"Don't be sorry," I told her. "You won't be executed for touching me."
"No?" she said with uncertainty in her voice.
"No," I said softly, then hesitated. "Will you do it again?"
Shock showed on her face as she lifted her hand off the bed.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Please."
She touched her hand to mine, and I felt my inner turmoil melt away as I turned my hand to grip hers.
"You care more about my life than anyone else ever has," I confessed, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "That's invaluable to me."
"Of course I care. You almost died." When I shrugged, she begged, "Please don't kill yourself."
"I have no other choice."
"Of course you do. You could give in to your mothers wishes and marry the king and be miserable. Or you could run away and never look back, settling for the life of a commoner like me."
"You think I should run away?"
"I think you should do what makes you happiest. I don't think you'll be happy as a peasant, but it sounds like you'll be miserable as a queen."
"I would be. You're right. But running away... She'd find me, Emma. She'll always find me."
The woman bit her lip and looked back at me, and my heart skipped a beat. It felt like a hiccup bursting through my chest.
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do. She's... My mother uses dark magic. I'll never be able to get away from her. She owns me. She owns everything I am, even my soul."
"She doesn't own your soul, or your life, m'lady. Only you can own those."
"I'm not sure that's true."
"Your soul is your own, and today you proved your life is your own as well. You almost took it."
"I would have, if it hadn't been for you. And stop calling me that."
"Are you angry with me?"
"A little," I admitted. "I just want this all to be over."
"Run away with me."
"What? Isn't that a bit fast?"
"Well, it's not like you have much time," she pointed out.
I had to admit, she was right. The wedding was just days away, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Maybe her plan was my best option.
"How will I keep her from finding me?"
"We'll cut your hair. Dress you as a peasant."
"You'll look beautiful no matter what you do with your hair... Regina."
"You're so full of it."
"I am not!" she cried, standing up and facing me. "It's true."
Break down, and cease all feeling
Burn now, what once was breathing
Reach out, and you may take my heart away
I left it all behind, and never said goodbye
Looking around the room, filled with anxiety, I weighed my options. If I left, my mother would find me, and my punishment would be unimaginable, and painful. I'd be a peasant for the rest of my life, or at least until they both passed away and I could reclaim the throne. That was an interesting option. I could reclaim the throne. Once they were dead, I would be free, but there were more reasons to stay. I barely knew Emma. Who was to say she wouldn't betray me to my guards for the reward my mother was sure to offer? Who was to say she wouldn't kill me in my sleep?
A reason to go was that I was desperate to try almost anything to get away from my life of royalty. On the other hand, Emma already treated me like royalty, more than anyone else ever had. All 'royalty' had meant before had been responsibility, excruciating obligations, and suppressing my hopes, dreams, and personality in order to please my mother. The possibility of escape was nearly intoxicating. Emma was also a beautiful woman - it seemed both inside and out. And what of love? Was it what I was feeling for Emma? Was love at first sight even possible? Even if it was just infatuation, it was something I felt compelled to explore. Maybe, I thought, I could be happy with her. She seemed to understand me - certainly better than anyone else ever had.
"Regina?" she asked, snapping me out of my thoughts and back into reality.
"You're you're just scared."
"I am scared."
"Come with me. You could be happy..."
Sucking in a breath, hoping courage would come with it, I challenged, "If you kiss me, I will."
"W-What?" she stammered.
"If you kiss me, I'll run away with you."
I could taste the sincerity of the request. As soon as she started to move away from me, I leaned in to keep her lips on mine. She broke away, taking a quick gulp of air, then moved back in, deepening the kiss.
"Pack now before your mother finds us," she breathed against my lips.
Out of breath, I nodded my head and jumped up, packing a bag as quickly as possible. The knock on the door sent lightning through my heart.
"Oh, shit," I whispered, grabbing Emma's arm and throwing her and the bag I had packed into the closet. "Stay here!"
I slammed the door shut and turned around as my mother appeared in the room.
"Mother!" I exclaimed, fear gripping me. "What's going on?"
"Dinner went well," she mused, pacing around my room as though she expected to find contraband items.
"Yes," I mumbled. "It went well."
"I just wanted to stop in and see what you were doing."
"I was about to change into my nightgown for bed. I'm exceedingly tired."
"Yes, you did seem a bit off at supper."
"I'm fine, Mother. Just tired."
"All right, dear. Just remember that you're having lunch with the king tomorrow."
My head lowered as she exited the room, and once she was gone, I felt my heart palpitating. I threw open the closet door and threw my arms around Emma, without thinking.
"Emma," I cried. "I'm terrified."
"I know, honey," she said. "I know."
Honey? My heart refused to stop racing, and my arms refused to break the embrace. Somehow, her words calmed me. Though my heart wouldn't settle, throbbing from fear, my thoughts became tranquil - except for the thought of the way she'd addressed me as 'honey.'
"Get me out of here."
Emma grabbed my hand and took my bag from me, sneaking into the hallway in silence. On the edge of panic but still keeping my cool, I followed her down the corridor. When we heard my mother's voice around the corner, we both froze and pressed out backs against the wall, as if that would make us invisible. But the sound passed, and we escaped - just barely - out the rear entrance.
"Oh, God," I breathed, as we huddled together in the corner of an alley in the middle of town.
"It's okay. It's all right. We're safe, for now. I have to go home to get my things, though. Given that my place is much smaller than your palace, this is going to be even more difficult. You'll have to hide behind the house until I come get you. Can you do that?"
Weakly, I nodded, but inside, I was scared to be alone.
By the time we got there, it was the middle of the night, and she assured me her parents would be sleeping, but I still stood petrified as she snuck into the house. When she reappeared, she was calm and composed.
"How are you not having a heart attack?" I whispered, grabbing her hand and pulling her all the way around the corner to the back of the house where I was standing.
"I'm okay, Regina. Really. We're okay. Are you ready to go?"
I nodded and we left the house, hands entwined. All I could think was, How is this happening? Why does she care so much? But I had to believe she truly cared enough to protect me. I had no other choice; I'd committed to the escape plan, and now I was bound to her in our endeavor.
"Why are you leaving your family?" I asked as we turned a corner.
"Because they're overbearing, too. They think they can control me, and control who I love. When I told them I was attracted to women, they told me that if I was ever in a relationship with a woman, they would kick me out and never speak to me again."
"Sounds like my mom..."
"Yeah, I know," she said. "I guess that's why I understand. I've been through it. At least I'm not betrothed, though. I would have run away already if they'd done that to me."
A sigh escaped my lips as I squeezed her hand and felt her squeeze back.
"We're gonna be okay," she promised me.
And somehow, I believed her.