It is too glorious to be real, Beauty thinks as she cradles the seashell, another loving souvenir from her father’s trips. She breathes softly in wonder, bringing the conical beauty of the sea to her ear. Softly, the shell murmurs of the ocean breeze. As she closes her eyes, Beauty dreams about what it would be like to visit the beach—or even the ocean. How vast and impossible it would be to see with your eyes alone. What it would be like to swim in the sapphire waters and ride the towering waves.
“Oh, look. She’s basking in her measly gift!”
“Practically smitten with it! It’s just a hunk of rock!”
Beauty bites her tongue and pouts at the grating sound of her elder sisters berating her aesthetic. She and they are so far removed in both personality, age, and looks that she still can’t believe they’re really related. The sisters hardly even need introduction, for they’re the most selfish creatures the earth has born. They only pilfer and accept the most luxurious and rare of fashions and elegant delights—if it’s not shiny or dipped in gold, they’ll just toss it in the mud quicker than they toss up their pointy noses. They floof and tussle up their stringy, brown hair like fantails’ feathers and decorate their daily wardrobes so garishly with colors and that one can hardly even look directly at them. Their faces are so heavily painted in a pasty white that they look like they’re perpetually covered in bird excrement; each time Beauty makes this connection, she rolls her eyes.
Beauty wanted to say, Those gemstones of yours you flaunt are nothing more than rocks, either, but she stopped herself, remembering her manners even to the ones she internally detests. Talking back to them would do no good anyway, for they hear no voices but their own.
“I hope Father brings me back a bigger purse this time. The other one was too small!” Lucina waves her hand, upset, like she’s smacking the air.
“And I’m already bored with that purple dress. Everybody’s wearing red now!” Elizabeth whines.
Untying the bun, Beauty lets her thick, crimson hair hang loose over hear ears to try to drown out her sisters’ cackling. Sighing, she returns the tiny conch shell to the box with the rest of her souvenirs. Unlike her sisters, Beauty savors the gifts of the earth she has been given and keeps her treasures in her modest room. Glittering in the corners of dust and decorating the cracked stone, the treasures illuminate her world with beauty that can only be seen and felt by an open heart. Because of her sensitive nature and perception of the world, her dear father gave her the affectionate nickname of Beauty, a name which came to replace to original moniker to the point where no one can remember what it was. Her sisters, of course, use the name sarcastically.
Horses putter outside, kicking at the cobblestone. Beauty twitches, her heart fluttering. Is he leaving already? She worries. Jumping off the floor, she ignores the tingles in her legs from kneeling so long and pours strength in each step, letting the impact wake up her muscles.
The quaint stone house is barely big enough for the entire family, but the whole village has always felt like a playground for the girls. In the summer, they dance in the streets. In the mornings, they fight over croissants. In the evenings, they go their separate ways to honor their respective stars: the sisters, the newest singers, and Beauty, the unreachable ones of the sky. On her daily walks, Beauty cherishes each home and shop in Noyers, but the concave castle with the oval red door is her favorite, for she calls it home.
Just barely as tall as the chestnut horse’s back, Maurice pets the stallion’s peach nose and double-checks the tightness of the saddle. His fuzzy head, bald at the back, and slightly stout figure remind him of his old age, which he tries his best to ignore. Humming an old sailor tune, he confirms the amount of lumber to be loaded into the cart. Beauty’s arrival, announced by the tap of the unhinged wooden door, turns his compassionate brown eyes towards his daughter.
“Oh. Hello, lovely. I was just going to call for you.”
“You have to leave again?”
Maurice turns away from his daughter’s pained eyes. “I’m sorry. I have to make a big delivery and check on the ships. But I promise I will be right back by Friday so we can have a day together.”
Beauty crumples her dress in her hands and hangs her head low.
“I know!” her father suddenly beams. “Would you like to come with me on the journey? You could see so many wonderful sights!”
Beauty’s frown fades, admiring the glint in her father’s eye when he’s saturated in a beautiful scene. At any moment’s notice, he could burst into a grand tale, wanting nothing more than to transport Beauty to the magnificent places he’s been through description alone.
“As much as I’d like to, I prefer hearing your tales of adventure when you get back. You can tell me all about it during dinner.”
“I understand.” With a simper, he pats her shoulder, walking away to lead the workers in filling the delivery carts.
It isn’t long that the two sisters—arms folded, clothes extravagantly fluffed, and faces drowned in makeup—arrive at the front door and command attention.
“Papa! I want a new purse! This one isn’t good enough anymore. And bring me back some more makeup, too. I’m almost out!” Lucina cries.
“Do they have any parrots where you’re going? I want a parrot. You know, one of those green ones that talk. And a new dress. Preferably one that matches the parrot.”
“There aren’t any parrots, but I can definitely get the dress. You don’t need a different size, do you?”
Elizabeth stomps her foot so hard her shoe practically cracks through the floor. Her face is steaming. “Father!” she forces through harsh breath.
Maurice chuckles to himself. “I meant you’re growing! I can’t keep up with you girls. Every time you age one year, I seem to grow 50!”
Beauty shakes her head. “Don’t say that, Father. You look just as young as you did when you were in the Navy.”
“Flatterer,” he spits playfully. “And what would you like me to bring you?”
Calmly, Beauty muses to herself, searching their yard for inspiration. The afternoon sun brings the best out of the clear sky, and the village slows down for lunchtime. Cows and sheep mumble in the distance, and a gentle breeze whisks through the village, rustling the potted plants resting on the stone steps and under the windowsills.
Admiring the greenery, Beauty smiles confidently. “A flower. One I’ve never seen before.”
Her sisters burst into hysterical laughter.
“Now she’s asking him for flowers!” Elizabeth wails.
“You should really find someone, dear. Then he can bring you all the flowers you want!” Lucina chimes in.
Elizabeth snorts. “But who’d want to be her boyfriend, anyway? Only someone as boring as she is.”
“A gardener,” Lucina elaborates, snickering like a hyena.
“Or worse: a farmer.”
Too engrossed in their wheezing giggling, the sisters don’t hear their father’s loud sigh.
“Don’t listen to them,” Marucie whispers compassionately. Then he adds with a wink, “We all know who I’m really into, anyway.”
Beauty smiles. They share a little secret the older sisters don’t know, you see. About what really caused the divorce with mother. It wasn’t another lady, as everyone else expected. It was actually a man. But he knows the spoiled brats wouldn’t approve, so he keeps his little secret with Beauty. She’s the one that gave him the courage to confess, after all.
With that, Maurice mounts the horse with sights set on the town waiting over the rolling hills.