Beauty and the Beast Forever - Skin Deep
                                                                                                                  
After a few seconds to recover her composure, the young scarred girl rushed to the closed door and found, to her surprise, that it was not locked. Still in shock, she sat down on the bed and looked around at the room, that she now found herself in, for the first time. Even in the dim light, she could clearly recognize the simple elegance of the room and its furnishings. She wondered idly how long she had been out of it as she became aware of what she was wearing for the first time. She realized that she was in a very pretty, pale yellow, soft cotton nightgown. She looked around for her own clothes but they were nowhere in sight. She did spot a matching cotton robe draped over one of the two easy chairs in the room. Then her gaze shifted to the source of the room's low level light which turned out to be a Tiffany lamp on the night stand.

Her gaze was then drawn to the vanity on the other side of the nightstand. There were two tall hat stands next to the light and on them were displayed two high quality long haired wigs. One was golden blond similar to the one she had found in that trash bin, but it was a more natural shade. The other wig was the same medium brown as her own hair color. Both wigs appeared to be professionally styled so that, when put on, they would cover the burned side of her face in a soft swooping curve. There was a very nice comb and brush set on the vanity beside the wigs. As she ran her undamaged hand through the soft natural feeling hair, the name Veronica Lake popped into her mind. For a moment she wondered if that was her name but, after rolling it around in her mind, she decided that it just didn't feel right. Then her gaze turned to the bird tattoo on what was just about the only undamaged area of her left forearm. The term 'Little Sparrow' popped into her mind. There was something very familiar about that term that left her with a feeling of happiness lost. She pushed her musings aside and gently picked up the brown wig then faced the vanity mirror and cringed as she caught sight the ravaged left side of her face. She glanced over at the closed door then put the wig on and smoothed it into place. She looked into the mirror and saw again the beauty that she had once been. There was, however, no hiding the deep sadness that was echoed in her one good eye.

After about a minute she went over to what she took to be a closet door. She pulled it open and the first thing she saw was most of her clothes, all cleaned, repaired and neatly hung up. The only thing missing was her gloves and shoes. The closet also contained several other very nice outfits that, on closer inspection, all appeared to be her size. There were also three pairs of nice shoes that turned out to be her size on the closet floor. After examining the clothes hanging in the closet, she went over to the dresser that sat next to the closet. She started going through drawers and found a collection of very nice quality underwear in her size and several very fine pairs of stylish gloves. There were also four more nightgowns, a warm looking terrycloth robe and three nice warm-up suits, all just her size. Everywhere she looked it appeared as though this was her room filled with her stuff yet, except for the clothes she had originally been wearing, none of it was familiar.

As she was exploring the room new need came over her and, after throwing on the robe, she made her way out of the bedroom. She found herself in some kind of common room. At the far end was a beautiful wood and iron spiral staircase. There were several doors around the peripheral to the left. The one next to hers was closed. The creature / demon / whatever he was, had said that he would be in the room next door. She cautiously moved past that door. The next door was open and turned out to be the room she needed. Even the bathrooms exuded understated elegance.

After she was done, she wandered down the spiral stairs. She found herself in a large elegant parlor next to a dining room. On the far side of the parlor was what she felt sure had to be the front door and a large fireplace in the corner to the right. Her attention was drawn to a slowly blinking red light on a panel next to the front door. The place must be alarmed. It looked like leaving wouldn't be as easy as she had hoped. She approached the front door. There was a sticky note stuck to the door beside the doorknob with some writing on it.

To temporarily disable the alarm, press the thumb of your undamaged hand to the plate below the red light. When the light turns green you can open the door. When you return do the same thing within 20 seconds after entering to prevent the alarm from going off. You will find a key to the front door in the top right drawer of your vanity.

She pressed her thumb to the plate and, after about a second, the light turned green. She opened the door and looked out on the dark night outside. There was no sound of alarm. Across the street was the park, just as that creature had said. In the sky above she could see the first faint hints of the coming dawn. After a few seconds it hit her that she really was free to leave, but she simply had nowhere else to go. She closed the door and the light in the alarm panel went back to blinking red. She leaned her forehead against the door for a few seconds as a single tear slid down her cheek. She looked down at the nightgown and robe she was wearing then made her way back upstairs to the guest room that she had originally awoken in.

Out of curiosity she opened the top right drawer of the vanity. Sure enough there was a small key ring with a single house key on it. To her surprise there was also a paperclip holding a small folded stack of bills and a note that said ~ 'A little spending money in case you decide to go out'. ~ She closed the drawer deep in thought. Then she looked back up at her reflection in the vanity mirror. With a sad sigh she removed the brown wig and placed it back on its stand then she plopped down in the bed. After a few minutes of thought, she realized that she did not remember anything beyond about three weeks ago. She didn't even know her own name. The realization that she was all alone with no place of her own, that she knew of, and no memory beyond three weeks ago, hit her hard and she dropped her head into her hands and began to cry.

After a few minutes she heard a knocking at her door and a now familiar voice, that seemed to grab at something deep inside her, spoke. "I could feel your sorrow. Is there anything I can do for you?"

She looked up to see the creature standing in her open doorway, his eyes still glowing as if they were on fire. He turned his head slightly and the fire went out leaving only dark sympathetic eyes on that fierce leonine face. Another shift and the fire was back. She realized it was an illusion caused by the reflection of the vanity nightlight. The fact that she had been put up in a very ritzy place next to Central Park combined with the kindness she heard in that, quite frankly, extremely sexy voice, went a long way toward alleviating the fear she had felt when she first saw him.

Screwing up her courage from somewhere deep inside, she asked timidly. "What . . . who are you?"

"My name is David and . . . I am exactly what you see." He responded with a shrug. "Can you tell me who you are?"

She stared at him for a few moments before responding. "Aahhh, Sparrow." She replied. "I'm Sparrow."

David clearly felt the uncertainty, fear and sorrow surge up in her. "Is that what you call yourself?" He felt another surge of uncertainty to his response.

She nodded with a half shrug thrown in. As she looked down she caught sight of her damaged hand and suddenly became acutely aware that she no longer had the wig on and he could see how ugly she was. "Don't look at me." She cried as she turned away with a surge of the overlying despair.

"Why not?" David responded matter-of-factly.

"Because I'm repulsive." She wailed.

"Look at me, Sparrow." David commanded as he took a step forward into the room. She reluctantly looked up at him. The edge in his voice was so hard to ignore. "I have the face of an animal and the eyes of a demon. You even called me such when you first saw me. You can at least go out into public any time you want, but if I were to ever show my face in public they would hunt me down like an animal and, if I was lucky, they would just kill me when they caught me."

She was startled by the sudden pain in his beautiful voice and his very unusual golden eyes. She blinked at the intensity of his gaze, and then his eyes softened as he approached the edge of her bed.

His voice became softer, warmer. "Yet none of my friends and family find me repulsive or frightening. Those that truly care about you will see beyond the outer features." He took her scarred hand in his. "Physical beauty is only skin deep, but there is a true inner beauty that radiates from deep within your very core. I can feel it there, hidden, buried under this terrible depression that you have allowed to engulf your soul. I am an empath, I know the beauty that, try though you may, you cannot hide from me." He cocked his head and peered hard at her face, she wanted to turn the ruined side away but his gaze held her and she could not. "There is also still much beauty in your face."

He walked over and picked up the blond wig then came over to her. She was almost too surprised to react when he carefully fitted the wig onto her head. He gently smoothed the hair into place causing her to feel chills pass up and down her spine. "Very pleasing to the eye; especially when you wear your hair in that Veronica Lake style. My father likes it when mother wears her hair that way and I can see why." He paused for a moment as he looked at her. "When you told me your name, I could sense that you felt confused. You weren't really certain about it. Is Sparrow really your name?"

She looked at him a moment. The kindness that she saw in his unusual eyes combined with that amazing voice seemed to draw her to him and made her want to trust him. After a moment of uncertainty she again glanced into those scary kind eyes in that magnificently frightening face and surrendered. "I, ah, I don't really know for sure but it sounds right to me. I can't remember anything before about three weeks ago." She hung her head a moment, thinking back. "The first thing I remember is standing in the middle of the street staring at a fire hydrant, and then I was surrounded by a bunch of cars all honking at me. I ran and ended up in that park. I was there over a week before I learned that it was Central Park."

David thought a moment. "The doctor said that the wound on the back of your head looked to be about three weeks old. That could explain the memory loss though I suspect there's more to it than that. I know that you have terrible nightmares that I think relate to your burn scars and I suspect that you don't want to remember." He took a deep breath. "Whatever the cause, it's your future we need to worry about now. The past can take care of itself." He stepped back. "I have to go, but there will be breakfast in the dining room in about an hour if you're interested." He turned and left the room.

She jumped up and stepped over to the door where she watched him disappear down the spiral stairway. After a few seconds she closed the bedroom door and went over to the closet where she spent a long time looking through the clothes she had found hanging there. She even tried some of them on. Her original assessment had been correct; everything in the closet was her size. She was also grateful to noticed that everything had long sleeves and high concealing necklines. Hoping that she wasn't presuming too much, she finally picked out an outfit that she particularly liked then she grabbed some underwear from the dresser. With her armload of clothing, she headed for the bathroom.

She had just passed David's door when the bedroom door on the other side of the bathroom opened and a very pretty woman with long strawberry blond hair stepped out, stopped and smiled. "Hello. I see you're feeling much better today."

"Um, yea, I guess I am." There was something about the woman that seemed vaguely familiar to her.

"I should introduce myself." The woman approached. "My name is Cherry. I think you have already met my son David."

Sparrow, as she had named herself, nearly dropped her load of clothes in her surprise. "That . . . was your son?" As she spoke she realized that she had already accepted that it was true. That was what had struck her as familiar. The woman's hair was the same color as that creature's / David's mane and she could also see some similarities in the shape of the eyes.

Cherry laughed. "I can understand your surprise. He does favor his father much more than me."

After a moment Sparrow responded. "It's just that I can also see a lot of you in him, especially the eyes." She shrugged.

Cherry looked back at her with surprised respect. "David was right. There is more to you than one would expect." She nodded as she glanced at the load of clothes. "I'll let you get on with what you were doing." Cherry touched her reassuringly on her shoulder and was shocked at the surge of strong emotions churning through the girl. Cherry dropped her hand and took a moment to compose herself before she could say more. "See you downstairs for breakfast." Then she turned and headed down the stairs. Cherry had always been able to sense the emotional state of anyone she touched but she had never encounter anything as dark or as intense as what she had just felt. As she descended the stairs she mulled over what she had just sensed and she also had gotten a sense of the sweetness and strength David had mentioned buried under all those darker emotions.

Sparrow stood there for several seconds staring at the spiral staircase. The pretty woman had certainly reacted oddly when she had touched her shoulder. Finally Sparrow shook herself and headed into the bathroom. On the counter beside the sink was a brand new toothbrush still in the package along with a few other toiletries with a small sticky note attached. She picked it up and read the note. ~ 'For our new guest.' ~ The thoughtfulness of it brought a tear to her eye.

She had intended to take a quick shower, but then she realized for the first time that she was already clean. She found herself blushing as she wondered who had cleaned her up and changed her clothes while she had been out. This in turn caused her to wonder just how long had she been out. Once she recovered her composure, she proceeded to wash her face and brush her teeth then she changed into the new clothes. She looked into the mirror and was surprised at how nice she looked in the new clothes and wig. A half hearted smile crept across her face. It was almost as though the damage had never happened. Then she caught sight of her terribly scarred left hand and the illusion was shattered. The smile vanished as the familiar black sorrow again rose up to engulf her.

After a few seconds she pulled herself together and, with a great act of will, pushed back the dark despair that threatened to overwhelm her. Despite her wretched condition these strangers had treated her very kindly. She at least had that to be grateful for. And David had been right when he had remarked that, unlike him, at least she could go out in public without fearing for her life. With one last quick glance at the mirror and a sigh, she left the bathroom and headed down the stairs.

As she reached the bottom of the stairs she heard hushed voices coming from the direction of the dining room. She came around the corner and saw the creature, David, talking to Cherry as they were arranging the dishes and silverware on the table. It looked like they were setting out places for seven people.

David looked up at her and nodded. "Hello Sparrow."

Cherry looked over and smiled. "Welcome, Sparrow. You're just in time to help us set the table."

Sparrow approached the table and at their encouragement helped to get the table set for breakfast. As they were working, David and Cherry tried to include Sparrow in their conversation but her responses tended to be short and non-committal. Mostly she remained quiet and just listened to them talk. She soon realized that she had probably been here for more than one night and finally she worked herself up to speak. "Um, how long have I been here?"

Cherry looked over at her. "David brought you here two days ago. You were very sick. The doctor said it was pneumonia. He said that your lungs were probably damaged by the same fire that caused your scarring. He told us that we would have to be very careful about the quality of the air that you are exposed to."

"Two days!" Sparrow looked at her in surprise. Then some half remembered images came to mind and she asked about it. "I'm not sure but I seem to remember tunnels and rock caves. Was I dreaming that?"

David responded. "We have a community located below the subway tunnels. That's where we spend most of our time. I took you to our doctor there but she said that the tunnel air was bad for your lungs so I brought you here to my grandparent's place."

Just as they finished getting all seven place settings done, Sparrow looked up at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. She was surprised to see another leonine creature like David come around the corner. The new lion-man had a golden blond mane and fur, and his eyes were the most incredible sapphire blue color. To her amazement he went straight over to Cherry, embraced her, kissed her and gave her a couple of pat's on her butt, all of which brought out a big grin on Cherry's face.

"Good morning love." Cherry said to him. "You're just in time." Cherry then turned her attention to Sparrow. "Sparrow, this is my husband and David's father, Peter Chandler-Wells." She looked up at the lion-man by her side. "Honey, this is your mom and dad's new house guest, Sparrow."

Sparrow was stunned when the new lion-man's name called up a hazy image of a beloved children's story book held in her own tiny slightly grubby hands with a drawing of a sparrow in the center of the cover and that very author's name across the bottom of the cover. She knew that name and she remembered a couple of his stories, including one about a lost sparrow trying to find its way home. She finally spoke. "You're the writer of children's books?"

He smiled and nodded. "That's me."

At that moment an elegant white haired woman came out from the kitchen area and began setting out breakfast on the dining room table. She smiled at Sparrow. "Hello, my name's Elizabeth. I just wanted to welcome you to my home."

"Ah, thank-you." Sparrow responded.

Elizabeth's eyes shifted slightly looking past Sparrow to the right. "Charles, you're just in time. Breakfast is served."

Sparrow turned around to see a regal gray haired lion-man approaching from the stairs. He went over to Elizabeth, put his arm around her waist and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Good morning gorgeous. I'm starved and that smells delicious."

The place was suddenly filled with the lovely sound of musical chimes and everyone looked towards the front door. Cherry sprinted over to the front door and, after a quick glance at the wall where Sparrow had noticed the presence of a large screen TV, opened the door. There was a very pretty blond woman that Cherry escorted back to the table. She then introduced the new arrival. "Sparrow, this is Peter's sister, Clarissa. Clarissa this is Sparrow, a friend of David's."

"OK everybody, grab a seat and dig in. Breakfast is served." Elizabeth announced as she sat down next to one end of the table. Charles took the seat at the same end of the table beside his wife.

Peter took the seat on the other side of the table, across from his mother and Cherry sat beside him. Clarissa sat next to Elizabeth and David took the seat beside Cherry. Sparrow hesitated a bit nervously.

David pointed to the seat next to himself. "Have a seat Sparrow. I know you're hungry and my grandmother is a very good cook." He smiled encouragingly at her. Another moment's hesitation then she sat down at the table. David passed her the scrambled eggs platter. "You have to try these."

Sparrow accepted the platter and dished some of the eggs onto her plate. Clarissa passed her the bacon. Soon her plate was loaded and she began to eat. The food was great. The main subjects of breakfast conversation turned out to be the latest book by Peter, the impending retirement of Elizabeth from the District Attorney Office and the latest bit of mischief that someone named Alexander had gotten into. There was also some mention of Clarissa's bid to run for Elizabeth's position once she retired. At present it looked like Clarissa had a good shot at being her mother's successor at the DA office.

Sparrow was very surprised to learn that Elizabeth was the current District Attorney and Clarissa was an Assistant District Attorney in her office. She also learned that Elizabeth's father had been the District Attorney before her and Charles' mother had been an Assistant District Attorney working for Elizabeth's father. It seemed to her that the New York District Attorney's office was turning into a family dynasty. She had been thinking over this aspect of her hosts she was interrupted by a question from Clarissa that had something to do with identity. "Ah, I'm sorry, what did you say?" Sparrow asked her.

Clarissa repeated her query. "Sparrow if you want I can try to find out your real name. Learn what happened to you."

Sparrow looked at her for a second thinking about the possibilities before responding. "I . . . I don't really know for sure." She glanced down at her burn scarred left hand. "I'm not sure I want to know." She paused. "What if I don't like the person that I was? What if you don't like who I was?" She shrugged. "I just don't know for sure."

David responded. "No matter what hardships or horrors you may have endured in your life, I can assure you that you are a good person." He indicated the other two leonine males. "Remember that we are empathic. We know who you really are." He thumped his chest. "Here inside. You can't hide your true nature from us. We know that you are a good, kind person with a surprisingly strong spirit." He reached out and gently grabbed her scarred left hand. "And we know that you have the strength to face anything that you may encounter."

Elizabeth remarked. "We could at least find out your real name for you."

Sparrow shrugged. "I guess it would be nice to know my real name." She glanced over at David. "But I think I kinda like the name Sparrow. Somehow it just feels right when you call me by that name."

David smiled back at her. "Regardless of what they find out, you will always be Sparrow to me." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "Sparrow . . . It really does suit you somehow."

The way he had said her assumed name sent an unfamiliar thrill through her giving her goose bumps. She looked up to see him smiling back at her.

Clarissa spoke up. "Monday morning I will start a discrete search for your identity."

Continued in Part 3

'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.                                      
                                                                                                                     Chapter3
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