I held Neal in my arms as he grew weaker. “Here,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out the swan necklace. “Go find Tallahassee...even if it’s not with me. I’ll be watching over you.” Neal cringed in pain. He was using the rest of his strength to tell me to be happy.
“Neal….” I couldn’t help but shed tears as the man I once loved lay dying in my arms.
“Emma,” his voice was a whisper. “You’ve already found your Tallahassee.” I leaned back to look at his face. Neal had that goofy grin. “It’s Regina. I know the way you look at her. She’s your happiness now. Don’t let her get away.” I was shocked. Neal loved me yet knew there wasn’t a second chance for us. His eyes closed and he had a small smile on his lips. He was gone.
I sat in the park watching the fish swim in the pond. Neal’s words kept running through my head. It had been a week since he died but I couldn’t shake the memory of what he said. You’ve already found your Tallahassee…it’s with Regina. “Mom?” Henry’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
“Hey kid. Have fun with Leroy?” I watched as he joined me on the bench.
“Yeah. I caught a really big fish but it got away as I was bringing it in.” Henry shrugged his shoulders. “You win some you lose some I guess.” I chuckled. “You miss him don’t you? My dad.”
“I do. He was a good man overall. But there was something he told me before he died that I can’t quite shake.” I caught myself fiddling with the necklace again.
“What’d he say?” The day Neal died I sat down with Henry and told him and edited version of how Neal and I met. Then also how happy we were in Tallahassee.
“He told me to find my Tallahassee…even if it wasn’t with him.” I paused and took in a deep breath. “Then he said I had already found it but with someone else.”
“With the Mayor?” My mouth opened but no words came out. “Come on mom, everyone sees the way you look at her.” I leaned back and sighed. Henry has called me out on liking Regina before and I was tired of fighting it. “I think she likes you too.”
“Why do you say that?” I leaned my head against the back of the bench and closed my eyes. The breeze felt good and for some reason I became really relaxed.
“Just the way she looks at you. And the way she gets irritated when Killian flirts with you. He’s cool and all but he’s not your type.” I chuckled. My son knows my type? When did this happen? “I mean yeah you liked Walsh but you act different around Regina. You’re more comfortable with her and there’s more chemistry…”
“Okay Henry I get the point.” I reached over and ruffled his hair. “Here’s the thing though, she’s not into me. Or even if she is, she wouldn’t ask me out.”
“How do you know that? Have you ever tried?” I groaned and covered my face with my arm. I did not want to have this conversation with my son. “I could ask her for you.”
“Oh yeah? And how is that?” I didn’t think anything of it when Henry stood.
“Because I have your phone.” The blood drained from my face when his words registered.
“Henry, give me my phone.” I jumped up and he had a mischievous grin on his face. “Henry…give it back. I’m serious Henry.”
“Ask her out first. Then I will.” He took off and I had to chase him.
“You are so freaking grounded when I catch you!” As I turned the corner for the small wooden bridge I slipped. Since it had just rained the wood was slick and I went straight into the chilly water. Henry stopped when he heard me groan.
“Mom are you okay?” I glared at him from the water.
“You. Are. Dead.” Before I could say anything else we heard an amused chuckle.
“Do I need to remind you that there is a no swimming law for this pond?” I hung my head when Regina made her way towards us. “Hello Henry.”
“Hello Madame Mayor.” I could feel Regina’s eyes on me. “I need to go meet Mrs. Blanchard at the library. I’ll see you later.” With that, Henry was gone. I made my way out of the pond. I was drenched.
“Hey Regina.” I started to shiver as I rung the water from my shirt.
“Do I even want to know how you ended up in the pond?” I sighed.
“Long story. Did you need me?” My eyes locked onto the necklace around Regina’s neck. It was a golden tree on a matching chain. Where have I seen that tree before?
“Emma?” My attention went from Regina’s necklace to her face. “You look cold. Let’s get you a change of clothes. Though, can we take your car since…” She motioned towards me.
“Yeah. I’d rather not get in your BMW soaking wet.” When we got to my car I opened the door for Regina. “S..so wh..what did you need me for?” After I finally got the bug to start, I cranked up the heat.
“Why do you keep this old thing? I mean, I figured you’d get a better car in New York.”
“Some memories leaked through I guess. I saw this for sale and was drawn to it. Some things never change; curse or not.” I glanced at Regina. “It’s no BMW but I like it. It holds memories.”
“Of you and Neal?” I paused. Did Regina know what Neal told me? No. She couldn’t.
“It holds memories of a time when I was happy. I was happy with Neal once but…now…”
“Now that he’s gone you’re not sure you’ll ever find that happiness again.” I don’t believe Regina meant to say that aloud but I wasn’t about to point it out.
“Neal told me to find my Tallahassee again. He told me to find happiness even if it wasn’t with him.” I kept my eyes on the road but I could feel Regina’s burning into me.
“And have you found it?” I bit my lip. I wanted to say yes but I couldn’t tell her with whom. Though her necklace stood out to me because it reminded me of the embalm I saw when I was in Tallahassee. And the same tree was on the Storybrooke Sheriff badge.
“Here we are.” I parked and opened the door for Regina. We walked in silence to my door. As we entered the apartment, I took Regina’s coat and hung it on the rack. “Would you like something to drink? I’ve got juice, beer, hard cider…”
“I’ll take a hard cider.” Regina started to look at the pictures I had on the wall. The ones of Henry and I. When I joined her she was looking at a picture I had taken with Henry in New York. He had climbed a tall apple tree in Central park.
“He got into a lot of trouble for climbing that.” Regina jumped slightly. “Sorry.” She took the cider and looked back at the picture. “We were always drawn to that tree. I think I know why now.”
“Why is that?” Regina took a long swig of the cider as she continued to look at the picture.
“Because it reminded us, subconsciously, of the tree you take care of.”
“The one that you “picked apples” from when you first came to town?” I felt a blush cross my cheeks.
“Yeah…that one….” We fell into a comfortable silence again. “Well I’ve never had a cider that matches the one you made. But I’m going to change. I’ll be right back.” I felt Regina’s eyes as I walked into my room. It didn’t take me long to change into some jeans and a tank top. I brought a long sleeved shirt with me but slung it over my shoulder. It had to be close to eighty in the apartment.
“A tank top? Really Miss. Swan? It’s thirty something outside and you’re wearing a tank top.” I chuckled and got a cider of my own.
“I have a long sleeved shirt calm down. I just don’t like wearing it when it’s close to eighty in the apartment.” The last cider was in the back of the fridge so I had to reach in.
“What the hell is that?” I jumped at the sudden change in Regina’s tone and hit my head on the fridge.
“Ow. What’s what?” I rubbed my head as I closed the door with my hip. Regina looked like she had seen a ghost.
“That tattoo…on your side.” Regina’s eyes were still locked onto my side.
“The lion tattoo? I’ve had that for years. Since I was…twenty three I guess. Why?” Regina’s eyes grew a moment. “Does this have something to do with what Tinkerbell told you that one night in Neverland?” Her eyes shot to mine and narrowed.
“What do you know?” Regina set the empty bottle down hard on the table and took a few steps towards me. I backed up slowly; I knew that look. It was a very unhappy Mayor look.
“Nothing. I swear.” I held my hands up in defeat. “I just heard the two of you mumbling by a tree the night she started to stay with us. I have no idea what y’all were talking about.” Regina never broke eye contact with me. We stood in silence a minute or two more before there was a knock on the door. Regina eased off me as I went to answer it. “Hey kid, what’s up?”
“Nothing. Have you asked her out yet?” The blood drained from my face as Henry ducked under my arm. “Oh.” And he sees Regina now. Oh dear God why did he have to ask THAT…NOW? “Hello Madame Mayor.”
“Hello Henry. Who were you talking about?” Before Henry could speak again I cut him off.
“Why didn’t you use your keys?” Henry turned to me as he slid out of his coat.
“They’re in the car.” And thus my super power tells me he’s lying but that will be brought up later. “Uhm…can I go get dinner from Granny’s?”
“Yes. Money is in my wallet.” We stood in silence as Henry got money and walked out the door.
“Will you be staying for dinner?” I’m going to kill this kid.
“I don’t believe so. I’m not the bacon grilled cheese sandwich type of person.”
“Bummer.” I shot Henry a look before he closed the door. Awkward silence filled the apartment.
“So who was he talking about?” I didn’t say a word. I just took a long swig of my cider. If I was to have this conversation, I’d need liquor not cider.
“No one.” I moved quickly and threw both bottles away. “Would you like anything else to drink?” I opened the fridge trying desperately not to look in Regina’s direction. When I turned back, Regina was standing in front of me. One hand was on the open fridge door and the other on the handle of the freezer. I was trapped.
“Emma, who?” All I could do was gaze into Regina’s dark eyes. I didn’t want to answer but Regina’s eyes were getting to me. She had this power that just made me want to spill my guts to her.
“My Tallahassee.” When the door started to open, Regina moved back and turned towards Henry. Great timing kid; thank you. “Hey kid. Got the food?”
“Yup! Let’s eat. I’m starved.” Regina shot me a look before she headed towards the door. “Oh Madame Mayor,” Regina stopped. “I got you a grilled chicken Panini if you’d like to stay for dinner.”
“Thank you Henry.” It was good seeing one of Regina’s award winning smiles again. “What would everyone like to drink?” I’m going to kill this kid if it’s the last thing I do. Regina got us drinks as Henry spread the food out. The three of us ate and Henry told us about fishing with Leroy. Apparently one of the guys fell off the boat and into the water. I enjoyed the family time; Regina and I sitting with our son eating dinner. Maybe Neal was right. Maybe Regina really was my Tallahassee.
After dinner, I drove Regina back to her car. “Tonight was fun; you, me, and Henry. We should do it more often.” Regina was quiet as I helped her from my car.
“It was nice. It’ll be better when he knows who I really am.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” I shoved my hands in my back pockets as we stood in silence. “We’ll get our son’s memories back soon.” There was a twitch at the corner of Regina’s mouth when I said ‘our son.’ “Well, I better get back. God knows what he’s up to now.”
“Goodnight Emma.” I watched as Regina got in her car and drove off. The whole way home, all I could think of was what Neal said. I have found my Tallahassee already and that was Regina.
Once Henry went to bed, I opened my laptop and just typed in Tallahassee, Florida into Google and clicked images. When a tree kept popping up I pulled up a picture of Henry and me. When I saw the Storybrooke Sheriff badge and saw another tree I thought about Regina’s necklace. All of them were a similar tree. “Regina’s my Tallahassee.”
The next day, I let Henry go with Killian. I needed to find Tinkerbell and ask her why Regina acted the way she did. There had to be something behind this lion tattoo. I had no idea where to find her so I went in search for Mother Superior. “Mother Superior? Hello? Anyone here?”
“Yes Emma?” I jumped and spun on my heels. “Sorry about that. What can I help you with?” Good God I hated when she did that. Randomly appearing behind me.
“Where’s Tinkerbell? I need to talk to her about Regina.” She told me Tinkerbell was probably at Granny’s eating something with ketchup. That was apparently something she really loved from this world. “Thanks.” I was relieved when I saw Tinkerbell sitting in a booth waiting for her order. “Hey, we need to talk.”
“Oh hey Emma. What’s wrong?” I slid in across from her.
“What did you tell Regina that first night in Neverland? I overheard the word tattoo and then Regina flipped when she saw my lion tattoo yest…” Tinkerbell’s eyes grew wide. “She had almost that exact expression. What’s so special about it?”
“You…you have a lion tattoo? Where?” Granny brought Tink’s order and I ordered coffee.
“Yeah I’ve had one for years and it’s on my side.” I stood and pulled up my shirt to show her. “So what does it mean?”
“Oh my God….the fairy dust was wrong….” Now I was curious and confused. “Back when Regina and I first met, I helped her find happiness.” I slid back into my seat to listen. “The fairy dust led her to a tavern and it was said that her true love had a lion tattoo. There was a man in the tavern with one on his arm but she never went inside. She was scared.”
“Regina scared of a man? Are we talking about the same woman?” The thought of Regina being scared of anyone was hysterical to me.
“Not of him; of being happy. Of being truly happy. Hate and anger was all she had back then after her mother killed Daniel.” Tinkerbell continued to tell me about the lion tattoo and how Regina never met her true love.
“So, could the reason she never went into the tavern be because he wasn’t her true love? That yes he had a lion tattoo but it wasn’t him. Or it just wasn’t the right time and now the prophecy is wrong because I’m here and have the tattoo?” I hoped I was right. If I was, that means there might be a chance for me to be happy with Regina.
“I’m not sure Emma. Though, I don’t need fairy dust to tell that you love Regina. I could see that the day I met you. The fact you were so protective over her and just the way the two of you interacted screamed married couple.” I couldn’t help but snort. Regina and I bickering and acting like a married couple.
“So what do I do now? I can’t go up to her and say “hey Regina I have a lion tattoo and apparently your true love has one too. Before Neal died he told me to find my Tallahassee and be happy with someone. Then in the next sentence he said my Tallahassee was you. When I did research there was a running theme between you, Tallahassee, and Storybrooke.”
“And what was that theme?” I jumped and spilt coffee everywhere when I heard Regina’s voice. I turned in my seat and saw her standing there with a calm look on her face.
“H-how long have you been standing there?” I tried to clean up the coffee but to no avail. With a wave of Regina’s hand the coffee was gone and my clothes were dry. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now you can’t use that as an excuse to run away and not answer the question. What was the theme?” I bit my lip and looked down. “Shall we go elsewhere to continue this conversation?”
“Please.” Regina followed as I walked towards the apartment. As we entered, I took off my jacket and hung Regina’s up with mine. “A tree. That was the theme.” My throat was getting dry so I grabbed a beer and popped the cap off with the side of the counter. “Would you like one?”
“No thank you.” Regina took a seat at the table and watched as I leaned against the counter. Both of us had plenty of questions but neither wanted to break the silence.
“So, I know about the lion tattoo…” Regina leaned back and crossed her legs. “And that your true love has one…”
“And I know you’ve found your Tallahassee….and your happiness.” Can I go back to any point in my life where I felt awkward? Any of them would be better than this.
“Yeah...” I took a long swig of beer and suddenly realized I needed something much stronger. The awkward silence was starting to eat away at me. “Regina…yes I’ve found my Tallahassee. That’s here…with you. There I got it out of my system and it’s out there. Now reject me so we can go on with our lives.” I closed my eyes and braced myself for the blow but nothing came. When I looked back, Regina hadn’t moved.
“What makes you think I’d reject you?” Regina’s voice was calm and even. Her arms weren’t crossed therefore she wasn’t as guarded.
“The simple fact that I’m a woman and you’re obviously into men. I mean there’s Graham…”
“Who you slept with as well.” Touché’ Regina. Touché’.
“True.” And again, the awkward silence. I had to break it again. “When I was in New York I was with a guy but it never felt right. When I found out he was a flying monkey that just….I took that as a sign, after I drank the potion, to stay away from the idea of being with a guy. Then I got back here and the moment I saw you all the feelings I had for you flooded back.”
“Maybe I will have something to drink.” I chuckled nervously. “Apple martini?” With a wave of her hand, two martinis appeared.
“You have got to teach me how to do that.” Regina gave me a soft smile before taking a sip. As I took a sip, it started to calm me. I think it was the apple taste not the alcohol. “During that year, memories must have seeped through the curse because I got another yellow bug, the smell of apples made me happy…and I always got a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw a brunette woman in a power suit.” Regina chuckled.
“I guess even cursed I made a lasting impression on you.” All I could do was shrug. Regina was right; she did leave an impression on me. “And yes, my true love has a lion tattoo. So now you understand why I acted the way I did last night.”
“Yeah…I’m not going to lie, it threw me off when I finally realized I had fallen for you.” The instant the words came out of my mouth the blood drained from my face. I had to look anywhere but in Regina’s direction. Oh my God I didn’t just say that out loud!
“So you have fallen in love with me?” In a penny, in a pound? I shrugged and ran my hands through my hair.
“Yes I have. I realized I started to fall a few months after I met you and then that grew. Everyone but my parents see how I look at you and the way we act around each other. They’ve said we bicker and act like a married couple.”
“They really say that?” Regina filled her glass again and did mine as well.
“Yeah. They just don’t say it to you.” Regina chuckled. We fell into a comfortable silence for a moment until Regina set her glass down.
“I won’t say that I’ve not thought of us…together. I mean, we share a son...” My attention shot to Regina. She’s thought of us? Really? “And we’ve been getting along better.”
“And the fact that my mother may go into early labor isn’t an added bonus?” Regina grinned evilly.
“Actually, I thought of us before you had to leave. Why else do you think it was so hard to say goodbye to you and Henry. As far as I knew, I’d never see the two of you again. I had to say goodbye to the two things I loved most. Not just one.” I could see Regina was telling the truth. “Are you going to say anything?”
“I didn’t know you were finished. But, that means a lot to me Regina. Would you like to try and be a family? You, Henry, and me? I know we can make it work. I love you and you’ve grown to love me. Henry loves the both of us and just wants us happy.”
“The Henry who knows who I really am.” Sadness filled Regina’s eyes again. I hated that I couldn’t take that away.
“Regina,” I knelt before her and took one of her hands in mine. This caused her to meet my gaze. “We will get our son’s memories back. He will remember that you’re his mother just as much, if not more, than I am.”
“I know we will.” I smiled and rested my forehead against her hand. “Emma?” I looked into Regina’s dark eyes. “I do love you.”