Thank you to TrudiRose, So-crates, and The Green Archer for helping me with this chapter.
Okay, this update is a super short, "moving the plot along" chapter with not much action. I am so sorry and I promise the next couple of chapters will be more exciting.
Belle spent the next two weeks doing everything she could to keep herself from going to see Adam. She read books she hadn't touched in years, cleaned the entire house from top to bottom, and brushed Philippe's coat until a small bald spot appeared on his neck. As she was hanging out the laundry, she noticed a cream-coloured piece of fabric in the mess of greens and blues. It was the dress her father had borrowed from Berenice. She had completely forgotten about it.
The next morning, Belle retrieved the cream dress from the washing line and carefully folded it up. As she stood on the doorstep of the house Berenice shared with her parents, her stomach began to churn. She gripped the folded up dress she held in her hands anxiously. She had barely even spoken to Berenice, and she was almost certain that the girl wasn't too fond of her. She swooned over Gaston like the rest of the girls her age did, and Belle had not had too many pleasant experiences with these girls. The puzzled expression on Berenice's face when she opened the door did not do much to calm her.
"Good morning," said Belle, awkwardly holding out the cream dress. "I brought your dress back. I washed it."
"Ah, I forgot you borrowed that," said Berenice. "Thank you for bringing it back. Happy birthday, by the way. Well, belated birthday, I mean."
"Huh?" Belle blinked in confusion before it dawned on her. Her father must have told Berenice it was her birthday when he borrowed the dress. "Oh, thank you."
"Who were you having dinner with?" asked Berenice curiously.
"Your father said you were having dinner with a 'gentleman friend'," said Berenice. "Who was it?"
"Oh, no one you'd know," Belle replied, raising an eyebrow. Why was Berenice so interested?
"Was it Gaston?" asked Berenice.
Belle resisted the urge to laugh.
"It wasn't Gaston, trust me," she assured Berenice.
"Then it was the prince, wasn't it," said Berenice. "You were with him in the tavern."
Belle sighed and nodded her head.
"If you don't mind me asking, how on earth did you two ever get together?" Berenice asked curiously.
"You know how there are some books with covers so ugly that you don't even want to go near them? Adam was like that. I used to think he was the most awful man I had ever met. To make matters worse, we just kept bumping into each other. Then one day, the book fell open and I saw a glimpse of the most beautiful prose I've ever read," said Belle.
"I'm afraid I'm not much of a reader, but I get what you mean," said Berenice. "Gaston thinks you've lost interest in the prince ever since he beat him in a fight when you came to the tavern last month."
"I've got to give Gaston credit," said Belle. "At least he's optimistic."
"Why don't you like Gaston?" asked Berenice. "I admit that he is a little conceited, but he's handsome and he would be a good provider."
Belle raised an eyebrow. "A little conceited" was a massive understatement.
"He's… just not the type of man I am interested in," she replied, choosing her words carefully. She knew that Berenice was interested in Gaston herself and she didn't want to offend the other girl.
Berenice considered this.
"Fair enough. I wish Gaston felt the same way about you," she said. "I mean, I wish he would give other girls a chance."
"So do I," Belle assured her. "I wish he would just accept that I am not interested in marrying him."
"Do you think the prince is going to marry you?" Berenice asked.
"Adam is already engaged to a princess," said Belle, doing her best to hide the pain in her voice. "Besides, he could never marry me. I am just a peasant. My blood is common. He is a prince. He has to marry a princess."
"You could be his mistress," suggested Berenice.
"I've already considered that hundreds of times," said Belle. "That's not the kind of life I want to lead. I do not want to be 'the other woman'."
"If he has no intention of marrying you, and if you have no intention of becoming his mistress, then perhaps you should break it off," Berenice advised. "It isn't fair to lead him on if you aren't planning to stay with him after he is married."
"That's what I'm planning to do," said Belle. "I keep meaning to tell him, but I just keep putting it off."
"It is best to do it as soon as possible," Berenice told her. "The longer you wait, the harder it will be."
When she had first arrived in the village, Belle had dismissed the entire town as being vain and ignorant. Perhaps she had been wrong to judge the entire town based on first impressions. It was very possible. She had been wrong about Adam, after all. The villagers were a diverse group of people. It wasn't fair to judge them as one big entity.
After lunch, Belle started saddling up Philippe. This was it, she told herself. She was going to break off all ties with Adam. She was never going to speak to, see, or even think about him ever again. It was for the best.
"Why hasn't she come yet?" Adam roared.
Adam had spent the last two weeks in the library, waiting for Belle to arrive.
"It's only been two weeks, Master," said Lumiere meekly. "Give her time."
"I told her she could come over and read in my library any time she wanted. Why hasn't she come yet?" demanded Adam.
"Perhaps she is busy?" suggested Lumiere.
One of the library doors opened and Cogsworth sidled into the room
"Master, you have a visitor," he announced.
Adam had to resist the urge to jump for joy when he saw Belle glide into the room.
"Hello, Adam," she said, smiling timidly.
"Good afternoon, Belle."
Cogsworth swiftly exited the library. However, Lumiere stayed put. He casually picked a random book up from one of the shelves and pretended to skim through it.
"Lumiere, don't you have work to do?" asked Adam.
"It's my day off and I thought I'd get some reading done," said Lumiere unconvincingly.
"Since when do you read?" asked Adam, raising an eyebrow. "Tell Babette she's got the day off and go find a spare broom closet to canoodle in."
"Babette is sick," replied Lumiere.
"Get out," Adam ordered. "Now!"
Lumiere quickly scampered out the door. Adam turned to face Belle, who was nervously inspecting her fingernails.
"How have you been?" he asked.
"Fine," she replied. "Adam, we need to talk."
Adam's heart sunk. That didn't sound good.
"Take a seat," he said, pointing to a pair of armchairs sitting next to one of the fireplaces. The two of them sat down. "What do you want to talk about?"
Belle took long, deep breath
"I'm falling in love with you
Adam looked down at his feet. He hadn't been expecting Belle to say that. What on earth could he reply with? He wanted to tell her he loved her as well. But he was a prince! She was a peasant. That would be like a lion admitting his love to a common house cat.
"So am I," he admitted.
"We can't see each other anymore," said Belle.
Adam looked up, alarmed.
"What are you talking about? You just said you loved me!" he yelled.
"You're getting married, Adam," said Belle. "I shouldn't be associating with a man who is betrothed to another woman."
"That doesn't mean we can't continue our relationship," said Adam. "It's not like I love this woman."
"I don't want to be your mistress, Adam," said Belle, shaking her head.
"Why not?" asked Adam. "I'll take care of you and your father for the rest of your lives. I can give you everything you will ever want. We can even have children, if you want them."
Belle considered this for a few moments. Perhaps it would be for the best. Her father's health was failing and their money was running out quickly. The men in the village were far too intimidated by Gaston to even consider courting her. Adam would be able to provide for both her and her father. She would be free to spend the rest of her life reading books and traveling the world. She quickly put the thought out of her mind. There were a lot of roles that Belle wanted to play in her life. 'The other woman' was not one of them.
"No, I don't want to share you," said Belle. "And I don't want to be the woman copulating with a man while his wife is lying alone in a cold bed."
"We can just be friends," said Adam. "No romantic stuff."
"No, Adam, we can't be friends. We've already admitted that we love each other," said Belle. "The temptation would just be too much for me."
"Then we will just have to fight out temptation," said Adam. "You know what they say. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. If we stop seeing each other altogether, we might find ourselves falling even more in love with each other."
"I'm still not sure," said Belle.
"Belle, I refuse to stop seeing you," said Adam. "If you won't come to me, then I will come to you."
"Okay, fine," she agreed. "We can be friends." She looked around the library. "Have you been reading?"
"No," Adam admitted. "I just wanted you to think I'd been reading."
"So, all this time you've been waiting in a library and you didn't even pick up a single book?" Belle shook her head. "I just don't understand you."
"I'm sorry," said Adam, sighing. "I just don't like reading. My old tutors used to force me to read boring old history books, and I'm afraid I haven't been too fond of reading since then."
"I will make you love reading," Belle promised him. "And, uh, since we're already in a library…"
"Go ahead," said Adam, smiling. "Choose a book."