I don’t know why I have this strange fascination with RumBelle and breakfast! But this one feels sad to begin with, I know, but it’s hopeful. Because, you know, “love is hope” and all that. Also, I may or may not have named Storybrooke Gaston Justin because of Justin Gaston. He’s very pretty, don’t judge me!
It had been almost eight months since the fire at Storybrooke General Hospital. Since then, Isabella French had been tightly confined in her father’s home, except for her regular visits to Dr. Hopper, who was charged with ensuring Storybrooke’s librarian didn’t have another mental break, and Sunday breakfasts with Justin at Granny’s.
Winning the privilege of the weekly breakfast was quite the fight for Isabella. Bother her father and the mayor were against the idea, saying that, even after four months without incidence, she could easily slip back into whatever madness it was that had resulted in her being locked up. But it was small privilege Isa had fought hard to win. She needed to be somewhere other than her father’s home and shop and Dr. Hopper’s office. She needed to see people and be seen by people. If she simply stayed locked up, all of Storybrooke would simply continue to write her off as the “mad librarian.”
So, ever Sunday morning at 8:30am, Justin came by in flamboyant red convertible and picked her up. She always begged for them to walk, not drive around in the horribly ostentatious automobile, but Justin never relented. He was a show-off by nature, and showing off the beautiful girl on his arm simply wasn’t enough. He needed a fancy car to complement her. He needed anything to make himself look good.
This Sunday, a warm morning in May, Isa slid into the passenger’s seat of Justin’s car and hoped he wouldn’t try to snake another arm around her shoulders like he’d tried the week before. He just didn’t seem to understand she was still traumatized from her time in the little padded cell. Whatever affection she may have felt for him before her disappearance was a far off memory now. She was working very hard to get back to who she was before her…”episode,” but it was hard to believe that, whoever Isa had been before her breakdown, she had ever felt any affection for Justin, considering what silly, superficial man he was.
Justin dropped her in front of Granny’s while he parked the car down the street. Isa went inside, bracing herself for the stares that were always thrown her way these days. It had gotten better with time. At least now people didn’t gossip about her behind their mugs and menus. She slid into her favorite booth at the back of the diner and tried to pretend none of the other people existed. After absently flipping through the menu she’d memorized ages ago, she looked up to see Mr. Gold staring at her from across the room.
He always sat at the same booth, the one in the front corner, the only one from which the entire diner could be viewed. But instead of watching anyone else in the room, his eyes were fixed solely on Isa. This happened often. Isa didn’t quite know what it was about her that Gold found so repulsive. Maybe he didn’t like madwomen being allowed to roam free in his town. Maybe he didn’t like the way her dress was cut, simple and plain compared to his fancy, well-tailored suits. Maybe he was lecher who enjoyed fantasizing about the girl who spent ages trapped in the sterilized cage. Who knew what ran through that man’s head?
Isa look away quickly and went back to looking through the menu. She was just getting back to the breakfast menu when she heard footsteps approaching. She looked up, expecting to see Justin but instead it was Mr. Gold standing before her, leaning on his cane and seeming nervous. Her big blue eyes became even wider than normal as she waited for him to say something.
A pregnant pause passed before Gold opened his mouth to speak. When the words did come, they were tight and constrained. “Good morning, Ms. French,” he said through almost-clenched teeth. “Would you mind if I sat here with you for a moment?”
Isa stared at him blankly for a moment before she recovered. “Oh well, Justin should be here any moment. He was just parking the…” She glanced over Gold’s shoulder towards the door, where she saw Justin outside, leaning against a lamppost with Sheriff Swan, undoubtedly flirting with her. Feeling a little angry but not at all jealous, Isa looked back to Gold. “Sure, have a seat.” She smiled warmly at him.
With a little difficulty, Gold arranged himself in the opposite side of the booth. Isa thought she could see a faint flush of embarrassment rush over his cheeks as he situated his bum leg under the table. She looked away awkwardly, not wanting to make him uncomfortable by staring at him during this little moment of weakness…even if he never returned the small courtesy to her.
“So, Ms. French,” Gold asked when he was settled. “Have you been doing well? I don’t see you around town very often, save for Sunday breakfasts.” He smiled his usual tricksy smile at her, but she felt the strangest hint of affection in his words and expression, like he wanted to see more of her but didn’t quite know how to say so.
“Oh, well, I don’t get out very much,” Isa said. “My father…well, he doesn’t like for me to go out very often. He thinks I’m too…fragile still.” She smiled and shrugged at Mr. Gold. “Maybe he’s right.”
“Is that really what you think…? Gold asked, leaving off her name, silently questioning what he should call her.
“You can call me Isa, Mr. Gold,” she told him. “Everyone else does, apparently.” She shrugged again. Isa always felt like maybe she had another name, some other moniker she was known by, but everyone said she’d always gone by Isa. “And…I suppose he’s just looking out for my best interests, but it does get terribly boring being trapped at home or in the back of the shop all day. I wish I had somewhere else to go, someone else to see, but Papa and the mayor…well, they don’t want me…getting into any trouble.”
“Yes, Mayor Mills always has Storybrooke’s best interest at heart,” Gold said, wryly with a pained grin. “Well, if you’re ever in need of some kind of company, please feel free to let me know, Ms. Fre– Isa.” He seemed genuinely anxious to see her, for whatever unusual purpose he might have had. “I’ve been thinking of hiring a new caretaker for my…rather large pawnshop.”
“Oh, Mr. Gold, that’s very kind, but I don’t know –“ Isa began before being cut off by Ruby’s arrival at the table.
“What can I get for you two?” Ruby said, clicking her pen on her (always exposed) hip and looking carefully between Isa and Gold, her eyes curious but confused.
Isa jumps a little, startled, as if she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been. “I’ll just have a cup of tea, milk, two sugars, and a coffee cake, please, thank you, Ruby.”
Ruby turns to Gold, but he’s already moving to get out of the booth, “I was just leaving, thank you. “ Ruby shrugs and walks away. Gold is back on his feet and cane in a few moments, studying Isa’s face again. “Just remember, should you need anything, you know how to get in touch with me, Bel– I mean, Isa.” He seemed genuinely pained at his mistaking her name and quickly nodded before hurrying off as quickly as his old knee could carry him.
Isa wanted to follow after him, to ask he why he’d called her by that name and why it felt so oddly familiar, but then Justin was coming in, a self-satisfied, post-flirtation-with-the-sheriff smirk on his face. Isa rolled her eyes and settled in for a long morning of Justin’s usual pointless prattling. She desperately needed new friends. As she sat thumbing through the menu again as Justin rambled, she saw card with a phone number written on it and signed with a flourish.
As Gold hurried down the street back to his shop, he silently cursed himself for his stupid boldness and even stupider slip of the tongue. For months, he’d been simultaneously trying to work up the courage to talk to her and to push her as far from his thoughts as possible. But it would not do. Thoughts of her, so real and alive and wonderfully perfect, filled his mind no matter how hard he tried to sweep her out of it. She consumed his life now, utterly, completely, and without remorse.
And now he’d blown it all by being a creepy old man with a pathetic bum leg, dusty pawnshop, and senile mind. The girl in the diner would never know of the powerful being he was before and how he was anything but senile.
Later that night, after much shouting and angry gesturing in the French household, Isa picked up the phone and dialed the number on a small card in her hand.
“Hello?” she asked, her voice shaking a little. “Mr. Gold? It’s Isa French. I was just calling to talk to you about that offer you made me at Granny’s this morning…”
And as she spoke these words, Isa felt the strangest feeling of déjà vu, and she felt as though she was making a very important decision, something that would change the lives of many people, even though she was just a girl desperate enough for freedom to run off with the town monster.