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

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22. Chapter Twenty-Two

There was no doubt in Jefferson’s mind that Alice belonged in the Enchanted Forest. They walked along the road for a long time before coming to the nearest village. They found an inn to rent for the night, and once they’d checked in and safely hidden her belongings, he took her hand and led her out onto the street to show her the town.

She smiled the whole way. Alice had never explored anything beyond her own apple orchard and the limited section of Wonderland. Now she had a new land to explore, and he laughed along with her as she twirled in the street and excitedly examined everything they came across.

When it grew cold, he wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and took her hand again. He led her to a place just outside of town, where fireflies came to life and flickered between trees. She stood in awe for a long time before turning back to him.

“What magic is this?” she asked. He smiled.

“Magic? It’s not magic. They’re fireflies. Do you not have fireflies where you’re from?”

“I don’t believe so. What’s a firefly?”

“They’re just bugs that create light with their bodies. It’s how they signal to their mates.” She spun back around to watch them flicker between trees.

“So it is magic.” He laughed again and shook his head.

“Not magic, Just Alice. Just fireflies.” She looked back at him, still grinning, shimmering in nothing but the light of fireflies and the moon.

“It looks like magic to me.”

“If you believe it’s magic, then it’s magic.”

“Now you’re just giving me what I want.”

“I told you I always would.” She stepped away from him, her boots cracking twigs and stems. She’d grown up in a manicured apple orchard and had never seen a forest like this. Wild and free like she was now.

“I can take you back,” he told her. “If you really wanted.” She turned to face him again.

“Your hat? But you’d have to come back. The portal can’t stay open forever, and you wouldn’t be able to return on your own.” He shrugged.

“I’d do whatever I had to.”

“No,” she said. “I can’t go back. I don’t want that life.”

“You’d be able to say goodbye. You could do it properly.” She sighed and looked back at the dancing fireflies.

“Maybe in time,” she decided. “For now I’m just happy to be here with you under all these magical bugs.” He smiled and rested his head on a nearby tree. She hummed a song and twirled between the trunks.

“Alice?”

“Yes?”

“I know you only just got here, and you have so much more to see. You don’t know if you’ll even be happy here, and you just barely escaped a forced betrothal. But would you—ever consider it?” She stopped spinning, making her white and blue dress swish to a halt around her legs.

“Consider what?” she questioned.

“Allowing me the honor of being your husband.”

“You want to marry me?” She cocked her head to the side as if she didn’t understand.

“I love you, Alice. Of course I want to marry you. I was only afraid of asking because I didn’t know how to get you here and I didn’t know if you’d want to be trapped with me forever. You’ll be free here. No matter what choices you make or when you make them. But I want to build my own nest. And I want to build it with you.”

“My mother said that men don’t know how to love. That once you give them your body, they no longer have any need of you.” He shook his head. He’d be offended if it had come from anyone other than her mother. They’d already shared their bodies, and he was still filled to the brim with love.

“That’s a sad way to think about love. She’s wrong. I didn’t want your body. I mean—I do, but—it’s your heart I want. To be with you. Always. Even if you don’t want to marry me.”

“So you want to build a nest,” she said, twirling her dress and moving closer.

“A big, pretty nest,” he admitted.

“Do you want to put eggs in that nest?” He laughed.

“Perhaps,” he said. “Someday.” She stopped twirling just out of his reach, and her eyes searched his.

“You love me,” she stated. “Me me? Just Alice?”

“I do. I don’t have a name to give you but—I owe Rumpelstiltskin a favor. In exchange for getting you here. That’s the price I had to pay. And that can be—a very dangerous thing, Alice. I don’t know what he wants or when he’ll come to collect. Only that I was willing to do anything to set you free. We can wait. So that you have time to make a choice. There’s no obligation. Just know that I’m yours. If you’ll have me.”

She smiled and moved closer, but she looked down at his feet and shook her head. His heart was pounding. Despite what he said about just wanting her to be happy, he dreaded the thought of her saying no.

“You silly man, Just Jefferson,” she said as she put her hand on his chest and he gripped his fingers in her cloak, terrified and barely breathing. “I didn’t come here to be free. I didn’t come because you offered me a place to fly. I came for you. Just for you. This place is new and exciting, but it terrifies me. I wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for you. The thought of being married to anyone other than you—I couldn’t bear it. I want to build a nest with you and perhaps—someday we might have a few eggs. But I would be the one honored to be your wife.”

He smiled and pulled her in closer. She rested her head against his chest, and he held her close. He would still wait a month or two just in case the magic of Wonderland faded, or she changed her mind. But for a moment, he was happy that she was there, and she was his, and he didn’t have to say goodbye.

They walked back to the inn hand-in-hand and spent the night wrapped in each other’s arms and bodies. He whispered that question a dozen more times into her hair. She would shift in her sleep and wrap her arm around him. Then she’d mumble, “Yes, yes,” and go back to sleep.

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