Do you know how it feels to love and hate someone at the same time? It is as if you are slowly sinking. Losing the ground beneath your feet. Falling but… excitedly wanting to know where. Bitter but sweet at the same time. Atrocious yet so mesmerizingly beautiful.
LeFou did not wish anybody to ever feel something like that. Not even to his worst enemy.
Still, the walking helped with comprehending those overwhelming thoughts.
As he wandered to the center of the village, the market slowly began to appear in front of him. It was getting bigger and louder as he got closer to it. Like an ocean wave, it encouraged him to dive in, cool off, and relax. It was a tempting offer, perhaps even a much-needed one. All those flaming and quaint market stores, colorful decorations, talented street artists were exceptionally welcoming. Maybe… maybe this was the day when he finally joined them. Is that what he wanted… or, better yet, needed?
He stopped right in front of the entrance. No, not today. Maybe tomorrow. He turned left, entirely ignoring all the laughs and squeals that faded away behind him. He will try again soon. This was not the time.
Instead, LeFou headed towards the remote area of Villeneuve. The perfect hideout for two adventurous little boys. Secluded behind growing, wild lilac bushes. Over time, they have become much more neglected, unspoiled by the human hand. They represented the elegance of true nature. LeFou liked to come here.
Oak. Big, impressive. The first thing he saw after cutting through the thicket. He remembered that tree well. Fifteen years ago, it used to be even more massive to him - but when you are a child, everything feels grander than it really is. Residences, people. Friendship and… love.
“I was able to climb you once,” LeFou touched the falling bark. It felt terribly rough under his work-worn hand. “Now, it is even hard for me to get to the first floor of my own home.”
Even at the age of ten, LeFou had problems with motor coordination. To reach the top of this very oak, he needed someone’s help. Now, though in the prime of his life, he lacked vitality and energy. He looked older than he really was. The misery has left its mark in the form of wrinkles.
LeFou glanced dreamily around. He greedily absorbed all of this beautiful view. The village and the surrounding hills. A forest somewhere in the distance. All fields, meadows, rivers, lakes. An amazing composition. And looking at it hurt and brought joy, every single time. There were so many distant memories connected with this place. One, in particular, was rambling in LeFou’s mind:
God, how his feet hurt. They ran for an hour, maybe two? Maybe even for all eternity? LeFou did not certainly understand the concept of time. Logical thinking was not his forte.
“Have we lost them?” the older boy asked, finally stopping by the little lilac bushes. From the perspective of little LeFou, however, they were enormous.
“I think… I think so,” the younger one had to take a few deep breaths. Unlike him, the older one seemed not fatigued at all. “Do you think… we did something wrong?”
Excitement flashed in Gaston’s cerulean eyes. A snotty smile appeared on his face. That was enough for LeFou to know the answer.
“Maybe we should return it to them?” LeFou pulled the barely obtained silver soldiers from his pockets. An intricate work. They must have cost a fortune.
“Why? They deserved it.”
LeFou began to shuffle nervously from foot to foot. The metal figurine burned his fingers. They called him a fool. An ugly, filthy fool. They were laughing that someone like him should not be friends with Gaston. Because it was a terrible insult to the older boy. LeFou closed his eyes tightly. He could feel they started to get wet, and he did not want someone like Gaston to see him in a moment of vulnerability. Never. He could not let that happen.
“Yes. Yes, you are right.” He stammered, lowering his tone, striving for a confident intonation. It came out as comical. The fake thick voice arising from the mouth of a chubby little boy must have been a funny sight. But Gaston was not laughing. He just smiled at his friend, patting him briskly on the back.
“It is just a little lesson for them. We will give back the soldiers. Tomorrow." Gaston sat under a tree, leaning his head against its trunk. He still kept his happy, comforting look on LeFou. “I promise.”
“You promise?” LeFou lay down next to his friend. He was exhausted.
“Of course. I always keep my promises.”
They sat in silence until sunrise. The bullies did not find them, and this reassured LeFou immensely. Tomorrow they will give them back the figurines… and everything will be fine. They will not hurt him.
LeFou looked at Gaston. The light of the falling sun was exceptionally beneficial for him. His pupils glistened even more. The blue iris covered them beautifully… like a veil woven from tiny pieces of sky. His long black hair moved slightly in the evening wind.
Gaston sat in silence, staring into the distance. He looked like a sculpture made of the most precious metals. So strong, undefeatable.
Yes, certainly. They will not hurt him.
LeFou relished their meetings, plays, banter… but the most in the world, he loved the moments when they did not say anything. When the boy could admire his friend as long as he could. Always then, a pleasant feeling of warmth emerged in his chest. He did not know what to call it, but he knew it felt good. It was innocent… and so natural it could not be something wrong.
But that day, there was something heavy laying on LeFou’s heart, and the blissful feeling was less pleasant than usual. “Gaston-” he timidly interrupted their idyll.
"Oui, mon ami?
“Could you… promise me one more thing?”
Gaston, interested by the unusual question, turned to his companion. He was giving him his full attention now, so much so that LeFou felt uncomfortable under Gaston’s curious gaze.
“Promise me…” the chubby boy gulped. The bullies’ remarks hooted unbearably in his head. “That you will never hurt me.”
Gaston could not even manage to hide his astonishment. He blinked sheepishly, not knowing at first how to react. He did not think he would have to promise his friend something that seemed so obvious to him.
“All right, I can promise that.” Gaston put his hand theatrically on his chest, lifting the other one. “But only if you promise me something in return.”
LeFou nodded happily, still chuckling under his breath over the ridiculous pose Gaston had executed.
“Of course. Anything you want.”
“Promise me that you will always be by my side. No matter what.”
LeFou cocked his head to the side in a gesture of shock. He could not imagine it otherwise.
Parroting Gaston, he put his hand on his heart in an even more dramatic way and lifted the other one. Higher than his friend.
“Émilien Francis LeFou!” a scream snapped him out of these childish memories.
LeFou turned around to see who it was. Although he knew exactly who that voice belonged to.
“I asked you not to come here again,” Esme said reproachfully. Since LeFou’s incident, she had always found him here and proposed the same thing every time. “How many times will I have to say this. You have to finally say goodbye to the past and start living in the moment, thinking about what will happen next. It will do you good. Really.”
Perhaps Esme was right. Maybe he should actually focus on the future. But what if in his tomorrow there was only… nothingness.
LeFou decided not to dwell on that.
“Maybe… I could help you with your… stuff?” he looked at the two brim-filled wicker baskets. Way too much for two people - him and her. She could barely hold them.
Esme could not hide the hopeful smile that lit up her young face. It was the first time he offered his help.
“Of course! Thank you, that is very kind of you.”
“I thought it would be nice to walk around the village today. Perhaps in the evening." As usual, Esme guided LeFou through their agenda. “And I thought that maybe…” She lowered her voice slightly. She became softer and sounded more like she was about to ask him for something of a higher value. “We can talk.”
“There is nothing to talk about.”
“LeFou!” Esme stopped abruptly. Now she sounded more like herself. Powerful and demanding. She acted as if she was his mother. Possibly she took the role of a caretaker too much to heart. “You know very well that you can not put off this conversation anymore. This could be suci- dangerous."
LeFou left her unanswered, so Esme stopped pushing too. They walked in silence until they reached the tavern.
After Gaston was accused of trying to kill the prince, villagers demanded that the place have to be closed. However, LeFou pleaded and insisted that they should not do so. He assured them that he would take over the business and take care of the bar. And finally, the townspeople agreed to it.
In the beginning, customers did not come at all. Only when LeFou, at the urging of others, removed all the images and antlers that resembled a once-adored hunter, people began to appear. As if Gaston was defined only by his belongings, not by the memories of him. Human shallowness is terrible. But at the moment, LeFou would rather be superficial as well.
“So… what have you been up to today?” Esme tried again. She sat stiffly on one of the red bar stools.
LeFou perched down next to her, handing her a crumpled envelope.
“I got an invitation to the royal party.” He sighed. “It will be held in a week. If I read it correctly… I could not decipher everything.”
“I guess that is good, isn’t it?” Esme sounded too excited. “I assume you are going.”
LeFou shook his head, meeting Esme’s irritated gaze.
“Are you going to say I should go because he would like me to?” the sarcastic remark brought a gentle smile to the woman’s face.
“No… quite the opposite, actually. He would rather you mourn this great loss till your own death. I wanted to say that you should go because you need that.”
LeFou just stood up, not responding to her words. Instead, he poured them two glasses of brandy. It was always better to talk with the company of alcohol.
“Since we are already talking about him,” the nervous hitting of her fingers against the glass created the tense atmosphere around them. “Did you manage to tell him…?”
“Pardon? Tell him what?” LeFou looked at her, genuinely surprised. Esme gave him “the look”, and the man understood what she was referring to. He was not sure how she found out about it, but women (or maybe just Esme) could sense such things. He sighed softly. “And what do you think…?”
He expected a sarcastic response. Consolation, by mocking, as Esme used to do.
“Would you tell him now?”
He would have never seen this coming.
“I… I… do not know. I do not want to talk about it. After all, even if I would, I am not able to do it anymore.”
They spent the rest of the morning in unpleasant silence. The atmosphere was heavy, full of unsaid words… secrets the two kept from each other.
Ding. 12 o’clock.
“I have to go. I lingered over.” Esme stood up abruptly, picked up the larger basket of food, and headed for the door.
“Patient. I have to give her medicine.”
“I can take your groceries home if you would like.” he proposed.
“It will not be necessary.” Esme smiled nervously. “Till evening. Goodbye, Émilien!”
“I hope you did not miss me too much.” Esme opened the door with her shoulder and walked into the room. It was rather big and expensive - any other nurse would be overwhelmed by the splendor of it.
But Esme was used to it because she knew this place. She knew it very well.
She put the basket on the lavish cupboard. Decorated with gold, it shimmered slightly in the morning sun.
“Well.” Esme walked over to the bed where her patient lay. The owner of this almost-royal residence. She sat down on the edge of the mattress. “How are you feeling today, Gaston?”