Regina's jaw tightens as she stares at her daughter through the mirror, their eyes locked, neither willing or ready to back down.
Fighting with Charlotte wasn't at all how she planned on spending the day—today was supposed to be a happy occasion—alas, here they were.
For weeks, they'd all been looking forward to Henry coming home for a visit. He'd be staying for an extended period of time, and this time, unlike previous visits, Ella and Lucy would be staying, too. Their rooms had been prepared, and some of Charlotte's old toys had been brought down from the attic, and that evening, Mrs. Beakley had prepared Henry's favorite dinner and dessert.
Then, that morning they'd received a postcard explaining that on the way to the Lodge, they'd stopped to see Ella's favorite great aunt, and to make a long story short, her cousin, Thomas, would be joining them for the coming weeks, then going back to Dragon Head with them for the remainder of the year. He didn't offer much of an explanation, but postcards only offered so much space. He apologized for the short notice, but wanted to give the staff at the Lodge time to prepare the boy's room and set another spot at the table.
And that was that.
It'd been simple and straightforward, and then, just as breakfast was wrapping up, Robin had casually suggested that Charlotte be the one to show Thomas around the estate groups, perhaps the next day they could ride up to the mill for some cider—after all, Winston had just finished making a fresh batch the night before.
That was when it all went south, and within minutes Charlotte was storming off in a rage, leaving her parents and brothers bewildered.
After a few minutes, Regina slowly rose from the table announcing that she'd go and talk to her. After all, Charlotte was her penance—penance for the hell she'd put her own parents through when she was just about the age that Charlotte is now.
But Charlotte hadn't been ready to talk and she didn't want to listen to reason—instead, she wanted to argue.
So that's what they did.
"I just don't understand why Oliver can't do it," Charlotte says, still holding her mother's gaze through the mirror. "He's perfectly capable."
"He is," Regina agrees. "But you're more social."
Charlotte offers a tight smile. "Seems like an opportunity for growth."
Regina's jaw clenches. She can't tell Charlotte that Oliver has an important exam coming up—she already knows and that's already a sore spot for her. And it's one that she understands. For as long as Charlotte can remember, she's been told that she's equal to her brothers, that anything they can do, she can do too. But as she got older, she slowly but surely came to realize that that was a rule that only applied at home. Her brothers were afforded more choices in life; they had more opportunity. The rules for boys were different than the rules for girls, and Charlotte felt none of that was fair.
And she wasn't wrong nor did they pretend she was.
"Charlotte," Regina says, trying in vain to keep her voice calm. "Your father is just asking you to show him around… make him comfortable and—"
"And that's the first step."
"Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about," Charlotte says, spinning around to face her mother. "Don't pretend like this isn't part of some plan."
Regina sighs. "How can it be part of a plan? We didn't even know he was coming until—"
"Maybe not the plan with him, but I know everyone's been just waiting for me to fall in line and playing the part that I'm supposed to play."
"I'm sixteen. I know what's looming ahead of me."
Regina's eyes press closed. "Your father and I are more than willing to be patient and—"
"Sure," she scoffs. "Patient, for now. Patient until I become a burden."
"We don't think of you that way. We never would—"
"Until Henry or Roland or… or, oh, god, Oliver is saddled with me."
"Charlotte," Regina says, her voice low and flat. "We are not asking you to marry this boy. We simply want you to be kind to him."
"That's how it starts, mother."
Regina sighs, her frustration evident. "You make it sound like we're eager to sell you off to the highest bidder."
For a moment, Charlotte looks away, her gaze focused outside the window. "And what happens if I never want to marry? Won't that be the case then? You'll have to stick me with someone, so why not start scouting options now?"
"Charlotte, you're sixteen years old. You have years ahead of you to dec—"
"You're assuming that I'm just going to fall in line. That I'll meet someone tolerable enough, that I'll become giddy and googly-eyed over him, that I just won't be able to help myself from wanting to become his property. Then I'll spend my days dreaming about marrying him and having his babies, and I'll become just like all the other girls my age."
"That isn't at all what I'm saying."
Charlotte scoffs, her disbelief palpable. "Right. We'll see about that."
Regina just stares at her for a moment, and in so many ways, it's like looking back in time. "Charlotte," she begins, her voice softer than it was before. "Listen, I understand exact—"
"Do you?" Charlotte interjects, her eyes widening. "You couldn't possibly understand what I feel." She pauses momentarily as her arms fold over her chest. "You love your life, as boring and dull as it is."
"I do," Regina admits. "But what your father and I have together wasn't—"
"I don't think I could stand to just… settle like that."
"I hardly settled."
Charlotte scoffs. "Sure. You might've sold that line to yourself, but you'll never be able to sell it to me."
It stings, but she says nothing. Instead, she lets Charlotte storm past her and when Robin turns on his heels to follow, Regina presses her hand to his arm and shakes her head. "Let her go and cool off," she murmurs.
"That was out of line."
"It was," Regina says, nodding. "I agree."
"She has no idea—"
"That's just it," Regina interjects. "She has no idea that when I was her age I'd all but thrown my life away."
Robin's brow furrows a bit. "You sound like Charlotte."
A wry little laugh escapes her. "I think we should just be glad that our sixteen year old isn't exploring her independence with the stable boy."
"Our stable boy is pushing eighty."
"That isn't the point," Regina sighs. "If not the stable boy, then… some other boy."
"I thought she wanted to be a spinster—like Mal."
"She does, but again, you're missing the point."
At that, Robin scowls. "I think I should talk to her."
"No, it'll make it seem like we're teaming up against her."
Robin blinks. "That's exactly what—"
"Exactly what we don't want her to think, even if it is true." She smiles gently and slips her arm around his waist, turning them away from Charlotte's room. "Trust me on this one, alright? I don't want us to inadvertently push her away." Regina pauses and sighs a bit wistful as she looks to the dress hanging on the outside of Charlotte's wardrobe. "She's… very quickly realizing how limited her independence is, and… that's a tough pill to swallow."
Hesitantly, he nods as Regina eyes him. "Fine. I'll let it go."
"She'll come around," Regina says, resting her head against Robin's arm as they continue toward the stairs, a little smile tugging up from the corners of her mouth. "I did."