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After this. Winter 1961.

Coming home without her nylons wouldn’t have been noticeable if her hair hadn’t been down and a bow tie hadn’t been in her hand. It also wouldn’t have been noticeable had Alice not been grinning like a sugar-charged child as she skipped out of the car and let herself inside the house.

Her mother was awake, of course, and sitting next to her sleeping father. Isabella’s hand was playing with Randolf’s hair as she read a book under the light of a dim lamp, her legs crossed, one foot gently shaking. For a moment, Alice thought about sneaking straight up to her room, but by now, Isabella would know that Alice was inside, and it was the driver’s job to follow her and prove it.

“Mrs. Fitzwilliam,” he said, knocking on the door frame. Isabella glanced up as Randolf started in his sleep, snorting loudly as Alice giggled and stepped from under the driver’s arm.

“Hi, Mummy!” she chirped, skipping into the room to plant a kiss on her mother’s cheek.

“Thank you, Martin, that will be all. Tell Vivien I said hello!”

The aforementioned Martin nodded his cap. “I will certainly do that, madam. Have a good evening.”

“And you!” Isabella turned to look at Alice, sitting up a little straighter on the sofa, which forced Randolf awake when he nearly slumped right behind Isabella’s back.

“Mmf—what the dev—oh! Alice, darling!”

“Did you have a nice time?” Isabella asked as Randolf sat up and rubbed his greying hair.

“The best!”

“You certainly—where have your nylons gone?”

Alice looked down at her legs as though she had no idea what her mother was talking about.

“And why is your hair loose? Alice!”

Isabella’s tone had gone from elation to anger in a heartbeat. She was like that. Alice blanched.

“Um—I had to soak my feet, Mummy. I got a blister, see?” She angled her leg so that her heel vaguely faced her parents, and Randolf, who was still rather tired, observed it with a grimace.

“Where on earth did you soak your feet?” Isabella asked.

“Quite a funny story, actually,” Alice said with a nervous little laugh. The truth was so far-fetched that she highly doubted her parents would buy it. Either way, she was probably looking at doing some time in her room for awhile. It was so utterly miserable. And her evening had been pitch perfect!

“Well, go on. We’ve got all night to hear it.”

Randolf looked tiredly skeptical and slightly surprised as he shifted on the sofa and withdrew his handkerchief from his back pocket. “You might, my dear, but I’m a bit tired.”

“You’re not leaving me to deal with this one.”

“What’s she done, precisely?”

“She’s come home with no tights on!”

Randolf looked slightly more awake. He had evidently missed this fact the first time around. “What?”

“Exactly—what’s in your purse?”

“I haven’t got—”

Alice’s—maybe you should sleep, darling.” Isabella stroked her hand through Randolf’s hair.

“No, I want to know what’s in her purse now that I know there’s something in it.”

“It’s nothing!” Alice said, defensively hiding her purse as it would be the final straw and there was no way to repair the camel’s back once the damage was done. She could lie about removing her nylons. She could say she bathed her foot in a hotel sink. She could not say that she stole the necktie off a three hundred year old doctor when they were sitting in a cloakroom together with a few other people while she soaked her feet in tea. In fact, she could not say anything at all that would justify her having a man’s necktie in her purse.

“Alice Josephine, give me your purse!” Isabella demanded. Reluctantly, Alice handed it over.

It only took two seconds.

What is this doing in your purse!

“I took it from someone!” Alice protested. “It was innocent! Look, he helped me get a foot bath for my blisters—Robert Capio, you know, the doctor! He’s three hundred years old, did you know that? None of the other Robert Capios ever existed! I got really cold feet because we were talking outside, so I said I needed to warm my feet up and he got me a way to do it and I took off my nylons and threw them at him and then I took his tie because he was going to keep the tights.”

Talking all at once had certainly done one thing for her. It had distracted her parents completely. In fact, it took them several minutes to recover.

“He doesn’t like parties so I tried to entertain him. I did my Marxes and I took off my shoes to do it and it was snowy and my feet got numb so he got me hot tea and I soaked my feet in it, okay?”

Another pregnant pause.

What?” Isabella and Randolf asked.

“Look, the only reason I went—I told you! To meet Robert—he’s really, really nice. So nice. He was born in 1660!”

“Yes—I know—what? You soaked your feet in tea?”

“Smell them if you have to!” Alice said, kicking her shoes off and holding her right foot up. Both of her parents looked away, but Isabella grabbed her foot and pushed it down. “No, listen—this looks rather odd, you do realize.”

“I know, Mummy, but I swear! I was just talking to him and his friends. He’s every bit as handsome as Vi and Mallory said, though. I can’t believe I haven’t seen a photo of him before now.”

“I’m sure there’s something somewhere—so you took his tie because he kept your tights? Why did he keep your tights?”

“Because I threw them at him and I thought it was funny! His friends made him keep them, really. I only hope he doesn’t have a girlfriend or anything.”

Isabella shook her head and Randolf leaned back and sighed, rubbing his forehead. “You’re too much like your mother. It’s going to get you into trouble.”

“Mum was far worse than I am!”

“Worse? What worse?” Isabella asked, glancing accusingly at Randolf. “You quite liked the way I was, if I remember correctly.”

“Yes, well, I like it when it’s you, not when it’s my daughter.”

Alice rolled her eyes and groaned. “Daddy! I’m twenty one, not a baby.”

“Quite on the contrary! You are always going to be a baby and I won’t have you arguing against it. Now go upstairs so that we can put bars on your doors and windows!”

Alice groaned again. “Mum! He’s not serious.”

“He might be!”

“I didn’t do anything! Robert—Dr. Capio—he’s got centuries on me. Do you think he’s interested? No.”

More importantly, she thought to herself as she was eventually herded upstairs, did she want him to be interested?

Nine hours of sleep later, she decided that she did.

It was awful, really.

“He was so cute!” she chimed over tea. “He had this hat and he said it was his best friend. I could have melted the snow! I could have melted into the snow! I can’t believe you could be a hundred and one and not ever get married.”

“Did he say he hadn’t been married?” Isabella asked, stirring more sugar into her tea.

“Yeah, he said as much. Maybe it was just a way to avoid talking about something unpleasant. He can’t have gone all this time without someone. He’s far too handsome.”

“Looks are all that matter?” Isabella asked, raising her eyebrows.

“No! He’s so nice, as well, which makes it all the more perplexing—gee, maybe he really was trying to get me not to ask about it.” Alice sighed. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s fascinating to know someone that old. Do you know anyone that old?”

“In fact I don’t,” Isabella said. “He must have known some of your father’s very oldest family members! How funny to think about. Did you ask him?”

“I said it, yeah, but I didn’t properly ask. He has a really funny friend called Sullivan or something. They called him Sully. I couldn’t figure out if he was—” Alice quickly censored herself, “—playing it up or naturally ridiculous, but he made me laugh.”

As she set her spoon down on her saucer, Alice was suddenly overcome with embarrassment. “I bet Robert thought I was the most immature person he had ever met! I was the youngest one there as it was, and being so old—he must be so refined. I’m just loud and I take off my tights in front of men.”


Isabella started laughing. “There’s nothing at all wrong with you that should make you think he thought less of you! If anything, a little eccentricity would go a long way! A man that old will not be easily shocked or engaged, you would think.”

“I suppose, but there’s a difference between being interesting and being annoying. I was probably annoying. I can’t believe I did my Marxes!” Alice’s face began to glow red. “And I stole his tie! This is the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to me!”

By now, Isabella was laughing so hard she couldn’t stop. She could barely manage to gasp for air as Alice continued to grow redder and redder until she was one color from her toes to her hair. And completely mortified.

“Have some confidence!” Isabella wheezed. “Darling, if he thought you were annoying he wouldn’t have let you dip your feet in tea!” It didn’t sound right when she said it, and it didn’t sound right when she reflected on it.

“I suppose, but I still think I ought to have acted more refined. Well, he did have a yo-yo,” she said after a pause. “Maybe I was fine.”

“He had a yo-yo?”

“Mmhm! He was playing with it when we went outside and I asked him if he could do tricks with it. He said he could.”

“That is the most remarkable thing! I can’t believe we haven’t properly invited him over. We’ll have to, won’t we? You’ll see that you don’t embarrass yourself.”

“What could I possibly say to him, anyway? I think I’d rather be his pen pal.”

“We’ll invite him over and ask, then!”

Alice scrunched her face up. She didn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea—specifically, she didn’t want Robert getting the wrong idea. She was terribly afraid of looking overeager, especially as she was horrified she had been so informal the night before (he had her nylons!), and was even more afraid that she was becoming too obvious. That she certainly did want to see him again, especially at her house, and especially without other people hanging around, even if they were nice other people.

It was awful.

“And he has the most beautiful eyes—I didn’t know you could have light brown eyes, but I suppose most people would think of it as hazel. They’re not hazel—well, he’s like us, so they must be light,” Alice told Margaret that afternoon as she picked berries out of a bowl on the kitchen table and lined them up on a paper napkin.

“Of course, darling.”

“He was so funny! He wasn’t properly flustered, but he seemed overwhelmed and I quite liked making him overwhelmed! It’s stupid, isn’t it? He’s just so handsome. And he’s tall—not as tall as Charlie or Scott or Daddy, but he’s tall! He could hold his own if they decide to beat him up.”

“Get your fingers out of the berries!” Margaret scolded, swatting at Alice’s hands and removing the bowl. Alice stared at her rows of soldier berries and began to eat them one by one.

“Am I being daft?”

“If you keep eating the berries we are baking into a pie—”

“No, I mean—nevermind.”

Folding the napkin over, Alice smashed her hand down over the remaining berries and admired the stain, her head in her hand. At least she had his bow tie. Maybe someone would send her a photograph as promised and she could pin it above her desk and stare at him for the rest of her life—

Oh, god, she’d turned into Vi and Mallory.

And she was determined, then, that they would never find out.

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