Finding Alice

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“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

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29. Chapter Twenty-Nine

Grace was sitting on the back steps when Jefferson left the portal. He used to be more graceful at climbing out of them, but it had been so long and the day was exhausting. He’d fallen right out onto his knees on the grass. He caught sight of her sitting on the steps and he finally broke down.

He knelt forward and wrapped his arms around his head. She jumped to her feet and raced across the yard to him. She rested her head on his back.

“It’s okay, Papa,” she said, even though she didn’t quite understand what finally broke him.

“I’m so sorry,” he replied, his voice catching in his throat. He didn’t know if he was apologizing for leaving her behind and almost losing her again, or for abandoning her mother to Wonderland. “I meant to be here before you got home. I didn’t mean for you to be alone.”

“I wasn’t alone very long. I’m okay.” He sat up and pulled her into his arms. She held him tight.

“I’ll never leave you again,” he told her, but the words felt hollow on his tongue. Even as he spoke, he regretted it. He knew what he was going to have to do. She pulled away and looked up at him with sad dark eyes.

“Where did you go?” she questioned. He sniffed and stood to his feet to clean up the mess he’d left behind. The blue hat was now motionless in the middle of the yard. The teacup disappeared inside and never returned. The tray of cold tea was sitting on Grace’s tea table.

“I um—I got a hat to work. I went to Wonderland,” he admitted as he set the hat on his head and lifted the tray. She looked it over, recognizing the fabric instantly.

“Did you find her?” He didn’t answer until they were back inside the house and he set the tray down in the kitchen. Then he rubbed his eyes with his fingers and leaned against the counter.

“I don’t know,” he told her. “I don’t know what I saw.”

“What do you mean?”

“Wonderland has a new queen. The White Queen. She wears a veil and she doesn’t speak. Her guards captured me and—she let me go. She helped me escape. She never said why.”

“She didn’t say anything at all?”

“Nothing.”

He turned to look down at her. She had her lip clenched between her teeth and her eyes pinched with concern. Even though she looked so much like Alice, the expression was distinctly Jefferson’s. There was far too much worry on her features for someone so young. He tried to smile to show her everything was fine, but his eyes were stinging and he knew she wouldn’t believe him. He didn’t think he could lie anymore.

“Why wouldn’t she say anything?” she asked. Her voice was shaky. He knelt to her level and pulled her into his arms again.

“If my suspicions are correct,” he started, “then it means she doesn’t have a heart. And you can’t love without a heart. I don’t know how it works, but if I can get her home—I can set things right.”

“But how?”

“I don’t know. I’ll find a way.”

“I don’t want to lose you again.” He touched his thumb to her nose.

“You won’t lose me, Grace. But—I have to find a way. I promised her once. We promised we’d never go anywhere without the other. We made a deal.”

“What if it’s not really her? What if it’s another trick?” He wiped away the tears that began to drip down her cheeks. He shook his head.

“What makes you say that?”

“The Queen. Regina. She tricked you before. She took you away from me and she made me forget.”

“I know. I know she did. But I feel it—in my gut. It’s like you said. True love always finds a way, right?”

“Do you really feel it? Or do you just want to?”

She was more perceptive than he gave her credit for, and he didn’t know how to answer. He’d always been reckless and thoughtless; doing things without thinking them through. It was the whole reason he and Grace were even there in Storybrooke. The whole reason the White Queen’s guard found him in the first place. He stood and kissed the top of her head.

“Why don’t you get ready for dinner? I’ll make you some tea.”

“But Papa.”

“Everything will work out, Grace. I promise. Just put your faith in me.” She pinched her lips again and nodded.

“I trust you, Papa,” she said. He watched her rush toward the stairs, knowing she was lying too.

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