“What’s the matter with me?
Oh, I wish that I could let you love,
Wish that I could let you love me now.”
~ ‘Let You Love Me’ - Rita Ora (Vevo Live Performance Version)
“You look great.”
“I feel like a bloated blueberry.”
“...that makes no sense at all.”
“Yeah? And neither does this dress. I really shouldn’t have eaten so much at lunch with Gilda-”
Norman chuckled as wrapped his arms around Emma’s waist, leaning in to give her a light kiss on her neck.
“You honestly look amazing, and you’ll be fine.”
Emma sighed as she stared at the mirror once more, adjusting her white and dark blue hair bow, adorned with light sparkles with a crescent moon as the centerpiece. She frowned as she stepped back, easing her way out of Norman’s hold.
“Easy for you to say; they’re you’re family.”
Norman hummed in slight agreement, nodding. “True, my relatives are a little…intense. But my father is fine.”
“Oh, I’m not nervous about Mr. Minerva! He’s nice. It’s just…”
As Emma trailed off, Norman sighed. “I know the Ratris are something else, but I think this first meeting with all of them would be a good thing. For them, and for us.”
Emma began to pat down her dress, still listening to Norman. “But did it have to be during dinner? A formal dinner, of all things?”
Norman’s expression flashed with a pensive stare for a moment, before he shook his head.
“They just like...higher class things, is all.”
“Higher class things,” she repeated. “Yes, fantastic, and I’m Cinderella attending this Ball, right?”
At this, Norman’s mouth quirked into a smirk, enjoying the sarcastic banter she spoke with. He suddenly took Emma in his arms in a bridal style-like fashion, turning once around the room as she yelped in surprise and delight. He smiled down at her as he felt the sensation of her wrapping her arms around the back of his neck.
“Yes,” he said in agreement, “but the magic of staying with me as your prince doesn’t stop at midnight.”
Emma tilted her head in feigned confusion, a small smile tempting to make its way on her lips. “Oh? So when does it end?”
He smiled as he leaned in to kiss her slowly, her response in eager tandem. As he pulled away, his smile grew, full of love and sincere honesty.
“Never; until forever when you’ve become my queen.”
Emma quickly slammed her cell phone on her nightstand next to her, groggily opening her eyes at the obnoxious alarm and quickly shutting it off. She sighed back into her pillow, blocking the sun rays tempting to filter through her window blinds as she buried herself under her covers, attempting to sleep in a bit more.
But her sleep had become a nightmare. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a dream about him.
Cursing, she sat up in bed, her mind too scattered to properly rest. The day had barely begun and she felt the worst to come.
And true to her word, as she took her phone and looked through her unread text messages, she grimaced.
Group Chat: Anna, Don, Emma, Gilda, Ray
Anna (07:23): Remember the meet up is tonight! You guys better come!
Emma sighed, closing the group chat and skipping the responses, and as she backed out of her messages, she noticed one unread one from Ray.
She felt her stomach drop as she stared into her phone, wordless.
Ray (07:30): He’s back.
“-that way, we can understand a plan of action moving forward and bring further success into the educational program.”
Norman smiled as he stepped away from the projector screen, overlooking the round table of individuals at the meeting. “Any questions?”
A hand rose. “Fantastic proposition as always, Mr. Minerva. The Grandmother program you’ve implemented in all the schools have shown tremendous growth in leading the Mamas and guiding them towards teaching the children to higher education.”
Norman nodded stiffly. Something settled in his gut which he chose to push aside as much as he could, attempting to listen to the words of his co-worker.
“Yes,” Norman replied coolly. “The program serves as a support system for all the Mamas in each school, leading there to be four Grandmothers in total. Each one has information on their respective Mamas for each of the schools, as their main purpose is to guide, and also provide emotional support.”
The same co-worker nodded. “Yes, yes, I completely understand that, and I am so impressed that Grace Field is doing exponentially well in comparison to Grand Valley, Goodwill Ridge, and Glory Bell. I’ve heard this individual has only been a Grandmother for one year?”
Memories reeled through his head for a moment; he took a deep breath and sighed, daring to speak a name which he felt unworthy to say even years later.
“...Yes. Ms. Emma is the appointed Grandmother of Grace Field, and has been working very hard, dedicated to the work given to her.”
There was a murmur of low comments, mostly in praise, that spread through the room at the utterance of her name and Norman kept his gaze low, avoiding the watchful eye of his uncle in the corner of the room.
Someone raised their hand as they commented. “As the youngest Grandmother, she must be an amazing individual to connect so fast with her given school.”
“Oh? So when does it end?”
Norman bit his lip as he nodded, forcing a smile on his face.
“...she is indeed amazing.”
Emma sighed as the last of the paperwork she was given was signed and dated, and she emphatically placed the last stapled bundle onto the stack. She dramatically laid her head on the table, groaning as she did so.
“When I signed up to be Grandmother, I didn’t think there’d be this much paperwork.”
She turned her head as she heard Isabella chuckle lightly, picking up the paperwork and placing them in the designated cubby hole.
“You’ve been doing fantastic over the past year, Emma. Each Mama in their respective House here at Grace Field have stated they’ve been performing exponentially well since you’ve been giving guidance and support.”
Emma sat up, shaking her head. “I mean, I guess, but it’s still weird that I’m technically your boss, even though you raised me here.”
Isabella laughed as she gave a light pat on Emma’s head. “And you’ll always be my Emma, irregardless of position.”
Emma opened her mouth to reply, but the buzzing of her phone on the table gave way to distraction as she glanced it quickly, ignoring the message. Isabella looked at her peculiarly before turning around back to the bookshelf to organize the titles.
“Are you going to see them now?”
Emma groaned. “Did Ray tell you?”
Isabella smirked, in a way that clearly reminded her of Ray’s characteristics. “He may have told me to tell you to go, is all.”
Emma shook her head. “Of course he did. For all his quietness, he’s a huge blabbermouth...no offense, Mama.”
Isabella hummed in amusement as she placed a book on the shelf. “None taken, I know how much my son is a troublemaker.”
She turned to stare at Emma with doting regard, taking a few steps forward when Emma remained silent. Placing her hand lightly on Emma’s, Isabella gave a warm smile as Emma made eye contact with her.
“For what it’s worth, I believe going will help give you closure on a few things.”
Emma closed her eyes in acknowledgement.
She wanted to believe so, too.
Norman shed the blazer he wore from the meeting and let it drape over the desk chair in his hotel room, shaking his shoulders out from the stiff meeting which he presented in.
He stared out into the city below; it had been years since returning to Grace Field, and yet-
His phone suddenly vibrated in his pocket, alerting a text message; with a simple sweep of his finger, he ignored it, placing it on the coffee table in attempts to recall the meeting.
His uncle had been proud; Peter had never been one to tolerate incompetence, and Norman had often felt pressured under the weight of carrying on his family’s legacy in maintaining the four academic orphanage schools. While they were all technically under his father’s supervision as the CEO, the Ratris played an important part in marketing and improving the status of the schools, making sure the children were of high educational status, up until graduating high school.
Norman often felt obligated to perform only at his best; as the next successor, he knew it was his sole responsibility to maintain the high status of the schools.
So when Emma proposed the idea of a Grandmother program for the four schools a few years ago, he implemented it right away; they were in their last year of college, and Emma had been ecstatic to hear the program’s success.
“I believe the Mamas have a right to an opinion, and they need support too. They’re only human, so if someone could guide them, academically and educationally, maybe it’ll help the children, too!”
It had been a farfetched dream at the time, the words spoken over a formal dinner which he thought he had forgotten the details of, up until this most recent meeting.
The sound of his phone suddenly vibrating incessantly broke him from his thoughts as he glanced at his phone. It stopped momentarily before continuing again and Norman could only sigh as he picked up his phone, short of responding.
“I know you’re here, so you better drag your ass out here right now.”
Norman chuckled. “Good to hear from you too, Ray.”
He could practically see Ray roll his eyes. “And a huge ‘you’re an idiot’, from me.”
There was the faint sound of distinct chatter in the background and Norman could only assume Ray was at the meeting place. He heard Ray sigh.
“Are you serious about not showing up at all? You know, no one’s seen you since you left.”
Norman hummed nonchalantly. “It’s nearly 10 pm, and you still want me to show up?”
“It’s a Friday night. I’m sure you have no plans tomorrow,” Ray deadpanned.
Norman shook his head. He didn’t want to ask about her, so he avoids the question and merely smiles.
“I’ll be around the area.”
Ray sighed into the phone. “I’ll just tell them you’re not feeling well. Because that’s a believable lie.”
Norman sighed in relief at Ray’s understanding, just before Ray finished up his sentence.
“But you better show your face some time sooner or later, alright?”
Norman chuckled. Ray was an interesting best friend and he was glad to have kept contact with him even after all these years.
Emma, in fact, did not end up going to the meet up.
She found herself more immersed into a novel book, choosing to set up at the local coffee shop, The 08-63. A small coffee shop which she had visited for years, and she knew the owner well enough to know that sitting for six hours a time was not a problem.
The shop was peculiar, in the fact that it opened until 1 AM, which she found perfect for her night of nose diving into her novel.
“Here on a Friday night?”
Emma was broken from her thoughts as she looked up with a wry smile.
“Lucas, can’t a woman have her peace with a book for once?”
Lucas laughed heartily. “Just teasing. Just thought you’d be out with friends or something; embrace that young spirit.”
Emma glanced down at her sweats and hoodie combination and she quirked a brow at him. “And this is as young as I’m going to get, quite contented with my book, thank you.”
Lucas shook his head, turning back towards the direction of the kitchen. “Alright, point taken. But I take no responsibility if you’re up all night after drinking the coffee here.”
Emma merely smiled in response and waved at him as he returned to the kitchen. She focused her attention back to her book, sighing as she did so.
Truth be told, she was merely skimming most of the words of the book for the past few hours, leaving herself to her thoughts in a public space. Being within the confines of her solo apartment began to resurface memories of a past that could never be repairable, no matter how many times she thought it over.
It had been years since she had any dreams of him. Years since she saw pictures of him, years since she even dared to think of him. Despite him being technically her boss now, she fought all opportunities to never see him.
...or did she actually want to see him, which is why she kept her job after all this time?
She shook her head. Time? Time did nothing but pass away the remains of a torn relationship, severed from conflicts of interests. He wanted nothing more than to please his family and work status without her in his life, and if that were the case, so be it.
It’s not that she wasn’t supportive of his ambitions, or his family; in fact, she absolutely respected the fact that he wanted to do the best for his family. But when his ambitions and dreams became clouded with the desire to please his work and keep secrets from her, it was then she realized her place in the world.
He belonged to a higher family; she always knew that, even though he grew up in Grace Field with her. He just didn’t know that he had a family until he reached high school, and even then, he chose to stay in the academic orphanage until he graduated college.
But the pressure and secrets began to rise, and slowly, she began to see where she belonged. No matter what she did, she couldn't seem to break past the barrier he often put between them, and even years later, she still wondered.
What happened? What went wrong?
Those two questions currently swirled in her head, a feeling which Emma hadn’t felt since years ago, in the following months of their break up.
She clutched her book tightly, feeling the threat of tears brim her eyes once more.
It’s been years, years, and even to this day, the love which he impressed upon her felt fresh, no matter what she did.
Most would say second chances were redeemable; but, if second chances were in existence in her current world, she shrugged it off. The opportunity was seen as invalid, since time only separated them, based on a foundation of unsaid words.
She took in a breath, suddenly focusing her attention to her phone, to which she had been ignoring most of the messages, and glanced at the time.
Lucas was right; she had been at the shop since 7 PM, and her phone dangerously warned her of the late night, blaring a hearty 11:53 PM. She sighed as she packed up her book back into her satchel; feeling vulnerable as the tears slightly brimmed her eyes as she tried to cover them.
Keeping her head down, she kept her gaze low as she made her way towards the door, making sure to knock into anyone as she passed the front tables-
And the sudden flash of blue caught her eye, causing her breath to hitch and pause, as if her surroundings began to move in slow motion.
Because there he sat, alone, donned in a simple blue cardigan, still dressed in crisp, gray slacks and a white button up shirt, a complementing blue tie to match.
She felt like a fool dressed in her sweats and hoodie.
Time slowed in an instant, wavering between the what ifs and goodbyes and reflecting years of unspoken emotions and unfinished sentences.
As he returned her gaze with his piercing blue ones, Emma thought for a moment she saw him waver; no, she did see him flinch if only for a little bit, and in her mind, she mentally cursed.
He was always one to keep his cool, even in front of her; it added to the list of reasons why their chances were lost, a dissonance between her boldness and his calm.
And she knew she would never get past that secretive gaze, ever, in her lifetime.
As she breathed, feeling the air as sharp as a thousand knives, she opened her mouth to speak; but no words formed as she maintained her gaze.
“Fate is a funny thing, isn’t it?”
His words caught her off guard, his voice shook her to her core; it froze her in an instance, but she swallowed her pride, maintaining her gaze with the face of the man she once loved as he smiled back at her.
It was a forced one.
If there was beauty in letting go, she believed it was done with simplicity, overlapping the uneven cracks between them.
The gong of a grandfather clock in the coffee shop suddenly began to toll loudly, distracting them both for a moment’s notice. After the twelfth gong, ensuring midnight’s presence, Emma found her voice and managed to speak, if only for a bit.
If only to speak the words which lay heavy on her mind.
She smiled weakly.
“Guess we’ll never know what being a King and Queen forever is like, huh?”
His expression dropped, wavering, once more. There was a silent understanding in the simple question, but he made no effort to answer, his lips pursed into a straight line.
And it was all the answer she needed.
She maintained her weak smile, giving everything else she had to speak the last remaining words she had, her words hushed into a lowered whisper, but enough for him to hear.
There was a rush of blank emotions felt as she numbly walked out of the coffee shop, feeling magic of the moment suddenly fading as she settled back into the reality of her current state. She didn’t dare look back, letting what little parts of the moment left after midnight to vanish behind her, as memories of lovers with two different placements in the world dissipated into the night.
And that’s what letting go meant, to Emma; sometimes the magic of opportunities wear off at their appointed time.
She wondered vaguely if Cinderella ever thought about second chances, but only shook her head free from it, allowing only the still beauty of midnight to lose her in other thoughts.
They once danced in tandem, and now they danced to a different rhythm; maybe one day their paths would cross again, but she decided in her heart that only time would tell and let the cool of the night lead her back in solemnity.