Chapter 1: The Day That Started It All

"Belle, put that box of books in your room for now. We'll move them back when I get this bookcase set up."

Maurice watched as his daughter lifted the heavy box of books and carried it upstairs to her new bedroom. The poor girl looked so thoughtful and lost in her own little world again. She had been that way all her life. But when her mother passed away, Belle had changed. She was still the same beautiful 16-year-old girl with a mind of her own, but she had become slightly more distant. She escaped into her books more and more. I'm sure it will pass with time, sighed Maurice. He hated seeing her like this, but he couldn't do much. He didn't have any siblings, and his own mother had never spoken of such things. So he went back to doing what he did best, trying to think of a way to make this bookcase more efficient.

Upstairs, Belle was placing the box of books on her bed. Her room was smaller than she had expected but it was still comfortable. There was plenty of closet space for the few dresses that she owned and even a corner where her books fit perfectly. Several were already set up there. She stopped a moment to touch the spines. She had seen her own mother do this when she was deciding what world she wanted to enter. Her mother was the one who had read to her every day since her birth. She had introduced Belle to so many wonderful worlds-worlds full of mystery, adventure, heroes, magic, and love.

Her fingers found their way to the worn spine of the greatest love story ever told; Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. She pulled the book into her lap. The familiar pages felt comforting to her fingers. The lingering smell of old parchment filled her nose and her eyes glistened over with memories.

"This story is one of my favorites. It's about a boy who fell in love with a beautiful girl. Their eyes met across a crowded ballroom and he instantly knew that she was the only woman for him."

"Was it like that for you? When you met father?"

"It was very similar. From the moment I saw your father, I knew something wonderful would happen."

The voice of her mother was still ringing in Belle's ears when she finally returned downstairs to start dinner. Her father had managed to put the frame of the bookcase together, but had not put the shelves in. Belle simply smiled and shook her head. She found her father in the kitchen scratching his head.

"Papa, what are you doing in here?" Belle looked around the kitchen. They had pots and pans and plenty of plates and cups. But there was something missing…

"We don't have any food." Maurice laughed.

"Oops. I guess we forgot something after all." Even through her laughter, Bell chided herself. How could she have forgotten about the food? "I'll go to the market in town and buy some." Before her father could stop her, she grabbed some money and put it in her basket. Then she floated out of the door and began walking towards the town.

It was a small, quaint town. The streets were paved with cobblestones and the houses were all lined up in rows. There were some people hanging out of windows calling out to one another. They seemed friendly enough, but Belle was soon distracted by a trio of girls who suddenly ran in front of her, blocking the path.

"Oh, where did he disappear to?" said one. She was blonde and had a dazed look on her face. Her hands were placed on her hips in such a way that made Belle want to laugh. Her sisters all looked just like her. Belle tried to walk around the triplets but they blocked her at every turn, standing in a perfectly straight line in the middle of the road.

"He must be around here somewhere," said another. "We would know if he was going anywhere important."

"Just keep looking," said the third. It was clear to Belle that whoever these girls were looking for, they were so wrapped up in him that they clearly didn't see her.

"Excuse me," she said softly as she tried to push her way around them. Just then, the three girls swooned at once and fell over at Belle's feet. She looked up and met a pair of cool, blue eyes.

Gaston was the bravest, strongest, most handsome bachelor who lived in the small village. All of the young girls loved him. All of the elders respected him. And all of his friends worshiped him. He was tall with a head full of thick black hair. His eyes were like two spheres of clear water gazing into the world. Gaston was on top of the world everyday. He loved attention and attention loved him.

He was also relentlessly followed by the three Montparsse sisters. This day had been no different. A morning of hunting with his faithful friend Lefou to fetch the animals and a lunch at the tavern had now brought the 17-year-old Gaston to his favorite part of the day, walking through town being admired. However, the Montparsse sisters were constantly getting in the way of other people's views. He had just thought he had lost them, when there they were standing in front of him again, a perfect little line as always. And just as always they swooned as at his presence. Then, Gaston received the shock of his life.

There, standing where the triplets had now fainted, was the most beautiful girl Gaston had ever seen. And he had seen his fair share of pretty girls. This girl was different. She had thick brown hair that was pulled back into a low ponytail held in place by a blue ribbon. Her rich hazel eyes held him captive for what seemed to be an eternity. Her skin was the color of cream, with roses in her cheeks. Her simple dress was flattering but not clingy like the dresses of the Montparsse sisters. She was beautiful. And she was walking away.

"Wait," said Gaston reaching out his arm for her. "I've never seen you here before. Are you new?" The girl gave him a very strange, bewildered look. Gaston realized he must have sounded abrupt and rude. Inwardly chiding himself, he flashed his best debonair smile. "What I mean to say is hello."

"Hello." The girl was now smiling a little. Her smile was certainly stunning. It warmed his heart like nothing he had known. It surprised Gaston, but only for a moment.

"My name is Gaston," he said proudly. "I'm the hunter of the village. If you go into the tavern, you'll see my trophies and the heads of some of my biggest game. Would you like to see them?"

"Maybe some other time," said the girl. She was trying to get away. Gaston had to stop her. He had to tell her she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. He had to tell her that her name was the most beautiful name he'd ever heard. Her name…

"Of course, forgive me. I've been rude. Please, let me start over. I'm Gaston. And you are?"

"Belle," said the girl. "I just moved here with my father. I'm trying to find a vendor to buy some food."

"Oh well, you're in luck. I happen to know the best vendors in the village." As Gaston ushered Belle away into the market, the three sisters began to come awake.

"Oh, I think you forgot something," Belle pointed out. Gaston turned to see the shocked expressions of the Montparsse sisters still lying in the road. "I'll be right back." He hastily helped them to their feet and then returned, offered his arm to Belle, and escorted her into the market.