Summer in Storybooke is hot. Emma buys three window AC units for the apartment and spends most of the summer in denim cutoffs. Much to everyones dismay.
It’s not an awful life, the one she’s living now. It’s family dinners on Sunday, before evening patrol. It’s taking Henry to soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays after dinner. It’s teaching Henry to drive David’s truck while the sun sets in July.
She sees Regina at Henry’s games, sometimes at Granny’s. She sees Robin more, out with the Merry Men at the Rabbit Hole, playing with Roland at the park. He’s always cordial, waves and smiles. And Emma thinks she should hate him more. She shouldn’t smile and wave back like it’s easy. But that’s the thing, it is. He doesn’t make something in her gut burn white hot anymore. Maybe it’s because she sees him without Regina more often than she sees him with her.
They were gone over the July holiday, a family trip to Nantucket.
“The boys can get some quiet, just be boys.” Regina had said one morning at the park. “Henry’s growing up so fast, Roland too. I just want to take them somewhere that doesn’t hold the weight of all our sins, or something like that.”
Regina came home with a tan. A beautiful glowing thing that made her eyes bright and her smiles wider.
Emma only noticed a little.
She sees Regina at Granny’s one Sunday morning. Well, she’s in the bathroom washing her hands when the door swings open and Regina walks in. She’s looking down at the neckline of her sundress, adjusting the way it lays, and she looks up when Emma makes a panicked sound.
“Oh, Emma, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Her hands drop to her sides and she gives Emma a once over.
Emma’s in her cutoffs and a tank, a pair of old Chucks. “No big deal, it’s fine.” She shakes the water off her hands and reaches for a paper towel.
Regina doesn’t move, simply stands between Emma and the exit. Emma dries her hands and watches the way Regina’s eyes stay on her arms. She clears her throat and Regina’s eyes dart up.
They haven’t spoken much since that night in June. Haven’t communicated about anything other than shuffling Henry from one home to the other.
“How’s your summer?” Emma tries.
“It’s fine, and yours?” Regina’s polite, nods once.
“Pretty okay, if you ask me. Finally got air conditioning.”
“Henry told me.”
Emma’s stomach feels like it’s going to fall out of her butt. “I’m just gonna,” she steps toward the door, toward Regina.
“Oh,” Regina realizes, steps to the side. “Excuse me.”
“It’s good to see you, Emma.” Regina turns to look at her as she passes, reaches out to touch Emma’s arm.
“Yeah. Yeah, you too.” Emma barrels through the exit and grabs her coffee to go.
August is sticky, the air outside is heavy and thick, and there isn’t much sun. Just oppressive heat. Emma spends a lot of time inside. At the station, on the couch in front of the air conditioner. She has Henry every other week, and every night after the sun goes down, they head toward the beach. Henry drives the bug and all of the windows get rolled down. Emma’s thighs stick to the worn leather seats, but she doesn’t mind much. Henry sifts through her old cassette tapes, usually settles on Audioslave or Nirvana. They sit in the dark and Emma has a beer while she digs her toes into the warm sand.
“So,” Henry lifts a can of Coke to his mouth. It’s the end of August, school starts in a few days. “What really happened between you and mom?”
Emma chokes on her beer, “Shit. Seriously?”
“I’m almost 16, as much as you and I both know I would love to snoop around, I’m not nearly as adorable and my winning smile can only get me so far with you these days.” He takes a sip of his Coke. “Besides, I thought that’s what these nights were for. Talking and stuff.”
“A lot of complicated stuff happened with me and your mom,” Emma sighs, sets her beer down in the sand. “The thing that sucks is that I still really love her.”
“I thought it was going to take way longer for you to admit that. I don’t know if I’m disappointed or impressed.”
“Jesus, you’re a little shit, you know that?” Emma turns her head to look over at Henry. He’s wearing his stupid cargo shorts that he’s been wearing for like a month straight, and a white tee shirt. “A little shit with… biceps? Did you start working out?”
“Yeah, like, last year. Keep up.” Henry rolls his eyes.
“Wow, shit, sorry,” Emma clasps her hands behind her head.
“So,” Henry looks out at the water, clears his throat. “You’re in love with Mom.”
“Yeah, but we both messed all that up pretty bad a while ago.”
“I figured,” Henry shrugs. “When did it happen?”
“When did we mess it up?”
“No. When did you realize you were in love with her?”
Emma sighs, long and tired. “Somewhere between Neverland and New York.”
“When did you tell her?” Henry turns to look at her.
“The week before we left for New York that second time.”
“So, you told her you love her, then ran away with her only son. Super considerate.” He’s not angry, not really, not anymore, and Emma reaches out to swat at his knee.
“I told you, I messed up. She messed up. It was one big mess up.” Emma shakes her head, tries to find the moon behind the clouds. “Your mom and I care too much about you to let this shit get in the way anymore. Plus, your mom’s married to a kind douchebag with a cute kid.”
“Woah, excuse me.” Emma props herself up on her elbows.
“Everything’s sort of happened or not happened because you love Mom. I mean, I’m not blaming you for it, I’m just saying let’s be real about it.”
Emma sighs, flops back down onto the blanket. “Alright, most things have happened or not happened because I love Regina. I let a lot of stupid shit happen because I love your mom, okay? But we both are trying really hard to put that shit behind us because all it did was fuck us up. Over and over and over again. And I finally got so sick of being second best, and I got sick of being taken advantage of, and I got sick of being so god damn emotionally unstable because your mom loved me too.”
“You still look at her like she’s the fucking moon, Ma.”
“Excuse me, you still look at her like she’s the freaking moon, Ma.”
“Yeah, well. She sort of is. Next to you, obviously. But that doesn’t mean I have to open myself up to another couple years of excruciating heartbreak, just because I get sort of googly-eyed around her.”
Henry shrugs. “Is that possible?”
“There’s a difference between looking at someone you love, and letting someone you love treat you badly. I took a step back. I stopped trying to get her to play games with me, and tell me she loves me. I stopped trying to tell her I love her all the time. I stopped calling at two in the morning. I stopped letting her response to my actions fuel my actions, you know?” she runs a hand through her hair, turns to look at Henry.
He shakes his hair out of his face in turn, “Yeah. I get it. You did what you had to do.”
Henry’s birthday is on a Saturday. It’s chilly in Storybrooke, the leaves have begun to change and fall. The dead ones crunch under Emma’s boots as she walks down Main.
Regina’s hosting a party, some extravagant thing with homemade pizzas and a fancy cake. She’s called Emma, needs help with party prep, could she come over early?
Regina answers the door in a grey sweater and jeans. She’s wearing flat boots and her hair is pulled back. It’s decidedly casual and not at all expected. “Robin’s just running errands with the boys. They’ll be back soon.”
They don’t do this anymore, this casual thing with just the two of them. Because it’s so far from casual, and because they agreed to no bullshit.
“Oh, cool.” Emma follows Regina into the kitchen and tries not to think of all the things that could go wrong.
“It’s not too much, is it?” Regina’s got a whole bowl of frosting on the counter and she’s twisting her wedding rings with her left thumb.
“He’s turning sixteen, isn’t that supposed to be a big deal?” Emma swipes a little bit of frosting from the edge of the bowl and sits down across the island from Regina.
Regina says nothing.
“Didn’t MTV have a whole show about Sweet Sixteens?” Emma inspects the frosting on her index finger.
“Never mind. So you’re making all those pizzas, you’re frosting a chocolate cake, what’s the problem?” Emma licks some of the frosting from her finger.
“So much time has passed, that’s the problem.” Regina sighs, surveys the three layers of cake she’s expertly assembled with fluffy frosting in between. “And so much more time is going to pass. We’re going to take him to look at colleges, he’s going to go to college.”
“Maybe he won’t,” Emma shrugs.
“He will.” Regina lifts her icing spatula from the bowl and sets to work again.
It’s like this now. When they disagree. Emma’s given up on the fight, because well, Regina gave up first. And every now and then, it’s so matter of fact, so short, that Emma doesn’t even realize it’s happening.
“Hey, not that I’m ungrateful, because you’re letting me stick my fingers in the frosting and everything, but what am I doing here?” Emma licks the rest of the frosting from her finger and runs her hand down the front of her jeans.
“Oh, don’t wipe —” Regina gives another sigh and shakes her head. “Robin was being too helpful, I sent him to pick up beverages. And I knew you’d sit in the kitchen, irritating as always, not helping as you do.”
“So you wanted some company?”
“Something to that effect, yes. It’s quiet and I’m not used to that anymore. I don’t know what to do if there’s no noise.”
“I could have gone to the store,” Emma stands up, shrugs out of her jacket. “I was on my way here anyway.”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t adhere to my list.” Regina turns the cake around and wipes some stray frosting from the tray. “It’s quite specific.”
“I’m sure,” Emma heads to the sink to wash her hands. “What time are people showing up here?”
“Not for another couple hours. The pizzas should start going in the oven as soon as guests start arriving.” Regina’s brow is furrowed in concentration and she’s sucked her lower lip into her mouth as she works.
“Anything need to be done with those beforehand?” Emma turns on the tap, lets the water warm. “I’ll have clean hands in a minute.”
Regina nods towards the pizza pans next to the sink. “Eventually those need to be sauced… the sauce is on the second shelf in the fridge.”
“And you’re letting me help. This is new.”
“Don’t push it,” Regina sets down her spatula. “It’s only because I’ve got two hands. If I were a sea witch, I’d have more.”
Emma makes a face, “Nope.”
“It’s cool that I’m here right now, right?” Emma watches the way Regina is ever so delicate about her frosting letters. Blue. Happy Birthday, Henry!
Regina pauses in the Y of Happy and looks up at her. “Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“We didn’t really hang out this summer. I know we’re both trying to do better, be better, all that. And it’s been good. But we haven’t done this since… we both decided to stop dragging each other into shit, right?” Emma’s got both elbows on the counter and she doesn’t want to look Regina in the eye but she does.
“I made an assumption, tell me if I’m wrong, with all that in our fairly recent past, we could be in a room together again.” Regina sets down her bag of blue icing. “Is this alright with you?” she flattens both palms against the countertop.
Emma nods, watches Regina push her hair behind her ear. “No, we’re good.”
“Good.” Regina resumes frosting.
Robin shows up an hour later, both boys in tow. The kitchen door nearly slams open with all three of them trying to get in, shopping bags in each hand.
Regina cringes at the noise and stops slicing oyster mushrooms.
“Sorry,” Robin gives a sheepish smile and sets down his bags on the island. He presses a kiss to Regina’s temple.
“Did you get ice?” Regina turns to give him a kiss and Emma looks away. She’s got a block of mozzarella in one hand, a cheese grater in the other.
“Plenty.” Robin nods and begins unpacking six packs of sodas.
“Hi Ma!” Henry drops his bags by the door and starts kicking off his sneakers.
“Hey kid, happy birthday,” Emma stops grating cheese to give him a grin. “You gonna pass your driver’s test Monday?”
“Duh,” Henry nods, locks the back door.
“Hey Roland,” Emma bumps the younger boy with her hip as he walks by.
“Hi Emma!” Roland grins, dimples and all.
“You gonna pass your driver’s test Monday?”
“Obviously,” Roland nods and sits down at the kitchen island. “I’m great at u-turns.”
Emma laughs then, nearly slices her finger on the cheese grater.
“Beer, Emma?” Robin’s unloading a six pack of some microbrew craft thing.
“Sure, why not?” Emma nods. “Regina, is this enough cheese?”
Regina comes to look over her shoulder, one hand on Emma’s back. “That’s just fine.”
Emma tries not to shiver, she also tries not to notice Regina’s breath against her cheek as she turns.
“I’m gonna go change,” Henry announces, as he finishes folding paper bags.
“Make sure to pick up your video games in the living room, mijo.” Regina takes the stack of bags from him and stands up on her toes to kiss his cheek. Has he really gotten so tall?
“Hey Ma, wanna come check out the new game Mom and Robin got me?”
“I’m kinda in the middle of —”
“Go ahead, Emma. You’ve helped plenty.” Regina nods, reaches out for the cheese grater. “Thank you.”
Regina’s eyes are soft and she gives a small smile, a gentle little thing, as she takes the grater from Emma. Emma nods, follows Henry down the hall.
“You guys are cool?” Henry asks, picks up a game case from the coffee table. “Check it out.”
“Dude, Regina lets you play Assassins Creed?” Emma gapes, turns the plastic over in her hands a couple times.
“Yeah, she’s calmed down a ton, if you haven’t noticed. Also, I’m like sixteen, not twelve.” Henry picks up a console lying on the ground. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yeah, we’re cool. I thought you guys were gonna be here.” Emma shrugs. “It was fine. Your mom and I can handle being around each other. It’s not like we ended a relationship because there was never one to begin with.”
“Do you foresee casual hang outs in your future?” Henry tosses the console in a basket under the TV.
“No, smartass.” Emma rolls her eyes. “That’s not really how your mom and I do things. Also, she’s like, super casual today.”
“She’s like super casual more often than not these days. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed. She wears flats, and jeans, and tee shirts.”
“I mean those tee shirts are more than our rent, so how casual can they really be?”
“Focus, Ma. On the Fourth of July, she wore shorts.”
“Woah, what now?” Emma looks up from the Assassins Creed box. “Shorts?”
“I mean it was Nantucket, but still.” Henry shakes his head. “Shorts. And sneakers. I mean Superga, so not like - it’s like the sneaker equivalent of Sperry, right? But… I don’t know, Emma. She wore sneakers and shorts to watch the fireworks.”
“You seem way more upset by this than me.” Emma tosses Assassins Creed into the basket Henry is pointing to. “What’s the deal?”
“Mom doesn’t wear sneakers. She wears heels mostly, loafers if she’s taking us to the park. And dress pants. And skirts. And dresses. She’s never worn a pair of shorts my whole life, Emma.”
“I still don’t get what you’re trying to tell me. Your mom is opting for a more casual laid-back style now that she’s not the mayor. This sounds sort of normal. Look, she married a guy who enjoys running around in the woods. When you tie your wagon to someone else’s horse, you have to adjust, right?”
“That was a terrible analogy, but I get what you’re trying to say. And yeah, there’s been some adjusting, but mainly Robin sort of does whatever Mom needs. And she just sort of mellowed out, like she started popping Xanax or something.”
“What do you know about popping Xanax?”
“Hey, I watch TV, I take science.” He turns to face her. “Look, all I’m saying is Mom’s different. She’s still Mom, but she wears shorts and doesn’t really fight for anything, and she’s so casual and chill and weird sometimes. She let me eat like five Oreos before dinner on Thursday. And she’s so agreeable all the time.”
Emma shakes her head. “I’m gonna go see if your mom needs any more help.”
“Shorts, Emma. Shorts.”
Robin is upstairs showering when Regina finally takes a moment to sit down. There are two pizzas waiting to go into the oven, and she’s poured herself a glass of scotch. She sits down at the island next to Emma and sighs.
“You okay?” Emma turns to look at her, sets down her beer.
Regina nods, takes a small sip of her drink. “I’m just tired, I think. Robin and I were up late.”
“I mean, I know we’re cool. But we’re not that cool.” Emma grimaces.
“Stop it. We were talking.” Regina shakes her head, looks into her glass.
“Is this a conversation we should be having?” Emma wraps one hand around her beer. “Like, you and I are a shit show when we start talking like this.”
“It’s hard sometimes,” Regina sighs, runs a hand through her hair. “Sometimes I think you might be my only friend. But with our feelings for each other, and the way we treated each other, it seems like we’ll never be friends. That any of hope of friendship has been lost. But at the same time, we’ve been through so much together, we parent together. You’re the only person who wanted to see me for me in a time when everyone else was dead set against me. That wasn’t without its struggle, but you truly see me. It’s hard to think that we can’t talk.”
“It’s not that we can’t talk. It’s just that there are some things we probably shouldn’t talk about.” Emma takes a slow sip of her beer. Then another. “Because of the way we talk about them.”
“I feel like I can’t trust anyone. I don’t have close friends, I don’t have people I talk to.”
“Don’t you talk to Robin?”
“Of course I do, he’s my husband. But who am I supposed to talk to about Robin?”
“I see what you’re getting at there. And you know this is one of those things we can’t really do. It’s not that I don’t like Robin, because Robin really seems like an okay guy, right? It’s just that he married you and that flips me out a little bit still.” Emma has both hands wrapped around her beer now. “So like, I’m pretty sure you want to talk about whatever it is you guys were talking about. Otherwise you wouldn’t have brought it up. Is this something I can be objective about?”
“Probably not,” Regina gives a shrug and takes another sip of her scotch. “I know my marriage isn’t something you can be objective about. Even though you’ve been trying, and I appreciate that.”
“And I get that you’re trying to not drag me into it, and I appreciate that. We should find some girl friends for you.”
“I want to remind you that the only woman in town that pursues friendship with me, lord knows why, is your mother. And the only women that tolerate me are you and your mother.” Regina shakes her head. “It’s fine. It will be fine. I’ve never really had friends anyhow.”
“That’s sort of sad though, isn’t it?”
“It is what it is,” Regina shrugs, downs the rest of her drink. “Do you want another beer before the Merry Men descend?”
“Yeah, sure. They definitely earned their name.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, Miss Swan.”
The Merry Men arrive first, all back-clapping hugs and the lingering scent of campfires and pine. Despite the drama of New Year’s Eve, they all seem to regard Emma much the same as they did. Even though they know, everyone knows. It’s a wonder really.
Little John nearly lifts Emma off the ground when he greets her, “Emma Swan! We do wish we saw more of you.”
Emma’s parents are next, Leo toddling along between them. They come bearing wine and gifts, flowers and balloons. Regina insists they needn’t have, but accepts all of them anyway. Sets the balloons in the front hall, takes the flowers into the dining room.
“You got him a car, right?” Emma jokes, as she hugs David.
“I did if you did,” David laughs, lifts Leo to see his big sister. He holds out his little arms and squeals with delight when Emma squeezes his sides.
“Are the Merry Men already here?” Snow peeks into the living room where the Merry Men have already taken up most of the available seating.
“First to come, last to leave,” Emma takes Leo and rests him against her hip.
Henry’s school friends show up next. A whole little group of them, each carrying gift bags. Emma’s got Leo on the floor with his Daniel Tiger toys when they show up. He’s giggling and bashing poor Daniel Tiger’s plushie head against the floor, and Regina looks on fondly when she’s not in the kitchen.
Their parents filter in pair by pair and Robin greets each parent by name. Emma would be angry, but soon enough she realizes there’s only one couple she doesn’t know.
“Who are they?” she asks Regina later.
All the guests have arrived, Granny, Ruby, Archie, all of the dwarves, and Emma has found herself in the kitchen with Regina. Taking pizzas out of the oven and refreshing drinks. She’s got a cold beer in one hand and Regina looks up from the pizza she’s slicing.
“Who?” She furrows her brow.
“The couple talking to Robin.” Emma tries to be discreet while Regina tries to catch a glimpse through the doorway.
“Oh, that’s the Duchess and Mr. O’Malley.” Regina nods and resumes her pizza slicing. “Take this tray out, I’ll bring plates and napkins.”
“Duchess and O’Malley? Like… The cats?”
“Emma, please close your mouth. You’re going to catch flies.” Regina sighs and turns to look at Emma.
“Let me guess. Three kids? The same age? Henry’s age?” Emma reaches for Regina’s scotch. “I’m gonna need something stronger.”
Duchess is maybe 40, silver blonde and tall. She’s got giant sapphires dangling from her ears, and she’s all over Mr. O’Malley. Who is not a ginger. He’s a dapper, but a little rough around the edges, Brando, Sinatra type. He’s got dark salt and pepper hair and a megawatt smile. Emma’s not really even considering dudes, but the guy is handsome.
“Wait, let me guess,” Emma gulps the scotch like water on an August day. “The kids are Marie, Toulouse, and Berlioz.”
Regina rolls her eyes and snatches her glass back. The glass hits her rings and Emma cringes. “Stop being smart and bring the pizza out. The triplets are lovely and fluent in four languages. Now, go.”
Regina’s home is full of people, full of noise, and awkward teenagers. It’s sort of the most delightful place Emma’s been in a while. Henry is happy, excited, and after pizza, he and Nick make a big deal out of playing Mario Kart with Roland. Who is so excited to be included in all the fun.
Emma watches Regina, watches the easy way she’s begun to interact with the Merry Men. The way she looks out for Much without really trying, and the way she accepts Little John’s affection. And she’s happy for her, happy she’s been accepted into their rag tag group. But it’s unnerving too, because who is this woman? Who is this woman that allows boots on her carpet and used paper plates on her coffee table. Who is this woman in flat boots and jeans, sitting on the couch with her husband? But god, she’s beautiful. Her smiles are soft and when she looks at Henry, god, her eyes are bright and full. She smiles at him like she’s seeing the world, and well, Emma knows she is. She laughs at something Little John says and it’s so full and there’s something deep and promising and it hits Emma right in the gut.
Regina looks up at her then, can sense eyes on her, and Emma knows she’s fucked. She’s a little part lost, and a big part home, and she’s mooning over Regina again, and Regina can see it plain as day.
Regina’s eyes widen, because she knows. Because she’s not blind. And Emma swears she can see Regina’s breath catch in her chest.
Regina’s gone quiet next to Robin, and he knows, because he’s not blind either. But he doesn’t comment on it. He only rests a hand on Regina’s knee and says, “Why don’t I go get the cake?”
“I’ll join you,” Regina doesn’t falter, but she’s still looking at Emma. “I haven’t put the candles on yet.”
Robin nods and pushes himself off the couch. Regina follows and Little John turns to David to tell another story, reminisce about what it was to be young. Emma stays for a minute, looks down at the carpet beneath David’s feet. She can hear drawers being slammed shut in the kitchen and she looks up when Mary Margaret calls, “Is everything okay in there, Regina?”
Regina’s response is terse and Emma turns toward the kitchen, can see Robin leaning against the sink behind Regina. Regina’s shoulders are hunched forward and her lips have formed a thin line. Robin is saying something and she’s shaking her head, stabbing little blue candles into the cake.
Emma rises slowly with her empty glass, hovers in the kitchen doorway.
“How can you pretend like this?” Regina pauses, counts the candles on top of the cake.
“And don’t just tell me it’s because you love me,” Regina’s voice is low, dangerous. And she’s holding a box of matches.
Robin steps forward, behind Regina, but he gives her some space. He takes the matches, wraps Regina’s hand in his. But his grasp is loose, gentle. “We should talk about this later. You and I.”
“I won’t want to discuss this later.” Regina doesn’t shake him off.
“It’s more complicated than because I love you,” Robin’s voice is soft, and he looks like he wants nothing more than to close the distance between them. Emma knows the feeling.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Regina’s free hand is pressed flat against the countertop. “Don’t you think I know this is all so much more complicated than any of that? It can’t just be love. If it was just love, we wouldn’t be in this.”
“Last night, you told me you wanted children. More children. With me.”
“I did. I do.” Robin’s thumb presses against the inside of Regina’s wrist, moves from bare skin to the sleeve of her sweater.
“So tell me. How can you say that, fully and surely, while you do what you just did?” She’s looking at the three bands of diamonds on her left hand.
“And what did I just do?”
“Do I need to say it? You’re many things, Robin. Stupid isn’t one of them.” It’s terse, Regina’s jaw is clenched and her spine is rigid.
“For both of us, I think maybe you do.”
“Why do you allow it?”
“You’re not stupid either, my love.” Robin’s thumb moves back to the soft skin at Regina’s wrist. “You know there’s no controlling you, no telling you what you can and cannot to, telling you whom you may or may not speak to.”
Regina’s quiet for a moment. Looks up, locks eyes with Emma. “There was a time when I told Emma that I was happy.”
“You’re not happy?” Robin’s hand loosens at Regina’s wrist, but he doesn’t let go.
“Don’t interrupt me.” She’s still looking at Emma, and Jesus, Emma can’t look away. “Because I had a family that doesn’t fight me. They fight with me, and for me, and god damn it, if that isn’t everything I’d ever wanted. So why aren’t you fighting for me right now? And please, do not tell me that’s selfish. I know it’s selfish, I know how ridiculous that sounds.”
For a minute, Emma’s not sure which of them Regina’s talking to.
“You’re not one who takes well to conditions. Rules. I want to give you space, freedom. Because that’s what you told me you wanted.”
“You’re not blind, Robin!” Regina turns to face him, jerks her arm from his grasp. “You sit back, step back, and you watch. You see the way she looks at me.” her right hand comes up, gestures to Emma in the doorway. “The way I look at her. And you do nothing. You invite her into our home, into your camp, as if it’s some sort of — and now you want to have kids?” Regina’s voice goes up, not down, and it’s panic. Panic and loss, and something verging on hysteria.
“Damn it, Regina!” Robin’s nearly shouting, and Emma can tell he’s trying to keep some space between himself and Regina. He’s not touching her anymore, knows she’s feeling caged and powerless. Knows, and tries so hard. Emma can relate.
“Shit.” Emma feels something in her chest rattle and her shoulders slump forward.
Robin starts, looks up with wide eyes. He was so wrapped up in Regina, in this awful thing, that he didn’t even see her. Emma’s familiar.
“You guys know there’s still a party going on, right?”
Robin’s breathing from his nose, trying to calm himself, and he sets the box of matches on the counter. “We’ll discuss this later. You and I.”
Regina picks up the box of matches, strikes one against the side. “I suppose we will.”
After cake, Robin heads out to the fire pit in the backyard with Little John. Regina busies herself clearing plates and refilling drinks, and Emma goes to sit on the front porch.
“How’s it hangin’, kiddo?” David’s voice comes from inside the doorway. “Can I join you?”
Emma turns around to look at him, he’s holding two beers and she shrugs, “Sure.”
He sits down on the stoop next to her and hands over a beer. It’s quiet for a while, just the two of them, and Emma eventually rests her head on his shoulder.
“Is today okay?” David finally speaks, takes a sip of his beer.
“It was. Now? Not so much,” Emma’s got both hands wrapped around a bottle of pilsner, it’s too light. “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to stay away?”
“I don’t know, baby.” David sighs, wraps his free arm around her.
“Everyone knows. And nobody says anything. Nobody’s telling me not to, and I don’t know how to stop it. Because I can’t enable her or me. Henry told me I look at Regina like she’s the moon.”
“She looks at you like that too. You and Henry.” David pulls Emma close, kisses the top of her head. “And it makes me mad because she’s made the choice to keep that from you.”
“Sometimes it’s so easy to forgive her. When I think about who she is, what she’s known, it’s so easy to forgive her. Of course she needs me to look at her like she’s my whole fucking world. Of course she needs me to be there for her. And of course she married somebody who isn’t her world, somebody who’s safe and boring and kind. Because nobody can take that away from her. Because she gets to have what she always wanted without the fear that it’s going to be ripped out from under her.” Emma shakes her head, “But then what about me? She knows I’ll take whatever she gives because I need it just as much as she does. Maybe I need it more. Because even when she’s this far away, she feels like home.”
“I could kill her. I won’t. But I could.”
Emma wants to laugh, but when she opens her mouth, something awful comes out instead. It’s not at all a laugh, it’s a sort of choked keening sob. and she mashes her mouth against David’s shoulder.
“Oh, Emma.” David sets down his beer and wraps both arms around her. “Oh, baby girl.”
They sit like that for a while, the two of them on the Locksleys’ front porch. Emma’s shoulders shake every time she inhales, and David holds her close. Emma’s not sure how much time passes but she hears the front door open behind them.
Regina clears her throat, rests a hand on the doorframe. “Could I have a minute?”
Emma turns around to look at her, “Maybe.”
“Please.” Regina tugs at the hem of her sweater.
“Fine,” Emma sighs.
“You sure?” David keeps one arm around her, reaches for his beer again.
Emma nods, sits up straight again. “I’m fine.”
David nods, brushes past Regina, “Don’t make this about you.” And then he’s gone, back inside the house.
Regina hovers in the doorway, fidgets uncomfortably.
Emma doesn’t bother to invite her to sit. “Who are you?”
“Sometimes when I’m with you, I’m with you and you’re an asshole but you smile and you’re Regina. And then other times, I don’t know who the fuck you are. You’re distant and weird, and you wear shorts and flat shoes, and jeans, and you talk about the woods and nature like you like them. And you seem so far from the person I thought I knew. And you put your hand on your stomach like there’s something in there and look off into the distance like you’re seeing something that doesn’t exist. And you took family portraits in matching outfits. And look at you, you’re fidgeting and pulling on your sweater. Who the hell are you?”
“Mrs. Locklsey, I suppose,” is Regina’s response.
“Did you come out here for something?” Emma turns back out toward the street.
“You.” Regina clears her throat. “I came out here for you.”
“What? You wanna break my heart some more? You wanna test your marriage a little more too, while we’re at it?”
“Please don’t. I came out here to make sure you’re okay. To maybe apologize for that scene earlier. To tell you to stay the hell away from me.” Regina sighs. “But I can see that you’re not okay, I’m not sure if I’m sorry, and I would like you to stay.”
“I’m not so sure I wanna stay is the thing.”
“You heard me say it’s complicated. You know it’s complicated too.”
“Could you live without him?” Emma looks up at the stars, the moon covered by clouds.
Regina doesn’t hesitate, “Yes.”
Emma stands up slowly, “I’m gonna go say goodbye to Henry.”
She shakes her head, shoves her hands in her back pockets. “You have your answer. I have mine. I don’t need to stick around and watch you play pretend for another couple hours. I don’t need to hurt myself like that.”
Henry’s out back by the fire, s’more in one hand, soda in the other. He’s with Nick and Grace, so Emma takes a minute, hugs her parents goodbye.
Regina rejoins the party eventually, stands stiffly next to Robin until Roland asks for help.
“Mom?” Roland has a Hershey bar in one hand and a roasting stick in the other. “Can you help me?”
“Come, come.” Regina moves toward the bag of marshmallows and sets about putting two at the end of Roland’s roasting stick.
Emma’s eyes widen and David clears his throat.
“Careful near the fire, Roland.” Regina sets out two graham crackers for him, takes the chocolate bar from his hand. “Make one for your papa.”
“He’s already had two,” Roland whines. “I want two too.”
Robin gives a guilty half shrug and grins, “Make one for Regina, my boy.”
Roland heaves a large sigh and drags his feet the short distance to the fire.
“I’m gonna head out,” Emma kicks at some dirt with her boot. “Thanks for having me, all that. I’ll see you around.”
Robin nods, presses his lips together.
“I don’t wanna make this any more awkward than it’s already been.”
“If you and I could talk. Nothing dramatic or awful,” Robin holds out a hand for shaking. “I would like that. Appreciate it.”
“Yeah,” Emma grasps his hand in her own, shakes. “Sure.”
“Thank you, Emma.”
Henry separates from his friends, looks to Regina, then Emma. “Hey Ma, you want a s’more?”
“You know what, kid? No thanks. I’m gonna head out.” She holds out one arm for an awkward side hug. “I’ll text you later. Maybe we can take the bug out tomorrow before your test.”
“Cool,” Henry smiles at her from beneath the man-bangs he’s trying out. “Is everything okay? Mom’s been weird. You’re leaving early without a s’more… I’m just saying.”
“I’m okay. Your mom is probably okay. It’s just maybe not so great for me to be here right now,” Emma gives him a squeeze, presses her forehead to his temple. “Happy birthday, Hen.”
“I thought you guys were sort of over this weird divorced parents thing,” Henry says quietly and his shoulders sag with the weight of it.
“Yeah,” Emma sighs. “Not so much. I’m sorry we’re being a couple of kids on your birthday.”
Henry shrugs, “I can’t get everything I want.”
“That is correct and very mature.”
“Except I’m getting a car, right?” he grins, all impish and god, so hers.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that.” Emma gives him a gentle push and he laughs. “You know you’re a little spoiled.”
“Yeah, Mom doesn’t say no like she should.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Don’t be such a little shit. And thank her for the party before you go to bed.”
“I know, I will.”
“See ya later, alligator.”
“After while, crocodile,” Henry wraps his arms around her shoulders, holds on tight for just a few seconds more than usual. “Thanks, Ma.”
“I heard them fighting last night,” Henry makes a sharp right down near the pier.
“Shit, kid. Watch the sharp turns, slow ‘em down.” Emma’s hand is pressed flat against the dash. “And don’t tell me that. Don’t get in the middle of this shit. It’s not your responsibility and it’s not your business.”
“Isn’t what happens in my house my business?” Henry looks petulant as only a sixteen year old can.
“Firstly, it’s not your house.”
“I’m the only one acting like I have any responsibility in it. I’m the only one acting like it matters.”
“That’s not true. Your mom works really hard to make sure you have a home, that it’s safe and loving, and that you’re taken care of. She takes a ton of responsibility, so knock it off. Secondly, your mom’s marriage is none of your business.” Emma sighs, rolls down her window. The bug is stuffy with the heat on and she’s wearing a sweater.
“She’s not happy right now.”
“Sometimes that happens,” Emma shakes her head. “You’re getting older. I know that you understand things, that everything isn’t so black and white anymore.”
Henry sighs, stops at a yield. “I just think it’s dumb. At this point, I like Robin just fine. We get along, he’s cool about shit, and he doesn’t try to parent me a whole lot. Roland is my little brother and that’s cool. But Mom’s a weird Stepford Mom. You’re kind of sad again. Nothing is quite right still.”
“I’m not kind of sad. Didn’t we have a good summer? Wasn’t summer good?”
“Summer was great. You were fun. You let me try almost every beer you brought into the house. It was cool. Mom just got sort of weird. She asked me how I’d feel about siblings. Like, baby ones. And I get that she wants to do this thing with Robin and whatever, gross, do your married thing. But it’s also weird because I’m sixteen now and that means any baby would be like seventeen years younger than me. And also Mom being pregnant would be weird. Even though genetically she’s still like what? 35?”
“But also it seems like she’s not super into that. Like her eyes were sort of sad when she was asking.”
“Henry,” Emma shakes her head, watches the trees pass. “Let your mom’s shit be your mom’s shit.”
“And what about yours and Mom’s shit?”
“Let that be ours too, okay? I get that you want to be there for us, I get that you want things to work out, I do too. And we’re really trying to figure out what things working out looks like. Because we get that it’s shit for you. But just live your life, worry about you, not us. Because no matter what happens with your mom and me, we’re still gonna be your parents.”
“Whether I like it or not, I know. I just hope when you move me to college that you get along so you can productively move me to college.”
“That’s two years from now, kid. We’ll work it out.”
Henry passes his driver’s test on Monday. Regina and Robin both call on Tuesday.
“I’m sure Henry’s called you already.” Regina doesn’t bother with a greeting.
“Aaaand hello to you too,” Emma’s got both feet up on her desk, and a Minion stress ball from Henry in one hand. “Yeah, he called.”
“I’m getting him a car. Nothing fancy. Ideally, this would be a joint gift.”
“Are you asking me to get our kid a car with you?” Emma squeezes hard on the Minion. “How conventional and sweet.”
“Stop being smart. Come with us tomorrow, or don’t. It’s really up to you.”
“We’ll figure this out eventually, right?” Emma closes her eyes, tilts her head back until she can rest her head on the top of her chair.
Regina sighs, long and heavy. “I hope so, Emma. I really do.”
“Henry says we’re doing that weird divorced parent thing. It made me feel like shit.”
“I know.” For once, Regina sounds like she does. “I… I’m thinking about a lot.”
“Okay…” Emma throws the stress ball at the wall. It bounces left and lands somewhere near the garbage can.
“I don’t know what else I can tell you at this point but,” Regina clears her throat. “There’s been a lot on my mind.”
“Yeah, babies and Roland calling you Mom, and being in love with me.” Emma doesn’t mean to sound as childish as she does. It just falls out of her mouth before she can stop it.
“Yes, Emma. All of that.”
She doesn’t expect Regina to back off, let her have that slip. “Woah.”
“I don’t have time to waste fighting with you. Text me with your plans regarding tomorrow. We’re going after lunch.”
Robin calls twenty minutes later, Emma’s retrieved another stress ball from her desk.
“I suppose I just… I want to express how difficult things have been.” Robin sounds entirely too apologetic for something Emma’s caused. “I thought that inviting you into our home, our lives, would make things a bit better for all of us.”
“Right, I can see where you’d think that. Sure.”
“Regina isn’t one to be controlled, nor have I ever wanted to control her. I’ve wanted to give her the space and freedom she deserves. However, in some respects it seems I’ve misinterpreted her wants and been too…”
Emma sighs, “Look, Robin. I’m really sorry about the way all of this went down. Like, maybe Regina and I are just confused. I have nothing to do with fate and pixie dust and soulmates and all that. We just had a lot of shit go down on a fairytale island surrounded by people and beings that like… aren’t supposed to exist. A lot of intense stuff happened, maybe it’s just… fucking with us. I don’t know. But what I do know is that she’s always been so sure that you guys are the real deal. That destiny and fate gave you this chance and this love. And I’m not trying to mess that up for either of you.”
“I know I can’t really ask you to stay away from Regina. You share Henry and I want to respect both of your decisions to co-parent him as you are.”
“And I had thought maybe you and I could be friends.”
“It’s kind of hard to be friends with you when the biggest thing we have in common is being in love with Regina.” Emma’s nails are ripping little crescents into the stress ball.
“And I think I see that now.” Robin’s so casual, conversational. “And a lot of what’s between you and Regina is just that. Between you and Regina. But it now involves me.”
“Yeah, pretty unfortunate circumstances we’ve got here, Rob. Does anyone call you Rob?”
“No, no, they don’t really.”
Emma can hear rustling on his end and she sighs, throws the stress ball at her computer monitor. She can hear Regina’s voice, muffled, and then, “Is that Emma? Oh, Robin. Please don’t.”
“I think it’s about time Emma and I had a conversation about the way she looks at my wife.” Robin’s voice sounds far away and Emma rolls her eyes.
“Are we really going to fight about this now? While you’re on the phone with her?”
“It’s a conversation that I suppose includes all of us.”
“I’ve been patient, I’m trying to be understanding, but I suppose you were right at the party. I’ve stopped fighting for you, and that was a mistake.”
“Hang up the phone, Robin.”
There’s more rustling, some disagreeable sounds, and then Regina’s voice. Crystal clear.
“I’m sorry, Emma. I’m sorry you’re being dragged into this.”
“I sort of already was, wasn’t I?”
“I suppose so. I’m sorry, darling girl.”
“Yeah, me too. I’ll talk to you later, I guess.”
Regina hangs up and Emma throws her phone in the bottom drawer of her desk and leaves it there until after dinner.
Emma joins Henry and Regina for lunch on Wednesday. Henry’s bouncing in the booth next to her and Regina keeps looking at him with sad, wide eyes. As if he’s going to slip away at any moment. And if Regina drinks a glass of chardonnay with her chicken salad, no one mentions it.
Regina’s already picked out a car, has it ready when they show up, just some signatures, formalities. And then Henry is sitting in the driver’s seat of a 2013 Volvo. A little blue hatchback with leather seats.
“I know it’s nothing fancy and it’s a little vintage. But Henry, it’s safe.” Regina’s reaching into her purse for her phone, tucks invoices and purchase information into one of the pockets.
“Mom, you could have bought me a Buick from the ‘70s, it’s still a car.” Henry grins, grips the steering wheel with both hands. “Thank you. It’s perfect. Do I look cool in it?”
“Super cool,” Emma grins, resists the urge to wrap an arm around Regina’s waist as she fiddles with apps, trying to get to the camera. “Super swaggy, as the kids are saying.” That gets her an eye roll from Regina and a grimace from Henry.
“You’re not Justin Bieber, Emma.” Regina shakes her head. “Alright, Henry. Smile.” Regina snaps a photo, Henry’s grinning up at her.
“I get to drive it home?”
“All by myself?”
“All by yourself.”
“Sweet!” Henry’s slamming the door shut and shoving the key into the ignition before Emma and Regina can say anything about it.
It’s just the two of them in the car, Emma and Regina. And the drive back to Storybrooke is quiet, save for Regina’s Vivaldi. The harpsichord, though on low volume, is tinny through the speakers and Emma eventually reaches out to turn it off.
“Can we please listen to something else? We don’t have to talk, but don’t you have anything a little less aggressive?”
Regina sighs, “Just turn it off.”
Emma rolls her eyes and turns it down.
It’s quiet for a minute, Emma looks out the window, watches as the trees thicken as they get closer to the town line.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” Regina says eventually. “I’m sorry you had to hear what you did.”
“I’m sorry too,” Emma doesn’t turn to look at Regina.
“We fought for the first time in a while. We used to argue about innocuous things. I’d pick a fight just to see. Robin was,” she pauses, turns off the Vivaldi completely. “Entirely too understanding. I’m surprised we hadn’t fought until yesterday, truly. After Henry’s party, we put the boys to bed and just fell asleep. We should have talked, done, I don’t know, something. He wants kids. I thought I did, but now I’m not so sure. Because I think about what I wanted, and I thought about the children I wanted to have, but I think that’s a different dream. An old dream. I’m not eighteen anymore.”
“No, you’re really not. But you’re also much older than you lo— hey!” Emma stops when Regina reaches across the car to smack her. “Ouch. Fine. So where does that leave things with Robin?”
“I don’t know. We never came to any sort of resolution yesterday. We got angry, he went out with Little John, I got a call at two this morning to please come pick him up.”
Regina sighs, “Of course I did.”
“Well, I hope his hangover sucks.”
“Mature,” Regina rolls her eyes. “I just don’t know how to fix things. I don’t know if we can fix things. I feel like I’ve lost sight of myself, of my life. Things happen around me and I’m not entirely sure how I fit into them, truly. I’ve become complacent and… the opposite of everything I’ve ever been. I thought that was a good thing for a while, it felt good to let go of the parts of me that were too angry, too uptight.”
“But Henry says you wore shorts and sneakers, and that gave him cause for concern.”
“It was Nantucket, Emma. Not a council meeting.”
Emma shrugs, “Still.”
Regina shakes her head, lets the silence settle.
They’ve crossed the town line and pulled up in front of Emma’s apartment building when Regina speaks again.
“I’m not so sure that I’m happy.”
“You don’t really sound happy,” Emma turns to look at Regina then. Sees longing and loneliness and we could have been family. “You told me one time, you’ve come too far to live a life that wasn’t your own. What happened?”
Regina turns to look at her for a moment, really look at her, and Emma squirms. Regina looks out at the street ahead, licks her lips. “It was all so seductive. This patient, kind man that was fated, destined, to be for me. And when I saw him for the first time, when Tink took me to that tavern, god, that’s all I needed. It’s all I dared hope for. I was an unhappy queen, still a child. I needed someone to take care of me, to care for me. He would have done that, he has done that.” Regina closes her eyes, “I’ve changed so much since then. I don’t need now, what I needed then. I thought I needed Daniel and a cottage in the woods with horses and children. And the life I’m living now is almost the life I wanted then, it could be the life I wanted then. But that’s not who I am anymore. So what do I do, Emma?” she opens her eyes, turns to look at Emma.
“You have choices. No one is holding a gun to your head.”
“But sometimes I wish they were.”
Emma presses her lips together.
“If only so I didn’t have time to think before I answered.”
“I think,” Emma unbuckles her seatbelt, rests her hand on the car door, right above the handle. “This is something you have to figure out on your own. Without me, without Robin. Because neither of us can be objective when it comes to you. Because I could tell you to leave him, but that makes me that guy. And I don’t want you to do that if it isn’t gonna make you happy. Thanks for letting me come with you guys today. If you want me to pay for half of the car—”
“Pay for his insurance until he moves out, Emma.”
“Done.” Emma smiles, reaches across the console to take Regina’s hand. “Really, thanks. I wanna co-parent better.”
“So do I,” Regina turns her hand beneath Emma’s, palm up, holds on for a few seconds. “I’m sorry.”
Emma shakes her head, “It’s none of my business really.”
“I keep making it your business, and for that, I am sorry.” Regina gives a small smile.
“You’re dressed like you today though.”
She is. A bordeaux colored dress and a light coat. Black pumps. She looks like Regina.
“I’m gonna go buy Henry some car insurance,” Emma squeezes Regina’s hand. “I’ll see you later.”
Regina smiles, finally. Soft and sweet, and just for Emma. “Thank you for coming today.”
“You’re welcome for not mentioning the wine you drank at noon.” Emma grins and pushes open her door. “See you later.”
It’s a week later when Henry drops a permission slip in her lap and says, “Robin’s spent the last three days out at camp.”
“Doesn’t really surprise me, kid.” Emma looks over the permission slip. Some field trip involving several high schoolers near a body of water.
“Yeah, didn’t surprise me either. I just thought you should know.” Henry shrugs, plops down on the couch next to her.
“Your mom will tell me about it when she wants to. Don’t get in the middle, Henry.” Emma grabs a pen from the coffee table and scrawls her name at the bottom of the paper. “She needs some time to figure stuff out. He needs some time to cool off. Things haven’t been super awesome.”
“I know.” Henry takes the paper back and shoves it in his backpack. “It’s all just kind of ridiculous when we all know how things are going to turn out.”
“It’s not so simple,” Emma reaches for the remote. “And we don’t know. We can only just sort of hope.”
“Yeah, sure. Okay.”
Emma rolls her eyes, “Are we finishing this season of It’s Always Sunny or not?”