“Hey, I need to pop out for a bit. Can you and… Margot, close up for me?” Regina asked, already pulling on her denim jacket with the sleeves already pushed up to her elbows.
Zelena rolled her eyes. Sooner or later Margot was going to catch on and ask why Roni always stalled whenever she said her name. God knows what excuse Roni would give but it better be a good one. The last thing they needed was for Margot to think Roni had lost the plot.
“Sure, fine,” Zelena sighed, leaning against the counter with an old cloth clutched in hand. She didn’t say anything aloud, but she silently hoped that Regina wasn’t going to see a certain voodoo witch doctor. Feelings or not, that guy was bad news and not just because he wanted Rumplestiltskin’s dagger.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Regina said, leaving the bar without a look back.
Zelena watched her go for a moment before turning to finish her clean up of the bar’s counter top. It was late in the evening during the middle of the week, so they probably wouldn’t be getting many more customers at this point, which was actually quite nice. It gave them the chance to tidy things up, meaning they could leave as soon as possible when closing came.
“Hey, mum,” Margot said, walking around behind her with a trap of empty glasses stacked in her hands. “Where’s Roni gone?”
“She had something to do. We’ll close up tonight and see her tomorrow,” Zelena explained, unable to resist reaching over and gentle give her daughters shoulder an affectionate squeeze. She had missed her so much, she could barely keep from it as if reassuring herself that her baby girl really had come back home.
“Oh, okay then,” Margot said, shrugging her shoulders and continuing passed towards the backroom to set the glasses in the dish washer.
She so obviously loved working here again. But then she always had. Even when Zelena had been cursed to be Kelly, Margot had loved helping out at the bar and was thrilled when Roni gave her an official job, not even caring when Kelly had tried to speak out against it because it might affect her school work. And she had been gutted when Kelly had made the choice to move them away from the Heights and, therefore, away from Roni and the bar. Zelena wondered if part of Margot’s love for the bar came from a secret part of her unknowingly missing her loved ones from back in the Enchanted Forest. In which case, Zelena felt even more guilty for separating her from everyone when she moved them away.
Speaking of which, that thought made her wonder about something else. Because out there, somewhere in this world, was a young woman whom her daughter had fallen for before the curse was cast. Zelena hadn’t had the chance to meet her before everything went to hell, so she had no idea who it was or even what she looked like, but she hoped that wherever she was, she was safe. If nothing else came from this mess, she just wanted her daughter to find happiness. The kind that could withstand anything thrown at them.
“Can we get another round over here?” One of the men still hanging around called from his seat by the window with his group of friends. A regular that was honestly one of the nicest guys Kelly had the pleasure of serving. It was the only reason he got away with calling out for more rather than coming to get it himself.
“Coming right up!” Zelena said instantly, flashing him a smile only to pause when she caught sight of something.
There was a shape standing on the other side of the window. A young blonde woman dressed in a red and black plaid shirt, a brown skirt and a large green coat over the top with black leggings that had a series of holes along either leg. Zelena frowned suspiciously through the glass. She recognised her. That girl had been the one who was hanging around an awful lot as of late. Never coming in but always watching from the outside, ever since Margot came home…
“Kelly?” The man called, breaking her train of thought just as something awful dawned on her. “You alright?”
“Yeah, just need to deal with something.” Zelena said, seeing a sudden flash of red as she threw the cloth down on the side with more force than was necessary. “Margot will be back in a moment to serve you.”
With that she stormed towards the door and stepped outside. The girl didn’t notice her coming, she was too busy looking out for someone inside the bar, trying to peer around the blind spots in her way in order to search for the same person she came to see every day she stopped by. In fact she only realised Zelena was there when she grabbed her by the arm and roughly pulled her away from the window, earning a squeal of surprise as she did.
“Look you,” Zelena snarled, forcing the girl to look at her. “I know exactly what you’re doing here and it can damn well stop. You leave my daughter alone, you hear me?!”
“What?” The girl yelped, automatically trying to pull away but too startled to put any strength behind her attempts.
“You think I don’t recognise a stalker when I see one?” Zelena said, letting her go and putting her hands on her hips. “You’ve been hanging around ever since Margot got back and it’s damn well going to stop right now.”
“Margot…” The girl mumbled, her eyes taking on a slight dazed look as she glanced towards the bar.
“Yes, my daughter!” Zelena hissed, leaning down towards her. “So just know that if you don’t back off and leave her the damn well alone then you’ll have me to deal with.”
“I… I didn’t mean…” The girl shook her head, glancing from Zelena to the bar and back again.
The girl had a look that was so panicked and confused, that some of Zelena’s anger faded into sympathy. It was possible that she didn’t really mean any harm. But despite what movies and TV shows tried to say in this stupid world, stalking someone’s home or place of work was not romantic. It was creepy, and Zelena wasn’t going to let her daughter be a victim from it. Still, maybe Zelena didn’t need to be so hard on this girl.
Zelena paused herself and looked the girl up and down. There was something about her… Something in her eyes that just didn’t sit right with Zelena. She didn’t have the look of an obsessed stalker. In fact right now she was looking so lost, and a little hurt. In fact there were tears building in the corner of her eyes as she took a small shy step backwards but that wasn’t what gave Zelena pause. There was something else that wasn’t right about the way she was looking around and particularly at the bar. It wasn’t so much the look of someone who was lost in a place. It was like someone who knew where they were but for some reason couldn’t reach what they had come here for.
“I’m sorry.” She said finally. “Goodbye.” She started to turn and walk away, a look of heartbreak flashing over her expression.
“Wait.” Zelena said, still frowning down at her.
The girl paused mid turn, keeping her face down and not looking at her. But she did wait, which only encouraged Zelena’s belief that maybe… Was she really just a random stalker? Or someone else?
“Who are you?” Zelena asked.
“A… Tilly.” The girl mumbled, still not looking at her.
The name didn’t sound familiar, but it almost sounded like she had changed her mind. Was it just a slip of the tongue or was she hiding something? “Why do you keep coming here?” Zelena asked stiffly.
“Doesn’t matter…” Tilly mumbled.
“Yes it does, now answer me. Why are you stalking my daughter?” Zelena asked, hoping the harsh questions would make the girl give her some real answers, though she was no longer quite sure if stalker was the right word after all. There seemed to be more to this girl that what she appeared.
“I just… We knew each other…” Tilly said quietly, seeming to choose her words carefully and keeping her eyes on her feet.
“When?” Zelena said suspiciously.
“Before.” Was all she said, still keeping her face turned away, hiding from Zelena’s cold gaze.
And then it slowly dawned on her. Or at least, she thought it did. Was it possible? Could it really be what she thought it was… Zelena wet her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. She had to find out but she had to do it subtly in case she was wrong.
“Sometimes these lives feel like a curse, don’t they?” Zelena asked casually. Even that would probably sound weird to someone who was cursed or originally from this world, but Zelena could also brush it off if need be. Especially if it turned out her original stalker hunch had been correct.
Tilly’s head snapped up at those words and she looked at Zelena with wide eyes of recognition. That was all the confirmation that Zelena needed.
“You’re awake,” Zelena said slowly.
“So are you.” Tilly mumbled, still staring at her in shock. “Is Robin-” She asked quickly, hope lighting her features.
“No,” Zelena said quickly, shaking her head and watching the hope die. “Robin’s not awake.” Zelena paused and frowned. “But you are. How? And who are you? And how do you know my daughter?”
“I’m… I mean. I have these… I have this ability. Sometimes I see things in my sleep and. I ran into R-Margot a couple weeks ago and… I think the dreams and meeting her again… It helped wake me up.” Tilly explained shyly. “I just woke up from a nightmare the other night and. There was like a puzzle in my head and I knew I needed to piece it together to understand so I stopped taking my pills and after a while… All my old memories came back to me.” It hadn’t been easy, but Tilly decided to leave the harsher details out for now.
“Wait… Are you… You’re not… Alice?” Zelena said, suddenly remembering the girl that Robin had told her about. The young love she’d fallen for in the Enchanted Forest that Zelena never had the chance to meet before the curse was cast.
Robin had kept her crush a secret from her mother for a long time at first. When she finally revealed that there was someone special out there, she had then kept the person’s identity a secret, only telling that it was a young woman she had met when she had been hunting the troll causing damage to nearby villages. She hadn’t really explained why she wouldn’t tell her any more, just saying she wanted to get to know the girl first before she made any serious moves like introducing her to friends and family, and Zelena had respected her decision. After so many years of questioning everything Robin did with her life, Zelena was trying to give her some well deserved space.
Ironically, Robin had been about to introduce them just before the curse was cast. The morning before Regina showed up at the farm, Robin had revealed over breakfast she wanted to set up a diner date for everyone to officially meet one another and finally gave Zelena her first hint as to who it could be by giving up the first name. Alice was pretty common so Zelena didn’t think twice about it when she heard, but now she realised, looking into this girls eyes and remembering what Roni had said about Rogers and a young girl who went by that exact name… This was Alice. The Alice. Freaking Nook’s Alice!
And, apparently, her daughters Alice, as well.
“You know me?” Alice blinked.
“Yes. Robin told me about you.” Zelena nodded, sure enough a light blossomed in Alice’s eyes at that comment. If she had any doubts about who this girl was before, they were gone when she saw the love in her expression, just by knowing that Robin had talked about her. “So that’s why you’ve been hanging around.”
“I’m sorry,” Alice said again, ducking her head slightly.
“Don’t be.” Zelena said softly. “I understand how it feels… Wanting to be with someone you love but with the curse and fake memories getting in the way. So you try and get as close as you can and… Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry.”
Without thinking twice about it, she opened her arms and took a step towards her. She hesitated when she saw Alice flinch slightly, but didn’t lower her arms and after a short pause, Alice’s body relaxed and she stepped into them. The two women clung to each other, sharing their grief over the secrets they would need to keep. Zelena shut her eyes, rubbing Alice’s back slightly in comfort, remembering the stories Regina had told her and knowing how much this poor girl had been through, before allowing herself to smile.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you.” Zelena whispered softly into her blonde hair, giving Alice a gentle squeeze.
“You too,” Alice’s voice hitched slightly.
They stayed as they were for at least a minute or so, holding one another like they had known each other for years. Somehow it was so easy to be comfortable around each other despite the fact that this really was their first time meeting and Alice shut her eyes, enjoying the warmth of her first hug since the curse was cast. If she really let her mind go, she could almost pretend they were back in the Enchanted Forest and this was the meeting they were supposed to have. The kind where Robin was there with them and Zelena accepted her as part of the family.
The two women finally pulled away at the sound of the familiar voice. Robin/Margot stood in the doorway of the bar, looking at the two of them with a slight confused frown. When she caught sight of Alice there was a flash of recognition but only vaguely, and she quickly looked back towards her mother again.
“Everything okay?” She asked.
“Yes, yes, Margot, it’s fine.” Zelena said, keeping one arm around Alice’s shoulders and trying to fight the urge to tear up. “Actually, I’d like you to meet someone.” Alice flashed her a look of surprise but Zelena just gently squeezed her arm in assurance. “This is Tilly. Tilly, this is my daughter, Margot.”
“Hey,” Margot said, smiling at her. “You’re the girl from the other night, right?”
“Yeah,” Alice said quietly. “Um... Hi.”
“Tilly’s going through some stuff. Why don’t you take her inside and make her up a drink.” Zelena said, giving Alice a gentle push forward.
“Yeah, sure.” Margot held the door open for her. “Come on in.” She said with a friendly smile.
Alice once again glanced nervously back at Zelena, as if checking that this really was okay, before returning the soft smile to Margot and stepping inside. Margot then escorted her to a comfortable seat near the furthest end of the bar where it was warm and gave them a certain amount of privacy. While Alice took a seat, Zelena set about making sure everyone else in the bar was satisfied, freeing Margot up to make Alice a special mocktail she had made up herself one day when she was bored and experimenting. When it was clear that no one else had need of her, she allowed herself to wander towards the two girls, subtly checking up on them.
“So what’s up?” Zelena heard Margot asked after Alice had taken a sip of her drink. “Mum said you were going through some stuff?”
“Um yeah,” Alice nodded slowly, thinking over what to say. “Um… It’s my p-dad. We were… Separated for a while… And we recently met up again but…” Alice wet her lips and shook her head. “He doesn’t even know who I am anymore.”
“Oh, I think I get it.” Margot said slowly, nodding her head. “You’ve changed. And now you don’t quite fit into his worlds anymore.”
“Yeah,” Alice whispered, staring up at Margot in awe.
“That must be hard.” Margot said, not noticing the star struck expression on Alice’s face. She leaned forward against the bar top. “But, you’re still the same person deep down. It might be hard to connect while you adjust to your changes but you’re both still you. And the real selves inside you will shine through no matter how much change you go through, so hang in there. Okay? Things’ll get better.”
“You think so?” Alice asked quietly.
“I do. I think if people really know and care for each other, they’ll always find their way back together again.” Margot explained. “Even big changes won’t keep them apart forever.”
Alice swallowed hard. “Thank you.” She said, a little breathlessly.
Zelena smiled before walking up to them. “Well you two look like you’re getting along. You’ll have to come round more often, Tilly.”
“Yeah,” Alice beamed at her. “I’d like that.”
“Me too,” Margot chimed in, grinning at Alice. “I think you and I are gonna get along.”
The two girls smiled at each other and Zelena had to physically fight the urge to roll her eyes are how damn obvious they were, which was even more amusing since she knew Margot definitely wasn’t doing it on purpose. Yet here they were. Grinning like love struck idiots with little lights in her eyes that Zelena hadn’t seen since before the curse.
Zelena leaned against the counter; resting her arm on the top and watching them talk about their meeting before this – the one that had helped wake Alice up – which apparently involved Margot saving her life from an oncoming car. Zelena was only half listening to it. Otherwise she was too busy noticing how even cursed, there was something strong between them. Something more than just a simple spark. And it was so obvious now that it was right in front of Zelena’s face.
This hadn’t been how any of them had planned for this meeting to go, but it did give Zelena a surprising rush of hope for the future. Like seeing the two girls together this way was an assurance that things were going to work out for all of them. And once they had broken this curse and woken everyone, Zelena looked forward to having a proper drink with her daughter and Alice.
And whatever else would come after…