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Duality

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Stanley hoped he wouldn’t have to visit Grace Holloway—local crooner and Lamb’s most faithful.

But she was Eleanor’s caretaker and babysitter. Well, so was he, but he definitely screwed that job up for himself. And he did remember that Eleanor loved Grace especially—leaving Stanley behind in a heartbeat to dive into the beckoning arms of her auntie.

Stanley only looked on as the girl smiled at Grace in such a way that he had never seen.

Jealous? Who’s jealous?

He had to make sure he had no previous negative dispositions, before knocking on her door.

Alright, Stan, your plan is to get her to help—without raising any red flags. Don’t. Fuck it up. Hell, maybe she’s following in Lamb’s gospel? Forgive an’ forget, right?

Of course, the reunion was much less warm than he had hoped it to be.

“Why did you come dragging yourself into my neighbourhood, Stanley?” Grace had opened the door, meeting eyes with him.

As expected, her greeting was a sour, sharp one. The voice Stanley had heard sing once upon a time had snarled viciously.

Stanley’s heart leapt into his throat, his mouth refused to comply with his thoughts.

“Drunk again? Lost your way home?” She called him back to reality

Stanley remembered suddenly his reasons for visiting. And already he was screwing it up by existing, breathing in Grace’s presence.

“No, I—it’s about Eleanor. I want to find her.” Stanley’s very slightly stuttering voice was half-blessing, half-curse.

He had only hoped that Grace would be less perceptive that day.

She sneered. “Tch,” she hissed, “She went missing months ago. Where were you when I was banging on everyone’s door?”

Stanley winced guiltily—certain he’d get his ass kicked. He started to answer.

Then she continued—it was rhetorical, much less an inquiry than a brief pause between using her breath to scold Stanley.

“You don’t care, all you did was lounge on your behind while that baby girl was missing—“

Listen to me, for one fucking second!” Stanley snapped at her.

The quiet turned heavy as Stanley caught his breath, then slowly realised that sweet ole Gracie had started to loom over him.

She fixed him with a scowl, her striking brown eyes said more than her voice did in that moment. “Well, you’ve grown a backbone.” She commented, grimacing down at him. “Out with it, then.”

“Thank you,” Stanley said, but it sounded more like a finally to Grace. She let it slide. Stanley inhaled, “I got a tip that she’s at the orphanage.”

In an instant, Grace’s face, soft and normally loving—went from distaste to an expression of shock, and a mother’s terror. “My baby girl?” She said lowly.

“Yes.” Stanley nodded hurriedly. “I hate to say it, but I need your help, and I’m, uh, pretty sure the girl don’t like me.”

“I’m wondering, why are you so concerned now, Stanley?” She asked curiously, she stared at him, bored into him with her gaze.

Everything he could say from that point onward would be immediately dissected syllable by syllable.

With not a moment wasted, Stanley cooked up his best story. Making it up as he went along.

“Remember? Lamb wanted both of us to care for her... and she vanished on my watch, Gracie, in Dionysus Park.” Stanley crossed his arms. “This is all my fault. She never came home to you because I let my guard down.”

Some genuine part of him choked up a little.

What if he wasn’t making this up?

Grace looked down at him, trying to make heads or tails of his dubious story, she leaned her weight on one foot, grimacing at the pain at her hip.

“She never liked me, Gracie,” Stanley pressed on, “please.” His already ill-postured shoulders slumped, the closest to a grovel at Grace’s feet he would get. “I couldn’t face knowing I lost her, I searched high and fuckin’ low... nothing. I was thinking that... Maybe you’d have the magic touch.”

Grace’s look softened just a little, but she still remained cautious. “You lost her, Stanley, now I don’t know how you managed that... but I want my baby girl back. Lamb trusted me—“ she paused, then cast a sceptical, evaluative look at Stanley, “—us, to watch her.”

“Gracie, I need you to help me.” Stanley offered his kindest half-smile. “Please?”

She appeared to regard him with something similar to sympathy. “I was crying, for weeks...” Grace said, her powerful voice injected an unexpected force into her statement. “You didn’t show me that you cared. Not once. Not when Eleanor disappeared. I know you Stanley, you have another angle. You always do. I felt like a failure to her momma. You couldn’t possibly know what it felt like.”

“Oh, come on,” Stanley looked at her, blinking incredulously, raising his brows, “we both cared about her. Why can’t you just believe me?”

“Because you’re you.” She jabbed a finger at him. “You knew I was hurting—“

I was hurting, too!” Stanley argued, gesturing to himself and cutting her off. “She was our responsibility! For fuck’s sake, Gracie—this isn’t just on me!” Stanley didn’t normally go out of his way to to make a scene, but it seemed to be working in his favour. So he continued. “Lamb trusted both of us! You were Eleanor’s auntie Gracie—you had as much a part in her life as I did!”

Stanley had never yelled so much in such a short span of time—let alone just for a pity act. His throat sorta hurt afterward. But that just added to the experience.

Grace’s eyes widened at him. Then they lowered to the ground slowly, with a touch of regret.

Stanley inly rejoiced, knowing he’d struck home. Even Grace Holloway, the brick wall of a woman, had her self-conscious cracks.

Stanley caught his breath. “If you don’t believe me, then fuck it... I’ll find her myself.”

He turned on his heel, then counted down.

Three, two—

“Stanley?”

He sighed and turned around, looking at her, tucking his hands in his pockets.

The both of them just looked at each other. Stanley took time to examine her mixed expression, her eyes, shining.

Was he able to fool her?

Couldn’t be too careful.

Stanley took a breath. “I’m sorry, Gracie. I’m just—“

Grace shushed him, then spoke in her gentlest tone, usually reserved for the soft blues she sang for the public. “Stanley, I just want little Eleanor safe again. Maybe I can’t forgive you, but that isn’t Doctor Lamb’s way.”

“Doc Lamb’s different, Gracie.” Stanley quipped. “She knows it’s never too late to fix what you broke.”