A noise somewhere distant wakes me.
I sit up and look around me in disbelief. The lighting is dim-- no, not dim, just coming in from the wrong side of my room. I shake my head to clear the grogginess of sleep, but it helps little. Where am I? I feel like I am in a long forgotten place that has almost forgotten me.
The door opens just then and in steps a woman. Her hair is graying around the temples and she has worry lines etched across her face. "Oh," she whispers, "my Morgan. You're awake."
"Wait," I say, trying to calm my racing heart. I never thought I would see this woman again. And now she is standing right in front of me, a strangely sad look in her eyes.
"Mom?" I ask as she hurries to my side and presses the back of her hand against my forehead to check for a fever.
"How are you feeling?" She asks me. "That's quite a nasty cut."
I touch my temple where Cassius had nicked me with his dinner knife and wince. "How did I get here?" I ask, looking around. "Where's Cassius? Where's Alice?" It takes me a moment to realize that I truly am in my bedroom- my real bedroom.
"Oh, hon, you never left." My mom looks at me with that sad and sympathetic look.
What does she mean? Where is Alice- she usually likes to explain everything to me. And where is Cassius?
You never left.
"What?" I shove my mother away from me and throw the sheets off. I'm in a silly white cotton nightgown that I've never seen before and I notice my hair has been pulled into an intricate braid at the back of my head. I fight the urge to rip it out.
Startled by my reaction to what she has just told me, my mother stands and backs toward the door. "I'm going to go get you some food and water. You need to settle down, honey."
I stand and walk over to her. "Mom, I've been missing for months, you can't tell me that none of it was real. You cant tell me-" I choke off the last bit of my sentence, too afraid to have a nervous breakdown to continue.
She doesn't reply though, just stares at me with wide eyes.
"Mom, say something. What's going on?"
Instead, she falls forward, her sudden weight knocking me down. I scream and scramble to get out from underneath her.
"Mom!" I yell worriedly when I see the red stain spreading across the back of her shirt.
I look to the doorway and see the dark shadowy figure of the man Cassius called Maxim.
"Hello, pretty Bride," he says as he takes a step forward.
I lurch upward and out of my unconscious, gasping for breath. When my eyes adjust to the darkness of the room, I see that I am still in my room in Neverland. I am still here. "Not home," I breathe to myself.
But the dream was so real to me; and that was exactly how I had left my room, before I was taken in the middle of the night by the Lost Boys. Posters and wall color and bed sheets and all.
I think about the conversation that I had with my mom, what I had said to her in my dream. "You cant tell me-" I had started to say. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I finished the sentence that I had managed to choke back out of my mouth in my present reality.
"You can't tell me I'll never see him again." This dream makes me realize that there are two things that I want so badly, two things that are pulling me into two completely different directions.
There is a tight feeling in my chest now and I am nowhere near sleepy. I slip out of my bed and leave my room, needing some fresh air.
When I am outside, I dont make it far before I have to sit. The sky is chalked with gray hues of an oncoming dawn and I think that this place, so terrifying and sad, still has such a beautiful sky. In the distance I can see the tops of mountains, just barely over the line of trees.
I hear someone behind me and sigh. "Can't a girl cry in peace, Cassius?" I ask half heartedly.
"It's not Cassius."
I whirl in disbelief to see Daphne standing there looking at me.
I furrow my brow as she drops down beside me with a sigh. "I heard you leave your room and I thought I'd see where you were headed."
"You couldnt sleep?" I ask.
She shakes her head. "Not at all."
We lapse into a comfortable silence as I bring my knees to my chest and rest my chin on them, still staring at the sky growing brighter. Despite our tension throughout our time here, I have to admit that Daphne's presence right now is much needed.
"About what you said," Daphne starts, as if reading my mind, "when we were at dinner. You told me that it'd be a relief to me if Gabrielle killed you."
I nod slowly, my chin rubbing against my knees as I do so.
"It's not true," she says. "About you dying being a relief. I dont really think that at all. I actually kind of like you."
I turn to look at her skeptically.
She nods, looking at the grass around her bare feet. "And I miss my family, too. All the time."
I think of one of the first fights Daphne and I got into, when she told me I was causing a scene. She knew I was missing my family and that's why I didn't want to talk, and was malicious anyway.
"I get jealous a lot," Daphne says. "I cant help it."
I stare at her, thinking of what to say in response, wondering where the catch is at.
"But I'm glad it's come down between you and me to compete to be Cassius' Wife. Cassius told me about how he promised you he'd show you how to get back home when you lose. So I won't feel as bad thinking that you're going to become a lost boy when you lose."
Ah, the catch.
I smile, despite myself. She sees my smirk and returns it with one of her own.
After we lapse into another silence, I notice her studying me. "Yes?" I ask, still staring ahead of me.
"Do you really wear that to bed?" she asks, motioning toward my oversized T-shirt.
"That depends," I say, turning to look at her, "do you really wear that?" I motion to her jade green silk slip.
She laughs, despite herself. "I was always told that I need to keep up appearances no matter when or where." Another sigh. "Mom was such a drama queen. I was always in those local competitions for modeling or acting or dancing. I think I like it here so much because I don't have to worry about letting anyone down but myself."
It is such a random confession, such a random time for her to let me into her life. "Why are you telling me all of this?" I ask.
She looks at me and furrows her brow. "I don't really know," she says. "I guess I'm just tired of being the one that everyone can't stand in the Manor. I don't want to be the girl that my mother tried to make me. I guess I want to be more like- well, more like you."
I continue to stare at her. I think about pinching myself to make sure that I am truly awake this time, but refrain.
"What?" she says defensively, staring back.
"Don't try to be like me, Daphne," I say, finally. "You're the one I should try to aspire to be like." Yes, she is needy and whines a lot, but she is strong-willed and speaks her mind whether or not anyone wants her to. I think that is what makes a Queen.
A shadow is cast over us and we both look up to see a man looking down at us. "And who are you?" he asks.
"Who are you?" Daphne immediately replies.
I quickly stand and bring Daphne up with me. "I'm Morgan and this is Daphne," I explain.
The man still stares at both of us. He is wearing worn clothing with rips and holes and dirt all over. He has a salt and pepper beard and I'd imagine matching hair, though it is being hidden under a dirty red hat. He has a distant look on his face, as though he is not all there in his mind.
Daphne takes a step back, pulling me with her. "We were just leaving."
He seems to put two and two together, just then. "Go back to the Manor?" he asks. "You're Brides." This last one isn't a question.
Daphne gives my arm another tug. "Morgan, come on, we're leaving," she says.
But the man lunges before I can turn away from him. I am knocked down and a cloth is held over my mouth before I can utter a sound. I hear Daphne screaming and I know, just before I lose consciousness, that if she tries to run she will not make it very far.