“You’re kidding,” Joanne says flatly.
“No, I swear,” Nancy says, shifting the phone to her other ear as she picks up a stack of magazines. “I ran into her—literally—when I was heading back into work after getting my evening coffee—”
“You really need to stop drinking coffee that late.”
“Really not the point here.”
“Sorry, right, go on.”
“And I felt kind of bad for ruining her dress—seriously, Joanne, you had to have seen it, it was practically from a confectionary. I can’t decide if it was gorgeous or the most ridiculous wedding dress I’ve ever seen.”
“Wedding dress? So you picked up a runaway bride? Where’s her Richard Gere?”
“I’m...not sure. She says she’s marrying a...prince? Edward or something? And then she...got lost? She keeps saying something about getting back to ‘the castle.’”
There’s a disbelieving pause.
“So you picked up a crazy person,” Joanne says. “And now she’s sleeping on your couch?”
Nancy turns to look at her couch, where Giselle has, indeed, passed out. She looks kind of adorable, curled up on herself, head pillowed on her hands. As Nancy watches, she lets out a sweet sigh and settles further into the cushions.
“You’re always saying I should be more impulsive!” Nancy laughs, a little hysterically. Oh, God, now she’s going insane.
“Yes, but I meant, you know, going out to karaoke on a whim, or showing up in Robert’s bed wearing a bow and nothing else!” Joanne sounds rather agitated.
“I know, I know.” Nancy sighs as she walks into her room and plops on the bed, exhausted.
“Did you tell Robert about her?”
“No. Why would I?”
“So he can come over and keep you safe, of course! Also, shouldn’t you tell your fiancé—”
“Almost-fiancé,” Nancy corrects automatically.
“Whatever, you know he’s going to propose any day now. I’m pretty sure that it’s his duty as your future husband to come over with a baseball bat to protect you from the loony-bin escapee on your couch.”
“Not gonna happen,” Nancy says, rolling her eyes even though she knows her friend can’t see it. “First of all, there’s Morgan: he won’t abandon her. Second, I really don’t think I’m in any danger. Giselle seems...wholesome.”
“Wholesome? Next thing I know, you’ll be telling me she’s a nice girl and you should take her home to meet your mother.”
“Oh, God, let’s not.” Nancy sighs, lying back. “Jo, what am I doing?”
“You’re being a very nice person to a complete stranger in one of the craziest cities in the world...so you’re clearly a few crayons short of a full box.”
“A few crayons short of a...” Nancy chokes out a laugh, the corners of her lips quirking up. “Thanks, Jo. I needed that.”
“Any time.” A pause. “Nan, do you need me to come over?”
Nancy considers it, then shakes her head. “No, I think I’ll be okay. I’ll just sleep and...figure out a way to get Giselle out of the apartment and where she has to go in the morning, and then I’ll meet Morgan and take her to school and everything will be back to normal.”
There’s a long silence on the other end.
“Well, okay,” Joanne says, finally. “If you’re sure.”
Nancy hangs up. She peeks out at Giselle, still peacefully asleep on the couch, and sighs. She’s not sure, not at all. She has no idea what she’s doing, or why she’s doing it. Still, she can’t help smiling; there’s something infectious about the joy painting Giselle’s face.
Nancy shakes her head as she closes the door. She’s losing it, she really is.
If Nancy hadn’t been sure she was going mad when she fell asleep, she’s positive of it the next morning.
Her apartment, usually relatively clean, is literally sparkling. There are pigeons in the living room, and she’s pretty sure that’s—
“Oh, God, is that a cockroach?” She’s aware she’s shrieking, but she can’t bring herself to care. There are 'roaches—and pigeons, and rats, her brain adds dimly—in her apartment. She frantically shoos them out, and then looks around; Giselle is evidently nowhere to be found. Figures. At least all her valuables seem to be in place.
Wait. There’s someone...singing? Nancy walks over to the door to the bathroom, and yes, there’s definitely a woman singing in the shower. The pajamas Nancy lent Giselle the night before are lying on the floor in the hallway, as is the giant white dress from the night before. It looks even larger when no one’s wearing it, a huge mess of tulle and silk and glitter, the coffee stain still unfortunately prominent despite all their efforts to get it out last night.
Nancy looks at the clock on the wall and curses.
“Giselle!” she yells, pounding on the door. “Giselle, I’m going to be late, I really need to use the show—”
She nearly falls through the door as it’s pulled open, two mice—she resists the urge to shriek again—looking up at her from the floor. They look a little too sentient, and it seems that they’re the ones who opened the door...no, okay, that's not possible, she’s clearly going insane. But then there are pigeons wrapping one of her best towels around Giselle’s torso...and, okay, she totally did not see Giselle naked, no, not at all, except she did, and now on top of everything else, she’s...a little aroused.
This morning can’t possibly get any more bizarre. Right?
She’s still a little dazed when Giselle greets her and says something about nice dreams, and the shower is still running behind her, what kind of crazy person is she, and then Nancy runs forward to turn it off before water gets all over the bathroom.
“This is a magical room,” Giselle says, her voice perky as ever. Nancy resists the urge to bury her head in her hands. This is not happening, she’s hallucinating, she’s still dreaming, this is anything but her life. “Where does the water come from?”
Nancy blinks. She’s never thought about it much beyond staring at her utilities bill and telling herself she’s really got to take shorter showers.
“And where do the pipes get it?”
“From the...water tank?” Nancy shakes her head. “I’ve never really thought about it, and now is not the time, Giselle.” She sighs, running her hand through her hair. “I really need the bathroom—”
“Oh, that’s what it’s called!” Nancy stares. “Well, it is magical.”
“...Thank you?” Nancy croaks. “Seriously, Giselle, I need to shower, if I don’t leave in the next fifteen minutes I’m going to be late to pick up Morgan—”
“Oh, Robert’s your...what was that word...fiancé!” Giselle jumps up and down, clapping her hands excitedly. Nancy really hopes that towel stays in place. (Or doesn't. Either way.)
“Almost-fiancé,” Nancy says without thinking. “And I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t call him my fiancé around him or his daughter; Morgan’s still getting used to the idea of me being around. That’s why I’m taking her to school today: we’re having some Grown-up Girl Bonding Time, and if I’m even two minutes late, things are not going to go well.” She sighs, running a hand through her hair. “And today’s going to be beyond ridiculous at work, and I don’t even know what I’m going to do for breakfast...” She trails off, and notices that Giselle is still standing there, looking more than a little confused. And okay, no one should be allowed to have eyes that big and blue, it’s just criminal.
Nancy shakes herself, breaking eye contact as she pulls the shower curtain closed and turns the water on.
“Seriously, Giselle, can you please get out so I can shower?” she asks, her back to the other woman.
“Oh! Oh, of course, I’m so sorry.” Giselle backs out the door, closing it behind her.
Nancy sighs, pulling off her clothes and getting into the tub. It’s a pity she doesn’t have enough time to take a long, luxurious shower, or even draw herself a bath; she can’t think of any morning where she’s needed the relaxing hot water more. Instead, she’s in and out in record time. She blow-dries her hair and throws on her makeup, wishing she had time to maybe add a few sparkles for Morgan’s sake, but she has no idea where her glitter is and she knows she doesn’t have enough time to hunt for it.
When she’s pulled on the sensible outfit she put out last night that practically screams ‘career woman,’ she glances at the clock. 6:50. She’s got time, but she’s still got to run if she’s going to get breakfast and make it to Robert’s by 7:30.
She runs into her living room for her keys, thinking she may have enough time to grab a muffin from the bakery downstairs if the line’s not too long. She freezes at the sight that greets her.
Giselle is standing in the door to the kitchen, coffee pot in hand, and there are two full bowls of cereal and two glasses of orange juice already on the dining table. On top of that, she’s wearing a new dress that looks oddly familiar. Nancy turns to take in the rest of her living room, and does a double-take. Her jaw drops.
It's like The Sound of Music mixed with Disney rolled into a horrible, horrible Project Runway challenge. Nancy stares at what used to be her curtains, her eyes sweeping over the dress-shaped cutouts, and then shrugs. She still has blinds. And if Giselle feels like cutting up any more of her housewares...
"Hey, do you need to make any more dresses?" she throws out with a smile. "My mother sends me these truly awful tablecloths every year. I'm sure you can find a better use for them than leaving them sitting at the very back of the closet."
Giselle's answering smile puts every one of the CFLs lighting Nancy's apartment to shame.
“And you made breakfast!” Nancy continues. She runs over to the cupboard and grabs a thermos, filling it from the coffee pot she takes from Giselle’s hands. She inhales deeply before screwing the cap back on, closing her eyes and making a positively sinful noise. Coffee has never smelled so good. “Thank you,” she breathes.
“You’re welcome!” Giselle replies, perky as ever. She sits at the table across from Nancy, who’s doing her best to inhale her bowl of cereal while still looking civilized. “You’ve been so nice to me, I thought I’d—”
“Oh, don’t mention it,” Nancy blurts out in between bites. She really doesn’t want to get into this now; she doesn’t have the time. She takes a quick glance at her cell phone and stands hurriedly. “Look, I’ve got to run.” She pauses, looking carefully at the other woman. “You can’t stay here, obviously, but I don’t know where you need to go. Can I get you a cab or something?”
“I really don’t know where I’d go,” Giselle replies, twisting her hands in her lap and looking distinctly unhappy. “This place is so strange and unfriendly—and really, you’re the only person who’s shown me even a hint of kindness. There was Grumpy, who wouldn’t even say hello, and that old man who stole my tiara, and...”
“Right, okay,” Nancy cuts in. She remembers from last night that, once you get her started, Giselle will just keep going. She tilts her head and casts a considering eye between her curtains and Giselle’s dress again before reaching a decision.
She’s probably going to regret this.
“Why don’t you come with me to work?” she asks. “We’ve got a huge number of orders left to fill—all those ridiculous costumes for that ball at the Empire State Building tomorrow night—and we could use an extra hand. You definitely look like you know your way around a sewing machine...”
“A sewing machine?”
“Right, okay, you’re from Andalasia, where they don’t have technology, I forgot.” Nancy sighs, draining her glass of orange juice and grabbing the thermos from the table. “Just...come on. You can help me drop Morgan to school, too, I guess. She might like meeting a fairy princess.”
Giselle giggles. “Oh, I’m not a fairy, I’m just a regular girl. No wings, no magic.” She stands and spreads her arms to demonstrate before following Nancy out the door. “And I’m not a princess yet. But I will be. Once Edward finds me, and then we’ll go back home and live happily ever after.”
“I really hope you do,” Nancy says, flagging down a cab. She tries not to think about how she’s not even sure Edward exists, let alone that he’s looking for Giselle.
And then Giselle is yelping and hiding behind Nancy as she points at the taxi that’s just pulled over and saying something about almost being killed by a beast that looked just like that and yelled mean things at her. All thoughts of Edward vanish as Nancy tries to explain cars to Giselle while refraining from just shoving her in the back seat because they’re going to be late.
And then, when Giselle finally gets in the cab, she says something about the Buddha on the driver’s dash looking just like her friend the fat dwarf, and Nancy has to throw an extra wad of cash at him to keep him from pulling over right there and then.
Apparently, even miracle coffee (because Giselle is apparently even brilliant at brewing coffee) can’t save this morning. Nancy just hopes things will get better when she sees Robert.
As it turns out, Morgan does like meeting a real live princess (though “real” is kind of stretching things, Nancy supposes). Not even thirty seconds after introducing Giselle, Nancy feels horribly inadequate.
“Wait, okay, who is she again?” Robert asks. The two of them are standing off to the side as Morgan quizzes Giselle about her prince and her...animal friends? (Disney princess, seriously, Nancy’s not even sure how Giselle can exist.) To make matters worse, Robert’s giving her his patented ‘You’re not being rational, I don’t know how to deal with this’ look.
“I told you, I ran into her last night, ruined her dress, she told me her whole story—”
“Which, let’s be honest, is kind of hard to believe. She’s getting married to a prince of some country that doesn’t exist, she fell down a ‘magic’”—his nose wrinkles at the word—“wishing well and ended up here, in New York City, and she was seriously wandering around town in a giant sparkly wedding dress?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I really don’t.”
“I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen an article in the New York Times this morning about a bunch of accidents in Times Square caused by the appearance of a woman in white in the middle of the road and the mysterious opening of a manhole that doesn’t seem to lead to anywhere.” Robert’s about to give her that look again, she can tell. “No, seriously, look!” She shoves her phone in his face, the article already pulled up. He scans it quickly, his eyebrows vanishing into his hair before he schools his expression into something suitably disapproving.
“I thought you were taking Morgan to school so you could get in some Grown-up Girl Bonding Time.”
“That’s still the plan, unless something’s changed.” Nancy’s trying really hard not to get snippy, but sometimes, Robert can just be so frustrating. She gets that he’s protective of Morgan, she does, and she’s known him since around the time Christina left, so she understands why he’s so wary of allowing someone in, but they’ve been dating for years now and Morgan still barely knows her.
“Nancy, you’re taking a strange woman along with you! She caused an accident in the middle of Times Square, she’s clearly delusional—”
“Robert, do you really not trust me with Morgan that much?” she fires back. “Yes, okay, she’s a little out of it—”
“A little?” he snorts. “Nancy, the woman’s either taken too much Xanax or she belongs in an institution.”
“You can’t tell me you disagree.”
“The Xanax? Maybe. I don’t think she’s nuts enough to belong in a nut-house—”
“Come on. She’s clearly out-of-touch with reality. She’s talking about animals making clothes.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you she somehow got...animals to clean my apartment, right?” (She’s careful to avoid giving specifics; if she even so much as mentions the 'roaches, Robert will definitely not let Morgan anywhere near her again, never mind that his apartment’s more of a sty than Nancy’s ever was.)
Robert gives her a look that tells her quite clearly he’s about to check her into an institution.
“Right, okay, forget I said anything.” Nancy sighs and shifts her weight from foot to foot as she watches Morgan and Giselle get ridiculously excited about Giselle’s animal friends. Something about a...pip? It’s not quite clear. “But seriously, Robert, she was in my apartment all night and this morning, and the worst she did was use up most of the hot water and cut up my curtains to make a dress.” She can tell he’s about to say something about that, so she hurries on. “Really not a big deal, I was planning to get new ones anyway. And she made breakfast, and cleaned the apartment, and was generally very nice even though I ruined her highly elaborate dress.” She gestures at the other two. “And she’s clearly very good with Morgan.”
“She’s filling her head with all kinds of ideas about romance and fantasy,” Robert retorts, his expression flat. Nancy resists the urge to groan; must he always be so maddeningly pragmatic? She settles for pinching the bridge of her nose instead.
“Look, Robert, I’m taking her to work with me,” she says. “I couldn’t leave her in the apartment, and I wasn’t about to kick her out onto the street when she’s clearly got nowhere to go. On top of that, girl’s got mad sewing skills; she made that dress this morning from my curtains. We’re still swamped at work with all those orders for custom dresses for that ball tomorrow night, and I could use the extra pair of hands. So she kind of has to come along.” She can see Robert starting to waver a little in the face of her rationality, but he’s not quite willing to give in yet.
“Daddy, Daddy!” Morgan runs over, pulling his hand. “Giselle says she’s coming with Nancy to drop me to school!” She turns to Nancy, and takes her hand, too. “Is she? Is she?”
Nancy can see Robert caving by the minute. She grins, deciding to press her advantage.
“Only if Daddy says it’s okay,” she says. Robert shoots her a glare, essentially saying You know I hate being the bad guy with his eyebrows, but he’s lost this round and he knows she knows it.
“It’s okay,” he says grudgingly. Morgan cheers and runs back to Giselle, jumping up and down and clapping her hands. Nancy takes Robert’s recently-released hand and squeezes it.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get her safely to school. I’ll even text you when I’ve dropped her off, just for your peace of mind.” She pauses, then decides it’s safe to add, “And anyway, isn’t the whole point of this getting all of us more comfortable together? You’ve got to trust me, Robert.”
“Yeah, it’s just...”
“I know.” She gives him a quick kiss and releases his hand after one final squeeze. “You can’t protect her from everything.”
“I know.” He kisses her lightly, returning her grin with one of his oh-so-dashing smiles that never fails to make her weak in the knees. “Thanks for doing this. Even if you are taking the crazy person along for the ride.”
“Thanks for letting me do it.” She turns to Giselle and Morgan. “Come on, girls, you ready to kick it?”
“Kick...what?” Morgan asks, her face screwing up with confusion.
“Oh, kicking’s not very nice,” Giselle adds. “We shouldn’t kick anything.”
Nancy just sighs and pulls them out of the apartment, wishing Robert a good day. He offers her the same, with a look that clearly says better you than me. She resists the urge to stick her tongue out at him—just barely.
Someone has to be the adult for Grown-up Girl Bonding Time.
“Robert’s lovely,” Giselle says as the taxi pulls away from Morgan’s school. “Morgan, too.”
“Mm,” Nancy murmurs, absorbed by her phone. She just texted Robert to confirm Morgan got to school in one piece—and happier than Nancy’s ever seen her—and now she’s noticing the endless flood of e-mails from work. May, May, May, Shipping, Human Resources, May, May, Order confirmation, May, Angry Customer...oh, today is going to be a mess. Nancy can feel it in her bones.
“How long have you known each other?” Giselle continues.
“Five years,” Nancy replies, absently tapping out a response to May to just chill, she'll be there soon.
“And he hasn’t proposed?” Giselle demands with a gasp. Nancy sighs and tucks her Blackberry back into her purse. This conversation is clearly going to take all her attention.
“It’s...complicated. There’s Morgan to think of, of course; Robert wants to be absolutely sure before he brings anyone permanently into her life. And we haven’t been dating for all that time; we got to know each other right around the time his wife left him—”
“But how could she leave? Weren’t they in love?”
Nancy rubs her temples.
“Giselle, it really isn’t my place to talk to you about this. This is Robert’s story to tell, not mine.”
“But they were in love, right?”
“Of course they were. But they had their problems, too, and when half of marriages these days end in divorce—”
Oh, God. Giselle doesn’t—? Well, she’s not going to take this well.
“It’s when two people who are married decide they don’t want to be married any more, so they...separate. And stop being married.”
“Forever and ever?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” Oh, God, now Giselle’s crying. “Giselle, don’t cry, it’s okay—”
“No, it’s not!” Nancy half-expects Giselle to stomp her foot. “What kind of awful place is this, where people who love each other can just...can just...stop and separate forever?” She sniffs. “I don’t like it here, I want to go home.”
Nancy’s stomach doesn’t drop at that. Definitely not.
“I...” Nancy takes Giselle’s hand in her own. “I’m sorry, Giselle. But for every marriage that ends in divorce, there are the ones where the people stay together forever and ever, because they’re truly in love.” She pauses. “And I hope that’s what I’ll have with Robert.” And then, because she can’t really think of anything better with which to comfort the crying girl in front of her: “And I know it’s what you’ll have with Edward.”
That seems to do the trick. Giselle straightens up, blinking her tears away. “Well, of course, he’s my true love!” Giselle sniffs again, then looks around. “Where are the birds with handkerchiefs for me to dry my tears?”
Nancy snorts. “You can’t possibly believe—” Then she catches the look on Giselle’s face. “Oh, oh, you do.” She tilts her head. “What rich romantic planet are you from?”
“Planet?” Giselle asks.
She can’t possibly be real. How do you even begin to explain what a planet is?
Well. That’s why God invented Wikipedia and smartphones.
“It’s...a large spherical body in the sky that circles a star,” Nancy says, looking at the page on her Blackberry and trying to parse it into Giselle-speak. “We’re on a planet; it’s called Earth.”
“I thought this place was called New York.”
“New York is a city on Earth. A city is a very small place compared to a planet.”
Giselle looks out the window again, turning her head from side to side as she tries to take everything in.
“Then a planet must be very big,” she finally declares. “I can’t even see the Valley of Contentment from here.”
“The Valley of...” Nancy shakes her head in disbelief. “I’m really having trouble believing this place you come from—”
“Andalasia,” Giselle inserts helpfully.
“Andalasia,” Nancy repeats. “Right. I...still can’t quite believe it exists.”
“Oh, but it does!” Giselle sits up excitedly, gesticulating wildly. “And it’s wonderful, the sun is always shining, the animals all talk and are so helpful, and everyone’s happy and so nice...” For a moment, Nancy’s sure Giselle’s going to break out in song—and, sadly enough, that wouldn’t be at all strange, not after the day she’s been having. But Giselle looks down, her hands settling back into her lap.
“And there’s love, true love that lasts forever and ever,” she adds quietly. “It’s the most beautiful place in the world.” She looks unbearably sad, tears hovering on her eyelashes again.
Before she can even think about it, Nancy reaches over and pulls the other woman into a tight hug. Giselle hugs her back, shaking just a little as she cries quietly into Nancy’s shoulder.
After a few minutes, Giselle sits up, wiping at her eyes.
“Thank you,” she says shakily. “You’re so kind, Nancy; I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t found you.”
“Really, it’s the least I could do,” Nancy replies, her own voice a little unsteady. She doesn’t want to think about where Giselle would be, either; New York isn’t a nice place for a girl on her own. But that’s not worth dwelling on. She sits up, straightening her clothes.
“Right,” she says briskly, pulling a pack of tissues from her purse and handing it to Giselle. “I don’t have a bird or a hanky, you’ll have to make do with Kleenex.”
“Kleenex?” And there’s the bewildered look again, familiar and exasperating but infinitely preferable to the tears.
“Tissues?” Nancy attempts. Giselle looks as confused as before. Nancy sighs—she seems to be doing a lot of that lately. “Disposable handkerchiefs.”
“Oh!” Giselle takes the package, pulls out a tissue, and blows her nose loudly before dabbing at her eyes daintily. Nancy resists the urge to laugh at the contradiction. It’s also terribly adorable—which, to be honest, is true of almost everything Giselle does. “Everything here is so strange.”
Nancy laughs. “You’re not alone in thinking that, trust me.”
Giselle’s answering smile is no less bright for the tears still dotting her face. Nancy tries to ignore the twist of guilt in her abdomen; it’s hardly her fault that Giselle (presumably) comes from a land of sunshine and rainbows where love is forever and divorce isn’t even a word. It’s also certainly not her fault that Giselle seems to feel everything.
It just means Giselle belongs here even less than Nancy thought she did.
Nancy walks in on a total disaster scene. People are running everywhere, bolts of fabric clutched in their arms as they navigate the sewing machines set up haphazardly all over the workroom. May stands in the middle of the storm, the eye of the hurricane, arms akimbo as she yells over the din. Her hair’s a mess; it looks like she’s been running her hands through it every few minutes in frustration. The measuring tape draped around her neck swings out dangerously as she whips around to catch some unfortunate intern’s arm.
“No, no,” May snaps, looking a little bit wild, consulting the clipboard in her free hand. “The blue silks are for Mrs. Peterson’s dress, the cerulean silks aren’t period-appropriate, and if I see any more magenta anywhere, I’m going to fire all of your asses.” To punctuate her statement, she pulls out a bolt of magenta satin and throws it to the ground.
“May?” Nancy says hesitantly, approaching her coworker slowly. Giselle trails behind her, looking around with that seemingly-permanent air of wonder.
May turns around and her face lights up with relief.
“Nancy!” She runs over. “Oh my God, I’m so glad to see you, this is such a mess.”
“I can see that,” Nancy says dryly, pointedly looking at the chaos surrounding them. “What, exactly, happened?”
“Five rush orders for that same damned ball came in between last night and now, on top of the ten we already have to finish. And they all want theirs to be unique, and period-appropriate—as if they even know what period they’re trying to be in—and if I see any more hoop skirts, I swear I will cry.”
“Oh, don’t cry!” Giselle chirps, waltzing over. She picks up the bolt of magenta fabric and starts unwinding it, running the silky material through her fingers.
“Who’s this?” May eyes her askance. Nancy can see May’s fingers twitching with the urge to retrieve the fabric from Giselle and roll it back up. She sighs and resists the urge to massage her forehead for the fifth time this morning.
“This is Giselle,” she says, delicately snagging the satin from Giselle’s hands and folding it neatly. “She’s...well, she’s Giselle.” There really isn’t any way to explain just who Giselle is without sounding unhinged in front of her staff. May’s expression turns evaluative, and Nancy suddenly has a sinking feeling that Joanne’s already told May all about the conversation they had last night.
Not now, she mouths, shaking her head hurriedly as May starts to say something. May closes her mouth, but shoots her a look that very clearly says, We are so talking about this later. Nancy rolls her eyes.
“Giselle,” she says, grabbing Giselle’s hand and pulling her forward, “can sew very well. She made her dress just this morning.” May’s eyes sweep over Giselle, lips pursing.
“Are those your—”
“Yes,” Nancy cuts in hurriedly. “So Giselle’s going to give us a hand with everything, right, Giselle?” But when she turns to Giselle for confirmation, she’s not there.
Concerned—the woman came out of a manhole and generated a five-car pile-up in the middle of Times Square, for pete’s sake, and then there were the cockroaches this morning—Nancy looks around hurriedly. She finds Giselle sitting at a sewing machine, the needle practically flying across the hem of a large maroon skirt as she operates the machine as if she were born to it. Thirty seconds later, she stands up, cuts the thread, and hands the now-finished skirt to the stunned woman standing behind her.
“Did she just—” May begins, then shakes her head as she stares at Giselle in something resembling awe. Nancy’s sure she looks just as flabbergasted as her friend.
“Yeah,” she breathes, unable to tear her eyes away. She watches as Giselle flits around the workspace, arranging panels and tweaking patterns as she goes. Every now and again, she swaps out a swatch of fabric for a different color or type of cloth, and Nancy has to admit she’s got an eye for this sort of thing. More than that, her cheerful energy seems to be infectious; everyone she talks to relaxes, the harried looks on their faces fading into wide smiles. It’s kind of terrifying even as it’s a huge relief.
And then Giselle starts singing.
It’s like something lifted straight from a musical. Everyone straightens up, and when Giselle hits the chorus, they all stand and start dancing and singing along, expressions of pure joy on their faces. This isn’t a song Nancy’s ever heard, and from the bemused looks she’s getting from the people around her (when they aren’t singing beatifically), she’s not alone. From what she can tell when she herself isn’t swept away in the magic (there’s no other word for it, Robert and his pragmatism be damned) of the moment, it’s about singing a song while you work and therefore maintaining your focus and increasing your productivity. (She tries very hard not to think of Snow White or Mary Poppins, but it’s somewhat inevitable.)
More than that, spoonful of sugar and all, it seems to be working. The room is suddenly filled with the sound of sewing machine, and ballgowns are flying—almost literally—onto the dress racks around the room. Nancy knows she should probably be worried about potential safety hazards, especially given that everyone’s throwing scissors and pincushions around, but she can’t help the grin that spreads across her face. Giselle, for all her idealism and naïveté, isn’t completely helpless; right now, in fact, she’s more helpful than Nancy ever thought anyone could be.
Even when the singing and dancing stop and everyone falls back into their normal flurry of activity, there’s still a hum of happy energy buzzing through the room. Giselle, in particular, looks happier than Nancy’s seen her. It’s a nice contrast to the cab ride over here, and Nancy's struck by how beautiful Giselle looks when she smiles like that.
“I don’t know where you found her,” May comments breathlessly from behind Nancy, startling her from her reverie, “but can we keep her?” Nancy turns to see May beaming as she ticks things off on her clipboard. “We may actually be able to get out of here without having to pay everyone massive overtime tonight.”
Nancy nods as she sags against a nearby table in relief. “Yeah,” she agrees. “I knew she’d be able to help when I brought her in, but I didn’t expect...this.” She waves her hand vaguely at the room.
“Yeah,” May says. Her grin turns positively wicked. “Joanne wasn’t kidding when she said you brought a Disney princess home. All she’s missing are the woodland creatures doing her every bidding.”
“Oh, no,” Nancy says absently. “That was this morning.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
Nancy’s eyes find Giselle across the room, where she’s currently turning the hated magenta fabric into ribbons and trim. She’s practically glowing with joy; Nancy couldn't look away even if she wanted to.
“I almost wish I were.”
Several hours later, they’re making good progress, so Nancy takes Giselle out for lunch. She buys Giselle her first hot dog (and explaining to Giselle that no, it’s not actually a dog, it’s just called that, is all kinds of fun; Nancy’s just glad she manages to keep herself from saying it’s made from pigs, because she’s pretty sure Giselle would break down on the spot) and gets a giant pretzel for herself, and they wander aimlessly through the park.
Nancy can't help her smile as she watches Giselle take everything in with child-like wonder, stopping every minute or so to exclaim over something new—a caricaturist, the ever-present buskers, the children playing hopscotch. She’s particularly drawn to the couples who are walking around; she keeps going up to them and telling them how in love they must be, how lovely they are, how they’re so lucky to have each other. It’s kind of adorable with the old couple sitting on the bench in front of the duck pond; it’s more than a little bit awkward when Giselle’s talking about eternal love with the twenty-somethings who are clearly out on their first date.
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” Nancy comments, tugging at Giselle to get her to leave the clearly uncomfortable pair alone.
“Stop doing what?” Giselle asks innocently, before turning back to the couple, who are trying their hardest to get away. She waves at them with a sunny smile. “I hope you have a wonderful life together!” she calls. The girl smiles back faintly and pulls on her date’s arm, clearly telegraphing let’s get away from the crazy person now. Nancy shoots them an apologetic glance before turning to Giselle.
“That,” she said pointedly. “You can’t just randomly go up to people you don’t know and tell them they’ll be happy together forever!”
“You just...don’t, okay?” Nancy sighs, longing for the Advil in the top drawer of her desk. “There’s so much you don’t know about them; you don’t know how long they’ve been together, if they even are together, if they’re just trying things out to see how they get along...”
“But if they’re kissing, then they must hold each other’s hearts,” Giselle says, looking confused. “Why would you kiss anyone if they’re not your true love?”
“Love is—complicated,” Nancy tries. “I told you about divorce, yeah?” Giselle’s lower lip trembles threateningly, so Nancy quickly plows ahead. “So...there’s that. And falling in love is a process. You don’t just meet and say, ‘Hey, you look kind of nice, let’s get married and be together forever!’ You have to get to know each other, you have to know if you’re compatible, you have to know the other person’s likes and dislikes—”
“But you just know,” Giselle protests. “When you meet that special someone, and you kiss, then you know they’re the one for you forever and ever.”
“There’s a lot more to love than kissing,” Nancy says with a laugh, shaking her head at the way Giselle seems alternately worldly and naïve. Where on Earth does she get her ideas about love and relationships?
Giselle looks like she’s about to ask just what, exactly, that 'more' is—and won’t that be fun, having The Talk with a grown woman—when a stout, creepy little man steps into their path, brandishing a caramel apple and saying something about ‘Free Caramel Apple Day’ in a heavy Eastern European accent that makes her think of Boris Badenov.
“You don’t want to eat that,” Nancy says, stepping forward to keep Giselle from taking the apple. Didn't she ever learn not to take candy from strangers? “Those things have way too much sugar; you’ll be alternately hyper and nauseous for the rest of the day.” She’s pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to keep a sugar-high Giselle in check; life-high Giselle is bad enough.
The caramel apple man is glaring at her with such intensity that the words If looks could kill rise unbidden in Nancy’s head. He grabs a second apple off the cart and shoves it in her face.
“No, no, I insist!”
Okay, this guy is clearly off his rocker, but it’s probably better to take the apples and go than to stand here arguing.
“Right, okay, fine.” Nancy huffs and takes it, also grabbing the one that’s presumably for Giselle.
“Thank you, kind sir,” Giselle adds brightly, dipping a slight curtsy. Nancy rolls her eyes.
“Yes, thank you,” she says. She leans over to Giselle and lowers her voice. “Come on, Giselle, let’s get away from this guy. He creeps me out.”
“Oh, no, he seems very nice,” Giselle starts, but she lets herself be dragged away. Nancy doesn’t hesitate to dump the caramel apples in the first trash can she sees. The way that guy was acting, who knows what’s in them.
Neither woman notices the steam rising from the trash can as they walk away.
Robert calls just as Nancy finishes sewing the last bit of pink lace on a dress with a floral pattern that is distinctly not from any period.
“Hey, I know this is last-minute, but do you want to get dinner with us tonight?” he asks. She can hear Morgan talking excitedly in the background. “You said you’d be busy, I know, but Morgan really enjoyed spending time with you this morning, and I just thought—”
“I’d love to,” Nancy bursts out, thrilled that Robert’s proposing to do something with less than a week’s notice, and that he’s bringing his daughter along, no less.
“That’s great,” he says, and she can hear the smile in his voice. “Hang on, Morgan wants to talk.”
Another first. Nancy’s grin widens. “Sure, put her on.”
There’s a brief pause, and some shuffling noises, and then Morgan’s saying, “Nancy! Nancy! Can you bring Giselle, too?”
Nancy’s smile fades just a little bit. Right, of course Morgan wants to see Giselle, not her.
“Sure, honey,” she replies, putting on a brave face. “Let me just ask her if she wants to come.”
Giselle, of course, is thoroughly excited, and agrees happily. Morgan passes the phone back to Robert, and he and Nancy talk for a few more minutes before exchanging quick “Love you”s. Nancy’s smile is a little frozen when she hangs up.
She ignores May’s concerned look as she busies herself with finishing the dress sitting in front of her.
Dinner goes about as well as could be expected.
“No, okay, this fairytale romance idea you keep going on about, it doesn’t exist,” Robert says matter-of-factly to Giselle. “People don’t just...fall in love and stay together forever. Happily ever after doesn’t exist.”
“Well, of course it does!” Giselle shoots back, throwing her hands up in the air and nearly hitting a passing waiter (who looks oddly familiar, in a weasely sort of way, but Nancy’s sure she’d remember meeting someone with such a horrific porno mustache) in the face.
Nancy takes a sip of her wine, her stomach twisting uncomfortably. They’ve been going back and forth about this for the past several minutes; Morgan’s sitting in the booth across from them, folding napkins with a particularly kind seating hostess.
“I see this at work every day,” Robert is arguing, his intense gaze locking with Giselle’s. “People have problems, they fight, they divorce, it’s all a big mess. Love doesn’t last.”
“But what about you and Nancy?”
Nancy tries to hide behind her wine glass as Robert glances at her uncomfortably. There’s no way she can pretend she’s not listening to every word they’re saying—and even if she could, she’s not sure she’d want to.
“What about us?” he says cautiously.
“Well, you two are in love, right?”
“So don’t you think you two will be happy forever?”
“I’d...like that,” he hedges. Nancy feels the gentle pressure of his foot against hers under the table, and she smiles hesitantly at him. “But I don’t know for sure. No one does. It’s not that easy.”
“But if you love each other, and if you know it, it is that easy.”
“Well, what about you?” Robert tries, changing tack. “You and that prince of yours—”
“Edward,” Giselle says.
“Right, him. You were getting married, and then you end up wandering the streets of New York City in a giant wedding dress, and he’s nowhere to be found. You think that’s love? You really think he’s coming for you?”
“Robert,” Nancy cuts in quietly.
“No, she needs to face it, Nancy!” he exclaims. “Giselle, he’s not here. He’s not coming for you. Andalasia doesn’t exist.”
“Why are you saying these things?” Giselle practically wails. The people at the tables around them look over briefly. Nancy wills the floor to open up and swallow her whole. “He’s coming, of course he’s coming. He’s my true love, he’ll always come for me!”
Nancy suddenly feels ill. She stands up hurriedly.
“Bathroom,” she says quietly. Giselle and Robert don't even look up at her, too absorbed in glaring at each other. She can just barely hear Robert say, “True love’s a fantasy,” as she walks away, and she quickens her step.
The door to the bathroom slams shut behind her. She splashes cold water on her face and sighs as she leans on the sink and looks in the mirror, the water still running.
She knows how Robert feels about love and romance; she’s always known. He’s always been the pragmatist, talking about getting to know each other and understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses as if they’re building a bridge instead of a relationship. But he’s kind, and sensitive, and he’s good to her. So what if he doesn’t call her on a whim just to hear her voice, or if he only sends her those e-cards on her birthday instead of real flowers? He doesn’t cheat; he’s always upfront with her. If the only complaint she has is that Robert’s got a highly underdeveloped sense of romance and spontaneity, she’s really got nothing to worry about.
Screams from the restaurant shake her from her thoughts. Feeling somewhat panicked—trouble does seem to follow Giselle wherever she goes—she shuts off the water, dries herself off hurriedly, and rushes back out.
It’s pure chaos; people are screaming, running in every direction (though the overall flow of motion seems to be towards the door). One woman yells something about a rat as she rushes past.
“It’s chewing off her face!” Nancy hears, and she finally manages to push her way through to get a good view of their table. Robert is holding Morgan protectively, staring at Giselle, who is...talking to a chipmunk?
Nancy rushes toward them, just barely avoiding being hit in the face by the broom the waiter from earlier is wielding.
“Edward is here!” Giselle exclaims, bouncing in her seat. Nancy freezes for a moment, and then:
“Duck!” Robert yells, and the broom is swinging around again like a particularly lethal weapon as the waiter tries to smash the chipmunk and Giselle hurriedly moves out of the way. Nancy intercepts her, bundling her away from the crazed man. She hears the crunch of glass underfoot, and looks down to see the remains of a martini glass, reddish liquid puddled around it on the floor. Odd.
Then Morgan exclaims, “The pizza’s breathing!” The waiter pounces; Nancy, Robert, Morgan, and Giselle are unable to look away as he picks up the pizza and throws it into the oven with a flourish.
Nancy stares in mute shock as Giselle turns away and sobs into her shoulder.
The next hour is a haze of police statements, firemen, animal control, and news vans. All the local channels want to pull Giselle aside for an ‘exclusive interview’ as the woman with the distinct honor of being savaged by this fearsome creature; Robert and Nancy run determined interference, glaring most of the reporters into submission when they try to approach. After several tense minutes, the fire investigator announces that there’s no evidence of rodent remains in the oven, and they all breathe a little easier.
(If someone had told Nancy even half a day ago that she’d be worried about what happened to a chipmunk, she reflected with no small amusement, she’d have checked them into the nearest psych ward herself.)
One particularly persistent reporter manages to accost them as they’re crossing the street to return to Robert’s place, but Nancy manages to get Giselle away before she says anything truly condemning. Luckily, the City’s got enough oddballs that a pretty woman calling a chipmunk her very best friend doesn’t even merit a batted eyelash.
The walk up to Robert’s apartment is quiet. Giselle is very clearly meditating on the sudden arrival of Pip and Edward’s imminent appearance; Morgan is half-asleep in her father’s arms. Robert and Nancy avoid looking at each other, neither quite willing to say anything just yet.
As soon as Robert opens the door and sets his daughter down, she drags Giselle off to her room for a bedtime story. Robert and Nancy stand in the hallway, still not quite meeting each other’s eyes as they hear Giselle tell Morgan a story about Pip, a wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood that sounds distinctly different from the usual telling of the tale.
“She really is very good with Morgan,” Robert says quietly, acknowledging their conversation from this morning. He tears his glance away from the door to Morgan’s room and looks down at Nancy, a faint smile on his face.
“She is,” Nancy agrees with a tiny smile of her own.
“Nancy, about earlier, at dinner—” Robert begins. She raises her hand.
“Don’t, Robert.” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.” He looks at her carefully, his blue eyes probing.
“Okay,” he finally says. “But—”
“Tomorrow,” she says firmly. “I...need some time to think.”
“Okay,” he says again. He kisses her lightly and she lets him wrap an arm around her, holding her close. She leans into him, turning so her back is pressed against his chest. He kisses the top of her head. “Okay.”
They stand there in silence until Giselle comes out of Morgan’s room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
“That was a really nice story,” Robert says. “About your chipmunk friend.”
“Thanks,” Giselle says, ducking her head a little with her usual sunny smile. She glances at the two of them, her eyes drawn to Robert’s arm around Nancy’s waist. Her smile fades slightly. “I...are you—”
“We’re okay,” Nancy says quietly, not looking at Robert as she untangles herself and picks up her purse. “You ready to go?” Giselle nods, still looking faintly uncertain.
“I’ll call you tomorrow?” Robert asks, taking Nancy’s hand. Nancy nods.
“Good night, Robert.” She leans up to kiss him.
“‘Night,” he says when they break apart. They smile at each other, and then Nancy releases Robert’s hand, taking Giselle’s as she walks out the door.
She’s thinking how much she could use a drink when her phone buzzes; it’s a text from Joanne. She reads it and then looks over at Giselle, raising an eyebrow.
“How do you feel about karaoke?”
Giselle blinks. “Carry-what?”
Nancy laughs, suddenly feeling much better.
An hour-and-a-half later, Nancy, Giselle, and Joanne are crowded around a table at Joanne’s favorite karaoke bar. Nancy’s satisfactorily distracted from thoughts about Robert, already two drinks in and three songs down; Joanne keeps signing her up for Broadway songs and not taking no for an answer. At least they’re not sappy love ballads.
Onstage, May finishes singing “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Their little table cheers loudly for her as she bows and jumps down, shoving her way to them through the crowd. She slides into her seat, downing the shot of vodka that Joanne solicitously places in front of her before taking her hand.
“Thanks, babe,” she says, grinning before she leans in and kisses Joanne very thoroughly. From the corner of her eye, Nancy sees Giselle’s brow furrow quizzically, but she doesn’t say anything.
“So, Giselle!” Joanne says once May lets her go, the two looking completely mussed and quite pleased with themselves. “Tell us about your prince. What’s he like?” She completely ignores Nancy’s glare. She does not want to hear about Edward, endearing as Giselle's enthusiasm about him may be.
“Oh, Edward is wonderful! He’s kind, and handsome, and such a strong fighter—he saved me from a troll, you know, that’s how we met.”
“Lovely,” Nancy mutters, taking a large gulp of her cosmopolitan.
“So...love at first sight?” May throws out. Giselle nods enthusiastically. “How long before he proposed?”
“Oh, about a minute,” she says, sighing dreamily. She plays with the paper umbrella tucked into her piña colada.
The other three women stare.
“You mean it felt like a minute because you were so in love,” Nancy says.
“No, it was really a minute.”
“And how long have you actually known this guy?” Joanne asks, her eyes narrowing.
“A day.” Giselle beams. “And tomorrow it will be two days, and after that—”
“You're joking,” Joanne says incredulously.
“No.” Giselle shakes her head. She looks around the table, taking in their disbelieving looks, and her smile starts to fade. “Wouldn’t you marry someone the instant you knew you loved them?”
Nancy studiously avoids looking at Joanne and May, and pretends she doesn’t notice the way their knuckles go white on the table where they’re holding hands.
“Even then, a minute—or even a day—isn’t long enough to get to know someone well enough to be certain you want to spend a lifetime with them,” Nancy says. “You have to date.”
“You go some place special, like a restaurant, or a movie, or the theater, or a museum, and you get to know each other. You talk.”
“Talk? What do you talk about?”
“Yourselves,” May says helpfully. “Your likes, your dislikes; your plans, your goals, what you want out of life—”
“But don’t you all want the same thing?” Giselle asks. The other three women exchange a look.
“What would that be?” Joanne asks delicately.
“To live happily ever after, of course, after sharing true love’s kiss!”
“True love’s kiss?” May repeats. She gives Nancy a look that very clearly reads is she for real?
“It’s the most powerful thing in the world!” Giselle says reverently. Her eyes are suddenly very intense. Nancy suddenly feels quite breathless. “Surely you must know that.”
The heavy silence at the table is broken by the DJ calling Joanne and May’s names; they cast knowing glances at Nancy before they troop to the stage to belt out “Dancing Queen,” their perennial karaoke favorite.
Nancy drains her glass, studiously avoiding Giselle’s all-too-enticing gaze.
Nancy’s still humming “Barbie Girl” under her breath when she and Giselle stumble back into her apartment, both more tipsy than not.
“You can brush my hair, undress me anywhere,” she sings, pulling off her coat with a flourish and dumping it and her purse on one of the chairs in the living room before sinking onto the couch. “Come on Barbie, let’s go party,” she continues, beckoning to Giselle, who collapses next to her, giggling.
“That was fun!” she says. “Carry—cracky—”
“Karaoke,” Nancy supplies helpfully.
“Yes, that,” Giselle says. “I liked that a lot. Do you do that all the time?”
Nancy laughs. “Honey, having you here is like walking around with a living, breathing karaoke machine.” She pauses. “Or a Disney princess. Or both.”
“Not a princess,” Giselle corrects. “Not yet.”
“Details.” Nancy waves her hand absently. She stands up with a sigh, stretching her back. She hears something pop, and winces. “I’m going to get us some water so we can try to not have hangovers in the morning. Do you want anything else?”
“A shower!” Giselle says with a grin. “It’s so wonderful, why don’t we have them in Andalasia? I really must talk to Edward about that.”
Nancy sighs as she pulls out two glasses and fills them under the tap. Edward again.
“You don’t think he’s coming,” Giselle says shrewdly, taking the offered glass. Nancy sits down on the couch.
“I’d like to believe he is,” she says. “If it really is true love between the two of you—”
“It is.” Nancy tells herself she's only her imagining that Giselle sounds less confident than usual.
“Then I hope, for your sake, that he’s coming.”
The silence sits almost oppressively between them for several minutes.
“Nancy?” Giselle’s voice is quiet, tentative.
“You believe in true love, don’t you?”
Nancy straightens up and looks at Giselle carefully. The other woman is staring into her glass of water, looking somewhat...lost.
“Yes,” Nancy says gently. “I do.”
Nancy shakes her head. “It’s complicated.”
“Everything here is complicated,” Giselle huffs, setting her water glass down with extra force, the liquid sloshing dangerously. “It’s so...so—” she seems to be struggling to find the right word—“frustrating. Why can’t you just be sure you love someone? Why can’t you just be with whoever you love? Why do you have to spend so long waiting to be happy?” She looks at Nancy. “You’re not happy.”
“I...” Nancy sighs, shakes her head. “Not entirely.”
“May and Joanne are happy.”
“They must love each other very much, to kiss so much.”
Nancy laughs at that. “They do.”
“But they’re not married.”
“No.” Nancy sighs again. “It’s—”
“Complicated,” Giselle says with her. They smile at each other.
“I envy them, though,” Nancy says after a minute or two, settling back into the couch. “They’re so obviously in love, they’re comfortable with being romantic, they don’t question themselves every second minute, they don’t plan everything out five steps ahead.” Her smile turns wry. “I almost wish I had that.”
“Robert...isn’t really into being spontaneous or romantic. I know he loves me, but I just wish he’d show it more, you know?” Giselle nods. Nancy’s on a roll now; she continues, “It’s just so hard sometimes to remember that he loves me, or even to remember that I love him. He’s so...practical and rational all the time. He calls it building a partnership, as if we’re two corporations considering a merger, not two people trying to connect with each other as deeply as possible.” She flushes a little.
“And I wish we’d go out more. Like...like that ball, the one that we have to make all those dresses for?” Giselle nods again, a little more enthusiastically. “We’ve made so many that they gave me two free tickets. And I asked Robert if he wanted to go, but all he said was that he doesn’t dance.” She sighs, leaning back and looking at the ceiling. “We don’t have to dance, but it would’ve been nice to go and see it, you know?”
“Nancy,” Giselle cuts in gently, laying a hand on hers. Nancy turns to look at her. “It’s...okay to want those things. He can’t take you for granted, and you shouldn’t let him.” Giselle frowns. “But if you really love him...”
“Yeah,” Nancy says. “Yeah, I know. I just...wish it could be easy.” She doesn’t say that sometimes she isn’t sure how much she loves Robert, that she’s not always sure how much of them being together is simply due to the fact that they’ve been together for so long, caught in a perpetual state of inertia.
“Love should be easy.”
“For you, maybe,” Nancy teases with a grin.
Giselle’s smile is a little dimmer than usual as she replies, “I suppose it is.” Nancy turns her hand so her palm is to Giselle’s. She squeezes lightly.
“Giselle, I—” She’s not sure what she’s going to say, but then Giselle’s gaze locks with hers and all thoughts fly out of her head. Giselle’s eyes are intense, more striking than Nancy’s ever seen them—and all of that focus is on her. Nancy starts to feel light-headed. She feels herself leaning in, and Giselle mirroring the gesture, her eyes landing on Nancy’s lips before they start to close...
And then Nancy’s brain starts working again, and she sits back suddenly, pulling her hand away and sitting on it.
“I should...” She waves her other hand absently, then notices it and sits on it as well. Giselle looks a little shell-shocked. Nancy stands. “Bed,” she says firmly. “We should sleep.”
“Yes,” Giselle breathes, still staring at Nancy. Then she shakes her head rapidly. “Yes,” she agrees more firmly. “Sleep would be good.”
Nancy nods jerkily, standing abruptly. “I...good night, Giselle.”
“Good night.” Giselle curls up on the couch, hugging her knees to her chest. “Sweet dreams.”
“You too,” Nancy replies. As she leaves the room, she hears, very faintly behind her:
“Oh. Oh my.”
Nancy’s woken the next morning by the obscenely loud ringing of her cellphone. She groans as she turns over to look at the screen, her head throbbing; it’s Robert. Why would he be calling so early?
“Hello?” she croaks.
“Nancy?” Robert’s voice is clear, if a little frantic.
“Is Giselle still at your place?”
Nancy blinks. She can’t think why Giselle wouldn’t be; but maybe she left in the night, after they—after. She quickly gets out of bed, wincing as that makes her headache worse, and peeks into the living room. She breathes a sigh of relief when she sees Giselle still asleep on the couch.
“Nancy?” Robert sounds worried.
“Yeah, she is,” Nancy replies. She smiles fondly when she sees the cut-up pile of tablecloths lying next to Giselle, and a new dress laid out on the coffee table. “Why?”
“Her—prince. What was his name?”
“Edward, I think.” She frowns. “Robert, what’s going on?”
“I think he’s in my apartment.”
The phone falls to the floor with a loud clatter.
Robert arrives soon after that, Edward and Morgan in tow, and then everything moves so fast that Nancy can hardly keep up.
Edward is every inch a prince; he looks like something out of a fairytale book, and Nancy can instantly understand why Giselle loves him so much. He’s gorgeous and sweet (even if he is a little dim)—but more than that, he clearly adores her. Giselle’s definitely happy to see him, but something about her smile is...off. And then she doesn’t sing, even though Edward’s clearly expecting her to join him in a duet.
And then she asks him out on a date. Robert looks quizzically at Nancy, who can only smile, even as Edward stands and whisks Giselle out of the apartment, the other three following to say their good-byes.
“It was lovely meeting you,” Giselle says, smiling brightly. Some of the joy fades when her eyes land on Nancy. “Nancy...thank you so much for everything.”
“You’re welcome,” Nancy says, smiling as she tries her best to keep from crying. “The pleasure was all mine.”
“No,” Giselle shakes her head. “Really, I don’t know what I would have done without you.” Nancy reaches out to squeeze her hand comfortingly, but Giselle pulls her into a tight hug. “Take care,” she breathes. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” Nancy says, hugging her back with all her might. Giselle releases her and moves to hug Robert—she whispers something in his ear, and he frowns, looking at Nancy, who shrugs and tries to look innocent—and then Morgan, who’s got tears in her eyes.
“And remember that...you’re always welcome to visit Andalasia whenever you’d like,” Giselle says, her hands twisting together.
“Sure,” Robert says, pulling Nancy to his side and resting a hand on Morgan’s shoulder. “And if you’re ever in town, we should all...get dinner some time.” They all smile tightly, no doubt remembering last night’s slightly disastrous meal.
Some perverse instinct in Nancy forces her to say, “Good luck on your date.” Giselle straightens.
“Thank you," she says. "And you...good luck, all of you. With everything.”
“Thanks,” Robert says. Nancy nods, finding it hard to speak around the lump that's suddenly appeared in her throat.
Edward steps forward, clearing his throat. “Thank you for taking care of my bride, peasants.” Nancy chokes out a laugh even as Robert looks offended and Morgan frowns in confusion.
And then Edward takes Giselle’s hand and leads her away.
“I’m going to really miss her,” Morgan says forlornly.
“Me too,” Nancy says. Robert kisses her forehead.
“She’ll be all right.”
Nancy watches Giselle and Edward vanish into the milling morning crowd, doing her best to ignore the tightness in her chest.
But will I?
Nancy spends most of the morning in a daze, alternating between working furiously to finish the few dresses that need to be tweaked for the ball that night and staring off into space. May keeps shooting her worried looks but says nothing.
Giselle’s gone, probably already back in Andalasia and marrying Edward by now. Nancy’s not sure why she ever expected anything else might happen; Giselle was so certain that it seems silly to have doubted her at all. And Giselle believes so strongly in true love that she’d likely written the previous night off as an aberration, as something strange that’s one of the complications so prevalent in this world’s version of love.
Nancy absent-mindedly wonders if saying “as you wish” at any point would have induced Giselle to recognize Nancy’s feelings and stay, and then snorts at herself. She knows this whole situation is ridiculous; no one falls in love in a day, and almost-princesses engaged to princes don’t fall for fashion designers, not even in the most far-fetched of fairytales. It doesn’t stop her from wishing, though, that things had been different...
“Nancy!” May calls, interrupting Nancy’s train of self-pity. “You’ve got a visitor.” She’s beaming, so it must be someone unusual. Nancy jumps up, for a moment believing that it’s Giselle, that she hasn’t left, that she’s realized she wants to stay here with Nancy...
It’s not Giselle. It’s Robert.
He’s standing there in his gray suit, looking handsome as ever. He smiles widely as he holds out a gorgeous bouquet of red roses, and she gasps; she can’t remember the last time he bought her real flowers. She takes them from him, inhaling deeply.
“These are exquisite, Robert,” she breathes. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he says, his grin threatening to take over his face. He holds out an envelope. “Open it.”
She does, and nearly drops the roses in shock. They’re tickets to that ball tonight, the one for which she’s been slowly sacrificing her sanity as she works her fingers off.
“Do you like it?” he asks nervously, after she’s spent a good minute staring at the tickets. “Giselle said—”
“Giselle?” Her head snaps up. “What did she say?”
“She said I might want to...take you out dancing. And she may have mentioned flowers. And then I remembered you mentioning that ball, and so I called May, and she told me about the tickets, and, well—”
She throws her arms around him.
“It’s wonderful, Robert. So romantic...so spontaneous!” She kisses him. “Thank you.” A thought suddenly occurs to her. “Oh, but I don’t have anything to wear! And—you don’t, either, do you?”
He shakes his head. She laughs and drags him into the workroom.
“Come on, we’ve got a lot of work to do before tonight.”
And if she wishes she were going to the ball with Giselle instead?
She’ll never tell.
The ball is everything and nothing like Nancy expected. She’d thought she and Robert would stand off to one side, sipping champagne and commenting on the other couples in the room, maybe appreciating the live band and the gorgeous view. Instead, they’re actually dancing.
“I thought you couldn’t dance,” she says at one point, when he leads her through a particularly complicated reverse waltz.
“Didn’t,” he corrects. “I never said I couldn’t.” He dips her extravagantly as she laughs. She’s having so much fun that she can almost forget Giselle is gone—but then she'll see the maroon skirt that Giselle hemmed, or the magenta trim lining the panels of another woman’s dress, or the blue gown that Giselle completely redesigned, and she has to focus extra-hard to avoid tripping over Robert as her thoughts grind to a halt.
And then she looks up, and Giselle is right there, Edward by her side. She watches as Edward unfastens the cloak draped around Giselle’s shoulders, and freezes. Giselle looks stunning, in a purple dress that is definitely not 'period': it’s more modern than anything Nancy’s seen her wear, and she looks all the more striking for it.
“What’s she doing here?” Robert asks quietly, his eyes following hers. He doesn’t sound upset, just confused.
“I have no idea,” Nancy replies. She can tell the moment Giselle spots the two of them; a four-thousand-watt smile lights up her face, practically brightening the entire room, and she tugs on Edward’s arm, moving rapidly down the stairs with natural grace. Nancy smiles in return, moving slowly towards the stairs as if in a dream, Robert at her heels.
“Hi,” Giselle breathes when they reach each other. She hugs Nancy tightly.
“Hi,” Nancy echoes. She pulls away, holding Giselle at arm’s length. “You look...” She sweeps her arm up and down as she trails off, unable to find the right words.
“You too,” Giselle says, looking shy. There’s an uncomfortable silence as they release each other, each taking the arm of the man they came with.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” Nancy says, for lack of anything else to say. “I thought you’d be back in Andalasia by now.”
“Yes, well, our date ran rather long,” Giselle replies. "I wasn't ready to go back quite yet." Nancy notices Giselle doesn't call Andalasia home as she usually does.
“We’ll be going home after this,” Edward adds. Nancy’s stomach drops.
“How lovely,” she says. Her voice sounds strained even to her ears. Robert squeezes her hand comfortingly, and she smiles faintly up at him.
Giselle looks like she wants to say something, but she’s cut off by the MC announcing the King’s and Queen’s Waltz. Nancy allows herself to be led off by Edward as Robert walks Giselle to the floor.
Edward’s a skilled dancer, far more elegant than Robert, but Nancy only has eyes for Giselle as she waltzes across the floor. She thinks she catches Giselle watching her more than once, but it’s so fleeting that she can’t be sure. Toward the end of the dance, she finds herself next to Robert, and she taps him on the shoulder.
“May I cut in?” she asks. He raises an eyebrow at her but says nothing as he offers her Giselle’s hands.
Nancy’s not very good at leading, but she thinks she approximates it well enough. She tries her best to focus on not stepping on Giselle’s feet and avoiding crashing into any of the other couples, but she can’t pull her eyes away from Giselle’s. Giselle seems to be having the same problem.
For a few glorious moments, the world seems to drop away from them.
Then the music ends, and Edward is there, solicitously offering Giselle his arm and leading her to the stairs. Robert comes up behind Nancy, wrapping his arms around her as she watches them go.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Fine,” she replies, tearing her eyes away from Giselle’s retreating back. It won’t do her any good to watch Giselle leave for a second time.
She barely notices the partially-eaten apple that rolls into her foot a minute later.
A huge commotion at the top of the stairs suddenly catches everyone’s attention, and Nancy looks up to see Edward laying Giselle delicately on a couch and kneeling beside her. Her feet start moving of their own volition, and a few seconds later, she kneels next to the couch, feeling Giselle’s feverish forehead. Edward holds Giselle's limp hand in both his own, looking somewhat lost; Robert stands just off to the side, looking as concerned as Nancy feels.
“Call 911!” she hears someone say desperately. She realizes a second later that it’s her voice, and that Robert’s already on his cell phone.
“No, I don’t know what happened, I didn’t see,” he says agitatedly to the operator.
“She fainted,” a striking woman dressed in black, wearing some sort of horned headdress, supplies helpfully. Nancy starts; where the hell did she come from?
Then a squat man comes out from the shadows, saying things about old hags and poisoned apples. (And Nancy wants to laugh, because there's no way this can be Snow White; Giselle's so much stronger than that, so much more vibrant, so much more...everything.) Edward stands furiously, and there’s much discussion of thrones and kingdoms, but Nancy can’t focus, not when Giselle’s face is so pale and she doesn’t seem to be breathing.
“We have to help her!” Edward exclaims, kneeling back down beside the couch. “What can we do?”
“There’s no way of helping her,” the squat man says. “She’s done for." Nancy feels her heart breaking.
Wait. Her heart. Love.
“True love’s kiss,” she breathes. Everyone turns to look at her.
"What?" Edward gasps.
“It’s the most powerful thing in the world,” she explains.
“Yes, yes, of course!” And Edward—of course it’s Edward, of course, he’s Giselle’s true love even if Giselle may be Nancy’s—comes around the couch, Nancy helpfully getting out of the way as he sinks to his knees, tossing out, "I knew that," before he kisses Giselle once, twice, thrice.
“It’s not working!” he exclaims despairingly. The clock starts chiming; the woman in black laughs wickedly.
"You'll never save her now," she hisses. "When the clock strikes twelve"—and oh, it makes so much sense that everything has to happen before midnight; when did Nancy start living in a fairytale?—"she'll be dead." She seems to take singular pleasure in the word.
Nancy can see the panic settling in over everyone except the woman in black, who looks thoroughly pleased with herself despite the sword at her throat.
“No, it needs to work, it has to work!” Nancy says.
“It won’t,” Edward replies, though he kisses Giselle once more. The clock strikes six, and he stands, looking down at her. “Unless...” And then he strides over to Robert and drags him to the couch. “You kiss her!”
“Me?” Robert’s flabbergasted. “I barely know her, I only met her yesterday—”
“Just kiss her, Robert!” Nancy bursts out. As long as she’s alive, it doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter, she just has to live...
Robert isn’t Giselle’s true love, either. Nancy blinks away tears.
The clock strikes ten.
“Nancy,” Robert says gently. Startled, she meets his eyes uncertainly. He nods.
She leans down and kisses Giselle just as the clock strikes twelve.
After an excruciatingly long moment, Giselle’s eyes open, her bright blue gaze meeting Nancy’s brown.
“I knew it was you,” she whispers. Nancy chokes back a sob of relief as she leans down to kiss Giselle again.
And then there’s a dragon.
Nancy’s not entirely sure what happened between when the woman in black (Edward’s stepmother, the evil queen, who’d been trying to kill Giselle with poisoned apples to keep her claim to the throne, Nancy later learns; she thinks she really should have guessed) turned into a dragon (seriously, she wishes she were making this stuff up) and when she and Giselle were rescued from the rooftop of the Empire State Building by a veritable team of helicopters. She vaguely remembers falling, and there are two neat tears in the sleeve of her dress, as if something cut through it, but the details are fuzzy. The EMTs say that’s the stress talking; Giselle just laughs and says something about it being nice to be the one doing the catching for once.
“My hero,” Nancy deadpans. Giselle laughs again and and kisses her.
“No, I’m pretty sure that was you,” she retorts. And, well, Nancy has to kiss her again for that.
Things settle slowly after that.
Edward returns to Andalasia, Pip in tow, saying something about a fair maiden imprisoned in a tower by an evil wizard with a dragon or something equally unbelievable. (Giselle says she thinks it might be her distant cousin Arugula, so named after the herb that her mother ate all through her pregnancy. Nancy shakes her head and exchanges incredulous looks with Robert.)
Robert is more than understanding about everything. “After all,” he says with a wry smile when Nancy apologizes for the thirtieth time, “who am I to deny the call of true love?” (Two months later, he proves that he, too, is not immune when he meets a blonde surgical intern from Seattle who proves to be just as cynical as he is, if not more.)
Morgan is excited to have avoided a stepmother, instead gaining two aunts who spoil her rotten and tell her all kinds of fantastical stories about far-off lands filled with magic and love. Her closet is full of elaborate dress-up outfits, her bookshelves covered with books of fairytales, and Robert only smiles indulgently when she starts cutting up his curtains to make her own dresses.
May and Joanne do eventually get married, though theirs is never a quiet relationship. And, of course, the instant their gold wedding bands are on their fingers, they turn to Nancy and Giselle and demand the date for their wedding.
Nancy and Giselle decide to do things properly, taking the time to merge their lives. Giselle becomes a fashion designer in her own right, joining forces with Nancy to create Andalasia Fashions. They never have to costume a ball again. And they go on dates, most of which end up at the karaoke bar; they know it’s time to go home to Nancy’s apartment (where Giselle lives, though she has, for the most part, migrated off the couch) when they start requesting songs that aren’t in the karaoke machine. And Nancy grudgingly accepts the presence of mice and pigeons in their apartment when the mess gets too unbearable—though she draws the line at cockroaches, to which Giselle begrudgingly agrees.
A year after the ball, they go up to the top of the (now rebuilt) Empire State Building, and both drop to their knees and propose at the exact same time. No one believes this story, of course, but that’s the thing about a fairytale romance; the more unbelievable something sounds, the more likely it is to actually have happened.
(Seriously, a dragon.)
In the end, though, they all live happily ever after. And that's what really matters, isn't it?