Belle was woken by the ringing of a bell somewhere close by. “Oh!” groaned Meg, sitting up and stretching. “Of all the rooms to get and we had to get the one right by the school bell tower!”
Now Belle remembered; school. She was at school. She smiled as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. Today she would start lessons with her newfound friends.
“Argh, my hair!” groaned Meg, attempting to smooth it down. It had gone pretty wild; rather like Medusa’s in the Greek legend, Belle had to admit. She stifled a giggle. Snow White hummed a merry tune as she pulled on a floaty thin dress with a blue bodice, puffed sleeves and yellow skirt. Meg put on what she’d had on the day before; a long purple dress. Jasmine changed her red silk pyjamas for a blue cropped vest and harem-girl trousers. Belle put on her blue dress over a white blouse, picked up her bag and followed her friends down to the canteen for breakfast.
The school chef was a French woman named Colette. She was tough but dedicated to making her food taste great, which it did. Belle had to admit that she had never tasted finer food in all her life. As they ate, she looked around the canteen at her fellow students. She knew Gaston already and had sussed out which one was Hercules. There was a pretty girl with very, very, very, very and yet very, long blonde hair chatting to a girl with wild red hair and freckles. Another blonde girl, who was also very pretty was chatting to a cheeky looking young man with black hair, who seemed to come from the same country as Jasmine, and a handsome young man with blonde hair. Three giggling blonde girls were all sitting around Gaston, practically drooling over him as he flexed his muscles for them. A girl in overalls lounged beside a boy in a brown shirt and a small plait, who was chatting to a clumsy looking boy with red curly hair and a large nose. Another red-haired girl, whose hair was smoother, was talking to a boy with brown hair, who looked like a dashing rogue from one of Belle’s books, and there was – her heart skipped a beat – Adam Castle. Unlike his friends, he seemed quiet and reserved. Enigmatic was probably the best term for it, she decided.
“Come on, Belle!” Belle looked up to see Snow White looking over at her. “You’re daydreaming! It’s English, first!”
“Oh, right,” Belle stammered, getting quickly to her feet and retrieving her bag.
“This way.” Meg led the way. “God, I’m dying for a cigarette!”
“Just two hours,” Jasmine reminded her, linking arms with her. “Take it nice and slow.”
“Hey, Aurora!” chattered Snow White, going up to the blonde girl Belle had seen talking to the dark boy and the handsome blonde boy.
“Hey, Snow!” Aurora grinned back.
Belle was about to go through the door when Adam brushed past her so suddenly that she almost fell over. “Hey!” she snapped, automatically.
“Move it!” he snapped back, slipping through the doorway. Belle stared after him in shock.
“You ok?” She looked up to see the handsome rogue boy beside her. “Take no notice of Adam; that’s just how he is with people.”
“Just how he is?” Belle repeated, brushing herself down. “He can’t treat people like that!”
The boy shrugged. “Ah, whaddaya gonna do? The name’s Flynn, by the way, Flynn Rider.”
“I’m Belle; Belle French.”
“Nice to meet you, Belle French.”
“Come on, Belle,” sang Meg, taking her other arm. “Don’t go scaring her off with your flirting, Flynn. She’s new, don’t forget.”
Flynn laughed, good-naturedly, and Belle allowed herself to be dragged into the classroom. The four of them sat at the front. Belle looked around and saw that Flynn was sitting towards the back with Adam and the dark haired boy. She tossed her head back around to the front just as a large, portly man in mediaeval type clothing came into the room, flicking through a large textbook.
“Settle down, class,” he said in his curt English accent. “And welcome to our new student, Miss French. My name is Mr Nathaniel; and I have been teaching English here for five years. Not that the rest of you needed to know that. Now, then, get out your books. You should have all finished reading Phantom of the Opera by now.”
Belle felt a rush of delight as she fumbled in her bag for her book. “That’s one of my favourites!” she whispered to Jasmine. “I’ve read it six times!”
“You have very boring taste,” Jasmine whispered back; but the look on her face as she said it told Belle that she was teasing.
“Now, then, let’s begin,” Mr Nathaniel said, scrawling a question on the blackboard. He read it out as he wrote it. “The Phantom of the Opera is a love story between a monstrous man and an opera soprano who falls in love with another. Taking every aspect of the question into consideration, is this an accurate assessment of the novel?”
Before Belle could put up her hand, Adam put up his. “Yes, Mr Castle?” said Mr Nathaniel, looking pleased that at least one person had answered.
Adam got to his feet. “Not entirely, sir. The Phantom isn’t a monster, and it isn’t fair to call him one because he was born with facial deformities. He had an unfair childhood because people couldn’t see past the way he looked. Inside he was a genius.”
“Very passionately put, Mr Castle,” smiled Mr Nathaniel.
Belle put up her hand. “Miss French?” Mr Nathaniel looked surprised. “You have something to add?”
Belle nodded and got to her feet. “The Phantom was only considered a monster because of his behaviour, not the way he looked. Christine was frightened of him.”
“True, true,” mused Mr Nathaniel.
“Christine was frightened of his face,” Adam cut in. “She went for the handsome young viscount who’d probably drop her as soon as another pretty face came along over a genius who’s love for her would never die.”
Belle shook her head and turned to face him. “That is not true! She was terrified of his temper and controlling attitude!”
“The fact that when he let her go, he said he only would if she was faithful to him!”
“He only did that because she removed his mask and he didn’t want her to see his face! And that was because he knew it would horrify her!”
“Perhaps, but in the end she did come to care for him a little, in spite of the way he looked!” Belle felt her heart racing in the heat of this debate. “She couldn’t help falling in love with Raoul! It just happened! You can’t help who you fall in love with!”
Adam stared at her; this strange and yet surprisingly beautiful girl who had dared to argue with him. Even more surprising was the fact that she was winning. He tried once more. “Eventually, yes, but at first she was scared by his appearance.”
“But his temper scared her more.” Belle turned to Mr Nathaniel. “If by his actions, which were only caused due to the fact that no one had ever shown him any love in his life, due to his facial deformities, you can call him a monster, then yes, he was; but he did redeem himself in the end by allowing Christine to be with the man she loves.”
She sat down, feeling everyone’s eyes upon her. Mr Nathaniel glanced at Adam. “Anything to add, Mr Castle?”
Adam swallowed and glanced at Belle. “Only that Miss French makes an interesting and informative point, Mr Nathaniel.”
He sat down. There was a brief pause and then the rest of the students began to clap and cheer. “Settle down,” chided Mr Nathaniel, gently.
Belle felt Jasmine pat her on the back. “Yeah! You go, girl!”
“No, I mean well done. No one ever dares to take on Adam in a class debate.”
Belle blushed. “They don’t?”
“No,” said Meg.
“Never,” added Snow White.
“Good on you,” echoed Meg.
Even Mr Nathaniel looked impressed as he moved the lesson forwards into a comparison of Phantom alongside Victor Hugo’s Hunchback novel. Belle enjoyed the lesson, but she couldn’t help wondering if she had done the right thing in challenging Adam. The lesson ended and as the students began to file out, Mr Nathaniel called out after them “For homework, write a three page report on who you think the most significant character is in Phantom and list your reasons why; back them up with pieces of text, thank you!” He looked up. “Miss French, may I have a word, please?”
Surprised, Belle waited until the rest of her classmates had filed out. Meg, Jasmine and Snow White offered to wait for her outside. How much longer Meg could go without a cigarette, though, Belle was beginning to wonder. “Is something wrong, Mr Nathaniel?”
“Oh, no, not at all.” He gave her a kindly smile. “I was very impressed with your view on Phantom. Tell me, have you thought about joining the Book Club?”
“There’s a Book Club here? I didn’t even know!”
“Yes, well, there’s not really enough people to make it a proper club; but we call it that. There’s me, Rapunzel, Hercules, Linguini, Ariel and John; but there’s always room for one more. We meet every Friday night in the library at 7:30 to 9:30 and discuss the book of the week. This week it’s 1984 by George Orwell; have you read it?”
“Not yet, but is it in the library?”
“I have a copy right here you can borrow.” He handed it to her with a grin. “Is that a yes, then, Miss French?”
“Yes, Mr Nathaniel! Thank you so much!”
“Very well, then. I’ll put your name down. You can go and I’ll see you Friday.”
Belle skipped merrily out into the corridor to join her friends. What a day so far! She had had a lesson in Phantom, been asked to join the book club and taken on Adam Castle in a debate! What else was going to happen?
"Yeah! You go, girl!"