For a month, I managed to avoid Ben. It was a pretty big feat to accomplish, considering that we lived on opposite ends of the same dresser. There were times when I caught him looking across at me, and even a few days when he looked like he might try to start up a conversation. I always came up with some way to escape, though. I didn't see how I could ever have a conversation with him again! I'd never been so mortified in my entire life.
How could I have let myself get so carried away? I had let a few little minor situations lead me into planning a life with him. And then, I'd babbled like an idiot about how I loved him...I still blushed every time I thought of it. He must think I was a complete lunatic.
For the first few weeks, I felt very alone. I was trying to keep as far away from Ben as possible, and it seemed like everyone else was too busy for me. Eugene and Rapunzel had discussed their desire for a baby with Beast'sbelle shortly after my conversation with Rapunzel. Now, they were busy planning and searching with her. I rarely saw my friend alone, and when I did, she was extremely preoccupied. It was as if having a baby of her own was all she could think about. It was an obsession that consumed her every waking moment. I hoped Beast'sbelle could find them a baby soon so we could get on with life.
Robby wasn't busy, exactly, although he had a lot more scheduled than he normally did. But things were different between us. We'd somehow lost that easy familiarity we'd always had together. I thought of Rapunzel's suspicions that Robby might love me too. I shook my head at this. There was no way he did. We'd even laughed about it before. Besides, what would he see in me anyway? I was nothing special...obviously, since I couldn't hold a candle to Ben's Marguerite. Marguerite was classy and exotic with her beautiful French accent and sweet singing voice. I was the off-key singing, clumsy one who craved french fries and hamburgers over baguettes. It did seem like Robby had been avoiding me, though, almost with as much determination as I'd been avoiding Ben.
By the time the fourth week since my conversation with Ben rolled around, I was feeling pretty miserable. I hadn't really had anyone to talk to. Ben was always there, across the dresser, a painful reminder of my embarrassment. What made it worse was that I still had feelings for him. I dreaded catching his gaze from across the room, yet longed for it at the same time.
I was sitting in my spot, wondering when it would get any easier, when Robby pulled himself up over the edge of the dresser. He hesitated when he saw me. I thought he might make an excuse and leave again (like he usually did), but he didn't. Instead, he came over and sat down beside me.
There was an awkward silence for a while. Neither of us seemed to know what to say. I felt a strange sense of relief, though. It was so nice to have a friend nearby, even if I didn't have any clue how to talk to him anymore.
"Are you okay?" Robby finally asked, breaking the silence. "You've been...different the past few weeks."
I shrugged. "Maybe. You've been pretty different yourself."
He was quiet for a while. "I've been working through some things," he said soberly. "I'm sorry if I pushed you away."
Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes. That's exactly how I'd felt...pushed away by everyone. Of course, in all fairness to Ben, I supposed I'd done the pushing in that instance.
"Do you want to talk?" Robby asked gently.
That was all it took. I started sobbing. Loudly. I'm amazed Beast'sbelle didn't come in from the living room to see what was going on. Robby put a comforting arm around my shoulder and let me cry. There was no condemnation in his eyes, just sympathy and understanding. Which, of course, made me cry harder, because I was so overwhelmed by what a great friend he was.
When I had controlled myself somewhat, I told him all about Ben and everything that had happened. I even went into my feelings about Rapunzel and Eugene and their future baby. Through it all, he just listened patiently. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed our talks until that moment.
"I wouldn't beat yourself up over it too much," he offered when I'd finished. "I know it was embarrassing, but what's done is done. And hey, if someone like you confessed that to me, I'd be flattered!" His tone was light, but when I looked up at him, he avoided my eyes. "Just give him some time." He looked over at me again. "You can't avoid him forever, though."
I nodded miserably. "I know...I'm just aiming for as long as possible."
Suddenly, a grin spread across Robby's features. "You know what you need?" he asked.
I shook my head. "What?"
Still grinning, he took my hand and rose to his feet. "Come with me."
Robby lead me out of the room, down the hallway, and all the way to the side door of the house.
"We're not going outside, are we?" I asked worriedly. I wondered what Beast'sbelle would think.
Robby smiled. "Don't worry. I've been out lots of times." As if he could read my thoughts, he continued with, "Beast'sbelle doesn't have a problem with it as long as we stay in the yard."
I was still doubtful. "How are we going to get out, anyway?" I questioned.
Without another word, Robby climbed up onto the computer desk. He stood at the edge for a moment, as if making calculations in his head, and then leaped for the doorknob. I stifled a gasp, waiting for him to splat against the door. He obviously knew what he was doing, though, because he landed right on the knob and grasped it tightly. Then, with an expert's touch, he used all of his body weight to turn it. The door slowly creaked open.
Robby looked down at the floor, paused, and then let go of the knob. I cringed and closed my eyes, but he landed gracefully on his feet. He pulled hard on the door so that it opened just enough for us to get out. He turned and smiled. "Are you ready?"
I laughed. "Wow, you're full of hidden talents."
He winked. "You have no idea. Now, come on! The great outdoors awaits!"
Grinning, I followed him out of the door. We left it slightly ajar so that we could get back inside later.
It didn't take long to get to the back yard. The grass was dry and brown (a problem with the sprinklers, Robby explained), but it couldn't have been more wonderful! Although it was warm, there were clouds that passed over the sun every few minutes, and there was a deliciously cool breeze blowing. Never had I felt more alive and free. I wanted to laugh and cry and run as hard as I could.
"What do you think?" Robby asked me.
"It's wonderful!" I beamed.
He smiled back. "Come this way...I'll show you around."
"This is way smaller than the dresser you climb every day," he pointed out. "Here, give me your hand."
Still a bit reluctantly, I walked over and put my hands in his. It was a bit of a struggle, but we managed...barely.
"So, it's not so bad up here, right?" Robby's voice broke into my thoughts.
I looked up and found him standing on top of the lion's head. I nodded and looked back out over the lawn. "Not bad at all."
"Good," I heard him say. It was nice to hear that he had apparently recovered from our impromptu hug as well. The last thing I wanted was for things to be awkward between us, now that we were finally talking again. "So that means," he continued, "that you're ready for my favorite tree."
"Tree?" I questioned, spinning around quickly. Too quickly. I started to lose my balance and grabbed for the closest thing I could. Unfortunately for Robby, it happened to be his leg. Down he tumbled to the ground, and I followed after him. This was one of those times when it was really nice to be made of plastic. We both reached the ground unharmed and with a huge case of the giggles.
Then, Robby stopped laughing and was just...looking at me. I was beginning to get suspicious. He was acting so differently today. Yet, just when I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, he sat up, and the spell was broken, so to speak. I sat up too.
"Ready to try the tree?" he asked breathlessly. A teasing grin lit up his face. "Of course, if you pull us down from there, I can't guarantee we'll land without injury."
I socked his shoulder, and he laughed and stood to his feet. "This way," he said simply, heading to another end of the yard.
Soon we came to a large cherry tree with beautiful green leaves and lots of great branches for climbing. We started by climbing the partial stump towards the bottom of the tree.
"It's like a little mini stage," I said.
"Care to sing?" Robby asked playfully.
I rolled my eyes. Robby knew very well that singing was not my forte. "Yeah, right," I responded. "Why don't you go ahead?"
He shook his head and the subject dropped. I thought about it. I'd never heard Robby sing. For all I knew, he was every bit as tone deaf as I was.
Climbing wasn't hard at all, although I was glad I was wearing my shortest dress...and I can't guarantee that I was very ladylike. :} Thankfully, Robby was above me and not below me. Before long, we'd made it to his favorite branches. There were perfect spots for us to sit.
The breeze picked up again as we took our seats. It rustled through the leaves and caressed our faces. I felt the best I'd felt in weeks. Out here, it was easy to forget about Ben and my embarrassment, or the fact that Rapunzel had little time for me.
"Thank you, Robby," I said sincerely. "This was just what I needed."
He smiled and gave a little nod. "I thought it might help." He looked out over the yard. "This is where I come when I need time to myself. It's hard to get it in the house."
I couldn't agree more. "I could have used this weeks ago....although I might have just stayed up here and never come back."
We were quiet for a while, just soaking everything in.
Then I broke the silence. "I feel honored that you shared this place with me. I promise I won't overuse it. You'll never get your alone time if I'm always here."
Robby seemed to find it difficult to swallow. "You can come here anytime you want to." It looked like he was trying to say more, but nothing came. Finally, he looked away from me.
I put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?" I asked softly.
He looked back at me again, a small smile on his lips. "Yes," he managed. "I've...well, I've been wanting to show you this place for a long time."
"Why didn't you?" I asked.
"I don't know, you were busy. And it seemed like you weren't really as interested in our friendship anymore once..."
"Once Ben and I got to know each other," I finished for him guiltily. "Wow, Robby. I had no idea you felt that way. I'm sorry." I took his hand. "I want you to know that you're one of my best friends, and no matter what happens, that will never change."
Was it my imagination, or had he winced at the word "friends"?
"Thank you," he said quietly. He seemed to shake himself. "I think it's about time for more climbing!" he announced suddenly. And before I could even respond, he jumped up and started climbing higher.
I stood up and attempted to climb higher myself. "Be careful, Robby!" I called up to him.
Robby laughed. "I'm fine, Belle." As if to prove it, he leaned back from the branch, threw back his head and bellowed, "Oh, what a beautiful morning...oh, what a beautiful day..." from "Oklahoma".
I nearly fell off of my branch. Under any other circumstances, I would have pointed out that it was the afternoon, not the morning. But I couldn't say a word. Because Robby could have been cast in the movie. His voice was amazing! I almost melted right there at the beautiful tenor notes pouring from his throat. He'd never said a word about his singing voice before!
He stopped mid-song.
"Don't stop!" I begged him. "Why didn't you tell me you could sing?"
Robby shrugged in an embarrassed sort of way. "You never asked."
"But it came up in conversation, remember? You told us when you first came that you weren't really into singing and dancing!"
"Well, it's not my life or anything," Robby said slowly.
I tried everything to get him to sing again, but nothing I did could persuade him. I gave up for the present, but you can be sure I intended to hear that voice again.
We climbed back down the tree, and Robby led me over to a little porch that Beast'sbelle's husband and other family members had built. We sat on the edge and dangled our legs.
"It's just about time to go back in," Robby warned.
"I know," I admitted. I sighed in contentment. "Thank you so much for today."