Welcome to Beauty’s Beast, book 3 in the Black Trans Fairy Tales series. This novella is releasing one chapter/week on the blog ahead of publication.
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Belle and her father sat at one end of a long dining table larger enough to seat half the town. The dust had been swept away, the curtains thrown open, the glass windows polished, and the table itself gleamed like bronze in the morning sun. Lumière danced down the table, his brass body and arms freshly polished, lighting tall candlesticks as he sang about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. The cutlery danced, the teacups sang chorus, and Belle clapped along to the song, delighted in every way. Beside one of the windows, Madam Armoire belted an aria fit for a great hall.
Light glittered off the silver and brass of the staff and the sweet smells of syrup and juice made Belle’s stomach rumble in anticipation.
Breakfast dispensed itself from rolling carts, the plates smoothly turning in place in front of both Belle and her father. She gasped as the silver domes floated away, and she breathed deeply of smoked sausage, roasted vegetables, biscuits and gravy, more food than she knew what to do with.
An entire bowl of fruit, glistening like jewels, hopped into her hand and one of the dancing forks sprang into a spinning back flip to land precisely in a strawberry.
Lumière’s song came to a flourishing end. He bowed. He almost lit the tablecloth on fire with one of his hands, hopped on it to put out the ember and stayed bowed.
Maruice cheered the loudest but Belle heaped praises on Lumière as he corralled the cutlery into their places.
So it was to a room full of laughter and light that Quinn joined their guests for breakfast for the first time.
The hall doors opened in tandem, admitting the guardian at their full height. Their antlers just brushed the arch of the doorway and with the new braids in their mane pulling the hair away from their face, Belle could see their eyes were bright and hopeful even from across the room.
Belle stood up at her place at the table and her father followed, raising a glass of juice in Quinn’s direction as a greeting.
Quinn wore a suit.
It wasn’t a suit for a human with a collar and tie. It was more like the outer jacket of a suit tailored to fit under their mane with a long pair of coat tails and shiny brass buttons. The fabric was such a dark blue it made Quinn’s russet fur brighter. They tugged gently at the bottom hem, uncomfortable in such a formal setting after untold years of ignoring not only the world, but their own staff.
Quinn signed a cautious, “Good morning.”
Belle beamed. “Good morning! I’m so glad you’re here.” She caught Lumière’s eye and tapped the place next to her, requesting another place setting.
Lumière recovered from his shock and quietly organized the rolling carts to take him back to the kitchen for another plate.
A brief moment of stillness captured the room when Quinn hesitated at the doorway to their own dining hall, visibly unsure of their welcome. Belle clutched her hands at her chest in sympathy. It must have taken all of Quinn’s courage to join them after being stuck in the gray haze of depression. She refused to let them feel uncomfortable in their own home.
Belle’s father didn’t let the moment stretch. “Come in, come in!” he bellowed.
Quinn walked forward automatically and Belle saw the moment their brain caught up with their body. A stuttering step half way across the room. The last barrier to entry when anxiety and doubts scream the loudest.
Lumière returned in that moment with the most impeccable timing, riding the handle of the rolling cart that carried another pair of covered plates. “It’s delightful to have the dining room full of your vibrant and shining faces!” Lumière expertly directed Quinn to the seat beside Belle, distributed their breakfast, and wheeled himself away on the cart, waving his candlestick arm. “Enjoy yourselves!”
Everyone took a seat. Belle smiled up at Quinn on her left and said, “You look quite dapper this morning.” Their fur gleamed in the morning sun. Had it been brushed?
Quinn signed, “Do you like it?” Their long ears perked up and forward.
Belle nodded and Quinn reached up to touch their mane where it pulled back from their face. They signed, “Thank you for doing my braids.”
Quinn delicately pulled the silver dome off of their breakfast plate and across the table, Belle’s father said, “Ohh, is that a stack of pancakes?” He called toward the kitchen, “Lumière!”
Lumière arrived on a rolling cart standing at attention, “Monsieur!”
“More pancakes for the table, please!”
“Oui!” Lumière hopped about face and road the cart back to the kitchen.
And from there the conversation flowed more smoothly. Quinn relaxed as Maruice and Belle discussed their trip through the woods and plan the next one to go with a picnic basket and blanket to set out on the sunny rocks. Stacks of pancakes joined them followed by another round of fruit bowls and Belle ate and laughed until her stomach hurt with both.
After the staff cleared the table and the three of them settled down with tea or coffee, Quinn spoke up. Their large hands signed over the table, “There’s another room in the castle I want to show you.”
Belle sat up with rising excitement. She wanted to know every corner and secret room of this place and the fact that Quinn was ready to show them another area made her heart leap with joy. Having friends around, with no expectation or requirements, so often lead to brighter days. Belle beamed with delight.
She tossed the last of her tea back as Quinn stood and hooked her arm through her father’s to walk with him down the carpet-plush hall.
Warm candlelight lit their way from floor to ceiling and every trace of neglect had been swept, washed, polished, and shined until even the stones themselves seemed to gleam. A comfortable sense of home settled around Belle’s shoulders and heart. She’d felt it briefly at the top of the tower with Quinn, and again in the forest, but now she was certain. Nothing and no one would drag her away from here.
Not only was she welcomed with open arms, as a woman who could grow a beard, she was the least strange person in the entire castle. And the staff, despite their odd forms, had become extended family in no time at all. Lumière the candlestick was like an uncle. Madam Armoire like a boisterous aunt. The teacups like little cousins. And her father looked brighter than he’d ever been.
What more could a girl ask for in life than family, friends, and a warm home to enjoy?
All she was really missing were her books.
Belle squeezed her father’s arm and smiled as Quinn led them to an understated pair of double doors. About as tall as the dining room, but without any elaborate carving or decoration. Simple bronze handles that had been recently polished.
Quinn gently opened both doors and with a slight bow to Belle, stepped to the side.
Belle dropped her father’s arm with a delighted gasp.
The plush red carpet spilled down a short set of stairs into a massive room stuffed wall to wall with shelves of books. The sweet scent of their pages tickled her nose and Belle was drawn forward like a moth to flame. A library. A library so large that Lukas’ shop could fit inside six or seven times.
She took the stairs and the ceiling just kept stretching upward. A second story unfolded above her with even more books and Belle clutched her chest in shock. She spotted a few overstuffed chairs and lounging couches beside tiny windows—currently drawn closed to protect the books from direct light.
She sheer scale of the room overwhelmed her.
Belle had no idea there were this many books in the whole world.
She found herself at the foot of the stairs where a small table sat beside a bank of little drawers. On the table was her adventure story. The one she’d been reading last week in the courtyard when Quinn had stumbled upon her. The book that had gone missing.
Sitting on top of the book is a small, blank library card. Ready to be added to the collection.
Belle picked up the card, fighting overwhelmed tears, and started when Quinn’s hand came down gently on her shoulder. She looked up at them.
“This is for you,” they signed. “I want you to have the whole library.”
Belle’s brow furrowed. That was far too generous. And besides, she didn’t want to take anything from Quinn, that wasn’t how friendship worked. She put a hand on top of theirs and shook her head. “I don’t want to own this myself, Quinn. I don’t want the castle or to take you away from anything. I just want to be your friend. I want to enjoy the view from the tower and go picnicking at the river and read books. With you.” She squeezed their hand to emphasize her words. “And maybe we can replant the arboretum. Together?”
Quinn draws their hand away but it’s only to form signs that make Belle grin. “Together. I like that.”
“Good,” she said, smiling even wider. “Because you’ll never get rid of me now that I know you have this many books.” She threw a hand out to the room. “There are so many, Quinn! Where did you get them all? I have to invite Lukas, he’ll never believe it.”
Quinn bared their fangs and a proud rumble rippled out of their chest.
Belle took up the the pen on the table and filled out the library card with her book’s details. The title and author, the date it was written, and so on. She investigated the little drawers of cards until she understood their order and filed the new card in its place.
Then she picked up the book and turned to face Quinn. “Show me where it needs to go?”
Quinn’s ears perked up and they lead the way.
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