Fic: Rumour Has It - Chapter 6
AU: Because of one little lie, everyone at Storybrooke University now thinks that Belle Charmin is sleeping around, and Professor Gold, the only guy who seems to believe her innocence, is totally off limits. Easy A!AU.
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 - Chapter 8 - Chapter 9 - Chapter 10 - Chapter 11 - Chapter 12
Rumour Has It
Oh my god, remember how I said pretending to fuck Jefferson was the worst decision I ever made? I take it back. I let Phil pay me for fake sex, and he has a massive mouth. Jefferson told four people: Phil told everyone else.
And I do mean everyone.
And as I said before, I have major reasons to hate instant mass-communication. It felt like just hours between him starting the stories about our little rendezvous - he did start with flattering haste, and I had to admit it was nice that getting with me was almost a badge of honour - and the whispering turning to full-on gossip.
I wasn’t just a slut: I was a full-time prostitute. Apparently. Rumour had it, at least.
But while the rumour that I was sleeping around for money was more and more widespread, the rumour that I was lying about it all was a closely-guarded and controlled secret. I had two groups talking about me: the majority of the student body, wondering how long it’d be before I got diseased or pregnant, and the in-crowd of geeks, losers, and the fellow gossip-afflicted who needed the reputation boost.
Bay Williams (you know, Gold’s TA, the nice British one) was giving me funny looks, but I just smiled brightly right back. I had started this, I was encouraging this, and while it felt a little like something inside me had died a little, I wasn’t in mourning. I didn’t need someone to talk to.
Well, I did, but Bay wasn’t him.
What followed was a stream of guys on campus - the lost and the lonely, if you’re feeling poetic - coming and giving me coupons, gifts, or sometimes just cold hard cash. Anyone who got an oddly-expensive Christmas gift from me last year, you now know how I paid for it.
I met Eric Seaborn by the pool - captain of the swim team, and unable to form complete sentences in front of the female captain - and received a fifty-dollar gift certificate to Red Lobster in Boston in return for a supposed hand-job in the cinema.
One hundred dollars cash from Lance Knightley, so he could say we’d got it on in his parents’ jacuzzi. I’m fairly sure that was a revenge thing, considering how his girlfriend Gwen had dumped him the week before to go back to her ex. I think he was looking to get even.
I got a whole two hundred in Target gift cards from Sean Herman (yep, Ashley Boyd’s dumbass boyfriend) to claim that I’d come on to him, and he’d turned me down flat. That one I was okay with, to be honest.
Those are only the ones that really stand out, but there were plenty of others. I made about six hundred dollars all told, between campus guys, the occasional townie, and even a couple of girls wanting to prove they were adventurous enough to have a lesbian phase. After those rumours came out, I have to say I rose to an odd kind of celebrity. Apparently having same-sex partners is fine by the Deltas so long as you have boobs.
I think it was two weeks later that I started getting sick of it.
It was too late by then.
Belle couldn’t cross the quad by the end of November without someone wolf-whistling. She supposed it was probably mostly her fault: her heels were massive, her legs bare under her coat despite the winter chill, and now everyone was certain she was up for it. She couldn’t really complain about the attention, since she had done all she could to inspire it.
The worst came, though, when she had her second run-in with Regina Mills. The woman had been shooting her dagger-eyed glares for weeks, and Belle had heard from Abbie that she’d been mentioned in more than one Ethics Committee meetings. But Belle hadn’t said anything about it in public, and Regina had kept away, so Belle hoped it could stay that way.
But her heart sank when, rounding the corner from her history class, she saw the woman herself lounging by the library door, watching her. Her suit cut a dark shape against the bright whiteness of the hallway, and Belle wondered for a moment if Regina picked her outfits specifically to look as evil and menacing as possible.
She didn’t look like someone bent on doing the Lord’s work, at any rate.
“Miss Charmin,” she greeted, as Belle tried to pass her into the library. She’d been lying in wait. Brilliant.
“Professor Mills.” Belle inclined her head, politely, and tried to continue on her way.
“May I have a word?” Mills put her hand on the door, preventing entry, and Belle sighed, looking up at her with a bright, false smile.
“I think you know.” Mills’ smile was like razor blades, “You have time now, right?”
Belle sighed, shifting her weight, trying to think of a way out of this. But Mills was looking at her from the tips of her stilettos to the hem of her miniskirt to the deep-v of her t-shirt, her lips pursed like a disapproving spinster aunt. Or what Belle assumed one would look like, being only in possession of one absent-minded uncle.
“Yeah,” she nodded, trying to look and sound as confident and brazen as possible. If acting like a skank who didn’t give a damn was enough to piss this woman off, then why not play it up? “I have time.”
“Great.” Regina nodded, that smile returning and making Belle wonder if she should have accepted her father’s offer of brass knuckles when she moved to college, “Follow me.”
The trip to Regina’s office took little time, and was completely silent. Belle could feel the eyes of the students they passed, marvelling at the sight: the uptight Ethics chairwoman and the campus slut.
She was ushered into the office and the door closed behind her. The room was a black and white nightmare of smooth modern furniture and starkly patterned wallpaper, and it made Belle’s eyes hurt a little to look. She took a seat opposite Regina and crossed her legs for a little modesty, feeling entirely too small and colourful in this monochrome room.
“Miss Charmin,” Regina began, smiling still, “I would simply like to… I would apologise for my behaviour a few weeks back. It wasn’t fair to criticise you so brashly.”
Belle started in surprise, “A-apologise?” she frowned, as if the word made no sense at all, “For anything specific?”
Regina laughed, a sound like smooth dark honey, “Why, for my rudeness, of course! I came down far too hard on you… petty name-calling is not appropriate for a situation as delicate as this one.”
“Right.” Belle said, nodding her head just a little. She had no idea how to react to that, and remaining as quiet as possible seemed the best strategy.
“After all,” Regina leaned forward, and Belle could smell her apple perfume, and see the malice behind her bloody smile, “Troubled young women need help, do they not?”
“I’m not troubled, Professor Mills,” Belle said, a little offended and trying to hide it, “I’m fine.”
“Oh, dear,” Regina’s little concerned frown was somehow terrifying, “It’s worse than even I feared.”
“Your condition.” She said, with a small smile, “Your descent into sin and depravity. If you can’t even hear how loudly you’re crying for help-“
“I’m not crying for help,” Belle protested, “My grades are fine and I’m not high on anything. I’m good.”
“You’re a whore, dear,” Regina said, gently, “And I thought for a while that perhaps you would see the error of your ways on your own. But obviously this licentious behaviour means something deeper… some sickness in the soul…” Belle was getting angrier and more hurt with every word, her fists curling and uncurling at her sides, “And I want you to know that I’m here for you. Any time you wish to repent, and get back on a good path.”
“You’re… you’re trying to help me.” Belle nodded, the tears stinging her eyes pulled back by pure stubbornness, “Great, thanks.”
“You don’t need to look so hostile, dear,” Regina said, “It’s alright to admit you need help.”
“But I don’t need help!” she protested, “and for your information I’m not whoring around, God!”
“Please don’t blaspheme in here,” Regina’s look turned outright cold, “If you would be so kind.”
“Then don’t call me names when you don’t have your facts straight. I am not sleeping with people for money. I mean, everyone’s saying it, but I’m not really doing it.”
“Denial,” Regina smirked, “Such a tragic sign of a guilty conscience.”
“I have to be somewhere else.” Belle snapped, standing and heading for the door. But then she turned, an idea hitting her, “And I don’t know how much further you have to go, but rest assured that the moment you start being an actual bully, the Dean is hearing about this.”
“Really, Miss Charmin?” Regina leaned forward, smiling still that smile of knives and swords, “Well, the moment you provide proof that your… condition is potentially harmful, then the Dean will surely hear about that, as well. Along with other authorities.” She smirked, “Solicitation is, after all, a crime in the state of Maine, and your denials could even be a sign of delusion,” she leaned forward, and voiced the next words as a threatening, smiling secret, “Even of potential mental illness.”
The words sent a chill down Belle’s spine.
It seemed like something out of one of Gold’s victorian novels: a woman being arrested or put into psychiatric treatment for sheer scandal. But then, Belle was becoming more and more certain that Regina was a highly-functioning sociopath, so perhaps the idea wasn’t so ridiculous in her mind.
The thought was terrifying, and made Belle want to go hide someplace and cry. She wouldn’t, of course, because she was stronger than that. But she wanted to.
“See you later, Belle.” Regina purred, and Belle practically ran to get away.
One of the boys in the hallway wolf-whistled as she hurried past, and she realised belatedly that walking so fast made her ass shake in her little skirt and heels. The thought made her ill.
A week ago, she had loved all of this attention, the fact that one glance from her would part crowds and make boys stammer.
Now, she just wanted her jeans and heavy cardigan, and to be anonymous.
The winter break started two weeks later, but she put off going home for the holidays for a few days and took herself off to Boston instead. Her uncle - her dad’s twin-brother - had a spare room, and she intended to take advantage of it.
When she unpacked her suitcase in David’s spare room - all her other stuff was in her car downstairs, leaving her just a small case to deal with - it felt good to peel off the corset top and skintight black jeans she’d worn all day in college and put on an old sweater and longer skirt, and her thick black tights. Even better was the change from stilettos to flats: her balance was poor at the best of times, and being her regular height for a change felt wonderful.
“There you are!” David grinned at her as she emerged, “You look like my niece again.”
She decided to play innocent, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Really? I never pegged you as one for lingerie as outerwear.” David wasn’t the brother gifted with brains in her father’s family, but he knew what he saw. Belle just had to hope it wasn’t accompanied by a phone call home.
“It’s a… thing at college,” she improvised, “Just a phase.”
“Alright then, you do what you gotta do, kiddo.” He ruffled her hair - she was twenty in a month, and he was still ruffling her hair like she was ten - and gave her a conspiratorial smile.
Her own uncle assumed that she was sleeping around. But then, David wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box.
“What do you want to do while you’re here?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Some shopping would be good, I haven’t got anyone’s Christmas presents yet…” she also had a horde of gift certificates and unexplainable cash in her bag, and Storybrooke didn’t have some of the stores she could now shop at. “I don’t know, just chill out for a bit, I guess.”
“Okay,” David nodded, smiling, “That’s cool. I have a load of work to be catching up on, anyway. Come back at about eight and we can see about dinner.”
He was already heading out of the kitchen, back to his work spread out on the dining table. David was training for yet another accountancy qualification - or maybe it was the same one as last time, Belle couldn’t remember - and his attention was already on that.
It was oddly nice, Belle thought for just a moment, to have someone not be staring at her. Even if it was someone related to her, who had the same face and voice as her father.
She grabbed her handbag and went out into the city, her coat wrapped around her to ward off the chill.
Belle found staying in Boston a welcome little reprieve. She was obviously enjoying her life on campus, being famous and helping people, and being able now to openly piss off the people she’d always disliked anyway. She regretted little even despite how Ruby wasn’t even speaking to her anymore. But it was nice to be anonymous for a while, and if she’d gone home she still would have had Greg coming home and Jefferson to deal with.
It wasn’t the bravest of decisions, but she called home on her third day and told her parents she was staying another couple of weeks, and David would come up with her on the way back.
Truth be told, she hadn’t felt so at peace in a while. The out-of-sorts irritability that had hung over her since the start of the semester - hidden and weakened by the new attention but not entirely removed - fell away the longer she spent just wandering through shopping centres and parks, texting the few people she missed from her life and ignoring everything else.
Abbie and Freddy were happy staying with his parents over the break, and Emma gave her updates on what was happening at home. Which was nothing much, by the sound of it, except she mentioned - once or twice, and almost furtively - that she’d seen quite a bit of Jefferson since the break started. Meeting her from school and things.
Belle wasn’t sure if she was happy for her sister, or ready to tear Jefferson a new one. She settled for a bit of both.
She’d been in Boston five days before things changed.
She was browsing the shelves in the Coop bookstore - she’d had little desire to pay the fees or go through the pains of applying to somewhere like Harvard, and wouldn’t have got in anyway, but their bookstore was incredible - for perhaps the third time since she’d arrived in the city when she spotted a very familiar figure.
What he was doing there, she had no idea at all. She’d heard nothing from Professor Gold - even through Bay - since he left for ‘personal reasons’ at the end of October, and she’d assumed he was either holed up in Storybrooke or had gone somewhere exciting, like New York or California or maybe home to Europe.
Whatever she’d thought, it wasn’t that she’d see him perusing the shelves in a Boston bookshop.
She had no idea what to say. Looking at him - secretively, from behind a display of computer manuals - the very idea that he had left because of their encounter at the party seemed entirely ridiculous. He looked so at home here, frowning as he searched for whatever it was he was looking for, his posture relaxed. He’d let his beard grow a little since she’d last seen him, and the scruff about his neck and chin suited him.
She was staring, and it was creepy, and she should just leave before someone saw her.
She froze. But Gold hadn’t moved, and the voice had been young, coming from behind her. Bay Williams was beaming at her, an expression of utter delight on his handsome face. Today was just getting weirder and weirder.
“What’re you doing here?” he asked, that silly smile still spread across his face, “I thought you were going home for the holidays?”
“I have family here,” she answered, keeping her voice down, hoping Gold was too busy with his thoughts to hear how Bay’s voice carried, “What about you?”
“Me too. Well, sort of. The grumpy old git is about here somewhere.”
Something clicked in Belle’s head, two pieces that fit perfectly if she thought about it for longer than a few seconds, “You’re here with Professor Gold.” She said: it wasn’t a question.
“My stepfather.” Bay explained, still smiling.
“Ex-stepfather.” A horribly familiar voice clarified, and Belle was getting tired of being surprised by voices from behind her. Hopefully Regina Mills wouldn’t pop up from the Fiction section and make her day complete: seeing how today was going, she wouldn’t have put it past the Universe.
She was, of course, completely and utterly and stupidly happy to see him. But she was now certain she was going to make a fool out of herself, having missed him for over a month, and Bay grinning at her wasn’t helping her to feel any less childish.
“Professor Gold!” she greeted, slipping on that happy face she was becoming so good at. “What’re you doing in Boston?”
“Keeping this one out of trouble,” he nodded to Bay and smiled, “I hope he’s behaving himself.”
“I couldn’t possibly comment.” She replied, not wanting to criticise a TA in front of a professor, even if the pair were related.
Bay just laughed, “See, papa?” he said, “Someone likes me.”
“Hm,” he just smiled, and Belle hoped that someday soon he could do that without her heart skipping, “So, what brings you here?”
“Visiting family,” she said, “Trying to get away from campus for a while.” She didn’t mean to look at him meaningfully, but she could see what he knew what she meant anyway. She wondered how much these men, between them, knew about the truth of her situation.
“Storybrooke can feel a little oppressive after a while,” Bay nodded, having come to stand at Belle’s side to face the both of them, “You get to the point where you kind of just want the ground to swallow you whole and take you someplace else.”
Belle nodded, “Anyway, I was pretty much done here, so-“
“Oh, great!” Bay looked as if she’d just presented him with a brand new puppy, “We were just going to lunch.” He shot a look to Gold, but Belle was too busy freaking out on the inside to read much into it.
“That’s… nice.” She said, lamely, not sure how to proceed without seeming like she was trying to get away from them, or fishing for an invitation.
Bay was still staring at Gold, who finally looked down at Belle with a smile, “You’re welcome to join us, of course.”
Belle thought she might actually collapse on the spot. She had to be asleep, this was some kind of daydream or nightmare where she couldn’t say anything or think properly. The Koolaid man was going to burst from the wall any moment and she’d know for sure.
But they were staring at her, and she wasn’t dreaming, and she had to form words. “Yeah, sure.” She nodded, smiling, somehow keeping her insane inner monologue from showing on her face, “Lead the way.”
Bay was still smirking, falling into step next to Belle as Gold lead their way out of the shop. “How’re you doing?” he asked, in an undertone.
“I’m alright, yeah.” Belle nodded, “You?”
“Tolerable.” Bay nodded, and Gold looked back to them.
“Matter of opinion, that.” He said, and Belle had to swallow a little laugh.
“If I weren’t here,” Bay confided to her in a loud undertone, “He’d spend his whole Christmas break sat in the flat with his laptop and grading papers. He’d die of a vitamin B deficiency.”
“It’s vitamin D,” she replied, “That you get from sunshine. B you get from carbohydrates, I think.” She frowned, thinking back to Professor Whale’s biology classes the year before.
“See, Bailey?” Gold smirked, “Someone decided to listen in their classes.”
“Are you going to be mean the whole rest of the day?” Bay demanded, “Because if so I’m going to find a bar or something.”
“Drinking won’t solve anything.” Gold replied, with a mocking but fond little smile, and Belle stifled another giggle. His eyes were gleaming, and being so close to him was intoxicating. He’d dropped back to walk beside her, and he nudged her slightly as Bay pouted, “He should have learned by now that whiskey won’t solve who his family is.”
“What time is it?” Bay asked, suddenly.
“Um,” Belle checked her watch - an expensive, slim gold one she’d bought the day before with some of her ill-gotten gains, “About half past, why?”
“I have a date.” He announced, “I have to run!”
“You said we were going to lunch!” Gold protested, a little note of something not-quite panic in his voice, “Bored of us already?”
“We’re meeting at two, it’s half one already!” Bay replied, shrugging elegantly, “I have to go. Have fun!”
And with that, he walked off down a side street - his eyes were glittering just a moment before, and Belle could have sworn he was laughing at her - and left her entirely alone with Professor Gold.
For the first time since the party, over a month ago.
They stood for a moment, watching him leave, neither of them able to say a word.
“So.” Gold said, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen over the pair of them, “Lunch?”
“Yes… where were you planning to go?”
“There’s…” he paused, glanced down at her, and he suddenly looked so uncharacteristically unsure of himself that she had the wild impulse to hug him. “I mean, you don’t have to come with. I can just go home.”
“Bay seems to think you need entertaining,” she said, unsure of where the courage to speak like this to him was coming from, “So if you’re okay with my company…”
“You shouldn’t have to spend your afternoon with your teacher. Go and have fun, I don’t mind.”
He wanted her to come with him, she could see it. He looked as if he was having to force the words out, as if they were scripted or just so well-worn and expected that said them anyway.
But here they weren’t teacher and student. Here they were just two people with quite a bit in common, and no one else to eat with.
“Oh, okay. Sorry. I’m sure you don’t want to spend your free time with a student.” She said, eyes downcast, going for hurt. She needed to prompt him into defending himself, admitting that he did want her to stay. It had nothing to with her own insecurities, of course not.
“Of the pair of us, dear, it’s not your company that’s usually found objectionable,” He chuckled, shaking his head, “Alright, fine. If you don’t mind being stuck with a grumpy old man for a companion, where do you want to eat?”
She thought for a moment, and then an idea hit her, “It’s a bit of a way, but we could get the bus to Faneuil Market? You can get the chowder there, and they serve it in a bowl made out of bread.”
He laughed a little at that, and nodded. “That sounds perfect.”
“Great!” she beamed at him as she lead their way to the bus stop. He smiled back, a small, warm, she thought maybe even accidental smile that was half humour, half… friendship? Fondness? She didn’t know, but it made her heart beat faster. It felt wonderful.
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