Finding Alice

“Every time I close my eyes
It’s like a dark paradise
No one compares to you
But there’s no you,
Except in my dreams tonight.”
-Lana Del Rey


7. Chapter Seven

Grace didn’t continue her questioning after Jefferson spoke her mother’s name out loud. He’d gone silent and did nothing but stare at the darkening window for a long time. She still had so many questions to ask. She wanted to know all about her mother’s life. And how it ended too. But seeing her father’s facade of happiness slip just to say her name, it broke her heart.

He’d always been a source of strength for her. Even when others called him mad or when her classmates whispered about him behind her back. He was always there, always smiling, and always trying to shield her from all the evils he’d seen. It hurt to see him so broken on the kitchen floor. He was no longer poised and held together like a rock. He was a river of emotions now.

The gurgle of her empty stomach was the sound that broke through his darkness and held the river back like a dam. He blinked several times and turned his eyes back to her as if he was just noticing she was there, even though they’d been clasping hands.

“You’re hungry,” he stated.

“I’m all right, Papa,” she replied. But he wouldn’t hear it. He hopped onto his feet and reached down to lift her back up. Then he was on the move again, shuffling around the kitchen to finish dinner.

“You should finish your homework.” She sighed as she watched him rebuild the wall and bury his emotions again. But she stepped back and relented. He would tell her in time. She just had to be patient.

“Yes, Papa,” she said. She returned to the table to get back to work. It was difficult to concentrate now, though, as her father bumbled around the room muttering to himself. “What’s your favorite color?” she asked. He stilled and turned back to her with reddened eyes.

“What?” he questioned. She tapped her pencil on the table.

“Your favorite color.” He looked away, perplexed. It was the last thing he expected her to ask.

“What’s yours?” was his response. She sighed and shook her head, smiling.

“Papa, I’m asking what your favorite color is.” He grinned back. He was playing with her now.

“My favorite color is whatever yours is.”

“What was your favorite color before you knew me then?” He squinted. This was obviously something he hadn’t given much thought before. He studied the fridge and the collection of photographs they’d been building since the curse broke.

“Blue,” he decided. “Like the color of the sky on a December morning. When there isn’t a cloud in the sky and it’s sunny, but icy cold. A pale, cold kind of blue.” She smiled, imagining the exact shade with perfect clarity. She decided she liked that color best too.

“That sounds lovely, Papa.” He smiled again and returned to his task, satisfied that he’d given her a suitable answer. But she wasn’t sold on it yet. “Can I ask you something else?” she asked as she scribbled an answer on her worksheet and listened to the sound of something sizzling on the stove.

“You can ask me anything,” he promised, but that didn’t necessarily mean she’d get an answer.

“Why that color?” He stood still and silent and the only part of him moving was his hand to stir the contents of the pan. She waited for an answer, but it didn’t come. Until finally, he set the pan on a back burner and turned to face her, wiping his hands on his dark jeans.

“You want to know?” he questioned. She nodded vigorously. “Come with me.”

He reached out a hand and she jumped out of her chair. He pulled her out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the room at the end of the hall. He released her hand and pulled the key from his pocket, letting her into the room with the hats.

Jefferson didn’t like hiding things from Grace, and he hated keeping the door locked. He knew she was aware of what he did in there at night, but she never asked why he was determined to build another portal. They both had everything they could ever need in Storybrooke. She didn’t think he wanted to return to a life of foraging for mushrooms in a forest that likely didn’t exist anymore. But he made the hats anyway.

He didn’t show her a hat. He moved passed a row of them, running his fingers along the drawers under the shelves until he stopped and spun toward a cabinet. He wiggled his hands in the air and pulled his sleeves up to his elbows. She watched curiously, wondering what on earth he was going to show her and how it had anything to do with his favorite color. He reached out and slid a drawer out, revealing a shimmering blue fabric. The color of an icy cold blue sky.

The cloth shimmered in his hands as he pulled it out and gripped it tight in his fingers, but then he froze. He was holding it so tight his hands were trembling and his lips were pinched. She stepped forward and put her hands over his.

“What is it, Papa?” she asked. He chewed on his lip and glared down at the cloth like it was a dark and tainted thing.

“It’s a cloak,” he told her. “She was wearing it the day we met. She wore it all the time. That’s why it’s my favorite color. But she was wearing it the day she died. The day you were born. I found it in Gold’s shop after the curse. I don’t know if he knew.”

“Can I see it?” She moved her fingers over the soft silky fabric, elated to finally have something that belonged to Alice. A physical connection to the woman she’d never known. There weren’t many things like that in Storybrooke. They were lucky to have anything from home at all. But his fingers tightened over the cloak and he pulled it back out of her reach. “Why don’t you want me to see it?” she asked. He shook his head, keeping his lips pinched but his eyes etched with concern. He was protecting her.

“I just don’t think you should see it,” he explained. Then she knew what he was really hiding from her. The cloak was folded into a neat square. He said Alice was wearing it the day she died. The books never told her how she died. Grace always assumed she’d died in childbirth. Now she wasn’t so sure.

“Please? I want to see it,” she begged.

He wavered, pinching his eyes shut because he just couldn’t say no. He couldn’t protect her from the darkness forever. Not if he managed to find a way. If he could get a hat to work, someday all of that darkness would come into the light. She deserved to be prepared. The cloak was always meant to be hers. Not to be locked away in a drawer and never touched.

He just didn’t know if she was ready for what she was going to see. When the cloth tumbled from his fingers and the hem of the cloak brushed against the floor, she took a sharp breath and a step back. He clutched the cloak in his fingers, gripping the dark brown stains into the creases of his hands. The cloak was covered in them.

“Is that—blood?” she asked. He nodded.

“I tried to get it out. I tried a thousand times.” His voice cracked as he pulled the cloth up into a bundle, no longer carefully folding it. Twisting the fabric in his hands just to be rid of the sight of it. “It won’t come out.”

His hands shook as he shoved the bundle back into the drawer and quickly shoved it away. He seemed relieved when it was gone, but his fingers still trembled. She reached out to grasp them, to assure him that she was strong enough to face it now. Even though the cloak was evidence of her mother’s death and she’d apparently died violently. She felt sick.

“It’s okay, Papa,” she whispered.

She offered him a timid smile and he looked down at the little girl who looked so much like her mother. He wondered if she’d really believe that if she’d seen what he’d seen. But he smiled anyway, swallowing his pain and his fear of leading her into that life. He reached out to touch his thumb to her nose and hoped the blood on her mother’s cloak didn’t keep her up at night. Like it did to him.

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