Gold hated everything about this game. The noise, the lights, the mascot shenanigans and the chanting. All in all, he would much rather spend his few free hours with a bottle of Macallan and a good book.
Bae, however, wanted to go to the game and his new stepfather, Killian, seemed intent on bribing the boy with toys and video games and sporting events. In a moment of weakness spurred by Killan’s trip to the Super Bowl he knew was about currying favor with the sports fanatic eleven-year-old, Gold had instructed his assistant to procure the best seats possible to the best game in town and that is how he found himself at Barclays Center to watch the contest between the Brooklyn Nets and the San Antonio Spurs.
“Do you think we’ll see Jay-Z, Papa?”
“What? Is he one of the players?”
“No, he’s one of the owners,” Bae explained as they filed down the tunnel.
“I really wouldn’t know.”
“How far down are we sitting?,” Belle asked when she and Ruby kept descending levels of the arena. She hadn’t really wanted to come, but Ruby had tickets and refused to go alone. Ariel had the excuse of having a boyfriend, so that left Belle to be dragged to Brooklyn.
“This far,” Ruby said happily.
Belle looked, they were in the row behind the visiting team and coaches.
“Ruby, how did you get these tickets?,” she said incredulously. “What did they cost?”
“Victor gave them to me. He cured one of the players’ kid’s ear infections or something. Here we are!”
Ruby sat down on the aisle, leaving Belle to shuffle into the next seat. She made a note not to disturb the cane of the man next to her with her stiletto.
“Why would Victor give you these tickets?”
She looked at her program. “Hey, this Patty Mills guy is Australian, do you know him?”
“All Australians do not know each other. You’re changing the subject.”
“Why do you think?,” Ruby asked, removing her coat revealing the scandalously cut red dress she had on underneath.
Belle eyed her. “You said you wanted to watch the game...”
“I do, but there’s nothing that says I can’t pick up a hot NBA player afterwards.” Ruby did her best attempt at smiling at the players as they stretched on court. “You can get back to Manhattan on your own, can’t you?”
Belle turned back to the court.
“I can’t believe I got tricked out of re-watching Pride and Prejudice for this.”
Gold hated how close he was to his seat mate. The young woman and her friend were having a conversation he would rather not hear, but couldn’t help but hear as they sat waiting for the game to start. It was all he could do to not make eye contact.
Bae, thankfully, didn’t hear any of this. He was too engrossed in the players and the game.
“I’m worried, Papa,” Bae admitted.
“About what, son?,” he asked, forcing himself to squelch out the spark of hope that it was something about his new stepfather.
“The Spurs have won six in a row and we lost to the Pelicans last time. Lopez keeps missing his jumpers, like the buzzer beater against the Hawks, it’s like he’s not even trying. Williams is just playing okay, but at least he’s not as old as Tim Duncan.”
Gold had absolutely no idea what this meant. “How old is Tim Duncan?” He looked at the court trying to guess which of the players was old.
“Ancient. Like thirty-eight.”
“Okay...” said Gold, feeling like he was about to drop dead any moment.
The game started and Belle tried to engage Ruby in conversation, but her friend wasn’t having it.
“I thought you were with Archie, that’s all,” said Belle.
Ruby groaned, but her eyes didn’t leave the game. “We went on one date and he hasn’t called me back.”
“Maybe he’s nervous, you could call,” said Belle.
“If I call now, then I will end up shopping for my own engagement ring and where will we be? I don’t want to have to do everything in the relationship.”
Ruby sprang to her feet, making Belle jump.
“What? Are you blind, ref?! Call the damn foul!”
Suddenly, the boy to her right joined in.
“Yeah, you turd!”
“Baelfire Gold, sit down,” she heard the man next to her order. She tried not to make eye contact.
“But he-” the boy protested.
“Sit down, son.”
“Time out, Nets!,” the announcer boomed.
Ruby sat as “Kiss Me” began to play. Belle glanced up to the Jumbotron briefly to see that the arena cameras were turned on unsuspecting couples who then felt compelled to kiss for the entertainment of the other fans. Not amused, she looked back down at her phone and the book she was trying to read on it.
“Papa, you’re on the camera.”
Gold glanced over at the monstrous TV screen and was struck by a sight of horror, accompanied by the laughter and cheers of about twenty-thousand people.
He was on the “Kiss Me” Cam, looking positively old and lecherous next to the beautiful young woman seated next to him who was currently looking at her phone, adding all the more to his humiliation.
“Belle, you’re on camera,” her companion said.
“What?,” she asked looking up. Gold saw a look of horror wash over her face and then she stared at him.
“Papa, kiss her,” Bae implored.
“What? No, son, I’m not kissing a woman I don’t know because the in-arena entertainment said to!”
“No.” He looked at the screen. “No.”
The fans booed and were soon again entertained by the resumption of play.
In the second quarter, the Nets were down. Ruby’s tantrums towards the referees went unabated.
“With one more eye you could be a cyclops, ref!”
Gold had to physically keep Bae in his seat.
“Bae, if I have to tell you to sit down again, we’re leaving.”
“Kiss Me” began to play again.
“Oh, my God,” said Belle, looking up again to realize that she was again onscreen.
“Bastards,” muttered Gold.
The camera went to someone else as the crowd booed.
“They all seem really invested in seeing us kiss,” mused Belle.
“Idiots,” said Gold.
Belle looked at him. “I don’t think that. They probably feel bad for me because you wouldn’t kiss me.”
He looked at her in confusion. “Feel bad for you? You were the one looking at your phone. They’re all laughing at me.”
“Oh, God, they came back to you,” said Ruby. “Seriously, Belle, how long are you going to drag this out?”
Belle snapped her head towards Ruby. “I’m not dragging anything out!”
“She’s right, Papa,” said Bae. “You could just kiss her. It’s not a big deal.”
“No, it is a big deal.”
“Why? I kissed Emma.”
Gold dropped his jaw.
“When did you kiss Emma?!”
“At her house, last week.”
“And you didn’t say anything?!”
“I told Killian.”
“Oh, good,” Gold said, dripping sarcasm as he turned to Belle, the booing of the crowd becoming even louder. “He told Killian.”
“Who’s Killian?,” asked Belle.
“Who’s Emma?,” asked Ruby.
The boos again were forced to subside as the game resumed.
Belle stole glances at Gold as he checked his phone at half time, returning two calls to his office.
She liked what she saw, long-ish brown hair with wisps of silver. Maybe he wasn’t conventionally handsome, but his face had character and she preferred that. She liked the way his fingers gripped the top of his cane as he stood to talk on the phone.
Not to mention that he had also turned away as he spoke, so Belle had been looking at his bum for a good ten minutes and yes, she very much liked what she saw.
This was a disaster.
He would have left, but Bae was so intent on the game that he couldn’t and besides, he had to out-friend Killian. This had been the case even while he was married to Milah, he had to be the parent while Milah was the friend.
And now he was on a giant screen being rejected by a lovely woman with the most perfect everything. It had even made the broadcast of the game as he had already been party to a group text with all three of his partners at the firm, each one trying to one-up the next with quips. Everyone was shaking their head at him, even the players seemed to be getting in on it. He could swear the Spurs coach had looked right at him with a grimace of disapproval, though the man seemed hard to read.
Truth was, he wouldn’t mind kissing her, but there was no possible way she would ever want her. Besides that, what sort of lesson would that be for Bae?
As he began to congratulate himself on his self-restraint and teaching Bae that having a woman’s consent was more important than social embarrassment, his partner, Mallory, sent him a video that was a mash-up of the cast of Arrested Development doing bad chicken impressions.
In the third quarter, things turned badly for the Nets as the Spurs went into the lead.
By a lot.
Ruby leapt to her feet and had turned on the team.
“What the hell, Lopez?,” she shouted. “Is this your first time shooting a free throw?!”
“So, you’re not going to pick him up, then,” Belle asked ruefully.
“Hell no! If he can’t find the basket, I doubt he can find anything else!”
Bae frowned. “Papa, what does she mean?”
“Never mind, son.”
Belle gave Ruby a disapproving look. “Ruby, come on. There are children here.”
“Well, who the hell said kids should come to a basketball game?!”
“Time out, Nets!,” said the announcer.
Bae groaned. “That was our last time out. You idiots!”
Ruby leapt up again to face the Nets coach. “Yeah, Hollins, what the hell are we paying you for?! Don’t you know how to manage time-outs! That’s why Popovich has five rings and you don’t!”
Belle hid her face and then groaned as “Kiss Me” began to play.
“Yes,” Gold answered.
“I know what the problem is,” said Ruby, turning to Belle and Gold. “It’s your fault!”
Belle took her hands away to face Ruby. “What?”
“We were up until you wouldn’t kiss the old guy,” Ruby said indignantly.
“She’s right, Papa.”
Gold looked at his son in disbelief. “Bae, it was two minutes into the first quarter then!”
“And we were up,” said Bae.
“The gods of basketball should not be toyed with,” Ruby said seriously. “Kiss the old guy. So what if he’s not hot? Take one for the team!”
Gold was fully prepared to crawl under his chair and die when Belle said, “He is so hot!”
Ruby wrinkled her nose. “You think he’s hot?”
Bae did the same. “You think my papa’s hot?”
Gold sat in shocked silence as the boos from the crowd resumed. He was paralyzed as the game resumed.
The fourth quarter did little to help the Nets fortunes.
“I’m just saying,” Ruby began, “if you’re gonna kiss him you might as well do it while the team has a chance to recover.”
Belle eyed Ruby. “Didn’t you say the other team won the championship or something?”
Her friend shook her head in disgust. “Don’t try to make this about the Spurs being somehow better when it’s clearly about you not kissing the old guy-”
“He is not old!”
“Then kiss him! What’s the problem?!” She looked at Gold. “Are you gay?”
“He’s divorced,” Bae answered.
“Thank you, son.”
“And she’s right, Bae continued. “We’re only down by ten now and there’s five minutes left. If you’re going to kiss her, you should do it while it still matters. How’s it gonna be at school if I’m the kid whose dad made the Nets lose because he wouldn’t kiss a girl? Emma’s already texted me.”
“Baelfire, this young woman has a mind and thoughts and wishes of her own and I am not going to impose myself on her because you think it’s making someone lose a basketball game.”
Bae glowered. Belle, for her part, bit her lip as she very much liked what she heard. Gold turned to see her, blood rushing out of his head at the sight.
“You know,” said Belle, “if it would help, you could kiss me. It’s really not a problem.”
He shook his head. “No, surely, you have a boyfriend or something.”
“You needn’t take pity on me. This is a very important lesson for Bae about listening to women.”
Belle smiled. “Then listen when I say you can kiss me. Unless... you don’t want to kiss me?”
He shook his head. “That is not the issue...”
“Media time out!,” the announcer said.
“Kiss Me” began to play again.
“Do something!,” shouted Ruby.
Gold fully prepared himself to sit scowling as the camera settled on them and the crowd’s jeers began. He was surprised as someone grabbed his lapels and turned his head to face her.
His mouth was suddenly dry. “What are you...”
Belle shrugged. “We’ve waited so long we might as well make it good.”
“Yes,” he mumbled dumbly agreeing.
Belle finished pulling him towards her, closing the distance between their mouths as the crowd erupted in cheers. The sound was deafening as Belle ran her fingers through his hair, pushing them yet closer as their tongues sought each other out. Gold found himself getting more involved, cupping her face and touching the small of her back with the other. Suddenly she climbed into his lap and he had both hands pushing her closer to press their chests together. It was glorious, seeing, tasting, feeling and hearing nothing but them together.
After a moment, Gold had some blood errantly make it back to his brain and realized that he wasn’t hearing anything. Even “Kiss Me” had ceased playing. It wasn’t that the noise of the crowd was deafening, it was that the noise of the crowd had disappeared.
He broke off from Belle.
She looked at him in confusion. “What’s wrong?”
He watched as realization dawned on her face and together they sheepishly looked to see they were still on the Jumbrotron. The crowd had fallen silent.
In fact, the entire arena was staring at them. Not just the spectators, but the ushers, the officials, the sideline reporters, the players on the court and the entire Spurs bench had turned to gawk at them.
“I think I have to get out of your lap,” Belle whispered.
“I’m afraid you might.”
“I’m not opposed to getting back in it later.”
“Neither am I.”
Gold braced Belle’s back as she retook her seat and straightened her skirt, smiling for the camera.
The ref blew a whistle and the game resumed.
“Belle, by the way,” she said.
Ten minutes later, the final buzzer sounded as Belle and Gold sat with their fingers interlaced, knees turned towards each other, completely oblivious.
“I actually work at the Schwarzman building,” said Belle. “You know, the one with the lions?”
“Oh,” said Gold. “You’re not far from my office then.”
“Seems a shame we had to come to Brooklyn to meet.”
“I came for Bae.”
“I know. Do you see him often?”
“Split custody, Sunday to Wednesday mornings unless my ex and her husband are out of town. Then he’s all mine.”
She smiled. “So, your Friday and Saturday nights are free?”
“And my Wednesdays and my Thursdays,” he added. “You?”
“Well,” she began deadpan, “I do have a yoga class I’m pretty serious about on Thursdays, but I could change it to Tuesdays, I think.”
Belle giggled and Gold smiled back at her.
“I hope you’re happy,” snapped Ruby.
Belle rolled her eyes and turned to her friend. “What do you want? I kissed him.”
Ruby leaned in. “No, you practically dry-humped him in front of twenty thousand people and distracted the team! So we lost!”
“Well, sorry?,” said Belle.
Bae returned cutting past Ruby, looking with disdain at his father.
“Papa, I said you had to kiss her, not hold her hand.”
Gold ignored the comment and looked at his son. “Did you get the autograph?”
“Yeah. Mom texted, you were on the news.”
“Of course she did.”
“August said ESPN keeps replaying it.”
Gold nodded. “Get your coat. It’s a school night.”
He stood as Belle and Ruby followed suit.
“Well, you have my number,” said Belle. “And I have yours so don’t think about not calling.”
“That won’t be a problem. Do you have a ride home?”
Belle shrugged. “Just the train.”
“Are you going back to Manhattan? I have a driver. Bae and I could drop you off before we go home.”
“Is the Village alright?”
“Papa, we don’t live by the Village,” Bae complained.
“Come on, son,” said Gold.
“Belle, it would be so much quicker to take the train...” Ruby moaned as she followed them.
“Thank you for bringing me, Ruby.”
She grunted. “So you’re just going to ignore me the whole ride home?”
“Uh-huh,” Belle answered, pressing a kiss to Gold’s cheek as she took his free hand.
Ruby looked at Bae. “I call shotgun.”
“No way! I’m not sitting in the back while they suck face! Besides you can’t call shotgun when you can’t see the car! You don’t even know what it looks like!” Bae grinned. “See you later, sucker!”
Bae made a break for it.
“I’ll see you at the car, Papa!”
“Oh, hell no!,” Ruby shouted, running after him.
“They’ll be fine,” said Belle, patting Gold’s arm.
“She’s your roommate?,” he asked.
“One of them.” She looked up at him. “So, your apartment is just you Wednesday night until Sunday morning?”
“So, if I came by tomorrow night for instance, no one would interrupt us?”
“This is moving awfully quickly,” Gold remarked dryly.
“Well, it did sort of take us forever to kiss...”
She grinned up at him and he smiled back.
“You’re right. Let’s never take that long again.”