He just stares at her from afar. Not daring to go near the girl, not trusting himself enough. So the day Mr Gold almost bumps into her he is so surprised that his breath just stops. He was just walking down the street and there she is, chatting happily with Ruby.
She is so near... In a second he wants to crush her tight to his chest, tangle his hand in her curls and pull her face in the right angle to allow him to kiss her hard and deep. He wants to look at her whole and be assured that she is fine and safe and unharmed. He wants to check every inch of her skin and take note on every little mark on her pale beauty and torture Regina again and again for everything he would find. And he just wants to stroke her face with his fingers, lightly, and whisper something soothing in her ear. He wants to drag her away where they could be alone and be buried in her arms, crying like a child. And he wants to just claim her in front of everyone. To shout aloud she belongs to him.
He wants to do all this, and a lot of others things, all at the same time.
This lasts just a moment, then he recompose his features, hoping the girls didn't notice his distress, and reminding himself that she is Isabel French, not his Belle. So he steps aside and clears the way for the girls.
Ruby urges Belle to walk away. No, not Belle, the tall girl says Izzy. Her intentions are crystal clear. The girl doesn't want her fragile friend to be near him, or any other threat, a second longer than necessary. He agrees with her, Belle must be protected, and he takes a mental note to be... not kinder, but less harsh to Ruby and her granny next time... maybe.
But now the girl is going away, again. And he can't stop feeling helpless. Their eyes meet for a brief moment, when she looks at him and nods in greeting. It is just a small, polite gesture, even uncertain. She doesn't recognise him, and why the hell would she? He is nobody for her, just an old man that needs a cane to walk. And he hopes so; he fervently hopes that none of the rumours about him will reach her, ever. Just let me be nobody for her, the less she thinks about me, the better, he says to himself while walking away.
It's been three months since Isabel French, the florist's lost child, was freed from the hospital. It was just the beginning of spring. The first good days, early bees shyly flying around in search of the earliest sprouts. He walked out of his house and found some little blue flowers blossoming in his courtyard. They were just wild flowers, nothing spectacular. But that shade of blue... it was painful to watch. He took a mental note to have them eradicated as soon as possible. He usually wasn't so drastic, in normal conditions he would never have cared so much for some flowers, hardly noticing flowers did exist. But after the "events" of the last month, his little problem with Moe French, that particular shade of blue was really painful and irritating. And with good days of blue skies ahead, he just wanted to be sure he could safely look at the ground in his own damn garden without any other trigger for the memories. As if the memories of her will ever leave him in peace for just a second, and god knows how much he wished for peace... But he recoiled from the thought like it was a blasphemy. He would never trade those memories for a single instant, or even a lifetime, of peace.
He reached the shop and started to think of what he has to do today, checking both his real agenda in front of him and his hidden one, the one that exist just in his head. It should be a quiet day, almost as quiet as the days were before Emma came to town. He had some paperwork to do, but, before, he would drop at Granny's and grab something to eat for breakfast. His fridge was empty as always, but that wasn't the main reason: all the Storybrooke's rumours somehow concentrate themselves around that diner's table. And in his profession he must know what's going on around town.
When he reached the place, he sensed something was really going on. People were buzzing like wasp, and no one turned or stiffened hearing the tap of his cane on the floor. Something huge must have happened, and he must know what. So he reached the counter, when Mary Margaret, who entered the diner just seconds before him, was talking animatedly to Ruby. He ordered a coffee and listened when neither one of the two women paid any attention to him, even if he was standing right near them.
"The girl, have you seen her, it is true?" asked Ruby.
"Yes, poor girl", Mary Margaret said, with a sorrowful expression, "She was in shock. Emma phoned me last night to bring urgently some clothes and shoes at the hospital. The poor thing was covered in a blanket, eyes tightly closed. I think the strong light of the ER were painful for her eyes", she trailed of, sighing.
"Why was she down there?"
"Nobody knows, and Emma is really mad. Seems that no one knew there was a basement in the hospital, not even the doctors".
"And does Emma believe that?", Ruby Asked
"I think she does, and I do, too. I saw the expressions on Doctor Whale's face while he was checking the girl. He was horrified", the schoolteacher stopped for a second, then added in a whisper "You know, I don't like the man much, but he was really shocked. No, I don't think he knew".
"And the girl is all right? I mean..." Ruby trailed off.
"So it seems. Physically she is OK, or so said Doctor Whale to Emma. She is thin, and pale, and with tangled hair. Oh, poor girl, she wouldn't let go Emma's hand" the schoolteacher smile was a little pained, thinking at the scene she saw the previous night. "She was holding Emma's hand so tightly, her chuckles were white and her entire arm was trembling. Emma had to reassure her everything was fine, and that she was going nowhere. She constantly repeated that to the girl, I don't know how many times, before she freed her hand and Emma could go talk with the doctor".
"Who could be so cruel to lock up a girl in the hospital basement for... how long?", Ruby was indignant.
"Years", said the schoolteacher in a sad tone. "She was in that place for years. Emma told me that. There was a nurse guarding her, but she vanished. Emma said the place made her shiver. She said it looked like a dungeon".
Gold rummaged all this information in his head. So Regina had someone locked up in the hospital basement all this time. Well, nothing to be surprised of. But he wondered who could have pissed off the Evil Queen to that point. And he was still musing the possibilities when Archie hopper entered, all the blood drained from his face as he reached the counter.
"Ruby, please, be kind and give me a coffee, a really strong one", he said, not realising he was talking to the girl using her fist name for the first time in history.
"Of course", said the girl looking at him with a worried expression. She took a mug a poured in coffee. Archie added a lot of sugar and sipped a little bit of the dark drink before turning and facing Mary Margaret. "Emma told me she will phone you if she need something, and also", he added, looking to Ruby, "could you ask you grandmother to make something, a sup and light sandwiches, and bring them to the police station?"
"For the girl?" Ruby asked
"Yes", Archie said, in a sad whisper, "for that poor soul. Now she is sleeping in the sheriff's office. It is better if she eat something once she wakes up".
"She is no more at the hospital?" Inquired Mary Margaret
"No, I think it would be better for her to stay away from the hospital. And Emma agreed to take her to her office. Everything would be better than that damn place", Hopper cursed, then stopped short and said to the women, blushing slightly, "I apologise for the rude language, it's not proper in front of ladies".
Ruby smiled tenderly to the man. And Gold registered it was the first time she saw her smiling with innocence to a man, not flirting.
"And please, Ruby", said Archie, turning to face the girl and becoming completely red at the sight of her smile, "make a lot of coffee for me, in a thermos. I'll go back to the sheriff's station in a little while, as soon as Mr French arrives, do we could talk".
Gold flinched a little, perplexed at the mention of the florist. Why the hell the florist need to go to Emma's office, and with Doctor Hopper? The two women were thinking the same and Mary Margaret was the first one to voice their thought. "Moe French? The florist? Why do you need him?"
Archie, and sighed, massaging his temples. "I am too tired. I usually never let something like this escape. But I guess Emma wouldn't mind too much, given the fact that the two of you will be in her office in a little while, too. I talked to the girl all night. It was difficult for her, and her voice was cracked and rough. I'd bet she hasn't said a word in years." Archie was overwhelmed, remembering the night, and he slowly shook his head, "but little by little, she answered some questions, seeming to start remembering something. She couldn't remember who she was, or where she was. Why she was in that", Archie stopped at loss of words to describe the place she was secluded, and spat out the next words with disgust, "in that awful place. Maybe she will recoil some memories, after the drugs worn off. But I don't know. She just remembered she lived in a town with just her dad, and that her dad smelled of roses".
Three people were leaning towards the doctor while he paused to take down a big gulp of coffee. Mary Margaret was worried and horrified, Ruby seemed deeply concerned and Gold found himself getting unexpectedly anxious, drinking down every bit of information he could get, and trying to think who the hell could be that girl to have pissed off Regina so much. The little mermaid she once mentioned, maybe? He mused.
Archie restarted his tale, "Emma searched thought the old files she was studying, you know, the unsolved cases. And she found what she was looking for. A little girl that went missed years ago. And I honestly didn't remembered her before the sheriff mentioned her name, and that is absurd because in a town like this that one it was such a big case. It happened ten years ago. She was barely fifteen and she vanished out of thin air. And now I remember all the facts, all the newspaper articles, but during the time I talked with the girl none of this came to my mind. And we talked all night long. It's absurd. I wasn't sure at the beginning, I thought Emma was wrong... but then I took a look at the picture Emma was holding. And there she was: she is indeed older, and thinner, with unkempt hair and borrowed clothes. But she is really the same girl portrayed in the photo. Isabel French, Moe French's daughter, was there, in front of me, after all this years. And I suddenly remembered her. The same blue eyes she had when she was just a little kid, but they weren't smiling any more.
Nobody noticed Gold as he stumbled away and exited from the shop. He didn't notice if Doctor Hopper, Ruby or Mary Margaret has finally realised he was near them, and that he heard every word they spoke. He staggered out, away from the counter, almost loosing balance on his bad leg, unable to walk straight, the grip of his hand on the cane too tight. He heard the door slamming shut behind him, but he didn't care.
He couldn't breathe, and he didn't know if he was damn able to breathe ever again, in this life or another. He must recompose himself, think everything through before he could catch a glimpse of her, before knowing if she is really alive or if, in some of Regina's ways, in one of her twisted plot, this is another trick: a different kind of punishment, just for him, because he remembers and has still enough power to stand against her if he wished so. Even if it's a different kind of power, he could challenge her, and she knows.
He walked home, gasping for breath, limping heavily, not knowing if the pain in his aching leg is more or less crushing than the pain he could feel in his heart and in the pitch of his stomach.
The next thing Gold remembers from that day was he reaching home were he stood, in front of his house, not knowing what to do next. Then something gleamed in the corner of his eyes. The little blue flowers that blossomed this very morning in his courtyard. He reached down and took one of the flowers in his hand. A particular kind of blue, a shade he will never forget and he thought he will never see again. He put the flower near his lips, kissing its petals and inhaling his delicate scent. He realised he could breathe again when he sighed her name, "Belle".
Do you know that I love comments?
Mr. Gold is walking to the florist's shop. In the inner pocket of his suit, just over his heart, there is a envelope. He feels it even if the paper is not in direct contact with his skin. He knows that somewhere, inside or outside his chest, a scorching flame is burning his flesh and painful blisters will explode in any moment.
But he is a man that keeps his word, he offered her a job and, surprisingly or not, she agreed.
And now he is doing this right, for once, with a proper contract that has his name and her name on it.
He has already signed it, a few traits of pen in his scruffy handwriting sealed his end of the bargain with his name in this world.
In a little corner of his mind he wonders how would be her handwriting. He aches to see her sign the name Isabel French near his own. Even if those are fake names, they still means something even if they have no power.
He knows he must restrain himself while he is in her presence. But later, in the solitude of his shop, he is damn sure he will stroke the little piece of paper that will soon bear her name.
He will never let himself indulge in this thought, or analyse it, but he has written this contract for one, simple reason.
Not for giving her, and all the other people in town, a proof of his goodwill, nor for doing this right in front of sharp eyes of the law – sheriff Swan acts like a godmother towards her little protégée, Isabel, and had watched him suspiciously after he offered her a job.
Deep inside he knows there is only one reason he made this contract. He want something hers, something he could hold dear. He wants to posses a little part of her, even if it is just a signature on a contract, even if it is a fake name, a name Regina has invented. Even if it is not her name, he knows he could claim this piece of paper with her signature his own, forever.
Gold takes a deep breath and enters quietly in the florist's shop. The bell rings, but nobody comes. He ventures over the plants and flowers, trying to not mind much the smell of several cans of long-stemmed roses that are near the counter. He tries not to look in their direction, too. (He can't stand the sight of roses. Immediately after Emma came to Storybrooke and he regained his memories, he had eradicated a luscious bush of deep red roses that was in his garden. The florist's apprentice said it was a pity to kill – yeah, Gold recalls the boy has used exactly this word – such a strong and healthy bush, with some of the late bloom flowers still blossoming in the chill of November and filling the air with a delicate scent. But Gold wanted it out of his view, and when he wants something he is used to have it).
He can hear voices from the back-room. They become louder and clearer as he approaches. It isn't just because he comes near, but mostly because they start shouting: Belle and her father are arguing, getting louder and angrier with every sentence. And they don't notice Mr. Gold approaching.
"No you can't".
"Why not? Give me a reason".
"I don't allow you to work for that man, I'll never allow you", Moe French's voice is firm.
"Papa, please, listen to me...", on the other hand, Isabel sounds a little exasperated, and Gold wonders how ling this quarrel is going on.
"I said no, and that's all".
"Papa, you can't be serious. Is just a job.."
"I forbid you! I will ground you in this house, Isabel". Now Gold can see the two in the little kitchen, each one on one side of the table, leaning towards each other. Moe French is practically shouting in his daughter face.
"You what?", her expression is something between furious and baffled, while she stares at his father
"You heard me, girl, I forbid you to put even a foot in that man 's shop".
"That's utterly absurd, papa. Listen to me, I need to work, we can't live on this shop alone".
"Shut up", Moe barks, "Don't tell me what we can or cannot afford, Isabel. I am your father and I order you not to go near that evil man ever again. This is my house, you are my daughter you will do what I say". Moe French looks at Isabel enraged expression, and he adds, in a firm tone. "You wouldn't dare to defying me, girl..".
"You order me?", her voice trembles with rage, but is clear and loud. "He is the only one in this shitty town who is willing enough to give me a job and you dare to forbid me to accept or even go near him?".
"You. Will. Not. Work. For. Him. Dammit!". Moe French slams his hand hard down on the table and belle jumps in surprise. "That's my last word, Isabel, or.." he trails of, not knowing what to say next. But Isabel is quick with her remark.
"Or what? You will disown me? Kick me out of the house?".
Before the florist can answer, Gold steps in the little kitchen, unable to stay back after hearing these words.
"Well well, if it is not a pretty much heated argument", he says in a matter-of-fact, business-like tone.
Isabel and her father turn around startled by this sudden appearance, and they look at him. Belle cheeks turn beet red, almost crimson. And Gold knows she is mortified, wondering how much he has heard and understood, if he knows that they were, in fact, talking about him and the job he offered the girl. And of course he knows: the job he created for her is the explanation of this father-daughter fight. And his chest aches a little, knowing that his very existence is he only reason the two fight, in this world or the other.
But he doesn't indulge in these thoughts, and stares at the two with an hard gaze. Belle looks down: just a glance at his face is enough to realise that indeed he had heard and understood everything.
"What are you doing here?", Moe asks, frowning
"Good morning to you, Mr. French", Gold tone is scoffing, even when he turns to Isabel, "and to you too, Miss French".
"Good.. Good morning", Isabel gulps, still looking down.
"As for your question, Mr. French, I'm here to collect the rent, as always. Did I ever come here to buy some flowers? I don't think so, and, in fact, I don't have a use for some silly plants and stupid flowers".
Isabel's eyes widen at his words, and all the lovely colour is drained from her face as she lifts her head to look at him, while her father mutters something intelligibly. Gold doesn't take notice, the florist most probably has just cursed him under his breath, and instead he takes a long look around the small, clean kitchen. It is a professional look, an evaluating one. Gold knows the effect this long stare has on his tenants, they become afraid of losing their things, the little valuable or dear they have. And, soon or later, they start shouting, or crying or cursing or begging. He has the power to ruin their life: he knows, they know. And if this Isabel French didn't know yet who he really is, well, now she surely has a taste of his medicine.
Mr. Gold keeps his in voice a low, threatening and oddly educated tone when he talks again.
"May I ask the reason of your quite loud, how to call it..., disagreement?", he smiles, "But I suppose the word fight would be more appropriate".
Isabel starts to speak, and Gold hopes she wouldn't lie, he can't stand the view of his Belle, even this cursed shell of his lost love, lying. But her father stops her raising a hand and says, sternly "It is none of your business".
"Oh, no", Gold smile is vicious, "I do believe it is my business as far as my relationship with your daughter is the very issue". His voice is chilling, layering the word relationship with every possible meaning.
Moe French's hand grabs Isabel arm, yanking her "I will not allow you near him!", he shouts. Gold is startled by the man reaction, he expected the florist to shout at him, not at her, so he is still for a moment before moving forward to help the girl. And that's exactly when she struggles and breaks free, bumping with her shoulder against his outstretched arm and yelling at her father.
"Shut up. I'm 25, and I need a job, and I won't stop just because you order me. It's only me who decide what to do with my life, not you".
She is so fierce, saying almost the same words his Belle said the first time they met, that Gold is taken aback and grasps his cane tightly, knuckles white.
And, like the last time, when he speaks his gaze is fixed on the florist's eyes.
"I think the lady is right. We have a contract, and she came to me in search of a job. Be assured, Mr. French, that I would never have interacted with your daughter otherwise." his tone is full of annoyance, "I don't have the time to spare to keep track of every little puppy in town".
From the corner of his eye, Gold sees Isabel flinch slightly at his words. Or maybe he just imagined her doing so, he thinks, turning on his heels and limping out of the little kitchen. He stops at the door and turns his head to face Moe French, a vicious grin on his face.
"And about not allowing her to step inside my shop, am I to remind you I own this very shop?", Moe's features tensed, and Gold hears a soft gasp from the girl.
"No, I can see you do remember correctly. This very place is mine, and mine are most of the others activities and houses in this town...", he trails off, scrutinising the place once again and carefully avoiding any contact with a certain pair of blue eyes, before adding.
"I will come next week to collect this month's payment, Mr. French. And I think it's about time we discuss the very terms of your rent".
Gold smiles, licking his lips and observing the man's face become paler and paler. He hears Isabel sighs softly "Papa", while the girl's hand reaches for the florist arm. Gold forces himself not to follow the path that from her hand leads to her arm and shoulder and then her neck and her face. She surely wears a disgusted expression, and he certainly doesn't want to see the repulse on her delicate features.
Still, he can't help himself and he adds, "Yes, it is time indeed to rediscuss your rent", while he walks away from the two.
His steps are surprisingly light when he walks across the shop and then out on the street. He can hear the florist cursing him and Belle, no, Isabel, telling her father to stop, to be quiet.
Now he has done it. She knows for sure he is a bastard. And he couldn't care less, he says to himself. It's all for the better: she has seen with her own eyes what a beats her employer-to -be is. This way, she will be best protected form him.
Her employer... maybe, after all this, she will back off. She will never come to his shop and work for him now, right?
That's a relief, and a worry.
Gold knows damn well she needs money, and she needs it bad.
So he starts to think: which string can he pull to make someone hire the girl? And where? Some place suitable, of course, so she will earn her keep and not worry so much about money, expenses, the rent and her father huge debt. He must prevent her doing something foolish like.. he shudders. He knows she is a beautiful girl, and a desperate one: thinking about every possible scenario makes a shiver run down his spine. His Belle bartending, and a bunch of drunkards will hit on her or harass her. Or the strip club, a place always in need of a beauty. But to prevent her form slip down that particular path is easy enough. Mr. Gold, as always, has a hold in that damn place as well. He is walking and listing all the possibilities, good ones and bad ones, when he hears steps following him, and then a voice calling his name. Her voice.
"Mr. Gold! Mr. Gold, Stop, please. Wait!".
She has followed him out of her house, most probably snickering out from the back. She still wears her flip-flops, he observes turning around to face her, and he fervently hopes she wouldn't trip in those damn shoes and fall down on the concrete.
He is sure she will withdrawing, and he braces himself – it stings, this knowledge she is going to refuse a job meant only for her, even if he hoped for this just a minute ago. But, dammit! He has created the job for her, only for her – so he takes a deep breath and says "Yes, Miss French?".
"Please, please, please", she stammers, breathless "don't touch our rent. I'm sorry for my papa... I apologise for the scene you witnessed.. he is just overprotective, and he was caught in the heat of the moment". She gaps, and then coughs, holding out a hand on his arm for support. He just looks at her, in a sort of mute stupor she probably mistakes for rage because suddenly she retrieve the hand and, after a while, she sighs softly and gathers up all her courage.
"I'm sorry. Both for me and for my father. He didn't mean what he said about you. Really, he didn't".
This sentence shakes him, and he can't stop his snicker "Oh, no, Miss French, don't try to fool me. He meant every single word he spoke, and all the words he didn't dare too. But I will share a secret with you: I'm good at my job because I don't give a damn. I don't care what the people think about me. As for the rent, we'll see. Now, dearie", he says, turning around, "I think this conversation is over".
He walks away adding, "See you in town, Miss French, someday".
"On Monday", she replies, softly.
He turns slowly, to face the girl.
"I beg your pardon?".
"See you on Monday, not just "someday", she repeats, looking at him in the eyes.
And he just stares, trying to grasp the meaning beyond these words, because there must be something he missed.
"You remember, Mr. Gold, don't' you?", she smiles, "My job stars on Monday. So, see you on Monday, at your shop".
"I presumed you wouldn't like to work for me, not after...", he gestures vaguely towards her house.
"In that case, I'm sorry to let you know you were wrong, Mr. Gold. And I can see you are not used to that".
Is she mocking him? He doesn't know, and he doesn't care as long as she smiles.
So he smiles, too, in return.
"Indeed I am not", he says, searching for the first time in this brave little thing pieces of his lost Belle. Or even a sparkle of knowledge. How could she be so easy around him if she doesn't remember? Maybe she is just foolish, or maybe just a little innocent girl that was secluded for too long.
But of course she doesn't remember, she is not his Belle, just Isabel French, the cursed, Storybrooke version of the girl he loves. His Belle would remember the beast he was in the Fairy Tale Land, and how he mistreated her. All the pain he inflicted to her, how he hurt her.
But this Isabel French has not strong memories of this cursed place, too. So she doesn't know all the thing this Mr. Gold did during his existence in this world.
He is well aware of that. In this little town whispers and gossip reach even his hears. He knows she doesn't remember much form her childhood or adolescence. She can't remember how she vanished, who abducted her or how the hell she was buried alive in that horrible place, in the basement of the hospital.
He is so overwhelmed he can't possibly talk, so he just nods at the girl, Isabel, and walks away, hearing her say "have a nice week end" and see you on Monday" in a soft voice.
Mondays are always identical.
Monday to Friday, Mr. Gold arrives at the shop at 8:30 sharp. Before he opens at 9 o'clock he cleans a little mostly he cleans the counter and those items that could catch the costumers' attention – he cleans them himself because he doesn't trust anyone near his things, not after what happened to her. If it is a slow morning, as Mondays tend to be, he does a little paperwork or he goes in the back room - half office, half storage room, half laboratory - and fixes something, or polishes a particular item, or any other thing he has written in the to-do-list he has in his mind.
If it's near the end of the month, he has money to collect, from rents, loans and other, less legal, "activities". So the list he will mentally check is a slightly different one, and the Monday morning is spent planning the schedule of a busy and satisfying week. Satisfying for him and his bank account, at last.
For Mister Gold, pawnbroker and owner of the city, Mondays are always the same old story repeating itself.
But not this Monday.
This morning Mr. Gold is unusually restless. He hasn't slept a wink last night, or the night before the last, despite the generous amount of whiskey and Scotch he drank. The proof are lying on the carpet of his sitting room, two empty bottles and another one, almost empty, waiting for him when he'll come home this night. He needs to stop at the store and buy more bottles, just in case, and maybe he will ask for something else, there must be a pill that will help him sleep in this damned world.
At 5:45 in the morning he cursed loudly, got up from the couch cursing again from the pain in his leg - not to mention his throbbing head - and he somehow got to the kitchen and drank several cups of coffee, black and bitter and cold. And more than a couple of aspirins, too.
He took a shower, shaved carefully blinking at the stab crossing his brain every time he looked in the mirror - the lights in the bathroom too bright for his hungover. After more cups of coffee, this time hot, and another aspirin, he felt slightly better and went to is bedroom. He has prepared a suit, the night before, to wear today. But he has changed is mind. The one he chose is pitch black, and, if possible, even more distinguished than the other. His shirt is as red as blood, and the tie a deeper shade of red. The matching handkerchief in his suit's pocket could have looked sappy in any other man but him.
He wants to impress the girl, even if he would never admit it, even to himself.
And now he paces and paces back and forth in his own shop, like a fool. He moves objects from a shelf to another, and then moves them back; he checks everything, the little dent in this wooden box, the little hole in the female puppet apron, the glint of blue and gold of the highest unicorn in the princess's mobile and so on. He thinks he would find a little comfort in these objects, that hold such a deep meaning in them.
He find himself thinks stupid things, really. Like "I hope the place is not too dirt and dusty" - but her job consist in cleaning and dusting - or "it's not a big mess, right?" - but you, you fucking idiot, you hired her to help you straighten this mess, so if this damn place is all proper and prim, don't you think she (and Hopper, and Emma, and everyone else in this town), would find it, at the least, suspicious?
But the worst thought is another one: "She would feel comfortable in this place, right? She would feel safe, and protected, and maybe a little loved". And he doesn't know if a yes or no would please him or throw him in the depth of his guilt and despair. It's so easy to be unbalanced when Belle is concerned, and he isn't used to have so poor control over his emotions.
He looks at the clock, wondering why the time pass so slowly today. It's only 11:30. Still two hour before she arrives for the first day of her new job. And he shivers thinking that from now on, every afternoon his Belle will open that door and spend the rest of the day with him.
He corrects this last thought: every afternoon, except for Saturdays and Sundays, of course, not his Belle but Isabel French, the florist's daughter, will be in his pawnshop working for him.
He has already cleared his schedule from all his afternoons appointments from here to eternity. This entire time could rot before he leaves her side, again.
And he still can't believe she agreed to work for him.
And he can't believe, either, he offered her a job.
Lately, Mr. Gold has found out that the most useful informations can be found at Granny's. To be more specific: the most useful and recent informations about a certain individual could be found at Granny's. And individual with deep, blue eyes and soft, brown curls. A girl, because it is indubitably a female. He has recently refused to call this girl with any name, nickname, endearment, epithet or who knows what since he bumped into her last week and he almost, almost, let her old, true name slip through his lips.
But he must recognise that even the word individual or girl sound oddly sweet and comfortable in his mind. They sound almost like a caress, when referred to Her.
He is also careful to avoid the diner in the afternoon. Said individual, the girl, he knows she frequents the place, too, in the less crowded hours of the mid-afternoon. The girl has become friend with Ruby - and odd pair for his likes, but he is comforted by the thought the wolf girl, even without the help of his wolf form, can protect her.
He also knows that sometimes the girl meets with Mary Margaret there, after school hours. The teacher is helping her readjusting with real life, and he knows Miss Blanchard lends her books to read, and that most of the time their afternoon is spent over a cappuccino talking about the book the girl has just finished. He hears that sometimes Emma joins them, and Ruby takes a break and they have some girl talk.
And he is happy, he truly is, that the girl has friends, in this life, more suited to her than her pompous betrothed.
She must feels lonely, he thinks, when neither Mary Margaret or Emma can't come to the diner and talk to her and Ruby has to do her job. He has learnt - from who he can't remember - that on those times she would sit down in an empty little table in the farthest corner of the diner's, nursing a cup of tea and reading a few pages of her book, looking around only to see people who would suddenly drop their stares and lower their voices. She usually goes home in less than ten minutes, in those occasions. Yes, Mr. Gold is happy she has some friends, but he also feels the tip of his fingers prickle with the urge of beating the shit out of all those who don't event have the will or the good sense to get to know her, and discover how amazing she is.
For he is sure of one thing: curse or not, if this girl has just one tenth of what his Belle had in herself, she is absolutely a remarkable person.
Stated that Miss French avoids the peak hours, even if the chances of meeting her friends are the highest in those times, is almost impossible for him to run into her when he takes his lunch and coffee. And that's a relief.
Of course it is just by chance that he appears to always sit in a quiet table not far from the counter and directly behind the spot were sheriff Swan and Mary Margaret usually sit.
He can hear clearly if someone on that table is speaking, even in hushed tones. His ears are always been good. And he is also really good at hiding it, the fact that he eavesdrop.
That's how he found out that Belle was looking for a summer job. He "overheard" Archie talking to Emma, and the Doctor was really concerned. Belle wanted to find a job: a summer job, an easy one, to help her father earn something. The Doctor thought it was a good idea: she would go out and interact with more people. Unfortunately, the library, the best job he could think for Isabel French, is shut down since forever. And Isabel has searched everywhere in the past days, but "no one seems eager to give a mad girl a job", like she said herself.
He couldn't help his next move. He raised from his table, made three limping steps, and said to the Doctor he would like to hire the girl. Adding almost immediately, and feeling the gaze of the sheriff bore through him, that he was thinking to hire someone for the summer, just in the afternoon, to clean and dust the place and help him, "and old man with a bad leg" with trivial things like updating his database and cataloguing all the things he keeps in his shop. "Who is the girl, exactly?" he added, pushing a little bit his luck and with a face that was the acme of innocence.
Emma's look was literally shouting: I don't believe a shit you say. But Doctor Hopper, good soul that he is, was really grateful for this offer, and assured him he will talk with Miss French and she will pass by his shop to let Mr. Gold knows id she accepts or refuses the offer.
He excused himself and, after have paid the bill, went out into the street. He was trembling furiously by the time he found himself in front of his shop.
It is history repeating itself? No, he is positive about that while he waits for the girl to arrive, she will just come in the afternoon, dust a little and do other things, then go away after four or five hours. That's it. They don't live together, all by themselves. No, No more. She lives with her father, has friend and will have, during the summer, a lot of distractions to keep her mind busy elsewhere. And hopefully she would not think so much about her employer.
It's been two weeks since Isabel French started working for Mr. Gold in his Pawnshop. She arrives at one o'clock and leaves at six thirty. In the middle of the afternoon she prepares tea, even in June. He never accepts a cup, it's too temping to reverse in old habits, and it would bring back painful memories.
In fact, these first few days, he barely talks to her, and she is quiet, as always. Of course he watches her form the corner of his eyes.
Monday through Wednesday he busied himself in the back room when she was cleaning the shop. And, when she needed to do something in the back room, he was suddenly remembering to retrieve something in the shop, or he was feigning to have finished in the room. Once he leaved the laboratory in a rush muttering something about looking for a lamp to polish, darting to the shop and fussing around some shelves. He must have looked like a silly, pathetic old man when Belle showed up behind him passing him the lamp and saying something like "it was right on the table you were working on".
He thought his dignity was still intact, or he hoped so, when he returned in his storage-laboratory-backroom and started putting maybe too much force in polishing the damn object. No genie would come out of it, not here and now, at least.
He is ashamed by his behaviour, now. It oddly seemed like a dance, or a kid's play. And she must have thought the same because, after the "lamp accident", she started to follow him, passing from one task to another, never saying anything but looking slightly amused. So he stopped this foolish game and settled back in the old routine of his job, glancing sometimes at her, or telling her to be careful when dusting a particular item.
He soon discovers - he thinks it was on Thursday, once they were just a bit more accustomed to each others and he wasn't running any more - that she likes to hum while cleaning.
So here she his, dusting his old shop, humming a tune and sometimes singing softly along with the songs she hears on the iPod Emma gave her as a present and Ruby and Henry filled with songs, old and new, they thought she must know. (A present for getting the job, Emma said, but Gold keeps wondering if the sheriff hasn't give the girl that thing only to let her avoid any contact with him while working. Not that he cares, but still…).
Isabel goes up and down in his shop, just one headphone in the ear, so she can hear if a client comes in or Gold says something to her. She sings to herself while she is cleaning the place… sometimes stumbling on a line she can't recollect exactly. If it is an old song Gold finds himself remembering the tune and words, and wonders where in the past of his fake existence these memories come from. She notices every time he mutters a song to himself, and seems to enjoy the moments he lets his guards down and unconsciously hums along with her.
One day she is softly singing. It's almost seven, she will leave in a couple of minutes, asking him if he needs something else and then politely saying goodnight. Her iPod plays an old song, one that makes you wish for a slow dancing in the summer's evening, for the thrill of having the one you love near you, skin against skin and all the night in front of you to indulge in. The words themselves are happy, but the tune and the interpretation is pure heartbreak. She has her eyes closed, shifting lightly from side to side, and actually stopping cleaning at all; it happens sometimes, he has noticed, when there is a song she particularly loves. He is near her, and can hear the song and when she sings the wrong line he absent-mindedly corrects her, in a low, throaty whisper.
Her eyes shoot open and she catches a breath. He has startled her, she hasn't heard his coming so near. Gold tenses, but then she smiles at him with such warmth that, when she says something, he doesn't hear a single word. When she just looks at him, raising slightly her eyebrows, he takes a deep breath and says
"I beg your pardon, my dear?"
"I said it's a lovely song", she smiles, "do you like it?"
"Well, it is lovely indeed, but I presume all classic songs are".
"That's true, but you… you know the words… right?" It's not a question, neither is a statement, but something just in-between.
"Yes I do", he says, hoping to stop this conversation, not knowing where it was going to end gives him and uncomfortable chill in his spine. But she thinks otherwise, or so it seems.
"I mean, you must like it... you know the words, and is such a lovely tune, so sweet and slow", she stops, probably rummaging with some thoughts inside her lovely head. Then she asks in a rush "Have you ever... I mean... this song..." she blushes and shifts uncomfortably.
"Have I ever what, dear?", he asks, wondering what she is thinking, and, Good Lord, why is she blushing?
She takes a deep breath, to gather all her courage, and asks: "Have you ever danced it, this song?"
And, after barely a second, before he can articulate something, she adds in a low voice, "When you were young, maybe?"
"When I were young…", he repeats, frowning, trying to remember his youth, the real one and the fake one.
"No, I don't mean you are old", she says in a rush, mistaking his struggles with two different sets of memories for discomfort or, worse, irritation at her words. "I mean you're obviously not so… old.. and perhaps you just know a lot of old songs just because you like them, one doesn't have to be from the same time of a song to like it, isn't it?… not that you are that old… I know this song is way older than you.. but maybe you danced it when you were like around my age, or maybe younger… that time slow dancing was fine.. I mean, you're obviously older than me... more near my father age than mine... not that I think you're as old as my father... no, you're not like my father at all, I can see that, he's older than you and... oh, no, really, I'm sorry! I wasn't comparing you to my father. No. No way, I wasn't doing that... but you know this song and my father doesn't and every time I hear it I imagine myself slow dancing and my father actually doesn't know how to dance and gets nervous, and I simply can't picture myself dancing this song with him, I mean, I'm not a five years old kid any more, and now I was listening to the song and dreaming of dancing and… oh, I didn't mean to stop cleaning, you know, but this song started and suddenly this idea came to my mind and I was picturing myself dancing with you and then you are near me singing and the next thing I thought was: maybe he knows how to dance it and maybe he danced it and I wanted to know and then I voiced my thought".
She takes a breath before adding, her face a reddish shade Gold has seen only in tomatoes and lobsters, "Aloud".
Her flood of words stops, and she opens her mouth again but then closes it. And she realises what she has just done and stares at him in horror…
When Gold laughs.
He tries to stop himself, feign a cough, but her expression is.. something else, entirely, and he can't help but to start laughing hard. And she is startled by him but then joins him, laughing freely, holding her stomach while every laughter rocks her body.
They have spent the first two weeks barely talking one to the other. She was cautious, and he was walking on eggs, trying not to enjoy too much her presence near him, trying not to, but catching himself looking at her constantly. Feeling her as she brushed not-so-near him. The merely thought of sharing the same close space, the same air she breathed was intoxicating, and he was overly cautious to avoid her as much as possible.
But this girl… this girl was actually amazing. Gold was eager to bet she hasn't spoken so much with anyone in these months, except for Doctor Hopper, maybe. But he doubted she would be so intense, talking with her shrink.. or embarrassed, realising she has talked too much, really too much. This is a laughter of pure relief, for both of them.
He is the first to catch his breath and talk
"So, let's see if I get this right. You where asking if I like this song and if I, in a past far away" she grimaces, and his smirk gets more pronounced, " I have danced it with a lovely lady under the moonlight?"
She arches an eyebrow "Not so far away in the past", she retorts, "I'm pretty sure I made that particular point clear...". She smiles brightly at him, "Nevertheless, you are correct with your analysis of my speech".
He can feel the corners of his lips twitching for a real smile he could never let go,
"Do I like this song? I suppose I do. Even if I didn't know I remembered the lines till I corrected you. As for the second thing you wanted to know. No, I never danced this song, but I did know how to dance, once", he answers in earnest.
"Before your injury?" She says quietly, concerned.
He frowns a little, remembering that he actually learnt how to dance only in adult age, after he became the Dark One and magic mended his leg. His darkened expression is enough to make Isabel face fall a little.
"I'm sorry", she says in a small voice, "I didn't mean to pry".
"Not at all, dear", he reassures her, "I was just remembering... yes, I did dance, once. But now I don't. Not anymore".
"That's a pity", she says slowly, almost to herself, "I would have asked you to teach me how to dance this song. She blushes, again, and the colour, softer than before, is so lovely on her that he almost doesn't grasp the meaning of her words. Almost.
"And why would you want to dance with an old wretched thing as me?", he says smirking, with a little dismissive gesture with his hand.
"Well, my father.. he would never dance with me, in fact he almost acts as if he is avoiding me", she says, a little smile forced in her face and a little shrug rocking her shoulders.
But Gold wouldn't be fooled so easily by this girl and he can clearly see how pained she is.
"I have known your father since a long time", he says trying to comfort her a little, "He is a man of few words. I suppose he just doesn't know how to act around you. But I'm sure he cares about you, deeply.. in fact I remember witnessing a certain argument in your kitchen…", he trails off, a wolfish grin on his lips.
She giggles at his expression, a soft and shy sound, but he is glad to see her face brighten a little.
"Yes, you did. I remember all to well, I was so ashamed when you appeared on the door. That was the first and last time my father and I did argue over something. The one time we talked about something different form 'what's for dinner?', or 'It's gonna rain, take an umbrella'. He seems afraid of something, and I don't know why".
"Time will adjust everything, my dear, don't worry about that, but", he muses, changing topic, "returning to that lovely little song you where listening and babbling about earlier, there must be in this little town a gallant boy you may wish to dance with. I can't believe no one has set his eyes on a pretty one like you, yet".
His brain is screaming that pretty thing is totally inaccurate, but it is the safest word to say to her
She blushes and he is delighted at the view, while, at the same time, he fears he has just said a word too much.
"No, no one. And no one I could dance old songs with". S
he lowers her gaze, and Gold couldn't help the sigh of relief that escaped his mouth. No suitors, no boys or men dancing around his girl.
She shakes her lovely head, and smiles.
"I went dancing with Ruby and her friends a couple of time, but the place was too crowded and the music too high and I was..." she sighs, frowning, "I was uneasy. Luckily one of Ruby's friends noticed my distress and he was kind enough to escort me out of the room to have some fresh air. If not for him, I think I would have faint".
Gold cringes internally. Even if he braced himself a million of times, this hurts. How stupid of him! Of course boys, men, want to get near his Belle. No, Isabel, Isabel French, and surely not his, not by all means. Gold concentrates on keeping his face straight while she talks about her night out. She is young, too young, he thinks. And she has already missed too may things in her life. Now she can be free, and brave and happy without him. So, he must behave and don't let the disgust at the image that has just popped out of his head: Isabel dancing together with any other man in the universe but him.
He interrupts her, briskly, hoping his head would stop to do funny things to what a little of is heart is still beating. Ù
"So you had a lovely night", he states
"No, I wouldn't say that", she frowns a little, "It was different, of course, but I enjoy much more comforting evenings. And old songs. Maybe I am just sentimental, but I love simple things. A talk with my few friends, or read a book. The thought of hanging out all night, clubbing, like Ruby calls it, well, let's just say that is not my kind of thing. That night, when I reached home, I was so tired… and the day after was worse, I did nothing, I was just too sleepy" she smiles. "You think I am strange, don't you?".
"No, not at all, dear", he reciprocates the smile, "Everyone has his little quirks. It appears that you prefer quiet little things. And old songs".
"Yeah", she laughs, "Old songs. But pity there is now one to slow dance with!".
"Really a pity", he agrees, and stares at her maybe too hard, because he can see her flush a little, and before she could ask him again if he could dance this song, or if he would like to dance with her, – no, he hasn't missed that in her flood of words, she actually imagined him slow dancing and he can picture the scene and just the thought is too much to bear so he need to change topic quickly, again – before she could ask him anything of the sort he asks her "You don't mind to be stuck here all summer, Miss French?".
"No, I don't", she sounds genuinely surprised by this question and the change of topic, but the fact that she answers instantly gives him a certain pleasure he is not sure he wants to analyse. "I wasn't able to do anything for too long, anything at all, she continues. And I am not forced to stay here from dawn till dusk, 24/7. Once I finish for the day the sun will still be high outside and I would meet...", she trails of.
"Yes, miss French?", he prompts her to finish her sentence
"Well", she seems embarrassed, "I would meet Ruby, or go and talk about a book with Mary Margaret. I will see Emma, sheriff Swan, and maybe her son, henry. Do you know them, right?".
"Yes, of course I do", he replies maybe too sharply, "I live here in Storybrooke".
"Oh, I'm sorry, it's just that for me everyone in this town is like is a new acquaintance, even if I lived here my entire life. Or so it seems", she frowns slightly at the second mention of her past.
He can see it pains her not to know, so he attempts to lighten the mood, changing topic again.
"But wouldn't you be bored working here, with me always muttering around and all the knick-knacks to dust?"
The corners of her lips turn up a little,
"Oh, no, why would I? You offered me this job, Mr. Gold, knowing everything about my past, but you never enquired. And, after all", she says conspiratorially, leaning into him, "We already agreed that I love old things".
Gold can feel the corner of his lips twitching upwards, and his heart does a little twist in in chest.
She loves old things, she says, and he knows he shouldn't hope to be counted among them.
Here is the new chapter, I hope you like it.
There is a little of Ruby, Emma, MM and Moe.
See you soon!
Staying at home is comforting, but sometimes it is boring, too; when she feels restless, when she feels like she is suffocating, restricted again between four walls, even if they belong to her little pinkish room or the bright little kitchen. This morning she already did all the chores, she even fixed something to eat for dinner and baked a cake - Mary Margaret gave her the recipe, saying it’s the easiest cake in the whole universe, and, by the look of it, this time she managed to make something edible. She grabs her purse and walks out from the back door. She almost never uses the front door, not when she is alone.
She likes the shop, but there were too many people coming in during her first weeks at home, buying flowers just for the chance of catching a glimpse of this long lost child, of the lost daughter - of the mad woman. The shop is not a place when she feels safe, not during opening hours. There is another place, another shop where she feel safe. But it’s too early for her to go there.
She walks past the diner’s, and catches a glimpse of Ruby walking around and carrying plates and cups. She walks past his shop, but he is nowhere to be seen, and she can’t just go in without a reason, right? That would be strange.
So she goes to the park, determined to read the book she has in her purse: sitting on a bench in a quiet corner hopefully no one will notice her. But today her mind just won't stop spinning and spinning around. She puts the book away, goes up and walks a little, enjoying the fresh air, the sun, the birds. And then she smiles. Isabel French is happy, she thinks, and laughs aloud. Not everything in her life is perfect, of course, but she is free; she has friends; she talks a little bit more every day with her father; she has a job. And she wants to be brave. And for her that means to go around Storybrooke without fear. Yes, Isabel French would be strong and brave.
The nightmares and the fear would never go away, not completely. She knows it very well. But she will face them. If someone tries again to take her away from her life, she will fight, and fight hard. She would do what Emma does. And she knows that her father, Emma, Mary Margaret and Ruby will defend her.
And Mr. Gold will protect her, too. Yeah, she is sure about this. He will help her.
She exits the park, and looks around unsure of what to do. Go to Granny’s? Sure thing she can drop by to say hello to a friend, can’t she? But then she thinks otherwise, and walks down the streets, to where her father’s van is.
Moe French turns around, a big vase full of white lilies in his hand.
“Isabel”, he smiles seeing his daughter. Then his brows frown a little, concerned, “It's everything all right?”.
“Yes. Don’t worry, I just felt like taking a stroll in the park”.
“Oh, good!”, he says, smiling again and putting down the lilies.
“Do you need a hand?”, she asks.
“No, everything is all right. Peter will come in a minute to help me unload, and he will stay here while I’m at the shop”, Moe replies, never looking away from his daughter's face.
Things are easier, now. He must admit it, since she started working, Isabel is more relaxed. And he knows the sheriff is keeping a close eye on Gold, and on himself, of course. So he doesn’t have to worry. Well, not too much.
Isabel is looking at the red roses, brushing them lightly.
“You know that once, when you where four, I had to banish you from the shop if there were red roses. And that means almost all the time”, he says, a hint of playfulness in his words.
“Why?”, She asks, perplexed.
Moe chuckles lightly, “You had developed the habit of go straight to were the red roses were and then picking out petal after petal saying ‘he loves me, he loves me not’”. He laughs. “And you were so concentrated you wouldn’t stop unless you were literally taken away from them. You did that only with the red roses, your favourites. And when I asked you who you were referring to, you just replied, oh so seriously, 'The man I will love, of course'”.
“I really did that?”she laughs, blushing.
“Of course, princess”.
“Princess?”, she asks.
“It’s how I called you when you were little, sometimes it was my little princess, and mum would say 'If she is a princess, you know what I am?' And then I would reply, 'Of course, you’re the queen of my heart!” She would scold me, then, every single time, and you would say 'Of course mama is a queen'”, he sighs, before adding, “It was a little game we played. Sometimes you called her Queen of daddy heart”.
“That is lovely”, Isabel says, but her smile is sad, and Moe notices.
“What is it, Isabel?”.
“Nothing, It’s just… I’m sad, and sorry, because I don’t remember nothing”.
“Oh, no, don’t be”, he reassures her gently. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember, I’ll do that for you. I’ll tell you all the little stories, all the funny things we did, as a family. The times you laughed, the times you cried, the times you were happy or you were mad. You know, you always had a little temper, and you were stubborn. At thirteen you told me not to call you princess any more. Then, a few days later, you came back from school crying because some stupid guy was making fun of one of your friend, you told him to stop and the teacher grounded you because you were making a fuss in class. When I consoled you you told me ‘I remember what I said, papa, about calling me princess. But could you please forget it for now and act like I am still you little girl?”, Moe stops talking, too absorbed in the memory.
“What did you reply?”
He looks at her, a tender gaze, and brushes her cheek with his rough hand. “I told you, 'of course princess'. And you will be forever my little girl. You still are, Isabel”.
She smiles, leaning in his hand, saying, “Yes, papa. I am”.
“And don’t worry, these kind of things takes time. We will wait and see what the future will bring, all right, princess?”
She nods, and say, “Ok, but I have a request”.
“Could you not call me princess in public? Just when there is just the two of us”.
Moe’s laughter makes a smile spread wide in Isabel’s face.
“Of course, princess. These are exactly the same words you said to me that afternoon after school”.
“So we have a deal”, she smirks.
He nods and takes out of the van some more flowers. After a couple of minutes Isabel says, “Papa, do you mind if I eat out at lunch?”
“Yes, Emma and Mary Margaret keep asking me to join them at lunch at granny’s. And I think today I would like too”, she says, then adds, “If you don’t mind”.
“Of course not, princess”, Moe smiles, “Go and have lunch with your friends”.
They say goodbye and Isabel walks toward the diner’s. It’s a little early for the lunch, but she can sit down and wait, reading the book and sipping a cup of tea.
Ruby is behind the counter, and when she turns to greet the new costumer she smiles brightly.
“Izzy! What a nice surprise. Wait, don’t tell me! You'll have lunch here?”, Her face is hopeful, and her smile bright.
“Yes, with Emma and Mary Margaret”, Isabel says, shyly.
“Yes!” Ruby literally jumps, attracting more attention on the two of them, but Isabel doesn’t care. Today is a good day and if her friend is happy just to have her here for lunch, even if she has to work and can’t join them, then the tension she feels in her stomach is worth the dazzling smile Ruby is giving to her.
“You know what?”, says ruby hugging her tightly, “I will make you an enormous milkshake, and the dessert is on the house. We need to celebrate! “
“Will I be able to work after?”, Isabel teases.
“Of course you will”, Ruby flashes a wonderful grin, “you will have the evenly taste of Granny chocolate cake in your mouth! Nothing could go wrong when you eat that cake! Now, sit down and wait for the girls, they’ll be here in half an hour. I can't wait to see their face when they realise you're here”.
When Emma and Mary Margaret arrives the place is almost full. They are genuinely pleased to see Isabel there, and, when she explain she is there to have lunch together, Emma says “Well, it’s about time. I almost thought you don’t like our company.”
“Emma...”, Mary Margaret scolds, but then Emma smirks and winks, and Isabel laughs and when Ruby, adds “I think I saw a pig fly this morning..”, while putting their drinks on the table, all the girls laugh.
The lunch is a quiet one. A little chat about everything and nothing. And when an enormous slice of Red Velvet is in front of Isabel, she looks up at Ruby and says “I will never be able to finish all of this”.
“Oh, well”, the girl replies, sitting down in the free spot on the table, “granny sliced it, and told me to have my fifteen minutes pause now and go and celebrate with you. So I grabbed four forks”. She smirks.
“What a lovely idea”, says Mary Margaret, “I feel fifteen again… sharing a cake, talking about boys…”.
“I don’t care how old I am”, Emma states, after taking the first bite of the cake, “but I think this cake is amazing!”.
The others just nods, mouths full of the delicious dessert.
“Oh,” sighs belle, after a while, “I made your cake this morning, Mary Margaret, but I doubt it would taste this evenly.”
Ruby laughs “Well, this is the best cake granny can do. I tried the recipe a couple of times, but I think what I did wasn’t edible, so, don’t worry. The only pity is that she make the red velvet once in a blue moon!”
“Yeah, really a pity, call me as soon as she bakes another one, even if it's three in the morning, or the apocalypse is upon us”, Emma murmurs licking her fork.
“Emma! Mary Margaret says, “mind you manners”.
Belle laughs, and licks her forks, too, “No, she is right, it’s so delicious you need to lick everything clean”.
Ruby nods and Emma smirks, “See? Three against one! Don’t be a school teacher with me”.
“But I am one”, Mary Margaret replies, and the girls laugh together.
“By the way, how's your hottie doctor?”, Ruby asks looking at Isabel.
“My what..?”, she asks her, confused.
“Doctor hopper, silly. If I have been talking about Whale I would have used another word...”, she muses, adding “something in the line of lecherous”.
“My therapist... hottie?”, Isabel stutters.
“I never thought hot and Archibald Hopper could share the same sentence”, says Emma snickering, “ except when he orders a cup of coffee, maybe?”,
“Oh, you shut up, and you, close your mouth, Izzy!”, laughs Ruby, “He's so shy and embarrassed he's cute. And I like that kind of cuteness. God knows it is not the usual reaction I have from men.. it's refreshing.. and have you seen those freckles?”, the girl adds, leaning on the table, like she is sharing a very big and important secret: “When he is beet red you can't told them apart…”.
“Sounds like someone has a crush...” muses Mary Margaret, smiling
“Maybe”… Ruby says with a not-so-sheepish grin.
“That's good”, Isabel is looking kindly at the diner's door, or maybe across the street where the doctor's office is. “He is so kind and gentle... and he certainly acts all funny when you are near”, she adds whit a soft giggle and a meaningful glance at the girl.
“Oh, you noticed”, ruby smile is a knowing one
“We all did, Ruby”, says Mary Margaret, while Emma just rolls her eyes.
“So, it's time for a little action”, ruby licks her lips.
“Ruby! You will terrify the poor doctor”, Mary Margaret states, while Emma mutters something like how the poor man doesn't know what is coming his way.
Ruby stands up, her pause is finished, and she is ready to go back tending the other tables. But first she leans down towards the other women and says in an little innocent voice. “I’m eager to bet I will have a lot of fun, and that my cute, hottie doctor will never object to anything I will do to him”. She smiles her predator smile and turns away, hips dancing around in her tight shorts and ponytail flowing.
The women laughs at her boldness, and Isabel watches her fried, hoping she will have that kind of courage if she will ever be interested in someone that way. Her mind trails off and the first person who comes in her thoughts is Mr. Gold... but Isabel has no time to register the whereabouts of this thought. Henry appears at the door's of Granny's diner, running over their table and starting to chat with Emma and Mary Margaret. When the teacher excuses herself and goes back to the school, and Emma is gone to another table to talk with Leroy, Henry turns towards Isabel and says.
“Isabel, may I ask you a favour? I need your help to figure out something”.
“Of course, Henry. I just hope I can help you, I know so little about this town”, she says, a little unsure.
“Oh, don't worry, you'll be fine. I just want to ask you some questions, so I can figure out who you are”.
“Who I am?”.
“Yes, in my book”.
Isabel listens carefully when Henry explains to her the whole Operation Cobra. He doesn’t stop when Emma returns to their table and give him a warning. And he is more that pleased when Isabel tells him to go on.
“So everyone is a character of a fairytale?”, she asks, when he ha finished.
“Yes!”, Henry beams.
Isabel just smiles, “Someone could say that my story is unbelievable, or even impossible, but it happened. And, and how I can not believe in fairytales, when I had a hero rescuing me?”, she teases Emma, who just shrugs while Henry is totally in Business-First mode. Holding out his book and turning the pages, thinking out aloud.
“A princess secluded in a dungeon.. I don't have that in my book”, he seems genuinely concerned, “If it was a tower that would be Rapunzel, I mean, you would be Rapunzel”.
“But isn’t Rapunzel blonde?”, Isabel enquires, amused.
“You will find out his book is not so orthodox about fairytales”, says Emma.
“That's because they are not just fairytales, they are true”, says Henry, a little exasperated.
Emma starts to say something, but Belle speaks before her, “Well, you now what? Fairytales shouldn’t be orthodox in any way”.
“Yes”, Henry smiles broadly, and then his smile fades “But I still can't figure out who are you...”.
“So you know who is everyone in town?”, Isabel asks “Like... who is Mr. Gold?”.
“Oh, that I don't know, either”. He frowns, “His character must really be difficult... and bad”.
“Henry...” Emma warns him.
“Why bad?” Isabel asks, genuinely curious. She watches watches Henry carefully, and he is so happy she doesn’t mock him and is actually interested in Operation Cobra that he thinks hard before answering her questions, counting down on his fingers.
“First: he has power, and he uses it. Second: he always gets what he wants. Third: he always obtain the best of every bargain, even if you think you have fooled him, and believe me, you have not”.
“Does he bribe or cheat?”, Belle asks.
“Not that I know of”, he says, while Emma looks at the cealing.
“Did he ever brbreak a bargain or step out of his word?”.
“No, never”. Henry says
“So he couldn't be so bad, after all”, Isabel says with a warm smile, registering the confused expression in henry's face and the way Emma is avoiding looking at her. She will talk to her friend, in private, one of these days.
After a While Henry acknowledges, “No, maybe he is not so bad. But he is the only person my mother, Regina, fears, and that's a pretty damn thing to accomplish”.
“Henry mind your words!”, Emma says while Isabel starts to laugh and soon even Henry and a reluctant Emma join her.
“Thank you, Henry, I will keep that in mind while I’m near him. And if I see something that could help you figure out who he really is, you know, the fairytale land we all come from, I will let you know immediately”, she smiles.
“Yes! Another person working for Operation Cobra. See, Emma, she thinks I’m right”.
Isabel smiles to Emma, and the sheriff smiles back, “Yes kiddo, another one. But now you'd better go, before Regina finds out you had lunch with me. And I must go, too, in a moment, I have some work to do”.
Henry leaves the shop, and Emma turns once again towards the girl.
“Have a nice day, Isabel, and remember, if you need anything, just call me, and I will come immediately”.
“Thank you for your concern, Emma. But I’m perfectly fine and I am sure I don't have anything to fear, not from Mr. Gold. Yes, I perfectly know who you are referring to”. She says raising an eyebrow.
“Isabel, you don’t know him, what he did…” the sheriff trails off, unsure of what to say to this girl that was looking straight into her eyes with a resolute expression.
“You know, Emma, that I will do anything you ask me to, because I trust your judgement”. She sighs, dropping her stare and shaking her head a little. “But I thinks everybody is too harsh on Mr. Gold. How many time has any of you passed with him?”
“Too much for my taste”, says Emma, sharp.
“Oh, Emma”, Isabel sounds defeated, if not a little disappointed. “I’ve heard the stories about him. And I also know that most of them are true, maybe a little exaggerated, but true. I’m not denying it. But I’ve also heard all the stories circulating about me… and I’m sure he did, too. But he aired me, nevertheless. He gave me a chance, so who am I to deny him of one, too?”.
“Ok”, the sheriff says, slowly, sitting again to look more intently in this girl's blue eyes. “But if he ever does something to you, or mistreats you in any way…”
“Oh, why does everybody thinks he will do that? He’s always been no less that a perfect gentleman with me, and then you, Archie, Mary Margaret and even Ruby keeps telling me he is bad. I know he owns almost all the town, he is my father landlord, too. And, yes, Ashley told me about her baby. But he did let go, didn’t he?”.
“After he made another bargain with me.”
“A bargain you proposed, if I’ve heard it right”.
“Did he told you that?”.
“No, Henry did”.
“He was warning me, too, the other day. But, Emma, do you think he will hurt me, do you really think that?”.
The sheriff seems to reflect a little, and then gives in. “No, I don’t thinks so. Not intentionally, anyway. I had a long talk with him about his intentions and motives, when he told Archie he would get you a job”.
“Did you..?”, Isabel asks, incredulity clear in her voice and face.
“Of course I did. I promised to protect you, remember? And I always keep my promises”.
“And?” Isabel asked, curious.
“Your 'long talk with Gold about my job'. Do you really believe you can say something like thins and then simply walk away?”.
Emma studies Isabel expression for a moment, something in her gut was telling her the girl was too eager to hear about Gold, but then she rejects the thought, and starts telling.
“He was oddly, collaborative, answering every single question. That surprised me. And, believe me, it’s not an easy task. I’m not 90% sure his answers were accurate, but... how to explain this. I got the impression that he really wanted me to be reassured he had no ill intention and that you will be completely safe and sound with him. And that sounded completely and utterly the truth in my ears. Anyway, in case my instinct got he wrong...”
“But it is usually right”, Isabel interrupts her, smirking.
Emma Narrows her eyes, “In case I was wrong, I prefer to be reassured you will call me if anything occur, anything at all. Ok, Isabel?”
“If that will give your mind a little peace, then I promise to call you. And I mean it. But, you now, I like working for him, and talking with him, too.”, Isabel smiles
Emma looks at her intently. “Do I need to worry?”
“You seem too fond of Gold for my taste..”.
“Emma!” Isabel scolds. “I don’t think I’m fond of him”, she replies, hoping the warmth she feels on her cheeks doesn’t mean she is blushing, or hoping Emma wouldn’t notice is she is indeed blushing. “It’s just... it’s nice, you know, to work and then have a little chat. He is not exactly a friend, but I enjoy spending time with him, and working in his shop”.
Emma opens her mouth to speak, when her radio cracks and the sheriff is needed somewhere else. She has definitely noticed her blush, and the looks in her face means “we’ll have a little talk no this particular subject, and soon”, when she leaves and just says “I gotta go, be good, and behave, Isabel”.
The girl just laugh before saying, “Yes mum. Have a nice day”, and laughs some more at the not-so-amused-but-that’s-funny look the sheriff gives her while she walks out Granny’s door.
“Since when you call Emma mum?”, asks Ruby, marching towards her table with an odd expression.
“Since she is so overprotective about me working for Mr.Gold. It’s been a month, already, and I’m perfectly fine”.
Ruby arches an eyebrow, and Isabel scoffs, “Oh, come on! I’m sure you wouldn't like it if I start to call you, mum, too. I will do it, you know”.
Ruby seems horrified by the thought, “Gosh, no, I’m too young and pretty to be a mum. And I want some more years of fun before settle down...”
“Settle down with who? I remember that no more that twenty minutes ago you were calling my doctor hottie…”, Isabel teases.
“Whatever. I will be eternally grateful if you don’t call me mum, but I’m open for the position of big sister, or little sister, or both. You decide. And now, I gotta go before granny starts shouting at me. Again”.
The fact that her friend has changed the topic strikes belle: there is something going on between Ruby and Archie? She doesn’t thinks so, but maybe they just need a little push to be happy together, and they would be well suited for each other, oddly as it would seem at first glance.
A little smile surfaces on her face when the thought of Mr. Gold appears in her mind. It is the second time, today, that her brain associates her employer while she is thinking about love and relationship.
She blushes again as she stands up from her table and waves goodbye to Ruby and Mrs. Lucas. It’s almost time to go to work, so she walks slowly towards Mr. Gold's pawnshop.
Isabel must admit it, she finds her boss bewitching. No, more than that, he absolutely fascinates her. He is like a rhythm that crept under her skin and now rushes in her bloodstream. A pleasurable one. But an impossible one, too. Of course she had heard some of the rumours and stories going around about him. How silly of Emma, to think she hasn’t. She may have few friends, but she has ears. And what she has not heard at the grocery store or at Granny’s, she has heard from her father. Moe French told her the most horrible stories. And showed her the contracts he signed with Mr. Gold, the terms of the loans for the house, the shop, the van. Mr. Gold owns their life, in a certain way. And she must admit that the boundary between legal and illegal, rightful rent and chocking rates, is painfully thin. But her father agreed to them, signed them knowing the conditions, so there is nothing to do.
Isabel is also sure that there are worse rumours going around about the fearful Mr. Gold. Rumours that no one wants to even whisper. Rumours that are certainly true. He said it himself, one day: he is a man to be feared.
But she can’t find any trace of fear inside her. She has learnt the hard way that darkness and solitude themselves hold nothing to fear. They could break you, they could drive you insane. But that is just your reaction to them. And a very human reaction: only the soulless could bear living in total darkness and avoid all contacts with others living creatures. Darkness and solitude alone can’t harm you. They can’t dig their claws and teeth in your flesh, because they don’t have them. And they don’t have cruelty. Cruelty is something reserved for the human beings to use.
She has seen cruelty, and power, and arrogance. She can still feel the sickening sensation of those eyes watching her. And her stomach spasms. She must think of something else. His brown eyes when she says something that amuses him, and how the corners of his lips twitch from the smile he urges to repress, and she doesn’t know why he does it. She breathes in and out, slowly. Closing her eyes and concentrating on this little things, waiting for the panic and for the nausea to go away. No, she can’t fear someone she is so comfortable being with.
To be honest, she never saw that coming. She was cautious, starting her job, and a little afraid, too. But she needed the money so desperately. The first days she didn’t know how to act around him. But that was something not unusual for her. She didn’t know how to act around everybody. Most of all if she didn't know them: all the questions she can’t answer, all the idle chat she seems unable to make despite all her efforts. Archie said to take it easy, that it is normal, and that he too, sometimes, is a loss of words talking with other people.
She talked with the doctor about that: the only things she fears, except for those hunting cruel eyes, is people’s reaction to herself, to her own habits or attitude. They already thinks she is mad, what if she does something crazy? What if there was a reason, and very good one, for her “reclusion”? After all she was in a psychiatric ward! And even if Archie keeps repeating that she is perfectly fine, apart from the memory loss, Isabel is doubtful.
“Everyone is a little mad, somewhere in their mind, Isabel. The one and only exception is plain normality and, believe me, I never met a normal person in my life and I doubt I ever will”.
“Maybe it is just something in Storybrooke’s air, doctor”. She teased
“Could be, but I’m doubtful”.
She had smiled that time, but a fragment of her mind - or soul - keeps whispering awful thing in her ears. It’s only a dream, Emma never came to rescue you. They made a mistake, you’ll will return back to you dark cell and rot there. You will hurt your father, your friends: some day your grip on reality will fade and you will hurt them. You’re evil, Isabel French, evil and tainted. Corruptions impregnates every fibre of your being. You are evil. And that is the reason you were taken away ten years ago. People will come and get you. You’ll be alone again, and you know you deserve it. You know.
She tries to breathe gain, in and out, slowly, sitting on a bench in Main Street, trying to regain some composure before she enters the shop.
She makes a list of the little things she enjoys. The smell of a book. The colour of the flowers in her father’s shop. The crystal sound Ruby makes when she laughs aloud, the look in Mary Margaret eyes when she smiles at her David. The feel of her cotton dress on her skin. How Henry lights up talking with Emma - her Emma, the woman who hold her hand when she was confused and frightened and never let her go for hours and hours while she, Isabel, slowly resurfaced from her tomb and unnamed existence - Emma reassuring look, and even the sceptical one, is among the things Isabel enjoys. And she also enjoys Mr. Gold's smile.
Not the usual, mocking one. Not the courtesy one, the polite, fake one - the ones she sees most of the times on his face. She enjoys his smile when he finishes to fix something and he is satisfied by his job. The one he wears when he is captured by telling her something - most of the times the story of the town or of his objects - and his voice blurs into almost a lullaby tone. And the other one, the most rare smile, sweet and sad at the same time, that she saw on his face just a couple of times, when he didn’t notice her presence, while he was absent-mindedly stroking a couple of his possessions. One day she will ask him about that smile and those objects - objects that he prevented her to touch ad clean; obviously he never forbid her to touch and dust the leather ball openly. But every time she reaches that particular spot in the shop he appears, like he has a radar in his brain, or a silent alarm system, and asks her to do something else, in another corner of the shop.
He diverts her attention, on purpose. Isabel is not stupid, and by the second time he did she guessed something was different about those things, as strange as it may be. There are more valuable objects between the trinkets and the knick-knacks in the pawnshop, she knows that well. Some fine piece of jewellery, some antique books. And then swords, carved sculptures, and so on. That place could be a thief’s paradise, if you are willing to rummage and rummage for hours to find the right objects (the only order Mr. Gold has is in his mind).
And, of course, if the thief is willing to see the sun rise the next day: Mr. Gold wrath is not a thing to be taken lightly. She heard rumours about that, someone broke in and stole something from her employer, and the thief ended up in hospital - the whispers say he was lucky Emma stopped Mr. Gold in time, or it would be much, much worse.
Isabel doesn’t like rumours, but she wants to know. One day, she thinks, one day she’ll ask Emma for the real story, firsthand. And she is sure the sheriff would tell her the truth. Like she did when the sheriff told her Ashley's story. Ashley now is happy, but then, when she broke into the pawnshop, she was desperate.
And one must be really desperate, otherwise, why try to steal from and well-known-ogre? Seated on the bench, Isabel smiles, remembering her conversation with Henry. Of all the names she heard her boss is called, “ogre” seems the most bland, and she gave it to him, now, and without thinking! She laughs quietly. What would he say, knowing that? Some witty remark, of course. And then he would give her a fully detailed explanation on what exactly is an ogre and why he don’t fulfil all the required traits to be called one.
Yes, her boss is really fascinating. And if in just one month of work she is so fond of him, what will happen in the months to come? She sighs, muttering something about how she is no more fifteen - not that she remembers being one - and how this is not the best timing for having a crush on someone, least of all on her boss.
But she owes him a lot. And she doesn’t mean financially - although she is well aware of the debt she and her father owes Mr. Gold, and this is an irksome thought.
She owes him in the same way she owes Emma, because Mr Gold truly saved her as much as the sheriff did, even if he doesn’t know. She was so scared and frantic. The frustration was overwhelming. She could cope, or she could try to, with the stares and whispers. She could tolerate people stop talking altogether when she enters some store or if they see her approaching. But it is a completely different matter when almost everybody recoils from you. When they tell the children not to come near her or talk to her, like she is the bogeyman. When they shut her out their life, before even listening to her while she says her own name. All without looking at you in the face.
No, she discovered she couldn’t bear it. The complete rejection almost crushed her. She can still recall the sensations of falling down and down, her inner self hopelessly trying to hold onto something, to stay together. All the broken pieces she is still trying so hard to fix now that she is happy, she felt them tremble and shatter then.
But then Mr. Gold came and nonchalantly offered her a job, like it is the most normal thing in the world to offer a job to some mad girl just out of an insane, albeit illegal, asylum. Yes, he rescued her - maybe Henry would call him “her prince in a shinning armour”, she laughs. A very strange prince, much different from some of Ruby’s friend, all chivalry and nothing else, that are too eager to act like her protectors not bothering too much to actually ask her if she needs protection and of what kind. Treating her like she is some pretty doll, asking futilities and not listening to her answers, either.
Mr. Gold is much better than them. Not only he saved her for crumbling down. He treats her like a human being, in his own way, of course. He is always practical but kind, efficient but oddly warm in his curt manners. Some of the costumers that came in the shop in the past month said that he treats her with indifference, like he doesn’t care if she is there or not. She knows that is completely false. They are simply unable to read between the lines, between the cutting sentences and almost orders he gives to her, and between the silences, when they just share their space, working. And, of course, they are not there when they talk.
After they “broke the ice” with her outburst about music and dancing - and, really, what she was thinking, that day? - they grew more and more comfortable in each other company. Be it a long silence or a small talk, they both welcome it. And she loves when he tells her the history of an object - she cherishes those times, even if they can be counted on the fingers of her hands. He is a good storyteller, and enchanting one. Once, she found herself thinking that he would have made a wonderful, doting parent. Wait, he can still be a father. He is not so old or ugly. He is, in fact, quite attractive, with his tailored suits and imposing aura. And he is a powerful man, and some women are attracted to power, like others are attracted to kindness, this little even Isabel knows about womankind.
So, why not? Maybe he will found a woman, fall in love (or not, Isabel knows even that) and have children. She can picture him walking a little girl to school, telling her some story. Something warms in in Isabel’s stomach at this image, and she closes her eyes, feeling a pleasant shiver run down her spine. Yeah, maybe you’re too much fond of your boss, my dear, she scolds herself. And you blatantly lied to Emma about that! Bad girl!
But to imagine something would never harm anyone, right? So why not think about a sweet, chaste goodbye kiss on the lips, while a little girl, their little girl, is fretting to go to school, and his lovely voice saying “just a second, darling, I’m saying goodbye to mum?”.
Yes, a family would suit him well, smoothing his edges and easing some of the pain she can feel inside him.
And yes, she must stop thinking about it. So she stands up and crosses the street to enter the pawnshop. with maybe a little too much force and determination than strictly necessary.
He is a good man, deep, deep down. Not perfect and not... totally good? But better than the stories tell. She knows it. She also knows he is ruthless when he wants something. Greed and power run deeply inside him.
The bell on the door is still ringing when Isabel hears her boss’ voice
“Hello dear”, Mr. Gold greets her looking at her intently. He stands behind the counter, a pen in his hand, the account book open in front of him.
“Hello, Mr Gold”, she replies while going to the back, smiling when she walks past him, she drops her purse and retrieve her cleaning things - she has to clean the windows, today - and walks back into the shop again and starts cleaning. It takes her a few minutes before she notices that Mr. Gold has never stopped staring at her, pen stopped mid air in his hand. She turns to face him. “What?”.
“I beg you pardon?”, he says, blinking.
“Why are you looking at me? Did I do something wrong, misplaced some object?”
“No, not at all, dearie”, he reassures her, shaking lightly his head and dropping his gaze.
“Then what’s wrong?”, she asks again.
“Well”, he sighs, knowing Isabel would never accept a ‘nothing’, “let's just say that I noticed you sitting on the opposite side of the road.. for quite a while”, he says, uncertain at how to phrase his thoughts.
“Were you spying on me?”. She tilts her head to the side, studying him and narrowing her eye mischievously, “it’s not a good thing to do, you know?”
“Me, spying? I'm shocked by your insinuations, Miss French!”, he says, a tone of mocked-disdain colouring his voice.
“What where you doing, then?”, she teases him, happy that her playful enquires don’t upset him.
“I was just here by the counter in my own shop, doing some things…”
“Oh, really? What accuracy”, she interrupts.
“I was saying, before an impudent employee remarked something irrelevant”, he scolds her with a glare, and she chuckles lightly,“I was saying I was in the middle of something when I raised my gaze and I saw a person sitting on the opposite side of the road. And I thought. I thinks I know that chocolate curls. And indeed I did. It was my own assistant, sitting on a bench and god knows doing what, smiling, shaking her little head, muttering something. You could ruin my reputation, you know”.
And this is enough for Isabel to realise he is asking if everything is allright, without saying the words out loud, and allowing her to not answer directly.
“So, let me get this straight: you are worried people saw me sitting on the bench outside of you shop and that thatis gonna ruin your reputation?”, she asks, pressing her lips together to prevent a laughter.
“Exactly, you entered the shop 5 minutes early. People might think it is pleasant to work for me, and we don’t want the label of ‘good employer’ to be stuck on me, don’t we?”
She looks at him bewildered, and then he says “It’s an eventuality I dread: people starting thinking nicely of me…”
“God forbid?”, she smiles.
“Well, dear, Gold most certainly forbid”, he flashes a wolfish grin at her, and she laughs.
“Ok, I’ll be careful next time. Or I will buy you a cup with 'best employer of the year 'on it” she teases, and smiles wide at the horrid face he his making, and she is happy to see that his eyes are laughing. “But, just for the record, I finished my dessert at granny’s and the others were already gone and Ruby was working, so I took a stroll and enjoyed the little shadow and the breeze before actually coming here for work”.
“Oh, you were having lunch at the diner?” He asks, fiddling with his book and pen.
“Yes. It is the first time I was there during lunch, it was… interesting”.
“I’m glad you liked it”, he replies, his tone curt. Isabel is not unused to his shifting mood, but today she doesn’t let go, and instead she finds something else to tell him.
“I had the most funny conversation with Henry, you know, while I was at lunch”.
“Really, dear? About what?” he asks, his tone implying he is not really paying attention. She is a little upset by this, he was so caring just a minute ago, when he sort of asked if she was all right, she bits her lip and smiles, while she talks, hoping her good mood would be contagious, and not the other way round.
“Well, he, Henry, told me about his book. He has this very big, old book full of fairytales, and he said that all Storybrooke is cursed and we are all, in fact, characters from his book”.
“Fairytales?”, he gulps, looking at her intently, but she doesn’t notice. While she talks she is dusting some of the things in display, and can’t see the look on his face while he absorbs her words.
“Yes, isn’t it lovely? Maybe a little odd, thinking about Doctor Hopper as Jiminy Cricket, and Ruby as the Big Bad Wolf.. Now that I think of it, they are really strange versions of the classical fairytales, you know, Snow White and Cinderella and the others. Snow White would be his grandmother and she is Mary Margaret. She is quite pleased, he told me, even if she doesn’t believe the curse is real. And Emma is the Saviour, the hero that will save us all, breaking the curse and restoring our lives. Actually, I can totally see Emma as the Saviour.”
“Do you believe him?”, his tone is tentative and soft.
“Oh, no. Not…”, she sighs, struggling for words, “I don’t believe we are all cursed. The world I know is bad enough without evil queens and monsters casting spells and curses. But I think I believe in what lays behind Henry stories. The eagerness, the passion he has while creating an history for her mother and her family. How he wants all the people he cares about to be happy.. With the most classical of happy endings. He is sweet and innocent. I hope nothing would change him”.
“Does he have a theory about you, too?”, he asks, cringing a little. It is better if Henry got her right or wrong? He doesn’t know, and he is about too.
She smiles, “He initially thought I was Rapunzel. But she was in a tower, not in a dungeon, thrown there by some horrid beast. And I don’t think I would like to be stuck in a tall tower. I’m afraid I will trip in my own toes and thrown myself out of the window pretty miserably. Not a great end for a fairytale princess, don’t you think?”, she turns to watch him and her smiles fades. Gold is fixing her with sheer intensity, his face is pale, all the blood drained while his breath is ragged and he holds is cane tight, knuckles almost white.
She gasps, “Mr. gold, are you Ok? Do you feel unwell? Mr. Gold?”
He doesn't answer. So she runs towards him, touching him for the first time in a month, and she is almost frantic. “Mr. Gold, answer me, please. What’s wrong? Mr. Gold? Cameron?”.
She is almost shouting and grabs his arms, shaking him. He trembles, while his eyes slowly focus on her. “Belle?” he mutters, raising one hand tentatively to her face but he stops before he could touch her, closing his eyes.
“Mr. Gold? Here, come with me, sit down”. Isabel grabs him firmly and leads him towards the old armchair in one corner of the shop, and ugly thing she is so happy now that no one has ever bought. She wouldn’t be able to let Mr. Gold lay down on the floor.
“Mr. Gold? Howare you feeling?”.
She kneels down beside him, and he slowly calms his breathing before answering “I’m fine dear, I’m fine. Don’t worry. Maybe it was just a little bit of low blood pressure?”.
She arches an eyebrow, but doesn’t press the matter further. He reassures her that everything is all right, while she fuss over him, making tea and not satisfied - stubborn girl as always, in this world and in the other - until he has drank three cups with tons of sugar, and constantly telling him he ought to go and see a doctor. He nods, thanks for the tea, reassures her once again that he is perfectly fine and can stand again and work. She just stares at him and grabs his shoulder when he tries to raise from the armchair. He needs to divert her attention. And so, after a reasonable amount of time, he asks her if she could help him going to the back, where he will sit down and examine some old things.
“Only if you promise me not to scare me again. And you will stay quiet and rest as much as possible. You scared me, Mr. Gold, I thought you were having an heart attack or something like that”.
“I’m sorry I scared you. And I promise everything you want me to, just let me go to the back. If someone sees me like this, my reputation is ruined”. He crooks a smile, and her lips twitch, even if she is actually scowling him.
“You are too much concerned about your reputation, you know?”, she says, helping him.
“And you fuss too much about my wellbeing, dear. Afraid you will lose you job?”, he feels her tense at his remark, and he adds, “but I really appreciate the gesture… now that I think of it, being found unconscious on the floor would have been worse. So thank you, dear”.
For the rest of the afternoon Isabel and Mr. Gold are absorbed in old naval maps, from sixteen to late seventeen century, of the Atlantic and the Caribbean sea, with little pictures of where the relics and shipwrecks of corsair's galleons were supposed to lay in the deep of the ocean. Little by little she stops fussing about him, asking if he is all right every five minutes and if it isn’t better for him to go and see a doctor. He tells her all the stories he knows. She tries several times to clean something in the back, before he asks her to bring him something or just murmurs “oh, interesting” just to have her at his side again. If he can’t move from this seat today, she would rest as well, and keep him company. Without asking aloud, of course. But she must have seen trough his trick, because after the fifth time she looks at him - almost scowl at him – and then she sighs, puts her cleaning tools away, slowly shaking her head in disbelief when she finally takes a chair and sits beside him. “So, you where telling me about this shipwreck…”
In Mr. Gold memory, this is one of the best afternoons of his life.
Mr Gold loves to see her absorbed by his things, being books or trinkets. And today he discovers Isabel is not only fond of books, but also of maps and globes. She - like the girl she once was and he loved, his Belle - wants to travel, and shares with him her fantasies of European cities and African deserts and Asian mountains and kangaroos, llamas, tigers and monkeys. Exploring every place, tasting the air, the food, talking with people... she smiles lost in her own world and he feels guilty, because even in this world she isn't able to do what she want, to see the world. And a little part of him is happy she could never leave the town, so he would always have her within reach.. but that thought makes him feels just greedy and, again, guilty.
He has found that there is never end for the grief when his Belle is concerned, even now that she is alive.
As soon as he discovered this passion, after that day, he has started scattering around some of the old maps he has in the storage room. Just to start an inventory, he claims when she ask what he is doing, and she asks that a lot, lately, no more cautious around him like she was in the first days. He loves showing her the maps and the globes, pointing out the crafty manufactures, the quirks of the artist, the little imprecisions in the geography, or the old dusty ones that are so detailed you'll never think they were made just by man and not by some eagle that could see the world from the sky.
He loves the look of wonder on her face, when she looks at them, and how carefully she was holding the antiques maps. The first time she was wearing his white cotton gloves, then he unwillingly gave her another pair - he would miss her warmth in his gloves, but this way they can both bend over a map, together, shoulders brushing and curls falling so near his face he can smell her shampoo.
A few days after her lunch at granny’s, Mr. Gold “low blood pressure accident” and his stunts with the maps - oh, what a lovely day she had, she couldn’t help smiling in the evening and even her father said that the lunch out was surely a very good thing if she was so cheerful - Isabel finds in the shelf in the back room, the one where she usually put her purse, a little packet tied up with a big blue ribbon.
“What is this?”, she asks, startled.
“What?”, he enquires, not looking up from the old lamp he is polishing.
“That thing..”, she says.
“Well dear”, he muses, raising his eyes too look at her, “it has got a big ribbon, so I suppose the right word for “that thing” is present”.
“Ok then: present”, Isabel nods, slightly annoyed with the man, “but why is it here, on this shelf, my shelf?”.
He stands up, and starts moving toward her. “It was meant to be for you, to thank you for your little help the other day. But if you don't like the idea of receiving a present from me, never mind, I take it back”. He tries to say the words lightly, but she could see the tight line of his mouth, and how stiff he is.
“No, I like it, I was just surprised, that's it, I like it, I really do”. She hurriedly babbles, grasping the present, her present.
He almost smiles, almost, but his eyes are soft, “You haven't opened the present yet, how could you say that you like it?”.
She blushes, “Well, I like the ribbon very much, and the paper, too, with those flowers. Did you wrap it? Oh, I don't think I will never be able to make such a perfect ribbon”, she lifts her hand, that is caressing the silky blue ribbon and touches her hair, “Sometimes I try.. I mean to tie my braid with a ribbon, but I fail every time. I think I’m just to clumsy for this girlie things, and maybe they would never suit me”. She looks up, and Gold is looking at her, following her hand as it trails down on her loose curls. She blushes, “Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to babble.. it happens when I’m embarrassed”.
He cracks a smile, a sweet one, one she has never see him wear.
“No, it was interesting. I could teach you, if you want. Not to braid your hair, but to make a good bow. Also, if you use that ribbon...”.
He paused, hesitating, so she just says, “Yes..?” willing for him to continue.
“Well, of you use that ribbon it would match perfectly your eyes”, he says sharply, and she is willing to bet he is embarrassed.
She looks at the silk ribbon and registers for the first time that, yes, it is the exact colour of her eyes, a deep and peaceful blue. Something in her chest tightens, not painfully, but in a warm way, thinking that he, who seems to never watch her unless it was strictly necessary, knows the precise shade of blue of her eyes. She feels her cheeks redden, and starts unwrapping the present, feeling the urgent need to do something with her hands, occupy her mind, and of course look away from his gaze.
“Oh..” she exclaims, freezing.
“What, darling? You don't like it?”, he is genuinely preoccupied, so she gets a hold of her errant thoughts and says, in a soft voice.
“No, I think I love it”.
She looks at the old book. A dark blue cover that has seen better days, and little letters in gold. Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island. She opens the book, caressing each page with the lightest touch.
“You were so enraptured by those old stories about shipwrecks and treasures”, Mr. Gold explains, “that this book came in my mind, I had it in my office, at home. I hope you don't mind it's not new..”.
“No, not at all. when was it printed? Beginning of the twentieth century?”.
“No.. ehm.. A little earlier”, he coughs, a little hesitant.
“Wait, no.. this is not a rare edition, isn't it?”, She looks at him, and her eyes widens at his expression. “No, I can't accept it, it is really a treasure, it's too much”.
She shoves the book towards him, but he takes her hands instead. The contact sends shivers though her spine, and she doesn't understand a word he says. Trying to dominate herself, she gulps “Can you repeat?”.
His eyes are pools of dark water, even darker when he registers her shivering again, lips slightly parted and those blue eyes drowning him. “Keep the book, please. It is just something I have, and no one else in this town would ever appreciate it. But I know you will”. He pauses, and blinks, releasing her hands and stepping back form her, “And you will have something from me, a little memento. It will remind you of the summer you spent working for the most dangerous thing in town for a very low wage”.
The last words are light, almost teasing, and she can't help but let a little breathless laugh escape her lips when he crooks a smile at her, a wicked one, releasing her hands.
“Ok, I will keep it. And I’m really grateful for your thought”, she says putting the book tenderly in her bag. “You know?”, She smirks, turning towards him, “I actually don't think you are so dangerous, after all”, she teases and then walks to the shop to start her work.
“Oh, I wouldn't tempt the fate saying that, Miss French. You would be really in danger, and in a serious one”.
She looks at him over her shoulder for a long moment, and the she says, in a low whisper that barely reaches his hear, “Then I’ll just be brave”.
“It’s strange but since I started working for you, Mr. Gold, I found easier moving around people and talking with them”.
Gold looks up from the desk, frowning a little. Isabel is leaning on the door frame. She was polishing some old silverware in the back, she still has a spoon in her hand and he can smell the chemicals she is using. What needed to be said so urgently to stop mid-work? At loss of what to think about her behaviour or her words, he just waits for her to continue. And she does.
“Because, you know, everyone describes you… well, they say..”, she blushes , searching frantically for a way to continue her thought without insulting him.
Even if he recognizes her blush his lovely, seeing Isabel distressed is not a view he would indulge himself into, not now. So he comes in her rescue.
“They weren’t exactly praising me?” He teases, a grin in his face.
She grins too, it’s a tiny thing, just a reaction to his own. He knows what people thinks of him, in detail, and he wonders what could she have heard.
“Go on, dear. I don’t usually listen to rumours, but I’m eager to know every one involving myself. And the more scary it is, the more pleased I am. So, ask away, I wouldn’t be upset if you want to know if some gory detail it’s true or not, but I warn you, I might not tell you the entire truth”.
“Well, but to preserve your innocence or,” he adds with a finger pointed towards her, “to prevent you to steal all my secrets”.
She smiles at his mock concern, walking near him and carefully twisting the silver spoon in her hand. “I’ve heard tons of stories about you, I don’t wanna know if the stories are true or not. I don’t think I have the rights to judge you or anyone else. I’m pretty certain they use you to scare children who misbehave, saying ‘Mr. Gold is coming if you are not a good boy’. But maybe now they are using me as well, but I don’t think I mind, not anymore”.
She stops talking and turns around leaning on the counter and looking at the shelves in front of her. “They told me dreadful things about you, and things that were just too strange to be true. When I met you in the street it took me a moment to recognise you, and I did just because Ruby was so quick to drag me away. And then I met you properly, i talked to you and I started working with you. I know it’s silly, but I think I don’t mind so much what the others could think of me. I mean the people in the streets or even in this entire town. Before, I was so afraid they would call me names, and I had fears and nightmares. One day it would be too much and I would collapse on the street or cry or shout and then they would say ‘see, I knew she was mad, they ought never have release her from the…’” she gulped, the word asylum dying in her throat. That she is unable, even after months, to say the word aloud left a bitter taste in his mouth.
She raises her eyes and looks at him, “I was polishing the silverware and my mind wandered around, and I thought ‘I don’t care what people think of me’. Maybe, if I’m not so afraid of them they would not be afraid of me, if I am just me and not trying to act like someone else, they would just let me be. And I thinks it works, you know, and it’s already happening, even before I realised it. I could actually talk with some of Ruby friend’s last night, and it was… good. A little awkward, but fine”.
She smiles at him, a true smile. And he can’t help but smile in return. Happy that his girl is happy, and secretly thinking that this Isabel is just as brave as his Belle, facing her fears and not giving a damn about what people would think.
“So you made new friends?” He asks and she nods, “Good for you”. He adds, turning back at the old clock he was working on, hoping to seem busy enough to fix up his expression and stop smiling every time she smiles.
“Well, I don’t know if they can be considered friends yet, but I hope so. I’ll meet them in a couple of days”, she says, going back to her polishing, even if the spoon is practically shining like a mirror, “One of them, I think he said his name was Gas, or something like that, planned a trip at the beach for Sunday, and invited me and Ruby”.
Golds’ smile, that was still lingering on his lips despite all his efforts, freezes and so does his hand, working carefully on the tiny pieces of the dismantled clock.
Gas. The bloody knight. The stupid, superficial fiancé. Gaston. Gold he is almost sorry the man wasn’t transported here in his rose form by the curse. The unanimated form suits him better, both he and a rose don’t have a brain, but the rose has the advantage of being something made of beauty and for beauty. And something useful, too, to decorate an house, a garden, or a woman’s air. To makes girls smile and sigh.
Yes, the rose form would definitely had given the silly man a purpose in life, other than ruining Mr Gold’s day. Because he can see clearly what will happen in the next few days. “Gas” would soon court the beautiful girl, as others would, while he, silly old man that he is, could never stake his claim on the love of his life. If he’d do that, she would run away, disgusted by him. And maybe she’ll run away in any case, after the curse will be broken and when all her memories will come back. Her love, his rejection. Her wandering days and all the years she was captive. All because of him. She’ll surely run away from the thing she once loved, the monster who drew her into gods know what pain and endless despair.
The day is really hot, humidity creeping everywhere, even in his shop, usually dark and cooler even in the middle of Maine’ short summer. But this heat wave seems to have no intention of going away, preferring to cook them slowly in a city that now is more like an enormous oven.
It is really uncomfortable.
At one o’ clock Mr. Gold hears the front door of the shop open, but he stays in the backroom, polishing a wooden box with carved roses. He knows exactly who has just entered the place. And he can recognise the sounds of these steps everywhere in town, even in the middle of a crowd. He made himself exceptionally busy today, doing in the afternoon everything he usually does in the morning, so maybe she wouldn’t chat with him about the trip at the beach that silly walking-rose of Gaston organised. He prefers not to hear the painful - for him - narration of that stupid man courtship of Isabel French. Not that she will tell her boss exactly that, but maybe, talking about what she did on Sunday, he would hear the guy’s name too many times for his liking. And his liking his more close to no times at all.
He doesn’t raise his head but keep paying attention on his work even when Isabel enters the backroom and greets him.
“Hello Mr. Gold. Isn’t it hot today? Even here I seem to suffocate”.
He hears her step closer, and a paper cup of frozen coffee is laid down on his table.
“Here, this is for you. Hope you like it”.
He raises his head, not sure if he wants to thank her or say to her he don’t drink those kind of things, when every word dies on his lips.
Isabel French is wearing incredible short… shorts, and such a thin top with spaghetti straps that you can almost see through the thing, given the right light. And heels.
She has never shown so much skin, maybe not even to her doctor. He swallow a noise that he feels surging in his throat and that he is sure belongs to some sort of dying animal. Mr. Gold is struggling for words, any kind of greeting, while she, bless her, is completely and utterly unaware of the mess she made of her boss and walks away giving him and eyeful of her backside. And that’s a new kind of torture, because the top is almost backless, just scraps of fabric crisscrossing on her skin.
Mr. Gold knows that, if this has not killed him, nothing would. Seems like Isabel went shopping with the wolf, and Gold is not sure if he wants to kill Ruby Lucas or thank her or both. Isabel starts humming while she takes the duster. And Gold tries to recompose himself, saying, or better, muttering, something in the line of “thanks for the coffee”.
She just shrugs lightly, before talking again, "I thought you might like something cold. Yesterday was hot, too. But I went to the beach whit Ruby and her friends”. And, yes, Mr. Gold now can see she has a little tan, more like a warm glow on her creamy skin. It suits her, he thinks, this pale golden tint.
“It was fun being at the beach”, she continues, “I never went before. There are pictures at home, from when I was a child an my mother was still alive, but I don’t remember. But I think we, I mean me and my father, never went to the beach again after her death”. She sighs, and then adds, struggling to add a little more cheerfulness in her tone, “But one thing did came back to me yesterday”. She stops expectant, and after a few seconds turns to watch him, raising her eyebrows. “Don’t you ask me what I remembered, Mr. Gold? Or am I disturbing you with my babbling?”
“No, dear”, he says just a second too late, “You never disturbs me”, she narrows her eyes slightly, and he flashes a lopsided grin at the girl. “And yes, I do wonder what you remembered. Go on”.
She smiles widely while saying, “I know how to swim! I remembered it, and it’s fun. I don’t know when I learned how to, Ruby says maybe at school, but I don’t remember half the things they say I have learnt in high school so I don’t think it’s possible. Anyway, I can swim and that was an awful lot helpful when the boys were trying to drown us all the time after lunch”.
She is leaning towards him on the table, her clot forgotten in her hand, so she can’t miss the dark flash of anger and alert that passed through his eyes at her last words. She hold his gaze and adds in a gentle tone as if she is soothing a child, “Don’t get it wrong, they weren’t really trying to drown us for real. It was just a game, like… like kids splashing each other. No harm done. We girls did that, too, to pay them back. We won”. She smiles, and for once he doesn’t automatically smiles in return. He is trying to not look at the hollow he can see between her breasts. Her skin, too much skin on display even when she didn’t lean forward, letting her inconsistent top reveal too much for his coronaries.
“Are you all right, Mr. Gold? It’s really too hot, today, do you want a glass of water, too?”
He struggles to look only at her eyes. “I’m sorry dear, maybe I’m a little out of focus, today. Low blood pressure again, I suppose”.
The hell with that, he thinks, he can feel his blood rushing through his veins, and he is amazed he doesn’t combust when she presses her small hand on his temple and brushes her fingers along his cheek lightly before she straights herself up and walks toward the little bathroom. “Here, let me get you some water, I think you don’t drink enough liquids. I’m sure it’s the heat wave. Maybe it’s better if you go home and rest?”.
She comes back with a mug full of almost cold water, and forces him to drank it all in little gulps, murmuring something you would only say to a five year old and not a full grow up man with the worst reputation in town who is also your dreadful boss. So he drinks even the second cup she offers him in little sips “like a little bird would do”.
Then, trying to regain as much dignity as possible, and eager to fill the silence, he asks her, “I guess you enjoyed your Sunday, then, and that you didn’t drown”.
“No, I’m safe and sound and yes, I really enjoyed my Sunday. In fact, Ruby and I enjoyed it so much that we planned something for today, too. I’m sure the ever vigilant Mr. Gold couldn’t have missed the size of my purse today, low blood pressure or not”. She says pointing at the enormous bag, almost the size of a suitcase, to be correct, lying on the floor near the door.
“No, dearie, I didn’t notice because I was scrutinising every inch of skin you have in display and even the parts you don’t. I didn’t notice because I was frantically searching in my head for a perfectly reasonable reason I should dress you up with long, heavy trousers and an oversized t-shirt when you go home, because no one should be allowed to see you this… light dressed”. But he sure can’t say that aloud, can’t he? So he settles for a simpler answer: “Yes, I actually did, and I did wonder what have you in there. A potted plant? A huge mirror? An hat rack? Or even a rocking chair? I’m sure they could all fit in that monstrous thing.”
She laughs scolding him lightly, “It’s not so huge! But yes, it’s full of things. Ruby and I have planned to repeat our little trip to the beach this evening. On Friday you told me you wanted to close the shop earlier this evening and that I can leave at five”.
She pauses for a moment, waiting for him to nod that yes, she remembers right, she could leave early today. He does, and so she continues. “Ruby this evening doesn’t work, either. So yesterday we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a lovely picnic on the beach one evening, and then watch the sun sets while chatting and gossiping? And then we thought ‘why wait?!’ and we decided it has to happen this evening. So I have my bathing suit under my clothes and the “almost suitcase” is packet with two blankets, drinks, food, a book or two, and a bunch of other things I am sure we will never use, but I couldn’t leave home because, who knows?, maybe we’ll need them”.
“Like what?” He enquires, setting aside the image of Isabel in her bathing suit. Very minimal, if covered by such almost-clothes.
“First aid kit?”, She says tentatively, and a little laugh escapes his lips, followed immediately by her carefree giggles.
He becomes serious again, while asking, concerned, “It would be just the two of you, on the beach, at dusk?”
“Oh no”, she answers, “It’s a girl’s night out, or late afternoon trip. Mary Margaret will come, and so will Ashley with or without the little Alexandra. Ruby told her she has to come or she will hunt her down. And later Emma will join us”. Like any other time the sheriff is mentioned, a fond smile is on the girl’s lips.
He smiles too. To reciprocate hers and also because he is actually relieved. If the sheriff is in this “girls’ picnic on the beach” he could be reassured Isabel will be fine and his girl will be back to him next day in pristine condition and with a new lovely memory she will share with him, hopefully.
In any case he takes a mental note to go for a ride this evening and adds the seashore to his itinerary. Just in case. And maybe, after he has finished to do all he need to at the shop that she can’t witness - the very reason for closing early - he will pass by the panoramic view while walking home. His house is in the opposite direction and the walk would be no easy whit his leg, but the view is lovely… and particularly the view of the beach. It’s pretty far, but even a glimpse of her brown curls in the fading light would suffice to put his mind at ease, and maybe more than a glimpse if he remembers to bring with him one of the binoculars he has in the shop. And Emma would join them only later, so checking the ground before the sheriff joins them is just a good thing.
He is so used to plotting in his head while doing or saying something else that he almost doesn’t register his own smooth words. “I’m sure you will have a lovely time, miss French. In such a hot day I’m sure the evening breeze by the sea shore would be delightful”.
“Ah, so it is hot even for you”. There is a note of triumph in her voice that leaves him perplexed. “You’re wearing a suit even with these impossible high temperature and horrid humidity! And don’t say you don’t suffer the hot like you did before or I will have you drink more water!” Her smile is impudent and teasingly. “I almost started to believe you were some kind of cold-blooded animal in human form”.
“A cold-blooded animal in human form?” He smirks, “I’m sure someone might say something like that, only with a different meaning and in a different contest. And never on my face”.
“Oh, shut up”, she is trying to sound harsh but fails to hide the playful undertone. “You know what I means, and I’m sure there is a couple of people that have said worse things right in front of you”.
“Yes”, he admits nonchalantly, “The braves and the fools. Which one are you, dearie?”
She just glances at him, and he is unsure if this is the gaze of a lioness or of a scornful kitten. Or both. They just stare at each other for a while, before he asks “So, dear, may I enquire with animal do you compare me with?”
She accepts his challenge, like he knows she would. She is no afraid of speaking up her mind in front of him, and he relinquishes in the thought she is never intimidated by him. She is never afraid to say something that might upset him or enrage him. This delights him and scares him. It is a sort of intimacy he felt just once since he became the dark one, with the very person she was once, in another land. And he knows damn well what happened to Belle because of him.
He is afraid, but he enjoys it, too. Their conversations are refreshing and free, and, honestly, she could never upset him or enrage him, not truly. And if that will ever happen, he is prepared to crawl at her feet begging her forgiveness and ready to be punished by her.
He is playing with fire, and he knows. Moving a little closer every day. Drinking the smile that spreads on her face every time their eyes meet. He knows this dance -he has danced it long time ago, and with the same woman.
And her answer cools the blood in his veins, because it’s totally unexpected and unpleasantly poignant, “I don’t know”, she muses, “I think something greenish with scales will suit you fine. Maybe a lizard… or is it better a more powerful creature for my boss. Like a dragon?” The shop’s doorbell rings. She wrinkles her nose and she walks to the shop, “But in the end dragons are just big lizards, in a way, don’t you think?” she says at last. A few seconds later he can hear her greeting the costumer.
That night he repeats every single word they shared in his mind. He is glad she never once mentioned Gaston, even later, during the afternoon. He is glad she accepted the little anklet he gave her saying that a party on the beach needs some sort of jewellery - the thing being something he had around the shop and gave her on a whim, not precious and without real importance, not being gold but just plain silver with a little tingling bell. He is glad, too, that when he passed by the beach he saw the women chatting together, and he heard Isabel laughter at something, probably saucy, Ruby has just said.
All this at the first glass of Scotch. While nursing the fifth drink he indulges at the thought of her skin. At the tenth, the glass is caressed by his hand like a tender lover would do, and all he can think about is how she once loved him, cursed, evil and dragon-like scales included.