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First Time Caller

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If there was one thing Eugenia ‘Granny’ Lucas liked about the modern world, it was the radio. The idea that, with the turn of a dial or the push of a button, centuries’ worth of music was available for your listening pleasure was inconceivable yet joyous. And the depth and breadth of choice! Whatever your particular pleasure, whatever decade or style you liked, there was a station for you, and Eugenia was determined to try them all. The regular diner patrons became stoic about enduring her latest fad; hardcore electronica, death metal and urban grime had all been, well, interesting.

But then she started listening to the talk radio stations, and that was a whole new adventure. The diner was filled with the views of splenetic preachers, rabid Tea Party apologists, dry documentarians, Libertarian policy wonks, vegan cooks, composting enthusiasts, and news broadcasts from around the world in languages which Granny didn’t understand, never mind speak, but found fascinating all the same. But no-one called her on it, just as no-one asked for her to turn the radio off or even over to another channel. With their memories returned, they knew exactly what she could do with a crossbow, and how little provocation it took for her to reach for one; she also offered the only take-out coffee and donuts in town. So they accepted her whims and listened to whatever she wanted to without complaint or comment.

All her birthdays came at once when Mayor Mills finally agreed to her suggestion that Storybrooke should get a radio station of its own. It was talk-only, operated at weekends, and broadcast locally on AM and internationally via the Internet. To everyone’s surprise, the Internet streaming numbers were several times higher than the population of Storybrooke. And the highest-rated show by a country mile was ‘In Session with Dr Archie’, the Sunday lunchtime call-in show. Eugenia proclaimed its success as entirely down to her, and no-one ever contradicted that opinion because of crossbows and take-out coffee and the fear of having to listen to industrial post-punk instead.

She knew, however, that there were two real reasons the show was popular: one, Archie Hopper was an excellent therapist and a natural at coaxing secrets out of people; and, two, it was completely anonymous. In a small town where everyone knew everyone, the show’s gimmick was that all voices were altered. There was nothing technically impressive about the effect: Archie merely adjusted the sound, changing the pitch and tone enough that the caller’s own mother wouldn’t recognise them.

The show became so popular that people started calling in from across the country and beyond to receive over-the-air family therapy from Storybrooke’s fake MD. That added the fun of trying to identify the locals from foreigners, as the residents referred to them. It was extended from one hour to two and then three, 11am to 2pm. And the patrons of Granny’s Diner listened every week, whether they wanted to or not, although most of them were just as interested as she was.

This Sunday’s show hadn’t been much to write home about so far. There had been a middle-aged fellow, obviously a foreigner from his discussion of how difficult it was to connect with people while living in an unspecified big city. He was followed by a nervous young woman with self-esteem issues which Eugenia and Archie both diagnosed as being down to a controlling father. Then there was a girl who worried that her collecting porcelain figurines of pigs was becoming an obsession. If you had to ask, then the answer was an emphatic yes.

Eugenia hoped that the next caller would offer something a little spicier. It was a quiet day in the diner, only a half-dozen regulars, and it had been a while since there had been a decent bit of gossip for her to pick over with her granddaughter, Ruby.

‘Well, we’ve just got time to introduce our next caller before we break for the top of the hour. Hi, you’re in session with Dr Archie.’

He had a lovely radio voice, Eugenia thought, so calm and authoritative.

‘Hello, there.’ There was an embarrassed cough. ‘I’m a long-time listener, first time caller, Dr Archie.’

“Yeah, yeah. They all say that.” Eugenia said, wiping down the countertop.

‘Well, it’s always good to hear from new people, Miss—’

‘I’d rather not give my name.’

“Ooh, interesting. My money’s on a local. Foreigners are always free with their names. Only locals hesitate.” She leaned back against the counter, slinging her dishcloth over her shoulder, giving up the pretence of working at all.

“Come on, Granny. How many times do we have to go through this? Even when they give a name, it’s not real.” Ruby said. “I bet half of them just make up whatever they say is wrong with them as well. They’re just sad people looking for attention because they’ve got no friends.”

“Hush your mouth.” Eugenia snapped her cloth at her granddaughter, catching her on the thigh. “Archie Hopper does good work with these people, you know.”

“I’m not saying anything against Archie. All I’m saying is that people aren’t going to give their real names when they’re discussing their deepest, darkest secrets on the radio, and that some of those secrets aren’t true in the first place.” On air, the current caller was agreeing to be identified as Orla. “See? There’s no way that woman’s called Orla. I mean, is that even a real name?”

Eugenia rolled her eyes. “It’s a perfectly common Irish name.” She looked around for support. “Hey, Leroy! Didn’t you say there was a woman called Orla over at the State office?”

“Yeah, processes the gun licences. Lovely telephone voice, so melodic,” he replied, then immediately flushed with embarrassment at complimenting a woman who was not his girlfriend, Astrid.

“See yourself,” she said to Ruby. “And, hush up, I’m missing the good bits. What did she just say her problem was?”

“Commitment and intimacy issues,” Ruby said.

Eugenia smirked. “That means sex.”

‘By intimacy issues, do you mean sexual intimacy?’ Archie asked, and Eugenia gave a nod of I-told-you-so to her granddaughter, who just shook her head. No respect for her elders, that girl.

There was an audible snort of derision from the female caller. ‘Sexual dysfunction is most assuredly not a problem. There is an abundance of sex in our relationship. Great sex. Amazing sex.’

“You ain’t convincing anyone with that line, missy,” Eugenia said. “Am I right?” she asked Michael Tillman who was sitting at the counter, eating his usual late Sunday breakfast of pancakes, sausage, Canadian bacon and four eggs over easy.

He looked up from his food. “What?”

“Oh, never mind.”

‘I realise that must sound as if I am deflecting,’ the caller continued, ‘but I assure you that’s not the case. It is genuinely the most exciting and fulfilling sexual relationship I’ve had in my life.’ There was an almost inaudible sigh of contentment. ‘That woman makes me feel things I never imagined were possible.’

“Lesbians, eh?” She looked over at Ruby, who was tapping away at her smartphone. “Are you even listening?”

“Huh? No, sorry, I’m just googling the name Orla.”

“Well, you can just stop that and start refilling the customers’ cups.”

“You’re standing right by the coffee machine.”

“And when the sign over the door says Ruby’s, then maybe you can give the orders. Until then, you do as you’re told.”

Ruby sighed, but slipped her phone into the front pouch of her waitress’s apron and picked up the coffee pot.

‘—so, no, there have never been any issues on that front, even before we entered into our current relationship.’

‘You’re saying you were sexually intimate before you entered into a relationship?’

‘We were sexually intimate long before we were even on first-name terms.’

‘Well, that’s something we can pick up after these messages from our sponsors and then the news headlines from our affiliate station.’

“Don’t you think there’s something familiar about that voice?” Ruby asked, topping up Michael’s cup and moving around the counter towards the other customers.

Eugenia shook her head. “You know they’re altered. Besides, Archie told me that no-one sounds like themselves on the radio. Like when you make a recording of yourself and then play it back and you don’t even recognise it. I always think I sound like a lumberjack.”

“That’s ’cause you do sound like a lumberjack,” Leroy muttered, loud enough that the other patrons had to hide their smirks for fear of Granny’s ire.

“No, this is different,” Ruby said, winking at Leroy for his aside. “It’s something in the speech pattern. I know that I know it.”

Eugenia opened her mouth to reply, but she was distracted by the bell over the door signalling the arrival of her two favourite customers.

“Emma, Henry!”

“Hey, Granny.” Sheriff Emma Swan guided her son over to their regular booth. Henry hardly even looked up from the hand-held game he was jabbing at with his thumbs, but he did at least say, “Good morning, Granny. Hi, Ruby.”

He was getting so big, nearly fourteen now, and strangely looking more and more like his other mother, the Mayor, the one parent to whom he wasn’t biologically related. His eyes were Emma and the hair and colouring were Neal, but his bearing and mannerisms, those were pure Regina Mills. For all they’d had their issues in the past, Eugenia couldn’t help but admire the job Regina had done in bringing up an intelligent, polite young man. He was a fine boy, a credit to both his mothers. Secretly, Eugenia didn’t have much time for the father, Gold’s son. All the good stuff in Henry came from the two women who were raising him.

“So, what’s happening?” Emma asked, leaning over the counter to snag herself a coffee cup and holding it out for Ruby to fill from the coffee pot she was still carrying. The Sheriff looked a little tired around the eyes, Eugenia noticed.

“Have you heard the name Orla before?” Ruby asked.

“Yeah, of course. Met a few Orlas in my time, and the woman in gun licensing at the State office is called Orla.”

“That’s what I told her,” Leroy said, having made his way from his table to join them at the counter, taking the stool next to Emma.

Emma nodded. “Nice woman, great phone voice. You never spoken to her, Ruby?”

“No, only you and Leroy deal with the gun licences.”

“Oh, sure, right. Why are we talking about her anyway? Someone got a problem with a gun?” Emma picked up a menu and scanned it. Eugenia never understood why people still did that; the menu never changed. Emma and Henry had ordered two tall stacks of pancakes and two shakes—one chocolate, one vanilla—every Sunday for going on two years. The shared custody arrangement she had agreed with Mayor Mills had their lives running like clockwork, and that included Tuesday dinner for the three of them after Henry’s soccer practice and Sunday brunch for Emma and Henry while the Mayor showed her face at church. Regina always joined them later for coffee.

“No, not her. The woman on Archie’s show before the break,” Ruby said, “she’s called Orla, and I said it wasn’t a real name.”

“Which it is,” Eugenia said.

“Yes, Granny, which it is. Although I’m still telling you that there’s not a chance in hell that the woman on the radio is actually called Orla.”

“Oh, okay.” Emma looked between them, not really following their conversation. She replaced the laminated menu in its holder and rubbed her hands together. “So, I’ll have a tall stack of pancakes and a chocolate shake, and the same for Henry, except with a vanilla shake.”

Eugenia nodded and looked pointedly at her granddaughter.

Ruby shook her head in irritation. “Right, shall I get that too, then? Along with the seeing to the refills and mopping the floors and cleaning the counters. What’s next? I get to stay home while everyone else goes to the ball?”

“If you would, Cinders. We’re all very busy here.” Eugenia shared a grin with Emma and Leroy, both of whom sniggered. “Oh, and don’t forget to make them both up a fruit bowl as well. How’re things with you anyway, Emma?”

“Oh, you know, same old, same old. Rescued some cats from trees, issued some tickets for moving violations. Nothing interesting. In fact, the strangest thing that happened all week was Leroy here finally beating me at trashcan basketball.”

“Hey,” he said, “I beat you all the time.” When Emma raised her eyebrow at him in challenge, he shrugged. “Okay, not all the time, but more than just this once.”

“Whatever, Shorty.” She patted his shoulder.

“So,” Eugenia said, getting the conversation back on topic, her topic, “any new romance on the horizon?”

Emma sighed, just as she did every week when Eugenia asked the same question. “When are you going to quit asking that?”

She smiled. “When the answer’s yes.”

“You’re going to be asking a long time then. Not much changes around here and there still aren’t any single men worth dating.”

Eugenia wondered if Emma really believed that anyone in town still bought that line. While it made for a convenient deflection, and it certainly kept the poor girl’s parents off her back, everyone else knew that Emma Swan belonged to Regina Mills. Oh, neither of them had ever admitted it publicly, but it couldn’t have been more obvious if Regina had branded her coat of arms on Emma’s forehead.

Eugenia still prided herself on being one of the first to work out that Emma and Regina were together, though. Only a few months after Neverland, with their new custody arrangement just in place, Regina dropped by the diner to request that both Emma and Henry should be given a fruit bowl with their regular Sunday order. And the second she asked—not demanded, but asked politely, meekly almost, as if she had no real right to impose—Eugenia had known that Regina wasn’t being her usual controlling self. No, she just wanted to look after those she loved.

It wasn’t hard to piece together after that. They might think they were hiding their relationship from the whole town, but when Regina was around Emma, her eyes were filled with adoration, and her whole demeanour was one of such contentment that it could only be love. Emma wasn’t much better, although a lot more lustful in her gaze.

Eugenia tried a different tack. “How’s the apartment hunting going?”

Emma had been renting the loft over the bait and tackle shop month-to-month since her parents had announced Snow’s pregnancy, but their lad was almost a year old and Emma showed no sign of wanting to move to somewhere more permanent.

“Still looking.”

“Well, maybe something’ll turn up.” Like the master bedroom at 108 Mifflin Street, for example.

“Yeah, maybe. Doubt it, though.” Emma was always evasive about her personal life—that was half the fun of prying—but her answers seemed especially weary. Usually, she at least played along with a smirk, never giving anything away except the vague notion that there was something to give away if someone just poked hard enough or asked the right question. But there was no spark there, no casual banter.

“You sure you’re okay?”

Emma shrugged. “It’s just been a really long week.” She turned to Leroy and asked him about Spring Training and whether the Sox had any chance in the coming season.

Eugenia didn’t like to give up on her meddling so easily, but there was definitely something off with Emma. She thought back and realised that the family hadn’t been in for their Tuesday meal, and Regina hadn’t stopped by for coffee and donuts, either. (Which was another thing—if the Mayor really wanted to hide the fact that she was seeing Emma, buying her favourite snacks and hand-delivering them to the Sheriff’s station several times a week was not her best plan.) Had she even seen Regina at all that week? It was so common to see the two women together, with or without Henry, that most people took it for granted, but she honestly couldn’t remember the last time she had seen them. In fact, Regina had not joined Henry and Emma last Sunday. And that was definitely strange, because the three of them always did something as a family on Sunday afternoons.

She made Emma and Henry’s milkshakes, putting an extra scoop of ice-cream in each, as she thought more about the Regina issue. Whichever way she looked at it, Emma’s mood plus Regina’s absence definitely indicated trouble in paradise.

“Granny!” Ruby called from the griddle.

“Don’t shout, child.”

“Come here and see this.” Ruby held up her phone and shook it for emphasis.

“Have you been using that thing while cooking again? What have I told you about that?” The girl was going to do herself a serious injury one day through her inattention. “Excuse me a moment,” she said to Emma and Leroy, who nodded. She set down the milkshakes in front of Emma, and turned to Ruby, waggling her finger at her. “This better not take long because Archie’s coming back on any second.”

She had no sooner reached her granddaughter when Ruby grabbed her arm and pulled her through to the back.


“Shhh! You’re gonna want to see this.” Ruby was smiling smugly. She dropped her voice to barely a whisper. “You know how I said I knew that voice? Well, I do. We all do. See?” She thrust her phone at Eugenia, who had to push it away to be able to focus on the screen.

“What am I supposed to looking at? You know I don’t know how to work these—” And the words died on her lips as she read the screen and saw that Orla was indeed an Irish name, one which meant queen. Golden queen, to be precise, but still queen. “Do you think this means what I think it means?”

“It’s her. I didn’t get it right away, but it was when she said ‘that woman’. That’s what she called Emma for, like, a whole year.”

“Shut the front door!” Eugenia prided herself on never using profanity, but she came very close to using the real F-word. She looked out towards the diner, but no-one at the counter was paying them any mind. Also, Archie’s show was starting back, and there was no way in this world or any other than she was going to miss so much as a second of what was about to happen. She put her finger over her lips and nodded her head towards the counter for Ruby to join her.

‘—and, before the break, we were talking to Orla about her issues with intimacy and commitment to her partner. So, Orla, you said that the two of you were sexually compatible. Do you think it is a lack of compatibility in other areas which has you feeling as if you don’t want to move to the next level?’

‘No, I don’t think it’s that.’ There was a sigh and, now that Eugenia knew, of course Regina Mills was the mystery caller because that little sound of annoyance was almost her trademark. ‘We are different, yes, but I suppose that I have always felt we balance each other, that together we made a good whole, a better us. She has faith when I have none; courage when I have only doubt; hope when I have recrimination. And I have no doubt that she makes me a better person. And I think that I give her a form of peace, at least, a chance to be still after a lifetime of running. It’s complicated, but it seems to work.’

Eugenia looked at Emma and Henry for any hint of recognition but Emma was still in conversation with Leroy about sports and the boy’s attention was split between his game and slurping the milkshake Emma must have taken over to him.

‘Well,’ Archie said, ‘opposites do attract and learning to appreciate and accept each other’s differences is a vital part of any good relationship.’

‘And it’s not that I don’t want to move to the next level. As a matter of fact, I want that very much, but I am afraid that any change will, well, cause unnecessary conflict.’

‘It’s a very human reaction to fear change,’ Archie said, ‘but we all have to change as our relationships evolve and mature. If we didn’t, our lives would be a series of first dates.’

‘Like we ever had a first date.’

‘You are in a long-term relationship and you haven’t dated? At all?’

‘I am hardly the sort of woman whom one dates.’

There must have been something about the way it was said, or the words used, but Henry’s head jerked up from his game and he looked over at his mother, who was looking back at him. Eugenia in turn looked over to Ruby, who was plating up their pancakes, and she gave a shrug in reply.

‘And this bothers you?’ Archie pressed.

‘No, it doesn’t. Or, it didn’t, because, to be honest, I don’t want or need big romantic gestures or flowers or to be wined and dined. All of that is just show for public consumption, and I was,’ she paused and gave another sigh, ‘I was married once, and all I had was the show, and I can assure you that none of that matters. What matters is how we are when we’re together. What matters is how I feel when whenever I am with her. I just want her, to be with her. I have never cared about what anyone else thinks, except our son, who is the only person we have told of our relationship. I thought it would be better for everyone involved, but especially for them, if we were discreet.’

Emma’s back stiffened, and Henry put his game away in his coat pocket, rising from his seat to join his mother at the counter. He was so tall now that, standing, he was able to put his arm around her shoulders easily.

“It’s her, isn’t it?” he asked. Emma shrugged, but the way that she allowed herself to slump back against him, accepting his quiet strength, said that she knew otherwise.

‘I don’t love well—’

Mother and son shared a look. “Yeah, it’s her,” Emma said.

‘—but I love her like I have never loved anyone else, and it took me so long to accept that, to even let her in at all. And I’m terrible at showing her how I feel, and I’m even worse about saying it to her, and I wish I were different because I just feel so much for her. I love everything about her, even the things that drive me insane, like when she leaves her clothes on the bedroom floor and all of the stupid nicknames she comes up with—’

“Dirty nicknames?” Leroy asked. Emma slapped him on the arm, but chuckled.

‘—and her bizarre devotion to bad television shows. And I am ashamed to say that I let her believe that our relationship was purely physical and not emotional for far too long, when it has never been just that. I have been in love with her since we were first intimate, since long before she really knew me at all—’

That had to mean before the curse was broken, Eugenia thought, and she looked at Emma for confirmation. Emma lifted her shoulder in a half-shrug, her lips quirking up in a smile.

“Yeah, me, too,” she said. And if that wasn’t the most romantic thing Eugenia had heard in a long time, she didn’t know what was.

‘—but I am now wondering if she feels that I haven’t acknowledged what we have publicly because I am somehow ashamed of being with her, and that is the furthest thing from the truth. I cannot tell you how blessed I feel, how grateful and proud, to have her in my life, because I don’t remotely deserve to have someone as good and kind and loving as she is. But the problem is that, last Friday, she asked to move into my house and instead of telling her the truth—that I cannot imagine living a single day without her, that all I want is her beside me always—I said no. I said no because I am a coward and a fool. And even then, when I could see the disbelief and hurt on her face that I would refuse her, she still asked me if it was because I wanted to be married before taking such a step—’

Henry murmured, “You actually proposed?”

“Not really, kid. It wasn’t my best work at all.”

‘—and naturally I laughed at her, so she backtracked to try to save face. She actually suggested that, even if I didn’t wish to be married to her for romantic reasons, that it might be beneficial to me and our son for legal reasons, like custody and estate planning. Like she even knows what estate planning entails! I’m the one who has to do her taxes, and who made sure that she and our son would always be taken care of, because she’s brave and foolish and reckless and I cannot trust her to stop risking her own life. So, of course we both have wills and 401Ks already, and naturally I took care of the custody arrangements because she’s his mother, and I would never leave her in a position where she didn’t have any legal right to be with him—’

“A 401K?” Ruby asked, placing Emma and Henry’s meals in front of them, even though it was clear that no-one was going to be eating any time soon.

Emma chuckled, a watery laugh, as she wiped at her glistening eyes. “Maybe. I have no idea. I just sign the shit she puts in front of me.”

“You are so whipped, Boss,” Leroy said.

“Yeah, I am.” And she looked so proud of that fact.

‘—and I even named her parents as legal guardians in the event that something happens to both of us because, God help me, apparently they’re my family now, and family sticks together, even when it’s hard. They don’t just run away like an idiot because one person does something incredibly stupid, not when she knows me well enough that she should have been able to predict exactly how I would react. Because she knows me, knows me like no-one else has ever known me, and I thought that I would always have that, have her. But now I’ve pushed her away because of my own fears that she will finally see through me, that putting our relationship out in the open will force her to see that I am nowhere near good enough for her, that being with me, really being with me, is not worth everything that she’ll have to put up with. And I just want her to come home because I’m a complete mess without her—’

“Granny, can I use the phone in the back room?” Emma asked.

“Of course you can, dear.”

Emma nodded, and looked over at the radio, shaking her head, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the diner’s patrons were all watching her intently.

‘—but she won’t answer her phone and I’ve been too scared to speak to her in person, because I couldn’t ever bear to see hurt like that in her eyes again, knowing that I put it there.’ There was another pause, and Regina’s sigh was not her trademarked one of irritation, but of frustration. ‘And I just don’t know what to do, Archie, because she means everything to me.’

‘Don’t you think that telling her all of this, what you’ve just told me, might be the best first step, um, Orla?’ No-one in the diner missed the slight pause Archie made before using the fake name, as if he had to stop himself from admitting that he knew the identity of his caller.

‘Of course I do, but how can I face her after what I did? What if she never wants to see me again?’

‘Do you really believe that to be the case? Knowing her as you do, do you think that she wouldn’t accept a sincere apology, because it seems to me that she probably would.’ But Regina didn’t have time to answer, before Archie continued with, ‘Well, this is unexpected, and I think a first for the show, but we have Orla’s partner on the line and she doesn’t want her voice to be concealed. Is that right?’

‘Come on, Archie. It’s only me.’ Emma’s voice came from the radio, but everyone in the diner turned to stare at the back room, although they couldn’t actually see the Sheriff. ‘And you can stop calling her Orla because everyone knows it’s you, Regina. Look, I’m not going to give some big speech or something, but here’s the thing. I’m in love with you, Regina Mills. And, in case it escaped your notice, we live in a really small town, so everyone knows about us already, and they all tease me relentlessly about how you own me. And, you know what? They’re right, and I don’t care. I’m yours, Regina, and you’re mine, and we’re forever. And we’ve been all but living together for a year now, so I don’t get how my giving up the apartment is going to change anything except that I’ll have a few hundred bucks extra in my pocket every month, which would be kinda nice because the Mayor here pays the Sheriff a pittance.’

‘You’re hardly underpaid for sitting on your backside doing nothing all day, Emma.’ Despite her words, everyone in the diner could hear the laughter and the love in Regina’s voice, her real voice, no longer concealed. And Henry was the first to laugh and clap and shout, “You tell her, Mom!”

‘Apparently your son agrees.’

‘Our son,’ Regina corrected.

‘Yeah, our son. Our son, who’s sitting here waiting for his Mom to come join us because we’re not a family without her. So, why don’t we let Archie get back to his show and you get your backside down here and have pancakes with your family, just like every Sunday? And we can talk about moving what’s left of my stuff into our home. You know, in person, instead of over the radio while most of the town and all those strangers out there in radio land are listening. Because I’m not complete without you, either, and I’m the one who doesn’t deserve everything you give me. So, yeah, I’m gonna hang up now and wait for you, so you’d better not leave me hanging.’

And then there was a click, and the muffled sound of the Sheriff muttering, “Well, shit,” from the back room, at the same time as there was dead air coming from the radio until Archie’s voice came through again.

‘Well, we seem to have lost both of our callers now, but I think we can hope that they’re working out their issues for themselves. So why don’t we take a quick break and—’

For the first time in anyone’s memory, Eugenia Lucas turned the radio off, but no-one even noticed, because everyone was staring at Emma, who was standing in the archway to the back of the diner, rubbing her neck and staring at her son.

“What do you think, kid?”

“You’ve got this, Ma.”

“You sure?”

“She loves you. She’s been miserable all week.” He grinned. “Although it’s not been all bad, ’cause she made enough food for you every night, so I got to eat your portion, too.” He patted her stool. “Come on, sit down and Ruby’ll make us more pancakes while we wait. Won’t you, Rubes?”

Eugenia grinned and slapped her granddaughter on the shoulder. “Of course she will.” She poured Emma a fresh cup of coffee and pushed the cream and sugar towards her, as the slightly dazed woman sat back down. “It’ll be okay. He’s right. That woman adores you. Although the two of you could have been quicker about admitting it, as I had December in the pool.”

“You’ve been running a pool on when we’d come out?” Emma looked stunned by the day’s events.

“Actually, Ruby started it.”

“I had last summer,” Henry said, “because you two are, like, really obvious about everything and I thought you’d get caught.”

“I went for October,” Leroy said.

“Valentine’s,” Michael Tillman chipped in, surprising everyone with his romantic choice.

The bell over the door signalled the arrival of new customers, and Emma sat bolt upright. Eugenia glanced up, and then placed her hand onto Emma’s forearm.

“It’s not her, but I’m guessing most people heard what happened.” A group of townsfolk were making their way into the diner, pretending to look around for tables, but not doing a very good job of hiding their interest in the Sheriff and her son.

“My parents?” Emma asked, not turning around.

“Not yet, but I’m sure they’ll get here soon enough.”

“Awesome.” Emma dropped her head to rest against the counter. “Kill me now.”

“Ma, they’ll be fine with it. Okay, maybe not Grams right away, but Grandpa already knows, although I think he’s a bit hurt that you haven’t talked to him about it,” Henry said.

“You’ve discussed our relationship with him?”

“You said it yourself, everyone knows. It’s like the number one topic of conversation behind your backs. He really likes Mom now, and, like, Grams and Mom are almost polite to each other. Sometimes.”

Emma shook her head. “And you managed to keep all this from me?” She laughed. “Well, your mother will be glad to know that there’s nothing of your grandmother in you, then.” Snow White’s inability to keep any secret, no matter how small, was legendary. “Does your dad know?”

“Yeah.” Henry’s face was pained. “This one time, when we were coming back from New York, we got in a little early and we, um—”

“Oh, God, did you see anything?” Emma covered her face with her hands.

“No, but what we heard left me scarred for life.” He patted her back and laughed at her discomfort. “For life, Ma.”

“You can never tell your mother about this. She can never find out you heard us.”

“That’s okay. I can keep a secret. And, one day, when I want something really bad and Mom is saying no, I’ll remind you of that fact.”

“You are an evil child. And so your mother’s son. If we could tell her, she’d be so proud.”

Henry patted her back again, and said to Eugenia, “I think I’ll have another shake and maybe a slice of cake while I wait for my pancakes.” His smug grin said that knew he could get away with almost anything today.

And for the next five minutes, everyone waited, while Henry ate cake and drank his milkshake, and Emma groused at the teasing she took from Ruby and Eugenia and Leroy, until the bell above the door rang again, and no-one at the counter needed to turn around or look up to know that it was Regina because the diner fell immediately silent.

Eugenia looked at Emma, who was calming herself with a few deep breaths, then up to Regina. Their former Queen was dressed casually, which, if anyone had really thought about it, was just another sign of the effect that Emma had on her life. She was in jeans and a plain white fitted shirt, her black pea coat open, her hands stuffed in its pockets. Still in killer high-heeled boots, though, because she was Regina Mills. She looked younger and more nervous than Eugenia had seen her in years, hardly any make-up on at all, her bottom lip between her teeth. Although the diner was packed, Regina had eyes for no-one but Emma, who swivelled around on her stool.

“Hi,” Regina said.


The brunette took a cautious step forward, and Emma rose from her stool. They moved slowly to meet in the middle of the diner, only a few feet apart. Regina’s hands were still in her coat pockets, and Emma’s were jammed in the back pockets of her jeans, but their upper bodies leaned in to each other, craving the closeness.

“The radio? Seriously?” Emma said.

“You weren’t answering my calls or texts, and I knew you’d be here listening.” Regina dropped her head in an uncharacteristically tentative gesture. “Did you hear all of it?”

Emma shook her head. “Only the bit after the news. What did I miss?”

“She said you were the best sex of her life!” Ruby called out, causing a ripple of embarrassed laughter through the small crowd.

Emma looked over her shoulder at her friend, and then to Henry, who was blushing but trying to stand tall and be a man about his mothers being emotional in front of him, and then back to Regina. “You did, huh?”

“I did.” Regina nodded, not a speck of shame on her face. In fact, if anything, she looked proud. “You are.”

Emma chuckled. “Damn right I am.”

“Emma, I am so sorry.”

Eugenia nearly gasped. She couldn’t remember the last time she had heard Regina apologise to anyone, for anything. Had she ever heard her do that to anyone except Henry?

Emma shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“It most certainly is not. I behaved like a fool.”

“I know, but I kinda like it when you get all crazy on me, because I know it’s just ’cause you’re crazy about me.”

Regina smiled slowly. “Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.”

“I am, am I?” Regina stepped forward, her hands still in her pockets, but her body almost pressed against Emma’s.

“I hope so, cos I’m crazy about you, and it would be pretty crappy if you didn’t feel the same.” Emma seemed to remember for a moment that they weren’t alone, and she looked around again, a blush spreading across her cheeks. “Do you want me to ask you out on a date?”

“Do you think you need to?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t think I’ve made a big enough show of both of us for one day, publicly admitting that I’m a fool for you?”

Emma moved her hand cautiously to Regina’s hip. “Can I move in?”

“Of course you may.” Regina leaned even closer, and her voice dropped. “Is today too soon for you?”

Possibly Emma didn’t feel that they’d made enough of a show of themselves, because she pulled Regina to her for a kiss, and Regina’s hands finally left her pockets to wind around Emma’s neck, holding her like nothing else in the world mattered.

Henry shrugged, and turned back around to the counter, sucking the last of his second milkshake noisily through his straw. Ruby made a whooping sound. Leroy actually pumped his fist in the air. And Eugenia folded her arms across her chest and watched, wondering that they had ever thought they could keep a love like that a secret. The other diner patrons mostly looked away because their Saviour cupping the Evil Queen’s ass, and the fact that such behaviour resulted in a breathy moan rather than a hailstorm of fireballs, was not something they needed to see or even know.

But Emma and Regina didn’t notice any of them. They remained where they were, kissing and murmuring to each other, stopping every now and again before starting over. They didn’t even stop when the bell above the door rang again and David and Snow appeared, their son balanced on his father’s hip, so they missed the knowing smile on Snow’s face and the wink that David gave to Henry.

They walked to the counter, rounding the completely oblivious couple still kissing in front of everyone.

“Finally,” Snow said, sitting down next to Henry and taking her son from her husband. “I thought they were never going to admit it.”

“You knew?” Eugenia was astonished. This was Snow White, the woman least likely to keep anything to herself.

“There are only so many times a mother can tell herself that the bruising on her daughter’s neck is from really big mosquitos.” She pressed kisses to her son’s face. “Isn’t that right, baby boy?”

Eugenia looked over at Emma and Regina, who had finally stopped kissing in favour of what appeared to be hugging, right up to the point when Emma moaned loudly and tilted her head back to give Regina better access. The mayor definitely had a thing for leaving hickeys, then.

“Do you remember that time we caught them skinny dipping in the pond and they claimed that raccoons had stolen their bathing suits?” David asked, smoothing his son’s hair down. “I still don’t know how I kept my face straight.”

As her gaze flicked between Regina and Emma, who were entirely wrapped up in each other, and their extended family, who were dishing the dirt on all the times they’d caught them in embarrassing situations, Eugenia realised that the real world of Storybrooke was much more interesting than anything she was likely to hear on the radio.