Emma took a deep breath and clenched her hands tightly around the steering wheel. The road was familiar, as were the small houses passing her by on either side. She was nervous, and only a series of deep breaths calmed her down enough to keep driving. She was afraid of doing this. There was a good chance that she would get hurt and the last time had been bad enough. She didn't need to feel the same kind of pain again. But she realized that if she didn't at least try, she would always ask herself 'what if'.
She'd talked to Henry on the phone a couple of times and despite knowing that he was a cunning little schemer, his words had gotten to her. He told her about how Regina looked sad whenever she thought he wasn't around to see it. How she had put no restrictions on any phone calls or visits. He reminded her of the Haunted Trail at the fair and the whole falling off the damn horse incident.
Regina had risked her own life to get Emma off that horse. Given, she was the one who forced her on top of it in the first place, but the concussion she'd suffered from that stunt spoke of more than just guilt.
And Regina had found her. Somehow she'd managed to track her down even though she had left no clues whatsoever regarding her apartment, or even the part of the city she lived in. It must've cost the mayor quite a stash of money to be able to show up on her doorstep so quickly after she'd left. But what exactly did it mean?
Emma was conflicted, more so than ever before, and it had taken her several weeks to finally admit one thing to herself. She missed Regina. And Henry. She was angry, yes, beyond pissed actually, but that didn't change the core of her feelings.
She had to give Regina a chance. Her words had been heartfelt and Emma could accept it, appreciate the sentiment even, but it took more than that before she could trust again. It wasn't going to be easy but she couldn't just turn away from the one thing that had made her feel happiness again.
She drove through Storybrooke and seemed to find a memory at every corner. Despite her short stay, the little town had a feeling of home that none of the other places she'd been over the years had ever come close to.
Emma contemplated stopping at Granny's for lunch but quickly decided against it. Once she started stalling she wouldn't make it to Regina's house at all.
With another deep breath she stopped her yellow bug in front of the mansion on Mifflin Street, staring up at the darkened windows of the first story. Everything looked exactly the same and she still remembered fleeing from the house after Regina had told her that Henry was her son.
That was another topic she needed to work through, but she couldn't do it by herself. She had given up a child because she had known that she couldn't take care of him and to this day she still believed that it had been the right decision. Henry had a good life. A good mother. Everything she'd ever wanted for him.
She sighed. This was worse than therapy. She was forced to face not only her past but every single one of her fears and she hoped that there would still be something left afterward.
Getting out of her car, she made her way up the driveway and toward the white door. Every step was heavier and slower than the last and she could hear the pounding of her heart in her ears. The tips of her fingers felt cold and she buried them in the pockets of her leather jacket as she stopped in front of the door. She stood there for several moments, trying to ready herself for seeing Regina again. It wouldn't do to just stare at the other woman without getting a single word out.
She eventually gathered the courage to knock, not realizing how excruciating it was to wait for a response. Her booted foot tapped out a rhythm against the floor until she heard noises from the inside. She waited with baited breath as several locks were opened and the door swung open. The form in front of her was familiar but not at all who she'd hoped to see.
Cora narrowed her eyes and her mouth turned downward into a frown. Now Emma knew where Regina had learned her icy 'force ten' stare.
"Uhm…hey," she offered with a small smile.
The only movement from Cora was her eyebrow sneaking up her forehead into a questioning while also accusing glare.
"I… uh… could I speak to Regina… please?"
Cora sighed and half-turned away from Emma as if to slam the door right into her face, but instead she stepped aside and gestured for her to enter. Emma slowly moved across the threshold and gazed around the foyer. Everything looked still exactly like she remembered it and the sense of belonging she suddenly felt made her stop in her tracks.
"Would you like some coffee?" Cora offered as she strode past Emma into the kitchen.
Emma snapped out of her thoughts and followed after the older woman, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket again. "No thank you," she declined politely. She was already keyed up enough without adding caffeine to her system.
Cora silently poured herself a cup and took a sip before turning to Emma. "Regina's not here."
"Yeah I figured."
Cora hummed quietly and raised her coffee cup to her lips.
"So, when will she be back?" Emma asked, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
"Not anytime soon."
"Henry said you would come here eventually but I honestly didn't think it would be so soon."
Emma stared at Cora who only released a small breath before putting her cup down. She walked over to the fridge where an envelope was taped to the steel surface. A few words were scrawled across the front of the envelope but Emma could only read the first one, Operation, before Cora ripped it off and opened it. She removed a piece of paper and pursed her lips while her eyes quickly scanned the page.
"Regina and Henry are on vacation," she answered eventually, eyes still on the letter.
Cora shot her a long dark look before continuing. "Needless to say they won't be back for a while."
Emma closed her eyes briefly and took a breath. Why hadn't Henry mentioned this vacation? She tried to think back to their last phone call, remembering that he'd been a little vague about his plans for spring break.
This was pretty much throwing her off her game and now she had to actually wait for the return of the two people she wanted to see most.
"Where did they go?" Emma asked quietly, swallowing the question that was really on her mind. Did they leave because of her?
"Florida," Cora answered.
Emma exhaled and sank down into one of the kitchen chairs. "Florida huh?"
"Yes Miss Swan, Florida. Now my plane was supposed to leave this afternoon, but I am sure you can catch it just as well if you go now."
"Yeah, sure… wait what?"
Emma stared at Cora with wide eyes, going over the conversation in her head, trying to figure out how it had led to this. "You want me to take a plane to Florida? Where Regina and Henry are?"
"Unless you'd prefer to drive there, yes, that was my intention by offering you the ticket."
"You… you're helping me?"
Cora sighed and tapped her fingers against the envelope in her hand. "I didn't think you were the kind of person my daughter would fall for, nor did I think that you are good for her or Henry, but the days I have spent here before everything fell apart made me realize that neither of them have been this happy with an addition to the family. And you coming here shows that they mean something to you as well. However, I'm warning you Miss Swan, do not hurt either my daughter or my grandson. You will regret it, believe me."
Emma blinked, feeling torn between excitement at possibly seeing Regina and Henry again and being offended at the not so subtle threat Cora had just tossed in her direction. She raked both hands through her hair, needing to calm her racing thoughts. "Suppose I go to Florida, what could I possibly tell them?"
"The same you would've said had they been here." Cora turned on her heel and marched out of the kitchen, back into the foyer. Emma hopped off the chair and followed her, for the first time noticing the two suitcases near the stairs. She had completely overlooked them earlier but realized that Cora was actually for real. She wanted Emma to go to Florida. Where Regina was. And Henry.
Cora rummaged through her purse and pulled out yet another envelope that she tossed in Emma's direction. "You should leave immediately, the flight won't wait dear."
Emma fumbled with the envelope, almost dropping it. She glanced at Cora and shuffled toward the front door. "Are you really sure about this?"
"Are you sure about wanting to be in my daughter's life?"
Emma took a deep breath, gazing around the foyer before looking at Cora. "Yes," she said firmly.
Yes, she wanted this. A family. Love. And despite everything that had happened she had never felt more like she could finally have these things, finally find a place where she belonged. There were issues to work through, hell yes there were, but she wanted to give it a shot. For the first time she wanted to fight rather than run.
"Then go," Cora said, her eyes dark and her mouth drawn into a firm line.
She gestured toward the front door and Emma quickly opened it to slip through. She hadn't even made it halfway back to her yellow bug when she heard the door close again. She didn't turn around to see whether Cora was watching her from one of the many large windows of the mansion.
She sat behind the steering wheel, clutching the envelope in her first, promising herself that she would not screw this up.
The drive to the airport took longer than she had anticipated and by the time she was waiting toward the gate with her meager belongings stuffed into her old duffel bag she couldn't stop fidgeting. The flight was supposed to take a little over three hours and she had no idea how she was going to survive them without crawling up the walls of the plane.
Luckily she somehow managed to doze off soon after take-off and only the noise and movement of the plane descending rustled her awake. She stared sleepily at the people around her and then turned to look out of the small round window. She could already see tiny buildings and one or the other blue speck below. Pools, her mind provided, and she yawned. Regina and Henry were on vacation so they had to be somewhere near the ocean and a pool probably wasn't far either.
Lounging on the beach in the sun with a cocktail in her hand wasn't something she'd done, like ever, but it didn't sound very appealing either because the more the last vestiges of sleep dissipated, the more she started to get nervous again. What if Henry and Regina didn't want to see her? Would she have to turn right back around without even trying to make Regina understand why she'd acted the way she did? People going after their loved ones and surprising them in some tropical paradise was usually a thing for sappy movies. Real life just didn't work that way, but still Emma hoped this time would be an exception.
She hadn't asked for many things her life, but she silently prayed to whoever was willing to listen that she could fix this.
She slowly shuffled along the isle until she could step out of the plane, a wave of warm air hitting her squarely in the face. She glanced down at her sweater, realizing that she was dressed pretty inappropriately for a place like this and she hadn't even packed a bikini.
Shrugging out of her sweater she headed over to the terminal and rummaged through her bag to find the envelope Cora had given her. Inside was a reservation for a hotel. Once out of the airport she flagged down the first cab she saw, shoving the address into the young man's face as soon as she was in the backseat.
The scenery was pretty, palm trees and large houses on either side of the road, but Emma couldn't focus on much at all. It was already late afternoon by the time the plane had landed and it would take her about half an hour to get to the place where Regina and Henry were staying. How was she supposed to find them? Weren't they already expecting Cora? She didn't want to unnecessarily worry them but she needed this to be a surprise. A shocked Regina might just be approachable enough for her to say what she wanted to.
Before long the cab stopped in front of a small gate. After a few words were exchanged the gate opened and the cab drove up a long driveway, stopping in front of a semi-large dark building that was framed with palm trees on either side. Everything seemed rather secluded and fairly expensive. Emma dropped a few bills into the cab driver's hand and crawled out of the car, dragging her duffel along with her.
She was still staring at the building when a man in a uniform stepped up to her with a friendly smile. "May I help you with your luggage?"
Emma whipped around to him and cleared her throat. She glanced down at the duffel bag slung over her shoulder then back at the man. "Uh… no thanks, I think I can handle it."
She took a quiet breath and stepped away from the man as he nodded. "Of course ma'am, the entrance is right ahead. Have a pleasant stay."
The inside of the building looked even more exquisite than the outside. Emma immediately became aware of how she seemed completely out of place with her boots, jeans and tank top. Thankfully only few people were milling around the foyer and she managed to catch a receptionist as soon as she walked up the counter.
"Hey, uh, a reservation for Swan," she said glancing around again.
The entrance hall was held in the same dark color as the rest of the building, a few leather chairs and tables were scattered about and she saw two sets of stairs leading to the upper level at the other end of the hall.
"I'm sorry I don't seem to have the name here," the receptionist, a tanned young man, answered.
"Oh… uh I meant Mills," Emma corrected, mentally slapping herself on the forehead. She dug around in her duffle bag until she located the envelope she had stuffed there earlier and handed the man the reservation details.
"Ah yes, Mrs. Mills called earlier. Welcome to the White Sand Resort Miss Swan." The receptionist slid a black plastic card over to her. "Should you need anything, you only have to call here or the concierge. Room service is available all day. Your bungalow is located to the right of this building as soon as you exit through the back. Would you like someone to carry your bags?"
Emma declined the offer again and grabbed the card with a curt 'thank you' before heading off toward the stairs. She ascended them to the upper level and found herself staring at a breathtaking view. The ocean was only a few feet away and she was overlooking a vast array of smaller bungalows below and on either side of her. Every single housing entity was separated from the other by lush green plants she couldn't even begin to name.
She gaped at the scenery for several moments until she remembered that she possibly wasn't even here to stay.
Pushing the straps of her duffel bag further up her shoulder, she started walking toward one of the bungalow's to her right. She glanced down at the plastic card in her hand, keeping an eye on the individual names of each little house. Smiling to herself she stopped in front of the one called 'fate' that had the same number as her card. A coincidence? Probably, but she would take it as a good sign. She walked up the few steps leading to the front door and slid her card through the lock. It opened with a quiet 'click' and she stepped inside.
The interior of the bungalow was almost as amazing as the scenery. A huge bed took up one side of the living area and a balcony led straight out onto the ocean where it dipped into the water with a small curve. There was a huge rainforest shower and a large indoor hot tub in the bathroom to her right. She dropped her bag and stepped further toward the glass sliding doors, pushing them open with a sigh when the sounds of waves lapping against the beach reached her ears.
She inclined her head when something on the bed caught her attention. It was a white nondescript box. She slowly turned around and stalked closer. Maybe this was meant for Cora? She probably shouldn't open it but curiosity got the better of her. One little peek couldn't hurt.
Carefully lifting the lid, she glanced inside, finding a note folded neatly on top of something red. Her name was written across the note and she snatched it up.
I am glad you actually made it on time. Good for you.
Now, I assume that you have nothing suitable to wear in that bag of yours, so this might help.
Emma stared at the printed letters before putting the note down on the bed and lifting the red garment from inside the box to regard it. A dress. And underneath a pair of black heels. Cora had sent her an outfit. She wasn't quite sure what to make of that but she had to admit that Cora was right, she had absolutely nothing to wear for a place like this.
With a small sigh she plopped down onto the bed and held the silky dress in her hands. Was she really ready for this? Could she go through with her plan? Could she tell Regina how she felt once she found her?
She got to her feet and put the dress carefully down onto the bed to avoid getting any wrinkles into the expensive looking silk. Taking a deep breath, enjoying the salty ocean fragrance, she headed for the bathroom. A shower was in order. Then she would dress up like she'd never dressed up before. Regina wouldn't even have enough breath left to argue with her once she'd stolen it all away with her looks.
Emma winced at her own rather cheesy train of thought and shed her clothes one after the other on her way to the darkly tiled rainforest shower.
The warm water felt like heaven on her skin and she hoped that she would get a chance to take a swim in the ocean as well. Preferably with Regina there. In a bikini. The thought of seeing Regina like that made her forget that she was in the middle of shampooing her hair. Her hands were suspended in the air as she stared straight ahead at nothing in particular.
She imagined Regina emerging from the waves, her hair slicked back, water cascading down her body. Emma gulped and blinked her eyes several times, trying to clear her mind. She shouldn't get ahead of herself, there were so many things that could simply go wrong and she was reluctant to get her hopes up just yet.
She finished her shower and wrapped a large brown towel around herself before walking back into the living area. She flopped down onto the bed, careful not to land on the dress, and closed her eyes. She was ready. More than ready, but she was also exhausted. With a sigh she imagined Regina's face, surprise and probably anger, when she saw her. She hoped that Henry would be a little more excited that she was crashing their vacation.