Chapter 1: The Knock at the Door
Chapter 1: The Knock at the Door
Dark gray clouds rolled across the water surrounding the palace, looking like a fast-moving storm. Light flashed inside the clouds every so often and a rumble that sounded like thunder echoed in the distance, growing louder as they approached. The young girl standing in a large window, though, knew it was not a storm that approached the palace but a powerful force that threatened everyone and everything she loved.
Princess Diana stepped away from her window, hugging herself as she did so. She looked down at the beautiful white gown she had been so excited to receive that morning. It was an exact replica of her mother’s dress and it made her feel so grown up to wear it, to celebrate her special day. Now her birthday was in ruins and she no longer cared what she wore as their doom approached.
The doors to her bedroom were thrown open and she turned, relieved to see her mother striding into the room. Her pale blue skirts billowed around her as she walked quickly, her dark curls falling loose from the bun she had worn earlier. While she held her head high, there was a haunted look in her brown eyes, though, and it made Diana’s stomach do flip flops.
“Mama?” she asked, stepping forward. “Is it really coming?”
Queen Regina nodded as she knelt before her daughter, running her hands over Diana’s arms. “I’m afraid there’s no stopping it.”
“Where’s Papa?” Diana asked, wanting both of her parents there. Even if they couldn’t stop it, she knew being in their arms would make her feel a little less scared.
“I’m right here, sweetheart,” her father said, closing the door behind him. He hurried over to where Diana and Regina were huddled together, falling to his knees as he wrapped his arms around them. Prince Robin kissed his daughter’s forehead before pressing another one to his wife’s head.
Diana clung to her parents as she glanced out the window again, noticing the clouds now engulfing the palace. Her heart beat faster and her stomach churned as she asked in a shaky voice: “What’s going to happen?”
Regina pulled away, gently cupping her face as she looked her daughter in the eyes. “The curse is going to take us to another land that is far, far away from here.”
Diana glanced around the bedroom that had been hers since she was a baby. It had given her more than enough room to grow and she couldn’t imagine not seeing it again. How would she sleep in any other bed but her big four poster one with curtains she could close to create a little world of her own? Or watch the butterflies painted on her wall flit around as her mother had enchanted them to do? What about all her toys--from her beloved stuff horse she named Rocinante after her mother’s stallion to all the dolls she had in the large dollhouse Geppetto had made for her? Did she have to leave behind the bookcase filled with her favorite books? And all her beautiful outfits too?
“What will this other place be like?” she asked her mother.
“I don’t know,” Regina replied, her voice shaking a bit.
Those were three words Diana had never heard her mother say--she always knew everything. She felt like she was going to throw up as she once again clung to her parents. “But we’ll be together, right?”
Her parents shared a look and Diana knew in her heart that the answer was no. Wherever the curse was taking them, they wouldn’t be together and that scared her even more. She started to cry as she curled against her mother’s chest. “I don’t want to be away from you, Mama. Or from Papa.”
“I know, sweetheart,” Prince Robin said, running his fingers through the dark curls she had inherited from her mother. “We don’t want to be away from you either.”
Regina caressed Diana’s cheek and spoke adamantly. “No matter what happens, I want you to remember that the love we share as a family is stronger than any Dark Curse. It will lead us to each other wherever we end up and we will be together again.”
The door to the bedroom blew open, hitting the wall with such force it sprayed splinters about the room. Regina tightened her hold on Diana as the gray smoke filled the room. Glass shattered around them and the room began to shake, the sound like nothing Diana had ever heard. Tears filled her eyes as an overwhelming sadness filled her. She didn’t want to go to a new place nor did she want to forget her family. Who would love her in the new world, take care of her cuts and bruises, make her feel better when she was sick, teach her new things, play with her and just listen to her as well as them?
Diana looked up at her parents as strong winds whipped her hair around her face and made it difficult to see. Her father mouthed something to her mother, who nodded in response. She then kissed him before he pressed his forehead to hers, his hand coming to cup Diana’s head.
She laid her head on her mother’s shoulder before closing her eyes. Everything stopped--no more wind, no more noise--and the nothingness swallowed her.
The front door closed and voices were heard from downstairs though she couldn’t make out what exactly they were saying. She could figure it out though--Lacey told her mother that she did her homework, ate her vegetables, brushed her teeth and went to bed without a fuss. Her mother thanked Lacey, paid her and confirmed that she would need her at the time on the same day the following week. It was always the same conversation week in and week out.
When the front door closed again, she turned off her flashlight and stuffed the book she was reading under her pillow. She pulled the blankets to her chin, hiding the flashlight and rolled onto her side. Her bedroom door creaked open and she stayed completely still as the thin strip of light on her carpet grew to resemble a giant slice of pizza. A shadow appeared in it--her mother checking on her. The shadow disappeared a few seconds later and the light returned to a thin strip as her door creaked shut. She listened as the footsteps retreated down the hall until they stopped, meaning her mother was in her room and the coast was clear.
She pulled the book back out and turned on her flashlight again. Opening the book, she went to the last page she had read and shined the light on the illustration next to it. It showed the queen and her prince hugging their daughter before the curse hit. She focused on the young princess, who looked just like her--long dark hair with curls not straightened by an exasperated mother each morning, naturally tan skin and big blue eyes. She knew in her heart that it was no coincidence.
Getting out of bed, she crossed the room to the window. She sat in the little bench underneath it, pulling back the pink curtains to look out the window. Around her, the tiny town of Storybrooke, Maine, shut down for the night. Most of the houses were dark and only a few businesses on Main Street still had their lights on. Tall, iron lamps illuminated the streets and all the cars parked neatly along the curb. Anyone would think it was the ideal place to live, the perfect town in New England filled with happy people with perfect lives.
It was all a lie.
She knew everything in the book was true. The woman down the hall she called “Mom” was not her real mother. Her real mother was the dark-haired queen in the picture she stared at now. She was living in Storybrooke now, unaware of her real identity or that she had a daughter. That was going to change though.
Diana was going to find her, no matter what.
Regina Mills sat on an uncomfortable plastic chair in Town Hall, waiting for the licensing board to make decision that could change her future forever. She held a briefcase on her lap. It was somewhat tattered and a corner was worn, but her budget forced her to shop at the goodwill store. It was also where she had found the suit she wore, though that was in better condition. The black skirt paired well with her red button-down blouse and though the matching jacket didn’t exactly fit her properly, it still made her appear professional enough to make a good impression on the board. She knew it was just as important as the information she presented.
This was going to be the culmination of several years’ work. She had spent her weekends perfecting recipes for different pastries, cakes, pies and breads. Every Monday she brought whatever she made to the breakroom at the cannery and it was always gone by lunch, so she figured they were good. Bolstered by that, she started to research what she would need to open her own bakery and finally become her own boss. It had been difficult at first as the bookstore hadn’t had much of selection of business books. Regina had to break into the closed library at night when no one was looking and she borrowed books she believed would help her. Slowly but surely, she managed to put together a business plan and proposal to get a business license. She even picked out the perfect little storefront for her bakery. All she needed was her license and then the bank would give her a loan to help her lease the space, buy the equipment she needed, decorate the bakery and advertise her new business.
Her new life was about to begin.
She stared down the door that led to the room where the licensing committee was meeting, willing it to open. The hallway was eerily silent and no one walked passed her. It only reminded her that she was facing this alone, that there was no one to share in her possible success with her.
She was used to being alone.
The door opened and Regina sat up straighter as Mayor Mary Margaret Nolan exited the room. She was the youngest mayor in town history but had been born for it as several of her ancestors had been mayor. People loved her family and they loved Mary Margaret especially. Storybrooke was the perfect place to live with hardly any crime and a good economy. The streets were paved, snow was cleared promptly, trash was picked up regularly, students got a world-class education, and there were plenty of events through the year to foster community. Tourism could be better but overall no one was complaining. Residents had a fairy tale life.
Mayor Nolan’s black and white kitten heels echoed through the empty hall as she made the short trip between the door and where Regina sat. She tucked the skirt of her white dress under as she sat down as well, straightening out her skirt. Paired with a hot pink cardigan, it gave her the perfect end of summer look. Regina wished she could afford a wardrobe like the mayor’s and then reminded herself that soon she could.
Her hope and confidence wavered when she saw pity in the mayor’s green eyes. Mayor Nolan’s voice was soft, almost like a mother soothing a child. “Regina, we’ve reviewed your proposal and while we were impressed with the work you did…”
“You’re not giving me a business license,” Regina said, voice flat as her shoulders slumped in defeat.
“We’re not,” Mayor Nolan confirmed, taking Regina’s hand. “I’m so sorry.”
Regina pulled her hand back and she started to plan her next move. “What do I need to do? More analysis? More details? A longer term plan? How can I get my license?”
Mayor Nolan shook her head. “There really isn’t anything you can do, Regina. I’ll be very honest. While you clearly have the passion and drive, we worried about your ability to deliver on your business plan. You only have a high school diploma, no comparable experience and no official training in baking. You only have had one job, the one at the cannery. And though you’ve been working there since you were eighteen, you are still only a low-level employee.”
“I also worked at Granny’s as a waitress,” Regina reminded her.
“Not a very good one,” Mayor Nolan countered. It was the truth. Granny had only kept her on out of pity until it was clear Regina would be unable to afford college and the Mother Superior got her a job at the cannery.
Fighting back tears, Regina argued: “No one gets promoted at the cannery. No one in management leaves so they never have a position open.”
“I know,” Mayor Nolan said, “but do you think you would honestly be chosen to even interview if a management position were to open up?”
Regina’s heart sank into her stomach. She knew she wouldn’t even be considered. There was no way to really stand out, especially when the cannery was just a job to help her get by and not really a career for her. The career she wanted--a baker--had essentially been killed and so she would stay at the cannery’s production line until she retired or died.
Mayor Nolan patted her hand. “There are some people in this life who are meant to shining bright like the stars. There is no shame being one of the people who aren’t. You have your lot in life. It may not be glamorous but someone has to do it, right?”
“I guess so,” Regina said, losing her battle against her tears as one rolled down her cheek and her nose began to stuff up. She stood up, tucking a stray piece of her dark hair behind her ear before picking up her briefcase. “Thank you, Madame Mayor. I won’t take up any more of your time.”
Mayor Nolan stood, still looking at her with pity in her eyes and speaking in that soothing tone. “I know this is tough but I’m sure you’ll get past it soon, Regina, and will learn to be happy with the life you have rather than the life you want.”
Regina nodded and turned, hurrying away from the mayor. She pushed open the door to town hall, entering the warm early September afternoon. The leaves hadn’t yet turned and the sun shone brightly, making it seem like a lovely summer day. Regina, though, couldn’t enjoy it. Not with her heart broken and her dreams shattered. She was certain the day couldn’t get any worse.
She approached her beat up, used Buick and learned the universe had proven her wrong. An orange ticket was tucked under her windshield and when she pulled it out, she found she was cited for an expired meter. She frowned, knowing she had put in enough money to cover a few hours. How had the meter expired? Regina went to check it and saw that it did say expired. She sighed, getting into her car and placing the ticket in her visor. It seemed the hard knocks were going to keep coming.
Her drive home was not that long as she lived in a little cottage located just off Main Street. It was one story and painted a soft yellow color with a white door and accents. Regina knew it wasn’t much but it was her little sanctuary so she was looking to get inside as soon as possible. She parked her car and checked her mail, sighing as she picked up nothing but bills. Maybe she would get a magazine subscription just to have something else to take out of her mailbox.
She let herself in, placing her mail down on the little cabinet she kept by the door. There was also a bowl there and she dropped her keys into it for safekeeping. After sliding off her heels and adding them to the line of shoes by the door, she then picked up the mail to go through it. One envelope caught her attention and her stomach sank when she realized it was from her landlord, Mr. Gold.
Regina quickly read the letter and her sinking feeling got worse. Mr. Gold was raising her rent yet again. She sighed, tossing the paper on the table again before heading off to her bedroom to change. Her new rent amount could wait for now.
She turned left and headed down the short hallway, walking past the doors to her linen closet and bathroom on her right and her spare bedroom on her left. Her bedroom was at the back of the house and was next to the small room that held her washing machine and dryer, whose vent let out into her bedroom so when she used it, her room got unbearably hot. She never could do laundry at night or else she would never get any sleep.
Her room was decorated white and black. The walls were painted white while her carpets were black. She had black bedding with white throw pillows. Her dresser and chest were black as well. The only splash of color in the room was the red robin’s feather that hung from her vanity mirror. She couldn’t remember when she got it or from where but she considered it her lucky charm.
Not that she had had much luck...ever.
Regina took off the suit she wore and hung it up, placing it in the closet with the few nice dresses she owned. She doubted she would ever wear it again but she knew she would never give it away just in case she did need it. Closing the door, she pulled open a drawer on her dresser and took out a pair of black yoga pants. She also grabbed a red t-shirt and put them on, wanting to be comfortable at that moment. Undoing her bun, she left it in the ponytail before she headed to the bathroom to wash off her makeup.
She turned off the taps and patted her clean face dry. Regina paused, sighing as she studied herself in the mirror. There was nothing special about her--dark hair that curled too much, plain brown eyes and a scar on her lip. She wasn’t some great beauty. Maybe Mayor Nolan was right--she just wasn’t meant to shine bright in this life.
Padding down the hall again, she turned into her kitchen. She opened the freezer and pulled out a TV dinner, having no energy to cook. Regina placed it in the microwave and watched as it spun around, trying hard not to think about how awful her life was. All it did was highlight how alone she truly was in the world.
Regina had been alone since birth, rejected by her mother when she was only a few hours old. Cora Mills signed paperwork relinquishing her parental rights to Regina before checking herself out of the hospital. She packed a bag and left town, ready to start a new life without the burden of single parenthood. Since she never named the father, there was no family to take custody of Regina and she was given to the sisters, who ran the orphanage in Storybrooke. They named her and though Cora Mills had disavowed her, Regina carried her last name. She believed the sisters did it out of spite--since they couldn’t punish the mother, they punished her daughter for her sins.
The sisters weren’t alone, either. Only one family came close to adopting Regina but they changed their minds when the wife miraculously got pregnant. Everyone else saw her as Cora Mills’ mistake and gave her a wide berth. She had no friends in school because all the parents forbade her classmates from playing with her or inviting her to parties. Her only friends were the characters in the books she read but they couldn’t talk back to or play with her.
It changed in high school when the Colters moved to Storybrooke. They didn’t know her mother or care about Cora’s wild child past--or at least, didn’t feel that Regina had to be punished for it. Daniel sat down with Regina in the cafeteria and became her first friend. A couple years later, he became her first--and sadly, only--boyfriend. They dated for a year, though Regina had to sneak out for most of their dates as the sisters didn’t approve of her having a boyfriend, afraid she would fall into the same life her mother had. Regina vowed to wait until marriage because of that and Daniel respected her wishes...or so she thought. She had then discovered him in the backseat of his car with Ella de Vil, interrupting the two in the middle of sex. He said he couldn’t wait forever for her nor did he want to have a girlfriend who lived in a convent. Daniel broke up with her as he stood half-dressed, Ella watching as her heart broke into many pieces.
She hoped things would be different once she graduated. Her goal was to move from Storybrooke and start over in a place that didn’t know Cora Mills and who wanted to punish her for what her mother did. Despite her high grades and good scores on the SAT, Regina failed to get any scholarships to the colleges she applied to and she couldn’t even afford the state universities. She had to turn down all her acceptances, her heart breaking with each letter she sent back.
Mother Superior found her the job in the cannery and Regina decided that she would work as much as she could for a few years. Her plan was to save up enough to move out of Storybrooke and perhaps attend college at night. All she knew was that she needed to leave if she wanted to have the life she dreamed of having but things keep popping up that kept her in Storybrooke. Gold would raise her rent, she needed to fix her car, she even broke her leg when she lost control of her car while trying to go on a day trip out of town. She got the message loud and clear at that point: She was never leaving Storybrooke.
The microwave beeped and she carefully took out the tray of food. She pulled back the film covering it and tossed it in the trash before pulling out a fork and a knife from her silverware drawer. Balancing everything in one hand, she grabbed a drink and headed to her living room.
She sat down on the couch, turning on the TV. A soap opera was on and she left it on, deciding to live vicariously through the characters on the show. It was the closest thing she had to a social life these days. Everyone in town still treated her like a pariah and her natural shyness did little to help her make friends. She found it was just best to keep to herself and go about her business, trying to ignore the glare and whispers that seemed to follow hers and whispers that always followed her.
On days like this one, though, she drowned in her loneliness. She wished there was someone she could call up or invite over just so she could talk about everything that was bothering her. About how her dreams were dead and her life was never going to be amazing. Or about her rent hike. She had saved up money to go toward her bakery and now that it was a no go, she knew she could use that to help cover her rent. It would only cover her until the end of the year and then she would have to either tighten her belt, work more hours or get another job if she wanted to stay in her house.
Regina briefly considered moving and downgrading. After all, she didn’t need a second bedroom nor all this space. It was just her--Gold didn’t allow pets in any of his rental properties and he owned all the rental properties in town. She could downgrade to a one room or even a studio apartment but she doubted she would save much in long run. Gold would just find new reasons to squeeze money from her. So if she was going to pay an arm and leg for a place to live, she’d rather stay in her cozy cottage not far from Main Street.
She finished her rubbery chicken, choked down the watery mashed potatoes and didn’t even touch the dark glob trying to pass itself off as chocolate pudding as the soap opera ended. Regina turned off the TV and headed into the kitchen to clean out the tray before tossing it. Even though it was only the late afternoon, she considered turning in already and just ending the day. Not that tomorrow would be better but at least this day would be behind her.
Regina turned, staring at her door. No one ever knocked on the door. The few packages she got were just left by the door for her to trip over. She walked down the hall apprehensively, wondering what else the day was about to throw at her.
She opened the door and was momentarily confused when she saw no one there. Then she looked down to realize a young girl was standing on her stoop. She had dark hair that was in two braided pigtails with navy ribbons tied in bows at the end, which matched the familiar Storybrooke Academy plaid uniform skirt. The navy squares alternated with black ones separated by white and gray lines. She wore the white polo shirt that was part of the summer uniform, the school name embroidered in navy thread on the left side of the shirt as well as black stockings paired with navy blue uniform shoes. Her blue eyes studied Regina intently, making her squirm a bit.
“Can I help you?” she asked the girl, wondering why she was there. It seemed far too early in the school year to already have a fundraiser so Regina doubted she was there to sell something.
“My name is Diana,” the girl said, her smile revealing dimples on both her cheeks. “I’m your daughter.”
Chapter 2: The Storybook
Regina stared at the girl, dumbfounded. She wondered if she had misheard her before she checked for any other children. Perhaps this was a cruel prank she and her friends were doing. No doubt they had been told to stay away from Regina Mills, that she was someone they shouldn't respect or associate with. It wouldn't be the first time she had been the butt of a joke and she was certain it wouldn't be the last.
Diana frowned. "Regina?"
"Go home," she replied wearily. "I've had a really bad day and I don't need whatever prank you and your friends are pulling right now."
She began to close the door but Diana stepped closer and placed her hand on the door to stop it. "I am not pranking you. I am your daughter, you are my mother. I can prove it. Please, just let me in."
"What is there to prove? I don't have a daughter," Regina argued, starting to close the door.
Diana scowled as she stopped her. "Yes, you do. And I can prove it."
"The only thing you're doing is going home. Run along and leave me alone." Regina closed the door and started to walk away.
Pounding on her door stopped her. She turned around and gaped at it, amazed that such a little girl packed so much power. Her doorknob jiggled and made a metallic clinking sound as it did so. Annoyed, Regina marched back over to the door and wretched it open. "What?"
"I promise I'm not pranking you," Diana said, clasping her hands together. "Please, please give me a chance to explain everything."
"What do you win?" Regina asked exasperatedly.
Diana frowned. "What do you mean?"
Leaning out, Regina once again looked for any other children. "If I let you in, do you get extra points? Do you win this sick little game? Get a good laugh with your friends?"
"No, of course not! I'm here by myself and this isn't some joke. Please, just listen to me," Diana pleaded with her.
Regina felt her resolve softening at how genuine the girl sounded and shifted a bit in her doorway. Seeing her chance, Diana squeezed past her and stood in her foyer. It was clear she was not going to leave until she said whatever it was she had to say so Regina closed the door with a sigh. She would let Diana say her piece but if it got too ridiculous, she would end it for good.
Diana dropped her bookbag on the floor, unzipping it and pulling out a book. The book was large and had a simple brown cover. Gold embellishments framed the front cover, which matched the title written in a large ornate font.
Once Upon a Time
Regina raised her eyebrow. "What's with the book?"
"It's the proof I was talking about," Diana replied.
"How is a book of fairy tales supposed to prove I'm your mother?" Regina asked. She then added: "Which I'm not."
Diana opened it. "Every story in this book is true. And everyone in Storybrooke is in it. See?"
She held out the book, now open to a page with a beautiful illustration on it. It depicted an older woman and a younger one outside a cabin, confronting a mob with torches and pitchforks. Though she wore a brown linen dress that looked like something from a movie set during the Middle Ages and carried a crossbow, the woman with graying curls and silver half-moon glasses looked just like Winifred "Granny" Lucas, who owned Granny's Diner and had been her first employer. Beside her was a character that looked just like Granny's real granddaughter Ruby who was dressed in a similar outfit to her grandmother and wore a bright red cloak.
"Looks just like Granny and Ruby, right?" Diana asked. "Except that's Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. But there's a twist. Red Riding Hood was also the Big Bad Wolf. She's a werewolf, like her grandmother was, and the people ended up chasing her off because she, uh, ate her boyfriend."
Regina crinkled her nose. "That's pretty gruesome. And this is supposed to be appropriate for kids?"
Diana shrugged. "I told you, it's based on real life. It's not going to be like all the fairy tales we're used to."
"I don't think the stories are real," Regina said. "The illustrator must live in town and took inspiration from the people he or she met."
"Okay," the girl replied, turning the book around and flipping through the pages again. She found the one she was looking for and faced the book toward Regina again. "But do you think anyone would draw Mother Superior like this?"
Looking at the picture, Regina's eyebrows went up. Mother Superior's image was burned into her memory after her years at the convent. Though a petite woman, she carried herself as if she towered over everyone else. All the sisters wore the same habits every day and often made Regina dress similarly. There was the overly starched white button shirt with collars she had to made sure laid perfectly against the scratchy wool blue sweater she had to wear over it. She then wore a knee-length navy skirt with crisp pleats, black stockings and shapeless black shoes. While all the sisters had to wear their hair in buns, Regina was allowed to style herself differently-just as long as it appeared neat and she didn't dye it. Still, it was no wonder she had been teased so often as a child when she could easily be mistaken for a sister as well.
Therefore it was surprising to see how the Mother Superior was illustrated in the book. Her brown hair was curled and pulled into a bun atop her head. Flowers were tucked amongst her locks, almost forming a crown. She wore a light blue gown with a tight bodice that showed off her breasts. Regina didn't even think she had any under the shapeless habit. Pink flowers formed two straps that held up the bodice, which was attached to a skirt the color of the sky. Its width was bigger than its length, barely reaching her mid-thighs while extending past her shoulders. Pink and white flowers decorated the skirt and lacy strips hung from its hem. Translucent blue wings came from her back and Regina could tell she was hanging in midair.
"Is...Is she depicted as the Blue Fairy?" Regina asked, surprised. Though even as a fairy, she still carried an air of superiority about her-as if she knew better than everyone else.
Diana nodded. "I'm not sure if she's a good character or not. She claims to be but can be pretty judgmental."
"Sounds like Mother Superior," Regina muttered. Louder, she asked: "So, are we in this book?"
Nodding, Diana turned the book back toward her and flipped almost to the end. She then held it out to Regina. "Here we are."
Taking the book, Regina let out a soft gasp as she studied the illustration on the page. It was definitely her and she looked beautiful, like a queen. Which she was depicted as, if the tiara was any indication. It was nestled amongst her dark locks, her curls pinned into a cascading ponytail to keep them off her neck, which had a diamond chandelier necklace around it. She wore a pale blue gown with lace angel sleeves and a silk Basque bodice with a scoop neckline that showed off her breasts in a way Regina never would after years of dressing like a sister. It included a full skirt made of lace and silk, completing the regal look. The dress was the most beautiful she had ever seen and she knew there was no way in a thousand years she would ever be able to afford one like it, let alone the diamond necklace or tiara.
In the picture, she held the hand of a young girl who looked just like Diana. Her dark hair was curled and fell around her shoulders, held back from her face by a diamond encrusted Alice band. She wore a white dress that was an exact replica of the gown Regina wore, except with a squarer neckline that was closer to Diana's neck than the neckline on Regina's gown. The young girl smiled up at Regina, who gazed down at her with love and adoration in her eyes and a soft smile of her own. Whoever the illustrator was, he or she depicted so much love in the picture that Regina almost felt it herself.
"What fairy tale is this?" she asked.
"It's our own," Diana replied, "and not well known. But I guess you could call it the untold second chapter of Snow White."
Regina frowned, lowering the book to the look at the girl, who was watching her with hopeful eyes. "So I'm Snow White?"
Diana shook her head. "You're Snow White's stepmother."
"You mean the Evil Queen," Regina commented, suspicions starting to rise as she got the feeling she was being pranked after all. "Who was so vain she disguised herself and tricked Snow White into eating a poisoned apple before being killed by a bunch of dwarves all because a mirror told her that her stepdaughter was prettier than her?"
"All the stories of Snow White here get it all wrong and leave a lot out," Diana replied, pointing to the book. "This is the right version because it's the real version. You didn't hate Snow White because she was prettier than you but because she told a secret that cost you a lot. And though you were the Evil Queen, you eventually became good after meeting your soulmate. You fell in love, married him, had me and became a hero that everyone loved."
"Enough!" It was too much and too cruel. All Regina had ever wanted was to be loved and now this little girl was claiming she apparently had all of that but forgot about it. She had long ago learned the dangers of living in a fantasy for too long. Reality always bit her in the ass and reminded her that she wasn't some great queen with some great love story. She was just an average nobody with no one to love her.
She pinched her nose. "Look, I've had a shi-horrible day and I don't need all this nonsense. Your prank isn't funny so just stop."
"You don't believe me," Diana said, eyes growing watery as her lower lip trembled.
Regina sighed, no longer seeing a child trying to prank her but a lonely little girl. In a lot of ways, she saw herself in Diana and so she knelt before her as she handed the book back to her. She then tucked her fingers beneath the girl's chin, gently lifting her head so that Diana's eyes met her own.
"Look," she said, softening her tone. "I get it. I had a lousy childhood, an orphan no one wanted either as a daughter or a friend, so I used to escape into books all the time. I used to wish that my father would be some king who would swoop in and take me away, to love me and let me be happy as a princess with lots and lots of friends. But I eventually had to admit to myself that was never going to happen. I had to learn how to live in reality."
"The reality is I'm not your mother. I've never been pregnant or given birth. Just because someone decided to base characters off us and make them mother and daughter doesn't mean we are. Besides, I know who your mother is and I remember when she was pregnant with you. Everyone was so excited and your birth was a big celebration, almost like you were a princess. She loves you very much and has given you a great life. You don't need a fairy tale," she told Diana.
Tears rolled down the girl's cheeks as she clutched the storybook to her chest. Guilt filled Regina even though she knew there was nothing she could do. She wasn't Diana's mother and there was no magic wand to make it so. There was only one thing she could do.
She stood up, reaching for her keys. "Come on, I'll drive you home. It's getting dark and you shouldn't be walking by yourself."
Other than giving Regina her address, Diana didn't talk on the drive back to her house. Regina felt smothered by the silence, her stomach twisting in knots as her guilt continued to gnaw at her. She tried to start a few conversations with the girl but each died on her tongue. Instead, she focused on getting Diana home and ending the awkwardness as soon as possible.
Regina turned onto Mifflin street and felt out of place. Large, almost palatial, homes lined the streets behind iron gates. Perfectly manicured lawns surrounded the buildings and she spotted cars she would never be able to afford in the stone driveways. Lights shone from the many windows as the families inside spent time together, enjoying each other without a financial care in the world.
It had to be nice.
Her headlights illuminated the gold 108 on a metal mailbox and she parked next to it, her Buick looking very out of place. She unbuckled herself, knowing the sooner she got Diana inside, the sooner she'd be off the block. Turning to the girl, she said softly: "We're here."
Diana let out a deep sigh before opening her door. Regina got out of the car as well, walking around to escort Diana to her front door. As the girl opened the front gate, Regina got a good look at the house. She stopped, gaping at it as she took it all in.
The house was two stories with a stone facade. Dark shingles covered the gable roof as well as the awning over the front door, a dark gray Carolina door with frosted glass flanked by two iron lanterns that illuminated the stoop. A large bow window to the right of the front door gave Regina a glimpse into a well-lit living room that looked like it belonged in the pages of a magazine-and the dining room framed by a picture window on the left side looked the same. The single hung windows on the second floor were all dark and Regina guessed those were the bedroom windows. Everything about the house was elegant and almost regal. It certainly put Regina's little cottage to shame.
She and Diana approached the front door as it opened. Mayor Nolan, still in the outfit Regina had seen her in at Town Hall, stepped out onto the top step. She crossed her arms as she frowned, green eyes focused on Diana. "Diana Eva Nolan, you were supposed to be home an hour ago. Explain yourself, young lady."
Diana just glared at her mother, trying to push her way into the house. Mayor Nolan blocked her every attempt. "No. You are going to answer me first."
Mother and daughter continued their battle of wills with Diana trying to slip past her mother and Mayor Nolan stopping her every time. Regina knew she should go; she had dropped Diana off at home. This was now a family issue that had nothing to do with her. She should just turn around, head back down the walk, get in her car and go home. Then she could go to bed, finally putting this horrible and strange day behind her.
Yet a strange feeling washed over her. Her face grew hot and her blood boiled. She clenched her fists as well as her jaw as she watched the two battle each other. Every nerve in her body was on end as her instinct told her to protect Diana, to defend her.
"Stop!" she snapped. Mayor Nolan and Diana froze, surprised at her outburst.
Not as surprised as Regina.
Diana recovered first, racing inside the house. Mayor Nolan let out an exasperated sigh, scowling at Regina. "What was that about?"
"She didn't need that interrogation. It's not a big deal," Regina said. Though her anger had dissipated, the overwhelming need to defend Diana still filled her. She knew she couldn't tell the mayor her daughter thought Regina was her real mother, so she quickly came up with a plausible explanation.
"Diana was just doing a project for school," she said, thinking it up on the spot. "They're studying surveys and collecting data. Since it was getting late, I offered to drive her home."
Mayor Nolan narrowed her eyes though her stance softened. "Why didn't she tell me that herself?"
"I think she's just embarrassed to have been out so late," Regina continued, amazed at how easy the story came to her. "And that she needed a ride rather than getting home on her own. You know how independent children her age want to be."
"Oh, I know," Mayor Nolan replied, sighing. "Thank you for driving her home, Regina. Have a good night."
"You too. And go easy on her. She seems like a good kid," Regina said before turning around. She felt Mayor Nolan's eyes on her as she returned to her car. But when she got in, the mayor was gone and the front door was closed.
Still feeling unnerved, Regina pulled away and left the upscale area. As she headed back to her house, she hoped she got through to Diana. She had meant what she said-Diana seemed like a good kid, just one with a few issues. Hopefully Mayor Nolan got her some help so she could have a happy childhood and a good relationship with her real mother.
Diana sat cross-legged on her bed, trying to ignore the pangs in her stomach. Her mother had sent her to bed without supper to punish her for her attitude. She had yet to issue a punishment for coming home late but Diana knew it was coming. And so she waited for her mother to come and tuck her in, knowing she would find out the rest of her punishment then.
Resting her hand against her cheek, she wondered what kind of mother Regina would be. She seemed nice, if lonely and jaded, and she had defended Diana earlier. Diana figured that she wouldn't be a pushover as a mom and would discipline her if she did something wrong, but she would probably sit Diana down to discuss why what she had done was wrong and why she shouldn't do it. Then she would probably ground her or something like that. She doubted Regina would ever send her to bed hungry.
(She also wondered about her real father. Would he present a unified front with Regina or would he melt when Diana pouted or cried? Was she a daddy's girl or closer to her mother?)
A loud growl interrupted her musings and she whimpered as she clutched her stomach, falling onto her side. She stared at one of the pink walls of her bedroom, hating it. Diana had asked her mother if she could paint her bedroom purple but Mom had said no. She said it would be too much work, cost too much and besides, pink had always been Diana's favorite color. Diana tried to protest, saying that her tastes had changed and her favorite color was purple. Mom insisted it was a phase and that she would love pink-just like Mom did.
Her door opened and then closed. A few moments passed before her mother said: "Sit up. We need to talk."
Diana sighed, doing as her mother said. She crossed her arms as she glared up at the woman who she knew wasn't her real mother. "What?"
"You know what," Mom snapped back. "You were late."
"You heard Regina. I lost track of time doing my homework," Diana replied, glad Regina had given her a plausible excuse.
Her mother crossed her arms as well. "I highly doubt your teacher wanted you to knock on the doors of strangers. If she did, I'm going to have a word with her. And it doesn't explain your attitude."
"It's as Regina said…"
"Ms. Mills," Mom said crossly. "She is not a friend and she is an adult. You will call her Ms. Mills."
Diana sighed. "Fine. It's as Ms. Mills said, I don't like being treated like a baby."
"You think I'm treating you like a baby?" Mom sighed. "Is this about your room? Do you think that pink is a color for babies?"
"I just want to paint it purple. I like purple," Diana argued.
Mom grew more exasperated and her eyes grew colder. "Pink is a great color. I love pink."
"But I'm not you," she replied.
"When I was your age, I wanted to be just like my mother," Mom said, a sadness coming to her eyes.
Diana thought of the storybook, which had said that she had wanted to be just like her mother. However, that was her real mother, Regina. Not this woman who had stolen her from Regina.
"You're not my mother," she said harshly, glaring at the woman.
Mom glared at her before walking over to her backpack. She unzipped the front compartment and reached in, pulling out the pink keychain that held Diana's house key. Mom then turned to her, dangling it. "I'm taking these back."
"What?" Diana shrieked, kneeling on her bed. "Why?"
"You want to be treated like an adult, you have to then act like one. And this little temper tantrum is not adult-like. So if you're going to act like a baby, I will treat you like one," Mom replied.
"That's not fair!" Diana exclaimed, outraged.
"Life isn't fair!" Mom snapped, closing her fist around the key. "Actions-and words-have consequences. Yours is that you lost the freedom to come home by yourself. You will now come to my office and wait for Lacey to pick you up. She'll watch you until I come home."
"For how long?" Diana asked, expecting it to be a couple weeks or a month. Long enough for her "mother" to make her point, she figured.
"Until you prove to me you are no longer a baby," Mom answered. "Now, go to bed. It's late and you have school in the morning."
Letting out a loud groan, Diana climbed under her covers and settled on her side. Mom kissed her forehead. "I just want what's best for you," she told her.
You just want to turn me into you, Diana thought. She bit her tongue though, knowing that would just make everything worse. The book didn't offer her many other answers, so she wasn't sure why she had been taken from her parents and put into this woman's care but she was starting to have her suspicions. She needed to resist her attempts to change who Diana was.
However, as Mom turned off the lights in her room and went to close the door, Diana couldn't resist getting in the last word. She lifted her head. "You may have think you've won, but you haven't. Good always defeats evil."
Mom paused before closing the door completely. Diana closed her eyes, a satisfied smile on her face.
Snow crept through the unfamiliar house, trying to remember the layout as best as she could. Everything looked different in the dark and she started to regret leaving her bedroom. However, she was too scared to sleep and she believed there was only one person who could help her. Finding a familiar door at last, she turned the knob and crept inside the room.
Inside was better lit than the hallway as a fire crackled in the hearth and several candles were still lit around the room. Relief filled Snow as a familiar figure rose from a writing desk, brown eyes widening as she asked: "Snow?"
"Regina," Snow breathed before smiling. "Thank goodness! I was worried I got lost!"
"What are you doing out of bed?" Regina asked, frowning. "Is something wrong?"
"I couldn't sleep," she replied, voice shaking as tears threatened to fall. Every time she had closed her eyes, she was back on that horse as it ran faster than she had ever gone. She felt her fingers start to slip from its hair, her body sliding off its back. The fall could kill her-especially if the horse trampled her. Fear had frozen her body as she worried she would soon see her mother again but leave her father alone.
Regina knelt in front of her, gently wiping away her tears. She smiled, kindness in her brown eyes. "You had a big scare today."
Snow nodded. "I keep replaying it in my mind. I honestly thought I was going to die."
"Which is something no one your age should fear," Regina replied, taking her hands. "And you're going to keep replaying what happened in your mind until you replace it with a better memory. That's why you need to get back on a horse."
"I-I don't think I can," Snow replied, trembling though the room was warm. "I'm too afraid. What if it happens again?"
Regina rubbed her arms before pointing to her lips. "Do you see this scar?"
Snow frowned, leaning closer to better examine Regina's face. It took a few moments before she made out a thin line that ran through Regina's upper lip, looking like someone had tried to fold that side of her lip in half. Had Regina not pointed it out, though, Snow doubted she would ever had noticed it on her own. "Yes."
"I got it when I fell off my horse when I was about your age," she told Snow. "I was learning how to jump when I lost my balance. Thankfully my horse had already stopped but I still landed very hard. I was lucky I didn't break anything. I had a few cuts-including the one on my lip-and lost my last baby tooth. My instructor and father cleaned and dressed my wounds while Mother called for a physician to be certain I hadn't suffered a serious blow to my head. He advised bed rest for a day to be sure.
"Once I was cleared, my father took me right back to the stables. I was scared, like you, but he told me I couldn't let fear stop me. The only way to conquer our fears is to face them so I got back onto the horse, did the jump again and didn't fall. That was what I remembered, not the fall or the pain. Though Mother did her best to get rid of this scar, I'm glad I have it. It reminds me to be strong and not let my fears control me," she finished.
Snow sniffed, squeezing Regina's hands. "I want to face my fears. I don't want them to control me."
"Good," Regina replied with a smile. "Tomorrow, we'll go down to the stables and get you back in the saddle."
"You'll come with me?" Snow asked, knowing she would be more confident with Regina there.
Regina nodded. "I'll be with you every step of the way."
Snow hugged her, thanking her over and over. She held onto Regina tightly, the scent of vanilla wafting over her. She committed it to memory, vowing that the smell of vanilla would always remind her of her hero, Regina.
"Now," Regina said, pulling back, "it is late and you should be asleep. Do you want me to walk you to your room?"
Dread settled in Snow's stomach, afraid she would still dream about the horse once away from Regina's strength. She glanced at the bed big enough to fit several people and asked: "Can I stay with you? Please?"
Regina smiled, nodding. "Of course you may. Come on. My bed is high so I'll help you get in."
Once Regina boosted her into the bed, Snow climbed under the soft blankets. She watched as Regina doused the candles and stoked the fire to ensure it wouldn't go out while they slept. The soft orange glow of the flames illuminated her face and Snow once again thought that Regina was beautiful. She had a beauty Snow had never seen at court with her long black hair and deep brown eyes. Her skin wasn't as pale as the other noblewomen and she believed she had heard it be described as "sun-kissed." It seemed an apt description for Regina also glowed with an inner beauty, the likes Snow remembered her mother telling her about shortly before her passing.
One day, Snow hoped to be just as beautiful, kind and strong as Regina was. She would take her first steps the next day at the stables and get back on her horse, facing her fears with Regina's help.
Mary Margaret pulled up to the cannery, her white Mercedes looking out of place amongst the other cars. She easily spotted the beat up piece of junk Regina drove and smiled. Checking her watch, she leaned back in her seat. Diana was safe in Lacey's care and the cannery's work day was almost over, so she didn't have anything to worry about. She kept her eyes trained on the door, ready to spot Regina's familiar form as she left.
She hated to admit it but she had been rattled to see Regina with Diana the night before and had spent most of the night worrying. Her perfect reality was a house of cards and one false move could topple everything. She couldn't risk that.
A whistle blew to signal the end of the shift and Mary Margaret sat up, knowing the employees would leave in a few minutes. She needed to face her fears and see if Regina had any suspicions. Then she would know how precarious her house of cards really was and what she would need to do to keep it standing.
If it put some fear into Regina's life, all the better.
The whistle echoed throughout the cannery's floor as Regina filled her last can of tuna. She watched as her conveyor belt slowed to a halt before she headed toward the women's locker room. Regina pulled off her gloves, tossing them into the garbage bin located just outside the locker room. She passed the other women, who chatted amongst themselves while pointedly ignoring her. Keeping her head down, she took off her hair net and placed in her locked before shrugging off her smock. Grabbing her purse, she closed her locker before heading to clock out.
Despite her best efforts, Regina had been unable to get Diana from her mind. She knew she wasn't the girl's mother but she still felt a connection to her. Regina had sensed an aura of loneliness around her and almost a desperation to believe her storybook was real. As she told Diana, Regina had once been the same. She hoped Diana was able to find friendship and happiness in her real life. Hopefully, the mayor was helping her. Mayor Nolan seemed like a good, if strict, mother.
Yet a nagging doubt about that tugged at the back of her mind.
Regina pushed that thought aside as she located her punchcard to clock out. She placed it back and headed out into the bright sunshine of the early evening, digging through her purse for her keys. Her fingers closed around them as she turned toward her car, ready to go unwind at home.
"Regina!" Mayor Nolan's voice surprised her, making her jump and drop her keys with a clang.
Pressing her hand to her chest, Regina turned around to face the mayor. "Mayor Nolan! Is something wrong?"
The mayor approached her, the creme skirt of her dress swishing with her every step. She stopped in front of Regina. "I want to talk to you about my daughter."
Regina frowned. "What about her?"
"I called her school to complain about the teacher having the students go knocking on strangers' doors. Guess what they told me?" Mayor Nolan paused but didn't really give Regina a chance to answer. "They weren't assigned any survey as homework."
Grimacing, Regina realized she was busted. "Look, I can explain."
"I'm all ears," Mayor Nolan replied, scowling at her.
Regina nodded, taking a deep breath. "I didn't want to hurt you. Diana came to my house and claimed she was my daughter."
At first, the mayor didn't react except to narrow her eyes. It struck Regina as odd-she expected the woman to gasp, to appear hurt, or to get angry. Instead, Mayor Nolan appeared not to care and had no emotions at all.
Regina grew awkward as silence stretched between them. She was about to say something-anything-to break it when the mayor let out a loud but clearly fake laugh. Mayor Nolan waved her hand. "Don't tell me you fell for that?"
"Of course not," Regina replied, feeling insulted. "I thought it was a prank at first."
"Did you tell Diana that?" the Mayor asked.
Regina nodded. "I told her that I wasn't in the mood and told her to go away but she said she had proof."
That brought a reaction from the Mayor, whose shoulders tensed up and her eyes went cold. Her voice shook a bit as she asked: "What kind of proof?"
"A book of fairy tales," Regina replied, not hiding her laughter. "I mean, according to her, the fairy tales were different from the ones we're used to. And whoever illustrated it must live in town because they used everyone as inspiration for the characters."
She expected Mayor Nolan to laugh but she didn't. Instead, it seemed like the color drained from her face. "Everyone, you say?"
"Yes," Regina answered, growing concerned. "Madam Mayor, are you feeling well?"
"Not really. It's disheartening to hear your daughter thinks someone else is her mother because of some fairy tale," Mayor Nolan replied.
Guilt churned in Regina's stomach. "I know. And that's why I didn't tell you the truth yesterday."
Mayor Nolan nodded. "Well, we're getting rid of that book as soon I go home."
"Oh, don't do that," Regina said, pleading with the mayor. She felt bad for Diana and didn't want her to lose the one thing that seemed to make her excited. "It's relatively harmless. I think you just need to talk to her. I'm sure it hasn't been easy after what happened to her father, you know, the accident."
Sadness filled the mayor's eyes and she hugged herself, appearing close to tears. "It hasn't. We miss him terribly."
"There is still no change?" Regina asked, concerned for Mayor Nolan and Diana. It had to be hard living in such a state of limbo, not knowing if their loved one would ever return to them.
Mayor Nolan shook her head. "I...We're not giving up, though. Diana and I hope he'll come back to us soon."
Regina nodded, hugging herself as she thought of how sad and lonely Diana seemed. "How is she taking it?"
"Not well," Mayor Nolan admitted sadly. "I think that's why she's acting out. She doesn't know how to process it."
"I can tell. I recognized her loneliness and need to escape into a fantasy life. She's just like I was at her age," Regina said.
The sadness retreated from the mayor's eyes, replaced with a coldness that made Regina shiver despite the late summer heat enveloping them. Mayor Nolan leaned closer, her voice low as she snapped: "Diana is nothing like you."
Startled, Regina stepped back as she tried to explain herself. "I just meant that I used to find escape in fantasy too. She needs the fairy tales right now to assure herself that happy endings exist and that everything will turn out fine."
"And did everything turn out fine for you?" Mayor Nolan asked.
Regina flinched. They both knew the answer. Her life was far from a fairy tale and a happy ending was not in the cards for her. She once again tried to explain herself. "I just meant…"
"Enough! Are you a mother? No. You didn't even have a mother of your own. So you are the last person who should be giving parenting advice," Mayor Nolan said. Her face turned red and a fire burned in her eyes.
She was right. Regina had no experience with raising a child and it was none of her business how Mayor Nolan raised hers. Even if her heart told her that she understood Diana and her need for her book, her need to have something to believe in, it didn't mean she knew what was best for the girl. Mayor Nolan knew her best and so would do what was best for Diana.
"I'm sorry," she said, close to tears and wishing she could escape to the sanctuary that was her car.
Mayor Nolan nodded. "I don't want you having any further contact with Diana. Just walk away if she tries to talk to you and call Town Hall to let me know. Diana needs to live in reality, not some ridiculous fairy tale."
"I understand," Regina replied. She doubted she would ever see Diana again but since it was a small town, she vowed to give the girl a wide berth.
"Good," Mayor Nolan said. She then leaned in, almost growling: "But just in case you are just telling me what I want to hear and plan on seeing Diana behind my back, remember that I have eyes and ears everywhere. If you think your life is miserable now, I can make it ten times worse."
Regina trembled, feeling as if she were standing outside in January without a coat. She tried to respond, to assure the mayor she wouldn't do anything to displease her. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and her voice didn't work, though. As she stared into the mayor's cold eyes, a voice told her that this was not how an elected official treated a constituent and it was a clear abuse of her power.
She blinked and the mayor's demeanor changed. Her face showed no traces of red, just the soft pink of her blush, and her eyes were kind and warm. She smiled, a bubbly one that seemed such a stark contrast to her earlier disposition. When she spoke, her tone was bright and upbeat. "Thank you so much for talking to me, Regina. And thank you again for driving Diana home last night. It was very kind and conscientious of you. Have a good night."
Mayor Nolan walked away, pleasantly greeting people as she passed them. They all enthusiastically greeted her and Regina wondered if anyone saw her odd behavior. If they did, she doubted they would be concerned and would probably think Regina Mills had fucked up again, as usual. No one would believe her if she said the mayor had threatened her or they would just assume she had done something to deserve it.
You did deserve it, a little voice said. It sounded different from the one she had heard earlier. That one had almost sounded like her voice, just deeper and with more confidence than Regina had ever felt, while this one sounded more like Mayor Nolan. It continued to berate her: You told her her daughter doesn't think she's her real mother and tried to give her parenting advice. No wonder she went all Mama Bear on you. You would've known how to avoid that if you had had a mother.
Though the little voice was right, Regina gently shook her head. Hearing voices was not a good sign. She didn't need everyone thinking she was crazy and even just the thought of the dirty and suspicious looks she would get sent her hurrying toward her car with her head down. She opened it and climbed in, finally feeling safe. Yet the chill in her veins and the uncertainty in her gut followed her all the way home.
Once she showered and changed into comfy sweatpants as well as a loose t-shirt, Regina felt better. She still felt bad about trying to give Mayor Nolan parenting advice and wondered if she should try to apologize. As she slid a piece of lasagna into the oven, she decided it was best if she didn't bring it up again and just respected the mayor's wishes.
Since she was just reheating the lasagna, Regina had a half hour to kill. Grabbing her broom and turning on the radio, she started to sweep the little hallway leading to her front door. Cleaning wasn't her favorite thing but a dirty house drove her nuts, so she tried to make the chore as fun as possible. That usually involved her dancing with her map or broom to music, like she was doing to the 80s pop playing on the radio. She sang along with Blondie, crooning about her heart of glass.
Regina swept past the little table where she kept her mail and the bowl with her keys. The bristles hit something and she jumped as a thud drowned out the Go-Gos. She pressed her hand to her chest, calming her racing heart as she spotted a very familiar looking book lying on the floor.
Frowning, she leaned her broom against the wall. She crouched down, picking up Diana's book. Regina thought back to the night before, realizing she never saw Diana put the book back in her bag. She had looked away as she had put on her sneakers and when she had turned back, Diana had her bag on her back and the book was nowhere to in sight. She must've hidden it, hoping Regina would find it and read it. Perhaps it would also give her a reason to seek Diana out again.
She stood, pressing her lips together. Regina knew the right thing to do was to bring it to Town Hall tomorrow and give it to the mayor. And she planned to do just that. She would call in the morning and let the mayor's assistant know she would drop it off after work. Then she would do just that.
Regina stood, starting to place the book down on the small table. She paused though, the book hovering over the wooden surface. What was the harm in reading the book before handing it over to the mayor? Diana said that the fairy tales weren't told the way they were used to hearing them and the characters were illustrated to look like people in Storybrooke. It would be fun to see who the illustrator used for which fairy tale character. She was also curious about the person Diana thought she was.
Her decision made, Regina hurried to turn off the radio and check on her lasagna. She deemed it warmed up enough and plated it, grabbing a glass of wine to enjoy with it. With the book tucked under her arm, she settled on her couch with her dinner. Regina placed the book on the table and opened it to the first page.
Once upon a time, there lived a humble weaver named Rumpelstiltskin and his wife, Milah, who was expecting their first child...
Thank you for such a great response to the first chapter! Now you all know who Diana's cursed mother is and Snow isn't happy to know that the girl has reached out to her real mother, even if the curse is holding.
Regina now has the book, though, and she is going to read her own story—as well as several others. Robin won't enter the story again for a couple more chapters at least but be patient—he's coming.
Hope you have a great week! See everyone for Angst Fest, if it all works out for me.
Chapter 3: Suspicions
Diana dragged her feet as she walked through Town Hall to get to the Mayor’s office. People greeted her but she kept her head down, continuing her long, slow walk as if goring to her death. It was only the second day of her indefinite punishment and while Lacey was pretty cool as far as babysitters went, Diana missed having the house to herself. She dressed as she wanted, played music while she did her homework or danced around, read her books, played with her toys--whatever she wanted without anyone being in the way. She loved it.
“Hello, Diana. Did you have a good day at school?” a kind voice broke through her sulking.
Looking up, Diana’s heart sank when she saw she was standing outside her mother’s office and next to her assistant’s desk. Johanna was a kindly older woman who had served as the assistant for several mayors, including Diana’s grandfather and great-grandfather. She sat right outside the mayor’s office in a little cubicle decorated with a desk and a few filing cabinets as well as some personal knick-knacks Johanna had collected over the years. Diana always liked Johanna and returned the smile the older woman gave her.
“It was okay,” Diana replied in answer to her question, not wanting to be rude to Johanna. She was not part of the battle between the supposed mother and daughter. “Still a lot of reviewing to make sure we remember everything we learned last year.”
“That does sound boring but I’m sure it’ll get interesting again.” Johanna motioned to the door. “Go on in. Your mother is waiting for you.”
Biting back the urge to snap that the mayor was not her mother, Diana thanked Johanna. She opened the door, ready to face Mom. Her teacher had told her earlier that Mom had spoken to her about her supposed homework assignment the day before so Diana knew she was busted. It had been her mother’s late day yesterday so she had gotten home after Diana had gone to bed. Diana hoped she could get away without a big lecture today but she doubted it.
They mayor’s office was decorated in earth tones, as Diana knew from her art classes at school. She also had memories of when her mother decorated the office, though she doubted now that they were even real. Still, she could rattle off the name of each color--the rug was canyon brown and the walls mocha cream with harvest gold accents. It made the mahogany colored fireplace stand out more. Chocolate brown couches faced the fireplace with a mahogany coffee table between them. Mom had a book full of pictures of Storybrooke for visitors to peruse on it.
All of that was to Diana’s left. On her right was a long, cherry wood dining table with several matching chairs. Mom had meetings with other government officials and her staff members there, usually providing them with food and beverages from the snack bar against the wall. It was stocked with several types of snacks and drinks, as well as a good variety of fruit--except for apples. Even the basket of wax fruit Mom kept on the table contained no apples, something Diana only recently noticed. It intrigued her, just like her mother’s fascination with birds. She had several paintings of them hanging on the walls both here and at their house. Diana gave one the side-eye as she stood in the doorway.
“Why don’t you grab a snack and then have a seat on the couch? I just need to finish up one thing and then we can talk,” Mom said, head bent as she filled out some paperwork on her desk. It was located in the middle of the back wall, right in front of the large windows that overlooked the town. The only other place to offer a better view was the clock tower above Storybrooke’s abandoned library. No one went up there, though, as the clock was broken--unable to move forward because the curse had stopped time for the citizens of Storybrooke. It made Diana question so much and she wished she could find the answers, not have to tap dance around her “mother.”
For now, she did as her mother suggested and grabbed a granola bar as well as a juice box from the fridge. She then sat on the couch, her book bag at her feet, and waited for Mom to finish her paperwork as she munched on her snack.
It didn’t take long for Mom to sit down next to her, tucking her black skirt under her as she did so. She placed a picture frame upside down on her lap before adjusting the pink sweater over her white shirt. Mom leaned closer as she smiled at Diana. “How was your day, princess?”
“Okay,” Diana replied, shrugging. She then repeated what she told Johanna.
Mom nodded. “Revision is very important. You need to make sure you have that foundation in order to build up your knowledge.”
When Diana shrugged again, Mom pressed her lips together. She then said: “I spoke to your teacher yesterday.”
Diana’s heart sunk. “I know. Sister Trina told me.”
“So I know that there was no survey assignment. I also went to talk to Ms. Mills yesterday as well,” Mom continued.
“You did?” Diana asked, her stomach twisting up in knots. “Did she tell you why I was really there?”
Mom nodded. “I wasn’t pleased that you lied to me but you were only following Ms. Mills’ lead and she was trying to spare my feelings, so I’ll let it slide--for now. But we need to talk about your sudden belief that I’m not your mom and Ms. Mills is.”
“Because it’s true,” Diana protested.
Mom’s brow furrowed. “Why? Because some book told you?”
Diana knew that when she put it that way, it did sound silly. Yet she also knew in her heart that it was true. She doubted Mom would accept that and would keep pushing until Diana doubted her own heart. Villains were very good at that thing.
“I don’t look like you or Dad,” she said instead. “I don’t feel part of this family.”
Mom’s eyes filled with tears and she wrapped her arm around Diana. She lifted the picture frame to reveal the photograph of herself lying in a hospital bed holding a newborn baby wrapped in a white blanket and wearing a pink hat. “Your father took this the day you were born--the happiest day of our life. You are our daughter--my daughter.”
She let Diana hold the picture as she moved in closer. “I know things have been different since your father’s accident. I know it’s been hard not having him around. It’s been hard for me too, trying to be the mayor as well as both mom and dad to you. And I’m willing to admit that maybe I haven’t been so great a mom these past few months.
“I have a proposal for you,” she continued. “I promise to make more time for you. Starting this week, I’m going to block out a special chunk of time that’s only for the two of us. We can do whatever you want--go to the movies, go shopping, have lunch, practice archery. How does that sound?”
It sounded tempting. Diana loved all of those things, especially archery. She figured it wouldn’t hurt to spend time with the enemy. Perhaps she could get some answers while lulling Mom into a false sense of security. This appeared to be a win-win situation.
“That sounds great, Mom,” she replied with a smile.
Mom smiled but her tone sounded serious as she continued: “Now you need to do something for me. You need to stop all this nonsense about Ms. Mills being your real mother. I spoke with her and she’s agreed to have no contact with you.”
“What?” Diana exclaimed. She would’ve jumped up but Mom had tightened her grip. “That’s not fair!”
“It may not seem fair but it’s for the best,” Mom insisted. “I don’t want you talking with Ms. Mills either. Instead, I want you to talk with Dr. Hopper.”
Dr. Hopper was the town’s psychiatric and Diana’s stomach twisted at the implications. “I’m not crazy!”
Mom caressed Diana’s face as she softened her tone. “Of course you’re not. I just think a lot has happened and you need someone to talk to, someone who can help you work through everything. Dr. Hopper can do that. And you won’t be alone. We’ll also have sessions together to become stronger as a family, okay?”
Though it sounded like she had a choice, Diana knew she was going to see Dr. Hopper whether she wanted to or not. She sighed, her shoulders slumping as she said: “Okay.”
“Thank you, princess. Things are going to get better, I promise.” Mom hugged her. “And the first step is for you to give me the storybook. I think it’s best if we got rid of it.”
Diana had been expecting that and she was glad she had already left it somewhere safe. It allowed her to truthfully say: “I don’t have it. I gave it to a friend. The book was meant to be shared.”
Mom’s eyebrow went up but she relaxed, seemingly accepting that answer. “Good. I think we’re off to a very good start then.”
There was a sharp rap on the door before it opened. Johanna stood there, facing the two. “Lacey is here for Diana,” she said.
“Thank you. Tell Lacey she’ll be right out,” Mom replied.
Johanna nodded before closing the door. Mom stood. “I’ll be home in time for dinner. Be good for Lacey.”
“I will,” Diana replied, putting her book bag on. Mom opened her arms and Diana hugged her, playing along for now.
Mom let her go and Diana headed out of her office. Lacey stood there, tapping one of her blue pumps impatiently. She leaned against the wall, her black skirt ending far above her knees. Her bright blue sequined halter top sparkled in the fluorescent lighting and when she caught sight of Diana, her necklaces clanged together as she straightened up. “Hey, kid. Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” she said. “What are we doing today?”
Lacey shrugged, glancing at the door. “How will your mom react if I gave you a makeover?”
Diana looked over Lacey’s messy ponytail and expertly applied makeup, admiring them. Though she thought a makeover sounded like fun, she shook her head. “I’m already on thin ice with her and I’d rather keep you as my babysitter.”
Lacey laughed. “I’m sure. Or else you’d have to deal with Mrs. Figg again.”
“Ugh,” Diana replied, scrunching up her nose. “She was the worst.”
Mrs. Figg had been her babysitter when she was a little girl. She had been strict with a lot of rules Diana had to follow and only had prunes for snacks for her, which had prompted Mom to start sending snacks with Diana. Mrs. Figg did not own a TV and usually preferred Diana to read quietly, though she did let her play with toys as long as she didn’t get too loud and didn’t make a mess. As she got older, it was harder and harder to please Mrs. Figg no matter how much Diana tried to obey her rules.
It had been a relief when her parents had decided to trust Diana with more responsibility now that she was older and got Lacey to start watching her at home before only having her come on nights when they had to work late. Lacey wasn’t the typical babysitter, though she made sure Diana ate healthy meals and did her homework. She didn’t hover over Diana and gave her her space. While it would’ve been easier to sneak off to see Regina without Lacey around, it still didn’t keep Diana from plotting her next move to break the curse and get her real family back.
Regina closed her locker, snapping the lock back into place. She shouldered her bag and headed for the door, once again avoiding her coworkers as she left for the day. It had been a week since Mayor Nolan had confronted her outside work but most still gave her the evil eye, certain that she had done something to upset Storybrooke’s favorite daughter.
Of course, they were right but she wasn’t going to tell them that. It would only make things worse.
She stepped out into the sunshine and paused, looking around. Mayor Nolan’s warning had made her paranoid and she kept looking over her shoulder all week, wondering if someone was watching her already. She hadn’t even seen Diana let alone talked with her but still, she worried. The mayor had seemed so angry the week before and had been acting so strangely, she didn’t know what would happen to her.
Driving home was no better. Regina had become hyperaware of everyone else on the road in the last seven days. If a car drove too close to her, she broke out into a cold sweat and gripped the steering wheel tighter. Her heart would then hammer in her chest if the car appeared to be following her and wouldn’t slow down even after the other car turned or parked. She didn’t feel safe until she was back in her house with every door locked. Despite the beautiful late summer weather already carrying hints of an equally beautiful autumn season, she refused to open a window. It seemed too dangerous.
She knew she was being paranoid and irrational. Her logical side tried to overpower her anxious one, providing valid explanations. Some drivers were just impatient and drove close to her in hopes she would move over so they could speed down the street like it was the Autobahn. She lived off Main Street so of course people would be heading in her direction for most of her commute home. No one was following her, no one was watching her. Mayor Nolan had just been angry and hurt, so she had lashed out and made what probably amounted to an empty threat. Besides, Regina was complying with her request. She had nothing to fear, she told herself as she showered off the fishy smell that clung to every worker at the cannery.
A little voice—the one that sounded like the mayor--told her that she did have something to hide. It sat there as she opened the drawer to grab a shirt to change into, serving as a reminder that she hadn’t done everything to help Mayor Nolan.
She still had Diana’s storybook.
Though clad only in a towel wrapped around her body, Regina pulled out the book and stared at it. She had had every intention of giving it to the mayor, told herself every day she would do it but then never did. It wasn’t anything malicious on her part, she wasn’t holding it to give it to Diana behind Mayor Nolan’s back. She had just grossly underestimated how easy it would be to read.
It wasn’t written like other fairy tale books, where each story was self-contained. They were interwoven in this book and whoever the author was had written it with such an immense level of detail that Regina could understand how Diana could believe it was all real. The book had so rich and compelling a narrative that Regina had to force herself to put it away each night. After a week, she barely had reached the midway point of the story.
The story of Rumpelstiltskin had intrigued her and had made her realize that it was going to be different from other fairy tale books. After all, known of them featured him as a human man determined to do anything for his family--even hobbling himself to avoid fighting in a battle where he certainly would’ve died.
Despite him being modeled after her despised landlord Mr. Gold, Regina identified with Rumple at that point--and she wasn’t sure why she shortened his name to a nickname, but it felt right to call him that. Once everyone learned he had injured himself rather than fight, he was shunned by his villagers. Even his own wife rejected him, ultimately leaving him and their young son to find happiness elsewhere. Rumpelstiltskin was a sad, broken and lonely man surrounded by people who hated him and whispered behind his back. It resonated with Regina and her life, though she was ostracized for something her mother did rather than something she did. Still, she rooted for Rumple to find his happiness and find a community of his own--especially as she couldn’t.
When he went down a dark path, becoming an all-powerful being, she still wanted him to find his way back to good. He showed moments of it, such as helping Jiminy (Cricket, of Pinocchio fame) when he wanted to be free of his con artist parents, but he turned to evil more and more. She still cried when he lost his son, his reason for everything, as Baelfire had decided to flee to a land without magic rather than continue see his father become less and less human. Rumple was truly alone and though she still didn’t understand why, she wanted him to have a better life.
Maybe because she hoped it would mean she could have a better life one day.
Rumple’s story then turned into the one she was familiar with—the one where he helped the Miller’s Daughter. The book dove into her backstory, a young woman who often had to run her father’s mill as he was often drunk. She also worked in a tavern to help provide for her family as well as save up for a better life for herself. There she got lead astray by a man who misrepresented himself and ended up pregnant.
Regina’s blood had frozen when she saw her mother’s name written in the book. She had curled up on her bed, wondering if it provided any insight into the woman who had given birth to her. Had Cora dreamed of a better life while stuck with an alcoholic parent? Were people who thought they were better than her cruel to her, like Princess Eva was to Cora in the fairy tale? Did she not really sleep around but had just been led astray by a man who promised her the moon but failed to deliver? Had she really abandoned Regina so both of them could live their best lives?
Storybook Cora had abandoned a daughter as well, leaving the baby in the woods--a certain death sentence. At least her mother had left her in a hospital. Regina wondered if she was the baby abandoned until a magical tornado took the basket to another land.
That was a story for another book, the author had written after that paragraph, though. It made Regina wonder if there was a sequel somewhere and if the baby really had been her storybook equivalent or someone else.
Cora’s and Rumpelstiltskin’s stories had collided when she had been caught sneaking into a royal ball. She had lied to the king, claiming to know how to spin straw into gold. Rumple agreed to teach her magic, allowing her to become a powerful witch. He fell in love with her and though Cora claimed to have feelings for him, he ended up being just someone she used for her own advancement. Regina once again felt sorry for Rumple and wondered if that version of Cora was closer to her real mother.
There so many questions about Cora Mills that Regina suddenly wanted answers for but she didn’t know where she would even start to get them.
Regina stood as she moved from the floor to her bed, gingerly holding the book. She opened it to the last page she had read the night before, where Rumpelstiltskin hoped that Cora would run away with him rather than marry Prince Henry for he had fallen in love with her. Cora, though, wanted the power being a princess would give her and chose to marry Henry, taking out her heart to forget her feelings for Rumpelstiltskin and so emotions would’ve get in the way of her quest for more power. There was an illustration and Regina ran a finger over the image of Cora.
The woman in the illustration had the bearing of someone who tried to be better than she was in hopes it would come to pass. She had dark brown hair that was piled into a bun on top of her head and cold brown eyes. Regina studied her, believing she could see some of herself in the drawing and wondering then if the illustrator had known her mother. Was this how Cora Mills looked when she gave birth to Regina?
She had never seen a picture of her mother. The sisters certainly didn’t have one of her and no one in Storybrooke liked Cora enough to keep a picture of her. Daniel had suggested she look at one of the old yearbooks kept in their high school--certainly they hadn’t purged her from there--but Regina refused. She didn’t want to see the woman who had given her up, who could walk away from a baby and doom her to a life of loneliness and hatred like Cora had done to her.
Now as she stared at the illustration of Cora, the Miller’s Daughter, she was hit with the overwhelming desire to see her mother. She wanted to see if she looked like the illustration, to see if she could see herself in the woman or if perhaps she took after her father more--whoever he was.
Daniel’s idea of looking at the yearbook came back to her. She knew she wouldn’t be able to walk into Storybrooke Academy to ask to see the yearbook from when her mother graduated. They only got a half-hour for lunch at work and the school was on the other side of Storybrooke from the cannery. She would never make it in time. There was also the fact that Diana attended the school and Regina needed to stay away from her. Regina would need to get the yearbook from another source.
It then hit her and she closed the book. The library had all the yearbooks going back several decades until the library was shut because...of a reason Regina couldn’t remember. She furrowed her eyebrow as she racked her brain, trying to recall why it had closed. After several minutes, she gave up and shrugged. No doubt the Town Council had a good reason to close it and Mayor Nolan had one not to reopen it.
She bit her lip, debating her next move. Regina had spent several nights breaking into the library to prepare for her failed proposal and could do it easily to find the yearbook she needed. However, she had raised the mayor’s ire and it probably wasn’t wise to break into the library right now. Yet her curiosity was getting the best of her. She found she really needed to see a picture of her mother.
Regina pulled back her curtain and looked out onto the street. The sun was starting to set and her neighbors were returning home from work. She needed to wait a few more hours so she could sneak in under the cover of darkness, when most of Storybrooke was asleep. That gave her time to have dinner and get a little more reading in.
She climbed back into bed and grabbed the book, ready to find out more about Cora and Prince Henry. Especially as they had just welcomed a daughter of their own and were just about to name her. Regina’s eyes widened as she read about it, her heart speeding up at one passage:
Princess Cora held up her baby daughter, her brown eyes sweeping the gathered court. These people had spent years looking down at her and now, she looked down on them. She was also determined to make certain her young daughter would rise even higher than them all.
“Her name is Regina,” Cora announced, “for one day, she will be queen.”
Night descended upon the town. Regina pulled on her black hoodie, paired with her black sweatpants to help her blend in more. She placed the book in a bag and turned out all the lights to make it look like she had turned in for the night. Opening her backdoor, she stepped into her small yard and closed the door behind her. Regina headed out of her gate, creeping along the small path that ran between the houses on her block and the ones on the next one over. The library was at the corner, only a few houses away from her. She held her breath, hoping no one was looking out their windows at that moment to see her.
Regina arrived at the library. She glanced around to make sure no one was around before pulling out a bobby pin. Crouching down, she used it to pick the lock and get in through the backdoor. She closed it behind her and pulled out the flashlight she brought with her, turning it on to light her way to the small office not far from the door.
She flipped on the lights, knowing no one would notice them. There were no windows in the office and it was too far in the back for anyone to see from the street. It had been the place where she had put together her proposal, especially since it had a computer. She hadn’t been able to afford one yet, so she was glad to have it.
There was no need for the computer that night. She just went into the office to place her bag down and to just have the lights on to help guide her. Regina didn’t want to turn on the other lights in the library, afraid it would draw attention from the street. Instead, she used her flashlight as she found where the yearbooks were kept. She stared at the bright blue bindings, each with a year written in white text. Regina chewed her lip, trying to determine which one would have her mother in it.
She knew the year she was born and so she figured that she should start with the yearbook from the year before, figuring her mother was already out of high school when she gave birth. Regina easily located it and pulled out the book, carrying it to a nearby table. Shining her flashlight on it, she located the senior pictures and flipped through the pages until she found the “M” section. Regina scanned each name before coming upon the one she was looking for: Cora Mills.
Regina looked up at the picture above the name and gasped. The yearbook wasn’t in color but the young woman in the photograph looked just like the Miller’s daughter in the storybook. Cora even had the same haughty look in her eyes, the one that indicated she thought she was meant for better things than what she was born to and would do anything to get them. Including abandoning her infant daughter and never looking back.
Closing the yearbook, Regina carried it with her back to the office. She opened the storybook and looked for the illustrator’s name. On the front page, she found something in small print.
Written and illustrated by I. Heller
She frowned as she sat down, looking over the name again. It didn’t sound familiar and when she went through the yearbook, she didn’t find the name anywhere. Undeterred, Regina then tried to look up the name on the library’s database but nothing came up. She guessed it was a penname but she found it strange that the library had no records of the storybook. Had it been published after the library closed? Regina tried to find a publication date but there was none. There was also no information about the publisher.
Everything about the book was confusing. She wondered where Diana had gotten it and longed to ask her but knew she couldn’t. Regina’s only choice was to do some more research and try to figure out who I. Heller was.
She gathered up the book, deciding she would continue the next morning and would go home to get more reading down. An idea then hit her. Since she was so worried about having the book in her house, she believed it would be better if she left it in the library. It was unlikely anyone would take it and she get some reading down while researching more about the book. And if the mayor did come to her house, Regina could honestly say she didn’t have it there.
Regina leaned back in the chair with a smile and continued reading about the young girl with her name and her likeness as she grew up surrounded by fairy tales and magic.
Snow White skipped down the hallway happily, hoping to spend some time with her new mother. While she missed her mother still with an ache she doubted would ever go away, she was glad that Regina had decided to marry her father after all and not run away with her stable boy. Now she would always be around for Snow and she looked forward to learning so much from the woman.
Not bothering to knock, Snow entered the room with a big smile. “Regina? Are you in here?”
She heard frantic whispers and then someone being hushed. A maid appeared in the doorway, wide-eyed and forcing a smile. “Princess! Was Her Majesty expecting you?”
“No,” Snow replied. “I thought I would surprise her. Is she awake?”
“Yes, but she is not dressed yet,” the maid replied.
Snow frowned, confused as to why that mattered. “I’ve seen her in her nightgown before. It doesn’t matter to me.”
The maid still hesitated and Snow grew frustrated. She pulled herself up to try to make herself taller and held her head high, using her best royal voice. “I order you to let me to see the Queen.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the maid said reluctantly, knowing she had to obey an order from the princess or face the king’s wrath. She stood aside and let a pleased Snow into the room.
Regina stood in front of her mirror, looking at something on her arm. Snow frowned, trying to get a better look at what appeared to be dark spots there--almost like bruises. Before she could question it, Regina spotted Snow and pulled on her dressing gown. She tied the sash before crossing her arms, looking annoyed. “What is it, Snow?”
“I was hoping we could spend some time together,” Snow told her. “Perhaps go riding?”
Regina’s eyes widened a bit and she blanched, shaking her head. “I don’t think I can go riding today. I...I’m not feeling well.”
“Do we need to call the royal physician?” Snow turned to one of the maids, who were just standing there. “What are you standing around for? The queen needs the physician!”
A warm hand squeezed her shoulder and Snow turned to look at Regina again. She shook her head. “I don’t need the physician. I just need to rest and not do anything too strenuous, like riding.”
Disappointment flooded Snow. “Oh. Could we ride another day then?”
“Maybe,” Regina replied, though her eyes didn’t meet Snow’s. “We’ll have to see.”
Snow nodded even though she still felt disappointed that she couldn’t ride with Regina. Another idea came to her and she perked up. “Can we have breakfast together?”
“I don’t know…” Regina replied, looking uncertain as she pulled her hand away. She hugged herself tighter.
“Please?” Snow clasped her hands and looked up at Regina with her best puppy dog eyes. “I just want to spend time together with you.”
Regina sighed, nodding. She smiled at Snow. “Breakfast sounds lovely then.”
The maids jumped to work, setting the table for breakfast as one went down to the kitchen to get them food. Snow took her seat next to Regina, telling her stepmother all about her plans for the day.
“You should still go riding,” Regina told her as she nibbled on a piece of toast. “It’s good to ride often if you want to improve your skills.”
Snow shrugged as she pushed around her sausage. “It’s more fun when you’re with me.”
Regina sighed. “We can’t do everything all the time, Snow. I have many responsibilities as queen I need to tend to.”
“Oh.” This morning just seemed to be one disappointment after another. All she wanted was to spend time with her beloved stepmother--was that so bad? Why did the universe conspire to keep them apart?
Regina picked up her teacup. “We’ll still spend time together, Snow. It just won’t be as much as you want.”
As Regina sipped her tea, Snow looked back down at her breakfast. She wished one of Regina’s official duties was spending time with her every day. How else was she going to learn from her so she became a proper lady when she grew up? If only Regina could replace her tutor…
Snow dropped her fork as an idea hit her. Regina frowned, looking over at her. “Is something wrong, dear?”
“No,” Snow replied. “I just lost my grip.”
She picked up her fork again, smiling down at her plate. After breakfast, she was going to go straight to her father and get herself added to Regina’s schedule permanently. She knew her stepmother would love the surprise and welcome the chance to be with her every day. Their bond would only grow and Snow would be able to be just like Regina one day.
Mary Margaret replaced the last pink pillow on her daughter’s bed before running her hand over the pink comforter to smooth it out. All her stuffed animals were back in their proper places as well as her books. Her room looked perfect and like it hadn’t been disturbed. Diana would never know her mother had torn it apart to make sure she wasn’t really hiding the storybook in her room.
It seemed Diana was telling the truth as she hadn’t found the book anywhere in the house. She would check the school just to be on the safe side but she was starting to trust her daughter again.
Sighing, Mary Margaret sat down on Diana’s bed and wished she had never stopped trusting her daughter in the first place. However, Diana lately had been acting more and more like Regina. It seemed the curse and over ten years as Mary Margaret’s daughter had done little to stamp out the darkness that flowed through Diana’s blood thanks to Regina. Sneaking around, being defiant, lying, rebelling--all of those were warning signs and if Mary Margaret didn’t do something, she could lose Diana to the same path Regina had walked to become the Evil Queen.
She wouldn’t let that happen.
Mary Margaret reached out and picked up Diana’s teddy bear. She held it to her chest and closed her eyes. Everything had been fine for ten years. Diana idolized her, wanting to spend as much time with her. It seemed that Mary Margaret had saved her just in time and was able to undo whatever damage Regina had no doubt done to Diana in her first ten years, setting her on the course to good rather than evil.
It hurt her to know Diana wanted to go back to Regina but blamed it on the curse wiping her memories. Diana didn’t remember the type of person Regina truly was but Mary Margaret did. She had spent eight years idolizing Regina, imitating Regina, loving Regina and the entire time, Regina had been plotting how to kill her. She then chased after Snow for years, bent on destroying her all because of one secret she hadn’t kept. Only someone with no heart, no conscience could do that after years of spending time with Snow, making her believe she was loved. Regina didn’t know how to do that. All she was was a very good actress.
Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brushed them away, angry that she still felt hurt over Regina’s betrayal. After all these, years, she hated that she still cared about the young woman who had saved her life and been so kind to her. She hated that every happy memory she had with Regina was now tainted with the knowledge that her stepmother wanted nothing more than to kill her. All that hatred made her blood boil and she began to pace around the room, still clutching Diana’s Teddy bear.
A little voice inside her asked if she was letting her own anger and hatred color her opinion of Regina. It seemed her stepmother had reformed, redeeming herself in the eyes of the people. She had even married a man known to be honorable and good, so he must’ve seen something in her. Perhaps Regina had changed and had been a good mother to Diana after all.
Mary Margaret shook her head. It no doubt had been all an act--the good queen, loving wife, doting mother. Regina had fooled them all but Mary Margaret knew better. She knew the real Regina and knew she could no longer hurt anyone in Storybrooke. Regina had gotten exactly what she deserved.
She placed the bear back in its place on Diana’s bed, feeling more confident. Diana believed in a fairy tale of two loving parents. Mary Margaret knew life with anyone raised by the likes of Cora only led to pain and heartache. She just had to show Diana what real mother looked like and shower her with love and attention. It was all about spending time together.
Catching sight of Diana’s bow and quiver, she got an idea. She took them and retrieved her own before heading out to her car. Mother and daughter would spend the afternoon together and she would start to re-establish their bond. Given time, Diana would forget about Regina and all would be well.
As she climbed into her Mercedes, Mary Margaret watched a green truck drive down the street. White lettering on the door read Locksley Locksmith. It reminded her that there was another victim, one who was most likely innocent like Diana. However, Mary Margaret knew it was better for him to be away from Regina. And it was best for Diana to be away from him.
Sacrifices were necessary for the common good after all.
Regina sat in the examination chair in Dr. Whale’s office, trying not to shiver. The thin blue examination gown she was given provided no warmth. It didn’t help that she was also nervous having never had a gynecological exam before. She knew should’ve gone for one earlier but often convinced herself that she was fine because she wasn’t sexually active. Now, though, she needed to have this examination.
She leaned back, closing her eyes. This was ridiculous and she knew it. She had continued to read the book and had grown more freaked out. First, Cora in the book looked just like her mother. Then she had given birth to a daughter named Regina, who grew up to look just like Regina. As storybook Regina entered womanhood, she fell in love with a young stable boy named Daniel--who looked just like Regina’s first and only boyfriend. She had even pulled their yearbook to confirm it, unable to trust her memory at that point.
Her research had also proved fruitless, leaving her unable to track down any information on I. Heller or the storybook. It was as if magic had created it and I. Heller didn’t exist. The mystery kept her up at night and she started to wonder if what Diana had said was really true--everything in the book was real, meaning Diana was her daughter.
Regina, though, knew it was impossible. She had never even had sex, let alone given birth. Yet she was even doubting that now, leaving her to prove to herself that it couldn’t be true. Dr. Whale’s examination should do just that.
Dr. Whale walked into the room, closing the door behind him. He seemed to be the only doctor in the hospital as he saw different types of patients for a myriad of conditions. Regina often saw him as her regular physician and he had been the one who had treated her broken foot. The fact he was also the only gynecologist on staff concerned her. If she hadn’t been on such thin ice with the mayor, she would’ve suggested that Town Hall should look at the hospital’s staffing policies. It didn’t seem right that one person did so much.
He sat down on the rolling chair, opening her file. “So, Regina, what brings you here today?”
“I figured it’s about time I come for a regular checkup,” she said, trying to sound as normal as possible. “You’ve always been on me about getting one even though I wasn’t sexually active.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re finally heeding my advice,” he replied, rolling over to her. “Put your feet in the stirrups and let’s get started.”
She nodded, doing as he said. Regina stared at the ceiling as Whale examined her most private parts, doing her best to ignore his off-color remarks--such as claiming to be “boldly going where no man has gone before.” She got it; she was a virgin.
It still wasn’t funny.
His joking manner faded away and he rolled back over to the desk, flipping through her file. Whale frowned, a crease forming between his brows. He rolled back toward her. “Regina, I am going to ask you a few questions and I need you to answer me honestly. There will be no judgments and you have nothing to gain by not telling the truth. Do you understand me?”
“I do,” she replied, suddenly really nervous. She had never seen him act or sound so serious. It almost made her miss his borderline-unprofessional asshole ways.
“Good,” he said. “Now, are you really a virgin?”
“Yes,” she replied, her stomach twisting in knots.
He nodded. “You’ve never had sex?”
“I was under the impression that’s what being a virgin meant,” she deadpanned.
His eyebrows went up and first, she thought she had insulted him. She wasn’t a sarcastic person as the sisters had washed it out of her when she was a little girl. Sometimes she could still taste the soap they used. After her initial panic receded, though, she realized he was impressed by her response.
Yet she knew he had asked her to be honest, not sarcastic. Before she could apologize, he asked: “Have you ever been pregnant or given birth?”
“No,” she replied, her stomach knotting up again.
“Are you sure?” he pressed, leaning closer. Suddenly the examination lamp felt more like the spotlights detectives shone on suspects to get them to talk in old movies. “Remember, Regina, no judgments, no condemnations. I just need the truth.”
Regina held her head high and looked Whale right into his blue eyes. “I have never been pregnant, never given birth, never had sex.”
“That’s what your file says,” he replied, leaning back. The crease between his brow deepened, now reaching his forehead. “The problem is your body is telling me something different.”
Her heart dropped. “It’s telling you I had a baby?”
Whale nodded. “It wasn’t recently but you show signs of childbirth.”
“Can you tell how long ago it was?” she asked. Given Diana’s age, she would’ve given birth ten years ago if her theory about Regina being her birth mother was true.
“It’s not an exact science,” he replied. “We can’t carbon date you or count rings. All it tells me is that you gave birth but not recently.”
He tilted his head, studying her. “Why? Do you have a specific time frame you’re thinking of?”
She shook her head, feeling a bit guilty for lying but knowing she couldn’t tell him about Diana’s theory. He would think she was crazy and might tell the mayor. “I just thought maybe it could help me figure out what happened. How can I forget being pregnant and giving birth?”
“I don’t know. That’s not my territory,” Whale said, reaching for a business card on the desk. He handed it to Regina. “For that, you need to talk to Dr. Hopper.”
She was familiar with the town psychiatrist, having seen him and his dog Pongo around town. Regina also knew where his office was and had considered seeing him about her issues stemming from her childhood. But she figured he wouldn’t tell her something she didn’t already know--she was destined to be alone--so it seemed futile. Maybe he could help in this case--figure out when she had been pregnant and why she had forgotten it, convince her that her child isn’t Diana.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” Dr. Whale said, still serious. “I’m not going to lie, Regina. While this isn’t my area of expertise, I do have some understanding. If you’ve forgotten about this pregnancy and birth, it may be for a reason. You may be opening a can of worms you’re not prepared to deal with.”
Regina glanced down at Dr. Hopper’s card. She knew that Dr. Whale’s warning was right and that she probably was going to deal with some kind of trauma she had been suppressing. Her life was going to change and was probably going to get worse, knowing her luck. Yet she couldn’t go back to before she knew she had given birth. And she needed to know what became of the baby.
“I can’t spend the rest of my life not knowing,” she said, “and so I’ll deal with the consequences, whatever they may be.”
Dr. Whale nodded. “I hope you get your answers then, Regina.”
She thanked him and he left her to change, telling her to head to the reception area to pay. Regina changed back into her clothes, tucking Dr. Hopper’s card into her jeans. She hoped that he could help her and already started to figure out her resources to discover if she had a child out there. It wasn’t going to be easy but she was determined to find him or her.
However, a little voice told her that she had already found her daughter. Or rather, her daughter had already found her.
So you guys got a sneak peek at Robin. I promise he’ll eventually enter the story, but the Snow/Regina relationship is very important to the plot so I need to build that up. Please be patient. I promise the Outlaw Queen stuff will be central once Robin enters and will be worth the wait.
Regina now has some proof that things aren’t the way they appear. Will Dr. Hopper be able to help her? Will she try to reconnect with Diana? And as she gets further into the storybook, will she be encouraged or scared by the Evil Queen? Find out in the upcoming chapters!
Once again, Inspired by OQ Week is coming up. You are welcome to create something inspired by this story or any other story. If anyone would like, I could put up some fancasts of what Diana looks like. Keep an eye on Twitter this weekend.
Thanks for reading! I hope everyone has a good weekend!
Chapter 4: The Search for Truth
Regina stood on Main Street, not far from her house, and stared at the door. She wrapped her arms around her, hugging herself, as she worked up the courage to open it. Dr. Hopper's name stared back at her, daring her to finally make a move. Taking a deep breath, she reached out and opened the door, stepping inside.
She climbed the stairs to Dr. Hopper's office, finding a few chairs lining a wall with pictures of old Storybrooke on it. It was his entire waiting room and he didn't even have a receptionist. Regina guessed she should just knock on the door and see what he would tell her to do.
Dr. Hopper opened the door and smiled at Regina. He was a few years older than her with bright red hair and crystal blue eyes behind silver glasses. She swore he had always worn nice slacks (this time they were brown) and a white button-down shirt under a (brown and green plaid) sweater vest. There was something calming about him and she believed he had been born to be psychiatrist.
"Regina," he greeted, stepping aside so she could pass through the door. "Right on time. Come on in."
She passed him as she stepped into the room, pulling her gray sweater wrap tighter around her body. As September began to wane and October approached, the weather was getting cooler. It didn't yet require a jacket or anything warmer than the light blue t-shirt she wore as the wrap did a good job keeping her warm in the crisp air. She also planned to use it as a security blanket, especially in a such an unfamiliar setting for her.
He closed the door before motioning to the red couch behind her. "Please, make yourself comfortable."
"Do I...Do I need to lie down?" she asked, glancing at the couch as she recalled movies and TV shows that featured therapy sessions.
"If you want," he said, taking a seat in a nearby leather chair. There was no judgment or teasing in his tone. "It's not required though. You can just sit. Whatever will make you comfortable."
She nodded, perching on the edge of the couch. Regina rested her hands on her knees, her stomach twisted up in knots. "Now what?"
"Why don't you tell me what brought you to my office?" he suggested, pulling out a pad and pen.
Regina resisted the urge to let out a wry laugh. He had no clue how much of a loaded question that was for her. She had decided after making the appointment not to tell him anything about the storybook, Diana and her theory that Regina was her real mother. The last thing she needed was for him to hospitalize her, locking her up for being crazy. It was best to focus on what Dr. Whale had told her and to find a rational explanation for it.
She played with her sleeves as she repeated the explanation she had practiced, trying to keep it as brief as possible. "I, uh, went for a gynecological exam recently and Dr. Whale discovered something disconcerting. He said that my body showed signs of having given birth but as far as I know, I've never had sex. So how could I have given birth?"
"I see," Dr. Hopper replied, frowning as he tapped his pen against the pad. "While Dr. Whale is an excellent medical professional, he does have a tendency to...well…"
"Be an asshole?" she supplied, raising her eyebrow.
Though he shifted uncomfortably in his chair, Dr. Hopper nodded. "Yes. Are you sure he wasn't just joking with you?"
She nodded, recalling how Dr. Whale looked when he told her. "He was very serious and didn't make any jokes at all. I am confident that he told me the truth but you can check with him yourself."
"If you believe he was serious, then I believe you," Dr. Hopper told her.
"Thank you," she replied, feeling relieved that he wasn't calling her crazy right away. "So do you think you can help me figure out why I forgot about giving birth? Can you recover the memories?"
He pressed his lips together and she could tell he was choosing his words carefully. After a few moments, he said: "The brain is a mysterious thing, Regina, as is the subconscious. We can work to see if we can unlock the memories, but I can't make any promises."
She had tried not to get her hopes up but she still felt disappointed that there would be no guarantee. Regina, though, held her head high as she nodded. "I understand. I still want to try."
"Okay," he said, uncapping his pen. "Now, have you talked with any family or friends about this?"
"I don't have any," Regina replied.
He paused, frowning. "What?"
She grew confused. He had to know her story-everyone in Storybrooke did after all. "I'm an orphan, Archie. I mean, Dr. Hopper. My mother signed her rights away and gave me to the sisters. No one adopted me so they raised me, turning me out when I graduated high school. I've been on my own since then. You have to know that. Everyone does."
"I knew you were an orphan," he confirmed, "but I thought you would've created your own family. You really have no friends?"
"None," she said, growing uncomfortable. She came here to find out about her lost memories, not to be reminded about how she was a loser no one liked. "I'm Cora Mills' daughter. That pretty much keeps people away."
He frowned. "No one has ever befriended you?"
"One person did," she replied, fighting the tears in her eyes. She shook her head. "I don't want to talk about him. Can we focus on why I'm here? To figure out what happened to my baby?"
"I know it may not seem like it but that's what we are doing. I was hoping there was someone who you may have confided in," he told her, holding out a tissue box.
She took the box and dabbed her eyes with the tissue. "If there was, I probably wouldn't be here. And that's the part that confounds me. Because I'm so despised in this town, it's like I'm more visible than the mayor. Everyone notices what I do. I doubt I would've been able to hide a pregnancy or giving birth that well. Someone would've had to notice that Cora Mills' fuck up fucked up herself. They would keep telling me how the apple didn't fall far from the tree."
"Do you think you left Storybrooke?" he asked. "Had the baby in another town?"
She shrugged. "I've never left Storybrooke but if I've forgotten about having a baby, who knows what else I've forgotten?"
"Well, we're going to work to uncover that," Dr. Hopper said. He stood, walking over to a filing cabinet. She watched as he opened a drawer and pulled out a marble notebook, much like the ones she used in school.
He handed it to her. "I want you to take this."
"Are you giving me homework?" she asked, both in jest and in surprise.
"I am," he confirmed, sitting back down. "I know you came here to recover lost memories, but there are a few other things I want to work on with you as well."
She frowned as her stomach clenched and she clutched the notebook to her chest. "Like what?"
"Like how you view the world and yourself," he said. "You seem to believe that you are a fuck up, pardon my language, that no one likes you and that you're not meant to have love or family."
"No offense, Dr. Hopper, but I don't just believe it. I know it. Everyone in this town knows it. I'm Cora Mills' daughter. I'm not worth anyone's time, attention or love. And I've made peace with it," she said, though she knew that last part was only partially true. She hadn't made complete peace with the fact she would always be alone but she was getting there with each passing year she spent with only herself for company.
His frown deepened. "Everyone deserves to be loved, especially by themselves."
"I love myself," she lied.
Dr. Hopper saw right through it judging by the way he tilted his head and studied her. He didn't call her on it, though. Instead, he asked: "Who is Regina Mills?"
"I'm Cora Mills' mistake," she said. "I'm a disappointment."
"Stop," he replied, holding up his hand.
She frowned. "What? You asked me who I am and I'm telling you."
"There has to be more to you than just being Cora Mills' daughter," he told her.
"Why? That's all that matters. Everyone just cares that I'm Cora Mills' daughter. Most probably don't even know my name is Regina," she said bitterly.
He nodded. "Well, let's change that. I want to help you not only discover more about this mysterious pregnancy but to also find out who Regina Mills is. Which brings us back to the notebook."
She glanced down at it, trying not to scowl as she believed she knew what he wanted her to do. "You want me to keep a diary? Detail every little thing that's ever happened to me?"
"Not really. That's not going to help since you forgot about being pregnant," Dr. Hopper replied, "but I do want you to consider it a diary. I'm going to use this to help you retrain your brain so you look at the world differently—not so negatively."
"How is this going to do that?" she asked, holding up the notebook with a doubtful expression on her face.
He smiled. "When you wake up, I want you to write down two goals for the day. They can be small things but they must be positive-like smiling more or talking to a coworker. And then I want you to write down three good things in your life. It's probably going to be difficult when you start since you've been convinced there are no good things in your life but it'll get easier. Especially as your last task is to write down three good things that happened to you that day. Can you do that?"
She wanted to tell him no, that nothing good would ever happen to her, that she doesn't need to readjust how she viewed the world. The world had showed her how it really operated and reminded her of her place in the scheme of things constantly. Nothing Dr. Hopper had her do would change that. He should just stick to helping her recover her memories.
Regina wanted to say all of that. Instead, she said: "I can do that."
"Good," he said. "I want you to bring it with you to every session, so if you want to take notes about things you want to talk about in it as well, I recommend that."
"I'll keep that in mind," she replied, clutching the notebook to her chest.
Dr. Hopper nodded, glancing at a clock by his chair. "I'm afraid our time is almost up. So, let me close with this-I know you were probably expecting me to focus on just recovering your forgotten memories but I am concerned about other aspects of your mental health. And while I know you understand that we most likely will recover something traumatic, I want to make sure you have all the tools you need to process it. That includes making sure you have a healthy sense of self. Understand?"
"I do," she said softly. She knew she was ready to learn whatever had happened to her, wanted to know the truth and realized she was going to need some tools to help her deal with whatever she discovered. Dr. Hopper was helping her in ways she hadn't thought of and she was grateful for his expertise.
He stood, setting his pad and pen down. "We'll continue this next time. Same time, next week?"
She nodded, standing as well. He led her back into the little waiting room and after they settled her insurance information and payment, he wished her a good day. Regina thanked him and headed back outside, still clutching the notebook as if it was a shield to protect her from the world. She still wasn't sure this journal thing was going to work but she would try it. At least it gave her an idea for her own research and she headed up to the stationery store on Main Street to make a few purchases.
Regina stormed into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She picked up a pillow from her bed, pressing it to her face as she screamed her frustrations into it. Whenever she thought her life couldn't get any worse, it seemed the universe took it as a dare and found a way to do just that.
"Regina?" Daddy entered from the door that connected their rooms. He approached with a frown. "Is something wrong?"
"Snow is what's wrong," she snapped, tossing the pillow back on her bed. "And Leopold's inability to deny her anything she asks for!"
Her father paused, tilting his head. "What is it now?"
"Snow said that we weren't spending enough time together, that my duties were getting in the way. Leopold has now amended my duties so that they include having to tutor his insufferable brat to be a lady!" she yelled, starting to pace the room.
"She is so selfish, never thinking of others but only of herself and her wants. What about my wants? What about my wish to stay far, far away from her?" she ranted to no one in particular.
Daddy approached her cautiously. "I know you're upset…"
"I'm angry, Daddy," she corrected.
"Right," he said. "But maybe you need to look at this another way."
She paused, scowling at him. "What do you mean by that? What other way is there to look at it?"
"Well, you say she's very self-absorbed and doesn't care for others' feelings or well-being," her father started.
"Of course she doesn't," Regina interjected. "Her father spoils her and makes it so she never has to. Everyone has to cave to her."
Daddy nodded. "I know. Nearly the entire palace knows. Even her mother knew before she died. From what I've heard, Queen Eva was trying to teach Snow how to be less selfish and to be a good queen."
Her stomach turned at the mention of her predecessor. Everyone whispered her name with such reverence, it was as if she were some goddess and Regina the demon unworthy of taking her place. She also hated how Leopold called her his late wife's name when he came to her bed, holding her down as he took his pleasure from her. The least he could do would be to use her name but he didn't even give Regina that. She never wanted to hear Eva's name again but she knew it would be a long time before that happened, if ever.
Anger making her blood boil, she hissed: "Do not mention her name. I will not have it spoken in these chambers. This is my safe space, away from the memory of her that haunts the rest of this palace."
"Of course," Daddy said, apologetic as he held up his hand in a placating manner. "I apologize."
She nodded, knowing he would respect her wishes. Regina resumed her pacing, still itching to get her anger out somehow. She wished her lessons with Rumpelstiltskin were going better because she would love to hurl a few fireballs and destroy something-anything-at the moment.
"But what I was suggesting is that you spend time with Snow and teach her to be less selfish. Teach her how to be more empathetic," Daddy continued.
Regina stopped, not believing she heard her father correctly. He wanted her to spend time with the person who stole everything from her? It wasn't just that Snow broke her promise not to tell anyone about Regina's plan to run away with Daniel. It wasn't just about how that cost Daniel his life and how it sentenced Regina to this prison, forced to smile and pretend she was happy to be married to a man old enough to be her father who still pined for his dead wife. In the end, it was about how Snow didn't have any remorse about any of it. She didn't want Regina to leave her, wanted her to stay and be her mother, and once again, the princess had gotten everything she wanted while Regina lost everything she had wanted.
She whirled on her father, snarling at him. "You want me to spend time with Snow? With the person who imprisoned me in here?"
"Your mother did that," Daddy reminded her. Not that she ever forgot that her mother had magically trapped her in the palace, making it so she couldn't leave without Leopold's permission.
"Mother used magic to keep me here but I was already trapped when Snow broke her promise, when she told a secret she wasn't supposed to and cast Daniel his life," she barked, her voice cracking. Tears pricked her eyes. "She isn't even sorry."
"Because you never told the truth. You told her Daniel ran away and didn't take you with him," he pointed out. "She doesn't know she has anything to be sorry about. Tell her."
She shook her head, a lump forming in her throat. "She'll just get upset and tell her father. Then he'll get upset and…"
The words died in Regina's throat as she could never voice what Leopold did to her. Instead, she rolled up one of her sleeves and let the fading yellowing bruises there do the talking for her. She didn't know how much worse it could get and she didn't want to find out, which meant not giving Leopold a reason to be angry with her. And that meant not upsetting his precious daughter.
Daddy grimaced and rolled her sleeve back down. "Regina…"
"Don't," she told him, her voice thick as she felt tears starting to burn her eyes. She didn't need any more of his apologies, not when he could've stopped all of this. Mother was powerful, it was true, but their word was governed by men. Had he voiced opposition, she believed she would not be trapped in this hell.
Tears filled his own eyes. "I just wish you could find happiness, Regina. That's all I ever wanted for you."
"Well, I'll never find it now," she bit back, seeing no way out of her prison.
"Don't think like that," he said, sitting down next to her. He took her hand. "You can find happiness as long as you don't shut yourself off from the possibility. Don't shut off your heart. Start with Snow."
Her anger flared up again and she jumped up off the bed, betrayed that he would suggest that after their entire conversation. No one ever truly listened to her. "GET OUT!" she bellowed, pointing to the door.
"Regina," Daddy said placatingly, "please listen to me."
She shook her head, trying hard not to cry as she backed away from him. "I won't find my happiness by making nice with Snow. My happiness will only come when she has suffered as much as I have, when she truly understands the pain she has put me through."
"That isn't the way to find your happi…"
"STOP!" she yelled, covering her ears. "JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!"
The mirror between her and her father exploded, glass shards flying out and almost showering Daddy. Horror filled her at how seriously he could've been hurt-she hadn't meant to do that. She lowered her hands as she looked up at him with wide eyes. "Daddy...I didn't mean…"
He backed away from her, fear in his eyes. "I'll do as you ask and give you some time. I'll check on you later."
Daddy fled into his own bedroom, closing the door behind him. She stood, shaking, as she stared at the glass shards covering her floor. What had she done? The power inside her intrigued her but more often frightened her. This was one of those times—her father was the last person she ever wanted to hurt, no matter how angry his suggestion had made her.
"Well, that was an impressive little show," a familiar high-pitched voice said from behind her. It sent a chill down her spine.
She closed her eyes, not much in the mood to deal with him. "Go away."
"Not yet. I want to have a chat," the voice said.
"I don't," she replied, opening her eyes to look at all the glass. "I need to clean this up before someone starts asking questions I don't want to answer."
Regina turned around to come face-to-face with the voice's owner, his golden skin sparkling in the candlelight. The Dark One smiled, raising one hand high as he rested the other against his elbow. "You can clean this with a snap of your fingers. Go ahead, give it a try."
"No," she said, glaring at him. "I told you-I have no interest in learning magic."
"Don't be so hasty," he said, following her. "Look at what you did without training. Now imagine what you can do with my help. You can even get revenge on Snow White."
She bristled as she stopped, glaring at him. "You were spying on me."
"I'm omnipotent," he told her cheekily. "And you wear your heart on your sleeve. Didn't your mother teach you better?"
Regina reached over and picked up her silver brush, throwing it at him. He disappeared in a cloud of mauve smoke, the brush landing with a dull thud amongst the broken shards of glass in the middle of the room.
"Nice try," he said from behind her, making her jump. She whirled around, finding him sitting on her vanity. "If you used your magic, you probably wouldn't have missed."
"Just leave me alone," she yelled. "Before I call for the guards."
He giggled. "Fine, fine. I'll leave you for now. But you will come to me to learn magic. Once you do, you will be a great sorceress and will be able to get everything you want."
"I want my true love back," she said, close to tears. "Can you give me that?"
The Dark One's smile fell and she thought she saw genuine remorse in his eyes. "Magic can't bring someone back from the dead."
She shook her head, ready to tell him to take his offer to someone else when he stepped closer. "But it can help you avenge his death. You can make Snow White miserable."
"Miserable?" she asked, intrigued. She smirked as she imagined Snow White's life being as horrible as hers. "You mean take away her happiness?"
"If that's what your little heart desires," he said, leaning closer. "Most of all, magic can give you the one thing you want most of all."
She frowned. "Snow White's unhappiness is what I want most of all."
"Oh, that's not true. I've heard you. You want something even more than that," he replied. He moved, standing behind her as he pressed his lips to her ear to whisper: "You want your freedom."
Regina gasped, her eyes widening as she turned to face him. He grinned. "You know where to find me when you want to take control of your own fate."
He disappeared in a cloud of mauve smoke, leaving Regina alone to consider his words. She had felt the pull of magic since banishing her mother to another realm and it had scared her. Mother had only ever used her magic to hurt Regina, so she had grown up fearing it. She had never thought about wielding it herself but now that Mother and Snow had put her in this position, it certainly was an enticing option.
She smirked as she waved her hand, concentrating on the glass shards. They shook before rising up into the hair. With another wave of her hand, they reformed into her mirror. It looked like it had never shattered.
With that, she made her decision.
Regina closed the storybook, her stomach twisted in knots. While she had felt for Rumple earlier in the book, she did not like his role in her doppelganger's story. Queen Regina needed to listen to her father and deal with her anger, not learn magic to exact revenge on Snow White. Though she figured she knew the ending, she prayed her lookalike made the right decision in the end.
She understood why Queen Regina felt so desperate, wanting to stop feeling so unhappy. The queen was fighting for her happiness, though in the wrong way. Regina had pretty much given up and was just resigned to her unhappiness. Maybe she needed to take a cue from her literary lookalike-she needed to fight for her happiness but do it right.
That thought draw her attention to the notebook Archie had given her. She had had it for only three days and had only written in it the first day. It had been a struggle to think of two positive goals she could attain for the day as well as three good things that happened to her in her day, let alone three good things she had in her life. So she had given up. Just like she always did.
Regina took a deep breath and picked up the notebook. She opened it to the second page and placed the date in the righthand corner. It was too late for her to put in her two goals-the day was almost over-but she was able to do the other parts, starting with the three good things in her life.
My baking skills
My little cottage-my own sanctuary
She smiled, amazed at how quickly she had written all three of those down. Now it was time to focus on the other part-the three good things that had happened to her that day.
No traffic on the way to work
They had pineapple pizza at the pizzeria
I decided to change my outlook on life thanks to the storybook
Regina leaned back, impressed with herself. Maybe things were starting to look up after all. She closed the book happily, setting it in her bag so she didn't forget it.
Straightening back up, she sighed as she stared at the desk. Regina had bought another notebook so she could start keep track of her progress in trying to find out what happened to her baby. There still wasn't much information besides that she had been pregnant and given birth. She had tried to look up birth records but there weren't many as Storybrooke was a small town. Each one had parents attached to them and there were no stories in the Daily Mirror about abandoned babies.
Regina bit her lip as she continued her next steps. Even though she couldn't remember giving birth, she still was sure she hadn't left Storybrooke to do so. Which meant someone somewhere had to know something about it. She just had to figure out who it was. Her first thought was Granny, whose diner was the center of town life. Every meal there came with a side of gossip. Regina was going to have to ask some difficult questions but it would the only way to get to the bottom of this. It was time for her to be brave.
She stood, gathering everything up and hiding the book in a desk drawer. While she was certain no one knew she had it and where she kept it, she still felt better making sure it wasn't out in the open. She didn't know why, but she felt it was important and she couldn't risk it falling into the wrong hands-whoever they were.
Turning out the light, Regina crept toward the door with her bag. It felt good having a plan and she already had an idea about what she was going to write in her journal the next day for one of the good things in her life.
Diana had spent the past couple weeks trying to figure out the best way to see Regina again. Between Mom's resolution for the two to spend time bonding together, school, ballet, Lacey babysitting her and her sessions with Archie, Diana's days were all booked up. There was very little chance for her to sneak away and find Regina, especially since the cannery was so far away from where she lived. By the time she knew Regina got home, Diana's mother was also home and keeping a watchful eye on her. Still, she refused to give up, knowing she would find a way.
It ended up falling into her lap by chance.
Sabrina Brunt, one of her classmates, had invited their classmates over to her house so they could all work on Halloween decorations-it was her family's favorite holiday. Every year, they created one of the best haunted houses in Storybrooke and all the kids loved to visit it. It would be even more fun to help set up so most of them agreed to go. Mom had dropped her off but told Diana that Lacey would be picking her up as she had some work to do.
However, Lacey called Sabrina's mother to tell her that she got stuck at her father's florist shop and wouldn't be able to pick Diana up. Mr. Brunt offered to drive her home but the Brunts did not live far from Town Hall. Diana said she would walk to her mother's office and get a ride home from her. The Brunts told her to walk quickly as the skies were darkening, threatening a good downpour if not a storm. Diana started toward Town Hall, convinced she could make it there before anything happened.
She was wrong.
Cold rain poured down on her, soaking her within minutes. She could barely see anything and she didn't think she could continue. Turning back didn't seem like a good idea either, forcing her to find someplace to wait out the storm.
Brushing some water from her eyes, she noticed the library on the opposite corner. It had a large awning over the front door that would keep some of the rain off her while she figured out how to get inside. She checked for cars but it seemed the rain kept everyone off the road, giving her the all clear to cross the street.
It was a relief to get under the awning, though it didn't block the wind. She shivered as it blew around her wet body and she felt her fingers grow stiff. It kept her from accurately picking the lock and she knew she would never get inside. She was probably going to freeze before anyone could find her and she slid down the library door, hugging herself to try to preserve her body heat.
The girl looked up and her heart sped up when she saw Regina standing in front of her, a big black umbrella keeping most of the rain off her though her jeans were soaked. She clutched a plastic bag, so Diana guessed she had gone to the store for something when she got caught in the downpour.
Regina frowned as she stepped closer to her. "What are you doing out here in this storm?"
"I was walking from a friend's house to Town Hall when the rain began," she said, shaking. "I hoped to get into the library but my fingers are too frozen."
"I see," Regina said, looking around. Diana remembered that her mother had threatened the woman to stay away from her so Regina was probably concerned that Acting Sheriff Humbert or Deputy Nott were going to appear out of nowhere to arrest her for just talking to Diana.
She bit her lip before sighing. "I know your mother said I had to stay away from you but I can't leave you out here in the rain. Come on. I only live up the block. I think my umbrella should cover the two of us."
"Thank you." Diana took her outstretched hand and let Regina help her to her feet.
Regina frowned, moving the grocery bag to her wrist and resting her umbrella against her shoulder so she could take Diana's hands in both of her own. She rubbed them, sending pins and needles through Diana's hands as warmth started to return. "Your hands are ice cold," she said. "How long have you been out here?"
"Not long," Diana replied. "Only since the rain started really."
Determination filled Regina's eyes as she took hold of her umbrella again, positioning it over the two of them. "I don't care what your mother said. You're coming back to my house and warming up."
She held Diana's hand as she led her down the block to the small yellow house Diana had spent all summer trying to locate. They walked up the short walk and Regina pulled out her keys, letting them into the dark and slightly chilled house.
Regina closed the door and set her umbrella down to dry. She hurried over to her thermostat and pressed a few buttons. "It'll take a few minutes but the heat should kick on soon. Let me get you a towel to dry you off."
Diana stood shivering in the foyer as Regina hurried down a hallway. This was as far as she got the last time she was in Regina's house and she decided to explore a bit more this time. She wandered into the living room, taking in the black couch and well-worn armchair that faced the small TV against one wall. While there was a coffee table and a couple end tables, the room seemed bare. Diana frowned as she realized why that was-there were no personal knick-knacks or pictures anywhere.
A warm towel wrapped around her and Regina rubbed some of the excess water off her. She turned Diana around, smiling at her. "Feel better?"
"Yes," Diana replied as warmth started to flood back through her body. "Thank you."
She glanced back at the living room before asking: "You don't have any pictures in your house. Why?"
Regina's smile dimmed a bit and she shrugged. "I don't really have anyone in my life to take pictures of and have them framed."
"Oh," Diana replied. That sounded so sad and she started to realize the true extent of the curse. It didn't just separate their family-it made it so Regina was truly alone and miserable. She hated her Storybrooke mother for casting the curse even more now.
Before she could say anything, Regina motioned to the kitchen. "Do you want something while we wait out the rain?"
"What smells so good?" Diana asked, following her into the warmer room. She detected hints of vanilla and cinnamon in the air, making her stomach rumble and her mouth water.
Regina smiled, lifting a lid on a cake holder to reveal several perfectly frosted cinnamon buns. She took one out and placed it on a plate, handing it to Diana. "I've been baking all day. In fact, I ran out to get some more ingredients to make some more."
"You bake?" Diana asked, surprised. As Regina nodded, she took a bite of the cinnamon bun. The sweetness of the pastry and icing mixed with the cinnamon taste, making her mouth water as she chewed slowly. She was going to enjoy every bite of it. "This is delicious!"
"Thank you," Regina said, leaning against the counter as she set a napkin down next to Diana's plate. "It's been my dream to own a bakery but it doesn't seem that one will come true. I still love to bake, though, and I'm focusing on things that make me happy now."
Diana frowned. "Why can't you open a bakery?"
"A whole bunch of legal reasons that would bore you," she replied and even Diana could tell she was glossing over the truth. Which meant only one thing-her mother in Storybrooke was the reason that Regina didn't have her bakery.
It made her detest her "mother" even more.
She took another bite, chewing as she decided to change the subject. When she swallowed, she smiled at Regina. "Can I have something to drink, please?"
"Of course." Regina headed to her refrigerator, opening it before glancing at her. "Is milk okay?"
"Milk is fine," Diana replied, knowing nothing else would go well with the cinnamon bun she was still slowly eating.
Regina poured her a glass of milk and set it down in front of her. "Are you enjoying that cinnamon bun?"
Diana nodded. "You're an amazing baker."
"Thank you," she replied. "I like to bring treats in for my coworkers. No one ever says anything or thanks me but they eat it all, so I keep bringing them in."
Everything was awful for Regina. If someone made so many delicious treats, the least they were owed was a thank you and maybe a smile rather than a cold shoulder. Diana shook her head. "This curse is horrible."
Regina gave her a look. "We're not cursed, Diana."
Her tone made Diana's heart sink and she frowned. "Aren't you reading the book?"
"I am," Regina confirmed, "and I'm enjoying it. It still doesn't mean that it's real or that we're cursed."
Diana's heart sank as she set the glass of milk down, not caring if she had a milk mustache. She had bigger problems than that. "Nothing about it rings true to you?"
Regina shrugged. "The Regina in the book may have had a slightly better childhood than me but her life also didn't turn out the way she wanted, so I identify with her. But I'm not looking to avenge some great wrong, nor am I turning to evil. I am not evil."
"No, you're not," Diana said, trying to get her to believe. "And the Regina in the book doesn't stay evil. I told you that."
"I know. I'm still reading about how she becomes the Evil Queen so don't spoil anything for me," Regina said, winking at her.
Diana sighed as she finished her cinnamon bun. She pushed the plate away before her hand went to her hair. Feeling some curls starting to form, she groaned. "The rain made my hair frizz. Mom is going to flip out."
Regina frowned. "Why?"
"She hates my curls," Diana replied, scrunching up her nose. "She says they make look wild and so she straightens my hair every morning."
"That can't be healthy for your hair," Regina said, reaching out to wrap a curl around one of her fingers. "Besides, your curls are beautiful. I guess your mother just doesn't know how to properly care for them."
Diana's spirits lifted as she stared at Regina in awe. No one had ever called her curls beautiful before. Her parents had always acted as if they were some nuisance she had created just to make their lives more difficult. "You really think my curls are beautiful?"
"I do." Regina reached up and pulled the ponytail holder out of her hair. Her hair cascade around her shoulders, falling in curls that had frizzed from the rain as well.
It made Diana's eyes widen and she found them to be more proof that Regina was her mother. They both had the same hair-dark and curly-while both her Storybrooke parents had straight hair. It had to be a sign.
"Do you like your curls?" she asked Regina, awestruck.
Regina's smile dimmed and she pulled her hand back to run over her own curls. "For a long time, no, I didn't. Most of the sisters didn't like them either and I usually straighten my hair as well so I can get it under the hairnet I have to wear at the cannery. But one sister, Sister Astrid, did show me how to take care and style my curls. I can show you."
"I'd appreciate that," Diana said as she glanced out the window, "but maybe another time? It's getting late and the rain has let up. I should go before Mom starts looking for me and finds me here. We both know she wouldn't like that."
"True," Regina agreed, looking uncertain. "But I don't know when we can meet again. Your mother is probably watching both of us like hawks."
Diana nodded, knowing it was true. "But I think I can still convince her that I've joined some activity that requires me to be out of the house for a couple hours at least once a week."
Regina bit her lip. "I'm not fond of you lying to your mother."
"But we don't have any other choice," Diana pointed out. "And she's not my mother. You are."
"I'm not your mother," Regina repeated as Diana resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I've told you. I remember when you were born."
Diana expected Regina to then repeat the fact that she never had been pregnant and it struck her as odd when she didn't, but she decided not to press her on it. She had to figure out some way to convince Regina to meet with her. "I know it's wrong to lie to my mom, even if I don't believe she's my mom, but she's not giving us any choice."
"That doesn't make it right," Regina pointed out.
"So you don't want to see me?" The thought broke Diana's heart. She hadn't expected the woman she knew in her heart was her mother to reject her. Regina had always been hesitant but was still welcoming to her. Diana had figured she would keep warming up to her, realizing the strong bond they shared and starting to believe her. Together, they would go find Diana's father and break the curse.
Now, though, it seemed she was going to have to forge ahead alone.
Regina came around the counter to hug her, holding her close. "It's not that I don't want to see you. You're a very interesting girl and I have enjoyed our encounters so far. And even if I'm not your mother, I still need to set a good example for you."
"But we'll never get my mom's permission to meet," Diana said, sniffing as she pressed her cheek against Regina's chest. She smelled like cinnamon from her cooking, but also vanilla and apples. It soothed her and felt like a distant memory, like something from a dream.
Regina smoothed down her hair as she gently rocked Diana. "Okay, okay. I'm still not a fan of you sneaking off and lying to your mom, but it seems we have no choice. Besides, I'm no saint. I have been technically breaking into the library."
That surprised Diana and her tears stopped as she stared up in awe at Regina. "You have?"
"Yeah," she replied sheepishly. "I get a lot of work done in there. If you go to the backdoor, I can let you in and we can meet there. How does that sound?"
Joy filled Diana and she smiled, almost bouncing up and down. "That sounds great! Thanks, Regina!"
"You're welcome," she said before stepping away. "Come on. You should get going. I'll see you real soon."
Regina escorted her to the door and gave her another hug. "Be safe, okay?"
"I will," Diana promised her. She gave her a big smile. "And I'll see you soon."
She left Regina's house, skipping down the front walk to the sidewalk. There was time for her to come up with a plausible explanation about where she had been that wouldn't get her and Regina in trouble. For a few blocks, though, she was going to savor the fact that Regina had agreed to spend more time with her. It would only be a matter of time before their family was reunited and all was right in their world yet again.
Diana just knew it.
Here's the next chapter! Diana and Regina are plotting to get together more often at the same time Regina's on the quest for answers about the baby she may have given birth to sometime in the past.
The exercise Dr. Hopper has Regina do is a real exercise to help change your thinking and become more positive. I've tried to do it a few times but I can never remember to give myself more time in the morning to do it. But I do suggest trying it if you can.
There will be a little glimpse at Robin in the next chapter, so keep your eyes open for that!
I just got back from vacation in Disney World—we went for Halloween. It was relaxing and fun and now the real work begins. Advent is almost upon us and I need to get my story ready to go for that!
Now a message to my American readers who are over the age of 18: Tomorrow is Election Day. If you're registered to vote, please go out and do so. This is a critical time for our country and we all get a chance to have a say in the direction we go at the polls. I won't tell you how to vote—that's up to you. Just make sure you're informed about the candidates and pick the one who matches your values and beliefs closely. Lines may be long so bring a lot of patience with you and maybe reread this chapter to keep you busy. Know your rights before you go as well. Together, we can make our country the place we want it to be.
Chapter 5: Brave New World
Regina reached out, grabbing the handle of the tavern's door. All she had to do was open the door, step inside and go up to the man with the lion tattoo. Pixie-dust-approved happiness and love was only a few feet away. She just had to seize it.
She froze, though, unable to open the door. Daniel's death was still fresh in her mind-was she betraying him? Especially as the person responsible for his death had yet to be punished. Snow White continued to lead a spoiled and carefree life while Regina had to endure painful nights and depressing days as Leopold's neglected queen. Her anger flared up inside her again and she thought about Rumpelstiltskin's visit to her earlier-what did she have without it? Could she just walk away from her lessons, her one chance to punish Snow White?
Then she thought about what else the Dark One promised her magic could give her-her freedom. Running away with the man inside the tavern certainly couldn't give her that. They would constantly be on the run, looking over their shoulder and trying to stay one step ahead of Leopold's guards. He wouldn't let her go. She was his possession and he didn't like it when someone took something he believed belonged to him. Though he didn't love her and didn't really pay attention to her, he would have his men leave no stone unturned in his quest to get her back. Once she was back, she would either be executed or locked up and never allowed out of the palace again.
Her hand fell from the handle as she looked inside the tavern one last time. The man with the lion tattoo sat at a table in the middle of the room, people surrounding him as they drank their ale. He still glowed from the pixie dust and while she didn't doubt that he might be her soulmate, it no longer was a guarantee of happiness or freedom. Only her lessons with Rumpelstiltskin could do that as they would allow her to enact revenge on Snow White and finally free herself from her awful marriage.
Regina turned from the tavern and ran from it, racing through the town before anyone recognized her. She escaped into the woods and used the few skills she had learned from the Dark One to transport herself back to the palace, putting the man with the lion tattoo out of her mind.
"No, don't do that!" Regina pleaded with her counterpart in the book. "Go back for him! Being evil won't make you happy!"
She knew it wouldn't make any difference. Queen Regina was firmly on the path to becoming the Evil Queen and the man with the lion tattoo would probably just be footnote in her story. Though Diana was adamant that Queen Regina eventually found love and married another man, who supposedly fathered Diana with her. Was he the man with the lion tattoo? Did their paths cross again?
A knock at the back door startled her. She jumped up from the chair and left the office, heading toward it. Opening the door, she smiled at Diana, who stood there with a backpack on her back. "Do I want to know what your mother thinks you're doing?"
"Probably not," Diana said, stepping into the library. "Plausible deniability and all that."
Regina's comment about Diana sounding like a lawyer died in her throat when the girl hugged her. She squeezed Regina, pressing her cheek against Regina's chest. Regina hugged her back, holding her close as she closed her eyes.
Since Diana hugged her a few days earlier, it struck her that she couldn't remember the last time she had gotten a hug-or any human contact. Even though she knew she wasn't Diana's mother, she still loved hugging her. It made her feel loved and needed.
"You give the best hugs," Diana said. "All warm and comfy."
Her words warmed Regina and she held the girl tighter. "I don't get many hugs. So you can hug me whenever you can."
"I like that." Diana closed her eyes as she pressed herself closer to Regina, as if trying to become one with her. It felt comforting and familiar, as if they had being doing this for years. Something tugged at her mind but she shook it off as she released Diana.
Regina lifted up a lock of Diana's hair with a smile. "You ready to learn how to show off these gorgeous curls?"
Diana's eyes lit up. "I am!"
"Good," she said, taking her hand. "Come with me."
She led the girl to the back office and went to grab the chair behind the desk. She rolled it out and smiled at Diana. "Hop on."
Diana did just that, letting her backpack fall to the floor. She glanced over at the desk, eyes lighting up when she saw the storybook on it. "You were reading the book," she said, not even posing it as a question.
"I was," Regina confirmed, undoing Diana's ponytail. "I just read about Regina meeting Tinkerbell and going to the tavern."
"You've met the Man with the Lion Tattoo?" Diana asked, growing excited. It was almost like it was Christmas morning.
Her reaction was intriguing and Regina raised an eyebrow. "Yes. I take it he plays an important role later on?"
"He plays a very important role," Diana replied, sounding excited and smug about it.
Regina paused as she pulled out a brush and some ponytail holders. She glanced over at Diana, who was smiling so wide she thought the girl's face was going to crack in two. A thought pulled at the back of her mind and she found herself asking: "Is he the man you believe is your real father?"
"He's the man I know is my father," Diana replied. "He's your soulmate."
"Soulmate, huh? Don't really think I have one of those," Regina said, setting everything down on the desk. "Now, let's focus on your hair. Sit up straight and keep your head still, please."
Diana did as she said, though she frowned. "You do have a soulmate. You just don't remember him because…"
"Because of the curse," Regina finished, used to the girl's familiar litany by now.
"Exactly. He's out there, unable to remember us. We need to find him and I'm sure once you two see each other…"
"And what? We'll remember everything, rush toward each other like a romance movie and kiss as the camera whirls around us?" Regina said, knowing she sounded more cynical than she wanted.
She sighed as she started to brush out Diana's hair, ready to apologize when the girl spoke again. "You won't remember everything at first and we need to get him to believe too or else True Love's Kiss won't work."
"Really? And what makes you say that?" Regina reached for a spray bottle, wetting Diana's curls to make them more pliant.
"It happened to Snow White and Prince Charming. She took a potion to forget she loved him and so when he went to kiss her, it didn't work. He had to earn her love all over again. It'll probably be the same for you and my father because of the curse," Diana told her.
Regina paused as a question filled her mind. "Do you know who he is? The man with the lion tattoo?"
"Where? Here in Storybrooke or in the storybook?"
That certainly sounded like a tongue twister, Regina mused with a smirk. She then replied: "Both."
"I'm not going to tell you who he is in the book," Diana said, sounding smug. "I want you to find out on your own. And no peeking ahead!"
Regina found it funny that she was getting orders from a fifth grader but didn't say anything about it. She could tell it was important to Diana that she read the entire story and so she promised: "I won't."
"Good," Diana replied, sounding pleased. She then admitted: "As for here in Storybrooke...I haven't found him yet."
"Maybe he's not here," Regina said, spraying some more of Diana's hair as she continued to brush it. "If I were to cast a curse, I probably wouldn't want the two people who could break it to be so close to each other."
Diana shook her head and Regina had to hold her head still. "You can't move right now," she told her.
"Sorry. I know my father is here. Everyone else is. I doubt the curse would keep all of us here and send him someplace else," Diana said.
"Or maybe the curse didn't take him."
That gave Diana pause and she was quiet as Regina finished brushing her hair. As Regina moved to stand in front of her, Diana looked up at her. "No. He's here. I can feel it."
Conviction filled both her voice and her blue eyes, making Regina believe her. She nodded, crouching down in front of her. "Okay. Then I'm sure you'll find him."
"We'll find him," Diana insisted. "When you're ready. After you've read your whole story."
"That looks like it could take a long time. For a book that's supposedly about children's fairy tales, it's remarkably dense," Regina commented.
"I can wait. You need to believe before we find him so we can get him to believe together. Then you can share True Love's Kiss." Diana grinned as she smushed Regina's cheeks with her hands. "You'll break the curse and we can all live happily ever after."
Unable to help it, Regina smiled. There was just something about how hopeful Diana was about this and how happy she got when talking about it that was just contagious. It lifted Regina's spirits and was proving to be a bright spot in her life. She had even included it in her notebook for Dr. Hopper's exercises. Even though she was certain she wasn't Diana's mother, she hoped there was a way she could convince Mayor Nolan to let her have some sort of relationship with the girl. She felt it might be good for both of them.
Regina definitely could use some hope in her life.
Gently prying Diana's hands from her cheeks, Regina hugged the girl. "Promise me something-you never lose your hopeful nature. It will get you far in this life and make sure you are happy. That's all I want for you."
"I want you to be happy too," Diana said, holding her tightly again.
Tears pricked Regina's eyes as a lump formed in her throat. She kissed the top of Diana's head before running her hand over her hair, grateful for her presence in her life. It had brightened it considerably. And for the first time, Regina believed she could be happy.
She released Diana and swallowed past the lump, smiling. "Okay. Let's work on your hair before I have to send you back to your mother."
The bell over the door jingled as Regina stepped into Granny's Diner. People flocked there for the food and stayed for the company as it was never empty. Storybrooke's social life centered on Granny's and it was a hub of information. If you wanted to know about anything happening in town, it was the place to go.
Regina tended to avoid the dinner, despite loving Granny's burgers. They weren't worth the stares or the whispers she was subjected to whenever she did come inside. She could pick up on the other patrons' hatred of her and their unspoken wishes for her to leave. Regina had left many a half-eaten burger because she just got too uncomfortable and had just stopped coming completely.
Even now, everyone's head turned toward her and it felt as if their glares were like fire. She kept her head down as she moved toward the counter, trying to sit on the stood the furthest from the door. One patron, Leroy, bumped into her but let out a gruff: "Watch where you're going, sister!"
"You bumped into me," she said, frowning.
He laughed. "Ain't that like a Mills? Never taking responsibility for anything. Never their fault."
She stepped closer to him, crossing her arms. "I certainly take responsibility for things I do. Fuck, I've taken responsibility for things I didn't do since this entire town seems hellbent on punishing me for my mother's sins. No more. You were in the wrong. You need to apologize."
"Looks like someone has a mouth on her," he said, rolling up his sleeve as he swayed on his feet. "Someone should knock it off you."
"That's enough, Leroy." Granny pushed open the doors leading from the kitchen and strode toward them. She scowled at the man. "You need to go home."
He swayed on his feet as he pointed to Regina. Or at least tried to. It looked more like he was pointing to the jukebox behind her but they all knew who he meant. "What about her? Ain't you going to throw her out too?"
Granny shook her head. "Regina isn't the one making a scene in the middle of my diner and threatening my patrons. Go home, Leroy."
Leroy glared at Regina but nodded. "Fine. I don't want to be anywhere she is anyway."
He turned and left, a couple patrons joining him. Regina started to get the feeling this was a bad idea and she untucked some hair from behind her ear, hoping to use it to hide herself. "Maybe I should go too…"
"Nonsense," Granny insisted, taking her arm. "You came in here for a reason. You shouldn't let some drunk run you off."
Regina nodded, knowing she was right. Gathering her courage, she said: "I actually came to talk to you. You pretty much know everything that goes on in this town."
Granny stopped, turning to her with narrowed eyes behind her silver half-moon spectacles. "If you came here for gossip…"
"No," Regina assured her quickly. "I'm here for information. About me."
That seemed to surprise Granny and she looked Regina over before motioning toward the doors leading to the kitchen. "Come with me."
Regina followed her past the counter and through the swinging metal doors that led to the kitchen. Granny made a right and Regina realized they were heading to her small office in the back of the diner. It had been years since she had been back there, not since she had resigned as a waitress in order to take her job at the cannery. The room hadn't changed since then. Granny still had the same wooden desk laden with purchase orders and receipts, an ancient calculator sitting in a corner as a stream of paper with numbers on it reached the floor.
Granny motioned to the chair in front of her desk as she moved to hers behind it. "Have a seat."
Regina took the chair. "Is there any reason why you wanted to talk to me back here?"
"I figured the last thing you needed were hostile townspeople listening in on whatever it is you want to know," Granny replied. "You've been through enough."
Gratitude filled Regina. "Thank you."
"So what is it that you want to know?" Granny asked her, leaning forward with her hands clasped on her hands. "You know I don't know who your daddy is. Your mother kept that a well-guarded secret, even from the gossips in this town."
"I know. I'm not here about that," she replied. Regina had long given up her hope of every finding her father. She took a deep breath. "A recent medical exam revealed something, umm, intriguing. Apparently, I gave birth."
Granny laughed, leaning back in her chair as she held her stomach. Regina stayed still, just staring down the older woman and not even let out a hint of nervous laughter. She waited, watching as Granny's laughter started to die down. The older woman's eyes widened when she realized that Regina's demeanor hadn't changed nor was she backtracking from her statement. Amazed, Granny asked: "You're serious?"
"I am," Regina replied.
"You had a baby? When?"
"I don't know," she answered, her voice wavering. "I don't remember even having sex let alone being pregnant."
Tears spilled from her eyes and blurred her vision. She still could make out Granny's form as the older woman stood, moving toward her. Granny held out a tissue box. "Here you go, Regina."
"Thank you," she said, sniffing as she took a tissue.
Granny rolled her chair over, sitting across from Regina and taking her hand. "Are you sure that you gave birth?"
"That's what my body says," she replied, taking another tissue. "I'm working with Dr. Hopper to try to unlock those memories, to figure out why I suppressed them in the first place. And I'm trying to find answers."
"Of course you are. And you think I have them?" Granny asked, looking uncertain.
She paused before answering: "I think you might be able to point me in the direction I need to start my search."
"Was there a time that I might have left Storybrooke?" she asked. "Or that I was wearing baggier clothing? Or acting unusual?"
Granny frowned, shaking her head. "No, not to my knowledge. Nor do I remember you being pregnant."
Disappointment flooded through Regina. "Oh."
"You know, there was a time you weren't feeling well while working for me," Granny pointed out. "Did you and Daniel…?"
Regina shook her head. "That's why we broke up. I wouldn't. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still a virgin. It's just...my body isn't saying that."
Granny scratched her head. "This is a puzzle. But maybe you suppressed it for some reason? What did Archie say?"
"That it's going to take time if there are any memories to recover," she replied.
"Understandable. You probably buried them for a reason," the older woman said, taking her hand.
Regina nodded. "That's what Dr. Whale and Dr. Hopper told me."
Granny tilted her head, a thoughtful look in her eyes. "I know you didn't like the convent and weren't particularly close with the sisters…"
"They didn't like me," Regina replied, bitterness seeping into her voice. "They just saw me as my mother's mistake that was now their burden."
"But surely there was someone in that convent you tolerated or trusted? Someone you may have confided in should something horrible have happened or if you found yourself in trouble?" Granny asked.
Regina frowned, shaking her head. "I wouldn't have gone to them if I was in trouble. They all would've turned me over to Mother Superior and she just would've lectured me."
"There had to be someone," Granny insisted, frowning. "Someone who maybe kept a secret or two for you? Or snuck you a treat? Maybe gave you advice when you needed it?"
"No…" However, Regina had dim recollection of a nervous sister with long brown hair and big brown eyes. Despite how scared the sister always was, she often snuck Regina new books and the occasional treat, especially when Mother Superior refused to let her have dessert for no reason. She also had been the one who helped Regina deal with her curly hair.
Granny smiled. "You're thinking of someone."
"There might be someone," Regina said, "though I don't know how to talk to her without Mother Superior finding out."
"I'm sure you'll figure something out," Granny told her, patting her knee.
Regina nodded. "Thank you, Granny."
"You're welcome. I only wish I could've been more help," she said.
"That's okay. I always figured that if people talked about me being pregnant, they would've done it to my face. It just would've proven them right, that I was just like my mother," Regina said, feeling a lump form in her throat again.
Granny paused and sat back down with a sigh. "You surely haven't had an easy life, have you? Everyone keeps trying to punish you for your mother's sins and that's not right. Her actions weren't your fault."
"You couldn't have told everyone that forty something years ago?" Regina asked, reaching for another tissue.
"I probably should've," Granny said, sounding genuinely contrite. "I'm sorry."
She stood again and clasped Regina's shoulder. "Come on, I'll treat you to dinner. It's the least I can do now."
"Thank you, Granny," Regina said, standing as well. She grew sheepish. "It's actually been a long time since I had a slice of your lasagna. I would love to have it again."
"Then that's what you'll get. Follow me," she said, leading Regina from the office and back out into the main part of the diner.
Regina finished up her lasagna, setting her fork down as she leaned back against the seat. Granny walked over to her, smiling. "I take it you enjoyed it?"
"Even better than I remembered," Regina told her. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Granny said, taking her dirty plate. "Can I get you some dessert? I'm afraid we're limited to only ice cream today."
Regina smiled, shaking her head as she rubbed her stomach. "I don't think I could eat another bite. Thank you, though."
Granny nodded. "You take your time. Don't feel like you need to rush off."
"I won't," Regina promised, sipping at her soda slowly to prove her point.
Laughing, Granny walked off as Regina just sat there and relaxed for a bit longer. She watched patrons come and go, most still giving her a sideways glance as they passed her. They made her a bit nervous but she kept reminding herself that she had every right to enjoy the diner just like they did. She didn't have to keep hiding away from the people of Storybrooke like she was some pariah or threat.
The door opened and a frantic woman entered the diner. She looked around, her wide eyes settling on Granny and she rushed toward him. "I need your help! The bakery that was supposed to bake a birthday cake for my husband's party had their oven break down," she said, breathless.
Granny frowned. "And what can I do?"
"Don't you have cakes here?" the woman asked, sounding frazzled and annoyed.
The older woman shook her head. "The bakery supplies them for me to sell to my customers. So I don't have anything either. My dessert menu is just ice cream right now."
"No!" The other woman nearly collapsed onto the counter. "You were my last hope. What else am I to do?"
"Bake your own?" Granny suggested.
The woman shook her head. "I'm hopeless in the kitchen."
Granny sighed, placing her hands on the counter. "I don't know what else I can tell you. I'm sorry."
Regina didn't know what possessed her to stand up and walk over to the woman. Perhaps it was the lasagna or all the stories about Regina, the queen, she had been reading. She knew what she wanted and went after it, even if she didn't go about it the right way. Regina knew what she wanted and she was going to go get it.
"Excuse me?" she asked the woman. "I heard your problem and I think I can help."
The woman turned to her with narrow eyes. "How? Do you have cake in your bag you can give me?"
"No," Regina replied, "but I like to bake. I can make you a cake."
"You can? Really?" The woman looked her over, distrustful. "And it'll be edible?"
Regina nodded. "Everyone at work likes my cakes, so I'm sure you will too."
"You don't have much to lose," Granny said. "It's either Regina bakes you a cake or you don't get one at all."
The woman sighed and Regina knew she was giving in. She watched as the woman went into her purse, pulling out a pen and small pad of paper. "I'll write down the information. Payment will depend on how good the cake is."
"I think you should give her something for the ingredients at least," Granny said, leaning against the counter with a frown. Regina was grateful for her assistance. She doubted the woman would've taken well to her asking for any money up front.
"Fine," the woman sighed. She reached into her purse and pulled out a couple bills. "Here, will this do?"
Regina took the money. "Yes, thank you."
"I need the cake before seven o'clock tomorrow. Can you do that?" the woman asked, almost scolding her.
Swallowing her sarcastic reply and forcing a smile on her face, Regina nodded. "I'll have it on time. I promise."
"We'll see," she sniffed. She then turned and walked away after handing Regina the paper with her address and instructions on it.
"Wasn't she pleasant?" Granny asked, disdain dripping from every word.
Regina, though, wasn't paying attention. She stared at the paper and the money in her hands, amazed. Someone was paying her to bake them a cake. It was her dream job and though it wasn't the way she imagined it would happen, it was a start.
When the older woman called her name, though, Regina looked up. Granny raised an eyebrow. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Regina said, still dazed. She tucked everything into her purse, smiling at Granny. "Thank you for dinner. I have to go shopping."
Granny smiled, nodding. "Don't be a stranger. Now go."
"I want Regina!"
Snow White sat curled up in a corner, staring at Johanna in fear. Something was wrong-she just knew it-and she wanted her stepmother. "Please, get her."
Johanna pressed her lips together but nodded. "I will. Wait here, Princess."
She left the room and Snow White pulled up her legs, wrapping her arms around them. Rocking gently, she prayed Regina would know what was happening and would be able to help her. She hoped she wasn't injured or dying.
Tears ran down her cheeks. What would happen if she were dying? How would her father handle it? Regina? Would they comfort each other or would grief kill them? What would the kingdom do then?
"She won't listen to anyone else. She'll only talk to you." Johanna's voice filled the room and Snow sat up a bit.
Regina entered the room, stopping short when she saw Snow. She frowned. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, Regina! It's awful!" Snow sobbed as she threw herself into Regina's arms, hugging her tightly. "I think I'm dying."
"What? Why?" Regina asked, patting her back.
Snow pulled away, sniffing. "I'm bleeding."
Regina's eyes widened and she started to run her hands over Snow. "Where? I don't see any blood."
"It's down there," Snow said, lowering her voice. "I saw it when I used the chamber pot."
Relief filled Regina's face and she breathed out a sigh. "You're not dying, Snow."
"But...But the blood…" She couldn't catch her breath. Perhaps Regina didn't understand how serious the situation was.
Her stepmother sighed and turned to Johanna. "Haven't you talked about this with her?"
Johanna shook her head before giving Regina a pointed look. "That's something a mother does for her daughter."
"Does what? What aren't you telling me?" Snow looked between the two women, frantic. She just wanted to know what was going on-why she was bleeding and why no one seemed to be concerned about it.
Regina sighed and urged Snow toward her bed. "Let's have a seat and talk about it."
Snow dug her heels in though, pleading with Regina: "Please just tell me if I'm dying."
"You're not dying," Regina told her. "What is happening is perfectly natural."
"Natural?" Snow shrieked, staring at her in horror. How was any of this natural? It didn't make any sense.
Regina nodded, sitting down on the bed. She patted the spot next to her. "Sit down and I'll explain it to you."
Snow did that, still confused. "What is going on?"
"You're becoming a woman," Regina explained. "You've reached an age where you can start to get pregnant, though I don't recommend it. You're still too young, even if your body doesn't agree."
Her stepmother sighed before explaining about how a baby was made and that her body prepared for one every month. She spoke about how once month, the lining built up inside her would then come out and she would appear to bleed for up to a week during that time. It made Snow blanch. "A week?"
"It could be that long," Regina replied with a shrug. "It depends. Each woman is different."
Snow rested her hand against her stomach, just like she noticed Regina did from time to time. "And it happens every month?"
Regina nodded. "Yes. Unless you become with child. Then it stops until the child is born."
"What if I become with child? How will I know?" Snow asked, now wrapping her arm around her middle. Though she wanted to be a mother one day, she knew she wasn't ready just yet.
"Oh gods, I can't believe I have to have this conversation with you," Regina replied, pinching her nose. "It's too early in the morning for this."
Snow moved closer to her, taking her hand as she pleaded: "Please, please tell me. No one else will."
Regina looked around and Snow wondered what was so bad about how babies were made that no one wanted to tell her about it. It made her stomach hurt and she groaned, falling onto the bed. She curled up, clutching her abdomen.
"Fill a waterskin with warm water and a towel," she heard Regina order. "It will help her."
Snow frowned. "I don't think drinking water will help. Or a bath."
Regina ran her fingers through Snow's hair. "It's not for that. We're going to use it another way to help you."
"How?" Snow asked, fighting back tears from the pain coursing through her middle. She didn't think anything would help that.
"Here you go, Your Highness," Johanna said as Regina pulled her hand away, thanking the older woman.
Regina slid something between Snow's legs and her stomach, warmth immediately providing relief to her pain. She let out a soft sigh as she relaxed a bit. "That does help," she said.
"Good. Why don't you just get some rest for now while Johanna fetches you some linen to wear?" Regina suggested, her voice soft and soothing.
Snow felt herself start to drift off. "Will you stay with me?" she asked, not wanting to be alone.
There was a long stretch of silence before she felt the bed dip. Regina's fingers combed her hair again as she said softly: "Of course. I'll stay until you feel better."
Relief spread through Snow, both from the waterskin pressed to her midsection and Regina's presence. She still didn't know what was happening and she had a feeling an awkward conversation with Regina awaited her once she woke, but for now, she was comforted by her stepmother. With her support, Snow knew she could get through this.
"Mom? Are you okay?"
Mary Margaret woke up, sitting up on the couch. It was dark except for the light from the streetlights that managed to get pass her curtain. The small patch it created allowed her to see her daughter's form as Diana stood over her, dressed in her pajamas. She frowned down at her mother.
Rubbing her neck, Mary Margaret looked up at her daughter. "Diana, what's wrong?"
"I went to the bathroom and noticed the kitchen light was still on. When I came down here, I saw you asleep on the couch. Why didn't you go to bed?" she asked.
"I guess I fell asleep watching a movie," Mary Margaret replied, dimly recalling something being on the TV when she was last awake. "I should go to bed, though. I'll be more comfortable. And you should go back to sleep. Morning will come awfully fast."
Diana rolled her eyes but said: "Okay."
"Come on," Mary Margaret said, standing up. She wrapped an arm around Diana. "I'll tuck you in again."
They walked upstairs together and back into Diana's room. Mary Margaret watched her daughter climb back into bed before she pulled the covers over her, tucking her in again. She kissed her forehead. "Good night, sweetheart. Sweet dreams."
"Good night, Mom," Diana replied, her eyes closing as she started to drift back off to sleep.
Instead of heading to her own bed, Mary Margaret sat on her daughter's. She ran her hand through Diana's hair, gently untangling her curls as she did so. Mary Margaret continued to do that as the girl slipped deeper and deeper into her dreamworld.
Diana had recently returned home with a book from a friend who also had curly hair, saying it would help with her own hair so Mary Margaret didn't have to keep straightening it. She had been so excited, Mary Margaret didn't have the heart to tell her no and promised to read the book. It still sat on her nightstand though she had read about how to braid curly hair, which she had done the past couple days for Diana. It made her happy and so Mary Margaret figured she could give it to her for now. Maybe after a few more days, the novelty would wear off and Diana would forget about the book. Just like she forgot about that storybook.
At least, Mary Margaret hoped she forgot about that storybook.
She knew for certain that Diana didn't have the book anymore and so far, it seemed like Regina was honoring Mary Margaret's wish for her to stay away from the girl. Diana didn't mention Regina anymore but it didn't mean she stopped believing the woman was her mother. She probably was just doing so in secret.
All Mary Margaret wanted to do was to keep Diana from being hurt by Regina just like she was. It was inevitable, just part of who Regina was. Diana was better off being nowhere near Regina and having no part of her that could be associated with Regina.
Like her curls. Mary Margaret reached up and gently wound one around her finger. She knew Diana was excited about showing off her curls but they just were too much like Regina's. Though Mary Margaret knew it was a struggle, she believed in the long run it was better to keep straightening them so that Diana didn't look that much like Regina. And if she didn't look like her, she'd be less inclined to act like her. Every trace of Regina would be erased from Diana, saving her from the sad and painful life anyone associated with the witch had to stuffer.
Diana deserved only peace and happiness in her life.
"I love you," she whispered to her sleeping daughter. "And I mean it, unlike certain other people. One day, you'll realize that all she does is lies and you'll come back to me. And all will be forgiven."
She kissed her head before standing. It was getting later and she needed to get some sleep before facing another day. Mary Margaret left Diana's room, hoping she didn't dream about Regina again and only had good dreams for the rest of the night.
Regina checked the piece of paper again, confirming she was in the right house. The balloons tied to the gate should've been enough to assure her it was the right place but she didn't want to take any chances. She couldn't mess this up, knowing this could be a chance that could change her life.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Turning off her car, she stepped out and opened the back door. Regina carefully slid the cake she had made from her backseat and hip-checked the door closed. She balanced the cake as she approached the front door, her heart beating rapidly as she knocked on it.
The woman from the day before opened the door, looking frazzled. She glanced down at the cake and shrugged. "It looks edible. Bring it inside."
Regina tried not to feel too disappointed as she stepped into the house. She told herself it was unrealistic to have expected the woman to fawn over her cake without tasting it but it would've been nice for her to have said something besides that it looked edible. It had taken a lot of work the night before to get the piping just right along the cake border. She had also used extra care to write the message on the cake without messing it up. Acknowledgment of her hard work would've been nice.
"You can put it here," the woman said, pointing to her table.
Regina carefully placed it down and backed away. "So, about payment…?"
"I paid you last night." The woman glared at her, as if Regina was trying to scam her.
"That was for materials," Regina replied, "and there was an agreement that we would negotiate payment for my labor and the product now."
The woman sighed and pulled out her purse. "Okay, so would another twenty cover it?"
Regina bit her lip, arguing it out in her head. She had put in a lot of hours the night before to make the cake perfect for her but she didn't want to be seen as too greedy or overpriced. People wouldn't want her to bake for them if they thought that.
"Twenty is fine," Regina replied, taking the money from the woman. She forced the smile back on her face. "I hope you enjoy the cake."
"Thanks. I trust you can show yourself out?" the woman asked, turning away from her to continue with the party preparations.
Accepting her dismissal, Regina headed back to the front door and back to her car. She had done her best and she hoped the cake was everything the woman could've asked for. Hopefully, she could build a business out of this. Maybe then she could finally get a license from the town for a bakery of her own.
"So, Diana, what do you want to talk about today?" Dr. Hopper asked, sitting down in his leather chair. He held his pad on his lap and a pen in his fingers, studying her.
She shrugged in a non-committal way, knowing that he spoke to her mother after every session. That meant he was not to be trusted with any of her secrets but she had to come if she didn't want her "mother" to crack down on her even more. She wouldn't be able to see Regina at all if that happened.
He frowned. "There must be something you want to talk about."
"Not really," she replied.
"There must be something. It can be anything. What about Halloween? Have you thought about what you want to be?"
"No, because I'm the same thing ever year," she said with a frown. "Mom always dresses me up as Snow White."
He jotted something down. "You don't pick your own costume?"
"Nope. I've always been Snow White."
Dr. Hopper scribbled something else down before tapping his pen against the pad. He studied her with an odd expression on his face. "What would you like to go as? If you could pick for yourself, I mean."
She paused, knowing she couldn't tell him the truth. If she could choose, she would love to dress up as the Evil Queen from her storybook. Yet he would tell her mother and it would just be used to justify any further punishments.
Yet it didn't mean she couldn't choose someone else from the storybook. Someone who her mother probably still trusted, judging by their friendship. "I think I would like to be either Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Red Riding Hood," she said.
"Those sound like two interesting but good options," he replied. "Why don't you talk to your mom about being one of them?"
"Because she probably will still see it as some rejection of her," she answered truthfully. "She loves Snow White and so wants me to love her too. She wants me to like all the same things she does."
He tilted his head and frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
"All the activities I do are ones she likes to do-archery, studying birds, cleaning. My room is pink because it's her favorite color. I want to paint it purple but she won't. She insists pink is really my favorite color too. But I don't really think it's ever been my favorite color. She's just convinced me it is," she said, letting her feelings spill out. They had nothing to do with curse, she reasoned.
"Anything else?" he asked, scribbling furiously now. She wondered if that was a good sign or not.
She held out her arms and motioned to her outfit. Today, her mother had dressed her in a dark blue sweater over a white shirt with a Peter Pan collar and paired with a navy skirt. She wore white tights and black Mary Janes. "Do you think I dress myself like this? My uniform is bad enough but then she also dresses me in this because it's how she dresses."
"How do you want to dress?" he asked.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I've never been allowed to pick my own clothes when shopping."
He frowned. "I see. And what did your dad have to say about it? You know, before the accident?"
Diana paused, thinking of her cursed father. She knew most of the memories were false but she knew they had to tell her something of the man who people believed raised her. "He usually didn't fight mom on what she wanted but he was usually better about letting me pick things when it was just the two of us."
"What did you two do together?" he asked her.
She frowned, unsure what to say as she didn't know how real her memories really were. Were they all created by the curse or did it just alter one she already had, replacing her real father with her cursed one? Could she honestly answer that they did anything together?
"Diana?" he prompted, reminding her that he was waiting for her to answer.
"I guess...I guess I miss when we used to read together," she said, a hazy memory coming to mind.
"Did you do that often?" he asked.
She nodded, tearing up. "He would even come home if he was working late in order to read to me before bed. He even did the funny voices for the characters. I loved that."
Dr. Hopper smiled. "What else?"
"When my mom had Saturday town council meetings, Dad would take off and spend the morning with me," she continued as the memories rose to the surface. "He would make breakfast and we'd watch Saturday morning cartoons as we ate in the living room. Then we'd find something to do-like going for a walk in the park or a trip to the harbor-before Mom joined us for a family activity. We then have dinner together and play games until bedtime. They called it family time."
A lump formed in her throat as memories continued to bombard her. She tried to remind herself that they weren't really, that they were planted there by the curse her supposed mother had cast. Yet they still felt very real and she wondered if they were grounded in some truth with her real father just replaced by her fake one.
"Diana?" Dr. Hopper held out a tissue box. "It's okay. This is a safe space. You can cry here."
She pulled out a tissue, wiping her eyes as she tried to figure out why she was so upset. The memories weren't real. He wasn't her real father.
Or maybe she was crying for the father she no longer remembered. Maybe part of her missed him and what he used to do with her and for her. There had to be something deep inside her that still remembered.
Being cursed is so confusing, she thought as she pulled out another tissue to blow her nose.
"Do you need a moment?" Dr. Hopper asked softly, sounding concerned.
"No," she replied, sniffing. "I think I'm fine."
A quick knock interrupted them and they looked at the door as it opened. Mom stepped inside, frowning when she saw Diana. "What's wrong?"
"We were talking about her father," Dr. Hopper explained.
Mom's expression softened as she closed the door. She moved to the couch. "I know you must miss him."
"I do," Diana replied, though she didn't know if she was talking about her cursed father or her real one. She felt a dull pounding in her head and her eyes grew heavy as did her limbs. Once Mom sat down on the couch, she leaned against her and tried not to fall asleep right there.
"I miss him too," Mom said. "Sometimes I miss him so much I can only think about it and I forget you're in pain too. I'm sorry, princess."
Diana didn't have any strength to argue with her. Instead, she just mumbled: "That's okay."
"I would like to talk to you, Mary Margaret," Dr. Hopper said. It surprised Diana to hear someone call her mother by her given name rather than just as "Madam Mayor" or "Mayor Nolan."
"Can we do it at my session?" she asked. "I think I should take Diana home now."
Diana lifted her head as Dr. Hopper nodded. "That's probably for the best. We can talk another time. Have a good day, you two."
Mom helped her up and took her hand as they left Dr. Hopper's office. Before they got to her car, she stopped and cupped Diana's chin. "You can talk to me anytime you miss your father. I'll be happy to tell you stories about him. And, if you want, you can visit him too."
"Oh," Diana replied, unsure about that. She didn't know if she could sit by the bedside of a man she knew wasn't he real father. "I don't...know."
"We can discuss it later." Mom kissed Diana's forehead before unlocking the car. They climbed in and Diana closed her eyes, falling asleep as Mom pulled away from the curb.
Regina left the factory, pulling out her car keys as she stepped off the curb into the parking lot. She headed to the back, where she usually ended up parking, and was surprised to find a coworker waiting by her car. Her heart sank into her stomach, certain it wasn't a good thing. After all, her coworkers always avoided her unless they had something mean to say about her or her mother.
"Can I help you?" she asked, already mapping out a few escape routes in case she needed to make a run for it.
"My friend Kim wanted me to give you this," her coworker said, holding out an envelope. "It's payment for the cake you made for her husband's birthday."
Surprise filled Regina as she took the envelope from the other woman, especially as she thought she had received her entire payment earlier. "Oh, thank you. Was the cake good?"
"It was delicious! You're been the one leaving baked goods in the break room this whole time, haven't you?" the coworker asked her.
"Yes," Regina replied, frowning. "You didn't know?"
Her coworker shook her head. "We didn't. I'm sorry."
"That's okay." Regina opened the envelope and her eyes widened when she saw two more twenty dollar bills in the envelope. She hadn't expected her cake to be that good!
"Anyway, my son's birthday is next week," the woman continued. "He wants to bring cupcakes to school to celebrate but I'm lousy in the kitchen. I was going to get them from Granny's but after trying your cake, I was hoping that you could make them instead."
Surprise filled Regina and her mouth fell open. "You...you do?"
"Yes. And I'll pay you!" the woman told her. She held out a piece of paper to Regina. "Do you think you can do this?"
Regina opened the paper and saw that she needed twenty chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting. A Batman theme would be appreciated but necessary, which eased Regina's mind. She believed she could handle the order easily over the weekend.
"Yes," she replied, "I can do it."
"Thank you. I really appreciate it," her coworker said, sounding relieved. She pointed to the bottom of the paper. "I left you my name and contact information if you have any questions."
After thank Regina again, she headed to her car. Regina stood there, staring at the piece of paper in her hand. She had just earned a day's pay with one cake and had another order that could bring in just as much.
Yet this meant so much more to her. This was proof that she could make money with her baked goods.
She was a baker.
So here's the next chapter! Regina now has an idea of who her soulmate (and Diana's real father) is, which is a good start. She's also starting to get some customers for her baking and is building a relationship with Diana.
Will Archie be an ally to Snow or to Regina/Diana? Find out!
This chapter is dedicated to my awesome beta, Glindalovesshoes, as today is her birthday! Happy birthday, Eva, and thank you for everything you do!
Chapter 6: Fathers and Daughters
"What do you think of my new gown, Regina?" Snow asked, standing in the middle of her stepmother's sitting room. She gave a little twirl so Regina could see the full dress.
Now that she was a woman, gone were her dresses made of frills and lace with short sleeves and satin sashes. This was her first dress made in the style Regina and the other ladies at court wore and she felt very grown up. It had a cinched bodice that showed off how her breasts were starting to grow and a full skirt over three pairs of petticoats. Her sleeves puffed out at the shoulder and then narrowed as it approached her wrist. It was made of gold and black brocade with pearl buttons decorating her bodice and black lace lining her neckline.
Johanna had curled it and left it down to fall over her shoulders though it was pinned away from her face with pearl hair pins. She had also applied some rouge to Snow's cheeks and lips as well as kohl on her eyes. Daddy had given her a new pearl necklace to wear with it as well as a matching bracelet. All of it combined to make Snow feel very grown up.
"You look beautiful," Regina said, though she didn't sound very excited.
Snow stopped, frowning as she looked at her stepmother. Regina sat at her vanity in her dark blue gown with jewels sewn into the bodice. Beautiful diamond earrings hung from her lobes, matching the chandelier necklace that cascaded down until the point reached right between her breasts. Her dark curls were pinned up and jewels were placed amongst them, making her look every inch a queen in Snow's mind. Yet despite how beautiful she looked, an air of sadness surrounded Regina.
"Regina, what's wrong?" she asked, stepping closer.
"I'm just tired," Regina replied.
Snow frowned. "From planning the ball?"
"Yes." Regina's tone was brisk and she didn't meet Snow's eyes. That unnerved her and she frowned, wondering why Regina was lying to her.
She decided to let it be for the moment, especially when something in Regina's jewelry box caught her eye. Reaching out, Snow picked up a ruby encrusted brooch in the shape of a rose. It had been a gift from Daddy to her mother, a token of his love, and Mother had worn it all the time as a token of hers.
"Where did you get this?" she asked, picking up the brooch.
Regina glanced over at it. "Oh. Your father gave it to me."
"It was my mother's," Snow told her excitedly. She held it out to Regina. "You should wear it."
"It doesn't go with my outfit," Regina replied, not even looking at the brooch again. She remained focused on her reflection in the mirror.
Snow frowned. "But Daddy gave it to you."
"I know." She sounded very dismissive of that fact and it didn't sit well with Snow.
Perhaps her father hadn't explained the significance of the brooch to Regina. He sometimes wasn't very forthcoming about his emotions, especially around her, and so it was possible she just didn't understand what it meant for him to give it to her. Snow, though, could.
"Daddy gave this to my mother to show how much he loved her," she said, holding it out to Regina again. "He gave it to you because he wants to show you how much he loves you."
"He told me that, yes," Regina replied, growing agitated. "Please, put it away, Snow."
Snow shook her head. "You have to wear it, Regina. It's a symbol of Daddy's love and so you have to wear it as a symbol of your love for him! That's why Mother wore it all the time."
"I'M NOT YOUR MOTHER!" Regina yelled rounding on her. Her cheeks were red, but not from her rouge, and there was a fire in her eyes that scared Snow.
Before Snow could respond, Regina grabbed the brooch from her and tossed it into her jewelry box. She slammed the lid closed, gritting her teeth. "Get out, Snow."
"But...Regina…" She felt rooted in place by both fear and her desire to calm her stepmother down.
"GET. OUT!" Regina shouted, pointing to the door.
Snow raced from the room and continued running down the hallway. After a few turns, she stopped and pressed her back against the wall. Tears ran down her eyes as she crumpled to the floor. Regina had never yelled at her like that before and she wasn't certain what was going on, just that it had to something to do with the brooch. She understood what it meant but didn't appreciate it.
Did she not love Daddy?
Did she not love Snow?
Her mind raced and tried to put all the pieces together to solve the puzzle but the picture didn't make sense. It was blurry and strange, not quite right. Why wouldn't Regina love her? Or her father? They were a family-she had said so herself. Something else had to be going on.
She just wished she knew what it was.
Footsteps echoed in the hallway and she looked up, feeling relieved when her father came into sight. He frowned when he saw her, cupping her cheek. "My dear, you've been crying. Why?"
"I'm worried about Regina," she told him, hoping that her father could find out what was wrong. "I think something is troubling her."
His brow furrowed. "What makes you say that?"
"She just seemed tense," Snow said, "and then she yelled at me…"
"WHAT?" Daddy's look darkened and he dropped his hand, looking down the hallway toward Regina's rooms. She felt his anger rolling off him and it scared her even more.
Snow grabbed his hand again. "I'm certain she didn't mean to yell at me. As I said, something is bothering her. Please help her."
He kissed her forehead. Pulling back, he gave her a soft smile. "Do not worry. I will talk with Regina and sort this out. You go and have Johanna fix your makeup. You don't want to greet our guests with tear streaks on your cheeks, do you?"
She shook her head, kissing his cheek. "Thank you, Daddy."
"You're welcome, sweetheart." He let go of her hand as he walked toward Regina's room. Snow headed to her own, hoping her father could help her stepmother feel better.
When she saw Regina at the party later, her stepmother appeared to be in a better mood. She smiled as she stood by Daddy's side, greeting guests warmly. At one point, Regina took Snow aside to apologize for her earlier behavior. She gave no explanation as to why she was in such a bad mood but Snow noticed that her makeup was thicker on her face, particularly on her cheek. It almost appeared to be hiding a bruise and Snow figured Regina fell from her horse earlier, so she was probably frustrated and sore from it. Snow forgave her, certain everything was settled except for one thing.
Regina still wasn't wearing the brooch.
Snow was going to ask her about it when Daddy approached her, smiling. He bowed to her. "May I have this dance?"
"Of course," she said, her mood improving as she took her father's hand. He led her to the dance floor as the musicians began playing. Daddy led her in a waltz, twirling her around the floor as everyone watched. She felt like a queen.
Snow didn't stop dancing for a long time after that. Nobleman after nobleman approached her, eager to partner with her for a dance. She exchanged pleasant conversations with each one, finding them all very nice and interested in her. None sparked any romantic interest in her but she knew she was still young-there was plenty of time to find True Love.
After several dances, Snow excused herself from the dance floor to get something to drink. She approached one of the servants, accepting a glass of wine from the young maid who couldn't have been much older than Snow. It must've been amazing to be able to work their ball and see everyone in their finery, she imagined. How lucky for that maid!
Drinking her wine, Snow looked for Regina. She hadn't seen much of her stepmother while she had been dancing. All she had caught were glimpses of her dress, so Snow assumed she had been enjoying the dancing as well. Now, though, she couldn't find her and that worried her.
Snow spotted someone who could give her answers and she picked up her skirts to hurry over to him. "Lord Henry! Lord Henry, may I have a word?"
"Princess," the older man said, bowing to her. He smiled but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "You may have several."
If she wasn't so worried about Regina, she would've smiled and probably laughed. Lord Henry always had a way of doing that. She knew he did his best to keep Regina in good spirits, especially after the mysterious disappearance of her mother, and Snow hoped she appreciated everything her father did for her.
"Do you know where Regina is?" she asked him.
His smile fell. "She wasn't feeling well and retired early."
"Oh," Snow replied, feeling bad for her stepmother. She thought about the makeup and the barely visible bruise. "Is she hurt from falling off her horse?"
Lord Henry tilted his head. "What do you mean?"
Snow told him about the bruises she had seen despite Regina's best efforts to cover them and her theory on how she got them. Lord Henry's eyes darkened a bit and his smile disappeared. "I wasn't aware she was hurt."
"Who was hurt?" Daddy asked, approaching the two. He looked between Snow and Lord Henry, waiting for an answer.
"Regina," she told him. "I think she fell off her horse. Lord Henry said she retired early because she wasn't feeling well."
Daddy locked eyes with Lord Henry, whose gaze had turned steely. Tension filled the air, unnerving Snow as she waited for one of them to speak. Something was going on but she didn't know what exactly it was.
"I should go check on my daughter," Lord Henry finally said, breaking the awkward silence that had engulfed their small group. He bowed to them. "Your Majesty, Your Highness."
He started to walk away when Daddy called out: "Take good care of my wife."
Lord Henry paused for a moment before continuing on without turning around or acknowledging Daddy. Snow frowned, confused by the whole exchange. Something was going on and she didn't like not knowing what it was.
"Come, my dear," Daddy said, holding out his arm to her. "The night is young and there are still many more dances to be had."
Snow took her father's arm and decided not to worry about Regina. Lord Henry would take good care of her and Snow was certain her stepmother would want her to enjoy the ball. She lost herself in the dancing and revelry for the rest of the night, enjoying spending time with her father.
The doorbell echoed throughout the mansion and Mary Margaret stalked toward the door, pulling it open. She scowled at the person on the other side. "You're late."
"I'm sorry," Leopold Blanchard said, stepping into the house. He took off his hat, revealing his gray hair, and hung it on a rung by the door. "I lost track of the time at the stables."
She scrunched her nose, smelling the scent of horse on him. "I don't know why you spend so much time down there."
"It relaxes me," he replied. "I wish you would let me take Diana. I think she would enjoy learning to ride and taking care of the horses will teach her responsibility."
Mary Margaret bristled, shaking her head. "She doesn't need to be around horses. She has plenty of other hobbies."
"I know," he replied before growing sad. "You used to love being around the stables too. What happened?"
She paused before busying herself packing her purse. "I grew up. I needed to focus on other things, not horses."
He sighed but said: "You're right. I hardly had time for horses when I was mayor. I guess I just wish you would visit me more."
"I know," she said softly, guilt eating at her. She had managed to get a father again in this curse and had been neglecting him, especially lately. No wonder he kept trying to find ways to bring her and Diana back to his house.
She looked up and her guilt grew even more when she saw how sad and lonely he looked. Mary Margaret reached out her hand to him. "I'm sorry I've been neglecting you with everything going on."
He took her hand and pulled her in for a hug. "I know it's been hard for you with David...well. You've been handling everything with such grace and strength. I'm so proud of you."
Tears filled her eyes and she sank into his embrace, taking the comfort he offered her. "I feel like everything is falling apart," she admitted. "Diana hates me and thinks someone else is her mother because of a stupid book."
"It can't be that bad," he replied, no doubt trying to be soothing. She appreciated the effort even if it didn't make her feel any better.
"You don't know the half of it," she told him, shouldering her purse. "But I'm running late, so that will have to wait."
He nodded. "We can talk when you get back. Do you want me to talk to Diana too?"
Mary Margaret considered it. Diana was always close with her grandfather and if anyone could get through to her, it was him. She nodded. "Please. Maybe you'll have more luck than me."
They hugged one more time before she hurried to her car and climbed in. Daddy waved from the front door as she drove off and she smiled, glad to have a father back in her life. It certainly wasn't raising the dead but it was close enough.
"I'm sorry I'm late," Mary Margaret said, hanging her coat on the coat rack in Archie's waiting room. She stored her purse in the little cubby provided for it before approaching him.
Archie smiled softly, no judgment in his eyes. "It's okay. Come on in and we can get started. You're my last scheduled patient for the day so we should be able to make up the time at the end and give you your full hour."
"Thank you." She tucked her skirt under her as she sat down on the couch. Crossing her ankles, she folded her hands on her lap. "At Diana's last session, you mentioned there was something you wanted to discuss with me."
He nodded as he took his seat. "There is. She mentioned something that...well, troubled me."
Mary Margaret's stomach twisted up as her heart beat rapidly in her chest. Still, she tried to remain calm as she remarked: "Oh?"
"Yes," he replied. "She mentioned that you want her to be a mini-you."
"I wouldn't say that," she protested, shifting on the couch even as she tried to keep her tone light. She knew she couldn't explain her real goal to him without doing some sort of damage. "We're just so alike, you know. Two peas in a pod."
He didn't look convinced. "That's not how Diana sees it."
Mary Margaret's spirits plummeting. "Did she accuse me of trying to control her? Of trying to turn her into me?"
"You know I can't reveal that," Archie replied. "I can't break the confidentiality."
She frowned, crossing her arms as she tried not to huff. Of course the only one who would really follow the rules of this world would be the Official Conscience. "Then what can you tell me?" she asked.
He sighed, shifting a bit. "Diana is ten, right?"
"Yes," she replied, not sure where he was going with this. "Why?"
"She's almost a teenager," he said.
She frowned, glad that at the rate they were going, the teenage years would never come for Diana. Not that she could tell him that. "I think she's still far away from being a teenager," she told him instead.
"I know you feel that way but the teenage years will be here before you know it," he warned her. He then smiled at her. "Time has a funny way of doing that."
"Time is certainly funny," she agreed, knowing he had no clue what really was happening with time in this town.
Archie nodded. "These years are when children start to figure out who they are and who they want to be. They need the space to do that."
"But don't they need help in deciding who they are?" Mary Margaret asked, feeling a cold sweat break out along her hairline. Would all her hard work be for nothing? Would Diana go down the same path Regina did?
Was nature stronger than even a curse?
Had her sacrifice been for nothing?
"They do," Archie replied softly. "And the easiest way we can do that is by giving them space."
"So what? I'm supposed to just supposed to stand back and let her do whatever she wants?" she asked, snapping as she balled her fist. This was a land without magic. She had to remember that.
He shook his head. "Of course not. But I think you need to let her have a little more control over certain things."
"Like what?" she asked, still suspicious.
"Halloween is coming up," he said. "What does she want to be for it?"
"The same thing she goes as every year-Snow White," Mary Margaret replied proudly. She knew her chest puffed out a bit but she didn't care. The Snow White costume she made for Diana was one of her proudest accomplishments.
He tilted his head. "But is that what she really wants to go as?"
"Of course it is!" she insisted. She then narrowed her eyes as she asked: "Why? Did she say otherwise?"
"You know I can't reveal that," he replied, grimacing a bit.
That gave her answer. "She did complain about it!"
"Don't you think it might be boring to go as the same thing every year?" he asked.
She bit her lip, considering that statement. It usually hadn't bothered her daughter. Not until that book came into their lives. "She's never complained before."
"Well, she's never been ten before," Archie countered.
Mary Margaret bit back her laugh. Diana had been ten for a lot longer than he realized but she couldn't say anything about that. "I guess that's true," she managed to say.
"So do you think you can do that?" he asked her. "Let her choose her own Halloween costume?"
She wanted to say no but she leaned back, thinking it over. It would be a good compromise and might get Diana to trust her again. Mary Margaret wanted that above all, so she nodded. "I will."
"Good," Archie said. He smiled as he leaned back in his chair. "We have a few minutes, is there anything you want to discuss?"
Mary Margaret bit her lip, remembering the reason why she was late. She longed to talk to someone about her father and her mother, to process all her feelings. They had been bottled up inside her for years but she knew she still couldn't be truthful, even in Dr. Hopper's "safe space." So, she just shook her head. "I think I have a lot to think about just from this session. Thank you, Doctor."
"You're welcome," he said, standing. He held out his hand. "I'll see you soon, Mary Margaret."
"You too," she said, shaking his hand. She then followed him out of the office to make her next appointment, already preparing for her conversation with Diana in her head. Hopefully it was the start of things changing and Diana would forget all about Regina Mills.
For everyone's sake.
Diana heard her mother's car door close before she drove off to her appointment with Dr. Hopper. Lacey was no doubt downstairs and Diana hoped she had brought her headphones with her again. It was a lot easier to sneak out to see Regina when her babysitter was too busy dancing and couldn't hear the door open or close.
She sat up, reaching for sneakers when someone knocked on the door. Diana groaned. Of course this was going to be one of the times when Lacey wanted to do something with her. It was just her luck.
"Coming!" she yelled, jumping off the bed. She crossed the room and opened the door. "What is it, Lacey?"
"Not Lacey," Grandpa said, smiling at her. He held out his arms to her. "Surprise!"
She let out a squeal as she launched herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. "Grandpa! You're here!"
He held her close and she could smell the hint of stables on him. She had always wanted him to take her there, to let her pick out a horse she could learn to ride herself. Mom was always adamantly against it, insisting that Diana had enough hobbies as it was. Diana didn't understand what she had against horses until she read the book, realizing her real mother had been an accomplished equestrienne. She now guessed Mom didn't want her to do anything Regina had done in the Enchanted Forest, to squash anything she may have inherited from her.
Grandpa let her go and pulled back, grinning. "What do you say to some ice cream?"
"I say...Can I have a sundae?" she asked, batting her eyes at him for extra emphasis.
"I think that's an excellent idea," he replied, gently bopping her nose. He then held out his hand. "Why don't we go to Any Given Sundae?"
She bounced up and down. Mom hardly took her to the town's best ice cream parlor since Dad's accident. Diana figured it held too many memories for her but then she wondered if any of them were real. All she knew now, though, was that she couldn't pass up the chance to get some great ice cream and spend time with her grandfather.
At least she knew he was really her grandfather.
Diana hurried back and grabbed her sneakers. "I'll be right down, Grandpa."
"Take your time," he told her, winking. "I'm not going anywhere."
He walked away as she tied her shoelaces. She grabbed a jacket and skipped out of her room, eager to spend some time with Grandpa. It was going to be just as good as being with Regina for the afternoon.
She jumped the last two stairs, landing on her feet next to her grandfather. Holding out her arms, she grinned at him. "Ready!"
"I can see that," he said, chuckling as he picked up his keys. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and opened the door. "Let's go!"
They climbed into his car and he started it up, pulling it out of the driveway. As he turned off the street, Diana bounced in her seat. "I'm so glad you're watching me today, Grandpa," she told him.
"Me too," he said. "It's been far too long since we last saw each other."
"Yeah. Mom's been keeping me busy," she replied, frowning as she thought about everything her mother was doing to keep her from seeing Regina.
Grandpa nodded. "Your mother said that things have been kinda tense between the two of you lately."
Diana sighed. "Of course she did."
"She's worried about you," he said, pulling into the parking lot of Any Given Sundae. He put the car in park and turned to her. "So, why don't we get some ice cream and you can talk to me about it. Okay?"
"I'm talking to Dr. Hopper about it," she replied.
He nodded before grinning. "But does Dr. Hopper give you ice cream?"
She smiled, shaking her head. "He does not."
"Then let's go get some and talk," he said, opening his door. She followed suit and they got out of the car. He took her hand, leading her into Any Given Sundae.
Sarah Walker, the proprietor, looked up as they entered. She smiled. "If it's the first family of Storybrooke! How are we this day?"
"We're very good," Grandpa said, placing his hand on Diana's shoulder. "We thought we'd get a nice treat before it's too cold."
"Let me guess. Dulce de leche for Leopold and Rocky Road for Diana," Sarah said, pulling out a scooper from the container of water she kept them in. When they nodded, she scooped out the Rocky Road first before switching scoopers to put some dulce de leche into a bowl for Grandpa.
"Any toppings?" Sarah asked.
"Chocolate sauce and whipped cream please," Diana said. "And a cherry."
Sarah grinned, adding all the toppings to Diana requested. "Of course. The cherry's the best part!"
"I'll just take some sprinkles and a cherry," Grandpa said, pulling out his wallet. "Thank you, Sarah."
He paid for their ice creams and carried them over to a table. Diana took her seat and happily dug into hers, enjoying the chocolate and Rocky Road mixing in her mouth. She could even taste a hint of cherry as well.
"So," Grandpa said, moving some of his ice cream around. "What is going on between you and your mother?"
She sighed, setting her spoon down on one of her napkins. "She's not my mother."
He frowned, letting his spoon fall onto the table. "Why do you think that?"
"Because I don't look like either of my parents for starters," she said. "No one else looks like me."
"Well, now that's not true," he replied. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, flipping through some pictures. Grandpa pulled out one and slid it toward her. "Your grandmother, Eva. You look just like her."
Diana glanced down at the picture, looking at her supposed grandmother. Eva Blanchard had long dark hair and bright blue eyes, just like Diana did. However, her hair was straight and her skin was certainly paler than Diana's. Still, there was close enough of a resemblance for Diana to almost believe she took after Eva.
"I guess I do look like her," Diana said hesitantly, returning the picture. "But I look a lot more like someone else and I know she is my real mother."
He frowned. "And so what do you think happened? A baby switch at the hospital? That there is someone else out there who is really my granddaughter?"
"I am your granddaughter. Mom isn't your daughter," Diana told him.
Grandpa's eyebrow went up. "So the woman you believe is your real mother is also supposedly my real daughter?"
"Exactly," she said. "Regina Mills."
"Regina...Mills? As in Cora Mills' daughter?" he asked, slowly. When she nodded, he frowned. "That's impossible, pumpkin. I never really associated with her and I was with your grandmother since high school."
Diana shook her head. "No, you weren't. She's not my real grandmother and Mom isn't your real daughter. Your name isn't even Leopold."
It looked like he was trying not to smile or laugh as he nodded. "I see. And what's my real name then?"
"Henry," she told him.
His eyes clouded over and she wondered if he was remembering. Would it be so easy to break the curse on him? Maybe others who had new names here in Storybrooke, like Dr. Hopper, would react the same way.
Grandpa shook his head. "And what? I have amnesia?"
"No. We're cursed," Diana said, disappointment flooding her. The curse was strong and clearly not easily broken.
"Curse," he repeated, slowly. When she nodded, he chuckled and leaned forward. "You have an amazing imagination, Diana."
A lump formed in her throat as tears pricked her eyes. "You don't believe me."
He sighed, running his hand through his gray hair. Grandpa moved his chair closer to her and took her hand. "I know things have been difficult since your dad's accident. And I know it's painful. So I can understand that you've retreated into this fantasy world…"
"It's not a fantasy world!" she protested, trying not to cry.
"I know it feels real to you," he said, keeping his voice soft and soothing. "But it's not. And it's hurting your mother."
Diana looked down, tears sliding down her cheeks despite her efforts to keep them at bay. She had hoped her grandfather would've been on her side as he always supported her before. Mom's curse was too strong, she realized. He truly believed he was Leopold Blanchard and so he supported who he truly believed was his daughter, Mary Margaret Nolan. Meanwhile, his real daughter believed she had no family and really needed him.
Nothing about this curse seemed fair.
She heard his chair scrape the floor before he stood. "We should head back. Don't want to worry your mother."
Of course we don't, she thought bitterly. She stood and threw her garbage out. They left Any Given Sundae silently and she remained quiet all the way home. Her number of allies was only two-Sister Trina and Regina-while her mother had a lot more. She was going to have to be very careful about who she trusted.
Regina stood in front of the convent, her stomach twisted in knots. The red brick Victorian house looked very much like it did when she was growing up and most of her memories made there weren't happy. She hadn't been back since graduating and moving out-had never wanted to come back. But she hoped some answers lay inside there, so here she was.
She climbed the creaky porch steps and crossed to the front door as a gust of cold wind blew past her. It rustled the leaves both on the ground and on the trees, making everything that much more eerie as she knocked on the door. She prayed anyone but Mother Superior answered.
Her prayers were surprisingly answered. Sister Astrid opened the door, her light blue eyes growing wide. "Regina! We weren't expecting you," she said.
"I just stopped by," Regina replied. "I was hoping to talk to you, if you have some free time."
Sister Astrid nodded, stepping aside so Regina could enter. "I was about to make some tea. Would you like a cup?"
"Yes, please," Regina said, looking around the convent for the first time in years. It still appeared to be perpetual dark, as if there were no windows or proper lighting. She remembered wondering as a child if Mother Superior didn't believe in electricity and as she smelled candle wax, it seemed some things never changed. Regina also detected hints of incense, so she wondered if the other sisters were at prayer. As they went deeper into the convent, the staler the air felt. Regina almost felt as if she was struggling to breathe and wondered if Sister Astrid would open a window once they got to the kitchen at the very back of the house.
"Why don't you have a seat while I make us some tea?" Sister Astrid motioned to the small wooden table in the room as she headed toward the cabinets.
"Is chamomile okay?" the young sister asked her.
"It is," Regina replied, sitting down. She watched as Sister Astrid put the kettle on the stove before preparing two cups for tea.
Sister Astrid never changed. She still had long brown hair that was braided into a bun and her habit did little to hide the fact that she was very skinny. Her blue eyes were as bright as ever though she always had a panicked expression on her face. She had always been very nervous, even when Regina was there, and time hadn't changed that.
That really struck Regina-Sister Astrid hadn't aged. No gray hairs, no lines on her face, nothing. She still looked the fresh-faced sister who had just stopped being a novice Regina remembered. The same was true of Mother Superior and many of the other sisters she saw in town as well. All looked just like they did when Regina lived there. It was as if they had a fountain of youth hidden somewhere in the convent.
Regina couldn't help but think of Diana and her theory that they were cursed. She believed that because of the curse, time was frozen for them. Days came and went and years passed by, but no one in Storybrooke ever aged or changed. They were just stuck as the world continued to revolve around them.
After having written that off as just part of Diana's vivid imagination, Regina couldn't help but wonder if there was any truth to it as she now watched Sister Astrid pour two cups of tea. It would explain why everyone always looked the same in both her memories and in real life.
"Here you go," Sister Astrid said, handing Regina a mug. She set the other one down but didn't take a seat. "Why don't I open a window?"
Regina sipped the tea as Sister Astrid opened the window over the sink, letting in some cool, fresh air into the kitchen. It did little though to calm her nerves. Her revelation had made her even more nervous to ask the questions she knew she had to ask. She had to find out the truth-whatever it may be.
Sister Astrid sat down. "So, what brings you by? You haven't been back here since you graduated."
"I know," Regina said, setting down her mug. "But I've been looking into my past and that brings me back here."
"What are you looking for? Information about your mother? We don't know where she went. Just that she left town after giving birth to you," Sister Astrid said, sounding sad at the circumstances of Regina's birth. She was probably the only one. "And if it's about your father, she left no clues as to who he could be. Cora romanced several men but there's no proof any of them fathered you."
Regina pressed her lips together. She still had no desire to find her mother and she had given up learning who her father was years ago. While it was clear that there were many candidates for that honor, none had ever approached her to find out one way or the other. That told her everything she needed to know-she wasn't worth finding and chancing a momentary disruption in their life. If her father didn't want to know her, then she didn't want to know him.
She shook her head. "I was hoping you might have some information about something else."
"Oh?" Sister Astrid asked, eyebrows going up. "What about?"
"I recently learned that I was pregnant," Regina said quickly, hoping Mother Superior wasn't lurking around. "Whale doesn't know how long ago it was but he does believe I delivered the baby."
Sister Astrid's eyes went wide and her mouth parted slightly. "You...You had a baby? What happened to it?"
Disappointment flooded through Regina and her shoulders sagged. "I hoped you would be able to tell me."
"What do you mean?" Sister Astrid asked, tilting her head.
Regina took a deep breath, lowering her voice so no one could overhear. The last thing she needed was for Mother Superior to learn any of this. "I don't remember being pregnant or giving birth. Whale and Dr. Hopper believe I may have suppressed the memories due to some trauma. I guess I must've hidden my pregnancy because I can't believe the people in this town would've agreed not to mention it to me. We both know they would've loved to rub it in my face."
Sister Astrid nodded, looking down at her mug. "Many in Storybrooke haven't treated you very neighborly."
"That's putting it mildly," Regina replied before taking a deep breath. "Anyway, I remembered that you were always kind to me when I was here in the convent. I hoped that maybe I had confided something to you."
Reaching out, Sister Astrid shook her head. "I'm afraid you didn't. And you were the last orphan left to our care."
"Oh," Regina said, disappointment flooding her as another door appeared to close in her face.
"However, that mostly due to the state's foster care system stepping in," Sister Astrid continued. "Mayor Blanchard had no choice but to agree and so any orphans or neglected children had to go into the system, leaving Storybrooke."
The disappointment receded a bit as hope sparked inside her. "Who would know if any babies went into foster care from Storybrooke?"
"Probably City Hall," Sister Astrid said. "You can ask the records keeper there. A lot of that information is public. Maybe someone could poke around the hospital too. Even if you didn't give birth there, you probably surrendered your child to the fire department or the sheriff. They would've taken him or her there for a check-up."
Regina nodded, grateful to have some places to look. "Thank you, Sister Astrid."
"You're welcome." Sister Astrid stood and when Regina did as well, she embraced her. "I hope you find what you're looking for. And remember, I'm always here if you need to talk."
Gratitude swelled inside Regina and she fought back tears. "Thank you."
"And we can always meet elsewhere if you don't want to run into You-Know-Who," Sister Astrid whispered, grinning cheekily.
That made Regina laugh. She thanked the sister again before heading out, moving quickly toward the front door to avoid any unexpected run-ins with Mother Superior. Once she left the convent, she took a deep breath in. She may not have gotten the answers she was looking for, but at least she had a new place to look for them.
"Thank you for watching Diana today, Daddy," Mary Margaret said, handing her father his hat.
He took it and put it on. "I'm glad I got to spend time with the both of you. Let's do this again soon."
She smiled, nodding. It then dimmed as she asked: "Did...Did Diana talk to you about her theory and her book?"
"I asked her about it," he replied.
"And who did she say you were?" Mary Margaret asked, dreading the answer.
He waved his hand. "It's not important because it's not true. I know who I am and I know you are my daughter. And I told Diana how much it was hurting you for her to insist I was not her father and she was not your daughter. I think she understood."
Mary Margaret doubted it but was glad he was still on her side. She didn't want Diana swaying anyone as thankfully it seemed as if Regina had taken her warning to heart. Neither Graham nor Keith reported her interacting with Diana and she didn't seem to be poking around where she shouldn't.
"Thank you," she told her father, hugging him. "Get home safely."
He promised he would before walking away. She stood at the door, watching him get in his car. Once he drove off, she closed the door and took a deep breath. It was time to talk to her daughter.
She climbed the stairs to the second floor and knocked on her daughter's door. "Diana? Can I come in?"
"Sure," the girl called from inside the room.
Mary Margaret opened the door and found Diana sitting on her bed, finishing up some homework. She smiled as she approached the bed. "Can I sit? I'd like to talk to you about something."
"Okay," Diana said, placing her pencil in the middle of the book and closing it so she didn't lose her place. She looked up at Mary Margaret warily. "What is it?"
"I know Halloween is coming up and I thought we could talk about your costume," she started. "What do you want to go as?"
Diana narrowed her eyes. "I always go as Snow White."
"True, but I thought that maybe you wanted to try something new. You know, change it up a bit?" Mary Margaret offered.
She watched as her daughter bit her lip, clearly thinking it over. Part of Mary Margaret knew that Diana was trying to determine if it was a trap. She would never trap her like that, though. That was something Regina would do. And Mary Margaret was not Regina.
The other part of her hoped that Dr. Hopper had been wrong or that all Diana really needed to do was vent. She hoped that Diana would smile and say that she would still love to go as Snow White, that she loved the costume and the character.
"I was thinking of going as a different fairy tale character this year," Diana replied.
Though her heart was breaking, Mary Margaret tried to stay calm and act cool. She had a strong suspicion about her daughter's choice but still asked: "Oh? Who?"
"I have two possibilities," her daughter replied. "The first is Belle from Beauty and the Beast."
Mary Margaret paused as Lacey came to mind. She had met the intelligent noblewoman when both ended up at the same tavern when she was a bandit and Lacey-Belle—was on a special quest. For a while, they had enjoyed a friendship. However, Belle ultimately chose to support Regina and so their friendship fizzled. Part of her then didn't want Diana dressing up as someone who supported the enemy.
However, Belle was compassionate and had a natural curiosity. It drove her to find new ways to help her people and to seek out exciting adventures. Mary Margaret could understand why Diana wanted to dress up as her and could overlook how things ended between them for those reasons.
"I was also thinking about Red Riding Hood," Diana continued, grinning. "She's pretty cool in that storybook."
"Is she?" Mary Margaret asked even though she knew the answer. She smiled, recalling her dear friend-a strong role model she would be happy for her daughter to emulate. As Diana talked about Red Riding Hood, Mary Margaret realized it had been some time since she had spoken to Ruby. It was time to pay her a visit or maybe invite her over for dinner.
Diana stopped talking and was now looking at Mary Margaret expectantly. Blinking, Mary Margaret looked sheepish. "Sorry, my mind wandered to costumes. What did you say?"
"Costumes?" Diana perked up. "You're going to let me dress up as one of them?"
Mary Margaret chuckled, nodding. She decided to gently push her daughter toward the choice she preferred. "I think you will make a great Red Riding Hood."
"Thank you!" Diana threw her arms around Mary Margaret and hugged her tightly. "You are amazing."
"You're welcome, sweetheart." Mary Margaret held her daughter close, her heart nearly bursting from happiness. Perhaps things were starting to get better for her family after all.
Regina closed the backdoor of the library behind her, knowing it was too late for Diana to join her. She used her flashlight to find her way to the back office, flipping on the light before settling into the rolling chair. Papers lay scattered across the surface of the desk, all part of her quest to find out what happened to the baby she apparently gave birth to at some point in the past.
She opened the first drawer and pulled out the notebook she used to keep track of all her clues. Flipping to a certain page, she grabbed a pen and crossed off Talk to Sister Astrid. Underneath it, she wrote Check foster care records. Things were moving-slowly, but she believed she was at least moving forward.
It was a good feeling.
Closing the notebook, she placed it back in the drawer and then opened the next one. The storybook sat inside that one and she pulled it out. She had a purple silk ribbon marking her place and she turned to it, ready to continue her doppelganger's journey to becoming the Evil Queen and then (apparently) Diana's mother.
Regina paced her bedroom, unable to sleep. Her heart pounded in her chest, her stomach was ready to expel the rich dinner she had eaten earlier and her thoughts raced. She needed to talk to someone and there was only one person in this godforsaken place she trusted.
The side door to her room opened and Daddy stepped in, his own robe wrapped around him. He frowned at her. "What is the emergency?"
"Close the door," she ordered. "And keep your voice down. The walls have ears."
He frowned, blanching. "The servants are reporting on you?"
"It's not a new development," she replied. "My husband has been reading my diary for our entire marriage."
"You've never kept a diary," Daddy said, sounding confused.
She shrugged. "It was a wedding gift from my husband. I caught my maid taking it every night and when Leopold started to hint that I should use my diary, I figured out what he was doing. So I started writing what I thought he wanted to read in it."
Daddy frowned and raised his eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I write that I'm a good and faithful wife," she replied. "I write that I love Snow White as if she were my own. I smooth over when I lose my patience with her, blaming it on other things-usually my time of the month. Whatever it takes to keep him from...punishing me."
Regina rubbed her arms and she knew she didn't have to say anymore. He had tended to the aftermath of Leopold's punishments enough times to know what she wasn't saying. Tears filled his eyes as he approached her. "Things have changed?" he asked.
She nodded. "My servants are starting to ask even more probing questions, especially in regards to my fidelity to the king."
"Oh gods," Daddy breathed. He gently grabbed her arms. "Do not feel bad if you've sought comfort and love elsewhere. That monster hasn't shown you any and you deserve it."
Tears pricked her eyes at the fact that her father didn't condemn her for taking other men to her bed. Her heart also hurt that he would think she could love and care for any of her bedfellows. That part of her had died with Daniel and was buried with him. She had learned quickly enough that sex only had one purpose at court-as a weapon. Her body guaranteed her some protection and allies at court, though not as many as she needed to be truly safe.
"Is there anything they can prove?" Daddy asked softly.
She shook her head. "As I said, I don't keep a real diary and I try to be as discreet as possible."
"And your companions?"
"They know to be discreet as well," she replied. "They know their lives depend on it."
He nodded, understanding her meaning. "So he can't find any proof."
"No, but we both know that doesn't matter," she said, walking away from him. She leaned against the doors leading to her balcony, watching the stars twinkling above the palace. "If Leopold wants me dead, he'll find a way to make it happen."
"Then you must get away from here," Daddy said, coming up behind her. "We can run away and find a place to hide. We can start over. You can be happy at last, Regina."
For a moment, she was tempted to agree to that plan. A place where she didn't have the expectations of a husband longing for his dead wife, a bratty princess who expected everyone to give her everything she wanted, or a mother who only ever saw her as a pawn to achieve revenge against those who mistreated her when she was just the daughter of a lowly miller sounded like paradise. She could take Rocinante and spend her days riding him, feeling the wind in her hair. Then she could tend to a garden or do some reading, learning everything Mother hadn't deemed important to her education to become a wife and queen. She only had to answer to herself.
She glanced back at her father, her heart nearly breaking at the sadness in his eyes. He loved her, she knew that, and wanted what was best for her. And he was trying to do that now that he was free of her mother. She just didn't know if what he wanted was what was best for her-to just disappear, to let Snow get away unpunished for her crime…
That was something she just couldn't allow.
"I'm not going to run," she told him. "I can't run."
He nodded. "Then what do you plan to do?"
"I'm going to kill him first," she told him, her voice firm.
Daddy's eyes widened and his lips parted. He stepped closer to her, lowering his voice even more. "That's a drastic move, sweetheart."
"Desperate times, Daddy," she said, hoping to convince him. She knew plotting murder was dangerous but it was the best solution to all her problems. With Leopold gone, she didn't have to worry about her own life-she was not lying about her fear that he was trying to get rid of her-and there wouldn't be anyone to stand in her way in her plot to get vengeance against Snow White. She just needed her father to agree to help.
He squared his shoulders and nodded. "Of course. And I'll gladly take the blame if it keeps you safe."
The thought of her father dying for her sins hurt her heart and she shook her head, feeling a chill sweep through her. She took his hands. "No, I will make sure it can't come back to us."
"How?" he asked.
"Have you met the genie my husband rescued?" she asked him.
Daddy made a face. "I have. I don't like the way he looks at you."
"Well, you should," she replied. "It means he's wrapped around my finger and will do whatever I say. Especially when I appeal to his need to be my hero."
"You think he will kill the king for you?" he asked.
She nodded. "With the right persuasion, yes."
"What do you need me to do then?" Daddy asked.
"Don't ask me how, but I'm managed to procure an Agrabah viper," she told him. "It should be coming tomorrow night. I'll need you to take it and bring it to the Genie, instructing him to put it in Leopold's bed. The viper will do the dirty work for us."
Daddy nodded. "You can count on me, sweetheart."
"Thank you, Daddy," she said, hugging him. She whispered: "You're the only person I can truly trust in this palace."
He pulled back and she could see the sadness in his eyes. His voice cracked as he said: "Get some rest, sweetheart. I'll see you in the morning."
Daddy kissed her forehead before heading back to his room. Regina waited until his door closed before letting out a breath. He was onboard for her plan, which was a good sign. Everything was starting to fall into place. Only a couple more nights and she would be free from her nightmare of a marriage. She could then become a proper queen and finally get her vengeance on Snow White.
Then she could finally be happy.
She sat down at her desk, pulling out the diary Leopold read every night. Opening it, she dipped her quill in her inkpot. Regina didn't want to rely solely on her powers of persuasion, seduction and ability to play the victim. She needed to give Genie even more of a reason to agree to her plan to kill the king. It was time to make Leopold think that his suspicions were finally correct-she had fallen in love with another and was planning on taking a lover. Leopold's possessive nature would take over and the Genie would fear for both of them, agreeing that killing the king was the only thing they could do to be together.
Regina was almost free.
I know this was more Snow heavy than Regina but it was necessary to push certain aspects of the story forward. We're getting closer to Robin's entrance in the story, so that's coming soon!
If you missed it, I posted a fic set in this universe for Prompt Party entitled "Lost and Found." It's a little look at Diana when she was younger and features a glimpse of Robin and Regina's marriage.
I hope everyone has a great week!