A Change In Me

Chapter 30

Belle's POV

Belle knew that once Adam agreed to take his place as Prince they weren't going be able to spend as much time together. She told him that she understood, that it was important for him to learn what needed to be done in order to rule wisely over his land, but after a few days of barely seeing him she found herself regretting what she said. She visited her father often of course, but many times he was either involved in his most recent invention or keeping Mrs. Potts company. Neither of which Belle minded, but it made for awkward conversation. Even her library couldn't hold her attention for long; it wasn't the same without having Adam to read to.

Louis became her closest companion during these lonely days. Every day Belle could always find him digging and weeding in the garden at the corner of the castle, always with a second tool that was meant for her to use. Together they created a place of beauty, blooming with new life and color. Louis still did not speak much, but his company was pleasant.

One morning, several days after Adam's uncle arrived, Belle went outside to meet Louis only to find that the skies were gray and the clouds heavy with rain.

"Not going to be able to work long today," Louis said as Belle approached him. "You best go back inside. We'll work again tomorrow."

"I don't mind the rain if you don't," Belle responded, looking up at the skies without concern.

"That's not going to be any light spring shower, you know," Louis warned. "Why are you so determined to work in the cold rain, hmm?" Belle paused before she responded. She truly did not wish to return inside the castle where the servants were busy and Adam was hidden away in the study with his uncle. Belle and Adam had missed dinner together for the first time the previous night as well as breakfast that morning and, if she was honest with herself, Belle was still bitter about it. Neither Adam nor the servants seemed to need her anymore; even her father didn't need her since Mrs. Potts had been showing him more attention, but it was different for Belle out in the garden.

Her reasoning sounded flat and selfish in her own mind and she found herself unwilling to repeat it out loud. "I'm needed more out here than inside," was what she finally said.

"Ah, I see. Well, I wouldn't count out the Master just yet. I hear his uncle will be leaving soon; if I were a betting man, I'd say he's going to need you more than ever. Don't fret, my lady."

Belle knew that Gustave intended to go back to the other castle soon to alert the court to Adam's return, but she also knew that Adam had a long, complicated road ahead during which Belle would be little help to him. But she only nodded and smiled at Louis, knowing he intended to make her feel better and she was grateful for that.

"Even so, I think I'm going to stay out here a little longer. I promise to go in before it rains too hard," she added quickly when Louis opened his mouth to protest.

"All right, all right, suit yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you." With that, he loaded his small wooden wheelbarrow and made his way down the path.

Belle knelt and began to pick the tiny green weeds from the garden as the clouds grew darker above her head. She ignored the drops that soon began to sprinkle the earth, focusing on her task that successfully distracted her from her recent loneliness. As her pile of weeds grew, the rain began to fall harder until her wet hair began to stick her face. She looked up from the garden bed, blinking against the raindrops, and decided she really ought to go inside.

She stood to dust the dirt from her knees only to find that it had become mud. Estelle would not be happy about that. The rain came down harder and Belle shivered, hugging her arms and feeling the damp fabric stick to her skin. She hurried inside, trying to dodge the puddles as she went but that soon proved to be impossible as the path flooded in the downpour. When she finally made it inside the castle, she was thoroughly soaked.

"Belle?" She jumped in surprise at Adam's unexpected voice and watched him approach looking concerned. "What happened?"

"I got caught outside," she explained briefly and unsuccessfully suppressed a shiver. Adam immediately took off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. The large jacket nearly swallowed her, but it was warm. "Thank you. What are you doing down here?"

"I was told you might be on the grounds in the rain. Why were you?" he asked as he wrapped one arm around her shoulders and led her further inside the castle towards her room.

"I was working in the garden."

"In the garden?" Adam repeated.

"Yes, the small one on the south corner of the castle. I've been helping Louis tend to it."

"Oh. You've been doing this for awhile?"

"Since we found out your uncle was coming to see you," she admitted. She had forgotten she never told Adam about her work in the garden, but it surprised and hurt her slightly that he had not noticed her absences. Judging by Adam's sudden halt in his step, he had just realized the same thing.

"Belle. . .have I been ignoring you?"

"You've been busy," she dismissed hastily. "I know you never meant to. We knew this would happen." Belle never intended to make Adam feel guilty, but she couldn't help but feel a bit appreciative to whoever told Adam that she was outside in the rain, thereby drawing Adam's attention. Adam brushed aside a lock of wet hair that clung to her forehead in a familiar, comforting gesture that made her close her eyes and smile.

"I don't want to do that to you," he said and moved his hand to cup her cheek. "I'm sorry that I have been and I promise I'll try to do better."

"All right," she replied, unsure if it would happen but allowing herself to find comfort in his words.

"I mean it, Belle. You've never been shy about making your opinions known before; there's no way I ever want that to change about you, especially now. I promise I'll try to be aware of what's going on, but I'll still need you to tell me I'm being foolish. I need you to be entirely yourself now that everything else around me is changing. Can you do that?"

"Well, I don't think you're being foolish," she replied. "But I'll try keep you in line," she continued, her tone a bit teasing but taking Adam's request seriously. He was right; she had become a bit more timid about making her voice heard since Adam's uncle had come into their story. There was no reason for it; surely Gustave would realize she and Adam needed time together, too.

"I'm counting on it," Adam said with a nod of approval. "Except. . .well I think you should know that not all that time was spent with my uncle drilling laws and traditions into my head."

"What do you mean? What were you doing instead?"

"You'll find out," he said, his lips creeping up into a crooked smile before leaning down to kiss her. Belle broke away quickly, just in time to stifle a sneeze into her hastily drawn handkerchief.

"You should change out of those wet things and get warm," Adam suggested and continued to lead her towards her room. Belle nodded and cursed her stubborn insistence at staying outside in the chilly spring rain. "I'll come check on you in a while, if you want," Adam said as the approached the doors to her room.

"Oh, I'm fine. Once I get warm I'll be good as new," she insisted. "But I would like to see you later if you can get away."

"Of course." Adam leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "Now go get warm. I'll send Mrs. Potts with some tea for you, too."

"Thank you," she replied affectionately and retreated into her room to endure Estelle's disapproving but good-natured scolding at Belle's state. Belle was treated to a hot bath and then bundled into a thick dressing gown. Estelle left to get the stains out of Belle's gown, leaving Belle to curl up by the fire. Belle surrounded herself in a soft blanket and dove into her latest book, comfortable in her pocket of warmth as she listened to the rain outside pound at the windows.

"Here we are, dearie," Mrs. Potts said as she entered the room just as Belle reached the end of a chapter. "The Master said you were in the need of something hot to drink and I came straight away. What on earth possessed you to be outside on a day like this, I'd like to know?"

"I was just tending to the garden and didn't notice it was raining until it too late," she explained as she accepted a cup of tea from the kindly woman.

"Hmm, well you should be more careful, dearie. You could've caught a nasty cold," she scolded cheerfully.

"Perhaps you could stay for a few minutes and tell me what's going on lately. Everyone seems to have been busy I've hardly spoken to anyone the past few days," Belle asked as she noticed Mrs. Potts go to leave.

"Oh my dear I'm sorry. It's been such an uproar since the Master decided to take his rightful place in the world. After ten years, both the castle and the staff are a bit unprepared." With a sigh that seemed to hold the frustrations of a very patient woman, Mrs. Potts sat in the second chair across from Belle and poured herself a cup of tea.

"You would let me know if there's anything I can do to help, won't you?" Belle begged, unwilling to go back to the solitude she had felt the past few days.

"Of course, my dear, but there's not much you could do. If we need you, you can be sure we'll ask."

"And how's Papa?" she said and took another sip of her tea, watching over the rim of her cup as Mrs. Potts blushed slightly at Belle's words.

"Haven't you been to see him?"

"Several times, but I think you're in a better position to tell me," Belle replied with a smile. "You two seem to be enjoying each other's company."

"Oh my dear, don't you think we're both a bit old to be going through such silliness?" Mrs. Potts said, clearly trying to dismiss Belle's comment.

"No," Belle said simply. "I think it's wonderful." Another sneeze kept Belle from continuing.

"Oh, I hope you haven't caught a cold after all," Mrs. Potts cooed, taking the opportunity to change the subject.

"I'll be fine," she insisted, a bit disappointed that Mrs. Potts eluded the topic but still intrigued on what might arise from their relationship. A knock came from the door and Mrs. Potts went to open it, insisting that Belle stay put in her warm blanket. Cogsworth entered, looking tense and preoccupied as usual.

"Oh, Mrs. Potts! Good, the Master said I could find you here. We need you. . ." Cogsworth glanced in Belle's direction and immediately stopped talking.

"Bonjour, Cogsworth," Belle greeted pleasantly, eying him suspiciously. What could Cogsworth want Mrs. Potts for that he couldn't say in front of Belle?

"Bonjour, mademoiselle. I'm terribly sorry to hear you're not feeling well."

"Just a chill," she insisted, already weary of everyone worrying over her.

"Well, Mrs. Potts the other's need you for. . .well, you know." Cogsworth glanced in Belle's direction again and Belle's suspicion grew. What was going on?

"Very well," Mrs. Potts said and collected her tea cart. "I'm sorry, Belle. I'll see you soon. Stay under that blanket, now." Belle nodded and watched them leave, alone yet again but with much more to think about.

The rain continued for three straight days, flooding the grounds and provoking everyone into staying indoors. It did nothing to dampen Belle's spirits, however. On the contrary, she found a new energy she hadn't realized had been missing. After spending the night bundled in blankets at Estelle's insistence, Belle woke feeling better than ever. She joined her father for breakfast and merrily discussed his new invention. He seemed pleased with the progress he was making on his plowing machine and Belle suggested that he ask Adam to test it on his fields when it was done.

"Where is the boy, anyway?" Maurice asked at the mention of Adam. "Haven't seen him since that uncle of his arrived. You don't think he's trying to take Adam away from you, do you?"

"Nonsense. I talked to Adam yesterday as a matter of fact and he realizes he's been hiding away too much," Belle informed him. "He's probably just. . .Oh, Adam!" she exclaimed as Adam walked through the doorway. "We were just talking about you." Adam paused and looked alarmed.

"I was just wondering where you've been," Belle's father explained and Adam relaxed and took his seat.

"Did Belle explain it to you?"

"Enough, anyway. Pass the toast?"

Adam ate quickly, saying that he had to meet Gustave for yet another lesson.

"Why doesn't he join us for breakfast?" Belle wondered aloud. "He must know he's more than welcome."

"He's been writing a lot of letters to the court at the main castle. I told him I didn't want to leave this place, so I think he's trying to get the court to come here. Though I'm not really sure how I feel about that either. . ." Adam trailed off. "I guess there isn't much option though, is there?"

"It will be an adjustment either way," Belle began. "But I'm glad you decided to stay here. I love this place."

"I'm glad you do," Adam said and stood to kiss Belle before he left again. Belle blushed and peeked over at her father, unsure about this display of affection in front of him. But her father seemed utterly engrossed in his meal and did not notice, or at least pretended not to.

Later that day, Belle kept up with her renewed spirit and brought lunch to Adam and Gustave, confident that Mrs. Potts had taken lunch to her father. She knocked on the study door and entered with a tray of food. Both men looked to see who had entered and visibly perked up at the sight of the food.

"This is a most welcome surprise," Gustave said and stood to take the tray from her. "Thank you, my dear."

"What are you working on?" she asked and took a seat although she had not been invited to. She was worried during the first terrifying moment of silence that Gustave wouldn't allow her to stay, but she held her ground.

"Taxes, my lady, and how to properly collect them from the people," he answered and Belle was relieved that Gustave showed no sign of turning her out.

"Oh of course, all the collections were sent to the other castle instead of this one. I wondered why no one seemed to know about this place," she said, helping herself to a plate as the men had. "But Adam told me this was meant as a summer home; will the funds need to be rerouted here or will they continue going to the other?"

Both Gustave and Adam looked at her with matching expression of surprise and Belle couldn't help feeling a bit pleased with herself. Apparently neither of them had expected her to take much interest in these sorts of things, but she felt it was important for her to understand at least some of the laws. It might not be quite the fairy tale she had imagined, but she could certainly consider it an adventure.

"Adam, this lady of yours is quite clever. Perhaps you could be convinced to sit in with us on some of these lessons?" he asked Belle.

"Of course. I'd like to know more about this sort of thing, but you must also allow me time with Adam. You're monopolizing him, monsieur," she said in a teasing note, hoping her tone would keep him from being offended.

"Please call me Gustave. And you're quite right, my dear. I've been terribly unfair to you both, keeping Adam cooped up here with me. You may take him whenever you wish."

"I'm right here, you know," Adam grumbled as he cut the meat on his plate. Belle laughed and was surprised to hear Gustave join in with a deep chuckle.

"I'm sorry, my love. I promise I will always ask you before I want to borrow you," she teased.

"You make me sound like one of your books," he complained but Belle noticed his unsuccessfully hidden smile. "You're sure you don't mind, uncle?"

"Not at all. I shall be returning to the court in a few days anyway as soon as this cursed rain stops, which will give you plenty of time to spend with your lovely lady. I might ask you to come with me, but I am not sure how the others might react to seeing a ghost. I think I'll have to ease them into the idea. Those old crows don't like change much."

"You make them sound perfectly awful," Belle said, hoping that Gustave might deny this.

"I'm afraid they are, my dear, but only because their occupations have made them so. I imagine it would be difficult to keep cheerful while bent over dusty, boring volumes in dim rooms for days at a time. Not that I have anything against reading, you understand," Gustave said with a respectful nod towards Belle. "But the tasks of these men are exceedingly dull and require equally uninteresting work."

"I'm certain you'll be able to convince them about Adam," Belle said, hoping she wasn't being too optimistic.

"Are we going to work at all or can I go?" Adam broke in, causing Belle and Gustave to laugh before returning to their studies.

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