sure.”
Naveen cut in smoothly. “Mama Odie, as you can see, we not only have not been able to achieve our ultimate goal of becoming human again, but we are also accumulating more frogs to our number! Isn’t there anything you can suggest to help us?”
Mama Odie stroked her chin as the three frogs looked nervously at each other. She appeared to look straight at them, which Charlotte felt was pretty impressive for a blind lady. “Now, I think I made it plain I can only help y’all if you know what you really need. So do y’all know what you need?”
Naveen nodded vigorously, and Tiana answered as she took his hand. “Love. We realized that we needed to put love above everything else. Nothing else matters if we have that. It’s just that having brought Lottie into this mess complicates things.” At that, their smiles faltered.
“Well, it seems to me that what y’all need is something to cheer ya up, and maybe it’ll have to do with what you’ve found!” Mama Odie gave a hearty cackle and stroked Juju. The snake smiled and pressed his cheek to hers.
Charlotte frowned. “But what on God’s green earth could cheer us up at this point? A party?”
Louis brightened. “With Tiana’s swamp gumbo?”
“And Naveen mincing the vegetables?” Tiana teased.
“Well,” Naveen coughed, nervousness plain on his face. “What if we made it a wedding party? I know we are only frogs and we will have to have a proper wedding once we work this all out, but I want our lives together to start as soon as we can.”
Lottie squealed with delight as Tiana beamed and nodded vigorously, giving her new fiance every indication that her answer was in the affirmative. Mama Odie clapped, and Louis grinned so hard all of his teeth were showing.
Charlotte hopped over to Tiana, pulling her away from her betrothed. “Come on, Tia! We gotta get you ready to be a bride and show this swamp the best wedding it’s ever seen!”
Once the girls had made their way to an upper part of the boathouse, away from the others, Lottie turned to Tiana with a huge grin on her froggy face.
“Oh, Tia, you’re going to be such a lovely bride! Now we’re going to need to be really resourceful if we’re going to get you the wedding dress you deserve--”
“Now hold on just a hot second, Lottie,” Tiana interjected. “There is no way on earth I’m trying to figure out how to wear a dress while I’m looking like this. It’s bad enough Naveen thought I was going to be able to wear such a huge ring on my finger, but a dress? No way!”
Charlotte’s face fell, but she considered Tiana’s argument. “Well, now that you say that, you would be hard-pressed to find a fabric that would keep with all the frog slime-”
“Mucus,” Tiana corrected.
“Right. Mucus.” Charlotte shrugged. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t put together a nice veil for you, maybe make a little daisy chain like when we were kids, and there you go! Country-style bride!”
Tiana smiled. Lottie had never grown out of playing princess and dress-up, and this was the second time in just a few days that this very fact was really coming through to help Tiana out.
Charlotte already had poked her head into a small chest and was rummaging around. Still mostly submerged, she pulled some gauze out and held it behind her for Tiana to see.
“Tia!” She called out, muffled by the objects in the chest. “What do you think of this?”
Tiana took it from her and inspected the fabric with a critical eye that only the daughter of a seamstress could have. “Well, let’s hold onto this just in case, but I think we can find something better to suit.”
She tossed the gauze to the side and ducked under the chest’s lid next to Charlotte. Tiana turned to her friend and grinned, ready to play one more silly game of dress-up before the biggest event of her life.
“So by the power vested in me, I now pronounce y’all frog and wife.” Mama Odie smiled in Tiana and Naveen’s general direction. She waited for a moment, and impatiently added, “Get to it, hopalong! Give your lovely bride some sugar!”
Lottie sniffed happily and accepted the flower Tiana had been holding. As the moth flew away from Naveen’s chest with a “Congratulations,” the happy couple was already leaning toward each other.
Before Charlotte could clasp the flowers to her heart and sigh, she had to shut her eyes against the bright light that seemed to beam straight into her vision. She cautiously squinted, and her eyes flew open when she saw the spectacle before her. Light in shades of green and gold was swirling in a bubble around her, and she felt herself being lifted up gently by the force of the magic at work around her. When she looked wonderingly down at herself, the light was spinning around her limbs and torso. Hope bloomed in her chest. Of course! She of all people should know what Tiana’s marrying Naveen, even as frogs, would mean!
The globe of light surrounding her burst outward, setting her gently on the ground once more, and Lottie had to blink to adjust to the comparatively muted bayou sunlight. The first thing she could make out was Mama Odie, who apparently had the presence of mind to hop over to another embankment, as the patch of land that had held three frogs and a little old voodoo lady was at full capacity with three fully grown humans. Her grin matched Charlotte’s as the young belle looked down at herself, human once more and clad in a rather subdued mint-green robe de style-- she felt the sun warming her bare shoulders, and with a renewed dextrousness she reached down to finger the rope of pearls draped around the dropped waist of her dress. She pulled up her green and cream-colored skirts to see matching high heels on her feet, and she couldn’t help but throw her head back and laugh with pure relief. A moment later, her laughter changed into genuinely amused chortles when Tiana and Naveen finally realized mid-kiss that they had become human again as well.
Mama Odie added her wheezing laugh to Charlotte’s. “Like I told y’all, kissing a princess breaks the spell!”
Naveen, amazed at this pronouncement, was the first to find his voice. “Once you became my wife, that made you-”
“A princess!” Tiana interjected happily. “You just kissed yourself a princess!” She looked at her husband so smugly and possessively that Lottie reflected that even the leads of her most modern fairy tales didn’t have this much... chemistry.
Naveen appeared all too pleased that this was clearly the case. “And... I’m about to do it again.” He went in for another kiss, and though Charlotte no longer understood the creatures gathered for this strange wedding, she could tell they were all cheering.
Lottie scooped up from the ground the tiny flower she’d held as a froggy bridesmaid and jauntily set it in her hair. She’d be glad to get back home to her mansion, parties, and fashionable pink dresses, but she had to admit that the bayou, true friendship, and green held a certain charm too.
In any case, she sincerely hoped there might be a way out of here that wouldn’t involve ruining this darling new dress.