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A Rose By Any Other Name

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LeFou is in the bakery, supplying orders for the day. The baker’s directions seem to go completely over his head, as he sits aimlessly kneading a loaf of bread and staring out of the window at the forest. Somewhere out there was the body of the man LeFou had played a part in murdering. Somewhere…

There was a light smack to the back of his head.

“LeFou! Get going!” The baker yells, pointing toward the oven. “Put that in the oven already!” LeFou nods, and silently follows his directions. The baker eyes him suspiciously. “LeFou, are you alright?” LeFou looks up, and nods his head unconvincingly. The baker gazes at him harshly, obviously not believing his lie. LeFou flushes red, silently cursing his pale complexion. “LeFou, tell me if you’re not okay.” The baker says it slowly, lulling LeFou into a  false sense of security.

Like LeFou could tell his boss what was wrong in his life. First of all, he’s hopelessly in love with the town’s lady’s man. Ironic, no? Secondly, when he woke up this morning, he could still smell Stanley in his bed. It was a soft mix of beer, flowers, and the smell of the world after a rainstorm. A related issue was that Stanley was in his bed last night, a sentence that makes him feel very scrambled-up and scared. But LeFou cannot focus on Stanley right now, because the last and most pressing issue is that in a way, LeFou has killed a man. And if being a sodomite wasn’t sending him to hell, letting an innocent man fall victim to a violent wolf attack certainly was.

So instead of doing what subconscious told him to, and running into the baker’s arms to sob and let everything come pouring out, LeFou forces a smile onto his face. He swallows the lump in his throat.

“No, monsieur, everything is fine. I’m just a bit tired. Late night at the tavern.” He chuckles heartily, and the baker cracks an uneasy smile. LeFou tends to the bread and muffins without comment.

The rest of the workday goes by without much happening. LeFou does his job well, while not as well as usual due to the constant weight of guilt on his mind. When he walks out of work, he is surprised to see Stanley there, looking eager and uneasy. He jumps up from his sitting position on the bench, and then stands awkwardly, hands hanging limp at his sides.

“S-stanley?” LeFou sputters out, glancing around.

“Yeah. Bonjour.” Stanley laughs.
“Bonjour. What are you doing here?” LeFou asks, hand still on the doorway. The sun shines through Stanley’s hair as he smiles happily.

“Well, the baker told me you work here, and I was bored, so…” he trails off, probably realizing that his reasoning sounds both creepy and pathetic. LeFou is grateful anyway.

“Let’s go for a walk.” LeFou suggests, and Stanley smiles in relief.

Soon they are in the middle of a field, having wandered out of town hours ago. Talking to Stanley was easy, like talking to the air. He was calm, and didn’t make cruel jokes about his appearance or intelligence. In the middle of the field, Stanley bends down to pick a blue wildflower, and sits cross-legged on the grass, examining it. LeFou sits down also, poking at the dirt with a stick.

“LeFou?” Stanley asks, and LeFou looks up.
“Mm?”

“I’m really sorry about last night,” he says, and LeFou doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This is where the catch is, where reality hits him over the head. Stanley never wanted to sit there on LeFou’s cheap bed and hold him. He was drunk, and drunk people do stupid things. He looks up at Stanley, who makes direct eye contact back.
“What part are you sorry about?” LeFou asks grimly, poking the dirt more aggressively.

“I never should have left you there,” Stanley answers, looking away.
“Hmm?” LeFou asks in surprise. Surely he misheard him.

“You had just had a nightmare, and it was so terrible what you told me. And then I just left , and I’m sorry about that. I should have stayed.” LeFou laughs, astonished, and shakes his head.
“Well, don’t apologize. Anyways, I’m alone when I dream about it every other night of the week, aren’t I?” Stanley looks up at him, disbelieving.

“No… you’re not… you don’t… really?” LeFou shrugs.

“War is the worst thing you can imagine, Stanley. It stays with you. Especially when night falls. Yesterday was bad, yes, but of course it’s far from the worst.” LeFou admits, drawing a little circle in the dirt. Stanley makes a noise of disbelief.

“And you’re just… alone? Screaming like that? No one ever comes over? To check on you? God, LeFou, I thought you were dying last night.” LeFou laughs ruefully.

“No. The neighbors either don’t hear, or… know I’ve been in war. They pay me no mind. Not that anyone does, anyway.” LeFou had meant to keep that last bit in his head, why had he said it out loud? Especially now that there was an uncomfortable silence where Stanley was just staring at LeFou.

“What’s your real name, LeFou?” Stanley suddenly asks.

 

Footsteps behind him, running closer. Being swept up into a rush of tickles and laughing. The world spins upside down, around, as he is swung by his waist. He giggles, grabs on to Papa’s arm, and lands with a thud on the floor. He has a dull pain in his knee, but he is too busy laughing to care.

“Ah, LeFou, my little boy,” Papa joked, tickling him still. Maman groaned from the table.

“Pasquel, don’t call him that,” she pleads, but Papa laughs.

“No, LeFou doesn’t have a problem with it,” he sing-songs to LeFou and LeFou laughs.

“No! I like the name, Maman!” He yells, and she chuckles, watching Papa catch LeFou over and over and spin him around, turning the world into a carnival ride.

 

“Benoit.” LeFou mutters, tracing swirls in the dirt.
“Come again?” Stanley asks.

“Benoit.” LeFou affirms, looking up at Stanley. “But don’t call me that.” Stanley looks confused, but nods.

“Benoit Lafayette is my full name, but no one calls me that. When I was little, I was so clumsy, my Papa,” LeFou pauses to gulp here, the memories all flooding back.  “My Papa nicknamed me LeFou, the crazy one. And since then, LeFou is my name.” Stanley raises an eyebrow.

“Do you never get annoyed by it? Or feel like people are making fun of you?” LeFou shakes his head.

“No. Papa called me LeFou. It can’t be an insult.” Stanley still looks confused.

“But why can’t anyone call you Benoit - er - your real name?” LeFou looks to the ground.

“My Maman was the only one who called me Benoit. I’m only Benoit to her.”

 

Warm summer nights, taking dancing lessons with Maman by candlelight. Papa was singing, clapping a fast tune.

“Papa, that isn’t a waltz!” LeFou yelled, laughing.

“Benoit, just appreciate the music,” Maman sang, twirling him around. He pouts, protesting.

“Maman, you’re supposed to be the girl! You can’t twirl me!” Papa laughs, and keeps singing.

 

LeFou feels tears prickling at his eyes. Part of him knows he should shut up now, no one likes to hear him talk for more than a few minutes at a time. But the string inside of him is unraveling, and it all tumbles out of him.

“It was the plague.”

 

Hands hold him back, keeping him out of the small cottage. He begs, words blending together into a meaningless ramble. The hands force him onto the street, and he starts sobbing. It’s so hot out in the sun, and he knows the other boys will make fun of him for crying here, but he doesn’t care. Gaston is there, holding an arm, trying to drag him further away from the house. He swats at him, and for once, Gaston doesn’t swat back harder. He seems to be almost understanding, gripping his arms with a stoney force. The doctor peeks into the room, face masked by the bird of death. The nightmarish beak will peck Maman’s eyes out, pierce Papa’s throat. They will surely die.

They got worse yesterday. Papa was shaking, vomiting on the mattress, hands in Maman’s hair. She was coughing red-stained mucus, leaking tears down her face. LeFou had tried to talk, tried to get them to laugh, but all they would do was get sicker and sicker.

He knew what was happening. He had seen the waxy corpses in the streets, heard the wails of windows, but he never imagined it would be his Maman, his Papa.

During the night, when he was supposed to be sleeping on the Doctor’s floor, he snuck a candle and walked across town. The door to his cottage was unlocked. Inside, he could hear the wailing of the dying. He ran over, and shone the light on the faces of his parents. His father was caked in vomit, waxy and white. He wasn’t breathing, there was no rise and fall of his chest. LeFou pressed a hand to his mouth to suppress a scream. Papa’s eyes were closed. Had he thought of LeFou before he died? Had he thought any coherent thoughts? Or perhaps just the sensation of pain…

His Maman was awake, eyes lolling about, faintly moaning. LeFou’s chin wobbled, shaking his head slowly from side to side.
“Maman!” He whispered, the word sounding tragic.

“Benoit… my boy… come here…” her voice was barely audible, but LeFou still walked closer, trying his best not to breathe too deep.

“Maman, please don’t go…” he trails off, staring aimlessly at her. This isn’t how last moments are supposed to go.

“Benoit…” she whispers, and coughs. Blood spurts from her mouth, and she closes her eyes. LeFou shakes her, harder, but she doesn’t stir. He doesn’t cover the scream now, letting it loose in the air.

No one comes to help him.

 

Stanley stares at him, face stunned. He takes in a shaky breath as LeFou tells the end of his story.

“Okay. I won’t call you Benoit.” LeFou wipes away the tears from below his eyes, and goes back to poking the ground. “LeFou?” Stanley asks.

“Yeah?” LeFou answers.

“I really hate the world sometimes.” Stanley muses, plucking the flower of petals one by one.

“I feel the same way.” LeFou admits, and they both laugh sarcastically.

LeFou eyes a flower beside him. It’s blue and purple and fresh. He glances back to Stanley, ripping the petals off of the old flower, like he was ripping the ills off of the world.

LeFou plucks the flower, and holds it out to Stanley. Stanley’s eyes flicker up to LeFou and fill with something LeFou has never seen before. Stanley reaches out to take it.

LeFou!!! ” The yell echoes across the field. LeFou jumps up, dropping the flower on the ground. He starts running to the sound of Gaston’s voice, looking behind him.

“See you later!” He yells to Stanley, and tries not to focus on Stanley’s somewhat dejected face. He only sees him reach out for the flower on the ground before he runs faster, far away.