Chapter 2

No One Decides My Fate

She squinted, trying to block out the insanely bright light on the ward to focus on Mr. Gold's brown eyes. He was waiting for her reply. She leaned closer to be sure he could hear her above the endless announcements reverberating from the intercom. "No one decides my fate… but me?"

"Yes. Only you." Mr. Gold's soft voice was reassuring, but his forehead was crinkled with concern.

She bit her lip. Up to me—but only so long as he agrees with my choice? "What do you think I should do?"

Mr. Gold centered his cane in front of him. He stared down, thinking. Then he lifted his gaze again. "Leave the hospital. That's the first thing. You're not ill and you're not crazy."

I like the sound of that. Behind Mr. Gold, she could see that Mr. French appeared out-of-his depth while the black-bearded psychiatrist seemed downright thwarted. Dr. Whale hovered off to the side, looking uncertain. Mr. Gold was the only one gazing at her like he expected her to take charge.

"And I recommend going through the proper discharge process. That will carry weight if there's need for a lawsuit later."

"That sounds like an insult," the psychiatrist said.

Mr. Gold glanced at him sidelong. "Nice not to be misunderstood."

She took a deep breath. Then she sat up, pushed down the sheets, and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her yellow wraparound hospital gown was hiked up to her thighs. The spot on her upper arm where the nurse with the strawberry blonde bun had jabbed her full of tranquilizer still ached. Her head felt like it was packed with cotton. As if they wanted to store my brain away for safekeeping. Well, too bad. I want to use it.

Swallowing down her nausea, she mumbled, "They doped me."

"Without your consent." Mr. Gold stated it matter-of-factly.

She nodded. As she darted her gaze around, she saw needle nurse pushing through the glass door with her rolling drug cart. Keep her away from me.

"Take my arm. Let's get out of this fishbowl, at least. There has to be somewhere in this hospital where you can have some privacy to think."

Nodding again, she grasped Mr. Gold's wrist, leaned then lurched, pushing him off-balance. Dr. Whale sprang forward and steadied both of them. "Perhaps you should lie down again until the drug wears off?"

No. She ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, making odd sounds where it stuck to her dry inner cheeks. Rasping, she said, "Last night I was wearing clothes—real clothes. I want them."

The lines in Mr. Gold's forehead eased. Pivoting on his cane, he confronted the nurse. "You heard the young lady. And find her a room where she can get dressed."

Whatever look he gave her, it wiped the indignation clean off her face. "Yes, sir. Right away."


A half hour later she sat on the white leather couch in Dr. Whale's office, one foot on his black lacquered coffee table, lacing up her dark brown ankle boot.

Damn, I have cute taste. The only memory she had of wearing anything other than a flimsy hospital gown was the short hectic time between waking up on the road and being disrobed in the emergency room. Hospital clothing was designed to make patients' bodies accessible to medical workers. The lovely layers of clothing she'd just put on were designed for her. She'd adored every scrap of them—from the lacy yellow bra and panties and the silky eggplant purple tights to the matching jacket, dark flowered shirt, and beige tweed skirt.

She almost felt like a person. She didn't know if she was ready to claim the identity that had stuffed the large carpet bag purse with crumpled post-in notes, rose-colored lipstick, a paperback of Love of Seven Dolls and another of Erich Fromm, crackly bags of yogurt raisins, cinnamon breath mints, and other oddments. But I like the woman who picked out these wedge heel boots.

She heard a tentative knock on the door then Mr. Gold's even more tentative, "Belle, uh, miss, are you ready to talk a little? And I have some discharge papers, too."

"Just—just a minute." When she got to her feet, one ankle turned in, and she immediately toppled down on the couch again. She sighed. The boots were still darling. They just didn't go with a chlorpromazine hangover. She picked up the black-and-white, beer stein-sized coffee mug Dr. Whale had filled for her and took as many sips as she could without burning her mouth. Scouting a route to the door that included a lot of things to hold onto, she thought, I can do this.

She scooted down the couch. Standing, she pulled herself along Dr. Whale's award-displaying bookshelves and finally reached the door. Taking a deep breath, she grasped the knob and swung it open.

Mr. Gold's lips quivered as if he were about to smile. Then his forehead wrinkled with a kind of longing. He blinked as if to dispel that emotion and ended up with a sort of professional cheerfulness. "Sit back on the couch, my dear. I'll hand you the papers one-by-one."

Oh, lord. He really is expecting me to take charge. She turned away from the door to stare at the couch. For some inexplicable reason, she didn't want to disappoint him by looking helpless. After a deep breath, she took aim, accomplished four tottering steps, and collapsed on it. Looking up, she gave him a big smile.

He closed the door behind him and hobbled over. Instead of sitting beside her, he lowered himself to the coffee table, propped his cane on the edge, and spread out the papers beside him.

"Dear, you're going to have to sign Isabelle French—even if that seems strange to you."

"Yes." That was the name she'd seen on the assortment of cards in the purse—a State of Maine identification card, an ATM card, a Free mead with every fifth hamburger punch card from a diner, and a Storybrooke city employee card. "I can sign that."

"I need to call you something—" Mr. Gold hesitated "—anything you choose."

"Belle," she said, though the name sounded like a role she was assuming in a play. "You can call me… Belle."


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