The night you find out, you’re minding your own business, enjoying a night in. What else are you to do? You have the night off. Your best friend is on vacation with her boyfriend. Your other friends are out, presumably on double dates because everyone is so coupled up these days. You sure as hell aren’t opting to hang out with your parents.
So you stay in. You read. You nurse a glass of wine. You down another glass. You pour a third even though it’s past midnight, mostly out of boredom.
On your second sip in, you’re yelling at the character in whatever trashy book you picked up this time, but the buzz of your phone interrupts you.
You walk over to it, and you set down your wine before you even pick it up, before you turn it on.
When you do, the sight of who it’s from makes your heart skip a beat, and you smile before you remember that it’s past midnight, and then you worry. Something must have happened. Your body responds with concern, without even knowing what.
So your heart is beating hard, yet somehow is simultaneously sinking to the pit of your stomach. You aren’t smiling but you aren’t sobering up either. There’s no proof of anything bad. Not yet.
You take another sip of wine just for good measure.
You unlock your phone.
Robin asked me to marry him!
You smile. She’s happy.
But your heart doesn’t rise back up.
And you’re glad you put the glass down before you read the message.
You smile, you respond appropriately. You tell her congratulations, you ask how he did it, you ask about the ring, you ask if they have champagne or if you’re interrupting their celebration, she tells you you aren’t, and you say you’ll toast to them but you don’t tell her you actually have wine.
You down the rest of the glass in one swallow. You don’t say cheers.
You pour yourself another, and you pretend it’s because you didn’t say cheers.
You return to your place on the couch before picking up the book you were reading and toss it in the trash. No one really likes trashy romance novels, and you’re not sure you believe in love anyway.
Well, that got deep, real fast.
The night you find out, you waste a lot of time. You are no longer reading, and a few people text you things like did you hear?? and I’m so happy for her! and when does she get back? We need to celebrate! And every time you smile and go along with it, making polite conversation and hoping no one can tell that you’re drunk.
You drink two bottles of wine that night, and you call out of work sick the next day, just so you don’t have to talk to anyone.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
No one questions why you aren’t at work, but you aren’t surprised. No one lives with you so no one sees you. People have more exciting news to talk about than your health, the engagement for instance, so you stay in. You order pizza. You drink your last bottle of wine, so you turn to the bottle of Jack and mix it with coke.
You call out of work for the week, and it goes by in a blur. You run out of coke so you start drinking Jack straight.
When your doorbell rings four days later, you’ve nearly forgotten enough to be surprised when you open the door, and she’s there, beautiful as ever.
She brings you soup and medicine.
“Why?” You blurt out, painfully oblivious.
“Aren’t you sick?” Her eyes are so full of worry that you can’t stand to see them.
“Oh. Yeah,” is all you can say.
She invites herself in, and you’re not sure if she knows you’re lying and is just humoring you or if she really thinks you’re sick, but there’s no point in arguing so you let her baby you. The alternatives are speaking up or confessing to lying and speaking up, and you may not be sick, but you aren’t feeling up for either.
She tells you to lie on the couch and she brings you a blanket and she heats up your soup, and it’s tomato basil, and she’s brought you a grilled cheese to eat with it, and she sits next to you on the couch after she hands it to you, and she smiles. She’s proud of herself because she knows she did good. She knows how to take care of you. She knows she knows, and she knows you know, and you tell her “thank you” but you can hardly hear it over the sound of your heart breaking.
Then you remember, and you tell her congratulations again and hope that you sound genuine like you did when you practiced it in the mirror.
She beams at you, and you smile back, but only because you’re proud of yourself and because you love her smile. Especially when you’re the one who causes it.
It’s no surprise to you when she talks about it. She shows you the ring and she tells you how he proposed, and you smile and nod but you don’t hear a word. You don’t want to. You tune back in when she stops talking and ducks her head, she says your name. “Emma.” And you think she sounds sad, but you also think you’re projecting.
“Emma,” she says it again, and you look at her, waiting for her to look at you, but when she finally does, you look away, suddenly nervous. “I need to ask you something.”
And you should know what’s coming. You really should. She’s your best friend, after all. You’re the first person she announced the engagement to and you’re the person she’s here with now, having just returned from vacation. She heard you were sick so she insisted on coming over here immediately to see you, even though Robin is still nauseous from the car ride back, she’s here with you , and you’re not even sick.
But it all still surprises you when the words leave her mouth. “Emma, will you be my maid of honor?”
It’s like your heart has been in your stomach for days since you found out, and suddenly it’s ripping its way through, plunging even lower. Needless to say, you aren’t hungry anymore, and you’re more than grateful for having a career that forced you to have such a perfect poker face or else you wouldn’t be making it through this.
It still betrays you though, and you feel like this time you might actually cry, as opposed to the numbing denial you’ve been giving into all week. You feel it about to betray you now, and you feel that wall of tears reaching above the dam you’ve built behind your eyes, threatening to throw themselves over the edge, so you put the dinner she bought for you to the side and pull her into a hug.
The few tears that leak out are hidden, but overall, going in for this hug is the worst idea. You feel her. You smell her. She responds immediately and enthusiastically to the hug, sliding closer to you until your bodies are flush against each other and one of her hands tangles into your hair as you bury your face into hers, wondering if she realizes when she starts stroking. Her other arm wraps around your waist and your arms are stiff around her, not daring to move. You don’t need to feel her any more than you have to. You want to, but you shouldn’t.
When she nuzzles into your neck, you pull away sooner than your eyes are ready for and she sees your tears. Her own start to form. “Emma.” And you’ve never heard her voice so full until she’s saying your name. “Are you okay?”
You manage a chuckle and a smile as you wipe the tears from your eyes, the streaks from your face. “I’m great. These are happy tears.” She smiles at you, a tear rolling down her cheek. Her eyes dart to the right for a moment before looking back at you.
You wish you never had a superpower.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The next time you see her, she’s at your door again, but this time she doesn’t have soup or grilled cheese, she has a binder for wedding planning, and when you hear her say the words “You’ll help me plan it right?” You realize that you never said yes to being her maid of honor.
But the answer was so assumed that the question was basically rhetorical.
You let her in. You plan with her. Of course you do.
“I’m sorry I’m not much help.” You say it so many times that if this were a drinking game, you’d be drunk. You know this because you are drunk. She brought wine and you’ve taken a good long swig every time you’ve said it. You’re lucky that she hasn’t noticed you’ve finished the bottle on your own, aside from the glass she still has sitting next to her, and you’ve already started the second.
You figure she’s too excited about the wedding to pay attention to anything but, including you.
It’s not as hard as you think it would be, but that’s because you have strategies. You utilize these strategies in the first of many planning sessions. They work, so you use them again.
For your first strategy, you drink a lot of wine. More than her. You start before she gets there and you don’t stop until well after she leaves. It’s not that you’re dependant on the alcohol, but it doesn’t hurt. Being drunk helps you with the second strategy, which is essentially a form of emotional self-torture.
The second strategy is pretending that it isn’t her and Robin’s wedding , but your wedding. Plural. As in yours and hers .
In the moment, it makes it all more bearable. Because there’s one thing those two very separate events have in common, and that’s her. Both those days would be all about her.
And you know what she likes, you know what she loves , and you can make yourself useful with all this knowledge that you don’t know what you’ll do with when it’s all said and done. You can’t help but wonder if Robin knows what you know. If he knows more or if he knows less. You think you ought to tell him, just to make sure she’ll be happy, but that isn’t how this works.
The third strategy also involves you being drunk. You’ve had at least a bottle and a half of wine, and you’ve snuck a couple of shots from the liquor bottle you have hidden in the bathroom because you don’t want her to catch you wasting yourself away. You don’t want her to feel responsible. You don’t want her to know she’s responsible.
After she leaves, you take another shot and you send a text you regret every single damn time. You wanna come over?
The answer is always yes , but it never makes you feel any better.
He never asks about the circumstances, but you know that he’s suspicious.
This happens more than you care to admit, and at this point it’s a routine. “Swan,” he greets you when you open the front door. He brings rum every time, and you drink it, shot after shot, even though you hate rum. He knows you hate rum, and it’s sweet that he knows that, but shitty that he brings it.
It’s ironic because when you dumped him, you said it was over rum.
But it was over her .
He doesn’t need to know.
You and him drink together, but neither of you ask what you’re getting drunk for. “Drink to forget,” he says before each shot, and every time you wonder what he wants to forget. You make eye contact as you clink glasses and you know that he’s not drinking because you dumped him, and part of you is relieved because it all felt really mutual to you.
‘I can’t do this anymore.’
His face twisted and you couldn’t figure out which emotion was causing it.
‘I don’t want to know why, do I?’
‘I wouldn’t tell you even if you did.’
‘Fair enough, Swan.’ And he kissed you one last time before walking away. The last you talked since she asked you to plan her wedding with you.
At first it was confusing. You asked him over, and he was just there, like he used to be, and it was like nothing had changed, but you didn’t know if that was because your relationship sucked, or he did.
You had just said ‘please just stay, I don’t trust myself to be alone right now,’ and he had stayed. The first time, you drank rum and sobbed into his shirt, but the second time you fucked, and you found out that doing so erased more than the alcohol did. He never asked, but that’s how he became your third strategy.
It isn’t really an erasure. It’s more like an overlap. You feel so bad about being with him that nothing else matters for a little while afterwards. And it helps that inviting him over isn’t usually an hour long ordeal. He spends the night, which takes up more hours, provides more distraction. Besides, the sound of someone else’s breathing helps lull you to sleep.
It’s hard to pretend his breathing is hers instead, but if you’re drunk enough, you can manage.
Even when you hate yourself in the morning.
So this happens, all too frequently, but one day he leaves his ugly leather jacket on the couch and she sees it.
“How’s Killian?” she says, and you would swear on Henry’s fucking storybook that she looks almost broken in the second she registers that it’s his, but you know it’s just you projecting again.
“We broke up,” you find yourself saying, and the look on her face reminds you that you never told her. She looks so… surprised. You can’t imagine why. It was a long time coming, but maybe the two of you looked happy together. You shrug, and the shocked look on her face disappears, replaced by something vague and unreadable.
“Why is his jacket here?” And for a second you just wonder why she’s noticing such details until you just dismiss it. It means nothing. How could it?
“He came over last night.” And that’s all you say. She bites her lip and she looks upset and she doesn’t make eye contact and she glances at the door like she can’t stay here, and all you can think is projection .
But she brought wine, as usual, and you’ve already finished a glass, and part of you keeps asking what if it isn’t .
She doesn’t leave but you can tell she’s thinking about it, and so far this planning session is mostly silent, and you can only think that there’s something really wrong with that. The two of you ought to be talking.
And you know this time it’s quieter because of her.
Every time including this time, you let her do most of the talking because you’re afraid to mix up pronouns and say ‘me’ instead of ‘he.’ ‘Mine’ instead of ‘his.’
But this time, an awkward silence hangs over the air, and Killian’s words hover in your mind every time you go for a glass of wine. Drink to forget.
She’s flipping through the binder, and you aren’t expecting it. You think the subject’s been dropped, but when she says “Why?” you freeze, unprepared for the question and unprepared for the answer and unprepared for whatever look is in her eyes, somewhere between disappointment and heartbreak, and honestly you don’t know what to think, outside of the usual. The same thing you thought just minutes ago. Projection .
You don’t know how to answer so you don’t. It seems rhetorical anyways.
----- ------ ----- ----- -----
He’s over one night when there’s a knock at the door. Confused, you stand to get it, but you stagger too much when you walk and he tells you you’re too drunk. “Stay here,” he says, gesturing at the bottle of water he left for you. He answers the door, and you hear her voice.
“Hey, sorry, Emma can’t talk right now.”
You peek over the arm of your couch and she’s there, looking at the floor. Killian isn’t keeping her out, but he isn’t exactly letting her in either. It’s like he knows that if you’d have answered, you’d have collapsed at her feet and said “Marry me.” But how could he know?
He glances over his shoulder at you and her eyes follow his, but you‘re quick enough to duck, and she doesn’t see you looking. You want to look at her again, but you’re not going to let yourself because she’ll see. It’s become a habit of yours, looking at her when she can’t see you. She left you some pictures of her in some trial wedding dresses from the day you “couldn’t make the fitting.”
You have them on your nightstand. You look at them before you turn the lights out, you sleep with at least one of them under your pillow, you look at them from your bed as all the meaningless sex happens. You just look at them. As long as no one can see you do it.
“Is she okay?” Her voice flows like magic through your apartment, and you wish you could trust yourself to hug her, but you know you would only linger too long, trying to absorb the smell of her hair and the way it makes you relax, like nothing else ever has managed to. You try to forget her smell. But it always gets to you, even now, with your face buried in the couch cushions.
Killian says, “She’ll be okay,” but then there’s something else, something you don’t quite catch, and you want to know what it is, but you can’t find out without dramatically announcing your presence.
When the door closes, you ask, “Who was that?” even though you already know. And that’s the answer you get.
“Who do you think?” Except he doesn’t sound angry. He pulls you into his chest and rubs your back. He says “it’s okay,” and that’s exactly when you fall apart. He holds you all night, letting you cry, and telling you over and over again that it’ll be okay even when you tell him that it won’t. You and him never hook up after that. He just comes over with tissues, and he starts bringing whiskey instead of rum.
------ ------ ------ ------ ------
If she ever suspects something is wrong with you, she doesn’t verbalize it. Instead she just starts to bring grilled cheese and an extra bottle of wine to your wedding planning sessions, and you’re half convinced she knows that something is up. But when she hasn’t said anything at the end of the night, you’re pretty sure she’ll never catch on.
But she’s left the whole extra bottle of wine unopened in your apartment.
You don’t know where all your wine went, or how it’s hours later. But the wine is gone and it’s two in the morning, and you didn’t text Killian this time, but you wish you would have.
Because you end up at her house, and you’ve knocked before you remember how late it is. You try to rationalize that it’s her fault to begin with for leaving you with a whole bottle of wine, but when you start to leave, a light turns on. “Fuck.”
“Uh…” You want to disappear. You feel like you’ve sobered up but you most certainly haven’t. “Hi.” She drags you inside and she’s in her pajamas and her hair is ruffled, and all you can do is stuff your hands into your pockets so you don’t run your fingers through it. You wonder if she’s mad at you.
But she brings you a cup of water and tylenol, like she already knows you’re drunk off your ass. “Where’s Killian?” And it’s like a punch to the gut. You look at her eyes, flashing angrily for a moment before they stare off at anything else.
“We broke up. I told you.” And you try to exist anywhere but here, in front of her. She gives you a tight smile. You know she doesn’t mean it because it’s the kind of smile she’s reserved for Killian. But now it’s for you and you can’t help but panic. You’re drunk and a tear escapes, and you have no idea if she knows why it’s there or not but she wipes it off with her thumb, closer to you than you can process before she catches herself and pulls back.
“I’ll set up the guest room for you.”
And you stay that time, just because the pillow smells like her.
When you get up, your head feels like it’s splitting in half, and you think it actually happens when you make it downstairs to see Robin and her kissing over a small pile of pancakes. “Emma!” She exclaims. “I made you breakfast.” And she is smiling at you like she wasn’t just making out with her fiance. She slides the plate to you, but instead of eating, you just leave, and you don’t look back.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
You steer clear for a while. People start to notice that they run into you at the liquor store more than anywhere else, and you try to laugh it off as a joke.
A lot of people laugh, but some people don’t.
Your parents don’t laugh.
“Emma, we love you and we’re worried about you.” Yeah, okay . “We really are.” And all you can do is nod, forced into complacency just because no one suspects.
Your mother can’t get past the whole thing, “It’s so wild she asked you to be the maid of honor. You know, me and her used to hate each other. I can’t believe our families are really coming together.” And when you shoot her a look, it goes unnoticed.
“Technically Robin isn’t--” your father starts, like he’s about to mirror your own thoughts, but his words are lost in the excitement of your mother talking about her own wedding dress and how when you get married, she wants you to wear it. You nod and you smile and you say of course even though you know that the day will never come.
There’s only one person in this realm and any other realm you would want to marry, and she’s engaged to someone that isn’t you.
Sometimes you wonder what life would be like if you had just spoken up.
If you had, maybe she would be marrying you instead. Maybe she would have chosen you, maybe she would have loved you. You imagine a world in which that happens, and it feels so close that you almost think you could still reach for it.
But you know you can’t. Because she chooses him, even though she has no idea that choosing him means not choosing you.
You think on that for a minute. Does she deserve to know that she had the option? Does she still have the option? Or are you just being selfish? Projecting .
You ask Killian to stay the night, just because you don’t want to end up at her house again because you don’t think you’ll keep your mouth shut this time.
And you know it’s the right decision when he shows up, and your mouth starts running. You’re spilling everything to him, not caring what he thinks, and you know that if you can say the words “I broke up with you because I’m in love with her” to him of your own free will, you’ll say anything to anybody.
When you tell him, he doesn’t look surprised, which confirms that he knew it all along. He gives you a sad smile. “I’m sorry you didn’t get her.”
You don’t know when you started to cry, but suddenly your face is wet and the tears don’t stop coming, and neither do the words once they leave your drunken mouth. “I have to tell her, don’t I? She has a right to know. What if… What if I still can? I need to talk to her--”
But he cuts you off by wrapping your hands in his and pulling you close, resting his forehead on yours. “Emma, you have to stop.” You try to pull away, you need to go see her as soon as possible, but Killian’s hold on you is firm. “I need you to promise me that you won’t talk to her. Not like this.”
You stop struggling. You look into his eyes as if they have the answers. He’s looking at you like you’re fragile and precious and need to be protected. You hate it because it makes you feel weak, but it’s also sweet. He never looked at you like this when you were together.
She looks at you like this all the time.
“Look, you’re drunk, and it’s also past midnight. Maybe you can talk to her at the right time and with the right circumstances, but if you go over there right now, it will only end in disaster, and I think we can agree that you don’t want or need that.”
He’s right. You don’t. And this is exactly why you called him over.
He gives you some tylenol and makes you drink an entire glass of water before he tucks you into the bed. He gives you a soft kiss on the head and you can’t help but ask him, “Why are you being so sweet?”
And he just smiles at you. “You need it, don’t you?” And you nod. It doesn’t matter really, as far as you know, nobody else has a clue what you’re dealing with, and without Killian, who really knows where you would be.
You would probably be on the steps of 108 Mifflin, tears streaming down your face as you look into your favorite pair of brown eyes and say the three words always on the tip of your tongue when she’s around. I love you .
You would probably still be standing outside as Robin comes up from behind her, having caught those words leaving your mouth. You probably wouldn’t be able to look at either of them. You would probably turn and run, but it’s unlikely you would go home. You’d be too broken to.
You would probably end up at Killian’s front door, crying into his shirt again, listening to him tell you that you should have called him, and you would be right back at square one, relying on your ex-boyfriend to mend your broken heart in all the ways you never expected him to.
“I’ll be on the couch if you need me.”
The next morning you wake up with your head in the toilet. Killian is there to hold your hair back and you don’t even try to fight him on it. You’re too tired to fight, but you already knew that much was clear. You go about your day, and you don’t tell anyone you’re hungover just so that they don’t know how much you were drinking.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Her bachelorette party is being planned by her sister, and it’s an entire weekend away event. She tells you all about it over a bottle of wine one day. You drink with her because total awareness isn’t helpful to you in these moments, but you’re reaching a point where you can feel your filter crumbling beneath the weight of the words you shouldn’t say.
The trip is going to be five days of partying and drinking, and as the maid of honor, of course you’re invited, but you tell her that you’ll think about it. She looks put out, glancing at the floor with a quiet “okay,” and you want to say yes more than anything.
You want to reach for her hand and never let it go, you want to go on adventures by her side, and you want to be able to have a conversation with her without guarding the words in your heart with the words you can say, which are fewer and far between.
You tell her you might have to miss the trip, and because you’ve had enough wine to put you on another level, you almost tell her “because if I get too drunk I’ll kiss you,” but you catch yourself at “because” so instead you say “because work.” She nods, even though she knows as well as you do that the shifts are already covered. She doesn’t fight you on it.
When the weekend arrives, you’re off work for the whole thing. You make a few errands, stock up on enough alcohol and frozen pizzas to be a successful recluse for the next four days, and that’s exactly what you do. There’s no leaving the house, there’s no outside contact, but you leave your phone on the whole time, just in case.
It goes off several times. Killian encouraging you to leave the house, checking in a few times a day. Your mother expressing her concern, wondering why she hasn’t seen you, inviting you over for dinner. One message from your father, letting you know that everything at work has been fine and he misses you. You ignore them all.
The second night, your phone rings. Not a message, but a call. You glance at the clock, raising an eyebrow when you see that it’s after midnight. You take another shot before you amble over to the phone, and you immediately wish you hadn’t because she’s calling you.
Your rule is no more alcohol around her. You can’t risk it. But all you can think right now, ten shots in, is what if it’s important? What if she needs you? So you answer before you can stop yourself.
“Hey…” You’re tentative, but feel the tension leave your shoulders when you hear her scream back.
“Emmaaaa! I miss you! I wish you were here!” And you know she’s drunk. But she can’t know you are.
“Hi, how’s the trip?”
“It’s so amazing! Zelena really went all out. She’s great at planning, just like you, Emma.” And every time she says your name, you have to swallow and take a deep breath counting to ten because the way she says it is so different from the way other people say it. Like your name is something to be said selectively, like a word to be treasured. She says it like someone would say “I love you.”
“Emma, I need you to know… you’ve just been so great at helping me plan this wedding. I couldn’t have a wedding without you.”
“Me neither,” you say, not thinking.
There’s a pause where you can hear her breath hitch, and you wonder if she’s going to comment or let your words fall flat. “Emma, I…” And she’s on the verge of saying something big, but she trails off and you can hear her gulp before clearing her throat and asking, “How’s Killian?”
“We broke up, remember?”
“Yeah, you’ve told me, but I never heard the story.”
“Why’d you break up? Did he hurt you?”
“Ah, I broke up with him actually. And there’s not much to tell. It was just one of those things.”
“ One of those things… ”
“Yeah, it wasn’t going to work out.”
“So have you drunk called all your friends or am I the only one lucky enough to receive the honor?” You ask, changing the subject.
“Despite my tendency to put you first, you’re actually the only one I’m calling because you are the only one not here.”
And okay, you don’t know what that means. You know what it sounds like, but it doesn’t mean you need to point out that Robin isn’t there . But you do anyway. “ Robin isn’t there.”
“You’re right. He’s not.”
“Did you drunk call him too, or is he next?”
“Didn’t I just say I always put you first?”
And it’s a punch to the gut you aren’t expecting. You actually have to catch your breath from the blow. You’re suddenly angry and upset and you think that having gone on the trip, avoided this phone call, it would have been better. You fail to hold back a scoff. “Yeah, always first . Got it.”
“What’s wrong?” You don’t say anything. It’s hard to talk when you’re chugging whiskey down straight from the bottle. She says your name again and you stop drinking. “Emma.”
“Don’t.” And you hang up the phone. You turn it off. You spent the next three days on the couch, cleaning out your liquor cabinet.
You have no idea how many days it’s been until your doorbell rings, and you spend a moment panicking because you’re supposed to look like a normal person, so you dart to the bathroom to make yourself moderately presentable, even though you have no idea what you’re working with.
When you see your reflection, you double take. Your face is almost unrecognizable, no color remaining apart from the circles under your eyes which are greyed and hollow. Your hair looks stringy and falls flat, and you wonder when the last time you washed it was. You’re skinnier, but not in a good way.
The knock sounds again, and you figure that the way you look now will just have to do. Maybe it isn’t that bad. You pull your hair back in a ponytail on your way to the door and the look on her face when she sees you lets you know that maybe it really is that bad.
You blink and it feels like it isn’t your turn to talk, but you ask her anyways, “How was the trip?”
For a moment you think she’s going to ignore your question as she takes a step into your apartment and then another closer to you until you’re just inches apart. She tucks a stray hair behind your ear, looking at you with eyes full of words she isn’t saying.
She runs her fingers across your jaw and you lean into the touch enough to make her step back again. “The trip was fine. I…” She trails off before shaking her head. Her eyes move back to you. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” you say, too quickly, and she squints at you but lets the subject drop.
“I just… wanted to see you.”
“Well, you’ve seen me,” but it comes out too abrupt and too rude, and she doesn’t hesitate before stepping back through the threshold of your apartment, and you want to take her by the hand and pull her back in, but you shouldn’t. Your rule was to avoid her and alcohol at the same time, but you realize now that it’s difficult when you’re always drinking, especially when you aren’t expecting to see her in times like right now.
“I-I’m sorry. I’ll go.” She does, and you let her.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
It’s a month before the wedding, and most of the planning is done, which means that you don’t see her as much. You don’t go out unless you have to, and you’ve taken to working a lot of night shifts because it means she’s asleep when you’re out of the house.
If she asks, you don’t have to lie. You don’t have to pretend you’re avoiding her. You can say, “I’ve been working nights” because it’s true, and you can almost dismiss the suspicion in her eyes when you say it.
When you finally have a night off, you’re at home, watching TV, and the doorbell rings. You hesitate before going to it, thinking it’ll be her, and you’re not sure you can handle it. But it isn’t her.
“Zelena,” you say, and you’re more worried than you would have been otherwise. “What, uh… what can I do for you?”
She invites herself into your apartment, taking in your shame in the form of empty bottles scattered throughout. She looks at you, and for a moment, there’s sympathy, but she blinks and it goes away, replaced by something serious and hard.
You shuffle nervously. “Would you like something to drink?” you offer, but given the state of your apartment, you wish you’d phrased it better because she scoffs. You don’t say anything else.
“I’m here because of my sister.”
That isn’t what you’re expecting. Your heart stops in your chest so abruptly that you sway on the spot slightly, nearly falling over. “Does she--”
“She doesn’t know I’m here, no.”
“Okay.” You want to ask, but you can’t bring yourself to do it.
“I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but don’t fuck this up .”
“Emma. I know .” And the feeling that she’s talking about what you think she’s talking about is pressing, but more than anything you want to dismiss it because she couldn’t possibly know. You’ve fought to keep this secret in, and if Zelena knows, then the likliness of other people knowing is high. Too high.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” but the way you say it, it sounds like you really do.
She scoffs again. “You’re in love with her.”
You don’t know what to say, but your hesitation does it for you.
“Emma, you know I like you. I do . But Robin…”
And you don’t want to hear it, so you say, “I know.”
The sympathy is back in her eyes, and Zelena’s never looked at you like that before and for some reason it makes your sadness that much more real. “I wish that…” but she stops.
You’re too curious and too drunk to let this one go, so you’re asking her “what?” before you consider that maybe she trailed off for a reason.
When she finally looks up at you, her eyes tell you that you’re right, but she owes you an answer, and she knows how stubborn you are. “I wish she’d gotten to you before Hook.”
“Emma, please-- ”
“Tell me.” It’s the most assertive you’ve been in months, and the thought of being assertive makes you wish you’d just said it when you could have. Maybe, you could have gotten to her before Robin . Is that what Zelena had meant?
She’s shaking her head, looking away. “She wouldn’t want me to tell you. I promised her.”
The expression on her face is pained, and you feel bad just looking at it, so you look down, and you reach for the liquor bottle in front of you out of habit, taking a sip. “Okay.”
The look on Zelena’s face now is pity.
Before she closes the door behind her, she looks back one more time and says, “Maybe it would be best if you didn’t go.”
And she’s right. It would be.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
She is the last to know that you won’t make it to the wedding, even though she should have been the first.
The first to know is Killian, of course. You tell him, “I’m not going” and you’re surprised at how resolute it sounds leaving your mouth. He gives you a tight smile like he’s been waiting for you to reach that conclusion for weeks and pulls you into a hug.
The second person to know is Zelena. She tells you “you’re doing the right thing.”
But you feel like you aren’t because everything only gets worse. You drink so much that you can’t remember the last time you worked and somehow it’s suddenly a week before the wedding. You run out of alcohol, but the stores have started refusing your money.
When you can’t buy your own alcohol, you ask for Killian’s help, and he brings over rum knowing that you won’t drink it. You surprise him by drinking it anyway.
You think he’s angry with you for doing this to yourself, but you cry and tell him “I can’t stand it anymore. I don’t know what else to do,” and he makes you promise.
“Emma, say it. Say that after this wedding you won’t drink anymore. You’ll do something with your life, move on.”
“I’ll stop drinking after the wedding.” And even though you’re too drunk to think before you speak, you know you’ll do it. “I promise.” And with those words, he leaves you with the rest of his rum.
The day before the wedding, you still haven’t told her that you won’t be there, and you can’t put it off any longer, so you take a few shots, and you text her. The coward’s way out. You cry, keeping your phone at a distance.
Twelve hours, a nap, and ten shots later, it’s one in the morning and your doorbell rings.
You’re drunk enough to think you’ve imagined it.
But then you hear it again.
You go to your phone before you go to the door, silently, just in case you need to pretend to be asleep. You have several unseen notifications, but there’s only one that matters. A handful of missed calls, presumably by the same person outside your apartment, who suddenly yells your name through the door, confirming her identity.
And really, you knew it was her all along.
But that doesn’t stop the gasp that escapes your lips when you pull the door open and see her standing there with her face bare, eyes red, and pajamas on. Much like her sister, she pushes her way into your apartment, and as you close the door behind her, all you can do is watch as she finds her way to the only alcohol left in your apartment and says “this is mine” as she drinks the rest straight from the bottle.
You wonder if she drinks it because she needs it or because she thinks you’ve had enough. You decide it might be both.
“You haven’t answered my calls,” she points out, standing in the middle of your living room.
Shrugging, you say, “My phone was on silent” but then it buzzes across the room. “I didn’t hear it go off,” is your correction.
“I called you fourteen times, Emma. Were you too drunk to notice, or were you too busy fucking your ex-boyfriend to return my calls?”
And you can’t help but wince. “It’s not like that…” but you sound drunk. She scoffs, and it reminds you of Zelena, only Zelena didn’t cry.
“Then what is it like?” She’s so mad and you are so drunk, and she’s in your apartment, in your living room and it’s one in the morning and you’re alone together and she looks so so beautiful, (you can’t look at her because you know that if you do, you’ll kiss her) and tomorrow’s her wedding day. “Emma, look at me.”
And goddammit, you do.
“What aren’t you telling me, Emma?” And your heart breaks every time she says your name, but you never want her to stop.
“I... “ is how you start, but you don’t make it anywhere. You try again, “I…” and that time doesn’t work either, so you give it a final attempt, “I…” and when you fail that time too, you think about trying again, but then she’s right there , brushing your tears away with her thumbs, her hands resting on either side of your face, and you can feel her body brushing into yours, and you know that you’re too drunk, and you should step back, but you don’t.
“Shh, shh, baby, it’s okay,” and you shake your head over and over and over again, in place of saying “it’s not okay” and “please don’t call me that” but you can’t say anything, you can only shake your head at her and cry.
“You can talk to me, Emma,” but your head keeps shaking. “ Please .”
“Not like this,” you manage to choke out.
And all you can think of is Killian standing in front of you, stopping you from going to her and telling her everything and messing it all up, except it’s not him here now, it’s her , and what was the point in stopping everything then, if it was going to happen eventually?
Would it have been too late then, like it is now?
“Not like this,” you say again.
“Then how?” She asks, voice both rising and so so soft.
You don’t know why you do it, but you do. “ Like this, ” you say as you put one hand on her waist and the other in her hair, and you pull her into you, pressing your mouth to hers, and you hear a moan leave her lips like this is all she’s ever wanted, and she’s kissing you back more urgently than you’ve started kissing her.
It feels like the world stops and your kiss keeps going on and on and on, but it ends faster than the room is spinning. You pull away first, knowing that she would want you to even though her eyes are telling you otherwise and the words leave your lips as easily as you always knew they would.
“Regina, I love you.”
And the answer is right there in her eyes. I love you too .
But instead of saying it, she lets out a sob, and you think she isn’t going to say anything, but then you hear the words so so quietly, almost inaudible like she’s trying to unsay them as they leave her mouth, like she knows the words will crush you, the weight of the words heavier than her discernment.
“You would have been enough.”
One more sob racks through her body as she rests her forehead to yours, stroking your face and leaving one final kiss to your lips, stealing your breath and sealing your fate, before turning and walking out the door.
You don’t fall asleep until the evening of the following day.
You turn your phone off, and you sleep through her wedding.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
It’s two years later, and you’re true to your word. You haven’t drank since the moment right before you confessed your feelings, but it’s also been two years since you’ve seen her.
After the wedding, she hadn’t called you. Hadn’t texted you. And you found an apartment in Boston before the end of the honeymoon. You moved the day they came back.
But you never changed your number. Just in case.
Killian had kept you updated, for when anything happened that you needed to know, but nothing really did. Your parents visited you as much as they could, but they never mentioned her . Like they knew.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” your mom had said one day out of the blue, exactly one year after the wedding. They had made a point to visit you that day, and that’s when you realized that they knew more than you thought.
You didn’t say anything until you excused yourself to the bathroom where you spent the next ten minutes crying and wishing you still had something to drink. But you made a promise.
The night you decide that it’s fine for you to drink again is the night your phone rings, and you glance at it only to see her name on your phone, lighting up your screen the same way she lights up your heart, even after two years.
You don’t hesitate to answer. “Hello?”
“Emma?” She says your name, and your heart breaks.
“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
And for a minute, all you hear are her gentle tears and soft sobs before finally she says the words you knew were coming. “Robin is leaving me.”
You want to say something, to sympathize, but you don’t because you know you’ll sound insincere. “Oh,” is what leaves your mouth before you hear the background noises of her call. “Are you driving?”
“You live in Boston, right?”
“I want to come over.”
And her words throw you off. You aren’t expecting them, but suddenly they’re there, drawing you in like a fish on a hook, and you almost snort as you make the metaphor. You want to tell her she shouldn’t be driving so late, but instead you tell her your address and say, “I’d love to see you. I’ve missed you.”
“Emma,” she breathes, making your heart stop in your chest. “I’ve missed you too, so so much.”
There’s a long moment of silence on the phone where you just listen to the sound of her car tires against the road, and she listens to you breathe softly until you break it by asking, “Do you want to talk about it?”
She says, “His ex-wife.” And that’s enough for you to hate him even more than you did before.
You feel like you should say I’m sorry , but you know that will just sound insensitive so instead you say, “I’m glad you’re coming over,” and it sounds worse than I’m sorry , but you still don’t regret saying it.
She says, “me too,” and your heart skips a beat and a smile spreads on your face even though you don’t think it should. Another beat passes before she starts with an “I wish…” before trailing off.
“What do you wish?”
“I shouldn’t say.”
Instead of elaborating, she asks, “What do you wish?”
And it’s like the answer has been on your tongue for years, and you know it has been, so when you say it, it feels natural. “You.”
“What about me?”
“I think you know.”
“I think you should tell me.”
You take a deep breath. “I wish I had said something sooner. I wish I had told you when I had the chance, I wish I’d had the chance to love you in Robin’s place.”
She says, “It’s never too late.”
You stop breathing.
“Emma,” she breathes, and it’s like no one has said your name in the past two years. Like no one is saying it until it leaves her mouth. “I wish…”
“I wish you would tell me,” you breathe into the phone.
“I wish we could be together.”
You don’t realize how much her words get to you until you feel a tear rolling down your cheek, and you imagine her wiping it off. You imagine gripping her hand in yours as it gently brushes your face. You imagine bringing your lips to her fingers before moving them to her lips, warm against yours, crying like you did during your first kiss, but this time for happiness, finally holding the love of your life in your arms, pulling her close, pressing soft kisses to her temple as you slow dance in the middle of your apartment to the sound of your own heartbeats.
“We can be.” You’re so sure of it.
“I love you, Emma.”
And those are the last words you ever hear her say.
The night you find out, you’re minding your own business, trying to enjoy a night in. You have the night off, and you have no one to hang out with. You never bothered with getting out there since coming to Boston. What was the point? You wouldn’t have found anyone. Not with her still walking this earth.
But now it doesn’t matter.
The night you find out, you resort to your emergency liquor. A bottle of rum. Of course it is. And you drink it, not worried about your own health.
You find that it’s hard to give a shit when the person you love more than anything is dead.
The drinking doesn’t stop, and when your phone goes off, you answer it out of habit, and it’s Killian on the other line. “Emma…” He says your name like you’re about to shatter, and it makes you think of her, and you can’t. So you hang up.
You have a text from him and your mom and your dad and Henry and basically everyone else from Storybrooke. They all echo her last word. Emma . And with each message, your heart drops further and further into your stomach, and you remember the night she got engaged.
Would she still be alive if you’d made it to her first?
You drink straight from the bottle, and the taste of the rum reminds you of the way she tasted on your lips on the last night you saw her. On the last and only night you’ll ever have had her. The night of her wedding.
If you had said something, even then, would she be in your arms right now, instead of being pried from an irreversible tangle of cars on the highway leading from Storybrooke to Boston?
The possibility makes you sick, and the only remedy you have is to take a double shot. You don’t make a toast.
You pour yourself another, and you pretend it’s because you didn’t make a toast.
“I love you, Regina,” you say, making a toast.
But it doesn’t even matter.
No one is there to hear it.