(This is a rip-off of the opening chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey where Ana goes to interview Christian Grey at his head office. If you wonder why it’s so badly written in places, there’s a reason for that.)
Damn my hair. It refuses to behave as I try to brush through it. Eventually I coax it into a pony-tail because I’m an animated character and pony-tails are cheaper to draw than unkempt or loose hair. Fairy-tale France has no room for Brave.
Sulkily, I make my way to Le Pub, the town’s tavern and favourite haunt of Monsieur Gaston, the most eligible bachelor in town. I push the door open, nervously. “Hello?” I ask – like an innocent encroaching on the cavernous lair of a monstrous beast.
Except that the place smells of beer and sweat because it’s that time of the evening and half the town is there.
A blonde woman comes up to me, arching her eyebrow. It’s as if she knows who I am and who I’m here to see and she’s jealous. It’s not my fault I have to interview Gaston for the library newsletter; it’s that stupid Belle’s fault. She’s my dearest, dearest friend, but she’s also more beautiful than I am. Even when she’s wracked with worry that her father might be lost in the woods and feels she has to go after him. Good grief, can’t she be uglier than me just for a moment?
“Um,” I mutter nervously to the blonde, “I’m here to see M. Gaston.” As soon as I speak his name two more flawlessly dressed blondes appear from nowhere. I feel outlandish and scruffy in my blue dress.
“M. Gaston will see you now,” blonde number three says, gesturing to a large leather seat at the far end of the room. I pick my way past the tavern’s patrons towards the great fireplace. Just as I begin to make out the shape of the man sitting there, I trip and fall flat on my face.
Damn these dainty, Disney shoes.
“Why, Belle,” I hear a deep throaty masculine voice as huge muscly masculine hands reach down to help me up. Oh my.
I look up and am overwhelmed by his immense handsomeness. His rippling biceps are like tree trunks.
“Oh, um,” I mutter, “Belle wasn’t able to come, I’m afraid. I’m Anna. Anna Stasia. ”
His eyes look into me like a hot poker through butter. “But you must be Belle,” he says in a smooth, rich voice. “Because you are undoubtedly the most beautiful girl in town.”
I’m speechless. Did he just pay me a compliment? He has to be faking it. My unconscious rears her snide head and I know in my heart she’s right. I’m ugly. I’ve always been ugly. I’m the ugly duckling. I’m the ugliest Quasimodo who’s ever had the misfortune to appear in a fairy-tale.
I quiver before the Adonis in front of me. “Um, no, I’m Anna, not Belle.”
He looks at me shrewdly. “Are you sure your name isn’t Belle or Bella?”
I pause. Maybe I should say that I have a romantic name like – oh, I don’t know – Bella Swann. No. Get a grip, Stasia.
“My name’s Anna Stasia, M. Gaston,” I mutter.
He shrugs nonchalantly, turn and seats himself in the enormous leather chair. Opposite him is a smaller more dainty-looking chair and he gestures for me to sit in the chair.
I pause for a moment to look around me. The walls are covered with Gaston’s hunting trophies – the heads of stags and antlers, antlers everywhere. I wonder to myself whether the decorations reflect something of the character of this man. Could it be that he’s someone who uses his skill, strength and weapons to prey on innocent creatures for his own sport, pleasure and amusement?
I fumble in my pocket for my notebook. “Do you mind if I take notes?”
He pauses. “This is for the library newsletter?” I nod and he purses his lips disapprovingly. “It’s not right for a woman to read.”
I’m in shock; my whole life has been spent around books. “Why, M. Gaston, what a positively primeval thing to say!”
“Why, thank you Belle,” he says proudly.
“I’m Anna,” I correct him politely.
He pauses and stiffens. “Oh yes, you are, aren’t you? Tell me then, Anna Stasia with nerves of steel, when you read, do you get ideas and start thinking?”
“Oh yes,” I answer. Where do I start? “I get all kinds of ideas about how women are women only if they are beautiful, work in low-paid jobs, have children and do everything their fathers, husbands and brothers tell them to do. I’ve also learned that women exist for men’s sexual pleasure, there’s nothing as important as being a virgin and if I ever meet my One True Love then I’ll know it because he’ll violate my consent and put the blame on me.”
Gaston muses thoughtfully. “You know what, Anna Stasia, I think you’re the first person to ever change my mind about something. Wow. You’re such a strong, smart woman, I’m in awe of you.”
I flush. My inner sidekick jumps up and down with excitement.
“But don’t worry about taking notes,” Gaston continues, “Lefou can do that.” I suddenly notice a short frumpy man lurking beside Gaston’s chair. I realise he’s been there all the time and find the idea slightly awkward that Gaston has someone hanging around him wherever he goes. But then as I think about this I realise that it’s completely necessary for the plot, given the lazy characterisation and writing.
Lefou grins impishly at me and I smile awkwardly back at him. Gaston then growls threateningly at Lefou who cowers in response, pulls out a notebook, poised, ready to take notes. Let’s hope he can spell properly, otherwise this won’t turn out well.
I smooth over a stray lock of my hair, because it turns out the animators have some spare budget, and ask Gaston my first question.
“You’re very young to be so popular. Why are you so successful?”
“Because I’m very, very beautiful,” Gaston answers boldly. “And fairy-tales are all about beauty. Take that fat ugly guy over there – he’s dressed in boring browns and greys – that’s the director’s way of showing that he’s unimportant. But look at me, I’m dressed in bright red – that’s because I am important. I was born to be important.”
“You sound like a narcissist.” The words are out of my mouth before I realise what I’m saying.
“Oh, I exercise vanity in all things, Anna Stasia,” he answers dryly. “I’m always comparing myself to others; no one spits like me, no one matches wits like me, fights like me, bites like me.” He licks his lips and my heartbeat quickens. Oh my.
“And do you have any interests other than your appearance?” I ask.
A phantom-esque smile crosses his face. “Of course,” he says enticingly. “I hunt.”
I flush and catch my breath – what is it about him? Maybe it’s because he’s such a tall, dark, strong and handsome brute.
“When you were young, you used to eat four dozen eggs every morning; how much do you think that’s shaped you today?”
He looks at me tersely. “If you’d been paying attention to the song everyone sings about me you’d know the answer to that!”
I cringe. He’s annoyed with me. Maybe the next question will calm him down.
“Are you gay, M. Gaston?”
Lefou takes a sharp intake of breath. He glances at me and then fixes his eyes on Gaston.
Gaston bristles with fury and I know it’s because I’ve made him angry. “No, Anna Stasia, I am definitely not gay.”
Lefou looks aghast but Gaston doesn’t notice.
“Not at all?” I ask innocently.
“Not even an incy wincy little bit?”
Gaston folds his arms in response. Meanwhile Lefou looks down at the floor, utterly dejected.
“I think, Miss Stasia, it’s my turn to ask about you,” Gaston says dryly.
I brace myself for his interrogation but just at that moment a gust of wind gushes through the tavern as a short bumbling man rushes through the door.
“Please! Please, I need your help! He’s got her. He’s got her locked in a dungeon!” the old man exclaims.
“Who?” asks one of the locals.
“Belle!” he answers. As I look at him I realise it’s Maurice, Belle’s father. “We must go. Not a minute to lose!”
Gaston raises his hand authoritatively and the tavern falls quiet. “Whoa, slow down, Maurice,” he says. “Who’s got Belle locked…?” Then he pauses and looks at me.
“Miss Stasia – can I interest you in a visit to my hunting lodge?”