Vintage vinyls or books?
Vintage vinyls or books... now, that was the question, and it had seemed an easy one when he first thought of it. Given that both women looked exactly the same, he could just pick one by means of “eenie meenie miney moe” and be done with it. But now that they were actually in front of him, he was confronted with the reality, or rather, the madness of his situation and was overwhelmed by it.
These two women, who shared the same face, the same DNA even, might look like one person, but they were not. They were simply twin sisters. That didn't mean they were any less individual than anyone else.
Belle, the bookworm, was the quiet one, who'd much rather have the company of a good book than another human being. She did as she was told, worked hard to help her father around the shop, and volunteered at the local library. Every time she saw him on the street, she gave him a smile and wished him a good morning, something that, more often than not, Gold completely ignored.
Lacey, the barfly, was loud in every aspect of her life, from her clothes to her choices. She was the one the town liked to talk about, and he couldn't walk into Granny's for breakfast without overhearing one of the waitresses talking about Lacey French and her new boyfriend, or Lacey French and her drinking. She caused Maurice a lot of headache. And every time she saw him on the street, she turned her face to not have to deal with him.
Not taking into account the couple of times she'd gone as far as to tell him to go fuck himself because he'd given one of her boyfriends a hard time.
He needed one of them. He needed a twin. But it couldn't just be any of them.
Lacey was the one to spot him first, loitering just outside their door. Gold could hear her piercing shriek, “Daaaad! Mr. Gold is heeeere!” leaving him no other choice but to enter.
Belle smiled from behind the register with her usual I'm-a-good-neighbor candor, “Hi, Mr. Gold. Did you come to buy a flower?”
Lacey, who was arranging flowers in a vase, chuckled. “Wouldn't that be something?” To him, she asked, “Who's the special lady, Gold? I assume it's a lady? And that she's sane?”
Any other day, Gold would have growled at her. My special lady is called eviction notice, Miss French. Perhaps you'd like to introduce her to your boyfriend, given that Mr. Nottingham hasn't paid his rent yet. That, assuming you're both sober enough to actually talk.
But today, he could only stare. Twins. They were, and there was no other word to describe it, freaky. It was amazing that he spent forty eight years without giving it more than a passing thought of dismissive curiosity. People shouldn't look exactly the same. It made no sense. It was, somehow, against the laws of nature. A cosmic joke. Twins were a cosmic joke.
“It's not rent day.”
Gold snapped out of his trance. Maurice French had come into the room and was looking at him with the usual disdain he seemed to reserve especially for him and Lacey's long string of lovers. He didn't look like his girls. Didn't act like them either. Maurice had always struck him as a rather short-sighted, unambitious man. He didn't have Belle's sweetness, nor did he have Lacey fire – granted, that girl probably took her anger issues after him, but there had always been so much more in her than in the old man.
“I'm not here to talk about rent,” he said. “I'm here to talk to your daughter.”
Gold sighed, forced back to his initial question. Vintage vinyls or books?
There was no question that Lacey would give it to him straight, while Belle would sugarcoat the truth until it resembled what he wanted to hear. She would hold nothing back and give him all the information he wanted, uncensored. Besides, everyone knew that Lacey French had some unfriendly opinions on her darling older... younger... her twin sister. She'd definitely not paint his entire situation as a soap-opera miracle.
However, when one wanted information, they didn't go to the girl who spent most of her school years cutting class and flunking school. They went to Belle. She might sugarcoat her information and perhaps skip the nasty details, but she'd have researched your topic of need to exhaustion. And she'd do it with an irritating smile on her lips and a cheerful disposition to help.
Either way, Gold felt screwed.
“About what, Gold?” Maurice insisted.
Belle didn't drink. She'd be less likely to spill his secret.
“Books,” he decided. “I've just found a box of old books and I'd like your daughter's help to evaluate their price.”
Maurice raised an eyebrow, then looked at his daughter.
Belle shrugged. “Sure, I could help. But I don't really know anything about selling books.”
“Belle thinks the value of the book is in what lies inside of it,” Lacey said. “And not in how much it's worth.”
“They're written in French,” Gold said, looking at Belle. “You're the one who speaks French, aren't you?”
“I do. I might be a bit rusty, but-”
“I need you to read a couple of pages, and then you're free to go.”
“Hold on,” Maurice said, raising a hand to order him to stop. “You can't just walk in here and demand my daughter just because you hit a wall. She's working, in case you haven't noticed. She's-”
“I'll give you a hundred dollars,” he interrupted.
Belle's eyebrows shot up. “Really?”
“Hey, I like books too, you know?” Lacey said.
“When was the last time you read a book, dearie?” Gold asked, with a smirk.
“When was the last time you fucked a-”
“Lacey!” Belle shouted.
Her sister threw him a dirty look, but decided to focus on her flowers again.
“So? One hundred dollars? Shouldn't take you more than a couple of hours.”
Belle seemed to think about. Then, in a tentative voice, she said, “I'll... do it for two hundred.”
Maurice chuckled. Even Gold couldn't repress a crooked smile.
“I'm sure your sister would help me for less.”
“Her sister can't read,” Lacey said, angrily, plucking the petals of a daisy.
“Very well, Miss French,” Gold said. “Two hundred. But we have to leave now.”
Belle threw her father a glance. Lacey would've left the flower shop with him without giving dear old dad a second thought. She was a grown woman, after all. Maurice had no say in what she did. But Belle still wanted to make sure everything was alright.
Maurice didn't seem happy, but nodded, “Fine, go. Be back for dinner.”
Lacey scoffed at her sister. “Daddy's girl.”
Belle seemed bothered by her comment, but still gave her sister a kiss when she walked past her. Despite the mockery, Lacey looked up from her daisies just in time to give Belle a tiny smile. Sisters, despite their differences.
Freaky, Gold thought. Definitely freaky.
He walked Belle to the pawnshop without saying a word. She tried to initiate conversation (“So what are these books about?”) but he nipped that idea in the bud (“They're in French, girl. How would I know?”) and they didn't talk for four blocks. Once they were inside, though, he locked the door and walked around the counter. Belle stood in the middle of his shop, fiddling with her hands as she waited.
“So...” she asked, looking around. “Where are the books you wanted me to take a look at?”
“There are no books,” he announced, reaching for his wallet and taking two crisp one hundred dollar bills.
He placed them over the glass counter and raised his eyes at Belle.
Belle raised an eyebrow, her face going from friendly and helpful to suspicious in a heartbeat.
“I have no idea what you're thinking of, but if this is a sex thing, you should've taken your chances with Lacey.”
Gold rolled his eyes. “For goodness' sake. No, Miss French, this isn't 'a sex thing'.”
“Right...” she nodded. Then, “Are you sure, because it looks quite creepy-”
“I have a question.”
She blinked at him. “Okay?”
“And I'm going to ask you to answer it to the best of your ability.”
“And part of the reason I'm willing to pay two hundred dollars for this answer is because I want you to be discreet.”
He spoke the last word through his teeth, a clear demand.
“I can be discreet,” Belle said.
“That means I don't want you to talk about this with your friends, or even or annoying sister.”
“Yes, I understand the meaning of the word 'discreet', Mr. Gold.”
Gold stared at her right in the eye, expecting her to look away in terror, or burst into tears. That was usually the outcome. Instead, she just stared back with growing impatience.
“Well, what is the question?”
There was still a moment of silence as Gold went over his limited options in his head. Once he decided that this was... not the best one, but the one that terrified him the least, he pushed the money closer to her. Belle folded it neatly and put it away in her purse.
When the money was out of sight, he asked, “You and your sister?”
Once he didn't elaborate on that statement, Belle said, “...I know.”
“How does that work?”
“This... twin... thing... how does that... work?”
Belle waited. He knew she wanted him to add more information to his question, but he couldn't. Mostly because he wasn't even sure what was it that he wanted to know.
“I'm... not sure what you're asking me, Mr. Gold.”
“Twins,” he said, repeating the word as if it were her duty to make sense of this madness. After all, he was paying her, wasn't he? “Twins. I want you to explain twins to me.”
“Right... well... when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much-”
He waved a hand rather comically in the air. “What?! No! Stop! This isn't what I'm-”
And then he saw her laughing.
“Very funny,” he deadpanned.
“I'm sorry, but you're not making any sense!” she said, a little giggle still in her voice. “What is it that you want to know about twins so badly? I mean, if this isn't a fetish thing-”
“No!” he said, outraged that she'd even suggest such a thing.
“Are you asking me for biology?”
Gold searched his mind. “I don't know.”
“Are you asking to know my, what, first hand experience?”
“Are you just curious?”
She sighed at his vague answers.
“It's a delicate subject,” he confessed.
“Okay,” Belle conceded. “Then how about we start from the beginning. Why the sudden interest in twins?”
“Because I think I might have one.”
His answer was blurted out so fast he feared Belle wouldn't have heard it the first time. If he had to repeat it again... if he had to face it... he hadn't allowed himself to think even think about it in two weeks, but now... now he was asking the florist's daughter about twins – like a crazy person, one might add – and telling her, a complete stranger, about this sudden mess that he found himself thrown into.
Judging by the look of complete and utter shock on Belle's face, though, Gold was willing to bet that she'd heard him the first time.
“Okay...” she finally said, and reached for her purse before turning on her heels and heading for the door.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“But you haven't answered my-”
“Oh, I know,” she said, looking at him from the door. “But I assume there's quite a story here.”
“You have no idea.”
“Well then! I find that a complicated story always makes more sense when it's accompanied by onion rings and iced tea.”
Gold stared at her.
“Now, are you joining me, or should I get us some take out?”