It happens everyday, down to the minute, 7:12 am on the morning train that heads north into the bank district, and again at 6:08pm on the return trip home. Through the bustle of the crowds that pay no attention to the poor person, who sits against the third column with an empty crumpled up Boston Red Sox hat on the floor, not a single pair of eyes linger for longer than a disgusted grunt or worse, a pitiful stare. Those are like ice daggers. The sad longing glances and downturned lips as they pass by, not giving anything more than a quarter.
All except one person. The one who walks by at 7:12am to work, a job that surely pays well enough for expensive clothes and nice shoes, and returns at 6:08pm, clearly on their way home to a warm home, a decent meal and a family who eagerly waits. Every single day they walk by, drop a dollar into the dirty hat and bid a good morning. For three years since this underground tunnel has become a new home away from the harsh weather changes of the outside world. It's a dollar in the morning and the smell of dark roasted coffee in a stainless steel mug, and a dollar in the evening with a small smile.
Why they did was unknown. Who gives a homeless person a consistent amount of money for seven hundred and eighteen days. There had been a good week last year around thanksgiving they had been absent, probably on some wonderful vacation to Mexico or Bora Bora. And a very long nearly two and a half week stretch this past summer. Hunger had been rampant without the reliable $2.00 a day that could afford a single muffin at bakery down the road. Gratefully the owner, an older lady with grey curling hair and steel grey blue eyes had a soft enough heart to let the extra thirty-nine cents be waved off.
It had become somewhat of a strange routine. Waking up to the first rumble of the 5:30am train and the clicking of far too expensive shoes and mindless chattering of people who walked right by, holding steaming mugs of coffee and breakfast sandwiches that surely would have cost at least eight bucks. And then the clock would tick by slowly toward 7:10 am, the third train coming into the tunnel and there they would be. Walking with such purpose, poise and a smile as another dollar for the day was tossed in. They'd say good morning to each other, share some sort of strange eye contact that only held longer as each week passed by, and then they'd be gone, off to save the world like some sort of superhero only they could possibly be.
Fourteen hundred and thirty six dollars in single dollar bills had traded from a generous hand to a desperate one.
And three years later, her hands are shaking as though she's been tasered by the police again as she stands in front of a solid oak door with a silver number 23 glistening in the barely rising sun. It is far too early for her to even be here, 6:02am. But from what she's been able to read about this man, where he lives in the suburbs of Portland, a ridiculously named place called Happy Valley, she figures that is he catches the 7:12 train, it would take at least 20 minutes to drive by transport to the nearest station, and he always looks fresh out of the shower, and impeccably dressed. So she's betting that hopefully he wakes up around 5:45am? To god damn early for her, but it's truly her only chance to do this.
There is only a single light on that she can see, and not much noise to be heard beyond the door. And still she can't fathom knocking just in case there are sleeping children inside. It's all memories of Henry at four years old and the absolute terror that boy could be if he was woken before he wished. But those days are long gone, and her gut knots tightly at the son she lost all those years ago to leukemia. A brutal disease that her brave little boy had fought tooth and nail against every step of the way. Through bone marrow transplants and blood infusions, he would squeeze her hand, wearing his batman pajama shirt and tell her it was going to be okay, he'd get better this time.
That was her life. Living in a hospital as her six year old comforted her through his own treatment like a soldier. He'd caught a flu, some stupid virus that snuck into his lungs and wreaked havoc on his already depressed immune system. That had been it. After sixteen months of back and forth ups and downs, her prince was resting in heaven with his father.
Her entire world spiralled after that. Depression got ahold of her, tore her apart piece by piece, consuming every last shred of light in her world till all that was left was darkness. Darkness that lead to losing her job at the school, which turned into an inability to pay her bills, foreclosure on her home after the market crash, and when her own mother turned her away, she was forced to live on the streets, in an underground subway tunnel, sleeping next to the third column on bricks on the left hand side. For forty eight months it was her home, if it can even be called that. A place that smelled like damp water and sweat, buzzed with noise and ticking clocks, and her only source of company, four legged creatures who were revolted by the common public.
But life had a way of tilting on its axis. One year after Henry died, to the exact date, that man walked by and tossed in a dollar. He'd smiled, dimpled and softly, wished her a good morning and carried on his way. Only to return ten hours and fifty four minutes later with another bill and a tip of his chin in goodbye. She began to rely on seeing him, the bright sky blue of his eyes, sandy blonde peppered beard, and perfectly combed dark brown hair, save for the piece that never seemed to stay in place right in front of his eyes. His Elvis curls she began to silently admire it as. Perhaps that's only because the musician up the stairs had been an impersonator of the deceased King, and it played in her mind most days.
Oddly enough the day the blue eyed man actually squatted down in front of her and offered her a coffee had been in the ninth month of their strange friendship, and he offered her a coffee whilst the smooth melody of Elvis sang behind them. The moment her eyes connected with his, the muffled crooning words "I can't help falling in love with you…" echoed in her brain.
She doesn't love, the guy. She has no idea who he is, aside from his name and address. And the fact he wears perfectly tailored suits and smells like a forest rolled him up and spit him out.
Robin Locksley. CEO of a tech company that specializes in some sort of outdoor wilderness gear that had absolutely taken off about five years ago thanks to a new design in filtering water with a travel camel pack. From what she's read, it's been rated as one of the top 100 inventions of the decade, and he named one of the most influential people of the decade. No wonder he can spare two dollars everyday.
And yet, for a guy who clearly isn't lacking in the financial department, his home is rather, well, ordinary. Just a two story brown copperstone brick style, with an oak door and truly not much else aside from the massive tree in the front yard that gentle sways a tire swing from one of its many branches.
Taking a breath, and tucking her hair behind her ears, she adjust her borrowed blazer not nearly as nice as the ones she seen him in, but it's better than the black zip up and grey tank she'd been living in previously. With one last tug on buttons that are already done up and a swipe of her dark denim jeans, an anxious breath blows out through her nose and she knocks, three times rather lightly. It's still obscenely early after all.
It takes a few moments before a light turns on behind the door, and she prays to the high heavens that it's him who answers the door in somewhat of an okay morning mood. Granted the guy never fails to be seen with a smile.
The knob clicks and twists and there he is.
His eyebrows arch curiously, with a soft "Good Morning."
Nerves hit her like a freight train. For three years she's barely spoken a word to the man who changed her entire life, and she feels like a bloody mute standing on his stoop, gawking at the way his clean crisp white linen shirt frames his shoulders, tucked into a pair of navy blue dress pants and a brown leather belt. He looks like he's from some sort of magazine, being this close to him she can see the light peppering of grey in his dark blonde hair, the slight crinkles hugging bright blue eyes. How did she fail to notice how damn handsome the guy was?
"Can I help you with something?"
Their eyes lock and her throat runs dry.
"Hi." She mumbles out against the lump in her chest.
He chuckles, nods his head, "Hello."
"You probably don't know who I am. Well, I know you don't actually." She starts to ramble, but he steps out, bare feet and all, lands a hand on her forearm and smiles, "I do."
"You're the woman I see every morning on my way to work."
Well that is one way to put it she supposes. He knows she was the homeless person who he gave money too. Suddenly she feels rather shameful standing in front of him. Their lives so different, he clearly above her league.
"You look lovely by the way. Not that you don't always, but the jacket, it suits you."
For a moment they simply stand there, with his hand still firmly placed on her arm, a warmth she hasn't felt in a really long time. She feels the way he is looking at her, curiously, a touch of ease in his eyes that travel across her face as he waits for her to speak.
"For three years you gave me a dollar, well two dollars really." She swallows, brushing back that stupid lock of hair that refuses to stay put. "I just wanted to say thank you."
He smiles, and his dimples deepen as he squeezes her arm. "You're welcome, though I feel as though I should have given you more. You were the first person I looked for every morning you know."
He nods, bites his bottom lip rather bashfully. It's cute. He is cute she decides. Very damn cute.
Their eyes connect once more, and something shifts in his gaze, something that looks strangely like understanding, though she can't fathom he had ever been homeless.
"Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?"
"Oh no, I couldn't. You need to get going if you're going to catch your train."
"Perhaps I'd like to take the next train for once. Change up the routine."
Her eyebrows crease together confused as to why he would do such a thing. "I haven't had breakfast yet either anyway. Roland and I are making pancakes."
Her heart clenches tight in her chest. The memory of her own little boy elbow deep in waffle batter and chocolate chips swirls into her mind.
"We always make extra and it is Friday after all."
"What does Friday have to do with making too many pancakes?"
He laughs, lets go of her arm, the warmth tingling in his palm's absence, "Nothing if I am being truthful. But I honestly would just like to get a chance to talk to you. Properly."
"Well we've known each other for three years now, and I don't even know if you take sugar or cream in your coffee. Doesn't seem like I've been very good in our friendship if you ask me."
"I'd like to hope so. I want to get to know you, Regina."
The sound of her name on his lips steals her breath away. It had only been one time that she told him her name. Just once, nearly a year ago, and he remembered it. And she hasn't had a friend in a very, very long time. Strange as their start may have been, perhaps it's all about timing.
"One sugar, no cream."
At her answer Robin beams, lets out a relieved breath and nods, "Noted. And trust me, Roland will insist you eat a stack of his famous pancakes, blueberries, syrup and whip cream loaded."
He opens the door, allowing her to step in, but her feet are frozen to the spot as her heart thumps erratically in her chest. It feels so strange and yet so natural wanting to go inside and have breakfast with this man and his son.
"Is something wrong?" He turns, tipping his head to the side questioningly as to why she stands there like a statue, staring at him as though he is a mirage. "You don't have to eat the pancakes if you don't want too."
"It's not that, I actually love them." She huffs out a tearful chuckle.
He steps back towards her, thumbing away a stray fallen tear, "Then what is is?"
"I just can't believe you want to be friends, or that you even remember me."
His hand falls to lace into one of her own, his eyes dropping for a moment from hers as he chews on his cheek shyly, tracing his thumb over her knuckles before looking up again.
"I doubt I'd ever forget meeting you."
Chapter 2: It's Nice To Meet You
His house is nothing like she pictured it would be. Not with the tailored suits, leather dress shoes and rolex watches he wears that exude expensive. It's big, there is no doubt about that. But where she expected hard lines, and chrome structured finishes to be adorning the place, it's, in all honesty, the exact opposite. It's soft, calm painted green walls with white crown moulding, beautiful hand scraped dark hardwood flooring that her heels click on as he leads her past his living room, furnished with comfy couches and a rather large TV entertainment system. It feels warm. Everything about his home is comforting, gentle, like him in an odd way.
Her eyes wander to a few black and white photos hanging on a wall, dark gun metal grey frames that house happy smiles of himself and a dark haired woman she assumes is his wife, though in the three years she's known him, she's never noticed a wedding ring. Not that it means anything, perhaps they are just people that don't wear rings? One photo has his arms wrapped around her shoulders, nose nuzzled into the woman's curls as she beams up at the camera. It's a gorgeous photo. They look like a picture perfect couple, Regina muses as she scans over to the next one and her heart stumbles at the big button brown eyes that sparkle amidst a deep dimpled grin, two front teeth missing and what she assumes is chocolate sauce smothered around his chubby cheeks. He's beautiful. Looks just like his mother, down to the soft olive skin tone, dark chestnut eyes and curly mop of hair.
"That would be your chef for this morning." Robin slides up beside Regina, smiling proudly at the photo of his son. "Who should be gracing us with his presence any time now." He eyes flick up the stairs as the sound of shuffling socks begins to scuffle down the steps.
Regina turns, and the photo does this little boy no justice. He is beyond adorable. To the point it actually makes her eyes flush with tears as he hangs onto the banister and taking two steps down the stairs, not quite tall enough to take them one by one just yet. She remembers Henry at this age. How he insisted that every time the door knocked, he be the one to answer it even if the guests on the other side had to wait a little longer until he could stumble his way down their steps with his tiny voice chiming out that he would be right there! He was so full of life, of adventure and joy right until the end. There wasn't a shy bone in his body. Which was probably more thanks to his father than Regina's natural caution towards others. From the moment Henry came into this world, Daniel was there beside him, protecting his boy who demanded he meet every single person he could.
"Papa! Papa catch me!" The little tyke stops at the third step, balancing on his superman socked feet before extending his arms out, ready to fly into the arms of Robin.
"Do you have your cape ready for flying?" Robin grins and squats down.
A red towel swings out behind the boy, as he proudly proclaims a happy, "You bet!"
"Okay, Roland, count it down!"
"Three! Two! One! Take off!" His little legs brace and push with all their tiny might as he flings himself out into Robin's chest as he catches him with ease and spins him around, the makeshift cape fluttering about before it lands on top of Robin's head. Regina chuckles, and Robin shakes his head about animatedly until the towel falls back down to its proper secured spot.
"Ready for breakfast?"
Robin turns and Regina is caught staring at the pair like a deer in headlights, suddenly feeling a bit too intrusive on their little morning moment of play. She tugs at the hem of her blazer, something she'd been able to finally afford after her last paycheck. Thank god too. She swears the people she works with have begun to notice her rather limited attire. Two pairs of pants and three shirts to be exact. At least she has a skirt and a jacket now, thanks to the Women's Closet down the road from where she is staying, but it's not exactly like she can be picky about cotton or silk right now.
"Roland, I'd like you to meet someone." Robin swings around, son in tow, and nods in her direction with a smile, "This is my friend Regina."
"She's a girl, Papa!"
Regina grins at the young boy who stares up at her with wide astonished eyes. Perhaps Robin doesn't exactly entertain much female company what with a wife and all.
"And a very pretty one at that. Don't you agree, my boy?" Robin's dimples flash on full display as he sends a quick wink her way.
Well, that small compliment has Regina's cheeks flushing hotter than the sun for it's really the first time in years she's actually had someone say something like that about her. She's grown accustom over the past six years towards more grunts, sour stares and comments about how the "city needs to deal with the people like them." As if she didn't already feel less than a person could. It was always the ones who clearly had something to hide that would make such scathing statements. Those who cloaked themselves in uptight personas and designer clothing lest the outside world see what a crumbling insecure mess they were on the inside.
The life she led previous to sleeping on wet concrete rattling floors was filled with those types of people. Ones she found absolute pleasure in stripping away their facade piece by piece in a courtroom until the real truth reared it's ugly head. When the jewels and money aren't there to hide behind, people are all the same, just simply human beings driven by emotion.
"She is pretty, Papa."
"Thank you." Regina smiles, as Robin approaches with his son, "My name is Regina."
"This is my son Roland."
The boy coughs with a scowl into Robin's view before wildly skipping his eyes back and forth to Regina. It has Robin chuckling quietly before righting himself with a stern face as he faces her once more. "My apologies. Regina, this is Sir Captain Roland Locksley of Forest Fliers."
For a moment Regina is caught a bit off guard with the silly title, but a memory fades into her mind about a time when Henry had refused to answer to anything but Spiderboy, and Daniel being anointed as SpiderDaddy. Every Sunday they would wear nothing but matching red and blue pajamas with the black emblazoned spider on their chests, pretending to shoot webs at everything from morning orange juices to TV remotes and mommy snuggles. When Daniel died, Henry insisted that his dad wear his spiderman shirt to heaven so he could protect the angels. And when she'd buried Henry, he too went as a superhero in those pajamas, albeit underneath a suit her mother had picked out that looked absolutely ridiculous on her little boy. They are both up there, together, still playing web wars in her mind between the clouds and warm sun.
"Pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Captain Roland."
"Do you like pancakes Regina?"
"I love them."
"So does Papa! He eats so many!"
"Hey now! You make me sound like a ravenous pig my boy."
"It's true and you know it!" Roland giggles as Robin tickles his tummy incessantly till his son begs for him to stop through breathless laughter. He sets his son down and grins up at Regina, a hand on his heart, the other high into the sky vowing ""I swear I am nothing but a gentleman at the table."
"Pancake Piggy!" Roland teases as his cape flies into the sky when his little legs take off and run him into the kitchen before Robin can catch him. Regina stifles her laugh with her hand, chuckling at the boldness wrapped up in such a tiny body.
"Well now that my son has effectively blown my cover, shall I get you that coffee?"
"Will there be any left after you pour yourself a cup?" Regina bites down on her lip lest her cheeky remark bust out into a full smile at the way Robin's eyes widen and his dimples deepen at her playful jab. He didn't really know what to expect her to be like, but what he is slowly finding out is much more intriguing than the quiet smiles she'd been passing him through gentle thank you's over the past three years. He likes it. Likes her.
Robin chuckles, leading Regina into the kitchen and her breath stalls as they walk through the archway. Where his home is cozy and quaint, the kitchen is the complete opposite. It's massive. Light grey oak cabinets from floor to ceiling, white granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and without a doubt the largest island she's ever seen. It's beautiful. Clean and crisps with metal detailed knobs and a lining of copper pots hanging from the light fixture above the island. It's her dream kitchen. Back when things weren't quite so dismal and bleak in her world, she used to spend hours in her own kitchen, elbow deep in sauces and dishes Henry created in his mind. That was their thing. Cooking together. Adding the most bizarre ingredients to a concoction to be fed to their guinea pig, and Daniel was nothing but a good sport. Eating with astounding enthusiasm down even with the strangest dishes set in front of him. Not once did he ever let Henry see the way his eyes watered when there was chocolate sauce added to pasta, or how much he hated mashed potatoes smothered in cheese and pickles. His plate was always licked clean and ready for more should his chefs have extra's.
She hasn't set foot in a kitchen in a long long time.
"My wife decorated this room. She always had a better eye for design than I did." Robin muses as he saddles up beside Roland, tying back a tiny apron with a cartoon chili pepper embroidered in sunglasses on the front. "It's stunning." Regina smiles, and takes a seat on the metal stool near the island.
"Regina! You have to put an apron on!" Roland clambers towards her, shoving a haphazardly folded yellow apron at her. "Papa says we can't get our clothes dirty because he doesn't know how to run the washing machine."
From across the kitchen Robin groans and ties on his own apron, a dark green and white checkered pattern that Regina can't help but admire the way the colors bring out the bright blue of his eyes. He really does have nice eyes. Chuckling, Regina kneels to the floor, turns to back to Roland and asks him to tie her up. It's a messy knot, but it will do. Standing she smoothes out the cotton sunny yellow fabric, admiring the tomato and pepper cartoons dancing on the front of it.
When she turns, it's to find Robin staring at her with a strange look in his eyes. A look she knows far too well. A sad memory of a lost love. And it clicks into her mind that she has seen the photo's of his wife, but has yet to meet the woman in person. Robin seems to notice the way Regina's shoulders sigh as she tries to smile at him. She too must know what it's like to have lost someone close to her heart.
"It was my wife's apron." He comments quietly over Roland's head, the boy buried deep into the bottom cupboards in search of a bowl for batter. "She passed away three years ago."
Robin nods, bites down on his lip and sends her a half hearted grin. "Breast Cancer. The bitch." A bubble builds hot in Regina's throat, pressing heavy against her chest. Her life has been consumed by those with that fucking disease. It took her father. Her grandmother. Daniel's brother. And the most painful one it stole from her was her baby boy. Six years old and he was gone. He'd been sick for a two months before she and Daniel had taken Henry into the Children's Hospital after their GP had ordered some blood tests that hadn't come back pleasant.
The moment she walked through those hospital doors, her life changed forever and her son never left. For sixteen months, it became her new home. Sleeping on a pull out couch beside his tiny bed listening to the beeping of machines that kept his heart beating after surgeries and transfusions until one night it was just silent.
A hand squeezes her forearm, and her eyes blink back the tears that burn on her lashes, and just stares at the thumb that swipes up and down the black weaved coat on her arm. It's a heat she can't remember feeling since Daniel. A strange beat that passes between them when she finally musters up the gusto to look him in the eyes, tears be damned and the amount of soft gentle understanding that radiates from the blue is damn near knee buckling. And for all it's worth, he doesn't even say anything, just nods, smiles, and tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to damper breakfast." She chokes out, sniffing hard because dammit he is still a stranger, and this isn't exactly the impression she wanted to make on him. Not that she had thought she'd be in his kitchen making breakfast with his son when she knocked on his door twenty minutes ago just to say thank you for the past three years. That was all this was supposed to be. Just a simple thank you and that's all. Just so he would know how much he truly did change her life. How she began to stow away a dollar at a time to slowly buy a new shirt. Or how seeing him walk through the subway station everyday in his crisp clean attire headed to a job made her want to actually get up off the mouldy wet concrete and for the first time in a year look at a newspaper's job listing section.
He did that.
Unbeknownst to him, but it's the reason she is standing here in his kitchen and not sleeping another night with mice and bugs. For whatever reason there is a tug towards this man. A need to want to show him she is more than just some homeless beggar. Perhaps it's that scolding disdainful voice of her mother who would be horrified if she knew about Regina's life the past three years. She just wants for whatever god damn reason for this man, for Robin to see her as a person who has her shit together (which is a lie, because she doesn't. At least not yet, but it's moving in the right direction.)
"I find that pancakes always make the heart feel better."
"And coffee?" She smiles, finally shaking away the last of her tears.
"Most certainly M'lady." He squeezes her forearm once more and lets her breath for a quiet moment alone as she takes up residence back on her stool, watching as Roland pours a heap of chocolate chips into a bowl, though she would venture more ended up in his mouth that is smeared with chocolate than in the actual bowl.
It's all stirring and splatter for a while after that. Regina sipping her coffee as she cracks two eggs for Roland and he plunges the spatula back into the concoction with vigor, smacking away Robin's fingers that attempt to dip into the bowl for a taste. And apparently, while Robin may be the father, Roland is definitely the ruler in the kitchen as he shoo's Robin away with a warning look and a scowling "No thieving Papa! You know the rules!"
It makes Regina's heart double down at the matching frown Robin sends his boy, arms crossed pitifully over his chest as he slumps himself down into the seat beside her, groaning into his mug playfully. He's a good dad. And he's raised quite an astounding young boy.
"Regina, can you help me flip the pancakes?"
"Of course." She chuckles at Robin's hushed out petulant whine that he always flips the pancakes, before moving in front of the stove and laddleling in the first perfect circle of batter. Roland's eyes gape open between her and the pan. "Wow! Papa look!"
Robin's head cranes over his coffee in question.
"Regina makes circles!"
Her eyebrows crease at that. How else are pancakes supposed to look? But her curiosity is quickly rectified with Roland's giggle that "Papa's always look like an elephant squished them."
"You wound me my boy!"
"They still taste good Papa. They just aren't as pretty as Regina's."
"Seems Regina is all the pretty things today isn't she Roland."
The next swaddle of batter nearly spills from her fingers at that and she dare not look back at Robin for the redness in her cheeks would certainly be a dead giveaway as to the butterflies that sudden flutter in her stomach. It's ridiculous. It's just pancakes. She should not be demanding her heart to slow down it's frantic pace at some kind words of a man she barely knows.
Even if he invited her into his kitchen...to cook with his son. Still. It's a one time thing. Her way of saying thank you to him and that will be the end of it. Clearing her throat she drops a few chocolate chips onto the browning cake and rustles the pan three times before tossing the breakfast high into the air, reveling in the squeal it erupts from Roland as it lands far to perfectly back into the pan. Seems she hasn't lost her touch in the kitchen that much.
It's six more flips and a hell of a lot of cheering from Roland and a comment or two from Robin about how impressive she is, before she turns down the burner and sets a plateful down on the island between them. It's not even a moment before she unties her apron and settles down into the stool beside Robin when Roland's mouth is full to the brim with syrup, berries, and pancakes, his father in much of the same state, though a trickle of maple sauce has found it's way down his chin.
Did she mention he was adorable?
Roland. Roland is adorable. Not Robin. That's not what she meant exactly. Maybe just that they are adorable together as a pair. That's it.
"This is amazing Regina. I didn't know you were such an amazing chef." Robin stabs another piece, looking at her with absolute adoration. For her cooking, nothing else. She's a good cook. He's admiring her skills. Even if he continues to let his eyes wander her face and his hand to pass and squeeze her hand once or twice. It's just acknowledgement for breakfast.
"Thank you. It's been awhile since I've been in a proper kitchen."
"Well by all means feel free to stay and help us with dinner tonight."
Her fork drops. Clatters in a high pitched clang onto her plate as she stares at him. And the man looks bewildered by what he just said as he swallows down another slice. He just asked her to stay for dinner. With him and his son. He just said that. How can he not even realize it? Her skin flushes hot as she chokes down a gulp of burning hot coffee in an attempt to quell this sudden shock running through her.
"Yeah Regina stay! We make tacos on fridays! And you can come visit my mama with us!"
Robin sputters at that. Coughing violently as he reaches out to rummage through his son's messy curls. "I think Regina probably has things to do this afternoon." He tickles Roland's tummy before flicking his gaze back up to Regina, "But the offer still stands for dinner."
There are a million and one reasons why she should definitely not be staying for dinner with them. Case and point she has a interview tomorrow she has to get ready for otherwise the motel is going to ask her to leave given that she can't pay for a room again for the upcoming week and she will be back at the shelter she absolutely loathed staying at.
She should be looking into other jobs just incase this one at the law firm doesn't pan out. Not everyone wants to hire a previously homeless person who has absolutely no money to their name, her saving grace being her education. But still that was what, sixteen years ago she graduated? Sure she worked for a solid fourteen before Henry got sick, but still, businesses move on and look for the newest and best crop of employee's. Not some random woman who once worked as a lawyer way back in the day at a small college not many would recognize the name of.
She should just say thank you, and make up some excuse for not coming back and spending more time with this man and his perfect little boy.
She should say no, but her response is the exact opposite.
"Well, I do make a mean chicken enchilada."
And Robin smiles so hard she wonders if his dimples will crack.
Chapter 3: Wanna Meet My Mom
Breakfast is over far too quick for his liking, and he desperately hopes it not terribly obvious to her that he keeps stalling, drinking a third glass of orange juice even though his stomach feels like it's ripping at his pant seams, just so she will stay a little bit longer and talk to him. There is so much he wants to know about her. What makes her smile. What will make her laugh. How to get her eyes to sparkle at him like they do when she looks at Roland. For a person he barely knows, he feels as though she's always been a part of his life. It's something in the way her hands caress through Roland's curls, the pair of them caught in their own little world amongst stacks of chocolate chip filled pancakes. It's how she blushes whenever Robin pays her a compliment, brushing back a fallen lock of silky hair he'd give his right foot to be able to do the same with.
He shouldn't be feeling this way about her. He doesn't know her, and she doesn't know him. But it's there nonetheless. That bubble in his chest, that continues to expand and burst into a thousand butterflies everytime he does manage to find her eyes. She has beautiful eyes. Dark chocolate like Marian's, but they have this golden undertone to them, something that has him simply gawking everytime he gets the chance. She has definitely caught him staring at her once or twice. Cheeks flushed pink as she bites a smile back and focuses on his son who is eating up every ounce of attention from her he can. It does make Robin wonder about things, if he is raising his son right, being a single parent is no easy feat, and there are more days than not when Robin slides into his bed and sighs at the empty pillow beside him.
It's been three years since Marian died, and he misses her. The ache still very palpable in his heart at the thought of all the memories they should still be having together. The life they had intended to build, plans of camping trips and summer lake vacations at her cabin in Montana with their son. Teaching him how to fish and make s'mores underneath the stars. They'd even started talking about having a second child. Marian always wanted a daughter and Robin couldn't help but fall head over heels at the idea of a little princess having him wrapped around her finger.
But then came the cancer. The multiple surgeries, and then chemotherapy which had stripped his wife of her immune system, wreaked havoc on her heart and eventually she'd succumbed to it all, passing away from heart failure. Cardiotoxicity. That's what the doctors had explained to him. Chemotherapy had weakened her heart and it could no longer pump efficiently enough to keep his wife alive. That was it.
He'd been sleeping on the couch in her hospital room, a barely year old Roland tucked into her arms, and he'd woken up to his son's quiet tears as the morning parted through the curtains and Marian didn't stir. He knew right then and there. She could pick up her baby boy's cries from a mile away, but this time, she didn't wake to cradle him softly, soothe and hush him back to sleep.
He's never spoken of that moment to anyone. Not even Marian's parents when they asked. He lied, and said Roland was sleeping with him. Why, he doesn't exactly know, but it seemed cruel to tarnish the mother inside of her like that. To say she didn't wake when her child cried. Robin couldn't do that. It's a secret he will take to the grave with him.
"Regina, wanna come see my room!?" Roland pipes up, bringing Robin back from his memories.
Regina smiles, a stunning thing, and ruffles Roland's hair. "Maybe some other time, I'm afraid I've kept you and your father long enough."
"Awww please stay!"
Robin's not sure if it's him that says it or Roland, either way he echoes his son's statement with a poorly hidden pout of his own. He doesn't want her to leave, hence the third glass of orange juice, but he also knows that he has to get Roland dressed and ready for kindergarten, and himself to work. But the prospect of putting on a suit and going into endless budget meetings on a day that is sunny and warm just seems beyond ridiculous. He'd rather spend the day with his boy and, perhaps if he is lucky, with Regina. Though he's a fool to think she'd pick chasing a toddler around the park when more than likely she already has plans, or a job to get to.
"You promised echidada's!"
"Enchilada's." She corrects with a chuckle as Roland whines dismally into his pancakes, her eyes flicking over to Robin. "I'll still come back if you and your daddy want me to cook for you."
"But that's so far! You should stay all day." He pouts, lower lip popping out with a pair of puppy dog eyes at her as if he already knows those eyes are her kryptonite. Henry knew exactly how to use them too. Big hazel gaze staring up at her as though if she were to say no to his request the entire world would surely crumbled beneath his tiny feet. She gave in more often than not. Even if Daniel teased her about it later. She would have found a way to move mountains and part the ocean's if it made her boy happy. Especially in those last few months. There was nothing he'd ask for that she didn't find a way to make happen. Cost was no issue. She had money, and Daniel's life insurance was always there. So if Henry asked, Regina delivered.
She supposes that's when things with her mother really took a turn downhill. They never really saw eye to eye when it came to spoiling Henry. Regina was firm that her son be given everything he wanted, he had cancer and was being so damn brave fighting it every day that she didn't understand the harm in giving him what he wanted. A new XBox to play games on between treatments had been expensive, but it made him smile. And yes there were his medical bills that she was still paying, that were still racking up, and she wasn't working, opting to take care of her son like any mother would, and Daniel had passed away, so sure the money was going out far quicker than it was coming in, but still, Henry's happiness came first. However, mother didn't see it that way. Horrid bitch she was.
It was in her high and mighty opinion that Henry could simply play with toys and puzzles the hospital provided. The same ones he'd been playing with since the day they walked into the hospital a year prior. He'd finished the puzzles, they were only ten pieces to begin with and he was so smart, just like his father. They bored him after the eighth time. And there is only so much fun to be had with the same old tonka truck rolling around on the blue cotton blanket of his bed.
Cora called him spoiled. Regina just about wrung her mother's neck at that. He was six years old and battling leukemia. What else was she supposed to do but give him every last damn fucking toy he wanted before the day came when he wasn't around to play with them anymore. It was that argument, outside her son's doorway, as doctors and nurses raised eyebrows and walked past, that Cora Mills turned her back and abandoned her daughter and grandson in their biggest time of need. Claiming that clearly Regina didn't need her help or her money if she could afford to spoil her son with extravagance.
She watched her mother turn on her heel, nose high in the air and walk down the hallway, into the elevator and the doors shut as Cora stared indignantly at her daughter. She hadn't shed a tear the entire time, held herself together until later that night when Henry was fast asleep and couldn't hear her leave and walk down into the cafeteria and silently cry over a cup of cold coffee. A nurse had come over at one point, freshened up said coffee and simply sat beside Regina, not saying a word, just reading a book and holding her hand until Regina's tears ran dry and the sun peaked through the windows.
Mary Margaret. That was the nurse's name. She'd been attending to Henry for the past six months, reading him fairytale after fairytale. Her favorite had been Snow White, Henry's was Peter Pan. Regina knows every line by heart now. Having sat in his room listening quietly as Mary animatedly constructed a tale of heroism, love, and courage. She'd always kiss the top of his head, bald as he may have been, and told him to be brave, to never stop believing in magic, and to have hope. Henry loved her and she him.
His sixth birthday had been between transfusions, and Mary Margaret had thrown him an amazing spiderman themed birthday party, with red and blue cake, a spider shaped pinata, and the entire hospital wing all dressed as superheros. Regina included, decked head to toe in a catwoman ensemble that had Henry giggling at her cat ears. That had been a good day. Her baby was six years old and the doctors were smiling instead of bringing bad news.
When Henry died, it was Mary Margaret who had helped plan his memorial. Picking out yellow sunflowers because they reminded Regina of Henry's smile, handing out superhero masks and putting together the montage of photos she'd taken in conjunction with a bunch of Regina's own.
She owes a lot to her, and hasn't been able to set foot into the hospital to say thank you since. She should go. Maybe once she has a bit more courage like her son did, she'll go back.
"Roland, son. I'm sure Regina has other plans today." Robin looks at her, hoping with all his might that he is wrong and she is going to smile at him once more and agree to spending the day with him and his boy.
"You can come say hi to my momma with me and daddy!"
Robin damn near drops his glass as he sputters and coughs. It's true, it's the 22nd of the month, and every 22nd they take a dozen lilies and walk through the cemetery to Marian's headstone, have a picnic and play the cloud game until Roland decides it is time for ice cream. He just didn't realize it was today. Perhaps it's because his attention today has been on a certain other brunette.
Regina looks a touch caught off guard as well. Eyes wide as she looks over to Robin for some help. Her heart far too soft to say no, but again she really does need to be getting ready for her interview.
"I think maybe that's supposed to be special time for you and your dad to spend with your momma don't you?"
"But she'd like you! I know she would!"
It crosses Regina's mind that from what Robin said of his wife's passing, it happened three years ago, which would make Roland only a year old when she died. He can't remember her can he?
His eyes are all big and brown and damn hopeful, and she is at a loss for words as he stares up at her, all chocolate chip smudged cheeks and messy hair in his superman cape. Damn him and his adorable little self that whimpers out the saddest "Pleaaaaase, Regina." she's ever heard.
Robin for his part looks half deer caught in headlights and half sheepishly hopeful she will say yes. Roland must get his puppy dog eyes from his father. Marian didn't stand a chance with the two of them. And she really shouldn't be entertaining the idea of spending the afternoon and evening with them... she shouldn't, but something about them, about this house and this kitchen makes her feel like she belongs. Strange as it may be.
They don't know one another, he gave her money, she is just supposed to be here to say thank you. It does, however, make her curious why he did it. Three years is a long time to be continuously generous without some ulterior motive is it not? Maybe it's out of pity that he has so much money and she had absolutely none. Perhaps she is simply a charity case for him to feel better about the fact his home is beautiful, that he wears tailored expensive clothes and probably drives some ridiculously luxurious vehicle.
It's what her mother always use to say, there is no selfless good deed. Everyone does something nice for another only to make themselves feel better about it. It's the streak of skepticism that has been beaten into Regina's mind. No one does anything out of the kindness of their heart. That's not human nature.
In truth, Robin is probably just letting her eat his food and drink his coffee because he figures she hasn't had a solid breakfast in years. And she hasn't, but she is nobody's charity case. She doesn't need the pity party. And the thought of walking into a cemetery where her own baby boy sleeps soundly has her stomach turning in knots.
She hasn't visited him. Didn't have the money when he died to even buy him a proper headstone. Every last penny had gone to his medical bills.
It's a wash of shame that floods over her. How horrid of a mother she's been to not even go see her son. Robin clearly takes Roland to visit his mother. A toddler has more bravery than she, a grown woman does.
Robin frowns as he sees her eyes go blank, a far off glassy look that shrouds the chocolate color. She's lost in thought, and by the looks of it, it's not a very pleasant one either. He knows that feeling. The pain of being caught amidst memories that hurt beyond belief. The ones that cut a hot knife through the soul, leaving it forever spliced. There is clearly much more to Regina's past than simple money troubles.
Though clearly she isn't exactly flush with cash at the moment either. Her jacket fits a bit large against the small square of her shoulders, emphasizing the fact that she probably hasn't had a decent meal in months. He feels like a git all of a sudden.
Here he is, in his home that has extra rooms and square footage, a fridge stocked with food, and far too many clothes in both he and his sons closets, and he's never really stopped to appreciate it. How lucky he is to have never been hungry, or forced to sleep on the streets. He's had a rich life, never wanted for something given the fact he's always had the means to purchase.
He should do more for the community. Give back. He damn well knows his company can afford it. Perhaps he could start a charity or a foundation for cancer research. Marian would have liked that. She was always the more charitable out of the two of them.
It had been a year after her passing that he'd walked down the same bloody concrete steps towards the subway that instead of staring down at his phone he'd looked up and saw her. Sitting against the third pillar, knees curled to her chest, and a crumpled up Boston Red Sox hat at her feet. He had stopped dead in his tracks when she lifted her head and brushed back a piece of fallen hair from her pony tail. Aside from Marian, she was without a doubt the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Sure, a bit dirt smudged and messy haired, but still. His heart stopped the second her eyes flicked up to his.
He felt a bit of a bumbling fool as he fished out his wallet, feeling a touch embarrassed when all he had was credit cards and a single dollar bill. Something was better than nothing though right? He'd dropped the bill into her hat, heart thumping erratically when she gave him a small smile behind a quiet thank you.
For the rest of the day he thought of her. And for three years, it became his morning routine to see her. He should have given her more. Should have done something to help her.
He'll look into starting the foundation on Monday.
Before he can stop himself, he's reached over the island and linked her fingers into his own, squeezing gently as her eyes flick up to his own. She looks stunned, and a touch curious at the gesture. Almost as though she doesn't understand why he is trying to comfort her. Silently to himself Robin vows to never let her feel like she doesn't have a friend to seek comfort from again.
"Roland, why don't you go get ready to see your mother?"
"You mean I don't have to go to school?" He beams, standing up on his stool triumphantly. "I can play hooky!"
Regina laughs as Roland's cape flies about when he leaps from the chair and scampers out of the kitchen. It leaves just herself and Robin, still holding hands alone.
"I promise you, he doesn't play hooky often."
She smirks and arches a playful eyebrow at him. "Mhmmm."
"M'lady, you don't believe me?" Robin grins back, jesting utter shock and disbelief at her. "I run a military home here I'll have you know."
Regina chuckles, looks down at their joined hands and feels a flush in her heart bloom. "I think chocolate chip smothered pancakes every Friday would beg to differ."
"Only a standard rule my son obeys, I assure you."
"Ahhh, ever so strict you are."
He feels like he is about to float away and her fingers the only thing tethering him to the floor. "Perhaps I just need something to let loose over."
The way he says it with a cheeky dimpled grin and dazzlingly mischievous eyes. And she thinks he's flirting with her. Which would be ridiculous he'd even be slightly interested. She has no job, no money, lives in a motel, she doesn't really have anything to offer or entice him with. So it's preposterous he is making such a innuendo. And even more ridiculous that she wants to flirt back with him.
Wants to kick herself the moment she smiles and tells him "Or just someone." And the grin he supplies her quip back with is damn near knee buckling. The way he bites down on his tongue that peeks out on his lower lip. And if she'd dare believe it, she'd almost say he's blushing. There is certainly a red tint to his cheeks beneath that stubble she'd rather like to scratch.
But she also feels her own cheeks flushing rouge. He's staring at her like he's seeing color for the first time. Scanning her face with such enamour and awe.
"Is something wrong?" She swallows, lets her free hand tuck her hair behind her ear rather shyly when Robin asks her what makes her think that.
"Well, you're staring like I have something in my teeth."
Robin coughs a laugh and smoothed his thumb over her fingers. "You're teeth are fine."
"My mascara is smudged?"
He shakes his head and leans down to rest his head on his open palm.
"I have hair sticking out of place?"
"Must be a chocolate chip stain on my shirt then." She checks her too quickly, melting inside when his eyes momentarily flicking down as well.
Robin smiles, and catches her eyes again, "You're just beautiful. That's all."
Well damn it all to hell. She laughs, blushes furiously and rolls her eyes hard. Seems the millionaire is not only handsome and has an adorable son, but is quite the charmer.
"You're quite welcome."
Her coffee has long been empty at she glances at the clock, shit it's five past eight. She's made him late. Made herself late for… preparing for her interview.
"I'd hate to upset Roland but I really should be going."
The disappointment on Robin's face is down right adorable as he scowls, only seems to tighten his grip on her hand further in some sort of silly way to get her to stay. "He'll understand but only if I promise him you're coming back for dinner tonight."
Regina's stomach flutters as she beams at Robin, who matches her with a smile of his own. "I suppose I could cook for you again."
"Other way around."
"You're a guest, and you've already cooked me and my son breakfast. Seems only fair I repay with being your chef for the evening."
Funny word, repay. She should be the one repaying him. Not the opposite. "How about I make the enchilada's and you can help."
"You doubt my skills in the kitchen?"
"Well if Roland's explanation of your elephant smushed pancakes is anything to go off of…"
"You wound me."
Robin nods pitifully, "I fear for my health after such an painful insinuation."
"Are you asking me to play nurse for you?" She bites her lip sinfully, hoping she hasn't crossed a line. And Robin seems more than eager to keep their banter going with a cheeky "I may need round the clock care."
He wants to kiss her. Won't, but desperately wishes he could close the distance between them and press his lips against hers. It's impossible that he's only known her truly for a day. Three years in passing yes, but this is their first real interaction and he is already swooning far too hard.
She sees the way his eyes fall to her lips, lingering for a long moment before he blows out a breath through his nose and sits back in his stool. The distance is unpleasant, more so when his fingers ghost away from hers.
"I'll let Roland know you'll be coming for dinner."
"I'd like that."
"As would I."
"Well, I should get going."
"If you must." Robin resigns as Regina too sighs and drops her mug into the sink. He follows when she walks to the door and his heart knocks against his ribs. He knows she is coming back. She said she would. But the thought of her leaving, even if it's just for a few hours suddenly seems like the worst idea.
Her purse is slung over her shoulder as she turns, fidgeting with the hem of her blazer, and she waits for him to say something.
Stay. Don't leave.
It's what he wants to tell her. But then again he'd rather not scare her off, lest she run away and he'd not get the chance to see her again. Still he can't help but ask her once more as he steps into her space and links their hands together, "If you change your mind, Roland and I will be at Hillcrest cemetery at noon. There will be plenty of apple juice and possibly an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you're hungry."
She's trying really hard not to smile. She really is. But he is grinning all dimpled and hopeful at her and dammit, it's infectious.
But then again it's the cemetery. Where Henry is. And she isn't exactly sure she's ready to tackle that emotional mountain.
"I know it's not the most happy of places for a picnic." Robin grimaces. "But I'd be thrilled, as would Roland, if you did join us."
She doesn't say anything, her stomach knotting at the thought and not in a good way.
Robin seems to catch onto her discomfort as he squeezes her hands, brings one up to his lips as her eyes follow and presses a soft kiss to her knuckles, "If you're busy, I understand. Dinner is still on the table for tonight regardless."
"I'll think about it."
"About dinner?" He frowns, but she is quick to relieve him of that blow with a small smile. "I'll be here for dinner."
She nods and opens the door, looking over her shoulder as she walks out of his home, thinking of everything but prepping for her interview.
Perhaps today is the day to be brave like Henry. Maybe she will go see him. If she can find the courage. Oddly enough, as she turns out of the front gate her eyes find Robin's again. He's leaning against the door frame, giving her a parting wave and a lopsided grin.
Maybe he could be her courage.
She just needs to be brave.
Chapter 4: The Cemetery
Leaving Robin's was...disheartening to say the least. But she had to get going, not that she has anywhere to really get to, but still, it's not like they could have stayed all day playing house right? Granted, he's not going to work, nor Roland to school, but it's really not her place to invite herself to linger with them when she has nothing better to do.
Robin invited her though. He did. Almost bashfully in that punch you in the gut for being so damn adorable sort of way. She wonders momentarily as her heels click along the concrete what it would have felt like if she said yes. A fantasy, but still, she can almost picture the smile he'd have given her, nearly can feel the butterflies dancing in her stomach.
Which is crazy. They don't know one another. This is just a strange acquaintance between them and nothing more. Not even if he was flirting rather openly with her. And not even if she reciprocated the playful sparring match and bitten back smiles. She didn't knock on his front door in hope of finding a boyfriend. Which also sounds crazy. Robin doesn't fit the "boyfriend" title. He is more of a … ridiculously handsome, smolderingly sexy, doting daddy marrying type.
Distance. They need distance. Otherwise she is going to find herself in a heap load of stubble and blue eyes, and she can't focus on that right now. Nor on the way it might feel to kiss him. That is completely out of the question. She has no job. No money. No where to live. Locking lips with Mr. Locksley is certainly not a priority, even if it's feeling like a necessity.
It's all she can really think about as she walks, and walks, and walks, absentmindedly in no particular direction. It should be back towards the Motel, but she's heading west, the complete opposite way. And she doesn't honestly even recognize where her mind has taken her until it's smack in front of her eyes.
A willow tree with a single solitary swing swaying back and forth in the wind. For a moment she can almost hear his tiny giggle and the roaring laughter the chased behind. Little legs that scrambled in the grass faster than lightning in his own mind, whilst a lumbering monster wobbled in the near distance. How many hours did they spend playing on the front lawn she will never know. It seemed endless. From dawn till dusk. Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers. Hero and Villain over and over again until she'd call from the porch, and her two boys would come galloping up for lunch.
It's a wispy white memory that springs before her eyes as she stares at the swing. Brown hair flying in the wind, yellow rubber boots and an army shirt clung tight to a chubby body that squealed for his daddy to catch him. It always gave her a half heart attack every time she saw his little hands let go of the rope, the moment her baby boy launched himself into the air, suspended in time for a fraction of a second before landing softly into a pair of strong arms that always caught him.
The ghost of her family spins around the lawn, her eyes follow with every step they take towards their house. A place she hasn't seen in years. One she honestly never thought she would ever look upon again. Too many memories, both beautiful and devastating.
Squaring her shoulders, she exhales heavy, sniffing against the lump that forms in her throat and turns towards the front door.
It looks the exact same.
Navy blue panels, white trim, birch porch swing on the front, the massive windows open to the morning sun. It's a gorgeous house. It always was. Her dream home. The day they signed for it and took the keys was the day her life truly started. Just her and Daniel. Barely in their twenties with an entire life ahead of them, in their home. He'd demanded to carry her over the threshold, even as she rolled her eyes at him and commented how corny he was, he scooped her up, swung the door open wide and strided into the foyer with absolute pride in his green eyes.
They had no furniture yet. Nothing but a two mismatched cups Regina had dug out from a storage box, a blanket from Daniel's truck and a bottle of wine his parents had given as a housewarming present. That was it, and it was all she needed. A photo of that night used to sit on her bedside stand. Daniel's arms wrapped around her, his nose nuzzled into her cheek and she smiled up at the camera in her hand and snapped a quick picture, capturing their first night in their new home forever.
It would be at her parent's house now she supposes. Along with everything else she had boxed up and tucked away when the house was put on the market after Henry died. She needed the money to pay for the medical bills. But housing prices had crashed, and she was homeless before it even sold. She has no idea who bought it. It had gone into foreclosure when she couldn't make the mortgage, and if it did sell, well her mother never mentioned it. Regina's parents had paid the down payment, a gift mostly from her father, and well her mother never let them forget who truly owned the place.
She leans up against the front gate, toys with the latch absently as she stares at the dark cherry wood door, wondering who lives inside now. What family gets to put up their Christmas tree in the den, have breakfast in her kitchen, play in the tree house Daniel and his father built for Henry in the backyard. Someone has a life here. It's their home now. She just a previous resident.
It would take her years to build up enough savings to even think about buying a house again. She needs this job interview tomorrow to go well. It has too. Dinner for the next week is riding on it. And she's not one for being nervous, but it's been a long time since she's had to talk about herself in that way. Express her smarts and hope someone takes an interest in her. A daunting task to say the least when she hasn't had a job in five years.
She freezes mid thought at the voice behind her. One she hasn't heard in what feels like forever.
"My girl is...is that you?"
A tentative hand reaches to touch her hand clenched against the gate. And the second the feeling of his hand encompasses her, the tears that are burning her eyes burst down her cheeks. It takes less than a second before she's completely wrapped up in his arms, the smell of peppermint and cigars muddling her brain as his low sotto voice whimpers and rocks her gently.
She hugs him back fiercely, burying her face into the soft wool of his scarf, melting into his arms. His fingers card through her hair, a hand runs up and down her back as he hushes her tears.
"It's alright darling, I'm here." A kiss is pressed into her temple as he moves back to find her eyes, swollen and red as they are, and she's met with equal emotion in a matching pair of brown. "I've missed you so much Regina." His thumb swipes away at her tears.
He looks the same, older and more grey, a few extra wrinkles around his eyes, less hair on the crown of his head as he slips off his charcoal hat, but still. "I've missed you too daddy." Her voice shakes against a new onslaught of gathering wetness in her eyes, the lump in her chest swallowing up her ability to breathe.
"I'm so sorry Regina." He frowns down at their locked hands rather guiltily, "I am so sorry I wasn't there for you."
She hasn't seen him in years. Work had taken him across the ocean to Africa to work in a refugee camp. It was only supposed to be for eight months. But the last letter she received had been full of apologies that he wasn't going to make it home for Henry's fifth birthday, nor would he be back for Christmas. There was just too many people that needed aide and his heart far to soft and whole to turn his back on them. She understood. Still does. But his absence in those last years of Henry's life had been enormous.
"It's okay. It's not your fault." She tries to smile, squeezing his old hands in her own. He sighs with a shake of his head, "I should have come home sooner."
"You didn't know."
And he didn't. In all honesty she had been so involved in being there for Henry that the time to write her father had gone to the waste side, she figured her mother would have said something to her husband. Clearly that never happened.
"I wasn't there for you or Henry and I should have been. I should have taken care of you both."
It's his heavy sniff and watery eyes that have Regina tugging him into another hug, holding him tight as he cries quietly into the lapel of her coat. She wishes he was there. Things would have been easier if he was. But she can't change the past.
"You were gone Regina. Both of you."
"I know daddy. I'm sorry."
"There is nothing for you to apologize for. I am your father. I should have been there."
She's at a loss for words, just hugs him harder instead.
"Can you forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive."
He smiles, finally. Sad and sorrowful as it is. "When I came back, your mother told me what happened to Henry. She said you left."
A lie, but what else would Regina expect from her mother.
"Where did you go?"
It's a loaded question. She technically went nowhere. But he is already filled with such guilt and regret she can't possible tell him the truth. At least not today. Perhaps another time if she can find the courage inside to tell her father how low she had sunk, how much she had lost, and how lost she still is.
"I stayed in the city."
"Where? I looked for you."
"Everywhere. I called your work, they said you had taken time off after Henry's death and hadn't been in for a year. I came here, all your stuff was gone, packed in your mother's garage, a for sale sign on the house. I was so worried."
"I'm sorry. I should have called."
Though it's not like she had a cell phone. And whatever money she had went to food not a payphone. What would she have even said? Hi Daddy, I'm homeless. Her father is a proud man, fiercely proud of his daughter, it would have crushed him if he knew she slept behind a concrete wall in the subway, living off of dollar bills strangers pitifully gave to her.
"How come you're here?"
His grey brows arch high at her question, a flicker of confusion passing over his face as he scans her own, "I live here now."
Well that she wasn't expecting. "Here? In this house?"
"I couldn't let your mother sell it."
"You bought it?"
Her eyes spin to the front door, "You bought my house." She breathes out in disbelief. Part of her family still lives here. Tears sweep into her eyes. She hasn't lost everything inside. The memories are still there.
"Does mother live here too?"
"Gods no. I left your mother after it came out that she left you and Henry alone at the hospital."
Regina frowns as she turns back to her father. He wasn't ever a man to take on Cora head on. She ruled the roost so to speak, he and Regina simply residents in her kingdom. Sometimes she'd wondered why her father had married Cora in the first place. They had nothing in common from what she knew, Cora could barely stand to be in the same room as him if she wasn't ordering him around. It was nothing like her marriage to Daniel. That was a partnership. One that had love so real it was palpable.
"I know, seems I grew a spine in my old age." He chuckles and squeezes Regina's hand. "Now, would you like to come in?"
She would. But walking through that front door means confronting everything she'd lost.
She feels him sag beside her as he nods understandingly. "Perhaps another time."
Yes. Another time, when she is ready to walk through the door and see the ghost of her life long ago. "Where are you staying now?"
"Uhm, on the east side."
Her father's brow creases. That part of town isn't exactly safe and secure from what he knows. And clearly by the shameful look on his daughter's face there is more to the story than she is letting him in on. Building back this relationship will have to take some time. When she is less afraid of judgement he would never pass on her.
"Here, take my phone. Call anytime." He presses his cell into her hand. "Daddy I can't, you need it."
"Oh please, I can get another. It would make me feel better knowing that we have a way to talk again."
"I'd like that."
She smiles, and he wraps her up in a hug once more. "I know I failed you once before Regina, I won't allow it to happen again."
"Thank you Daddy."
"And I mean it. I know that number off by heart, you should be expecting my calls every day."
"Where are you headed now?"
Oh right. She was going somewhere. It was supposed to be back to the motel so she could spend the afternoon looking over her potentially new companies records and history for the interview tomorrow.
"To the cemetery actually."
"You're going to go see Henry?"
Well that she isn't sure about yet. But something or rather someone is pulling her that way. Leading her heart to a place she never thought she'd step foot in.
"He's beside Daniel. Beneath the oak tree on the south hill. I had an epitaph made for him."
Her heart crumbles in on itself. "You...you did?" The tears run hot down her cheeks once more as she stares disbelieving at her father who simply smiles and tips his hat, "I owed it to him, to both of you."
"Always. I mean that."
Sniffing hard, she wipes the last of the tears away, "Do you want to have dinner sometime?"
"I'd love it. How about tomorrow? I'll cook."
"You can cook?"
"The single life has made me quite aware how terrible a chef I used to be."
That has Regina chuckling. "You made great paella."
"I still do. It's on the menu for dinner."
She hugs her father once more, soaking in as much of him as she can, not really believing that he is here and she is actually talking to him, holding him, having a second chance to have a part of her family back.
"I'll see you tomorrow then."
Her heart thunders in her throat as the cemetery gate comes into view. Tall and looming, holding all the things she fears most within it. She can feel the tears begin to burn the backs of her eyes with every step she takes, the breath in her lungs running tight and dry. Maybe she isn't brave enough today to do this. To walk alone through the rows of headstones, with flowers laid gently against them, the people long lost to those who still love them resting below.
Her feet stutter against the pavement, her hands resting heavy on the iron bars. She swallows hard against the lump in her throat at the thought of both her husband and son being beyond these gates. It's too much. She's not ready yet. Not today.
Opting against walking inside, she sits down on a wooden bench beside the opening, knees bouncing uncontrollably on the sidewalk. Chewing on her lip in an attempt to stifle the sob that threatens to escape she fumbles with the hem of her jacket, closing her eyes and tips her head back to the sky. For a long moment she just lets the sun warm her skin, and dry the tears on her cheeks.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
It's a repetitive mantra that runs through her mind. Just breathe. This place isn't going anywhere. She can come back another day. When the fear of seeing her baby boy's name emblazoned on a tombstone won't have her spine crumbling into the dirt.
"Regina! You came!"
She turns enough to see Roland's hand escaping Robin's and his little legs thundering towards her. He throws himself into her arms before she's really ready to catch him, and they tumble gently back into the bench with a laugh. "I just knew you'd come!"
Well, it's not like she was planning on it, nor is she still planning on walking through those gate, but this little boy is so happy to see her, hugs her so tight it has her heart stumbling over itself as she squeezes him back. Between them, a bouquet of white lilies squishes and Regina inhales heavy at their perfume smell. She loves lilies. Daniel used to bring her a dozen of them every friday.
She peers down at Roland who is eyeing her up curiously with those big brown button eyes.
"Why are you sad?"
Can't get anything past children can you? They are far too perceptive even at their young age. She sniffs and sighs, running her hands through his hair. And her heart melts when little hands come up to pat her last few tears on her cheeks away. He is far too sweet for his own good, and for her own good. She is falling in love with this boy and it's only been one day. A few hours really, and she's completely head over heels for his dimples and toothy grin.
"Honestly, I'm a little afraid." She smiles shyly at him.
"Well," She swallows heavily, securing her arms around his legs straddled on her lap. "It's been a really long time since I've been at this cemetery." Roland looks at her confused, scanning her face with a tiny frown. "You know how your mom is in there?" He nods. "I have people in there too. Two people I loved very very much."
"And you're scared to see them?"
A tear falls as she lets a heavy breath go, her eyes closing as she leans into the mop of brown hair, "Yes." She feels Robin sit down beside them, enough space that they aren't shoulder to shoulder, but his thigh brushes up against hers gently. "Roland, do you remember the first time we came here after Mommy died?"
Roland nods again.
"Do you remember how scared were both were?"
"And do you remember what Grandma told us?"
"She said we had to be brave like Mommy was."
"You're right." He ruffles his son's hair with a smile. "And are you scared to go visit your mother now?"
"Nope! Because we get to talk to her lots."
Regina gives Robin a watery smile as Roland tucks into her chest for another hug. "It's okay to be afraid Regina. Papa and I will help you." Her heart bashes into her ribs when Robin too leans in, wraps an arm around her shoulders and squeezes softly. How is it possible that in a single day the two of them have managed to weasel their way past her defenses and straight into her heart? It's an overwhelming feeling of gratitude she has for this man again. He doesn't have to be doing any of this. Letting her into his family like they've been friends for decades. But it feels natural, which is odd to her. To want to be held and soothed by the both of them. Friends were never something Regina had much of, nor did she think she'd ever have any again.
For a long while they sit on the bench together, quiet as Regina rocks Roland side to side, his hands patting on her chest softly with each breath. It's really a beautiful day, and she doesn't want to ruin it for them. This is a special place for Robin and Roland. Being the dark cloud on such a bright sunny day is the last thing she wants to be.
Stealing her nerves, and finding the courage that Henry had, she hugs Roland tight once more before leaning back, into the side of Robin's chest, feeling the thumping of his heart on her back. "Will you hold my hand?" She asks quietly. And it was a question for Roland, but she feels Robin's fingers trace over her palm and lace into her own.
"Yep!" Roland grins, and hops off her lap, grabbing her free hand, oblivious to other already being held by his father. "I'll show you where Mommy is." She stands on wobbly legs, shaking slightly as they begin to walk towards the opening of the cemetery. The moment Roland steps inside, Regina feels her feet freeze to the spot, this is it. Once she is in, there is no turning back.
"It's okay, I promise you." Robin whispers into her hair, clutching her hand tightly as she lets a trembling breath go with a nod, her tears back in full force as she lets father and son guide her on the stone path and past the iron gate. She doesn't look anywhere. Just down at her feet that walk slowly along the cobblestone, winding left and right, past the rows and rows of headstones.
It's silent here. Not a single sound but their feet clicking on the walkway. But all she can hear is her heart pulsing in her ears as they turn left and step onto the grass. Roland lets her hand go first, skipping towards a dark brown granite headstone. Robin stills beside her, squeezes her hand and watches his boy lay the bouquet of flowers down as he sits on the grass beside his mother. He can hear his boy chattering quietly to the clouds, but his eyes are locked onto the profile of Regina. She's beautiful. He already knew that, but for some reason, the light is casting a glow over her features in a way he wasn't exactly prepared for. The chocolate of her hair shines in dark and light highlights, eyes whiskey gold, red rimmed and filled with tears that fall silently onto perfect olive skin, down pink tinted cheeks and past ruby parted lips.
It steals the breath right out of him. It's not love at first sight. He's seen her a hundred times before. But something in his gut balloons and pops in his chest. A feeling he hasn't felt since he met Marian. After their fourth date, she had smiled shyly at him on her doorstep, blushing furiously as she fumbled with her keys. He'd simply stood there, enamoured by her everything and he when her door finally cracked open, this exact same feeling overwhelmed him. It had been the first time they kissed. When she bid him a bashful good night, his heart slammed against his chest, fighting furiously to not let her hand go just yet, taking over his entire being for a moment and he kissed her and that bubble in his stomach erupted euphorically.
It was the first time he knew he loved her. That she would one day be his wife. That he would spend the rest of his life being so bloody grateful to kiss her every morning and every night. But he barely knows Regina. Knows nothing really about her. And yet this feeling is boiling over once more. And for the first time in what feels like years, a sense of hope tickles his spine. Perhaps he's found a second chance.
"Regina, come meet my mom!" Roland squeals in front of them, waving them both to sit down by Marian's headstone. Robin steps first, keeps his hand locked tightly into Regina's and guides her slowly towards his son. He doesn't even let her go when he settles down on the grass, her knees bumping against his as she sits down half sideways so Roland can slide into her lap. "Mommy, this is Regina. She's my new friend!" He smiles all dimpled up to her, proud as a peacock to introduce them both.
For a half second, Regina isn't sure what to say. It's rather strange to talk to someone you've never met, who can't exactly talk back. "It's nice to meet you Marian." She smiles at the name emblazoned on the stone, imagining the woman in the photo's she saw earlier this morning. A beautiful smile, bright brown eyes like her son, and matching curly hair. Regina imagines her voice being light and soft, a gentle soul that would match her family.
Robin runs a palm along the stone, his own quiet greeting as he sighs. He misses her. That much Regina can plainly see. While this may be a chance for Roland to feel like he is close to his mother, Regina understands it is also a moment for Robin to heal. A love he lost far too soon. She knows that feeling. Her heart aching as she hears him sniff, running his hand over his eyes and blinking back his own tears. She grips the one that is still linked in her own, squeezing gently in some sort of comfort she hopes he can feel. If they are helping her, she will do her damndest to reciprocate the feeling. He grins, clutches her fingers tight before releasing and lingering.
They spend an hour there, Regina listening to every story Roland regails about his mom, how she used to make the best apple pancakes on Sunday mornings, the stories she read him at night, his favorite being Peter Pan. That stills Regina. It was Henry's most treasured fairytale too. Her eyes drift off to the horizon, over to a hill and a tall oak tree. It seems impossibly far away and yet so close she swears she can hear his small laugh whispering on the wind around her. Tears burn and fall without her control. A sob escaping as she stares out at the two distant headstones where her family lays.
"Are you alright?"
Robin leans into her, tipping his head enough to catch her gaze that wanders out into the distance. For a moment he wonders if it is simply too much for her to be here. A cemetery isn't exactly the happiest of places after all. But the way she shrinks, shoulders sagging in her blazer as her face falls into her knees has his heart cracking in the most horrid of ways. She's lost someone too.
He should have known. Guilt washes over him as her shoulders shake through her tears. Without really thinking if she'd want it, his arms wrap around her, sliding her back into his chest, his fingers winding their way through her hair, tucking her in tight as she turns into his jacket, clutching at the lapels and cries, harder than he ever imagined a person could.
Roland crawls his way over, frowning dismally as Robin sways Regina back and forth, running a free hand up and down her arm softly. They lock eyes, father and son, and Robin nods at Roland's silent question. He adjusts Regina, opens his arms enough to have his boy climbing onto his lap and nestling his face into the crook of Regina's neck. Her hands subconsciously wrapping around his tiny body instantly as he buries himself into her chest.
Robin sighs, presses a kiss to the crown of Regina's head, kicks himself internally because that is probably too far, but his heart needs to comfort her, needs to soothe the torment that wracks her body. And for what it's worth, she doesn't even seem to notice the affection, which is probably for the best. "It's okay Regina. Don't cry." He hears Roland's tiny voice whispering out against her skin. "Don't be sad."
His eyes flick over to Marian's headstone and a single tear escapes Robin as his leans his cheek down to rest against Regina's head. He misses his wife, so bloody much some days it hurts. But he can see her. The way she would be smiling and giving him that look. The one he knew came from her heart. She always said how good he was. How big is heart was, the way he loved and protected those around him. It was one of the many things she loved about him. Understood about him. And he cherishes her for it.
"I'm sorry." Regina sniffs beneath him, straighten her back as she moves upright, wiping away her tears into the sleeve of her jacket. She's embarrassed. He can feel it exuding off her. And there is nothing for her to be ashamed about. Emotions as the driving force of human nature. He'd have to be an absolute git to make her feel as though she should be humiliated by them. Pain is real. Loss is real. And it's not something that goes away. Even though everyone says time heals all wounds. Some are just too deep, they bleed to much out of the soul for it to ever be truly stitched and healed again.
"There is nothing to be sorry for." He brushes her hair back, smiling softly as her eyes fall from his and to their conjoined hands behind Roland's back. She doesn't believe him. He can see it in the vacancy in her eyes as she shrugs and swallows heavily. He moves. Wriggles his hand that holds her to him free and tips her chin up to meet his.
And it hits him again. That exploding fireworks of unexpected feeling. Even all snotty nosed, red rimmed eyes and dismal gaze, she is beyond stunning. Down to the little sniff and scrunch of her nose, it all has his heart waddling up out of his throat and flying into her lap.
"Regina. Look at me."
She does, barely, but her eyes flick momentarily up to him, briefly caught in the bright blue colour. "It's alright. You can cry. No one here would think less of you for it."
Well shit. Her tears flood once more. How can he be this good. This pure to a complete stranger. Holding her in his arms, his son squished between them, providing her with the one things she's never truly had since Daniel died. Safety. She bites down on her lip that shakes terribly as she nods, and sinks back into his chest.
He means it. She can feel it. The way he says it, how his arm curls around her waist once more and tugs her even closer to him. He's already seen her at her lowest. Dirt riddled, messy haired, bony and begging against a cement block. Even in that state not once did she ever feel him judging her for where she was, or who she was. He is quite possibly aside from the old woman at the bakery, the only person who actually saw her for being the exact same thing, a person. Not a homeless women with a rumpled hat and a few quarters inside.
Sighing she sits back up, runs a hand over Roland's back and turns her eyes back out to the hillside. It's now or never.
He tips his head up with a grin.
"Would you like to meet my son?"
Chapter 5: Courage
Homeless 5: Meeting Henry -
Homeless verse - Roland, Robin and Regina visit Henry’s grave -
She thought walking towards the cemetery was terrifying. Having to actually focus on putting one foot in front of the other lest her heart leap from its cage and take off at a sprint in the other direction. Flight or Fight, the instinctual response of the body to panic in fear, to either stand and face it or hightail it the other way.
And Regina is all flight inside. Or at least she was until the adorable calvary arrived.
Coming here for the first time - walking through the iron gates whilst hanging onto the hand of a four year old and his father, it was one of the scariest moments of her life. The way her heart pounded in her ears, throat running dry, knees wobbly and weakened at the mere thought of being brave enough to be here, that was fear. Even sitting outside the cemetery had her panic-stricken. But she had done it. Looked the fear in the face, though without making eye contact, she’s not that brave, and fought back against every firing nerve telling her to flee.
But it is nothing compared to closing the distance to those two headstones on top of the hillside. The closer they get, the smaller she feels and the more petrified she becomes. It has her heart skipping every third beat, the air getting hotter and harder to breathe in, and she would run, but Roland is holding her hand. A palm that is sweat slickened and trembling though she grips onto him, tiny as he may be, she holds onto a four year old boy for strength because he doesn’t feel the same dreading anxiety she does, he doesn’t know the fearful apprehension gripping her with every step. He’s pure and innocent and holding her hand.
He’s babbling about him and his papa going to play in the park later today, and then they’ll go for ice cream, and feed the ducks in the pond because it’s what his momma liked to do. Regina finds herself nodding absently, unable to really focus on anything else but the fact that they are not even fifty yards away now. She is so close to them. Roland asks her what her favorite flavour is and she mumbles Rocky Road, but it’s a lie, that was Henry’s favorite. He wasn’t allowed to have it in the hospital, the sugar content too high, his dying body unable to break down the dairy proteins, it just made him sick, or sicker. She hasn’t actually eaten ice cream since Henry died. Hasn’t even had the slightest craving for it, even when years ago it was a regular Sunday tradition for her family.
She can feel the burning of tears when Roland asks if she will come for ice cream with them later. A sting so hot her eyes clamp shut, and her feet stop moving. Roland tugs her arm softly, unaware she’s stopped walking. A quiet, “Regina?” is whispered curiously, sweet and concerned, but if she opens her lips to answer she will no doubt break down and cry, which would probably scare Roland and that is the last thing she wants. Her heart pangs in her chest, jumping from the pit of her stomach into her throat, pounds in her ears as the images of Daniel and Henry begin to swim around her.
This should have been them with her, talking about ice cream and holding her hand on an afternoon walk. She was supposed to have this, have a family, her husband alive and running a hand along her back like Robin is right now. She is supposed to have her son here with her, with dark hazel eyes, dotted freckles along his cheeks, a smile so bright it could rival the sun. That’s what she is supposed to have. Not this. Not being frozen to the concrete in fear of seeing their names etched into stone.
A hard, sharp inhale hits her lungs. Henry would be wearing his Spider-Man costume still; underneath all that dirt and grass is her little superhero, sleeping soundly beside his father in matching uniforms though no one aside from her knows it.
They are there. Underneath her, or if she’d take the last twenty steps they would be. How is she supposed to stand? On them? Above them? In front of them? It feels wrong. They were everything, a warm light every morning, hugging her tight. She can’t do it. Be here. See them. She just - she needs to go.
The moment she turns to run, Robin’s voice catches her. A strong arm wrapping around her waist as her back turns away from her family. He holds her, securely enough that she won’t fall nor tear off in escape, but giving her space to breathe.
Minutes of time pass where her tears flood down her cheeks, and her knees shake beneath her. She hears Robin whisper something to his boy, a resounding, “Okay, Papa,” in answer before his free hand smoothes over the expanse of her back, and she feels his chest press against her shoulder, chin on top of her head, and releases a heavy exhale.
Her pulse pounds away in her ears, thumping hard and heavy behind her eyes. It’s been over three years since Henry died, since she lost everything and everyone, and the shame washes hotly over her. Not once has she come to visit her family. What kind of mother doesn’t come to see her baby boy? It’s a flare of guilt that pulses low in her gut, swirls and crawls its way up her throat.
“It’s okay, Regina. You’re okay.”
The world tilts and wobbles as she shakes her head, because she isn’t okay, none of this is fine. It’s horrible, riddled with pain and disgrace at the person she’s become. Daniel wouldn’t be proud of who she is, Henry would lose all faith in his mother if they knew how low she’d sunk.
“Do you want to leave?” Robin’s warm breath ghosts around her cheek, “You can come back another day. It doesn’t have to be right now.” He’s smiling, something sad and remorse-filled when her eyes finally blink out the tears that blur her vision. She stares at his lips, feeling ashamed that she can’t even face seeing her own family and yet he is here, sliding a soft palm up and down her bicep, telling her it’s okay to leave - or leave for now. She has to come back. Which means she’d have to come back alone because there is no way she is going to beg Robin to come with her again. They don’t even know one another, at least not well enough for a favour like this.
Sniffling hard, Regina wipes away the wetness on her cheeks with the back of her hand, sighing and letting her forehead drop into his shoulder for a moment. “I have to,” she mumbles against the dark cloth of his coat, “I have to stay.”
“Alright. One step at a time, right?”
He ducks down, meeting her eyes as she tilts up. “I’m right here with you. I promise.” It’s his smile that has her nodding, feeling no less fraudulent as a mother and wife, but at least there is some sort of security in having him here, an odd sense of courage Robin lends her silently. Linking their fingers together, she turns, fixing her gaze on the headstones in front of them, exhaling a thick breath, and takes the first step.
The tears fall of their own volition with every fraction of space closed, and Robin has already seen her cry - more than anything else really - so she figures there is no point in hiding it now, just focuses on trying to keep her breath going, in and out, as smooth as possible. It takes no less than twenty steps before she is standing in front of their names, the sun warming the stones. Careful not to step on top of either of them, Regina slides herself between, settling down on her backside in the middle of the two headstones, uncaring at the slight scratch of stone against her temple as she leans into Henry.
Robin turns, letting her have a moment alone, smiling softly as his boy comes running up the path, treasures in tow.
He understands loss, the blinding pain that hits first, a vast dark emptiness that follows. Nothing feels fair, there is an anger that swirls beneath the surface - one that nearly ate him alive when Marian died. But he had Roland, or rather had friends and family that threatened to take him away if Robin didn’t let the whiskey go. He had to choose. His son or the drunken stupor he’d been drowning himself in for months.
What pierces him the most about this entire situation is that she lost her child, too, and he cannot fathom the hole in someone's heart that would leave behind.
He wants to kick himself for not trying to help her sooner. For walking past her everyday for three years with only two dollars exchanged between them. If he’d known...well there isn’t much point in wondering about the past what if’s anymore, but he will make sure the future ones are something he can control, decisions that will make her smile.
Scooping Roland up, he sways his boy back and forth, pressing a kiss to his curls, as his eyes lift to Regina, squarely seated between her family. She’s talking quietly, murmuring something he can’t hear, nor does he feel entitled to. This is for her, a step towards healing. Instead, he walks to the side, setting Roland down, and unleashing a blanket from his knapsack. Roland is quick to settle beside him, tugging out his crayons and a few pieces of paper, content enough to laze in the grass for a while with his dad.
She wishes she could hear his voice, feel some part of him touching her, see his chubby-cheeked front teeth-missing smile beaming up at her. It’s just silent, and silence means there is no one to talk but her. Even if they don’t answer, she hopes they can hear her.
“I’m sorry I haven’t come to see you.” The lump grows thick in her throat. “I’ve missed you both.” Her eyes burn as she lifts her face to the sky, closing her lids and trying to escape the feeling of drowning.
She thumbs along the ridge of Daniel’s stone, dejection riddling through her, “I’m sorry I wasn’t a better mother to our son.”
He’d have done more, found another doctor, some sort of drug trial they could have tried, he would have saved him. It’s not that Regina didn’t try. They’d gone through three pediatric doctors, two surgeons and more insurance meetings than she could count. It just wasn’t enough. Money was running out, and Henry’s time fading even faster than she could keep up with.
“You could have saved him. I know you could have. I just - I didn’t know what to do anymore, and you weren’t there.” She scowls at the tears puddling on her shirt. “I had to do it all alone. Watch our son come closer and closer to death everyday, by myself.”
“I know you’d be upset with me.” - He wouldn’t, he never really was . - “That I gave up.” - She didn’t, the doctors just said there was nothing else they could do for Henry. - “I’m sorry, Daniel, I wish you were here instead of me. I wish I never told you to get on that plane.”
The memory of seeing it on the news will haunt her forever. January 9th, eleven twenty-two in the morning. She’d been chopping up strawberries for Henry’s lunch, munching on a few herself. It had been weeks since they could indulge in the fruit, Daniel was allergic, so it was like a special dessert that she and Henry could have when he was gone. It was just a weekend trip. Gone Thursday back by Sunday night type thing.
A friend from high school was getting married, Daniel was invited to the bachelor party and whilst he said he had little interest in getting slammed on tequila and going to the strippers, Regina insisted he go - let loose for a weekend with his friends; she didn’t care so long as he had a good time and brought her back something. He’d kissed her cheek that morning, nuzzled into her neck affectionately, saying he was a lucky man having her, and promised he’d call as soon as they landed safely.
Which had never happened. She’d been chopping up fruit, the news mindlessly buzzing in the background until it cut sharply to the scene of a horrific accident, a plane had gone down over Yosemite National Park, a blazing inferno smoking into the sky, plane parts strewn about a five mile radius. Time had frozen as she stared at the screen. United 614 - engine failure - total wreckage - bodies scattered - no survivors found - police investigating - no survivors found - Plane headed from Portland to Las Vegas - no survivors found - all presumed dead.
Daniel never phoned.
Running a hand over her face, she sighs, pictures his perfect face, slight sharp features, grey hazel eyes, gentle smile. He would have known what to do for Henry. It was as simple as that in her mind. “I lost everything, Daniel. All of it. Henry, our house, my job, everything.” She whimpers to herself, crestfallen in self anguish. “You’d be so embarrassed of who I am today.” Turning from him, unable to picture his eyes saddening at the state she’s put herself in, Regina blows out a hard, wet breath, grimacing at her son’s name.
“Oh, Henry. There isn’t enough in this world I wouldn’t give to have you back.” She sighs, “You are everything to me and I am sorry I haven’t come to see you sooner. We both know you were always braver than I was.” She thinks of his Spider-Man costume, the one she buried him in because she told him quietly one night before he died the angels would need a superhero, and there were none as brave as he was.
“I remember the day you were born, you were so tiny and pink, wailing like a little bird. I fell in love with you harder than I had anyone in my entire life. I never thought that I could be someone’s mother. That I’d be good enough, but you were so kind right from the start, so giving and full of love even if you could barely open your eyes. You gave me the chance to be a mom and I feel like I failed.”
She swallows hard, biting down on her lip as the tears blur her vision, “Losing you was like losing my breath and never being able to catch it again.”
“I know I should have been here. I just was afraid. I got lost without you, and I let everything slip away.” She fiddles with the hem of her coat, one that is a bit too big in the shoulders but it’s all the women’s shelter had to offer before her interview tomorrow. “I’m trying to figure everything out, but there is this hole in my heart that I don’t know how to fill.”
Tears fall in a flurry, splotching down her cheeks as she curls into herself against his headstone.
“I miss you so much.”
Robin can hear her, barely able to pull in a breath as she cries, and for all the reasons to not intrude on this moment for her, the anguish that radiates from her body leaves him incapable of simply pretending she isn’t there. He stands, grins at his boy whose brow is creased, tongue poking out in concentration over his drawing, and moves to sit beside Regina, or rather behind her, his shoulders leaning against the back of Daniel’s stone. He reaches for her calf, squeezes gently and lets his palm linger on the denim. Simple reassurances, that’s really all he can give her right now. Enough to let her know she isn’t alone.
Sparrows flit overhead, whistling away between oak branches, the sun warm against his temple as he turns to find Regina sniffing and wiping away her tears with a sad dismal smile sent his way.
“When Marian died, I didn’t come here for nearly eight months.”
His confession catches Regina off guard, her bewilderment written clearly across her face as he shrugs, running his hand along her shin for a moment. “I was wrecked when the cancer finally took her, and instead of being a proper father for my son, I decided that whiskey was a better choice.” She can see the flash of embarrassment cross his face, the slight self disgrace he still holds.
“I was so angry with her for leaving me, with the world for taking her, I just decided to tell it to fuck off for a while, and I drank. Morning till night, thinking in some way it would help fill the void she’d left behind. It went on for almost six months.” His brow cinches as he swallows thickly, “My parents, they took Roland one night while I was out on a bender, said they wouldn’t be giving him back until I smartened up. Which only ended up with me tossing back another half bottle and finding myself the next morning in a jail cell with a bloody miserable hangover and no son to go home to.”
His eyes creep over to find Roland still nose deep in his colouring, and he should probably call his folks again soon to give them his eternal appreciation for the hundredth time that they didn’t give up on him. “By the time I had gotten sober and they’d decided I was fit to be his father once more, it had been over eight months since Marian died and I hadn’t once come to visit her. Probably more out of my own guilt as to who I’d become in the past year, and I was terrified of facing her.”
“I’m sure she’d understand.” Regina breathes out shakily, meeting Robin’s gaze for the first time, “You lost her and losing someone you love can make people go crazy.”
He nods, blinking back his own guilt, “I think it would be the same for Daniel and Henry.”
He sees her body tense, stilling in the grass as she shakes her head dismally, “I have a hard time believing they would forgive me.”
“Why? Were they unkind?”
“No! God, no.” She sniffs hard.
“Did they hold grudges?”
“They loved you and you them.”
It’s not a question, she knows that, but the mumbled out, “Yes,” escapes her anyway as Robin smiles tightly.
“Then they would find nothing to forgive you for, Regina. Like you said, loss of a loved one, especially a child no less, it’s a miracle you’re even still here.” He’s looking at her as though he is seeing colour for the first time and yet completely baffled about the new pigmentation around her. “I know right now it’s hard to be here, and trust me, it never really gets any easier, but perhaps less painful. I’ve never really believed in the time heals all wounds thing, but I think time allows you to process and understand that what happened isn’t your fault.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I do.” Robin nods, flicking his gaze over to his son, “I have to believe in the possibility that hope still resides in life for me.”
Lamenting on his words for a moment, her heart squeezes tightly, “What do you hope for?”
“That my son is happy, that I am being a good father.”
“I think you’re doing a fine job with him already.”
“I appreciate that. But there is an entire life ahead of both of us, milestones to achieve, and I worry everyday about not being enough for him. I want to be the kind of dad that has the answers, the kind that Roland won’t be afraid to come to with the hard stuff down the road.”
“Robin, you are a good father and Roland is amazing. The two of you will be just fine.”
He smiles a quiet thank you between them, his eyes dropping from hers, his voice low enough Regina can barely hear him muffle out rather shyly, “I guess I hope for love someday still. That there is a second chance for me.”
She hums at that, can’t really even fathom the thought of a second chance, not when everything in her life is in such shambles. “I’m not sure that’s possible for me.”
“To be happy again?” Robin frowns, reaching for her hand as another couple of tears fall from her eyes. “Regina, I know it doesn’t seem possible right now,” he leans in to thumb away the wetness on her cheeks, “but there is always hope, a chance for happiness to find you again.”
She sniffs hard, shaking her head sadly, and leaning into his palm, “How can you be so certain?”
“Because I have faith in it.” He smiles softly, something so genuine it reaches his eyes and stills Regina’s heart for a moment.
She chuckles wetly, “Do you run a hope commision or something?”
He laughs mutedly at that, lets his hand slide from her face and down to link into her fingers in her lap. “I have hope that Marian would want Roland and me to find happiness again. And I think that Daniel and Henry would want that for you as well. I know it’s hard, but you have made great strides, no path is easy.”
It jogs her memory that she has that interview tomorrow. One she has barely spent any time preparing for today. Odds are they aren’t going to hire a woman who’s been homeless for the past three years, circumstances aside. Her losing everything only proves that she can’t keep it together, at least in her mind. It’s a long shot.
Roland has taken their moment of quiet to saddle up beside Regina, a piece of paper in his hand he triumphantly stows into Regina’s lap. He juts his chin out to her son’s headstone quizzically, flicking his gaze between her and his father in silent question. Her hand wraps around his belly, securing him tight as she shifts in the grass, squaring herself to Henry’s name.
Stealing her nerves, she bends down into Roland’s curls, leaning her chin to the top of his head, “Roland, I’d like you to meet my son, Henry.”
“Hi, Henry!” He bubbles happily, “I’m four!”
Regina smiles though a shard of pain slices through her. She remembers Henry at that age. All adventurous and full of life. “Henry is six.” She comments quietly, reaching her hand out to trace the letters engraved in the marble. “You would have liked him.”
“I like him already!” Roland babbles, scrambling from Regina’s lap and reaching behind her to search blindly through his backpack. “Look, we can play with my race car.” He throws his hand up excitedly, rolling the tiny toy across the grass and over to the base of the headstone. “It’s really cool and can go super fast.” She feels the onslaught hit her once more, a fresh batch of tears spilling over as she watches Roland race around Henry’s name, making his best race car noise, screeching over humps, and roaring through tall grass.
Feeling Robin slide up beside her, it’s unconscious that she leans back into his chest, but he doesn’t seem to mind, just lands a hand on her thigh and rests his head against hers. It marks her as odd, how comfortable she is with him. A man she’s only been having actual conversations with for a single day. Three years of eye contact sure, but this is different. It feels like a soothing balm almost, sitting with him and his son. And for a half moment she swears she can feel Daniel’s hand finding her own, squeezing tight as the weight of her baby boy climbs into her lap. They are here. Even if she can’t hear them, or see them, she knows they are here.
“Oh, Regina, I drew you a picture.” Roland abandons his toy and stampedes over to his pack once more, digging deep before returning with a half crumpled sheet of paper, and if she thought she’d cried enough for one day, this might just set a new record as she stares down at the messy drawing of three people standing under a tall tree, hand in hand with massive smiles. “It’s you, me, and papa!” He squishes his way into Regina’s arms, pointing out himself on the paper between her and his dad. “And we can leave it here for Henry so he knows that you have friends.”
Behind her she hears Robin’s breath catch, his hand tightening on hers around Roland’s stomach. How he can even fathom he isn’t raising a perfect little boy Regina has no idea, because it’s clear as day, as the colours on this piece of paper, and the smiles drawn widely, Roland is pure to the core, just like her Henry had been.
“I love it. Thank you.” She presses a hard kiss into his cheek, smiling at the way he’s wiggling back into her with a deep dimpled grin.
“Could we go get ice cream now?” His big brown eyes peer up at hers, and she was always a sucker for puppy dog eyes, Henry had a great pair of them. Smiling, she wipes the last few tears away and nods, her heart thumping happily at his triumphant shout. They stand, Robin helping Regina up as she folds the drawing in her hand, finds a rock and places Roland’s picture underneath, sandwiched between Henry and Daniel in the grass.
She lets her palm linger on their headstones, silently promising she will do better, that she will be back to see them again. Soon. Tomorrow in fact. She promises it before finding Roland’s awaiting hand and starting off down the path, leaving Robin behind for a moment. She turns, cocking a curious brow at the pensive expression drawn across his brow.
“I’ll keep her safe. You have my word.” His hand slides across Daniel’s name.
He quietly nods his head at her family, smiling as he joins Regina and Roland. “Ice cream then?” He walks beside them, feeling a bit lighter as they pass Marian’s headstone, all three waving goodbye for now as they go, hitting the iron gates of the cemetery.
He grins at the quiet sentiment Regina whispers out. “You are more than welcome, M’lady.”
“I never would have done that if you and Roland weren’t here.”
“While it was my pleasure, I think you are stronger than you believe.” He squeezes her hand thoughtfully, his heart pumping hard at the blush that rises in her cheeks.
“I have a job interview tomorrow.”
“Oh? With who?”
She scowls, toys with her hair shyly, “It’s a law firm, but I don’t think I’ll get it.”
“And why’s that?”
“Well,” Regina shrugs dismally, “I don’t have a penny to my name, and I haven’t worked in nearly nine years. It’s a long shot they will even want to hire me.”
Robin stops them then, turns so he can face her head on, reaching to tip her fallen chin up to have her eyes meet his. “Anyone would be lucky to have you.” She scoffs at that, but Robin persists, “Regina, you are without a doubt the most resilient woman I’ve ever met. They’d be idiots to not want you.”
“I think you give me too much credit.”
“And you don’t give yourself enough.”
Sighing, she blows a heavy breath out of her nose, glancing up to see his gaze holding steady and true, “Is this your hope commision talking again?”
Robin beams, chuckles and wraps an arm around her shoulders as they start off walking once more, “We are always open for business. How about you come for dinner and we can go over the interview?”
“You’d do that?”
The pink rises in his cheeks as he bites back a smile, “If it means I get to spend more time getting to know you, then of course.”
Chapter 6: Nervous
Ice cream came before dinner.
Roland’s puppy eyes and pouty lip had gotten the better of Robin as they made their way down the sidewalk and away from the cemetery, the little boy skipping between both his father and Regina, clasping their hands tightly. She’d almost let out a laugh at the look Roland pummeled his father with at the mere idea that they should probably just get home for supper, it nearly bubbled out of her, but exhaustion sits heavier than happiness right now.
Every step became harder, lead filled legs that felt as though they barely moved. She was oddly grateful for having Roland’s little toddler legs slowing them down, at least this way it was easier to hide how terribly she simply wished to sit down and rest her tired, incredibly puffy eyes for a moment's time. What she would give to own a pair of sunglasses right now, at least then she should hide her exhaustion from Robin’s gaze that flickers over Roland’s head her way. She must look terrible, feels a little embarrassed now that her tears have dried.
They don’t know each other, and she basically used him as a hankerchief. The collar of his shirt is wrinkled thanks to her previously tight grasp. He’s doesn’t seem to be the type to look wrinkled, and she wrecked the polished appearance.
Thankfully, he hasn’t mentioned anything to her since they left Daniel and Henry’s graves. It’s easier for him perhaps, seeing Marian, talking to her, letting his emotions run free and unhindered for a precious hour. Maybe someday it will be easier for her too. Being able to smile afterwards.
It’s Roland in all honesty. He’s the breath of carefree happiness that bursts through shrouds of anguish.
She can see how much Robin adores his son, the pride that runs through him as the boy babbles on about things in kindergarten. They are going on a field trip to the zoo next week. Something Roland is clearly over the moon with excitement about. Between slurping up drips of chocolate chip ice cream running down his waffle cone, he buzzes and questions Robin about all the animals there, if there will be tigers, giraffes and monkeys.
“Regina, what’s your favorite?” he asks from between them, “Mine is turtles. Papa’s is hippos.”
Her brow cocks curiously over to Robin who simply grins and delves into his own cone with a shrugged They are cute, a reasoning Regina never would have associated with the giant water mammal.
“I like elephants,” she muses and chuckles at Roland’s quizzical look. “They are incredibly smart animals.”
“And so big!” Roland giggles. “Their ears are huge!”
“Yeah, they are. They are very caring, kind, and if a baby elephant is sad, the entire herd will console it. They have such a strong family bond. I admire that.”
“It’s a feeling when you see someone doing something and you like it and want to be that way too,” she answers with a smile, licking at her chocolate scoop.
Roland nods, little brow creases for a moment in thought before he beams up at Robin, “Like how brave Papa is! I want to be like him.”
Robin laughs, runs his free hand through Roland’s curls appreciatively as Regina hums her agreement, though her cheeks are quick to flush red as Robin grins down at his son, “Regina is brave too. I admire her very much.” He smiles at her, a soft thing that has her stomach fluttering uncontrollably as she bashfully bites back her own grin.
“I admire you too, Regina!”
“That’s very sweet, Roland. You are quite the charmer like your father.”
Robin and Regina both let out a light laugh, equally blushing at the innocence of the boy between them. They continue to walk, Robin finishing his cone first as they make their way down the streets and towards his house. It’s easy, being with them. The heaviness in her heart recedes with every giggle out of Roland, skips a beat with the quiet compliments Robin continues to bestow on her. It’s nice. She’s missed this feeling. Has lived with nothing but loneliness and heartache for so long she’d nearly forgotten how good it felt to simply laugh.
Her feet slow as they hit the gate of Robin’s home, fingers slipping from Roland’s grasp as he skips his way up to the front door, tiptoeing up to reach the handle and swing it open. Robin waits beside her, thumbing at the gate silently.
“I should go.” She sighs quietly beside him, her eyes lingering on the front door.
Robin inhales sharply, a rather quick, “You don’t have to,” escaping him. It would be endearing if they knew each other. the way he so clearly doesn’t wish her to leave. But if anything, it simply solidifies that they are in fact that - strangers - and he owes her nothing more, has already done too much. A point that she is so clearly aware of as she fumbles with the hem of her oversized coat, a reminder of where she is, where she stands on the ever expanding social ladder, far, so very far, below him. She smiles softly, reaching for his hand, “Today was not at all how I thought it would go.”
His brow raises at her omission, and he laces their fingers together, willingly her to stay put beside him as his eyes stare down at their joined hands. It takes her a second, a long, drawn out sixty count of silence as she simply traces over his face, tilted down from her gaze as though he is trying to hide from her leaving.
“Thank you Robin, truly.”
“I didn’t really do anything.” He shrugs, gripping her hand fractionally tighter.
It’s oddly sweet, and he’s so wrong, she thinks. There were a thousand different scenarios that ran through her mind when she decided to knock on his front door this morning. He could have slammed the door, scoffed and waved her away, below his status as she is. In all honesty, she didn’t think he’d be crude, but being invited in for breakfast was certainly not one of them, and seeing Henry and Daniel was definitely not what she thought was going to happen today either.
And it’s because of him.
“You did, and I am very grateful for it.” The heat of tears begins to burn once more, and she is quick to sniff them away lest she drench his shirt any further, knowing that he’d more than likely pull her into a hug. Which doesn’t seem like the worst idea to her, but she’s already overstayed her welcome and more than anything she needs to get back to the real reality of her life and not playing house with this man and his son.
Robin chews his lower lip and runs his thumb over the palm of her hand. “Today was a good day for me too, Regina. I hope you know that.” He flicks his eyes up to reach hers, and she is struck by the humbleness in his gaze. Her throat clears as she chuckles, “Having a stranger show up at your doorstep---.”
“You’re not a stranger,” he quickly interrupts her, squaring their shoulders together, “Not to me.” It feels different, the way he says it with such severe honesty, it’s only been a mere day with this man and something has shifted inside her. It almost ludicrously suggests that perhaps people, that he, sees her as a real person and not some scum beside the subway train tracks. It’s alarming at best as she swallows back thickly, squeezing his palm once before retracting.
His hand follows hers, lingers momentarily before dropping to his side listlessly with a heavy blown out breath. “Regina, I know our beginning isn’t conventional by most standards.”
“By any standard,” she playfully quips back, hoping to see him smile once more before she leaves. He chuckles lightly at that, and she floats at the sound. “I was homeless, and you are ---”
“Absolutely desperate that you not go,” he confesses quietly with a shy, begging smile. And it shouldn’t be sweet, or adorable, but the way his eyes crease hopefully, the dimples that deepen as he grins, it all has her in a cloudy state of mind. She steps into him, moving boldly to rest a hand on his chest. “We are in such different worlds, Robin, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and not just today but these past three years. It’s changed my entire life.” It’s a rare confession that bubbles out of her, after months of being focused on self survival, giving in to someone’s extended help is new, foreign and entirely amazing because she strangely feels safe saying it to him.
He’s seen her dirtier than filth, starving and at the lowest of the lows. There isn’t much more she can hide from him in all reality. No point in starting now. He scowls pitifully at her, wraps his hand around hers on his chest and tugs her closer as he shakes his head, “Regina, our past doesn’t define who we are.”
“It certainly has its influence,” she slides out, still unable to completely relinquish her previous life though his words are sweet. He manages a smile at her, thumbing a curl behind her ear, “Doesn’t mean it dictates your’s or anyone’s future. I’ve been through my share of pain - the kind that swallows you whole - I understand it, I understand you.” He swipes along her cheekbone, chasing away the tear that falls slowly, “And I hope you know that I don’t judge how we met, it’s not a bad thing Regina, if anything like I said to my son, I admire you for it. I truly mean that.”
Her breath catches tight, hitches as she inhales wetly, leaning into his palm against her cheek. He’s too good for her. Too pure and honorable. And while Daniel and Henry’s deaths were out of her control, what happened afterwards, the guilt bubbles hot in her stomach. Maybe there was some other way she could have avoided where she ended up - done something differently, made other choices, given into her mother’s demands and taken a back seat to Cora’s wishes. It wouldn’t have brought her family back, Henry’s cancer was too far gone anyway, but perhaps if she’d swallowed her pride, sleeping underneath a leaking concrete wall amongst the city rats wouldn’t have been her life for the past three years.
It’s too late to go back now.
“Maybe someday I will be worthy of your praise.” Regina sniffs, unwilling to truly pull away from his touch.
He shakes his head and smiles softly at her, “You already are. And I will not push you, I understand you have things to do, your interview to prepare for, but I would be loathe to not ask you once more to stay, just for dinner. Roland would be so thrilled.”
The flirt is there, hidden beneath his son’s name as she quips back, “Just Roland?” To which Robin’s grin brightens with a heavy blush in his cheeks, a half hearted shrug as he reaches for her hand once more. “I would be grateful if you stayed too.”
He shakes his head, his tongue peeking out to lick his bottom lip, before he levels her with a brutally honest gaze, “I want to know you. And just the thought of you walking away right now, not knowing if I’d ever see you again… I’m utterly against the idea.”
She should go. She really, really should. But he is so sweet, and it’s dissolving her by the second.
“I really do need to prep for that interview.” She smiles at his heavy resigned exhale. He’s true to his word, he won’t force her to stay, but a very large piece of her doesn’t want to leave either. “But I did promise Roland fajitas, and his puppy dog eyes are quite the weapon.”
Robin chuckles, happier than he probably should be as he gently guides her towards his doorway. She goes without hesitation, forcing the fear of her interview out of her mind, she’s dealt with worse than a couple headhunter bosses. If it doesn’t pan out, which in all honesty it probably won’t, there will hopefully be another opportunity down the road.
Somehow spending more time with Robin and his son is a far more enticing offer than pouring over paperwork of a company’s background. Though the sixty dollars stuffed away in the freezer of the fridge in her motel room may not think quite the same. Her funds are running incredibly low. Rent for the room is over what she can pay, and if this job doesn’t come to fruition, she’ll be back out on the street once more.
A daunting thought she swallows down and shoves to the back of her mind, at least for now.
Dinner is lovely.
Robin rather firmly suggested that she do nothing but sit for most of the prep as he and Roland stirred marinated chicken, heated veggies and uncorked a bottle of wine. Roland had been adamant that they both wear their chef’s aprons, Regina too, even if she wasn’t exactly allowed to help.
It ricocheted through her mind the entire time how much she missed moments like this. Being in a kitchen cooking, childish laughter rumbling through the room. Henry loved to cook. Daniel was the best patron of their own creations. It aches deep inside as she watches the way Robin maneuvers Roland about, helping him hold the wooden spoon to stir their feast, wiping away the streaks of sauce on chubby cheeks.
He’s a good dad.
It’s hard to be a single parent. Having to play both good and bad cop, not that she was really any good at either according to her mother. One day it would be Cora commenting that Regina was too soft with Henry, lacking the ability to discipline him properly, making herself look like a complete fool run by a child. Other days it was the complete opposite. The smallest of stern looks sent Henry’s way for talking back had Cora up in arms, huffing about that a mother should never be so cruel to their own kin. Which between doing Regina’s head in, almost made her laugh thinking back on how nurturing and affectionate Cora was not as a mother.
Raising a child alone was never a thought that crossed Regina’s mind, Daniel was always going to be there so what was the point in thinking about any other situation. It was supposed to be Henry, and then they’d start trying around his second or third birthday, and if Daniel got his way, perhaps another two after that even.
That had been the hardest, the worst of it. Thinking about what they were supposed to have together as she sat alone, rocking her baby back and forth as he wailed for his father, not understanding that his hero wasn’t coming home, that it was just the two of them now. That was her new reality in the blink of an eye, being a single mom, having nothing but her cuddles to try and soothe Henry’s tiny whimpers for a man that was lost to the both of them.
Her own pain had taken a backseat to Henry’s, stifled through quiet sobs into Daniel’s pillow most nights.
Watching Robin seemingly effortless with Roland hits her hard in the gut and has her wondering if he and Marian had wished for more children as well. If he too had spent evenings in silence wondering how in the hell he was going to raise a child all alone. Something he has done phenomenally at clearly. Roland is precious - kind, smart, curious and polite. He does remind her a lot of Henry, and as she sips her wine, it crosses her mind that they would have been really good friends.
If only they had the chance to meet.
A plate slides in front of her, along with a rather soft smile from Robin. He hasn’t really said that much to her, hasn’t thrown a thousand questions her way, dug and nosed into her life as much as other people probably would. He just smiles, catches her eyes every now and again, and focuses back down on his son and their dinner.
It’s oddly calming, not being pressed about things she isn’t quite ready to talk about, it brings out an alarming urge to reach out and touch him every time he passes by. A silent thank you she thinks about at least a dozen times, though her hands stay firm in her lap.
They shouldn’t touch. Not like that anyway. Harmless contact while consoling is acceptable, but to just run her fingers through his hair, down his chest and over his arms seems a little bold. She wants too…won’t, but quietly muses about how warm he’d feel beneath her palms anyway. The idea of it has her cheeks heating ridiculously. He wouldn’t want her like that anyway. How could he?
She hears Robin ask Roland to go wash up, that he’ll finish up here. Her heart skips a beat as Roland bounces happily out of the kitchen, curls flopping about and little socked feet skittering towards the stairs. Robin yells for him to be careful whilst shaking his head with a chuckled, “He’s already had to get stitches once, I’d rather not explain another battle wound to my parents.”
“Do they live nearby?”
Robin nods, settles back against the counter with a kitchen cloth tossed over a shoulder. His far too blue eyes popping out thanks to the dark forest green henley. “They are just in Tigard. Twenty minutes or so away, which is a bloody god send when I need some help with Roland.” Regina hums in acknowledgement, thinking about her own father she ran into this morning. They have a lot to talk about, and she promised to have dinner with him tomorrow. It’s an exciting thought surrounded by complete fear.
Unlike her mother, Henry Sr. is soft and warm. They had a solid relationship, even if she hated how much he caved to Cora. It wasn’t always easy, but he tried to be there for Regina, at least until he left for Africa with Doctors without Borders. She wishes he was there when Henry passed. He would have known what to do.
Robin’s moves to sit beside her, pulling her out of the memories with a gentle hand laying on top of her own. Her tears flush hot as she sniffs them back, shaking her head and running her fingers through her hair quickly with a small sorry, whispered out.
“There’s no need for that.”
“I think I’ve cried enough in front of you to last a lifetime, and it’s only been a day.”
Robin sighs, thumbing over her fingers gently with a soft smile, “Have you seen them?”
“I actually saw my father this morning for the first time.” Her tears slip, and Robin shifts to wipe them away, swiping along the apple of her cheek for a moment as she gathers herself. “He was out of the country when Henry died, and apparently my mother didn’t tell him anything after she walked out on us at the hospital.”
“She left you and Henry?” His brow cinches tight.
Regina nods, scowling down painfully into the half filled glass of wine. “When Henry first got diagnosed, she was around, but things got tense between us when I didn’t listen to her advice.” She doesn’t elaborate more than that, not really quite ready to dive into the storm that is her relationship with Cora. The anger is there still. Beneath the bitter loneliness and pain.
“Doesn’t seem to be a reason to walk out on your daughter and grandchild.” Robin exhales long and slowly, “That wasn’t fair of her.”
“That’s my mother.”
“I’m sorry Regina. Truly.”
They fall into a quiet silence, sipping their wine as dinner simmers away on the counter. Regina’s eyes ghosting around the kitchen, the photos that adorn the fridge, mostly of Roland sandwiched between his parents, one of Robin and Marian on a park bench together, a third of a rather pregnant Marian in a bikini smiling softly with a hand on her belly.
Regina has no photos of Daniel or Henry anymore.
They are packed away in a box somewhere in her father’s house, in her old home. Daniel always had a camera with him. It had become quite the hobby of his. Taking hundreds of photos of her and Henry everywhere they went. It was a christmas gift one year, a leather bound album housing their entire life together. From their first date when he’d snapped a photo kissing her cheek, a few vacation ones, another where he’d asked her father to take one when Daniel got down on one knee during Christmas. A favorite was one of him she’d taken herself, pregnant in bed, nightshirt rucked up and Daniel’s hands on her bump. They’d been both the best and the worst thing for her to look at after he died. Sometimes she found solace in his frozen captured smile, other times it just pronounced the ache in her chest.
All she actually has left still on her is Daniel’s watch. A simple Swiss gold watch his grandfather has passed onto him as a graduating college gift. It never left Daniel’s wrist, not until the police gave it back to her, having found it in the wreckage of the plane crash nearly two months later. She wears it everyday.
“All clean Papa!” Roland come tearing into the kitchen, hands held high as he skids into Robin’s thigh. He wiggles his fingers as Robin takes a long look, eyeing up his boy with a goofy stern cocked brow. “Soap?”
“Did you sing the entire ABC song.”
Roland nods…but his smile dips for a moment. Caught. She can see it all over his adorable little face as Robin leans in, bringing a hand up to his nose for a long, suspicious, playful sniff. “Smells like you only got to the letter T. Am I wrong?”
Roland bounces on his toes, his nose scrunched up in defeat as he falls dramatically into Robin’s outstretched arms. “I couldn’t make it the whole song, Papa!”
“And why’s that?”
Regina watches as Roland wriggles into his father’s lap with a pout, “I didn’t want to miss Regina.” It stuns her and completely sets her heart on fire as his little brown eyes turn oh so brightly up at her, bashfulness written across his face as Robin dips him down into a low swing off the chair, hoisting his boy up “And here I thought it would be me you’d miss!” Roland giggles, smacking his hands onto Robin’s cheeks for a nose nuzzled kiss, “Regina is pretty though.”
Roland is going to be a ladies man. That is as clear as day written all over his four year old face. Much like his father who winks playfully towards Regina, an agreeing, “Too right you are, my boy,” smiled out before he turns to let Roland down, ruffling his hair as Regina blushes furiously behind her wine glass. These two are going to melt her into a puddle if she isn’t careful.
“Now how about you take the pretty lady over there her dinner.” Robin hands Roland a full plate, more than Regina can probably eat, and for a second she wonders if he is loading her up because he knows how many days she starved over the past three years.
Roland waddles over, tongue sticking out, brow drawn together in pure concentration till her plate is safely in her hands. He bows with a valiant, “M’lady!” and Regina can’t help the beam that etches her face as she swallows him whole, tugging him onto her lap and landing a wet kiss to his cheek.
Robin slides in next to them, a matching grin plastered at the sight of Regina and Roland tucked together. It’s been quite sometime since he’s seen his boy attach so rapidly to another person. He and Roland have been solo mates for such a long time it almost feels foreign, the way his heart trickles and skips. It takes nothing but Regina’s shy smile over the top of Roland’s curls to have Robin thinking things that once were impossible.
Perhaps it’s fate.
And she does it again, shifts Roland to his own seat and looks Robin dead in the eyes, and smiles that bloody gorgeous smile, “Dinner smells amazing.”
It’s on the tip of his tongue to tell her that she looks amazing.
“Dig in before it gets cold.”
They’d moved to the living room after dinner, Roland taking up residence in her lap without hesitation and promptly falling dead asleep against her chest. She’d stroked through his curls quietly as Robin stoked a fire in the hearth in the corner. Roland’s heaviness a beautiful weight on her body. He’s a sound sleeper.
Something she can tell Robin is incredibly grateful for.
“I can take him to bed.”
Regina grins, leans down into Roland’s curls and inhales heavily with a nod. It’s getting late and she really really needs to be going. This interview isn’t going to wait forever, best now to burst this beautiful bubble of peace before she gets to comfortable in it. She lets Robin scoop his son up gently, standing with him as they walk to the stairs. “I should probably get back.”
He spins around, “Will you wait, just till I put him down. I’ll not be longer than five minutes, he’s out cold anyway.”
“Please. Just let me say a proper good night to you.”
She can see where Roland gets his puppy dog eyes. Robin’s are bright, doey and so hopeful that she won’t say no. How can she? He did cook her dinner, and breakfast...and let her sob her heart out on his collar earlier today. She nods, rolls her eyes playfully at his relieved sighed smiling, “I’ll be right back.”
Turning back around, her arms wrap about her waist, and she steps slowly towards the couch once more, settling back against it’s soft leather. He’s got nice taste. Nothing to hard edged. It’s homey and warm. It reminds her of the house she and Daniel made together. Her eyes wander the living room, a guitar resting gently in one corner. Of course Robin would play, what else doesn’t he do? It suits him. Being that guy to strum a song gently.
Daniel was a piano player. She loved sitting quietly and listening to his fingers dance along the ivories for hours. He wanted to teach Henry at some point, and Regina was grateful it wasn’t the drums. Music is important. She’s always believed that.
“That was my brother’s.” Robin pads in, noticing how Regina’s eyes are trained to his guitar. “He gave it to me before he moved out to England.”
“Do you play often?”
He sits down beside her, close enough his thigh presses against hers. “I haven’t in three years. Marian loved it, and I just haven’t really found the inspiration to play since she passed away.”
“I’m sorry.” She twines her fingers into his for a quick gentle squeeze, and then doesn’t exactly let go, though neither does Robin.
They just sit, loosely locked together.
“So, tell me about this interview of yours tomorrow?” he asks, reaching for her glass, passing it between them before stemming his own and sitting back into the cushions. Regina sighs, swallows back a gulp of merlot, “It’s with a law firm.”
“Lucas and Gold. It’s downtown.”
Robin hums, turning slightly to square his chest to her, “Were you a lawyer before hand?”
“I taught law at a college in the city, but I quit after I got pregnant with Henry.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Being a lawyer?”
He nods, eyes scanning across her face curiously. It’s almost like he’s reading her inner thoughts. Already knows that going back into law might not be her true desire. But what else can she do? It’s her career that hopefully she’ll be able to fall back on once more. As to whether she likes being a lawyer...defending people, living in the world of criminals and drugs, well, it wasn’t her choice to go to Law school anyway, that was all Cora.
She shrugs, sips her wine again and smiles small. “It’s the only thing I know how to do.”
“I don’t know if that’s true.”
Her brow cocks high, “What makes you think you know me so well?”
Robin’s smile grows at her playfulness, there is no heat to her tone, or at least no angry heat, a different simmer perhaps. “Call it intuition?”
“Or a lucky guess perhaps. Regardless, I am hoping that my previous history won’t dissuade them.”
“I don’t see how it could, circumstances given.”
She sighs, resting her now empty wine glass back on the table, “Not everyone is like you Robin.” She turns, tilting her head to the side as she looks long and hard at him as he frowns, confused. “You are a good person. What you did for me, have done for me, well, not many people would allow a complete stranger into their home.”
“We aren’t strangers, Regina.” He moves to swipe her fallen hair back behind her ear. “A part of me thinks we never have been.”
It’s a nice thought. A silly romantic thing that she tries to not let her heart beat to quickly over, though apparently the blush in her cheeks gives her away. She knows it the second Robin bites down on his smile, tongue peeking out for a half moment as his dimples deepen shyly.
“Will you let me know how it goes?”
“Is this your way of asking for my phone number?” she cops back, fighting away the influx of butterflies when he chuckles and levels her with a bashful peek of bright blue eyes. “And, that’s assuming I even own a phone.”
He blinks twice, and she sees him register the meaning behind the simple statement. “I, uhh, sorry, I just…”
“I do.” She flushes, “Have a phone.”
Robin ah’s , blows out a rather hot breath, and looks back up at her. “So is that a yes?”
Some people shouldn’t be allowed to be this adorable, she decides, especially not a grown man. The hope in his eyes shouldn’t melt her like they do, and if she thought with her brain she wouldn’t do it, reach for his cell on the table and promptly dial in her number into his contacts, grinning like a fool the entire time.
But it’s exactly what she does.
She feels weirdly giddy when he takes it back, stares down at it for a moment before hitting the save button and smiling brighter at her than she should be allowed to receive from anyone.
“I need to go. Prep for the interview and all.”
This time Robin nods, stilling grinning as he gestures for her to stand, following her towards the door and helping her with her jacket. HIs hands are soft on her shoulders as she turns, fingers deftly adjusting the collar of it for a long few unnecessary seconds.
“Call me after, and we will celebrate.”
“And if I don’t get the job?”
“Call me anyway.” He smiles and grips her hands. “We can get stinking drunk and curse the idiots who let you walk away.”
Regina laughs, pats his chest and turns to open his door, “Goodnight Robin.”
She walks out, down the two steps, across the pathway and through his gate, peering around to find Robin slouched against the door, smiling the entire time as he waves.
It’s not far to the train station. The 20 minute ride seems to pass by in a blur. Even the fifteen minute walk to the motel goes by in the blink of an eye. Her mind still buzzing about what happened today. Everything. All of it. From meeting Robin and Roland, to seeing her father, getting to finally talk to Daniel and Henry...today is not exactly what she imagined when she woke up this morning.
It felt freeing to live like a normal person once more.
Though that feeling is quickly swamped by reality as she clicks open her motel door, the smell of staleness clouding around her. She scowls, tossing her coat on the horrendously floral patterned bed spread. It’s hideous. This entire place is utterly horrid. The bathroom lights blink and flash harsh yellow before finally igniting. There is a stain in the bathtub she’d rather not think too hard about. It feels tainted. Grimy and gross, but it’s all she can afford.
Washing her face and a quick brush of her teeth, she slips a pair of tights on, not yet owning pijamas. Peering the fridge open, she briskly thumbs a small roll of twenties hidden in the ice box and sighs. This is all she has - sixty dollars and Daniel’s gold watch. She’d never pawn it. It’s her only tie to him right now.
She grabs the black pencil skirt she’d gotten at the women’s shelter, a slightly wrinkled burgundy blouse to go with, and lays them both on the desk. Hopefully it will be enough to convince this law firm that she is worth the position. Maybe if her aesthetics are good enough, her nerves won’t overtake and ruin everything.
She needs this job. Desperately.
Sliding back into the bed, she clicks off the bedside lamp, surrendering to the darkness as her eyes slowly close. Minutes tick by as she simply counts her breath, in and out, silently and measured. As she hits eighteen, her phone buzzes. Rolling over she flips it open, and a smile cracks against the nerves in her heart.
Robin Locksley: Hope you made it safe. Sleep well. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?.
It’s silly, the way heat floods through her at a simple text. It’s been three years since anyone has cared to know if she was safe. It’s even sillier that she starts tearing up at it. A few slipping out and dripping down onto the screen. Swiping them away from blurring his name, she types back a quick responding: Wish me luck.
She settles the phone back onto the desk, grinning as it vibrates within a few moments.
Robin Locksley: You don’t need it, I have faith in you.
She could say something back, but instead simply holds her father’s gifted phone to her chest, and smiles out a long breath, a freeing sense washing over her that perhaps she wasn’t entirely alone anymore. Daniel wouldn’t have wanted her to give up. He knew her better than to simply lay down and roll over to life’s tribulations. And she decides in this moment that she will make her family proud. She will survive, revive and live a life worth living.
She just has to get this job tomorrow.
Chapter 7: The Interview
Sleep didn’t happen. It didn’t matter how heavy her eyes began to droop, her brain refused to cease buzzing, cycling through a montage of self deprecation.
There is no way she is going to get this job tomorrow.
Why would they want to hire her given her past? Clearly she is weak and unworthy, for God’s sakes she has been homeless for three years, barely a person, bankrupt and part of the city scum.
Why would anyone give her the time of day?
It’s been years, surely there are more qualified and competent people than her vying for this position.
What happens if they ask for her driver's license? It hasn’t come in the mail yet. Who would even believe someone who can’t prove who they are? Granted she finally got her social security card...at least that is something.
Over and over and over again the sour questions clawed through her as the hours ticked by. Twice she got up, debating having another shower, but the water in this motel smells horridly stale-- she’s already going to look like hell, why make it worse, right?
It’s four thirty am, she’s been sitting in the hard wooden chair by the window for a good fifty two minutes, not that she’s counted , staring out into the street. Her eyes settle on a man, old and gray, slumped against a concrete wall asleep, unaware of the fact that his half drunk bottle of whiskey and change cup just got looted. She winces seeing the thief sneak away, her heart aching for the older man but such is life on the streets.
You steal to survive and beg for spare change, hoping that those who pass by will take pity rather than snear with disdain, it’s the sad stereotyping of the homeless, the whole notion that It could never happen to me, I would never end up like that.
To everyone who lives in lovely warm homes will full bellies, those who are sleeping on the sidewalk, huddled under blankets beneath a bridge or in makeshift cardboard shelters have obviously done it to themselves. Every single one of them.
They have some sort of addiction be it heroin or alcohol or whatnot that has landed them where they are. Why give money to someone who is just going to use it to get high? It’s simply being lazy and choosing to live that way.
It had to be a poor upbringing, uneducated people that can’t hold a job, who are terrible with money and have squandered it all away in gambling. Even the women, clearly prostituting their bodies is easier than trying to get actual work.
Homeless people are dangerous, will mug you and steal everything from your pockets should you even speak to them. Perhaps it’s untreated mental illness, that has to be a reason why someone would choose to live in such squalor. They don’t understand like the “contributing members of society” do.
It’s a constant slew of whispers mixed with the avoidance of eye contact, shuffled quickly away as though homelessness is some sort of contagious virus. It is so easy to seperate yourself from a population if you decide to not acknowledge them, if they are invisible then they are easy to ignore. It’s how Regina began to understand life on the streets; You’ve done this to yourself, you are invisible and you do not matter .
The thing is, for three years she was a part of that world and it wasn’t at all like people believe. In fact, most of the people she’d met whilst living on the street weren’t forced into the streets from alcoholism, drug addiction, or being uneducated. A lot of it came down to circumstance just like her. Illness that lead to medical bills piling up beyond insurance and income, veterans that can’t afford housing with the minimal government cheques, a marriage that ended, leaving one spouse with a mortgage to pay and a lost income that ended in the house being repossessed, or people fleeing domestic abuse with nothing.
There is a lot more to a homeless person's story than most people are willing to listen to.
She swallows heavily, curling the cotton blanket around her as she glances back at the clock, 5:08am blinking back. She’s supposed to wake up in twenty two minutes and yet here she sits, staring out the window at a life she is terrified of falling back into. There are things that happened in those three years she never ever wants to relive. It’s was not easy, being alone, fending and fighting her herself, making decisions in order to survive, choices she never thought she’d have to endure, but never the less they kept her alive.
The fear is palpable in her stomach. A hot rolling sick feeling that if this interview doesn’t work out, if she doesn’t get this job... well her last sixty four dollars isn’t going to sustain her for very long, and she downright refuses to sink down to the level the motel manager suggested could be her room payment. She won’t do that, not again.
Daniel would be heartbroken if he knew and shame would surely kill her with one look of his green hazel eyes. It has never ceased to amaze her how quickly life can be ripped apart. One day she is happily married with a toddler, the next she’s lost both her husband and baby and is living inside the concrete subway system with rodents. Her nerves skitter at the thought and perhaps waiting for the clock to hit five thirty is only allowing her more time to let panic set in. Turning away from the window, she glances one last time at the homeless man, still asleep, and blows out a breath, padding over to the bathroom.
The green hazed light flickers on and what stares back at her engulfs Regina in embarrassment. She looks like hell. Deep set purple bags under her eyes, a paleness in her cheeks, chapped lips and stringy straw hair that her mother would surely have a heart attack over.
Rose Haven Women’s center was kind enough to give her a bottle of foundation, which doesn’t exactly match her skin tone but it’s better than nothing, a tube of mascara and one tube of pale red lipstick. It’s not much, but it hopefully will make her presentable enough that this firm won’t immediately snicker and send her on her way. Granted makeup can’t hide nerves. As she brushes her teeth, half of her wishes that a shot of vodka would go a long way to calm her down right now.
Dressing is fast - a black skirt, burgundy button up and a pair of black heels the Women’s shelter gave her as part of their interview program. She glides on a quick pass of lipstick and glances at the clock, it’s nearly six and it will take her thirty minutes to get to the lawyer’s office, she has enough time to grab a coffee on her way. All though that would cost at least three dollars, eating up a fifth of her daily allowed spending, and a train ticket is four bucks, meaning she’ll only have three dollars left for food. Coffee will have to wait till another time.
She opens the fridge door, reaching for the roll of sixty dollars in the back and thumbs out two five dollar bills, tucks them into her bag and clicks Daniel’s watch around her wrist. She smiles down at the gold face, picturing his instead for a long quiet moment. The ache of missing him knocks hard against her chest. Hopefully today will work out and she can have something that would have made him proud. She grabs her room key, blows out a shaky breath and heads out towards the train, her hands shaking the entire time.
The moment she walks through the glass doors and into the waiting room her heart sinks. Six people are already there, all dressed pristinely, unwrinkled and sharply tailored. Six people that all glance up at her for a moment, taking in their competition as she sits quietly down in a corner chair. Tears flush her eyes as she watches them unclick beautiful briefcases, pulling out thick filled resume papers. She stares down at her own, two measly sheets that surely pale in comparison. The bold lettering of her name glares back at her, goading her into believing that she is enough. There isn’t even an address underneath, she doesn’t have one and the mortification over the idea of putting the motel or even the Women’s shelter address was far to great.
She shouldn’t be here. She’s not going to be hired. It’s going to be humiliating having to explain why there is a four year gap in her work. It was foolish of her to even think they wouldn’t question it.
Time ticks by as her nerves build with every person that walks into the far office door, each taking a good half hour before they exit with a smile and handshake from a shorter man who gives a curt nod before asking the secretary to send the next one in. Her fingers fiddle with Daniel’s watch as she waits and waits and waits. The smirk one of the other men vying for the position gave her as he exited was nearly enough to have her running out of the office.
She swallows and stands on shaky knees as the young receptionist smiles brightly and gestures for her to follow.
Three people are seated on the other side, two chatting amongst themselves, the older gentleman in leaning against a black cane as a younger man thumbs through what Regina can only assume is a resumé of another. What stops her in her tracks is the woman that turns around in her chair.
It’s the lady from the bakery. The one who gave Regina a muffin for free more times than she’d like to admit. A woman who has steely blue eyes and silver grey curls. She is so screwed. There is no way she’s getting hired when one of her bosses knows about her past. Bile climbs into her throat as she takes a seat across from them, avoiding the curious gaze of the older woman.
This was such a mistake.
“Ms Mills, thank you for coming in. I’m August Booth, this is Royce Gold, one of the firms partners, and to my right here is Matilda Lucas, who is an owner in the firm.”
“Technically it’s my husband’s now, but he is otherwise indisposed right now.” Matilda huffs, “He and I started the firm fifteen years ago, but I’ve since opened up my own business.” Her gaze plants on Regina who shifts uncomfortably across the table. “Law was never my true calling anyway.”
August chuckles, “Well you do make a mean cranberry scone, I’ll give you that.” He reaches for Regina’s resumé laying on the table, scans it quickly before passing it to Royce who barely acknowledges the pitiful thing. His gaze is unnerving, dark and seedy as he roams over her. A thought passes in her mind that he probably makes a great lawyer given the fact he could scare the shit out of anyone with a simple disdainful look.
“Now Regina, tell us a bit about yourself.”
She swallows against the lump in her throat, this is it. Forcing down the thrashing of her heart, she folds her hands in her lap, fingers curling around Daniel’s watch, a quiet prayer filtering up to the heavens where he rests to please give me strength, I need you right now to help me through this .
“I am just getting back into the workplace; it’s been a while for me to be honest. I worked as a Law professor at Willamette in Salem for about six years on a tenure track. Prior to that I was with Nolan & Hopper as an attorney for four years after I graduated from the University of Southern California’s Law program.”
“Nolan & Hopper has since disbanded, am I right?” Royce cocks a high brow at her. “I heard something around malpractice.”
Regina shrugs innocently, “I don’t honestly know, I left before any of that happened.”
“So you got out just in time then?” He presses.
“The attorney’s that I worked with there were incredible.” She raises her own brow back. “I can’t imagine it being something along the lines you are insinuating.”
“Yes, well, everyone has a secret now don’t they.” Royce sneers darkly to himself with a hard stare at Regina. Clearly he doesn’t like a conversation where he doesn’t win. Though perhaps being rather blunt to a potential employer isn’t exactly going to win her brownie points.
August grins at Regina’s tenacity towards Gold, “You definitely have a solid background.”
Regina breathes out shakily, turning her back towards him, perhaps this won’t be so bad if she just doesn’t speak to Mr. Gold. “Though I see that you haven’t worked for about nine years, may I ask why the retraction?”
Her eyes flick over to Matilda who watches her with a careful curiosity, and why she hasn’t said anything about Regina’s past yet is beyond her, and a very very large part of Regina is grateful for it. But the fact of the matter is there is a significant gap in her work career, and as much as she wants to hide it, she can’t. Tears burn the backs of her eyes as she sips on a glass of cold water.
“My husband and I decided to start a family, and I wanted to be at home with my son.”
August hums politely, “A stay at home mother, that’s the toughest job out there. May I ask how old is your boy is now? Or is there a reason why you feel you are ready to start work again after being at home?”
Home. The word stabs her like a hot knife. She has no home.
Royce stares at her as she attempts to calm her bleeding heart. His eyes scouring her face with a glint of malicious curiosity. “I assume your husband is also on board with this.” His eyes flick down to her left hand, “Oh my mistake.” He nods towards the vacant spot on her ring finger.
If she could burn on the spot she would.
Selling her wedding ring had been one of the worst days of her entire life. It happened after… after that night, two and a half years into her homelessness. As she sat trembling against the stone wall on the side of the highway after the two men left, she could do nothing but fumble with her diamond ring.
It was all she had left, the only thing aside from his watch that was worth anything. He’d told her once that when Henry was old enough, he’d like to give the watch to their son, like his father passed along to him, and his father before him. The watch had been through war, through the poorest of the Colter’s lives and into their flourishment decades later. And though she knew it would be worth more than her ring, there wasn’t a chance in hell she’d ever disgrace his memory by selling it.
She cried for weeks after pawning off her wedding ring, but it was her only chance to be able to pay for somewhere safe to sleep for at least a little while, somewhere danger didn’t lurk and follow in the shadows.
“Ms. Mills? Are you alright?” August cuts through her frozen memory. He has kind eyes. Daniel had kind eyes too.
She swallows thickly with a short half smile, “I apologize. My husband passed away a few years ago.”
August’s shoulders sink as he mumbles out condolences, “That must be hard raising your son alone. I can’t imagine having to do that.”
Her smile falters and she wishes she could disappear on the spot at the way Matilda gazes at her. She knows and still stays quiet though her eyes speak a thousand words.
“So you stayed at home with your son, I assume he is full time in school by now?” Royce interjects, “You must be aware that this job will take you away from him, we work long hours here. We aren’t looking to hire someone who isn’t willing to put our clients first.”
Regina sucks in a tight pained breath, her eyes focusing down to her resumé on the table, “That won’t be an issue.”
“With a child at home, I can’t see how that’s possible.” Royce’s brow raises high. “Unless you have a nanny that takes care of your son I suppose. But it’s fact that women who have children don’t tend to take on careers that keep them away from their family. It’s not in a female’s nature,” he states sharply.
She doesn’t like him. It’s decided in this moment, Royce isn’t a person she would want to be anything more than a colleague to. Anger flares through her as he sits back smugly in his chair, a pulse of pure heated rage at his insinuation that she wouldn’t be a good mother if she wanted to work. Millions of women do it everyday. He’s clearly one of those that believes a woman can’t do both.
“How can you ensure it won’t be an issue, Ms. Mills?”
She sees both August and Matilda move to interject, but her heart lashes out before her mind can soothe it.
“Because my son is dead, Mr. Gold.”
The words seethe through her bluntly as she stares hotly back at him.
A silence echoing through the conference room for a few long moments.
And while she may wish that there was some sort of steadiness within her right now, the words flood out, pained anger bursting through her at the seams at the man’s utter non-reaction. He just continues to sit there.
“He was diagnosed with leukemia at two. We were in and out of the hospital for years. Twice he went into remission. Daniel, my husband, died on a work trip and I was left alone to take care of my toddler who was dying in my arms. Insurance ran out, I could no longer cover the cost of Henry’s medical bills, and he died three weeks after his sixth birthday. I am well aware of the fact that there is a time gap in my work, and my life took a horrible turn. So now that you know why I haven’t worked in nearly a decade, do you have any other questions about my private life, or can we get on with this interview about my competency to be a lawyer at this firm, or shall I just leave?”
She is shaking, on the verge of tears she hastily wipes away.
It’s over. They aren’t going to hire her after that kind of outburst. It’s a huge condition of being a lawyer, keeping oneself in check during a battle. There can’t be these emotional collapses, it gets in the way of logic and reason. It’s what her mother taught her. What her professors taught her. Keep it together, otherwise you’ll be run over by someone who can. There is no chance in hell or heaven they are going to assume she can keep her composure now so she might as well walk out.
A phone rings, buzzes twice before Royce excuses himself with one last seedy glance at Regina before exiting the room, the door clicking shut behind him.
Relief pours into her. Royce is nothing but a dark cloud. She’s lived enough with her mother who is the exact same to know who he is. People like them have a way of overruling, manipulating and taunting others into bending to their will.
August is the first to break the tense silence. “Regina, I am so sorry for your loss. Truly.” She smiles small with a short nod, appreciating the fact that at least someone in this room has a heart to not judge her for her past. Granted it’s not her entire past, but it’s all she is willing to give them. Her eyes lift up to Matilda’s, the grey blue steel shining with tears she too refuses to let fall.
“To be entirely honest Regina, I think you could be a good fit here.” August leans across the table.
Her heart stumbles, along side her stunned “Wh-what?”
“You have a very impressive resumé, and clearly you are more than qualified. But what I find I like about you most is your resilience. I don’t wish to bring up the sadness in your past, but you are incredibly strong and I am not one to pass up someone who is rebuilding. Lord knows I have done it too.”
“Thank you,” she squeaks out in disbelief. “And I’m sorry about before.”
August’s brow furrows, “Never apologize for that. Royce is an ass at the best of times. His tact isn’t always the smoothest.”
She laughs lightly at that. “It makes him a good lawyer I presume.”
“It’s made him quite a few enemies along the way.” August smirks, “Now back to our interview here. Can you tell me what sort of law you are interested in? In your resumé it says you worked and taught mainly domestic and sexual violence cases, is that where you wish to continue?”
“I think so. I am open to new areas but that is certainly where my experience lays. Does this firm work in that area?”
“We do. Our firm is mainly a criminal defence office which I assume you’ve worked alongside of and we have a few newer projects coming up that I think you would be a good fit for.”
Everything inside her melts into this warm, gooey puddle in her stomach, and for the first time since she walked into this interview, Regina feels almost happy. August asks her questions about the years she spent teaching, what her style in the courtroom used to be, areas she feels she excels in, and those that may need some fine tuning. He doesn’t ask about her past, about Henry or Daniel, not even once, and she is grateful to focus on something other than the aching pain of their absence.
She learns that Matilda, who has still remained relatively mute the entire time, started the firm with her husband, Marco, fifteen years ago, a small start up firm that has eventually grown into a sought out high end legal office. They are busy, elbow deep in cases and looking to take on a few state projects, hence the opening for a new attorney.
Marco is out of the country for a few months working on a high profile case in Ireland. It begins to ring bells here and there, the formidable Defence Attorney ,Marco Lucas. He had been on a case two years back that exonerated a man wrongly accused of murder, a nearly impossible feat that soared this firm to the top of Oregon’s criminal system. It was all over the newspapers… at least the ones she slept on. Funny how small the world can be.
Matilda decided about four years ago to open her own bakery, something Regina silently already knows but listens intently to anyway, her nerves flickering every time the older woman catches her eyes. Obviously they are going to have to talk about it, right? There is no way she’s going to be hired without the full knowledge of her past, at least Regina doubts it. Hopes, but doubts. If anything she almost wants to give thanks to the woman, for keeping her secret currently, and for feeding her for months. There is little question in Regina’s mind that had the old bakery woman not been so kind that day as she slid a blueberry muffin over to Regina who fumbled for pennies she didn’t have, that it is a high probability Regina wouldn’t be sitting here today, starvation and all.
As for August, he joined five years back, had worked on the exoneration case alongside Marco and made partner last year, something that is proudly written through his bright green eyes.
“We have a few more candidates to interview, but I’d like to thank you for coming in, Regina. It was a real pleasure getting to know you.”
“I appreciate you taking the time.” She stands alongside the pair across the table, reaching out to shake each of their hands with a smile. August comments that he will walk her out and she glances one more time back at Matilda who has a small grin gracing her otherwise poised expression.
Nearing the door, Regina turns once more, thanking August for meeting her.
“Truly Regina, the pleasure was mine. I always like a person who can stand up to Royce.” He sends her a wink as he walks down a different hallway, “We’ll be in touch.”
And that’s it. She did it.
The air outside is warm as she steps out, almost fragrant as her lungs inhale freely for the first time. Even if she doesn’t get the job, something about leaving this place has her feeling like perhaps she can get her life back together, that someone will accept her and life can finally move forward.
Her stomach grumbles two blocks later, and she thumbs out the last six dollars she has for the day. Well realistically it’s two, she still needs to buy a train ticket home. Though she could walk. Granted it’s a good nine miles but it’s not like she has much else to do. She walks down the sidewalk, takes a right turn and ends up at a pop up cafe. Immediately her eyes scan the menu and her heart sinks. It looks like if she wants to eat something she’s going to be making the trip back to the motel on foot.
She startles at the buzzing in her pocket. Quickly she takes it out, smiling down at the green bubble on the screen.
Dad: Hello my darling. I hope you are having a wonderful day. I was hoping perhaps you would join me for dinner Sunday if you are free? I’ll make that paella you so love.
She melts over the thought of having dinner again with her father. Being able to simply sit and talk to him is something she never thought she’d have again. It’s a beautiful feeling and she’d love nothing more than to see him, says as much in her reply, promising to be at his house around 6 if that is alright with him. Joyful tears flush her eyes as her phone buzzes again, a happy little smiling emoji beaming up at her with his response that he can’t wait.
“Can I get you something, Miss?” the barista asks with a warm smile as Regina tucks the phone back into her jacket pocket. “We have spiced pumpkin muffins right now, they are a big hit.”
Glancing down, Regina’s stomach grumbles. They do look delicious. But they also come with a hefty price tag of $3.25. It’s a toss up. Either eat and walk home, or save her feet from having to trek in heels nine miles and just have a coffee and hope the vending machine at the motel has something other than crunchy cheetos. She abhors the violently orange snack. It’s not even food. But she’s gone without a meal before, she can do it again and pray that there is pretzels.
“Just a black coffee is fine, thank you.” She smiles though her heart deflates as her stomach gurgles once more. Handing over the two dollars, she thanks the barista and moves to take a spot at one of the nearby benches. People watching has become a natural thing for her now. Sitting quietly as the bustle goes by. It amazes her that years ago she used to be one of them. Clicking down the sidewalk in fitted clothes and a full wallet, making her way to another work lunch, chatting with Daniel on the phone.
Her memory begins to swirl, it had been a day just like today, the love of her life telling her about some ridiculous client he had to appease, the laughter in his voice. She had sat on a bench just like this, in the middle of a park, her hand resting on the new small curve of her stomach. The doctors appointment had been on her own, there wasn’t much need for Daniel to join her for a simple stomach bug, which turned out to be anything but. She was pregnant. After two years of trying, they were finally pregnant. A baby. One she imagined would have Daniel’s beautiful eyes and soft brown hair. The moment she told him the line when silent, he asked if he heard her right, that she was actually pregnant. It was real, she promised it and once more the line on the other side went quiet, for only a second before she heard the echo of Daniel’s outbursting cry that he was going to be a dad, his wife was pregnant, he was going to be a father, he’d yelled it out in the middle of his office, whooping and hollering in his elation to everyone.
That was a good day. She felt true happiness radiating from her soul.
“May I sit?”
Her run down memory bursts as a pair of grey blue eyes smile curiously down at her.
“Mrs. Lucas. I’m sorry I didn’t see you.”
“No need to apologize. And please, I prefer Milly. Matilda makes me sound like I’m eighty.” The older woman waves Regina’s stuttered apology off as she drops down onto the bench. “Spiced Pumpkin muffin?”
Regina’s gaze flicks down to a brown paper bag, her jaw watering. “Oh, I’m alright thank you.” She lies, not willing to take anything more for free from the woman. Over her glasses Milly cocks a knowing brow before setting the bag into Regina’s lap and taking a bite out of her own muffin.
“It’s good, needs nutmeg though.” She hums, “Perhaps I’ll make some for the bakery, perfect it up.”
Regina’s fingers curl around the brown bag in her lap, a thought crossing her mind that if she only eats half than she can have something later for dinner. “Thank you, for the muffin.” Milly nods and lets her gaze wander out into the park, clearly happy to sit and people watch as well.
The moan Regina nearly lets slip as she takes a bite into the muffin is downright embarrassing. It has to be one of the most delicious things she’s eaten in the past three years, hands down. It’s warm, buttery, soft, and she could nearly cry.
Putting the other half of the muffin away has to be one of the hardest things she’s had to do. Perhaps if she gets this job she’ll be able to buy a dozen of these muffins on her own someday. A job that the woman beside her gets to decide on, one who knows her past far too intimately in Regina’s guilt ridden mind. A flush of nerves spiral through her.
“Can I ask you something?” Regina peers over at Milly who nods, “Why didn’t you say anything about... about knowing me during the interview?”
The older woman shrugs, polishes off the last of her muffin and turns to lean into Regina. “I didn’t think there was a need. How you and I know each other plays no part in you being a good lawyer for my husband’s firm.” Her hand finds Regina’s arm, squeezing it softly with a warm smile, “Honestly, I was proud.”
“You’ve clearly gone through more than any person should have to and I’m not one to judge a person’s circumstance. But seeing you walk through that door today -” Her blue eyes glaze over with tears, “I was proud of you. It’s not easy starting over and everyone has to take that first step.”
Any composure Regina had evaporates as a tear rolls down her cheek. “Thank you for everything you did for me.”
“I wish I could have done more.”
The sentiment reminds Regina of Robin. He had said the exact same thing. A kindness and generosity she isn’t deserving of but they offer it to her anyway. In a way Milly Lucas reminds Regina a lot of Robin. It’s the way she smiles, the creases beside her eyes, the way it truly feels like she is listening, wanting to listen, not treating Regina like she is unworthy, as though she is a real person.
“You’ve done more than enough already, Mrs. Lucas. Truly.”
“Milly dear, please.” The older woman smiles and pats Regina’s thigh as she stands. “I have a lunch with my son I need to get to. Enjoy the sunshine.”
“You as well.”
Milly rights her purse over her shoulder, “You know, I am not supposed to say anything, legality and all that, but I’ll see you Monday at work.” And with that she turns and heads down the sidewalk leaving Regina’s jaw to drop.
Her phone buzzes and tears prickle her eyes at the message on the screen.
Robin Locksley: So were they utter sodding idiots or competent smart people who know a good thing when it walks into the office?
Chapter 8: First Day
Still stunned from yesterday’s interview, Regina makes her way over to her father’s house, towards her old home. The mere idea that she is going to have a job, that there is going to be a paycheck, real actual money she has earned, that someone has given her the chance to have a life once more, is overwhelming and truthfully, she still hasn’t quite come to terms with it. All she can pray for is that she won’t make an utter fool of herself at the law firm. It has been nearly ten years since she has worked, the world changed around her, and she is now only starting the race to catch up.
It’s daunting. Parallels the boiling nausea as she turns the last corner by the park and spies the blue house she once called hers. Rocks roll in her stomach as her fingertips trace the white fence. It feels so strange to be here, to stand outside the place filled with memories of a life lost long ago. Henry would be playing outside right now, running amuck in the sprinklers Daniel surely would have set up, joining his son in play as she watched from the porch.
They should be here, but they aren’t. She’s a stranger to this place now. Even if her father lives here. It’s not hers; it hasn’t been in years. Going inside would mean having to see every single corner that holds something dear to her heart. The doorway where Daniel carried her over on their possession date. The cozy living room they’d cuddle up on a couch together in, hands laced on her ever growing stomach, hushed, quiet musings over baby names and which room would be the best option as a nursery. She’s not sure she can stomach walking into the kitchen where breakfasts were made to the lion king soundtrack in the background, impromptu dance parties Daniel would suddenly strike up, twirling and spinning her around with the brightest smile shining in his eyes.
Going inside would mean she’d see the pictures of her family, all hung up against the staircase wall, the montage of her life frozen in time.
Tears flush against her lashes as she grips the fence, she’s not ready for that yet. Perhaps she never will be, but today is certainly not the day bravery blooms within her. As she shrinks away from the home, the door clicks open. Her father smiles softly, a gentle wave of his hand. She gives him a half hearted smile back, but can’t quite muster a wave as her fingers grip around the edge of the gate. For a moment she simply stares at him standing there on what was once her porch. A place where she and her husband used to sit quietly at night, cuddled up together over a glass of wine. The wicker chairs are still there. Side by side and desolately empty. Her heart hammers as her father gestures for her to come inside, stepping to the side enough that she can see the staircase in the foyer.
She can’t go inside. And her kind, sweet father seems to understand why her feet are still frozen to the ground. He nods, raises a single finger to her, asking her silently to wait for a moment before he disappears back inside. Breath seems to flow a little easier now that it seems she doesn’t have to walk into her old home, a sense of sad relief washing over her as she steps away from the fence.
A bench sits across the street, and it seems like a good enough distance to placate her thundering pulse. She moves, walks across the road and sits down, and it seemed like such a good plan to be further away, except for the fact that her house is all she can see from here. Standing there like a distant memory, an intangible place. She turns her gaze away, opts to stare at the man walking his dalmation down the sidewalk, a happy tail wagging in the sun. The man smiles in greeting as they pass her, the dog deciding Regina is worthy of a good sniff. His wet nose bumps against her palm, demanding to be given a scratch. She chuckles and smoothes her fingers over his soft fur.
“Sorry about Pongo, he’s adamant everyone is going to be his friend.” The ginger haired gentleman sighs.
Regina smiles, rubs her hand over the dog’s neck, “He’s adorable.”
“Mmmmm, except when a twenty minute walk turns into an hour because he must sniff every single tree we pass.” He snorts and takes a seat beside Regina. “Forgive me, but you look quite familiar. Do you live around here?” His hazel eyes turn to her curiously, scanning her face for any recognition. Her palms flush with sweat as she stares back at the man, a flicker of memory beating her mind as his lips quirk up in a quizzical grin.
“I used to.” Her gaze glances back at the house across the road. “A few years ago.”
The man hums, follows her line of sight and lets out a long breath. “You’re Daniel’s wife. Regina, right?”
She stills, swallows thickly and nods against the burn of tears that burst against the backs of her eyes.
“He and I worked together before he…”
“Before he died.”
“Yeah.” He sighs, running a palm over the back of his neck, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to drag up sad memories.”
Regina tries to smile, fails miserably and focuses back on Pongo who has aptly decided to take a seat beside her feet. He’s a cute dog, pink, lolling tongue, dark brown eyes, spots that cover him from nose to tail. Henry wanted a dog. They almost caved to his begging eyes just before his fourth birthday, but then he got sick and a pet was out of the question.
“I’m Archie, by the way. I live a few blocks down.”
“It’s nice to meet you.”
He gives her a smile, “Likewise. So what brings you here on this fine Sunday?”
Regina swallows, shifts and glances back at the house, “Lunch with my dad. He lives here.” She arches a brow towards the door across the street.
Archie’s grin widens, “I didn't realize you were Henry's daughter. He's spoken of you quite often now that I connect the dots.” Regina turns to him rather bewildered. Her relationship with her father has been non existent for years since he left to give aide to those in Africa. “My wife and I have had him over for a few dinners, he was utterly helpless in the kitchen after his divorce.” He chuckles, and Regina blows out a huffed laugh alongside him.
“I can only imagine. He used to burn grilled cheese. But his paella is amazing.”
“Ahhhhh yes, he has made that for us. Quite delicious.”
Regina hums and scratches pongo beneath the chin.
Archie stands with a slap to his thighs, “Well, Pongo and I best be off. It may only be three streets to go, but I imagine it will take us a good half hour to get home.” He smiles down at his dog. “Hopefully I’ll see you around, Regina.”
She smiles, scratching Pongo once more before bidding Archie goodbye, her eyes following their path, a light chuckle escaping her as the dog tugs and pulls his owner to every stump, flower and bush along the way. Maybe one day she’ll get one to keep her company as well, it would be nice to have a friend around.
The flick of the gate draws her back to the house, finding her father’s hand full with tupperware as he makes his way across the street. She could cry. He’s brought lunch out to her knowing she was to afraid to go inside that house. God she’s missed him.
“Hello, sweetpea.” He beams, taking up the spare seat on the bench beside her, “Seems like a lovely day for a picnic.” He passes her a container and fork, before resting his palm on her thigh, “It’s good to see you again, darling.” His hand squeezes gently before returning to his own lunch.
The smell of his paella engulfs her, has her jaw watering instantly. “It smells delicious, Daddy, thank you.” She spoons a forkful into her mouth, near groaning at the taste. He chuckles beside her, “The pleasure is all mine.” His shoulder bumps into her own, “So tell me about your weekend. Anything exciting happen?”
Regina’s huffs out a disbelieving breath at what her weekend has entailed, a change in her life she never thought would happen. “I got hired at a law firm actually.”
“Darling, that’s wonderful!”
“I’m a little nervous to be honest.” She confesses, “It’s been a while since I have worked.”
Henry Sr. shrugs, chews on his lunch for a moment before turning to face his daughter squarely, “They are damn lucky to have you.” Regina nearly chokes on her food, her eyes wide, “Since when do you use profane words like ‘damn’?”
He laughs, his eyes bright and happy, “There is much about this bachelor life that has changed me. I even host a weekly poker and whiskey night now.” His brows bounce as he gives her a smug, giddy look.
“You drink whiskey? You have never drank a drop of alcohol in your life.” Regina gapes back, astounded as her father chuckles with a nodding, “I do now.”
There is definitely something different about her father, something light and joyful that surrounds him, a carefree aura she isn’t accustom to. It takes her a moment but it dawns on her that it was her mother. She squashed the life and freedom out of her father for decades. Apparently Regina wasn’t the only one under her dreadful mother’s control.
“You look happy, Daddy.”
Henry grins, reaches for her hand, “I find happiness is finally coming back into my life.” Her eyes flush wetly as she leans into his shoulder, inhaling softly into the comfort her father has always brought her.
“Now, tell me about this job.”
Monday finds Robin sitting at his desk, leaning back against the soft, leather backed chair as he stares out the office window and out into the park below. The pen between his fingers twirls absently as he watches the city go about it’s business. It’s a good view, they’d been lucky to get space in this building. He’s been rather lucky in the past three years. A notion that seems to have crawled deeper into his brain since Regina showed up on his doorstep.
How one person can find luck whilst it evades another. It’s been eating at him. Why he has been so fortunate to be given a second chance. Five years ago they’d been a simple start up company. Robin at the helm of an idea that most had overlooked in the beginning. He’d grinded and pounded back, worked harder than he ever had to get the first influx of money for a prototype. It was luck, he thinks, that the man at the bank he’d been bargaining with was apparently an outdoor enthusiast, one whose eyes had sparkled at the idea of a travel camel pack that filtered water.
It started there, with Robin and a few engineers creating and remodeling for months until they had something that could be tested by the public. He’d been downright panicked when they launched, frantic that the packaging wasn’t right, that the filtration system could be better, that no one was going to buy into what he was trying to sell.
It sold. By the hundreds. Astounding to Robin who could only watch as his company grew from a basement idea into a moderate sized business continually gaining speed, growing financially. Everyone wanted a piece of this new pie, investors flocked to his tiny office on the westside, marketing gurus, analysts, they swarmed him like bees to a honey hive.
And that was it. He’d been riding higher than high in those first two years. A self made man with a company ready to explode into the market. Things were going blindingly fast, his world wrapped up in the business - and it’s exactly that that he has guilt over. He’d been so focused on growing and building his brand that when Marian’s disease started to creep up, he hadn’t even noticed until it was too late.
In truth, after Marian died, he had given up on pretty much everything and everyone. Days went dark, bled into one another without his notice or care. For months he gave two shits about what happened to him, or his company, the only important thing was a having a full bottle of liquor close by he could drown himself in.
The board removed him temporarily. Demanding that he get himself straightened out or else they’d have no choice but to make it a permanent thing. He didn’t care. Walked into the office drunker than sin, belligerent and griping about how they can’t take his company away. Apparently they could, and Robin found himself being served with resignation papers not a week later. A litany of files that he aptly decided should be doused in tequila. What the fuck did it matter, anyway?
Truthfully it wasn’t until his mother took Roland that Robin’s world began to sober. Losing his son had been the breaking point, his last tether to his wife he could not be parted with. Rehab cleared his system, therapy his mind, and the day Robin walked back into his office it had been with his tail between his legs.
And now he sits as CEO once more because second chances found him and he is damn lucky for it.
On the street across he sees her. Tugging on a navy blue blouse as she waits amongst the crowd for the light to change. His heart twirls uncharacteristically as he watches her apologize to the stranger on her right, bumping into him on accident it appears as she tucks a fallen lock of hair behind her ear. He leans against the window, unable to keep himself from looking at her.
Even ten stories below, she is stunning.
Turning quickly, he picks up his phone, scrolls till he finds her name, types out a quick text and returns his gaze to her on the corner. His lips tug into a smile as he sees her reach into her bag, digging out her cell and he swears he can see her grinning.
RL: Good luck at the new job today.
RM: Thank you.
RL: You’re most welcome :)
He can’t help himself from firing off another message.
RL: What’s on the docket today? Kicking the law’s ass?
He watches as she drops her eyes back down to her cell again. A warmth swelling inside him seeing her smile at the screen, the way her shoulders bounce in a light laugh as she types out a response, his own phone clutched at the ready to receive whatever she has to say.
RM: I don’t know if pushing admin papers is exactly kicking ass…
RL: To some I imagine it’s quite the thrill.
RM: I suppose so. Shouldn’t you be working?
RL: No harm in taking a 5 min break to talk to you. I am the boss afterall.
His heart bubbles as he watches her chuckle, a shake of that perfect chocolate hair floating around her shoulders as she smiles. Damn she is pretty. Even from far away. She has a grace about her as the crowd begins to walk across the street.
RM: Careful, don’t let anyone catch you with your feet up.
RL: Worth it. Have a good day.
RM: You too.
RL: Do you mind if I text you again around lunch?
RM: Perhaps :)
Robin beams down at his phone. She sent him a smiley face. A cute little thing that has his heart bounding about. He loses her as she turns round the corner near 8th Avenue and resigns himself back to his chair though his smile doesn’t falter.
It stays with him throughout the entire morning.
When she said she was going to be pushing papers, she meant it. It’s been all she’s done since she walked into the office this morning. Signing contracts for employment, benefits, confidentiality agreements, the list goes on. August had brought her a cup of coffee and gone through all of it with her. It seemed rather easy, nothing out of the ordinary she wasn’t used to, until they hit payroll and banking.
She doesn’t have a bank yet. Doesn’t have a debit card or even her driver's license yet. She’d gone Thursday to the DMV to get it started, but apparently it takes three weeks for it to arrive, and she couldn’t exactly put down the motel as her address, opting to ask if she could simply come back to pick it up in a month’s time. Fortunately she does have her social insurance number, a saving grace as she shrunk into the leather seat, explaining to her new boss that her banking hadn’t been quite set up yet.
He’d smiled, said it was no issue, they can fill it out later. First paychecks are held on a roll over anyway in the first two weeks. She has time.
That’s when it hit her. The moment she’d looked at the payscale section of the contract and saw the number. Actual real money she was going to earn. Enough to cover a good months stay at the motel, perhaps even in a few weeks she could start a savings, garner enough to get a small apartment. It’s a thought that has her heart thumping. She could be free of that wretched place, of it’s vile owner.
Patience. She just needs to have a little patience and everything will begin to shift into a better place. It has to. There is only so much suffering one person should be allowed to endure, and Regina has done her fair share. At least she hopes so.
She and August had gone over the paperwork till he decided it was time for lunch, offered to pick her up something from the salad bar across the road, a gracious offer Regina declined. August insisted however, it was no problem , so she lied, knowing there would be no way she could pay him back. She smiled gratefully but claimed she had brought lunch with her for the day. Her stomach whined at the dishonesty.
He promised that after lunch they would go over her first case, what the workload was going to look like, who the team she’d be joining was - incidentally Royce Gold was to be her supervisor on it. She cringed at the thought of having to work with the man, but smiled anyway as August bid her off with a wave.
For the first time she is alone in the office. No a sound aside from the ticking second hand of the wall clock. It feels enormous now that she is by herself. It suits her boss though. Light and airy with the windows open, the soft grey threaded couch she sits on, even the glass and metal desk. Her eyes catch the old typewriter that sits a-top it. Perhaps her boss has a hobby in his spare time. She could see it. August being a writer. He has that curious quality to him.
“Can I get you a coffee, Ms. Mills?”
She startles as a young woman peeks into the room, clad in a yellow summer dress, perfect ringlets tied into a low lying ponytail that hangs on her shoulders. Regina smiles, “Sorry, I don’t think I’ve met you yet.” She stands, reaches a hand out to the younger woman who beams and grasps her palm, “I’m Belle, August’s assistant. It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Mills.”
“Please call me Regina.”
Belle nods, her bright blue eyes sparkling, “So how’s the first day on the job?”
“It’s been good, thank you. Just paperwork. How long have you worked here?” Regina questions.
“About two years, I graduated from the University of Oregon’s Law School, worked for about three years at this horrid firm down in Beaverton before August hired me.”
It doesn’t escape Regina the light blush that tints Belle’s cheeks as she references their boss. “He’s such a good guy and I am so grateful he took a chance with me.” Her blue eyes go wide, “To work here... as his assistant I mean. We aren’t together or anything.” She flushes furiously and Regina’s heart warms at the crush Belle so clearly has. Young love. It’s something so far removed from Regina’s own heart she almost forgot how it felt, the butterflies that swirled those first few dates she and Daniel had gone on.
“Anyway, can I get you that coffee?” Belle shuffles nervously at she glances up at Regina, “We have scones in the kitchen too, apple and pear ones, Mrs. Lucas brings them in every now and then. She’s a phenomenal baker.”
Regina nods, remembering far too well the talents of the older woman’s cooking skills she’d been on the gracious receiving end over the past three years. “Coffee sounds great.”
“Fantastic. I can get you up to speed on all the office gossip.” Belle winks mischievously as they walk out of August’s office together. They end up sitting in the kitchenette, the bustle of other co-workers coming by to introduce themselves to Regina every now and then. She makes an effort to catalogue each of them - Elsa Frost from the sex crimes division, Merida Scott in Environmental law, Victor Stein in Health and Business practice. They are all nice enough to her, shaking her hand and welcoming her on board, asking her what team she is joining. Everytime she mentions Royce Gold’s name, their eyes darken, brows cock curiously. Clearly he isn’t a fan favorite around here.
“So criminal defense? I wouldn’t have guessed,” Belle comments after a lulling few minutes. “Royce is… different.”
“So I have gathered.” Regina sips her coffee, a knot in her stomach tightening. “I have only met him once though.”
Belle huffs breathily, “Honestly, the guy’s a monster in the courtroom. There have been so many cases I have no idea how he got his clients off when they are so clearly guilty. He’s got friends in the D.A.’s office and higher still.”
Regina’s brow narrows as she spies Royce walking past the glass wall on the other side, slowing as he reaches someone Regina hasn't met. They speak quietly, Royce leaning on his cane, whispering words as his eyes drift around to land on Regina’s. He eyes for her for a long minute, a seedy looking passing through his gaze as the other man turns to follow his gaze.
Regina’s heart skitters to a halt.
She knows him. The other man. Couldn’t forget the dark, hollow eyes and tanned skin even if she wanted to.
Bile rises in her throat as he turns to face her fully, the yellow mustard of his tie swinging beneath the brown suit he wears. Her skin sweats in a chill as he grins at her with a crooked smile. He knows who she is. She can see it clear as day in his eyes as he toys with his tie, mocking her silently as the nausea rolls hot in her stomach.
“Regina? Are you alright?” Belle breaks the silence, quizzically gazing over to where Gold and the other man stand. “Oh, that’s Sidney. He’s in HR. Guy gives me the creeps. Have you met him yet?”
“What?” Regina recoils, terrified that Belle might know one of her darkest secrets. But the young woman simply tilts her head curiously, “I was just asking if you’ve met Sidney yet?” Regina swallows thickly, the taste of coffee suddenly receding into ash on her tongue as she shakes her head, “No, I haven’t.”
The lie scorches her throat as she shifts away from Sidney’s gaze. She’s so fucked. If he tells anyone about... that night, about what she did, what he did to her... she will lose everything she’s worked so hard to get. Perhaps she should tell August, best be up front right? Except what happens when he finds out? It’s not like he can keep her around after knowing the truth. She’d be back on the streets without a hope in the world, just her horrid past to keep her company.
The walls of the kitchenette suddenly seem too tight, squeezing the air around her. “I, uh, I am just going to make a quick call. Thank you for the coffee, Belle.” She stands abruptly, hoping she hasn’t offended the younger woman who simply smiles softly. Quickly, Regina hurries through the hallway, through the front reception and out into the crowded streets.
Tears flush against her lashes as she tries desperately to calm the nerves that skitter up her spine. Space. She needs space and there are too many people here, squeezing by gruffly, pushing her out of the way as they make their way down the sidewalk. Gripping her blazer tight, she flees to the safety of the park a few blocks down, all the while, Sidney’s devil filled eyes burning into the back of her mind.
His shadow follows her the entire way. Hovers and lurks as she makes her way into Jamieson park. The trees providing a much needed barricade from the world outside. It’s quiet here, graciously mute as she walks to a nearby bench by the pond. She slinks into the wooden backing, sighing heavy as she tilts her face to the peaking sun between the leaves. The memories of that night with Sidney blaze through her. The way his brownstone shoes clipped along the sidewalk to stop in front of her, the dark grin plastered to his face as she looked up from the wet concrete below.
It was the first time in her life Regina felt truly dirtier than the rats that kept her company. She can still smell him, a putrid mix of cigar smoke and rancid cologne that clung to his body. He was wearing the same yellow mustard tie. Roughly woven thread that swung in front of her eyes. Daniel would have been so upset to know how low she’d sunk to earn a few scarce dollars. But starvation ruled her mind and body.
She breathes heavily as her eyes flutter open. Tears stinging as she desperately tries to will them back. It will do her no good to cry. To let the demons creep in once more. She is trying to leave that life behind her. In the past, locked away in a box without a key.
Before her, a gaggle of ducks quack and splash about in the pond, a mother with twelve little ducklings that wade and wander after her. A smile creeps into her lips as an elderly couple and their grandchild toss breadcrumbs into the water. They look happy. Free of a tarnished life. She aches for that. Knows that kind of peace will never truly be given to her, but she can hope.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
She jolts at the sound of a familiar voice, turns to find Robin standing a few feet away, grinning softly down at her. “Hi.” She smiles back, “I didn’t see you, sorry.”
Robin shrugs, “It’s quite alright, I was just admiring the view.” His eyes warm as he closes the distance, “May I?” His hand gestures down to the vacant space beside her.
“Of course.” Regina slides a touch over. Robin sits, and Regina can’t help her eyes that wander over his body. He looks good. All dressed up in a dark navy suit and crisp white shirt. Her gaze falls back to her own attire. Her blazer that isn’t tailored, the skirt a touch wrinkled. She grimaces, tucks her arms around her waist and turns back to the happy family by the pond.
“So how’s your first day been so far?”
Regina sighs, “Oh, fine.”
“That’s it?” His eyes find hers curiously, “Just fine?”
Her heart squeezes tight as she thinks about Sidney. She tries to smile, but it falters before it reaches her lips. “I guess there is just a lot to learn. Things have changed since I last worked.”
Robin nods, leans back against the bench, “Well, I’m sure you’ll be running the place in no time.” His smile does grace his lips, dimples in his cheeks and reaches all the way up to his eyes. It gives her little comfort though. Odds are by the time she gets back to the office, everyone will know about her past and she’ll have to move to Canada or further, somewhere no one knows her.
Sighing heavily, she leans back into the bench, her eyes on the old couple tossing more bread crumbs at the ducks, but her mind wanders, and walks down a dark, self loathing path. The bitter irony of her life snears in her face. Of course she would have to work with a man who knew her from the streets, who paid her for services she never thought she’d sink down to. A man who knows the horrid, sorted details of the truth. She’s been a fool to think that this job was her saving grace. If they knew, if August knew what she has done, well, Regina is fairly certain she wouldn’t be an employee there for much longer.
She feels dirty, contaminated from the inside out. A falsifier of optimism. She has very little hope now that her past could be left behind. It will follow her everywhere. That much is clear. It’s like a disease she carries, infecting every good opportunity.
“You seem lost in thought.”
His voice tugs her back into the daylight, the curious worrisome arch of his brow has her recoiling in embarrassment. There is no reason for Robin to be here right now, sitting beside her, making small talk with her. He is good, and light, and pure and the last thing he needs is to be sucked into the drowning vortex that is her life.
She shifts on the bench, avoiding his eyes, he has already seen far too much of her. From how they met, to her showing up at his door unannounced, to the cemetery and her effectively ruining his shirt with her anguished crying.
Heat flushes into her cheeks. She literally cried on his chest for what felt like hours, and they are basically strangers. He doesn’t really know her, and she knows very little of him, and definitely not enough to use him as a consoling shoulder. It had been a long time since she had cried that hard. Longer since there was someone there to wrap their arms around her and allow her pain be so exposed without judgement.
He probably thinks she’s crazy. Emotionally unstable. Or just unstable as a person in general.
She feels Robin move to squeeze her forearm, a warmth in his palm. “Are you alright?” he asks, opting to not comment on the way she froze at his touch but rubs his thumb against her skin gently. The knot in her stomach tightens, rolls and heaves up into her throat as she stares down at his hand, “I wish you knew me when Henry and Daniel were alive.” She sniffs, kicks herself for the blatant honesty that apparently pours from her when she is around him. “I was a better person back then.”
Robin blows out a quiet breath beside her, his heart aching at the pain written across her face. He wants nothing more than to help ease that anguish.
“Did something happen this morning at work?”
Regina’s eyes wander back out to the pond, lest Robin see the tears that build and threaten to fall, her fingers carding through her hair in distraction, but that just makes it worse, has her thinking about her new co-worker.
“You can tell me anything, you know that right?”
She grimaces at that. She is pretty sure that if Robin knew, really knew about her past, he would be up and off this bench as though it was lit of fire. Regina turns back to Robin, apprehensive and confused as to why he would even care. Apparently the thought escapes through her lips rather than staying silent in her brain. Robin smiles small, wrapping his fingers through her own in her lap, “It’s what friends do.” He shrugs. Regina stares, her heart thumping furiously in disbelief, “Friends?”
For a moment Robin simply looks at her a little lost, “I would hope to be considered your friend.” He toys with his watch absently, waiting for her to say something. Regina nibbles on her lower lip nervously, “Why though? I have literally nothing to offer you.”
Sadness crinkles at the corners of his eyes, and instead of pulling away like Regina is half expecting him too, he scoots closer and takes both her hands in his own. “I disagree.” Robin smiles with a gentle resoluteness. Regina’s eyes drop from his, “Then perhaps you don’t know me well enough to see the truth.”
“And what truth would that be, M’lady?”
His persistence is almost as annoying as it is comforting. He’s a fool though for believing that she could actually be his friend, that she would know how to be friend, and more than anything that she deserves to have a friend. She doesn’t. Not after the past three years and the amount of repenting she has to do to clear her soul of sins.
“I’m poison, Robin.” A tear slips, “Everyone around me either leaves, or dies, or abuses me for their own needs. My life is a mess.”
He watches her carefully for a second, trying his damndest to not immediately refute and argue what she believes about herself. He knows enough from his own demons that your own self perception tends to have a tighter grasp than anyone else’s opinions. Hell, he’d thought he was being a good father to his son half tossed on whiskey. His mind said Roland was happy, healthy, that he was doing a good job raising his boy, but the reality was so much different. It took a long time for Robin to face what he had done in those months.
Regina needs time. That much is clear. Time, and to have someone around as she walks through this new daunting part of life and he is certainly more than okay to hold her hand through it. “You’re not poison, Regina. I know you might not believe that, but I do. Life has dealt you a really shit hand, and it’s unfair, but I have faith that it will turn around. You’re a good person, Regina and if we let our pasts define our futures, well I’d be a lifer in rehab, with no son and no company.” He laughs lightly, hoping to ease the tension that so clearly claws its way around her as she looks away dismally.
He sinks as her shoulders sag. “Hey, look at me.” His fingertips brush along her chin, gently guiding her back to him, “You have nothing to be ashamed about. You are so resilient and I admire you, more than you know.” Robin smiles, hoping to see even a flicker of happiness in her eyes. Regina exhales heavily, sniffs and turns away from him, “I don’t have that much hope.”
“Well, use mine for the both of us then.”
There is always a yin to the yang, isn’t there? The pessimist and the optimist, glass half full versus half empty.
Her brow creases in heartache, “I haven’t had a friend since Henry passed away. Even then, I don’t know if you can consider his nurses actual friends, we were just always around each other.” The hot lump in her throat swells, as she glances tearfully up at Robin, “I don’t know if I know how to even be a friend anymore, let alone have one.”
Carefully Robin laces their fingers back together, and tugs her hand up to his lips, watching her hesitant eyes as he presses a soft kiss to her knuckles. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to change your mind about that.” He smiles and Regina feels herself laugh. Really laugh. The hard lump in her stomach easing away as his eyes do that crinkly thing again, his dimples deepening as he kisses her hand once more and settles back against the bench.
They sit quietly together in the sun. It’s peaceful. And she tries to not lean into his arm draped around her shoulder to obviously. Tries to not sigh at the way his fingers trace up and down her bicep gently. It’s soothing. Calming in a way she hasn’t felt in years. Robin’s phone buzzes and she glances down at Daniel’s watch and cringes. It’s been nearly an hour since she ran from the office. Not exactly her best showing on the first day of work.
She has to go back, that much she knows. Having this job is the only thing that will get her out of that disgusting motel and away from it’s equally horrible manager. Robin sighs as he tucks his phone back into his pocket. “It appears my lunch is over.” He smiles sadly at her, clearly not wanting to go back just yet, a notion she shares as she too nods that she should also be getting back.
“May I walk you back to your office, M’lady?”
They set off together, side by side, Robin easing the dread in her stomach by telling her how tonight is pasta night with Roland, which basically means that Robin will spend most of the night cleaning up spilt tomato sauce. He offers an invitation as they stop at the law firm’s glass doors, and as much as Regina wants to accept, she can’t keep relying on him. So she declines politely, lying that she has plans already. Robin nods, a sag in his shoulders he tries to hide from her.
“Perhaps another time then?” He squeezes her hand.
“Perhaps.” Regina smiles and glances to the door.
Robin can feel her hesitation, sees the way she fumbles with the hem of her blouse for far too long. Clearly someone or something inside is causing this anxiety that ripples through her. If that’s the case, maybe he needs to make a quick phone call, pull some strings to ensure she is being treated properly. Eventually he will have to tell her. But that day can wait. She has enough worry in her heart right now.
Instead he steps in front of her and that looming glass door, effectively blocking her view. He runs his hands along her arms, waiting till the tension in her chest begins to fade. “If you need anything, you know where to find me. Anytime, alright?”
She attempts a smile, grips his forearms tight for a moment before righting her shoulders. It’s not like she can hide forever. Perhaps it won’t be as bad as she thinks. “Thank you.”
“Always, Regina. I hope you know that.” Robin tucks a fallen piece of hair behind her ear. “I’m only a phone call away, and that dinner invitation still stands.”
“I appreciate that.” She clears her throat and eyes the door. “I should go.”
Robin tips his head to the side with a smile, “Have a good afternoon.” And he loves the way her cheeks turn a touch pink when he bestows one last kiss to her knuckles. He watches her go, waits till he can’t see her anymore as she rounds the corner inside and is gone from his sight.
Turning to walk the three blocks back to his own office, he toys with the idea of texting her the entire way, but stifling her isn’t going to help. He just needs to be here, for whenever she needs him. It’s a promise he intends to keep.
She sits behind her desk as afternoon spills into evening, staring outside absently. It’s near seven, and the office is basically empty, and it’s not like she has anything to get home to. So she sits in the silence of her office, so lost in thought she doesn’t hear the door open, nor is she prepared for the man who walks through.
Everything freezes as her eyes land on tan shoes. Her heart clenching tightly as they move towards her. He slides closer, the stench of cigar smoke enveloping the room as she turns in her chair. Her hands may shake as they lock eyes but she will certainly not show this man any fear. She can’t afford too.
“I don’t think we have met,” she lies through her teeth, swallowing thickly as he grins knowingly down at her. Straightening his tie he takes up residence in the spare chair across from her, his gaze wandering down her body, lingering as his smirks. “That’s a pity. I certainly haven’t forgotten you.”
Regina sinks into her chair, hoping that he can’t tell how utterly disgusting she feels right now knowing that he remembers her, remembers everything about her.
“Perhaps we should get reacquainted.” He chews his tongue, a bubble of spit forming in the crease, Regina can’t help but stare at, “I am Sidney Glass. I don’t believe I gave you my name during our last... encounter.” The spit bubble pops as his lips tug apart, his yellow stained teeth peeking out from behind chapped lips.
They felt like sandpaper on her skin; rough and dry. Scouring her already sensitive flesh like a razor until the wet trail of saliva saturated and clung stickily to her. His smell stuck to her for days. Molasses and cigar smoke that had her stomach rolling over itself much as it is right now.
She glances just past his shoulder line, folding her hands in her lap lest he see the tremble in them. “What can I do for you, Mr. Glass?” Everything in her body wills itself to stand upright, to not crumble into a pile of withering dust in front of this man as he pops a mint candy into his mouth, humming absently as he sucks loudly on it.
But he doesn’t say anything, just stares greedily at her, plays with his tie and sucks on the mint.
He’s baiting her. She knows it.
“I see the two of you have already met.” Regina jolts as Royce Gold steps into her office, a box in his hands, “Good. We have a new case and the deposition is Thursday.”
For a moment Regina is grateful for the distraction, breathes a sigh of relief as the heavy box is unloaded on her desk, it puts space between her and that man, a barrier she will hide behind.
That is until Gold’s words resonate in her mind.
“We?” Her eyes dart over the box to where Gold stands. “You and I are working on it together?”
“Is that a problem, Ms. Mills?” His brow cocks high.
Regina breathes gratefully, as she shakes her head. Working with Royce she can deal with, perhaps he wouldn’t be her first choice, but it’s better than the alternative that sits across from her. “No, of course not. I’m sure there is a lot I can learn from you.”
Gold huffs, “You have no idea. But all I need from the two of you right now is to go through this while I head to the jail.”
Her heart drops. “I’m sorry?”
The irritation pulses off of the shorter man, “Did I miss-speak?”
“No, I just uh, you said the two of us.” She holds his gaze, determined to not let it flick over to Sidney who leans back in his chair with a smirk. “I did. You and Mr. Glass here are going to be going over the police interrogation and client testimony together. It’s a high profile case. We can’t afford to miss anything.”
The air from the office is sucked out as she stares at Royce.
He wants them to work together, her and Sidney.
“I realize August has faith in you, but I have yet to see what kind of work you can do.” Gold sneers down at her, “I can’t afford this case to be handled poorly, and Mr. Glass here has volunteered to help you until I am certain you are up to the task.”
Her stomach swoops and knots over. A wave of nausea building as she stares down at the box as she nods, breathes out an unsteady, Of course , and fakes her best smile at her new boss.
“Regina, are you alright? You look faint,” Sidney questions in a shroud of smugness. His dark eyes falling down to her lips, before he tilts his head to the side in false concern. “Should you lay down?”
She swallows, “I’m fine, thank you. I should get started on this.”
“Good. I’ll check in tomorrow on your progress.” Gold waves her off and walks out the door, any ounce of bravery she had following behind him. Sidney makes no move to leave, smacks his tongue against his teeth and settles even deeper into the chair. “What good fortune, it appears we are going to get to know one another quite well, Regina.”
She won’t look at him. Demands her eyes to stay on the page in front of her instead. Her throat thickens, jaw clenching as she pretends to thumb over the words that are beginning to blur. She can do this. She can focus on work, on this case. Just because he is here, doesn’t mean she will fail at her job.
So she reads, pretends to at least, but the longer she waits for Sidney to leave and he doesn’t, the more her irritation grows. He simply sits there, leering over her.
“You know, Regina, we are going to be working together, late nights and all, I suggest you start being nice to me. After all, if I am… dissatisfied with your work, I don’t think you’ll be around for much longer, and neither of us want that.” Malice laces through his tone as he tosses a booklet onto her desk with a thud. “I’d hate to think what would happen should anyone find out about the truth of your past.”
A beat of silent passes as Regina wills her tears away.
He stands, lingers at the end of her desk as he adjusts his coat. “You know, I have a feeling you won’t forget me so quickly this time around.”
The sound of his sickly chuckle echoes through her ears as he exits her office, a deafening silence suffocating her in his wake. Her fingers clench around the paper in her hands, shaking uncontrollably as a sob finally breaks out from her chest. It builds and bursts like a damn as she folds over into her desk, a hand carding through her hair, tugging painfully at the roots as the tears spill down her cheeks.
She is ever so fucked.
There is no possible way she is going to be able to work with him and not feel about one hundred feet small. He knows exactly what she did, who she was, and he can use it as blackmail. It’s a dead fact that he will, she saw it in his eyes.
For a first day back at work, this could not being going any worse. Life was supposed to be getting better, not tying a noose around her neck.
The buzzing of her phone jolts her, and she wipes her eyes quickly, inhaling shakily as she thumbs it open.
It’s a photo of Roland and her heart aches as she laughs wetly down at the picture. It’s all big, bright brown eyes, pasta sauce smeared over beaming, dimpled cheeks, and a white chef’s hat lopsided over unruly curls. She traces the edge of the photo, tries to steady her breathing as a text follows beneath.
RL: If you’d believe it, I have more pasta on my shirt than he does on his face.
She smiles, curls herself into her chair and leans her head against her palm as the three little bubbles blossom on the screen once more.
RL: I know I invited you for dinner, but I would have hated if Roland ruined one of your shirts with his “cooking” skills. Perhaps I can tempt you with burger night Wednesday? Less messy :)
Glancing up at the box on her desk, at all the papers inside, she sighs, knowing that she probably won’t have time for dinner on Wednesday, she can’t exactly afford to screw up this first case, doesn’t want to imagine what Sidney will demand of her if she isn’t up to par, or the disappointment in August’s eyes if he finds out. The disgusted judgement he would surely have.
She may be working as a lawyer, but she is a fraud for pretending her soul is clean from sin.
A hot flash of shame ripples through her at the thought of Mrs. Lucas being told. After the gamble the older woman took for Regina to be hired here. That would be the nail in the coffin.
Life has already been cruel, it might as well add humiliating, too.
So no, dinner, as lovely as it sounds, is a complete fantasy.
Reaching back for her phone, she bites down on her lower lip as her fingers type back a quick response.
RM: I’d love that.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
That was not what she meant to type. Had been thinking it, absolutely, but she meant to politely decline.
It takes less than a minute her phone buzzes once more.
RL: Roland and I can’t wait :)
A smile tugs at the corners of her lips and she can’t help but feel as though she can breathe a touch easier. One dinner won’t kill her entire career and surely Robin wouldn’t be angry with her if she cancelled, he’d understand - she could blame it on work. But then it would also mean cancelling on them, and that seems almost cruel when she thinks about Roland’s bubbly laugh and Robin’s warm smile. She’d hate for them to be upset.
Perhaps if she pulls two long working nights and gets this deposition ready, she can swing Wednesday.
It’s her first case here, it can’t be anything too crazy and overwhelming. Reaching for the first police report, the mugshot of a young man stares up at her.
Her brow cocks high as she reads the headline below
Son in Law arrested for the brutal murder of Midas Family Patriarch, claims innocence.
Apparently Gold is throwing her straight into the shark tank.
Chapter 9: Uncertainly Certain
Trigger Warning for Attempted Sexual Assault.
Regina stays late into the night, bent over reading at her wooden desk for hours that pass without her notice aside from the ache that brews in her lower back from sitting for so long. She should probably go back to the motel and get some real sleep, but the prospect of having to spend time with Sidney on this case tomorrow has her brows drawn tight and determined to get as much of the deposition done as possible while he isn’t around.
In all honesty she isn’t actually certain sleep would find her after reading file after file right now anyway. Four days ago, a man by the name of David Shepherd was arrested for murdering his soon to be father in law in apparent cold blood. The patriarch was shot three times in the chest at point blank range whilst he held a tumbler of whiskey in his grasp. The photos are gruesome, the amount of blood pooled on the cream couch, the lifeless eyes of the older man wide and vacant, it’s enough to have her stomach knotting.
She thumbs through the pile of photos, the gun - a Walther P226, the blood splatter across the walls, autopsy images, bullet holes, fingerprints dusted around the room, and the DNA matches to Mr. Shepherd. It’s a fairly convincing report.
The deceased, Archibald Midas, was a filthy rich businessman who traded in exports of gold. His daughter, Kathryn, is twenty-nine, a graduate from Harvard Law, his only child and sole heir to his company and fortune, soon to be wed to David in the spring. And then his wife, Lucile Midas, a conservative woman who dabbled in Kentucky politics before marrying Archibald nearly thirty years ago. A powerful family in every essence. They look perfect, she has to admit, as her finger traces over their last family photo. A stoic, frozen portrait, one of America’s most famed and untouchable families.
She reads about David Shepherd. A young man from Connecticut, a degree in environmental sciences from a small university on the east coast, a job with a hydro-electric company that moved him out west to Seattle where he met Kathryn Midas. They’d been engaged two years later, a lavish wedding currently being planned, one to rival any in history. From everything Regina can see or read, David and Kathryn seemed happy, a fairytale couple.
So then why would David murder his father in law?
Why destroy his family?
And why does he claim his innocence when both Kathryn and Lucile were eyewitnesses to the brutal shooting?
She’s drowned herself over every line of their statements, and it’s hard to think of anything but David is clearly guilty.
The Midas family had just finished dinner and moved into the study. Lucile and Kathryn shared a bottle of wine, Archibald an expensive whiskey. They were talking about the wedding, where Kathryn wanted to go for a honeymoon, when she and David thought of starting a family. It was any other normal night in their household.
Kathryn had gone to refill her wine glass when a drunk and enraged David came bursting into the den, a gun in his hand.
He’d begun to yell about it all being unfair. He was supposed to have this life. It was stolen from him. He was the one who deserved to be rich, to be loved and wanted.
It all had Regina’s brow furrowing. Did he not have all of that?
Kathryn’s statement went on to say that she tried to get David to put the gun down, to reason with him, but he tossed her off, sputtering more nonsense and threatening to shoot her. Archibald had stood to defend his daughter, a heated argument ensued between the two men, and then three shots went off. All three point blank range into Archibald Midas’ chest and David fled.
Lucile had been the one to call 911, the police and ambulance arrived six minutes later, but the family patriarch was already dead upon arrival.
Lucile and Kathryn were taken to the hospital, examined for injuries, questioned by the police for hours on end before they were allowed to leave. Regina’s heart aches as she looks over the pictures of the two women. Life is so fragile, it can be taken in an instant, without reason, leaving nothing but a gaping hole in ones heart for all eternity.
David had been picked up a few hours later at his apartment. Apparently bewildered and frantic over his arrest. He’d begged to phone Kathryn, swore he had nothing to do with it, he loved Archibald like a father. His statement is befuddled and filled with anguished confusion. He’d gone out for a slice of pizza after work, grabbed a beer at the pub down the road, stayed for maybe an hour or two before he headed home.
Archibald was shot at 9:34pm, David swore he’d been at the bar at that time, pleaded with the police to look at the security footage at the pub. And it would have helped, she supposes, but the manager at Darby’s bar had sheepishly admitted that their cameras had been down for over a week, there was no footage of David. The bartender that night couldn’t really say if he saw David or not, thought he had, but couldn’t be absolutely sure. What’s worse, is that David paid in cash, there is no paper trail of his supposed alibi.
Regina stares down at the mugshot of David Shepherd and something shifts in her. His eyes are red from crying, exhaustion painted across his features, but what holds her attention is the look his gaze, disbelief and pain. He’s devastated. Or at least appears to be. Which makes no sense. He shot Archibald.
Why would he be this anguished over it? Perhaps it’s simply because he was caught. A guilty conscience?
Her stomach groans in hunger, and she finally leans away from the box of files. She arches and pops her neck with a hiss before glancing down at Daniel’s watch on her wrist.
It’s nearly midnight. Fuck. The last train is at 11:50, there is no way she’ll make it. She’s going to have to walk… nine miles back to the motel in the dark. A thought that has her feet already aching. It’s cold outside, a pattering of rain dancing along the window pane and she has no umbrella. She groans, and shrinks into the chair debating her options. The office is warm, quiet and blessedly safe from the motel’s manager. But it also is risky, someone could see her sleeping here and start to ask questions about her life, or lack there of and she would rather not be entirely humiliated in her first week.
She scratches dully against the ache at the base of her neck, a headache brewing as the minutes tick by. Certainly she’s made a dent in the deposition, has highlighted and noted her ass off over each and every detail of the murder, has a paper pad full of questions and timelines to clarify with Royce in the morning. She’s done a lot of work, surely he will have to see that.
The one glaring question she has is the fact that the police report had David’s alcohol content registering 0.01, barely anything. But Kathryn and Lucile had adamantly sworn that he was drunker than a skunk, stumbling, slurring, they could smell the tequila on him.
He’d been picked up not four hours after the murder, and that surely isn’t enough time for David to have sobered almost entirely.
Something isn’t right about it. About the entire murder. She can feel it in her gut. Royce has missed something, a key piece in the puzzle. Not that she is going to tell him that before figuring it out. She is rather certain he wouldn’t take kindly to the suggestion that he hasn’t fully combed through the case.
The hours she has to connect the dots are quickly dwindling away.
A yawn escapes her, a heavier sigh following as she curls her feet into the chair and leans sleepily against the arm. It’s uncomfortable, but she’s slept on worse than a leather chair, it beats wet cement any day.
Maybe just for an hour she’ll close her eyes, two tops, and then she’ll get back to this case. Her brain just needs a breather. It’s been a long time since she has had to think about anything other than where her next meal is coming from. A murder case, especially one this big... well she can’t be faulted for needing a second to collect herself, right?
Tugging the blazer up around her shoulders, Regina sighs into it’s vague illusion of warmth, but it’s better than nothing, better than having to make the trek back to the motel.
It will just be for an hour, just a bit of shut eye. It’s only been a day and she is already exhausted. Strangely though as her eyes flutter closed, a thought passes through her that it is the best kind of exhaustion she’s had in years. Tired from work. From using her brain like she once had. There is a purpose to this exhaustion. It feels good. So so good.
The last thing she sees before sleep overrides is the photo of David Shepherd eyes, glossed over in anguish, and she can’t help but think that it’s certainly not the look of a cold-blooded murderer.
The sun is just a little brighter today in Robin’s opinion as he makes his way down the sidewalk and into the office. Today feels like a good day. Perhaps it’s because he went to bed with a smile plastered onto his face, thanks to the prospect his dinner plans tomorrow, or maybe it’s just because the air is warm outside, either way he feels almost giddy.
Giddy at the thought that tomorrow he’ll get to talk to Regina again, to learn a little bit more about her, to see that gorgeous smile and hopefully get a laugh or two as well.
And the jovial mood doesn’t end, not even as he walks into his office only to find his chair commandeered by his sister. He simply shakes his head and hangs up his coat as her bright blue eyes dare him to make a comment about her seated location. Mal is not one to be fought with, he has thirty three years of experience to know that most of the time is better to keep the peace rather than allow his sister to breathe her fire.
“You look cheery today,” she pokes with a curious smirk as Robin reaches for the second coffee steaming away on the desk. He shrugs, avoiding Mal’s look, “It feels like a cheery kind of day.” He can feel her staring at him, the pointed, quizzical look at his aloofness, and he finds a touch of satisfaction in the roll of her eyes when he doesn’t answer with anything more than with a smile directed her way.
Brushing off her indignance, Robin spins gently in the chair across from her, “Aside from missing your dastardly handsome brother, what brings you in on this fine morning?”
“Mom and Marco want to know what the plan for Roland’s birthday party is.”
“Already?” Robin baffles, “It’s two weeks away.”
Mal chuckles into her coffee, “You know them. If there isn’t a plan in place a year before that means it wasn’t planned right.”
Robin shakes his head incredulously, “It’s a five year old’s birthday party. How much planning do I realistically need to do aside from getting a cake and some balloons?” Mal sighs a touch dramatically as though it is the most obvious thing in the world, “You need a theme, Robin.”
He simply stares back at her, perplexed to say the least. “A theme? I didn’t have one last year.”
“That’s because you took him to visit Marian’s parents in Portugal.” Mal deadpans. “We didn’t celebrate Roland’s birthday here.”
Robin in winces, he knows it’s a sore spot for his family. But last year just seemed a little bit lonely, he was missing Marian horribly and her parents had been asking to see Roland anyway. It just seemed like a good idea to take him. What he hadn’t anticipated was the disheartened looks on his own family’s face at the decision. Roland is the only grand-child so far, and he is spoiled utterly rotten by everyone.
It seems he has some serious making up to do this year. Admitting defeat, he reaches for a paper pad and pencil, twirling it in his fingers, “Alright, what kind of party am I throwing?”
They toy with ideas for nearly an hour, going back and forth over what Roland would love and what Robin is capable of pulling off. The petting zoo was an immediate no and a circus theme soon followed, no one really likes clowns anyway. Mal’s Avengers suggestion was certainly a contender, both of them sharing a laugh at attempting to convince Elsa’s rather large husband John to come as Thanos. In the end they settled on Jurassic Park, or at least the child friendly version of it.
It crosses his mind more than once how much easier this would be if Marian were still around. She would be all over this kind of party planning for their son. She would know all the little things that would make it just a bit more special, would think of the smallest details to make it perfect. He misses her every day but the ache is always a little deeper around Roland’s birthday.
“So, I’ll get the blow up dinosaurs, Mom will do the cake, and you are good to grab streamers and balloons, right?”
Robin nods as he clicks his pen, “His birthday is on a Wednesday this week, I assume we can throw this shindig on the Saturday then?”
“My schedule is clear.” Mal smiles, “Oh, and you’ll have to ask who he wants to invite, and call their parents. Oh, damn, and we will need to make goodie bags.”
“Goodie bags?” Robin’s brow shoots high. “Roland will already have presents, what are the bags for?”
His sister sighs, dropping her head defeatedly as she shakes her head at him, “You are hopeless sometimes, you know that?” She grins at his confusion, “It’s for the other kids. Like a parting gift to them as a thank you for coming.”
“I have to get other kids presents on my own son’s birthday?”
“It’s just a bag of little toys and candy, nothing crazy. But make sure it’s all dino themed.”
“Dinosaur themed candy?” He slumps into his chair, running a hand over his face, this party suddenly seeming like a daunting task. Marian would have it all done and planned he is certain, and the thought has his heart sinking.
Mal’s fingers reach across the table, wrapping gently around his own with a squeeze. “I know it’s hard without Marian.” He nods, glancing down at the long list in front of him. “She would be so good at this kind of stuff. Sometimes I wonder how I have managed to raise Roland without her.” Robin sighs heavily.
“You’ve done an amazing job with him. He’s a great kid, Robin. Marian would be really proud of you.” She squeezes his palm once more before slipping back into her own chair.
“I hope so. I just want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to raise him right.”
“You are.” Mal shakes her head, “And you always have us around to help, you know that, right?”
Robin chuckles, “I think the fact you’re in my office at nine AM asking me about my son’s birthday party plans is pretty evident of that.”
Smirking, Mal reaches for her coffee, “Yes, well, I love my nephew. I had to make sure he was going to be utterly spoiled this year.”
Robin laughs, his hand gesturing down at the full list on the table, “Have you seen this list? I don’t even know how I am going to pull this off. I am going to need to hire a crew just to get it done.”
“Not a bad idea,” Mal chuckles. “Anyway, I best be off and let you get to work on Jurassic Park.”
Robin walks her to the door, kisses her cheek and bids his sister a goodbye, shaking his head with a laugh as he hears her ask his secretary if she knows where to buy blow up dinosaurs. He has to hand it to Mal, there is nothing more important to her than family, and Robin is damn grateful for having such a large one.
He slides back to his desk, turns to face the window, and glances down at the street, wondering perhaps if he will get lucky enough to see Regina walking down the sidewalk.
Maybe he should invite her to the party too. Roland would love it. He’ll have to ask her at dinner. His smile spreads once more as he thinks about tomorrow, about getting to see her again and as much as he misses his wife every day, he wonders if perhaps it would be alright with her that he has begun to wonder if he has found a second chance at love.
She wakes to the stale smell of cigarettes and a kink in her neck. Groaning, Regina cracks her eyes open, blearily blinking away the last remnants of sleep as she shifts in the office chair.
“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty.”
His voice freezes her. Her eyes flying open as she jolts upright, meeting Sidney’s smirk with a flare of embarrassment coursing through her. His eyes draw over her body, lingering a little to long as Regina adjusts her wrinkled skirt. She swallows thickly, “How long have you been sitting there?”
He shrugs, flips his tie between his fingers, “A while.”
“You were watching me sleep?” Her stomach rolls as she combs her fingers through her hair, knowing she must look like an absolute mess.
He licks his lips and cocks a brow, “I simply was curious as to why you were here and not at home. It’s rather odd to sleep in ones office.”
Regina recoils, it’s not like she has a home, but she can’t tell him that. No one can know. Especially him. “I was here late going through the case last night, I must have dozed off.” She fumbles to pull her blazer on, wishing he would stop staring at her. She glances down at her watch, and frowns for a moment. “Why are you here so early? The office doesn’t open till nine.”
The slight snarl that curls into his lips has Regina’s chest constricting. “Are you displeased that I am here?”
She shakes her head, feeling a little more trapped with each passing second.
“I’ll remind you that we are working on this case together, we will be spending a lot of nights and early mornings alone, I am certain.” His gaze darkens, “I think it best that we get along, don’t you?”
Regina nods, hoping that he can’t see the way her fingers tighten in her lap.
“Good. Now, I assume you actually did some work last night.” He leans back into his chair, eyeing up the stack of files on her desk, “What did you find?”
Regina shifts, thankful that they can move on from the way he is staring at her and onto something she can distract herself with instead of the smell of smoke that seeps off of him. “I went through the statements, and it’s not adding up.”
“Kathryn and Lucile both said that David was drunk, slurring his words.”
“You’re point being?”
“His blood alcohol levels when the Police picked him up didn’t register anything. It was only four hours after the murder, no one can sober up that quickly.”
Sidney scowls as he snatches the file from Regina’s desk, “Both women put Mr. Shepherd at the crime scene. Their statements were exactly the same. He was drunk.”
“I’m aware, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Are you saying they lied?” His eyes flick up to Regina’s angrily. “I’ll have you know the Midas’ are good friends of Royce. I don’t think he would take to kindly to you calling them liars.”
“I’m not.” Regina shrinks, wishing he didn’t have this way of making her feel so small. “I am only suggesting that maybe we need to go talk to David.”
“Royce already has.”
Sidney’s brow arches as he sneers down at her. “So you’re suggesting Royce did a poor job interviewing the suspect?”
“No.” Regina shakes her head quickly, “I’m not saying that at all.”
“That’s what it sounds like.” He crosses one leg over the other, tossing the file back onto Regina’s desk with a thud, “From what I gather, you are saying you don’t believe either woman, nor your own boss’ aptitude, and clearly are in over your head with this already.”
Her jaw drops, “I spent the entire night going over all the details of this case, and I just think that perhaps something isn’t adding up.” She bites down on her lip, hoping to stop the quivering in her voice as Sidney glares at her. And she wishes she could look him in the eye, but her gaze drops defeatedly down to the table as she shrinks into the chair.
She hears him stand, scoffing as he rights his tie, “All I can tell is that you have failed miserably at this one simple task and opted to get a good night’s rest instead of doing your job.” He scowls, “Honestly I don’t know what I expected from you. Given your past. Perhaps you aren’t cut out to work here.”
Her heart drops. Sinks and flounders away into the abyss of self doubt.
He leans over the desk, sneers down at the files, “I’ll deal with Royce this morning. Stay here and try to get something done.” He shakes his head disappointedly at her, and Regina feels like a small child being chastised. “And for God sakes straighten yourself out, this office has a reputation.”
The door to her office shuts with a slam and the tears burn hot along her lashes not a second later. Shame runs rampant as she sniffs hard against the tears, willing them not to fall lest Sidney walk back in and chastise her again. This would be so much easier if she could work with someone else, someone who didn’t know about her past. Luck, however, has never been on her side.
Her fingers card through her hair, tugging out the small knots at the end, and she scowls down at the wrinkles in her shirt, there is no chance someone in this office won’t see just how unprofessional she looks right now. Perhaps she could make a quick run back to the motel to change. Though the second she thinks it, she knows it’s impossible. If she leaves and Royce comes in, he’ll have her fired surely for skipping out at work without being able to give a good enough reason for her absence.
Wiping away her tears, she stands, attempts to straighten out her clothing best as possible and darts out to the bathroom, hoping that a bit of soap and water will help in some way.
The bathroom door clicks shut and Regina falls against it, trying to regain the shake in her breathing. How she ever thought this job was going to work out she doesn’t know. She could quit. Try and find something else. A different office where Sidney isn’t around. Though she’s not entirely certain that he won’t spill her secrets to every law office in the state if she tries to leave. Realistically she can’t quit anyway. She needs the money, needs to get out of that motel as soon as possible.
The taps squeak on as she gulps down a mouthful of cold water, wishing for a bit of toothpaste or mouthwash. The defeat she feels as her hands cup around the tap grows, flourishes and burns hot as she tries to wipe the smudged makeup off, hoping to god no one will notice just how red rimmed her eyes are. She really is a mess, isn’t she? Mother would be so disappointed.
Maybe it’s best if she doesn’t say anything more about David’s case. Maybe it’s better if she just follows behind Royce and Sidney, the less she questions, the easier this case has to go for her, right? But it sits heavy in her stomach, a brick of lead weighing her down. Something isn’t right, they missed something. The mugshot of David Shepherd, the look on his face, the utter pain and sadness in his eyes, her gut is telling her that he is innocent.
Daniel always used to tell her to follow her gut.
“Oh, good morning, Regina!” The bathroom door swings open, a cheerful Belle on the other end smiling her way. “I didn’t realize you were here already.” The younger woman’s gaze flickers over Regina, her smile faltering as Regina’s eyes don’t quite meet her own. “Are you alright?”
Regina nods quickly, “Yes, thank you. I’m fine. Good morning to you too, Belle.” She tries to smile back.
“Are you sure? I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you look upset.” Belle shifts to stand beside her at the vanity counter. Regina shakes her head, running a hand through her hair, “Just a rough start to the day, but I am truly fine. Thank you.”
She thinks Belle will drop it, but instead Regina finds one of her hands suddenly being gently encased. Belle smiles softly, “If you are sure, but if not, you can always talk to me. I’m a good listener.”
She is far too sweet for her own good, Regina thinks, as she squeezes Belle’s hand back. Far too pure and kind to be touched with the darkness that hugs Regina like a vice.
“I saw Sidney earlier. Did he say something to you?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because the man is a slime ball.” Belle shrugs, “Trust me, I do not envy you having to work with him.”
Regina laughs wetly as the tears slip back along her lashes. “Honestly, I would do pretty much anything to not have to work with him.”
“Why don’t you talk to August?” Belle’s brow frowns at the sadness across Regina’s face. “He knows that Sidney is... less than desirable. I am sure he’d switch you to a different case if you asked.”
That would be admitting defeat and letting Sidney know he holds some sort of control over her, and that just can’t happen. She’ll die before she lets that man get another ounce of satisfaction in terrorizing her again.
Regina shakes her head, sniffs and swallows heavily, “I just started here, I don’t think I can go running to the boss already because I don’t like my co-worker.”
“In any case, if you need someone to tell Sidney to leave you alone, I am more than happy to do so.”
“Thank you, Belle. That’s very kind, but I’ll be fine.”
“If you’re sure.”
The younger woman smiles gently, before releasing Regina’s hand and rummaging around in her own bag. “Here, I always carry a few extra makeup wipes in my bag.” She hands Regina a little blue package, “Oh, and I have some extra lipstick and mascara in here somewhere.”
It stuns Regina the kindness this young woman is showing her. There is no need for it truly, they don’t even know one another that well. They only met yesterday in truth. And yet, Belle is here regardless, comforting a woman she doesn’t know anything about, helping her reapply makeup just because she can see Regina is less than prepared for the day.
“There.” Belle caps the rouge lipstick, “Gorgeous as ever.”
“Thank you.” Regina smiles a touch bashfully, “I appreciate it more than you know.”
Taking a quick look in the mirror, Regina sighs, at least she looks somewhat presentable now, hopefully enough that Royce won’t notice and ask questions. Speaking of which, she needs to get back to David’s case, it’s not like she can hide in the bathroom forever.
With one last smile, Regina walks back out, forcing her spine to stand straight as she glides past Sidney’s office, not glancing in his direction for even a second as she makes her way to her desk and back to the stack of papers that await her.
She needs this job, and if this case is going to be the one to secure her position here, well she can’t exactly run away from it either.
Gently, she pulls David’s file back open, and starts to read all over again.
The afternoon goes on without much interest. He’s had a couple meetings about new products, another with the CFO of the company, a quick presentation about their third quarter and now he’s back in his office, spinning lazily in his chair as he stares out the window.
It’s past lunch, and Robin wonders if he missed Regina in the park today. He wonders if she is having a good day, if she has smiled a little, if those in the law firm are treating her with kindly. He hopes so. She deserves some happiness. And the more he wonders about her, the more his mind has him reaching for his phone and finding her name.
He clicks it, and then hesitates. Surely she is busy, probably doesn’t have much time for a quick chat on the phone, regardless of how much he’d like to hear her voice, he doesn’t want to interrupt her day. Debating, Robin scratches through the hair at the nape of his neck, thumbing a quick text and deleting it nearly as fast.
Perhaps he should just let her be. He could always text her later in the day, or this evening. The thing is, he just wants to know if she is alright. It’s a consuming buzz in his mind, is she having a good day? Is there something that could make it better? Can he do something to make it better? Is texting her a happy hello really all that bad? Is he being too clingy? He can’t be, can he? They are just friends, or at least he really wants them to be, hopes that she considers him a friend.
After the conversation in the park yesterday and the afternoon at the cemetery, Robin has spent more time than not thinking about her, her past, Daniel and Henry, the absolute misery her life has been. It has his heart aching at the thought he barely did anything to help her for three years. He feels guilty for it. Perhaps that’s why he feels so adamant that he do better by her, for her.
Surely it has nothing to do with the gorgeous smile that graces her lips. Nor can it have anything to do with the way her laugh has his heart skipping around like a besotted fool. It certainly can’t be the incessant thoughts of what it would be like to hold her hand, to truly feel the softness of her skin under his palms.
Sure, he held her at the cemetery, let her cry on his shoulder and wiped away all the tears with this thumb. But that was different. That was consoling someone who has lost everything in the world. He’d have to be downright evil and cold hearted to turn her away in that moment.
This feeling in his chest is different. It is warm and soft and curious about all the things he doesn’t know about her, all the things he wants to learn. It should strike him as odd that he has such a pull towards a woman he doesn’t truly know much about. And yet, instead of wishing it away, Robin finds himself soaking in it.
It can’t hurt to text her.
Breathing in a self assured breath, Robin types out a quick, “Hello! Hope your day is going well,” and tucks his phone into his coat pocket, praying that his greeting will be warmly welcomed. Flipping his computer on, Robin sets his mind to work, or at least tries to as he waits for his pocket to hopefully vibrate.
He’s supposed to be focusing on the new filtration system for next season’s water bottle and he truly tries for a good ten minutes to go over the plans, but his focus fades quickly. He sighs, leaning back heavily in his chair. Chewing on his lip, he pulls his phone out again, clicks open on Regina’s name and beams as he sees the three little bubbles blinking at the bottom.
The anticipation kills him as he waits for whatever it is she is going to say.
RM: Hello to you too.
He tries to not let his grin take over but he finds himself unable to control it as he quickly types back.
RL: How’s the day?
The bubbles pop up and disappear three times over, and he frowns in waiting for her response.
RM: It’s alright.
RL: Kicking the law’s arse yet?
RM: More like it’s kicking mine.
RL: I am certain you will do phenomenal.
RM: You have much more faith than I do.
He scowls. Surely she has to know just how utterly brilliant she is? The bubbles pop up again.
RM: How’s your day?
RL: I find myself throwing a dinosaur party next weekend and that I have to say is much more terrifying than any work project I have.
RL: Roland’s birthday is next week. Apparently I am a daft parent for not knowing I had to have a themed party at the ready for him.
RM: You’re not daft.
He grins, his heart tapping happily alongside his fingers as he replies.
RL: I appreciate that, M’lady. I still can’t fathom how I am going to pull this off. Thankfully I have my sister helping me with decorations and my mother is doing the cake.
RM: Sounds like you have it covered then.
RL: Pray for me regardless.
RM: What exactly do you need to get?
Robin glances down at the list he and Mal penned together, exhaling heavily at it’s length.
RL: Streamers, balloons, a banner, err... dinosaur themed plates and cutlery, I assume for the cake. My sister is apparently getting blow up dinosaurs for the lawn. And I need to get something called goodie bags for the other children and make invitations for Roland to give out at school this week.
RM: Finnegan’s Toy Store on Washington will have all of that. That or possibly Mudpuddles on Kearney.
RL: You are incredible. I was hoping Fred Meyer would have it all, but I believe your suggestions will prove much more rewarding. Thank you.
RM: You’re welcome. I remember little boys’ birthday parties very well. Though most of Henry’s were in the hospital.
His heart sinks. Sure he is feeling overwhelmed with the to-do list, but how fortunate he is to still have the opportunity to throw his son a party.
RL: I am positive Henry’s birthdays were incredible.
RM: I certainly tried.
For a minute he isn’t sure what to say back. He doesn’t want to bring up painful memories for her.
RM: Anyway, I better get back to work. I’m already in hot water and it’s only day one.
RL: Is everything alright?
RM: It is what it is.
RL: Would you like to talk about it? I am all ears if you do.
RM: I appreciate that but no. It’s just something I have to deal with on my own.
His brow frowns at that. She isn’t alone, at least he doesn’t want her to feel that way. This is what he was hoping to provide for her, a shoulder to lean on. Raking a hand over his face, he sighs.
RL: Well if you ever do, I am here.
RM: Thank you. Have a good evening, Robin.
RL: You as well, M’lady.
He sets his phone down, feeling a touch dismayed by the unsettledness in her last text. Something is clearly going on, and it pains him that she is having to deal with it. He doesn’t want that. He just wants her to be happy and obviously that isn’t the case.
Discouraged, Robin spins in his chair towards the window, wondering what he could possibly do to turn this around for her. He doesn’t want to meddle. But between yesterday at the park and today’s conversation... he doesn’t want to overstep, but perhaps he needs to make a quick phone call, just to ensure that Regina is being treated with the utmost respect. He knows some of the people in that law firm aren’t exactly wanted company.
He won’t meddle. Not yet. But if this sadness around her persists he might just have to.
For now, he focuses on what will make her smile tomorrow at dinner. Roland is always good for a few chuckles, but he wants Regina to feel truly content. He doesn’t really know what will make that happen, but for the next twenty-four hours his mind will work overtime to come up with a solid plan.
It’s nearly ten before she leaves the office. Royce hadn’t made an entrance all day, and she can only assume that Sidney relayed just how poor of a job she had done. Oddly she is almost grateful that she doesn’t have to face Royce, at least not right now when her head is pounding from exhaustion, her stomach cramping in hunger. She hadn’t eaten lunch, can’t afford it right now. The three dollars in her pocket are just enough to get her a train ticket back to the station closest to the motel. At least there she can scrounge up another dollar or two for the vending machine.
She slides quietly out of the office, David’s file in tow, hoping that once she swallows down some dry, stale potato chips she will be able to focus enough again to come up with a more suitable answer to the glaring questions that still reside in the murder case.
The train is graciously empty as she slides into a solo chair, her head leaning heavily against the cold window pane as the city begins to whip by. How she is going to get through this case, she isn’t quite sure. Sidney is clear in his intent on holding her hostage, a noose tied around her neck if she doesn’t live up to expectations tomorrow. It’s daunting and nauseating all at once. Tears flush against her lashes as her eyes close. She can’t say anything about her past to anyone. They can’t know about that night with Sidney, she is relatively certain he wouldn’t want anyone to know either, but at least he wasn’t the one begging for money, willing to sink to the lowest level just to get a few dollars to buy herself dinner.
He could probably explain it all away and keep his job unscathed, she won’t be so lucky, of that she is certain.
The train begins to slow, and Regina hugs her blazer tight, it does little against the chilled wind biting at her as she walks the seven blocks to the motel. Her heart thumps hard as the glaring yellow sign comes into view. Her breath is shaky as she searches for any sign of movement in the managers’ office as she quickly climbs the stairs to her room. Thankfully the lights are off and Regina breathes a sigh of relief as she tucks the files under arm and reaches for her key.
“Good Evening, Regina.” A body squares behind her, close enough she can feel his chest brush against her back. Regina swallows tightly, keys gripped between her fingers. “Mr. Park. What can I do for you?” She turns her head to the side, hoping he will move a foot back, enough space that will dissipate the bourbon stench of his breath.
“There is no need for formalities. Not with us.” He grins behind her, a hand landing on her bicep, grabbing at her blazer, guiding her to slowly shuffle around and face him. She can’t see his eyes he’s so close, a head taller than her, stronger than her, and fear begins to pump into her heart. “You look quite nice tonight, I must say.”
She clenches a small thank you out, backing herself up into the rickety wooden door. Jefferson stumbles slightly, wavers in his stance, locking his hand around her arm to hold himself up. He reeks of alcohol; it makes her eyes burn. “I was just about to turn in, did you need something?”
Blearily his gaze locks onto hers, a dark glint flickering through as he steps into her once more. “You haven’t paid to stay tonight. Technically I am here to ask you to leave.”
Her stomach bottoms out. “I know. I’m sorry. My paycheck comes in two weeks. I promise I’ll pay everything I owe.”
Jefferson chuckles, wiping a hand over his mouth as his eyes drop down to her bust. “I can’t let you stay without payment.” His fingers trail slowly up her arm, over her shoulder to fiddle with the ends of her hair. “Can’t be having the other guests think I am playing favorites with you now, can I?”
Her pulse pounds as his leg wedges between hers, a shaky palm flying up to press against his chest as he leans down. “Stop.” His hand moves down her other arm, wrapping around her wrist as she struggles against his body weight pinning her to the doorway. “Jefferson. Stop.”
He smiles wolfishly, licking his lips as his hand skims up her hip. “You are a beautiful woman, Regina.” His fingers flex around her, digging painfully into her ribs, “So full of gorgeous curves.”
“Please, just stop. You’re drunk.”
His brow furrows as she tries to extricate herself from him, a hard growl escaping his throat, “I run a business here, Regina. I won’t be taken advantage of just because of a pretty smile.” His hand moves to cup her jaw, a thumb scratching over her lower lip as she stands frozen. “You want to stay, don’t you?” She nods, curling her arms around her waist as Jefferson presses into her, “It’s not really like you have anywhere else to go, do you?”
She shrinks into the door with a trembling exhale. “No, I don’t.” The words fall out almost as pitifully as they feel in her heart.
Jefferson tips her chin up, drops down to ghost a breath over her temple as he inhales greedily at her cheek. “Then pay up.”
The stench of bourbon envelopes her, but it is nothing compared to the feeling of his lips against hers, hard and unrelenting. His teeth nip at her bottom lip, tugging at the tender flesh before he drives back in for another kiss, stealing the terrified breath from Regina.
His stubble scratches roughly along her exposed throat, the wet press of lips sucking at her skin. Tears flush into her eyes, and she writhes uncomfortably beneath him. Her nails bite into his shoulders, scouring anywhere she can find purchase to tear him off. Horridly it seems to only spur him on as he groans into her neck, a palm finding hard purchase against her stomach, securing her into the door and trapped between his body. A pinched scream escapes at the feeling of his hand on her breast, groping crudely.
“Get off. P-please.” Regina struggles, panic stricken as the top button of her blouse pops open.
Between them she wriggles a hand against his face, pushing him with every ounce of strength she has away from her exposed lace covered breasts. Jefferson moves faster than alcohol should allow, his fingers grasping around both her wrists, slamming them down by her sides, rendering her arms constricted. Regina shouts at the blunt stab of pain. The sharp drag of his teeth against tender skin.
Time slows and her mind fades into darkness, as it had done once before. If her body can’t fight, then at least her mind can go blank, let the pain disappear for a few awful minutes and it will all be over with.
She thinks of Daniel. The curve of his eyes, the slope of his nose, pink flush in his lips. She thinks about running her hands through his hair as he slept soundly against her chest. The soft, steady, warm breaths puffing against her skin. He was always so calm, a balm that could soothe her soul in the worst of times. She thinks of his laugh, bright and bold as he’d chase Henry around the front yard.
It surrounds her, chases away the evil in the world, the evil that grunts and groans against her neck. Tears spill down her cheeks with every pass of Jefferson’s hands as she tries to hold onto the light in her mind. Focus on them, not on him. Focus on them and everything will be okay. Focus on them and this isn’t really happening.
A sharp bite to her breast has a scream spilling out of her, pulling her back into reality. Her blouse is half undone, strewn and tugged awkwardly open. She can feel his grip on her wrists have loosened, his knees beginning to sag against her in his bourbon induced state. Flexing a hand free, she pushes him slowly away, shaking as he drunkenly follows the pressure and moves away from her.
He licks his lips, chews on nothing for a moment as his eyes wobble in and out of focus. “I suppose that is enough to let you stay till Friday,” he slurs with a grin.
She knows she won’t be able to pay for this room for another fourteen days, Friday is just three days away. There is no chance she will be able to come up with the money to keep her safe.
“Have a good night, Regina.”
She slumps against the door as Jefferson stumbles away, watching him the entire walk down to his office, not quite trusting that he won’t turn around and demand more. The second his office door clicks shut she scrambles into her own room, trembling wildly as she locks the door, bolts it shut and falls to the ground in tears. Thank God he was too drunk to keep going, but the small stroke of luck does nothing to quell the anguish that floods through her.
Dirty. She feels so utterly dirty. Blouse open, sticky saliva coating her skin, the itch of his unkempt stubble that burned across her neck. Pain cracks at her wrists, bruises starting to form around the raw redness of his fingertip grip. Inhaling sharply, she leans against the door, curling her legs into her chest as she cries. Unstoppable tears that puddle and pour out.
Everything inside her cracks, ripping open at the already fragile seams. An anguish that rolls, bubbles and spins out of control. Her breath runs ragged, her lungs burning in need. She can’t control it though, she can’t do anything but let her heart scream, her brain exhaust itself from guilt that she let this happen to her again, that there is nothing she can do to stop it from continuing.
Shame. She feels nothing but horrible, awful shame.
Instead of fighting, she let a man put his hands on her. Barely fought out of fear and let him take what he wanted. She should be stronger than this, should have more fight inside her, some self respect to do something, anything other than just go stone frozen and let her body be touched unwantedly.
Mother would be so disappointed in her.
Her phone buzzes and she jolts straight at the sound. Her heart is pounding as she wipes away her tears shakily, her throat dry and course from crying.
Clicking the screen she dissolves into a puddle.
RL: Evening M’lady. Just wanted to see if your day turned around at all?
She swallows, leaning heavily against the wooden door. How it’s possible that Robin is always there, a ray of happiness in a world that shrouds her in darkness, she will never know. Sniffing, she stares down at his message. He would be so appalled if he truly knew everything about her. Her life is a complete mess, she is a complete mess.
RL: Roland and I are beyond excited to host you for dinner tomorrow.
She smiles sadly through the hot burn of fresh tears. In all honesty, she had nearly forgotten that she accepted his invite yesterday. A slip of the mind she is silently grateful for. Not that she can let on just how desperately alone she feels right now, and just how much a night with the two of them is exactly what she needs right now. But letting the overwhelming hopelessness that grips her heart tightly isn’t something she is sure she is willing to let Robin become aware of. He is too good, too sweet and kind to be swallowed by misery she feels stuck in.
RL: I do hope burgers are alright with you?
Sighing, she finds whatever fraction of motivation she has to write him back.
RM: Burgers are great. Can I bring anything?
The second she hits send, she cringes. It’s not like she can afford to bring a bottle of wine, or rather anything. Offering and being unable to deliver is going to be completely mortifying.
RL: Not at all. Just your lovely self is more than enough.
She chuckles wetly at his charm.
RL: I won’t keep you up. Good night, M’lady.
RM: Good night, Robin.
Quietly she shuts her phone off and stands, walking over to the shower. The mirror catches her eyes and Regina’s heart fractures. She looks horrible. Disheveled and completely wrecked what with her puffy eyes and tear stained cheeks. Turning away from her reflection, she reaches for the shower tap, hoping that it will wash off the grime of both Jefferson and Sidney.
Shucking off her clothes, Regina breathes a heavy sigh as the hot water hits her bare skin. It smells stale but it is as good as it is going to get until she can get out of here. To think that potentially, at some point in the future, she will have a shower that feels fresh is a comforting thought. That besides the small bottle of shampoo, she could one day be able to afford conditioner, give her hair some softness once more. It’s an image she clings to as her forehead falls to the cold tiles.
How nice conditioner and a fragrant body soap is going to be.
She is getting out of this place. She has to. With her monthly salary there is a chance that in two or three months she could maybe start looking at other options, perhaps a small studio apartment somewhere. A place she can truly call her own, a safe comfort for her to come home to.
Tomorrow will be better. It has to be. She gets to see Robin and Roland, that has to count for a bit of happiness, doesn’t it?
She certainly likes to think so.
Chapter 10: Dinner and Prison
Prison isn’t exactly where she expected to be this afternoon.
There is a stale coldness to the walls, a bleached, sterile smell that clings in the air. Everything is so quiet, eerily so as she walks behind Royce and Sidney down a pale blue painted hallway, and for the third time since they arrived, Regina can’t kick the feeling that it feels as though all hell is about to break loose within these confines.
A ticking time bomb.
She doesn’t know what Sidney said to Royce yesterday, only that this morning the pair had intruded into her office with matching disdain for her apparent presence. With every ounce of vile irritation a person could possibly muster, Royce had cocked a brow at her, a grit in his voice as he glared at her, saying that they were going to see David Shepherd today on account that she apparently thinks they have had some grand oversight on his guilt. Spitting icily that clearly she thinks she is smarter than he and Sidney, so why not put that theory to the test.
Before Regina could muster the courage to form a single sentence, she found herself stuffed into the back seat of Royce’s Mercedes, speeding down to the county jail all the while trying to quell the urge to throw up the banana she ate at breakfast all over the leather seats.
A guard huffs something at her, and Regina startles at the pointed look Sidney throws her way before he rolls his eyes and reaches for the badge around her neck, jerking it roughly to show the guard who jots down her name and waves them off. She winces as Sidney trods off ahead, rubbing a hand softly over her neck.
That will probably leave a mark, though she has others to worry about right now. Her blazer barely hides the dark purple bruises on her wrists, the cotton blouse graciously soft against the bite marks on her breast and collarbones.
She’d tried to cover them up with foundation, but the liquid barely concealed the red inflammation of tender skin. Thankfully she’s been able to keep her jacket on the entire day, a second layer to keep away prying eyes.
Slowly, they take turn after turn, Regina’s gaze flicking around the concrete compound as they pass the cafeteria and into F block’s common space. She can’t help but stare at the bars and solid steel doors surrounding the room, housing Oregon’s criminals within. She can hear them now, through the thick glass, flagrantly cursing, banging their hands against the metal locked doors, a few tattooed forearms hanging between the bars, hands swaying without a care in the world.
A buzzer sounds and Regina feels Sidney’s hand press against her lower back as he guides her into the common area, and the whistles immediately follow as she steps inside. It echoes around the cement walls, hollering at her, banging their fists against the doors, cat calling as she strides behind Sidney, Gold and the two officers who lead them.
“Disgusting creatures.” Sidney sneers as they continue, “Waste of breath if you ask me.”
Behind him Regina scowls, silently griping to herself that he is one to talk. What she would give to see him in a cell just like this. A fantasy she can muse to herself as he continues to glare at the prisoners.
A handful of some white, clumpy substance collides with the shoulder of Sidney, a round of curses following as he spins on the spot, screeching at the officers to do something as another round is fired his way. Regina freezes, finding herself not so much scared of what’s happening but rather amused by it. One of the guards grabs his baton and beats it against the cage of the man within, demanding he stop or else it’s solitary confinement for a week.
Just to his right, Regina’s eyes find a pair of hazel green ones and her heart stops. He stares back at her with a curious smirk. She is stunned as he leans through the bars, tipping his head with a cock of his brow towards her.
There was many a night the two of them shared a bonfire underneath the Burnside Bridge. He was young, too young to have been thrown from his home by parents who didn’t love him. Once he had told his story to her as they shared half a stale sandwich. At fifteen he’d come out gay to his family, before his sixteenth birthday he was living on the streets. Her heart ached for him, for the way he tried to hold his chin up as the tears glistened in his eyes. They’d become friends in a strange way. As the months passed, Regina saw less and less of him, but he always made a point to bring her some food every now and then.
She’d asked one night, as he came back from talking to a large group of men in an alley. He’d simply shrugged and reached into his pocket, pulling out a few small baggies of cocaine. It seems Peter had found a rather dangerous way of earning some money. A drug lord who he’d never met had sent a few cronies out to gather new recruits, and for a sixteen year old boy without anything, Peter had accepted their protection in return for becoming a drug mule.
To say Regina was disheartened would be an understatement, and she’d begged him to stop, it would only lead to consequences for him, and being at the bottom of the totem pole, Peter was dispensable. Apparently she was right, Peter’s days of selling narcotics on the streets finally caught up with him.
A guard’s hand falls to her shoulder and Regina jolts, breaking the eye contact with the young man. At least he is somewhat safe here she thinks, though how safe prison can be, she isn’t entirely sure.
She smiles small at Peter who returns it gesture before she turns to follow Royce and Sidney, who is still complaining about the state of his suit. It’s ugly anyway - a tardy brown tweed thing that would serve better in the trash. Grinning to herself at his clear disgruntlement, she follows behind into a sequestered room, a single round table in the middle with five chairs around it.
Quickly she takes a seat far away from Sidney, paying no mind to his glare fired her way as she pulls out David’s file. They wait, and Regina tries to not pay attention to the way Royce huffs in Sidney’s ear that this is all a waste of time. She feels it in her gut that this is exactly where they need to be. She just hopes that David will be able to answer the questions she has.
The jarring of a door on the other side draws her eyes away from his mug shot and up to the man in the flesh. He shuffles quietly, though the chains around his ankles and wrists shriek into the silent room. His head is hung low as he saddles into the chair opposite them, an officer lacing his cuffs through a metal ring on the table, securing David to the spot.
Sorrow bleeds through her as David sniffs and tries to smile a weak greeting at them. He certainly doesn’t look like a man who just committed murder. That, or he is a phenomenal actor.
“Mr. Shepherd.” Royce nods his direction. “How are you today?”
“As well as someone in my position can be.” David sighs as his eyes drift over to Regina. “I apologize, I am not sure we’ve met.”
She goes to extend a hand, recoiling quickly at the sight of his own bound to the table. Tucking her hair behind her ear instead, she smiles small at him, “I am Regina Mills. I am new to your defense team.”
“It’s nice to meet you Regina. I am sorry it has to be in this circumstance.”
“As am I.”
Sidney huffs impatiently, tearing David’s eyes away from hers, and she wants to slap Sidney for making the man shrink back into his chair.
“Regina here has some questions for you.” Royce waves a hand absently in her direction.
Her stomach knots as she glances down at the list in front of her. If this doesn’t go well, she is relatively certain her job isn’t going to be there when they leave the prison.
“Of course. I promise to answer honestly to everything.” David’s breath hitches, and Regina’s heart aches for him.
Shuffling the papers, she runs a hand down her arm and over Daniel’s watch on her wrist, praying it will give her some courage to get through this without buckling under the scrutiny of Royce and Sidney’s equalled glares.
“Where did you and Kathryn meet?”
“Fourth of July. A barbeque our mutual friend was hosting.” David smiles ruefully. “She was, is, an incredible woman. I stood no chance against her.”
Regina laughs lightly, knowing the feeling of love at first sight first hand. She remembers seeing Daniel in a coffee shop and the world tilting on its axis when he glanced her way. It’s cliché to say lightning hit her like a thunderbolt, but everything shifted in that moment and she simply knew he was the one.
“How long did you date before getting engaged?”
“I was ready to ask her after our third date to be honest.” David shakes his head, “But she wanted to finish med school first.”
Regina’s brow creases as she thumbs through her files, pulling up Kathryn Midas’. “It says here that Kathryn is still in her residency.”
“I guess I am a little impatient.” David chuckles. “We decided that we could be engaged, but the wedding, we would wait on.”
“I see.” Regina nods, tucking away the file. “And her parents. When did you meet them?”
“Is this all really necessary?” Sidney grumbles, “We already know all the details.”
Her heart burns as she glares down at the table. This was his plan, to try and get under her skin. She knows it was going to happen. “I find that hearing someone’s story straight from them is much more honest that from a few lines on a piece of paper, Mr. Glass.”
Everything inside her is telling her to apologize the second Sidney’s eyes flare wide at her little rebellion, but she can feel the cool press of Daniel’s gold watch around her wrist, an anchor that keeps her grounded. She can do this, Sidney’s repugnance aside.
“I appreciate that, Ms. Mills,” David chimes in with a smirk. “I met Archibald and Lucile about six months into dating Kathryn. They are the most wonderful people.”
“Were.” Sidney snarls. “You murdered Archibald in cold blood.”
David flinches with a shake of his head. “I didn’t do it. I swear to you.”
“As you have said. Though DNA doesn’t lie, Mr. Shepherd,” Sidney snaps back.
Silence surrounds them as Regina swallows thickly against the knot in her chest. “David,” - he glances her way, “I have read your statement and the police report. What I find not connecting is that Kathryn and Lucile both state that you were grossly intoxicated at the time of the murder, though your blood alcohol levels when the police arrested you barely registered. Can you explain that?”
He sighs, slumping back into his chair. “I had two beers at Paddy’s on Yamhill, that was it.”
“And yet both women say that you were slurring your words.”
“So I’ve heard. New Years this year Kathryn decided she wanted to try and stop drinking. We made a pact to only drink on special occasions and the weekend, it was a rule in some health kick thing she’d signed up for.”
“So you’ve been relatively sober for eight months?”
“Yeah, but two beers wouldn’t get me drunk enough to want to murder my own father in law,” he gripes.
“Did you and Archibald get along?” she questions curiously, watching carefully as David nods his head emphatically. “He was like a father to me. Mine lives back on the east coast and when I met Kathryn, both Archibald and Lucile welcomed me like a son.” Tears begin to fill his eyes as he shifts uncomfortably in the metal chair.
“Did the two of you ever have any disagreements?”
“Only that the Patriots are clearly better than the Seahawks.” David laughs listlessly before shaking his head, “But honestly, no. He offered a spot at his own company for me. I didn’t want it, it felt wrong to be given something so freely with no merit of earning it.”
Royce leans in at that moment, cocking a brow at David, “So you admit that Archibald wanted you to work for him and you rejected the offer?”
David nods uncertainly at the dark laced tone of Gold. “I like my job. It pays a good salary.”
“But working at Midas Exports would have been more, am I right?”
David nods again, and Regina frowns at the direction Royce is going.
“Kathryn was Archibald’s pride and joy. He would have wanted for her to be financially stable.”
“We were, or at least we were getting there. I was supposed to be getting a promotion next year.”
“But it still wouldn’t have been as much,” Royce deadpans. “You must realize that.”
David shrinks into his chair with a shrug, “I was doing my best to provide for me and my soon to be wife.”
“Did you argue about the job?”
“Not as your implying.” David gruffs, “We had many conversations about it, but it never became angry.”
“So you say. Unfortunately we don’t have Archibald here to tell his own side now, do we?”
“I didn’t kill him.”
“No!” David slams his fists on the table, breathing heavily as he glares at Royce who sits back smugly in his chair. “Do you often get this angry, Mr. Shepherd, without provocation?”
Regina stills, her jaw dropping at Royce who simply stares at David across the table. His utter arrogance boils her blood. “If I may,” Regina cuts in, “David, I understand your position, but we need to figure out why Kathryn and Lucile both have you with the gun in you hand.”
“I’ve never even touched a gun. I’m a democrat. I have gone to rally’s against the NRA for years.” David glares down at his hands. “I would sooner have my arms cut off than own a weapon like that.”
His sincerity jars Regina. That is something they are going to have to look into to see if it’s true. “Do you have any siblings, David? A twin, perhaps?”
He shakes his head, “It was just me, Mom and Dad.”
Dammit. She had hoped for a hail mary there. It would be so much easier to explain if David had a twin brother. “Have you spoken to your parents since your arrest?”
His blue eyes shoot up at her, “I don’t want them to know about this. Please. It would utterly destroy them if they knew.”
“They will eventually find out, David. You have to know that.” Regina sighs woefully. She can’t imagine getting that phone call, hearing that your son has been charged with third degree murder and is currently awaiting what will most likely be a life sentence in prison. “I can phone them, if you’d prefer.” She offers, paying no mind to the sharp inhales from Royce and Sidney.
David fumbles in his cuffs, dropping his head low with a shake, and she can hear the heavy sniff he takes. “They are going to be so disappointed. It’s going to ruin them.”
“You’d be surprised what a parent can take on, David.” Regina softens, wishing she could reach over and hold his hand, offer a little reassurance that while her companions may have already made up their minds, Regina is still on his side, fighting for his innocence.
Finally after a long moment, David nods, swallowing thickly as his eyes tilt up to the fluorescent lights. “Alright. But please be gentle when you tell them.”
Regina nods, hoping she has enough courage to actually follow through on this promise.
“If we are done here, I have another meeting to attend to.” Royce stands abruptly, “Mr. Shepherd, the trial starts in a week, I suggest you think long and hard about how you’d like to plead.”
The guard comes across the room, unchaining David from the table as Sidney and Royce make way for the door. Regina, however, lingers for a moment, watching the way tears build relentlessly in David’s blue eyes.
“It was nice to meet you, Ms. Mills.” He smiles weakly.
“Please, call me Regina. I’ll be back soon, okay?” She reaches to lay a palm on his forearm, squeezing gently before he is hauled off back towards his cell. The final thought fluttering through her mind is that this man is innocent and she is going to have one hell of a time trying to prove it.
“We don’t have all day here, Regina,” Sidney spits out as Regina gathers her files, taking an extra minute to make sure they are all neatly tucked away.
“You should take your coat to the dry cleaner. You don’t want to be smelling like stale mashed potatoes all day, now do you?” She quips as she walks straight past him without a second glance.
He may know her secrets, but something is sitting differently today, something Sidney Glass can’t take advantage of.
He is panicking.
Running around the kitchen like a complete fool, swearing to the high heavens, cursing himself for forgetting to grab tomatoes from the store today. What kind of burger doesn’t have tomatoes? Maybe Regina doesn’t even like tomatoes, or maybe they are her absolute favorite and he has complete buggered this entire dinner before it’s even started.
Even Roland scowled at the thought of not having tomatoes, whining that it wasn’t the same. But Robin doesn’t have time to run to the grocer. God this is going terribly already. Glancing at the clock, Robin groans and runs out to the barbeque on the deck, praying in his befuddlement he hasn’t burned the burgers as well.
Lifting the lid, he coughs as a plume of smoke blooms out, and bugger all to hell, they are charred, still edible, he thinks, as he flips them quickly, but definitely a little more well done than he would have liked to present. She’s going to think him an utter buffoon not even being able to cook burgers.
Scowling down at the patties, Robin clicks the barbeque off with a huff, shaking his head as he walks back inside wondering if there is some way he can salvage this dinner. What he doesn’t expect is to find Roland on his tippy-toes rummaging through the fridge. His boy is growing everyday, a notion that doesn’t escape Robin as his son strains and reaches for something on the bottom shelf.
“Need some help, my boy?” Robin sets the burger plate down and grins at the deep concentration painted across Roland’s face as he once again tries desperately to grab at something. “We have little ones, Papa, in the back.” Roland teeters on his socked feet, eye drawn to a point.
Robin ducks down, a hand on Roland’s shoulder as he peers at the lowest level of the fridge, smirking down at his son’s absolute brilliance as a small container of grape tomatoes sits in the back. He’s a genius, his boy.
Roland snags the pack out of Robin’s hand the second it’s close enough to his little fingers to wrap around, scurrying over to the counter and up onto a stool.
“Easy, Roland. I’ll have to slice those for you.” Robin shifts beside him, tossing a kitchen towel over his shoulder as he reaches for a cutting board and bowl. “But I will need help deciding which ones are the best to use.” He grins down at Roland who immediately sets to his task, picking out each, sizing them up and giving each a gentle squish and once over.
Quickly, Robin slices up the small tomatoes, rolling his eyes at the dime sized units that begin to stack on the cutting board. It looks rather ridiculous, but perhaps he can play it off like he meant to use these and not Roma’s like usual.
“You didn’t forget mustard, right, Papa?”
“No, my lad, we have a fresh bottle ready to be drenched over our burgers.”
“Ket-chup. And yes. I have that too. I think we are almost ready.”
Roland’s button brown eyes flick up to Robin’s, a slight trepidation in them that has Robin frowning. “What is it, son?”
His little fingers roll an absent tomato about the island, his curls bouncing down into his eyes as he leans on his chubby hand with a heavy sigh. “Do you think Regina likes me?”
Of all the things Robin was prepared to answer, that was not a question he had even thought his son was pondering. Granted, over the past five days Roland has done nothing but talk about the pretty lady who made perfectly round pancakes and went with them for ice cream. Oddly enough, when Robin has spoken to Roland about Regina, his son doesn’t bring up the cemetery much, only comments that he liked meeting Henry. So to think that perhaps his son has reservations about whether Regina likes him or not, well it has Robin’s heart clenching tightly in his chest.
He knows his son lacks a mothering touch, all children need it and he has to wade carefully into this friendship with Regina, not wanting to hurt her or his son if anything goes awry, clearly Roland has already found himself somewhat attached, like his father.
Setting his knife down, Robin moves the little tomato slices into a bowl and picks his boy up before settling down on the stool. “What makes you think she doesn’t?” He combs a hand through Roland’s curls as his boy shrugs noncommittally, a muffled, “I dunno,” whispered out. Robin sighs, pressing a kiss to Roland’s forehead, “I spoke to Regina yesterday, you know?” He glances down as Roland shifts to look up, “I think she is more excited to see you than me, I’ll have you know.” He smiles as Roland’s cheeks tinge a dark pink, “Really, Papa?”
“Scouts honour.” Robin raises a hand in salute.
“Cross your heart?” Roland’s brow pinches, but his toothy grin deepens as Robin draws a finger over his chest in an X, “Cross my heart.” He nods dutifully.
It seems to placate Roland, and the shrill squeak he gives out when the doorbell rings has Robin wincing out a smile as Roland clambers off his thighs and races to the door. He follows quietly, beaming as Roland reaches for the doorknob and twists it with both hands.
He bounces on the spot giddily, and Robin’s heart does a double flop over itself as he sees her bend down, arms wide open, ready to catch Roland’s immediate hug. She sways a touch, anchoring herself with a free hand as she wraps the other around his son’s back, “Hello sweetheart.” She nuzzles into his hair, standing gently with him wrapped around her hips, “How are you?”
Roland giggles a far too happy thing as he utterly beams at Regina, “We made burgers. But Papa forgot the big tomatoes so we had to use little ones.”
Her brow arches curiously, and Robin groans to himself, so much for his plan of playing it cool. Hanging his head bashfully ashamed, he slips over to the pair, trying to hide his ever growing smile as Regina listens ever so intently to Roland’s babbling. Her eyes lift to his, her smile creeping a touch wider as he makes his appearance known. It has his heart doing that silly little flip flop all over again.
“Hi,” he stammers rather nervously, hoping she can’t see the heat in his cheeks.
Shifting Roland to one side, she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, “Hi.”
Their gaze holds longer than Roland’s patience as he stares between the two adults, a quizzical brow drawn. “Papa, why are your cheeks pink?”
Well there goes Robin’s cover, completely blown that a simple smile from Regina has him blushing like a sodding fool. He laughs, moves to ruffle his son’s curls as Regina too chuckles lightly. She sets Roland down, shaking her head happily as the little tyke runs off into the kitchen.
He should probably take her coat, or at least say something instead of simply staring at her, but his tongue sticks thickly as her eyes glance around the foyer. She is bloody beautiful. In a black blazer, a deep purple silk blouse and jeans, the same ones she wore the first night she knocked on his door. He remembers those jeans, the way the fit and hugged her curves.
“Smells good,” she muses quietly, tugging at her sleeves. “I hope it wasn’t too much work.”
It spurs Robin, the thought that making her dinner would be some hardship. He’d make her a thousand dinners if she’d accept. He grins, shrugging his shoulders, “It was no trouble at all, M’lady. You look lovely, by the way.”
Her cheeks flush as she smiles bashfully up at him. “Thank you.”
He takes her coat, hangs it in the closet before guiding her gently into the kitchen.
Robin chews his lip anxiously as Regina rounds the counter and takes up a spot beside Roland who is already waiting with his empty bun. “I uh, I have to apologize. The burgers cooked a little longer than I intended.” He winces at the charred pucks of meat.
Regina glances down at the plate, a small grin tugging at her perfect lips, “I haven’t had a burger in quite some time, I am sure they are delicious.” Her fingers glide through her hair as she tips her head graciously. And for the second time tonight, in less than five minutes, Robin is caught off guard with just how damn pretty she is.
“Earth to, Papa?” Roland’s little hand waves in the air, “Can we eat now?”
Robin laughs, biting back his smile at his son’s impatient streak. “Can I pour you some wine, Regina? I have red and white.”
“Red would be great.” Regina smiles. “Thank you again, Robin. Truly.”
“Anytime, M’lady. And you can stop thanking me, it is mine and Roland’s absolute pleasure to have you here.” He grins, turns to reach into the cupboard to grab two wine glasses, listening to his son prattle away about his day at pre-school, his teacher, Ms. Fa, and how they are learning about zoo animals, a topic which Roland is nothing but an expert on.
Regina liked elephants if he remembers correctly from the weekend. Something about them being smart, gentle and kind creatures. Qualities she also possess clearly as he listens to the way she helps Roland name out every animal under the sun.
He pours two glasses half full, sets one down beside Regina and ends up coincidentally having to take the empty stool beside her, not that he is complaining.
“Papa, what about my grape juice?” Roland whines indignantly. Robin snorts, “I am sorry, my boy, we can’t cheers if you don’t have a cup as well. A moment.” Quickly Robin rounds the counter once more, grabbing Roland’s sippy cup and filling it with juice. He hands it to his son’s awaiting hands, taking up his residence once more beside Regina.
“What are we cheersing to?” She quips a brow at him, raising her glass.
“To burgers!” Roland chimes out with a bubbled bout of laughter as Regina tips her glass to his before turning to Robin.
“To new friends,” he supplies with a smile, watching the rouge in her cheeks darken as she nods and clinks to glass to his as well, “To new friends.”
Well there goes his heart again, tapping and swirling about in a ridiculous racket as he sips his wine. He is going to have to reign that in lest Regina know just how much her mere smile sends him melting into a puddle of goo.
Clearing his throat, he reaches for a burger, sliding it on to Roland’s plate, another onto Regina’s and a last to his own.
It appears Regina doesn’t much mind the dime sized tomatoes as she carefully lines them up into a perfect circle on her burger, a swirl of mustard and ketchup neatly following before two slices of pickles finish on top side by side. Roland stares down at the masterpiece, gaping wide at Robin, “Papa! Look at Regina’s burger!”
He feels her stiffen curiously as she eyes down her dinner.
“What do you mean, my boy?”
“It’s not messy!” Roland shrieks, “Ours is always messy.”
For a moment Robin isn’t exactly sure what to do. He’s a touch offended that his son doesn’t think he can create a perfectly dressed burger, granted Roland has only the experience of wildly messy ones in the past, but still.
In the same second Robin debates his sons allegiance, Regina chews her lip timidly for a moment before reaching for a butter knife and glancing down at Roland with an arched brow. “Is it better messier?” she questions with wide playful eyes down at the boy, who nods his head emphatically.
Regina sighs dramatically, “If you say so. I trust you on this.”
She locks eyes with Roland, waits a drawn out moment and then proceeds to utterly ruin the perfect condiment swirls, smushing the pickles deep before squashing the top bun down on top.
A squeal of sheer delight burst out of Roland as he watches Regina lift the burger up, eyeing up the way ketchup drips down onto the plate below. “You’re sure about this, Roland?”
He nods bright and toothy, “Cross my heart.”
The moment Regina bites into her dinner Roland bursts out at the seams, scrambling for his own and effectively smearing his entire face with mustard in one bite. Regina hums, licks a sauced finger and smiles down at Roland, “I think you are absolutely right, messy is definitely better.”
Roland beams, and Robin is doomed.
He is completely ruined by this entire interaction. He knows he is staring, as Regina steals Roland’s burger from his tiny hands, cutting it into smaller bite sized pieces for him to easily swallow lest he choke, dolloping a puddle of ketchup for extra dipping on the side.
A natural mom, it’s the only thing Robin can think as she folds a napkin over Roland’s lap.
The second his eyes connect with hers, she stiffens, biting down on her lip nervously, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep.”
Befuddled, Robin cocks a brow at her sudden shift in demeanor. All she did was help his son with supper. She looks anxious, dropping her eyes from his own and back down to her plate. He smooths a hand over her forearm, dipping his head down, “You need not apologize, Regina.”
She glances up at him apprehensively but Robin smiles, “Now the question is, am I fortunate enough to garner the same treatment as my boy?”
Thankfully, it works and her smile quickly returns as she rolls her eyes at him, reaching for the mustard with an arched brow. He smirks, pushing his plate a fraction towards her, beaming inside as the condiment oozes sporadically from it’s bottle, followed by the same treatment of ketchup and five pickles haphazardly arranged before she squishes his bun down and slides it back.
“There, it’s perfect.”
He holds her gaze, “Sure is.” And he wonders if she knows he isn’t exactly talking about the food, though the tint in her cheeks would suggest she does.
It has to be one of the best days she can remember in recent history. The warmth both Robin and Roland exude so easily bleeds into every corner of their conversation, and for the first time in a long time, Regina could almost say she feels at ease.
The looming dark cloud of work and her living situation are ever present in her mind as she swallows the last of her second glass of wine, hoping she won’t have a hangover tomorrow. That’s all she needs, to have a foggy head and face Sidney and Royce.
For what it’s worth though she has barely paid a second thought to it, Robin’s laugh alongside Roland’s dimpled cheeks are enough to temporarily thwart the darkness away. It didn't hurt that she was absolutely starving and while Robin may have huffed about the cook of the burgers, Regina could barely swallow a bite without aching for another immediately.
When the last time she actually ate a real meal was, she can’t honestly remember. The food at the women’s shelter was usually just vegetables and soup. They couldn’t afford much more, already being stretched to their limits as it was.
She just hoped Robin didn’t take notice of her ravenous appetite, and even if he did, he didn’t say anything. She would have been completely mortified if he had.
Afterward, Robin insisted that she not lift a finger in helping he and Roland clean and clear the dishes, afterall she was their guest.
Instead of lending a hand, Regina sat and sipped her wine, smiling through an ache in her heart as she watched Robin lift Roland onto the countertop, draping a rag over his sons’ lap and proceeding to hand him a few of the dishes to dry, the plastic ones Regina notices, but Roland is not anything but attentive to his task.
She was supposed to have this with Daniel and Henry.
For a moment it becomes overwhelming, watching father and son together, and Regina has to excuse herself to the restroom for a breather. Their relationship is paralyzingly beautiful. So much so that by the time Regina closes the bathroom door, the tears are in full force, burning against her lashes.
Sinking against the vanity, she tries to calm her breath, a hand over her thundering heart. Inhaling to a count of seven, holding for four and exhaling long as slowly over and over again until the shake in her palms finally recedes.
She gulps down water from the tap, wiping her forehead with a nearby cloth. Her fingers grip the sink, her eyes fluttering closed as she continues to attempt to right her trembling breath. It’s not their fault for being so effortlessly happy. It’s what a family is supposed to be. She had that once upon a time, and can remember the beautiful, easy days with Daniel and Henry before her husband got on that damn plane.
What she would give to take it all back, to beg him not to go. She would have this. A home her son could grow up in, a dinner table that hopefully would have been filled with more children; Daniel always wanted a big family, and the thought of having three or four swelled Regina’s heart.
But he got on that stupid plane, and Regina was left alone to care for a sick child, and then completely alone when he too died.
“Regina? Are you alright?” A knock at the door startles her. She hadn’t realized she’d been gone for so long, and the concern in Robin’s voice only makes her wince at her weakness.
Swallowing thickly, she stands upright, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll be out in a moment.” She hopes it comes across light and easy, even if her heart burns torturously. Waiting a minute, she takes a last glance in the mirror, brushing a hand through her hair and wiping away the last remnant tears before clicking the bathroom door open.
She finds them in the living room, Roland on all fours attempting to decide on a Disney movie for them to watch. Quietly, Robin smiles up at her from the sofa, and she returns the gesture quickly before taking up residence on the other side.
She misses this. Henry loved these movies. By the time he was five she could nearly recite all of Peter Pan and Robin Hood by heart. But that was a long time ago, and thankfully, Roland decides on The Lion King. She isn’t sure her heart could take another journey to Neverland or Sherwood Forest.
As the opening scene starts, Robin settles down the bowl of popcorn at the same time Roland clambers up the sofa to take up residence beside Regina. He is so little, tiny socked feet bouncing at the end of the couch, the bowl Robin tucks into his lap taking up his entire thighs. She remembers Henry at this age so well, granted they spent most of their time cuddled up on a hospital bed compared to a soft suede couch, but still, she loved those moments.
It doesn’t escape her the way Robin is constantly flicking his gaze her direction, a soft hand here or there, an easy smile directed her way. It’s different to be spoken to like a real person after so long, to have someone who actually wants to talk to her. Granted she has kept her cards close to the chest, not really ready to open up too deep. It’s nicer this way. To have good, simple conversation that doesn’t revolve around her work or living situation.
For what it’s worth, she really hasn’t said much, preferring to listen to Robin and Roland instead. Their lives are so much easier than her own, and if she has to spend the entire night talking to Roland about different animals in the zoo, well truthfully, she’d have it no other way.
Regina spies Robin’s lips silently mumbling along to the opening song, apparently she isn’t the only parent who has seen these movies a hundred times. She tries to focus on the movie, but her attention is drawn down to the soft munching of popcorn in Roland’s chubby cheeks, the slight weight of his body nestled into her side. He reminds her so much of Henry it hurts.
By the time I just can’t wait to be King sings out, Regina finds herself utterly enthralled and clapping along to Roland who dances and wiggles in front of the television, hopping up and down, his curls flying about. No child should be allowed to be this adorable, she thinks. Robin, for his part, is equally amused by his son’s entertainment, his knee bouncing along to the music.
Roland returns to his spot beside her, curling tightly into her side as the wildebeest stampede after the small lion. She feels Roland’s little fingers curl tightly into the blanket as the roar of hooves thunders. Glancing down, she whimpers to herself at the sight of Roland’s face tucked into her side, shielding himself from the movie. A quick glance up at Robin has her heart aching even more.
“We don’t like this part,” Robin supplies, running a hand over Roland’s back. “Usually we fast forward through it.” He grimaces, waiting for the scene to be over. Regina tucks an arm around Roland’s shoulders. “I don’t like this part either,” she whispers into the crown of his head, lightly drumming her fingers through his curls.
They occupy Roland with easy mindless chatter about other things as Mufasa falls to his death, the scene following silently as Robin mutes the TV just to ensure his boy can’t hear the pain and sadness that echoes through the movie.
Thankfully it seems to appease Roland, and his attention is rapt once more as another happy song starts out with Timone and Pumba. They watch quietly, Roland’s weight beginning to sag into Regina’s side before Simba returns to Pride Rock.
“He never quite makes it through the entire thing.” Robin chuckles lowly, “I am not even sure he knows what happens in the end.”
“So as far as he knows, Simba lives in the jungle forever?” Regina smiles gently, sighing into the weight of a child in her arms. Robin grins, shifts the popcorn off the couch and to the table, “It would be a rather quaint life, don’t you think?”
Her brow arches, “Eating bugs for the rest of ones’ life? I think I’ll pass.”
It comes far to easy, this light banter with Robin.
Robin chuckles, shifts a bit closer, before dropping his gaze down to Roland who is entirely passed out against Regina’s side. His tiny arm is wrapped around her waist, half curled against her belly as he snores softly. Regina, too, glances down, a smile gracing her lips as she smoothes a hand over the mop of toddler curls. “He’s such a sweet kid.”
Robin grins, “I appreciate that. I think his excitement over seeing you has finally taken its toll.” He flicks his eyes up to Regina’s who blushes furiously. His heart does that ridiculous flip flop at the pink tinge painting her cheeks. She is just so damn pretty. And if he is being completely honest with himself, the nervousness he had over cooking her dinner has given way to another feeling entirely.
Their conversation has been so easy. She is clearly incredibly smart, has a heart of absolute gold and a resilience Robin is certain he does not possess. He is enamoured by her. From the way her nose scrunches when she laughs, to the indignant scowl that crosses her eyes when that one lock of hair refuses to stay put behind her ear.
More than once he’s found himself utterly besotted with her, a feeling he hadn’t truly anticipated to grow quite so quickly. She is secretive, of that he has become aware. Her cards are held close to her chest and he noticed the apprehension in her voice when they spoke of her work this evening. It was tight lipped and brushed off with few words before Regina would direct the conversation elsewhere.
It makes him curious and a touch unsettled when her eyes flickered nervously when he’d asked about how her first day had gone. He wanted to question it, wanted to know why her jaw suddenly tightened around the subject. But aside from that, it truly has been such a wonderful night and he hadn’t wanted to push her.
He needs time to gain her trust, he is well aware of that. She isn’t going to simply bleed her soul to him after a few days of being friends. Hell, it took him years to let people back in after Marian died. He understands the reservations Regina has.
“How’s the party planning going?” she whispers as Robin clicks the movie off. He sighs, runs a palm over his face and leans heavily against the couch cushion. “Honestly, I am in over my head I think.”
Her brow raises with a small smile, “You’ll be fine. Roland adores you. I am sure any party you throw is going to be incredible in his eyes.”
“Thank you for that, though, I am still at a loss for how I am going to put it all together.”
Regina chuckles lightly, and Robin stills when her hand lands on top of his own on his thigh, “They are kids Robin, it’s not rocket science. Just get some balloons, a cake and a few games to play in the yard and they will be over the moon.”
He wants to say something, but the warmth of her palm has his tongue glued to his teeth. Heat flushes through him as her thumb swipes across the back of his hand, a gentle squeeze to follow, and before he can link their fingers together, Regina’s hand slides away and back into her lap. He blinks down, then up at her, and instead of a smile he’d hoped to see, her brow is grimaceds as she swallows thickly.
“Are you alright?” he asks quietly as she rubs a hand over her stomach tentatively.
“I’m fine.” She nods, blowing out a low breath through her nose.
Robin doesn’t think she looks fine.“Are you certain?”
Regina sighs, running her fingers through her hair, “My stomach just isn’t used to that much actual food in one sitting, I might have overdone it.”
“You mean the burger was too much?” He frowns.
A beat of silence passes before Regina leans back against the sofa, her lashes fluttering closed as she breathes in a long, slow drawl. “Well it was a lot more than the banana and pretzels I usually eat in a day.”
It takes Robin a moment to process her words for what they are, a moment of confusion before it hits him like a cold bucket of water. She hasn’t eaten an actual meal in quite some time, and he’d watched her devour the burger. Guilt washes over him, his shoulders shrinking as he reaches for her hand, squeezing it gently, “Can I get you anything?”
Regina shakes her head, blinking those pretty brown eyes open with a light smile, “Just a water would be great.”
He nods, and is up on his feet quickly, “Sparkling or Still? I have Ginger Ale too, and some antacids, if that would help?”
“Still water is just fine, thank you.”
He leaves her on the sofa, kicking himself internally the entire way to the kitchen. They should have gone with a light salad and maybe some grilled chicken instead. He should have thought about it, should have clued into her situation. His heart hangs heavy as he fills two glasses with cold water, a few ice cubes, and heads back to Regina who graciously takes the cup with a quiet thank you as Robin takes up residence beside her once more.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t intend for my cooking to make you ill,” he grimaces, sipping his own water.
Regina shakes her head, “The burger was delicious; I just got carried away.”
He nods, leans into the couch, turning his shoulders to square her body. “You were saying earlier that you were working on a murder case?”
Regina sighs, setting the water glass down half empty, “Do you know Archibald Midas?”
“His future son in law is charged with his murder.”
Something in the way she says it peaks Robin’s interest. He knew of the Midas’ fortune, had even read in the paper of the daughter’s engagement to a young man. Once or twice he had actually dealt with Archibald in company trading, though he can’t say he ever caught the vibe of the man having any real enemies. He was a kind person, did his business out in the open without any scandal as far as Robin knew.
“You have doubts about his guilt?”
Regina shrugs, running a hand through her hair, “I don’t know, it’s just a feeling. I read through David’s file, and I know that both Lucile and Kathryn have David as the only suspect, something just doesn’t add up to me.”
Robin’s brow knits together, “Would they have any reason to lie?”
Regina shakes her head, “Not that I am aware of. I went to meet David today at the prison, and he just seems so broken by the whole thing. In his file it said he was beligerently drunk at the time of the murder, but when the police picked him up, his blood alcohol barely registered anything four hours later.”
Well, that is odd. Robin chews on the information, doesn’t seem possible David could have sobered up that quickly. “Have you mentioned it to your team?”
Regina coughs out a dismal laugh, licking her lips as she sinks heavy into the sofa. “I don’t think they particularly care for what I think.”
Robin stills at the way her shoulders sag, his frown deepening. “Why do you say that?”
Her eyes flick up to his, a sadness hidden behind as she reaches for the water glass on the table, “One of the men I work with, Sidney Glass, he has already made his mind up about me, probably for good reason too. It’s just making it difficult to prove that I know what I am doing with what he knows about me already.”
Robin scowls, but Regina is quick to sit up a touch straighter, clearly not wanting to look weak in his eyes, not that she ever could. She smiles small with a heavy sigh, “He’s just someone from my past. That’s all.”
“Your past? You mean you met him when you were homeless?” Robin asks gently, not wanting to overstep, but wading into the hopeful territory that she will let him in just a little more.
“In a manner of speaking. I just hadn’t anticipated being a co-worker of his.”
His heart slams against his chest at the heaviness in her voice, the shame that paints it’s way across her gaze as she turns her eyes away from his own. Swallowing thickly, Robin tries to take a steadying breath as he tips his chin down to catch her eyes.
“Did he hurt you?”
A beat of silence passes as she keeps her sight deadlocked away from his own, a tension seeping into her body as she licks her lower lip apprehensively.
“It doesn’t matter, Robin.”
It kills him. Absolutely fractures his heart into a thousand broken pieces that land in her lap as she sniffs quietly into the silence. Unable to stop himself, Robin shifts closer, reaching for her hand, linking their fingers together lightly. “It does matter, Regina. You matter.”
She sighs, blinking wetly up at him in a way that has Robin wishing he could put his fist through that man’s face, repeatedly for ever making Regina feel like she is less that. “I appreciate that, Robin, but what happened is as much my own fault as it is his, and I have to live with the consequences.”
Her fingers grip around his own, grasping around them gently.
“Regina, let me help.”
She stills, her eyes lifting to find his own sadly, “And what exactly are you going to do? March into my office like a bodyguard and tell Sidney to play nice?” Her brow cocks high but her shameful eyes don’t match the sharpness of the action.
“That, amongst other things,” Robin huffs, drawing her other hand into his palms, deflating at the sound of her dismal disbelieving laugh.
“I can handle it. I’ll be fine.” She doesn’t sound very certain about that, Robin hears it in the tremble in her voice. Taking a moment to gather himself, robin turns Regina’s hands over, playing with her fingers, brushing up the hem of the blouse and he stiffens.
There are marks, dark purple patches on her perfect olive skin, and Robin sees red. “The bruises on your wrist, they aren’t from him, are they?”
Regina freezes as his thumb smoothes over the bruises. She didn’t want him to see these, doesn’t want anyone to know about what she is dealing with. She mumbles a quiet but truthful, “No,” before she can concoct a story to appease the growing anger in Robin’s eyes.
“Someone else did this?” He breathes tightly, turning her other wrist over to see the same injuries plum purpled on her skin. “It’s not really important. I am figuring it out.” She slides her hands out of his grasp and back into her own lap, tugging the blouse sleeves down.
Robin frowns, “Do they hurt?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Regina sighs, and it burns Robin from the inside out.
“I’d disagree Regina.”
She levels him with a depressing glance, and he knows she doesn’t believe him when he says she is important, that she matters, her safety is meaningful, if not to herself, than to him.
He shifts himself a touch closer, his knee brushing against her own as he dips his chin down, reaching for her cheek, hoping to the high heavens she won’t recoil away from his touch as he smiles sadly, “You can tell me, you know that, right?”
She doesn’t move for a moment, and Robin fears he may have crossed a line by touching her rather intimately. And in the same second he is about to retract, he feels Regina’s cheek lean into his palm. “Robin, we barely know one another. I am not about to burden you with my issues.”
He shakes his head, “It’s not a burden.”
“You say that now.” She huffs heavy through her nose.
Robin only smoothes a thumb over the apple of her cheek, “And I’d still say it afterwards.” His eyes find hers, holding steady as he lets his words sink in and hopefully stay solid in her mind. He is in this with her, for her, in whatever capacity she needs him and even more after that.
Shrugging, Regina glances down, “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”
He won’t push her, not when she isn’t ready or understanding that as of this very moment, Robin is adamant that she will not be alone ever again. Nodding, he tucks that stray curl behind her ear, “If you are sure, but if you ever need help, please, just ask, okay?”
Regina nods, a tiny smile gracing her lips, “There you go trying to be my knight in shining armour again.”
It breaks the heaviness of the moment, and Robin chuckles quietly. One day she will know just how important she is, and he will promise to be there every step of the way.
“If I know anything about you, Regina,” He reaches for her other hand, and looks her directly in the eyes with as much sound resolution as he can, “it’s that you don’t need saving, you are the most resilient woman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
She bites back a grin, a tinted blush running into her cheeks, “You’re far too kind to me, you know that?”
Robin shakes his head, lifting her palm to his lips, “You deserve it,” and presses a gentle kiss to her knuckles, his heart igniting at the smile that finally reaches her eyes.