I own neither Once Upon a Time nor The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I just believe that beautiful stories should be told.
Prologue For inspiration: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Matt Cardle
Robert Gold was a lonely man.
He had moved to Storybrooke, Maine some ten years ago, leaving his wreck of a life in Glasgow behind and looking for a fresh start. He had been fortunate in acquiring a few lucrative properties, greatly improving his finances, even if his strict business senses hadn't endeared him to any of his fellow townsmen. Not that making friends had ever been his goal.
He was generally content with the status quo. Approaching forty-five, he had managed to survive a tumultuous marriage, a bitter divorce, a long-distance relationship with his son, bankruptcy, a crippling auto accident, and a well-timed move to a new country. He had earned degrees in Law and Business, and had developed a knack for real estate. His life was settling into a quiet flow of work and the occasional correspondence from his son, newly graduated from an American college and settling into his first job in Manhattan.
On most days, he opened his pawn shop around eight o-clock, bargained to procure or sell various items, set terms for loans or worked out the details of the few legal matters that came his way, and then he closed the shop around four in the afternoon. The evenings he spent collecting rent or loan payments from various clients. His polite but cold demeanor and no-nonsense reputation caused people to fear him. That suited him, as he was determined that his business succeed without slipping into the murky waters of extensions, sob stories and other nonsense. His routine and reputation meant he was growing beyond financial security to out and out wealth. It also had the effect of isolating him from the rest of the town.
Over the years he had bought several properties, often living in them during a renovation process. He was no slum lord. Each house he had lived in had been brought up to a standard he had set for himself, and he had spared no expense in making each investment sound and esthetically pleasing. He lived in each residence for a few months to a year, moving around in the small town from one neighborhood to another, but none of these places had he ever considered home.
The Victorian manor at the end of Moncton Avenue he acquired five months ago he had intended to be just another purchase. Various members of the same family had occupied it for nearly one hundred years. The family had kept it in beautiful condition, had made a few modernizations over the years, but nothing that altered the original structure of the house. The exterior had been painted to suit various tastes throughout that time, but a little research had led him to the original colors, and he had paid handsomely to have the home restored to its former glory. Although he knew a few townsmen snickered about the "Beast of Storybrooke" residing in a "pink doll house," he was genuinely pleased that the house was authentic.
He had kept the furnishings that had come with the property, all quality period pieces that would have taken years to acquire otherwise. Most of the rooms retained the vintage wallpapers from decades before, and he had paid a local seamstress to replicate the dozens of window treatments he had seen in old photographs. The only thing that had truly changed over the hundred years of the home's existence was the conversion of the old gaslights to electricity, definitely a change for the better. The entire venture filled him with a sense of pride, and amazingly, with a feeling of homecoming.
He had learned several months previously that the reclusive elderly woman who owned the house was going to live with one of her children in Florida. Inquiries indicated she had no relatives who were interested in the old family seat, and the word was she wanted the house to retain its vintage purity, a sentiment that matched his own perfectly. He had contacted Thelma Babcock with an offer, and had been met with a polite rejection. Deciding a personal approach may yield better results, he made his way over to the quaint manor and knocked on the old, stained glass and panel doors on a snowy day just after Christmas. Within minutes the door was answered by a dignified lady, thin and petite, with more than a few wrinkles, a long, white braid down her back and clad in a blue sweat suit. The warm air from the interior washed over him, carrying with it the scent of roses to mingle with the frigid salt sea air about him. He found himself drawn into the old woman's fathomless blue eyes and after a moment, he realized she was staring at him, holding her breath. Suddenly concerned, he reached out and offered his hand.
"Are you alright?"
She continued staring for a moment longer, and then, accepting his hand, laughed depreciatingly. "Oh, yes. I'm sorry. You reminded me of someone."
Hoping that reminder was a good thing, he smiled. "I'm Robert Gold. I came to inquire about the house."
"Robert Gold…Gold," she whispered, cupping his hand inside of her own withered hands. She peered closely into his brown eyes, let her own roam over his face for just a moment, and then smiled. "Yes, Mr. Gold, of course you have. Would you like to come in?"
"Yes, please, if it's no trouble."
Thelma stood back from the door and he limped in, wiping his feet on the mat in front of the threshold. Once inside, the old woman steered him past the parlor and into the kitchen, explaining she had put the kettle on and needed to tend it. "Besides," she said, "it's lovely to have tea in a warm kitchen when it's beastly outside."
If having someone genuinely smile at him was a rarity in Gold's life, being invited to tea in someone's kitchen was unheard of. A bit out of his element, he quietly followed the small woman into the depths of the old house. The kettle had just begun to whistle, and she chatted with him about mundane things in the town below while she prepared tea in a much-used teapot with a floral design on front. Bustling about, she opened a tin of shortbread cookies, selected a few and arranged them on a plate in the center of the tray. Next, she poured two big mugs of tea, taking the liberty of adding sugar and cream to each before placing them beside the cookies. Taking up the repast-laden tray, she led him into the dining room and seated him at the head of a long, oak table. He noted the chair he had been given did not match its eight companions, but was sturdy and comfortable, and it seemed to suit him.
Mrs. Babcock took a chair immediately to his right. She placed a steaming mug in front of him and pushed the plate of cookies over to him, waited until he reluctantly took one, and then settled herself with a sip of her tea. Setting the cup down and nesting its warmth in her hands, she resumed her study of his face. Unused to such scrutiny, and at a loss as to how this tiny woman had managed to gain control over a moment he usually dominated, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Noting his discomposure, the lady lowered her gaze with a soft chuckle. "Forgive me: I didn't mean to stare, it's just that you surprised me."
"No matter," he responded dismissively.
"Well, Mr. Gold, I understand that you're interested in this house."
Ah: a business transaction. Now he was in familiar territory. "Yes, I am. I made a good offer on the property, but you turned it down. I don't think you'll get a better deal."
The old woman reached over and patted his hand as she would a child. "Mr. Gold, your offer was very fair." Shaking her head she laughed at herself. "This house has been in my family for six generations. There's a lot of history in this old house, a lot of memories for me." She shrugged. "It's hard to let go."
Gold took a deep breath, ready to being the haggling, but when met with the woman's dreamy gaze he realized that he understood. "I see," he said. This place, this house, was no commodity to this woman. It was family and history and identity. It was home in a way he had never experienced, probably never would experience. He had come here to talk to a homeowner, to make a better offer and walk away with another deal for his ever-expanding acquisitions. As he peered into the wizened blue eyes that held his, he realized she wasn't selling. He was surprised to find that he lacked the usual ruthless drive to obtain what he wanted over the client's objections. Instead, he relaxed and decided to enjoy the rare moment of receiving another's hospitality. She turned out to be a gifted storyteller, and she unfolded for him the tale of her own family: of her own great-grandmother who had purchased the house long ago; of the family's love for the sea and the town; of how her relations were now scattered across the country and overseas as far as England, Japan and Australia. He caught a certain gleam in her eye when he admitted that he had had a seafaring ancestor long ago, one rumored to have settled somewhere along the eastern seaboard, but of whom little was known.
After finishing his second cup, he thanked her for inviting him in and for her kindness. "Well, then, I should be going."
They rose together and turned out of the dining room. Still smiling, Thelma took his arm and slowly steered him in the direction of the parlor. "You know, Mr. Gold, you've come all this way: would you care to see the rest of the house?"
"Yes, I would like that very much."
She led him through various rooms on the ground floor, confiding small memories of events that took place here and there, of games played and meals shared, of mishaps and holidays and homecomings. She showed him a few nicks in the wallpaper or miniscule chips in the woodwork, all related to the pleasant doings and few tragedies of a close-knit family now scattered abroad. An ache grew in him that he had no similar experiences: that he had failed to put down roots, that no one shared his lonely life. He realized that his son, now grown, would one day marry and have children. A house like this would be an invitation to spend time with a grandfather, to make new memories that would be shared in this same manner to his own generations. He listened to the old woman weave the tale of her history with uncharacteristic patience for one such as himself, hungry for the connection she described and willingly partook of the crumbs of her experience.
Gold followed her up the wide, dark staircase to the second floor where they were greeted by a long hallway of oak floors and painted doors. A beautiful bathroom equipped with an antique clawfoot tub as well as a modern shower, beautiful tile work and a large vanity occupied the end of the hallway. Two other rooms were guest bedrooms, with old, well cared for bedsteads and dressers, the walls painted in pastel shades with lovely rugs laid out to warm the coldness of the hardwood floors. One room housed a small library with polished floor to ceiling bookshelves and volumes of leather-bound and hard-back books, some of them out of print antiques, others classics and modern novels, some double-shelved. Pointing to a shelf laden with perhaps three dozen well preserved volumes, the widow indicated several tomes her great-grandmother had written, offering him the opportunity to read one in the near future. He smiled and thanked her politely, indicated that he would, perhaps, take her up on that sometime.
Thelma led him to the final door. Smiling, she said, "If you please, Mr. Gold, the master bedroom."
She swung the door open and led him inside. The room was painted a lovely cream white, a small fireplace of painted brick with a gas fire keeping the room warm in spite of the winter chill outside. The room was rather spacious and a vintage, four-pollster bed with a dresser and a vanity fit comfortably inside without crowding. A lavender coverlet lay upon the bed, neatly made, and great fluffy pillows cased in white satin headed it. Matching curtains were drawn aside, revealing a set of French doors leading out to a balcony over which the gray clouds outside obscured what he knew would be a view of the beach. The serenity of the room settled on him from his vantage point near the doorway.
Gold had marginally noticed two portraits, a man done in oil on canvas and a photograph of a woman, hanging beside one another over the mantle. Directing his attention on them, he was taken back by the image of the man on the right. Clad in a dark seaman's jacket over a white shirt, and under a captains' hat was his own face, whiskered and somewhat sardonic, staring back at him. That was the very image of his mouth, his nose, and his own intense brown eyes returning his shocked stare.
The old woman approached him as he gaped at the portrait and laid a comforting hand on his arm. "Do you believe in ghosts, Mr. Gold?"
He turned a skeptical eye toward her and stated flatly, "no, ma'am, I do not."
Thelma looked up at him, her eyes twinkling mischievously. "Well, maybe one day one will come around and introduce itself." She gestured to the portrait. "This is Captain Daniel Gold, the builder of this house." Smiling, the widow patted his arm and looked kindly into his astonished eyes. "And, I suppose, a distant grandfather of yours?"
Gold remembered hearing stories of a distant relation who had been a seaman over a hundred years ago. He had left his family behind in Scotland to traverse the sea lanes, disappearing in obscurity and rumored to have settled somewhere along the eastern coastline of America. He hadn't thought of these stories since his boyhood, and never in his wildest dreams did he ever hope to solve the riddle of his fate. "Remarkable!"
Thelma chuckled at his reaction. She had seen the similarities between this man and the familiar old portrait when she had opened the door to him earlier. For a moment, she had thought the old family stories about the captain's ghost haunting the manor once upon a time had come true and, being a romantic old soul, she half believed she might be the recipient of such a visit. Drawing Gold's attention back to herself, she gestured toward the portrait's companion photograph in introduction. "And this is my great-grandmother, Isabelle. It was she who bought this house and brought our family here."
Turning his head, his breath caught as he found himself drawn to a pair of unfathomable eyes with the temperament of a clear sky over a sun-dazzled sea. Dreamy lids and thick lashes framed what he knew must be azure eyes, contentment sweetly preserved in the aspect of her gaze. A perfectly turned nose with just a hint of freckles led to an expressive mouth with a demure smile, and there was a slight blush to her porcelain skin. Her rich, thick hair was swept up away from her face, with the long locks flowing freely behind her. The high collar of a silk blouse partially hid her throat, the outline of her shoulders fading into a dark, indistinct background. She was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He was captivated.
Her image stayed with him as he made his way back to his lonely loft apartment that evening. Over the next few days he thought about the fathomless eyes that seemed to gaze into his inner self, could see in his mind's eye the lovely young woman walking and smiling, could feel the kindness that had been captured on the canvas. He laughed at himself for his infatuation with the ladies portrait, and pushing the whole experience from his mind, he immersed himself in his work.
A week after New Years Day, a medium sized box was delivered to him at his shop. Just inside was a letter, written with a feminine hand in blue ink:
Dear Mr. Gold,
I so enjoyed your visit a few days ago. I can see that you have a fondness and appreciation for the house, and knowing that, I have decided to accept your generous offer for my family home. However, this is contingent upon you agreeing to meet the following conditions:
First, you will make it your home, and will preserve its beauty. You must agree to spend the rest of your life living in it, and then bequeath it to your heir.
Second, you will keep the portraits in the master bedroom hanging where they are. They are a lovely couple and have had many happy years watching over our family and the house they both loved.
And last, you will gift your future bride with the items you'll find included here. These things belonged to the Captain, and were kept in safekeeping by our family.
Consider carefully when you decide to make this deal. Remember, it's forever, dearie!
Mrs. Thelma Babcock
Gold smiled, charmed by the eccentric old lady who dared to demand conditions of the "Beast of Storybrooke." He dug through the packing foam filling the cavity of the box and pulled out the first cup of a beautiful antique tea set. Curiously, the cup was chipped.