Raoul remained unconscious for the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening. True to her word, Marguerite stayed away as promised to get her rest, but she vowed to return by midnight to stay by his side until he woke up again. Ben and I did what little we could for Raoul, trying to keep him comfortable. I couldn't help wondering what his story was, and how he had gotten to this point. I hoped he would make it, for his sake as well as Marguerite's. And, I supposed, for my own selfish reasons as well. If Raoul didn't make it, Ben would gladly take on the role of strong comforter for Marguerite. It also meant that Marguerite would once again be free to love another.
In the quiet times between caring for Raoul, Ben and I sat beside each other, watching his shallow breathing and preparing medicines for him. Apparently, Ben was a natural in the field of doll medicine. He'd never had professional training, but he'd picked things up here and there while he was at the store, reading books and such after hours. I had figured as much after watching him with Raoul earlier that day. It was fascinating hearing some of Ben's stories about what he'd learned, as long as they didn't get too gory.
I was amazed at how much Ben opened up to me that night. We talked about things I never dreamed I'd be discussing with him. He told me of his old dreams to be a world-famous doll doctor, and I told him of my struggles of not living up to the ideal "Belle" that everyone thinks of.
One nice thing I noticed was that when Ben was just relaxed and talking, most of his stuffy, old-fashioned language fell away and he sounded more like someone from this century. It was such a relief! In time, our conversation naturally returned to Raoul, and that soon led to Marguerite. At the mention of her name, Ben fell silent.
I gathered my courage and spoke up. "You...you love Marguerite, don't you?"
He spun around to look at me, surprise registering on his face. "You knew?"
I hid a smile. "It was pretty obvious...at least to me."
He looked genuinely horrified.
"I don't think anyone else knows," I assured him quickly, concerned by his fear. "I just...well, I noticed you watching her at the wedding, and she kept looking back at you, and I thought...maybe there was something going on between you two."
Ben looked down at his hands. "I suppose I haven't been as discreet as I thought." He sat silently for a while, staring across the room. "I did love her...do love her," he corrected himself. "She reminded me of someone I once knew..." His voice trailed off.
I leaned forward, waiting for the rest.
He glanced over at me and smiled slightly at my eager expression. "There was a doll I once met at the store before I came here. We never really got the chance to know each other, but I always thought, if I could find someone like her to settle down with, I would be truly happy."
"Why didn't you get to know her?" I asked curiously.
"She was sold only a week after I met her," he said quietly. "I was so disappointed. A few months later, I was boxed up and shipped here."
I wondered whether it would be safe to make a joking comment about his less-than-pleasant personality. Before I could decide, though, he beat me to it.
"I know that you were all disgusted with my rudeness when I first arrived," he stated bluntly. "I apologize if I offended you or your friends. I don't do well with new situations and instability. I like knowing exactly what is going to happen and being in control of my life. I never felt more vulnerable than when I came here. There you all were, already established in your friendships. I was sure I'd never fit into your tight-knit group. It made me angry."
"Angry?" I asked in surprise.
"Yes, I was angry that you were all so happy when I was so miserable."
"Well, we did try to include you!" I reminded him a little impatiently. "But you wouldn't have it. I think you worked harder to stay alienated than we did to make you feel welcome."
Ben gave a wry smile. "Perhaps. But I don't know any other way to respond. It's the way I've always coped with things. Better to be alone than to suffer heartbreak." His face hardened. "If only I'd followed my own advice with Marguerite, too." Just as quickly as it had come, the hard expression melted away. There was such sadness in his eyes, I could hardly bear it.
"Ben," I said gently. "You haven't been here very long. These feelings for Marguerite came suddenly. Maybe you'll find that your feelings can fade away and develop for someone else!" Someone like me, I wanted to add, then blushed at my thoughts.
"Fade away?" Ben questioned sharply. "You've obviously never cared for someone, or you would never suggest such a thing!" He eyed me suspiciously. "Are you feeling warm? Your face is flushed."
At this comment, my face flared up even more. I tried to laugh it off. "No, not at all. How can you tell in this light, anyway? I'm fine, fine..." Oh, just hush up, Belle, you're overdoing it!!
Ben didn't look convinced. He started to say something else, but before he could, Marguerite rushed over. His face instantly changed. Never had I seen him more attentive, more concerned. His every thought was on her.
"Marguerite, I thought you weren't going to come down until midnight?" he chided her gently.
She gave him a pleading glance. "Forgive me, Monsieur, but I could not stay away any longer! It has been so long since I've seen him! I couldn't bear being apart from him a moment more."
Ben looked pained, but he nodded.
Marguerite sat beside Raoul and ran her fingers through his hair. "My darling," she murmured. "How long it has been."
At the sound of her voice, Raoul suddenly stirred in his sleep. "Marguerite," he moaned softly.
"I am here, my love," she said gently. "I am here."
Slowly, his eyes fluttered open. He looked up and saw her. Tears flowed down his cheeks. "Marguerite," he repeated weakly.
"Oui," she whispered happily, shedding tears to match his own. "It is I, your Marguerite."
He reached for her hand, almost frantically. "Don't leave me again!" he begged.
Marguerite took his hand in both of hers. "Shhh...it's all right. I'm here, I'm right here with you. I'm not going anywhere, my darling."
A look of relief crossed his face, and then he was asleep. Marguerite slowly traced the features of his face with her fingers. Her eyes were warm as she gazed down at him.
I stole a glance at Ben. What I saw broke my heart. He was looking at Marguerite with such a mixture of love and despair. I wished I could help him. Then, with shock, I realized that I wished he would look that way at me. Because, if he did, I would erase all traces of despair from that beautiful face and fill his heart with such love, he would never remember his sadness again.