Search

Something There ctn.

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

(Beauty And The Beast 1)

Content and cover photo © Rosalie Thorne

Editor: Kathryn Maurer



Something There

By Rosalie Thorne


“True that he’s no Prince Charming

but there’s something in him

that I simply didn’t see.”

- Beauty And The Beast (1991)


CONTINUATION FROM CHAPTER FOURTEEN...


Instead of letting himself feel sadness, Adam is just full of anger. Isabelle could have broken his mother’s necklace! Isabelle could have broken the last thing he has of her – the only thing he was able to sneak out of the boxes his father was throwing away. No more pictures, no more clothes, not even the blanket she crocheted for the couch! This little pendent is all he has left….

He looks down at the delicate chain and the even more delicate vial. In his spot underneath the bleachers, leaning against the fence to the parking lot, only slits of light are filtering through the stands. Holding it in the light, even if that means he’s shrouded in darkness, he can’t help but feel that this little thing is the only material item he cares about.

When he felt himself slipping into depression, when he found himself reliant on alcohol to forget, the few times he agreed to be high because it made him feel better… it’s this tiny red rose that made him wake the Hell up. His mother would have never wanted him to be this way. His mother would have been disappointed in his choices. His mother would have hated how beastly his life had become.

So he keeps it close, he keeps it safe. In his pocket or an arm’s reach away, he always has it as a reminder of everything his mother stood for. Love, selflessness, hope… that life can be perfect no matter how big or small, that life can be perfect if you just figure out what’s important to you.

When he hears a sob, he doesn’t realize it wasn’t from him right away. But when he looks down the fence, towards the opening to the parking lot, he sees Isabelle crying. Golden light glowing from behind her, her face is shadowed as she looks into the parking lot. Hand on the fence, fingers curling around the metal, her eyes search for Adam. The darkness is too thick, her eyes too watery.

“Adam!”

But her call is not returned by the familiar voice, a voice that is instantly comforting… warm, low, almost gravely. Instead her call is returned by a pompous, cocky, and slightly drunk sounding one that belongs to Gideon.

Gideon, Larry, and another burly guy in uniform surround her like wolves. Slowly pushing her against the fence, Isabelle has no idea what to do. Heart pounding so hard she can feel it in her ears, breath too quick (almost hyperventilating), she just stares up at Gideon, hands clasped above of her breast.

It's in the moment that Gideon has one hand crushing Isabelle’s ribs and the other risen to slap her, that Adam’s fist comes flying across the air. Punching Gideon across his jaw, Adam forces his way in between them, shielding Isabelle with his body.

Gideon rallies to have a full blown fight with Adam, though Larry and the third kid have backed off.

“Dude, let’s just go! She’s not worth it,” the third kid says trying to grip Gideon’s arm.

Larry is nodding his head, “Let’s just get back to coach! Half-time is almost over.”

The two goons manage to drag Gideon away even though he looks like he’s ready to kill both Adam and Isabelle.

Hand over her mouth, Isabelle watches Adam slide down the fence. Sitting, he clutches his wrist to his chest. (Like an idiot, he used his right hand to punch… the right hand being the one he sliced through at the end of summer – the thumb that needed stitched and the wrist that needed a half cast-brace thing. The hand that he’s been doing putty exercises to try and get his strength back.) Momentarily overwhelmed by pain, he doesn’t even realize Isabelle is trying to get him to stand. He does the best he can and then follows her to his car. He barely registers her reaching into his jacket pocket for his keys.

From the passenger seat, Isabelle turns on the car, getting the heat going. She then reaches to the back bench to grab the cloth wrapping and plastic brace she noticed on their drive over. Slowly and with careful fingers, she slides the cloth over his hand and stretches it down his forearm. Slipping on the brace, it fits snugly. When she goes to tighten the first strap, though, Adam finally makes a sound.

Practically growling, he yells, “That’s hurts! Fuck!”

She huffs and goes for the second strap. “Well, if you’d stop wiggling!”

“If I hadn’t had to fight those guys, I would have been fine!” he snaps.

“And if you hadn’t been such an ass we wouldn’t have been down there!”

Adam points a finger at her but then retracts. “Well… well, you shouldn’t have been going through my stuff.”

Jaw tight, eyes piercing, Isabelle replies, “Well, you need to learn to control your temper.”

After she finished with the last strap over the thumb, she places the brace in his lap. Leaning back against the seat, she keeps her eyes away from Adam who, as much as he hates it, needs to smoke. In the silence, he lowers his window completely. Even though he holds the cigarette outside of the door and exhales to his left, he still keeps his eyes away from Isabelle. She’s looking at him again though, and her eyes catch his.

Softly, she exhales “Thank you…. For saving me.”


FIFTEEN


Adam watches Isabelle through the storefront’s windows as she paces up and down the sidewalk while talking to her father on the phone. The blanket she’d been draped in at the game had been left on the bench and is now in Phil’s possession. The brass buttons of her dark magenta peacoat are undone, the length fluttering in the light wind (left-over from the earlier storm). He notices the sliver of a rosy pink blouse untucking from her jeans every time she turns around. Her brown hair that had been tight in a bun on the top her head is now free and falling down her shoulders and back with ease. Adam has never noticed how much she talks with her hands until now – she’s physically just as animated as she is expressive.

A little bit mesmerized, it takes him a long moment to look back down to his phone. The group-chat between him, Jerry, and David is still open and their responses are still flooding in. He’d not only filled them in about what happened but then expressed how much he really cared for Isabelle – saying he’d honestly never felt this way before about anyone – and asking what should he do. David said chocolate or sweets of some kind, maybe flowers, while Jerry kept yelling at him to shut up because obviously that’s too stereotypical, too generic. Then he asked Adam where he currently was.


Like I said, at the bookstore she loves.

Well!

See!

There you go!

B O O K S

Get her a freakin’ book, you dumbass.

And they told me you were intelligent, tsk!


An answer so obvious he didn’t even realize it. As he turns into the shop, the solution is literally staring him in the face. But! What book? Probably not anything considered a ‘classic,’ given that those are read in school, year in and year out. And, though he knows she loves Harry Potter and mentioned something about author Morgan Matson, John Green, and Kasie West, there has to be something more meaningful lying around, right? Two things come into the forefront of his mind simultaneously: Homebody (by Joanna Gaines) and Sleeping Beauty (or Briar Rose depending on which copy he can find).

When they had been working together in the library and they would share the view of her Chromebook, he remembers seeing her switch from tabs that had to do with Joanna Gaines, the Magnolia store, and even the new book Homebody - that is freshly displayed on the table in front of the non-fiction section - and her explaining in passing that for her and her father, Joanna and Chip Gaines are a huge inspiration. He vaguely remembers her saying that her father loved Chip’s book as well and they have The Magnolia Story on their coffee table.

As for the fairy-tale, on their drive over to Café Andromeda they got to talking about Bitty and her princess obsession and Isabelle commented that Aurora was one of her favorites. She explained, though, that she was probably biased because that’s the story her mother always read to her before bedtime. She also said she’d long since lost the copy she had as a child. At the time, Adam only found this slightly sad but now, after his sentimental explosion over his mom’s necklace, he realizes how much she probably wishes she had it again.

Homebody in one hand, Adam walks over to the check-out counter where a girl in a Tardis shirt with bright purple hair sits on a stool reading a Legend Of Zelda manga. “Excuse me, miss?”

Her look is one of surprise, “Oh! Hi! How can I help you?” she quickly puts her book aside.

“I’m looking for a copy of Sleeping Beauty?”

“We have a children’s section in the back corner,” she points straight back. “But…” and her eyes slip over to the front windows. “If you’re trying to find a copy for Izzy, I’d actually suggest getting La Belle Au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault in our foreign language section. She keeps talking about how she really wants to get it and translate it herself.”

Adam can’t help but look to Isabelle, who is laughing into her phone. “You know her well then?”

“I would think so,” the girl across the counter snorts, “I work with her every Sunday.”

Confused as to why she didn’t mention it, he asks, “She works here?”

She shrugs and sits back down on her stool. “Only on Sundays. Or, well, if Misses Perales is really desperate.”

“Ah… right, of course. So… the foreign language section?”

“Far, far back corner on the wall. It’s divided by language, then author.”

He nods at her and starts for the back of the shop. Not only was her working here brand new information to him, but apparently she can speak French, too? He supposes it is a requirement to learn a language for two semesters for school, but those don’t get you fluent enough to translate a book, that’s for sure! He shakes his head with amusement… there is something just so peculiarly wonderful about this girl.

It’s a bit harder to find the book than he anticipated but he has both in hand by the time the front door bell tinkles. With Isabelle coming in and going straight to greeting and chatting with her co-worker, Adam is able to slip the books for her on a table and motion to the purple-haired girl that they’re there. He trusts that when he and Isabelle wander into the bookstore she’ll pick them up and put them behind the counter.


*


An actual hour and twenty minutes later, Adam and Isabelle are sprawled out on the floor of the children’s section, resting their backs on beanbag chairs and elbows pushed together. After he’d come to the front of the store, she’d gone into full explanation mode when it came to her very part-time job, the store and why she loves it so much, and how she can’t wait to pick up more shifts after the current renovation is done. Adam countered with talking about how his mom took him to the library almost every day and in the end, the bookstore is where he wanted to pick out gifts most birthdays and Christmases. He also let slip about that job in the library he didn’t get and how he actually was really disappointed.

“I’d love to work at Barnes and Noble, truthfully. But that drive would be killer every night.”

She leans forward quickly, hands wide. “You should work here!”

Feeling a stir in his chest, he can’t help automatically thinking of them working together. He smirks, “Oh yeah?”

She bites the corner of her lip a little and nods. “Yeah.”

This close to her he can see the way the brown of her eyes are splattered around her pupils and how the green forms a hazy rim before the white. He also notices a rather dark freckle by the corner of her left eye. And, since she’s scooped her hair over her left shoulder and their coats are flung across the carpet, he can see a round dime-sized brown birth mark on the rather fair skin of her neck. Without any hesitation, he reaches to brush his fingers across it.

She stiffens for a moment and realizes how that might have been inappropriate but then she eases and leans closer to him. “I used to be really self-conscious, believe it or not. That little mark used to make me nervous about my whole appearance. When I was little, apparently I’d beg my mom to let me wear a scarf even in the middle of a blazing summer day. That’s when…” she swallows hard, “that’s when she started calling me ‘Belle’. And every time she did, I felt a little bit more confident and slowly but surely I started forgetting it was there all together.”

His fingers that were resting on her shoulder brush her neck again and sweep back a little bit of hair. Adam’s eyes are transfixed on Isabelle’s. “’Belle’, huh?” he murmurs softly.

She offers a small nod.

“It suits you.”

“Yeah?” she whispers.

As he nods, he brings his palm to rest on her neck. Ever so quickly yet extremely slowly he closes the space between them. When his lips brush against her and then find their place to rest, he feels a bolt of electricity rise from his gut. The same lightning bolt is felt by Isabelle who reaches up to grab his shirt softly. In a place she loves so dearly, surrounded by shelves upon shelves of books, Izzy finally understands the story she’s meant to tell.

One of adventure, one of strength, and most importantly, one of love.


SIXTEEN


Off at six-thirty, just as promised, Adam rushes to his car on the dark but beautiful Friday evening. The arrival of night leaves the sky onyx with a sprinkle of stars starting to twinkle. He’d missed most of the day because of school and then work but the few glimpses he got, it was full of robin’s egg blue skies and plenty of sunshine. In the few texts he was able to share with Belle, she was talking about her afternoon on the farm – even sending him pictures of their chickens - and then helping her dad into the evening. She promised a few different times, though, that she’d be ready to be picked up by six-thirty (since that’s when he got off).

Before getting en-route to the farmhouse, Adam calls her, answering the phone with a bright and smiley “Hello!”

He can hear the smile in her voice as well. “Hey you!”

“How’s the house coming along?”

“Oh you know… Misses Moseley can’t pick a color for the kitchen. They already chose the marble counter-tops and light grey cabinets, but she keeps going back and forth on backsplash or no-backsplash and then what to paint the rest of the walls. I suggest light blue, a pale yellow, or a very soft shade of pink – well, the husband said no to the blue, she said yellow reminds her of her grandmother’s house, but she’s still not onboard with the pink.” She sighs heavily. “Honestly I’d suggest lavender at this point if I thought it’d make her happy but she’s just staring at all the paint colors.”

Taking a drag on the cigarette he lets off a soft, “Oh?” on an exhale. “You’re still there?”

“Yes, I’m standing in the dining room… oh shit, what time is it?”

He can’t help but chuckle, “Mmm, car clock says six-forty-two now.”

She groans. “Um… well, the Moseleys are leaving at seven… would you mind just coming here? I can text you the address.”

“Sure! Don’t worry about it.” Truth is, he’d really like to see Belle in action and all her creativity has to offer.


*


Pulling through a half-circle driveway, the Adam is first captured by how beautiful the rather sizable plot of land is. He can see a blue river past the house that sort of peek-a-boos from the orange woods and then a classic red barn with doors wide open to the green lawns. The house itself is traditional for this area of town - a two story home that looks like a postcard that was made to celebrate colonial New England.

A sizeable porch with a swing and rocking chairs, white columns and white shutters, the fresh coat of paint looking like a dark grey, the roof black with new tiles. After he parks as close as he can to the exit, though a little off the pavement because of a work truck, he makes his way up to the white French-doors framed by glass. Hands in his pockets, eyes on the house, Adam thinks of his grandparents without meaning to and how his grandmother would probably call this house small.

Belle answers the door by throwing the right one wide open. “Hey!”

Her eyes bright, her smile big, she re-ties her hair back and then waves him in. Contrary to what she usually wears to school, this time her jeans are very dark blue and skinny (instead of really light and straight) and her button down is of flimsy sheer mint colored fabric instead of stiffer cotton or plaid. The tank-top he can see peeking out is of a shade of emerald that really brings out the green in her eyes. “You look beautiful.”

The blush across her cheeks and her little smile is almost instant and she shakes her head a little. Izzy is not used to being complimented, at least not by anyone that matters. She offers a small, “Thank you…."

“And this is what you wear to work, huh?” she smirks and tugs at the hem of his blue button-down.

Sleeves rolled up to his elbows, there’s a little bit of a white t-shirt sticking out by the collar, his black jeans don’t have paint on or holes in them and his shoes are brown boots that match his jacket. He looks down and nods, her brows together, faux-seriously he replies, “Oh yeah. Gotta dress to the nines for Dillard’s.”

After shared laughter and a hug, Izzy guides him through the house, explaining as she goes. Nervous about what he’ll think and if he’ll be at all impressed with what she’s helped create, she waits to look at him until he’s seen it all. “So… what do you think?”

“Honestly?” he peels his eyes from the living room.

“Yeah?” she squeaks.

“Honestly, you’ve got a real gift, Belle. Truly, I am speechless. Everything you’ve done is amazing – spectacular, really.”

Wrapping her arms around her torso she looks around. “You really think so?”

“I do. Do you love it?”

She looks at him carefully. “Yeah, why?”

“Then I wouldn’t give this up if I were you. Honestly, you’ve found your calling, my dear.”

Izzy steps closer to him, wrapping her arms around his. To her, there has always been an excitement to designing no matter for whom. And since she’d been so hands on with the Moseleys, she’s realized she can’t imagine herself doing anything else but... “It’s a bit risky… don’t you think? Trying to make this a career?”

Instantly he shakes his head, “No way. With the raw talent you have and the skill you’ve learned over the years and will continue to learn? No way. This is what you’re meant to do.”

“That’s what I keep telling her,” a jolly older man’s voice calls from behind them. When they turn around to see Izzy’s papa, he holds out a hand for Adam. “It’s nice to meet you, son.”

He takes it and shakes firmly, looking him in the eyes. “It’s nice to finally meet you, sir.”

Chuckling, the father looks to his daughter. “Sir? Oh, I like him already.”

“Have the Moseleys finished up then? Is it okay if we head out?”

Her Papa comes to give her a tight hug. “Of course, silly goose. Go! Have fun. Just be home by eleven, all right?”

Grabbing a black waist-coat and her purse on the way out, they’re both ready to grab some food. In the driver’s seat, car on, adjusting the heat, Adam lets Isabelle look through the map of the town to figure out where they should get food. “There’s a little sandwich shop I like by the mall, does that sound okay?” she asks, looking at him from an angle.

Knowing that she would never pick a place out of her own price range, Adam has no problem going wherever she wants. “Sounds great.”

There’s a pause where she looks at him thoughtfully. “So… I got something for you,” and before he can ask she hands him a folded piece of paper. “It’s the application to Bookends. I already talked to Misses Perales and she said that she’d love to hire you.”

“Aw Belle,” and her reaches for her cheek. “Thank you so much.”

She lifts her hand to his and gently brings it in front of her, her thumb going over the scar by his thumb. “I know how much you wanted that library job, plus the Barnes and Noble is pretty far…. I also just thought that, well, this might be a little less labor-intensive which might be better for your hand.”

Still new to the wide world of sensitive emotions, Adam clears his throat instead. “I got you something too, actually.”

She looks up and smiles, “Yeah?”

He lifts his eyebrows and smiles. Reaching to the back seat he pulls the bag out from behind her. Her eyes widen when she gets a glimpse at the books, “Oh my goodness!” She looks to him with a smile so big she couldn’t stop it if she tried. “Adam!”

“You like?”

She laughs, “I love!” and the books fall over the gear shift and she rushes to hug him. Out of the hug, the words rush out of her mouth like a waterfall, “Do you want to go to the Homecoming dance with me?”

He brushes loose strands away from her face and chuckles. He replies with, “Absolutely,” before he brushes his lips against hers.


SEVENTEEN


The first snowfall of Winter came quietly on the Northern wind around two A.M. that Saturday morning, blanketing the whole town in white. From the edges of rooftops, to the limbs of trees, from corner to corner of every lawn, the pure white frost is fluffy and sticking. Sometime before dawn, the streets are plowed and the salt spread, leaving the day's activities to be pursued safely. Though more snowfall is forecast, the sunrise is delivered in the clearest of skies, leaving the colors brilliant as a painting.

Frosted windowpanes greet everyone, including Adam and Isabelle, (and though it’s the first snowy day of many) people are excited. Everyone and their mothers are posting pictures of the beauty of nature on their social media and conversing with one another about the sudden change of season. Laughing with Papa over a hot breakfast, Izzy asks again if he’s all right with the sudden change of plans for that night.

His thick hand pats her. “I’m so very happy you’re going to the dance, Isabelle, don’t you worry. I was a bit disappointed when you told me you weren't going, truth be told. It’s your senior year and you should be enjoying everything it has to offer!”

“There’s just one problem,” she sighs after a big sip of tea. “I don’t have a dress.”

He looks at her with an expression of bemusement. “Yes, you do.”

Her brows come together. “I guess I could use one of the ones from the other Homecomings?”

His laughter is a jolly rumble, “Oh, really now, sweetheart, you know exactly what dress I’m talking about.”

And she does, but she’d hoped that’s not the one he was referencing. “I don’t know… I was kind of saving that one.”

“For what? For Prom?”

She looks now into her cup, “Well… no, I’ve already put the deposit down on a ball gown for that.”

“Well! See… there you go! The dress is exactly what you need for tonight then.”

With the lace from her neck to her wrists, he’s not wrong; she definitely would be warm enough. “Are you sure I can wear it?”

His smile softens, as does his voice, “It’s yours Isabelle. Your mother would have wanted you to wear it and make memories in it, not just have it hanging in a wardrobe forever.”

One of her favorite things to daydream about is that dress. When she should wear it, how she would wear it, to where, for what, etc. Though nothing in her life every felt special enough. Not any birthday or Christmas or New Year’s Eve, not Homecoming or Prom. Now she finally feels like she understands why: because it’s not the event that makes something special, it’s the people. And now she has someone in her life that makes even sitting in a library feel like the most perfect of days.


*


Slowly and then all at once this night has Adam the most nervous he has ever felt. In a group call on Skype with Jerry, David, and Angie, he’s desperate for fashion advice and instructions on how not to completely blow it.

Trying to tie his tie for the seventh time, he looks up at the screen in a panic. “I’m not sure I can do this – the dance I mean.”

“Oh com’on! Mister Confident,” Jerry smiles. “Any time we did anything you were the one who was daring!”

“Always rather bold, if I remember correctly,” Angie smiles.

“It’ll be easy,” David adds matter-of-factly. “There will be music and low-lighting, pretty decorations, and food!”

He nods quickly and throws the tie to the floor, completely disregarding it. Running a hand through his hair, he looks to his friends, “Do you still think I should do the thing?”

“Oh yes! Adam,” Angie sighs softly, her voice rather motherly, “really… if that’s how you feel, that’s what you should do. We all can tell the impression she’s made on you and you are here. Don’t fret.”

“Oh, she’s going to love the surprise,” Jerry says in a without-a-doubt fashion. “Very romantic and… and charming!”

“Kind of like a movie, really,” David comments while adjusting his glasses.

“And her father is helping you set it up, isn’t that just the sweetest?” Angie says supportively.

Looking down at his full look, he frowns a little, “Are you sure about this, guys?”

Angie waves a hand, “Trust me. She posted a picture on her Instagram. You’re going to match her and it’ll be so cute!”

But Adam’s not so sure. “I haven’t worn this shirt since Easter. And with the dark blue…?”

“Royal blue,” Jerry teases.

“You look great,” his three best friends call out in chorus.

“Now go!” David says promptly, “She must be waiting for you!”


*


Isabelle waits for Adam at the bottom of the staircase with their tickets, right where he’s supposed to meet her. Her papa had been insistent on driving her and Adam said he was going to be a few minutes late to the hotel anyway. Fiddling with the scalloped edge of lace that falls under the belt of her bodice, she hopes Adam will like the dress (even though it’s so different from what all the other girls are wearing).

An inch of fabric up her neck, matching scalloped edging around her wrists, the lace a pale gold – looking soft yellow in the hall lights, but shimmering gold in the flash of her Papa’s camera. It covers the bare skin left by the sweet-heart neckline underneath, from the cream bodice to the layers of the tulle, tea-length skirt. A little belt falls on her natural waist, bringing the whole look together.

She added the only pumps she owns which are a dark blue and found a purse of the same shade buried in her closet from last autumn. And though she doesn’t wear makeup very often, she’s found an eye-shadow pallet from e.l.f. labeled ‘rose gold’ at the drugstore. Using that lightly and then a pale pink lipstick, all that was left was her copious amounts of hair. She had to do it herself so she was simple with it, just throwing half of it up in a bun and curling the left-over length.

Feeling the same beauty her mother had always seen in her, she finally begins not to care how odd or different she may seem. Tonight she is Belle – her mother’s Belle and Adam’s Belle. Tonight she feels like the woman she was always supposed to be with a strong foundation and a limitless future. And when she sees Adam throw open the door across the way she can’t help but smile and wave, calling out to him.

They meet halfway and he takes both her hands into his. “Hi,” he breathes.

“Hi!”

Adam wants to look at her completely but he’s a bit too transfixed by her expression. So much joy, so much happiness is shining in her eyes, and though her smile is wide it’s also soft like it’s out of habit not intent. Of course he notices the makeup but it’s just enough to enhance her already tremendous beauty and he feels like he’s seeing her for the first time.

Still holding one of her hands, he steps back to get a full look at her. “You are… absolutely stunning.”

She squeezes his hand she’s holding. “And you! Looking all debonair.”

He supposes it’s true if that’s what she sees. His pale yellow shirt is practically the same shade as her dress, the top undone so he can breathe; it lies flatly under his dark blue two-button suit jacket. Matching blue slacks are straight down his legs to where is feet are covered in black leather boots. He pushes a free hand through his messy hair (the top apparently too long to behave). “Thank you.”

She wraps herself around him quickly and gives him the biggest hug she can. He kisses her in response and then they feel ready to make it into the dance.


EIGHTEEN


The ballroom of the hotel is decorated so beautifully, it’s hard to tell that this is just the Kingsbury High Homecoming dance. It looks like the same amount of effort was put in that would be put in for a wedding reception. Really, the whole room is completely transformed. Mood-lighting akin to candles, blooming red rose centerpieces sit on every table, thick ruby fabric is draped from faux-pillar to faux-pillar. The formal portrait is just inside the door, the backdrop gold but the students standing under an arch of vines and roses. The buffet of food and snacks and treats and drinks is on the far side of the wall near the tables while the dance floor fills the rest of the room.

Isabelle didn’t realize the theme of the dance until the student council president went on stage to announce they’d be revealing the Homecoming Court in a few moments and said it: Fairytale Romance. Laughing at how fitting it felt, she leans into Adam’s chest.

Slipping his phone back in his pocket, Adam asks “Do you want to stay for that?”

Thinking of Gideon, she shakes her head quickly, “Not really, why?”

“Well, I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you.”

Thinking it’s probably another book, she cocks an eyebrow, “Oh yeah?”

“Mmhm,” he smirks triumphantly.

“Do pray tell, then.”

But instead of words, he speaks with action. He pulls her hand softly, guiding her out of the ballroom all together. Past the few students hanging outside in the main hallway, he continues to lead her down a path he seems to know. As they turn the first corner and are officially away from anything that has to do with Kingsbury High, they pick up their pace. Hand in hand, Belle running behind him, she giggles with the excitement of it all.

Pushing through a set of double doors, neither Adam nor Isabelle feel the freezing air at first. Her eyes go straight to the falling snow around them, a sense of whimsical wonder and child-like enthusiasm spreading through her whole body. After leaving the building’s edge, they find themselves between two rows of tall hedges. Down the path, all Belle can see is soft yellow light.

At the edge of the hedges, Belle stops instantly and a triumphant Adam falls in behind her. Wrapping his arms around her, tucking her close to his chest, he whispers, “Surprise!”

The large, white gazebo before them is adorned with twinkling string lights and cushioned benches. There’s a small stone fire-pit in the middle, the low flames' warmth ever so inviting. And just to wrap it all together, there’s a portable speaker on the far side playing classical music.

Eyes glistening, smile unwavering, hand over her breast, Isabelle moves slowly into the space. Adam watches her feeling a sense of pride and glory and… love he’s never felt before. Feeling for his mother’s necklace in his pocket, he takes a moment before joining her on the bench.

Right in the middle of the curved bench, he sat, pulling Belle close against him. She was curled to his torso, her feet wrapped across the cushion next to her. Head on his shoulder, hand on his chest, she sighs happily. “This is absolutely wonderful.”

He starts running his fingers through her curls. “I’m so glad you like it.”

“It’s just… so us, does that make any sense?”

He laughs softly, “Yeah, it does.”

“How ever did you manage all this?”

Adam exhales a soft hum. “The first job I ever had was a housekeeper here. I moved into the kitchens for a little bit before leaving. The whole staff loves me and were happy to help. Well, and your dad helped, too.”

Her laugh is breathy and has an air of splendor. “He’s such a romantic. He likes to tell me stories of all the things he used to do for Mom. A lot of things like this actually.”

“Great minds think alike then, hm?”

“Obviously.”

This lulls the conversation into a pleasant quiet. Time passes without measure and neither of them seem to care.


NINETEEN


The warmth from the fire and the warmth of Adam make it take what feels like a very long time before she even feels the slightest bit chilly. Right as she’s about to say something, however, there’s a strangled call from down by the building, “Isabelle!”

Larry can be seen at the end of the path, “Izzy!”

Sitting forward, swinging her feet to the ground she looks at him with confusion. “What is it?”

“It’s Phil! Please, come quick! Hurry,” and he starts waving his hand rapidly.

Instantly consumed with worry she stands and takes a few steps towards him, “What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Phil, he’s hurt! Please!”

After snatching her purse from the bench, she looks to who’s standing just behind her - Adam. He nods, “I’ve got all this. Just call me and I’ll come find you.”

She nods quickly and he can tell her mind is running rampant. He cups her cheek and kisses her forehead, “Go, I’ll be right behind you.”

Isabelle goes as quickly as she can down the slightly snowy path. When she reaches Larry, he grabs her arm and starts pulling her back inside and down the hall. A bit familiar, she believes she’s being lead back the way she and Adam came. But when they don’t come to the hallway with the balloons and other students, she stops.

Suddenly very disoriented and her stomach twisting in knots she looks to Larry. “Where are we?” She looks around again, “Where’s Phil?”

The dark and drunk voice of Gideon Evens responds, his words a snarl, “Oh Izzy. Sweet, naive, too trusting Isabelle.”

Her name on his tongue makes her want to vomit. She tries to tug her hand free of Larry but his grip only tightens. “You’re hurting me!”

At this, Larry lets go. Isabelle backs away from him only to feel a thick, heavy hand clawing into her shoulder. “No Isabelle, don’t be an idiot. Just relax….” Both of his hands on her shoulders now and he’s forcing her backwards.

Through a doorway into what looks to be a pitch-black broom closet, he pushes Isabelle so hard she falls on top of a bucket. “Now, I’ll be back soon enough and we can finish what we started all those months ago. For now, though, I have to take care of the one thing getting in my way.”

The door slams shut by the time Belle can stand. Hitting the back of the door she screeches at the top of her lungs “Gideon! Gideon, no!”

A few more screams and a lot more pounding, Isabelle backs up with tears streaming down her cheeks. Her foot brushes against her purse that Larry had tossed in after her, she scrambles for it and opens it. No service to make any call or text but she is able to turn on the flashlight. She has to find a way, she has to! Somehow… some way….


*


Half the string lights turned off and the fire slowly dying, Adam sits with his mother’s necklace in his palm. He’d been waiting for the perfect moment all night to give it to Isabelle but when they sat here it just slipped his mind. He was so happy… so calm, actually started dozing there for a little bit. He didn’t know life could be so serene. And now she was gone, that ideal moment gone.

Eyes unseeing just beyond the gazebo, it’s not until he hears the crunch of a shoe on snow that he snaps to. Looking to his left, though, he sees that it’s not Isabelle like he’s been hoping but Gideon.

Brows together, throat tight he leans forward while tucking the necklace back in his pocket, “What are you doing here?”

Jaw tight, hands in fists, he looks down his nose at Adam. “That’s what I should be asking you.” Gideon kicks the heal of his boot across Adam’s knees and then grabs a fist-full of shirt from his chest.

“What’s the matter, asshole? Loser, loner, criminal suddenly too kind and gentle to fight back?” His laughter is of a crazy man when he pulls his free hand back into a fist.

“No!” echo’s down the path, a feminine cry.

Adam’s eyes fall on the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. “Belle?”