“It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me; he isn’t sentimental, doesn’t say much about it, but I see and feel it in all he says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble that I don’t seem to be the same girl I was. I never knew how good and generous and tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart, and I find it full of noble hopes and impulses and purposes, and am so proud to know it’s mine. He says he feels as if he ‘could make a prosperous voyage now with me aboard as mate, and lots of love for ballast.’ I pray he may, and try to be all he believes me, for I love my gallant captain with all my heart and soul and might, and never will desert him while God lets us be together. Oh, Mother, I never knew how much like heaven this world could be when two people love and live for one another!”
- Amy about Laurie in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
If anyone had been out on the streets of Storybrooke, Maine on the windy, snowy Christmas Eve of 1863, they would have found lights ablaze in the most prestigious homes of the small hamlet. Save for one.
The Gold mansion upon the hill was not only lit up like your proverbial Christmas tree, but carriages lined the circular drive as the most powerful men from the surrounding six counties arrived for Robert Gold’s lavish annual bash with their families in tow. They would wine and dine in excess of frivolity for the next twelve days of the season.
The white grecian columns of the Mills Mansion would also sparkle with firelight, though the wealthy matron Regina Mills didn’t gather quite the crowd. Her festivities would be far more sedate and her crowd older. Of course the money was older too and not as dripping with unscrupulous business deals as Gold’s. It would mostly be family as well, though that was nothing to sneeze at, considering Regina Mills’ clan could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower.
The mysterious mansion of Admiral Nemo Jones, retired hero of the United States Navy, wasn’t filled with guests. However, the rooms of the mansion still blazed with light as the generous man allowed his staff to fully celebrate the holiday, complete with Christmas bonuses and lavish gifts. In a way it was also a welcome home party for his nephew, who had been lost and wandering on the other side of the ocean until Nemo had tracked him down.
The only fine family of Storybrooke Maine (though many would say they were once a fine family - past tense) whose home was not ablaze on this festive evening were the Lucases. Some would say it was because Marco Lucas had been gone these past two years fighting (unnecessarily they would also claim) in the War Between the States. Others would say it was because the Lucases had squandered their fortune taking in orphans and vagrants. Others would say it was their involvement in that embarrassing underground railroad that had cost them their fortune and respect. They would all be wrong.
The women gathered around the wavering firelight in the Lucas parlor did miss Marco Lucas terribly, and it was true that money was tight. Yet the reason their house flickered with only the tiniest light was because all they needed was each other.
Paulette Lucas, affectionately called “Granny” by all who knew her, sat knitting in her rocker with a candle flickering on the table beside her. The girls had begged her to take one night off from the task, but there were too many soldiers in need to stop even for a night. She battled a smile as she focused on her task, knowing a letter from her husband was tucked into her apron pocket.
Ruby Lucas, as usual, was standing far too close to the fire. Her long, dark hair fell in waves over her shoulder. She was a striking beauty, and mothers watched her askance at the scandalous way she refused to wear her hair up though she was already sixteen. She was the only one who was a true granddaughter to Mrs. Lucas. Her mother, a scandal herself, had died of consumption in a saloon out west when Ruby was still an infant. Who her father was, no one knew. That probably had more to do with the scandalous looks rather than her hair (though the latter certainly didn’t help).
Mary Margaret Blanchard sat on the other side of the lamplight from Granny, helping with the knitting. Though she was the oldest of the girls, at seventeen, she had been living with Granny the shortest amount of time. Her parents knew the Lucases through the underground railroad, so when Mary Margaret’s mother passed of scarlet fever when she was ten, her father sent her to them. Only less than a year later, her father was arrested for violating the fugitive slave act. While in prison, he contracted scarlet fever and died.
Belle French sat by the hearth with several kittens mewling in her lap. She was engrossed in the book she held in one hand while her other stroked the kittens absently. Some would say she was even more beautiful than Ruby, even at only fourteen, yet her quiet demeanor and delicate nature turned fewer heads. Belle had been the Lucas’ youngest pupil when they still ran their boarding school. She was only seven when it was forced to close, and her father simply never came back for her.
Then, finally, there was Emma Swan - the only one of Granny’s girls who was still a child. Twelve year old Emma sat curled up in her favorite armchair with a sketchpad in her lap. Her drawing pencils were worn down to almost nubs, yet still she scratched away with her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. Her blonde hair was a riotous mess, her fingers were smudged with charcoal, and her feet were bare. Not that anyone cared - the Lucas house never stood on ceremony, especially when they were alone. Granny had a difficult time keeping shoes on the child anyway, considering she had spent the first five years of her life without them. She was the child Storybrooke called “the urchin” - mostly in whispers, but sometimes when Emma could hear. Granny had literally found her eating out of the rubbish bin. The benefit of those humble beginnings were that Emma found their current “poverty” hardly trying.
So, dear reader, do not assume that lack of finery equals a lack of happiness. The Lucas women will put aside their knitting, their books, their drawing paper and gather eagerly around Granny’s chair to hear their Papa’s latest letter. They will joyfully sing carols around their out of tune piano. Then they will share hugs and kisses goodnight and head to bed with more love in their hearts than all the other “fine” homes in Storybrooke combined. And across the hedge from their house, in the Jones mansion, a dark haired boy will watch the flickering lights of their candles - counting them: one, two, three, four - as they head up the stairs. He’ll watch them go out one at a time and wonder about the hands that hold them.
“Merry Christmas!” Emma yelled the following morning, eliciting a groan from Belle, whom she shared a room with. Emma simply rolled her eyes. It was Belle’s own fault - she had stayed up far too late reading again.
“It’s Christmas!” Emma continued to shout as she banged on doors and then thundered down the stairs. “It’s Christmas!”
Her sisters followed her reluctantly, groaning and complaining all the way. Emma ignored them as she fell to her knees beside the Christmas tree.
“Oh hush now,” Granny admonished, “every single one of you were the same at her age.”
“This one’s from me, Granny,” Emma said as soon as Granny sat in her rocker. She thrust an intricately wrapped package into the woman’s lap, then scooted close. Her sisters looked on fondly as soon as they saw that Emma’s enthusiasm wasn’t a selfish one. Granny peeled back the wrapping carefully, setting aside the ribbon Emma had used to tie it. When the gift was revealed, the woman gasped.
“Emma, sweetheart, this is lovely!” It was a sketch of Granny’s favorite tree in the garden next to the house, and Emma had captured it in all its autumn glory of reds, oranges, and yellows.
“I used the last of my colored pencils to get it just right,” Emma told her proudly.
Granny pressed the gift to her chest as she fought back tears. Oh, how she wished she could have afforded another set of drawing pencils for her dear Emma!
None of the gifts beneath the tree were store bought, yet each one was exclaimed over with joy. Somehow, the ingenuity that had gone into making them made them infinitely more valuable. Soon, the tree had nothing beneath it but ribbons and paper.
“I’ll play us a carol!” Belle announced. She sat before the piano, and they all tried to ignore that one key that was never in tune.
As her sister played, Emma pressed her face to the glass of the parlor window. Her eyes widened to see a boy in Admiral Nemo’s house, playing a piano of his own. Of course, his was an incredibly fine piano that was surely always in tune.
“A boy!” Emma cried out. “There’s a boy next door!”
Belle abruptly stopped playing, and the Lucas sisters scrambled to the window, all talking at once.
“A boy?” Ruby asked, pushing the curtains aside further.
“At Nemo’s?” Mary Margaret asked incredulously.
“How old is he?” Emma asked, frustrated that she’d been pushed aside.
“What does he look like?” Belle asked, trying to see beneath Ruby’s arm. “What a fine piano he has,” she sighed when she was able to get a glance.
“I would hate to live with that scary old man.” Emma wrinkled her nose.
“Poor thing,” Mary Margaret tsked sympathetically.
“You don’t think he’ll come to call?” Belle suddenly gasped, looking nervously at her sisters and then over at Granny.
“You mean call, as in courting?” Ruby laughed.
Mary Margaret laughed, too, “You ninny, he’s rich! He would never come courting the likes of us.”
“Thank goodness,” sighed Belle in relief, looking back out the window. She cocked her head as she studied him, “He’s awfully handsome.”
“Girls!” Granny admonished. “Come away from there before the poor boy catches you gawking at him as if he’s on display. Really, I have taught you some propriety.”
“Do you know him, Granny?” Emma asked as she settled down before the fire to play with the spinning top Papa had carved for them.
“I know of him,” Granny replied, eyes never leaving her knitting. Once again, she refused to put aside the chore. “He’s Admiral Nemo’s nephew. He was living in London, and the Admiral has been beside himself since his brother’s death trying to track the child down.”
“I hear he’s had no upbringing at all,” Mary Margaret told them in a scandalized whisper.
“You’ve heard of him too?” Ruby asked.
“At the Rose’s.” Mary Margaret worked as a governess for the wealthy Rose family. “His mother was an actress and his father a cad who abandoned them both.”
“Where was he?” Emma asked. “Why was it so hard to find him?”
“Living on the streets, they say,” Mary Margaret told her softly, sympathy coloring her eyes. Sympathy that Emma always had and always would despise.
Ruby headed back to the window and peered out with a grin upon her face. “It will be fun to have a boy next door.”
“Well,” Granny spoke with a sigh, “I don’t know what mischief is in that pretty head of yours, Ruby, but we will welcome the boy as warmly as we can.” She set aside her knitting and clapped her hands as if that were that. “Now, let’s go begin preparing our Christmas feast!”
The girls all rushed to follow Granny into the kitchen, but Emma stopped at the window, her hands grasping the curtains. Living on the streets they say . The song that the boy was playing, which could be heard faintly on the wind, ended, and he looked up from his sheet music. His eyes caught Emma’s, and he winked at her. She gasped and shoved the curtains closed.