Author's Note: This story won 1st place in the Facebook Once Upon A Time Fan Fiction & Creations' Valentine's fic writing contest. Thank you to everyone who voted for this fic and for the wonderful reviews. Since this fic was originally written on a contest deadline while I was sick with a nasty case of the flu, it has been tweaked a bit since then, adding a bit more dialogue and narration, but it is mostly the same story.
This is written with great respect, love and gratitude for the talents of Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin. I do not own the OUAT characters nor the songs mentioned in this fic.
Moving day, that's what Belle French calls it as she drives from Boston, Massachusetts to the town she called home for so many years, Storybrooke, Maine. Belle is adept at using words to conveniently delude herself, because 'home' is a vast over estimation of what Storybrooke was to her, and 'moving day' just happens to be Valentine's Day.
She groans at the thought... "Why do I have to be going back on Valentine's Day?... Why did my landlord have to cheat me out of the last few days on my lease?... And why, oh why, do I have to see him today?"
As the day starts in Storybrooke, Mr. Westley Gold feels his chest tighten with anxiety thinking, "Today's the day... Am I being a complete imbecile?"
He has long been an opportunist. It's a quality which has served him well in business and earned him many enemies, and one person, who vaguely resembles what most people would call a 'friend.' However, today isn't about business, it's about a pain which seems to be making his rib-cage want to crush in on itself, shredding his heart in the process. It's about her... the woman in the red dress all those years ago.
Belle has hated Valentine's Day most of her life... For countless people, the day was and is about hearts, roses, candy, proposals and love, but that hasn't been her experience of this dubious holiday. She can't help but note the holiday originated with the torture and beheading of Saint Valentine.
A sardonic thought comes to mind, "I wonder if a plush bear holding a red heart with 'I wuv you!' written on it, would have made him feel better about the experience."
She shakes off the thought... She's not a martyr for a cause... She's just Belle French. That's all she's ever been in Storybrooke... just Belle French. Moving to Storybrooke from Australia, when she was six years old, was one of her father's many big schemes. Her mother went along with it because... Well, she had married the man and thought she 'had to.' Belle's father, Moe French, decided to open a flower and gift shop, despite the fact that he had neither experience in business nor floral care and design. Thus, it fell on her mother's shoulders to keep them afloat, literally working herself to death.
Her father's scheming had cheated Belle out of time with her mother while she was alive, and then one day, when she was twelve years old, her mother was gone. No, Storybrooke was not home to Belle. Most of her life she didn't even have friends there... with the exception of Jefferson, who she met her freshman year at Mills University. Jefferson has always been there for her, which is why she is stymied that he set her up to rent from Mr. Gold... Why him?!
Gold double checks the preparations for the house Belle is renting from him. He had 'befriended' Jefferson years ago, as a way to keep tabs on how Belle was doing after she left Storybrooke ten years ago. In truth, Jefferson is a 'good sort,' and Gold doesn't mind the company from time to time. Most people had thought Jefferson a bit daft from the start, and in the eyes of the town at large, his friendship with Gold confirms it. The citizens of Storybrooke always wondered why Gold was nice to Jefferson. Information is a very valuable commodity.
Over the years, during drinks at the local bar or lunches at the diner, Gold would get word of how Belle was doing, where her travels had taken her, and so-forth. Eight months ago, when Jefferson mentioned that Belle was dissatisfied with her job due to budget cutbacks, Gold seized the opportunity to facilitate the availability of Belle's dream job, Head Liberian and Director of the 'Storybrooke Library and Art & Media Center.' He knew it would be too tantalizing to resist.
He walks through the newly painted dining room with one 'Hibiscus Red' wall with the other walls painted a warm 'Nairobi Dusk,' according to the color samples, which he pockets after checking them against the walls for accuracy. This is the third time in two days he's checked them. He tries to breathe through his compulsion to check every detail of the house which he has already checked multiple times. Jefferson had once mentioned that Belle thought the décor of a dining room should be appetizing and sensual, thus she felt the bright red and warm tan served both purposes. With his cane in hand, he strolls into the kitchen, which has cobalt blue granite counters and warm yellow walls with a backsplash of deep blue and off white tiles in a fez design handmade from Casablanca, because Jefferson had mentioned on another occasion that Belle had 'drooled' over such a design in a book.
"Yes, indeed, Jefferson has been a wealth of information" he thinks, recalling how Jefferson had mentioned her rental lease in Boston ended on the seventeenth. Thus, Gold cajoled her landlord into ending the lease a few days early, in time for Valentine's Day, knowing she would be pragmatic enough to realize it wouldn't be worth her time and effort to fight the man in court over a few days. Gold had well compensated the landlord for that alteration of Belle's lease.
He had felt so smug about his manipulation, but now, the anxiety crushing his heart makes him uncertain. "What if this is all for naught? What if grossly overplaying my hand drives her away? She may never speak to me again. What would she want with me anyway?! I'm still twenty years her senior and with a limp to boot!" he groans at these thoughts, frustratedly running his hand through his slightly graying brown hair.
Trying to bolster his resolve, Gold reminds himself, "When the stakes are high, sometimes a big play is optimal." If he goes down, he'll go down in flames for Belle. He would rather look like a fool, than not make the effort... and if it blows up in his face, well, he'll do the unheard of thing... Let her out of their lease, sparing them both the torture of repeated awkward encounters.
As Belle drives into town, she notices various residents dressed in red. Though she loves the color red, she specifically wore blue as an Un-Valentine's wardrobe choice. She recalls that Summer day before the beginning of her senior year at Mills University. The Fall semester had not yet begun, and the university was empty of most students. Nevertheless, with her work-study job, she was already on campus. She heard classical piano music float through the air. She followed the sound to the empty auditorium and slipped inside.
Gold remembers like it was yesterday, how his head throbbed after the Board of Trustees meeting at Mills University. Being a major donor to the institution, he felt it behooved him to be involved in the decision making process. Even so, with all the bureaucracy and political maneuvering, he often felt it would be more productive to bang his head against the wall than argue with simpletons, whom he was certain got their PhDs out of a Cracker Jack box.
By the time the meeting ended at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, most of the employees had left for the weekend. He enjoyed walking the campus when nobody was around. The quiet allowed him to think, reflect and relax. It had been a year since his divorce, and he had fallen into a routine life which lacked spark. Random curiosity enticed him to enter the stage entrance of the auditorium. In middle of the stage was a Steinway grand piano. Like a mistress with curves and angles in all the right places, she called to him. Madame Steinway demanded to be played... and who was he to refuse this temptress. He started by riffing on some Liszt rhapsodies, letting the current of the music carry him away. In hindsight, he now recalls hearing something ...something he now realizes was Belle entering the auditorium, but at the time, he was too lost in his Lady Steinway to notice. He enjoyed commanding her, feeling her eager response to his touch as she sang out for more.
Belle was enthralled by the "Hungarian Rhapsodies." The sound reverberating in the empty venue seemed to caress her bodily, as her eyes watched his long elegant fingers dance across the keys. She had seen Mr. Gold before in passing, but she had never seen him like this. She watched the passion and raw emotion in his expression. She couldn't look away, nor did she want to. She smiled with surprise when she heard him transition into something she didn't expect, The Beatles song "The Long And Winding Road." Her smile faded, and she felt tears welling in her eyes, seeing him embody the sentiment of the song, humming or occasionally singing excepts in a heartfelt manner.
Gold wasn't sure why he had begun playing "The Long And Winding Road" that day, much less singing it, all the same, life felt like it was taking its toll and leaving him with a sense of longing. For what, he wasn't sure, but that day the longing was palpable. The next thing he knew he had begun playing Gershwin. His grandmother used to play Gershwin tunes on the record player. They were songs of longing, which contained a kernel of hope for the future. He had long since given up hope that his life would be any different than what it was.
When he started playing Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," Belle put her elbow on the seat back in front of her, resting her chin in her hand. She listened wistfully, as he more and more frequently sang the lyrics to the tune. She felt like she would stay in that moment forever, and for the first time since she had started watching her private concert, she closed her eyes connecting purely with the sound of his voice and the piano which he lovingly caressed.
He transitioned into another song. In his warm tones, she heard him begin to sing the song, "I've Got a Crush on You,"
"...Could you coo, could you care
For a cunning cottage
That we could share
The world will pardon my mush
Cause I have got a crush, my baby, on you..."
After a few moments, her heart pounded with a recognition which caused her head to spin.
"A crush?!" she thought. "I was just sitting here. How did this happen?!"
It was completely illogical, and yet she knew it to be true, at some point while sitting in the darkened auditorium, she had developed a full blown crush on Mr. Gold. She'd had infatuations before. She knew what those felt like, but this felt different... more intense, like it was meant to be. She was filled with panic at the realization. The last thing she needed was to fall in love with a man who would have no interest in her. She needed to focus on her studies – her degree, not be caught up in an unrequited love. Suddenly, it happened, before she could stop it. She sneezed alerting him to her presence.
As Belle scurried out the door, her face was nearly as red as her dress. She knew she had intruded on something Mr. Gold had intended to be private. She dashed down the corridor, took two right turns, and scrambled down the stairs. She rushed into the art gallery, thankful that not a soul was around to see her, and collapsed on the padded bench in the center of the gallery. She sat there overwhelmed by... well everything, concentrating on her breathing trying to calm her thundering heart.
Gold had looked up to see a woman with long dark hair wearing a red sundress bolt out the auditorium door, the ambient light from the open door illuminating her features. Part of him wanted to have a 'chat' with the intruder and make it clear that she was not to divulge what she had witnessed, and part of him ached just to talk to her... that part confused the Hell out of him. Either way, he determined he would find her toot sweet.
Within minutes, he had done just that. He knew the layout of the building better than any student, as he was involved in the design process. From the doorway, he observed a quite petite woman sitting on a bench. He recognized her as Belle French, Moe French's daughter. He knew how her father's behavior and reputation had forced her to live in poverty and be a town pariah, however she had not let circumstances define her. She worked to move passed the life she had been given, to make a life for herself. He knew this, not only as one her father's creditors, but as he had been on the scholarship committee when she applied. Her writing sample had been far and away superior to those of her peers and illuminated an old soul with great pain, yet a remarkable abundance of hope. Indeed, the piece had tweaked a recollection of a younger version of Gold, thus he knew given the smallest chance, she'd take the opportunity and excel. Her name perpetually on the Dean's List and involvement in various high profile student organizations bore out his belief.
Gazing upon her delicate form, his eyes took in the sight of her in a halter style sundress of red cotton with small white roses printed on it and trimmed in a heart and scalloped patterned eyelet lace. He was mesmerized by the beauty of her, as her softly curled dark chestnut hair flowed down to her alabaster shoulders, giving way to the lovely curves of her body. Previously, he had made a point of not allowing himself to notice her beauty as he considered it unseemly to do so. However in that moment, he could not help it. It seemed incredibly appropriate that she was in the center of an art gallery. He had never seen a piece of art moving as she.
After a moment, he jerked himself to reality, scolding himself, "I'm forty-two for God's sake! I can't be looking at her like that!" It was then that he noticed she was trembling slightly. Ruefully, he thought, "Of course she is... She was watching 'the monster of Storybrooke'... and she couldn't get away fast enough." Realizing the pointlessness of his endeavor to speak with her, he decided to leave.
Belle had sat there several agonizing minutes trapped in the knowledge that no matter how hard she worked to distance herself from the life her father had put upon her like a yoke, she would always be beneath Mr. Gold as he had already achieved so much in his life.
She heard a faint thump from Gold's cane and turned towards the sound, spying the man in his tailored dark suit as he was turning to leave. He heard her gasp of surprise, and closed his eyes tightly for a moment cursing his failure to make a clean getaway. Opening his eyes, breathing out, and turning to face her, he met her gaze, and she smiled nervously at him.
She began to speak, "Uh, hey..." and thought with disdain, "'Uh, hey'? 'Uh, hey'?! Brilliant, Belle! Why don't you start your valedictory speech with that?!"
Uneasily, he replied, "Hey...um..." cursing his inability to speak. He cleared his throat, struck by the fact that an hour before, he verbally jousted with some of the academic elite of Storybrooke, yet in the moment, he couldn't express a coherent thought, and then trying to save his dignity, he said, "Good evening, Miss French."
Deciding to do the brave thing... or the stupid thing, at times it was hard to tell which was which until after a situation blew up in her face, she said, "If you would like to sit and take in the art from an optimal point, there's room on the bench," and she patted the seat beside her.
His warm brown eyes darted between her expectant iolite eyes and her hand on the bench. After several awkward moments, he said in a neutral tone, "As you wish" and seated himself next to her. He leaned his cane on his good knee and stared straight ahead.
Minutes ticked by, they could literally hear the second hand of the clock on the wall. Gold decided at his next opportunity he'd insist the college replace 'That damn clock!' Another minute went by and he contemplated beating the clock with his cane... "That would be a conversation starter." He scanned the room taking in all the pieces. It was a multi-artist show, thus the pieces were diverse in style and medium. Finally, he beheld the piece that would serve his purpose.
He stood and walked over to an abstract sculpture, and asked blankly, "So Miss French, what do you think of this work?"
Though Belle was relieved to have something... anything to break the silence, and she was typically an aficionado of abstract art, she wished he had not chosen that piece to discuss. Knowing his position with the Board of Trustees, she was hesitant to say anything negative. She joined him, standing by the pedestal on which the piece was displayed.
Eying the piece which consisted of a large hunk of unfinished wood with some wire wrapped around it, she said bluntly, "I think if anyone pays $600 for this, you should offer to sell them magic beans. It looks like a left over post from building someone's fence. Given the cost of the materials to make it, the time and effort likely exerted, the lack of the artist having a 'name' to bolster its value, and the fact that it's completely soulless and lacking imagination, I'd estimate the piece is marked up six thousand percent on the value of what the market will bear."
Looking at her sternly, "And what if I told you, my dear Miss French, that a close personal friend of mine created this piece?"
Again wishing the floor would swallow her, she knew it would be futile to backpedal, thus she said with a slight tremble in her voice, "I'm sorry, Mr. Gold, if I offended you, but I said what I believe."
A lopsided grin formed on his face as he said, "That's fine, Miss French. The man's a hack, and no friend of mine," withholding the truth that he had no friends. He had accepted that fact long ago.
Belle sighed with relief. Having new found confidence, she strode over to a framed black and white photograph of two homeless men sleeping on a heating grate in front of a old fashioned candy store in London. "Now, this... this has soul. The societal contrast between the cheery appearance of the candy store in what seems to be an affluent area to the men struggling for survival is stark. … And the composition and lighting are stunning." He smiled at the bright woman before him.
In time, they had discussed, at length, every piece in the gallery. They strolled to the lounge; each of them making a cup of tea with the paper cups provided. The flavor was horrid, yet neither minded as they continued to talk about art, the university and even had a minor argument over a recent county zoning commission proposal. It was the most alive Gold had felt in... well, he couldn't remember a time he felt so alive. Belle loved verbally sparing with him, she loved his Scottish timbre... his cologne... the way his deep jewel toned purple shirt was the perfect contrast for his honeyed chocolate eyes.
At 6:55, the lights flashed off and on, alerting them that security would be locking up in five minutes. Reluctantly, they headed outside as their little spell had been broken by the intrusion of reality. They were each parked in different sections of the campus, robbing them of the ruse of walking to their cars together.
The Summer sun had not yet sunk below the horizon as they stood awkwardly, not wanting to say 'good bye,' yet believing they should. Though they had 'clicked,' Belle still felt out of her depth with him. He had been unbelievably nice to her, but she felt he couldn't have a real interest in her... not in the way she did in him, and she refused to get her heart broken... well, more broken, succumbing to the delusion that there would be more between them, and having reality slap her in the face when he inevitably found someone more suitable, more of his status with whom to have a life. Gold observed her doll like features in the waning sunlight, noticing that she looked even younger and "God, even more beautiful!" in natural light as a soft breeze carried wisps of her hair to-and-fro in an exquisite ballet.
She thought to herself, "Okay, Belle, stop wasting the man's time. He probably has some place to be," hence she held out her hand, saying, "It was very nice talking with you, Mr. Gold."
"Take the hint, old man!" he thought ruefully, certain that she was finding a polite way to get rid of him. He had never wished to be young before. In his view, wishing for youth was for fools and con artists, however in that moment, he had to admit he would have liked to be at least ten years younger, or better yet twenty. That flight of fancy dissipated quickly recalling his youth and determining that even if they were the same age, Belle French would still been well out of his league.
He took her hand in his, unable to restrain the impulse for a moment he stroked his thumb across the back of her soft hand and said sincerely, "I've relished our time together... very much."
She swallowed hard, still holding his hand, "I... I truly enjoyed it too... and your musical talents are lovely." she said, blushing at the admission of her initial intrusion.
"Thank you, Miss French. I never had such an endearing audience." In truth, he never had an audience, because his passion for the piano was a part of himself which he never shared, but he didn't wish to overstate the moment.
Reluctantly, their hands slid apart, and Belle turned to leave walking across the campus. He stood motionless watching her depart. Belle had to will her feet to move, when she reached the archway of the quad. For a moment, her resolve faltered, and she turned towards him, surprised to see him in the same spot she had left him. With a strange empty feeling inside, she waved farewell. His heart seemed to get stuck in his throat as he saw the beautiful woman in the red dress framed in the archway with red and white climbing roses growing upon it. It was like something out of a painting, and then she turned way walking out of his field of vision. He recalled how some former debutante had wanted the archway to have climbing roses, and he thought it was a waste. However, in that moment, he would have wanted the whole campus to be a maze of rose covered archways, if only to see Belle French walk through each one. Hell, he'd pay someone to throw roses at her feet daily if she were in his life... but she wasn't, and she never would be, thus with cane in hand, he turned and limped to his car.
Valentine's Day 2014:
"Couples always seem to make a spectacle of themselves on Valentine's Day," Belle ponders dejectedly sitting in her car watching the residents of the town celebrate the day.
Sometimes, she feels the holiday is mocking her. After meeting Mr. Gold, she continually seemed to compare other men to him, and they never measured up. Hence in the over ten years since she met him, she has been the queen of the first date. She perpetually found reasons not to date a man a second time. She fell hard for Mr. Gold that day, and unlike an infatuation, the feeling didn't ebb with time and distance as she had hoped. No, her heart was foolishly stuck on him.
While she lived in Storybooke, awaiting her graduation, she fluctuated between avoiding him and for all intents and purposes 'stalking' him. She found out that he was twenty years, eight months and thirteen days older than her. She had always viewed age as 'simply a number and nothing more,' yet faced with the accomplishments and life experience Mr. Gold's number represented, it seemed an insurmountable barrier. Indeed, it seemed after that day, he had wanted nothing to do with her. It hurt... a lot, but she understood that he might have found her vaguely interesting enough for a few hours, but not more than that. Yet her obsession with the man continued. That day when he said "As you wish," she thought for certain he was trying to kill her. "The Princess Bride" was an all time favorite of Belle's, thus she could barely think after he uttered those words. In hindsight, she was glad that he struck up a conversation about the sculpture, because her mind had gone blank and her body went limp after hearing 'as you wish.' Therefore, when she later discovered his first name was Westley, it only added fuel to her ardor for the man.
Now, while Belle is successful in other aspects of her life, she is fairly certain that the universe is out to get her when it comes to her love life. She is aware the Alfred Lord Tennyson quote,
"'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."
However, that is not her experience. Unrequited love feels like she is forever dehydrated with a pitcher of water always just out of her reach. It hurts... it hurts more than any physical pain she has ever suffered. Her heart clings to the pipe dream of being with Mr. Gold... Westley someday, while her mind knows the futility of it.
Mr. Gold putters around his house, periodically looking out his window, hoping he's doing the right thing. After that day at the university, he tried to convince himself he wasn't enthralled by Belle. First, he chalked it up to a rebound effect from his divorce. The theory didn't hold up, as the divorce had been final for a year. Additionally, looking back, though he thought he and Milah loved each other, until he found out she had been cheating on him from the beginning, he never felt for Milah the intense feelings which Belle had stirred within him. So he moved on to option number two: midlife crisis. It was standard... actually stereotypical, but it seemed plausible. Thus, he worked on making himself believe his feelings for Belle were a manifestation of his lost youth, and she was to him, what a shiny red sports car was to other men. That theory lasted a total of seventeen days until he saw her at the pharmacy getting tissues and antihistamines for a seasonal allergy. Even with red puffy watery eyes and a nose that could rival Rudolf, his heart thudded against his chest for her. All his attempts at convincing himself that he merely saw her through rose colored glasses were pointless. Of course, he also noticed she seemed jittery around him, hence wanting to save them both the discomfort, he avoided her at all costs... even altering his routine in order to keep from crossing her path.
Regardless, he had not always been able to resist temptation. When she received her bachelor's degree from Mills University, he was there for her graduation, though he made certain that she didn't see him. He was crushed the next week when she moved away. It's been almost ten years since, and he has only seen her one other time. Four years later, after Jefferson had told him Belle was about to earn her second master's degree from Stanford University, her first had been in Library and Information Studies, Gold pulled some strings with connections at Stanford, getting himself a ticket to commencement. He hopped a plane to California and watched her walk across the stage. He was so proud of his Belle as she received her diploma in Fine Arts. After four years apart, Belle looked stunning in her black Regalia and mortarboard with a hood of brown and cardinal red.
His cell phone chimes breaking him out of his thoughts. Absentmindedly, without looking at the phone he answers sternly, "Gold speaking."
There is a hesitation, while he waits impatiently, but then the caller says, "Hello, Mr. Gold. This is Belle French."
His heart nearly stops at her lilting tone, as electricity seems to shoot up his arms, "Uh, Miss French, what can I do for you?"
"I arrived in town a bit early, and I was wondering if I might have access to the house before I have to go to a meeting at the library. I have some items, which I don't want damaged sitting in a frigid car, if I can put them in the house."
"Yes, yes, that will be fine. I'll meet you there with the key."
Uneasily she says, "Uh, I need the address. My friend, Jefferson, never gave it to me."
He smirks, "I'll text it to you, and I'll see you shortly, Miss French."
"Thank you... See you soon, Mr. Gold."
Her phone buzzes as she receives the text. She looks at it with her mouth hanging open. At the soonest opportunity, she plans to strangle Jefferson. She will be living right next door to Mr. Gold.
"How could he do this to me?! It will be torture!" she agonizes.
Approximately, fifteen minutes later, Belle arrives at her new rental house, wondering if she can arrange for a shortened lease and find somewhere else to live. On the porch stands Mr. Gold looking more appetizing than any heart shaped box of chocolates that she's ever seen. All he needs is a red ribbon for her to untie, and he'd be perfect... "Stop thinking about that!" she mentally scolds.
Bundled in her knee length blue Winter coat, she gets out of the car and waves.
He waves back nervously, reminding himself to stick to the plan, as she climbs the porch steps. Opening the door, he says with a gallant bow, "Right this way, Miss French."
He proceeds to give her a tour of the residence, and she is struck by how much the décor is specifically what she would want. She wonders if he did this for her or if their tastes are that similar. She wants to believe that he did this for her... hoping it's a sign that he wants more than a landlord/renter relationship, but she fears getting her hopes up. Perhaps she is merely seeing what she wants to see.
She notices a large cardboard box against the wall in the living room and asks, "What's this?"
"My apologies Miss French, but that's the new water heater, which has yet to be installed. The service person couldn't get out this week, but it will be installed. In the meantime, the current water heater is sufficient. I hope you don't mind. Just leave the box where it is."
She smiles softly, "I'm sure I can make do until the new one is installed... and since we are going to be neighbors, perhaps you should call me, Belle."
"Very well then, you may call me, Westley."
She gives him a nod and a beaming smile, as her high heel boots pinch from her toes curling. She notices the inset wooden bookshelf with hearts and roses engraved on it, and practically squeals, "I love this. It looks like it's original."
"Indeed, Miss... I mean, Belle. That shelf is a part of the original architecture, circa 1890."
"So around the time that your house was built." She flushes as he raises an eyebrow at her knowledge of his home.
"Yes, precisely." He refrains from mentioning his knowledge of the history of the bookshelf. He knows he will have to tell her, however he prefers it not be at this moment.
The alarm on her phone buzzes, alerting her that she must leave soon for her meeting. "I'm sorry; I need to get going soon."
"Let me help you with your things. It'll save time."
He helps her bring in a few boxes, and then he says, "Seeing as you just arrived, and we are, as you pointed out, neighbors, I'd like to invite you to dinner at my house. That way you won't have to go grocery shopping."
"That's very kind of you."
"No matter. And your answer would be?"
"Yes, I'd like that," and then she looks down at herself wondering what to wear.
Appearing to know what she is thinking, he says, "Belle, you look beautiful as you are. No need to change on my account," not wanting her too spend much time here, until after they've had dinner.
He walks her to her car and then returns home. After her meeting with the staff of the library and media center, she calls Jefferson, who gives her some surprising insights about Mr. Gold and a pep talk before she goes to Westley's house.
Westley serves a meal of angel hair pasta with shrimp accompanied chocolate mousse for dessert. Conversation flows easily as they sit across from each other in his formal dining room. They briefly talk of his marriage to Milah and lack of children from that union. He remarks that he always wanted to have children, but it was for the best that he and Milah had not conceived a child together. Trying to lift the mood, she tells him about a trip she took a few years ago backpacking in the Highlands of Scotland, which leads him to tell her about his childhood. After the subject of his grandmother comes up, he stands and starts playing on the stereo Ella Fitzgerald performing Gershwin songs.
Leaning back in her chair, coyly she asks, "So how much has Jefferson told you about me? I know you've been pumping him for information... and he's aware that's why you started being friends with him."
Wanting to deny it, yet caught red handed, he replies sheepishly, "He knew? Then why did he play along?
"Because he knew I liked you... well, more than liked. And besides, he thinks your 'voice is divine.'"
He chokes a bit and blushes, "I thought he and Graham were an item?"
"They are, but that doesn't mean he's deaf. But yeah, he'd never make a move on you, because 1) he loves Graham, 2) he knows you're straight, and 3) he knows I'd kill him over it."
With a surprised smile and raised eyebrows, he responds, "Jealous sort?"
"A bit," and then she asks, "So what made you buy a rental property right next to your own house? I mean, you seem rather private. I'm just surprised you'd want a renter this close to your own home."
"I don't know how much this place feels like home, as opposed to a place to park my carcass every night, but there's a reason why I bought the house next door." He hesitates, worrying about how she'll react. "I have an affection for unique old properties. And this one is quite unique in its history. The man who built this house had fallen deeply in love with his maid, who was a woman of color. In those days, people had big problems with such a situation. If they had gone public, her life could have been in danger. They were secretly married, and the house next door... the one you're renting was her house that he had built for her."
"That's both sad and beautiful, but did they ever get to live as husband and wife, or did the narrow minded society rob them of that?"
"You see, that's the thing... He had devised a way for them to live as husband and wife." Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, "Belle, there's a tunnel between the two houses, and the bookshelf is the entrance... but... but I would never use it and intrude upon you. I promise. It's just that your house has been empty all these years, because I didn't want a random renter to have possible access to my house... but as I said, I won't intrude upon you, and we can put in locks, if that would make you feel better."
She tries to process the information, while giving him a reassuring smile and padding his hand, because she can see the distress in his features. That's when she hears the song on the stereo change to a most memorable tune, "I've Got a Crush on You." She suddenly stands, and he wonders if she is about to walk out of his life, but then she asks, "May I have this dance?"
Though part of him wants to find a way out of this request, he cannot resist the opportunity to hold her in his arms after so many years, thus he replies, "As you wish, my Belle."
Her face flushes at those words, as she wonders if she'll ever be able to hear that phrase without becoming a puddle of desire for this man. He leans his cane against the table and slides one arm around her waist and takes his other hand to entwine in hers. They move ever so slowly to the music, breathing each other in, and feeling each other's heart thudding in an anticipation of what the future may bring.
"Why didn't you put in locks years ago and rent the house?" she asks as they dance.
"Because locks can be picked or disabled, and I didn't want to take that chance..." and he quickly starts to add, "...but I would never..."
"Don't bother with the locks..." she quickly interrupts, and smirks, "I'd hate to have to take up a life a crime to get to you."
Westley chuckles warmly, unable to believe his good fortune to have this amazing woman want to be with him. The sensual piano music caresses them as their bodies move closer.
Ella Fitzgerald croons warmly,
"...I've got a crush on you, sweetie pie
All the day and night-time give me sigh
I never had the least notion that
I could fall with so much emotion..."
Belle's free hand glides from his neck into his silky shoulder length hair. He pulls her closer and his hand disentangles itself from her waist, moving to trace her cheeks and her lips as he has wanted to for over a decade. Their mouths meet in a soft kiss. The kiss intensifies as he strokes her hair. As their lips slowly, reluctantly part, they gaze at each other in wonder.
Later, he walks her to the exterior door of her house, and he dares to partake of another kiss. This time, lips open and tongues endeavor to bring each other pleasure. Soft sounds of delight can be heard in the frigid evening.
Upon returning home, Belle dreamily goes through boxes of her belongings. She sets up her air mattress that will serve as her bed, until the moving company brings her own bed. She pulls her linens from a box and takes them to the closet. Opening the door, she finds a red rose in a vase with a note,
"Happy Valentine's Day, Belle! ~~ Westley
P.S. Go to the water heater box and move it over."
She literally runs to the box, finding it easily moved as it was just placed around another object – a red Korg SP-170s Digital Piano, which she had recently mentioned to Jefferson that she wanted, in order to learn to play. She giggles, exclaiming with delight, "That man!... That wonderful man!"
She rummages through her boxes and finds some red lipstick and something special she brought herself a while back, but doubted she'd use, and then she sets to work. Finally, she turns all the lights off in the house except the one in her bedroom.
She pulls the cell phone from her purse and calls Westley.
She smiles at the endearment, "Thank you for the rose... and the Korg! Subtly is not your forte, is it?"
"I don't know what you mean. That rose needs a home, and you have the room... and the piano is just something I had around for ages."
Chuckling, she retorts, "Really? I happen to know the red version of piano was only available in Europe and Asia until recently... It's practically got a 'new piano scent.'"
He laughs, "Glad you like it."
"I love it... Now, I need someone to give me lessons."
"I think that could be arranged for a three kiss per hour fee."
"Sounds reasonable... I may even tip the instructor," she says flirtatiously, and then asks, "By the way, what would you have done if I had told Jefferson that I wanted a Steinway?"
"You would have be out of luck... unless you come over here, then we can play together."
"Hmmm... I'll have to keep that in mind. Oh, and you should know there's something odd about my bedroom window."
Concerned, he asks, "What's wrong?"
"Look out your window."
He looks out his bedroom window to see a giant red heart drawn on the window with lipstick, and Belle sitting at the window framed by the heart, wearing a red silk night gown with flowers embroidered on it.
He breathes in sharply, and unable to stop the words compelled from his lips, he says, "I love you, Belle"
Feeling like her heart may burst with happiness, with tears in her eyes, she says softly, "I love you too, Westley. Good night."
She climbs onto her air mattress, lying facing the window, and he climbs onto his own bed, facing the window, looking at her through the lipstick heart. As he drifts off to sleep, he wonders how Belle would feel about a Summer wedding under a climbing rose archway.
Author's Note: Have a wonderful Valentine's Day. Have a great weekend! :)
Please review... guest reviews are fine. You don't need a FFnet account; I just like to read people's thoughts on my stories.
*Update April 3, 2016: I am honored to announce that have been nominated for The Fanatic Fanfics Multifandom Awards in the following categories:
All-Time Favorite Once Upon a Time Fanfic - "We Are All... Reunion of Twin Souls"
Complete Fanfic - "We Are All... Reunion of Twin Souls"
One-shot Fanfic - "The Valentine's Crush"
Romance Fanfic - "We Are All... Reunion of Twin Souls"
Voting at the website: awards. fanaticfanfics. com will start on April 11, 2016 will close on May 2, 2016. I would greatly appreciate it if you consider voting for my nominations. Thank you for your support!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **FYI**: A while back a reader of my other fics had asked me about my use of iolite to describe Belle's eyes because that's not a something they'd seen before. Though I have answered the reader directly, just in case others have the same question, I thought I'd address it here as well. When I posted my first fic in 2012, I wanted to come up with a way to describe Belle's eyes that was unique and very original, as I'd been a RumBelle reader myself and seen a lot of typical ways Belle's eyes were described. So, I originally came up with the idea to describe her has having iolite eyes, because that's the way I have always described my daughter's eyes. It's something that is personally connected to my family, as years before our daughter's birth, an iolite ring held a special meaning between my husband and myself. Iolite is a gem with metaphysical aspects and compelling lore behind it.