It was Friday and Emma was making fried eggs. Henry was sitting at the breakfast table, tapping his pen against his lip while reading over the contents of the notebook in his other hand.
He liked to think of this particular notebook as his Official Dossier, because that was a concept that both of his moms would appreciate: Mom, because of the implicit bureaucracy and the fact that he’d taken the time to develop a notation system with a reference key inside the front cover; and Emma, because he’d collected his evidence properly, with dates and times and pertinent details, just like a real detective. But sometimes, on those days when he was particularly frustrated with their total obliviousness, he thought of the notebook as his Big Book of Gay.
It had been just over a year since Emma had moved in with them, taking up residence in the good guest room. Looking back, he should have read more into that than he did, especially since Mom redecorated it and bought a new mattress and everything, but he was just glad that he wouldn’t have to spend his time with Emma in that cramped loft with his crying baby uncle and too many people and no privacy anywhere, ever. And his Mom’s reasons for inviting Emma to live with them had made so much sense: they had all that space; Emma couldn’t really afford to rent somewhere decent which wasn’t all the way out in Storybrooke Heights; the house was close to the school and the Town Hall and the Sheriff’s Station; it was less disruptive for him not to be shuttled between two households; they could share parenting duties more easily. All of that was true, but it had blinded him to the most important part of the arrangement, which was that, when you took him out of the equation, Mom had invited Emma to live with her, without any prompting, and Emma had said yes without even taking time to think about it.
Although the first weeks of their new living arrangements had been tense and awkward, with arguments breaking out everywhere over the slightest thing, somewhere along the way, things had started working out. When Emma had conceded that maybe she could put her clothes in the laundry hamper rather than on the floor and over every other surface, Mom had accepted that some fried food in the house occasionally wouldn’t kill them all. With each new compromise, things just kept getting better between his moms. Again, if he had been paying closer attention, Henry would have noticed how his mom was with Emma. To be fair to himself, he had been just fourteen then, and he was so used to how Mom was with him that he hadn’t thought twice about it when she showed Emma the same care and attention. But he should have picked up on the fact that she was already doing Emma’s laundry from the day she moved in, and making Emma’s favourite meals as well as his, and only ever calling her ‘Miss Swan’ when she was teasing her about something, and always with a smile in her eyes, and that she touched Emma.
Mom touched Emma freely and often.
Once he noticed that, Henry couldn’t stop noticing it. There were little touches: a hand pressed to Emma’s back as Mom reached past her for something in the kitchen; casually wiping food from Emma’s cheek or chin with her thumb; a tap on the shoulder to catch Emma’s attention while she was on the phone to Grandpa; leaning into Emma, pressing against her whenever they sat next to each other, even on the bleachers at his baseball games. Later, he noticed the Totally Married Couple Touches: when Mom would lean over to brush the hair out of Emma’s eyes while she was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table; the shoulder massages for a work injury—which, yeah, Emma didn’t work that hard—when Mom made Emma sit in between her legs and lean back against her (not to mention the noises Emma made, because they might very well have scarred him for life); and the fact that Mom kissed Emma on the cheek every morning when she left for work.
Every. Single. Morning.
Then, there was the clothes thing. Whenever they were going out somewhere, his mother, who had never looked anything other than perfect his whole life and somehow managed to dress herself just fine before Emma was there, would come out of her room and pad along the hallway to Emma’s room and say things like, ‘Which earrings go better with this dress?’ or ‘This blouse or the black silk?’ and she’d show Emma whatever the choices were. She always went with whichever Emma chose. Always.
Emma, meanwhile, was developing a more extensive wardrobe than just jeans and sweaters because Mom kept bringing home things that she had seen on sale, always suspiciously on sale, which she thought Emma might like. It wasn’t even that Mom was trying to change Emma, because everything she bought was Emma’s normal casual style, but just better cut and better tailored and better quality, like she only wanted Emma to have the very best, the same way she did with him.
And none of that even compared to the way Emma was with Mom. Because Mom might touch Emma with love and care and affection, but Emma looked at Mom like her world started and ended right there. Emma stared at Mom’s ass whenever she got the chance, and she definitely looked down the front of Mom’s blouse when they were sitting next to each other, but mostly Emma just looked at Mom like she couldn’t see anything else.
Emma blushed whenever Mom paid her any sort of compliment and did this ‘Aw, shucks’ shrug thing with one shoulder and a duck of the head and her knee swinging out awkwardly to the side. Emma pulled Mom’s feet into her lap when Mom was reading on the couch, and turned the TV down so it wouldn’t disturb her. Whenever anyone—seriously, anyone, male or female, from eight to eighty—approached them on the street, Emma stepped closer to Mom, her hand immediately reaching out in front of Mom for a few seconds, not touching her, but, like, letting her know that she’d protect her.
Emma brought flowers home sometimes. Not for Mom, no. Every time, Emma would say that she had been passing Game of Thorns and had just figured that that they would look nice in the living room or the study or on the kitchen table, and Mom would say, ‘Oh, Emma, they’re beautiful,’ in a tone that he never heard her use with anyone else, ever, and then Emma would do the shrug thing, and then they’d all have one of Emma’s favourite desserts after dinner that evening. After that, he’d have to put up with them for days, coming to a halt whenever they passed the flowers, and Emma would beam in remembering the way his Mom had been so impressed with her, and his Mom would get this look of such pride and adoration, like Emma had lassoed the moon and stars for her, and not just dropped forty bucks with Moe French.
At first, it squicked him out, and he developed a theory that his mothers were secretly dating and trying to hide it from him, but, the more he watched them together, the more convinced he became that they genuinely didn’t have a clue about how they behaved around each other. Or, at the very least, they weren’t aware of what their behaviour signified, or that they were both behaving that way, like, all the damn time. There were days when he wished that they were having an affair—even though, eww, parents having sex—because that would be easier. He could ignore that, sort of, or at least pretend that he didn’t know it was happening. But what was happening was much, much worse. His moms were totally in love with each other and they had no clue. Not just that they had no clue that they both felt the same: they didn’t even know what their own feelings were at all. He was the only one who knew anything, and what good was he as the Truest Believer if he didn’t try to give them the happy ending they both deserved?
He’d tried to raise it obliquely with his grandparents, asking if they thought either of his moms might be seeing anyone or even just interested in someone, but Grandpa said that they were concentrating on Henry and didn’t have time for romance. Grams had, as quite often happened, picked up the wrong end of that stick and started figuratively beating him with it. She assumed that he was worried about himself. She reassured him that, when the time came for one of his moms to date again, he would still be the centre of their worlds, as he was now. And then she gave him a really long lecture on how parenting was about always putting your child first, like Mom hadn’t brought him up to know that he was everything to her, even during the Bad Times.
He’d also raised his suspicions with Grace, and she had at least asked for examples of what he meant. When he told her what he’d seen, she immediately agreed with him. (‘Henry, if I treated you like that, I’d be offended if you didn’t at least try to jump my bones,’ she’d said, and he’d blushed beet-red because he was a coward like his moms, and he wasn’t ready to lose his own best friend yet by making a move, not when she was already Pretty Important and possibly Really Very Special. But, he was fifteen and his Moms were meant to be intelligent adults.) Grace, however, had given him a really good idea: if he wrote down everything that he saw, maybe he could show it to Emma or his mom and make them understand.
So, over the previous three weeks, he had detailed every interaction he had witnessed which proved beyond doubt that his moms were, like, totally married and didn’t even know it. He didn’t even note down all of their interactions, because he’d quickly realised that he’d need an encyclopaedia-sized notebook for that. He’d excluded anything under the categories of General Annoying Parenting and Snarky BFFs, and even then his notebook had over a hundred pages, and he was getting close to the end of it already. After only three weeks. Three. And these were just the things he’d seen. Who knew what else they got up to when he was out of the house?
“Henry? Hen? Kid?”
“Yeah?” He looked up from his notebook at Emma, who was dressed, as she almost always was on her days off, in jeans and a flannel shirt over a tank top, and he thought that maybe he should add ‘wears lots of flannel’ to his Big Book of Gay, but that was just a stereotype and his grandpa wore flannel, too. Lots of people in Maine did; it got really cold in winter, and flannel was warm. Emma was also wearing one of his mom’s aprons. And how was that not a sign to her? Had she even owned a single apron in the thirty-odd years before she moved in with them? And she was wearing it because that’s what Mom would want her to do.
She was also plating up their breakfasts, bacon and two eggs sunny-side-up each for them, and an egg-white frittata with peppers and onions for Mom. Egg-white frittata with a little yolk blended in and a few bits of bacon because Emma thought Mom denied herself too many pleasures. Special egg-white frittata that Emma had only learnt how to cook so she could make it for Mom on Friday mornings, because Friday was the early staff meeting that Mom was always running late for these days, so Emma had taken over Friday morning duties. She even made Mom’s special coffee, the one from the high shelf that Mom ordered from the internet, and she put it in a travel cup for Mom to take with her to the meeting. And every Friday morning, he wanted to scream, ‘Really, Emma, are you this stupid?’
“Go call your mom and tell her that her breakfast’s getting cold.”
He put down his notebook and placed his pen carefully on top of it so he would know if Emma tried to sneak a look at it, and wandered to the bottom of the stairs.
“Mom! Breakfast! Now!”
“Henry, that’s not what I meant,” Emma said as he came back into the kitchen. “I meant go upstairs and tell her.”
“You didn’t say that.” He sat back down and checked the position of his pen, glad to see it undisturbed. Neither of his moms had shown any real interest in his special notebook so far, but his plan was to amass a full month’s worth of evidence before he decided what to do with it, so he didn’t want either of them catching on too soon.
Emma just growled at him as she put all the plates on the table, quickly adding a pile of salt to her own eggs and lifting up each rasher of bacon to drizzle maple syrup between them, then arranging them so that none of the syrup was immediately visible.
“You know it’ll spread as soon it heats up,” Henry said, “and Mom knows you do that anyway.”
Emma stuck her tongue out at him. “I’ll have eaten it all before she’s any the wiser.” She pressed the bacon together with her fork and then cut through four slices at once, smirking in triumph at him.
“Emma!” Mom shouted from the stairway. “You shouldn’t have let me open that second bottle!” There was a faint clattering sound, and then stumbling footsteps with none of his mother’s usual grace. “We don’t all have the day off today, you know.”
And there was the reason why Mom was always late on Fridays, because on Thursdays, she stayed up too late drinking with Emma. On Thursday evenings, the Storybrooke Players had rehearsals for whatever play they were preparing, and Henry was lead set decorator and props man, which might or might not have been influenced by the fact that Grace was one of the main actresses. Anyway, it meant he was gone from straight after dinner until around ten, when he got a ride home from Mr Jacobs, who ran the sound and lighting and was kind of the backstage boss. Emma had persuaded Mom that having one night a week to themselves was a good reason for them to indulge in take-out and wine and crappy movies, but the movies had only lasted a couple of weeks and it wasn’t unusual for his mothers not to notice that he’d even come home because they were so caught up in conversation. He wasn’t sure what they talked about, but he’d seen them often enough when they hadn’t known he was there to know that it didn’t really matter. The look on his mom’s face when Emma was telling a story, all flailing hands and spilling wine, and Mom not minding at all, but laughing softly and smiling so sweetly, was enough to let him know that it was essentially their Date Night. Often, he had heard them creeping upstairs well into the small hours, laughing and murmuring and struggling to say goodnight, a process which could take upwards of ten or fifteen minutes because they obviously didn’t want to part.
“Babysitting my brother all morning is not my idea of a day off,” Emma called back around a mouthful of bacon.
Mom appeared in the doorway then, fiddling with an earring in one hand and lifting her foot to adjust her shoe with the other. Her blouse, the dark maroon one which was Emma’s favourite, was buttoned up incorrectly and hanging out of her skirt. His mom got wine hangovers; Emma never did.
“Sweetheart, could you—”
Henry cocked his head expectantly at the same time as Emma swung around, obviously thinking that Mom meant her. Then she realised what she’d done and turned back, but not before she’d flushed a deep red at seeing that Mom was showing some skin in the places where the blouse wasn’t holding together properly. Interestingly, Mom gave an odd look to the back of Emma’s head, like maybe she had meant Emma after all.
“Henry, sweetheart, could you get my briefcase for me? It’s in the study.”
“Sure, Mom.” He sighed, because this felt like a moment he wanted to note down in his book.
“Have you got time for breakfast?” Emma asked as he was leaving the room.
“No, I’m sorry. I’m later than usual. I think maybe I’ll take it with me—”
He couldn’t hear the rest as he ducked into the study, looking around for his mom’s stuff. He collected everything he thought she might need as quickly as possible, and dashed back towards the kitchen, skidding to a more reasonable pace as he entered. Emma was wrapping the extra-special frittata in foil, while Mom was sitting at the table adjusting the buttons of her blouse and rattling off a list of chores which needed done around the house, if Emma got a chance.
Henry grinned. Business as usual.
“Here’s your things, Mom.” He put her briefcase, purse and a couple of folders on the kitchen island.
“Thank you.” She glanced over at Emma, whose back was to them, and winked at Henry, lifting Emma’s bacon to reveal the growing puddle of maple syrup, then stuck her finger right in the middle of Emma’s beautifully cooked fried egg, watching the yolk seep out and ooze across the plate. She sucked her finger into her mouth and winced at the amount of salt.
“I told her you know she does that,” Henry whispered, sitting back down next to her.
She leaned over and kissed his cheek, then wiped the lipstick away with her thumb. “Let’s let her think she’s won this one.” She stood up and went over to the island, pulling a compact out of her purse and checking her mascara in it. “God, I look ancient this morning,” she said, wiping at something on her cheek with her forefinger.
“No, you don’t,” Emma said, coming to stand next to her, boxed frittata and to-go coffee in her hands. “You don’t look a day over sixty-fo—”
“Careful, Miss Swan.” Mom shut the compact and smiled at Emma. This was their thing. Emma invariably made a variation of the same joke almost every Friday. “Your next word may very well be your last.”
“You look perfect,” Emma said. “Like always.” And, come the hell on, how could both of them not hear the tone of hushed awe in Emma’s voice? Was he the only person with working eyes and ears in this house?
“Hmm,” Mom said, but Henry could see the little smile of pleasure, even if Emma couldn’t because she was doing the head-ducking thing. She glanced at the kitchen clock. “I am going to be so late.”
“Why don’t you poof yourself there?” Emma suggested. “I can swing by and pick you up later. Just send me a text when you’re getting ready to pack up for the day.”
“You would?” Just like every time when Emma offered to do something nice for her, Mom sounded surprised.
“Yeah, sure. I mean, I was going to pick up the groceries later anyway, so I could take the Mercedes and do that first, then wait around for you.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s no trouble.” Mom still looked like she couldn’t believe Emma would want to go out of her way for her, which was the stupidest thing ever, because Henry was ninety-nine percent certain that Emma would sacrifice working limbs to make his Mom happy. Emma nodded. “Okay, then. I’ll just—” Mom made a swirling motion with her hand.
She took the coffee and frittata from Emma, who was already leaning her cheek in towards Mom, and then Mom closed her eyes and kissed Emma’s cheek. When Mom pulled back, she didn’t wipe the lipstick away like she’d done with him, she just kind of nodded to herself, and then looked over her shoulder at him.
“I’ll see you tonight, Henry.”
“Sure, Mom. Have a great day.” Try not to let your gay show too much at the office.
“And I’ll see you later,” she said to Emma, who had the same glazed expression she did every morning just after Mom kissed her goodbye.
“Uh-huh,” Emma said.
Then Mom was gone in a literal puff of smoke.
Emma filled two mugs with coffee—that she let him drink coffee was another thing Emma thought was a secret and which Mom also totally knew about—and came back to the table, not even noticing that Mom had messed with her breakfast.
“So, what’s on at school today, champ?” she asked, seemingly back to her normal, Emma self.
“A bit of learning, lunch, a bit more learning and then home.”
“You need picked up, too?”
“No, I’ve got some allowance left and there’s a new comic I wanna get, so I was gonna run by the store after school.”
“Okay, whatever. Let me know if you change your mind.” She smiled at him. “Your mom wants me to clean out the gutters today, and I have no interest in doing that at all, so I’ll take any distraction I can get.”
“Uh-huh.” He laughed into his coffee, which was rich with cream and sugar, just like Emma’s.
“You know you’re gonna do whatever she asked.” He wondered how far he could push things, and then went for it anyway, making a whip-cracking noise accompanied by the appropriate mime.
Emma’s eyes widened. “I am not whipped!”
“Whatever.” He got out of his chair, taking his coffee with him, to head up to his room and finish getting ready for school. “So, so whipped,” he murmured as he left the room.
“I heard that, you little shit,” Emma replied, and had the nerve to still sound offended by it.
How could he have been raised by two such complete idiots?
BTW, thank you to everyone who has read, commented and/or left kudos on this so far. I am overwhelmed. And that's saying something for a raging narcissist.
When he got home that afternoon, both of his mothers were in the kitchen being suspicious. Mom was whisking cake batter, while Emma sipped at a coffee. They weren’t talking, although that wasn’t the weird bit, because they were often quiet in each other’s company, as if proximity itself were enough for them. It wasn’t even four o’clock yet, so Mom wasn’t due home for another couple of hours, and they were both dressed casually—sweats and a t-shirt for Emma, yoga pants and a loose tunic-thing which probably had a proper name for Mom—which meant they’d been home for a while, but even that wasn’t unheard of, either. The suspicious thing was that they were avoiding looking at each other. Emma was staring into her cup, while Mom was focused on the cake batter. For two people who could barely keep their eyes off the other for more than a few seconds, this set alarm bells ringing for Henry.
Usually, he would go to his room until dinner was ready, but this situation was worthy of further investigation.
“Hey.” He tried to sound nonchalant, sitting down across from Emma. “What’s up?”
“How was your day, sweetheart?’ Mom asked, still not turning around, while Emma just curled her lip at him.
“Nothing special. How come you’re home so early?”
Mom barked out a strangled, mangled squeal, and Emma said, “Don’t.”
“Why don’t you ask Emma how her day was?” Mom’s voice was really high, and her shoulders were shaking. He tilted his head at Emma, waiting for her to speak, but she was busy growling at Mom’s back.
“For the last time, there’s nothing funny about this,” Emma said.
“Of course not.” Mom pressed a hand to her mouth.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Bae wasn’t well,” Emma said, which earned another snort from Mom, and another glare from Emma. “I’m not going to warn you again, Regina.”
When Emma turned to him, he gave her what he hoped was a good approximation of Mom’s patented eyebrow lift.
“Fine, I’ll tell you.” Emma rolled her eyes and slumped down into her chair. “Your grandma dropped him off just after you guys left, and we watched a bit of Yo Gabba Gabba, had a snack and a nap together, then we played with his firetruck—”
“Did you wear the hat?” he asked. Emma had bought him an FDNY Fire Marshall baseball cap while they lived in New York, and she often put it on while she was playing with Neal’s fire station set.
“Oh, she wore the hat,” Mom said, as she poured the cake mix into two tins which were laid out on the counter. “You know she always wears the hat.”
“At least my brother appreciates the authenticity.” Emma was trying to scowl at Mom, but Mom busted out her Aren’t You Adorable face, and Emma couldn’t withstand that look any more than Henry could these days. “Yes, I wore the hat.” She shifted in her seat. “So, anyway, we went out into the backyard just before lunchtime so I could clean the gutters—”
Henry sniggered because of their ‘whipped’ conversation, but Emma shook her head, warning him not to push his luck.
“I was nearly finished when he made this godawful wailing noise, like, way worse than a dragon, and you know I’ve heard dragons wailing, and by the time I got down to his level, it was running down his legs.”
“He had an accident?” he asked.
“No,” Emma flinched, “an accident is when we go pee-pee and Emma has to change the big-boy pull-up diaper. This was an epic of Biblical proportions. He expelled more liquid poop in twenty seconds than an adult human being can hold in their whole body. And I cannot describe the colour or the smell or the—”
“Eww, TMI.” He shook his head and held out his hand. “I don’t need the detail.”
“Okay, Little Miss Sensitive. Anyway, I took him upstairs to your Mom’s bathroom, and called her for help with the poop volcano. She came home and fixed everything, like she always does, then your grandma came and got him, then we went grocery shopping and then we came home again. The end.”
Mom put the cake tins in the oven and joined them at the table, still smiling at Emma. “Your mother is leaving out quite a lot of detail.”
“Shut up.” Emma’s arms were crossed over her chest, but there was a grin forming at the corners of her mouth, and she was shifting in her chair, edging closer to Mom as if pulled by magnetism.
Mom reached across the table for her phone and slid her finger across the screen, pulling up a text conversation with Emma, and passed to it him. There were two texts and a picture. The first text said ‘SOS’. The second, the one with the attachment, was time-stamped only a few seconds later and said ‘Code Blue now!’ In the picture, his uncle was standing in what appeared to be the bath in the master bedroom. He was wearing a strange black diaper, tears running down his face. Everything in view, including Uncle Neal, was streaked with stains which Henry didn’t want to think about. Despite the little boy’s obvious misery, Henry started to laugh, because this was definitely one of those things which only seemed to happen to Emma.
“What’s he wearing?” he said, passing the phone back.
“Emma?” Mom reached her hand out to rest on Emma’s forearm.
“A hefty bag,” Emma said, her voice barely audible, as she turned her face away, blushing and wincing at the same time.
“You put him in a what?” he said.
“Look, I didn’t want to be trailing toxic baby shit all through our house, so I stripped all his clothes in the yard and I made him a diaper out of a hefty bag,” Emma said, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world. She raised her hands as her voice rose, and that dislodged Mom’s hand, but she resettled it on Emma’s thigh, rubbing soothing circles. “At least I took him to the bathroom. My first thought was to put him in the kitchen sink, and then we’d all have had to move house, because we could never have eaten in here again! As it is, we just need a small bonfire for a few towels and all of my clothes.”
“Oh, Henry, you should have seen them.” Mom turned to Emma and shook her head, but her eyes were bright and shining with love. “When I came home, Bae was in the bath, wailing and crying, and your mother was wailing at me about how your grandmother was going to kill her for ‘breaking her baby boy’, and they honestly looked like there had been an explosion.”
“There was an explosion,” Emma said. “I said that already.”
He tuned out their running commentary, Mom explaining how she had to clean up both Emma and Bae, and Emma grumbling that Mom was making her sound incompetent because she could have magicked the bathroom clean herself, thank you very much. He concentrated on their body language, which was at least three pages’ worth of Totally Married Touches and Very Lingering Looks. They shifted slowly, morphing from two people sitting in separate chairs to a single Mom-and-Emma unit, pressed together all along one side, their eyes constantly searching each other out, and only flicking back to him occasionally. Mom’s hand travelled from Emma’s thigh to her knee to her arm in a constant motion of reassurance, while Emma, who was always more reserved than Mom with touch, leaned into it and angled herself to be more receptive and open. Emma’s only concession to touching was to rest her arm along the back of Mom’s chair, her thumb reaching out and finding Mom’s shoulder. He watched, fascinated, as Emma’s arm adjusted constantly to maintain that one point of contact.
Seeing them all up in each other’s space didn’t even gross him out, not like at school when he rounded a corner and unexpectedly came across some older kids making out, which made him feel all tight and wrong and desperate to be anywhere else. Mom and Emma were so much like home and The Way Things Should Be that he didn’t even point out the more obvious issues with their story, like why Emma had immediately called Mom instead of Grandma, or why Mom had dropped everything, rearranging her whole day to come home for Emma. He filed away two other points for his Big Book of Gay: one, that Emma was getting a special cake baked for her, because Mom expressed her love through food just as much as she did through touch; and, two, that Mom referred to his Uncle Neal as ‘Bae’ because she was always careful with Emma’s feelings.
Mom laughed while she was talking, sometimes high with delight at teasing Emma, and sometimes in a low tone, rich with love and other things that he so didn’t want to think about if Emma’s half-closed eyes and glazed expression were anything to go by. Still, they sounded like the family he had always wanted.
He sat and watched and listened for maybe twenty minutes before Mom decided to check on the cake, which he took as his own cue to leave. Before he did, he circled around the table and gave Emma a one-armed hug, and stopped at the counter to give Mom a peck on the cheek. They might be clueless, but he loved them all the same.
As he walked across the hall, he heard Mom ask Emma, “What do you think that was about?”
“I have no idea.” Emma replied. “Maybe he’s after something or maybe it’s a full moon. I’ve given up trying to figure out what motivates our live-in teenager.”
There was a pause, and Henry stopped with his foot on the bottom stair, waiting to hear what came next.
“How did you ever cope when Henry was sick?” Emma said. “I couldn’t have got through today without you, and I can’t imagine having to handle that sort of terror on my own when it was our son.”
“Honestly? When it’s your own child, you’re just so caught up in making him all better and happy again that you block the rest of it out. You don’t even notice the mess or the smell or any of that. I can’t tell you the number of times in those early years when I went into work with baby sick down my back.”
“I would’ve liked to have seen that.”
And Mom used her special Only for Emma voice when she said, “I would’ve liked that, too.”
Saturday was quiet because Emma was working a double shift and had left before Henry even woke up. Mom was in the study when he came downstairs, so he had cereal and toast for breakfast rather than disturb her. He popped his head around the door to say goodbye before he went out, but she was caught up in whatever she was doing. That was cool, because he’d had an idea which could give him more evidence for his files, and he didn’t want to have to lie about where he was going.
He rode his bike to Main Street and stowed it behind Granny’s. There was no need for a padlock because he had one mother who was the Sheriff and one who had been the Evil Queen. People did not mess with his shit. Period. When the First Curse had broken—and how weird was it that they had to number the curses just to keep them straight?—some of the kids at school had made rough comments about Mom within his hearing, but that had died down a lot. Some days, though, he missed the ‘Henry’s Mom eats live snakes for breakfast’ rumours because these days he was far more likely to overhear how his schoolmates wanted to see one or other of his moms naked. And he really didn’t need to know how smoking hot they were because they were his moms, and they were in love with each other, so it wasn’t right that anyone objectified them like that.
Checking up and down the street to make sure that no-one was watching, Henry ducked into Game of Thorns and greeted Moe French with a wave.
“Hi, Mr French, how are you?”
The florist wiped his hands on a towel and looked up at him. “I’m fine, Henry. What brings you in here today?”
“My mom’s birthday is coming up,” technically not for several months, but, still, that was in the future, “and I wanted to work out how much allowance I’d need to save up to get her some really nice flowers.” He looked around the shop to see if there were any which looked familiar, but they all just looked like flowers to him.
Mr French rubbed his hand over his jaw in contemplation. He blew some air of his cheeks, then walked over to an area with what looked like some potted stems. “These house orchids start from only twenty-five dollars each, but should grow well in any warm, well-lit room.” He gestured with his left hand towards some pre-made bouquets. “Or, these are all around thirty dollars, and would be a very handsome present. Is that what you had in mind?”
“Maybe.” They looked pretty enough, he supposed, but not what he was looking for. “I know she loves the ones that Emma brings home, so maybe we could start with those?”
“Well, now, they’re more of a special order for a good customer.”
“Really?” Heh. He knew Emma had been lying when she said she noticed the flowers in passing. He fished into his backpack for his notebook to record this fact. “Okay, so, how much for ones like Emma buys?”
Mr French shook his head. “I suspect they’d be more than a little out of your price range.”
“Oh. How much?”
“I don’t know that I should tell you that.” He folded his arms over his chest. “The Sheriff and I have a little florist-customer privilege arrangement going on.”
“But if I wanted ones like the ones Emma buys for Mom,” and he noticed that Mr French wasn’t surprised to hear that Emma bought the flowers for his mother, “not those exact ones, you understand, but ones like that, then what sort of price range would I be talking about?”
“That would depend on how many of the flowers had to be brought in on special order.”
“Special order?” Emma’s ‘just passing by’ lie was getting bigger and bigger by the second.
“The Sheriff is very particular about what she buys. We’ve spent a long time perfecting the right mix of colour and texture. And they’re not the sort of flowers a young man buys for his mother anyway.” Mr French was giving him a Significant Look. Henry took that to mean Emma bought flowers which had a romantic meaning, but, then, that made no sense because Emma didn’t know that she was in love with Mom. Parents were hard work sometimes, especially his moms, and clearly deductive skills were not genetic. He decided to ask outright. It was a risk, but he didn’t see that he had any choice but to trust Mr French if he wanted to know what he really wanted to know.
“Mr French, may I be honest with you?”
“What? You mean you haven’t been honest up till now? I’m shocked.” He winked at him.
“I just want to know if Emma bringing Mom flowers means what I think it means, and if Emma wants it to mean what I think it means.” He shrugged. “Or if Emma even knows that it means what I think it means. Do you know what I mean?”
The older man laughed, tipping his head back as his large chest rumbled. “I know exactly what you mean, son.” He walked back over to his counter, and leaned against it, turning more thoughtful. “I think you’re an intuitive young man, probably more so than either of your mothers realises. My answer to you is that, in her heart, Sheriff Swan knows. The rest of her, I can’t be sure of.”
“Thank you.” Henry smiled and wrote that quote down in his book. “Really, Mr French, that helps a lot.”
By the time he’d put his notebook away, Mr French was holding the door open for him.
“It was nice to see you, Henry. Don’t forget to drop by in January, in time for your mother’s actual birthday, and we’ll sort something out.”
He went to the park and hung out with his friends for a few hours, only heading home when it was nearly six o’clock. And that was when he got his second piece of evidence of the day.
Mom was wearing a t-shirt, which wasn’t a rare occurrence at weekends, especially since Emma had moved in with them and things had become more haphazard and relaxed, but it was a Storybrooke Sheriff’s Department t-shirt, navy with gold lettering above the departmental crest.
Emma worked every other Saturday, and a quick check of his notebook revealed that on the previous Saturday he’d observed when Mom was home without Emma, she had put on one of Emma’s overshirts while she was gardening.
He added a new category to his notation system: Wearing Emma’s Clothes [WEC].
“What are you scribbling now?” Mom asked, looking over her shoulder at him.
“Just some ideas for a thing.” He didn’t close the book in case that looked like he had something to hide. Instead, he turned to a blank page and placed the book face down on the counter, as if, hey, he was finished whatever he was doing, which was Totally Not a Big Deal.
“A story or a new Operation?”
“Nothing like that. It’s an assignment I’m working on.”
“Anything I can help with?”
“Nah, you’re good.” He sniffed the air, wanting to change the subject. “What’s for dinner?”
“Chilli and garlic bread for us, and I was about to make up some sandwiches for Emma in case she drops by later.”
He almost laughed out loud. In case Emma dropped by. Yeah, right. He didn’t have to check his notes to know that Emma swung by the house whenever she was on back shift and that Mom always made up a snack for her. Emma’s sandwiches came with coleslaw and a side salad right on the plate, alongside a pile of tortilla chips, just like at the diner. And then she’d sit in the living room with them, and change the TV to whatever she wanted to watch, and Mom never, ever complained about that. She sometimes rolled her eyes at him—‘See what I have to put up with’—but she never said anything to Emma, just fixed her another coffee and asked her about her day.
“What do you think Emma would like in her sandwich?” Mom asked.
“Anything you make for her.” Mom could serve Emma ground glass, and Emma would eat it with the Dopey Adoring Face.
“Maybe I should drop it off for her. She might be busy.”
There were no circumstances in any realm under which Emma would ever be too busy to make time for Mom. He gave it an hour before Emma texted to say she was on her way. Two hours, tops.
He knew Sunday was Mom’s favourite day of the week, although she would never admit that to anyone. On Sundays, the three of them met up with Grandpa and Uncle Neal, and they went to the duck pond together so that Grandma could have a few hours to herself. Grandpa had started the tradition when he bumped into them one Sunday morning while he was pushing Uncle Neal in his stroller, and invited them to join them for a walk. It had progressed to a regular occurrence, and Mom packed a basket for their lunch, with healthy snacks and some special treats for everyone, even herself.
He and Emma were fencing with tree branches while Uncle Neal rode Emma’s shoulders when he looked over and saw Mom watching them. He grinned at her, his attention wavering enough that Emma took advantage to swat him hard on the ass with her ‘sword’, making Uncle Neal laugh and laugh and laugh. Emma was laughing too, but her gaze drifted over to Mom to check that she wasn’t in trouble for going too far. She was so whipped.
“I’m hungry,” he said, heading over to the picnic table, ignoring Emma’s taunts that he was a sore loser.
“A sore loser with a sore behind, eh, kiddo?” Emma said to Neal, who didn’t really know what she meant, but liked being included anyway.
He sat down next to Grandpa, facing Mom.
“I never thought I’d be this lucky,” Grandpa was saying, finishing off a chicken salad sandwich and licking the mayo from his fingers. “One perfect child is a blessing, but, two?” He nudged Henry with his shoulder. “And a handsome grandson who is far too tall.” Grandpa folded his hands together. “We’ve done okay, though, haven’t we? They’re all good kids.”
Mom watched Emma and Uncle Neal roll around in the grass, and Henry knew she was doing her best not to grin at the sight. “Well, your daughter still needs some work, but I think the boys are a credit to us.”
“Do you ever think about having another? Adopting again?”
“No.” Mom shook her head. “Henry is enough. Henry has always been more than enough for me.” The total Mom way she was smiling at him made Henry want to squirm and look away because he was almost a grown man now, but he remembered all the times that Emma had told him he should consider himself lucky to have a Mom whose most embarrassing habit was loving him so much.
“What about Emma?” Grandpa asked, so busy watching Uncle Neal that he didn’t see the way Mom’s face fell. But Henry saw. Henry saw Mom’s face cloud with doubt and worry, and her eyes shifted over to Emma. Emma must have caught Mom’s look, because she started to get up from the ground, smiling at the three of them.
“Are you so eager for more grandchildren, David?” Mom’s smile was as tight as her voice.
Henry tried to picture what Emma would look like pregnant, her stomach rounding into her fifth or sixth month, like Mrs Tupper from the school office who had three boys already and kept saying that she didn’t mind what she had, as long as the baby was healthy, even though everyone knew she wanted a girl. He couldn’t make the image fit, though. He couldn’t see a future Emma without Mom. He didn’t think Mom wanted a future without Emma, either.
Emma reached the table then, swinging Uncle Neal up and into his father’s arms. She flopped down next to Mom, and Henry saw all of the tension leave Mom’s body.
“What’re you talking about?” Emma said, looking between Mom and Grandpa.
“The fact that you are the least grown-up of all of our children,” Mom said. She fished into her purse and pulled out a handkerchief, lifting it to Emma’s cheek and rubbing some dirt away. She motioned for Emma to turn her head so that she could pick some leaves out of her hair.
“I’m an adult! I’m a Sheriff and everything.”
“Yes, you’re very mature, dear,” Mom said. Grandpa chuckled.
Emma scowled at her father. “Shouldn’t you be defending me?”
“I don’t know. Should I?” He shrugged and handed Uncle Neal a celery stick to chew on. “Aren’t you the one who fed your little brother slugs the other day?”
“I did not feed him slugs! I don’t know what he ate!” Emma flushed a deep red. “That wasn’t my fault at all.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Mom said, reaching up to tuck some stray hair behind Emma’s ear. “You’re cold,” she said, as her hand brushed Emma’s cheek.
“Not really.” Emma scooted closer anyway, leaning against Mom.
“We were just discussing whether you would ever get around to giving me more grandchildren,” Grandpa said, and Mom’s face went all tight again. Emma tensed up, too, but she covered her unease by reaching out for a sandwich and unwrapping it.
“Why would we want more kids when we got it so right the first time?” She winked at Henry, and then took a huge bite of sandwich. “These are really good, by the way,” she said to Mom while she was still chewing.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Mom said, but she was doing Emma’s duck and blush move. She hadn’t missed how Emma said ‘we’, how Emma had included her in her future without even thinking. Even as Emma pushed her by leaning in and eating noisily, lips smacking right by Mom’s cheek, Mom was pouring some tortilla chips onto a plastic plate and pushing them towards Emma.
Mom never took for granted that Emma would always defend and protect her, even though that’s what had been happening for the longest time. Every time, Mom got the same look of disbelief and adoration. It was both sad and beautiful.
Of course, Emma was kind of spoiling the beauty of the moment by staring down the front of Mom’s shirt while she was leaning over her. Mom didn’t seem to mind that, though.
On Wednesdays, Grace came over after school because they were lab partners and science was Henry’s weakest subject. But Grace had convinced him that he should talk to Emma today because Emma would be home by four and Mom usually wasn’t home until after six, so it gave him a window of two to three hours when he had Emma to himself. So, instead of sitting in the dining room, pretending to study but actually waiting for Grace to lean forward in just the right way to see down her shirt into the undiscovered country of secret, hidden girl parts, he was in the kitchen waiting for Emma. And he kind of resented Emma for that.
Wednesdays with Grace had taken on new meaning since he had started his Official Dossier, because he could now see that he was as hopeless as Emma when it came to romance. Grace made him feel awkward and embarrassed and faltering, but also protective and eager to please. That was all Emma and that sucked big time, because Emma was so clueless that he was having to sit her down for a Big Important Talk. He kind of resented Emma for that, too.
He was running through potential opening lines when he heard Emma slamming the front door shut because Mom wasn’t there to tell her off. She was singing along to her iPod when she entered the kitchen, not even realising that Henry was there rather than in the dining room with Grace. She opened the fridge door, checking out the chicken and vegetable casserole Mom had left for her to reheat for their dinner. She picked up a few green beans and ate them and then stuck her finger in the gravy and was licking it clean when she turned around and saw him.
“Oh my God, kid!” She flushed red and pulled the headphones from her ears. “Were you trying to give me a heart attack?” She narrowed her eyes. “Where’s Grace anyway? Did you two have a fight or something?” She leaned against the fridge like she hadn’t just been picking at Mom’s perfectly cooked meal, something they both knew was strictly off-limits, so the Grace thing was just an attempt to steer the conversation, but Henry was not stupid enough to fall for her trying to divert him from the task at hand.
“Mom.” Okay, that sounded wrong; he’d only called her that during the year in New York, and only Mom was Mom. “Ma.” He’d been trying that one occasionally, but maybe it didn’t suit the moment, because Emma was looking at him funny. “Emma, I need to talk to you about something.”
It was almost comical how quickly Emma’s eyes widened and her face paled. She swallowed and took a half-step towards him. She was holding her palms up and her left eye was twitching.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay,” she said. “Whatever you’ve done, I’m sure we can fix it.”
“Whatever trouble you’re in,” Emma eased herself into the seat across from him, as if he were a felon at risk of fight or flight with the slightest provocation, “it can’t be so bad that we can’t work something out. Is it something at school?”
“No, it’s not school. School’s fine.” Mom was right: Emma was an idiot sometimes. “I’m not in trouble.”
“Okay.” Emma’s brow furrowed. “Is this about getting a car again? You know I’m on your side on that one, but I don’t think we can change your Mom’s mind. She says you don’t need one until you’re—”
“It’s not about getting a car.” Although, if things went well enough, maybe Mom would be so distracted and happy that he could persuade her into at least letting Emma give him driving lessons in the VW. He’d have to keep that in mind for later.
“Oh God, is Grace pregnant?”
“No!” They hadn’t even kissed yet, even though he wanted to all the time, but he so didn’t want to talk to Emma about that, because she would just tease him about having no game, and that was too embarrassing for words, even though she was genetically to blame for his total lack of game. “No. Emma, stop.” He took a deep breath and tapped his finger against the Big Book of Gay, which was between them on the table. “It’s about this.”
Emma had that wary look, like she suspected he was trying to distract her, which was pretty rich when she was the one who kept trying to distract him.
“You need help with a school project?” She all but barked out a shaky laugh. “That’s what this is? Wow, that’s—” She shook her head. “You had me going there for a second.” She pushed herself up from the chair and headed over to the counter, picking up the coffee jug and filling it with water from the tap. “Well, you know your mom’s better at school stuff than I am, but, yeah, I’ll help you if I can. You want a special latte? Our secret?”
“That would be awesome,” he said, taking his hand away from the Official Dossier and letting Emma babble on about inconsequential everyday stuff while she made lattes for them both. She never used Mom’s coffee machine, the really expensive one with the huge manual which was only in Italian, but Emma’s lattes, with ordinary coffee and milk and hazelnut syrup all heated together in the microwave then frothed with the hand whisk, were still pretty good.
He grunted in all the right places as Emma talked, and rethought the speech he’d been preparing before Emma came home. Maybe his best plan was to say as little as possible; Emma had told him that a good way to interrogate a suspect was to say nothing and force them to fill the silence.
“All right, then,” she said, sitting back down and pushing his coffee towards him. “So, what’s this thing you need help with then?”
Henry’s stomach tightened. Emma was so open and unsuspecting that he almost decided not to tell her anything, but he needed to tell one of them because it had all gone too far and they needed to know. They needed to know because he couldn’t live with not telling them. He hadn’t even made it to a full month like he’d planned because he’d finished his notebook already and it didn’t seem sensible to start a new one, not when what he had already was plenty convincing.
He pushed the Official Dossier towards her.
“You should read this.”
“Okay.” She tilted her head at him, but put her mug down and pulled the book open. She’d only flicked through a couple of pages when the blush—or maybe the heat of anger, because her temper was even shorter than Mom’s, and that was saying something—started spreading across her cheeks. She looked up at him. “Kid, what is this?”
“It’s a dossier about you and Mom.”
Probably despite herself, Emma’s mouth curled up in a smile. “A dossier, huh? Did you learn that word from your mom?”
“I read a lot.”
Emma looked through some more pages, her cheeks getting redder, and then she all but threw the notebook down on the table. “Okay, spill. What the hell is this, this thing?” She folded her arms. “Because this looks to me like you’ve been spying on me and your mom and that’s not cool at all.”
“I wasn’t spying! This stuff happens in front of me!” He could feel his plan to say as little as possible was slipping away. “I just thought that if I wrote it all down then you wouldn’t be able to pretend that it wasn’t real.”
“That what wasn’t real?” Emma was defensive and scowling and this was not going well at all.
“You and Mom being in love with each other.”
“Come on, kid. You can’t be serious. Me and Regina?” She said it like it was the most ridiculous idea in the world and not The Way Things Were.
“Read it.” He shrugged. “I mean, what have you got to lose? If you think it’s all bullshit, and I’m totally wrong, then all you’ve done is waste a little of your time.”
“You’re not making sense.”
“I’m not making sense?” He reached across and opened the Big Book of Gay to the first Thursday, Date Night, when he’d come home to find Emma sleeping with her head on Mom’s shoulder and her arm around Mom’s waist, and Mom resting her cheek against the top of Emma’s head. He pushed the notebook towards her. “Then read that and tell me what I’m supposed to think.”
“Henry.” Emma barely looked at the page, shaking her head.
“What about this one?” He reached over and flipped forward to the following Saturday, when the three of them had gone for lunch in the diner and Mom and Emma had been all giggly and flirting and so completely wrapped up in each other that they didn’t even notice he’d left the table to join his friend, Micah, at the counter. “I’m not making this up. It’s all there.”
He knew she wasn’t going to say anything remotely reasonable after that. ‘Look, Henry’ was always the start of a lecture on how he wasn’t grown-up enough to understand something or how whatever he wanted was a Bad Idea. This was backed up by the fact that Emma gave him a total Mom look, the one which was a mix of kindness and impatience with just a touch of I’m-the-adult-here, and put the notebook down.
“—I know that it’s natural for kids to want their parents to be together, like you did with me and your dad—”
“Don’t even start with that.”
“No! You don’t get to act like I’m just some stupid kid who doesn’t get it. I was ten when I wanted you and Dad together. Ten. I’m not a little boy anymore.” He slapped his hands onto the table. “This isn’t like that. This isn’t me wanting anything. I was fine when I lived week-about with you at the loft and here with Mom. But you’ve been here over a year now and you and Mom keep telling me and everyone else that you only live here because it’s what’s best for me, but that’s not all it is. It’s what’s best for both of you as well. This is our family, you and Mom and me. We’re happy, and you make each other happy. I’m not trying to push you together, because you’re already together. You’re basically married and I don’t know how you can’t see that. Maybe you’re just too shit-scared to admit it, but, please, read the book and you’ll see that I’m right.”
“I really don’t think that—”
Just as he thought he was getting through to her, Emma’s face hardened and she pushed back from the table, her chair scraping across the floor as she stood.
“No. You know what? I might not be the real Mom in this house, but I’m still your mother, which means that you don’t get to lecture me, and you definitely don’t get to swear at me.” She paced across the kitchen. “More than that, you shouldn’t have spied on your mom and me because you have no right to mess around in our lives. Do you honestly think she’d be happy to know what you’ve been up to, because I sure as hell don’t think so. Your mother is the most private person I know, and she’d resent the hell out of you for this. You can’t pry into her personal shit and then make all sorts of wild accusations about things which are none of your damn business.”
“But you love her! I know you do! And she loves you, too.” This wasn’t how he’d seen this playing out at all. He’d expected some minor resistance followed by a grudging acceptance of what he was trying to tell her. But this outright denial wasn’t right and wasn’t fair. And, what was worse, even in her denial, Emma was proving how much she loved Mom by making it about protecting Mom’s privacy and feelings and not her own.
“That’s enough.” She stormed over and picked up the notebook, pressing it into his chest. “You take this and you go to your room and you don’t come down until your mom comes home.”
“Henry, for once, just do as I tell you and go to your room.” Her hands were balled into fists and her jaw was so tight, he thought the tendons in her neck might snap.
“Fine. Whatever.” He got up, but he slammed the notebook onto the kitchen island. “But you really should read this.”
Emma turned away from him. “No screens while you’re up there, either.”
He waited and waited and waited for Emma to come knock on his door, certain that she would forgive him as soon as she read the evidence. His heart sped up when he heard her footsteps on the stairs about half an hour after their fight, but she stomped past his door to her own room. She slammed her door even harder than he’d slammed his earlier.
He threw himself down on the bed, punching his pillows. He was angry with Emma for being unfair and at himself for not predicting that Emma would be unfair, because he should have known that she’d react badly to being confronted. He didn’t have time to think about what to do next before he heard Mom’s car pulling into the driveway. He jumped out of bed and opened his door at the same time Emma opened hers.
“I have no idea what your mom’s doing home early,” she said, “and we’ll talk later, but she doesn’t need to know about any of this, okay?”
He didn’t answer because he was thinking how weird it was that Mom was coming home unannounced, because Mom always, always texted what time she’d be home so that Emma wouldn’t worry because, oh yeah, Just Friends and not Totally Married.
“Emma! Henry!” Mom rushed into the house, her heels clacking across the hall. “Where are you?”
“Up here,” Emma called out. She was searching his eyes for something—some kind of reassurance that he wouldn’t cause a scene, he was guessing, seeing as he hadn’t answered her original question—so he stepped out of his bedroom to stand beside her, holding his hand out across his body for a fist bump. Emma grinned and bumped his knuckles, ruffling his hair for good measure.
“What are you two doing skulking up here?” Mom asked, appearing at the top of the stairs, removing her earrings and kicking off her heels.
“I was about to take a shower,” Emma said.
“I was doing some homework,” he said.
“Oh,” Mom said, smiling at them both and obviously not finding their behaviour suspicious. “Well, I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you for dinner tonight as I forgot that I’d arranged to meet the Storybrooke Heights Residents’ Association out at the community center. I barely have time to get changed, so this is really just a flying visit.” She bent over to pick up her shoes and, true to form, Emma craned her head so that she could get a better view of Mom’s ass.
“We can wait till you get home,” Emma said.
“Don’t be silly,” Mom said, heading into her bedroom, but leaving the door open so that they could keep talking. “I won’t be home before nine.”
“You need to eat, Regina.” Emma walked down the hallway and stopped outside the door, leaning back against the wall. Henry stayed where he was, waiting for some cue from Emma.
“They’ll be serving food at the meeting. I’ll pick up something there.”
“A stale Danish pastry and some lukewarm coffee is hardly dinner.”
“Which one?” Mom popped her head around the bedroom door, holding out two dresses in her right hand.
“Definitely the charcoal,” Emma said, but there was something strangely robotic about her voice, like she was on autopilot.
Mom kept talking from inside the bedroom as she got ready, reminding Emma about the permission slip for flag football which needed to be filled out, and mentioning that she would be late tomorrow as well, so could Emma pick up some wine at the grocery store because they only had one bottle left of the red they both liked, and she was still talking when she came into the hallway, turning her back to Emma. Emma reached down to pull the zipper up, smoothing her hands along Mom’s spine as she did so, and Mom gave her a grateful smile over her shoulder.
Mom didn’t seem to notice that she was maintaining a one-sided conversation, with only the occasional ‘uh-huh’ from Emma, who was mostly staring at the ceiling in the hallway while she clenched and unclenched her fists. Not knowing what else to do, Henry moved to stand next to her, but she didn’t acknowledge it or look his way.
When Mom reappeared from the bedroom, freshly changed, perfume and make-up reapplied, they followed her down the stairs. Emma reached for Mom’s winter coat and held it out for her to slip on without Mom having to say anything, and then Mom cupped his face and rubbed her thumb over his cheek, warning him that she’d know if they ordered pizza just because it was easier than heating the dinner she’d made for them.
Emma opened the front door and, as Mom passed, Emma’s cheek was already hanging out there, waiting to be kissed, and Mom kissed her like she always did, her left hand finding Emma’s hip and resting there for a moment. Emma watched Mom get into the car, and lifted her hand in an automatic wave as Mom pulled out of the driveway. When she closed the front door again, she rested her head against it.
“You’re right,” she said. “We need to talk.”
Emma went for a shower first, probably to have some time to herself, so Henry put the chicken casserole in the oven and boiled some rice to go with it. He’d already started eating by the time Emma reappeared, the Official Dossier in her hand.
“I read it,” she said, fetching her plate from the oven and sitting down opposite him. She opened the notebook and pointed to one entry. “She really does this?”
He read the page upside-down, and grinned. It was about Mom mooning and sighing over the flowers Emma had bought her.
“She really does.”
She nodded and picked at her meal, not really eating. “What’s DAF?”
“Dopey Adoring Face.”
“I hate you.” Her smile said otherwise and she turned to another page. “SEOV?”
“Special Emma-Only Voice.”
He rolled his eyes. “Totally Married Touching. There’s an abbreviation key on the inside cover.”
“An abbreviation key?” She flipped back to check it out. “You are so your mother’s son.”
“No, no, I’m not. I’m your son just as much as I’m Mom’s son, and I think that I have the best and worst bits of both of you.”
She only asked a couple of other questions, both about things Mom did when she wasn’t around. When she was finished, she handed the notebook back to him.
“We’re really like that?”
He pushed his meal away. Like Emma, he wasn’t that hungry, because this was much more important than food. “You are so married, it’s not even funny.”
“God, I’m in so much trouble.” Emma dropped her head to the table and groaned.
She lifted her head, and she looked totally miserable, which was the complete opposite of what he’d been going for.
“Shit, shit, shit.” She punctuated each word by banging her head against the table again.
“Emma?” Her reaction was worrying him. “Is it not good?”
“What, that my fifteen-year-old son has to be the one to tell me that I’m in love with his mother? No, that’s awesome. That’s just fucking perfect. Also, don’t tell your Mom I swore like that in front of you.”
“Yeah, like she doesn’t know.” He was so relieved that Emma appeared to accept that she was in love with Mom. That was a good start, at least. “She knows everything.”
“Well, not everything.” There was humour in her voice, which was another good sign. “She obviously doesn’t know that she kisses me goodbye every time she leaves the house. She’d be horrified if she knew she did that.”
“Don’t be stupid. She wouldn’t be horrified.”
Emma screwed her face up. “Yeah, of course she would. If she had even an inkling of what she was like around me, she’d kick my ass to the curb so fast.”
“What?” That made no sense to him at all.
“Your mom hated being married. There’s no way she’d want that ever again, especially not with me.” Emma shook her head. “Not a chance.”
“Trust me, I’m not what she wants.”
“Oh my God, how stupid are you?” He wanted to slap Emma on the back of the head, like she did to him when she was teasing him. He had no idea why Emma was deliberately misinterpreting the facts, but it was infuriating.
“Watch it, kiddo.”
“Did you even read what I wrote at all?”
“Well, yeah.” Emma shrugged and held her hands up. “And what that book says is that I have been deluding myself for a really long time, and that your Mom is the nicest person in the world for putting up with me.”
“That is not what it says.” Honestly, why was she making this so hard? “She’s in love with you. I have never seen her this happy, not even when I was a kid and it was just her and me and I didn’t know anything about the curse. And that’s you. You make her happy.”
“Maybe she’s happier now, but that’s only because we’re friends, and it’s nice to have people who’re there for you. Even though you’re a pretty decent kid when you’re not prying into things which don’t concern you, it’s hard being a single parent, and it’s a relief knowing that there’s someone else to share that with. Your mother has an awful lot of love in her to share and, despite what she says sometimes, she likes taking care of people. And she’s really good at it. The best, in fact. That’s what you’re seeing.”
“No, she loves you.”
“She does, but not like you want her to.” Emma’s smile broadened into a smirk as something occurred to her. “For a start, she’s not even into women.”
“Oh, and you know this because?” He smirked right back.
“We’re friends. We talk. She would have told me.”
“Yes.” She nodded, utterly convinced of her own rightness.
He waited, allowing the moment to become a Significant Pause. “Like you told her that you’re into women?”
“I’m, uh, well.” She furrowed her brow, and he had to laugh, because Emma looked adorably uncomfortable. “Right, you know, maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this after all.”
“Which bit? That you’re into women, that you’ve never told Mom that you’re into women, or that you’re in love with Mom?”
“The bit about my son being a gloating little know-it-all.” She scowled at him, but she was also half-smiling, like she knew he was right.
“You do love her, right?”
“Yeah.” Emma turned her head and ran her fingers through her hair, nodding. “I do, kid.” She didn’t exactly sound happy, though. “It doesn’t matter. We can’t tell her about any of this.”
She turned to face him and gave him a full-on Stare of Parental Wisdom. “Your mother’s happy, yes?”
“Yes.” He nodded, not sure why this needed checked, other than for Emma to be condescending.
“And, even if we don’t agree on exactly why she’s happy, we’re both pretty sure that the way things are now, the three of us together as a family, that’s what makes her happy?”
“So, it stands to reason that the right thing to do is to keep things the way they are now, and not rock the boat by telling her about this and making her feel like we’ve been conspiring behind her back.”
“No!” Man, this had worked out so much better in his head than in real life. “The whole point is that, if you’re this happy when you don’t know that you’re married, how much happier would you be, would both of you be, if you, like, shared a room or whatever.” He held his hand to his forehead because she was making his head hurt. He was actually having to explain to Emma—his mother, for the love of all things holy—that Mom Sex was a Good Thing, which made this officially the worst day of his life, and he’d had a lot of really bad days, including being kidnapped and losing his soul and being sent away from his Mom because of the second curse.
Emma laughed at him, but it wasn’t unkind. “Oh, kid. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because you’re a good boy, and I know you want the best for us, but life isn’t as easy as you want it to be.” She rubbed her hands together, and then scratched her palm, which was one of the things she did when she was feeling awkward and uncomfortable. “Your mom is the most amazing woman, you know. She’s brave and strong in ways that we can’t imagine, and, if she ever wanted to be with me, I would consider myself the luckiest person in the world, because no-one loves quite like her.” Emma had a faraway look, and he knew she was picturing Mom, maybe one of her Only for Emma Smiles or maybe just Regular Everyday Mom, because Emma really did love everything about Mom. “But I know things about her that you don’t, things that you’ll never know because you’re her son, and some things a boy doesn’t need to know about his mother. I know how she feels about relationships and marriage and about making her own choices in life. If she really does feel the same way about me that I do about her, then she’ll figure it out. But we have to let her do that on her own. We can’t make plans or try to force her into something she doesn’t want.”
“But you didn’t know. I had to tell you.” It really wasn’t fair. Emma was missing the point by, like, a Grandma amount of missing the point.
“What was it Moe said?” Emma reached across and tapped the Big Book of Gay. “That I knew in my heart that I loved her, but the rest of me hadn’t caught up yet?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure that your mom is smarter than all the rest of us put together.” She smiled at him. “Okay, maybe not you, but she’s definitely smarter than me and most of the other people in this town. If your mom feels something for me, she’ll get there.”
He didn’t want to give in, but Emma had obviously made up her mind about everything already, and only Mom could make Emma change her mind about things. And that was only because Emma was in love with Mom, which was the Actual Point he was trying to make, and which Emma was trying so hard to avoid.
“So, what do we do, then?” he said.
“We can’t do nothing.” He’d gone to all this trouble and put all this evidence together, and Emma thought they should do nothing?
“Nothing new, I mean.” She stood up and cleared their plates from the table, walking over to the sink. “Right now, we have some ice-cream because your mom’s not here to tell us off, and because she expects us to eat ice-cream when she’s not here to tell us off, and we wouldn’t want to disappoint her. I know for a fact that she bought some caramel swirl last week.” She winked at him. “And a new tub of chocolate sprinkles.”
He did love caramel swirl with chocolate sprinkles. “And then?”
“Then, kid, we keep on doing what we’ve been doing.” She turned and leaned back against the sink. “We love her, and we show her that we love her, and we keep her happy with this weird little family we’ve built. And we trust that if there’s anything more she’ll work that out for herself.”
“But, right now we could put her in a wedding dress and send her up the aisle to you and she still wouldn’t work out that you’re together.”
Emma laughed. “How come she’s the one in the dress?”
He raised his eyebrow. “Emma, have you seen yourself?”
She looked down at her jeans and tank top and overshirt, then back at him, unamused. He shrugged and grinned back. What? He was telling the truth, and he hadn’t even mentioned the flannel thing.
“Get the bowls and spoons,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll get the ice-cream.”
There was something he was still missing about all of this, because Emma was being very un-Emma. Watch and wait was the sort of plan Mom would come up with, whereas Emma was the one who wanted to act right away. Also, she’d given in way too easily, going from ‘I’m not what Mom wants’ to ‘Mom will work it out’ a bit too quickly. He set the bowls and spoons down and stared at the Big Book of Gay, thinking back through everything Emma had said, trying to find the moment where she’d misdirected him.
Emma came up behind him and slipped her arm around his shoulders, pulling him to her in a half-hug.
“Promise me something?” she said.
“Promise me you won’t say anything to your mom about any of this.” She rested her forehead against his temple. “I’m serious, Henry. She’s in a good place now, and what we have here works, and I don’t want to do anything in this world to take this happiness away from her.”
She pulled back and tucked her finger under his chin, turning his head until she could see his eyes. “Promise?”
He nodded. “I promise.”
That seemed to appease her, and she set about spooning ice-cream into their bowls, generously adding chocolate sprinkles and extra caramel sauce, the one Mom made for them from sugar and condensed milk and which tasted like the happiest bits of his childhood.
“So, you never told me what happened with you and Grace today,” Emma said. “I know that everything we’ve discussed makes it look like I’m not the best person to give advice about women, but I’m willing to listen if you want to talk about it.”
Oh. My God.
Grace was Mom, and he was Emma. He was Emma, and Emma was him: that was what he had been missing.
He had no game because he was Emma and Emma had no game. He hadn’t made a move on Grace because he was, as he had accused Emma of being, shit-scared. He was terrified of what it would mean if Grace turned him down and they couldn’t be friends anymore, and then he wouldn’t have Grace in his life at all. Emma didn’t want Mom to know anything because she actually believed that Mom would kick her to the curb. Emma didn’t want Mom to know because, despite over a hundred pages’ worth of evidence, Emma didn’t really believe that Mom was in love with her, and Emma was the one who was in a good place and didn’t want her happiness with Mom to be taken away.
Well, crap. Now he had no idea what to do.
I might have casually changed the length from four chapters to five, because this one was running over 8k even with serious cutting and still wasn’t resolved. Anyway, here’s chapter 4, now with added Unexpected!Accident trope, Evil!Charming!BroTP, Daddy!Charming and casual Will Scarlet awesomeness.
He had thought that maybe things would change after they’d talked. He’d thought that self-awareness would make Emma more hesitant or awkward, or that she’d go completely the other way and actually man up—woman up?—and do something about what she knew, but it didn’t pan out like that.
When Mom got back from her meeting, they had a late supper together in the kitchen, just hot chocolate for Emma and him, but soup and bread for Mom because Emma insisted that she eat something substantial. Mom talked about work while Emma listened in a totally normal Emma way and it was like nothing had changed at all.
Date Night was just like any other Date Night. When he came home, they were talking and drinking and laughing and being all up in each other. The only difference was that Emma came out of the living room to talk to him almost before he had time to take off his coat and shoes. She asked how the rehearsals had gone, but he knew what she was actually doing was making sure that he didn’t say or do something to push the Revelations of the Big Book of Gay at either of them.
Friday morning, Emma made fried eggs and Special Mom Frittata and a weak joke about Mom’s age, and there were kisses on the top of his head for him and a kiss on the cheek for Emma. Emma had her Dopey Adoring Face and Mom was still giving out Totally Married Touches, and Emma didn’t flinch away or get all weird or anything. Of course, Emma couldn’t really be more awkward around Mom, because her default state was agitated awe, like Mom couldn’t possibly be real and right there next to her, wanting to be around her, which was pretty much how Mom was with Emma, too, and he still didn’t get how they could both be ignoring all of this.
The weekend was the weekend. Emma wasn’t working on Saturday because it was Will’s turn to pull the double shift, and the three of them went grocery shopping together. Mom was surprised that he wanted to come along, but Emma knew the real reason was that he was still watching them, waiting for some sign that Mom had Figured It All Out. As they entered the store, she put her hand on his shoulder, squeezing way too tight, and said, “Behave, kid.” And he did behave, not doing or saying anything untoward. He watched Emma try to sneak a variety of high-fat and high-sugar things into the cart and watched Mom waiting until Emma’s back was turned to take some but not all of them back out again (because there were two types of junk food in their house: stuff they definitely weren’t supposed to have and stuff Mom pretended to let them get away with, even though she’d have bought it for them anyway).
On Sunday, they had a picnic at the park with Grandpa and Uncle Neal, just like always, but he saw the first sign that he’d been wrong, and that Emma had changed. She had developed a new look. Had he still been keeping his notebook, he would have called it Thoughtful Adoring Face. It was only imperceptibly different from Dopey Adoring Face in that there was the exact same amount of love in her gaze, but it was clear that Emma was trying to read Mom rather than just staring at her like a puppy hoping to be petted. He didn’t know if Emma could see something that he couldn’t, because Mom didn’t seem different to him at all. Part of him thought that maybe that was what Emma wanted, though: for Mom not to notice, so that things didn’t have to change. But she was definitely looking for something.
And so it continued, as days became weeks. He talked to Grace about it, but all she gave him was the cliché about leading a horse to water but not being able to make it drink, and that wasn’t helpful at all because Making the Horse Drink was the very thing he needed advice on. And he didn’t have anyone else to talk to because Emma wouldn’t even discuss it. As soon as he raised it, she cut him off with a warning or a weary look, or by huffing and walking away, shaking her head.
The only time she said anything was when they met Mom after work one day to go to Granny’s for a burger and fries as a treat for his getting a good grade on his science project. Emma caught him staring a bit too hard and gave him a particularly harsh glare, leaning behind Mom to make a cutting motion across her neck. As soon as Mom excused herself to go to the restroom, the smile slipped from Emma’s face and she scowled at him, leaning across the booth so that she could talk in a low tone.
“You have to drop this,” she said.
He still couldn’t believe that she was being like this. “But how can I pretend that I don’t know what I know? How do you?”
“I’m not pretending about anything. This thing, this life with you and your mom, this is the real deal for me. Stop trying to make it something it isn’t.”
He wanted to bang his head off the table because this shouldn’t be where they were with everything. What had been the point of an Official Dossier if no-one but him—and Grace, definitely Grace, who had laughed out loud at some of his notations, which was good because he’d heard that girls liked boys who made them laugh—took it seriously?
“I’m not trying to make it anything it isn’t,” he said. “I’m only trying to get you to admit what it actually is. Don’t you think Mom deserves to know how you feel about her so that she can make her own decisions?”
Emma looked guilty or at least thoughtful about that for a moment, then she shook her head. “I’m not hiding anything from her.”
“But you’re not telling her the whole truth.”
“If she asks me, I won’t lie.” She checked over her shoulder for any sign of Mom reappearing. “Anyway, now’s not the time to talk about this.”
He sighed. “Yeah, but we never talk about this.”
“Because there’s nothing to talk about. It’s settled, and I’m the grown-up, so that’s that.”
“That’s what you’re going with?” He was so disappointed in Emma, because she was supposed to the brave and reckless one. Maybe he should have told Mom first instead.
“I’m warning you. You’re skating on thin ice, kid.”
Life really wasn’t fair.
He didn’t think much of it when the phone rang one Tuesday evening. Emma wasn’t home, but she’d texted earlier to say she would be late, so his first thought was that it was probably just her letting Mom know that she’d be a while yet.
“Henry! Downstairs! Now!” Mom shouted. Mom didn’t shout often, even when she was really, really mad, so it definitely wasn’t something good. He threw himself off his bed and hurried down the stairs, where he found Mom pulling on her coat.
“That was Deputy Scarlet on the phone. Your mother has been taken to hospital,” Mom said, her hands shaking as she ran her fingers through her hair.
“Will she be okay?”
“She’d better be, if she knows what’s good for her.” She shook her head. “Get your coat and boots on.”
He did as he was told while Mom called his grandparents on her cellphone, telling them that Emma had been in an accident and had a suspected concussion, and that she’d let them know what was happening as soon as she knew herself.
Mom’s hands were still trembling as she locked the front door, and as she opened the car door, and as she grasped the steering wheel, although she tried to hide her worry from him by giving him a tight smile and saying, “What are we going to do with her, eh?”
“What actually happened?”
“She fell out of a tree while rescuing a stupid cat, and she landed on her head.” Mom gave a shaky, high-pitched laugh which sounded so very wrong that it made his skin crawl. “Maybe it will have knocked some sense into her.”
They didn’t say anything else on the drive to the Emergency Room. Mom drove over several corners, right up onto the sidewalk, and came perilously close to totalling Mr Tell’s mailbox, clipping it and leaving it at an unstable angle. She didn’t even lock the car in her haste to get inside the hospital, where they were met by Will Scarlet.
“Where is she?” Mom asked, rushing past him to get to the front desk.
“She’s waiting for something called a CT, I think,” Will said, rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles. “They were going to call you, but I said I’d do it.” He nodded his head towards the examination rooms. “I’ll take you to her.”
“But don’t I have to sign something official to—” Mom looked forlorn, as if she needed the reassurance of filling out some medical forms to make everything manageable.
“It’s fine.” Will walked over and put his arm round her shoulders. “She’ll be fine.” He started to usher Mom across the foyer. “Come, young Henry.”
He followed behind them, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to be there. He hated hospitals, and he knew that Emma hated hospitals, and he tried to push down the thought that something might be really wrong. He’d had a hotdog for lunch at school, and he could taste both that and the sharp tang of acid at the back of his throat. As if sensing his fear, Mom reached her hand back for him, and he took it, but her hand was as clammy as his own, and it didn’t help the way it usually did.
“She’s mostly okay, they think, just cuts and bruises and a bump on the head,” Will said, as Mom shrugged from his loose hold on her shoulders. She sped up, tugging Henry along with her.
Emma was in the four-bedded bay which passed for a combination Emergency Room and observation area. At the sound of Mom’s heels, she scrambled to sit up, but the nurse who was cleaning her wounds pushed her back down.
“Emma!” Mom’s grip on his hand tightened so hard that his fingers ached, but that was okay, because Emma was okay. She had some butterfly stitches on her forehead and scrapes across her face and chin. There was blood all over her shoulder and down her arm. The heels of her hands were scraped as well, and she had a deep cut on her right inside forearm from which the nurse was removing stones or glass or something.
“Hey, Regina,” she said, trying for a sheepish smile.
Mom ignored her and glared at the nurse, who put down the tweezers she’d been using and swallowed hard. He didn’t blame her, because Mom was pretty intimidating at the best of times. This was not the best of times. Emma looked between the nurse and Mom, and she swallowed, too.
“How is she, Nurse Mbele?” Mom asked, and the nurse’s eyes skittered around, no doubt hoping that someone would come rescue her from the irate Mayor in front of her. Henry thought she might have been one of the nurses who looked after Grandpa when he was in his coma but he wasn’t sure. Back then, he’d had other things on his mind. When her eyes flicked to him, Henry gave her a nod and a smile, trying to reassure her that Mom wasn’t as frightening as she seemed: she was just frightened about Emma.
Nurse Mbele explained to Mom that Emma had been unconscious when brought in, but had regained consciousness quite quickly. As she talked through the examination of Emma so far, Henry slipped his hand from Mom’s, giving it a squeeze as he did so, and he moved to the near side of Emma’s bed. Emma reached out and stroked her thumb across his palm, but she was looking straight at Mom.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, it takes a lot more than a short fall out of an old tree to get rid of me.” Emma said it loud enough for Mom to hear, but Mom just shook her head and pulled Nurse Mbele further aside to look over Emma’s chart. “How much trouble am I in?”
“She hit Mr Tell’s mailbox and nearly crashed, like, five times on the way here.”
“So, big trouble, then?”
“Probably.” Mom had a tendency to lash out when she got scared, so there was a good chance that Emma was going to be on the serious end of an epic telling-off. But Mom was also giving Really Worried Glances in Emma’s direction, so it was hard to tell how she’d react.
Will came to the bedside. “Now that your family’s here, I’m going to head back to the station, Boss,” he said.
“Thanks for everything,” Emma said. “We can catch up tomorrow.”
“You honestly think Mrs Sheriff’s going to let you come in to work?” he asked.
Emma grimaced. “Maybe not. Either way, I’ll call the station.”
As soon as Will left, Henry shook his head at his stupid, idiotic mother. “Mrs Sheriff?”
“Oh, that.” Emma rolled her eyes. “See, when Will first came to town, Snow told him that she was married to the sheriff, and Will mistakenly thought she meant me. Then, when he started working as a Deputy, we were joking about it one day, and he said your mom made a much better Mrs Sheriff for me anyway and the name just sort of stuck, and—” She broke off and rubbed her forehead with her good hand. “And I am such an idiot for not seeing this earlier, aren’t I?”
He found a bit of Emma’s arm which wasn’t either bruised or scraped and patted it as gently as he could.
Everything after that was tense and uncomfortable. Mom point-blank refused to talk to Emma except monosyllabic answers when Emma’s badgering got too much for her. Mom did her best to bully Nurse Mbele and the CT techs into giving her answers that they didn’t have. The fact that they mostly responded to her with sympathy and understanding made her angrier and angrier. The vein in her head was twitching almost constantly, but the Secret Worried Looks of Love she kept giving Emma didn’t stop.
While they were waiting for the results of the CT, Grandpa appeared with drinks and sandwiches for everyone from Granny’s, and his presence seemed to calm Mom for the first time since Will had called their house. She even ate a few bites of her sandwich and smiled when Grandpa joked that Charmings were known for having exceptionally hard heads. At one point, Grandpa pulled Mom aside, and they disappeared for ten minutes or so. When they returned, Mom was clutching a cotton handkerchief, and Grandpa was carrying a tray of coffees, but his other hand was on her shoulder. Henry only saw it because he was at the foot of Emma’s bed. He also saw Grandpa taking the handkerchief from Mom and slipping it into his pocket, for which Mom gave him a grateful nod.
It was late, long past his weeknight bedtime, when Dr Farmer, the evening attending, came to say that Emma was fine and could go home in the morning after a night’s observation. Mom went ballistic. Henry felt sorry for the doctor, who was only trying to do her job, but Mom’s very loud insistence that Emma was coming home right that second resulted in Emma’s Trembling Lip of Appreciation, so he couldn’t get too bothered about it. Mom won the fight apparently, because pretty soon Emma was discharged and he was back in Mom’s car and Emma was in Grandpa’s truck.
Mom didn’t talk on the car ride home any more than she had on the way there, and she gripped the steering wheel too tight again, and she was grinding her teeth non-stop, but they didn’t hit anything, solid or otherwise, so there was that. As soon as she’d parked the Mercedes, she stormed into the house, so Henry went over to help Grandpa to get Emma out of his truck. This task was made more difficult by Emma’s insistence that she could do it herself, which promptly ended with her half-strangling herself by trying to get down from the bench seat without first removing her seatbelt. She agreed to an arm around each of their shoulders, but claimed it was purely to make them feel manly and not because she needed it at all.
By the time they reached the foyer, Mom was coming down the stairs. The sleeves of her blouse were rolled up to her elbows, and she seemed calmer, less angry.
“I’ve started running a bath,” she said. “David, can you help Emma upstairs?”
“I’m fine,” Emma said, even though she was swaying on her feet and the arm she had around Henry’s shoulders was tired and heavy.
“David?” Mom said, and maybe she wasn’t less angry at all, because she still wouldn’t even look at Emma.
“Where to?” Grandpa asked.
“Master bedroom. Sit her on the bed and I’ll be there shortly.” Mom was already heading towards the kitchen. Grandpa adjusted his hold on Emma, then leaned down to pick her up bridal-style.
“Dad, I don’t need carried.” She leaned her head on his shoulder anyway.
“Of course you don’t. But sometimes Dads need to feel like their little girls need them, so maybe just give me this, huh?” He kissed the top of Emma’s head, ignoring her sleepy grumbling about being a grown-ass woman and not a little girl, and turned to Henry. “You should go check on your mom.”
In the kitchen, Mom was leaning her forehead against the fridge door, her arms wrapped around her waist. Wordlessly, he pressed against her back and hugged her from behind, squeezing his eyes shut and finding Mom’s hands with his own.
“Oh, Henry, sweetheart, it’s okay,” she said, threading her fingers through his. “Emma’s going to be quite all right.”
A part of him cringed that Mom would think he was worried about Emma, not her. She let go of his hands and turned around in his arms, cupping his cheek and giving him the best kind of Mom smile, the one where she looked like she might burst from loving so much.
“You have nothing to fear. Your mother is somewhat indestructible.” She was trying to sound irritated by Emma’s behaviour, but she failed. All Henry could hear was that his Mom was desperate to believe that Emma really was indestructible.
“You’re not, though.” He pulled her to him, burying his face in her neck. Sometimes, she felt so tiny against him, but her hugs still made him feel like she could protect him from the whole world. He hugged harder, and hoped that some of that feeling could pass from him to her.
“Of course I am. And anyone who tells you different is a liar and a fool.” She cradled the back of his head with one hand, rubbing up and down his back with the other.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too. So, so much.” She pressed him back by the shoulders and smiled at him. Her eyes were glistening, and he wished that he carried a handkerchief like Grandpa did. “Shall we go check that your grandfather hasn’t dropped your mother on her head again?”
Upstairs, Grandpa was standing with his arms folded, while Emma lay back on Mom’s bed, talking to Grandma on the landline. Grandpa had removed Emma’s boots and socks, leaving her in her jeans and the hospital gown she’d worn home because Mom wouldn’t let her put her bloodstained Henley back on.
With her usual bossy efficiency, Mom took the phone from Emma and said goodbye to Grandma, promising to call again in the morning; herded Emma into the bathroom and told her to wait until she returned; positioned Henry at the bathroom door with orders to keep Emma talking, because it was really important that she stay awake; and ushered Grandpa towards the stairs to escort him to the front door and say goodbye.
She scooted him out of the room as soon as she came back, kissing him on the forehead and promising to come say goodnight once she got Emma settled.
He closed the bedroom door on his way out, but stayed in the hallway, pressing his ear to the wall.
“Are you still angry at me?” he heard Emma say.
“I wasn’t angry at you at all, Emma,” Mom said. “Now, stop talking and get out of those clothes and into the bath.”
“But you’re not talking to me.”
“We’re talking now.”
“You know what I mean, Regina. Shout at me if you want to, but say something, anything. I can’t take this silent treatment from you. It’s seriously freaking me out.”
“Get undressed. I’ll be out here if you need a hand.”
“I’m sorry if I scared you.”
There was a long pause before Mom said, “I know.”
He waited a few more moments, but all he heard was the water running and Mom moving about the bedroom. He gave up and went to bed.
When he woke up, he was disoriented. He must have fallen asleep waiting for Mom. She’d obviously been into his room at some point, though, because she’d turned off the lights, put his vintage X-Men book over on his desk and covered him with a spare blanket they kept in the hall closet. Peering at the clock, he saw it was after 2am.
He rubbed his belly, feeling both hungry and thirsty. He didn’t think Mom would mind if he had milk and cookies, seeing as his only dinner had been the sandwiches that Grandpa had brought to the hospital. As he padded out of his room, careful not to step on the third floorboard, the one which squeaked and groaned and always gave him away, he noticed that Mom’s bedroom door was open. Soft light was spilling out into the hall.
The standing rule with both of his mothers was that he had to knock if their bedroom doors were closed, but was allowed in if the doors were open. (And both rooms were completely off-limits when they weren’t home, a rule which Emma had promised him was punishable by removal of all of the bathroom locks in the house, and she’d given him that special stare of You Know What I Mean. He’d known exactly what she meant.) He hardly went into Mom’s room even when she was there, though, because it felt weird now that he wasn’t a little kid. It was her personal space, and he understood that. But she never left the door open at night, and it wasn’t a normal night, so he figured a quick peek wouldn’t get him in too much trouble. He was allowed to be concerned about them, after all.
He moved as slowly as possible, aware that any sound at all was magnified in the silence of the rest of the house. He planted his feet apart in front of the door to distribute his weight, and leaned only his upper body far enough to look inside.
Mom was fast asleep, sitting up in bed, her back against the headboard. She was still wearing the clothes she’d had on all day, although she’d removed her shoes and her blouse was askew where Emma’s hand was grasping it. Emma was also asleep, her head in Mom’s lap and her body curled around Mom’s legs. From what he could see, the scrapes on Emma’s arms and face were gone, but she still had the butterfly stitches on her forehead. Mom’s hand was tangled loosely in Emma’s hair, and Henry guessed that she’d been stroking from Emma’s neck to the crown of her head, because that was what Mom used to do for him when he had a sore head. He remembered Mom teling him that magical healing of the brain was only to be attempted in the most dire circumstances, but he also knew that Mom’s regular touch could work wonders, too.
This definitely wasn’t something he was supposed to see, so he pulled the door over and went to get his snack.
When he came downstairs the next morning, his mothers were in the kitchen and bickering away like the tension of the previous evening had never happened. As Will had guessed, Mom had already decided that Emma wasn’t going in to work, and Emma was complaining about having to take a day off and not needing Grandpa and Will to babysit her, while Mom was arguing back that checking in on her once an hour was hardly babysitting.
Mom was dressed for work, which meant that his chances of scoring a family day off school were remote at best. On the up side, she was making pancakes. Henry took his seat next to Emma and asked how she was feeling. She told him that Mom had healed all her cuts and bruises, except the one on her head, and that she felt well enough to go to work. Mom just snorted.
If he hadn’t known that Emma had spent the night in Mom’s room, he’d never have guessed, because neither of them mentioned it. It wasn’t like they made it seem specifically otherwise, just that neither of them directly referred to it. Like, when Mom said that Emma was really hard to wake up for her hourly checks, she phrased it in such a way that Emma’s location at the time of those checks wasn’t referenced. Even when Emma said that Mom was a really good nurse and that she’d slept better than she had in ages, an admission which was accompanied by a Shared Private Smile, it wasn’t obvious where Emma had slept.
He didn’t even get a chance to hang back and grill Emma about what had happened after he’d been sent to bed, because Mom offered to give him a ride to school and he couldn’t think of a good reason to say no. His disappointment at that was almost immediately cancelled out by what happened next.
If he still had the Big Book of Gay (which he didn’t because Emma had confiscated it in case he was tempted to share it with Mom), it would have needed a whole page to itself. And it would have been written in block caps, two lines high. Maybe three. Probably in red pen for good measure.
Emma walked them to the front door, where she let Mom tell her again for at least the fifth time that she would be checking with both Will and Grandpa that Emma was letting them into the house to check on her. Henry stood on the front step, shaking his head at Mom’s over-protectiveness while Emma grinned at him over Mom’s shoulder.
“I will be fine. I am fine.” Emma held her arms out. “Look, you healed me, and the doc said I don’t have a concussion, so there’s really nothing to worry about.”
“Don’t tell me what to worry about. You are not the boss of me, Emma Swan.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. It is totally the other way around.” She was so whipped, it wasn’t funny.
“And you’ll let me know right away if you feel even slightly faint?” Mom was leaning in towards Emma just as Emma was tilting her head for the expected kiss on the cheek.
“Uh-huh.” Emma rolled her eyes.
But then Mom stopped and pulled back. Her hand, hovering just over Emma’s hip, where she always rested it when she kissed Emma goodbye, came up to cup Emma’s chin.
“I’m serious,” Mom said.
“Yeah, right. Of course.” Emma’s eyes widened, and she nodded. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just be safe.” Mom’s thumb was rubbing over Emma’s lower lip, and Emma was still nodding, no longer joking, her mouth falling open a little further. “Don’t be stupid and go out, when the doctor’s orders are to rest for a full twenty-four hours. Don’t be you. Just stay here and let us take care of you.”
Mom removed her hand, which Emma watched with a furrowed brow, as if she couldn’t understand why Mom had stopped touching her.
And then—ALL CAPS and in red ink, double underlined—Mom leaned forward and kissed Emma on the lips.
The kiss didn’t last any longer than most of their regular Married Couple Kisses, but the way Mom pulled back, her eyes focusing on Emma’s mouth, like maybe she’d like to lean back in and do that again, was OMFG Totally Serious.
They just looked at each other for a few more seconds, and then Mom said, “I’ll come home at lunchtime and make you something special.”
It was said almost casually, and maybe Henry could have believed that Mom wasn’t really aware of what she had just done, like she wasn’t aware when she kissed Emma every other morning, but then she reached up and wiped her lipstick from Emma’s lips, and no-one ever needed to wipe lipstick off anyone quite so slowly or so thoroughly and what had he been thinking when he wanted this for his mothers?
Emma was clutching the door in her hand, and nodding again, like Mom was asking her a question to which ‘yes’ was the answer. Maybe his moms could speak a secret, silent language that he didn’t understand, because Mom nodded as well, stepping back from Emma but not breaking eye contact.
Then Mom reached out her hand for his shoulder and missed, because she still wasn’t paying attention to anything that wasn’t Emma, and that snapped her out of her daze.
“So, I’ll see you in a few hours, then,” she said to Emma in a voice which was almost like normal.
Emma didn’t say anything, just blinked.
This time when Mom reached for his shoulder, she found it and turned him in the direction of the Mercedes. As they walked towards the car, she asked him what he had planned for the day, but she kept looking back over her shoulder at Emma, who was still standing in the doorway, nodding.
He wouldn’t have been surprised if Emma was still standing there in shock when Grandpa came to visit her at ten o’clock.
Long-ass 10k final chapter of awkward, awkward fluff.
If you're interested, there’s also a deleted scene on Tumblr: Iron Man.
The last thing he expected to hear when he came home was his parents arguing, but Mom was really going for it in a way she usually reserved for her increasingly less frequent fights with Grams (and he believed they both provoked those for old times’ sake more than anything else). Actually, he’d been worried that they might be all naked and Having Mom Sex. Well, worried and just a tiny bit hopeful, if he were honest with himself. He really wanted them to be together; after that morning, he just wasn’t convinced that he wanted it happening in front of him. Hand-holding and quick kisses would be okay. Hugs. Hugs were fine. Totally Married Touching was fine, too. Basically, he was good with anything which didn’t involve tongues and/or exposed skin.
“You promised me, Emma. You promised!”
“I was hungry. I just wanted something to eat. I wasn’t gone that long.”
Henry eased his backpack from his shoulder and put it on the floor, kicking off his shoes and hanging up his coat.
“Not that long?” Mom’s voice got even louder. “Do you have any idea what went through my mind when David called me to tell me you weren’t answering the door? I thought something terrible had happened to you.”
“You could’ve sent me a text!”
“And you’d have—what? Lied to me about where you were? Pretended to be home when you were at Granny’s?”
“If you’d come home at lunchtime like you’d said, none of this would’ve happened.”
Henry winced. Blame-shifting and being defensive was so not the way to win a fight with Mom. In fact, he wasn’t sure there was a right way to win a fight with Mom. Guilt had worked best for him in the past, but was getting less effective as he got older and she got wise to him.
He entered the living room. Mom had her hands on her hips, face flushed with anger.
“Henry, you’re home.” She lifted her hand to her head and stroked her forehead.
He nodded and shrugged. “Sorry.” He looked at Emma, who had her hands behind her back, head slightly bowed. “Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“It’s fine, kid,” Emma said. She bit her lower lip and side-glanced Mom, who appeared to be surprised that she was fighting with Emma at all.
“No, no. I’ll go to my room, and you two can,” he waved his hand to indicate both of them, “whatever.”
He backed out of the living room, trying not to look at either of his mothers, who were trying just as hard not to look at each other.
“Now, look what you’ve done,” Mom said as soon as he was gone.
“What I’ve done? How is this my fault? And what’s the problem anyway? It’s hardly the first time he’s heard us fighting.”
Except it was the first time in months, actually. And it had never made him feel wrong inside before, not even when they were just Team Moms rather than Obviously Married for Life. He didn’t really mind if they fought; he only cared if they hurt each other in doing so.
He trudged upstairs as their argument got louder, and he wondered how they had gone from kissing to a screaming match quite so quickly. In Mom’s case, it was probably her fear and adrenaline from the night before finally kicking in; she’d been distraught, and she couldn’t have slept much, so she was always going to snap at some point. Emma had no excuse, though. Even if she didn’t believe him about Mom being in love with her, which would be inconceivable after the events of the last twenty-four hours, she knew Mom cared enough to kiss her that morning and to beg her not to do anything stupid. Then she did exactly what Mom had begged her not to.
The fight continued for a few minutes, and then he heard Emma’s boots on the stairs followed by her bedroom door being slammed shut. That was becoming quite the regular occurrence in the House of Oblivious Idiots.
It wasn’t too long before Mom knocked on his door, asking to come inside.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You shouldn’t have had to hear that.”
“Mom, it’s fine.” He patted the space next to him on the bed and shifted over to give her room. After a brief hesitation, she stepped out of her shoes and sat beside him, her hands resting palms-down on her thighs. He took her right hand in his left. “It’s okay for you to get mad at me and Emma when we do stupid stuff.”
Mom stared at their joint hands. “You think so?”
“Yeah, I know so.”
“It’s just—” Mom sighed and shook her head. “If she wants to ignore her doctor’s orders, it’s not my place to make her do otherwise.”
“Of course it is.” Looking out for each other was definitely something people in love did. Maybe he’d given Mom too much credit for her actions that morning. Maybe she hadn’t figured anything out at all. “Your house, your rules, right?”
“That only applies to disobedient sons, not to—”
As she paused, biting her lip, he willed her to get there. He squeezed her hand and wished with all his might that she’d say something which indicated that she understood What Emma Meant to Her.
“—and not to Emma,” she said, disappointing him. “This is her home, and she should be free to come and go as she pleases.”
He twisted around to rest his head on her shoulder. He wasn’t too old to do that, right? Not if he was comforting Mom and not the other way around. Mom leaned her head on top of his. Her hair was long enough to tickle the side of his face, but he liked it, liked the familiar smell of her shampoo.
“I think maybe Emma’s still not good at remembering that she has people who care about what she gets up to,” he said. It was his best guess for why she would do something quite so stupid.
“Well, that’s nonsense, because we care, don’t we?”
“Yeah.” Care was putting it mildly, especially for Mom. “We do.”
They sat together for a bit, then Mom announced that she was going to prepare dinner (‘seeing as your mother apparently can’t feed herself in a house full of perfectly healthy food’) and that he should join her once he’d done his homework.
As his computer was booting up, Emma knocked his door and let herself in. The timing of her appearance, just as Mom turned the radio on downstairs, couldn’t have been coincidental: she was avoiding Mom. He recognised her expression as the Bashful Smile of Apology, and he was so not the person on whom she should be wasting her weak-ass game.
“Hey,” she said. “Sorry about before.”
“Mom already apologised. And you should be apologising to her, not to me.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. Your Mom couldn’t get away at lunchtime because something came up, so I went to Granny’s for some food. I didn’t even drive. I walked. No big deal.” She perched on the corner of his desk, arms folded across her chest and legs crossed at the ankles.
“Whatever.” He couldn’t look at her as he typed his password onto the lock screen, because he was flat-out angry with her for being a coward about her feelings and for upsetting Mom.
“What’s with the attitude?”
He leaned back in his chair, mirroring her crossed arms and legs. “Mom let you sleep with her last night. She looked after you all night long. She kissed you on the lips this morning. And you couldn’t stay home for one day to make her happy?”
Emma narrowed her eyes. “How did you know I slept in your Mom’s room?”
“You’re trying to change the—” He paused and furrowed his brow. “Are you wearing two Henleys?”
“Well, yeah.” Emma looked down at herself. She had on a long-sleeved white Henley under a short-sleeved green one. “One wouldn’t have been enough because it’s cold out today. Besides, the double Henley is a classic look. And I’m pretty sure your Mom bought me both of these.”
“You couldn’t be more gay.”
“Hey, hey, no throwing shade at the invalid.”
“I meant both of you.” Although Emma’s gay was a lot more obvious than Mom’s. Emma’s gay could probably be observed from space.
He brought up his history assignment on screen and checked the word count. He wondered whether changing it to spacing-and-a-half would make it look long enough without having to write anything more substantial. Probably not.
Emma was fidgeting, waiting for him to say something else. The whole thing was exhausting him, and he was getting tired of being their sounding board when what they needed to do was talk to each other without shouting. He might very well kill one of them before all of this was over, and no jury in the land would convict him: all he would have to do was show them the Big Book of Gay and explain his mothers’ ongoing behaviour, and he’d be acquitted in minutes.
“Imagine Mom was the one who got hurt, and you were the one who got a call saying that she’d gone missing. How would you have felt?” He stared at her, and Emma just shrugged. “Don’t act like you don’t go completely ballistic whenever she’s in the slightest bit of danger. I know about the app.” He grinned at Emma’s guilty look, although it was hardly a secret that Emma tracked his and Regina’s locations on her phone. “You scared her, so she’s pissed at you. Just go downstairs and apologise. It’s not rocket science.”
“But I only—”
“Went out for some food. I get it. But, here’s the thing: you’re not the only one with issues around here. Every time Mom’s allowed herself to love someone, she’s lost them. And, twice in two days, she’s thought that she might have lost you, so suck it up and make it right.”
“She’s not going to want to hear anything I have to say.”
“You don’t need to make a speech. Sorry’s only one word—two if you go with ‘I’m sorry’. Throw in a hug and you’ll be golden.”
“She’s definitely not going to want to hug me.”
“Yeah, people who kiss you on the mouth are clearly uncomfortable with the very idea of physical contact.”
Emma’s mouth curled in an almost-smile. “I really hate you sometimes.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Sure I do.” She uncrossed her legs and poked his shin with the toe of her boot.
“Now you’re just stalling.” He turned back to the assignment on-screen. “And you’re interrupting important learning here, which is not going to help you get back into Mom’s good books.”
Emma must have apologised to Mom, because dinner was okay that evening—maybe a little stilted, but all three of them were tired and on edge, so he put it down to that. His grandparents came by to check on Emma while they were still eating dessert, which meant that their evening mostly consisted of Grandma fussing over Emma while Mom and Grandpa huddled together on the couch, whispering comments and trying to stay out of Emma’s eyeline whenever she looked to one of them for support. Mom eventually shepherded them out just after nine, claiming that Emma needed her rest.
Sleeping arrangements went back to normal, with Emma heading to her own room, but he heard Mom go into check on Emma after she’d been in to say goodnight to him, and she was in there for a while. He also thought that he might have heard footsteps in the hallway during the night, but he was already falling back to sleep just as it occurred to him to get up and go check on it.
There was nearly a mini-fight on Thursday morning when Emma came downstairs dressed for work, and it was only resolved when Emma agreed to let Mom come with her to her follow-up appointment at the trauma clinic that morning. That, of course, was something that adults did all the time: accompanied people who were Just Friends to routine outpatient visits. It did, however, remind him that he’d picked up from both Will Scarlet and Nurse Mbele that Mom was Emma’s emergency contact. Again, totally normal to name your Not-Spouse rather than your biological parents.
There were no more kisses on the lips, though, which was a frustrating step backwards. Things resettled as they had been before. When he complained to Grace about the lack of progress, she asked him what he’d expected. More, he supposed. Realisation, romance, something. She told him he was being overly optimistic, given how clueless they both were. (‘Much as your moms’ life would make an excellent rom-com, Henry, real life isn’t a movie and people don’t just fall into each other’s arms,’ she’d said, which echoed what Emma kept telling him, but somewhat ignored the fact that everyone in town was a goddamned fairy tale character, more of fiction than of fact.)
One thing he did notice was that Emma became more solicitous about updating Mom with her whereabouts, like Mom had put a metaphorical cowbell around Emma’s neck. He wished he knew what Emma said in her texts, though, because they gave Mom the Faraway Look of Pride, the same one she got when Emma brought her flowers. Occasionally, they even caused a Deep Sigh of Contentment. Once, on a Saturday afternoon when Emma was out getting some kind of dip Mom wanted for movie snacks, she sent a text which caused Mom to give a Downright Dirty Laugh. As soon as she did it, she blushed and jerked her head in his direction; he pretended to be reading his comic book. When he looked back up, she still had a Secret Smile on her face and her fingers were tracing the words on the screen.
One Sunday morning about a month after Emma’s accident, Emma got called to a domestic assault somewhere out in Lakeview Park. Mom tried to act like everything was okay, but Henry could sense that she was agitated. They still met up for their weekly picnic with Grandpa and Uncle Neal, even though winter was setting in and there was snow in the air. He wanted to be close to Mom, to be there for her, but she shooed him off to play catch with his grandfather. That was kinda fun, because Grandpa threw like he really meant it and narrated all his own plays in a hokey 1940s way (‘It’s a beautiful day down at the Storybrooke diamond, sports fans, for this first outing of the talented young pitcher, David Nolan’), but Henry tried to keep an eye on Mom at all times.
She took Uncle Neal for a walk to feed the duckies, which seemed to calm her down, although her phone never left her hand, just in case Emma texted or called. Mom was sitting on a bench, supervising Neal sailing his little plastic boat in the water, when Emma snuck up behind her and covered her eyes.
At first, Mom was delighted. She stood as Emma rounded the bench, pulling Emma close. They hugged so tight, Emma whispering something into Mom’s ear while Mom’s hands found their safe place on Emma’s hips. He couldn’t see from where he and Grandpa had given up pretending to play catch and were watching his moms, but he thought Mom might be kissing Emma’s neck and cheek, judging from the way her head ducked and moved. Then Mom’s hands were on Emma’s shoulders, forcing her back. Emma stretched out her arms and he heard ‘Aw, come on, Regina’ on the wind, just before Mom pushed Emma hard on the chest. Emma stumbled back a few steps before losing her footing and ending up in the duck pond, up to her knees in the freezing grey-green water.
He and Grandpa jogged over to the picnic table, where Mom was packing her own things away.
“Mom?” he asked.
“Sweetheart, I’m going to head home, but you stay here with Emma and your grandfather.” She cupped his cheek and smiled, although there were tears forming in her eyes. Behind her, Emma had scrambled out of the pond, and was picking up Uncle Neal, who was laughing at his silly sister. Mom had stormed off before Emma reached them.
“I left my phone at home today, so I couldn’t let her know I was okay,” she said without prompting, handing off her brother to Grandpa. She broke into a sprint immediately.
By the time Emma caught up to Mom, her speed in flat boots much greater than Mom’s angry stomping in heels, they were both on the far side of the pond. Emma reached out and pulled Mom around by the arm, and they traded harsh words back and forth, all big hand gestures and Mom trying to leave but letting Emma pull her back every time.
“I guess it’s just us men together now,” Grandpa said to him, reaching into Mom’s picnic hamper for something to feed Uncle Neal. “Would you like to come back to the loft after this? Your grandma always loves to see you, and we could watch the Pats game together later.”
“I was thinking of going over to hang out with Grace until dinner. Also, Mom’s making roast chicken and potatoes tonight.” He loved his grandparents a lot, but nothing Grandma cooked could compare to Mom’s roast chicken dinners.
“Okay, but maybe give your moms some time to themselves either way?” Grandpa looked over at them, and Henry followed his gaze to where Emma was wiping tears from Mom’s cheek, her head ducking down to catch Mom’s eyes.
Mom tried to turn away again, but Emma stepped around to block Mom’s way, taking her wrists and rubbing them with her thumbs. Whatever she said that time made Mom stop fighting her and nod. She loosened Emma’s grip and instead pressed against her, lifting her hands to guide Emma’s head down to her shoulder. Emma’s arms went around Mom’s waist and pulled her even closer while Mom threaded her fingers into Emma’s hair.
If life were just like the movies, Henry reckoned Mom would have raised her leg, heel pointing upwards, like a modern-day Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy.
Four days later, on what Henry would later christen as Emma and Henry Finally Catch Separate Breaks Because Mom and Grace are Awesome Wednesday (he was considering making it an annual holiday in their house, possibly with a pithier name), Mom was still eating toast with one hand and packing her briefcase with the other while she lectured them about their lack of promptness, even though she was the one running late for work.
“You have to promise me you won’t be late,” she said, pausing to look at Emma, “because your mother is arranging this baby shower for Ashley, and you know I cannot face your mother alone when she’s all a-twitter about something.” Mostly, Mom and Grandma were friends these days, but whenever Mom was nervous about something, Snow immediately became ‘your mother’ and it was Emma’s duty to keep things smooth between them.
“We’ll be there.” Emma got up from the table, picking up Mom’s travel cup and filling it from the coffee pot.
“I still don’t see why I have to be there at all,” Henry said.
“You don’t, not really,” Mom said, checking her make-up in her compact and running her tongue over her teeth. “We’re having dinner together first, and then you only have to stay long enough to hand over the gift, because it’s from all of us.”
“What did we get her?” Emma asked.
“Do you not listen to anything I say?” Mom rolled her eyes, dropping her compact back into her purse. “We,” Mom circled her hand in the air to indicate the entire Swan-Mills family, “got them a large basket full of practical things like baby wipes and lotion and shampoo, because those are the things you run out of at two in the morning when your child has a cold or the croup or has just randomly projectile vomited everywhere.”
“Oh, right.” Emma handed the coffee cup across the kitchen island to Mom. “Good choice.”
“And we,” Mom pointed between herself and Emma, as she flipped the cap open and inhaled the rich coffee scent, “bought Ashley a gift voucher for the spa, so she can have a day pampering herself after the baby’s born.”
“That was nice of us.”
“Well, I knew you wouldn’t remember to get anything, so it seemed easier to get her something from both of us.” Mom took a sip of her coffee and then snapped the lid shut again, putting it back down on the counter next to her briefcase.
“I kind of meant that it was a really thoughtful gift for you to get for Ashley.” Emma did the bashful head duck with full shoulder shrug and swivelling knee, then rushed the second part. “But I also like that it’s from both of us.”
Mom gave Emma a weird look that he couldn’t categorise, then she turned to him and held her arms out. He got up from the table and came over for a hug, which he didn’t even pretend to dislike.
“Wear something nice,” she said, kissing his cheek. “The plaid shirt is good. Maybe with your black jeans.” She looked down at his feet. “And boots or shoes, not sneakers.”
“Dress nice,” he said. “Got it.”
“And you can slip away early, if you want. Call your grandfather and tell him you’ll be coming over around seven.”
“Arrange own babysitter. Check.”
Mom walked around the island to stand in front of Emma. She reached down to the zipper of Emma’s open leather jacket and pulled it up, then adjusted the collar.
“And you,” she said, resting her palms on Emma’s shoulders, “have you got your phone today?”
“Yes.” This conversation had already become a daily ritual, but Emma hadn’t complained, as she clearly liked it when Mom fussed over her.
“Good.” Mom shifted her hands from Emma’s shoulders to her hips.
“What, no fashion advice for me?”
“I assume you’re coming straight from work, so you’ll be wearing what you have on just now.”
Mom looked Emma up and down. “You’ll do.” She leaned forward and did the cheek-kiss thing. “Be safe.” She pulled back, reaching around for her briefcase and coffee cup. “And definitely don’t be late tonight.”
And that would normally have been that, but Emma must have taken some bravery pills or eaten spinach that morning, because her hand shot out to grab Mom’s arm before she could leave. Mom frowned, waiting for an explanation. With her free hand, Emma took the coffee cup from Mom and put it back on the counter, and then she pulled Mom into a hug. After only a brief hesitation, Mom’s arms reached up and over Emma’s shoulders, cradling Emma’s head to her neck like she had by the duck pond.
Seeing them like that, just a few feet away, wasn’t nearly as squicky as he’d thought it might be. They looked good, like they were meant to fit together like that, which Henry had known for some time now, but which they seemed to be realising only now.
“I will always be there for you,” Emma said, her words almost lost against Mom’s neck. “Always. Whenever you need me, no matter what for.”
It wasn’t quite an admission of love, but whatever points Emma lost on technical merit, she made up for in artistic flair.
When they pulled apart, Mom rubbed her thumb across Emma’s cheek and gave her a second goodbye kiss, which wasn’t quite on the lips, but not really on the cheek either, more like at the corner of Emma’s mouth. As she pulled back a second time, Mom turned her hand and stroked her knuckles from Emma’s cheekbone down to her jawline.
Neither of them said anything, but Mom’s lips turned up in a smile, one he’d never seen before, one which was definitely Emma-only. Emma tried a new variation on the duck-and-shrug by turning her head slightly to the side, her eyes still on Mom, a blush spreading across her cheek where Mom’s hand still rested. She tucked her thumbs into the front pockets of her jeans like she needed to do something with her hands and didn’t know what that was.
Mom collected her things and left, the same smile still on her lips. Emma moved to the open kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame and watching Mom go. Mom must have looked back from the front door, because Emma gave a small wave, the fingers of her left hand waggling.
Not wanting to break the moment, he got up and cleared his plates away as quietly as he could. When he passed Emma, he held his hand out for a fist-bump. She looked down at his hand, grinned at him, and pulled him to her in a one-armed side hug, giving him an obnoxious, sloppy kiss on the cheek for good measure.
He was in the middle of contemplating the correct angle to tilt his head so he could stare at Grace’s chest while appearing to be looking at the text book between them when Emma dashed into the house, slamming the door and charging up the stairs.
“Kid! Hen! Are you ready yet?”
He’d told Grace all about that morning, so he just rolled his eyes when she nodded her head towards the door and said, “Your mom sounds like she’s nervous about her big date, huh?”
He listened as Emma dashed around upstairs, opening and closing doors, then clattered down the stairs again. She popped her head around the dining room door, face flushed and jacket in hand.
“Oh, hi, Grace,” Emma said, as she entered the room. “I forgot it was Wednesday.”
“Hi, Sheriff Swan.”
“When are you going to call me Emma?”
Grace shook her head, and Grace being all bashful might very well have been the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. The flush spread from her cheeks and across her neck, right down under her shirt collar to her—
“Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Emma asked him, making him jerk his head up so fast, it all but gave him whiplash.
“Because it’s, like, barely five and we don’t have to leave for another hour?”
“No.” Emma shook her head. “It’s ten after, and we’re leaving at five-thirty, because we are so not going to be late for this thing. Not today.”
“The thing doesn’t even start till seven. You just want to impress Mom.” Henry looked at Grace again, and they shared a smile of ‘aren’t parents the weirdest thing ever?’
“Whatever, kid. Quit staring longingly at your girlfriend here and get a wriggle on.” Emma smirked at him, and then turned to Grace. “Do you want to come with us, Grace? We’re meeting Henry’s mom at Granny’s for some dinner, and you’re more than welcome to join us.”
“Thanks, but I can’t. I promised my dad I’d be home early.”
Henry was watching them both in mortification. He couldn’t believe that Emma had made the ‘girlfriend’ comment, not when he’d kept her secret about Mom for, like, months. That was low. He would make her pay for that somehow.
“Right, okay, well, think about it.” Emma looked back at him. “And, you, hurry up so we can surprise your Mom with how well dressed and early we are.” She flashed them both a smile, and then darted out of the room again.
Henry couldn’t look at Grace, not after what Emma had just said. He could hear Grace putting her things away, and that wasn’t good, either.
“So,” he said, drawing it out with a deep sigh, not exactly sure what he should say. He mostly just wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole, which was a definite possibility when you lived in a town with magic. “We should probably, um—” Nope, he had nothing. He could probably just sit there blushing for a while longer, staring down at his hands. Grace was the smartest person in their year, so she’d figure out how to get to the front door by herself.
“You should get ready before the Sheriff implodes,” Grace said, and he nearly fainted because her voice was just beside his head, and he hadn’t even noticed her moving all the way around the table to his side.
As he turned to answer her, still no idea of what he was going to say—because girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend, Emma had said girlfriend out loud and now he was so, so busted—he realised that she was even closer than he had thought. She was leaning over from behind his chair so that her cheek was really close to his.
“Stop worrying so much, Henry,” Grace said. “Things have a way of working themselves out, just like with your moms.”
And then—seriously, this was the single best day of his life to date—Grace kissed him really quickly on the cheek, and he felt her breath on his face, and the way her lips were soft and warm and moist, and he knew he was blushing so hard that he was probably turning purple, but Grace kissed him anyway.
She had the softest skin, not weird and sometimes oily like his own, but perfect and unblemished and so smooth. Was that a girl thing, or just her? He didn’t really notice other girls, just Grace, so he didn’t have much to go on apart from his moms, and he didn’t pay any attention to their skin at all. He knew Mom had a shit-ton of really expensive creams that even Emma teased her about, but Grace didn’t smell like Mom’s creams, so maybe it was just a Grace thing.
But that wasn’t important, because Grace had kissed him. Grace, his best friend and the Most Special Girl in the World, had pressed her lips to his skin willingly. She’d heard Emma say girlfriend, and she hadn’t freaked out at all. She’d leaned over and kissed him like it wasn’t the weirdest idea to her, and she’d told him not to worry about it. At least, he assumed that was what she meant when she said he shouldn’t worry so much. And maybe he did think too hard about things sometimes, but Grace was worth thinking about.
“Henry! I still don’t hear you getting dressed!” Emma shouted from upstairs.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said, meaning both his spacing out and Emma’s shouting, but he realised he was talking to an empty room and Grace was gone.
He scrambled out of his chair and out into the hall, his sneakers squeaking across the hardwood floor as he flung himself at the front door and yanked it open.
She was at the end of the path, almost at the gates, but she turned and lifted her hand in a wave. He waggled his fingers in reply because he was so completely Emma when it came to girls, although that might not be as horrible a fate as he’d feared.
“Text me later,” she said. “Or, you could call me, if you wanted to.”
“I do. I really do. Want to call you, I mean. So, I’ll, um, do that. I’ll definitely call you, because I really want to. Call you.” He clamped his mouth shut before he said something even more embarrassing.
“Okay.” Grace shook her head, but he’d been watching his moms for long enough now that it didn’t panic him. He was Emma and Grace was Mom, and when Mom shook her head at Emma like Grace was shaking her head at him, it meant All the Good Things.
“Henry!” Emma shouted again, loud and shrill enough that even Grace heard it.
“I’d better go,” he said.
“But you’ll call me, right?” Grace was teasing him now, but he didn’t care because the way she said it made him believe that it might be her Special Henry-Only Voice.
He nodded vigorously, not trusting his mouth or his brain to form coherent words.
“Good,” she said, and backed out of the gates, smiling at him until he couldn’t see her anymore.
They got to Granny’s early enough that he had time to drink a whole milkshake before Mom arrived. Thankfully, Emma was so caught up in stressing over Mom that she didn’t ask him anything about what had happened with Grace, which was just as well because he wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. He’d been turning his phone over in his hands, thinking about what he was going to say to Grace later. Maybe something would happen between Mom and Emma that he could tell her about. That would be good, because it was both a safe topic of conversation (something which wasn’t ‘hey, you kissed me’ or ‘I’d really like to kiss you sometime, if that idea doesn’t gross you out’) and also something that was just between them. The Big Book of Gay had been Grace’s idea, after all.
When Mom got there, gift basket in hand, her whole face lit up at seeing them. Emma got up and helped Mom out of her coat, and then ushered her into the booth. She took the gift basket over to a table which had been set up for presents, and then rejoined them, sliding in next to Mom.
“You’re actually early,” Mom said.
“You did mention once or twice how important it was that we weren’t late,” Emma said. “I ordered for us, by the way.”
Mom nodded her approval. “And you got changed.”
“Yeah.” Emma was wearing a dark blue button-down shirt and pants, not jeans. She’d spent most of her time since they arrived at the diner carefully rolling her sleeves up to just below the elbow and then unrolling them a few inches before readjusting them.
Mom frowned. “Now I feel as if I should have made more of an effort.”
“God, no.” Emma looked at Mom’s pant suit and white blouse, and swallowed. “You look perfect.” Her gaze flicked up to meet Mom’s. “Incredible.”
Mom reached out and placed her hand on Emma’s forearm, squeezing it in thanks. But she didn’t move it when she turned to tell him how handsome he looked and to ask what they’d ordered for dinner. No, she left her hand on Emma’s arm, her fingers stroking back and forth. And Emma’s obsessive sleeve-wrangling suddenly made complete sense. He hadn’t noticed that particular thing before, so either it was a new addition to the 101 Casual (Not Casual) Ways Mom Touched Emma or it was something that happened when he wasn’t there, maybe on Date Nights.
Over their meal of burgers and fries (chicken burger and salad for Mom), they talked about regular family things like school, work, plans for the weekend, and why Grandma had decided to arrange a baby shower in a diner and not at Ashley and Sean’s home, like a normal person (okay, that one was all Mom, but Emma didn’t disagree with her). And they shifted—slowly, imperceptibly, deliberately—until Emma’s right arm was on the back of the booth, all but circling Mom’s shoulders, and Mom had angled her back towards Emma and was leaning against her side. With the loss of Emma’s arm for her to stroke, Mom dropped her hand to Emma’s thigh, just above the knee.
That, of course, was when Grandma showed up and immediately rushed over to their table. Mom stiffened and tried to shift away, but Emma let her arm fall from the back of the booth, her hand pulling back on Mom’s shoulder to keep her in place. Emma ignored the confused and concerned looks that Grandma kept giving them as she explained how she’d got her class to help with the decorations—and Mom’s face totally betrayed what she thought of that particular decision—until the diner got really full and they all had to move so that tables and chairs could be reorganised.
It was standing room only when Ashley and Sean arrived, and Emma and Mom were pressed against the back wall, as far away as possible from Grandma. Without needing to be asked, he’d joined Grandma down the front to help her with the gift presentation. When he looked over at his parents, they were standing so close together that most people wouldn’t have noticed Mom reaching down to take Emma’s hand, her thumb tracing over Emma’s knuckles. As Grandma brought out a hand-carved crib, and everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over Marco’s handiwork, Mom used their joined hands to pull Emma down so she could whisper something which made Emma giggle. And because everyone else’s attention was on the happy couple and their gifts, he was probably the only one who saw Mom turn her head and place a slow, soft kiss just below Emma’s ear, which made Emma’s eyes flutter shut. Mom’s satisfied grin as she pulled back proved that she was entirely aware of the effect she had on Emma.
It took him forever to get ten minutes away from Grandpa to call Grace, which meant that they didn’t have long to talk because Grace’s dad was really strict about bedtimes. He told her all about the Deliberate Arm Stroking and the Secret Hand Holding and the Totally Public Kissing, and she laughed at how bold Mom had been.
“Maybe all this time she just needed the Sheriff to give her a sign that she’s interested,” she said.
“How could she not know before now, though? Emma’s, like, really obvious about how she feels about Mom.”
“Yes, but they’re best friends.”
“I’m not following you.”
“You said yourself that the Sheriff thought your mom only loved her in a best friends way. Your mom’s probably been thinking the same thing. It’s a really scary thing to put yourself out there like that, and your mom was the one who kissed Sheriff Swan first and then it was like nothing changed, so maybe she figured that the Sheriff didn’t see her like that. I mean, lots of people think their best friend is attractive or cute or funny, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they want to be with them.”
“So, you’re saying Mom needed Emma to show her that she wanted to be more than friends?”
“Well, yes. It’s always good to know for sure that the person you like really likes you, too.”
He didn’t think they were just talking about his moms anymore, but he was still terrified of saying the wrong thing. He chose his words carefully.
“I think that, after today, Emma totally wants Mom to know that she wants to be more than just best friends, if that’s what Mom wants. Like, you know, they could start dating and kissing and stuff like that. I think Emma thinks about that sort of thing with Mom all the time.”
Grace didn’t laugh at that. She took a long pause, long enough that it was a Very Significant Pause, and said, “I think your Mom knows that, and that’s what she wants, too.”
He grinned so hard, he thought his cheeks might burst. “Cool.”
Mom arrived at the loft not long after to pick him up, but she was quiet, like her mind was somewhere else, until she got a text from Emma. She didn’t say it was from Emma, but she smiled and smiled and smiled, so it couldn’t have been anyone else, and it snapped her out of her thoughts.
“Did you have fun with your grandfather?” She slipped her phone into her coat pocket.
“We watched one of the old Supermans, the one with the ice palace and General Zod.”
“Kneel before Zod!” Mom said in a deep growl which was probably the Evil Queen’s, but which made him laugh anyway, because he loved that she still did dorky things like that for him.
“What about you? Did you have fun with Emma?” he asked as they reached the Mercedes.
“It was a good night.” Just like Grace, Mom was really, really pretty when she blushed. She stared over the roof of the car at him, throwing him some serious Mom Face. “Is there something else you want to ask me, Henry?”
“No.” He feigned ignorance, even though he didn’t expect her to buy it. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
She shook her head. “Not that I can think of right now.”
“But maybe some day soon?”
Her eyes lit up with love and laughter, her nose crinkling as she chuckled and nodded. “That’s quite possible.”
He let it go, let Mom talk about the party and how insufferable Grams had been. He thought about him and Grace and how that was something he wanted to keep to himself for a while, so he figured Mom would want to keep the thing with Emma to herself, too.
As they pulled into the driveway, the front door opened and Emma stepped out, still dressed in her party clothes. The Dopey Adoring Face was even dopier and more adoring than usual. She walked around the house and waited at the edge of the path for them. He reached her first as Mom was locking the car.
“Did you make that phone call?” she asked him, throwing her arm over his shoulder. He should have known that Emma had overheard his earlier conversation with Grace, but Emma hadn’t exactly been uppermost in his mind at that point.
“Yeah, I did.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s good.”
It was good. It was good that he’d called Grace, and it was good that Emma was looking at Mom like she was the answer to every important question in the universe.
As Mom reached them, Emma turned him around by the shoulder and held out her free hand to Mom. Mom took it.
“You should have your coat on,” Mom said. “It’s cold out.”
Emma didn’t reply. She shrugged and walked them back into the house. It was a wonder that they made it there at all, because her attention was entirely on Mom, and Mom was staring back with a smile of wonderment.
Once they were inside, he shrugged out of Emma’s loose hold.
“It’s been a long day,” he said. “I think I’m going to go straight to bed.” He hugged them both at once, and felt their hands meet on his back, Mom pressing her hand onto Emma’s. It was exactly like the family he’d always wanted, his moms and him and love and warmth and happiness.
He ran up the stairs, not looking back because he didn’t want them to feel like he was spying on them. He went into his room and closed the door loudly, then carefully opened it again, just a crack, his ear pressed against the gap.
“You didn’t answer my text.” Despite her bravado in taking Mom’s hand outside, Emma’s tone was tentative.
“I thought you might prefer that I answer in person.” Mom’s voice, in comparison, was rich and much more confident.
“So, does that mean that, you know, you think that it’s a good thing?”
He heard one step, high heels on hardwood, and then a second and a third.
“Oh, Emma Swan, what am I going to do with you?”
When the next thing he heard was a muffled sigh, which could possibly have been a moan, he closed the door again to give his mothers some privacy.
As he was getting dressed the next morning, he heard Mom come out of her bedroom and walk to Emma’s door. She didn’t knock or anything. She hesitated there for a few moments and then went downstairs. When he came out of his room, he could hear Emma singing, probably in the shower. Either they were being really discreet or Emma hadn’t spent the night with Mom.
Mom was definitely in a good mood, though, because she was making the largest non-birthday breakfast he could remember, with pancakes and waffles and French toast to go with bacon and scrambled eggs. And she beamed at him as he entered the kitchen and offered him a latte from her fancy Italian coffee maker.
Emma came down and made a beeline straight for Mom, squeezing her hip and leaning across her to get a cup of coffee, as Mom’s hand reached out to scratch her nails lightly across Emma’s neck. All three of them ate together and Mom talked like Mom always talked, running through their days and checking off mental lists of things which needed done, while Emma seemed capable of communicating only through the Silent Language of Smiles.
As Mom was leaving, she kissed him on the top of his head (because he was still eating, not passing up on pancakes and waffles and French toast when they were put in front of him) and smoothed his hair down. Emma was leaning against the counter, holding out Mom’s travel mug, and Mom went right up into Emma’s space.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Mom said, and Emma nodded, her eyes on Mom’s mouth.
Both of Mom’s hands were on Emma’s cheeks as she leaned forward and kissed her in a mostly-PG way. It was closed-mouth, and it was soft and sweet, and it lasted a bit too long to be anything other than romantic, but it was nowhere near as bad as he thought it might be.
Mom rubbed her thumb over Emma’s lip before she left. Emma didn’t move until she heard the lock being thrown on the front door, and then she launched herself out of the kitchen, and he heard the front door closing, followed by a loud thud.
When he finally finished his breakfast, he took a deep breath and tried to prepare himself for going out into the hallway. It was exactly as bad as he’d feared. Emma had Mom pressed against the wall by the door, and her knees were slightly bent and her hands were on Mom’s hips, all the better to push Mom upwards so that Emma could attack her neck. Mom had one hand buried in Emma’s hair and the other pushing between Emma’s shoulder blades, and her head was tilted back with her eyes shut.
He slapped his hand over his eyes and only separated his fingers enough to let him get to the stairs without tripping over something. He tiptoed across the hall, but Mom heard him, pushed Emma away and smoothed her palms over her clothes.
“Henry,” Mom said, her breathing rapid and her eyes a little bit glazed, a little bit frantic. She took a step towards him, and Emma was behind her, her arm wrapping protectively around Mom’s waist. “That thing we were going to talk about—”
“We so don’t have to talk about it,” he said. Because he knew, and he wanted this for them, and they looked so happy and so in love, but it was seven-fifteen on a weekday morning and he had school, where Grace was waiting for him, maybe even waiting-waiting for him, and he didn’t need to have an After-School Special Talk with his moms about something he’d known for longer than both of them. “I know. It’s all good. I’m more than fine with it.”
“But, Henry—” Mom tried to step forward, but Emma tightened her hold.
“Leave him be,” Emma said. “It’ll keep.”
Mom craned her head around to look at Emma and—eww, she was staring at Emma’s mouth and her eyes were narrowing, which was totally his cue to get the hell out of Dodge, so he charged for the stairs while the going was good, and he was halfway up them when he heard Mom say Emma’s name with a note of caution.
“Theatre rehearsal’s been switched to Saturday this week, so we can talk to him tonight,” Emma said. “Now come here and kiss me goodbye.”
“What was that before, then?” Mom’s tone had changed completely from a warning to something he totally didn’t need to hear.
“That was me kissing you goodbye.”
He closed his bedroom door and put some music on, and he didn’t open his eyes again until he heard the front door closing and both of his mothers leaving for work.
The one thing he learned at school that day was that the Silent Language of Smiles was a perfectly good means of communication. He and Grace didn’t talk directly about their kiss or the phone call, but they talked about his moms before class, and their conversation was a not-very-secret code for being about them. At lunchtime, they snuck out to the football field and shared their lunches sitting on the bleachers, and afterwards, even though it was really, really cold, he took his gloves off and put his right hand on the bench between him and Grace, and Grace did the same with her left. He wanted to be bold and take her hand, like Mom had with Emma the previous evening, to give Grace the sort of sign that she’d been hinting about and deserved, but it took him nearly ten minutes to get up the courage to slide his little finger over to link with hers. She not only allowed it: she curled her own around his, which was when he learned about the smile thing, because that was pretty much all they did for the rest of the day. They only had one class together on Thursday afternoons, but he couldn’t remember a single word his teacher said, only that Grace’s smiles were the most precious gift he’d ever received.
He walked her home, and they still didn’t really talk, just smiled and let the backs of their hands brush against each other occasionally, and she promised to text him later when they parted, and he was even more convinced than before that she did have a Special Henry-Only Voice.
He avoided going home for as long as humanly possible because he needed to think about Grace and because he knew that he was going to have to face a Special Parenting Moment. Emma had texted him to say that she’d promised Mom that she would come home early so they could all talk, and that he should let her know when he was on his way, so she could try to talk Mom out of making too big a deal.
He slipped in the front door as quietly as possible, but couldn’t hear any sounds at all, not even Totally Gross Mom Sex noises. He headed towards the kitchen, where he found Emma, barefoot and humming to herself, drinking milk straight from the carton, head tipped back and milk trickling down the side of her mouth.
“You’re home already,” Emma said, spinning around to face him and nearly losing her grip on the milk carton. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth.
He tried not to notice that Emma’s jeans were undone, or that her shirt was held together by only a couple of buttons and that he could see too much skin, or that she had serious bed head.
“Yeah.” He rolled his eyes. “Couldn’t put it off any longer.”
“That’s great.” She gave the least convincing fake smile he thought he’d ever seen, but it wasn’t like she was even listening to him anyway. “I thought you were going to text me first, though?” She scanned the kitchen until she saw Mom’s purse. He almost saw the lightbulb going on above her head, as she broke into a real smile and walked over to the counter. She put down the milk and opened Mom’s purse, retrieving a crisp, clean twenty, holding it between her fingers. “What would you say if I offered you this to go back out and come back in an hour?” She looked over her shoulder at the clock. “Or ninety minutes?”
“I’d say that bribing me with Mom’s money isn’t your smartest plan because it leaves you open to future blackmailing.” He reached out to take the cash, but Emma tightened her grip on it, so they were left in a weird game of tug-of-war over the money.
“How about I make it forty, and you get dinner at your grandparents’ and don’t come back here before, oh, nine-ish?”
“You’re so gross,” he said, but he grinned anyway.
“How’s it going with your little girlfriend anyway, Casanova?”
Mom breezed in then, smiling at both of them as if this wasn’t a Completely Awkward Moment, and she was a lot more put together than Emma, even though she was Wearing Emma’s Clothes (yoga pants and a tank top and a zip-up hoody, and Mom wouldn’t have been seen dead in a hoody Before Emma).
She moved next to Emma, and she pried the twenty from between them and put it down on the counter, then began buttoning Emma’s shirt properly, like that was also Totally Normal.
“What’s this about a girlfriend?” she asked, as she motioned for Emma to fix her jeans, which Emma did with an eye-roll.
“Henry likes Grace,” Emma sing-songed, sticking her tongue out in his direction.
“No-one likes a tattletale, Emma,” Mom said, wiping the milk from Emma’s chin with her thumb, then lifting the carton of milk and putting it back in the refrigerator. “And why were you fighting over money?”
Emma hunched her shoulders, stuffed her hands in her pockets, and shook her head. Mom looked at him, and he just shrugged. Unlike some people, he didn’t rat out his family.
“Well, how about I fix us all a sandwich and we have that talk now?” Mom said.
“How about we really don’t because just no?” he said, and Emma subtly nodded her agreement behind Mom’s back.
Mom wasn’t going to be deterred, though. “Your mother and I—”
“—are totally in love and completely married, and you have been forever, and we really, really don’t need to talk about it, because I knew long before either of you did.” He tucked his chin into his chest and avoided eye contact with Mom.
“You knew?” Mom said, her voice shaky, and it wasn’t clear whether she was accusing him or Emma or both of them, or what she was accusing them of. And then it was a Really Awkward Moment, because they’d completely sabotaged Mom’s battle plan to have a Nice Sensible Talk, and they obviously knew something that she didn’t, and that was tantamount to Keeping Things From Her. She was teetering on the edge of something, and she could go either way—all-out attack or curl in within herself—and he looked to Emma for guidance, for a sign, and he relaxed, because he could tell that Emma Totally Had It Covered.
“Of course he knew.” She nodded towards him. “How could he not know how I feel about you, when I am so bad at hiding it, because it’s not something I would ever want to hide? And he’s such a smart kid, because we did good with him. You did good with him. And we should be proud of how smart he is, because he saw this thing that was right there all the time, and we weren’t smart enough to see it.” Emma came forward to stand in front of Mom, shaking her head. “Because, how could I not fall in love with you? When you’re you,” Emma’s hand reached up to tuck Mom’s hair behind her ear, “and you are everything.” She slipped her hands around Mom’s waist and linked them behind her back.
Maybe he could forgive Emma for ratting him out to Grace about how he felt, and for telling Mom about Grace, because there were silent tears running down Mom’s face, and she was reaching up to cup Emma’s cheek.
“Oh, Emma,” she said, and she shook her head, because there weren’t any other words, not when Emma was looking at her like she was the world entire.
“Look at you,” Emma said, smiling at Mom and pressing her cheek against Mom’s hand. “I wish you could see how perfect you are for this family, how you love us, how much you love us and give us everything we could ever need before we even know we need it. I wish you could see how beautiful your love is, and know what it feels like to have that love focused on you. The surprise isn’t that he knew before we did: it’s that we didn’t know, or I didn’t know. And I am so sorry for that, because I feel like we’ve wasted so much time when I could have been showing you how grateful I am for having you in my life, and how much I love you. So, don’t get angry at him. Get angry at me, because I was stupid and I was a coward, and I thought I could just have your love without risking anything in return, and that was so not fair to you. So, be angry at me, because I’m the one who’s done this all wrong.”
Mom rubbed her thumb across Emma’s cheek, where a single tear had fallen, and then took a deep breath, wiping her own eyes with her fingers, and smiling and laughing and crying again and smiling.
She looked over her shoulder at him, and he didn’t think he’d ever seen a crying woman look quite as happy as his Mom did right then, so in love with love and her family.
“I think,” she said, and then paused to step away from Emma just enough to catch her breath and turn to face him, but not so far that Emma had to let her go. “I think you should take the twenty and go to your grandparents’ for dinner, because I think I need to talk to your mother a lot more than we need to talk to you right now.”
And he nodded, because he was in danger of crying himself if he spoke. He stepped forward, and then Mom was hugging him and kissing the top of his head, and Emma’s arms were wrapped around them both, and he and Emma held Mom between them, because he and Emma would always have Mom covered. He didn’t doubt that for a second. He kissed Mom on the forehead, and he looked up at Emma, who nodded back at him, because Emma Totally Had This.
He turned on his heel, and he snatched the twenty from the counter, and he headed out of the kitchen, and through the hall and towards the front door.
And the last thing he heard was Mom’s voice, hitched and raw and husky and low. “Let me show you how I love you, Emma. Let me show you.”
And, no, no, no. So, so gross. He was going to have to work out a system with Emma, because seeing Mom Sex with his own eyes was something which could totally never happen.