What do you get when you kiss a guy?
You get enough germs to cause pneumonia
Then when you, he’ll never phone ya.
I’ll never fall in love again.
No, I’ll never fall in love again.
Dionne Warwick’s inimitable version of the Burt Bacharach song came in over her ear pods but Emma was too stunned to sing along.
“His . . . his . . . his wife?” His lying, cheating whore of a first wife?
This changed everything.
Belle was stunned.
Belle stood absolutely still, dumbfounded. What?! She pulled herself together and curtseying, she went out to the stables to find Billy. She was well familiar with the stable hands and the all others who worked around the house and in the house, including the kitchen help and all the housemaids, having begun teaching all those who were interested some basic reading, writing and math skills. She had begun with the housemaids that kept Madame Cora company while attempting to do needlework . . . and her little classroom had expanded to three times a week, working around her regular duties. She’d gotten a few copies of The New England Primer and Mr. Webster’s American Spelling Book to use as texts.
Goldark had rolled his eyes when he found out about her endeavors, claiming that such skills would be useless to someone who spent their lives cleaning out barns. She had sharply retorted that if they had such skills then perhaps they wouldn’t have to live their lives cleaning out barns. He had sighed and allowed her time and gotten her the materials she had requested.
“Find Master Goldark, immediately, Billy, please. There is someone here he must see as soon as possible,” she asked the young man, who nodded and immediately went in search of the master. She made her way back to the house and, steeling herself, went to sit back with the visitor.
The woman closely regarded her. “So you’re his clerk. Exactly what does that entail?” She asked the question as if she had already surmised the answer and it was not one that would be spoken of in polite society.
“I help him with his account books and his correspondence,” Belle replied.
“That’s all?” the woman sounded like she didn’t believe Belle. “A pretty thing like yourself and he just has you doing sums and writing letters?” She shrugged. “I never thought to see the day that Rumach Goldark became a eunuch.”
Belle had no reply. Innocent she may have been, but she knew well enough the man was still vital. She watched the woman refill her glass yet again.
“You know he built this house for me,” the woman told her gesturing around at the room.
“It’s a beautiful house,” Belle said kindly.
“It was a prison,” the woman snapped back. “He wanted me to sit here all day, week after week, month after month, and wait for him to quit gallivanting all over the globe and likely entertaining ranks of whores. I was supposed to keep myself happy with this house and then I was to welcome him back into my bed as if he hadn’t been gone a day. I wanted more out of life than that.”
“You had a child with him,” Belle began tentatively.
“Like me having his son was to be my only purpose in life. I guess I was supposed to have felt honored and fulfilled. Well, I didn’t feel that way. I was so stifled.” She added, a bit wistfully, “Perhaps, if he had only taken me with him it might have been bearable.”
Softly, Belle proffered, “So you found somebody else.”
“I did. A real man. One who could show me a good time, take me places, buy me pretty things.”
Belle was considering her next remark when the front door burst open.
“Miss French, what’s wrong?” Master Goldark had apparently ran back to the house, aggravating his bad leg. “Billy said I needed to get back . . . .” his voice trailed off as he spotted the other woman. He staggered for a moment.
“Oh, for god's sake, sit down, Rumach! You act like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Milah! I thought. . .” he had managed to make it into the front parlor and had collapsed into a chair. “We thought you were dead! I thought you were dead!”
“Not surprising. I did everything I could to make it looked like I had died,” the woman told him. “I didn’t want you coming after me.”
“They thought I had killed you!” Rumach protested. “I could have been arrested!”
“Pity, but . . . obviously you weren’t,” the woman. She glanced around. “It looks to me that you’ve made out all right. I hear you have a new wife and then there’s this pretty piece,” she gestured at Belle.
Goldark glanced at Belle. “Miss French, I need to converse with my . . . with Miss Milah in private,” and without ceremony, he ushered Belle out of the parlor and pushing her out into the hallway, he shut the door behind her.
Belle stood outside the door. His first wife. . . was alive?! Well, that would mean that his second marriage! . . . But why was Milah back now? What did she want?
Belle resisted the urge to press her ear to the door. She returned to the library and sat where she would be able to see when the parlor door opened again. It must have been twenty minutes before the door opened.
Milah was downing yet another glass of whiskey as she sauntered out the door. “Are you feeling all right?” she was asking Goldark, laying her hand on his chest in an unexpected and unappreciated gesture of concern. “You look a little green around the gills.”
“I’ve been a bit under the weather,” he admitted. “Milah . . . I . . . you . . . aren’t you going to ask about your son?”
“I’ve been writing him regularly,” she looked at his aghast face, “Now don’t be getting angry at Bae. I swore him to secrecy. . . well, actually, I paid him off. If he wouldn’t tell you about me, I’d keep sending him a little bonus allowance.”
Milah handed him the empty glass and started for the door, “Well, I’m staying at the Storybrooke Inn. I’ll show my face around town for today and tomorrow, make sure Judge Spencer sees me and then I’ll ask the council for approval. You probably will need to take care of some things yourself. We won’t want to dawdle on this. I want to get back to Killian as soon as I can.”
Milah left the house with a flourish.
Belle waited quietly while Goldark stood a long moment in thought. A long moment.
“Miss French,” he finally said apparently having made a difficult decision. “Get your things together immediately. I’m taking you back to your father’s.” He didn’t look at her.
Belle bit her lip to keep from crying. He was sending her away. She gathered her few possessions, including her clothing and her precious diary and packed them in a pillowcase. Rumach was waiting for her and brusquely told her to go and get in the carriage. She complied, not entirely sure what he was up to.
And he wasn’t forthcoming on the ride to town.
“Are you sending me away?” she finally asked him. She knew, she knew what he was going to say.
“For now,” he answered tersely.
“So that was your decision?” she was determined that she wouldn’t cry. She absolutely wouldn’t cry.
“I’m taking you back to your father’s house, Miss French. There are some important matters that I must take care of. You should be safe there.”
Emma called out to Neal. “I need to find Rumach’s old papers,” she told him.
“Come on, I’ll drive you.”
He drove Emma out of town and down the winding roads. As he rounded the corner, Emma caught the outline of a huge house set on the mountain side.
Good grief, how much money is there in this family? she wondered as they pulled into the driveway.
“Come in, I’ll get the papers out of the vault and we can put them on the dining room table.” He led her into the house.
“This is nice,” she told him gesturing at the house as a whole.
“Thanks. My family’s been in this area for a while. What we don’t own, the Mills or the Glass families own.”
“I thought maybe you had bought this with your Neverland income.”
Neal grimaced, “Nah, that house is in the Hamptons.”
“Right, the one you shared with your model girlfriend, the fabulous Tamara,” Emma replied. “Now where are these papers?”
“Downstairs,” he directed. And she followed him into a lushly furnished basement. He fumbled through his keys and opened a heavy door. “I think this was originally built with the idea of storing wine, but I’ve ended up stacking beer in here and keeping some of the old family records. I figure its temperature and humidity controlled so they’ll be preserved in here.” There were a couple boxes that he pulled off the shelf. He handed her one of them to carry.
With each of them carry a box, Neal led her through the sumptuous living room with its two leather sofas, a golden oak side table, a fireplace and a fully stocked bar. Then it was into the dining room which was a tribute to masculine beauty – a polished dark wooden table, dark wood wainscoting, an oriental rug, a black wrought iron chandelier. Nice.
Neal set his box down and then began to take out the stacks of very old ledgers and folders and put them on the dining room table. “I have no idea what you are looking for,” he told her, “There could be some more stuff.”
“This is a start,” she told him and began looking through the folders.
“Can I help? Are you looking for anything in particular?” he asked.
“I am. Grab a folder. I’m looking for official documents, like birth certificates, wedding licenses, death certificates, divorce decrees, anything like that,” Emma directed him. “Mostly stuff in the 1780’s through 1800.”
“Ah, you want the Miss French years,” Neal said knowingly. He began searching through the folders alongside of Emma. “Can I get you a drink? Water? Soda? Tequila?”
“Get me a cola for now, please,” she told him as she carefully turned pages.
It was an hour later and they’d started on the second box, when Neal asked, “Is this what you’re looking for?” and he shoved a folder over to Emma.
“Holy cow, I think this is exactly what I was looking for!” Emma was excited and she jumped up to come over to Neal. She began thumbing through the papers. “Oh my, this is amazing. I had not expected to actually find it.”
“Emma, it’s after eleven. I. . . I’m not trying to start anything, but I have a really nice guest bedroom, a phone charger and a spare toothbrush. It’s a long way back to town.” Neal was offering her a place to stay for the night.
Emma considered. Neal was being super-nice. It would be so much easier than getting him to drive all the way back to the Inn.
Why the hell not?
She grabbed a shower in what Neal called his guest bathroom (it was attached to the guest bedroom). It was full of antique fixtures, the sink and mirror, the towel cabinet.
It was hot and the spray was just right. She shampooed and was rinsing out the last of the bubbles when she had one of those being watched sensations. She thought she heard someone call her name.
In Waking Fear, she’d written an entire chapter on this particular sensation, beginning with the Psycho movie phenomenon and including that most common of auditory hallucinations of hearing your name called when you were in the shower.
She dried off and dressed herself in a tee-shirt and some sweatpants that Neal had lent her. She blew her hair dry. She was standing in the middle of the bathroom noting that the tub wasn’t an antique although it had been made to look like one of the old claw hammer foot tubs but it had some of those little jets that made it into a Jacuzzi. She looked. Well, why not, it was an actual Jacuzzi. She turned.
And there it was.
In the mirror.
Looking at her.
“Well, hey,” she addressed the image. “I didn’t know you made guest appearances in other places. I’m betting that Neal must have gotten this mirror from the old house,” Emma continued. Mirror images didn’t bother her; they were flat and impotent. “Can you just hold on a second? I need to get my phone to get a picture of you, otherwise I’ll have to attribute this to a mental aberration, fatigue, drug interactions, streak of crazy. . . . Maybe I could pose next to you, kinda like a selfie and friend? My phone’s in the other room. Don’t go away, please.” Emma charged out to get the cellphone but when she returned . . .
“Well crap,” Emma said. This was interesting. The image appearing in another mirror. No evidence other than her own worthless personal experience.
Emma went on out of the bathroom.
She met Neal who was still in the dining room. He had been tidying up all the paperwork.
“There sure are a lot of these old records. I guess I should give them to somebody who can help preserve them. I’ve just been keeping them in a vault.”
“Probably not a bad place to keep them – low moisture, infrequently handled,” she told him.
“Are you all right?” he asked. She seemed to be a bit nervous.
“Just curious. There’s a mirror in the bathroom. . . .”
“Oh yeah. It’s pretty impressive. I took it out of the Dark Castle, I mean, Goldark Inn. It had been used in one of the downstairs rooms and when they did some remodeling, it was put up in the attic. My decorator saw it and said I had to put it into that bathroom.”
“Decorator huh?” Emma commented.
Neal smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I could never have put all this together on my own. You know I had trouble getting my socks to match. My complete lack of taste and style used to drive Tamara crazy,” he was referring to his most recent fiancee, the fabulous high-fashion model. He continued, “After I had the house built, I hired an interior design group. I thought they did a nice job,” he told her.
“Yeah, from what I’ve seen,” she agreed with him. “Of course, I’ve only seen the downstairs here and that one upstairs bathroom.”
Neal looked up her from his seat at the table where he was sitting behind a pile of papers. “Would you like a tour?” he asked finally.
He took her through the rest of the downstairs, including the kitchen, complete with a coffee station and a six burner gas stove. He showed her, through some glass, a large backyard complete with a patio (with chairs and tables and a hot tub).”
“Hot tub operational?” she had to ask him.
“Up and running. It’s nice to sit in it while it snows. Makes for a great view.”
“Of course, sooner or later you have to get out and run through the cold back into the house,” commented Emma. “That can’t be pleasant.”
Neal laughed. “It’s not, but it’s sure invigorating.”
Emma smiled, “I’m sure.
He was standing very close to her now. Almost, almost, but not quite, touching her. They just looked into each other’s eyes for awhile.
It was Emma who spoke first, “You have more upstairs?”
Neal seemed reluctant to move but straightened himself and nodded. “Yeah, let’s check it out.”
Emma followed him up the long staircase she had just come down.
“I know you’ve seen the guest bedroom and bathroom. There is second guestroom, a linen cupboard . . . ,” his voice trailed off. He stopped before another door, “And my bedroom. It opens up to a balcony and you can see the entire valley below.”
“That sounds nice. I’d like to see that,” Emma told him.
“All right,” and he opened the door.
The room was dominated by a massive four-poster rice bed. It had a deep mattress on it and there was a little step stool that one would have to use to get onto the bed. There were French doors that opened up onto a balcony. Emma opened one of the doors and went on through out to the balcony.
“Beautiful, isn’t it. You can see the lights, such as they are, of Storybrooke over there and the ocean over there,” he pointed in a different direction. He continued, “Nights like tonight, when the air is clear, you get a great view of the Milky Way. There’s Orion and the Big Dipper and the little pale one there is the North Star.”
Emma wasn’tlooking at the stars. She was looking at him.
“Were you really an uncover police officer?”
“Uh huh. Sworn to secrecy. I wanted so badly to tell you, Emma, but it would have jeopardized the job, and maybe even your safety.”
“Really? You couldn’t have given me a teeny heads up, like “Golly gee, Emma, I’ve got this job that can suddenly call me away for long periods, so if I disappear without a word, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have feelings for you.”
“Golly gee, Emma,” Neal began. “I still have feelings for you.”
He was standing very close to her, his body radiating enough heat so that the night air didn’t seem quite so cold.
“You’re still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met and the most exciting,” Neal began. He had placed one hand on her upper arm. “You are still the most amazing, strongest, funniest woman I know.”
Emma made a decision. She reached around his neck and pulled him down to her for a firm kiss. Neal eagerly kissed her back.
Together they staggered towards his bed, stripping off each other’s clothing in the process.
Once Neal had pressed her down to the bed, he managed to stop, lying on top of Emma, holding her wrists in his hands.
“Are you sure, Emma? This is what you want?”
“I’m gonna hate myself in the morning. But yeah, it’s what I want right now.”
Neal groaned. He was too weak to resist Emma. He gave in and decided his best shot with Emma would be to show her a very, very good time.
Emma stretched. She was lying in the center of a king sized bed and felt very, very relaxed.
Oh no! She’d done it with Neal. Not her proudest moment.
She remembered him trying to talk her out of it but noooooo, she’d insisted.
Well, he was as good as she remembered.
And where was he? Emma found her clothes that had been scattered helter skelter across the room and dressed herself. She followed her nose down to the kitchen.
Neal was making pumpkin pancakes and already had a short stack ready.
Emma stopped to give Neal a kiss on the lips. “Thanks,” she told him.
“For last night or for making breakfast?” Neal asked.
“Yes,” she told him, sitting down and dishing herself some of the pancakes.
“So, what’s on tap for today?”
“I’m going back to the attic to talk to Master Rumach,” she told him.
“Another EVP session?”
She shook her head. “I need quick answers. I’m taking the Spirit Box.”