I scrambled up the shelves as fast as I could and blurted out the horrible news to Eugene and Robby. My husband quickly volunteered to keep an eye on Abigail and Emmaline so that Eugene could go see Rapunzel. Thankfully, Beast'sbelle had moved Ben to the same shelf as ours just days before, so he was right there. Within moments, the three of us were hurrying down to my friend.
"She's over here," I called back to them unnecessarily. They could see her just as well as I could. She hadn't moved an inch since I'd left her.
"Rapunzel!" Eugene called as he raced to her side. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she responded quietly, trying to sound calm. We knew her well enough to detect the anxiety in her voice.
Eugene came around to the other side and tried to kneel down next to her. "Arrgh! These stupid Disney Store knees! I can't kneel to save my life!"
Since kneeling wasn't an option, he hovered over her instead like an oversized mother hen. "Does it hurt terribly?"
Rapunzel turned towards him to give him an answer. A look of horror came over his face.
"Ben! Get over here now. I just saw a chunk of plastic fall from her neck!"
Rapunzel looked like she was going to faint. Eugene appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
I'd never seen Eugene in such a state before. Normally he was a lot better at holding things together. Of course, I'd never seen him coping with a wife with a hole in her neck, either. And suddenly, I was reminded of his fierce protectiveness of Rapunzel back when I first met them. He had looked ready to wrestle Beast'sbelle to the ground when he talked about Rapunzel's freckle removal. So maybe this wasn't as out of character for him as it seemed. I just wished he would think about how his words were affecting Rapunzel. No one wants to hear that they just lost a chunk of plastic from their neck.
As usual, Ben was completely unruffled. "Eugene," he said sharply. "Calm yourself. Carrying on like this won't help anyone."
Eugene looked embarrassed, but must have realized the truth of Ben's words. He opened his mouth to say something, but Ben cut him off.
"I'll need your assistance," our resident physician continued smoothly. "Sit down where you are. Yes, just so. Belle? I need your help as well. We need to lay Rapunzel down on her right side. We'll use Eugene's leg to cushion her head."
I numbly followed his instructions until my best friend was laying on her side.
Ben bent carefully over her, his plastic fingers gently probing Rapunzel's neck. She winced at his touch.
You could have heard a pin drop. Ben's face was naturally sober, so it was impossible to read anything in his expression. Eugene and I stood perfectly still, watching "the doctor's" every move.
I tried not to look at Rapunzel's neck. It was too horrible seeing that gaping hole there. I felt woozy just thinking about it!
At last, after what felt like hours, Ben straightened himself and stood up. His face was grave.
"The injury is a serious one," he said slowly. "I'd like to discuss the matter with Beast'sbelle. I'm afraid this is beyond my area of expertise."
"What does that mean, exactly?" Eugene asked quietly. He clenched one fist nervously.
"It means," replied Ben, "that I would like to discuss the best way to proceed with Beast'sbelle. Once I've ascertained what needs to be done, you'll be the first to know." He gave Eugene a sympathetic glance. "The best thing you two can do for her right now is to keep her calm. I'll see if Beast'sbelle can spare a bit of children's Tylenol. It will help her pain until we have decided on the next step."
I sat down next to Rapunzel and gently massaged her left arm. She gave me a nervous smile. Her right hand clung to Eugene's.
Ben turned to go, but to his surprise found Beast'sbelle coming towards us.
"What's going on here?" she asked, her voice full of concern.
Ben looked up at her seriously. "I need to discuss matters with you, but doing so in another location would be preferable."
"Of course," Beast'sbelle agreed, not even batting an eyelash at Ben's old-fashioned way of speaking. She held her hand out to him. With a rather displeased expression on his face, Ben took a seat in the giant palm and allowed himself to be carried out of the room.
It seemed that we waited forever. Rapunzel closed her eyes. I think it was easier to keep her mind off of things if she blocked everything out. Eugene and I exchanged several glances. I got the feeling he wanted to say as much as I did, but we were both afraid of making Rapunzel more afraid than she already was. Eugene's face was pinched with worry, and my heart went out to him. I couldn't help but remember how frightened I'd been after Robby's injury.
"Ben did a wonderful job with Robby," I told Eugene quietly. "I'm sure he'll do the same with Rapunzel. She's in good hands."
Eugene dipped his head in an appreciative nod and gave me a small smile. The anxiety didn't leave his features, but I hoped that somehow my words had helped. Sometimes just knowing that someone else had gone through something similar could ease the burden.
Suddenly, Eugene straightened where he was sitting and looked up expectantly. I turned just in time to see Beast'sbelle carefully deposit Ben back on the dresser with us, a compassionate expression on her face.
"Well?" Eugene asked before Ben could collect his thoughts.
Ben clasped his hands together. He glanced carefully at Rapunzel.
"She's still awake," I informed him. Rapunzel had just squeezed my hand.
Ben nodded. "As I said before, her condition is very serious. Unfortunately, at this point, there is nothing we can do to repair the hole."
"Meaning?" Eugene asked a little more irritably than he probably meant to.
Ben kept his cool. "The only option we have at this point is to do a body swap."
My best friend froze where she lay. Eugene sucked in his breath. I felt like throwing up. I'd heard horrible rumors about body swaps. Something about a hairdryer, and having your head attached to a different body...that was as far as I could allow my thoughts to go or I really would be sick. Surely this couldn't be our only option!
"Isn't there anything else we can try?" I asked hesitantly. Tears sprung to my eyes at the thought of my friend going through such a horrible thing.
Ben shook his head. "I wish I could say there was, but the damage to her neck is too extensive. Even if I had the plastic to fill the hole and fix it, she would never be able to turn her head in the same way. It would affect every aspect of her head articulation." He paused, as if allowing some time for the information he'd just shared to sink in. "A body swap has its risks, but if successful, she should have virtually no problems after recovery. She can lead a normal life."
None of us said anything. Eugene had been staring across the room for most of Ben's explanation. Now he cleared his throat. "Will she...will she be the same?"
"It all depends on the body that Beast'sbelle provides. It's possible that we will be able to use a body with similar points of articulation."
"Not her points of articulation, Ben," Eugene said in disgust. "I mean on the inside. Will she still be herself?"
Ben squared his shoulders as if letting Eugene's comment roll off his back. "Yes, she will be the same. She will have the same head and consequently keep all of her memories and former personality."
I shook my head. This conversation was getting weirder by the minute! I glanced down at my friend to see how she was coping.
She lay there quietly, trying not to move her neck. Silent tears were slipping down her cheeks and soaking Eugene's pant leg.
Suddenly, she spoke, her voice no more than a whisper. "I want to do it."
Eugene leaned over her. "Are you sure? The risk..."
Rapunzel reached for his hand. "I can't stay in this body...what other choice do I have? Unless," she joked feebly, "you want a wife with a head and no body."
"That's not funny," Eugene told her seriously.
Her eyes slid shut and more tears escaped. "I'm sorry," she told him. "Just trying to keep things light...I know I shouldn't joke like that."
Eugene wiped his eyes roughly. "If this is really what you want to do, then we'll do it." He looked up at Ben almost fiercely. "As long as Ben is sure he can pull this off."
Ben stood in his typical dignified manner. "I'll do everything in my power to make the procedure successful, but there are always risks."
Eugene looked down at Rapunzel again, his eyes betraying how torn he was in making this decision. Rapunzel squeezed his hand and gave as much of a nod as her neck would allow.
"All right," he finally agreed in a tone of defeat. "But I want to stay with her," he insisted.
"If you wish to," Ben agreed. He looked at me. "Belle, I believe it would be best if you left us. I'll send word as soon as the procedure is over." Then he held out a hand. "Before you go, could you help me prepare the bed? You could also assist Eugene in taking the patient's hair down. That outrageous style will only be in the way."
I agreed with a simple nod.
Within moments, Ben and I had spread out a soft bed, made from material provided by Beast'sbelle. Once Eugene and Ben had moved Rapunzel, I immediately set to work taking out her hairstyle. Eugene helped a little, but at this point was acting like a doll walking in his sleep. All of his movements were forced and rigid.
Ben decided at the last minute that the basic ponytail in Rapunzel's hair that had held her more elaborate style in place could stay in...it would keep her hair away from her neck during the procedure.
Much sooner than I liked, it was time for me to go. I paused on my way and looked back at my friend and her husband. Ben had administered a large dose of children's Benadryll which would put Rapunzel to sleep during the swap. She was already nodding off from the effects of the medication. Eugene sat behind her bed, gently running his fingers through her hair and humming to her. I thought I caught the strains of "I See the Light". Eugene's voice was soothing and deep, like the purr of a cat.
I sighed as I turned from the scene and headed back up to my own husband. I was terrified for my friend. What if something went wrong? What then? I pushed these horrid thoughts from my mind. Rapunzel HAD to be okay. I couldn't lose my best friend.
And once again, that idiotic urge to sing something came welling up from somewhere deep inside. I pressed my lips together firmly, choked back a sob, and left the dresser.