When the Winter Chrysanthemums Go
Autumn was ending in the forest. The leaves had been falling for weeks and now when Snow White walked the wood the tree limbs stood naked, announcing the threat of impending winter, of ice and snow that would drive Snow White to seek shelter more substantial than the small cave and the hollowed out tree she‘d been calling home. She wrapped her cloak tightly around herself as she stepped out into the chilly afternoon.
“Oh,” Snow White said. She stumbled back, surprised to find someone standing there. She’d drawn her knife before she realized it was only Charming.
The prince held up his hands to show that he was unarmed. He was laughing at her.
It was good, she thought. The annoyance helped to hide her elation at seeing him here again.
“I’m sorry I surprised you,” he said.
She shrugged and returned the knife to its sheath. She didn’t want to encourage him. She didn’t want to let him see how happy she was to see him, how happy she always was, so she looked down at the brown leaves under her boots and said, “I have an appointment.”
“You don’t sound pleased.”
“No,” she said. She smiled at him. “No, I’m happy to see you, but I’ll be late.”
“I’ll walk with you,” the Prince offered.
Snow White shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
She started walking north. It would take her an hour to get to the meeting spot she’d settled upon with the dwarf. Self preservation told her that she shouldn’t allow Charming to accompany her, that the fewer people who knew where she was the better, but Charming was, well, charming and even when she was adamantly not admitting it to herself, Snow liked when he was around.
He’s unavailable, she reminded herself. You’re a fugitive and he’s betrothed to another.
When they were alone together, walking through the forest, none of that seemed to matter. That was the part that terrified her. That was the part that made her feel she needed to push him away. But he’d saved her life, and she’d saved his. And he was her only friend.
“Where are we going?” Charming asked after a long moment of silence between them.
Snow White led him down a steep slope, across a trickling stream, and then up the opposite bank.
“Who are you meeting with?” Charming continued. “Please tell me it’s not another bunch of trolls. I‘m not sure I‘m prepared for trolls.”
“No,” Snow White laughed. “I’m not exactly welcome at the Troll Bridge anymore. I’m meeting a dwarf.”
“Yes, he - “ Snow White started, and then she stopped, looked around the forest. It was quiet, strangely so. It was far too quiet.
“Wait,” She said to Charming, held out her hand to stop him. “Be quiet.”
“What is it?” Charming asked, and then he was silent, listening with her. There was no rustle of squirrels, no insects buzzing. There were no birds singing. Nothing. Just silence. Charming’s breathing beside her sounded warm and loud. It was all she could hear and she took a step away from him in an attempt to concentrate.
“Something’s happening,” Snow White said. She turned in a circle, scanned the forest. Her entire body felt tense, ready for whatever was coming. The Queen’s knights maybe. A large animal. Charming drew his sword, the sound of the metal sharp in the air. And then he laughed.
“What?” Snow White asked, spinning toward him, confused by the sudden outburst. What could possibly be funny now?
“Look,” Charming said. He was still laughing, his smile wide and his eyes bright. “Look around you.”
It had started slow, just a few tiny flakes here and there, but as they stood together in the forest, the flakes multiplied and grew in size.
Snow White sighed. “Great,” she muttered.
Charming was staring up at the sky, spinning in a circle, but he stopped now to regard her. “Great?”
She shrugged. “Of course I’m thrilled it’s not a group of men out to kill me or some beast set on making us its lunch. But this isn’t exactly great news either.”
Charming squinted at her, his smile crooked, confused and endearing.
She looked away, didn’t want him to see that she’d involuntarily smiled in return. He caught it anyway though and he leaned in close to her now, his breath warm on her cheek.
“You hate snow,” he guessed.
“I’m not its biggest fan,” Snow White confirmed. She was still smiling. She couldn’t help it. And he was so close. If she just turned, he might -
He laughed again. He took a step away from her and she breathed deep, a sigh of loss and relief.
“I don‘t believe it,” he accused. “How can you, a woman with a name like Snow White, possibly hate snow?”
“It’s cold,” she insisted. “And wet. And cold.”
“It’s beautiful,” Charming agreed. “It‘s beautiful, just like-”
He stopped and Snow White turned to him.
He took her by the shoulders, turned her away from him so she was facing out into the forest.
“Look at it,” he said.
The snow fell between the naked limbs of the trees, drifted down to the earth and settled onto the blanket of fallen leaves there. Snow White watched it melt and soak the ground. It would start to stick soon. It would start to collect. It’d get colder and the winds would come. If there was enough snow, it might insulate, but if there was just a thin crust, the windy cloudless days and nights would be brutal.
It was easy to say the winter was beautiful when one lived in a warm castle made of stone. It was easy when one didn’t spend each day worrying about being tracked, wondering how to hide footprints across new fallen snow.
She stepped out of Charming’s grasp.
“Come on,” she said and picked up her pace. The dwarf had warned her not to be late.
There was no curse on Storybrooke, Maine.
There was nothing here that was actively preventing happy endings. Nothing except perhaps Regina Mills. But Regina Mills was no curse. She was only a woman. A manipulative sometimes heartless woman with serious control issues, yes, but just a woman. Not some evil queen, some magician.
Storybrooke felt strange, but was it really any different than any other place in the world? It was just another town. An odd town, maybe. But a town where sometimes bad things happened to good people, where sometimes people pretended they were happy but really weren’t, where people died before their time.
It was also a town where teachers looked out for their students, where friends met for lunch every day, where you could go to a diner and you were greeted with a smile and a warm hello. It was a town where people waved to you on the street, where a sheriff’s station had been silent for weeks out of respect for someone who was gone.
In the short time that Emma had been here she felt more at home than she had anywhere else before. And it wasn’t just Henry. It was Mary Margaret and Archie Hopper. It was David Nolan and Granny and Ruby. It was Sheriff Graham.
There was no curse. Sometimes bad things happened to good people. That was normal. It was life.
“Here you are,” Mary Margaret said, and Emma looked up from her mug, surprised at the interruption. Mary Margaret smiled. Emma had never met anyone with a warmer smile than Mary Margaret Blanchard.
“Here I am,” Emma agreed. She spun around on her stool to face out into the rest of the diner, her arms stretched along the counter behind her.
Sometimes Emma was sure she could learn everything that she needed to know about Storybrooke if she just spent enough time at Granny’s Diner. If she sat here at the counter all day, eventually she would meet everyone there was to meet. She’d learn all of their life stories, be let in on all their secrets.
“One of the kids’ parents told me,” Mary Margaret said. She reached out and set a hand on Emma’s knee to comfort and console.
Emma laughed. “That I was fired?”
Mary Margaret simply nodded.
“You know,” Emma said. “This town doesn’t have a single police officer right now? Not one.”
“I know,” Mary Margaret said.
“That doesn’t seem strange to you? Firing the only police officer?”
“Maybe the mayor will change her mind,“ Mary Margaret offered.
It wasn’t likely. Storybrooke would have a new Sheriff soon enough, but it wouldn’t be Emma. The message was clear.
“Did you know about Graham’s heart condition?” Emma asked.
“No,” Mary Margaret said. “I didn’t know Sheriff Graham all that well.”
“Ruby knew,” Emma said. You stay in this diner long enough, you learn things.
“Ruby’s friendly with everyone,” Mary Margaret noted. Her tone suggested that she felt Ruby was too friendly with most people.
Ruby took that as her queue to approach them.
“Can I get you anything?” Ruby asked.
“No, thank you,” Mary Margaret said. “I can‘t stay.”
Ruby nodded, leaned forward against the counter, then nodded toward Emma. “You know, most people get fired and they go to a bar for a drink or two. They don’t come to a diner for two mugs of hot cocoa.”
“What can I say?” Emma asked. “I like to live life on the edge.”
Mary Margaret turned to Emma and laughed, a sound that seemed to surprise her as her hand quickly flew up to cover her mouth.
“Shut up,” Emma said, but there was no conviction in her words. She was smiling now too.
There was no curse on Storybrooke, she promised herself one more time. There was no force here that prevented happy endings. Henry would have his happy ending. Mary Margaret would have hers and the Nolans and Ruby.
Emma would have her happy ending. As soon as she decided what that happy ending was.
“You’re becoming one of the regulars,” Ruby noted, less than a week after Emma lost her job. It was true she‘d been spending more time at the diner. It was also true that she knew more about the people here now than she had as deputy. Every day Archie and Marco stopped in for lunch. They sat at the booth by the window, unless it was occupied, then they sat at the counter. Marco had been talking all week about snow, insisting it was coming any day now, any day.
“I can feel it in my joints,” he said, his accent thick.
The Nolans often came in for breakfast, Mary Margaret for hot cocoa after work. Regina Mills brought Henry for dinner once a week, and Ashleigh stopped in with the baby every few days.
She’d already learned a lot about the habits of Storybrooke, but she’d also spent enough time to decide that being a regular at Granny’s was kin to a death sentence for a young woman. The regulars were old men who sat in groups, huddled together, fingers clutching their cups of coffee. They didn’t have anything else to do, not anymore, so they congregated here, talking and flirting with Ruby.
“Nah,” Emma said. “Give me a week. I just need a new plan.”
Ruby laughed. “Sure,” she said. “What can I get you?”
“Just a cup of coffee.”
“A cup of coffee, it is,” Ruby said and walked off. Emma scanned the dinner.
It really wasn’t that much different than the local bar.
The regulars were at a table in the back, newspapers spread out before them. It was after breakfast but before lunch and with the exception of Emma, the men, and a splattering of other patrons, the diner was deserted. That didn’t mean there was nothing of interest happening, though.
Kathryn Nolan was sitting at the table by the window with a woman that Emma had never seen before. Everything about her seemed long, her face, her nose, her dark hair. The two women seemed deep in conversation, leaning toward each other, their voices hushed. The topic seemed serious, and Emma tried to follow her own advice. It really was rude to stare, but she found her gaze drifting over that way every once in a while regardless.
“Who is that with Kathryn Nolan?” Emma asked when Ruby stopped by to refill her coffee.
“Eleanor Reston,” Ruby said. “They’re close.”
“Huh,” Emma said.
Emma opened her own newspaper, pretended to read it, though in truth she couldn’t seem to stop herself from watching Kathryn and Eleanor. They were close. Best friend sort of close, if Emma had to guess. As she watched, Eleanor reached out and covered Kathryn’s hand with her own. Her thumb slid up and down Kathryn’s wrist, a caress.
It must be hard, Emma imagined, trying to rebuild a life with a man who had been in a coma for years, a man who Kathryn thought was gone forever. Finding each other again sounded like a fairy tale ending, but it must be so difficult. She concluded that Kathryn was lucky she had the support of such friends through it all.
Outside the window, Regina Mills slowed her pace when she caught sight of Kathryn and Eleanor. Her mouth was pinched into her plump red frown. If Henry was to be believed, the expression could only mean one thing. The curse should be keeping Kathryn and Eleanor apart, yet here they were. No doubt that bitch Emma Swan was to blame.
Sure enough, Regina was in the diner within moments. She was holding a large bakery box. A cake, Emma guessed. She saw Emma right away and her look was cold, but with the box set safely on the counter, she turned toward Kathryn and Eleanor instead, and when she did, she was all smiles.
Emma was sitting too far away to hear what the mayor said to the women, but whatever she said, it seemed to do the trick. Though Kathryn smiled up at Regina, Eleanor frowned and straightened in her seat. Regina only spoke with them for a moment before she took her leave. She retrieved her cake from the counter and then approached Emma.
“Ms. Swan,” Regina greeted her.
“Madame Mayor,” Emma returned.
“Hard at work, I see,” Regina noted.
“Yes,” Emma agreed. “I’m taste testing pots of coffee. For consistency. I‘m thinking of making a career of it.”
“Funny,” Regina said.
Emma nodded toward the cake. “Having a party?”
Regina Mills narrowed her eyes and then smiled. “Yes,” she said. “But surely you know the occasion.”
Emma shrugged and shook her head. She watched as Regina’s smile grew wider.
“I’m surprised he didn’t remind you,” Regina said. “Tomorrow is Henry’s eleventh birthday.”
The dwarf was even grouchier than he had been during Snow White’s last encounter with him. He was waiting for her on a large boulder, his arms folded across his chest. She greeted him warmly, but he just sneered, glared, and then pointed at Charming.
“Who’s he?” the dwarf snapped.
“He’s no one,” Snow White promised. She stepped in front of the prince, who was already puffing up his chest in defense. “He’s just - he just follows me around sometimes.”
Behind her Charming laughed. She heard the snow crunch beneath his feet as he took a step closer to her. She could feel the warmth of him against her back. It was colder here. They were near the mountains and the mines and the snow had been here for days, perhaps weeks, a hard crisp layer of white over the forest.
“He have a name?” the dwarf asked.
“Charming,” Snow started before Charming cut in.
“James,” he said. He stepped out from behind Snow White and offered his hand to the dwarf in greeting. “My name is James.”
The dwarf looked at Charming’s hand, but he didn’t move to accept it. Just sniffed before he continued.
“James Charming?” the dwarf asked. “Charming James?”
“No,” Charming laughed again. He pulled his hand back, rubbed his palm against his thigh. “You can just call me James.”
“I don’t want to call you anything,” the dwarf griped. He turned to Snow White, his finger pointing in accusation. “Deal’s off.“
“What?“ Snow White gasped. She rushed toward the dwarf, reached for him, ready to plead. “How can the deal be off? We haven’t even made a deal yet.“
The dwarf softened a little when faced with Snow White’s distress. The lines of his face smoothed just slightly and then he hooked a thumb back at Charming. “Get rid of him and we’ll talk.”
“Now listen here,” Charming started. He stepped forward, hand raised on Snow White’s behalf, but Snow White swung around, pushed against his chest, kept pushing until she’d parted the two, had moved Charming a good distance away from the meeting place.
Charming was still on the defensive, standing there at his full height. He glowered past Snow White at the gruff dwarf.
Snow White huffed and yanked at Charming’s arm to regain his attention. When he turned to her, she said, “I need you to leave.”
“What?” Charming asked, surprised. “No way. I’m not leaving you with him.”
“He’s fine,” Snow White insisted. “I know him. He’s just -”
“What?” Charming pressed.
“I don’t like him,” Charming sniffed.
“I don’t need you to like him,” Snow White said. “It doesn’t matter if you like him. All that matters is that you leave.”
“You’re serious,” Charming asked, regarding her now, trying to read her.
“Yes,” Snow White said. “I know that you’re trying to help. You’re a good friend and I thank you, but please. Just for now.”
Charming shook his head, but eventually he reached for her, held her shoulders for just a moment and then said, “I’ll see you back at the tree.”
She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I’ll see you back at the tree.”
He held her for just a moment longer and then released her and took a step away. She watched as he turned and started the long walk back.
Emma didn’t know how to make it clear to Regina Mills that she wasn‘t here to destroy anything. She didn’t want to take Henry away from her. She didn’t want it to be a contest. But if Regina needed help with Henry, then Emma wanted in. If Henry needed help from her, then Emma planned to be there. She wasn’t a mother. She knew that. But Henry was her child.
And today was Henry’s birthday.
Why hadn’t he said? Why had he kept this from her? She watched as Henry ate his breakfast, sipped his orange juice, and then turned again to look at the Nolans a few booths over.
Emma hadn’t invited Henry here. She knew his mother would bristle if she found out, but then Henry knew Emma’s schedule by now and managed to show up regardless. And Regina had probably already learned of this meeting, or would find out soon enough.
It didn’t matter. It was Henry’s birthday. Let him eat breakfast in the company of his choice. Emma would get him to school on time. No harm done.
“Don’t stare,” Emma scolded. “It’s rude.”
Henry stopped craning in the booth, his attention back on his breakfast, but after a moment he was turning in his seat again to glance behind him at the booth where David and Kathryn Nolan sat sipping coffee.
“Henry,” Emma warned again.
“They aren’t happy,” Henry said, frowning down into his French toast.
“You don’t know that,” Emma countered.
Henry looked up at her like she must be blind, the exasperation clear on his face.
“Look at them,” he said. “Anyone could tell.”
Emma refused to look. It was none of their business.
“Don’t you want your parents to get back together?” Henry asked in a desperate last ditch effort to pique Emma’s interest.
“Okay, kid,” she said. Time for a subject change. “I have something for you.”
“What?” Henry asked from around the straw in his orange juice.
She pulled the gift from her pocket.
“Hold out your hand,” she said.
Henry did, and she dropped the gift into it. It was a silver pin, a decorative squiggle that widened out on one end.
Mary Margaret had frowned when Emma had pointed it out in Maurice‘s department store. “A swirly lapel pin?”
“It looks like a snake, doesn’t it?” Emma had asked. “A cobra?”
“I suppose,” Mary Margaret had said, though her voice was doubtful. “If you squint.”
“That’s even better,” Emma said. “It makes it more special. A secret. Something shared between the two of us.”
He looked at it now and his eyes went wide.
“Wow,” he said.
“I got myself one too.” Emma showed him her matching pin.
“Like a secret badge,” Henry said, catching on right away. “Operation Cobra.”
“Yeah,” Emma agreed. “You like it?”
“This is so cool,” Henry said. He let Emma take the pin from him and fasten it to the outside of his jacket. Looking at it now she worried that it was too girly, that he’d be made fun of at school, that maybe the gift was a mistake, too much of an indulgence. She shouldn’t really be encouraging any of this, after all, should she? She should be encouraging reality. Showing Henry that he had to make his own happy endings. That things just didn’t work the way they do in fairy tales.
But Henry was beaming and Emma couldn’t believe that something as insignificant as a pin, as a shared memento, would be that much of a set back for a boy like Henry. She fastened the other pin to her own jacket.
“There,” she said. “Happy birthday, Henry.”
Henry looked up, eyes wide. “You knew?”
“No. I saw your mother yesterday,” Emma admitted. “She told me.”
“Oh,” Henry said. He shrugged, still smiling. “Well, thanks.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I don’t know,” Henry said. “I just didn’t.”
Henry reached for his orange juice, sucked the dregs of the glass loudly through the straw.
Emma wanted to hug him. She wanted to pull him in right there and hold him as tight as she could. She thought it might be the first time she really felt it. The first time she was really sure.
She loved this kid. Her kid. She’d only known him a short time but she loved him more than she’d ever loved anyone else.
She wondered if that was how Regina Mills felt when she held Emma’s baby in her arms.
“Your mother bought you a cake,” Emma said.
“Yeah,” Henry nodded. “She gets me a cake from Baker’s Market every year.”
“That’s nice,” Emma said.
Henry shrugged again. “I guess.”
“Henry,” Emma sighed. “What if your mother isn’t an evil queen? What if she’s just a hard working woman who is doing the best that she can? What if she’s just a mother who has tried her hardest and is heartbroken by the rejection of the son she wanted more than anything?”
Henry shook his head. “You don’t know her.”
“What if Mary Margaret isn’t my mother?” Emma pressed. She leaned forward across the table, reached out to set her hand on Henry‘s. “What if she’s just a wonderful teacher and an even better friend? I know that you love her, Henry, and I know that if you could choose your own grandmother you’d want her to be someone as loving and as good as Mary Margaret. But she’ll love you even if there is no curse. You know that, right? And your mother will love you even if there is one.”
“I know,” Henry said, but he wasn’t looking at her anymore. He was looking intently at the straw sitting in his empty glass. He was shutting down.
“Tell me a good memory that you have with your mother,” Emma requested. “Tell me about a time when you thought she was the best mother in the whole world.”
“I don’t have a memory like that,” Henry said, stubborn.
“I don’t believe you.”
Henry sighed. He thought about it for a long time before he spoke again.
“Once,” he said, “we got this really big snow storm. She came home early. I wanted to play in the snow. I hid and when she came out to call me back inside I pushed her into a pile of snow and she yelled, but I was still laughing, and when she saw she laughed too and we had a snowball fight. She wasn‘t even wearing a coat.”
“That’s nice,” Emma smiled.
“Yeah,” Henry agreed. “I guess it was. We had apple pie and hot chocolate in front of the fire.”
“See,” Emma said. “Now tell me a memory like that that you had with me.”
“But - “
“I’m not trying to push you away,” Emma said in a rush. She reached with her other hand, wrapped Henry’s small hand in both of hers. “But I don’t want you to push your mother away either. We may not get along all the time, but I know that she loves you, Henry. She chose you out of all the little boys in the world.”
“I guess,” Henry conceded.
“I think she made a good choice,” Emma said. “The best choice.”
She paused then, distracted by something out of the corner of her eye. She looked up, past Henry to the front of the diner. A woman had stopped at the window, turned to look inside. It was Kathryn Nolan’s friend, Eleanor. The woman caught sight of Kathryn and David and the look on her face couldn’t be mistaken. It was heartbreak. The woman turned then and saw Emma staring. They locked eyes for a moment, just a split second, before the woman turn away, rushed off down the street. It was heartbreak. Emma was sure.
“Emma?” Henry asked. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Yeah, I’m fine. I think you might be right, kid.”
“Right about what?” Henry asked.
Kathryn had noticed Eleanor Reston too, just as Eleanor had rushed off. She sat now, coffee mug in hand, staring out the window of the diner. David Nolan, oblivious to the entire exchange, ate his breakfast, his back to the street.
Emma pulled money from her pocket and set it on the table, then slipped on her jacket. Henry followed her lead and started bundling himself up as well.
“Right about what?” Henry asked again.
“The Nolans,” Emma said. “I don’t think they’re happy.”
“Oh,” Henry said, and rushed to follow Emma to the door of the diner. Emma went to push out onto the street, and then paused, remembering what she’d meant to say before Eleanor Reston interrupted her thoughts.
“Oh, and Henry,” she said. “I’m still not going anywhere. You’ll have some good memories of me soon enough.”
Henry grinned, his entire face alight, and Emma felt her heart swell.
“They won’t let you stay,” the dwarf said, more forthcoming now that Charming was out of sight, despite the fact that he was saying exactly the opposite of what Snow White needed to hear.
“What?” Snow White asked in disbelief. “You said we could work something out. I gave you five gold pieces. You promised - “
The dwarf leaned back against the rock and held up his hands. “They won’t let you stay, but I have a plan that will change their minds.”
“What is it?” Snow White asked, suddenly suspicious.
“We’re seven bachelors,” the dwarf explained. Snow White opened her mouth, already not liking the direction in which they were headed. “We’re in the mines all day, we don’t have a lot of time for domestics.”
“You want me to cook and clean for you,” Snow White guessed immediately. “That’s the deal?”
“That’s the deal,” the dwarf said. He shrugged. “And if you do that and do it well, then I promise that you will be welcomed.”
“As your maid.”
“At first,” the dwarf agreed. “We’re warm, loyal creatures by nature. We’ll grow attached.”
“Warm and loyal,” Snow White repeated, hardly believing it.
The dwarf shrugged again.
Snow White thought it over. She needed shelter. She needed a place to stay that was further from the Queen’s reach, a place not regularly patrolled by her men. She longed for a warm hearth, for a bed with a mattress, for the comforts of a home. She thought it was a price she was willing to pay, for now. And who knew, perhaps she’d grow attached as well.
“All right, Grumpy,” Snow White said. “Lead the way.”
“Grumpy,” the dwarf repeated. “That’s not my name.”
Snow White smiled, reached out to link her arm with the dwarf‘s. “It is now.”
Emma couldn’t stop thinking about Eleanor Reston’s face outside that diner. There was something going on with the Nolans. Something more than a coma and some amnesia.
“You’re a million miles away tonight,” Mary Margaret noted. She was curled up in her favorite arm chair, a book open in her lap.
Emma looked up from her perch on the sofa.
“How long was David Nolan in a coma?” Emma asked.
“I don’t know,” Mary Margaret said. “As long as I’ve been volunteering at the hospital.”
“When did you start volunteering?”
“I - “ Mary Margaret started and then she made a face and said, “You know, I can’t remember. It’s been years.”
“You can’t remember,” Emma repeated. Mary Margaret wasn’t old. Early thirties maybe. If that. How long could it possibly have been? 15 years? 10? Even 10 seemed unlikely.
Mary Margaret looked deep in thought, trying to remember. Emma waved a hand and continued.
“It doesn’t matter,” Emma said. “Say David Nolan has been in a coma for five years. That entire time Kathryn Nolan is convinced that David Nolan has left her, run off to Boston and started a new life that she wasn’t a part of.”
“This is about Kathryn Nolan?” Mary Margaret asked. She folded her book shut now, her finger marking her place. She was frowning.
“Yes,” Emma said. “Just hear me out. If I was Kathryn Nolan I would have tried to move on. My husband has left me. I think it’s probably my fault, so I wait a year, two. I try to get in touch with him, but I fail every time. It’s as though he’s fallen off the face of the planet. But I’m a young woman. I’m not going to waste my life sitting on the couch waiting for him to come home. So finally I stop mourning and I start to move on.”
“Okay,” Mary Margaret said, her words slow as she tried to follow Emma‘s sudden outburst. “So if you were Kathryn Nolan you would have moved on. What does that have to do with -”
“David and Kathryn are young right? But they’d been married a while before David ended up in that coma. Maybe they were high school sweethearts. They were so young, they didn’t really know themselves, they didn’t know what they wanted. How could they?”
“People marry young all the time,” Mary Margaret countered. Emma ignored her. She was on a roll here.
“So they married young and then they fought, things turned sour, David left. Kathryn thought it was her fault. She turns to her friend for consolation and support. Maybe, consolation and support eventually led to something more.”
Mary Margaret’s mouth dropped open. “I’m not following you.”
“There’s this woman,” Emma said. “Eleanor Reston. She’s in love with Kathryn Nolan.”
“You spoke with her?” Mary Margaret asked.
“No,” Emma said. She was starting to see how crazy this must sound. “It was the look on her face - I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.”
“That’s a lot of wild speculation,” Mary Margaret frowned.
“But think about it,” Emma said. “Kathryn Nolan finally started to move on. With Eleanor. She was just beginning to put her life back together after David left, and then suddenly, years later, she gets a call that David is awake, that he’s been in a coma this entire time. Suddenly she doesn’t know what to do. She feels responsible. She feels guilty and torn. And she’s the only person that David has. At least as far as she knows. She’s his wife. She has to try to make this work. She has to try it for David.”
“Emma - “
“It explains everything.”
“It’s one way of explaining everything,” Mary Margaret conceded. “If you’re a fan of creating fictions about people. We don’t know anything about the Nolans.”
“They seem miserable,” Emma told Mary Margaret.
“Mm,” Mary Margaret said. Her book was open again. Mary Margaret turned a page and Emma stood, began to pace the room.
“Mm?” Emma repeated. “That’s it?”
“Well, now we know where Henry gets his imagination from?”
“Mary Margaret -”
“What do you want me to say?” Mary Margaret cut in. “You’re starting to sound just like him. David Nolan made his choice. Now I’m moving on.” Her face was pinched with resolve.
“With Doctor Whale,” Emma guessed.
“No,” Mary Margaret laughed. “I mean, probably not.”
“How many dates has it been now?” Emma asked. “Seven? Ten?”
“Five,” Mary Margaret said.
“Five,” Emma repeated. She pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down again.
“I know what you’re doing,” Mary Margaret said. She closed her book and set it down in her lap.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, this matchmaker thing. Why are you bringing it up all of a sudden? Why are you obsessed with Kathryn Nolan? It‘s not you,” Mary said gently. “You didn’t start pushing this until -”
“Let’s talk about something else,” Emma cut in. It had been a rough few weeks and Mary Margaret was observant and probably not wrong, but Emma’s issues were the last thing that Emma was in the mood to discuss. Graham’s death was the last thing she wanted to talk about. “Marco says snow is on the way.”
“Well, you know what they say,” Mary Margaret shrugged. “When the winter chrysanthemums go -”
She paused there and Emma waited. When Mary Margaret didn’t continue, Emma gave in. “When they go what?”
“There’s nothing to write about but radishes,” Mary Margaret finished, her tone matter of fact, as though the punch line should have been obvious to Emma.
“Who says that?” Emma asked.
Mary Margaret frowned, blinked. “People.”
“When the winter chrysanthemums go there’s nothing to write about but radishes? No one says that,” Emma said, pretty sure she’d never heard it before in her life. “What does that even mean?”
“It’s a poem,” Mary Margaret said. “It’s a famous - People say that.”
Emma laughed and leaned back against the kitchen table. “Apparently you say that, but I don’t think anyone else does.”
Mary Margaret sighed. “Okay. I just meant that it’s Maine and it’s winter. Marco’s probably right. I don’t know.”
Emma shook her head, smiled. “There’s nothing to write about but radishes,” she muttered in disbelief.
“Stop,” Mary Margaret said, but she was laughing now too.
The dwarf’s plan worked. He took her back to the cottage that he shared with the other six dwarfs. He hadn’t lied. The place was a wreck. He helped Snow White wash the piles of dishes, clean up the living area and the bedrooms, scrub the blackened hearth. Eventually he left her, had to get back to the mines with the others. Snow White surveyed their work. She looked out at the forest, at the snow that blanketed the ground here. She was far from the castle now. She was far from the Queen’s reach. She’d be safer here. No one would know where she was. Not even the prince.
Exhausted, she retreated to the second floor. She promised herself she would lie down for only a moment, just a moment while she waited for the dwarfs to return home from their work. The mattresses of the beds were soft and Snow White groaned in happiness as she stretched out. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed sleeping in an actual bed. She closed her eyes, only for a moment, but when she opened them again, she was surrounded and she scrambled back against the headboard of the bed, apologetic and wary.
Grumpy had his eyebrows raised, his arms folded across his chest, apparently disappointed in her behavior, but it didn’t matter. He’d been right. The other dwarfs welcomed her with open arms. They would let her stay as long as she liked.
That night she slept better than she had in months. Early the next morning she began the walk back to her cave to gather her things. The snow thinned as she came back down from the hills, but she worried nonetheless, worried that her tracks would be followed. When she reached a stream, she followed it south, her path erased by its waters. The snow hadn’t reached the forest along the troll road, not yet, and she quickened her pace as soon as her feet touched the limp brown leaves of the forest floor.
Charming was waiting for her at the mouth of the hollow tree.
He stood when she approached, rushed toward her.
“There you are,” Charming said. “I’ve been worried.”
“Did you stay here all night?” Snow White asked, alarmed to find him here still.
“No,” Charming admitted. “No, I came back in the morning just to make sure you’d returned. I was worried.”
Snow White smiled, flattered by his concern, but it didn’t change anything. It didn’t change her plans. She was sure it didn’t change his. She slipped past him into the tree. He, courteously, stayed at the entrance, not following her into her home uninvited.
“Come in,” she told him, and he did, looking around as though he was seeing it for the first time, as though he hadn’t snooped about in her absence. He was human, after all. Of course he had. Snow White began gathering her things, loading them into her bag. There wasn’t much. A few lanterns, some clothing, trinkets she’d stolen from the Queen's caravans as they passed through the forest.
“You’re leaving,” Charming said after a moment.
“I’m moving,” Snow White agreed.
“I’m going to live with the dwarfs,” Snow White said. She folded the blanket that a sympathetic traveler she‘d met on the road had given her.
“Dwarves?” Charming said.
Charming stepped forward then, reached out to set a hand on her arm, to stop her from continuing her packing. Snow White looked up at him, waited for his objection.
She didn‘t have to wait long. “You’re choosing to live with that cantankerous old -”
“He’s not so bad,” Snow White cut in. “And it isn’t just him. There are seven of them.”
“Seven dwarves,” Charming repeated.
“Dwarfs,” Snow White corrected again. Was it really so hard?
“Don’t go,” Charming said. His hand was still on her arm and he moved closer then, guided her to sit down and kneeled before her. “Come back to the castle with me. I will give you shelter.”
Snow White felt her breath catch for a moment in her throat. She turned her head away, felt him take her hand, wrap it between his. His hands were warm, more calloused than she expected for a prince.
“You’re married,” Snow said. She couldn‘t look at him. She was afraid that if she did, she‘d lose her resolve. She‘d kiss him. She‘d make a terrible, irresponsible mistake.
“No,” Charming countered. “Not yet.”
Not yet. She looked up at him, horrified.
“How charming,” she said. She stood. The moment had passed. Charming wasn‘t a temptation now. Snow White was resolved.
“My fiancee would rather spend time with her maidservant than with me,” Charming said, still kneeling on the floor of the small cave, watching as Snow White resumed her packing. “We don’t care for each other. We have no illusions that we do or that we will. She doesn’t want me. Together she and I could work out a way to get out of this marriage, a way that wouldn’t harm either of our kingdoms.”
“It’s a good story,” Snow White admitted. Maybe Charming was telling the truth. She’d only met his fiancee for a moment, but it was clear that there was no love between them. It was clear that she was just as unhappy in the betrothal as he was. But it didn’t matter. There was no room for Charming in her life. Not now. She had more important things to worry about. The winter and the Queen. “It’s definitely a good story.”
“It’s the truth,” Charming promised. He stood and reached for her again and she stepped away. She’d finished gathering her belongings. It was nearly time to go.
“I feel alive when I’m with you,” Charming said.
Snow White rolled her eyes and Charming laughed. “I’m serious. You have no idea how stifling it all is.”
“I have some idea,” Snow White said. There was one thing she wasn’t taking. The dress that she’d been wearing when the huntsman led her to the forest. It was torn, stained. It was useless to her.
Charming looked at it now, then turned back to Snow White. “That’s right,” he admitted. “You do. You know, sometimes it seems we’re on opposite paths.”
Snow White frowned. She lifted her bag and started out again through the hollow interior of the tree. “What does that mean?”
The prince followed. “Nothing,” he said. “It’s a long story.”
Back in the crisp air of the forest, Snow White turned to him. “Maybe sometime you’ll tell me about it.”
“Maybe,” Charming agreed.
“But not now,” Snow White concluded. She smiled. “Now I’m going to live through the winter in a warm furnished cabin where I will cook and clean for seven dwarfs.”
“Tell me where you‘ll be,” Charming insisted again. “Let me visit you there.”
“They don’t like strangers,” Snow White said.
“Yeah,” Charming sighed. “I noticed.”
“I think it’s best if no one knows where I am,” Snow White concluded. “You’ve seen what might happen if the Queen finds me.”
“But will I see you again?” Charming asked. His voice was sad, defeated, and Snow White couldn‘t help but smile, a reassurance.
“You need to figure things out. If you do and you still want to find me, you’ll find me, won’t you?”
The prince reached for Snow White, and this time Snow White didn’t step away. She let the prince pull her in. He was going to kiss her, she thought. She’d fended him off before, but this was it. It was the end of their strange friendship. At least for a while. It wouldn’t go any further than this. What harm could one kiss do? It would be a reminder. Something to hold on to through the long months of winter.
He leaned in and Snow White closed her eyes, prepared for the kiss. And then she felt it. Not on her mouth as she’d expected, but on her forehead. His lips were soft, warm where they pressed to her skin. It was the simplest most beautiful kiss she’d ever received. When Charming pulled away, when he let her go and took a step back, Snow White almost followed, almost reached out to bring him back in.
“You’ll find me, won’t you?” Snow White asked again. “If things don’t work out with your intended?”
“Always,” Charming promised her for the second time since they‘d met.
“Good,” Snow White smiled. She took a step away from him. “Good-bye Prince Charming.”
“For now,” Charming agreed. He bowed before her. She laughed at his formality and he looked up and smiled. “Good-bye Snow White.”
Eleanor Reston was sitting at the counter when Emma arrived at the diner. Emma paused, wondered if she was really capable of being so meddling. But then, what was the worst that could happen? She‘d make one more enemy in Storybrooke. Hardly the end of the world. Decision made, Emma chose to sit herself one seat away from Eleanor. She opened a menu, though by now she knew it by heart.
“Emma,” Ruby said in greeting. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“You are?” Emma asked.
“No,” Ruby said, her voice deadpan. “What are you having? Coffee? Cocoa?”
“Coffee,” Emma said.
Emma tapped her fingers against the counter, tried to decide what to say. How to break the ice. She did this all the time, after all. Confronted people. She’d made a living at it.
“Eleanor,” Ruby said then, leaning on the counter between them. “Have you met Emma Swan? She managed to get herself fired from a police force of one. Impressive, yeah?”
Emma raised her eyebrows, surprised at Ruby’s observational skills, surprised that she’d guessed Emma‘s motive in choosing her seat at the counter.
“That is impressive,” Eleanor said, turning slightly toward Emma. “You must have been really terrible at your job to manage that one.”
Emma laughed, then sniffed. “I was actually pretty good at it,” she defended. “Unfortunately I am also skilled in the art of upsetting Regina Mills.”
“Ah,” Eleanor said, nodding. “I think many of us know how that goes.”
“Yeah?” Emma asked.
“Regina Mills likes things to go her way,” Eleanor said simply.
“I’ve noticed,” Emma agreed. Ruby dropped off her coffee and Emma paused to take a sip before turning back to Eleanor. “Hey, did I see you in here last week with Kathryn Nolan?”
“You know Kathryn?” Eleanor asked.
Emma nodded. “I helped to find her husband.”
“Oh,” Eleanor said, flustered suddenly. “Emma Swan, of course. No wonder the mayor has it out for you. You’re her son’s birth mother.”
“That’s me,” Emma agreed. “Have you known the Nolans a long time?”
“No,” Eleanor said. “I mean, I’ve known Kathryn several years, but I’ve only just met David.” She smiled. “I think a lot of people are only just getting to meet David.”
“He was in the coma for a long time,” Emma guessed.
“Years,” Eleanor agreed. “Kathryn didn’t know, of course. No one knew. We thought - ” Eleanor shook his head. “Well, you know the story.”
Emma nodded, stared down into her coffee cup for a moment, and then said, “I guess it’s lucky for David that Kathryn didn’t try to move on.” When she looked up Eleanor was looking back at her, watching, her expression wary.
“Yes,” Eleanor agreed. “It is lucky.”
“Did Kathryn move on?” Emma asked. Her voice was soft, her words careful.
Now it was Eleanor’s turn to look away.
“Of course not,” Eleanor said. It was nearly a whisper, hoarse and raw.
“Eleanor,” Emma said. She reached out and set a hand on the counter between them.
“I have to go,” Eleanor said. She reached into her purse and held up some bills. “Ruby, here. Keep the extra.”
“Wait,” Emma said.
“It was nice to meet you, Ms. Swan,” Eleanor said, though she wouldn’t look at Emma now. She looked everywhere except at Emma.
“Eleanor,” Emma said. She hadn‘t meant to hurt Eleanor.
Eleanor stopped, her coat in her arms. “What is it?” she asked.
“I think you’ll get your happy ending,” Emma said. “I hope that you will.”
Eleanor hugged her coat to her chest and looked down at the floor of the diner. “I’m not so sure,” she said. “But I hope so too. It really was nice to meet you, Emma.”
Emma smiled and watched as Eleanor Reston left the diner.
Ruby came back to clear away Eleanor’s plate.
“You scared her off,” Ruby noted.
“Sorry,” Emma said.
“Hey, she left me a fifty percent tip in her rush to get away from you. Don‘t apologize to me.”
“I better go too,” Emma said. She paid for her coffee, stood from her seat.
Ruby shrugged and moved down the counter to talk to Leroy. Emma slipped back out onto the street, nearly crashing into Mary Margaret on her way in.
“Oh,” Mary Margaret said. “I was just coming in for a cup of coffee. You’re leaving?”
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Yeah, I think - I’m just going to head home.”
Mary Margaret frowned at her, reached out to touch her arm. “Are you okay? I can go back with you.”
Emma shook her head, smiled. “I’m fine,” she said. She might eventually tell Mary Margaret about her conversation with Eleanor Reston, but not yet. Not here. Not now when it might get Mary Margaret’s hopes up, only to end up crushing them once more.
“I’ll come home with you,” Mary Margaret insisted. She turned away from the door to Granny’s, reached for Emma’s arm.
Just then a snowflake fluttered to the ground between them, the streetlamps making it shine in the night.
“Was that a snowflake?” Mary Margaret asked, a hint of dread in her voice.
“I think it was,” Emma agreed, hands propped on her hips. “Huh. Guess Marco’s joints don’t lie.”
Mary Margaret groaned. She turned toward their apartment and then turned back just as quickly, her face squeezed shut as though wishing she could just disappear. Emma looked up and understood immediately why. David Nolan was approaching them.
“Mary Margaret,” he said in greeting. “Emma.” He looked sheepish, apologetic. He knew that he’d just ruined Mary Margaret’s night, but he also knew that in a town this size they couldn’t easily ignore each other forever.
“Hey, David,” Emma said, lifted a hand in a half-hearted wave.
“How are you?” he asked. The question sounded genuine.
“I’m good,” Emma said. “Great.”
“Great,” Mary Margaret echoed.
David nodded, his eyes fixed on Mary Margaret, gauging her mood, her reaction to his presence. For her part, Mary Margaret looked anywhere but directly at David.
“Good,” David said, finally.
Emma felt like she was intruding. She felt like she was witnessing something that wasn’t meant for her, much like she had when Eleanor Reston stopped at the diner window. She moved to take a step away from the two, but Mary Margaret reached out a hand, not touching Emma, but the gesture was clear. Emma was wanted here.
The snow was falling harder now and David looked up. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked.
Mary Margaret shrugged.
“You don’t like the snow?” David asked.
“Not really,” Mary Margaret said. She tossed her head up, finally looking David Nolan in the eye. Her posture was tight, her words short.
“I never would have guessed that about you,” David admitted.
“Yeah,” Mary Margaret agreed, and her voice grew slightly shrill as she continued. “I’m just full of surprises!”
“Well,” David said. “Maybe it won’t stick.”
“This is Maine,“ Mary Margaret pointed out. “It’ll stick. Six month of winter. Coming right up!”
David laughed. “You know what they say,” he said.
“No,” Mary Margaret countered. “What do they say?”
“You know,” David said, waving a hand as he continued, his words rushed, a recitation. “When the winter chrysanthemums go -”
“There’s nothing to write about but radishes,” Mary Margaret murmured in response.
“Really?” Emma asked. She looked from David to Mary Margaret. “Do people really say that?”
David and Mary Margaret didn’t respond. They didn‘t have time for Emma any more. Not at that moment. They were too busy with each other. And then, for the first time since it had started, Mary Margaret smiled at the snow.
There‘s Nothing to Write About but Radishes
The storm buried Storybrooke under two feet of snow over night. Mary Margaret looked out the window and groaned. She put a pot of water on the stove to boil.
“Tell you what,” Emma suggested. “You make breakfast. I’ll shovel us out.”
This time Mary Margaret’s groan was one of relief. “Deal,” she said. “Definitely a deal.”
Emma was nearly finished with the walk when David Nolan approached, bundled up, shovel in hand.
“Isn’t this an apartment building?” David asked.
Emma propped her shovel in the snow bank, leaned on it and shrugged. “Yeah,” she said. “The landlord has a bad back, and the ladies on the first and second floor are pushing 80. Not quite the sort of apartment complex I was used to in Boston.” Or anywhere else, she failed to add.
David laughed and then held up his shovel. “You need help?”
Emma scrunched up her face, about to refuse. She really didn’t need the help. She was nearly finished with the walk but she gave in quickly, smiled and said, “Sure.”
“I heard you lost your job,” David said, getting to work on the snow beside Emma.
“Ah, yes,” Emma said. “A minor setback.”
“It’s too bad,” David said. “I thought you were pretty good at it. I mean, I would know.”
Emma laughed. “I guess you would,” she said. “But don’t worry about me. I have a plan.”
“Oh yeah?” David asked.
“Sure,” Emma agreed. “Haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I have one. I’m thinking something along the lines of private detective.”
“You’re stubborn,” David said.
Emma shrugged. “I guess I am.”
“Me too,” he smiled.
They shoveled in silence, clearing the rest of the walk and then pausing to survey their work.
“We can shovel out your car next,” David offered.
Emma looked over at the location where her car once was, parked along the edge of what was once the street. The plows had come through during the night and built a wall of snow around it. It looked like a giant mound of white now, hardly a hint of yellow exposed to suggest the car beneath.
“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, that’d be great.”
They moved to stand beside the pile of snow that once was her car. Emma stared at it.
“I don’t even know where to start,” she said.
“Here,” David offered, scooped a large shovel of snow right from the top. “Maybe if we find the car.”
Eventually they’d cleared the yellow roof.
“Are you just going around the neighborhood shoveling people out?” Emma ask, as she pushed snow from the windshield.
“Yeah,” David said with a shrug.
“Oh,” Emma said, smiling. “A regular knight in shining armor.”
“Hardly,” he said. “Kathryn loves the snow, maybe even more than I do. She was up before dawn this morning, baking and staring out the window. When she left to bring baked goods to the neighbors I figured I might as well make the rounds, too.”
“How are things?” Emma asked. “I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“No,” David smiled. “It’s okay. You know, things are hard. We’re different people than we were. It’s not an easy thing to get used to.”
Emma nodded, paused in her shoveling. David was in love with Mary Margaret, even now. She’d seen it last night outside the diner. David and Kathryn were trying to work things out, but if you sat at Granny’s diner long enough, it was easy to wonder why. Emma had seen Eleanor’s face. She’d confirmed her suspicion. Why try to force a marriage when both sides were ready to move on?
David had paused in his shoveling, as well. He was frowning, thinking, and finally he looked up. Emma held her breath, certain that David was going to tell her something important. He only managed to get as far as Kathryn’s name, however, before they were interrupted.
“She’s at my mom’s,” a voice said from behind them.
Emma spun around to find Henry standing there, all bundled up in his winter gear, mittens hanging from his hands by strings.
“Henry,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
Henry looked David up and down and then turned to grin at Emma.
“Mrs. Nolan is visiting my mom, so I thought I’d come visit you. Hi, Mr. Nolan!”
“Hey, Henry,” David smiled.
“Does your mother know you’re here?” Emma asked.
“Of course not,” Henry said. “Don’t worry, I’m not staying. She’s not working today.”
“Where’s Ms. Blanchard?” Henry asked. He was covered in snow, tiny pellets of it sticking to his coat and his hat.
“She’s upstairs,” Emma said. “Why don’t you run up and say hello to her.”
“Snow still has her down?” David asked, watching as Henry ran into the building, leaving them alone once more.
“She’s not a fan,” Emma agreed.
“Kathryn will stay with the mayor for an hour,” David offered. “Henry won’t be missed for a while.”
Emma nodded, but David wasn’t finished. He continued in a rush. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to save our marriage.”
“David,” Emma said, surprised at the confidence.
“I’m sorry,” David said. He turned to lean against Emma’s car. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. There’s something about you. I feel like I can trust you.”
Emma nodded. “You can,” she said, carefully. “I think - Sometimes it’s better to let something go than to force it to stay.”
“Maybe,” David agreed. “I think that maybe we just needed to prove to ourselves that we’ve tried. And we have tried. We've tried for years.”
Emma had no idea what to say. She’d never been good with this kind of thing and she wasn’t exactly impartial to the outcome. She was relieved, however, by Henry, who bounded back out the door toward them. David smiled and resumed shoveling.
“Are you going to stay for pancakes?” Emma asked.
“Nah,” Henry said. “I’ve gotta get home. But you should stay, Mr. Nolan. Ms. Blanchard makes the best pancakes.”
“Henry - “ Emma started. Was there anything more obvious than a matchmaking 10-year old?
“I wish I could,” David said. “But I'd better get home soon, too.”
Emma stood back to survey their work. Her car had 3 walls of snow around it, but it was shoveled out enough for her to pull out when she needed to anyway.
The door opened then and Mary Margaret called out to her. She was halfway down the walk before she caught sight of them and stopped.
“David,” Mary Margaret said. Her cheeks flushed just a little in surprise, making her look radiant against the snowy backdrop.
David glowed a little brighter in return and Henry nudged Emma hard in the side. Emma swatted him away.
“Pancakes are ready?” Emma guessed.
“Yes,” Mary Margaret said, then stumbled a bit over her words before she continued. “Henry, would you like to come in and warm up? I can make you some cocoa.”
“Nah,” Henry said. “I have to get home.” He didn’t move though. Just stood there, patiently waiting for what he knew would come next.
Emma couldn’t take it. She couldn’t take the smug certainty emanating from Henry beside her, the awkward chemistry between Mary Margaret and David. She cleared her throat and was about to make an attempt at dispelling the tension when Mary Margaret beat her and spoke first.
“Do you like pancakes, David?” she asked.
“Who doesn’t like pancakes?” David returned.
Mary Margaret laughed and stared into the snow for a moment before she made up her mind and turned back to David. “Would you like to come up for breakfast?”
He’d already refused Emma’s offer, but David considered the question as though it was new and then he smiled, wide and crooked, and said, “I’d love to come up for breakfast.”
Henry was ready to explode beside her. Emma could feel it. She knew Mary Margaret though. Mary Margaret was trying to be the bigger person. It was an offer of friendship, one of forgiveness, nothing more. At least not yet.
“I’ll be right in,” Emma said. She watched as David followed Mary Margaret into the building. When she turned to Henry, he was grinning.
“Don’t get your hopes up, kid,” Emma warned, but she couldn’t help but smile too. She knew now. She knew how things would end. David and Kathryn were both in love with someone else. She could always tell a lie, and this wasn’t one. All they had to do was realize what they were missing by staying together. They’d have their happy endings.
“Wanna know why I didn’t tell you about my birthday?” Henry asked.
“Why?” Emma asked.
“Because you’d already given me the best birthday present ever,” Henry admitted. He kicked at a pile of snow with his boot.
“Oh yeah?” Emma laughed. “What’s that?”
“Yeah,” Henry agreed. He hesitated for a moment before he looked up at Emma, squinting in the bright morning sun. “You came here.”
Emma felt it again, that swell of the heart, that surety that she might never love anyone more than she loved this child.
“Come here,” Emma said. She pulled him into a tight hug. He pressed back against her, his face warm against her neck.
“We’re going to find our happy endings, Henry,” she said. “All of us.” And though she’d been saying it to herself since she arrived, for the first time, Emma was sure of that too.