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DRAMA SUMMER CAMP AT STORYBROOKE LIBRARY - SIGN UP TODAY!

The brightly coloured poster had been up in the window of the library for the past six weeks and today, being the first day of the school summer vacation, was the last chance to sign up before it began on Monday. Gold looked from the poster down towards his son, who was staring intently at the sign and looking for all the world like the decision about whether or not to go was one of life or death. 

To be fair, for Bae, it probably felt that serious. Gold was well aware of the fact that his son was painfully shy, and his previous experiences at summer camps had led to him tearfully declaring that he was never going to leave home ever again. Signing up to something like this was a huge undertaking. 

Still, this time there were some mitigating factors. For a start, the library was only across the road from the pawn shop and only ten minutes’ walk from the Golds’ house, so Bae could always just run away to safety if the worst came to the worst. He would be sleeping in his own bed at night and coming home to his dad’s cooking more often than not (Miss French had promised a barbecue in the library garden one evening). 

Another incentive was Emma Nolan, who had eagerly signed up on the first day that the poster had appeared and had talked of practically nothing else throughout the intervening month and a half. Bae and Emma were practically joined at the hip and it was the first time in a long time that Emma was in town for the entirety of the summer break, her mother being about to bring a baby brother into the world at any moment. Naturally, Bae wanted to spend as much time as possible with his best friend before school started again. 

The final point firmly in the camp’s favour, and in Gold’s eyes the most important point was Miss French herself, the librarian who had personally organised the camp out of her own pocket and was justly proud of all the work that had gone into it and just as eager as Emma to get started. Belle French was universally adored by all of the children who frequented the library, and by their parents. One parent in particular.

Gold peered past the bright poster into the library proper, squinting against his own reflection in the window. Belle was sitting at the issue desk absorbed in a book, which Gold had come to learn was her usual aspect. He’d wondered more than once if she had read the entire library. There was a secretive little smile on her face, as if she’d just got to a particularly juicy part in her story, and Gold looked away sharply, trying to distract himself both from that specific train of thought and from the delightful curve of Miss French’s full lips. Thankfully, Bae spoke at that point and he was able to come back to the real world after his flights of fancy involving the librarian. Really, he was too old to be thinking of such things. 

“What do you think I should do, Papa?”

Gold sighed, wishing he knew how best to counsel his son. He wasn’t exactly the most sociable of people himself, and he was glad that summer camps had never featured in his own childhood. He would never force Bae to do anything he wasn’t entirely comfortable with, unlike Milah who’d told him to man up and shipped him away from home at the earliest opportunity. On the other hand, he didn’t want Bae to miss out on what promised to be a week of fun with his friends. The aim of the camp was to get the children interested in plays and drama, with them rehearsing their own play, making props and costumes, and performing to the parents on the last afternoon in the library garden. 

“Well,” Gold began, trying to reach a compromise. “If you decide not to go, and if Emma starts telling you about it, will you be jealous that you’re not having a great time here with her?”

Bae looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. “I guess so.”

“Why don’t you go along and see what it’s like, and you can always stop if you don’t enjoy it.” He paused, before adding what he hoped was a stroke of genius. “I’m sure you don’t need to act in the play if you don’t want to. There are lots of things to do in theatres that don’t happen on the stage. You could pull the curtain.” It belatedly occurred to him that if they were performing outside, then there probably wouldn’t be a curtain, but hopefully the message would still ring true in intent if not in actuality. 

At this reassurance, Bae gave a more decided nod. 

“All right. Let’s do it.”

They entered the library and Gold was very glad of Bae’s presence. Every other time he went in on his own and had to talk to Belle, all words went entirely out of his head and the usual confident demeanour with which he conducted business vanished. Perhaps that was why Belle was one of the few people in town who didn’t treat him with something akin to fear: because he could only act like a complete idiot around her. Jefferson, someone else who was not scared of him because it was not in that man’s nature to fear anything, remarked that it was the most obvious case of twitterpation that he had ever seen, which didn’t help matters. 

Belle looked up as they approached the desk, putting down her book and giving them a brilliant smile.

“Mr Gold, Bae. It’s lovely to see you. What can I do for you today?”

Bae opened his mouth to state their purpose, but his nerves failed him at the last minute and he looked to his father for assistance. 

“We’d like to sign up for the drama camp, please.”

“Of course! The more the merrier. You’re just in time.” She rooted under the desk and came up triumphant with a clipboard, which she passed to Gold to fill in Bae’s details on the sign-up sheet. There were quite a few names there already, Emma’s at the top of the list, but the nature of the event meant that they were all local children whom Bae would know from school. As Gold wrote, Bae looked up at Belle.

“Will I have to act?” he asked. 

“Not if you don’t want to. We’ll need people to move the scenery and pull the curtain.” So, there was going to be a curtain after all. “And of course, we’ll need a prompter to whisper to the actors if they forget their lines. I’m sure that you could do that, you’re always so quiet." 

Bae certainly perked up at the idea of being a prompter, and he brightened even more when Belle leaned over the desk and whispered: "Between you and me, we could do with some more people like you who don’t mind not being on the stage. I’m not sure I’ve got enough parts for everyone.” At this, Bae giggled, and Gold knew that the deal was sealed. Hopefully, Bae would last the week out and might make some more friends into the bargain. Not that there was anything wrong with only having a few close friends; Gold himself was a case in point, but after so many years of thinking that it was better to be feared than loved, he had learned his lesson hard and late, and he was determined not to instil the same sense in Bae. 

He handed the clipboard back to Belle who stowed it back under the desk, and he distracted himself from the brush of her soft fingers against his hand by wondering aloud if she’d have any more last-minute sign-ups.

“I’m not sure. A lot of people have the tendency to change their mind at the last minute.”

Gold wondered if it was an allusion to himself. Very often he had found himself going up to the counter with a pile of books to check out, only to go away and pick different ones because he was scared of what she might think of his choices. That was how come he’d ended up checking out Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare when he already owned a well-thumbed and much-loved copy at home.   

For a long time, he and Belle just looked at each other, as if each of them was expecting the other to say something. Unfortunately, under Belle’s beautiful blue gaze, everything remotely intelligent flew clean away from him and the only word that Gold would be able to articulate in that moment would have been something along the lines of ‘mwawp’. He looked away before he could drown in her eyes any further, giving an awkward cough.

“We, erm, we’d best be off then. We’ll see you tomorrow, Miss French.”

“Bye, Miss French.”

He turned and left the library, Bae still beside him completely unaware of the mental chaos that his father was going through, and Gold spent the entire journey home mentally kicking himself for the inanity of the conversation. Or the non-conversation, they hadn’t really got started and Belle had spent most of the time talking to Bae. 

Still, he’d be seeing her every day throughout the coming week. Maybe some kind of opportunity would present itself. As long as his tongue didn’t desert him again, of course. 

X

After watching father and son leave the library together, Belle slumped in her chair, resting her forehead against the desk with a groan. Yet another wasted opportunity. He had been right there, damn it, and she had once again failed to engage him in conversation. She tried to console herself with the thought that she couldn’t exactly ask him out on a date whilst Bae was with him, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t talk to the man. She could have asked him how he was getting on with Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, which he had checked out last week. Or if he was having any luck tracing the origins of the vintage typewriter that he’d received into the antique shop a month ago; he’d spent countless hours in the reference section searching for clues to no avail.

“Are you all right?” Marian had come out of the back office where she’d been making a pot of tea and she sounded rather alarmed at finding Belle in her melodramatic position. Belle just grunted her thanks for the tea and reached out for her cup without moving her head. 

“You can’t drink it like that, you know.”

Grudgingly, Belle looked up and she followed Marian’s sight line through the doors and up the road towards the vanishing figures of Cameron and Bae Gold. Marian turned to her, trying very hard not to smile. 

“Oh, Belle, you’ve got it bad.”

“I know,” Belle muttered. “Believe me, I’m the last person that you need to tell.”

“Hey, I’m not knocking it. If it’s any consolation, I’m pretty sure he feels the same way.”

Belle snorted. “Yeah, right. He’s a suave businessman with impeccable taste in suits and I’m, well, me.”

It was Marian’s turn to snort. “Maybe you haven’t seen it yourself because you’re too busy being ridiculously infatuated with him to notice, but that man is absolutely not suave when you’re involved. 'Schoolboy with a hopeless crush’ is more like it. Can’t disagree with you about the suits though.”

“You don’t even like him,”

“Well, he drives a hard bargain and Robin nearly came to blows with him once, but no one could deny that he’s a good father, and he’s definitely gooey about you. Besides, he’s Jefferson’s best friend and Jefferson’s one of my friends, so he can’t be all bad.” Marian sat down beside her, looking far too cheerful about the entire situation. “Look on the bright side though - you’ll be seeing a lot of him next week with Bae coming to camp, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities for sneaking a quick snog in the geography section.”

“Marian!”

“Or take him down the erotica aisle and see what happens." 

"Marian!”

Marian just winked and took a sip of her tea, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Belle groaned, but since some more patrons were coming in, she refrained from returning her head to the desk. Marian did have a point, as loathe as she was to admit it. Whilst she was running the camp, there would be plenty of chances to speak to Gold. And perhaps speak to Bae about his father. No, that would be awful. She could hardly ask a ten-year-old to act as matchmaker for her. Marian, on the other hand… She’d already proved herself very observant (although the truth of her matter of fact statement regarding Gold’s attraction to her remained to be seen), and as she was taking over the full-time operation of the library during camp week, she would be well-place to note Gold’s movements. Good grief, now it was sounding like a major espionage operation. No, best to just put it all out of her mind. If she got the chance to speak to Gold, then so much the better, but she wasn’t going to drag his son into her world of ill-fated romance. 

“Buck up.” Marian nudged Belle with her elbow. “There’s no need to look like a wet weekend. I’m sure that something will come of all this.”

Knowing that she wasn’t going to be able to get away from the subject, Belle decided that doing the re-shelving would be an excellent way of spending her time, and if she happened to start daydreaming about the possibilities that dragging Mr Gold into the erotica aisle might have to offer, then it was no one’s business but her own. 

X

The first morning of the drama camp dawned bright and sunny, and Bae seemed to be his usual happy self as they ate breakfast and waited for Emma. Mr and Mrs Nolan had an appointment at the antenatal clinic, and they had asked Gold and Bae to see Emma safely to camp. Emma was practically bouncing as she got out of her parents’ car and only just managed to remember to say goodbye to them. Any last-minute nerves that Bae may have had were swept away as Emma chattered on excitedly and, when it was time to leave for the library, pulled him along down the road. They had not reached the library itself when the two children stopped, looking over the fence around the garden in awe at the makeshift stage that had been set up. When they could finally be moved on and arrived in the library garden proper, Gold could see the work that had gone into the temporary structure, a raised platform with a proscenium arch made of cardboard and a working curtain. Leroy and Marco were putting the final touches on, checking the screws and staples to make sure that the structure wouldn’t collapse on any unsuspecting campers. 

“Hello Bae, Emma!”

Belle came out of the library with a large jug of squash and a plate of snacks, which she set down on one of the rickety trestle tables. 

“Help yourselves. You’re the first to arrive.”

Bae made a beeline towards the cookies, ignoring Gold’s protests that he’d just had breakfast, and Belle came over to Gold. She stood beside him for a while, gazing in proud satisfaction at the stage. This was the perfect excuse to talk to her. It was just the two of them, indeed, there was really no one else that they could talk to, with Leroy and Marco otherwise occupied and Bae and Emma chatting among themselves with great excitement. Bae was showing no signs of trepidation; Emma’s enthusiasm was infectious.

Gold took a deep breath. It was now or never. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. There would be plenty more opportunities to speak to Belle throughout the rest of the week and beyond, but if he kept putting it off then he would never do it. Besides, he knew that he couldn’t guarantee such an excellent chance to segue naturally into conversation.

“It’s very impressive,” he said, nodding towards the stage. “You should be very proud of your achievement.”

“Oh, Marco and Leroy did most of the heavy lifting and building.” Belle flushed. “I just told them how I wanted it to look. They’ve worked wonders with it.”

“Still, I think that this whole venture is an achievement. It’s great that Storybrooke has a local summer camp for the kids this year. Normally they have to go out of town.”

“I just thought that it would be something nice to do to give back to the town.”

“But you’ve already given so much.” Book club meetings, after-school groups, reading to the elderly; it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that Storybrooke library was at the heart of the community. Since Belle had opened it up and then taken Marian on as an assistant, the building had truly blossomed into life.

“I’m glad you think so.” Belle gave a little sigh, and Gold noted the pensive expression on her face, wondering what could have caused her such consternation.

“Miss French? Is everything all right?”

Belle nodded. “Yes, yes. I’m fine. I just… I always feel like I ought to be doing more.”

“Sorry?”

“The library cost so much to reopen and restock,” Belle continued. “Everything I do, I do to try and show that the library was a worthwhile investment, and no matter how much I do, I can’t help thinking that it’s never enough, that one day the council will decide that it isn’t worth the expense to keep us open like they’d obviously done before I arrived.”

“I’m sure they won’t do that.” Gold was alarmed at the thought, and at the related thought of Belle leaving town as a result. “Has the mayor said anything along those lines to you?”

“No, the mayor’s always been behind the project, but the mayor isn’t the whole town council. There’s still a lot of old men I need to convince, and they’re not the sort to be swayed by community outreach programmes. The money we receive in late fees isn’t exactly going to line their pockets.”

It saddened Gold to see Belle so pessimistic about the library’s future, especially when she was the heart and soul of it; he had never seen her so upset or melancholy before.

“You know, I know most of the council members,” he said. “I’ve been in Storybrooke long enough to be acquainted with most of the old families who run it behind the scenes.” With the amount of properties that he had accumulated here and there, he was fast becoming one of them. “I could always put in a good word should you ever want me to.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“It would be my pleasure, honestly.”

Belle tailed off her protests and looked up at Gold’s face. He hoped that his expression was earnest, for that was certainly how he felt.

“Would you really do that for me?”

“Of course.” He’d do anything for her, but he managed to stop those words before they came out of his mouth.

“Thank you, that would be wonderful.” Gold gave a small squeak of surprise as Belle threw her arms around him in gratitude. When she let go of him, there was a furious blush spreading over her sheepish face, and Gold knew that he was looking exactly the same.

“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” Belle mumbled.

“No, no, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Gold didn’t want to let on just how much he had enjoyed Belle hugging him. Thankfully more parents and children were arriving by that point, with Jefferson and Grace being among them. As Belle hastened to welcome the newcomers, Gold said his goodbyes to Bae and Emma and quickly left the garden before anything else happened. Luck was not in his side, however, as Jefferson caught up with him before he could cross the road to the pawn shop.

“I am on the verge of locking you two in a cupboard together to get you to admit your feelings for each other.”

“Hello to you too, Jefferson.”

“Hello. You’ve both got it so bd that you’re practically making heart eyes at each other.”

“I was not…” Gold stopped in his tracks. “Wait. Heart eyes at each other? Do you… Do you think she feels the same way?”

“No. I don’t think it. There’s no need for any thinking at all because at this point it’s blindingly obvious to everyone except you.”

Gold took a while to digest this information, staring across the road towards the front door of the pawn shop without looking at it at all. He thought of the pink tinge rising in Belle’s cheeks as she had let go after hugging him on impulse, and the brightness in her eyes.

Perhaps Jefferson had a point after all.

X

The first day had gone rather well, even if Belle did say so herself. The plays had been read and discussed, and the kids had decided (as Belle had suspected they would) that they wanted to perform the one about knights and dragons. Parts had been cast, with Lily Mallory becoming the dragon and Emma Nolan the leader of the knights. They’d just had time to start building a dragon costume out of cardboard boxes before the parents started turning up to take their children home.

Bae Gold had been designated chief curtain puller and was helping to design the dragon costume. Now that almost everyone else had gone home, Emma had managed to persuade him up onto the stage with her and Lily and a three-way cardboard sword fight was going on, all of them happily oblivious to their parents standing at the other end of the garden watching their shenanigans.

Belle was loath to interrupt their game, but the library had to close up.

“Bae, Emma, Lily,” she called, pointing to their parents once she had their attention. Immediately the spell was broken, with Bae jumping down off the stage as soon as he saw that he had an audience. Belle wondered if this might be another chance to speak to Mr Gold. She had rather embarrassed herself this morning, hugging him out of the blue, but she didn’t think that the gesture had been wholly unappreciated at the time. Maybe there was some truth in Marian’s words. The only trouble she had now was how to broach the topic in polite conversation. If it turned out that everyone had the wrong end of the stick, then it would be even more embarrassing than hugging him. Mr Gold had never been the type to wear his heart on his sleeve, reticent more often than not, and she wondered if the same trait had passed down to Bae, manifesting itself in his shyness. Or perhaps the other way around was true, that what people took for standoffish superiority on Gold’s part was in fact just shyness. She didn’t want to push him out of his comfort zone if that was the case, but God, she was desperate to know how he felt.

She realised too late that she was still staring at him as he waved his goodbyes and left the garden with Bae. Belle waved back, and then heard childish giggles behind her. Emma and Lily were whispering together, and Belle realised she’d been caught out yet again. Honestly, if the ten-year-olds could see her attraction then Gold must have been able to see it. Maybe he was just too polite to act on it.

Still, there were another five days of the camp to go, and many months after that. There was plenty of time. And at least the camp was keeping her so busy that she didn’t have time to think about him during the day.

That was the plan, at least.

X

The sun was shining brightly in the sky and there was a cool breeze; they could not have asked for a more perfect Saturday afternoon on which to perform their play. There was a distinct spring in Gold’s step as he locked up the shop and made his way across the road to the library. A few parents were already there, milling about, and he slipped into a seat next to Mary Margaret Nolan, who was now two days overdue and glaring at her belly. Behind the closed curtains up on the stage, Gold could hear the giggles and whispers of the children getting ready. Every so often, a face would appear around the red fabric and peer across the garden, then a hand would wave enthusiastically when they caught sight of friends and family, then another hand would pull them back to the sound of further giggles. Gold wondered if he would see Bae. Emma had already popped out twice. 

Whilst waiting for Bae to appear, or not to appear, Gold fell to thinking about the conversations that he’d had with Belle throughout the week. There had been times when he had been collecting Bae when he got the distinct impression that she had been avoiding him, although he hoped he’d made it clear that she was completely forgiven for the hugging incident on Monday. Maybe he had been too forward and scared her off. That would never do. Maybe Jefferson had it wrong and there was no underlying attraction on Belle’s part, and her avoiding him was the best way of letting him down gently – especially if, as Jefferson had said, his own feelings were so painfully obvious to the outside observer.

Whatever was happening, he hoped that he would get the chance to speak to her tonight after the performance. She could not be pinned down at the moment, rushing here and there and everywhere, in and out from behind the temporary stage and up and down the steps into the library. Marian had closed up and come out to help shepherd parents into their seats, and she was watching the proceedings with an air of calm amusement, occasionally grabbing Belle in the midst of her dashing about and reminding her to breathe and drink water.

Gold pulled his thoughts back to the camp as he thought he caught a glimpse of Bae crossing the stage in the gap where the curtains did not quite meet as a result of so many people peering between them to wave at their parents. He had been surprised at how much Bae had enjoyed himself, coming home every night with tales of all the things that had happened and all of the things that he had been involved in making. He’d come out of his shell so much and Gold was so happy for him. The last thing that he wanted was to Bae to have regretted his decision, especially when Gold had been the one to encourage him to take a step outside of his comfort zone.

The last couple of nights, Bae had not been quite so chatty, although Gold could tell that it was not out of any sadness or awkwardness, but out of the desire to keep a secret. Bae had been wearing a mischievous little smile for the entire time, and Gold wondered what kind of surprises would be in store.

At length, the hubbub of noise behind the curtain quietened down, and Belle stepped out onto the stage to get the audience’s attention and introduce the players. She looked a true vision of summer beauty in a bright yellow sundress, and Gold’s heart momentarily leapt to his mouth. No, his feelings for her could not be denied at all.

“Good afternoon everyone and thank you so much for the brilliant turnout. Still, you didn’t come here to see me, so without further ado, I present Storybrooke Library Summer Camp’s production of The Grumpy Dragon!”

Belle jumped lightly off the stage as the curtains were pulled with great flourish, and Gold applauded heartily at what he knew was Bae’s part in the play.

Although, thanks to Bae and Emma’s constant talking about it, he now knew the plot of the play by heart and could probably recite most of the characters’ lines into the bargain, it was still a roaring success in all senses of the words.

Everyone gasped and laughed in all the right places, and if there were any fluffed lines or other mishaps on the stage, then Gold didn’t notice them. Even though he never saw Bae for the length of the production, he knew that his son was there in the background, and once the final bows had been taken, he was applauding so hard his hands would likely never be the same again.

The curtains swished open a final time and Belle stood up from her place in the front row, encouraging all the children who had not had starring roles to come out and take a bow as well. Bae was there among them, grinning like the Cheshire Cat and showing no signs of unease at being centre stage. They received their applause in their turn, and then Bae rushed off the stage again. Gold couldn’t say he blamed him.

His eyes almost popped out of his head when he returned with a large bouquet of flowers that Gold had noticed Marian taking care of to one side of the stage, and the vociferous clapping and cheering died down as it became clear that Bae had something to say.

It took him a little while to start his speech, but once he had found his father in the audience and locked eyes with him, Gold gave an encouraging nod. Bae took a deep breath.

“We just want to say a big thank you to Miss French for making it all possible. These are for you.” He reached down off the stage and handed the flowers to Belle, who had gone very pink.

“Thank you, Bae. Thank you everyone. This week’s been a joy. I really don’t think that there’s anything else to say except to enjoy the party!”

The children took a final bow, and then went to find their parents. In Bae’s case, he would be finding a very stunned parent indeed.

X

Belle felt like she was walking on air as she helped Bae off the stage and the two of them made their way over to Mr Gold. The production had been a huge success. She’d had no doubts that it would be, and when the audience was made up of loving parents all seeing their children as the star of the show, no matter how big or small their part, then huge applause was guaranteed. No, this was even better than expected. Truly nothing had gone wrong that could have marred the day or ended the week’s camp activities on a sour note.

True, she had been avoiding Gold a little during the last few days, still somewhat mortified about her forwardness in hugging him, but mostly because she always ended up becoming so tongue-tied and distracted around him that it was affecting her concentration, and she really hadn’t wanted a repeat of Monday evening when Lily and Emma had sussed her out.

Now though, it was the end of the week, and the children were all far too busy with their friends and parents celebrating their success and tucking into the barbecue that Leroy and Marco had been preparing throughout the performance. Now it was time to make a move.

Gold was beaming with pride from ear to ear as they approached him, and Belle didn’t think that she had ever seen so much happiness on his face before. She had exchanged the odd little shy smile with him in the past, and he always smiled more readily when Bae was around, but this was something entirely different.

“That’s not my son,” he said, grinning down at Bae. “My son would never have gone up on stage and made a speech like that.”

Bae’s grin could have matched Gold’s for luminosity.

“No, it’s really me.” He threw his arms around his father and Gold picked him up, before putting him down again quickly with a strained huff.

“You’re getting far too heavy for that.” He was still smiling though. “Oh Bae, I’m so proud of you.”

Belle just watched father and son from the side lines for a while, not for the world wanting to interrupt their triumphant moment. She had been as surprised as Gold had been when Bae had made his little speech, but she’d always known that he had it in him – just as Gold did, probably. Over the last six days Bae’s confidence had come on in leaps and bounds, and she was so proud to have been able to help this blossoming come about.

At length, Bae broke away from Gold, running off to go and find his friends and continuing playing in the garden, and Gold looked over at Belle.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “I really don’t know… I’m astonished. I’ve been trying to bring Bae out of his shell for years, but I just never knew how to go about it without discomfiting him.”

There was so much emotion in his words, and Belle couldn’t think why so many people saw him as a beast. If they could hear him in this moment, his voice low and almost cracking with overwhelming pride, they would certainly have a different opinion. Gold felt just as deeply as the rest of them, but his feelings were concentrated towards Bae.

And perhaps, just perhaps, towards herself.

“It’s been my pleasure,” Belle said. “Honestly. Bae’s a wonderful kid. And you know,” she added, bolstering her courage and working on the principle that she was only going to live once and might as well make the most of it, “his father’s not bad either.”

Gold blinked in surprise, staring at her, but there was something more than just shock registering in his face. There was also something very akin to hope.

“I… I’m flattered that you think so, Miss French.”

“Please, call me Belle. And I do think so. In fact, I’d very much like to get to know him better.”

“Who, Bae?” Belle recognised the attempt at diversionary humour for what it was, and she shook her head.

“No, Mr Gold. You.” She paused, letting the information properly sink in. If there had been doubts in her mind as to whether her interest was returned before, then they were well and truly squashed now. She held out a hand, an invitation or a peace offering or whatever he wanted to make of it, and after almost a full minute of looking at her fingers as if they were a poisonous snake, he took her hand and squeezed.

“If we’re on first name terms, then you can call me Cameron.”

“Very well, Cameron. Would you like to join me for lunch tomorrow so that I can get to know you better?”

He nodded eagerly. “I’d like that very much, Miss Fr-Belle.”

Their hands were still linked, and Belle looked up at the fronds of honeysuckle drooping softly from the tree above them. A random thought caught her, and she giggled.

“What?” Cameron asked.

“Nothing. I was just wondering what would happen if it was Christmastime rather than summer and if all this honeysuckle was mistletoe.”

“Ah.” Cameron had gone rather red in the face at the thought. Belle just laughed again, knowing that when the winter did come, there would be plenty of mistletoe to catch him under if this was going to be the reaction. She leaned in and pressed her lips to his flushed cheek, lingering for longer than was perhaps strictly appropriate. As she broke away, she caught sight of Emma and Lily watching them with eyes agog. The news of her and Cameron’s fledgling relationship would be all over the town before breakfast now, but Belle found that she really didn’t mind.

The look of wonder on his face was completely worth it, and Belle knew that she was wearing a similar expression herself.

All in all, this had been an extremely successful summer camp.

X

(As things turned out, though, they were not the most eventful thing to occur on the final day of the camp, as three minutes later Mary Margaret Nolan’s water broke.

Although naturally sorry for her ordeal, Gold and Belle couldn’t help but be grateful for her impeccable timing.)