I swear that I'm still working on my other fics. But I'm a little stuck right now, so here's a one-shot to fill the time. Did this for the Tumblr "Rumbelle Secret Santa".

For: accidentalsupernova

Prompt: punkkid!Belle working at the pawnshop

This had me stumped for a while mostly because I know next to nothing about punk culture. It required a little research and improvisation, but I managed it. I think. And I'm rather happy with the result. Hope you are, too. Merry Christmas!

There Is a Rose that I Want to Live For

Youth counterculture was a phenomenon Mr. Gold thought he would never understand and never approve of. Perhaps he was biased and old-school (and a little too wedded to the fashions of 1950's mafia bosses), but he had some reason to be suspicious of the teens who strolled down Storybrooke's streets with torn-up jeans, nose rings and semi-shaven heads. Individuals who matched this description had a tendency to sign their names—or strange words Gold couldn't decipher—on the side or back of his pawnshop, and would play music on their headphones that he could hear from inside the building, grating his eardrums like they were wedges of cheese. All forms of subcultural aesthetic taste vexed the surly pawnbroker, but none so much as punk. Frankly the style made no sense to him. They ruined their hair with dye and gel all to resemble hedgehogs caught in a paintball battle. They stuck rings and studs in places that could not have been sanitary. And their clothes—had they no self-respect? Did they like dressing as though they'd just strip-robbed a group of homeless people?

At the end of the day, however, one should not judge others by appearance alone. They should be judged according to their actions, too. Fortunately for Gold, he had enough evidence (though not enough to prosecute) for his stance that punk kids could not be trusted.

Hardly had his skin ever tightened so much as when one such group of spike-headed, flesh-pierced, sleeveless ruffians passed by his shop one calm summer morning. Admittedly, not all the colorful teens had straightened their hair into porcupine quills; two of the girls had simply cut it short, and the one with pink hair had shaved only the lower half of her skull so that the curly neon locks fell in a mushroom shape around her crown. The bevy of social rebels was led by towering sixteen-year-old Tom Gass, who could've gone out for the varsity football or basketball team if he'd wanted. He and the others had never entered the shop, a fact Gold could only be grateful for. He didn't want to stand guard over his merchandise while careless unwashed hands fiddled with delicate trinkets or smeared grease on the glass.

Though the kids had never taken an interest in his wares, Mr. Gold still held his breath as they walked by and chatted, gruff and loud. Gass liked talking above them all, ironically in short sentences with even shorter words. He wielded the air of an orator who demanded that everyone love the sound of his voice as much as he did. If the boy ever discarded his current fashion sense, he might go far in politics. But youth rarely thought that far ahead. Their short-sighted ambitions left the pawnbroker shaking his head and sneaking a sardonic grin while briefly fantasizing how hard real life would someday knock those adolescents on their asses.

As soon as the gang swaggered past his door, Mr. Gold dropped his gaze back to his current project: a ship in a bottle that was harboring three months' worth of dust. The challenge of cleaning the encased model's nooks and crannies with only a cotton swab required his intent concentration. He held a short-lived grudge against the teens for interrupting him. Another surge of irritation nearly made him snap at the person who immediately afterward opened his door and gave the bell an unusually gentle nudge.

Gold sighed away his annoyance and looked up. His throat closed and his muscles stiffened before he could get a word out. The pink-haired girl from the gang had entered his domain.

"Uh . . . good morning, Mr. Gold."

Said Mr. Gold, the most feared man in Storybrooke, a dragon in human form, still couldn't find his voice in the presence of the girl. It wasn't all terror that paralyzed him. He was blindsided by the genteel voice that came out of the short, shredded-denim-draped creature before him. Her fingers sported half a dozen pewter rings and green nail polish. A studded collar wrapped around her throat, but it did not intervene with the sonorous timbre of her Australian drawl.

The pawnbroker loosened his tie a little. He tried to make it look like it only needed straightening. "Good morning Miss . . . French, yes? What can I do for you?"

She surprised him again by straightening to fight the slouch so common among young people nowadays. The girl also shifted on her feet, betraying wound-up nerves even while she maintained eye contact with him. "Well, I . . . I was wondering if you . . . were hiring anyone right now."

Finally able to look beyond the surface of this bizarre situation, Gold utilized a well-practiced arched eyebrow. "Do you see a 'now hiring' sign in the window?"

The girl—Belle French, he now remembered—nipped the inside of her lip. It drew his notice long enough to help him realize that except for one stud above her left eyebrow and a pair of rings in her right ear, her head was free of piercings. A good thing—she had a pretty face, even with the unneeded black eyeliner. "N-no," she said, releasing her lip, "but . . . you see, I usually babysit for Mrs. Schumacher, but she's sending all her kids off to summer camp this year. She said she would give me a reference if you needed one. I'm very responsible and—"

"Miss French," Mr. Gold barked. He watched the girl swallow and start but still hold her ground. "It wouldn't matter if Mrs. Schumacher and her nine children came here to tell me how wonderful and reliable you are—which I'm sure is the case—but I'm not hiring right now."

With a shaky sigh, Belle French persisted. Her body quaked from determination. It crossed Gold's mind that it must be taking all her nerve to stand in his presence and ask for employment without crying or breaking into hives. Her small, ring-laden hands clenched and pressed against the sides of her thighs. She kept her chin level. If nothing else, she was putting in an impressive effort. Against his better judgment and usual conduct, Mr. Gold indulged her for a little longer and leaned on the case to listen and observe.

"I'm not begging for a job, Mr. Gold—I mean, I don't want to, but no one else is hiring, either. Even for babysitting. And I need a job to help my dad. He runs the flower shop, but he's had some bad luck and we barely made rent last month. If I don't find another job . . . Mr. Gold, please give me a chance. One week. Or a few days. I've helped around the flower shop since I was nine. I've cleaned and tidied Mrs. Schumacher's house after putting the children to bed. Ask her. I can do whatever you need me to do, even if it's mundane or labor-intensive. Please, Mr. Gold."

A smirk touched Mr. Gold's mouth at her use of the phrase "labor-intensive"—it sounded both precocious and appropriate coming out of her fifteen-year-old mouth. He didn't know Belle French well, but he'd caught snippets of conversation among teachers at town meetings. Miss Blanchard had praised the girl during her grade school days for her science projects, book reports and overall strong work ethic. Now Mr. Booth, the high school's freshman literature teacher, echoed her sentiments, as did Mr. Whale, the chemistry teacher, and Miss Lucas, the life sciences teacher. Only Regina Mills, the town's mayor and the head of the school board, had recounted anything but heartening facts about the girl, and she carefully arranged her words into phrases of concern. If Gold recalled correctly, Regina had recently discussed the matter of youth gangs and counterculture behavior as symptoms of poor discipline, and the likes of these punk and goth kids, Belle French included, needed a firm hand to guide them back on the course to social success.

Agreeing with Mayor Mills on any issue tasted bitter in Gold's mouth, but until now he wouldn't have faulted her for her opinion. The girl who spoke to him now, though, threatened to change his view a little. Yes, her attire was less than flattering; in fact he was sure it served primarily as a statement against narrow-minded convention, not because the clothes were pleasant to look at or wear. But Belle French struck him as a sensible young adult whose anxieties over her father's financial problems belonged to someone much older. He considered this while drumming his fingers on the glass countertop and staring at Miss French with slits for eyes.

"What is your starting hourly wage?" he asked after he saw Belle's knees start to buckle.

"Ten dollars," she answered quickly. Her breath hitched. "But I was watching the kids and managing the house."

"Are you saying you'd be willing to work for less?"

Her eyebrows, still their natural brown, met at a newly formed crease. "Within reason."

A shocked chuckle escaped Gold. She was nervous, not spineless. All right, then. While that could make things problematic, it wouldn't be such a terrible thing to have someone with some gumption as an employee. She still had tact, which was more than could be said about him. The clothes might still rub customers the wrong way, but then, his very disposition rubbed everyone the wrong way. Suddenly Mr. Gold was oddly hopeful about the prospect. But what would she do? Assist customers? Run the cash register? If she worked the store, he'd have more time to tend to his many unfinished restoration and appraisal projects in the back room. Then his confidence faltered. The items in his shop were priced, but prices could be heckled, especially when pawning. Gold preferred overseeing those transactions himself to guarantee maximum profit. It would take time and training before he was comfortable letting Belle handle such things herself.

As he pondered, Gold looked around the shop. Underneath his train of thought he noted the clutter of the cabinets and cases, not to mention the dusty corners and ledges he didn't have time or energy to wipe up. Normally he let those little things go because they could be ignored. But recently he'd started to notice a soft gray layer even in the cases and on the shelves that he quickly lost the ability to tolerate.

"All right, Miss French." Mr. Gold stood up straight, grabbed his cane and walked around the cases to meet Belle head-on. His sense of superiority intensified as he came near and saw that even if she had another growth spurt, she would never exceed his height. Right now the top of her pink-dyed head reached his nose. Speaking of which, Gold still didn't approve of the color, but on closer inspection he did approve of how they complemented her sky-blue eyes. They both reminded him of cotton candy ice cream, an atrociously sweet treat he had a secret weakness for. He stopped three feet in front of her to continue examining her from top to bottom. "The shop could use some attending to. By which I mean it'll need a good dusting, sweeping, probably a scrub in certain places. Some rearranging might be in order, too, but at my discretion."

The pink hair bounced as Belle fiercely nodded. "Of course."

"If you seem dependable enough, I might even leave you here alone in the front to help customers if they have questions. For anything you don't have an answer for, either find me or ask the customer to come back later when I am here and not too busy."

Another nod. "Got it."

Gold raised a finger. "One more thing. Now and then you'll need to go into the storeroom and dispose of the bodies of my tenants who repeatedly fell behind on their rent."

Her eyes rounded so much the whites glistened as brightly as her irises. "W-what?" she dared to ask after a few breathless seconds.

"Just a joke, dear." The pawnbroker smiled and wagged his finger. "Not serious."

Belle waited another moment before making a sound that wanted to be a laugh but came out too startled and too relieved. "R-r-right! Yes, okay. So . . . I have a job?"

"For now," Mr. Gold answered in a deep voice that sent another shiver through the girl. He grinned again at that. Yes, this should be interesting. He never thought he'd see a punk girl so intimidated, but at the same time so . . . resilient, for lack of a better word. A remarkable quality in anyone, actually. "Come back on Monday, 7:30 sharp, and we'll see."

Things didn't always go swimmingly, but they'd turned out far better than Mr. Gold could have ever anticipated. Over the rest of the summer, the pawnshop owner and his assistant/cleaner/errand girl gradually synchronized into a routine. It'd been so long since Gold had spent an extensive amount of time with someone else that he forgot what it was like to learn another person's moods, movements, mannerisms and habits. As he did, he began adjusting his own behavior to mesh with hers. Not in huge, earth-shattering ways. Just enough that he started to notice after a while, and it scared him. He knew she liked having lunch around 12:30, so he would take a break from his workshop to survey the front and check on Belle's progress while she ate out back. Now and then he indulged in closing the shop for half an hour and joining her on the stoop with a burger from Granny's diner. Not because he needed the company, of course. It was merely odd that none of her friends came to visit once her hours became more regular. And he wanted to make sure she wasn't decorating the brick walls with spray paint.

The first time he sat next to her to have his lunch, Belle's blue eyes widened at him, and then at his burger. He didn't ask why she looked so surprised; he had a few guesses that didn't need confirming. His curiosity was piqued only when he saw her looking forlornly at the turkey wrap she'd brought from home before nibbling further into it.

"Never had one of Granny's burgers, kid?" he found himself asking.

"Of course I have," she said quietly, not looking up at him. "I just prefer to make my own lunch. Saves money."

The girl couldn't even buy a burger now and then? They weren't that expensive. When he offered to treat her another afternoon, she emphatically declined. They eventually settled on a compromise: he would buy a burger and fries, let her have a bite of the first, and give her most of the second. The first time she bit into the burger, she closed her eyes like she was savoring some rare delicacy. Then some ketchup and beef juice dribbled down her chin. She actually giggled at that. The first laugh he'd heard out of her since she started working for him. From then on he'd made a half-conscious effort to eat with her as often as possible, and to purchase the most stacked-up burger on Granny's menu. He didn't even care (although he did clench his jaw a bit) when the old woman reminded him that pickles cost extra.

The biggest adjustment for Gold was acclimating himself to the sight of Belle's wardrobe. He'd slipped some hints—at times not so subtle ones—that she'd have an easier time cleaning if she wore filth-friendly clothes. Now and then he had the misfortune (he kept telling himself) of walking in and catching Belle reaching for a high ledge or a low, hard-to-reach corner that caused her tank top or jean skirt to ride up. The skirt already showed off her supple legs, though the multi-colored leggings kept flesh out of view. Not so with the shirt. When that lifted up, that was nothing but creamy skin and a rose tattoo on the small of her back. After such an incident Gold took the time to suggest that Belle yet again consider more comfortable clothes, and again she would ignore him. It started to dawn on him that he might have been intentionally failing to persuade her, so he berated himself with the fact that she was only fifteen and he was a pervert for enjoying these glimpses of her undeniably fair figure.

It was really Belle herself and not the clothes that made her attractive. Gold continuously return to the question of why anyone found punk appealing. Over the three months of summer break, he'd avoided asking personal questions. After all, this job was only a temporary source of income until Mrs. Schumacher's children returned. Belle learned the ins and outs of the shop and its contents. She had a sharp mind for organization and meticulous eye. To Gold's further surprise, she actually began asking him about various items once she overcame her stuttering shyness. With every tale he told about this lamp or that compass or this one Mickey Mouse doll that didn't quite belong, Belle's eyes lit up with interest. No story ever bored her. She even loved poking her nose into the books he left stacked on one of the counters even when she should have been cleaning and putting them away. None of these qualities matched her investment in the punk genre. And despite his hopes otherwise, he did witness her coming to the shop from time to time with an iPod and headphones, out which trickled shouting voices and snarling electric guitars. One of his rules he'd put his foot down on was the presence of music. He preferred silence, and if anything were to be played, she would need his permission. Belle found a clever loophole by restricting music listening to her portable player, with the volume low and only one earpiece in. That way she could listen for Gold or anyone else entering the shop and respond to their entrance as needed. As could only be expected, though, Mr. Gold came into the shop one time while she was on a step ladder, somehow dusting, swinging her hips and humming all at the same time. Even with an earpiece hanging out, Belle seemed to be off in her own world and did not hear the telltale click of his cane or the sound of his throat clearing.

"Miss French!" he finally bellowed to get her attention. It gave her a fright that nearly broke Gold's stony façade with a wicked grin. He regained his composure when the stepladder wobbled beneath her and he took half a step forward out of instinct. Both the ladder and the girl steadied, however. The pawnbroker covered his move by waving the end of his cane toward her face.

"What did I say about music, dear?"

Belle's cheeks turned a shade of pink that nearly matched the color of her hair. "Sorry, Mr. Gold. It wasn't the music, honest. I was . . . lost in my thoughts."

"I don't pay you to listen to music or daydream, Miss French. Now come with me. I need you to bring in some boxes for me from my car."

The girl nodded and started to come down. Remembering the way the ladder teetered persuaded Gold to wait for her until she made it safely back to earth. It'd been a fortunate decision. The ladder held up fine; Belle was another story. He didn't know if she stepped on a loose lace of her boots or simply lost her footing, but all at once she was tumbling backwards off the ladder and on her way toward cracking her head on the floor. Without a thought, Gold dropped his cane and dodged forward to catch the girl under her bare arms. The back of her head collided with his chest. A curse word slipped between her sweet lips.

After a few seconds of panting from her and of waiting with bated breath from him, Belle rolled her head and eyes back to look up at Mr. Gold. A deeper, rosier hue than before flooded her face. "Th-thank you." Her voice shook, but she didn't look frightened. She watched him with wide-eyed wonderment. Maybe even anticipation.

With a swallow, Mr. Gold set her on her feet. "No matter." He didn't even have it in him to scold her for her clumsiness. His nerves were still too busy tingling, and his heart wanted to perform a few more roundhouse kicks. He needed a vacation.

By some invisible hand of mercy, the pair was spared further close encounters. Their time together in the shop remained mostly quiet, and grew more comfortable as the months went by. In fact, even with her garish garments, Belle seemed to meld into the fabric of Gold's work life. The place would feel a little strange when she couldn't come in. Silly, of course, since she stood out like a swollen, pus-filled thumb among the antiquated watches, figurines, clocks and other bric-a-brac. So did her smile in the early morning and late evening hours when she greeted him upon entering and bidding him farewell when she left. She could be cross and tired like a normal person, Gold reminded himself. He just found it harder to remember those times when her smile brought such light to the place. Couldn't the stupid, brilliant girl be a little dourer, for heaven's sake?

The warmth and color she brought somehow found a pocket of sentiment in his crusty old heart, and that made things unpleasant for him as the break wound down and the first day of school approached. It was like counting down to the apocalypse. He should have been glad for Belle when he heard that not only were children coming back from camp, but many businesses would be offering jobs again now that the students who could work only in the summer would return to school. Belle would seek those opportunities without a thought for Mr. Gold, who hadn't really needed an employee in the first place. That being the case, he braced himself for her announcement every day of the last week of summer.

As the number of days left dwindled, Gold felt a hankering to know more about Belle's personal life starting to fester in his chest. Not everything—he knew her father well enough to grasp old Moe's situation, for which he still exhibits only a margin of sympathy. It was Moe French's fault for his poor economic planning, and Gold couldn't forgive him for letting Belle toil away at low-paying jobs when she should've been out enjoying the weather and the free time other young people were basking in. What Gold did want to know was how exactly this financial strain had affected her relationship with her father. Did her father condone her style and friends? Or were they a type of rebellion against her failure of a parent? Not knowing how else and when else to breach the topic, Gold mumbled, "So, does your father know you dress like this?" through his Thursday afternoon hamburger.

Belle snorted a giggle while chewing on a fry. "Even if he didn't, I think he'd notice my hair."

"Good point," said Gold after swallowing down his food. "He doesn't mind, then?"

"Oh, he minds. He hates it. Has told me over and over it's embarrassing and bad for business to dress like this around other people."

"If I may be brutally honest, you would be doing yourself a favor by wearing something more . . . subdued. You're . . . very pretty, Miss French. The piercings and hair dye and clothes . . . you should let your beauty show, not cover it up just to be different."

The girl picked up another fry but, instead of eating it, twirled it between her fingers. Her mouth pulled up in a half-smile. "You may find this hard to believe, but that's why I decided to go punk."

A chunk of chewed ground beef almost jumped back up Gold's throat. "What?"

Giving a more breathy giggle, Belle continued. "All my life people seem to only notice how I look. They love telling me how pretty I am. Adults and teenage boys alike. And it's nice at first, I won't lie. But after a while, having your looks be the most memorable thing about you gets frustrating. It hurts, too. I want people to like me for who I am, not how I look. If that means scaring away most people because they think I'll offer their kids drugs or set a bunch of parking meters on fire, so be it."

Gold looked at her askance, feigning suspicion. "Do you do any of those things?"

By now Belle could tell when he was jesting, and responded accordingly by shooting him a death glare that was about as threatening as a newborn bunny. "Daily."

He rewarded her with a second bite of his hamburger. "Well, you may be surprised to know that most of what I knew about you before you started working here had nothing to do with your beauty. Your teachers loved boasting about your school work. And I doubt your looks are any of Mrs. Schumacher's concern when she tells people how you manage to keep all her kids in line."

"Really?" she said, accepting the burger. Her surprise pained Gold. What sort of people did she spend time with to make her feel she was appreciated only for her pretty face?

"Maybe you just need new friends," he grumbled without meaning to. As soon as he did, he stopped up his mouth with the straw of his milkshake.

"Tried that. Would you believe that Tom Gass actually went punk at the same time to prove that he truly liked me? I was impressed at first, but now I think he just thought it was cool. He seems to be getting tired of it."

Gold couldn't say he was surprised. He also couldn't say he wasn't glad for several reasons. "What about you? Do you like the clothes and the music?"

Belle shrugged. "Not sure. Cutting my hair was kind of a relief—but coloring the roots all the time is a pain." She held up and splayed her fingers to look them over. "I keep losing my rings, too. I fiddle with them, and sometimes they fall off or I leave them somewhere. And these leggings ride so badly sometimes. I started walking down the street like a duck the other day because there was no discreet way I could fix them before getting home." She laughed at herself. Gold joined her with a smile. He liked how her eyes sparkled and her cheeks filled with color when she was in a happier mood.

"But I won't give up on it just yet. I'm more partial to British punk rock than straight-up punk, but I'll give the clothes more time. I'll grow out of them eventually. I'd be lying, though, if I said I didn't like seeing people bothered by how I dress just a little."

If he didn't know better, Gold would've presumed he was rubbing off on the girl. "I hear that." He dared to steal one of her fries and eat it in front of her before giving her shoulder a brief squeeze. "Let's head in and terrorize some more customers, shall we?"

The rest of the week zipped by too quickly. Gold threw himself into a bout of denial on the last day before classes resumed. Belle followed his lead by not saying anything until closing time. "Mr. Gold," she piped up as the pawnbroker turned over the open/closed sign, "I know I should have said something sooner, but since school starts tomorrow . . ."

"Ah, yes." The words came out in a cold rush. He needed to get this over and done with. "You've been a great help, Miss French. Should you need a recommendation for another place of employment, feel free to ask for it." He headed toward the back room, not even tossing a glance at Belle. He didn't want her to read the disappointment that must have been etched into his face.

"Are . . . are you firing me, sir?"

The break in her voice felt like cleats against his heart muscles. Gold forced himself to stop and turn around. "I can't fire you if you can't work here anymore. I'm sure Mrs. Schumacher will be keeping you busy with her little ones."

"But that's just babysitting," Belle countered, voice tinged with desperation. "I could still come in after school for a few hours each day. I can keep my Saturdays open if you want."

A cold prickling sensation in Mr. Gold's hands, resting on top of his cane, traveled up his arms and crawled over his shoulders. A flash of heat followed it. His breathing shallowed out for a few seconds. "I assumed you were looking into other job opportunities for the fall."

Pretty blue eyes rapidly blinked. "Why?"

"Why?" His lip curled up in a nasty smirk he wished he could've repressed. He was still Mr. Gold, though. "Why would you want to keep working for me?"

"I . . ." Belle swallowed. Her eyes were glistening with tears. Gold gripped his cane more tightly to stop his hands from doing anything he would definitely regret. The girl locked in the tears behind closed eyes and breathed in deeply, causing her shoulders to rise. With his hands at bay, Gold's eyes caressed those gently sloping shoulders in their stead.

Belle opened her still water-rimmed eyes. "You're the only person who doesn't judge me for my choice. I know you don't like my clothes and my music, but you gave me a job when no one else would. You were hard on me because you wanted me to be competent, not because I'm a freak." Without looking away from Mr. Gold, she began fiddling with the ring on her left-hand thumb. There was enough light outside for Gold to see the blush creeping into her face. "You're one of the most considerate people I've ever met."

"You don't get out much, do you?" Gold clamped his jaw as soon as he spoke and mentally kicked himself. Good work proving her wrong, you old git.

Before he could think of how to phrase an apology (he was out of practice), Belle crossed the room, stood on her toes and planted a kiss on his cheek. When she pulled back and they looked at each other, the tears were gone, and her lips parted in an open smile.

"Thank you. Thank you for everything." She sniffed and stepped back only as far as her hand would let her, which perched on top of Gold's hands and cane. "You've been a real friend to me."

The summer air was still thick with humidity, but even if it had been the driest day of the year, Gold still would've been suffocating. Every muscle in his face, arms and legs went into lockdown to stave off any uncontrolled emotional response. Inside his head, on the other hand, the train of logic had been derailed. His ears thrummed with his heartbeat so loudly it felt like someone was boxing them. Yes, he needed a good boxing or slap right now. Belle's grateful expression and sincere words should not have been directed at him. But Gold, as usual, acted as his own worst enemy; he was warmed to the core by how much she liked him. A friend, she'd called him. Her friend. But even if that were true, he couldn't reciprocate properly. He could begrudgingly express his affection now and then as befitted curmudgeonly landlords and pawnbrokers like him, but not in the way Belle deserved. She needed real friends—people who could be open, frank and unafraid with their feelings. Mr. Gold was a shuttered, dusty house best left alone to fall apart as time saw fit. This girl didn't even know who she wanted to be yet; all she did know was that she wanted to be seen and heard for herself. He would try to give what he could. If that meant providing her with a job where she could dress any damn way she pleased and still be treated like the conscientious, intelligent person she was, then so be it.

As if by magic, Belle removing her hand freed him from his self-inflicted paralysis. The first thing he did was step back and clear his throat. "What time can you come in tomorrow?"

"Classes end at 2:30. I can be here by 3 if I dash." She spoke as clearly and sensibly as always, and yet Gold detected a newfound enthusiasm in the way she twisted her fingers together—a gesture anyone else would've mistaken for nervousness. Gold, idiot that he was, had an impulse to smile at his secret knowledge.

"3:15 at the latest, Miss French. Try not to dally."

"No problem, Mr. Gold!"

On that bright note, Belle French collected her beaded denim jacket and waved before sprinting out the back door. The shop went deathly quiet without her, prompting Gold to leave shortly after once he secured the locks on every door and window. As he did he peeked out the front window to catch a pink blob bobbing down on the street. The girl ran like her feet had wings, and she was trying to gain enough speed to take off into the air.

If only she could have real freedom and happiness. Regardless what teachers or philosophers claimed, both came at a price. Belle was growing into a person who preferred paying such a price herself rather than add it to another person's burden. A pink-haired force of nature in combat boots, skull-and-crossbones tank top, frayed jean skirt and jacket, and rainbow animal-print leggings, ready to brave whatever the world was preparing to throw at her.

Gold decided now and then that no one embodied the spirit of punk better than his sweet, fearsome Belle. For that reason alone he'd let her keep her clothes and her music and whatever else she ended up exposing him to.

But if she decided to become a beatnik, they would need to have a serious talk.

For those who are curious, the title is a lyric from "The Call Up" by The Clash.