Good Morning, Miss Australia
Chapter 2: Miss Australia
Moe's voice calling for his daughter rang through the modest, two-bedroom house that had been home to her family since they'd arrived from Australia. It was situated in an inconspicuous area in the outskirts of Portland, Maine. The sound slowly sunk in, while the young woman stared into the distance, her cell phone still hovering next to her ear. In her mind, there seemed only room for a stranger's voice echoing her words of goodbye with a regretful, 'Goodbye Miss Australia, wishing you a very nice day too.'
Belle stood rooted to the spot in her small bedroom, a fierce blush coloring her cheeks, as she tried to wrap her mind around what just had happened.
When she'd received a message by email yesterday from the Wynken, Blynken and Nod Wake-Up Service to call in at 5.55 A.M. she'd groaned inwardly, but had complied nonetheless. Stepping out of the shower cell she'd wondered what this person she was going to call was doing for a living that he or she got up so early. It was still dark outside when she blow-dried her hair in the kitchen, which was furthest away from her father's bedroom so she wouldn't wake him at this untimely hour. Then she quietly got dressed in her room and waited till it was time to call in.
The stranger on the other side of the line had been the latest in a long row of participants she'd woken up since she'd started participating in the WB&N Wake-Up Service, but she'd never been this deeply affected by a conversation before.
When the stranger hadn't answered his phone after the third try, the volunteer on the switchboard had warned her that the next attempt would be the last. Belle had murmured 'of course', feeling a bit sorry for the new participant on the other side of the line. Three attempts was regulatory, but she persuaded the operator for one last try. Perhaps the person on the other side of the line had displaced his or her cell phone, or had left it on silent. Or perhaps the participant simply slept through the sound of the phone ringing, unaccustomed to be woken up by it.
When at the second ring a grouchy man finally picked up the phone she'd actually felt relieved, ignoring her blood running cold at the withering greeting uttered with the hint of a Scottish brogue. Being used to waking grumpy participants of the program, she'd simply carried on, knowing that they would come around eventually. And so did this Scot.
His terseness gradually disappeared and she couldn't help but feel drawn to his deep, soft voice and his formal, but adorably confused replies as he stayed on the line with her. And for the first time in the four months she'd done this, encouraged by her friend Ariel, she actually regretted when the conversation with the stranger on the other side of the line ended.
Ariel (or "Ary", as she wanted to be called, because "The Walt Disney Company had condemned her to a lifetime of lame jokes about fish out of water with her name and fiery hair colour") was an archivist and colleague of Belle's in the Portland Public Library where Belle worked as a librarian. They'd met at UVM, the only four years in her life Belle had lived separate from her father. It was the bubbly redhead who had encouraged the dreamy bookworm to be more outgoing and actually meet people instead of reading about them in books. Belle had agreed but stipulated that it would be on her own terms. With a meaningful look Ary had taken a sip from her coffee and had said no more.
When Belle told her two days later what she'd signed up for Ary had lifted her eyebrows but knowing that Belle never went for the obvious like going out like a normal person her age she'd refrained from commenting on it. Over the past few months she'd woken up many people, men and women, with friendly conversation. If the number of proposals were something to go by – three since last week – she was pretty good at it, even though grumpiness and melancholy outweighed by far the affection of the ones proposing to her.
Almost every day she had another amusing story to share with Ary, whether it would be the teenager who taught her to say 'Where's the bathroom?' in Klingon, the old woman who kept talking about her forty-eight cats or the cell phone salesman who apparently had only joined the service to lure participants to his website. Belle's new early morning hobby had actually become a source of amusement for them over a cup of Starbucks coffee.
Not with this man though. No, him she'd taken to her heart when he'd told her about his shop and had asked her if she liked stories in an almost hopeful tone as if he'd recognized a kindred soul. Belle knew she had.
And then came the moment when she understood that the man with the fascinating voice didn't have the faintest idea why she was calling him. As the pieces of the puzzle of his wariness finally fell into place she'd immediately known that it had been his son who'd signed the man up for this. Though he hadn't explicitly said so subconsciously she'd sensed that it was just the two of them, because of which the son, Baelfire he'd called him – such an unusual name – had felt the need to have his father meet other people. And in a typical teenage way he'd chosen something to his own liking, not necessarily the first option his father would have considered for himself.
It had happened a few times before, that she'd called someone who had been surprised by her phone call but most of the time those people had responded with anger or had hung up immediately. Those times she'd felt like a telemarketing salesperson being brushed off and she'd seriously considered quitting the whole thing. This man however had responded differently. Instead of trying to brush her off he'd actually opened up to her about his son, about his love for him and the most astonishing of all the insecurity he felt after six years of separation from his son. His honesty and trust had touched her as deeply as what he'd told her. She didn't quite understand how the separation had come to be and she'd noticed that he'd chosen his words very carefully but she'd felt that his grief was real – and very understandable. Quietly she'd listened, captivated by his voice and her reflex reaction had been to provide him with the reassurance he so clearly needed. When his whispered words of gratitude had reached her ear she'd actually shivered.
The words 'Goodbye Miss Australia, wishing you a very nice day too,' still sang through her head long after the volunteer had taken over the conversation. Absent-mindedly, the woman had asked Belle the standard question if she would be interested in being put back on this participant's rotation list. Up until then Belle had only asked to be put on someone's rotation list again a few times, remembering her reason for signing up – to find someone she could make a real connection with. This time however Belle had accepted with such vigour that even the volunteer temporarily woke from her stupor and remarked, "Wow, that must have been a nice conversation," before disconnecting.
"Belle? Belle, what's taking you so long?"
A knock on her door and the sound of her father's agitated voice behind it made her turn around, and finally she lowered the long silent cell phone.
"Erm, yes, Dad. I'm coming," she called back hastily as she unnecessarily smoothed out her woollen, plaid skirt and cast a look into the mirror on her door. Hair and make-up were as they supposed to be. It was a good thing she always got ready before calling in otherwise she had had no choice now but to go to work in her nightgown. Not that Gaston, the library's Head of Security, would mind. No, the less clothing she wore the better he liked it. Creep.
Hastily she shot her feet in a pair of high-heeled, red patent leather pumps and swung the door open.
"Good morning, Dad." She bent over and gave the weary looking, portly man a light kiss on the cheek.
"Belle?" Moe inclined his head as he watched his daughter grab her bag. "Are you alright?" It was not like Belle to miss breakfast with her father before they would go to work: she to the library and he to the flower stand opposite it. That's how it had been since she'd graduated from university and began to work as a librarian in the city where she grew up.
"Yes, I'm sorry, Dad." Belle cast him a cheerful smile. "I'm afraid this conversation was a bit longer than normal."
Her father knew about her endeavour though he didn't quite understand wherein exactly lay the fun of calling up complete strangers to wake them up. But as long as it remained safe it was fine with him. He shook his head and shrugged into his warm coat before he put up his cap. It promised to be a cold, snowy day, and a difficult day for the florist in his flower stand. Thankfully, this time of year he only sold hardy flowers like bulbs and roses.
Moe cast a sideways look at Belle who hastily put on her coat and took a banana from cramped the kitchen-sink unit.
"I still don't understand why you won't wear more sensible shoes for this time of year, Belle," Moe remarked as he opened the door. To his surprise Belle looked at him with an odd smile on her face.
"How else can I be Miss Australia?"
As so often happened an expression of confusion passed over Moe's features while he looked at her. Once again, she'd utterly lost him. When she offered no further explanation he grinned sheepishly and shook his head, knowing that he would probably never completely understand his daughter.
It was time to go to his flower stall, where the flowers waited for him. And flowers he would always understand.
"And? How was your wakie-wakie this morning?"
From above the edge of a carton Starbucks cup a pair of curious hazel eyes studied Belle who raised her eyebrows and took a sip from her own caramel latte.
"Different how? Aren't they all?"
Belle could sense that her reply had piqued Ary's interest and to her horror she blushed.
Immediately Ary's eyes widened. "Oh, different that way! Tell me!"
Belle groaned and ducked her head so far that her hair fell into her face. When they'd gone for their daily cup of coffee she'd resolved to be casual about this because, really there wasn't much to tell that could possibly be of interest to the bouncy archivist, but she'd blown it with the first word she'd said.
She groaned. "Really Ary, don't take this the wrong way. This is just me being awkward."
"Oh no," Ary wagged the small plastic fork she'd received with her muffin before Belle's nose. "I will be the judge of that! After all, I'm the one who told you to go out and meet other people. Now tell me this instant."
Belle's eyes followed the plastic fork. "Ary, you know that you're waving with a fork, don't you?" she said dryly and it had the desired effect.
With a distasteful wrinkling of her nose Ary put down the fork and instead leaned on her folded hands, giving Belle an expectant look.
Belle sighed. "Well, he – "
"Aha, a he! I knew it!" Ary declared triumphantly, cutting her off and Belle sent her friend a mock exasperated look.
"Do you want to hear this or not? Really, with that attitude I don't understand how you and Eric have managed to develop the stable relationship you're having."
Ary's fiancé was a handsome dark-haired man who worked at a cannery in this small coastal town called Storybrooke. His uncle owned the company and he was busy familiarizing himself with the company to take over management one day.
"True love, Belle. He doesn't mind my enthusiasm," Ary smiled sweetly as she subconsciously picked up the fork again, pointing it at Belle once more. "But you were saying…"
"Well, it appeared that he was one of those people who didn't know why I called," Belle ventured cautiously and took another sip of her caramel flavored coffee as Ary looked at her with immediate understanding and sympathy.
"Signed up by someone else again?" The archivist had heard enough of Belle's stories to immediately draw the right conclusion.
Belle nodded, plastic spoon still in her mouth. "His son."
The archivist let this information sink in and Belle could see that she turned over several possibilities in her clever mind.
"His son," Ary repeated finally as she leaned back in her chair. "Oh my God, he's eighty years old and his son feels guilty for not paying him enough visits in the care home. I would go for the son, Belle."
Belle rewarded her friend's sceptical expression with a mock glare. "His son is fourteen, Ary and please, stop pointing that fork at me."
Reluctantly, the redhead put down the plastic device and cupped her chin.
"He told you that?" She mused thoughtfully. "So, he didn't hang up on you. That's different indeed. Was he angry with you?"
"Obviously," Belle nodded. "I can remember him telling me that I had to have a very good reason for calling him at this hour, 'Dearie'!"
She emphasized the last word, echoing Mr. Scotman's intonation and Ary raised her eyebrows. It was quite unusual to hear the word being used as part of what was basically a reprimand.
"Actually, I had trouble waking him up at first," the librarian added. "I had to ask the volunteer to redial three times before he finally answered the phone."
Belle rolled her eyes meaningfully and the two friends shared a mischievous grin.
"So… what won him over then?"
Belle licked her spoon as she gave the question a few moments of thought. "Actually, I don't really know. I guess at first I kind of took him by surprise." She was still a bit unsure about it. "The first ten minutes or so he just went along with the conversation, while he was waking up. I said something silly about telephone operators and asked him why he got up so early. He said that he liked to get up early to make his son breakfast and we talked a bit about his work. He owns a store."
That was possibly the dullest, least appealing way of describing the magical moment in which they had connected over their shared love for historical artefacts, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to tell her friend about it. It felt as if she would taint the delicate memory if she laid it bare to Ary's scrutiny.
Fortunately, Ary focused on something else she'd said. "Telephone operators," she tonelessly repeated her friend's words. "You started to talk to him about telephone operators. I'm sure that was a real icebreaker."
Belle shot her a look and then shook her head. "Anyway, when he realized that his son must have signed him up for the wake-up service he didn't get angry like I had expected, but instead he told me about him. About having to miss him for…a while, about how it is to raise a teenager and how much he loves him…"
Ary followed Belle as she took another sip from her coffee and caught the slight, positively dreamy smile that passed over Belle's lips before they disappeared behind the whipped cream. Her hazel eyes widened. "Oh my God… You like him. You really like him."
Belle's head jerked up and a startled cough ripped her chest.
"Wha –, no!" she spluttered with difficulty as the coffee went down the wrong way. Through the tears springing in her eyes she saw the paper napkin Ary kindly held out to her and took it.
"Yes, you do," Ary replied calmly but with a twinkle in her eyes. "You are a very sad woman who falls in love with someone you've only spoken to over the phone for about thirty minutes and most likely will never speak with ever again."
For a moment, it seemed as if Belle would be objecting fiercely, denying all accusations but then she put her hands before her face and groaned. Ary was right. Why else had his voice been inside her head for the entire morning, calling her Miss Australia and telling her about his son? And why else did she feel this tingling feeling in her stomach as her mind played their conversation over and over and over again?
"Really," Ary found as she took another satisfied sip from her coffee and discovered that it was empty, "he must be quite something to make such an impression on you over the phone at seven in the morning. I can't think of another person that's more difficult to impress than you."
"Six A.M.," Belle whispered, which gained her a look of disbelief from the archivist that bordered on fright. "And there is a possibility that I'll speak with him again. I asked the volunteer operator to put me on his rotation list again."
At seeing the triumphant grin appearing on Ary's bright face Belle immediately regretted telling her. But to her relief the archivist put her hand on hers and said with a warm smile, "Good for you, Belle. I always knew you had a bit of the adventurer inside you. But will you be careful? There could be a real beast lurking behind this sleepy man who cares so much for his son."
Belle thought back of his first words to her that had been dripping with menace and his remark 'I'm a difficult man to love, Dearie'. She shivered but nonetheless put on a brave smile. "I will."
Ary nodded approvingly and stood up. Quietly, Belle followed her example.
"So, now we'll just have to wait until your Sleepless In Seattle turns up again. And do not give me that look, Belle because you are going to tell me when you speak with him again."
"Sleepless In Seattle?" The librarian shot her friend an exasperated look.
"You know, the movie," Ary said as she shrugged on her coat. "When Tom Hanks is this widower with a kid and Meg Ryan hears him on the radio and because he must remain anonymous he's Sleepless – "
"I know the film, Ary, but if you think that I'm going to stalk this stranger halfway across the country…" Belle interrupted her with a shake of her head. She'd already tentatively wondered where he could live and somehow she had the idea that it was a village or a small town, which might as well be located in the Mississippi bayous. There was no telling with his accent.
"She wasn't stalking him, Bells. She was just trying to find out if she'd heard her True Love on the radio."
Now it was Belle's turn to wrinkle her nose. "Just like you were 'watching' Eric you mean?" She made two imaginary brackets in the air. "I believe it was me who eventually had to push you toward him."
Ary grimaced but couldn't deny the facts. Belle had made her stumble toward Eric when he was cleaning fish. Sometimes, she thought she could still smell the stench of fish in the clothes she wore that day and which had been pressed against his gleaming apron when he'd lovingly wrapped his arms around her.
"Have you already thought of a nickname?" Ary wrapped her scarf around her neck.
"For whom?" Belle was still musing over Mr Scotsman's place of residence.
"For your Sleepless!" Ary rolled her eyes at her absent-minded friend. "When you speak with him again you can't continue calling him…what did you call him this morning?"
Belle smiled sheepishly and decided it no harm to tell Ary a little bit more. "He called me Miss Australia."
Though Belle had started with calling him Mr. Scotsman and he'd simply returned the favor it felt nice, if not more intimate that they would have nicknames for one another.
The two of them walked outside, ducking into their coats as soon as the first gust of icy wind whirled around them. November in Maine. It was waiting for the first snow.
Ary thought Belle's confession over. Even after all these years that she lived in the States Belle's Australian accent was hard to miss. "That's…actually quite funny. I was going to say lame, but actually I like it. So, what do you call him?"
Belle smiled enigmatically as the entered the uneventful building where the public library was housed. "Not telling you. But only because you don't have to know everything, not because it's something kinky."
"Hmm, Belle and kinky, sounds good to me," piped up a voice behind them. "Speaking of kinky, when will we see those so called leather pants you supposedly own?"
Belle's gaze darkened and she cursed inwardly. Why had she had to say something like that while passing Gaston? Truth was she hadn't been paying attention to his presence in the hallway and now she wouldn't hear the end of it. Gaston was the head of security of the Portland Public Library and for some reason unfathomable this he-man's eye had fallen on the petite brunette. He was interested less in the books she adored than the gym next to the library. But it didn't stop him from forcing himself on the dreamy bookworm even though she'd made it clear to him from the start that she didn't reciprocate the sentiment. She couldn't help but think that his obtrusiveness was in such sharp contrast with Mr. Scotman's quiet reserve.
Belle opened her mouth to retort but Ary got ahead of her. "Leave her alone, Gaston. When will it finally get into that thick head of yours that she doesn't like you?"
The tall, broad-shouldered man cast a disparaging look at the archivist. Underneath the suit jacket his muscles bulged out as he shook his dark, luscious mane.
"Nonsense, she's just shy with me. Perhaps if you would stop sticking your little nose in all those books and take a look at what's right in front of you…"
Suddenly, the head of security blocked Belle's path and she had no choice but to look up.
He smirked. "Then you wouldn't be so shy anymore." He lowered his voice to a velvety tone that was clearly meant to mollify her but it only made Belle's skin crawl. Without a word, but glaring icily Belle simply stepped past the hulk of manly smugness and signalled Ary to follow her.
When she'd almost reached the door, Gaston called after her, "Don't forget about those leather pants you promised me, Belle baby."
"Don't call me baby," Belle grumbled back and turned her back on him.
When they were out of earshot, she sighed. "If any man should be called a beast, it should be him."
Ary looked at her sympathetically. From the first day Belle had set foot in the public library Gaston had pursued her relentlessly and much too often by means of what could only be described as verbal harassment. Belle had refused to report it though, knowing that he could end up jobless. And Belle – sweet, caring Belle – could not find it in her heart to take that risk. Just like she hadn't moved out with her father yet, because she felt she had to take care of him. It was no wonder she'd taken a liking to an anonymous man on the phone who'd professed his care and love for his son. A smile appeared on Ary's lips.
"Don't mind him, Bells, he doesn't know any better," she reassured her friend and Belle nodded with a slightly weary but grateful look in her eyes before she turned to go to the reading room.
"Hey Belle. One last thing."
The librarian stopped and cast a look over her shoulder, one eyebrow lifted expectantly and her friend cast her a mischievous smile.
"You do realize that by nicknaming you "Miss Australia", your Sleepless was trying to find out if you're married, right?"
A/N: Thanks so much for the reviews of this story's first chapter! I hope I didn't make you wait too long, NicoleMuenchSeidel! As it appears Belle lives in Portland, ME instead of Storybrooke but she definitely will cross the town border sometime soon... Thank you, Anjyu, Boots111, anon and Rumbeller25! I hope you liked this chapter too! Raeymaeker, you're making me blush... Thank you so much. The next wake-up call will take place in chapter 3, which is ready to be corrected by my wonderful beta Delintthedarkone. I can't wait to read the next instalment of Master Spinner! Never saw that episode of Seinfeld, Wondermorena but it sounds hilarious! The idea is so much fun to play with that I'm not surprised I'm not the first one to use it.