I agonized over my decision for hours. Robby tried to give me as much help and support as he could, but I knew it was just as hard for him. At the end of all of the deliberation and weighing the pros and cons, we decided to move forward with the body swap. Ben checked with Beast'sbelle and then scheduled it for the following Thursday, November 7th.
On the day of the surgery, Rapunzel and Eugene came to visit us. Rapunzel left Eugene there to visit with Robby while she took Emilie down to Faith, who had offered to watch Rapunzel's children and Emilie for as long as she was needed. It touched my heart that so many of my friends wanted to help.
Rapunzel told me later that when they first came in, Robby gave Eugene a huge hug. This was a major surprise, as the two of them have never been the hugging type. It made me realize just how much Robby was feeling in watching me go through this. And Eugene was the perfect friend to have on hand, as he'd been through the same thing with Rapunzel. Once again, I found myself full of thanks for our wonderful friends.
Once Rapunzel had gotten Emilie settled, she came in to check on me. Eugene and Robby settled themselves in Emilie's room and visited, giving us some time alone.
"How are you holding up?" Rapunzel asked, taking my hand and giving me a sympathetic smile.
I tried to laugh. "I'm nervous. Make that terrified." I gripped her hand. "Rapunzel, I'm not sure if I can go through with this."
"Yes, you can," she said firmly. "I know it's scary, but you'll be in good hands. I'm proof of that." She winked.
"But what if something goes wrong?" I whispered, feeling panic seize me.
"Then Beast'sbelle will do the swap over while you're still out," Rapunzel said simply. "She has a few on hand, and she won't leave you without one."
"A...another swap?" I stammered. Somehow the thought of multiple swaps scared me even more.
"Belle," Rapunzel said gently, stroking my hair as if I were a small child, "I know how hard this is. I went through it too. But you're going to be okay, I promise."
Tears came to my eyes. It seemed I'd been crying nonstop since Ben first announced my fracture. "What if I'm not me anymore?"
My friend's eyes filled too. "You will be," she assured me. "I'm still just the same, aren't I?"
I nodded, clinging to her hand as if it were a lifeline.
"Then you've got nothing to be afraid of." She patted my shoulder. "Ben should be here soon."
"Will you stay during the surgery?" I asked her.
"Of course," she assured me. "Paige normally helps Ben, but she offered to help Faith with the children, so I'll be sticking around in case Ben and Beast'sbelle need anything."
I nodded. I felt better already knowing that Robby and Rapunzel would both be there. I wiped my eyes. "I'm sorry I'm such a wreck," I said miserably.
Rapunzel squeezed my hand. "You're just fine. Try to focus on how amazing your articulation will be after this. We'll have to go climb trees together or something once you're all recovered."
I smiled at the bizarre thought of climbing trees in a new, super-articulated body. Then my smile faded. "That's something else I've thought about. Is it right for us to take some other doll's body just because ours is wearing out? Isn't that kind of...I don't know..."
Rapunzel's face grew serious. "I was concerned about the same thing. Beast'sbelle assured me, though, that she uses bodies for swaps from dolls that have defective heads, or dolls who don't have any conscious thought anymore."
I was horrified. "Is that possible?"
"Didn't you know, Belle? Dolls neglected for too long slowly lose their memory and all consciousness until they're nothing more than an empty shell."
"How long does it take?" I asked, suddenly hoping that Beast'sbelle would never get tired of us.
Rapunzel shrugged. "I don't think there's a set time. It depends on how strong the doll's bond was with their previous owner. If they were cherished and loved, they can last a lot longer than the dolls that never really bonded with their owners."
"Where did you hear about this?" I asked, looking at my friend with new eyes.
"I thought everyone knew it," Rapunzel said. "The dolls used to talk about it all the time at the Disney Store. It made us all hope for loving owners."
My head was spinning. I wondered how on earth I'd missed this vital bit of information. Before we could discuss this subject further, however, Ben came into the room, followed by Robby and Eugene. My stomach felt queasy.
Ben gave me a kind look. "I believe we are nearly ready to begin. Beast'sbelle is on her way with some children's Benadryl."
Eugene poked his head over Robby's shoulder. "Rapunzel, I'll be waiting in Emilie's room if you need me."
My friend nodded and blew him a kiss.
My eyes found Robby's. He gave me a brave smile, but I could see the anxiety etched in his face.
Then Beast'sbelle came into the room, holding a large bottle full of thick, pink liquid and a small plastic mug. She deftly poured some of the medicine into the mug and held it to my lips.
I lay back on the pillow and waited for the medicine to take effect, my eyes traveling around the room. Robby, Ben, Rapunzel, and Beast'sbelle all watched me. It made me embarrassed to be the focus of such attention. I closed my eyes and wished I could reverse everything that had happened this week. Between Emilie wishing for a sister and my neck fracture, nothing had been particularly pleasant.
I opened my eyes again and was surprised to find that my eyelids already felt heavy. That Benadryl must be powerful stuff...at least for a doll.
"Belle," I heard Ben say, but it sounded as though he were far away. "How are you feeling?"
"Um...kind of sleepy," I managed to answer. My voice felt thick and unnatural.
And that's the last thing I remember.
When I opened my eyes again, the room was completely still. I lay there blinking in the light and trying to figure out what had happened.
I looked to my right and saw Robby asleep on the floor, his head and back leaning against one of our shelves. He's going to be so sore, I thought. He shouldn't be sitting on the floor like that.
I sat up a little, trying to prop my pillow up, and instantly regretted it. My head throbbed in protest. It was as if an entire marching band had gotten stuck inside my head, and were now marching in a circle inside. I gasped and lay down again.
My body felt dull and numb, and my left arm was stiff and uncomfortable. I pulled it out from under the covers. Then, forgetting my headache, I shot up again, staring at my hand.
The body swap was over. This was not my original hand. I slowly settled back on the pillow, unable to ignore my raging head any longer. But my eyes stayed on that foreign hand, then strayed down to the unusual arm it was attached to. It was the most bizarre thing I'd ever experienced.
"You're awake," a sleepy voice at the foot of the bedding said softly.
I lowered my arm and saw my husband looking at me with concern. "How do you feel?"
"Okay, I guess," I croaked. My voice was dry and harsh. I looked at Robby with alarm.
"Ben said it might take a while for your voice to get used to your new body," Robby said gently. He eased himself over until he was sitting next to me, grimacing as he moved his bad leg. I knew he'd be sore.
"My head hurts," I rasped, "and my body feels kind of numb."
Robby nodded. "Both expected side effects. Ben said I could give you some children's Tylenol if you needed it."
I lay quietly for a moment. "How long have I been out? And where is everyone?"
"You've been out for about twenty four hours, and everyone else went back to their homes. Rapunzel promised she'd come visit you when you were feeling up to it."
It was so odd, lying there, trying to grasp the reality of my new situation. Then I knew. I had to see.
"Robby," I said, shuddering at the awful sound of my own voice, "will you help me? I want to see myself."
He looked concerned. "Are you sure?"
I nodded, then instantly regretted it. The marching band in my head started up again.
Robby hesitated for only a moment. Carefully, he slipped his arm behind my back. I could barely feel it.
He lifted me up until I was in a sitting position. I clenched my jaw as the pounding in my head became almost unbearable. Just a quick peek, and then I could lay down again. I lifted the blanket.
My cheeks flamed. I didn't have any clothes on! Didn't anyone have the decency to dress me after the swap?
Robby must have sensed my thoughts. "The swap is easiest when the body is undressed," he explained slowly. "When it was done, Beast'sbelle did a boil dunk on your hair." His face darkened. "I didn't know about it until afterwards or I would never have allowed it. Once the dunk was done, she felt it would be best for you to get right to bed without any other delays."
I couldn't even begin to process everything he was saying, so I just tuned him out and stared down at my new body. It was certainly...different. More joints, a smaller bust, a slightly thicker waist...
And then it was all too much. "I think I'm going to be sick," I rasped weakly.
Robby was instantly attentive. "That was something else Ben warned about. He said sitting up too soon could make you feel nauseated or faint." He slowly lowered me back down to my pillow. "Better?"
I gave as slight of a nod as I could.
"I'm going to get you some Tylenol," Robby stated. "Stay here and try to rest, okay?"
"Okay," I whispered. Funny, I was so tired, even though I'd just woken up. As Robby walked over to the shelf for my medicine, my eyes slid shut. I dreamed of body swaps and boil dunks and zebra striped blankets.