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safety and home

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Emma is pacing up and down the main concourse at Grand Central Station. It’s a sunny Saturday morning in September, so the area is mostly filled with tourists and hikers leaving the city to go upstate. It’s also a month on the dot since she and Alyssa said their tearful goodbyes in Emma’s bedroom in Edgewater, and about five minutes to go until their hopefully less tearful reunion.

They had always planned to at least be in close proximity to each other in college. Back before Alyssa was out and they were still hiding, they would spend hours fantasizing about moving to the east coast to be in a more accepting place where they could both exist as themselves in public, and had almost exclusively applied to schools in New York and New England. In the end, Emma chose to go to New York City to study music at the New School, whereas Alyssa decided to attend Yale, her first choice.

New York and New Haven aren’t technically that far apart, and Metro North is more or less affordable for poor college students, but they were both so busy during their first few weeks at school. While Emma has missed Alyssa terribly (and hopes it was mutual), they had also agreed to at least try and make friends at their respective schools before spending entire weekends away.

Four weeks later, though, it’s the day of the first preview of Lincoln!, a new Broadway show Barry was cast in after the original lead tore his ACL. Barry has told Emma that he partly credits her with the rehabilitation of his image and the revival of his career, so he wanted her at the first show, and Alyssa is about to arrive in New York for the first time ever to be her plus-one.

Emma’s heart is about ready to leap out of her chest. Of course they’ve talked every day over the past few weeks, but it’s been 31 days, an hour and 43 minutes since she last kissed or hugged Alyssa, and that’s frankly 31 days and about an hour and a half too long.

Emma is still pacing when she spots the familiar head of curly hair. Alyssa is here, she’s really here and Emma is practically vibrating, she’s so excited. She stops in her tracks for a split second to just look at her, to make sure she’s not dreaming and that it’s really Alyssa, that she’s really here. Then Emma starts running and doesn’t stop until Alyssa is wrapped up in her arms. She picks Alyssa up, spins her around, and pulls her so close.

“Hi, babe,” she whispers into Alyssa’s hair while Emma clings to her.

“Hi,” Alyssa returns, and even though Emma can’t see her, she knows Alyssa is smiling.

Emma loosens her koala grip on Alyssa enough for Alyssa to take Emma’s face into her hands and kiss her, right there in the middle of Grand Central Station. A few months ago, this level of public display of affection would have been absolutely unthinkable for the two of them. Emma revels in how much has changed for them, how much happier and more alive she feels. She has a girlfriend, who is here, with her, and she wants the whole world to know.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Alyssa says when they break apart. She is still gripping Emma’s arms, like she’s not quite ready to let go all the way just yet.

Emma is relieved to hear it. It’s not that she ever doubts Alyssa’s affections; they’ve been solid since the day Alyssa came out, and have only grown stronger since. But for the past few weeks, even though Emma has enjoyed meeting people in her residence and most of her classes are good, she’s always felt like a small part of her heart was elsewhere.

It really feels like it has now returned. “I missed you too, if you couldn’t tell,” Emma says and laughs a little self-consciously. Alyssa just beams at her when she hears it. Emma is so glad Alyssa seems to find her delightful, in spite of her everything. She takes Alyssa’s hand in hers and pulls her close enough that she can put her head on Alyssa’s shoulder. “So much.”

She doesn’t let go of Alyssa’s hand as she leads her through Grand Central and into the subway, in fact, she doesn’t let go for more than a few seconds at a time (turnstiles one-handed are unfortunately difficult) until they get to her dorm in the Village and she needs both hands to dig through her bag to find her student ID. She shows it to the security guard and signs Alyssa in.

On her way up to the sixth floor, Alyssa tells Emma all about her plan to run for first-year class council after she attended an event about it last night, and Emma tells her about the queer arthouse movie she and her roommate Kayla went to see at the Angelika. It is still completely wild to Emma to live in a place where that’s an option for how to spend a Friday night.

When they walk in the door, Kayla jumps off her bed. Kayla’s a tiny, sarcastic loudmouth from a small town in upstate New York who, as Emma has now discovered, secretly has a heart of gold. Emma quickly bonded with her over their shared love for indie pop music and the experience of being queer in less than accepting places.

“Hi, I’m Alyssa.” Alyssa shakes Kayla’s hand and Kayla smiles.

“Of course you are. I’m Emma’s roommate, Kayla. I’ve heard so much about you and I’m so glad to finally meet you in person, and to get a break from ‘Alyssa is so great, Alyssa is the best, I love Alyssa, Alyssa Alyssa Alyssa’ for an entire weekend while you’re here.” Kayla says, not meanly, and smiles to make clear she’s at least half-joking, but that she’s totally willing to throw Emma under the bus at the same time.

Emma blushes. She hasn’t been talking about Alyssa that much, has she?

Alyssa seems to love it, though. She smiles so wide.

“You really did miss me, huh?” she whispers to Emma, and demonstratively kisses her on the cheek.

“Aw, lovebirds. That’s it, I’m heading out. There’s only so much lovey-doveyness this single gal can take before noon,” she says. “I’ll be back late tonight; don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Emma has been listening to Kayla’s extensive and varied dating history for the past month. There’s absolutely no danger of that.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she says.

It only takes a second after Kayla leaves for Emma to reach for Alyssa again. Alyssa goes willingly and their lips meet in a series of sweet I missed you, hello, how are you kisses. Emma doesn’t feel the need to do anything more right now than to cup the back of Alyssa’s head with her hands, pull her close, and continue kissing her. They’ve got a whole weekend, no need to rush anything, and this is the best Emma has felt in a month, with both of them right where they’re supposed to be.

---

After a very slow and blissful early afternoon spent entirely in bed, Emma drags Alyssa a few blocks over to The Strand, where she immediately pulls Alyssa towards the queer literature table. It’s one of her favorite things about New York and yet another thing that would be unthinkable in Edgewater. Alyssa seems to agree; she buys four books from that table and a tote with rainbow-colored books on it.

They grab a slice of pizza from Joe’s and stop to buy some flowers for later, then drop off Alyssa’s mountain of books at Emma’s dorm where they start to get changed. They had decided to get a little dressed up for the occasion to ensure Barry isn’t disappointed in them, not even in jest. Emma puts on the suit pants she wore to prom and a fitted navy blazer, and Alyssa matches her in a navy wrap dress that looks so incredible on her that Emma almost doesn’t want them to leave her room again. She has a hard time taking her eyes off Alyssa, so Emma lies back on the bed and pulls Alyssa down on top of herself. They stay tangled up that way for too long.

Emma makes them leave with a little bit of time to spare -- a true feat of willpower if you ask her -- and take the subway to the Theater District. Emma has been to Times Square three times since she got to New York City, which, in her opinion, is two times too many, but she can’t help but have a little bit more fondness for it when she sees Alyssa’s eyes go wide at all the lights and billboards.

“C’mon,” Alyssa says as she takes Emma’s hand and drags her up the red steps of the ticket booth. Emma grumbles a little bit at first, but they take a few selfies, including one truly adorable one in which Alyssa kisses Emma’s cheek and Emma beams at her. Emma loves it so much she makes it her new lock screen immediately.

“Ready to go see some theater?” Emma asks her after they’ve spent her personal limit of five minutes in Times Square.

“Let’s do it. I hope Lincoln--”

“You mean, Lincoln!” Emma interrupts, emphasizing the word so the exclamation point is audible.

“Lincoln!” Alyssa corrects, “-- is better than that other show that brought Barry and the others to Indiana in the first place,” Alyssa says, but the look on her face says she can’t wait to see the show regardless of how bad it is.

“I read some of those reviews. It probably can’t be much worse. Plus, it’s Barry. We love Barry,” Emma says, skilfully pulling Alyssa through the crowds and onto 45th Street. “He’ll at least be fun to watch.”

“That’s true,” Alyssa concedes. “It will definitely be fun no matter what.” Emma is pleased to see how excited Alyssa looks. Truth be told, Emma is excited, too. She’s only been to one Broadway show so far, standing room at The Book of Mormon her first week in the city, so she can’t wait to see one from good seats, even if the title of the show isn’t very promising.

They take a couple of photos with the promotional posters outside the theater, including a dorky one where they point at the picture of Barry’s face. Emma texts it to him immediately and is surprised to get a response this close to showtime, even if it’s just a series of emojis -- the heart-eye one, the drama mask one, a ticket one, and then a tiger and a volcano -- she has no idea what those last two are about and maybe rues the day she showed Barry how to use emojis just a little bit.

Their usher points them to seats in the center of the orchestra and Emma is surprised to see two familiar faces in the seats right next to them.

“Hello, darlings,” Dee Dee greets them and gets up so she can kiss their cheeks. Dee Dee is dressed in a ridiculous ensemble of red and gold that would be over the top on opening night, let alone the first night of previews, and Emma is so glad to see her again.

“Hello, Dee Dee,” Emma and Alyssa chorus, which makes them smile at each other.

“Aw, cute,” Angie says. “I’ve missed you, sweetheart,” she says to Alyssa.

Alyssa seems surprised by this, whether it’s the sentiment or the term of endearment or both, but she masks her surprise well, replacing it with pure delight. “It’s so good to see you,” she says, smiling.

“Sit, sit, tell Auntie Angie what you’ve been learning,” she says to Emma.

“You saw me at brunch a week ago, you know what I’ve been learning,” Emma responds, smiling.

“So much changes with you young people, I can’t keep up,” Angie says, clearly not serious.

Emma laughs. “You’re not that old,” she says, and Angie blows her a kiss.

Dee Dee turns to Alyssa. “How is the collegiate lifestyle at…”

“Yale?” Emma helps her out.

“Yale. Great drama program there,” Dee Dee says.

“Indeed. I’m looking at going into Global Studies, though,” Alyssa says as she and Emma take their seats next to Dee Dee.

“Ah, I see we all know what that is,” Dee Dee says to no one in particular, then seems to catch herself because she says, “I hope it’s great.” It almost sounds like she genuinely means it, and Emma marvels at how far Dee Dee has come in terms of empathy for and support of other people. It also makes Alyssa smile fondly, and that’s all that matters to Emma.

The lights go dark and they watch Barry’s performance. He’s great in a way Emma wouldn’t have expected before, in a way that she would have enjoyed even if she hadn’t known him, and even though the show is objectively very mediocre, Emma loves it by virtue of being here with the girl she loves and seeing her favorite fake uncle doing what he was clearly born to do.

Barry had told all four of them to come backstage after the show, so they head to the stage door, tell the security guard their names, and walk up the two flights of stairs.

Barry is sitting on the couch in his dressing room. He nearly squeals when he sees Emma and Alyssa appear, and hugs Emma so tight she can barely breathe. Even though she’s being squished, she’s so pleased to finally see him again.

Emma hands him the flowers they brought. Barry takes a good look at them and promptly starts sniffling, tears in his eyes.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Emma says awkwardly, not quite knowing where to look.

“No, no, these are wonderful, these are obviously tears of joy, thank you,” Barry gushes at her. “No one’s brought me flowers in so long. You’re so thoughtful,” he marvels.

Alyssa hugs Barry as well and then steps aside to let Dee Dee and Angie say hello as well. After they’ve all chatted about the show for a while and given Barry the most gushing of reviews -- prompting him to tear up again -- they all sit down around the coffee table on various chairs and the sofa.

“It must be incredible to be up on that stage, looking out into that big theater,” Alyssa tells Barry later, once they’ve all gotten caught up on the goings-on of each other’s lives.

“It is, I’m not going to lie,” Barry says. “You should go see,” he tells her with a smile.

“What do you mean?” Alyssa asks.

“Theater’s empty now and the stairs outside my dressing room lead directly backstage. You two should go check it out,” he says in their direction with a wink.

Emma knows a winning suggestion when she hears one, and the look on Alyssa’s face tells her there’s nothing she wants more. She takes Emma’s hand and pulls her towards the door rather quickly.

They step outside the dressing room and make their way down the stairs, pass by a curtain and suddenly they’re on stage at the Jacobs Theatre. Alyssa just gapes at the view, and Emma is speechless herself. They’re still holding hands and Emma squeezes Alyssa’s hand, as if to say, just look at this.

“Wow,” Emma finally gets out. She half means how large the theater looks from the stage, and half means how beautiful Alyssa looks up there next to her. She wraps an arm around Alyssa’s waist and pulls her close. Together, they take in the view some more.

“I have an idea,” Alyssa says after a minute or two of them standing there. She pulls out her phone and Emma recognizes "She Keeps Me Warm" by Mary Lambert within seconds. It was their song, the one they held onto before they could be public about how much they meant to each other.

“Dance with me?” Alyssa asks and holds out a hand to Emma.

Emma smiles as she takes Alyssa’s hand. “I love you,” she blurts out. “I mean, yes, I’d love to.” They’re just grinning at each other, giddy with happiness at finally being together again.

“I love you, too,” Alyssa says. She wraps her arms around Emma’s neck and kisses her briefly. Alyssa pulls Emma close and they sway to the music.

Emma feels like she’s finally home.