The balloon was impossible to miss. It was tied to the strap of her backpack as she walked through the door. If he had to make a guess he would assume that it was Mary Margeret that put it there; she seemed the type to buy mylar in the shape of a ridiculous flower with a grinning face on it. It was, apparently, Belle's birthday.
"I hope you're planning on putting that somewhere less distracting than the middle of my classroom, Miss French?" he asked pointedly as she passed him and headed for her desk. Not that he cared if he could see past the front row, where she always sat, but it wouldn't do to show any favoritism and every student in the class knew that they wouldn't be allowed to have a balloon at their desk.
"Yes Mr. Gold. Of course." She smiled at him as she passed her desk and set her backpack on the back counter, the string of the balloon weighted down by a book to keep it from waving around. She always smiled at him, for reasons he couldn't understand. At first he'd thought she was trying to distract him, as other female students had tried, but her homework was always neat and well done and her tests scores were near perfect.
"Doesn't he ever loosen up?" Emma Swan probably didn't mean for him to overhear her whisper to her foster sister, but to her credit she didn't blink when she found him watching her. She was the newest addition to the class, but not as behind as she might be considering the way she'd bounced through the foster care system, never at the same school for more than a year and a half.
"This is loose. It gets worse." David, football hero and boyfriend to Mary Margaret, didn't bother to keep his voice low. While not a favored student of Gold's he was smart and dedicated enough to his grades that he didn't screw up in class; for that a few comments didn't earn him any trouble. After all, he wasn't wrong.
"If you'll all take your seats, please, we might get something accomplished before class ends." Unlike some teachers, Mr. Gold never had to raise his voice. Students learned pretty quickly that you listened to him or paid the price. He had his fingers in more pies than just his science classes, and an uncanny ability to find a person's weaknesses and exploit it. Students who crossed him had been known to lose scholarships. Faculty had been known to lose jobs. Principal Mills was probably the only person in the school that wasn't scared of him, and even that was questionable.
The class quieted and found their seats, but didn't stay in them for long. After he'd explained the day's lab they all made their way to their assigned stations. He found himself glaring, once again, at the back of Mike Gaston's head and cursing the fact that he'd paired everyone by last names at the start of the year. Belle French was his smartest student; it wasn't fair that she was held back by working with such a dunce. There were some days he just wished for an excuse to flunk him and be done with the boy, but he was a solid C student and not a troublemaker. At least not in any way Gold could catch. Still, something about the tall, dark haired and cocky boy bothered him.
"Miss French, a moment please?" His class was the last before lunch period, and there was talk of birthday cupcakes and presents as the last cluster of students got ready to leave. The balloon once again swung free, bouncing a little with each move Belle made.
"Don't let Jefferson eat any of the cupcakes before I get there, alright?" Belle waved her friends on before turning to look at him expectantly.
"I assume that this," he gestured in the direction of her balloon, "means you won't be available this evening?"
Belle glanced up at the balloon with a wry smile and shook her head. "Dad has to work late tonight, so we're celebrating this weekend. Besides I said I'd help out, and I don't break my promises."
"It's your birthday. You should be doing something more fun then prepping for a science fair with your beastly old chem teacher." He didn't know why he was trying to talk her out of coming. The work would go faster with two people and if it was anyone else he wouldn't give them an out. Perhaps it was the fact that he knew she'd been working so hard this year, with three AP classes and working weekends for her father's flower shop, and despite that agreeing to help him organize the regional science fair.
"You're not a beast, Mr. Gold. You've always been fair to me. You even gave me an extra day for midterms, when I had to miss a whole week of school."
"Yes, well I'm sure I must have been feverish that week. I never give extra time." He wouldn't have given it then, either, except for a conversation he'd overheard about Belle trying to run the flowershop all on her own while her father had been on a three day bender. The deck was stacked against her enough already without failing a midterm that could mean the difference between a scholarship to a good school and community college.
"I guess that makes me special," she said with a shrug. "So I'll meet you here at six?"
"Six will work well enough." After she left he limped towards the lab tables to check that all the bunsen burners had been turned off. The amount of times some foolish student had tried to blow up his classroom was a number he'd lost track of after so many years.
It was just before six when she ran into the room, a bag slung over her shoulder and a pink bakery box in one hand.
"Dessert," she said as she slid it onto his desk.
"There were leftover cupcakes at lunch, and I know you have a sweet tooth. There's one chocolate and one funfetti." Leftover being a vague truth; she'd claimed her rights as birthday girl and hidden the last two. Mary Margaret had guessed that she was sharing with her father, and Belle said nothing to correct the mistaken impression.
Mr. Gold raised his eyebrow, but didn't say anything. She grinned at him, setting down the box and her bag, looking up at the clock to make sure that she had made it on time. The minute hand was still just shy pointing straight up. Good; he was a sucker for punctuality, and she had been worried that stopping off at home to change would make her late.
"Thursday is the only day I ever see you in the cafeteria. The foods just as bad as every other day, except that they serve ice cream. Plus I saw a bag of cookies in your desk last week when I was putting things away," she explained, though it probably wasn't necessary. She always talked more when she was nervous, and she couldn't remember ever being more nervous than she was tonight.
"Practicing your observation skills, dearie?" He wasn't even looking at her, and Belle's heart plummeted. Dearie was what he said when he was annoyed, or couldn't be bothered to remember someone's name. The boys in the back of the class were dearie. Principal Mills was almost always dear or dearie. He hadn't used the ani-endearment on her in months, instead calling her Miss French. She dreamed of the day he called her Belle.
"Lunchtime is pretty much a mental dead zone around here; I have to do something so I don't go mad. And I like to watch people." Which was entirely true, but did nothing to explain why she paid so much attention to her Chemistry teacher's behavior outside of the classroom. She always watched him, but at least in the classroom it could be explained by being an attentive student. She was, but sometimes she got so caught up in a rolling Scottish brogue that she found herself doodling hearts and arrows instead of chemical compounds in her notebook.
Crushes were supposed to be fleeting things, but she'd been dreaming of him for a year and a half now. The fact that graduation was only three months away and that she'd have no reason after that to see him was physically painful. It was that pain that had spurred careful, cautious Belle into making a reckless and nerve wracking plan.
She needed time first, though, to convince herself to be brave. Fortunately they had plenty of work to do, and the two hours she'd promised passed by quickly. They had only two weeks until it was Storybrooke High School's turn to host the regional science fair, and their time was spent going over the notes from three years ago and making updates or changes.
It wasn't until just before eight that she pulled out the cupcakes, setting each one on a cheap brown paper towel that came from the dispenser by the sink. She held one in each hand. "I already had one with lunch, so you choose first."
"Thank you, Miss French." He took the chocolate one, and Belle grinned, the tension in her stomach loosening a little with both the acceptance of her offer and the fact that he'd used her name. Her last name, but anything was better than 'dearie.'
"So did you pick the chocolate or was it a case of being the default because you didn't want rainbow sprinkles?" She scooped up a bit of the frosting on her cupcake, cleaning it off her finger as she waited for his answer.
"I think I'll leave that up to your imagination." He carefully peeled the whole wrapper away before taking a neat bite, somehow managing to avoid getting any frosting on the edges of his mouth.
"Chocolate suits you." Dark, rich and complex. If he was a flavor of cupcake it would be chocolate and espresso, for a hint of bitterness and a great deal of strength. If he had the first idea how fertile her imagination was in regarding his likes and dislikes he might not make such suggestions. Comparing him to cupcakes was at least one of her tamer thoughts.
"And confetti, I suppose, suits you? It is colorful, if not a little simplistic in its flavor." Another bite, and he was more than half done. She had only a minute or two left before there was no more reason to linger.
"Funfetti," she corrected with a grin she didn't quite feel. "And I'm just a simple girl."
"I hardly find that to be true."
"Mr. Gold…" She let her cupcake fall the the counter. There wasn't going to be a better chance than this.
"I think it's time you were headed home, Miss French. It's after eight; I'm sure you're father will be waiting for you." Though there was no frosting on her mouth, Gold wiped his face with the paper towel before throwing it in the trash.
"It's my birthday today." She soothed the skirt of her dress, pale blue and falling just above her knees. Though not revealing the neckline was cut a little lower than she would wear to school, especially considering some of the boys in her classes. They liked to look; Mr. Gold didn't seem to be interested in giving her a first glance, let alone a second.
"So I gathered from the balloon earlier and the cupcakes just now."
"I like to give myself a gift on my birthday." There was only two feet of space between them, but she took enough of a step forward to close the distance by half.
"That's clever. You probably don't have to return any of your own gifts." He looked like he wanted to back away, but didn't. She took that as a sign.
"I don't plan on returning this one either." He wasn't a tall man, but it was a good thing she'd worn impractical heels, because even with the added inches she had to tilt her head back to reach his mouth with hers. Belle hadn't particularly enjoyed Romeo and Juliet freshman year, too much of a soap opera for her tastes, but as their lips touched the line 'Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged' drifted into her mind. She didn't care if it was wrong; she was eighteen and if she never had anything else she wanted at least she'd had this.
When he didn't immediately pull away she dared to open her mouth, tracing the seem of his mouth with her tongue, hoping against hope that he'd respond as Mike had, the one and only time she'd kissed him. Too much beer had gone into that lack of decision making process. Too much thinking, perhaps, went into this one. She couldn't seem to relax, and didn't dare touch him beyond their lips for fear of making the moment too real and scaring him away.
Thinking went out the window a second later when his mouth did open, and suddenly the kiss was not one sided. His tongue sought out hers with a mastery that even a summer fling with a boy named Ben had not taught her. His mouth against hers demanded an intensity that she only thought existed in the romance novels Ruby liked to read. Certainly she'd never actually felt as if the room was spinning, or is if breathing was unnecessary. She thought that whole 'seeing stars' things was a joke. It wasn't.
Without thinking about it her hands had moved to his shoulders, holding on as if she would fall without him; considering the shoes she just might. She lost all concept of time, all concept of anything that wasn't him. As all things do, however, the kiss ended. It was perhaps her fault, but when his tongue had brushed against a sensitive place she hadn't been able to smother a moan. His mouth had deserted hers almost instantly.
"Don't." Even as he struggled to find something to say she covered his lips with two fingers. "Please don't say you're sorry. It was my birthday present."
She kissed him on the cheek once before running from the room.