Sure enough, upon arriving in their rooms, there were new suits and dresses laid out for them on their beds. “Oh, look at these!” Jennifer squealed happily in the girls’ room, rushing forward and picking up the green gown draped across her mattress. “They’re beautiful! And feel that fabric – I don’t think we got silk this fine in the royal court!”
“Probably because it’s Fae-made,” Alice noted, looking down at her own blue dress. “Whatever bad you can say about them, you have to admit they know how to make fine things.”
Victoria examined her shining silver dress. “It looks almost like it was made from moonbeams,” she murmured in wonder.
“Perhaps it is.”
“And look at the shoes,” Jennifer said, picking one up from its spot on the floor. “They look like they’re made of frosted glass. You’ll have to be careful walking in them.”
“They wouldn’t give me shoes that would break – would they?” Victoria asked, frowning nervously.
“Some might, but I think we can trust the Cheshire Cat.” Alice picked up her own shoes. They were a glittery blue that matched the dress perfectly. “We did save his life, after all.”
Jennifer nodded. “We should be fine.” She looked at Alice. “So? What do you think?”
“They’re nice,” the young woman admitted. “Certainly very pretty. But do you really think they’ll look good on me?”
“Yes,” Jennifer said firmly. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Alice.”
“Oh yes,” Victoria agreed. “You’re a very lovely girl.”
Alice smirked. “I’d argue the point, but I know you two wouldn’t let me. Allow me the compliment of saying you’re both quite pretty yourselves?”
Victoria blushed. “Thank you. And thank you for – for asking something else for me. I would have never had the courage. . . .”
“Please, don’t mention it. In my opinion, I was simply transferring that boon to a more deserving party. And before you say anything, Jennifer, I lost my parents to mere death, not to their own horrible natures.”
“. . .Fair enough,” Jennifer allowed. “I still can’t believe they made you work as a servant in your own home, Victoria.”
“It – wasn’t pleasant,” Victoria said with a tiny shudder. “Although it wasn’t quite so bad when Hildegarde, my old maid, was there. Once she left, however. . . .” She sighed, then looked at her friends gratefully. “I am so glad you turned up when you did. I honestly don’t know what might have happened otherwise. They certainly had no money for a conventional doctor, and without me doing the chores. . . .”
“That’s all in the past,” Jennifer said. “You’re with us now, and you don’t need to pay them any mind again if you don’t want to.”
“I wouldn’t,” Alice added. “I might even change my last name.”
Victoria shook her head. “I’ve been an Everglot all my life – the name I’m used to. Besides, I’ll be giving it away once I find someone to marry.” She sighed. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve dreamt of my wedding day. I always hoped to find someone I was deeply in love with – someone to spend the rest of my life with.” She smiled in an embarrassed way. “Silly, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps – but only in the best way,” Alice told her, with a smile of her own.
“I don’t think so – look at what Marty and I have,” Jennifer argued. “When you meet the right one, you’ll just know. I promise you.”
“Jennifer, do keep in mind you were enchanted to sleep until you got kissed by your true love,” Alice said. “And – forgive me for bringing this up, but I think it needs to be said – your true love turned out to live rather later than you originally did.”
“I think the fact she hasn’t been cursed improves her chances of finding her true love living in this century,” Jennifer said, though she looked slightly less sure of herself than before.
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves here,” Victoria said with a laugh. “Why don’t we just concentrate on the ball tonight and enjoying ourselves there? We have time enough to worry about marriage.”
“Indeed,” Jennifer agreed. “I wonder how the boys are doing over in their room?”
“They’re boys,” Alice said. “No doubt they looked at their clothes, said ‘How nice,’ and promptly forgot about the whole business.”
“Hey, nice threads!”
“Do you really think so?” Victor said, examining the black suit in his hands.
Marty shrugged. “Better than anything anybody back home had.” He looked down at his own suit, which was done in blue and reds. “Gotta say, our cat friend really came through. I don’t think I’ve ever owned any clothes this good.”
“I have, but that’s only thanks to the watch,” Doc said, his own brown suit draped over one arm. “Magically-made cloth always seems to come out superior to naturally-made. Perhaps it has something to do with the way one can visualize a perfect piece of cloth, but actually getting a loom or similar instrument to work that finely is a challenge. . . .”
Marty stared at his friend a moment. “Uh – yeah, sure, why not,” he said after a moment.
Doc chuckled. “Sorry, did I lose you?”
“It’s okay – I know it’s a science thing.” Marty tried the jacket of his suit on over his shirt. “Okay, so how long until the ball?”
Doc checked his watch. “It’s 11:30 now, so about six and a half hours until the official start. We have some time to make some last-minute preparations, if anyone wants.”
“Nah, I’m good,” Marty said, shrugging the jacket back off. “Just didn’t know when we should actually change. . . .” He noticed Victor still staring at his suit. “You okay, Victor?”
“I’m – I’m just nervous,” Victor confessed. “Parties have never been a strong point of mine. I always spent them by one wall, watching e-everyone else dance and have a good time.”
“It’s gonna be different this time,” Marty assured him. “The Cheshire Cat promised us a perfect night, remember? And you’re going with all of us. That’s gotta count for something.”
“Have you ever been to a ball with friends before?” Doc added.
Victor shook his head. “Unless you count my parents, which is highly unlikely,” he said, a brief note of bitterness finding its way into his voice. “I’ve never gone as part of a group. I’ve never h-had a group before.”
“You have one now,” Marty grinned. “And you’re gonna be fine.”
“You have our support, Victor,” Doc nodded. “At the very least, you should always have someone to make conversation with. We won’t let this experience turn into another humiliation for you.”
Victor smiled. “Thank you.” He set the suit down. “I’m sure I’ll have a better time at this party than I’ve had at any other. Though don’t expect me to dance much – I’m not very good at it.”
“It’s fine – I can’t remember the last time I danced, so we can be wallflowers together,” Doc assured him.
“Sheesh, I’m starting to wonder if Jennifer and I are gonna be the only ones having any fun at this thing,” Marty said, half-teasingly. “Besides, Victoria and – okay, maybe only Victoria will want a dance, but that still counts.”
“Yes, but the Cheshire Cat also promised her she’d be the belle of the ball,” Doc pointed out. “There’s no need for either of us to serve as her partner. Though I suppose you’re right in that it would only be polite.”
“If she asks, I’ll try,” Victor nodded.
“And if Alice asks?” Marty said, with a rather playful grin.
Victor blushed. “I’ll – I’ll try for her, too,” he said, playing with his tie a bit.
“Good. Means I won’t have to try and shove you two out on the dance floor together.”
“Marty. . . .” Doc said.
“What?” Marty grinned at him.
“Let’s just order lunch, okay?”
The hours til the start of the party passed surprisingly quickly. Soon, it was time to change clothes and head to the palace. The boys, naturally, were ready first. “How much longer?” Marty called through the door of the girls’ room.
“Just a few more minutes! Hold your horses!”
“I’ve been holding them, Jen!”
“They’ll be ready when they’re ready,” Doc counseled, pulling Marty back a few paces. “Women’s dress is more complicated than men’s. Surely you know this – you mentioned having a sister a while back.”
“Yeah, but Linda never took this long to get ready.” Marty bounced on his heels impatiently. “I just really want to see what all this fuss is about, Doc.”
“Well, my curiosity has been piqued as well, but calling for the girls to hurry up isn’t getting us anywhere.”
Victor fidgeted, looking faintly distracted. His new Fae-made suit had a bow-tie, depriving him of his usual means of expressing his nerves. His hands kept twitching upward, trying to find the length of cloth that usually rested there. “We m-mustn’t rush ladies,” he agreed with Doc. “They should b-be allowed to take as l-long as they like.”
“Hoping to get out of it, Victor?” Marty said, only half-joking.
Victor turned pink. “No, no, I just – delay is fine by me,” he said, looking down and attempting to twist a tie that wasn’t there again.
As if this had been a cue of sorts, the girls’ door finally opened. Jennifer swept out in her green gown, her hair piled up on her head and held in place with hairclip with small green feathers on it. She spun in front of Marty. “Worth the wait?”
“Oh yeah,” Marty said, catching her and kissing her.
Victoria came out next, looking shy. Her silver dress sparkled in the lamplight, and she’d accented her bun with a small silver crown and shimmery veil. “How do I look?” she asked, fiddling with her fingers.
“Lovely,” Victor assured her.
“Quite beautiful,” Doc said, looking her up and down. His eyebrows rose as he came to her feet, just visible under the skirt’s hemline. “Great Scott – are those slippers made of glass?”
“Magically reinforced – she walked around in them a bit earlier,” Jennifer confirmed. She glanced back toward the door. “Come on out, Alice!”
“Oh, must I?”
“Yes, otherwise I’ll come back and drag you out.”
There was a sigh, and Alice stepped out. Her own light blue dress ended well above her ankles, showing off her matching glittery shoes to best effect. Her hair had been pulled back in a ponytail, held in place with a blue bow, and she’d been persuaded to put on a little lipstick and blush for the occasion. She folded her arms and frowned at her group. “What do you think?” she said, just a hint of challenge in her voice.
Marty tilted his head. “You clean up nice, Alice,” he said after a moment’s examination, grinning.
“You look very nice,” Doc agreed with a nod.
“. . .You look beautiful.”
Alice turned to see Victor staring at her with an expression approaching reverence. She blushed and dropped her head slightly. “You – you don’t look that bad yourself,” she replied, sounding quite uncharacteristically shy. “Very handsome, in fact.”
Victor blushed again. “T-thank you.”
Marty grinned and winked at Doc, before taking Jennifer’s arm. “Well, come on then! Let’s go crash this party!”
Doc offered his arm to Victoria. “If you’ll allow me to escort you, milady?”
Victoria giggled. “That would be very kind of you, Dr. Brown,” she said, accepting it.
Victor looked at Alice, then hesitantly offered his arm. “If – if you’d like?”
Alice looped her arm through his. “If you’ll have me,” she said, with a smirk. “Let’s go watch them have fun.”
The ballroom was already full of people by the time they arrived. It seemed like the entire rest of the country had poured itself into the confines of the space. The band was already playing, dressed in fancy skeleton costumes and grinning at all and sundry. The buffet was full of all sorts of food, from cheeses to meats to cakes, and waiters wandered about with plates of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Large padded benches had been provided for people to sit, and there was even a couple of tables tucked into a far corner with cards on them for those who wanted to play games rather than dance. All in all, it looked to be a very fun party.
Marty jerked his thumb toward the card tables. “Maybe you can hang out there, Alice,” he suggested. “Challenge all the boys to a game.”
Alice smiled. “Perhaps, though it’s been ages since I’ve played any of the traditional games,” she said. “I think right now my knowledge is limited to Solitaire and 52 Pickup.”
“I’m not familiar with that last one,” Victoria confessed.
“Oh, it’s quite easy to play. You take the deck of cards, shuffle them carefully, face your opponent, and then throw them in the air.”
Victoria blinked. “You. . . ?”
“Well, it’s called 52 Pickup. . . .”
Victoria just barely bit back a laugh. “Oh, I see.”
“Dave loved to pull that on me,” Marty said, rolling his eyes but smiling fondly. “‘Course, I always got him back by hiding the cards in weird places all over his room. Once stuffed his pillow case full of them. He didn’t notice for two days.”
“How do you not notice your pillow is full of stiff little pieces of cardboard?” Alice asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Beats me.” Marty gazed up at the skylight set in the ceiling, showing the gradually-sinking sun. “So! Dancing? Food? Tricking somebody into playing 52 Pickup?”
“I’m all for dancing,” Jennifer said, gently tugging on his arm.
“I certainly wouldn’t mind a dance,” Victoria agreed. “Dr. Brown, would you like to be my first partner?”
Doc bowed slightly. “I would be honored.”
“What about you two?” Marty asked, looking back at Victor and Alice. “You gonna join us on the floor?”
Victor and Alice looked at each other. “I think we’ll wait,” Victor says. “After all, we have at least until midnight.”
“I’m honestly more in the mood for a bit of food myself,” Alice nodded.
“Suit yourselves. I’m coming, Jen, I’m coming.”
The pairs split up, Marty and Jennifer moving toward the center of the dance floor while Doc and Victoria stayed on the fringes. Victor and Alice watched them for a moment as the two couples settled into rhythms. “I have to say, I envy Marty his grace,” Victor admitted after a moment with a sigh. “Whenever I try to dance, I’m always so worried about bumping into something – or someone – that I can barely manage the steps.”
“I think the only dancing I’ve ever done was on my father’s shoes,” Alice commented. “And a few turns with a dance tutor before – well, you know.”
“I do.” Victor lightly touched her arm. “I’m still so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you, but – I’m sure you’ve experienced worse. And I don’t mean just through your death sense, either. Your parents--”
“Let’s not talk about them,” Victor cut her off, shaking his head. “My days of being their son are over. What’s past is past.” He nodded toward the buffet table. “You said you wanted food?”
Alice grinned. “Well, somebody’s got to be the first to taste that enormous cake they’ve got up. . . .”
“Holy crap, I think every guy in this ballroom has asked Victoria for a dance by this point.”
“Well, the Cat did promise that she’d be the belle of the ball,” Jennifer pointed out, nibbling on some cheese. “She looks like she’s having fun, at least.”
“Yeah – I was worried she wouldn’t get out there. She seems almost as shy as Victor sometimes.” Marty turned his head. “Speaking of which, they’re still hanging onto that wall. I’m tempted to go over there and drag them off it.”
“Oh, leave them alone,” Jennifer said. “They look happy enough just standing together and talking.” She watched them for a moment. “Although – no, we shouldn’t interfere.”
“It’s just – Alice may have let slip--”
“Oh, she does feel the same way about him? I’m all for interfering, then. He’s never gonna say anything on his own.”
Jennifer blinked and stared at Marty. “Wait, what?”
“Come on, isn’t it obvious he’s over the moon for her? Don’t tell me Doc and I are the only ones who saw it.”
“No, no, I did, sort of. . . Did you suss out that Alice was a bit jealous of Victoria being Victor’s former fiancee?”
“That explains some of the extra grumpiness,” Marty nods. “I had an idea, but nothing solid, ya know? But I’ve been suspecting for a while she’s really sweet on him. Whenever we get into a fight, she’s always at his side.”
“And he at hers,” Jennifer nodded. “The problem is, I’m not sure she’s ever going to say anything. Maybe losing her family at such a young age hardened her.”
“Yeah, and he thinks he’s not good enough for her,” Marty sighed, rolling his eyes. “What say we just go over there and tell ‘em to make out already?”
“I know you don’t know fear, Marty, but you should at least have an inkling that Alice would kill us for that,” Jennifer said. “I’d love to do just that myself, don’t get me wrong, but not at the cost of neither of them talking to us again. People get weird about romance.”
“People get weird about everything,” Marty complained. “Nothing’s ever simple.”
“We’re simple,” Jennifer smiled, cuddling up to him.
Marty grinned back at her. “Yeah,” he agreed, putting his arm around her. “Good thing, too. Otherwise I’d be driven crazy by all the looniness we’ve got to put up with.”
“Tell me about it.” Jennifer glanced in the direction of the dance floor. “Oh, looks like Doc’s going – wait, that’s not Doc!”
“Look at that fellow there!” Jennifer pointed to the man currently talking to Victoria. “Look at his face!”
Marty looked. “Whoa! He could be Doc’s twin! Except for the hair, and even then. . . .” He shook his head. “Now that is weird.”
Marty looked up as his friend approached. “Hey, Doc, you got any brothers we don’t know about?”
Doc frowned and tilted his head. “No. . .why?”
“Look at that guy over there. The one who’s dancing with Victoria.”
Doc looked. “Oh, that must be that Sir Christopher everyone’s talking about! I’ve been mistaken for him a couple of times tonight. Great Scott, the resemblance is uncanny. . .though you think the different hairstyles might tip people off. . . .”
“Probably not looking properly,” Jennifer said. “Sir Christopher?”
“Sir Christopher Lloyd, the White Knight, from what I’ve gathered,” Doc explained. “He’s an ambassador from the Pale Kingdom on our western border. Renowned as the slayer of the Jabberwock.”
“What’s that?” Marty asked with interest.
“A nasty dragon with a poisonous bite and wicked claws,” Doc said, still eying his near-doppleganger. “Beheaded it in one stroke, if I recall.”
“Sounds like someone to get on our side, then,” Marty grinned.
“I concur. I think I’ll go have a chat with him once he’s done dancing with Victoria.” He looked down at his young friends. “How are you enjoying the night?”
“Oh, it’s been wonderful,” Jennifer said, brushing a little hair out of her face as she smiled. “Marty’s quite the dancer.”
“I’ve picked up some fancy footwork,” Marty said proudly. “Granted, a lot of it’s from dodging, but hey.”
Doc laughed. “Well, that’s better than nothing. I have to admit, I’ve been having a good time myself. I caught up with Bonejangles, and he’s been introducing me to most of the minor rulers around here. A few of them are interested in rebellion, but they don’t want to be open about it. I certainly can’t blame them – they’d been squashed in moments. But I’ve gotten a promise from them that, once we’re ready to storm the castle, we’ll send word, and they’ll send reinforcements as fast as possible.”
“Awesome! Glad to hear it!”
“Me too. I was starting to seriously worry that it was just going to be us against her. I don’t think having even what I would venture to guess are the two best fighters in the entire kingdom and a magical watch that can grant any wish would allow us to conquer the Queen of Hearts. Maybe escape with our lives, should things go completely lopsided, but. . . .”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Jennifer decided. “We’ve got to get there first, and that’s going to involve a lot more walking.”
Victoria joined them, leading over the knight that looked so much like their friend. “Here they are,” she told him. “Marty, Jennifer, Doc, may I present Sir Christopher Lloyd, White Knight of the Pale Realm. Christopher, this is Marty McFly, Jennifer Parker, and Dr. Emmett Brown. Where’s Victor and Alice?” she added, looking around.
“Where do you think?” Marty said, jerking a thumb toward the wall where Victor and Alice lingered. “I mean, I spotted them at the buffet earlier, and watching some of the card games, but other than that. . . .”
“Well, they warned us they weren’t party people,” Jennifer said with a shrug. She smiled and curtsied at Sir Christopher. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Delighted to meet you as well,” Sir Christopher said, bowing. “I understand you all helped Victoria out of quite the predicament.”
“If that translates to ‘her parents treating her like hired help,’ then yeah,” Marty nodded. “Word of advice, buddy – if you’re at all different from ‘normal’ people in any way, stay far away from Burtonsville.”
Sir Christopher chuckled. “I will keep that under advisement, thank you.” Turning to Doc, he added, “So this is the fellow everyone says could be my twin! It is a remarkable resemblance. Do you know if you have Lloyd in your family tree?”
“I’m afraid not,” Doc said. “I’d ask if you had any Brown in yours, but that’s far too common a last name to be of any help.” He smiled a little. “I suppose we should just be grateful that we have different hairstyles. And that you wear a mustache.”
“Indeed. Victoria tells me that you’re a bit of an inventor – I do some of that myself,” Sir Christopher said with a bright grin. “I’ve got a portable beehive that I carry around with me on my horse.”
“Really? That must be interesting,” Doc said, leaning forward.
“Oh, he’s told me all about his ideas,” Victoria said, with a fond glance up at Sir Christopher’s face. “He’s as smart as you are, I’m sure. And very courteous,” she added, blushing.
“My dear lady, I’m as mannerly as you deserve,” Sir Christopher replied, taking her hand and kissing it.
Marty nudged Jennifer and grinned. Jennifer returned both. “I think we could use some refreshment,” she said, taking her boyfriend’s arm. “Can we get you anything?”
“Oh, no thank you,” Sir Christopher said, glancing at them. “Actually, I’m hoping to speak with you, Dr. Brown. I’ve heard something about how you’re looking for military assistance in a battle against the Red Queen?”
“Oh yes – you see. . . .”
The teenagers left him to explain the situation while they visited the buffet. “Well – I think the Cheshire Cat came through in spades, didn’t he?” Jennifer said. “You can’t get more ‘belle’ than finding a man you immediately take a shine to.”
“And who immediately likes you back,” Marty said, looking back at the three. “Look at the way they keep sharing little looks. They’re both smitten as hell.” He frowned. “That doesn’t sound quite right. . .smitten as heaven?”
“Maybe,” Jennifer giggled. “But still, I’m glad for her. She deserves a little happiness in her life. And she was telling us before how, as a girl, she’d always dreamt of getting married to someone she really loved.”
Marty nodded. “Well, I think she’s found him, if the way they keep smiling at each other is any indication. Good for her.” Turning back to Jennifer, he added, “Was that one of your dreams too?”
“Sure – I think most every girl has that dream at some point,” Jennifer nodded. “Little boys, I’m not so sure on.”
“Sorry – can’t say I ever dreamed of getting married,” Marty admitted with a laugh. “I was all about slaying dragons and trying to figure out ‘fear.’”
“Least you never had a problem with figuring out love,” Jennifer said, snuggling up to him.
“Yeah, good thing,” Marty agreed, kissing the side of her head. “Okay, I gotta ask – are you actually thirsty, or did you just want to give them a little privacy?”
“Well, I was thinking more the latter, but now that we’re over here I wouldn’t mind a bite to eat and something to drink,” Jennifer admitted, looking over the spread. “It all looks pretty delicious.”
A growl issued from Marty’s stomach. “Yeah, guessing I agree,” Marty said, looking down at it. “You get some punch and I’ll grab sandwiches?”
“Sounds like a plan.”