Warning: This chapter consists almost exclusively of Gold telling Emma his story, and therefore contains description and discussion of past domestic abuse.
This was originally meant to be chapter ten, but I was having a lot of trouble writing chapter nine, so since this one was already written, I decided 'screw it' and switched them over.
Emma woke in the early hours of the morning for no discernible reason and couldn't get back to sleep again. She stared up at the sloped ceiling in Ruby's room, making out the shapes on the posters there. Ruby herself was curled up in the centre of her bed with both arms wrapped tightly around her penguin hot water bottle.
No-one had mentioned the article on her return to the theatre, and no-one had made any allusions to her attempted flit. Whether Jefferson had warned them or not, Emma could not tell, but either way, she was grateful for the silence allowing her to continue with her day to day life as if nothing had happened. They would let her tell her story to them in her own time.
Emma sighed and turned over onto her side to stare at the door instead. Presently her ears pricked up; she could hear someone moving quietly in the kitchen opposite. Her brow furrowed - one of the residents, or a burglar? There wasn't much in the apartment worth stealing; the real wealth of the theatre lay downstairs.
She slipped off the sofa and went to investigate, putting on an extra pair of socks to cushion her feet against the cold lino in the kitchen. She opened the door a fraction and, blinking against the stark moonlight shining in through the unguarded window, peered round the frame. Gold was standing by the sink, absently winding the string of a teabag round his fingers as he looked out over the sleeping town. As if he could tell that he was being watched, he glanced back over his shoulder and saw Emma.
"Can't sleep either?"
Emma shook her head and ventured further into the kitchen. Gold moved over to the kettle as it flicked itself off and he poured some water into a mug before adding his teabag, and the smell of peppermint began to seep into the room.
"Would you like a cup?" he asked. "I've always found mint to be soothing at night."
Emma had never had mint tea before, but the offer seemed to be more than tea. It was an olive branch of sorts, a gesture of friendship and acceptance on Gold's part, and it seemed rude not to accept.
He poured another mug and brought it over; Emma noticed that his limp was much more pronounced in the absence of his cane. She had seen him walk without its aid before, of course, but she had never really been paying all that much attention on the previous occasions. She murmured her thanks as he handed her one mug, but she couldn't stop glancing down at his injured leg. Gold caught her looking and laughed.
"My war wounds," he said. "Many, many years ago I had an accident in the fly loft."
He sat down opposite her, and once he was settled with his leg stretched out under the table, he began to speak again.
"You haven't seen much of the fly loft, have you?" he asked.
"No. I know that's where Mulan and Philip sit but I've never been up there."
"The fly loft is directly above the stage and the lighting gantries," Gold explained. "It's where the drapes and curtains hang when they're not in use, and where they're operated from. We use a bare stage, so there's not much need of flies, but when I was working the big shows in London, a lot of the scenery was flown in." He paused. "It's a dangerous job. Six storeys above the stage with no safety net. The beams are heavy and they can kill a man if they're let fall. They work on pulley systems with massive counterbalances. Everything has to be tied off correctly, everything has to be secured. There's an art to flying." He sighed. "I had an accident," he repeated. "Someone didn't tie off a counterbalance properly and I ended up tangled in the ropes. It came down to a choice between tumbling onto the stage or having my leg crushed by a freefalling weight. You can see what I chose. The surgeons said they'd never seen such a badly shattered bone; it was a miracle that they could put my ankle back together."
"But they did."
"They did. They never gave up on me, and it's thanks to them that I can walk now, even if with difficulty." He flexed his ankle unconsciously.
Emma sipped her tea and found that she actually quite liked it. It tasted fresh and clean, and helped to clear her stuffy head.
"It was before you came here," she said. "So it must have been quite a long time ago."
"Nearly fifteen years," Gold replied. "I've been here for ten."
"So… How did you come to be here?" Emma asked. The corner of Gold's mouth twitched.
"I don't think that's a story for the dark and dead of night," he muttered.
"I can put the lights on if you want," Emma suggested.
Gold smiled and shook his head. "No, it's all right. At least you know that the story has a happy ending."
He took a sip of his tea.
"Once upon a time," he began, "I was married – legally I still am – to a woman named Millie. We had a son, Bae. At the time this little tale begins, Millie and I had been married for ten years, and Bae was nine. Everything was fine. Life was good. Millie was in theatrical costuming; I was working the fly loft at Haymarket theatre. Nothing out of the ordinary."
Gold's eyes were distant, staring not at his surroundings but out across the years, back into his past, one he obviously did not care too much to remember.
"Then I had my accident." His voice was hard and brittle. "I was laid up for a long time, and I couldn't go back to flying and light-rigging. It was impossible for me to climb all the ladders with my ankle. I've regained some strength and mobility in it since then, but it still doesn't like to bear weight.
"Millie became the sole family breadwinner, and suddenly, something happened. Something catalysed the change. Or maybe it had always been there, just lying dormant. I don't know."
Gold stopped and studied the depths of his tea. Emma could tell this was difficult for him.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want," she offered. He shook his head.
"Everyone knows my story," he said. "Apart from Grace; Jefferson says she's too young for it yet but she knows the gist. It's only fair that you should know too. You deserve to know the truth about the people you trust. You know Jefferson and Alice's past, and Ruby and Granny's. You may as well know mine too. Some things are just harder to relate than others."
He drained his mug and traced his long fingers over the rim.
"It was gradual at first. I didn't even notice, really. I spent a lot of time drugged up on painkillers and anti-inflammatories. But however small it started, it started. Millie got… nasty, for want of a better polite term. She told me I was useless, a waste of space, good for nothing. Pathetic." He sighed. "The cocktail of pills I was on had a detrimental effect on our sex life, and that was when I wasn't in too much pain to do anything but try and sleep through it." He shrugged. "Maybe I didn't notice because I was thinking the same thing about myself at the time. I just remember thinking over and over that the one thing I loved doing most in the world had been taken from me. I'd never be a flyman again. But even after I began recovering, Millie's words didn't stop; they only got worse. I started taking odd electrical jobs again – I'm not really qualified for anything else. But still, nothing was good enough for her.
"She'd got used to being the one in the ultimate position of power, the one with control over the finances… I don't know, I'm theorising. Dr Hopper could tell you better.
"One day it came to a head; she was yelling again – I found there was little point in trying to fight back, she was always louder and wore me down with volume alone – and she said it would have been better if I had fallen. Because flying can be a dangerous job, the agency I was with gave a very substantial death in service payout and I had a good life insurance policy." He snorted. "When your wife tells you she'd rather you were dead, it knocks you for six slightly."
"So you left and came here?" Emma asked. Gold gave a bitter smile and shook his head.
"No, there's more to factor in yet. We settled into a sort of rut then; after all, I was still financially dependent on Millie, but moreover, most importantly, there was Bae. I wouldn't leave Bae. So I stayed. I tried my best, and in a way I just got used to her scathing words. Sticks and stones and all that. It was just life. It was horrible, but it was the way things were."
"What changed?" Emma asked. She remembered the scars on his torso, the nervousness around new people, especially women, and Granny's words from the night of Belle's nightmare.
"She started lashing out physically as well as with her tongue." He lifted the hem of his t-shirt an inch and ran a fingertip over the exposed lines. "Her mother's ancient rope washing line. She used to swing it when she got particularly angry, and that stuff's got some bite to it, like an old cat o'nine. I'm not very mobile, I can't dodge."
"And that was when you left?"
Gold shook his head sadly. "I'm not as brave as you give me credit for, Emma."
"But what about your family?" she asked. "Your parents, siblings, couldn't they help?"
"I was an only child and my parents have both been dead a long time. My only relative was my father's sister in Glasgow, who was precisely no help. She told me that if I couldn't stand up for myself against my own wife, then I wasn't much of a man and I ought to pull myself together. I hit a bit of a low after that. I don't think she really understood the extent of what I was going through, what I'd been going through for over three years at that point, but still, to have the person you think is your only hope of help hang up on you whilst you're crying down the phone to her… I came to the conclusion that if both Millie and Elvira thought the same then it must be true and I must be the one with the problem. But there was one small spark left, one little bit of me that was rational, and that bit told me that no matter what, I couldn't leave, because I couldn't and wouldn't leave Bae. I'd never known Millie lash out at our son, or be anything other than a loving mother towards him, but I was terrified that if I left, she'd start on him instead."
Gold smiled, and the expression was warmer now. Emma sensed that they were coming to the end of the tale. Then he frowned. "Oh sweetheart, I'm sorry." He fished around in the pockets of his dressing down before giving up and passing her a couple of sheets of kitchen roll. "I did say it wasn't a story for the dark and dead of night."
Emma hadn't even realised that she had begun to cry, and now she felt acutely embarrassed.
"Stupid pregnancy hormones," she muttered as she dried her eyes.
"We can continue this conversation later," Gold offered.
Emma shook her head. "You've started it now, you've got to finish it. I know you're happy now, but I need to know how you got here from the rather bleak situation you just described."
"All right then. This is how it happened." He paused. "It was Bae who saved me in the end, Bae who made up my mind for me. He couldn't take it anymore. He knew ours was no happy family. He confronted me one day when Millie was at work; I was patching myself up and getting drunk out of my mind. He said: 'Ma does it, doesn't she? She hurts you.' And I couldn't deny it. He asked me why I didn't leave, and I said I wouldn't leave him. I couldn't take him with me; he was only fourteen and it would look like I'd kidnapped him. Who's going to believe a man when he says he's been a victim of domestic abuse and he's run away with his son for his own safety? I just thought that everyone would react in the same way that my aunt had."
"What did you do?" Emma asked.
"I didn't do anything. Bae did it all. First he took away the whisky, which was undoubtedly the most sensible step. Then he sat me down at the kitchen table and got a large pad of paper, and he planned my leaving down to the last detail. You'd think we were plotting to break out of Alcatraz, the contingencies he thought up. He said that no matter what, I had to leave because he didn't want me to keep getting hurt on his account. Apparently the argument 'I'm your father and I would die to keep you safe' wasn't rational enough for him. In essence, he wanted me to find somewhere nice and safe and send him a postcard care of his best friend Morraine – so that Millie wouldn't find out where I was. We would communicate through Morrie until he was sixteen, whereupon he'd finish school and come to find me. He was so enthusiastic about the whole thing that somehow, he managed to bolster my own confidence. He was so sure that his plan was foolproof, but at the same time, my primary fear remained. It was a vicious cycle. I would do anything to protect Bae, which meant staying, and I would do anything to make him happy, which meant leaving.
"It was another three months before I actually left. Millie was at work and Bae was at school. I don't know why I picked that particular day. I can't remember. It's so long ago; I just remember finding myself home alone, as I was most days, and thinking 'today's the day'. Maybe it was a subconscious desire to leave when Bae wasn't there, so it wouldn't seem like I was leaving him. I packed my bags and spent half an hour standing in the kitchen pulling up the courage to walk out. Then Bae came home and my confidence caved. But he saw me, ready to go, and he told me how brave and strong I was, and how he was proud of me. I couldn't reply, I certainly didn't feel brave. I felt like the worst sort of coward, running away for my own preservation and leaving my fourteen-year-old to pick up the pieces.
"'There's just one thing missing,' he said, and he ran upstairs only to appear moments later with Mr Ted."
Gold's eyes flickered towards the kitchen door, and Emma understood.
"The bear on your dressing table," she said. Gold nodded.
"When Bae was younger, I used to make up bedtime stories for him about Mr Ted. Mr Ted was a brave adventurer who could do anything, including fight pirates and fly several different sorts of aircraft, as well as time travel to ride dinosaurs. He was also a virtuoso bassoon player. You name it and Mr Ted probably did it at one point during the first six years of Bae's life. He was a very busy bear," Gold mused. "Anyway, Bae gave me Mr Ted. 'I know you don't think you're very brave,' he said. 'But Mr Ted's brave enough for two'. That's what I always told him, when he was scared of things when he was little. Mr Ted was brave enough for two, and Mr Ted would look after him.
"Still, the thought that I wouldn't see him again for another eighteen months was a frightening one. 'Eighteen months is nothing, Pops. You always complain that it seems like only yesterday that you first held me. Eighteen months will fly.'"
Gold smiled. "That's pretty much the end of the story. I finally left the house before Bae dragged me out through the door, and spent a week feeling utterly wretched and tempted to pack it all in and grovel to Millie to take me back. But then I found this place. I offered my services as an electrician and ex-flyman able to tie complicated knots, and in return, Mrs Lucas offered me a home. Bae and I communicated through Morraine until eighteen months later. About a month after Bae finished school, I got a call from the box office telling me that there was a boy named Bae claiming to be my son in the foyer, could I please come down?"
Emma laughed. "He could have given you some warning."
"I think he wanted it to be a nice surprise. At any rate, Bae moved in – I had told Granny to expect him at some point – and all was well with the world." Gold sighed. "I still feel guilty though. For abandoning him for those eighteen months."
"He was ok though, wasn't he? Did Millie hurt him?"
Gold shook his head. "No. He always swore she never hurt him, and I know when Bae's lying. He said that the first evening after I left, Millie didn't even notice I'd gone for about three hours. When she asked him 'where's your dad?' he replied 'we couldn't stand you hurting him anymore, he's gone', and all she did was say 'oh' and sit down at the kitchen table with a double vodka. Apparently she took up with a sailor just after it was established that I wasn't coming home and Bae was pretty much left to his own devices. She didn't argue when he told her he was leaving home to come and find me. She'd always accepted he was a daddy's boy, long before anything went sour between us. I don't think it came as much of a surprise to her."
There was a long silence, but it was not uncomfortable.
"That's my tale," Gold said eventually. "That's how the status quo remained until Bae decided to go travelling and Belle arrived, but that's a completely different story."
Emma wanted to ask about it, and about how Gold had come to own the building that he had entered as a humble electrician, but she sensed that these were discussions to be had at another juncture. She was getting tired again, and sleep was probably a better idea than storytelling. Things were falling into place now; Gold's behavioural traits were being explained. His nervousness around woman who might hurt him the way Millie had, his guarded defensiveness around strangers who might judge him as his aunt had. Why he would only let Jefferson and none of the theatre's female residents near him when he was injured. Why Belle was so mortified when she had accidentally hit him. It explained his fervent wish for Emma to do right by her child – the guilt that he still carried with him about leaving Bae.
Emma got up and placed her now-empty mug in the sink. "I'm glad you got out," she said eventually. "I'm glad you got out, and you were reunited with Bae, and you met Belle, and you're happy now."
Gold smiled as he eased himself out of the chair and made to leave the kitchen, holding the door open for Emma.
"As am I, Emma. As am I."