Emma’s allergic to her engagement ring.
She tries to ignore it for several days, finding things to do that distract her from the burning itch of her skin, the red rash creeping around her finger. She can’t keep from twisting the ring in a sorry, subtle attempt to scratch, though, and one evening, when they're eating dinner together, Will notices.
“I thought it would go away,” she tries, while he sets down his fork on the edge of the plate, his face all concern. “It still might. Maybe my skin’s just getting used to the ring.”
Will reaches across the table and takes her hand before she has time to prepare herself, moving the ring down towards the joint. It looks like there’s two rings on her finger, now, the angry rash tattooed just above her knuckle.
She resists the impulse to rub it, and after a few seconds, the urge passes.
“Honey,” he says, a familiar line of worry cutting between his eyebrows. Emma realizes, abruptly, that she’ll be around in that still far-off future when that line becomes permanent. It’s a startling thought. “I don’t think this is going away. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I would've taken care of it.”
“It’s really not important.”
“Of course it is.” He raises the hand to his mouth, purses his lips a little in the direction of her finger but doesn’t touch the skin. Will knows, by now, what’s too much for her, and she is so, so grateful for that. “We’ll get you another band, something that doesn’t irritate your poor skin. Only the best for the future Mrs. Schuester.”
“Pillsbury-Schuester,” she reminds him, and smiles.
“Pillsbury-Schuester,” he corrects.
The aloe vera feels amazing when she applies it after dinner, and in the morning, her bare finger’s hardly red at all.
She’d placed the white roses from Will’s proposal in a narrow vase on her school desk, garnished with a few decorative sprigs of Queen Anne’s lace. They bloom slowly.
It’s the roses that remind Emma she should really drop by Sue’s office to thank her, maybe make a nice gesture in return, and once the thought occurs to her it itches at Emma like the ring rash, equally as uncomfortable. Well, Sue had made a real effort, helping out Will with his proposal, and it’s honestly the very least Emma can do, to be nice. Sue’s been kinder, lately, in her own way – she hasn’t replaced the filtered coffee in the teacher’s lounge with ground-up chalk in at least two weeks – and her bark’s always been far worse than her bite. (Except when she hits. Emma has to admit that Sue has a very real history of hitting.)
At the end of the school day, she screws up her courage and forces her heeled feet to move, one in front of the other, in prim, short steps towards Sue’s office. She can do this. There’s no need to be so nervous.
The rap of her knuckles against Sue’s door sounds loud to her ears.
“Enter,” Sue calls, and Emma takes a deep breath, folding the disposable wet-wipe she’s brought over the doorknob, gripping the cloth as she turns it.
Sue’s seated behind her desk, as usual, her glasses on, scratching something on the paper in front of her. She looks directly at Emma, putting down her pen, and Emma squeezes the wet-wipe in her hand, suddenly convinced that this was all a terrible idea.
“Sue.” She clears her throat. “May I – may I come in?”
“Well, hey there, Elsie,” Sue says, and there’s a horrific note of cheer in her voice. “You know, I’m actually glad you dropped by. It gives me an opportunity to thank you for what you’ve done. Close the door.”
Emma starts. Sue wants to thank her? “I don’t follow,” she stammers, and takes a few cautious steps inside, shutting the door behind her. “Thank me for what?”
“For taking Will Schuester off the market. On behalf of every woman he’s ever awkwardly attempted to romance, let me extend to you my genuine, heartfelt gratitude for ensuring that our collective bile ducts will remain, in the absence of his grotesque attentions, blissfully inactive. Any woman who volunteers to spend the rest of her life waking up next to Will's sad parody of a normal face, now, that’s a woman who’s taking one for the team. I salute you, I really do.”
“Oh.” Emma, in the interests of détente, decides not to comment on this bizarre speech, in the likely case there’s a verbal land mine waiting. “I, uh, I appreciate it?”
“Of course you do.” Sue removes her glasses, tossing them on the desk, and sits back in her chair. “How can I help you, lady lemur?”
She seems friendly. It’s more than a little terrifying.
“Would you, uh –” Oh, she thinks, miserable with her indecision, just say something, you spineless coward! Anything! “Sue, would you like to, maybe, come over for dinner tonight? I’m actually a very good cook, and, you know, it’d be a way for me to maybe say that I’m grateful for what you did, helping Will pr –“
Emma recoils, physically, the word like a blow to the stomach.
“I’m sorry, I –”
“You’ll do it at my place,” Sue continues, and Emma breathes again, shocked despite herself by the rush of relief she’s feeling. “Don’t feel like digging out my gas mask, and I’m not about to risk exposure to the fumes of William’s domestic shame, not if I can help it. Bring over something freshly killed, Ellen. If I’m going to indulge in solid food, I like it to have a faint pulse.”
“Cornish game hens?” Emma suggests, her voice tentative. She has a recipe somewhere, and they’re not so difficult to prepare.
“Baby chicken, huh? Innocent victim of poultry infanticide? Immature, succulent flesh? You like that kind of thing?”
“I didn’t kn –“
“Fan-tastic.” Sue waves her hand in dismissal. “Might as well bring your polishing kit, too. I’ll put you to work later on my trophies. And,” she adds, picking up her pen and pointing at Emma, “in case I didn’t make it clear, you’re leaving Schuester at home. Buy him a few extra vats of pomade, pop in his VHS copy of the Cop Rock pilot, open up the J. C. Penney catalogue to the casual dress section. He’ll be distracted for hours. Won’t even notice you’re gone.”
By the time Emma finds herself walking back towards her office, she has a thousand questions she knows she’d never have the courage to ask Sue in the first place. Does Sue have a preference for certain side dishes? What about wine (Emma isn’t a big wine drinker, but she believes sincerely in the complementary qualities of a nice pinot grigio)? And the biggest questions of all: how in the world is she going to talk to Sue for an entire evening? What are they going to talk about? Emma doesn’t think she’s ever had more than ten minutes of direct exposure to the woman at a time.
It’s not like she’s looking for a friend. Of course not. Sue is – well, she’s Sue. If she was really and truly trying to find a friend, Emma knows, she’d probably try to get to know Shannon a little better instead. Maybe even invite her to dinner at Sue's. Will’s told her before she should spend some time with Shannon, and Emma wants to do that, honestly she does, but Shannon makes her a little uncomfortable, although she’d never admit that to Will. It’s just that Shannon takes up so much space. Shannon and her bright red lipstick, and the way she eats her food, and her voice, all of it loud and unapologetic. Not that Sue’s exactly a wallflower, either, but Sue, at least, is someone Emma doesn't have to worry about liking.
Emma stares at her desk through the glass wall and tries to remember if she’s cleaned it more than twice today, because she would very much like to rest her head on its surface. She’s a little dizzy. She’s cooking dinner for Sue Sylvester.
“You’re doing what?”
Two Cornish hens, two heads of broccoli, Idaho potatoes – Emma rustles around in her grocery bags, stacking items. Spices. She can’t forget spices. Goodness knows what Sue has in her pantry, and Emma’s not about to call her to find out.
“Em, seriously? Look, I know your intentions are great, but this isn’t the best idea you’ve ever had.”
“Will,” she says, and closes her eyes for a brief second, not turning around. “It’s just dinner. That’s all. One dinner. And you’ve got to admit, she’s been nicer lately. I really don’t think doing something thoughtful for her harms anyone. She’s all alone, she’s just been dumped –”
“It could very well harm you,” he points out, and she feels his hands rest lightly on her waist. Not too much pressure, but it’s there, and Emma has to push down the urge to twist out and away. If she’s ever going to get better, she’s going to have to learn to enjoy things like this. Like normal people. Normal people don’t mind being touched without warning. They enjoy it, even.
“I’ll be fine,” she says.
“Emma, you just don’t know her like I do.”
“Sue helped you with the proposal.” She can hear how stubborn her own voice sounds. “You trusted her enough to ask her to help you with one of the most important moments of your life. I think I can trust her enough to get through a dinner.”
“It’s –” Will stops, starts again. “I didn’t exactly ask – it’s a little more complicated than that. I’m sorry, honey, I just don’t understand why you’re defending her. After everything she’s done over the years, to you, to me –”
“I need to finish putting everything together,” she says, and because she has a reason, and because it’s not a reflex, she gets to move away now. Emma wrenches out of his hands, turning back to her bag of groceries.
Will sighs, but doesn’t push it.
“Just keep your cell phone on you,” is all he says.
Emma promises, wondering if she should pack up her hand mixer with the nine speeds. It’s probably a good idea. She tries to imagine Sue keeping something as ordinary as a hand mixer in her house, and fails.
Emma has to transfer two bags to her already full left hand in order to reach out with her right to ring Sue’s doorbell, and when the opening notes of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” blasts out of the speaker right above the bell, she yelps with surprise.
The door opens while she’s trying to successfully regain her grip on the bag with the bottle of pinot grigio in it. Sue stands there, clad in a burgundy-colored tracksuit Emma doesn’t remember seeing before. Is it Emma’s imagination, or does Sue look a little nervous?
“Wow,” Emma says, as soon as the trombones finish. “That was – loud.”
Sue shrugs. “I had it installed a few months back. Scares away the Jehovah’s Witnesses, brings back memories of surfing on the Nung River during bomb raids. That’s a winning combination.”
“I think you’re actually remembering a scene in Apocalypse Now – ”
“Ida, your mouth is almost as big as your eyes right now, and it’s bothering me. Close it and come inside before the neighbors start asking me why I’ve purchased a life-sized Kewpie doll.”
Emma decides it’s definitely her imagination.
She’s been inside Sue’s house once before, last year when she and Will had thought Sue was trying to kill herself, but they’d been frantic enough (and then, when they’d realized she was faking, annoyed enough) for Emma not to take stock of her surroundings. Now she’s got time, and she stares as they move through the house, trying to take it all in. Trophies infest the floor, overflowing the display cases, stacked two or three deep along the line of the hallway. The walls are pitted with plaques and commendations. No photos, no art. Nothing that indicates this is a home rather than a showroom.
Sue leads her into the kitchen, and points, vaguely, towards the counter. “Put all that cooking stuff here,” she says. “Yams?”
The question earns Emma a glare. “Q-Tips delved a little too far into your ear canals this morning, Esther? I asked if you brought yams. Truth is, I’m a big fan of orange foods. Big fan of John Boehner, too, and I’ve gotta tell you, I’m starting to think that’s not so much a coincidence.”
“No,” Emma says, and sets her bags down on the countertop. “I didn’t bring yams. Actually, though, Sue, there is something I’d like to say to you. I think it’s best that we just get it out of the way, right now.” Before I lose my courage, she doesn’t add.
“Go on.” Sue’s lips press together in a thin line.
Emma takes a deep breath. “Considering I’m going through a lot of effort to make what I anticipate will be a extremely nice dinner for the two of us, I would very much appreciate it if you weren’t mean. To me, specifically. Tonight.”
“Are you suggesting that I refrain from talking?” Sue asks, incredulous.
“You do know that it’s entirely possible to have a conversation without putting someone down in the process, right? I mean, you must be aware of the fact that thousands of people do that every day. Millions, even. Sometimes, people even say nice things to one another.” She holds her hands out, palms up, in a gesture of acknowledgment. “For example: Sue, that’s a lovely tracksuit you’re wearing this evening. It brings out the color of your eyes. There. Now, why don’t you try it?”
Sue gapes at her, apparently speechless.
Emma turns back to her groceries, thrilling just a little bit. She’d considered a lot of possible outcomes for tonight, ones that included hospital visits and lawyer’s bills, but somehow, it’d never occurred to her that she might actually enjoy herself. This, she realizes for the first time, might even be fun.
“Oh, come on,” she says, in the silence, still digging around for the Cornish hens. “One nice thing. If you can give me a rose, I think you can give me one teensy little compliment.”
“You –” Sue sounds strangled. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”
“Try it. I promise, I won’t tell anyone.”
Another long pause.
“You don’t completely offend my exceptional sense of smell,” Sue says, slowly, like she’s speaking a foreign language without a translation guide.
Emma stops, mid-lift. Whatever she’d been expecting – and what had she been expecting? – it wasn’t that. “I beg your pardon?”
When she swivels to look at Sue again, Sue’s not looking back at her, not exactly. Her arms are still crossed, higher on her chest, a defensive gesture, and there’s two faint spots of color on her cheeks.
“Your scent. Perfume. Whatever.” Sue’s still avoiding eye contact. “Eau de severe emotional issues, probably. I’ve smelled worse.”
Emma’s wearing the perfume she always wears, a floral blend she’s been loyal to since her final year of college. It doesn’t strike her as something worthy of commenting on, especially because she knows Sue must’ve noticed it before this – after all, they’ve been colleagues for nearly four years now – but at least it’s a nearly nice statement. In the neighborhood of nice.
“Thank you, Sue,” she says, smiling at her. Sue looks thoroughly uncomfortable. “I appreciate it. Now, was that really so hard? Being pleasant?”
Sue looks as though she wants to answer in the affirmative, but says, instead, “That little exercise was more pointless than the time Peter Dinklage stood in line for Space Mountain,” and stalks out of the kitchen in a huff.
Emma unwinds the frilly apron she’s brought with her, tying it around her waist. It’s half past six already, and she’s going to have to be quick about this, if she doesn’t want her scheduled hand-scrubbings to interfere with food preparation.
She’s sliding off the kitchen gloves, the rubber peppered with broccoli hairs and glistening with the sheen of lemon-garlic marinade, when she hears the slap of footsteps behind her on the tile floor. Emma places the gloves in the sink, turning around, rubbing her hands together out of habit.
“I,” Sue informs her, as if forty minutes haven’t passed since she’d last been in the kitchen, “am an exceptionally giving, sensitive and pleasant person.” She’s glaring at Emma, and the tall plastic bottle in her hand has something green and frothed inside, looking like a concoction Snow White’s evil stepmother might serve up.
“Oh, are you?” Emma asks, politely, and checks the stove clock. Ten more minutes until the Cornish hens are ready. “Please, go on.”
“Matter of fact, I recently volunteered Kurt Hummel’s bouffanted boyfriend as an inverted floor buffer for Jean’s old nursing home. That kid’s scalp has more grease lathered into it than Mitt Romney’s talking points. Don’t even have to dip him in a bucket.” She takes a swig.
Emma’s trying to decide if this is typical Sue hyperbole, or if the situation, in fact, requires an emergency call to Blaine Anderson’s home, when the opening strains of “Ride of the Valkyries” fill the kitchen. She looks around, confused, before she remembers where it’s coming from.
“That’ll be Dick Butkus,” Sue says, and slams her drink on the counter. She does a quick about face and marches out of the kitchen, calling back, “Hope you don’t mind, Elsa, but I figured this little gathering could use some testosterone. Made a little call while you were domesticating.”
“I – what?”
But Sue’s already gone. Emma’s hands press briefly against the front of her skirt, over her apron, wondering who in the world Dick Butkus is, and why Sue might’ve invited him over. She’s suddenly panicked. It was a terrible idea to intentionally do anything that would make Sue uncomfortable. Why, after years of proof to the contrary, did Emma ever think that calling her out would be a good idea? Sue, she knows, almost always lashes out when she’s unsettled.
She hears the sound of the front door opening: Sue’s voice, and then another voice, joining in, low and jovial and familiar. Emma’s attempting to place it when Sue walks back into the kitchen, followed by – and Emma can’t believe she hasn’t figured it out sooner – Shannon Beiste, looking fresh-scrubbed and neat in a polo shirt and Dockers. There's a six pack of beer in each of her hands, and she looks about as nervous as Emma feels.
When Shannon sees Emma, her face breaks out into a grin that Emma can’t possibly deserve. “Hey, pretty lady,” she says, and holds up the beer. “Guess we’re having ourselves a gal party tonight, huh? Man, whatever you’re cooking, that smells great. I’m so hungry my stomach’s chewing on my backbone.”
“Hello, Shannon,” Emma says, as warmly as she can, and then to Sue, “You didn’t tell me you were inviting someone else.”
Sue’s face is all blank innocence. “I did.”
“Sixty seconds ago, yes. I didn’t make enough for three people.” Especially when the third person doesn’t seem to think anything of demolishing an entire chicken on her own for a snack, she thinks.
Shannon sets down the beer, next to Emma’s bags and neatly arranged broccoli crowns, and lifts her hands in the universal gesture for non-aggression. “Hey, I thought this was all on the up-and-up. Sue, the only reason I agreed to this the first place is because you told me Emma specifically wanted me here, and now she’s saying she didn’t even know I was coming? I don’t intrude where I’m not wanted.”
“No, no,” Emma rushes to interrupt. “You’re – you’ve very welcome, Shannon, of course, please know that, it’s just – Sue, if this is some prank you’re pulling –”
“Oh, come on,” Sue protests. “Can’t a person ask Ray Winstone here to come over without concealing an ulterior motive?”
“Yes, someone might do something like that without having a trick up her sleeve,” Emma says. “You specifically, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about.”
“I’m with Emma.” Shannon’s eyes narrow. “What’s your angle? This some part of a payback plan for Cooter and me getting hitched or something?”
Sue plants her feet wide, and stares at the two of them levelly. “I’ll admit,” she says, “that when you disgorged the news of your unholy matrimony, along with a disturbing amount of spittle, I was momentarily unsettled. However, after about two days of unbecoming self-pity and several pints of Chunky Monkey, I got over it. You wanna know why? I realized that if Cooter Menkins would rather take a long walk down a short aisle with the human equivalent of a UPS package than spend his days and nights reveling in unbridled ecstasy, I’m well rid of him. Don’t get your boxers in a bunch, Beiste, I’m not wasting my precious time on retribution. That hair of yours is punishment enough.”
There’s an odd note of sincerity in Sue’s voice, behind the insults. Emma scans her face, looking for traces of anything suspicious, and Sue glares right back, her eyes challenging. “Let me break it down for you, Ada,” she continues. “Another person at the dinner table for this little shindig means significantly less conversation about dental floss, cleaning astringents, Will Schuester, and nice things. And although the tradeoff – ” She jerks her thumb in Shannon’s direction. “ – is probably a substantial increase in varmint talk, that’s a risk, quite frankly, that I’m willing to take.”
Emma’s face burns. Oh. Is she really that bad of a conversationalist? Sure, she’s had her own doubts about sustaining an entire dinner with Sue, just the two of them, but that was mostly because Sue’s never seemed to understand that a conversation isn’t a soliloquy. She knows how to talk about things other than hygiene and Will. There’s more to her than being sick. She isn’t just her relationship. Dr. Shane’s told her that more times than Emma can count.
It occurs to Emma, then, in a flash of uncomfortable recognition, that she honestly can’t remember the last time she’s had a casual, non-school related conversation that didn’t involve Will or her illness.
“I can talk about scrapbooking,” she says, ludicrously, to fill the sudden silence, and of course it sounds like a non-sequitur, and of course both Sue and Shannon look at her like she’s grown an extra head. “I enjoy scrapbooking. And crossword puzzles, and going to baseball games. What I mean is, there’s a lot about me you don’t know, Sue. You’ve just never really taken the time to find out, that’s all. It’s extremely rude to imply that I can’t have a conversation about other things when you’ve never even shown the slightest interest in asking me what I like or what I think about.”
“Weather cooler up there?” Shannon asks, gently, before Sue can get out the retort that’s clearly forming.
Emma looks at her, puzzled.
“On that high horse of yours,” she continues, clapping a well-meaning hand on Emma’s shoulder. Emma winces, and tries not to wonder when Shannon’s last washed. “Look, Emma, I’m on your side here, if we’re taking sides, and I hate to say anything that might help Sue look good in any shape or form, but you gotta admit, you’re not exactly the easiest person to get to know.”
Pique rises in her chest. “Nobody’s ever asked.”
“Well, you haven’t asked me anything about myself either,” Shannon says, reasonably. “And I’d bet pennies to pumpkins that if you haven’t asked me, you sure haven’t tried to find out stuff about old Sue here.”
Sue frowns at the qualifier. “Offensive.”
Emma’s going to explain that of course she hasn’t tried to get to know Sue, getting to know Sue is like getting to know a porcupine with propelling quills, but the sudden acrid smell in the air stops her short. Burning. Oh, god, something’s burning. She’s forgotten to take the hens out of the oven.
Sue and Shannon seem to realize what’s happened at the same time. Sue’s eyebrows lift, and Emma, humiliated, rushes to turn off the oven and open up the door. She’s met with thin smoke, and she coughs, peering into the dark. It’s ruined. All that preparation, ruined, and for what? So Shannon and Sue could pick on her for being boring. Socially quarantined.
She’s going to turn around and Sue’s going to say something horrible and insightful about her cooking and Emma will wish, idiotically, that she was a Cornish hen, because even if it’s burned at least it gets to take cover inside.
There’s a lump in her throat. She was going to do something right, for once.
“Emma,” Shannon says.
Without moving, Emma retorts, “What?” The question comes out sharper than she’d intended.
“What’s your favorite kind of pizza?”
Caught off guard, she pauses. “Plain cheese,” she says, after a few seconds, and rocks back on the flats of her feet, straightening up, turning to face the others. “Why?”
“Plain cheese,” Sue repeats. “Well, isn’t that just shocking and unexpected.”
She doesn’t elaborate further, though, or draw parallels between Emma’s taste in men and pizza, or say anything about the ruined hens. Emma feels the tension drain a little out of her shoulders and chest. Somehow that silence from Sue is almost as nice as a rose, and just as unexpected.
They eat their pizza differently: Shannon with gusto, chewing it in large, grotesque bites like she’s at some football-watching event, Emma carefully, carving up her slice into small, manageable pieces, and Sue not at all.
“You sure you don’t want any?” Shannon asks Sue, who’s eyeing the open box in the middle of the table with an expression usually reserved for students who don’t immediately grovel in front of her: four parts disgust, one part interest. “Really? Help me out here, Emma. It’s good, right?”
“It’s very good,” Emma agrees, spearing a cheesy square. She hasn’t had a piece of pizza in at least a month, maybe not since late night rehearsals for the musical, and even then she’d had to order a separate, small pie for herself. After all, kids are amazing conduits for germs, and who knows what might’ve happen if she took a piece that’d been near their hands?
Sue takes a long swig from her wine glass, letting the silence hang, and then slams it back down on the table. “We’re all aware that your standards are lower than a dog’s butt on a hardwood floor, Beiste, but personally, I refuse to put anything in my body that comes from an establishment called The Golden Stool.”
The bite Emma’s just swallowed gets stuck in her throat. She starts to cough.
“All right.” Shannon drops her pizza, pushing her chair back. “All right, that’s it. Time out. I came here tonight,” she says, looking pointedly at Sue, and then at Emma, “because I thought the three of us could have a real good time together. Get to know each other a little bit, outside of school and the kids and all that. I guess I was crazy for thinking that Sue here might actually take a night off from being meaner than a two-cent rattlesnake on payday.”
“That makes precisely zero sense.”
“And Emma, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t be more stiff if someone stapled you to a 2x6. Look,” Shannon continues, “the way I see it, we’ve got some choices here. We can keep on like we’ve been doing and be miserable, we can break this thing up early and go home, or we can eat some damn pizza and keep wetting our whistles and let loose and really have some fun. What’s it gonna be?”
“Fun?” Sue’s incredulity dries out the word.
“You bet,” Shannon insists. “Call it a hunch, Sue, but I get the feeling you could use a little of that in your life right now. You too, Emma. Hey, Will’s a real good guy, I know, but he’s not much in the wild and crazy department.”
“I don’t, uh,” Emma says, feeling ridiculous. “Fun?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t want to blow off some steam. Stop thinking about your problems, be a little silly for once. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I call fun. Well, that and about fifty bicep curls.”
The thought honestly hasn’t occurred to Emma. Blow off steam? What would that even look like? What steam does she have to blow off? She blows off steam. That’s what therapy is for.
“Okay,” Sue says, abruptly. “All right. I’m in.”
Shannon and Emma turn to look at her in unison, Emma in surprise, Shannon’s face spreading in a slow smile. “Yeah?”
Sue reaches across the table and grabs a slice of pizza. She points it in Shannon’s direction, and Emma thinks that this is quite likely the first time she’s ever seen pizza used as a tool of intimidation. “You’ve got yourself a deal, Chyna,” she says. “But – and let me make this clear – I’m going to require substantial amounts of alcohol in order to tolerate this fun thing of yours. We’re talking tubs. We’re talking vats.”
Shannon’s grinning now, not the least bit intimidated by the piece of pizza Sue’s threatening her with. “Not a problem. Hell, I’ll even match you drink for drink.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Sue sneers.
“Lady, you’re more bluff than ocean. The last person who tried to outdrink me ended up naked in Muncie, Indiana the next morning with bar darts still stuck in his thigh. I’ll have you know I haven’t had a hangover since Custer was a pup.”
Sue opens her mouth, unexpectedly, and shoves a third of the pizza inside, front teeth bared as she aggressively chews off a section. “You’re on,” she says, through her mouthful, and then, in reluctant admiration, “This is delicious. Get me one of those beers you brought over from the set of Roseanne.”
“Get it yourself,” Shannon retorts, “you’ve got working legs,” and then, to Emma, while Sue’s face registers disbelief, “Whaddya say? Ready for some fun?”
Emma’s been watching this exchange with wide eyes, with the increasing sense that whatever’s happening here, it’s happening out of her control. All of this is moving so fast.
“Honey,” Shannon says, kindly, and leans towards her. Emma tries not to notice the way Shannon’s polo is about three inches away from dragging through her pizza slice. “I think it’s about time you tried letting loose a little. It’d be good for you.”
“Never thought I’d say this,” Sue chimes in, “but Large Marge here is right. Dear god, stop cutting the crusts off your life and live it.”
Emma stares down at her plate, the remaining pizza divided into neat sections, and plans on explaining that it isn’t that simple, she can’t just make a decision and get better, all at once. That she has to learn how to put down the knife and fork before she stops cutting off the crusts. That Sue and Shannon clearly don’t understand what it’s like, letting go of the only thing that’s reliably made her feel better for as long as she can remember, as damaging as she knows it is.
She’s going to tell them this, but then she looks up at their expectant faces and the way Shannon’s smiling at her, friendly and without judgment, and Emma thinks, suddenly, that maybe, just for tonight, she can give herself permission to set aside a few of her rules. Not all of them. Just a few.
The idea is exhilarating. Terrifying, sure. But exhilarating, too.
“Well,” she says, amazed at herself, and gestures towards the bottle of pinot grigio, the stress of excitement building in her chest. “All right, then. I’ll let loose. I’ll be wild. I can be wild! Sue, pour me –“ She wants to make a statement. “Pour me half a glass.”
Sue lifts the bottle, obediently, and smirks at Shannon. “I think the future Mrs. Schuester here,” she observes, “is about to go H.A.M.”
What pork has to do with anything, Emma has no idea.
“Pillsbury-Schuester,” she corrects, and watches with increasing excitement as the glass fills.
“I have gone so far past ham,” she informs Shannon and Sue, more than an hour later, when her second half-glass is almost empty. “In fact, if I have another one of these, I will, I think probably be Canadian bacon.”
Shannon bursts out laughing. Emma isn’t sure why, but that’s all right. She might’ve been funny. It’s nice laughter, and it comes with another generous pour from the bottle of pinot grigio, so she doesn’t mind hearing it.
They’re sitting on the floor in Sue’s living room, Shannon and Sue comfortably cross-legged, Emma in her pencil skirt, legs bent awkwardly to the side. Everything’s starting to feel a little off to Emma, the furniture farther away, the others a little less intimidating. She’s been drunk before, of course she’s been drunk before, but it’s been longer than she cares to admit. Carl. Carl and that one night at the restaurant, that was the last time.
Neither Shannon or Sue seem much the worse for wear so far, which is impressive, considering they’ve each downed four beers and are partway into a fifth. Sue’s face is brighter than usual, though; more flushed. She keeps rubbing at the back of her neck, absentmindedly.
“Never have I ever,” Emma says, continuing the game they’ve been playing, “been an athletics coach.”
The other two raise their beers and take long pulls. Sue, ever competitive, peers at Shannon out of the corner of her eye and makes sure to keep drinking for at least a few seconds after Shannon’s put her beer down.
“Never have you ever done anything,” Sue points out, when she’s swallowed. “Seriously, Edie, you should figure out some way to make this game into a career for yourself. You’ve finally found something you’re competent at. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who’s had fewer life experiences, and that’s saying something, because I once did it with the Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”
“I have too done some things,” Emma retorts. “It’s not my fault you don’t have any imagination and you’ve done everything. Or at least you say you have. Which, I don’t believe you. I think you’re cheating and saying you did things so you look like you’re just a big shot of experiencing things.”
Sue leans forward, her lips pulling back in something like a smile. “Fine,” she says. “You want imagination? All right. I’ve got some imagination for you. I’ve never made out with Will Schuester before.”
“Ho-hum,” Emma sings out, and goes to take a sip of her wine, but then she hears Sue laugh, a loud, sharp “Hah!”, and she looks up just in time to see Shannon tipping the beer bottle up to her mouth, avoiding eye contact with Emma. It takes her several seconds to register what’s happening.
“Alma, I can’t tell you how sincerely upset I am to have my suspicions confirmed, but it looks like your rapacious muppet of a man is apparently a connoisseur of carnal horror. You, my little ginger answer to Howard Hughes, are marrying a sexual deviant.”
“Shannon, I don’t understand – ?”
Shannon shakes her head. “It was once, when you were still with Carl. I was lonely, and he was lonely, ‘cause you weren’t around. It didn’t mean anything, honest. Will’s never been anything but a good buddy to me. He’s like a brother.”
“A brother? And he kissed you? I repeat: sexual deviant.”
Maybe it’s the wine, but Emma’s head is reeling now, and she puts a hand on the carpet in order to steady herself. Will’s never told her about this. He kissed Shannon? Shannon, of all people? She’d never imagined Will could think of Shannon in that way.
“Em,” Shannon says. Emma looks up. “Don’t worry about it, okay? We’re cool. It’s all in the past. I’ve got Coot now.”
Emma nods, wanting very much to believe that. Shannon does sound like she’s telling the truth, after all. She takes another long sip from her glass, because it’s something to do that isn’t talking or thinking about Shannon and Will.
“You were right, Beiste,” Sue says, jovially. “This is fun. Your turn.”
“Never have I ever written a glowing letter of recommendation for Kurt Hummel that included the phrase ‘one of the most hard-working and talented performers I’ve had the pleasure of teaching in my twenty-five years as an educator,’” Shannon fires back, like a shot, and Sue’s mouth drops open in total astonishment. “Take a drink, Sylvester. Take a long-ass drink.”
“How –” Sue manages. “That was – that was a private missive. Did you go through my personal documents? I swear, if you even so much as touched my desk, if you breathed within ten feet of my desk, I will rain revenge down upon you so hard it’ll make the Old Testament look like a kindergarten sandbox slapfest.” She’s visibly seething, jaw clenched with fury. Emma can’t remember the last time she’s seen Sue look so unfastened.
“You dropped a copy in the hallway,” Shannon says, and shrugs, clearly not a bit sorry. “I tried to get your attention, but you yelled back something about not having time for people who could auction off real estate inside their unhinged mandibles, so I figured a little tit-for-tat wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It was a helluva nice surprise, I’ve gotta say. Didn’t know you had it in you.”
Sue breathes hard, her nostrils expanding and contracting at inhuman rates. “You read my private mail.”
“Aw, come off it, lady. You don’t really care about that, you’re just pissed off that I saw actual, undeniable evidence you give a damn about some of these kids. Look, I care about ‘em too. So does Emma here. That’s why we picked these jobs, right? I mean, it sure ain’t for the pay.”
“Sue, that was a really kind thing you did,” Emma offers, wanting to be supportive. After all, it isn’t often she can say something nice to Sue, and actually mean it. “Kurt’s a great kid. I know he appreciates you, and it’s great that you wrote that about him. It’s all really so great.”
“Shut up,” Sue snaps. “Both of you. Just shut up. I don’t want to hear another word out of either of you about this.” She lifts her beer again and drains it.
“I was right,” Shannon says, winking at Emma. “This is fun. Your turn.”
Emma laughs, a sudden, gurgling burst of sound that explodes out of her without warning. She immediately clamps her lips together, shocked and embarrassed by the noise, and the others look nearly as startled.
“Never have I ever,” she says, when she’s recovered, and without thinking how it'll sound, “had real adult women friends.”
She’s surprised to hear it come out of her mouth. What surprises her even more is that neither Sue or Shannon take a drink.
“No. Absolutely, no. No, Sue. I can’t.”
“Oh, come on,” Sue says, pushing the cell phone at her. “It’s one little prank call, it’s not going to hurt anyone. I do it all the time. Builds character.”
“But a student? I have –” Emma can’t remember the word she’s looking for. “I have promises to them. It isn’t okay.”
“Builds character for the kids, too. Look, I prank call Porcelain on average three times a week, just to keep him sharp. A couple of days ago, I was this close to convincing him I was a Hollywood casting agent, looking to find me a Lady Elaine Fairchilde for the new Mr. Rogers biopic. You gotta admit, the resemblance is uncanny.”
Everything in the room feels definitely slanted now, after four half-glasses, or is it five, and when she turns her head it’s like her brain takes a little longer to catch up with her eyes. Emma realizes, belatedly, that the room is tilted for a reason, because one of her high heels is somehow missing. Where did it go? Did she leave it at home? Could she have driven all the way to Sue’s with only one shoe? That, she thinks, is just terrible.
“Focus, Imogen,” Sue says, loudly, right in front of her face.
Emma jumps, almost losing her balance in the process.
“Where’s Shannon go?” she asks. Sue’s cell phone is in her hand, somehow. When did that happen?
Sue jerks her thumb in the direction of the couch, and Emma follows it. Shannon’s sitting on the edge, leaning forward, hands on her spread knees. She’s taking deep breaths.
“Are you all right? Do you need a Sprite or something?” Oh, please don’t let her throw up.
“I’m good, I’m good,” Shannon says, too loudly, and sucks in air through her teeth. “Sixth beer got to me a little. Gotta power through it. I’m good. I’m gonna make a fort.”
This distracts Sue from her mission, at least temporarily. “You’re what?”
“Well,” Shannon says, like it makes perfect sense, “I got some of these army blankets right here on the couch, and I’m seeing some nice big ol’ trophies all stacked up on the walls just callin’ my name. Those tall bubbas right there, those’ll make for some good grade beam footing.” She looks up at Emma, a little bleary. “Sometimes, Em, you reach these moments in your life when you just gotta make a fort.”
Most of this speech sails right past Emma, who’s not sure she understands what any of this means or why Shannon wants to build a fort, or even if she’s heard right. Sue must be feeling the effects of the beer, too, because she doesn’t forbid Shannon from touching her trophies. Instead, she screws up her face a little too forcefully, turning back to Emma.
“Do it,” she tells her, voice hoarse with urgency. “Make this call. I want to see you do it.”
Emma says the only thing that comes to mind. “I don’t know how.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, Anna, it’s a prank. Eight year olds do them at parties right after eating a whole cabin of nachos and exchanging fantasies about Marky Mark, or Meatloaf. If you can’t make a simple phone call to an unsuspecting minor while under the influence, then you’re a lost cause, and I feel sorry for you.”
“I am not,” Emma snaps, “a lost cause. I’m not. Don’t tell me that.”
In answer, Sue grabs the hand with her phone in it and touches the screen, scrolling through contacts. “It’s a new feature on my iPhone 5,” she informs Emma, “you can store numbers now,” and then, with a flourishing touch, “We’re go for Puckerman. I’ve got you on speaker. Believe me, I don’t want to miss a single word of this.”
Noah Puckerman? She imagines the boy’s cocky smile and instantly regrets everything she’s ever done to bring her to this moment in her life. “Oh,” she gasps, over the sound of the phone ringing, “oh, no.”
There’s a click, and then a voice announces, “You’ve got Puckzilla, hit me.”
What is she going to say? Dear lord, she can’t, she can’t, and she really wishes Sue would looking at her with that sharp expression that reminds Emma of the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.
“Hello?” Emma realizes, too late, that she should probably disguise her voice, so she lowers it and tries again. “Hello, is this Noah Puckerman?”
Sue’s mouthing something at her. Emma stares, blankly, trying to figure out what Sue wants her to do. It isn’t until she realizes that she’s counting those little crinkle lines at the corner of Sue’s mouth and Puck’s repeating “Who the fuck is this?” that she shakes her head and snaps out of it.
“Go on!” Sue hisses, and grabs Emma’s hand with the phone in it, pushing it up towards Emma’s face. “Talk to him.”
“You know, this is gonna be a pretty kick-ass fort,” Shannon observes, from the floor by the couch, busy arranging trophies. “This is some luxury style forting going on here. Emma, hurry up and finish up your phone call, I got some cushy real estate inside this fort with your name on it.”
“You need to stifle yourself, Andre the Giant, before I decide to implement a redistricting policy,” Sue barks, and then, softly, to Emma, “Your incompetence is staggering. Shape up.”
“Wait, is that Coach Sylvester? What the hell is going on?”
Emma knows she’s got to make a quick move before this entire thing collapses in a heap of failure. “Congratulations,” she says into the phone, in a rush, without thinking. “Noah Puckerman, you just won a trip! To a place.”
“I did?” He sounds suspicious. “I didn’t enter any contest. Sugar made me sign something last week to make her birthday an official school holiday, and I kinda had to do that because she said she’d report my head to Animal Control, but she didn’t say there was a contest or anything. Where’s the trip to?”
Emma hasn’t figured that part out yet. “No,” she says, carefully.
“You’re about as smooth as cat scat in a punch bowl,” Shannon hoots, and Sue waves a frantic, angry hand in Shannon’s direction, gesturing for her immediate silence.
There’s a long pause. “Is this Ms. Pillsbury?” Puck says, sounding like he doesn’t believe it himself.
“This is not Ms. Pillsbury, this is another person,” Emma says, and presses her lips together on a sudden giggle that absolutely does not want to stay inside. “Wow, you get a five night stay and a free pack of bologna.”
“Ms. P, are you wasted?”
“Oh, no, don’t be silly,” Emma chastises, attempting to summon up a superior tone but failing completely. “I am slightly influenced.”
“Holy shit,” Puck says, reverently. “Holy fucking shit, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Does Mr. Schue know? Is he there? Is he smashed too? Put him on, okay?”
Sue leans in close to Emma and puts her mouth next to the phone. “Hey, Blind Side,” she says, softly. “If you breathe a one-syllable, poorly enunciated word to Will Schuester about any of this, I’ll order Becky to sit on your head, and not in the fun way. She’s a hell of a lot stronger than she looks, Becky. Got thighs like gantry cranes. Understand me?”
“What’s a gantry crane?” Emma asks, speaking over what Puck says next, and apparently she’s missed something because Sue’s face is now a weird shade of pink. “What? What did he just say?”
“Nothing,” Sue snaps, and then, grabbing the phone from Emma, putting it to her ear, “I was weak, Puckerman. It was Bastille Day. We’ve been over this, it’s not happening again.”
Emma doesn’t know what any of this means, and she doesn’t particularly care to try and figure it out, so she turns her head cautiously towards the other end of the room to see what’s been happening while she’s been on the phone. Shannon’s lain one side of a large blanket on the couch arm, and the other across the top of two particularly large trophies set about seven feet away, creating a makeshift ceiling. Smaller trophies anchor down each end of the blanket for support. There’s a second blanket draped lengthwise over the first, drooping in front and back to create the impression of walls.
The blanket in front moves to the side, and Shannon’s head pokes out from the interior. She grins at Emma.
“Wow,” Emma says, trying to take it in. “Wow, oh, wow, that is terrific.” She’s someone who knows her blanket forts, having built quite a few of them as a little girl. They were comforting back then, a nice layer between herself and the rest of the world.
“My fort’s done,” Shannon announces, unnecessarily, and motions for Emma to come join her.
Walking in only one heel is just impossible. She kicks it off on her way over and bends down at the entrance, finding the ground with her hands, crawling in the gap that Shannon’s making for her. Inside, it’s darker, the light stopped by Sue’s thick blankets, and she plops down into a seated position, eyes trying to adjust.
“How you doing, kiddo?” Shannon asks her, patting a warm hand on her knee, and the funny thing is, it doesn’t make Emma want to pull back. It actually feels a little nice. “Wine sittin’ okay with you?”
She nods, not trusting her voice to come out with the right thing. Luckily, Shannon seems to understand.
Everything seems a little softer in here, a little easier.
“Emma, hey, look. Can I ask you something kinda personal?”
So much for easier. Emma nods again, nervous, now, for what’s coming. She finds the carpet with her fingers, liking the rough feel on her skin. Hopefully Sue vacuums on a regular basis.
“You don’t like me much, do you?”
That isn’t what she’d expected, at all. “What? No, what would, no, of course. I do. I like you. You’re a great coach, the kids all adore you, you’re Will’s best friend.” She stops short when she realizes she’s started to babble.
Shannon sighs. “I guess I didn’t put that just right. You gotta excuse me, I’m a little bit tanked. What I mean is, well. You look at me this way sometimes. Not sometimes, a lot. When I’m eating my lunch, or when I’m talking to you and Will about roping steers, or breaking my own bench press record. You get this look on your face, and it’s like I’m doing something wrong when I don’t think I have. I’d like to be your friend, Emma. Like a real friend, a real pal. But only if you want to be mine, and only if you’ll let me get to know you. The thing is, though, you and me? We can’t do any of that if you’re gonna make me feel as worthless as a tit on a boar hog. I’m not okay with that.”
“That isn’t, I didn’t mean –” Her throat is tight with shame. She shakes her head. “It’s not you. You aren’t wrong. It’s me. I’m the awful one. I do things, I say things, sometimes, and they’re not very nice.”
“Not all the time,” Shannon says, gently.
“But I think them,” she bursts out, and goes to cover her mouth with her hands before she remembers her fingers were just on the floor. “I do. Even about the kids. They come to me with their problems and I just, I sit there, and I say things, and I try to help them. I really do! But sometimes I get so uncomfortable.”
She waits for Shannon to try and make her feel better. Will would do that. Will would rush to reassure her, tell her she’s all right, she’s a good person, everything’s going to be okay, but instead Shannon murmurs, “Yeah, I know you do,” and Emma sniffs loudly in the silence.
“I’ll do it,” she says, after a deep breath. “I’m going to work on that.”
“That’s real good, Emma. I’m glad to hear it.”
In the dark she sees the solid shape of Shannon’s body, and the sure, strong line of her neck and shoulders, all of her ready for the world. It’s jealousy, she thinks. That’s what it is. It’s always been jealousy.
“I want to be your friend,” she manages.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that too.”
“Can I, would you –” Emma trips over her own words, unable to look closely at Shannon’s face, too scared of what she’ll see there. “Could you give me a hug? Could you do that for me right now? If I’m asking too much that’s okay, I understand, I just really –”
Shannon holds out her arms. “Em,” she says, with so much warmth in her voice that Emma wants, suddenly, to cry. She leans in, and Shannon meets her more than halfway, wrapping her arms tightly around Emma’s body, pulling her close. “Oh, Emma,” she says, and rocks her, slowly, side to side. “All you have to do is ask me.”
They stay like this, together, until Sue’s voice just outside the fort breaks the silence.
“So is this a private party?” she asks them, and the funny thing is, it takes a few seconds for Emma to realize who it is, because Sue doesn't sound much like herself. She sounds hesitant, apprehensive. “Do I need a password to get in? I'm gonna guess it's 'Lysol,' or 'jock strap,' or maybe 'jock strap that's been Lysoled,' something like that.”
Emma wonders if Sue's been standing out there long, and how much she’s overheard.
“No password,” she says, and moves a little out of Shannon’s embrace, reaching to pull back the blanket and let Sue inside.
The last thing Emma remembers before falling asleep on Sue's couch is a dislocated, rambling conversation with Sue about the best scrapbooking techniques (Sue, weirdly enough, seems to have quite a few informed opinions about proper journal design), while Shannon listens avidly.
When she opens her eyes, the room’s dark.
Emma tries to sit up before realizing, halfway, that the idea is a terrible one. Still drunk. Oh, yes. Very much so.
“Lie back down, Emma,” Sue says, somewhere nearby, and Emma squints. She can make out Shannon, sprawled in a nearby recliner, snoring lightly. “You’re not going anywhere tonight.”
“I have to,” she says, still attempting to sit up. “Have to get home. Will –”
“ – has been informed that you are currently incapacitated, and told in no uncertain terms that unless he wants to find all of the items currently on top of his desk superglued to the surface when he returns to school on Monday, he’s to stay where he is. You’ll be fine in the morning, you can drive yourself back then.”
“Don’t glue, please,” Emma mumbles, and waves a feeble hand in the direction of Sue’s voice.
“Nah,” Sue tells her, kindly. “To be honest with you, it’s an empty threat. I still don’t know where his office is. Go back to sleep.”
Emma lets her head drop again, and her eyes close, obediently. After all, sleep really sounds like the best option.
She feels the scratch of a blanket on her neck, the warm pressure of it cradling her body as it’s tucked tight in around her chest and legs, a wool cocoon.
“You’ll be fine in the morning, Emma,” Sue says.
Emma curls a little, knees bending into her body. She sleeps.
“Oh, thank god,” Will exclaims, when she walks through the door the next morning, stepping lightly because the sound of her heels on the hardwood is just too much for her tender head. “I thought Sue must’ve been holding you hostage – I almost went over there to get you about four different times last night. Are you okay?”
“Your voice is about twenty-five times louder than I would like it right now,” Emma says, and then, because he really does look worried, “I’m fine, Will. I’m really fine.”
And even though her head's never hurt more in her entire life, Emma realizes that she’s telling the truth.
She keeps an eye out for Sue and Shannon in the hallways on Monday morning, half hopeful, half afraid. What if they decide the entire evening was one huge mistake? What if she’d said something horribly embarrassing and revealing while under the influence? What if Sue decides to use it to mock her for the rest of her tenure at McKinley? It all seems horribly probable to Emma.
During her mid-morning desk clean, the scent from the chemical wipe has a soothing effect on her, and Emma’s able to half-convince herself that everything is all right. She remembers Shannon hugging her, and how good it felt. Sue next to her on the couch, telling her to go back to sleep. How relaxed she’d been, the weight of everything off her shoulders, at least temporarily.
Before she can convince herself it’s a bad idea, she sits down at her computer and pulls up her faculty email program.
Dear Shannon and Sue
No, that doesn’t feel right, and anyways, Sue would probably be furious to be listed second.
Not right either. Too much like one of those sleazy men she hears tries to pick up women in bars. She decides not to go with any formal address.
I wanted to thank you both for a lovely evening on Friday. It was one of the
She deletes the last few words, wanting to be honest.
It was the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. I don’t know if either of you would be interested, but I have a Groupon for Breadstix, it’s buy two meals, get one free, and if you’re free next Friday, maybe we could go together, just the three of us? Sort of like a ladies night out. I hear that’s a very popular trend nowadays. Please let me know?
She signs it with her name, enters Shannon and Sue’s email addresses, and presses the send button in a rush of sudden adrenaline and commitment. Message Sent, her screen informs her. Emma immediately needs to lie down. It’s a good thing she doesn’t have any appointments until later in the afternoon.
The pillow she keeps in her bottom drawer is on top of her desk when she hears the ping of a new email in her inbox. It’s from Shannon. It’s from Shannon and Emma’s heart is in her mouth when she clicks on the bold line that reads Re: A Future Get-Together?
I’m in. First round’s on me, okay?
See you at lunch, kiddo.
She can’t stop the grin from stretching her cheeks. It hurts, but in a way that feels good.
No reply from Sue, though, and the longer she waits for it, the more worried Emma gets. By eleven, she’s positive that Sue’s decided to do a characteristic about-face on whatever bit of humanity she’s managed to drag out of her desiccated soul. But Shannon still wants to spend time with her, wants to be friends with her. That’s something. That’s a lot more than something.
She’s combing through files, trying to find a piece of paper that lists the symptoms for Fregoli Delusion – Jessica Franks, on her last visit to Emma’s office, seemed convinced that Emma was actually the cafeteria lady in an elaborate disguise – when there’s a rap on her open door. She looks up, startled.
“Eden,” Sue says, calmly, leaning against the frame. “You know what your problem is? Glass walls. How in Madonna’s sweet, sweet name do you expect these kids to ever come to you for confidential advice when anyone walking by can see right in? I can’t think of a quicker way to get labeled a freak in this place, unless it’s wearing a blouse that looks like it’s going to swallow your head.” She gestures towards Emma, who glances down at her ruffled top. “My advice? Invest in some light blocking shades and a new wardrobe.”
“I’ll – I will consider that.” It’s actually a fair point, come to think of it. The glass walls, anyway. She’s going to invite Sue in, ask if she’d like to sit down, maybe find out if she’s seen Emma’s email yet, but what comes out instead, to her surprise, is, “Why did you help Will propose?”
Sue looks startled. “Excuse me?”
“Why did you help –”
“I’m not deaf,” Sue snaps. “I heard you the first time.” She crosses her arms, standing up straight again, and takes a step inside Emma’s office, with a quick look to see if anyone’s watching her.
“Because I’ve thought about it,” Emma continues, “and I can’t figure out why in the world you would’ve said yes when he asked you to help.”
“Ask me? He didn’t ask me. I asked him.”
It’s a good thing Emma’s sitting down, because her legs suddenly feel wobbly.
“He was yammering on to Beiste about it at lunch, and I pulled up a chair and volunteered my services. Should’ve seen the look on his face. Actually, you can see the look on his face, if you want. I Instagrammed it.” She pats the sides of her jacket. “Nope, must’ve left my iPhone 5 in my office. Point is, it was my idea.”
Sue doesn’t answer her for a minute. “Sometimes, Ava,” she says, finally, “it isn’t the worst thing in the world to feel included.”
Emma knows her eyes are at least twice their normal size. She makes her head move up and down in agreement, not wanting to respond out loud in case she ends up ruining whatever this is they’ve stumbled into together.
The left side of Sue’s mouth twists into something that should be a smirk, but isn’t, quite. “Three for the price of two, huh?”
“Yes,” Emma manages.
“The free meal’s mine,” Sue says, and Emma, astonished, sees the beginnings of a real smile on her face before she turns, abruptly, and walks away.