I normally don't write stories multiple stories at once, but this idea had to be put on paper. Inspired by the beautiful song "The Garden Rules" by Snow Patrol. Hope you all enjoy!
"Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows." – John Betjeman
Deep in the heart of our magical kingdom, where the world's struggles couldn't reach us and evil had no place, was where we played. Here lay our sanctuary, where we could act out scenarios and invent stories intended for those with a powerful imagination. It was a place where we would remain children forever, never growing up, never having to face the harsh realities of life.
This place was Belle's garden.
It was where we would meet when it wasn't raining, and where we would stay until dusk came along, puncturing the pretend world we had created during the day.
The garden – our own kingdom – was behind Belle's house. Her father was a wealthy businessman and owned a large plot of land surrounding his home. This land consisted of fields and meadows in front of the house, and a lush garden leading into the forest behind it. The latter was the land we had claimed as our own.
The garden was large, its grass soft and inviting: the basis for many games. Several oak trees were scattered throughout the space, and the largest had a swing dangling from its branches, which swayed gently in the wind when we weren't there to see.
In the left corner of the garden, was where the real adventure was to be found. There was an opening in the dense bushes and vegetation; a doorway to the Enchanted Forest, where we only ventured when we were brave enough, or had grown bored of the garden.
It was a sunny day in May, and the last chills of spring were disappearing to make way for summer, our favourite season. We had all gathered by one of the oak trees, which had become our meeting place, where we would start the day and decide what game to play.
Belle sat on the grass with her back resting against the tree trunk. Her blue dress was spread out around her, and her fingers finished fashioning a daisy chain, which she placed on top of her chestnut locks.
Red stood leaning against the trunk, her arms crossed over her chest, anxious to begin. She always wanted to play scary games; games where one of us had to be evil and mean, while the others tried to defeat the poor fool who had been selected to want to kill his friends. She would always lend her red cape to the one who had to be evil, saying that it added to the character. I had had to wear it once while playing a crazy vampire. I had ended up falling into a rose bush and torn the ends of it. Red had been upset and called off the game. She had returned the next day, her cape mended by her Granny. She rarely lent out her cape anymore.
Charming sat in one of the tree's branches, legs swinging back and forth, his wooden sword secured at his hip, ready to play the dashing prince if needed. However, he wasn't a dashing prince, and we all knew it. He was a farmer's son, destined to remain that for the rest of his life. But we let him be the prince because he was kind and fair; everything a prince should be.
He sat and stared at Snow, who had wondered over to a fuchsia bush, examining its delicate flowers.
Snow was the most privileged of us: a true princess. Her father was a widowed King, but the loss of his wife didn't make him bitter or unkind. He was always wise and good-humoured. He doted on his daughter and gave her everything she wanted. She wore petticoats under her skirts, ribbons in her ebony hair, and velvet coats. But Snow didn't brag or think ill of us less fortunate children. She knew she was lucky, and treated us as her equals. She really was the fairest of them all.
It had been Charming who had introduced us to her. One day, he had found her in the woods. She was lost and crying, desperate to find her way home. Stifling her sobs, she had explained where she lived, and Charming had taken her home. He knew the forest like the back of his hand, and had gazed at the King's castle many times from the outskirts of the woods. The King had been so thankful for his daughter's safe return that he let Snow visit Charming, and vice versa, whenever she wanted. They had become good friends, and I noticed that they were quite fond of each other, and they often held hands when they thought none of us were looking.
Jefferson was sitting opposite Belle, showing her magic tricks. He always wore a shabby top hat that had belonged to his father, and he loved dazzling us with his magic. Belle was giggling as he conjured up coins from behind her ears, before making them disappear in his grimy hands. She begged him to show her how to do it, but he replied that a magician never revealed his secrets. Belle made him promise her that he would show her when they were older.
I sat next to Belle, trying to watch Jefferson do his trick, but I couldn't take my eyes off Belle. Her dimples mesmerized me when she smiled, as did the faint freckles on her nose and cheekbones, and her laugh, which was like music. Even though Snow was considered the fairest of them all, I thought Belle was fairer.
"Are we going to start playing, or what?" Red asked us impatiently.
Belle got to her feet and hopped up to stand on the gardens only tree stump, also known as the 'debate leaders pedestal'.
She raised her voice and spoke clearly, grabbing our attention. "What are we going to play today?"
This was how every day started. Belle would lead the discussion as to what we would play, and we would then take a vote. Of course Red was the first to suggest a game.
"How about one of us is a werewolf, who prays on his victims at night, and it's up to Princess Red Cape to stop him?" She twirled her cape around her as she spoke.
"We played that a few days ago, Red," Jefferson said, "and you almost poked my eye out with Charming's sword." Jefferson had sworn Red had done it on purpose, and Snow had had to coax Red into apologizing.
"I said I was sorry…" Red muttered.
"How about we play 'Family'?" Charming suggested from the branch where he was perched. "Me and Snow can be the Mum and Dad, Belle and Rum can be the Aunt and Uncle, and Red and Jefferson can be our children." He didn't take his eyes off Snow while explaining the game.
"I don't like that game!" Red said, "You gave me a time-out last time." She scowled up at Charming.
"That's because you were being rude to your Aunt," Charming said calmly.
"I was not!" Red shouted, clearly offended. "I just said-" She was stopped by a whistling sound behind her. She turned to see Snow whistling at a robin who was nestled in the fuchsia bush.
Red burst out laughing, the abrupt sound startling the bird, making it fly away. "Look! Snow thinks she can talk to birds!"
Snow glared at her. "I can! They understand me. Once one landed on my finger after I whistled to it." She crossed her arms, refusing to feel embarrassed.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Red teased.
"Leave her alone!" Charming ordered as he jumped down from his branch. He strode over to Red, his facial expression rearranging itself into the mask of a true Prince Charming. He drew his wooden sword and pointed it towards Red, letting it hover over her heart. Red's teasing grin disappeared in an instant, and she stared wide-eyed at Charming. Charming just looked at her sternly. "Say you're sorry," he ordered.
Snow watched from the sidelines, mesmerized by her knight in shining armour, defending her honour.
Red only glanced at Snow, refusing to say anything.
"Say you're sorry," Charming repeated, gently poking Red's chest with the tip of his sword.
Red sighed in defeat. "Sorry, Snow," she mumbled, her eyes downcast.
Snow was as graceful as always. "Apology accepted."
Charming slid his sword back to hang at his hip and walked over to stand by Snow.
Belle smiled knowingly at them both before suggesting the next game. "How about we play 'Library'?"
We all groaned in unison. We all loved Belle, but we didn't find her pass times very entertaining. She loved reading, and it was a passion none of us could relate to. Why bother reading about adventures when you could be outside having them?
"What?" Belle asked, offended. "I like that game."
"But none of us do, Belle," I said, as I idly picked at the laces of my leather boots.
She turned to look at me. "Alright, Rum. Then what do you suggest we do?"
They all looked at me expectantly. Usually whenever I suggested a game, which wasn't often, the others would happily agree to my suggestion. I said the first thing that came to mind.
"How about Hide and Seek?" I said timidly.
No one objected immediately, which was a good sign. After looking thoughtful for a few moments, Belle hopped down and walked over to where I sat, her hands behind her back. I scrambled to my feet as she neared, and we stood face to face.
"Alright, Rumpelstiltskin. We can play Hide and Seek. If…" She paused, and no one said anything before I did.
"If we can play 'Library' tomorrow." Her tone was serious, the tone she used when making a compromise.
I glanced around at the others, trying to make out what they wanted. None of them said anything. When it came to deals and compromises, they let me take charge.
"How about we play 'Library' for half of tomorrow?" I suggested, trying to make everyone happy. 'Library' wasn't exactly my favourite game either.
Belle was silent as she contemplated her options. I could tell she was giving in.
"Do we have a deal, dearie?" I asked, offering her my hand.
She smiled at my pet name for her, and grasped my hand with hers, shaking it to seal the deal.
"Deal," she repeated.
I revelled in the feel of her hand in mine, until the moment was over and she let go.
"Who's going to count?" Charming asked.
He and Snow stood close together, their hands gently touching.
"I nominate Jefferson," Red said loudly.
"What? Why me?" Jefferson demanded.
"Because in all the times we've played Hide and Seek, you've only counted twice. It's always me or Snow who counts," Belle said calmly, always the voice of reason.
Jefferson sighed in resignation as he took his position by the oak tree. "I'll count to twenty-eight," he informed them.
"Twenty-eight?" Snow asked incredulously. "Why don't you just count to thirty?"
Jefferson merely shrugged. "I like that number."
"Okay, is everybody ready?" Belle called out as we all let our eyes wander, searching for a good hiding place. Jefferson pulled his top hat down to cover his eyes, his ears sticking out under the brim. I giggled at the sight.
"Okay, Jefferson, start counting!" Belle ordered, before dashing forward to grab my hand. Snow and Charming ran hand in hand to the entrance to Enchanted Forest, before disappearing behind the foliage. Red headed for the tallest oak tree, having her heart set on climbing all the way to the top. Stopping half way, she ran back to discard of her red cape, fearing the red would make her too easy to spot.
The sound of Jefferson's slow counting faded into the distance as Belle ran with my hand clasped in hers. "I know of a secret hiding place," she said breathlessly, never slowing down. I struggled to keep up as she ran around a corner by the deteriorating stone wall. She led us to one of the unkempt sections of the garden, perfect for hiding. She darted in among the bushes, urging me to follow her. We sat on grass and dirt inside a small, igloo-shaped space in the bushes, surrounded by nettles and roses.
We both sat without saying anything, trying to catch our breath. We simply smiled at each other. Her blue eyes were sparkling with childish delight, and her curls were wild. She had never looked more beautiful. And she would never know how much I loved her so.
"Your eyes are really golden," she remarked, leaning closer to peer into my eyes. She gently pushed a tendril of hair away from my face. "They're very pretty," she complimented.
"So are yours," I responded, meaning it whole-heartedly.
At this she simply smiled, a faint blush creeping up her cheeks. We heard Jefferson call from afar, warning us that he was finished counting. And now all we had to do was wait.
We didn't say anything, for fear of being heard. But I didn't need words. Being this close to Belle was more than enough, more than what I got during other games. Even when playing "Family", we had never sat as close as we did now.
After a few minutes, we heard Red shouting, claiming that Jefferson had peeked while she was hiding. Jefferson swore that he hadn't, leaving Red to sulk by our oak tree, while he went in search of the rest of us.
It took a while, but he finally found Belle and I. It was partially my fault, as my high-pitched giggle had the tendency to be incriminating during a game of Hide and Seek, which was probably why the others rarely wanted to hide with me. But Belle always wanted to hide with me.
We sat with Red while Jefferson ventured out to find Snow and Charming. We were growing bored as he searched every inch of the garden, and we eventually told him they were hiding in the woods.
After about ten minutes, the three of them emerged laughing from the Enchanted Forest, Jefferson's top hat planted on Charming's head. It was then deduced that whoever was seeking, had to wear the top hat.
Red counted next, covering her eyes with the top hat and counting to twenty-eight, shouting out every number. Her voice echoed throughout the garden and probably scared every bird in the surrounding area.
Red was good at finding us, and the whole game was over in five minutes.
We all took turns seeking, the top hat being passed from one head to the next. The others were particularly amused when it was on my head, saying I looked like an elf with my ears sticking out.
"I think you look very handsome," I heard Belle whisper in my ear, before she ran away.
We played until the sun started setting, when Snow's carriage arrived. She bid us farewell, giving us all a quick hug before leaving. Charming was offered a ride home in her carriage, and jumped at the chance, entering the carriage with his head held high, the personification of royalty.
Soon Red left as well, saying her Granny wanted her back for teatime. She took off the top hat and placed it on Jefferson's head, before curtseying playfully. "Thank you for the loan, kind Sir," she said in a theatrical voice, before turning her back and leaving the garden. Jefferson merely blushed.
Jefferson showed us more magic tricks as the evening sun bathed the garden in golden light. I couldn't help but feel a little jealous, watching Belle clap her hands in joy, demanding another trick, to which Jefferson happily obliged.
He glanced at his pocket watch, and said in a voice full of sorrow that it was time for him to depart.
He gave Belle a long hug before leaving, saying he was looking forward to playing 'Library' tomorrow. I knew he was lying.
Then it was just Belle and I left, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon. Belle gestured toward the swing. "Will you push me?" she asked.
I got to my feet and offered her my hand. "It would be my pleasure, dearie." She took my hand and I hauled her to her feet, escorting her to the swing. She kicked off her shoes before settling on the large, wooden seat, her hands clasping around the ropes on either side. I moved to stand behind her and gently pushed her.
She swung her feet back and forth, asking me to make her go higher. I pushed with all my might, wanting her to reach the stars. She laughed as she swung back down, butterflies filling her stomach.
All too soon did we hear her father calling from their kitchen window, saying it was time to come inside. Belle jumped off the swing when it reached its highest and landed gracefully on her feet, turning to grin at me.
"That was very brave of you," I said, certain that I would never forget the sight of her flying through the air.
"Why, thank you, Rumpelstiltskin," she said.
She leaned in closer, and our noses brushed as she kissed my quickly heating cheek. The feeling of her lips on my skin lingered even after she pulled away.
"See you tomorrow!" she called over her shoulder as she walked to her house. All I could do was wave.
I left the garden and strode down the path leading to the road that would take me home, the first signs of nightfall appearing at the edges of the sky. I glanced back at her house, already longing for tomorrow.