Entry Twenty Four

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I felt all the hairs on my body stand on end.

"Do my ears deceive me? Have you all been stricken with the hatter's syndrome?" I asked, wondering what could have happened during the time I spent outside. "It's as though you do not want me, your own daughter, back..."

"My debt to Geroux will stand, if you come back," said Papa, "It's a debt I can never repay."

I was completely stunned. "How could you even say something like that?" "If I take you back, Belle, we'll be right where we started - we'll be destitute," he explained, "It would just be better if you go back home to Geroux."

It was right then I got the most splitting headache.

"I've learned my lesson. No more smothering the parrot, I'll take a cat-lap over liquor anyway, now," Papa continued. "I don't gamble anymore either and our family is better off, thanks to you, Belle."

"Papa is right," chimed Henrietta, "He doesn't frequent such establishments anymore."

"Henrietta, how could you possibly side with Papa on this issue? What if this had happened to you?" I said, shocked that I had to make an appeal for empathy.

"Judging by your clothes, if this had, in fact, happened to me, I would be over the moon," Hen said with a hint of jealousy. "All week you've been wearing garments I'm unsure we could have even afforded at our most affluent. And I've seen that little mirror of yours. A gift from the man in question, who lives in the castle, no doubt? Are you aware that a man has never bought me anything? I would love if a man were to purchase me a dress and I would kill to live in a castle, Belle. And shame on you to throw this gift in his face."

"Gift? What are you talking about? You think this is about clothes? About money?" I asked, flabbergasted. To hear Henrietta question my integrity was as baffling as it was heartbreaking. In that moment, my anger grew "Are you completely daft? He kidnapped me! He's been holding me against my will!"

"Every relationship has their ups and downs, Belle. Stop being so dramatic. Besides, you don't seem too traumatised by it," said Henrietta, eyeing my clothes over yet again. Clearly, me sleeping in Chantelle's bed all week had gone unnoticed by Henrietta. On my first night back I attempted to sleep in my bed but was plagued with flashbacks of the night Geroux took me. Chantelle's bed, thankfully, harboured no ill memories.

Another moment of shocked silence from me.

"Does he not provide for you? You do not appear under-fed..." continued Henrietta. Unsure whether that was an observation or a an aside to my frame, I simply did not care.

"This is about my life. MY freedom that has been bartered away," I said, with an absolute disbelief that I had to explain myself any clearer.

"The fact of the matter is, Belle, we're all better off now. With my gambling debt erased, we are very comfortable," said Papa in a commiserating tone.

I searched for the right words, but all I could manage was a mousy question, "What about me?"

"What about you? What about us?" said Henrietta, moving toward me. "You being here, you even talking about this, endangers us. Why have you not considered us in this equation? Why can't you be happy for us?"

Henrietta moved close enough to me to whisper and far enough away from father so that he wouldn't overhear.

"I'll tell you something else. Nobody has once asked, "What about Henrietta?" Why would they? You and Chantelle have always been Papa's favourites, ever since mother left. Now, with you both gone, I'm the favourite," Henrietta said, her villainous smile barely contained. "Papa even bought me that beautiful washbowl I had my eye on for ages."

"That's absurd," I replied. Not even the most absurd aspect of the conversation. "Is it, dear sister? Everything has made much more sense since you left."

"But we can all go away, together..." My words quietening as I spoke. I knew it was over, I knew they had made up their minds. I knew there was no convincing them otherwise. I just had to say the words out loud, for myself.

"Its a better life you, Belle and a better life for us," said Papa. I could hear the annoyance, creeping into his voice, that I wouldn't accept defeat.

"What would mother say?" I said, hoping that would instil some kind of compassion into their side of the conversation. I was wrong.

"Your mother? The deserter? Why bring up such a painful memory, Belle? Now do as you're told and go back to Geroux and let us get on with our lives," said Papa as dismissively as possible. He even had the gall to shake his hand, gesturing toward the door.

"Why should I go and return to the life that I was forced into? I do not want someone who takes me and holds me against my wishes. I want someone who I choose. Someone who loves me. That's what I want. That's what I deserve. Not the consolation prize for your misfortune," I affirmed. Thick with guilt, neither Henrietta nor Papa could even look at me.

"I have Pierre, so this is all a moot point," I said, shrugging. I miss Pierre ever so.

Papa looked back to me, tears in his eyes and said, "Do it for me, please..."

"Do it for you? Have you listened to a word I said? What about me? What about Pierre?"

"If Pierre wishes to come for you, well—"

"And why would he not?"

"— Then I shall tell him of your whereabouts," Papa finished. "Goodbye Belle."

Pierre may find you and want to bring you back. But it does not matter where you hide, Geroux will always find you.

And that was that. It was over.

Shaking with shock, I exhaled deeply, hoping to rid myself of the anger brimming within, and left the room. I desperately grabbed my bag, packed it haphazardly with anything I could see that was mine. I made sure to checked the the magic mirror was in the bag.

I returned to Papa's room, bag in hand and found Henrietta and Papa stayed fixed in their positions.

"Ghouls, the both of you. Ghouls. I curse this day and every day and every other day you shall have," I said, hoping to summon any of the dark spirits I had heard about in stories.

"Belle, at least stay the night. Its going to be cold out," appealed Henrietta.

I took one last look around the room.

I said in a perfectly even tone, "I'd rather die."

And it was the truth.

_________

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