Emma sighed as she rolled over and stared up at the ceiling for what felt like the hundredth time. She scrunched up her eyes and tried counting sheep in her head, but she soon gave up. Counting sheep was so boring . She guessed that’s why people did it - eventually they would just fall asleep from boredom, but boredom didn’t make Emma sleepy; it made her antsy. She rolled over again, punching her pillow. She struggled to see across the room in the dark.
“Belle,” she whispered. “Belle, are you awake?”
Her sister made no response, so there would be no distraction there. It wasn’t that Emma wanted to go to the New Year’s Ball at Aunt Regina’s; it was just that she hated being left out. Belle was relieved not to go. She preferred books over people, especially crowds of people, and Aunt Regina made her nervous. Aunt Regina honestly made everyone nervous.
She wasn’t really the girls’ aunt, but it was a less complicated moniker than “third cousin Regina.” She was closely enough related to have opinions about their upbringing (which she naturally found sorely lacking), and took every opportunity to try and bring the Lucas girls into proper society. Twelve, however, was too young to attend balls, especially a ball on New Year’s Eve that would last until the wee hours of the morning.
Emma gazed out the window at the full moon and wondered just how long her sisters would be. She was surprised to hear the rattling of a carriage and the stomping of horses below the window. She tiptoed out of bed and rushed on quiet feet to the window. She almost gasped when she saw the boy from next door alight from the carriage. He then turned and offered his hand to someone inside. That someone was Mary Margaret! She seemed to lean on him a bit as he helped her out. Emma spun away from the window and rushed from the room. She slowed down at the top of the stairs and tiptoed down the first few steps.
“I am much obliged to you, Master Jones,” Granny was saying in front of the open doorway.
The cold winter wind rushed through the foyer as Ruby and the boy aided Mary Margaret over the threshold. Emma crouched down upon the stairs so Granny wouldn’t see her, and peered at the group below through the spindles of the banister.
“Please. Call me Killian, Mrs. Lucas.”
“Of course, my boy, but only if you call me Granny. Everyone else does.”
Killian grinned as he gave Granny a half bow. It was a wonderful smile, Emma thought to herself. It dimpled his cheeks and brightened his eyes, which she could tell even by the dim candlelight were a dazzling blue.
“Then Granny it is.” He turned and gave a nod to Mary Margaret and Ruby. “Happy New Year’s to you both. I am glad I could be of service.”
With that, Killian Jones turned and headed back out into the snow, shutting the door gently behind him. Granny and Ruby turned slowly with Mary Margaret between them and helped her limp to the sitting room. Emma could stand it no longer and went racing down the stairs.
“You’re back early!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” Ruby breathed out, collapsing onto a settee, “and all because Mary Margaret had to go and be a damsel in distress.”
“I would have stayed if you hadn’t interfered,” Mary Margaret snapped. She looked down at her black and blue ankle which Granny was examining. “He’s a dreadful boy,” she whispered in a scandalous tone.
“Hardly,” Granny admonished. “He escorted the two of you home, missing out on his first social event since moving to Storybrooke. Not only that, he kept your ankle from swelling by packing it with snow.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “He put snow on your ankle ? With his hands ?”
“Yes!” Mary Margaret exclaimed, her voice choking. “If anyone were to know he even saw my ankle much less touched it-”
“They’d what?” snapped Ruby with a roll of her eyes. “Insist that the two of you get married because of the intimacy between his hands and your ankle?”
“Oh my dear Lord,” Mary Margaret squeaked out as her face turned crimson.
“You girls stop it right now,” Granny admonished. “I have always taught you that a woman’s character can not be diminished by breaking ridiculous social proprieties. The insipid rule about ankles I’m determined was a completely arbitrary rule invented by men.”
“Here she goes again,” Ruby groaned. “Mary Margaret, can you calm yourself before Granny gives us yet another treatise on feminism.”
Granny gave her granddaughter a pointed look while Emma giggled. Her laughter was short lived however, when Granny pointed a finger right at her.
“To bed, young lady.”
Emma sighed as she reluctantly turned back to the stairs. “Everything exciting happens to Mary Margaret.”
“Indeed,” scoffed her oldest sister.
Ruby joined her sister up the stairs, putting an arm around her and whispering conspiratorially. “I danced with him.”
Ruby nodded with a sparkle in her eyes. “He even let me lead.”
“Between Mary Margaret’s ankle and you leading dances-”
Ruby waved away Emma’s concerns. “Oh, it wasn’t in front of everyone. I was hiding because I didn’t want to dance with that awful Victor Whale, and Killian was hiding because he didn’t know anyone.”
“Oh,” Emma said as they continued up the stairs. A wave of jealousy hit her. She hadn’t even gotten to meet the new boy yet, and Ruby had already danced with him!
Ruby squeezed Emma’s shoulder. “We shall all be friends with him.”
“Friends with a boy?”
“He isn’t a boy - he’s Killian!”
Killian wasn’t sure what he had been expecting when he befriended the Lucas sisters. All he had known was that he was intrigued by them, he longed to know them, and anything was better than the dull loneliness in his uncle’s house. Even the tutor Uncle Nemo had gotten him was dull - all narrowed eyes, crossed arms, and self-righteousness as he peered at Killian over the rim of his reading glasses. And perhaps he wished to escape his tutor for another reason. Perhaps it was because the blue eyes and light hair reminded him of someone else - someone he had lost. To avoid such morbid thoughts, he had let Ruby Lucas drag him across the lawn to meet her other two sisters.
Mr. Nolan, his tutor, had just opened his mouth in protest when he caught sight of Mary Margaret, Ruby’s elder sister. She was hobbling along, leaning on a cane to support her injured ankle, and in her other arm she balanced a few sticks of wood. Mr. Nolan had forgotten all about Killian’s Latin declensions in favor of assisting the lovely brunette. Killian had exchanged a grin with Ruby, and they had quickly escaped.
The last thing he had expected upon meeting demure Belle and freckled Emma was to be turned into a horse. Yet that’s exactly what he had become. The rope to the Lucas girls’ sled was around his waist and he was pulling all three girls on it through the snow in the middle of their garden.
“Giddyap!” Emma yelled, yanking on the rope.
He groaned and fell face first into the snow. Squeals, laughter, and shouts surrounded him as he was pelted with snowballs. Killian, recovering his breath, laughed as he gathered up snow of his own. He chased the girls around the yard, snowballs flying. Emma, with the agility only a twelve year old can possess, leapt upon his back and shoved snow down the back of his winter coat.
“Oi, lass!” he protested and spun around to grab the little girl.
Emma jumped away from him before he could catch her and raced back across the snow. The long, golden braid that peeked from the bottom of her woolen hat, shone in the winter snow. Killian chased after her, even as Belle and Ruby continued to pelt him. He overtook Emma and scooped her up with one arm and flung her over his shoulder. He was just turning to deposit her in a large snow drift near the gate, when an indignant shout stopped him in his tracks.
“Master Jones, what are you doing to that young lady?”
Killian spun toward the voice. David Nolan had never looked so scandalized nor so angry at his pupil. His wide blue eyes and his mortified red cheeks reminded Killian so much of Liam in that moment, he dropped Emma without preamble. Luckily, she landed in the snow drift he had been aiming for all along. A soft delighted gasp left her lips, and her smile showed clearly that she was neither hurt nor shamed by his actions. Killian glanced to Mr. Nolan’s right and saw both Mary Margaret and Granny Lucas standing there. The former ducked her head and pressed her lips together to suppress her smile, while the latter guffawed loudly.
“Please, Mr. Nolan,” said Granny, “they are just children having fun.”
“Pardon me,” David replied, inclining his head to Mrs. Lucas, “but I disagree. Your girls are part of society, as is my charge, and they shouldn’t be . . . rough housing or, or . . . ”
Granny’s smile didn’t waver, but her eyes took on a shrewd look. “Girls are no different than boys, Mr. Nolan, in their need for physical exertion. Delicate constitutions and fainting spells are a direct result of our keeping young girls confined to the house, bent over their needlework in restrictive corsets.”
David’s eyes widened even more, his face absolutely crimson. “Granny,” Mary Margaret hissed.
“Oh, sorry,” Granny laughed, “I tend to get carried away in my views, and besides, at my age, one hardly cares about propriety anymore.” She stepped closer to David Nolan. “I can assure you, Emma is neither harmed nor compromised by Killian’s rough housing.”
“Can you do that again?” Emma giggled from her spot on the ground.
Killian looked down to see Emma’s cap askew, strands of her hair freed from her braid and falling wildly about her face. A blush stained her cheeks, highlighting the sprinkling of freckles across her nose, and her wide grin was so infectious, he couldn’t help but smile back.
The closing of Marco Lucas’s school was the first blow to finances at Orchard House, the estate he had inherited from his father, and the War Between the States had been the second. Shortly after their Papa left for the battlefield, Granny had been forced to let their housekeeper Ashley go. Therefore, the cooking and the cleaning all fell to Granny and her girls. This was scandalous enough for women of society. When they planted their own vegetable garden and acquired chickens too, Aunt Regina had practically fainted at the very idea. Then, with their Papa gone, the girls had to chop and gather the wood as well. Ruby scoffed at the idea that she wasn’t strong enough to swing an ax just because she was female, though she had to admit the chore was slow going at her hand. Captain Nemo couldn’t let such a thing continue and told his gardener to stock the Lucas wood pile as well. No words were spoken about this act of charity, though a plum cake and a new knitted shawl had shown up at Nemo’s door.
It was a sparkling morning in mid-January and the Lucas girls were going about their morning chores. Emma was gathering the eggs, Mary Margaret and Ruby were drawing water from the well, and Belle was getting potatoes from the bin. They were all scraping the snow from their shoes at the kitchen door when a shout came from the house next door.
“Girls! What’s going on over there? It’s dull as tombs over here. I-”
Killian’s words were cut off when he was yanked from the open window of Nemo’s library. David Nolan’s scolding could be heard clearly.
“One does not shout at ladies as if they were cattle!”
The Lucas girls all burst out laughing, save for Mary Margaret whose cheeks warmed as she captured David Nolan’s gaze.
“My apologies!” David called out sheepishly.
Mary Margaret was the only one who acknowledged it with a soft smile and a nod, for her sister’s had already tumbled into the warm kitchen. Emma gently set the basket of eggs beside the stove for Granny, then plopped down into a chair by the fireplace as she unwound the scarf from her neck and removed her mittens. She picked up the basket of mending, her next chore of the day. Emma didn’t mind it, though. It was difficult to complain about the sewing when at one time she had no stockings, mittens, or hats to mend at all.
“It isn’t funny, Ruby!” Mary Margaret exclaimed as she removed her own outerwear and hung them near the fire to dry. “Between your hair, his shouting, and Granny going on about corsets to anyone who will listen, I’ll never have any suitors.”
Ruby merely let out a scoffing sound as she set the full bucket of water by the fire. Belle frowned as she emptied her skirts of their load of potatoes into the basket in the pantry.
“Why do any of us need any suitors?” Belle asked nervously. “Why can’t things just stay as they are?”
“I agree with Belle,” Ruby announced as she stood and straightened her spine. “I plan to be independent, even if I have to seek a career on the stage.”
Mary Margaret gasped, her hands stilling for a moment as she tied her apron.
“I simply wish for my girls to make the world a better and kinder place,” Granny announced as she stirred the eggs, “ whether they marry or not.”
“It’s not easy for a woman to make money alone,” spoke Emma from the corner, “and believe me, you’ll want money when the hunger comes.”
“Oh my dear little Emma,” Mary Margaret said softly as she rolled the biscuit dough.
They suddenly noticed that Belle was sniffling as she set the table. “What is it?” they all cried in alarm.
“I just want the war to end so Papa can come home. Then we won’t have to worry over suitors.”
Ruby rushed over and put her arm around her. “Oh sweet Belle, we all want that.”
A week later, it was another cold morning, and the Lucas girls were seated with Granny around the breakfast table. They were all startled to hear a knock at the back door.
“Who on earth could be at our kitchen door?” Granny wondered.
Ruby dropped her fork with a clatter and rushed from the table.
“Oh Ruby, do be proper,” Mary Margaret scolded.
Ruby flung the door open to reveal Killian on the other side. The girls all cried out with delight and rushed from the table as well. Granny laughed and chided them to let the poor boy in from the cold. Yet before they could, Killian knelt before them like a knight of old, holding out before him what looked like a bird house.
“My dear ladies,” Killian announced eloquently, “I beseech you to forgive me for my lack of manners and accept this humble gift.”
Mary Margaret smiled demurely, Belle and Emma giggled, and Ruby shook her dark hair and laughed heartily. Killian winked and demonstrated that his gift was not a bird house at all, but a receptacle for mail. The roof of the house opened and closed on a hinge.
“How delightful!” exclaimed Belle.
“It’s so cute!” squealed Emma.
“We shall put this in the hedge between our houses,” Killian explained, “and inside we can put all kinds of correspondence - shouting from windows being forbidden.”
The girls loved the idea, and Ruby reached eagerly for the mailbox. Killian pulled it out of her reach, however, and smirked at his dear friend.
“Now Ruby, don’t be so eager. Look more closely.”
“Presents!” Emma cried, for inside the mailbox were three small packages and one larger one.
“Belle, Mary Margaret, Emma,” he said as he handed them each one of the smaller packages. Belle and Mary Margaret tore the paper from theirs first.
“A hummingbird!” Belle exclaimed. “Oh, it’s so delicate. Look at the wings!”
“A bluebird,” Mary Margaret said, turning the wooden carving over in her hand delicately. “Killian, did you make this?”
“Aye. A friend of my mothers . . . ” he trailed off self-consciously.
“Killian,” Granny spoke in a stern yet kind voice, “you need never be ashamed of your mother or her friends in our presence.”
Killian smiled gratefully at the older woman. “A friend of my mother's taught me. His name was Smee. He was one of the actors in her troupe.”
Emma still held the brown paper package in her hand reverently, her face filled with awe. Killian frowned with concern.
“Emma, love, aren’t you going to open yours?”
“She gets very emotional over presents,” Belle explained softly.
“They’re special to her,” Mary Margaret added, putting a comforting arm around her little sister. “Go ahead,” she encouraged.
Emma peeled back the paper slowly until her own bird carving sat in her hand, painted pure white, it’s graceful neck curved like half of a heart.
“A swan.” Her heart sank. She had hoped . . . she wasn’t sure what she had hoped. “Like my name.”
Killian’s brow furrowed. “Your name? I thought it was Lucas. You mean . . . your middle name is Swan? That’s just incredible, lass! What a wonderful happenstance.”
Emma tilted her head. “You mean, you didn’t know?”
Killian’s gaze flitted to Mrs. Lucas who stood behind the girls beside the breakfast table. Her eyes were welled with rare tears.
“Her last name was Swan,” Granny managed to get out, “before . . . she was mine.”
“I see,” Killian said softly, dropping his head. “I hope I haven’t brought you pain, my dear. I simply carved a bird for each of you that I felt most suited you. A delicate, joyful hummingbird for Belle, a lovely, sweet bluebird for Mary Margaret, and a swan for you.”
“Why?” Emma asked in that direct way of childhood.
“Well,” Killian chuckled, awkwardly palming the back of his neck. “A swan is lovely, but it’s also bold, and . . . vicious when provoked.”
“Hey!” Emma exclaimed, shoving him in the shoulder.
Killian winced as he rubbed at his shoulder. “And you have perfectly illustrated my point.”
“What about me?” Ruby demanded, hands on her hips.
“Well,” Killian said, his face going red, “I just couldn’t see you as a bird, so I carved this instead.”
He bit his bottom lip nervously as Ruby unwrapped her slightly larger carving. When the paper fell away, it revealed a majestic, gray wolf. Ruby inspected it silently, her green eyes narrowed. Finally, she looked up at Killian with a broad smile on her face.
Emma saw the way Killian released a breath, his shoulders relaxing.
“And it’s howling at the moon I see,” Ruby added with an arch of her brow.
“I know,” Killian said, watching Ruby from beneath hooded lashes, the blue of his eyes darkening.
Emma clutched her swan carving to her chest, but she found herself wishing she were a wolf instead.