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The Hallway of Destiny

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Nancy smiled as Morgan swung the door open, tamping down the nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach that refused to go away. She just wanted to make a good impression on the daughter of her soon-to-be fiancé. No big deal, right? “Hey, girlfriend.”

For some reason, Morgan looked worried. “Hi, Nancy.”

“What do you say?” Nancy asked, entering the apartment. “Are you ready to kick it?”

Morgan made a face. “Kick what?”

But Nancy could already see that Morgan wasn’t ready. Wasn’t she supposed to ride with Nancy to school this morning? Bonding time, Robert had called it, although Nancy wasn’t completely sure she and Morgan were ready for bonding time yet. She pushed those thoughts aside.

“Honey,” Nancy said, “why do you still have your PJs on?”

Morgan almost laughed. “It’s been pretty busy around here.”

Nancy looked around the apartment, but she didn’t see any signs of hubbub. In fact, she saw just the opposite. Usually Robert didn’t take much time to clean or tidy things, but he must’ve made an effort this morning, because everything was spotless. There were no piles of papers, no leftover takeout containers…everything had been tidied and cleaned and maybe cleaned again. Nancy wondered if this was a good sign or a bad sign.

“Wow,” she said, swallowing her concern. “It’s really neat in here. Did you guys get a maid?”

“No, not exactly,” Morgan said, still sounding like she was laughing. Nancy wondered if she’d said something funny.

“Aah!” Robert came rushing down the hall, followed by…two pigeons? He flung the door open, rushing into the hallway in his pajamas. The pigeons followed him.

Nancy watched the whole thing, not sure how to react. “Were those pigeons chasing your dad?”

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Morgan said. “There were lots more this morning but we kicked most of them out.”

Nancy looked at Morgan, alarmed. “Lots more? You mean they were in the apartment?” She fumbled for her cell phone. “That sounds like an infestation to me.”

“It wasn’t! They were helping!” Morgan protested.

Nancy, however, was on a mission. “You can’t have pigeons in your apartment, Morgan. They’re not pets and it isn’t sanitary.” She strode down the hallway. “It looked like they came from…”

“Oh!” The bathroom door swung open and a redheaded blur fell against Nancy, nearly knocking them both down. “I’m so sorry!”

“It’s okay. I got you,” Nancy said automatically, taking a step or two back but keeping both herself and the redheaded blur on their feet.

Then the redheaded blur looked at Nancy, and Nancy saw for the first time that the blur was a woman…a woman with dazzling blue eyes and blemish-free skin models would give up an entire Fashion Week for. A woman who was wearing only a towel.

“Oh,” the woman breathed, looking at Nancy as though she could see everything about her all at once. “You’re beautiful!”

“So are you,” Nancy whispered.

The woman smiled then, an incandescent smile that lit her eyes and her face and every bit of her. Nancy was finding it difficult to remember to breathe in the face of a smile like that.

“Thank you,” the woman said.

Belatedly, Nancy realized she’d just called the other woman beautiful, and felt her face heat in embarrassment. “Um. You’re welcome.” She cleared her throat, taking a step back and resting her hands on the other woman’s (bare) arms. “Are you okay?”

That smile again. “I’m wonderful, thank you!” Then the woman gave her an inquisitive, concerned look. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Nancy said, feeling a smile of her own develop. “Thanks.” Her reason seemed to be slow in returning, but when it did, she blinked at the other woman. “Oh. Um. Who are you?”

“Giselle from Andalasia,” the woman said, dipping into a slight curtsey.

Nancy had never heard of Andalasia, and wondered if it was some new trendy neighborhood near Williamsburg. She didn’t spend much time in Brooklyn anymore. “Nancy from the Garment District.”

Giselle gasped in delight, clasping her hands together. “Oh, that sounds like a wonderful place! Do you make clothes, Nancy?”

“Sort of,” Nancy said. “I’m a designer.”

“I would love to see what you’ve designed,” Giselle said.

Nancy was beginning to feel a bit shy under the light of Giselle’s regard. “Would you really?”

“I really would,” Giselle said, looking and sounding completely sincere.

“I finally lost those pigeons,” Robert said, limping back into the apartment. “And I think the neighbors definitely…” He seemed to realize who was there, and stood a little straighter. “Nancy. Hi. I see you’ve met Giselle.”

Giselle took Nancy’s arm impulsively and turned them both to face Robert. “Robert, she’s wonderful! She designs clothes. Did you know that?”

“Yeah,” Robert said, looking warily back and forth between them as though he might find…what? Nancy wasn’t sure what he was looking for. “Then…you two are okay?”

“Giselle was going to fall but Nancy caught her,” Morgan said.

“Yeah, she does that.” Robert looked at Morgan. “Why aren’t you ready for school? Go get dressed!”

Morgan sighed. “Do I have to?”

Robert nodded. “Nancy can’t wait forever to get to work.”

Morgan trudged off toward her room, dragging her feet as she went.

Robert turned to Nancy. “I’m so sorry. I know you’re probably running late as it is.”

“I have a little leeway,” Nancy said, all too aware that Giselle still had her arm linked with Nancy’s.

“You’re going to the Garment District this morning?” Giselle asked, sounding delighted.

Nancy cleared her throat. “I am.”

“May I come?” Giselle asked.

“Giselle, Nancy is very busy at work,” Robert began.

“Yes,” Nancy interrupted. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to see more of Giselle, to get to know her better. “You can come with me.”

“Wonderful!” Giselle said, removing her arm from Nancy’s. “Give me just a few moments and I’ll be dressed.” She hurried down the hallway in her towel.

Robert cleared his throat, gesturing for Nancy to join him. “Can I talk to you a minute?”

Nancy followed Robert into the living room. “Who is she, your sister?”

“My—? No,” Robert said, looking almost grim. “Morgan insisted on rescuing her last night. We don’t know who she is or where she came from, just her name and that she’s waiting for some guy named Edward.”

Nancy felt an inexplicable pang of disappointment. “Oh.”

Robert touched her arm awkwardly. “You okay? You seem a little off this morning.”

“Oh.” Nancy mustered a smile. “You know. I just wanted to make a good impression on Morgan.”

Robert smiled, stepping closer. “Well, not to worry. She’ll love you.”

Nancy hadn’t gotten that impression in her interactions with Morgan this morning. Not that Morgan didn’t like her, but she got the sense that Morgan didn’t take her entirely seriously, and Nancy didn’t know what to do about that, or whether there was anything she could do.

“But really,” Robert said, “you don’t have to take Giselle on. Not for me.”

“No, I…” Nancy shrugged. “She seemed interested in seeing where I work.” And she felt drawn to Giselle’s buoyant spirits, though of course she’d never tell Robert that. Robert and she were very well suited most of the time; he worked a lot and so did she, and he never asked too much of her emotionally. And if occasionally she wanted to ask more of him emotionally, well…that wasn’t fair to him, and she tried not to think about it. He wanted to get married, and for them to be a family. That was the important thing.

Robert smiled. “Thanks.” He gave her arm a squeeze.

“Okay,” Morgan said, coming out of her room and still looking disgruntled. “I’m ready for school.”

“Good girl,” Robert said with an approving smile.

Giselle came into the living room, her stride somewhere between a skip and a prance, hands held up as though she was on the verge of some very artistic gesticulating. She wore a high-waisted aqua dress that looked stunning on her. “Here I am!”

“That dress is beautiful,” Nancy said.

Giselle smiled and blushed. “Thank you.”

Robert frowned at Giselle. “You have a dress made from the same fabric as our curtains?”

“No,” Giselle said. “I have a dress made from your curtains.”

“What?” Robert said, looking less than pleased.

Nancy took a step forward, examining the way Giselle had put together the fabric. “This is very skilled work. When did you do this?”

“Just now,” Giselle said.

Nancy looked at her in surprise. “You made a dress just now? That quickly?”

“From my curtains?” Robert interjected.

Giselle looked at Robert. “You’re not upset, are you?”

“No, he’s not,” Nancy said, examining Giselle’s stitches, which were so tiny and precise that they looked almost machine made.

Robert folded his arms. “Oh, I’m not?”

Nancy winced internally, but gave Robert an arch look. “No. You’ll get over it and pick up some new curtains later.”

“I wouldn’t want to upset you,” Giselle said anxiously.

Robert sighed. “You didn’t. It’s fine.”

Giselle smiled. “Thank you. I’m glad you understand.”

“Oh, I don’t understand,” Robert said, “but after the rats and pigeons, curtains are pretty minor.”

Nancy gave Robert an alarmed look. “Rats?”

“I told you, we got rid of ‘em,” Robert said.

Nancy nodded. “Right.” She clapped her hands. “Okay, ladies. Out to the car, and we’ll get you to school, Morgan.”

Morgan turned to Giselle eagerly. “Are you coming to school with me?”

Nancy glanced away, wondering what it was about Giselle that made Morgan love her within twenty-four hours. Whatever it was, Nancy hadn’t managed to produce it over the course of five years, which wasn’t exactly encouraging.

“No, I’m going to a wonderful place called the Garment District,” Giselle said excitedly.

“You might’ve oversold it a little there, Nancy,” Robert said.

Nancy ignored him and led her small group out to the waiting car.

***

Giselle was beginning to get used to these wonderful magical machines called cars; she’d been in one called a taxi last night, and wondered if this was a taxi too. She wasn’t completely familiar with the names of things around here.

“You said you were getting married, right?” Morgan asked Giselle.

Giselle beamed at Morgan. “When my Edward comes for me, we’ll be married.” She wanted to sing just thinking about it, but she hadn’t heard anyone sing since she came here, which was disconcerting to say the least.

“Can we come to the wedding?” Morgan asked.

“Of course! We would be very happy if you came,” Giselle said. “How do you feel about falling into wishing wells?”

Nancy shook her head, looking terribly alarmed. “No way. Nobody’s falling into any wells.”

“But that’s how Giselle got here,” Morgan said.

“And that’s fine for Giselle, but you don’t go into any water until your dad says it’s safe. Okay?” Nancy asked.

“Okay,” Morgan grumbled.

This sounded like another thing that was different from Andalasia. “Jumping in a wishing well here doesn’t open a portal to another world?”

Nancy gave Giselle a look of disbelief. “Jumping in a wishing well drowns you.”

Giselle gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. “Oh! Oh, no, Morgan, you mustn’t jump into any wishing wells. Promise you won’t.”

“I already promised,” Morgan said, but she sounded less grumpy about it than she had a moment ago. “Maybe if we come to your wedding, you can come to my dad’s.”

“Who is your father marrying?” Giselle asked.

“Nancy,” Morgan said.

Giselle smiled. “Of course! He’s very lucky to have you.”

Nancy was looking at the road, but she smiled at the compliment. She seemed different when she smiled, and Giselle knew that she wanted to make Nancy smile as much as possible.

“Well,” Nancy said, “he hasn’t asked me yet.”

“I’m sure he’s waiting for the most perfect, most romantic moment,” Giselle said.

“My dad?” Morgan asked, sounding as though she couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t know,” Nancy said. “Robert and I…we’re not really that romantic.”

Giselle stared at her. “What do you mean? He loves you, doesn’t he?”

Nancy shrugged. “We don’t really talk about it.”

“Well, when did he last sing to you?” Giselle asked, waiting expectantly for some beautiful story about sunsets and love duets.

Nancy laughed. “If we don’t talk about it, we definitely don’t sing about it.”

“I don’t understand. He loves you, but he’s never told you so or sung to you about it?” Giselle asked. How did anyone in this place know they were in love if there was no talking about love and no singing about it?

“What can I tell you?” Nancy said, looking as though she was trying to laugh but wasn’t finding it very funny. The car came to a stop. “Have a good day at school, Morgan.”

“Bye, Nancy,” Morgan said. “Bye, Giselle.” She got out of the car and raced to the front door of what must have been her school. Giselle wondered what school was like, and whether it was anything like being raised by kindhearted fairies and forest creatures. She hoped so.

When Giselle turned to ask Nancy about school, Nancy was staring into the distance. She didn’t look happy and she wasn’t even close to smiling.

“What’s wrong?” Giselle asked.

Nancy sighed and shook her head as she eased the car back into traffic. “Nothing.”

Giselle looked at the school, then back at Nancy. “You miss Morgan, don’t you?”

“Miss her? I barely know her. And I’m starting to think…” Nancy stopped speaking abruptly.

“Starting to think what?” Giselle asked.

“That I don’t know Robert very well either,” Nancy said.

“I’m sure he loves you even if he hasn’t sung to you!” Giselle said earnestly, hoping she hadn’t said anything too discouraging to Nancy. “Not everyone sings here, you know.”

“It’s not the singing, Giselle,” Nancy said. “We’ve been together five years, and we’ve never lived together. I’ve never even spent the night.”

“Five years?” Giselle repeated. “How could he wait so long?” She could never have waited so long to marry Nancy if Nancy had been her true love. Nancy was so wonderful and so kind; how could Robert bear being away from her any longer than he absolutely had to be?

“I always thought it was because he’d been burned,” Nancy said.

Giselle gasped. “Oh, the poor man! Was it a dragon? Some of them can be very cruel.”

Nancy gave Giselle another of those confused glances. “No…not literally burned.”

“Oh. That’s a relief.” Giselle relaxed a little. Maybe the dragons in this land were all good-hearted.

“He was in a relationship that didn’t go very well,” Nancy said.

A relationship that didn’t go well? Giselle had never heard of such a thing. “What do you mean?”

“Robert was married before we met,” Nancy said.

“Oh,” Giselle said softly. “She died.”

“No, she didn’t die. She left.”

Giselle must have misunderstood what Nancy was saying. “She left her true love?”

Nancy steered the car into what looked like a huge, dark cave full of cars. “Yeah, I don’t think there was a whole lot of true love in that relationship.”

“But they married each other,” Giselle said. “You can’t marry someone who isn’t your true love.”

Nancy glanced at Giselle. “Maybe you can’t. It happens around here all the time.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” Giselle could feel her breathing quicken and her pulse race. “If you can marry someone who isn’t your true love, how can you tell if they’re your true love or not? How can you be sure you’ll live happily ever after?”

“You can’t,” Nancy said.

No. No. That was impossible. You met your true love, both of you knew it immediately, and then you were married. That was how it had to work. If the person you love could…could change his mind…how could you ever live happily ever after if he could always leave?

“Giselle.” Giselle felt Nancy’s hand on her arm. “Giselle, breathe.”

Giselle clutched at Nancy to try to steady herself. “How are you not afraid all the time?”

“Sometimes I am,” Nancy said quietly.

Giselle looked up, looked into Nancy’s warm brown eyes, and saw the truth in them. Nancy was afraid sometimes, more than she wanted to admit. She was afraid Robert wouldn’t want her anymore and afraid that he would. She loved him, and she didn’t. He loved her, and he didn’t. All the possibilities were true at the same time…and in this place, they could be.

“Oh,” Giselle whispered.

“It’s scary,” Nancy said. “Loving someone is scary.”

Giselle shook her head. “I don’t think I like that.”

“I don’t know anyone who does,” Nancy said. She patted Giselle’s arm lightly. “Come on. We’ll go inside and you can see some of my designs.”

Giselle was still excited to see the clothes that Nancy had designed, but all this new information about how true love worked in this place was something she’d need time to learn and understand. She wasn’t afraid of loving Edward, was she? And was he afraid of loving her?

She’d know when she saw him again. She had to believe that.

***

As Nancy had suspected Giselle might, Giselle went straight for the pastel glittery tulle. “Look how beautiful this is!”

“We got four bolts of it by mistake,” Nancy said with a smile. “I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it.”

“Can I help?” Giselle asked, giving Nancy a deeply earnest look.

“Sure,” Nancy said, averting her eyes after a moment. Looking at Giselle too long made her feel…strange. “I’ll get you a pencil and some paper, and if you want to, you can draw your ideas.”

“That would be perfect,” Giselle said, “and so much more convenient than ashes from the fire.”

Nancy had met eccentrics in the fashion world before. She’d learned to ignore the things they said that made no sense and pay attention to everything else. “Right.” She gave Giselle the pencil and a few pieces of paper. “You go ahead and start drawing. I have a few things to check on, but I’ll be right back.”

“Thank you,” Giselle said, giving Nancy a warm smile before turning to her art.

When Nancy returned from checking on her various projects, Giselle held up a nearly-complete drawing. “What do you think?”

Giselle had designed a dress—that much wasn’t particularly surprising. But she’d designed a flower-shaped overskirt made entirely of the glittery tulle, with a wrap to match.

“It looks like a flower,” Nancy said.

Giselle beamed. “Exactly! I thought if we made petals from the tulle, and sewed a few layers of them together, it would make the skirt dazzling.”

Nancy nodded in approval. “It would. This is really nice, Giselle.”

Giselle stood just a little taller and didn’t bother to hide how happy Nancy’s praise made her. Nancy was beginning to wonder if Giselle ever hid anything.

“The wrap won’t be warm,” Giselle added, “but if you’re worried about that, I think we might be able to line it.”

Nancy shook her head. “No, that would ruin the effect. I like the way you’ve drawn it here, like a…web from an enchanted spider.” Great, now she was starting to use magical metaphors…and not very well, either.

But Giselle’s smile widened, and she caught Nancy in an impetuous hug. “Exactly! Nancy, thank you!”

Nancy hugged Giselle back for a moment, and then took a step away. “So. What do you think? Should we make this dress to see if it looks as good in reality as it looks on paper?”

“I’d like to,” Giselle said.

Nancy picked up the bolt of tulle that Giselle had been so interested in. “Come on. We can do some cutting and piecing in the back room.”

***

Giselle was excited to begin working on her dress with Nancy, but all that faded from her mind when she saw the elaborate brocade gown on a mannequin in the back room. She approached it slowly, reaching out to touch the elaborate fabric. “What is this?”

“That? Oh.” Nancy made a self-conscious sound that might have been laughter. “That’s my dress for the ball.”

“It’s lovely.” Giselle spun to face Nancy, excited. “You’re going to a ball?”

“I wanted to ask Robert to take me, but…I don’t think he would,” Nancy said.

“He loves you,” Giselle said. “He would.” She couldn’t imagine how Nancy could stand never being sure that Robert loved her enough. It must feel awful.

“Well, if he does, I have the dress ready,” Nancy said.

“That’s a very important part,” Giselle agreed. “Is this something your queens and princesses wear?”

“Not now,” Nancy said, “but this is a style that queens and princesses used to wear a long time ago. I always looked at old paintings and thought, I want to have a dress like that one day.”

“And you made your dream come true,” Giselle said, fingers still drifting across the fine fabric.

“Something like that,” Nancy said.

“Would you make me a dress someday?” Giselle asked.

“You mean like this one?”

“Like anything you want,” Giselle said. “I’d love to wear something you designed.”

Nancy blushed and looked shy. “You would?”

Giselle stepped forward and took her hand. “Of course!”

Nancy looked into Giselle’s eyes, and Giselle wasn’t sure what Nancy saw, but whatever it was, it seemed to be enough. “Yes. I’ll make you a dress.”

Giselle smiled and gave Nancy’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Thank you.”

Nancy blushed again. “Didn’t we come back here to make your design?”

Giselle nodded, letting go of Nancy’s hand. “Should I call my friends?”

Nancy gave Giselle one of those funny confused looks. “Do you think we need them? I thought we could do okay with the two of us, since you made that dress in about fifteen minutes this morning.”

“Oh,” Giselle said, wondering if maybe designers here didn’t have their animal friends help them. It would take longer, but she didn’t mind spending the extra time with Nancy. In fact, she thought that would be a very good way to spend the day. “Of course.” She could always summon those nice rats from this morning if she and Nancy fell behind in their work.

Nancy marked shapes on the fabric and Giselle cut the shapes as precisely as she could, and they fell into a quiet rhythm. After a few moments, Giselle heard music, and she stopped what she was doing, delighted. There was music here! She’d been beginning to wonder. It took her another moment to realize that the music was coming from Nancy. Nancy was humming.

Giselle didn’t need any prompting. She quickly began to hum along, twining her harmonies around Nancy’s voice, snipping away as they made music together.

Nancy’s voice faltered, and Giselle’s voice sounded strange alone. Giselle looked up from her work, meeting Nancy’s eyes.

“You know that song?” Nancy asked, surprised.

“No,” Giselle said. “Not that one specifically.”

Nancy frowned. “But then how did you…?” She gestured vaguely.

“Music makes sense to me,” Giselle said. “It always has.” She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t invented songs and melodies to go along with things that were happening in her life.

“You have a beautiful voice,” Nancy said, staring intently at the fabric she was going to mark.

“Thank you,” Giselle said, feeling warmed by the praise. “So do you.”

Nancy smiled another one of those smiles that Giselle loved to see. “Thanks.”

“You don’t have to stop,” Giselle said. “I like the way we sound.”

Nancy looked at Giselle, smile widening. “I do too.”

As they both turned back to their work, it wasn’t long before first one voice and then the other were lifted in song.

***

“I’m sorry we stayed so late,” Nancy said. “I didn’t mean to keep you to myself all day.” Although that sounded dangerously like something she would like to do. Working side by side with Giselle had made Nancy feel even closer to her than she had felt this morning; Giselle emanated joy and curiosity, both of which Nancy found invigorating personally and professionally.

“It was wonderful!” Giselle said. “I’ve never seen a place with so many people making so many beautiful things.” She smiled shyly at Nancy. “And I’ve never made a dress with another person before.”

The emphasis on ‘person’ was odd, but Nancy shrugged it off. “I’m glad you had a good time.”

“Oh, I did,” Giselle said as they walked out the front door of the building.

An unusual looking man wheeled a cart by them. “Free caramel apple for the pretty lady?” He held out an apple to Giselle.

“Thank you!” Giselle said, reaching out to take the apple.

Nancy reacted quickly, covering Giselle’s hand with her own and lowering it. “No, thanks. She’s not hungry.”

Giselle gave Nancy a confused look, but didn’t contradict her. Nancy gestured for them to walk faster, and Giselle followed the silent signal, even though Nancy knew she didn’t understand why they were hurrying. Nancy glanced over her shoulder, and saw the man with the cart watching them, a displeased look on his face. Almost any real vendor in New York would’ve shrugged off Nancy’s refusal and kept going, and the fact that this guy hadn’t done that confirmed Nancy’s suspicion that something wasn’t right about him.

Once they were safely in Nancy’s car, Giselle asked, “Why didn’t you want me to take the apple?”

“I know you trust people, Giselle, but you have to be careful,” Nancy said. “Sometimes people can act like they want to give you something when what they really want is to hurt you.”

Giselle was silent for a moment. “Like the old woman.”

“Sure,” Nancy said, not certain at all what Giselle was talking about.

“She told me she wanted me to have a wish at the wishing well, and then…I thought it was an accident, but…” Giselle shook her head. “She pushed me. She sent me here.”

Nancy still didn’t understand the connection between showing up in New York and falling into a wishing well, but Giselle had been pretty consistent about it. Nancy assumed there was part of the story Giselle was leaving out, or that Nancy was missing. “Yeah. Kinda like that.”

“But I don’t know why she would want to hurt me,” Giselle said, turning to Nancy. “I never hurt her. I didn’t even know her!”

Nancy shook her head. “I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why some people do the things they do.”

“It never used to be,” Giselle said.

Nancy touched Giselle’s arm gently. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust people. I’m just saying…be careful. You don’t have to do something just because someone else wants you to.”

Giselle did her best to look brave, nodding and resting her own hand atop Nancy’s. “I understand.”

They were quiet the rest of the way home, until Nancy fished her keys from her purse and hesitated in front of her apartment door.

“What’s wrong?” Giselle asked.

Nancy sighed. “My apartment isn’t as nice as Robert’s.” She grimaced, looking at Giselle. “I guess I’m a little embarrassed.”

“Don’t be,” Giselle said firmly. “I’ve slept in trees and meadows and all sorts of places.”

Nancy tried to imagine sleeping in a tree. Wouldn’t a person fall off a branch? “Trees?”

“Hollow trees,” Giselle clarified.

Well, maybe hollow trees would be easier. Nancy took a quick breath and unlocked the door to her apartment, swinging it open before she could change her mind.

They walked into the apartment. Giselle looked curiously at the art prints on the walls, at the upholstered furniture, at the curtains. Nancy closed the door behind them, wondering what Giselle saw when she looked at this place.

“I can tell you’re a designer,” Giselle said, turning to Nancy and smiling.

Nancy hadn’t expected that. “Really? How?”

Giselle spread her arms. “Look at all the colors! It’s dark outside but look how bright and beautiful this room is.”

Nancy exhaled in relief. “You like it?” For some reason, it mattered to Nancy very much what Giselle thought of this apartment.

“Of course,” Giselle said.

Nancy put down her things and hurried toward the kitchen. “What would you like to eat? I have chicken vegetable soup I made last night—there’s plenty for both of us.”

“Not Chinese food?” Giselle asked hopefully.

Nancy laughed; they had ordered Chinese takeout for lunch today. “You can’t eat Chinese food for every meal.”

“Yes, I could,” Giselle said. “But soup would be lovely.”

After dinner, Nancy showed Giselle where her bed was. “I’ll take the couch tonight.”

Giselle looked alarmed. “I couldn’t let you do that!”

“I want to,” Nancy said. “I want you to be comfortable.”

“I am comfortable,” Giselle said. “You’re here.”

No one had ever said anything like that to Nancy before, and Nancy struggled to hide how deeply Giselle’s words had affected her. “Um. Thank you.” She gestured to her bureau. “The third drawer is pajamas—I don’t know if anything in there will fit you, but if it does, you’re welcome to it.” It had seemed perfectly normal to suggest such a thing, but suddenly Nancy found herself thinking about the intimacy of wearing someone else’s pajamas. Of Giselle wearing Nancy’s pajamas.

“Thank you,” Giselle said. She hesitated. “Nancy?”

“Hmm?”

“Have you ever sung with Robert?”

“Have I sung with him?” Nancy had no idea why that question would matter to Giselle, but it certainly seemed to. “I don’t think so. There are two things he doesn’t like to do—sing and dance.” She suspected he could do both, but that he simply didn’t like to.

“Oh.” The answer didn’t seem to reassure Giselle; instead, it seemed to perplex her even more.

“Is something wrong?” Nancy asked.

“Oh, no,” Giselle said, giving Nancy a quick smile. “I just wondered.”

Nancy nodded. She wanted to ask Giselle why she wanted to know, what singing with Robert would prove, but she couldn’t think of a way to pose the question.

“Well,” she said instead, “I’ll leave you to it.” She started toward the door.

“Goodnight, Nancy,” Giselle said.

Nancy turned back to smile at Giselle. “Goodnight.”

That night, she dreamt of gowns and singing and sinister men selling apples.

***
What do you do when you might have two true loves?

The question haunted Giselle, especially when she woke up in the morning in Nancy’s bedroom wearing Nancy’s pajamas. They had sung together. They had shared clothing. They both loved to make beautiful things, and although Nancy was more careful about the world, Giselle knew that Nancy had a romantic heart, just as Giselle did. Edward had caught her when she’d fallen out of a tree, and they had sung together, but…what did she know about him? Did he like pretty dresses? Would he be romantic once they were married? Would he care if Giselle made her own clothes, or would he insist that the royal seamstresses design an entirely new wardrobe for her? Giselle didn’t know, and if she didn’t know, how could she decide to marry him? She was beginning to understand what Nancy had said about not being sure if someone was your true love.

“You can wear some of my clothes today if you want,” Nancy said. “I know you like to make your own, but I don’t have much stuff around the house that you can use. Though I guess if you feel uncomfortable in my things you can make something new when we get to work today.”

“Thank you,” Giselle said, “but I’m sure you’ll have something that will be just perfect.”

And Nancy did. There was a light blue dress in her closet that looked as though it had barely been worn, with a lovely full skirt.

“That looks great on you,” Nancy said when Giselle emerged from the bedroom.

Giselle beamed, feeling strangely shy. “Thank you.”

“A friend of mine convinced me to buy it during a shopping expedition last year, but that shade of blue is not my color.” Nancy sipped her coffee, which Giselle had discovered smelled wonderful and tasted terrible. Nancy seemed to like it though.

“I’d like to make a dress for you someday,” Giselle said. Something in a deep, rich color would look just lovely on Nancy—a warm dark brown, perhaps? Or deep purple, like a jewel?

Nancy smiled. “I’d like that.”

They were approaching the front door of the building where Nancy worked when all of a sudden a familiar voice rang through the street. “I’ve been dreaming of a true love’s kiss—“

“What the hell?” Nancy asked, turning to see who was singing, eyes widening at the sight of Edward.

And it was Edward, resplendent in the maroon velvet that he had been wearing when they met. He’d come to rescue Giselle, just as she had hoped. Giselle wondered why she didn’t feel happier about it.

“My love,” Edward said, dropping to one knee before her. “Fate has brought me here. Fate and the crosstown bus.”

Giselle tried to smile. It felt difficult. “Hello, Edward.”

Nancy was still staring, wide-eyed. “This is Edward?”

Edward stood, looking at Nancy suspiciously, hand on the hilt of his sword. “What lady in waiting is this, Giselle? Is it her treachery that brought you here?”

“No!” Giselle said. “Nancy’s been very kind to me.”

Edward’s hand left his sword hilt. “Then a thousand thanks to you for keeping my bride safe.” He took Giselle’s hand. “We must go.”

“Wait, wait,” Nancy said, hurrying to stand in front of Edward and block his path. “Go where?”

“We must return to Andalasia and be married,” Edward said affably.

“Right now?” Nancy asked, not sounding pleased with the prospect.

“Of course,” Edward said.

This was all moving too quickly. Giselle had wanted nothing so much a few days ago as to marry Edward immediately, but now she needed time to think about it. She gave Nancy a pleading look, although she didn’t know how Nancy would interpret such a look. She couldn’t very well say, “Please help me not have to go with him.” How would that look to a potential husband?

“You can’t go yet,” Nancy said.

“And why not, may I ask?” Edward said politely.

“Because Giselle is helping me,” Nancy said. “We’ve been making dresses in preparation for a…for a glorious ball to be held soon, and I can’t do it without Giselle’s help.”

“A ball!” Edward said. “Many dignitaries from this land will be there?”

“Yes, of course,” Nancy said without missing a beat, giving Giselle a look that said ‘I’ve got this.’

“Excellent,” Edward said. “I would like diplomatic relations between Andalasia and this ‘New York’ to be pleasant.” He turned to Giselle. “We will stay to attend this ball, and you may assist your seamstress. When the festivities are over, we’ll return home and be married.” He looked at Nancy. “Thank you, seamstress, for taking good care of my bride.”

Nancy’s words were for Edward, but she met Giselle’s eyes as she said them. “It’s my pleasure.”

***

Nancy knew she shouldn’t interfere with Giselle’s personal life, but the silence as they worked together was almost overpowering.

Finally, Nancy broke the silence by saying, “You don’t have to go with him.”

Giselle looked at Nancy, and her eyes were bleak and sad even as she smiled. “Of course I do.”

“No,” Nancy said more insistently. “You had a choice. You still have one.”

“A choice to do what?” Giselle asked. “No matter what I do, I hurt someone.”

Nancy wondered if she understood correctly…if Giselle was seeing the situation the same way Nancy was. “Edward’s not your true love. Is he?”

“I don’t think so,” Giselle said quietly. “But I’m his.”

Nancy felt a surge of irritation. Giselle knew, then. She knew how Nancy felt and she felt the same way, and none of that was going to be enough. “Then what was that look about?”

Giselle couldn’t meet Nancy’s eyes. “What look?”

“That look you gave me when Edward was about to drag you off, asking me to save you. Why did you do it if it wasn’t going to make any difference?”

“It did make a difference,” Giselle said. “It gave me more time with you. And maybe…maybe Edward will meet someone here, like I did. Maybe he’ll find a different true love and I won’t have to go.”

“And what if he doesn’t?” Nancy asked. “What if the ball happens and nothing’s changed and he holds out his hand to you and says, ‘Now we’ll return home and be married’?”

Giselle shook her head. “I don’t know.”

Nancy was tired of never being important enough. She’d been with Robert five years and she hadn’t been important enough for them to move in together, hadn’t been important enough for him to talk openly about his feelings, hadn’t been important enough for him to ask her to a ball. And now the same thing was happening with Giselle. Oh, Nancy was nice and all, but never important enough to have a future with.

“This would have been easier in Andalasia,” Giselle said. “I would have met you or I would’ve met Edward. I would never have met you both. When you meet someone there after you’ve fallen in love, you never change your mind.”

Nancy sighed. “Andalasia doesn’t have rules like anywhere I’ve ever been.”

“No.” Giselle sounded sad. “I’m so sorry, Nancy. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Nancy believed that. “I know. But at some point, you’ll have to decide what’s most important to you.” As frustrated as she was with Giselle, she knew that Giselle must be feeling terrible too. At least Nancy hadn’t thought of Robert as her One True Love. She’d thought she was in love with him, but it wasn’t the same as Giselle’s grand passions seemed to be. And to be honest, it wasn’t the same as what Nancy felt for Giselle either. But Giselle would make her choice, and then everyone else would have to deal with it. “Come on. Let’s finish the lace edging on this.”

***

Giselle had celebrated the additional time she’d have in New York with Nancy, but somehow, it was never enough. The days slipped by as they worked on dresses, sharing their days. One night, Nancy went into her bedroom to have a private conversation on a magic mirror called a ‘phone’ and came out with red eyes. When Giselle asked Nancy what had happened, Nancy said brusquely, “I ended it.” Giselle took that to mean that Nancy and Robert were no longer getting married, and as selfish as it was, Giselle was relieved. Unfortunately, Edward didn’t fall in love with anyone else; Giselle knew now that it had been ridiculous to think he would.

And soon, much too soon, it was the night of the ball.

Nancy emerged from the bedroom in the beautiful brocade dress she had made, her hair ornately done. Giselle’s breath caught at the sight.

“You look wonderful,” Giselle told her.

“Thank you,” Nancy said. She looked indecisive for a moment, then said, “I made you a dress too. It’s in the bedroom.”

Giselle entered the bedroom to find a dress made of beautiful silky blue fabric—almost the same blue as Giselle’s eyes. It looked like a combination of the dresses Giselle liked to make for herself and the dresses Giselle had seen as designs at Nancy’s work. She loved it, and wondered how Nancy had managed to put it together without Giselle knowing, since they’d been at work together most days. She must have worked on it at night and in secret.

Giselle touched the dress gently with her fingertips and knew she could never leave Nancy. But how could she break Edward’s heart?

When Giselle emerged from the bedroom wearing Nancy’s dress, Nancy’s eyes seemed to fill with tears, but she didn’t cry. All she said was, “I knew it would look good on you.”

“I have something for you too,” Giselle said. She crouched, lifting the couch cushions to pull out a parcel wrapped neatly in brown paper; she’d tied it underneath her skirt to smuggle it home without Nancy knowing. “You already have a dress, so…” She handed the parcel to Nancy.

Nancy unwrapped the parcel to find a dark brown velvet cloak, hooded and lined with satin. “Oh, Giselle…”

“It took me a long time to find the right fabrics, because it had to match all the different colors of brown in your eyes,” Giselle said.

Nancy clutched the cloak to her as though it were a friend. “Thank you.”

There was so much to say, and almost no way to say it. Regardless, Giselle opened her mouth to try.

A knock sounded. “Giselle, it’s Prince Edward! Are you ready?”

No. Giselle wasn’t ready for any of this. But that didn’t seem to stop it from happening.

Giselle fought to look and sound cheery, turning away from Nancy and toward the door. “I’m coming.”

***

The ball was beautiful, Nancy felt beautiful, and none of it mattered, because soon Giselle would be going away.

Shortly after they arrived, the bandleader announced that people should dance with someone other than the partners they had brought to the ball, and before either Giselle or Nancy could protest, Edward had swept Nancy onto the dance floor.

“You’re a very skilled seamstress,” Edward said. “My compliments.”

“Thanks,” Nancy said, straining to see Giselle as she stood by the dance floor. She stepped on Edward’s feet. “Sorry.”

“Nonsense,” Edward said gallantly. “You’re a charming companion.”

“I don’t feel very charming,” Nancy said bluntly.

Edward’s smile faltered. “You’ll miss her, won’t you?”

Nancy had no reason to lie. “Of course.” She frowned at him. “You noticed that?”

“She preferred to stay with you until the ball,” Edward said. There was no blame in his voice, no recrimination. “Yes. I noticed that.”

“We’ve gotten very close,” Nancy said, letting Edward read into that whatever he would.

Edward nodded. “The rules aren’t the same here.”

“No,” Nancy said.

“Everyone has a happily ever after,” Edward said. “Even in Andalasia, sometimes it isn’t what you expect.”

***

As Giselle watched Edward dance with Nancy, she wondered what they were talking about. Was it all pleasantries, or was something deeper being discussed? She wished she knew.

“There you are!” An old woman moved into view…the old woman who had pushed Giselle into the well.

Giselle took a step back. “You!”

“I’m so sorry for that terrible accident,” the old woman said, looking sympathetic.

But Giselle knew now. Nancy had taught her. “You pushed me.”

“I slipped,” the old woman said. “But I’ve come with a present for you.” She held out an apple…an apple that looked like the apple that man with the cart had tried to give her. “Just one bite of this will take away all your troubles.”

Giselle longed for that…for things with Nancy and Edward to somehow work out, magically or unmagically. Though she didn’t quite see how taking a bite from an apple would do it.

“Sometimes people can act like they want to give you something when what they really want is to hurt you,” Nancy had said.

As if by magic, Giselle understood. The old woman had sent her to this world, keeping her from Edward…but Edward had come here. So one bite of the apple would likely send Giselle back to Andalasia, and Edward didn’t have the same way of going home.

“You don’t have to do something just because somebody else wants you to,” Nancy had said.

Giselle opened her mouth, but rather than accepting the apple as a gift, she sang the series of notes that had never failed her before.

“What are you doing?” the old woman said, sounding less certain of herself.

And then several things happened at once. Nancy and Edward came running, and a swarm of rats and cockroaches flooded into the ballroom, climbing up the old woman’s clothes. The old woman screamed and writhed and tried to shake off Giselle’s animal and insect friends, but more of them kept coming. After a moment, the old woman spoke a few words, and her form changed from that of the old woman to a form both Giselle and Edward were very familiar with.

“Mother?” Edward gasped.

Nancy gave Edward an incredulous look. “Seriously?”

“I won’t let you marry her, Edward,” the queen…the evil queen, apparently…rasped.

Giselle opened her mouth to reply, and then she and Edward said something at exactly the same time.

“I’m not marrying him,” Giselle said.

“She’s not marrying me,” Edward said.

Giselle’s eyes widened at Edward’s words, and she looked at him, agog.

Edward gave her a small, pained smile. “I think we both know who your true love is.”

Giselle touched his arm. “Thank you.”

The rats and cockroaches were still swarming around the queen’s feet, and she looked faintly nauseated. “Well. Now that that’s settled, you can come home with me and everything will be as it was.”

“Nothing will be as it was,” Edward said. His eyes fixed on the apple the queen still held. “If you are hungry, you must eat, Mother, by all means.”

The queen pretended to notice the apple for the first time. “What, this old thing? No. I only took it to be polite.”

“She wanted me to eat it,” Giselle said.

At those words, the rats and cockroaches seemed to develop a mind of their own. The queen tried to drop the apple casually, but the cockroaches surged and caught it, and the rats swarmed so ferociously around her feet that the queen fell.

“What are they doing?” Nancy murmured to Giselle.

Giselle shook her head, mystified. “I don’t know.”

The cockroaches brought the apple to the queen, pressing it to her mouth. The queen tried to get away, but there were too many animals, and soon, she had taken the smallest bite of the apple. It was enough.

“No,” the queen gasped. “No!” Then her eyelids fluttered and she was still.

Giselle had never seen this enchantment in person, but of course she had heard of it, and was aghast. She’d thought that the apple would transport the queen home to Andalasia, but it hadn’t done that at all.

“A sleep like death,” Nancy said, “that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.”

Giselle turned to Nancy, amazed that Nancy understood when there was so little magic in New York. Then she crouched to speak with the animals. “Thank you, my friends. Thank you for protecting me.”

“I will take her home,” Edward said, sounding sad, “and begin my rule as King of Andalasia.”

“Someone might wake her someday,” Giselle said, trying to lift his spirits.

Edward shook his head. “I think not. For it to be true love, she would have to love that someone in return, and I don’t believe she has ever loved anyone. Including me.”

There wasn’t anything Giselle could say to that.

“I’m sorry,” Nancy said. “We’ve caused you a lot of trouble.”

“No more than my family and I have caused both of you,” Edward said. He touched Nancy’s arm. “Will you take care of her?”

Nancy nodded. “Of course.”

Then Edward turned to Giselle and smiled…a genuine smile. “And will you take care of her?”

“Yes,” Giselle said, barely able to believe what she was hearing. “I’m…I’m sorry I couldn’t be your happily ever after, Edward.”

“She’s still out there,” Edward said, eyes warming at the thought of finding his true love. “One day we’ll have our love duet.” He bowed and kissed Giselle’s hand, and then bowed and kissed Nancy’s hand.

Then he turned to the rats and cockroaches. “Come, friendly vermin. Help me escort my mother to our passageway home.”

The rats and cockroaches swarmed beneath the queen, lifting her slightly off the ground and then carrying her along the floor. A waiter rounded the corner, saw the man and the horde of cockroaches, and without missing a beat, turned and went back into the kitchen, pretending he hadn’t seen a thing. Edward stepped into the elevator, the doors closing behind him, the queen, and the swarm of creatures that had saved Giselle from a terrible fate.

Nancy broke the silence first. “Did that seriously just happen?”

Giselle turned to face her. “You sound surprised.”

“Yeah, well…you said he was a prince, and that you fell down a wishing well, but the apple and the old woman turning into a queen, and the rats…”. Nancy shook her head. “I wasn’t expecting that exactly.”

Giselle nodded. “I understand. Magic is much more common in Andalasia than it seems to be here.”

Nancy smiled, almost to herself. “I don’t know. I think if you look in the right places, we’ve got plenty of magic.” She took Giselle’s hand, and Giselle’s breath caught.

“Well,” Giselle said, “put that way…” She smiled.

“You chose me,” Nancy said. “Even before you knew what Edward was going to do.”

Giselle blushed, nodding. “I chose you.”

Nancy tugged Giselle closer. “I’m glad.”

“So am I,” Giselle whispered, moving closer still.

And together, they shared their first True Love’s Kiss.