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Great Wide Somewhere

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They were surrounded, the party helpless in the clutches of the band of ogres surrounding them. Beauty the Brave watched cautiously from her hiding place behind the stone peak as her party was captured. She had just returned from a scouting mission to find them in that state and knew if she wanted to help them she’d have to stay hidden. It was the only way. The leader of the ogres, a particularly nasty red one covered in chest hair, reached down and grabbed the Beast Prince by his hair. 

“This is what I have to face?” the ogre boomed and chortled with mocking delight. “A pack of misfits and a fallen flea-bitten prince? I thought you were better than that. The rumors must not have been true of your prowess.”

“Let them go,” the Beast Prince rasped, looking at the ogre with defeated blue eyes. “It’s me who is important. Let them go free.”

Beauty the Brave crept around the rocks and picked up a large tree branch that had gnarled around a rock making a perfect club. She slowly made her way around the perimeter unseen by the distracted ogres taking part in the jeering. 

“Go free?” the red ogre repeated incredulously as he pulled the Beast Prince higher up. “Go free? Ha! I must be holding your hair too tight. No one is leaving until we get the sapphire crown. I have power over you and you belong to me. You’ll do what I say if you want your friends to be safe.”

Beauty the Brave reached the edge of the forest as the ogres laughed with their leader. She started to edge forward. Some of the party members saw her creeping up and smiled to themselves only to drop the face before any of their captors saw them. They didn’t want to give her away. 

“That crown is a gift to me from my people. I will not give it up so easily,” the Beast Prince said sharply only to be jerked to the side. 

“Then we shall sweeten the deal. The crown or your friends?”

The other ogres grabbed the party members and pulled out their swords. The Beast Prince shouted at them but they wouldn’t stop. The red ogre smiled and stared down at him.

Beauty the Brave stood up tall behind the ogre and raised the club.

“Now, what will it be? Make a choice or I will for y—”

The club came down on the ogre’s head hard with a sharp crack and he stood there stunned for a moment before crumpling to the ground in a dull thud. His body eroded and turned to dust that fluttered away in the wind to reveal Beauty the Brave standing behind him in a triumphant stance. The surrounding ogres hollered and screamed, scurrying away in fear of the loss of their leader. Beauty the Brave smiled and set the club down, reaching a hand down to the Beast Prince. 

“I leave for only an hour and this happens?” she said.

The Beast Prince shook his head and reached out a gnarled hand to grasp her small one. He swallowed it up in his grip and stood up quickly. 

“I had it under control.”

“With all the swords and ogres I assumed you did. They’ve been tracking us since the beginning of our quest.”

“Beauty, you’re back!” one of the party members exclaimed.

“You saved us!” another added.

“It was nothing. Just thought I should come back and— Beast? What’s wrong?” Beauty the Brave demanded as the Beast Prince suddenly toppled over onto the forest floor.

“I-I,” he stuttered, clutching his stomach, and a beam of light suddenly shot out of him. 

The light filled the area rapidly and grew brighter until it was blinding to look at. The party shielded their eyes and then a clap of thunder rang out in a deafening bang. It faded as quickly as it had appeared to reveal on the ground a man laying on a heap of clothes where the Beast Prince had once been. He coughed then slowly got to his hands and knees, shaking all over. He raised his head and his auburn hair fell around him. Beauty the Brave took an inward gasp. Those blue eyes, there was no mistake.

“Beast?” Beauty the Brave asked cautiously, taking a step forward.

“Beauty?” he said in a deep voice that was different from the Beast Prince’s normal rasp. “What happened? Why am I on the ground?”

“You collapsed but you . . . you’ve changed. You’re not a beast anymore.”

The man who was once the Beast Prince looked at her strangely before realization struck him like lightning. He leaped to his feet and hurried over to the river’s edge to peer at himself in the water. He stared for a long minute, touching his face quickly and all over before whipping around to face the party with a beaming smile. 

“Beauty! You did it! You freed me! I’m human again,” the Beast Prince said as he hurried over and grasped her in his arms. 

“But how?” Beauty the Brave asked. “All I did was kill the red ogre.”

“That ogre cursed and laid a spell on me many years ago that turned me into the Beast Prince. You killed him and removed the curse. I’m free now!”

“So this is who you really are?”

“Yes! Why? Do you not like me now?”

Beauty the Brave touched a hand to the Beast Prince’s cheek and let it rest there for a moment. She stared into his blue eyes so bright and full that were the same as before. He was there. Deep inside but there.

“No,” she said, “you are still my Beast.”

They leaned in, the space closing rapidly just as a fanfare of horns began to play. The music grew louder and louder and louder and louder and . . .

 

***

 

Belle Pèlerin woke with a start to the sound of her alarm going off as it played the musical fanfare from Lord of the Rings. She blinked gingerly, slowly, and looked around her room at the sun peeking through the curtains casting a yellow hue as she tried to register what had happened in her dream. 

Another Beauty the Brave adventure, she thought, groggily. I’ve been having a lot of those recently. And the Beast Prince . . . he changed into a human. Never saw that coming. Then we almost—

She sat up in bed and ran a hand through her dark hair messy from sleep. She stopped her alarm from playing and checked the time. It was 8:30. She shook her head. No use sitting in bed and thinking when she had to start getting ready. 

Belle got out of bed slowly and stretched her body with a resounding yawn. She picked up her black frame glasses and slid them on before glancing at herself in the mirror of her dresser. Her glasses were old, she’d had them since she was an undergrad, but they were good ones that had withstood the pangs of time from all the instances she’d dropped them or accidentally sat on them when she put them down. Many people had told her not to waste time with them and to just get contacts but she liked how physical glasses were. Besides, she didn’t want to poke around in her eye no matter how easy everyone said it was to put contacts in.

She walked out of her bedroom and into the hallway of her small house. She passed by her father’s room and saw the bed left in a disarray with clothes strewn across the room in a hurry. He had already left to go to work at the community university. He was an engineer and taught some classes down there so he left early in the morning. Belle knew she’d have to pick up his room later. It bothered her when he came home to a messy one. She liked him to feel clean and organized so he’d have less to worry about. That was why she continued to live with her father even at twenty-five and graduated because she wanted to make sure he was taken care of since he didn’t have time to himself in his busy life. 

Belle went down the stairs and around the corner into the small kitchen of their little house. She turned on the TV in the living room to have some background noise while she made breakfast and began getting down a pan to make eggs in. Listening to the television she made herself an egg sandwich and cut up some strawberries to go with it. She poured herself some coffee that her father had left out for her then sat down at the table to watch TV as she ate. Parks and Recreation, one of her favorite shows, was showing reruns that morning and she laughed as she watched. She enjoyed the show and liked the characters dynamics. It was always a good distraction.  

After breakfast, she washed the dishes and did some chores around the house like laundry as well as sweeping the kitchen to get rid of any loose crumbs. She picked up her father’s room and her own while she was at is. By the time she was done with everything it was nearly ten o’clock and time to get ready for work. Belle headed back upstairs and into her bathroom. She washed her face, brushed her teeth, and put on deodorant in a never-ending routine she had every day. She put on her makeup, not much as usual just mascara and some soft pink lipstick, then she headed back into her room where her clothes were waiting for her. 

She threw off her pajamas and set her priorities by putting on a bra. Then she slipped into a white round-collared blouse, a long light blue skirt, and a matching blue cardigan. Belle put on large pearl earrings and pulled her hair back into her signature ponytail complete with a blue scrunchie that matched her skirt and sweater. She slid on her eyeglasses chain onto her glasses, a gold one with little hearts making up the chain. She liked to wear one so that when she took off her glasses she wouldn't lose them. As she put on her watch she couldn't help but sigh as she looked at its face. It was a world map and it reminded her of how much she wanted to travel just like her namesake. 

 Pèlerin. French for pilgrim. The travelers. 

She wanted desperately to see what was outside of her small town of West Peak. The farthest she’d ever been was the large city next door, Royume, where she’d gone to college at. 

Belle shook her head. She didn’t have time to daydream. 

She put on her silver charm bracelet and then slipped into her black knock-off Toms waiting by her closet door. She grabbed her bag off her computer chair then shut her door behind her as she went back into the hall. 

 Belle clomped downstairs and grabbed her lunch bag out of the pantry closet where it was waiting. She threw some lunch together and stuffed it into the yellow lunch bag with pretty roses on it. She grabbed her favorite thermos out of the cabinet and tossed it in her bag. Glancing outside she saw it was a nice day and felt glad she got to walk. She lived only a few blocks away from the library where she worked so she usually walked. She had a car and so did her father but she preferred walking on nice days like that. She normally left the house at eleven to get there by eleven thirty. Her shift didn’t start until twelve but she liked to be early and get situated before starting into her work. 

Walking out of the house into the late morning Belle locked the door behind her and put her keys in her bag. She waved to her neighbors sitting on their front porch, they ignored her like usual, and then began making her way down to the library.

As Belle walked she felt her mind begin to wander as it normally did when she made her usual way to work. She thought about her dream and how strange it had been. How close the Beast Prince and her had gotten. She could still feel the warmth of his breath against her face as he drew in close. She could still smell the clean scent of the forest as it faded into a musk as he stepped forward. 

His eyes were so blue, she thought as she crossed the street. Blue like the sky or the hottest flame in a fire. Just pouring into mine with no sign of stopping. His features so handsome, face so joyful. His lips so—

Belle shook her head again for the second time that morning to clear her thoughts. She had other things to be thinking about, not spending her time daydreaming about a prince in a dream. People already talked about her and how she always seemed to have her head in the clouds. She didn’t need to give them any more ammunition to gun her down with. Belle stood up straighter and walked with a purpose. She turned her mind to other things like the most recent book she’d devoured by one of her favorite authors, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Gaiman did an amazing job with this one. He really told another compelling tale with omitting the name of the narrator and drafting a story anyone could experience with a supernatural twist. Lettie was my favorite out of all the characters in it and her family was such a bold one with matriarchal power. I heard he narrated the audiobook for it. I should check the library to see if we have it. I want to give it a listen now that I—

Then she heard it. The not so distant roar of a diesel truck. Not just any diesel truck. His. 

Fuck, she cursed inwardly, snapping out of her thoughts and glancing around. Why didn’t I hear it before? It sounds so close now. I have to get off the street.

Belle turned to duck into the nearest store, a bakery to her right, but slammed to a halt when a deafening blast of a horn sounded from behind her. Too late. He had already spotted her. She sighed and kept walking. Maybe if she looked busy he would leave her alone but even she knew that was never the case. She could remember books being taken out of her hand, headphones pulled from her ears, and pens jolted from her grasp as she worked on homework. To her left a huge red diesel truck, that was slowly killing the environment, with horns on the front pulled up next to her and slowly coasted down the mostly empty street. 

Belle glanced in its direction and saw just who she was dreading. Gaston Chasseur sat smiling at her in the drivers’ seat with Peter Lefou in the passengers’ sporting an equally as disgusting smile. 

“Well, look who it is,” Gaston greeted in a deep booming voice. “Miss Belle Pèlerin! What are you up to this fine morning?”  

Belle suppressed an eye roll as she continued walking, the truck following her.

Gaston wore a red Carhartt shirt that had seen better days and a dirty camo trucker hat with his black ponytail pulled through the back. Lefou sported his old high school football sweatshirt which bothered Belle. Lefou was never technically on the football team, Gaston had been quarterback that won state every year he played, and was only their water/towel boy but he seemed to not be able to let go of his high school delusions of being on the team. That was something the two men had in common: neither could let go of their past and glory days.

The glory days, Belle thought. They sure had them. 

In high school, Gaston had been obsessed with three things: hunting, football, and her. All of these things he still was in fact obsessed with if not even more so. Gaston would strut around the school wearing his letterman jacket he was so proud of and follow Belle around in a constant, and failed, attempt at wooing her. He’d wait by her locker, try to carry her books only to make fun of her for reading them, try and buy her lunch as an excuse for her to pay him back (usually with a date), invite her to cheer for him at games, bring her gifts, bother her in the school library, and many other annoying things he did to try and win her over. 

However, none of it ever worked. 

If anything Belle was always inconvenienced and made her lower on the popularity totem pole than ever before while Gaston in her eyes was climbing to the top of douchebag mountain. She was never popular growing up or in school with the kids in West Peak. Ever since her father and she moved there when she was three no one liked them. Then as Belle got older and, well, nerdier in the realm of reading fewer people wanted to talk to her as it was looked down on. Middle school was when Gaston seemed to notice her and when Belle noticed him noticing her then it all went downhill from there. The little friends she had left her out of jealousy of Gaston’s infatuation with her. She remembered in high school how mean the girls were to her, especially the Admirateur triplets who were head cheerleaders at the time, and was miserable most of school. All she had for friends were teachers or staff at the school as well as her father. No one wanted to be her friend with Gaston lusting after her, everyone was jealous, so she turned to her studies and reading to keep her attention there. 

“Good morning, Gaston,” Belle finally said curtly, keeping her eyes focused ahead on the sidewalk.

“We’re on our way to the shooting range,” Gaston bulldozed on, not catching the coldness in her voice as a sign of unwanted attention. “Going to get in a few rounds. Want to come with us? I could show you a few pointers and you’d be a professional in no time. Hell, you could even come hunting with me.”

Of course. Hunting. Gaston’s favorite pastime. Other than football and harassing me, she thought in annoyance.

Gaston had been hunting since he was a child. He was one of those kids who had a father who took him hunting at an incredibly, most likely borderline traumatizing, young age and since then had become more and more obsessed with the sport (if you could call it one). He was always off hunting, normally with his Lefou his blind follower, even in the offseason. Technically he probably was poaching at that point but since everyone in town loved him, including the police and conservation officers, no one cared. His trophies were hung up all over his house, or so Belle was told by him in an attempt to get her to come by and see them, as well as famously used as decorating at the local bar known as The Tavern where the rest of the redneck hicks of West Peak met up to drink and talk ball. 

“Yeah, with Gaston’s help you’ll be in great shape,” Lefou chimed in, leaning against the open window with one arm and thumbing over at his ‘friend’ with the other. “He’s the greatest hunter in the whole world.”

“She knows,” Gaston said boastfully, throwing his head back as he basked in the praise.

How he was still following her with his truck and not running into anything with his eyes off the road was beyond Belle.

“That’s very nice of you to offer but I’m on my way to work right now. I can’t just leave,” she declined politely with a fake smile.

The day I go to the shooting range with Gaston is the day I fall over dead. 

“Then we shall give you a ride,” Gaston announced, reaching over and grabbing the back of Lefou’s sweatshirt. “Lefou, get out.”

“Wait! But—” he began to protest. 

“Again, nice of you to offer but I’d prefer to walk,” Belle returned quickly, actually stopping this time before Gaston could toss Lefou to the wind. “It’s such a nice day today. And besides, it’s good exercise.”

At this Gaston stopped trying to force Lefou out of his truck and eyeballed Belle at the mention of her exercising. He blatantly observed her physique, looking her up and down without any respect making her shudder from his gaze. 

What a fucking creep, she thought.

“Well, I can’t argue with that,” Gaston finally said after finishing undressing her with his eyes. “But you shouldn’t waste your time with that library. No one reads nowadays not with all the technology and besides, reading is a waste of time. There are so many other things you could be doing. Like with me for instance.”

Belle started walking again, quickly this time, without another word as she feared she’d say something she’d regret. Her father always said if she didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all. 

“Bye, Belle,” Gaston called, still following her with his truck. “See you around later.”

She ignored him.

He tailed her for a few more feet then turned at the next light, honking as he did so. Belle let out a sigh of relief to hear the diesel engine roar away and let herself slow down again. She only had one more block until she reached the library and decided to make the most of it by thinking. 

She needed to take her mind off things again. Tall, dark, and stupid things.

 

***

 

She reached the library at eleven forty-five, a little later than she usually arrived because of the hold up from Gaston and company, and greeted her co-workers at the front desk as she walked in the sliding doors. After chatting with the circulation clerk, a girl in college at the local university who just wanted an easy part-time job, she took her lunch bag back to the employee lounge. Belle got out her thermos, a light blue Starbucks one, from her bag and filled it up with coffee from the freshly brewed pot. Dumping in a spoonful or two of hazelnut creamer, the cheap stuff she brought with her, she stirred it and headed back out into the main library. She clocked in then went down to her desk in Children's. She plopped down in her chair and sat her bag down next to her. Her desk was good sized as department head and pleasantly busy with many little collectibles from popular books or movies on it along with a framed photo of her father and her. Belle closed her eyes, took a deep breath to take in the smell of the library, and then let it out. She opened her eyes, smiled, and got to work. 

Belle shelved books, checked them in, helped members check out, die cut out some brown paper bunnies for Story Time that night, and began planning for the Halloween carnival next month the Children's department put on every year. 

She started stapling the paper bunnies to the individual bags of Annie’s bunny graham crackers for the treat the kids took home after Story Time. Now that it was September Story Time could begin again for the fall season. It was every night every two weeks except in the summer (it ended at the beginning of June) because of the summer reading program. Each week Story Time had a theme and that week’s theme was ‘forest’ with each day being about an animal from the forest. That night was bunny themed so she chose bunny books and a bunny themed treat. As she was doing so she heard some people coming down from the main library towards Children's. She looked up and saw it was the Admirateur triplets with their sons. 

“Good afternoon,” Belle greeted warmly, waving to the families.

“Hi, Miss Librarian Lady!” the three boys returned in loud unison only to be hushed by their mothers.

The Admirateur triplets smiled at Belle but didn’t say anything to her. They continued walking, a boy in each of their hands, towards the shelves with large bags slung around their shoulders ready to be filled with books to take home. 

The Admirateur triplets, Belle remembered, weren’t very nice to her in high school. The three girls had naturally had it all: beautiful blonde hair, perfect bodies, good grades, and highly coveted positions as head cheerleaders on the squad. However, there was one thing they didn’t have and that thing happened to be Gaston. Gaston, unfortunately and previously mentioned, had been (and still was) obsessed with Belle during those days which had bothered most of the girls at school. That happened to bother the Admirateur triplets, Claudette, Laurette, and Paulette, the most as all three girls were madly in love with Gaston at the time. In return, they singled Belle out and made sure she was excluded from everything. They didn’t bully her per se but they sure as hell weren’t her friends. 

But once they all had graduated thing calmed down. 

The Admirateur triplets had gone off to study nursing at a university in Royume along with Belle who went for an English degree while Gaston stayed to play football at the local university on scholarship. The triplets continued to come home to see every one of Gaston’s games but soon he lost his scholarship due to partying and was kicked off the team. The triplets seemed to have a wake-up call after that and stopped worshiping the ground Gaston walked on. They began to see him for who he was, an arrogant loser, and worked on themselves for once. They devoted themselves to their studies and soon all three met nice men who treated them with respect as well as adored them. The Admirateur triplets married, a triple wedding of course because they did everything together, and soon all had children around the same time so they were close in age. 

Belle glanced out of the corner of her eye and watched as the sisters perused the shelves with their children grabbing books they wanted to read that afternoon to take home. She knew they would be back for Story Time later that night, the three sons sat up front closest to Belle so they could see the pictures, and then would be back again the next day to return their books in exchange for new ones they could read. 

I wish the people in this town were more like children. Children want to read and like books. They devour them one after another and then beg to read more, Belle wistfully mused as she continued to work on her project at hand.

That was the reasons she worked in Children's. Was the head of Children's for that matter. She loved kids’ desire to read and learn from books. They had a yearning for knowledge even if they didn’t realize it. They loved to be read to, to listen, to act out what they’ve read, or read themselves and to others. In West Peak, no one other than children or the elderly wanted to read or had that desire to learn. The people in between who did were few and hid it from others because it was a small town. They didn’t want to be different or have rumors fly about them. No one but children or elderly people had that passion for learning and even so, the older people weren’t as active in the community. Belle was the youngest person in the library’s book club and there were only five members including her. 

She missed that about Royume when she had gone to school there for undergrad and grad. It was a big city and people weren’t afraid to be themselves. People liked to read and didn’t care what everyone else thought about what they liked. Belle would’ve lived and worked there if it hadn’t been for her father. She came back to stay to take care of him and watch the house when he was gone on school conference trips or visitations. Plus there was an opening at the library there in West Peak and she was a shoe-in because she knew the director and had worked there before. 

 “Belle,” she heard a kind voice say. “How’s my favorite Children's librarian?”

She looked up just in time to see just who she had been thinking about, Mr. Degarmo, walking up to her desk dressed smartly in a brown tweed jacket and red bowtie. His thick round silver glasses were perched on the tip of his nose as he looked down at her with a smile on his lips. Belle could tell he had just been reading something because his white hair was poking around in a messy fashion that resembled Einstein from resting his hands in it.

“Doing wonderful actually,” she returned, stapling the last of the bunny treats together and giving him her attention. “Just finished with the snack for Story Time tonight and have been working on planning the carnival for next month.”

“Excellent!” Mr. Degarmo flourished with a sweep of his hand. “You’re always so on top of things in the best way. But that’s to be expected. You’ve been doing fantastically ever since you started working here two years ago. I remember when you were just a little volunteer when you were in middle school coming to help shelve books. Then you keep volunteering all through high school and college until you finally got that circulation clerk position.”

“It feels like just yesterday,” Belle replied sheepishly, feeling embarrassed with all the praise.

“But you rose up the ranks fast,” he reminded with a wink. “You took the position as Children's director once you got your degree and the old one retired. You’ve been doing great as head for a year and a half now. It’s so nice to have a young person like you in charge and with such a desire to work! I wish we had more people like you in our library.”

“Well, I have to admit you inspired me. You’ve always been so nice to my family ever since we moved and you helped to get me a job here. I love working with books so this has been like a dream,” she said with a sigh. “I agree with you though. I wish there were more people my age working here or even coming to the library. Maybe I could meet someone who shared the same interests and recruit them for book club?”

“Or have someone to go do things with?” Mr. Degarmo offered, stroking his small white tuff of a beard.

Belle looked at him curiously.

“I don’t understand.”

“I know you’re lonely, Belle. I see you eating by yourself or working all the time. You never go out with friends or doing anything other than reading and work. You need to find some people you can enjoy life with. You can’t just hide in Children's and book club forever.”

Belle was stunned and opened her mouth to say something back but was cut short when Mr. Degarmo shook his head.

“Just think about it, my dear. Nothing I am forcing you into just offering a suggestion. You live your life how you want to. There’s a lot more to it.”

“Thank you,” she said softly. “I’ll consider it.”

“Splendid! Well, have a good rest of the day. I can’t wait for Story Time. Bunny day, right?” he asked, indicating to the bunny treats laying on her desk.

Then he walked away back towards his office before Belle could get in another word.

She watched him go and knew he was right. She couldn’t just waste away in West Peak by herself. She needed to do something. She didn’t have friends her age, never had a boyfriend, and did nothing but work or read. Belle glanced down at her watch with the world map on it and let out another sigh. She wanted something. Something out there in the world. But what? An adventure? An epic romance? A purpose for God’s sake? She didn’t know but she did know she needed to get out there in the great wide somewhere.

 

***

 

Hours passed and Belle’s favorite part of the day finally rolled around: Story Time. It started at seven thirty and lasted only an hour because they wanted to keep the kids attention as well as get them home early for bed while they were still sleepy. 

Belle got up from her desk then reached into a drawer to pull out the fluffy blue robe and slippers she wore for Story Time. She slipped into them and then walked over to the train clock sitting on the shelf in the Children’s section.

“What time is it?” she asked loudly to the large group of children and parents all collected in the reading area waiting.

“Story Time!” the kids all shouted, jumping up and down wearing their pajamas as well as holding a stuffed toy or blanket if they brought one.

Belle pushed the button on the clock and it sprang to life with a blast of a train whistle. The toy train on the clock began going along the outside of the clock and tooting its horn. The kids all lined up like usual and they followed Belle down into the Story Time theater cave. It was a small curtained room built into the far left corner of the Children’s area that had fabric steps that led down to a lower level. All and all it was similar to a miniature amphitheater that was carpeted with a stage Belle sat on in her chair. Waiting next to her chair was a small table with the books they were going to read that night, all bunny themed. Once all the children were seated, the Admirateur boys up front directly across from her in matching Thomas the Train onesies, Belle picked up the first book.

They read several of them that night for the Story Time hour including some tales from Peter Rabbit, the Knuffle Bunny books by Mo Willems, and of course Goodnight Moon to finish them off. Belle even rolled out the old VHS television the library had and played the animated short of Goodnight Moon for the kids which they all sleepily enjoyed. 

When it was over Belle passed out the bunny snacks she’d worked so hard on and waved goodbye to the kids. As she did Mr. Degarmo came up and congratulated her on yet another great Story Time before taking a treat for himself as he headed out for the night. She smiled and cleaned everything up before returning her robe as well as slippers to her desk. 

The Children’s department dwindled down after that and everyone began to go home for the night. Belle picked up her things and made her way to the front of the library where she prepared to finish her shift working at the front desk by herself. At night after Story Time Belle came up to relieve the clerks and adult librarians by watching the front desk for the last half hour until closing on weekdays. She waved goodbye to patrons leaving for the night and worked on cataloging. Soon she was the last person in the library, except for a janitor or two, and closing time was quickly approaching. 

 Belle yawned and checked her watch. It was 8:55 and in five minutes she could go turn off the sliding doors as well as lock them while she closed up. She glanced outside and frowned. The nice day from earlier was gone and it was now raining hard. The rain rang loud against the asphalt outside in the parking lot and while the sound was soothing it put Belle in a sour mood. She had been hoping for a nice cool evening to walk back through but she knew now she would have to text her father to come pick her up. She didn’t bring an umbrella, she hadn’t checked the weather, and she didn’t want to get a cold from walking in the rain.

“Better do it now so he has time to come get me,” she said to herself, pulling out her phone.

Outside she suddenly heard the roar of a motorcycle and the screeching of tires over the sound of the rain. She stood up straighter, startled by the sound, and watched as someone darted up the sidewalk. In through the sliding doors, a soaking wet man ran inside the library leaving a trail of water in his wake. Rain slid off his black leather vest and into his black teeshirt making it stick to his skin, showing off his slim but muscular physique. His dark pants riddled with rips had to be soaked all the way through and his thick black boots squeaked against the tile. In one fluid motion, he used both his hands to wipe the water off his face and flick it to the floor. He ran a hand through his thick auburn bangs that stuck to his forehead and flicked his dripping ponytail over his shoulder. 

 Belle was stunned for a moment as she took him in but soon she came back to Earth in irritation as she realized how much water he was getting everywhere (did the man own an umbrella?) and how late it was. She needed to close the library now. She didn’t have time for new patrons.

He’ll just have to come back tomorrow, she decided. And come back drier. 

“Excuse me?” Belle called out over the desk. “I’m sorry but we are closed for this evening.”

The man jumped and turned in Belle’s direction. He hadn’t realized someone was there. He scowled, frantic and nervous not having the time to deal with anyone. He had to find someplace to hide and fast. They were right behind him.

He walked further into the library and stared at the woman behind the desk who had just addressed him. She was pretty, really pretty. No. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful and young. Almost too young to be working there. Never had he seen a twenty-something-year-old woman working in a library but then again he hadn’t been to Royume’s public library in years. He hadn’t ever needed to. She had dark brown hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail and hazel eyes behind a thick pair of black glasses he’d seen hipsters wear with a gold glasses chain. 

Great, she probably is a hipster then, he grimaced. 

Coming closer he noticed she had on a silver charm bracelet peeking out from underneath her cardigan with colorful charms on it. He realized they were little books and they jingled as she moved her arm. On the other wrist was a watch with a map on the face which he found actually pretty cool. But it was no time to be admiring jewelry. He needed to find somewhere he could hide out until it all blew over.

And now there’s this girl here. She’s going to get mixed up in everything if they follow me in. 

“Is there anything I can help you with quickly?” Belle continued, not liking how he was getting so close to the desk. “Otherwise you’ll have to come back in the morning.”

Now that he was closer Belle got a better look at him. He was around her age, maybe a little older at most, and had a healthy amount of scruff on his face. Handsome but imposing he stood over her with a good amount of height and it wasn’t all from the boots. Looking at him closer she suppressed a gasp when she stared into his eyes. 

They were blue. 

Blue like the sky or the hottest flame in a fire. 

Blue like the Beast Prince in her dreams. 

He looked like him but it couldn’t be him. He was just a figment of her imagination. That man in front of her was real. Very real and soaking wet. 

They held each other’s gazes for a second longer before the roar of more motorcycles outside filled the air. The man flinched and their connection was broken. He cursed under his breath, blue eyes wide with fear, and turned away. He ran further into the library, boots squeaking, and ducked into the gender-neutral bathroom. 

“Hey, wait!” Belle called out after she had shaken herself from his gaze that had left her stunned. “Come back!”

The sound of the lock turning and clicking rang through the library just as the sliding doors opened for the second time. 

A large group of people trudged into the lobby, water sloshing with every step they took.