The early March wind whistles through the buildings in Chelsea as Emma opens the door to her favorite coffee shop. It’s aptly named the Grumpy Café for that’s apparently how everyone is before they have their morning coffee, which she totally and completely gets, especially on days where she’s working. As soon as she steps inside, she can feel the heat running through the building, the bustle of people trying to get their caffeine fix even on a Sunday morning, and she has to dodge a group of teenagers who likely aren’t even old enough to drive but are apparently old enough to spend over eight dollars on whatever drink it is they’re all taking pictures of with their phones.
She’s done it before. She’s not judging. Okay, maybe she’s judging a little bit.
Whatever. She just wants her coffee with a splash of hazelnut creamer and possibly a muffin that will totally cancel out all of the work that she just did at the gym. What’s the point of working out if she can’t occasionally reward herself with sweets?
(The point is being healthy and living longer and being able to fit into her favorite pair of skinny jeans, but she doesn’t always remember that when she feels like she’s dying and would like to murder everyone within a five-foot radius of her treadmill. And running is a much smaller monster than Pilates.)
Finally, she works past the teenagers and someone who definitely hasn’t washed their beanie since they bought it, and gets to the counter to put her order in, standing off to the side until Ava, her favorite barista, gives her the to-go cup and small brown paper bag filled with two blueberry muffins, one for both she and Ruby since she’s not interested in having to fight over her muffin when she gets home. After she wishes Ava a good day, she leaves the building, the wind already whipping at her skin, and tries to walk as quickly as possible to get back to her apartment so that she doesn’t die of frostbite or something. It’s not cold enough for that, but it kind of feels like it when all she has on are a pair of black leggings and a white tank top that might as well not exist for how little it protects her from the cold.
At least it doesn’t make her sweat.
She should have brought a jacket with her.
“Hey,” a man yells out at her, and she has to bite her tongue to keep from cursing at him when she has no idea what he wants. Instinctively, she reaches for her keys, placing the sharp edge in between her fingertips as she keeps walking, “you’re that girl.”
And immediately she knows that she is, indeed, that girl, and that this man, while slightly obnoxious in his Red Sox cap and t-shirt that he obviously bought from a tourist shop while in Manhattan yesterday, isn’t going to cause her any danger. Just annoyance.
“That I am,” she smiles, knowing less is more when she’s been recognized lately, only the slightest bit of resentment simmering below the surface of her skin.
“Can I get a picture?”
“Yeah, sure.” Emma sighs before keeping that plastered smile on her face as he comes up to her and wraps an arm around her shoulder before holding his phone in front of their faces. It’s quick, easy, and it’s not the first time that it’s happened to her. It used to be solely because of her job, and while this technically stems from that, it’s entirely different.
She should have bought a box of donuts or something instead of this muffin so that she could angrily munch away after she gets back home.
When she walks up to her apartment building, she presses in the code to get through the gate, before pulling the old creaky thing open, and walking up the four flights of stairs to get to her front door, twisting the key in the knob before quietly opening the door as she figures that Ruby isn’t awake yet. It’s before noon on a Sunday where they’re not working, so Ruby being awake would pretty much be a miracle or a sign of the world ending depending on how you look at it.
(A sign of the world ending most definitely.)
Toeing off her sneakers, the right one getting stuck, she flicks on the light switch to illuminate the main room of their apartment. It’s a small place, really more suitable for two people than the three that live here, but she likes the location and rent price too much to change anything about her living situation. The kitchen is more of an alcove than anything else, just five white cabinets shoved into the corner with white and gray quartz countertops, and next to the fridge is an exposed brick wall that she’s not sure is real or simply there for aesthetics. But she kind of likes it and the way that it brightens up the room as their television sits on a small black desk with plants framing both sides of it, a multi-colored rug sitting on the floor underneath their white couch that’s full of more throw pillows than anyone has any right owning.
The throw pillow thing is definitely her fault, but when she’s shopping and happens to see a good deal on a cute patterned one, she can’t help but buy it, figuring there’s some place for it. Her bedroom is full of them, sitting on top of her white comforter and on the black and white striped chair that’s crammed in the corner with piles of clothes stacked on top of it. She’s sure that designers would hate their place, but it’s their place. They like it. That’s all that matters.
She also has this problem with blankets, but that goes hand and hand with pillows, right?
The plants too. She and Ruby obviously wish they had a backyard or something.
“Morning,” Graham mumbles as he steps out into the hallway into the living room. He’s rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, still dressed in a pair of plaid pajamas pants and an NYPD sweatshirt, his hair curling into wild patterns instead of its usual tamed style. “Have a nice run?”
“My legs feel like they’re not actually limbs anymore, but it was good.”
“You happen to bring me any coffee?”
Emma huffs at that before sitting down at the kitchen table with her cup and her muffin, figuring that she’ll clean up the crumbs later instead of dealing with a plate. “No. I got a muffin, but it’s for Ruby.”
“She’s going to be asleep until at least two. I can eat it, and she’ll never know.”
“You have been dating her for two years. You know she can sniff these things out.”
“So am I. I’ve gotten good at hiding things.”
“That, my friend,” she starts, opening up her laptop from where she left it here last night, and curling her foot underneath her thigh, “is an awful thing to say to your girlfriend’s best friend.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Eat the muffin at your own risk.”
Graham chuckles before stepping further into the kitchen and flipping the switch for the coffee maker, the machine sparking to life as that all familiar gargle starts up, the smell already beginning to permeate through the apartment and overpower the coffee she already has. He hums, something that she’s noticed he always does in the mornings since moving in with them in January, and she blocks it out as much as she can. For so long, it was just she and Ruby here, but then Ruby and Graham got serious and he moved in. It’s only weird in the fact that she has to wear a shirt at all times when in a public space and she can hear some pretty enthusiastic sex noises happening through the bedroom walls. But rent is now split three ways, which is amazing, and Graham has a penchant for home cooked meals, which is something she thinks she’s really going to like when she’s traveling for work.
Graham’s probably going to like it more since both she and Ruby will be gone. Though she thinks he’ll miss Ruby a hell of a lot more than he misses her. She’d at least hope so. It’d be concerning if he didn’t.
Her laptop dings several times, and she already knows that she’s going to have at least ten emails from David detailing her schedule for when she flies down to Florida on Wednesday to cover Spring Training and film her segment on Killian Jones.
New York Yankees starting pitcher who has made her life a living hell since October of last year when the Yankees won the World Series. That should have been one of the greatest moments of her reporting career, especially since the team she’s assigned to cover for ESPN won the fucking World Series, but then it all turned her into a viral video online.
There are memes about her, okay?
(She’s only twenty-seven, but some of the things she’s thinking today are making her feel much older.)
And maybe living hell isn’t the right word. At least, not anymore. It was crazy at first, basically a madhouse around her, and she had to log out of all of her social media for two weeks even as she gained hundreds of thousands of followers across every platform where she’s active. She’s now got one of those blue checkmarks next to her name, which she honestly should have had before even if she doesn’t think she’s a celebrity or whatever, and random people stop her on the street for selfies. Selfishly, she kind of wishes that people had recognized her before the incident, but she didn’t get into her job for the fame. Really, that was the thing that held her back when she was offered the promotion, not that her job is really a job that brings much recognition outside of certain circles.
But here she is now.
“Killian,” she starts, holding the microphone to her mouth as she speaks and Killian wipes the sweat from his brow, pushing back his long hair before placing the World Series Champion cap back on top of his head, a bright white smile between his lips. Her heart is hammering in her chest, excitement over the Yankees winning finally starting to sink in. She can’t believe she got to work the Series. Holy shit. “You pitched an incredible game, and helped to lead the Yankees to their win. You’ve had an incredible season, an even more incredible post-season. How is it all feeling right now?”
His grin somehow gets impossibly bigger, the lines around his eyes crinkling, and she recognizes the look in his eyes like she always does. She’s been interviewing him for three years now, even if he wasn’t around much last season after his accident, and following his career around long before she’d actually met him through work, so she recognizes a lot of his mannerisms. It’s odd for her to know every career statistic that he has, to know about all of the publicity around his private life, and yet to have only talked to him while he stands on a field sweating under the glow of stadium lights or in the dimness of the locker room.
But that’s her job. She’s a reporter for ESPN, which is pretty damn awesome, and unlike a lot of people she works with, she actually likes to know what she’s talking about. She’s not a former athlete, not some kind of all-star with household recognition, and she’s a woman. Those three facts make her life impossibly harder, and if there’s anything she’s learned in her eight years working for the network, it’s that for every step that one of her male colleagues takes, she has to take ten. It’s idiotic, sexist, and all around wrong, but if she’s on TV spouting out facts that are incorrect, there’s twenty thousand men at home tweeting her and the network telling them to get the “dumb bitch” off their TVs.
But it’s her reality. Most people only care about how she looks, about how her ass looks in a skirt, but that’s not what she cares about.
(Even if she has a good ass and works damn hard for it.)
She cares about the game.
And anyone who cares about baseball, cares about Killian Jones.
He reaches up to scratch behind his ear, which is a tick of sorts that she’s noticed, before he leans into the microphone. “Right now, it’s pretty unbelievable. It hasn’t sunk in yet, not really, but I’m happy to be here wearing this hat, having the trophy, the accomplishment. It’s been a long road for me personally, for the team, and I’m in a bit of euphoria over it all.”
“How in the world are you not burning alive?” Ruby says in her earpiece, and she has to keep herself from rolling her eyes with the forced smile on her face. Ruby is a great producer, but she definitely loves giving her live commentary to mess Emma up. “He’s so hot, and I can’t even see his ass.”
Her producer being her best friend is both the best and worst thing to ever happen to her.
“I bet,” she says to Killian, looking up in the blue of his eyes as chants start to ring out across the stadium. Ruby won’t stop talking in her ear, and that’s definitely something the two of them are going to talk about later. “You had a bit of a rocky beginning to the season with your injury from last year still lingering, so how’s that arm feeling?”
“Good as new.”
“Perfect, it looked like.”
Even under his hat she can see the rise of his brow. “You been looking at my arms then, love?”
He is such a flirt. It’s ridiculous. At least he’s not one of the creepy ones. She gets it a lot as a part of her job and the general state of men, but she’s thankful for the fact that Jones never crosses the line. And she’s watched his interviews. He seems to simply be a flirt naturally, no trying necessary. It's not something that bothers her when she knows that he's a good guy.
“Me and a couple million other people.”
He barks out a laugh, his head thrown back a bit, and she can see the sharp underside of his stubbled jaw. Thank goodness the Yankees finally allow their players to have facial hair. Really, it’s for the good of all people. “Well, my sister-in-law tells me most people are looking at my ass, so that’s kind of a relief.”
“Oh my God,” Ruby groans, “there are so many things you could say, but don’t bite his head off. Ask him one more question.”
“So, Killian Jones, World Series Champion, now that you’ve done something every baseball player dreams of, is there anything else that you want to do?”
His mouth snaps closed, his teeth disappearing in exchange of a closed lip smile, and he tilts his head to the side while his eyes flicker up and down her face, very obviously scrutinizing her before his lips part once more.
“Yeah,” he says, adjusting his hat, “I think I’d like to go on a date with you. What do you say, Swan? You want to go out on a date with me?”
“Emma Swan,” Ruby grits, her voice yelling in Emma’s ear, “if you do not say yes, I will lock you out of the apartment. Think of the ratings.”
Later, she’s definitely going to talk to Ruby about sexual harassment. Not that this is what that is. She could say no. Yeah, he asked her on live television. That’s kind of dick-ish and teetering on the edge, but he’s not forcing her into it. Ruby might be, but that’s an issue for another time. Right now her issue is that she kind of feels like both vomiting on Killian’s shoes and punching him in the stomach for putting her on the spot like this.
Three years of interviewing him, and this is what he’s going to do. The guy is running on adrenaline, but he's also got some things to learn.
No part of it surprises her. The next words out of her mouth do since she already knows the repercussions from them are going to be brutal.
She’d been asked out on live television by a player who she covers several times a month since he only plays every few games, and she said no. Of course she said no.
They don’t even know each other personally, and realistically, she understands that the whole point of dating is to get to know someone, but she’s not about to say yes on-air simply because she’ll look like a bitch if she says no. And really, she doesn’t think she looked like a bitch. She doesn’t. But apparently, she’s not allowed to have her own thoughts or opinions, have agency over her own life, because even though she was gaining all of that fame online, she was also garnering a lot of hate.
Like, an insane amount of hate.
People online are insane.
She always knew that when she took the step up from being a writer and fact checker who merely listed statistics in articles to being an on-air talent, that it would be a difficult transition. For one, she had to get used to working with a camera, with thinking on the spot, and she also had to get used to how much hate she was going to get for being a woman working in baseball. The world is definitely getting better overall, but that doesn’t mean that tiny, petulant men won’t take issue with her covering games over a former pro who’s only in it for the money.
The money is great, much better than she ever could have imagined, but that’s not why she’s in it. Not at all.
Growing up, she didn’t have a lot. Really, she had nothing. Her parents gave her up for adoption after she was born, but no one adopted her. Ever. She grew up in foster homes and group homes, never really having anyone or anything she cared about until she was fifteen and moved into Ruth Nolan’s home in Portland, Maine. Ruth was a kind older woman who packed Emma’s lunch for school and bought her new clothes and made her feel like she mattered for the first time in a long time. Emma knew that Ruth had a son, David, who lived in New York City and who Ruth was unnaturally proud of, but she didn’t meet him until six months after she’d been living in the house and he came home for Christmas with his fiancée, Mary Margaret.
She’d hated him.
Really and truly hated him. She had a good thing going, and him coming home made her realize just how much she didn’t have anything that belonged to her.
She had nothing.
And it didn’t matter that he was twenty-seven to her fifteen, that he was an adult while she was still a child. The jealousy didn’t stop. It kept festering and festering until she was worried that it would never stop. As an adult, someone who is now twenty-seven herself, she realizes how ridiculous this was, but at the time all she could think about was how terrified she was that having her actual son home would make Ruth realize how much Emma didn’t belong.
All of her worry was for nothing because David Nolan is the nicest man on the planet, and he took her under his wings from the moment that he met her. She resisted, not used to knowing what kindness and affection were, but David made her feel comfortable to the point where her shoulders didn’t tense up, where her head didn’t pound, and even though he was a little too much for her until she got used to more genuine care and kindness, David became the older brother she never could have dreamed of.
He was the one who took her on her first vacation, a weekend trip to visit he and Mary Margaret in New York. The two of them definitely coddled her a little bit, jam packing the days with trips to anything and everything she wanted to go to, but it was fun. And then David took her to a Yankees game with seats behind third base and access to the facilities and food to die for with his special access, and her entire life changed.
Obviously, she’d watched a baseball game before. She knew most of the ins and outs, did for most sports. In all of the homes that she’d been in, sports were pretty much a constant. It was the thing the dads liked, most of the kids too, and even though she hadn’t always enjoyed them (she has some pretty strong feelings about basketball), sports were a constant in her life. Her foster parents would never sign her up to play, never wanting to spend the money on equipment, but watching on TV and understanding what her classmates were talking about made her feel like she belonged.
Then she went to an actual game, felt the atmosphere of thousands of people cheering, heard the ding of the ball against the bat, listened to music played during breaks, ate a hot dog like all of the clichés, and a light switched on in her. If David could work at ESPN, could spend his days studying statistics and helping to put together clips and videos of highlights, why couldn’t she?
Why couldn’t she dream of more than staying in Portland and working in an office as a receptionist or something else that would inevitably make her lose the light inside of her that has already been diminished?
Ruth and David offered to help her take SAT prep courses to boost her score, and they helped her apply to colleges across the country. When she got accepted to NYU, David and Mary Margaret immediately told her that she could live with them, and when David got her an interview at the ESPN offices as an intern the fall of her freshman year, she finally, finally felt like her life was headed somewhere good.
Then she met Neal and…that’s not something she wants to think about.
He’s not someone who needs to take up any space in her mind when she’s got Jones to deal with.
More specifically, an interview with him.
Here’s your flight information as well as your rental car number. Everything is under your name, so it should be easy to get once you’re in Tampa. We’re sending Madden with you, but we’re sending Ruby to other ST games to produce with some of our more inexperienced reporters.
Jones can do his segment on 3/09/19 before the game against the Orioles. That’s also who they’re playing on Opening Day, so try to work something in with that. He shouldn’t be pitching that day, so he’ll mostly be free.
Come over for dinner before you leave?
She fires of a quick response before opening up her document filled with the list of questions that she’s been working on for the interview. Jones is a pretty private guy despite how much information on him is out there, so she knows that this exclusive is a pretty big deal. She also knows that despite being the exclusive on field reporter for the Yankees, she got this gig because of what happened after the World Series. It stings, if she’s honest with herself, but she’s learned that sometimes she has to accept things she doesn’t necessarily love for the good of her career. That’s precisely why she, Ruby, and Graham have spent the last six nights sitting in their apartment listing off questions that she thinks resemble more of a speed dating questionnaire than a profile on a professional athlete.
At least there’s some questions about baseball. She doesn’t think Jones would be too fond of her if she dug a little too much into the boating accident that broke his arm and ended his season two years ago or the rather prolific dating history that he has. Then again, maybe him hating her would keep him from asking her out again.
Pros and cons and all.
“Ooh, is that muffin for me?”
Ruby stumbles out of the hallway, her shorts riding up her ass and her socks at different heights around her ankles. Her hair is half tied up in a bun, but it’s mostly falling down her back in dark curls, red streaks spread throughout. She’s basically a zombie waking up this early, and when Emma looks over to Graham standing with his back against the countertops peeling open the wrapper on the muffin, Emma can do nothing but smirk.
At least she’s not saying I told you so.
She’s really tempted though.
“Sure, babe,” Graham smiles, opening up his arm for Ruby to fall into his side, her head resting on his shoulder as she picks at the top of the muffin, spilling the crumbs on the floor all the while Graham kisses her temple. “What are you doing up?”
“I could smell coffee,” she mumbles, her mouth full. “And my phone kept going off because David wouldn’t stop emailing me about all of my work stuff this week. Does he ever sleep, Ems? I mean, he’s got a wife and a ten-year-old. He’s got a life.”
“David can make Mary Margaret swoon and help Leo with his homework all the while emailing us to get our shit together. It’s a talent.”
Graham chuckles before rubbing his hand up and down Ruby’s shoulder, the affection so easy between the two of them, and Emma feels her stomach twist. She’s in that weird phase where she couldn’t be happier for her friend, couldn’t be happier that Ruby has this person, her person, but where she also feels a lingering loss over having lost someone who she thought was hers.
But again, she is not thinking about that this morning. It’s easier not to.
“Sweetheart, I can nearly guarantee that your boss does not get onto you like my boss does.”
Ruby’s brow raises before she takes a giant bite out of the muffin. “Are you really going to stand here and try to tell me that I can’t be irritated with my boss because you have it harder?”
“That is not what I said at all.”
“It kind of is,” Emma adds in as she brings her knees up to her chest and types in a question about Killian’s nieces on her document.
“But you understood what I meant? I just meant that – ”
“It’s too early for you to keep putting your foot in your mouth,” Ruby laughs, stepping out of Graham’s embrace to get a mug out of the cabinet and pour herself a cup of coffee. “And it’s definitely too early for little miss over there to have been on a run and be back here working. It’s our day off. Let’s do something fun.”
“Oh my God, no. It’s not even nine thirty.”
“It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
“Okay, Jimmy Buffet.”
“Well now I want a cheeseburger and a margarita.”
“We could always go to the restaurant in New Jersey.”
“There’s a place ten minutes away from here,” Graham interjects, “that sells fantastic cheeseburgers all day long. We go there for lunch a lot.”
“But do they have tacky decorations and overpriced alcohol?”
“They have good food and a TV that works seventy percent of the time.”
“That sounds perfect,” she sighs, closing her laptop even though she knows they probably won’t leave for a few more hours, “but once the season starts, I’m going to have to swear off burgers and any other concession food.”
Ruby guffaws, actually guffaws, her head thrown back and her coffee sloshing around in the mug. “The day you stop eating junk food on game day is probably the day that you go out on that date with Jones.”
Her eyes immediately cut toward Ruby, but the woman can’t be fazed and doesn’t care that she’s being stared at by someone with daggers in her eyes. Graham lets out a low whistle, one that doesn’t match up with the song he was humming earlier, and Ruby simply shrugs her shoulders and takes another sip of her coffee.
“I hate you for still thinking that’s funny,” Emma finally says as her legs stretch out for her to stand up and toss her empty mug into the trash bin, the cup circling the bag before landing in. “And for telling me to say yes for the ratings.”
“To be fair, I always knew that you’d say no, which is honestly probably better for the ratings than you saying yes. I’m so pissed that I didn’t get assigned to you to go to Tampa. I’d pay big money to get to see the two of you get all close and personal, but no, Jeff gets to go with you.”
She rolls her eyes and steps forward to condescendingly pat Ruby on the arm, forcing a smile on her face. “I’m not going to tell you anything that happens, which means you’ll never know because Jeff will never tell. We could have sex right there at Steinbrenner, and you’d never know.”
“I hate you.”
“You wouldn’t have sex with him anyways,” Graham says, and she and Ruby both slap his arm before his lips part in shock. “What? I’m just saying the truth. Emma is a consummate professional, and she’s pissed at Jones for asking her out like that. She’s not going to do anything to mess up her reputation. She’s worked too hard to be taken seriously.”
Graham Humbert: loveable idiot but also one very smart man.
Because he’s exactly right in what he’s said.
“Let’s go get some cheeseburgers,” Emma sighs, wanting to change the subject.
“But you just said it was too early.”
“Whatever,” she laughs, adjusting her sports bra underneath her tank top. She probably needs a shower before she goes or her sweat is going to mold this bra into her skin. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”