Emma Swan’s first mistake of the day is getting coffee.
For one thing, she is running late. Sixteen minutes late, which she isn’t counting because she no longer has a watch - very long story involving a blender, a vindictive ex, and the final episode of Golden Girls - but Mary Margaret is counting for her, by sending text messages every sixty seconds of increasing numerals. Being on time for things is not Emma’s strong point, but it’s not like she’s been fired yet, right?
For another thing, this coffeeshop happens to be the closest one to the office, which is why desperation drove her to this line, but it’s also the coffeeshop that happens to employ the surliest baristas. So in the case of a power-heeled pencil-skirted handbag-swinging lady pointing out to said surliest baristas that this is not a flat white but in fact a latte, which she specifically did not order, the wait will take that much longer.
Surly Barista, who is mercilessly chewing on her gum during this episode, points at the sign on the counter. The sign reads NO REFUNDS. She of the pencil skirt and power heels seems to find this unacceptable, or at least the posturing of her backside reads that way. Emma decides that focusing so intently on the shape of this backside is probably rude, but damn, for all her high maintenance java needs, this woman is bangin’.
“This is unacceptable,” Heels and Skirt says, and then she sweeps her gaze around the shop in search of, one imagines, a manager. Emma briefly forgets what she came here to order when she sees her face, specifically those eyes and that red lipstick.
“Not my problem,” says Surly Barista. She turns to Emma, who is next in line, snapping her gum expectantly. “What can I get you?”
“Uh, I’ll just have--”
“Excuse me,” Heels, Skirt, Red Lips & Co. interrupts, hands spread indignantly. “I’m not asking for a refund, I’m asking for my correct order.”
Surly Barista blinks. This job is obviously not worth whatever fraction of acting school it currently funds. “Refunds, returns, it’s all the same.”
“Unbelievable.” The woman has now set the incorrect latte back on the counter. “Is this what passes for customer service in this establishment?”
The ever-lengthening line has their own opinions about this situation, as assessed from their frequent grumbling and shuffling. “Hey lady,” someone shouts from the back. “There’s a goddamned Starbucks across the street.”
Emma is not entirely sure she didn’t just see lasers fly out of this woman’s eyeballs and strike that opinion-sharer in his testicles.
Surly Barista turns back to Emma. “Next,” she announces flatly, ignoring Heels, Skirt, Red Lips, and Increasing Frustration.
“Can I get a double shot and, uh...” Emma glances over at the irate woman, decides to try because she’s an idiot but she’s a nice idiot. And maybe a flirtatious idiot. “A flat white, right?”
This turns out to be her second mistake of the day.
The woman doesn’t seem to know how to react to this gesture. She pushes hair behind her ear, as if attempting composure. “You don’t need to--”
“No, it’s fine.” Emma nods at Surly Barista. “Get it right this time.”
Surly Barista rolls her eyes. “Whatever,” she says, ringing her up. “You all lined up here despite the one star rating on Yelp.” She hands Emma her change. “Your funeral.”
“That was not necessary,” hisses Ms. Flat White. She is now angrily going through her wallet, pulling out cash. Emma shakes her head.
“Neither is paying me.”
Ms. Flat White looks up from her bag, narrowing her eyes. “Sorry?”
“I’ll chalk it up as an I Owe You.” Emma pulls out her business card in a smooth gesture she has only practiced one or thirty times. She winks. “You just give me a call when you feel like returning the favor.”
The woman continues to stare suspiciously at Emma as if she were in fact a bag of snakes in a darkened closet. When she reads the business card, her eyes widen for a moment, she lets out a laugh that is not entirely...friendly? nice?, and then this happens:
“You’re hitting on me,” she says, a fact, not a question, and raises one perfect eyebrow. She looks simultaneously unimpressed and perturbed by the situation.
“I mean...uh...” This was really not what Emma was expecting. She reacts like a shorted android. “Yes? I’m...sorry? I think.”
The woman holds up Emma’s business card as if handling a biohazard. “Is this really yours?”
“Well, yeah.” Emma isn’t sure whether to laugh or be extremely defensive. “Are you implying that I stole some rando’s business credentials and am using it to pick up women? That’s...that’s not even logical.”
“Absolutely unbelievable,” the woman mutters, and then leaves. She leaves! The lady hath fucking departed.
Extremely Attractive But Definitely A Bitch leaves the coffeeshop. She spins on her power heel and she power heels on out of there, pencil-skirt-hugging hips switching like perfectly rounded knives through the door. In any other less frigid social situation, Emma would be reminded of the popular statement, “I hate to see her go, but I love to watch her leave.”
Instead, Emma is standing there with her mouth agape, Surly Barista #2 depositing two takeout coffee cups into her open hands. She can’t remember what to a) do with the coffee or b) why she was handed them in the first place. Surly Barista #2 looks at Surly Barista #1 and they shake their heads in pity.
Meanwhile, Emma’s phone chimes to remind her that she is now 26 minutes late. Not that she is counting.
When Emma finally drops herself into her cubicle at 10:01 AM, Ruby is already leaning over the wall.
“The fuck were you? The fuck is that?”
The answer to the first question is attempting to buy coffee for a She-Demon. The answer to the second question is said She-Demon’s said coffee. But Emma is still not quite at the point of being able to articulate herself, so she shakes her head, grunts, and sets both coffees on her desk.
“Well, Gold wants to see you. I told him you were late because you were performing charitable acts at a children’s hospital.”
“Please tell me you’re kidding.”
Ruby rolls her eyes, sipping a coffee while still dangling over the cubicle divide. “Wow, sorry for attempting to promote your golden reputation, Swan. Next time I’ll just tell him you’re choking puppies in a dumpster.”
“There are days when choking puppies in a dumpster would be less miserable than this job.”
Ruby holds up her free hand for a high-five. “Amen, sister.”
Mr. Gold’s corner office is only a few paces from Emma’s desk, but he has a tendency to keep his blinds closed. The rest of the office believes this is because he is actually a reptilian creature who loathes the artificial light. In reality, it’s probably because he likes his privacy and is not-so-secretly dating last year’s intern, the French girl who kept her own tea set in her desk. Emma pretends she and her colleagues don’t know this as she sits across from him, smiling the way she imagines a very responsible and committed employee would smile.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Gold?”
“Actually, Miss Swan, it’s what I can do for you.” Mr. Gold leans forward, adjusting his tie with an unplaceable grin. “You’re a team leader, Emma. You bring in the numbers and your colleagues love you. You’re really going places.”
This is not entirely true. In fact, it seems like a pretty blatant fabrication of the truth, which is that Emma deeply resents her job selling various forms of cutting edge technology to corporate accounts, and only seems capable of leading her team when it’s their Friday night beer pong tournaments at Mickey’s. When someone says she’s going places, the place they typically mean is Hell. But maybe that’s just the angry Evangelicals who skulk outside the gay club, who knows.
“Um, thanks, Mr. Gold.” Emma keeps on smiling. “I’m just doing what I do and, uh, all that.”
“Just keep up that good work, Swan.” He waggles his eyebrow, a gesture she is not entirely sure isn’t weird. “Listen, I’m going to be straight with you: the board wants an exemplary employee from each department to send to our upcoming corporate retreat. I knew as soon as the memo who I was going to pick. Someone truly worthy of the opportunity.”
Emma coughs. “Me?”
“Actually, Gaston from Team 4, but he’s going to Florida that weekend.”
“So I was second choice?”
“Well, Lefou was second choice. Turns out he and my five other top picks are also going to Florida, talk about coincidence. Apparently they do this every year, some kind of ‘Boy’s Trip’. One of those things where they drink a lot and oil each other’s muscles or something, not sure. But hey, guess who is the eighth best employee in my department?” Mr. Gold reaches across to shake her hand. “Please tell me you’re not going to Florida next month.”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Fantastic, that’s a relief. Seriously, can you imagine if I had to send Wiggens? That guy got stuck in the fax machine twice this month. How does anyone do that twice?”
“It’s still better than when Gaston put his dick in the--”
“I’ll forward you all the details this afternoon. You’re the best, Miss Swan.”
Mr. Gold smiled. “Don’t sell yourself short, Swan.”
“I mean, technically you were the one who --”
“And don’t forget that meeting this afternoon. I think you’ll find the new executive director very impressive.” Mr. Gold winks. “We take positive female role models in positions of power very seriously.”
So the fourth mistake she makes that day involves a meeting. The meeting, as it turns out.
She probably should have been paying attention to the emails. Or when Mary Margaret met her at the second floor cooler to tell her about her extremely vanilla date with the extremely vanilla David - luckily, the extremely vanilla Mary Margaret’s type is also extremely vanilla - and said she’d see her at the meeting.
In her mind, she was processing the word meeting. She just wasn’t processing the word meeting.
And when she says she’s going out to get coffee, and Ruby says to make sure she gets back in time for the meeting, for whatever reason she does not register the meeting. Again. Or ever.
Emma shows up late with Starbucks.
She opens the door to Conference Room 3, the largest conference room, and assumes she will be able to sneak down into the back unnoticed. These are typically old-white-dude-in-a-suit announcements anyway, so it’s not a huge deal.
The second she steps into the back of the conference room, there is an audible silence. The woman at the front of the room is wearing a very familiar pencil skirt. Her bright red lips that were previously smiling immediately reform into a frown of disapproval. And while everyone is turned to look at her, obnoxious coffee in hand, bag of scone in the other, Emma recognizes that this new executive director is in fact the woman from the morning. She also takes this opportunity to audibly groan and forget to not state her feelings out loud:
The woman glances down at a clipboard, and then pulls a familiar business card from her pocket.
“Miss Swan, is it? Thank you for joining us. While I appreciate having open dialogues with my employees, I’ve already advised everyone to hold their comments and questions until we finish. I’m not sure if what you just said was a comment or question, but please restrain yourself from further cursing until I’m done.”
At the other side of the room, Ruby is making frantic slashing and stabbing gestures at her throat with her pen. Gold’s eyes are the size of saucers. Emma decides now is as good a time as ever to leap from the conference room window and disappear forever into the abyss of humiliation and raw human shame.
So, Ms. Flat White is actually Ms. Regina Mills, the new Executive Director of BrookeTech. Right. Great, really great.
This is what you get for doing the nice thing, Emma thinks. You do that whole Pay It Forward bullshit - you buy a lady some coffee and you pretend like it isn’t totally motivated by how she looks in a pencil skirt - and she goes and insults your business card and turns out to be your company’s new Executive Director. Real fucking cute.
From now on, she is drinking tea.