The sweet scent of roses mingled with the crisp morning air as Beauty skipped down a narrow path around the sparkling lake. A slight breeze produced a few ripples on the surface of the water and caressed the young girl’s rosy cheeks.
The girl paused and turned around to face the dark gray mansion behind her. She grinned, then sprinted toward the handsome woman calling to her.
“You look quite refreshed, darling,” the woman laughed, brushing a stray lock of dark brown hair behind her ear.
“It is so beautiful this morning, mother! The birds have been singing to me for hours and the flowers are perfect for a bouquet,” Beauty rushed, her eyes twinkling. “Have you ever seen a morning more exquisite than this?”
“Exquisite? And which book did you learn that word from?” her mother asked in amusement.
“The book Father gave me before he left on his trip, An Exquisite Day in Paradise. It’s a murder mystery!”
Frowning, Beauty’s mother shook her head. “Why do you not read normal books about love, like your sisters do?”
Beauty wrinkled her nose. “Love is boring. Mysteries are exciting. Father says that romance books do not teach anything useful.”
“Speaking of your father, he just arrived and would like to see you.”
“He did?” Beauty squealed, her face flushing with excitement as she presented a handful of colorful wild flowers neatly arranged in her tiny hands. “May I take him these flowers?”
Beauty tilted her head and stared up at her mother. The former elegance of the woman began to fade as her face paled and she began to shake.
“Mother? Mother, what’s wrong?”
“Bea…uty…” her mother murmured quietly, then her body vanished into thin air.
“Beauty! Beauty, wake up!”
“No…mother…come back…” I mumbled, as my body began to violently rock back and forth.
“Wake up, damnit! You’re talking in your sleep and it woke me up. Again.”
The dream disappeared as I groggily opened my eyes. Maricelle, my older sister, stopped shaking my shoulders and took a step away from the bed.
“Cursing does not befit a lady.”
Maricelle and I glanced over at the door where our oldest sister stood, arms crossed and a judgmental expression on her face.
“Delphine…did I wake you as well?” I asked, pushing my pillow against the wall so I could sit upright.
“No, I was already awake and heading to the kitchen,” Delphine shrugged, then turned her gaze upon Maricelle. “Mother would not be proud of your language, Maricelle. You are spending too much time with the merchants Father brings here.”
“Perhaps if Father did not force us to live in this tiny farm house instead of our real home–” Maricelle whined.
“That is not Father’s fault,” I interrupted. “If you want to blame someone, blame his business partner! But not Father.”
“I do blame Father and you cannot stop me. He is irresponsible. I had dozens of suitors when we lived in our manor, and now–”
“You’re a common whore,” Delphine cut in, her tone dry.
Maricelle glowered at her sister. “Judge not lest ye be judge, Delphine. I know you invite some of Father’s merchants to spend nights with you.”
I rubbed my temples, attempting to ease the repetitive, daily argument. I could practically quote it word for word. “Where is Father?”
“Preparing for his trip. Or drunk in his bed, I do not know.”
“Maricelle!” I gasped, my eyes widening. “Why do you hate him so?”
“Father is to blame for our misfortune and you should not be defending him,” Maricelle sniffed, then slammed the door behind her as she and Delphine left the small room. The door knob jiggled from the impact, then fell to the wooden floor with a thud.
With a soft sigh, I slipped out of bed and padded to my door. I picked up the door knob and pushed it back onto the door with a dull click. Glancing back at my straw tick and musty blankets, I tried to quell the longing to return to my dreams where life was perfect, mother was alive, and roses decorated everything.
“Beauty, you lazy girl! I need help in the kitchen,” Delphine yelled, her strong voice nearly shaking the thin walls.
“Yes, ma’am,” I responded, raising my voice just enough for Delphine to hear. A rather peculiar grunt signified that Delphine had heard my reply.
I changed out of my nightgown into a simple blue frock, which was slightly too short and revealed my petticoats underneath. After tugging in vain to lengthen the skirts, I gave up and quickly ran my fingers through my curly hair. I retrieved a faded blue ribbon from under my straw tick then tied my hair in a loose tail behind my neck.
A quick rap on the door, followed by the loose door knob once more falling to the ground, caused me to spin around with a tiny yelp.
“Beauty? Are you awake, daughter?”
Recovering my composure, I laughed. “Yes, Father.”
The door creaked open, revealing a middle-aged man with a ruddy complexion and graying curls of hair. Despite his age, I was convinced he was the most handsome man in the whole country.
“May I come in?” Father smiled, bowing slightly.
“Of course,” I returned his smile, walking toward him and greeting him with a kiss on his cheek.
He pulled me to him, holding me in a tight embrace. “I am leaving in a few hours. I know not when I shall return.”
As he released me, I fought back the lump growing in my throat. “I will miss you, Father. You make this life more bearable when you are here.”
“I will miss you too, my sweet Belle.” Father’s voice cracked and he lowered his head.
My lips turned upward into a small smile at the mention of my birth name. Only my father used it. Even my mother had used the name Beauty when I was but an infant.
“You will assist your sisters and brothers. Perhaps they mean well, but their minds are not focused on daily tasks as they should be.”
Chuckling, I shook my head. “They are much more concerned with the wonders of the lads and ladies in the village.”
“And yet you are not?”
Tilting my head, my expression turned from amused to pensive. “No. I love many things like my books, and the newborn kittens in the barn…and you, Father. I do not need anything or anyone else.”
“Perhaps I am selfish, but it warms my heart to hear you say that. I love you, my darling.”
“I love you too, Father.”
“Perhaps one day you will find a husband,” Father murmured, smoothing my unruly curls around my forehead.
I smiled but gently shook my head. “I do not need love from anyone but you to complete me.”
“Beauty, where are you?” Delphine screeched, interrupting the blissful moment.
Father burst into laughter and shook his head. “It appears Delphine requires your assistance in the kitchen.”
“It certainly does,” I agreed, planting a quick peck on my father’s cheek before sprinting into the kitchen to appease my older sister.
“Father, aren’t you going to ask us what we want?” Delphine crossed her arms, a pout marring her otherwise attractive features.
“Delphine. There is no guarantee that I have the money to bring back–”
“You always let us tell you what we want.”
“I know, however–”
Father sighed, setting his pack down on the threshold. “Gather your brothers and I shall make a list. Beauty, here is my book. Write down the requests.”
I nodded, accepting the leather bound journal and taking a seat at the kitchen table. I untied the quill from the leather cover and dipped it into a glass jar of black ink Father always kept in the middle of the table.
“I found Harrison and Jonathan, but James is in the village with his favorite whor–I mean, woman,” Delphine rushed to cover up her language, cringing at Father’s stern glare.
“Father, I want a set of armor!” Harrison announced, sauntering into the kitchen through the side door. The boy’s dark blonde hair accented his fair skin, similar to Father in his younger days.
“Armor?” Father laughed. “I am going on a merchant trip, not to battle.”
“I want it. The rich boys in the village have their own sets of armor–”
“They’re rich, Harrison. We are not.”
Harrison’s thick brows furrowed together and he planted his feet firmly on the floor. “I said, I want it.”
I cringed as I noticed Father shrinking in his boots at Harrison’s intimidating display of strength.
“Very well. I will do my best.”
“Good! I’ll tell Jonathan to finish up in the barn to put in his request,” Harrison grinned, his demeanor changing swiftly as he jogged out of the house.
“Write down a set of armor for Harrison,” Father sighed.
Frowning, I opened my mouth to protest but the sight of Father’s fear of Harrison silenced me. I opened the book to a blank page and, with great care, wrote out the request.
“I want a green, silk dress with green silk pumps,” Delphine demanded.
“And I want pearls! Lots of pearls! Necklaces, earrings, broaches, bracelets,” Maricelle broke in.
“Oh, and I simply must have a gold sash for my red dress.”
“Well I want a new silk dress too!” Maricelle whined.
“You are just copying my list,” Delphine hissed, glaring at her sister.
“I am not! I wanted a silk dress before you said anything,” Maricelle defended, crossing her arms and returning Delphine’s vicious glare.
“Write it all down, Beauty.”
“Really, Father?” Delphine and Maricelle gasped unanimously.
“Yes,” Father muttered, picking up his pack and adjusting it on his back. “Although it’s against my better judgement.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! We love you so much, Father,” Delphine squealed.
“Yes, so much!” Maricelle chimed in, her smile wider than ever.
I sighed, then transcribed my sisters’ wishes. How utterly disgusting they are. Hating Father behind his back until he gives them what they want.
“I need to tidy up a space in my room for my new things,” Delphine grinned, then disappeared down the hall.
“Me too,” Maricelle agreed, dashing after Delphine.
“Has he left yet?” A voice cried, an urgent tone lacing the words.
“No, Jonathan. I have not,” Father replied as his youngest son raced into the kitchen, leaving the rotting door swinging on its rusty hinges.
“Good,” Jonathan exhaled. “I want you to bring me the finest horse you can find! And white as snow. Perhaps a two year old, so I can break it myself. And it must be a stallion, of course.”
Glancing up at Father, I met his tired gaze as he nodded. I wrote down Jonathan’s request as he left the kitchen faster than he had arrived.
After blowing on the ink to dry it, I closed the book and reattached the quill to the cover. I handed it to Father with a small smile.
“I wish you well on your trip, Father.”
“Wait…Beauty, surely there is something you desire?”
I hesitated, closing my eyes to imagine a gift. My eyelids fluttered open and I grinned. “A rose. Like the ones we grew at the mansion.”
Father pressed his lips to my forehead. “I will bring you ten roses, if that is what you wish.”
“Only if it is not too much trouble,” I stared up at him anxiously.
“I promise I will bring you ten roses, my love. Your request is simple and pure, unlike that of your siblings.”
“Then I shall plant them and nurture them until we have hundreds of roses around our house,” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around Father and holding him tightly.
“You are the true rose, Belle,” he breathed into my ear before pulling away.
“Goodbye, Father. Safe travels.”
He nodded his head, then trudged over the threshold to a rickety wagon pulled by an old mule. As he glanced over his shoulder, I waved and then closed the door.
Pressing my back against the door, I slid down it until I was sitting on the ground with tears streaming down my pale face. My stomach turned and a sense of doom settled over me.
“Please come home safely, Father. Please,” I whispered, my voice hoarse. “I cannot lose you too.”