If you're behind on the blog, don't start with this post or you'll be really confused. To see how everything with Rapunzel started, click HERE. :)
It was a horrible night. I couldn't sleep a wink...all I could think about was my poor friend and her new body. It just sounded so weird. And of course, it didn't help that Beast'sbelle and Ben performed the surgery right there in the room with us. I kept hearing the hair dryer, the sound of squeaking plastic, and Ben and Beast'sbelle's hushed voices. It's enough to make me shudder just thinking about it.
Within a few hours, though, things had quieted down. I was horribly tempted to go down and see how Rapunzel was doing, or at least to peek over the edge of the shelf, but I had told myself that I would wait until morning, and I was determined to stick to my original idea. I wanted to allow enough time for Ben and Beast'sbelle to observe Rapunzel and make sure everything was going as it should. It was one of the longest nights of my life.
The next morning, I was up at the crack of dawn. As soon as I made sure Robby was awake enough to take care of the girls, I crawled down the shelves to see my best friend. Ben saw me coming and met me near the foot of Rapunzel's bed.
"Everything went as it should," he was quick to assure me. "She should make a full recovery."
"Can I see her?" I asked quietly.
Ben nodded and stepped aside, gesturing toward the bed with a sweeping motion.
I caught a glimpse of Rapunzel sitting up in her bed, staring at her new hands. And suddenly, I couldn't move. She was different now. What if it changed our friendship? I suddenly wanted to run away and avoid the whole scenario.
I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and jumped a little.
It was Ben. He eyed me kindly. "Everything will be fine, Belle," he said softly. "You have nothing to fear."
I wasn't so sure, but it wouldn't do any good to stand here like a statue. Taking a deep breath, I stepped up to the edge of Rapunzel's bed.
"Hi there," I said softly, giving a silly little wave.
Rapunzel looked up from her hand and a huge grin spread across her features. "Belle! I'm so glad you're here." Her voice sounded the same, although it seemed perhaps a little weaker than her voice normally was. Maybe that was just me searching too hard for differences, though.
She leaned forward hastily to reach for my hand, but at the sudden movement her face paled and she swayed slightly.
Eugene, watching her like a hawk, noticed this at once and tenderly eased her back until she was resting partially on his shoulder and partially on her pillow. "Careful," he told her softly. "Remember what Ben said. No sudden movements. You have to take it slow."
Rapunzel seemed embarrassed. "Sorry about that," she told me, closing her eyes for a minute. "I guess I'm not quite myself yet."
I wasn't really sure how to respond to this, so I let the comment pass. "Are you feeling okay overall?" I asked her hopefully.
She nodded. "Ben said it might take a while to adjust to my new body, but then I should be as good as new."
"What sorts of adjustments?" I asked.
She shrugged as if it were no big deal. "Minor aches and pains as I grow accustomed to the new plastic. It's nothing to worry about."
I couldn't decide if she was trying to downplay it to keep me from worrying or if it really was as minor as she was making it sound. It didn't seem like the right time to probe, though, so I just nodded.
"Oh, and check this out," she said, her eyes sparkling in spite of the painfully slow way she pulled back the covers. "I've got amazing articulation now. Just imagine how much fun I'll have outdoors."
I looked down at the strange legs protruding from my friend's body, legs I didn't know. And to be honest, I almost passed out just looking at them.
You'll probably all think I was overreacting, and I must confess I'm ashamed at how difficult it was for me. But to see those legs and to know that the only original part of my friend that was left was her head...I don't know...it just kind of creeped me out. Of course, this procedure had saved her plastic life and ensured normal functionality for the rest of her days, but it was still so surreal.
It was about then that I noticed her watching my face carefully. There was a trace of sadness in her eyes. "It's okay, Belle," she told me gently, slowly pulling the blanket back over her legs with Eugene's help. "I'm sorry it's so hard for you. But...I'm still me. Things won't change unless you make them change."
And suddenly I was struck by how completely silly and selfish I was acting. Rapunzel was the one who had gone through a life-changing surgery, and here I was needing her to comfort me, when in reality, it should have been the other way around.
I sat down and put my hand on her knee. "I'm sorry too. I know it's going to be fine, and I'm so glad you're okay. It's just...a little weird, you know?"
She laughed. "Um, yes, I definitely know. I've spent the whole morning just staring at my hands and thinking about how different they look."
I smiled at her confession. "Well, I'm sure we'll both be used to the changes in no time. And hey, you can give Eugene a run for his money now the next time we're outside."
"I've got better articulation than he does now," she said in a teasing voice.
"Hey now," Eugene finally cut in. "Don't go knocking my articulation. You'll crush my fragile ego."
We all laughed at this, but I noticed that Rapunzel was starting to look fatigued.
Rapunzel's ever-watchful physician must have picked up on this too, because shortly after that, he joined us. "Forgive me for interrupting, but the patient needs her rest. There will be plenty of time for socialization later."
I hid a smile at Ben's stuffy speech and turned back to Rapunzel. "Get some sleep, okay? I'll be back to visit you again soon." I reached out to her.
And even though our hands were no longer identical, I reminded myself that inside that very different body was the same wonderful friend I'd known these past few years. Rapunzel gave my hand a soft squeeze before I got up and left.
Before I headed back up the shelf, I stopped in front of Ben. "Thank you...for everything," I told him quietly.
A slight smile touched his proud face. "You're welcome, although without Beast'sbelle, this procedure would have been a lost cause."
I'd been dying to ask him about Isabella for a long time, and even more so now that she had left. It seemed like now was the perfect opportunity. "So, did Isabella get a chance to say goodbye to you?"
He stiffened at the question, as if steeling himself against my prying. "Yes," he told me casually. "I wish her every happiness." Then he looked embarrassed. "I know what you are really asking me, Belle."
I blushed. "What do you mean?"
"You want to know if I ever developed feelings for her." He looked down at his hands. "I know it was what Beast'sbelle desired, but I could not create feelings that didn't exist." He turned back to me. "You know that better than anyone. You couldn't love me because you already held Robby in your affections."
You don't know the half of it, buddy, I thought to myself, but chose not to respond. There would be absolutely no point in going into all of that right now.
Ben gazed out over the room now. "Marguerite left too, you know," he said softly.
This was news to me. "I had no idea!" I told him.
"With Raoul, of course," he added, a wry smile on his face. "She would not be parted from him for anything...lucky soul."
"Did..." I began, then hesitated. "Did you get to say goodbye to her?"
"Yes." His tone betrayed his pain, as if he felt a cruel joke had been played on him. He let out a long, low sigh. "Yes, she said goodbye." He fiddled with the edge of his vest. "Of course, to her, it was just a quick, light affair, nothing distressing in the least. She was leaving with her love...what had she to care about? How could she have known that the same simple goodbye was agony and torture for me?"
"Did you tell her how you felt?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "No. Just before they left, they announced their engagement." He shut his eyes. "I could not do it to her." His eyes opened again. "Besides, it is obvious that her affections lay with Raoul, not me. To ask for her love would have been selfish."
My heart ached for this aloof doll who was so sensitive and noble beneath all the prickles, this doll who once had been the object of my affections. "I'm sorry, Ben," I told him with genuine compassion. "I wish there was something I could do."
He scoffed. "There is nothing anyone can do except leave me in peace and allow time to heal my wounds."
It was rather strange hearing phrases from the Beast and Mr. Knightley all in one sentence. I wondered where Ben had picked up on them...he wasn't really a movie buff, especially if the movies were romantic ones. The message had gotten across, though. Ben didn't need me trying to fix his problems right now.
I gave him what I hoped was a friendly, non-committal smile. "Well, I should get back and check on Robby and the girls. I'll see you around, okay?"
Ben nodded wordlessly.
As I climbed back up the shelf, my mind was racing. Marguerite and Raoul were gone too? I wonder if they'd volunteered like Isabella? And why hadn't Isabella told me about them? Had she even known? Was Beast'sbelle still planning on getting rid of more dolls? Were we next? And what on earth could we do to help poor Ben? Maybe Rapunzel would have some ideas when she got better.
I know I'm not supposed to be a matchmaker, but I really wanted Ben to be just as happy as Eugene and Robby were. Surely there had to be a doll somewhere in Beast'sbelle's room that would be a good partner for him. Not that I would orchestrate anything or meddle too much. But maybe I could help somehow. In the midst of adjusting to a friend with a new body, learning more about being a parent, and trying to keep Beast'sbelle from selling us all off!