At first he thought it was simply a matter of finding the right words. He would frame it in his mind, where they would be, how he would introduce it into the conversation, this thing he needed to tell her. He would go so far as trying to picture her lovely face as he told her – horrified, sympathetic, generous – but there his imagination failed him. Or perhaps he couldn’t think it through that far because, after all this time, he couldn’t quite bring himself to hope that it would all work out.
The thing was though, each time he was with her, the words remained unspoken. Sometimes, he simply forgot all about it in the pleasure of her company. If he did remember, either the proper moment didn’t arise or, if it did, he found that the carefully chosen words had flown out of his mind and he did not know how to begin.
He would say goodnight to her in his grave, polite way at the end of the evening and she would smile and thank him for all he had given her in a way that made his heart melt. But then, on the way back to his room it would come to him that yet again he had failed to tell her the truth about himself.
One evening after he had come back to his room frustrated once again, he decided to write down the whole story and present it to her. This was a much better way to go about it, he thought. He could work at the account until it was perfectly coherent. She would be able to look at it in his absence, which would give her time to think about it before facing him. He spent several evenings on this letter, making sure to admit his fault fully as well as explaining his current situation.
When he was satisfied with it, he slipped it into his pocket as he dressed for dinner. He would give it to her at the end of the evening. Several times during the evening, he patted the pocket and felt the crinkle of the paper within. The evening flew by, as every evening he spent with her did. He did his best to act the gracious host as normal, to hide the fear and anticipation that filled him. Tomorrow when she had read his words all this would be different. She would know and she would choose to act or not act. His fate was in her hands.
“My dear,” he said, as he stooped to kiss her hand at the end of the evening.
“Are you quite all right, sir?” she asked. “You do seem … yourself this evening.”
He smiled as best as he could. She cared for certain. But did she care enough?
“I … er …” He patted his pocket. No crinkle. Must be the other one. Odd though. He was sure he remembered putting it in the right-hand pocket. He patted the other. Nothing.
“Have you lost something?” she said.
He slid his hands into his pockets. There certainly had been a letter but there was nothing there now.
She laid her hand on his brocade sleeve. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
He patted her hand and shook his head. “It’s nothing, my dear. Nothing at all. Do sleep well. I will see you tomorrow.”
He bore it until he reached his own room. How had he not realised? What a fool he was! It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to tell her at all. It was the curse. He couldn’t tell her.
He slammed his bedroom door shut behind him and stood, fists clenched in the middle of the room. Then he opened his mouth and he roared so that the panes rattled in the windows and the doors shook in their frames, a roar born of grief and frustration and despair.
In another room, at the far end of the castle, the girl heard the roar and trembled. It was so easy to forget that her charming, thoughtful, interesting – if ugly – host was actually a beast.