It was Friday and Emma was making fried eggs. Henry was sitting at the breakfast table, tapping his pen against his lip while reading over the contents of the notebook in his other hand.
He liked to think of this particular notebook as his Official Dossier, because that was a concept that both of his moms would appreciate: Mom, because of the implicit bureaucracy and the fact that he’d taken the time to develop a notation system with a reference key inside the front cover; and Emma, because he’d collected his evidence properly, with dates and times and pertinent details, just like a real detective. But sometimes, on those days when he was particularly frustrated with their total obliviousness, he thought of the notebook as his Big Book of Gay.
It had been just over a year since Emma had moved in with them, taking up residence in the good guest room. Looking back, he should have read more into that than he did, especially since Mom redecorated it and bought a new mattress and everything, but he was just glad that he wouldn’t have to spend his time with Emma in that cramped loft with his crying baby uncle and too many people and no privacy anywhere, ever. And his Mom’s reasons for inviting Emma to live with them had made so much sense: they had all that space; Emma couldn’t really afford to rent somewhere decent which wasn’t all the way out in Storybrooke Heights; the house was close to the school and the Town Hall and the Sheriff’s Station; it was less disruptive for him not to be shuttled between two households; they could share parenting duties more easily. All of that was true, but it had blinded him to the most important part of the arrangement, which was that, when you took him out of the equation, Mom had invited Emma to live with her, without any prompting, and Emma had said yes without even taking time to think about it.
Although the first weeks of their new living arrangements had been tense and awkward, with arguments breaking out everywhere over the slightest thing, somewhere along the way, things had started working out. When Emma had conceded that maybe she could put her clothes in the laundry hamper rather than on the floor and over every other surface, Mom had accepted that some fried food in the house occasionally wouldn’t kill them all. With each new compromise, things just kept getting better between his moms. Again, if he had been paying closer attention, Henry would have noticed how his mom was with Emma. To be fair to himself, he had been just fourteen then, and he was so used to how Mom was with him that he hadn’t thought twice about it when she showed Emma the same care and attention. But he should have picked up on the fact that she was already doing Emma’s laundry from the day she moved in, and making Emma’s favourite meals as well as his, and only ever calling her ‘Miss Swan’ when she was teasing her about something, and always with a smile in her eyes, and that she touched Emma.
Mom touched Emma freely and often.
Once he noticed that, Henry couldn’t stop noticing it. There were little touches: a hand pressed to Emma’s back as Mom reached past her for something in the kitchen; casually wiping food from Emma’s cheek or chin with her thumb; a tap on the shoulder to catch Emma’s attention while she was on the phone to Grandpa; leaning into Emma, pressing against her whenever they sat next to each other, even on the bleachers at his baseball games. Later, he noticed the Totally Married Couple Touches: when Mom would lean over to brush the hair out of Emma’s eyes while she was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table; the shoulder massages for a work injury—which, yeah, Emma didn’t work that hard—when Mom made Emma sit in between her legs and lean back against her (not to mention the noises Emma made, because they might very well have scarred him for life); and the fact that Mom kissed Emma on the cheek every morning when she left for work.
Every. Single. Morning.
Then, there was the clothes thing. Whenever they were going out somewhere, his mother, who had never looked anything other than perfect his whole life and somehow managed to dress herself just fine before Emma was there, would come out of her room and pad along the hallway to Emma’s room and say things like, ‘Which earrings go better with this dress?’ or ‘This blouse or the black silk?’ and she’d show Emma whatever the choices were. She always went with whichever Emma chose. Always.
Emma, meanwhile, was developing a more extensive wardrobe than just jeans and sweaters because Mom kept bringing home things that she had seen on sale, always suspiciously on sale, which she thought Emma might like. It wasn’t even that Mom was trying to change Emma, because everything she bought was Emma’s normal casual style, but just better cut and better tailored and better quality, like she only wanted Emma to have the very best, the same way she did with him.
And none of that even compared to the way Emma was with Mom. Because Mom might touch Emma with love and care and affection, but Emma looked at Mom like her world started and ended right there. Emma stared at Mom’s ass whenever she got the chance, and she definitely looked down the front of Mom’s blouse when they were sitting next to each other, but mostly Emma just looked at Mom like she couldn’t see anything else.
Emma blushed whenever Mom paid her any sort of compliment and did this ‘Aw, shucks’ shrug thing with one shoulder and a duck of the head and her knee swinging out awkwardly to the side. Emma pulled Mom’s feet into her lap when Mom was reading on the couch, and turned the TV down so it wouldn’t disturb her. Whenever anyone—seriously, anyone, male or female, from eight to eighty—approached them on the street, Emma stepped closer to Mom, her hand immediately reaching out in front of Mom for a few seconds, not touching her, but, like, letting her know that she’d protect her.
Emma brought flowers home sometimes. Not for Mom, no. Every time, Emma would say that she had been passing Game of Thorns and had just figured that that they would look nice in the living room or the study or on the kitchen table, and Mom would say, ‘Oh, Emma, they’re beautiful,’ in a tone that he never heard her use with anyone else, ever, and then Emma would do the shrug thing, and then they’d all have one of Emma’s favourite desserts after dinner that evening. After that, he’d have to put up with them for days, coming to a halt whenever they passed the flowers, and Emma would beam in remembering the way his Mom had been so impressed with her, and his Mom would get this look of such pride and adoration, like Emma had lassoed the moon and stars for her, and not just dropped forty bucks with Moe French.
At first, it squicked him out, and he developed a theory that his mothers were secretly dating and trying to hide it from him, but, the more he watched them together, the more convinced he became that they genuinely didn’t have a clue about how they behaved around each other. Or, at the very least, they weren’t aware of what their behaviour signified, or that they were both behaving that way, like, all the damn time. There were days when he wished that they were having an affair—even though, eww, parents having sex—because that would be easier. He could ignore that, sort of, or at least pretend that he didn’t know it was happening. But what was happening was much, much worse. His moms were totally in love with each other and they had no clue. Not just that they had no clue that they both felt the same: they didn’t even know what their own feelings were at all. He was the only one who knew anything, and what good was he as the Truest Believer if he didn’t try to give them the happy ending they both deserved?
He’d tried to raise it obliquely with his grandparents, asking if they thought either of his moms might be seeing anyone or even just interested in someone, but Grandpa said that they were concentrating on Henry and didn’t have time for romance. Grams had, as quite often happened, picked up the wrong end of that stick and started figuratively beating him with it. She assumed that he was worried about himself. She reassured him that, when the time came for one of his moms to date again, he would still be the centre of their worlds, as he was now. And then she gave him a really long lecture on how parenting was about always putting your child first, like Mom hadn’t brought him up to know that he was everything to her, even during the Bad Times.
He’d also raised his suspicions with Grace, and she had at least asked for examples of what he meant. When he told her what he’d seen, she immediately agreed with him. (‘Henry, if I treated you like that, I’d be offended if you didn’t at least try to jump my bones,’ she’d said, and he’d blushed beet-red because he was a coward like his moms, and he wasn’t ready to lose his own best friend yet by making a move, not when she was already Pretty Important and possibly Really Very Special. But, he was fifteen and his Moms were meant to be intelligent adults.) Grace, however, had given him a really good idea: if he wrote down everything that he saw, maybe he could show it to Emma or his mom and make them understand.
So, over the previous three weeks, he had detailed every interaction he had witnessed which proved beyond doubt that his moms were, like, totally married and didn’t even know it. He didn’t even note down all of their interactions, because he’d quickly realised that he’d need an encyclopaedia-sized notebook for that. He’d excluded anything under the categories of General Annoying Parenting and Snarky BFFs, and even then his notebook had over a hundred pages, and he was getting close to the end of it already. After only three weeks. Three. And these were just the things he’d seen. Who knew what else they got up to when he was out of the house?
“Henry? Hen? Kid?”
“Yeah?” He looked up from his notebook at Emma, who was dressed, as she almost always was on her days off, in jeans and a flannel shirt over a tank top, and he thought that maybe he should add ‘wears lots of flannel’ to his Big Book of Gay, but that was just a stereotype and his grandpa wore flannel, too. Lots of people in Maine did; it got really cold in winter, and flannel was warm. Emma was also wearing one of his mom’s aprons. And how was that not a sign to her? Had she even owned a single apron in the thirty-odd years before she moved in with them? And she was wearing it because that’s what Mom would want her to do.
She was also plating up their breakfasts, bacon and two eggs sunny-side-up each for them, and an egg-white frittata with peppers and onions for Mom. Egg-white frittata with a little yolk blended in and a few bits of bacon because Emma thought Mom denied herself too many pleasures. Special egg-white frittata that Emma had only learnt how to cook so she could make it for Mom on Friday mornings, because Friday was the early staff meeting that Mom was always running late for these days, so Emma had taken over Friday morning duties. She even made Mom’s special coffee, the one from the high shelf that Mom ordered from the internet, and she put it in a travel cup for Mom to take with her to the meeting. And every Friday morning, he wanted to scream, ‘Really, Emma, are you this stupid?’
“Go call your mom and tell her that her breakfast’s getting cold.”
He put down his notebook and placed his pen carefully on top of it so he would know if Emma tried to sneak a look at it, and wandered to the bottom of the stairs.
“Mom! Breakfast! Now!”
“Henry, that’s not what I meant,” Emma said as he came back into the kitchen. “I meant go upstairs and tell her.”
“You didn’t say that.” He sat back down and checked the position of his pen, glad to see it undisturbed. Neither of his moms had shown any real interest in his special notebook so far, but his plan was to amass a full month’s worth of evidence before he decided what to do with it, so he didn’t want either of them catching on too soon.
Emma just growled at him as she put all the plates on the table, quickly adding a pile of salt to her own eggs and lifting up each rasher of bacon to drizzle maple syrup between them, then arranging them so that none of the syrup was immediately visible.
“You know it’ll spread as soon it heats up,” Henry said, “and Mom knows you do that anyway.”
Emma stuck her tongue out at him. “I’ll have eaten it all before she’s any the wiser.” She pressed the bacon together with her fork and then cut through four slices at once, smirking in triumph at him.
“Emma!” Mom shouted from the stairway. “You shouldn’t have let me open that second bottle!” There was a faint clattering sound, and then stumbling footsteps with none of his mother’s usual grace. “We don’t all have the day off today, you know.”
And there was the reason why Mom was always late on Fridays, because on Thursdays, she stayed up too late drinking with Emma. On Thursday evenings, the Storybrooke Players had rehearsals for whatever play they were preparing, and Henry was lead set decorator and props man, which might or might not have been influenced by the fact that Grace was one of the main actresses. Anyway, it meant he was gone from straight after dinner until around ten, when he got a ride home from Mr Jacobs, who ran the sound and lighting and was kind of the backstage boss. Emma had persuaded Mom that having one night a week to themselves was a good reason for them to indulge in take-out and wine and crappy movies, but the movies had only lasted a couple of weeks and it wasn’t unusual for his mothers not to notice that he’d even come home because they were so caught up in conversation. He wasn’t sure what they talked about, but he’d seen them often enough when they hadn’t known he was there to know that it didn’t really matter. The look on his mom’s face when Emma was telling a story, all flailing hands and spilling wine, and Mom not minding at all, but laughing softly and smiling so sweetly, was enough to let him know that it was essentially their Date Night. Often, he had heard them creeping upstairs well into the small hours, laughing and murmuring and struggling to say goodnight, a process which could take upwards of ten or fifteen minutes because they obviously didn’t want to part.
“Babysitting my brother all morning is not my idea of a day off,” Emma called back around a mouthful of bacon.
Mom appeared in the doorway then, fiddling with an earring in one hand and lifting her foot to adjust her shoe with the other. Her blouse, the dark maroon one which was Emma’s favourite, was buttoned up incorrectly and hanging out of her skirt. His mom got wine hangovers; Emma never did.
“Sweetheart, could you—”
Henry cocked his head expectantly at the same time as Emma swung around, obviously thinking that Mom meant her. Then she realised what she’d done and turned back, but not before she’d flushed a deep red at seeing that Mom was showing some skin in the places where the blouse wasn’t holding together properly. Interestingly, Mom gave an odd look to the back of Emma’s head, like maybe she had meant Emma after all.
“Henry, sweetheart, could you get my briefcase for me? It’s in the study.”
“Sure, Mom.” He sighed, because this felt like a moment he wanted to note down in his book.
“Have you got time for breakfast?” Emma asked as he was leaving the room.
“No, I’m sorry. I’m later than usual. I think maybe I’ll take it with me—”
He couldn’t hear the rest as he ducked into the study, looking around for his mom’s stuff. He collected everything he thought she might need as quickly as possible, and dashed back towards the kitchen, skidding to a more reasonable pace as he entered. Emma was wrapping the extra-special frittata in foil, while Mom was sitting at the table adjusting the buttons of her blouse and rattling off a list of chores which needed done around the house, if Emma got a chance.
Henry grinned. Business as usual.
“Here’s your things, Mom.” He put her briefcase, purse and a couple of folders on the kitchen island.
“Thank you.” She glanced over at Emma, whose back was to them, and winked at Henry, lifting Emma’s bacon to reveal the growing puddle of maple syrup, then stuck her finger right in the middle of Emma’s beautifully cooked fried egg, watching the yolk seep out and ooze across the plate. She sucked her finger into her mouth and winced at the amount of salt.
“I told her you know she does that,” Henry whispered, sitting back down next to her.
She leaned over and kissed his cheek, then wiped the lipstick away with her thumb. “Let’s let her think she’s won this one.” She stood up and went over to the island, pulling a compact out of her purse and checking her mascara in it. “God, I look ancient this morning,” she said, wiping at something on her cheek with her forefinger.
“No, you don’t,” Emma said, coming to stand next to her, boxed frittata and to-go coffee in her hands. “You don’t look a day over sixty-fo—”
“Careful, Miss Swan.” Mom shut the compact and smiled at Emma. This was their thing. Emma invariably made a variation of the same joke almost every Friday. “Your next word may very well be your last.”
“You look perfect,” Emma said. “Like always.” And, come the hell on, how could both of them not hear the tone of hushed awe in Emma’s voice? Was he the only person with working eyes and ears in this house?
“Hmm,” Mom said, but Henry could see the little smile of pleasure, even if Emma couldn’t because she was doing the head-ducking thing. She glanced at the kitchen clock. “I am going to be so late.”
“Why don’t you poof yourself there?” Emma suggested. “I can swing by and pick you up later. Just send me a text when you’re getting ready to pack up for the day.”
“You would?” Just like every time when Emma offered to do something nice for her, Mom sounded surprised.
“Yeah, sure. I mean, I was going to pick up the groceries later anyway, so I could take the Mercedes and do that first, then wait around for you.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s no trouble.” Mom still looked like she couldn’t believe Emma would want to go out of her way for her, which was the stupidest thing ever, because Henry was ninety-nine percent certain that Emma would sacrifice working limbs to make his Mom happy. Emma nodded. “Okay, then. I’ll just—” Mom made a swirling motion with her hand.
She took the coffee and frittata from Emma, who was already leaning her cheek in towards Mom, and then Mom closed her eyes and kissed Emma’s cheek. When Mom pulled back, she didn’t wipe the lipstick away like she’d done with him, she just kind of nodded to herself, and then looked over her shoulder at him.
“I’ll see you tonight, Henry.”
“Sure, Mom. Have a great day.” Try not to let your gay show too much at the office.
“And I’ll see you later,” she said to Emma, who had the same glazed expression she did every morning just after Mom kissed her goodbye.
“Uh-huh,” Emma said.
Then Mom was gone in a literal puff of smoke.
Emma filled two mugs with coffee—that she let him drink coffee was another thing Emma thought was a secret and which Mom also totally knew about—and came back to the table, not even noticing that Mom had messed with her breakfast.
“So, what’s on at school today, champ?” she asked, seemingly back to her normal, Emma self.
“A bit of learning, lunch, a bit more learning and then home.”
“You need picked up, too?”
“No, I’ve got some allowance left and there’s a new comic I wanna get, so I was gonna run by the store after school.”
“Okay, whatever. Let me know if you change your mind.” She smiled at him. “Your mom wants me to clean out the gutters today, and I have no interest in doing that at all, so I’ll take any distraction I can get.”
“Uh-huh.” He laughed into his coffee, which was rich with cream and sugar, just like Emma’s.
“You know you’re gonna do whatever she asked.” He wondered how far he could push things, and then went for it anyway, making a whip-cracking noise accompanied by the appropriate mime.
Emma’s eyes widened. “I am not whipped!”
“Whatever.” He got out of his chair, taking his coffee with him, to head up to his room and finish getting ready for school. “So, so whipped,” he murmured as he left the room.
“I heard that, you little shit,” Emma replied, and had the nerve to still sound offended by it.
How could he have been raised by two such complete idiots?