Regina Mills was a lot of things. She was a great cook. She was a fair mayor and she did her best to balance her personal life with work.
There was one thing she wasn't and that was trusting. She didn't warm up to new people right away.
Emma Swan was a new person and she was bringing her into her son's life and at a time like this, it was stressful.
There were so many things that could go wrong.
What if Emma backed out?
What if Emma wasn't even a match? The doctor had told her there would be a higher chance of a match if Henry had had a full sibling but from what she gathered, the father was out of the picture before Henry was born.
What if Henry chose her? What if Henry didn't want her as a mother anymore in favour of Emma who was warmer and definitely more cheerful and open?
Regina grew up in a family with a decent income. A large house, everything she could want and a father who doted on her and Zelena's every need, even though Zelena was her mother's from a previous marriage.
They had a house, they went to the best schools and were given the best of everything her parents could afford. Her father, Henry Mills, had been a family doctor who was always home and available but he struggled with two daughters who couldn't understand why their mother wasn't home.
Cora Mills was a Lawyer for major clients. This included celebrities, big CEOs and large corporations that took her all over the country for lengthy periods for high-end court cases.
Regina Mill's had high expectations for her daughters and expected the very best from them. The best grades, proper appearance and don't even think about expressing a desire for a future career with a potential salary of fewer than six figures.
When they 'failed' she expressed it loudly and with contempt, punishing them by taking things away and expressing her utter disappointment. But don't you dare cry or sulk because those behaviours got you nowhere in life.
When they somehow managed to uphold her standards, it was always a quick nod of acknowledgement and that was it. Nothing else. No 'good job' or 'keep up the good work'. Sometimes she would briskly inform them 'it should have been done right the first time'.
They would get lectures about grades, weight, clothes, hair, boys and then after so long… why aren't you dating, it looks bad when you're single for so long.
Regina had found a boy she liked. His name was Daniel, he was in charge of tending to the horses. Regina loves horses and so did he. He, however, was an immigrant and so was his mother.
When her mother found out about their relationship, she had them deported. She didn't even know how serious the relationship was. She had simply walked in on them kissing. Just kissing.
"I'm doing this for you, Regina, he is a distraction. He will ruin your life. You'll thank me later." This was what her mother said as he left. Of course, she revelled in the sweet satisfaction that nothing her mother could do would ever reverse that she had given her virginity to him and the memory of how special he had made her feel.
She found out later that he had died in hospital months later from injuries. His mother had escaped to America from a wartorn country after he was born and things were worse off when they were forced back.
It had been one of the most devastating moments of her life only made worse by how she found out. When she found out he had died, she informed her with a look of smug satisfaction in her mother's eyes as though she had just busted a plan of Regina's.
And Regina refused to forgive her mother. Ever.
She also vowed at that moment to fight her hardest to be nothing like her mother.
But she was so guarded of people she was close to and feared them leaving her.
Bringing Emma into the picture left her feeling raw and exposed because Emma was Henry's biologic mother and… what if Henry wanted Emma over her?
What if Emma took him away?
Sure, Emma had no grounds to do so but… what if she just took him? The reality was, Regina didn't know this woman from a hole in the wall and the who idea of bringing her into Henry's life filled her with worried butterflies and as she got to know Emma, the butterflies became stiller and less frantic but still there, just different.
And as she looked at Emma who was showing Zelena how to set her phone to connect to her Nintendo Switch, she found herself becoming content.
"Let's head back, Zelena is staying with Henry tonight. I'm going to be home, doing some cleaning and pretending I'm unaware of the TV she's going to be feeding him his weight in junk food and playing jokes on the hospital staff," Regina explained as she and Emma walked towards her car that night.
Emma was excited to get home that night and looking forward to sleeping at what was probably going to be the most comfortable bed she had ever slept in. It was easily a king-sized bed and the sheets looked a million times more comfortable than anything she had ever slept on.
In the morning, Regina woke up after another restless night. Every time she heard a sound, her eyes would jump to her phone, always expecting the worst.
Regina went downstairs to where Emma was swimming in the basement and found herself mesmerised by the sight in front of her.
The way her water was shining on her pale skin. The way her blonde hair looked as she bobbed out of the water and running down her hair and the way her body looked under the water. This was a sight she could get used to.
"This pool is awesome."
The voice pulled her out of her thoughts and brought her back to reality where Emma and swam over to the edge of the pool where she was and was catching her breath.
Regina shook her own head and mentally scolded herself for getting so distracted by watching her swim. That's all she was doing. Swimming.
"Thank you, Miss Swan. You're good at that."
Her brain came to a screeching halt at her words. Good at that? Well, if that isn't the most stupid and moronic thing to say after practically perving her out in the pool… Go on, Regina, say something more creepy.
Regina just couldn't understand her stupidity and where it was coming from.
"It was one of the few things I could do regardless of what home I was in. If they wouldn't pay for me to go to the pool, I could easily go swim in the lake or ocean. But this is definitely the cleanest pool I've ever swum in."
"Well, considering it's due for a cleaning, that might be more alarming than you know."
"I'm just saying, there were no bandaids, floating tampons or other things you see in public pools. I once found a floating turd."
Regina grimaced violently and shook her head profusely, clearly trying to clear the visual from her mind. Emma frowned, worried that was too far but Regina simply shook her head with a groan.
"And Zelena wonders why I don't let Henry swim in the public pools," Regina muttered to herself.
"Not to mention people who pee in public pools."
"And with that, Henry will never see a public pool as long as I'm here to say anything about it," Regina promised, her eyes once again glancing up and down Emma's slim and tone body. She was thin but not in an unhealthy way.
"Did you sleep well, Emma?"
"It was nice not to wake up to the sound of my window trembling in a light breeze or falling out as it does sometimes," Emma muttered, pulling herself out of the pool and stretching, once again, Regina's eyes dropped against her own accord as Emma began drying her hair.
"You should go to the landlord about that."
"He said it wasn't his job to worry about. Like the heat being broken in the winter or the water only running properly during certain times."
"You could easily sue him, Emma. Those things are his job to make sure your living conditions are healthy. It's the law," Regina told her, forcing herself to keep her eyes on Emma's face. Why was she acting like this? It's not like she had never seen breasts before. If she wanted to, she could go to the bathroom and stare at her own in the mirror for as long as she wanted.
The last time she was like this was with Daniel before he was forced out of her life… minus the breasts. He had rippling abs from his time working and a glorious tan that filled her mind for hours upon hours of daydreams. This was a woman.
She liked men.
She had only ever looked at men. Kissed men… minus a game of spin the bottle when she was eleven. That kiss had been just what a kiss between two eleven-year-olds was.
"If I had the kind of money to afford a lawyer, I would just get a new place. My job pays the bills I have and that's it. I should be happy to have a place at all and food in my stomach."
A wonderful thought crossed Regina's mind. A thought that not only benefited her but Emma too.
"Do you have anyone waiting back home?"
"Besides Garfield, no, I don't. Why?"
Regina's mind bitterly began to think about this Garfield. Was he a romantic partner?
"My cat," Emma beamed as she said that, causing relief to flood Regina's confused mind, "cliche, I know, why?"
"I know the Sheriff position is going to be opening up soon because the current Sheriff's wife is pregnant and about to pop any day and he is taking paternity leave and then wants to go down to deputy. If you don't want the job permanently, we can figure something out when he comes back."
"Hmm, can I think about it for a few days?"
This was a big decision to make and Emma wanted to jump all over it the second she heard it. After all, she liked this area. There seemed to be wonderful tranquillity to this town and the people in it.
It was a second chance to get to know the child she had given up but she worried she might overstep boundaries. She didn't know her place in this boy's life. She didn't know what was acceptable to say or do around him. She didn't know what promises she could make to him, gifts he was allowed, places he could go or rules he had to follow. She wanted to stir up as little conflict as possible.
She ran her hands through her dripping hair and thought for a minute or two.
"Sure. But just know, the job includes full benefits, pension and decent pay."
"Could I have my cat, Garfield here until I find a place? I can put the rest of my stuff in storage "
"Sure but you can stay here as long as you need until you decide if you want the job long term. There aren't any rental properties or apartments here."
When Emma went up to shower, Regina finally realised what she had just done. She had just offered this woman a job and an invitation to stay at her house for a long time and why? She didn't know.
She didn't know why but she had done it and she didn't go back on her word. Never. It was extremely unprofessional and poor fashion to go back on one's word.
But a cat? She didn't like cats. And cats hated her. Animals hated her. Except for horses. She loved horses and they loved her. But a cat wasn't a horse. Cats had claws and weren't afraid to use them. They looked you in the eye as they knocked down your things. They shed everywhere and licked their crotches while you ate.
But she promised. Why had she done that? Why did it seem like she was unable to say no to Emma… and offering her things? She never did that. But here she was, offering a job to a woman she had known for a collective total of… 28 hours?
This was not like her. But she wasn't going to go back on any of what she offered. She didn't do that. She never made offers she couldn't keep.
She sighed as she went into the kitchen.
By the time Emma came back, her hair was brushed and pulled back and she was in a sweater and jeans.
"I'm going to go for a drive, is there anything you want me to pick up before I go to the hospital? I just want to get a feel for where things are."
"Oh, well, there is a restaurant called Granny's, Henry adores their bear claws. He might not be able to keep it down because he's getting chemo today but he will still try."
Emma considered that for a moment.
"I know of a couple of things that could help with that, do you mind if I pick them up?"
"Sure, we've tried every medication known to man."
"No medications. All simple and harmless things."
"Very well, just run them by me before you tell him about them," Regina explained, glancing at her watch, "I need to go, I need to be there before they begin the treatments."
Emma went on her mission and gathered everything she would need and got it all prepared.
When she reached Granny's, she found a waitress wearing a vibrant red outfit.
"Hi, I'm Emma. I was told if I told you I was here for Henry's special that you would know what I'm looking for."
The woman's eyes went wide with comprehension as she called something back to the kitchen before she turned to Emma with a smile. A knowing smile.
"You're new. She usually doesn't send people besides Zelena for his food. "
"Oh, well, it's a bit complicated…"
"Wait… are you the birth mother? Regina told me she was going to find you. I'm Ruby or Red as Henry calls me," Ruby explained, "how are you doing? Rough situation."
The sound of her phone ringing caused her to pause.
Ruby nodded and went off to take someone else's order and Emma answered her phone quickly.
"Don't you 'hello' me. I came by to watch a movie and you were gone and my boyfriend has your cat because you're in Maine? Care to explain? Or are you having another crisis? Because I swear if you dyed your hair pink and started smoking again you'll find just how far I can stick my heels up your…"
"Lily! Calm down. I'm still blonde, I'm not smoking and before it comes up, I haven't set any pianos on fire either… I was going through a rough phase when I did all of that," Emma explained, noticing the way Ruby's brows went up, "I didn't realise you were back in town yet. I had to go to Maine."
"Remember when I got pregnant."
"Yes, you puked in my car almost religiously through your pregnancy and you never paid for the cleaning I had to get done after you gave birth in there," Lily said, "but continue."
"I told you I was sorry. And the baby I gave up he's got cancer. It's bad. He needs bone marrow and… he wants to get to know me in case…"
"Oh, shit. I was hoping you were going to say you finally got laid because you need it. That's just… Jesus Christ, Em!"
"Yes, well, I'm picking up lunch and I need to tell the waitress what I want because she knows what Henry and his mother eat but if I don't order, they're going to give me a salad."
"Oh, how would your body survive with a vegetable. Your kidneys might go into shock."
"Goodbye, Lily. I might come up for Garfield this weekend. I'll explain tonight but I might be moving here and…"
She half expected Lily to go off about Garfield and how he treated her dog Odie or the way Garfield was always digging into their food when they weren't looking. Emma frowned and braced herself for that.
"Because I was offered a job. Sheriff. It includes benefits and I'm still considering it but it sounds… like an amazing offer."
It really was an amazing offer. Her current job offered no benefits and only paid enough for her to get by paycheque to paycheque. But she couldn't afford to get medical attention often and she once had to choose between power and food one winter.
So, this job was a blessing. It got her out of her current house which had no heat right before winter could begin. That meant she wouldn't have to spend nights curled up under a million blankets wearing her jacket and sweaters.
"Are you sure this isn't like that town from that movie where everything is all happy and shit but… there's something sinister going on."
"They might eat your soul!"
"You watch horror movies, you know what happens in those happy towns… It's not happy Emma."
"Goodbye, Lily," Emma muttered, ignoring her friend's taunts and laughter as she hung up.
"I'm sorry about that. My friend was warning me about the horrors of happy small towns. Tell me, what method does the government use to control you?"
"Oh, well, I can't tell you… I'd have to kill you. Pardon the eavesdropping but… you were offered the sheriff position?"
"Yeah, I'm considering it."
"Well, good. Graham has been stressed out about not having a replacement in time for the baby. So, what will you be getting?"
"Corn chowder and grilled cheese?"
"Hmm, that's Henry's usual."
Emma chuckled, unaware of what his order was as she ordered her favourite foods.
"Yes," Emma said blushing as she realised how much her son ate like her.
"Granny! Henry's special times two! And Regina's order!"
Ruby lead Emma to a table to sit while they prepared her food. She sat down with her and looked contemplatively at her. The diner was empty, so she didn't have to worry about serving any other customers.
"You have experience? I'm certain Regina wouldn't offer such position to just anyone," Ruby continued with a thoughtful look on her face.
"Bounty hunter in Boston," Emma explained with a shrug as she tapped her foot against the floor.
"Ah, big city bounty hunter. Sounds exciting."
"Not really. Sure, there were some chases but it was mostly steak outs and booting cars; not overly exciting when you think about it," Emma told the woman who laughed.
"Your friend sounds colourful."
"Oh, that's putting it mildly," Emma explained, knowing Lily was a beyond colourful person and to say otherwise meant you didn't know her.
"Those are the best kinds of friends," Ruby said with a smile.
"She's something," Emma began with a small smile, "she was there for some of my darkest hours. She got me through, even when I know she wanted to throttle me."
A small ding cut them off and Ruby stood up and dashed over to the counter, returning with three brown paper bags.
"Alright, Sheriff, the food's ready."
"On the house," Ruby explained with a grin, making Emma frown, "for not setting our piano on fire."
"Okay, I was 18 when I did that and I was going through a rough time," Emma started, with a laugh.
"But seriously, Granny loves Henry and she'd have my tail if I charged you."
"If you're sure."
"Really, Sheriff, on the house."
"I'm not sheriff, yet."
"Yet," Ruby said cheekily as Emma walked out, "you already sound like you've made up your mind."
Emma glanced back at Ruby and found that she was looking rather pointedly at her and it made her realise… she was right. The only reason she hadn't outright said yes was that she was nervous. It was a big change and was she ready for it?