The Girl In The Yellow Dress

By Laura Schiller

Based on: Beauty and the Beast

Copyright: Walt Disney Pictures

"Oh my goodness," exclaimed Mrs. Potts. "What lovely gowns!"

"Not too bad, if I do say so myself!"

Madame de la Grande Bouche giggled like a young girl as she flung her doors wide open, displaying the dazzling array of fashions which the magic of the castle had conjured up for this night only. There were silks, satins, velvets and taffetas in every color of the rainbow, in fashions ranging from the previous century to just over ten years ago. Any one of these dresses would require a minor military operation to get into, and would undoubtedly make any girl who wore it look like a princess.

Belle, standing before them in her underclothes, swallowed a gasp of dismay.

"This is … it's very kind of you," she managed to tell the former lady's maid who was now a living wardrobe. "But … there must be some misunderstanding."

"Why, whatever makes you say that, my dear?" asked Madame, widening her eyes innocently beneath her carved wooden eyebrows.

"I couldn't wear something like this!" Belle's voice came out louder than she intended; she took a deep breath and began again. "I mean … dinners with the Prince are never this formal. I'd look silly, all dressed up as if for a ball."

She blushed at the thought of her half-wild host seeing her in one of these frothy concoctions. He might just roar with laughter until the table shook. She was nervous around him anyway, these days; not the irrational fear of her first night here, but something subtler, something that burned in her chest and flickered in her stomach every time he touched her or came near her. Every time she began to feel comfortable around him – when they were walking out in the snowy gardens, for example, or reading by the fire – it would start again, throwing her off-balance. Being bundled up in silk, cotton and whalebone would not make things easier.

"Ah," said Mrs. Potts, porcelain eyes twinkling. "But I have it on good authority that tonight's dinner will be formal. Lumiere told me specifically to ask you to wear something fit for dancing."

"Dancing?"

Belle sat down hard on her heavy four-poster bed. She had never enjoyed dancing; her only willing partner at the village festivals had been Gaston (possibly because he frightened away the other men) and being hauled around the floor like a rag doll was not her idea of a good time. If the Beast had forgotten how to read, why would he remember how to dance?

She had a momentary flash of being swept across the castle's ballroom floor in his arms. He was so strong, inhumanly strong, and yet so gentle when he tried to be … if he could still follow the steps, it would be no hardship to dance with a partner like that.

She buried her scorching face in both hands, shaking her head to clear the distracting thoughts away.

"Heaven's sakes, my dear, no need to look so worried," said Mrs. Potts, nudging Belle's foot with her spout in a sympathetic manner. "It's dinner and a dance, not the Spanish Inquisition! He's after giving you a good time tonight, that's all."

A good time? she thought wryly, smiling to herself. He still doesn't know me very well, does he?

Remembering the first "good time" the Beast had given her, however, was unexpectedly soothing. She would never forget her first sight of the sun shining on his magnificent library, making the green walls glow golden, striking the heavy leather spines of hundreds of books. A man who didn't know her could not have done that.

"I just don't want to embarrass myself," she confessed softly. "Not … not tonight."

He had already seen her terrified and humiliated in the West Wing; she had seen him a bloody, irritable mess after fighting off the wolves. She hadn't believed there could be any chance for embarrassment left between them, but there was.

When, she wondered, had it begun to matter so much what one man thought of her?

"There's little chance of that," replied Mrs. Potts, tilting her round face up toward Madame's dresses. "Believe you me!"

"The Master will be enchanted with you from the moment he sees you," twittered Madame. "You would be beautiful in any dress, mademoiselle, but in one of these," she fluttered her doors like wings, making the dresses swing on their hangers, "I guarantee you, you will shine brighter than the stars!"

Bella raised a skeptical eyebrow at her reflection in the vanity mirror.

Ever since she and her father had come to Molyneux, she had been judged, praised and evaluated on her looks alone. No one, except for her friend the bookseller, had ever stopped to think of her as anything more than a pretty face and body. Now that she had finally found someone who would let her read to him, even share a friendly argument about A Midsummer Night's Dream or Gulliver's Travels, she was surprised – and, quite honestly, unnerved – to discover that she actually wanted to be pretty.

She wanted the Beast to admire her. And, judging by their satisfied expressions, the wardrobe and the teapot knew exactly what she was thinking.

"Good looks are a gift, you know, my dear," said Mrs. Potts, following Belle's gaze into the mirror. "Just like a clever mind, or steady hands. You're born with them – or not, as the case may be – but it's everyone's choice what to make of them. You can hide them away, or you can use them to make yourself and others happy. The choice is yours to make."

The voice of the aging Englishwoman, which sounded so incongruously from the little china pot on the floor, was deep and warm with the wisdom of experience. If she was even the slightest bit envious of Belle's youth, beauty, and humanity, she did not show it; instead she spoke as if Belle were one of her own set of cups.

The younger woman, wise enough to admit when she was wrong, smoothed her linen and got to her feet. Running her eye over the dresses, there was one in particular that caught her eye: a bright golden silk, the color of honey or summer sunshine, which she instinctively knew would bring out the pink of her complexion and the green in her hazel eyes.

She ran her hand over the fabric, which flowed like water across her skin. It didn't take Madame's squeal of delight to tell her that this dress was the one.

"Ooh, His Highness will never know what hit him!" exclaimed the wardobe.

Belle smiled mischievously back at her. For once, she was inclined to agree.