Belle pushed her way through the busy New York City sidewalk, doing all she could to not scream “Move it or lose it!” She was going to be late. Jefferson would argue that it was her book signing, she could be as late as she wanted and her fans would wait up for her. She disagreed, it wasn’t fair to them. They so patiently waited for her to release this next book and they deserved her time.
She finally made her way to the back of the Barnes and Noble, knowing going through the front would be a disaster. Her best friend Ariel stood there, shaking her head.
“You ran all the way here in heels?” She asked. “How?”
“Lots of practice. Do you have a mirror?”
Ariel tossed her one and Belle quickly fixed her hair and makeup. She let out a deep breath and handed it back to her. Ariel rubbed her back and pushed open the door. They were greeted by the usual workers who were no longer so starstruck whenever she walked in. A few even recognized her from back when she wrote her first novel in their café area and they just viewed her as their Belle. It kept her humble.
As she reached the main lobby, she saw the swarms of people and her heart skipped a beat. She still wasn’t used to so many people knowing her name and wanting to see her. For so long, this had been her dream and she still wasn’t so sure how it was a reality.
“Good evening everyone,” she called out and the crowd cheered. “I want to thank you so much for your patience on my next book. I know it’s been a couple of years, but I think you all have found it was worth it.” Quite a few called out agreements, which made her blush. “So, without further ado, let’s get this thing started.”
The manager of the store had everyone line up as best as she could and Belle plopped down at the table, a pile of her books next to her, though most of her fans already had the newest ones in their hands. She had learned some tricks to not let her wrist stiff as she signed, doing some discreet exercises as she waited for the next person to move forward. She took some selfies and answered questions, some wondering what her next book would be about. The thought alone scared her, because she didn’t even know and her publisher was already trying to give her a deadline for ideas.
Towards the end of the line, a petite redhead approached the table and held out her book, which was actually Belle’s first. “Hi,” she said. “I’m a huge fan. You’re my favorite author.”
“Well that’s so great to hear, thank you.” Belle flipped open the worn front cover, pleased to see that it was clear she had read the book so many times. She remembered back to when she first started writing, what Sampson had said to her.
You’re about to write someone’s favorite novel. No matter how big of a failure or a success, that much is true.
It had stuck with her throughout each other her works and every time someone told her that her book was their favorite, it reminded her why she kept at it.
“Who should I make this out to?” She asked.
“Anna.” The girl paused a moment as Belle began to write her inscription. “I love all your books, but the first just stands out to me. The love story between Lacey and Rumford…I mean, he’s such a flawed character but she loves him anyway, even when she has to let him go.”
Belle paused, swallowing a bit, before continuing to sign.
“Do you think you’ll ever write a sequel where they end up together again?”
She blinked a few times, before shutting the book and handing it back to Anna. “I think my time writing about Lacey and Rum’s love story is over for now. I quite like how I finished it, but I’m glad to see how much you enjoyed it.”
Anna frowned, but quickly thanked her before heading off. Belle let out a shallow breath, doing her best to not let her mind wander back. She shook it off and called out for the next person. She wasn’t paying much attention when the book was put down in front of her. She flipped it open, grabbing her pen.
“Who should I make this out to?”
“How about your fiancé?”
Belle looked up and found Jefferson down on one knee in front of her. Her eyes widened. He had said he couldn’t even make it tonight, he had a show and…fiancé?
Before she could say anything else, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a diamond ring. Belle nearly fell out of her chair, but suddenly, Ariel was at her side, holding onto her arm.
“Belle, it has been amazing 2 years,” Jefferson said. “I never thought I could meet someone as smart or amazing or funny as you, but I did. I can’t imagine my life without you and I just want to spend the rest of it with you. So…what do you say?”
Her heart beat faster and she could feel all eyes on her. Her breathing hitched and she looked behind Jefferson, he had been the last one in line. A part of her wanted to scream yes, of course she’d marry him.
But then the other part of her reminded her why she couldn’t. Why she always felt a twinge of guilt every time she went on a date with him or kissed him or told him that she wanted to wait until marriage to make love.
They could never get married. At least not now.
“I…I need to go,” she mumbled. She turned to her fans, who were clearly excited to see their favorite romance author find a love story of her own. “Thank you so much for coming today. I wouldn’t be anywhere without you guys buying my books.”
With that, she ignored Ariel’s calls for her to stay and she bolted out of the room, heading out the back and into the alleyway. She leaned against the wall, her stomach going up and down, as if she were going to be sick. A moment later, Jefferson appeared, putting a hand on her arm and looking at her with such concern, which made her break down into tears.
“Hey, hey, hey.” He gathered her into his arms. “What’s wrong?”
She sobbed into his shoulder. “I can’t…I can’t marry you.”
“But why? Belle, I know we didn’t discuss this, but I love you…”
“That’s not enough,” she whispered. “There’s…there’s something I haven’t told you.”
She pulled away, wiping her tears and looking up at his confused face.
Jefferson tilted his head. “What?”
“I got married when I was 22.”
“So…this entire time…”
“Look, it’s not like he doesn’t know I’ve moved on. We’re separated.”
“That’s what they all say,” he mumbled angrily.
Belle sighed, knowing how this looked. “No, I mean it. Look, we were married for 2 years and then I left. I filed for divorce and have been trying to get him to sign the papers but he won’t.”
“Because he knows it drives me crazy! He knows I just want to move on with my life!”
There was a pause and she could tell that Jefferson wasn’t sure if he believed her. A part of her couldn’t blame him. She had spent their entire relationship lying to him, he didn’t know her real last name, he didn’t know her marital status. It wasn’t fair and she knew it. But what was she supposed to do? Start every date with “By the way, I’m still married, but only because my husband won’t sign the papers?”
“I’m really sorry,” she said, when he still didn’t respond. “I never wanted to hurt you.”
“I know you didn’t.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, Belle, I love you. This doesn’t change that, but…obviously this relationship can’t move forward until your marriage is over.”
She cringed. “I know that.”
“So…whenever you figure it out, call me.”
Before she could say anything else, he was gone. Belle leaned up against the alley wall, shutting her eyes. She knew what she had to do.
By 10 AM the next morning, she was passing the sign that said “Welcome To Storybrooke”. Entering that town again was like going through a time warp, nothing ever changed. Granny’s Diner was still in need of a serious paint job (though she probably still made the best burgers in the state), the kids were all wearing their matching uniforms to go to the one school in town and Sheriff Swan’s yellow bug was still being used rather than an actual squad car.
Then there was Gold’s Pawnshop, which was closed on Sundays. She quietly cursed herself and kept driving. Her cell phone rang and she pushed the button in her car so she could talk to the person on the other line.
“Hey Belle, it’s Ariel.”
“Ari, hey. I’m sorry for taking off like that last night.”
“I figured why. Listen, Jasmine and I are at the bakery. Swing by and have a coffee with us.”
“I can’t. I’m in Maine.”
There was a pause. “Oh…”
Belle let out a sigh. “Yeah.”
“I’m going to need it.”
10 minutes later, she pulled up in front of the salmon colored house she had once called home. She got out of her car and just took it in for a moment. It was the one thing in town that looked different, almost like…no. It couldn’t be.
The door to the house opened and he stepped out, wearing his usual designer suit. There was no denying that Sampson Gold was a handsome man, it was part of the reason she had fallen in love with him in the first place. He looked good…though, a little different. Despite knowing that he had only just had his 45th birthday, he was using a cane. He made his way to the top porch step, peering out at her.
“You need directions or something sweetheart?”
“What I need is for you to get your stubborn ass down here and give me a divorce?”
He pushed up his sunglasses and did a doubletake. “Belle?”
“The one and only.” She reached into her bag and pulled out the packet of papers. “Can we just get this over with? You can look it over, but like I told you, I don’t want anything.”
He stared at her for a moment and she put her hands on her hips.
He narrowed his eyes and headed down the steps, slowly but with confidence. “You show back up here after 5 years, without so much as a hey Sampson, remember me? Your wife. Or a…hi, honey.” He smirked. “Looking good, how’s the family.”
She scoffed. “You expect me to tell you that you look good?” Even though, he did. Oh God, how he did.
“They laugh at that wherever you’ve been?”
Belle rolled her eyes as he got closer. “You know where I was and don’t even pretend you spent all this time missing me.”
“Well, I missed you alright. But with this range, my aim is bound to improve.” She glared up at him and he raised his hands. “You’re the only one allowed to joke?”
“Look, I have spent so much time sending you these papers, having my lawyer talk to you. Do you know how much he charges an hour?”
“Well, if you had simply gone to me…”
“Oh, right, that’s how it works.”
“Look, I didn’t sign them before and I won’t now.”
He turned on his heel and headed back up the steps. Belle let out a scream and chased him up them.
“Why won’t you just do this for me?”
“Have you even gone to see your parents since you got back here?”
“That’s my business.”
“They’re the only family you have.”
“Why do you suddenly care about my family?”
Gold turned around. “You go see them and maybe we’ll talk about this divorce.”
“Will we? Because something in me doesn’t believe you!”
“Oh what, my word isn’t good enough for you now?”
“Well, considering all the promises you broke!”
His face faltered and he swallowed, before regaining his composure and walking into the house. Belle narrowed her eyes and dug through her purse, finally locating the key. She used it and walked inside, much to Gold’s surprise.
“Trespassing now, are we?”
Before Belle could respond, there was a knock at the back door and a few moments later, Sheriff Emma Swan appeared in the room. She looked over at Gold with a smile.
“Hey Sam, Neal and I were wondering if you could watch Henry tonight?”
“I’d be happy to, as soon as you escort this woman off my property.”
Emma turned and saw Belle, an even bigger smile breaking out. “Belle! I didn’t know you were back.” She wrapped her up in a big hug, which Belle returned.
“I’m not back…just here for some unfinished business.”
“We sure have missed you.” She pulled away. “Henry asks about you a lot, he’s getting bigger and needs more book recommendations.”
“Well, I’d be happy to give you some.”
“Emma,” Gold interrupted. “If you could do your job for once, this woman broke into my house.”
Emma raised an eyebrow. “You can’t just break into people’s houses.”
“I didn’t break in, Emma.” Belle held up her key. “I used my key.”
“Well, you still can’t go into other people’s house uninvited. I’ll have to escort you out.”
“If you get him to sign these papers, I’ll let you run me out of town.”
Emma still looked confused, so Belle reached back into her bag and pulled out the papers again. Emma looked from them, back over to her father-in-law.
“A bill of divorcement? I thought you said you took care of this.”
“I thought I had,” he whispered.
“Obviously not,” Belle interjected.
“Well, if you two are still married, then this is still her house,” Emma said. “This is just a domestic dispute.”
Gold threw his hands up in the air. “Emma!”
“You know that, Sampson.” She sighed. “You know, I get that a lot of the town never saw you two as right…but I did. Always wondered what split you two up.”
The two looked away and Emma sighed yet again.
“I’ll drop Henry off later tonight. It was good seeing you, Belle. Hope you stick around a bit.”
With that, she walked out. Belle smirked triumphantly and turned back to her husband.
“I told you my terms, sweetheart.”
Belle let out an irritated sigh, before walking out of the house. This had better work.