Belle's basket was tucked under her arm as she walked toward the book shop. She'd read her newest find over night, and was eager for the next tale.

"Good morning Belle!" the loud, kind baker yelled. "Where are you off to?"

"Good morning Monsieur! The book shop!" she replied warmly, "I just finished-"

"That's nice. Did you hear about the ball?"

She blinked in surprise, completely forgetting that he'd interrupted her, "A ball?"

The round gentleman smiled, "Apparently the Prince has invited the whole town!"

Belle's dark hair fell over her shoulder as she looked back at the castle in the dark forest. The towers were visible, even from this distance, as they peeked out over the tree tops. "I thought no one had seen him in years?"

"Indeed," he nodded, "Not since… well, since before your father brought you here."

She furrowed her brow and wondered, "Why would he change things now?"

The baker's attention returned to his wife as he bellowed, "Marie! The baguettes! Hurry up!"

Belle's mind was buzzing as she continued on her way. For once she didn't have to force herself to ignore the whispers around her as she passed. Today she wasn't listening. After receiving a new book, she hurried home, only to find someone blocking her path. She glanced up and suppressed a groan.

"Hello Belle!"

"Bonjour Gaston." she replied, ignoring the arrogant smile her gave her as though she was supposed to faint right there. Before she could roll her eyes he had snatched the book from her and flipped through it.

"Ugh! How can you read this?" tossing it in the mud Belle dove after it and glared up at him as he continued, "Soon you'll start getting ideas and thinking." He grimaced.

With a falsely sweet tone she smiled and said, "Gaston, you are positively primeval."

"Why thank you!" He announced proudly as though she'd just given him a great compliment. Belle tried to walk by him but he snaked an arm around her shoulders and tucked her into his side. "So! What do you say I pick you up tomorrow night?"

"For?" she shrugged him off.

"The ball of course!"

She cringed, "Maybe… some other time."

"Come on now Belle!" Gaston stopped to smile at his reflection in a pan that dangled from a shop keeper's window. While he was distracted, she took the moment to slip away into the crowd.

"I've got to go!"

Though she heard him call after her, she managed to weave in and out until she could safely sneak home. Once she'd closed her front door she leaned into it with a sigh of relief. Banging in the basement told her that her father was working on something.

"Papa?" she called down the stairs.

"Hello!" he called back, "Did you have a good time in town today?"

"I got a new book," she said simply as she descended.

"Did you hear about the ball?"

"Oh yes," she snorted, "But I don't think I'll go. There's no one I could even spend time with, really."

"What about that Gaston? He's a handsome fella."

Walking up next to him she picked up the tool he was reaching for and placed it in his hand, "Oh he's handsome all right, and rude and conceded!" she sat down on her usual stool in frustration, "Oh papa… he's not for me."

Coming out from behind the giant machine he'd been working on for months her father replied, "Well, don't worry. We'll have our new life back in no time!"

Belle smiled back at him warmly, wondering how many times she'd heard that since her father had lost everything. Once he'd been a proud merchant with several ships. A string of disasters had left them almost penniless. Her father had all but broken, feeling like he'd failed her. Belle worked hard to never let him see the strain she felt. Right now, they needed each other, and that was enough for her at the moment.