Ensnared Page 6

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Red doesn’t answer.

“Please understand, dearest daughter. I only avoid you so I won’t drag you down. You’re too important to the kingdom for me to hinder you. So I watch from afar. I’m a lucky man, to have a daughter who has grown into such a strong young woman.”

Red scorns the empty flattery. “Grenadine is the lucky one. Because she has no memory. She can forget any rule that would confine her actions, blot out any failure that would cripple her confidence, misplace any sadness that would inhibit her to love. She has no standards to live by. She’s immune—by her own limitations—to everything that would limit her. She views the world with the wide-eyed cheeriness of a slithy tove pup who has never been kicked or strapped to a chain.”

The king nudges the croquet-ball box with his toe. “It doesn’t make her stronger to forget. You’re the one who’s strong. For you remember, and yet you go on. That is what will make you a wonderful ruler one day, just like your mother—sympathetic and understanding.”

Red’s fist tightens around the ribbon. “Emotions born of weakness. I want nothing to do with them.”

“Oh?” Her father’s stern voice startles her. “Would you disrespect your mother’s memory? All for a small seed of jealousy?”

Red grits her teeth, feeling her mother’s gaze on her even though she’s far away—a crystalline rose inside the garden of souls.

The king narrows his eyes beneath his crown’s shadow. “You have the same dark strain as all of the Red royal lineage. Your mother was the first to learn to balance madness with wisdom. Do not forsake that legacy. Make her proud.” He holds out his hand.

Tears singe Red’s eyes as she drops the whispering ribbon into his palm, an unspoken promise to honor her mother’s memory, to never forget her example.

My bones jitter and my head hurts as again I’m thrown into the chaise lounge, only to be jerked back on-screen for the final memory:

Red kneels beside a rosebush, breathing in the sweet scent. The blooms are such a deep red, they look like puddles of fresh blood against the unnaturally bright teal leaves. She planted the bush in the courtyard as a tribute to her father after his death. She yearns for his spirit. She wishes he were here in the ground instead of locked inside the garden of souls, though she’s comforted to know he’s been reunited with her mother at last.

“I should be with you both in the cemetery,” she mumbles to the roses. “Now that my life is over.” She rotates a bottle in her hand to reveal the label: Forgetting Potion.

Her shoulders hunch, as in the distance her stepsister’s giggle rings out, accompanied by the chortle of Red’s husband. Red met him one week after her father died. He had a kind heart like her father’s, and proved to be the only man who could reason with her anger, temper her bitterness. His strength was his compassion, and he adored Red. But the queen became obsessed with her pursuit to bring dreams to Wonderland and neglected her marriage, never even taking the time to give her king the children he yearned for. In her absence, her husband was often left alone with Grenadine.

Gradually, Red watched her husband try to befriend her sister, although Grenadine always pushed him away. When Red’s king would return to her side like a wounded puppy, his sadness stoked her jealousy. She did the only thing she could: She stole her sister’s ribbons to show her husband what a forgetful buffoon Grenadine was.

Every day for months, each time her sister tied bows to her fingers or toes, Red would magically coax them away and send them fluttering into the sky. Soon, they eclipsed the sun like a cloud of glimmering crimson butterflies. Darkness fell upon the kingdom, but Red didn’t care. She had no desire to call the ribbons back or to listen to Grenadine’s mundane and irrelevant reminders.

Red’s ribbon stealing became a game of malice and great satisfaction, until at last Grenadine stopped wearing them altogether. And soon thereafter, she stopped fighting the Red King’s advances.

The two fell in love each day, anew, and Red witnessed it over and over again. Furious, she called the ribbons from the sky. They scattered across the castle courtyard in a sweep of crimson rain. Red stood in their midst as hundreds of whispers spun around her, repeating the same words: Keep Red’s husband from your heart. She is your sister, a love that’s precious. Always be faithful to Red.

Grenadine had been reminding herself daily to do the right thing, and Red had made it impossible for her to remember. The responsibility for her broken marriage was upon her own shoulders. The only way Red could survive was to become like Grenadine and forget her role in everything. Red determined to remember only the betrayals of others, so their wrongs could harden her heart.

Stroking a rose petal, Red whispers one last time: “Mother, Father, I hope you both can forgive me, because unless I forget, I’ll never forgive myself.” Then she lifts the bottle to her lips.

The image flicks off, the curtains drop, and the lamp snaps on.

Slumped in the chaise lounge, I hold my temples until the drumming inside my skull subsides. I almost choke on the bittersweet tang of roses firmly pressed on my senses. At last I can acknowledge what I’ve never let myself admit: I’m a descendant of Queen Red. She’s an eternal part of me. I can accept it because she did have a heart once. A heart that felt similar losses to mine: the absence of a mother she adored; the fear of losing her father’s admiration; the regret of a mistake so monumental, it cost her the love of her life.

Red locked away her most vulnerable moments so she wouldn’t hesitate in her quest for vengeance. So she could make the descent into ruthless abandon without remorse.

Empathy pricks my conscience, but I push it away. Mercy has no place on any battlefield . . . magical or otherwise.

If I can contain her scorned memories long enough to reunite them with her mind, they’ll rail against her, fill her with regret. Then, while she’s vulnerable, I’ll swoop in and Wonderland will never have to fear her rage again.

Adrift in a dark swirl of emotions, I stand and smooth the wrinkles from my hospital gown. I’m only a few steps from the door when it flings open to reveal Dad—his brown eyes lit with a fiery light.

“Allie, I remember . . . everything.”

Dad tells me his real name is David Skeffington.

“Interesting,” I say as we stride down the aisle. “And here I thought we’d end up related to Martin Gardner.”

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