Alice went from treasured to institutionalized. Why did it happen, how? Her mother knows. Sometimes, things are easy to justify, even the horrible decisions that can take life away. This is Alice, from Mary's POV, through the years. Canon oneshot.
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight, Alice, Mary, or any other figures, places, or trademarks as copywrited by Stephenie Meyer. AN: I wanted to write something that made you feel sorry for Alice's parents. There are very rarely evil people in the world, only evil actions, bad decisions, and human nature. And sometimes the right decision is very hard to find. Thanks to Blood on a Rose for the beta. Any mistakes are my fault. Please enjoy.
1. Chapter 1
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I rocked back and forth, back and forth, absently stroking what was soon to be our child. I smiled softly at the thought, and repeated the words. Our child. After waiting so long, we had almost given up hope. I had walked through town, seeing women my age balancing children on their hips, leading them through the stores, calming squabbles among their brood, and my heart ached. I wanted nothing more than a child. Those women who sat and complained about their children’s antics had no idea how blessed they were. And as an outsider, I knew what blessings were missing. My arms had felt empty, useless. I felt empty and useless.
William was still kind and patient, reassuring me that it would happen, that we would have children, lots of them, with his blonde hair or with my brown, with blue eyes and brown eyes, boys and girls. And while part of me believed him, a small voice in the back of my head told me that maybe it was impossible, that it was just a dream. And every once in a while, when I had the time to reflect on the pain that thought caused, my heart died a little more, and my hope faded.
My husband fared no better. I watched him as we passed the ball park on our afternoon walks, and he saw boys playing games with their fathers, or little girls walking hand in hand with their parents, and his eyes grew tight. He had to look away. The years of waiting had made us anxious, had brought a tension into our relationship that was only recently resolved into joy.
The unthinkable happened. Everything we’d dreamed of, everything we’d wished for, was about to become true. We were going to have a little boy or girl.
I hoped it was a boy. William wanted a boy, and I wanted to make William happy. But after so long, he would be happy with whatever the Lord gifted us with. And I was content as well, just to have this one chance.
What would our child look like? Would he or she have William’s blond curls? Or my silky brown tresses? Whose smile would he or she have? What names would we give him or her?
If it was a boy, we would name him William, after his father, and Geoffrey, after my father. William Geoffrey Brandon. It sounded very nice together. And if it was a girl, William insisted on naming her after me, Mary, and after his mother, Alice. Mary Alice Brandon. That sounded like a very nice name as well, but I didn’t find it as appealing for some reason.
William walked up to me as I rocked back in forth in the rocking chair. “Worrying again?” he asked.
I shook my head and smiled. There was a lot to worry about, when this was so important to us. But for once, the worries were gone. “No,” I answered. “Just daydreaming about what our child will look like.”
William smiled, and kissed the top of my head, his fingers trailing across my protruding abdomen. “Soon they won’t be just dreams anymore.”
“Soon we will have a child,” I agreed. And the joy in his face made my heart swell.
The birth was not easy. Dr. Andrews assured me that first births always were more difficult. But when the days faded into one long sequence of contractions and pauses, I became afraid. What if I couldn’t do this? What if either me or my child died? The longer the pain dragged on, the more frightened I became. But I refused to show it. I would be strong.
The final contractions came, and the pain began to fade away again. I heard the cry of a newborn baby as my body quivered with the effort it had undertaken. I could not have stood, or even sat up, as all of my muscles had suddenly become gelatin.
“It’s a girl,” the doctor announced. I couldn’t see what he was doing, and the passing moments made me feel anxious. Was something wrong?
I held my arms out, resting my elbows against myself to steady them. “My child, let me hold my child.” I wanted to see this life I had carried inside of me for so long.
Dr. Andrews laid her into my awaiting hands, and I brought her close to me. Her tiny red face made grimaces and she shook her tiny fists as she wailed. “Shh,” I hushed, and rocked her in my arms, like I had in the rocking chair before she was born.
It took me a moment before I realized that her hair, which was thick and full, was as black as night, quite unlike William’s or mine.
The doctor walked to the door, muttering under his breath. “I don’t like how tiny she is,” he said, shaking his head, but then he opened the door and ushered my husband in. All of my worries promptly disappeared as William came forward.
“Look, isn’t she beautiful?” I asked.
A smile spread across William’s face. “Yes, she is.”
“Mary Alice Brandon,” I said to the baby, who had begun to fall asleep, “this is your father.”
William held his hands out to me, and I passed the baby to him. “Alice,” he murmured, brushing his finger against her face. “My daughter Alice.”
I almost corrected him. Alice was our baby. But then I saw how his eyes were alight with happiness, and I refrained. Little Alice gurgled and sighed as she rested in his arms. A small twinge of jealousy filled me, but it vanished just as quickly as it came.
“Mama?” Alice asked, her tiny heart-shaped face looking up at me as she clambered up into my lap. She held her new cloth doll close to her chest with both hands once she’d situated herself. She’d just moved from William’s lap, wanting to be with both of us today. There was no doubt that she was the apple of her father’s eye, but she cared for us both.
I looked at her, taking in her image again. Alice looked more like my mother than either William or I, but I was content with that. Her hazel eyes looked too big for her face, making her easy to read. She had never grown out of her tiny stature, either; she looked fragile, breakable, like some ethereal creature that could disappear from our lives as quickly as she had changed them.
“Yes, dear?” I asked fondly, stroking her glossy, black hair.
“Thank you for the dolly. It was the best birthday present ever.”
“What are you going to name her?” I asked.
“Isabelle,” she said.
“That’s a very pretty name,” I said, smiling. I loved seeing Alice happy. There was very little I could deny her, but she never expected to get the little presents and surprises, still remaining an innocent.
“Don’t you want to know what else you got, Alice?” William asked her, his eyes twinkling. The other packages were still on the ground, wrapped in brown paper.
She shook her head. “The dolly is all I wanted. Nothing else could ever be better.”
I laughed, and William looked at me and shook his head playfully. “I think you’ll be surprised. Go ahead and open them.”
She looked at me for a moment, and then at William, her wide eyes filled with curiosity. Then she scrambled back down to the floor and tore open the packages. Inside every one was an outfit for her doll.
Alice gasped, and smiled widely as each package revealed the fabric and colors. “My dolly can have different clothes!”
“An outfit for every day of the week,” I said. It had taken months to make them, especially considering that I had to wait for every night after she had fallen asleep to piece them together, but they were worth every stitch for the look on her face.
“Thank you, Mama, Papa,” she said, but she was already absorbed in matching the items of clothes so that the colors and styles matched.
I walked to the kitchen to leave her with her new project. She was busily explaining to William why that particular blouse went with that particular skirt. I smiled at her happy chatter. Alice was a talkative child, and intelligent. Both William and I were very proud of her.
Supper was about ready. The ribs in the oven were done, and the cornbread was about ready to be pulled out as well. I had just finished putting dishes on the table and set the ribs on top of the oven when William called me.
“Mary!” His voice was sharp, frightened. I ran back into the room where William knelt on the floor next to Alice. And I saw what it was that had frightened him.
Alice was in the same position that I had left her in, her hands clenching the new doll clothes inside two fists, wrinkling the cloth. I had never seen her so tense. Her arms were held rigidly against her side. The rest of her body trembled violently. And her face… Her sweet, beautiful face was blank, her eyes staring at nothing.
William shook her, saying, “Alice, Alice, honey, come back.”
But Alice didn’t come back. She started to rock back and forth, back and forth, faster and faster, until her eyes suddenly closed and opened, and her face became that of my little girl’s again.
“Mama,” she said, her hands searching blindly for me. “Mama…”
“I’m here, Alice, I’m here,” I whispered, and clung to her. “Everything’s alright.”
“Mama, don’t hurt yourself,” Alice said, so softly I almost didn’t understand her. I looked up at William, and he looked just as frightened as I was.
“I won’t hurt myself,” I assured her, confused, but wanting to make her feel safe again. Alice calmed then, her trembling ceasing.
William looked unsure, his eyebrows drawn together. But then he changed the subject. “Alice, do you want some birthday cake?”
She looked up from my shoulder. “Before dinner?” she asked, the fear gone as suddenly as it had come. Pleasing children was easy. The littlest things would make them forget what had come before. I wished that the fear that I had for my daughter was so easily assuaged.
“Of course,” I answered. “It’s a special day today.” I carried her into the dining room as I spoke, and put her down to get the cake I had iced earlier. I lit all four candles, and carried it into the dining room with the cake knife.
“Make a wish,” William said as Alice sat down at the table. She closed her eyes and then blew the candles out. But her little lungs were not equipped for the widely spaced candles, and she missed the last one. I blew it out for her.
It was time to serve the cake. I cut a piece for Alice, a small piece, so she could still eat dinner, and then a slice for William and a final slice for me. I set the knife down, but as William picked up his plate, he dislodged the knife and it began to fall. Without thinking, I reached out to catch it.
The knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut me on contact, but the grip I had on it was enough to break the skin. “Oh,” I gasped, and quickly moved the knife to my right hand. A small crimson stain spread along the white icing left on the blade, turning it a light pink shade.
I brought my hand up to my face to observe the damage. Across three fingers, I had a small red line, and it was bleeding slightly, the red running into the grooves of my skin.
“I told you not to hurt yourself, Mama,” Alice said quietly, sounding sad and defeated.
“It isn’t your fault,” I told her absently, but it was as if my mouth was disconnected from the rest of my body. My mind was reeling in shock.
William and I both looked at her, shaken by what had just happened. What was happening to our little girl?
“Happy Mother’s Day,” William whispered in my ear. I wasn’t quite awake yet, but the words made me look at him.
“Mother’s Day?” I asked, confused.
“This year is the first national Mother’s Day,” he replied. “I would give you breakfast in bed, but if you’ve ever seen me cook, you’d forgive me.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I grumbled.
He laughed. “But Alice is ready to try cooking your breakfast; you might want to hurry down and watch her.”
I sat up and hurriedly began getting dressed. “You let her tinker in the kitchen? She’s only six, William. She needs supervision.”
“Which is why I told her to wait for you.”
I heaved a sigh of relief. “Good. I’ll be right down.”
That morning, Alice got her chance to work in the kitchen like me, washing dishes while I handled the hot food, and then we had breakfast before we went to church. Before we left, however, Alice gave me a handful of wildflowers. They were picked too close to the heads to be put into a vase, so I got out a bowl, filled it with water, and floated them in it.
“Thank you, Alice, they’re lovely,” I told her. “Now let’s got to church.”
We sat in our normal pew, and although I had to tell Alice to stop swinging her legs a few times, the service was uneventful. The priest began to say the closing prayers, and we all closed our eyes.
The shrieking began then.
“No!” Alice screamed. I opened my eyes and looked at her, but her eyes weren’t seeing anything here. It was happening again. I had hoped that the last time had been just that- the last. But apparently it wasn’t.
Alice stood on the pew. “Get out!” she cried. “You can’t save it!”
The priest stopped his prayer, and the congregation began to stir restlessly. I grabbed Alice’s arm and attempted to pull her outside, but even as light as she was, she would not move. “Run!” she cried. William, on her other side, picked her up and ran out of the church with her. Alice’s shouts faded into silence with the increasing distance. The priest cleared his throat and finished his prayers.
I stayed behind to apologize for the outburst. Inside, I was desperate to get back home. Alice…. What could I do? What was happening to our daughter?
The priest dismissed the congregation, and I apologized to him for Alice’s outburst. He accepted my excuses with flair, and I escaped, the church members staring at me with curious gazes.
Alice was fine by the time I got home, but scared. Her eyes were red rimmed from tears. “I don’t know what happened, Mama. I’m sorry…”
William held her on his lap and rocked her back and forth. After a while, it seemed like everything would be normal again.
For the next several days, everything was fine. But then we heard that the church had burned down, and that the priest barely escaped with his life, after trying to put the fire out. Someone had left a candle burning, and the curtains had burst into flames that had quickly spread and overtaken the building.
I tried to bring Alice with me when I went next door to have some ice tea in the afternoon. But the minute my neighbor, Mrs. Leigh, saw Alice holding my hand, she rescinded her offer. It was then she told me about the fire.
I took Alice home that day, indignant at the treatment she had received, not allowing myself to think of the implications of Alice’s fit. It wasn’t until I heard the whispers and saw the gazes following Alice and I wherever we went that I began to consider what it meant for her.
I became very afraid. Staring down at my little girl, who was now busying herself with dressing her doll, I wasn’t sure whether that fear was for her, or of her.
William tried to comfort me, railing against the stupidity of superstitious gossips. But even his reassurances that everything would work out for the best only helped me with the fear; it did not eradicate it.
Alice was very rarely allowed to leave the house now. Her fits came more often than they had before. I was worried. Not only had they increased in frequency, but they’d gotten worse in their intensity and length. Her tremors caused her to hurt herself, or break things. Sometimes she ran, or walked during the fits, not knowing where she was headed, falling down stairs, knocking glass items off of shelves, sometimes stepping on the glass fragments.
She could be overtaken anywhere. And if she frightened us, who knew her, to those who were strangers, she was the devil child. The fact that she looked nothing like me or William did little to help the matter. No matter how much I explained that Alice looked like my mother, who lived in Philadelphia, my friends and neighbors just looked at me strangely, and muttered about her not even being human.
Sometimes I had to stop myself from feeling a perverse gratitude that Alice did not go by her first name, by my name. She was my daughter. I should love her. But it was hard to love someone you feared, and even though I tried to turn away from my fear, it was always there. The neighbor’s whispers wormed their way past my defenses. William quickly became Alice’s guardian, watching over her, making sure that she didn’t hurt herself, or that anyone else hurt her. And while it made me glad that she was being cared for, I felt guilty, because I was relieved that I did not have to be the one to do it.
But now, I had something important to tell her. “Alice?”
She looked up from her dolls, which had become her only playmates. No one else would let their children play with a demon’s child. I had sewn more clothes for them, and taught her how to make more clothes out of scraps. It saddened me to see how carefully she cared for them, as though they were her own children. She was twelve now, almost too old for dolls.
“Yes, Mama?” she answered.
“I have something to tell you. You’re going to have a new baby brother or sister soon.”
She smiled. “I know. A little sister, with blonde, curly hair like Papa’s.”
That silenced me. Alice already knew. I got up and walked away in a daze, as Alice hummed and spoke with her dolls, rocking them to sleep like infants.
The World War, which had previously just been the European War, had caught the United States in its grip. William had left to defend our country three months ago. And I was afraid for him.
I was left alone with my two-year-old daughter, Cynthia, and 14 year-old Alice. Cynthia was easy enough. She never cried, or made a fuss. And most importantly, she didn’t have fits. I prayed she never would. It had been when Alice was four that she had started displaying the symptoms; Cynthia was still too young. But I feared the day that she would begin to spasm and spout predictions.
Cynthia slept in her cradle during the hot afternoon. I rocked it back and forth.
I wished William was here. I needed him with me. He was the one who had become Alice’s guardian and protector. I wasn’t strong enough, emotionally or physically, to deal with her. And just as a precaution, I never left Alice alone with Cynthia. Once, she had almost dropped her when she had a fit. If something had happened…
Well, I wouldn’t think about that. Alice was quietly sewing another outfit for her dolls in the corner. She was no problem now.
There was a clatter, and I turned my head to see Alice, the scissors and fabric slipping from her hands. “Papa…” she whispered. It was another fit.
“Papa!” she screamed, and stood up, swaying. I ran towards her and pulled her away from her sewing materials, knowing if she fell, I was not strong enough to catch her.
As I had feared, she went limp, crumpling into a heap on the ground. For a few minutes, she lay there. Then finally, she sat up. “I saw…”
“No,” I said, putting my fingers to her lips. “You didn’t see anything.”
“But I saw…”
Again I interrupted her. “You know that you aren’t allowed to speak of this,” I told her.
“But it was Papa!” Her hands plucked helplessly at me, trying to convey what she was not allowed to speak.
I turned my head away. “No.”
“There were guns, fire… Loud noises. Papa fell.”
I snapped my head up at her. “What did I just tell you?” I hissed.
Her eyes were wild, and tears began to spill from them. “I don’t know what happened to him. I think he may be dead.” She began crying in earnest.
My hand, of its own accord, pulled back and struck her face. She stared at me, betrayal written across her features, and I watched as the red mark began to appear in the shape of my palm.
Never before had I hurt Alice. Never before had I carried out punishment in anger. But I could not make her stop speaking, and I could not bear to listen.
“He’s fine,” I whispered. “He’s going to come home, and everything will be fine.”
I turned away, hiding my own tears, and took the still sleeping Cynthia up to my room. There I cried freely. Where was William? Please, Lord, let him be alright.
The telegram came a month later. William was dead. A cold ache settled where my heart had been previously. My husband was never coming home. I would never see him again, and he would never come back to see how his daughters grew into womanhood. Alice had been right. And that was what broke me.
I was torn apart inside. It was the most I could do to deal with my own life and Cynthia. Alice had become too much. I could not handle the sudden, startling revelations that she gave me, or the sudden fits she went into. And looking at her, with her bruised cheek that I had given her, was even worse. The guilt was strong enough to drown me.
Money had suddenly become very scarce. The money that the government sent me was not enough to raise two children on. I started gardening, in hopes that I could grow enough food to keep us through the winter, but I had no idea how well I could make the garden grow. Survival became something I thought about often. Surviving each and every day, surviving the winter, surviving with both Alice and Cynthia remaining healthy, or at least as healthy as could be expected. We would have to work very hard to make ends meet.
I began to take in laundry and other household chores for other families, but they couldn’t spare much to pay me, either, as the war had made everyone’s situations harder.
I was at my wit’s end. There were very few options left to me, and my confidante, my support, was no longer on this earth to rely on. I went to the doctor who had delivered both Alice and Cynthia, but then retired. His opinion I could trust. He knew more about these kinds of matters. So I snuck away from the house, leaving Alice in her room, and took Cynthia with me.
I knocked on his door. “Mrs. Brandon,” he said, surprised, “what brings you here?”
“I have something I would like to ask you about,” I answered.
Immediately, he asked me in, his eyes curious. And soon I had explained my problems with Alice. He tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair.
“The only thing I can suggest is a special treatment program for her.”
“A program?” I asked.
He nodded. “They have a new kind of therapy, using electric shock. It might help her.”
“Would she ever get better?” I asked.
Dr. Andrews sighed. “With cases like hers, it isn’t likely. I have friends who work there; it might ease your worries to speak with them. But such treatment may help her, if not completely heal her. She could live happily that way, with people like her. And being a widow, you cannot be expected to take care of her.”
He was providing the way out I needed, but the guilt was still too strong.
“Are you sure that this is the best option for her?”
He shrugged. “I would guess that it seems like the best option. At least consider it.”
And I thought about it very often, rocking back and forth between two very hard extremes. What was worse? Living with Alice, or without her?
I portioned out the vegetables I’d grown, along with the flat bread. I had no eggs to make it rise, so it was made of only flour and water. And it wasn’t quite enough, even still. Come winter, we would be begging for food. There were simply too many people for the amount of food we had.
Alice only nibbled at her portion, giving the rest of it to Cynthia. Alice had been looking even tinier than usual; she’d always been small, even from birth, but never underfed. It was as though she was trying to make up for her shortcomings she blamed herself for. She could never make up for them, but I might be able to give her the relief from her fits. The chances were so slim… But she’d be better fed at the asylum, wouldn’t she?
I liked the word “asylum”. I didn’t know much about them, but the word itself meant “safe place” or “refuge”. Wouldn’t that be best for her?
It had become much harder to look at Alice, and I knew that part of my desire to send her away were my uncontrolled feelings of fear and pain. I knew that she didn’t have anything to do with William’s death, but there was a part of me that wondered. Did she merely see what was going to happen? Or did her predictions cause things to happen? I didn’t know. I didn’t even know that her predictions were necessarily accurate. But the way she seemed to know things before she could possibly know them… She frightened me. And she was quickly losing herself to the visions, fits, episodes, whatever they were.
What had happened to her? How could I stop it? In my own mind, I didn’t even consider Alice my own child anymore. I could not love her like she deserved, so I was not her mother.
Alice stiffened, and I knew that another fit was coming. She stood up and I jumped up to pull her back down. Her arm jerked, sweeping the vase on the table into the air, sending it flying towards Cynthia.
I would have done anything to stop it. But I was too far away. Cynthia, sweet, young Cynthia, threw one arm in front of her eyes as the vase shattered on the table, the pieces skittering forward towards her.
Blood ran down Cynthia’s face. I ran to her, and pulled her arm down so I could see the damage. One of the shards had clipped her, drawing a single line, parallel with her hair, against her cheek, but none of the others had cut her. Cynthia began to scream, and I picked her up and rushed to the kitchen.
The cut wasn’t deep, but it was in a tender place. Cynthia’s shrieks turned to whimpers as the bleeding slowed and eventually stopped. She was very lucky.
“Shh,” I murmured. “It’s alright.” I knew now, what I had to do. Protecting my daughter was more important than all the reasons I was weighing in my head. I rocked Cynthia until her whimpers became soft hiccups, and then set her down.
“I’ll be back soon, Cynthia,” I told her, and went up the stairs to Alice’s room. She had her own room, because Cynthia stayed in my room with me.
“Alice?” I called. She opened the door for me, and I saw the suitcase, filled with all of her dolls and their clothes. Alice had packed nothing for herself, just her dolls. But she wouldn’t need the extra clothes in the asylum. I could guess how she knew, and the fear thrummed in my heart, shaking me in its passing.
Alice refused to look at me as I walked in, her head down, shielded by her long, black hair. “I’m ready to leave,” she said softly.
My heart welled up with pity. “Alice…” I said, but she raised her hand and I stopped.
“No excuses,” she said softly. “I know why I have to go.” Alice closed the suitcase and picked it up, walking past me. I followed her.
Cynthia was downstairs, looking up at us. “Awice?” she said. She never had been able to say her name, due to a lisp she would outgrow eventually.
“I’m going away,” Alice told her. And she pulled out the first doll she’d ever been given, the doll that William had picked out for her. “This is for you. Be careful with her. Isabelle’s older than you are.”
Cynthia took it, nodding eagerly. Alice brushed her hand over Cynthia’s curls. “I’m sorry,” Alice whispered. “I know you don’t understand that now, but you will.” Then she straightened up, and began walking. I left Cynthia with Mrs. Leigh as Alice and I walked to the asylum. It was a long walk, but we had no money for a carriage or a car ride.
When we finally reached the gates, Alice turned to me.
“I’m never coming back,” she said. “I will never see you or Cynthia again.” She spoke with a certainty that frightened me. “I am dead to you from now on.” She turned and walked away from me. Her back was the last I saw of her.
I signed the paperwork for her admission with a heavy heart. If William was alive… But he wasn’t. And I wasn’t enough to protect Alice.
No matter the consequences, Alice was always right. If she said she was never leaving, then I believed her. But she could be truly happy, now, couldn’t she?
Regardless, I could no longer take care of her like William would have. I would do one last thing, however. If Alice was wrong, and she did get better, I could take her somewhere no one knew us. Maybe go to live in Philadelphia with my parents. But for now, I could protect her one last way.
If everyone believed Alice was dead, she could remain in peace at the asylum. So I would have a gravestone carved for her. I could make sure that no one would ever hurt her again, accuse her again…
But when I walked out of the asylum doors, alone, my eyes were wet.
I couldn’t deny that I loved Alice. But I had thought I was doing what I thought best for her, best for all of us. Her… condition… was not an easy one to handle. She was dangerous, different, frightening. And my options were limited.
I laughed bitterly. Such silly excuses. I wanted to be able prove to myself that I was not the cause of her death. But I was. The death certificate fluttered in the wind that nearly succeeded in stealing it away from my limp hands. I had put her into the asylum, not wanting to remember the way William had died, or the warnings I had been given. But that heartache was over, still sore, but behind me. I could find no blame for his death. William died honorably. Alice died under the very treatments that I thought might save her.
Cynthia curled up beside me on the porch swing, causing it to swing back and forth, rocking me with its gentle sway, comforting me like I had spent my years comforting my children. But there was no comfort to be found here.
I knew Cynthia could sense that something was wrong. She clutched at her doll, the one that William and I had given Alice so long ago. She’d named it something different now. But I kept calling it Isabelle by mistake.
This secret would die with me. I couldn’t voice it. I couldn’t let the words leave my mouth, making this more of a reality. I stood, on shaking legs, and walked inside. Cynthia knew nothing of this. I had told her that Alice died a long time ago.
We had never visited. If Alice had been unhappy, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt that plagued me now. After the first year had passed, I gave up hope that Alice would ever come back, and after the second year, I knew that bringing her to my parents was a foolish dream. Well, Alice’s prediction had been correct. I never did see her again.
I had lost both William and Alice. William’s loss had wounded me deeply, but Alice’s loss felt like betrayal. I folded the paper and set it too high for Cynthia to find. Then I took a deep breath and forced a smile, ready to return to the life I had made.
One day, I hoped that Alice, wherever she was, could forgive me, because I would never be able to forgive myself.