I watched her coming and after a few minutes of frantic worry I sat at the piano and started to play. Maybe I wanted to impress her, I don't know but playing the melody calmed me enough not to panic. I didn't know what state of mind Emma would be in once she walked through the door. She could arrest me, which was in her right or, even worse, tell me not to speak to her again.
My fingers faulted on the keys and I balled my hands up. No she would do neither of those things. A week had passed, more then enough time for her to throw me in jail or cut all ties. She was coming for another reason but I couldn't discern what. Trying to remain calm I continued playing until I heard her car pulling into the driveway. I listened to her walk up to the porch and then knock on the open front door. She called my name but I said nothing. I let the piano do it for me. After several seconds she poked her head around the door and then walked into the room. She stood there and said nothing, just listened to me play. The longer I played the less her expression of incredulity grew until she was smiling at me in bemusement.
"What is that? You're good," she admitted grudgingly.
"Thanks, I've had years to practise. It's from another world." Like many things inspiration bleeds through to every realm. It had elements of Swan Lake to it, a swan theme which she did not miss.
"Sure, another world with Tchaikovsky…" she deadpanned and looked around the room as I finished playing. It was the same room I had gagged and bound her in and judging from the look on her face she was remembering that vividly.
"Do you want to talk somewhere else?"
"No, it doesn't matter." She stared at me and I finally let myself gaze at her. She was pale but not as sick as before. I had watched her through my telescope and like me she had spent most of the past week recovering in bed. I cocked my head at her in consideration. Maybe she did want to arrest me but just didn't have the strength to do so until now.
"Is there a cell with my name on it sheriff?"
"I'm still thinking about it," she said and stared at me strangely. She looked confused and, oddly, intrigued. I smiled faintly at her and she dropped her gaze and turned to look at some books. I began playing again to fill the tension.
"Why are you here Emma?"
"You left the hospital without telling anyone. You were sicker then I was so…" she let her explanation trail off and I narrowed my eyes at her, trying not to smile but truthfully I felt the start of some small elation bubbling inside me.
"You came to check if I was okay?" I asked but she shrugged and looked at the fire in the fireplace.
"I wanted to know why you left. You could have made your condition even worse."
I nodded, "I could but as you can see I'm on the mend." I stood up and Emma straightened and faced me. "I left for three reasons," I said and remained behind the piano, I didn't trust myself without something between us. "First reason was because I didn't want to find out what your friends and family would do to me once you told them…which you haven't otherwise I'd probably be dead," I paused and stared at her but she remained stubbornly silent. I shrugged and continued. "Second reason is because there's an asylum underneath the hospital."
Emma's eyebrows arched and she smirked at me. "Scared of a mad house?"
"No, scared of the woman who runs said mad house. She's the Queen of Hearts," I said it quietly and she leaned forward to hear and then she blanched. She didn't laugh in disbelief or mock me. She looked concerned.
"Okay I can see why you'd want to get away from there. You said there were three reasons."
"Right," I said, eager to change the topic. I moved away from the piano and past her towards a hatbox sitting on the sofa. I picked it up and presented it to Emma. She smiled. Actually it was more like a grimace but it was something. She took the box from me and shook it gently.
"I think I can guess what's in here."
"I was going to send it to you when I was well enough to leave the house. It took me longer then normal to make but there's your hat." I had been incredibly weak when I collected the hat block from Geppetto and the old man had been so concerned that he drove me back home. But I had managed to make it.
Emma took the Stetson from the box and stared at it in bemusement and then to my great surprise actually put it on. She flicked her fingers along the brim and set the hat at a crooked angle on her head. The hat could have looked ludicrous but she managed to pull it off. She stared at herself in the mirror and a flash of pleased delight passed over her face.
"If only this was Texas…"
"It suits you," I moved over to her, unable to keep that distance any longer and she removed the hat and placed it gently back into its box. She straightened and her gaze was not frightened or hostile but again curious. My eyes roved over her face, trying to work out what had changed. Emma opened her mouth to speak but hesitated. She pressed her lips together tight and I could see the frustration in her eyes. The tension was becoming unbearable and I needed to diverge it.
"How is Mary Margaret?" I blurted out. If I expected this to diffuse the air I was wrong. I knew that Mary Margaret was fine and back living with Emma but she stared at me and tears suddenly sprung up in her eyes.
"She — she's fine," she whispered and her chin wobbled and she turned from me, biting her lip.
"Is something wrong?"
She laughed and turned back to me and her eyes were fierce. "You were right."
"Everything," she approached me and then uttered something softly, so soft I couldn't hear.
"I said I believe you."
I blinked at her, ready to call her bluff but the look in her eyes made me pause. She looked miserable. Before she had fooled me into believing she was on my side because she wanted to escape. What reason did she have to lie? As revenge for what had happened? I couldn't believe that but I couldn't be hurt for the second time.
"Believe me about what?"
"About Grace and Wonderland and the Curse and — and everything. I know who everyone really is. That old lady who lives at the end of this street is really Mother Hubbard and Ruby is really Little Red Riding Hood and Mary — Mary is…" she rambled and then could not continue, her eyes wide and full of tears. I took hold of her arms and gazed deeply at her, hardly able to believe what she was saying. I felt like I was about to burst from joy.
"You believe me? You believe in magic?"
I couldn't control myself. For so long I had no hope, no chance of being happy and all my hopes were riding on Emma to believe. I thought I had to convince her, that I would make her believe no matter what it took but she had come to me of her own free will to confess. I laughed and pulled her into my arms, completely overjoyed. She stiffened in my embrace but after awhile she relaxed. I held her tight and she settled her hands on my shoulders gently but then she gripped at my shirt and her chest started to heave against mine. I rubbed her back, face in her hair and for the first time in countless years I felt content. I pulled back, my arms still around her and looked down at her tear streaked face.
"They don't know…they don't know who I really am," she said gutturally and the smile on my face fell. She was in pain, a pain I knew well. "I — I never had parents, never had anyone who loved or wanted me but Mary Margaret…" she gulped, "she was my family before I even knew but now I can't tell her. I see her and David — who's really Prince Charming, which I'm still trying to get my head around — and I have to stop myself from breaking down in front of them. I don't…I don't know what to do."
She finished, sniffing and gulping and I nodded in understanding. I pulled her back to me and she came with no resistance. It had been so long since I held someone and for her to actually respond in kind, no matter how weakly, was overwhelming.
"I know it's hard. Once I was able to leave the house the first thing I did was go to Grace. I wanted to tell her so much, I wanted her to just know, instantly. Take one look at me and know that I was her father. But she doesn't remember and I don't want to scare her…"
Emma nodded against my shoulder, "Even if I did tell them they have no reason to believe. We're all the same age and god," she pulled away to look at me, "I don't know what to do."
I smiled at her and without thinking brushed the tears away from her face. "You do what I've been saying for days: break the curse."
"But how? I believe in the curse but I don't have magic."
"Are you sure?"
She blinked, considered it and then quickly dismissed it. "I would know. I don't feel powerful."
"Maybe you're not meant to feel it because it's always been there…" I gazed at her hopefully but she still couldn't accept that she was special. I grazed the back of my fingers against her cheek as I tucked her hair behind her ear. "You know that any curse, no matter how powerful, can be broken by true love's kiss?"
Her eyes flicked to my lips and then back up into my eyes. Time spooled out, strung between us and I leaned down towards her mouth. Her eyes closed, I could feel her eyelashes against my cheek but my lips grazed against the corner of her mouth as she turned away and pulled herself out of my arms.
"Woah," she said and held out her arm. "If true love's kiss can break a curse then we're out of luck Jeff. I'm not doing that with you."
Her rejection, though warranted and expected, hurt but I smiled and took a step back, "I'm sorry. I don't believe us kissing will break the curse I just…I'm sorry," I moved towards the hatbox, creating some needed space between us. She had turned her face away at the last moment but I had seen the way she looked at me. It shouldn't be possible but I think for a second she considered it. Me. I know that sounds ludicrous but I felt that there was something between us and if there's one thing that's obvious about me by now it's that I don't give up. There were issues to deal with before I could even call her my friend let alone anything else but I would do everything in my power to show Emma that I was someone worth counting on. I just had to prove it to her.
I lifted the hat and showed it to her and she became wary, eyes flicking to the open door. I felt a pang of disappointment. She had told me that she believed, came alone to tell me but she still didn't trust me. I didn't begrudge her it, she had every reason not to but I desperately needed her to take a chance on me.
"Here, this is yours," I put the hat back in the box and held it out but she remained still, eyeing the box and me swiftly.
"Do you want me to make it work? Because I don't know if I can…Although, maybe…" she looked at the case, her mistrust turning into something wondering.
"No," I said firmly and she looked at me in surprise, "I'm not giving it to you because I want you to make it work. I'll never ask you to do that again or expect you to. It's a gift, that's all."
She stared at me and I don't think she knew what to believe. Finally she came forward slowly and took the box, staring at me thoughtfully. "I knew if I came here that you might force me to stay and I'm probably an idiot on top of being insane for coming here…but I had to tell you that I believed. The torment you endured is real, you're separated from your daughter, she doesn't know and I just felt…I just wanted you to know."
She was very uncomfortable saying it but I think knowing the truth about herself and the town had pulled away a layer of shielding that she carried over herself. I smiled at her and she smiled back openly, like the first time we had met. But only a piece of that armour had been removed, the rest was still rusted into place. She blinked and then moved back, as if she just realised where she was.
"What am I doing? Look I just came to say that I believed you, that's it. I'm going now," she walked to the door, the hat box swinging next to her knee. I followed her out. I couldn't let her leave without apologising, though I knew words wouldn't change what I had done.
"I'm sorry Emma, for everything. I know I need to make amends and I'm prepared to. I want to. I went too far and that's not the kind of person I want to be, certainly not someone I want to be around Grace. I'm not sure what I can do to gain your trust, if I even can, but I want you to know that it means everything that you came back to tell me. You were right that I was inflicting my past experiences onto you and I'm so sorry for that. I just couldn't see any other way."
"And now?" She asked softly, turning to me on the steps.
"Like I said that hat is just a gift. Wear it, shred it, it's up to you. I'll have to find another way to get back to Grace…" It killed me to say it because I knew there was no other way. I thought if Emma believed she would make the hat work but that obviously didn't happen. She needed to break the curse. From the look on her face she knew this to.
"I'm going to do everything I can to break the curse."
"Have you tried kissing your son? It's worth a shot."
Emma smiled, "I've covered that kid's face in a hundred kisses…but I guess one more can't hurt," she looked towards her car and then back at me. She eyed me up and down before staring intently into my eyes. "If I can do it I will but you need to face the prospect that we'll probably be amongst a few who knows the truth and always will. I don't know about you but I'm not going to let some stupid curse stop me being with my family, even if they don't know who I am."
"You think I should speak to Grace?"
"You can either keep watching her from a distance, see her grow up without you or you can try to be a part of her life. If you don't you risk never being her father again. Basically stop wasting your damn time being weird and go talk to her."
"Yes ma'am. If you ever need someone to talk to you know where I am...or put on the hat and I'll come." I smiled and she walked down the drive to her car, saying nothing but she didn't seem too put off by the suggestion. I walked to the bottom of the porch and watched her get in and drive away. In the distance the clock tower struck noon, the time when Grace and her parents go shopping on a weekend. It wouldn't seem odd to strike up a conversation with them at the cashier, I knew the people she was staying with, they used to be my friends. There was a tailor in town, maybe I could even get a job...
As the sound of Emma's car faded away I walked from my house and into town with a smile on my face. Emma was right, I needed to stop wasting my time waiting for something to fix my life and start changing it myself. It would be difficult and might end in disaster but it's better then watching my daughter and the woman I had fallen in love with living their lives without me. Like I told Emma everyone in this world expects a magical solution to their problems and while I believe in magic I needed to stop relying on it to give me a happy ending and work towards it myself.
The end! I like to imagine that Jefferson makes good on his promise and starts to be more proactive in a positive way and Emma slowly starts to trust him.
Thanks to everyone who has been reading and reviewing, I'm super pleased people have enjoyed it and told me :)