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“What?” she said, hardly daring to breathe. “I get to try again? I get to do my Surrender over?”

“Of course you do,” said Father, smiling. “What did you think would happen? Did you think the Elders would toss you out of Ferenwood?”

“Well, yes,” said Alice. “I thought they might.”

“I told you,” Oliver said, beaming. “Didn’t I? I told you to unlock it earlier—I told you you were supposed to unlock it but you didn’t listen to me.”

Alice went pink. “Alright,” she said. “You were right.”

“I’m glad I was right,” said Oliver, who was grinning from ear to ear.

And then, finally, it was time for Oliver to go home. He hugged Alice once more, then hugged Father, too, and then he ran as best he could through the snow. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” he called over his shoulder.

“I can’t wait!” Alice called back.

And then she took Father’s hand in hers, and Alice decided she would never, ever lose him again.

Alice and Father stood together quietly just outside their little home, each lost in their own thoughts. The house was just as Alice had left it (save the snow that iced the roof and blanketed the ground); and the chimney puffed gently in the soft evening light, and the windows were lit from the life within. It was a warm, welcoming sight.

But suddenly Alice was nervous.

Alice knew how Mother would react to seeing Father again, but she didn’t know how Mother would react to seeing her again—and this new unknown frightened her. After all, Alice had run off without saying a single good-bye; she couldn’t expect Mother to be forgiving. What about the ferenberries? What about the washing and the mending? What about the shame she’d brought upon her family by failing the Surrender? Mother was sure to be livid. Alice was certain that when the front door opened, she would be met with anger and punishment and crushing disappointment, and it almost made her wish she hadn’t come.

For a moment Alice wondered whether she shouldn’t run straight to Oliver’s house and hide until Father could smooth things over—but she didn’t think Father would allow it. In any case, Alice could no longer dawdle. Father was eager to go inside, and Alice couldn’t deny him such a simple request. Not after everything he’d been through.

Father squeezed her hand and gave her an encouraging look and said, “Are you ready, darling? Shall we go in together?”

But Alice shook her head—she knew she should face Mother alone. (Though perhaps after Mother had her fill of yelling and screaming, Alice would call Father inside to save her.)

So Alice told Father her plan. Well, part of it.

“This way, it’ll be a surprise,” she said. “How Mother will cry when she sees you!”

Father laughed. “Very well,” he said. “If that’s what you prefer.”

Alice nodded, Father hid, and the two of them shared a wink before Alice walked up to the front door. Then, after only a moment’s hesitation, Alice knocked twice. Once for her and once for Father. (It was Furthermore tradition, after all.)

A moment later, the front door swung open.

Mother was exactly as Alice remembered her—beautiful and elegant and desperately sad. Her green corkscrew curls had sprung free of their ponytail, making her golden eyes seem somehow bigger and lonelier. Alice felt a sharp tug at her heart as she locked eyes with Mother, and both of them were suddenly still. Well, Alice was still. Mother appeared to be frozen.

“Alice?” she whispered.

“Hello Mother.” Alice attempted a smile, but quickly dropped her head and shrank inward lest Mother should think she was being deliberately insolent. Alice swallowed hard and braced herself for the imminent onslaught of anger, determined to be brave for Father once more.

But then, dear friends, the strangest thing happened.

Mother fell to her knees.

She threw her arms around her daughter and pulled her tight to her chest and wept, long and loud. Mother’s pain felt real and hot against Alice’s small body, and Alice could almost hear Mother coming untethered, tears cracking open ribs to let the pain pass through. “I’m sorry,” Mother cried. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t ever run away again. Please forgive me.”

“But, Mother—” Alice tried to say.

“I blamed you,” she said. “I knew why Father left and I blamed you for it and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“You knew?” said Alice, stunned. “You knew why he left?”

Mother looked up at Alice, eyes red-rimmed and puffy, and nodded. “He went to find color for you. He thought—he thought it would make you happy. But when he never came back, I blamed you for it.” She shook her head. “I treated you horribly. Please forgive me, Alice. I can’t bear to lose you both.”

“But you haven’t lost us, Mother,” said Alice softly. “You never did.”

Alice stepped backward to let Father step forward, and she wandered off in a daze, her head heavy and swimming with truths newly collected. For Alice, who’d only ever wanted to be loved and cared for, Mother’s confession was a revelation. And a curious life lesson. She and Mother had both loved Father dearly; but though this love had carried Alice, it had crushed Mother, and this was a power she hadn’t known a heart could possess.

Love, it turned out, could both hurt and heal.


“I told you she loved you,” said a familiar voice.

Alice was so startled she jumped nearly a foot in the air. “Why Oliver Newbanks!” she shout-whispered. “How dare you spy on me!” (But she was secretly pleased to see him.)

“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” he said, smiling. “I knew this would be a hard moment for you.” The sun was setting overhead, making the sky look as if it’d been slit open to rush the sunshine out. Oliver appeared to be glowing in the halo.